The Shape of Grief - Tattered_Dreams - The Maze Runner Series (2024)

Newt was the one who told him, so long ago, that there was a place out there for them. Somewhere safe, somewhere they could start over.

And there is.

Safe Haven is a shoreline at the edge of the world.

It’s where wind ravaged grasses and heather give way to powder-fine white sand; where the sea is a soothing, constant rush of blues and greens and greys, frothing where it meets the beach. It’s where the ocean touches the sky, where the sun falls into the water and colours the world in shades of pink and gold and indigo.

All Thomas has here is a deep, clawing pain, every time he opens his eyes.

Newt told him this place existed for them, and he’s the one who never got to see it.

Thomas wakes up, weeks after WCKD collapsed and the Last City was left in rubble, debris and smoking embers. He thought the bullet might take him, had wanted it to, perhaps, and he’s not sure he’s okay that it didn’t. His body is healing; he’s here, but everything else is a cold, hollowing infinity.

The world hurts to live in.

He watches the others start to knit themselves back together. Minho suffers with nightmares and sensory overload, Gally worries for everyone, Frypan is lost. Sonya has panic attacks, Aris occasionally shuts down, and between them, Harriet is worn. But they’re hanging on, and as the days pass, they’re finding things to cling to. Aris loves the ocean, Sonya finds meadows of wind beaten heather, Gally starts to build, Frypan teaches the others to cook. Minho runs. He’s always running, but it’s working, because the nightmares let up; he’s faster than his demons.

The only thing Thomas clings to is Newt’s necklace.

He doesn’t want to be awake, but he can’t sleep. He always wakes up breathless, horror clamouring at the edges of everything he knows, tears cold on his skin, heart aching in the dark. The flashes he sees in his nightmares slip through his fingers when he bolts awake. He knows he sees Newt die, but he doesn’t remember, doesn’t keep that, and that’s even worse. The real memory is blurring, too. It’s like his mind is already erasing Newt away. It’s trying to protect him, shield him, but its doing the opposite. It’s driving him insane.

He’s rarely hungry, he tries to outrun his demons like Minho does, but his terrors are faster. He spends hours away from the beach, away from the society, the thriving village that the others are fighting to build. He barely hears half the conversations that flutter around him. It hurts to be here. It hurts to still breathe and exist when he knows what he lost to keep that. He’s really not sure the trade, the price, was worth it. The others try, at first, to engage him but the attempts slowly taper off. They sit with him, talk around him, like they hope simply behind there will start to break through.

Thomas knows he’s hurting them, that he’s scaring them.

Guilt is a dark creature, but grief is its own entity. It casts the longest shadow, snuffs out light, but the void of loss that’s made its home in his bones is stronger than regret.

He lives between two states. One is a sharp, cutting agony, like the knife was stabbed between his ribs, not Newt’s. It’s like it’s still wedged there, stemming blood flow but preventing healing, still letting him bleed out, just far slower, drawn out, prolonging. His other state is total numbness.

He wishes the numbness would come more. It’s easier to bear.

He rereads Newt’s letter so many times that the words start to fade, the paper turns thin and soft. It has become more of a sensory thing by then; he wants to touch the pages that Newt once held, wants to see the slanted handwriting, picking out the nuances in the shaky script. The words become irrelevant in the times he takes the letter out. He knows them off by heart.

It doesn’t escape Thomas that he’s now owned this letter, these pages, and the necklace, longer than Newt ever had them. They’re more his than they ever were anyone else’s but he still doesn’t think of them as belonging to him. Can you own something if you don’t even feel like you’re really here?

He’s existing.

That’s what this is. Existence. He spent his life fighting for this; for freedom, and now he has it, he realises how false the concept is. Freedom doesn’t mean much when the cost is this high, when the people you wanted it with didn’t make it.

There’s a hole in the world where Newt should be.

.

Thomas lurches from sleep one morning, late, really late. The sun is high, the beach outside of his little shack blinding white and cerulean blue. The woven roof lets through the light; golden dapples tracking the path to the open door. The hammock next to his – Minho’s – swings in the breeze. It’s empty. He’s running.

Thomas feels his heart slowly settle back to its usual beat as he swipes at his face, brushing the tear tracks that have dried there as he hung, suspended in nightmares that are falling away from him. He’s given up trying to hold the splintered pieces; they never stay. He’s gotten used to the way the grief scrapes out his insides, the way it’s made its home in his bloodstream, in the breaths he takes.

That’s the day he leaves.

He packs a bag, wanders the camp, aimlessly making sure the others are okay without him. He’s not been much help to them so he knows they can cope. He hopes they can. Or maybe his grief is just blinding him. He can’t help it. That’s when the numbness sets in again, as he watches Frypan teach kids to cook, watches Gally command a building project, watches Brenda tease him in a way no one else can get away with.

And the Cure.

He pockets the tiny capsule of serum that Teresa made sure was in his hand the day she threw him onto the Berg. It’s still here, still saved; bright blue and full of dashed hopes, promises that came too late. It was for Newt. It was always his. Even if he’ll never know it, even if it will never save him, it was meant for Newt.

It’s coming with him.

He only has two fragments of Newt left at all; this cure, and the necklace with its touch-worn pages. And he won’t leave any part of him ever again.

Thomas leaves a note for Minho last.

He knows he can’t say goodbye to his closest friend, the one still here, the one he went through hell to save. He hates himself for it. He can only abandon them if he doesn’t look back. Minho deserves this; freedom, safety, a place he can start to live, and Thomas can’t take that from him. He won’t. Not just because he’s suffering.

Thomas knows if he tried to say a goodbye, Minho would come with him, and he can’t let him do it – maybe he doesn’t want him to anyway. But Thomas can’t stay here.

Newt was never meant to be the price Thomas had to pay.

Newt was the one who told him this was out there, and he’s the one who never made it. Thomas refuses to wake up one more day to this – the place where the earth falls into the ocean and the ocean kisses the sky – if Newt isn’t there with him.

So he leaves.

.

It’s a long road.

Since the sun flares, the world doesn’t know seasons, but Thomas can feel it change. The nights grow longer, and then they fall short again. He abandons the coast; anywhere he can see the ocean. Heat ripples up from the ground in shimmering waves and the sun is vicious, doesn’t discriminate, burns him the same way it burns everything else it touches.

But it won’t burn him away.

The earth has turned to desert. Everything that remains is broken ruins and forgotten relics of a civilisation that humanity destroyed. Mostly Thomas walks. Being alone is foreign and strange. He’s never known anything but the Gladers and the rebels the wars they endured together.

Now there’s nothing. Only one set of footprints in the sand, white noise in his head.

But they taught him about survival. He knows where to look for water, where to find food. Not that he does either as much as he should. His backpack rubs into the outline of his ribs and his throat is dry, cracking. At first he hoped the dehydration would lessen the grief – even allow him shadowy, gossamer hallucinations.

When it doesn’t, he simply stops caring enough. He tells himself he’s rationing, just so he has something sane to hold on to.

Sometimes, camping in the shade of a derelict building as the sun blazes and bakes the ground around him, Thomas wonders. He wonders if the others are okay, still, if they knew what he did, if they tried to follow. He wonders if they blame themselves, and he prays not but he thinks they might. He wonders if there was a way he could have learned to let go, if he even wanted to.

Newt meant something to him that was beyond definition. He was there in everything Thomas had done or known. The connection between them was painfully unexplored, the world too demanding and treacherous, but he regrets that now. It had been something unexpected but not unwelcome; a subtle but enduring thing, vividly alive. It was a tether that even Newt’s loss hadn’t fully severed.

He wonders if there are still survivors out here. He wonders where he’s going, if it even matters as long as he never again looks at an ocean or a burning city.

He wonders if maybe he intended to die out here, looking for something that fell from the planet and left him behind.

.

The powerful crack of a gunshot echoes across the wasteland.

The Crank is blasted off of Thomas, crumpling into a still heap beside him. Its only now, in the sudden, ringing silence Thomas even realises that it – no, not it; he – had been making awful snarling, shrieking noises, the products of insanity and decay. Now he’s dead. Dark blood, running thin and sickly is already starting to pool out beneath the frail, emaciated corpse.

He attacked out of nowhere. Thomas had startled, flinched, hesitated, and that had been enough.

He wasn’t afraid of being bitten – knew he was safe from that – he only held off the viciously snapping teeth and clawing hands out of a delayed instinct for self preservation. The whole thing felt numb and distant, like watching someone else control his body and fight for his life. But he hadn’t wanted to hurt him. And now that Crank lays dead, blood already baking dry in the rippling heat.

