Coughing. A thud. The chink of metal on metal. Explosive pops of gunfire. Vibrations from the impact humming through the floor against his face.
The stink of spilled fuel.
That last one drags the rest into focus, kicks the beating of his heart from whatthehelljusthappened to gogogogogo. He tries to roll over, climb to his feet. His head's pounding--why'd he have his helmet off if they were driving through enemy territory? He reaches up, trying to assess the damage, and cold iron jerks at his wrist.
He blinks, bringing the cuff into focus. Cuffs and chains, on wrists and ankles. A full set of manacles. For a moment he boggles at this, but he can still smell diesel, so he tugs at the cuffs. No give. The chains are securely fastened around his ankles, and bolted to the panel that stands upright next to him. His seat, he guesses, before the truck flipped onto its side.
He tugs again. There's an echo, a clank of chains that aren't his. He looks up. There's someone crouched several feet away in the dimness. He doesn't know which of his team it might be, but makes an educated guess from the man's economical movements. "Carter?"
The figure jerks around to face him. Manacled, too, but with one hand free. And the grin, even in bad light, is pure Dwayne. "Granger. Thought you bought it this time."
"When did you start havin' such a piss-poor opinion of me?" Colby asks him. He tries the cuffs again.
"Since you turned into a damn snitch?" Dwayne does something to his own cuffs, and the chains rattle into a heap at his feet. "Here, catch."
Colby gets his hands just high enough to snag the tiny, spiky bundle from the air. A ring of keys. He fumbles for the one that matches the cuffs, then bends his left wrist back to reach the lock. Something's nagging at him. He glances back at Dwayne, who's rummaging around on the floor.
Dwayne isn't wearing his helmet. He's not even wearing fatigues. The jumpsuit he does have on is neon orange; it'll stand out like a flare in this desert. The lock clicks, and he puts the puzzle out of his mind.
The chains fall away and Colby pushes to his feet. Dwayne is at the end of truck, where the doors now open up and down instead of sideways. He's found his weapon, or someone's--that's a semi-automatic pistol he's wrapped both hands around.
Colby looks at the gun. Dwayne's always had his back; he shouldn't be wondering when that muzzle will come up to point at his face. The guy's a damn fine shot. At six feet, there's no way he'd miss.
But Dwayne just looks at him. "You coming?" he finally asks.
Colby's vision has focused enough that he can tell where Dwayne got his weapon. There's a shape on the floor, a body in tactical gear. "That guy dead?"
Dwayne's grin is feral, satisfied. "Yep. What about yours?"
"Mine?" Colby glances at the only area he hasn't checked: the few feet behind him, toward the cab of the truck. Sure enough, another man sprawls there, one leg awkwardly caught on the metal seat, white sleeves showing under his vest.
Then Colby sees the man's face, slack and smudged with blood.
The truck around him lurches, and he thinks for a moment that another bomb has gone off, another round hit nearby--but it's not the truck that moved, it's him, and if he doesn't pull it together, there's going to be a bullet in the back of his skull.
"Can't tell from here," he says, glancing over his shoulder. "I'm gonna check him, see if I can find his weapon." The words come out steady, no different than anything else he's said, and Dwayne seems to accept that.
"I'm not waitin' for you," he tells Colby.
Colby waves a hand at him. "I'm right behind you." He makes himself turn his back on his--former--teammate.
Dwayne mutters something, and there's a clang as the lower door falls outward to land on a paved Los Angeles street. A moment later, even his shadow is gone, and Colby breathes a little easier.
One long step takes him to Don's side. Colby kneels, careful not to touch him yet.
Don lies sprawled on his back, left arm flung out toward Colby, right one tucked next to his body. His hips are at an awkward angle: the left leg is bent nearly underneath him, jammed against the one-time seat (astonishingly, the angles all look normal, and Colby guesses it's not broken), but the right leg is caught on the seat's edge somehow, leaving half the weight of Don's lower body hanging from it.
It takes a moment for him to actually see the half-inch of metal strut protruding from Don's jeans, just above the right knee. Colby bends around to get a closer look. The underside of the jeans is damp, but the blood seems to be seeping out, rather than spurting. The strut's not going anywhere, though, and he's got no way to cut it. He coughs, and curses. The smell of diesel is suffocating now.
He pulls back, wanting to check Don's pulse and breathing before he tries to yank him off the strut.
There's the mouth of a Sig Sauer pistol six inches from his face.
Colby says the first thing that comes into his head. "Dude, you fire that in here, the whole transport's going up in flames."
The hands holding the pistol are trembling, but its aim is true. Don's eyes are open and he meets Colby's gaze squarely, his face taut and unreadable.
Maybe he's as confused as Colby had been minutes before. Hell, the last two years might be worth it if Don can manage to believe him one more time. "Hey. Don. It's all right. It's me. It's Colby. Put the gun down, man. I gotta get you out of here."
The gun doesn't move. Don swallows. His voice is tight and hoarse. "Where's Carter?"
So much for the amnesiac-Don plan. Colby makes sure his hands are in plain sight. "He took off right after the crash."
Don thinks this over, lips pressed together. "You didn't go with him."
