Actions

Work Header

We Are Free

Chapter Text

Lisa,

You would love this place. A little piece of America in the middle of Kyoto. They serve tacos, but with lamb meat. I haven’t tried them. After seven months, I still struggle to even order a beer in Japanese. The walk here takes me past an apartment where a little, old woman is growing some type of flower. Honeysuckle, maybe. The smell reminds me of you, so much, that I can just smell it, and I am home…


 

Waylon’s gloved hand was suddenly forced forward, leaving a long, black mark across the page. Patrons jostling to get near the bar had bumped into one another causing a chain reaction that ended with Waylon’s ruined page. His first inclination was to tear the offending page from his journal, and start again.

Instead, Waylon closed his eyes, inhaled deeply, and then released the breath slowly. It was just an accident. No need to get angry. No one was attacking him. He was safe.

Though the idea of safety was laughable to Waylon Park. He closed his leather-bound journal and replaced the nondescript pen he had acquired from some hotel or another. He pulled his beer to his lips only to realize his glass was empty. There was no way of knowing how long it had been that way. The bartender was a familiar face, but he was busy dealing with the Saturday night crowd.

No one was looking at the thirty year old with dirty blond hair, scruff on his scarred face, and bags under his eyes. Everything about Waylon—his appearance, his plain clothes, his posture—were carefully planned to remain as invisible as possible. It took him considerable effort to blend in with the status quo and appear ‘normal.’

System check. All normal.

The restaurant had been one of Waylon’s favorite in Kyoto. It was a tiny place run by an ex-pat, and it sold food that almost reminded him of home in the States. The owner served up lamb tacos and burgers that managed to bend Japan and American in a way the tour guides praised—though Waylon had never tried either. He came for the atmosphere. This was his new normal—surrounded by strangers, jumping at shadows, and running from a faceless terror.

Always running.

The building was small with tiny tables so close together they were nearly touching. A peaceful fountain bubbled away in one corner, and a television set showing a local sporting event babbled away behind the bar. The walls were covered with posters and artwork depicting different American cities. Overall, the small area, combined with the dim lighting and hum of background noise, made the place feel intimate. Since the riot, Waylon felt safer in small, tight places. Much safer than out in the open.

Waylon scanned the crowd that evening, looking for an unfamiliar face. Not that any of the faces were familiar, but the person he was meeting would surely be even less familiar. There was the usual group of university students studying in Kyoto, ordering Sakura beer by the pitcher. Then there were tourists, usually pointed there by tour groups when asking for something more Americanized. Even the most adventurous eaters sometimes grew weary of the vast array of Japanese cuisine. The ingredients were foreign to many visitors. Waylon recognized a few snippets of English coming from a nearby table, though the speakers had British accents.

Waylon glared at his watch. Eight o’clock. He hated waiting. It didn’t matter that he had nowhere else to be other than his dirty, one-bedroom apartment. Still, “between seven and midnight” was a shitty meeting time.

The trip to the rendezvous point had been a struggle. Walking through the city at night was always a risk considering the dark, the shadows, and the strange way noise echoed down alleys. How an unfamiliar road could suddenly transform into a haunted scene from his broken memories.

Three years. Waylon was counting. It had been three years since he had escaped. Three years since his trip through hell. Three years since he made the difficult decision to push send on a video that detailed the atrocious horrors that occurred in Mount Massive Asylum.

Murkoff Corporation had done everything in their power to silence him, including burning down his family’s house. The attacks fast-tracked Waylon and his family into the witness protection program. They were separated, for their own safety. It was better that way. If only it had not left him feeling so damn lonely.

Waylon had never wanted to feel that hopeless isolation ever again. Not after stalking through dark corridors. Not after running for his life from an army of disturbed patients, wanting to harm him, in a place where being killed was far from the worst case scenario.

He pulled out his phone and checked for messages. It took a moment for Waylon to remember the code to unlock the screen. All of his phones were outdated and cheap—burner phones he used for a short amount of time, before destroying all evidence he ever owned it. He only knew three numbers by heart: his wife, his contact at the Federal Investigation Bureau, and his psychiatrist.

There were no messages. Waylon had no choice but to continue waiting.

The owner of the restaurant, also the bartender, was a tall, broad man with light blond hair and a square face. He noticed Waylon’s empty glass and offered a refill after Waylon nodded in silent acknowledgment. Talking was not something he enjoyed. Moving around so often, he was afraid to meet anyone—afraid he would forget his name that week. Waylon had moved seven times in three years. Seven new names. Seven new addresses. Different languages. Different back stories. Changing jobs, switching apartment rooms, meeting new FBI contacts in every country. It was exhausting. Waylon was tired.

He rubbed his face, feeling the unshaven stubble on his chin. His hair was choppy and uneven, which was to be expected considering he had cut it himself. He attempted to keep it short and manageable, but it was obvious when he glanced up that his bangs fell crooked.

The beer arrived. Waylon waited until the bartender was not watching before pulling out a sanitary rag from his jacket pocket, and wiping the rim of the glass. Finally, he was able to drink away some of his nerves.

Waylon was always nervous. Murkoff was a very real threat. What had seemed like idle threats in the first months became an arson attempt after the court indictment. The international corporation still held a grudge against Waylon Park. He had returned to his apartment in Rabat only to find ruffians trashing the place. He escaped to the embassy before he was identified. He worked in the office of a world class hotel in Fiji until he found some new arrivals asking about a blond American man. He had been sad to leave Fiji, just as he was sad to be leaving Kyoto.

It was a nice city. The weather in the spring was gorgeous. He enjoyed the marriage of old and new present everywhere in the beautiful temples, modern architecture, and elaborate gardens. Waylon had ridden the shinkansen to see almost all of Japan during his months in the country. There was a time when he had believed Kyoto could become his new forever home.

But, no. It was the same story as many other locations he had lived. Waylon glanced to the right and noticed a group of students, several with visible tattoos. He remembered that the yakuza typically had tattoos. Were these people with the yakuza? Were they working for Murkoff? The evil corporation could have eyes anywhere. Waylon began to notice the same faces passing him in the street—the same neighbors greeting him in Japanese.

His psychiatrist assured him it was normal to recognize people and places—it was called putting down roots, establishing some routine, a chance for a new life. Still, paranoia reigned in Waylon’s damaged mind. He trusted his psychiatrist, but she was in Texas. She couldn’t know what he saw.

That night, the crowd seemed to glance his way too often. Some of the tourists, older Brits in tweed suits carrying umbrellas, seemed a little too interested in the man sitting alone at the bar. They were glancing at him, whispering to one another. Wait. Everyone was staring.

Tap tap tap tap tap. It came to Waylon’s attention that his leg was shaking so violently he was tapping his steel toed boot loudly against his walking cane. The noise was loud enough to disturb several patrons. Is that why they were staring? Waylon forced his feet flat to the ground to stop the compulsion. He rested his elbows on the bar, and dropped his head into his hands.

It was in his head. Just in his head. But after that, people actually were staring. He’d drawn attention to himself. He needed to leave. He dug into his pockets and dropped enough yen to cover the beers and a large tip. The FBI could afford to tip generously. He pulled up the zipper on his cheap windbreaker jacket and pulled the hood over his head before reaching for his cane. He nodded a thanks to the owner before walking toward the door, relying heavily on his walking stick.

He blamed it on the rain. The strange tightness—a feeling of discomfort, deep in his bones. It was accepted that people could feel changes in the weather in their joints, past injuries, or old bones. It was better to claim some weather sensitivity than admit that his physical disability was only in his own mind.

Psychosomatic. He had injured his leg, gravely, in the asylum at Mount Massive. He fought through infections and physical therapy to regain the use of his right ankle. He was given a clean bill of health from the doctors—yet anytime he found himself growing stressed, the injury manifested as fresh as the day he plummeted down that elevator shaft. His ankle throbbed, and putting any pressure on it would lead to his collapse. The cane became a necessary accessory. He never left the apartment without it.

Waylon carefully maneuvered through the tight location, careful not to bump into anyone and lose his balance. He stood in the doorway and glanced back one final time, trying to determine if any of these people were the agent he had been sent to meet. He had no idea who the person was, but the agent would be able to identify him. Waylon was awaiting his new passport, travel documents, and some allowance money in the new currency of wherever he was going. He had grown accustomed to not knowing where he would be moving until it was time to depart.

There was no one sitting alone that stood out. With a resigned sigh, Waylon pushed the door open. The smell of fresh rain hit his nose, though there was no rain falling at that time. He almost ran directly into a man wearing a long, black raincoat with the collar pulled up, and black sunglasses despite the late hour.

“Sumimasen,” muttered Waylon, trying to hobble out of the way using his cane, without tripping himself or the other man. To his surprise, the man let the door close and stared hard with his dark shades.

“Waylon Park?”

“What the fuck,” hissed Waylon, immediately ducking as though he were in the cross-hairs of an assassination attempt. He stumbled with his cane as he attempted to get out of the open and press himself against the aged brick facade of the restaurant. He was directly under a flickering external light, swarmed with moths. “Are you fucking new, or just a complete goddamn idiot? You don’t use that name. Fuck!”

Waylon had to bend over and rest his hands on his knees. His heart was beating so hard it threatened to escape the confines of his ribs. He forced himself to take deep breaths as he stared at the wet ground.

System report. Situation dangerously unstable. Implementing necessary protocols. Breathe. Just breathe.

“So, then, you are…”

“I will have you fucking fired,” said Waylon, tilting his head up to glare at the man. He was still standing completely at ease, the shades and jacket obscuring his expression. “There are protocols, and you are breaking all of them, asshole.”

It took a few more moments of breathing before Waylon could finally stand upright and adjust his posture. He gripped his cane and let out a long exhale. “Just give me the documents.”

“Excuse me?”

“Is this your first hour on the fucking job, give me the goddamn…” Waylon’s brown eyes slowly went wide and threatened to roll back in his head. His brain immediately began computing.

If this person does not know about the documents, and he is unfamiliar with the FBI protocols, then this person is not with the FBI, and knows his real name. Most likely conclusion: Murkoff.

Waylon ran much faster than a man with a cane should be able to run—his own survival instinct, and panic, momentarily numbing the psychosomatic injury. He had made it a year without running into Murkoff, and they had finally found him.

Beautiful Kyoto, the city he had loved so much, the city with the flowers that reminded him so much of Lisa. The city had betrayed him. The sound of approaching footsteps was directly behind him, clacking on the wet pavement.

There were several blocks between the restaurant and his Kyoto home, filled with old shops, small apartments, and twisting alleys. Waylon had memorized them all. He always needed an escape route. He never knew when he might need one.

Calculating route.

Waylon dipped through a small cut-through between two shops, tossing a plastic trashcan behind him to slow his pursuer. A quick dash down a small road, and he felt sure he had shaken his follower. Until he heard steady footsteps growing louder, echoing between the stone buildings.

Waylon took off again, hunching over as far as possible while still running. He ducked behind some parked cars, and then made a mad dash toward a lighted building on the corner. He knew there was a public restroom there with thick, metal doors and padlocks.

With his gloved hand on the handle, Waylon paused. Danger: Unsanitary conditions detected.

His brain came to a screeching halt at it reached an unsolvable solution, trapped in a never ending loop. The bathroom was the safest place to escape; the bathroom was a cesspool of germs and grime. Neither decision was optimal. Waylon ground his teeth together and growled in frustration.

Footsteps. Decide or die. Run, hide, survive. Waylon pushed open the door, ran inside, and locked it behind him.

The chase was over, but Waylon’s body was as tense as a readied bowstring. It was never good enough just to hide, they would always find you, they could always…

The bathroom smelled of bleach. The walls were streaked with grime that only a new layer of paint could cover. The drain in the sink was clogged, causing filthy water to pool in the white porcelain. And the toilet…Waylon squeezed his eyes shut and tried to shut off his brain.

This room was clean as far as public bathrooms went, but all Waylon’s brain could detect was dirt, grime, filth, blood, decomposing flesh…

Error.

Waylon was right back in a dilapidated hall, filled with dust and blood. Through the twisted slots in a rusty locker, Waylon saw all of the tables and old sewing machinery he had limped past. The mangled locker was his final chance. He flung himself inside and closed it quietly, praying his pursuer would not search for him long.

Most of his attackers had given up easily. There was too much prey running, wild and clumsy, through the asylum. It was not worth wasting time chasing one cunning target when easy prey was so plentiful. A large, dark shape loomed into view and obscured the light filtering into the locker.

NO, Waylon reminded himself. It was not real. He was not in Mount Massive’s Vocational Block—he was locked safely in a bathroom in Kyoto. The Murkoff associate could not have seen him enter.

Run, hide, survive. He only needed to keep calm and wait it out. Once he got back to his apartment, he could take a scalding hot shower, and call the embassy for an armed escort out of this country.

A loud pounding on the door made Waylon jump and his entire body seized.

“COME OUT OF THERE, WAYLON PARK,” screamed the man. More hysterical pounding followed. Waylon pushed his hands firmly down over his ears to drown out the sound. The man was screaming his name—the name he was never supposed to use—and beating on the door so hard it seemed to be denting the thick metal. But that was impossible. Just as impossible as…

“Darling…the smell of my love’s arbor…you cannot hide from me.”

Eddie Gluskin’s voice drifted under the door. The smell of blood and viscera came back like a wave, and it was all Waylon could smell. The floor of the bathroom felt tacky under his shoes, saturated with so much gore it would never wash clean.

“No,” whispered Waylon, his hands still over his ears as he leaned against the wall and slowly sank down until he was crouching on the ground. He felt sure the pounding continued, but he could not hear it. All he could hear was a strange singing and a rising static noise.

“When I was a boy…” Eddie’s singing voice haunted his thoughts. Waylon’s auditory hallucinations were always the worst. He could hear a dead man singing, humming, calling out to him using terms of endearment—and frightening misogynistic slurs. But it was not real. No matter how many times he imagined Eddie Gluskin or Frank Manera—they were dead. Burned away, along with the rest of Mount Massive.

“No no no no no no no,” Waylon changed his mantra, rocking back and forth on his heels with his hands over his ears, staring at the ground. It was not real. It was a delusion. He was trapped in a flashback. This was all part of his PTSD. He had experienced it many times before. Somewhere his brain remembered the way out of the predicament.

Waylon pulled his phone out with shaking hands, dropping it on the floor and struggling to pick the flat device off the ground with his clumsy, gloved hands. He cringed as he was forced to quickly pull one glove off with his teeth. Once he had the phone in his hands he quickly brought up the camera function and snapped a few quick shots of the macabre scene in front of him.

Dingy tiled floor and fluorescent lighting. He was in a bathroom. There were no sewing machines, no bodies. He did not need to panic. The photographs never lied. Waylon quickly replaced his phone in his pocket and slid his glove back on. He needed to breath, but, in his mind’s eye, the flies and death were too thick in the room. So thick they were coalescing into a visible black cloud, rising up from beneath the door.

Waylon stared at his delusion of flies, and watched with morbid curiosity as the flies began to take on a humanoid shape. The buzzing infiltrated his brain, vibrating his teeth. The flies took a seemingly solid form. As he studied the new apparition, images immediately began flashing behind his eyes, blinding him until all he could see were twisting black and white shapes. The memories were like a stabbing pain into his brain. The images from the Engine. They continued to blind him for several moments, and when they finally cleared…

Waylon stared up at the Walrider.

Chapter Text

The Walrider.

Waylon had never hallucinated the Walrider before. Eddie Gluskin, Frank Manera, Jeremy Blaire, Chris Walker, even those damn naked twins, but never the Walrider.

Waylon's hand was shaking too much to even consider taking a picture. The walls were closing in. He had to get out. Run. Hide. Survive.

Waylon flipped the latch on the public restroom door even as the Walrider seemed to solidify and stretch its ghostly fingers toward him. He threw open the door, and barreled into his pursuer in the long black coat. He swung his walking cane, striking the man several times while screaming at the top of his lungs.

"HELP!"

Wait, people rarely replied to screams for help. They would not feel personally accountable enough. He needed to be more specific.

"FIRE!"

No, too easily disproved.

"RAPE! RAPE!"

Although that one did not always work, either. I know what you've been doing to me... Eddie Gluskin's voice continued to follow.

Waylon screamed as he ran, drawing the attention of several people out in the dark streets. The pursuer cursed as he was forced to distance himself, quickly disappearing into the shadows, as though he were made from the same shady substance.

Recalculating route.

Waylon ran. He took the longest route he knew to his Kyoto apartment, in case the pursuer somehow was still tracking him.

It was after ten o'clock when he sprinted up metal staircase causing such a loud ruckus that a few lights turned on in dark windows. Waylon quickly rushed inside and began the long process of locking all the latches that protected his apartment. The door's lock, the padlock, the steel latch, the metal chain.

Perimeter secure.

Waylon dropped his cane and looked down at his gloved hands. He removed his jacket and hung it up by the door. He kicked off his shoes and left them in the designated space. He pulled off his gloves and set them in the box near the shoes. He then removed the rest of his clothes and dropped them into the box as well.

Initiate anti-virus program.

Waylon walked directly to his combination shower/bath, turned the water to the hottest setting and jumped under the spray. It stung, but he was accustomed to the pain. He grabbed a sliver of soap and a rough pad and began rigorously scrubbing every inch of his skin, especially parts that his clothing left exposed. Waylon stood in the stream until his breathing had calmed down and every inch of his pale flesh was scrubbed to a bright, raw, pink color. Some places were dotted with tiny beads of blood.

The towels were bright white, cleansed in bleach. He used one to dry himself. He then slipped into a clean pair of pajamas. Everything was washed on the hottest setting. Clean. It was important that he was clean. Important that the area around him was clean.

Waylon carefully walked back toward the door and used a disposable cloth to fish out his cell phone. He carefully cleaned it with a cotton ball and alcohol kept conveniently on the kitchen counter.

His apartment was small and sparsely decorated. There was a tiny television, a threadbare couch, and a table with two lonely chairs. Every surface was polished and free of dust. This was his safe place. A clean room. A place where he could defrag and reboot.

Waylon sat on his couch with his sanitized phone and struggled momentarily with the unfamiliar code, trying a few before he guessed correctly. He immediately punched in a familiar number, and clutched the phone to his ear, breathing heavily.

"Dr. Mason," mumbled a woman's voice.

"I saw the Walrider."

There was a long pause and a yawn. "Waylon?"

"Evie, I saw the Walrider, here in Kyoto, and it was..."

"Slow down," said Dr. Mason, yawning again.

"Sorry, did I wake you?"

"Oh, no, no. I mean, yes, you woke me, but I should be waking up anyways. It's...oh, already seven in the morning. Besides, it wouldn't be a call from you if it wasn't at some strange hour. Now. Please, calmly, what happened?"

"I saw the Walrider. It came to Kyoto. It tried to attack me."

Dr. Mason hummed on the other end of the call. "That is new. Usually, your visual hallucinations manifest as Gluskin, Manera, or the other aggressive patients. You have never shown much fear of the Walrider. Why do you believe you are hallucinating the Walrider after so long?"

"I didn't. It was real. I saw it, and it came under the door, and..."

"Pause there, Waylon. What was happening when you saw the Walrider?" asked Dr. Mason.

"I was...in the bathroom...well, I had run into a bathroom because someone was chasing me," said Waylon.

"Were you experiencing any other hallucinations? Auditory? Visual?" asked Dr. Mason.

"I could hear Eddie. He was singing. But, that's so usual it's almost normal for me—but the Walrider doesn't usually appear..."

"Okay, so you were in the midst of a delusion, auditory hallucinations, sensory hallucinations as well?"

The smell of death and guts and the view of the Vocational Block walls with their grimy bloodstains...

"Yeah," admitted Waylon.

"...and then you had a visual hallucination," said Dr. Mason. Waylon sighed loudly, squeezing his eyes shut as he clutched the phone to his sore cheek.

"It was real," he said, though much of the fight had left his tone.

"Waylon, the Walrider Project was shut down completely after it was exposed. You helped bring that to a close. The actual swarm was lost that day when Billy Hope was killed. You know all of this. Try to calm down, clear your mind, and think rationally about this. You saw the Walrider manifest during the riot, and you watched it kill Jeremy Blaire. That's the last time anyone ever saw the Walrider."

"Yeah," said Waylon, though he felt an uncomfortable twist in his stomach. There was a blurry memory in his mind. A vision of a man in a black mist, reaching toward the Jeep he had used to drive away from Mount Massive the morning after his ordeal.

"Waylon, why would the Walrider be chasing you down across the world?" asked Dr. Mason. He had no answer. He sat breathing more calmly. "Are you feeling calmer, now?"

"Yes," mumbled Waylon.

His rational mind told him that Dr. Mason was right. There was no reason the Walrider would chase him down. He had done nothing to the swarm, after all. He had escaped its clutches on some occasions, and watched it kill Jeremy Blaire, but he had not sided with Murkoff. Waylon had done nothing to upset Billy Hope, the known host of the Walrider. Hope was dead, and the Walrider was gone. He had been in the midst of a delusion. It was a horrible feeling, having to piece together his own memories, and realize he was overreacting about nothing. Although...

"There was a man, though. Someone chasing me. I'm almost positive that was real," said Waylon.

"Did you use any of your methods to combat the delusions?"

"Oh," said Waylon, pulling he phone away. He put it on speaker and quickly navigated to his recent pictures. "Yeah, I forgot, I actually managed to take some photographs..."

Waylon flipped through and saw a few blurry pictures of a regular bathroom. No blood, no sewing machines, no Eddie Gluskin gazing at him, longingly.

"Is the Walrider in these photos?" asked Dr. Mason.

"No, but I did not really have it out in time for that particular portion of the attack..."

"Maybe we should discuss upping the dosage of your antipsychotic?" asked Dr. Mason. Waylon groaned, holding the phone with one hand and massaging his forehead with the other. "Are you going to be alright, Waylon? Do I need to call Agent Perry?"

"No," sighed Waylon. "No, I'm fine. I'm going to sleep. I'm exhausted."

"You're not abusing the sleeping pills again, are you?" asked Dr. Mason.

"No, I'm taking the correct dosage."

"I know this is not the best time, but we really need to talk, again, about the transfer. I know you do not want another psychiatrist, but I am just not sure I can keep up with your demanding needs. I do not want to offend you, and I care for you very deeply, but it is in your best interest to have someone able to give you more time and availability."

Waylon hummed as though he had not heard. "Goodnight, Evie."

"Good morning, Waylon," she said, sighing as Waylon ended the call.

The walls in the bedroom were white. There were no personal affects to even suggest someone lived in the room, save a small, metal lamp on the nightstand. It was always left on—his last bastion against the darkness.

Waylon moved so often he had stopped adding any additional decorations or artistic touches. They made everything look less sanitary. Waylon took his night time regimen of pills, and collapsed on the single bed. Waylon found the lack of decor peaceful. Clean. He dozed off as soon as the medicine took effect.

The next morning, Waylon called the number he knew to get in touch with the FBI and let them know he had missed his meeting. Not that they were unaware.

"Park. Hot date last night? I hope you were getting your dick sucked because there's no other reason to miss a fucking drop appointment, you ass..."

"Fuck you. It was...mental health issues...

"Yawn. Not nearly as interesting as oral sex. You're always such a disappointment. I figured you would be calling with some sorry ass excuse. I talked to the agent, meet with him today at noon, okay? Some big public shrine near the Gion district."

"Yasaka-jinja?"

"Domo arigato, Mr. Roboto, you know I don't speak Japanese. Just be there. Noon."

Waylon sighed. His beloved psychiatrist wanted to push him on a new doctor, and all of his requests to the FBI for a different agent contact were promptly dismissed. Waylon had no choice but to make his way toward the Gion district around lunch time. He sat on a bench and watched the traffic ebb and flow around him as he stared out at the city.

Camera wielding tourists, uniformed students, ladies in kimonos, and a large variety of locals made up the crowd. It was easy to get lost in such a mixture.

Waylon pulled out his journal, staring at the creased pages as he began to write.

Lisa,

How many times did we go to the local Japanese hibachi restaurant together, drink too much beer, and clap too loudly at the same flaming onion volcano gag? Sakura. It means cherry blossom. Now that I have been to Japan, and seen real cherry blossoms in bloom...I would trade them all to be home, at our Sakura, with you, drinking cheap beer, and eating too much fried rice. I miss you...


 

"Mr. Brown?"

Waylon slammed the journal closed, trapping the pen between the pages, as though protecting some State secret from wandering eyes. He stared up at a young man with short, black hair and brown eyes. He wore a black suit, tan overcoat, and was presenting a badge. He kept it close to his body, invisible to most passing by, but Waylon recognized the insignia.

"Yes, I'm Mr. Brown."

"No, you're not," the agent spoke again, producing a manila envelope from a pocket in his over coat, "you're Mr. Morris now."

"Couldn't be worse than the last few names," muttered Waylon, accepting the envelope and tucking it under his arm along with his journal. He stood up and grabbed his cane. "There's cash inside?"

"All the documents and money are inside, yes. Do you have any other questions?" asked the agent.

"Nope," said Waylon, shrugging as he walked away, carrying his cane more than relying on it.

"Safe travels, Mr. Morris," said the agent. Waylon did not bother to return the sentiment. It was a long walk back to his apartment.

Waylon could not resist opening up the envelope and looking inside. It was always a thrill. Where would they send him this time? What type of job would they offer? Was he living in a cruise ship, a youth hostel, or the penthouse in a five-star hotel? He had made requests in the past, but so far, they had been ignored. He finally spotted a destination on one of the documents. Como, Italy.

Waylon felt a smile teasing the corners of his mouth. Italy? Really? That actually did not sound very bad. He could drink wine, and eat lasagna, and ride a gondola, or whatever the fuck people do in Como. He had no idea where it was located, but he felt a little excited. He had not been upset by any locations he had lived, but Italy actually made him feel hopeful.

He did not use his cane at all as he walked up the street to his apartment. He had very little to pack. The embassy would send someone to do away with everything else. Waylon only needed to pack his clothes, convert some money over to euros, and prepare for his flight in a couple days.

Traveling was a filthy chore, but Waylon pacified himself by deciding to buy a new journal at the airport. His current one was almost filled with letters to Lisa. He missed her so much. She would love to visit Italy. People had sometimes asked her if she were Italian, because of her thick, chestnut brown hair and beautifully tan skin. How she loved to reply that she was from St. Louis and not some exotic location. How Waylon loved every inch of that tan skin...

Waylon's thoughts were interrupted when he arrived at his apartment and walked up the stairs. The light outside his building flickered, ominously. The interior was thick with swarming moths and Waylon could not be sure if the issue was electrical or caused by the insects.

He carefully unlocked the door and stepped inside. He turned around and began to arm all of the locks and begin his homecoming ritual when he was frozen in place by a voice.

"Surprise, fucker."

System alert. Perimeter breached, foreign bodies located. Danger.

An involuntary shiver wracked his body as he recognized the voice from the previous evening. The chase had not been a delusion. He had not lost the pursuer. Murkoff had found him.

Waylon turned around, slowly, dropping the documents and holding his hands up in surrender. There was a matte black handgun trained on his face. The man was wearing the same long, black trench coat and dark glasses. He stood slightly taller than Waylon with a slender build. There was a dark aura to him that made Waylon feel uncomfortable.

"You're...you're in my apartment? Did you...did you touch anything? What are you doing here? What did you touch?" asked Waylon.

"I'm the one asking the questions..."

"Then what do you want?" asked Waylon, through clenched teeth. He stared right into the gun's barrel without flinching.

"I've come to collect a debt, Whistleblower."

Waylon exhaled loudly through his nostrils, keeping his mouth shut. He glared at the man, defiantly. "I don't owe you shit."

"Yeah, right, Waylon Park. You sent the email. You made this happen."

"YOU MADE THIS HAPPEN," said Waylon, his body shaking from stress as he glared at the assassin. "Your fucked up science experiments? Torturing humans to get some sick result, to access some hellish nanobot that should have never existed? Fuck you. You made this happen—not me."

"You're missing the point. You wrote the email, and that—"

"It DID NOTHING," said Waylon, taking a step toward the man. The gun did not lower, but neither did the man shrink away. Waylon dared another small step closer.

"I did not cause Billy Hope's lateral ascension. Your asshole bosses—the people paying you—they had me tied down in a chair, submitted to the brain frying Morphognenic bullshit, just for sending that email. And in the end, the email did nothing. It brought nothing..."

"I think you're wrong there," said the man.

"Nothing happened to Murkoff until I pushed that goddamn button, and sent that footage to the world so that no one could deny the truth. You can pin that on me, but the email was a wasted effort that wound me up in a patient's uniform during the goddamn riot. You have no idea the nightmares that I had to endure to get out of that hell alive. The footage is only half of the story." Waylon paused and squinted as he attempted to peer past the dark shades. The man was holding unnaturally still while aiming the weapon.

"Since then, you all have taken my job, my family, my friends, my ability to feel safe ever again. I'm just...there's nothing left for me, anyways. You won't be happy until you've taken it all, so you might as well take my life."

"At least you have a life left to be taken. That email ended my life," spat the man. "You get away, free and clear, while I have to suffer this bullshit - every goddamn day."

"Look. Just DO IT, I said. Waylon stepped closer until he was directly in front of the man. "Do it. Make it quick. Or not. Just...end this. I'm tired of running. I'm cached out."

"Look, I think..." the man's statement was cut short when Waylon attempted to slap the gun out of his hand. He immediately held his gloved hand and hissed in pain. It was like slapping a steel pillar. Waylon glared at the man's dark glasses, seeing only his own reflection—angry and immovable.

"Okay, full disclosure, that gun isn't loaded, but I don't need a gun to kill you..." said the man, lowering the weapon, the ghost of a smirk on the visible part of his face.

"Prove it, I said I'm tired of this shit, kill me," said Waylon, standing up as tall as possible, though he was still inches shorter than the stranger. "Murkoff wins, okay? You guys win, you ruined my life, took my family, wore me down until this is all that I am now. Kill me, I'm tired of clinging to this garbage fire of a life, so just do it, or leave me alone.

Waylon lifted his chin and waited for a strike that never came. He wondered if the assassin was going soft. Maybe he could see reason?

"You know, I really was gunning for an apology more than anything else..."

"You think I'm sorry? You want me to apologize?" asked Waylon, giving a humorless chuckle. "Fuck you. I'm not apologizing. I might not do it all again, if given the chance—but it's done." A tiny grin appeared on Waylon's face at the way the stranger's mouth twisted into a grimace.

"You monsters deserve everything that happens to you. I had to make the ultimate sacrifice to destroy the biggest monster in the world. Fine. Greater good. It should be me that dies for it, no one else, it was my finger on the button when I sent out that video. That footage said everything that needed to be said for those without a voice—so I don't need mine, anymore."

"Listen to you," scoffed the man. "Drop the fucking Whistleblower Boy Scout routine. Even after losing everything, at least you're still you. Ending up in this....depressing apartment on the other side of the world is at least still living."

"Sorry, I suppose you would rather I had just given up and died? Let Frank cook me in the morgue, or Eddie cut me in half in some misguided attempt to build me a cunt? Yeah, you're right, that would have definitely been preferable to bringing down a monster corporation. I had a choice; I made it," said Waylon.

The strangers shoulders shook, and Waylon stared in confusion. It took several moments for him to realize the man was laughing. The sound finally managed to escape, and he shook his head with a half grin on his face.

"You're confused. You are really fucking confused. You have no clue what you're dealing with right now. I'm not with Murkoff, bitch. I'm your worst fucking nightmare."

The man pulled off his beanie revealing a mop of messy, brown hair and removed his dark glasses. Waylon stared into the face of a man around his own age with strange, shifting gray eyes. The skin on his face seemed unnaturally gray.

"Does the name, Miles Upshur, ring any bells?"

Chapter Text

Miles Upshur. Error 404. File not found.

A random memory supplied a laminated identification card hanging from the rear view mirror of a red Jeep.

“Nope. Afraid not,” said Waylon, casually. “Although…it does sound familiar. Miles. Upshur. Wait, is that even your real name? It sounds made up—like a non de plume. A public figure? Or…” Waylon’s analytical brain churned through probabilities.

The man did not look like a celebrity, even though he was attractive despite the strange coloring. Why would a celebrity even be looking for him? He was angry about the email. It had been addressed to a handful of journalists Waylon thought might act on an anonymous tip about Murkoff. Was it possible? The buzzing of the airconditioner was louder than usual, making it difficult for Waylon to concentrate and think.

“I sent an email out to some journalists,” said Waylon, watching Miles’ reaction carefully. “You were one of them. The riot happened a few hours later, and I had no way of knowing if the message even went through.”

“It went through,” said Miles, his gray glare unsettling. Waylon could not tell if Miles’ gray eyes were steely or charcoal. The lighting in the apartment played with the color, causing it to shift and change.

“I guess It’s good to know my attempts to get the word out were successful, in some small way. That email cost me a lot,” said Waylon.

“Cost you a lot? I still don’t think you understand,” said Miles, taking a step closer to Waylon, and staring down at him. “I showed up there, Mount Massive, September 17, 2013. On your tip, I was lured there, just in time to get caught up in a shit storm.”

“Murk Tactical? Murkoff’s Mercenaries, you mean? Or did you get in the way of the fire that destroyed the asylum?” asked Waylon.

“I arrived a little before that,” said Miles, giving a bitter laugh. “In fact, I was there when the fire started.”

“The best arson experts in the country couldn’t come to any consensus as to what caused the fire…”

“I said I was there. I know what started it.”

Waylon’s brown eyes narrowed as he studied Miles. “You know what started it? The country’s top investigators were never able to determine how exactly the fire started, but you know? There were several points identified as potential candidates. The cannibal’s kitchen showed minor damage, probably electrical. A cafeteria near the male ward was thoroughly burnt, and there were traces of accelerant found, but the sprinklers were triggered, and able to contain the fire. The chapel burned completely to ash--candles were ruled the most likely culprit.”

“Candles,” said Miles, giving a huge grin that made him look like a cat that had just a helpless mouse. “You know a lot about this stuff?”

“I was kept in the loop of the investigations, considering my place in the whole information leak…”

“Look at you. Did you think that if you researched enough, studied the remains, sorted and filed away every piece of evidence, you would finally come to some conclusion about why and how something of this magnitude could happen?”

Waylon opened his mouth and shut it, quickly. Miles snorted and shook his head.

“You don’t know shit,” said Miles, taking a step away from where Waylon stood by the door, and walking deeper into his apartment.

Waylon’s eyes darted around the perimeter of the room. Nothing looked amiss, but somehow he could feel the foreign contamination of another person. The trespasser did not even seem uncomfortable.

“So you’re some genius investigative reporter, is that it?” asked Waylon. “You showed up on the scene with all the answers.”

“There are no answers.”

“Then what…”

“Like I said, I was there when the fire started,” said Miles, lowering his chin as he glared at Waylon. “It wasn’t candles. It was a person. Called himself a priest, but he was definitely not ordained in any religion you’d recognize. He preached the Gospel of Sand. And he died of self-immolation. He forced me to watch—to witness, he called it.”

“A priest, there weren’t any…wait, I saw a…well, he looked like he was attempting to resemble a priest’s garb…”

“Father Martin,” said Miles, still glaring. “Bald guy, I believe the words I used in my notes were ‘alcoholic kiddy-diddler?’ He wore a modified straight jacket dyed dark, and made to look like a vestment. He was writing on the walls, in blood, and…”

“Another lost soul? Don’t be afraid, you’re doing His work…”

Danger. System unstable.

“How…how is that possible?” asked Waylon, shaking his head as though the physical act could somehow put an end to his remembering. “How could you know something like that? No one ever reported another survivor.”

Miles’ description matched a scene Waylon had come across in the asylum. He had recorded the man, but it had been such a brief moment on the video. Maybe this person had somehow enhanced the video? But even then, how had he known, from one single blurry glimpse, about the patient’s garb and appearance?

Waylon’s eye twitched. If what Miles said was true…then he had been in Mount Massive during some parts of the riot. Someone else in the world had lived through what he experienced in those dark halls. And he stood in Waylon’s tiny apartment, speaking about it with no hints of a nervous breakdown.

“Who was going to report it? There was no one left alive” muttered Miles. “Considering everything that happened…I didn’t exactly go running to the authorities. Doesn’t seem like it did you any good.”

“So, when did you arrive? What…” Waylon had to pause, and step back toward the door for support, his head suddenly feeling very light. “What did you see?”

“Everything,” said Miles, reaching down to slowly remove his gloves. “You know what was down there.”

Waylon’s forehead creased in confusion as he stared at Miles’ hands. His strange grayish skin tone was as strange as his changing eyes. But what really stood out were the missing digits. “Your fingers…this happened at Mount Massive?”

“No. I had the world’s worst manicurist. Of course it happened at Mount Massive.”

“Well, I don’t know,” hissed Waylon. “Everyone knows what happened to me-it’s a matter of public record. They know what was on that video, at least. There were parts that happened when I didn’t have the camera up. Some of the worst things, actually,” said Waylon, trailing off.

“I saw everything,” Miles reiterated. “I saw blood splattered across the hallway walls, men more cancer than flesh. I watched men burnt alive--and one who attempted it, and was pretty fucking pissed when I hit the sprinklers and ruined his plan. I was tortured, mangled, beaten, and chased by some monster covered in gore calling me a little pig…”

Error.

“Do me a favor, and die here, Park,” said Jeremy Blaire, after hitting Waylon until his vision was a tiny black pinpoint, and his face throbbed in time with his heartbeat. He shook his head, trying to fight off the confusion. Something was breaking down the door. How had Jeremy survived so long in the riot? How had that slimy bastard escaped? Waylon barely had time to throw himself into a dark corner when the door finally flew off its hinges. Through the door walked the biggest fucking guy Waylon had ever seen in his life.

The rattling of chains echoed in his mind. He had to get out. The room was too small. He would be spotted. He had to run—again. Run away. Waylon dashed, and the beast followed, howling its outrage, chains clanking in time with heavy footsteps. Run. Hide. Survive.

The creature’s mass and height gave him a strategic disadvantage, if Waylon could only find another accessible vent. His footing slipped on a puddle. Blood, bile, worse? It was impossible to know. He barely regained his balance in time to avoid a crushing hand around his throat.

Salivation loomed in the distance. Waylon’s legs were painful from all the running. He ignored it. Run. Waylon forced his way through a pile of broken furniture blocking the hallway. His shoulder almost dislocated as he wedged himself deeper, feeling wooden splinters lodging in his flesh. He had to get away. A huge hand attempted to grab his neck, succeeding only in grazing it with bloody, sharpened digits—more bones than flesh.

He had survived. The sound of chains rattling grew dimmer and dimmer…

“Park? Park?” A slap in the face. “Park?”

“Wha…” Waylon glanced around in confusion. He was not in the asylum. But he was no longer in his apartment, either. He was…well, he had no idea where he was. Miles Upshur was gripping his shoulders and staring into his eyes, his expression a mixture of anger and curiosity. Waylon’s ankle throbbed in pain that hit him all at once. He grunted and gingerly lifted his leg. Waylon would have fallen if Miles had not been there, keeping him upright.

“Don’t call me by that name!” said Waylon, leaning heavily against Miles. Miles managed Waylon’s entire weight as it if were nothing. Not that Waylon was all that heavy considering he barely ate and had lost considerable muscle tone during his years on the run.

“You wanna explain to me what the fuck just happened?” asked Miles.

“I…” started Waylon, pausing to take a deep breath and collect his thoughts. “I don’t know. I was back there. In the asylum. Chris Walker…”

“Yeah, that was his name! The big guy. I found a file on him. I remember seeing his picture on television,” said Miles. “So you freaked out that bad over a memory?”

“Flashback,” said Waylon, politely correcting Miles. “I, uh, suffer from a wide variety of undesirable side-effects due to my time spent at Mount Massive. I have post-traumatic stress disorder, PTSD. It’s…”

“I know what PTSD is, jackass,” said Miles, releasing Waylon suddenly with a short push. He winced and hobbled until he could lean against a fence post nearby. They were in an alley between large buildings. Waylon slowly recognized the street corner, and realized he must have run out of his apartment and across the street before regaining control. Every time it happened was as frightening as the first.

“I need to get home, I need to get off this ankle. So unless you still want to kill me?” Waylon asked, sounding almost hopeful.

“Keep tempting me,” said Miles, glaring at him. He replaced his dark glasses and beanie cap before pulling up the collar on his black jacket.

“I’ll help you get back,” muttered Miles. He hooked an arm around Waylon’s waist and allowed him to lean against him like a crutch. Waylon had not brought his cane in his delusional state.

“How do you manage then?” asked Waylon, his words jolting with his uneven steps. Miles only frowned at him from behind dark glasses. “So I’m to believe that you were there, you experienced what I experienced, and you’re not suffering any side-effects? Maybe, because you weren’t subjected to the Engine…”

“I can say with utmost confidence, I’m experiencing much worse side-effects than you,” said Miles, snorting quietly to himself.

Both of the men were quiet during the rest of the short walk, and the agonizing climb up the flight of stairs. Once inside, Waylon regained his cane, and began to strip off his outerwear.

“Hey, do you mind, taking off your jacket, and gloves, and shoes, and…”

“You going to buy me a drink, first?” asked Miles.

“Er…” Waylon stuttered and his face went crimson. He ignored the response and began to take off his own shoes, gloves, and clothes until he was down to a thin undershirt and some covering boxers. Waylon sighed as he looked around his apartment. “Either the dirty clothes come off, or you leave.”

Miles made an irritated noise and continued standing by the door, refusing to comply with either request.

Waylon walked into the living room, cautious, as though afraid to touch anything. “You were here earlier. What did you touch? How long were you here?”

“I walked in your house, I sat on your sofa waiting, and I looked for some snacks, but I was sorely disappointed. What do you eat?”

Unknown file detected, potentially dangerous. Running antivirus.

Waylon shuddered visibly. He walked into the kitchen and pulled out his bleach cleaning wipes. He began wiping down the counters, occasionally glaring back at Miles, still standing in front of the door.

“Wha…what are you even doing? I’m not covered in germs—what’s wrong with me isn’t contagious.”

“I like to keep my house clean,” said Waylon, simply.

“You were always like this?” asked Miles.

“Since the riot,” said Waylon. “I’ve seen enough filth and decay to last a lifetime. I choose to keep my place clean.”

Miles gave a sarcastic laugh as he removed his hat and glasses, putting them in his jacket pockets. “Look at you, you’re a mess. There’s a difference in being a neat person, and being a complete germaphobe…”

“I have a psychiatrist for advice on my mental health so I don’t need your input, thanks.”

Waylon continued cleaning in silence as Miles watched. Several minutes of intense scrubbing passed before Miles spoke again. “You’re hiding from Murkoff.”

“I’m hiding from everyone,” said Waylon, still cleaning.

“You’re about to leave again,” said Miles.

“Yeah, because you found me,” said Waylon, not looking up.

“No, because Murkoff did,” said Miles. Waylon paused in his movements and canted his eyes up toward the intruder’s presence.

“You…you said you weren’t with Murkoff,” said Waylon, his entire body tensing in preparation of another escape.

Standby.

“Fuck no,” said Miles, sighing as he resigned himself to taking off his overcoat. He hung it up and then discarded his boots, gloves, and sweater where Waylon had indicated. He took a step and Waylon made a noise of protest, holding up a hand. “I’m not taking off my goddamn pants. Just get over it.”

Waylon frowned, feeling a physical illness in his stomach as the stranger’s dirty socks trailed across his carpet. He needed to hear what this man had to say. He could disinfect the carpet later. He was leaving soon, anyways. Waylon gave a defeated sigh.

“You want something to eat?” asked Waylon.

Miles peered into the kitchen, a skeptical look on his face. “I looked earlier. There’s nothing in your cabinets. What are you cooking?”

“Noodles,” said Waylon, opening a cabinet and pulling out brick of ramen. “If you’re not working for Murkoff, then how do you know that they found me? How did you find me?”

“I have my ways,” said Miles, wiggling his eight fingers. Waylon rolled his eyes. “Since I’m not killing you right now, and you’re making me noodles…okay if I sit?”

Waylon shrugged, using his cane to walk over to a coffee pot and starting the appliance. After a moment, hot water began to drip into the pot. “Seems like a waste of time, going so far out of your way only to harass someone like me. What do you even care if I’m alive or dead?”

“I’m hunting Murkoff,” said Miles, as though it was a completely normal thing to say. Waylon raised his eyebrows as the pot continued to fill with steaming water behind him. “Everyone who did this to me is going to pay, and that includes the person that brought me there. Whistleblower.”

“Look,” said Waylon, taking a deep breath. “I had no idea that the message even went out. Jeremy Blaire laughed at my attempt and I assumed the email was intercepted before it could go anywhere outside of Murkoff’s system. I had no idea anyone answered the email. If I had known there was another, sane, ally in the asylum that night…it might have made the world of difference.” Waylon turned and tore open a package of seasoning. He proceeded to dump the noodles and powder into the coffee pot of hot water.

“It’s quicker if you make it in a microwave, you know,” said Miles.

“I don’t like microwaves,” said Waylon.

“Why not?”

“I don’t really want to get into that right now,” muttered Waylon, limping to retrieve two bowls and forks. “So, you’re trying to take down Murkoff. Good luck. I tried. Look at me now.” Waylon began dividing up the noodles and broth between the two bowls. He pushed one across the table toward Miles and kept the other close.

“You’ve been running this whole time?” asked Miles.

“Nah,” said Waylon, blowing on a forkful of noodles before bringing them to his lips and slurping loudly. “After the fire.”

“Which fire exactly?” asked Miles, taking a bite of his ramen.

“Someone set my house on fire, while my family and I were inside,” said Waylon, softly. He stared into the depths of his bowl for several seconds before he resumed eating.

“Could be bad luck?”

“Murkoff. Witness protection program took over after that. Separated my family. I’ve been moving around ever since. Murkoff keeps finding me,” said Waylon. He put his fork down, and raked his fingers through his choppy blond hair. “I don’t know if it’s my imagination, or reality. I have trouble differentiating sometimes. But, it always feels like they’re right there, in the shadows, trailing me. Breathing down my neck.”

“They are,” said Miles, slurping up a noodle and wiping excess broth from his face. “That’s how I found you. I didn’t want them to steal the privilege of killing you.”

“Good thing I’m already on my way out of the country, then,” said Waylon.

“You met with an agent today…” said Miles.

“You’ve been spying on me?”

“…and discussed leaving the country. You’re running because you know that Murkoff’s on your trail. And you’re right. The agents got in two days ago. They’re staying in a corporate flat downtown. They suspect you are in Kyoto because of some activity on your old accounts. But they suspected several other locations before this one…”

“How do you know all this?” asked Waylon.

“The answer I am more interested in, is how do you know that Murkoff is onto you?” asked Miles.

“I’ve been paranoid for a while,” said Waylon, between mouthfuls. “Finally got to where I couldn’t ignore it anymore. The plans are already arranged. I’ll be out of the country in two days.”

“I can tell, definitively, when you’re lying,” said Miles, staring over his steaming bowl at Waylon. “You have better ways than feelings. They really did find activity on your old accounts, didn’t they?”

Waylon stared awkwardly, training his face to stay as neutral as possible though his brain was whirring with confusion, and the buzzing from the damn air conditioner seemed to be growing louder.

“I need to know,” said Miles. “Maybe we can help each other out. You fucking owe me. You help me get rid of the rest of Murkoff, maybe we’re even, and I don’t have to kill you.”

“You expect me to reward you for not doing something illegal and morally disgusting?” asked Waylon, meeting Miles’ glare with indifference. The threat of death held much less power when the person being threatened would not mind dying. “You were carrying around an unloaded gun, how exactly are you planning on stopping them? You’re some kind of kung-fu master turned reporter?”

Miles snorted. “Wow, you’re not funny. Mount Massive. That place left me…hardened. I’m different. There’s…things I can’t really discuss.”

“Yeah, there’s things I would rather not discuss either,” said Waylon. There were some things he did not even discuss with Dr. Mason. Some things he did not even allow himself to remember.

Memory corrupt.

Waylon shook his head and stared at Miles, his strange gray eyes suspicious. He had no way of knowing how long he had been staring. “I’ll tell you how I track Murkoff, if you tell me how you do it.”

“Show me yours I’ll show you mine,” said Miles, grinning. “Okay. You first.”

Waylon huffed and pushed around the last lonely noodle in his broth. “I designed their system. I can still get access. A combination of social engineering and luck, and I can search through some memos for key phrases. Namely, Waylon Park, locations where I am staying at the time, other important phrases to indicate they are looking for me…”

“They are looking for you,” said Miles, his tone deadly quiet. “Have you kept up with Murkoff in the news?”

“Of course,” said Waylon, ticking off facts on his fingers. “Indicted in America. All the managers, anyone who knew anything, jailed. They’re no longer allowed to do any sort of business in the States. More countries are finding them guilty and banning them all the time…”

“Yeah, but have you heard about what happened at some of the major international locations in the last years? Munich?”

“Munich, there was a gas leak,” said Waylon. “The whole place burned down, officially ruled an accident, and they were denied the right to rebuild.”

“Yeah, but there were other strange happenings…”

“Well, Hong Kong office they had several executives turn up dead in their offices. It was assumed suicide, since they were in the process of being prosecuted for crimes against humanity…”

“Right. Similar story in their other international offices. They had shell companies as well. Places operating without the Murkoff name, but owned and fully controlled by Murkoff executives. Similar deaths were cropping up. They’re closed, now. There’s only one bastion of Murkoff left, but I don’t know where it is. Yet. I do know what they’re planning, though.”

“How do you know?” asked Waylon.

“I’m an investigative reporter. I investigated,” said Miles.

“Are you implying that all of these events across the globe are connected?” asked Waylon.

“Oh, they’re definitely connected,” said Miles, and the cruel smile that crept onto his strange gray face made Waylon shudder. “I know that for a fact. Murkoff knows, too. But you see, Murkoff believes they know the source of these terrible events. They’re seeing ghosts. Blaming shadows. They’re convinced that the Walrider escaped Mount Massive, and is haunting their locations.”

Waylon’s recent vision of the Walrider sprang back into his mind. It was real, he had told Dr. Mason. But then he remembered her responses.

“The Walrider? Billy Hope is dead. They found him dead, still hooked up to the Morphogenic Engine in some kind of fire-proof glass sphere filled with his blood. The Walrider can’t exist without a host.”

“Impressive that you know all that,” said Miles, his smile dropping. “Well, you see, Murkoff only knows about one survivor from the asylum and, therefore, they are positive that the new host of the Walrider is one Waylon Park.”

Waylon pushed away from the table, a sudden wave of nausea washing over him. “They’re trying to kill me, all these years, because they think I’m the Walrider’s host?”

“Partly, also the head of the board of directors has a bit of a personal vendetta against the Walrider,” said Miles. “But it’s okay. I know you’re not the host.”

“I barely saw the Walrider. It chased me, and killed Jeremy Blaire, and…I thought I saw it…at the gates…but no one’s seen the Walrider since that day.”

Miles chuckled, drumming his fingers on the table. It was a strange staccato sound, considering only three fingers met the table. “It doesn’t really matter if the Walrider is real or not—they think it is. And they’re coming for you. But I’m starting to think we can use this to our advantage.”

“How do I know I can trust you,” snapped Waylon, glaring at the smug expression on Miles’ face.

“I guess you don’t,” said Miles, pushing away his broth. “But it seems to me like this plan of mine would benefit both of us. Murk Tactical and the last remaining Murkoff executives are desperate to collect you. They would all come--like moths to a flame. We could set a trap.”

Waylon pushed up from the table with a loud scrape of his chair against the linoleum. He grabbed the two bowls and walked them to the sink without the assistance of his cane. He leaned heavily against the counter as he dropped the bowls into the sink. He opened a cabinet and began rattling several containers. Miles heard the noise and stood up, tilting his head toward the sound and reminding Waylon of a dog that’s heard a rodent. He quickly joining Waylon in the kitchen.

“Holy shit, you have like, a pharmacy in here.”

“They’re prescribed,” said Waylon, staring at Miles out of the corner of his eye.

“So you’re living in this shit hole, on every kind of medication available, and you’re still in constant pain, paranoid, having fits…damn, killing you would be a mercy.”

“I think about it sometimes,” said Waylon, finding the correct bottle and tossing a couple of large white pills into his hand. Water wasn’t necessary. They went down easy.

“What keeps you going?” asked Miles.

“My family,” said Waylon. “I have two boys, and a wife…Lisa.” Waylon’s voice changed when he said her name, like uttering a sacred word. “If Murkoff stops hunting me in the future, we can be united. If I’m healthy enough. If I’m not a…a danger to them.”

“If we don’t try this plan, what are you going to do? Just keep running? How long?”

“I don’t know,” said Waylon, sighing. “I’m tired of it.”

“Then stop running.”

“Like I said, I think about it sometimes to the point of ideation, but my family…”

“No. Don’t kill yourself. Just, stop running.”

“Oh, like, stop running and let Murkoff kill me, a kind of ‘suicide by cop’ situation,” said Waylon.

“No, fuck, Park. Just, not die at all, just stop running. Take on Murkoff, with me,” said Miles.

Waylon laughed, and it was a jarring sound, having not laughed much in the past years. “I’m useless. I’m not an investigative journalist. I’m not some kind of fighter. Shit, I can barely make it through a day without ending up on the ground rocking in the grips of a delusion. And you want my help?”

“Murkoff won’t stop until they get you. They think you’re the host of the Walrider that’s killing off their people, one by one. And the head of the board has beef with the swarm. They’ll keep chasing you, and eventually you will slip up. Instead, let’s set a trap. We’ll lure them here. When they show up, the authorities round them up, and it’s over.”

“You make it sound so easy,” snapped Waylon. “We would die. They would kill us.”

“Oh, I don’t worry about that,” said Miles, shrugging casually. “I’m already dead.”

“I guess you’re right, this isn’t much of a life,” said Waylon, glancing around at his pitiful apartment. “I risked my life to bring Murkoff to justice. I guess I could risk it again to end this, once and for all.”

“After they’re done, you can get your family back,” said Miles.

“What’s in it for you?” asked Waylon.

“Revenge,” said Miles.

“I need time to think,” said Waylon, going pale at the very thought of what he was agreeing to try with this stranger. “I’m supposed to be leaving in two days.”

“But they’re already in Kyoto, we could have them today if…”

“I need time,” said Waylon, narrowing his eyes. “I’m out of here. In just a couple days I will have a new place. New identity. I could make sure it’s safe, then lure them in. Once you find out they’re after me, we close the trap, call the FBI, they’re arrested, and this is finally over?”

Miles hummed to himself, scowling like a toddler that’s just been put in time out. “Fine. I’ve waited three years what’s another couple weeks. I can figure something out in that time. Does this mean you’re in?”

Waylon considered Miles’ plan for a few silent moments. His initial thought was to refuse. To leave Japan and hide from Miles, as well as Murkoff. Maybe he could even tell the FBI about another survivor, and have them take Miles in for questioning.

But he really was tired of running. He missed his family, dearly. At the rate things were going, he would never see them again. If this was a chance, even a small one, he should take it. He was desperate.

Calculating chance of success. Thirty three point three three three repeating…

No matter the chance of success, even if the plan was a failure, at least a bullet to the head would be a quick death. And Waylon wouldn’t have to pull the trigger himself.

“I’m in. I want to destroy the Murkoff Corporation. Bury it in shame. Take away its money. Wipe it from history.”

Chapter Text

Noon the next day, Miles met with Waylon at a restaurant downtown that served sushi via conveyor belt. The vibrant orange and white decor clashed with the serious mood at the table.

