Aaron lay in bed, staring up blankly up at the wooden slats, the different names carved into the wood.
He didn’t even know the other person’s name. He didn’t know anyone in the program, and to be quite honest there were so many fucking layers of security that he really only had two people he could absolutely, positively, concretely identify as people involved in the program – when he knew, intellectually and through his own covert research, there were over a thousand people working on the ground for it, let alone how many higher-ups must know. To meet someone in the program now? After the shit he had gotten himself into because of his last assignment?
There were no such things as coincidences, just opportunities.
The question was, who was this an opportunity for? Aaron, or that guy?
And that guy was so young. Not in years, not really – he was perhaps five or seven years younger than Aaron – but his nervousness. The way he played it by the book. His caution. His legitimate fear that Aaron was sent to evaluate him. Every bluff, every attempt to thwart Aaron’s questions that had been rebuffed or ignored had set him more and more on edge. Aaron had been hoping to goad the man into genuine feelings, genuine emotion, but as it stood he had been effectively shut down.
Maybe the other guy was right. Maybe he was evaluating Aaron.
Thing is, Aaron had stopped caring a long time ago. Now, now he focused on his escape plan, a pipe dream cobbled together from a hodgepodge of bad ideas and impulse decisions. He may be on shit detail, and he may be kicked out tomorrow morning, but for now, he was safe, he was warm, and he wasn’t out there with those fucking wolves.
Even if they were simpler and easier to understand than humans.
For one split second, one achingly long heartbeat, he thought that this death and destruction was because of him. That he was being taken out, because he asked questions, because they had figured out his plans, because they had tracked his covert inquiries into Bourne’s program and history.
He couldn’t hear anything. Not really; he could hear the ringing in his ears, a high whirring that muffled the mechanical thrum of the drone’s engine. It distorted the sound, and he knew he had to get up, he had to move. He slowly rolled to his side, got his knees under him, held his sensitive ears.
The blood in him was pumping, and he could feel his fingers beginning to flex, the ache in his jaw of canines lengthening, his eyes super-focusing, color bleeding from his world as he entered the wolf’s grey and white field of vision, but he bit it back, held it down. He was better trained than this, and he knew it. He had to get up, had to figure out who was attacking. Another nation? Russia? North Korea?
The drone looked too similar to the one yesterday.
It wouldn’t stop, he realized, brain working overtime, flashing through scenarios. He and the other guy, they had trackers, tracers. He remembered his handler, his mentor, pretty much his god and world – swooping in to save his ass in a tight spot, providing intel, backup, resource drops, directions. Following his steps.
He needed to block it.
Nabbing the bag, he took off, sprinting through the trees, giving himself space from the drone and space to think. He had had a lot of medical work done on his body, a lot of unexplained scars that he had woken up with. Thinking hard, he could only think of two incisions small enough that were potential trackers.
Elbow or thigh. Elbow or thigh…
When he finished taping down the metal and foil over his thigh, hoping he’d picked correctly, he heard the drone spin around, come for another pass. Breathing in, deep and slow, clearing his mind, forcing his eyes back into their weaker but more versatile human version, he threw down his kit and whipped through the assembly of his sniper rifle.
Breathe out, slow.
He lifted it to his eye, watching as the drone – retargeted the building? It wasn’t coming his way, but he wasn’t taking the chance that it was distracted by some echo in the smoldering building. Breathe in, slow. Followed the trajectory. Breathe out, slow.
Took the shot.
While the drone sputtered down and crashed, he quickly broke down the rifle, tacked it up. Rolled up his kit, ran through as many options as he could think of, as quickly as possible. He had to take the tracer out, had to get it into another live body before they sent out a second drone. He didn’t know how far away the base was, but he had to have a worst-case scenario, and that meant he had, barely, an hour to do this. He had to be quick and efficient in every single action.
Back down on the ground, he stared at the debris. He had… he hadn’t even known the guy’s name, and now—
With his adrenaline up, with him on the edge, his senses were heightened. The kid’s scent was still there, still fresh, still vibrant.
Underneath all of that mess, the guy was alive.
“Hey, hey man, you good? Hey, come on, don’t quit on me now.”
The other guy didn’t move, didn’t twitch, and Aaron winced at the amount of blood he found. He had wasted precious moments digging through the wreckage, unearthing the body almost on the edge of the forest, covered by steel beams. At least here their trackers weren’t working, but that only delayed the inevitable. He needed to put these trackers into something warm, and give the drone a target to shoot at.