The man on the ridge, holding the pump action shotgun tugs down the scarf that covers his nose and mouth. He’s underweight – aren’t they all – and he has an unkempt greying beard, face weathered by sand and sun, his scavenged clothes wearing down in the climate. Thomas guesses he’s probably in his early fifties.

“You lost someone, didn’t you, Boy?” he says, voice gruff but laced with understanding. “Only time I’ve seen a man freeze like that, freeze and then not want to fight back – when he lost someone the same way.”

Thomas can just feel his throat closing. He doesn’t even remember the last time he spoke aloud.

The older man frowns at him.

“Can you talk?” he asks. “How long you been on your own, Kid?”

It hurts. It’s a scraping, raw kind of physical hurt, but he welcomes it; anything is preferable over the crushing grief that’s become as much a part of him as his limbs. He forces himself to reply.

“A while,” Thomas chokes. Wrenching pain shoots down his throat. He might not have drunk anything yet today, either.

He doesn’t specify when the ‘while’ refers to. Not only does he not actually know how long it’s been since he left the beach, but he isn’t even sure if he means the beach. Time has become a distant concept, something for other people. He’s felt like he’s been on his own since the night Newt crumpled, shattered, died in his arms.

“Well, come on,” the man says, slinging the shotgun over his shoulder by the strap. “Where there’s one, more generally follow. I’m Clyde. What’s your name?”

Thomas blinks. His brain staggers to catch up, taking its time. “Thomas,” he manages.

Clyde narrows his eyes on him. “Well, Thomas, it’s a bit of a ride, but I know somewhere safe. Unless you’d like to die out here?”

He asks in a way that implies this isn’t even a serious option, but Thomas’ brain turns that over slowly, too slowly, as well. Hasn’t he thought about it? So many times. But no. He stands, sways on his feet, and steps in Clyde’s wake.

He doesn’t look back once at the Crank’s body.

.

Clyde has a sand blasted old truck waiting for him just beyond the disfigured outcrop of the old building. The radiator grill is dented in; the bodywork is beaten up, smeared with dirt, grit and old bloodstains. The interior is not much better, but Thomas hauls himself up into the passenger seat as the engine groans, splutters, comes to life.

Clyde drives. He keeps driving.

The sand dunes level out; turn to vast salt flats with cracks webbed between the bleached rocks where thirst has split it into pieces. Nothing grows. The heat blanketing the world is too harsh, too unyielding for so much of the life that used to call this place home. Then there are abandoned shanty towns tucked into canyons, cliff edges and the slope of parched valleys.

The truck rumbles on as the sky shifts overhead and the sun is finally setting when Clyde slows and pulls up outside of their destination.

They’re on the outskirts of another town; a bitter, broken skyline. This building is concrete, stone and shattered glass, sand banking up the walls wherever its fallen outline touches the ground. There’s an alcove where the truck pulls up and Clyde finally cuts the engine.

Thomas feels shaky, distant – nothing all that new – as he watches the older man block off the opening with a number of rotting wooden beams. Maybe it’s pointless to worry so much about hiding the truck, but it feels like one of those things that are just, somehow, worse if you don’t. Maybe the Cranks – if any find their way out here – don’t recognise what a car is, but maybe they do. Clyde hauls down two huge sacks from the back of the truck before finally securing an old tarp over it.

“Here, you can pull your weight,” Clyde says, dropping one of the sacks heavily into Thomas’ hands.

He fumbles and catches it; the fabric rough and scratchy, the things inside clinking together, weighing it down. Thomas braces himself and then follows without a word.

He doesn’t expect what he finds.

.

Thomas’ heart spikes jaggedly, the first pulse of fear he’s felt in…since then; that night. But then it stops for a beat; stutters, the fear melting into docility, disregard. Fear is muscle memory. It’s something his body hasn’t forgotten, but something his mind can no longer hold onto. He lets it go, doesn’t try to reach for it, just welcomes being able to stand here and be unafraid.

Clyde lives in a science lab.

Inside the building, despite the leaning, unstable nature, the broken glass, the disfigured pieces of rebar and metalwork that jut out of the walls, it feels…preserved, somehow. The far wall is just windows, some of the panes missing and others traced with spidery cracks. Outside the world is a wash of golden red as the sun sets beyond the sand dunes.

Equipment and items have been clearly scavenged from many different places but they all come together, coherent and imposing. Spotlights, lanterns and angled mirrors all lift the old room into a cold white light, and the still functioning technology stationed around glows eerie blue, shining off of the crumpled metal edges of the tables. There are microscopes, flasks, cabinets, medical kits, pieces of advanced technology that Thomas thought had burned with WCKD.

And that’s when he knows.

But still the fear doesn’t come.

His voice is hoarse, grating. “You work for WCKD.”

Clyde goes still. He hesitates, glances back at Thomas and then stands straight; abandoning the sack he’s just begun to open.

“I did,” he admits. He sounds guarded, heavy. “Once.”

“Before it was destroyed?” Thomas feels like he should be angry, should rage and scream but all he has left is absent, blank curiosity – barely even that. He’s not much sure he cares for the answer at all. It doesn’t change anything, doesn’t fix anything.

“Before then, Son,” Clyde says, and he sounds softer, regretful. “I bailed out of that corporate hellhole the day my boss told me I was to cut life support to fifty odd kids in suspended animation.”

Thomas feels dizzy. The shock is slow; like watching a natural disaster come for you and knowing the impact it will have before it arrives. He sways. He remembers.

That long hall, back in the WCKD base he escaped so long ago. The night Aris and he snuck in there and saw the kids; other immunes just like them, hung up, being drained of the enzyme that made them so valuable.

“Y-you-“

Clyde’s face crumbles, pain etched into the weathered lines.

“You didn’t know.”

Thomas shivers, shakes his head. Even now, it feels like the true horror is muted, and that almost hurts more, because it doesn’t matter that this news is devastating; the loss of just one life means more. It just took one person, the right one, to break him.

Clyde sighs. “They had a plan, you know. The Maze – it wasn’t a single shot. It was going to be a looped project. They worked it out – some of the guys up top – they put too much money into the Mazes to let them just go to waste when the groups found their way out.”

“Wait…” Thomas frowns, feels like answers are floating past him, just beyond reach. When is the last time he honestly, genuinely thought about something, tried to analyse or brainstorm it? He can’t remember. The headache is already building. “I don’t…a loop?”

Clyde gives him a look that is half exasperated and half pitying.

“Come on, Son, you really think they needed to take everyone’s memories? Everyone in the Maze programme was a kid; being ripped away from their families would have been damaging stuff to build on if stressing the brain is what you want. They took memories so that the whole process could be repeated, looped, every few years for as long as was needed to develop a cure.”

This information is slow to sink, too, but when it does, Thomas’ world swims with blue and white light. He can feel his pulse beating behind his eyes, the way his fingers are cold, shaking, and the grief that’s carved a home in his body snarls, vicious.

That’s what he’s saying.

WCKD planned it all. Take their memories, put them in the Maze, let them escape, stage a rescue, drain the enzyme that all of their terror and stress had accumulated, and then start again. It was by design.

Chuck.

It’s the first time Thomas has thought his name since he remembers Gally carving it into the Memorial stone on that Beach at the edge of the world.

Chuck was twelve years old. They were all older.

Thomas’ vision starts to spot, to float, the equipment warping and drifting.

He never got his memories back, never wanted them. He chose his family, fought for them, with them. Even if the pain of the cost has torn away everything he was he can’t regret that. Still, now the void of all the years that were taken from him seems to grow inside, cold fingers slipping between his ribs and sliding around his heart.

“How many times did they live the same years in there?”

How many times had Minho run into the Maze for the first time? How many times had Gally built the first hut for the first time? How many times had Frypan learned to cook stew for the first time?

How many times had Newt thought about jumping before the time he actually did?

The chill grip of horror closes tight on the stumbling beat of Thomas’ heart. Something, barely there, hardly holding on deep inside him shatters.

Clyde blinks. “No, Kid,” he says, sadly. “WCKD never made it past the prototype; the first run.”

He’s not sure if that’s better or not. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. He can’t put thoughts together. He…can’t breathe.

“W-why…are you telling…me this?”

Clyde stands, his face twisting with concern but Thomas barely notices.

“Because you were one of them,” Clyde says.

He knew.

The edges of his vision turn black and cold, it feels like his heart stops and then the world falls to darkness amid the sound of breaking glass.

.

