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Until It Sleeps

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Reset No. 6

Date: November 27th, 2018

End Days 


Every single day passed at an agonizingly slow pace now. 

Each second felt like it lasted hours. 

It was depressing to Paul that he couldn’t remember time passing faster. He’d stare down at the watch they’d provided him with to keep him on pace and watch as the hands made their slow pace around the circle of numbers. 

Not that time mattered anymore. 

Nothing mattered anymore. 

The world had snapped apart and what people that had survived were stuffed into the tunnels to be made soldiers in an unforgiving world. 

August seemed like it had occurred centuries before. The day the world had shattered into a million pieces to bend to the will of a family that came from what might as well have been Hell itself.  He couldn’t even remember the last time he’d seen the real sky. 

He dragged himself out of his cubicle when the alarm bell rang out, signaling that their workday was done with a heavy sigh. 

Since John and Xander had joined several of the people whose faces occupied the missing and dead wall, Colonel Schaeffer had taken over PEIP, instilling a strict schedule and a means by which every citizen would be put to work. If rules were not complied with, and curfews weren’t met, there would be issues and consequences. 

He’d thought the new routine was bullshit...why would they attempt to move on in life in these tunnels when so many were missing? Why couldn’t they at the very least try to give some of the people who were missing someone peace of mind?

Out of the 2,984 inhabitants of Hatchetfield as of August 27th, 2018, 1,899 were confirmed dead or under the influence of the Beings of the Black and White (so, basically dead), 489 were living in the tunnels under the care of PEIP, and another 596 were missing...Emma, John, Xander, and Tim included.

He pushed the painful thoughts of them away as he was stopped by a new PEIP recruit.  

“Hey Paul,” a tired Bill greeted him, “Headed back to the apartment?”

Paul nodded tiredly, “Uh-huh.”

“Well…” Bill began, biting down on his lower lip as if trying not to say anything that might make Paul feel uncomfortable, “Alice finished her latest work...if you ever want to read it…” 

Paul managed a small smile that didn’t go all the way to his eyes, “Sure Bill...I’ll read it at some point.” 

“Really?” Bill smiled, “She just really likes your input...we’re having Spaghetti tonight, compliments of Deb, if you want to join us and read it then?” 

“Um…” Paul didn’t want to socialize, he didn’t feel up to doing anything, “Not tonight, Bill...sorry.” 

“Oh,” Bill worked hard to contain a disappointed smile, “Okay...whatever you’re comfortable with, Paul.”

He nodded, “I’ll see you around, Bill.”

“Yeah...see you around,” Bill smiled sadly, before hesitantly turning  “You know…” he started, “If you need anything, we’re always here for you...right?” 

Paul nodded sadly, “I know...I just need...” What did he need? He didn’t even know what he wanted. Instead of delving deep into those thoughts, he settled on the simplest thing he could think of, “...time.”

Bill gently put a hand on Paul’s shoulder, before removing it at Paul’s flinch, “Of course, I get it. Just...know that we’re here for you.” 

Paul nodded slightly, “Thanks, Bill.”

With that, he set off in the direction of the residential quarters, another day to scratch into the metaphorical lines on the wall.

He was back to his old self again. 

Not the happy, excited Paul who’d possessed a passion for the world around him and a means by which he would see each day as an opportunity...even if he still maintained the position of an extremely boring man. 

No.

He was back to the shell of a man. The background character with no major aspirations, no major source of joy, and no knowledge of whether or not he’d wanted to continue in life. 

 

The happier Paul had died with Emma. 

 

Emma.

His heart ached at the thought of her. The thought of John, Xander, and his nephew, who’d been buried in the tunnels when the world was shattered.

He’d heard her scream, shattering his heart as her fear and pain echoed through his soul, possessing every cell in his body with grief. 

It had been three months since that fateful day. 

Three months exactly. 

Three months since the world ended, and the last of them had seen the sun. 

He’d been at the mouth of the tunnel when it happened, watching and praying that the three people they sent out would return safely to them. They knew the risks, and still, they’d taken the mission, under the chances that it wouldn’t be a success. 

Emma had gone to save Tim, who’d been taken captive by the thing that had never been Henry Hidgens, while John and Xander went to try and neutralize the threat. 

None of them had come back. 

Their vehicle of escape, which was supposed to get them back to the base as quickly as possible, had been destroyed by Hidgens, and they were forced to seek another mode of entry to the base, as the portal Hidgens had created, released the Lords in Black. Hidgens was killed, which was a success, but six beings of terrifying power had been released into the world. 

Thinking quickly, Emma had led John, Xander, and Tim to Hidgens’ home, seeking to lead them back to the PEIP base through Hidgens’ tunnel. 

They hadn’t made it in time. 

The tunnel had collapsed before they’d been able to reach the base. All Paul was able to hear was Emma’s scream of pain as the debris devoured her. 

And then silence. 

He could hear her no more and yet...the world hadn't reset... they must have been wrong about what caused the resets, because there was no indication of anything logical that would insinuate that Emma had lived.

When the silence came, he'd closed his eyes and waited to wake up on Christmas of 2017, the death of Jane rocking Emmas world and setting their lives in motion again. He wanted the resets to take away the pain...but he remained in the end of the world.

Why couldn't they go back to the start?

