Two years and four months later, January 20th Manhattan City…
The world swam in streaks of colour and jagged sounds.
The ground was cold. The air was cold. Body of ice, frozen solid. Little wonder it was hard to breathe.
Soldier? Spots of grey danced and swirled in random patterns. I haven’t been a soldier for… so many years. Decades almost. Discharged for mutiny. Fucking captain was insane. Ordering us to our deaths when all we needed to do was hold the line.
Moving hurt, breathing hurt. The only thing that didn’t, was thinking. Memories.
“Oh shit! Baba, I’ve found him. South courtyard. Clear. Tiger is down. Medic get over here! He’s half frozen.”
Funny how the young ones yelled so much.
Goldie, did we ever have that much energy?
“I have a pulse… Fuck, the blood is frozen on him…”
The world scattered and fell. The grey spots followed as all faded.
Outside the door, Ruby stood guard, spine straight, eyes sharp. The tense presence of her partner paced up and down the hall.
In front of her, another pair of partners waited in silence. The English woman and her Arab. Neither were allowed into the room behind her. Medic had been clear on that.
Simon paced by another time and she could swear she could hear the grinding of his teeth. She had already denied him entry. Not that she could blame him. She was barely keeping herself from leading the charge into the room. Her mentor was in there. Both of her mentors. One in pain, the other in anguish. But emotion would not help her now. And Medic would only throw her back out.
And so Ruby stood guard. And waited like the rest.
Tiger burning bright. In a deep dark corner, she prayed, Come back.
Suddenly, the brunette snapped something, a low growl in a different language (Arabic). Her companion’s shuttered eyes darted toward her. He made a low-voiced reply, somehow making it a drawl, and merely shrugged when she glared at him.
The woman abruptly plopped down on the floor, sitting Indian style, and let her eyes slide closed. Almost immediately, her face settled into non-expression, her entire body melting into a slumped relaxed pose. Her partner shifted closer, gaze darting to the pacing boy, then the guarding girl, and finally back to the door. Where he’d been staring almost without blinking for the past… what was it. Hour? Two? Less?
The stare was unnerving, regardless.
On the other side of the door, there were three men. One stretched out on a bed, riddled with tubes and wires, connected to machines that recorded and supported his life. The other two men breathed on their own, but that was little comfort.
“Svorak…” A broken voice was whispering as the owner’s pale hands clasped around a limp dark one. “C’mon. It’s just a cold.”
Medic’s lips were pressed thin as he went through the checks again. Surgery was already over, where he had cut away the dead tissue and layered medication and cloth on open wounds. The left eye was a lost cause, but the arms and legs could be saved, fingers too, miraculously. The man just needed to breathe on his own.
His sigh brought Christoph’s head up and around to him, but the doctor could only shrug. “Give him the night to rest,” he said softly. “He’ll wake up on his own tomorrow.” If he didn’t the lug was going to find a shot of adrenaline to his heart as a wake up call.
The chemist looked at the breathing tube down his lover’s throat and swallowed reflexively. “Sure,” he said wearily, then dredged up a smile from somewhere deep. “Let the others in, eh? Or at least tell them his status.”
Scowling, Medic looked at his one patient. Rest was better, but when Svorak woke, he wouldn’t be thanking him for a mentally unstable team. “Fine,” he grunted. “I’ll do both.”
A moment later, the short man emerged from the room, several gazes locking onto him from all over the room as he closed the door behind him.
“He’s alive,” Medic said firmly, “but he’s asleep.” His eyes narrowed. “And he needs to stay asleep for the rest of the night. He’s lost an eye, but everything else is relatively intact. He’s on the breathing tube right now, but that will change. Don’t jar him. Don’t bother him. Don’t shake him awake. Don’t touch the bandages,” he growled. “Visitors can go in. But be quiet,” he finally announced grudgingly. Then he abruptly turned and stalked down the hall to the kitchen.
Ruby stood stock still, red eyes wide. They could go in? Her partner closed in on her, warm palms on her bare shoulders.
“Ruby,” he said urgently. “Medic said we can visit.”
She blinked at him. “Yes.”
“Let’s go in.”
She opened the door, and the two of them walked in.
Dari nudged Arana. “You hear that? Go on. I’ll stick around out here and keep an eye on things. Goldie Locks could probably use your company.”
She got up stiffly, and turned, giving him a brief kiss on the cheek. “I’ll see you,” she said, and followed the kids in.
Her eyes landed on Chris, and she edged around everyone–and everything–to stand by him. Her gaze finally trailed to the man on the bed, and she swallowed hard. My fault, echoed through her, followed by, No. Just a horrible situation. “Oh, kiddo,” she whispered.
The pale man by the bed freed one hand from his lover’s to wrap an arm around her waist. “He’s fine,” he said softly, for her, and for the two young ones on the other side of the bed. “He’ll be pissed about the eye,” the blond admitted lightly, “but he’ll live.”
Across the bed, Ruby’s fingers twisted into the sheets, knuckles white. She had shot the bastard. She saw him go down. But later, the body wasn’t there. Svorak had gone to check for it. He had joked about there being another immortal lose in the world. She had scoffed, sure that the corpse must have fallen into a drift, hidden by the snow. But her mentor had smiled and left anyway.
