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Going Deeper
One final surge from Nox and it was over. The wedge was sealed off and the fire croc bitch buried under the rubble. He found himself sprawled on the ground alongside Nox and started to let himself think that they might finally be done with it all.

He squeezed Nox’s hand where it was laid out beside both of them. It was a victory grip for sure, but also a connection to another human that emerged from the other side of hell. He smiled to himself, still panting and turned to study his friend’s expression. It was completely different. The darkness and pain from before was gone. There would be a haunting that never truly left soldiers returning from battle, but the torture had abated.

Jay squeezed their hands together. Their hands were sweaty, probably slicked with blood and cave mud and worse. “Yeah, I’m okay,” he replied with a grin. A laugh even followed. It was the most light-hearted he’d felt in months. “You did it, you son of a bitch,” he added, quickly followed by the kind of kiss that was long overdue.
Only darkness shows you the light.

Nox was relieved that Jay was alright. He felt lighter, more quiet than he had since he lost the arm, but there were still a few far off noises he'd deal with later. Jay's hand enclosed around his good one with celebratory comment. He didn't get to say 'we did it' as lips pressed against him and Nox sank into the connection. They always had a connection, and it wasn't always about the sex. Though the fucking war they'd just gone through, the fighting, the pain, and now the quiet, there was a need. A desire that was all his own.

His right hand was occupied and he was content to leave it there. Nox returned the kiss with hunger and eagerness but the guild poured through his veins. Normally he'd not reach up to another person he didn't want to harm with the mechanical hand, but he did and gripped the front of Jay's shirt. He pulled the other man closer, kissed him a little harder, tried to express the raw emotion he felt before he broke the kiss. He didn't push Jay away. The hairs breath between their lips could be breached without any further action. "Jay." he whispered on bated breath. "I really shouldn't do this."

It wasn't being faithful that was truly eating at Nox. Raffe knew his past, knew where he'd come from, how he'd found who he'd found. Confessed his desire of Jay. But it was his word he gave. And Nox had nothing to offer but his word. Nothing else to offer. "I made a promise. If I break it. I have nothing left."
Yes, they were gross. Yes, Nox’s lips tasted of salt and ash. Yes, both their bad breath probably cancelled each other out. Jay wasn’t crazed out of his mind (debatable) and had no short-term plans on stripping Nox to nothing and doing him against the wall. He just let the moment take them both. Thrill and victory and bloody relief to be alive was the kind of thing that couldn’t be ignored. And nobody else on earth knew what Nox they went through except Jay. It was a bond that would never be broken and he wanted to caress and devour and drink in the human being that shared the other half of that bond in order to never forget it.

He ran his hands tight through Nox’s hair, squeezed the back of his scalp, knuckles digging painfully into the rock beneath, and cradled the back of his skull with his palm to make it more comfortable. There was an awareness that he was pulled closer in return. That feeling of acceptance for all their flaws and being desired in return was intoxicating. Jay barely heard Nox’s resistance. He definitely didn’t feel any resistance.

Finally, he separated just a bit. Just enough to open his eyes and remember some of where they were. The darkness was looming. They’d both released the power and the only lamps were the flashlights dropped on the ground in their haste to escape. Nox’s face was riddled with shadows. His hair jet-black in the low light. The silence after all the roaring and fighting was deafening. They were miles underground and an eternity away from the rest of the world. Jay's whisper of a response felt much louder than it was.

“Promise to what? Not die? Don’t worry, I got you,” he said and pushed a hand under the waist of Nox’s pants with a knowing grin. Nothing too serious would happen without the proper supplies (including a shower, because: gross), but they could both use a bit off the top.
Only darkness shows you the light.

There were words that Nox wanted to say. But where there had been silence of the now dead hoard, the primal instinct rose. That instinct tore through words as Jay’s hand dipped below his waistband.

It wasn’t the hoard’s needs. Wasn’t their desires. Not the source, anyway. What was left of the hoard’s presence in Nox’s mind pressed his own needs. But like the hoard, it didn’t matter what was on the other side of the instinct; it was primal.

His good hand found a reciprocating path along Jay’s body, and he pulled the other man in with the mechanical grip, hard for a kiss. It was much rougher, more wanton, deeper. It wasn’t passion, but it was desire.

The fog of lust and desire rode through the guilt like a chariot on fire. It had evaporated into the air and left only the pleasure of another man’s touch. No memories of another time flooded his mind. There was just the pleasure and need for release that stoked Nox onward.

And when that release came, the darkness of the hoard soared through Nox’s veins, taking a stronger grip on every cell in his body.
Jay was exhausted (and now, relaxed) enough to sleep. In fact, he probably dozed off more than once without intending to. Time was a blur down there, completely disconnected from technology. Hell, even sunlight was a memory.

Between moments of lucidity, he wondered about how all this started and if it could ever happen again. He’d go where sent, of course. Next time the mission called he’d probably be all the more a willing soldier. Admittedly, when they first left topside, he followed orders less because of the mission and more to seek escape. He wanted blood and gore if only to imagine every single thing he ripped apart was Amengual all over again, but Cayli and his parents felt like another life. One that wasn’t even his.

He’d never really felt like a part of that family, he knew now, and laying in the filth, body wracked to the point of exhaustion, having fought tooth and nail for a mission not his own, he realized why. It was with a surprising amount of acceptance that Jay acknowledged his fate. Family, normalcy – would never be part of his life because was meant for this. And this alone.

