Rating: PG-13 (for images and language)
Setting: just after "Trust Metric"
Summary: Things tickle at the back of his mind: the snap of latex gloves, a gunshot, the flash of light off a pair of glasses. He’s not sure they’re all real.
Notes: This fic is dedicated to my lovely betas, feliciakw and mistraltoes; and to all the readers who enjoyed my previous stories with Colby and with Megan, especially lyraskye14.
BREATHE FOR ME
He breathes in. Careful, easy, because if it’s too deep, lightning bolts of pain shoot across his chest. But he can and so he does and just that ready flow of air is bliss.
Things tickle at the back of his mind: the snap of latex gloves, a gunshot, the flash of light off a pair of glasses. He’s not sure they’re all real. At least, not the way the edge of the oxygen mask pressing into his face is real. Or the warm weight of blankets over him. Or the voices outside his head, talking quietly, probably about him.
Maybe it doesn’t matter. The hands here are gentle. They were gentle even when he first woke to them, when every touch felt like it would leave a bruise. Soft sheets, quiet, warmth. . . . It’s over, he thinks, and waits for the tickles to subside, for a sense of relief, for the slide back into sleep.
Instead, it’s like someone heaved a boulder onto his chest. It’s over. He breathes deep, because he knows he can, but the pleasure is gone and there’s nothing left but this weird emptiness.
It should be right, that it’s over. Whatever it is. And yet there’s nothing to fill the gap. For a moment, he thinks about not breathing, but that’s not something he could give up if he wanted to.
“Colby?” someone says.
Her voice is totally unexpected, and he opens his eyes before he can remember why he had them shut. The light is too bright. Lines and colors streak and swirl, and he can’t focus on her before his eyes squint closed again.
“The doctors say you’ve been drifting in and out.” She starts talking again, and he was right, it really is Megan. “They won’t let me stay long, but Colby--it’s so good to see you awake. It’s . . .”
She sounds like she might be about to cry. He wants to touch her arm, tell her it’s okay, but his body isn’t keen on moving. Not right this second. How come she’s even here? They can’t know yet, can’t be sure. Not unless he’s been out of it for longer than he thinks he has.
It’s over. Now he remembers what that means.
The lies are over.
His life is over; at least, what he’s called his life for the past two years.
It occurs to him to wonder how, exactly, that happened. Everything’s still tangled together, but he remembers a threat. Remembers knowing that he wasn’t going to make it out of this one. He remembers accepting that outcome. Making some kind of peace with it. The hell? He decides to open his eyes again, and this time readies himself for the brightness.
Everywhere light hits an object, the color runs and spreads, but now he can focus. Enough to find Megan: brown jacket, white blouse, hair lighter than he remembers.
It takes him a couple of tries to find his voice, and when he finally gets words out, they’re muffled under the mask. He tries again, “Megan, hey,” and the sound still falls flat. Frustrated, he reaches towards his face with his right hand, the one not pinched by the IV needle and oxygen monitor.
Cool fingers trap his own. “Don’t.” Megan’s voice is firm, and he’s pretty sure she’s frowning at him. “I can hear you, okay? You need the oxygen. Leave it alone.”
He couldn’t muster the strength to resist right now if he wanted to. So he lets Megan press his hand down onto his chest. Another blink, and he’s got a clearer image, though the edges still blur, details and highlights smearing pale and long. “Hey. Megan.”
Her face moves; she’s smiling. “Hey. How are you feeling?”
Like someone smashed a sledgehammer into my chest. He’s momentarily distracted by wondering if that really happened. It’s not out of the question.
“Colby? You with me?”
He finds his eyelids drooping again, and blinks them open. “What happened? How’d I . . .” His voice cracks into nothing, and he circles his free hand, hoping she gets it.
“How’d you get here?” The words are ready, and clear, as if she’d been expecting him to ask.
He tries to nod, but the mask rubs under his chin.
Megan drops her head for a moment. When she looks up, her gaze is steady, and her voice is calm, focused. Professional shrink face, he thinks. “How much do you remember?”
He takes a deep breath, but images and thoughts tumble over each other, and he’s not sure which ones to grab onto: the glint of a needle; “don’t do this, man, it’s not worth it”; the struggle, the constant struggle to suck in air; the rattle of distant automatic gunfire; breath in his ear, babbling things he doesn’t want to hear, something about, about–
“Kirkland.” The name comes out rough, catching in his dry throat. “Kirkland’s dead. ‘S why I couldn’t reach him.”
Megan’s hand settles over his, and she doesn’t add anything right away.
“How?” He doesn’t want to know. Not the details. But some part of his mind grasps at the hope that his torturer might have been . . . exaggerating.
Megan still doesn’t answer right away. “David and I found him,” she says, finally. She’s turned away from him a little, a shadowy profile in the bright room. “From the tools, from the condition of the . . . of his body . . . He’d been tortured. It hadn’t gone far, though. Kirkland had a congenital heart defect.”
She doesn’t tack on some comment that this was the easy way out, and he is fiercely glad, because in that situation there’s no such thing. And because Kirkland put himself in that position to protect him. “Thanks.”
Megan doesn’t answer that at all. “What else do you remember?”
He swallows, and puts aside the image of Kirkland’s dead face. Turns his mind back to what he knows, to what he actually saw. “I shouldn’t. I shouldn’t be here.” That moment of acceptance still looms large, blocking out anything that came before it. That moment, and then an unbearable wrench of pain in his chest.
“What do you mean?” Her tone is still clear, professional.
