The air held the scent of rain.
It spoke of broken promises, of cleansing, of simpler times when the weather was still a worthy topic of conversation. Dark clouds hung low on the horizon, hovering on the edge of his vision. He made a mental note to find an umbrella. Shivering, he pulled his coat tight against the brisk wind that crept between buildings, caressing skin with icy fingers and bringing with it the lingering ghost of memory.
Danny hailed a cab.
The air inside the car was stagnant, smelling slightly of cigarette smoke and perspiration. "Bradhurst and 147th," Danny mumbled, turning his attention out the window to the blur of passing landscape.
The cityscape seemed untouched by the ever-changing world and he found himself taking solace in the never-ending maze of towering buildings. He turned to watch the city dwindle through the rear window as the cab passed into Harlem. He knew the city like the back of his hand and yet he felt like he was seeing it for the first time. A brief moment of clarity amidst chaos and confusion that would disappear with the sun, only to return the next time he allowed himself a moment of sobriety.
"Nine-Fifty." The gruff voice of the driver drew Danny from his thoughts. Reaching into a worn pocket, he pulled out a ten, passing it through the small plexi-glass window before exiting the cab into damp drizzle.
Drizzle turned to downpour before he managed to make it inside, soaking bone and marrow and leaving him cold and shaking. Inside it was only slightly warmer; the strong scent of cooking and marijuana causing his stomach to turn. He managed to make it up the three flights to his apartment, slipping inside and letting the door slam shut behind him before taking a shuddering breath of stale apartment air.
Grey light filled the room, hinting at shadows and reminding him of twilight. Ignoring the devastation of the living room, he moved into the kitchen, fumbling through the week’s dishes before finding a relatively clean glass. He willed his hands to stop shaking as he reached into his coat pocket, pulling out his purchase and tossing the non-descript brown bag somewhere in the region of the trash.
And this was what he needed, something to dull the senses and remind him of why he should never, never leave his apartment. Because being out there was too much and he wasn’t prepared for it. He could still feel panic welling in his chest, threatening to consume him until he managed a long swallow, fighting back the urge to vomit as amber brown liquid burned his throat and filled him with warmth.
He wasn’t there.
Not that Danny expected him to be, not after all this time. But he could still hear Martin’s words echoing in his head, so loud at times he couldn’t focus on anything else, and so he went, searching with false hope and thinking maybe, just maybe, there was still a chance.
"Martin, I’m not leaving you," Danny whispered, his words coming out far fiercer than he’d intended. As if to emphasize his point, he clasped Martin’s hand, lacing their fingers together and squeezing firmly.
"Yes, you are. Just go. I’ll catch up with you in New York. Go," Martin ordered, and Danny knew he was right, knew this was the only way but he couldn’t stop himself from shaking his head.
Martin shot him a look of reproach, silent pleading filling his eyes until Danny was forced to look away, resolve sinking into his heart, threatening to shatter it into a million pieces but he knew he’d agree.
"Where?" he managed, hating himself for caving to Martin’s logic.
"Federal Plaza, now run."
And he ran.
His hands had steadied, enough so that the glass no longer trembled or threatened to spill its contents onto the dingy beige rug. Sighing, he sank onto the couch, pushing aside the night’s blankets and burrowing deep into the cushions, wanting them to swallow him until there was nothing left but blackness.
He briefly considered calling into work, taking a sick day, but knew he’d already reached his limit. Beyond that, really, and he was surprised he’d lasted this long. In the past two years he’d gone through more jobs than he could count; this was the first he’d managed to keep longer than three months. The pay wasn’t good, but then again, nothing offered the salary he was used to and, besides, he was lucky anyone would hire him at all. There were penalties for hiring former federal employees --not that he shared that bit of news often, but there were ways of finding out.
Bringing the glass to his lips, a wave of regret filled him at finding it empty. He pushed aside the temptation for another, knowing he needed to function, knowing the day had only really just begun. Rising, he slowly made his way to the bathroom, turning on the shower and letting steam fill the room before climbing in and washing away the morning’s chill.
He didn’t bother changing clothes, knowing nothing would be clean. It had been too long since he’d even considered doing something as simple as laundry. Shrugging into his coat, he left, locking the door behind him and heading out into the rain.
The streets were deserted, an oddity given the hour but Danny knew people tended to avoid staying outside, even in broad daylight --not that the sun was anywhere in sight, it remained hidden behind a veil of cloud. Quickening his pace, Danny rounded the corner, the factory coming into view.
He was greeted with the sharp smell of metal, cold and suffocating until he remembered to breathe through his mouth. The taste was only marginally better, sitting on his tongue like acid and coating his lips in dryness. Swiping his forged identity card, he waited for the lock to release before slipping inside, sticky heat covering him in a sheen of perspiration.
He’d spent years fighting against this sort of job, years struggling against his background and his upbringing, hoping to escape the fate of his dead parents. And yet there was something almost hypnotic about the repetitive work, so much so he found himself lost in its rhythm. It was almost enough to forget, for a moment, that he was ever anything other than what he was now. That he had ever led another life. That he had ever known any connection to mankind.
Pounding on his door woke him from a dreamless sleep. For a moment he simply stared at the foreign ceiling and tried to remember where he was. Denver. The knocking grew more insistent, causing him to moan before sitting up, sparing a brief glance at the bright red of the alarm's digital display before standing and crossing the room to open the door.
"Do you have any idea what time it is?" he asked, too irritated to notice the look of sheer terror on Martin's face.
"Get dressed, we have to leave, now," Martin ordered, glancing nervously behind him.
"What?" Danny questioned, his concern mounting as he took in Martin's frazzled appearance and too wide eyes.
"We don't have time, Danny, we need to get out of here."
And for once in Danny's life, he didn't ask. Nodding, he turned back to the room, stuffing his belongings into bags and dressing faster than he thought possible, trying his best to ignore Martin’s nervous shifting in the doorway.
Danny cringed at the ringing in his ears and it took him a moment to recognize the shrill alarm warning of the shift change. He glanced at the far clock, frowning slightly as he tried to account for lost hours. Knowing it was futile, he gave up and let the surging tide of workers carry him outside into the still night air. The rain had stopped.
He remembered it like it was yesterday. Remembered being in Denver following up on a lead. Remembered commenting that Jack had sent them on a wild goose chase, that their missing person was just another run away. He had laughed when Martin chastised him, accusing the other man of being too naïve.
He remembered being woken in the middle of the night. Martin pounding on the door of his room, telling him to get up and dressed. Remembered the urgency in Martin’s voice and the feeling of terror it had invoked wondering what could have possibly shaken the other man so badly. He remembered listening to Martin’s words, not really understanding them, but knowing they were true.
Leaving his badge on the nightstand because being caught with it would mean certain death.
Shaking his head, Danny brought a hand to his temple, rubbing small circles in an effort to displace the memory. He could already feel the tension forming in his chest, pressing down until it threatened to cut off oxygen. And wouldn’t that be ironic; to survive all this time only to be killed by a panic attack. Taking a shaky breath, he forced himself forward, practically running until he was safely in his apartment.
He left the lights off, the thought of false brightness bringing the onset of a migraine. He missed his old place, his old things. Even his closet full of designer suits that he’d spent half his salary acquiring. This place reminded him of the housing projects he’d lived in as a child, except Florida was always warm and it never mattered if the heater was broken.
He paused to fiddle with the dial before finally giving up, his need for calm far greater than his need for heat. Ignoring a sudden stab of hunger, he made his way to the kitchen, not even bothering to find a glass before reaching for the bottle.
The rye went down smoother this time but he didn’t stop shivering until midway through the third shot.
Damp, rough concrete tore at his soles, cutting into flesh until the warmth of blood replaced the cold of ground. Noise echoed around him, ringing in his ears and he wondered if it would drive him insane. He was only dimly aware of the swirling mass of moving colour; shapes he couldn’t identify moving with such speed he felt certain he was frozen, held hostage by time.
He blinked before trying to turn his attention away from the chaos, concentrating on the thin bar of light just beyond his reach. He pushed harder, fighting against rooted bodies, pressing against the pale hands holding him back until the door came into view. And then the tide was pushing him forward and it was all he could do to keep from being pulled under. He couldn’t breathe, couldn’t feel, and only the awareness of freedom kept him moving.
Sirens rang out, shattering the noise of the crowd and leaving eerie silence in their wake. He felt bile rise in the back of his throat, and, God, he was so close. So close and yet not close enough because they were coming and then the door would close and there would never be another way. Never be another time and he needed to leave. Someone was waiting for him.
Danny woke covered in sweat and fought against the tangle of sheets, finally managing to free himself before lurching toward the bathroom. He could feel the alcohol swimming in his stomach, pressing against the back of his throat and he only just managed to reach the toilet. An eternity later and his stomach was empty, the dry heaves stilled and if he wasn’t in so much pain he would have laughed.
The room was too warm, the porcelain cool against his skin and he wondered briefly if he had a temperature. The dream lingered on the edge of his conscious, tiny flashes of pain and desperation and he couldn’t remember the last time he dreamt of Martin.
Vivid dreams of dark places and sour dampness plagued him throughout the night. He woke on the bathroom floor, his body stiff and rigid, the lingering taste of bile resting on his tongue. It took him a moment to stand, his legs trembling with the effort. Moving to the shower, he turned the hot water tap as far as it would go. The water came out lukewarm.
He remembered only flashes; still images like photographs hinting at a story but never revealing the plot. Martin fighting his way out of a white box, Martin running from streams of light, panic tinged voices chasing Martin through dark and twisted pathways. Martin hiding, shivering as rain fell from a cloudless sky, Martin whispering Danny's name over and over again until it lost all meaning.
The water sputtered, becoming a trickling stream and he fought against the urge to hit something. He turned the tap off, leaning against the wall as a wave of dizziness washed over him, stealing his breath and threatening to send him to his knees.
Twenty minutes later and he was outside, the air turning his still wet hair to ice; it was cold enough to numb the pounding of his skull. He paused to buy a scarf, wrapping it around his head in an attempt to block out the wind. Early morning sun filled his vision, blinding him until he turned a corner and descended into the subway.
The train was crowded, commuters filling every available space. Warm bodies melded together and he had the fleeting impression of cattle being led to slaughter. He found himself grinning at the thought until frowns from the other passengers reminded him of where he was. No one understood his sense of humor.
He transferred at Grand Concourse, stopping only long enough to buy a coffee that was strong and black and left bitterness in his mouth. The 5-train was less crowded, if only slightly so. All around him faces swam in a sea of emptiness, downcast eyes and tight lips filling his sight. The train jolted to a stop.
He knew this drill, everyone did. He waited patiently as sweepers boarded the train, keypads moving swiftly between identity cards, confirming status and authorizing existence. He didn't bother glancing up as they reached him, simply slid his card with a steady hand and waited for the acknowledging beep that would tell them he was legal.
It had taken him relatively no time to find a counterfeit card; the streets were flooded with them almost as soon as they became mandatory. Now he could buy one for a little over three hundred dollars. Two years ago it had cost him nearly two thousand --worth every penny.
The keypad beeped, flashing green and he moved aside, waiting for the sweeper to pass and move on to the next passenger before finally relaxing. In all, it took less than four minutes and only three passengers were removed. He still wasn’t certain where they were taken, only that he'd never known anyone to return.
The train began moving almost immediately. Clutching his half empty coffee, he used his free hand to brace himself on the overhead rail, steadying himself against the violent rocking of the car. It still made him ill; one of the many reasons he chose cabs over the subway. That and cabs required identity cards for fairs so they were never stopped. Checkpoints were always dangerous.
The train came to a shuddering halt and he allowed the crowd to carry him out the doors. He continued through the station and his coffee slipped from his grasp, falling to stain the concrete beneath his feet. The passengers surged up the stairs, spilling out onto the street before breaking apart, suits going to their jobs, strangers running errands and everyone else disappearing into the ether of their lives.
Danny breathed a sigh of relief and headed up Worth Street in search of a replacement coffee. He found it at a roadside vendor, the kind that sold weak grey caffeine in blue cups with plastic lids. He passed the temptation of day old muffins, a wave of nausea making them seem dull and unappetizing.
Three blocks brought him to what was once Federal Plaza. He remembered the neighborhood, the backdrop of scenery that never changed. He caught a brief glimpse of the parking garage they once used to store fleet cars. Empty now, cars were a privilege few were entitled to.
He remembered arriving back in New York, this had been the first place he’d come, barely able to stand, let alone walk, but Martin was waiting. He hadn't found him, only the charred remains of what was once his life. They'd since cleared the rubble, replacing brick with grass and steel with trees. The small park that had replaced what was once a compound of power and information was an odd sight amidst office buildings and street side cafes.
His eyes swept the park, searching more out of habit than anything. Of the few people milling about, Martin was not among them. He wondered if he'd even recognize him or if time would have changed Martin as much as it had changed Danny. Not knowing what else to do, he sat down hard on the nearest bench, sipping his coffee and letting the cold settle around him.
He'd managed to avoid them most of the day, a feat considering how many patrolled the city. Not that it surprised him; patrols were always heavy in urban areas. He couldn't pinpoint exactly how long it had taken him to reach New York, only that he'd been forced to backtrack more than once and there was a good chance Martin was already waiting.
