Title: Cold Comfort
Disclaimer: Not mine.
Summary: No matter how many times you've done it, it's never fun hanging out with a dead body.
Fights to the death are not as common as James Bond would have viewers believe. Spies prefer less one-on-one measures to take care of problems: even odds may be great if you want to die fair, but spies tend to prefer living unfairly. A duffle bag of explosives or wire transfers of vast amounts of money into off-shore bank accounts are more spy style and keep the life insurance rates down.
That's not say it never happens: there are very compelling, often painful, reasons why spies go through every martial arts and Special Forces training that exist. While this training is useful, when the opponent is evenly matched to you, it usually comes down to luck.
When a man tall and thick enough to qualify as his own mountain range has you pinned on the floor, intent on wringing the life out of you, you just have to hope your flailing hand connects with something strong enough to brain him on the head.
Like, say, a piece of rebar lying on the floor two feet away.
Of course, now you have a bloody piece of rebar clutched in your hands, a dead body cooling on the floor, and no way out of this room except from the outside.
And I never even knew his name.
"Think, Michael," he urged himself, blindly groping around the dark room. The rebar he had found was apparently alone and too thick to use as a crowbar against a steel door. No chemicals, no gun, and nobody for company except a corpse. Not the best party he hadn't been invited to, but he had been in worse situations—unbidden, as it always did, Afghanistan sprang to mind—but there was a pressing issue of how much air a steel vault contained.
Mike shot a grim look at his companion. "At least you won't be using any. Nothing personal, by the way."
The corpse did not offer a reply.
Fighting the urge to take deep breaths to calm his nerves, he settled on the more constructive activity of carefully pacing the walls of the vault, counting his steps carefully to himself. He jumped, holding his arms above his head. In a rush of relief, he realized the ceiling was too high for him to touch. He cast a speculative look to where he thought the body of his chilly companion lay.
"How about a lift?"
No answer, but he balanced himself on the man's chest and jumped, just able to feel the brush of cold metal against his palms. A few mental calculations and he nodded to himself. Plenty of air, then. He just had to wait and hope the good guys found him before Cold, Dark and Stiff's friends did.
War is often described as short periods of excitement interspersed between long periods of boredom. I prefer the spy-dentist's-waiting-room analogy. Whether something innate to spies or learned after experience, spies have, without fail, a morbid sense of humor.
It just comes with the territory.
"Sooo, how's the wife and kids?"
Michael tilted his head as if listening to an answer, nodding.
"Good, good." He leaned forward. "What's that? Oh, no, I'm not married."
Ht thought about a petite, deadly Irish woman who had a slightly illegal and frankly frightening habit of making explosives for the IRA.
"No, not even a girlfriend."
The corpse said nothing.
"Well, I'm not completely alone," Michael said, stretching back to lean against the wall. "I mean, there's you, of course. There's also my handler, though he can be a bit stiff."
"Sorry," he apologized, holding up a hand. "That was tactless of me."
He continued, "And there's this guy I work with occasionally, Sam. He jokes around, but he gets the job done. As long as there isn't any booze or girls around, I mean. You know the type."
"What's that? Oh, sure, I have family. There's my mom. She has every disorder in the book, but doesn't know the meaning of hypochondria. If she wanted, she could ace medical school and open her own pharmacy with her medicine cabinet."
His voice ran down and he sat quietly in the dark for a moment.
"Hm? Yeah, I guess I do. I mean, she's my mother, for better or for worse."
The body never moved.
"Then there's my brother, Nate. What a guy," he said sarcastically. "Half his money he spends making his bets and the other half paying them off. He's always been a cheat. When we were kids, he used to lie while playing Go Fish. Here I am, stealing groceries and hot-wiring cars so he can eat, and he says he hasn't got any eights."
A pause, then, "My dad? No, no," in a troubled voice. "Let's talk about something else."
He listened politely.
"Did you like winter there? Personally, I prefer Paris in the summer."
A sound of minor disagreement and Michael laughed. "No, I'm not a romantic. Summer crowds are good cover when you need to get away or blend in." He chuckled, still amused by his companion's misconception. "What? Oh, I've been doing this for a while now. Right out of high school, actually."
His face suddenly contorted in anger and he leapt to his feet, pointing a shaking finger to his erstwhile companion. "Who are you to judge? So what if I don't think of seasons as beauty and poetry anymore. It keeps me alive." He straightened abruptly, face losing all expression. He gave a crisp nod. "Apology accepted."
They were both silent for a little while, then Michael tentatively cleared his throat. "So how did you get into the business?"
He listened attentively, nodding at all the right places and interjecting soft murmurs of encouragement here and there. He let out a low whistle at one point, shaking his head in frank amazement. "No kidding?"
Finally, he leaned back. "Some story. My first assignment—"
He broke off, letting out a self-deprecatory laugh, recalling his first mission. Spy training was not really an earn-while-you-learn program. The upper ranks were very fond of the sink or swim methods, as Michael quickly found out.
"Huh?" He was brought back into the present abruptly and waved a dismissive hand. "A story for another time, maybe."
A sudden sound caught his attention and he tensed, rolling into a crouch. The rebar was curled tightly in his fist, not that it would do much good against submachine guns pointed at his head. His preferred method of feigning confusion when he was someplace he should not be was much less effective when there was a dead body instead of blueberry yogurt.
He held his breath as the door began to open and a beam of light escaped from the crack.
Michael felt the breath he was saving for later leave him in a rush as the door opened entirely to reveal Sam Axe's face.
"I thought I told you not to call me that," he said with no real annoyance in his words.
Sam ignored him and grimaced when he caught sight of the lifeless mound laying on the flood. "Oh, man. How long has he been dead?"
"An hour? Two?" Michael shrugged. "He was alive long enough to shut the door behind us, unfortunately."
"I was wondering how you got yourself into this." Sam shook his head. A questioning expression crossed his face and he peered at Mike curiously. "Who were you talking to, Mikey?"
"I thought I heard you talking to someone while I was prying open the door," Sam said. "I didn't hear anyone else though. You got a radio or something down here?"
Michael Westen gazed down at the corpse, cold and rigor mortis freezing its features in a grotesque parody of human emotion. "No, just me," he answered finally, slipping on a pair of sunglasses. "You must have been hearing things, Sam."
No matter how many times you've done it, it's never fun hanging out with a dead body.
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