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Wayward souls

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Atlas’s feet pounded across the damp floor. Behind him he could hear shouts and alarms ringing. Cursing, he hefted his bag higher on his shoulder and kept moving. Stealing from Fontaine had its risks, but he had all the food and Atlas would be damned if the fucker starved him to death. Hearing the angry voices growing closer Atlas flung himself around a corner.

There was a door to the side and he pulled it open. Shutting it quickly behind him Atlas surveyed his hiding place. A small dark room, it seemed mostly empty. There was a small bed against the far wall and a sack of something in the corner. Atlas moved quickly and crawled under the bed. He heard footsteps pass by the room. Holding his breath he waited until he could no longer hear any noise. He slid back out from under the bed and took a last look around the room. To his shock the sack from earlier had moved. He squinted against the dark at what appeared to be another person staring at him. Atlas slowly approached the figure.

“Easy.” He spoke quietly. “Who are you” The person scrambled backwards across the floor until they were pressed against the wall. Atlas stopped his approach. “I’m not going to hurt you.” He held his hands in front of him. “Did Fontaine put you here?” There was no response. “Listen, my name’s Atlas, and I’ll get you out of here.” He stood straight and held out a hand towards the cowering figure. Again there was no response. Atlas knelt back down in front of the figure. “Come on.” He touched the figures shoulder and tried to pull them up. He finally got a response. The figure whimpered and pulled away from him.

“Alright.” Atlas pulled his bag firmly onto his shoulder and brought his arms around the figure. With a grunt he stood and hefted the person in his arms. They didn’t weigh very much, he realised as he held them. The figure whimpered again and squirmed a little, but didn’t make much effort to stop Atlas picking them up. Atlas moved quickly to the door and shoved it open with his shoulder. In the light of the hallway Atlas looked down at who he’d picked up. He appeared to be a man a little younger than Atlas himself. He was wearing a loose bloodstained sweater and pants with a hole in the knee. Atlas cringed. The man’s face was covered in dried blood and bruises. He was looking around with wide eyes, squinting in the light.

Atlas tore his eyes away and began moving hurriedly down the hall. The man in his arms seemed to grow more distressed the further from his room they moved. He buried his head against Atlas’s chest and shook. Atlas tried to reassure the man but was much more focused on escaping before Fontaine’s men found him. Moving as quickly as he dared well still listening intently he slowly brought the two of them to his escape route. A bathysphere hidden behind multiple obstacles. Moving behind a fake wall into another hallway and balancing on rickety boards over large gaps Atlas let out a sigh of relief and entered the bathysphere. Setting the man down on the cracked leather seat he pulled the lever to take them back to safety.

Now that they were out of harm's way Atlas moved over to closer inspect the man he had pretty much kidnapped. He was curled up in the same position Atlas had left him in. He had a black eye and several bruises on his left cheek. Small cuts and scrapes littered the rest of his face. A ratty blood stained sweater covered his chest and arms. His legs stuck out from under the fraying bottom edge. Atlas winced in sympathy. He looked pretty bad. Atlas moved closer to try and see if any of the cuts were still bleeding. They didn’t appear to be but he figured he’d better do a more thorough check when they were back at his safe house.

“Do you have a name?” The man looked at Atlas in fear but gave no response. Atlas sat on the bench a few feet away from the man. “I’m not going to hurt you.” He tried to keep his voice calm and unthreatening. “My name’s Atlas. You’re safe now.” The man, curled in on himself and shut his eyes. The rest of the ride was spent in silence. When the bathysphere docked Atlas stood and turned to him. “We’re here. Do you want me to carry you or do you want to walk?” He hadn’t expected a response so he wasn’t surprised when he didn’t get one. Atlas picked the man back up and carried him out of the bathysphere.

They emerged into a dimly lit street. Burned out street lights stood tall and menacing over blood stained pavement. Several yards down the ceiling lowered into an arch and beyond that the streets were lined with tall apartments. Atlas moved forward at a calm pace. They were safe here, this was his territory. He felt Jack shift to see the street. That was good. He’d begun to worry there was nothing left of the man to save. Atlas took them between the looming buildings and took many twisting roads further into the heart of the buildings. Finally he stopped in front of a run down apartment. On one side stood rows of more houses. On the other a building had collapsed and the rubble blocked the rest of the passageway. Parts of the building had fallen sideways and several metal beams stuck into the walls of the building next to it.