When Thomas wakes up, he’s been placed on a tiny camping cot, and there’s a needle in his arm.

Like before, fear feels like memory, not an emotion that is his, here right now, alive. The sluggish response as his brain processes the cannula gives him time to realise its not taking anything from him. It’s providing.

He reaches for it, arm feeling leaden, weighted.

“Whoa, hey, Son; don’t bother that, now.”

Thomas blinks. It takes a moment. There’s a weathered hand wrapped around his wrist, gently setting it back down to the blankets across his body. Clyde. He’s here. He…did this. What is this?

“You’re alright,” Clyde tells him. The voice is gentle, still so, so sad. “Bet you don’t even remember the last time you drank anything, hey? It’s a drip. It’s giving you nutrients intravenously. You need to rest, you need to eat more, then you can get up.”

Thomas doesn’t know how to tell him he doesn’t want to.

He just wants to close his eyes again.

Clyde pats his arm. “How long were you really alone, Kid?” he asks.

Thomas thinks, still can’t work out how long it’s been – Months? Years? – and shakes his head.

Clyde’s face etches with a deep kind of understanding that’s splintering all on its own. “How about who you lost? Do you remember that?”

Newt.

And Thomas cries.

The grief is raw, hot, obliterating. It shreds on the inside like the clawed entity it is. He feels sick, warped, his bones made of lead, tethering his soul like a kite on strings that have been frayed in fire. The stabbing between his ribs is agony, the tears burn into his skin and his throat scrapes with each drawn breath but he can’t stop, can’t stem the flow.

This is what bleeding to death must feel like.

Has he cried for Newt before? He doesn’t remember. Doesn’t remember. Doesn’t.

He thinks maybe he’s been holding a door closed on the tears; knew that opening it would be letting in an ocean, that it would mean drowning. Instead he’s been in a tiny darkened room in the corner of his mind and the only things there are water seeping across the floor and Newt’s ghost.

There’s another door. Thomas doesn’t know where it leads, only that taking it means leaving Newt here, and he can’t. He won’t, refuses to leave him behind, ever again.

How long has he been fading away?

There’s a hole in the world where Newt should be.

Time is meant to ease grief, heal loss; turn wounds to scar tissue. For Thomas all the passing time does is erode away more of him from the inside out. Newt’s face was the earliest to go; his own mind trying to save him. Newt is being stolen from him even now.

He cries until his body gives out and oblivion comes back for him.

Clyde stays, hand on his arm, fingers shaking and wretched. He doesn’t ask who Thomas lost again.

.

Thomas isn’t sure how long he’s out for.

Time. Transient. Not for him.

But he feels stronger after the drip. He’s not sure he likes it – not sure he wants it. The world feels steady under his feet, the desolate view from the window solid and real in his vision. He was starving himself – maybe it was on purpose, maybe not – and the rush of vitamins, electrolytes and sugars his blood was craving makes everything brighter, wilder.

The pain is stronger too.

That final barrier, the distance that living as a shadow afforded him is gone. Newt’s absence is an immediate, pressing, hollowness that’s twisted up into him; flesh and bone. He’s gone. Newt is gone and that unyielding, endless certainty spans across worlds. It’s a part of Thomas, maybe the largest part that’s even left.

Thomas doesn’t know who he is without Newt. He never wanted to. That tether between them that had always felt so vivid, a thriving push and pull, remains with him. It feels like a kite cut lose from its strings now; the cord dead, trailing in the wind as the kite is carried away into a sky it was never meant to brave alone.

He knows – knows – this is toxic, dangerous, that his mind is a dark place and that depending on someone this way is what leads to ruin. But stopping is not an option. The world is almost gone, his friends are rebuilding. Even if it’s a stupid choice, this is the one he’s making.

He doesn’t want to ask Clyde how long it’s been – since he passed out the night he arrived, since the Last City fell. He doesn’t want to start counting time after Newt.

So he doesn’t ask.

Instead, Thomas sits carefully at one of the lab tables opposite the older man and lets him talk.

“It’s not because of the kids that escaped,” Clyde tells him.

He’s evidently picking up their conversation from that first night but the first thing Thomas notices is that Clyde doesn’t seem to realise exactly who Thomas is. He knows he’s an immune, but not that this – all of it – was him. That’s not important right now. Thomas lets him continue; it’s as though he knows there are very few topics Thomas cares about anymore, and which is safe to pick. One of them is taboo, the other is this. Answers that were kept from him, that came too late.

“Well, I suppose it certainly didn’t help,” Clyde amends, “but the loop couldn’t happen for other reasons.

“The tests weren’t coming back good enough. They expected so much more of the enzyme from you kids, after years in the Maze for most of you, given the spikes in production that were seen back then…but the ones that were harvested weren’t yielding the results they wanted. They were sedated, their brains completely inactive during the process. The enzyme was already lacking.”

Thomas remembers Minho; his nightmares, the things he’d endured, the PTSD and stories that Sonya, Aris and the others had suffered. He’d missed a lot of it; words drifting through him, never staying, but he remembers pieces. He knows what they went through.

“WCKD worked out they had to torture them,” Thomas deduces, his voice still rough. He doesn’t speak much, still doesn’t drink everything that Clyde puts in front of him. He feels sick to his stomach every time he wakes up. It’s not a new sensation; it started on the beach, but each time it feels more visceral.

Clyde’s uneasy expression, muscle ticking high in his cheek tells Thomas he’s right.

“Of course, the Right Arm was making a move,” he continues. “Somehow they knew where a lot of the Maze sites were, and they were mounting attacks. And then a bunch of immunes escaped the head of security at the outreach base. The Corporation Governors ordered them to shut it down a week later.”

And that’s when it happened.

They were immunes like Thomas; more than fifty. They might have one day have been woken, had their memories erased all over again, and been thrown back into their mazes. Instead a directive was sent out that they were to be killed and the entire operation buried beneath the sand.

WCKD started over in the Last City with the bare bones of what they had left; the people they’d stolen away on that mountain so long ago because Teresa led them there.

“I walked away,” Clyde says. “I wanted to help, to save the planet. I had studied science my entire life. I thought…I guess I thought a lot of things. But I wasn’t in it to pull the plug on life like that.”

“But you’re still here,” Thomas says. He shrugs. “Why?”

Clyde rubs at his beard and looks suddenly years older. “What else is there, Son? The world’s the same wherever you go. May as well be here.”

“With the lab?”

It’s less of a question and more of a statement.

Clyde makes the barest huff of acknowledgment. He looks…hopeless, shamed, maybe. “I guess…no matter what; I can’t stop trying, even if it’s just me here.”

Trying?

Thomas flicks his eyes up again. He doesn’t know what he’s looking for, has no idea, but even so, his brain puts it together for him – slow, but faster now since he woke up. He hates it.

“You’re still looking for a cure.”

“Less of a cure and more…answers,” Clyde says. “No cure to be found, Son, but here’s as good a place as any. At least there’s more chance of finding equipment.”

Thomas frowns, isn’t sure he cares enough to ask why. Clyde grimaces back at him, though.

“Of course not,” the man says, shaking his head. “How would you know? Come with me.”

Thomas doesn’t bother to argue.

Clyde leads him from the lab. Two floors up in the tilted, unstable building, there’s a blown out wall covered by a billowing sheet of tarp. The sky is that same blaze of golden red beyond it; glowing through the stressed fabric.

“This is the best place to scavenge for tech anywhere,” Clyde says. “There was the last place any existed.”

And then he hauls back the tarp.

No. Not here. Anywhere on earth or beyond it but here.

They’re staring at the remains of the Last City. Cold, blackened, dead and preserved in its abandonment. It’s a lost, forgotten fragment of human history, of its self destructive brutality on the skyline as the relentless sun sets slowly behind the burned out husk of its crumbled walls.

Thomas feels the panic tear through him like a bomb blasting shrapnel across the world.

Everything inside of him recoils with a sudden, flash fire pain like his nerves being torn that tells him to escape, get out, run. He staggers away, tripping over himself, ribs closing in on his lungs. He can’t breathe. Can’t. Can’t. His head feels tight, pulsing, his own body betraying him. His heart goes arrhythmic, horror spitting through his veins like electricity. Sickness rises up his stomach and the world tilts and shifts.

Nonononononono. Not here. Anywhere but here.

How did he even- How is he back here? If there was one place worse than seeing an ocean, a beach, it was this – seeing the city that became Newt’s grave.

