Disclaimer: I don't own NCIS: New Orleans or its characters...
Author's Note: So, if you're familiar with any of my other fanfics, you'll notice I tend to favor romance/smut or abusing the hell out of characters. Putting characters through the wringer, pushing them to and past their limits, is a quick way to get to know them best. Also, the more I love them/they fascinate me, the more I abuse them. This, actually, is just minor introductory level abuse. And I tried to keep it non-graphic.
WARNING: REFERENCES TO (AND SOME SCENES) OF VIOLENCE. NOTHING GRAPHIC. COARSE LANGUAGE
The hospital room was dimly lit, its patients sound asleep. But Agent Dwayne Pride was wide awake. He could only imagine one thing worse than discovering his junior agents had failed to check in, and then learning exactly why. Only his own daughter being hurt -god forbid- would've been worse than tracking down his missing team and finding them beaten, bleeding and entombed, left to die...
Two days ago...
Chris LaSalle moaned. His head was a-pounding harder than a 10 lb hammer. Hangovers had nothing on the excruciating pain throbbing in every cell of his brain. He moved to cradle his head in his hands, but found them trapped... secured behind his back at the wrist with a cleverly knotted, rough rope that chafed against his skin as he tested the binding.
What the hell had happened?
He forced his eyes open, but they provided little information. He was in a bare, dark room smelling strongly of mold and must.
How had he gotten there- oh, shit.
The last thing he remembered was entering the house of the primary suspect in their case, Brody working her way 'round from the back. He'd cleared two rooms, heard a woman scream. It was an unfamiliar sound, for he'd never heard such a noise come out of her mouth, but he knew instinctively it was his partner's voice. Someone had attacked, hurt or frightened Meredith Brody.
And idiot he was, he allowed himself to be distracted by her outcry long enough that apparently someone had gotten the drop on him, striking him in the back of the head and knocking him out cold, if his massive headache was anything to go by.
He lay still for a moment, a vain attempt to hear anything over the pounding of blood in his ears. The headache was near-on crippling. Well, he guessed there really was only one thing for it. Granted, hollering like a half-slaughtered hog might bring him unwanted attention, but lying trussed like said same hog left on the killing room floor wasn't exactly accomplishing much, either.
His voice was hoarse, and the shout came out as merely a croak. So he cleared his throat and called his partner's name again. This time, he did much better. He'd never make 'master auctioneer', but it certainly reverberated off the walls of his cell and hopefully penetrated them, too.
And then he held his breath, remained perfectly still, and tried to listen over his body's complaints. He was chilled. He was exhausted. His shoulder hurt from his arm being twisted up behind him, possibly being dragged by it while unconscious as well. His head ached.
Chris pushed all of these thoughts aside, and strained his ears for any hints of- oh, please, no.
He heard something alright. Not that far away. And bad.
If he could get to the far wall, maybe he could hear more clearly. Maybe it wasn't... He tried to maneuver into a sitting position, a sudden overwhelming dizziness washing over him, causing him to double over and vomit.
Lord, they'd knocked his head around but good. He probably had a concussion.
But none of that mattered to him. Because the sounds he had first strained his ears to hear could now not be blocked out.
"Brody!" he yelled, after he'd finally hauled his ass over to lean, breathless against the wall. Desperate was an inadequate a term to describe how badly he wanted to hear his partner's voice, that she was okay.
"Brody, are you there?! Answer me, dammit!"
His stomach felt hollow, her reply sounding as desperate as his own searching call. But worse, because it was shortly followed by a muffled crack and an outcry. Because it was her. Those noises he heard and could no longer shut out. It was her. They were hurting her. His partner. He was tied up and chucked aside like a useless sack of potatoes and they were hurting Merri. Big-eyed, possessing of the most beautiful smile, quirky and clever Merri Brody.
And it was by no means tolerable.
"We're gettin' outta here, Brody," he called. "I promise you. And then I'm gonna kill these assholes."
It had to be at least a pair of them, in order to take Brody and himself by surprise in quick succession like they had done.
"Do you hear me, you worthless sacks of shit?!" He didn't bother with the standard 'if you harm a hair on her head' threat, since he knew they'd already done more than that. "I'm gonna kill you. I'm gonna beat you to death with my bare hands, you pansy-assed bitches!"
There was a loud creak and then footsteps. Well, that worked amazingly well. But Chris did not have time to revel in his achievement, for someone was at the door to his little cell within seconds, sliding back what sounded like a substantial bolt and then swinging the heavy wooden thing open. Chris gained his feet with some struggle and a lot of assistance from the wall he'd been leaning against.
