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Paradise was far from perfect. Some days Thomas wished everything were still how it used to be, but then flashes of crimson blood and violent death and the haze of contempt and betrayal would overcome him, and he’d have to sit down and breathe. Because he was safe now – they all were. It was okay.

Within a week of escaping WICKED, they’d built something of a society; he, Minho and Brenda easily being voted leaders. Everyone else became hunters, healers, cooks, teachers, and it was a simple life, devoid of things they’d taken for granted even back in the Maze, but it was something, because they were safe.

Within a month, Thomas and Brenda moved forward from tentatively holding hands, and kissed. And it was beautiful, and terrible, and everything that Thomas wanted and the last thing he needed. It was hard for both of them, especially when Thomas would wake up in the middle of the night still screaming Teresa’s name. But Brenda understood, and she didn’t resent Thomas for it. Really, they were perfect together: their leadership making their relationship an example for the rest of the colony, and their mutual understanding and acceptance of each other meaning that they were never alone, not really.

And Thomas loved her.

He loved her with all his heart, and within a year and a half of their first kiss, they both decided that it wasn’t going to work.

“Maybe we’re just too similar,” Brenda said. “Too perfect for each other.” And Thomas agreed.

He nodded and kissed her on the cheek, but he wasn’t sad, except he probably should have been, but he’d been so sad for so long, he just didn’t see the point anymore. They were all alive, and that was all that mattered.

“I’m sorry to hear about you and Brenda,” Minho said to him that evening, clapping him on the shoulder and lingering for a moment; comforting, familiar. “I’d say let’s go for a run and get away from here for a moment, but we’re the big bad leaders, and while I’d be fine shucking off for a while, I can’t see you being up for it, ey Tommy.”

“Let’s go,” he said, because he wasn’t sad, he really wasn’t, but Minho was his best friend, and he was pretty sure that people were supposed to go be an idiot with their best friend after breaking up with their girlfriend. But he wasn’t sad.

So for the first time in a year and a half, he and Minho ran.

They didn’t talk, they just ran, and it burnt Thomas’ thighs and his breath became ragged, but he felt so alive.

“A bit out of practise there?” Minho asked with a grin when they came to stop at the edge of the trees. The cliff jutted out beside them, looking over the dark grey sea, the evening sun heartbeats away from sinking. It hurt.

“Brenda and I came here that first day, the one after –” after we escaped, he didn’t say, but Minho knew what he meant, and just punched Thomas in the arm and called him a sentimental shuckhead.

And then he grabbed his upper arm and dragged him over to the edge of the cliff, and for a moment Thomas panicked and thought that Minho – for some reason – was going to throw him over, that he’d somehow caught the Flare, or decided that the colony didn’t need Thomas anymore, but then he just pulled him down to sit, their legs dangling over the edge and a salty, painfully soft sea breeze caressing their faces. Minho didn’t talk very much, and Thomas knew it was for his sake.

“Just say it,” he grunted. “Whatever it is, just say it.”

Minho was silent for a moment and then: “She wasn’t good for you, you know that?”

“I know. I’m not sad.”

“Of course you’re sad.”

“I’m not sad.”

“Fine, but you’re an idiot then.”

Thomas elbowed him in the ribs, but Minho dodged, and it ended up being more of a tender brush of skin against fabric.

Minho gave him a look that he couldn’t decipher, but it was as soft as the wind, and as sporadic as the ocean below them, and he looked gentle in the evening light. It became, at times like this, Thomas thought, almost hard to believe that this was the same boy – the same man – that killed people once.

“Do you still think about it?” Thomas asked.

There was no need to ask what it was. “All the time. I don’t think I’ll ever stop thinking about it.”

The softness of the atmosphere felt almost like a curse, the serenity a crack in their barricades for the past to leak through. “How many people do you think died because of us? Because of me? What if Rat Man had been right and all they’d needed to save everyone was –”

“Slim it, Tom, okay? Just,” Minho ran a hand over his face, “just slim it.”

He felt heated, manic, and this was why they never talked about it, because it was dangerous. “How many people have I killed? I may as well be a psychopath!”  

“There’s a big difference between a killer and a psychopath,” Minho snapped.

“Yeah, and what are we?”

And suddenly he deflated, hands scratching against the gravel and eyes mirroring the darkening sky. “I don’t know.”

*****

 

Within three years of escaping WICKED, everyone had their own routine, and Paradise was thriving. No-one talked about how most nights the village was interlaced with screams; how sometimes even in the waking hours people would often catch themselves crying, or breathing too fast, lost in another time, another place.

