Warnings for language and violence. Written for d_sieya, Yuletide 2010.
Somewhere Between an 8 and a 12
Nathan opened his eyes to a smear of emerald jungle and billowing smoke. His ears were ringing and his skin was unnaturally hot, as if he were standing in front of a campfire. Groaning, he tried to move, but his back felt glued to the rocky earth under him. It was much easier to stay put, watching bright red and orange blaze across the sky in increasingly violent and awe-inspiring blasts.
"Wow," Nathan breathed. "Big 'splosions."
"Nate!" His view was blocked by three very lovely and very blurry blonde women. "God, are you all right?" He was slightly disappointed when he only felt two hands prodding his chest and face, checking him for injury. When they reached his head pain he hadn't noticed before flashed through his skull, and he hissed.
"Stay still." Gradually the trio of faces closed in on each other, forming a single, concerned Elena. "You're bleeding," she said. "Hold on-I'll patch you up quick."
Nathan squinted at her. He couldn't remember where they were or what was going on, but she sure seemed worried about something. "What happened?"
"You almost had your face taken off by a grenade-lean forward." Elena grabbed him by his shoulder harness and pulled, forcing him to sit up on his elbows. He obeyed her prodding as she pulled a roll of gauze out of her backpack and began wrapping it around his head. Even though his head was spinning and possibly about to crack in half, he took a moment to appreciate the smell of her hair as she tended to him.
Nathan's vision slowly cleared, though not his comprehension of their situation. As he blinked around at the unidentifiable jungle he spotted a few outcropped stones with some kind of carved symbols, a striped ocelot watching them from a low-hanging branch, and more importantly, a man with an AK climbing up the rubble towards them. He stiffened. "Elena-"
He barely had time to gesture before Elena snatched the pistol out his holster, turned, and fired three times into the man's chest. The soldier tumbled out of sight without so much as a squeak. Elena waited breathlessly to see if another would emerge, and then gave Nathan his gun back so she could finish tying off the gauze. She was pretty much the perfect woman.
"Damn," Nathan said, smiling up at her with dizzy admiration. "I'm gonna marry you."
Elena halted. It wasn't until he felt just how still she'd gone that he realized what he had said, and suddenly all the clouds lifted from his brain. Bolivia, he recalled. Silver. Mercenaries? Why are there always mercenaries? He looked over their surroundings again, remembering the trail they had been following up through the mountains when they were ambushed by the too-well-armed-to-be-locals. And then...the pesky grenade.
"What did you just say?"
Nathan swung his attention back. Elena was watching him very intensely, her eyes wide and her face flushed. She looked like an anaconda about to unhinge her jaw.
"Uh..." What the hell did I just say? Panic raced through him and left him moronic. "Nothing. Oh look, mercenaries!" He urged her back so he could climb unsteadily to his feet. "Time to go!"
"What? Nate-" Elena started to protest, but was cut off by shouts rising from further down the path. She stood, and followed him behind the cover of a fallen tree as three men stumbled into view. They scanned the area, poking with the muzzles of their rifles at the debris left by their grenade. Seemingly dissatisfied with the results, one pulled out his radio and began to rattle into it.
"What's he saying?" Nathan whispered as he patted himself down, making sure he had left none of his supplies behind.
"How should I know?" Elena edged away from the three men, her eyes darting in search of an escape route. "I dont speak Portuguese."
Nathan spotted one first-he tapped her on the back and pointed to a slope behind them, with plenty of tree cover. "They're not speaking Portuguese-it sounds like Quechan."
"I don't speak that, either!"
The men turned sharply, and Nathan pushed Elena over the slope just as gunfire cracked against the tree that was their cover. He dove after her, and together they jumped and skidded down the hillside. Rocks loosened beneath Nathan's feet and sent him crashing into a thick tree trunk. Grunting, he spun around it and kept going, a quick glance to his left assuring him that Elena was still beside him.
"Nate, wait!" As the ground leveled out Elena grabbed his arm. "I want to know what you said back there!" she insisted.
"No time-gotta keep running!" Nathan said, pulling her onward. Another round of bullets thundered past them and ripped through the jungle foliage too close for comfort; he was fairly sure he'd felt the heat of at least one past his shoulder. "If they're being this feisty, they must be guarding something important," he said, excitement and adrenaline helping him forget the pounding injury at the back of his head. "Entire mountains of silver, maybe?"
"Now's not the time to be thinking about treasure," Elena admonished breathlessly. "Did you just say you want to marr-"
"No idea," Nathan interrupted. He twisted to look over his shoulder and spotted the men and their AKs charging down the hill after them. "Must've been the concussion talking!"
"I'm serious, Nate!" A tree rose ahead of them, its trunk wider around than an SUV, and when Nathan dodged right, Elena dodged left. "I know what I heard!" she called from around the tree. "Don't think I'm just going-"
She cut off abruptly, and Nathan's heart skipped. "Elena?" Sweat burned in his eyes as he circled around the immense tree in search of her, gun ripped from its holster. "Elena!"