He had been stocking up on them, trying to hoard one or two here, but there was no way he could last on the couple he had stored up from this trip. Cutting down days on his trek only netted him two of each pill. He had to find a better solution. And the kid would need meds too.
“Hey, hi, you up? I kinda need you up buddy. I have to extract this tracker and it would go a hell of a lot smoother if you were up and moving for it. Don’t want to do this more than once, after all,” he murmured to himself, feeling the wolf inside bristle as he heard the howls of wolves in the distance. He was running dangerously short on time, he hadn’t salvaged anything from the wreckage yet, and he still needed to cut it out of himself and the guy in front of him.
“This would go smoother if you could tell me where the hell your tracker is,” he huffed, licking his lips as he pulled the man partway out from under the beams. There were a lot of cuts, blood melting the snow beneath the other man into a murky slush beneath his cooling body. It would do no good for him to bleed out, not after he managed to survive a literal missile hit, so Aaron jumped up and darted for his bag, looking for the gauze and kit that would have the surgical tape that could at least stop the bleeding.
Time was ticking away, and he had no time to be delicate; he yanked open the guy’s jacket, popped the buttons from his shirt, tore through the holes already in the shirt beneath that and began pressing the gauze into place. About four minutes in, the muscles beneath his hand stiffened suddenly, and Aaron barely had time to get his hands out of the way before the guy jackknifed up, a weird yowling growl vibrating in his throat.
The guy’s eyes were very golden, almost honey-colored, and his teeth looked too sharp for a human face. The ferocity was marred somewhat by the unfocused gaze and the blood smeared down one side of the guy’s face, but Aaron wasn’t paying attention to that.
“You’re… like me,” Aaron said slowly.
The words had the guy trying to focus his gaze, but it looked like he was having problems; he was wincing, twitching his head slightly as if he wanted to shake it but didn’t want to remove his attention from the potential threat in front of him.
“Hey, guy, it’s me, the talker, right? You remember? Snowstorm coming, almost here, and a drone – the drone came back. You remember that? I need you to clear your head, my man, because we are running very short on time and this would go twice as fast with your cooperation than without.”
There was a glimmer of recognition in those golden eyes, and they slowly darkened, color bleeding back into the iris. The teeth rounded, became blunter, less pointed, and the man’s pink tongue darted out to wet his lips. “Th’ fuck?”
“My sentiments exactly,” Aaron replied wryly. “But we don’t have time. We have to get rid of our trackers. Where is yours located?”
The guy blinked at him, a drawn-out, exaggerated motion, and Aaron bit back his frustration. When they were hurt, their bodies shut down a lot of the higher-up functions to divert resources to knitting back skin and bone as quickly as possible. The other guy could probably defend himself fairly decently, but understanding was too hard. Struggling to hold back his snarl, he dragged his pack closer and removed a scalpel. Eyes darting to the other guy, he carefully undid the heavy jacket, feeling his skin initially react to the cold and then acclimate quickly. Undoing the straps, he slid the thick thermal overalls down, baring the upper part of his thigh, below the thermal undershirt.
The other guy’s eyes were riveted on his motions.
Quickly, before he could think about it, he made a sharp incision where his memory supplied the image of the scar. Next, he pulled out the tweezers. Normally, it was not recommended at all to stick anything into any wound – especially tweezers – but he needed to remove the tracker as fast as possible and even though tweezers would tear and destroy the muscle, make more problems, it had to be done.
When he inserted the tweezers inside, the other guy made a small, soft sound of pain, more animalistic than anything.
Once he had the tracker removed, he taped gauze over the wound and then pointed at the other guy. “Your turn, buddy.”
Thankfully, this time the guy seemed to understand. With a huff, he managed to slur out, “Just a ‘scuse t’ pull down m’pants,” as he weakly indicated the inside of his left thigh.
“Well, you got a rockin’ body, I ain’t gonna lie,” Aaron said, immediately moving over and making a quick cut in the pant leg, tearing the hole wider and handing the scalpel over to the guy. “But I prefer you to be a lot more conscious than you are currently. We are on a clock here, so I’d appreciate it if you could make the incision so I’m not blindly hacking away at your skin. I need to salvage shit from the wreckage. Don’t die on me, okay?”
“’Kay,” the guy grunted, blinking hard.
