Title: Follow That Dream
Author: Sithkitten (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Archive: sure, if you want it- just let me know URL
Rating: what rating? hell, this thing only rates a PG 'cause of swearing. Sorry, no smut.
Note: This is a combination of actual scenes from the pilot episode, transcribed from a slashy viewpoint, along with my version of missing scenes. Normally I don't do that, but what the hell... it needs the scenes from "The Long Road" to keep it all together. And yes, as a matter of fact, I *did* watch the pilot searching for slash potential. ;)
FOLLOW THAT DREAM
The sound of the door opening, slight as it was, was enough to make Jeremiah open his eyes with a start. In the bunk beneath him, Kurdy snored away, blissfully unaware of the visitor. Somehow Jeremiah wasn't surprised when Markus stepped into the room. When he saw that Jeremiah was awake, he moved in close to the bunk bed and spoke quietly. "Do you really think you could help those people without getting caught or giving away our position?"
Jeremiah didn't even hesitate. "Yes, I do."
Markus looked away for a second, then focused his haunted gaze on Jeremiah. "Show me."
The words hung in the air between them, a quiet challenge. Jeremiah looked at Markus for a long, considering moment, then nodded. He hadn't been sleeping anyway, despite the near-forgotten luxury of being clean, on a soft bed, between clean sheets. He'd been too upset about those captives, and *knowing* that the people here had the ability to do something to save all those lives but wouldn't. He rolled over and dropped lightly to the ground beside Markus, noting the startled widening of the man's eyes.
*Shit.* There it was again, that damnable flutter in his midsection. *My gate don't swing that way,* his own words flew back in his face. But that was only half the truth. More like, *it's too dangerous to swing that way.* So why was he constantly having to remind himself of that danger around this Markus?
*You're pissed at him,* he told himself firmly. *Remember? He's been sitting on all these resources for fifteen years.*
Jeremiah supressed his internal conflict with the ease of long practice and pulled a shirt on, then walked calmly beside Markus through the silent corridors of the Cheyenne Mountain installation. Markus glanced at him occasionally, and once drew breath as though to say something, then shook his head slightly and continued on. Jeremiah was glad of that-if Markus was quiet, it was easier to withstand his... magnetic personality. Yeah, that was it, that was what Sarah had said, that Markus had the kind of personality that would get him whatever he wanted. *Just hope he doesn't want-*
Jeremiah got rid of that thought before it could go any further.
Markus finally stopped in front of a door and produced a card like the one Simon had passed on to Jeremiah. He slid it into a slot beside the door and a little light switched from red to green.
"In here," he said, gesturing for Jeremiah to precede him. "It's one of the more private places here in Thunder Mountain."
"Good," Jeremiah said, stepping into the room as Markus switched the lights on. It was an office, and not much of one at that. A plain metal desk was pushed up against the far wall, bracketed by filing cabinets. One wall held a chalkboard, and on the other a bulletin board hung over a naugahyde couch that had to be a relic of the sixties. A single bulb provided a steady, even light. Jeremiah gave the couch a dubious glance and remained standing.
Markus went to the desk and unlocked one of the drawers. He rummaged around inside it for a moment, then spread something out on the desktop. "I've got a map of the town here. Why don't you show me what you had in mind?"
"All right," Jeremiah agreed, stepping up to the desk, but not too close to Markus. He looked over the map, trying to puzzle out exactly where the warehouse had been located. "The way I see it, your people won't need to be visible at all. What we need is a diversion, a distraction, something that will get the attention of those skinhead bastards away from those people. Get them out of the warehouse, and I can slip in there and open up the holding pen. The people will do the rest themselves." He gave up on the map and looked at Markus instead.
"My god, that's risky," Markus said quietly. "You think those skinheads will just let all those prisoners run away without doing anything?"
"They will if they're kept occupied well enough," Jeremiah said, with some heat. There it was again, that neurotic caution which kept Markus holed up safely in his big mountain, not doing anything to improve the plight of the world outside. "You've got weapons here, resources I can't even begin to imagine. You gonna try and tell me you don't have anything in this place that could create a diversion?"
Markus looked at him, eyes troubled. "Perhaps, but I still think it's risky. How many people were you planning on using, anyway?"
"The fewer, the better." Jeremiah stared at the map again, tapping a finger absently against his cheek. He tried to remember the layout of the place in his head. "Got a pen and paper?"
"Of course." Markus pulled a notebook and a pen out of the same drawer the map had come from. Jeremiah felt a sharp stab of envy. All these years he'd been writing letters to his dad on any little scrap of paper he could find, while this guy had an entire blank notebook all to himself...
He pushed away the envy and took the pen. "They were in a warehouse, like this," he said, sketching out the layout of the place with quick strokes. His memory supplied the sounds of the place, the reasoned insanity of the leader's speech, inciting the gathered skinheads to roars of encouragement... disgusting. And through it all, the frightened whimpering of a little child, locked in a holding pen like a lamb awaiting slaughter... "There was a building here, and one here. The warehouse is where they'll all be concentrated, because that's where the prisoners are, and that's where they're going to kill them. Execute them, he said, a mass execution like nothing you've ever seen before."
Beside him, Markus shuddered.
"There were at least thirty people in there already, and they were getting more. Children, even-little children. Just because their skin is a different color. They're all going to die-"
For a moment, Jeremiah was back in the horror of memory again, hearing his brother scream his name before the gunshot which tore his life away.
A light touch on his shoulder broke through the remembered pain, and he looked up into Markus' concerned eyes. "We have to get them out," he said simply.
"I'm giving you the chance. Just show me how you can do it without giving us all away."
Jeremiah ran a hand through his hair. "This was a military installation, right? So you've got things, explosives maybe, things that can be set up by one or two men and can create a hell of a diversion. Right? Here. Look at this." He stabbed at the map with his finger. "An explosion here would get their interest and get them out of the building. Agreed?"
Markus nodded. "An explosion. Yes, that's entirely possible. We do have cases of dynamite in stores. What then?"
*Cases.* Jeremiah strangled his immediate response. At least Markus was giving him the chance to put those hoarded resources to good use. "Another explosion, here, to bring any stragglers out and keep them confused. They won't know what's happening, they'll be freaked out. I can slip into the warehouse here, from the roof, and let the people out. See? Two people could do it. Me, and Kurdy, and some of that dynamite. No risk to you or your mountain community."
"Wrong." Markus raised his eyes from the sketch. "Three people. I'm coming too."
Markus cut off the protest with a raised hand. "You're right. I've been too concerned with keeping things going in this illusory paradise to pay attention to the world outside. If there is a way I can help ease the suffering of the people out there, I think I should do it."
Jeremiah smiled. "You're all right," he said, grasping Markus' arm briefly. "You can make a real difference out there."
