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the mall

Chapter Text

Tommy’s recovery was a slow process.

By day 175, twenty days after his injury, Tommy was allowed to go on two patrols every day. His leg was much better, and Niki said it was almost good enough to remove the stitches. The scab had darkened to a deep red and the edges of it had closed up a bit, though it was still pretty stiff.

There had been no activity from the west since they rescued Michael, which Tommy was thankful for. It would have pained him even more to be sitting around waiting for an attack, knowing he couldn’t defend himself; or worse, knowing he couldn’t help defend his flock.

He had confined himself to a patrol schedule of one patrol in the morning and one patrol in the evening. Both Niki and Puffy had stressed that he couldn’t risk overworking his leg, so he spaced out the patrols in order to rest his leg between them. Of course, he’d also had to promise to take a break if his leg started acting up, but so far nothing had happened.

Tommy crouched on the balcony, staring out into the mall, as he often did when he was on break. After the initial rush of tasks that he had experienced at the beginning of his leadership, they had slowed down somewhat, so now Tommy often had some free time.

Of course, he spent it writing or planning or worrying, but it was better than nothing.

He sighed, watching the next patrol go out to the dead zone. He looked down at his leg, at the dark red scab, the stitches that held it together.

Progress, Tommy reminded himself, was slow. But it was progress nonetheless.

 

Tommy ran his hands through his hair with a sigh. It was day 186, and they were almost out of food. They still had to feed 53 hybrids, and they couldn’t afford to cut the rations. They had 17 days of food left; it was more than they would have had, since their numbers had shrunk since the last count.

Seventeen days. Enough food to last them to day 203, and then they would begin to starve in earnest. Likewise, they would run out of water on 211. Not to mention that they were running out of breathable air at the same time; it was difficult to breathe now, and Tommy wasn’t sure how long they had before they suffocated.

But going off of how much food they had meant that they had seventeen days to plan an escape from an inescapable hellhole.

Tommy ran his hands through his hair again and instantly regretted it. Though he tried to keep it untangled and cut it regularly, the effects of not being able to wash his hair for almost 200 days were.. severe, to say the least.

It was thirty-one days after his injury. His injury had improved by a lot; Niki had removed the stitches earlier that day, alongside strict instructions that Tommy was to stay within camp for four days to avoid reopening the injury.

A sharp pain shot through his tail and Tommy yelped, jolting up from his bed and spinning around. A heavy weight hung from his tail as Tommy lifted it up and Michael giggled mischievously.

“Michael,” Tommy scolded, attempting to pry the little pig hybrid from his tail. “I told you to stop doing that.”

Michael frowned, finally releasing Tommy’s tail and dropping sulkily to the ground. “But I’m so bored,” He whined, drawing out the e in bored. “There’s nothing to do!”

Tommy raised an eyebrow at him. “There’s plenty to do,” He said, though he couldn’t think of anything himself.

“Like what?” Michael challenged, and Tommy blanked.

“Um,” He said, quickly searching for something the little hybrid could do. Thankfully, he was saved as Ranboo bounded over.

“We need to talk,” The black panther hybrid said lowly, and Tommy picked up on the urgent tone immediately. He made a “one moment” gesture towards Michael and quickly stood to follow Ranboo, cursing under his breath as his leg twinged in pain.

He followed Ranboo into the meeting room, closing the door and glancing questioningly at his friend.

“We don’t have much longer,” Ranboo said softly, and Tommy knew what he meant immediately.

Tommy sighed, all the tension seeping out of his shoulders in one breath. “I know,” He whispered.

“Do you have any ideas yet? For escape?” Ranboo prompted, and there was such hope in his eyes that it made Tommy’s chest ache. How had he somehow become a beacon of hope for his fellow survivors? How had they come to have such hope in him, such belief that he would know what to do?

Even Ranboo, one of his closest friends. Somehow, he had come to believe in Tommy’s ability to get them all out of here.
Tommy suddenly felt the weight of all his shortcomings bearing down upon his shoulders, and looked away.