The first time it happened to Thomas, he was in a meeting with Minho and Brenda – who he still loved, but in a way that didn’t hurt – and Minho said something about how they may as well just shucking shoot each other in the head if they can’t agree and then Thomas wasn’t in Paradise anymore. He was in chaos, war, three years younger and lying on the road, surrounded by cranks and one of his best friends in the entire world was dead because he killed him.

He forgot how to breathe.

He could hear Minho and Brenda saying his name, and feel their hands on his shoulders, but he couldn’t make himself stand up, or unclench his fists.

“It’s… WICKED,” he gasped. “They’re controlling me. They’ve… they’ve got me. I can’t –”

“Thomas, listen to me,” Minho said, and he tried to push him away because he didn’t want to hurt him. “Thomas, listen. Listen. It’s not WICKED. They’re gone okay, and they’re not coming back. Thomas, you need to breathe.”

“I can’t. I –”

Minho grabbed his shoulders and shook him, and Thomas gasped because if they fought then they’d make him hurt them. “Go away,” gasp. “Go away,” gasp. “I’ll hurt you,” gasp.

His friend swore, and then arms were wrapping around his shoulders, gripping him tightly. Thomas waited for his body to start fighting back. Except then instead he relaxed, his hands grabbing Minho’s t-shirt, and slowly, eventually, he was back home.  

He was weak. He was so shucking weak. He couldn’t even think about Newt without becoming a shucking baby. “I killed him. I killed Newt.” He was too weak to even look at Minho’s face, too weak to let go of him, too weak to walk away and give Minho space to accept the truth.

“I know,” and hands were grabbing his face, forcing Thomas to meet his eyes. “Damnit, Tommy, I’ve known for years.”

“And you don’t hate me?” I sound so weak, Thomas thought. He wasn’t allowed to be weak, except that was all he was. If he’d been stronger he could have saved Newt, and Chuck, and Teresa, and everybody

“Hey,” Minho slapped him on the cheek, until Thomas looked him in the eyes again. “I could never hate you.”

He leaned his forehead against Thomas’ and closed his eyes, and Thomas felt his breath hitch and a tear run down his cheek, salty and cold. The rest of the world disappeared again, slowly and in waves, and it was still so painful, and dejected memories still beat at him like a drum, demanding to be remembered and relived. “I could never hate you,” Minho said again, hardly a whisper, and Thomas clung to him with hands that were too weak to shake, and it hurt.

*****

 

Within three years and two months of escaping WICKED, Thomas and Minho went running together every evening. Brenda understood, because she always did, and that was what not only made her an invaluable friend to Thomas, but an invaluable leader for Paradise.

Sometimes they’d go south toward the rolling hills and scraggly bushland, and they’d lie together in the grass and stare up into the darkness and talk about everything, and eventually Thomas realised maybe he wasn’t weak, because Minho would cry too. It was silent, and they both pretended not to notice, but it happened.

Sometimes they’d go north, further into the forest and away from the growing bustle of the village, and they’d climb trees together, or race through the underbrush and act like the kids they no longer were, that they never really got a chance to be.

Within three years and four months of escaping from WICKED, they found a way down to the beach; a stairway down the cliff-face hewn by decades of exposure to wind and salt and sun. Thomas’ favourite evenings were the ones they spent on the beach, sitting on the edge of the water, toes curled in the sand and the moon rising above them.

Sometimes they’d fall asleep by the water, side by side after hours of talking, laughing, crying, remembering, and it was toxic, Thomas thought, how much he depended on these evenings. One morning Thomas woke up with Minho’s arm over his hip and at first it startled him, but then the water crashed against the shore and between one breath and the next he fell back asleep, dreaming of the ocean and happiness and strong, grounding arms.

“Why does no one else ever come down here?” Minho asked one evening, when the sun was still fighting against the darkness, bathing everything warm and orange.

Thomas felt a stab of anger and he didn’t know why, but then he realised he was jealous at the thought of anyone else being here, because it would somehow make it less special. “I don’t know,” he shrugged.

“Real helpful, shuckhead,” he rolled his eyes. “Hey, maybe they think we’re making out down here or something,” Minho said with a wink, and now it was Thomas’ turn to roll his eyes.

“And I’m the shuckhead?”