They may not have left him there, but it was there that Thomas had laid him down on cold stone, explosions reflected in shattered glass haloed around them like a cruel facsimile of a funeral pyre. It was there he’d watched the mad light in his eyes snuff out, along with everything else Newt had been, could have been. It was there he’d watched his blood, poisoned, blackened, spill through the cracks and abandon him.

A hand touches his shoulder and Thomas flinches violently, wrenched from the horror of that memory. He remembers everything so well – everything except Newt’s face and the exact shape of his body. His own mind has taken that from him. He lurches from beneath the cautious touch and finds himself on the floor, curled over, his insides twisting. His head is full of static and building pressure, white noise that buzzes so loud it hurts.

Hate.

He hates it. He never thought he’d see that again, never even dreamed he’d have to prepare himself for it.

He’s cold. He can feel his fingers shake, pressing into the grit on the unbalanced floor. Charcoal on his skin. Knives in his mind. Lungs failing.

“Thomas?”

And very suddenly, the absence of something else in his life feels bigger than he could have thought – maybe than he let himself think.

No one has called him Tommy since the time Newt said it with his dying breath.

The world is cracking open.

He’s breaking apart.

“Thomas breathe.”

Clyde sounds scared, but his voice is firm. He grabs Thomas, too strong for him to fight and hauls him up. Thomas feels his body pushed over, fetched up against the leaning wall. A shadow casts over him – Clyde. Still here.

“Come on, Son. You don’t have to see it.”

Thomas can’t see it. His vision has zeroed in to the trembling tips of his own fingers and the raging pulse battering the inside of his skull, making his vision spot and fade at the edges, darkness beckoning. But the damage is done. He didn’t know. Didn’t even think, never dreamed-

How did he somehow find this place again?

Even if Clyde brought him right to it, Thomas had been wandering this way without ever having a clue. He’d been dying, unconscious; peaceful the night the Berg carried him away. He misses that with a power that burns cold.

“H-h-how?” he struggles to ask. There’s not enough air in his lungs to force the words out. Trying to suck in a breath feels like inhaling fire.

“How?” Clyde asks, voice tight. “How what? How do you calm down?”

“N-no…how…h-here…?”

The tremors are sinking through his body; his spine raw against the rough wall at his back.

“I drove, remember?” Clyde says. “I found you, in the Scorch. I don’t know where you came from, or where you were going – I guess you weren’t looking for this place. I just knew if you were out there on your own, there’s no way you weren’t immune – no one else is really left – not this close to the Last City.”

The name burns in his head, at the back of his throat, across his heart.

Newt has been fogged, unclear in his memories for a long time, too long, and with it those last moments of his life and death as well.

Thomas thinks unexpectedly of Minho – the way his nightmares would cling on, follow him into the sunlight, always snapping at his heels, clawing at his back. Minho could outrun them, but his had never faded, paled, been erased.

And that’s when the world goes still.

Its quiet, and Thomas’ airway opens up like this was all it wanted from him; this moment, this flash of a crazy, stupid, reckless chance.

.

They’re back in the lab when Thomas tells him. He lets the words break out, fill the ringing quiet and the eerie blue of the room in the newly fallen night.

“It was me.”

Clyde’s fingers twitch over a microscope focus wheel, but otherwise he gives no indication this is of any importance or interest to him. “What was?” he asks. His voice is carefully blank.

“I’m the one who escaped,” Thomas says. And he commits himself. “I gave the Right Arm the coordinates to all the Maze Trials. I broke out of the Scorch base when I saw they were harvesting kids like me. I led a bunch of my friends to the mountains. I—I worked with members of the Right Arm to stage the hijack of the cargo train, if you heard about that, too. I had help from a group of Rebels in th-the City. I broke into WCKD there, too.”

Clyde is looking at him now, with something like mingled shock and horror.

A long, frozen moment passes.

Thomas doesn’t even feel like that same person who did all of those things and he knows there’s a keen difference. Newt was there for every one of those reckless decisions. Even the ones he didn’t want to believe in, the ones he was worried about; he was still there. Thomas may not remember for himself the day he leaked secrets to the Right Arm, but back then, math was easy and he knows, without being sure how, without wanting to question it, that he betrayed WCKD because of Newt, too.

Thomas watched him jump from a wall and he turned his back on the people who had forced him into that darkest corner of his mind.

Newt is tied up in every choice he’s ever made. Why not this one, too?

“I don’t understand,” Clyde says finally, a wavering note in his voice. “The city was destroyed. Only a small percentage of the population outside the walls lived. They didn’t think anyone made it out alive when I arrived here.”

“We did,” Thomas says, uncaring for what Clyde has been told. “When we hijacked the train we…requisitioned a Berg. We had it all planned. It went wrong, but we got out. Some of us.”

Clyde’s expression closes down. A deep, apologetic kind of pain carves into his features. “We, you said. If you survived…a whole group of you…what were you doing in the Scorch on your own, Son? Where are they?”

It hurts to think about, that he had to leave them, and Thomas doesn’t ever want to say it aloud. Knowing it is all the pain he can barely take. But if he stays silent, Clyde will assume the worst. He will assume Thomas lost them all.

Technically he did. Or really, they lost him, but either way, its semantics that Clyde doesn’t need to carry for him.

“They’re out there,” he says. “They found a place to start over.”

Clyde sighs. “But not you.”

His voice is knowing, not really a question but a statement, whispering over the locked door of the one topic Thomas cannot, will not discuss.

“I couldn’t stay,” he says, and no more. That alone tears into him. He remembers the sunlight and the sand and he wants to scream.

Some of the sadness in Clyde’s face shifts from a visceral kind of second hand grief into a small piece of raw understanding. Thomas can see it in him; in the way he breathes shallowly, in the way his fingers flutter across his beard and his eyes cannot hold up.

He knows why Thomas left.

“Why are you telling me all this now, Kid?” he asks after another long moment. “I knew you were immune, but I wasn’t around for any of this. I’d never have known any different. So why?”

This is it.

This is the first moment he’s felt like he wanted something in…however long it’s been. Since all he wanted was to get Newt’s failing body to the Berg.

“Because I can actually help you,” Thomas says. “I’m the cure WCKD were looking for.”

.

Thomas tells him everything he knows about the serum; his, specifically. Everything he found out, everything Teresa said, that Mary said. It’s not much; it wasn’t enough, but it’s something.

Clyde looks pitying when he finishes.

“They searched the world for immunes, Thomas. They had Killzone projects spread across the globe. If one of you – if you – could actually destroy the Flare cells in a host…they’d have found it.”

“Not if I was the only one,” Thomas refutes. His voice is raw from the talking and the lack of hydration. He doesn’t care. This is all he wants now. There is nothing in this world for him; his friends are free, they’re healing. He just wants…what? To find a way of existing that doesn’t hurt as much, which might be worth something to someone else.

Clyde opens his mouth, blinks, hesitates, and closes it.

“How about this?” Thomas asks, and he holds out his arm. “You’ve got everything you need. Just take a sample of my blood. Test it. Tell me what you find. We can find a Crank if you want. I’m not making it up and I’m not crazy. Not about this, anyway.”

Clyde looks hesitant, but there’s the glow of something like academic curiosity in his eyes.

Thomas has to reach the scientist in him. He shrugs. “What do you have to lose?”

And he can pinpoint the moment Clyde agrees.

“Alright,” he says finally. “I’ll run some tests. But not today. You had a panic attack, Thomas. You need to rest, you need to drink something. We’ll do this tomorrow.”

Thomas lets it go. Time is not for him. Waiting for one more sunrise won’t hurt anymore than the last one did.

.

It’s a small blood sample.

Clyde refuses to take more. There’s enough, he insists, for the tests he wants to do. Thomas doesn’t argue. He feels slightly light headed as it is.

He sits quietly, lost somewhere between apathy and what has become the usual, hollow scraping between his ribs. Grief and hunger sort of blend together some days, but that first one always wins out.

Finally, Clyde drops into the seat opposite Thomas. His face is grave, sad. Thomas’ heart goes cold.

“What?” he asks.

“Son…Look…I did this for years, okay? I know what I’m looking for but your blood…there’s just nothing there, Thomas.”

That’s…not possible. It isn’t. But it does help him. The only problem he faces now is convincing Clyde the reward is worth it.

“Mary drew my blood to save a girl I knew,” he says. “She made the serum from that.” Clyde lifts an eyebrow, calculation warring with reluctance in his face. Thomas pushes on. “Later, I was taken by WCKD and they made a second dose of serum just by taking my blood. They tested it back then; said there was proof the…enzyme that I carried was actually attacking the Flare.”

Clyde now looks intrigued.