How could he explain to him that Tommy was no better than all the rest, that he had no idea what to do? How could he admit that he was lost?

Tommy was supposed to be a leader.

“No,” He whispered, the faintest of sounds. “I don’t- Ranboo, I don’t know what to do.” His voice cracked. Tommy pretended it didn’t.

 

He paced around the shop for the next four days. By day 190, thirty-five days after his injury, he was finally allowed to go on patrols again - still the strict two per day schedule, of course, but it was progress.

Progress, Tommy thought bitterly, that wouldn’t matter if he couldn’t find a way out of here.

He redoubled efforts to discover escape routes, sending patrols poking around every bit of their territory. Their attempts to smash through windows and doors had been unsuccessful, but Tommy hoped that they could discover a weak point somewhere.

But there was nothing, not even the smallest thing. By day 195, his scab was healing, and fur was growing back at the edges of the wound. He knew, though, that he would have a permanent scar, and fur would never truly grow back all the way.

By day 200, he was giving up hope.

Three days. They had three days of food, and he was running out of time.

Niki had pronounced him well enough to move about freely, as long as he didn’t strain his leg too much. So he dedicated all of his time to searching for an escape, patrolling up and down the empty mall, searching stores and pressing against windows and slamming against doors.

But there was nothing. And somewhere, in his heart, he knew that already.

 

On the evening of day 202, Tubbo came and found him. Tommy was in the very back of the mall, searching the places he’d searched a hundred times before, shoving the doors he’d shoved a hundred times before.

“You need to rest,” Tubbo said quietly, after a few moments of silence.

“We’re running out of time, Tubbo,” Tommy said, grunting as he rammed his shoulder into a door. “I can’t rest. We run out of food tomorrow.”

“I know,” Tubbo said, catching his arm as Tommy tried to ram into the door again. “And you need to save your strength. This-“ He gestured around them. “-isn’t going to help. You’re not going to find anything.”

Tommy faltered. “I know,” He whispered, running a hand over his face. “I know.”

“I’m sorry,” Tubbo said, and the words hung in the air.

After a long moment, Tommy chuckled humorlessly. “How does the saying go? ‘Doing the same thing over and over is the definition of insanity’?”

He shook his head, slumping down to the ground. “Seems pretty fitting.”

There was a long pause. Then, quietly, Tubbo said, “At least come back to camp and rest for a few hours. There’s plenty of patrols out as is; you need the break.”

Tommy hesitated. A good nap did sound nice, but.. “Only for a few hours.”

Tubbo agreed readily. “I’ll wake you up,” He promised.

Tommy nodded slowly. “Okay.”

They flew back to camp, soreness aching in every part of Tommy’s body. He alighted on the balcony with a groan of pain as his joints protested the movement and allowed himself to be led into the store.

Tommy laid down on his bed, sudden exhaustion settling in his bones. He curled up on the clothes and promptly fell asleep.

 

“Fire! Fire in the mall!”

The scream was wild and terrified, jolting Tommy out of his deep sleep. He scrabbled blindly for a moment, kicking at the blankets below him before he regained full consciousness.

He stood up, still shaking off the last remnants of sleep, confused and disoriented. He could see a terrified mass of hybrids milling about in the main store, and Tommy forged towards them. They were all talking over each other in varying degrees of panic, and now that he was closer to the entrance, he could taste smoke on his tongue.

He shoved his way to the counter, leaping up onto it. The hybrids barely noticed him, and Tommy took a moment to breathe before he let out a deep, resounding roar that silenced the flock.

They all turned to him, breaths wild and fast, ears twitching in fear. He could see their panic in every movement they made; the way their wings fluffed and tailed twitched, the way their hands clenched into the fabric of their clothes. It ran unbridled through the flock, and Tommy knew he wasn’t going to get anywhere until he calmed them down.

“Everyone calm down,” Tommy said, ears flicking backwards as he heard Tubbo climb onto the counter behind him, followed by Drista. The crowd stilled slightly. Tommy gave them a few more moments before he said, “Now, what’s going on?”