"Do you really think so?"
This time, when the fluttery feeling came back, Jeremiah didn't fight it. There was just something about the shy smile that Markus wore, or maybe about the light in his eyes, that got to him. "Yeah. I really think so."
The smile widened. "Good. I'm glad."
"Markus," Jeremiah started, then stopped, uncertain of what he wanted to say.
Jeremiah shook his head. "Nothing. I just... I don't know."
"Well." Markus finally looked away. "I'd better let you get back to sleep. Were you wanting to do this tomorrow?"
"Yeah." Jeremiah was relieved to have the awkward moment over. "Yeah, the sooner, the better. You didn't see those poor people."
"What gives them the right," Markus said, "what even makes them think they have the right, to determine who is fit to live or die?"
"I don't know, man." Jeremiah shook his head. "It's a rough world out there. Skinheads aren't the only problem, not by far, but they're the ones closest, and the ones we can do something about. There's an awful lot of ways to get yourself dead away from this safe little mountain of yours."
"Safe..." Markus' eyes clouded. "It wasn't always safe. You weren't here, you couldn't possibly know what it was like those first years. Back when we were all just a bunch of scared kids, and had split up into different groups that couldn't get along, and couldn't trust anyone... it wasn't pleasant."
"Yeah, well, I'll bet you still had it easier than some of us." Jeremiah's restless gaze fell on the notebook. "Mind if I have a piece of that paper?"
"Of course not, go right ahead." Markus watched curiously as Jeremiah tore off a piece of paper and folded it carefully before tucking it into his pants pocket. "May I ask what for?"
"You can ask, but I may not answer," Jeremiah replied automatically, then something about the look Markus wore made him sigh and relent. "Letters. To my dad. I write to him when I get a chance."
"Oh." Markus' eyes grew distant, focused on memory. "I talk to my father, sometimes. Not that I think he can hear me," he added defensively, and Jeremiah smiled. "But sometimes it makes me feel better."
"Yes, I believe you do."
Jeremiah knew he should leave, but somehow couldn't do it. The fragile understanding between them at the moment was good, too good to throw away. "How old were you when it happened?" he asked abruptly, wanting to know more about this elegant enigma before him.
"Eleven," was the quiet reply. "And you?"
"I was twelve. Just a kid... so were we all, though. My dad was trying to get us to safety. That's the last time I heard about this place until Simon mentioned it-Dad always thought Thunder Mountain would survive."
"It did." Markus leaned against the edge of his desk. "Was your father in the military? He must have been connected in some way, to know that name for this place."
"I'm not really sure what he did," Jeremiah admitted, glancing at the floor. He didn't like that. He wanted to remember everything about his father, more than just the few scattered remnants the years had left him. "It was something important, though, and it was government-related. What about you? How'd you get here?"
"My father was a general," Markus said, eyes focused on a distant memory. "He brought me here as soon as the sickness started. But it didn't help."
"What was it like, here?" Jeremiah looked at Markus curiously. Then he decided *what the hell* and sat on the couch. Turqouise and uncomfortable though it was, it was still an improvement over standing, with nothing between his feet and the cold cement but a pair of socks.
"It wasn't pretty," Markus replied. "I try not to remember the way things were then."
"Yeah, me too. Sorry I asked."
"Don't be. It's all right. Mainly what I remember is being scared all the time. And the bodies, too-of course, the bodies... There were three different groups of kids, factions, I guess you could call them, and no one could get along. We nearly destroyed ourselves that first year." Markus sighed, then moved from the edge of his desk into the rolling office chair. "It was pretty bad. But then Alan came along..." His voice trailed off and a hint of a smile played around the corners of his mouth, although his eyes were sad.
"You could say that," Markus said, with a real smile, although it vanished almost as rapidly as it appeared. "He took charge and held us together for five years or so, got this place on its feet. I helped. Without him we never would have survived. But then... we lost him."
"What happened?" Jeremiah asked quietly.
"It was stupid, really." Markus rubbed his forehead, hiding his eyes. "He fell down a mountain and got hurt badly. We... couldn't save him."
"I'm sorry," Jeremiah said awkwardly. Something told him Markus and Alan had been very close.
"It was a long time ago." Markus sighed and looked up again.
Jeremiah had the sudden, eerie feeling that there were some things he just didn't want to know about this man. Secrets... *Still waters run deep,* as his mother used to say, and Markus was definitely stillness incarnate. "So, uh... what is it you do here, anyway? I mean, there's so many people here, you have to do something to keep from tearing each other's throats out from boredom."
Markus chuckled. "You haven't seen what happens when we're snowed in, or you wouldn't have said that. Everyone here has a job, an important job that helps keep everything going. This place is a lot of work to keep operational."
"I imagine it would be," Jeremiah agreed, lacing his fingers behind his head and stretching. "But why? What's the point of keeping this place running?"
"We need to live somewhere," Markus shrugged. "Why not do it in safety and comfort, where we have resources and educational materials that will keep up the quality of life for the foreseeable future?"
"Yeah, why not," Jeremiah muttered. "Doesn't it ever bug you, knowing that you've got it so good, while the rest of the world has gone to shit?"
"You have no idea," Markus said softly. "There's times when I can't sleep at night, thinking about what my scouts tell me. Children starving, begging in the streets because they have no parents; people fighting and killing each other over stupid little things like batteries; other people setting themselves up as some kind of warlord and demanding tribute... the world outside is a hard place."
"You surprise me," Jeremiah said. "I didn't know you were so aware of what's going on out there."
"I'm not totally ignorant and unworldly," Markus smiled.
"Yeah, well, knowing is one thing. Doing is another. Wonder how long you'd survive out there?"
"I might surprise you there, also. I've been out and about before. Where do you think I got the idea for the scouts?"
"I assumed it was just good tactical sense. It would be really stupid to ignore the world outside, especially with all the militant groups springing up all around."
"Tactics... go to Erin for tactics. I'm just the organizer, the one that picked up where Alan left off and kept everyone going." Markus sighed. "Sometimes I wish I hadn't, but it would be a real shame to let all this go to waste."
"Ahh," Jeremiah made a sound of irritation. "What have you done with what you've got?"
Markus smiled lazily. "You see a Lost World, a place that exists cut off from time and all outside contact. A place where valuable, and desperately needed, resources are cut off from those who really need them. But what I see is the future. Here in Thunder Mountain, we've managed to preserve a level of civilization long gone from the outside world, and we are educating our children. Never here will you find children growing up with no knowledge of how to exist in a society. Never here will you find the savagery and lawlessness that is the status quo of the new world. Instead, you'll find intelligent, educated people, ready and willing to build a new world from the ashes of the old."