“Course you are.” Minho pushed his face into the sand and they ended up racing each other down to the surf, shoving and tripping and rolling. Thomas kicked Minho in the shin, causing him to go tumbling down into the foam. At the last minute he grabbed Thomas’ wrist and they fell together, laughing and breathing hard, Minho’s hand still only inches above Thomas’, and their eyes met in the moonlight and it hurt.

*****

 

Within five years of escaping WICKED, Brenda got married. To Gally of all people, and Thomas kind of hated them both for it, but Gally had changed, and he made Brenda happy, and maybe that was enough.

Minho sat next to him during the ceremony, resting his hand on Thomas’ elbow as they exchanged their vows. “I’m not sad,” he told his friend afterwards, as they watched Brenda and Gally dance, swaying in time to slow, melodic tunes from rustic instruments and rusty voices.

“You love her,” Minho said, not stating it as a question.

“But I’m not in love with her. I don’t know if I ever was. I’m not sad.”

“I know,” was the only reply he got, then Thomas’ hand was being grabbed by a girl as the music sped up, and he gave Minho a quick wave before joining the revelry. Minho gave him a grin, but it didn’t reach his eyes, and suddenly Thomas’ feet faltered and his hands slipped. Their eyes met through the crowd and haze of smoke, and it hurt.

*****

 

Within five years and one day of escaping WICKED, Thomas and Minho sat on a boulder by the edge of the ocean, looking out over the waves.

“D’you think you’ll ever get married,” Thomas asked quietly, his knees tucked up to his chest, eyes on the horizon. He’d like to get married one day, he thought, or at least settle down. Once upon a time he thought Brenda would be that person, but she was happy now (with Gally), and Teresa was the only other girl he had ever thought of that way. Even if she had lived, Thomas doubted he would have been able to be with her in that way, or in any way, but he still wished she had survived so maybe he could find out.

Minho scoffed. “Doubt it. Girls aren’t exactly lining up to date me are they? And even if they were I can’t see myself settling down like that.”

“You’ve never even thought about it?”

“What, are you trying to propose to me now, Tom?”

“Yeah, you’d look beautiful in a shucking veil,” he deadpanned.

“What about you, then?” his friend asked after a moment, pivoting to face him.

“Would I look beautiful in a veil?”

The sarcasm was received with a slap to the knee. “No, do you think you’ll ever get married?”

Thomas shrugged and picked at a loose thread on the hem of his t-shirt. “Don’t think so. Like you said, girls aren’t exactly lining up and I mean… I think I’m too jacked in the head for anyone to really want to… I think Brenda was the only girl who I ever would have married. Think most others would take a look at me and run screaming.”

Minho chuckled. “You’re still so shucking gloomy all the time. You ain’t all that bad, hey Thomas. And besides, if all else fails we can be old and alone together.”

“How can you be alone together?”

“We’ve managed so far,” and the truth of it hurt.

*****

 

Within five years and one week of escaping WICKED, Thomas began to wonder why he’d never really moved on from Brenda.

“Brenda,” he asked one afternoon. “Why don’t girls like me?”

She gave him an odd look. “Because you don’t like them?”

“Of course I like them.” Thomas wondered what she meant, because he tried liking people, he just had problems with trust. How could he not after everything that had happened with WICKED and their elaborate mind-games? Sometimes even now, five years on, he questioned whether this still wasn’t part of the Variables, and it was only Minho holding him as he screamed and lost control that made him believe in something tangible.

“No you don’t,” she said matter-of-factly.

“Of course I do.”

“When?”

“I like you. I loved you. I love you now,” Thomas replied with half-hearted anger that he really couldn’t force himself to feel.

“Thomas, we loved each other because of the circumstances. I love you too, but as a slinthead little brother, not as a boyfriend.” She was right, he knew that. The only reason they were ever together, together was because they were both desperate and broken and still raw, clinging to the shrapnel of their old lives as it tore them apart.

“I’d like them if they liked me first.” Thomas knew he was being childish, but he was starting to get frustrated.

“They do,” she sighed. “But you just like Minho more.”

“I don’t like Minho. I mean I do like Minho, he’s my best friend, but that has nothing to do with anything, I don’t –”

“No, you know what?” Brenda jabbed a finger in his direction. “I’m not talking to you anymore. This is just…” she shook her head. “You are so –”

“So what?” Thomas demanded, waiting for her to say messed up, or unlovable or weak or something marking his inability to attract the attention of girls.

“So dumb! Blind! Shucked in the head!” Brenda shouted, raising her hands in exasperation. “Everyone thinks you’re in love with Minho!”

