For the winter fic exchange. Prompt at the end.
So I have somehow ended up writing two versions of this prompt (don't ask lol). This is one of them. The other is a multi-chapter action/suspense work in progress thing, the first chapter of which will be up hopefully later today/tomorrow. I hope no one minds having two versions! Apologies for being indecisive and spamming you and I hope this version is OK ;)
Smoke and Cinder
Burning… she could smell something burning.
Yeah, time to run now.
Elizabeth picked up her pace, her high heels striking the floor with enough force that she could feel the reverberation throughout her body, making her already pounding head throb in time with her steps. She rounded a corner, heading towards the exit, desperate to be outside where at least there would be fresh air.
Smoke was starting to percolate in the corridor from the fire that burned elsewhere in the upmarket hotel. She felt it entering her lungs as she drew breath, thick and cloying, burning her throat and making her cough. Her eyes started to water and she could feel the first pangs of a stitch in her side.
She forced herself to carry on running. It wouldn't do to get caught now.
She had no idea how it had happened; it had all been so fast. Everything had been fine and then all of a sudden the guns started going off and in the midst of the chaos she had been separated from her DS agents.
Well. She had thought for a moment that she had found them when she had stumbled back through a door and someone had grabbed her arm, but then she had turned and the man who held onto her hadn't been one that she recognised. There had been definite menace in his expression and he was very definitely not who she was looking for.
It had been a struggle to get away, but she had managed to draw the first blood by sinking her teeth into the man's arm and she thought that had been what saved her, what had given her the few seconds she needed to escape and run and hide…
… she had been hiding for hours in a closet in a room that had been left open, listening to the muffled sounds of fighting and shouting and the occasional gunshot, time expanding and contracting seemingly at whim, waiting until her DS agents came to find her.
Only they hadn't come, and eventually things had fallen silent and so Elizabeth had taken a chance, made the decision to slowly push open the door of the closet and had crept out as quietly as she could, feeling the pull in her abdomen where the man who had grabbed her had sunk his fist in his effort to subdue her, and aware of a flash of pain at her temple where she had knocked her head against something in the struggle.
The pain didn't matter. All that mattered was that she had to get out, and so she had crept through the corridors of the hotel and down a few flights of stairs, until she'd heard voices and ducked out of the stairwell back onto a floor of rooms.
That was when she had started to hear the strange roaring sound, but it had taken her several minutes to properly clock what it was, to realise that something was burning. The hotel was on fire.
And now she needed to get out, really, really needed to get out, because she didn't think she had much time left.
Elizabeth coughed as she carried on running, spying a sign for a stairwell and heading towards it, yanking open the door and starting down, only one more flight to go until she reached the ground floor. She hoped that the fire was far enough away from the exit that she'd be able to make a break for it.
Lungs burning from exertion and smoke, she finally reached ground level and pushed open the door that led to the hotel reception.
She ran five steps and halted.
The reception was currently free of fire but full of smoke, and on the other side of the wide expanse was a group of black-dressed men armed with guns. Shit. She stared at them, frozen. She had at most seconds before they registered her presence. Would it be better to announce herself in the hope that they'd be less likely to shoot her in the back if they knew who she was, or should she just make a run for it?
Instinct told her to run and so she did, setting off full pelt across the marble floor, the sound of her shoes mostly muffled by the roar of the fire burning somewhere close by.
There was a shout behind her as the group of armed men realised she was there, and she heard the heavy thud of leather shoes crossing the marble behind her – towards her.
She was never going to be able to outrun them.
She had to outrun them.
Elizabeth put on another burst of speed, lungs and body protesting violently. Only a few metres from the door now. She reached out her arms to shove her way through, leaning her shoulder into the glass to make it open faster, felt the warmth of the glass and metal as they were heated by the fire.
Outside. She had made it outside.
The space in front of the hotel was curiously empty, strange when it had been so full of guests and politicians and press earlier that day – before the fighting had started. Elizabeth couldn't even see a police line, didn't know where to head.
She opted to run straight, heading for a cluster of trees at the edge of a field that sat next to the upmarket resort. She would at least have some cover there – if she could make it.
At least one of the men was still following her; she could hear him gaining on her, felt the graze of his fingers against her arm as he reached out to grab her and missed. Then the clutch of his hand around her bicep and his forearm across her chest as his second attempt was more successful. She fought him on instinct, crying out and kicking her legs and jamming his knee hard with one high heel, making him shout out and let her go as he doubled in on himself.
She ran again, but she was growing tired and she could feel herself sinking down, almost like she was melting into the tarmac, becoming weightless even as the heavy beating of her heart in her chest and the smoke still caught in her lungs weighed her down, made her give in to gravity. She stumbled a couple more steps before she felt the rush of air as the ground came up to greet her.