"Yeah, I'll give you that, but you really ought to be doing something outside, too." Jeremiah shifted on the uncomfortable couch. "There's so much good you could do, even if you just started by educating other people."
"Agreed. That's why you've got your chance tomorrow."
"Thanks, man," Jeremiah said. "You won't be sorry."
"I certainly hope not."
"You won't. I know it." Jeremiah moved again, resting his arm along the back of the couch. There, much better. Too bad this uncomfortable piece of furniture had survived the devastation.
"Simon was right. There is something different about you. I'm glad you came to this place."
Jeremiah blinked. "Different how? I'm just, just, an ordinary guy. Just me."
"No, Jeremiah," Markus said. "That's where you're wrong. You are different, because you care about people."
Jeremiah squirmed. "Well, yeah, of course I do. But that's not different."
"If you say so." Markus nodded.
"Whatever," Jeremiah said, after an uncomfortably long pause. "But I'm still curious. Why do you just sit here without doing anything? Why don't you try to help?"
"Persistence is an admirable trait."
"What?" Jeremiah blinked. "Say again?"
"I said, persistence is an admirable trait. You are as dogged and relelntless as a hound on the chase."
"Huh. Don't think you're going to distract me, man," Jeremiah warned. "I really want to know."
"I know you do," Markus smiled wearily. "Would it satisfy you to know that before, we did try to help?"
"Before what? And what did you do?"
"Before the attacks. We would go out into the world, bring back those who needed assistance, give aid where we could. Be it mechanical repairs or helping plant crops, some of us were out in the world every day. But then the attacks began, and all of us took refuge deep within the mountain and most never came out again. What we have here is too precious to lose it all to savagery and wastefulness."
"Huh." Jeremiah blinked, then decided that was a mistake. His eyes wanted to stay closed. He rested his head on his arm, looking sideways at Markus. "So you had a reason for closing yourselves off from the rest of the world. Why didn't you just say so?"
"Would it have made a difference?"
"Probably not," Jeremiah admitted. "But then, there wasn't much for it to make a difference in, now was there?"
He frowned, running that back through his head. That didn't make sense, even to him. Maybe he was getting tired, too tired to match wits with someone as sharp as Markus Alexander.
"What?" Markus didn't get it, either. "Jeremiah, weren't you going to go back to bed, sometime a while back? Might be a good idea."
"Nah, don't wanna move." In fact, moving didn't seem much of an option, at this point. "What do you think the future holds?"
"For us? Here in Thunder Mountain," Markus added hastily. "I think change is coming, very soon now. I think we have to be ready, because it's going to be very hard to keep our heads above water, but I think within a few years we'll be able to live free under the open sky. Imagine that, all these people, all the children, free to run and play and feel the wind in their hair or pick flowers if they want to..." Markus sighed, a faraway look in his eyes.
"I can imagine it," Jeremiah said. "Because I've been there. Been free, under the sun and the moon and the stars, free to see all the beauty of nature at its finest. Too bad for all the kids here you keep them all shut away."
"I'd feel guilty, if I didn't know I was keeping them safe."
"Where you gonna go, when it's time?" Jeremiah's eyes refused to stay open. He gave up on the struggle and let them stay closed, listening to the sound of Markus' voice, like an anchor keeping him in the waking world.
"Down the mountain, I think," Markus said dreamily. "Somewhere where we can dig in and build anew."
"A new what?" Jeremiah asked, or thought he did. But Markus was still saying something, about flowers, it sounded like. *Flowers? What in hell's he want with those?*
But whatever it was Markus was saying faded into a blur as Jeremiah slipped into sleep.
* * * * * * * *
There was something stuck to his face.
Jeremiah woke abruptly, completely disoriented. There was something bluish and rather musty smelling attached to his face. He sat up, and remembered where he was when his face abruptly became unstuck from the couch. "Ow."
The chair where he'd last seen Markus was empty. *Oh shit.* Jeremiah got up quickly, stretching stiff muscles, and wondering why his first thought on waking was for Markus. Then he heard something by the door. Markus was there, talking to someone quietly but urgently. Jeremiah went over to see what was happening.
"I'm telling you, it's been decided," Markus said. Erin, brandishing a clipboard aggressively, scowled at him.
"You can't do that," she protested. "We need you here. What if-"
"At this point, 'what if' does not concern me. I will be gone for a few hours today, and you need to be ready to deal with whatever happens." Markus smiled. His tone changed, becoming very persuasive. "Come on, Erin, you can handle things around here for a few hours. I know you can, or I wouldn't have chosen you."
"Well, I guess it's okay, then," Erin said, dropping her gaze and fiddling with her clipboard. "You just better come back in one piece."
"I will," Markus promised solemnly. "Right, Jeremiah?"
"Of course." Jeremiah nodded, but didn't miss the murderous glare Erin shot him. She really didn't like him.
"You'd probably better go find Kurdy, if we're going today," Markus said.
Jeremiah nodded. "How long before we leave?"
"Meet me at the Rover in one hour, okay?"
"You've got it." Jeremiah went out into the corridor, ignoring Erin. Looked like Markus was just going to treat last night as a perfectly normal occurance, not worth getting upset over. That was good, in a way, saving him any future embarassment over falling asleep like that.
"Hey, Kurdy." Jeremiah quickened his pace until he caught up to his friend. "I was just looking for you."
"I was looking for you last night. Where'd you go, man?"
"Markus wanted to talk."
"Oho, look at you, going straight to the top like that," Kurdy grinned. "I trust you had a good night?"
"Knock it off, man," Jeremiah growled. "That is, unless you want to be left behind?"
"Left behind from what? What you talkin' about now, Jeremiah?"
"We're leaving in an hour. Going back to that town, to help those people. You in?"
"Hell yeah!" Kurdy couldn't agree fast enough. "Let me at 'em! But how'd you get Markus to okay it? Or do I not want to know?"
"I said knock it off, Kurdy. He wanted to hear my idea, I told him, he agreed. Do you want to do it, or not?"
"Easy, man," Kurdy said, holding up his hands. "I was just jokin' with you, you know that!"
"Yeah, well, there's nothing to joke about. I'm going for some breakfast. You want to come with, you meet us at the Rover in one hour."
Jeremiah started back down the corridor, and Kurdy went with him. "So how was it?"
"How was what?" Jeremiah stifled a sigh. Didn't Kurdy ever give up?
"Last night. How was it? You must have done something," Kurdy grinned.
"Markus came and asked what I wanted to do. I told him. We talked. I fell asleep."
Kurdy wasn't put off by the curt tone at all. "But you were gone all night, man. Sure you didn't give up that easily?"
