They were dead.
They were dead, and Phantom was bleeding out in his arms.
Nightmare cursed again, dragging Phantom further down the dark road before pulling both of them off towards the wagon and horses.
"Come on," he muttered, hauling Phantom up into the wagon bed. "Stay with me, okay?"
Phantom's only response was a pained groan.
Nightmare hopped up next to him, laying him out and examining him. Where has he been shot? Where was all this blood coming from? His hip? Horrible, but he'd survive until he managed to get them to help.
No, Nightmare realized with growing horror, Phantom had been shot in the stomach.
"Hang on," he murmured again, desperately ripping apart his jacket with his knife. “Please.” He wadded up the bulk of the fabric, pressed it to the wound, and tied the rest of his jacket around Phantom’s abdomen. He could only hope it would help staunch the flow of blood.
With nothing else to do, he jumped up front and drove the horses into action.
They'd done the best they could, they said—and yet Phantom had still gotten sepsis. An infection in his blood. They were just trying to ease his pain until he finally slipped away; unless a miracle happened, Phantom would die.
Nightmare stared at his friend's still figure on the mattress next to him. Phantom’s forehead was plastered with sweat, and his skin was distinctly green—aside from where it looked grey from blood loss.
They'd given him five minutes to say goodbye.
He didn't know if Phantom could hear him or not. He hadn't responded to anything but pain for a while. Even now, that seemed imagined.
Nightmare sank into the seat next to Phantom’s sick bed— death bed—and clutched his friend's clammy hand.
"Thomas," he murmured. "Thomas, you should have just let me get shot. You were always the better of the two of us."
Thomas' fingers twitched, and his eyes slid open. His gaze wandered before it found Nightmare, and didn't seem all that focused. His eyes barely seemed like Thomas', as dull and as clouded by pain as they were.
"You came to visit me," Thomas murmured softly, sounding oddly happy for the state he was in.
"Of course," Nightmare said. "Why wouldn't I?"
"I wasn't expecting both of you."
Nightmare glanced around. He and Thomas were the only ones in the room. "Who else is here?"
"Matthew. Did they surprise you with him being here too?" Thomas' eyes flicked to look at someone that wasn't there. "You're quiet. I guess that makes sense."
"Tommy-" Nightmare pulled up short. "Thomas, I'm the only one here. Matt's in Boston. He and Steph just moved there, remember? He... probably won't be able to afford to travel for your funeral."
"That's okay," Thomas murmured. "He's already here."
Nightmare wanted to cry, but just reached over and squeezed Thomas' shoulder. "Yeah. He is. It'll be okay."
Thomas didn't respond.
Nightmare looked up in panic, only to realize Thomas had drifted into unconsciousness again.
He leaned forward, wrapping his hands around Thomas', and wept.
Nightmare stepped out of the office, his entire body quivering. With rage? With grief? Even if it was with madness, he didn't think he'd know the difference.
They wanted him to finish the job. Couldn't let the leads run dry, they said. Couldn't wait until after the funerals. Best to get it done, then mourn. He'd do more good in the field than at Thomas' bedside, waiting for him to die, after all.
So they said, and they knew best.
Fine. He'd finish it tonight. In fact, he'd finish them all. He'd kill every last one of them.
With utter calm and a raging fire in his eyes, Nightmare strode down the hallway. It was time to prepare.
It took three hours. Three hours of an absolute bloodbath and every person at the facility was dead, the last person laying in a pool of the blood oozing from the bullet hole in their skull. He'd had to hunt them down—they’d been hiding in a closet.
They were dead now.
Everyone was, but his hands were still tight around his guns; his eyes were still scanning the area for any signs of movement. He'd opened every door. Shot anything that moved. Used more than a few explosives. He was pulling from all his years of training, taking the information he needed from the books that had images of blood, brains, and bones splattered on the cover, much like the walls and floors of this place.
It wasn't like this recon mission had ever required stealth. Any possibility at that had disappeared the moment they had opened fire on him and his team, yesterday; it disappeared the moment he'd seen two of his best friends die horrible, painful, mercifully quick deaths—and Thomas had taken a bullet for him.
There had to be someone else here. He still had bullets weighing down his guns.
The slightest shift behind him made him whirl, immediately firing once—only for someone to tackle him.
As he hit the ground, he realized he'd been tackled by another Faceless.
And then a body slumped to the ground with all the grace of a sack of flour, and he realized it was wearing a Faceless mask.
He laughed. He couldn't help it. It was so absurd! A Faceless killing a Faceless. He laughed until a realization struck him: sure, he may have killed anyone who could've pointed the gun or ordered the bullets for his teammates—but those who'd put his dead friends in that line of fire? They were still alive.
He could hear footsteps rush nearly silently over the wooden floorboards near-by, and he kicked the dead body off his legs. With a graceless scramble, he ducked through a doorway and raised one of his guns up to his chest. His finger was on the trigger. He was ready to kill.
He expected to hear the footsteps draw closer, but instead he heard a muffled and broken sob, and knees hitting the floor. He drew in a breath.
Then he exhaled sharply, turned into the doorway, and shot the Faceless twice in the chest.
