They called what Newt had done mercy.
It was the farthest thing from mercy that Newt could have ever done to him.
Gally called it a reward. With words laced with venom and eyes glowing with fire he'd called it a prize. A reward. Affection.
Making Thomas a Runner was the furthest thing from a reward, from mercy. Sending him out to run like a trapped rat, like the rest of them, until his joints grew stiff and his lungs gave out or until The Maze claimed another name was not a reward. It was placing a chisel and a mallet against the stone, ready to cross off Thomas' name like brushing dirt off your favourite jacket.
It was taking everything that Thomas, Greenie, Tommy was and tying it up. It was throwing Tommy into the Pits and leaving him there. It was watching Tommy run through those Gates every morning with the possibility in his heart and mind that he would never come running back out. He'd survived one night in the Maze, but at the price of order. Structure. Peace. Maybe even his life.
Sending Tommy out into The Maze like throwing a rabbit into a pit of wolves and then watching as it was torn apart, calling it mercy that it died a quick death. Calling it a reward.
And now, watching Minho tying the knots to the Slammer, sealing the Greenie in like caging a wild wolf, Newt knew.
He knew that when it happened, it would be his fault. He had been too weak to even kill himself properly. He'd be too weak to protect Tommy. To keep the promise he'd made to all of them that they'd get out of here. Someday. Somehow. Alive. He'd be, he was too weak to do it. He hadn't done it for three years. He wouldn't do it for another three more.
The light that had lit up Tommy's cognac eyes when Newt had said "He wants to be a Runner? Fine. He'll be a Runner" had broken Newt's heart more than his own words.
Tommy had looked at him like he'd shown him mercy. Like he'd given him what he wanted.
Newt felt like he was betraying him.
The way Thomas had thanked him, like a man dying in agony thanking a person willing to pull the trigger to make his death quicker. Like he was being given something special, something longed for.
Newt hated it.
Tommy came to find him, in the morning. Eyes smudged with shadows underneath from lack of sleep, but bright with the light of the sun behind the fiery amber. And they stood there for a moment, The Glade silent around them bar the quiet murmur of Minho talking to Alby as he finished strapping his leathers.
Thomas looked good. There was a thick leather strap below his right knee, and one around the ankle. He had a chest brace and half-gloves and he looked like he was about to enter that Maze and leave it on the other side.
"Bloody shank. Absolute slinthead. You're a Greenie. What am I doing? What have I done?".
Thomas' smile never faltered. It only grew softer, doe-eyes gazing at him demurely with something akin to affection there and he had to look away, pretend that he was checking up on Minho and Alby as he raised a hand to his own leather, felt the bone-handle of his carving knife lightly and exhaled like a drowning man inhaling underwater.
"Hey. I spent the night. It ain't that bad. Company is terrible and it ain't all that hospitable but it could be a shuck-load worse". Thomas' voice is soft and spoken like an offering. Spoken like an out from the way that Newt's heart clenches. Tommy had already adopted so much of the Galders it was like he was one of them for a lot longer than he had been.
They haven't known each other for three days yet and...And yet Newt looks at Newt the way he imagines a mother looks at her child.
Devotion. Love. Adoration. The willingness to do anything for him.
"Shank" he responds, voice light with attempted jest but thick with the hidden veil of tears. His heavy heart weighing it down.
Thomas is smart enough not to try and assist him in walking, but he's caring enough to walk close, body slightly in-turned so that if Newt stumbled or fell he'd have nowhere to go but Thomas' arms.
Newt should whack him for it. Should wrestle him into the ground and beat him senseless until the only thing he remembers is his name and Newt's not a bloody cripple but he doesn't.
There's a lot of things he should do, but he doesn't.
Minho is waiting by the Gates by the time they get there.
"Ready to Run, Greenie?" he asks. It's playful, curious, a little solemn. Entirely unfitting. Newt wants to hit him, hit himself. Thomas halted at the still closed gates, staring up at them and Newt studied his face, listed off each emotion he saw. Awe. Fear. Excitement. A few others that jumbled together and contrasted and then he looked away, unable to watch any longer.
It was always hard. But there was something about Thomas that made it harder.