"*Kurdy-*" Jeremiah caught hold of his temper before he pissed off the only friend he had in this dangerous world. "Nothing happened but what I said, okay? Now fucking *drop it,* okay?"
Something in Jeremiah's tone must have finally warned Kurdy off. "Okay, man, if you say so. You got it. I won't say no more, okay? I'll just forget anything ever happened. I'll-"
"Kurdy!" Jeremiah snapped, nerves fraying.
"Sorry, Jeremiah." Kurdy finally subsided. "So what are we going to do today, anyway? What's the plan?"
Jeremiah felt some of the tension ease from his shoulders. Problem avoided, at least for the moment. "It's like this..."
* * * * * * * *
The only obvious way onto the roof was an old antenna. Someone must have had a shortwave radio in the warehouse at some point. Jeremiah climbed the rusted structure, hoping it wouldn't give way beneath his weight. When he reached the roof, he could hear the shouts of the skinheads inside. He hoped they weren't too late, that nobody had been executed yet.
He moved across the roof quickly but quietly. He'd told them to give him five minutes, then start blowing things up. His time sense told him that the time was almost up.
Luck was with him. Jeremiah found an unlocked service hatch that let him into the catwalks above the gathered skinheads. He could hear the captives, now, crying out in terror. And of course he could hear the insane and bloodthirsty howls of the skinhead horde. He moved closer, working his way towards the holding pen and trying not to look at the noose dangling from the rafters. At least it wasn't occupied.
He ducked low, sheltering behind the "White Power" sign. At least it was good for something.
"Who wants to be next?" He could hear the bloodlust dripping from the leader's voice. "That one, that one right there. Do her. Do her now."
They were pulling a woman out. She struggled and wept, but they hauled her out anyway. She fought like a wild thing while they pulled the rope, slowly cutting off her wind as she twisted in the air.
"Dammit, Markus, come on," Jeremiah whispered, face twisted with the agony of being helpless to prevent the woman's death. "Somebody, do *something.*"
Somebody did. As if in answer to his plea, there was an explosion, blasting a hole in the upper gallery across from Jeremiah's position. The rope slid free, dropping the woman to the roof of the cage, as the executioners ran to investigate.
"Yes!" Jeremiah sprang into action. He slithered down from the rafters, picking up a few splinters along the way but not caring, and caught hold of the rope, sliding the rest of the way down it and removing the noose from the woman's neck. Explosions continued to rock the ground, punctuated by gunshots. Jeremiah spared half a moment to hope his friends had the sense to stay out of sight.
"You okay? Come on, let's go," he said, helping her up. She looked at him with eyes full of gratitude, then dropped to the ground. Jeremiah followed, finding and wrestling with the gate to the holding pen. A rush of wind warned him in time to look up and see a single remaining guard go down from a blow to the legs. The woman he'd freed smiled, then tossed the pipe aside and ran. Jeremiah hauled the skinhead upright and shoved him face first into the wire mesh of the pen. Then he pried the gate open and stepped out of the way of the rush of freed people.
"Well, that's that," he said to himself, satisfied. He heard another explosion and smiled. Better get back up there before those two blew up the building itself.
Getting out was easier than getting in, since he didn't have to hide. Jeremiah just scrambled up the maintenance ladder and reached the roof in time to see some of the madness down on the ground. Skinheads darted every which way, while fire blossomed in unpredictable places about the courtyard. Jeremiah grinned and raced across the roof, down the antenna, and back up a fire escape ladder to reunite with Markus and Kurdy atop the neighboring building.
Markus saw him arrive, but didn't say anything, just flung a lit stick of dynamite and watched it explode. Kurdy laughed.
"That must be why these guys think they're so superior and all," he said, grinning.
"How do you figure?" Markus asked, turning away from the confusion below.
"I ain't never seen nobody run that fast in my life," Kurdy chuckled. "You see that, Jeremiah?"
"Uh-uh," Jeremiah replied, restraining the urge to add "how could I have?"
"Check this out, baby," and Kurdy lit up another fuse and threw the dynamite. "Yeah!"
"Pretty damn fast," Jeremiah agreed, chuckling. Beside him, Markus lobbed another stick, and the running skinheads switched directions again.
"All right," Jeremiah said, straightening up. "We'd better get going before they look up here. Nobody saw us," he said, directly to Markus. "Nobody knows we were here. We did what we came to do."
"Yeah," Markus said, looking faintly surprised. "Yeah, we did, didn't we."
"Welcome to the real world, Markus," Jeremiah said, and patted him on the arm as he stood up and headed for the fire escape.
"Thanks," Markus said, with a wry twist of the lips.
Jeremiah led the way rapidly, down the fire escape and through the narrow alleys. The shouts of the skinheads faded in the distance with no hint of pursuit.
"Hey," Markus said, stopping just before the alley let out into the street. "You go on ahead, Kurdy, get the truck, okay?"
Kurdy shot him a puzzled look, but went. "Whatever."
"What's up?" Jeremiah looked at Markus, one eyebrow raised.
"Just wondering, that's all," Markus said, mouth twitching.
"Wondering what?" Jeremiah folded his arms and waited, not quite smiling. This was almost getting amusing, the little game of trying to figure out what Markus wanted.
"Are you happy now? You've done what you set out to."
"Yeah," Jeremiah said, shifting a bit closer. "Yeah, I am. And what about you? Happy now?"
"Happiness is but a fleeting fancy," Markus said, glancing sideways at Jeremiah, waiting for a reaction.
"Huh?" Jeremiah blinked. "There you go again, getting all weird on me. Do you ever just say what you mean?"
"Where would be the fun in that?" That little half-smile was going to do Jeremiah in yet.
"Fun? I'll give you fun," he mock-growled, advancing a step closer. "Fun is when you're trying to make sense out of an endless stream of cryptic comments and hidden meanings, when all you ever want is a clear and straight answer."
Markus pretended to cower away, but his smile widened. "Obfuscation is an artform which I delight in."
Jeremiah had him backed against a brick wall now, trapped by an outstretched arm. "And you know I have no fucking clue what that means, which is precisely why you said it, intending to create as much confusion as possible. Shee-it," he groaned, moving away and smacking his forehead. "Now *I'm* doing it."
"That sounded too damn close to something you might have said."
"Minus the 'fucking.' Swearing is just so tacky."
Jeremiah had to laugh. Markus grinned at him, with one of the most open expressions he'd worn yet. "You are just too much," Jeremiah said, shaking his head. "Can't tell if I want to smack you silly, or what."
Markus resumed his habitual seriousness, although his eyes still sparkled. "And what would be the other option, that I may be prepared against the eventuality of you finally deciding on a course of action?"
Jeremiah didn't even stop to think, just wrapped his arms around Markus and pulled him close. But then he realized what he'd done and froze up, afraid to move, scared but not wanting to let go.
