Actions

Work Header

The Sacrifices We Make

Chapter Text

I wish I was smarter
I wish I was stronger
I wish it had been easier
Instead of any longer
I wished I could have stood where you would have been proud
But that won't happen now

- Top of the World, Dixie Chicks -

 

“Are you angry?”

In the aftermath of her confession, Jackie couldn’t bear to look at him. Twisting and churning, her gut was in knots; this place held enough heartache, but she couldn’t keep this from him. 

“I don’t know,” Danse admitted, his gaze fixed upon the ceiling.  Even from her peripherals, she could see the pensive expression that hijacked his features. 

Since Jackie had stepped into this place, condemned to be his personal prison, Danse hadn’t made eye contact. He’d barely acknowledged her presence; staring at nothing, staring through her, until she slunked over and slid down the concrete wall to nestle beside him. She thought he'd been making progress, healing even, but it seemed he hadn’t fared well in her absence. It broke her heart when she had returned, to see Danse’s decline since her previous visit—he sat slouched on the floor, hiding in the dark, with his head in his hands. 

Even though she had managed to keep Danse alive, the days immediately following his execution had been wrought with endless silence and meaningless existence. And then one night, she awoke to the sound of muffled sobbing. Across the room, Danse sat on the edge of his bed, his face buried in his hands. Even through the darkness, she could see the unsteady rise and fall of his shoulders, hear his stuttering breath as he attempted to smother his weeping. 

She had gone simply to sit beside him, to offer quiet comfort with her presence. After a while he’d looked at her; hopeless and broken, and finally admitted that he didn’t know what the hell he was doing anymore. She’d contended that maybe it was okay not to have a plan and promised that whatever life threw at them, she would be there for him. 

You watch my back, I’ll watch yours , she reminded him. 

When she stood to go back to her bunk, Danse caught her arm and tugged her towards him, pulling her into his arms with such force that they toppled over onto the mattress. When his trembling subsided, Jackie gently held Danse’s face between her hands and he told her he would be lost without her. 

During the weeks that followed, Jackie took him to the nearby settlements and put him to work fortifying their defenses and training the residents how properly to defend themselves. Little by little, Danse had been reclaiming the humanity that had been stolen from him. Slowly he was finding the way back to himself. 

The days turned into weeks and Jackie had laid the Brotherhood to rest, deciding that she wasn’t going back. Before long, nearly two months had passed before the Brotherhood came to claim what was theirs. 

Backed by the setting sun in early May, a vertibird and a familiar face, clad in ridiculous aviators and enough arrogance to sail the Prydwen to the moon, a lancer had come under orders to bring Jackie back. She assured Danse that she wouldn't be long. She'd show face, go along with the pomp and circumstance, and promptly hand in her resignation. A few days, maybe a week, she promised. 

Now, Jackie couldn’t stand to look at Danse because it was a lie. She had failed him. Abandoned him in this miserable bunker because her hand had been forced and the burden weighed heavy on her heart. 

Finally, Danse looked at her but still she refused to meet his gaze. For she feared what he would discover from deep within. Under it all, she was terrified and ashamed. Maxson had broken her. Played to her weaknesses and sliced along her vulnerable underbelly, threatening to make her bleed by destroying the man she'd sacrifice anything to protect. 

Danse’s eyes immediately focused on the discoloration of her neck that her jacket didn’t quite hide. He swept her hair aside and tugged at the collar of her shirt to see the extent of the blue and purple splotches that stained her shoulder and chest. She had waited a few days in hopes that bruises would fade, but like a tattoo, they were branded on her skin. His fingers ran along the markings and she winced at his touch.

Shameful proof of her violation. 

“Did he hurt you?” Danse’s voice betrayed nothing except the clinical calmness of a bedside examination. 

Jackie shrugged away, an abstract smudge of dirt on the floor the focus of her attention. Try as she might though, his voice confirmed what she didn’t want to admit.  This had happened. It was real. 