"I think I was born ready" Thomas beamed, the Gates cutting him off with a shriek of protest and a grumble that matched how Newt felt, and the moment there was enough space Thomas and Minho were gone.
"Look at him. Bloody slinthead. Running off like he owns the damned Maze" Gally's voice was the epitome of snide and resentment and Newt rounded on him like an avenging angel, golden hair lit up in a halo that skirted blazing whiskey eyes.
"Slim it, Gally. Don't you have some guy to terrorize or throw around?" he shot back, and Gally looked both surprised and angered at his outburst.
Newt turned away with a sigh, cast a final longing glance at The Maze and turned away. He had work to do, after all.
The cycle continued. Every morning Newt would wake up early, just to wake up Thomas and walk him to the Gates, and Thomas would assure him he'd be fine and they'd spent their nights sitting in the Deadheads, or up on the little rock face they'd dubbed 'The Crown' for it's odd shaped formation. And they'd sit either in silence or in quiet chat, close together with their heads ducked and their words soft-spoken and their hearts a little lighter. The Gladers began to murmur, soft teasing and jesting remarks about their closeness and even Chuck would sometimes just stop and stare at them, hamster cheeks puffed out in wonder as he noted the little touches, the way that Newt let Thomas' subtle attempts to help slide with only a few icy looks whenever subtle verged on mother-hen.
Minho and Thomas came back after only a few hours from leaving one day, a shout from Jackson and Eric alerting the whole of The Glade and drawing them from their various stations. Newt's heart sunk heavily to the pit of his stomach as he dropped the axe he'd been using into the grass and wiped his forehead on his forearm, felt the sweat-stiff leather of his gloves scrape his skin lightly before he turned, looked at the commotion and his heart wrapped itself in his intestines when he saw the Gladers were running towards the Gates to The Maze.
Steeling himself, he shed his shoulder-bag of wood and ran after them, jogging lightly and a little lopsidedly, his heartbeat in his ears and a sour taste on his tongue. By the time he got there two Gladers had already run a little way in and were just emerging, carrying a lifeless Thomas between them, one holding his legs, Minho supporting his torso and the other holding his shoulder and arms. Both of the Runners were drenched in sweat, and the closer Newt got the more he could see.
Minho was looking panicked, Thomas' slightly slack face was contorted in pain, an odd and frightening contradiction and his arms were thrown over his stomach in a weak, vain attempt to prevent the pain. The Gladers set him down gently in the grass before backing away as someone announced their mission to find Jeff, one of the med-jacks, and sprinted off. Newt slowed first to an uneasy lope, then a sort of awkward trot, then finally slunk his way carefully to Thomas' side.
Minho was doubled over, panting but with his eyes fixed on Thomas and he looked worried, face contorted in exhersion-pain and worry. The moment the other Gladers noticed Newt stepping forwards, they parted like grass in a strong breeze to let him through. Alby was nowhere to be seen, too far into the forest collecting dried leaves to hear anything. A hush fell over the group as Newt dropped to one knee, then after a moment to two, reaching forwards to touch Thomas' shoulder lightly.
It was voiced in the way that made it clear the asker didn't want to ask, nor really know the answer except for the slight morbid curiosity and Newt spared Gally no more than a sharp glance as he listened to Thomas' hasty, puffed breathing. Newt scanned Thomas' chest, an instant reaction to the suggestion but there was no tears and Minho beat him to the denial.
"Not a Griever. The Maze" he heaved, falling heavily to his knees a little way from Newt, close but not too close, as though Newt was projecting a forcefield that was stopping anyone getting close to Thomas.
He probably was, Newt thought absently, as he begun to unbuckle Thomas' running harness as gently as he could. There was a curious, shocked ripple of mild commotion through the Gladers, and Minho caught onto the vagueness of his response and launched into the full version.
"We were running, near the outskirts of the Blades. I think something either happened to the wall, the wall is ageing or damaged, or someone did it on purpose. It just...two massive chunks came right at us on the vines and they were shucking big chunks of rock and this dumb shank shoved me outta the way, got spitroasted in the bad way by both of 'em. Dropped like a shot pig and just lay there. I thought they'd crushed him to death".
