H/C: ritual sacrifice, undercover: discovered and hurt, cuddling for warmth, muscle strains and spasms.
Title: Just a Natural Fact
Characters Ryan and Mikey.
Rating: R for violence and imagery
Warnings: Descriptions of injuries
Summary: Ryan's been found out. Now all he can do is hold on.
Notes: Written for the hc_bingo February Challenge.
This is a story set in the And the Embers Never Fade verse. One where Ryan has been hiding undercover as a Drac. It's also prompted by this picture of Ryan and Mikey as drawn by omens
I couldn't have done this without themoononastick who not only beta read, but did it while I was actually writing so I could get this posted before the deadline. Huge thanks go to her ♥
Ryan’s mouth tastes like plastic, his throat and tongue dry.
He swallows, stands frozen and silent, sweat beading at his neckline, sliding down the side of his face. He wants to wipe it away, but that’s something that Dracs don’t do. They run and attack, they do what they’re told.
When you’re numb discomfort means nothing.
He hasn’t been for a while. He stands in the crowd and pretends.
Ryan’s mask is pushed high on his head and he’s crouched down in front of an info terminal, his body folded in tight as he laboriously picks out words hidden in code.
The back of Ryan’s neck prickles as he types, ‘Y. Usual place?’
That’s all that there is. Ryan’s left with a screen of meaningless code and the familiar feelings of relief mixed with isolation. He keeps his fingers over the keyboard, says almost silently, “Bye,” and then stands. Ryan’s already been in the control room too long, two minutes and the next patrol is due to walk past. By then Ryan needs to be gone.
Ryan pulls down his mask.
He leaves with ninety seconds to spare.
“If cats ruled the world naps would be law.”
“And dogs would create a utopia of love and devotion,” Ryan replies, and pushes back the metal sheet that hides the tunnel out of Battery City. “Also, they like chasing balls.”
“You’re reaching now,” Kobra Kid says. He’s standing next to his bike, something that’s still gleaming white despite the dirt of the desert. Kobra Kid himself is in shadow, but when he steps forward Ryan sees he’s got his jacket zipped up tight to his neck. “It’s fucking freezing.”
“Pussy,” Ryan says easily, and even though it is freezing, his face already stinging, Ryan loves these moments when he’s out of the confines of the city, able to breathe air that isn’t recycled or made thick with heat and the scent of freshly spilled blood.
“I’ve got you something.” Kobra Kid pushes his hand in his pocket, and brings out a strip of dried meat.
Ryan takes the strip, peering at it before taking a bite of one end. “More experiments?”
“I didn’t ask what it is,” Kobra Kid says. “But it tastes good.”
“Probably best.” Not that Ryan cares what he’s eating, it’s food, and anything is better than the vitamin enriched slop he gets to survive on. Ryan takes another bite, resisting the urge to wolf it all down. Chewing slowly, he says, “I heard a power plant went dark last night.”
“You heard right,” Kobra Kid says, and then adds, “But other places went light. Places that need it.”
Ryan doesn’t ask for details, those are dangerous to hold. Still, it feels good to know that out in the zones wrongs are being put right, and that Kobra Kid is willing to share even this most flimsy of information. It’s more than Ryan ever expected, especially when their first meetings were so tense.
In the distance the sky flashes red, the ground rumbling under their feet. Ryan knows it’s time to pass on the things that he’s learned. He says, “They’ve mined route twenty-seven, all along the endless sands and they’ve doubled raids for zone two. There’s a dream suppressor drug in production and I heard two zone runners were executed last night.”
“Fuck,” Kobra Kid says, and dips his head, his mouth moving with silent words.
Ryan fights the urge to ask questions, but still, one of them slips free. “All of yours, they’re.....”
“Accounted for,” Kobra Kid says, but unlike before, he sounds tense, the former ease of the meeting erased. “I have to go. See you next time.”
“Sure,” Ryan says, and keeps eating as he watches Kobra Kid ride off. Never looking away until he and his bike disappear over the horizon, and yet again Ryan’s alone.
Ryan gets made the next sunrise.
He doesn’t get the chance to yell before he’s pulled from the ranks, his mask yanked off and thrown to the floor. Korse’s arm is around Ryan’s neck, pushing tight until he’s gasping for air.
Korse jabs his gun against Ryan’s ribs and pulls him backwards, Ryan’s heels dragging against the metallic floor as other Dracs scatter to all sides.
