He woke screaming sometimes, covered in cold, clammy sweat and shaking all over, remembering Newt’s lost, dark eyes as the sick black veins twisted up his neck, the way he’d whispered, “Tommy, please—”
Newt was there each time Thomas woke, pulling him into his arms and letting Thomas feel the solidity of his lean body, still thin from the illness but undeniably there. Thomas would cling to him, smell the salt and sweat of him, but it wasn’t enough. The nightmares kept coming back. Newt died a different way each time, it seemed. Sometimes Thomas stabbed him. Sometimes, Newt stabbed himself, driving the blade deep into his belly and coughing up black blood as he folded over. Sometimes, Thomas shot him, Newt’s face an inch away, teeth bared and snapping at Thomas’s throat.
It didn’t matter how he died. Thomas still woke up trembling, groping for Newt’s hand, struggling to ground himself.
The worst one was a month after reaching Safe Haven. In it, Minho reached Newt with the serum and Newt ripped his throat out with fingers like claws, screaming as Minho crumpled and then rounding on Thomas.
Thomas backed up. Newt advanced, anguish in his eyes.
“Why didn’t you kill me, Tommy?” he rasped. “It’s your fault, your—”
Minho stood, throat a gaping ruin. “You did this,” he said in a voice that should not exist. “You did this to me. Thomas. Thomas.”
“Thomas!” Newt was shaking him, hands bruising-hard on his shoulders. “Thomas, wake up, wake up.”
Thomas spasmed sideways, jackknifing away from Newt’s grip. He fell off the narrow cot with a thud that rattled his bones and rolled into a ball, knees to his chest. Newt scrambled over the bed after him, straddling Thomas’s hips in the narrow space and leaning forward to cup his face.
“Wake up,” he said, and his voice demanded obedience. “Open your eyes, Thomas.”
Thomas took a breath and let it out unsteadily, letting the warmth of Newt’s palms soak into his skin. “I killed you,” he whispered.
Newt gave Thomas’s head a little shake. “I’m right here, aren’t I? You saved me, Tommy. Come here.” He pulled, gently, until Thomas levered himself upright, the metal bar of the cot digging painfully into his back. He barely noticed, though, because Newt was still kneeling astride him, braced on Thomas’s thighs.
His hands were flat against Thomas’s chest, eyes luminous in the moonlight. “Tell me how it happened,” he said. “How it actually happened, not the dreams you have.”
Thomas sighed, shifting his weight. “You… turned. I tried to fight you, stop you.” He closed his eyes briefly, remember the black blood that had shone on Newt’s chin in the harsh glare of the beacons overhead.
“And?” Newt prompted. “Did you stop me?”
Thomas opened his eyes and glared up at Newt, who raised an eyebrow. “I… led you. I ran. You followed.”
Newt hummed, sounding pleased. “You led me right to the ship, didn’t you?” He flexed his hand in the fabric of Thomas’s shirt. “To the ship, and the serum. You saved me. Because you knew—” He was close, suddenly, close enough Thomas could feel his breath, warm on his cheek. “You knew I’d follow you anywhere.”
Thomas swallowed hard. “Newt, I—”
“I’m here,” Newt whispered. “I’m alive. I’m with you. So what’s missing?”
“You know what,” Thomas said, and kissed him.
Minho found them the next morning when they didn’t come down to breakfast, fast asleep in each other’s arms. He cleared his throat and Thomas startled awake as Newt made a peevish noise and buried his face in Thomas’s chest.
“Took you long enough,” Minho said, and left.
Thomas watched him go, something uneasy worming in his stomach, but then Newt was lifting his head, his ridiculous hair falling into his eyes as he smiled, and Thomas forgot everything except kissing his warm face, rosy with sleep.
It took them awhile to come out of the hut. Newt captured Thomas’s hand as they emerged, and Thomas didn’t stop him, grinning foolishly at him instead.