There was no escaping what she’d done. The admission hurt like hell and no amount of attempting to swallow her shame could keep the tears from streaking down her cheeks, “Just my pride.” 

With a sigh, Danse went to catch her tears, “You shouldn’t-” 

“Everything has a price,” she pawed his hands way. “I threatened him, shoved my gun in his face, backed him into a corner… Did you really think there wouldn't be consequences for my actions?” 

“This…” he shook his head, hands retreating to his side, “the price was too high.  I– it wasn’t worth it.” At least he had the decency to catch himself and not defile her by saying he wasn’t worth her sacrifice.

“Don’t!” This time she did look at him. Her head snapped around and she could feel the heat of anger, flushing across her cheeks, “Don’t you dare patronize me by devaluing my decision to fight for you! I made my choice and so did you.  We did this together. Now we pay the price.” 

It was his turn to look away and hide. To cower in his corner. Slip into himself where no one could reach him. 

“You aren’t the only one who lost something here,” she wrapped her arms around her ribs, holding herself and staring at her knees. “If you care about me—even in the slightest—you won’t let my sacrifices be in vain.” 

“I'm not okay with this.” It was mumbled, but with conviction, like his words actually meant something. As if he could put action behind what he said. 

She shifted and drew up her knees to press her forehead into the knobby join of her legs, “And you think I am?” 

The question went unanswered but she didn't have it in her to press the issue. Instead, she let the tears continue to track down her face and run along her thighs before plummeting to the floor. 

Fragmented pieces of her former self splintered in her chest, the jagged edges scraping and tearing at her with each squeeze of her heart. Who was this woman she had become? On the outside, she looked much the same but an ugliness had consumed her. A disease that festered within and ruined everything it touched. Her insides were boiled and black. She had become infected by the sickness of this godforsaken world. And to think, she now called it her home. 

This place, where the wicked and the damned reaped the fruitful rewards of their lawlessness. They sat high and mighty upon their spoils of war, taking the desires of their flesh, without care for who they trampled in their merciless, single-minded path to obtain it. 

A world where innocence and humility were violations of the human condition because here you were conditioned not to think, not to feel. Because independent thought and emotions would get you killed or left for dead in a ditch. The idea that it was okay to desecrate the body and take the life of another simply because they looked at you wrong was commonplace here. It was disgusting and vile and somehow Jackie had found herself surviving, even thriving in this new world. It was ruining her, bending and molding her, and desensitizing her to forsake her humanity. What scared her the most, though, was the thought that maybe she was okay with that. 

She couldn't help but wonder what Danse thought of her now. It was impossible for her to rise to meet his expectations. She was damaged. Not worthy of his compassion. 

‘I'm not ok with this.’  

Could he forgive her for her transgressions? Would he leave her? Could she live with herself if he did? 

Selfish. She was such a selfish woman. This had all been about what she wanted. He deserved better. 

Jackie dared to turn her face toward him, to steal a coveted glance at the man she had sacrificed everything for—everything including herself.  She had laid out all her cards on the table and in the face of victory, she'd still lost. Now she had to live with her choices, live with herself, as did he. Danse was entitled to so much more than she had to give.  It wasn’t fair to either of them. 

“I just thought you deserved to know the truth.” It was a meager excuse and she wasn’t worthy of staying here any longer, “I should go.” Though she made no attempt to leave. 

Danse sat much the same as her: hunched over, elbows resting on his knees, and fingers knotted in his hair. Still, she saw the twitch of his lips and tensing of his jaw as his eyes squeezed shut, and she knew. 

“You’re angry.” The statement hung in the air, but he remained unmoved. Unflinching. Unyielding. 

The impact of what she had done was finally beginning to settle in.  He was angry. She would not be forgiven. And why? Why would he forgive her? Why on earth would she even entertain the idea that he would? The trap had been set and she had foolishly walked straight into it.  Now she would lie with the devil, sign his pact, and give away her soul. All in the name of honor and glory. All to save Danse's own soul. 

