Being on the drip seems to be holding the virus at bay, but it can’t reverse the damage already done. Thomas can feel the sting at the back of his eyes; the way they want to water at the rank smell of decayed flesh and infected veins as the man inches closer. He uses the drip stand as well as a cane to support his emaciated weight, knuckles white underneath the abscesses that have split open and gone septic.
And then he’s leaning over even further, face hovering just next to Thomas’ own – so close, too close. The smell of decomposition thick in his airways and all he can see are the flayed pores in his sunken face where the poisoned veins have eaten away muscle and collagen, only to burst through the papery skin that remains. It’s a wonder this man is functional at all; the viral damage to his brain and nerves perhaps blocking what must be agony while the serum drip returns a vestige of sanity. It doesn’t look like any way to stay alive.
Thomas holds; doesn’t recoil.
He knows he’s immune – knows it thanks to Mary, all those months ago in the mountains, knows because it was his blood, what she distilled from it that has kept Brenda going this long. He isn’t afraid of the Flare, but even if he was just as susceptible as this wasting husk of a man, he thinks he’d stand still anyway. He knows a test when he sees one. He’s lived through enough of them. This is just one more and he has to pass it if they’re going to get Minho back.
“I am a business man,” the withered not-quite Crank rasps. His voice is almost as ruined as the rest of him, but considering he looks like he should already be a corpse, it’s probably holding up fairly well. He sways back again, so that he can look Thomas in the eyes. His are dark and so bloodshot that the irises are ringed with burst vessels. There’s a milky opaqueness in the pupils. “Which means that I don’t…take…unnecessary risks.”
He speaks slowly and purposefully – more, Thomas thinks, to impress a position of power than because he has trouble finding the words. There’s almost a genial tone to him; someone who might be amicable, but for a price.
“Why should I trust you?” he says, but that’s not the question he’s actually asking.
Thomas knows what this trade will be.
“Because I can help you.”
The man’s face is considering, the eyes narrowing slightly. Thomas continues, voice just as low, talking to him on a level, because whatever he looks like now, Thomas is pretty sure the part about him being a business man was no lie. This is a test, but it’s also a negotiation.
“You see,” he says, “if you can get me through those walls, I can get you what you need.”
“And what is it,” he asks, almost cordially, but there’s the faintest trace of a kind of mockery there, “that you think I need?”
“Time,” Thomas replies. His gaze tips just a fraction to the drip that he’s still holding onto; the almost spent transfusion bag and drip of a blue substance that he’s seen just twice for himself, but recognises on sight. “Every last drop.”
The older man’s head turns to it. He’s hard to read, not just because half his facial features are missing or obstructed, but he’s an odd mix of resigned and cavalier as he also considers the dwindling supply in the bag.
Thomas can feel Gally to his right, the way the air around him seems to tremble as they wait on an answer. The others hover a few paces away at his back; the support system they’ve always been even when they stay silent.
“Is that right?” the man says finally, a rhetorical question; a brush off. Thomas feels Gally’s eyes flit to him but Thomas refuses to look away or back down.
Even if this man knows he can’t be saved, he’s determinedly clinging onto life just a little longer for something. Thomas is sure of that. He meant what he said, knows what he can see; this man isn’t looking for a cure – not now, not this far down.
“WCKD has something we both want,” Thomas tells him.
Maybe it’s not a certain cure – not for this guy – but he does want them to pay. He wants a way in; their destruction; a cure for the people he’s leading. Thomas really isn’t sure he even cares. He’s welcome to all of that – as soon as Minho is out.
“I’ll tell you what,” he says. “Two can go for now. The rest stay here with me. Just a little insurance to make sure you find your way back.” He speaks lightly, pleasantly, but it’s not lost on any of them what this is. And even though Thomas doesn’t like it – doesn’t like being split from any of them – he gets it. Everyone needs insurance in this crumbling world.
“Do we have a deal?”
A hand lifts towards him; fingers limp, a slight tremor in the wrist and abscesses on the back of the thumb.
But this is their best chance yet. They need a way in.
Thomas shakes the offered hand.
Something that might be a smile pulls at the wasted skin of the man’s face.
“Gally, show them the way.”
The drop down the manhole leads Thomas and Newt away from the others and into the dank, stench-filled tunnels of the sewers. It’s a little like being back in the maze; a senseless grid of interlocking pathways with no sign of life and no end in sight. They have to trust Gally – something Thomas isn’t keen on for a variety of reasons – but he doesn’t lead them astray. They climb up eventually, shifting a loose manhole cover at the other end of the trek to spill into a dark maintenance room.
When Gally leads them outside, it’s already night. And they’re inside the city walls.
Thomas and Newt stick close together, weaving between the crowds, trying to stay focused. But it’s hard. These people are in clean clothes with orderly lives, and they’re just walking home from work on their phones or reading from tablets that glow blue across their healthy faces. This place and its population feel so far removed from the world Thomas knows.
They’re all wearing sterile white face masks.
Gally stops them at the top of a set of steps just outside of a pedestrian square. Trams whirr above them, tracks suspended on tall poles as they run to a strict schedule and an electronic announcer calls out the dwindling time to curfew.
“This is a long way from the Glade,” Newt says.
Thomas can’t speak to agree with him. There they were, for years, trapped inside a tiny clearing of trees, dozens of boys with no memories and just fighting every day to live. Thomas doesn’t even have that much; his memories begin only a year ago with the box he woke up in. And across the planet, there was this; a city that’s survived the Scorch, even benefited from it, where the skyscrapers glitter against the night sky. Millions of lights cast an otherworldly glow on the wet asphalt and reflect in the walls of glass.
Fifteen minutes to mandatory curfew
The tram winds away from them, the voice echoing in its wake and Gally pulls himself from the railing he was leaning on.
“We better get off the streets. I know it’s hard but…act like you’ve seen it before.”
That doesn’t matter so much when they get going. They avoid the patrols – something Gally says is already tighter, probably because of them – and soon they’ve left the main pedestrian zone and are scaling walls in the less extravagant part of the city. Its darker out here, more shadows to swallow them and with curfew enforced, no one out to even look their way.
Gally leads them up onto a small stone balcony on a stairwell. He goes for a bag, tucked into a recess of the wall where you’d never see it unless you knew it was there.
Facing them, blocks away but glowing like a homing beacon through the buildings between, it’s a building made of glass and steel, that tapers up to a point, seemingly touching the sky like some kind of lightning rod.
“There it is,” Gally says, a little needlessly, but it’s good to have it confirmed. “if WCKD’s got Minho, that’s where they’re keeping him.”
From the bag he pulls out a telescope which he’s already setting into the piece of rebar on the wall to hold it in position. Setting his eye to it, he starts to fiddle as he continues to fill them in.
“Lawrence has been trying to find a way in for years. The place is crawling with soldiers, they’ve got surveillance everywhere; scanners on every floor.”
“Sounds like a bloody fortress,” Newt comments as Gally rises to lean on the rail beside him.
“I thought you said you had a way in,” Thomas says.
There’s a long beat, and then, “I might.”
“Might?” Thomas turns on Gally. “What the hell do you mean, might?”
Gally is slow to swallow, and slow to step back, right away from the telescope until he’s against the wall behind them. “Take a look.”
He never much trusted Gally, and he’s not sure that he does right now, either, but the way the taller boy moves to give so much space is like he’s well aware of it and trying to prove something. Still, Newt’s right there and even if he knew Gally longer, Thomas’ trust in him doesn’t so much as flicker. Newt has his back, giving him the security to curl forward and look into the eyepiece.
The scope has been trained on a brightly lit room for him; some kind of lab. And there, moving about, making notes is someone he recognises in an instant, but was wholly unprepared to see again.
He lifts his head, remembered betrayal and anger swimming hot and itchy in his blood, pain like shards of glass under his skin; at odds with the way a piece of him can’t help missing her. Immediately it’s obvious to him why Gally told the Flare infested Lawrence that they needed Thomas for this.
“I said I had a way in,” Gally says from behind him, and Thomas turns. “I didn’t say you were gonna like it.”
The trip back is a bit of a blur.
