Turbulence

Darius puts it to the shock that he allows himself to be examined after being shot three times. He's fine. He's not bleeding and he's not dead so he's fine. He feels the shock of the shooting, of surviving, of success and then of failure. It had been a roller coaster of a day, to say the least, and the one thing that he hadn't expected was someone to nearly kill him. Death threats aren't new to him and there has been the occasional attempt but to actually be shot is something he is still trying to wrap his head around. It's not that he thinks himself invincible. No, he's very aware of his own mortality, but to think that he's in a position that puts him in this danger daily. Being the loved and despised CEO of Tanz Industries is so much more appealing at the moment.

The medic wanted to give him a painkiller, but he refused, overriding Grace's objections. It means that getting on the polo shirt that is the only spare shirt anyone in the building can find is difficult, but he wants to think. He doesn't want to be lost in shock.

It also means that getting strapped back into the B-2 bomber is not pleasant. He manages to get buckled in but the crew isn't pleased with the looseness of his harness and tightens it without warning. The pain from the burns and bruises take his breath away but the harness keeps him upright so he can't lean over to give the injuries some relief.

"Regretting the painkiller now," Grace asks quietly.

"It wasn't this tight on the flight out." Darius grimaces as he tries to get himself back under control.

"Yes, it was but you hadn't been shot. How're you doing?" Grace changes to a more concerned tone. In the few months that she has known Darius, he's not the sort to admit easily to weakness or show it like this, not even in front of her.

"I'll survive. Just keep any future assassins far from me. For now at least."

They lapse into silence as the engines turn on and the pilots begin to taxi out to the runway. The moment of lift-off is perhaps the most exciting for Darius, that moment when human innovation shows its brilliance in finally achieving flight. It never grows old, that excitement and he feels the accomplishment with each takeoff.

This time, however, just as he's preparing for that thrill, he feels a pressure building on his chest. He feels it first in his chest as his bruised muscles struggle to move with each breath against the weight. Then at the first good breath he tries to take, with the plane increasing speed and the weight building as the nose of the plane tilts upwards in preparation, his chest explodes in pain and he leans forward against the harness with a loud cry.

His headset seems to explode with questions and worry in nearly the same rate as his chest, but he ignores it as he struggles to just breathe. Quickly, their voices fade in tandem with the spots in his vision as everything becomes distant.

And then he's lying flat on his back. He starts at the realization, but someone pushes him back down.

"Relax, Darius," Grace says calmly. He opens his eyes to see her blurry face.

"Wha…" Darius tries to speak but finds it too painful in combination with breathing.

"Don't try talking."

Darius nods, having no energy for a smart retort.

"You passed out, Darius."

He tries to look apologetic but he's not sure if he quite manages with the constant struggle to breathe without igniting every nerve.

"The pilot nearly took us back to Iceland but I convinced her you'd be fine. You shouldn't even be flying with broken ribs, you know that?"

He looks at her confused. He remembers being told they were cracked, not broken.

"You didn't know?" She huffs lightly. "Of course not. His own health is of too little concern for the Vice President. Can't even set aside some concern for that."

"'ace," he breathes out painfully.

"Shut up, Darius."

"Didn't 'ow. … Pr… pro'ise."

This time Grace gives him a look, disbelief clear but in his face beside the pain she does see honesty.

"Yeah, you probably didn't. Sorry for that little outburst. You should've taken the painkillers though. You won't get anything until we land and you're going to have to sit back up soon. The pilot wants us all harnessed in in case of turbulence. She's said there's a high chance of it on the return trip."

Darius tries not to groan at the thought. Moving is unappealing let alone sitting up and being strapped in. While he can, he enjoys being horizontal and the lack of pressure on his ribs as well as Grace's comforting presence. He doesn't know their status but at the very least he wants her as a friend. He needs people he trusts around him who aren't afraid to tell him the truth and call him out when he goes too far. Sycophants are useless for that and they only want one thing, more and better tech.

Little over a half hour later, one of the secret service agents comes to help him get to his feet. He can't help the groaning as the movement pulls on his ribs nor the gasps of pain and sharp breaths. But with the help of Grace and the agent, he does get into a mostly standing position. They support him as he shuffles back to his seat, hunched over to ease the growing pain. If he'd had it his way, he'd have sat down heavily and undoubtedly jarred his ribs even more but they make sure that it's a slow and controlled descent. Before he's harnessed in again, the agent wraps a rough military grade blanket around his chest tucking it in on either side. With it, he feels the harness but the pressure is eased some. The sight must be pathetic but he doesn't care.

"Thanks," he says, making sure to meet the man's eyes.