“I don’t belong here. I don’t…” she turned away and held herself closer, trying to fall deeper into the cavern of guilt that chipped away at her humanity, “...you deserve so much better.” 

Before the fresh tears could even form, Danse tugged at her arm and his fingers closed around her chin. He jerked her face toward him, forcing their eyes to meet.  There was determination in his muddy browns, a fierceness she hadn't seen in quite some time. 

“I’m only angry with myself,” he held her gaze, searching her eyes to make sure his message was received, “that I couldn’t protect you from this.” He was gentler now, releasing her chin to press his hand against her cheek. 

Jackie gravitated toward his touch and closed her eyes as she leaned into his warmth.  A beacon of hope that all was not lost. 

“Look at me.” Both of his hands cradled her face and reluctantly she opened her eyes. “This isn’t your fault.” The fierceness in his eyes shifted to reveal something more sinister. “I’ll burn down the entire Commonwealth if he lays a hand on you again.” 

She almost had the decency to smile at his conviction, but she was reminded, “You don’t have the luxury of making that promise.” 

The determination that was present before quickly faded. In the seconds it took for Danse’s expression to shift, she could see the desolation of defeat hover across his brow before he could erect the facade. 

“I will find a way to make this right.” Again, his words held no value, but maybe she could pretend they did. Maybe it would ease the raw and achy feeling. 

For a moment nothing happened.  Neither of them moved or even breathed.  They sat in an eternity of silence and Jackie allowed herself to drown in the warm pools of his brown eyes. Perhaps if she lingered there his empty promises would chase away the devastating reality that she had failed. 

Danse shuffled and slipped his arms around her shoulders. There was the briefest hesitation.  A resistance where Jackie contemplated if she would let this happen. It didn’t take her long to arrive at her conclusion.  She would allow it. 

In a single movement, he pulled her to him and folded her into his embrace.  Jackie shifted her weight, curling up into him and relaxing against his chest only to feel the slightest tremble within his own body. It was too much to bear so she clung to him and wept in his arms because there were no words to ease their pain. 

“I’m sorry,” he muttered after a while and loosened his hold on her to run his thumbs across her cheeks. 

“Yeah,” she didn't doubt him, but she also wasn't blind to the fact that he didn't control their fates anymore, “me too.” 

There were choices to be made and she'd sowed her seeds, chose her path.  She didn’t regret what she had done; she would do it again without hesitation. In the end, though, there was a price to be paid for her transgressions and it just might cost her own life.

Chapter Text

"You've been the only thing that's right
In all I've done.
And I can barely look at you"
-Run, Snow Patrol-

 

The bunker was cold and damp with an almost mist that saturated the room. It clung, suspended in the air, and collected on her skin like dew in the morning's first light. Slick with condensation, the walls wept from the tragedy that had transpired here. Bleak, dull grays blurred together with the cool stone and concrete that framed this dungeon within the ground.

Buried beneath the broken earth, this pit contained a man, reduced to rubble because a single phrase told him he no longer held the right to life.  Forced him to believe he was less than human, brought into this world an object—a machine.

Within this pit, a woman was concealed as well.  A woman who had once held steadfast to her ideals, but now crumbled beneath the consequences of those same ideals.  Flayed for holding her ground and remaining true to what she perceived as right and wrong. Except now she wasn’t so sure if she was right—or had she been wrong all along? Buried beneath the weight of her improprieties, she was losing herself to the internal struggle.

Decades had passed, untouched by time, down here in this hole. Mold and mildew grew, dust and filth choked out the oxygen and stamped out the chance for survival here. Yet two beings remained unearthed in the ground.  Scraping the pieces together, trying to live in a world they didn’t belong, attempting to continue and move forward with what little dignity they had left.

