For months, Aria has longed to be this close to Adam. Butterflies have danced in her stomach in his company while a persistent anxiety has nagged at the back of her mind in his absence. Longing and desire tangled up with care and concern, a turbulent broil of emotion in her chest stirred by a breathless giddiness whenever he enters her thoughts.
She's wanted to be near him; to touch him. To embrace him, close enough that she can feel him breathing while the heat of living flesh and whirring cybernetics bleeds through his clothes. Close enough to breathe in his scent; to feel his heart beating and know that beneath all the carbon and metal there's a human being who'll accept the affection she so longs to give.
For a long time, Aria has wanted that. But not like this.
As the dust settles, Aria feels Adam stir on top of her, groan, then give a cough. From the uneven surface they've landed on, hard lumps and jagged edges press into her back, and with the additional load of Adam's weight against her chest the sensation quickly worsens. Aria attempts to move, feels pain, and falls still. Her mouth opens only to be flooded with dirt and plaster that sticks to the blood cloying on her tongue. Over her infolink, static crackles.
Adam's voice, always gravel-rough like he'd done the swallowing of powdered debris a long time ago, penetrates her ringing ears. Even with her eyes now wide open, darkness surrounds them on all sides, obscuring his face despite his voice coming from mere inches away. A fresh wave of panic crests and holds just short of crashing through her.
Aria tries to piece together what had happened. Flashes of memory return: her hands hacking a terminal; the sounds of explosions above them; a flash of gold light, and then...this.
"Adam?" Speaking is an effort, and she suddenly finds herself coughing and spitting involuntarily in an effort to clear her lungs. His head is close to hers, judging from the hot puffs of breath on her cheek, and he doesn't seem able to lift it. She turns away as much as she's able, her forehead colliding with a piece of masonry jutting out into their space among the rubble.
"I'm alive," she manages to choke. "Are you alright?"
"Nothing vital damaged." The vagueness of that is ominous. "You?"
"I—" Aria groans, wriggles again just to test her range of movement, and feels that her right arm is numb. "I think my aug is down. Not getting any response. Tell me yours are still working?"
"How do you think I'm keeping all this rubble from crushing us?"
Aria feels a jolt. They'd been on the twelfth floor when the tower block had come down. There were thirty-three more above them. "Adam, you can't hold up the entire weight of the building on your own."
"What else am I meant to do?" She hears the strain in his voice, feels his chest heave, and there's a sudden surge of frustration that the one part of her that might have been strong enough to help is currently pinned dead and useless beneath a slab of concrete. "I've got it, Aria. Can you breathe alright?"
Paying more attention to her bruised body (and in particular the way he's draped across it) Aria realises his arms are either side of her, angling around her head as though he'd tried to use himself as a shield. His elbows rest on the makeshift ground, propping up his straining shoulders as he struggles to keep his own weight from adding to the crush. There's something heavy and immovable bearing down on his back.
"Yes." The breathlessness with which she says it betrays the lie.
"Alright. You got anything on your infolink? Mine's dead."
"I just hear static."
"Dammit." He growls it under his breath, but the sound is loud and hoarse right by her ear. "Macready?" He attempts communication anyway. "Jensen to Team Leader, can somebody tell me what the fuck just happened?"
Nothing. Adam swears again. He almosts seems ready to huff and slump down in defeat were he not painfully aware of Aria's smaller body pinned beneath him.
"I'm sorry," she mutters quietly. Maybe it's just a response to the dust, but there's moisture springing to her eyes. "I should have let you hack the detonator. I mean, you've got the tech built into you. Of course you have more experience..."
"What?" There's genuine confusion in his voice, sliding quickly into realisation. "No, Aria, this wasn't your fault. The explosions started before you even touched that node. Somebody triggered the detonator manually."
"You don't know that."
"Maybe. But I do know this was nothing to do with you. We were set up."
"You can't know that either."