“Did you think we wouldn’t find out?” Korse snarls, and he’s got his face against Ryan’s, the gesture terrifyingly intimate. “You’re not as smart as you think you are. None of you are.”
The last is spat out, spittle against Ryan’s cheek. He’s trying to fight, with his elbows and feet, kicking back as he’s hauled toward the transportation compound.
Which is wrong, because it’s supposed to be the punishment block, not this sterile corridor. Korse flanked by Dracs who remain eerily silent as Ryan’s thrown into the back of a white van.
The doors slam shut and Ryan springs forward, yells as he fruitlessly slams his fists against metal.
And keeps yelling, the echoing words hiding the first terrifying hiss of gas.
When Ryan comes to he’s hanging. His feet dangling and arms stretched up high above his head.
He’s still wearing his suit, but the material is blood-stained, white turned dark, and Ryan gasps as he moves his head, trying to see. The ground far below, his wrists bound with restrain strips, thin and sharp and designed to cut in.
The slightest movement causes them to tighten, and Ryan’s sure he can see bone, white under the mess of torn flesh and already embedded strips. He probably can, and Ryan tries to remain calm, breathing through the panic as he stares straight ahead. To the highway that stretches into the distance, cutting though the vast expanse of sand and darkened patches of scrub.
There’s not a building in sight. Even if there was no one would help, because Ryan’s been left here as a warning. Strung up and exposed on a billboard that welcomes guests to the city.
If he had the energy Ryan would laugh, because after a life spent in hiding he’s about to die of the ultimate exposure; and there’s not a thing he can do to stop it.
The pain has eased now, but Ryan knows that’s not a good sign. His hands are numb, swollen and purple, the wrists slashed all around. Each breath is an effort and Ryan’s skin feels tight, hot and burned. It’s a heat that’s competes with the cold of the night, the sun replaced by rolling dark clouds, huge and bloated with acid. Ryan’s shivers as he struggles to keep breathing.
It would be easier to stop, just give in and let himself drift. But Ryan won’t. If he has to die he’ll go down fighting. Never give up, never give in. It’s what Ryan does.
He takes in a new breath, shallow and jagged. Exhales and then takes in another. Over and over and over. Fighting back, his own final fuck you to a system he hates.
It takes Ryan a while to realize that someone is talking. Lost in a fog, light-headed, his chest aching, Ryan’s eyes are half-open, sand stuck to his damp lashes, his lips blistered, the skin tearing as he attempts a reply.
“Ryan,” the voice says again, and Ryan tries to place who it is. If this time it’s actually real.
“Fuck.” The sound of footsteps, and then Ryan’s biting at his own lip, trying not to cry out as something touches his foot, jostling his whole body.
“Sorry. Sorry.” Another touch and it feels like Ryan’s hands are on fire, something wet trickling down over his arms. He clamps his mouth shut, catching his screams in his throat, draws in barely enough air through his nose. Each breath is wet, Ryan’s chest burning and it’s almost impossible to keep his eyes open, the darkness he’s already seeing pushed close and cloying.
Ryan’s head drops forward, his chin against his chest.
“Don’t you fucking dare.” A yell, the touch at Ryan’s feet gone, the sound of footsteps walking away.
Ryan always knew he’d end up dying alone.
He lets his eyes close.
Then, a lasergun fires, and Ryan’s falling, plummeting to the ground.
He screams when he lands.
When Ryan comes to he’s shivering. He’s lying on the ground, covered by a jacket, someone’s body close to his, an arm draped over his side, holding him close.
“And then he decided to jump the lava pits, because he’s a fucking idiot.”
It takes a while for Ryan to understand what he’s hearing, and who he’s hearing. When he does he relaxes, his voice cracking as he says, “Kobra Kid?”
“Hey,” Kobra Kid says, and he’s a reassuring warm presence, solid and there as Ryan rides out the shivers that shake his whole body. “Sorry I had to cut you down like that. I thought I could catch you.”
Ryan’s teeth are chattering, and his tongue feels alien in his mouth as he says, “You dropped me?”
“You couldn’t breathe, I had to get you down fast.” Kobra Kid reaches behind him, then holds a water bottle close to Ryan’s mouth. Thumb held over the opening, Kobra Kid lets a little water dribble free. “You’re heavier than you look.”
“Or you suck at catching,” Ryan says, seeking distraction from the way the joints of his shoulders are burning, and how he can’t feel his hands at all. It’s the latter that causes panic to push forward, and Ryan tries to flex his fingers, his heart racing as they don’t seem to move in response.