Thomas fell silent and still, blood rushing to his ears and drowning out Brenda’s apologies. Everyone thought he was in love with Minho. If Minho had said it, he would have rolled his eyes and pushed him into the ocean, but hearing it from Brenda, who always understood, and always seemed to have a good grasp on what was going on before anyone else did, it was different.

He wasn’t in love with Minho though. They were best friends, and Thomas trusted him with his life and would die for him a million times over. His favourite times in the world were when he was alone with Minho, and Minho was the only one who could bring him back to reality when he had a nightmare or forgot how to breathe, and hadn’t hated him when he’d found out he’d murdered his other best friend. He was happy when Minho was happy, and sad when he was sad, but would make dumb jokes anyway because that was what they did for each other. They’d saved each other’s lives more times than either could count, been separated, reunited, fought each other, fought side by side, and Thomas could picture Minho as they lay on the beach together, hips touching, the sunset silhouetting his face and his scars, and he could tell you where most of them came from and –

“I think I’m in love with Minho,” Thomas whispered, ignoring Brenda’s huff of finally. He was in love with Minho, and maybe had been for a long time if he thought about it, and it hurt.

*****

 

Within five years, one week and one day of escaping WICKED, Thomas was sure of one thing, perhaps more than he had ever been sure of anything in his entire life.

He loved Minho.

“What’s up?” he asked Thomas that evening, when they were already nestled together by the base of the cliff, sand dry and gritty against their feet. “You haven’t said a word all day. Is it about Brenda and Gally?”

“No,” Thomas replied, and he wasn’t even lying which made it all that much worse.

“Then what’s wrong? I mean, apart from the usual.”

Thomas sighed and focused on the ocean and the slow ebb of waves, constant and unfaltering, the breath of the world spread out in sheets of silver-blue oblivion. “I just have a lot to think about,” he settled on after a long moment.

“Really specific, thank you,” Minho groused. “If you don’t want to tell me, fine. Just when you do want to tell me, make sure you do. But if you’re still mooning about buggin’ Brenda and Gally then I don’t want to hear it.”

“Thanks Minho,” Thomas said, because he knew that what his friend was really saying – despite the jokes, because Minho was always joking, even when he was crying and broken and in pain – was that he cared. He’d be there when Thomas was ready to tell him, except this was something he could never tell him, ever.

Minho would pretend not to care, he’d laugh it off and say of course Thomas was in love with him, he was buggin’ irresistible but things would never be the same because there would be that knowledge there, and eventually the pretending would become too much and they would go their own ways, as inevitably as the crash of the waves. Thomas couldn’t lose Minho. After everything they’d been through together, he couldn’t lose him because they’d both lost so much and so many already, and it wasn’t fair.

“It’s not fair,” Thomas said, and Minho just grunted and nodded and agreed.

“Life’s not fair, Tom. I think we’re evidence enough of that. If life were fair we’d be living with our shucking families in god knows where and there’d be no sun flare, no Cranks, no WICKED, no Maze. It’s not shucking fair.” He paused and glanced at Thomas, and then tipped his head back toward the sky; a mosaic of colours. “But hey, at least we’re okay now.” He slung an arm over Thomas’ shoulders and gave him a half-hug, hands rubbing minute circles against his arm, and it hurt so much. “At least we’ve got each other. Maybe that’s the only fair thing that’s ever happened to us.”

They sat and watched the sunset, Minho’s voice filling the silence and mingling with the crash of the sea. The sun sunk below the horizon and the moon rose, a warm breeze blowing in from the north, Thomas’ side pressed up against Minho’s, arms over shoulders and hands on knees and foreheads resting together, and it hurt.

*****

 

Within five years and eight months of escaping WICKED, Minho and Thomas raced each other through the forest, dodging trees and logs and boulders. Thomas wanted to stop running with Minho, because it was still so toxic, and his chest would constrict every time Minho’s hand lingered over his for a moment too long.

He should have stopped, but it was all that kept him going. He needed the bitter futility and sweet respite, and shuck it, how had he not realised how felt about Minho earlier? Minho loved him back, anyone would have to be blind not to see it, but not in the way Thomas wanted. They were best friends, and he told himself he was fine with that, and it hurt.

*****

 

Within seven years of escaping WICKED, Brenda had her first child; a boy named Newt. He was dark of hair and eyes, and in some ways it made it easier to bare.

