When All Hope Was LostStarted by Brendon Dean at May 30, 2020 8:10 pm
There were holes in Brendon's shoes, and his socks were soaked through, but he kept walking. The friction was undoubtedly causing blisters, but he'd been through worse. What was a few blisters, anyway? It just showed he'd travelled a lot, that was all. And that was something to brag about. Still, it was a little annoying, that soft squelching sound every time he took a step. Why were things so fucking wet there anyway?
He wasn't really aiming to find anything, maybe someplace dry to spend the night - hah! dry! yeah right! - and maybe something to eat that he hadn't pulled out of a tin. Some variation of stewed meat fourteen days in a row was getting a little boring. What he wouldn't give for a fresh piece of...well, whatever vegetable he could find in a miserable place like that. Where the hell was he, anyway? His map had disintegrated days ago, and he'd never been much of a reader. He knew numbers, so he'd been following the interstates and stuff, but place names? Nah.
When he reached the bridge he stopped and gave it a good stomp with his holey boot. When it didn't immediately give way, he stepped onto it. It creaked and it groaned, but it seemed otherwise sturdy. In need of a goddamn repair, but not like it was about to just fall out beneath him. He took another step, then another, tentatively testing the beams of wood before he shifted his weight forwards. Every few steps he would lift his head and look around, being sure to hold his gun in full view of whoever might be out there. He hadn't seen anybody for a couple days, which wasn't surprising. He'd spent weeks at a time not seeing another living human. Avarus? Forget about it. Loads of them. But other humans? The closest he'd gotten was stumbling across some poor old fucker who'd popped his clogs shortly after Brendon had arrived. At least he hadn't died alone, he supposed. That was where he'd gotten all the tinned meat from. He was grateful, but wished he'd had some bloody peaches or something.
Neither the battered notebook or the stub of pencil clutched in his fingers were anything special, but that didn't seem to stop Ryan as he sketched out quick lines across the page. In fact, they were some of his most prized possessions these days. Save for Bryce and Bronwyn, art was all he really had any more, and it was a compulsion like no other to get the images translated from his head onto the paper. It was just as important to him as breathing, and perhaps even more so. Not only did putting pencil, paint, charcoal, or really anything else he could get his hands on to paper help pay his way through Bronwyn's little stand in the Marketplace, but the act kept him sane. It quieted the constant worry and panic bubbling just below the surface, and seemed to dull the world down to a tolerable level.
Today's subject was one that he couldn't even fully describe with words. It was a creature born from the ever-present nightmares, made of eyes and gnashing teeth, mounds of flesh in an unknowable form. He knew full well where the nightmares cam from, but that level of guilt and those demons weren't something he was anywhere near ready to face yet. In fact, he might not ever be ready for them. Instead, he focused on working the image from his brain to his fingers, frowning softly as he kept his nose mere inches from the page, body hunched forward with the notepad propped up against his legs. Lines and shapes came easy to him, and perhaps they might slay the creature pressing itself against his eyelids every time he did so much as blink. Perhaps he could trap it on the page by the sheer magic of graphite and willpower alone.
He worked like a man possessed until Shiloh, the shaggy husky sprawled out in the grass beside him to nap, snapped her head up. "Its just people, Shi," he mumbled softly, pausing to give her a rub between the ears. When she didn't seem to listen and settle back down, he turned his own attention to the commotion down the trail leading out into the wastes. Raiders. A lot of them, and they had their guns drawn. Curiosity got the better of him after a few seconds of watching, and he got to his feet, commanding Shiloh to stay close as he skulked his way along the edge of the treeline to get close enough to hear what was going on.
Brendon had barely gotten halfway across the bridge when he heard the familiar - yet unfamiliar - sound of footsteps. Lots of them. At least ten. He instantly stopped, dropped his bag, and raised his gun. There were no live rounds in his gun, but whoever was coming at him didn't need to know that. The only bullets he had he was saving for something special, and even though there were only four, he knew shotguns were pretty powerful after having used one for the better part of two years.
He was right; a group had appeared on the other side of the bridge, all with their own guns raised. There were a few moments of confused talking, in which everyone spoke over each other, demanding Brendon lower his weapon. He refused, of course, telling them to go to hell or fuck their mothers. It wasn't getting them anywhere, but Brendon was not going to back down first. So, instead, the one who was using the brain cell at that moment in time asked Brendon where he was from, where he was going, what he was doing there. Brendon told them to go fuck themselves. He didn't owe shit to anybody, much less telling some trigger happy rando where he was going.
