AN: I played fast and loose with how the chip works. I hope it works for you guys. Again, thank you for the reviews, they are appreciated! This is the last chapter, readers, I hope you enjoy.
Static. Quiet a first. Then louder. Much louder.
Gabriel grumbled sleepily and pulled Riley closer to him – she'd clearly dozed off not long after he had.
It was faraway sounding and slightly muddled. For a minute he thought it was a dream.
"Blackbird this is the nest."
His eyes snapped open and he just barely stopped himself from dumping his still sleeping partner to the floor in surprise as he sat up. It wasn't a dream; it was coming from the chip.
Blackbird was his call sign from CDOC. It was a ridiculous name bestowed upon him by Nelson after the elder Cassidy had insisted on having a "call sign" in the event they needed to contact him over general airwaves that anyone could listen into, it kept his identity secret. Gabriel had agreed only because he figured they would never have to actually use it.
"Blackbird…if you can hear us, satellite will be over this location in two minutes, re-establish communication as usual."
"Riley," he whispered quickly and jostled her as much as he dared - they'd been found.
Riley was awake, looking at him confused. "What…"
"They found us. Cybercom found us…"
"How?" she asked.
"FM station that the chip can pick up even when I'm not using it-" he started to explain but stopped as soon as his chip connected to the satellite hovering tens of thousands of miles over their heads. "Got em!"
Without earwigs he would have to communicate with CDOC through the chip, a sort of instant message system that had been set up. He could "see" the message they sent and respond by mentally typing his own message.
"We are locking in on your location, ex-fil in approximately…thirty minutes. What's your status, Gabriel?"
"Riley was injured, significant blood loss. Laceration to abdomen – treated, no longer bleeding. Experienced fever, which has broken. Will need extraction to hospital. I've sustained bruises and superficial cuts."
"We will notify ex-fil that you require transport to hospital."
"Prepare for pick up."
"Nice to hear from you," Gabriel responded. "Was starting to debate a nice stroll across the wilderness."
Instead of the retort he expected Gabriel was met with silence. Riley was looking at him expectantly, he merely held up a finger, indicating for her to wait a second – which she acknowledged with a nod.
"CDOC?" he sent.
"Hold, Gabriel. We have movement on your east side…Confirmed. Eight hostiles with automatic weapons, 3 clicks east on snowmobiles. ETA fifteen minutes. Get out."
"ETA for chopper?" He replied.
"Thirty. Clearing 1 click to your northeast."
Gabriel looked at Riley, who was still clad in sweatpants and a t-shirt – not exactly winter wear. She was in no condition to run either, but they had no choice, staying in the cabin was suicide. Eight men with automatics would turn the place to Swiss cheese and them along with it.
"What?" she finally asked, her patience running out. "Gabriel, what is going on?"
"Get your shoes, coat, gun and phone. Leave everything else."
"We gotta go, our friends have found us and ex fil is a half hour away. We need to find somewhere else to hide a while."
"Confirmed." He replied back to CDOC. "We will be at the extraction point in 20 minutes. The chopper better be there."
"Do our best."
To her credit, Riley didn't ask a single question, instead she moved as quickly as she could, pulling on her coat with relative ease and collecting her gun and near-dead phone. But as she approached her boots, Gabriel watched her pause before reaching down with a grimace.
Aware of their dwindling time he moved toward her and picked up the boots, indicating for her to sit in the chair by the door. In no time he had them on and bottom of the sweatpants tucked into the bottom in an attempt to at least keep the cold from finding its way up her legs.
"Thanks," she mumbled as she stood, somewhat shakily. "Gabriel, you should just go-"
He grabbed her upper arms. "Not without you."
"I'm going to slow you down."
"Then stop your yapping and let's go," he said firmly and pulled on his own shoes and coat – his gun and phone already secured. "Twenty minutes, that's all we need. Northeast, one click. I can get into satellite data now; see our friends and the rendezvous point. We'll take the scenic route."