There was no crowd waiting for them, no uproar. The villagers were going about their daily lives, and if there were a few knowing looks, an occasional smirk thrown their way, well, Thomas didn’t begrudge them that.
Vince raised an eyebrow when they found him. “Minho’s already told me the news,” he said, resting an elbow on the gate beside him. “Practically had to shove your faces together before you figured it out.”
Thomas’s face heated and he rubbed his neck. Newt just laughed.
“How’s replicating the serum going?”
Vince scowled. “We don’t have anyone nearly qualified enough to actually reverse-engineer what Teresa put together. We’re still working on it.”
“Where is Minho, anyway?” Newt asked.
“Went on a supply run.”
Thomas tensed. “By himself?”
Vince snorted. “Don’t be stupid. Brenda and Jorge are with him.”
Thomas relaxed and Newt thumped his shoulder.
“I’m going for a swim.”
“Get it out of your systems,” Vince said, flapping his hands at them. “Not where the kids can see you!”
Thomas’s blush fired his face as Newt grabbed his hand again and pulled him down the path to their favorite cove.
It was empty, not favored by most of the village for the scramble through the trees necessary to get down to it and the eight foot drop from the base of the trees into the water.
Newt left his clothes in a trail along the twisty path, stripping to his underwear as he ducked through the trees. Thomas was close behind, watching the tantalizing flashes of skin as Newt shed layer after layer. At the edge, Newt turned back and grinned at him.
“Last one in’s a rotten egg,” he said, and dove headfirst into the water. He sliced through cleanly, his pale skin stark against the rocks lining the base of the cove. Thomas stood on the edge for a minute, watching him. Newt surfaced and rolled onto his back. He raised a hand and beckoned languidly, and Thomas swore under his breath and yanked his clothes off as quickly as he could.
His dive wasn’t as graceful as Newt’s, and he surfaced, spluttering, to Newt laughing at him from a few feet away.
“Shut up,” Thomas said.
Newt’s eyes darkened. “Make me,” he suggested.
His mouth tasted like salt when Thomas closed his over it, and for several long minutes, they hung there in the water, tangled together like a jellyfish’s fronds as they explored each other with lips and hands. Newt traced over the bullet wound in Thomas’s abdomen with careful fingers, making him shiver.
“I can’t believe you went back,” he murmured, folding long fingers around Thomas’s hip. “You nearly died.”
Thomas lifted a shoulder, his own hands busy mapping Newt’s ribs. “Had to get the serum that would actually cure you.”
Newt’s eyes were sad. “I know you cared about… Teresa.”
“Not like I cared—care—about you,” Thomas said, dipping one finger under the band of Newt’s underwear. “It was… complicated. But it was always—” You. You and—
His thoughts were cut short when Newt cupped him gently, thumbing the head of his half-hard cock.
“You think too much,” Newt said. “Let me help with that.”
Thomas gulped and clung to Newt’s shoulders as Newt clasped him and began to stroke. His head fell back, the water buoying him up, warm and silken on his skin, one of Newt’s arms around his waist and the other setting a steady rhythm.
“Newt—” he gasped. Lightning gathered in his groin, the pleasure building under his skin.
“Let it go, Tommy,” Newt whispered, and the love in his voice pushed Thomas over the edge, his toes curling as sparks showered behind his eyes and he pulsed helplessly into Newt’s fist, dimly aware that Newt was shuddering against him but unable to focus.
Newt held him up, treading water, as Thomas slowly came back to himself, settling back into his skin with a sigh.
Newt’s eyes creased with amusement. “Good? I’ve never done it on anyone but myself, so I was mostly going off your reactions.”
Thomas curved a wet hand around the back of Newt’s neck and drew him in for a kiss. “Your turn?”
Newt looked briefly embarrassed. “Ah—”
The penny dropped and Thomas laughed. “Really?”
Newt’s fair skin fired with his blush and he pushed Thomas’s shoulder, making the water ripple. “It’s not my fault you’re so hot.”