Immediately the flock burst into noise again, and Tommy raised a hand in a stop motion. “One at a time.” He said, once again tasting the faintest hint of smoke on his tongue.

Gradually, the flock parted around a group of hybrids standing in the middle of the crowd, and one of them stepped forward after a nervous pause. “While on watch, we discovered a fire on the first floor, near the dead zone.”

This sparked another wave of nervous tittering through the crowd of hybrids, and Tommy frowned. Purpled, Ranboo, and Clementine had managed to push their way through the crowd, and now joined him on the counter as well.

“Show me where it is,” He said, puffing his wings authoritatively. The hybrid who had spoken nodded, and Tommy moved to follow them as they headed towards the door of the store. As they reached the balcony, a sudden idea struck him. Tommy turned to his friends, who had been following. “Ranboo, Clementine,” Tommy said quietly. “I want you guys to stay here and help keep the flock calm. I also want you to prepare them to move in case the fire spreads here.”

Then he turned to Tubbo. “I want you to pull together a patrol and try and find anything we could use to escape.” As Tubbo drew in a breath to argue, Tommy continued, “We might be able to use the fire to our advantage.”

When he saw Tubbo still wasn’t quite sold, Tommy added, “Please, Tubbo.”

The ram hybrid took a deep, reluctant breath. “Fine,” He agreed.

“Thank you,” Tommy said, and the words carried the weight of months of fear and anxiety.
Tubbo nodded stiffly, and then Tommy turned to Purpled and Drista, who were still waiting. He managed a weak smile, finally letting the fear he was feeling break through. “Let’s go see this fire.”

 

The hybrid led them down to the first floor. The smell of smoke grew stronger, and as they swooped down past the second floor balcony, Tommy realized with some sense of awe that he could see.

Not the dull, washed-out night vision that he’d been living with, but actual light, bright and glowing.

For the first time in months, light touched the inside of the mall; however, this was not sunlight. It was the hungry glow of flame, bright and ravenous. Tommy’s stomach lurched as the fire finally came into sight.

Though it wasn’t very bright, Tommy had to squeeze his eyes shut for a moment as they swooped upon it. Months of little to no light had made his eyes extremely sensitive to the brightness of the flames, and he paused for a moment in midair to let them adjust.

It wasn’t very big yet, but Tommy could tell it was already too late to put out. It had started, as far as he could tell, in the back of a store, which stopped any of them from smelling the smoke until it was too late. The fire had spread to the front of the store, licking hungrily at racks of clothing.

Smoke poured out of the store entrance, clogging Tommy’s nose and making him cough.

“Come on,” He said. “There’s nothing we can do to stop it.”

 

The flight back to camp was filled with heavy, tense silence. When they alighted on the balcony, the flock was much calmer now; they sat in small, huddled groups, belongings packed up into backpacks or small bundles of clothing.

Tubbo and the patrol he’d taken weren’t back yet, and there was nothing more that could be done until they returned, so Tommy sat down on the balcony, staring out in the direction of the flames.

Though he couldn’t see the fire itself, the taste of smoke was bitter on his tongue. The glow the fire emit was bright enough compared to the mall that he could see it, too, even from such a distance.

Tommy watched the fire spread from afar, ravenous orange glow steadily growing brighter. The familiar heaviness of failure settled in his chest.

He had failed them. He looked back at the flock behind him, and felt something akin to bitterness wash over him, not much different than the taste of the smoke. He had failed them, his flock, and now after they had come so far, they would suffer the most painful death of all: a slow, agonizing suffocation as the flames consumed what little oxygen they had left.

The fire itself wasn’t the danger. It was the smoke it produced and the oxygen it consumed. The fire would be slow spreading and it would be difficult for the flames to spread onto the higher floors. Though he did have Ranboo and Clementine pack up the flock, it was more of a precaution than anything; he didn’t expect the fire to reach them.

