(After the Fall)
"Get up," she snarled, jerking at his arms, trying to grasp his shoulders, to haul him to his feet and get up. "You worthless, goddamn, show-spoiling, bastard. Get off your damn ass!" Her pitch was rising, breaking. Her breathing sounded hollow in her ears. Fear washed through her, and her anger tangled with it. She thought she might combust, showering the world with her fury. And terror. "Alec, you son of a bitch."
His body dropped away, slumping to the side. He didn't make a sound. Didn't move. She screamed wordlessly, barely able to stop herself from landing a kick in his side.
He didn't reply. The lump in her throat only added to her anger - she would not cry. Dropping to her knees, she shoved him onto his back and hauled his head and shoulders into her lap. He had to wake up. She could hear them, beating in doors the floor below and dragging her classmates out of their beds, away from their lives. Gun shots rang like a symphony, echoing in her head. He had to wake up now.
"Hey," she snapped, but her voice came out weaker than she intended. Breathless and scared. She slapped his cheeks, lightly at first, and then harder. His eyes didn't show, though his chest rose and fell evenly and she could feel breath on her fingers as she gripped his face and shook. "Wake up, Alec. C'mon." Footsteps thundering up stairs nearly crippled her. She glanced at their packs sitting against the wall, at the window rigged with climbing gear. A feeling worse than fear was digging into her lungs - incapacitating, it strangled her and made her whole body shake. Vulnerability. She swore and shoved his shoulders. Hard.
"Bastard!" She shouted at him, simultaneously pulling him up so he leaned against her chest, his head lolling against her shoulder. She shuffled until her feet were underneath her and, bracing, pushed as hard as she could upright. They stood wobbling for a long moment, and she had the sinking feeling that they could topple over at any moment. His entire weight pressed against her. She wanted to cry.
A gun shot from down the hall nearly made her scream, but she barely had the breath for it. She sucked in short, sharp breaths as she pushed pushed him against the wall beside the window.
"I hate you," she seethed. "I hate your fucking guts. You fucking moron." Her hand scrabbled at the wall where the harness hung. "Goddamn bastard. Fucking-" The door rattled. A sob tore free. Her cheeks felt wet. She could barely breathe. Yanking the harness around his waist, she fumbled with the buckles until she'd secured it around his thighs and pulled it tight. When the door did not burst open to a sight of angry militia men pointing guns, she darted over to their packs and buckled them together to haul them back to the window.
She clipped into her own harness.
Another gun shot. A girl screamed. Something thumped against the floor outside, heavy and solid. She choked back her own frightened howls, trying to focus her emotions into anger, trying to keep her thoughts focused on Alec and their getaway plan. The only way she could muster the strength to do this was to stay furious.
She pulled their packs onto her shoulders, fastened the buckles and straps. The conjoined weight threatened to drag her spine backward.
The door to a neighbor's dorm flew inward, smashing against the other side of the wall.
"No! No, please! I can-" The girl didn't finish. A shot sliced through her plea. She heard the sound of the girl's - Natasha, she remembered - body hit the floor. Her room next.
It was like her fingers refused to work as she struggled to clip Alec to herself. The weight of the packs was already too much; she didn't know how she was going to keep her balance abseiling with Alec's weight, too. But she couldn't stop to think. Fear charged her limbs, and they trembled from the overabundance of adrenalin.
"Fuckfuckfuck," she breathed, but she finally managed to do it, hooking the carabiners together and twisting once. Shoving the window open, she staggered under the boy, trying to angle him out. She ended up shoving him bodily through, his weight dragging her up against the frame. It felt as though the weight had ripped her lungs open, making it near impossible to drag one leg and then the other out. The edges of the window left scrapes down the length of her legs, and she knew there would be bruises to prove her ordeal. Balancing on the window sill, braced hard between the frame, she spared the room and the door one last glance before positioning the rope carefully against herself, pulling the curtains closed, and pushing off the edge.
For one terrifying moment, she thought she was going to lose her grip and fall. After everything, all the planning and practicing, she was going to send them both to their deaths. Abseiling out a goddamn dorm window.
