A/N: So, apparently when my beta leaves me for days on end my bunnies decide to go on like super attack mode! This lil number came flying at me out of almost nowhere (...okay, I admit, it was very mildly inspired by a tiny little part of a slash fic - No, that doesn't mean I'm reading slashies! It was just something Ais sent me 'cause it had a funny part in it! I've not jumped over to "the Dark Side" lol) Anywho...lol...this story just grabbed me by my nonexistent balls and wouldn't let go until I finished it.
*Warning - Torture ensues and as a result the boys getting a lil more...um...violent than usual...
Five days had passed since they had thrown him down in that hole. The space was large enough; he could lay down comfortably (as comfortably as one can on the cold, hard dirt), pace the entire square of his confined box with enough steps to keep his legs exercised, and got a decent amount of sun and starlight filtering through the bars that covered his prison several feet above his head. He couldn't even really complain about the "care" they were giving him, feeding him three times a day and never hurting him physically. The torture lay in just making him stay down there in solitude with nothing to do and no one to talk to, his guards not even acknowledging him when they lowered the food down on a rope. They wouldn't answer his questions about where his teammates were, wouldn't yell at him to shut up when he screamed to be let out, refused to tell him why they had captured him and his friends in the first place, and didn't so much as bat an eye at his several failed escape attempts. It was like they were simply keeping him alive for as long as it took for his brain to short-circuit, and for Jensen that time was probably not too far in coming.
He paced circles around his hole like a caged tiger at the circus, muttering to himself about all the possible ways in which one could cook a potato. He wasn't hungry at all, it was just the topic that came to mind at the moment, the random string of thoughts that kept him from going completely insane in the silence. As he spoke, his fingers twitched at his sides as if they were trying in vain to tap the letters on an invisible keyboard. His eyes shifted back and forth methodically as if reading all the useless potato recipes off his computer screen. When he got to the point where he couldn't think of anything more to do with a spud, he started to shift into rambling off all the planets in every Star Wars book in alphabetical order.
"What am I doing," he suddenly said, instantly ceasing his mad pacing and heavily falling back against one of the dirt walls. Taking a deep breath, he ran a slightly shaky hand through his hair, bringing it down over his eyes to rub at them. They hurt a bit, strained from his going so many days trying to force himself to see clearly without his glasses. The bastards didn't even have the decency to leave him that one small comfort.
Name, rank, social, he reminded himself, falling back to his training in what to do should he fall into enemy hands. He wasn't technically in the military anymore, no, but the ingrained habit was too strong to ignore and the basic purpose for that small amount of information still applied. If they asked him anything, that's all he would give them, no matter what they did to him. They could torture him all they wanted, could scream at him all day long, threaten him with-
Oh god, I actually think I want them to, it occurred to him. Five days was too long with no damn contact and it was getting to him.
"This is their torture," Jake reminded himself. "Don't you dare let them get to you, soldier. You're stronger than this."
He pushed himself away from the wall and bounced on his toes a few times, shaking out his hands. Plastering on a fake grin he stepped out of his shaded corner and into the shaft of sunlight that filtered through the bars.
"Hey Clay!" he shouted as loud as he could. "Whenever you guys decide we're done vacationing here, don't let me leave without tipping the chef! The lack of spices he puts in his slug stew really brings out that natural earthy flavor, ya know?"
For several minutes he waited for any sort of reply from anyone, and as usual, there was none. Sighing, he sat down and stretched his legs out in front of him, leaning back on his arms as he soaked up the warmth from the light hitting his skin. In another several hours it would disappear and he'd curl up in a tight ball in the corner, doing his best not to shiver against the coolness of the night air, and then the sixth day would begin. He wondered briefly when his wealth of random knowledge would run out, and what would happen to him when it did.
Clay could barely see the gleam of metal that marked the spot where one of his men had been entrapped for the last five days. How their captors had known that of all of them, Jake would be the most affected by the treatment, he still had yet to find out. In fact, they knew where to strike at all of them to ensure they stayed on their best behavior.
