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In The Heat Of The Moment

Chapter Text

Read between the lines

What's fucked up, and everything's alright

Check my vital signs

To know I'm still alive and I walk alone

 

“Alright Haught, you’ve passed the first set of modules at a blistering pace. You surpassed all of your predecessors. Now you’re in uncharted territory. It’s time we see what you can do in real world situations.”

Dolls' voice echoed into the helmet of the red and gold suit of armor wrapped around Nicole’s body. When she had joined the Air Force, she had assumed she would be flying giant pieces of metal in the sky from a cockpit of whatever plane she was entrusted with. That’s what it had been the first few years. Slowly working her way up the ranks and being entrusted to fly more and more expensive aircrafts. 

When she was called upon to perform a classified mission, she had expected an in and out situation. It was what she had seen happen to a few other pilots. The first briefing shattered that illusion. This was a permanent assignment if she was able to complete each part of the mission. This was also the most well guarded secret she would be entrusted to carry. She was advised to cut off all contact to the outside world. That was easy enough seeing as she had not had contact with her family in years. Her personal life was always a string of non-committal friendships and relationships. She left little room to be misunderstood, her only mistress was the skies where she would feel she could finally breathe.

Her first night in the facility that she now called home, she noted how it seemed cold inside no matter what time of the day or the temp outside. She assumed it was kept that way for all the technology housed within. After all, the suit could not be the only advancement kept secret from the rest of the outside world. Between the sterile metal walls and the lack of natural light coming in, she found herself missing nature. The simplicity of the breeze blowing through her hair, the smell of rain in the distance, the small things she had taken for granted before. Even aboard carrier ships she could step out and inhale the scent of saltwater on the breeze. The outdoor trails offered some relief to this yet stood as a reminder of the little things she had given up. So did this part of her training, the ability to take the suit out on training exercises.

It was late summer. Outside was a sweltering heat that caused the few natural trails lining the facility to become crowded each night with others seeking to avoid the heat of the day, yet able to warm themselves from the cold world they spent most of their day trapped in. No one interacted out there. It was something Nicole noted from the very first time she went for a run. There might be a brief nod of the head but otherwise each runner kept to themselves as closed off to everything and everyone as the facility was to the outside world. Earbuds in place, volume turned up, connected to the music, and disconnected from everything else. 

Nicole found herself surprisingly satisfied with doing exactly as everyone else. Solitude suited her most days. Sometimes when alone on the path, she’d stop bending down to run her fingers through the blades of grass or feel the bark of the tree press into her hand, anything to ground her. Something had to when she spent so much time with her head literally in the clouds.

As she rose up above the facility that had become her home for the last two months, she saw a brief reflection of herself. The red and gold shining brightly in the sunlight as she hovered, awaiting Jeremy to finish loading the coordinates. She glanced down at the patch of trees that she would be hitting later that day. She turned in time to catch sight of a whale breaking the surface tension of the water just past the horizon. She watched in awe as it broke the calm of the glass surface making its presence known before returning to the depths leaving behind ripples as the only proof it was ever there.   

The last ninety days leading up to this point had been the longest of her life. It was bad enough to have to sit through so many security briefings, but learning to control the minutest movement of her body to control the suit was a challenge all its own.

The first time she sneezed in the suit, she fired off a blast that almost hit her superior officer, Dolls. He ducked just barely missing. She could sense the anger permeating the room, but he remained calm as he spoke to Jeremy, the mastermind behind the suit. 

“Jeremy, a sneeze needs to just be a sneeze.”

Jeremy turned from the crater burned into the wall. His eyes were wide with a mix of fear and excitement. “Whoa.” He whispered as he turned. There was a half toothy grin starting to work across his face as he took in the damage. “At least we know it works?”

Dolls raised a lone eyebrow that sent Jeremy into a frenzy recoding the tech from his tablet. Nicole for her part studied the still smoldering part of the wall before looking back down at her hand. She realized quickly that having that pointing at her face was not the best of ideas.