When he came to the apartment he’d once shared with Emma, he felt a painful tug at his heart.

She’d promised him that she would come back. He knew that it was a promise he wasn’t sure she could keep, but he wanted her to. He needed her to. 

Still, that was the last time he’d laid eyes on Emma Perkins.

His soulmate.

The love of his life.

He forgot way too often that she was gone. Sometimes he’d wake up with a smile on his face, roll over to wish her good morning, only to be met by cold sheets and a side of the bed that had been vacant for the past few months. Sometimes he’d pass by the lab and feel his heart skip a beat because he thought she was in there somewhere, but the wall containing pictures of the dead and missing was across the hall from there, and a singular image of Emma that he’d left there remained. A reminder that she was likely gone forever.

It sickened him.

What cruel universe was this where one could fall in love with the same person lifetime after lifetime, only to be torn apart time after time?

It was inhumane. 

He’d also left an image of Tim beside hers, a reminder of the nephew he wanted so badly, only to lose to the greed of the beings who sought to take their world for their own. Tim had been so young...and Tom still hadn’t completely recovered from the wound he’d received before the disastrous mission took place. Adding the grief to the physical wounds had left Tom on psychological leave...which was a fancy word for Schaeffer telling him to man up and move on.

If he was being honest, a real psychological leave was something every survivor needed. 

Memories of her warm smile, that wonderful grin that made his heart melt haunted him day by day. In some ways he knew, he’d never be free of her. In truth, he didn’t want to be. Her memory was a blessing. The fact that he could remember the sound of her voice, the scent of her hair, the feel of her in his arms...everything made each agonizing day a little brighter...until he was reminded that she wasn’t there. 

Grief was a funny thing for him.

 He refused to hold a funeral for them, mainly because a part of his soul illogically insisted that Emma wasn’t dead. That maybe she, Tim, and their friends had survived the collapse and they were out there somewhere...fighting to live another day. But the logic screamed at him that he was holding onto threads of hope that would only make his predicament all the more miserable.

They’d lost. 

He’d lost. 

He’d lost the one person who made him feel completely safe. The one face he looked forward to waking up next to every single day. The person who completed his soul. The person who made him want to work towards being a person worthy of living alongside her.

Emma Perkins. 

After losing and finding her several times over, he figured it was normal to refuse acceptance of the fact that she was gone. After all, they’d both died several times to get back home to one another...so why couldn’t this time be the same? 

He dug his key out of his pocket with a defeated sigh, unsure of what he should do, other than prepare for the mundanity and blandness of the next day. Food no longer had any taste. The world lacked color. Nothing was new and exciting for him. 

All there was, was a void. The void, and the grief. 

“Hey Paul,” a small voice interrupted his thoughts. Rather than filling him with a dread of interaction, however, a small smile crossed his face. 

“Hi, Hannah,” he greeted her warmly. 

She was sitting outside the apartment, wearing the grey clothes that had been distributed to all the youth living on base. In some ways, it was a good way for people to recognize the Hatchetfield refugees, but it lacked the color and life that had made Hannah, well...Hannah. 

Since the collapse in the caverns three months prior, Paul had grown close to Ethan and his cousins. Although they admitted it was odd that they had a cousin who was much older than them, they still got along well enough, and he enjoyed their company more than he did most adults, these days.

He sat down beside her, leaning against the wall with a sigh. 

“How was work?” she asked, her voice calm as she took in the look on his face, “Good day or bad day?” 

He sighed and shook his head with a shrug, unable to find a correct answer. 

She quirked an eyebrow at him as if she was reading his reactions, “In between?” 

He nodded, “What about you? Was today a good day or a bad day?”

She chuckled slightly before shrugging, “In between.” 

“Hmm,” he muttered, “Seems like everyone’s been having those kinds of days, right?” 

She nodded. 

For a while there, they just sat in silence. Since PEIP had begun to try and pick themselves up since the fall of the world above, everything had been scheduled rigidly. Rations were delivered first thing in the morning. Families were assigned apartments or were placed in a large warehouse where they had been provided with small curtained-off excuses for rooms. Everyone was given a job, and had to work at it until alarms rang for either break or for quitting time...then the process was repeated the next day. He’d been allowed to keep the apartment that he and Emma had once shared, and had even shared it with Bill and Alice until they’d been designated an apartment, but he felt guilty. Few people had to be placed in the warehouse, due to how few survivors there had been and the availability of apartments that PEIP had, but he still figured someone could use the apartment better than he was using it now. 

Still, Schaeffer ruled PEIP with an iron, uncompromising grip...everything that was assigned was set in stone, regardless of what might have been morally sound.

It was funny. He used to need a routine to be normal...and yet, now he was hating every second of each passing day. 

Hannah hummed as if she was deep in thought, “Missing her.” 

She turned to look at him, her voice remaining soft and calm as she took in his facial expressions, “Emma…” she clarified. 

He inhaled and exhaled sharply, “Yep...you could say that Han…” 

Hannah, despite his knowledge of her being the most powerful psychic in the world, always astounded him with the way she could read him. He’d always been closed off for the most part...never really wanting to talk about the feelings he couldn’t necessarily process. The only people who’d ever been there to help him process his emotions and read when things were rough, were his mother and Emma...both of whom were gone.