"Oh," Markus said, and linked his arms around Jeremiah's waist, "okay. Much better than getting smacked."
"Sorry," Jeremiah said, into Markus' neck. "Don't know what came over me. Must have been a decision."
"Must have been," Markus agreed, then pulled away. "You need to shave. Especially if you're going to go dropping your dignity like that and playing games."
"Who's playing?" Jeremiah rubbed at his face. Rough, scratchy, and definitely in need of a shave, but damned if he'd say so. "And you're a fine one to talk about dropping dignity, Mr. Reserved. I saw you laughing, winging those sticks of dynamite up there.. And besides, I hate to shave. Leaves my face raw."
"That's just because you don't do it often enough." Markus captured Jeremiah's hand and raised it to his face. "See? Not raw."
*Soft.* Electric sparks shivered down Jeremiah's nerve endings, straight from his fingertips to his gut. "No razor," he managed to say, stroking his thumb along the smooth jawline. This was hitting him much harder than a simple hug. A hug was still safe. There were still layers of clothing involved in a hug. This wasn't safe. This was skin, touching skin, sensitive fingers and thumb curved against soft smooth skin...
"Not a problem," Markus said, pressing Jeremiah's hand closer for a moment.
"Hey, you guys planning on staying here all-oh." Kurdy rounded the corner with his customary energy, then halted in consternation. "Uh, sorry, didn't mean to interrupt, but I got the truck and-"
"You didn't interrupt anything," Jeremiah said sharply, jerking his hand away as if burned. "You're right, we'd better get a move on. Coming? Or were you planning on walking home?"
"What's your problem?" Markus asked, thrown off track by the sudden change of mood.
"No problem. Just don't want to get left behind." Jeremiah strode out of the alley and jumped into the Rover without a backward glance. He revved the engine and threw it in gear. Kurdy yelped and scrambled for the passenger door.
"There you go again, tryin' to take off without me. What's up with that?"
"I ain't leavin' without you. Now him, on the other hand-" Jeremiah rolled down the window. "You coming, Markus?"
Markus moved a little faster, around the back of the truck and to the open passenger door. "Kurdy, I hate to say it, but..." and he nodded towards the truck bed.
"Uh... right. I think I'll get a little fresh air. Might be safer out there, anyways."
Jeremiah swore under his breath as Kurdy got out of the cab and Markus got in. As soon as Kurdy swung up into the bed, he let the Rover go, with a squeal of tires that probably wasn't too smart under the circumstances. But he didn't care. Let the skinheads know someone with a truck had been in the neighborhood. Who cared.
"What's the matter with you?" Markus asked, sitting sideways on the seat so he could look at Jeremiah.
"Nothing." Jeremiah kept his eyes on the road in front of him.
"I don't believe you. Why did you get so upset when Kurdy interrupted us?"
Jeremiah's guts did a flip. "If I say I had a bad flashback, will you accept it and leave it be?" He snuck a look at Markus quickly.
Markus frowned, just a small wrinkle between his eyes. "Flashback? To what?"
"Don't ask, okay?" Tires squealed as Jeremiah swerved around a chunk of debris in the roadway.
"Okay," Markus nodded, after a moment. "I'll accept that explanation."
And that was that. It was only twenty miles back to Thunder Mountain, along winding dirt roads that weren't in the best of condition after fifteen years of neglect. Jeremiah was able to pretend to concentrate on the road to the exclusion of all else. But he was still aware of Markus beside him, the quiet presence tickling at his nerve endings like a delicate torture.
"You have a very good memory," Markus said unexpectedly.
Jeremiah twitched, and the truck jerked sideways, sending the rear end slewing uncomfortably close to the edge of the road as it made a turn. "What makes you say that?"
"Even the best scouts need a map to negotiate all the unmarked roads out here."
"Oh. Wonder why? It's not that hard." Jeremiah dropped the truck into a lower gear. The road ahead made the term "washboard" seem completely inadequate.
"For you, perhaps not." Markus smiled. "But not every man can remember every turning and every trail, while still managing to keep the vehicle on a road in such poor repair as this one."
"Yeah, well, there's some things I'm just good at, and this is one of 'em." Jeremiah leaned forward. The road was really nothing of the sort-more of a dried creek bed, where runoff water from the spring thaw had merrily chewed the man made path to bits. "Don't suppose you've got a road grader in that fortress of yours?"
"I'm afraid not," Markus chuckled. "Evidently, the great military minds who designed and built this place expected the road system to survive apocalyptic events intact."
"Idiots," Jeremiah said, then focused all his attention on getting the Rover up a tricky incline. At least the roads weren't all this bad, and this one only had short stretches that were dangerous. Problem was, there were a lot of those short stretches.
They reached Thunder Mountain without incident. Markus stepped out of the truck and unlocked the gate, with a reproachful look at Jeremiah, who only shrugged.
"What can I say, man?" he said aloud as he pulled through the gate, then waited for Markus to relock it. "It's not like you had a welcoming committee out here for us. How else were we supposed to get in?"
"Ready to face Erin?" Jeremiah asked, when Markus returned to the truck.
"Very seldom," Markus sighed. "No, really, I must be fair. She's a good friend, and she's an excellent administrator. But sometimes she's a little..."
"Possessive," Markus corrected. Then he was out of the truck again to open the twenty ton bomb-proof door into the mountian.
Jeremiah watched the door swing open and wondered if he was up to another day inside, with all the inherent dangers of being near a man like Markus.
* * * * * * * *
Jeremiah slipped into the little office. Markus had loaned him the access card, as long as he promised to return it as soon as he was done. Kind of annoying, really, to be so totally dependant on someone for a simple thing like privacy. Not to mention the look on his face when Jeremiah had asked for an ashtray...
But at least it was truly private here. Jeremiah avoided looking at the turquoise couch and sat in the rolling desk chair, pencil already in hand. He fished the paper out of his pocket and smoothed it across the desk, staring at it for a moment before he began writing.
I've got a lot on my mind these days.*
Jeremiah stopped and chewed on the end of his pencil thoughtfully. That was an understatement if he'd ever seen one. "A lot" didn't even begin to cover what was going on in his head these days.
"But it's a start," he muttered, and started writing again.
*Remember I told you how I'd gone looking for the End of the World? Stupid name, really, but here I am. They call it Thunder Mountain here. I still can't get myself to quit thinking of it as Cheyenne Mountain, though. But whatever it's called, I'm here... for a few days, anyway. I'm expecting to get told to move on any day now by the guy in charge here.