That was the first time she had been given any inkling of what power the suit held. Up until then, it was a tuna can that could take a lot of hits. That was the extent of her knowledge until last week. That’s when the realization of exactly what all this suit was built to do was revealed to her.

After completing all the modules Jeremy had placed before her, she had been drug once again into another security briefing. Instead of the usual mundane meetings, Dolls and Jeremy entered the room. Jeremy looked at her with a smile so wide, it was almost contagious. Dolls maintained his stoic presence despite the overjoyed person beside him.

“Nicole Haught, officially you are the Iron Man project.”

“Shouldn’t it be Iron Woman?” She questioned with a slight smirk. She knew she was the first woman in the suit. A bit of information Jeremy had let slip once before.

“Told you we should have renamed it.” Jeremy’s mumble drew a look of ire from Dolls. He sighed as his hands that were held behind his back, slowly came around to his sides.

“We’re keeping the original name. The less someone can guess about who is in the suit, the better. We have to keep you and anyone associated with you safe. Tomorrow you begin combat training. Jeremy is here to brief you on what the expectation is and your job is to execute it by next week. This will include a full rundown of all the suit's capabilities, including weaponry. Understood?”

“Yes, sir.”

--


One week of learning all the weapons Jeremy had been able to pack into the tin can didn’t seem long enough to truly master it, but by the end of it, Nicole thought of the suit as more of a tank with an incredible arsenal. Definitely not a tuna can powered by a set of LED lights in her chest. 

She had worked through a series of training courses designed to specifically test her ability to use the tech. Some things took her longer to master than she felt it should, but with Jeremy’s encouragement and adjustments, she had been able to be at least proficient. The more time she spent with Jeremy, the more she found herself in awe of the quiet guy who engineered the suit. Something between them had clicked from the beginning allowing an ease to their dynamic. Now was her first test. Use the suit in a real life combat situation and escape.

As she landed, she looked around the area noting the building, the hill above and the lack of places to hide. She was a sitting duck if snipers were on that hill.  As she observed her surroundings, Jeremy’s instructions rang clear into the helmet’s comm system. 

“There are flashing red targets in the building. Pass through the obstacles, hit the button, and pass the section. You have your own set of sensors they can trigger. Once you have completed the inside job, you will exit the building where the final obstacle will be waiting for you in the sky.”

“So what’s the stats Jer? How many am I up against? What’s waiting in the sky?” Nicole questioned through the comm system until she heard the unmistakable breathing she was starting to recognize as Dolls. She paused knowing he would have further instructions.

“You were left in the dark for a reason, Haught. There’s plenty of situations in which you’ll be going in blind. We need you to be able to think on your feet and adjust. Your ability to do that is one of the reasons you’re in the suit. This is just a simulation. You will have more than one shot at it. Then we’ll move you to new circumstances until you’re thinking on the level we need you to.”

Nicole wanted to roll her eyes, but she was all too aware of the camera watching her face inside the helmet. Instead she blew out a breath she had been holding in frustration. She nodded her head side to side before flexing her fingers trying to loosen the tension that had coursed through her body at the lack of information. “Yes sir.”

She slowly made her way around the building looking for a spot to enter. She found a spot that had a small opening in the metal where it had rusted out. She reached forward, her fingers grasping the metal to rip it out and create an opening she could enter through. She felt the metal start to give when suddenly the suit lit up.

“Heat vision detected you before you could get any further. Not to mention they could hear you ripping the metal.” Jeremy’s voice was flat as if he was informing her of the lunch menu.

“Reset.” Dolls echoed.

Five attempts later, Nicole set off the first sensor for the first time. She had growled in frustration so much her voice was starting to become hoarse. She had not been able to escape the building just yet, but she had at least passed that part of the mission. A victory that felt hollow. She had begun questioning if she was the best fit for the suit. Dolls and Jeremy both had insisted she was, but what kind of person was she if she couldn’t even complete one mission? As she landed back on the platform, Jeremy entered the room.

