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Literature Text

Fall Leaves

It was routine, by now: search the area, apprehend any civilians that were trying to get blown up before relevant information could be teased from them, plant the mines and-


That was all there was to it, and Kincaid's unit was known for their success. He felt this had less to do with his leadership and more to do with abandoned actually being abandoned, but you couldn't fight every battle. So, on they went to do it all over again.

They split apart as they crossed the perimeter – mostly in pairs, but he took the house nearest the rusting fence alone, gun in head and ears pricked. His area wasn't just abandoned, but fully looted, with most of the doors missing and afternoon sun filtering in broken windows. Already he could see nowhere for him to hide, let alone someone who didn't know how.

Despite this he moved cautiously from room to room, half-crouched, his steps light. What little sound he could have made was muffled by the floor, by the six months worth of trash blowing in holes and rotting and oozing all together, and he strained to hear past the buzzing silence. He wasn't fooled by the autumn leaves scattered around, lending cheerful color to a grim atmosphere, and his guard remained firmly up.

Could he even be lazy, if he tried? Experts debate at 11.

Through the gaping doorway, and something shattered beneath his weight. Kincaid froze; it didn't sound like any mine he knew, but that didn't mean much. He bent carefully, gloved fingers pushing muck away from his shoe until the shards came into view. His eyes narrowed, but the tension didn't leave his shoulders, even when his foot left the ground.

The glass had already been shattered, but he'd finished the job with the frame, tearing gouges from the sodden photo beneath with the sharp edges. He almost considered lifting it free, trying to clean it and discover who had once lived here, but the thought slipped away before it had even fully formed. He straightened, already turning as the footsteps came at him.

It was a sloppy assault, and it never crossed his mind to pull the trigger – but not out of mercy so much as because there was a Mission Objective to achieve. The barrel of his gun rammed hard into soft flesh, and the knife fell from his attacker's grasp with a pained cry. The weight as he crumbled dragged against his arms, and Kincaid booted him backwards to collapse even as he stepped forward, kicking the knife out of reach.

It had only taken a few seconds. He could have done better.

“Hey.” The soldier's voice was light, maybe even cheerful in a place like this. “I think I'm lost – can you help me out?”

The wheezed answer was just full of directions, but even that failed to impress him. Kincaid snorted.

Such bad language, he thought. Gensval should be ashamed.



There was a bowl of soup in front of him.

Seneca wasn't sure who had made it or what it contained – aside from the obvious, from the pumpkin seeds splattered around the kitchen like it had exploded – but his stomach didn't care, and growled painfully. The bread was almost fresh – only the best for the prince, rah rah! -- to better scoop up the orange slop, to shovel it into waiting maws, and all around there was loud laughter and louder pride.

Every bulb in the stolen house blazed an invitation. In the moment, there together, they were invincible.

Seneca recalled the farm, not far away – it hadn't been big, nor had it taken long for them to do their Duty. The unit looted the field and planted their own crops among the remaining, far less concerned with harvesting the spoils of war than he would have ordered himself. There had been no laughter there, only grim determination.

Faces watched from the road – smaller ones peered between thin legs, gripping the fence tightly, eyes wide. Some cried, but none spoke – they didn't try to stop the soldiers and they didn't beg. It wouldn't have helped, but it said more than he wanted to hear about how the Arthevicans viewed them. They never knew who the farm belonged to, but he remembered the faces well. The faces, he was sure, remembered only the guns.

Not at all how he would have done it.

A meal fit for a king! He didn't laugh with them, but Seneca made sure to smile faintly as he picked up his spoon. He swirled the soup, making nonsensical patterns across the surface, and his stomach roared. He didn't want to eat it, but it was Important that he did – always there were eyes on him, always he had to do The Right Thing.

So he put the spoon in his mouth, and he swallowed. The only way it could have tasted better was if he was eating it in his own home, but he waited a moment before looking up, head cocked as he rolled the taste around his mouth. He smiled again, and a smug cheer erupted.

“See?” crowed one, slapping his shoulder. “You--”

The rumble was more of a bang, and the room fell silent as they turned towards the door. The wood was in the way, but they didn't need to see to know what had happened – it only took a little weight to trigger the device, and then a slew of metal balls exploded outwards, but not as fast as you'd wish it did, slow enough to know--

Seneca saw little faces peering between legs and he saw seeds splattered across walls, and he pushed his bowl away. If anyone noticed, they said nothing – and it was for the best, because they wouldn't have liked what he had to say.

And in the end, the laughter didn't dull as much as he wished it would.



If anyone had asked, Jilles would have admitted he wasn't a huge fan of Tennant – he would have stared evenly, mentally grinding his teeth against the half-truth that still wasn't a lie, and shrugged. Maybe that's why no-one ever had, or maybe because his feelings were obvious, or maybe they just didn't care about his opinion.

Whatever the reason, Tennant was still an asshole.

Jilles sat motionless in the chair, watching the reflections move across the surface of his glass. There was Dom's office and the two men inside, and his boss was laughing at the wit of his visitor. The other gestured, and sunlight glinted off his watch -- Jilles was sure Tennant didn't usually wear a watch, it was the kind of thing he'd notice, and this was just another test of his self-control.

He wasn't a stranger to tests.

But the petty side of him wanted to just... nudge at the mechanism, push the hands back just enough to make Tennant barely late for every appointment. So obsessed with appearances and perceptions, the thug would be infuriated by his constant tardiness, and he'd never even consider Jilles had done it, let alone be able to prove it.

The less petty side wanted to take that watch and cram it down Tennant's bloody throat until it stopped ticking.

The smart part of him kept him still, silently watching the reflections stand, now -- shaking hands, laughing a bit, everything okay and relaxed. Jilles' stomach rolled and he closed his eyes, breathing out slow, hearing the door open. He imagined the charming gentleman oozing across the room, but kept his eyes closed, even when the footsteps paused at his side.

"Hey, you do look good today."

(We must have been talking about you in there, and laughing as we did, and if your little brain can't figure out the implication--)

Jilles looked up, and for a second, his need to appease Dom warred with his repulsion at the thing in front of him. It would be so easy to do something about that smug grin, if only they were alone.

They weren't alone.


One word in lieu of greeting, clipped and cold, but the smile only widened.

"Come along," came the sing-songed demand as Tennant twisted, not quite spinning, but definitely prancing away. He wondered what would happen if he just shoved him, how many teeth would shatter as Tennant slammed into the ground, the weight of his ego-- "There's work to be done."

Jilles slide his gaze to the side, seeking approval for the hand-off, but Dom was already turning away. He hadn't even said alone, let alone looked at him, but that didn't surprise him -- Tennant had a habit of sucking all the attention into himself, like a slimy black hole that absorbed anything good he touched and spat back out the scum, and Jilles couldn't compete with that.

And it's not like he could blame Dom for that, could he.
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