With that he opened the door, only to come face to face with a blizzard.
"Good news, the snow will slow them down and obscure our footprints," he said dryly and grabbed her hand, pulling them into the swirling snow.
They'd taken off into the densest part of the forest, if their would-be assassins were going to follow, they'd have to do it on foot. As fast as he dared, Gabriel led them between barren tree trunks and tall bushes, slowly but deliberately working his way in a northeast direction. The snowfall was not as heavy here; the trees provided some protection – even without leaves. It wasn't long, however, before they heard significant gunfire behind them at the cabin. Then a long silence as they kept moving, taking a circuitous route to the clearing.
Quickly he checked the satellite feed. The Russians had abandoned the cabin, found their trail into the woods and were already following. At an alarming rate. As expected, when they disappeared into the forest, the pursuer's images on the satellite feed all but disappeared, only occasionally showing up as they passed through less dense areas.
Gabriel gripped her hand a little harder and picked up the pace but he could tell Riley was already struggling, her footsteps were erratic, uncoordinated even and her breathing was labored.
"They're in the woods already, moving fast."
She nodded but said nothing.
They had spent some of their time backtracking and trying to erase footprints in an effort to buy time, but at this point Gabriel wasn't sure it was going to be all that effective. What they needed was the damn ex fil team.
CDOC, when can we expect the chopper?
Fifteen minutes Gabriel.
Deciding he would rather be where backup was arriving, Gabriel started leading them toward their destination. As they made the turn toward north, gun fire peppered the air around them. Gabriel pushed her behind a large tree – her back against bark, covering her body with his. Once there was a break in the shooting he ventured a look behind them.
Nothing. Nothing but an indistinguishable mass of white snow and brown trees. The satellite was useless, he knew generally where he and Riley were based on how fast they had been walking and the direction they'd been headed – using the clearing as a reference point. But with the dense cover, he couldn't actually see their heat signatures through the forest – which meant he couldn't see the Russians either.
Just as he was about to give up there was a movement about fifty yards to his left, shifting from left to right. "Gotcha," he muttered and pulled his gun from its holster, pointing it in the general direction of the movement.
When the mass moved again Gabriel fired only once, but knew he'd at least grazed the guy based on the way he'd snapped back violently before disappearing from view.
"Let's go," he whispered and they took off again toward the clearing.
More gunfire sounded all around them and the bark on a tree at Gabriel's eye level went flying toward him. They made a quick right for the safety of a few small trees huddled together but when several bullets started shredding their protection the partners took off again, Riley firing several shots back as cover.
As they ran, Riley felt pain radiating again from her side. Stitches had pulled, she was sure of it, but she wasn't about to tell Gabriel if she could avoid it, she needed to get him to the chopper first, then worry about herself. His safety was paramount.
Blood was slowly starting to seep down her side; she could feel the warm, sticky substance against her skin. They were so close, ten minutes and rescue would be here. Taking a breath, Riley blocked out the pain and disturbing warmth on her side, pressing forward.
For a few minutes they jogged in silence and then another bullet took a chunk out of a tree by her head and she ducked instinctively. The second shot sent in her direction, unfortunately, did not miss.
She felt the bullet penetrate her left thigh and cried out, the force sending her sprawling to the forest floor, face down in the soft snow. Turning her head, she sputtered and coughed, which sent agonizing pain through her entire body.
Vaguely she heard Gabriel yell her name before falling to the ground at her side, his hands instantly on her body, helping her to roll over.
It was that moment she knew it was over; there was no way she was going to make it to the clearing for rescue. The pain was excruciating, and now there was blood flowing from her leg as well as her side. Riley wasn't getting up off the forest floor.
"Go," she hissed.
"No," he said stubbornly and stripped his coat off, balling it up and placing it under her head as he looked around nervously, clearly wondering where their pursuers were. Satisfied he had a minute, Gabriel performed quick first aid, yanking off his belt and wrapping it tightly around her upper thigh while whispering, "I'm sorry".
