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"Go away, Hannah," Wes snapped, seeing her approach the corner of the warehouse he had withdrawn to. Hannah paused. His words were sharp, but even in the dim light she could see his eyes were holding back the emotion he felt inside. She went forward. "Hannah, no, just go away..."
"Shh." Hannah lowered herself to her knees beside him. She hugged him gently despite his protests, but he didn't fight it. Eventually he hugged her back. He hugged her hard. Hannah had never seen him like this. So small, his voice shaking. He was always tough and hard, but he had a good heart. But never had she seen him this close to breaking.
Hannah sat down and hugged him again. Wes let her. She felt a fluttery feeling in her stomach, but she pushed it aside. She did not need that right now. "Wes?"
"Mmm," Wes's voice was still on the dangerous edge of breaking.
"It's gonna be okay," Hannah said. "We're going to figure this out. We'll rescue them. All of them."
"How do you know?" Wes pulled back to look at her. "How do you know? They could all be dead--"
"Don't you dare." Hannah glared at him. "Don't you dare talk like that. You don't know that. We can't let ourselves believe it."
"Ignoring the possibility only sets you up for a harder fall," Wes muttered. "I did that before." He looked out at the Coyotes. "There was a kid here, Hannah. Same age as Tony the day... the day I took him into the main city to show him around. Tony wouldn't leave me alone after that. He wanted to know everything I knew, and I taught him. I had always tried to avoid that, but I thought this once wouldn't hurt..." Wes coughed. "But that day he was taken... I... It was my fault."
"No it wasn't," Hannah said. "Don't say that--"
"Yes it was!" Wes snapped. "I taught him to be brave, to enjoy the rush of adrenaline. A healthy amount, of course. But look where it got him... I had promised him I'd look out for him... and I couldn't..."
"It's not your fault, Wes," Hannah said. "You guys did everything you could to rescue Tony."
"Yeah, well obviously not enough," Wes said bitterly. "That's why I don't usually help train the newbies, Hannah. That's why you've always seen me scare off the kids who like to follow me around. I'm as good a role model as Cody is."
Hannah frowned. Wes picked at the sleeve of his shirt. "I've done things that I'm still trying to recover from, and I don't need to drag impressionable minds down with me. I thought just this once wouldn't hurt. I had been doing fine, so I helped Tony. And now he's either dead or he's a cyborg--"
"Don't." Hannah shook her head, trying to block out that image.
"That's what happens," Wes said. "I think I've recovered, but I don't and I end up hurting people when I try to help them. I don't want those kids over there to become what I was, Hannah. And the best way for them to do that is to ignore me."
"No, it's not." Hannah watched his conflicted face. "The best way for them to learn is from someone who has experienced it firsthand. They won't know not to do something if no one has told them not to. Jumpers or Coyotes, we don't have parents around to do that, so we need to help each other. You, Tag, Skyler, Conway... You guys are great role models for the younger kids. You're all brave, confident, strong. You all have a big heart, and yes I have seen you with the kids. You're great with them. They look up to you, and you may be the only model they have, or want to have. Ignoring them is what gives them a bad model."
"You don't even know what I've done." Wes looked at her. "I am the last person those kids should be looking at for guidance."
"But you want to use what you've done to help them avoid it," Hannah said. "I don't know, and I'm not asking. That's your business. But Wes these kids need someone. I don't know anything about Conway or Tag, but I know Skyler has had a fairly normal childhood past, so he can't help with whatever you want to help these kids with." Hannah smiled at him. "I know you've helped Skyler."
"You have," Hannah interrupted his disbelieving tone. "He's learned from you, and from Cody. I mean, he's become so much more brave and cocky since he met you both! He used to be the shy kid at school who would hand over lunch money without even a fight. And now today he would be the kid at school who would fight, and take it a step further and fight for the kids who wouldn't, because he knows how it feels to be cornered and threatened. He doesn't like feeling that way, and he fights back until he's not cornered. He will try to find the high ground. You and Cody have helped shape him into what he is today. Being a Jumper has helped him."
"That was all Cody," Wes said.
"Not all of it." Hannah scooted closer to Wes. "Some of it was you, too. You taught him to be stubborn."
"Not exactly a great trait." Wes smirked. Hannah laughed. She watched Wes thoughtfully. He had helped change Skyler, but how much had he changed her? He had helped her to not be so clingy to her little brother. Even she had become stubborn and cocky sometimes.
"Can I ask what happened?" Hannah found herself asking. "Why you think..."
Wes looked at her when her voice faded away, as if searching for anything that would indicate she wouldn't take it seriously. Hannah gazed right back.
"I don't want this to change anything between us," Wes said quietly.
"How do you know it will?" Hannah murmured.
"Because it always has," Wes whispered, his voice carried a tremor.
"I'm a tough girl." Hannah smiled. "You're my friend, Wes. I'm not going to leave you."