Idiot. Now was no time for grief.
He walked past the two bodies, putting a third bullet in the brain of the newest one.
It was easy to kill them when they had no face. Had it been easy to send his teammates to their deaths for the same reason? Because he understood now. The Faceless, they had the same mentality as the army! It was a machine burning up the fuel known as the common man: nothing more than bullet fodder, nothing more than a body to throw at a scoreboard, to say "look at what we did" when the dead were filling the room and there should be no way to feel pride over the things that had been done.
It all made sense now.
Well, he- he was done being someone else's throw-away. He was done being someone else's body. The army, that was beyond his reach—he knew that. But the Faceless? Why, what better person to destroy them than someone they'd tried to destroy themselves?
It was perfect.
Movement broke him from his spiraling thoughts. There- on the left- a sharp gunshot and the body fell still. Another mask. A third. Had they sent an entire team after him? What, so he had to worry about one more? He'd killed so many already, what was one more?
There was the faintest hiss of a blade spinning through the air, and a knife sank into the back of his thigh, burying itself up to the hilt. Screaming, Nightmare struggled to keep upright, fought the pain to turn around, to face his attacker, to lift his gun-
Another blade sank into the meaty part of his shoulder, cutting clean through his deltoid.
He dropped to his knees, body trembling, guns clattering from useless fingers refusing to move.
A Faceless stepped out of the shadows in the corner of the room, another three knives in hand, and slowly approached him. They kicked his guns away from him, and a moment later pulled his knives from their sheaths and cast them aside too.
"What are you doing?" Nightmare demanded. They were helping the enemy, helping those who had led to all these deaths!
"I could ask the same of you," they said coldly.
Nightmare swore at the Faceless. They didn't understand. Even in a position identical to his, they refused to see. How could anyone be so blind? How had he been so blind, and for so long? The Faceless were a corruption, a poison, leeching off the lifeblood of the world and gathering a body count higher than the Great War.
"You don't get it," he snarled, "you don't understand." With a shaking hand he dragged his mask off his face, and let the hard leather clatter to the floor. He didn't want to be blinded anymore.
"Fuck you!" the Faceless roared. "You killed them!" The back of their hand snapped Nightmare's head around, and he spat out a bit of blood before facing them again. He grinned up at the Faceless—his shoulder throbbing, his pant leg getting wet with his own blood, the heavy taste of copper coating his tongue—and without thinking twice he yanked out the knife buried in the back of his leg and thrust it deep into their abdomen, twisting the blade viciously. The Faceless doubled over with a choked grunt, so with his good arm Nightmare grabbed them by the back of the collar and pulled them to the ground. They reached an arm out, grappling for a handhold, trying to fight back- Nightmare twisted fingers until they broke, then hauled himself over to his gun.
He checked the chamber quickly. There was still a bullet in there. The safety was still off. He aimed, fired, and the Faceless fell still.
It took him a long time to find the energy to stand. His head was swimming, dizzy, blood loss making his limbs sluggish. His footprints tracked his slow progress in blood, and he left smeared glove prints along the walls. There were a lot of bodies and pools of blood he had to step around.
He came to an exit, and stumbled into the hard-packed yard surrounding the facility. He stared out, past the fence and into the trees beyond. The morning sunlight was warm. Just for a moment, it brought him some peace despite the world swaying around him.
Then- a single gunshot, and pain tearing through his abdomen. The doorframe he was leaning on slipped from his bloody fingers, and he collapsed to the ground.
He touched the wound, staring at the new blood gracing his gloves.
It was only fitting, he decided as he lost the strength to keep his head up and it fell against the paving stones with a dull thud. He'd lost Thomas to this. Thomas had given his life tried to keep him from this. And yet... here he was, a bullet buried in his stomach.
Fate was unavoidable, then.
There was a certain amount of peace in that.
The world was fading from view, slowly, but not before footsteps rushed up. A mask peered at him, blocking the rising sun from view. A sniper rifle was held in arms.
It had been a team of five.
Nightmare reached for a gun that was nowhere near, trying to focus. If he could just... take them with him. If he could just... make them see.
"You're a bastard," the Faceless said, her voice hard, and then she moved on inside.
He didn't have the energy to argue.
The world slipped away.
That much, in itself, surprised him.
Eventually, in the rare moments where he was able to focus, and the even rarer moments when a nurse was in the room, he learned where he was: the town hospital closest to the facility he’d targeted. The morning crew had been going in for the day and found him still alive. They’d brought him in. They had assumed he was a civilian, dragged into the whole ordeal as a hostage. He didn't bother correcting them.
It took him a week of lucidity to talk those in charge of the investigation to let him see the pictures taken for records.
None of them held the bodies of Faceless, or masks.
It was like they'd never existed.
“Do you know who took you there?” the officer asked.
Nightmare shook his head. “Never saw their face,” he replied quietly. It was best to pretend he didn’t remember much of that day, he’d decided.
“I see.” The officer glanced down at his notes. “Oh. We don’t have your name. What is it?”
He took a steadying breath, one hand gripping the sheets of his hospital bed. “Nathan Sharp.”