“If WCKD knew…why didn’t they use this?”

“Because they found out the day they were destroyed,” Thomas tells him bluntly.

Clyde’s face goes slack for an instant in surprise, and then Thomas watches as the cogs begin to turn, as he starts to really think about it.

“I think it makes sense,” Clyde says finally. “The more stress an immune is under, the more of the enzyme they produce. You, evidently, produced such quantities that it was possible to distil it through your blood, but you were also fresh out of the Maze, you’d endured the Scorch and the Cranks for the first time, you had WCKD on your tail and a lot more besides, I’d wager. You had a lot of things to stress your brains and create a fear response.”

“And I don’t now?” Thomas asks with a note of weary irony.

Sadness falls like a shadow over Clyde’s face. “No. Thomas…when is the last time you really felt afraid? Knowing what I do now…you didn’t even react when I brought you here, even though you’ve spent your life running from labs like this.”

Clyde leans forward, hand squeezing into his shoulder and it’s a warm, steady touch but Thomas feels like he’s disappearing under the weight of it. “The serum in your brain is produced by intense fear, fast thinking, long term stress and physical exertion. Living in a state of grief isn’t the same thing.”

He’s spiralling; somewhere dark, somewhere far out. The man is right. Thomas hasn’t felt fear in so long, has barely even felt the way his body pangs for things he can’t give it.

Grief isn’t the same as horror. It’s tangled up in the same malicious web in his mind and in his bloodstream, twisting beneath his skin, poison, but it’s not the same when it comes to biology. And all over again, his body is betraying him.

.

It takes Thomas days.

He wakes every morning with the dawn and reaches, instinctive, for the necklace he never takes off. He listens to Clyde moving about in the room adjacent to his small section, listens to the grit as it howls and swirls in around the broken windows.

He battles with it. He cries himself into sleep. He hates it but it’s his only chance now and that knowledge is shredding him. He can already feel its loss, even though he sleeps with it under the pillow, can already imagine what it will do to him to hand it over.

But days later – he doesn’t know how many – he does it.

Thomas strides up to Clyde in the lab, shortly after picking wanly at the breakfast ration set out for him.

“I have another way to prove I can help,” he says.

Clyde looks up. He is curious, patient, but also mildly concerned, disbelieving.

“What might that be?”

Thomas braces himself. He sucks in a breath, so sharp it feels like knives in his throat. He’s shaking. The walls are closing in and when he holds out his hand, fingers unfurling from the warm metal and glass capsule, it feels like he’s letting go of a vital part of himself; like handing over an organ or a limb. Maybe even a broken piece of his own soul, if he thinks he believes in it.

It’s Newt’s Cure.

Clyde’s eyes go honestly wide, shock, awe, wonder flashing through them, along with what can only be a learned revulsion. He knew what so many kids had endured to create this. Its part of why he walked away. There’s no question he knows exactly what it is.

But it’s clear he never expected this to be a card Thomas had to play.

“Wh - is that…?”

“This was taken from me, from my blood only, the day-“ Thomas swallows hard and nods, refusing to complete the sentence. “Test it,” he says instead.

Clyde’s eyes narrow on him, and he’s hesitant to reach out for the capsule – Thomas figures he either understands the significance in this offering, or he’s afraid of what taking it will mean. Maybe it’s both.

But the scientist in him wins out, as Thomas had hoped it would.

He feels the loss of that tiny vial of serum in the foundation of who he is. He had two things left of Newt; the necklace, and the cure. And now he’s watching Clyde break open the seal on one of them.

Still he doesn’t want to know how long it’s been.

The time passes even slower than the last, if that’s possible. But when Clyde sits in front of him again, his face is not defeated, not pitying.

He looks afraid.

And Thomas knows.

“It’s attacking the virus,” Thomas guesses woodenly.

Clyde rubs his beard, worries his fingers at his jaw and looks like he’s digging so hard for the right words. “It is,” he finally says. “I’ve never seen this before, Kid. The closest we – they – ever came was something to hold it off. This, you…it has…”

“I can cure it,” Thomas says, and now he’s lifting his eyes, looking straight back at the older man. “There may not be much of the world left, but its something. And even if so many of them are beyond help…for the people who are still trying to survive…this enzyme could make them safe. Stop them getting sick, subdue the people who are already-“

He can’t finish again but Clyde doesn’t appear to need him to. The idealistic thought is at war in his expression with a stubborn reluctance, even a slowly building kind of anger.

“And just how are you suggesting to do this?” He asks.

They both know. It’s a redundant question.

Thomas’ blood doesn’t carry enough anymore…but his brain can still produce it with the right stimulation.

“No,” Clyde says, flatly before Thomas can actually open his mouth. “I ain’t doing that, Son. I walked away from WCKD back then because I disagreed with them. Saving the world is an ideal but it cannot come at the cost of the next generation. If you really think I’m going to do to you what they put all your friends through, you haven’t been listening at all.”

Thomas feels distantly amused, an echo of morbid irony. “I haven’t listened to anything for a long time,” he says. “Maybe not since the day I woke up on a beach somewhere and realised I was still alive.”

His voice is shaking, because this is the moment that he knows.

There’s only one way Clyde will even consider this, and he’s going to have to tear himself apart from the inside out to do it. But if it means what he hopes it does, then all he can pray is it will be worth that cost.

He’s already bracing himself for the impact. It feels like atoms vibrating apart, the way a car starts to rattle as it pushes speed. Thomas swallows over the stabbing in his throat.

“His name was Newt.”

And there it is.

It’s the first time he’s said Newt’s name aloud since the night he died. It fills the room, seeps into the walls, spills through the windows and levels the planet. It brings with it the all consuming tide of grief that Thomas has been holding back behind that door in his mind. Now it surges for him, obliterates everything in its path, all the traces of Thomas that remained.

His name was Newt. Was. Now he’s gone. All that’s left of him are the words he used to try to set Thomas free. He couldn’t have known it was already far too late.

The world took him and left a hole behind that all the sands of the Scorch can’t fill. Thomas’ head pulses, light, dizzy and so heavy, too. The sting of tears presses hot and vicious at the back of his eyes and high in his throat as his vision turns to grey. He can’t feel his own pulse; it’s like everything has just…stopped outside of the four, hollow chambers of his heart that only burn cold with loss.

Time is abstract. It doesn’t heal, it only decays.

Dimly, Thomas registers Clyde’s hands on his arms, as though he’s touching someone else, as though he’s watching from another room. Slowly, it pulls him back into his body.

The pain is worse here, when he’s present. He doesn’t want it. Newt’s face is gone and all he remembers is cold stone, blood between his fingers and the glint of blue light on the knife.

He’s crying. He doesn’t remember starting.

“The person you lost,” Clyde says, the softest, saddest thing Thomas has ever heard him utter. He pulls in a shaking, desolate breath. “Son…I understand grief. I do. Maybe not grief like this – hell I know why you’re only telling me this now – but we’ve all lost people. You think this is a way for you to run from that?”

Thomas doesn’t know how to tell him he doesn’t want to run. He’s trying to hold on. That’s what he is; a ghost just fighting to hold onto someone else’s.

“I’m not running,” he says, barely able to choke it out around the tears and the swollen throat.

Clyde shakes his head. “I left because I detested their ethics; what they were doing; the things they were forcing on children.”

Thomas looks up to him, blinking until the older man comes into focus. “I’m consenting. I’m asking you to.”

A tear slides down Clyde’s face, disappearing into the greying scruff of his beard. “I’m afraid that you’re consenting for the wrong reasons, Thomas.”

Maybe he is.

He no longer cares.

“I know I can cure this,” he says instead. His voice is stable, tears drying on his skin and Clyde looks older than Thomas could have thought possible. “You know how to do it. You can actually do something, even now to help the world recover and all I want is to not feel like I’m fading away anymore.”

.

Clyde resists, argues, ignores, but finally – maybe weeks later – he agrees.

It’s the first time Thomas has felt relief in so long.

Clyde takes time to prepare it all. They need a paralytic to keep Thomas still while he hallucinates in the fear simulation. They need the proper intravenous equipment to feed the drugs in monitored doses. They need a system to track Thomas’ vital signs while he’s under.

Thomas needs to be able to breathe, but they also don’t want to risk his screams bringing Cranks. That takes time as well. Clyde finds an agent that will mute his vocal chords without causing loss of function. Thomas doesn’t ask how.

Finally, the nights are stretching out again in the shadow of what was once a season when they’re ready.