With that thought, he did finally doze off long enough to eventually recuperate the energy to head toward the surface.
Only darkness shows you the light.

Jay fell asleep and Nox couldn't close his eyes. The adrenaline had worn off from the heat of battle and the needs that followed. With the rush of fight or flight gone, the chemicals that gave me super human strength to save children by lifting cars, or the endurance to run faster and further than ever before fled his system, he was left with all the pain.

The silence in the cave was deafening. He heard his heart beating and soft sounds of his friend lying near by. Moving hurt. Thinking hurt. Everything hurt. Their goal was completed but Nox was left feeling hollow and empty. He had one thing... only one thing to give Raffe and he trashed it to hell and back because he couldn't keep the hoard at bay. He'd let his guard down, thought they were gone, when in reality they had never left. Whatever gave him that ability to control them remained. He still felt the far of call of a few left alive trapped in cages. Their pains were only faint whispers compared to what was left of the phantom pain he felt.

Nox pulled out an apple and crunched on it till the core was the only thing left. But the ravenous pit inside was not quenched. Whatever had taken over felt stronger, deeper. He'd given into the impulses and now it ravaged his body. Nox evaluated all his supplies and sorted them out mentally for the return trip and took a handful of the jerkies and stuff them in his pockets, pulling one out and gnawing on it while he situated their things. Nox wanted to see daylight -- to get this over with, however it ended.

He kicked Jay's boot and spoke softly. "Nothing dangerous left, but I want to get the fuck out of here."

When Jay was ready and functioning enough to walk they set out.

Nox set a quick pace, one that might see them out sooner rather than later in half the time. And since they weren't fighting they didn't need to take it slow. Nox didn't even bother with a light, the landwarriors saw enough as he followed the only path out of this hell hole. Nox put on the mask he'd worn his whole life. The good son. The happy child. The kid who was always ready for the next thing, a joke at hand, a quip to kill the darkening mood. He was good at faking it. Only Aurora ever saw through that façade.

At first the sounds of their foot falls, the breath escaping their lungs and the beat of their hearts were the only sounds. And then the slow drip of water could be heard. Where there had once been scratching and sounds of other creatures nothing remained but the sounds of a silent cave waiting to be occupied again. The tunnels wouldn't remain clear of vermin, but for the moment Nox was confident not even a rat scurried in these depths.

The sound of silence was peirced by a dozen beeps from Nox's wallet as messages arrived when his wallet picked up a signal again. A small smile drew across his lips but there was disappointment when all of the incoming messages were from Sage. His heart fell but the false bravado was placed back on his face after that brief moment of disappointment. He pulled up Raffe's number and sent him a text

@Raffe I'm alive. Still a few hours out. Need to see you.

Nox reached into his pocket for another jerky stick only to find nothing left. His stomach growled and a low rumble in his throat followed. "Need to stop a moment. Need to tell the Ascendancy we are alive and I need something to eat." Nox dropped his pack on the ground and pulled out the last bits of his rations and sighed. He'd eaten far more than he'd expected and was grateful they were near the end. Nox folded the last bits of the bread into the bag and stuffed it in his pocket then picked up the last hunk of cheese and took a small bite before closing up his pack.

He sent the Ascendancy a text to the only number he had. @Ascendancy Mission complete. Almost top side. Need long shower and even longer nap, can debrief after if you need me to

It was only then that he looked at the messages from Sage that got extremely more worried the further down the thread fell.

Nox sent his friend a message @Sage Still alive. Stop worrying Aurora.

There was an immediate message followed by another

Thank the fuck. She'd kill me if you died down there.
Jay was immediately awake when Nox nudged him. It had been only a short doze, but a soldier was an expert at napping on the spot. Ten minutes here and there could sustain him for days when necessary. 

He accepted some of the food that was offered, but couldn’t help but notice that Nox continually went back to the stash for more. It was like he was ravenous with a hunger that couldn’t be filled. Jay didn’t think much of it – he yearned for a cheeseburger and a whole pie first chance they got – but as the hours passed, Nox’s mood continued to darken. They’d won? Was it just exhaustion? Maybe it was all in Jay’s head. A trick of the atmosphere. They joked and taunted one another. Lude mixed with gross comments: a way to cope with the shit in their heads. Must just be exhaustion. Jay didn’t comment on it.

As soon as they reached a signal, Nox was responding to an endless string of messages. Jay looked blankly upon his own device. There was nothing. Nobody to check on him or wonder why he’d not responded in days. It made sense. The only people he knew were the other Rods – and they all knew what was going on – and Natalie. It was a little disheartening to find her cue blank, but he’d no reason to expect otherwise.

When they reached the surface, they were immediately extracted by the Ascendancy’s military representatives. They'd go their separate ways once cleared of infection and other contaminants. Jay turned in all of his technological devices. Their data was likely to be examined by analysts for anything useful, whatever that meant. And then the debriefing would follow. 

It was rote movement on Jay's part. He went where told and explained what he knew. When it was time to say goodbye to Nox, he left him with assurance that he would be there when needed and to stay in touch.
Only darkness shows you the light.

Nox continues in Falling
Reply from Ascendancy:

@Nox Well done. Your effort protected untold numbers of people. 

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