He was lively, and Thomas had never seen Gally so happy, or Brenda so content. At first Minho wouldn’t call the baby ‘Newt,’ and Thomas got it, because it was difficult to mention him most of the time, let alone give his name to someone else, and maybe it should have felt like a betrayal to the first Newt – their Newt – but it didn’t.

“Should have named him something else, like Thomas. Or Minho,” Minho said one day while Newt was asleep in the crook of Thomas’ elbow.

“Yeah, I’m sure that’d go down well,” Thomas rolled his eyes. “Imagine two Minho’s running around the place. I think one is enough.”

Within eight years of escaping WICKED, Newt took his first steps, and Minho nearly tripped over in shock. “Where’s Brenda? Why’s he doing that? Is he supposed to be doing that yet? Thomas! Help me out a bit here!”

“I don’t know anything about shucking babies!” he hissed, but he was smiling because for once, it didn’t hurt.

*****

 

Within eight years and three months of escaping WICKED, Minho and Thomas moved into the same hut, because it made sense.

“It’ll save room,” Minho said. “And I won’t have to walk half the way across Paradise to come talk to you either.”

What neither of them said was that it’d be easier to deal with the nightmares. Memories would still return, less vividly than they used to, but sometimes he’d get flashes of a face, a snippet of a conversation or the cold, lucid white of a laboratory. Most of the time though, he’d just dream of the Maze and Teresa, or the Scorch and the Cranks, or WICKED and the Rat Man, or Chuck or Newt or the people he killed.

Their first night together, Thomas dreamed of lightning over the ocean. It struck the waves and they turned to ash and then crashed down onto the shore; rolling, tumbling. Minho stood in the water, and at first he was safe from the maelstrom but then he got hit, icy white electricity curling over him, and with each flash of light the scenery changed from a churning ocean to an endless desert.

“Thomas, Thomas, wake up,” a voice said in his ear, and he came-to gasping and sobbing.

“Show me,” he whispered. “The lightning. Show me,” and Minho didn’t even question him, just lifted up his shirt and let Thomas place his hand over the scars.

“I’m sorry,” Thomas said, but he didn’t move, fingers tracing the dead skin, feeling the ridges and waves, the marks of battle that felt like the ocean during a storm, except more solid and less furious.

“Don’t apologise, you shuckin’ idiot. We all have nightmares.”

“You’re okay?” Thomas asked, because he just needed to be sure.

“’Course I am,” Minho winked. “Always a pleasure to have your hands all over me, Tommy.”

Thomas blushed and pulled back quickly. “Sorry. I just needed to – sorry.”

Minho deflated and shook his head. “No I’m sorry. I understand. It’s okay.” He grabbed Thomas’ hand and brought it back up to his chest. “I’m okay, see?”

“Yeah. Yeah, I know.”

Mihno sighed and didn’t say another word, except to call Thomas a klunkbrain, and pushed him to the side so he could crawl under the blankets next to him.

“What are you doing?” Thomas whispered, but Minho just kicked him in the shin, and then their legs tangled together and neither boy bothered righting themselves.

Minho was snoring within minutes, his hand still resting over Thomas’, and it hurt.

*****

 

Within eight years and seven months of escaping WICKED, Thomas nearly told Minho.

They were on their beach, wresting in the shallow waves, the ones that broke over your ankles and tickled your back, pleasant and warm. Minho pushed Thomas to the ground, pinning his hands behind his head and straddling him, knees either side of his hips.

“I win,” Minho whispered with a smirk, the sunset catching his eyes and making them radiant, like the colour of burnt umber or the soil after a rain storm.

Thomas tried to smile, and act normal, but he couldn’t remember how he would normally act in a situation like this, because he wanted to kiss Minho so badly and it would be so easy. He closed his eyes, because maybe if he couldn’t see him, the curve of his throat, the slope of his shoulders, it wouldn’t be so hard. But he could still feel everything. Minho had always been thin and firm and Thomas could feel every inch of him, it seemed.

“Hey, shank, open your eyes,” Minho said, and Thomas did and it made everything a million times worse; a supernova exploding behind his eyes and in the pit of his stomach, burning and sharp.

Minho smiled at him, but it wasn’t cocky or facetious, and Thomas loved him so much he thought he might break. The pads of his fingers ran over Thomas’ palm and their hands tangled together. Minho looked at him like he might be about to say something, or do something, and his breath was a hurricane against Thomas’ cheek, and then the water rose up and a wave crashed over them and the moment was lost to the riptide. And it hurt.

*****

 

Within eight years and eight months of escaping WICKED, Thomas kissed Minho.