"You're welcome," he says. "The pilot said she'd try to give us a heads up before any turbulence but she can't guarantee anything."

Darius nods and tries to settle into the new position. There's silence amongst them as they wait for the first waves of turbulence. On a normal flight he wouldn't mind it but today he dreads the possibility of a rough flight.

"Try to relax, Darius." Grace puts a hand on his thigh to try to comfort him. He tries for a reassuring, calming look but he's not sure he makes it especially as the plane takes that moment to move up and down roughly a few times. Though the blanket gives him some relief from the belts moving against him, it doesn't stop the shifting of the broken bones with the bumps. He gasps and pants at the pain, clutching at his ribs the best he can.

"Steady breaths, Darius. Just keep breathing steadily."

Fortunately, the turbulence ends there, for now, he suspects. And it means that his ribs and breathing can settle down again though he finds himself sweating and his pulse quick.

"You're doing good." Grace still has a hand on his thigh. He reaches a hand out to grasp it, wanting the contact to help him calm down further.

"I really hope that's the worst," Darius says finally.

"I hope so too."

They remain holding hands until the next wave which is brief but rough. He's gasping and panting again but it's a little easier because he knows what to expect now. Grace seems to know how much he's relying on their connection through the hand holding because she adjusts her grip and occasionally squeezes his hand reassuringly. This works for the next few hours through another few waves of turbulence.

For about an hour they're free of any troubles and Darius considers trying to sleep but then the worst of the turbulence comes and lasts for minutes. It's shaking and bumping the plane and Darius wishes he would just pass out again as his chest ignites in pain and he finds he can barely get a decent breath. Grace is speaking to him, he can hear her voice but it's a jumble of sounds. Still, there's some comfort there and he works to latch on to that to get him through the wave.

It works until the plane rocks as it hasn't before and, in the stray part of his mind that's not thinking about how much his chest is burning, he thinks the plane might just break apart here and the only positive about that is he'll be out of his misery.

And then he's not sitting up anymore. The pain in his chest is there but not as bad and there's a fuzziness to his head that makes him growl. He doesn't like painkillers because they slow down his thoughts. And how can he save the world if thinking is like trudging through thick mud?

"Darius?" There's concern in Grace's voice. "You're in the hanger. We landed a half hour ago."

"Hanger? We have to go." Darius sits up quickly, too quickly for Grace to stop him. His vision blackens as he grows dizzy and then he thumps heavily back on the thin bed he was lying on.

"I know we have to go, but slowly, Darius. If you pass out again, this is all over. Okay?"

"Again?" Darius forces his eyes to open, squinting as the light jabs at his brain.

"Yes, again. Now, our car is here. Do you think you can walk out to it?"

"Yeah. Sure." He sighs. Standing sounds like a monumental effort. Grace is there to help him though and a soldier, one of them from the plane he thinks. They take it slow, letting him catch his breath as they help him from laying to sitting to standing.

"What'd they give me," he asks as he leans against Grace, letting his vision and breathing settle out before taking a step. After the work it took to stand, he doesn't want to collapse.

"Morphine."

"Morphine? Damnit, why?"

"You have cracked ribs at the least, Mr. Vice President," the soldier who helped him stand says. "They're likely broken with the force of the gunshots. Morphine is the only way you're standing right now."

"I hate the stuff. I can't think."

"That might be the shock and exhaustion."

"Shock and exhaustion?" Darius tries to turn to face the soldier but movement makes his chest hurt so he gives up on any further discussion of the matter. It's done anyway. "Alright, let's get to the car and go back to the White House then."

The walk to the car is slow. Despite his desire to get there quickly, he finds that he can't move fast. The morphine helps, he thinks, but his chest still twinges sharply and painfully and his head is fuzzy further hampering his walking. And it only gets worse when he bends to get in the car. He doesn't hesitate though, wanting to both get out of there and not show any further weakness. Weakness is dangerous, even to people he knows, friends. She helps him get buckled and then gets in on the other side.

"You doing okay," she asks, giving him an appraising look.

"Yeah, sure. I'm fine." Darius lets out a careful breath, adjusting as the car takes off. The ache is still there and it's irritating.

"And we were making so much progress," Grace says quietly, turning to look out the darkened window. Darius lets the silence grow for a moment. He knows he's put his foot in his mouth again. Grace is unlike any woman he's met and she has this frustrating way of getting under his skin with comments that made him care about how much he's hurt her. Other women were just in it for the attention and sex, nothing more. If he hurt their feelings, they didn't care enough to tell him. But Grace wasn't like that and that's what he liked about her. Very few women he found attractive would call him on his bullshit like she did.