After a long night of decontaminating his apartment, Waylon was exhausted. The bags under his eyes were more pronounced than usual, and there was a cut on his face where he nicked himself shaving. He wore his windbreaker indoors to hide the wrinkled, disheveled appearance of his white shirt and jeans.

His initial reaction was to be angry at Miles for causing the problem, but he knew that was wrong. Evie would tell him that this was his own issue, and not Miles’. It was not right to project his anger at Miles, just as it was not right for Miles to blame Waylon’s email for his own troubles.

And Miles did look troubled. Waylon had no idea what had happened between the meeting in his apartment and lunch that day, but Miles seemed listless. Much of the anger seemed to have melted away into something more akin to melancholy. He wore the same dark jacket but had taken off his dark glasses while indoors. His strange gray eyes seemed darker than usual.

“Why aren’t you eating anything?” asked Miles. His voice was clipped, as though he were barely controlling some type of outburst.

“I’m waiting for something I can eat,” muttered Waylon, staring at the slow moving conveyor belt of sushi.

“You don’t like sushi? Why’d you choose a sushi restaurant?” asked Miles, shaking his head. His hair barely swayed, greasy and sticking to his forehead. Waylon shuddered, even imagining being that dirty was physically painful.

“I like sushi,” said Waylon, refusing to rise to Miles’ prodding, “I just don’t eat meat.”

Miles snorted and reached to grab a plate containing a sushi roll from the belt. “No meat? Really? I wouldn’t have taken you for some kinda vegan hippy, Park.”

Don’t ever use that name. And I’m not vegan,” said Waylon, refusing to look anywhere near Miles, “I just don’t like to eat…creatures.”

“Ah, an animal lover, huh?” asked Miles, smirking.

“No,” said Waylon, grinding his teeth slightly. “Dammit, no, fuck animals. Not literally. But I don’t give a shit about animals.” Waylon saw a cucumber roll had finally made its way within reach and snatched it from the belt. He glanced up and found Miles staring at him, as though he were some specimen in a zoo.

“That was pretty uncalled for,” said Miles, using a hand to pick up one of the pieces of his roll. He dunked it into soy sauce until it was over-saturated. “What a dumb thing to get so offensive about, what’s your deal, then? Just don’t like the taste? Your mom made you kill your pet turkey on Thanksgiving?”

Waylon picked up his chopsticks and stared down at his plate of cucumber pieces. He glanced around, ensuring there were no eavesdroppers. Murkoff could be anywhere. “You said you were in the asylum. You saw what I saw. How can you eat meat after something like that?”

“Wait,” said Miles, pausing to shove the dripping piece into his maw. His mouth was still full when he continued. “You mean, you don’t eat meat because of the cannibalism, dead bodies, all that mess?”

Waylon met Miles’ eyes in a stare that said he had asked a stupid question.

“Sure, I saw cannibalism, and more people than was comfortable said they’d like to make a meal out of me, and, Jesus, the blood and parts and all that mess…I don’t know.” Miles dunked another piece. “I guess by the end of the night, I was a little desensitized to it.”

“How…how can you just get desensitized to something like that?” asked Waylon, frowning in disgust as Miles used his hand to bring another dripping piece to his mouth.

“I don’t know,” he said, mouth full, shrugging in his chair. “I don’t even think about it much, anymore. By the time I escaped that place, I was bored of blood and guts. I’m not gonna let that place win.”

“I can’t bear it,” said Waylon, gripping his knees under the table where Miles could not see. “I look at people, eating meat, especially anything really rare, or red, and I just, I’m right back there, in the kitchen, with Frank…”

Danger.

Waylon could hear the humming noise of a microwave. The origin seemed to be right behind him. He had the eeriest feeling that, if he could just crane his neck around, he might catch a quick glimpse of an eviscerated corpse before the timer went off. Instead, Waylon kept his eyes staring hard at the table. He refused to turn his head.

“Fuck that,” said Miles, leaning back and staring down the conveyor belt with a sharp eye, “That place might have ended my life as I knew it, but I’m not gonna let it win—I won’t let it stop me from enjoying the things that I like. I’m done feeling sorry for myself or avoiding things. I tried it for a year or so, didn’t work for me.”

Waylon watched as Miles picked up a plate of tuna pieces and another large roll so covered in eel sauce and roe that it was difficult to determine what was inside. He tore into it, using his fingers, and chewed loudly. Waylon frowned.

“Can you please use chopsticks? And you’re using too much soy sauce, you’re not supposed to drown it like that…”

Miles’ gray eyes canted up and shot a cold glare at Waylon as he wiggled the fingers on his right hand. “I’m not so great at chopsticks anymore. I forgot to ask for a fork. So I’m using my hands. Get over it.”

“I hope you washed them first…” said Waylon, already imagining the cesspool of bacteria found on a human hand from coming into contact with a hundred door knobs, and currency, and…

Warning! Bacteria detected; approaching dangerous levels.

“You alright?” asked Miles, holding another piece of sushi in his hand. Waylon shuddered.

“Uh, yeah, I’m fine, I had a long night, uh…” Waylon searched his brain for a suitable excuse that was not “bleaching everything in my apartment” and came up short. Excuse Not Found.

“Something is bothering me, though,” said Waylon, his forehead creasing.

Miles hummed to acknowledge he had heard, as he continued munching away--a few stray pieces of rice glued to his chin.

“How’d you get into my apartment last night?” asked Waylon.

“I picked the lock,” said Miles. He continued chewing and staring at the conveyor.

“I have several locks.”

“I saw them,” said Miles, nodding, “when I picked them all, and got into your apartment.”

“That’s…how do you even undo a chain? A deadbolt? You’re some kind of safe-cracker as well as a reporter?”

“Oh, safes are no problem,” said Miles, grinning, eyes glinting dark for a moment. “There was nothing good in your place, anyways. You keep your money in plastic baggies between the box springs and the mattress. Got my hopes up thinking it was drugs. What’s the point of all that, anyways?”

Miles had touched his bedding? Waylon sighed in relief that he had taken the extra precaution of changing his sheets before finally going to bed.

“Money is filthy, do you have any idea how many hands it’s touched? Do you know what those hands have touched before touching the money?!”

“Calm down, Mr. Clean,” said Miles, stacking up his empty plates. “I’m good at what I do, let’s just leave it at that. I was out late last night, checking in on our Murkoff friends.”

“You…t-the agents? You said they’re in town, you…you made contact with them?” asked Waylon, feeling himself break out in a cold sweat.

Murkoff. Danger. Standby for emergency protocols.

“I got the information I needed,” said Miles. Waylon still felt incredibly cold and nauseous.

“Where’s their headquarters, then?” asked Waylon.

“That’s going to be a little tougher to get,” muttered Miles. “But I got contact information. Direct lines, and accounts for Murkoff’s remaining systems.”

“And what exactly were you going to do with those?” asked Waylon, lifting up another piece of his cucumber roll with his chopsticks as he listened.

“You’re on your way out of this place,” said Miles, taking a long drink of his pale ale. “That’s good, because Murkoff knows where you are, and we don’t know what they’re planning, so they have the upper hand.” Miles paused, eyes darting back and forth across the restaurant.

“Here’s what I propose,” he continued. “We skip town. Set up in a new place, get a solid plan in order. Then, we’ll lure them there on our terms, using you as our lovely bait. With the information I got last night, we can lead them right to us. They’ll show up—they’ll have to. And we snap the trap right on top of them.”

“What if it’s just another couple agents? We have to keep doing this again and again and again until they give up? Or we just end up back at square one, running and hiding again…”

“I know for a fact,” said Miles, leaning forward over the table, “If Murkoff believes that Waylon Park…” Waylon hissed and glared around the area at the use of his name, “…sorry, if they think that you are there, they will send everything, expecting a showdown with…with it. The chairman will want to see it with his own eyes.”

“Waylon was frozen with his chopsticks held up as he stared away considering what Miles had said. “This will be dangerous.”

“Everything is dangerous for us,” said Miles. “I’ve been following them for years, they can’t touch me. Nothing will happen to you. Leave the fighting to the experts.”

A few quiet moments passed while the men ate in silence. Waylon continued to parse the information.

If the situation was a success, then he could go home to his family. Else he would meet a grisly end at the hands of his abusers.

Yet either way, he would be free.

“Let’s do it,” said Waylon. “I’m have to to speak with my contacts at the FBI. They can’t know what we’re planning, or they’ll try to take over, and they’ll ask a lot of questions about you. I’m allowed to have a traveling companion, I just need to give them your information to have you added.”

“Hmm, no,” said Miles, barely pausing.

“It’s non negotiable,” said Waylon, glaring. “The FBI isn’t going to let some random person travel along with a witness protection recipient. They’ll need your prints, and your picture, and your name…”

Miles snorted. “Fine.”


Waylon waited alone in the office while Miles was in the back room, speaking with an agent. He sat in an uncomfortable plastic chair on the other side of a mostly empty desk while the computer’s screen saver flashed vivid multicolored shapes.

Miles had been acting strange since they arrived.

Finally, a young agent walked in with a new file folder and a large grin on his face. Waylon recognized him as the agent from the shrine the previous day. Agent Tanaka.

“Hello, Mr. Morris,” said Tanaka, smiling. “Congrats on your new addition.”

“My…new addition…”

“You traveling partner,” said Agent Tanaka, taking the seat on the other side of the desk and adjusting his black suit.

“Ah, sorry, sounded like I was having a baby or something…” said Waylon. Which was something he could not do. Men could not have babies. No matter what Eddie Gluskin had shouted at him.

“Since Agent Perry is in charge of your case, I had to make sure he was aware of the plan and gain his approval, but I have just received word back from him, and your friend is still going through processing.”

Agent Tanaka set the file folder down and flipped it open on the desk, a smile still on his face. “There were just a few things that Perry wished us to go over before we make the final preparations. Oh, it says here, that you are important!”

“Important…how?” asked Waylon, his forehead creasing.

“Oh, my apologies, it says impotent, hmm, well, that’s interesting…”

“I fail to see how this is relevant…” said Waylon, his face immediately heating up.

“Well, Perry just notes that you have a wife in the States, so it was assumed that you were straight,” said Tanaka.

Waylon blinked owlishly. “Uh, what the fuck is Perry doing discussing my sexuality with anyone?”

“Oh, I apologize, I did not mean to insinuate that the Bureau was a bunch of gossiping old ladies,” said Tanaka, grinning. “It’s just our job to investigate everything pertaining to your safety. Your protection is our job. When you asked to add a man to the trip, we referenced your file and found it interesting that you were involved with a man, considering your marriage to a one, Lisa Park, not to mention the impotency…”

“Fuck,” said Waylon, sitting up in his chair, and glancing around the tiny room. It was only him and Tanaka in the room, but it still felt like too many ears for such a sensitive discussion. “Do you really have to sit here and talk about my personal medical history, and sexual preferences, out loud? And how dare you bring up my wife…”

“Oh, I apologize, Mr. Morris,” said Agent Tanaka, managing to look chagrined. “I assumed it might indicate the problem had desisted, considering you have a new partner. No one blames you for taking a partner, things can get lonely, and considering your situation…”

“We’re just friends,” snapped Waylon. And even that was mostly a lie. He kept that thought to himself.

Agent Tanaka hummed as he narrowed his dark eyes, studying Waylon’s face. “Friends aren’t a category of civilian allowed protection under this program, Mr. Morris.”

Waylon blanched.

“You know what I mean,” said Waylon, hoping his flustered mannerisms could be confused for embarrassment. “We’re best friends, he’s my lover-partner, and we make it work despite that medical issue. Relationships are more than just sex you know.”

It felt strange defending a relationship he did not have. At least Agent Tanaka seemed to accept the explanation.

“That is a beautiful outlook,” said Tanaka, sliding an envelope of documents across his desk. “I consider my lover-partner to be my greatest friend, as well.” Waylon gave a tight lipped smile and held out his hand to take the additional documents from Agent Tanaka.

“The same flight?” asked Waylon, before even glancing at the files.

“Yes, though I do apologize, you will not be able to sit together. Your two seats were already secured, but you will have to chose one, and give the other to your partner.”

The door Tanaka had entered through opened once again and Miles emerged, speaking with a silver haired agent. They were both laughing, and the older man bowed respectfully to Miles, who effortlessly returned the gesture. They were smiling, and speaking, like old friends, as the two agents escorted Miles and Waylon out of the office. Miles was shouldering a medium sized duffel bag.

“When do we leave?” asked Miles as they walked through the Embassy on their way out.

“First thing in the morning,” said Waylon.

“Great,” said Miles, following Waylon as they exited the large building and hit the sidewalk. “I’m sleeping at your place.”

“No, you’re not. I thought you had a hotel…”

“Yeah, but those idiots seem to think we’re living together. Plus, it allows me to make sure you don’t decide to make a run for it, and leave me high and dry, now that I’m on some kinda FBI watch list...”

“I’m not making a run for it,” said Waylon.

“Then let me stay over,” said Miles. “What, are you upset about the germs again? You’re leaving, what do you care?”

Waylon was distressed at the idea of having company. He had been a solitary creature before his wife and kids, and spent the last three years alone.

“Fine,” he said, finally. “But you’re leaving your clothes at the door.”

At the apartment, Waylon showered and scrubbed himself before dressing in comfortable clothes. He carefully wrapped all of his clothing in plastic wrapped packages, leaving dense stacks of white shirts on his bed. He was starting to put the clothes into his suitcase when he heard Miles in the hallway.

“If you’re not packing the sake, do you mind if I drink it?” asked Miles.

“Sure, fine,” said Waylon, concentrating on his task.

“What are you packing? Those bags wrapped in plastic make you look like some kinda drug mule.”

“It’s just my clothes. Keeps them clean.”

Astounding, the amount of time you’re wasting on something like this…”

“Get out,” said Waylon, pushing the last of the packages into his suitcase.

Miles shrugged, and retreated back to the tiny living area. Once Waylon was finished packing, he considered hiding away in his room, and claiming he was tired. He definitely did not want to spend time with his terrible traveling companion. But he was worried about what kind of trouble Miles could cause if left to his own devices. Waylon begrudgingly joined Miles in the living area, taking a seat next to him on the couch.

“I got you a glass,” said Miles, leaning forward to pour sake into one of the two small ceramic cups on the short table near the couch.

“Thanks, but I don’t like rice wine,” said Waylon.

“Suit yourself, I’m not letting it go to waste,” said Miles. Waylon made no movement toward his cup. Miles drained his own glass, and refilled it, before settling back onto the thin cushions.

The television droned on in the background, showing a live action Japanese show with people dressed up like monsters. Neither paid much attention.

“Don’t drink too much, we have to get to the airport early for international flights.”

“I’m a responsible adult, thanks,” said Miles, taking another sip of sake. “So you don’t drink, is that something from the asylum, too? You saw cannibals and alcoholics?”

“No,” said Waylon, directing a sidelong glare at Miles. “I drink, I just don’t like the way sake tastes.”

“I can tell this is gonna be a great trip. Seems like you let Mount Massive suck all the joy out of your life.” Waylon turned his head, slowly, staring at Miles in confusion. “What?” asked Miles.

“Y-you saw my footage?” asked Waylon. Miles gave a combination nod-shrug. “Then you know what was there, but you didn’t see everything.”

Waylon paused, leaning forward to rest his elbows on his knees. “During the first minutes of the riot, I found myself in the cannibal’s kitchen. I heard a loud blast, and I looked over. I recorded the aftermath, but the window was obscured with so much blood. That man…he was eating organs directly out of a dead body, after he microwaved the guy’s head so long that it exploded, like a watermelon under a mallet…”

“Shit, really? That’s hilarious,” said Miles, grinning as his shoulders shook with quiet laughter.

“Hilarious? What the hell is wrong with you, it wasn’t funny, it was horrifying. I can’t eat meat, I won’t go near a microwave, I just…”

“Did you ever see the original Gremlins movie? The mom kills one of the monsters by exploding it in the microwave. I’d probably laugh if I had seen that.”

“I didn’t laugh,” said Waylon, his face serious as he sat back up, staring at Miles’ smirking face.

“Don’t feel so bad, I was scared to death in the asylum, too,” said Miles. “Definitely shit my pants a little.”

It took a few moments for Waylon to register that the laughter was originating from him. Miles paused to pick up his glass, taking a sip while Waylon got the long laugh out of his system. “You shit yourself?! I did not shit myself.”

“You’re lying,” said Miles, grinning. “You’re either lying, or you have fucking bowels of steel.”

“No wonder you never came forward to the press or the authorities,” said Waylon, in between chuckles. “You shit yourself.”

“Shut up,” said Miles, grumbling. “Guaranteed you at least pissed yourself.”

Waylon coughed and reached forward, grabbing the second sake glass and taking a sip without thinking.

“As long as we need each other for this plan, just, try to relax a little, I really don’t want to be tempted to kill you again,” said Miles.

“Sorry about the FBI and all that earlier,” said Waylon. “In order to get you added to the plan, I had to stretch the truth a little. They wouldn’t let me add a friend so, that’s why they think we are…” Waylon used two fingers to gesture between himself and Miles.

“We what?” asked Miles with a straight face.

“Oh, well, the agents, came to the conclusion that we’re partners.”

“Right, and we are partners, in this plan,” said Miles, nodding.

“Yeah, but they think we’re l-lovers,” said Waylon, stumbling over the word. Miles’ reaction was an immediate laugh, his gray eyes crinkling and nose scrunching up.

“That’s fine,” said Miles once he was able to answer without chuckling.

“You don’t mind if the FBI thinks we’re a gay couple? If they think you’re gay?”

“No,” said Miles, grinning, “I don’t mind if someone thinks I’m gay.”

“Alright,” said Waylon, feeling his face finally cooling down from his embarrassment. “It probably won’t be an issue, but I thought I should warn you.”

“Well, then, a toast to our amazing new relationship. Cheers, sugardick.”

Waylon gave a long sigh, refusing to accept the toast. Miles clinked ceramic glasses together, anyways.

Chapter Text

“So, until you get the documents, you have no idea where you’re going?” asked Miles, yawning. His brown hair stuck up oddly from having slept on the couch, but at least he had agreed to shower, to appease Waylon’s aversion to germs.

“Nope,” said Waylon, holding his carry-on baggage in one hand, and using his cane with the other. The stress of traveling caused his psychosomatic injury to flare. “I’ve been requesting New Zealand for a while, but, so far, it hasn’t been one of the places.”

“New Zealand? Why?” asked Miles.

“That’s where they filmed Xena: Warrior Princess,” said Waylon, before clearing his throat and amending, “…and, I mean, Lord of the Rings. You can’t tell me you wouldn’t like to walk around in Middle Earth for a while.”

“Knowing my luck, a trip to Middle Earth would end up with me in Mordor,” said Miles. The pair walked slowly through the security line. Their government issued identification had passed every inspection. “They named me Flint Westwood. Is this a serious thing?”

“Sadly, yes,” muttered Waylon. “The jackass that has been coming up with these identities deserves a kick in the nuts. My name in Kyoto was Farley Brown. This time I am…Buck Morris. Seriously?”

“I like it! Buck. Bucky. You know what rhymes with Buck?”

The conversation was cut off as Waylon set his small bag on the conveyor belt at the security checkpoint. He grimaced at the thought of how many people had touched everything around him that day. He would throw away everything once he reached his new living quarters. There was no salvaging anything after a trip through an airport. Waylon walked through the metal detector and retrieved his bag, stepping to the side as he waited for Miles.

The sensors immediately began blaring when Miles stepped through. He gave a long exhale as he walked back through and repeated the motion, several times. He was ushered into an area where a Japanese security guard with a wand was waiting. The guard held the wand in front of Miles and it immediately began beeping. It continuously beeped as the wand was dragged up and over his body. Another guard with plastic gloves on came and began a pat down.

“Feel free to check all of my body cavities,” said Miles, holding his hands out, cooperatively. The wand beeped near his torso, “I have some shrapnel in there, from some past wounds.” It beeped near his arm, “Pins from an old break.” It beeped beside his head and the agent just stared. Miles knocked his knuckles against his own skull. “Metal plate.” The agent was staring hard at Miles’ mangled hand.

The guard discussed quickly between themselves in Japanese before ushering Miles into a small room where Waylon could not follow. Waylon busied himself in the store next door to the security station. He had promised himself he would purchase a new journal, since his last one was almost full of letters to Lisa.

Inside the airport shop, Waylon paused near the periodicals, attempting to find something in English. His attention was drawn to a newspaper, written in Japanese. The front page had a huge headline and a familiar picture. Only it wasn’t familiar.

A faded, color picture of a hotel room, roped off with yellow caution tape, painted red. It was more than a bullet exit wound could produce. The walls were saturated, and dripping, as though all the blood in a human body had been sprayed out at once. Waylon would have sworn it was the work of the Walrider. Except the Walrider had died with Billy Hope in Mount Massive.

Two small pictures showed a man and a woman Waylon did not recognize in photographs. They resembled passport photos. The entire newspaper left Waylon feeling uneasy. He hurried to the cashier to complete his transaction.

Waylon walked out of the store with his new purchase, but stopped short. Something wet had dropped on his face. He stared up, slowly, not wanting to alarm any of the people rushing about with luggage and children. From the ceiling, there were an entire forest of bodies, strung up by their neck or feet. Waylon calmly pulled out his phone, and aimed it in the direction of the bodies. His hand shook violently as he took the photo.

Steel beams. An unfinished ceiling. No bodies.

System check: All normal.

“You taking pictures of that chick?” Miles asked, reappearing at Waylon’s side, looking no worse for wear.

“Wha, no, of course not,” said Waylon, shoving his phone back into his pocket. “What was the hold up?”

“Eh, metal detectors hate me,” said Miles, grinning and shrugging. Waylon shouldered his bag, tucking away his new journal, and continued to walk toward their gate using his cane.

“Okay so, I am gonna need you to follow my lead, and sit in 4A if I need you to,” said Waylon, leading the way.

“Wait, it says 37E on my ticket,” said Miles.

“Okay, but my assigned seat is 4A in First Class. See, I always get two tickets, because I need to have a choice. Sometimes, I get bad feelings. It can be particularly troublesome on long flights. We’re going to be in here for a while…I can’t risk a delusion at thirty thousand feet.”

“I thought you had pills,” said Miles, one eyebrow raised as he tried to consider the new information.

“Look. We board last. I walk into the plane first. If I don’t like the people near 4A, I will sit in 37E, and you will get a First Class seat. The chances of running into Murkoff’s operatives are much higher in First Class. If I get a bad feeling, I won’t sit there. You are just officially assigned to my backup seat, as of right now.”

“Okay, but about those pills…”

“Yes,” hissed Waylon. “They’re my prescription. It’s for anxiety.”

“I don’t give a fuck what it’s for, I want some. No fair, you’re the only one who gets to pass out for the whole flight,” said Miles.

“Wha…are you serious?”

“Fuck yeah. And it takes a lot to affect me these days, so don’t be stingy,” said Miles, holding out his palm. Waylon glanced in all directions, very obviously. “Don’t be so sketchy about it.”

“You’re the one being sketchy,” hissed Waylon. He pulled out his prescription strength anxiety medication that had a side-effect of making the user sleepy. He carefully knocked two small bars into his hand.

“More,” said Miles.

“No,” snapped Waylon, but before he could protest, Miles had the bottle. He knocked four into his hand and threw them back without any liquid. He smiled at Waylon.

“Thanks,” said Miles.

“You’re not welcome--and that was a huge dose,” said Waylon.

The crowd to board the plan was dwindling down to the last people. The stragglers. The habitually late. The lovers having trouble saying goodbye. The people waiting until the last minute while charging their phones.

“We boarding, or what?” asked Miles.

“Yea, one second,” said Waylon. He pulled out his burner phone, and walked a short distance away from Miles. He dialed his favorite number, and waited.

“Hi, you’ve reached the voicemail of Lisa Park. Please leave a message after the…” a small giggle, “stop, Waylon…” Beep.

Lisa,” said Waylon, cradling the phone next to his cheek with a euphoric look on his face from hearing her recorded voice. “I miss you so much. I’m moving again. It’s going to be different this time, I have a plan, and a partner, and you...you would be so proud, I know. I love you so much. I miss you. I’m writing you everyday.”

Waylon proceeded to make obscene kissing noises into the phone, unaware that Miles was watching. Waylon sighed when he finally ended the call, and almost bumped directly into Miles.

“So, we going, or you need to make out with your phone some more?”

“Oh, no, I’m done,” said Waylon. Without any warning, he slammed the phone onto the tile floor of the airport, drawing several gasps and stares. He proceeded to stomp on the phone with his healthy foot several times until it was nothing but broken pieces.

“Okay, okay, what the fuck,” hissed Miles. “Could you be more goddamn dramatic? What is wrong with you?”

“We don’t have time to list all the things wrong with me. We gotta board,” said Waylon, adjusting his bag on his shoulder before limping toward the entrance to the boarding ramp.

Miles stuck close to Waylon as they boarded the plan. Everyone was already seated, which made moving slow. Everyone was messing with carry-on luggage in the overhead compartments, or begging the flight attendants for extra blankets and pillows.

Waylon was in the lead, and he paused when he walked past the comfortable First Class seats. They were faux leather, with tons of space between each chair to allow them to recline completely, and no shared armrests. He looked up at 4A and smiled…until he saw 4B. The man next to the seat was wearing black sunglasses and a black suit. Waylon felt his insides twist as he stared at the man.

“Sir, do you need help finding your seat?” asked a male flight attendant.

“No,” said Waylon, feeling himself already beginning to sweat. The man in the seat next to his had a receding hairline and silver hair, but there was something distinctly executive about him. Waylon shook his head and leaned backwards into Miles. “I’m taking the coach seat. Good luck.”

“Yeah, you too,” said Miles, shrugging. Waylon hurried off past the curtain that divided coach and First Class.

Waylon breathed a sigh of relief when he finally got into 37E. He was one of two middle seats between a woman with a messy bun who looked like a young librarian, and an old man with only a few wisps left on his head, already asleep. Perfect.

“Excuse me,” Waylon muttered, several times, as he fought his way to his middle seat and sat down. He stowed his bag away safely beneath the seat in front of him. Waylon leaned back and took a deep breath. The flight was going to be alright. He stayed awake through the easy take off, and soon fell asleep, thanks to his medication.

If only the drugs could stop the dreams. But the dreams always prevailed. Stifling darkness, pressing in on his person. Even though there was nothing corporeal about the blackness surrounding him, it was suffocating. The blackness could shift and push. Waylon had no choice but to make his way forward.

He wished he had his camera. The night vision had been his one weapon against the darkness, turning it into his own advantage. But then the area beneath him began to rise, and Waylon knew what that meant.

He looked up. Through the all encompassing darkness shone a light through an opening in the elevator shaft.

“Darling? Why…why would you do something like this to yourself?”

“I didn’t do this—you did this!” Waylon screamed, his voice drowned out by the loud sound of gears turning and scraping. The elevator began to rise, and Gluskin shut the grate. Waylon looked around, frantically, for the open floor—the route he had used to escape in reality. There was no opening in the nightmare realm. Only Gluskin’s bleeding face behind a metal cage.

Waylon threw himself against the bars, frantically.

“Whore!” shouted Gluskin, from the other side of the bars. Waylon glanced up, panicked. The ceiling was closing in. There was no escape.

“Please,” said Waylon, rattling the bars with desperate hands. “Please, Eddie, please, I love you, Eddie, please, open the door, let me love you! I’ll be good…I’ll…”

It didn’t matter what he would do because he lost his grip on the bars and the ceiling closed in. Waylon stared up into total darkness, the same stifling blackness as always, but this time he knew it was solid. He would meet his grisly end between two surfaces, squashed into a puddle that would flood out in a rain of blood and gore.

He could hear Eddie chuckling to himself, whistling some distorted version of Singin’ in the Rain, and then his head felt like it was being tightened in a vice and nearby, someone was crying…

Waylon woke with a horrible jolt, gasping aloud. A baby was crying. It took several moments for Waylon to orient himself. He looked around, groggy. Most people were glaring at the poor parent who could not help that her baby was crying.

Waylon remembered being in that position with his oldest, Trevor, when he had been a baby. The family had flown to visit Lisa’s parents in St. Louis. He smiled at the memory, but the continued screaming began to grate on his already frayed nerves.

Waylon attempted to stretch out, and ended up bumping into the librarian. She responded with an evil glare that set him on edge. Waylon instead leaned closer to the octogenarian on the other side.

“You know what they don’t tell you about flying?” said the old man. “You’re breathing recycled air. It’s just cycling back and forth. Every illness these people have, you’re going to get. It’s inevitable. That’s why I avoid flying anytime I can.”

The old man seemed to be breathing as loudly as possible, crust at the corners of his mouth catching Waylon’s eyes. He attempted to lean far away from the old man to stop the terrible conversation. The oblivious man continued speaking.

“They say that fewer deaths are caused by air travel than car travel. But I wonder if they’re counting the number of the elderly, and otherwise infirmed, that catch these so called ‘harmless’ illnesses from the recycled air. Why, if I had…”

Waylon stood up, practically jumping over his neighbors and into the aisle. He had to force himself to take deep breaths before he was even able to walk. He thought about the air, and began to feel faint. He stumbled to the front of the plane as quickly as possible.

“Excuse me, sir,” said the male steward as Waylon forced the curtain aside, and walked into the First Class cabin.

“There’s no problem. I just need to talk to my friend,” said Waylon. He walked to the aisle nearest Miles and glared at the flight attendant. “Flint. Flint.”

Miles woke with a start, looking around and rubbing his eyes. “What the fuck? Did we land?”

Waylon shook his head at Miles’ sleepy expression. Then he spied a group of empty, plastic liquor bottles.

“You’re not supposed to drink on that much medication, you dumbass,” said Waylon. He glanced over his shoulder several times. “Look, I’m completely exposed here. Everyone’s seen me. So I just want the First Class seat. It doesn’t matter where I sit, anymore.”

“Fuck you, you told me I get this seat,” said Miles, his sleepy eyes looking dark in the dim plane cabin. “I’m settled. I’m not your goddamn paid help, or something. I’m equal in this partnership, and you gave me permission. Now, go sit down.”

“No. I need this seat. It’s horrible back there. A baby is crying, the old man is talking to me,” said Waylon. “The air is stale. I feel nervous. It makes me feel like people are out to get me. I hate it.”

“I don’t give a shit,” said Miles, his face still sleepy. “I hate it when whiny little bitches try to steal my seat just because they’re uncomfortable. You had your chance to sit here. Now, piss off.”

You. Are. In. My. Seat,” growled Waylon, feeling his blood pressure spike. He stood up as tall as possible, glaring down at Miles. But when he met those strange gray eyes they were darker, almost black, and the buzz of the plane’s engine became deafening in his ears.

“Look, Buck Morris, back off, before I have you forcibly removed back to the poor section,” said Miles as Waylon’s vision turned into a pinpoint around only his smug face.

“Removed? You motherf…” Waylon launched himself at Miles.


There was plenty of time to reflect on his actions as he sat, handcuffed to a metal bench, in the holding section of the Leonardo da Vinci International Airport.

When Waylon had wandered the blood soaked halls of Mount Massive, he had not intentionally hurt anyone. Eddie Gluskin’s accident was his own miscalculation with his budget pulley system. Waylon had done nothing but struggle for his own life. He was saved more by luck than his own brawn.

He liked to fantasize about Jeremy Blaire, sitting in the doorway of the asylum. In his fantasies, Waylon approached his ex-employer, wrestled the blade from his hand, and stabbed him with it. Repeatedly. In the eye. In the chest. He left Jeremy riddled with holes.

In reality, Waylon had been willing to consider helping Jeremy. He was stabbed in the gut for his own sense of morality. If the Walrider had not manifested, and turned Jeremy into a sanguine rain, Waylon would have likely run away without doing anything to Jeremy.

And yet he had attacked Miles Upshur. He had only intended to push him out of the seat, but the man was immovable. Waylon could still hear him laughing, and a sound like a thousand angry hornets, as Waylon attempted to remove him from 4A. Miles seemed made from gray marble, his smirk carved onto his face, and eyes black as ink. In front of his face, the dancing, flickering images of the Morphogenic Engine played before Waylon’s eyes.

That part was Waylon’s damaged mind playing tricks on him.

He took the opportunity to practice his breathing techniques. Waylon did not speak Italian. He had no idea how to communicate his special circumstances to the airport security personnel.

The handcuffs had been placed on his wrist, and Waylon was back in the chair.

You don’t have to wake up, but open your eyes...

But Waylon was in the airport holding area. Not Mount Massive. Waylon was not in danger. He fought to keep from passing out due to the quick, shallow breaths. It was probably hours, though it felt like an eternity, before the door opened. A uniformed officer walked in and unlocked the handcuffs.

“Please, be mindful in the future, Mr. Morris,” said the airport security officer, speaking in clear English.

Waylon did not answer. Could not. He glared angrily at the ground instead, rubbing his wrists where the cuffs had left indents in his skin. The officer handed over his luggage and pointed him toward the airport exit. Waylon pulled his luggage with a glower on his face, struggling with his bag and cane.

Miles was laying across a row of uncomfortable chairs, somehow managing to look relaxed. His face was obscured by his dark shades, and an open book of sudoku. Waylon walked over until his shadow blocking the airport lighting caused Miles to glance away from his book.

“Nice going, asshole,” said Waylon through clenched teeth. Miles pulled dark shades down to look up into Waylon’s eyes.

“That’s rich,” said Miles, smirking. “You’re implying that I’m the issue? I didn’t go to your seat on the plane, and assault you.”

Waylon crossed his arms over his chest as he glared.

“What?” asked Miles with a snort. “You had a choice, you chose, I never agreed to some kind of reverse deal. And seriously, you were the one grabbing for my throat. I mean, you missed, but the intent was there.”

“You have no idea what I’ve been through,” said Waylon. “It was over two hours in that tiny room waiting for the FBI to smooth things over.”

“It took two flight attendants to drag you off of me.”

“You deserved it,” said Waylon.

“Oh, get over it,” said Miles, closing his puzzle book and standing up. “Our train leaves soon. The new one, I mean. We missed our other one obviously.” Miles snickered to himself.

“I hate you,” said Waylon.

“Considering I held a gun to your head a couple days ago—I’ll allow it,” said Miles. He stopped short, causing Waylon to bump into him. Waylon started to curse before he saw the cold, dark look on Miles’ face. “That was your one freebie. It would be too easy to end your life. We’re nearing the part in our plan where I don’t necessarily need you alive. So don’t tempt me again.”

“You’re the one that said we should try to make this less painful…”

“And I did. I took the seat you told me to take. There’s limits, Park. I’m not a fucking Saint. Now, let’s consider this issue in the past,” said Miles, shrugging before walking confidently out of the airport to catch a taxi to the train station.


“So where is this place we’re staying?” asked Miles, leaning his weight against the window in the train. They shared a private train car and sat facing one another next to a large window. The scenery passing beyond the glass was so beautiful the window could have been the frame on a painting. Lush, rolling hills, tall poplar trees, meandering fences and paths, and the frequent towns cropping up along the way.

“Yeah, that’s the best part,” said Waylon, chuckling to himself as he watched the Italian countryside. “The place we’re going to be living and working, is a winery. Exciting, right?”

“What, you think I’m some kind of alcoholic, that’s going to be excited to work in a winery?” asked Miles. Waylon rolled his eyes. “Okay, I’d love to work in a winery. Free any alcohol is a plus.”

“I don’t know if we’ll be drinking for free, but still. I’m usually unpleasantly surprised by my job selection. I was a janitor in Kyoto. A hotel laundry attendant in Fuji. The list goes on…”

“Oooh, maybe we’ll be picking the grapes,” said Miles, ignoring Waylon’s doom and gloom. “Or maybe they’ll put us in that big barrel full of grapes, and get us to squish them into magical wine…”

“I don’t think that’s how any of that works but, okay, dream big…”

“Living in Northern Italy, who would have thought. I can’t wait to see more of this countryside. Perfect place to lure those bastards out for a showdown. Mmm, the food, and the music, and the people…”

“Yeah, maybe not so bad after all,” said Waylon, the smallest grin on his face as he allowed himself to dream about their destination. The rest of the train ride passed in relative silence and they caught a cab easily enough once they arrived.

The winery was close to the city, but removed enough that it felt almost rural. It was past dark when they arrived. The landlord gave them keys and showed them to their apartment. It was situated above a separate garage building, away from the main house. Waylon had trouble climbing the steep, metal stairway to the second floor. There was a bright red door.

Inside, Waylon frowned at the modest furnishings and the sheets on the bed. The apartment would need a total scrubbing in the morning. Both men stared longingly at the one bed. Waylon glared at Miles.

“Okay, winner gets the bed. Count of three,” said Miles.

“Wait wait, are you going on three? Or we are going on the count after three?” asked Waylon.

“One, two, three, throw,” said Miles.

“Okay, I’m glad I asked, I always do it the other way, I always…”

Miles put his fist out, and leveled a glare at Waylon. He responded by quickly putting his own fist out, cupped in his opposite hand. “Just a warning,” said Miles, “my scissors look a bit different.”

Calculating move.

If Miles is going to throw scissors, then Waylon should throw rock. Unless Miles expected him to throw a rock. In that situation, Miles was going to throw paper. If Miles throws paper, then Waylon throws scissors.

“Okay, 1…2…3…” said Miles.

Both of the men threw rock.

“Okay, again. 1…2…3…” Miles threw rock—again.

Waylon threw paper.

Miles grumbled as he dropped his bag in the living room. There was not much to celebrate. The mattress was sagging, but at least it was a bed. Waylon made the bed with sanitized sheets he had brought with him.

Both of them should have been falling over, exhausted. Instead, they were strangely awake—delirious from lack of sleep. The owners of the vineyard had left a welcome gift in the kitchen. They decided to open the bottle of red wine and poured it into two of the provided drinking glasses.

The thought of the dust and germs made Waylon cringe, but he still accepted the drink. The glasses weren’t stemware, but they would work. The two men sat on the lumpy couch destined to become Miles’ bed.

“Do you have nightmares?” asked Waylon, taking a long sip of wine. “I have nightmares.”

“I don’t really dream. Ever,” said Miles.

“Lucky,” sighed Waylon, taking another long drink of wine. “I dream, and I’m right back in that chair with some disgusting scientist licking me, and weird, flickering images in my head. Or running from patients. Always darkness; always fighting for my life.”

“Thinking about the asylum makes me feel cold,” said Miles, quietly swirling the wine around in his glass.

“What scared you the most?” asked Waylon. Miles took a shallow sip and licked his lips, thinking.

“Knowing for sure, with proof, that humanity could perform this type of atrocity,” said Miles. “It’s one thing to read about the Holocaust, or watch a horror movie—it’s another thing to live it. What about you?”

“Losing my dick,” said Waylon, without hesitation.

“It goes missing often?” asked Miles.

“No,” said Waylon, chuckling. “Just, one particular psycho tied me to a table and tried to saw my dick off. Well, tried to saw me in two actually. He wanted to…to make a place…to push inside…”

“I don’t know, almost losing a dick, does it compare to actually losing two fingers? I mean, fingers are pretty important,” said Miles, taking a sip. “I’m assuming you managed to keep it?”

“In tact, thankfully,” said Waylon. The fact that it wasn’t functional, in a sexual sense, did not make it any less of a victory. At least he still had his manhood.

“There was a system, in the asylum,” said Miles, quietly. “Trager wrote it on the wall.”

Waylon shuddered at the name, recognition sending a chill down his spine.

“First, your fingers,” said Miles, his tone flat. “Then your balls. Then your tongue. I got away with only a couple missing fingers. My balls were up next. I just…”

“It’s okay,” said Waylon, when Miles went quiet and gripped his glass with two hands. “I don’t talk about it, ever. I could talk to Lisa, before the fire separated the family. It was nice to have someone to listen. But since then, it’s only my psychiatrist. No one…understands. You know? But you can talk to me, now, I guess. I can understand.”

Miles looked up from his glass and met Waylon’s eyes, as if considering something.

“I suppose you can,” said Miles. “I was scared of Chris Walker, too. I don’t know why, but I had this thought, while I was running through the asylum. I thought I remembered someone saying that your brain might stay alert for a few seconds after you’re decapitated. And looking back at my headless body would probably be my worst fear. I don’t want my last vision to be of my own useless body bleeding out.”

“I feel sad now,” said Waylon, reaching for the bottle. He refilled his glass and quickly downed most of the liquid. “But It’s nice, to have someone to talk to. I’ve been alone for the better part of three years. I have trouble just, dealing with people. So, sorry. About the plane.”

“No harm,” said Miles. “It wasn’t so bad going here with you. This place is kinda charming. Not the best furniture, but it’s got a balcony, and I like the red door…yeah, I could get used to this.”

The ghost of a smile lit up Miles’ face as he glanced around the bare living room. “You know, we don’t have to set the plan into motion immediately. We can take some time to breathe. Just, work here, sleep here. Get our bearings and live this life for a while. Even if it’s just temporary.”

“Very temporary,” agreed Waylon. He stood up, leaning heavily on the couch for assistance. He then used his cane to walk into the kitchen, and set aside the empty wine bottle and excused himself.

Waylon wandered back toward the bedroom and turned around in time to see Miles taking off his shirt and laying down on the couch in preparation of sleep. His torso was covered in strange scars, like white star bursts, on Miles’ tanned skin with its gray undertones. Waylon remembered the trouble in the airport, and wondered if Miles had been telling the truth about the shrapnel.

It was strange, having a roommate—a stranger, no less. Someone else that had witnessed the anarchy at Mount Massive and survived. Someone else was like him.

Waylon usually refused to think about the asylum before bed, because it guaranteed he would find nightmares—but that night, he could not help himself. He wondered what Miles had gone through.

He believed that Miles had been at Mount Massive. He knew too much to have been repeating what he’d seen on Waylon’s film, or what was reported in the news.

The news had glossed over several details, such as Waylon’s imprisonment by Murkoff because of the email. He was portrayed as some hero that fought his way out to bring proof to the masses.

It ran better in the papers than a frightened IT guy pissing his pants, and sobbing, while narrowly escaping with his life. The tragic hero whose life was destroyed because of his sacrifice to bring justice to those society forgot.

The video had not captured everything, and some of the most disturbing events were never made public knowledge. Eddie tying him to a table. Frank throwing him in an incinerator. The Walrider ripping Jeremy Blaire into bloody ribbons.

If Waylon was still holding so many secrets, he could only guess what type of secrets Miles was holding after three years of silence. Waylon was not sure he even wanted to know.

Chapter Text

Sleep was impossible.

Waylon felt guilty for having won the bed. He constantly woke throughout the entire night, covered in sweat, staring at shadows on the unfamiliar walls.

There was a constant buzzing sound from the thermostat that waxed and waned through the night. Waylon was reluctant to mess with it. Knowing his luck, any interference from him would only exacerbate the problem.

When the first rays of dawn lit up the cheap blinds covering the bedroom window, Waylon admitted defeat. He got up, and began to tiptoe around the apartment. He searched the tiny bathroom with its cabinet, sink, and combination bath/shower, and was rewarded for his effort. A large gallon of bleach—dusty, but not too old. Over half of the corrosive liquid remained within the bottle. Perfect.

When Miles woke up, Waylon was already wearing a pair of rubber gloves, brought from Japan, and scrubbing the bathroom floor with a bleach soaked rag.

"Are you almost done," asked Miles, yawning and scratching at his back. He stood in the doorway to the only bathroom with sleepy eyes and bedhead. "I need to take a piss."

"I've already cleaned the shower, bath, and sink," said Waylon, sitting back on his heels. "I'm almost done with the floor, so if you can just give me, maybe, five more minutes..."

"Sure thing," said Miles, turning from the bathroom, and walking through the main living area to the kitchen.

Waylon continued to scrub, picking up the pace, and increasing the amount of pressure. He paused in his scrubbing to wet his cloth, and heard a sound like trickling water in the kitchen, followed by the faucet running. Waylon froze before jumping to his feet, and rushing into the kitchen.

"What are you doing?" demanded Waylon, standing in a defensive position. He was still wearing the rubber gloves, and holding a bleach soaked rag.

"Wishing we had some goddamn coffee," said Miles, frowning at an open cabinet.

"No, the faucet, did you...did you just pee in the sink?" asked Waylon.

"Guilty."

"Are you fucking..." Waylon's tirade was cut short when he felt himself getting dizzy. He bent at the waist, with his gloved hands gripping the aqua Formica kitchen countertop.

"What's the big deal? Urine is sterile," said Miles. He shrugged his bare shoulders, turning his back on Waylon. He began searching through the cabinets.

"It stops being sterile when it makes contact with the urethra..." hissed Waylon. He stalked back to the bathroom, picked up the large bottle of bleach, and brought it back into the kitchen. He proceeded to pour the remainder of the jug directly into the sink, swirling it around to reach every inch of the stainless steel finish.

"Ugh, are you serious right now," muttered Miles, pushing past Waylon to escape the suffocating fumes in the kitchen. "I think all these chemicals are doing something to your brain, Park."

"Some ground rules," said Waylon, standing up as tall as possible, and glaring at Miles. "When you come inside, you take off your shoes. After being out, you change clothes. I'll handle the laundry, it needs to be cleaned on the hottest setting, all of it. I don't mind doing the cleaning and scrubbing, but you have to at least help out by rinsing your own dishes, and not pissing in the goddamn sink."

"Noted," said Miles, yawning. "I need coffee. You think there's a grocer nearby?"

"I don't know," hissed Waylon, pausing in his scrubbing only long enough to answer.

"Well, I'm gonna go to try to talk to Mario..."

"His name is Angelo..."

"...to see if there's anything nearby. I'm starving. Haven't eaten since the plane."

"Go," said Waylon, barely glancing up from the kitchen. The fumes were considerable, but they comforted him. The smell of sanitation. Out of the corner of his eye, Waylon watched Miles put a shirt on over his jeans before leaving.

Waylon used the first page of his new journal to detail out a list of equipment he would require. Sorry Lisa, thought Waylon. He would tear the page out later.

Cleaning supplies, more rubber gloves, plastic bags, and several new locks to be installed were at the top of the list. They would need food as well. Bottled water to avoid drinking whatever came from the tap.

Waylon was completely out of bleach, and rinsing the kitchen floor with water and a rag, when Miles returned. He carried a steaming Styrofoam cup in one hand, and a paper sack in the other.

"Did you find a grocery?" asked Waylon, sitting up and pushing his hair out of his eyes with his forearm to avoid his bleach soaked gloves touching his face.

"It's a ways away," said Miles, setting down the bag, and taking a noisy sip from the cup. "We can walk it, but it won't be fun considering your make-believe limp. Luigi said he'll give us a ride after work."

"Angelo," said Waylon, frowning. "The name of our boss, and landlord, is Angelo. And a psychosomatic injury is hardly made-up."

"Yeah, so, Alfredo gave me our uniforms and name tags," said Miles, taking another loud sip. "Fuck."

"What?!" asked Waylon, almost jumping to his feet. He scanned for emergencies.

"Burnt my tongue," said Miles, smacking his lips. "Good coffee they're making down in the main house. Anyways, the boss says we have a group coming in before lunch. He needs us dressed, and in position. I guess we're going to be training on the job."

"But we just got in last night, can't we take a couple days to get settled?"

"Honestly, I wanted to tell him to take the job, and shove it up his ass, it sounds horrible..."

"Why? What are we going to be doing?"


Miles emerged from the bathroom wearing the provided white button down shirt, and white dockers. His messy brown hair was brushed behind his ears, and he had shaved his face. He managed to look rather dashing. His pallor seemed much healthier than in Kyoto. Maybe the Italian air was already improving his health.

Miles looked much more the part of the hero. Waylon could not help but wonder how it could have been different, if Miles were the face of the Murkoff survivors, instead of himself.

Waylon wore the same clothing, but he resembled a 1950's milkman in an ill-fitting uniform. The bags under his eyes, scruff on his chin, and uneven haircut completed the look. Waylon did not look nearly as put together as Miles. He looked worn out. Depleted.

"Here ya go, Buck," said Miles, handing Waylon a printed name tag to pin to his uniform lapel.

"Perfect," muttered Waylon. Miles was already wearing his "Flint" name tag, proudly.

It was not the worst job Waylon had been assigned. He had expected a couple of days to acclimate, but Angelo had a tour group stopping by the winery that day. Miles and Waylon were going to be on the serving and clean-up staff. Sink or swim.

Waylon's anxiety was at an all time high, and even his medication was not helping. The new apartment, the lack of sleep, the questionable state of the provided uniform. Had someone else worn it before? And then there was the work. Cleaning up after strangers? Waylon hoped it would not be an issue that he was wearing gloves. It was a non-negotiable condition of Waylon being able to complete the job.

"This isn't so bad," said Miles, setting out rows of plastic tasting glasses. Waylon arranged several different wine bottles on a nearby table, grouped by type. "I'm sure they won't drink it all. We can help with cleanup."

The sound of a cork popping made Waylon jump out of his skin. He had to pause to put his hands on his chest as he took deep, calming breaths.

"You okay?" asked Miles, raising an eyebrow.

"I'm fine," grumbled Waylon, resuming his work. It was rather annoying when he compared himself to Miles. Waylon had never had anyone with which to compare. It was grating how carefree and composed Miles seemed at all times. How had he escaped the asylum, and all the psychological issues that plagued Waylon? It was disheartening.

Or maybe Miles was just better at disguising his issues.

The tour group that day was from Brazil. Despite the language differences of Italian and Portuguese, the group had little trouble understanding Angelo as he gave the tour. Miles and Waylon had no idea what anyone was saying. It was especially difficult when the tourists approached to ask for something, or complain.

One particularly talkative middle-aged woman spoke quickly to Waylon. He nodded politely, and continued to collect used cups in a trash bag. Unfortunately, the nod must have been the wrong answer, because her response was to talk at him even faster, and louder.

Waylon shrugged. "I don't speak Italian," he said, in English, holding out his hands. The woman leveled a death glare at him, before storming away. Waylon's stress levels were reaching critical mass.

He could feel his control slipping. He needed some down time to defrag. He attempted to sneak away, but the other employees blocked his path, pushing new jobs on him.

The situation got worse when lunch arrived. An outside caterer brought meals for the tourists to eat, paired with a wine of their choice. The sight of the spaghetti and meatballs made Waylon's stomach twist, but he was accustomed to working through it. He continued to pour wine into glasses, and pass them around the table. Miles was called away to help Angelo's son retrieve additional crates of wine bottles.

Waylon focused on his task, and watched as the people began to eat. Time seemed to slow down as his vision honed in on a young child, maybe six, eating his lunch. His mother scolded him for using his hands. In response, the child attempted to eat directly from his plate, with his mouth. The boy sat up with red sauce dripping from his chin...

Error.

"Don't look at us! I love him," cried Frank Manera, sitting across a blood soaked counter from Waylon--red blood smeared thick across his face. He stood up slowly, and pointed a gnarled finger at Waylon. "Meat. You're mine."

Waylon stood still, and closed his eyes. He could feel himself shaking. The warm Italian afternoon faded away into a ruined cafeteria. The air turned stale; the scent of copper pervasive.

Not real. It was not real. Frank Manera was dead. But when Waylon cracked his eyes again, he saw Frank stalking toward him, all bones and sinew. His skin was covered in tattoos and gore, clear down to the smallest detail. Waylon had not had time to buy a new phone. He could not take a picture. Waylon bolted.

Run. Hide. Survive.

Calculating route.

Waylon ran into the vineyard's large storage barn that housed all of the wine making equipment. The parts of the tour he had overheard were in another language, but he was able to catch the overall gist. There were large vats, casting long shadows.

"Feed me. FEED ME!"

The mantra echoed in Waylon's mind, forcing him to run deeper into the dark building. He threw himself against a wall. Dead end. He began to sweat and shake. End of the line? Luckily, a sign caught his eye. The writing was in Italian, but he spotted a stairway, leading to a basement level.

Waylon continued to run. He had to get away. He could feel Frank closing in on him. He took the stairs two at a time. The basement floor was unfinished, packed dirt. Gigantic barrels of wine were aging in the cool, damp earth. It was almost completely dark, except for the sparse light filtering down from the top of the stairs. He would have to hide.

Waylon wished for a camcorder so he could see in the oppressive darkness. He was not alone. He could feel it. He could sense another person, breathing, even though he could hear nothing over the pounding of his own heart.

Something reached out and grabbed his foot, attempting to pry him from his hiding place.

"MINE!"

Waylon kicked violently and howled. He could feel hands grabbing for him, clawing at his clothing, trying to tear him to shreds.

"You can't hide, meat."

Run. Hide. Survive. If Waylon could not escape, he refused to become an easy meal. He thrashed and spat, fighting with everything he was worth. Frank was on top of him, impossibly heavy for his wiry frame. Waylon's arms were soon pinned around his back. He screamed, but a firm hand pushed his face into the dirt, smothering the sound.

"You need to cut it out," hissed Miles, his face close to Waylon's ear. Miles. Not Frank. Waylon deflated, all of the fight leaving him in an instant. "Are you back? Waylon?"

"Buck," insisted Waylon, spitting out a mouthful of mud and grit. Miles released Waylon's arms, but stayed on top of his back. "I'm alright, well, I..."

There was not much he could say at that time.

"Another freak out, like in Kyoto? Is this going to happen often?" asked Miles.

"Define often," said Waylon, groaning in relief as Miles stood up. The man was ungodly heavy for looking so slim and tall. And very strong. The years on the run, hunting Murkoff, had hardened him into a formidable threat. Thankfully, he was on Waylon's side—for the moment.

"You're a goddamn liability," said Miles. It was too dark to see his facial expression, but Waylon could guess he was frowning. "We haven't even had time to finalize a plan, let alone set it in motion, and you're already causing scenes like this? You'll bring Murkoff down on us before we're ready."

"It's not like I can help it," said Waylon. Miles shook his head and bent over, offering Waylon a hand in the dark. Once Waylon was upright, he brushed off his white uniform. It was pointless—his uniform was spotted and dirty.

"Your medication doesn't help?" asked Miles.

"It does," said Waylon, looking around the dark, still suspicious. His systems were still tingling, as though some threat remains. He thought he saw a black shadow move. "But, I never know, I mean, it just comes out of nowhere. And the attacks feel so real. One second I'm here, the next, I'm just, right back in the halls, with Frank Manera chasing me, trying to fucking eat me..."

"Ah, the butcher guy? I remember him from your footage," said Miles. "What do you usually do? When these things happen?"

"I don't know," said Waylon.

Waylon turned, and walked back toward the stairs, where the light was brighter. Miles followed, watching him closely, but Waylon refused to meet his strange, gray eyes. It was bad enough that he was such a mess, without having to worry about the judgment from another survivor.

"Maybe it's getting worse," said Waylon, sighing. "I don't know. I usually only see Frank and Eddie, but, since I met you, I've had to run from Chris Walker, and even the Walrider. It's unusual. The Walrider scared me, but, as long as I stayed away, it did not hurt me. In fact, it might have saved my life."

Miles frowned. "The Walrider beat the shit out of me."

Waylon looked at Miles face and saw no traces of a joke. "But...h-how did you survive? Everyone I saw in the clutches of the Walrider was turned into a puddle of guts."

"Just lucky, I guess," said Miles. He walked back up the stairs and into the main storage area above. Waylon followed, narrowing his eyes suspiciously. Miles knew too many unreported details about the asylum to be lying. But fighting the Walrider—and living?

Error. Does not compute.

"Was it the Walrider, then? The one that took your fingers?" asked Waylon.

"No," said Miles, talking as they walked through the building. "That was a sick bastard, mad scientist, doctor. Trager."

