Title: Holding Pattern
Pairing: non, gen, friendship fic
Summary: All he knew, all that was left, was the command to hold on.
Don't let go.
It narrowed down to those three words.
Don't. Let. Go.
There was a burning tightness that stretched taut across John's shoulders and radiated down to pricks of heat sparking all the way along his back. Needles pierced up and down his spine. His arms…he could no longer feel his arms. Didn't matter. As long as he can still see them, he knew they were there.
And John could see them, trembling, past the strange blurriness in his eyes, red from the rope he'd coiled around both his wrists for a better grip. If the rope finished its failure and dropped, it would simply have to take him with it or rip his arms off. Either way would hurt a lot less than if he let go.
So he won't.
John gave up screaming for help. He'd given up—minutes ago? Hours? Days? It felt like eternity although in the back of his mind he knew that it wasn't possible for it to be days. It just felt like it because—why wasn't anyone coming?
His boots scuffed and he was pulled an inch across the roof. Just an inch but something in his chest squeezed and he heard shouting in the wind. Was it from him? Or was it from his partner hanging on the other end of the bowline? No, it couldn't be Roy. The sign the site manager swore was fastened had swung loose and knocked into Roy, sending both partner and the victim he was trying to secure into the exterior wall.
He saw his partner's helmet fall. All the way down, down, down, five stories below, right in front of Cap and Mike. Chet and Marco tied the bowline fast to the standpipe and it should have held. It should have been strong enough to last until, until Chat and Marco could reach them, until he could pull his partner up, until someone could come up and help him—damn it, it should have lasted. It should have been enough.
The pipe broke.
Another inch, more shouting below and he could have sworn it was Chet and Marco shouting up to him not to let go as they tried to get both partner and victim—no, two victims now—in from a window.
Flex the arms. Keep the legs still. Just a little while longer. Just until help comes.
Rope that always felt sturdy in his hands now felt woefully thin and useless. John dug his heels in, locked his knees but he could still feel braided nylon quivering, the segment of elbow pipe one end of the bowline was tied to now scraping across the concrete roof. The construction worker's own line was still fastened securely to his left, mocking him all the while the frayed end of his partner's rope flailed on the ground with its useless anchor. He could feel his boots slipping. Another inch. His breathing grew ragged. Don't.
Instructions to his own body were slowly being ignored. The shaking of his arms grew and his knees knocked together. John jammed his feet against the wall the short overhang made but he couldn't push back from it to pull up his partner. His knees were pressed into the rough brick; the only thing stopping him from pitching forward and over to the street below. Chet's turnout coat fluttered, pinned under the rope it cushioned.
As soon as he'd heard the pipe snap, he had lunged, scraping his chin as he was dragged for centimeters before he was able to wrap his partner's line around his back and arms, shouting out for help because there wasn't time to use his HT.
Squeeze the hands tighter around the rope. Coarse, bristly knots dug into his elbows and he let out a groan of pain between his teeth.
Don't let go.
Stupid construction site. Shoddy workmanship. Everything fell apart from the ten-foot sign the victim was trying to install to the lousy standpipe that should have been able to hold the weight of a hundred seventy pound paramedic. He should have disagreed when his partner and said it was too windy, that he had more experience in these conditions, that the debris that fell from above and hit his shoulder when they'd first arrived at the scene didn't even hurt, that—
He should have gone down instead.
Don't let go.
Sweat trickled down his back and stuck his shirt to his skin. It was enough to rouse John, to remind him that he needed to pay attention. The rope was vibrating, shredding the skin on numbing arms attached to shoulders that burned all the while his stomach churned.
Footsteps thundered behind him. A door crashed open.
"Gage, we got them! God—Mike, tell them to send someone up to the roof, too!"
The words didn't register. Nor did the hands now on his back.
"John. Johnny. It's all right. Chet and Marco got them both. Squad 37 is helping them get inside." A soft curse breezed by his ear. "Come on, pal. You can let go of the line now."
No, no, no, no, no. Didn't the man understand? He can't. He can't.
The rope shivered as if agreeing. Hands wrapped around his wrists. Another word, too low to hear, not that he would be able to understand.
"Hey, Cap? We just got R—oh Geez."
"That pipe wasn't secured to that wall," a voice bit out. "Now we know why the rope was swaying before." Hands tucked under John's right arm and the motion rattled up his limbs. John bit out a groan then stiffened when he realized his body needed to unclench in order for air to escape.
"Kelly, get on his other side, will ya?" A hand cupped the back of John's neck.
"Okay, buddy, this is going to hurt."
It was an apology John couldn't understand but it became clear when he felt the rope…move.
"Whoa! Whoa! Easy! It's all right, I'm just gonna—"
"Come on, Gage, settle down! You're making it worse!"
The rope was slipping from his grasp, uncoiling from his slicked wrists and defiantly pulling away. John reached for it and something exploded down his back, right to the back of his calves. He pitched forward and caught a glimpse of an empty end of a bight swaying in the wind before an arm wrapped around his chest and yanked him back.
A hand curled around his forehead, a voice rumbled into his ear as he fell—fitting as he let his partner fall—but a body cushioned his crash to the ground.
"Calm down," someone said close to his ear. The arm wrapped across his chest loosened when John cried out. "We got him. You hear me? Roy's fine."
No, because he felt the rope slither away from him. John felt the rope slip off his arms.
His arms dropped limply to his sides and he heard a strangled cry when liquid fire scorched agony down his back and across his shoulders. As John spiraled into the dark, as a turnout coat was folded under his head, John realized the sound was his own.
