His first couple missions as a 1st Sgt were thinly disguised good will tours, all glad-handing and glasses half full, where the only ordnance expended was in celebratory measures, and he and his men didn’t break a sweat, much less bleed. It took almost a year for it to all go to hell.
At least he’d managed to get most of his guys out before it had.
Himself? Not so much. And there was no way they thought he was still alive.
When Hicks came to, he was in it up to his ears. Literally. The only reason he could still breathe was that whatever was wrapped around his neck canted his chin upwards out of the muck. He couldn’t move his arms or legs enough to even figure out how he was bound. Half-numb from the water, he only felt how deep the slime had crept when he managed to move, and it went from nowhere to everywhere.
It was dark, but vague-shapes dark, not pitch black. None of the shapes were moving, but something was making the muck slosh periodically up into his nose and ears. Whenever he did manage to get a breath that didn’t lance fire up into his skull from inhaling the wet, he tried very, very hard to ignore the smell. He figured out he was in the freighter’s wastewater processor right away, but it took a little longer to place the underlying stink, the one that made his balls crawl up into his abdomen and his heartrate rabbit.
The one he’d smelled before, beneath the atmo processors on LV-426.
For the next few hours, Hicks worked the stupid stress-regression aids he’d been taught harder than he’d ever thought possible just trying not to hyperventilate and choke to death on shit. He also tried desperately not to consider that doing just that might actually be his best option.
Rescue came as a total surprise.
There was a crash and then blinding light and the roar of a flames. He couldn’t tell if he was burning or if his face was just so cold, a balmy breeze would make it feel that way. The acrid smell of burning flesh flooded his nostrils, and Hicks coughed and the vile soup forced its way into his lungs, turning one cough into an endless stream of retching and gasping for air.
His blown out sight was giving way to the dark tunnel of suffocation when, suddenly, his right arm was free. He grappled desperately at his neck until a very familiar voice said, “If you don't cut that out, Marine, this knife is as likely to go through your hand as this damn cocoon.”
His hand dropped as if of its own volition as hers slid in against his neck to pry the fibers up enough to cut. As if the rest of his body dropped, too, he plummeted back into himself, heart steadying, mind clearing, all from just the sound of that voice. It didn’t surprise him at all that Ripley was the one who’d come for him. He didn’t even consider that she might be a just the product of his desperate mind, a dream--her hand on his neck was the most real thing he’d ever felt.
Of course she’d come for him.
He woke sometime later, naked and still shivering from the decon shower, reaching out uselessly to stop the afterimage of his second’s fatal fall and screaming “Martina!” into the still air of the shuttle.
Ripley shifted in close. She pulled the blankets in tight and wrapped her arms and legs around him, sharing her heat and telling him again and again that she had him, he was out, he’d saved most of his company, that she’d blown the bitch to so many, many pieces, then blown the pieces to hell.
She didn’t pay any particular attention to his sobs, and she didn’t let go when his shivering stopped.
The next time Hicks woke, he was still in her arms.
Warm, dry and nestled deep in a pile of cargo blankets, he didn’t know where they were, but what he turned to see was her face, not the shape of the space they lay in.
He watched her eyes move restlessly beneath their lids. Faint starlight painted shadows from her eyelashes down her face. Her mouth was open a little and twitching slightly with her breath. He followed her breath down to where he could see it moving her chest, to where he could watch the rise and fall of her breasts, proof that she was here, alive and whole, and somehow, they’d made it out--she’d gotten him out--again.
She was awake for a while before she spoke; he’d noticed the moment her breathing had changed into wakefulness and she’d gone still. He suspected she was shooting for light when she finally said, “You keep staring like that, Hicks, and I’m going to think you see something you like,” but her voice broke a little on his name. She still didn’t move.
He brought his gaze up, but chickened out before he reached her eyes. Her lips were chapped, but looked soft and pink, and right then, in that moment, Hicks really, really wanted to know what they tasted like.
Bad idea, he reminded himself sternly.
She reached up to run her fingers through his hair, and he held his breath as a smile bloomed across her lips. “Guess what?” she asked.
“What?” he asked back, ducking his answering smile against her shoulder.
She shifted next to him, pressing her strong thigh up into his rapidly hardening flesh. It made him groan and try to burrow deeper into her shoulder, but she was having none of that. She raised her other hand to his hair and tilted him up to meet her eyes.
“We survived,” she said. The calm certainty in her voice left him breathless.
“Yeah?” he asked, soft, wanting nothing more than to hear her say it again, even with her pressed dizzyingly against him.
“Yeah,” she repeated, and if that syllable was a gift, then the grin she followed it with was a promise.
“Oh, yeah,” she said again and rolled on top of him, taking his hand in hers and laying her other against his cheek.
“Well,” he mused, trying not to lose himself completely in her eyes, “It seems like we deserve to celebrate somehow, doesn’t it?”
She ground her hips down into him, and he barely heard her “Did you have something in mind, Marine?” over his own groan, over the roar of all his blood heading south.
With a sputtering chuckle, he said, “I might be able to come up with a plan,” and stretched up to close the last of the distance between them.
She tasted like iron and salt. Like hope.
She tasted like home.