He can still picture Teresa, high up in the building, completely at home among the kind of equipment and technology that people outside are starving for. And he still can’t process quite how seeing her again makes him feel. He can’t let go of the betrayal that burns beneath his heart and it makes his pulse hammer. He doesn’t remember her before the Glade, not really. Just fragments. But he remembers everything after; he isn’t sure if he loved her, but he cared about her, felt a connection to her, would never have dreamed of leaving her behind. She filled the ghost of a void in him that felt like it was meant for a sibling – at least, that’s the best he can figure it was with just Chuck’s wrenching wound as a reference.
He misses what she might have been to him, if their lives were different, and that’s what he grieves for. But it isn’t enough.
It’s because of her that Mary is dead, that Sonya and Aris suffered for months; that Harriet would wake up from nightmares so often that Vince considered sedating her more than once. It’s because of her that Minho’s still in there. She believed she was doing the right thing, and maybe Thomas wants to understand that, but he can’t; not after everything he’s seen them do in the name of a cure. He doesn’t know how to forgive it.
Jorge, Brenda and Frypan are still waiting when they climb back up through the manhole in the insurgent’s lair.
“Well?” Frypan demands, jumping up from the crate he’d been sitting on when Newt appears first. “What did you see?”
“Is there a way in?” Jorge asks. He steps forward into the dim glow of the lone bulb, expression carefully neutral.
Gally is up next, with Thomas taking up the rear. Newt bites his tongue between his teeth and hisses out a breath. He looks at Thomas and doesn’t answer.
“Come on,” Gally says into the tense silence. Frypan’s expression has shuttered, eyes moving between Thomas and Newt as he tries to read one of them. “There’s a place we can go.”
The place is a war room higher up in the abandoned building complex. The walls are thick, a combination of stone and brick with counters erected at the edges to support tools and papers. There’s a huge table in the centre with a map spread across almost the full breadth of it and an assortment of mismatched lamps and flashlights give the place an oddly eerie kind of glow; the warm orange light offset by the blue strobes, neither of which can quite hold the dark shadows at bay.
Gally starts talking, even while they’re still all clustering in. He gives the others a run down on their flight through the city and Teresa’s current employment status.
“She knows Thomas,” Gally says with a final flourish. “She’s the weak link.”
Thomas, feeling pressure build behind his eyes with every word Gally has said, finally snaps. He breaks away from the circle that’s formed around the table. Everything in him recoils at doing this, at using her.
He’s never trusted Ava Paige, or Janson, never trusted anything that came from WCKD. But Teresa…he trusted her without reservation once, and she used that to throw away everything he’d been fighting for. The last thing he wants is to be forced to use her now; he doesn’t want to have to place even the smallest bit of faith back in her hands.
“No, there’s gotta be another way,” he protests.
“Like what?” Gally demands, the same particularly confrontational, not-expecting-a-valid-answer tone that Thomas remembers. “You’ve seen the building. She is our only way in.”
She’s also smart, entirely capable of selling people out and believes steadfastly in what she’s doing. Even at gunpoint, he doesn’t trust her not to come up with something to make this blow up on them. “You really think she’s gonna help us?”
Gally doesn’t miss a beat, the sharp arch of his eyebrows looking almost angry in the assorted light. “I don’t plan on asking for her permission.”
“Am I missing something here?” Brenda interrupts. She’s sitting at the table, the other side of Gally, and despite the tone of no compromise, her voice is level. “This is the same girl who betrayed us, correct? Same dick.”
Gally’s expression flickers just for an instant. “I like her.”
Thomas ignores it. His eyes catch Brenda’s, sees the way her fierce expression melts down, becomes something so gentle that he’s almost surprised.
“What’s going on?” she asks, and her voice rasps, too. She doesn’t do softness much, but its strangely, entirely disarming. Thomas finds it hard to keep looking at her and his eyes drop down.
He’s not even sure how to explain because they couldn’t understand. Of course they don’t trust Teresa; how can he even explain that this is his exact problem with any plan involving her?
“What? Are you afraid your little girlfriend’s gonna get hurt?”
Newt’s voice strikes, cobra-like into the sudden, tense silence. Thomas takes a full second for it to even register. “Hmm?” he continues, voice hard in a way that’s unfamiliar and…off. “This has obviously never been just about rescuing Minho.”
Thomas turns from the table, feeling the confusion settle into his face. Of all the people here, Newt’s always got him – something that worked both ways – and it’s a jarring shock to his system that this time he doesn’t seem to understand. Right now, Newt is somehow, suddenly so…angry. And Thomas doesn’t know why.
He shifts around the table edge, moving towards his best friend, still lost, uncertain, where he’d never expected to be with him. “Newt, what are you talking about?”
Newt is sliding up from his stool even as Thomas finishes speaking. His features are sharp with fury, the cords in his neck strung tight as he invades Thomas’ space. He finds himself backing up; an instinctive movement that’s made sluggish because his brain can’t perceive Newt as a threat even with all the signs there.
“Teresa,” Newt spits. “She’s the only reason that Minho’s even missing in the first place, now we finally have an opportunity to get him back and what, you don’t want to because… of her? Because deep down inside you still care about her, don’t you.”
Thomas blinks rapidly and his gaze drops, sliding across Newt’s mouth like his ears got it wrong and he’s actually saying something else. He’s not even sure what he expected, but he doesn’t think that was it. He’s backed into the brick; rough texture just rasping against his jacket, blood turning hot in his veins and moving faster. Newt’s not done. “Just admit it.” He says darkly, eyes burning strangely.
“Newt…” Thomas half breathes, but he barely even gets it out before Newt is reaching out and shoving him.
His back bites into the brick.
Newt is so close that Thomas could swear he feels their noses brush. The taller boy’s fingers claw into his clothes with force, the fevered impression of fists branding high onto his chest through the layers. If anyone in the room moves or speaks, Thomas can’t tell. His heart races and he holds his breath. There’s a flash of heat at the base of his neck, like he’s sunburned in the Scorch again, and a foreign ache that knots in the base of his spine.
“Don’t lie to me,” Newt shouts at him, in the same instant he shoves. “Don’t. Lie. To me.”
Just a second after the last word leaves his mouth, his eyes flicker.
Thomas watches as that unnatural burning in them sputters and dies; the way Newt’s features shift first into alarm and then soften as realisation hits. His mouth goes slack, his gaze trips away, horror and guilt and maybe a kind of embarrassment there as he steps back.
Thomas can’t say anything.
All he can do is watch his best friend come back to himself, his pulse thundering under his skin. He’s not in danger from Newt, he doesn’t believe that, and that’s definitely not what made his heart skitter and his blood run hot, but he is suddenly scared for him.
Thomas may have been on the move too much to really see anyone succumb to the Flare, but it’s hard to miss all of the posters and billboards about what to look for, and now, something Thomas hasn’t even let himself consider since Winston is a very real possibility all over again.
“Sorry,” Newt murmurs to him.
Thomas stays put, watching him carefully as Newt backs up another step, turning to apologise to the others. Only then does Thomas see the way they’re grouped on the far side of the table, as if frozen. Brenda’s holding a hand over her heart, her eyes wide and glassy; Jorge’s expression is assessing and Frypan looks strangely diminished. Even Gally, who’s still standing with crossed arms, looks kind of like someone has clubbed him over the head. There’s an uncertain look on his face, warring with a kind of blunted bewilderment. It makes Thomas wonder if Newt ever lost his temper like that before he met him. He’s guessing not.
And that’s when he notices Newt rubbing his arm. Maybe it’s nothing. But just as Thomas couldn’t tell himself Newt was a threat earlier, he can’t tell himself this is nothing now.
The vague kindling of fear for him blows out into an all consuming panic. The taller boy moves slowly away, like he’s still in a bit of a haze and Thomas feels himself almost fall away from the wall at his back, like gravity is pulling him into Newt’s orbit. But then he’s moving faster, more grounded, purpose sinking into the set of his shoulders again. He stops rubbing at his arm and doesn’t glance back once as he reaches the doorway and slips through it.
Thomas is left beside the table, feeling like pieces of him have been splintered apart. The others seem to breathe for the first time in long minutes but none of them move. None of them want to speak first, and absently, Thomas appreciates that. Blaming it on tiredness or stress would feel cheap; false. But calling it what it is…Thomas can’t face that either right now.