"Rick Trager?" asked Waylon, eyes going wide.

"You had a run in with him, too?" asked Miles.

"Um...no...I knew him, before...he was an employee at Murkoff, at the same time I was working there. I never saw him, after he was committed."

"He was a scary fucker," said Miles, shuddering. "Long, scraggly gray hair, and an eye like some kinda do-it-yourself, budget, steam-punk cyborg kit. The worst part, though...he was naked behind this dirty shop apron. I got a great view of his disgusting ass."

The description brought to mind a memory of a dead body, surrounded by mercenaries, near the elevator in the administration block. Wait. Could that have been Rick Trager?

Memory corrupt.

"How did you escape? After he took your fingers?" asked Waylon.

"Ugh, I don't really remember," said Miles, pausing near the door to the area where the tourists were finishing up their lunch. "I was strapped to a chair. I got free. I puked. Just, did what I was already doing, kept trying to find a way out. Doing what it took to survive."

"Did...did you kill him?" asked Waylon.

"No, he died trying to kill me," said Miles. "Miracle. Deus ex machina. Dumb luck. Whatever you wanna call it, he was crushed by an elevator. Squeezed the life out of him." Miles paused to give a dark chuckle. "Trager juice."

Waylon had to swallow back a wave of nausea. It was unsettling to hear Miles making jokes about his harrowing experience. Waylon still felt shaky, when Miles opened the door, and they rejoined the event.

The demonstration seemed to drag on through the afternoon, before dessert was finally served. Miles and Waylon passed out biscotti and dessert wine in tiny plastic glasses. The tiredness from traveling, lack of sleep, and his earlier panic attack left Waylon sluggish.

The weariness must have affected Miles, also, because Waylon approached and found him in the middle of a tense stand-off with a large tourist. The front of Miles' white uniform shirt clung to his chest, soaked by liquid.

"Everything alright?" asked Waylon, pausing beside the two men. Miles was standing with his hands clenched, staring up at the much taller, much wider, bulging with muscles gentleman. "Sir?"

The man said something in Portuguese. It sounded threatening. Waylon held up his hands, and shook his head. "We speak English."

The man obviously did not, because he started another tirade in his native tongue.

"What did you do?" Waylon whispered loudly to Miles.

"He did this to me," hissed Miles. Waylon was frightened when he looked in Miles eyes. They seemed darker, shifting. They reminded Waylon of something hauntingly familiar. Flickering images. A featureless face staring out through static.

"It was an accident," said Waylon.

"He should apologize," insisted Miles, not budging.

"Okay, well, we're not going to fight the customers on the first day, so..." Waylon stepped between the man and Miles, and held up his hands. "Very sorry," he said to the man. "Accident. Very sorry. Please, forgive us."

Waylon walked backwards, bumping into Miles, and continued to push with his body weight. Miles finally backed away with a huff. Miles stalked into the barn while Angelo called the attention of the tourists. Waylon chased after Miles.

"You okay?" he asked, finding Miles leaning against some crates, brooding.

"Yeah," said Miles. He sighed when he looked at Waylon's concerned face. "Sorry." Waylon continued to stare, brow creased in confusion. "I'm not a people person."

"You don't say," said Waylon, rolling his eyes.

"This job blows," said Miles, pouting in a way that was unbecoming for a man of his age. "I became a journalist so I could set my own schedule, be my own boss, and not having to deal with...shit like this." Miles gestured toward his wet shirt. Waylon chuckled, which only seemed to add to Miles' agitation.

"It's just water. Unless you're the evil witch from The Wizard of Oz, you'll survive," said Waylon. In the dim light of the barn, the wet, white shirt was semi-transparent. "Look on the bright side—you're definitely winning the wet t-shirt contest."

"Yeah?" asked Miles, finally cracking a begrudged grin. "I guess I can mark that off the bucket list."

"Look," said Waylon, putting a friendly hand on Miles' shoulder, "you helped me earlier. If you need to go back, cool off, I can handle clean up tonight. I'll tell Angelo you're sick."

"That's okay," said Miles, standing up straighter, and adjusting his wet shirt. "I can do this. I want to do this." Miles paused and stared into Waylon's eyes before he spoke again. "Thanks. You don't realize how close we just came to disaster. You stopped me from doing something really stupid."

"Yeah, like getting yourself punched out cold," said Waylon, grinning as he turned to walk with Miles back toward the tables. "That guy was twice your size."

"That wasn't the danger," said Miles, a cocky grin on his handsome face.

Waylon sighed. What he would not give for an iota of Miles Upshur's confidence.


It took longer than expected to clean up after the tour group. Angelo was kind enough to drive Waylon into town to buy supplies. He also gave them some covered trays of left overs for their dinner. It was a kind gesture, though Waylon could not stomach looking at the meatballs in red sauce.

After a full day of work, and no sleep, Waylon still managed to clean the apartment, wash their uniforms, and shower. The new sponge was coarse and brittle. Waylon was left bleeding from tiny abrasions all over his skin. But, at least he was clean.

It was strange to walk out into the living area in his pajamas, and have another person there. Uncomfortable, but not completely unpleasant. Waylon had been alone for so long.

Inside, a voice screamed that Miles was unclean--polluting his living space. Yet the more human parts craved interaction. Any interaction. Waylon had never lived with anyone, except Lisa and his family. Even though the arrangement was temporary, Waylon wondered if he could potentially enjoy having Miles around.

Waylon joined Miles on the couch in front of the tiny provided television set. Miles was glaring at the screen where some Italian game show host was introducing the contestants. Waylon frowned. "There's nothing in English?"

"There's nothing at all," said Miles, not looking away from the flickering screen. "We get like, five channels, and they all suck."

"Let me see," said Waylon, reaching for the remote. Miles promptly pulled it out of his reach.

"No way, asshole," said Miles. "You won the bed, I got the couch. That means I control the TV."

"That wasn't part of the arrangement," said Waylon, glaring at Miles. Maybe he had made a mistake deciding not to hate this guy.

"I'll gladly switch spots with you, if you want the remote that bad," said Miles, giving a sly grin.

"Fine," said Waylon with a grimace. "You control it. At least flip through the channels."

Miles quickly flashed through the channels. Sitcom. News channel. Cooking competition? The movie Speed, dubbed in Italian. And back to the game channel.

"Wait! Go back, that was Speed," said Waylon.

"Who cares? It's dubbed in Italian," said Miles.

"Yeah, but I mean, I've seen it. You've probably seen it. We know enough to understand what's going on, right? There's a bus, and it..."

"I know the premise, thanks, I just don't feel like watching that," said Miles, shrugging on the couch next to Waylon.

"So you'd rather watch these people...what are they even doing? Is this some kind of Jeopardy knock-off?"

"Maybe. Who knows," said Miles. He turned his head to side-eye Waylon.

"You're doing this on purpose," accused Waylon. "You're trying to piss me off."

"I'm not," said Miles. "I'm very interested in...whatever the chick with the huge cans is saying."

"She's speaking Italian."

"Yeah, well, how else are we going to learn?"

"Learn what!?! Arrrrrrrgh," said Waylon, groaning. He stood up from the couch in a huff. Miles laughed, further fueling Waylon's anger. Waylon stomped as he made his way to the bedroom, and slammed the door behind himself. The dim sound of canned laughter was joined by Miles' very real cackling.

Whatever. Maybe having a roommate was not going to be as great as he had hoped.

Waylon pulled out the new disposable phone he had acquired on his outing after work. He dialed, and waited for the line to pick up.

"Dr. Evelyn Mason."

"Evie," said Waylon, sitting back on the bed, sighing. "New place. Same story. Already getting chased by dead patients."

"One moment," said Dr. Mason. There were muffled noise before she finally returned to the line. "Waylon. I'm sorry, I'm in the middle of something. You'll have to make this quick."

"It was Frank, he was trying to eat me," said Waylon.

"Well, Frank is the most frequent manifestation of your subconscious, along with Eddie. Were you able to regain your senses before anything serious occurred?"

"Yeah, my roommate—I have a roommate now—he tackled me, and talked me down, I guess."

"A roommate? Is that...safe? For them?"

"I think he can take care of himself," said Waylon.

"Is he aware of your considerable issues and potential risks?"

"He can handle himself. Anyways, it's still happening, seems more frequent, maybe you were right—about the medication dosage needing adjusting."

"That's great, but I'm out of the office at the moment. I'll put the order through to Agent Perry once I get back tomorrow. He might require you to have a physical first. You're familiar with the procedures. And now, I do apologize, but as I've been, officially, unassigned to your case, and this is not even working hours..."

"Wait, what time is it there? I'm all changed around."

"Five thirty," said Dr. Mason. "I'm not in the office, I'm...on a date, actually."

"Really? That's cool, what's he like?" asked Waylon, grinning at the phone.

"Who said it was a he? And I need to get going. As long as you're not having any emergencies?"

"No emergencies," said Waylon, sighing.

"Waylon, I think a roommate could be a good idea. Some human interactions will do you good. The goal is always to get back with your family, correct? Compromise. Learn to deal with others again. Your people skills are really suffering from all this reclusive living. Take care of yourself."

"You, too. Later, Evie."

Waylon dropped the phone and rolled over, reaching instead for his journal. The television continue to chatter away behind the thin door.

Lisa,

We always dreamed of going to Italy one day. When the kids were grown, we said. We had no way of knowing I would end up here, alone, missing you. I'm surrounded by wine. You would love it. I have no way of telling if it's good or not, but you would know. You always had a great palate for those things. The way you would order a bottle for the table, swirling the liquid in your glass. You're so beautiful. I see you everywhere, here, and I dream of holding you again, soon.

I have a roommate. We don't have much in common, but he's not a bad guy. An ally. I know you would want me to have more friends. You would want me to make connections with people. I'm just not sure it's working.

The only connections that ever mattered in my life were the ones tying me to you. Forever.

Chapter Text

The second morning dawned on an especially grumpy Miles and Waylon. They woke up and prepared for another grueling day serving entitled tourists. Neither was very enthusiastic.

“I don’t know if I can handle this job, it’s too irritating,” said Miles. “What’s stopping us from telling Linguini to forget it?”

“It’s part of the cover,” said Waylon, yawning. “Gotta work. Keeps me busy—out of trouble. Helps me blend into the surroundings.”

“Because you’re doing such a great job of that,” said Miles, scoffing as he poured himself a cup of steaming hot coffee. “Going to lose your shit every single day? You’ll draw attention. Trouble. Murkoff has eyes everywhere, especially Europe. This is a great place to set a trap, they can get here-quick. But, it’s also dangerous to fuck up…”

“If I knew a way to stop these episodes, I would have fucking stopped them,” said Waylon, standing up from the tiny kitchen table, and glaring.

“Would you? Really? You seem kinda comfortable in your whole ‘I’m a victim’ routine you’ve built around yourself. I don’t even know if you actually want to get better, and see your family, again, you never even talk about them, and…”

“Fuck you,” shouted Waylon. “My family is the most important thing in my life, just because I don’t talk about them with you doesn’t mean I don’t think about them!”

The two were locked in a vicious staring contest when they were interrupted by a loud knock at the door. Waylon shut his mouth, and glared, as he walked to open the door. He expected to see Angelo, or some other employee, wondering why they were not down helping set up. Instead, Waylon saw two agents in black suits, holding up shiny badges.

“Mr. Morris,” said the man, holding out his badge. He was extremely tan, and extremely blond. The other man was black with a shaved head. “Is everything alright? We heard shouting.”

“It’s fine,” said Waylon, forcing himself to smile—though it looked more like a tortured snarl. “Every thing’s great.”

“Are you alright, sir?” the black agent asked, addressing the question to Miles.

“Uh, sure,” said Miles, taking a long sip of his coffee.

“Mr. Morris, we were sent by Agent Perry to check on the situation here. This is your first time relocating with a partner. Are you certain everything is alright? We heard shouting.”

“Oh, everything's fine,” said Miles, smirking at Waylon’s flustered expression. “Me and sugardick were just having a little lover’s quarrel. Nothing to worry about. I honestly think he instigates these fights, on purpose, just for the make up sex.”

The agents exchanged a long glance before turning to address an even angrier Waylon. “Is that true, Mr. Morris?” asked the black agent.

“Are…are you asking me whether I have sex with this man?” asked Waylon, his voice cracking like a pubescent boy. He could feel his fight or flight mechanism close to triggering. How would it look if he suddenly ran away in a delusional fit in front of two agents?

“No,” said the blond agent. “We are asking whether, or not, you agree that everything is fine?”

“Of course,” said Miles, setting his coffee on the counter before taking three quick steps to close the distance between him and Waylon. He grabbed Waylon’s waist with two hands and pulled him close, forcing their lips together.

Waylon stared at Miles’ eyelids in shock. The agents were watching. Waylon slid his arms around Miles’ shoulders, though he felt like a wooden doll imitating human movement. Too awkward. He held his mouth so tightly shut--it was bound to look odd to observers. Waylon closed his eyes, and forced his lips to work.

How long had it been since he had kissed someone? Waylon tried to think how to make the kiss more believable. He did not have to think long as Miles tilted his head and moved his lips, mouth opening slightly. Waylon opened his own mouth, possibly wider than necessary. Miles easily adapted, and Waylon felt an experimental prodding from a warm tongue.

Coffee. It was a nice brand he had picked up in town, despite his inability to read the label’s description. It was good. Miles tasted good.

Waylon’s mouth remained open as he stared. Miles pulled back, and winked, before stalking back into the kitchen. Waylon watched him go, bringing his fingers up to his lips to touch the lingering warmth. He was ready to strangle the guy two minutes before, and now he was having thoughts about the way he tasted?

One of the agents cleared their throat.

The agents quickly discussed Waylon’s new financial details, and dropped off some new checks, a prepaid check card, and some cash. There was also a discussion about his new prescriptions being filled at the local pharmacy. Waylon had trouble concentrating on anything they said. He was much more shocked about something he had felt—something he had not felt in a long time.

“You gentlemen have a nice day,” said the black agent, as the meeting came to an end.

“You too,” said Miles, wiggling his fingers in a cheeky wave.

The door closed, and Waylon stood in the doorway, thinking. When Miles had kissed him, Waylon had felt felt his blood pressure increase, and a tingling in his groin, like the beginning of arousal. Something he had not felt since he was strapped down to a table, and sent toward a buzz saw.

His impotence had made his last months living with Lisa frustrating. Even medical intervention had not been able to help the problem. It warned about erections lasting over four hours. Waylon could not last four seconds. Lisa said it didn’t matter.

But when Miles kissed him, he felt the ghost of a reaction. Was it a sign he was finally recovering from the ordeal? A sign he liked kissing Miles? Waylon shook his head to clear the thoughts.

It was not worth worrying about any pleasant feelings he experienced. He was still impotent.


Days passed, quickly, working with the vineyard staff, catering wine tasting meals for tourist groups. The nights were spent too exhausted to even argue over the television channel. They attempted to discuss some of their planning, but they were both too drained to nail down any good plans. They decided to wait until they had a day off of work.

It was almost a week in Italy before a free day arrived. The tours were on odd schedules, and there were frequently stretches of no tours, followed by stretches of non-stop events. Miles and Waylon decided to take advantage of the break to catch a ride into Como for shopping and lunch.

The city of Como was captivating, situated on a lake that reflected the majestic Alps. It was not the scene Waylon would normally associate with Italy. There were no canals, ancient ruins, or volcanoes—but it was beautiful, nonetheless. They sat outside of a small cafe, where Waylon ate cheese ravioli in white sauce, and Miles shoveled mouthfuls of chicken piccata.

“I never trust the white sauce,” said Miles, his mouth full of food.

“Yeah, well the red sauce…stains,” said Waylon. Because it sounded better than comparing it to blood dripping from vents, and smeared across walls.

“Yeah, but you don’t ever worry someone jizzed in there?” asked Miles.

“No, but I will now, thanks,” said Waylon, pushing his dish away. He had only eaten two ravioli, but his stomach was suddenly uneasy.

“Oh, come on, I’m joking with you,” said Miles, reaching across the circular table to fork a ravioli and shove it into his maw. “Mmm, delicious. Definitely jizz free.”

“You would know,” said Waylon, rolling his eyes. Miles’ only answer was an exaggerated wink. “So what’s the plan?”

“Well,” said Miles, wiping his mouth with his napkin before taking a long drink of water, “I got that information from the goons in Kyoto. Now, chances are that Murkoff knows that we know that information. They won’t deactivate those accounts, but they will monitor them, and make it impossible for us to use them to learn anything useful. As soon as things are in order here, we can use them to gain access, which will alert them to our location.”

Waylon frowned, wondering how Miles had gotten the information. He had never detailed out, exactly. Paranoia sprang into his mind, worrying if Miles really was as he appeared.

“Once they confirm it’s you, probably through some private investigators, they’ll send the entire force down on you. Then, we snap the trap on their asses.”

“But, when you say they have to just see me? I mean, well, what do you mean?” asked Waylon.

Miles shrugged. “They need to know it’s you. It’s tough. You’re kind of a nondescript guy. I mean, you look like every white boy with a choppy haircut and stubble, you’re not very tall, you don’t stand out, you’re very average, ya know? There’s nothing outstanding about your appearance, you’re not very muscular, and…”

“Are you fucking kidding me right now? I get the picture,” said Waylon, the rise in his tone drawing stares from fellow diners. “So how can we prove it’s me?”

“Slip up in front of them. Call you by the wrong name. You know what I mean, Waylon, uhh, I mean, Buck,” said Miles, smirking at Waylon’s panicked reaction upon hearing his name spoken out loud in public.

“Okay, shit, you don’t have to actually do it to illustrate a point. You’re fucking obnoxious,” said Waylon.

“Yeah, I get that a lot. Or used to, in another life,” said Miles.

“Have you ever done anything like this before?” asked Waylon.

“Sure, I’m an investigative journalist, remember? Trust me, I’ve baited a trap before. I’m a master baiter.” Silence stretched between the two men. “Get it?”

“Yes-I-get-it,” hissed Waylon. “When are we doing this?”

“There’s no rush, there’s probably some delay from the original feed to the scouts, but after they’re gone, it’s just a matter of hours. Days at most. Murkoff will show up, and we need to have the FBI on speed dial, to come and save you.”

“Save us,” said Waylon. “This isn’t some kind of suicide mission, for either of us.”

“There’s no need for anyone to save me,” said Miles, his tone matter-of-fact.

“That cocky attitude of yours is going to get you killed,” said Waylon.

“Too late,” said Miles, taking another long sip of water.

“You know, that’s getting old, you’re not some fourteen year old going through an emo phase, you don’t have to keep up the death jokes to seem edgy,” said Waylon. “Let’s give it another week before we go snooping through Murkoff’s systems. Angelo and his family are pretty nice people, we owe them a couple weeks of work. You don’t think anything bad will happen to them, or the apartment, do you?”

Miles gave a long ‘hmm’ before shrugging.

“Well, in that case, make it two weeks…”

Miles pushed away his empty plate. “We’ll revisit the plan in a week, talk about it some more, see how we feel. Right now, I’m going back to the apartment. Maybe figure out how to get some computer access, and other things we might need for the house, to make sure we don’t get caught unprepared. You coming?”

“I’m going to walk around, do some shopping, maybe look for some… I mean, it’s none of your business what I do, really,” said Waylon.

“You’re right, it’s not,” said Miles, grinning. “You’re not hurting my feelings by wanting to spend some time alone. I could stand some time without you constantly frowning at me.”

“I wouldn’t have to frown, if you weren’t so damn obnoxious.”

Miles shrugged as he stood up. He dug into his pocket for some euros, which he dropped on the table. “See you back at the apartment. Whatever. Do your thing.”

Waylon breathed easier after Miles left. He finished his lunch and went for a walk around the lake. It was peaceful. He barely needed to use his cane, though he had brought it. He was reminded of a trip he and Lisa took to the Teton Mountains in Wyoming as newlyweds. The view of the mountains reflected in the clear waters had been enchanting.

Lisa had dared him to jump into the frigid waters, promising she would follow. She had lied. But Waylon got his revenge when he carried her in with him. The beach of river-smooth pebbles under their bodies was extremely uncomfortable—especially once they were rolling around together.

Waylon would trade anything to go back to that day back.

There were several, small grocers on the walk back to the apartment. Waylon stopped to purchase some staples for the apartment. He also stopped at a tiny vendor that sold kitschy souvenirs for tourists. Tiny, porcelain thimbles sat in a row, showing different Italian landmarks, from the Tower of Pisa, to the Isle of Capri. It was the same dilemma at every location.

Lisa collected thimbles on her travels. But she insisted that she pick them out, herself. It was not the same if someone else made the choice for her. Waylon eventually walked away, thinking about Lisa’s thimble collection. The way she could captivate an audience, using the thimbles to spin tales of her travels. Her favorite was the one with Stonehenge engraved around the perimeter of the pewter keepsake. Waylon wondered if any of them might have survived the fire. Probably not.

Eventually, sunlight was fading, and Waylon caught a cab back to the apartment. He carried up his couple bags with his cane over his shoulder, and ankle sore from walking so much. He was greeted with a loud buzzing in the apartment. At first, he suspected a hornet’s nest and glanced around for any sign of wasps on the eaves above the red door.

The air-conditioner, most likely. He cursed his bad luck with appliances and looked around for Miles. Maybe he was not home. Waylon decided to check the utility closet near the bedroom. The door to the room was cracked, and Waylon stopped short.

Miles was in the bedroom, lying on his back, on the bed. Waylon was about to call out to him, when he noticed Miles’ state of dress. He was not wearing pants, and his t-shirt was pulled up, revealing a toned stomach. Shit.

He was momentarily outraged that Miles would not use his own bed, then decided he would rather Miles did not jerk off on the couch, either. Still, there was a bathroom. Waylon peeked through the crack again.

Miles had said he needed alone time, but Waylon had not considered what that could mean.

Waylon felt ashamed of his own sexual dysfunction. Since the asylum, Waylon was unable to achieve any type of erection—excluding when he was asleep. And even then, it was usually only when he dreamed about his abusers. Eddie Gluskin tying him down, and consummating their wedding. Frank Manera devouring him, dick first. It led to Waylon feeling ashamed and disgusted with his sexual urges.

Waylon had practiced complete abstinence for the past three years, not even touching himself. Miles, obviously, experienced nothing like that. Add it to the list of ailments the other Murkoff survivor did not experience.

Miles lay on his back, hands moving between his legs with slow, even strokes. Even without a direct line of sight, it was definitely something Waylon should not watch. He began to creep away from the door, until his interest was piqued. Miles reached for something from a plastic bag, near his hand, and then resumed his movements. A satisfied sigh floated from the room.

Lube? It had to be lube. Well, Waylon knew some men preferred to use something other than their bare hand. He was not prepared when Miles spread his legs, and moved a slick hand lower than his balls.

There was no excuse to continue watching. Miles’ raised leg obscured Waylon’s ultimate view, but it was still horribly invasive. Waylon was shocked at the expression on Miles’ face. The usual angry glare, or smirk, were replaced with a look of relaxation. He looked years younger with his lips parted and eyes closed. Waylon slowly realized he was hard—straining in his jeans.

It had been a really long time, his brain rationalized. He missed Lisa, that was true. It was natural to feel a physiological response when watching a sex act, even after so many years of impotency. The fact that it was a guy did not matter. He had never considered any non-famous males sexy, before.

Wait, did he think Miles was sexy?

Fuck. What was happening? A huge breach of privacy, Waylon answered himself. He prepared to sneak away from the door when he noticed something new that froze the very blood in his veins. The air around Miles looked cloudy—thick, like a flock of moths, threatening to block his line of sight. The apparition took shape, and Waylon recognized it, immediately. The Walrider.

Error.

Waylon could not have moved if he wanted to. He was paralyzed with fear. His common sense told him he was having another hallucination. But it looked so real. Miles even seemed to react to the touch of the Walrider’s alien hands, spreading his legs wider as the strange vision settled between his thighs.

Waylon fought his primal urge to call out to Miles—to warn him. No, it was just a vision. He was watching his roommate jerk off, and it triggered a terrifying vision of the Walrider. There was no way the actual Walrider had found him in Kyoto, and again in Italy.

The Walrider killed people, it did not tease them with feather light caresses. It did not fuck them with strange, smoky appendages. But if the Walrider was not really there, why was Miles bucking his hips like that?

Miles’ face was flushed. He looked…good. The vision hovered, hands roaming over Miles’ bare legs and underneath his shirt. Something was pumping into Miles, but he did not seem to be in any pain. He looked euphoric. And then, the noise.

Miles had been quiet, maybe panting, but whatever sounds he made were drowned out by the humming of the malfunctioning air-conditioner. As Miles approached his climax, he began moaning, and the sound made Waylon’s cock twitch and leak.

A picture. He needed a picture. A picture would prove to him that the Walrider was not really there. But it would also be photographic evidence that he had spied on Miles in such a compromising position. It would be a photograph of a half naked Miles, stored on his phone. How could he explain that?

Waylon finally regained enough of his senses to back away from the door. He quickly rushed onto the tiny balcony off the living room. He practically fell into one of the tiny, metal lawn chairs situated on the balcony, and stared away, lost in thought.

Oh, God. He had invaded Miles’ personal space in the worst way imaginable. And to make matters worse, he had gotten sexually aroused, for the first time in years. Aroused from looking at Miles. And worst of all, he was suffering from his delusions again.

“Dr. Evelyn Mason.”

“Evie, I saw it again, the Walrider,,” said Waylon into the phone, using two hands to hold it to his face as he spoke in conspiratorial whispers, “...and I got a boner.”

“I have to put you on hold, just one minute, is that alright?”

Waylon grumbled, but he held the phone to his ear, and stared out across the Italian countryside. The poplar trees grew straight up along the long driveway to the vineyard. Vines and farming equipment dotting the green fields. A small glimpse of the lake was even visible if Waylon craned his neck.

“Waylon, are you there?”

“I saw the Walrider—I saw it again, and I am half a world away from where I saw it last.”

“Waylon, please tell me you are sitting down, you sound distressed,” said Dr. Mason.

“Oh, sorry, I’m…not really distressed. I just…the Walrider. It was…well…”

“What were you doing when you experienced the hallucination?”

“Um, I walked in on my roommate. Well, I didn’t walk in, I just saw him there, having alone time…with himself, to relieve stress, you know…”

“He was masturbating? You walked in on a sexual situation, and you saw the Walrider? Is that when the erection occurred?”

“After I saw it, touching my roommate,” said Waylon exhaling loudly into the phone. “Well, more like, fucking him.”

“Okay, just to reiterate, Project Walrider has been disbanded, Murkoff is defunct, and no one has seen the Walrider since Mount Massive. You do understand that this vision is not real? It is no more real than when you hear and see Frank Manera of Eddie Gluskin. Have you started the new dosage of the medication, yet?”

“Not yet, and I know you’re right,” said Waylon. “I know it. But, it just, feels, and looks, so real…”

“You sexualized many of the things that cause you distress, such as your sexual dreams about Eddie and Frank. It’s possible the Walrider is the newest addition to these fantasies that act as a type of coping mechanism.”

“Fuck,” said Waylon, giving a long exhale. “I suppose you could be right?”

“You’ve not had any sexual activity since you went into witness protection, correct?”

“None,” said Waylon, sighing. “I can’t do that to Lisa.”

“Waylon, I think Lisa would understand,” said Dr. Mason. “I’m not encouraging you to do anything you’re not ready for, but it’s not unhealthy to have fantasies. As long as you understand the difference, and are able to function without them. Do you understand?”

“Yeah,” muttered Waylon.

“Now, I apologize, but I was in the middle of an important phone call, and I need to call them back. Have you put any thought into accepting a recommendation for a different therapist? I care about you, and I’m glad you’re seeking help, but I’m just not sure I am still up to the task. I’m interviewing for a new job where I won’t be speaking directly with clients anymore. I’ll be teaching. So please…please, Waylon, let me recommend someone else?”

“Call ya later,” said Waylon, ending the call.

The afternoon was hot, but there was a cool breeze as the sun began to set. Another tour group was expected in the morning. Waylon wanted to make some tortellini for dinner, but there was no rush. He lost track of how long he sat on the balcony. He jumped when the glass sliding door opened, and Miles walked out on the balcony, hair wet.

“Hey, you get home while I was in the shower?” asked Miles.

“Uh, yeah, probably,” said Waylon, staring hard into the distance to avoid looking at Miles. Shit. He looked good with his brown hair wet, and a thin t-shirt clinging to him.

“Everything okay?” asked Miles, raising an eyebrow at Waylon’s behavior, which was probably stranger than usual.

“Fine, that’s fine, everything's fine. This is…this is all fine…”

“Great, I’m going to take a power nap before dinner. Oh, and I hope you don’t mind, I pulled a blank page out of your journal, from the back. I needed something to write on, for the planning,” said Miles.

“Faaaaaaaaaaaaaantastic,” said Waylon with fake enthusiasm. Miles backed away from the balcony, leaving Waylon to his contemplation.

He was lonely. Really fucking lonely. He had been so nervous, and paranoid, and panicked, that he had not stopped to consider how lonesome he was in actuality. He was a stranger, in a strange land, with no friends, and no way to contact his family.

Dr. Mason did not want to talk to him any more. The FBI did not count as a friend in any capacity. And then Miles came into his life, and he was suddenly sexually attracted to the guy. It was pathetic. Sad. He was so lonely that anything looked good to him.

Maybe Evie was right. Maybe Waylon did need to consider relieving some pent up energy. Having wet dreams about Eddie Gluskin did not count as a healthy sex life. If his ability to become aroused had returned, there was nothing stopping him from finding some release. The chance of picking up a person using his charm was 0.000001%. No, it was Rosy Palms, or nothing.

Miles was snoring on the couch when Waylon finally walked inside. He used the coffee pot to make hot water and poured cheese tortellini into the pot. He ate them plain, alone in the kitchen at the small table. At least the room had a small window. He imagined how cute it would look with some checkered curtains framing it. Buying some colorful ceramic pots to hold their flour and sugar. Coming home from a long day of work to someone who wanted to spend time with him.

Fantasies about paying house with Miles Upshur, of all people. Waylon really was desperately lonely.

Waylon was finished eating when Miles wandered into the kitchen, yawning. He made a plate of the remaining tortellini, without asking permission, He took a few bites before grumbling. “Just cheese? I like the ones with meat.”

“I don’t eat meat, and you know it,” said Waylon. Miles chewed, leaning against the kitchen counter, plate in hand. His face was so different. So serious. Slightly annoyed. All the earlier bliss erased, as though it had never been there. An illusion. Just like the Walrider.

“At least you’re not vegan,” said Miles, taking another bite. “I’d die without cheese and eggs.” He paused to chew. “You should really work on getting past the whole ‘meat’ thing.”

“The cannibal pushed me into an incinerator,” said Waylon, quietly. “In the morgue, he shoved me in and locked it. He told me to cook.”

“Damn, how’d you escape?” asked Miles, chewing away, unaffected.

“Kicked out the back, it was crumbling apart, like everything else in that shit hole…”

“You know, there was a pair of dudes, big ugly fuckers,” said Miles, chuckling. “They stared at me and talked to each other about eating me, as though I were a pig with an apple in my mouth. They wanted to kill me—eat me. They were discussing who got what organs. They chased me, with machetes. I had to evade them, a couple of times. Oh, and the best part? These two, they looked like twins, and they were…”

“Naked,” said Waylon. Miles’ eyes went wide, and he set down his plate. “Were they buck-ass naked?”

“You saw them? The twins? I don’t remember them in your footage,” said Miles.

“I told you, not everything made the video,” said Waylon. “That’s how I knew you were telling the truth, you know about things no one could know. Things that weren’t shown. I ran into those two in the yard. They were naked…and ugly.”

“So ugly, right?” said Miles, laughing. “But it’s like, their faces are second in my mind, I can’t get those dicks out of my nightmares. I was like, don’t look at it, don’t look at it, which just made me look more, and…”

Waylon laughed, interrupting Miles, and causing him to join in the laughter. “I wonder what happened to their clothes?”

“I like to believe they never had any,” said Miles, grinning. “A couple of nudists, just trying to live their lives.” He chuckled as he shook his head. “They worked for Father Martin. Remember that guy?” Waylon nodded, silently. “It’s strange, talking to someone who knows.”

“Agreed,” said Waylon. “You were there. I wonder how it could have been different, if I had known you were there. Maybe we could have helped each other.”

Miles set his empty plate in the sink. He rinsed it before finally turning and giving Waylon a strange look. “I saw you.”

“What?” asked Waylon, pushing back his chair. He stood up, using the table for support. “You saw me? In the asylum? Where? When?”

“I was there, when you walked out,” said Miles.

Waylon frowned, memory churning quickly. “Jeremy Blaire stabbed me. The Walrider killed him. I ran out and got in…your Jeep. You saw me?”

“Yes,” said Miles.

“Why didn’t you say something?” asked Waylon.

“That’s complicated,” said Miles. He walked past Waylon and back into the living area. He clicked on the television, and some Italian sitcom appeared on the screen. Waylon studied Miles’ face as he sat, the strange television lighting illuminating his face in different ways, like shifting shadows across his strange, smoky eyes.

If Miles had seen him walk out of the asylum, then there must be a really good reason he did not escape alongside Waylon. But what?

A flickering memory supplied a picture of a human figure, barely discernable through the swarm.

Memory corrupt.

Waylon finished cleaning the kitchen, and walked into the bedroom. He prepared to write a letter to Lisa, but he was overcome with a wave of guilt.

Would Lisa really understand that loneliness had driven him into someone else’s arms? Would she mind if it was a man? Waylon could not bring himself to write any of his thoughts down. He put the journal away. At least the rest of the week was full of work. The last thing he needed was more time to think.

Chapter Text

“This one reporter,” said Waylon, over cereal one morning, “she kept referring to the Walrider as the Wall-Writer. I wasn’t sure if I’d misheard, but she kept doing it, again, and again. I never corrected her, even when it was getting painful, hearing her make an ass of herself on live television.”

“Well, she had a point” said Miles, grinning with his own spoon in hand, “there was an awful lot of stuff written on those walls.”

“There really was,” said Waylon, nodding as he chewed, “like every patient in there got the same idea to just start doodling in blood.”

Conversations about the asylum were the best part about having Miles as a roommate. Casual conversations about Mount Massive, and their ordeal, were soothing for Waylon. It took some of the frightening mystique away from the place, when he could laugh and joke about it with someone who understood.

“I remember helpful tidbits like, ‘witness the gospel,’ ‘invite the Walrider, ‘follow the blood,’’ and ‘god hates sickness’…”

“Or ‘a woman’s work is never done,’” added Waylon. Miles paused, mid-bite, to raise an eyebrow.

“What the hell part of the asylum were you in?” asked Miles.

“The worst one,” said Waylon, sighing as he scooped up the last few bites, and drank some of the milk.

“Now, that’s debatable. The worst part?” Miles snorted. “It was all hell, but if I had to choose, the worst part was definitely Trager’s ward, where I lost my fingers.”

“Just be glad you never stumbled into the Vocational Block, during the riot,” said Waylon. “You may have lost something large than a finger.”

Perhaps it was the mention of Eddie that had him fresh in Waylon’s mind that day at work. Miles and Waylon had really hit their stride with the catering job, and were better at performing their tasks.

That day, the tourists were all American. They were loud, and dressed in t-shirts, shorts, and fanny packs. Miles and Waylon would snicker together whenever they spotted the tourists doing embarrassing things, like taking a glass of wine like a shot, instead of tasting it politely.

One elderly woman with tall, silver hair tugged on Waylon’s sleeve during the dessert service.

“Excuse me, I’m awfully sorry to bother you, darlin,’ but could you bring me an extra napkin?” asked the old woman.

Waylon’s face fell as his palms broke out in sweat. He feared he would drop the tray of biscotti in his hands.

“Did you hear me? I said, I need an extra napkin. Do you speak English, darlin’?”

“Excuse me,” said Waylon, rushing toward the catering tables. He set his tray down, and quickly walked into the barn. He looked around, searching the shadows, conscious of his own breathing. He was alone. He was safe. Eddie Gluskin was dead.

Error.

“Darling…WHORE!”

The auditory hallucinations were so clear, Waylon always second guessed whether Eddie Gluskin had not returned from the grave to haunt his every move.

“You’re not done dying, you slut.”

Run. Hide. Survive.

Waylon looked around for a shadowy corner where he might escape detection. Before he had settled on a location, he ran directly into Miles.

“Hey, Waylon? Hey,” said Miles. He gripped Waylon’s shoulders with a vice like grip. Waylon could not escape, despite attempting to fight. “Would you just calm down? What’s happening?”

“Eddie…”

“You’re having an episode? What’s happening? Tell me,” said Miles. “Try to relax.”

“I heard him, I heard Eddie,” said Waylon, his voice quaking. “I feel like he’s coming for me. If I don’t hide, he’ll…he’ll kill me…but only after he…he’s going to…” Waylon’s hands moved to cover his crotch.

“Okay, you’re stuttering, you just need to breathe. Just, don’t run. You’ll aggravate your injury again, and your leg’s been doing much better. Just, relax? Okay? Take a break. I’ll sit with you. We can hide if that would make you feel better?”

Miles led Waylon over to some crates that were often used as a seat when the workers needed to get off of their feet for a moment. They were out of the way, in a shadowy corner. Waylon considered tackling Miles, or trying to twist out of his grip. Ultimately, he decided sitting next to Miles wasn’t so bad.

As they sat, Waylon leaned forward, putting his elbows on his knees. He took deep, calming breaths.

“See? You just need to know that you’re safe. That guy is beyond dead. I saw him impaled on your video, and that whole block burnt to the ground like dry kindling. No one escaped that asylum. Trust me.”

After a few minutes, Waylon gave a shaky laugh. “Sorry about that. Thanks for, um, talking me down, I guess. That’s the first time I was able to handle it, before the voices turned into something more…”

“Anytime,” said Miles, clapping Waylon on the shoulder. “Now come on, Americans think the world revolves around them, so we better get out there, and fill some glasses.”

“I’m not going near that silver haired woman,” said Waylon, his tone serious. “You take her.”

“What happened? She sexually harassing you, or something?”

“No,” said Waylon, eyes going wide. Miles laughed at his offended expression.

“Just trying to lighten the mood…”

But by the end of service, Miles was the one in need of some mood lightening.

The sound of heated words caused Waylon’s heart to skip a beat. It was annoying that loud noises caused him so much anxiety, considering the most trying moments of his ordeal were in silence. Waylon turned a corner to see Angelo’s oldest son, Marco, and Miles in a heated debate.

Waylon would have walked away, but something about the atmosphere felt off. Miles’ expression was dark, and he held perfectly still while Angelo’s son gesticulated wildly.

“Do you not follow simple instructions, idiota?” said Marco, waving his hands at an open crate. A mixture of English and Italian words flooded from his mouth, as he waved his hands and stomped his feet.

“What is going on here, Marco?” demanded Angelo, heaving heard the argument. He arrived on the scene at the same time as Waylon. The father and son held a quick conversation, in Italian, as Waylon walked to Miles’ side.

“What’d you do?” whispered Waylon. But there was no answer from Miles. He was standing so unnaturally still that Waylon questioned whether he was even breathing. His eyes were dark. “Hey? You’re being weird, what happened?”

“Rigatoni Junior here thinks he can get in my face over a misunderstanding,” said Miles.

“Yeah, well, ignore him,” said Waylon. Marco had a sour look on his face while Angelo spoke quickly in Italian, slapping the back of his hand against the palm of the other to emphasize his point.

“Incidente,” said Angelo, turning back to address Miles. “Mi dispiace, my son, he is very passionate about the product. You understand? This is a special variety, it must have gotten in with the regular bottles by mistake. You can put them away, si? The uh…etichetta…uh, como si dice…label, the label with the gold decoration, that is a special variety, si? We sell this only, it is not offered in the tour groups. Si? Capisci?”

Marco added his own snide comment under his breath, before tapping one finger to Miles’ chest. He gasped when his hand was snatched and held in a firm grip while Miles glared.

“Maybe don’t keep the crates next to one another, idiota,” said Miles. He stood at ease, gripping Marco’s hand—not straining in the least when Marco began pulling with his full weight.

“Che diavolo…papa…” Marco whimpered, pulling on his hand, and throwing a panicked look to Angelo.

“What is the meaning?” asked Angelo as Miles released Marco’s hand, sending the man reeling backwards. He stumbled until he fell flat on his ass to a chorus of barely contained snickers.

Waylon glanced back at Miles’ face, and saw a smirk and eyes so dark they looked black—glossy. There was a sudden, stabbing pain behind Waylon’s eyes that made him wince and squint in the afternoon sun.

“Miles, what the hell, man?” asked Waylon. Miles snapped his head to the side to glare at Waylon before turning, and stalking back toward their apartment. On his way, he flipped a card table covered with plastic glasses and wine bottles.

Everyone on staff gasped and stared as Miles temper tantrum as he walked out of the area. He paused again to kick a large barrel. It landed on its side and began rolling down the slight incline back toward the group. Everyone gasped and jumped out of the way, but the barrel stopped after one short circle.

Waylon started to run after Miles, but was stopped by Angelo and Marco. They were speaking quickly in Italian, and pointing toward the barrel. Waylon sighed, and prepared to clean up Miles’ mess.


Waylon walked into the apartment and stopped short. There was a trail of uniform pieces leading toward the bathroom. The white fabric was stained in some places, a dark red, like old blood. Waylon’s stomach turned.

“Miles?” asked Waylon, taking off his shoes.

“Yeah,” came Miles’ voice from the living area. He sounded strange. Waylon walked slowly into the room. He was greeted by the sight of Miles, shirtless with wet hair, leaning back on the couc. His head was tilted up, and a cloth pinched to his nose. His pallor looked gray.

“What happened to you?” asked Waylon, lip curling in confusion.

“They’re pissed, right?” asked Miles, his voice coming out more nasal than usual, and muffled by the cloth. He dabbed his nose. When he brought the cloth away from his face, Waylon saw it was saturated in blood.

“Uh, yeah,” said Waylon, tentatively walking closer. “Are you okay?”

“Fuck, just, tell them I’ll pay for whatever the damages are,” said Miles, wiping his nose and pressing the cloth onto his face.

“Angelo wasn’t even that upset, Marco was overreacting, and he got told off for it, but…man, you threw a tantrum on your way out of there. And you once called me dramatic?”

“Sowwy,” came Miles’ nasally reply.

“Apparently you kicked over a barrel that takes three grown men to topple,” said Waylon, lowering himself slowly down beside Miles on the couch. “They were...frightened.”

“The word you’re looking for is impressed,” said Miles.

“You’re…god, you’re annoying,” said Waylon, shaking his head. “Lean forward, you’re doing it wrong.”

“You’re supposed to lean backwards,” said Miles.

“No, that just makes the blood run down into your stomach, it can make you feel stick. It’ll stop on its own, just, pinch the bridge, will you just…” Waylon started to reach for the rag, then paused. Every cell in his body violently opposed touching the blood.

“You alright?” asked Miles, pulling the cloth away from his face. “You don’t look so good.”

“I don’t…you…you’re the one bleeding from the face,” said Waylon, blinking away the black spots in front of his eyes.

“Sorry, it happens, it’s nothing to worry about,” said Miles.

“Nothing to…here, let me…” Waylon went to grab again for the rag and stopped instead. He pushed his hand to Miles’ forehead and quickly pulled it away. “You’re burning up. We need to get you to a doctor.”

“No way in hell.”

“Don’t be an idiot, there’s social medicine here, you can get treated, you’re not feeling well, probably why you got so upset, you’re burning up with fever…”

“I just run a little hot, that’s all,” muttered Miles. “I took a cold shower. I’ll be alright.”

“How can you…” Waylon rolled his eyes, standing up and walking into the kitchen. He returned with two new clothes, one wet, and one dry. “Okay, lean forward.”

Miles grunted, but he obeyed. He leaned forward, and hunched over on the couch. When Miles pulled the cloth away, Waylon could see blood dried on his face, but nothing new flowing from either nostril. Waylon pressed the clean rag to Miles’ face, happy to avoid looking at the blood. The wet rag, Waylon held gently up against Miles’ forehead.

“I’ll go down and borrow some meds from Angelo,” said Waylon, shifted on the couch until he could sit semi-comfortably next to Miles while holding up the rag. The heat radiating from Miles was disconcerting. Waylon watched as rivulets dripped down Miles’ back, though he did not know whether they were sweat, or water from his wet hair. They left shiny trails down his grayish flesh. “You need to rest.”

“We need to get this plan in motion,” said Miles, wiping away some of the dried blood. “Pierogi and his son are probably gonna be pretty uncomfortable with me around after this…”

“Oh, come on now, a pierogi isn’t even Italian, you’re off your game…”

“It’s not? Sorry, I got this fever,” said Miles. Waylon chuckled, and rolled his eyes.

“This is reason to wait on the plan,” said Waylon. “We can’t have Murkoff showing up when you’re too sick to do anything.”

“I’m not sick,” said Miles.

“You’re fucking obnoxious,” said Waylon, sighing. “People get sick, we’re only human.”

“Speak for yourself,” said Miles.

“Just take it easy,” said Waylon, dabbing the wet cloth to Miles’ forehead. He moved it around to dab at the back of Miles’ neck. Miles gave a happy sigh, and Waylon stifled a chuckle. “You’re as bad as my kids.”

Waylon kept a sharp eye on Miles, but his condition seemed stable. As though running a fever was just a normal part of the day. Other than the increased temperature, there was no other sign of discomfort. Miles sat watching television on the sofa with two tissues shoved up both of his nostrils.

“I feel bad saying it, but I’m glad you’re like this,” said Waylon. Miles turned, the tissues flaring when he exhaled. “I mean, not like this exactly, just, I’m glad to see that, you know, you’re human, you have issues, same as me…”

Miles removed one of the tissues and dabbed at the dried blood around his nostril. “My issues are much different than yours…”

“Well, yeah, but they all originated from Mount Massive, they were both caused by Murkoff,” said Waylon, watching as Miles carefully removed the other tissue. “Lean back,” said Waylon, leaning forward and staring at Miles’ nose. The red blood had transformed into black tar as it dried. “Looks like it’s clotted.”

“Mount Massive,” said Miles, casting a strange look at Waylon. It seemed like Miles was nervous about something. “I’m never gonna be normal again.”

“We have to try,” said Waylon, “Just, have to keep trying.”

“There’s no hope.”

“For a guy who’s handling this whole trauma a lot better than me, you sure are down on yourself,” said Waylon. “You were the one convincing me we won’t let them win.”

“They won’t win,” said Miles.

Waylon sat watching the television until Miles was breathing steadily on the couch. He still felt warm, but Waylon had no thermometer to know exactly how high the fever had gotten. He would check on Miles again in the night. Just in case.


The rest of the week was much easier. Angelo was happy to forgive and forget, and Marco was no longer interested in being in the same vicinity as Miles. It was a mutually beneficial arrangement.

“We should consider putting the plan into motion soon,” said Miles, one evening as they sat watching a history presentation about Rome. It was probably very education, if either of them spoke Italian.

Miles sat with his legs splayed, and his posture relaxed. His face was scruffier than usual. Waylon found himself sitting, stiff and uncomfortable, afraid of the strange thoughts he was having about his roommate.

“You seem to be in a hurry,” said Waylon, biting his lip to stop the sentence. What was he doing? Stalling to spend more time with Miles. What about what Miles wanted?

“It’s been years building up to this moment, and this catering job is getting old,” said Miles.

“But we’re finally getting good at it…”

Waylon stole glances, without making it obvious, and remembered the day with the hallucination. They hardly had any time apart. Did Miles take care of himself like that often? Did he jerk off right where Waylon was sitting? And when he did, did he always make that sexy face?

“You alright?” asked Miles. “You seem tense. Not about to have some kinda episode again, right?”

“What? No, sorry, I guess it’s starting to hit me,” said Waylon, blushing, and clearing his throat. “The fact that, uh, I haven’t really, spent time with anyone in years. Nothing seems to come naturally anymore. Just sitting here sometimes, feels weird.”

Miles chuckled. “I feel the same way. I’ve been so focused taking on Murkoff, nothing else mattered, and I kinda forgot about normal shit like, human interaction. I don’t mean, picking up strange tail at a bar, that’s easy enough, but actually, having friends. Family. That’s why we’re doing this, right? Turn the tables on Murkoff, put an end to them, once and for all, so you can go back to your family.”

“What about you?”

“Eh, nothing to go back for,” said Miles. “But, maybe I can move on. The way I want to, you know? Before Colorado, I bought a house down in Key West. I was going to take some time off. Fish. Relax. I hadn’t told anyone about it, because I didn’t want them to badger me about it. It’s still there, waiting, I assume. That’s where I want to go, once this is over. I hope all my shit’s still there.”

“You can go back to your family,” said Waylon. “Even if you feel like a different person…”

“I’m hardly a person at all,” said Miles, shaking his head while giving Waylon a side-eye glare. “You just really, don’t get it…”

“Well, that’s what I have to believe,” said Waylon, jutting out his chin. “Otherwise, I’ll never get my family back. I’ll never get to have any closeness with another person again. I’ll just be…alone. I’ve been so lonely. It’s starting to have a really…strange effect on me.”

“Aww,” said Miles, giving a playful grin as he turned his head. “You’re lonely? Even with me hanging out? Come here.” Miles moved closer to Waylon on the couch, and held out an arm. “Get in here.”

Waylon raised an eyebrow, and leaned in the opposite direction. “No thanks.”

“Yes thanks, come here,” said Miles, grinning even bigger. He didn’t take ‘no’ for an answer. Miles moved until Waylon could move no further, and slipped an arm around Waylon. His hand rested, easily, on Waylon’s shoulder. Their bodies were next to one another. Miles was warm. Really warm.

“Look, beggars can’t be choosers, alright? It feels nice to be close to a person, no matter who, sometimes.”

“Yes,” said Waylon, quietly.

Miles smiled, and turned his attention back toward the television. The narrator was talking, in Italian, while examples of Roman art and architecture played on the screen. The art required no translation. Waylon felt content, for the first time in a long time.

Waylon shifted in his seat, and leaned into Miles. His shoulder lowered, allowing him to rest his head against Miles’ shoulder.

Miles did not seem to notice—or if he noticed, he did not mind. He adjusted his own posture to allow Waylon to lean against him. Waylon stared at the screen, suddenly unable to enjoy the artwork. All he could think about was Miles. His warmth. His scent.

Waylon had to shift to hide the obvious outline in his jeans. He prayed Miles did not notice. Maybe his impotency had been a blessing all those years, saving him from badly timed boners.

Would Miles allow this type of innocent contact, if he knew that Waylon had spied on him while he touched himself? That it had aroused Waylon? Or, that Waylon felt attracted to him?

“You know,” said Waylon, “the bed—it’s big. This couch looks awful. I wouldn’t want to sleep here every night.”

“I’d really like it if we switched sometime, or even just for a night,” said Miles, craning his neck to look at Waylon, nestled against his side.

“Oh. Okay. I was going to offer to, uh, share,” said Waylon. “I mean, it’s full sized, so…”

“Anything to get off this couch,” said Miles, shrugging.

It was not even that weird, sharing a bed. Miles plopped down on one side; Waylon crawled onto the other. Miles slept on his back, sprawled out, comfortable. Waylon slept on his side, his back to Miles.

Still, he could feel the slight shift of the mattress. Another person was sharing his bed. When he finally did manage to fall asleep, he did so without the aid of sleep medication. And no nightmares.


“Okay, marry, fuck, or murder. Jeremy Blaire. Eddie Gluskin. Frank Manera,” said Miles, as they walked to the main barn area for work one morning.

“Holy shit,” said Waylon, laughing out loud. “That’s not even fair, that’s terrible.”

“Oh, come on, marry, fuck, or murder, there’s a gun to your head, you have to,” said Miles.

“Yeah, well, the last time someone held a gun to my head, it wasn’t even loaded,” said Waylon.

“Sorry about that, I’ll load it next time,” said Miles, giving a crooked grin. “So answer already.”

The pair quickly approached the tourist gathering area, staying slightly aloof from the other employees.

“Okay, then, I’m going to kill…Jeremy. Yeah, that would feel good,” said Waylon, a tiny smile twitching on his lips. “And I guess I’ll fuck Frank, even though I doubt I’d survive that. But assuming I did, I could go ahead and become the bride Gluskin always wanted me to be.”

“Aww, giving the Groom what he wants, how touching,” said Miles, grinning.

“Okay, your turn. Marry, fuck, or murder. Rick Trager. Chris Walker. Or the Walrider.” Miles face fell, and he gave Waylon a suspicious, sideways glance. “Oh come on, you made me say I’d fuck Frank Manera. It’s not real anyways. They’re all dead and gone.”

Miles inhaled deeply, collecting his thoughts. “Kill Trager. Again. Fuck Chris, I guess, but I’m topping. And then, I could live happily ever after with the swarm…”

“I don’t know,” said Waylon, as they walked. “The swarm scared me. Billy Hope was an emotionally unstable guy, thanks to Murkoff, and he’s suddenly in control of a killing machine? It sends shivers down my spine. You really want to marry Billy Hope?”

“Yeah, well, the swarm takes on parts of its host,” said Miles. “Billy gave it insecurity, and fear, and the need to strike out. But it’s a robot—it’s able to be re-programmed, it learns and adapts. You’re not giving the Walrider a fair roll.”

Waylon considered Miles’ description. He thought about the last time he had seen the swarm, moving toward him as he made his getaway in Miles’ Jeep.

“Yeah, maybe. And I mean, I did get a pretty good view of its ass a few times, or whatever passed for an ass on that thing. Not bad. Fucking it would be nice, but marrying it? I don’t know…”

“You’re marrying Gluskin? The dick slicer? Much better choice,” said Miles.

“You didn’t give me the option of the Walrider!”

“Okay, well, Marry, fuck, or murder. Gluskin. Manera. Or the Walrider.”

“I’d be happy to kill Frank, and I’d enthusiastically fuck the Walrider, but I’m still marrying Gluskin.”

“You’d fuck the Walrider, over Frank?” asked Miles.

“Hell yeah,” said Waylon. He could not stop the intrusive memory of the Walrider in his delusional vision. He saw it pumping into Miles, drawing out a string of moans. Making Miles writhe in pleasure. “I’d fuck the Walrider all night long.”

Miles stopped walking so suddenly he almost tripped over his feet.

“The Walrider wasn’t the enemy,” said Waylon. He pressed his face closer to Miles, until he could whisper, conspiratorially. “I never told anyone. But the Walrider? I saw it kill Jeremy Blaire. And I saw it standing at the gates. It helped me. It wanted me to spread the word. I don’t hate the Walrider. I feel very neutral toward it. But, I’m glad it’s gone. For the good of all humanity.”

“You’re wrong,” said Miles, before walking into the barn.

Waylon assumed the conversation was over, but Miles brought it up later, over dinner.

“So, earlier, no matter what choice you got, you always marry Gluskin,” said Miles. “I thought you said he was the worse one of them all?”

“He was,” said Waylon, “in my experiences, at least.”

“Then why marry him?” asked Miles.

Waylon felt himself blushing as he busied himself with his pasta. Miles had noticed the reaction, and grinned as he stared at Waylon.

“That’s a strange reaction,” said Miles.

“I have strange feelings, about, um, Eddie,” said Waylon. “I don’t know if it’s the guilt thinking I caused his death, or laughing at his dying corpse, but, my brain really fixated on the guy. I had problems with sex after his attacks with the buzzsaw—problems that manifested through dreams of Eddie. It’s a strange attraction? And I know it’s not healthy, but given that all the choices were impossible, he was the best of the worst.”