He knew he wouldn't be recognized on sight, but it didn't stop him from pulling the collar of his coat up until it partially covered his face. He'd lost his scarf weeks ago when he'd crossed a river in Pennsylvania. He hadn't bothered stopping to retrieve it, the grey wool sinking, swallowed by icy black water and disappearing from sight. He regretted the decision come morning, cold seeping into his chest and leaving him with a cough and fever. He'd hallucinated for two days before finding refuge and medicine. The cough still lingered.
He remained pressed against the side of the building until the patrol passed. They didn't seem to be stopping anyone but he wasn't willing to risk bringing attention to himself. No one noticed him as he finally moved from his hiding place, slinking out into the street and forcing himself not to look back. The streets were empty save for a few people going about their day. He wasn't used to this New York. The subways still ran, but he chose walking, trusting his own two feet over anything connected to the system. It took him a little over an hour to finally reach his destination.
He'd seen the smoke rising from Broadway but it wasn't until he actually reached the Plaza that he became aware of the source. It wasn't entirely unexpected, he'd seen the ruins of other government buildings, but this was home and the sight filled him with a sudden wave of anger. Anger was replaced with despair as his eyes swept the area and found no one.
A well of panic rose in his throat, tightening his chest and he forced himself to take deep, steadying breaths. He wasn't prepared for not finding Martin. He assumed he'd arrive and find Martin leaning against the side of the building, a picture of perfect calm and Danny would forget everything he'd been through in the last few weeks.
Maybe Martin had yet to arrive, or maybe he'd already come and gone, deciding against waiting in plain sight. Or maybe he was combing the city, searching in dark alleys and detention compounds because he'd been here for days and it had taken Danny too long to reach him. Other scenarios danced across his vision, unpleasant things that he shook off as soon as they came. Martin would show; he was nothing if not reliable.
The bench was hard beneath him and he shifted in an effort to find a comfortable position. It didn't work and he sighed, standing and doing one final scan of the park before leaving. Digging into his pocket, he pulled out a wad of ones, counting the last of his cash and wondering how long it would last.
From the sun's position he estimated a little before two. The night shift started at three and he doubted he'd make it across town in time. Besides, he'd already decided against going in. It meant giving up a relatively secure job but he couldn't find the will to care. There would be others and he had enough money for a drink and the trip home. That was all that really mattered.
The return trip was long and agonizing and by the time he made it home he was shaking. He'd managed to avoid the Harlem crossover checkpoint, getting off a stop before and walking the remaining distance. It had given him a chance to pick up food and replacement rye. He wasn't hungry, but after the previous evening’s disaster he knew he needed something in his stomach.
Opening his door, he was greeted with the flashing light of his answering machine. He knew it was work but found himself lifting the receiver and playing the message anyway. A brief flash of guilt flooded him as he listened to the night foreman's voice. He could remember a time when going into work was second nature, the thought of not showing up never once crossing his mind. The sensation didn't last long, replaced by relief because he didn't think he could handle eight hours trapped inside with only the din of machines for company.
For a moment, he contemplated leaving the city, going in search of something he couldn’t name. It wasn’t the first time he’d considered leaving New York, considered packing his few meager belongings and heading south, someplace perpetually warm. Only the lingering hope of finding Martin kept him here and even that was beginning to wane.
Clearing a space on the counter, he winced as a glass fell to the floor, landing with a clatter and shattering into jagged pieces. For a moment they caught the light, sparkling like thousands of tiny diamonds and he found himself mesmerized by the sight. Shaking his head, he knelt, picking the shards up and placing them in the trash.
Ignoring the rest of the mess, he placed the bag of groceries between empty milk cartons and moldy month-old bread. The packaging on his store bought microwave dinner promised a hearty meal and yet there was something wholly unappealing about the thought of re-hydrated vegetables and beef. He tossed it in anyway, setting the timer and watching as his meal was bombarded by tiny particles in a science he would never fully understand.
The timer beeped and he cursed as plastic burnt his hand before dumping the food into his last remaining clean bowl and moving into the living room. Sun glared through the room's only window, providing a sense of warmth he hadn't felt in days. He sat directly in its path, letting the rays heat his skin and absorb the day’s stress.
They'd abandoned their rental car, knowing it could be tracked. Finding alternative transportation proved difficult, flights were grounded and even if they weren't, using either of their credit cards was out of the question. Between them they had some cash, not nearly enough, but they couldn’t risk withdrawing more.
Not that it mattered. No one really fully understood what had happened and they soon became lost within a sea of refugees, all streaming from the city and wandering in search of safety --if there was such a thing. Most would be fine, simply reallocated back to their homes and installed into the system, given new purpose and soon they would forget.
But Danny and Martin had connections to the US government, more so than that, they were employees, and regardless of what they did or didn't know they were considered a risk and risks were to be eliminated at all costs.
Martin wouldn't tell him what Jack had said on the phone, only that he’d risked being traced to call and warn them. They didn’t talk about it, but they both knew and even though the thought of returning to New York seemed daunting, there was nothing else to do. They set out on foot, hitching rides whenever possible and always trying to blend into the background.
"Martin, we need to stop," Danny stated, exhaustion evident in his tone.
"A few more miles, there has to be a town or something," Martin replied, and Danny could see the trembling in his limbs.
"We’ve been walking for almost twelve hours, we won’t need anyone to kill us, we’ll end up killing ourselves," Danny replied, stopping in his tracks and waiting for Martin to follow suit.
He could see argument die on Martin’s tongue, resignation seeping into his shoulders until they drooped, effectively stopping him. Danny managed to force himself forward to Martin’s side, grabbing his arm and pulling him off the road. There wasn’t anywhere to sleep, but he didn’t think either of them would feel safe enough for slumber so it didn’t matter.
Small clusters of people continued down the road, disappearing beyond the horizon only to be replaced by a car, a truck, another group. It was endless and Danny was fairly certain no one actually knew where they were going. It felt good to sit, though, so he pulled Martin next to him, ignoring the slight grunt of protest as he pressed their shoulders together, using the other man for balance and support.
"How did this happen?" Martin questioned and Danny wasn’t certain how to respond.
He settled on shrugging, not really having an explanation, not even sure one existed. He could feel his muscles beginning to spasm, pain creeping through his veins and spreading across his body like fire. Hunger gnawed at his stomach, reminding him of how long it had been since they’d last eaten.
"We probably should have thought to bring something to eat. Water would have been good," Danny commented absentmindedly and, God, what he wouldn’t give for a glass of water.
"Told you we should have kept walking. We probably could have found a town, maybe even a motel. Warm bed, hot shower, food," Martin replied, his tone so wistful the images danced in front of Danny’s vision.
"In a bit..." Danny trailed off, his eyes closing against his will.
The meal was neither hearty nor appealing, but he managed to force it down. He washed the residual taste of cardboard from his mouth with a swig straight from the bottle. Not bothering to return his bowl to the kitchen, he found a place for it on the coffee table. The table’s existing contents were already spilling over the sides and onto the floor. He wondered if perhaps it would be easier to simply move.
He could recall every minute detail of the first night. They’d woken the following morning in a ditch, their clothes damp with dew and the road empty save for litter and ravens. He remembered waking Martin, the vague look of hopelessness in his eyes. Remembered telling him it was all right and earning one of Martin’s soft smiles. The rest blurred together, becoming one long series of images, some already fading from his memory.
Part of him was thankful that he couldn’t remember, but most of the time he wished he could. At the very least he would have been able to hold onto the memory of Martin and their last weeks together. He wasn't certain if it would have made it any easier, but at the very least it would have been something.
The absence of warmth caused him to glance up. He watched as the sun disappeared behind the building across the street and in the distance he could see clouds forming. When a drop of salty water landed on his hand, it took him a moment to realize he was crying.
Cold dampness seeped up from the ground beneath him. Despite his desire to move, he remained still, listening to the echoing silence of the surrounding landscape. Pain radiated through his body, his breath coming in labored, shallow pants. He forced himself to sit, his tongue darting out to wet dry lips, tasting blood. He sought out a half frozen puddle of rainwater, breaking the thin film of ice, the cold numbing his hand as he brought water to his lips.
The scent of burnt rubber drifted on the wind, melding with rotting leaves and the sharp smell of frost. Air scorched his lungs, tickling the back of his throat until he found himself doubled over, coughs wracking his body and shattering the silence. Drinking another handful of water, he forced himself to relax, his chest constricting with the effort.
Paranoia replaced pain and he glanced around, straining to hear even the slightest movement in the distance. Not sensing anything, he fought to stand, his legs buckling beneath him and a moment of dizziness blacking his vision. Blinking, he waited for the darkness to pass before setting out, willing his body forward and praying no one would hear the crunching of leaves beneath his feet.
He'd lost track of how long he'd been out, how long it had been since he'd last heard any sign of pursuit. Only the sun's position told him he was moving in the right direction, east.
Danny woke in darkness, confusion settling over him before the day came rushing back in a painful blur of colour and sound. The display on the microwave read twelve-fourteen but he couldn't recall falling asleep. His stomach rumbled angrily; half hunger, half sourness. He forced himself from the couch, moving to the kitchen and searching through bare cupboards for something to eat. He found only stale saltine crackers, but he pulled them out anyway, sticking them under his arm before returning to the living room.
They'd begun almost immediately, dreams of Martin haunting him since their separation. He remembered the first, vivid nightmares of Martin being chased by black clad sweepers, adrenalin running so high he hadn't even noticed the bullet ripping into his flesh.
He knew they were mostly guilt, underlined with worry and fear. He'd hoped in time they would pass. For a while, they had. He couldn’t recall when they ended, sometime after he'd arrived in the city. He'd spent the better part of three weeks waiting for Martin. Four more scouring the city, searching until the onset of winter forced him to seek shelter. The dreams had ended shortly after --he’d been drinking Gin by then.
He shook his head to displace the memories, wanting nothing more than to banish the dream from his mind. Alcohol helped and, for a moment, he could forget that this was ever something he'd tried to fight, ever tried to beat. But that was a different time, and he was a different man. Taking a long, slow swallow, he turned on the television set, watching as muted grey flickered, becoming moving images of light and life.
Gone were the days of cable, replaced by one hundred channels of government approved programming. He recognized most of it as propaganda, but it didn't stop him from settling on one of the news broadcasts, knowing the truth was skewed but still needing to feel connected.
Rain in the west, momentous building projects in the south, civil rehabilitation in the east, images of perfection that made him cringe. They vanished with another swig, dissipating in the pit of his stomach along with a handful of crackers. He hit the power button, casting the apartment into darkness once again.
Flashing lights from the street below drew his attention and he stood, moving toward the window. He recognized the trucks almost immediately; he knew this drill as well. Shouts from the hall gave him enough warning to find his identity card and unlock the bolt on his door.
Residence sweeps never lasted long, but he found himself tensing. He knew he wasn't in possession of any contraband and his card was valid so there was no reason for apprehension, but months of hiding kept him on edge; apparently that was one instinct alcohol didn't dull.
The door opened in a single, fluid movement and he braced himself against the wall, his hands spread above him. He kept his eyes downcast, not needing sight to know two sweepers had entered the room. They never spoke, at least, not to citizens, but he'd seen them communicate with each other, usually through communication devices. No words were spoken as they scanned the apartment, swiping his card before leaving, the door remaining open.
He knew better than to close it. Closing the door invited trouble. He'd discovered that the first time; he still bore scars from that incident. He released a breath he didn’t know he was holding at the sound of retreating footsteps. Only then did he close his door, locking the bolt with shaking hands.
Running a hand through his hair, longer now than he could ever remember keeping it, he moved back to the living room. He chose the windowsill, wanting alertness that didn't come with soft couches and overstuffed pillows. Frost crept across the outside of the glass, forming an infinite pattern of ice. He traced it with his fingertip, hoping to find its end but knowing it was impossible.
They’d been on the road for nearly an hour when the first vehicle passed. More followed and by late afternoon they’d managed to hitch a ride to the nearest town. Danny was suddenly thankful they’d stopped when they had. He’d never really given much consideration to distances, the advent of cars and planes making traveling simple and convenient. Walking was another story and he wondered how their forefathers had managed.
The town boasted one motel, half empty and, for a moment, Danny wondered if stopping was such a good idea. Glancing at Martin, he knew they’d end up taking the risk. Neither of them had slept, or eaten, and New York seemed even further away than it was when they’d first set out. Over inflated prices told him exactly why the place was half empty but they managed to put enough together for a room.
The room was substandard even by Bureau budget. Plush carpet, the colour of goldenrod, glared from the floor, accented by stains of unknown origins. The single bed was covered in a dizzying array of mismatched floral patterns, blending together until Danny was certain his eyes would bleed. The strong scent of bleach was the only pleasant surprise, because at the very least, the room was clean.
"You’d think we were staying in Buckingham Palace for what he’s charging," Martin complained.
"We’re going to be broke before we even get to Kansas," Danny replied, not remembering when he became the responsible one.
"We’ll figure something out. There are cars in the parking lot, maybe someone is heading our way, we can chip in for a lift or something," Martin suggested, dropping his bags by the door and sinking into the mattress.
Danny nodded, dropping his own bag next to Martin's. "I’m going to take a shower," he announced, sparing one final glance at the bed before entering the bathroom.
The sound of engines and the flickering of lights drew Danny from his thoughts. He glanced down into the street, watching as the trucks rounded the corner, moving on to the next apartment complex and disappearing from sight. For a moment Danny simply stared at the vacant space left behind.