"Look, mate. I'm not lowering my fucking gun, so either you shoot me, or you get the fuck out of my way. I've got no issue with either. To be quite fucking honest with you, death would be a rather nice relief after the shit I've seen. So, again, shoot me, or move. The choice is fucking yours." Brendon kept his aim right in the middle of the leader's chest. If people started shooting, he had no real choices; he wouldn't be able to run back the way he'd already come. The line of sight was too clear and he wouldn't even be able to turn before he had several rounds in him. Jumping into the river? He couldn't swim. Fucked.
From his vantage point in the trees, Ryan could just barely make out the man on what was left of the bridge screaming insults and profanities at the Raiders demanding that he drop the gun. As tense as the situation was, this was the closest to any action he'd seen in a long while, and was more than content to just observe. He did slip a little further into the trees, creeping forward as an almost childlike curiosity overtook him, wanting to get closer to the chaos unfolding.
This fucker was crazy, calling on what had to be at least 8, maybe 10, Raiders with guns on him and itchy trigger fingers what with being this close to home and all. Still, he inched closer, doing his best to stay out of the way so he didn't get caught in the crossfire. Then, bit by bit, the voice - and face when it came into view - grew more and more familiar. It was deeper than he remembered, of course, but the way the man spoke had been forever burned into his mind by those incessant nightmares. Memories of Los Angeles flashed before his eyes, and before he could fully process what he was doing, he took off like a shot towards the chaos, screaming.
"Wait! Wait! Waitwaitwait! DON'T FUCKING SHOOT! I KNOW HIM!" His voice was shrill and panicked as he skidded to a stop between the Raiders and bridge, hands raised, and Shiloh not far behind. The demand to explain from one of the men prompted him into speaking again, words shaky now that he was staring down the barrel of more than a few rifles. "Look! I know this guy, okay?! We grew up together! He's... Just... Everyone put the fucking guns down, and lemmie handle this one, okay?! Please! Just... Fuck! For the love of god! Drop the goddamn guns!" Tears welled up in his eyes as ten years of emotions hit all at once, regret and panic and relief and something far more indescribable all rushed together, crashing into one another.
He turned his back to the Raiders, suddenly uncaring about potentially taking a round or three, and told Shiloh to stay as he moved closer to the bridge. His legs trembled as he took one and then two tentative steps out onto the old rotting wood, and then decided that was far enough. "D-don't... Don't make me fucking come out there and get you!" he called out, tears cutting tracks down the ever-present grit on his face. "So help me god, Brendon! If I fucking fall and drown, I'll fucking shoot you myself!" No, that didn't make one lick of sense, but it didn't seem to matter. Just saying that name, the one he'd barely been able to even think for so many years without feeling sick to his stomach... It felt good. Seeing that familiar face, no matter how much it had aged and hardened, was even better. It was honestly hard to believe, it felt that good. Just... There were no words for it...
Just when Brendon was about to pull the trigger - though what he was expecting to happen he didn't know; maybe by some grace of God there would be a magical bullet in there - a voice rang out, higher than the others. He figure ran out from the treeline, a dog following at it's heels. The raiders looked just as confused as Brendon did, though he had a feeling they all knew each other. He doubted there would be more than one community in such a place. Still, he kept his guard up, keeping his shotgun raised. It could be a trick, or a thing they did with newcomers to lure them into a false sense of security. Catching them when their guard was down and filling them with hope. Well, he wasn't buying it.
"I don't fucking know you, man. Don't you come running out here saying you kno-..." As the figure turned, the words caught in Brendon's throat. It helped that the guy knew his name, working to lower Brendon's guard, and his shotgun. A whole heap of different emotions rose up inside him; relief, shock, confusion, anger, happiness, love. Everything all at once, and he didn't quite know how to react. "R-...Ryan?" Despite himself, tears filled his eyes and he all but dropped his shotgun at his feet. "Is that...really you?" He started forwards, hardly daring to believe what he was seeing.
He reached out when he was close enough, gripped a handful of Ryan's shirt. Tears ran down his cheeks and he gently touched Ryan's face with his fingertips. "Ryan..." After a few more moments, he just pulled the other against him, clutching him as tightly as he could, as though Ryan was an anchor and they were in the middle of a violent storm.