Thomas reeled him in and kissed the bolt of his jaw, nosing along his throat. “Next time,” he said, “I intend to enjoy yours properly.”
Newt shivered. “I hope Minho’s okay,” he said suddenly.
Thomas lifted his head. “You worried too?”
“I just… he doesn’t go on runs without us. Brenda and Jorge are great, but they’re not us , you know?”
“Yeah,” Thomas said. He dropped a kiss on Newt’s snub nose. “Let’s get dressed so we’re presentable when they come back.”
He held the rope ladder for Newt, slapping his wet ass and startling a yelp from him as Newt scrambled up it, then following him, still grinning.
They dressed in stages, stealing kisses at every opportunity. Newt’s wet hair fell into his eyes and Thomas smoothed it back and tugged the collar of his shirt straight.
“You need a haircut.”
“You can’t see.”
Newt fixed him with a mock-glower from under the shaggy mop of his bangs. “I can see everything I need.”
They were laughing as they emerged from the trees, but the mirth disappeared abruptly at the sight of Jorge’s beat-up truck careening down the hill, tires slipping and skidding as he fought to keep it on the path.
“Minho,” Thomas said, and ran for Vince, Newt on his heels.
Jorge arrived at the same time as they did, gravel spraying as he wrenched the truck to a stop. Brenda nearly fell out and scrambled for the back, and Thomas’s heart stood still for one awful, breathless moment. She was covered in blood.
“No,” Newt said, and ran for the truck. Thomas jerked himself out of his stupor and followed, terrified of what he would find.
He stopped dead at the sight of a petite woman, bleeding from a head wound and gripping her side as Brenda and Jorge gently eased her from the truck bed.
“Where’s Minho?” Thomas demanded as Vince panted up.
“I’ll explain in a minute, hermano,” Jorge said as he handed the woman off to Vince, who steadied her.
“Help me get her to medical,” Brenda said.
Thomas grabbed the front of Jorge’s shirt and shoved him backwards. “Explain now . Where's Minho?”
Newt pushed in next to them, thin features pinched with fear. “Is he dead, Jorge? Tell us, goddammit, what happened?”
Jorge caught Thomas’s wrists but didn’t fight back. “Easy,” he said. “He’s alive, I promise.”
“Then where is he?” Thomas demanded. “Did you leave him? Jorge, did you fucking leave him out there with the Cranks?”
Newt put a hand on Thomas’s arm. “Let him explain.”
Thomas shot him a look but took a step back. “It better be amazing.”
“Help me with this stuff,” Jorge said. He pointed at the back of the truck. Thomas hadn’t even noticed, blinded with worry, but it was full of what looked like the equipment in Teresa’s lab. That looked like a centrifuge, and next to it was an incubator, along with several boxes packed full of various items like refractometers, pipettes, and water baths.
Thomas grabbed a box and yanked it out of the truck.
“Careful!” Jorge said. “That’s got glass in it, don’t put it down hard.”
Thomas set it down and reached for the incubator. Newt helped him wrestle it out as Jorge cleared the rest of the truck.
“We found her on the run,” Jorge said as he straightened. “She’s from the city. She salvaged all this stuff but her car broke down and she refused to leave it. Minho—” He hesitated and Thomas clenched his fists. “Minho made us promise to leave him and come back once we’d delivered her.”
Newt made a noise. “Where is he, Jorge? Where?”
Jorge pointed over the hill. “Ten miles or so down that road. We were foraging in the town on the other side of the bay when we found her. Minho’s in a pharmacy, Fosters, I think it’s called, at the end of Main Street.”
Thomas and Newt were already in motion, running for the front of the truck.
“Need weapons,” Newt said as Thomas slid into the driver’s seat.
Thomas grunted and spun the wheel. One quick stop at their hut and they were back in the truck, two rifles across Newt’s lap and a pair of handguns in the holsters on his thighs. He checked each one’s chambers and loaded them as Thomas drove, knuckles white with worry.