It seemed so long ago, yet he could conjure up every image, play it over in his mind like it was yesterday. He’d finished showering only to find Martin already asleep, sprawled on top of the covers. It had taken him several minutes to remove Martin’s coat and shoes before finally getting the other man beneath the blankets. Hunger had gnawed at his stomach, but exhaustion had won out and he’d crawled into the bed, sinking into Martin’s side and listening to the silence of the night.
It still seemed surreal and he often wondered if this was all some elaborate dream, a never-ending nightmare that would last an eternity and end when he died. He'd never been suicidal, not even in the darkest moments when his world was crumbling and he was reduced to a shell of his former self. But he still wondered if it would be easier to turn himself in, face execution or imprisonment. He considered it occasionally, usually in the brief moments of lucidity when he'd had enough to drink to dull his senses but not enough to still the images dancing in his head.
The ringing of the phone drew him from his thoughts and he turned to stare at it, some unnamed fear preventing him from answering. He forced himself forward, picking up on the fifth ring.
He was greeted with static. Static gave way to silence and then to dial tone. Frowning, he hung up the phone, ignoring it when it rang a second time.
He felt like the walls were closing in around him and suddenly the room seemed too small. He wondered if the factory had already removed his curfew clearance. Curfews were set in place almost immediately, no one being allowed on the streets after midnight. The only exceptions were those working night shifts, and they required clearance from their employers. It was automatically coded into their identity cards, an option that could be purchased on newer black-market models. It cost extra, but there was always a price for freedom.
Not that it mattered, there were places that didn't exist. Places he could get lost for the night. Grabbing his coat and the last of his cash, he headed out the door, not bothering to lock it behind him. Halfway down the hall, his phone rang a third time.
Outside the air held a hint of moisture, too cold for rain and he knew it would snow soon. Pulling his coat tight, his crossed the street, heading deeper into the city in search of sanctuary. Six blocks brought him to Amsterdam Ave. The street was dark save for the occasional light spilling out of the surrounding buildings. He knew where he was going and he moved quickly down the street before slipping into an alley. A single 'x' etched into the metal of the door was the only sign he'd found the right place. He knocked once.
Loud music drifted out onto the street as the door opened, the leather clad bouncer looking him over for several moments before stepping aside, permitting Danny entrance. He ignored the other patrons, heading straight for the bar and ordering a drink.
Pounding base droned in his head, driving out thoughts and leaving him blissfully blank. He knew of several places like this, places that operated after hours, behind the scenes. Places that offered booze, narcotics, sex; anything and everything people living outside the system could possibly want. Places sweepers didn’t know existed.
Ordering a second drink, he moved further into the back, seeking the solitude of a table and feeling safe for the first time in days. He didn’t come to these places nearly often enough.
He’d slept restlessly for several hours before waking to an empty bed. For a moment, he stared at the ceiling, listening to the sounds of the running shower. Moments later Martin emerged, his towel draped loosely around his hips.
"You’re up," Martin commented, surprise evident in his tone.
"Yeah, couldn’t sleep," Danny replied, stifling a yawn and forcing himself to sit up.
"Me either, figured I’d shower, maybe see about getting something to eat," Martin said, rooting through his bag for a clean change of clothes.
"What time is it?" Danny asked, frowning at the still dark room.
"Close to two o’clock," Martin replied, his words muffled as he pulled on a new shirt.
"Think there’s any place to get dinner at this hour?" Danny asked, watching as Martin pulled jeans over long, slender legs.
"Pretty sure the truck stop across the street is twenty-four hours. You can stay here, I’ll bring something back," Martin suggested, not waiting for a reply before grabbing the room key and disappearing into the night.
He returned what seemed an eternity later, a concerned expression marring his features and two styrofoam containers in hand. "Here," he stated, handing one to Danny.
"What’s wrong?" Danny asked, watching as Martin crossed the room and sat on the edge of the bed.
"This place is like a ghost town. They looked at me like I was crazy, like they hadn’t seen another living soul in days and yet they had fresh burgers on the grill," Martin replied, popping a fry into his mouth and grimacing.
"Everyone’s on edge," Danny offered, turning his attention back to his own meal.
They ate in a silence that was neither comfortable nor awkward. Danny wasn’t sure what was worse, the heavy darkness settling between them or the food. He wasn’t entirely convinced the burgers had been fresh, but they filled the hollowness in the pit of his stomach so he couldn’t complain.
"We should probably get some sleep," he commented, tossing his empty container onto the dresser.
"Probably," Martin echoed, standing to slide out of his jeans before climbing back under the covers.
Danny followed suit, reaching beside him to turn off the lamp. Light from the hotel’s large neon sign filtered through the curtains, bathing the room in soft shades of blue and forming intricate patterns on the ceiling. He watched them for a moment, trying to ignore Martin’s shallow breathing beside him.
Finishing the last of his fourth drink, he glanced up to find a woman watching him from the bar. For a moment he simply stared, frowning as he tried to place her face. Drawing a blank, he stood, a wave of dizziness hitting him hard and causing him to clutch the back of his chair for support. He waited for it to pass before crossing the room, forcing his most charming smile before approaching the bar.
"Hey," he slurred, blinking as his vision swam.
"Thought it was you. Hi, Danny," she replied, motioning to the empty stool next to hers.
He frowned as names and faces scrolled through his mind, recognition dawning and causing his stomach to lurch painfully. "Samantha?"
He could see her lips moving, knew she was speaking but her words held no meaning. He wanted to ask if she'd seen Martin, if she knew where he was, but was unable to find his voice. He felt as though he was floating, hovering just above his body, watching with cold detachment and not really understanding.
"What?" he heard himself ask, dimly aware that he was frowning.
"Shit, man, you're really messed up, aren't you?" she asked and this wasn't the Sam he remembered.
"Sorry...I...what were you saying?" he stuttered, squinting to try to bring her face into focus.
He knew now why he didn't recognize her. Her hair hung in frayed strains, blonde replaced by a mousey brown. Lines marred her face, a scar running down her left cheek, the skin taut and pink. Her clothes were baggy but he could tell her frame was smaller; skin and bones and he wondered if she'd been eating. Dark bruises covered her arms, the telltale sign of track-marks running along her veins.
She caught him looking, pulled her sleeves down and hiding her arms from sight. "They shattered my tibia, I had to have sixteen steel pins put in at some underground clinic. It helps with the pain," she explained.
"Have you seen anyone else?" he managed, forcing himself to stare into her vacant eyes. Dilated pupils told him she was high.
"Jack's dead, I don't know about anyone else," she replied emotionlessly. "What about you?"
The news hit him harder than he expected. He knew it was unlikely everyone had survived, but Jack had called to warn them, wasting time he could have used to escape and Danny couldn’t help but feel responsible. He motioned to the bartender, ordering another drink before answering.
"Martin and I got separated, I don't know where he is," he replied, fresh pain surging in his chest.
She nodded as though she wasn’t expecting any other answer. He wondered what she’d been through to bring her to this point. Certainly losing Jack had something to do with it, but the person across from him was nothing like the Sam he’d worked side by side with. This Sam was a shell of her former self, the hollowed remains of a girl he’d once considered a friend.
The bartender slid a glass in front of him, remaining only long enough to pocket the last of Danny’s tattered money before moving on to the next customer. He glanced across at Sam, her expression dark, her lips pressed together in a thin line. Awkward silence descended between them, settling like a fog until she stood, her gaze moving to the far door.
"I'm sorry, but I need to go. You take care, all right," she said abruptly, offering him one last smile before disappearing into the crowd.
He watched her go, not really understanding her haste. Digging into his pocket, he counted his remaining change. He found no more than a handful of quarters, not enough for another drink. He finished the one in his hand in one long swallow, not noticing the burn as it slid down his throat.
Exhaustion settled over him and he slid off the bar stool, the room spinning once again. He shook his head to clear his vision, regretting the decision as spots formed behind his eyes. He ignored them, along with the pounding in his skull and stumbled toward the door. A wave of icy cold air hit him hard and he stood in the alley, breathing deep and willing himself not to vomit.
A light dusting of snow covered the ground and he tried to calculate how long he'd been inside, a few hours at most. Low hanging clouds reflecting the light from the city, the sky glowing in soft shades of pink. He felt his steps falter, his legs giving way and he found himself sprawled on his back. He watched as the sky opened, tiny snowflakes falling softly to the ground and covering him in white.
"I can't leave you alone for a minute, can I?"
He couldn't pinpoint the voice and for a moment he was certain he was dead. Warmth spread through his limbs, his blood singing in tune to the hum of the streetlamps. He had the fleeting memory of it being cold.
"Come on, get up."
Light faded into shadow and suddenly Sam was standing above him, offering an outstretched hand.
"I thought you had to leave?" he heard himself ask.
"Plans don't always work out," she told him, grasping his wrist and pulling him to his feet.
He didn't ask where she was leading him, merely followed behind, fighting against the surging darkness in a battle he was destined to lose.
The pain was distant, hovering just on the edge of his consciousness and for once he was thankful for the cold. The snow was heavy now, blanketing the ground in white and obscuring his vision. It was enough to cover his retreating footsteps and he sent up silent thanks.
He had no idea what time it was, or even where he was, only that he needed to keep moving. He’d seen patrol lights in the distance, always just beyond his line of sight but they were out there, looking for him. He couldn’t convince himself that it was mere coincidence and no matter how hard he tried it didn’t stop the well of panic that rose in his throat every time the lights flashed on the horizon.
He rounded a corner, slipping on an icy patch of ground and falling to his knees. For a moment he knelt, hovering on the verge of standing before exhaustion won out and he collapsed. Pain radiated through his leg and he was fairly certain he’d twisted it. Not that it mattered, he could have broken it and he still would have forced himself to continue on. He wouldn’t go back; he’d rather die.
He crawled off the trail, hiding beneath the underbrush, his body shivering uncontrollably. He recognized the signs of hypothermia, ignored it because there was nothing he could do. A slow, painless death was better than the alternative. Despite the knowledge, he fought sleep, focusing instead on the falling snow and the halo of lights in the distance.
He woke to the warmth of sunlight and the smell of coffee. Frowning, he opened his eyes, trying to remember where he was. Just as quickly he closed them, the sudden brightness too much for him to handle. He was on a couch, that much was certain, but he knew it wasn't his and he had the dim recollection of following a woman home. Forcing himself to his feet, he winced as the sudden movement increased the throbbing in his head.
The apartment was tidy, if nothing else. It was sparse, lacking personal effects, simply space and furniture, none of it matching and none of it particularly stylish. The tiled floor was cold beneath his feet and he wondered what he'd done with his socks. His clothes were still intact, if slightly rumpled. Rubbing his temple, he crossed the living room, entering the kitchen and stopping dead in his tracks.
Several replies formed in his head but he couldn't seem to voice any of them.
"You want coffee?" Sam asked, pouring a cup and placing it in front of him. "I'm guessing you don't really remember this?" she continued, glancing at him over the rim of her own cup.
He shook his head, closing his eyes tight against the sudden wave of nausea. He pushed it aside, taking a sip of coffee to mask his shock.
"I thought you didn't drink, but I guess that was a long time ago," she said as though he'd responded, her tone light but tinged with exhaustion.
"What happened?" he managed weakly, the coffee turning in his stomach.
"Found you over on Amsterdam, you were about to pass out on the sidewalk," she explained, turning to rummage through a drawer.
"No, I meant to you?" he rephrased.
"Long story, one I don't intend to share. Look, I'm glad you're all right, but it's just... connections to the past, you know?" she told him, pulling out a syringe and placing it on the counter.
He understood what she wasn't saying. He couldn't even blame her really. Seeing her reminded him of Martin and he was fairly certain seeing him reminded her of Jack. It was something neither of them needed. Still it filled him with sadness and a sense of loss.
"Yeah, I know. Thanks for the coffee," he replied, already moving into the living room to search for his socks and shoes.
"Are you going to be all right? You need some money or something?" she asked, following on his heels.
He shook his head, shrugging into his coat and wrapping his scarf around his neck. "Thanks, but I'll be fine," he replied.
"Here, you look like you need it," Sam offered, thrusting cash into his hand, "Just don’t spend it all on booze."
"Sam, I can't...." he trailed off at her expression. Smiling softly, he nodded, tucking the money into his pocket and wondering where she'd gotten it.
"See you around, Danny," she said, opening the door and ushering him outside.
He turned in time to see the door close behind him. "Have a nice life, Sam," he whispered before turning and heading toward the staircase.
He woke entangled in warmth, Martin’s scent surrounding him. For a moment he could almost imagine he was home, safe and warm in his own bed. The delusion didn’t last long. Waking next to Martin left him with a longing he hadn’t felt in months, not since he’d given up on the man, residing himself to the role of partner and friend.
Beside him Martin mumbled in his sleep, shifting in an effort to share body heat. Danny was half tempted to sink back into the stiff mattress, bury himself beneath thin, worn covers and succumb to the exhaustion that had taken up permanent residence in his body. He knew remaining in the hotel was dangerous, but he still had to force himself up, rising to his feet and moving into the bathroom to splash cold water on his face.
"Danny?" Martin’s voice echoed from beyond the doorway, still thick with slumber.
"In here," Danny replied, towel drying his face before returning to the main room.
"God, I feel like I haven’t slept at all," Martin complained, stretching his arms above his head, his shirt lifting to reveal the pale expanse of his stomach.