“It’s okay,” Hannah muttered, holding out a hand and placing it gently on his arm, “Normal.”

He nodded, “Yep, I know.” 

He hated how normal it was to feel the weight of the loss. Of the grief. It was paralyzing in some way...making him feel like he was chained to a twenty-ton ball that he was dragging around with every step she took. In some ways, he wondered if it was penance for what he’d done. He’d been the one to send Emma, John, and Xander to their deaths by telling them where Hidgens and Tim were, after all.

“So,” he questioned, managing a small smile and changing his tone of voice for  Hannah’s sake, “Hear anything interesting today?”  

Hannah nodded and grinned slightly, she leaned in, as if she was telling him one of the deepest darkest secrets she’d ever heard, “Four hundred and ninety…” she whispered.

“What?” he whispered, smiling slightly at her excitement. 

“New survivor,” she smiled, “Birthday...new baby.” 

His smile grew as he understood what she was saying. A new person had come into the world. Part of him was angry at the world, for being in such a shitty state. No child deserved to be born in a world like this...No child deserved to have this be their normal. But still, new life meant new hope. Something to be happy for. He tried to stifle more thoughts of Emma and a life he wanted with her as he turned to Hannah with more questions.

“Healthy?” he asked her, hoping for the best, “Mother and child are good?” 

Hannah smiled and nodded, “Both healthy.” 

He sighed in relief, that was good news. He didn’t want to get good news, only to have it ruined by life. 

“What’s the name?” he asked her. 

“Emily,” she whispered with a smile, “Emily Jocelyn Flynn”

He nodded, “A good name.”

He felt bad for the new baby. While anyone was lucky to be alive in these times, she’d been born into a cold and unforgiving world. A world where life and light were stifled out if it was met by the wrong force. It hurt to know that this was the life she would know.

Hannah looked up at him, a puzzled look on her face, “Have you been listening?” 

“Hmm? What do you mean?” He asked her, “I’ve been listening the whole time…”

“No,” she cut him off, her eyes filled with intent as she looked at him, “ Listening .”

Oh. 

He shook his head, “No...it’s too much for me.” 

“Oh,” she nodded in understanding, “Okay.” 

Ever since the collapse all those months before, he’d refrained from using his abilities. With the addition of all the new people into the tunnels, everything was too loud. It was all too much for him to handle. He didn’t want to intrude upon the personal boundaries of their lives, nor did he have any interest in messing with his abilities from the Black and White. The last time he’d done so, he’d sent some of the most important people in his life to their deaths, and he wasn’t going to make the same mistake again.

Listening to the thoughts of others was just too...intrusive and loud for him to handle, so he drowned it out as his mother had taught him.

He wondered if his mother was able to hear things like he was. After all, she was the one who instructed him on how to focus on what was going on in the real world as opposed to everything he could hear.

To be honest, there were a lot of questions he wished he could ask his mother.

How to move on despite the grief, for example.

He never wanted to move on from the reminders of Emma. 

Emma had been the best part of his life. The thing that made every single day worthwhile.

It was accepting the fact that she was gone that made everything painful.

Hannah looked up at him again, “Okay?”

He sighed, meeting her dark eyes that could see so much. She was the most powerful person he knew, besides Emma. Hannah possessed literal power and wielded it with the wisdom that wizards and old clergymen in fantasy novels only possessed. And she was only eleven! She could handle the noise much better than he could and knew much more than he ever would. 

He was okay with that, honestly.

He was making the conscious decision to not indulge what power he did possess for the sake of others, as well as attempting to pass as normal. It was his choice, and he made peace with it. There were more important things he had to make peace with when it came to his life.

Still...was he okay?

He didn't know. 

He moved on in daily life, yes. He was still breathing. All the scars and bruises that he acquired during the downfall of the world had healed. Physically, he was healthy. 

But the pain was still there.

It was in every empty moment when he would turn over to say something to Emma or text her, and be met by the cold reminder that the woman he loved was no more. It was in every time he passed by the casualties wall and saw her picture alongside Tim’s. It was in every dream of Emma suffering that he received since she'd been gone.

Reluctantly, he sighed and looked at Hannah, “Nope...I don't think I am, Hannah.”

“That's okay, ” she nodded, a look of pain in her eyes, “I miss them too.”

“Hey, Banana!”

A bright and cheerful voice snapped them out of their melancholy reverie as they looked up to see Lex and Ethan, dressed in their black work uniforms, freshly returned from another long day of work down in the mechanics bay. Paul could tell from the sight of them, that they were exhausted- as most people were these days- but they tried to keep up a cheerful mask for the sake of Hannah. If Paul was honest, he was sure Hannah could see through it, but the efforts on Lex and Ethan’s part were valiant all the same.

“Hey, Paul,” Ethan greeted with a tired smile, eerily similar to the one Bill had used earlier, “How was your day?” 

“Same as always,” Paul shrugged, “How’s the mechanics bay?”

“Rivalling a 1910’s sweatshop,” Lex snorted as Hannah stood up to hug her, “But it could be worse.”

Paul nodded. After everything had collapsed, Schaeffer had mandated that all people ages seventeen and up were required to work for some facet of PEIP, being treated like soldiers in a makeshift survival complex. Because of that, Alice, Deb, Lex, Ethan, and so many others were forced into different aspects of PEIP’s inner workings. In return, they were given rations, uniforms, and the ability to stay in their assigned quarters for the duration of their stay with PEIP. He didn’t think it was very fair for this to be the means by which children had to function...but it wasn’t necessarily a fair world they were living in. 