Thomas lies down on the cot in the lab and lets the needles slide under his skin, lets the drugs slip into his blood and drag him away.

.

He endures the Maze.

Ben attacks him. The doors crush him, ribcage splintering into itself. A griever tears him open with a false moon overhead and ivy tangled around his legs. Grievers set light to the Glade, they murder his friends.

He endures WCKD and the Scorch.

There are needles everywhere, tests and cold lights in his eyes. Janson interrogates his friends, pulls guns on them, one by one. The Scorch starves him, Winston turns, Brenda dies, Minho is taken away amid rubble and dust and blood on a moonless night.

He endures Denver. The Last City.

Minho dies before Thomas can reach him, Gally never comes back for them, Teresa falls through a sky of fire. Janson takes the cure meant for someone else and builds an empire in the ashes. Thomas is left standing in the ruins, a graveyard he created with his choices.

Thomas endures it all, the horrors narrowing in and just when he thinks it’s not worked, that his mind has betrayed him again, that’s when the scene shifts one more time.

And Newt’s there.

.

Thomas wakes up screaming.

.

Newt can’t follow him here.

Thomas knows that, but he remembers it all over again as the drugs leave his system and Clyde helps him sit up slowly. It’s wrenching, desolating, and the world is dark with knowing it.

His throat is raw from the screams even if they came out silent. Thomas feels shaken as the adrenaline and terror starts to drain out of his blood. All of that pales to the knowledge that in waking up, he’s left Newt behind.

Clyde pushes food and water onto him, even switches the drip of the drugs for another packet of liquid nutrients and electrolytes. Thomas drinks the water but barely chokes down a few mouthfuls of the food around the physical pain. He can feel the older man’s worried gaze but can’t meet it.

Thomas doesn’t want to be awake. It’s something he’s grown familiar with.

.

He holds onto Newt for a few hours before his mind catches up. By the end of the day, he’s gone again, only murky memories, just like it was before.

“Did it at least work?” Thomas asks Clyde as the sun sets. He watches the way the planet outside the window washes red across the empty Scorch. There are eyes on his back, an ache beneath his skin, the ghost of needles and probes. Apathy is ever present; grief that follows him in Newt’s place.

Clyde sighs, reluctant. “It did,” he admits.

Thomas turns to see him place a tiny vial of bright, hopeful electric blue serum onto the lab table between them. It looks like a decent sample; as much if not more than what Teresa had extracted so long ago.

“I ran the same tests,” Clyde says. “It’s attacking the virus cultures. And I did some more digging while you were out; there’s not much civilisation left here, but there are pockets of it. I picked up some radio signals – old ones, mostly, but it’s something.”

Thomas nods.

He can already tell what is happening to him; he doesn’t have to wait for repetition to create the addiction. He wants to see Newt again.

“So you can put me back under,” Thomas says. “And you can get that sample out into the world.”

Clyde doesn’t agree, but he doesn’t refuse, either.

.

Thomas quickly loses track of how the days pass.

At first he wakes up screaming, every time, his throat torn to shreds despite the absence of noise, his voice broken and his lungs constricted, spasming with the force of his horror.

But its also quickly apparent that the longer he’s down, the more of the serum he produces. His mind has to work through everything he’s endured, twist it in brutal, malicious ways before, finally, it reaches Newt, and that’s what really rips through his brain like shrapnel from a bomb. It cuts and bleeds blue and his pulse hammers viciously in every frayed nerve ending as he watches Newt die over and over. That’s what produces the most.

Thomas stops waking up screaming. He starts to wake up silent, lost, crying. The tear tracks are etched into his face, skin tight, shining and raw. He shakes constantly, can’t keep food down as much as he should.

Grief is an open wound. His heart bleeds out through it.

.

He wakes up one too many times, looking hopelessly around and crumbling when he realises he’s been forced to leave Newt behind again.

Clyde leaves for a day, and when he comes back Thomas helps him to rig up new equipment, scavenged from the edges of the City.

There’s a machine that helps to synthesise more of the hallucinogen drugs, more of the paralytic that keeps him still, even though Clyde has been lowering the dosage. Thomas stopped trying to lash out weeks ago; he’s not trying to escape the visions, he’s trying to hold onto them.

There’s another machine and finally, Clyde sits gravely down beside him as the sun comes up and tells him what it’s for.

The older man looks broken. He eats enough, he’s healthy – Thomas insisted he take a dose of the cure early, the only form of thank you or trade he had – but Thomas knows this kind of thing isn’t about physical wellbeing. Watching someone willingly disappear into a realm of nightmares breaks a person in a way that can’t be fixed by food, shelter or sleep.

The new machine will be able to provide a constant streaming liquid diet and biological balancers – something WCKD created long ago to facilitate the comatose states of the immunes. It means Thomas no longer needs to force down food or water. It can regulate his bodily functions to keep him in a form of suspended animation; safe.

Coupled with the hallucinations…

Thomas can forsake the waking world completely.

“You won’t be under the fear sim constantly,” Clyde says to him as he finishes explaining. “It’s too much for the brain – especially yours, at this stage – so I’ll keep doing that in sessions but this way…”

Clyde looks like he’s already mourning for the boy he found in the Scorch. Thomas is sorry for that. Maybe it would have been better if Clyde never knew him.

“At least this way you won’t have to keep waking up again to a world that’s taken too much from you.”

.

The next day Thomas lays down, lets the needles slide in and feels the pull of all the drugs. It’s quick, familiar, somehow soothing. His body doesn’t fight, his mind is open. His vision starts to dim, the world turning grey even though the sunrise blazes through the open window of the lab.

Clyde is crying.

Thomas is sorry it’s hurt him; sorry for a lot of things, but this way he can help someone, because he stopped knowing how to help himself a long time ago.

He tries to reach out, but his fingers only twitch against the thin blanket, his motor control already tightly within the grip of the drugs. Clyde seems to understand anyway. He reaches out instead, folds Thomas’ hand between both of his own. He can barely feel it; not warm or cold, not smooth or callused. It’s just a distant pressure that’s trying to reach him across a different plane of existence.

“Thank you,” Thomas breathes.

And then the world is gone.

.

When he’s sedated he knows nothing. In the other moments, all Thomas knows are his own worst fears, repeating over and over, a constant loop. It always starts in the Maze, but it always finishes with this one person that he loved and lost too soon.

Thomas doesn’t want to leave; he wants to stay. Here he can help. Here he can see Newt.

Every time he dies. Sometimes it’s by blade; the knife in his chest while the Flare erodes away everything he was. Sometimes it’s by bullet; often Janson kills him but just as often Thomas himself pulls the trigger in a world where things were different. Sometimes Grievers murder him; sometimes he jumps from the wall and doesn’t fail. The only constant is that Thomas can never change it. The only thing he can do is watch, keep picking up the fragmented pieces of the Newt he knew, only to see them shatter apart all over again.

But he’d rather this.

He stays because this is the only place that Newt exists anymore.

.

.

.

Minho panics the day he wakes up to an empty hut on the beach.

He’s stuck in his own world of pain at first; always seeing the same horrors that had been forced on him now snapping in his nightmares even though he’s thousands of miles away from WCKD. He watched the City burn but it doesn’t erase the months he spent drugged, restrained, afraid, angry. He struggles to cope at first, and he’s aware Thomas is hurting – they all are - but it’s only as he starts finding ways to process his demons that he fully realises the extent. Thomas is fading away.

His best friend has been drifting through every waking hour for months.

He hasn’t been sleeping well, but he’s not exactly awake, either. He interacts with them but it’s like he’s going through motions based on muscle memory alone. He struggles to be in the group for too long, struggles to listen too much, struggles to even look at the ocean. Thomas does go wandering at odd times; drifts away from the coast and the sea and the camp. He has always come back.

But this time Minho is waking up to the dawn, long shadows spearing across the sand inside the hut, the hammock beams creaking, and Thomas’ lies empty.

Minho throws aside the blankets, scrambles and catches his balance as he hits the floor.

It could be nothing.

But his heart is frozen, alarm splintering out through his bloodstream like shards of glass. He can’t tell himself its nothing.

There’s a folded piece of paper resting over the blankets in the centre of the swaying hammock.

And he knows.

.

Minho has to take it to Frypan in the kitchen. He holds it up, already feels the way he’s shaking apart under his skin, the tears that push at the backs of his eyes.

Frypan takes one look at him and doesn’t need to ask questions.

He casts aside the morning breakfast preparations, sits Minho on a stool at the back of the hut, and then disappears. He returns just moments later with Brenda and Gally. The pair of them look like they’ve only just woken up, but there’s a fast sinking realisation and dread in their expressions as they approach.