As the leather bit into her skin the pain caused her vision to darken a moment and she cried out just a little before stopping herself – she couldn't afford to draw attention to their location.
The blood was quickly staining the snow red around her, fast enough that Gabriel was all but certain the bullet had nicked an artery.
"You have to go," she whispered and reached up, gently cupping his cheek. "I-…my side is bleeding too."
Tears welled in his eyes. "I'm not leaving you, Riley."
A pained smile graced her face. "You have to."
"I won't," his voice cracked as he spoke. "I will not leave you here to bleed to death."
She ignored him. "They'll be here any second. Eight against one…bad odds. I can't get up, I won't make it…we both know that, Gabriel. Please…go. For me."
He swallowed hard and placed his forehead on hers. "I'm coming back for you. Hang in there, partner. For me."
She nodded and he pressed the weapon, which had slipped out of her hand when she'd fallen, back in her left hand. "Just in case."
Gabriel started to stand but quickly returned to her, kissing her deeply.
A shot was fired in their direction and Gabriel stood again, dashing off in the direction of the clearing.
Riley ventured a look at her leg, the bleeding continued, though it seemed at a slower pace. She really didn't want to die like this. Cold, in the middle of a god damn forest, slowly bleeding out. And alone. It was the right thing to do, making Gabriel leave, but it didn't make it hurt any less. In that moment all she wanted was him by her side, whispering false hope, telling her it would be alright when they both knew it wouldn't.
A tear escaped, she felt the warmth against her freezing cheek. That's when she realized she really didn't feel anything else. There was no pain; her torso was no longer cold. And she was so very tired. It would be so easy to just close her eyes and give in but part of her willed herself not to do so. It was the same part that was certain he would come back for her. So she laid quietly, listening to the sounds of the forest, trying to focus on anything but the blood she could feel dripping down her leg.
An indeterminate amount of time later there was rustling in the woods by her feet and Riley lifted her head just enough to see a man clad in all white approaching, gun held up, sweeping the area. For a moment she thought he did not see her lying on the ground, and then his eyes locked on hers, a feral grin spreading across his face.
She tried, really tried to lift the gun Gabriel had left her but her arm felt like lead. Maybe it would be better if he just ended it now, then at least it would be over.
No…no, she couldn't do that, Riley Neal didn't give up. So once again she attempted to raise the gun, but was met with nausea and pain radiating from her side. For a moment she almost laughed that now she felt pain again.
Then her world went black.
He ran faster than he ever had in his life, vaulting fallen trees like a man possessed. And in a way he was, desperate to save his partner. She couldn't leave him now. No, he wouldn't allow it.
Riley. Riley's down. They shot her, she's two hundred yards west, alone. HURRY UP.
Team will be there in 2 minutes.
Gabriel burst into the clearing, panting hard.
"Come on," he hissed under his breath. "Come on…"
His eyes moved between the tree line and the sky, wondering who exactly was going to get to him first.
She was drowning. It was hard to breathe and she couldn't see anything, everything was dark. And it was cold, so cold. She tried to move but her body was not cooperating, her limbs like lead. She couldn't make any sense of what was going on and she tried to grip onto the last thing she remembered which was being with Gabriel in the cabin but that didn't seem right.
There was something else.
But before she could retrieve the memory she slipped back into unconsciousness.
Now there was beeping. Regular, annoying beeping. But the feeling of drowning had lifted. She tried to open her eyes but the blinding light had her snapping them shut just as quickly. So Riley focused on what she could, the beeping, the scratchy blanket covering her (but oh, she was delightfully warm now), the dull ache of pain in her side and…leg?
It was coming back. Lying on the forest floor, waiting to die, someone standing over her with a gun…
But she was alive.
And in the hospital.
Where was he? Did he make it out as well? Again she opened her eyes, more slowly this time, pleased when the world finally started to come into focus again – however slowly.