“Don’t be embarrassed,” said Miles, wiping sauce from his face, “ brains do strange things. But I still think you’d have better long term options with the swarm.”

Waylon barely registered the final sentence. He was lost in thought, again. Staring at Miles as he pushed a napkin against his lips.

It had been happening for days. Waylon would watch Miles. While he was eating, sitting, working. He was only performing menial tasks, like cleaning up, or serving drinks, but Waylon could not stop his own perverse fantasies.

He imagined Miles in sexual situations. Waylon convinced himself that he did not want such thoughts. But, want them or not, they came. Instead of seeing dead patients and nanoclouds, Waylon instead saw Miles Upshur. Licking his lips. Bending over seductively. Waylon had no idea why he would have these thoughts. He had a wife.

Not to mention, Miles showed zero discernible interest in him. Nothing beyond their careful cohabitation, and tentative friendship. Waylon knew to keep the strange feelings to himself.

On one day, the tour group came for dinner rather than lunch. The attitude of the entire staff was much more relaxed. That evening was a tour group for young men and women from abroad. Angelo hung string lights to illuminate the usual yard, and somewhere music played from a stereo. Everyone adopted a more relaxed attitude as they performed their normal duties.

As the night wore on, and the tourists reached their limit of wine, Waylon noticed one of the tourists paying special attention to Miles. Waylon watched as Miles made his usual sarcastic remarks, and the tourist laughed louder than the wine dictated. The tourist followed Miles as he performed his tasks, chatting away. And Miles? Miles allowed it.

The way Miles was smiling…Waylon rarely saw him make a face that was not a grimace, or a sneer. Miles looked younger. Less haunted. Waylon kept catching himself over pouring a glass because he was staring. Miles may be a handsome man, but he was still a pain in the ass. And, outside of their shared, horrific, trauma, they had nothing in common.

The day’s tour continued well past dark with several employees, including Angelo, assisting with drinking the remaining wine. Some of the tourists were even dancing to the music, encouraging the employees to join in. Miles laughed and declined, but the tourist was not shy about dancing close to Miles.

When the tour finally ended, Waylon was annoyed. He felt like he was doing more than his share—and his suspicions were confirmed when he saw Miles slacking on his duties to talk to his new friend.

It took longer than usual to get everything put away. Waylon waited near the gate for Miles to walk back to the apartment together. He watched Miles say something to the tourist before walking over to Waylon.

“Hey, I’m gonna, uh, check out the hotel in town,” said Miles.

“Check out the hotel? Why? Did something happen?” asked Waylon.

“Nah, nothing like that, but, uh…don’t wait up,” said Miles. He waggled his eyebrows, and gave Waylon a wicked grin. Waylon’s stomach fell to the floor, and he felt faint. Being on the receiving end of such a smile. He coughed to cover his sudden discomfort.

“Y-you’re wearing your work uniform,” said Waylon, scratching his head.

“Not for long,” said Miles, turning away.

Waylon waved awkwardly as Miles jogged back to the tourist. As the couple walked away, Miles slipped a hand around the other man’s waist, and pulled him close. The sound of their laughter carried downwind as Waylon stared, confused.

Waylon walked back to the apartment, in a fog.

Miles was attracted to men. Why was he surprised? It’s not like they had ever discussed anything as personal as their sexuality. They had trouble just talking about which Italian television station to watch in the evenings. And Waylon was not so naive as to believe there were some telling mark of someone’s sexuality. Waylon had just never considered, while he was having such strange attractions, that Miles might ever be open to the idea.

Waylon rushed up the stairs, and into the apartment, without a thought for his ankle. He slammed the red door and rested his forehead against the bright surface without securing any of the locks. First, he had to get hard after walking in on Miles, and then he was aroused imagining Miles with another man.

Waylon cleaned the apartment, not out of germ agitation, but in an attempt to keep his hands from becoming idle. He showered, attempting to scrub his dirty thoughts away with the rough surface of his shower sponge. He got into bed, but it felt uneasy without Miles beside him. He wondered what Miles and the tourist would be doing at the hotel.

Picturing Miles, naked and reclining on the bed, came easily. Waylon had been remembering it frequently since that day he walked in on Miles. It was not a big stretch to imagine the tourist on his knees, struggling to swallow Miles’ enviable length. It was a little more difficult to imagine Miles sucking dick. Was that something he enjoyed? Waylon had never done it, but he knew how great it felt to receive.

Other than the basics, and some curious porn searches, Waylon was unfamiliar with two men together. The more he pictured it, the more daring his imagination became. He fantasized about Miles engaging in anal sex with the tourist, thrusting his hips with a brutal pace while the tourist cried out. Waylon could only imagine Miles as a selfish, painful lover—taking what he could, as hard and fast as he could get it. Maybe he had the wrong idea, but Miles did not strike him as a sensitive guy.

Waylon’s hand worked his erection. It was like riding a bike. Waylon had experienced no sexual urges in over three years, but the motions were familiar, and his cock felt unnaturally sensitive. The slightest touch of his hand sent shivers down his spine.

He could see it clearly. Miles giving the same wicked smile Waylon had witnessed earlier, just before extending his tongue, and tasting the fluid already seeping from Waylon’s slit. Waylon’s size was nothing to be ashamed of—would Miles take him all the day down his throat? Would he mind if Waylon closed his fist around Miles’ shaggy hair, and used his mouth as he pleased?

“Fu…” Waylon’s moan filled the silence of the apartment, but he reflexively held his breath to stifle the noise. He had no way of knowing if Miles was staying out all night, or returning soon. He could be interrupted at any moment. And what would Miles do if he walked in at that time?

Laugh, most likely. Ridicule him. But there was the smallest chance that he would lend a hand. It was that image, burned on the back of his eyelids, that pushed Waylon careening over the edge.

As soon as his climax passed, and the subsequent mess was cleaned, Waylon closed his eyes and attempted to pass out. He looked forward to waking up, and pushing thoughts of Miles Upshur from his mind.

The sound of the apartment door opening demanded Waylon’s attention. Miles crept into their small bedroom, and quietly slid out of his work uniform, and into pajama pants. The mattress shifted as he crawled into bed. Waylon’s could not stop the hitch in his breathing.

“Hey, sorry if I woke you,” said Miles, yawning as he pulled the covers over himself.

Waylon made no answer. He held as still as possible. Why was he sweating? It was cool in their bedroom. Miles was getting into bed without showering? What had he done? Waylon made a mental note to change the sheets first thing in the morning.

Snoring followed soon after, but Waylon remained wide awake. He struggled to put his feelings into words. He felt…jealous? Was it because he missed being intimate in that way? Or was he jealous because he wanted to mean something to Miles?

It was stupid. Waylon did not want Miles. He had a wife, and a long history of heterosexuality. But he could not stop himself from feeling magnetically attracted. Something inside him felt hopeful.

Because if Miles was interested in men, Waylon might have a shot.

Chapter Text

“You’re not gonna believe what happened last night,” said Miles.

Waylon froze, staring down at his bowl of cereal. He dropped his spoon with a noticeable splash.

“I logged into Murkoff’s systems, using the credentials from Kyoto, and found something interesting,” said Miles, grinning over his own half-empty bowl of cereal.

Waylon exhaled, long and slow. “Ah, okay, just, last night, something with the plans, is what you meant, that happened…”

“What did you think I meant?” asked Miles.

“N-nothing,” said Waylon. He pushed thoughts of Miles, and the tourist, from his mind. “So wait, what do you mean, you used the credentials?”

“There were logins, and passwords, with those goons in Kyoto,” said Miles, putting down his spoon so he could gesture with his hands. “I borrowed a laptop, and logged into their online system. Every time I tried in the past, no luck, but this time, I got in, immediately, and you won’t believe what I found out.”

“W-wait, you did what?” asked Waylon, having trouble paying attention. Miles practically glowed when he was talking so passionately.

“Well, the accounts had been wiped clean, all messages deleted, only limited access to the system, but I found some very interesting intel. Looks like whoever wiped the information missed the recycling bin…”

Waylon’s hand slammed down on the table, causing both bowls to rattle, and a small amount of milk to splash onto the table.

“Miles, you logged into their system lasts night, and it was wiped clean…”

“Yeah, but I still found something,” said Miles.

“But, they’re monitoring it, you said it yourself back when you got the information. Of course they’re monitoring the account, they must have known the second you gained access, they’d have an alert. Murkoff isn’t some amateur company, they have some of the best tech guys in the industry…”

“Well, not so great, since they left an important memo in the recycling bin,” said Miles, smirking.

“You idiot, for all we know, they wanted you to find that information, they’re probably on the way here, as we speak. I can’t believe you would do this, I mean, why would you…isn’t this a decision we should have made together?”

“Chill, there’s no proof that they’re on the way, I was careful, I used a proxy,” said Miles. “You’re just being paranoid…”

“No, you’re being reckless and…stupid,” said Waylon. “I worked coding that system, I should have been the one to make contact, I could have done it without giving away our location. A proxy? What do you think this is, some middle school wannabe hacker? Murkoff is another beast, you fucking…”

“Don’t you even want to know what I found out?” asked Miles.

“No, I want to know why you’re forcing this so quickly,” said Waylon. “Why would you draw Murkoff’s eye when I’m not ready, when we aren’t ready… more time, I need more time.”

Waylon needed to breathe. He pushed away from the table, and put his hands on his knees. Murkoff’s system was secure, redundant security systems all the way down, and Waylon could see them all, code rushing through his memories.

I don't need another performance evaluation. Mr. Park here is going to have us up and running before we even know it. Right, Mr. Park?

“Are you okay? Park? Hey, Park…” Miles’ voice was distorted in Waylon’s mind. It began to sound like another familiar voice from the past.

Are we happy, Mr. Park?

“NO,” said Waylon, standing up, and pacing in the kitchen. He walked back and forth several times, before he was suddenly struck with a terrible ache in his right ankle. Waylon hissed in pain, nearly collapsing onto the kitchen counter.

Error.

“No,” said Waylon. His hands shook with the effort to focus on his surroundings. He was in his Italian apartment, not the underground lab. His brain hurt from the effort to keep himself from slipping away.

“Waylon? Are you okay?” asked Miles, perched on the edge of his chair. Was he preparing to chase Waylon down, again? Waylon let out a shaky breath.

“Yeah, I, um, I’m…” Waylon faltered. Was he fine? He was able to ignore the the auditory hallucinations. Maybe he was getting better, after all. And who was responsible for that? “I’m not sure I’m ready to go.”

“What do you mean?” asked Miles, gray eyes narrowing.

“I mean, I’m not sure I’m ready to leave, this place. Every thing’s going better for me, I mean, just now, I didn’t freak out, I kept it together, and…my leg hasn’t been hurting as much, and I don’t feel as afraid, or lonely, and I haven’t had to use my sleeping pills. The job isn’t so bad, this apartment is kind of nice, and…”

“Don’t pussy out on me now,” said Miles, making a disgusted noise in his throat.

“W-what?”

“Back in Kyoto, you pushed a gun barrel to your forehead, and said you were ready to die. You told me you’d come with me, and set up this trap, and now we’re here, ready for the plan, and you’re gonna back out? Unacceptable.”

“It’s not like I want to back out, it’s more like, I just like it here. I hated it in Kyoto. I hated my life, but now it’s getting better, and this plan is dangerous, we could both die…”

“You’re safe with me, I won’t let you die,” said Miles. “Just, trust me?”

“Okay, but even if we don’t die, we’ll have to leave this place, and I…it’s nice here? Haven’t you enjoyed this month working here, living here?” asked Waylon. Aren’t you happy here with me, thought Waylon.

“Yeah, I’m having a great time,” said Miles, chuckling. “This place is nice. And that’s all the more reason to get this over with.”

“How does that even make sense?” asked Waylon, glaring while still clutching the kitchen counter for support.

“Because the longer we stay, the more we fall in love with this place, the harder it is when Murkoff does find it, because they will,” said Miles.

“This time could be different,” said Waylon.

“What good is it to stay in one place, when you’re being hunted?” asked Miles. “You wanna grow closer to this job, and the workers, so when they die in the crossfire, you feel worse? You want to get attached to this apartment, so you’ll feel more pain when Murkoff torches it to the ground? What good is sticking around?”

“There’s nothing here worth saving to you?” asked Waylon. He put both hands flat on the kitchen counter, and stared down at the discolored Formica. He refused to look at Miles, in that moment. Why did it feel like his chest was caving in on itself?

“There’s tons here that’s worth saving,” said Miles, standing up from the table, and carrying his bowl toward the sink. “That’s why I have to go. That’s why we need to go. Are you forgetting the end goal here?”

“I don’t know what my end goal is anymore,” muttered Waylon. He had to move from his perch, to allow Miles access to the sink. He winced as he hobbled back to the kitchen table, leaning heavily against a chair.

“Tell me about your family,” said Miles.

“What, like my parents?” asked Waylon.

“No, moron, your wife,” said Miles, shaking his head. He walked into the dining area, and forced Waylon to meet his eyes. “You’re doing all this to get back to your family, right? But you never talk about them.”

“They’re precious to me, I think about them everyday, talking about them is painful for me, and personal,” said Waylon. Miles motioned with his hand for Waylon to continue. Waylon pulled the chair out, and dropped gracelessly into the seat.

“My family is what keeps me going,” said Waylon. “My wife, Lisa, is…gorgeous. She’s strong. She birthed my two sons while holding down a full time job, teaching art to middle schoolers. She can’t sing to save her life, she fancies herself a wine connoisseur, and she’s the only woman I’ve ever been with.”

“Seriously? One and done?” asked Miles.

Waylon looked up, and was relieved to see a small smile on Miles’ face. He did not look angry.

“Well, this may come as a shock to you, but I’m kind of an awkward guy, and I wasn’t really popular with the ladies,” said Waylon.

“Imagine that,” said Miles, smirking. Waylon sighed, and looked down at the table, specks of milk marring the surface. It upset a part of him, but he reigned in the compulsion to clean. Being able to resist made him feel more confident. At ease.

“I studied computers, Lisa studied art, she chased me pretty aggressively, honestly, I don’t know what she saw in me…still don’t. My boys, Trevor and Ryan. Trevor looks after his younger brother, so doting and patient, but Ryan doesn’t really reciprocate, despite his best efforts. He’s kind of a wild child. Though, maybe that’s all changed in the last three years…”

“You haven’t seen any of them?” asked Miles.

“No,” said Waylon. “Being away is the best thing I can do for them.”

“But now, if we do this, you can go back,” said Miles, staring at the linoleum floor. Waylon thought he looked sad. Or maybe just pensive.

“What about you?” asked Waylon.

Mils sucked air through his teeth, and shrugged. “I was too late.”

“What is that supposed to mean? You were too late?” asked Waylon.

“My mom was sick, my sister was taking care of her, and I was out trying to…save the world,” Miles chuckled at his own wording. He shook his head, and forced out a breath. “After the asylum, I was…hurt.”

“Your fingers?” asked Waylon, causing Miles to pause in his story, and look down at his hands.

“Um, yeah, among other things…”

“They’re scarred, but they healed nicely,” said Waylon, giving what he hoped was a supportive grin. “The doctors did a good job, it doesn’t look bad at all.”

Miles snorted. “Yeah, my two mangled fingers don’t look bad at all. But, that wasn’t the worst part. I needed time, ya know? To heal.”

“I understand completely,” said Waylon, thinking of his own first, harrowing weeks.

“I had to stay away, for a year or so, and when I tried to go home, well,” Miles trailed off, and pushed his fingers through his messy hair. Waylon narrowed his eyes, confused by Miles’ sudden uneasiness. His strange gray eyes were shifting, darkening, and staring anywhere but at Waylon. “My mother had passed. My sister was upset, she blamed me for disappearing. And now she’s gone, too.”

“She took her own life?” asked Waylon. He said it with a flat tone, like discussing the weather.

Suicide was no longer something he saw as a weakness. Sometimes, it was the least horrible choice. He remembered, too well, a swinging corpse above Gluskin’s territory. A wise man.

“Sure,” said Miles, stalking out of the small kitchen area. Waylon frowned after him, struggling to his feet.

“Sorry, if it was a sensitive subject,” said Waylon. “There’s no one else you could go to? Distant relative, a close friend, a…a lover, or ex-lover?”

“No one,” said Miles, pacing in the living room. “At least, not now, not after three years. Most assume I’m dead. It’s better that way. Having me in their life…it’s not good.”

“You’re selling yourself short,” said Waylon, walking into the living area where Miles paced. “You’re a really good person. You’re kind, and funny, and handsome.”

Miles stopped his pacing, and raised an eyebrow at Waylon.

Oh. Right. Perhaps Waylon had said the wrong thing. He shrugged it off.

“If you don’t have a family to go back to, come with me, come to my family,” said Waylon.

“I’m a danger to anyone, you idiot, I can’t go to my old friends and family, I can’t go be with your wife and little kids, come on,” said Miles, scoffing.

“I know,” said Waylon, walking closer to Miles, “Better than anyone else, I know what it feels like, to be a danger to the ones you love. They’re already in danger with me, but together, me and you, I’m…I’m doing much better, mentally and physically, with you around.”

There was no response from Miles, other than a stranger, horrified expression.

“We’re both dangerous,” said Waylon, ignoring Miles’ silence. “But I think we’re better together. Unless, you’re not happy…with me.”

“It’s for your benefit that I get far away,” said Miles. “It’s a kindness, because we’ve grown close. Because we’re friends.”

“Miles,” said Waylon, before closing his mouth. His shoulders drooped slightly. What was he really hoping to achieve? “I really value our friendship.”

“Then trust me, you’ll thank me, one day soon…” said Miles. He walked to the door, and put on his jacket, hardly glancing back at Waylon. “I get that you’re nervous, but, I promise you, nothing’ll happen to you. I’m running to the store. You need anything?”

Waylon shook his head. He watched, in silence, as Miles exited the apartment.

It had been so easy in Kyoto. Waylon’s life was little more than waking up, cleaning office buildings, and eating noodles in vegetable broth. The idea of his life ending was not much of a loss. There was little motivation to keep going.

But everything changed when Miles appeared.

If the plan went well, Waylon could return to his family—to the United States. He could work on healing, with a full time psychiatrist, and his own name again. He could write a memoir, or give interviews, for some funds. He might still be able to salvage something of his former life. Build a legacy to pass on to his boys.

But if he failed? Well, he would be dead. He would never see his family again. Yet Waylon had grown accustomed to that aching loss. What he mourned the most, at that time, was his new routine—his new normal.

Waking up, everyday, and joking with Miles. Working at his job. Goofing off during breaks. Trips into town. Watching television every evening, side by side, on the couch.

Maybe Miles was right, and the plan would succeed. Waylon would get his family back, but he would lose Miles. And if they were wrong? Well, he would lose everything, just when he had a reason to keep going.

Living together with Miles. Waylon did not even need to be in any kind of romantic relationship to be happy. He just wanted to live with Miles, and see him everyday, and share thoughts, and jokes. And maybe make out a little.

Miles had acted on his own, and put their plan into action, without Waylon’s consent. That had to mean that Miles did not share the same sentiments.

If Miles was in a hurry to leave, then Miles was not interested in Waylon as a companion. The realization left Waylon feeling even more depressed.

The solitude was a welcome change. Even the air conditioner seemed quieter when Miles was out of the apartment. Waylon spent some time on chores before finally taking a break. He made himself a cheese sandwich, and brought it out to the balcony for some fresh air. He also brought his journal.

Waylon had been skipping days. He tried to blame it on the fact that he could no longer write in bed, because of Miles. He blamed it on being tired. He blamed it on being lazy.

Truthfully, he had not been writing letters in his journal every night, because he had not been thinking about Lisa, as often.

It felt like betrayal. Even though nothing had happened, Waylon felt guilty. He betrayed Lisa with his thoughts about Miles. It was a classic case of finding comfort with the one you are with, when the one you love is unreachable. Miles was close, supportive, and interesting.

Waylon muttered to himself. Even with his pen in hand, positioned over the blank page, his thoughts still managed to drift to Miles.

Lisa,

Lake Como finally managed to bring me some semblance of peace. It’s the first place I’ve been where I felt comfortable being myself. Less afraid. I miss you, everyday, though I’m not as lonely as before. I know you wouldn’t want me to be lonely.

No one can ever replace you in my life…

The shadows were growing longer. Waylon had barely written anything. Why was it getting so difficult to talk to Lisa? The memories of Lisa, and the boys, had kept him sane in the asylum. They continued to do so in all the years following the tragedy.

After years, Waylon was sleeping peacefully, eating better, and having regular human interaction. He let another person’s germs into his world, with minimal fuss. His injured leg had not caused him as much difficulties. He was starting to feel something akin to his former self.

But none of that was because of Lisa.

…but I hope you can understand, when I finally see you again, that Miles means a lot to me. As a friend. He was there when I needed someone, and it’s because of him that I’m scared about what comes next.

Waylon stared at his own writing. He could never hide anything from Lisa—it was the way of their relationship. The feelings of guilt, and longing, were such bitter opposites, they left him torn. Waylon quickly lost his appetite for solitary contemplation. He was relieved to see movement behind the sliding glass door inside of the apartment.

Miles was putting away groceries, when Waylon reentered the apartment from the balcony.

“Hey, I got you some tofu,” said Miles.

“Um, why, I hate tofu,” said Waylon.

“Really?” asked Miles, pausing in the act of shoving a giant box of Lucky Charms onto the top shelf of their tiny pantry. “How can you be a vegetarian if you hate tofu?”

“Is that a serious question? I just don’t eat meat, I’m not…can you tell me now, about what you found last night?” asked Waylon, walking into the kitchen. He grabbed a few cans, and assisted Miles with putting the food away.

“There was a meeting, a while back, in Georgia, and the daddy I’ve been searching for was the one calling it to order,” said Miles, smirking as he shelved cans.

“Daddy? I don’t…”

“Your old boss, Jeremy Blaire, sadistic asshole—learned from the best,” said Miles. “A shit stain like that can’t make it anywhere without nepotism. More like he was groomed from birth to become Chief Executive Asshole. His father retired from the Board of Directors, after Jeremy was promoted, but he’s remained very much active, behind the scenes.”

“Wait, there’s, another Blaire?”

“I searched everywhere for this guy, disappeared off the radar after the Mount Massive incident, but looks like Daddy Blaire came out of retirement to salvage the last remnants of the company he dedicated his life to building. Plus, he’s got a bit of a grudge, since he thinks you’re the Walrider’s host, and Jeremy was one of the few able to be positively I.D.’ed after the fire, since the administrative block was only partially burned before the fire was extinguished.”

“You know an awful lot about this stuff…”

“I was there,” said Miles. “I was there when the fire started, and I was there when the fire burnt out.”

“And no one saw you?” asked Waylon.

“Obviously,” said Miles, snorting.

“So Murkoff has been operating in the states this whole time?” asked Waylon.

“No, jackass, Georgia is a country—in Eastern Europe? It’s next to Russia? You know what, never mind, the geography isn’t important. What’s important, is that we know where they’re meeting, and now if they track us down, we can contact the FBI, set the bait, and then snap it down on the last remnants of Satan, Inc. You’re going home to your family, Park. Real soon.”

Miles resumed restocking the pantry, humming. He looked proud of himself. Waylon felt like the wind had been knocked out of him. The damage was already done. It was no use worrying until they were sure that Murkoff was searching for them. There was no undo command for real life. Control-Z. Waylon had no choice but to continue on with his life.

That evening, Waylon showered after dinner, and returned to find Miles sitting on the couch in his pajamas. He had a giant bag of potato chips open in his lap as he stared at the television.

Waylon fought the sudden desire to run to the couch, and curl up directly against Miles. The thought of leaving Miles so soon prompted him to crave the comfort that only Miles provided him.

“Giving up early tonight?” asked Waylon. He walked to the couch and sat down in his usual spot beside Miles.

“Yeah, whatever,” said Miles, barely glancing at Waylon. He was transfixed to the television screen.

“What are you watching?”

“The Rock,” said Miles. “It’s dubbed in Italian, but it doesn’t matter, I know all the words.” He paused, watching along with the screen, his lips moving silently. After a few moments, he spoke out loud, “Your best? Losers always whine about their best. Winners go home, and fuck the prom queen.”

It was a terrible impression of Sean Connery.

“You fucked the prom queen?” asked Waylon.

“I’m translating the movie for you, dumbass,” said Miles, grabbing a handful of chips. “Though, I did give the prom king a hummer, so, I call that close enough.”

“I used to love this movie growing up,” said Waylon. He settled onto the couch, transfixed on Sean Connery’s performance. Miles continuously translated. When he did not remember the line, he improvised. Often with hilarious results.

“I think I prefer your version,” said Waylon, grinning.

“Too bad watching this movie makes me have to think about that place, in the back of my mind,” muttered Miles.

“Mount Massive?” asked Waylon. “Hmm, I guess, it’s a stretch. Creepy science experiments, prisoners, almost impossible to escape, but we managed. You’re Connery, I’m Cage.”

“Hell no, I’m way more like Cage,” said Miles. “I’m an outsider, coming in to own the place, you were the insider, you’re Connery.”

“But you’re older,” said Waylon.

“By a fucking month,” said Miles.

Waylon leaned into Miles, on the couch. “Didn’t mean to offend you, old man.”

Miles started to laugh, but the sound was cut short, when Waylon reached into Miles’ lap. There was an instant hitch in Miles’ breathing. Waylon turned, and raised an eyebrow, as he studied Miles’ face.

“You alright?” asked Waylon, slowly bringing a chip up to his mouth. Miles glanced down, and saw Waylon’s hand leaving the bag of chips, currently in Miles’ lap.

“Uh, yeah,” said Miles, chuckling to himself, as he shifted on the couch, refocusing on the television. Waylon felt his own chest pull at the strange behavior. The faintest color lit up Miles’ strange complexion.

Blushing? Miles?

“There was something else, I wanted to ask you, about last night,” said Waylon, his words spilling out louder and faster than necessary. Miles raised an eyebrow, and waited. “Well, um, you see, I didn’t realize that you were into, um, guys, and…”

“Is that a problem?” asked Miles.

“W-what? No! Not like that, it’s just…”

“Are you uncomfortable sharing a bed, now?” asked Miles.

“What? No!”

“It’s cool, you’re married, and this may come as a shock, but just because I’m attracted to men, doesn’t mean I can’t behave myself around men that aren’t interested,” said Miles, grinning. “I’m not some kind of animal.”

“You sure about that?” asked Waylon, giving an awkward chuckle. “Anyways, I doubt I’m your type.”

“Who says you’re not my type?” asked Miles. He smiled and waggled his eyebrows, before shoving another chip into his mouth, and refocusing on the film.

That smile. Waylon forgot how to breathe for a moment. It looked the same as it had with the tourist, the night before. It looked genuine. Miles looked happy. Mischievous.

“You said earlier there was no one, but you’re sure, there’s no one special to you?” asked Waylon.

“There is someone, that’s special to me,” said Miles, sighing. “But, I can never be with them.”

“Why not?” asked Waylon.

Miles shook his head. “Lots of reasons. But even if they were available, which they’re not, I can’t be with anyone. Especially not someone I care about. I’m too much of a danger.”

“But you had no trouble following that tourist back to his room,” said Waylon, possibly with more bite than necessary. He hated his tone the moment Miles glared at him. Waylon wished there was a way to unsay something. Control-Alt-Delete.

“Do you know what it feels like, to fall for someone, who will never have feelings for you?” asked Miles. Waylon started to reply, but was cut off. “Because it hurts. It hurts worse than anything else I’ve been through, and I’ve been tortured, literally tortured.” Miles held up his hands to illustrate.

“Does the person know you feel that way?” asked Waylon.

“No,” said Miles, snorting, “they have no fucking clue. And it wouldn’t matter if they did know, it’s impossible.”

“Well, my feeling is, you shouldn’t leave things unsaid like that,” said Waylon. “Nothing worse than that regret, of having left something unsaid.”

“You really feel that way?” asked Miles.

“Yeah,” said Waylon.

“You know,” said Miles, his mouth still full of chips. “You’re different than I expected.”

“What were you expecting?” asked Waylon, sitting up straighter. He knew it was pointless. His uneven hair, untrimmed facial scruff, and silvery scars, ensured he always looked a mess.

“I thought you’d be some, heroic, lawful good, out to protect the little guy, full of righteous anger. But, you’re just a regular guy.”

“Ah,” said Waylon, feeling his face burn. “Sorry about that.”

“Nah, it’s okay, that you’re a regular guy I mean,” said Miles, shifting on the couch to move the chips more between their bodies on the couch. “I spent a really longtime hating someone who never existed. You might be a mess but, you’re…you’re a good guy.”

“I’m really glad we got to spend this time together,” said Waylon, fighting to keep his voice casual. “If this is all coming to an end soon, well, I’m glad we got to know each other.”

Chapter Text

The next morning, Waylon awoke to the sounds of banging in the kitchen. He was surprised when he walked out in his pajamas, and saw Miles setting up an ancient laptop.

“Where’d you get the brick?” asked Waylon, scratching his stomach.

“I asked Chef Boyardee if he had a computer we could borrow, and he had this old one. Said it doesn’t work, but I bet I can get it going. Then we’ll have a way to get back into that system, to double check.”

“What’s the point? They’re already on their way,” said Waylon.

“We don’t know that for sure, stop being such a Debbie Downer,” said Miles, pausing to plug in the power supply for the computer. “Anyways, doesn’t hurt to get a computer up here. I know there’s wifi downstairs that we can ‘borrow.’ Maybe we can watch something in English for once…”

“I guess that doesn’t sound too bad,” said Waylon. He walked into the kitchen, and poured himself a cup of the coffee already waiting in the pot. I was still scalding hot, before Waylon dumped in a huge amount of cold milk and sugar. He stood, holding his mug up to his lips, as he watched Miles suffer.

“I don’t know how to get to the diagnostics from start up, the operating system won’t even boot…”

“Move,” said Waylon, sighing. He walked over to the chair, and jerked his chin toward the couch. “Seriously, go away. I’ll have this up and running before work.”


“Can Ravioli see what we’re searching for, if we’re on their wifi?” asked Miles, as they walked together toward the barn in their work uniforms. Waylon completed his look with shaggy bangs in his face, scruff on his cheeks, and dark circles under his eyes. Miles hair was combed and his face shaved clean.

“What the hell are you planning on searching?” asked Waylon.

“Nothing,” said Miles, pulling at his collar.

“I don’t see how you can worry about Internet searches, when we’re walking straight to our goddamn doom, here…”

“Dramatic,” said Miles, rolling his eyes. He lengthened his stride, and Waylon’s legs were forced to work double time to keep pace. “Maybe they didn’t detect anything. You haven’t gone in to check, yet.”

“It’s safest to assume they have,” said Waylon, panting from the effort to pace. “Why are you always so annoying?

“Look on the bright side, this is almost over, and you don’t have to keep hanging out with me, since I’m so annoying…”

“It’s not like that,” said Waylon, though he was stopped short when he arrived at the barn. The employees were setting up everything, per usual. Angelo and Marco were both scowling while discussing something in quick Italian. The tour bus in the distance was a familiar company, with an Italian flag painted on the side.

System check. All normal.

Except, how was that possible? Waylon performed a manual override to ensure he remained on high alert. He had no reason to doubt Miles was telling the truth about accessing the system. And he had no reason to believe Murkoff would ever fail to detect anyone accessing a flagged account.

The tour group included more college students than usual, a few older couples snapping photographs every two seconds, and even a trio in Catholic vestments. Waylon would have bet his life none of them were associated with Murkoff.

As the wine tasting continued through lunch, Waylon began to relax. Every time he scanned the crowd, there was no change in the population. Miles performed his duties with his usual indifference. He caught Waylon staring at him once, and smiled when their eyes locked.

Waylon’s mouth went dry. He quickly diverted his eyes.

Other than his strange feelings about Miles, the day was much the same as every other work event. Waylon focused on menial tasks to keep his mind from wandering. He was busy shoving used, plastic tasting glasses into a black garbage bag, when something caught his eyes.

Something about Miles’ posture set Waylon’s nerves on edge. Even from a distance, Miles looked pale, causing the grayish tone of his skin to stand out more than usual. He stared, without blinking or moving. Waylon would have questioned whether he was even breathing in that moment.

Slowly, Waylon turned to see what had captivated Miles' attention.

An unmarked black car was parked on the property, directly behind the tour bus. Waylon had not noticed its arrival. A short, black haired man in a black suit stood near a tall woman with short, auburn hair and a charcoal dress suit. The woman was speaking with Angelo, while the man stood back, surveying the area behind black shades.

“Buck! Flint!” shouted Angelo. “Take a break, vieni qui, per favore! Just one momento, si?”

Waylon’s feet froze in place. He turned to see Miles already walking, his expression trained and cool.

Waylon attempted to walk without looking suspicious, and stumbled like a drunk. Perfect. A cold sweat immediately broke out across his entire body.

“Grazie,” said Angelo, once Miles was within comfortable speaking distance. “These people are sent from the hiring agency, they were checking up on any new hires from the past month.”

Miles’ body was frozen in place, even after Waylon joined him. Waylon could not stop staring at the man. The dark glasses, his black hair, the cut of the suit. Everything about him screamed Danger. The entire look was something too familiar. Waylon knew he was fidgeting, drawing both of the newcomers’ attention.

Finally, the man pulled his shades down slightly, and Waylon’s heart stopped. His eyes were blue.

Someone’s been telling stories outside of class.

“Blaire,” said Waylon.

At the sound of the name, both of the newcomers’ heads snapped to stare at Waylon. It was reminiscent of two piranhas catching the scent of blood in the water. Waylon’s heart sank.

“Scusa?” asked Angelo.

“Supervisor’s supervisor…” said Waylon, before he was cut off by a sharp jab in the ribs. As the air whooshed out of his lungs, he stared up at a furious Miles. His eyes were black, and scary.

There was a buzzing near his ear, and Waylon swatted his hand at the unseen menace. But the sound was morphing, into the noise of an entire storage room full of computer servers...

Error.

Jeremy’s smile was cold and his blue eyes devoid of any warmth. He stared through Waylon as he spoke.

“I’m afraid we’re going to have to have you committed, Mr. Park…”

“No,” said Waylon, whimpering as he took a step back, away from Jeremy. He stumbled, regaining his balance just before he hit the ground. “Please!”

“Do you willingly submit to forced confinement?” asked Jeremy.

“No, stop, you don’t understand,” said Waylon, scrambling to get out of the room. He turned quickly in a circle. Nothing but servers and computer equipment in every direction. “HELP!”

“And did I just hear Mr. Waylon Park volunteer for the Morphogenic Engine program?”

Run. Hide. Survive.

Waylon’s legs finally decided to obey. He dashed blindly forward, dodging rows of cheap metal shelving housing computer equipment. He found himself at a dead end. He was forced to turn around, and run back the way he had come. But every turn offered only more endless shelves.

“No,” cried Waylon, his vision blurring from the tears in his eyes. “Shit. Fuck.”

“Park…”

“Shut up,” said Waylon, still attempting to find his way out of the terrifying maze.

“I could strangle you right now, would you calm down, and shut up…”

Impossibly strong hands tightened around Waylon’s wrists. He attempted to dash away, but was stopped easily.

“No, please,” said Waylon, hissing as the strong hands twisted his arms, and brought him quickly to his knees. The blinding pain caused him to close his eyes, and when he opened them, he was staring into a familiar blackness.

“You back? Waylon?”

“Miles,” said Waylon, collapsing forward, and wrapping his arms around Miles’ legs. “Thank god, Miles.” Waylon pressed his face against Miles’ thigh. “Was it them?”

“That would be my educated guess,” said Miles, standing perfectly still. Waylon slowly realized he was in one of the many storage rooms in the barn, filled with rows and rows of crates.

“Do you think they recognized me?” asked Waylon.

“Uh, yeah,” said Miles, stifling a laugh. “You called out to Jeremy Blaire, and ran away, screaming. They were talking to Angelo, in Italian, but I’m pretty sure they asked if you were named Waylon Park, or Farley Brown, or…some others. Anyways, Angelo said you weren’t, but they were both on their phones, leaving quickly. I got their tag information, but, I mean, no way to really search that.”

“It’s them,” said Waylon, sighing. He started to stand up, and was assisted by strong hands pulling him up by the shoulders. “We’re fucked.”

“No,” said Miles, frowning as he dusted fresh dirt away from Waylon’s white uniform shirt. “We’re right on schedule with our plan. They’re the ones who’re fucked.”

“I need to call Perry,” said Waylon, surprised at how calm his voice sounded in his own ears.

“Wait on that. I’m going to tell Wario out there that we need to cut out early,” said Miles.

“No, it’s fine,” said Waylon, shaking his head. He reached out, and grabbed Miles’ hand to stop him. “I feel alright. I can finish this service.”

“Your knees are caked in dirt, and you look like you’ve just seen a ghost…”

Stupid, Mr. Park. More than stupid, in fact, that was crazy.

“I’m fine,” said Waylon, storming back out into the main area. The other employees were already busy with clean up, and the tourists were boarding their bus. Miles and Waylon helped the employees, but most were staring and speaking in hushed tones around the pair. Miles pulled Angelo aside and requested the following day off of work.

“Our first time skipping work,” said Waylon, carrying the last two trash bags out to the dumpster.

“Yeah,” said Miles, walking closer beside Waylon, as they veered toward their apartment. He seemed to be looking everywhere at once, scanning for danger. “We need to get home, and get you out of those clothes.”

“Wha-yeah” Waylon stammered. He looked askance at Miles, and caught a mischievous smirk on his face.

Error.

If Miles is flirting, then Miles is confirming interest, else there has been a terrible misunderstanding.

Embarrassment imminent.

Waylon’s computations were interrupted when Miles thumped a shortened pointer finger against his chest. “Did you hear me?”

“No,” said Waylon. “I mean, yes. Repeat it, though. Just in case.”

“What kind of response do you expect from Perry? Think he’ll send the cavalry right away?”

“If I can convince him of the severity, then yeah, probably immediate,” said Waylon, before humming to himself. “Though, he is usually reluctant to listen to my complaints. Some of those times my paranoia was substantiated, but other times…”

“Yeah, I get it,” said Miles. “It’s okay. You survived. This is going to be the end. We made it.”

Waylon sighed as they walked up the stairs, and into the apartment.

Waylon rushed to sit down in front of the repaired laptop. His leg bounced as he waited, impatiently, for the slow system to reboot. As soon as he had the computer connected to the Internet, he began typing in addresses. The interface was still familiar.

“What are you looking for?” asked Miles. “We already know that Murkoff knows.” Miles face looked calm, but his body was tense as he paced back and forth behind Waylon’s chair.

“They probably won’t even know I was in here, unlike someone…

“I know you’re pissed I set the plan in motion,” said Miles, “but it’s obviously happening now. Spending time arguing, or feeling pissed about it, is a waste of time and energy. So get over it.”

Waylon set his face in a grimace, and made no answer. He was busy typing away at the code for the website. Little had changed since he had assisted with creating the system. Waylon was not usually the type of employee to code in secret backdoor access, but with Murkoff, the safety measures had seemed appropriate.

Soon, Waylon was performing searches. Typing, waiting, and reviewing the immediate results pinged back to him.

Do: enter input. While: Results continue to be useless.

The loop continued in his head, calculating each new result. Nothing seemed relevant to the situation, until…

“Here,” said Waylon, pushing his chair back with a loud scraping sound. He tapped his finger on the computer screen. “Here. This is it, this has gotta be it. Project Alp, created two days ago.”

“Right, because we’re near the Alps,” said Miles, nodding.

“No, the Walrider, that’s…that’s Wernicke’s preferred name for the swarm, but there were other words that mean the same thing. I remember seeing them on some Murkoff memos. Mara was one, Alp was another, it looks like it has the highest priority they can give a project, and it’s titled Project Alp.”

“Okay, but, also, the Alps…”

Waylon barley heard Miles. He was already typing away, digging for more specific information about this Project.

“It’s company wide, they’re calling in everyone to join this project,” said Waylon. “But there’s only sixty addresses on this list, sixty? Could that be right? There’s only sixty employees left in all of Murkoff?”

“Wouldn’t surprise me,” said Miles. “I mean, aside from those they can hire, expendable mercenaries and the like, there’s not a lot of people feeling very loyal to the old company these days.”

“They’re probably all being held hostage, a lot like I was back in 2013…”

“Bingo,” said Miles. “So they took the bait. Any idea where they’re going? When they’re coming? Can I get an ETA…”

“There’s a place they’ve set up, for correspondence, but so far it’s empty, it was only created last night, maybe it’s too soon,” said Waylon. “Just. Needs time, maybe.”

Miles sat down at the kitchen table, across from Waylon. Both men stared away, neither speaking. The hum of the laptop seemed to grow louder, until it was the only sound in the room. Waylon finally shook his head.

“I need to call Perry,” said Waylon.

“Couldn’t hurt,” said Miles, his voice monotone. He continued to stare at the table, unblinking. Waylon remained seated for a few more minutes, waiting for anymore response from Miles. There was none. He retired to the bedroom to place the call in private.

“Well, hey there, Buck,” said Agent Perry. “How do you like the name?”

“Did you have something to do with this? Farley Brown, and Buck Morris?”

“And Flint Westwood. Who’s your new husband, anyways?”

“None of your business,” said Waylon.

“Why are you calling me in the middle of the goddamn night, then? Not a lover’s quarrel?”

“It’s happening,” said Waylon, letting out a long exhale. “It’s for real, this time. I’m sorry. I know that I’m always always thinking Murkoff is hiding in every shadow, but, I’m positive this time.”

“Sure thing, Peter Wolf,” said Perry.

“His…his name was just Peter, it was Peter and the Wolf, not Peter Wolf…”

“You got the reference, jackass,” said Perry. “I got that request a few weeks ago, increase in your antipsychotic dosage. You’re using it, right?”

“I contacted Murkoff myself,” said Waylon.

“Oh really, call them back and tell them I said hi, because we’ve been searching for them for the last three years, and every time we get close, they relocate, but sure, you found them, and called them up…”

“I didn’t…” Waylon held the phone away from his face, and took a calming breath, before bringing the phone back to his cheek. “I was able to log onto their system, it was thought defunct, but they have it operating on some level. They’re on their way, now, to intercept me, but I won’t be taken alive. Call your people, Perry. Get them over here.”

“Ugh,” said Perry, giving a long yawn into the receiver. “Hmm, temporary bodyguards. Temporary. That’s more than you deserve. They’ll stay only as long as you’re acting this irregular, but after that, you need to work through this paranoia, or we might be forced to relocate you to a completely secure facility…”

“Don’t even joke about that,” hissed Waylon, switching the phone to his other ear. “I am not crying wolf this time! All of Murkoff, everything that’s left, is gonna be converging here, possibly within the next twenty-four hours. Send everyone you can gather. And hurry.”

“You really are crazy, Park,” said Perry, giving a sleepy chuckle. “Northern Italy, easy job, nice apartment. I’ve seen pictures of Como, it’s beautiful. You’re sure you want to destroy this opportunity? Your next assignment might be in some slum.”

“I know in the past, there were some false alarms, but this time, it’s for real. I contacted them. I used myself as bait. I hacked their systems, and I brought them here. Now, do your job, and get your people here. It’s time for this to end. I’m going home.”

“Are you seri…”

“I want to go home. This is your job, ending Murkoff, and keeping me safe. So fucking do it.”

Waylon felt uneasy when he hung up, and proceeded to pace at the end of the bed. He kept one ear to the door, half expecting an army of boots to arrive at any moment.

“Waylon?” came a voice from the bedroom doorway. “Hey, come out, sit down. Relax. Drink something. We would know if they were close.”

Waylon collected himself before walking out into the living area. Miles had opened a bottle of wine from the vineyard, and had two glasses out. Waylon grabbed a glass, but walked to the sink, instead, and filled it with a small amount of water from the tap.

“If you really think this is your last night on earth, one drink wouldn’t hurt,” said Miles, filling his own glass.

Waylon ignored him, and pulled out an orange plastic prescription bottle. He struggled with the lid, before tossing a few pills into his hand. He threw them back, downing the water in the glass.

“Should you drink on that medication?” asked Miles, raising an eyebrow.

“What happened to ‘last night on earth,’ who cares, right,” said Waylon, muttering as he poured himself a large glass of red wine. “I hope this isn’t the last night. It could take a couple days to gather their forces.”

“Hope for the best, prepare for the worst,” said Miles, holding up his glass of wine. The two ended up sitting on the couch, sipping their wine as the television blared away in the background. Soon, they were working through a second bottle.

“In another life, I could have stayed here,” said Miles, the wine sloshing in his glass as he gestured with his hands. “The vineyard, the countryside, the mountains, even you aren’t bad. The job though. I can’t fucking stand the way those tourists talk to us…”

Waylon giggled into his recently refilled glass. “You have a short temper.”

“It’s my nature,” said Miles, pausing to take a sip. “At least, it is now.”

“I could have stayed here too,” said Waylon, taking his own long gulp from his glass. He always had been a lightweight when it came to wine. “It’s pretty. I don’t even mind the job, when I’m not having a panic attack. And you…well…” The sentence trailed off, and hung awkwardly between them.

“…Me?” asked Miles, grinning.

“Well, you know, you’re my friend,” said Waylon, holding his glass in two hands, and staring at his reflection in the red liquid. “Or at least, the closest thing I have to one since the asylum. I mean, are you my friend?”

Miles’ body shook with the effort to keep his laughter in check. He held his glass up, as though it would stop him from spilling it. “You just reminded me so much of this guy in the asylum.”

“It takes a mentally unstable person to want to be your friend?” asked Waylon.

“No, it was this one particular patient,” said Miles, setting his glass on the end table to free his hands. “So, I’m in the asylum, walking around, and I’m trying my damndest to avoid anyone. You never know who’s peaceful, and who’s going to try to peel your skin off. But this guy gets in my face, and he’s talking to me, and he’s not trying to hurt me, but he keeps saying, over and over again, silky, silky…”

“Silky?” asked Waylon.

“Yes, he’s talking about like, I look so silky,” said Miles.

“I need to tell you a secret,” said Waylon, leaning closer to Miles on the couch. “I have an itch.”

“What the fuck…”

“Are you my friend? I want to help you,” continued Waylon.

“How do you know about that?!?!” asked Miles.

“I was in the asylum, remember?” asked Waylon, grinning. “I ran into some guy, down in the hospital. He was speaking just like that. He said I looked silky, too. His eyes and most of his face were bound, though, so no idea how he even knew…”

“Yeah, his arms were bound too,” said Miles.

“Really? Not when I saw him,” said Waylon, pursing his lips. “At least, I think. Maybe it was a different guy.”

“A different guy, walking around with his face bound, talking about how silky I look?”

“You do look very silky,” grinned Waylon. He reached his free hand out to ruffle Miles’ unruly brown locks. The innocent touch made Miles tense. “S-sorry.”

“It’s fine,” said Miles, smiling. “I get that all the time, honestly. It’s obnoxious.”

Waylon shook his head, and tucked a stray strand behind Miles’ ear, before pulling his hand away. Miles did not pull away, instead bringing his own hand up to pull at Waylon’s shaggy blond hair.

“Wish I could say the same for you,” said Miles, chuckling. “Your hair's a mess.”

“I know,” said Waylon, sighing. “The…the sound of the clippers, reminds me of something, from the asylum.”

“That’s funny, I have an aversion to scissors for the same reason,” said Miles, chuckling. “But not the electric clippers. You want me to give you a quick buzz cut?”

Waylon hesitated, already thinking about the distinct buzz of the clippers. Maybe it was the liquid courage from the wine. And maybe it was the idea of Miles giving him a haircut.

“Let’s try it.”

Minutes later, Waylon and Miles were on the balcony. Waylon sat in the rusty metal lawn chair, and Miles held an electric razor in his hand, set to the longest setting.

“Do you use this razor for like, your face, or your balls?” asked Waylon.

“Yes,” said Miles.

“That doesn’t answer…” started Waylon, but he was stopped by the sudden strong buzz from the instrument. His hands began to shake. He picked up his wine glass, and took a long drink.

“You okay?” asked Miles, as Waylon replaced his glass. He gripped the arms of the chair until his knuckles turned white.

“Yes. Do it.”

Waylon closed his eyes. He could see it, clearly. The dark room, viewed through the green lens of his night vision camera. The stifling fear of what unknown evils lurked around every turn. And then the sharp buzz in the dark, coming from down the hall, confirming his worst fears. He was not alone. He was being hunted, like an animal.

Before Waylon could reach critical levels, he felt gentle fingers, instead of clippers. Miles ran his fingers through Waylon’s hair, several times, nails lightly dragging against his scalp in some places. Waylon sighed, and relaxed into the touch.

He barely noticed when the clippers were pushed through his hair. Tufts began falling around his shoulders, and blowing off the balcony on the calm night breeze.

“I can’t believe such a clean freak like you would let your hair grow out so crazy,” said Miles, talking loudly over the noise. He worked diligently, pushing the device through all of Waylon’s hair, and focusing on areas that had cut unevenly. “Sorry, I’m not a professional, but it’s not like it was that even before. This will be slightly better.”

“Good,” said Waylon, equally loud to be over the buzz. “I want to look good at my open casket funeral.”

“Hey, no talking like that, it’s bad luck,” said Miles, cleaning up the last bits around Waylon’s ears. His fingers traced Waylon’s sensitive outer shell, working around it, causing Waylon to sigh happily. Soon the clippers clipped off, and Miles pushed his hands vigorously through Waylon’s shortened blond hair. “Sorry, if you’re all itchy.”

“Thank you,” said Waylon. He let out a long exhale. “I did it. I only thought about Frank a little.”

“Good,” said Miles, giving a last few combs with his fingers. “You’re going to be okay.”

Waylon stood up, shaking off clumps of hair. He leaned over the balcony, attempting to shake it off. He finally gave up, and retrieved his wine glass. The two continued drinking while leaning on the railing, and staring out over the dark landscape.

“If we don’t survive,” said Waylon, holding up his empty hand to stop Miles’ automatic argument against such talk, “I just wanted to say, thank you. For, you know, not killing me.”

“You’re welcome,” said Miles, snorting through his nose.

Waylon grinned, and nudged his shoulder into Miles. “Aren’t you glad you didn’t kill me?”

“Sometimes,” said Miles, grinning and leaning his shoulder back against Waylon. When Waylon turned his head, he found that Miles was close. Really close. Their cheeks were almost touching.

They were both smiling when their eyes met, and then Miles’ immediately vanished. He straightened upright, abruptly. Waylon followed him, clearing his throat.

“Also, I wanted to say, that I would miss you, if we aren’t together anymore,” said Waylon. Miles met his stare, but there was only confusion in his gray eyes. It magnified when Waylon pushed up on his toes, and pressed their lips together.

Waylon maybe should have planned better. The risk of upsetting Miles seemed worth the risk. Lips lingered together too long to be considered appropriate between friends, and then Waylon lowered down on his heels. He licked his lips, and stared at the ground.

A long stretch of silence continued with only the wind, and distant traffic, filling the air. When Waylon finally ventured a glance at Miles’ face, he found him holding his fingers to his lips, and blushing. Waylon had no idea Miles could look so adorable.

“Sorry,” said Waylon. “I didn’t mean to make it weird. I only wanted…”

Whatever he wanted remained a mystery, because Miles tossed his wine glass over the balcony, and swept Waylon into his arms. Warm, soft lips caressed Waylon’s as he struggled to find the ability to return the gesture. Somewhere, over the hammering of his heart, Waylon heard Miles’ wine glass shatter on the gravel below.

Their lips hovered apart as they separated. Waylon was not ready for it to end. He grabbed Miles’ head, and pulled his chin down until he could fit their mouths together.

Fingers through Waylon’s freshly cropped hair. The hint of tongue. The taste of wine. Waylon moaned into the kiss, pushing his body against Miles. But even as Waylon pressed forward, Miles took a step back.

“Miles,” said Waylon, fighting to keep his voice steady. He had to get it out, before the blood came back to his brain. “I have feelings…I care about you, as more than a friend.”

Miles frowned, refusing to make eye contact. “No, you don’t, you’re married.”

“I know it’s complicated, but my feelings for you, they’re real,” said Waylon, frowning.

“I’m sorry if I led you on in some way,” said Miles, shifting uneasily on his feet. Waylon’s breath caught in his lungs, and he couldn’t breathe. Only listen. “That’s not something I’m interested in.”

“You said yesterday, there was someone…”

“So what? I’m not gonna be with that person. I’m not gonna be with anyone. I have to be alone.”

“I didn’t want to upset you,” said Waylon, staring at Miles’ lips. Had he imagined that kiss a minute before? “I’m sorry, I guess this is sudden, but I just, I didn’t want to leave it unsaid, you know, in case…”

“You’re right,” said Miles, walking away from Waylon, and opening the balcony door. “We shouldn’t leave anything unsaid. So let’s get this out there. I have no feelings for you, other than as roommates, and pseudo-friends. I’m sorry if you had any kind of misconceptions about me.”

“Are you…are you serious?” asked Waylon, tripping on his feet as he followed Miles back into the apartment. Miles was already in the kitchen.

“Do I look like I’m joking?” asked Miles, holding up the rest of the bottle, while leveling a serious black glare at Waylon.

“I guess not,” said Waylon, closing the door quietly behind him.

“I’m glad we got that cleared up,” said Miles, chuckling as he brought the bottle to his lips, but paused. “You’re just bait.”

“I understand that you may feel that way right now,” said Waylon. His voice was so quiet, and the hum from the air conditioner so loud, he wondered if Miles had even heard. “But, could you maybe, consider, spending more time with me? After this...”

Miles pulled the entire bottle up to his mouth, and tossed his head back. It was a tense, silence moment, as he drained the last dregs.

“I know I’m average looking,” continued Waylon, “and I have a lot of problems, and my family is a complication, but, I have growing feelings for you, and I wish you would consider…spending time with me…”

Miles almost choked on the last gulp of wine. His hand flew to cover his mouth, to prevent wine from escaping. Even after he had the situation handled, Miles continued to laugh, louder.

Waylon frowned, forcing himself to take a breath. He had never been the first person to express feelings. He had never approached anyone to ask for a date. How had Lisa been able to handle this stress? Except, she had not had to deal with rejection. Waylon’s face burned with embarrassment.

“You’re serious?” asked Miles, forcing back more laughter. “I’m not exaggerating when I say, I’m a monster. You don’t know me. One month isn’t long enough to know someone. And you really are delusional if you thought I was talking about you, of all people.”

Waylon was unfamiliar with the feeling of falling while standing upright. It was like having his middle ripped out, and being left feeling hollow. His vision honed in on Miles’ eyes. Angry eyes.

“Maybe you should get your dosage checked, after all this, since you’re having trouble telling fantasy from reality,” said Miles, before giving another bitter laugh.

“You kissed me,” said Waylon, quietly.

“Yeah, because we might die tomorrow, I’m in a weird head-space, same as you…”

“No, I’m not in a weird head-space, I’ve wanted to tell you, before…”

“Yeah, because it’s been a long time, huh? Your wife’s far away, and you’re horny, and wondering if maybe you couldn’t switch teams for a night, but, no thanks. I’ve been that guy before, and it sucks. At the end of the night, you’re still straight, and married, and all I get out of the deal is some virgin blowjob. I’ll pass, thanks.”

“I don’t, want that, I want to be together with you, and stay roommates,” said Waylon, surprised when his sentence was punctuated with a sniffle. His hand flew to his cheek to wipe away tears. How embarrassing. “I like you.”

“Then you’re even more pathetic than I originally thought.”