“We’ll find him,” Newt said, not looking at him.
“They left him,” Thomas said, clutching the wheel until the wood creaked. “They left him, Newt, how could they just—”
“You know they wouldn’t have if they’d had a choice,” Newt interrupted. “She’s important, she must be.”
“Not as important as Minho,” Thomas said. Flat, implacable.
“I know,” Newt said. “We’ll find him.”
It took an agonizing hour to get to the town, constantly having to backtrack through the roads cluttered with stalled cars. Thomas took them offroad as much as possible, but that slowed them down to avoid breaking an axle.
Newt rode silently beside him, but every once in awhile he reached over and touched Thomas’s leg, offering wordless reassurance.
Thomas crested a hill and braked, looking at the town spread below them. Newt leaned forward, brow furrowed.
“Looks fairly simple,” he said. “Main Street doesn’t seem too bad.”
Thomas grunted again. “Too many storefronts. We’re going right through the middle of Crank-infested buildings. They’ll hear us coming before we get there.”
“You want to go in on foot?”
“Not really,” Thomas muttered. Every fiber of his being yearned to be in motion, rolling down the hill and finding the pharmacy and Minho, Minho, Minho—
Newt touched his leg again. “Take it slow and steady down Main. Look, I think that’s the pharmacy at the far end. I can see the drugstore sign. There’s a path through the cars, do you see it?”
“Let’s go get him,” Newt said.
Thomas threw the truck into gear and they rolled down the hill.
He wound between the cars with the truck in its lowest gear, the engine a quiet growl as Thomas wove in and out of the stalled vehicles, holding his breath. Most of the storefronts were shattered, gaping holes like black mouths, shards of glass and wood everywhere. There was no movement, the air hot and still, like the town was holding its breath too.
Newt pointed silently at the pharmacy and the open front door, just a block away. It too was dark, no motion inside, but Thomas refused to consider the possibility that Minho wasn’t there. He was there. He was there, because he had to be. Because Thomas would burn the world again to get him back if he had to. Life without Minho was as impossible to conceive as life without Newt.
They were nearly there when the truck backfired, a sharp, short report that had them both ducking in their seats.
“I thought Jorge said he fixed that!” Newt hissed.
“He did,” Thomas snarled, and hit the accelerator, hurtling them down the street. They slammed to a stop in front of the pharmacy as distant shrieks rose, distorted and garbled from wrecked, ruined throats, and Thomas and Newt leaped from it and burst into the pharmacy.
The store’s shelves had fallen or been knocked over, most of the contents ransacked. Broken fluorescent lights hung from the ceiling, defunct for years. The place smelled of mold and rat droppings, and was utterly quiet.
Newt handed Thomas his rifle. “They’re coming.” He pointed to the counter at the far end of the room and Thomas nodded. Rifles at the ready, they soft-footed down the wall toward the counter and the door behind it. If he was here, Minho would be behind that door, his own gun at the ready.
Thomas was reaching for the handle when the first Crank fell through the front door. It howled and charged and Newt dropped it with one clean shot as Thomas yanked the door open. It was a stockroom, long since emptied of anything remotely useful, dark and still. Too still.
“He’s not here,” Thomas said, as Newt shot another Crank and then a third. Thomas brought his rifle up on the one that burst in through the shattered glass. “We have to go.”
“Not without Minho!”
Thomas didn’t dignify that with a response. He just grabbed Newt’s shirt and dragged him toward the door. Ten or twelve more Cranks hurled themselves through the door and broken glassfront and Thomas and Newt stopped dead and backed up fast.
“I saw a back door behind us,” Newt shouted between shots. “Down the hall!”
Thomas dodged a Crank. Slammed the rifle butt into its face. Newt shot the one behind them and they both ran for the back door.
The handle turned easily and they tumbled through into a back alley. Newt slammed the door and leaned against it as Thomas looked for something to jam it closed with.
“Nothing, there’s nothing,” he said, turning in a circle.