That's when she became aware of weight on her left hand. It took great effort, but she was able to turn her head to that side, relieved to see Gabriel slumped, sleeping, in a small leather recliner. His arm was extended across the space between them, hand on hers, fingers curled gently around it.
She tried to say his name but all that came out was a croaked "Gab-" before her voice gave out. Dear God, her throat hurt.
Taking her eyes off her partner, Riley tried to get some sense of time, but at that point all she could tell was it was early morning. Probably.
Jesus, how long had she been out?
Suddenly the hand wrapped around hers squeezed and a tentative "Riley?" came from him.
She turned back and gave him a small smile. "Hey par-" again her voice abandoned her and Riley sighed in frustration.
"Hang on…just, hang on" he said and stood quickly with a smile, stepping out of the room for several minutes before returning with a nurse in tow.
"Ms Neal, nice to see you awake at last," the woman said. The nurse was Riley's age, tall with honey blonde hair and a wide smile. Her name tag read Abby. "Gabriel, she can have ice only. There's a machine at the end of the hall."
Then Abby went about taking vitals, adjusting something on the monitors next to the bed and taking notes.
Riley was now panicked and she looked at Gabriel, face showing confusion. She knew he could read the question on her face. Clearly she had been in this bed long enough for the nurse to know Gabriel by name. But how long?
"Four days, Riley. You've been out for four days. We were starting to wonder if you were ever coming back." There was anguish all over his face; he had been terrified of the idea that she would just slip away after…whatever had happened to even get her to the hospital.
Riley was shocked, it had been nearly a week since the day in the forest?
"I'm going to get you some ice chips, and then we can talk, ok?"
She nodded dumbly, unsure what to even say. What could she really? Riley watched as Gabriel headed out the door, staring at the now empty space until the nurse spoke again.
"Everything looks good Ms Neal. I'll notify your doctor that you are awake, he'll come in and speak to you."
Again she nodded, assuming Abby would leave as well but instead the nurse lingered a moment.
"He's been here every day, only leaves for a few hours at night and occasionally during the day for short stretches. That's a good man you've got there."
Now she managed a tight smile. Yes, he was. Riley knew that two weeks into their partnership but it was really driven home at that cabin and when she revealed what her mother's boyfriend had done to her.
The nurse smiled at her before leaving, passing Gabriel in the doorway. Her partner was holding a large, non-descript brown cup holding the ice and she realized how thirsty she was.
Settling back into the chair, Gabriel looked at her tentatively as if trying to gauge something before handing her the cup, which she took with a shaky hand. Determined, but slowly, she managed to get two into her mouth and gratefully sucked on them. It was heaven on her throat.
"How bout I fill you in and then you can ask questions."
She nodded agreement, unsure if her voice even worked yet.
"Let's start here…You're at Georgetown." Her eyebrows rose in confusion. "Initially you were sent to a trauma unit in Vancouver, they stabilized you and once we were sure you'd make the trip, Lilian had you transferred here. By all rights you should be dead Riley. By the time we got you to Vancouver you'd lost 3 units of blood and were still bleeding. The bullet just got the artery in your leg."
With the ice melted and her throat no longer feeling like the Sahara, Riley tried to speak again. "How…how did you get me out?"
"Well, that's a story."
She merely looked at him.
Gabriel stood in the clearing, alone. No chopper yet. Certain he looked like a giant damn target, he slipped back to the tree line and hunched down, his eyes constantly scanning the area around him. Anxiety had settled deep in his gut, Riley was in those woods, bleeding to death and he was here…sitting on his ass, waiting. It was not right, the urge to turn back was overwhelming but he stood his ground, knowing she would be better off if he returned with backup.
She was a strong woman, the strongest he knew. She would make it, she had to.
Noise behind him alerted Gabriel to the fact the Russians had indeed found him first. He tried to make as small a target of himself as he could, gun raised toward the sound. The longer he could go undetected the better.
One minute, Gabriel.
Acknowledged. Hostiles twenty feet to the west of my position.
