Bile bubbles up his insides and threatens to unmask his semi-professional demeanor. His nerves feel raw. Dutch barks about where he’s positioned, and it sandpapers against him unpleasantly. It’s not the beer he drank last night, it’s the whisky chaser and also the untimely pairing with D’avin’s green stuff that has his panties in a twist, not that he wears any. Only Dutch would be able to tell how off he is and she’s on her knees in front of a butchered body, feeling for warmth that won’t be there. It’s a thoroughly gutted corpse so she’s wasting her time. A piece of intestine winks at him from the gore and his gorge rises to the bait.
“Sorry,” he mutters, and stumbles back toward the weeds to hide his disgrace. He’s not mission-ready, not by a long shot, but he only has himself to blame. Behind his closed eyelids all he can see is D’avin’s face as he relieves himself of his pathetic drinking binge.
“Johnny,” Dutch says, sneaking up on him and exhibiting some trademark kindness reserved for such times. “Better out than in, you know?”
“Yeah, yeah,” he agrees. “I’m not doing so well, here.”
“Well you’d better get well, and fast, because our quarry’s gone to ground and we need to smoke him out.”
If he had hair, she’d be there to hold it back while John vomits green bile into the weeds. Maybe. He can see a rudimentary shelter in the distance, back beyond the dunes. Skeletons litter the beach, and there are a few fresh corpses as well.
They need to get a grip on this situation.
“Jesus, John, what the fuck is that?” Dutch reigns in her sympathy and draws back. “Disgusting.”
“Oh. Right. Moreso than that gutted corpse, then.” He stumbles to his feet.
“Fresh corpses I’ve seen. Green goo out of a human that smells like sod and sugar, not so much.”
“Your bedside manner. Always a pleasure.”
“Get your shit together and let’s go. We have work to do. The warrant is all and I want to be back by happy hour.”
“Don’t,” John winces, “Mention alcohol under any circumstances.”
There’s always a soundtrack in her head.
Today, it’s a hard, pounding song that she heard in Pree’s bar. Its colors clash with the white of the sky and the black sand under her feet. Gray reeds cover the dunes and she’s mesmerized by the way they wave in the wind and the sound of the sea slushing against the shore.
So mesmerized, in fact, that she is surprised to see a dozen men and women come rushing over the dune, armed with long daggers and with black cloth covering their faces up to the eyes. The wind swallows her shouts and she sees John, thankfully up off his arse, begin to fire. Good boy. Shoot first, ask questions later.
She hadn't heard them coming -- although granted, the sand would hush any footsteps. But she wonders briefly, is she compromised? Not in the way Johnny is, with his hangover. But because of D'avin. Because she nearly lost so much, and she can't help but place blame squarely in her own camp. She let her guard down.
And right now, she's caught off guard again. They're outnumbered, and she only drops three before they’re pretty much on top of them. John’s dropped only one, the bastard, and the black faces keep coming. One woman with long blonde hair leaps in the air and Dutch meets her with a backward tumble, spilling the girl over in John’s direction. He fires. Five down.
She’s in front of John, thank god, because she knows he’s at half capacity, and jesus fucking christ she’s making him go sober from here on out. D’avin or no D’avin, he’s got to man up and stop pouring booze down his throat every time he feels a goddamn emotion.
She goes to hand-to-hand. She bashes one man unconscious, but takes in several severe blows to the head. Not good. Shake it off. Another foe tries to sweep her legs and she dodges his dagger to her throat while stomping on his aggressive leg. A warrior yell escapes her throat. Fuck these motherfuckers.
Her focus is so intense and she’s enjoying seeing her attackers squirm. She’s surprised when she hears Johnny scream. It’s not his usual battle cry, or some form of aggravated dry wit in the face of combat. He can handle himself, and plus, she’s got five men on her. But the noise he makes is just this side of normal, and Dutch spins to get a better look.
Fuck these motherfuckers.
Some brunette is drawing her dagger back, covered in red, ready to strike again. John blocks it, but falls, and Dutch comes down on her like an Old Town rain in spring. Her forceful leap and a brutal elbow take her down in a heartbeat.
Dutch falls to one knee in the slushy sand, and nearly loses her balance, unused to such soft, yielding surfaces. John’s eyes are the color of the slate sky. He’s so pale. It’s all happening so fast.
That bitch stabbed him in the gut, and Dutch is reminded of the time D’avin stabbed him... The time she nearly lost him… The time her world was rocked. Not so long ago. Johnny stills bears the scar. She cradles Johnny’s head in her hands.
Her head pounds with the sound of the waves and the music in her mind.
He’s going to die, and he knows it.
It’s okay, really, it’s not like his game isn’t dangerous to begin with. Someone’s always got a gun at his head. His guts are leaking onto the sand and he’s trying vainly to turn over, to get one more shot, so he doesn’t totally leave Dutch hanging. But, if this continues to go the way it’s going, he’s going to leave her hanging anyway. He needs to learn to block that vulnerability he's got with knives. If he gets the chance.
Lucy’s too far away. He won’t make it. Even if Dutch was in a position to sling him over her shoulder and run for it. He’s toast.
“I’m toast,” he croaks.
“Quit fucking around, John. Pressure here, do it.” Dutch is still acting like a hero and he can see one of her attackers stirring. No time.