“Don’t fall asleep, either. We’re gonna be running soon. I don’t think we’ll make it unless you pull your weight, okay?” Aaron patted the guy’s shoulder and darted off.
All too soon, he was counting down his last minutes he allotted himself, and he hadn’t found nearly enough of the shit he had wished to find.
Most importantly, and worryingly, was that the storage of the meds was completely obliterated.
He came back, carrying the bits and pieces he tried to salvage, to find that the guy had pulled apart his medical kit to patch himself up. He was breathing hard, shivering, hunkered beneath the small overhang made out of debris.
In the distance, wolves howled.
“You find that tracker?” Aaron asked, coming to his knees and searching for the thermal blanket he had stored away.
The guy opened up his hand, revealing the bloody capsule. “They’re firing on us?” he asked quietly.
“Looks like,” Aaron grunted. “You can’t be too surprised. Ever since Bourne got out, went running, haven’t you noticed? More evaluations, more judgements. Sudden write-ups and punishments for shit that wouldn’t have been a problem before. The medicine increase, the weird feeling the medicine leaves behind. They’ve been prepping to burn the program for a while. I knew it was coming, but more than that… if Bourne could get out, that means we could, too.”
Very slowly, the guy shook his head and closed his eyes. “We aren’t… we won’t make it far. We need meds.”
“We’ll figure something out. You can’t tell me you’re giving up, man. You lived through that explosion. You wanted something beyond the program, didn’t you? You loved someone once. You could have that again, if you just reach out and grab for it!”
“Would you stop it?!” the guy snapped.
His words ricocheted around the clearing, cutting off the wolves, and Aaron glanced at the man from where he had been gathering the bloody gauze and pieces so he could set up his trap for one of the wolves. “You alright, man?”
“You won’t stop talking, and you just – I can’t figure this out. I can’t.”
Aaron stood up. “I’d really to give you your time to figure it out, to make a decision, but you know as well as I do that the first few hours are the most important. You can’t wait around. So I’m going to try something incredibly insane and hope that that fools them about our deaths. And then… and then, from there, we can get back to the lower 48 and figure this shit out. Or not. But you better be on board by the time I get back – or we both die, and then you don’t need to figure anything out.”
It was a fucking insane plan. But it worked, somehow.
He came back, a bit torn and bit up from the wolf, to see that the other guy had gone around, gathered up the salvaged mechanics, created a travois, and was lying on it with the pieces and gear on him.
“You made up your mind?” Aaron asked carefully. “Once you commit, I don’t think there’s backing out, or stepping down. The whole way, or not at all.”
“I – I know,” the guy said slowly. “I know. But – you’re right. They took her from me, and then they took him from me. They stuck me here, and I could never do well enough for them. I want to live.”
Clicking his tongue, Aaron gave a short nod. “Sure. So, I’m thinking I have enough meds for maybe two, three days for one person. Sure as hell not enough for two.”
“I scrounged up enough for two people for two days,” the guy replied.
“Well, great then. Hopefully our next step will make itself clear before we run out.” He bent down by the travois, stuck his hand out. “Aaron. Aaron Cross. I can sometimes turn into a wolf if I get pissed off enough.”
Nervously licking his lips, the other guy looked at Aaron’s hand and hesitantly took it, giving it a shake. “Lucas, Lucas Ramirez. I can sometimes turn into a cougar. If I get stressed enough.”
With a grin, Aaron pulled Lucas’s beanie further down his head. “Hold onto our gear, Lucas. We’re gonna steal a plane.”
Aaron rolled his shoulders and grinned crookedly. “Well, then, we figure out who remembers best how to get to a medical check-in place, and we hit the place for drugs? Something along those lines.”
“That’s your brilliant plan?” Lucas asked, lifting an eyebrow.
“Look, we’ll figure something more concrete out when we actually touch down. I don’t want to be in Alaska any longer than we absolutely have to,” Aaron sighed. “Are you with me?”
Grumbling under his breath, Lucas leaned back against the travois. “I’m with you, I guess.”
“Good.” Grunting, Aaron lifted the ends of the travois and shifted his grip, making sure that the sticks were tight in his hand. “So that’s settled. The wolves have left, at least for the moment, and I scavenged up some bullets. I’m not dragging your lazy ass the whole way. You’re going to have to walk some of it.”
“You talk too goddamn much,” Lucas huffed.
With a soft chuckle, Aaron shook his head. “And you don’t talk enough. We’ll figure it out.”