Her eyes snapped open onto a blue sky slightly streaked with white clouds. The ground beneath her felt warm, but not because of the fire that was burning the hotel to the earth. Instead, it felt warmed by the sun, and she could feel the sun warming her face, too.
Elizabeth rolled onto her side, groaning at the pull in her lungs and the dull pain in her stomach and the sharp ache in her head. She squeezed her eyes shut for a minute to stop the spinning, and when she opened them again she saw green on the ground beneath her.
Green. Grass. She was lying on grass.
With effort, she lifted her head to see an expanse of field in front of her before a fence and then the tarmac entranceway to the grand hotel that was currently in the process of becoming nothing but ash and smoke and cinder.
She had made it to the field. She had no memory of running the last two hundred metres, no idea what had happened to the men dressed in black who had been chasing her from the hotel. No idea what had happened to her DS agents or all the other people in the hotel.
A strange noise from above caught her attention and she shifted onto her back, squinting as she looked up at the sky. There was something up there, something moving, getting closer.
A helicopter? No, a plane. There was a small plane there, and it seemed to be circling, getting lower as Elizabeth lay looking up at it, mesmerized and too exhausted to move.
She should move, she thought. She should head for the little bank of trees and hide. It wasn't good to stay out in the open without any cover. She had no idea whether the plane was friend or foe. But her limbs wouldn't cooperate, and it was an effort just to keep her eyes open and so she stayed where she was, turning her head to the side as the plane overshot the field and then banked sharply to come back around, losing altitude and becoming clearer, more defined.
Wait. She knew that plane, or rather, that type of plane. It was one that she recognised from years gone by, but it had been a long time since she'd been up close to one. The name was on the tip of her tongue. What was it? She knew she remembered it.
The plane was low in the sky now and on its next circle around the field, it would be coming in to land. What was it called?
Hornet. That was it. The F/A 18 Hornet. Used in plenty of combat operations, but the Gulf War was the one for which she remembered it best. She remembered the long weeks of worry while Henry had been away, flying in the skies over Iraq while she had been at home, wondering if he would be OK, if he would be coming back to her.
Henry. Damn, what about Henry? He hadn't come with her to this summit, but no doubt by now he would know what had happened and he would be worried. Elizabeth panicked that everyone seemed to be gone from the hotel grounds; did they think that the place was empty? Did Henry think that she hadn't made it?
She had to make it. She had to make it back for him, but so much of it depended on who was flying the plane that was coming in to land only a hundred metres from where she lay. She was so tired now, too tired to do anything if the pilot of the plane turned out to be an enemy. She thought that she might be hallucinating. The sky was colouring itself red and grey in front of her as she blinked to try to clear her vision, and several minutes later when she noticed the figure coming towards her from the direction of the plane, now grounded, it was Henry's face that she saw.
Yeah, she was definitely hallucinating. No doubt about it, because Henry hadn't been in one of those planes in twenty years, and maybe she was hallucinating the plane itself because it made no sense for it to be there, no sense at all but her husband coming to find her was what she wanted to see and so she conjured it up for herself, but it wasn't real, it couldn't –
A familiar voice. Henry's voice.
He crouched down beside her, blocking the sun from her eyes. His hand came to cradle the back of her head. "Elizabeth? It's OK, sweetheart, I'm here."
She shook her head, confusion setting in as unconsciousness licked at the edges of her mind. Henry couldn't be here. She didn't want Henry here, in this mess. Except that she did. Except that he was at home, and couldn't possibly be here. "Where?" she said. "What?"
He leaned over her, shielding her body with his, the hand not holding her head stroking down the side of her face in a gesture she knew so well. "It's me," he said. "It's OK, now. Everything's going to be OK."
She forced her vision to focus on his face, taking long seconds to take in his features, his jawline and his lips as he spoke and his beautiful eyes, his worried eyes that were filled with concern for her. Oh God. It was Henry. He had come to find her. It was real. "Hey," she whispered, gagging slightly when speaking scratched at her dry throat.
"Don't say anything," he told her. "It's going to be OK now, I promise. You don't have to say anything."
Except she did have to say something, because suddenly she was aware of shadows behind Henry, shadows that were coming closer and, oh God, they were there. The men from the hotel had come to find her, had no doubt been drawn out by the arrival of the plane and now they were here, getting closer and closer and she could see their faces but she couldn't get her voice to cooperate, couldn't make herself form the words to tell Henry to look around, to tell him to run, and all she was able to get out was a strangled cry as one of them pulled a gun and aimed it at the back of Henry's head and –
She sat up with a gasp, one hand flying to her chest as if she could reach inside her ribcage to grab her heart and calm its frantic beat. "Oh, my God." Her breath was coming in short, harsh pants that she struggled to get back under control.