Wes's expression flickered, but Hannah couldn't tell what the change was. He sat in silence for a minute, then took a slow breath.
"I had an older brother," Wes began. "Kurtis. We lived with our mom in the poor district. I never knew my dad, so Kurt became the closest thing to one.
"Kurt... became involved in some pretty shady stuff. He got into drug dealing, and using, although that came later. He used the money he earned to help our mom and me. Our mom wasn't in the best shape, so every penny was like treasure. We didn't know where he was getting the money, and we didn't ask. On his days off he helped me learn the basic subjects in school.
"But then when I got older, he started using. I was twelve, but I noticed the change right away. He had even started drinking, too. Our mom's condition got worse, and Kurt found me a job delivering drugs to clients. I knew it was wrong, but we needed the money..."
Hannah realized Wes was trembling. She reached over and took his hand, squeezing it gently. Wes squeezed back and took a slow breath.
"But then our mom died... And I..." Wes played with the frayed threads in his jeans. "Kurt fell a long way, Hannah... I tried to hold our tiny family together, but soon he..." Wes blinked fast. Hannah forced back tears and squeezed his hand again.
"After he died... I started using...." Wes whispered. "I had no one to stop me, no one to tell me how bad it was. I just told myself I'd be careful. I wouldn't screw up like Kurt did. And at first I thought things were going well. I had money, I thought I was being fairly responsible with using... but then I met Kip..." Wes smirked. "He knew right away, and he straightened me out real fast... after I had nearly killed myself."
"Yeah." Wes nodded. "I was angry. Angry with everything. My mom for dying, my brother for being such an idiot, my dad for leaving my mom who knew when... That's when I learned to fight, to defend myself. I was alone, and I learned nobody cares much for a ratty street urchin. But I was done with what this world was offering me, or wasn't offering me... But Kip found me just in time. When I realized what I had almost done... it changed me. I became a Jumper, but I've always kept my distance from the others. I don't want them finding out what I've done. But I try to be a better example than what Kurt ever was to me. I don't want kids like... like Tony, or Skipper, or even Skyler when I first met him, to become what I had been..." Wes looked at Hannah. "And I never told anyone about my past... Because whenever I did they would change... they would look at me differently. Like you are now."
Hannah shook her head. "I'm not looking at you different the way others might have. My different holds you higher than before."
"You saying I wasn't already high-- sorry, really bad joke..."
Hannah laughed. She turned his face to hers. She smiled at him. "And you call yourself a bad example..." Right then and there, she made a split second decision.
She kissed him. The thrill startled her, but she didn't pull away, and neither did Wes. He returned the kiss before she pulled away to look at him. "You, Wes Hawkins, are among the best role models around. You have a history you can use to help these kids. You are just as good a model as Cody was. You're one of the few role models these kids have left. They look up to us older Jumpers, or Coyotes. We need to be the ones that make sure they turn out alright. And you, Wes, are as qualified as anyone."
Wes smiled faintly. "Do you really mean that?"
"I just kissed you." Hannah smiled. "What do you think?"
Wes looked at her, then nodded, his smile quirking up a little more. Before Hannah could react he pulled her closer and kissed her again. She let herself relax.
Excited shouts startled them apart. Hannah felt her face flush, and she turned toward the noise as Kate tried to get everyone to shut up. "Someone find a rat nest?"
Wes laughed. "Probably some poor drama queen sat on it." he looked at Hannah. "That... really happened..."
Hannah smiled and nodded. "Yeah..." she looked at him. "Was it okay?"
Wes smiled. "Yeah, I think so. You're not a terrible kisser."
Hannah smacked him and stood up, blushing. Wes stood up too. "What will Skyler think?"
"He's not a child." Hannah shrugged. "He'll live." She turned and headed back to the main body of Coyotes. They were talking excitedly, but another voice quieted them.
"I'm alright!" Conway said. "I'm fine, guys. Just a bit-- owwwww, Darcy!"
"You're fine," Darcy muttered. "Where were you?"
"Trying not to get caught." Conway shrugged. He looked up as Wes and Hannah came up. "Hey guys. Kate told me how many are missing.... I'm sorry about Ethan and Aggie... that shouldn't have happened."
"Well it did, but moping won't change it," Wes's tone was its snarky self again. "What now?"
"Get out of here," Conway said. "I didn't see any Nabbers on the way here, but if they have some of our own, they might be on their way here any minute."
"Where can we go, Conway?" Darcy asked. "We have no other safe house!"
"We can try our hideout," Skyler said, startling Hannah from behind. She turned to look at him. His eyes glistened, like he'd been crying, but she didn't see any traces of tears. He only have her a weak half-smile. "They think we've cleared out. We'd be idiots to go back. So why not be idiots?"
Conway frowned in thought. "Why not... We can block up any other exits?"
Skyler nodded. "Leave only two open. I can show you which ones."
"Let's go then." Conway stood carefully. "Coyotes, pack up the supplies here. We have a new location."