The smoke was thick and choking, and the lack of ventilation meant that it hung in one place and kept growing thicker and thicker. If the smoke reached them, the risk of suffocation was real, and Tommy wanted them to be ready to move the second the smoke spread to them. But still, the smoke wasn’t the greatest danger; it would spread slow enough that they could move without much issue.

The main issue was the oxygen.

The air had already been growing hard to breathe, and it had only worsened in recent days. It was impossible to take a full breath, and Tommy’s chest felt tight all the time, like there was a thick rubber band wrapped around his ribs.

The fire would only eat up the oxygen, faster and faster, until there was none left. And then they would die, suffocating on nothing, unable to breathe.

It was the worst death of all, drawn out and slow, filled with desperation as it became harder and harder to breathe and though they took deep, gasping breaths, it wouldn’t be enough-

Though, Tommy thought wryly, perhaps they had been dying for a long time. The slowest death of all; the death of their souls, the slow decay of their morals and minds and bodies. It had been a long time coming, ever since they first set foot in this mall.

Maybe some would choose to hurl themselves into the flames instead of facing the slow suffocation. They would rather a quick, painful death over slow, drawn out agony.

Tommy would not choose the cowards way out. He would stay, refusing to join the others in the flames, and look death in the eye like a true leader.

 

He eventually moved from the balcony, gliding down to the fire. He sat and watched it from afar, outside of the smoke cloud, and he started at it until the glow made his eyes water.

Already, down here, it was harder to breathe. Just being close to the fire meant that there was less oxygen in the air, and Tommy forced himself to take deep, full breaths to avoid becoming lightheaded.

They were running out of time.

He stared at the fire again, determined to etch every bit of it into this memory. This was what would kill them, what would cause their downfall after so many months of surviving. He wanted to remember it, every bit of it, until the image of the flames was ingrained into his mind.

He sat there for who knows how long, simply staring at the fire. At some point, tears began to trickle freely down his cheeks, trailing down his face and rolling along his jaw. He didn’t try to wipe them away. There was no one around to see anyways.

 

Tommy frowned, checking for the millionth time that Tubbo wasn’t back yet.

“He’ll be fine,” Ranboo assured him for the millionth time. “The west wouldn’t come so deep into our territory.”

Tommy paced anxiously back and forth along the balcony. “But what if they did?” He insisted. “What if Tubbo’s patrol got attacked?”

“They didn’t.” Ranboo insisted firmly, putting out a wing to block Tommy’s path. “They’re fine.”

Tommy scowled, trying and failing to shove past Ranboo’s outstretched wing. He opened his mouth to retort but was cut off as someone yelled, “We found something!”

Tommy turned wildly and saw Tubbo’s patrol floundering onto the balcony, too excited to even attempt a graceful landing. Tubbo bounded over to him, wide-eyed and breathless, all traces of his previous hesitation gone.

Before Tubbo could speak, Tommy gestured for him and Ranboo to follow him into the meeting room. They quickly forged through the store, picking up Purpled, Drista, and Clementine along the way.

When they settled in the meeting room, Tubbo had calmed down and took a moment to collect his thoughts. Tommy’s mind was racing with excitement at the possibility that they had finally found an escape after all these months, that they could finally be free.

“Okay,” Tubbo began, and Tommy unconsciously leaned forwards. “So we have an idea.”

He began to trace out a rough shape on the paper he had laid out in front of him. “You know the- the chemical thing in the corner?”

Tommy nodded. In the very corner of the third floor, against the wall, was a storage room. It held one of those chemical tanks that they used to store cleaning supplies or something. The one in the mall was large and made of thin but durable metal; they had mostly left it alone, since there wasn’t anything they could use it for.

“So,” Tubbo said. “Our idea is that we could poke a hole in it somewhere and set it on fire.”

They lapsed into silence as the words processed. It was a good idea, almost perfect. The tank would hopefully explode and blow a hole in the wall of the mall, or at least weaken it enough for them to finish the job. It was in the corner, away from their camp, so there was no risk of accidentally hurting any bystanders in the process. But there was one glaring issue, and Drista was the first to voice it.