The air suddenly feels thicker and just standing there begins to be difficult. There’s a squeezing sensation in his chest, too much pressure on his lungs and the argument plays on repeat across the back of his eyes. He needs a breather, and honestly, there’s only one place he wants to be right now.
And then he draws up his sleeve. The infection is thriving beneath his skin; his veins swollen and thick with poison, looking like a spidery web that starts somewhere beneath the sleeve of the jacket and branches out towards his wrist. Newt flexes his fingers in the early morning sunlight and Thomas can feel something inside of him shattering.
An apology is the last thing he cares about. Its one thing to suspect something, even to be absolutely sure about it, but it’s entirely different when the truth is staring you in the face. And right now it is. This is the new reality he’s faced with, that he’s being asked to find a way to live in; one where Newt is sick, infected, and there’s no known cure. There is only time; pieces of it.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” Thomas asks him.
“Didn’t think it would make any difference.” Newt says, and Thomas has to bite on his tongue to hold back any sound of protest. He’s always done that; valued literally everything above his own life, and here he is now; with everything they’ve learned about the Flare since their escape, and he’s hiding it because of Minho. Thomas wants him back, too – he gets it – but he also doesn’t even want to consider what this hellscape world would be like without Newt in it with them, with him.
Of course it makes a difference.
Newt continues, his voice level and objective in a way that’s both self deprecating and entirely blank. “All I know is that WCKD must have put me in that Maze for a reason. Maybe it was literally just so they could tell the difference between immunes like you and people like me.”
Thomas can feel the way his throat closes up against tears, his jaw flexing to bite the rawness back. It hurts, more than he’d thought it could, just to hear Newt talk about himself as if he’s so far apart from him; a different category of human; somehow lesser. It’s a wrenching, shooting kind of pain; like a knife between your ribs.
But one of them feeling hopeless is more than enough. Newt’s bleak, matter-of-fact view of his role in the world is a spark and Thomas allows the shattered pieces inside him to fuse together with it. He can’t walk into a future where Newt doesn’t follow. More to the point, he won’t.
“Okay, we’ve just gotta fix this, Newt,” he tells him, so softly that he thinks the breeze overhead takes the words away. “And we can.”
He doesn’t know what they can do, but he’s going to hold onto this. Teresa betrayed them for a cure. People died for tests, were murdered for just slivers of possibility. So Thomas is going to hang onto this even if he has to let go of everything else.
But Newt is predictably as self sacrificing as usual. He doesn’t even hesitate to reply, his tone thick with conviction, “Don’t worry about me. This is about Minho, and now he needs us, so if there is even the slightest chance that we can save him, that we can get him out of there, we have to take that… no matter what the cost.”
Thomas does hesitate.
Just last night he would have agreed in a heartbeat; been ready to do anything if it meant getting Minho back. But today things are different and it isn’t even about using Teresa to get in. He never even thought in his worst nightmares that the world would take Newt instead; that he was the price Thomas would have to pay.
And he refuses to.
“Okay, I hear you,” he murmurs. Because he does. He just has no intention of letting it come to that.
Thomas ducks back into the building first, but Newt is right on his heels. They’ve had enough of the unrelenting sun anyway and they need to plan.
He hesitates outside of the door that leads to the war room. He can’t hear voices on the other side, so either they’ve all gone silent again, or they’ve dispersed since he left.
“What are you waiting for?” Newt asks, leaning around him and setting his palm to the door. It’s banged up, even looks like it’s had acid thrown on it at some point, but it holds in the frame well enough that it won’t budge until the handle is turned down.
“Just-“ Thomas’ own hand flashes out to grab Newt’s wrist. It’s his right arm, and despite how menacing the spider web of veins looked, Thomas can barely feel them; just the way Newt’s pulse jumps under his palm and the slightly clammy heat of his skin. Newt goes still. His eyes flit uncertainly from Thomas’ grip on him to his face even though he makes no move to distance himself.
“About before,” Thomas says, and he’s already rushing to cut Newt off when he stiffens. “Not that. I get that. I wish you’d told me sooner, but I get it. I mean about Teresa. Its not…It’s not because I care about her, okay? I mean, I do, kind of, but that’s a part of me that remembers the girl who was in the glade, and maybe what she was to me before that.”
Newt’s voice is rough, “Tommy, you don’t have to-“
“Yeah, I think I do.” Thomas says, low and firm. Newt’s jaw shuts and he swallows hard, his eyes darting away, across the floor. Thomas sucks in a breath. “I can’t stop that part of me from caring about her, but that doesn’t mean I can forgive what she did. Even if I wanted to just let it go, I don’t know how to get over that.” And now he’s said that, he has to explain this, somehow; tell Newt why. “I didn’t want to use her because she already betrayed us once; when we thought she was with us. How can this work now, when I’m waiting for her to do it again? And its bigger now – it’s not WCKD coming for us with a couple of Bergs and a few guns. This is their turf, their world, and it’s…”
“I know,” Newt says, very quietly.
Thomas pauses, stops trying to search for an end to that sentence that will properly articulate what he means. He frowns at Newt, who finally looks up again, meeting his eyes with familiar steadfastness and an understanding that feels like home.
“You don’t want to have to work with her again for something as big as this; not when it’s Minho on the line. But now we know which side she picked, and we’ll be watching her. Gally’s right – she is the only way.”
Thomas can only absorb that slowly. Relief, that Newt is still with him, still gets him in the way he always has, without him explaining it well at all. But it’s numbed by the sharp dissonance of this discussion, and the one before it.
“You know?” He asks blankly. “If you knew, then why – before…?”
Newt runs his tongue along his lip, gaze twitching away again, and Thomas frowns, fingers loosening so that Newt can draw his wrist back. He uses the hand to ruffle at his blonde hair in a way that is both agitated and hollow. There’s a touch of colour in his face.
“The Flare,” he says, shrugging in a facsimile of casualness. “It just…twists stuff. I don’t know. I wanted to get to Minho and it was getting sort of cloudy in my head.”
Thomas is sorry he asked, kind of. He knows mood swings are a symptom, he just wasn’t sure where the anger stemmed from, not when Newt in a cool frame of mind does understand. What was he thinking back then that fuelled the infection?
Newt lifts his other arm, and curls his fingers into the shoulder of Thomas’ jacket. It’s not far from where he grabbed him earlier, but there’s no trace of that burning rage here now. He offers a crooked, tired smile. “We’re okay, Tommy.”
“Are we?” Thomas asks before he can even think to reel in the question.
“If this is still about Teresa-“
“No, it’s about you and me,” Thomas intercepts the mildly defensive tone with a firm, pointed one. Newt’s eyes widen just a fraction and his hand drops back to his side.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean,” Thomas presses, voice dropping because somehow this just feels more…personal. He gestures loosely to Newt’s arm. “I get that this is screwing with your head, I do. And I also get why you thought you couldn’t say anything. But Newt – if we’re doing this, if we’re going after Minho – you can’t just…I need to know, okay? That you’re okay, or something. And Teresa-“
Newt’s eyes flicker. He hides it well, but Thomas sees the way he forcibly rocks his shoulders to keep them loose.
“See, that. Right there,” Thomas says. “That means we’re not okay.”
“I just don’t love the idea of working with her again – any more than you do. You’re hardly a bloody shank to talk.”
“But I know how this works. So do you. The…the Flare. It works faster on active brains, on ones under stress. Talking about her already…”
Set you off, he means, but can’t make himself say. But its clear Newt hears it anyway.
Newt’s eyebrow lifts with his usual unimpressed disbelief and he leans to the side, shoulder curving into the wall as his arms fold. “You think I’m going to go rabid on her on sight?” he asks with a black kind of amusement.
Thomas’ stomach knots and he feels fleetingly like he’ll throw up, vicious nausea twisting through his gut. “Shut up,” he says, not cruelly, but he means it. “That’s literally the last thing I’m afraid of.”
Newt’s expression flickers with faint surprise.
“I told you, this isn’t even about her. I’m scared for you, Newt.”