“I’m doing the best I can. Behind you.” And miraculously, in the not-really-a-miracle sense, Dutch shoots the guy down. Fastest draw in Westerly, and probably the Quad. He’s always in awe of her. She’s awesome. He should tell her. “Dutch.”
“Shut it, sugar pants. We got this.” She’s babbling to Lucy over the comms and John focuses on breathing. He’s got to hang on long enough to tell her. And he’s going to formulate a message for D’avin. Dutch can give it to him. They should be happy, they should go on… they should. “Dutch, I need to tell you something.”
“What did I say? Stop muttering and for god’s sake, stop bleeding.”
So he’s persona non grata with his adopted team, with his brother, and with his … lover? Well, with Dutch. He’s not welcome on their mission, not by a long shot and he doesn’t want to join them anyway. Really. He doesn’t. He wants to be here, drinking himself blind in the bar. So that’s what he’s doing.
Pree leans in too close and D’avin jerks back.
“Hey man, I don’t swing that way.”
“Not gonna kiss you, mate. Got some intel.”
D’avin looks at him with his lips twisted in surprise. “What? What.” He’s slightly non-verbal right now, and Pree cracks a grin at his confusion.
“Kind of important, D’avin, darling. Let’s pay attention.”
“Okay. What is it? Why’re you telling me?”
“Because you’re the only one who can most likely get in touch with our beloved duo and warn them about the ambush they’re about to walk into.”
D’avin wants to fall off his chair in panic, but he maintains his equilibrium and leans over toward Pree, his soldier-boy core coming to the fore. “Details, Pree, as much as you know, now.
“Easy, soldier. You’re sod breath is staining my blouse.” Pree leans back a bit, but zips a napkin in front of D’avin and brandishes a pen. “How I find out these things is my business and none of yours. These are the coordinates.” He scribbles on the napkin and pushes it towards D’avin. “The man they’re attempting to lock and serve is part of a gang that has only one agenda. To kill Killjoys. It’s a set up, because they know full well who’s going to come after them, and while it’s nothing personal, it’s just what they do, and from what I’ve heard, they do it well.”
D’avin’s mind is already jumping forward. He needs transport, he needs help, he needs…
“Hey D’av, what’s the latest?” Pawter appears at his elbow like a goddess from a myth.
The soundtrack has slowed. It’s a soft, melodic tune that’s nearer to a lullaby. She shakes her head. No way. No fucking way. She is not going to hum a goddamn lullaby as she watches Johnny die. She’s already ripped off her shirt and bound the wound, packing gauze from her kit underneath. Under pressure she's a great shot, and their enemy is down. But she’s always been bad at combat medicine. She’s great in an emergency, sure, but she’s not great with wounds, physical or emotional, when it comes to other people. She can stitch up her own arm from a flesh wound; she can snap her bones back into place; she can still fight even with a concussion. But she can’t do this. Can’t look into Johnny’s eyes and watch the light leave.
“I’ll take care of you, Johnny,” she gasps. “And you’ll take care of me. We take care of each other.”
“Behind. You,” Johnny whispers.
Another set of assassins is pouring out of the bunker beyond and Dutch grits her teeth. She wants to kill every last one of them, in brutal and painful ways. And she will.
She gets to her feet. “Don’t go anywhere, Johnny,” she says, “I’ll be right back.”
He meant behind you, but he also meant, overhead. The thunder of Lucy’s engines blurred with the sound of the waves and the sight of Dutch’s hair fanning out behind her as she turns and fires—
“Goddammit, so typical,” he says. “Johnny laying there in the sand while Dutch does all the work. What does he think this is, a vacation?”
“I think he’s wounded,” Pawter says and Lucy confirms it in dulcet tones that belie the emergency at hand.
“I know, I know,” D’avin grunts. “Put us down, Lucy. Now.”
He saves the day. He really does. It doesn’t make him feel any better about him and Dutch, or about Johnny, but it’s what happened.
It seems that's what he does now.
She doesn’t hear Lucy until the ship is practically on top of her. It’s not possible, and yet she hears the heartbeat of the ship – the awkward thrum-thrum in the engines from a previous crash that Johnny never could quite fix. Her comm crackles and comes to life.
“Dutch, it’s D’avin. You've been set up. Beat a hasty retreat and we’ll get you out of here.”
D’avin. Fucking D’avin. Here he is, saving her ass. It’s so unexpected and so… so typically D’avin, to fly out of nowhere at the eleventh hour and prove himself. All over again.
Dutch runs. She turns her back and runs. Dagger-wielding assassins follow her all the way, most of them mowed down by Lucy. D’avin emerges, picks up Johnny, and the three of them haul ass inside.
D’avin sets Johnny out for Pawter to look at and Dutch’s heart is still in her throat. She and D’avin grip each other’s hands. She can’t ask why he’s there, she can’t thank him, she can’t speak. But one thing she knows, she is never going to let go. If Johnny lives, they will work it out. All of them. She’s not letting go.
"Okay," Pawter says finally. "It didn't hit any major organs. You're the luckiest son of a bitch still alive."
Johnny groans and lifts his head. He looks at her. The grin he gives her can’t be matched with words or any bounty in the book. Fuck the warrant.