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Standing in the ruins of Ticon, it’s like the Vault all over again. Everyone’s dead, at the hands of the Institute. She doesn’t remember fighting the Coursers or Synths here. All she knows is they’re dead, but the memory’s gone. Lost in a haze of blinding rage that just leaves her feeling empty. Gutted.

Unable to stomach the thought of just leaving them, she takes it upon herself to move the bodies of the fallen Railroad agents off the floor and onto the beds. She didn’t know anyone here except High Rise, but it doesn’t matter. They died for the cause, and even with her infiltration into the Institute, there wasn’t a damn thing she could do to save them.

“Boss,” Deacon murmurs cagily after about the third body, “We shouldn’t hang around too long.”

She whirls, eyes sharp and full of sorrow. “I’m not leaving them on the floor like garbage! They were our comrades. They deserve better.”

He sighs but nods, getting out of her way. He makes no move to help, but she didn’t ask him to. In a lot of ways, she doesn’t want him to.

She finds High Rise last, dead practically at the elevator door. Swallowing thickly, she pushes down her sorrow. It isn’t fair. None of it is. He was a good person. He cared. Now, he’s dead at her feet, scorched clothing and skin blazoned across his chest in a grisly display. She reaches down to lift him up, but her waning strength finally falters. Julia collapses to the floor in a heap with High Rise brokenly draped over her legs. It’s the last straw, and she can’t stop the keening of heartbroken sobs tearing from her throat.

Even now, she’s too fucking weak – so goddamned useless – to even give her friend some last semblance of dignity.

Julia doesn’t hear Deacon walk up behind her, only realizes he’s there when he presses close, lifting High Rise’s body off her like it weighs nothing. She watches him with wide eyes as he lays him down on the mattress in the corner, folding his arms over his chest. She hadn’t asked him to help her, didn’t expect him to. Deacon ran ops for Ticon often, and since High Rise was its owner, knew him far better than her. She knows deep down this loss is more difficult for him, and he probably wants nothing more than to slip into the shadows to safety and drown away the loss with too much booze. Her own stubbornness keeps him frozen here, drowning in memory. Her lips tremble against the new wave of emotion rolling over her, realizing just how much lingering here must be hurting him.

God, she’s so fucking stupid and worthless. She can’t help anyone.

He stares at High Rise’s face, still in death, for a long while before he turns back to her. His expression is totally blank, and that frightens her. “Come on, we’ve done all we can,” he says, hauling her up like she’s lighter than a feather.

The elevator is dead, deactivated by the Institute’s agents, so he starts the long walk down the stairs. Julia follows mutely behind, trying in vain to keep her tears at bay. How could Shaun do this? How could he allow this to happen?

It’s all so wrong.

“This is why the Institute has to be stopped,” Deacon says as they walk down into Ticon’s lobby. He kicks the corpse of the Courser they killed here. There’s a hardness to his words, a razor’s edge that she’s afraid might cut her if she pushes too hard against it.

“I know,” she whispers, thinking of High Rise’s motionless face, his last agony frozen there. She thinks of the Switchboard, and all those dead people she never knew. But Deacon did. Watching his back as they head toward HQ, she wonders how in the hell he can handle this over and over again.

How can he function? How can he still give a shit about Synths when the Coursers keep coming, destroying everything in their way? How can he keep moving, time and time again, blow after devastating blow?

She honestly doesn't know.

“We’re so close, Charmer. With you in, we can finally end this. We can get those bastards for good,” his sharpness makes her flinch. Shaun is with the Institute. To end it, she’ll have to…

She shies away from the thought, unable to consider that possibility.

“You need to be willing to do whatever it takes,” he says, eyeing her over top of his sunglasses. It’s too dark for her to see his expression. “This is our last chance. Our only chance.”

So, don’t fuck it up, is what he doesn’t say.

Julia nods, feeling vaguely ill, and the pair walk back in silence to HQ.