"Grace, I'm sorry. I'm hurting and tired and the whole trip was a mess. Everything's a mess." He goes to run a hand through his hair but stops when it pulls on his cracked or broken ribs. He's going to have to be careful while they heal.

"You got Dr. Stendahl to come. And you gave an excellent speech, very uplifting. You convinced a room of scientists to defy terrorists to save the planet."

"Yes and then it all went to pieces."

"But not from anything you did." Grace pauses, thinking. "Yes, everything is a mess, but we have a plan. We're doing something."

"And this Bennet thing? Do we have a plan?"

"No, but I'm sure MacKenzie and Harris are working on it. We don't have to solve everything. You don't have to solve everything, Darius. You are just one person."

Darius stops at that. He can't think of the last time someone told him that. It didn't mean he wasn't going to try to fix everything. You can't stop what nuture trained. Between Uncle Nick and life, he learned that the only person who can fix something is himself, even if that's half a dozen or more things.

"Look, I know that's not going to be possible for you to do," Grace continues after a moment. She knows Darius better than he thinks she knows him. Very quickly she read him for the man he was and wanted to be. He aspired to solve everything and not just because that was what he was trained to do. People appreciated when he solved their problems. Still, it wasn't for the glory, but for companionship, the chance of a friendship that might ease a deep emptiness. The problem was he couldn't always fix everything. He's just one man and limited by his time. Eventually, when people realized this, they left and he was back to chasing the next problem.

"You're not going to be able to just give up on solving everything," Grace says. "So, let's make a deal. You solve the problems of science and technology. Your field. Let Harris work on the politics."

"But I'm Vice President."

"And we'll keep you updated, bring you in for your input, but let us work in the areas that we're best suited for. Deal, Mr. Vice President?"

"Only if it's Darius and not that useless title." He winces as speaking makes the twinges worse.

"Agreed," Grace says, mentally shuffling the title to the side for use only when Darius is being especially irritating. It'll be a good reminder to him of their deal here. "And when we get back, you need to get checked out."

"No, just a little… light bracing to help with the moving and… and then I need to get to work. There's a lot to be done." Between driving and speaking, the pain is worsening.

"No deal. You get checked out and then you can get to work. I can't have you collapsing because a broken rib punctured your lung."

"You can't?"

"We can't."

Further conversation is halted by the car door opening. They've arrived. He sees Harris there waiting on them and steels himself to get out of the car without showing weakness. Their friendship has had long periods of tension, but since Grace started showing more interest in him, then it's only gotten worse. And this VP thing compounded it. Crazy thing is, Darius never wanted it. He never wanted to be anywhere near politics outside of parties.

Grace is at his side just as he's getting to his feet. He thanks her quietly.

"Well, you're back in one piece," Harris says, looking them both over thoroughly with his eyes. He notes the tension and paleness in Darius but leaves it. He knows the man well enough to know that pointing it out now will just cause an argument and he'll never get to the bottom of the problem. "Any success?"

"Yes and no," Darius says, voice strained.

"He got them to agree to work together until the news broke about Bennet," Grace says.

"Yeah, we've been doing some damage control with that," Harris says. "That's all?"

"No, Dr. Stendahl is coming to work on making Darius' rail gun."

"Here? He's coming here?"

"She," Darius corrects. "Rosetta is an old friend."

"Rosetta from MIT?"

"I didn't think you kept in touch with anyone from there."

"Most of them, no. They didn't like me much anyway. But Rosetta was at least willing to listen, even if I did always sound like a lunatic," Darius says with a laugh that turns to coughing, followed by pained gasps as his chest ignites. Harris moves to support him on one side while Grace stands on the other as he coughs, bent over, hand grasping at his chest as though it might ease the pain.

"…ribs." He hears Grace explain as the fit dissipates. He's still sore and winded, but if he takes shallow breathes, then the coughing isn't bad.

"You were shot?" Harris' voice is incredulous. "I can't believe it. You're lucky we don't have an assassination on our hands."

Darius just listens. He knows that Harris' anger isn't directed at him, not completely. It's frustration and worry, mostly concern. They don't like a lot about each other at times, but they'll go to great lengths to protect each other. And seeing the other hurt is hard. So, he lets Harris go even as Grace grows more irritated. As much as the fierce woman understands of the two of them, she's nearly in the dark about their relationship.

"I'm fine, Harris," Darius finally says, voice hoarse and low.

"Yeah, sure." Harris sighs. "Alright, let's get you checked out, make sure that nothing's broken and then we have some work to do."

Darius nods as they help him keep his balance on the first few steps. He's wobbly and it feels strange to be moving around, especially with the dizziness, but he keeps going. There's work to be done.