“Someone has to go in there and set it on fire,” She pointed out, tapping the paper with one claw. “There’s no way they’ll survive that once it explodes.”

Tubbo met Tommy’s eyes, and he could tell the ram hybrid had already thought this through. “I’ll do it,” Tubbo said.

A chorus of disagreement instantly burst from the others in the room, Tommy included.

“You can’t,” Tommy said.

Tubbo looked at him with a heavy expression, one that bore the weight of all they had experienced over the past 202 days. “Can’t I?”

“There has to be some other way,” Ranboo argued. “If we just wait-“

“There isn’t time to wait,” Tubbo snapped. “We have to act now.”

Tommy knew he was right. Every moment, the fire only grew larger. “But your family..”

Tubbo turned back to face him, and for the first time, Tommy could see regret in his eyes. “Tell them I’m sorry. But I have to do this.”

“No, you don’t!” Ranboo cried, and Tommy could see tears pricking in the corners of his eyes. “You don’t have to do anything!”

“It’s my plan,” Tubbo insisted. “I can’t make someone else go in my place. It’s me idea, and I should be the one to do it.”

No,” Drista said firmly, shaking her head. Her wings were fluffed up furiously. “There has to be another way. We can make a fuse or- or something-“

She trailed off. They lapsed into silence.

Tommy looked down at his paws, well aware that this was their only option, and their best option; sacrifice one for the good of the flock. It was a no-brainer.

But this was Tubbo. His best friend. They had grown up together; they were practically brothers. They had been together for the entirety of the mall.

“You promised,” Tommy said quietly. “You promised that we would all make it out together.”

Oh, how he remembered the day they made that promise. It had been early, still in their first few months, blissfully unaware of the horrors that awaited them. Tommy had just grown his hybrid features, and together him and Tubbo had whispered promises to each other.

He wished he could go back. He would give anything to go back.

Tubbo opened his mouth to speak, but before he could say anything, a different voice interjected.

“I’ll do it.”

Everyone turned to see Clementine, her face set in determination.

There was a brief silence before Tommy firmly said, “No. We’re not sacrificing anyone. We’re going to find some other way to do this.”

“There is no other way,” Clementine shot back, her lips pressed firmly. “There’s not enough time.”

Tommy hesitated. She was right, but he didn’t want to have to do this.

Seeing his hesitation, she added, “Besides, you said it yourself. Tubbo has family to go back to. All of you do. I don’t have anyone. No one will miss me.”

We’ll miss you,” Tommy tried, but he knew there was no use.

She gave him a small, bittersweet smile. “Maybe. But not for very long.”

“One thing,” Tubbo said. “I want to help. It’s still my plan; I should at least do something.”

Tommy looked around at all the others, seeing the heavy acceptance in their faces. He let out a deep, shaky breath. “Okay,” He whispered. “Let’s do it.”

And so the plan was put into place.

Clementine and Tubbo would break a branch from one of the dead trees that stood on the first floor. Then, they would fly to the fire and light the branch.

They would fly up to the third floor, past the camp, where the flock would be packing up their belongings and receiving instructions from Tommy and the others about what to do when they escaped. They would continue to the storage room, with Tubbo holding the burning branch.

Once there, Clementine would use her claw to poke a hole in the tank. Then, Tubbo would pass her the branch and back away, and Clementine would light the fire.

And then they would be free.

Clementine and Tubbo had left only a few minutes ago. Clementine had already said her last goodbyes.

(“I won’t forget you,” Tommy had whispered, fingers interlaced with his sister’s. “Never. Promise.”)

It was time. Within the hour, they would either be free or dead.

Tommy jumped onto the counter. The flock was gathered in the main room, squished together, holding all their belongings. Tommy’s own belongings were packed into a small leather bag that rested on his hip. It wasn’t much; just a few changes of clothes, his journal, a pen. He didn’t own very much. The only other thing it might contain was his phone, perhaps, but he had no idea where it was and didn’t really care all too much.