“Overall, that was a fantastic run. Suit stats look good. Other than your BP rising as you kept getting frustrated, your stats were good too.”

“Not impressive enough to bring Dolls down here.”

Jeremy looked up for the first time, an almost sympathetic look. “No, it’s not that. There’s another project we were just thrown into. It’s a big deal and will require us to split our time between it and here. Honestly neither of us thought we’d see an actual practice mission for another 6 months Nicole. You have exceeded our expectations.”

Nicole watched as Jeremy lost himself once again in the data still pouring in. She could see with each new set his brow crease a little more deep in concentration. She let a small smile slip to her lips. She casually turned her back to Jeremy pretending to look at a piece of the suit.

“That final obstacle you talked about. Any clue what I am going up against?”

Jeremy smirked as he took the helmet from her placing it back on the mannequin specially made to hold the suit. “Nice try. You will see when you get there.”

--

The sensors fired off flooding Nicole’s mind for the third time that day. Incoming missile. The final obstacle was revealed to her earlier that morning as it hit her square in the back and sent her crashing to the ground. She knew had it been set to detonate, she would have had much more than a sore back. Lesson one, never ignore a sensor or assume it’s the same one for a moment before. 

She knew the path already. She had it almost memorized. This is it. This would be her moment. As it closed in on her she jerked back miscalculating her thrusters. Instead of avoiding the hit, she threw herself right in front of it, taking the blunt force to her chest. She fell backwards, free falling from the clouds. At least her back felt like it had been realigned.

She struggled, fear taking hold as her mind flashed with one thought. Despite the suit, that landing was going to hurt like hell. Her mind stopped, fear fading as it kicked into overdrive finding solutions. First problem, she needed to at least slow down. She stopped flailing, her body flattening to slow her descent. Her hands flattened at her sides as she struggled to bend her knees. One flick of her wrists activated the thrusters, slowing her down. Problem two, regain control of the suit. One press of her heels and she was hoovering . She had reclaimed control of the suit seconds before she would have hit the ground. As she slowly started to ascend towards the skies once again, a sense of accomplishment came over her. Maybe it really was the small steps that were going to matter. This time, she didn’t hit the ground. This time there wasn’t a nearly six foot crater in the ground.

“Bring it home.” Dolls' voice annoyed her more than she wanted to admit. Despite the small positive, she was still mentally berating herself. She should have had this flight pattern down. She should not have taken the hit. She could avoid it. She knew she could. She wanted another chance to prove it.

“With all due respect sir, I would like the opportunity to go again..” She waited hearing silence on the other end before catching the sigh.

“We’ll come back to it when you’ve had time to clear your head.”

Her jaw locked into place knowing there was not a point in arguing with her superior. She looked around her one more time taking a deep breath before engaging the thrusters retracing the path back towards the facility. Failures had a tendency to replay themselves in her dreams at night. She knew this one was going to haunt her. She could really use a good night's sleep for once.  At least she could hit the trails tonight peacefully lost in her own world. Hopefully she would give herself out enough to fall into a deep slumber.

 

--

 

Nicole kept running while the failed flight pattern continued to replay in her mind. The music blared through her headphones as she ran the trail she had memorized. Seether’s “Fake It” only driving her frustrations to higher levels. She grunted as she pushed harder, the muscles in her legs starting to burn as she punished herself for the mistakes.  

Her hands jerked left then right again as she could almost feel the suit's movements. In her mind she could see the pattern play out just as it had earlier in the day. The missile heading straight for her, plenty of time to avoid, but once again her body reacted as before and jerked the wrong way. 

She closed her eyes as she let out a growl of frustration. She reopened them looking skywards, but quickly that view started to change as her body landed against something soft, yet firm. A person. She had literally run into another person on the trail. Could this day get any worse? Her reflexes kicked in. Immediately her eyes opened as her hands reached forward grasping an elbow feeling a set of hands land on her forearm as the person steadied themselves against her weight.