Paul stood, smiling at the trio as Lex worked at her keys to get the door open, “I’m glad you guys are doing well,” he said calmly...which wasn’t necessarily a lie. He was happy that they were making do with the hand that life had dealt them. At the very least, they were together and happy….which was a luxury few were privy to. 

So many people had lost their family members to the fanaticism of the Beings of the Black and White...or the Lords in Black, as they preferred to be called now. Some were killed by the zealots, while others joined in their ranks. Either way, they were as good as dead. It was rare to come across a family that hadn’t lost at least one family member.

 Bill and Alice were fortunate to have each other, and Deb, when everything was considered (they hadn’t heard any news of Alice’s mother). Ted and his nerdy little brother had both survived, which was the only family Paul was aware that he had. Charlotte’s husband, Sam, had been lost to a wave of Wiggly’s forces, having joineD in their ranks...Charlotte was lucky enough to have survived as she did. And then there were other people in Paul’s life, that shared in his grief...Tom for example. 

Tom had recovered partially from the wound he’d received when Hidgens had thrown him into a shard of wood, but that good news was quickly negated when the tunnels collapsed, and Tim and Emma were lost with it. 

Paul could remember overhearing the final conversation Emma had with Tom when she’d volunteered to go out and retrieve her nephew because Tom was too physically weak to do so on his own. Paul had heard every ounce of desperation in Tom’s voice as he begged Emma not to go, to let him save his own son and not throw herself in harm's way. In some ways, Paul guessed, Tom wanted to fix things, as was his nature. Tim was his son, so his kidnapping was Tom’s issue to fix...and Emma was another member of the family that Tom wasn’t willing to sacrifice in the game they’d all been caught up in. He’d shared in the relief that they’d gotten Tim out of Hidgens’ clutches...but the grief and rage that followed afterward…

It was a rage that kept Tom isolated from most people. Even Becky. 

 Paul knew it was warranted. Tom blamed himself and the rest of the world for the loss of Tim. In some ways, Paul shared in that rage. He blamed himself for letting Emma leave to go get him. Still, it was out of his control and Paul understood that to an extent. Tom, however, did not. 

It was because of that, that Paul hadn’t seen much of Tom in the past few months. 

Part of him didn’t care...but the part of him that still desired to protect what was left of their little family screamed in outrage at his indifference. 

The little part of his brain that sounded painfully like Emma would have said that grief was a bitch. And he would have agreed. 

“Hey, man,” Ethan murmured, “If you wanna come over for dinner at some point you can...I know it’s just shitty rations, but…”

“No…” Paul muttered as politely as he could, “No thanks...it sounds cool...but I’ve-uh...I just…” 

He couldn’t think of any excuse. Way back when, he was able to come up with a simple answer of ‘no, I don’t want to’ like it was his second language. But turning down the kids who were also his cousins and neighbors was different from turning down Bill. 

If he was disappointed, Ethan didn’t show it. He merely shrugged with a small smile, “Hey, it's okay, man, do what you need to do.”

Paul nodded gratefully, before digging his key out of his pocket again and moving back to his door, “I’ll see you guys later, then.” 

Lex smiled slightly, “Okay...see ya around, Paul.” 

With that, the trio of kids slipped into their apartment, leaving Paul fiddling with the lock endlessly, struggling to get the key to turn in place. 

After a moment of muffled curses and annoyance, he finally managed to get the door open, and stumbled like a zombie into the dark room.

With a sigh, he dropped what belongings he had onto the small kitchen table he’d once shared with Emma and stumbled to the bedroom, not wanting to do anything more than go to sleep. After another long and agonizing day, where every second seemed to last forever, he wanted to fall asleep and forget about the grief for a while. Perhaps some rest would relieve him of the weight that was crushing his heart, leaving him trudging about his daily life like a bricklayer. 

He felt old. He felt like his body was slowly decaying into nothingness as he moved on in life. He rarely ate, and whatever sleep he could get was scarcely good before the thoughts of Emma and what had happened consumed him. Oftentimes, he’d be up in the middle of the night, expelling what little was in his stomach from the memories. The jarring memories that made almost every waking moment feel agonizing. 

For those first few weeks, he’d eaten nothing, and slept on the floor, not wanting to disturb the bed he and Emma had shared in that month they’d had one another for. It had taken some serious intervention on the part of Bill and Becky, after he passed out in the middle of the day, to get him eating somewhat normally, and at the very least taking care of himself to a certain extent. It was hard, he knew, but it had to be done.

 He didn’t quite know what he was moving forward for. 

Maybe it was his fondness for Hannah, Lex, and Ethan, who were in need of some adult-like guidance in the absence of Tom. Maybe it was because he didn’t want to leave them alone in a world that had claimed everyone else he’d cared about. Maybe because he didn’t want Bill to lose his best friend, or Alice to lose her godfather. Maybe it was because Schaeffer severely punished those who tried to end it all...in her own twisted, dictator-like way. 

Maybe it was because that small part of him still hoped Emma was still alive. 