There were two of them, and they could not be more opposite in nature. The one, Mr. Nelson Stevens, the suspect they'd been hunting down when they were bushwhacked, was exactly the skeevey sort of individual you'd expect to stalk, kidnap, beat on, and likely murder women (Chris was unfortunately fairly certain Ensign Rosa Varela was dead). The other abductor you'd imagine meeting behind the desk of a bank CEO or seeing sat at the VIP table in a high-end restaurant. The pair seemed most incongruous, but for the shared mean glint in their eyes. Psychopaths attracted each other like flies to honey.
"Only pussies beat on women," Chris said.
"Let me guess..." the wealthier, and healthier looking of the two said. His accent was deep, old Louisiana money. And somehow that only got Chris' blood up more. It was one thing for some dumb piece of white trash whose pa beat on his mama (and probably him, too) to grow up with several screws loose. But for some priveleged, entitled asshole to treat other human beings like inexpensive toys to be used for his own amusement and then discarded... Chris wanted to gut the bastard like a fish.
"You're going to challenge us to a fair fight," Richie continued, sarcasm thick on his smooth voice. "All we have to do is free your hands."
Chris LaSalle gave them his most fiendish of grins.
"Nope," he said. "You leave me tied up, I'd say that'd be about fair, for a couple sissies like the two of you."
Stevens was on him in a flash, and given any other circumstance, even hands bound, LaSalle thought he'd likely be able to handle the scrawny man, scrappy although he may be. But given the fact that he did not have the use of his hands, and the room was spinning a little, as well as blurry around the edges of his vision, this confrontation was not going to end in his favor.
But that hadn't been the point, had it? He'd take it, take whatever beating they had in store for him, hopefully not to death, but he had to accept that was a possibility as he was knocked to the ground and pummeled by Stevens' fists. It was worth it, to spare Meredith Brody even a moment of torture. Although, she sounded quite distressed as she shouted his name over the din of the ruckus.
When finally, the rat of a man backed off, and LaSalle lay gasping and hurting everywhere, it appeared to be the cool and collected psychopath's turn. The tactical baton he brandished made LaSalle's blood turn cold.
This was going to suck.
Two painful, bewildering awakenings in a row did not mark a good day. There was no debating that. This time, it was even darker, not so cold, but he was hurting a thousand times worse. He no longer felt like he'd been hit by a pickup truck. He felt like he'd been hit by a train.
He waited for his eyes to adjust, realized they'd already tried. It was black as pitch wherever he was. And it was someplace tight, confining. There was a pressure on his chest, which he hoped wasn't just a collapsed lung. No, it was a weight on his entire torso, his right arm and his legs. It was warm... and breathing.
The space had smelled so profusely of damp and dirt, that he hadn't noticed the other odors. Blood, and coconut. Oh, he knew what was on top of him now, but he carefully tried to feel about with his hands. It was a very tight space, but he raised his arm enough to run his fingers along what felt like smooth, bare skin... her spine, neck, her hair.
"Brody?" he whispered, panic suddenly seizing him, that she was dead, that they stashed him away with her corpse. But she was warm... well, at least not cold like a lifeless body. And he could feel the slow rise and fall of her chest press against his, her breath tickling his neck.
He found her shoulder, shook her gently, whispering her name again, then trying the nickname he never used.
"Merri?" She whimpered. "C'mon now, Merri. Wake up."
She sucked in a sharp breath and jerked, beginning to tremble uncontrollably. He snaked his arms about her, pulling her down tight on top of him, knowing the confines of the space, not wanting her to strike her head, or knock herself around in the narrow cell.
"It's me." He tried to gentle the traumatized woman who had just awakened from a nightmare that was also, unfortunately, reality. "It's LaSalle. You're okay, Merri. You're okay."
Her body gradually stilled, the trembling dying down little by little. Her breathing was still rapid, even as he heard her try to control it with slow, measured breaths.
"Chris?" she asked, after a minute or so. "You're alive?"
"Unless this is the Hell I've earned," he said. "Didn't think it would contain you, though."
The facetiousness fell entirely flat. But why would he expect otherwise?
"Where are we?" she asked.
"How do you feel about confined spaces?" He honestly didn't want her to panic again, not only because it freaked him the hell out to experience her in such a state, but for her own sake. If she thrashed about, if she suffered any more injury on his watch...
"We're not..." She sounded primarily calm, with just an edge of anxiety to her voice.