Minho's voice was shaking and Newt spared him a pitying glance but his words felt as though someone had thrown him into a pool of icy water filled with knives. Crushed between two huge slabs of concrete, moving at high speed. Thomas' chances looked about as good as the goat that'd been led into the bloodhouse earlier. Just as Newt's fingertips trailed unpermittedly and gently over Thomas' cheekbones Jeff came bounding up, bag of supplies in hand, expression grave.
Minho went through the explanation again, and Jeff glanced up at Newt with a face Newt had seen all too many times before. It was a face that said 'Best ready a bagger or two. Hope you weren't too attached to this one. Get ready to say goodbye to a brother'. Newt looked away, chest so tight that dragging in oxygen was like trying to breathe underwater and he shifted, pushed his hand gently into Thomas' soft, fluffy hair and Thomas' body dropped a little, a long, wheezed sigh escaping his lips and after a few moments, his eyes opened.
Even to his own ears, Newt sounded like he'd gone soft, like he was about to cry as Thomas fixed wet, glossy, pain-blown eyes on him and for one heart-stopping moment it seemed as though Thomas didn't remember him, just looking up at him in a rather blank, pain-clouded daze before he suddenly gave an exhausted smile, lips silently forming a soft "Hey" in response. The agony was written all over him, but Thomas just looked so...so comforted that Newt trembled a little, gazing down at him as he ran his palm down in the direction of Thomas' hair, lightly stroking the damp strands.
"We're going to need to remove his shirt" Jeff announced, as Gally begun to shoo away the other Gladers and Newt nodded, in sympathy for his friend. Thomas seemed to know what was being said and what it would mean because he looked shattered, like fragile glass, and Newt's heart broke for him. Broke for the possibility that Thomas would either die, live his life in bed unable to move around, or that they'd have to put him out of his misery like a sick animal.
Jeff opened his mouth but Newt knew what he was going to ask and nodded, moved so he was behind Thomas' head and Thomas followed him with his eyes. Newt cradled his head, and the boys begun to work.
Thomas' cries and sometimes screams echoed around The Glade like the schreech of a Griever and from where he was huddled up with Frypan in the kitchen, Chuck covered his ears. It sounded like Thomas was getting gutted, and then the idea occurred to him. If Thomas had been crushed as badly as Minho said he had...It wouldn't be the first time the Gladers, the Leaders, have had to 'put down' another Glader, willingly or otherwise.
Frypan seemed t have the same thought, because he handed Chuck a bandanna to put around his ears to muffle the screams, and pointed him at a load of roots to chop.
Thomas was asleep, drugged up on sleep-aids and lolling limp and bandaged in the med hut, looking as though he'd had a peaceful death when Newt stepped out into the afternoon fading sunshine, expression grim and hard.
From hip to collarbone, from tailbone to spine nub Thomas was varying alarming shades of dark purple and black, no trace of milky skin anywhere.
Gally was waiting for him, whole posture defensive and confrontational but there was a little edge there, a little...Not worry. Not even concern. But...A certain hint of something that hinted no matter how deep his hatred he knew the injury was bad and he wanted to know.
"You and your little pet shank have a nice comfort moment?" Gally bit, sneering at Newt and the ex-Runner rounded on him with the viciousness of an enraged predator, throwing his Glade-mate through a nearby twig-wall and following after him like an Avenging Angel, eyes blazing.
"I don't know what the hell your bloody problem is, Gally, but you better slim it you shucking slinthead. Just because he's new and things are bloody changing and he stands up to you are your klunk-ass attitude it doesn't mean you have to have at him".
Gally was furious, alternating between scrambling away from Newt's relentless shouting and his fury-enhanced attacks and between fighting back, all angry swings and advances but Newt was small and lithe and nimble like a cat, managed to avoid almost every one.
"Do you think it's mercy now?! Do you think my choice was a reward? I gave him the job because he was what we needed for it. Because we all know if I'd thrown him in with the garden-hoes or the sloppers he'd be like a trapped rabid bloody animal and we'd all pay for it. Do you think I was being merciful with that? When this is what happens?! It wasn't shucking mercy, it was a bloody death sentence!".