It was a painful thought to know that they’d had each other back for only less than a month. If you took the time between when he woke up from his attempted infection, to the day when the caverns collapsed and destroyed everything he cared about, one would have  found that they’d actually only really had one another for almost two weeks. Not even, actually...it was eleven days. 

Eleven days after he’d woken up without the infection. 

Eleven days of the two of  them being together. 

Eleven days of them being happy. 

Eleven days before it all fell apart.

With a tired sigh, he collapsed onto his side of the bed, trying very hard not to disturb the area where she once slept. Glancing over the stiff, unused pillows sadly. In some ways, they still smelled like her, a reminder that Emma Perkins had once shared the bed with him. Her clothes were still in the right drawers of the small dresser they shared, which he hadn’t had the heart to throw out or donate. Her toothbrush and face wash was still in the same messy position she’d always left it on the counter. 

He figured it was odd...of course, to be preserving what physical memory he had of her. But it was all he had. Some nights, he’d fall asleep with the resolution to clean the apartment out, in doing so get rid of the source of his prolonged grief, only to wake up knowing he couldn’t do it. 

As he curled into the softness of the blanket, not even bothering to get under the blankets and sheets, he felt himself sinking into a sleep, knowing it wouldn’t be blissful or peaceful. Resigning himself to a punishment he felt he was deserving of. 

As he was claimed by sleep, a few tears slipped past his eyes soaking onto his pillow. 

And he waited for the nightmares to come.  

—-

The sound of a large crash snapped her out of her daze, making her muscles tense and fear for the worst. Just as she was reaching for the gun she kept beneath her pallet, she recognized the curses and sounds of her companions trying to dig their way out of their desolate location and groaned, falling back on her pallet to earn a few more moments of precious, albeit uncomfortable, sleep, trying to ignore the raging pain that ran through her residual limb.

Three months and she’d not been able to move without the assistance of a wheelchair. Three months of her staring at the ceiling and trying to keep her now half-blind nephew entertained. Three months of being alone with her thoughts. Three months of pain. Three months of wondering how long it was gonna be before they either escaped or died off. Three months of stifling tears for a life she’d wanted so badly, but was now being kept from her by several yards of fallen rock.

Three months of missing Paul. 

 

Despite all of this, Emma Perkins was still very much alive. 

 

They’d told her the tunnel collapsed on her, engulfing her lower half in rubble and metal. 

They told her that Tim had been the one to start digging her out. 

They told her that John and Xander had tag-teamed it to remove her decimated leg.

 They told her the leg had to come off. 

 They told her they were trapped in Hidgens’ basement.

They told her that the world above was on fire. 

 They told her she’d been unconscious for a month, the infected tissue in her residual limb taking its toll. 

They told her they’d been waiting for her to die and were shocked that she hadn’t. 

They told her the chances of them going through the tunnel again were extremely slim. 

They told her they didn’t know if Paul was still alive. 

Emma couldn’t remember much from the moments before the cavern had come down upon her. All she could remember was grabbing Tim and screaming at him to get back before a wave of ruin had engulfed her, allowing blackness to detain her vision and make her feel nothing but pain. 

She couldn’t remember if she’d screamed. If she had, she hadn’t heard it. 

Only a small section of the tunnel had collapsed, almost as if the world, in its little way of saying “ fuck you” had placed a wall that was presumably a few yards thick. They had the mouth of the tunnel, of course, but they would only get a few yards in before the cutoff. 

When she’d opened her eyes a few months before, she’d been met by a worried but relieved-looking Xander, who was calling her name, asking her if she could hear him. She could, but she was extremely confused.  

The next person she’d seen was Tim, who’d thrown himself into her, sobbing loudly. Through his tears, he’d explained how everything had gone wrong. How the tunnel had collapsed, trapping them in there, pinning her underneath rock and rubble that they were certain would have killed her. 

She didn’t know what was happening, but she could tell from the pain in one of her legs that something was wrong. 

She’d looked down and seen that she no longer had a left leg.  

Then she’d screamed and had to be sedated by Xander. 

When she opened her eyes again, she was still in the remains of Hidgens’ basement, trapped with Xander, John, and Tim...and what was left of a Professor she’d once loved. Between the four of them, they had seven legs, seven working eyes,twenty-seven scars (not including the ones received before this disaster), one doctorate, three high school diplomas, and one major issue; they were trapped in a basement.

It could have been worse, she knew. After all, it was Hidgens’ basement, which was already stocked up with years worth of food and medical supplies (including instructions on how to properly remove various kinds of limbs, which was something that had come in handy when John and Xander had to take it upon themselves to remove her leg and save her life). 

The emotional wounds were far worse than the physical ones. 

They only had one working clock, which was John’s watch...and the only function that remained working was the date. They only had the fact that today was August twenty-seventh...three months exactly since all hell broke loose and they’d been sealed away from the people they loved. 

This was a reminder that time no longer meant anything to them. All that mattered was survival and waiting. Since John and Xander were the only mobile ones, they’d done their best to recover fast from what injuries they’d sustained and try to dig them a way out. Tim had even tried to help, but John had assigned him with making sure Emma didn’t hurt herself even more than she already was. 

So, she spent her time doing what she could from her pallet, attempting to sit up, get more mobile, moving into a dilapidated wheelchair they’d found, organizing rations, calculating how much time they would have before John and Xander would presumably make their way through what damage had been done (which was months away at best), and thinking about Paul. 