A fist hit the door, knocking Newt forward a step. “Now what?” he asked, shoving back on the door until it latched again. It would hold, but not for long.
Thomas looked around. The alley was long and narrow, a perfect trap, with only one way out, to their right. They hadn’t been seen, but it was only a matter of time. At the far end of the alley, a church bell tower rose above the buildings.
“There,” Thomas said, pointing. “We go there. We hole up until they’ve lost our scent and then we go building to building if we have to until we find him. Come on.”
Newt pushed away from the door and they bolted for the end of the alley, skidding in something black and wet and foul near the corner. Thomas caught Newt’s elbow and steadied him, dragging him along until Newt found his feet and ran again, slipping and stumbling, around the end of the buildings and into the street. They emerged into the sunlight and ran for the church as howls went up behind them and running footsteps pounded.
As fast as they were, the Cranks were faster, uncaring of things like physical pain, driven only by the ravenous hunger that defined their existence.
Newt, with his limp, with his broken leg that had never fully healed, tripped and went down. Thomas grabbed him and hauled him upright, still in motion as Newt staggered and tried to get his balance.
Thomas glanced over his shoulder. Bent and caught Newt’s gun from his holster and shot the first Crank before it could reach Newt, its eyes bloodshot and wild in the blackened ruin of its face.
“Run,” someone shouted, and a rifle barked over their heads. Thomas and Newt both ducked instinctively and then looked up, toward the belltower of the church. The rifle fired again, and again, and Newt grabbed Thomas’s arm and they ran for the front door as Cranks fell around them.
The door was big, oak or mahogany or something, Thomas didn’t know, but it was heavy, and it was solid. They shoved it open and fell through in a tangle of limbs. Thomas was the first up on his feet, slamming it shut and dropping the heavy metal bar across it.
A Crank hit the door with a thud and it shuddered but stood firm. Thomas backed up a pace, holding his breath, as decaying fists pounded on the wood and screams of hunger and frustration bubbled through, but the door was unmoving.
Thomas whirled and dropped to his knees next to Newt, who’d made it to his elbows. He was bleeding from a cut on his forehead, his expression dazed. Thomas peered into his eyes, checking the size of his pupils.
“Are you okay? Newt, talk to me, did any of them touch you?”
Newt caught his wrist. “I’m fine,” he said. “Had worse in the Glade. Help me up.”
He stumbled when Thomas pulled him upright though, grimacing.
“You hurt your leg again?”
Newt tried for a smile. “Running really isn’t my sport. Stop jabbering and get me up the stairs.”
Footsteps sounded before they could get there, though, and Thomas and Newt glanced at each other and sped up, hobbling down the stone hallway toward the staircase at the end as Minho burst out of it and collided with them, nearly taking all three of them to the floor.
Thomas caught him before he could, arm around Minho’s sturdy waist, and yanked him into a hard hug as Newt grabbed him from the other side.
Minho was breathing like he’d run a mile, clutching at them both with drowning hands desperate for air, and Thomas closed his eyes and held him tighter.
Finally, Minho’s grip eased, and Thomas and Newt let go so he could step back.
“You fucking idiots,” Minho hissed.
Newt’s eyebrows went up. “Bit much, I think. We came for you.”
“I didn’t ask you to!” Minho said, taking another step away. “I told Brenda and Jorge to come right back, to not involve you.”
Newt opened his mouth and Thomas, who’d been watching Minho’s face, put a hand on his arm to stop him. Minho flinched and spun, stalking back down the hall to check the door.
“You see, don’t you?” Thomas said in a low tone.
Newt watched Minho’s angry movements, brow knitted. Then his face cleared. “You think…”
Minho, apparently satisfied that the door was secure, stomped back toward them. “Well, we can’t go out there now, so we’ll have to wait until they forget we’re in here. Which will be awhile, you got them good and stirred up.” He headed back up the stairs without looking to see if they were following.