Like everything, it happened on their beach. They’d lit a fire, and the last stripes of orange and pink were still fading from the inky sky. They sat by the flames, as close as the ocean was to the sand, and it was beautiful. Thomas looked at Minho, and then something in him must have snapped, and he’d waited for years, and been through so much, and he knew that he’d regret this but at the same time he didn’t care.

The waves were calm and the air thick, and then they were kissing fiercely, without abandon; hands in hair and on chests and all lips and tongues and teeth and they moved as one with the rising tide, and the sun sunk and the stars shone, and the void closed down around then until nothing else existed. It was desperate and heated and messy, and perfect.

Minho’s hands fisted in his hair, and they clung to each other. “I love you,” Thomas said between moments. “I love you, Minho, I love you so shucking much. I love you.”

“I love you too, dumbo,” Minho whispered against his lips.

They pulled apart and stared at each other, the silence permeated by ragged breaths and the eternal, confounding crash, crash, crash of the waves. “Wow,” Thomas breathed, then Minho leaped on him and rolled him to the ground, a low chuckle warm against Thomas’ cheek.

“I’ve been waiting nearly nine buggin’ years for you to do that, you know?” Minho asked. Nine years. It seemed like a lifetime, but one that passed in sporadic bursts of happenstance and emotion.

Thomas kissed Minho, gentle and chaste. “Why’d you wait for me? We could have spent the last nine years doing this, if you’d asked.”

Minho let out a breathless laugh. “Good that. I’m too shucking noble for my own good, hey Tommy?” 

They’d just have to make up for lost time now, Thomas decided. He kissed Minho, the sand against their toes, and then against their bare shoulders, and they reared breathless, breaking like the tide, filled to the brim with sensation. He loved Minho. He loved Minho more than ever, and Minho loved him back, and he could feel it in every slide and turn of their bodies, and it hurt.

*****

 

Within eight years and eleven months of escaping WICKED, Thomas and Minho had their first proper fight as a couple. Minho stormed out, and Thomas didn’t sleep much that night, and when he did it was dark and terrible.

Within eight years, eleven months and two days of escaping WICKED, Thomas and Minho punched each other in the face, and then kissed for an hour on the beach, and perhaps Paradise really was paradise sometimes.

Within nine years of escaping WICKED, Thomas told Minho how everyone had thought they’d been in love since the start, and how Thomas hadn’t even realised until Brenda told him. Minho had rolled his eyes because they had been in love from the start, Thomas just had a head full of clunk.

Within a decade of escaping WICKED, Thomas asked the same question he’d asked five years ago: whether Minho ever thought of getting married. “What, are you trying to propose to me?” Minho asked, same as last time, but now there was a note of fear in his voice. “I don’t know, am I?” Thomas replied, and when Minho said “No, you’re not,” that was okay.

Within twelve years of escaping WICKED, there was the first hint of uproar about Thomas and Minho, but it was isolated, from one man, and it soon died down, and then disappeared altogether. No one cared that Thomas loved Minho and Minho loved Thomas, because at least they were alive, and at least they were happy, because after everything they’d been through, they deserved a little bit of happiness.

Within fourteen years and 7 months of escaping WICKED, Minho asked Thomas if he ever thought about getting married. “What, are you trying to propose to me?” Thomas asked. “Yeah,” Minho said, “yeah I am,” and that was okay.

Within fourteen years and 8 months of escaping WICKED, Thomas and Minho got married, and it was silly, they both agreed on that, because why should they need a ceremony to shucking say they love each other, but it felt nice, they agreed quietly at the altar. They didn’t dance, but everyone else did; Newt and the other children weaving between feet, Jorge and his girlfriend nursing their new baby, Brenda and Gally still painfully content, the lines on Brenda’s face more evident than Thomas remembered. And he loved them all, he really did, and he was so happy.

Within decades of escaping WICKED, within decades of ‘Thomas and Minho’ becoming ‘ThomasAndMinho,’ they sat on their beach, and it was getting dark, and the ocean sounded exactly the same as it did the first time they kissed. They didn’t come down here much anymore, because the cliff was steep, and their bones ached more are more violently these days, and sometimes it didn’t seem worth it, except it was. It was always worth it, because they carried so many scars, so many old wounds and now wounds, and they were still so raw sometimes, because people like them never really healed, and it wasn’t fair, but they got so much more than they deserved, so much more than they could have hoped for.

And it hurt in the most breathtaking way possible.


 

THE END