Mostly about Paul. 

Her thoughts did wander to Tom...poor Tom, who was living without his son...under the assumption that he was still alive.  Or maybe she thought about Lex, Ethan, and Hannah, who were trying their best to keep themselves alive. Or sometimes about their friends from before the onslaught of terror had claimed them...wondering whether or not they were alive...but her thoughts always went back to Paul. 

She’d promised him she was going to get back to him. 

She intended to keep that promise. 

She didn’t even know if he was still alive, or if anyone else was..for that matter. All she had was a sense of hope that she couldn’t abandon. Those and the memories. 

Just a few months ago, those memories from past resets had been the thing dragging her to her deathbed. Now, they were the only thing that kept her alive. That and Tim. 

She cracked open an eye to see the boy sitting beside her in a small chair. She managed a small smile, “Hey, kiddo.” 

Tim looked over at her, his shaggy hair hanging in his face, “Hey, Aunt Emma.” 

She had to stifle a flinch at the scar that now covered his right eye, marking the place where he’d been thrown into a tree. The boy coped with his new half-blindness well, despite the circumstances. 

Tim scooted closer to her pallet, “You sleep okay?”

She shrugged, trying to push herself up into a sitting position, against the complaints of her body, “As well as I could. You?”

Tim shrugged, “As well as I could.”

Another crash came from the mouth of the tunnel where Xander and John worked tirelessly to free them. She looked to her nephew, running a hand through his messy hair, "They making any progress?”

Tim sighed, “Xander thinks it'll still be a few months.”

She sighed and tried to keep a look of disdain down for Tim’s sake, “Okay…okay...okay…”

They'd already been at this for three months, and though she’d offered to help as much as she could, Xander refused to let her or Tim help. Tim, because he was so young, and Emma, because they didn't want her to endanger the work they’d done on her leg. She thought those were bullshit arguments and tried to explain that with at least three of them working in the tunnel, there would be a greater chance of them going home before Hidgens’ supplies ran out, but Xander and John would hear nothing of it.

Apparently, removing a leg was something neither of them had done before, but the assessment they'd made of Emma when they finally managed to pull her from the rubble was that the leg had to come off lest she want to lose so much blood and die as a result of it. They'd already thought it was a miracle that she was alive when she was pulled free of all the rocks and metal, so why not try and save her life with all the medical equipment Hidgens had kept? It wasn't the best, but they managed to get the leg off...which was good, she guessed…but Xander wasn't entirely sure that her residual limb had healed properly. It also certainly didn't help that his doctorate was in theoretical physics, not actual medicine.

So, she humored them while they made their agonizingly slow pace through the dirt and stone that had severed them from PEIP’s underground base. She could only hope that they weren't wasting their time digging. Hoping that the base was still standing. Hoping that those she loved were still alive…

The thoughts of Paul returned. 

She remembered their last conversation. When she’d been putting on tactical gear to prepare for the mission that would save Tim, and hopefully the rest of the world. She’d been alone, so no one was there when Paul wandered in, his eyes filled with sadness and understanding as he watched her. But, instead of asking her to stop, he’d merely helped her into the vest and padding, making sure she would be protected. She’d almost been completely finished with getting ready when she’d seen the tears in his eyes. She’d remembered how she’d promised him that she would come back...how she wouldn't abandon him. How she would get Tim back, get him back to Tom and the rest, and when worse came to worst, they would at the very least be together. All that mattered to her was that they were safe and together. He’d wanted it too. And she’d promised to see it through.

And life had made her break those promises. 

She couldn’t forgive herself for breaking them. Between losing her leg, watching Tim get injured, and being trapped in an area where they were sealed off from all the other potential survivors, she could only hope that Paul was still alive in there. That the base hadn’t fallen, that PEIP still survived. That the survivors of Hatchetfield had made a home in there, in spite of PEIP being without the proper leadership of John. Mostly, though, she just wished that Paul was alive and okay. 

It was all she could think about before she went to sleep, and all that occupied her mind when she woke up.

She tried not to let it eat away at her every waking moment, but the fact was, that they were both in states where neither of them knew if the other was alive. She certainly hoped he was.

The idea of him being dead was too much for her to take. 

She could go over that same old spiel about how many times they’d lost one another. In the previous lifetimes and the present, but none could equate to the more recent. It was almost as if every single time got all the more painful. Each time they were forced apart, she was left wondering if she would ever see his dopey blue eyes again. Those eyes that she loved more than anything else in the world. 

God, the mere memories of him were what she had to hold onto in her hopes that he wasn’t dead, but the fear remained all the same. 

In spite of her attempts to distract herself with work (which mainly was a repetitive cycle that left her mind jumping from place to place anyway), she always found herself reflecting on Paul. And it hurt. 

Everything about their situation-emotional and physical- hurt. 

She wouldn’t cry in front of Tim, though. 