"We should probably get moving," Danny suggested, swallowing hard before pulling out a fresh change of clothes.
"Probably, sun’s up," Martin replied and Danny had to force himself not to look out the window.
They packed in silence, their motions quick and efficient. A final sweep of the room and they returned the key, earning suspicious glares from the owner and several of the guests. No one trusted strangers.
The sun held little warmth, the faint hint of winter already evident in the fog of their breath. Shouldering his bag, Danny headed toward the highway, glancing back only once to confirm Martin was following.
Pushing open his door, he was greeted with the blinking light of his answering machine. He had to force himself to look away, moving into the bathroom and shedding his clothes. He paused at the sink, reaching absently for his toothbrush before turning on the faucet. The water came out brown, tinged with rust and he shuddered before cupping a handful and rinsing his mouth.
Closing his eyes, he tried to ignore the metallic taste of water and peppermint. Images of Martin danced through his head and he tried to remember the feel of Martin pressed beside him. He could almost picture it, imaginary warmth spreading through his limbs. This wasn't how it was supposed to turn out and he regretted the decision to ever leave. Not that he'd had much choice, at the time it had seemed like the only option.
Shaking off his thoughts, Danny climbed into the shower, turning on the water and standing beneath the spray. He'd told himself a million times that he couldn't change the past. Couldn't have prevented the outcome and, as hard as it was, he had to go on. Martin was counting on him.
The previous night’s snow had turned to slush, dirt stained grey covering every surface. He hadn't counted it then, but Sam had given him a little over three hundred dollars. Not enough to last him the month, but enough to tide him over until he found a replacement job.
He wasn't in the frame of mind for job-hunting, a lingering hangover leaving his legs weak and his head fuzzy, but the rent was due and necessity often overpowered want. For the first time in his life he wished he’d pursued a different goal, maybe taken up a trade or gotten a business degree.
Not that he could ever see himself doing those things, but his qualifications screamed federal agent and the last thing he wanted was to be associated with the former government. That only left scanning the classified ads for factory jobs, hired help, anything and everything manual that would ease suspicion and provide him enough to get by.
The cafe was crowded but he'd managed to find a table in the back, away from the noise but close enough to the door that he could slip out unobserved. He'd bought good coffee, the kind they imported from tropical paradises and ground on the spot. A half eaten raisin scone sat on the table next to him, buried beneath the remaining sections of the paper he'd purchased on St. Nicholas Ave.
Outside the snow turned to sleet, falling from a pearl tinged sky and landing on the street in splats that made him glad he was indoors. He hated winter. Winter in New York made him long for Florida and, despite all the bad memories he had of that place, at least it was warm. He'd give anything to be warm, if only for just a moment.
A blast of cold air drew his attention and he glanced up at the door, watching as a nameless woman entered the cafe. The glass doors closed behind her, the cold dissipating into false, dry heat. Danny turned back to his searching.
"God, it's cold," Martin stated, the first thing he'd said in hours.
"It's only going to get colder," Danny reminded him, pausing only long enough to transfer his bag to his other shoulder.
"We're going to freeze to death," Martin continued, rubbing his hands together in a vain attempt to generate heat.
"Better than the alternative," Danny offered, earning a raised eyebrow.
They'd spent the better part of the day walking in what seemed like an endless line; they could have been going in circles for all Danny knew. By noon the temperature had dropped, the sun disappearing behind heavy white clouds. It seemed winter had come early, making her presence known with numbing wind and the impending threat of snow.
"We should see about getting some gear: hats, scarves, that sort of thing," Martin suggested, quickening his pace.
"If we ever find another town, that is. Besides, we're supposed to be seasoned agents, a little cold shouldn't stop us," Danny replied, smirking for the first time in days.
"I'm serious, Danny," Martin chastised, earning an even wider grin.
"I know, we'll find something," Danny assured, his smile vanishing.
They hadn't seen another soul in hours and, if he didn't known any better, Danny would have sworn they were the only two people left alive. He knew the thought was only paranoia, but it didn't stop him from turning around, staring back in the direction they'd come.
He spent the better part of the morning searching through the classifieds, discounted half the jobs off hand. In the end he was left with ink stained hands and three red circles. Sighing with frustration, he stood, tucking the paper under his arm before grabbing his coffee, leaving the remaining half of scone untouched.
Outside the air held the hint of moisture, making it feel warmer than it actually was. Still, he found himself shivering, his body trembling until he descended into the subway. The platform was practically deserted, the silence overwhelming and suddenly he wished he'd taken a cab. Instead he took a sip of Sumatra blend and leaned against a graffiti covered wall.
The only other person in sight was a young girl, no more than sixteen. Her hair was dyed a blinding colour of platinum; so bright he had to force himself to tear his eyes away. Cigarette butts dotted the floor, nicotine bleeding from stale tobacco into puddles of melted snow, tinting the water brown. It seemed fitting somehow, the filth that permeated every corner of this place. Everything else was pristine, too clean for anything natural but at least there were places underground that still spoke of humanity.
The roaring of the train drew his attention and he caught himself against the sudden gust of wind. He waited for the doors to slide open, a few passengers pushing their way out, passing him without really seeing and going on about their lives. He found a seat in the back, away from the girl with the too blonde hair.
The ride to China Town took nearly half an hour, crossing over two checkpoints along the way. He briefly reconsidered the logistics of the job's location, but at least it was in Manhattan --better than commuting to Brooklyn everyday. Still, his last place of employment had literally been down the street and he'd grown used to being able to walk.
He knew he could always move, at the very least he'd be closer to the Plaza, closer to Martin. But moving required permission and he wasn't certain he wanted to go to the trouble. Maybe if he managed to find someplace off the grid, but the chances were slim and commuting seemed far less complicated.
He exited the station into chaotic noise. The streets were crowded, people pressing together, blending into one another until there was nothing but a swollen mass of warm bodies. Shops spilled onto the street, merchant's wares hanging in every window. The sharp scent of fish and exotic spice assaulted his senses, momentarily gagging him.
He took a steadying breath through his mouth before turning towards the harbor. Walking was apparently an art in this part of town and he spent his time dodging bicycles and pedestrians in a dance the residents took for granted.
The surrounding buildings were in poor repair, laundry hanging between windows, cracked windowpanes and broken brick adorning each corner. Glancing around, he rethought his decision to move. Something told him finding an off-grid building would be easier than he initially thought. But he stood out here, one lone Hispanic amidst a sea of Asian immigrants. Not that it mattered, he felt out of place everywhere, even in Spanish Harlem.
By the time he reached the waterfront the crowd had thinned considerably. Pulling out his paper, he double-checked the address before heading into one of the adjacent buildings. It took him several moments to find the manager, but eventually he found himself being ushered back into a small supply room filled with cardboard and cellophane.
His guide pointed to a chair before disappearing through the door and Danny found himself frowning, rethinking the decision to apply. It didn't help that he hadn't been able to communicate why he was here, or even what he wanted.
"You're here about the job?" a voice echoed from behind him in flawless English.
"Yeah, it says here you have a stock position open," Danny replied, swiveling in his chair and pointing to the ad in the paper.
It didn't seem to matter how long he'd been away from the Bureau, Danny still found himself analyzing the situation, picking up on all the small things he'd been trained to look for. The man was in his late forties, obviously Asian but likely American born, or at the very least, well trained in the English language. He caught no hint of an accent, but the man's posture spoke of respect and discipline and Danny immediately discerned he was the factory's owner.
"We do, it's a morning shift, will that be a problem?" the man replied, crossing his arms and eyeing Danny speculatively.
"No, I'm a morning person," he answered, offering what he hoped was a convincing smile.
Technically it wasn't a lie, at one point he had been a morning person and he didn't think it would take much to readapt to that schedule. Still, it would eliminate his curfew clearance, not that it mattered.
"Good. You can start tomorrow, six thirty."
And just like that he had a job. It didn't surprise him that they hadn't asked for references, or even confirmation that he was a legal citizen. He knew several places didn't care, others avoided regulation for their own benefit, and some were just happy to have someone willing to do a job no one else wanted.
He let himself out, surveying the setup more out of reflex than anything else. There didn't seem to be too much to the job. He watched as workers unloaded crates of fresh fish, packaging them in boxes before sending them down the line.
Cold, northerly wind screamed over the top of the truck. Danny pulled his coat tight, sinking further into the flat of the pickup and praying they would stop soon. They'd been riding two hours, the driver stopping to offer lifts to everyone he saw. Danny knew driving was faster than walking and, while he commended the driver for his generosity, he was getting a little annoyed with the sudden overcrowding.
Worn faces surrounded him, frightened faces and he wondered what his fellow passengers were running from. No one spoke, not to one another, anyway. Those that were traveling together sat in huddled masses, hushed whispers passing between them.
"You think we'll find a place to stay tonight?" he asked, glancing over at Martin.
"Unless this guy's planning on driving forever, we kind of need to," Martin replied, shifting closer and lowering his voice. "Someplace warm would be nice, and a shower."
"Yeah, who would have thought traveling in the back of a pickup could be so dirty," Danny teased, earning an exasperated laugh.
Before Martin had a chance to respond, the truck crested the hill, slowing as signs of civilization sprung up around them. Nervous murmurs rippled through the truck and Danny found himself tensing. He couldn't explain the sudden wave of apprehension, but he knew he wasn't the only one who felt it. Beside him Martin pulled his coat tight, his expression unreadable.
"Looks like this is it," Martin commented as the truck pulled to a stop. He didn't bother waiting for the driver to lower the back gate, jumping gracefully over the side and landing on the ground.
Danny followed suit, pausing beside Martin before adjusting his bag and offering the driver a nod of thanks. The sign on the roadside read St. Francis and he wondered briefly if there was even a motel. Stifling a yawn, he followed the other passengers deeper into town, Martin close on his heels.
"The Empire Motel, sounds charming," Martin commented, pointed out the small, run down motor inn.
"Can't be worse than the last place," Danny joked, crossing the highway and heading toward the office.
He treated himself to a cab ride home, not wanting to deal with the crowded train. The leather seats felt cool beneath him and he made a mental note to buy new jeans. Clothing hadn't been a priority since he'd arrived in New York and what he had managed to acquire was now faded and worn, the material thin and tearing. But he had a job again, so he could afford a few luxuries.
He couldn't count the number of motels they'd stayed in during their return trip, but the Empire Motel had been one of the worst. They'd gotten it cheap, though, and that had almost made up for the lack of working heat and stained sheets. He could still remember waking in the night and listening to the cockroaches in the walls. He wasn't certain how they survived the freezing temperatures, but he knew they were there and even the scalding hot shower the next morning hadn't removed the dirt buried beneath his skin.
The cab pulled to a shuddering stop, the driver's voice breaking his thoughts. He didn't bother counting the fair, simply handed over a fistful of money before exiting the vehicle and heading toward his building. He waited until he was inside, the door bolted firmly behind him before reaching into his pocket and pulling free his flask. The light on his answering machine blinked angry red and he shuddered around a mouthful of rye.
The rye did nothing to distract him from the blinking red of his answering machine and he swallowed another mouthful before playing the messages, three in total. He listened to them in succession, replaying them several times before reaching for another drink. He frowned as he listened to them for the fourth time, shivering at the background white noise and the familiar sound of a tapped line.
Only his time at the Bureau allowed him to recognize the sound and Danny found himself reaching for the last of his rye, draining it in one long swallow. He knew it could just be procedure, but it could also mean they were suspicious of him. Either way he didn't want to know who had left the original messages. He wondered if the sweepers knew the messages were erased on his end the second they'd retrieved them.
Probably not, he reasoned, and he briefly considered stopping one on the street and mentioning it. It would probably get him arrested, thrown into a detention compound and that was the last thing he needed. What he did need was more rye, but that would require leaving the apartment and Danny wasn't sure he was capable of moving.
His head swam with the hazy fog of alcohol as he tried to stand. His limbs felt numb, heavy even, and it took him several tries before he finally made it off the couch. Panic welled in his chest, some unnamed fear coursing through his blood and he immediately recognized the cold edge of paranoia.
He felt as though he was being watched, faceless eyes staring at him from every direction. He wondered how long it would take before their suspicions became enough to send someone after him. He'd seen it happen before and, if they were tapping his line, there was no telling how much they knew. He doubted they could trace his past, his connection to the former United States, but it didn't stop him from wanting to run.
Running was familiar, though, so his actions didn't register until he was sorting through his meager possessions. Most of it could be replaced, but he gathered some clothing, a few personal belongings and whatever else he could carry without being noticed. He tossed them all into a pile next to his couch before turning back to the bedroom to do a final sweep.
Black spots danced in front of his vision, halting him in his steps and he regretted his decision to finish the rye. He paused by the back of the couch, reaching out to steady himself against the backrest and waiting for the wave of dizziness to pass. It didn't happen, his vision clouding as the room tilted and spun.
He knew he was dangerously close to passing out, only the sudden shrill ringing of his phone kept him from collapsing onto the floor. Still, several minutes passed before he was capable of moving. He crossed the room on shaking legs, lifting the receiver on the sixth ring and placing it against his ear. More white noise and the same clicking echoed through the line and he found himself trembling. His legs buckled beneath him and he sat down hard on the end of the couch.
He didn't have a chance to hang up the line before darkness overwhelmed him.