I hate you, she chanted silently, too breathless and scared to speak aloud. He dangled silently against her, swaying her along with him. She shoved her feet against the wall, and started climbing. It was faster than they'd practiced. Harder, too. She cursed the entire way down. There was a victorious sort of chagrin dripping through her when the windows didn't part and no head poked out above her. No one shot them down. No one cut their rope. When her feet touched the pavement, she could have wept.
She left the harnesses in a heap against the wall, tucking the carabiners into the side pocket of her hiking pack. Alec remained silent at her feet.
"Fuck you," she snarled, her thoughts snapping back to heart-freezing dread. "Come on Alec," she said, crouching over him. They were hidden behind the tall hedges against the wall. The back of the school was unkempt with bushes and trees overgrowing the sidewalks, but she couldn't have been more grateful for the school's lack of orderliness in that moment. Alec's eyes flickered. A groan wheezed out of her, and she clutched his jaw. "Come on, you bastard, wake up." The insult was half-hearted. He made a choked, pitiful noise in the back of his throat. "Alec," she said, trying to sound angry. To her own ears, she heard only desperation. Panic. Her muscles were still shaking from their descent.
There were no militia here, storming through the gardens at the back of the school, but she figured it was only a matter of time before they cleared out the school and went looking for students hiding out in the scrub. She, after all, was missing from her room. Unaccounted for. They'd be looking for all missing students by daybreak. Her eyes flickered up to the forestry behind the school. She and Alec were not the only ones who were hiding out.
The sound of automatic weapons being fired echoed through the grounds, but they were fainter than they'd been up in the dorm room. Not by much, but by enough. She felt, for a brief moment, that they had enough of a chance.
"Come on," she whispered, grinding her fingers into his cheeks. His body convulsed, but he did nothing else. "Alec," she breathed. Panic, unadulterated this time, reared its ugly head. She couldn't do it by herself. Alec was the better navigator. He had half their supplies in his pack.
And she lacked the ability to leave him.
Her vision splintered, and her chest constricted. She nearly screamed with frustration as the tears pooled against her eyelids.
He groaned, his lips forming incoherent babble.
"Oh fuck," she gasped, gripping at his shoulders, shuffling around to hold his upper half on her legs. "Come on, Alec. Come on." Her voice had changed, trying to sooth him, to coax him out of whatever unconscious state he was in. "Alec." More of a mewl. In her head, she called herself pathetic. But she could barely breathe for the anxiety and fear, much less contend her complete lack of vocal strength.
His eyelids flickered to show his eyes.
"Oh gods," she whispered. The relief flooded her, stretching all the way to her toes. It should have made her feel weightless, perhaps far stronger, like she could run out into the scrub with both packs and a groggy boy and not stumble. Instead, it made her muscles turn to jelly. She became a trembling, gasping mess as she clutched at him, crumpling over his still body, her shoulders shuddering as she cried. He mumbled her name, a question on his lips, like he had no idea what was going on or where they were. Like he barely knew who she was.
"It's okay," she lied, sucking in a sharp breath and gritting her teeth against more tears. Her chest hiccuped with suppressed sobs. "It's okay, we just gotta get up. Come on. It's happened. Alec. Alec-" He had shut his eyes again. She shook him violently. "Stay awake, come on. Wake up." When she could see his eyes again, she leapt to action, scrambling out from under him and jerking him into a sitting position against the wall. The ropes swung conspicuously against the wall.
"Heidi," he mumbled again, and his hand touched her thigh. She brushed it off, trying to detach his pack from hers so they could start moving again. His hand came up again, and she shoved it off. "Heidi," he grumbled, and she spun at him.
He pointed weakly at the ropes.
"Button," he mumbled, squeezing his eyes open and shut as if it would help him wake up. She felt relief surge again at having him awake, even this drugged-up kind of awake. Reaching into his pocket, she felt for the little remote that dropped the ropes from their buckle. She'd just released them when they swarmed out from both sides of the dormitory building, guns raised and bodies thoroughly padded in black gear. She nearly screamed. Alec's nostrils flared, unable to see them but perfectly able to hear their pounding footsteps. They weren't bothering with subtlety anymore. She couldn't begin to think about the dead bodies back in the dorms. Students.