And now, he blinks rapidly, first looking shocked – Thomas gets that; has he ever been this open with anyone before? – but it quickly shifts into a crushing kind of sadness and Thomas feels like his insides are turning black. Forcibly, Newt braces himself, determination fixing into his features as he reaches up to grip Thomas’ shoulders tightly.
“I told you, don’t worry about me. I’m not going anywhere until we have Minho back; no matter what we have to do. All good? Now let’s go – we’ve got one shot and we have to get it right.”
Thomas relents, letting Newt press him back a step so that he can reach the door handle, and then they’re both taking stabilising breaths and leaving the discussion at the threshold.
Brenda is reclining in a chair in the war room, spinning it idly in uneven circles on the wheelbase. Although she’s in a slouched position, her shoulders low and one foot propped up on the seat while the other brushes the floor to propel her, her eyes are sharp. She’s studying a huge sheet of worn paper that’s creased in a grid pattern from being kept folded.
As soon as Thomas and Newt round the brick wall fully, her eyes jump up, a hand dropping to her hip where her Beretta is still holstered. She recognises them an instant later and instead lurches forward for the radio on the table.
“They’re back,” she barks into it. “Get up here.”
There’s a crackle on the other end and then she tosses it back down. Her eyes are narrow, carefully assessing, but she says nothing until Thomas – sharing a glance with Newt – crosses the open space to drop into an empty seat. Then she tilts her head in Newt’s direction. He sits back on the stool he’d abandoned before and folds his arms forwards onto the table. He worries his lower lip with his teeth, fingers flexing in and out.
“You got it?” Brenda asks bluntly. There’s a kind of sympathy there, something that’s entirely understanding, but also muted, like she figures sympathy and pity is why he hasn’t said anything.
Newt seems receptive to her usual no-nonsense approach. He nods, swallows, and says roughly, “Yeah.”
Brenda’s expression wavers; her lips press together and her eyes flood with sadness. It’s like she hoped, in spite of the argument she witnessed, in spite of her own experience and suspicions that Newt would tell her she was wrong. She chances a glance at Thomas as her free hand absently moves to rub at her raised leg. She has the unique perspective of having been exactly where Newt is.
Something itches at the back of Thomas’ mind.
“We can fix it,” she says, soft in the quiet.
And they can. At least temporarily, somehow. They did for her.
Newt makes an aborted kind of noise, sitting up. “We have to get Minho. That comes first.”
But the more Thomas thinks about it, the more worried he is.
It was a year ago, but he remembers the day Brenda was infected. He remembers the building suspended over a chasm in the Scorch, the way the Cranks chased them through the hallways, tilted on their sides. And he can still see how the glass shattered, giving out beneath them. He remembers her peeling up her pant leg afterwards and the ugly wound gouged into her skin.
She lasted two days after that.
They made it to Marcus – and Thomas has no idea if the drugs forced on them slowed down her infection or sped it up – and then they made it to the Right Arm. Brenda started fitting not long after. Mary knew what to do; take his blood. It saved her life.
But there’s still that same itch in Thomas’ brain and he rubs at his temple in agitation. Whatever the answer is, it’s just out of his reach, the memory just a little too hazy, and the frustration is turning brittle under his skin, ready to snap.
If Newt was infected because the virus is airborne, does that mean it’s slower? Faster? When Brenda was infected, all they had to do was find Marcus, and Brenda already knew where to head for. After that, they just followed Jorge. But this – whatever plan they decide on today – will be more than that. It will need coordination, forethought, contingencies and, knowing them, a lot of inventing wildly in the moment. Thomas can feel that weight pressing on him. How active will Newt’s brain have to be to pull this off with them? How much time will that steal from him?
Something about that catches at the persistent scratch in Thomas’ head. He pushes away from the table, rubbing at his face as he tries to lock down on it, tries to filter the horror of losing Minho from that day and remember the other pieces.
“Thomas?” Brenda asks. It doesn’t sound like much of a question but he holds up a finger for her to wait. He just needs one more-
And that’s it.
“Time,” he says.
He wheels around and both Newt and Brenda are frowning at him, like he’s the one infected.
“You want to know the time?” Brenda tries, perplexed.
Thomas waves the question away, striding back to the table.
“No. No, I remember what Mary told me – the day in the mountains when she took my blood to treat you.” At this, both Newt and Brenda sit up straighter. They still look like they don’t know where he’s going with it, but they’re willing to follow him down this conversation. “She said it would stop the virus, but that you’d always need more. It might last a few days, or a few months, but it would wear off. A lifetime of treatments; something like that. It has to be why that guy – Lawrence – is on a drip. He’s more…he was at a later stage before he got any of the serum so, I don’t know, maybe it needs to be constant.”
“But I haven’t-“ Brenda’s voice clams up, her eyes wide with alarm and she leans forward over the table. “Not since then, Thomas. And I’m fine – I swear.”
“Because you were treated early enough?” Thomas speculates. “No, that can’t be it. Mary knew about this; she told me even you would need more. So why…”
“Wait,” Newt intercepts. His expression is focused, trained on the table. “Go back. You said Mary did this? The woman Janson shot?”
Thomas can feel the wild hope inside him burst like a balloon being punctured. He knew that, of course, but the reminder is fresh and there’s no asking her for answers now. “Yeah. Shit.”
“No,” Newt says, literally rolling his eyes. “I mean – how did she do it? How did she make a serum from your blood, in a tent, in the mountains when WCKD has been torturing us for years and not even gotten close to a cure that lasts a day. How did she know or do any of that?”
That…Thomas can’t answer.
“They killed her for a reason,” Newt says, darkly.
Thomas stares at him. He’s right. Maybe Mary knew something; maybe she found another way.
Before they can brainstorm any further, there’s the clanging sound of the door flying open.
The three of them wheel around, hands reaching for guns, but its just Gally who leads the way in, Jorge and Frypan right behind him.
“You good?” he asks shortly. His stare is hard, but Thomas is slowly learning to read him, and this is an expression he vaguely remembers from the Maze; worry and fear that he can’t afford to let anyone see. His eyes roam from Thomas to Newt and if either of them say things aren’t okay, Thomas isn’t too sure who Gally will start shouting at first.
But Newt answers, sounding calm and grounded. “We’re fine. Where did you lot go?”
Frypan holds up some packets of crumbled biscuits and tosses them down so that they skitter across the table in all directions. “To get some food,” he says. “Eat up.”
“If we’re doing this,” Jorge says, throwing Thomas a look that seems to be asking him to go with it for now. “We need to go over everything. We have one shot.”
“And also…” Gally says, for the first time looking slightly cowed. “Lawrence is asking for his end of the deal.”
Thomas can smell the decayed flesh again suddenly, as though the man has joined them in the room and his eyes sting.
“We don’t have any yet,” he protests. “He gets his end when we get Minho out.”
Gally shoots Newt a fleeting, unreadable look, and then his eyes rest with a strange kind of gravity on Thomas.
“No; you don’t have any of the serum,” he agrees. “But you do have blood. We’ve got someone who can do the rest.”
Thomas is pretty sure for a second that his heart stops.
The room holds its breath. He can feel Newt go very still just behind him and see the way both Brenda and Frypan’s expressions drop. Jorge leans back, eyeing Gally with analytical focus.
“What?” Thomas chokes, feeling like he’s trying to talk through water.
Gally’s expression hasn’t changed. “There’s a guy coming, Keith – he works for Lawrence. He used to live inside the walls, until he realised they were sealing the city for the wrong reasons. He didn’t work for WCKD, but he was a nurse, before the world went to hell. All he needs is some blood and if it works, your end of the deal is done.”
“Remind me,” Brenda interrupts, eyes narrowing again. “I was sort of not with it last time – but how much blood do you even need to separate enough of this…immune enzyme for a dose?”
Gally’s face twists. Thomas can’t read it, but he knows it’s not good. A stab of something that might be hurt – he didn’t trust him enough to feel betrayed, but it does hurt all the same – flares under his heart.
“Too much, right?” he demands, feeling hopeless, desperate anger surge up inside him. Brenda was out of it, but he was there. The blood drawn from him gave her one, small dose of that serum, and he couldn’t spare any more; not if he needed to run and fight and hold a gun. The same is true right now.