Simon had found them both; a dead thug pierced by a knife and a bullet, and a half-frozen team leader gasping at the sky.
She had shot the bastard. Why hadn’t he died then?
Thick arms wrapped around her as the girl bowed her head and shivered.
Arana lifted her gaze, eyes softening on the child (far too young for this kind of life, why isn’t she in school, snogging with boys?) before turning away to give her privacy. Dark eyes met those of the blond, and she gave him a smile every bit as forced as his own. “How’re you doing, angel-face? I can send Dari for coffee, if you want.”
The hand at her hip squeezed once and then lifted away. Christoph rubbed the freed hand over his eyes and nodded gratefully. “Coffee would be wonderful, Lady. Though, I don’t think I’ll be sleeping tonight regardless.” The hand drifted back to join the ones on the bed.
Whispers from Wolf drifted in the room, as all others fell silent. Then Ruby lifted her head, shining trails streaking her cheeks. “Come back to us, Svorak,” she prayed aloud. “Love, laugh, live.”
Bowing once more, she reached out a small dainty hand and touched the side of face that wasn’t swathed in gauze before nodding to the other two older team members. “Please tell us if there are any changes or any needs,” the sniper quietly requested and then left, Wolf trailing behind her.
“Those kids are so weird,” Christoph murmured after a moment, when the door had shut and the footsteps had moved away. “You’d never think that the girl cared that much,” he added absently.
“Girls do that,” she said wryly, and left a small kiss on his forehead. Then she edged her way to the door and poked her head out, murmuring with Dari. The door shut, she snagged a small folding chair in the corner, and set it up beside Chris. She smiled faintly. “When he comes back in, call him ‘Mr. Maid’. He said so.”
A corner of the blond’s mouth lifted. “Huh,” he said, very quietly, and then with slow dignity, he leaned forward and pressed his forehead against a very still arm. Christoph breathed in deep once, and it shuddered all the way out. “He’s an idiot. A careless, arrogant, swaggering idiot.”
Arana sighed. “Yes, he’s just awful,” she replied sarcastically. “He’ll be okay, love. He’ll bounce back. He always does, always will.” She gave him a smile, even though he couldn’t see it from his position.
Those wide shoulders lifted once, and the chemist shook his head, “Oh, I don’t know. Calling himself ‘Mr Maid’, is pushing the boundaries.” He straightened, one hand going up to drag long hair from his eyes when he turned to look at her properly. “But, thank you. You’re right.”
“We talking about Dari or Svorak here, dear?” she asked, brows lifting. “‘Cause you seem to be bouncing between the two.”
He gave her a sheepish smile. “Bad joke,” he admitted. “I’m holding on by a rotting edge. Can’t decide whether to worry or to have faith. Grasping for both.” He blew out a sigh. “But Medic says he’ll be fine. So he’ll be fine. But it doesn’t make the waiting any easier.”
The tall man held a hand up between the two of them, and they both watched the fine tremors along his long fingers. With a twist of the lips, Christoph brought his hand back down to wrap around Svorak’s.
She bit back a sigh and stood. “Here,” she murmured, moving behind him and gingerly touching his shoulders. “A massage.” And she started to rub them.
Tensing at first, the blond sighed and relaxed, dropping his head down between his arms. “The big lout is going to be so embarrassed when he finds out we were all worried,” he muttered. “Rather looking forward to that, actually.”
She chuckled. “Yeah. Me too, kiddo.” She looked up as the door opened and Dari stepped inside. “Thanks.”
The Arab shrugged smoothly, holding two mugs of coffee. “Where do you want it, Goldie Locks?”
One hand came up to pat on Lady’s hands. “I’m good, thanks,” he said smiling and reaching out towards Dari. “I’ll take it, thank you.”
Dari handed one over, and then gave Arana the other one. She smirked. “Thanks, Mr. Maid.” He made a face at her before leaving again, and she chuckled. “Never gets old…”
“Mmm, I imagine not,” he agreed, taking a sip of the caffeine concoction. “Hello brandy,” he murmured.
A few minutes passed in peace, the two sipping spiked coffee in silence, but for the beeps of the heart monitor.
Finally the blond spoke. “Dari is going to get lonely,” he commented, thinking of how the partners had become nigh inseparable over the past two years. “You can come back once he’s asleep.”
She hesitated, then dropped a sisterly kiss onto his crown, and turned away. “I’ll be back in a couple of hours, angel-face.”
The door clicked closed behind her, and the blond took another sip as he looked at his partner. “I think you have a fan club, Tiger.” You wouldn’t believe how torn up Ruby is; Simon too.
Which was understandable, since Wolf had been the one to find Svorak. Christoph still remembered how the young man’s voice had cracked over the radio.
“You’re going to be so mothered when you wake up,” the chemist vowed. “And you’re going to shut up, and take it all with dignity.” You just have to wake up. You have to.
Cradling the half-full mug in his hands, Christoph settled in for a long night of watching his lover sleep.