“Oh shit, I’m so sorry.” Nicole’s apology stopped short as she looked down into hazel eyes staring back at her. The small hand holding on to her forearm felt so warm against her flushed skin. Nicole couldn’t help but stare as the woman worked to right herself. Her eyes traced a sharp jawline that was contrasted by a smile so bright and cheerful. Well defined muscular arms gave way to a feminine form, strong and beautiful. The burn in her legs, the failed pattern, all forgotten as she felt herself start to smile for the first time that day.

“Wow, you really know how to catch a girl that’s falling.” The cheerful voice hit Nicole’s ears, shocking her back to reality. Back to the fact she had crashed into this beautiful stranger. Back to her holding on for much longer than she probably should have. Apologies flowed forth from her once again as she let her hands fall back to her sides.

“I am so incredibly sorry. Are you okay? I was in my own world, and I wasn’t paying attention.”

“It’s fine really. Isn’t it why we all come out here sometimes? An attempt to escape the procedures and our mind for just a moment?”

Slowly it registered with Nicole. The woman’s words struck a stark reminder that this was not an ordinary park she was exercising in. This was a secure military facility that only those with the highest security clearance could enter. Which could only mean, she had just slammed into another agent at the best and superior at the worst. Great, just how her day had gone. She watched as the woman straightened her tank before taking a step back, still facing Nicole with the same warm smile that felt so strange. An eyebrow quirked up as the woman regarded Nicole and her lack of response.

“From the look on your face, you need more than just a moment. I’m Waverly.”

“Nicole. I’m…” She stalled, still not sure what she could say to who and when. A light giggle pulled her back from her thoughts. Waverly was smiling at her and that stopped her brain faster than being hit by a missile had. How do you right a suit that is your own body in gay panic?

“We go with the simplest explanation here without giving too much away. For instance I’m here for linguistics.”

Nicole debated for a moment exactly what to say. I’m here to be shoved into a metal suit every day to create a perfect weapon just didn’t seem to be simple enough. “Technological testing?” Her voice was uncertain, but the laugh Waverly offered in return calmed her nerves. She found herself laughing along, not exactly sure why, just a relief in finally not being yelled at or in her own head about the failure.

“So Nicole in technological testing, if I had to guess, today did not go well. And if I had to guess again, you are blaming yourself.”

Nicole raised an eyebrow. “Quite an accurate read for someone who specializes in linguistics.”

“Body language is just as important. Besides we all have that look at some point in here. I watch people out here quite a bit. We may not speak, but you can tell when someone’s task did not go well that day.”

“Duly noted.”

Waverly shifted her weight from one foot to another. Her hand rested against her other arm as she started to rub her bicep. Waverly was right. Body language was important and right now Nicole could tell she too was nervous. Nicole watched an internal debate rage behind those gorgeous eyes. She eased her stance realizing she had snapped to attention when she had thought Waverly might be a superior ranking officer. Anything to make her seem less threatening. She waited patiently not wanting the first positive interaction she had in a very long time to be wasted, but still unsure what to do herself..

“There’s a place, it’s kind of secluded...well it’s still on base, but there's a place just slightly off this path hidden by vines and behind some trees. I sometimes go there to watch the sunset over the water. It’s technically not in our designated zone but it's close enough to it to say you didn’t know and no one wouldn’t believe you. The cameras can’t see out there. It’s a place to be alone and away from all of this. Would you want to join me? Not that you have to or should...just...you look like you could use it is all.”

Nicole found herself warming at the rambling. It had been so long since anyone spoke to her with anything but authority in their voice. Even in being commended for her work, there was never this human of an interaction. Jeremy was the closest she had gotten and while he was starting to become a friend, he never disarmed her the way this woman had. It threw her ability to form a sentence or have a complete thought. Was this what was it like to still be a part of the normal world? Her mind broke when Waverly cleared her throat and started stepping to the side.

“Sorry it was a bad idea.”