Markus... now there's a real problem. How disappointed in me are you going to be if I tell you it's happening again? I try not to think about him, but the harder I try, the worse it gets. Is it bad? I didn't think so, but then those people... *
Jeremiah stopped writing again, trapped by the memory. He'd been so happy to find Ben, back in those first chaotic days. He'd lost his parents, he'd lost his little brother, but at least he'd found his best friend again. They'd stuck together for years, all through that awful time of growing up without any help at all, and had gotten very close. Too close for the comfort of the crowd they'd taken up with. All it took was a hug, just one special moment of closeness and happiness that was seen by the wrong eyes, and the world went to hell in a heartbeat.
*I never thought it was bad to care about another person, Dad, because you and Mom never told me it was wrong to love people. I thought it was good. It felt good. I think they're the ones that are wrong, the ones that say it's sick and twisted to care about someone. Kind of like those skinheads me and Kurdy saw-bet if they saw two people with different color skins together they'd get really pissed. Is it like that, Dad? Were those people that killed Ben and almost killed me just being like those skinheads? Because if so, then it's not really wrong after all. But even if it isn't, and I don't think it is, not really, even if it isn't wrong, there's still danger. I don't know what to do, Dad. I can't stop myself from thinking about Markus, but it's dangerous and I don't want to get in any more trouble. And besides that, I can't stay here. Maybe tomorrow, maybe the next day, he'll say me and Kurdy have to leave. Then where will I be? Just like Kurdy, dreaming about what might have been and sighing all the time with that pathetic lost puppy look.
Anyway, this is one of those times when I could really use a bit of fatherly advice. Any suggestions? Send 'em on down on a breeze or something. I'll be listening.*
Jeremiah watched the flames devour his letter and wished it had helped more. Confusion swirled through him in heavy waves. Memories of Ben, of how close they'd been growing up and how... well, natural it had felt to get a little closer. He could remember exactly when it had first happened, too, that warm feeling inside: a cold night. A *very* cold night. With only one blanket.
*Mind if I share that thing?*
Jeremiah held the blanket up without a word and Ben scooted under it. *This ain't gonna work with you clear over there. C'mere, I don't bite...* and Jeremiah pulled his friend closer.
*You sure you don't bite?* Ben giggled, arms sliding around Jeremiah.
*Of course I don't, silly. Now quit wiggling, you're letting in cold air...*
Jeremiah smiled. What a night that had been, just the two of them together under the glittering stars, in a little cocoon of warmth and closeness. Funny thing was, it'd been another week or so before either of them realized just how, er, cuddly they were getting. Couldn't hardly keep their hands off each other... Jason noticed before they did. Too bad they hadn't taken his warning more seriously.
*What's up with you guys? You're actin' like butt-buddies, or somethin'.*
*Butt-buddies?* Jeremiah mouthed at Ben, while Jason was looking away. They both snorted, trying not to laugh.
*Gotta watch out, actin' like that,* Jason continued, still looking around nervously. *Frankie an' them, they don't like that. They hurt the last guys like that around here, hurt 'em real bad...*
Then, later, they were off alone as usual. Ben looked at Jeremiah. Jeremiah looked at Ben. *Wonder what it'd be like if...*
And then they were kissing. Hesitant and somewhat scared, but still rather pleasant... nice. Very nice.
"Dammit, Ben, why'd you have to go and die?" Jeremiah whispered, holding his head. They'd never done much more than that, just a few kisses and hesitant caresses. Too bad they'd been caught.
Jeremiah's mind shied away from that memory like a skittish horse. Possibly an accident, like they'd claimed, but one hell of an accurate accident. Damn.
And now there was Markus.
"Correction," Jeremiah said, pushing away from the desk and standing up. "Now there *isn't* Markus. Because I ain't gonna make that mistake again."
The ashes of his letter, cooling in the glass ashtray, watched in silent reproach as he left the room.
* * * * * * * *
"Where were you last night?"
*History repeats itself,* Jeremiah thought wryly, as Sarah sat in the vacant chair next to him. "I went off by myself for a while. Why? Did I miss something?"
"Just me," she smiled. "I was looking all over for you. I hear you and your friend went out with Markus?"
Jeremiah snorted. "Whole damn mountain seems to have heard about that. Yeah. We all went out. What of it?"
"No need to get snappy," she said, sounding hurt. "I was just curious, that's all."
"Sorry." Jeremiah stabbed a vegetable with his fork. Funny, his mom would never have believed he'd be willing, even excited, to have vegetables for dinner. But that had been in a time when veggies had been for sale at the corner grocery store, not a rarity to be savored in a world where farmers were few and far between.
"So what did you do?" That bright smile was back in place. Jeremiah looked at her, then back at his dinner.
"I'm not supposed to talk about it."
"I heard you guys took a whole case of dynamite out of stores," she continued on, as though he hadn't spoken. "What for? Did you blow up the town or something?"
"I said, I'm not supposed to talk about it." Jeremiah put his fork down and looked around. The cafeteria was crowded, but Markus was nowhere to be found. "Seen Markus lately? Maybe he'll tell you what happened. As for me, I gave my word, and I hold to it." He stood up, leaving Sarah with hanging jaw, and took his tray to a small, out of the way table, where hopefully he wouldn't be bothered.
He'd been tense and on edge all day, waiting for Markus to show up and tell him it was time for them to go. Kurdy was off pursuing Elizabeth with the single-mindedness of a fine hunting hound, so he didn't even have company. But he had books-he'd been granted access to the large library, and had already devoured two and a half of them. But Markus hadn't appeared.
Jeremiah finished his meal and returned his tray to the kitchen. Still no sign of Markus. Where had the guy gotten off to, anyway? He started back towards the library, even more on edge. Maybe he'd just take one of the books back to the room he shared with Kurdy, keep his mind off the inevitability of leaving this place.
He was so wrapped up in his thoughts that Jeremiah nearly ran right over Markus.
Jeremiah stepped back, eyes wide. "Sorry, didn't see you there."
"That's okay. May I have a minute of your time?"
"Of course." The skin down his spine prickled. Jeremiah really didn't like that tone. Something told him he was going to like what Markus had to say even less.
Markus led the way back to his public office, a large room overlooking the hydroponics bay, which was dimly lit for the night by infrared bulbs. Jeremiah went to the windows, ignoring the books and pictures lining the walls.
"Nice view, isn't it?"
Jeremiah nodded. The tension crept up his shoulders and wrapped around his throat.
"The approach to the Garden sloped like a hillside and the several parts of the structure rose from one another tier on tier... On all this, the earth had been piled... and was thickly planted with trees of every kind that, by their great size and other charm, gave pleasure to the beholder... "
"What?" Jeremiah blinked and looked at Markus. "Say again?"
"Part of a description of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. I've always found it to be rather appropriate here, in my artificial garden, which must surely resemble that ancient wonder in some way..." His voice trailed off, and he sighed. "But I didn't bring you here to talk about gardens."