The three of them gather around and it’s only with them holding him together that Minho’s fingers work enough to open the letter.

Min,

I don’t want you to worry.

You guys were, are, my family but Newt…he was my home. And I can’t stay here without him. I know you probably will, but I don’t want you to blame yourself. Please try not to. You didn’t fail, and there’s nothing you could have done more. This is mine to carry now. I just need to find a way to do that and its not going to happen here.

I’m passing the torch to you – Watch out for them? Just live, okay, and be happy, however you can. You all deserve that. I’m sorry I couldn’t be there with you to see it.

Thanks for being my friends,

Thomas

.

The Berg is in the air an hour later.

Minho cries over the letter, tears making the ink bleed, and then his hands are too frozen, too shaken to hold it. Before it can fall to the sand, Frypan takes it away, and it passes around the group. By the time Brenda has shed tears over it, Gally tugging her into a consoling hug, completely uncaring of Frypan’s sideways look, all Minho feels is conviction.

They pack bags, they tell Vince, they tell Jorge and they tell Harriet, Sonya and Aris.

Vince tells them to find him.

Jorge says they need a pilot.

The Berg may be old, may have taken some damage back in Denver, but it still flies true. They leave Safe Haven behind.

Minho isn’t even sure where they’ll start, has no idea how to begin tracking Thomas down, but he knows staying on the beach isn’t an option. He can’t go running every morning, can’t sit by a campfire every night, and can’t watch whatever is happening between Gally and Brenda while he knows Thomas is somewhere else in the world chasing ghosts.

.

The Berg has to stop often to recharge – it may, in the end, have been quicker to travel on foot, but the transporter provides shelter, safety, a quick escape and storage. They scout while the solar plates soak up the sun. They fly at night.

They might be able to cover ground quicker, but Thomas is presumably going in one direction. They don’t know where to start. They drift course, try to scan as much of the desert as they can. It slows them down.

The days blend together. Weeks merge, bleed into months.

Time becomes distant. They stop tracking it properly. One day Gally just stares at the calendar on the inside of the Berg, knife in his hand. Etched into the metalwork are all the tally lines from the days they’ve crossed off. They’re cramped, small but even so the sheer number of them span the wall. He sets the knife down. No one asks, no one protests.

Thomas didn’t want this for them, but Minho can’t stop and he knows the others won’t either. How can they turn back when Thomas is somewhere out there?

Is he even still alive?

The day they stop marking days it’s been three years since they left the beach.

.

Gally is even taller. He and Brenda are…something; something that despite Jorge’s sideways glances is blossoming and thriving. Jorge secretly approves of it, it’s in the way he leaves them alone in the co*ckpit, the way he works shoulder to shoulder with Gally and looks so proudly at Brenda. Frypan and Minho stick together. They’re both aware of what they’re giving up to be here, but neither of them care. Frypan starts to outgrow his old jacket. Minho feels the prickle of stubble grow at his jaw.

.

One day, the Jorge shouts from the pilot seat.

There, a blight on the red horizon, is the black, ruined husk of Denver.

They set the Berg down as the sun comes up, in the sand strip of a town that’s been consumed by the Scorch. The Last City is just visible in the distance, but as they shut down the engines and prepare to make camp, Minho finds himself drawn to the lowered exit ramp.

Jorge is standing there, gaze fixed out down what was once probably a high street. His eyes are narrow, preoccupied.

“Jorge?” Minho asks him. “You’re not on shift.”

“Tell me, Hermano,” Jorge says instead. He raises a hand to gesture out to the open. “Are you seeing that?”

Minho looks. And he does.

He calls for the others.

There, sheltered in an alcove of a leaning building several yards out of reach of the Berg’s rotor blades, is a truck. It isn’t buried in the sand, its not gutted out, not half melted. It’s been carefully hidden beneath an old tarp. There are tire tracks, quickly being swallowed, that betray its recent movement.

It’s a working, active vehicle, all the way out here.

Which means survivors.

They haven’t found Thomas. They’re starting to lose hope – maybe they never had any to start with – but Minho feels like they’ve been subconsciously winding their way back here all the same. If they can find anyone alive, maybe it will help, even though Minho knows nothing will truly help but finding his best friend.

Even if it’s to be screamed at, even if it’s for a goodbye, he can’t let that letter be the last thing Thomas ever says to him.

They grabs some guns, just in case, they leave Jorge with the Berg, take some short distance radio transmitters, and they set off.

.

That’s the day Minho finds Thomas.

Most of the building is ruined, caved in or unstable. Only one path up a set of mangled steps seems safe, or even used. They take it. It leads them to a lab; a patchwork of scavenged parts and technology. The eerie blue screens and cold white lights keep away the glow of the rising sun. And there, laid so carefully on a cot and hooked up to numerous monitors, machines and tubes, is his best friend.

Thomas is skin and bone, wasting away, trapped in a dream world forged with nightmares of his own making.

The world spirals inward; tight, wrenching horror pulling through his veins, nerves fraying like they’ve been set alight but everything is cold. The lab twists and warps, his head flooding with pressure and the floor suddenly feels like its moving.

He can’t see this. He doesn’t know how to process it. He remembers Thomas giving him a tired smile, standing outside the shack Gally built for Fry to serve breakfast. The sun was bright, the rushing of the sea a soundtrack to the memory.

Minho doesn’t know how his best friend came to be here.

And it’s taken him years to find him. But at least this time he’s not too late. Thomas is alive.

Brenda tears in a ragged, horrified gasp and Gally staggers into a table, sending up a crash of disturbed glass vials and equipment. Frypan’s gun slips straight through his fingers to clatter on the ground. Minho moves forward on shaky legs.

That’s when the sound of a gun co*cking makes him freeze.

“You just stay back now,” an unfamiliar, gruff voice says. “Go on. Leave him be.”

The man steps from the shadows. He’s in tired clothing, a scarf around his neck and a grey beard thick around his weathered face. His eyes crease at the corners and his fingers are knobbly on the shotgun, but he holds it steady.

“We’re not gonna do that,” Brenda says behind him, and Minho glances back. She’s crying, her eyes large, glassy and reflective, tears shining on her skin, but she’s holding up her own gun and there’s conviction written into the fierce lines of her expression. “We’re taking him with us.”

The man’s eyes narrow on her. “And who might you be to say that? I made the kid a promise, don’t you go making me break it, now.”

Minho’s brain catches, does a double take.

“Wait,” he says. His gaze crosses to Thomas and his heart snatches, staggers in his chest, his own body trying to choke him. “What promise? What did you promise him?”

A flicker of something more like uncertainty, perhaps even shock, travels through the man’s eyes and after a long, suspended moment, he lowers the shotgun.

“We can get to that,” he says. “But first tell me – what’s his name?”

“What the hell do you mean ‘what’s his name?’” Gally demands. His voice is sharp and loud, cutting and brutal in the stillness, but it cracks in the middle. “His name is Thomas, and we’ve been looking for him for-“

He almost chokes over the word and Minho’s throat closes up in acute sympathy.

He doesn’t really know how long it’s been either.

“Hmm,” The man says. It’s a short sound, but sad, newly gentle. Knowing his name is a confirmation this man needed. “Same as him. Thomas never wanted to know how long it had been, either. Any time I hinted at it, he’d close up, drift away somewhere. In the beginning, the first day I met him, I told him it had been almost three years since WCKD’s Scorch Project was sunk. He never even reacted to the time and everything about him told me he never even heard it. His mind has been trying to protect him and its doing it by taking away information.”

Minho bridges the gap to what this man isn’t saying in an instant. All the realisations he hasn’t wanted close in on him, the air being sucked out of the world.

Thomas has no idea how long he’s been alive.

Two people died that night, in the cold plaza of the Last City under a remote, fathomless moon. Newt was the only one that stopped breathing, heart going still and cold in his chest as everything that he was disintegrated to atoms and decay. Thomas was still breathing at the end. But it didn’t change the fact that both of them died that night.

Minho wonders, not for the first time, but the first in a while, how much Thomas had thought about it when he took the bullet meant for Teresa. Had he wanted to save her, in spite of everything? It was in his nature to. It had felt a likely motive. But the more he considers it, the less sure he is.

Was it just because he wanted to save her, or just because he didn’t care about the risk? Or, possibly, was it even that he had put himself in the way hoping he wouldn’t ever see the sun come up again?

Minho just doesn’t know anymore.