He swallowed hard, blinking back tears. He couldn’t focus on Clementine’s sacrifice right now. She was doing what was right.

Ranboo, Purpled, and Drista jumped up behind him. Tommy kept his instructions short and concise: Stay close to the flock. Expect anything. Don’t panic, no matter what. Stay away from the explosion when it happens.

And then they moved out. The entire flock moved in silence, walking to the storage room. Every step felt like a funeral march; though they were walking to their salvation, Tommy couldn’t help but feel they were only trading one hell for another.

The heat was oppressive, even worse than usual. His wings hung like sacks of lead from his back, and his thick fur made his legs feel as though they were on fire.

The storage room had just come into sight when an earshattering BOOM shook Tommy’s ears, and a huge burst of flame and shrapnel exploded out the doorway. The force of the blast rattled through Tommy’s bones, all the way to his wing-tips. The flock all flinched and cried out in surprise, but Tommy was only looking for Tubbo and Clementine, praying to see at least one of their figures. What if Tubbo had decided to stay inside? What if he had been caught in the blast?

He calmed slightly as he saw a crumpled figure laying outside the door, but his previous panic doubled as he realized it wasn’t moving. The flames grew closer to the still form and Tommy began to pick up the pace.

Curling ram horns. Tubbo.

Tommy hurried over, not even caring as the fire licked at the side of his neck, sending searing pain across the left side of his neck and along the bottom of his jaw to his chin.

He pulled Tubbo away from the fire. Horrible burns covered the whole left side of his body. They webbed across the side of his face, down his neck, across his left arm, down his side. It ended just above his hip, and his legs weren’t burnt. The burns were deep and the smell of charred flesh made Tommy’s stomach curl.

But Tubbo was alive. His chest rose and fell steadily.

He looked up into the storage room. The flames, already running out of fuel, were burning low, dying down into nothing.

Tommy considered waiting for the flames to die down completely, but his nose caught the slightest hint of fresh air, and his heart stilled.

Fresh air. That was fresh air. The plan had worked. There was a hole in the wall. There was fresh air. It was right there, so close, and Tommy felt something in his chest stir.

Fire be damned. Tommy was getting out of this mall.

There was still a risk of being burned if they went now, but Tommy could care less. Freedom was right there, at his fingertips.

He urged to lunge into the room and escape, but he forced himself to turn to face the flock.

“Sam,” He said quietly, beckoning the lion hybrid over. “Do you think you could carry Tubbo?”

Sam looked down at Tubbo’s still form and nodded, scooping the ram hybrid into his arms. Tommy nodded his thanks before refocusing on the flock.

“Okay. Before we get out of here, remember to stick together. We don’t know what’s going on out there. Don’t get lost in the euphoria of being free.”

Then he grinned. “Now let’s get the fuck outta here.”

The flock’s voices rose together in a roar as they charged into the room, Tommy at the head. He plunged onwards through the flames, trusting his paws to lead him through safely while he tried to pinpoint where the whole was. The smoke in the room made his eyes sting, but he pushed onwards. He was so close.

A breeze brushed his face, such a foreign feeling. Tommy shivered at the feeling, turning and plunging in the direction it came from. His entire body hummed with energy, so much so that he felt like he was buzzing with it.

And then- through the smoke, he saw sky. Blue sky.

Outside.

He could hear the flock’s feet pounding behind him, could feel the energy running between them. This was his flock. They had survived together, and now they would be free, after all this time.

Tommy let a wild roar loose from his chest, a jubilant, uncontrolled sound. The flock’s voices rose to join his until the air vibrated with the sound, and Tommy jumped into the gap in the wall. He took a moment to steady himself on the broken concrete. The smoke obstructed most of his view of outside, but beneath the acrid tang of the smoke, he could smell fresh air.
This was really happening. They were really escaping. He could go home. He could see his family again.