If Ryan hadn't been so frantic about the situation, the initial rebuke would've cut deep. Down to the bone. Instead, he didn't even seem to hear the words, just praying for that spark of recognition to light up in Brendon's eyes. Then, it came, and the tears flowed freely. The sound of his name carried on that all-too-familiar voice just made it worse, a choked sob bubbling its way to the surface as he gave a pitiful nod. Words completely failed him in that moment, as they often did, but this time it didn't feel like a betrayal of his own mind. He didn't need to speak... There was nothing that words could even begin to touch in a moment like this except "I missed you..." And that didn't even begin to cover it, the words coming out pitifully.
The second those arms wrapped around him, he collapsed into them, his own moving up to cling to Brendon's shoulders like the man might slip away into nothingness. He stayed like that, gripping tight at the man's shirt until his hands went numb and the tears finally dried up. "C'mon. Let's get you into town..." he mumbled softly, gently pulling free, his hands slipping down to catch Brendon's as he turned to lead them up the trail and into Bosler. "Don't worry about these guys. They won't bother you." The look in his eyes as he spoke, eyeing the Raiders down, absolutely screamed murder. All he got in response was a whole lot of funny looks, some mixed with concern, as they parted to let him through.
"Y-you must be starving. We'll get you something to eat, and then clean you up a bit. There's not really hot water unless we boil it, but the food's warm at least, and I'm sure we can get some tea or coffee or something. I've got a spare shirt and some pants that should fit too, and we can wash your stuff down at the water. Hang it up over the fire, and it should dry pretty quick." He knew he was rambling, but couldn't help it as he led Brendon through the Barracks and out the back to where he'd set up a small tent for himself. "Just... sit and relax for a minute. I'll get us some food." He handed the man a beat up metal water bottle, and disappeared into the tent for a moment.
Brendon couldn't believe it. All the years he'd spent wandering alone, all the years he'd berated himself for not trying to fight through and liberate Ryan, all the years he'd scolded himself for holding out hope...and there he was. "I...you...oh, Ryan..." He couldn't remember the last time he'd cried. He couldn't even remember the last time he'd felt something other than overwhelming anger or numbness. And this? Nothing could have prepared him for meeting Ryan again. Seeing him alive, thriving. He would happily have stayed there forever, taking in the heat from the other, taking in the love. Nothing else mattered anymore. Not his family, not his home, nothing. All that mattered was Ryan, and staying as close to him as physically possible.
When he felt the other pulling away, for a fleeting moment, he was sure he was in a dream. That he was about to wake up back in that old geezer's pathetic little shelter, covered in flea bites or something else just as unpleasant. But it didn't happen, and Ryan's hand slipped into his. He hastily grabbed his bag and gun, almost dropping it all into the river. He didn't have much, but he didn't want to lose his clothes.
"I...I am pretty hungry..." For anything but meat, he felt like adding, but he was in too much shock to care. He'd eat well seasoned shit if it meant just looking at Ryan for a little while longer. He didn't say anything else, though, and focused on Ryan's voice. He sounded so different than he had done, but still like his old self. He dropped his things next to him as he sat. "Okay..." He watched as Ryan disappeared into the tent, then looked around himself. He blinked in surprise, having totally missed the fact they were in an actual camp. More like a small town, really, and there were people milling about. A whole group of people!
The sounds of things being shuffled and moved around carried easily through the thin nylon wall of the tent, as did Ryan's soft cursing and mumbling to himself. He knew there was a tiny bit of coffee left over somewhere, just instant and really only enough for a few cups, but he wanted it, damn it! Soon enough, a soft cry of victory escaped, and he backed out with a small jar that had once held jam clutched in one hand, and a far larger jug of water in the other. "Here. If you wanna heat up some water for us," he pointed at a small makeshift campfire not 5 feet from the tent with a little pot already hanging above it. "I'll go over and grab some food from Bronwyn's place. Usually eat over there with her anyway, so I'm sure she won't mind if I snag a few things." Pretty much all of the Hunters kept small stashes of food for themselves and their families anyway.
"Be right back." As much as he didn't want to leave Brendon's side, fearing that he might somehow just slip away again, he also needed a moment to just silently freak out to himself. None of this felt real in the slightest, like he was going to snap awake any second because Shiloh wanted out of the tent for some reason, and he'd be all alone again. Well, not completely alone. He knew he had Bryce and Bronwyn, and even Vince if he was really desperate for company, but none of them were Brendon. This was... It was just different, and it hit him with all of the ferocity of that schoolboy crush he still had he'd once had all over again. Brendon was his anchor to a simpler time, when there was less to fear and worry about, and he suddenly needed that all over again.