One minute, he just had to wait one more minute. So Gabriel pressed himself farther into the tree he was hiding behind. His time came to a swift end, however, when the Russian came into his view and locked eyes with him.
Without hesitation, Gabriel put two in the man's chest, and he dropped – aware that doing so now alerted the others to his location.
Almost instantly gunfire erupted around him and Gabriel covered his head as the bark around him exploded in his direction.
When there was a pause he blindly returned fire, pulling back when a bullet just grazed his upper arm.
Again there was gunfire, but this time it came from behind him and Gabriel turned to see the ex-fil chopper slowly descending into the clearing, a Marine hanging off the side, firing into the woods. Quickly he ducked, knowing his presence in the fight would only make it harder for them.
After several long moments of gunfire there was suddenly silence from the woods and the chopper made contact with the snowy ground.
Three Marines jumped off, guns raised, eyes scanning. The one in the lead approached him quickly. "Let's go."
"We have to get my partner."
"Our instructions were to ensure your return."
In the back of his mind, Gabriel had already expected this. The order was to rescue him, not Riley and if Riley wasn't here, well…that just meant she wasn't coming home. Though he knew if it was Riley standing here they would certainly go to find him (or his body at least) - can't leave billions of dollars lying around in the Canadian wilderness.
Which meant he was prepared to fight back.
"I don't care what your orders are, Marine. My partner is bleeding out in those woods; we are going to get her. Now."
"NO!" he shouted and the other two men whose eyes had been scanning the woods for more threats paused and looked at him. "No man left behind, Marine. I am not leaving her. Let's go."
As he turned back to the woods Gabriel heard the team following him, clearly they realized he wasn't getting on the chopper if she wasn't.
As Gabriel approached Riley's location, he saw a man in a white coat standing over her, the same man he had shot earlier if the tear in the coat and blood dripping from his wrist was any indication. As he pointed his weapon at Riley, Gabriel didn't hesitate in shooting first, putting three center mass and dropping the man for good.
Instantly he had rushed over to her – falling to the ground at her head. It had been maybe five minutes since he had left her side but already there was significantly more blood staining the snow and her eyes were closed, lips starting to turn blue – from the cold or blood loss he couldn't be sure.
"Riley," he whispered and reached out one hand to touch her hand, only to find it ice cold as well.
The Marines had followed him, one (Walters his tag read) kneeling at her hip to assess the leg wound while the other two kept watch on the woods around them.
"Status!" Johnson, the lead Marine, barked after several silent minutes.
Without looking up he responded in crisp, doctor tone, clearly he was the medic of the group. "She's still breathing, erratic and shallow, I'd estimate down 2 units. Appears to be a through and through. Hanging on by a thread I'd say."
"Can we move her?" Johnson asked, eyes never leaving the tree line.
The medic seemed to consider the tourniquet Gabriel had fashioned then pulled out a small medical kit from…somewhere. In under a minute, the entrance and exit wounds had been dressed, another tourniquet applied and the bleeding finally seemed to slow.
"We can now."
Gabriel surged forward and carefully picked up his partner bridal style, her head hanging limply over his arm. He tried not to think too hard about what would happen if she died, instead he focused on the small steps. Getting her into the helicopter, then to a hospital. The rest would hopefully work itself out later.
"Dammit Gabriel," she all but hissed, her voice returning with fury. "You should have left me there, that was…foolish."
He looked shocked. "There was no way in hell I was leaving you out there to bleed to death, Riley. No chance. Partners don't leave each other behind. Would you have left me out there?"
"No, but you have billions of dollars in your head, I don't…"
"That's bull, Riley!" he all but yelled, frustrated that she would so easily throw her life away for him. Not after everything. His voice softened. "You and I both know I couldn't leave you out there. Not now…not ever, probably. You are not disposable to me."
"I know…" she whispered back and reached out carefully, gripping his hand.