Waylon nodded, feeling more tears dislodged, choosing a meandering path down his flushed cheeks. “Sorry,” he said, as he began to walk toward the bedroom.

It felt like he was walking underwater. He paused to glance back at Miles. He stood, silent, in the kitchen, the empty wine bottle barely held in his hand, as he stared at the floor.

“Miles?”

No answer.

“See you in the morning.”

Chapter Text

It felt strange to wake up alone. Miles had never come to bed. Waylon knew, because he had stayed up most of the night, staring at the ceiling. Waylon got out of bed, and peeked into the living room area.

Miles was sprawled out, shirtless, on the couch. His silvery scars glinted in the morning sun filtering in through the glass door to the balcony. It was a familiar sight, until recently.

Miles had not wanted to share the bed. Obviously, he would refuse to sleep in the same bed as Waylon, after the shameless display the previous evening. After Miles had rejected Waylon’s affections.

Waylon took a long, hot shower, scrubbing his skin raw in the scalding spray. There were many stray hairs from his new haircut, washed down the drain.

By the time Waylon emerged, dressed in jeans and a white t-shirt, Miles was in the kitchen, eating cereal in silence. He was already dressed in dark jeans, and a faded black shirt.

“Miles, I’m sorry about last night,” said Waylon. The strange atmosphere was uncomfortable, adding to Waylon’s already heightened anxiety. Best to deal with it straight on.

Miles shrugged, and shoved a large spoon of cereal into his mouth.

“I didn’t want to strain our friendship like this,” continued Waylon.

“I don’t wanna talk about that,” said Miles, pausing with spoon in hand. “We’ve got much bigger problems. We need to talk about what could happen today. This is very important. I need you to promise me, you’ll do what I tell you. Promise me you’ll stay behind me.”

“I’d rather stand beside you,” said Waylon.

“You don’t understand,” said Miles, glaring. “They can’t hurt me, I’m…”

“Already dead, heard it before,” said Waylon. “I’m not going to help you with some suicide mission.”

“There’s a huge misunderstanding here,” said Miles. “Mount Massive, it left me dark—twisted. I’ve done things. I’m dangerous. I’m not what you think I am--I’m different.”

“So, what?” asked Waylon. “I don’t even deserve a chance? You don’t even want to give me a chance to accept…whatever? What is it? You’re…married? I’m married. You’re…antisocial? A basket case? Anger management issues? I’m just as bad. You’re an asshole, sure, but you might be the only person in the world who can understand me, and I could really use a bit of understanding these days.”

Miles stood up, abruptly, walking to the small kitchen window. “If we survive this, we won’t need to revisit this topic. You won’t feel that way anymore.”

“But what if I do? Does this mean you’ll consider it? You’re open to a discussion?” asked Waylon, his heart fluttering to life in his chest. “You’re not rejecting me?”

“Someone’s coming,” said Miles, eyes focused on something out the small window.

“The FBI?” asked Waylon.

“Murkoff.”

“How do you know it’s not the feds?” asked Waylon.

“Listen to me. Look at me.”

Waylon’s blood pressure spiked. His eyes darted in every direction, making it difficult to meet Miles’ stare. It was too sudden. “We need to run, right now, both of us.”

“I’m not running,” said Miles, calmly. “This ends today. It ends now. And I need you to stay with me. If you lose it now, I might not be able to protect you.”

Waylon peered around Miles, staring out at the line of approaching vehicles.

“Protect me?! There’s no protecting anyone from that. They’ll have guns, weapons, things we can only imagine! This is the company that manufactured the fucking Walrider! We have to get out of here, the feds are on their way, if we can get far enough away, we can hide, and…”

“Are you okay?” asked Miles, one eye out the window, and the other on Waylon. “You look shaky. Like you’re about to lose it.”

“I won’t,” said Waylon. He doubted it convinced Miles, since it did not even convince himself. “I’ll try…”

“Listen, when you see the swarm, don’t panic,” said Miles. “It won’t harm you.”

“Are you, wha…you’re the one who’s losing it,” said Waylon, staring at Miles with newfound confusion. “Fuck it, we’re doing it my way, come on!”

“It’s best if we stay here,” said Miles, shifting his gaze back out the window. “They’ll have trouble getting too many people up the stairs at once. It’s narrow. We can handle them easier.”

“No, we can’t, we don’t have any weapons,” said Waylon, grasping for Miles’ hand and attempting to pull him away from the window. He found Miles completely immovable. He may as well have been a concrete pillar.

“It’s okay,” said Miles, shaking off Waylon’s hand, and putting his hands on Waylon’s hips instead. “Breathe. It’s okay.”

“I don’t want to be murdered,” said Waylon. “I’ll die someday, I’ll die, I know, but I don’t want to be murdered. I don’t want you to be murdered.”

“I know you don’t, but you shouldn’t be afraid, right now,” said Miles. “It’s Murkoff that should be afraid. Not you. You’re going home.”

Waylon craned his neck to see around Miles. There was dust kicked up from the large amount of black, Mercedes vans driving down the winery’s private dirt drive.

“So many,” said Waylon. “We don’t know how many people are in those vans.”

“They’re all full to capacity.”

“You’re right, best to assume the worse,” said Waylon.

“I’m not assuming, I’m telling you—we know. Your boys didn’t show up, so we’re switching to Plan B. Just, stay behind me. Promise?”

“Okay,” said Waylon.

“All the employees should be down in the barn, already,” said Miles.

“We should tell them to call the police,” said Waylon.

“I don’t think they’ll need to be told, one those vans get here. Call your boy,” said Miles, moving to stand near the door. “I’ll keep them out.”

Waylon’s hand quaked as he dialed the number, and waited for Agent Perry to pick up. The ringing was constant. Ring. Ring. Waylon’s body was shaking as though suffering from hypothermia. Ring. Ring. The sound of boots echoing off the metal staircase. Ring. Ring.

Waylon dropped the phone when a loud pounding noise reverberated through the apartment.

“Who is it?” asked Miles, putting himself between Waylon and the door.

“We’re looking for a man who lives in this apartment,” came a deep voice through the red door.

“Gosh, you know, this isn’t a great time, we’re both naked right now, could ya come back later?” asked Miles, smirking where only Waylon could see.

“We know who you are, and we know you that have something of ours, Waylon Park.”

“You don’t know shit,” said Miles, grinning.

Waylon’s horror multiplied at the sight of that smile, and those black eyes. His vision began to blur until it seemed like a cloud was hovering around Miles. Waylon was struck with an acute pain behind his eyes, and familiar monochromatic shapes flashed in his mind.

Waylon’s eyes flew open, and he dropped to the ground, grasping blindly for his dropped phone. He needed the camera function. He needed to prove, to himself, that his eyes were mistaken. He floundered around on the ground, reaching out blindly. Waylon could not afford to lose his grip on reality. This was life or death.

The sound of screams from the other side of the door echoed in Waylon’s mind. Miles did not seem alarmed in the slightest. If the Walrider had just manifested in their apartment, Miles would not be standing so still. There had to be a rational explanation.

Through the chaos, someone managed to blow off the door handle with some unseen tool. The hardware punched through the wall, leaving a huge dent. It had barely missed Miles. Waylon struggled to his feet, abandoning the phone. He dashed forward as the door was kicked open.

“Miles, they’re coming in,” said Waylon, attempting to pull Miles away.

“Stay back,” said Miles, reaching out to push Waylon away. He kept his body in front of Waylon, holding out his arms.

A hail of bullets soared through the open door. Waylon heard them whizzing past, blanketing the entire apartment in the sound of broken glass, and painful grunts.

Waylon felt Miles shudder as bullets pierced his skin.

“No! Miles! No, oh God,” said Waylon, as sobs choked off further words.

“Stay back, they aren’t done,” said Miles, wheezing slightly. He released Waylon, clutching his own stomach. A flood of black blood came bubbling up between mangled fingers.

Waylon cried, and his vision narrowed until he could only stare at Miles’ pained face. He was confused by a spray of warm liquid across his cheek. Then, Waylon noticed the intestines on the wall. Louder than the bullets, the screams from the invaders were mixed with a deafening static.

Flower…pretty flower…I’ll open you up.

Run. Hide. Survive?

Waylon stared through a transparent wall at another unfortunate soul in a patient’s uniform. The patient slammed against the wall, moments before the swarm descended into the cell from an unseen ventilation system. Waylon saw the patient pulled quickly up toward the ceiling.

The electricity flickered. Everything went black. All Waylon could see was a kaleidoscope of black and white images, flashing in front of his eyes. The Morphogenic Engine’s static rang loud in his brain.

He was blind, and trapped. The only small miracle was the camcorder he was able to pick up. He switched to night vision, and looked around, struggling to gain his bearings.

Waylon stared at a wall that had been transparent, before it became coated in blood. Large chunks of gore smeared their way down the surface. Waylon ran to the door, but there was no handle. No escape.

He was trapped, and the Walrider was loose. Then, a patient wandered into the area.

“I’ll open you up…make you purr…”

Once the door opened with a hiss, Waylon ran. He was disoriented. Flashing lights, and dark corridors, lay ahead. Doors slammed shut in the distance. And then, something drifted under a closed door.

At first, Waylon believed it might have been a fire smoking on the other side of the door, until the smoke coalesced into a humanoid form. The same being that had turned his cell neighbor into a bloody puddle.

The first view of the Walrider always stuck out in Waylon’s mind. Its skeletal form, floating in the air. It was enough to fuel a lifetime of nightmares. The swarm noticed Waylon, and stalked toward him with quick, fluid movements. Waylon’s only choice was to keep running.

The hospital’s hallways were all closed doors, and dead ends. Waylon was trapped. Only one option remained. Waylon ran to the window, and stared down at the two-story drop into a foggy courtyard. Decide or die.

Calculating chance of survival.

Waylon opened the window—and jumped.

The debilitating pain shocked Waylon back to reality. He slowly came to grips with his surroundings. He looked up, shielding his eyes from the sun. He had jumped from the window in the apartment bedroom. There was no immediate danger in sight.

The first attempt to stand was met with immediate collapse. Waylon’s brain struggled to make sense of what was happening. His leg was not broken, but his limbs were delayed in responding. Waylon felt nauseous, and his vision narrowed to a pinpoint. Shit. He could not afford to black out with Murkoff in the apartment.

Waylon fought through the cold panic. He stood with his hands on his thighs, and his head between his legs. He started to heave, thankful he had missed breakfast. Soon, Waylon’s head began to feel less fuzzy, and he could safely look around.

All of the black vans remained parked outside of the apartment. The doors to some of the vehicles remained flung wide open. There were no humans in sight.

Waylon started to jog toward the stairs, but the throbbing pain in his ankle stopped him. He hissed in pain, and began the agonizingly slow limp back to the apartment stairs.

Angelo was running up the path in the distance. He stopped, and shouted to Waylon, probably afraid to get too close.

“Call the police,” shouted Waylon, still limping around the building, to the stairs.

“Si!”

Waylon finally turned the corner around the building, and stared up the staircase. He automatically froze. Were his hallucinations persisting? Was the door truly soaked in blood, or was it just pained red, per usual? Waylon put his foot on the first step, and pulled away, finding it slick with viscous liquid.

System report. Situation dangerously unstable. Implementing necessary protocols. Breathe. Just breathe.

It was like a scene right out of his nightmares. A scene out of Mount Massive. There was too much gore. If Miles was inside, he was dead.

Waylon prayed it was a hallucination. He hoped his eyes were playing tricks on him, as he slowly climbed the steps. He needed his phone. A camcorder. Anything. The door was hanging by one hinge when Waylon pushed it open.

“Dammit, Park, I said stay behind me, not, jump out a goddamn window, I need your help.”

“Miles!” shouted Waylon, relief flooding his body. He found Miles propped up against the living room wall, holding his nose with one hand, and his blood soaked abdomen with the other. Dark blood oozed from Miles’ nose, ears, and even eyes.

Waylon ran to Miles, and dropped to his knees, ignoring the mess. He threw his arms around Miles’ neck.

“I’m here, Miles, I’m here,” said Waylon. “Angelo’s calling the police. Someone’ll be here soon.”

Waylon felt queasy when he saw how much blood was leaking from Miles, saturating his shirt. A small pile of bloody bullet shells rested on the carpet beside him.

“We’re in a time crunch here,” said Miles. He grunted as he attempted to sit up straighter. “I have to disappear. It’ll go faster if you help me with these bullets.”

“Doctors will be here soon, just hold on, Miles.”

“Are you really this dense? I just took out a fleet of Murkoff trained personnel in Kevlar body armor. I’m fine,” Miles adjusted his posture, and hissed in discomfort.

“Stay still, you don’t want to make it worse,” said Waylon, grabbing Miles’ hand, and finding it slick with blood.

“I’m not dying,” said Miles, chuckling. “I need your help, though. Getting the slugs out is the worst part.”

Waylon was confused, when Miles pulled his shirt over his head, revealing a torso riddled with bloody wounds. There were several areas that had already stopped bleeding, but three distinct bullet holes were oozing dark blood. Two were in Miles’ abdomen, and another was perilously close to Miles’ heart.

“I need those long, thin fingers of yours,” said Miles. “Always meant to ask you if you played piano.”

Waylon stared at Miles. Despite bleeding out, Miles managed to look impatient. Was he truly that ready to die?

“P-piano? No, Miles, I don’t play any instruments, I’m not half that interesting,” said Waylon, stroking Miles’ hand with his thumb. “Just hang in there.”

Miles shook his head, and growled in frustration. “Waylon, I can’t die from this, the swarm won’t let me.”

Waylon’s face creased with confusion when he felt a tap on his shoulder. His head spun around, expecting Angelo, or the police, or even Perry’s calvary. Instead, Waylon screamed, and threw himself in the opposite direction.

Waylon took deep, shuddering breaths as he stared into the strange, spectral face of the Walrider. The swarm was hovering beside Miles, its form almost complete, with skeletal limbs, and an eyeless face pointed in Waylon’s direction. The Walrider seemed more transparent than Waylon remembered, like morning fog, dissipating before the sun’s rays.

Error.

“I need my phone,” said Waylon, or rather, he attempted to say it. His voice came out as a tiny squeak. Miles gave another irritated grunt.

“You’re not having an episode,” said Miles. Waylon’s brown eyes stared at Miles. “It’s there.”

“You see it, too?” asked Waylon, voice wavering.

“Um, yeah, the swarm’s here” said Miles. “What else could cause this kind of damage?”

Waylon glanced around, again, at the blood soaked walls. The puddles of innards and viscera were already attracting flies through the open doorway.

Not a hallucination. Real.

But the swarm was not attacking either of them. Puzzle pieces began to click together in Waylon’s tattered mind.

If Miles survived Mount Massive, and the Walrider is hovering in the room, then Miles must be the host.

A problem has been detected, and Waylon has been shut down to prevent further damage.

Waylon’s eye twitched.

“Park?”

Miles’ voice seemed to be coming from the end of a long hallway, echoing and distant.

“Murkoff is hunting me, all this time, because they thought I was the host of the Walrider,” said Waylon, murmuring frantically to himself. “They thought I was the host, but It was you. Murkoff was after you, except they didn’t even know you existed. How?! How did you survive, how are you controlling this right now? Is it safe? Am I safe?”

“I’ve been the host this entire time, and you haven’t been in danger, have you?” asked Miles.

Waylon’s brain was already replaying every memory since Miles’ arrival. The Walrider in the bathroom in Kyoto. The buzzing noises in the apartment. The night he had walked in on Miles, touching himself.

“How?” asked Waylon, again.

“I told you,” said Miles, frowning. “I died, at Mount Massive. I killed Billy Hope, to stop the Walrider, and it switched hosts. Long after I should have been dead, it kept me alive. I’m…I’m not sure I’m human. So many changes.”

“Shit,” said Waylon, still feeling frozen in place. The swarm’s expressionless face tilted slightly, as though listening. “Shit. What do we do? How can we explain this? The FBI is on the way, they’re going to freak out when they find out they let the Walrider slip through their fingers…”

“They can’t find out,” said Miles, deadly serious. “They can’t find out, so I need to leave. Right now. When the feds get here, tell them Murkoff had another prototype, tell them you have no idea what happened, tell them you went into another fit, and saw nothing. Tell them I’m dead. But I’ve gotta be long gone.”

“How can you leave? You’re bleeding, and…”

“This isn’t even the worst I’ve been shot up,” said Miles. “I’d answer all your questions, if I could, but there’s no time. Help get these bullets out.”

Waylon’s eyes flickered, between the manifested swarm, and Miles.

“Time is a factor,” said Miles.

“I can’t, I can’t deal with, there’s too much blood, you’re bleeding, and this blood is real, the swarm is looking at me, I can’t, I need to…”

“You’re going to abandon me, now, when the plan is almost complete?” asked Miles. He started to gesture with his hands, but he winced in pain, and dropped his hand back to his bleeding stomach. “We were successful! We got them. Now, help me get away. The FBI, the police, no one will let me life, if they find out the truth. You’ve gotta save me. You’ll do that for me, right?”

Waylon walked on his knees until he was beside Miles, staring down at the bleeding mess of his abdomen. Waylon had seen a fair amount of blood, thanks to his ordeal, but the fluid leaking from Miles seemed off, somehow. Like dark red blood, mixed with something thicker. The wounds did not bleed, so much as ooze.

Miles grunted as he grabbed Waylon’s hand, and pressed it to his lower stomach, where the holes were located.

“Fuck,” said Waylon, moving to push both of his hands against the holes, in some attempt to stem the leakage. “This looks so bad…”

“It’s nothing,” said Miles, glaring. “Help me.”

Waylon frowned as he started to work. “You were telling the truth, then? Back in Japan, about the shrapnel?”

“Would you focus?”

“The swarm doesn’t have a way to do this for you?” asked Waylon.

“It does,” said Miles, with a tired sigh. “But I’m stretching myself thin, right now. The more nanites that are used, the more get damaged, or lost. It takes a toll on my body’s systems. I need to reserve all my nanites for healing right now.” Miles wiped his dripping nose on the back of his forearm. “I’m gonna need all my strength if I expect to escape.”

Waylon worked as quickly as possible to pry the bullet casings out of Miles’ festering wounds. Once the metal was out of the wound, they immediately began to close up and clot. Miles made a breathy sigh as the second bullet was dislodged.

“Are you okay?” asked Waylon, holding perfectly still.

“Yeah,” said Miles, panting. “I’m fine. Really. It doesn’t hurt.”

“This doesn’t hurt?” asked Waylon, pressing into the raw flesh.

Miles shook his head, biting his lip to hold back a noise. His gray eyes were churning, and dark.

Waylon focused on the last bullet, located close to Miles’ heart. He could feel it pounding as he worked to pull out the last target. When the bullet slipped from between his bloody fingers, Miles gave a tight moan.

“I’m sorry, I’m being as gentle as possible,” said Waylon, frowning. “Please, don’t die.”

“I’m not dying,” said Miles, breathing heavily. “You don’t have to be gentle.”

Waylon ignored the fact that his hand was pushing through something that resembled a jello mold filled with meat and bone fragments. When he found the bullet, again, he pulled it out before it could slip away. “Got it!”

Miles closed his eyes, and moaned. Waylon wiped his bloody hands on his own clothes, watching Miles with open worry. Only, Miles did not seem alarmed in the slightest.

“Are you alright? What now? Do you need bandages?” asked Waylon, staring at Miles in confusion.

“Fuck, that was good,” said Miles, giving a tired chuckle. The bullet wounds had all ceased their bleeding. Miles sat panting, staring at Waylon with dark, heavily lidded eyes.

“What is your problem?You act like you’re getting off on that, or something…”

“Not sure I like that judgmental tone,” said Miles.

“Are you…are you being serious?” asked Waylon. Miles grinned. “Un-fucking-believable. I thought you were dying…

“I told you I wasn’t,” said Miles. “I tried to tell you. There’s something very wrong with me. Pleasure, and pain, it’s all fucked up, the swarm reprogrammed me somehow. Honestly, right now, I’m just shocked that you haven’t run away…”

“Me too,” said Waylon, immediately biting his tongue. “Not because I don’t want to be here with you, but because of my issues, and earlier, when I wasn’t able to keep it together, even though you asked…”

“It’s okay,” said Miles, pushing himself upright.

“You’re already healing? How do you do that?” asked Waylon, reaching out to touch one of the already sealed wounds. Miles inhaled sharply through his teeth, at the contact.

“Watch out, you’ll get me riled up again,” said Miles. Waylon quickly pulled his hand back, glaring as Miles laughed. In the distance, the sound of approaching sirens became audible.

“This is what you meant,” said Waylon, meeting Miles’ glare. “You said I wouldn’t want to stay with you, and you meant because I wouldn’t stay, if you were the host.”

Miles shifted his eyes to stare at the bloody ground, no longer meeting Waylon’s eyes.

“I’m scared…” said Waylon, and Miles’ eyes immediately snapped back up with a hurt expression, “…but I’m not leaving.”

“You have to leave, you have to meet the feds, you have to tell them what happened to keep them away from me,” said Miles. “They won’t kill me, but I’ll wish they had. Maybe you never saw what they did to Billy Hope, but he was in this glass sphere…”

“They did it to lots of patients,” said Waylon. He remembered Eddie Gluskin’s handsome face on the monitor, as he was forced into the sphere. And he remembered watching that face turn into a horror show. “Last night, I know what you said, but I don’t want to leave you. I don’t want it to be over. I’ll protect you. I don’t care about the swarm, or whatever it did to you. We can work through it--we can stay together…”

Something behind Waylon’s head pushed him forward, and Miles grabbed his face, forcing their lips to meet.

Teeth clacked together in a feral kiss, unlike any Waylon had ever received. Waylon’s mouth opened automatically, and Miles’ tongue invaded as he hummed into the kiss. His senses were flooded with the heat, and the taste of metal and Miles. Waylon returned the kiss, moving on instinct and desire, rather than any technique. When his teeth accidentally tore into Miles’ lip, he was met with a chest deep groan.

There was a buzzing in Waylon’s head as they kissed, and he assumed it was an effect of the swarm, or possibly his own being vibrating due to the proximity with Miles. It was actually something vastly more mundane.

Somewhere, on the ground, his cell phone buzzed.

“Shit,” said Waylon, pulling away. Miles’ hand flew to his lips, as his shoulders deflated. Waylon crawled on the ground, ignoring the pain in his ankle, until he found his phone. It had dropped, earlier, and managed to roll far beneath the couch. Waylon retrieved it, and held it up to his face.

“Park, Jesus Christ, what in fuck’s name is going on over there? The crew is on the way, but they were intersected by the Italian police, and there’s tons of interference happening. News crews? Is this your idea of a joke?”

“My idea of a…what the fuck Perry?! I told you to get somewhere here. There’s men down! It’s a…it’s a bloodbath. Send help, please, I already told you, it was Murkoff, and…”

“You stay on the line, I have more questions for you, and you’re going to answer every single one of them. Russo is the name of the agent in charge of the Italian side of this investigation, I want…”

Waylon punched the end call button harder than necessary, before chunking the burner phone against the wall. He hoped it would shatter. Rather, it left a large dent, and landed with a thud behind the television.

There were suddenly two smoky black appendages under Miles’ arms, pulling him to a standing position. He grunted, adjusting his jeans. The swarm brought his ruined shirt up to his hands.

“I’m running. Don’t forget, I’m dead,” said Miles. Waylon dashed to his side, as Miles replaced his ruined shirt.

“Can we meet again, soon?” asked Waylon. He grasped for Miles’ hand, ignoring the fact that his own were still tacky with Miles’ blood.

Miles paused for a moment, lips pursed. Finally, he gave one curt nod. The sound of the sirens grew ominously louder.

“You didn’t reject me because you don’t like me?”

“No,” said Miles, exhaling through his nose, in a slight laugh. “It’s not like that. I just thought you’d want to be far away from me, once you knew. And I wanted to make it easier on you. It felt like the kindest thing I could do.”

“Idiot,” said Waylon, laughing. He pulled Miles into a tight hug, ignoring the short grunt. “Thank God. Take me with you.”

“I can’t do that,” said Miles. “Too dangerous…”

“Then I’ll come find you,” said Waylon.

Miles sighed, turning to walk toward the balcony. He opened the door, and paused in the threshold.

“You know where I’ll be,” said Miles. “You’re welcome, there. Anytime. But this is the reality, this is what I am, and I understand if you don’t want that in your life. Miles Upshur died at Mount Massive, and I’m something new, something evil.”

“Evil? Why are you always so dramatic about this?” asked Waylon.

“I’d feel relieved, I think, if I never saw you again,” said Miles. “Because I think it’d be safer for you.”

“Tell me how to get there, and I’ll come, as soon as I can, I will…”

“Those sirens are here, now,” said Miles. “I have to leave. Blame it on Murkoff, all of it. You can handle this, right, Park?”

Waylon did not feel like he could handle much of anything. He reeled from the painful thought of leaving Miles. Despite his confession, and possible returned feelings, it still ended how they had feared. He watched Miles hop over the balcony railing, and disappear from sight.

“Vieni fuori con le mani in alto!”

Bullhorns sounded outside the apartment, from the bottom of the stairs. Waylon considered jumping from the balcony, and chasing after Miles. But that would only lead to more running. Murkoff was finished. All that remained was the busy work. Waylon took a deep breath, and walked toward the door, keeping his hands up.

“Ciao? Mi chiamo Waylon Park...”

Chapter Text

Rebooting. . .

Back online.

Waylon stared at the stainless steel tray with its plastic plate of mystery meat. He glared at the large mirror, that was actually a window. Then, he sighed and laid back down on his bed, though it was a stretch to call it that. The plastic mattress was about three-inches thick, and the bedding was made of paper. It crinkled as Waylon laid back down, and returned to staring at the blank, gray ceiling.

He was exhausted, having spent the morning getting another computerized tomography scan, and the usual round of needle pokes and injections. He glared down at the skin in the crook of his arm. They were so bruised from IV needles, someone might accuse Waylon of being a junkie.

A buzzing sounded behind him, though Waylon remained unchanged. He heard the clack of dress shoes on the concrete floor, followed by the click of the steel door closing.

“Hey sweetheart,” came a familiar voice. “Got another report about you. I’ve known you to be a drama queen in the past, but this is ridiculous…”

“I thought we were friends,” said Waylon, only his eyes moving to inspect the arrival.

“I’m your government appointed agent, I’m not your fucking friend, damn,” said Agent Perry. He walked into the holding room wearing a nondescript black suit with a black tie that was loose and hung crooked across his white shirt. His hair was blond, but thin and receding in the front. He was older than Waylon had always pictured, having only ever spoken with Perry over the phone.

“You always helped me,” said Waylon, sighing.

“Because the Government paid me to help you,” said Agent Perry. “Just because I’m not your friend, doesn’t mean I’m not trying to help you.”

“I’m being held prisoner,” said Waylon.

“You’re under observation,” said Agent Perry. “See, this is what i’m talknig about. Fucking dramatic. Look, this is just temporary. Some folks up in the top ranks, they got some questions about what happened over in Italy. That’s all this is. You’ve always been a special case, you know that.”

“Three weeks ago, you told me you’d send a couple temporary agents to check on me as I faced off against every last agent of Murkoff,” said Waylon, snorting. “Now, I can’t go piss without an audience. Some special case. Glad to know you guys care so much.”

“Well, then, give me something,” said Perry, walking further into the room. He stopped in front of a white plastic chair next to Waylon’s bed. “If you could just explain everything a little clearer, we can make sure you get out of here, back where you belong. You help me out, I help you.”

“I told you everything I know,” said Waylon.

“You keep saying that,” said Perry, sighing as he sank down into the chair. The plastic groaned under his weight, and the metal legs squeaked against the concrete floor. “How many agents arrived at the apartment that day?”

“I don’t know,” said Waylon.

“What happened to them?” asked Perry.

“I don’t know.”

“Your apartment was completely saturated with blood, men were ripped inside out, and you’re telling me you don’t know what happened?”

“How many times do I have to say it?” asked Waylon, through clenched teeth. “It’s been weeks, my story won’t change, because it’s the truth. I was in the middle of a flashback episode—I thought I was in the asylum. I saw blood everywhere. I saw people running, and screaming. I saw the Walrider.”

“What was the Walrider doing?” asked Perry.

“I didn’t see,” said Waylon, shifting on the mattress, and causing the paper sheets to rustle. “Every agent, and psychiatrist, for the last three years told me it didn’t exist, so I didn’t trust my eyes. I just ran.”

Waylon pushed himself up, and sat with his legs dangling over the side of the bed, taking extra precautions because of his cast. The loose gray pants covered most of the plaster cast with its dark blue wrappings. Waylon’s shirt was the same thin cotton, gray with a number emblazoned on the lapel, like some kind of prison uniform.

“Was it present before Murkoff arrived? How did it get into the apartment?”

“I don’t know, I saw it, and ran,” said Waylon. “I jumped out a window. Fractured my ankle. When I walked back inside the apartment, everything was just like it was when Russo and his crew arrived.”

“How did the Walrider kill those people?” asked Perry.

“I don’t know,” snapped Waylon, glaring. “I can repeat it all day long. I don’t know, I didn’t see, I wasn’t in my right mind. I saw vans approaching—and I assumed it was your agents. They got closer, and I had an attack, and I ran. I wasn’t even in the apartment anymore, I was running for my life, and I heard loud noises, and screams, and I felt like I was back in Mount Massive…”

“What happened to your boyfriend? Miles?”

“He died,” said Waylon.

“How do you know he died, if you claim you saw nothing?” asked Perry, blue eyes narrowing.

“Because you saw the place--it was a bloodbath! No one walked away from that,” said Waylon. His voice was suddenly thick, and the words difficult to push out. “Miles died, same as the others. When I got back into the apartment, there was only death. Maybe if your men had shown up that morning, like I asked…”

“Some people in our department are suspicious that maybe you are housing the Walrider,” said Perry.

“Do you think that?” asked Waylon, exhaling through his nose.

“Some people,” said Perry, shrugging in his suit.

“Well, surely, the last three weeks of tests, scans, x-rays, MRIs, and whatever else you’re doing to me in here, proves I’m not the Walrider’s host…”

“Then who is?” asked Perry.

“I have no idea,” said Waylon. “As you’re well aware, I stopped working for Murkoff after they forcibly committed me to an insane asylum. The swarm showed up when they did, it killed indiscriminately, and it was gone before your men arrived.”

“Yeah, that’s the thing though,” said Perry, pursing his lips. “Since your show down in Como, we rounded up the last of Murkoff. All of their equipment, and employees, are in custody. And according to Murkoff’s intel, the Walrider’s host is none other than one Waylon Park.”

“They’re wrong,” said Waylon, frowning. “I’m obviously not.”

“All the experts at Murkoff were convinced that the Walrider was haunting their facilities. There were sightings. Unexplained murders. Fires breaking out. Anomalies on the CCTV systems monitoring their labs. Their experts agreed, the Walrider survived the riot. And there was only one living survivor of that riot with the potential to be a host.”

Waylon rolled his eyes, and exhaled loudly.

“Sure,” said Perry, shrugging. “You can blame it on superstition, or corporate paranoia, but there’s one thing that stuck out to me. Two men, hired by Murkoff from a well known mercenary corporation, were found dead in Kyoto, the day before you left.”

“There’s circumstantial evidence for one of these many supposed events, and that’s enough for you to be convinced I am a world traveling mass-murderer?”

“I know, I’m having a hard time with it myself, a fuck up like you? You didn’t kill anyone when you were escaping from a place where everyone wanted to rip your head from your body, and fuck your skull. The best you managed was accidentally causing the death of a guy set on mutilating your genitals.” Perry laughed at his own joke, but Waylon remained glaring.

“See, the guys upstairs suspect you, but I don’t, I told them what a loser you are,” said Perry, snorting. “But I think you might know someone. Someone else who maybe encountered the Walrider after the riot? Maybe a young journalist, trying to make a name for himself? Someone who showed up in Kyoto right as these agents died, and right before you gained a sudden boyfriend. And then, Como…”

Perry flared out his fingers while miming an explosion sound.

“I called Murkoff there, because I was tired of running,” said Waylon. “I had a dream of settling down again, with Miles, but I had to deal with Murkoff, first. I had found information about them. I believed, stupidly, that you would have my back in that situation. It’s only dumb luck that saved me.”

“Dumb luck, and maybe, the Walrider itself?” asked Perry.

“The Walrider vanished after Mount Massive, I’ve only seen it in hallucinations, flashbacks, nightmares, and then in Como. That’s all I know.”

“And you got a good look at it then, right?” asked Perry.

“No,” said Waylon. “I told you, I was running…”

Perry sighed as he reached into his pants pocket. He pulled out his cell phone, and hummed to himself as he punched in his code.

“I have to sit here and watch you play with your phone, really?” asked Waylon. “Honestly, if you’re not here to talk about releasing me, you can go fuck yourself.”

After several seconds, the phone’s speakers clicked on, and Perry set the phone down on the stainless tray beside Waylon’s untouched food.

There was a sound of shuffling and thudding, followed by garbled talking. Then…

“We know who you are, and we know you have something of ours, Waylon Park.”

“You don’t know shit,” came Miles’ voice. Just hearing the voice was a stab to Waylon’s chest.

Over the line came a sound, like a roaring, rush of wind past a car window. It grew louder, until it became a buzzing noise like a thousand angry hornets. The noise was so loud the only thing discernible through it was the sharp ring of gunshots.

Then screams. Waylon’s hands began to quake, and he tried pressing them down on his thighs to stop the jittering. Screaming, and screaming, and…laughing? Miles? It was horrible. Waylon’s hands flew to his ears, and he boxed them, attempting to block the noise. He squeezed his eyes shut.

Waylon had no idea how much time had passed before a rough tap on his forehead snapped him back to the present. Perry was standing, glaring down at him, but at least the phone was silent. Waylon let out a long breath of relief.

“Any of that ringing a bell?” asked Perry.

“That’s how it happened, right before I lost my grip, and ran away. They killed Miles, and then the swarm turned on its owners. That’s what I believe.”

Perry stood, and walked over to the steel door. He looked at the two-way mirror and gave a curt nod. There was a buzzing and the door opened, revealing a brightly lit, narrow hallway, and two armed guards.

“If you don’t eat, we’re going to start force feeding you,” said Perry.

“When can I leave?” asked Waylon, staring down at the congealed food.

“As soon as we get this all squared away,” said Perry, with a cheerful smile, and a quick wave. “Just call if you think of anything else you’d like to share.”

The door closed, and locked loudly, behind Perry.

The days that followed were the worst kind of tests. They hooked Waylon up to a polygraph machine, and questioned him for hours at a time with no breaks. Waylon’s story never changed.

They injected him full of drugs until he felt drunk, barely able to keep his head upright. They questioned him for hours, even after the drugs made him so nauseous he began vomiting up bile. Waylon’s story remained constant.

One morning seemed different. Waylon was escorted by armed guards into a room where everyone was wearing protective eye wear and Hazmat suits. At first, Waylon suspected another x-ray until he was strapped into a chair, and fitted with all sorts of electrodes and an IV. He was still confused, until a projector was wheeled into the area, and pointed at a blank, white wall.

“No,” said Waylon.

The few workers in the room paused, and looked at one another, before continuing with the preparations.

“Are you insane? This is torture! You can’t do this to me,” said Waylon, struggling against his restraints, even as it caused the IV in his arm to sting horribly. He managed to make the chair rock slightly. The response was a fresh team of guards with additional restraints to keep Waylon immobile.

The people cleared out, and someone hit the lights. It was pitch black in the small testing room. There was no warning before the projector sprung to life, plastering strange images on the wall. Waylon scrunched his face up to avoid the images, though they continued to dance on the back of his eyelids. His memory of the Morphogenic Engine’s demonic show was as clear as ever.

Waylon felt movement, and opened his eyes only enough to see workers, illuminated by the flickering lights from the tainted images. They administered something to his IV, and within moments Waylon’s body felt heavy. He hoped it would put him to sleep, but instead he was still wide awake, but unable to move a muscle. Something was fit over his head, and clipped to his eyelids.

The images played on their continuous loop until Waylon could have sworn he did see the Walrider. It was there, spliced in between the frames, the way past film projectionists might splice in porn, or subliminal messages. It was a secret that only he could see. And the swarm seemed to notice him watching, and tilted its head the way it had in Como.

No. That was just Waylon’s own delusions, again. Right?

Danger. Situation extremely unstable.

When Waylon was finally released, he was still paralyzed by the drugs, and unable to determine if he had been strapped in for minutes, or days. His eyes were so dry, his own lids finally lowering felt like sandpaper on his corneas. He would have cried, but that was impossible, given the amount of tears that had leaked freely down his face already.

The next morning was worse. The same people in their Hazmat suits carried him out of his cell, and Waylon refused to walk. He forced them to drag him, heavy cast and all, down the hallway. They did not take him to the same room, and Waylon felt momentarily relieved, until he was lifted up and dropped heavily onto a white padded table. He was strapped in, and his shirt cut away with scissors. His entire chest was fitted with white electrode monitors.

“Why are you doing this?” asked Waylon, his words barely audible. He was exhausted and weak from lack of food and sleep.

“This is a routine test, Mr. Park,” said the worker, through a com system in the suit. “System check.” Another suit gave a hand signal, and the first placed a strange headband over his head, with two cold metal plates connected at his temples.

“No, please, no,” said Waylon, before a plastic guard was forced into his mouth.

The workers gave no other answers, but instead vacated the room until it was just Waylon, and one person in a full suit holding a tablet.

The first jolt was not bad. It was surprising, more than painful. Those that followed increased in intensity. Each time a short beep was followed by intense heat flooding through Waylon’s mind. He had not imagined he would soon miss being strapped to a chair forced to watch the Morphogenic Engine. The stronger the shocks, the stronger Waylon’s reactions. He attempted to scream through the guard, and found it impossible. Instead, he forced it out with his tongue.

“Stop, please stop, please, this is a mistake, this won’t work, I’m not lying about the Walrider…”

The tirade was cut short by a strong current causing Waylon’s body to go stiff, and his teeth tore through the tip of his tongue. He was gurgling, and struggling, when the intercom in the room blared to life.

“He’s seizing, discontinue the test…”


Waylon woke up with a start to the loud buzzing noise from the door. Waylon had no memory of returning to his room. He felt lightheaded, and hungry. The steel door opened, and a pair of uniformed guards entered the room.

Strong arms supported Waylon, as they led him out of the room.

“Please, no,” said Waylon, his words coming out as though he were speaking with a mouthful of cotton at the dentist’s office. His tongue felt entirely too large for his mouth. “I’m so tired, I can’t take anymore, I don’t know anything, please…”

“Relax,” said the taller of the guards. “You have a visitor.”

Waylon’s head was swimming. A visitor? Who would come to visit him? Who could even know where he was being held? Who would Perry allow to visit him?

The guards opened another secured door, and ushered Waylon into a brightly lit waiting room with plush chairs, and coffee tables littered with magazines. Waylon’s breath caught in his throat.

There was only one person in the waiting room. Waylon stared at a shining cascade of chestnut colored hair. The woman wore a light gray business suit, leaving only the lowest part of her tanned calves visible.

Waylon’s heart immediately began hammering away in his chest, and his mouth watered. He took a step, and stumbled, having momentarily forgotten his cast.

“Lisa,” said Waylon, his voice breaking. The tears were already falling.

She turned around, and Waylon was stopped in his tracks. The eyes were different. More narrow and lined at the corners. And her nose was strong, reminding Waylon of a hawk in profile. Not Lisa. Upon closer inspection, the hair color, and tan, were the only similarities.

“Waylon,” she said, smiling. “Are you alright? Please, come and have a seat.”

The guards had to assist Waylon with hobbling over to one of the chairs, and sitting. They retreated to the doorway and stood watch. The woman took the chair directly beside Waylon.

“How are you? I got worried when you didn’t call, and I checked with Perry and found out about this situation…”

“Evie,” said Waylon.

Dr. Mason sat at the edge of her chair, and placed a gentle hand on top of Waylon’s. “I would have been here sooner, but there were complications, since I had already filed paperwork to discontinue as your psychiatrist. I was able to get through on a technicality, since it seems the forms required your signature, and you have repeatedly refused to provide it…”

“Evie,” said Waylon, sniffling. The tears continued to come, quicker than Waylon could wipe them away with his free hand. “They’re hurting me. I don’t know anything, and they’re hurting me.”

“Shhh, it’s okay,” said Dr. Mason. “It’s okay, it’s going to be okay now. Listen, what happened?”

“I don’t know,” said Waylon, pausing to choke back a sob. “I don’t know, I was having a fit, and then I woke up and everything was blood, and death, and Miles…”

“They told me Miles was killed, I’m so sorry Waylon, I know how difficult this must be, considering what happened,” said Dr. Mason.

“I escaped from confinement by Murkoff, only to live on the run like a fugitive for three years, and end up as a lab rat for the United States fucking Government. It’s not fair. I just want to see my family.”

“I know, and you’re going to,” said Dr. Mason. “This is going to end, do you understand? I can’t believe they would do this! Torturing a man known to have PTSD, someone who’s endured what you have. I’m going to rip someone’s balls off.”

Waylon’s eyes went wide, and Dr. Mason bit her lip.

“Ugh, sorry, bad phrasing, I always forget…”

“No,” said Waylon, wiping his nose. “Do it. Go full Gluskin on their asses”

Dr. Mason chuckled, leaning forward in her chair, and pulling Waylon into a loose hug around the shoulders.

“This will be sorted out, Waylon,” said Dr. Mason. “I promise you that. And if there’s anything you want to tell me, I’m here.”

Waylon’s red-rimmed eyes flew open at the last phrase. He pulled away, slowly, from Dr. Mason’s arms.

“What’s wrong?” asked Dr. Mason.

“Y-you? You too?” asked Waylon.

“Me too, what?” asked Dr. Mason.

“You’re with them! You’re with Perry, you’re trying to get me to talk! Even you, Evie?!”

“No, you’re misunderstanding,” said Dr. Mason, keeping her voice calm.

“You’re just like Perry, you’re on the government payroll, you’ll cut me open to make sure I’m not the Walrider, them dispose of the evidence that I ever existed.”

“I understand why you feel that way,” said Dr. Mason. “If there’s anything you wish to discuss, it can wait, until this is all behind us. Until you feel safe.”

Waylon remained agitated. He refused to meet Dr. Mason’s eyes as the minutes ticked by. The guards finally returned to escort Waylon back to his room.

“Hang on, Waylon, it’s almost over,” said Dr. Mason, as Waylon rounded the corner. He felt cold inside. No one in the world knew where he was, thanks to the witness protection program. It would be simple to make him vanish. Like it never happened.

He was a dead man walking.

The next morning, Waylon was comatose when the guards entered his room, and picked him up, dragging him into the hall.

More tests? Another visitor? One more round of torture?

Waylon should have killed himself, quick and easy, while he had the chance.

There was only one thing keeping him going.

Waylon was sat down on a metal bench outside of a conference room he had never seen before. He closed his eyes as he waited, conjuring up his new favorite daydream.

Miles had escaped. Miles was okay. He had made it back to his beach house, somewhere in Florida. He was sipping a fancy, frozen drink out of a cup with tons of pineapples and cherries as garnish. Miles was so happy. The monster inside was at peace. Everything was good.

Waylon had no way of knowing that Miles was safe, but he had a feeling. Plus, if Miles had been captured, there would be no more reason for the tests.

The office door opened, and the guards roughly heaved Waylon inside.

The room was larger than he would have expected, with executive leather chairs and a wide, polished wooden table. At the head of the table was a man in a military uniform with a thick head of white hair and a matching beard. He reminded Waylon of Colonel Sanders. Then there were several other uniformed men, and a familiar face.

“Evie?”

“Hey Waylon,” said Dr. Mason, smiling broadly. There was a woman sitting next to her in a black dress suit with shiny black hair held in a severe bun. Her thick eyebrows were lowered as she glared across the table where Agent Perry sat between other FBI agents in black suits and visible badges.

“Ah, Mr. Park, nice to finally meet you,” said the bearded man at the head of the table. “The director was called away on business, I’m Executive Assistant Director Powell.”

Waylon frowned, and stared around the large table. No one else was introduced before the woman beside Dr. Mason stood up, and cleared her throat.

“Thank you for hearing us, Executive Assistant Director. We are here to discuss the immediate and unconditional release of one Waylon Park…”

Waylon’s confusion only grew as the woman, a lawyer named Neha Batra, laid out a thorough set of bullet points about all of his rights that were being violated, as well as a long speech about Anti-Torture Initiative of the United Nations. Everyone at the table nodded along, except Agent Perry.

“It seems to me, this has been a grave misunderstanding,” said Powell. “Our people were investigating a potential terrorist attack in Como, Italy, which involved Mr. Park. There was a potential danger that Mr. Park, knowingly or not, was harboring a weapon of mass destruction. The methods used to investigate this matter, while extreme, were within the allowable methods for such an investigation. After several weeks, the Bureau has reached its conclusion. Mr. Park is not a danger to himself, or the country, and will be released of his own recognizance.”

Waylon did not know when he had started crying, but large tears splashed on the conference table in front of him. Dr. Mason reached over a hand and placed it over Waylon’s, giving it a squeeze.

“I told you,” whispered Dr. Mason. “It’s over. You’re going home.”

Waylon let out a loud noise that was half laugh, half sob, as he squeezed her hand in return. “Thank you, Evie. Thank you, for everything. I owe you so much.”

Agent Perry disrupted the happy occasion when he stood up, and cleared his throat. “Executive Administrative Director, I would like to go on record as saying that I disagree with this decision.”

“Ah, Perry, you may have two minutes to state your case…”

“Thank you, Executive Administrative Director,” said Perry. He stood with one hand behind his back, and his chest puffed out as he spoke. “There is clear evidence that a weapon of mass destruction, known as Project Walrider, was used during a recent terrorist attack in Como, Italy. Mr. Park is the only living survivor of this attack, and he has been uncooperative in assisting with the location of said weapon. He was also the only survivor of the Mount Massive Riot in 2013, where the same Project Walrider was originally enacted. Ladies and gentlemen, it is highly unlikely that a coincidence can explain how one man was the sole survivor of two attacks of this caliber.”

“I have seen your report, Agent Perry,” said Powell. He remained seated, his posture rigid. “Numerous tests were unable to definitively prove that Mr. Park is anything more than exactly as he claims, a survivor of both attacks.”

“But, the coincidence…”

“Circumstantial evidence should never be dismissed outright, but it is not enough to condemn a man,” said Powell, cutting off Perry’s interruption. “There is nothing to suggest that the situation is not exactly as Mr. Park explains. He was an informant against Murkoff during the riot, who barely survived. We’ve all seen the footage. The Walrider was rogue, and Mr. Park had no control on it then. In the years following, Murkoff has been hunting down Mr. Park. It makes sense that he would then be a target. How he survived is unknown, but I suppose, depending on your personal beliefs, it’s something to be chalked up to a miracle.”

“I don’t believe in miracles, sir,” said Perry.

“Then I feel truly sorry for you, Agent Perry,” said Powell, shaking his head, “because there are some things in this world that science fails to explain.”

“But, what about Upshur…”

“Ah, yes,” said Powell, chuckling as he opened a folder in front of him. “The mysterious Mr. Miles Upsur, a fabricated persona who appears with Mr. Park in Kyoto, and met an untimely demise in Como. There’s no evidence that anyone walked away from Como, except for Mr. Park. Even if Mr. Upshur’s true identity is a mystery, as is exactly what Mr. Upshur represented in Mr. Park’s life, there’s no reason to believe he is any kind of accomplice in harboring a rogue weapon.”

“We’re not even investigating to find out who this guy was?” asked Perry, snarling.

“The man met a grisly end, it’s fitting to allow him to rest in peace.”

“But…”

“This case is considered officially closed,” said Powell. “Mr. Park will be released, with his own belongings returned, and access to all of his personal accounts. There’s also some petty cash for expenses, enough to get you home, son.”

“Thank you,” said Waylon, smiling and squeezing Dr. Mason’s hand again.


“I worry that Perry’s not going to let go,” said Waylon, adjusting the duffel bag on his shoulder. His belongings were packed up on his back, a wad of cash in his pocket, and a bus ticket to Colorado. “You two sticking around?”

“No, we’re on our way back to Texas,” said Dr. Mason, smiling. “I came here to help. I hope you can continue to trust me, Waylon. Even if I’m not officially your psychiatrist anymore.”

“How’s the teaching job going?” asked Waylon.

“Great, thanks for asking,” said Dr. Mason, grinning. “Things have been going really well, actually.”

“Where did you find the attorney anyways? Do I owe some kind of fee? She did an amazing job,” said Waylon.

“Ah, yes, well, Neha is, well, my…” Dr. Mason blushed, and coughed into her hand. “It’s probably too early to say ‘girlfriend,’ but we are, seeing one another. I told her about what was happening, and she jumped on a flight, immediately. She has a lot of connections in Washington, and previous experience with other victims of unethical treatment by the government.”

“I’m indebted to you both,” said Waylon, grinning.

“Are you going to be okay?” asked Dr. Mason. “Going home, after all this time?”

“I’m not sure I’m ready, honestly,” said Waylon, staring at the ground. “It’s been so long. I’m not sure if I’m ready to…to see Lisa. So much has changed—I’ve changed. I might need, some more time…”

“You’ll see her, when you’re ready,” said Dr. Mason. “What about the boys?”

Waylon shook his head. “I just don’t know, yet. If we can, ever be a family again, you know?”

Dr. Mason pulled Waylon into a friendly hug, patting him affectionately on the back. “You’re okay, Waylon. Take your time. It’s been three years, there’s no rush. When you’re ready, it’s all there waiting for you. You’re no less of a husband, or father, for taking time to make sure you’re healthy. There’s no wrong way to have a family, as long as love is involved.”

“What did Powell mean, about Miles’ identity being a mystery?” asked Waylon.

“The documents provided in Kyoto were skillful forgeries, and the name ‘Miles Upshur’ appears to be a nom de plume for a writer, whose true identity was unknown to his publishers. But don’t let that get you sad,” said Dr. Mason, giving a small smile. “No matter what his name was, you two had a connection. You’ve had several fake names over the years. The name isn’t what’s important, it’s the person behind the name.”

“Thanks, Evie. For everything.”

“I was really sorry to hear about Miles,” said Dr. Mason. “I could hear the change he brought in you, even from the distance. He was a good influence. You’re lucky to have met someone like him, when you did.”

“I agree,” said Waylon, giving a sad smile.

“Oh, and Waylon? Call me anytime.”


It was a long ride from Washington, D.C. to Denver, Colorado. Waylon felt heavy as he sat in the back of the bus. He preferred the back, where the hum of the tires and engines were loudest. It reminded him of Miles.

Waylon should have felt excited, nervous, or even scared to be returning home to Colorado. Instead, he felt empty. Waylon brought out his journal, and a pen.

He had missed his journal during his confinement. It was cruel that he would not only lose Miles, but be blocked from Lisa, as well. He opened the journal to a fresh page, and gave a sigh of relief. He ran his fingertips over the paper, as though he could reach out and touch Lisa through the pages.

Dear Lisa,

I haven’t been able to speak with you for so long. I don’t even know where to turn anymore. No matter what step I take, I’m always watched, always hounded by the past. Murkoff is gone, and now my own ‘protectors’ are looking at me with the same greedy, malicious intent. I begin to realize that there’s only one answer remaining. That’s why I’m coming home to you. It won’t be long. I intend to fall asleep in your arms, and dream of a world where none of these nightmares can touch me ever again. I love you forever.

Waylon frowned as he stared down at the journal. He remembered buying it in Kyoto, with Miles. And how much the writing changed. Waylon smiled as he flipped to the beginning of the journal, fanning through his pages, before re-reading his love confession during his final entry from Como.

…I want Miles.

But something looked strange about the page. At first, Waylon doubted his eyes, until he realized that someone had written something, diagonally, in different colored ink, through the main writing on the page.

Waylon quickly flipped back to the previous page, and scribbled a quick post script.

Rain check on that meeting, Lis. I’d say I’ve earned a short vacation. 

Chapter Text

Lisa,

Do you have any idea how many Palm Drives there are in the state of Florida? Too fucking many. But I think I found the right one. I’m nervous. Almost as nervous as the day I stood in a rented tux, waiting for you to walk down the longest aisle in Colorado. It stretched on forever in my imagination. And then you were there, beside me, and finally, I could breathe. I’m hoping the ocean breeze will do the trick. So I can finally breathe, again.

Waylon’s handwriting was messier than usual, due to the poor quality road. He sat in the backseat of a local taxi. The leather seats were torn with foam insides visible, and the back of the seat in front of him was filled with brochures for local tourist traps.

A quick flip through revealed brochures for Hemingway’s House, and the Pier, a shipwreck museum, and a local lighthouse. There were fliers and coupons for jet-ski rentals, two-for-one margaritas, and a Jimmy Buffett tribute band playing on Duval Street.

Out the taxi window, wild vegetation grew close to the road, blocking the view. Waylon glimpsed the ocean beyond, between breaks in the plants. He shifted in his seat. Even though he felt he was close to being reunited with Miles, he struggled to connect the laid-back vacation style of Key West with the gloomy Miles he knew.

The taxi turned at a dented, black mailbox that hung at a crooked angle. Through the thick brush bordering the driveway, a small, wooden house painted aqua with white trim, came into view. It was cute. Much cuter than Waylon would have expected. He searched for a house number anywhere on the building.

“This is the place?” asked the driver. He was a middle-aged man with glossy black hair, and a neatly trimmed goatee. Waylon looked back and forth between the white numbers on the house, and the hidden address written in his journal.

Waylon vacillated between being angry that Miles had read his journal, and thankful that he had been spared the burden of revealing his feelings in person. Miles had read it, and still left him a trail to follow.

The biggest fear was how much time had passed since Italy. Detained by the FBI for almost an entire month, plus the travel time to reach the Keys. Waylon had relied on old habits to cover his tracks, leaving behind a confused, rambling trail. He did not trust that the Bureau would give up on him, completely.

Even with Miles’ clues, the place had been difficult to locate. One Hundred Ninety Two Palm Drive. As if there weren’t a Palm Drive in every city in the entire State of Florida. The home was definitely not registered to a Miles Upshur. Perhaps he was renting?

“Looks like this is it,” said Waylon. He paid the driver the amount listed on the meter, and slung his duffel bag over his shoulder. As the taxi drove away, Waylon could only hope he was at the right house. He had picked up a new burner phone, just in base. But then, where would that leave him on his search?

Waylon walked up to the bright white door, and tapped his knuckles against the glass. He adjusted his bag on his shoulders, and waited. After several attempts, Waylon decided to risk a peek through a window, searching for signs of life.

The glass was dirty and smudged, but Waylon could see inside. There were leather sofas, and an entire wall of bookshelves, filled with hardcovers, paperbacks, and loose papers. Waylon stared in awe. He had only known Miles for a short time, and never seen the reporter side of him..

A small wall, between windows, was decorated with framed magazine covers, and black and white photographs. Waylon’s nerves flared. He didn’t know much about Miles’ personal life. The thought was intimidating. Waylon began to sweat in the humid, afternoon heat.

How long was it appropriate to wait on a stranger’s porch? It wasn’t like Waylon had been able to give Miles any previous notice. Miles had said he was welcome, not that he could show up, unannounced, with all his worldly possessions on his back.

It had been weeks since he was brought back to the United States, and put through the government’s bullshit experiments. Perhaps things had changed for Miles. It’s possible Miles had gone somewhere else, or reached out to the special person he mentioned in Italy. Or found someone new. Miles had no trouble attracting men.