Danse had long since abandoned his post beside her, but Jackie remained, slumped against the wall. She watched from behind the safety of her knees as Danse roamed about the space, igniting the fire and attempting to jump start the heartbeat of life with the inconsequential warmth that sputtered from the stove. The fire was stoked, water boiled, and their meager provisions thrown into a pot to make a grisly stew that could laughably be called food.

How long had it been since he had maintained these duties to sustain life in this place that was inhospitable for life to occur? Despite his neglect for himself, Danse seemed content to let the survival instinct take seed, if only for her benefit.  He would make an attempt for her. To take care of her and ensure that she didn’t die down here.

He approached with slop in hand and Jackie watched through the slits of her eyes, bloodshot and watery, but with nothing left to give. Provided only with the peripheral around her knees, his boots appeared beside her. Slowly, carefully her eyes climbed his withering form only to be met by the listless, lackluster expression that haunted his hollow features since her return.

The once sturdy man, stock with lithe muscles beneath taut skin, the touchstone of fighting fit, now wasted away. With his obvious neglect for his own self-care, Danse had lost a considerable amount of body mass. His clothes fit loosely on his haggard frame when once his bulk stretched the seams of his t-shirt and jeans. His eyes were blank, revealing the emptiness contained within his soul. The sheen of his dark hair lost to the mop that now hung in his eyes and his beard, a scraggly mess of unkempt strands. It seemed he had decided that he himself was no longer worth the effort of self-preservation.

That was her fault. Danse had needed her and she had abandoned him, betrayed him, and he had failed to continue thriving in the wake of her broken promise. But who was she to judge? Jackie’s unwilling return to the Brotherhood had caused her own decline.

The bowl was thrust towards her. “Eat,” Danse commanded and despite herself she almost laughed.  Did he really think he held any control over her anymore?

Jackie squeezed her knees into her chest, “Why?” her muffled voice, barely a whisper, rose from her hiding place.

Her face pressed into her joints only hearing as he shuffled in frustration, “Jacqueline, you need to eat.”

Jacqueline. Scolded for her insubordination with the use of her full name.

“And what about you?” Her eyes peeked above the safety of her knees to fully capture the extent of his deterioration.  What gave him the right to decide that her life held more value than his own?

With a sigh, he set down the bowl beside her.  Heavy steps marked his retreat to the stove and with a clink and clack, Danse returned with a second bowl in hand. He reached out his hand, finding stability in the floor below and slid down the wall to join her.

“You’ll eat if I do?”

Apparently he had learned it was fruitless to argue. Arguing would only serve for them to go round and round, debating the meaning of life, only to end in anger and frustration while their provisions grew cold.

Jackie conceded with a nod and watched as he sucked down the white flag of their peace agreement.

The contents of her own bowl appeared colorless, odorless, completely unappealing. It wasn’t that the food was inedible, it was that chewing and swallowing and eating required entirely too much effort.  More effort than she was willing to give and it seemed that it was an utter waste of time. Yet, she forced herself to chew and swallow and choke it down nonetheless until there was nothing left but the bottom of the bowl.

When she finished, Jackie tilted the bowl, upturning it so Danse could see she had made good on her promise.  He did the same and stood to collect the dishes and the corners of Jackie's mouth even rose slightly at the gesture. Their goal accomplished, he set about the room cleaning up and making preparations to wind down for the night.

Still hunched upon the ground, Jackie watched his apathetic movements. Painfully slow, methodical, just going through the motions. It seemed her neglect had taken everything Danse had left.

“Can I stay with you tonight?” She had no right to ask, but she couldn’t go back and she didn’t know where else to go. 

Uncertainty ground in her gut as Danse glanced up from his menial chores. Perhaps the request was too much to ask.

Confusion stole across his face as he put up the last of the dishes. “I thought that’s why you came here.”

Jackie had come to tell him of her betrayal and expected him to react accordingly. Throw her out by her coattails, hang her out to dry, or worse, turn his back on her and call her a liar. She wouldn't blame him because she wouldn't have complied with Maxson’s demands if she hadn’t wanted it.