"Well, when we get out of here, I'm going to find out." The final syllable is punctuated by a grunt. Aria feels him sag, a fraction of his weight pressing down harder as his chest armour scrapes over hers.
"Adam?" Aria wants so badly to touch him, move her left hand to his face and find the truth of how badly he's hurt, but she can't seem to get it out from anywhere within the vicinity of his hip.
"I'm fine," he huffs.
"No, you're not." She tries to flex her knees, managing no more than just a few degrees of bend. "What's wrong with your right leg?"
Silence, for a beat. "Think the foot's crushed," he finally admits. "I can't feel it."
Aria clenches her jaw. She knows her own aug will be easy enough to repair once they get out of here, but TYM haven't discontinued their prostheses yet. She doesn't know what they'll do with Adam's Sarif parts.
"Can you still see?"
"Yes. Not with normal vision, but there's still infrared getting in. Might take more than that for them to find us."
He isn't lying just to comfort her this time, and she's grateful. "I can't see anything."
The fear in her voice is well disguised, but Adam hears it. "One second." There's a soft whir as he lets the shields on his eyes slide back and tries to turn his head, resting it just above her shoulder so that a jut of concrete pushes on the hexagon stamped into his skull. "You see that?"
There's movement from Aria, a breathy groan as she stiffly twists her neck, and then she's looking towards his face. With his augmented vision, Adam can still make out the outlines of her features, caked in dust and blood just a few inches away.
Aria sighs quietly. "I see it."
There's an internal light in his retinal implants, emitting a soft golden glow in the darkness. She hasn't gone blind. "Alright, just hold on. I've got us. Don't think I can shift any of this concrete so we'll have to wait for them to dig us out."
Aria swallows, then regrets it as she feels the dust clogging her throat. "What happened, when the bombs went off? All I remember is you calling my name, then everything happened so fast."
"Detonation sequence, I think. Started somewhere above us but if my reflexes weren't enhanced I don't think I could have reacted in time. Barely managed to grab you before the floor caved in. I tried to use the Icarus to shield us."
Aria thinks she remembers: the sudden boom striking like a hammer on her eardrums, and then Adam's arms were around her, the floor crumbling away as they fell inside their bubble of golden light.
She's still staring into two rings of that same glowing gold. "How much power do you have left?"
She doesn't ask enough for what. "Apart from the leg, are you hurt?"
He grunts, which tells her the answer is yes. "Are you?"
"Cuts and scrapes." Her body is sore and aching all over, but there's nothing screaming out to her that it's broken or bleeding severely. Her more pressing concern is him.
The one arm not pinned by the rubble attempts to explore, wrist flexing, fingers inching along his side. "Shit, Adam. Can you not feel that?" Aria's stomach lurches. "I...I think that's rebar."
Were she not wearing gloves, she expects she'd feel blood, too.
Adam swallows, and the sound is loud close by her ear. "Yeah, I've got a warning indicator blaring at me. Think the pain regulator is taking the edge—"
He cuts off, Aria's fingers jolting something they shouldn't, and then he screams. Heart leaping into her throat, Aria flinches and snatches her hand away. "Adam!"
His scream is raw, the sound tearing from deep in his chest as much in shock as it is pain. It drains his breath in a burst, and then Aria feels his chest shudder as he pants, sucking shallow inhales through gritted teeth. His head sags against her shoulder.
"I'm sorry," she mutters, hand clenched into a fist at his side. Even with him pressed right against her, she hates that there's nowhere she can touch to offer comfort.
"Guess it can't numb everything," he eventually mumbles, and even through the thickness of their armour she swears she feels him trembling.
"How bad is it? I don't know if I can feel enough to stop the bleeding…"
"The Sentinel should take care of it. I won't bleed out, Aria. I promise."
"I don't suppose you have augmented kidneys?"
"Not yet. Expect I'll be getting at least one once we're out of here."