Tommy jumped, spreading his wings to beat upwards, away from the smoke. For the first few moments, he was blind, unable to see anything but smoke. It was thick and choking, making his eyes sting and his stomach hurt, but he forced his way onwards, knowing that somewhere, there was open sky.

And then-

Clouds.

He had flown clear of the smoke and straight into clouds. They were light and misty, brushing cold against his face, and Tommy wanted to sob.

Cold. It was a sensation he hadn’t felt in months.

He could feel the flock all around him. Somehow, instinctually, they had known where he would go. They were all connected, and they were free.

Tommy let loose another wild cry, tears running freely down his face. The air was so easy to breathe that it made his chest hurt. Finally, finally, he was free. He was free and he was in the clouds and there was sunlight, real sunlight, bright and beautiful on his face.

The air wasn’t thick and heavy and humid. It was clear and light and Tommy powered onwards through the clouds, straight upwards, higher and higher. The flock followed him, just as they always would.

Tommy burst out of the clouds, rising into empty air. A rosy pink glow lit the surface of the clouds below him, interrupted only by the arrival of other hybrids emerging from the cloud cover.

Ahead of him, the sun was rising, casting beautiful pink and yellow and orange over the clouds. It was beautiful, it was bright, it was everything Tommy had missed. A choked sob tore from him, and the grin that split his face was so wide that it hurt. It was better than anything he could have ever imagined. The smell of the smoke clung to him, and his stomach curled in hunger, and his leg ached, and his hair was greasy and matted and his throat was so, so parched, but he was free. He was free and he was going home.

“We’re free!” He cried, and the flock echoed the phrase, mixed in with sobbing and cries of relief.

Something brushed his wing and he turned to see Ranboo, grinning ear to ear, gliding beside him. “We’re free,” Ranboo said, and Tommy sobbed and hugged his best friend as best as he could while flying.

“We made it,” Tommy whispered. “Two-hundred and three days.”

“We did,” Ranboo agreed. “We really did.”

Tommy tilted his wings downwards, tucking them closer to his sides. The clouds came rushing up to meet him, and his ears were pressed against the sides of his head from the speed of his descent. It was time to go home.

He could hear the sound of the flock’s wingbeats stop as they, too, tucked their wings, now eager to return to the ground.

The clouds parted and all Tommy saw was people. The grass was green and he could smell it, all the way up here. It was the scent of life, of new beginnings, of plants and freedom and second chances.

The area surrounding the mall was covered in people. Tommy frowned. They didn’t look right. They were all dressed similarly, in the same dark-greenish colors, and none of them were moving. Just.. staring upwards. At the flock.

And.. they didn’t sound right, either. Tommy expected something- some sort of yelling, or cheering, or some sort of reaction- but there was nothing. They were just.. silent.

A large chain-link fence bordered the whole area, and Tommy didn’t realize what was going on until the people raised their guns.

“Up! Pull up!” Tommy screamed, throwing his wings open to stop his fall. He tumbled wildly for a moment, unable to regain control. Gunshots rang through the air, and Tommy’s heart leaped into his chest as he floundered in mid-air.

The sound of the shots filled the air, accented by the shrieks and screams of the hybrids who were shot. It was terrible, worse than anything Tommy had heard yet. He didn’t understand. Why were they shooting?

“Back up into the clouds! Don’t get near the ground!” Ranboo was screaming, and he could see Drista diving down to catch a hybrid whose wing had been shot.

“Pull up!” Tommy screamed again, finally regaining control of his wings. “They’re shooting! They’re trying to shoot us out of the sky!”

The flock was screaming now, all previous excitement gone. They streamed back into the clouds, wings flailing wildly, and Tommy joined them, beating his wings as hard as he could to escape the death from below.

The sound of the shots trailed off as the people below realized that the hybrids were out of range, and Tommy’s breathing was wild and ragged as he crested the clouds again.

The hybrids hovered there, each in varying stages of shock. Tommy could count at least fifteen wounded in the arms of the flock, and he didn’t even want to think about how many were likely laying dead on the ground.