The day dwindled into twilight, casting shadows across the landscape. The horizon glowed, false light that he recognized as civilization colouring the sky in shades of pink. He considered waiting out the night, circling around in the morning, but he was tired and cold and there were things he needed. Things only civilization offered.
Things like food and clothing and possibly even transportation so he forced himself forward. He knew he risked being seen, but his need was greater than the danger so he left the relative safety of the forest and crossed over a frozen field of dirt. Farmland gave way to highway, the road stretching into the city. The air around him was still, quiet and he found himself flinching at every sound, looking over his shoulder until buildings loomed around him. He weaved his way between them, passing lines of cars until he found what he was looking for; a pay phone.
Several numbers were etched into his memory but he knew none of them would work. He couldn't risk calling information, if such a thing still existed, so he dialed the old numbers, cringing at the digital voice telling him they were out of service. His hands were numb with cold, so much so he nearly dropped the receiver before hanging up. Running a shaking hand through damp hair, he turned back to his task, slinking into a dark alley and heading in search of provisions.
The sky was still bathed in darkness when he finally woke, his head pounding with the aftereffects of booze and too little sleep. He pushed himself off the couch, his legs shaking with the effort. His apartment seemed foreign somehow; empty and his eyes darted to the phone lying on the ground. The light on his answering machine was blinking again, but he ignored it, knowing what he'd find.
Instead he let his gaze wander to the pile of clothing at his feet and he recalled his decision to leave. He still wasn't certain where he'd go, but anyplace was better than here. A wave of nostalgia washed over him as he retrieved his duffle bag from the front hall closet. It was the same one he'd arrived in New York with, the same one he'd been using the last time he'd seen Martin. He shook the memory off, kneeling beside the couch and stuffing his belongings inside until he was half afraid the bag would burst at the seams.
Doing a final scan of the apartment, he shouldered his bag, leaving his keys on the counter and pocketing his identity card before heading outside. He hadn't bothered changing or showering and he reeked of booze and sweat. The stale scent of unwashed skin surrounding him like a fog and people shied away from him on the street. He welcomed their avoidance. He found himself glancing over his shoulder, tensing anytime a nameless stranger made eye contact. He half expected sweepers to materialize out of thin air and chase him down. It never happened, but the tension never once left his body.
He took the long way, avoiding his usual route and descending into the subway three blocks over. Underground, he buried himself in the crowd of early morning commuters, hoping to escape notice. The paranoia didn't go away until he was safely on the train, heading deeper into the city and away from Harlem. Even then he found himself casting suspicious glances at the people around him.
The road seemed to stretch in an endless line, the land around them flat and he marveled at how quickly the landscape changed. Plains replaced the rolling foothills and he felt conspicuous, completely open and vulnerable and he pulled his newly bought scarf up over his nose.
They hadn't remained in St. Francis long, only stopping to eat and purchase winter gear. It made the cold slightly more bearable and he wiggled his fingers inside his new gloves. Beside him Martin marched forward with grim determination, his gaze locked on the distance ahead and Danny couldn't help but wonder how the other man managed to keep going.
Danny was exhausted, his body aching from a restless night and every mile they covered only reminded him of just how far off New York actually was. So far they were the only people on the road, the parade of cars they'd seen in previous days vanishing and he knew it was unlikely they'd find another ride. That left them with walking and Danny wasn't certain how much longer they could keep up the pace.
"We should have bought boots," Danny mused, his own shoes worn and falling apart. Water seeped inside, soaking his feet and making him feel colder than he actually was.
"With what money?" Martin asked, his words muffled through his scarf.
Danny didn't respond, knowing Martin was right. He hadn't given much consideration to what they were going to do once their money ran out, but he knew they had to conserve what they had. They were still a long way from their destination and there were things more important that the comfort of his feet.
The trip took twice as long as it normally did. He'd forced himself to get off a stop before each checkpoint and walk aboveground to the next station. He knew it was ridiculous, but the last thing he wanted was to risk revealing his whereabouts. There was still the chance of running into random sweeps, but he told himself this way he could at least avoid the ones he knew about.
The sun was already creeping over the horizon by the time he made it to Federal Plaza. Despite the early hour, several people milled about the space. He glanced at each one in turn, his stomach sinking every time his eyes landed on an unfamiliar face. He wasn't even sure why he bothered anymore, or when the trip became less about hope and more about habit. But the thought of not coming felt worse than not finding anything so he knew this wouldn't be his last visit.
Shrugging a little further into his coat, he turned back onto the street, pausing to buy a cup of overpriced coffee before heading in the direction of China Town. He knew walking would cause him to be late, but the last thing he wanted to do was get back onto the subway, so he set off on foot. Heat from the coffee bled through into his hand, warming him enough that he was able to ignore the cold around him.
Besides, walking reminded him of Martin and their time together and it was one of the only ties he had left to the other man. He flashed back to a long road and an even longer walk that, looking back, seemed a lifetime ago. They'd been eight hours outside St. Francis when a truck finally picked them up. They'd ridden in the back, wind rushing around them and by the time they reached the next city, Danny's cheeks burned with cold and he could no longer feel his toes. He'd been half afraid they'd both end up with pneumonia.
The crowd became thicker the further west he got and by the time he reached the harbor, there was already a steady stream of people rushing through the streets. He punched in three minutes late, earning a glare from the foreman and an angry finger pointing in the direction of his place on the line. Training didn't exist and he spent the day struggling to keep up with those around him.
The day passed quickly enough. He'd spent the better part of the day watching the sun creep across the sky through the grated window across from his workstation. There was no alarm warning of the shift change here; people merely stopped working as if by whim before heading out into the remaining daylight. He'd kept to himself most of the day, his coworkers choosing to ignore him. Danny hadn't complained.
No one had questioned the bag he'd stored under his workstation, but now that he was out on the street, fighting through crowds that reminded him of Time Square on New Year's, it earned him several glares. He did his best to avoid knocking anyone out, weaving his way to the outskirts of the district before stopping to buy a paper.
He knew finding something off-grid wasn't going to be easy and he had a feeling places didn't advertise. Possibly in one of the underground newspapers, but he wasn't sure where to get his hands on one. He scanned the rental section all the same, discounting the listings one by one until he came to a single number. There were no details, not even an area code, just six digits and Danny dug into his pocket to retrieve a quarter.
He felt odd, standing in the phone booth with his back to the street and his bag tucked between his legs. He held his breath as he waited for the line to ring through, not releasing it until a gruff voice answered. Even then he was hesitant, carefully asking questions that would avoid raising suspicion before finally getting the address.
The place was right around the corner, close enough to walk so he threw his bag over his shoulder, casting a final glance up and down the street before heading north. It didn't take him long and before he could question the logistics of taking a new place, he was standing in front of a worn, decrepit building and buzzing for the landlord.
He remembered joking once with Martin about bathtubs in kitchens, but until he was let into the small apartment, he'd never actually seen one. It was strange, in a way that made him wonder what the builder had been thinking. He knew, technically, the building predated modern plumbing and he should be grateful there was even running water. Not that it mattered, the rent was cheap, the location close enough to work to walk and the building's owner didn't ask questions. Danny took the place without seeing the bedroom.
St. Josephs was relatively large and there was something almost eerie about the stillness. Most of the cities they'd seen had been spilling over with people, but no one moved here. The streets were empty, practically deserted and Danny almost suggested they climb back onto the truck and ride a little further down the road.
He knew they needed to stop, though, so he shouldered his bag, glancing over at Martin before setting out on foot. Twilight cast long shadows across the ground and they stuck to the center of the road, glancing around them nervously as buildings seemed to spring up out of nowhere.
It took a while for his eyes to adjust to the low light, but once they did he noticed the surrounding devastation. The charred remains of buildings dotted the landscape, looking out of place against untouched steel and brick. He couldn't tell what they once were, but he knew there'd been fighting here.
Smoke still rose deeper in the city and Danny found himself tensing, glancing at the roadside signs in hopes of finding a motel on the outskirts. Several times they heard the distant sound of voices and each time they found themselves scrambling for refuge. The voices never came close, but by the time they'd reached the city center, Danny's heart was racing and adrenalin pumped in his veins.
"I don't think we're going to find a hotel," Martin commented, his breath coming in laboured pants.
Danny nodded his agreement. Every hotel they'd come across had been dark and deserted. He was starting to think they might actually need to move on to the next town when Martin grabbed his hand. The movement startled him, but Danny didn't argue as Martin pulled him into one of the adjacent alleys.
Men clad entirely in black marched past them not ten feet away and Danny held his breath as they passed. They looked military, but their uniforms were nothing Danny recognized and he didn't want to risk exposure by asking. They waited until the sound of boots colliding with concrete faded into the distance before heading back out onto the street.
Bare walls seemed to mock him and Danny blinked as he scanned the room. The floor was cold and hard beneath him, but he didn't move. He knew he needed furniture, possibly even food, but the thought of going outside left him with a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. Besides, his bag made a good enough seat and anything he did need could wait.
Sweat lined his brow despite the cold and he recognized the initial stages of withdrawal. He'd been through it enough times and he was half tempted to use it as an excuse to stop drinking. He wanted to. He hated the fact that he'd even started again, but he wasn't prepared to spend the next three days hallucinating and wanting to die.
His muscles protested moving when he finally stood, his head swimming as bile rose in the back of his throat. The thought of leaving the apartment still made him twitch, but he forced himself forward, checking the hall twice before slipping outside and locking the door behind him. He pulled his coat collar up as high as it would go before exiting the building and heading out onto the street.
The streets were still crowded and he was starting to think this area never slept. He imagined it was perpetually crowded, overpopulated and a wave of agoraphobia left him panting and dizzy. He barely managed to make it around the corner and into one of the stores.
Inside the light was bright, practically blinding him and he had to force himself into the back of the store. He grabbed a handful of things before bringing them to the front and paying for them. The entire process took entirely too long and by the time he was back outside, he'd broken out into a cold sweat.
Danny felt like they were walking in circles, backtracking every time they came across another, or possibly the same, group of soldiers. He knew now why the city was deserted and he didn't blame the citizens for remaining locked inside their homes. Exhaustion had long since given way to fear, his body tense with awareness and only the numb pounding in his limbs told him he needed to stop soon.
They rounded another corner, watching as lights vanished around the edge of one of the buildings before moving forward. Still, they darted between objects, a car here, a wall there, always keeping something against their backs as they stopped to evaluate where they were going. Martin led them around another corner, stopping dead in his tracks and Danny barely managed to avoid running into him.
"What?" he asked, his tone laced with fear as he stared into the surrounding darkness.
"You're Catholic, right?" Martin asked, never once glancing back and Danny followed his gaze until two towers came into view.
"Technically, but I don't think praying is going to help us right now," Danny replied, arching an eyebrow at Martin's soft laugh.
"I was thinking we could ask for sanctuary," Martin explained, shaking his head before starting forward again.
Danny followed behind, not stopping until St. Patrick's Cathedral loomed in front of them. He wasn't sure it was such a good plan, technically they didn't even know whose side the Church was on, or even if the old adage of holy ground still stood. Still, they needed a place to stay, and this was as good as any.
Sometimes when he woke, he found himself thinking he was still in that church. Huddled in the basement with more refugees than he thought possible. Going there had been a desperate last-ditch attempt and they'd both been surprised to be let in. Even more surprised to find others hiding, waiting out daybreak to avoid being taken in for curfew violations. Until then they hadn't known there were curfews in place.
They'd given him new boots, donated from the local clothing collection drive. But more importantly they'd gotten information. The others called the men they'd seen sweepers and while no one was really certain what they were, they spoke of them in hushed tones; half fear, half awe. They knew now that the country had been overthrown, the former government deposed and a price put on the heads of anyone with connections to them. Neither Danny nor Martin mentioned they were with the Bureau.
The harsh sounds of the city drifted in through his open window and Danny forced himself to stand from his place on the ground and walk across the room to close it. It was only marginally better, the glass thin and the walls thinner. He'd spent the majority of his remaining cash on rye and a small collection of groceries. It wasn't much, but he got paid in three days, so it would have to do.
He'd managed to restrict himself to two shots, just enough to take the edge off and subdue the tremors, but not enough to deplete his stock before payday. His head throbbed and the scent of dead fish clung to him. He still couldn't figure out how his kitchen bathtub worked. He was half tempted to forgo bathing, but the smell was starting to bother him, so he could only imagine how bad it must be for everyone else.
It took him several minutes to locate the garden hose stored under the sink. He laughed as he connected it to the kitchen taps, running the long green tube into the soap scum stained bathtub and filling it up. The water was murky grey by the time he finished washing. He felt cleaner though, renewed, and he celebrated with another shot before falling asleep curled on top of a pile of clothing.
The lights were too bright and he blinked against them, forcing himself through the heavy glass doors and into one of the local stores. The place was half deserted and he considered turning around and leaving. He'd done this before, once, but that led him nowhere and he wasn't certain he wanted to go back down that path.
But he needed supplies and he told himself this was necessary. It would help get him home and in the end that was all that mattered. He didn't think as he collected the things on a list he knew only by memory. He tossed them into a bag he'd picked up two aisles back and he pretended this was something he did every day. The bag was nearly full by the time he made it to the door.
He started running the second he cleared the neon lights outside the store, not stopping until he was deep inside the city, a rough brick wall against his back and the sounds of shouts fading into quiet. Even then he waited, panting in the dark until he was certain no one was following.