Despite her insistence that it was okay for him to cry, he’d been putting on a stiff upper lip, insisting that he was okay and that he would continue to work until they got home. She was proud of him in his willingness to work and do what he could to make sure they didn’t die as they attempted to return to the people they loved and cared about. Still, she knew it was unhealthy for him to not be releasing the emotions she could see in his dark eyes. Much like Emma and Jane had been when they were younger, they were never keen on letting others see themselves cry...which made the eventual breakdown all the worse, and sometimes over the smallest things. Jane, for example, had been bottling up a great deal of anxiety regarding college applications over the course of her senior year. All it took was a single scathing grade in calculus, and then she lost it. Emma couldn’t blame her, to be honest...but after witnessing how often stuff like that would happen, she knew it couldn’t have been healthy for Tim to be holding everything back. 

God, she wished Jane was here to give him the advice and comfort they were all in desperate need of. 

She wished Tom was here to hold his son and give him the reassurances she never could. 

She wished Paul was here...Tim adored him and always seemed to take whatever dorky advice he had to offer. 

She wished he was there to comfort her, too. 

It was selfish, she thought, to want him back so badly...but they’d barely had time together when she’d gotten him back to the point until she’d been nearly crushed. He’d always made her feel like everything was going to be okay. He didn’t even have to try to reassure her for her to feel like everything could become okay. One look into those crystal clear blue eyes and the stormy skies of her life would clear. 

A loud crash from the tunnel sounded again, and moments later, a dust-covered pair of idiots emerged, arms around one another. 

John’s beard had grown out of hand over the course of the last few months, to the point at which he’d attempted to trim it with a scalpel they’d salvaged from a destroyed lab station. Xander’s stubble had grown too, but not nearly as out of hand as his husbands. In the course of digging, however, they’d always managed to emerge looking like statues...or something out of an Alexandre Dumas novel. 

Xander grinned, making the clay-like dust across his face ripple and crack as he approached where Tim and Emma sat. 

“What’s your progress?” Emma asked as he sat down on his own makeshift cot, using a washcloth to wipe away at the dirt and dust that covered his face. 

“We’re making good progress and managed to get what we think is cement out of the way,” Xander smiled, his voice sounding raspy, “But it was rough.” 

John sat down next to his husband, combing his fingers through his beard to rid it of any spare flecks of dust and rubble, “We were worried we might cause another cave-in, so we’re gonna stop for today.”

Emma nodded, “How long?” 

Xander bit down on his lip, lifting a water bottle to his lips, taking a long swig of it, “We think maybe two or three months.”

She sighed and leaned back, propping herself up on her hands, “You know if you let us help you, it would go a lot faster…” 

“Absolutely not,” John said curtly, “We can’t risk damaging your leg any more than it already is...at least until we can get a proper doctor to examine it. Remember the fever you had shortly after we lobbed your leg off?” 

She, in fact, didn’t remember the occasion, because she was unconscious for a majority of the time. However, she’d heard an earful about it from them afterward, and was grateful for that fact. 

Shortly after they’d removed her leg and burned what was left of the damaged appendage, she’d developed an infection around the area, rendering her burning up and delirious. By some stroke of luck, they’d found some antibiotics and stuff that could potentially help ward off any infection of the area, but during that time, she’d been delirious. Almost as if she’d been put under some hallucinogen or toxin, that made her express her agony in a very loud and visceral way, often leaving Tim to play nursemaid and give her whatever pain meds they had to stop her from screaming in pain. 

According to Tim, when she’d been unconscious and stuck in this almost satanic delirium they’d not known whether or not she’d wake up from, she’d called out for Paul several times. The thought of appearing so weak to her nephew would have once seemed humiliating, but the fact broke her heart instead. 

It was true, she knew, how painful and confusing everything was once she’d woken up.  At that moment, all she wanted was Paul. And he wasn’t there. She didn’t even know whether or not he was alive. 

Still, she carried on. Maintaining the facade she could keep of toughness and strength. She was a fighter. She was no waif. She wouldn’t allow herself to give up because she was in pain or wanted to see him so badly. She wouldn’t succumb to the uncertainty. 

She would survive on the hope that somewhere out there, Paul was alive. 

Because she was Emma fucking Perkins. 

She sighed and nodded, “I think we have enough rations to last us that long, but we have to remember that Hidgens was preparing to take care of himself when he was preparing for the apocalypse...not four people.” 

John nodded, “If we keep at this pace, though, that shouldn’t matter...right Xander?” 

Xander nodded after taking another sip of his water, “If we keep up the pace, we should be fine, under the assumption that we were right about the collapse being only three yards thick.” 

In three months, they’d been able to move forward about four feet. Somehow, she knew it wasn’t realistic to believe they’d made that much progress in such a short amount of time. Hadn’t it taken those guys in the Count of Monte Cristo, like, five years to move that far? 

Regardless of how odd the situation was, she was grateful for the progress they’d made. After all, with each inch of dust they cleared, they were one inch closer to the people they cared about. They were closer to going home. 

Emma inhaled and exhaled sharply at the thought of the months that lay ahead. The months that would sever her from any chance at seeing Paul again. 

Tim noticed her discomfort at the idea and took her hand gently in his own, “We’ll get back to them,” he promised, keeping his tone as hopeful as he could, “I know we will.” 

She smiled at the hope in his eyes and ran a hand through his scruffy hair, “I know we will, bud.” 

Did she? 

Was there any guarantee that they’d be making it back to the ones they loved? 

Was there any guarantee that they were still alive? 

She knew the answer was no. But the hope...the hope that occupied the bright eyes of her nephew was all that mattered. As long as it gave them a reason to survive she would indulge it. 