“Tommy, what’s- Why were they shooting at us?” Purpled grabbed his arm, eyes wild and terrified. Tommy could feel the other hybrid’s fingers shaking, and he realized he was shaking as well.

“I don’t- I don’t know,” He stammered. “It doesn’t make sense.”

Ranboo was the first to recover. “Well, we can’t stay up here forever. We need to find a safe place.”

Tommy looked at him incredulously. “You think they’d hunt us?”

“Can never be too safe,” Ranboo said with a shrug. “Besides, if they’re already shooting at us, it’s unlikely they’re just going to let us go free.”

“I.. I guess.” Tommy muttered. “Well, do you have any ideas?”

“I was thinking.. maybe the forest?” Ranboo said, hurrying on when Tommy opened his mouth to speak. “No! Wait! It makes sense; It’ll be hard for them to track us there. We can hide easily in the trees and we can outrun them, too, and we can fly away. They wouldn’t expect us to go there, either; they would expect us to stay in town or try to go home. So it’s a good place to hide.”

Tommy blinked, a bit surprised by how fast Ranboo had pulled together this idea.

“Any ideas of where to go in particular?” Tommy asked. “Or just the general forest area?”

Before Ranboo could respond, Drista touched his arm to draw his attention. Tommy turned to her questioningly, and she quietly said, “Maybe we should just get to the forest first, so we can land and treat our wounded, and then we can worry where to go from there.”

Tommy flushed, embarrassed. She was right; the flock couldn’t hold this hover for very long, and they had multiple wounded that had to be cared for. “Right. Of course.”

He turned towards the flock, raising his voice. “Alright, guys! We’re going to the forest. Follow me!”

He swung around, flying away from the mall and towards the forest. The town was bordered on three sides by forest; the other side was ocean. A large canal cut through the middle of the city.

To get to the forest, they would need to fly over part of the city; the mall was somewhat removed from the main downtown area, but there was no forest nearby it, just fields and dead growth.

They would have to fly blindly for a little while until Tommy was confident it would be safe to break below the clouds - he wasn’t sure how far the gunmen would follow them. Did the public know they were hybrids? Did they know that they had escaped? Did they know that the hybrids were being shot at?

Tommy had answers to none of these questions, and that was the most dangerous part.

There was so much he had to do. Tommy’s mind spun; so much had occurred within the last half hour. He took a deep breath and tried to organize his thoughts into a list of what he needed to do.

His main goal was to get to the forest. After that, he had to obtain food and water for the flock, and possibly clothing or blankets as well. If his counting was correct, it was mid-winter, so it could get extremely cold at night.

At least snow wouldn’t be an issue- it didn’t get cold enough to snow in the winter, and they had been in the middle of a massive drought for multiple years anyway.

Flying outside was so different than it was in the mall. In the mall, there had been no air currents, no movements, no wind to battle against. There were no currents to glide on, no updrafts to support his wings - all flight power had to come from him.

Outside, there was wind, there was breezes, updrafts, air currents. The air pooled under Tommy’s wings, pushing him upward, and the breeze curled through his feathers. The feeling of it was indescribable; the wind played through each feather, beautiful and cold. The sensation sent shivers through him, and if the situation wasn’t so dire, he thought that he could fly like this forever.

It didn’t feel real. He was outside, really outside, not just dreaming or wishing or hoping. He was outside and flying, surrounded by clouds and blue sky, and he could hear the sounds of the city far below them. The sun beat onto his back and the breeze whispered across his skin and it was beautiful and perfect and it was wrong.

It was all wrong. Nothing had gone how he’d expected. Now they carried wounded in their arms and they were just as unsafe outside as they were inside. It was all wrong. Clementine was dead and Tubbo was hurt and it wasn’t what Tommy had imagined at all, and it was all crumbling to dust before him, swept up in a tornado.

It was all ruined and broken and it was exactly as he imagined but different in so many ways. He was flying towards an uncertain future, a forest full of danger and winter cold and predators. He was flying away from the mall and into a new cage entirely.