He'd managed to get some food, several medical supplies and some warmer clothing. He slid into the new jacket, tearing off the tag and letting it fall into the slush at his feet. A hat and scarf followed, along with a pair of gloves and he tore into one of the protein bars before reaching into the bottom of the bag. It hadn't been on the list and it wasn't much, but it was better than nothing. He tucked the small hunting knife into his boot before restocking the bag and heading out to the highway.
Panic seized his throat until he remembered where he was. It took him several moments to adjust to the stream of morning light coming through his windows. He made a mental note to buy curtains. It took him even longer to stand, stiff joints protesting the movement and he briefly considered calling in sick to work. He didn't have a phone and, more importantly, he didn't think anyone would even know who he was, let alone what he was trying to get across, so he dismissed the idea as soon as it came. Shaking his head, he changed into yesterday's clothes, not wanting to ruin two pair of jeans with the rank smell of fish and sweat.
He couldn't tell what time it was when he finally made it outside, but from the sun's position he figured he was early. Not by much, but it gave him enough time to stop and pick up a coffee. He winced at the price, handing over two tattered ones and willing himself not to count what was left. At this rate, he wasn't going to last the rest of the week.
He took his time walking to work, ignoring the surrounding chaos and eyeing the layout of the neighborhood. It was almost instinct now, scanning for alleys and back roads he could use if he ever needed to run. He knew at least a dozen ways out of Harlem, each of which he could have used to escape unseen. It wouldn't take him long before he could say the same thing about China Town.
The harbor was virtually empty and he found himself frowning as he entered the warehouse. Several men he recognized as coworkers nodded hellos, but aside from that, no one acknowledged his presence. He had hoped being early today would negate yesterday's lateness.
He woke pressed against Martin's side on the makeshift cot they'd shared. The scent of sweat and desperation hung heavy in the air and he was forced to breathe through his mouth. They were fed stale flatbread and then, one by one, the crowd dissipated. He wasn't sure where everyone else went, only that no one wanted to remain during the harsh light of day.
Getting outside the city proved more difficult than he imagined. Patrols were everywhere and sweeper blockades surrounded the city. They watched as civilians coming in and out were stopped and questioned; only half were allowed to continue on their way. The rest were loaded into waiting trucks, taken away and Danny could only imagine their final destination.
They managed to hitch a ride with a local driver bound for Chicago. He carried a small plastic card, explaining he was registered and wouldn't be stopped. It hadn't eased their concern, so they hid in the truck's trailer, beneath tarps and surrounded by California produce. They weren't stopped, but they didn't stop shivering until the truck was well past the blockage.
The driver took them as far as the Macon and they waited until he pulled away before heading east towards Jacksonville on foot. The pace was hard, the wind cold and a light dusting of snow fell from the sky, coating the ground in white and he knew it would only be a matter of time before the weather hindered their progress.
It was late afternoon by the time they heard the rumbling of cars in the distance. Some unnamed fear sent shivers down Danny's spine and he found himself grabbing Martin's arm and pulling them off the road.
"What the hell?" Martin asked, fighting against Danny as Danny forced them to the ground so that they were lying low in the surrounding grass.
"I don't think we should ride," Danny replied, his whispered words carrying on the wind.
Martin seemed to accept his resignation, remaining perfectly still and silent as a black military truck passed by. He'd recognize it anywhere and he was suddenly glad they'd gotten off the road when they had.
By the end of the second day he had the job down to a science. There wasn't much to it, but the pace was fast and it made the day pass quickly. He barely had a chance to get into his newfound groove before the shift ended and he was once again heading outside. Bitterly cold wind drifted off the water, making it feel colder than it actually was. He wrapped his coat tight and headed up the street.
Part of him wanted nothing more than to head home, stare at his barren walls and take solace in the empty space he called a home. But it had been too long since he'd gone to look for Martin and, even though the thought of leaving the relative safety of China Town terrified him, he knew he'd end up going.
He decided against walking, his body still sore and the day cold. He didn't have enough for a cab and that only left taking the subway. He hated taking the chance, knowing he would have to cross over a checkpoint to get to the Plaza, but the potential of finding Martin was worth it.
He didn't bother stopping at home, passing by his building on his way to the station. Underground it stank of urine and sickness and he cursed himself for choosing this location instead of the one four blocks over. The wait wasn't long, though, and before he had a chance to get used to breathing through his mouth, the train arrived.
He was still too early for the five-o'clock rush and the train was relatively empty. He managed to find a seat near the back and he pressed himself tight against the wall, hoping to avoid notice. An elderly woman sat across from him, clutching her purse and casting a nervous eye at the other passengers. Danny ignored her; along with the man next to him holding his paper like it was a lifeline. He tried not to panic as the train began to move, rolling out of the station and through the darkness of the tunnels beneath the city streets. The fourth stop was a checkpoint.
He got off at the third.
He wasn't certain why he didn't ride through, but he found himself unable to get back on, even after he'd passed the checkpoint. The sky was clear, the sun pale and weak and he wondered if they'd ever see summer again. He felt like it had been winter forever. His feet ached by the time he made it into the Financial District.
He was a block away from the Plaza when he stopped, panic once again threatening to overwhelm him and they were doing street scans. A station had been set up just outside the park, blocking his path and he had no choice but to go through it. Part of him wanted to turn around, but Martin was waiting and he knew he couldn't.
He did his best to appear calm as he approached the line of sweepers, keeping his eyes downcast as he handed off his card. He forced himself to breathe as they recorded his card number and slid it through their keypad.
It flashed red.
He didn't have time to contemplate what he was doing before he took off running.
He couldn't stop looking back at the empty stretch of road behind them. He half expected a swarm of sweepers to appear out of nowhere and his hands twitched nervously inside his gloves. In total they'd waited out eight trucks, each time waiting endless minutes before standing and heading back to the road. Several other times they'd been forced off the road, but each time it was merely a civilian, driving to some unknown destination. They hadn't seen another black truck in hours and they were starting to think the worst was behind them.
"I feel like I could fall asleep standing up," Martin groaned, flexing his hands in order to generate warmth in his fingers.
"There's got to be something ahead," Danny replied, thinking they should invest some of their remaining cash in a map.
"Yeah, probably the same thing we ran into back there," Martin answered, glancing back at an empty road and shivering.
They hadn't talked about it, but they had a feeling they'd run into the same thing everywhere they went. The larger cities would be worse and, while it would mean adding days to their journey, they knew they'd have to circle around in the future.
The flickering of light was the only warning they had and before they could make it off the road, a car pulled up beside them. They stood, frozen for what seemed an eternity before images of black trucks faded and relief washed over them at finding only a potential ride.
"You guys need a lift?" the driver asked, leaning out the window to look them both over.
"Just as far as the next town," Martin replied, already heading toward the car and Danny had no choice but to follow.
Shouts rang out behind him, the sound of pursuit chasing him through back alleys and empty city streets. It reminded him of a tide, people disappearing into the surrounding buildings the second he appeared and all he could do was keep on running. Cold air scorched his lungs, burning the back of his throat and he willed himself not to cough. He couldn't stop now, not for anything.
The sweepers hadn't been expecting him to run and it was probably the only reason he got away. He didn't think they were even expecting his card to flash red, they'd just assumed he was another legal citizen, passing into a park people used all the time. He wasn't certain why his card stopped working, or even when, but he had a feeling it had something to do with his phone line and abrupt departure.
Eventually he found himself huddled in an alley, the sounds of footsteps falling away and he forced himself to take deep, steadying breaths. He didn't think he could run again, not without dying on the spot, but he knew he might need to, so he remained tense, ready to take off at a second's notice.
He waited several moments, listening to the surrounding noise before finally creeping out from his hiding place. There was no one in sight and eventually he made his way out onto the street and headed toward home. He knew they were looking for him, knew they were out there, somewhere. He couldn't risk public transportation, so he stuck to walking, stalking along in shadows and willing the sun to finish setting.
He nearly sobbed with relief when the familiar scent of fish and spice filled his nose. He circled his block twice, needing to know he wasn't being followed before he slipped inside, bolting the door behind him and staring at it like it might burst open at any moment.
It was snowing again and he huddled under the relative shelter of the surrounding woods, shivering against the wind. He wished he'd thought to steal a thicker coat, but it was too late now and he wasn't about to go back. The patrols had been out in full force, combing the countryside and forcing him into the backwoods. He could see their lights hovering on the outskirts. They were still on the road, searching through the darkness and he was fairly certain he was their target. No doubt his description got out. It wouldn't have taken long to put two and two together.
His fingers ached from gripping his knife too tight. He refused to put it away, wanting to be prepared in case they decided he wasn't going to be found on the road. He'd known stopping would be dangerous and he'd probably only made it worse by drawing attention to himself. But he was safe now and that was more than he could say a day ago.
Crouching lower under the protective branches of a tree, he rocked in place, hoping to generate at least some warmth. The night was still young and he wouldn't feel completely safe until the morning sun crested the horizon.
He woke crouched against the far wall, an empty bottle of rye at his feet and, for a moment, he couldn't remember how he'd gotten here. Slowly the night came back to him, the trip to the park, the sweepers, running. A quick glance around the room told him nothing had been disturbed. No one had found him and he breathed a sigh of relief.
He wasn't sure he wanted to head back into work, but he knew he needed to and, besides, if they hadn't found him last night, they weren't going to find him today. They were probably still searching the area they'd lost him in. It would mean not being able to return to the Plaza, for a while, anyway, but it was better than the alternative.
It took him several tries to make it into the kitchen. He decided against bathing, knowing the hour was late and his shift would be starting soon. He filled his sink with water, washing his hair and face and drying them off on a spare t-shirt he found lying on the ground. It worked, but he made a mental note to pick up towels on payday. And a mattress, he added, rubbing the kinks out his neck before changing clothes and heading out the door.
The walk to work was spent looking over his shoulder, his entire body tense and itching to run. No one stopped him, though, and by the time he reached the harbor he'd managed to convince himself he was safe.
The hotel room was small but clean, cozy in a way that spoke of working heat and Danny was glad they'd pressed on --it beat sleeping in a ditch and bathing with handfuls of snow. Their last ride had brought them all the way to Jacksonville, dropping them off at a small motor inn before continuing south.
The sound of running water faded and Danny listened to Martin shuffling around in the bathroom. Showering had been both their priorities and Danny couldn't remember the last time he'd felt this clean. They'd decided against eating, knowing they needed to preserve the food left over from St. Francis and money was still tight. Danny's stomach rumbled embarrassingly as Martin entered the main room.
"You should eat," he commented, climbing onto the bed to sit at Danny's side.
"I'm fine," Danny replied, not missing the hint of concern in Martin's voice and the knowledge made him smile. "Besides, there's a little bakery across the street, we can get some fresh bread in the morning," he reasoned.
Martin nodded, reaching beside him to flick off the room's only light before settling under the covers. Silence seemed to stretch across the room and despite his exhaustion sleep didn't come. Danny found himself staring at the ceiling, watching the play of moonlight against the stucco finish.
Movement from the other side of the bed broke his concentration and Danny turned to find Martin watching him in the dark. For a moment, neither of them said anything, the air around them heavy with something Danny couldn't name. They both felt it, that sense of impending doom like maybe all this was for nothing. Maybe there was nothing left for them and they should just give up now while they still could.
"We'll make it to New York," Danny said, reaching out to place a hand on Martin's shoulder.
"I know," Martin replied, turning into the touch and inching closer.
Sleep eventually came, settling over them as exhaustion won out. It wasn't until the morning that Danny realized they'd slept wrapped more around each other than the blankets.
Danny smiled at the memory, the only part of the entire nightmare worth hanging onto. They'd woken sometime in the early hours of the morning, still pressed together and, despite the knowledge that they needed to leave, neither of them moved. It was a peaceful kind of quiet, something he could see them doing on a lazy Sunday.
He still wasn't certain if he'd kissed Martin or if Martin had kissed him, but he could still feel Martin's lips playing against his own. Still taste Martin on his tongue and his smile disappeared at the thought of never seeing Martin again. He ached to return to the park, sweepers or no sweepers and only the gruff shout of the foreman reminded him he was working.
His hands were red and raw from fish guts, small cuts stinging with the oily substance and he absently wiped his hands on the front of his jeans. The line stopped, indicating lunch and Danny retreated to the waterside to spend the time alone. It wasn't hard, no one socialized here.
He leaned against the rail, looking out over the swirling mass of black water. He fumbled with numb fingers in his pocket and pulled out his flask. For a moment, he could almost imagine that none of this was real. That nothing had changed and he'd never once called himself anything other than Danny Alvarez.
The rest of the shift passed quickly enough and Danny spent the time trying to not to remember Martin. He forced himself to think about anything but, not wanting the lingering pain that came with the thought of having failed a friend. More than once he considered the logistics of drinking on the job. Alcohol always seemed to help dissipate the memory of Martin.
When the shift finally ended, he found himself twitching with need, his fingers curled into his palm and he knew if he relaxed, he'd find small, half moon shaped marks marring his hand. He headed straight home, ignoring the desire to head across town. Inside his apartment was cool, a draft seeping in through the window and he shivered before fishing out his flask and draining what was left.
He sat in silence for endless minutes, time bleeding into eternity until he felt as though he was no longer touched by it. Like time was moving forward without him and he wished he'd thought to bring his television with him. He knew, technically, it would still be where he left it, but he had a feeling they'd be watching his old place and he didn't want to risk exposing himself. Not even for something to pass the time.