Vaguely he registers Newt standing, his hand setting on his shoulder and gripping down; restraint or support, Thomas isn’t sure which.
“Why doesn’t he take anything from you?” Newt asks. “They know you’re immune.”
“They tried,” Gally confesses, with difficulty. “It didn’t last. Keith’s best guess was that there are different strengths of immunes or something. I’m immune enough to keep me safe, but not anyone else; not long enough to really matter, anyway.”
Thomas shares a look with Brenda. Gally’s watching him, and he puts all his effort into keeping his face blank, but hers can afford to reveal her shock, just for a second. One dose from him has lasted…months; a year, all this time, with no signs of fading away. Gally has no idea. That’s information that it’s suddenly vital they keep to themselves.
Jorge clears his throat and her face becomes a mask again.
“Only Lawrence and Keith know that,” Gally continues without a pause. “Felt it was best to keep it quiet, so they just said I wasn’t viable or some shit. I’m valuable enough to keep around so it stops rebels wanting to cut me up. You’re missing the point, though.”
“Am I?” Thomas demands, hard, Newt’s squeeze on his shoulder doing nothing to calm him. “Lawrence wants to collect and we’re running out of time. He can get his end of the deal when we get ours. If I’m bleeding for anyone today, Newt’s getting whatever dose you can make.”
Newt inhales sharply.
Gally’s jaw locks, and his gaze shifts, first to the hand Newt has tight on Thomas’ shoulder, and then up his arm to Newt’s face. “It’s true, then?”
“Hmm,” Newt hums in affirmation and Gally’s face hollows the same way Brenda’s had; suspecting it is one thing, knowing is its own kind of pain.
“I’ll do it, too.”
Thomas blinks. Everyone looks around. Frypan is standing at the table, abandoned packet of biscuits in front of him and expression unwavering despite the weight that seems to have crashed down on his shoulders now he knows.
“Do what?” Gally asks.
Frypan sucks in a breath then shrugs like this is obvious. “Give you some blood. You can’t take enough from Thomas for two people, but if both of us do this, you get two doses. One goes to Lawrence – good faith – and Newt gets the other.”
“Fry-“ Newt starts, but doesn’t finish.
Gally talks over him, his tone hard to read. “You weren’t part of this bargain, Fry.”
Thomas kind of agrees – he doesn’t want any of his friends to get involved further. He took that deal knowing it was on him to deliver his half – though he hadn’t quite figured it would be literally his own blood. But he can’t make himself tell Frypan to back down; not when the stakes are this high.
“Then this is the new bargain,” Frypan says, unmoved, talking directly to Gally. “You get a dose now, in return for making one for Newt. And you get another when we have Minho. It’s a better deal.”
There’s a tense beat, and then, of all things, Gally smiles.
Thomas is reminded – as he is at random moments – that Gally has known both Frypan and Newt years longer than he has; that he was good friends with Fry especially for much of that. And that stab of hurt – that he came here just to deliver bad news – melts away, replaced with a kind of gratitude he never thought he’d associate with the ex-glader.
Gally will never confirm it, and Thomas will never ask, but he’s sure – Gally orchestrated this conversation. He knew them enough to know what to say, how to press. He couldn’t change the bargain Thomas shook on, but he knew he could get them to amend it; to offer this substitute, and he worked it all out inside of half an hour when he first suspected Newt needed help.
“Good that. I’ll tell them,” Gally says. He turns, striding for the doorway but stops just where the outcrop of brick blocks the door from view of the room. He looks back and nods at them. “I’ll get the nurse here fast, and then we have the day to get ready for this. We’re getting Minho back tonight.”
Thomas wasn’t sure how he’d be able to work with Gally. All he could think when he looked at him was ‘Chuck, he killed Chuck’, but that voice in the back of his mind has gone quiet. It’s barely a whisper now, and though parts of him want to hang onto it; that rage and demand for vengeance, Chuck’s own memory is stronger. Chuck wouldn’t want that. More importantly, he wouldn’t want Thomas to hold his death over Newt’s chance to live.
“Gally,” Thomas calls to him, just as he’s about to disappear. The taller boy stops and looks back, wariness in the edges of his eyes. Thomas steps forward; Newt lets his hand fall away from him. “Thank you,” he says.
Gally looks for an instant like he’ll cry, and then he looks like he’s ready to say something deeply sarcastic, but neither happen. He swallows, looks Thomas in the eyes, and nods.
He leaves without a word.
Keith reminds Thomas a little of Mary, but mostly he sees how they’re not alike.
He’s efficient, even if there are gaps in what he knows and what he can do, but it’s clear he’s here, part of Lawrence’s alliance because he wants to do some kind of good; be of use. Unlike Mary, he harbours a resentment of WCKD and the glistening city beyond the walls that might some day burn him from the inside out. Mary hated what her previous employers became, but Thomas felt – in the fleeting time he knew her – that she found a kind of peace in joining the Right Arm, in working with them to disrupt WCKD’s plans. She even said she had a clear conscience right before Janson murdered her. But Keith…maybe it’s too soon, or maybe it’s living in the shadow of the city that wanted him to be something else. His bitterness is a force.
Still, Thomas feels like he can trust him with this, at least.
Doctors swear the oath – First, do no harm – and Keith, even just a nurse, still seems to hold to that. Therein lays the difference. WCKD isn’t made up of doctors; they’re scientists, where advancement is the thing they swear to.
Keith lays out his things across the war table. Pipettes, glass tumblers, narrow test tubes, needles, syringes and loops of plastic piping among other oddments are all set down, and then arranged neatly before the nurse turns to them.
He’s probably in his late thirties; but the hard times have ravaged his looks and added years onto him. He’s slim, his cheekbones sharp in his face and his jaw decorated with two days of stubble, but his eyes are honest and reassuring. It’s the kind of expression that would have served him well in a hospital before they all fell into the desert.
“Who’s first, then?” he asks, eyeing the group of them planted around the room. He doesn’t know who’s who, Thomas thinks. He wonders if Gally’s been careful with that information, though right now he can’t see how it can help them.
Thomas has barely even shifted forwards when Frypan storms ahead of him, shrugging out of his jacket.
“Fry-“ Thomas tries, but the other boy has already hoisted himself up onto the table and held out his arm.
“Always want to be first, don’t you, Thomas?” Frypan says, teasing, and Thomas finds it in himself to huff out a breath of a laugh as he lets it go. Thomas led them into this entire thing, so he can’t help feeling responsible for them, but sometimes – like now – he’s reminded that they want to protect him, too. Frypan nods. “Let’s do this, Doc.”
This time, they all seem to be watching more carefully.
Frypan’s blood is drawn through a cannula, down the tubing into a beaker, and when its half full, maybe a pint, Keith removes the needle and patches Fry’s arm up. Gally rests a hand on his shoulder to steady him as he gets down off the table, but it seems like precaution.
Keith syringes different substances into the blood, pours it all into another tumbler and then tips in a careful measure of something else again from a test tube. He mixes, waits, and adds measures of different catalysts, changing beakers as he goes. Slowly, it changes form. The blood sample goes thin, textures separating out, the quantity gradually dwindling as its components are isolated and only the needed ones carried forwards. When the remainder is poured into a final glass of clear liquid, it turns brilliant, cobalt blue as it hits the surface. The pint has been distilled down to just a small measure containing the part they need.
Keith uses a pipette to take up as much as he can, leaving barely a drop behind. He then feeds it into a test tube with sediment at the bottom; what looks like a fine grit. He shakes it, and then sets it in a cradle, turning his back on it to strip off his gloves and clean up.
“Is that..it?” Newt asks.
“Give it a few moments,” Keith says. “The enzyme stays unattached while any junk left in the plasma bonds to the particles in the bottom. When it’s ready, what’s left is the serum that everyone is tearing apart the world for. How good it is…that I can’t tell you.”
Thomas isn’t even sure how Frypan figured he was immune to start with – Mary told Thomas, but there was no time to find out anything more than that. Maybe he offered himself up on a gamble only, or maybe he just felt it, somehow. It’s not a question they have time to linger on now, either, even if they were prepared to ask it.