By the end of his screaming Newt was crying, hot tears sliding angrily down his face as Alby's arms locked around his waist, dragged him away from an equally restrained Gally, who was already sporting a black eye. Alby dragged Newt away into the homestead, his heart aching for his friend at the soft whimpers of "I sent him in there. I made him a Runner. I killed him. He's going to die and it'll be my hand or my choice that kills him" that fell like dead stars from Newt's tongue.
Things were different, after that. For a long time. For about six months. Six times that the box came up with animals and supplies. The supplies changed, too. There was more medicines, more things for Thomas. It seemed that Thomas was the Creator' Golden Boy. They seemed willing to do everything of keep him alive and get him back on his feet, from sending things such as ready-butchered meat to warmer, softer clothes and padding for the bed Thomas was in, and everyone was unsettled by it but for the most part they didn't complain.
It was getting them better supplies, more supplies, and they could never complain about that. After about the third month Thomas was constantly trying to get back on his feet, sneaking out only to be dragged back in by either Minho (When the Runner took a day off) or (almost always) by a stormy-faced Newt. By the fifth month Thomas was doing light work, helping Frypan in the kitchens or slowly washing down the animal skins. Newt called it a mercy that he hadn't beaten the Greenbean into the dirt yet, rubbed his nose in it and made sure he behaved.
The Gladers asked him often enough when he'd make the newbie eat dirt, but no matter how many times Newt scolded him or verbally beat his ass or marched him back to the homestead like he was marching him to his death, Newt could never quite bring himself to do anything real about Thomas. Not when the boy loped gingerly alongside him, spine straight as a board and shoulders a little hunched, arms kept carefully bent and out at his sides. Not when Thomas smiled at him or looked at him with dazzling eyes. Not when he did a funny little wheeze instead of a proper laugh and not when Thomas leant against him, silently demanded attention and physical contact and affection under the pretence of pain.
Gally was still a pile of klunk. Always pushing for a fight, for a reaction. There were times that Newt gave it to him. When the ex-Runner threw himself headfirst into an attack and limped away victorious or was dragged away before he could beat him into the dirt. There was one time that Newt had Gally held over the fire, a hand holding the scruff of his neck and shirt tight, growling into his ear that the next time, the next time he would throw him into The Maze slathered in animal blood and then Alby had dragged him away angry-faced and Thomas had trickled after them like a kicked puppy.
The Glade was no longer a place of peace, of mercy and respect and brotherhood. At least not for Newt, Gally, Alby and Thomas. After a while the medical supplies went back to their previous rations, but the meat and the proteins and the additional nutritional help stayed. Sometimes there was notes. Instructions or guidelines or just lists of things. Sometimes they didn't make any sense. But the Gladers did all they could.
Things started going back to normal the day Thomas announced he wanted to start training to Run again. He didn't need re-training. Just needed to start doing a few exercises during the day to build up his muscle and fitness again before he run. To start strengthening up again. Some of the Gladers, those who got on with Thomas and didn't blame him too much or at all for the changes had cheered, and Gally had slunk away with mutterings along the lines of "At least the slinthead Greenie is gonna pull his weight for a change".
But the real change came about a year after the injury, when there was another close call. Thomas still got a few chest paints now and then. Still fell short of breath sometimes when Running and today had been one of those times, the Gladers having to scramble forwards, hands grabbing Thomas from all sides and places as he squeezed through the nearly shut Gates, pulling him in. They'd come to respect him, for how far he'd come since having his ribcage practically crushed. The Gates had slammed shut on the edge of his tattered Henley and Thomas had been stuck there, panting for breath and staring wide-eyed at where he was held in place.
Newt had been running like it was his life at risk, the taste of blood on his tongue like acid, his heart trying to implode at the thought of losing Thomas, of losing him again and then Thomas was there. Just there. Standing there like a bloody shank looking around like some lost little animal and then...And then oh. He was stuck. That was how close a call it was, that he was actually trapped there, held in place by his shirt and Newt wanted to laugh and cry at the same time.
The Gladers seemed to notice his approach and with subtle encouragement from Alby and Chuck they hastily dispersed back to their stations. Not of course until Chuck and Alby had both whacked Thomas upside the head lightly with muttered (fond) insults and praises to his nine lives and Irish luck and then Thomas was just standing there, chest heaving and eyes like saucers, waiting for whatever punishment Newt was going to stick him with this time and then...