Moments after he left, he came back around the corner, this time with an armload of potato, a small packet of leftover venison bits, some onion, flour, and a few other things. "I, uhm... You still like potatoes, right?" he asked awkwardly, setting everything down on an old piece of weathered plywood that functioned as a sort of 'kitchen counter' next to the fire. "If not, I can leave it out, but we've got a stupid amount of potatoes left, and they're gonna go bad soon so might as well..." He tried to ignore how awkward it felt, asking such an old friend if he liked certain foods, but tried not to think about that as he set to work on making something akin to rolls with bits of meat and vegetables baked into the middle; a simple meal, but a filling one.
Of all the things he'd expected to find that day, a full camp, and Ryan, weren't anywhere near the top of his list. In fact, they were on an entirely separate list he hadn't looked at for years. He didn't know if he still had the damn thing. It just went to show that even when the world to shit, it could still surprise you. He let out a light chuckle as he listened to Ryan in his tent, and he let out an actual laugh when he cried out. His laugh sounded rough, like he hadn't used it for a while (which he hadn't). "Oh, err...yeah..." Brendon took the jug and poured the water into the pot. He then stared down into the jug, amazed at just how clean the water was.
"Huh, okay." And then Ryan was gone, leaving him sitting there looking like an idiot holding a jug of water. He was kept occupied when he realised the jar had coffee inside it. He let out a strangled cry of glee as he took the lid off and inhaled the glorious scent of coffee beans. When was the last time he'd had coffee? Of any kind? Maybe in one of those ration packs he'd found at that military outpost? Had to have been. He'd eaten well for a week or two while camping out there. To think, if he'd stayed there like he planned to, he wouldn't have met Ryan again. Must've been fate.
He smiled up at Ryan when he returned, making a movement like he was about to stand up. "I...you have potatoes?!" He practically snatched it out of the bundle and marvelled at the tuber like it was gold. "I haven't had proper potatoes for years, man! Hell yeah I like potatoes!" He stood up properly and rolled up the sleeves of his shirt. "Can I help?" His hands were callused and weathered, with a fair few scars on them. "Man, wow...I can't believe this..." He let out a laugh, looking at Ryan again in the same way he'd looked at the potato. "I can't believe it's you."
When the potato got snatched up, Ryan couldn't help but to look at Brendon like he'd suddenly sprouted a few extra limbs, but the expression quickly shifted to a soft smile of amusement as he marveled over it. "There's so many potatoes people are using 'em as bait, so you can have as many potatoes as you want. Just share the skins with Shiloh. She loves 'em," he chuckled, half expecting the guy to just take a bite out of the thing like it was an apple.
The offer for help tripped him up for a moment, yet again giving Brendon that extra limbs look. Clearly, he wasn't used to having someone else around when he cooked. "Oh! Uhm, sure. Wanna chop up the potatoes? Doesn't have to be anything fancy. Just like... cut 'em into bits." He handed over a small pocket knife and the potatoes, frowning a little at the sight of his hands. They hit like a punch to the gut and reminded him how guilty he felt about leaving Brendon behind when he'd finally made his escape. The rational part of his brain knew that wasn't an option, but he still felt like he'd abandoned the man when he took off. He swallowed it down at the sound of that laugh though, smiling softly up at him. "I can say the same about you, y'know... Thought you were dead, or carted off somewhere."
He hesitated then, like he wanted to do or say something but was unsure. His head was a mess, thoughts running a million miles a second as waves of emotion crashed against each other. In any other situation, he would've already lost it, launching into a full-on meltdown. This time around, though? He was perfectly okay with it, and wouldn't change it for the world... Trying not to think about it, he stretched up on his toes and planted a quick peck on the man's cheek. It wasn't quite what he wanted to do, but he wasn't sure how Brendon would respond to something like that anyway. Instead of dwelling on the 'does he/doesn't he?' of things, he turned quickly back to the fire. "C'mon. Quicker we get cooking, the quicker you get to eat those potatoes," he mumbled, a sudden wave of shyness chasing out everything else he'd been feeling up until that moment. No taking it back now, anyway...