Because she couldn’t lose sight of the belief that Paul was still out there. That maybe he was waiting for her. That maybe they still had a chance at a life together...with the family they’d forged in the middle of confusion while awaiting Armageddon. 

Later, when everyone had collectively decided that it was time for sleeping, she stared at Tim’s small sleeping frame on the pallet a few feet from her own. 

He slept on his stomach, his mouth open as he snored softly. His already-messy red-brown hair was tangled and growing all the more ruffled as his head turned about in his sleep. All four of his limbs, which were growing slightly more knobbly and gangly with the amount of food they could afford to eat on a daily basis, were extended across the width and the length of the mattress like he was gripping the corners. Still, in spite of his unruly positioning, he looked peaceful. Something that had evaded her since they’d been trapped in Hidgens’ basement. 

John and Xander were curled up on their own ratty, makeshift mattress on the other side of the room, cuddled up in one another's arms, looking peaceful and worn out from a day of working. She owed a great deal to them. 

Xander had helped her bring Paul back to her all those months ago. John had been the one to prevent Hidgens from killing Paul once they’d got him back...keeping him alive despite the malicious cerulean stain his blood had. John and Xander had been the ones to allow her to come on the mission that would save Tim’s life. They’d been the ones to help Tim dig her out of the rubble. They’d been the ones to save her life by removing her decimated limb. They’d been the ones to take care of Tim while she’d been unconscious and out of commission as a result of the blood loss and infection. 

They’d been like some sort of guardian angels to her and Tim over the course of the past few months. And they’d been working their asses off to return themselves to PEIP. 

To Tom. 

To Lex, Ethan, and Hannah. 

To Becky. 

To Paul.

She owed a great deal of her survival to them, and she was certain she’d never forget them in her lifetime. She only hoped their digging wasn’t a fool's errand. 

She leaned back against the basement wall with a small sigh, a small tear slipping down her cheeks as the soreness in her leg rose to a stabbing pain which made her want to grip at it and remove what was left. Pained sobs choked up in her throat as she tried to swallow her agony, the cramping and stabbing making her feel like she was bruised from the inside out. Trying to avoid waking up Tim and the others, she bit down hard on her lip, trying to stifle her shallow breathing and cries. 

She lay back against the makeshift pillows she’d been leaning against for what seemed like an eternity, letting the tears roll silently down her face, praying for some form of sleep to claim the agony from her. 

I miss you, Paul.

---   

He didn’t know what he was seeing. 

For once, the dreams hadn’t come to him in vivid shades, defined lines, and clear images that would make him live the next morning feeling like he’d been deserving of what horror the dream had to convey to him. 

Everything looked brown. If not, it looked like someone had placed a sepia filter over his eyes, painting everything as if it were a photograph from the eighteen hundreds. There were a few bursts of color, which seemed to be coated in dust as he passed them. Almost as if he was walking through a deserted wasteland, he could make out the remains of different objects that might have once held importance but because the world was a blur, he could see nothing exceedingly clearly. 

A small sound caught his attention, causing him to whirl around in the darkness of...wherever he was. 

At first, it sounded like a small cry from a wounded animal, but as the place was almost entirely devoid of life, it didn’t make sense that something would have been alive down here. He began to pace through the blob-like figures of the area, unable to see clearly what he was looking at. For a moment, it looked almost as if he were walking through one of those nuclear towns from the 1960s (was that what they were called?), an empty ghost town, filled with colorful figures that might have once tried to portray life. 

A sharp sigh caught his attention once more, causing him to stumble forward, looking for what he was pretty sure was a wall.

As he moved forward, he tripped over something. Something...cushion-like, forcing him to fall to the solid, hard ground. His palms ached as he slammed down upon the cool floor, which felt vaguely like concrete. As he tried to push himself up, he took note of another blob of color that seemed to be leaning up against the wall...almost like a statue. 

Only, it wasn’t a statue. It was a person. 

The blurred figure was mostly covered in faded shades of grey, minus the areas that might have been skin. He could make out no features of the person’s face, only that they had tanned skin and dark brown hair...and they were shaking. 

The sound of stifled cries of pain cut into his heart. 

Why did they sound so familiar? 

He tried to reach forward to comfort the person. To perhaps, see the person more clearly. To let them know that they weren’t alone. But then of course, he remembered, it was all a dream. 

Suddenly, in spite of the lack of movement from the person, a loud, clear voice erupted in his head. Not like they’d spoken, but like he could hear them. 

He recognized the clearness of thought as one message and one message alone reached him. 

A message that echoed in his mind in a familiar voice. 

A voice that made his heart shatter even more as he recognized it. 

In spite of not listening to anyone’s thoughts in the last three months, Paul Matthews heard this one almost as if he was in the same room. 

“I miss you, Paul.” 

 

He shot up in bed with a hoarse gasp, coughing and grasping at the blankets with grabby hands that needed something- anything- to hold onto. He wiped his sweaty brow with a shaky hand unable to believe the voice he’d just heard. His breaths were choked off as he took in his surroundings. He was in the apartment. He was okay...right?

He was only able to get one word out as he gasped for air, desperate to process what he’d just experienced.

The name of the person, the voice- or rather the thought- had belonged to. 

Emma…?”