The rope went slack.
In his hands, too slick with blood, the rope went slack and he relaxed.
Just before the rope stiffened and zipped out of his grasp.
Roy's yell echoed but by the time John lunged to the edge, he could no longer see him.
John couldn't move for some reason. He couldn't sit up. He kept trying and kept falling. He reached but found he couldn't.
"Calm down. Johnny, just lay back. Stop—"
No, no, no, no. The rope was escaping his grasp, faster than he could will his hands to grab it. John reached and hands settled firmly on his shoulders. Bound shoulders, John realized when all he could do was move his forearms. His body refused to do anymore. John bit out a groan and flexed his shoulders back and tried to roll them forward.
It was like a giant fist had curled around him and squeezed until he couldn't move, couldn't breathe. He twisted, tried to force his arms to whip out, recaptured the only lifeline that held Roy back from death but he couldn't move! Why couldn't he move?
A hand curled slightly over his brow, pinning his head back on something soft, another hand, a different hand rested on his throat as if to dam up his cries.
"It's okay," a voice soothed. A familiar voice. "You got me. I'm okay. Calm down. Dr. Early bound your arms up so you wouldn't tear your rotary muscles."
"He can't hear you. I've been trying to have the same conversation with him four times already." A gruff voice sighed from somewhere. "They may have to sed—"
"No." The hand on his brow tensed then gentled before fingers could dig into his scalp. "He's fine. He just needs to know it's okay now."
In the fog of red haze and tiny fires trailing up his nerves, John heard a hiss.
Another sigh. "You shouldn't be up yourself."
"I'm good," was the terse reply. Then, both hands flinched.
John turned—or tried to—towards the little twitches of pain. Only, now his shoulders burned like they were swelling three times their size. He groaned. His hands clenched and unclenched. The emptiness in his grasp made his stomach grow cold. The rope! John flailed.
"I'll get a nur—"
"It's fine." The hand on his brow rubbed in quiet, slow circles. "Now where do you think you're going, Johnny, huh?" A wan chuckle, as if there wasn't enough air to form a proper one, tickled by his ear.
"You roll off this bed and you're going to give Cap quite a show and I can't pick you back up…not with these busted ribs."
Fingers carefully brushed against his carotid, as if checking for a pulse and there was a tsk for the rapid beat John could hear pounding in his own ears.
A weight settled on his head again.
"Okay, partner. You got me. It's all right."
A hand curled around his wrist, loose and warm, alive. John automatically flexed tingling fingers around it and felt a squeeze in response. Words filtered through and formed definition. He blinked and felt another squeeze of the hand.
The white haze he now knew was the blinding overhead light of a hospital room cleared. He squinted blearily at the shadowy shape that hovered over him. It solidified and the tightness around his chest eased enough to let air back in.
"Roy," John croaked, his mouth flat with the taste of pain medication. His hand flinched but the returning grip around his fingers was too solid to be an apparition.
"You fell," John rasped. He felt like a kid but his hand spasmed and refused to release when Roy tried to ease his hand out.
They were partners long enough that denial would never work. Roy paused before he nodded slowly. "Almost." He shrugged. He tried to dismiss the shock of white bandages that were visible underneath a hospital gown and the square patched on his head.
John stared at Roy. His partner's grin flipped when John didn't answer.
The words were stuck in his throat, hot and congealing like boiling mud. John kept staring at Roy, staring hard enough he thought he could feel his eyes prick from the effort.
"You fell," John repeated. "I wasn't sure if I could hold on…"
Understanding lightened Roy's eyes. "Yeah, but you did."
"But I wasn't sure." John's words were hoarse. An apology. "I wasn't sure."
"Well, I was." Roy squeezed harder.
Roy gave him a crooked grin and shrugged, tugging at one of John's bandaged arms. "I guess it's because I know you're the most stubborn, inflexible, mule headed partner a fellow could ever have."
John barked out an airless laugh. "Gee, thanks," he wheezed. "But—"
Roy tugged at his hand. He chuckled dryly when John still wouldn't release him. "Trust me. I just call it like I see it."
"Serious, another helping of Chet's stew last night and it might have been a near thing." It was supposed to be light, but the words came out oddly shaking.
Roy lowered his head by John's ear. "You didn't drop me, Johnny." Roy murmured as he rested his free hand over the stubborn grip. "It's okay. I promise, no more falling."
He looked at Roy with half-mast eyes. Slowly, stiffly, fingers unclenched from their desperate grip to hold on, to defy gravity and just hold on.
Roy patted John gingerly on a bound arm and reached to tuck the blanket over the battered shoulders. "I won't let you down." John whispered.
Roy rubbed a hand carefully on a covered shoulder this time. "Course you won't. Why we still arguing about this?"
"Because you won't stay away from the stupid stew." John said with eyes blinking down heavier and heavier.
Roy muttered in exasperation, "It was only two helpings!"
He yawned, "Felt more like three."
"That's Chet's mother's recipe! Do you want me insulting Chet's mother now? Falling off a roof is one thing, but that's living with real danger."
He couldn't keep his eyes open. "Well, I'm your partner and I say it's stew or death."
"Thanks a lot."
"I got your back, partner." John mumbled, not really hearing the response as he began to drift off of, "Yeah, I know you do."
A hand rested on his brow, a thumb stroking a brow and a command whispered, "You can let go now, Johnny."
Letting lethargy finally pull him away, John did.