"Wriggle out of your shirt. Don't rip it or cut it".
Newt's voice was shaking, the British accent thick and the tone soft but sort of hesitant, clogged with heavy emotion and Thomas blinked in surprise, and Newt gave an almost desperate scoff and roll of his eyes, limped forwards to put one hand on the back of his shirt collar and the other on his head and he pushed him down, softly and quietly murmured "Arms up, drop onto your knees, shank" and Thomas could only gaze up at Newt in a trance as he was pushed down, did as told and then he was kneeling shirtless at Newt's feet, his Henley just dangling from where it was caught between the Gates.
Newt was looking down at him, lit up by the setting sun of close-to-winter evening and it was chilly but Thomas was hot. Boiling hot."Bloody shank. Stupid Greenie" Newt mumbled, sounding as though he was about to explode into tears and they both moved at the same time, Thomas hastening to stand, to just hold Newt and Newt stepping forwards to just touch Thomas, prove he was still alive and somewhere they met in the middle, and then Newt was looking up at him with burnt honey eyes, lashes damp and eyes pleading and then they were kissing.
Newt was so small, so slim and delicate and breakable compared to Thomas, the Runner realized, as he brought his big hands up to cup Newt's cheeks, Newt's own hands coming to rest on his biceps as they kissed desperately, the touch of their lips thick and sloppy, desperate in a velvety-smooth glide, tongues teasing and darting then practically devouring each other and Thomas found himself being walked back, the muscles in his arms tightening and the muscles across his broad shoulders flexing as he held Newt as tight as he could without fear of hurting him, felt wetness on his cheeks and couldn't tell if it was his or Newt's tears.
And then Thomas was moving, spinning them around and pressing Newt against the wall where the dips of names years old pressed against his shoulders and Thomas' hard muscles and smooth skin was hot and soft against his own, his hands wandering, running down his back gently, palms down, where the milky skin had once been the colour of berry juice stains and it was desperate and needy and tender and Newt felt so safe, Thomas' larger body blocking him from the world, boxing him in as they shared breath and kissed like dying boys. Which Newt knew they were.
And later, when Newt was laying in front of Thomas, gaze flicking across the shadows that long lashes cast on his cheekbones like ink smudges, at the peaceful expression on Thomas' face he knew that this was worse than making Thomas a Runner. That this was the furthest thing from mercy, from a reward, from love that Newt could ever do to Thomas.
Growing attached. Forming a relationship. A bond. An affection. Getting close.
It would only end in tears, and heartbreak, and blood and death and agony of both emotional and physical form. Doing this, letting Thomas get attached to him and care for him was the worst thing he could do because Newt knew that it would never work out. Knew that it would break Thomas worse than Thomas nearly dying -twice- could have ever broken himself. Knew it would break them both to a point where the pieces were just too small to glue back together.
The Glade. The Maze. They were no place for a relationship. No place for love or attachment. Because second that ticked by was just another second counting down to death, to pain and agony and change and Newt could never guarantee Thomas anything. Knew Thomas could never guarantee anything back. Newt knew that it would be the furthest thing from mercy, if he were to let this happen. He couldn't let Thomas fall in love, only to be broken when Newt died, or when they got separated. The Glade and The Maze were where they had all been sent. To survive. To die. It wasn't a place where you found love and lived until you died of old age. It was a place designed to tear you to your very foundations, to try to kill you every second you still lived. It broke you and re-built you and re-sculpted you over and over and falling in love would break you harder than running The Maze like a trapped little rat for the rest of your life ever would.
Because The Maze took, and it didn't care what it took.
"I know you'll find a way out of The Maze. For yourself. For everyone else. I know you'll be strong enough to get most of them out. You're brave and beautiful and a bloody heartbreaker, shank. And I know that when you do get out, and when you're safe, that you'll remember me. And you'll probably think it's your fault that I won't be there with you. But it won't be. It'll be my fault, and mine alone. Because I already love you, Tommy".
"And loving you is the furthest thing from mercy I could ever do to you".