Nicole quickly reached forward with her fingertips barely brushing Waverly’s arm. A touch so soft yet so jolting to her very core. How long had she been without touch? I mean Jeremy had brushed her a few times when working on the suit, but nothing had instantly affected her the way this did. Her body thrummed with a new energy. This was new, exciting. Something she was not about to let slip away.

“Actually it sounds like a perfect idea. I’m just not used to this. It’s been a minute since my interactions didn’t consist of formalities, orders, etc.” 

Waverly smiled warmly before it turned almost giddy causing Nicole’s own face to flush. It was just an invitation to watch the sunset. It wasn’t dinner, a promise of friendship. She didn’t even know more than her first name. Why was she being affected so strongly? 

Waverly reached out her hand offering it to Nicole who could only stare before her body took over what her brain was undoubtedly fumbling once again. As her fingers slipped into the warm tiny hand Nicole felt a weight she was unaware she had been carrying release. She ducked through the trees, shoving her way through the bushes until a small clearing barely big enough for two people to sit down came into view.

“Whoa.” Nicole took a deep breath of air that smelt of freedom, a life outside the facility she had left behind. She was reminded of nights at bars with others laughing, smiling until their faces hurt. A life she never thought she would miss, but found herself longing for with each failed test. The ability to share failures and successes with a group of comrades over a bottle of beer lost to her.

Her ears picked up on the sound of waves hitting the rocky shoreline below them, gently lapping in the evening sun. The mist from the crash coming up the side of the cliff until it was barely there. It was still a little early for sunset, but it would arrive soon enough. She pressed her back against the bark of a nearby tree, closing her eyes to feel something that wasn’t metal pressing against her for once. She opened her eyes to Waverly staring back at her, not with judgement or malice. Just watching her.

Nicole smiled sheepishly. “Why does this feel so incredible when we’re only steps away from where we should be?”

Waverly’s smile grew brighter. “Because that little area of bushes and vines blocks our view of the place we spend more time than anyone should. Right now the only thing you can see matches the same thing you can hear, smell. The light on your face is warm and inviting. The breeze against your skin is real, not recycled. The sounds are those you almost forget exist.”

“I can even taste the impending rain on the tip of my tongue.”

Waverly beamed back at Nicole. “Wet dirt does taste better than some of the meals I’ve eaten recently.”

Nicole laughed, watching Waverly light up with her at her own joke. Slowly the two of them sank to the ground staring out across the expanse of water. The sun was inching closer to the horizon with the lingering clouds painting an array of oranges, reds, and yellows that would soon give way to purples and pinks.

“The company is also a lot friendlier out here.”

Nicole watched a twinkle cross through those gorgeous hazel eyes as Waverly pulled her knees up towards her chest clasping her hands in front of them. Nicole hesitated.

“I’m not sure I’m much company at all, but I appreciate your attempts at kindness.” 

Nicole found herself drawn to looking over at Waverly and the way the sunlight reflected off of perfectly tanned skin. She wanted to reach out and tuck a stray hair that had broken loose from her ponytail back behind her ear. She felt a yearning to recline back against the tree and let Waverly use her as a pillow to relax. All of these things she knew to be impossible, yet she couldn’t help but dream. Something she had not allowed herself to do in a very long time.

“I found this place a month into my stay here. I needed to get away from some news that I wasn’t ready for. I thought for sure after a few minutes someone would come looking for me, but so far, they’ve left me alone anytime I’m out here.” She smiled softly. “There are some advantages to not being important enough to be tracked.”

Nicole smiled back. “They only seem to track the technology I’m testing, not me.”

“Then we are alike in a way. Tell me something about yourself Nicole. Something that has nothing to do with why you’re here.”

“I use music to clear my mind. Even when I’m in testing, I can hear certain songs in my head and it just helps me think.”

Waverly smiled brighter at her confession. “So, do you have some Arianna Grande blaring in your simulations?”

Nicole shrank back in disgust. “Ugh, no.”