"Somehow, that does *not* surprise me," Jeremiah muttered.
"What was that?" Markus looked at him, an eyebrow raised in query.
"Nothing," Jeremiah said. "Never mind. What did you want?"
"I needed your input on something, before you leave."
Jeremiah felt a sinking sensation in his gut. "So you are giving me the boot, then," he said. He wasn't able to keep the disappointment from his voice. "I mean, I knew you were going to tell me to go, sooner or later, but I had hoped..."
"Not just yet, Jeremiah," Markus reassured him. "I would never send someone out at night unless it was absolutely necessary."
"Well, that's good, then," Jeremiah said, but the tension didn't ease. "So what is it? And why ask me?"
"Because I value your opinion," Markus replied. "I need to know how you would resolve a particular situation."
"O-o-o-kay," Jeremiah said, dragging the word out dubiously. "And what situation would that be?"
"It's looking like a no-winner," Markus said, eyes fixed on the rows of plants below. "On the one hand, we've got-well, us. My group here in Thunder Mountain. And on the other hand we've got a dangerous threat, approaching ever nearer with each passing day. The only way I can see to deal with this problem is to remove the threat, but that would be senseless, because the danger is not a physical one, and is balanced out by something much needed around here."
"Okay, Markus, back up there." Jeremiah held up his hand. "What the hell did you just say? There's a non-physical threat approaching here, and you need to get rid of it, but getting rid of it is stupid?"
"Essentially, yes," Markus nodded. "You've summarized the issue quite nicely."
Jeremiah sighed. The tension wrapped around his head and gave a squeeze. He rubbed at his forehead, trying to think. "Non-physical... what kind of threat is this, anyway? Can it be seen, touched, communicated with?"
Markus nodded thoughtfully. "Yes, all of that is possible. But the lines of communication are sporadic, at best."
*This sucks.* Jeremiah rubbed his head again. "Okay. Sporadic or not, you can establish communication. Can you negotiate with this whatever-it-is? Ask it nicely to leave you alone?"
"Possible, but I don't know that he'd listen."
"Yes, he," Markus nodded. "The threat is a person, bringing change, dangerous change, nearer and nearer to my mountain. What can be done about this person before the stability of this environment is disrupted beyond repair?"
Jeremiah turned away from the window and found a seat. His head started throbbing in time with his pulse. "Let me guess. You're trying to be sneaky about getting rid of me, and want to know if I'd kick me out in the cold if I were in your position."
"Perhaps," Markus admitted. "But then, perhaps I'm talking about something else."
"You're a bad liar. Can't even look at me." Jeremiah felt anger rising within him, from a very deep and dark source. "If you want to get rid of me, just say so."
Markus finally turned away from the windows and looked at him. "But I don't want to get rid of you. That's the entire problem. You would bring change, dangerous change, threatening the stability of my community. Already folks are in an uproar, and you've been here a scant few days. What would happen were you to remain here? Do I really want to know? And yet, you're a very capable individual."
"Cut the crap," Jeremiah growled. "What's your real reason for wanting to get rid of me? Did Erin take a swing at you for cheating on her?"
"I beg your pardon!" Markus drew back, the picture of indignation. "I have no idea what brought on that remark about Erin, but I resent the implication."
"Resent away, Markus," Jeremiah said. "Just give me a good reason to go, and I'll get out of your hair with a smile."
"A good reason, as you put it, would be that I think you're setting yourself up for trouble."
Jeremiah's head pulsated. Damn, but he hated tension headaches, especially when he needed to think clearly. "And how would that be, Markus? Enquiring minds want to know."
"I think you've set your sights on something unobtainable." Markus looked at him, dark eyes unreadable.
Jeremiah exploded from his seat and stopped just short of pinning Markus to the window. "Would you just fucking well *say what you mean?* I'm sick and tired of all your goddamn word games!" Jeremiah took a deep breath, backing off slightly. "Look, Markus, I'm a simple man. I like simple things. Just tell me what the fucking problem is, in plain and simple English, and I'll get the hell out of your life, okay?"
"Not really," Markus said calmly. The man had to have ice water running through his veins, he was so cool and collected. "Part of the fucking problem, as you put it, is that I think you may be important to the future of Thunder Mountain in some way. But the main problem is that you see yourself as being in my life, and you're not."
*Oof.* Jeremiah felt stunned. He backed up another step. *Not in his life?* He didn't care, not even in the least little bit? "What?"
"I think you're reading too much into what happened over the last two days. I can tell by the way you're acting."
"Huh." Jeremiah ran a hand through his hair. "So what you're saying is, you don't give a shit about me, you think I should leave, but you think I'm important in some way to the future of Thunder Mountain."
Markus nodded. "A bit blunt, but essentially correct."
"Well, I think you're full of shit." Jeremiah turned away and went back to the table, leaning both hands on it and staring at it, but not really seeing anything. "You're the one reading too much into things, okay? I ain't like that. And you're *damn* sure wrong about me having any fucking thing to do with the future of this place. Give me the word, and I'm gone, never to trouble your safe little community again. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to read a book, while I still have the chance."
Markus didn't stop him. Jeremiah went out the door without ever looking back. He saw a few people on his way to the library, but something must have warned them off talking to him, because no one said anything.
When he got back to his room, he found something laying on his pillow: a razor. A brand new, obviously sharp razor.
Jeremiah picked it up. *You need to shave,* whispered a memory. But the remembered warmth was nothing, just a delusion. Or better yet, an illusion, that had been shattered beyond repair.
* * * * * * * *
"Sorry to see you go," Markus said, adjusting the position of a potted violet, "but you have to understand, we have certain limitations of who we can let stay on here."
Jeremiah looked at him, trying to keep his expression neutral. Markus was nervous. It was obvious in the way he moved, the way he wouldn't look directly at Jeremiah or even Kurdy.
"Yeah, we figured as much," Kurdy said, pulling a book down from a shelf and leafing through it. He and Jeremiah exchanged sour glances.
"Everybody here has a role to play, a job to do," Markus continued. "That's the only way we can maintain our limited resources. Still," and he glanced up for a brief moment, before picking up the same violet he'd moved and examining it with unnecessary care, "I've had some supplies set aside for you, enough for a few weeks anyway, to get you back on your way again. It's the least we could do."
He looked up in time to catch the sardonic lift of Jeremiah's eyebrow. *Yeah, go ahead, say whatever it takes to let you feel better about tossing us out, asshole.* Jeremiah turned away in disgust. "Thanks, and if that's all, we'll be on our way," he said, already halfway to the door.