They'd been students.
She dropped to the ground, shoving Alec onto his side and crouching over him. Their packs lay beside them, but she thanked her school once more for keeping the plants overgrown here, providing a layer of coverage. She could see their feet storming out from around the school, converging on the trees and disappearing, hear the roar of them pounding into the ground. Anyone hiding in there didn't have a chance. The militia spread out against the backdrop of trees, but none of them turned to scout against the walls. None of them saw the two crouched behind the bushes.
Heidi felt bile rise in the back of her throat, and groped silently for Alec's hand. He held on firmly, fingers still weaker than they should have been.
"Stay," he whispered into her ear. Her brow scrunched in confusion, and she turned to look at him. His face was pale, his eyes still more clouded than she liked, but he was looking at her urgently. "Stay," he repeated, and she caught on. If they stayed here, hiding out in the open, they probably wouldn't be found. And Alec - she surveyed him again, noting the way he didn't bother to move his arm out from underneath his side even though it was bent at an odd angle, and the way his head remained crumbled against his shoulder - he probably couldn't make it very far.
She bit the insides of her cheeks and nodded, swallowing back against her fear.
The steady stream of militia ended, the last few men storming into the trees and running out of sight in the darkness. Alec shifted, only slightly, and freed his trapped arm to touch his cheeks. They were still an angry red from where she'd hit him.
"What happened?" He whispered after what felt like a lifetime of waiting for the yell that would bring the militia to them. Waited for someone to see them. She shuffled, pressing her knees into the dirt and twisting to drag their packs over to where they could snatch them up and run.
Her head bowed when he touched her knee.
"They must've had someone inside the school," she whispered back. "I heard the shots from across the dorms. You-" she froze, her thoughts flashing back to when she'd found him, unconscious. "When I turned to you, you were out. I thought you were sleeping, but you-" she choked and curled a hand into his shirt. "You didn't wake up." Shots rang out from the trees. They could hear screaming. Alec pressed a hand over hers, trying to get her attention back on him.
"Don't listen," he said. She tried to smile at him with as much sarcasm as possible, but her face merely crumpled into a grimace and she found herself burying her face against his shirt, shoulders shaking though she wasn't crying. He didn't know. He hadn't been in that dorm with her, not really. The sound of the girls' bodies hitting the floor, the gun shots. She shuddered and tried to bury deeper. She couldn't not listen - the sounds were on the inside of her head, and she couldn't turn them off. The adrenalin was wearing thin. She felt, suddenly, exhausted. Stripped to the bone.
What had happened?
"You must have taken those pain meds. The really strong ones, because I couldn't wake you up." The talking helped, only a little, to take her thoughts away from the slaughter happening around her. "I had to hook you against me and do it myself." Heidi pointed up at the window, and he followed the gesture. He looked impressed.
"I'm sorry," he whispered when she didn't continue. She couldn't bring herself to give him details. "I couldn't sleep. I didn't even think. I just wanted to get a couple hours of sleep."
She lifted her head from his chest and nodded, reaching forward and pressing a hand against his cheek. Gently this time.
"I thought I was going to kill us." A nervous laugh bubbled through her lips. He flattened his palm against her lips as she started to shake, laughter that was more than a little hysterical breaking down her limits.
"Ssh," he soothed, pulling her back down against his chest. He was still in some state of paralysis, but he managed to shuffle until they were lying side by side. He muffled her laughter with his shirt and hand, even as they turned to cries. She tried to tell herself to shut up, tried to remind herself that she'd get them shot if she kept on, but she lacked the control as a boy started screaming some distance away. The rapid fire that silenced him made her sick. She didn't know how to turn it off. She just wanted this night to end. They'd prepared and prepared and prepared - drawn up maps of the area and forced one another to memorize them. They'd made plans and back up plans, and back up plans to those back up plans, but it all meant little. They couldn't have prepared themselves for this.
Heidi whimpered, and Alec held her as tightly as his lethargic muscles would allow. That was the only comfort she had as they huddled against the school's walls, waiting for their position to be compromised - she had not lost him in the chaos.