He wonders if she’s sounding him out for a certain response. Screw it. This is Megan. “Said he was gonna kill me. Had a needle.”
Megan answers his unspoken question. “Potassium chloride.” She shifts her hand in his and taps his chest with the tips of her fingers. “He tried to stop your heart. Clean up his mess.”
“Because. . . .” He hears the gunfire in his head again, and sees narrowed gray-green eyes behind wimpy plastic frames. “Automatic weapons. You guys?”
“Yeah. That was us.” She doesn’t sound happy about it, though. “Don and David found you, but Colby, they wouldn’t have been in time. Mason Lancer was already dead when they reached you, and you. . . .”
That’s all a blank, all time that must have come after that wrenching pain. None of what she’s saying rings any bells, except for the guy’s name. “Who killed . . . Lancer?”
“Dwayne Carter,” Megan says.
That makes no sense at all. It had been Dwayne’s voice begging him to talk, saying the secrets weren’t worth keeping.
“From what we’ve pieced together, he must have shot Lancer right after Lancer injected you. The plunger was halfway depressed; you only got part of the intended dose. It still. . . . It stopped your heart.” She draws in a sharp breath, and this is the real Megan now, her professionalism crumbling in the face of something he figures she saw herself. “Dwayne’s shot saved your life. Made it possible for David and Don to keep you going until the medics got to you.”
He’s barely breathing, trying to take this in. The asshole who called him a friend, the man whose hands were scarred from that fiery rescue years before, the man he had counted as a damned selfish traitor, had saved his life. Again. “Where is he?” He’ll have to say thank you, have to keep putting up with Dwayne’s “you owe me” shit. But damn, that was a gutsy move to make.
“Colby.” Megan’s head is bowed, and he almost doesn’t hear her. “Dwayne’s dead. One of Lancer’s men shot him.”
The first thing he feels is relief. Okay, he won’t have to thank him. That’s fine.
Then the words sink the rest of the way in, and, Oh. Fuck. He died saving my life?
Dwayne, I was ready, he thinks. It was done, man, over, I’d made my choice. Wasn’t even the worst way to go. Who gave you the right to be my goddamn guardian angel? Who said I wanted that from you?
Something soft brushes his cheek, touches the corner of one closed eyelid. Kleenex, wiping away moisture he hadn’t even realized was leaking out. Megan’s sigh is loud in the hushed room. “I’m sorry, Colby.”
He wants to explain to her that it’s all right. That he wanted to know. That it’s messed up, but also something he’ll live with. And he wants to tell her how much he never expected this. That maybe he underestimated Dwayne. “Why’d he do something that dumb?”
Megan’s fingers are still tight around his free hand. She doesn’t say anything.
He lets his eyes stay closed. Images fade into each other: from the boat, from the truck, from years before in the coals of an Afghani desert. Always, always, Dwayne sticking close to him, holding on like he was a life belt, giving loyalty more absolute than he’d ever given to the Army or the Rangers or the Feds.
“I should have waited to tell you,” Megan says. “I guess I kind of got carried away. I know what it’s like to want to find out what happened while you were out.”
And yeah, he remembers that, from almost a year ago. Her determination to spill everything she’d talked to her kidnapper about, and all the questions she’d been asking, not even two hours after she came out of surgery. But this wasn’t the same. Megan had her team, had someone to go back to. Someone who’d found her.
Huh. He blinks his eyes open, wondering.
They’d found him, too.
Maybe . . .
“That why you’re here?” He tries to read her face, but the blur remains. “To get my debrief?”
She gives a little snort, maybe supposed to be a giggle. “I kinda doubt we’re first in line to get your debrief, Mr. Triple Agent. Maybe third or fourth?” The laughter drops right out of her voice. “I’m here to see you. To make sure you’re all right, that you’re. . . .”
Still breathing, he thinks.
“You have no idea what a relief it was, to--" And then her lips press against his forehead “Just . . . This is an amazingly good day for me, okay?”
He’s not sure what to do with that, because this is Megan. Megan doesn’t usually do these sorts of things. “So,” he says, “you’re glad to have me back?”
“God, yes.” She chokes on the confirmation, though he can’t tell if it’s because of tears or what.
“Fleinhardt know you feel that way?” he jokes.
Megan takes a step back, and that is an actual laugh. “Oh, no fair!” She puts her hands on her hips and stares down at him. “I can’t kick your ass while you’re in the hospital.”
“That’s okay.” He grins at her, cheeks pushing against the oxygen mask. “You can owe me.”
He hears an echo of those last few words, as if someone else repeated them after him, and he can’t keep the smile going.
Megan pats his shoulder gently. “I’ll look forward to paying that debt. Make it sooner rather than later, okay? It’ll be good to have you in the office again.”
It’s odd to think that maybe he could simply pick up where he left off. That maybe what passes for his life isn’t quite as finished as he’d thought. She might not be speaking for Don or for David, but even the possibility makes him vaguely light-headed. He’ll have to think about it when he’s not so damned tired. “Thanks, Megan.”
“I’ll see you soon. Get some rest.” And just like that, she’s gone, leaving the bright lights and warm blankets and the flow of easy air to keep him company.
His eyelids slide down of their own accord, heavy and tired of looking at light. In the dark, he breathes deeply, because he can, and no matter who he owes that chance to, it’s something he can do, and something he’ll keep doing. And even when it hurts, the pain only reminds him that in time there will be an end to that, too.
All comments and criticism more than welcome!