"In a coffin?" He'd been avoiding outright thinking the thought himself. "But good news, I don't think we've been literally buried alive."
"How is that good news?"
He automatically shrugged and immediately regretted it, pain blossoming in his shoulder, down his arm and back, up his neck. He stifled the cry of agony in his throat.
"Are you okay?" Brody asked him. She tried to shift around, to spare him, he knew, but ended up bumping him in his bruised ribs and every other inch of tenderized flesh on his body.
"Just... Just lie still," he managed to say between gritted teeth after breathing forcefully through his nose and setting his jaw against the flare of pain.
"That I can do." She sounded off, sort of groggy. Had she suffered head trauma, too?
"Brody, are you hurtin'?"
Silence fell between them for nearly a minute.
"Yes," she said. "But I'll... I'll be fine."
Chris didn't want to think about what the psychopaths had done to her, but he couldn't ignore the feeling of the hot, viscous fluid oozing through the leg of his pants, making the fabric cling to the skin of his thigh. She was bleeding. How badly, he couldn't precisely say. But he knew they needed to get out of there.
Also, it was becoming difficult to breathe. He moved his hands from resting on Brody's bare, goose-pimpled back and began to feel about for the boundaries of the stone box they'd been deposited in. Yup. Stone. He found the groove defining where the lid met the sides.
Brody was oddly quiet. But still breathing, her head resting on his chest, and her body sort of fetally curled around him, as much as she could manage in the restrictive space, anyway.
Placing his palms flat against the stone slab just a foot above him, Chris tested the weight of it by pushing... harder... and harder... and harder, until he could feel his muscles straining and pain stabbed him in the shoulder once more.
"Son of a bitch," he swore lightly, but sharply enough that Meredith started on top of him. Apparently, she had fallen asleep again. He was feeling quite woozy himself.
"Are you feeling light-headed?" She asked him. "Who knows how long we've been in here..."
"We could be runnin' out of air," he said, recognizing the burn in his lungs for what it was. "Maybe if you could help me... uhn!"
Brody froze mid-wiggle. "Sorry."
"Just," he hissed as a pang stabbed him in the side. "Just be quick about it."
He was careful to keep his hands clear as she shimmied about, afraid of touching her, not knowing how battered and bruised her naked body was. Finally she settled, with her back flush on top of him, her head partially on his (thankfully uninjured, or less injured, anyway) shoulder. Her messy hair tickled his cheek, as she reached up and placed her hands beside his.
"On three?" she asked.
"One... two... three." Chris heaved, pushing his strength past the limit, feeling Brody's body tense and strain alongside his, until he heard the ridiculously heavy stone slab shift.
"To the left," he managed to get out between gasps for air. They managed to shift it just a crack before Brody faltered and swore, and his own arms gave way instantly under the full weight.
"Well, at least we got some... air," he said, unwillingly to call the slightly less stale 'breeze' that flowed into the stagnant, carbon dioxide rich sarcophagus 'fresh'.
"Yeah." The battered agent sounded utterly defeated, and that hurt almost worse than the various pains throbbing throughout his body. "I don't think I can do that again."
"Don't worry yourself." He tried his best to soothe her, but he wasn't accustomed to having to comfort Meredith Brody. She was one tough woman. And it made him anxious, afraid and downright irate to see her spirit hurt as well as her flesh. He wrapped his arms around her in a gentle hug as she began to sob. "Just close your eyes. Take a little rest. Pride will find us."
God, he hoped the man he trusted most in the world was on the trail. Because he didn't rightly know how he could get them out of this mess.
Dwayne Pride continued to watch over his damaged agents. He couldn't shake the image of them, near-suffocated, abused and battered, clinging to one another for dear life within the stone crypt of the mausoleum. He kept asking himself what he could've done to track them down faster, to locate the pair of murdering bastards who'd raped, tortured and killed Rosa Varela (among a number of others) and then took his agents when they'd been trying to find the missing ensign. One good thing, he supposed, he didn't feel an iota of grief for having to end the psychopaths when they resisted arrest by initiating a shootout.
Still, he tried to focus on the positives. Chris LaSalle, who had become like family to him over the years, and Meredith Brody who'd easily become a vital part of their team and a good friend, they were alive. And they were going to make a full recovery... physically, anyway...