“How is it that easy?” Thomas asks, throat tight. “How is that possible – when they’ve spent years putting kids through nightmares, saying that was the only way.”
“This isn’t easy, Son,” Keith shakes his head. He looks saddened, but that earlier resentment shines through it. “These catalysts; the agents that help separate the enzyme from your blood, they’re rare now, difficult to get hold of, expensive to manufacture – if anyone even can anymore. I stole what I could when I left the City, but my supply will run out – and soon. And it won’t work with just any immune. Your brains have been stressed long term, exposed to some seriously damaging environments and factors, so there’s more of it; enough for a viable sample with this method. Anyone living a normal, comfortable life…there wouldn’t be enough in the bloodstream. Direct drainage from the brain would be the only way, and even then…without the stressors, even that wouldn’t yield enough.”
Newt swallows, and Thomas catches the glance he sends across to him; something shuttered and hollow. It’s not hard to follow the train of thought.
Newt is keenly aware that saving him requires someone else’s suffering.
Thomas wishes he had the time right now to say something, anything, to stop Newt blaming himself, but he doesn’t.
“Who’s next, then?” Keith asks. He’s set up the arrangement again, this time with clean equipment, and pulled on a second pair of gloves.
Ignoring the way Newt looks ready to stop him, Thomas steps forward, shaking off his own jacket and rolling up the sleeve of his shirt underneath. He lifts himself up onto the table where Frypan had been sitting and holds out his arm.
He barely even registers the swab, the pricking pain of the needle or the pulling sensation as his blood draws. The last time was Brenda, and he had been anticipating needing to do it again to keep her going – it had simply just never come up. But much as WCKD has instilled in him a resentment of anything like this – being used – it’s the last thought in his mind right now.
If everything he’s survived means he can save Newt, it will be worth it.
Keith leaves the beaker to fill; Thomas’ blood dripping steadily into it, and then goes to the test tube he’d left waiting.
The sharp, cobalt blue has paled into an electric shade and the sediment at the bottom has solidified into a saturated, dark mass. A new syringe is lowered into the substance, and the plunger pulled back. It’s not much; millilitres of it at most, but Keith nods at it, pleased, and then depresses the clean, filtered serum back out and into a tiny capsule that he holds up.
“Can I?” Gally asks, and Thomas’ head flies up, instinctively rejecting the idea, but Frypan looks entirely unconcerned as Keith hands it over.
Thomas watches him turn it between his fingers; shining blue liquid sliding from end to end in the glass case and a new concern takes hold of him – a bolt of fear that pulses and pulls blood from his arm faster.
Frypan is immune – enough that his blood has yielded a viable serum – but if what Gally said is true…they have no way of knowing if his will last for hours or days – perhaps as short as minutes. How can they make sure Newt gets a dose that they know, thanks to Brenda, will work?
“I think that’s quite enough,” Keith says, interrupting Thomas’ thought process before it can really spiral down. He detaches Thomas from the cannula and patches him with his own square of gauze and bandages.
Thomas feels fine; maybe a little strange in his left arm, with a slight itch from the needle mark, but at this point, it doesn’t even register. He’s taken various scrapes and damage for as long he can remember, literally from the day he woke up in the box. He stays put as Keith works his way through the distilling process again.
Across from him, Frypan reaches out to take the capsule of his own enzyme from Gally, who lets it go without any sign of hesitance.
Thomas breathes a little easier for all of ten seconds and then –
“You can keep that,” Keith says, without looking up from the tumbler he’s swirling in front of his eyes. “I was told to make two and one stays with you.”
It feels like half the room seizes in a breath and holds it. Something desperate and anxious ripples through them, spilling across the room. Only Keith continues with his task, and though Gally’s eyes narrow with the sensation something is off, he has no way of knowing what.
Newt’s eyes flicker. They jump to Thomas with a sharp kind of alarm that he places instantly; being worried for someone you care about. Thomas feels like he’s worn that expression out between news of Minho and Newt’s confession of sickness. Newt is selfless to a fault. Jorge goes rock solid, Frypan freezes, the capsule loose between his fingers and Brenda’s hands press into the table the opposite side until they go white.
There’s a vice clamping down around Thomas’ chest and all he knows right now is that somehow, they have to switch the vials.
There’s a chance that Lawrence – even Gally – won’t care which vial goes to who – but Thomas isn’t willing to gamble with Newt’s life on that. He made that deal. It wouldn’t surprise him if Lawrence demands his blood in payment; more for the point of it than because he thinks it’s any more potent.
They can’t risk it. It’s a sure bet against an unknown, but they’re being watched by people Thomas can’t – won’t – trust with this. They just need a way…
“Let me see?” Brenda asks, cutting into the sudden quiet, only punctuated with the clinking of beakers and pour of thick liquid. She’s indicating the serum in Frypan’s hands, index finger circling in a purposefully idle way without lifting her hand from the table.
Frypan shakes his head loose, lowers his hand and rolls the vial to her across the wooden surface. The natural dip of the table veers it to the right a little and, seamlessly, Brenda shifts her chair over a few inches as she snatches it up.
The plan clicks into place at the back of Thomas’ brain.
He catches Brenda’s eyes over the spread of the map. Her expression is full of gravity, the exact same purpose he can feel burning in his veins, her fingers light around the glass tube. She nods her head, very, very faintly. She has his back. Whatever they need to do, she’s in.
At the same time, Jorge very slowly shifts closer into the room, aligning himself with the carrier Keith brought with him, containing unused equipment. His carefully unreadable expression clears, just for an instant, and Thomas can see the same steadfastness in him that reflected in Brenda. He’s game; and he already seems to know the role he has to play.
Thomas remembers that mountain tent a year ago, ducking out of the flap only to have Jorge fold him into a hug, tight with relief and gratitude. He’d looked back after, hand heavy on Thomas’ shoulder to say; with deep sincerity ‘I owe you one’. Thomas had never held him to that. Of course he was going to save Brenda if he could, but he remembers that promise now, and it seems Jorge has been holding himself to it.
A few moments later and Keith is filling a second vial. It’s hard to tell the difference, but Thomas thinks this one – his one – is a fraction paler, and just a tiny measure more of it. But it’s an almost indiscernible difference. Good.
The nurse sets down the second dose beside the tin he’s been keeping to dispose of the used needles.
Frypan rubs at the crook of his arm where his blood was drawn, and then turns to sink against the table. It’s placed him a foot closer to the needle tin. Keith doesn’t notice, preoccupied with draining out the remainder of the useless blood samples, but Gally’s attention snaps to him. He looks somewhere between concerned and mildly suspicious, but he doesn’t make any move to interfere.
Everything drained and empty, Keith finally starts to clean up; stacking beakers and bottles back into the waiting carrier, tossing used syringes and tubing in on top. Jorge watches from his vantage point, eyes calculating.
Thomas looks to Newt.
He’s sitting on a stool to the side, folded forwards, his fingers rubbing absentmindedly at the sleeve of his jacket. Thomas’ heart lurches at the reminder of their wasting time. Still, he looks up, eyes steady and his eyebrow quirks, which is all Thomas needs.
He turns his gaze to Jorge and tips his head.
Then everything happens at once.
Jorge folds his arms, managing to make the movement natural even as he reaches enough to knock the carrier. The room fills with the sound of clashing glass as everything is jostled inside. Thomas slides down from the edge of the war table, catching his own weight easily as his feet hit the floor and placing himself in front of Frypan to swing his jacket back on.
Keith, startled by the noise, darts away from the table to check on his supplies.
“I’m sorry, Hermano,” Jorge says, sounding expertly sincere and stepping wide away, hands up.
Perfectly timed and blocked from sight, Frypan reaches for the capsule by the tin and rolls it directly to Brenda in the same instant she fires the first one back to them.
Across the room, Newt starts coughing.
In a part entirely unplanned, Thomas’ jacket sleeve catches the needle tin as he finishes shoving his arms in, and automatically he reaches out to steady it. He neatly snatches the vial of Frypan’s serum as it tumbles towards him in the same movement. He wheels to face the room.
That’s when everything stops.