“I…” she hesitated. Despite what she had done, she desperately yearned for his comfort, yet she was terrified he would come to his senses and leave her, “...understand if you don’t want me here.”

He approached and pulled her to her feet. “You’re not unwelcome here Jax.” The fine lines around his big brown eyes grew longer with the warmth of the smile that spread across his face. “This doesn’t change how I feel about you. You are free to come and go as you please.”

As she peered up into those endless pools of brown, she was met with kindness and compassion, understanding that mirrored Danse’s words that nothing had changed. Despite his devotion to her though, Jackie knew deep down, the reality was that everything had changed. Some of her anxiety released with his response but the impact of the events from the last few days were catching up to her and Jackie was exhausted from everything she’d been forced to endure. The last few weeks had done wonders to whittle away her sanity. She had remained endlessly busy so she wouldn’t have to think or feel or comprehend the gravity of her recently acquired duties .

Jackie took solace in Danse’s continued affection even though she didn't deserve it. “I’m tired,” unable to remember the last time she had slept, she pulled at his hands still joined with hers, “let’s go to bed.”

Sleep meant rest, which led to thinking and dreaming and as of late, that just couldn’t be allowed. If she allowed herself the luxury of independent thought, the consequences of her decisions would gnaw at her until she found herself staring down the barrel of her pistol. Jackie feared what lurked beyond the veil of consciousness, though perhaps with Danse by her side he would stave off her demons that lie in wait.

Except when she attempted to pull him along, she was met with unyielding resistance. Danse stood stiff, a mighty oak rooted before her. Jackie’s heart sputtered a painful rhythm; she had crossed the line. She was being allowed to stay but whatever intimacy had been building between them had burned away with her betrayal.

The devastation must have been evident on her face because Danse shuffled closer to clarify his intent, “I…just don’t want you to feel as if this is expected.”

He was too good for her, concerned only about how the physical contact and implications of sleeping together would affect her already fragile mental state. Jackie however, was a selfish woman. As much as the guilt threatened to bury her, she would greedily take what was being offered because she desperately needed to feel close to him. To pretend that maybe he still cared despite what she had done.

“I don’t.”

Danse searched her face for any sign of forced compliance before relaxing and agreeing, “Alright.”

He gave her hand a squeeze and went to flick off the overhead lights as Jackie perched herself on the edge of the tattered bed he had dragged in from the other room. At least it beat sleeping on the floor.

Jackie chewed the inside of her cheek and stared at the floor and when Danse came to join her, the mattress squeaked its protest beneath his weight. Should she tell him? She supposed he deserved to know her current status. Full disclosure in a last attempt to allow him to change his mind, “I’m AWOL right now.”

“Jackie,” Danse pressed his fingers to her chin, turning her face so she could see the seriousness in his eyes, “Maxson will come for you.”

There was no argument.  She knew this to be true and she twisted her hands together, an outward expression of the uncomfortable feeling rising in her belly. Danse’s accusing eyes weren’t helping to ease her nervousness either.

“We both know what will happen if he finds you here.” If she didn’t know him better, she would have thought that in the soft undertones of his voice, Danse was asking if that was what she wanted.

The answer? She didn’t know. Maybe that fate wouldn’t be so bad, but who was she to decide for Danse?  She’d already done that once and look where it got her. Grasping for life in a pit in the ground with a man who believed he was a machine, while the high and mighty thirsted for their blood.

“I know,” she sighed and squeezed her hands tighter, “but not right away.”

Jackie liked to think she understood the man who would lead a witch hunt for their lynching if she didn’t return. For once, she had respected this man, had comradery with him and put her trust in his words. But now it was a forced cooperation to keep the man she loved safe and on the right side of Maxson's gun.