Atlas walked up to the apartment door and entered a code. The door slid halfway open and stuck. With a sigh Atlas shoved it the rest of the way with his foot. Stepping inside the dimly lit apartment he headed to the stairs and moved carefully upwards, avoiding the holes and rotten parts. Exiting the staircase at the third floor Atlas carried Jack through an open door and into one of the apartments. Walking past the kitchen and through the living room and bedroom, Atlas finally stopped and set Jack down on the tiled floor of the bathroom. Leaning over the tub to turn on the warm water Atlas smiled.

“Now boyo,” He crouched down next to the man. “We’re going to get you cleaned up, alright?” He kept a smile on his face and tried to seem nonthreatening. “Let’s find who ever’s hiding under all that dirt.” The man stared up at him and didn’t seem to understand. “Cmon.” Atlas reached forward and took the bottom of Jack’s sweater in his hand. The man frowned and pulled away, pressing himself against the side of the bathtub. “It’s alright.” Atlas kept his voice calm and slow. “It’s alright.” Atlas tried again to remove the sweater. The man squeezed his eyes shut and flinched but did nothing to stop the garment from being lifted over his head. He kept limp as Atlas guided his arms out of the sleeves, revealing more scrapes and purple bruises.

With the sweater out of the way Atlas moved to slide the mans pants off. Atlas winced in sympathy seeing that his legs were in just as bad a state as the rest of him and lifted the man carefully into the tub. He seemed shocked when he came in contact with the warm water. Once he was fully lowered in Atlas leaned back to give him a little bit of space as he adjusted. The tub was large enough for him to sit comfortably with his legs outstretched, though he chose to hug them to his chest. Clawed feet that had once been painted gold held the tub up from the floor. Atlas had chosen a fancier apartment to hide out in.

The man sat in the warm water and watched Atlas warily. He sat straight up, tense and uncertain. Atlas moved away to pick up a cloth from the cabinet, feeling eyes on his back the entire time. He returned and kneeled next to the tub.

“Now I’m not going to hurt you.” He reminded the frightened man, “I’m just gonna get you clean so I can see how badly you’re hurt.” The man just stared at him with wide eyes. Atlas sighed and dipped the cloth into the water. Wringing it out a bit he gently began to scrub at the man’s back, however he immediately tensed up even more and leaned forward, away from Atlas’s hand.

“It’s alright.” Atlas tried to reassure him. He put his second hand on the man’s shoulder to hold him still. “It’s alright, it’s all alright.” He kept whispering calming phrases as he brought the cloth back to his back. The man held still this time and Atlas was able to begin removing the layers of blood and dirt that coated his back. Once his back was as clean as it could get Atlas switched to his front. Cleaning all the way down to his navel Atlas hesitated and then moved on to his face. The man scrunched his eyes and tried to lean away from Atlas, but he coaxed him and held his shoulder until he was clean. Once that was done, Atlas moved to his arms.

Reaching for an arm Atlas stopped to look at the ink design on his wrist. A tattoo of a chain stretched horizontally below his hand. Atlas frowned but didn’t ask. The man didn’t trust him and even if he did, he didn’t seem like much of a talker. Washing the other arm Atlas discovered an identical tattoo on his other wrist. Not only that but there was an injury he hadn’t noticed before. There were red scratch marks on his arm in angry lines. They looked like they'd been made with fingernails. Atlas frowned as he realised they spelled something.

“Jack?” He read the name aloud. “Is that your name?” The man looked up at him and then quickly diverted his eyes. Atlas was about to give up on an answer and go back to cleaning him when the man nodded. It was a quick and small nod but still definitely an answer. Atlas smiled. “Alright Jack. Let’s finish getting you cleaned up.” he moved on to Jack’s legs below the knees. Finished with that he sighed and straightened up.

“Alright boyo, do you want to do the rest yourself?” Jack looked blankly ahead, not seeming to understand. Atlas swallowed again and felt himself flush. “Okay,” He whispered, “you can do this.” Atlas gingerly began to finish washing Jack. Doing his best to be gentle. Jack had no reaction Atlas got near his groin but Atlas pulled his hand away anyway.

He frowned and looked Jack over. “I suppose sitting in the water’s gotten you decent enough.” He stood and walked back to the cabinet on the far side of the room. Pulling out a towel that had once been white and fluffy he returned to Jack. Atlas set the towel down and then leaned over to pick Jack up. Jack began to struggle but stopped when he was set immediately on the ground.

“Here now.” Atlas wrapped the towel around Jack’s shoulders and began to start drying him off. Rubbing him down slowly Atlas tried to be as gentle as possible with the towel. He moved to Jack’s hair and made a mental note to try and clean that at some point. For now he thought Jack needed to be done feeling scared. When Jack was suitably dry Atlas wrapped him back in the towel and scooped him up. Jack tensed but remained still. Atlas moved out of the bathroom and back into the adjoining bedroom.