He tried to help, but couldn’t do anything as he watched Thomas drift away from them in Safe Haven for months. Minho had asked the others what had happened; he’d missed a year. Thomas had been with Frypan, Brenda and Newt longer than Minho had ever known him, but even they could barely offer insight.

“He was ready to burn a city to get you back,” Frypan had told him once. “And, Min, he loved Newt in a way he didn’t love us. But there wasn’t time.”

It had broken his heart to hear it, that they’d never gotten that chance.

Maybe he was to blame; lost in denial hoping Thomas would pull through, find something to anchor to. But he never had.

Thomas lost everything with Newt and no one still living, no corner of the world could fix that. He hadn’t wanted to stay; couldn’t exist in that place when the price he paid was too high. Minho doesn’t care. He’ll live in the Scorch if he has to, if it means Thomas will stay.

“What’s your name?” he finally asks the man, the words scraping raw up his throat, and that’s when he realises he’s crying.

“Clyde,” The man says, after a second. “Clyde is the name he knows.”

“What does that mean?” Brenda asks. Her voice is trying to be fierce but it warbles and the gun still between her fingers, though pointed at the ground, trembles.

Clyde sighs. “My name is James Clyde. I gave him my full name the day I found him, but like he did with passing time, he seemed to just…block it out. He only ever called me Clyde. It made sense, the day he told me who he was; he was on the run from Janson for the better part of a year. I guess James was just too similar and his mind took it away.

“Doesn’t matter,” Clyde continues with a shrug. “Never much liked it. Clyde’s the name I’ll be taking with me when I head for purgatory. You’ll be the people he could barely talk about then? He said he had people out there, starting over.”

“That’s us,” Frypain manages, voice thick, even if it didn’t need confirming.

Minho turns back to Thomas.

He’s breathing shallowly, tautly, eyes moving beyond his closed lids, the heart monitor and machines surrounding him bleeping and whirring. A tiny glass bottle suspended beside the cot gleams with blue serum – the same kind Minho has vague memories of from the times he was unplugged from his own fear simulations during his abduction. Thomas has muscle atrophy; he’s not moving and they haven’t been needed. It makes the angles of his bones look sharper. Only the drip from the machine seems to be supplying enough to keep him going.

Everything is breaking apart, his world crumbling around him, his own heart shattering in his chest as sharp, hollowing grief tears at his insides and finds a home there.

This is what Thomas has felt like all this time, but worse, far worse. Minho wants, vaguely, one day, to find the kind of love that Thomas has already lost. This must have been unbearable for him to endure.

And then he realises.

He chokes on a breath, eyes skipping up to Clyde, who is watching him with a grave expression, the lines in his face carved through years of brutal sadness.

Thomas chose this.

The horrors of a fear simulation are visceral, wounding, but he chose it; to endure them, to watch Newt – of course Newt – die over and over, because it is better than never again seeing him at all.

Minho thinks he knows exactly what Clyde promised.

He’s afraid to voice it, even though he feels the certainty creep through and settle in his bones.

For a moment, he’s actually afraid that Thomas isn’t strong enough to wake up anymore, and he wonders if bringing him out might be far crueller anyway, but he can’t leave him this way. His heart is shattering over and over, sounds like breaking glass and the distant laughter from the Glade in his ears over the cold pulse of his blood.

Minho steals a rattling breath that tries to choke him and looks Clyde in the eyes.

“Wake him up.”

.

Brenda’s hand shakes on the gun and Gally takes her wrist with impossible gentleness, relieving her of the weapon. Frypan lets out and exhale that cracks through the room. Clyde looks heavy, old, ruined.

“I can,” he says. “But his body has been through a lot and his mind even more. Son…he doesn’t want to wake up.”

“That’s it, isn’t it?” Minho asks. “The promise?”

“Every few weeks I was to wake him, check his vitals, his brain function. The last time, he made me promise not to do it again; to let him stay under.”

“You’re using him,” Brenda snaps, bottled fury making her vivid and electric, vibrating in her skin. “You’re using his mental state to make room for your dream to cure the world.”

“This serum here?” Clyde says, jabbing a finger to the glass connected to Thomas’ tubing. “This has been collecting for a month now. The last time I gave him the drugs for a fear sim was a week ago, until today. I know you all have good reason to hate WCKD – I do, too – but I couldn’t keep watching it. I only do it now because…It’s what he wants, and I can’t do anything else for him. It was never in me to take a life even if this might be worse.”

There’s a dark pause.

Brenda’s breathing fills the quiet, melting in between the blips and falls of the monitors. Frypan cries silently, hand pressed tight to his mouth.

“You’re right,” Minho says finally. His voice cracks down the middle, his soul – if he can even believe in one – lies in razor fragments like broken glass. “It is worse. Wake him up. He’ll make it; he always does.”

.

Clyde moves to start pulling back the drugs, slowing down the steady stream of them.

“And if he does wake up?” he asks, though he looks faintly relieved that someone else has made this choice; one he couldn’t make himself. “What then?”

“We have transport,” Gally says, defiant but swallowing over sobs in his throat. “We’ll take him back to the Haven.”

“He hated the ocean,” Clyde says. There’s a sharp note in his tone, but mostly it’s just desolate. Thomas must have told him as much, or Clyde put it together; he’s put a lot else together.

“He hated it because it’s where Newt never got to follow,” Minho tells him. “But we don’t have to go back. I don’t care where we go.”

Clyde visibly rolls the thought in his head, seems troubled, but then nods slowly. He shuts off a monitor, and gently holds Thomas’ arm still as he draws out the cannula and tosses it away. However this works out, it won’t be needed again.

The bleeping of the monitor begins to slow, things stop whirring, and then everything stops, the screens fading to black.

Thomas blinks.

.

Thomas is awake, for the first time in weeks, months, maybe more.

Minho reaches for his hand, feels bone beneath the skin, and the others all huddle close. He blinks again, eyes unfocused, fogged with the memory of horror and pain, and it takes slow moments for them to clear, to find the world and to settle on the faces around him. They flicker, dart from Minho up to Gally, across to Brenda, sweep over Frypan and…keep going, his search turning desperate.

Something muted, hopeful but so damaged and broken, hollowed away inside of Minho shatters. He knows.

It was never just needing to escape the Haven; it was needing to escape this planet. He doesn’t want to lose his best friend – someone who came for him, let a city, a civilisation, a world burn to get him back – but he’s holding on to a ghost. He can’t keep doing that. It’s destroying them both. Destroying them all.

He thinks of the Berg sitting in the sand outside and wonders if they should have allowed Thomas to die the first time; let him go with Newt all those years ago.

This is not fair. He can feel the decision like ice water in his veins.

Thomas is searching for Newt. All these faces here – friends he fought for, people he loves – but not the one he would die to see again. Minho thinks Thomas has wanted to die for a long, long time.

“Its okay,” Minho tells him, and the tears spill forwards.

Thomas fixes his eyes on him and his other hand reaches up, sluggish, awkward. Minho catches that, too, squeezing even though he can feel his bones. Thomas gives him a trembling, ruined smile.

And that’s when his heart just…gives up.

“I…sorry…Mi-“

And Minho cries.

The tears stream, the grief tearing him open and he grips Thomas tight as his best friend lets go of his last breaths. Minho brings his emaciated weight across his lap and into his chest, rocking on the floor of the scavenged lab.

He can’t hold onto Thomas’ life, not now, only watch as it spills through his fingers, but he can hold onto his body as he goes. He can keep holding on, make sure that Thomas is taken back to the Safe Haven. He can make sure he’s scattered across the sea, the same place they set Newt into the wind years before.

“Its okay,” Minho tells him again as Thomas crumbles, turns to blood and bone and galaxies in his hands. “You say hi to him for me.”

Thomas dies of a broken heart.

.

.

.

When he opens his eyes again, Newt is there. He looks annoyed, exasperated, but he shines like he’s full of sunlight, timeless and blinding.

The Shape of Grief - Tattered_Dreams - The Maze Runner Series (2024)

References

Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Melvina Ondricka

Last Updated:

Views: 6717

Rating: 4.8 / 5 (48 voted)

Reviews: 87% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Melvina Ondricka

Birthday: 2000-12-23

Address: Suite 382 139 Shaniqua Locks, Paulaborough, UT 90498

Phone: +636383657021

Job: Dynamic Government Specialist

Hobby: Kite flying, Watching movies, Knitting, Model building, Reading, Wood carving, Paintball

Introduction: My name is Melvina Ondricka, I am a helpful, fancy, friendly, innocent, outstanding, courageous, thoughtful person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.