Gabriel moved closer to the bed, reaching over the railing to push his free fingers through her hair as she turned to him. "Look, partner, I think we've been in deep with each other longer than we want to admit and it hasn't changed anything."
"Yet," she countered.
"Ever," he responded with a grin. "You know, maybe this conversation is better left for when you are out of here."
"Agreed," she said then looked around anxiously, the pain in her side and leg were both tolerable, she had dealt with worse. "And when will I be getting out of here?"
Gabriel shook his head. "When the doctors clear you and not a minute before. Which considering you just woke up from a self-imposed 4 day nap, might be a bit yet."
Riley grumbled and set her head back on the pillow.
A week later the doctors declared her fit enough to leave, armed with painkillers she had no intention of using and crutches that she was unfortunately forced to. When they had (predictably) mentioned having someone at home would be helpful for recovery since she needed to stay off her feet Gabriel had immediately spoken up and assured them someone would be there.
Opening the door to her apartment for the first time in nearly three weeks Riley felt an immense sense of relief. Yes, she was stuck here for a while on doctors' orders, but it was better than a small cabin in the middle of nowhere.
Gabriel helped her navigate to the couch, elevating her wounded leg on the coffee table before disappearing into her bedroom to drop her bag.
As soon as she sat, Riley wanted a nap, which thoroughly annoyed her. It must have shown on her face because Gabriel questioned her upon his return to the room.
"Whatcha thinking about?"
"Nothing…" she started but the look on his face had her sighing. "Fine…I want a nap."
He shrugged. "Then take a nap."
"I don't nap, Gabriel," she said with a terse tone and looked at him like he'd gone mad.
"Yeah? Well you've been laid up in the hospital for almost two weeks and lost nearly half your blood volume. So I think you can make an exception."
There was no response and Gabriel sat on the couch next to her. "You've been injured before, what did you do then?"
"I was never confined to my apartment before, I was always up and walking around in a day or so. This is…frustrating for me."
"Well you aren't walking far until PT starts next week-"
"Thanks for the reminder," she grumbled.
Gabriel framed her face with his hands, forcing her to look at him. "You're alive, Riley. You're alive when by all rights you shouldn't be. Take some time, ok? I'll be here with you."
She nodded and he leaned in tentatively, just brushing their noses. When she tilted her head he took that as a go ahead and closed the distance between them, kissing her deeply, putting as much emotion behind it as he could. She responded in kind, pushing her fingers through his hair before resting them at the base of his neck.
When they finally pulled apart, Gabriel grinned. "I could really get used to that."
She smiled almost shyly. "Me too."
"Well, you're stuck with me for a while. Lillian has me at 'on call' status but pretty much said they wouldn't call unless it was end of the world stuff. So I'll be here with you…if you want that is."
"Well, you sorta promised the doctor someone would stay with me-"
"I could call Jameson."
"Don't you dare," she said with a smile. "I want you here."
"Good," he said and gently guided her to leaning on the back of the couch, one arm wrapped around her shoulders. "Cause I'm not leaving."
"Good," she choked out and then was silent for several minutes. "Gabriel, about us…"
"What about us?"
"Is this a good idea? I mean…the last time I got involved it ended…poorly."
He shifted and let out a noise that sounded like he was contemplating, then, "I think it's worth it. I think you are worth it. And I think that's all that matters right now."
"Wow…sappy much?" she asked with a wide grin.
"Hilarious Neal. You asked."
"I know and…agreed."
They settled into the couch, her head tucked into his shoulder – a very familiar position - and just as Riley was starting to drift off he spoke again.
"By the way, the plastic surgeon guy said I did an excellent job on your stitches. Would've scarred for sure but excellent nonetheless."
"Good to know," she responded sleepily.
Carefully he pulled the blanket off the back of the couch and covered her with it. "Night, Riley."
"Night Gabriel." It was mumbled and not long after the words were spoken she drifted off into sleep.
Content once again with her in his arms Gabriel did the same, secure that when they woke it would be a whole new world for them both.