“He’ll wait,” Jackie assured, “A day, maybe two,” she hesitated before dropping her gaze with a shrug, "there was an incident so, he likely expected me to run off.”

“An incident?” Danse folded his arms across his chest and Jackie could feel the scrutiny of his eyes.

"Yeah," her voice shook and moisture gathered in her eyes, "but...it's not a big deal."

"Jackie-"

“Please, Danse," she shook her head, "not now."

The reminder of what had happened at the church and later, what Maxson had done to her behind closed doors was entirely too much to process at the moment. The bruises around her neck barely scratched the surface of her injuries and she could only hope that the long-sleeved t-shirt she wore would keep the painful marks that littered her body hidden. With any luck they would at least prevent Danse from asking questions and doing something stupid in turn.

She could see the way he looked at her, Danse wanted to question her and find out exactly what had happened. For the sake of her sanity though, he let it go.

“Maxson,” the least she could do was provide him a meager explanation, “likes to test my loyalties. He’ll wait to see if I return on my own accord.”

Sympathy, however, didn’t stop Danse from asking the burning question, “Will you?”

Again Jackie didn’t have an answer.  Instincts told her not to go back. It was a trap, so why should she return?  But if she remained here it would mean their fates were sealed. Then again, she figured her fate was sealed either way.  How long she could live like this? And if Maxson didn’t kill her himself, she knew she would eventually decide that a long walk off a short forecastle would do the trick just fine.

She swallowed her misgivings for now and shifted to meet his eyes, pleading with his muddy browns, “Can we just get through tonight?”

With heaviness upon his brow, Danse nodded his agreement and slipped between the sheets. His hand tugged at her shoulder, beckoning her to come to bed with him. Jackie complied without resistance and his arms wrapped her up, pulling her into the solid warmth of his body. She settled her head against his chest and slipped her hand beneath his shirt.

As she closed her eyes, some of the built up tension within her eased with the warmth of his skin beneath her fingers.  Perhaps it was because she wasn’t brought up in the horrors of this world, but she couldn’t comprehend how this man, this living breathing man, who lie beside her could view himself as anything less than human.

Despite what he had been conditioned to think and what the Brotherhood liked to turn a blind eye to, Danse had been made human. Just like her. Just like Maxson. Just like every other man, woman, and Gen3 synth in the wasteland.

Jackie pulled her hand away and tugged at his shirt, “Take this off.”

He obeyed and she shifted so he could pull the garment over his head and a soft sigh of contentment escaped her as she rolled back against him.

“I’ve missed you,” he admitted and Jackie didn’t miss the unspoken, I thought you weren’t coming back . His hand pressed against the small of her back while the other threaded through her hair before his fingers trailed along the line of her jaw.

She hummed at the much needed contact of his skin against her face and nuzzled closer, “I’ve missed you too.”

It felt so goddamn good to be close to him again. To be cared for and wanted for more than just a means to an end. Jackie was sure she would be burned alive at the heat stirring in her belly and beating through her blood. She had forgotten what this felt like…how it felt to be loved. How her skin tingled at his touch and the gentle press of his lips against her forehead. How her cheeks flushed and emotions welled in her eyes at the overwhelming feeling of intimacy that his nearness brought.

Jackie draped her arm across his naked chest and let her head relax against his shoulder as she pressed her lips just below his collarbone. Danse cradled her against his body, holding her close and allowing her to take refuge in the gentle comfort of his touch.

For a moment they remained like that, legs and arms intertwined. They basked in the heat of each other’s body and relished in the strength of their bonds of companionship knitting together once more.

After a while, Jackie shifted and rubbed her nose against his jaw, anxiety needling away at her mind. “You’re not gonna leave me?” she mumbled, retreating into the crook of his neck, afraid to see his response.

“Jax, where would I go?” his hand caressed her cheek and he tilted her chin towards him, tenderly pressing his lips to hers. The tips of their noses touched as Danse leaned his forehead against hers, “I am nothing without you.”