Wayon stood on the porch, staring at the messy interior of a house, that potentially belonged to a man he barely knew. Movement in the mirrored reflection on the window caught his eye. Waylon turned in time to see someone walking up the drive, a fishing pole slung over his shoulder. The lazy grin was immediately recognizable.

Not much had changed. Miles’ hair had been trimmed, recently, and his face was shaved, with only a hint of new growth. He wore a white tank under an open, button-down shirt, patterned with blue and white hibiscus flowers.

“Nice jorts,” said Waylon.

Miles laughed. It was a great sound. A comforting sound, that brought with it the feeling like Waylon had finally made his way home.

Waylon’s ears burned just from watching Miles walk up to the house. Miles propped the fishing pole up against the outside of the house, at the same time as Waylon dropped his duffel bag. Miles quickly wiped his hands on his denim shorts, before pulling Waylon into a hug.

The embrace stretched on, with neither moving away. Miles was warm; his skin sun-kissed. His familiar scent spiked with the smell of sweat, salt, and sand.

“You’re here,” whispered Mies, resting his chin on Waylon’s shoulder as they stood, together.

“I missed you,” said Waylon, his hands splaying out across Miles’ back.

“I thought we might have scared you away,” said Miles, chuckling.

“There were complications,” said Waylon, as involuntary shiver wracked his spine. “I came as soon as I could.”

“Complications?” asked Miles, frowning. He pulled away from the hug, and grabbed Waylon’s hand. He narrowed his eyes, as though appraising a piece of livestock, before turning Waylon’s arm at a strange angle. The tugging caused Waylon to grunt, and lurch unsteadily on his cast.

“What the hell?” asked Miles, staring down at fading bruises on the inside of Waylon’s elbow, then at the blue wrapped cast peeking out under his jeans.

“Um, sorry,” said Waylon, blushing again. “Um, tests. There were tests. The feds weren’t really satisfied with the whole ‘I have no idea what happened’ storyline we worked out. They didn’t get anywhere, though, no matter what they did…”

“What did they do?” asked Miles. When his gray eyes met Waylon’s, they continued to grow darker. “They hurt you?”

“The cast was from Italy, I fractured that damn ankle, again,” said Waylon, giving a nervous laugh. “Not sure how I was even walking at the end. Adrenaline, I guess. Perry kinda reached the same conclusion as Murkoff. They decided I had to be the host. But don’t worry, they ruled it out, after extensive testing…”

“Are you okay?” asked Miles, warm hands rubbing along the bruised inside of Waylon’s arm.

“I’m fine, honest,” said Waylon. He put his hand on top of Miles’ and squeezed. “Perry’s an asshole, I was wrong to ever trust him. But he got nothing out of me. All the tests came back normal. Some high up guy, Colonel Sanders impersonator, ordered him to release me.”

“You think he’ll give up?” asked Miles.

“I don’t know,” said Waylon, sighing. “I hope so. I made sure to cover my tracks, though, just in case.”

“I’m so glad you’re here,” said Miles, pulling back to look at Waylon’s face. “Nothing can hurt you, now.”

They shared a smile, before finally relinquishing their hold on one another. Miles held the door open for Waylon.

“Do you mind if I use your shower, first?” asked Waylon, adjusting the bag on his shoulder. “I’ve been, um, traveling…”

“Sure,” said Miles, grinning. “I’ll show you.”

Inside, Waylon continued to examine the house. There were stacks of National Geographic magazines in every corner, acting as makeshift tables for all types of photography equipment. First edition books collected dust next to the latest technology. Waylon yearned to take a duster, and a bucket of bleach, to the place.

A large, high-definition flat screen hung on the living room wall, slowly cycling through different works by famous artists. Miles pointed toward a visible door in the hallway.

“Bathroom. You need any help? Are you okay to shower with the cast?”

“Yeah, it’s fine,” said Waylon.

“Sure you don’t need a hand?” asked Miles.

“I got it, thanks,” said Waylon, smiling. Miles gave a crooked grin, and a quick shrug. He sauntered away toward the adjacent kitchen.

Oh wait. Had Miles been suggesting something? Shit.

As Waylon showered, he constantly berated himself for the faux pas. Miles had caught him off guard. If Miles was serious, had Waylon offended him by turning him down? Should he have greeted Miles with a kiss, instead of just a hug? Was he giving the wrong impression?

But Miles had read his journal. Waylon had confessed plainly in Italy. He tracked Miles down because he wanted to be with Miles, as more than friends. Had he already ruined everything with his ignorance of romantic relationships and social cues?

Searching Romance…

No Files Found.

Shit.

Once he was clean, wearing a fresh, white shirt and gray sweats, Waylon hobbled into the kitchen. It was as cute as the outside of the house. The cabinets were painted white, the counters light polished wood, and the backsplash was alternating peach and aqua tiles.

“Are you hungry?” asked Miles.

“Sure, whatcha got?” asked Waylon.

“Uh...frozen dinner we could heat up? It’s not vegetarian, though,” said Miles, holding open the freezer on top of his fridge. Inside, it was mostly snowy ice, and empty space.

“I can eat around the meat,” said Waylon.

“I can make something vegetarian tomorrow? No Tofu,” said Miles, taking the dinner out of its packaging, and shoving it into the microwave. He stared at the box before punching in a number on the dial. The appliance hummed to life.

Gorgeous. Just the smell…

“Wait, is the microwave okay?” asked Miles. The question ripped Waylon out of his own mind.

“It’s fine, I’m fine, don’t worry,” said Waylon, forcing a shaky smile. But the longer he held the fake smile, the more genuine it became. This was Miles’ kitchen; not Frank’s.

After several minutes, the room smelled strange, and Miles took out the dinner. He dished it out onto thin paper plates.

“I’m guessing you probably want to talk about Italy, instead of just glossing over it like all that didn’t happen,” said Miles, sliding a plate and plastic fork across the table. He waved his hand, encouraging Waylon to sit down.

Waylon exhaled, slowly, as he sank down into the indicated chair. “Where to begin?”

“What’s bothering you the most?” asked Miles, picking up his fork. He had no reservations about digging into the strange meat and noodle concoction.

“How?” asked Waylon, leaning forward, and putting his elbows on the table.

“I’m going to assume you mean, how, the Walrider thing?”

Waylon’s expression remained the same, except one eyebrow raised.

“Sorry, stupid question, the Walrider, well, I told you, I killed Billy Hope,” said Miles, chair creaking as he sat back. “This guy, Wernicke, everyone thought he was dead, but I found him down in the lab, and he told me I had to kill Billy to stop the Walrider. The swarm was chasing me, tossing me around. I had no choice, so, I pulled the plug.”

Miles mimed the act of pulling a large plug.

“It was more difficult than that, but you get the picture,” said Miles, clearing his throat. “Anyways, Hope died in this…some kind of human fishbowl.”

“I’ve been in the Engine room, I’ve seen them,” said Waylon, frowning. “I helped code the machines that kept those people alive. If you could call it that.”

“Fuck,” said Miles. “No wonder you were ready to sell out Murkoff.”

“It doesn’t make sense, though. Hope died, and the Walrider had no host, no direction, it should have ceased all functions?”

“Nah, you must have programmed it wrong,” said Miles.

“I didn’t program it,” said Waylon. Miles shrugged, leaning in to take another quick bite of food.

“Well, the swarm’s first priority is always to continue,” said Miles. “It scanned the area, found another potential host, and pounced. It went inside of me.”

“How did you know?” asked Waylon.

“How did I know? That it went inside of me? Is that a real question? I watched it, I felt it. It hurt. Things started to change. Got out of the lab, and walked right into some trap. A bunch of guys in riot gear. They mowed me down with bullets. And, I’m pretty sure I died.”

Three years ago, Waylon would have called Miles crazy. He would have assumed the horrors of Mount Massive had proven too much for the man. But, Waylon no longer doubted Miles’ words--he knew the truth of the statement.

Miles sustained terrifying wounds, and survived. Perhaps it had felt like dying.

“So you weren’t just being dramatic, talking about dying,” said Waylon. “But you didn’t die, the swarm saved you.”

“I don’t know how else to describe it,” said Miles, shaking his head. “I had no control over my body. I was kneeling in a puddle of my own blood, my limbs just start moving. I watched the swarm clear out the lab, then we moved upstairs, and worked our way through the asylum. Just, cleaning house.”

“Killing people?” asked Waylon. Miles looked away, rubbing a hand across his mouth, but he nodded.

“A lot of people?”

“Yeah,” said Miles. “Some guilty, some less guilty. The place was on fire, and we let it burn—we fanned the flames. I tried to escape, early on. I forced myself toward the exit, where I left my Jeep. But, funny thing…”

Memory Recovery Successful.

Waylon could see it clearly. The human figure, walking through a cloud of death. The being lurched, and Waylon could not determine whether it was human. And then the swarm was there, rushing toward him, reaching out. The Jeep could not move fast enough. Waylon slammed on the gas, and never looked back, afraid of what he might find. Afraid that the man in the black cloud would hunt him down, one day.

“You saw me,” said Waylon, slapping his palm on the table, causing plastic forks to rattle. “I saw you! I knew I did, but everyone said I was hallucinating. When I said I saw the Walrider, but he was a man, and he pushed me through the gates…”

Miles grinned, holding out his hands, and giving a slight shrug.

“You saved me…”

“Whoa, no one said that,” said Miles. “I was pissed, that was my Jeep. We were gonna tear you apart.”

“But you killed Jeremy! He was going to kill me. You saved my life.”

“We neutralized an armed threat, you were close to death--not worth the effort. It was the first time you would surprise me, not the last,” said Miles, laughing. “What happened to my Jeep, anyways?”

“I made it pretty far down the mountain, but I was so tired, and hurt. I crashed it into a ditch, got out, and kept limping to find help,” said Waylon.

“You asshole,” said Miles, scowling.

“Yeah, don’t worry about me, I was fine, thanks for asking,” said Waylon, smirking. “What happened after that, then?”

“Cleaned up any people trying to leave,” said Miles, sighing. He held up his damaged fingers, as though ticking off items on a list. “Patients, doctors, guards—everyone. When Murkoff showed up, we tore them apart. When the local police finally arrived, we disappeared.”

“Can you control it?” asked Waylon.

“It’s, eh, more like a mutual agreement,” said Miles, a short chuckle escaping. “A little reprogramming, if you will. Instead of destroying everything, we focused on destroying Murkoff, and we were successful, it would seem. There’s no prime directive now, except just, keep existing. So, I’m trying to do that.”

“How do you communicate with it?” asked Waylon.

“Fuck if I know,” said Miles, pushing away his empty, soiled plate. “I didn’t understand anything I read before it jumped on board. Since then, I’ve tried to research, but I barely understand half of it. I know how it affects me, but I don’t always know what it’ll do. It’s complicated. Its feelings are…well, do machines have feelings?”

“What’s it feeling right now?” asked Waylon.

“That’s easy,” said Miles, grinning. “It’s…pleased. Because I’m pleased. We’re both happy to see you.” Waylon turned away, hoping to conceal his blush. “Why are you here, though? Shouldn’t you be with your family?”

Waylon let out a deep breath, shoulders hunching over slightly. “I want to see my family. I was on my way to them, actually, before I found your note. But, I never felt ready. To face them, I mean. I’m not ready. I need some time…I don’t know how long. Maybe short, maybe longer…”

“Do you have a place to stay?” asked Miles. Waylon shook his head, without meeting Miles’ eyes. “Because you can stay here. No problem. I have a room.”

“Thank you,” said Waylon, giving a shy smile. “I just need some time to adjust to not being on the run, anymore. I’ve had a pretty rough month. I need time to adjust to a ‘normal’ life, before I rejoin theirs. And when I’m with you...the time we spent together, I felt more like myself than I had since I started at Murkoff.”

“Then it’s settled,” said Miles, grinning. “We’re roommates again. I can, uh, show you the sights? There’s the beach, we can rent a boat, go fishing, drink some margaritas, act like tourists.”

“Perfect,” said Waylon, covering his mouth as he yawned.

“Well, starting tomorrow,” said Miles, standing up, and collecting the used plates. “You’ve gotta be exhausted.”

Waylon offered to help with the kitchen, but, with his cast, he was more of a hindrance than a help. He eventually gave up, and wandered into the living room, plopping down uselessly on the leather sofa. He was lost in thought when Miles finally joined.

“Did you do that on purpose?” asked Miles.

“Do…what?” asked Waylon, turning to see Miles, and following him with his eyes as he took a seat on the sofa.

“You sat in the same place as you did in Italy,” said Miles. He shifted his weight, to lean into Waylon until their shoulders touched.

“Sorry, is this where you normally sit?” asked Waylon.

“Nah,” said Miles, grinning, “I like you sitting there better.”

“There’s probably a lot more I need to ask, and some important things I should tell you,” said Waylon.

“I can wait, if you can,” said Miles. “Right now, I’m just glad you’re sitting there.” Miles grabbed a remote from the end table, and pointed it toward the flat screen on the wall.

“I’m a filthy cord cutter, so I don’t have cable, but...” said Miles.

“You’re fucking kidding me, back to five lame channels?”

But, as I was saying, I’ve got Internet, and um, Netflix.” Waylon feigned a disappointed frown. “You can choose the show, if it makes you feel better?”

“Gimme,” said Waylon, grasping for the remote. Miles initially pulled it away, before relinquishing the controller with a smirk. Waylon sorted through almost the entire library of available television shows before making a decision.

“Xena? I’m not watching Xena,” said Miles, snorting.

“Why not? It’s classic,” said Waylon. “At least watch a couple episodes. Not like we have anything better to do, tonight. And at least it’s in English.”

“Nothing better to do, huh?” asked Miles.

Waylon glanced over out of the side of his eye, and saw Miles staring at the screen and smirking. Waylon swallowed, and choose the first episode of season one.

“I said you could choose, so I guess have to suffer the consequences,” said Miles.

The two leaned into one another while watching the Warrior Princess fight her way through Ancient Greece. Waylon had already seen all of the episodes, and it was difficult to focus on the familiar story lines, when Miles was so close, and his journey weighed so heavily on his shoulders.

Since arriving, their interactions had all felt intimate, without being romantic. Waylon tried to decide how to best make the switch. Did Miles feel rejected when Waylon had turned down his potentially joking offer to help in the shower? Miles was sitting so close, slouching on the couch. His brows knitted together, as he focused on the show.

It was growing late, and Waylon felt very tired, but there was no way he could sleep without clearing the air. After two episodes, Miles stole the remote away, and turned off the television. Without the TV, they were alone with only a not-quite-full moon for light. Waylon froze when Miles leaned in close.

“I have a guest bedroom, with a double bed,” said Miles. “It’s two hundred percent more comfortable than the couch you made me sleep on in Italy.”

Waylon chuckled, shaking his head at the memory that already seemed so long ago.

“You can sleep there,” said Miles, moving closer until he could whisper against Waylon’s ear, “…but you don’t have to.”

“Y-you mean share a bed?” asked Waylon. “Like, in Italy?” Waylon ignored the nerves turning his stomach inside out, and swallowed hard.

“Kind of like in Italy,” said Miles.

In the moonlight, Waylon watched Miles’ tongue appear as he carefully wet his lips. Waylon stared hard at Miles’ mouth.

“Miles, I should probably tell you, that I came here because I wanted to be with you, my feelings haven’t changed since Italy, and I want…”

“Yeah, I kinda figured,” said Miles, and Waylon could hear the smirk even if he could not make it out in the dim light. “Not very good at this kind of thing, huh?”

Waylon counted away the heart beats, before he finally forced himself to learn forward. Waylon kissed Miles.

Without the assistance of adrenaline, or alcohol, the kiss felt shy, and clumsy. Warm lips, the gentle smack of lips in the dark, and the soft scruff of stubble. Waylon struggled to remember how to kiss properly. What had Lisa always liked? Waylon had no choices but to put a hand on either side of Miles’ cheek, and hold him in place, so he could experiment.

Waylon had waited too long, and imagined too much, to be satisfied with a simple kiss. He needed more, and was unsure how to ask for it. Miles gasped, and Waylon took advantage of the opening to swipe his tongue across the seam of Miles’ lips. His tongue threatened to choke off all the soft moans escaping Miles’ lips.

Waylon was hungry. There was no doubt that he was attracted to Miles, as a man. His entire being thrummed with excitement. Waylon had to break the kiss, and bite back a whine, when Miles’ hand crept onto his thigh. An immediate fear flared to life.

“Miles, I’ve never been with a man, I’m not sure that I am ready for…” Waylon was panting into Miles’ mouth as he struggled to form the right words. How could he explain that he was afraid of the sexual mechanics, without making it sound like he did not want to be intimate with Miles?

“Nothing-you-don’t-want,” said Miles, the words pouring out as one long, run-on sentence. He rushed to continue kissing Waylon—his lips, chin, neck. The power had shifted without Waylon noticing, and he found himself being pressed back into the couch. Miles’ hand remained on his thigh, only grasping--not moving.

It was disorienting, when Miles broke their kiss. He and stood up, grabbing Waylon’s hand.

“Come to bed with me?”

Waylon slammed his cast into the coffee table, and almost flipped over it in his rush to stand up.

“Are you okay?” asked Miles, obviously fighting back laughter.

“FINE,” said Waylon, much too loud. Miles finally lost his battle to contain himself. “Sorry, I ruined the mood.”

“Impossible to ruin my mood, now that you’re back…” said Miles, before pressing close to Waylon, tilting his chin up with two fingers, and drawing him in for another kiss.

The walk to the bedroom was a blur. Miles’ tongue was in Waylon’s mouth, clouding his senses. His strength helped support Waylon, and also pushed him against a wall, knocking down a framed photograph that Miles ignored.

Inside, the bedroom was dark, lit only by the moon through two large windows. Neither bothered with a lamp. Miles broke away for a moment, shrugging out of his unbuttoned shirt, and ripping his undershirt over his head. Scars shone like silver tattoos in the moonlight.

Waylon pawed at Miles’ chest, feeling the raised skin, feverish flesh, and sparse chest hair. He pulled Miles by the neck into another kiss, mouths open and panting. When they separated, Miles easily peeled away Waylon’s shirt.

The feeling of hot flesh against his own was intoxicating. Waylon felt dizzy when Miles pushed him back. Something connected with the back of his knees, and he toppled backwards onto Miles’ bed.

Waylon gasped as he lost his balance, arms flailing as he struggled to catch himself. When he realized he had only barely fallen backwards onto the mattress, he glanced up at a smirking Miles.

“You alright?” asked Miles, placing one leg on the mattress, then the other, slowly crawling on top of Waylon.

“Yes, I’m…”

Miles bent down, pressing kisses against Waylon’s neck. Hot breath panted against his skin with each movement. Waylon wrapped an arm around Miles’ neck, encouraging with soft moans. The kisses were aggressive, forcing Waylon to tilt his head, roaming around his bare collar and up to his sensitive ears.

It was sweet torture, the way Miles’ body hovered over his without fully touching. Waylon could only gasp, and writhe, on the mattress. Miles’ mouth chased away his thoughts, helping Waylon relax. Until sharp teeth bit down on his ear.

Waylon’s back arched off of the mattress as he whimpered. The hum of approval right beside his ear seemed to vibrate inside his head. He was still fumbling for how to react, when a hand snaked between their bodies, and straight to the edge of his waistband.

The pants were loose, and Miles easily slid beneath the fabric. Waylon’s head dropped back onto the mattress as he struggled to breathe. Fingers wrapped around, drawing out a deep moan.

The movements were slow, and glided easily. Waylon was sweating from the warmth in the room, and Miles’ unnatural heat. He leaked freely onto Miles’ hand. The result was the best feeling Waylon could remember.

He stared down between their bodies, then up at Miles’ face. His eyes were glossy, and black. Like staring into the void. A quick jolt of fear joined the heat pooling in Waylon’s stomach. Somehow it only added to the excitement.

Panting breath, and the shuffling of cloth, filled the quiet room. Waylon would come. There was no stopping it. If something did not change, he was going to finish. Miles was only hovering above him, watching. He didn’t want it to end.

Waylon looked down, again, and grasped for the waistband of Miles’ denim shorts. Miles paused his movements as Waylon positioned awkwardly, twisting his wrist to force his way down Miles’ shorts. The waistband of the shorts was tight around Waylon’s wrist, and he felt his fingers push past thin, cotton boxers. There was not much room for maneuvering, but Waylon reached with his finger tips, brushing against coarse hair, and hot skin.

Miles pulled away, quickly sliding off the bed.

“I’m sorry,” said Waylon, shoving up on his elbows. “Too much?”

Waylon watched as Miles, barely visible in the dark, quickly ripped his fly open and stepped out of his shorts and boxers. “Not enough.”

Miles was naked, and hard. Waylon couldn’t look away. It was too dark to make out details, and he desperately wanted to get a look at Miles.

Strong hands rucked down Waylon’s sweats to his thighs. His body burned as Miles stared down at him. A moment later, Miles was back on top of him.

With nothing between them, Waylon felt the slide of Miles’ cock against his own. Miles pushed down with his full body weight until it hurt, and everything squeezed together between them.

There was a buzzing in the room, and when Miles leaned in to kiss Waylon he could feel it vibrating in his skull. The darkness in the room dimmed, like a cloud passing in front of the moon. Waylon started to break away from the kiss to determine the source, but his thoughts were interrupted by Miles’ hand.

Fingers pressed into his shaft, while Miles stroked them together. Waylon groaned, forgetting his worries, and focusing only on the push, drag, push, of his cock against Miles. His hips raised off the mattress, pressing into that grip.

“Miles,” said Waylon, pushing up on his elbows and craning his neck. His voice broke as he whimpered out, “That’s gonna make me come.”

At those words, Miles moaned, using both of his hands to grab Waylon’s face and hold him still as they kissed, open mouthed and hungry. One hand held his chin, and the other slid up through the short blond hair Miles had cut. Waylon was so lost in the feel of Miles’ hands, and tongue, that it took several seconds for the realization to dawn on him.

Miles hands were on his face, but something was still stroking their cocks together.

A strangled cry escaped, as Waylon attempted to jump away, and succeeded only in banging his cast against the side of the bed. He pulled away from Miles’ kiss, and the touch around his cock vanished.

“Fuck,” said Waylon, still floundering on the bed with his cast. He army crawled to the nearest nightstand.

“What’s wrong?” asked Miles. When the lamp clicked on, Miles was kneeling on the bed, staring with black eyes and knitted brows.

“What’s…what’s…Miles, you said…but then, it…”

Somehow, through the incoherent babbling, Miles located the source of Waylon’s discomfort.

“Ah, the swarm?” asked Miles. Waylon’s answer was a loud mmhmm. “Sorry, it’s kind of a habit. I probably should have mentioned that, uh, I’ve had a tendency to um, see it’s useful when I’m by myself, and…”

Miles had no way of knowing that Waylon already knew that information. Knowing did not make the feel of the swarm stroking his cock any less surprising. He sat at on the edge of the bed, willing his heart to slow down. Unfortunately, the view did nothing to assist him.

“Um, it’s alright,” said Waylon, staring. In the light, Miles was toned, tan, and covered in scars. Waylon could not stop staring at the crease near his hip bones.

Waylon had never seen another man up close, and erect. The sight made his own exposed cock twitch. Miles was bigger than him, though not by much, with dark hair trimmed close. Waylon had never seen a reason to manscape, and he suddenly regretted that decision.

“You sure you’re alright?” asked Miles, moving closer to Waylon. With every inch closer, Waylon felt himself tense that much more. “I don’t have to use it, the swarm won’t touch you again, until you’re comfortable, if you get comfortable I should say…”

“It’s fine,” said Waylon, his voice cracking. He had to be blushing—his ears burned, and heart fluttered.

“Are you sure?” asked Miles, finally close enough to lean into Waylon, only to have Waylon hunch his shoulders in an attempt to further hide himself. A slow smile spread across Miles’ face. “Wait, are you…are you being shy?”

Waylon didn’t answer. He kept his eyes trained down on the mattress, to avoid staring awkwardly at Miles’ dick.

“The man who was ready to jump me in Italy is suddenly shy?” asked Miles, snickering through his nose. “You really don’t have to be shy. I want you.”

“It’s just been a while, and you look so fit, and I look…”

“Good,” said Miles, leaning into Waylon. He assumed Miles was going to embrace him—until the lamp clicked off, and the room went black. “Good enough to eat.”

Despite the interruption, Waylon was still hard. The sudden loss of light left him blind, focusing only on the feeling of Miles’ mouth moving down his chest, kissing a warm trail down his trembling stomach, until Waylon felt hot breath on the head of his cock. There was no warning before Miles took him into his mouth.

Waylon’s head fell back, and his body seemed to go boneless as he slowly relaxed. Miles had no trouble adjusting, head bobbing up and down with steady, wet movements. A flick of tongue, the rub of a hand, and the unmatched heat emanating from Miles. Waylon had never felt anything that compared.

“I’m gonna come,” whined Waylon. His fingers flew to Miles’ hair, attempting to pry him away. He couldn’t stop it, despite wishing to prolong the experience. His body tensed

Uneven breathing. Knuckles white as he gripped Miles’ hair. Hips ripped off the bed, as though by an otherworldly force. Waylon groaned as his toes curled, and the first spasms of his release hit. Miles hummed around his cock, throat and tongue coaxing out every last drop.

A dim ringing reverberated in Waylon’s ears, throbbing in time with his heartbeat. He suddenly felt too sensitive. Every touch on his cock caused him to flinch, as though back in shock treatment. He yelped when Miles finally released him with an obscene slurping noise.

Miles pushed the back of his hand across his open mouth, before crawling to lie beside Waylon. Waylon rolled to his side, seeking out Miles’ eyes in the darkness. He was relieved to see Miles white visible in his eyes.

“You should feel good, too,” said Waylon, reaching a clumsy hand toward Miles. He was stopped by a firm grip around his wrist.

“It’s late, you’re tired,” said Miles. His hand around Waylon’s wrist moved to bring the hand up to Miles’ lips. He kissed the back of Waylon’s knuckles. “Besides, I got myself off.”

Waylon’s body felt as though it were made of lead, but he forced himself forward to press a kiss to Miles’ warm forehead. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to react like that, but…”

“Don’t worry about it,” said Miles, squeezing where he still held onto Waylon’s arm. “I’m still just in shock that you really came.”

Waylon grunted. “It would be pretty difficult for a man to fake an orgasm.”

Miles’ laugh broke the silence.

“To the Keys, to Florida, I meant,” said Miles, still chuckling. “You…you really came to see me.”

“You’re the only thing that got me through this last month,” whispered Waylon, closing his eyes. A happy sigh drifted from Miles, and it was the last sound Waylon remembered before sleep.

Chapter Text

Waylon woke, but he did not open his eyes. He sank deeper into the fluffy comforter, and luxuriously soft mattress. After a month on a plastic prison mattress, and years in cheap lodging, Waylon had forgotten that sensation. In their rush to fall into bed the night before, he had missed that detail.

Memories of the night before caused Waylon to squint one eye open.

Soft sunlight filtered in through sheer drapes. In the light, Miles’ room seemed bright, and airy. The white furniture, and gray walls, were a nice contrast. There was an alarm clock on the nightstand, showing that it was already mid-morning. Waylon lifted his head, and surveyed the room. Empty.

A note sat on the pillow.

Out buying supplies

Didn’t want to wake you

The distinctive, messy handwriting. It matched the hidden note in his journal. Waylon smiled, wondering what kind of supplies Miles would need.

Waylon crawled out of bed, taking time to yawn, and stretch. The perfect opportunity to explore.

The house was quiet, as Waylon limped down the hallway. The master bedroom was situated down the hall from another room, and that was blocked off by stacks of boxes. The bathroom where he had showered the day before also branched off from the hallway.

The main area consisted of the living area, with bookshelves and a TV, a small, screened-in porch, and the cozy kitchen and dining area. A hallway led away from the back of the area--the guest room Miles had offered the previous day.

Waylon focused on the living room, running his fingers along the spines of books, and magazines, in Miles’ bookshelf. He picked up a framed photograph of a younger Miles. He wore a graduation cap and gown, with two brunette women on either arm. Another photograph dislodged, and fluttered to the ground. Miles, with his arm hooked around another man’s neck, smiling.

It wasn’t right to snoop through Miles’ possessions. Waylon walked out onto the back porch, instead. Beyond the screen, thick growths of palmetto bushes, and palm trees, pressed in on the house. Somewhere, a strange bird cried out several times, in quick succession.

Not even noon; the heat was already stifling. The sea breeze was evident through the softly swaying fronds, but it was no match against the suffocating humidity. Waylon missed cold, dry Colorado. He was thinking about his home, as he pulled out his phone, and dialed a familiar number.

“Dr. Evelyn Mason.”

“Hey, Evie, quick question, since I’m married to a woman, but was attracted to a man, what does that make me? Sexually, I mean?”

“Waylon, is this a serious question?”

“Yes.”

“Sexuality is more of a sliding scale, than anything black and white. It’s possible that you fall anywhere between, liking only the opposite sex, or liking only the same sex. After your relationship with Miles, I had assumed you were open to relationships with men or women.”

“I’m married to Lisa, and I only ever looked at women, until Miles. Does that mean I became gay? Or, do I have to be bisexual?”

“You don’t have to make a label. You can take your time to figure out your sexuality—no one’s requiring you to conform to any particular orientation. There’s nothing wrong with being attracted to all sexes, and there’s nothing wrong with changes your preferences over time.”

Waylon hummed softly into the phone.

“But, Waylon, rather than discussing the intricacies of sexual orientation, I’ve been worried about you. How are you doing since the confinement? Are you healing? Please, tell me you’re eating properly.”

“Yes, Evie, don’t worry about me,” said Waylon. “I’m working through some stuff on my own, before heading back to Colorado.”

“Waylon, before you say anything else, I need to tell you something,” said Dr. Mason. She paused, and Waylon could hear her take a long inhale.

“Agent Perry called me yesterday, asking about your location. So please, don’t tell me. I can’t stop them tracing the calls, though. I don’t trust Perry, after what happened in Washington. Neha said he was extremely bitter about the Executive Assistant Director’s decision, and met with some backlash from his coworkers, as well.”

“Great,” said Waylon, muttering to himself. “At least I’m safe here. I know that for a fact. Very well protected.” Waylon chuckled to himself.

“I’m glad you’re safe, and it sounds like you’re doing well,” said Dr. Mason, and Waylon could imagine her smile. “You should really consider finding a new psychiatrist—not that you should stop calling me. But someone who can listen to you, and give you undivided attention, and prescription refills, without requiring an FBI gatekeeper.”

“We’ll see,” said Waylon. “Tell Neha I said ‘hello.’ Later, Evie.”

Waylon hummed as he walked back into Miles’ home. There were more framed pictures of Miles, accepting awards, and candid photos of exotic locations. A framed copy of a magazine article bearing Miles’ name hung crooked on the wall. Waylon stared at the title.

The Devil’s Bargain: How Murkoff Turned the Global Water Crisis into a Billion Dollar Revenue Stream, by Miles Upshur.

The article was dated before the riot—months before Waylon sent the cursed email. Miles had connections to Murkoff? His investigations predated the riot.

The objects in the house painted a picture of a decorated reporter, up and coming in his field. Except Murkoff had happened. The only common trait Miles and Waylon shared. The stars aligned. Doomed to be together.

The jangling of keys preceded the door opening with a bang. Miles’ footsteps echoed in the hall, accompanied by the rustling of plastic bags.

Waylon limped toward the kitchen, as Miles entered the house. He managed to carry all of the grocery bags in one trip, with the help of some extra limbs. He smiled when he saw Waylon.

“Morning, sunshine,” said Miles, putting the groceries down on the kitchen counter. Once his arms were free, the additional appendages quickly evaporated. Had been there at all? When their eyes met, Waylon immediately looked away.

“What’s that look about?” asked Miles, leaving the groceries to stand beside Waylon in the threshold between the living area and the kitchen. Miles’ dark eyes searched Waylon’s for some answer. “Not having regrets, are you?”

“Regrets? You mean about the sex?”

“Way to get right to the point,” said Miles, grinning. He took a step even closer to Waylon. “I’m sorry I didn’t ask permission out right, and I know you were nervous, and then the swarm…”

“That’s not it,” said Waylon, clearing his throat. “No regrets, there. I just feel nervous, I guess, being here makes it all very real, and I don’t really know what is between us, or what you want, or…”

“I want to put the groceries away,” said Miles, a lopsided grin on his face. “That okay?”

“Sure,” said Waylon, following Miles into the kitchen. Miles put away cans, and boxes of food, into barren cabinets, and an empty pantry.

“I didn’t have any cereal,” said Miles, lining up cans on the pantry shelf. “Or milk. I know we always ate cereal in Italy, but when I’m alone, I tend to skip breakfast. I wanted you to have cereal, when you woke up, but it’s a long way to the grocery store, and the lady in front of me had a thousand coupons, and I think she was paying with change she’d fished out of some fountain…”

“It’s fine,” said Waylon, chuckling. “I took some time to snoop around.”

“Oh yeah? Find my porn stash?” asked Miles. Waylon’s eyes went wide, and his cheeks burned. “I’m joking, I use the Internet, like everybody else. No one buys porn anymore.” The explanation did nothing to stop Waylon’s embarrassment.

“I saw your article,” said Waylon, watching Miles closely, “the article about Murkoff.” Miles paused in the middle of closing a cabinet.

“Ah, yeah,” said Miles, giving a tight smile. “Shady bastards. I had no idea what I was getting into, back then.”

“That’s why you came to my email so quickly,” said Waylon. A statement; not a question.

Miles nodded.

“You were already investigating Murkoff? You arrived within hours, so that means, you were already in Colorado…”

“Yeah.”

“Yet you chased me down, across the world, to murder me, in retribution for bringing you to Mount Massive?”

Miles shrugged, and gave a humorless laugh. “I wasn’t in the most rational state of mind, if you can believe that. Your email was the catalyst that led me to Mount Massive. That email ended my career—my life.” Miles put away the last of the groceries, and shut the pantry door. “It’s complicated.”

“Then I wish you’d try,” said Waylon, shifting on his cast. “To explain, I mean. I could try to understand.”

“I guess I’m used to handling it on my own,” said Miles, exhaling through his nose. “I haven’t spoken to anyone about this. Ever. It’s all new to me.”

“That, I do understand,” said Waylon, giving a small smile. “I wish I knew more about Project Walrider, then maybe I could offer some kind of help, but I’m useless, per usual.”

“Nah,” said Miles, grinning. “It’s been years, having the swarm around is just who I am now. It’s part of my normal, everyday routine. I adjusted to just, using it to make things easier. I keep to myself, so I didn’t have to worry about being found out. And if someone did catch me…well…”

No one can know…No one…

Jeremy Blaire flew up into the air, before shredding into a thousand bits of flesh and bone. Blood rained down, falling into Waylon’s eyes. When he finally was able to blink away the ruddy drops, he saw the remains of a designer suit situated near a spine and pelvic bone.

“It’s not your fault,” said Waylon.

“It’s a little bit my fault,” said Miles, frowning. “I’ve killed people. Good people, bad people, I don’t even mind killing people, anymore. The swarm, it makes that all more bearable for me. Like the pain thing. I told you--I’m a monster.”

“No, you’re not, you’re the unwilling subject in an evil scientist’s sinister experiment,” said Waylon. “You’ve been with it all this time, do you think there’s a way to get rid of it? Do you think you could shut it off?”

A soft humming noise kicked up. Before, Waylon would have thought the air conditioner had switched on in another room. He knew better.

“I don’t think it would even let me think about that,” said Miles, chuckling.

“I see,” said Waylon, frowning. “It must be so hard, having to deal with that, day in and day out.”

“Meh,” said Miles, grinning as he held out his hands. “Humans are incredibly adaptable. You’d be surprised. It’s not all bad. I’m strong, I’m healthy, the swarm heals just about anything I manage to do to myself.”

“But you’re still covered with so many scars,” said Waylon.

“The swarm needs me alive—not pretty,” said Miles, laughing.

“You are, though,” said Waylon, before biting his lip. “Er, handsome, I mean. You’re handsome.”

“Look, I know last night, you were scared away by the swarm, and I get that, I can keep it under control, and out of our business, but it is safe, in case you were wondering. I’ve, hmm, well, experimented? With this aspect of the swarm, and, uh, it ain’t bad.”

“I know,” said Waylon, staring down at his cast to avoid Miles’ eyes.

“How could you know?” asked Miles.

“I may have walked in on you, in Italy, having some, alone time,” said Waylon.

“What? I never had any time to jerk off in Italy, I mean, maybe one time, but…”

“Yeah, I came back early, and saw it fucking you, or, you fucking yourself, however you want to call it…”

Miles laughed, bringing his hand up to cover his face. He managed to at least look slightly embarrassed. “But wait, if you saw me, and the swarm, how did you not know about it?! You saw it, with your own eyes!”

“I saw it in Kyoto, too,” said Waylon. Miles response was to hold out both hands, as though waiting for Waylon to place the answer in them.

“I’ve been in therapy for years, I suffer from hallucinations, from delusions. You’ve seen how I can get! When I see the Walrider fucking my roommate, I don’t think ‘oh, the Walrider is real’ I think ‘there goes my broken brain again.’ I take pictures, sometimes, to prove to myself something isn’t real, but it didn’t seem very appropriate to take a picture of you like that…”

“So you saw me, and you’ve known for a month or so now that you saw the actual Walrider with me in bed, and you still came to Florida?”

Waylon grinned, and nodded.

“You’re…you really wanted to see me, still.”

Another nod. Waylon accidentally put too much weight onto his cast, and swayed off-balance for a moment. Miles hand was quickly on his arm, keeping him upright.

“We can fix that,” said Miles. He jerked his chin toward Waylon’s ankle. “Your ankle, we can fix that.”

“H-how?” asked Waylon.

“Do you want us to?” asked Miles.

Waylon didn’t trust himself to speak, but he managed to nod. Miles led him over to the brown, leather couch. He sat down, and Miles sat beside him, their legs touching.

“What do I do?” asked Waylon, fighting to keep his heart from racing out of control.

“You just relax,” said Miles. His eyes grew darker, until all Waylon could see was his own frightened eyes reflected on the shiny, black surface. The air was heavier, somehow--hazy, like walking around a bonfire. Each breath seemed to fill Waylon’s lungs to capacity.

Then he felt it. A strange, warm sensation in his ankle. Waylon’s first reaction was to grab his leg, and hiss, but he fought to keep himself still.

“Does it hurt?” asked Miles.

“Not really,” said Waylon. He tried to give a reassuring smile, but he found Miles’ black eyes unsettling. A feeling like having his foot wake up from falling asleep spread slowly. Pins and needles. Waylon finally had to hiss.

“It’s a small fracture,” said Miles, reaching out to rest a hand against Waylon’s knee. “But, Park, what happened?”

“I fell out a window? Well, technically, jumped out a window.”

“No,” said Miles, lightly stroking Waylon’s arm. “You’re so sore, so much tension, and you’ve been so hungry, and your veins, it feels like they were stabbed a thousand times. And…your head.” Miles reached up and gently put two fingers to Waylon’s temple. “What did they do?”

Heat pricked at Waylon’s eyes, but he forced a smile. “It’s nothing big. Feds just ran a lot of tests. They took blood, and some shock treatment stuff, and…at one point they made me watch the Morphogenic Engine images…”

“Dammit,” sighed Miles, and he closed his black eyes. Something about how solemn Miles looked—how sincere. Like he was Jesus healing the lepers.

“I’ll kill them all,” said Miles.

Maybe not exactly like Jesus.

“W-what?” asked Waylon.

“I’ll kill everyone that hurt you, all of them, I have ways of getting to anyone, I will…”

“Miles, that is never, what I would want,” said Waylon.

“They hurt you,” said Miles. “I’ll hunt them down, I’ve done it before…”

“Murkoff is a big organization, but Miles, this is the United States fucking Government, be reasonable…”

“I’ll rip apart those responsible…”

“And in what world is that a normal reaction?” asked Waylon, shaking his head. The burning, tingling sensation in his ankle seemed to have flowed outward into his bloodstream, and down every extremity. He felt heavy, as though he would sink into the couch.

Miles’ black eyes remained unblinking as he stared toward the TV, once again rotating through paintings.

“If we’re going to get better, if we’re going to be normal, we can’t, you can’t keep murdering people…”

“It doesn’t bother me,” said Miles.

“Well, it bothers me…”

Miles’ eyes snapped to Waylon’s in that instant, and he began to blink normally. He stared down at Waylon’s cast.

“Don’t need that anymore.” The cast loosened, and fell to the ground, all the bandages and pieces coming apart simultaneously.

“Fuck,” said Waylon, shaking off some of the loose pieces. “You can’t do that, what if I still need it!”

“You don’t.”

Waylon stared at his foot as though it were no longer his own—some alien appendage attached to his skeleton. Yet when he wiggled his toes, they felt good. Strong. There was not the usual muscle fatigue he had experienced after wearing a cast after Mount Massive. He felt…whole.

“How come you never offered to do this in Italy?” asked Waylon, still flexing, and unflexing, his ankle.

“There was nothing physically wrong with you, we can’t heal brains,” said Miles, snorting. “I mean, we can heal brain matter, but, we can’t do anything about grief, or depression. Otherwise, I’d be in better mental shape.”

“I think you’re doing fine, all things considered,” said Waylon, under his breath. He dared to put slight pressure on his foot, pressing into the floor without putting any weight. It didn’t hurt. “But the killing thing, it has to stop.”

“I can’t promise that,” said Miles, quietly. The buzzing in the room grew slightly louder, even as Miles’ eyes slowly returned to their normal gray. “Sometimes, it’s not my decision.”

“Start making it your decision, Jesus Christ,” said Waylon, shaking his head. “What happened in Como, that was a special situation. What happened before then, that’s all Murkoff’s fault, you couldn’t control it, but, you can now. You can stop fighting Murkoff, they’re gone. You have to make the swarm obey.”

“As if it’s that easy,” scoffed Miles. “Do you have any idea what it’s like, having this, strange thing in your brain, thinking in code and computer language?”

Implementing necessary protocols. Play it cool.

“Uh, yeah, that would be…strange. But listen, it’s over, you don’t have to take up a new crusade, you can just, focus on…healing…”

“Speaking of healing,” said Miles, grinning as he stood up. He extended a hand down to Waylon. “Try it out?”

With a deep breath, Waylon accepted Miles hand and stood from the couch. He frowned.

“What’s wrong? What do you feel?”

“Nothing,” said Waylon, laughing. “It’s healed!

“Still not running away?” asked Miles.

“Hell no,” said Waylon, squeezing Miles’ hand that he was still holding.

“Then, want to take a walk?”


The beach was not like the ones in travel brochures. The sand was coarse and brown, and the walkway passed through a thicket of palms and grass. Waylon sat on a towel, next to Miles, watching the waves. There was nothing to be excited about, but there were some whitecaps.

They spent the afternoon, walking through the shallows, tossing shells into the ocean, and looking for the tell tale splash of a porpoise in the water.

Eventually, they settled down on the towels they had left waiting for them near the walkway. They sat down, together, resting. Waylon swatted at unseen insects.

“Sand fleas,” said Miles, lifting up on his elbows while laying down on his towel. “Sorry, they get bad this time of year.”

“Why would you want to go to a beach with fleas?” asked Waylon.

“It’s right across the street,” said Miles, grinning. “And they stopped noticing me. Guess they don’t have a taste for nanites.”

“Lucky.”

“Yeah, so lucky to have my body invaded by a metallic parasite,” said Miles.

The wind was loud on the beach, but Waylon and Miles were blessedly alone. They could speak as loud as necessary.

“When I first met you, I never would have imagined you retiring in Florida…”

“I’m full of surprises,” said Miles. “I don’t know, I always felt drawn to this place. My dad was from Miami, but I never knew him. He left my mom, fucked off to Puerto Rico somewhere, and we didn’t hear another word from him until notice of his death, and a small inheritance, came through.”

“Sorry for your loss.”

“Like I even cared,” said Miles, exhaling through his nose. “I had my mom, and my sister. They supported me. Helped me get into college, supported my career choice. They bought copies of any magazine that published me, and even got over the whole name change thing.”

“You changed your name?” asked Waylon.

“Kinda, more like a pen name,” said Miles.

“What’d you change it to?” asked Waylon.

“Miles Upshur.”

“Wait, so…hold on, I don’t even know your name?”

“You do,” said Miles, grinning. “I mean, it’s Miles now. Has been for over ten years to anyone I meet, and all of my published works. But yeah, it’s a pseudonym, I picked it out. It’s a play on words, get it? Miles Upshur? As in, miles up shore without a paddle?”

Waylon pursed his lips. “I always heard it as ‘up shit’s creek without a paddle.’”

“Well, Miles Upshit didn’t have the same ring.”

There was a pause as Waylon attempted not to laugh, and failed. He turned and found himself staring at Miles. He looked tanned and healthy, not nearly as gray as before.

“That’s why the agents couldn’t track you,” said Waylon, chuckling to himself.

“Who was trying to track me?”

“Perry,” said Waylon, squinting at the horizon where a large cargo ship was just barely visible. “He was suspicious. He said before we left in Kyoto, there was a suspected Walrider murder, and then Como, and all of it happened when you showed up, except they couldn’t find anything for Miles Upshur.”

“Well, they could find my writing,” said Miles, forehead creasing. “I had some blogs, or whatever. But all the contact information is grossly outdated. Those travel documents are all forgeries I paid cash for, so I could investigate under my pseudonym. I worried they wouldn’t work in Kyoto, and I’d have to turn that whole embassy inside out…”

“So they really can’t track you? They can’t find you here?” asked Waylon.

“Nah,” said Miles, grinning. “I had enemies before this, Murkoff was pissed off about that water article, but they weren’t the only ones. I was careful.”

“So I’m safe then, if I stay here?”

“Yeah,” said Miles, and when Waylon turned his head their eyes met. “Stay as long as you like.”

“Miles, there’s something very important that I need to ask you,” said Waylon.

Miles’ body tensed, but he kept his eyes focused on Waylon’s. “Yeah?”

“Can I,” Waylon had to pause to wet his lips. They had grown salty from the sea spray. “I mean, if it’s not too much trouble, could I possibly…clean your house?”


The rest of the afternoon was spent with Waylon dusting, scrubbing, and organizing Miles’ living room, bathrooms, and kitchen. Miles watched Waylon work in silent amusement most of the time, and clicked away at his computer for the rest.

The dust and clutter was the main problem in the living room. The bathroom and kitchen were not overly dirty, but Waylon liked for everything to gleam, and smell of bleach. He started some laundry, and blushed when he found himself folding Miles’ boxers. There were other rooms in the house, but Waylon would have to tackle them another day.

He was just finishing making the bed, when Miles called him into the kitchen for dinner. It was off-brand macaroni and cheese.

“Not much of a cook, are you?” asked Waylon.

“Out of practice,” said Miles, chomping away at a spoonful of food.

“I noticed the bare cupboards when I got here…what were you eating?”

“Not much,” said Miles, shrugging. “My body’s pretty efficient. Eating isn’t that high on the list of priorities. I can go without it for a long time.”

“How?!”

“Oh, I was lured into this asylum during a riot by some jerk, and came away with nanites living in my bones, so…”

“Smartass.”

The two chewed on in silence. The cheese was from a powder. It tasted gritty. Waylon would have to take over that chore, as well. Just like in Italy. The thought made Waylon smile.

“Truth is, before I caught up to you in Kyoto, I wasn’t taking very good care of myself,” said Miles, forking the last of his noodles. “You were the first person to take care of me in a really long time.”

“I took care of you?” asked Waylon, snickering into his bowl. “I thought you were just, laughing at me the whole time, for what a mess I was.”

“Nah,” said Miles, setting down his fork, and wiping cheese sauce off of his face. “You were considerate of me. I knew I was being fucking pathetic, falling for some guy just because he gave me some food, and let me sleep on his bed. Like some kinda stray dog.”

Waylon paused, fork in hand. He knew his cheeks must be blazing red. Falling for some guy? “I thought you would never go for a guy like me. I didn’t even know you liked men until that night when…”

“Ah,” said Miles, staring down at the table. “Yeah, that guy. I was wondering if you’d bring that up.”

“I’m bringing it up,” said Waylon, staring hard at Miles’ face. He looked charmingly befuddled.

“I didn’t think I had a chance with you, and I was horny, couldn’t get you out of my head—it was…frustrating, so I guess I just wanted some kinda relief, and, come on, you saw it, that guy was begging for it…”

“You didn’t even want to ask me, first? If you were having feelings, seems like you’d want to ask before just crawling into some stranger’s bed…”

“Look, I dated a guy, in college,” said Miles, scratching at his head, absentmindedly. “We weren’t actually dating, I guess. But we were friends, and he allowed some things. Just too nice to tell me ‘no’ completely, I guess. Right after college, he went on a trip to Vegas, and ended up getting married to a chick he hardly knew.”

“Hah,” said Wayon, giving a snide grin. “How’d that work out for him?”

“Oh, they’re happily married,” said Miles, pushing his hair back. “Three kids.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah, well, I swore off straight guys after that,” said Miles, exhaling through his nose. “And married guys, too.”

The silence that followed was so complete, Waylon took extra care when setting his fork down, as though afraid to make any noise. He knew Miles was watching him. Waylon cleared his throat.

“But, I’m not…”

“You’re not married?” asked Miles.

“No, I’m married, but I don’t think I’m straight.”

Miles grinned. It started small, then grew into a face splitting smile. It was contagious, and soon Waylon was grinning, too.

“You liked it last night?” asked Miles.

Waylon nodded.

“I have something even better planned, for tonight,” said Miles. Waylon’s smile vanished, and he met Miles’ eyes. Oh God, he was serious.

“Um, about that, I’ve never actually been with a man, and I’m worried, not because it’s you, but just, because…”

“You don’t have to be afraid,” said Miles, his smile softening. “We can go as slow as you like. I’m going to make it feel good for you.”

“I’m nervous,” said Waylon.

Miles pushed his bowl away, and leaned far across the table. The wood creaked, but he leaned until he was close enough to press his lips to Waylon’s. “Don’t worry,” he said, pulling back slightly, “I’ll treat you like a virgin.”

“I have two kids, I’m not a virgin,” said Waylon, pressing his lips to Miles even though he could not stop smiling completely. Then, he paused. “The Walrider?”

“We can go slow,” said Miles, sighing against Waylon’s lips. “Until you’re comfortable. But, it’ll always be there, you understand? It’s…part of me. We’re a package deal.”

Waylon nodded, reaching out to wrap his hand around Miles’ neck to keep him close. They kissed again, slow and patient. Waylon’s tongue traced the seam of Miles’ barely parted lips. It was only just past dinner, but Waylon felt an intense urge to head to bed early.

“No Xena tonight?” asked Miles, as though reading Waylon’s mind.

“I knew you’d like it,” said Waylon, grinning. “You okay with skipping a night?”

Miles’ answer was a growl, followed by standing, and pulling Waylon roughly to his feet. He started to hop and favor his injured ankle, until he remembered that Miles had healed him. Waylon raced after Miles.

The lights were off, but the glow from the hallway lit the bedroom enough that Waylon could see Miles clearly. His gray eyes seemed dark, though from dilation and not from the Walrider. At least, not at that moment.

Miles pulled his own shirt over his head, and tossed it in the corner. Waylon glanced down, and reached out a shy hand. Fingertips trailed down Miles’ toned chest, his stomach, his sides. Waylon leaned in and pressed a soft kiss to Miles’ shoulder.

Frustration and desire threatened to overpower Waylon. He had never wanted anything so badly, while having no idea how to ask for it. Miles’ stomach trembled when Waylon’s fingers drifted lower. He hooked a finger into Miles’ waistband, tugging his shorts lower.

A soft chuckle vibrated in Miles’ chest. Waylon felt his cheeks go warm, but he persisted with unfastening Miles’ pants. He pressed another kiss onto Miles’ neck once the shorts were undone, and shoved a hand down the front.

Miles yelped, grabbing Waylon’s wrists. “Eager?”

“I want you to fuck me,” said Waylon, immediately regretting his phrasing. His erotic speaking ability was severely lacking.

“Then lay down,” said Miles, a lazy grin spreading across his face. Waylon jumped to follow orders, laying back onto the mattress.

“I don’t really know…”

“Leave it to me,” said Miles, still grinning. He reached out once Waylon was reclined, and slid Waylon’s shirt over his head. He stared down in the low light, and Waylon could not read his expression. Miles’ shortened finger trailed along Waylon’s bare torso. He honed in on the puckered scar on Waylon’s side.

It looked bad—Waylon knew. A stab wound, courtesy of Jeremy Blaire. Miles had been there when it happened. Miles bent at the waist to bend down and press a soft kiss to the raised flesh.

Miles’ lips continued to move as he pulled down Waylon’s loose pants. Waylon hissed an inhale when his erection sprang free, and Miles glanced down to take in the sight. He was still staring when he stood up, and unbuttoned his own pants.

When Miles cock came into view, Waylon stared. Miles was bigger than him—at least, slightly. Should he feel embarrassed? All Waylon felt was hungry.

Miles’ touch ignited a fire under Waylon’s skin. Everywhere Miles’ fingers traveled left a burning sensation in their wake. Across his chest, down his stomach, up his thighs. Waylon forgot how to breathe, when Miles cupped his balls, and pressed a finger underneath.

Slowly, Miles crawled onto the mattress. Strong thighs settled on either side of Waylon’s hips. Miles’ swollen cock hung between them.

“You look so good,” said Miles.

Waylon failed to form an answer, too busy staring at Miles’ body, naked and tan, sitting astride his hips. Waylon slid his own hands up to tease Miles’ inner thighs. The moan from Miles’ lips was too rewarding for Waylon not to repeat the movements.

When Miles leaned over, Waylon kissed him, and wrapped his arms around his back. He clutched Miles close, their bodies pressing together. When Miles attempted to get some space between then, Waylon only pulled tighter.

“Sorry,” said Miles, chuckling. “Just trying to get…”

Miles finished the sentence when a plastic bottle appeared in his hand. Waylon’s temperature spiked. Lube, no doubt. He had been expecting it to show up eventually. Miles leaned down to kiss his heated cheeks.

“Don’t worry, I want to be close to you, too. Connected, close.”

Waylon watched, mesmerized, as Miles slid off of his hips and onto the bed. He opened the bottle, and coated his hand. There was an automatic tensing when Miles turned to look in his eyes, and reached his hand down toward Waylon’s crotch.

“Go slow,” said Waylon, voice trembling.

“Shh, of course,” said Miles, “just relax.”

A slick hand wrapped around Waylon’s cock at the end of the sentence. Waylon inhaled sharply, staring down his body. He had never found the slide of his own skin so enthralling. Miles’ hand pushed and pulled, the slick movements absolute bliss. Waylon’s hips bucked unconsciously into that touch.

Fingers drifted lower. Warm fingers squeezed Waylon’s sack before dipping lower, spreading lube over his perineum until it was dripping down the crack of his ass. Miles warm hand and the lube were a lethal combination. If it weren’t for his nerves, Waylon would have finished by that point.

Waylon’s eyes flew open. Miles hand had stopped, and he was adjusting himself between Waylon’s legs, pushing them slightly open.

“Ready?” asked Miles.

Huh? Shouldn’t there be more preparations? Waylon trusted Miles, but he feared the possibility of hurting himself—even if Miles could heal him, good as new. Before Waylon could voice his concerns, Miles climbed on top of Waylon and grabbed his cock, lining it up to his own slick hole.