Brody had become restless in her drug-induced sleep during the night. But before Pride had even been able to get out of the uncomfortable chair tucked into the corner of the private room, Chris somehow was out of his own hospital bed and climbing into hers. Pride had only been able to watch in shocked silence as the battered agent cradled his unconscious partner as best he could with one arm in a sling, whispering something inaudible in her ear and taking her hand. Her more slender fingers had wrapped about his, and she'd turned her face towards him with a peaceful sigh. Then they both had proceeded to fall into a heavy sleep once more, and all without even noticing, or acknowledging the watchful senior agent's presence.
So when the nurse came in some hours later, found the two patients spooning in the same bed, and moved to wake and separate them, per hospital protocol, Pride took her by the arm and promptly ushered her out of the room.
"Leave 'em be," he said. When she glared at him in a strict manner that would earn her the position of head nurse in no time at all, he amended, "That is, if you can do so and still carry out whatever check you need to perform."
She looked at him as if he had two heads.
"It is not proper to have two patients in a single bed. It is unhygienic. And the hospital could be cited, Mr..." She referred to her clipboard , "Pride, is it?"
"Actually, it's Agent Pride," he said. "And those two patients are Agents Brody and LaSalle. They are currently clients of your fine institution because of injuries they suffered upholding their oaths to protect the American people."
So... protecting the citizenry wasn't technically part of their oath, but it was part of their job. Nurse Ratched did not look impressed by his little spiel.
He sighed and tried a different tact before the woman lost patience entirely.
"Do you have any idea what it's like to suffer at the hands of a psychopath and your only lifeline is the human being lying broken and bleeding beside you?"
The nurse's outward expression said 'Tell me another.' But there was a sympathetic softening about her eyes, so Pride pressed on.
"They're partners. They've survived a terrible ordeal together. And they need one another. Go ask the psychiatrist-on-call if you don't believe me."
"Fine, Mist-Agent Pride. I won't say a thing about their canoodling, but I need to check their vitals."
"That's all I ask," he said, throwing his hands up in concession and then gesturing for the woman to proceed him into the dimly lit hospital room.
The nurse approached the sleeping figures squeezed together on the narrow bed with a businesslike determination. Pride thanked god for his aging but still sharp reflexes, for he yanked the woman back just in time, catching the fist that the younger man had instinctively thrown when the nurse had laid a hand upon his shoulder.
"LaSalle." He spoke his agent's name in as authoritative and calm a tone as he could muster, hoping it would elicit an equally calm response. He did not release the man's arm, however, until those intense dark blue eyes of his locked onto Pride's and the battered agent gave him a nod.
"Sorry, Pride," LaSalle said. "Haven't had the best wake up calls recently."
"That's okay, Chris." He squeezed the man's good shoulder reassuringly. "It's gonna take some time to get your head screwed back on straight."
It was then that Agent Brody awoke, like a person coming back from the dead in a horror film, sucking in a breath of air so sharply it was more scream than gasp. Chris had half-fallen, half-sprung off the bed when he'd reacted to being touched, and he now hastily threw himself back on the narrow mattress, gathering the woman up tight to him as she began to thrash, whispering quietly to her.
It didn't take her long to calm, but Pride looked away. Perhaps it was cowardly of him, but he didn't like to see his agents like this. They were strong, capable people, but they were just human. He knew it, but it tore him up something fierce to see them hurting so badly and unable to do anything for them.
The nurse's green eyes were wide with shock. She was probably thinking that the pair belonged in the psych ward, given the violence she'd witnessed in the last few minutes. Then again, she'd probably dealt with a lot of mentally unbalanced patients. Hospitals' primary clientele were the elderly (sometimes senile) and the mentally ill, after all.
And then the middle-aged woman's face hardened, her lips setting in a firm line. She turned up the lights and got down to business.
"Out," she instructed Pride, as she reached to close the curtain around the bed, giving a glance in LaSalle's direction, and then apparently deciding that it wasn't worth the trouble to force the man away from his partner.
When the nurse had completed whatever patient care she had to perform and left, Pride was relieved to see Meredith Brody sitting up in bed, her eyes not as lively as they normally were, but big and bright and aware, at least. Chris was sitting on the edge of the mattress, looking quite battered but determined, with bruises coloring his neck and cheek, his arm in a sling and the muscles in his neck taut. His free hand was resting on the bed, gently holding hers, an absent but significant gesture between the pair of traumatized agents. They'd suffered badly, but they'd survived. Pride's little team, his family would be okay. Better than okay.
Because if there was one thing Dwayne Pride knew, it was that what failed to kill you only made you stronger.
No, they weren't broken. Just a little bruised.
A/N: I promise to be nicer to them… mostly.