Jack was deposited on the bed and Atlas turned his attention to the wardrobe. Rummaging through worn and wrinkled clothes he silently thanked Rapture for not having any moths. Finally he emerged with a large light blue button up shirt, plaid pajama pants and a pair of underwear. Turning back to Jack Atlas froze.

Jack was clutching the towel around him and silently crying. He looked terrified. Atlas ran back to him, not certain what was wrong. Jack flinched and moved away from Atlas until he was pressed up against the head of the bed. He shook his head over and over while tears streamed down his face. Atlas reached out and grabbed Jack’s shoulders. Jack was completely tensed up. His breathing was shaky as Atlas sat on the bed next to him, holding him still. Jack shook a bit and Atlas could hear him sniffling.

“You’re safe. You’re safe.” Atlas chanted softly, “I’m not going to hurt you. You’re safe. You’re safe.” Slowly, Jack calmed, his tears subsiding. Atlas caught his eye and smiled in reassurance. When Jack was mostly calm Atlas showed him the clothes. “Let’s get these on you, alright?”

Jack made no move to take the clothes and Atlas hadn’t really expected him to. Atlas took the underwear and helped Jack slide his legs into it. Pulling it up was a bit awkward with Jack ragdolled as he was, but finally Atlas moved on to the pants. They slid easier, being baggy and soft. When Jack was finally dressed Atlas sat back and smiled in satisfaction.

“There we are. Now wait here, I’m going to get some bandages.” Now that Jack was clean it was easier to see the extent of his injuries. A few open cuts and scratches on his face and arms. Bruises and scars everywhere, but Atlas couldn’t do much about that. There was one large cut on his back that had Atlas worrying. None of them seemed to be very threatening however. Returning with bandages and some disinfectant Atlas sat back on the bed. Jack watched him with wide eyes as he reached to put a few bandaids on Jack’s face and arms. He smeared disinfectant onto the gash on Jack’s back and wrapped bandages around it. Deciding that Jack was as patched up as he would get Atlas picked the shirt back up. He wrapped it around Jack’s back and gently guided his arms into the sleeves. Buttoning the shirt Atlas could feel Jack’s eyes on him. Once the shirt was buttoned he leaned back and climbed off the bed.

“You should get some sleep.” Atlas peeled the blankets back and patted the mattress he’d exposed. Jack stared at him and then slowly moved to lay in the space provided. Atlas smiled and brought the blankets back down to cover Jack. “You go ahead and sleep. I’ve got to check on some things.” Atlas turned and moved back into the living room. He picked up his bag from where he’d dropped it on the way in. Moving to sit on the lumpy couch he looked through what he’d gotten from Fontaine.

A good number of canned goods. Peaches, beans, sardines, and some other canned meat. He’d also grabbed some cakes. His best score was the untouched bottle of vodka. He’d certainly enjoy that later. For medical supplies he’d gotten some aspirin, vitamins and bandages. He’d found two packs of cigarettes which he’d taken. He’d also gotten a few boxes of bullets for his pistol and one box of shotgun shells. Pleased with his looting, Atlas moved into the kitchen to sort and store everything. Canned food in one cabinet, cakes and snacks in another. The vodka went next to instant coffee packets and bottles of soda. Meds took their place next to cure alls and pain killers. Bandages on the shelf below that. Bullets stayed with the rest of the weapons in the living room. He moved back to the living room to put them away.

When he was done with all that Atlas snuck back into the bedroom where he’d left Jack. He was pleased to see Jack was asleep, curled up under the blankets and breathing peacefully. He smiled and moved past the bed to the wardrobe. Pulling out an extra blanket he silently retreated back to the living room. Laying himself down on the couch he pulled the blanket over himself and shut his eyes.

Lying alone with his thoughts Atlas rolled to his side and tried to get comfortable on the old couch. He wasn’t too pressed for supplies, but now he had to feed someone else. Who knew when the last time Jack had eaten was. What had happened to Jack, he wondered, to make him so afraid. Whatever it was Atlas silently promised to keep Jack safe from now on. It seemed like Fontaine had hurt Jack even more than he’d hurt Atlas. At the thought of what Fontaine had taken from him Atlas frowned and felt a pang of sadness in his gut. His entire identity stolen away. Atlas rolled over onto his back and tried to clear his mind. Whatever had happened to Jack could be dealt with in the morning. For now he needed sleep.