Everything moved slow, as though Waylon were watching a dream. Miles swiped the head of Waylon’s cock back and forth across his slick entrance. Waylon suspected Miles had received help preparing himself, but he was beyond caring. Miles adjusted his lips, and slowly sank down until Waylon’s cock breached his tight ring.

Hands flew to Miles’ hips, clutching his skin, staring in disbelief as inch after inch disappeared inside. Miles was tighter than anything Waylon had felt before. He moaned, struggling to keep his hips still. A slutty groan escaped from Miles the moment their hips met, flush together.

“Fuck, it’s been too long,” said Miles, his words clipped. “I forgot how much better a dick feels.” Waylon wondered what else Miles was using, until he remembered Italy. An experimental roll of Miles’ hips chased away all thoughts.

Miles gripped Waylon’s thighs, as he leaned back slightly, and rocked his hips. Waylon was mesmerized by the way Miles’ cock slapped down to his hit abdomen on each downward push. The way he could move so fluidly. They were truly connected.

“Goddamn,” said Waylon. He bucked his hips off the mattress, spearing Miles. The moan was automatic. Quiet panting, damp flesh together. Waylon threw his head back onto the mattress.

“So good,” said Waylon. He touched Miles everywhere he could reach, before taking him firmly in hand. Why had he been so nervous? Miles on top of him was sublime.

Miles braced his hands on Waylon’s chest, and leaned forward, slightly. Waylon glanced down just in time to watch as his hand milked out a long strand of precome that dripped onto his own abdomen.

Waylon wrapped his fingers around Miles, and squeezed, drawing out an obscene moan, and fresh dribbles. Miles’ mouth hung open as he rode Waylon. There was no sign of pain from Miles. On the contrary, he looked euphoric, watching Waylon through lidded eyes. He pushed his ass down on Waylon with quick, steady movements.

Waylon closed his eyes, lost in the moment. Miles’ moaning, his own heavy breathing, the squelch of sweaty skin, and the creak of the mattress. His eyes flew open when he felt Miles’ hands on his chest.

Miles was hunched over, still grinding as though some automatic response would not allow him to quit. His cock throbbed in Waylon’s hand, but he used his other arm to wrap around Miles’ neck, pulling him down for a kiss.

All the dirty things Waylon couldn’t find the courage to say out loud, he attempted to communicate with his tongue. Miles’ mouth held open as he moaned, submitted to Waylon’s tongue, while his hand continued to pump, clumsy and off tempo.

The first warning was Miles’ hands grabbing Waylon’s shoulders, and blunt nails digging into his skin. His movements paused while he writhed on Waylon’s cock. Then the first spurts sprayed out, the initial burst so powerful some managed to hit Waylon’s chin. He continued to stroke Miles through his orgasm, staring at the mess pooling on his stomach.

The tight ring round Waylon pulsed through Miles’ climax. It wouldn’t be long.

“Miles,” gasped Waylon, releasing Miles’ cock to grab Miles’ ass with his sticky hands. “I’m gonna…you need to move, and…”

“No,” said Miles, panting and staring with black eyes. “Pump me full.” Miles leaned down and sucked at Waylon’s bottom lip. “I want you leaking out of me for hours, show me how good it feels when we’re together.”

Waylon growled in response, gripping Miles’ ass hard enough to bruise. His hips jerked up, off the mattress, driving himself deep into Miles. He plunged repeatedly into that tight heat, Miles’ cries ringing in the air like music to his ears.

“Harder…”

Hips responded as though they had a mind of their own, rutting mindlessly. Each thrust rocked Miles’ entire body, parting his insides, reaching new depths. Waylon groaned, his hands sliding up Miles’ lower back, before dragging short nails down his skin.

A strangled cry announced Waylon’s arrival. He moaned, and held himself buried inside of Miles, as he washed Miles insides with come.

It took a few moments of heavy breathing for Waylon to remember where he was—and who he was with. The warm, sweaty body draped over him was Miles. His lover. The fact that he went from having no one to sharing himself completely with another person hit him hard.

Waylon would blame his unstable emotions, or his mental condition, for what followed. Waylon wrapped his arms around Miles, and squeezed him tightly to his chest. He kissed Miles’ sweaty brown hair, and exhaled into untidy tresses. He kept his face buried there, hidden.

Miles stayed on top, unmoving, except to bring his own hands up to gently push through Waylon’s short blond hair. The embrace carried on.

“Waylon?” asked Miles, turning his head to kiss softly at Waylon's’ cheek. “You okay?”

“Yesh,” was Waylon’s muffled response, his mouth still pressed into Miles’ hair.

“Did you like it?” asked Miles.

“Uh huh,” said Waylon, before sniffling. The noise made Miles pull up, and stare down at Waylon, a frightened look on his face. Waylon was comforted to see Miles’ eyes were gray again, instead of glassy black.

“What’s wrong?” asked Miles, the color draining from his flushed cheeks. He lifted his hips slightly, allowing Waylon’s cock to slip out from inside of him. Waylon felt the fresh drips on his thighs from his come escaping.

“Nothing, nothing, I promise,” said Waylon, tightening his grip, afraid Miles would pull away from him. Miles allowed himself to be pulled closer, though his movements were strained—tense. “Just, please, just…stay here. Like this. Don’t move. I want to…hold you.”

Miles paused for a moment, before relaxing into Waylon’s arms, and lying against his chest. No doubt he heard the sniffles, but he politely ignored them.

The warm darkness in the room soothed them both to sleep.

Chapter Text

Of course, he would dream about Lisa.

Chestnut hair. Sapphire eyes. The way her eyes scrunched up when she was laughing—really laughing, nothing fake. When she looked like she wished she weren’t laughing, but there was no stopping it. The way she laughed at Trevor’s first attempts at jokes. They weren’t funny at all. But Lisa couldn’t stop laughing.

He wasn’t surprised that his sick subconscious would torture him with sweet dreams of his wife, the moment he jumped over the edge into a physical relationship with someone new. With Miles.

Waylon woke to light warming the back of his eyelids. His first instinct was to reach out, feeling for Miles.

Nothing.

Waylon opened his eyes, and jumped.

“Jesus,” said Waylon, chuckling. “I thought you weren’t in bed.” Waylon rubbed at his sleep crusted eyes, and yawned. It slowly registered that he was still naked. He grasped for the covers, pulling them up to his chin.

Miles sat on the far side of the bed, knees pulled up to his chest, and arms resting around them. He was also naked, though he seemed unconcerned. He stared at the far wall, and made no movements when Waylon spoke.

“Did you sleep okay?” asked Waylon, frowning at Miles’ expression. His brows were low, and for the entire time Waylon had been watching him, Miles did not blink. The humming sound in the air was disconcerting.

“Miles?”

“What?”

“Is something wrong?” asked Waylon.

With the speed of a snail, Miles turned his head until he could stare at Waylon out of the corner of his eye. At least Waylon could see his irises. Gray.

“Oh,” said Waylon, frowning. “Last night?”

Miles remained unmoving.

“Ah, okay, I did something wrong…”

Miles exhaled through his nose, and turned to look in the opposite direction.

“I’m sorry,” said Waylon, sitting up, but keeping the blankets pulled firmly around his waist. “I’ve never had sex with another guy before, and I haven’t had sex with anyone in over three years. I was kinda overwhelmed. I thought it was…good…no, better than good, it was…um, super good?”

Miles exhaled a short laugh through his nose.

“I was probably horrible, I didn’t really know what I was doing,” said Waylon. “I’m sorry if I disappointed you, somehow. I can do better, maybe, just need practice…I don’t mean right now, I mean, like, when you’re in a better mood, I would never…”

“I’m an idiot,” said Miles. His arms dropped to his side on the bed, and he leaned back until his head struck the headboard. He stared straight up, unmoving. “I was so sure, ya know? That I could win you over—that things would be different, this time. And I wanted you so bad, I just convinced myself that you would choose me.”

“Choose you?” asked Waylon. He couldn’t determine if Miles was talking nonsense, or if his own sleep addled brain was having trouble keeping up. “I don’t understand.”

“Why did you come here?” asked Miles.

“Whatever I did wrong, I’ll fix it, I was really turned on, I don’t know what I did, could you please just tell me? I can adapt, and I’ll do whatever it takes to satisfy you, and…”

“You can’t satisfy me,” said Miles.

There was no warning. Waylon’s eyes stung for the briefest second, and then tears were falling. He sniveled out loud, before he could stop himself. Miles only rolled his eyes, and stared away.

“Crying about it isn’t going to change anything,” said Miles. “You cried last night. You’re crying now. You spent all night calling out your wife’s name. I get it. You made a mistake. You’re married. I knew better than to get drawn in, but I start thinking with my dick, and now we’re in a mess.”

“Miles, you’re wrong,” said Waylon, voice thick, and sniffles breaking off his sentence.

“You’re right about that—I am wrong, and I’ve wronged you,” said Miles, sighing. His fists clenched at his sides. Waylon stared at his shortened fingers through his teary eyes.

“I don’t…”

“I knew you were married, and I still came onto you, and developed feelings, and I let you make bad decisions, and seduced you, and forced things on you, and now…”

“You didn’t, fucking, force anything on me!”

“You should go home to your wife. You think you’re not ready, but you are. You function one thousand times better than I do. You can do it. You should go. You’ll be happier with your family. Happier without me weighing you down.”

“You’re misunderstanding, I’m much better with you, you help me, and…”

“This is the kindest thing I can do for you, trust me. Murkoff’s done, it’s over, go home.”

“Go…where?!”

“Colorado? I don’t know. Wherever you want to live. Go pick up Lisa, and your kids, and live your life. It won’t get any easier to adjust to living a normal life by being here with me. The longer you stay, the worse it’ll be, honestly. For you, but also for me. Sorry, I’m a selfish asshole, and self-preservation is a high priority of my protocol. The longer you stay, the more I’ll rely on you, and you have to go back, so…”

“Would you just, shut up,” said Waylon. He scrubbed at his face, irritated that the tears would not stop. “Don’t I get a say in this? I want to be with you. And Lisa…”

“You can’t be with me, and Lisa, no matter how open minded she is, I doubt we,” he gestured only at himself, “could handle that. We’re rather possessive.”

“Listen to me, for a goddamn second,” said Waylon, through clenched teeth. Anger dried his tears. Waylon felt sweaty. Dizzy. Like standing at the edge of a tall precipice. He had spent so many years only looking ahead, ignoring the gaping chasm directly in front of him, threatening to engulf him whole.

“I don’t have a home to go back to,” said Waylon. He sniffed, and wiped his nose on the back of his hand. “Murkoff burnt my home to the ground. It wasn’t even that close to the trial, I had already stood witness, I don’t know…I don’t know why they bothered, other than revenge. An attempt at disaster management, I don’t…I don’t know.”

Waylon pressed his fingertips into his cheeks, and attempted to push away the remaining moisture. He stared at Miles, and the coldness there only made him want to tear up anew.

“The flames, they started in the kitchen. Someone spread the accelerant all throughout the house, but ignited it in the kitchen, near the stove.” Waylon shook his head. “I saw the smoke in the room, and…”

Miles listened, but he was still frowning so hard it probably hurt.

“You know how I am,” said Waylon, sighing. He hung his head, closing his eyes. He didn’t want to think about that night—never wanted to think about that night. The memories were filed away in the same place as his asylum experiences.

“Suddenly, I was in the morgue, trapped in a box. The flames were licking at me. I fought—I screamed, I pushed, and hit, and tried to fight my way out. The cannibal, I mean, Frank, he was chasing me, and I could hear nothing but that damn buzzsaw, and the crackle of flames, and I just, I ran, and I ran…”

“When I resurfaced in reality, I was outside, it was freezing, and I was in nothing but my boxers. My son, Trevor, was on the grass beside me, crying. And I was, so confused, just, looking from Trevor, to the flames, and back to Trevor. I didn’t know what was real. And then Lisa brought out our youngest son. Wrapped in a thick blanket. She dropped the bundle on the ground, and I had to jump to slap out some flames.”

“Waylon, that’s not your fault,” said Miles. “You had an episode, and you couldn’t help your family escape, that’s not your fault. At least everyone got out alive.”

“Lisa…” Waylon’s body was shaking the entire bed, but he was powerless to stop it.

“Lisa was burnt—it was bad. I couldn’t help her. The rescue team arrived, she said she would be fine. She was strong. She rescued both of the boys, single-handedly. I believed her. There was some smoke inhalation, and visible burns, I thought they looked so bad, but she said it was nothing, she was so strong.

“I immediately went into FBI custody,” continued Waylon. “I was obviously the target, so I was flown away that very night. Lisa went to the hospital, the kids went to Lisa’s parents’ house. I was sent to an embassy in South Africa.

“I was sitting in some shitty, unairconditioned office, when someone told me, as an after thought, that my wife didn’t make it. That my wife was dead. Lisa was dead.”

When Waylon dared a glance up from his hands, he saw Miles’ brow creased.

“Your wife is dead? But…you write to her all the time?”

“I wrote to her in the asylum, it helped me survive,” said Waylon, his voice hoarse. “I thought writing to her while on the run could help me, too.”

“Hold up, I watched you call her…”

“I paid cash in advance to have her voicemail kept active, up to five years. It’s only a short little message, but…It’s like she’s talking to me, again.”

“So you’re not actually married?”

I am fucking married,” snarled Waylon. “I’m married to Lisa, forever.”

“Waylon, you’re upset, obviously, and you feel responsible, though you should know, no one would blame you for what happened, I seriously doubt Lisa blamed you.”

Waylon took a long inhale, and it stuttered as he released it moments later.

“You’re right, though,” said Waylon. “I was upset last night, because of Lisa. Because I haven’t felt that intimate toward another person since Lisa. I never thought I would feel that again. I was impotent, after the riot, not counting the nightly sex dreams starring Gluskin and Manera.”

Waylon shivered. Best not to think about that.

“I couldn’t get it up, even with pills. And that changed when I met you, and felt attracted to you. And last night wasn’t casual sex for me, it meant…sorry, if it spoiled the moment.”

“That’s okay,” said Miles. “I didn’t know. About Lisa.”

“I-I’ve never…I’ve never said it. Out loud, I mean. I’ve never said to anyone, that she’s dead. Like if I never said it, it made her less buried and gone. I don’t know. Not like I have the healthiest mind to begin with…”

“You do good,” said Miles, shifting closer to Waylon on the bed. “I was impressed with your strength, from the moment we met.” A shortened finger reached out to brush away a tear.

“The moment you chased me down in Kyoto? Followed me to my apartment? Put a gun to my head?”

Miles laughed. “I expected tears! You were going to beg for your life, and we would overpower you, and force you into our plan, or finish what we started last time I saw you in the asylum.”

Waylon frowned, rubbing his snotty nose. “Sorry to disappoint.”

“On the contrary,” said Miles, inching ever closer to where Waylon lie. “I was the opposite of disappointed. Waylon Park. Consulting contract 8208. Patient 2356. The Whistleblower. Staring down a gun. Daring me to pull the trigger.”

“It wasn’t loaded.”

“You know I didn’t need bullets.”

“So that’s why you didn’t kill me?”

“Well, also, you agreed to the plan. And you were interesting. And, doing much better than me…”

It was Waylon’s turn to laugh. “Yeah right.”

“I wasn’t living well,” said Miles, moving closer still until he could push his face against Waylon’s shoulder. “I felt dead. At least, not human. No need to eat. Powering down didn’t feel like sleeping. No dreams. Sometimes, I couldn’t tell what was me, and what was it, until there was no differentiation. I was it; it was me. We performed a task, and there was no joy to be had. Until I met you. And I had to pretend to be human again.”

Waylon slid an arm around Miles’ shoulders.

“Damn,” he chuckled, to himself. “I thought you were doing so great. I’m sitting in a shitty, empty apartment, afraid of outside germs, suffering hallucinations and flashbacks, night terrors…I probably would have given up, if not for my kids.”

“They’re alive—actually alive, right?” asked Miles.

Waylon sighed, pushing his lips into Miles’ hair. “Yeah. I haven’t seen them in three years, but last I heard, they’re alive—and well. I had to sign over full custody to my in-laws, though…”

“That’s bullshit,” said Miles, shaking his head, causing tresses to tickle Waylon’s nose. “They shouldn’t take away your kids, just because…”

“It was for them,” said Waylon. There were no tears, only a calm voice. “It made more sense, for their well-being, to make my in-laws their legal guardians. I’m still allowed to be in their lives.”

“You think they would be okay with you having contact?” asked Miles.

“Okay?” asked Waylon, chuckling. “They’re dying for it. I get regular updates on the kids, via the FBI. They’re doing so well. And they want to see me. But, I’m going to disappoint them, horribly. That’s why I need to be well, before I go back into their lives.”

“They’ll understand, after everything you’ve been through…”

“That’s not the problem.”

“You can still see your sons, they’ll love you, even if you’re not perfect,” said Miles.

“You don’t understand,” said Waylon. “My in-laws, they’re great people, but they told my sons…well, they painted it like I’m some kind of hero.”

“Hero,” said Miles, as though the word were foreign. “Hero? Hmm. Maybe. I mean, you used a tiny slingshot to bring down a giant corporation.”

“I’m not a hero.”

“What is a hero, anyways…” asked Miles.

“No, I’m serious, I didn’t save anyone,” said Waylon. A few new tears slipped by, unnoticed, dampening Miles’ hair. “None of those patients survived, my email didn’t bring any help except you, and look how great that turned out. My life is in shambles, and Lisa is…”

“You did the right thing.”

“Don’t bullshit me—there’s no such thing,” spat Waylon. “You don’t even believe that. You chased me down, to kill me, for doing the ‘right’ thing.”

“True,” said Miles, chuckling.

“You know, I’m a little offended, that you thought I would cheat on my wife so easily.”

“I read your journal, I thought you were madly in love with this woman…”

“I am in love with Lisa, and that is a huge invasion of my privacy...”

“I mean, that you would want to be with her over anything, such devotion, but then you were making moves on me, and I wanted you, so…” Miles shrugged, still pressed against Waylon.

“I think I need you,” said Waylon, much quieter, as though whispering the secret into Miles’ hair. “If I ever want to see my sons again, and be a normal person, I need you. And maybe you need me, too.”

“You know what we both need?” asked Miles, pushing away and looking up at Waylon. A soft smile lit up his face as he pushed away the last dewy trails of tears. “A vacation. Let’s go into town.”


Four hours later, Waylon was sunburned, wearing a tie dyed shirt with “KEY WEST” in white, blocky letters. He carried a pink yard cup with a long straw, filled with frozen margarita. Miles carried an identical cup, wearing a brand new shirt with an outline of Florida and the words: America’s Penis.

“You’re the one that said we would do tourist things,” said Waylon.

“You’re a weird kind of tourist.”

“Buying t-shirts, and cheap drinks, is a vacation staple, c’mon.”

“Yeah, it’s cheap, but this is disgusting. It’s hardly even good margarita mix, it tastes like a lime Slushee. I make a good margarita.”

“I make a better margarita,” said Waylon, grinning. “Lisa loved them, so I learned how to make a good one.”

“We should grab some food, before we drink more tequila.”

They chose a seafood restaurant near the beach with weathered tables and chairs. Waylon ordered shrimp, and Miles ordered a hamburger. Waylon had rolled his eyes at the selection.

“The hamburger’s on the kid’s menu,” said Waylon.

“I feel like a burger.”

“It’s a seafood restaurant, they’re definitely not known for their Kids Meal Burger.”

“Criticizing my food choices, nice. What about you? You’re aware shrimp is meat, Mr. Vegetarian,” said Miles.

“I’m easing back into it,” said Waylon, shrugging. “Fish, shellfish especially, doesn’t look anything like…like that thing it looks like that I don’t ever want to think about before eating.”

“You’re a complicated guy, Park.”

“Oh great, the fucking cyborg thinks I’m complicated,” said Waylon, snorting.

The waiter interrupted, bringing water and bread to the table. Miles shifted in his chair, and stared into a corner of the restaurant.

“Key West is kind of cute, and the beach over here is way better than yours…”

“Whatever. They bring that sand in by the truckload, it’s not a real beach,” said Miles. When he spoke, his eyes never deviated from the spot in the corner.

Waylon turned around in his chair to look.

“Cut it out,” said Miles, pulling out a pair of black sunglasses. “I think we’re being watched.”

Waylon blinked his eyes, slowly. Deliberately. He gulped, and shook his head. “We’re good. We’ve been on the run for a long time. It’s natural to feel paranoid. But we’re safe.”

“Nah,” said Miles. His eyes were impossible to see behind the shades. “Definitely looking over here, interested in us.”

“Maybe it’s because your shirt has the word “Penis” on it.”

“Maybe that’s the last remains of Murkoff, or your Government pals.”

“Calm down,” said Waylon, reaching across the table, to touch Miles’ hands. “We’re okay. We can be safe here. You can handle anything that comes along, anyways.”

Both of them sat up straight, stopping the conversation, when the waiter reappeared with their food. Waylon picked up a shrimp, and hissed in pain. Boiling hot. Miles picked up his hamburger, and took a huge bite.

“Best burger I’ve had in awhile.”

“Go review it on Yelp,” said Waylon. “Let everyone know that Fishy’s Fish Shack has the best burgers in town, on the Kid’s Menu.”

“The guy’s still watching,” said Miles, his mouth full of burger. “We need to leave. Eat quick.”

“He’s probably watching because you’re wearing black-out shades indoors, and staring at him,” said Waylon. “You’re okay, Miles. You’ve gone through years of being paranoid about anyone, and everything, but it’s alright now. That’s behind us. I’ll take care of you.”

“You have it wrong, I’m taking care of you,” said Miles.

“I guess that’s true,” said Waylon, holding a shrimp by the tail and taking a bite. He chewed, happy that he could add something back to his menu. “I feel stronger when you’re here. I guess I just know that you can handle anything. You’re…superhuman.”

“Try subhuman,” said Mies, snorting. “Now finish those shrimp. We’ll stop at a liquor store, and see who actually makes the better margarita.”


Waylon took a sip directly from the pitcher. His face puckered up horribly. “Uh, just right.”

“That looked painful, I’m not drinking that,” said Miles, pouring a small glass from another pitcher. Miles had cut three entire limes into slivers, and dropped all of them into his pitcher.

“Don’t judge until you try it,” said Waylon. He grabbed the glass, and wet the rim, before shoving it onto a shallow dish of salt.

“Oh, fuck, I forgot the salt,” said Miles.

“It’s alright, I’ll pretend like you put some,” said Waylon.

“Thanks,” said Miles. He picked up his glass, and held it out. They swapped glasses.

“Too bad we don’t have a neutral party around,” said Waylon.

“Should have asked our spy to follow us home,” said Miles. “Wait, maybe he did.” Miles threw a suspicious glare toward the kitchen window.

“Stop it, you’re not funny,” said Waylon. “You won’t feel any better if you give into that kin of paranoia. You’ll feel better if you work on letting it go. I can give you some tips my psychiatrist gave me in the beginning. But come on, drink.”

Miles shrugged at the command, and brought the margarita up to his lips. He smacked his lips, and stared as Waylon took a drink from the glass Miles had prepared.

“Shit,” said Waylon, sputtering. “Ugh, Miles, this is just lime and tequila.”

“You said margarita,” said Miles.

“Yeah, this is way too sour, this isn’t a margarita, this is a tequila, with lime juice…”

“Oh, you think yours is better?” asked Miles, smacking his lips again. “So much triple sec and mix, I can barely taste the tequila.”

“That’s the idea,” said Waylon. “It’s better that way, sweeter.”

“The salt on the rim is good,” said Miles.

“The…the salt, really, that’s all you’re going to compliment?” asked Waylon.

Miles shrugged.

“Unbelievable.”

“Here, I know what’ll make it better,” said Miles, grinning as he took the glass out of Waylon’s hand, and poured it directly into his own.

“Hey! You’re wasting it now!”

Miles swirled the glass, now almost full to overflowing, in his hand, and took an experimental sip. His gray eyes lit up, and he took another, longer, sip. “Okay, this is good, try this.”

Waylon mumbled a complaint as Miles shoved the rim of the glass into his mouth, but then, he tasted the drink. He smiled at Miles. “Damn.”

“Right?” asked Miles, grinning. He grabbed two more glasses, and poured a fifty-fifty mix of his sour concoction, and Waylon’s sweet mess. The resulting margarita wasn’t half bad.

“I can’t drink too much tequila, I’m getting buzzed, already,” said Waylon.

“Lightweight,” said Miles, grinning. “Takes a lot to affect me. My body’s too efficient. Burns through any poisons faster than I can drink them. I give it my best shot, though.”

“Admirable,” said Waylon, draining his mixed drink, and mixing another glass.

“Sorry,” said Miles, causing Waylon to raise an eyebrow.

“What, specifically, for, this time?” asked Waylon.

“Ah, this morning,” said Miles, chuckling. “I should have listened, and talked to you, before assuming you were uh, gonna leave me like that.”

“I’m not going to leave you,” said Waylon, shaking his head. “You’re too quick to jump to the worst case scenario. You pushed me away in Italy, and then this morning.”

“I was nervous,” said Miles, looking down at his glass. “I figured, crying after sex, was a bad sign.”

Waylon groaned, and put his hand over his eyes. As if that could shield his shame.

“Sorry, about that. I, uh, fuck,” Waylon had to pause to laugh. “This is embarrassing but, I’ve really only ever been with one person, and I’ve never been one for casual sex. So, I know it was no big deal to you, but, it was a really huge deal to me, especially after, Lisa, and…”

“You’re wrong,” said Miles, bringing his cup up to pull some of the salt off of the rim with his lips. “It was a big deal for me, too.”

“When you thought I was cheating on my wife, I mean, I know why you thought that, but I hope you know, I’m actually…I wouldn’t do that, to someone. Ever.”

“Understood,” said Miles, smiling. “You were so nervous. It was sweet.”

“Hah, well, I was nervous, because I assumed I’d be, uh, receiving? Is that how you say it?” asked Waylon, laughing. He immediately regretted the slip, taking a fast, long drink from his glass.

Miles laughed, careful not to jostle his drink, and spill any on the floor. “If you were that nervous about taking a dick, why didn’t you just say something?”

Waylon paused, frowning into his drink. He hadn’t considered voicing his concerns to Miles.

“You wanted it?” asked Miles.

Waylon sipped his drink, rather than answer.

“You still want it?”

“I don’t know if it’s something I would like,” muttered Waylon. He knew his face was burning. “I’m not against the idea. If I thought I would like it. It looked like you liked it.”

“Riding your dick? Yeah, I liked it, obviously,” said Miles, grinning at the automatic look of flustered shock on Waylon’s face. “You know, if that’s something you’re into…we can make that happen.”

“I’m...tentatively open to the idea,” said Waylon.

“You want to feel me inside of you?” asked Miles, smirking.

Above the knee, below the navel

Sliced and sewn on Gluskin’s table.

To make a place to push inside,

The Groom will make himself a Bride.

Waylon could almost hear the singing, when Miles snapped his fingers in front of his face.

“Hey, did you hear me?” asked Miles. Waylon shook his head. “You went pale...look, there’s no hurry! Time is, finally something we have on our side, right? We don’t have to rush into anything, anymore.”

Waylon forced a shaky smile, and nodded.

“You up for some Xena tonight?” asked Miles, smiling.

Waylon nodded, much more enthusiastically.

Chapter Text

Ouch. Headache. Waylon woke to a dull ache behind his eyes. Then the memories sluggishly returned. Margaritas and Miles.

Waylon risked squinting one eye open. Miles’ back faced him, and the only movement was the steady rise and fall of his breathing. He had fallen asleep in only his blue plaid boxers, whereas Waylon had at least put on pajama pants.

Waylon moved carefully, barely shifting the mattress as he crept closer. He stopped once his nose pressed into the warm nape of Miles’ neck.

The whir of machinery joined the steady heartbeat. The excessive heat that reminded Waylon of a processor overheating. Somehow, all of the strange parts of Miles made him that much more attractive to Waylon.

Really attractive. Damn, Waylon was hard. He couldn’t recall if an orgasm helped a hangover—or made it worse. He decided to risk it, nuzzling his face against the back of Miles’ neck as his hand traveled down the front of his own pants.

A loose grip, a persistent touch, and the right memories of Miles naked on top of him, were all Waylon needed to start. A gasp escaped, close to Miles’ ear.

“Hmm, Waylon?” asked Miles, voice rough with sleep.

“Miles,” breathed Waylon, the name coming out more broken than intended.

Miles shifted on the bed, bumping into Waylon, who was spooned against his back. He easily located the source of the issue. “What are you getting up to this early?”

Waylon removed his hand, glad that Miles could not see the embarrassed blush on his face. “Sorry…”

“Please, don’t stop on my account,” said Miles, snorting. “Having more of your sex nightmares?”

“No,” whispered Waylon, sliding the hand that had previously been on himself around Miles’ waist. It drifted down between Miles’ legs. “I was thinking of you.”

“Really?” asked Miles, turning his head, slightly.

“Yes,” said Waylon. He leaned in and began kissing the back of Miles’ neck with more pressure—more insistence. His hand kneaded at the growing bulge in Miles’ boxers.

“I haven’t seen you wake up like this before,” said Miles.

“Well, I want you?”

“Are you asking me a question?”

“No, I want you,” said Waylon. “I just don’t really know, how to make that happen.”

“Well, what you’re doing there is a good start,” said Miles, and Waylon could hear the grin.

“Yeah?” asked Waylon, squeezing Miles through his boxers.

“Mmhmm.”

Waylon adjusted his arm around Miles to get a better grip, and began pushing and pulling on Miles’ cock, through his boxers. He wanted to get closer to Miles--as close as possible. After years without the warmth of another human being, Waylon had quickly grown addicted to the feeling. His chest pressed against Miles’ back as Waylon resumed kissing the back of Miles’ neck. Waylon adjusted his grip, so he could stroke Miles the way he liked to stroke himself.

A stifled moan made Waylon’s cock twitch. The sound of Miles’ pleasure.

Miles grew thicker with every pump of Waylon’s wrist. He felt a damp spot forming on Miles’ boxers. They had to go. He jerked them down to Miles’ thighs in one tug, and was rewarded with another moan.

That sound. Waylon wanted to hear Miles make that sound over, and over again. Waylon’s fingers played along Miles’ length, flesh against flesh. Heat. Soft and pliable, yet rock hard. Waylon was the cause—and that thought aroused him most.

Waylon pushed his hips closer, jutting his clothed erection against Miles’ bare ass. He kissed down Miles’ neck, his shoulder, tongue sliding across skin. His impatience showed in the way he jerked Miles in time with the rolling of his hips.

“Miles,” said Waylon, lips moving against skin as he spoke. “Miles?” he asked, louder, when he received no answer.

“Yeah?” asked Miles, his voice affected. Breathy. Waylon caused him to sound that way.

“I want more,” said Waylon, earning an immediate groan. Miles pushed his hips into Waylon’s fist.

“Then take more?”

“I…can I? I don’t know…”

“You can have whatever you want, Park…”

“Fuck,” moaned Waylon, he removed his hand from Miles, and shoved his own pajama pants and boxers down and off in one movement, kicking them under the covers. He could take whatever he wanted. He only needed to figure out how to make that happen.

With his cock was exposed, Waylon positioned himself so he could slide between Miles’ bare ass cheeks with each rocking motion.

“You want to fuck me?” asked Miles, craning his neck up in an attempt to look back at Waylon.

“Obviously,” said Waylon, his voice strained between heavy breathing.

“Well, here,” said Miles, rolling slightly until he was flat on his stomach.

Waylon grabbed Miles’ boxers, and pulled them further down his legs, tossing them to the ground. Toned legs, dark hair, his ass cheeks much lighter than the rest of his skin. He failed to notice how the bottle of lube ended up in Miles’ hand, but he had a hunch. He licked his lips, staring in awe, as Miles opened the top.

“Here,” said Miles, reaching backwards, “gimme your hand.”

“My…why?” asked Waylon, while already complying. Miles had to twist on the bed to grab Waylon’s fingers, and upend the bottle. Wet, slippery lubricant ran freely down Waylon’s fingers, dripping onto Miles, and the bed.

“Dammit, Miles,” said Waylon, holding his other hand beneath his coated one, to catch any stray drops, “you’re going to make a mess.”

“Sex is messy, get over it,” muttered Miles, chuckling as he grabbed a pillow, and put it under his head. Miles tossed the recapped bottle back toward Waylon, though it fell uselessly onto the mattress, rolling nearby. He looked forward while reaching one hand back. “Come on, here…”

Waylon’s breathing hitched when Miles’ hand found his, and pushed it roughly down. “Uhh…” Waylon stared in confusion. He gulped, and moved to rub a slick finger between the cleft of Miles’ ass.

“You get the idea?” asked Miles, pushing his face down into the pillow, and raising his hips up slightly, pushing his ass into Waylon’s line of view. It was a erotic sight, Miles’ winking hole and his sack peeking through the small opening in his thighs.

“Uh huh,” stuttered Waylon. Miles had done this part before. Waylon had not even noticed, in the heat of the moment. He took his time, allowing his fingers to explore. Smooth skin, rough hair, the wrinkled crease between his cheeks. Well. Waylon wasn’t as clueless as before. He didn’t want to be some clumsy virgin. He wanted to be someone that could satisfy Miles.

The first finger breached Miles’ opening, and Waylon paused. He waited for any negative response, before sinking in deeper. Miles sighed happily, hips jutting up even further. It was an obscene view—Miles completely exposed, and his own finger disappearing inside.

The lube. He would need more, surely? Waylon reached out, grabbed it, and dripping it straight onto Miles’ ass, where his finger worked inside. Miles jumped slightly at the contact.

“Too much?” asked Waylon.

“It’s cold, jackass,” muttered Miles, trying to sound annoyed though his voice was affected.

“Well, shit, sorry,” said Waylon, rubbing in the lube. He imagined anything would feel cold against Miles’ fevered skin. Waylon added a second finger without warning. Miles whined, and arched his back. “Did I hurt you?”

“Yeah,” said Miles, panting into the pillow. “Do it again.”

Waylon angled his hand, testing different positions and what reaction they elicited. He could not be sure when Miles was groaning from pain, and when from pleasure. Sweat broke out all over Waylon’s body just from watching his fingers. Miles filled all of his senses with his movements and sound, but Waylon craved more.

“I don’t really know what I’m doing,” said Waylon, focused on his task.

“Do you want us to show you?” asked Miles, raising his head up slightly from the pillow. Waylon couldn’t see his eyes directly, but the corners were jet black. He gulped.

Before Waylon could answer, something slithered down his back. The lower it slid, the more his body tensed. He momentarily forgot to move his hand, and then quickly attempted to rectify that issue with a sharp jab.

“Is that a yes?” asked Miles. There was something teasing Waylon’s entrance, and both of Miles’ hands were under the pillow his chin was resting on.

Waylon tensed. He forgot to breathe. This was new territory. All systems switched into high alert.

The appendage slid in, easily. Surprisingly so. Waylon gasped, unsure if it was slick from lubrication, or its natural state. He could ask Miles later. Waylon arched his back. The undulations inside of his body were shallow but focused. There was no discomfort, other than the foreign feeling being somewhat new and strange.

Waylon adjusted his own touch. He was less thrusting blindly, and more feeling, rubbing, teasing long moans out of Miles while having his own ass prodded. Certain spots inside of him, Waylon froze and shivered. He wanted to do that to Miles.

Waylon’s cock leaked freely onto the sheets. He spread Miles’ ass with one hand, while the other worked inside.

“Is that enough then?” asked Waylon, his voice strained.

“What kind of dirty talk is that?” asked Miles, though his voice was tight.

“Oh, sorry, um,” Waylon had to pause to moan as the extension inside of him started to slide further in and out, growing slightly in girth. “Can I put my penis inside of you?”

“That’s somehow worse,” groaned Miles. “Just hurry up, and get inside of me.”

“Um, first,” Waylon was having trouble concentrating. He panted and closed his eyes, cock twitching from the inner ministrations of the swarm. Or was it Miles?

“What do you need?” asked Miles, his voice low, and serious. He craned his neck to look back at Waylon.

“Could you turn over? I want to see your face,” said Waylon.

“R-really?” asked Miles, pushing up on one elbow. “It won’t be weird if I look…well…”

“I like the way you look,” said Waylon. He released Miles’ ass, and grabbed for the lube for another coat for himself. “You know I find you attractive.”

“Yeah, but…I mean, the swarm sometimes…”

“Miles, flip over,” said Waylon. Miles complied and looked up at him, knees up, legs spread, his own erection ruddy and pointing up his stomach. His eyes were black ink.

Waylon raked his eyes up and down Miles’ toned body. Definitely still turned on. He coated himself once over before lining up with Miles’ already glistening entrance.

“You usually avoid making eye contact, when…”

The rest of the response was choked off when Waylon pushed forward. Waylon thrust his hips, slipping past the tight ring. He adjusted his hands on Miles’ thighs, pushing his legs back as he sank deeper. Waylon gasped for air, but forced himself forward, not stopping until their bodies were fit snugly together.

“I like very part of you,” said Waylon, leaning down into Miles and kissing him. Miles’ legs splayed, and his arms reached up to clutch Waylon closed. When Waylon started to rock his hips, he easily found a comfortable rhythm.

Hands gripped Waylon’s cheeks, while Miles insides clenched down on his cock. Miles held him in a kiss, while Waylon pushed in and out. Waylon assumed that the intense heat from Miles was a side effect of the swarm, but were the tightening walls another one? With each forward snap of Waylon’s hips, Miles whimpered and clenched down on Waylon.

“You want me, even though I’m like this,” said Miles, words panted against Waylon’s lips.

“I want you,” said Waylon, hands moving to grip Miles’ thighs. He pulled himself into a better position on his knees--better leverage. His eyes fluttered closed as he pushed Miles’ thighs back until his entire body seemed to fold. The new position let him thrust in harder, deeper. The change was immediate.

Miles’ hands flew to his own cock, already leaking a wet smear across his stomach, matting down the hair that trailed to his groin. Waylon tried to aim his thrusts, gauging the expression on Miles’ face with each different stroke. But it was pointless. Miles’ body was heating up, pulling him in, pulsing around him and Waylon knew he wouldn’t last.

It didn’t matter if he was rough—Miles liked it rough. Needed it, maybe. Waylon closed his eyes, fingers digging into Miles’ legs where he held them. He fucked into Miles as hard as he could, harder than he had ever done in his life.

“Uh, fuck,” Miles groaned out incomprehensible words as Waylon rut mindlessly into him. The humming sound in the room grew so loud Waylon could only hear the slapping of skin, and clacking of his own teeth, as background noise.

When he risked opening his eyes, Waylon feasted on the sight of Miles stroking himself off while rocking with each pounding of their hips. Miles mouth fell open, and he squinted, glossy black eyes meeting Waylon’s. There was no warning before the earlier feeler reappeared, forcing its way inside with brutish force. The pressure on his insides, along with Miles around his cock.

Waylon opened his mouth to warn Miles—to announce himself, but there was no need.

“Come,” said Miles, the command simple and quiet, but Waylon’s body obeyed as though it were shouted by a drill instructor. He grunted and gasped while filling Miles, the strange feeling snaking inside of him, milking out new surges of fluid.

Waylon leaned down, rather ungracefully as his body shook from his release. He kissed Miles. Deep. He wanted to fill up every part of Miles. He could feel Miles shaking, and soon he was grunting and gasping into the kiss. Strands flew onto both of them as they continued to kiss through Miles’ climax.

It was blurry. When had the tentacle retreated? When had his softening cock slid out of Miles, staining their bed? Waylon pressed their foreheads together as he stared into shiny black eyes.

“I’m sorry,” said Waylon, in between panting breaths. “I didn’t mean…”

“Why are you apologizing?” asked Miles, pushing up on his elbows until he could drag his lips across Waylon’s chin. “You can’t hurt me, don’t worry.”

“I know,” said Waylon, frowning, even as Miles nipped at his lower lip. “That’s why I’m apologizing.”

The entire bed shook as Miles attempted to keep from laughing in Waylon’s face.

“What?” asked Waylon.

“Fuck, you’re so cute,” said Miles, pushing on Waylon’s shoulder with enough force to send him rolling onto his side, then back. Miles was on top of him before he could voice a complaint. He pinned Waylon’s shoulders, and grinned down at him. “Being with you feels good. Very good.”

Waylon frowned, reaching up a sweaty hand to swipe beneath Miles’ nose. A tiny rivulet of dark blood dripped onto his upper lip.

“You’re bleeding?” asked Waylon.

“Uh, not really,” said Miles. He leaned down, as if to kiss Waylon, but stopped at the last second. “Maybe it’s kinda gross, right? I don’t know what it is, at least part blood, it can happen when the bots are working for too long, or too hard.”

“I’m flattered but, that actually wasn’t that long, I know,” said Waylon, hoping his cheeks did not look as red as they felt.

“Ah, well, they were relaying, a lot of um, useful information to me, in addition to, the rest,” said Miles, grinning.

“Hold…you mean, you know what that thing was feeling?”

“I know it was hot, and tight, and surprisingly quick to start relaxing, I think you really…”

“That’s enough,” said Waylon, muttering. “Being with you is…”

“Strange,” said Miles, frowning. “Weird. Alien. I know.”

“Nice,” finished Waylon, kissing Miles. “I’m so happy I get to be with you.”


A knock on the door broke the silence of the afternoon. Waylon looked away from the windows he was washing. Miles immediately slammed down the lid of is laptop.

“What the hell?” asked Miles, already standing up. Waylon could feel the air around him vibrating as he walked. He paused beside the door, peeking through the warped glass. “You know this guy?”

“You know I don’t know any guys around here,” said Waylon. He hooked the window cleaner to his belt, and put the cloth in his back pocket. He peeked through the window at a generic looking guy, average height, average weight, brown hair, light skin.

“Well?” asked Miles.

“No,” said Waylon, “I told you, I don’t know anyone around here!”

“He walked here,” said Miles, his dark eyes narrowing.

“He’s got fliers in his hands, not a gun,” said Waylon, reaching for the doorknob. He unlocked it, and leveled a steady glare at Miles. “Just let me handle it.”

Waylon opened the door, only as far as necessary to put his face in the opening. “Hello, can I help you?”

“Hello, neighbor, my name’s Saul,” said the man, extending a glossy pamphlet. “I live just three streets down, in Mangrove Haven.”

Waylon hummed, glancing down at the handout. It had a picture of Saul posing with a “Sold” sign in front of a beachfront mansion. “Okay?”

“I’m just giving a courtesy call to neighbors around the area. Did you know that it’s a seller's market right now, sir? And the property values in this area are the highest they’ve been in a decade, thanks to the recovery of the housing market. Have you considered putting your house up for sale?”

“Um, no, I like this house,” said Waylon.

“Well, I hope you’ll accept my information, in case you change your mind, or pass it along to your friend’s or family? I’m a real estate agent, and I specialize in this area. I live here, so I have a vested interest in making sure your house sells for the highest price possible. When your value goes up, everyone’s value goes up!”

“You live in the area huh?” asked Miles, grabbing the door and wrenching it further open. “Where did you say you lived?”

“Mangrove Haven,” said Saul, smiling. “Would you like a pamphlet as well?”

“No. I wouldn’t. Saul. If that is your real name.”

Waylon’s head fell as he shook it. “He’s a real estate agent, just advertising his services.”

“A likely fucking story,” said Miles, peering around Saul’s shoulder into the empty driveway. “Where’s your car, Saul? Who drove you here?!”

“I um, walked,” said Saul, his smile becoming more tremulous. “As I said, I live just down the road there, three down, Mangrove Haven, it’s the large neighborhood with the brick fence, and yellow hibiscus trees.”

“Oh yeah? What’s your house number?” asked Miles.

“Um, I’m not sure I feel comfortable revealing that to you…”

“Exactly! Because you don’t fucking live there,” said Miles.

“Um, or he doesn’t want to reveal his home address to a stranger who’s acting like a nut job,” snapped Waylon. “Would you just go back inside? I’m handling this.”

“Who sent you?” asked Miles, glaring daggers at Saul.

“Miles, go sit down, Saul, thanks for coming over, but we’re not selling this house,” said Waylon. “I’ll keep your info, just in case.”

“Whoever sent you is wasting their goddamn time, this place is secure,” said Miles. “Secure, like you wouldn’t believe. In fact, tell them to bring it. We’re ready.”

“Un-fucking-believable,” said Waylon. “Bye, Saul.” Waylon slammed the door before Miles could argue further. “Jesus Christ, Miles, what would you have done if it was a girl scout? You can’t act like this.”

“You’re going to get yourself killed talking to strangers like that! Who knows who’s paying that guy!”

“He looked harmless! Shit, look he’s practically running away, you scared him to death,” said Waylon. Miles joined him, peeking out the window. Saul walked as fast as one can walk without breaking into a jog. He turned right at the end of the driveway, and disappeared.

“I’m going after him,” said Miles, the words coming out a predatory growl.

“You are not,” said Waylon.

“I am,” said Miles, turning cold eyes on Waylon. “This is how I survive. I don’t trust anyone. I keep my business hidden. I investigate every lead.”

“We’re safe now, Miles,” said Waylon. “You can relax a little.”

“We will never be safe,” said Miles, a sour expression on his face. “I’m going out. I have to investigate this guy.”

“I’m coming with you,” said Waylon.

“No, you can’t move as easily as we can,” said Miles.

“Are you gonna kill someone?” asked Waylon. Miles looked into the other room. Glanced at his hands. Anywhere but at Waylon’s face. “Miles. You can’t kill people.”

“What if he’s hunting us?” asked Miles. “You don’t know what’s out there.”

“If you keep killing people, you’re going to make it very hard…for me to stay here,” said Waylon. “I don’t want to leave. Don’t make me have to leave.”

“I’m just going to make sure that guy is a legit real estate agent,” said Miles. “That’s all.”

Waylon’s worried face remained.

“If I need to kill him, I’ll come home, and discuss it with you first.”

“Don’t even joke about that,” said Waylon, frowning.

“Who’s joking?” asked Miles. Without another word, he opened the door, and walked outside.

“Unbelievable,” muttered Waylon, to no one. He moved into the living area and sat at the desk where Miles’ computer sat, closed tight.

What was Miles investigating, really? If he was still paranoid, and delusional, how could Waylon hope to get him any professional help? He couldn’t tell Evie that he needed therapy for his supposed-to-be-dead boyfriend.

Hmm. His boyfriend. Waylon smiled, despite everything else.

Waylon tidied up a few books and papers that were cluttering the desk. He opened one of the drawers, and attempted to shove the papers inside, but he met with resistance. Waylon looked into the drawer, and noticed that it was short. There was a similar drawer below it, but it went much deeper. Waylon pushed on the back of the suspicious drawer, and gasped when it gave way.

Plywood. Not even well constructed. A false back on the drawer. Waylon looked around, over his shoulder, even though he knew Miles was likely gone for at least a half hour. Longer? Waylon pushed his hand inside, and immediately felt something metallic. He pulled it out with one hand.

The piece of machinery was scorched black, and riddled with…bullet holes? A hand strap gave it away. A camcorder.

Waylon exhaled, long and slow. It was obviously hidden. He should respect Miles’ privacy. He tried to find some sort of memory card, but came up empty handed. Miles held onto a useless camcorder, and kept it hidden? Waylon was ready to shove it back in the drawer, but checked inside again before replacing the panel. A small book—a journal? Diary? It was equally bullet ridden, and looked to have taken water damage. Except the discoloration suggested it wasn’t water.

Upon opening the cover of the book, a USB drive fell out into the drawer.

State Secrets? Personal Photos? Miles would never go through so much trouble to hide porn.

Hardly anything in the book was legible, all stained pages, and smeared blue ink. Save the last page.

Whether I escape or die here, I am free.

Waylon shoved the USB into the port on Miles’ laptop, and opened the screen. He logged in as a guest, and accessed the drive. One file. 91713.mov.

The video player loaded, and Waylon squinted at the screen. The video jerked to life, and Waylon felt dizzy from the spinning. He couldn’t make heads or tails of the picture, until it steadied and zoomed in on a…piece of paper?

You don’t know me. Have to make this quick. They might be monitoring.

It needs to be exposed.

Luckily there was a wastebasket next to the computer chair, because Waylon lost his lunch, and most of his breakfast. The video played on in the background, as he heaved into the bucket. His hand was shaking as he checked the length of the video. Over forty five minutes of footage. Holy shit. Miles had taken a video of the asylum.

He had never mentioned anything about it to Waylon.

Glancing at the screen, the lighting is terrible, but the outline of Mount Massive is visible. It’s the middle of the night. And there’s something decidedly sinister about the building that fills Waylon with a suffocating dread.

The camera hisses each time it changes between scenes. The unsteady camera, and abrupt changes between scenes, made Waylon’s nausea worse. Eerie scenery. Flickering electricity. And then Miles took a wrong turn into a library where a dying soldier is impaled on a stake.

Waylon’s hands shook and his stomach turned. Miles breathing grew louder and louder as he zoomed in on a shelf that was filled with severed heads, staring lifeless—eyeballs covered with flies.

There was no way Waylon could watch this. He couldn’t even watch his own footage, how could he watch Miles? But what questions could be answered if he did watch?

Guard your life, son…you have a calling.

Was that Father Martin? The close up of a sallow face with jowls shaking seems oddly familiar. Waylon had only encountered the man for a brief moment on his own. So much of the video was too jerky to be deciphered. Dark shapes, and Miles’ strangled breathing. Chris Walker’s hulking frame featured heavily—as well as the eerie clanking of his chains.

There was a longer than necessary recording of the naked twins Waylon had encountered. Definitely the same men. Same ugly faces. Same everything. Miles zoomed in and on on their genitals more times than was necessary. It comforted Waylon to think that Miles had always been the crude, brash Miles he knew.

Oh…home movies! And it’ll give us a chance to talk.

A frightening face takes up the entire screen, before being turned around and set on a surface. The camera focused on Miles. He was strapped down in a wheelchair that seemed straight out of a horror movie. His jeans were soaked, his face swollen and bloody. His eyes threatened to bulge out of his face he was staring so hard.

The person talked like he was chatting Miles up. He sounded almost friendly--talking to his buddy. The voice was almost familiar. Except, when the man came fully into frame he looks like hell re-sewn together.

And that’s why I’m here. To make you believe.

Waylon wanted to look away—needed to, rather. But he sat, transfixed, as the near naked mutant used giant bone shears to snip Miles’ finger. He punched Miles in the face, and cut another.

The noises were the most disturbing. In Italy, Waylon had watched Miles sit, filled with bullets, not making noises like that. Disturbing sounds ripped from tortured lips. Waylon’s hands flew to his ears, trying to block out the noise.

He reached forward to mute the video. To give up. To surrender. But on the video, Miles managed to escape. He ripped himself free, hunched over and vomited loudly, before grabbing the camera.

Burn the whole goddamn thing to the ground.

The man’s face is so burnt and scarred. Lisa’s smiling face the night of the fire peaked up from somewhere in Waylon’s memory bank.

System report. Situation dangerously unstable.

The next scene is so bright, Waylon squints. The color skewed momentarily on the recording. Is this where Miles got the idea to burn it all to the ground? Cleanse Mount Massive with fire?

There were also long sections where the recording was too warped. Possibly from damage taken to the camcorder. Waylon could only listen to the horrifying sounds recorded.

Other times, there were entire scenes, with nothing but Miles’ breathing in the background. Running through darkness, dodging Chris Walker.

Often, it snapped in and out of a scene so quickly Waylon had no idea what was happening. Piano music? Waylon dropped his head into his hands when the Morphigenic Engine’s vile images suddenly appeared on the video.

A chapel. Variants with candles. Father Martin on a cross. Holy shit. Miles had told the truth—the fire had started with self immolation. Waylon couldn’t stand to watch, though he heard the man’s final screams. He kept his eyes closed, until he heard sirens on the screen. It was pitch black, but when the scene turned to night vision…

The Walrider.

Well, it wasn’t love at first sight. The swarm chased Miles, mercilessly. It murdered Chris Walker, like he was nothing. The fashion was eerily similar to Jeremy Blaire’s later execution. If that how Miles learned it?

Waylon recognized the area. The Morphogenic Engine. The underground science labs where Waylon had worked. But when Miles was there, Waylon was likely running for his life, from Gluskin.

The camera hissed, and Waylon could hear Miles crying. It was quiet. He held the camera in one hand, and was hobbling. The angles were terrible. How was he even upright, after everything he had endured? Billy Hope was dead, the Walrider nowhere to be seen.

Waylon knew the area—Miles was limping toward the exit. So close. If he could just walk through those doors, and down that hall, freedom was on the way. He must have forgotten the camera was rolling. It filmed his shadow, limping through the brightly lit stone tunnels of the lab.

Doors open. Voices. Miles lifts the camcorder—lifts his hands, in surrender. Gunshots. Grunts. The camcorder clatters to the ground, and somewhere in this madness it skitters and spins, focused back on Miles face.

Gray eyes glassy. Mouth moving like a fish gulping air out of water. Blood foaming on his lips.

Gott im Himmel. You have become the host.

Except the Miles on the video...died? His eyes went unfocused, and stared away. Blood continued to pool around his body, the amount shocking. There’s no movement—no breathing, no blinking. Only blood, and screaming in the background.

A static noise grows louder and louder and the screen turns cloudy and gray until…

“Park?”

Waylon jumped, turning to stare at Miles standing in the living room. He had not even heard him come back in the house. The video had stopped playing on the computer, but Miles’ death stare was front and center on the screen, splattered with blood, and the video marred by static.

Waylon tried to speak, but all he managed was a sob.

“Shit, Park, I’m sorry, I hid it away so you wouldn’t have to see that…” said Miles.

“Miles,” said Waylon, hiccuping. “My fault…”

“Don’t be stupid,” said Miles, rolling his eyes. Waylon stumbled out of the chair, and into Miles. He clung to his shoulders as if he would fall. Maybe he would.

“I’m sorry.,” said Waylon.

“Second time you’re apologizing to me today for nothing,” said Miles, chuckling. “It’s alright, I wasn’t really hiding it from you because it’s a secret, it was just to protect you, because…”

“No, I’m sorry,” said Waylon, scrubbing his face into Miles’ shirt.

“Ugh, I’m not a tissue, damn…”

“I’m sorry! I’m sorry I’m so, so sorry Miles, my fault, I never should have written you, I never should have lured you there, if I hadn’t said anything, you’d still be…” Waylon squinted through his tears. The photographs of Miles and his family, friends, and accomplishments cover the walls. Waylon’s body wracked with new sobs.

“Hey, stop it,” mutters Miles, strong hands coming up to rub Waylon’s back. “Don’t be like that.”

The whispers of I’m sorry continue.

“I’m not mad at you,” said Miles.

“You were,” said Waylon. “You…that footage…oh, Miles…”

Waylon captured one of Miles’ hands between both of his, and brought it to his lips. Soft skin gently ghosted over scarred skin of Miles’ mangled finger.

“I can’t say I’m happy it happened—I’m not. I miss my fingers, my career, my family, my…humanity? Is that the way to say it?”

“You’re still human,” said Waylon, releasing Miles hand.

“I don’t care so much, anymore,” said Miles. He continued to rub gentle circles on Waylon’s back. “If I had to go through all that shit, and pain, and horror, at least…at least I have you now. And you’re…better than anything I had in my previous life. So.”

Waylon clutched at the front of Miles’ shirt, the admission doing nothing to stem the flood of tears.

“I know, you don’t feel the same way, and you lost your wife, and everything, but after so much pain and anger, I can see myself maybe being happy again, with you. I’m happy with you. You made me hopeful, again.”