"It's OK, babe, just a nightmare."
She was in her bedroom. Awake. Safe. Back in reality. She turned her head to the side to see Henry sitting there, a look of concern on his face as he watched her, one hand reaching out to rest against her shoulder as he shifted closer to her.
"Woah," she said. It had been so real. Too real.
"You're soaked with sweat," Henry said, brushing her hair back from her neck, a frown on his face as his fingers rested briefly over her pulse point. "What the hell was that?"
Elizabeth did the only thing she could think to do and pressed herself into Henry's arms, clutching at the back of his t-shirt and soaking up the comfort he offered as he directed her head to his chest with one hand threaded through her hair, and with the other hand he made broad, soothing strokes along her back. "I dreamed I was under attack," she said.
Henry held her a little tighter, pressing comforting kisses to the top of her head.
"I was running from these men, and the hotel was on fire. There was smoke in my lungs but I had to keep running. I thought I wasn't gonna make it. I think I passed out and somehow I woke up in this field." She frowned as she recalled the dream – probably the worst dream she'd had since that awful trip she had made to Iran. "And then…"
"And then?" Henry prompted.
She shifted against him so she could look up and see his face. "And then there was this plane," she said.
"Yeah. You were flying it. You came to rescue me."
A small smile took up residence on Henry's face. "Oh yeah?"
She couldn't help but return the smile and felt her heartrate start to calm. She started to relax in Henry's comforting embrace. "Oh yeah. You were my hero."
His chest was puffing out beneath her with pride. "Of course I was," he said, dipping his head to give her a kiss, smiling into it as he sensed her starting to come back to herself.
"And so modest," she whispered when he broke away. Then she remembered the end of the dream, the bit that had made her shout out in her sleep and that had made her wake up because her unconscious mind had decided it was too scary to sleep through. "Then we were just about to get murdered when I woke up."
"Oh." Henry's face fell as the admission put something of a dampener on things. "But I came to rescue you?"
"You came to rescue me," she confirmed, determined to focus on the more positive aspects of the situation and keeping her voice light. "I would've thought it was very impressive if I didn't think I was hallucinating."
"Well, dream you was confused," Henry said. "You were under a lot of stress."
She nodded. "That's true."
"And I can understand how the sight of your handsome hero coming to rescue you in his plane might make you think you were hallucinating – I can see that it would have been a dream come true." Henry grinned and kissed her again, this time lingering a little.
Elizabeth trailed her fingers down his chest. "It would've been, you know." She thought it didn't hurt to stroke his ego a little; after all, she had been very glad to see him in her dream.
Henry turned serious then, adjusting her in his arms so he could look her in the eye while still holding her securely against him. "I would, you know."
She frowned, not quite following. "You would what?"
He pressed a kiss to her forehead. "Come and rescue you. If I needed to. I'd get in a plane and fly right into hostile territory, into a warzone, if that's what it took to get you out. I promise you I'd come."
Elizabeth felt tears well up in her eyes at the sincerity of Henry's promise. "I know you would," she said, sliding her hand onto his cheek so she could draw his face down to kiss him lightly. "But let's hope you never have to."
They both settled back down then, facing each other in the middle of their bed, arms and legs entangled. "Reckon you'll be able to sleep?" Henry asked her, thumb rubbing softly against her hip.
"Mm, maybe." She wasn't sure she was relaxed enough yet to fall back to sleep, but she could at least enjoy the peace of lying quietly with her husband – safe, with not a threat in sight.
"Well, you should, because tomorrow you know what we're doing?"
"What?" she asked, a little drowsily.
"We're going to the airfield and we're gonna rent a plane and I'm taking you flying. We can play make-believe and I'll rescue you from a villain."
Her real life hero, and such a geek. Damn, she loved him. She chuckled. "OK, but then I want to rescue you, too."
"We can arrange that. I'm all about the equal opportunities."
Elizabeth smiled and finally felt herself relax completely against her husband, hugging him tight as he drifted back to sleep, his breathing evening out and his face going slack even as his arm remained securely around her back. She curled into his embrace and let him shield her with his body, helping to chase away the lingering remnants of her nightmare.
She didn't think she'd sleep for the rest of that night, but at least she had a comforting image to think back on as she lay awake in the small hours: her husband, flying to rescue her from danger, and now, in front of her, the reality of him and his promise that he always would.
Prompt: Henry has to rescue Elizabeth from a bad situation by flying a plane (I am dying to see Henry in pilot mode!).