Waverly started laughing. “Okay, so let’s try this. You’re about to kick ass, what’s playing?”

“Droppin’ Low”

“Stonebank? That’s surprising.”

“Okay, so what about when you need to think. What song?”

“Seven Nation Army.”

A side glance. “What were you listening to when you ran into me?”

“Panic At the Disco.”

“Oh I love the lead singer’s new song with Taylor Swift.” Waverly lit up thinking maybe they had found some middle ground.

“Wow, remind me to never let you lose with my playlist.”

Waverly had a devious smile across her face. “I know someone who works in tech. Maybe I’ll mention they need to blare some Madonna in there occasionally.”

Nicole grimaced. “I know we just met, but how do you already hate me that much?”

“But she’s a legend Nicole.”

“No, she's a legend to you. She’s just...Bleh.”

“OH come on, not even with Timberlake.”

Nicole’s face contorted in complete disgust. “You’re making it worse.”

While Nicole was not teasing about musical preferences, getting to watch Waverly’s jaw hang open in mock disgust was entertaining. This was what she had been missing but couldn’t pinpoint. 

“You’re cute when you make that face.” Waverly’s eyes widened at her own statement. Her cheeks flushed bright pink.  “I mean...”

Nicole let the surprise register across her face. Surely this gregarious beauty before her was not flirting. Was she? Did it matter? They were isolated for a reason, so this chance encounter would just be that. Her mind tried to wrap around all sorts of situations of how to try to run into Waverly again, but the trail was the only solution.

Waverly’s sudden movement brought Nicole’s mind back to the present. A well toned arm stretched out to a finger pointing at the horizon as the sun slowly dipped into the calm waters before illuminating the sky. “This is the good part.”

As the sun slowly sunk into the horizon shooting out its final light as if to announce to the world its departure in the most elegant of fashions. Draped in the finest colors, she would dip out of sight leaving you wanting more. More of a show. More time. More Waverly.

Nicole found herself holding her breath as she watched the change before looking at Waverly and finding another reason to not breathe. She watched as Waverly slowed her breathing and closed her eyes. A thought crossed Nicole’s mind. For one simple act of kindness, she would lay down her own life for Waverly. The thought surprised even her as it ran through her mind and nestled in a back corner as if it was finally at home. She had a mission. A dedicated reason to exist, yet that one thought about the girl she had just met would not change.

“Thank you Waverly.”

“Sometimes we all need something Nicole. I’m just glad I could provide it for you.”

“You’ve done more than you will ever know.”

As they walked back to the path, Waverly’s hand lingered for a moment longer in Nicole’s. She glanced back over her shoulder to the lights starting to activate around the metal walled buildings. “We should get back.”

Nicole longed for any excuse to stay longer though she knew there was not one. Waverly was right. Nicole nodded in understanding and regret that this moment was ending. “Goodnight Nicole” 

As fingers ghosted over her palm, Waverly turned her back to Nicole walking away. An instant pang of guilt and longing hit Nicole. She was not okay with this chance encounter being their only one. Even if it was only one-sided, and Waverly was just being nice she had to try.

 “Wait, Waverly. Can I see you again?”

Nicole watched Waverly stop. She noted how Waverly’s smile seemed to grow with each degree she turned closer to facing Nicole. Waverly looked down before looking back up. “So you want to see me again?”

Nicole stammered, “I-I...yes very much so.”

Waverly took this information with a small nod. “I spend almost every Sunday and Thursday night at that spot. My own slice of peace if you will, trying to find something that reminds me there’s more than what’s here. You’re always welcome to join me Nicole.”

With that she turned walking off. Nicole watched her leave until she was closer to the building across the way. It was a guarded facility and still a long walk back to her own room, yet she couldn’t let her eyes leave until she knew Waverly was safe. As she turned to walk back to her own bed, a thought entered her mind. Today was Tuesday, which meant it was by sheer accident that they both ended up running that night. Fate was truly a fickle bitch.