Unsure where Don is going with this, Colby stays still. "Thought about it," he confesses. "Look, they're not going to send people in here right now, and your radio's smashed. I need to get you out, or someone'll be adding 'murder' to the list of charges."
Don's eyes flutter, then close, just for a few seconds. Colby could snatch the gun away, and he thinks maybe Don expects him to. But he just waits, until Don blinks, takes his finger off the trigger, and lowers the shaking gun to rest against his torso.
Colby lowers his own hands. He doesn't realize what a bad move that is until Don tries to push himself up on his elbows. "Don't move!" It's too late to hold him down. Don drops back to the floor, head thudding dully against metal. After a long minute he manages a breathless curse.
"Pretty much," Colby agrees. He rests one hand on Don's chest, as if the man needs a reminder not to move. "You impaled your leg on something in the crash. I'm gonna have to pull you off it before I can move you."
Don just breathes a few times, in and out. Then he nods, like he's giving an order. Do it. "Bleeding?"
"Not too bad. I think it missed anything major." Colby steps over Don so he can reach his right side. There's barely enough room for him to put one knee down between Don and the back of the truck's cab. It's too dim to get a really good look, but the end of the strut is a sharp angle, like it sheared cleanly. One point in their favor. On the other hand, it went in just barely above the joint and came out slightly higher, even though the strut's anchored to the wall that has become their floor. He's going to have to lift some of Don's weight before he'll be able to slide the leg clear. And that's gonna hurt like hell. "Piece of cake," he says aloud.
Colby shoots him a grin, even though Don's eyes are partly closed. "Seriously," he says. "I'm gonna put a knee under your hip, okay? Take some of the weight and give me both hands free to get you loose."
Don doesn't answer right away. Colby starts to wonder if he's passed out, from shock or pain or something worse, when Don looks at him and nods again. "Get it over with, huh?"
"Yes, sir." Colby slides both hands under Don's pelvis and lifts as gently as he can. Just enough to brace that right hip a little further off the floor with his knee. Don grits his teeth, but otherwise doesn't make a sound.
That does it. The denim (and presumably the flesh underneath) no longer pulls so tightly against the strut. That'll have to be enough slack. Still, he'd rather not do this. It'd be better if they could wait, if he didn't have to risk pulling sharp metal back through muscle, back past bone.
Getting it over with. Okay. Colby curls his left arm around and gathers the damp denim beneath Don's thigh. His right arm goes over the panel, hand braced beneath the knee. "Hang on," he tells Don, and lifts before Don can stiffen up against the pain.
It comes more smoothly than he had expected: one, two, four, six inches of blood-greased steel sliding out as he bends Don's knee, pulling up and back. Don chokes back a shout that's half sob, and slams his fist against the floor.
Colby lowers Don's calf to rest on the edge of the panel and eases his knee out from under Don's butt, letting his weight down to rest on the floor. "It's over, Don. We're done. That's it."
Even as he speaks, he knows he's lying. The hand still clutching denim is suddenly covered in a rush of wet warmth. Something tore when he pulled the metal back through, or maybe started bleeding again once that internal pressure was gone. Shit. He'd been crossing his fingers that it'd just slide through, but apparently his karma is rubbing off on Don. Of course, there's nothing in this truck to make a tourniquet or a compress. He says again, "We're good, Don," and tries to think of a way to make the words true.
All he has is his hands. He knows he's only got seconds, so he switches positions: right hand under Don's thigh, left hand pressing on the smaller wound above. Don curses at him, the words fractured and airless. Those give way to ragged gasps, then to nothing.
Colby glances at Don's face. Every bit as limp as he'd seemed before, eyes closed, gun still lying on his chest. Warmth leaks against Colby's fingers. "Don." A twitch is all the response the name gets. "Don, stick with me, all right?" After a moment, Don opens his eyes. "That's good. Keep doing that. I know I'm the last person you want to be looking at right now, but just keep your eyes open, okay?"
Don turns his head and stares toward the doors at the back of the truck.
"Nice," Colby mutters, trying to get a better grip on the slick denim. He could just pick Don up and stagger outside with him. Into the middle of a firefight. Sure.
For the first time since the crash, he pays attention the sounds outside. They've changed. Sirens, shouting, footsteps--a lot of those.
But no gunfire.
He could just haul Don out there. Odds are good that the Federal side has control of the area. They might even have an ambulance on the scene already.
If he has Don with him, nobody'll panic and shoot the guy in the prison jumpsuit.
A few indecisive seconds later, the choice is taken out of his hands. A shadow crouches at the open half of the door and calls out, "Don? Agent Cornell?" Her voice is steady, but he knows it well enough to sense her panic. "Don!"
Colby glances down. Sure enough, Don's closed his eyes. "Aw, come on," Colby whispers. He drags in a breath and calls back. "Megan! Don's here, he's hurt. I don't know about Cornell."
"Granger." Megan's voice flattens, and the shift in her position means she's got her gun trained on him, but she keeps to the point. "How bad is it?"
"He's bleeding pretty heavily from one leg." Colby presses both hands tighter. There's no response. "And I think he just passed out. You got paramedics out there yet?"