"Unless you'd like to have a role here for yourselves," Marcus said, picking up another violet and turning its pot in his hands. Kurdy and Jeremiah both looked up attentively, unmoving, waiting for Markus' next words.
"I'm listening," Kurdy said, then moved back into the room and sat at the round table, still holding the book. Jeremiah followed silently.
"We have half a dozen search teams out there, bringing back information and keeping an eye on things," Markus continued, abandoning his violet and finally turning his full attention to them. He sat opposite Kurdy, but still avoided looking at Jeremiah. "When Simon died we lost one of the best teams that we had. You've proven you can handle yourselves in a crunch," and he glanced at Jeremiah, almost too quickly to notice. "You could replace them, pick up where they left off. We could use someone with your knowledge of the world outside."
"How are we supposed to get information for you when you're holding back information from us?" Jeremiah asked, letting some of his anger and frustration color his voice.
"I don't know what you're-" Markus started, but Jeremiah didn't let him continue.
"Simon's message. When I gave it to you, it hit you pretty hard. It has something to do with the Big Death, doesn't it."
There it was again, that guilty and secretive look Markus wore so often. He rose and went to the door, and Kurdy looked at Jeremiah. But Markus wasn't leaving. He closed the door, then spoke again.
"The Big Death wiped out six billion people in six months." He paced restlessly across the office, looking out the windows at the hydroponics bay below. "We still don't know what it was, or why it came, or if it might come back again. Simon's job was to answer those questions. He was tracking a lead when he left here for the last time." Markus rested his hands on the windowsill, close enough to Jeremiah to touch him, yet oh so distant.
"Do you know who he talked to? Who he was going to meet?" Jeremiah unconsciously took a step closer, sending Markus away again, across the room.
"No. Simon kept a journal. A list of contacts, things he was investigating... questions in need of answers." He pulled a small volume from a shelf. "This must have come up at the last minute, because there's nothing in his journal about it." Markus handed the little book to Jeremiah. "Still, I could always trust his judgment. If he thought they knew something, then they knew."
Jeremiah sat down across from Kurdy, paging through the book and trying to ignore the somewhat creepy feeling of reading a dead man's diary. Two words leapt off the page and grabbed his attention: *Valhalla Sector.*
*Reference to Valhalla Sector...* He looked up and saw Kurdy watching him, then went back to the book.
"What is it?" Markus asked quickly. Evidently he was still paying enough attention to Jeremiah to catch the slight shift in his mood, despite the way he acted like Jeremiah wasn't really there.
"This list," Jeremiah said, not raising his eyes from the pages. "Names. Places."
"Yes. Those were some of the things he was looking into. Why?"
Jeremiah ignored Markus' concern and held up the book, finger pointing to the all-important words. "This entry right here. Valhalla Sector. What do you know about it?"
"It was one of the last things he was investigating before he died," Markus shrugged. "Someone on that list must know something about it."
He got up again, returning to the window. "I've told very few people about Simon's message. No reason to cause a panic. But this raises the stakes enormously." Now he turned and finally looked right at Jeremiah without flinching. "We could use the help."
*Bet that's as close as I'll get to an apology,* Jeremiah thought, caught once again by those eyes. Tired, as always, and guarded... but sincere. *Whole lot of nerve he's got, acting like last night never happened.*
"What do we have to do?" Kurdy asked, intent on Markus and utterly unaware of the cause of the underlying tension in the room.
"Go back outside. Find out who our potential friends and enemies are." Markus was back to looking at Kurdy, again ignoring Jeremiah. "Look for resources we can use in the future. Reconstruct Simon's list of contacts. Find out what you can about the Big Death, so we can prepare for the worst if necessary." A faint hint of a smile lifted the corners of his mouth briefly. "At the end of the day, try to come home alive."
The word rocked Jeremiah, but he didn't allow a hint of his reaction to show. He stood up and faced Markus, holding up the journal. "Do we get to keep this?"
"Of course. It'll give you a place to start." Markus met Jeremiah's eyes, then sighed and looked away again. "So. What do you say?"
Jeremiah didn't say anything. He just drank in the sight of the naked hope on Markus' face. No matter what the man said or did, he wanted Jeremiah around. Somewhere inside that complex mind lurked a shred of real emotion, and it wasn't the lack of caring he'd claimed last night. *What the hell, Markus-are you as scared as I was? Am?*
"Look," Kurdy said, pushing away from the table and breaking Markus' attention away from Jeremiah. "If this thing's coming back, there ain't anything you, or me, or anyone else can do to stop it. Anybody with half a brain would just go out there and party until the Big D comes again."
Markus dropped his gaze, trying to hide his disappointment. His shoulders slumped.
"However," Kurdy continued, earning Markus' undivided attention again, "I'm in."
Markus nodded. "Jeremiah?"
*By damn, listen to that... he really does care, the lying asshole.* Jeremiah could hear it in his voice, the softening of tone when Markus said his name. He opened his mouth to say no, that he'd leave as they'd agreed, then threw caution to the winds. "I'm in too, on one condition. While we're out there, you let me look for places where we can use your resources here to start helping people pick themselves back up again. Without giving away your location."
Markus finally smiled. "I figured you would ask that. So my answer is a qualified yes. I'm not willing yet to risk this place. But I am willing to risk you."
Jeremiah flinched back. Mixed signals again.
"You can do as you say, but if anything goes wrong, we will not come looking for you. Will that do?"
"It'll do just fine," Jeremiah said steadily. Markus nodded, eyes slipping away from Jeremiah once again. "C'mon, Kurdy."
Jeremiah tucked the journal into his jacket and grabbed Kurdy's shoulder. "Wait," Markus said, and Jeremiah stopped.
"One more thing," Markus said quietly. "Welcome aboard."
"Thanks." Jeremiah resumed his journey towards the door. Kurdy followed.
"Looks like we're in," Kurdy said, out in the corridor. He grinned, wide and happy. "Can't wait to tell Elizabeth."
"Yeah, good. Glad you're happy." Jeremiah shook his head. "That's the last thing I expected to hear Markus say today, after the way he was talking last night."
"Oh? Something I should know about?" Kurdy elbowed him, and Jeremiah grabbed hold of his temper.
"*No*. We just had one hell of an argument about the future, and I would have sworn he was going to kick us out this morning. The Council must have changed his mind."
"Well, whatever happened, I'm glad."
Jeremiah left it at that, although inside, he wasn't entirely certain if he was glad or not. But the truth was, if he could stand to admit it to himself, he was willing to eat his own words if it gave him the chance to stay here. Here in the Lost World, the sanctuary under Cheyenne Mountain where the comforts of the old world were still available...
Here, where Markus was sending out conflicting and confusing messages. Where he was never certain what the next moment would bring, pain or pleasure...
But at least there was hope.