Gally has frozen halfway between apparently going to check on Newt – who’s suddenly fallen silent from the spontaneous coughing fit – and making his way towards Thomas. His eyes are narrowed, but there’s no suspicion there anymore. Instead there’s a strange kind of intrigue and something worryingly knowing.
Thomas forces himself to breathe out.
Keith stands up straight behind Gally. It’s the first time his attention has drawn away from his equipment and his eyes flash around, uncertain and suspect.
“Sorry,” Thomas says fixedly, striding forwards. “Didn’t mean to knock it. Blood loss, you know? Here.”
He holds out the capsule.
“Didn’t want it to fall on the floor.”
There’s a beat, then Keith nods at him. Lingering misgivings war with his medical instincts as he zips up the case. “Yeah, you should take it a bit easy for a couple of hours,” he says. His eyes slide over to the table; like he thinks he’s missed something but also like he might be imagining it.
Thomas doesn’t look away from Gally.
I dare you, he thinks wildly.
But Gally doesn’t ask, doesn’t question, doesn’t even betray that he might have been suspicious just moments before. He nods and takes the vial Thomas is holding out.
“Thanks, Greenie,” he says. He turns to Keith. “Last thing, then you’re done.”
Keith seems to take Gally at his word that everything is fine and visibly let’s go of his doubts. He fishes out a sterile packet, breaks a fresh syringe free and fixes a new needle to the end.
“Well,” Gally says, very deliberately pocketing the vial Thomas practically handed him as he now looks past them all to Brenda. His eyebrow lifts and he says, carefully, “Time to see if Fry’s brain is any good.”
There’s another click in Thomas’ brain; his heart tripping as he becomes acutely aware of something. Gally is going to lie for them.
He knows they switched the serum. Maybe he didn’t see exactly what happened, but he knows they switched them. He doesn’t know what they do about the enzyme Thomas can produce, but he probably suspects that now. And he’s standing there; coolly holding the one Thomas gave him away from Keith and keeping his mouth shut on all of it.
Thomas never got along with him; never really saw the sides of him that Newt and Frypan must have known before he ever appeared in their lives, but he’s seeing something of it now.
If Lawrence asks him, he’s going to lie.
Thomas finds himself in the unique position of still resenting the person that he knew; Chuck’s death still a vicious memory, while now feeling so relieved he’s almost light-headed, gratefulness flooding through his bloodstream like spring water.
Then it’s all happening really quickly.
Brenda relinquishes the vial of Thomas’ serum. Keith pulls it up into the syringe, and then Newt is setting down his jacket and offering up his arm, the veins spider-webbing beneath his skin, pulsing black and poisoned.
The injection is quick. Newt inhales sharply, and then lets the air rush back out, his body swaying forwards as he seems to almost pass out for the span of a heart beat. Thomas and Frypan dart forwards to stabilise him as Keith backs away, but Newt sits up straight after just a second, his bearings already returning. It feels like Thomas can actually breathe with him again, now that he’s not facing a future where Newt can’t follow.
He’s going to be okay.
“Newt, you good?” Gally barks from the shadows.
Thomas is learning him. His voice may not have softened at all, but he only asked because he cares about the answer. Maybe Gally isn’t quite who he thought.
Newt seems to consider it for a moment. His gaze traces across the veins in his arm and then lifts up, slides across Gally and comes to rest on Thomas. He nods, slowly, and then again, with more conviction.
“I think so.”
“Well,” Keith inserts, now shoving the needle tin into the carrier as he hoists it up and onto his back. “If the serum takes at all, you should start to notice a difference. You’ll feel clearer, might be hungry, thirsty…but a lot of this is speculation, too. Chances are the physical toll won’t go away. It all depends on the enzyme’s viability, and the person taking it – their immune system, metabolism, health, even mental state…it’s hard to tell. Gally knows how to find me if I’m needed.”
“Thanks, Doc,” Newt says.
Thomas nods, grateful and respectful, as Keith gives them all a tip of his head in return and finally ducks out of the war room.
Only then does it really register what just happened. They did it. Somehow.
Thomas sinks back against the edge of the table beside where Newt is still perched. Frypan and Brenda both deflate and Jorge leans into the wall, fingers rubbing at his beard as he blinks in astonishment.
Newt pulls down his sleeve. Already the veins look less angry, just slightly in the dim light. Given Brenda has healed almost entirely – just the barest scar left – they’re probably all thinking it’s quite likely he will too, so it’s probably a good idea to keep it hidden now. He reaches out to squeeze Thomas’ shoulder.
“Tommy,” he says, quietly.
Thomas shakes his head. “Don’t thank me, Newt. Just…tell me, okay? If – when –”
There’s a catch in the air between them; Newt reeling in what he’d been prepared to say. Instead, his hand shifts, comes to rest between Thomas’ shoulder blades, pressing warm through the thick layers of his jacket and shirt. “I’ll tell you,” he promises.
Gally clears his throat across the room and all of their heads snap around to him.
His eyes are keen, sharp under the severe arch of his brows but he still doesn’t ask any questions, just pats the pocket where he stashed Frypan’s vial of serum.
“If you’re good, then I’ll go give this to Lawrence, make sure he gets it. Deal’s done.”
“And then what?” Brenda asks.
Gally looks her way. “Then we sit down and we plan this so we’re ready to go at sundown. All of you shanks just stay put and eat something.”
With that he turns on his heel and marches from the room.
As the door bangs shut in his wake, Brenda leans forward from her chair to pick up one of the long forgotten packets of biscuits Frypan brought. She levels them with a put out expression before even opening it.
“Can someone explain what the hell a shank is, please?”
Its hours later, the sun is almost set and Thomas is making his way back from the roof. They began with the bare bones of the mission just minutes after Newt was given the serum; WCKD goes down, Ava Paige dies, Janson dies, they get Minho out, they get out as many of the others as they can, they need a getaway, an escape, and they need a back up escape for that. They’ve gone over the plan several times in the long hours since then, adding logistics to it and now the only piece missing is Teresa.
The group split up for a breather. Frypan and Newt went to find more food, since it promised to be a long night ahead. Jorge had disappeared and Thomas retreated to brace himself for seeing Teresa face to face again.
He hesitates for a second in the doorway of the war room that they’ve overtaken since the night before. There are just two voices from inside – Gally and Brenda – and the instinctive flare of apprehension that they’ve been left alone quickly burns out when he registers that the conversation seems to be amicable.
The dented door is ajar, just a fraction – the way Thomas left it – and he can hear them. Gally is talking, and the end of the question stalls him outside the threshold.
“…reason, right? That you wanted it to be Thomas’?”
Brenda’s voice is flat. “I don’t know what you mean.”
A tiny part of Thomas has the energy to be amused. Brenda’s smart. Even with less knowledge of Gally, she’s aware that he knows what they did. Even though she’s capable of lying, and lying well, that’s not the point. The point is that she’s being abundantly clear where her allegiances lie.
Gally scoffs, but it’s not an antagonistic sound – Thomas well knows. He sounds strangely accepting, possibly even a little bit fond or respectful. It’s strange.
“You know,” he says, “I wasn’t sure at first. You wanting Fry’s dose, the way everyone got really tense about it…I thought maybe you knew something. Maybe you- like- because of Thomas, if you-“
“You thought what?” Brenda demands. She sounds very suddenly somewhere between furious and wildly amused. Neither of them wins out, and her voice is a little hysterical as she fires back at him. “You thought that I’d sabotage them? Newt? You’re insane. I’ve gone through hell with them, you have no idea-“
“No, I know,” Gally quickly intercedes, alarm and apology ringing out in the sharp jab of his voice. “I know. I didn’t mean- I’m sorry. I don’t know what you’ve gone through.”
“Right, so don’t be a dick.”
Thomas bites back a smile and he hears the huff of a laugh Gally chokes out.
Its quiet for a moment, and then Gally speaks again. “It was a neat trick.”
“Don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Right,” he replies, something genuinely warm about it. “Just…so you didn’t switch them, then. But whatever didn’t happen earlier was for a reason, and since I watched Thomas and Fry and – heck – even Newt work like that to do it, I’m guessing it was because you all knew something. It had to be Thomas’, right?”
Silence is his only response, and Thomas holds his breath outside the door.