“They’re still there.” Gently, Kobra Kid puts his own hand under Ryan’s and lifts it up, showing how his wrist has been wrapped in strips of white fabric, and how his whole hand has turned black, the fingers all swollen. “We know a good doctor, I’ll take you to him.”
Ryan takes in the careful phrasing, how Kobra Kid doesn’t say that Ryan’s hands will be fine. It’s something Ryan appreciates, even while wishing for that rose-tinted lie. He looks down at his hand, how Kobra Kid’s fingers surround it. “What were you saying? Before.”
Kobra Kid lowers his hand, but keeps holding on. “I was telling you about Pete. How I first met him.”
“Oh,” Ryan says, and this is a story he’s heard scraps of. From Pete and then Kobra Kid himself. Personal snippets shared amongst the endless tense hours of plotting and planning, the fleeting meetings where Ryan found the human contact that he craved. “He said you were old friends.”
“Something like that,” Kobra Kid says, and he takes hold of the jacket that’s covering Ryan, pulling it up to his chin. “We met at the stunt show, ran together through the heat wave months, and then he left.”
Ryan turns his head, his nose next to the collar of the jacket. He inhales, concentrating on the scent of leather, gasoline and sweat. “To go be an inside agent.”
“Yeah.” Kobra Kid shifts even closer, and his hair has fallen over his face, his t-shirt rippling in the slight breeze. “I didn’t know that back then. He just left one day and never came back.”
Ryan understands how that feels. He tries to curl his hand around Kobra Kid’s, giving up when his fingers remain frozen. “He came back.”
“Eventually,” Kobra Kid says, and at a strong gust of wind he angles his body, providing shelter from the sharp grains of sand. “The fucker pulled off his mask in the middle of an attack. I almost ghosted him.”
“But you didn’t,” Ryan says, and this is a story he needs to believe in, that it’s possible for people to be redeemed, and ultimately, to be forgiven.
“I wanted to,” Kobra Kid admits, and while he’s looking at Ryan he’s obviously not seeing him at all. “I was so fucking angry, we’ve all had so much taken, and Pete just walked away.”
“He does good work.” It’s something Ryan feels compelled to say, because as much as he likes Kobra Kid, it’s Pete who was there for so long. Hanging on until he had no choice but to run.
“I know,” Kobra Kid says, and then. “I forgave him a long time ago. He did what he had to.”
It’s what Ryan wanted to hear, a moment of ease against the constant throb of pain that radiates out from his shoulders.
Kobra Kid pushes himself up on his side, looking down at Ryan. “The others will find us soon. I left a message.”
Ryan’s tired, exhaustion lying heavy, but surprise cuts through that and he looks up at Kobra Kid. “You went out alone?”
“I’ve been meeting you alone for months now,” Kobra Kid points out, but then, his expression serious he adds, “A Drac hanging from a billboard had to be you. As soon as I heard I took off.”
“And you couldn’t take the car?” Ryan says, and he’s fighting to stay awake, using this conversation as an anchor against sleep. “Something a little more practical than your bike.”
“There wasn’t one to take,” Kobra Kid says, and he picks up the bottle again, giving Ryan more water. “The others are off on trades, I was minding the shop.”
Gratefully, Ryan runs his tongue over his lips and thinks of things Kobra Kid has said in the last months, the details he’s shared of his life. “You mean reading magazines and listening to music?”
“Like I said, minding the shop.” Kobra Kid smiles a little, lets himself down so he’s lying pressed up close to Ryan. “They’ll find us. I promise.”
Actual promises are something Ryan’s not used to. But Kobra Kid sounds sure, and Ryan believes him. It’s why he finally closes his eyes, knowing Kobra Kid’s close, and that somewhere, help is on the way.
Ryan isn’t sure how long he’s been sleeping. Disorientated, he opens his eyes, seeing it’s still dark, and then, that there’s a Jeep parked close by. A bright pink Jeep, some kind of art work covering the side.
“This is Bob.” Kobra Kid’s kneeling next to Ryan, and he indicates the man who’s walking over, his hair pulled back by a bandana and his expression stern. “Told you he’d find us.”
“Hey,” Bob says, and he crouches so he can look directly at Ryan. “I’m going to carry you back to my Jeep, and I want no bullshit about being able to walk.”
