Brian isn’t sure what this project will entail, but the paycheque had looked legit and a bit of government work on his resume wouldn’t hurt. That was two years ago, in the last year of his master’s degree. Since then, all Brian Braddock had managed to do was move top-secret facilities three times and end up further in the middle of nowhere each time.
He was forgetting what the city looked like. (At least the Dictaphones in each corner of his bedroom gave him white noise to sleep by.)
But that was okay, because Kipahigan is surprisingly idyllic, the sort of picturesque lake that people might camp by. Brian didn’t camp, there wasn’t time for that. The government paid him to do a job and so Brian did it.
This wasn’t supposed to happen.
The snakeshark [Project S-Alpha-R4391] was growing by leaps and bounds. Brian jots down the data as fast as he could take measurements, amazed at the creature. Dr. Kinross, lead scientist, then gets too close to the wide jaws, the double row of teeth. She jumps in fright when the mouth clicks down inches away from a scientist below them, ruffling the white lab coat. Her elbow hits the electronic lock just right and the cage door swings open.
Brian is glad to realize he’s on the other side of glass, protected from the horror going on below in the pit. Two of the scientists aren’t so lucky and the glass is covered in red. Brian’s stomach recoils and acid burns his throat on the way up.
Dr. Kinross makes a phone call and everyone but Brian hightails it out of the concrete bunker. They abandon him while he’s cleaning up in the shower, leaving a dirt-encrusted Jeep haphazardly parked out front. Brian swears, runs a towel over his hair and goes to pull the extra clean shirt from his locker.
It’s red. Brian shrugs and pointedly doesn’t think about Star Trek. Because that’s only science-fiction and this is real life. He’s got work to do, or at least a lab to clean up.
Brian’s in the lab when he’s interrupted by two men. One is definitely the government type, despite the shotgun he’s holding. The other, Brian can guess - tall and broad-shouldered, sun-bleached hair and a smirk. It’s most likely the jackass who came to town and never left, Hawkeye. He runs the bait and hunting shop on the other side of the lake; Brian doesn’t know much about him, other than that he keeps to himself and usually is called to bail out tourists from the forest at least three times a year.
“Are you even old enough to be here, kid?” Hawkeye says, looking Brian up and down with a gaze that shouldn’t be that intense. “You look like you’re twelve.”
“I’m twenty-four,” Brian snaps, but he doesn’t bother standing from the lab bench.
“Yeah, in what, dog years?” Hawkeye responds.
Before Brian can muster a sharp comeback, the suit steps in with a quiet “Clint.” and the other man backs down. As the suit starts an interrogation - that’s what it is, no mistake about it - Brian finds himself wishing he knew more about Project S-Alpha-R4391 but his clearance level was only so high.
“What were you thinking?” The agent demands and Brian does his best not to cower. seriously, they never told him anything. Just take data, record, record, splice genes for a faster record.
Hawkeye- Clint interrupts, physically stepping in front of the older man. “"My partner is phrasing that a little wrong." Clint stares at him with that laser focus like he can read the answers straight from Brian’s head just by looking at his eyes. "What he means is, what the hell were you thinking?"
Brian shakes his head. "I was – it was – it wasn't supposed to be like this," he protests frantically. "We didn't know!" Then there’s a loud shriek, a crash, a feminine voice and it can only be one person. Brian’s blood runs cold and his heart stops for a moment. The two men take off running and Brian leaps from the lab bench to investigate, calling her name.
He comes to a stop in the hallway, catching sight of red, so much red everywhere. The labware is broken, shattered on the floor and against the wall in smears of color. Brian bends over, heaving but nothing comes up. It’s been a long day and it’s only halfway over.
Brian finds himself in the small middle seat of a black SUV, arms tight around himself like it’ll stop the shaking. He shares what little he knows, remembers about the snakeshark - it likes water best. So they head to the lake, sun sinking lower in the sky.
Brian nearly falls into the water when Clint starts the motor without warning. It’s a jarring, shuddering start but they push out from the shallows and speed towards open water.
"You know," Clint says meditatively as they speed away from the shore, "if we have to be in a real-life B movie, there could at least be topless co-eds or something."
Brian pipes up with a grin, "I can take my shirt off, if you really want."
Phil gives him an intense glare that probably makes actual children weep. Brian shuts his mouth so quick his back teeth click and his jaw aches.
Ten or so minutes later, they're well out into the middle of the lake when Philfires his gun and Clint goes, "Holy shit, easy, soldier.” Brian’s too busy looking out at the water that rippled, the sound of the gunshot still ringing in his ears.
He turns to look at both of them, not really paying attention to their conversation. "What," and he knows his voice shakes, "the fuck."
"Saw something," Phil repeats. The tone is a little kinder and Brian is pathetically grateful. This was never in his contract.
They motor further out, the three of them casting glances back at that spot every so often. Then the motor coughs, sputters and falls silent.
“Fuck. What the fucking fuck,” Brian swears loudly. “Are you fucking kidding me? Goddammit this was never in my life plan, I don’t swim,” He swallows hard and finishes with a repeat of “what the fuck.” Clint swears alongside him, a bit more creatively. Brian doesn’t think some of the words are even English.
"Um," Clint says.
"If you're about to tell me," Phil says, "that we're stranded in the middle of a lake with a snakeshark and it's getting dark and you're out of ideas, don't."
"Um," Clint says again. "A snakeshark that knows we're hunting it."
"Oh, good," is Phil's answer. "Any other good news for me while you're at it?"
Clint stays silent for a minute and Brian turns to look at the golden rays highlighting the leaves on the trees around them on the shoreline. If this is gonna be his last sight, at least it’s picturesque.
He turns back to catch Clint’s eye as it slides from Phil to him. "No," the hunter says, "I think that about covers it for now."
"So what do we do?" Brian’s voice is high and a little desperate, and even without the savvy to catch onto everything Clint and Phil aren't saying, he can tell they're in a pretty goddamned bad position right now. Not that anything that involves 'stranded' and 'dark' and 'snakeshark' can really be expected to be anything but.
The sun slips below the horizon, the sky's a breathtaking shade of purple as the light goes, and Clint swallows grimly, watching the faint ripple of the water.
"We keep watch," Phil says firmly, his voice calm and even and the opposite of everything that Brian's is. "We'll take turns, one of us awake while the other two sleep, and if we see anything, it's shoot first, ask questions later."
"Looks like you're gonna get your wish, kid," Clint deadpans. "You get a gun." Brian doesn’t feel so elated anymore.
- - -
Brian gets first watch and he grips the shotgun with both hands. The metal is cool, growing colder as night sets in. Clint and Phil are curled at the other end of the fishing boat, talking softly. Brian lets them be and thinks about his mom, the stars, the calm of the lake. He drifts in his own head, trying not to shiver as the moon rises.
“Hey,” Clint says softly. It rouses Brian from his thoughts. “Get some shut-eye. I’ll keep watch.” Brian nods, energy and fight drained out of him with the lack of action and pulls his lab coat over him like a blanket.
He wakes up real quick, falling out of his dream and into the shock of stagnant lake water. It’s freezing, icy, numbing Brian’s skin before he can scream. The boat tips and Brian falls into the water. The water churns beneath him and Brian has enough time to think he maybe should have worn a shirt other than red, that he loves-