Lights flashed from the streets below and he cursed at the familiar sight of residence sweeps. Technically, they were off-grid here, but apparently yesterday's stunt was enough of a reason for them to come into neighborhoods they usually avoided. Danny didn't think twice before moving across the room, opening the window a little further and climbing out onto the fire escape.
Circling around Springfield involved trekking across backcountry, through frozen wilderness and scattered farmlands. It took them far longer than it should have and by the time the city disappeared over the horizon, they were both worn and exhausted. It was better than the alternative, though, and they'd seen enough sweepers to know the city was dangerous.
They stopped sometime in the afternoon, sharing the bread they'd purchased that morning and washing it down with the last of their bottled water. It was the first time either of them had eaten in what seemed like days. Danny's clothes were already loose, hanging off of him and he knew Martin had lost just as much weight. He'd spent the better part of the morning tracing fingers over more bone than muscle, memorizing the feel of Martin's skin and he still wasn't certain what prompted the sudden shift in their relationship. He wasn't going to complain.
Martin started moving again and Danny stood silently, following behind. They eventually made it back to the road, still glancing nervously behind them and it wasn't until all signs of civilization disappeared that they finally allowed themselves to relax.
"Back when I was at Quantico, we had to do this weekend survival course. They essentially stuck us out in the middle of nowhere and told us to make it to a certain point. I never really expected to be using that training," Martin mused, his sudden words breaking the heavy silence that had descended between them.
"We did the same thing. I'm pretty sure I lost," Danny replied, smiling at the memory.
His smile faded just as quickly, his attention turning to the sound of approaching vehicles. They scrambled off the road, memory giving way to reality and Danny knew this wasn't a game.
Danny pressed himself into an alley, leaning against worn brick and waiting until the street cleared before setting out again. He knew walking would take far longer than transportation, but without an identity card, he was left with little choice. He spent his time darting between alleys, staying out of sight and avoiding the few patrols he did stumble across. It meant backtracking several times, but it was worth not being seen.
It reminded him of those last few days with Martin. They'd spent the better part of the day hiding from oncoming vehicles, huddled together in the ditch and trying to stay out of sight. The cold had continued to get worse, leaving them both numb and shivering. It hadn't been long before Martin developed a lingering cough. Danny had spent the majority of the time worrying.
The setting sun brought strong north winds off the water, freezing bone and marrow and Danny pulled his coat tight. He still wasn't certain where he was going only that he needed a new identity card if he hoped to survive the night. Cash was a problem, and Danny found himself heading in the direction of Sam's apartment, hoping he remembered the address.
He weaved his way around another checkpoint, frowning at the sight of familiar sweepers. He couldn't remember the last time he'd seen so many, they were everywhere, and he was starting to think this was something he couldn't win. He considered turning himself in, at the very least they might know where Martin was and that was almost worth spending the rest of his life behind bars.
But there was the chance they might kill him, so he kept on walking, stalking between buildings and parked cars until the streets became familiar. He couldn't quite remember which building was Sam's, so he headed back over to the underground club, hoping to find her there or, at the very least, retrace his steps.
By the time they reached Tuscola, Danny was fairly certain they weren't going to make it. It was the first time they'd come across a checkpoint inside a small town and they weren't prepared for it. They'd stopped at a small diner, just on the far side of the sweeper line and tried to blend in, hoping no one would question their sudden stop.
Martin sat across from him, his skin pale and eyes dark. He'd been coughing nonstop since Springfield and Danny couldn't hide his concern. He knew it was unlikely they'd make it all the way across country without running into problems, but he was hoping it could wait until they were at least close enough to a large city. It would be easier to find medical attention in a large city and remain unnoticed. Strangers were always noticed in small towns.
"It's going to look suspicious if we walk back the way we came," Martin commented, breaking Danny's current train of thought and he paused to take a sip of his coffee before answering.
"We can't exactly go through," Danny replied, watching Martin shiver despite the heat of the diner. "Besides, you're not exactly in any condition to run. I think you probably have a fever," Danny continued, pushing his unfinished glass of water across the table and motioning for Martin to drink.
Martin pushed the water aside, still looking pensive and Danny turned his attention back to his untouched plate of greasy diner food. He ate in silence, watching Martin stare past his plate of food. His eyes were vacant, lost and Danny was forced to tear his gaze away, glancing out the window toward the line of sweepers blocking their path.
The sound of music inside the club did nothing to ease his headache. He was starting to think it might be permanent and he found himself rubbing his temple as he scanned the surrounding crowd. Sam was nowhere in sight and he'd just about given up hope with a flash of blonde drew his attention.
He pushed his way across the dance floor, passing by sweat damp bodies and glittering skin before finally finding Sam by the front door. Her hair was lighter than it was the last time he'd seen her and he resisted the temptation to ask if she'd dyed it. Instead he grabbed her arm, ignoring her unblinking eyes as he dragged her outside the club.
"What the fuck do you think you're doing?" she asked, pulling away and glaring at Danny like he was some nameless stranger.
"Sam, I need your help," Danny explained, glancing once behind them to survey the street.
"Danny, look, I told you…"
"I know, connections to the past. But they're going to kill me if I don't get my hands on a new identity card and I don't exactly have the cash," Danny continued, eyes darting about nervously like they were waiting for him in the shadows.
For a moment, Sam merely stared at him, weighing him with heavy eyes and Danny tensed as he waited for her to send him on his way. It didn't happen and Danny released a breath he didn't know he was holding when Sam shook her head and sighed in resignation.
"I don't have any cash, but might know someone," Sam said, twitching against the cold and Danny couldn't help but notice fresh bruises covering her arms.
He didn't ask, nodding once and waiting for her to lead them into the night. As they rounded the corner, it began to snow.
Branches whipped across Danny's cheeks, cutting into flesh and he knew he was bleeding. They were still behind them, though, so he didn't stop. He watched Martin stumble over the ground, nearly losing his balance and Danny reached out a hand and caught the other man by the arm. He pulled him forward, further into the surrounding wilderness and he knew it was only a matter of time before exhaustion overwhelmed them both.
They'd been running for what seemed like hours, daylight fading into darkness and the sweepers they'd tried to avoid in Tuscola didn't show any signs of letting them get away. He knew they should have just turned around, circled around the outskirts of town but Martin's sudden illness stopped him. The last thing either of them needed was a delay.
They'd tried to go around inside the town, trekking down back alleys and through the residential sector. They'd been spotted and hadn't stopped running since. The only reason they hadn't been caught was because they made it to the tree line, disappearing down trails the sweepers' vehicles couldn't travel.
"Danny, I can't…" Martin mumbled, stumbling for a second time and Danny tightened his grip on Martin's arm.
"Yes, you can, keep running," he ordered, practically dragging Martin behind him.
Sam led them through parts of the city he'd never seen before, through endless mazes of streets and alleys until finally heading into a worn brick building. They descended several sets of stairs, taking them into a basement and sticky heat. The light was dim, radiating off the rough concrete walls and Danny found himself shivering.
Sam pressed on, eventually leading them to a small wooden door. She knocked twice, placing her hands back at her sides and rocking on the balls of her feet. She looked nervous, like she wanted to be anywhere but here. Danny did his best to quell the terror forming in his stomach as the door slid open.
Darkness stretched on inside, so black he had to squint to see. Sam left him in the entranceway, disappearing further into the room and Danny had no choice but to wait. She returned several moments later, card in hand and a fistful of money.
"Sam?" Danny asked, staring into her vacant eyes.
"Don't worry about it. I have to stay for a bit, can you find your own way out?" Sam questioned, not waiting for a reply before vanishing back into the darkness. Danny didn't go after her.
He took a cab home, mostly to ensure his new card worked. It was better than going through a checkpoint because at least if it didn't, the cab driver would have to call it in. It would give him more time to run if he needed to.
His card worked, though, gaining him access and he breathed a sigh of relief before climbing inside. The seats were warm beneath him and he sank back into the leather, letting his eyes drift shut and wondering how he ever gotten to this point.
He woke to the sound of dogs, high pitched whines ringing out in the distance. He cursed himself for falling asleep, knowing they could have taken him unaware at any moment. Standing took effort, but eventually he made it to his feet, heading deeper into the woods and away from the approaching noise.
Sweat beaded on his forehead, dripping into his eyes until he was certain it would blind him. He stumbled, nearly falling down a small embankment before catching himself on a tree branch. Roaring in the distance echoed through the air, drowning out the sound of pursuit and he sent up thanks before scrambling down the hill and toward the train tracks.
Wind beat against him as the train passed. He'd never actually hopped a train before and he still didn't know where it was going, but he could hear the dogs again, closer this time and anyplace had to be better than here. He ran alongside it, struggling to keep up and reach one of the sidebars. He caught it and the momentum of the train dragged him forward, his feet falling out from beneath him. He fought to keep from being pulled under, visions of being crushed under all that steel flickering through his mind and he felt his fingers slip.
He sent up a silent prayer and hands grabbed at his wrist, pulling him into the open freight car and he collapsed onto the rocking floor before noticing he wasn't alone.
Aside from going to work, he hadn't left his apartment in three days. He'd long since run out of food and booze and, while he did have a new card, the thought of leaving the relative safety of the surrounding walls left him shaking and panting. Dreams of Martin had become more frequent, coming almost every night and he wasn't certain what they meant. They left him with a sense of longing, the sudden desire to check the Plaza. Several times he'd made it as far as his front door, only to have some unnamed fear stop him in his steps.
His stomach rumbled loudly, the sound echoing through the apartment and he forced himself to his feet. He didn't bother changing, half expecting to turn around the second he made it outside. He didn't, forcing himself forward until he was standing on the subway platform. It was dangerous, if they caught him on the train there was nowhere for him to run, but he was beyond caring.
All he wanted now was a decent night's sleep and something to silence the pounding that had taken up permanent residence in his skull. He knew he wouldn't find it, but it hadn't stopped him from picking up a bottle of rye and tucking it into his pocket before heading underground. He waited until he was on the train to crack it open, taking a long swallow and wincing as it spilled over his lips and onto his shirt. The other passengers shied away from him.
He braced himself at the fourth stop, taking a steadying breath and another swallow before tucking the plastic bottle back into his pocket. He forced himself to make eye contact when the sweepers boarded the train, handing over his new card with fake confidence and reminding himself to breathe as they swiped it. He very nearly sobbed when it flashed green.
Danville was deserted but Danny remained on the outskirts, staring out into the darkness until he was certain sweepers weren't going to materialize out of the night sky. They'd lost them somewhere along the way, but he knew they were still there, hunting and searching and it was only a matter of time before they caught their trail again. He glanced around the street one last time before pulling Martin forward and into the town.
"This is a really bad idea," Martin stated between coughs.
He looked dwarfed, hidden by both their coats and Danny was still surprised he'd managed to talk Martin into taking them both. It was a sign Martin was sicker than Danny initially thought and he knew they couldn't keep running like this.
"Running blindly though the woods is a worse idea," Danny replied, leaving Martin in an alley and creeping out onto the street.
He'd done this before, several times in his youth and while he couldn't quite remember how it was done, he knew it would come back to him. What they needed was transportation, something to get them to the next city --something to get them away from the small army searching for them. He chose a non-descript black sedan, shattering the window with his gloved fist before sliding inside and pulling free wires.
It took several tries, but soon the engine roared to life and Danny leaned across to open the passenger side door. Martin appeared almost instantly, sliding into the unoccupied seat and letting his head fall against the headrest.
"Bad enough we're wanted just because of our previous employment. Now you have to add grand theft auto to the list," Martin complained, but he closed his eyes and Danny knew he wasn't going to protest.
The park was empty but the familiar sense of disappointment didn't come. He blamed it on the cold and alcohol, swallowing another mouthful before sinking onto the bench and leaning back to watch the sky.
Clouds rolled in from the west, bringing with them more snow and impeding darkness. He wasn't sure how long he sat there, staring at the shifting storm front, but by the time he stood to leave, the ground was covered in white and his body ached from lack of use. He took another cab, stopping three blocks from home to buy groceries and several supplies.
He wandered the streets for a while, eventually finding a second hand furniture store. He bought curtains and a futon mattress. It wasn't much, but it beat sleeping on the cold, hard floor. He arranged delivery for the bed, giving over his address and a fake name. He slipped the curtains into his bag of groceries, heading back out onto the street and toward his building.
The stairs creaked beneath his feet as he ascended up the dark staircase. His hall was darker still, the one working bulb flickering against the walls and casting shadows along the floor. He ignored them, pulling out his key with shaking hands before unlocking the door and slipping inside.
He took his time putting away groceries and eventually found himself sitting with his legs crossed on the floor. He'd been home almost an hour when they finally arrived with his mattress. He had them place it in the center of the floor, ignoring their looks as they took in the still barren apartment. He didn't care, it was all he needed and, besides, this way he could leave without having to worry about moving stuff. He wondered what had happened to his things in his old apartment.
There was something slightly disturbing about sleeping on someone else's used bed, but eventually he found a comfortable position. For a moment, he merely lied there, staring at the blank ceiling and willing the room to stop spinning. It didn't, but blackness soon replaced the swirling grey, so it didn't matter.