Chapter Text

“You shouldn’t sit so close, you’ll ruin your eyes,” said Waylon. He walked into the living room, dust cloth in hand, to find Miles sitting with his forehead almost pressed against the computer screen.

“My vision is amazing,” said Miles.

“Whatever,” said Waylon. “Maybe take a break?”

“There’s more articles from other outlets, I just need to translate them, and…”

“We’ve been here for weeks, now, and it’s safe,” said Waylon. “The news from Italy has been old before I even got out of the FBI’s holding, and since then it’s reported that Blaire senior is in United States custody, and there aren’t even enough employees to round up as witnesses in his defense, and no lawyer worth anything wants to touch the case. He’s over. It’s finished.”

“Then, the FBI…”

“If the FBI is after us, it won’t be in the damn internet news,” said Waylon.

“We can’t just rest, we have to be always looking, and searching,” said Miles, clacking away at the keys. “You think I survived this long by just sitting around and hoping for the best?”

“Honestly, I have no idea what you were doing between the time of the riot and the day we met, and I’m a little afraid to find out,” said Waylon. Miles stopped clacking to level a flat stare.

“What’s that supposed to mean? You regretting being here with me?” asked Miles.

“No, not like that,” said Waylon. “I’m just, I’m getting cabin fever, I want to go out somewhere. Let’s go somewhere, get some drinks, some food.”

Miles massaged his temple with his fingers.

“Please?”


“He’s looking at you again,” said Miles.

Waylon’s eyebrows shot up, as he sipped on his pina colada. He turned his head and caught the eye of the man in question. He turned back to level a stare at Miles.

“Can we please just enjoy the evening?” asked Waylon. They sat outside a dive bar, lit with tiki torches, and the ocean just out of view in the darkness. It was supposed to be a fun night away from watching Xena.

“That guy is staring,” said Miles. “It’s painful. He’s spying on us, I know it.”

Waylon took another sip of his drink, then set it on the table. He pushed his chair back, and walked toward the bar, stopping directly in front of the man. Miles called to him, but gave up easily. It was a crowded tourist bar. No need to make a scene.

“Hi,” said Waylon, smiling at the man sitting at the bar. He had short, cropped black hair, and a peeling sunburn on his nose. “How’s it going? You here on vacation?”

“Stop it,” said Miles, having chased Waylon down.

“I am,” he said, smiling. “Couldn’t help but notice you and your friend, specifically you. Are you two a couple, or…”

He left the ending ambiguous.

Waylon turned a smug grin on Miles. “We’re together, hope you have a good night.”

Miles grabbed Waylon by the elbow, and led him back toward their table and abandoned drinks.

“What the hell,” said Miles, hissing loudly near Waylon’s ear. “You don’t know who that guy was!”

“Stop being jealous some guy found me attractive,” said Waylon, frowning. “Do a lot of men find me attractive, you think? I thought surely any men would be more into you, you have that tall, dark and handsome thing going on. I mean, I’m rather plain, and never got much attention in school…”

“He was spying on you, he held up his phone at one point…”

“You need to face some facts,” said Waylon, meeting Miles’ eyes. “There was no spy at the seafood restaurant. You searched the house, and information, of that guy who came to the door—and he was exactly what he said he was. And that young guy was just checking out my ass. There’s no conspiracy.”

“You give up too easily,” said Miles, frowning. He pulled up his Long Island Ice Tea, and took a long drink. “Something feels off.”

“Is that another of your super powers? Feeling things?”

“Kinda yeah,” said Miles. “I can read people, their vitals, there are signs, idiot, like, if you’re avoiding eye contact, and your blood pressure is elevated, and you’re sweating, we can pick up on it, and do the math, put two and two together. Something was off about every one of those people.”

“It hurts me to see you like this,” said Waylon, pulling the pineapple garnish from the side of his drink. “Maybe you should get help? We could find someone discreet, and you don’t have to see a medical doctor, we don’t need to open that can of worms, I mean, meds might not work in your condition, but we have to try…”

“I want to protect you,” said Miles, staring at Waylon’s lips as he took a bite of pineapple. “Let me protect you. Listen to me, and stay away from strangers.”

“I eventually have to see my kids again,” said Waylon. “I can’t lock myself away from civilization, I have to be out there. I want this to be a real relationship, where we have ties with the community, and family.”

“Gross,” said Miles. Waylon couldn’t stop the hurt from showing on his face. “Not you, you’re not gross, but, having friends, and you said ‘community,’ it was awful…”

“We’re a serious couple,” said Waylon. “I’m not leaving you. It’s been weeks here, we’re safe. You can relax.”

“I promise to keep it low key,” said Miles, “but I won’t stop watching, and looking, and trying to keep you safe. You don’t have to agree with it, but don’t sabotage me, either.”

“You should just trust me,” said Waylon.

“Let’s get out of here,” said Miles. “This place is giving us a bad vibe.”


“I’ve been thinking, a lot,” said Miles, over a pizza dinner. He’d been uncharacteristically quiet since their failed outing, and almost three days had passed.

“And?”

“I want to show you something,” said Miles.

An automatic flush crept onto Waylon’s cheeks.

“Nothing that exciting,” said Miles. Waylon studied the leftover strings of mozzarella on his plate, as though they’d suddenly become infinitely more interesting. “Will you see?”

“I don’t like surprises, makes me anxious,” said Waylon.

“It’s about, well, the years after Mount Massive,” said Miles. “The years between the riot, and when I formally met you.”

“Oh...okay,” said Waylon, nodding. Miles stood up, and jerked his head toward the hallway. Waylon took the hint, wiping his mouth on a paper towel, and following.

Miles paused at the stack of boxes obscuring a closed door. He easily lifted the boxes as if they held only air, but Waylon had pushed them before and knew they were heavy. He had wondered many times what was in the room.

“Oh God,” said Waylon, his voice breaking.

“What?” asked Miles, pausing with two boxes under his arms.

“Please…please tell me there’s not bodies in there…”

“B-bodies? I’m not an idiot, I know how to dispose of bodies,” said Miles. “It’s just a collection of information about the riot, and Murkoff. There are some pictures that might be disturbing…”

“Okay,” said Waylon, his voice quieter. Miles relocated the boxes, stacking them up along the wall. It made the hallway narrow, but the doorway became accessible. Miles pushed the door open, and held it for Waylon.

There was roughly an hour before sunset, but the room was pitch black. Someone had boarded up the windows. Miles felt along the wall and flicked on the solitary ceiling light.

This had to be something out of a movie. The scene was too surreal. Miles had put up a huge map of the world, covering an entire wall, ignoring the blocked windows. There were many colored strands of yarn zigzagging across the globe, forming no discernable pattern.

“What the hell?” asked Waylon. There were some other boxes filled with loose papers that Waylon had to navigate around to get close enough to read the back wall. Next to every pin there was a note, written in Miles’ chicken scratch.

Dates. People. Places.

Scanning Data…

“You were being systematic about your hunt,” said Waylon. Miles hummed an affirmative sound. “Would you come here often?”

“Once a lead turned cold, or when I needed to lay low,” said Miles.

Waylon turned his head, and found the other wall plastered from floor to ceiling with articles, printouts, photographs printed on a cheap home printer. Information about Murkoff’s business, the scientists and executives that worked there, and all coverage of the riot in the news. Several of the articles had highlighted areas, or large circles and notes written in bright red marker.

One particular picture made Waylon frown. It was a picture of him, sitting with Simon Peacock. Miles had circled his head in red marker and written “WHISTLEBLOWER.” There were several notes nearby listing rumored locations. Waylon squinted at one article with highlighted portions.

“Hmm, the biggest theory was that I was hiding out in Russia?” asked Waylon.

“Da,” said Miles, grinning. “I went there, and managed to find Peacock and his ilk, but you were nowhere.”

“You killed Simon Peacock?!”

“Dammit,” said Miles, making a disgusted noise. “I didn’t kill everyone I found, I was only hunting Murkoff, I was trying to kill only guilty people, to put an end to that company, kill every last seed of its existence, and salt the earth so it could never grow back…”

“Wow,” said Waylon, doing a full circle around the room. “You’ve been living on the edge for so long. No wonder you can’t seem to calm down, and relax.”

“I don’t even know if I want to,” said Miles.

“I mean, I was always paranoid, looking for threats, and I never felt completely safe, even with all my locks, and my pseudonyms, and my FBI protectors. I still look over my shoulder. But now that I’m with you, I do feel better. Not perfect. Better. Maybe you can start to feel better, too.”

“I just…”

“We should take all this down,” said Waylon, noting the immediate pained look on Miles’ face, and the dark shadow behind his eyes. “Not right now!”

Miles walked to one of the boxes, and shuffled some files around. He pulled out a stack of grainy photographs, likely from a closed circuit television. “What if they’re not gone? What if I need it?”

“We should take it down, get rid of the most of it, and save some in the attic,” said Waylon. “We can make this room something nice. We can make it a kid’s room, so the boys can come to visit. That would be a much better use, don’t you think?”

“I already have a guest room,” said Miles, scratching his head.

“Well, then we can make this some kinda man cave with a game system, and a big TV, and something to entertain them when they come down.”

Miles fingered through more files, as he considered the proposal. Finally, he sighed. “You’re right, of course. This stuff needs to go. It’s one thing to be careful, and another to be monomaniacal about it…”

“There are healthy ways to deal with it, even if medication can’t help you,” said Waylon. He walked behind Miles, and wrapped his arms around Miles’ middle. “We can do this. We’re stronger, together.”

“It’s not easy for me,” said Miles, sighing. “But yes. What the hell. Let’s do it.”

Waylon squeezed around Miles’ body, pressing his cheek into Miles’ shoulder blades. “You’re going to be so happy when we turn this into a cool media room.”

“Hmm, I wonder what kinda system we should get, what is hip these days…”

“I’ll tell you, the word ‘hip’ definitely isn’t hip…”

“Shut up,” said Miles, chuckling.

Waylon saw a long column of careful wording written in permanent marker right onto the eggshell colored paint on the wall. It was obscured by the door. Waylon had to close the door, sealing them into the room, to read the writing.

It was a timeline. Every entry was written very small with a date, and a note. Sometimes, lines varied by only a day; other times consecutive entries were dated several months apart. The very bottom:

040816 El Salvador branch, neutralized

041916 Agents dispatched to Kyoto Japan

Waylon stared at the writing.

“I kept a list, there, of everything that happened, to keep track of where all I had been…”

“This is how you found me?” asked Waylon.

Miles nodded, coming up behind Waylon. He pointed with his middle finger.

“There I got information from an agent about a cell operating in El Salvador. Left this day, arrived, took out the only actual Murkoff people, used their information to get more contacts and information. Intercepted the order for Kyoto. Went there. Met you. You know the rest.”

“Wow,” said Waylon. “This is just, some next level shit…”

“You’re being an asshole…”

“No, I’m legitimately impressed, this is something I would want to do, but I’d be afraid people would think I was insane. It’s so neat, and it’s a great way to organize your files and data, and the visualization of the globe and…”

Miles was watching Waylon, as if he could see the computer processor in his brain chugging away at the numbers.

“Um, I mean, it still needs to go…”

“Yeah,” said Miles. “I got it.”

Out of curiosity, Waylon pulled over a stepping stool. The purpose seemed to be reaching high places. Even on the stool, Waylon had to stand on his toes to read the first entry on the timeline of the Battle of Murkoff vs. Miles Upshur.

110314 Denver Office, neutralized

Waylon felt his eye twitching in his skull. The date. That date.

“Y-you started this in November…”

“Yeah, the trial ended, and ‘justice’ was served, and I decided it wasn’t enough,” said Miles. “Some bad things happened with my family, and I just, shut down all functions, except finding and annihilating Murkoff.”

“B-but this date…the third…that’s…”

110414 Insiders suspecting P.W.

“P.W. Project Walrider?” asked Waylon, his voice shaking.

“Yeah,” said Miles, shrugging. “I used a lot of code, in case someone walked in here, didn’t wanna just, give myself right away, I mean, obviously…”

There was no entry 110514.

Waylon was unsteady as he dropped from the stool, back onto the ground.

“Miles, what did you do on November third?”

Miles squinted his eyes, and stared at the top of the timeline.

“Ah, one of Murkoff’s lawyers, their main branch in Denver, I went in to get as much information I could about all the Murkoff branches, and affiliates, around the world. That’s how I got my initial start, though Murkoff hadn’t reported everything to their lawyers and accountants. Of course not.”

“And they suspected the swarm?” asked Waylon, clutching his stomach.

“Uh, yeah, they suspected the swarm, that’s how I got in, took care of some threats, and destroyed their equipment and surveillance.”

There was no entry 110514.

“Are you okay?” asked Miles, trying to put a comforting hand on Waylon’s shoulder.

IF Miles used the Walrider to attack Murkoff on November 3rd, AND Murkoff assumed Waylon Park was the host of the Walrider, THEN the fire on November 5th was in retaliation for Miles’ initial strike.

A problem has been detected, and Waylon has been shut down to prevent further damage.

The problem seemed to be caused by the following input: Lisa Park’s death was in direct correlation to the careless acts of Miles Upshur.

No one had been able to tell him why the fire had started. No suspect was ever caught, but Waylon Park was a man with only one enemy--and it was a colossus. Murkoff was the most probable culprit, but the timing was strange. Why would Murkoff attack Waylon and his family after he had already released his video, been put under surveillance watch, and successfully witnessed in the lengthy trial against them?

Waylon had sat, shivering, in Agent Perry’s office, while an entire office of agents attempted to make sense of the actions. Murkoff was not the type to hold a petty grudge. If anything, it behooved them to put on a face, send in the damage control personnel, and tuck their tail to continue their nefarious ‘charity’ organizations in other countries. Why, then, make an outright attack on a witness, months after the trial?

110314 Denver Office, neutralized.

The dates continued down the wall. Everytime Miles attacked someone, it was more fuel to the fire of finding Waylon. It was all because of Miles. If Miles had gone away with the swarm, if he had been more discreet, if he had…

Error.

Waylon put his hands over his ears, and crouched down. He could hear the flames. The sirens. The crying of Trevor on the snow beside him. The night of the fire.

“Waylon? Hey, are you okay?”

“No,” snapped Waylon. He looked up so quickly it made his neck crack. “Your fault. Everything is your fault. My family was murdered two days after you started your little vigilante crusade. My life was in danger for years—I was a target, because of your actions. You hunted me down to kill me…”

Waylon laughed, too shrill to be genuine. “Imagine if you’d killed me! How confused they would have been! Walrider’s host turns up, dead, but the Walrider’s still haunting their outposts!”

The room was spinning. The insane rambling on the walls, the map with its colorful yarn, everything was shrinking away…flames and sirens…

System Check: Dangerously Unstable.

“I have to get out, I have to walk outside, I need to…I’m going to the ocean…”

“I’m coming with you,” said Miles.

“Don’t you dare,” said Waylon, gritting his teeth so hard he could feel the enamel chipping away. “Don’t. You. Dare.” Waylon opened the door, once again obscuring the timeline, and rushed down the narrow hallway.

“Waylon, you need to stop, I’m the person who knows best what you’re feeling right now,” said Miles.

“Leave me alone,” said Waylon. “Your idiocy…your…callous disregard for anyone but yourself…selfish...” The front door was within sight.

“You’re upset because of something I did, but I acted that way because of Murkoff, and I didn’t set your house on fire, Murkoff did!”

“Did they?!” screamed Waylon, turning around to glare at Miles, and finding his eyes disturbingly black. “Because no one was ever found guilty of the crime. Murkoff was the obvious suspect. But maybe it was Miles Fucking Upshur.” Waylon opened the door, and slammed it in Miles’ face.

“Murkoff caused a riot,” said Miles, already opening the door. He stalked after Waylon, down the driveway to the house with its thick foliage cover. “This isn’t my fault, any more than it was yours. I blamed you for what happened to me, but it was Murkoff that started the riot, they experimented, they committed the crimes, you were just the messenger.”

“I didn’t kill anyone,” said Waylon, causing Miles to flinch and glance around, as if waiting for someone to jump out of the bushes.

“Keep your voice down, dammit!”

“No!” screamed Waylon, even louder, walking in the direction of the main road, and the beach across the way.

“Are you under the impression that I lost nothing?” asked Miles. “You saw the video. You don’t know what happened to my family. You lost your wife, but at least it wasn’t your fault she died…”

“No, it was yours,” said Waylon.

The road was only two lanes, winding along the ocean. It was rarely crowded with traffic. Waylon crossed the road without looking, and started along the shoulder. He walked with his head down, hands shoved in his pockets. Tears fell freely.

The same suffocating sadness he had experienced when he first learned about Lisa’s death threatened to crush him all over again. He thought that feeling was behind him. He had to heal, to move on. Not that he would ever get over Lisa’s death, completely.

The processor in Waylon’s brain stuck in an endless loop. He felt insistent on assigning blame. Someone was responsible.

Murkoff killed Lisa, because of Miles, who attacked because Waylon sent an email, because Murkoff was murdering people…

Running Script: Calm Down and Think Rational.

It wasn’t Miles’ fault, anymore than what happened to Miles was Waylon’s fault. Except he felt incredibly guilty for what happened to Miles.

Lisa’s burns. Trevor’s crying. Miles’ dying on camera. These were all because of Murkoff.

Waylon walked down the road. Sometimes his anger choked away the tears, a momentary respite from the crushing depression. But he couldn’t stay mad forever. He could potentially stay depressed, though.

A car came around a winding turn in the seaside road faster than was legal. Waylon hear the car breaking, and turning. There was tons of beach access. It was not unusual.

Waylon continued along the shoulder, until he heard the sound of a car approaching. He half wondered if Miles had not driven after him. But it was the same car. Same silver Buick. Waylon tensed until the car drove around the corner. Tourists were always getting lost.

It was stifling hot, even with the sea breeze. Going back to the house and talking it out with Miles was sounding better and better. Waylon wiped the sweat and tears away from his face. There was a pier a quarter mile ahead. He could make a quick detour, clear his head, then head home. He’d walked there before with Milest.

But when Waylon passed a large copse of palms, the silver car was back. Trunk open. And while Waylon puzzled over what it could mean, he was pushed violently from behind, into the trunk. He screamed as it was slammed down violently, locking him in darkness.

Chapter Text

The captor grabbed Waylon, and shoved him into the trunk. He person paused long enough to frisk Waylon’s pockets, relieving him of his phone and wallet.

A robbery? Murkoff? FBI? Mafia?

Run. Hide. Survive.

Waylon’s brain reverted to the most basic commands. When that didn’t work, he resorted to panic.

“Help Me! Help Me! Miles!”

The car’s engine reverberated through the trunk, making it difficult to be heard. Then there was the distinct feeling of being moved against his will.

I've been a little...vulgar. I know, and I want to say I'm sorry. I just...you know how a man gets when he wants to know a woman.

“No,” whined Waylon, curling up into the fetal position. A sudden acceleration around a curve sent him knocking into the walls. He was in a trunk; not a locker.

But after the ceremony, when I've made an honest woman of you...I promise, I'll be a different man.

Waylon let out a stuttering sob. The last time he had been trapped, and moved against his will, it hadn’t ended well. He felt as helpless in the trunk as he had years ago when Gluskin had trapped him.

Waylon pulled his legs to his chest, and kicked as hard as possible. Immediate pain bloomed through his entire body. The trunk was rather sturdy. Miles would have been able to rip his way out. Another sharp turn, and the back of Waylon’s head clocked hard against the wheel well.

A hand through his hair came away wet. Sweat or blood? Waylon’s head throbbed. Breaths came faster and faster. Too shallow. Not enough oxygen. Waylon tried to gulp down the hot, stuffy air. Lightheaded. Oh shit.

Error.

Here, darling. This will help you relax.

——

A loud clank. A blinding light in his eyes. Even the muggy, hot Florida air felt like an arctic breeze after that trunk. Waylon half expected to hear the sound of the saw table, but instead a rag was shoved into his mouth, and a black hood pulled over his head. More blackness.

Waylon attempted to thrash, and shout through the gag. He earned a sharp elbow in the gut. Someone grabbed him under the arms, and carried him. Barely conscious—Waylon was little more than dead weight.

Returning consciousness caused Waylon to groan, and attempt to grab his head. His hands were bound behind him, and he was secured to something. A makeshift surgery table in the Vocational Ward? And somewhere tinny music played…

Scanning Area…

Waylon was upright. He was most definitely handcuffed to a chair. And the music? It was eighties synth, not golden oldies. It originated from a speaker. Probably a computer nearby, or a phone.

There was a knock on the door, and Waylon held his breath. He waited until he heard someone in the room, walking toward the door. The sound of the door opening, stopped by a chain.

“Hey, there you are,” said an unfamiliar voice. There was a brief pause before the door closed again. Waylon strained, but couldn’t hear anything until the door opened again.

“Help! Help! Help Me! Please!”

The cries were hindered by the gag, and muffled by the hood.

“Sorry, I didn’t catch that,” said a voice, jerking the hood off of Waylon’s head. “Long time no see. How’s it going?”

Waylon’s mouth would have hung open, if it had not been gagged. He immediately tried to talk.

“Eh, hold on, I can’t hear you with that shit in your mouth…” The cloth was roughly pulled out.

“Perry! You dumb fuck, are you joking me right now?! You better be kidnapping me for some kinda bachelor party prank, or FBI Witness Protection hazing…”

“Ah, c’mon Park, gimme more credit than that,” said Perry, holding his hand to his chest. “You wound me.”

“You’re gonna sustain a lot worse wounds if you don’t let me out of here,” said Waylon, growling. Perry looked much the same as he had in Washington, thinning blond hair giving way to a bald spot on the top. He was still taller than Waylon, and in obvious good shape. He wore a thin, black jacket over black pants like a homemade cat-burglar costume.

Perry snorted and shook his head. “How did you ever manage to survive this long? You lack any survival instincts, and you’re dumb as a sack of turds. Damn.”

“What do you want?!”

“You’re a difficult man to track down,” said Perry, leaning against a cheap plywood desk. A quick survey of the area marked this room as a one room motel, probably something frequented by truckers and johns. “It was so hard to find you, I’d wager…no one knows where you are right now? Am I right?”

Waylon continued to frown, assuming the question to be rhetorical.

“You deaf? Am I right?!” Perry kicked the chair beneath Waylon to punctuate the question, jarring Waylon’s teeth.

“Ugh, fuck you, I thought the Government was done with me,” said Waylon.

“Oh, yeah, they are,” said Perry. He started to crack his knuckles, one by one, as though already bored of the conversation. “They ordered me not to track you down. Something about, being against your civil liberties, blah blah blah, but that’s because they don’t know how full of shit you are.”

“I’m not full of shit,” said Waylon.

“Save it, assclown, I know you’re shacked up with Casiano,” said Perry.

“I have, literally, no idea who that is,” said Waylon.

“Really? That’s interesting, I guess his penname is a little sexier. I’d change my name, too, damn, poor guy, what was his mom thinking, naming him after a Simpsons character? Though any name is pretty pointless now, right? Should probably just go by…Walrider?”

Waylon shrugged the best he could with his hands restrained. “Whatever you think you know…”

“What I know that I know, you mean,” said Perry, giving a wicked grin. “Son of Abdiel Casiano and Susan Casiano, nee Brooks, graduated…well, ‘On Time’ is, I guess, the best that can be said of his transcripts. A few internships, nothing spectacular, until he makes a sexy name change, brands himself as a badass, and strikes out to Afghanistan!”

Were any of those articles on the walls about Afghanistan? Was that really Miles?

“You look confused, this is the first you’re hearing? Your monster boyfriend hasn’t been really upfront with you, maybe?” Perry clicked his tongue, giving a fake frown. “That’s a shame.”

Waylon rolled his eyes.

“He had a lot to say about the U.S. war policies over there—enough that his employers told him to fuck off, and he went to Guana, instead, and ends up the Royal Thorn in Murkoff’s nutsack. Hmm. This guy, always sticking his nose places where it doesn’t belong…And it seems the last place he stuck it was…Mount Massive Asylum, September 17, 2013?”

“You have no proof of any of this,” said Waylon, keeping his face bored. Unimpressed. Perry was toying with him.

“We have your own footage, showing a figure leaving the gates, assumed to be the Walrider, assumed to have perished in the fires. Except, here’s the thing, Casiano has a sister, one Margery Casiano? Damn, maybe it really was a Simpsons thing…”

Search: Simpsons Characters. Results: Lisa Simpson. Waylon Smithers.

“The Simpsons have been around forever, there’s probably a character of every name by now,” said Waylon.

“Meh, you’re probably right,” said Perry, stretching out his back. “Anyways, there’s some pieces to the puzzle we didn’t have before your hearing. Seems Casiano’s sister turned up dead, no one could explain it, blood everywhere, deemed a murder, unsolved. The crime scene would have appeared hauntingly familiar to someone like you, they resembled one of the Murkoff mercs that turned up in Kyoto, the day before you brought your new boyfriend to the embassy.”

“Circumstantial, at best,” said Waylon, shrugging the best he could in his binds. “And you’re ignoring the fact that Miles died in Italy.”

“Oh please,” said Perry, reaching across the desk. He held up a glossy black and white photograph. Miles on the beach. In the seafood restaurant. Walking outside their home.

“You asshole, you can’t take pictures of someone at their house! You’re using government resources after you were told to drop a case? How are you not fired?!”

“Not using government resources,” said Perry, tapping his temple. “I’m not an idiot, like you, Park. No, I decided to invest a smidgen of my savings to the cause. Everyone wants to be a private investigator, these days, a few bucks, they do some simple monitoring. I just told them you were cheating on me with some guy, and I needed proof, for the divorce.”

“You’re disgusting,” said Waylon, scoffing.

“It was worth it, though,” said Perry, standing up. He grinned as he paced. “I’d have spent ten times the amount! Man, the Walrider. I was right. Everyone at the Bureau is going to have to apologize to me. Shutting down my perfectly reasonable suspicions, in favor of letting a weapon of mass destruction slip through our hands. And it’s in Florida, of all places, that’s not good, do you know anything about this State? Hillbillies and gators…”

“This far south it’s more like Little Havana with a bunch of snowbirds hanging out…”

“You are a huge pain in the ass, you know that?” asked Perry, chuckling. “Babysitting you for three years…destroyed my career. You took so much time and effort, and you never helped anything against Murkoff, you were a constant leak of resources, always moving, traveling, complaining, needing security, private flights, you fucking baby. Every promotion I applied for was deterred, because I was the unlucky bastard in charge of Waylon Park’s case. And no one else in their right mind would touch the case. My choice was quit, or deal with you.”

“I thought we were having fun together,” said Waylon, faking a pout.

“It was all worth it, in the long run,” said Perry, walking until he was looming over Waylon. “You’re going to bring the Walrider here for me.”

Waylon’s forehead creased. He’d misheard. Surely, he had misheard. Waylon caught the first laugh, but it caused his chest to seize. The second laugh burst from his mouth before he could stop it. Waylon felt tears prick the corners of his eyes.

“T-that’s your plan?” asked Waylon, in between uncontrollable chuckles. “You want me to bring the Walrider here?”

“Yeah,” said Perry, his eyes bright and wide, and a huge crocodile grin on his face.

“Um, in your research that you did,” Waylon had to pause to swallow laughter. “You know that the uh, Walrider is dangerous right?”

“You betcha,” said Perry, grin still plastered in place. He looked stupid…no…crazy. Waylon could almost imagine Jeremy Blaire’s slimy smile in place of Perry’s. A designer suit instead of Perry’s embarrassing black on black ensemble.

“Fine,” said Waylon, grinning. “Gimme the phone. I’ll call up Miles, and he’ll come here, straight away.”

“Oh, I’m counting on it,” said Perry.

“Perfect,” said Waylon, chuckling to himself.

Perry pulled out Waylon’s phone, and went behind Waylon to force his finger onto the sensor. He hummed to himself as he flipped through the contacts. “Wow you are unpopular,” said Perry, snorting. “Pizza? Perry? Evie? Miles…”

“His number is 9-1-1, if you could just call that, and tell him where I am…”

“Hah. Hah,” said Perry, holding Waylon’s phone. He only had to wait a moment, as Miles likely answered on the first ring. “Heyo! Miles! What’s up, it’s Agent Perry. You remember me, I trust? I’m calling about our mutual acquaintance…”

Perry paused, grinning at nothing in particular as he listened on the phone. “You’re misunderstanding some things, Mr. Casiano. I have Waylon here, personally--not the FBI. He’s a little tied up at the moment—he seems to enjoy it, might want to explore that in the future, assuming he makes it out of this alive.”

Waylon twisted in his chair, desperately wishing he could hear Miles’ side of the conversation. No luck.

“He’s just waiting for you, right now, but I’m gonna run out of uses for him pretty soon if you don't’ show up, and that’s when…”

Perry reached inside of his thin black jacket, pulling a weapon out of a concealed holder. He held the pistol up near the phone, and cocked it loudly.

“Did it translate?” asked Perry. “Could you tell what it was? I was pulling back the hammer on my handgun…because I’m going to murder his annoying bitch ass, do the world a damn favor.” Perry chuckled. “Or you could come here, and turn yourself over, instead. Your cooperation, in exchange for his useless life. How’s that sound?”

Waylon no longer wondered what Miles was saying—he could clearly hear the laughter from where he was sitting. It caused him to break out in new chuckles.

“Oh, sure, hang on,” said Perry, stepping closer to Waylon. “It’s for you, darling.”

Waylon grimaced at the nickname, shooting Perry a death glare that only made him grin wider. Perry held the phone up to Waylon’s ear. It was a bit awkward, but Waylon could hear Miles, clearly.

“Waylon? Waylon, are you okay?” asked Miles.

“So far, yeah,” said Waylon, sighing. “Perry has completely fucking lost it, he’s off the grid, he’s been following us, has some pictures, seems to think you will show up, and surrender yourself…”

They both had to pause, biting back laughter. “He’s got guns, Miles. Guns. Be careful!”

New uncontrollable laughter flowed through both sides of the conversation.

“Fucking idiot,” said Miles.

“I know,” said Waylon.

“He got backup?”

“No way, he’s all alone, any help isn’t government, I bet no one from the FBI even knows he’s here,” said Waylon. “It’s literally just him.”

Perry stood over Waylon, his maniacal grin never wavering. He listened to the entire conversation, nodding along, and smirking.

“Okay, damn, shit, don’t worry, Park. Look, try to stay calm,” said Miles.

“I’m so calm,” said Waylon. “I trust you. I’m sorry I got mad, that was stupid.”

“It’s alright,” said Miles. “I’m sorry, too. Now, put Agent Dipshit back on.”

Perry pulled the phone away from Waylon, and switched it to a speaker call.

“Listen, Perry,” said Miles. “What’s stopping me from calling the FBI? The Police?”

“And explain how your sister died? How you were in Kyoto before the death of two men, then in Como before the death of two dozen hired soldiers? And that’s before we even bring up Mount Massive…”

“No one will believe you,” said Miles.

“Call the authorities, and Waylon Park dies, after attacking me,” said Perry. “Self defense. I’ll get, probation with pay, maybe a demotion if the brass is in a really piss mood. And you’ll be back on the run. Kiss your house goodbye, your car, your trust fund, it’s all Property of the U. S. Of A.”

“Then, what do you want?” asked Miles.

“I want you to come here, and turn yourself over to me,” said Perry, bed springs creaking as he sat down on the edge of the bed. “I’ll take you into custody, and deliver you to the Bureau. We can help you. We can study that dark passenger of yours. You seen the show Monsters Inside Me? Cool show, it reminds me of you, you should check it out…”

“You want me to come there, and willingly surrender myself to FBI custody?”

“As long as you surrender, you get to live, Waylon lives, hell, I’m such a nice guy, I’ll throw in a ticket to Tucson, that’s where his kids are, Tucson. I had to pay them a little visit as part of this nation wide search. Gosh, they’re doing so good in school. They miss their dad, though. No idea why they’d miss such a damn loser, but they do…So, get over here. Turn yourself over to me, peacefully. And Waylon goes home.”

“Give me the address,” said Miles, without hesitation.

“Is that the machine part of your brain? Calculating the best move? Because that is definitely the best move, Mr. Casiano. We’ll be here, waiting. Marathon Motel, up here on Marathon Key, right off A1A, can’t miss it. About…fifty minutes from you? Maybe forty five with no traffic…”

“See you in thirty,” said Miles, before the call ended.

“Damn!” said Perry, his grin splitting his face in two. “That was cool, damn, he’s got that timing down. Shame this guy is done…”

Waylon shook his head, staring at the stained motel carpet with its green and gray speckled design. “No, please, spare my boyfriend…” Waylon snickered.

Perry’s smile faded as he pulled the hammer back, again, and pressed the barrel between Waylon’s eyes.

“You think you have any kind of hope here, Park?” asked Perry.

He pulled the trigger.

Click.

Waylon’s body jumped uncontrollably, and all earlier mirth vanished. “Stop it you fucking monster! You are seriously unhinged. How did the FBI screening let you through?”

Perry chuckled, opening the top drawer in the motel desk. Waylon heard things rolling around inside, and watched as Perry retrieved six large bullets. He slowly loaded the gun, humming softly to himself. He checked, and double checked the gun, finally satisfied that it was properly loaded.

The gun slowly pointed back at Waylon, as Perry smirked. Waylon shook his head, trembling in his bindings. “If I’m dead, Miles won’t go with you…”

“I know,” said Perry, giving a cheeky shrug. “Still, never know where the night’s headed, I think it would be very cathartic to put a couple slugs in you.”

Perry whistled as he picked up a black duffel bag, and dropped it on the bed. He unpacked several other tools, including prescription bottles, more handcuffs, and another gun with a silencer attached. It belonged in a video game; not real life.

The situation no longer made Waylon want to laugh. There was something seriously wrong with Perry. How could a competent agent who studied Project Walrider have miscalculated that two guns would bring down the swarm?

Invite the Walrider.

Perry belonged in an asylum.

A strange device caught Waylon’s eye. It resembled some kind of hand-held metal detector. When Perry pressed a button, the device made a noise reminiscent of the Ghostbusters charging up their proton packs.

Perry was aware that the Walrider wasn’t a ghost, right?

Perry pulled out Waylon’s cell phone, and grinned at the lock screen. “This is old, you know? You should have upgraded already. This’ll give you a good excuse.”

The phone arced through the air, and landed on the cheap carpet with a thud. No visible damage. Waylon raised an eyebrow at Perry.

“Should probably just, get a new model once you get to Tucson, and if I were you…well, if I were you, I’d probably put myself out of my misery, but you seem to want to continue on with this pitiful life of yours, so you should forget about Miles Upshur.”

Perry held up the strange instrument, and aimed it at the phone on the ground. He then walked, slowly, until he was standing on the opposite side of Waylon. He aimed through Waylon, at the phone beyond him.

When Perry pulled a red trigger, a noise like a transformer surging rang in the room. Waylon flinched from the noise, but felt nothing. He looked around, glancing up and down at any of his body. He was unharmed? But something smelled like burning…

On the floor, Waylon’s phone smoked, and sparked. Perry chuckled, as he nudged the phone with his shoe, causing it to spark again.

“Useless,” said Perry.

“What the hell is that?” asked Waylon, a new feeling of dread settling into his gut.

“Cool, right?” asked Perry, grinning. “Blaire Senior’s giving over all remaining secrets in exchange for leniency. We confiscated all of the prototypes back when we razed Mount Massive, but no one really knew how to operate them without Murkoff’s intel. A few people thought they were metal detectors, since it operates similarly, I guess? Don’t worry, it’s not dangerous.”

Waylon tilted his head.

“You’re fine, right?” asked Perry. Waylon remained staring, not answering. “Of course you are. It’s just an electromagnet! Pretty damn strong one, at that. It’s only dangerous to, ya know, electronics. So, you’ll be fine.”

Chapter Text

“If that thing’s really able to combat the Walrider, Murkoff would have used it sooner,” said Waylon. “There’s no way they were sitting on the technology to stop the swarm this entire time, and didn’t use it.”

“It’s been in custody since the riots. All the scientists that knew about its existence, and could have implemented the proper protocols, were the first ones to bite the dust,” said Perry, hissing. “Too bad, for your friend, the guns were stored in one of the few fire proof containers in the lab that escaped his attempts to burn all the evidence.”

Waylon concentrated on keeping his face neutral—his mannerisms collected. Inside, his processor hummed on overdrive.

IF Miles walked into the room without warning, AND Perry was telling the truth about the weapon’s abilities to destroy electronics, THEN the Walrider was about to be decommissioned.

Query: Can Miles Upshur, the man, exist without the swarm?

The haunting image of Miles, dead on the camcorder footage, sprang to mind.

Miles.

A cheap, digital lock on the motel nightstand showed that ten minutes had passed since Miles hung up on Perry. The music started back up. Perry’s amelodic humming and mouse clicking were the only sounds. Waylon waited until Perry was engrossed in typing, before struggling with his wrists.

Government issued handcuffs, no doubt. There had to be some way to escape. If only Waylon could dislocate his arm, or break his hand…wait, bad idea.

Waylon’s best hope was to warn Miles. ‘He’s got a gun!’ wouldn’t do anything, and ‘He’s got an electromagnetic pulsar weapon!’ was too scientific. ‘He’s got something that hurts the Walrider!’ There. That was it.

Fifteen minutes.

Perry picked up the motel phone, punched in some numbers, and waited.

“Hey, it’s me. Yeah, I need you on standby. The party in question should be arriving soon. How quick can you be here? Make it five.” The crack of the phone onto the cradle broke the relative quiet of the room.

“Ooh, almost time, are you excited?” asked Perry. He got up and moved to the bed, grappling with something in the duffel bag.

“Fuck off with that,” said Waylon, jerking his head to the side. Perry sighed, and held the sturdy gag device in Waylon’s face.

“Come on, Park, you didn’t think I was gonna let him walk in here, and get a quick debriefing from you,” said Perry. “Despite whatever you’re thinking, I’m well in my right mind. I know exactly what the Walrider’s capable of, and I have a good idea of what Mr. Upshur will try to do. He can’t succeed, not while I have the magnet.”

“If that magnet could kill Miles, why didn’t you just sneak up on us, and do it?” asked Waylon.

“Because I don’t want him to die,” said Perry.

Waylon’s face scrunched up.

“Surprised?” Perry chuckled, and shook his head. “I don’t wanna kill your boyfriend, I wanna bring him in. Alive. Safe. I want him studied in a safe place, and I want my goddamn name cleared for having been right all along. Miles Upshur is a weapon of mass destruction—he needs to be in safe hands.”

“The United States Government, safe?” asked Waylon, laughing in Perry’s face.

“Safer than allowing him to continue his own little vigilante rampage. You’re aware that he’s a cold blooded killer, right?”

“And by safe in custody, you mean like I was? Locked in that facility with the tests, and the electricity, and the Morphogenic…”

“Similar,” said Perry. “But please, understand, those tests would have been very different if you had been the Walrider’s host. Much less painful. Much more enlightening.”

“How can you know?” asked Waylon.

Perry sighed, holding his hands out again with the gag. Waylon thrashed and fought, but in the end, a large rubber ball was shoved into his mouth. His jaw ached. Waylon attempted to spit and curse at Perry, but the gag was secure.

Twenty five minutes.

Waylon’s nostrils flared as he breathed through his nose, and stared at the motel door. He expected it to fly off its hinges at any moment. The Walrider would swoop into the room, blow Perry to bits, and carry Waylon home on its shoulder. Did it have a shoulder? Miles had shoulders.

Ring.

Perry picked up the phone on the first ring, and stood, silent. “Perfect. Stay there, keep the engine running. I’m looking for a white Volvo, should drive in rather quickly.”

Perry sat down at the computer desk, and waited with the phone near his hand. His face remained calm, but his leg started to bounce, and refused to stop.

Good. He should be nervous.

The phone rang, again. Perry picked it up, then slammed it down. He stood up and retrieved the electromagnet, and the silenced pistol. He walked to stand directly behind Waylon, his breathing loud and steady.

A sharp knock on the door. “Housekeeping.”

Miles.

“Door’s open,” said Perry.

Miles calmly turned the handle, and walked into the cramped motel room.

“Damn, we really could’ve used some extra towels, I’m pretty sure Park pissed himself,” said Perry.

Miles ignored Perry, inky black eyes honing in on Waylon.

“You okay?” he asked.

He’s got a weapon that can hurt you, get away from here,” said Waylon. The gag turned the words into incomprehensible humming. He hoped maybe Miles’ sensitive hearing could make sense of the warning.

“Ungag him,” said Miles, not sparing so much as a glance at Perry.

“Whoa, was something unclear over the phone?” asked Perry. “You’re here to surrender to me. Peacefully. I got a truck outside, waiting to pick us up. Now that you’re here, I suggest that you cooperate, otherwise, I’ll end you both.”

Perry held the silenced weapon in his left hand, and leveled it at Waylon’s temple. Waylon narrowed his eyes, and stared down the barrel.

The dim lighting in the motel room seemed to flicker, and Waylon’s eyes went wide. He looked at Miles, and tried to scream through the gag.

No! Miles! Don’t!

Miles grinned as he stood in the doorway, the air around him growing thicker. The beginnings of a sketchy outline appeared near his right hand—then a noise, like surging electricity, rang through the air.

Waylon choked on the gag when he tried to scream. Miles doubled over, as though punched in the stomach. The area where the swarm had appeared morphed into a cloud of dust, drifting to the ground.

“Fuck,” groaned Miles, clutching his middle.

“Sorry, this is probably my fault, something must be unclear,” said Perry. “There can’t be any Walrider business, or I’ll have to shut you down. You’re here to surrender, peacefully, remember? If the swarm shows up again, I’ll aim the next pulse at your head.”

“What the hell is that?” asked Miles.

“Oh, this?” Perry stared down at the weapon in his right hand with false interest. “It’s just a magnet. Isn’t science rad?”

Miles spat noisily on the floor. What landed was thick and black.

“Want another blast, just to be sure?” asked Perry, holding up the device. “Think you can survive a blast to the chest? Head? How much of you is machine, at this point, if you had to guess?”

“Fuck you,” said Miles, taking a heavy, staggering step toward Waylon.

“We can find out right now, if you don’t wanna play along,” said Perry. He aimed the device with a steady hand. Miles paused, only his head moving as he looked back and forth between Waylon and Perry.

Waylon fluttered his lashes in an attempt to get tears out of his eyes. Without his hands, Waylon was helpless to stop the salt blurring his vision. He shook his head violently when Miles met his eyes. “I didn’t know,” Waylon tries to force out the words.

“Don’t cry, Park,” said Miles, coughing on more sludge. He held up his hands as he lumbered to the bed, sitting down with a grunt. He turned his attention to Waylon, handcuffed in the chair beside the bed. Miles pushed away tears with his mangled hands. “I can’t handle seeing you cry.”

“So are you going to cooperate, or do you need more convincing?” asked Perry.

Miles narrowed black eyes at Perry.

“I have a driver, outside,” said Perry. “There’s an FBI satellite office in Orlando, a good number of hours from here, but we can make it tonight. Once we’re there, you’ll be in custody. Nobody wants to kill you—we want to help you.”

Get out, run, go!” said Waylon, fighting with the gag.

“Looks like I don’t have much of a choice then,” said Miles.

Waylon shook his head, new tears dislodging. “Get out of here, save yourself.

“It’s fine, Park, just calm down, no use working yourself up over nothing,” said Miles.

Perry put down the silenced pistol, but kept the magnet trained on Miles. His eyes never shifted as he picked up his cell phone with his left hand, and hit the button.

“Alright, go ahead and prep the holding cell, turn on the gas to a steady flow, then come into the room, I need help carrying the guy,” said Perry.

Miles sat on the bed, staring at Waylon. Around him, a cloud formed, hazy and indistinct. The pulse from the magnet hit Miles square in the shoulder. The swarm evaporated into more dust, and Miles fell back on the bed, writhing and clutching his arm.

“Fuuuuuuck,” said Miles. Perry walked to the bed, looming over him. The pistol was back in his hand, and both weapons aimed at Miles’ torso.

“I’m hoping this can work out, but you’re trying my patience,” said Perry.

Miles whimpered, coughs shaking his body as he contorted on the bed.

Miles!” Waylon hoped at least that word could translate through the gag. Perry walked behind him, and undid the contraption.

“Talk some sense to your boyfriend,” said Perry. Waylon gasped, jaw creaking from the gag.

“Miles,” croaked Waylon, desperately trying to wet his dry mouth. “Miles, go, run away, don’t do this…”

The butt of the pistol hit Waylon in the cheek, and he screamed.

“Wrong message, try again,” said Perry. Miles tried to sit up, but clutched his stomach and fell back.

“Leave him alone,” said Miles, rasping out through labored breaths. “I’ll go. Fine. I’ll go with you. But only after you release him. Otherwise, I”ll kill you—or die trying.”

Waylon’s entire face throbbed. “Please, Miles, I don’t want you to die. I don’t want you to become a test subject. It’s torture—don’t do it. You deserve a better life.”

“Shut up,” said Miles, chortling. “Hurts to laugh, ugh.”

Miles couldn’t properly sit up, but he managed to roll to the edge of the bed. He reached out a weak hand, and rested it on Waylon’s knee.

“I’ve put you in danger since I tracked you down,” said Miles. “I knew from the start that you’d be better off without me…I’m ready to let you go. You’re the only one of us with anything left to live for.”

“I won’t go anywhere without you,” said Waylon.

“Don’t be an idiot,” said Miles, spitting another mouthful of black bile. “If I’m dead, there’s no way this prick is going to let you go. This is the only way.”

There was something about Miles’ eyes. It wasn’t just the fact that they were pitch black. They communicated something. Waylon shook his head, unsure what Miles was trying to say.

“Just relax,” said Miles. “Perry…”

“Ya?” asked Perry, guns readied, and a satisfied smirk on his face.

“How do you want to do this?” asked Miles, through clenched teeth. The reluctance in his tone made Perry break out in a megawatt grin.

“And Murkoff thought the swarm couldn’t see reason,” said Perry, chuckling. “I wonder what other discoveries we’ll make, once we get you to the lab.”

“A lot can happen between Florida and Washington,” said Waylon. His face throbbed in time with his heart.

“The FBI office will help assist with the final transport,” said Perry. “Now, out the door is a truck, reinforced steel, and a large supply of a chemical gas used to contain the swarm at Mount Massive’s facility. It’s not lethal, but it will prevent you from…swarming your way out? Is that a…can I say that?”

Miles glared, and Waylon wrestled with his binds.

“Miles, please no,” said Waylon.

Miles pulled himself even closer to the edge of the bed—closer to Waylon. He started to reach out for Waylon’s arm, before Perry reacted.

“Eh eh,” he said, gesturing with the magnet. “Stay away from him.”

“I can’t say goodbye?” asked Miles.

Perry stared, unblinking. “Fine. My man’s already in the parking lot. You have less than one minute. And if you make any moves, you’ll live just long enough to watch me sink a few bullets into Park, before you dissolve into dust.”

A loud buzzing sound originated from Perry’s pocket.

Perry put the silenced gun down on the desk, and fished his cell phone out of his pocket. He easily moved his thumb, and brought the device to his ear. The magnet never budged in its aim.

Calculating Escape Route…

Error 404: File Not Found.

“Miles,” said Waylon, as Perry began talking on the phone in the background

Miles leaned in, pressing their lips together. Waylon’s eyes remained open, and he shook his head.

“Listen to me,” said Miles, lips close to Waylon’s. His tone was curt. “Perry isn’t gonna let you go, he’s gonna try to take us both in. The only chance we have is is for you to run away while he’s busy with me. If he won’t undo the restraints, I will, and you have to run, go back to my house, there’s a bag of emergency supplies in the storage supply room, take it and go…”

“Fuck that,” said Waylon, struggling against the cuffs. “I’m not leaving you.”

“Then I’ll have to throw you out that door, but it’s a stretch right now, my strength, I’m not sure how much is left,” said Miles. A steady stream of black leaked out of his nose, as if on cue.

“They’re not going to help you at all, they’re going to torture you…”

“I don’t intend to let them get me into that facility.”

“You’ll break out? How?!”

Perry finished his phone call, and put the phone away.

“Whether I escape, or die here…”

“Break it up,” said Perry. “Your ride’s here, Mr. Casiano.”

“Waylon leaves first,” said Miles.

“Yeah, right, I need Park to be here as motivation to get you into that truck,” said Perry, narrowing cold eyes. “If you get in, then I’ll release him.”

“Bullshit,” said Miles. “You won’t let him go once I’m in custody, so you release him now, or I’ll fight.”

Perry’s forehead creased.

“Let. Him. Go,” said Miles, annunciating each word, carefully. His body shook, and his brow broke into sweat, but Miles managed to sit up. He glared at Perry. “Let him go, or else…” Miles planted his feet on the ground, and started to stand.

Another jolt. The air tasted funny, and more black dust fell to the ground. Miles doubled over, wheezing. “I won’t stop fighting you, until Waylon’s free…”

“Fine,” said Perry, grabbing the silenced pistol from the motel desk. “Fine, fine, fine. I don’t feel like destroying all evidence of the Walrider. If you’ll get into the back of the truck, I’ll free loverboy.”

“No,” said Miles, barely able to lean to the side of the bed. “I don’t trust you, I’m releasing him. Now.”

Waylon couldn’t see Miles’ eyes, but he sensed the words were some type of code. Miles hands shook violently as he jostled the handcuffs behind Waylon.

“Meh, fine with me,” said Perry. A loud noise sounded, and pain seared up Waylon’s spine.

“Fuck!” wailed Waylon. Miles ripped the handcuffs off of his left wrist, and Waylon’s hands flew to his thigh. He pressed down, the open cuff dangling from his right wrist. The soreness in his shoulders and back from being restrained were nothing compared to the biting pain in his leg. Blood seeped up, soaking his jeans, and staining his hands.

“What the hell,” snarled Miles. He regained his footing, but was unable to stand up straight. The magnet aimed at his head.

“Whoa, whoa, you thought I was just gonna let him, what, runaway and get help? Attack me?” Perry snickered under his breath. “He’ll probably survive that. But we should hurry, and get in the truck, so Park can go get some medical attention.”

Miles pressed into Waylon’s side where he sat, clutching his wound. “You gotta get up, Park. I know it hurts, but you gotta get out of here. Call an ambulance. Go see your kids.”

“Right,” said Waylon, voice stuttering. “Good idea.”

Waylon stood up, teetering unsteadily. He looked at the door, then back to Miles. Waylon launched himself at Perry.

The magnet went off with a loud shockwave. Somewhere in Waylon’s chest, his heart skipped a beat. Literally. The magnet disrupted something that made Waylon’s left arm go numb as he clutched his chest. Waylon managed to roll onto his side to see Miles pinning Perry down against the carpet.

The cold glint in Perry’s eyes was gone, replaced with wide eyed horror as he stared into Miles’ abyssal stare.

“There’s a man outside, he’s going to call the police if I don’t walk out of here. I’ve already got it all detailed out on my computer, encrypted, if you kill me, they’ll have you fore sure…”

Waylon grunted as he grabbed the electromagnet gun, his hold slippery because of the blood. He fidgeted with the dials for a moment before aiming at Perry’s laptop and firing.

“Hope you had that backed up in the cloud,” said Waylon, clutching his wound. The electronics on the desk sparked, and the smell of ozone filled the room. Waylon’s heart beat loud and fast, but no longer irregular.

“I can make all of this go away,” said Perry. “I can close the case, for good. Waylon, you’re still being monitored, but I can give the word to end that, you can go on your way, free from the FBI, your family will be free, and…”

“Waylon,” said Miles, each inhale rattling in his lungs. “I know we talked about it, and I respect your opinion, and really don’t want you to leave, but , in this case, can we maybe make an exception? Because…”

“Yes, yes, are you seriously asking me this right now? Fucking kill him, Miles,” said Waylon.

“Oh, thank god,” said Miles. A loud wrenching noise tore the air. Waylon wished he hadn’t heard it. When he glanced over, he saw Perry’s neck pulled into an incredibly unnatural angle. He wished he hadn’t seen that.

Miles collapsed to the ground, lying next to the unmoving body of Agent Perry. “I don’t think I can heal you right now.”

“It’s alright, I can go to a hospital,” said Waylon. “Just worry about healing yourself…”

“No,” said Miles, pausing to cough. His hand came away covered in thick, maroon sludge. “No hospitals, yet. Police reports. Explanations. You’re a horrible liar, no offense.”

“I have a bullet in my leg, I can’t exactly walk that off, I’m not part machine,” said Waylon. Amazingly, he found the energy to be annoyed at Miles.

“Just, gimme a minute, lemme think,” said Miles.

A knock on the door splintered the atmosphere. The handled turned, and the door swung open. Waylon panicked, and reached for the silenced gun that had skidded toward the bed when Perry fell. Waylon had never fired a gun before. He pointed the barrel at the man, and kept his trembling finger on the trigger.

“Don’t shoot, don’t shoot,” said the man, holding his hands high in the air. The door slammed behind him, the work of invisible tendrils.

“Waylon…”

“No, he’s working with Perry, he’ll talk, he can’t…we can’t…” Waylon’s hands quaked. Tears stung, but he refused to let them fall.

“Waylon, no,” said Miles, softly. He struggled up to his elbows, staring at the man.

“We have to Miles,” said Waylon, the words half sob.

“Not you,” said Miles, his rasping voice somehow soothing. “Not you. That’s not you.”

The man sobbed out loud. The poor bastard standing in a stained dress shirt and polyester pants. Waylon had never seen him before. Maybe he had a wife. A family. An important job. Maybe Perry had paid him enough money to finally go back to school, or pay off his mother’s hospital bills.

The swarm appeared, thin and wispy. The man had a moment to gape before he was slung against the floor as easily as a child tossing a ragdoll. The man lie on the ground, broken; the swarm already vanished.

“I-I could have done it,” said Waylon, tossing the pistol onto the bed. “I would have. I’d…I would do anything for you…” New tears formed as he put pressure back on his bleeding thigh.

“I know,” said Miles, still lying on his back. “But I don’t want you to do that sort of thing. You’re not dirty, and tainted, like me. As long as I’m around, you don’t have to do things like that. The way for us to heal isn’t for you to become more like me. It’s for me to become more like you.”

“The swarm,” said Waylon, swallowing hard, “can you…”

“I don’t know,” said Miles, sitting up with great effort. “If you’re going to ask me some scientific question about whether I can come back from this, or what will happen, or whether I’m dying, or if I’ll still be the host if I can’t recreate enough nanites, or…whatever, I don’t know.”

Waylon shifted his hands on his leg, glancing around the room for anything to use as a bandage. Miles managed to pull himself up onto the motel bed, and lay down, as though preparing for a long nap.

“Miles, there are still corpses in here…”

“I know you’re hurting, but, do you think you could push a car pedal?” asked Miles.

“A car…sure, of course, I can drive, I can do that for you,” said Waylon, nodding. He stood up, holding onto the desk for support. He hobbled without putting pressure on his injured leg. At least all those years of suffering through his psychosomatic injury helped with something.

Miles rummaged through his pocket, and pulled out his car keys. He tossed them to Waylon. They hit him in the face, and clanked to the ground.

“Dammit, Miles…”

Miles laughed, head falling back onto the bed. “Go home, Waylon. Go to the house. Go into the storage room, where the map used to be, and find the bag, it’s huge, from an Army/Navy surplus store. Inside, there’s everything you need. I’ll write down directions to the house from here. You need to get yourself there, and find the bag. Will you do that for me? Please?”

“Can’t I help you first?” asked Waylon, eyes pleading.

“I need to be a monster for a little while longer.”