"Yeah." Megan turns to speak to someone outside, then edges forward, gun first. "I need you to come out here so we can get to him."
Colby shrugs, not sure if she can see the movement. "I can't," he says ruefully. "I'm the only thing holding him together. Send the medics in. I promise I won't take hostages."
There's a moment of brittle silence. "Put your hands where I can see them," Megan says. She hasn't moved.
"Damn it, Megan, I can't." The truck tilts around him. Colby takes a deep breath, then another. "Just, for once could you--" He manages to choke back the words. You brought yourself here, buddy. Deal with it.
Another shadow appears beside Megan. "Let me go in first," David says, loud enough for Colby to hear.
"No way," Megan starts to say.
David cuts her off. "He knows if he makes any kind of move, I'll have no problem shooting first and asking questions later."
Colby swallows. His throat is dry from adrenaline, from the fumes. David might be bluffing, but he's seen fury in his partner before, and this is the same: cold, iced-over. He probably would shoot. "Come on in," he says. "And hurry it up, will ya?"
Megan turns and beckons to someone outside. There's a groan of metal, and the upper half of the door is propped high enough to let in blinding daylight. Shit! Colby turns his face away, squeezing his stinging eyes shut, and waits for the pain in his head to start to fade. It doesn't, so he blinks and tries to bear it.
David comes in first, his weapon pointed straight at Colby's head. Colby can't think of anything to say, so he keeps his mouth shut. David walks up to Don's head, where he has an easy view of Colby's hands. "Clear!" he calls. He doesn't sound relieved, just preoccupied, and Colby tries not to hold it against him.
Two uniformed paramedics, with their kits and a backboard, climb in. The man heads straight for them; the woman stops briefly at the body near the doors, then tells her partner, "This one's dead."
Colby thinks of Dwayne's grin and reminds himself that the agent's name was Brent Cornell.
Then the medics are down on their knees opposite Colby, and he realizes how badly his hands are starting to cramp.
The blond medic is taking Don's vitals, rattling off numbers to his partner. She's looking at Don's leg. After a brief double-take at Colby's jumpsuit, she asks, "What happened to him?"
"His name is Agent Don Eppes," Colby tells her. "Got his thigh impaled on that strut. I pulled it off; now it won't stop bleeding."
She lets him keep putting pressure on the leg while she checks the pulse in Don's ankle and feels the bone for breaks. "Okay," she says, an eternity later. "When I say 'now,' I want to you let go and back away. We'll take it from here."
The medic readies two gauze pads, and then nods back at him. "All right. Now."
Colby makes his hands let go, ignoring the fresh gush of fluid over his fingers, and scoots back till his ass hits the wall. Slowly, knowing it'll be the next request, he raises both hands and laces slick fingers together behind his head. The heel of one hand brushes a painful lump, and he tries not to flinch.
"Come on out here," David says, gun still pointing at him. "Keep your hands just like that."
Colby stands and takes small, unsteady steps around the paramedics, around Don, toward David's ready gun. When they're close, David steps behind him and pushes him toward the doors.
He makes it until they have to cross into the sunlight, until he has to step on a door that wasn't made for walking. It tips a little, and his balance is already shot. He catches himself without moving his hands, twisting so his knee and hip will hit first, keeping his face off the asphalt. Sudden movements don't get a prisoner any sympathy, and when his sense of the world rights itself, there's (sure enough) a muzzle pressed into the back of his neck.
"Don't move." David's voice is low.
"Not movin'," Colby assures him. After a moment, the muzzle vanishes. A hand takes his right wrist, snaps a cuff around it. He expects his arms to be pulled behind his back and braces for the awkward tug.
Instead, it's brought in front of him. David reaches for Colby's other hand and cuffs them together in front. "Get up," he says, and his voice hasn't changed, but he pulls Colby to his feet without being rough and steers him across pavement. "Sit." He pushes Colby into a folding chair.
Colby sits, and realizes that the air tastes sweet. No diesel. He breathes deep, and everything is clearer, for one sudden moment. Officers and agents mill around in the street. The hulk of the federal transport truck lies on its right side, looking like a huge carcass. A black body bag covers something on the ground a few feet away.
David calls a SWAT guy over. "This is a federal prisoner. If he tries to escape, or looks like he's trying, you're authorized to shoot." Then he taps Colby on the shoulder, until Colby looks up at him, squinting in the bright light. "The medic's gonna patch you up." And he turns to leave.
Colby squints after him, trying to focus on the truck. "Hey! How's Don?"
David glances over his shoulder but doesn't stop walking. "That's what I'm going to find out."
Colby watches him go, and feels something damp on his cheeks before he realizes what had been blurring his vision. Must be the headache, he decides. Feels like it's trying to split his head open. Sounds are slurring together, too, and he wishes he could be anywhere else. Back two weeks in time, maybe. Fleinhardt would probably be able to tell him exactly how impossible that was. He'd have his partner's hand on his shoulder. Megan joking and holding him up on the way to the ambulance.
He blinks real tears away this time. This is life. It's how things are, how they have to be.
"Can you tell me where it hurts?" the medic asks.
Colby can barely keep from laughing. He doesn't know where to start.