In the dark, her lips twitch in a hollow imitation of a smile. There's nothing funny about it, but something squirms uncomfortably inside her as she realises he's attempting humour for her sake. "I'm going to try the infolink again. Argento to Task Force Actual, can anybody read me? Jensen and I are trapped somewhere under the north side of the tower. We need urgent medical assistance."
All she hears is that continuous low-level buzz.
"Don't think anyone can hear us," Adam mutters.
For all they know, Macready and the others are dead. Neither voices the thought out loud.
"Just hang in there, Adam," Aria says, making her voice soft and going for reassurance, but she can feel the fear swelling in her own chest.
"You sure you can breathe alright?" he replies gruffly, apparently unconcerned for himself. "This won't be helping your stress levels."
"I'm fine. You just worry about you."
"I have a reinforced chest cavity and a rebreather. I can last longer. Plus, I don't need neuropozyne when I'm in pain. You're sure you're alright, Aria? Your heart's going a mile a minute."
Even in the dark, she feels the warmth of redness blooming across her cheeks. "You can feel that?"
"No, but I have a sensor that can read it. Your oxygen saturation's dropping. I don't intend to let you suffocate down here."
"Well, I don't intend to let you bleed to death, either." Thin though it is, she manages to make her voice sound firm. "What's your pulse, Adam? Blood pressure? Tell me again you're not bleeding out."
She thinks he's starting to sound sleepy. Aria grits her teeth and hopes somebody finds them soon. "Just don't die on me," she whispers.
"I'll do my best."
Aria shuts her eyes. It's meant to hold back the tears she can sense are brimming, but when she realises she can no longer see the soft glow coming from Adam's retinas, she opens them again. It makes no difference. He's shut his eyes, too.
The seconds drag on in which Aria listens to the pounding of blood in her ears, and wishes it were Adam's heart she could hear instead. His breathing is less elusive: quiet yet strained as the rebreather engages and a soft mechanical hum permeates the silence. Whatever he'd been doing with his arms, the strength seems to be leaving him, his body growing heavier as he sinks down onto her. Aria tries to breathe shallowly and not let him notice.
When Adam's voice next comes, Aria feels a jolt.
"You know, when you hoped I'd return your crush on me, this probably isn't what you had in mind."
His voice is quiet, yet the words penetrate her awareness like the bombs decided to detonate all over again. Her heart lurches as her face flushes with heat. "Adam, stop. That isn't funny."
"I do, by the way." He continues regardless, and she hears the whirring puffs of his rebreather grow weaker as he struggles to voice the words. "Like you. Planned on asking you out a few times, but everything kept happening. There was Rucker and Marchenko and the whole world to worry about saving and I just never found the right moment."
Why is he saying this now? she wonders, and doesn't want to acknowledge the answer.
"Not like I made the first move either, is it? Hoped I wasn't quite so obvious, but apparently subtlety isn't my strong suit."
"You were always kind to me, Aria. Thank you, for that."
"Stop talking like you're dying, Adam. You promised you wouldn't."
"I know. I'm sorry."
Aria swallows. She can feel the puffs of his breath against her jaw growing fainter while the hum of the rebreather is rising to an unnatural wheeze. "Well, if you won't make the first move, perhaps I should. How about dinner, once we get out of here?"
"Yeah. I mean, after we figure out what went wrong with the mission. Might tie us up for a while, but we can have one evening to ourselves, right?"
It's like he's lost the energy for complex sentences. Keep him talking, she thinks, forcing down the panic threatening to boil over. "I could cook for you. Still remember a few family recipes. You like Italian, right?"
Silence. For a moment, she dares hope he's just considering his answer, but as the seconds draw out it becomes clear he's not going to respond. The rebreather has fallen abruptly quiet. "Adam?"
Still nothing. Deciding to hell with it, Aria presses her hand hard against the wound in his side and thinks even a scream of agony would be better than this. "Adam?"