The tips of his fingers softly traced down her neck and along the angular line of her body, his hand coming to settle on the curve of her hip. For all the things she felt for this man, there was sadness behind it all because she knew, as long as Maxson commanded the Commonwealth, she would never be able to be with Danse properly.

If she could, Jackie would give it all up, just to never leave his side again.  Even if it meant living out her days in this decrepit bunker. She would trade the world to spend a lifetime with Danse, but she supposed she already sold her soul to no avail.

Jackie untangled herself enough to see his face, watch his eyes, “If I left, if we ran, do you think he would come for us?”

Sadness spread across Danse’s features, “He would never stop looking,” and she could see the hopelessness in his brown eyes as his expression fell. “Maxson would tear down the sky just to get you back.”

“What if…” she paused, again she had no right to ask.

Perhaps though, she had lost the will to continue living. It was the emptiness and sense of utter loss that clawed around inside her and sank its teeth into the soft flesh of her heart that willed her down the dark path. It wasn’t like she hadn’t thought about it. Jackie had convinced Danse before to abandon the act, now the game had changed and maybe she could talk him into taking up arms with her. Completion. Together.

“...we just ended it.”

“Jacqueline…” there were no words to ease the heartache, so instead he pulled her closer, “tell me what to do,” he spoke in desperate tones, “how can I fix this?”

She shrugged, resting her head against his chest once again and accepted her fate, “There’s nothing you can do.”

Content for now, to let the warmth of his skin and the sound of his heartbeat in her ear lull her into a false sense of security. As long as the king remained in his castle in the sky, they would never be safe again.

No words were spoken after that.  Only the silent understanding that they were sinners condemned to live with the consequences of their betrayal.

 


 

Morning had come, or what she perceived as morning. There was no way to tell for sure. Down here time had a way of folding in on itself. Passing slower than on the surface, like the continuum ceased to exist in this hellhole. One could sit in solid isolation for days.  Never eating. Never sleeping. Never breathing. And it would seem that mere seconds had passed when in reality a lifetime had come and gone.

Something had stirred her consciousness and roused her from the dreamless sleep.  A noise? The darkness itself? Movement from her companion in his slumber…? Jackie reached out her hand to grasp at nothing but air.

"Danse...?" she mumbled, realising it was the cold emptiness beside her that had woken her.

Her heart stuttered in her chest and she gasped at the stale air. A prickly, creepy crawly sensation spread within her bones, panic claiming its helpless victim. Her hands desperately searched the sheets, but she came up empty handed. Nothing.

Danse was gone.

Jackie willed herself upright, to slow down and take mindful breaths. Not to default to the assumption that he had left her.

“Danse?!” she called out to him and strained her ears to receive his response. Only silence and the steady drip of water leaking through the crumbling structure greeted her ears and her fears were confirmed.

He had left.

The darkness robbed her of her composure and she stumbled around groping for the lights. She was a fool to think he would stay.  Finally her fingers found solace and she flipped the switch. Light illuminated every corner of the dilapidated room. Her head spun and her previous night's meal threatened to make a reappearance on the floor. Dizzy and uncoordinated, she lurched forward with barely enough time to catch her knees in her hands before tumbling to concrete floor.

Breathe. Just breathe, she reminded herself and after a moment of, in through the nose, out through the mouth, Jackie regained her bearings enough to look up and scan the room for any clues of Danse’s whereabouts. Her eyes caught in the corner where only one figure loomed a menacing stance.

The armor. The Paladin armor. Her armor. Gone.

And suddenly the pieces clicked into place…

Now she panicked for an entirely different reason. Her gut flipped and her blood ran cold at the horrible realization of what had happened.

Danse had left, but he hadn’t left her. He had gone to make amends, to put action behind his words. He was going to right her wrongs, going to end up on the wrong side of an army of laser rifles, gunning for a bullet between his eyes. A bullet lodged in his brain, already marked for his death.