“Figures,” Gally says, almost to himself, though he doesn’t really sound upset about it. “I was with them before – I guess you knew that.”
“Yeah,” Brenda says, a blithe tone underscored with a note of steel. “Kinda figured there was some history there when Thomas decked you in the face yesterday.”
“I just mean…Thomas and I may not have gotten along but knowing it was Newt; that he was the one who needed the serum…I trusted him with that. Him and Fry. You and the guy who beat up one of our raid team…I didn’t know if I could trust you with it. I’m sorry.”
Brenda lets out a rush of breath that sounds like a form of compromise.
“I get it,” she says, strangely gentle. “You can’t just throw trust around these days.” There’s a pause and then, still in that soft tone she continues, “Thomas saved me.”
“Wh-How-?” Gally doesn’t seem sure which question he wants to ask first.
Thomas’ heart tightens for an instant. Not fear – he knows Brenda will keep the secrets they need to keep – it’s a kind of…regret. He doesn’t like that she may feel indebted to him; not for that. And he knows she hasn’t stuck with them because she owes him, but still, he doesn’t like that she may feel that hanging between them sometimes.
He can practically imagine the way Brenda’s face twists into that mildly exasperated look she wears when she has little patience for stupidity as she speaks again.
“From Cranks. In the Scorch. He caught me when the floor gave out when we were on the run. I’d have fallen a thousand feet, probably more, if he wasn’t there.” Here, her voice turns harder, surer, “I’m alive because of him, so if I can help him save Newt…I think that means more to Thomas than nearly anything else.”
“But you didn’t do anything,” Gally says, conspiratorially, something faintly teasing that makes Thomas blink in surprise.
“Nope,” Brenda replies promptly.
“You still wanted Thomas’ dose, though,” he persists, but it doesn’t sound like a question. He knows he’s not going to get an answer. “You, what-“ his words catch, and then he continues, awed; forming his own speculation, “-you know his will work. How?”
Thomas pushes in the door with a bang. Both the voices dry up. It’s a conversation that Gally wasn’t prepared to pursue against more than one person.
“You’re ready to do this?” Brenda asks him, entirely abandoning the old conversation.
Oh, yeah. Teresa.
Thomas nods. He’s not thrilled about it, and the closer it gets, the more his reasons seem to multiply, currently top of which being he just doesn’t really want to face her again. But this is way bigger than him, than either of them.
“Yeah,” he says. Before he can rethink it, he looks to Gally. “Maybe just rattle her a little bit, though.”
It’s petty, but he can afford it.
Gally’s eyes flash with something almost wicked and it’s the first time Thomas has ever felt like they might be on the same page. “Gladly.”
They abduct Teresa without a hitch.
They infiltrate the WCKD complex with just a small hitch. It evolves into a far bigger hitch when Thomas and Newt are exposed on their way to the lab levels and then end up in a fire fight in the corridors. But they find Minho up there. Running on adrenaline and little else, he manages to half rescue himself before being a typical overachieving shank and rescuing the two of them as well.
But they’re out of bullets, out of exits and end up locking themselves into a kind of consult room to evade Janson. Really, the only upside to the entire thing is that the three of them are together after so long.
And then, well…there’s really only one way out. Down.
It seems like they really are cursed as they all stagger out of the water after the twenty storey drop, only to run right into four armed guards. When one turns and shoots the other three and then turns out to be Gally – who came back for them, after everything they said about the plan and the bus and just getting the hell out – it feels like their luck is changing.
And then an explosion rocks the Last City.
The streets swarm with rebels, fireballs, guard squads and military. Someone even brings a rocket launcher. They’re pinned down, behind a cemented flower bed on the sidewalk as a war breaks out. They’re diverted off course by weapons blasting the streets into shrapnel. Thomas has to radio Brenda because they are not going to make it another nine blocks to the tunnels. She and Frypan need to take the kids and leave without them.
No, Brenda refuses, point blank. There’s a sound through the radio that drowns her out for a moment; loud, powerful, cracking through the signal. No, she refuses again; she’s coming for them.
The four of them change course for a new destination; the wide, elevated central plaza of the city. It’s the only place large enough to land a military grade Berg on the ground.
It’s a struggle. Newt’s limp holds him up, but he’s healthy and Thomas doesn’t even want to spare a thought for what might be happening right now if things had gone differently that morning. Too much has held them up; he may not have made it. Minho was running on fumes when they found him so he’s almost burned out and he shakes all over whenever they pause for breath and to check the coast is clear. Thomas can feel the impact of the water from twenty storeys high deep in his bones, like they’re just waiting to shatter apart. Gally leads the way, an assault rifle in his hands. The four of them hold, fighting across the rubble and debris of the streets as Lawrence’s people pillage the city. Buildings start to fall around them.
But they make it.
Brenda stands at the foot of the ramp, hair lashing around her face in the down draft from the sweeping rotor blades.
Teresa’s voice echoes through the ravaged city. She knows. She knows he’s the answer, and it’s even more than Thomas knew. It’s not that serum from his blood just lasts longer; it can actually attack the virus. It can destroy the Flare.
Thomas goes back.
This news came too late and they’ve already taken too much from him; they tried to take even more. He said he was going to end it, and he still intends to.
Minho sits on the ramp of the Berg, exhaustion in every line and movement of his frame, and still he tries to stand again. Thomas manages to stop him, even manages to convince Brenda to keep him there, but there’s no stopping Gally or Newt.
Their luck changes again.
Janson shoots Ava Paige. Thomas feels the sharp sting of a dart in the cord of his neck and when he wakes up, he’s bound to a medical cot.
He’s terrified for Newt, even scared for Gally, but Janson doesn’t answer his questions. He smirks and waxes poetic about his new world order and reveals the infection mapping up the inside of his arm, just like it had been on Newt’s hours before.
Teresa knocks him down with a glass beaker. She breaks him out. She tells him Newt and Gally were never captured; Janson had people knock them out, and he left them there. They were both in stolen guard uniforms; he’d hoped the rebels would take care of them. He couldn’t have known Gally was working with them before.
She’s shot at as they race away from the lab. Thomas takes the bullet.
Janson is killed by the crank test subjects they unleash on him in the trials bay. Thomas thinks he’ll bleed out on the roof of the burning building, listening to Teresa apologise before the world is drowned away by the noise of rotor blades. Newt and Gally went back. They told Jorge where to find him.
Teresa doesn’t make it.
Thomas’ brain whirls as they leave the city behind.
He feels cold. The spreading numbness is a welcome relief from the fiery pain in his stomach that crashes through his body like angry waves with every tiny movement. He knows it’s not good, but the exhaustion is pulling him under. He can hear the panicked shouts; feel the craze of activity around him. Someone presses into his wounded abdomen and it hurts. Sensations start to blur, the noise becomes a muffled hum. He remembers two final things; the press of a large, callused hand on his forehead, and a fierce murmur, said right beside his ear – Hang on, Tommy – and then he lets oblivion take him.
When he wakes up, weeks later, in a hut on a beach, it feels like it’s been years and just yesterday all at once.
Everyone is there. Sonya, Harriet, Aris and Vince. Jorge, Brenda and Frypan. Gally stayed with them and Thomas doesn’t think he’s leaving again anytime soon. Minho is recovering; the body heals faster than the mind, in his case. There are over a hundred immune teenagers who haven’t felt freedom for as long as they can remember and still others, not immune, who they found in the Scorch along the way, just looking for somewhere to belong.
And there’s Newt. Newt, who looks like he’d never gotten sick, not even the faintest scar on the inside of his arm as he holds up his hand to block the sun from his eyes. He smiles – almost more a smirk, an expression he’s worn rarely – and Thomas’ heart twists. He can’t even bear thinking about what it would have been like, to wake up to this scene and not have him a part of it.
He always knew that going for WCKD would cost him, and anyone who followed him. He was prepared to deal with losing allies or comrades, even himself, if Paige and her people went with him. But not Newt. He’d never been part of the bargain. Newt was there in the earliest memories he had, and he was going to be in the last ones he made, too.
Thomas turns his back on the ocean, making his way up the beach and it feels like the first steps into a future he wasn’t sure he’d be able to live.