A man was shouting in more unintelligible dialect-his arm was twisted around Elena's throat, choking her, his face bloated with glee at her struggles. When he saw Nathan he jerked around, trying to get Elena in front of him as a shield, but before he could manage Nathan pulled the trigger. The bullet raked along the side of the man's temple, sending blood and splintered bone flying. With a scream the man collapsed and dragged Elena with him.
"Elena!" Nathan rushed over, pulling at the man's arm until Elena was free and could climb to her feet. She was cursing and pressing her hand to her ear, and when Nathan saw the blood seeping through her fingers he went pale. "Jesus, did I hit you?"
"No, I'm okay." Elena leapt away from the writhing body and scowled in disgust. "He bit me."
Nathan tensed, and almost without thinking he turned the gun on the mercenary again and fired two more shots into his head and chest. He might have done worse if not for Elena yanking on his arm-the others were still in pursuit. Growling, he kept his gun ready this time as they continued their flight through the jungle.
"Are you all right?" Nathan asked, one hand curled around Elena's elbow.
"Don't think I'm just going to forget it," Elena continued as if she had never been stopped. "You asked me to marry you, for God's sake!"
"Uhh..." Nathan changed course abruptly, and she struggled to keep up. He could smell water, and there was a quiet rumble at the edge of his ears that gave him an idea. "Actually, I don't think it was phrased as a question," he recalled.
Elena sputtered indignantly. "So now you're ordering me to marry you?"
"I didn't say that!" Nathan's face burned, and he changed course again, almost tripping over his own feet in the process. "Can we not talk about this now?" he said as she steadied him.
A voice shouted somewhere ahead of them. Elena skidded to a halt and dragged Nathan with her between a pair of vine-covered trees. It was a tight fit, and she had to press close against his chest in order for them to remain hidden. "You brought it up," she whispered, hands on his shoulders, eyes on the new group of approaching soldiers. "You owe me an explanation."
"Explanation?" Nathan looked away, and counted five more mercenaries jogging in their direction. He wrapped his arm around Elena's back, holding her tightly to him as he pressed deeper into the curtain of vines hiding them. "Look, I didn't really mean it, all right? I just hit my head really hard and-"
"Didn't mean it?" she hissed. She shifted, bending her knee up along Nathan's hip. Their bodies scraped against each other, and his heart beat a little faster even after he realized that she was reaching for the spare gun in her ankle holster. "So you don't want to marry me. You'd rather just keep sponging off me and my nice apartment, have some decent sex once in a while, eat all my-"
"Hey." Nathan gave her ass a pat. "It's a little better than decent, come on now."
The soldiers were only a few meters away, their proximity silencing any retort Elena might have offered. She tensed against Nathan, and despite the compromising position he forgot all innuendo for the moment. With one hand still on her rear he turned them just enough that his back was to their enemy, shielding her protectively. Her breath was hot against his neck.
"Okay," she breathed, carefully sliding her gun out. "A little better."
Nathan peered into the jungle, and noticed just what he had been looking for: light shining through the trees in the opposite direction from the mercenaries. "Do you trust me?" he asked quietly.
He glanced down, and met her eyes seriously. The answer was there already, even if she took a moment before speaking it. "Yeah."
Nathan looked to the mercenaries. They had met up with their friends from earlier, talking and gesturing to each other. When their attention seemed most drawn he pushed suddenly away from the vines and bolted for the jungle opening. Elena was ready-she matched his pace perfectly as they sprinted away amidst the startled shouts of their pursuers. Gunshots rang out, but by then they had already reached their destination.
They passed through the trees, onto a grassy outcropping and suddenly open air. Nathan grabbed Elena's hand and heard her curse as they ran to the cliff's edge, and with deep breaths they jumped.
The fall seemed to take forever. Water roared all around them, and Nathan kept his eyes on the basin below they were about to plunge into. Their hands were separated when they hit, each sinking deep into the waterfall's pool, kicking and struggling. The cold was shocking and it made Nate's skull ache.
Nathan surfaced just as Elena reached him again. She pulled as his shirt, and together they swam to shore. The AKs far above continued to howl as they dashed into the underbrush and at last out of sight.
They ran flat out for another five minutes before coming across another overturned tree, and Nathan pulled them both into hiding under the cave of twisted roots and soil. Huddled in its shade, they tried to calm their breathing in order to listen for any more approaching soldiers, but the hail of bullets had ceased, and all either could hear was the distant caws of tropical birds.
"Ha." Nathan rubbed a cramp in his side and looked to his partner. "I think we lost'm."
"For now." Elena pushed her soaked hair out of her face and edged closer so she could check on his bandaged forehead. Once she was satisfied that it had stopped bleeding, she relaxed against his shoulder and finished catching her breath. "All right. You win."
Nathan frowned. "Win what?"
Elena twisted, swinging her knee over to straddle Nathan's lap. Before he could question or even take a breath her mouth was on his, warm and wet and sweet. His pulse hitched, and he reached for her, but by then she was already leaning back.
"We'll talk about it later." Elena pushed to her feet and offered him her hands. "But we will talk about it," she threatened as she hauled him upright. "So you'd better get your story straight."
Nathan groaned, and seriously considered fleeing in the other direction. There were a lot of things on his list he'd rather face than the conversation he had unwittingly initiated. "Yes Ma'am..."
Together they turned, and set off into the jungle once more.