Newt looked at Thomas, who nodded silently, and they went up the stairs after him, Thomas with a hand on Newt’s bad side, keeping some of the weight off his leg. They found Minho at the top of the belltower, crouched on the side of the round, stone room. Opposite the door was a small cot with a flat pillow. Minho was reloading his rifle as Thomas and Newt stepped inside and he didn’t look at them, his movements short and sharp.
“Might as well get comfortable,” he said, jerking his chin toward the cot. “Someone used to sleep up here, I guess. Found it when the pharmacy got overrun.”
Newt sat on the cot and Thomas crouched in front of him as Newt straightened his leg, wincing.
“I’m fine,” Newt said in a low tone. “Don’t fuss.”
“What do I do?” Thomas whispered. “I don’t know what—”
“Do you know how I broke my leg?” Newt interrupted, loud enough for Minho to hear.
Thomas stiffened and scooted sideways, so he could see Minho’s crouched form and Newt at the same time.
“It was in the Glade, before I came,” he said. “That’s all I know.”
Minho was unmoving, a statue on the other side of the room, back still to them.
Newt rubbed his thigh, watching him. “I got desperate. I couldn’t see a way out, I couldn’t bear it anymore, so I—”
Thomas swallowed hard.
“I climbed as high as I could in the ivy,” Newt said. His eyes flicked to Thomas and back to Minho. “And then I threw myself off.”
Minho stood, quick as a snake. “Why are you doing this?” he demanded.
Newt dragged himself upright much more slowly with Thomas’s help. “Because,” he said, eyes holding Minho’s. “This is important.”
Thomas stood between them, not sure what to do.
“Minho found me,” Newt continued. “He carried me out of the Maze, he set my leg, and he sat with me.”
Minho jerked his hand, like flinging water droplets away, and turned to stare out the narrow window. “You shouldn’t have come,” he said over his shoulder. “You shouldn’t be here, I don’t want you here.”
“We came for you,” Thomas threw at him, suddenly angry.
“I didn’t ask you to!” Minho shouted, spinning. His eyes were angry, but there was grief in them, and Thomas caught his breath. “I wanted to get away from you,” Minho continued. “I needed—but here you are. Why? To taunt me? Laugh at me for—”
“Enough,” Newt interrupted. “Tommy, kiss him before I lose my temper.”
The world stopped, crystallized in place, the three staring at each other across the small space. Then Thomas swore and crossed the room in two quick strides, cupping an apparently paralyzed Minho’s face and pressing their mouths together.
Minho didn’t move, an unbreathing, unblinking statue. Thomas slid a hand around the back of his neck and up into his hair as he licked along the seam of his lips. Let me in, he begged silently. Minho, please—
It felt like an eternity but then Minho groaned raggedly and his mouth opened and their tongues met in a warm, wet slide. His hands came up and clutched at Thomas’s shirt, breath puffing hot across Thomas’s face.
Then Newt was there, pulling Minho toward him with gentle hands. Minho looked dazed, terrified, and Thomas’s heart hurt, but Newt just leaned forward and kissed him. Thomas held his breath at the sight, Newt’s eyes closed as he sipped at Minho’s mouth, Minho’s eyes open but blind, still held in place like a moth in a web.
Finally, though, he shook himself free and took a step back. “But—” He rubbed his mouth with a shaking hand. “You—” He turned to Thomas. His eyes were glazed, clearly afraid to hope. “And you—”
“Us,” Thomas said. He held out a hand to Newt, who took it, and his other to Minho. “It’s always been us against the world, hasn’t it? Why should that change?”
Minho’s mouth worked and a tear slid down his cheek. The noise he made sounded like pain as he ignored Thomas’s hand and grabbed him in a hard embrace instead, gathering Newt up with his other arm.
Thomas let out the breath he wasn’t aware of holding in a sharp whoosh and closed his eyes. There was still so much to do—get back to the truck, get out of town, find out about the new arrival and what she could do—but for now, there was nowhere else that mattered. Only the three of them, together.