Ryan blinks, his protest pushed back as he takes in how Bob’s got his hand on Kobra Kid’s shoulder, the way his expression softens as he looks in his direction.
Kobra Kid smiles, and tilts his head to one side, so it’s resting against Bob’s hand. “Bob believes in tough love. But he’s a good nurse.”
Bob scowls, but beyond that there’s amusement, shown in the twitch of his mouth as he pulls his hand free and then stands. “I should be, I get enough practice with you idiots.” He directs his attention to Ryan then, says, “Hang in there, we’ll get you to a doctor.”
Ryan nods, steeling himself as Bob slips his arms under Ryan’s legs and back. He lifts, and Ryan tries to bite back a cry, his whole body throbbing with pain. Gasping for breath, he bites at the collar of Kobra Kid’s jacket, his head against Bob’s chest, and hand still held by Kobra Kid, who walks at his side to the Jeep.
Ryan’s glad that he does. Even if he can’t feel the touch, he knows Kobra Kid’s there, and that’s reassuring, when Ryan feels so sick and hurt and afraid.
Carefully, Bob places Ryan on the back seat of the Jeep, and Kobra Kid’s climbing in too, settling down at Ryan’s side.
Bob looks at them both, and Ryan can imagine what he’s seeing. Kobra Kid snuggled up to a Drac, colors against white. It should be the ultimate wrong, but it feels right, and Bob obviously thinks so too. He laughs, says, “Jesus. What’s with you and the white suits?”
“I never saw you in yours,” Kobra Kid says, and Ryan watches as he runs his thumb over the back of Ryan’s hand, from swollen fingers to blood-stained bandaging.
“And you never will,” Bob says, and he steps away, heading toward Kobra Kid’s bike. “I’ll hitch up your bike. I assume you’re coming with us.”
“You assume right,” Kobra Kid says.
Relieved, Ryan tries to get comfortable, attempting to pull Kobra Kid’s jacket higher up his body by using his teeth.
“Let me,” Kobra Kid says, and he tucks the jacket around Ryan’s body, and then turns, reaching over the back of the seat. “Don’t tell him I told you, but Bob likes picnics.”
Kobra Kid holds up a blanket then shakes it over the side of the Jeep, causing dust and sand to fly free.
“He likes picnics?” Ryan repeats, and he can’t tell if Kobra Kid’s joking, because even though Ryan’s seen him for all of a few moments, Bob doesn’t seem like a picnic person at all.
“He likes the romantic shit,” Kobra Kid says, his voice loud as he settles the blanket over them both and then curls himself in close next to Ryan. “A spot overlooking the blood geyser, water, lizard legs and emergency flares for atmosphere, he’s got it down.”
Ryan remains unsure, even when Bob attaches Kobra Kid’s bike to the back of the Jeep and then says, “See if I take you again.”
Which leads to another question Ryan knows not to ask. But he’s been stringing together hints for months, and right now he needs a distraction, as Bob starts the winch, causing the Jeep to vibrate. It’s only the tiniest amount, but each movement seems to tear through Ryan’s body and he groans, says, “Bob, he’s not a Killjoy.”
“No, he’s not,” Kobra Kid says, and he looks over his shoulder, to where Bob’s standing at the back of the Jeep, carefully securing the bike. “But he’s important.”
Which is something Ryan suspected, from the things Kobra Kid’s said, but mostly, the way he looked as he said them. “So he’s what, friend, family, significant other?”
It’s a personal question, and despite their friendship, Ryan’s unsure if Kobra Kid will actually answer, especially when at first he remains silent. But then Ryan realizes that Kobra Kid’s hesitation isn’t due to him deciding whether to share the information, instead it’s him thinking about how to reply. Another pause and then Kobra Kid smiles and says, “He’s all of those, but he’s not alone. I’ll introduce you to the others later.”
It’s more than Ryan expected, and it’s something to concentrate on as Bob walks past, squeezing Kobra Kid’s shoulder through the blanket before getting in the front and starting the engine making the Jeep vibrate and causing pain to flare through Ryan’s body. Ryan rests his head against Kobra Kid’s shoulder, so tired staying upright seems impossible, and he says, “I’d like that. Thanks, Kobra Kid.”
Kobra Kid rests his arm around Ryan’s shoulder, tucking him close to his body, holding him tight as they move, warm and secure as Kobra Kid says, “Mikey. My name is Mikey.”
Also posted at Dreamwidth. Reply where you wish.
Tags: my stories:bandom