Sullen faces stared at him, blinking as they took in the barcode tattoo on his neck. He wondered how long it would take before one of them decided to turn him in for a reward. They wouldn't be able to so long as they were here, riding across open countryside and away from sweeper patrols and phones. Still, he kept his distance, swaying with the rocking of the boxcar and absently fingering his knife. It kept them away.
Several times they'd crossed through populated areas, and each time he'd hid with the others, staying out of sight and hoping no one would wonder why one car was open. He hadn't asked what they others were running from, if they were running, but he didn't really want to know, so it didn't matter.
He knew the train was heading east and that was good enough for him, so he leaned back against the far wall, resting without closing his eyes. He still didn't trust his traveling companions, even though they had saved his life.
He opened his eyes to darkness, staring out the window at the still falling snow and watching the light from the streetlamp flicker against the soft white sky. Hunger gnawed at his stomach but the newly bought food in his cupboard seemed unappealing. Besides, he itched to be outside, away from his walls and the confines of his apartment.
He took his time getting dressed, putting on the only reasonably clean clothes he had left and making a mental note to do laundry. Either that or replace his entire wardrobe and he had a feeling laundry would be cheaper. He pushed the thought aside as he headed out into the hall, bolting his door behind him.
The streets were still crowded, despite the late hour. People moved between the buildings, the scent of food heavy in the air. Moisture rushed into his mouth, reminding him he was hungry and he went in search of dinner. He found a small noodle place around the corner, the store's sign swinging against the wind.
It was relatively crowded but he managed to find an empty seat against the counter. Sounds of life echoed around the room and he ate in silence, listening to the chaotic noise and wondering when he stopped wanting to interact with people. It wasn't entirely true, he did crave companionship, but something always stopped him and he knew exactly who that reason was.
It didn't stop him from staring wistfully at the families and couples at the surrounding tables.
Driving was far faster than walking, warmer too, even with the wind streaming through the broken window. He'd hung one of his shirts against it, blocking some of the cold but it seeped in nonetheless. He'd lost track of where they were and it wasn't until Indianapolis appeared on the horizon that he finally relaxed.
Martin slept beside him, dozing in and out of consciousness and Danny was fairly certain his cold was getting worse. He stopped occasionally to adjust the pile of coats resting on top of Martin's sleeping form, but aside from that, they kept driving.
He knew finding a hospital was out of the question, but he couldn't risk leaving Martin untreated so he pulled to a stop by a pay phone, getting out and flipping through the pages of the phone book until he found the listing for local doctors. He was about to start calling when lights flashed in the distance. He tore out the page, pocketing the numbers before heading back to the car.
"What's going on?" Martin asked, blinking against the light of the city and struggling to sit up.
"I'm trying to find you a doctor, but we have company," Danny explained, pointing to several black trucks rumbling toward them.
"I'm fine, just get us out of here," Martin replied, his cough giving away the lie but Danny knew he was right.
He sped off into the night, headlights visible in the rearview mirror and he knew they were being chased.
The street was no less hectic than the restaurant and he was forced to fight his way through the crowds. He still didn't want to go home, the thought of sitting alone leaving him with an ache he hadn't felt in months. Instead he found himself seeking out unmarked doors and potential clubs. There had to be one, they were everywhere. Eventually he managed to follow several young men to a back alley and he watched as they disappeared inside the building. He waited a moment before following behind, rapping knuckles against cold steel and waiting for the door to open.
Inside was warm, the music loud and he found himself seeking out familiar blonde hair. He knew finding Sam here would be unlikely, and even if he did she probably wouldn't want anything to do with him, but she was a familiar face and Danny missed having friends.
He missed a lot of things about his old life, but mostly he just missed Martin. They'd only spent the one night together, just the one time and it was enough that Danny still craved it. He'd spent longer than he could remember wanting Martin and to finally have it and then lose it left him feeling numb and hollow. But Martin would show, and if he told himself that enough times, eventually he might believe it.
He found a seat near the back of the club, the corner dark and deserted. He ordered two drinks, not wanting to make the trek back through the dance floor to the bar. He still wasn't certain what he was doing here, only that it was better than sitting at home so he sank into his seat and watched the patrons interact with one another. In a roundabout way, it made him feel slightly connected.
He managed to lose their escort on the back roads, dust trailing behind them as they sped down gravel roads. Beside him Martin stared out the front windshield, trying his best to appear fine, but Danny knew it was an act. He didn't say anything, letting Martin think he was succeeding. When they reached the far side of Lafayette, the car sputtered and died.
"Fuck," Danny muttered, tapping the gas gauge and wondering how far outside of Colombia they were. "Is there a map in the glove compartment?" he asked, glancing over at Martin and wondering if they were even capable of walking.
"No," Martin replied, closing the compartment and already struggling to get back into his coat.
He handed Danny one, ignoring Danny's protests and climbing out of the car. Danny followed behind, jogging away from the car and hoping they wouldn't be forced to walk too far. Martin's steps were still laboured, but he marched on, unconcerned with the cold or even the cough that caused him to stop and double over every few feet.
He wasn't even aware that the music had vanished until bright lights filled the room. Empty glasses lined the table in front of him and he couldn't recall how many he'd had. One had bled into two, two into six and in the end he'd lost count.
He stood on shaking legs, willing himself forward as he moved towards the doors. By the time he made it outside, his legs were trembling and his head swum in a sea of haze. He fought to walk, his legs working independent of his brain and several times he was forced to stop and lean against a building or car.
He earned several glares and he found himself laughing at the absurdity of it all --his life, his existence, this place. Everyone around him simply went about their day, not caring what was going on around them. His laughter ended in a fit of coughing and he sank to his knees, the snow seeping through his pants and leaving him cold and wet.
He didn't know how long he stayed there, staring at the dirt stained snow before finally finding the strength to stand and continue down the street. The crowds were gone, the place silent and he shook his head to clear the fog that had settled beneath his eyes.
"Come on, we have to keep moving," Danny ordered, shaking Martin awake and pulling him deeper into the city.
The sun was just cresting the horizon, lighting the streets and making him feel completely exposed. They moved between buildings, hiding in alleys and Danny flinched at every sound. They'd run into more patrols, several checkpoints but so far they'd been lucky enough to avoid being seen.
He glanced at the name of the clinic on the paper in his hand. The address seemed foreign and without directions, he knew finding it would be all but impossible. But asking directions risked exposure and he wasn't certain it was worth the risk. Martin's sudden cough reminded him that it was and he left Martin leaning against a building to head out onto the street and find help.
He returned moments later with a general direction, finding Martin shivering and crouched against a wall. He didn't bother saying anything, merely slipping his hands under Martin's arms and lifting him to his feet. It made walking awkward and slow, but there was no way he was going to leave Martin behind, not when they were so close.
The air inside his building was hot and dry, threatening to suffocate him as he stumbled towards his apartment door. Stained carpet blurred beneath his feet, the one working bulb having died sometime during his absence and the darkness made the floor seem almost liquid. He couldn't convince himself it was just the aftereffects of drinking.
His apartment was still dark, outside light trickling in and landing on the floor. The world seemed to shake, vibrating on some unknown frequency and he didn't bother removing his boots before collapsing onto the futon. Even then the room continued to spin, colours swirling beneath his eyelids and he clutched the edges of the mattress to keep from tumbling to the floor.
He considered leaving the city, forgetting about Martin and moving on with his life. He was tired of waiting, tired of panic and fear. It wasn't the first time he'd thought about it, but every time he did, something stopped him; a dozen excuses each as valid as the last and he knew he'd never leave.
He expected to be relieved, to feel a sense of welcome, but this New York was nothing like the one he'd left behind. He barely recognized the surrounding buildings and several times he was forced to avoid sweeper patrols. The air was cold, giving him an excuse to keep his scarf drawn high around his neck. The last thing he needed was someone recognizing the marking.
His leg throbbed where he'd cut it in the fall off the train. He knew it was most likely infected, but he didn't have time to seek out medical attention so he ignored it, bandaging it as best he could and hoping the wound would heal on its own. People filled the streets almost to capacity and he wondered where they'd all come from, how many of them could be trusted. He fought against the tide, heading deeper into Manhattan and praying he wasn't too late.
Bile rose in the back of his throat at the sight of what was once Federal Plaza. He forced himself forward, locking his knees to keep his legs from buckling.
Danny woke to a mouthful of bile and struggled to stand. He crossed into the kitchen, pausing by the sink to spit. His head spun and his stomach twisted with nausea. Images from the dream danced across his vision, merging with stars and he leaned against the counter until the wave of dizziness passed.
For a moment, he stared into the water stained sink, trying to regulate his breathing and keep from passing out. It worked, and eventually he was able to move across the room. He pulled on the last of his reasonably clean clothes before pocking his key and identity card and heading toward his door.
The air outside was cold, the sky clear and he found himself transfixed by the vibrant shade of blue. He set out on foot, the thought of taking the subway or hailing a cab never once crossing his mind. He stopped on the outskirts of China Town, buying coffee and a stale, day-old muffin. It wasn't much, but it absorbed the sourness of his stomach and kept him from wanting to vomit on the sidewalk.
Pavement blurred beneath his feet, a stream of never-ending grey that made him dizzy to stare at too long. He averted his eyes, concentrating on the horizon instead, watching as the scenery changed, the stark cleanliness of the Financial District replacing worn buildings and litter infested streets.
Lights flashed outside the empty clinic and Danny willed the doctor to hurry. When he'd called, the man had agreed to meet them at the clinic, saying he was just around the corner and Danny was starting to think he wasn't coming. Either that or he'd come and gone, thinking they weren't going to show. It had taken them a while to find the place, but now that they had, he almost wished they hadn't.
A line of sweepers sat camped across the street, watching the clinic and Danny had a feeling they knew they were inside. He shifted next to Martin, glancing at the back door and wondering if they could slip out unnoticed. They weren't given a chance; the sound of glass shattering echoing through the room and Danny tried to pull Martin up from his place on the floor. Martin resisted, sadness filling his eyes and Danny's breath caught in the back of his throat at the sight.
"I can't go with you," Martin stated, his words calm like he knew this moment was coming.
"What?" Danny asked, hazarding a glance around the counter at the approaching group. "Yes you can, come on!"
"We're not going to make it," Martin continued, shivering against a worsening fever and forcing Danny to meet his gaze. "You still have a chance."
"Martin, I’m not leaving you," Danny whispered, his words coming out far fiercer than he’d intended. As if to emphasize his point, he clasped Martin’s hand, lacing their fingers together and squeezing firmly.
"Yes, you are. Just go. I’ll catch up with you in New York. Go," Martin ordered, and Danny knew he was right, knew this was the only way but he couldn’t stop himself from shaking his head.
Martin shot him a look of reproach, silent pleading filling his eyes until Danny was forced to look away, resolve sinking into his heart, threatening to shatter it into a million pieces but he knew he’d agree.
"Where?" he managed, hating himself for caving to Martin’s logic.
"Federal Plaza, now run."
And he ran.
He scanned the area around the Plaza, releasing a breath at not finding any sweeper patrols. He told himself he was being ridiculous and he forced himself forward, beyond the small gates and into the clearing. The hour was early, the crowd relatively small and Danny scanned them each in turn.
His breath caught in his throat and he froze, his body shaking uncontrollably. Emotions flickered across his awareness, nearly crippling him at the first sight of Martin. He'd been waiting, anticipating and hoping for this moment for longer than he could remember, but now that it was here, he wasn't certain what to do.
It took all his remaining energy to force himself forward, his head throbbing and legs trembling. He was mere feet away when Martin finally turned, blinking blankly at Danny's form until recognition flashed in his eyes and Danny nearly sobbed with relief.
He crossed the small distance between them, taking in Martin's haggard appearance. His scratch of beard and wind chapped skin. The tightness in his eyes that made him seem years older. Danny paused at the small barcode tattoo on his neck, frowning before glancing back up to meet Martin's gaze.
"What took you so long?" Martin asked, his tone exhausted and worn and Danny had to ball his hands into fists to keep from touching.
"Sorry…I…" Danny began, suddenly lost for words and Martin glanced down at the ground between them.
The sudden silence was heavy, thick and awkward and Danny shifted before glancing over his shoulder. "We should get out of here," he said, waiting for Martin's nod before leading them back out of the park.
For a moment, he could almost imagine nothing had changed, no time had passed and they'd reached New York together. But there were still so many questions, so many things he wanted, needed to know. He'd envisioned this moment thousands of times, but none of them could prepare him for walking at Martin's side. None of them could prepare him for the eerie sense of loss finding Martin would bring.
A line of sweat ran down his back, sticking the fabric of his shirt to his skin and Danny paused to wipe his brow. Beside him Martin stared out across the desert, his back pressed against the wall of the small home they'd claimed. It wasn't much, but it worked.
Someone had once told him that he could never go back. He hadn't fully understood the phrase until now. Everything was forever altered, not just in terms of the politics or location. Martin never once spoke of those three years, avoiding Danny's questions like he hadn't heard them. He hadn't asked questions either, not even when Danny started stock piling the cupboards with bottles of Mexican Tequila. It was cheaper south of the border than rye.
In the end, he wasn't certain survival was worth the price. Even freedom tasted sour, coating his tongue in falseness and he wondered why he bothered. Only the brief moments after dark gave him a reason to go on. Because Martin still tasted like Martin, and he still shuddered beneath Danny's touch. Even when Danny mapped old and new scars with his tongue. Even when Danny's touch lingered on a tattoo Martin refused to acknowledge.