The room holding Clay was a typical jail setup – concrete walls, bars on the small window overlooking the compound, a locked gated door preventing his escape. Of course, the Losers had escaped from many a prison cell and he could do it if he wanted, but they held a proverbial gun to his head. If he got out, one of the others would die, no hesitation.
Turning away from the window he walked to the front of his cell and leaned his arms through the bars. Directly across from him sat a table where a large television was set up showcasing the predicaments that Pooch, Cougar, and Aisha had found themselves in. Pooch sat on his bed with his eyes closed, as he had done since the first day when they shoved him into his room and threatened to put a bullet into Cougar's head if he dared try to pull down any of the decorations on the wall. The images covering all three walls were of women in various phases of violent deaths, and the captors made sure to let him know that Jolene's demise would not be as "pleasant" as any of those depicted if he did not do as he was told. None of the Losers had missed the fact that the men had failed to mention Pooch's baby, the first sign that the information they had on the team was outdated. It was at least something to go on if Clay could figure out what the hell to do with that information.
Cougar's situation was rather unique. Opposite Jensen's solitude, the sniper was forced to remain in constant companionship with a rotating number of guards. His torture was not only to have to endure their fake pleasantries, but also to keep up an almost constant dialogue with them. Clay didn't think Cougar had ever spoken that many words in all the years they had known each other combined, and he could tell that it was taking its toll on the man. The strain on his face when he was forced to laugh at a joke one of the guards made was undeniable, and the Colonel wondered how much longer it would take before Cougar simply snapped and went on a killing spree. Of course, if he did, the first thing these assholes would do would be to drag out one of the others and kill them slowly and painfully right in front of the sniper's eyes. Cougar couldn't have that on his conscious. He would keep up the charade for as long as it took.
Aisha seemed to be a bit of a conundrum to the men. It was yet another sign that their intel hadn't been checked thoroughly. She wasn't supposed to be on the team, it was supposed to be Roque. Whatever they had planned for that backstabbing bastard wouldn't work on her, and they knew it. Instead, they had taken to a series of playing guess-and-check to see what might make her flinch. They gave up after the last test where they actually stripped her down and while two men held her, a third moved forward as if to take full advantage of her vulnerable position. She didn't even struggle, just stared at the man with fire in her eyes and a slight smirk on her face. The test was ordered to stop before it went any further and she was allowed to get dressed before they simply tied her to a chair, blindfolded, and stormed away. Clay had shaken his head as he watched it all play out, a part of him feeling proud and another part feeling a little stricken that to maintain that kind of uncaring attitude towards everything thrown at her, the girl must have already been through it all, and probably more than once.
"Hey Clay!" he heard the distant shout. He moved back to the window and smiled at Jensen's latest complaint. It was the first time all day that the tech had tried to contact one of them, an attempt that had dwindled slowly over the days. "Hang in there, kid, we're right here," he mumbled under his breath. He had already been told that if he responded, they would flip down the solid metal hatch over those bars and turn the valve on top of it, which apparently would begin the process of filling Jensen's prison with water. It would take hours for the water to rise to the top of the cell, hours of Jake feeling the fear of death before it finally took him, hours of waiting for his team to pull him out and the sense of loss he would feel in those last moments when he would realize no one had come for him.
Clay wouldn't let that happen. He kept his mouth shut as the voice from inside the hole went quiet again. Give me another day, he willed to all members of his unit. I need another day to try to figure this out.
"Great," Jake groused as raindrops began to hit his face. He slid up into a sitting position as the sky opened up somewhere above, sending rivulets of water cascading down the walls of his prison. It didn't take long for the ground to become saturated, forcing him to stand to stay out of the slick muck growing beneath his feet.
"Can I get some cover?" he hollered, not certain whether they could even hear him over the roar of the storm; not that he expected them to comply, anyway. They were too busy trying their damnedest to ignore his every request.
A miserable hour later found him soaked through and pressed up against the corner where there were at least some rocks to stand on amidst the mud. The water was pooled about an inch deep around his ankles and he swore through chattering teeth as sudden voices overhead made him jump slightly. A minute later, he heard the distinct sound of metal hinges squeaking, followed by a loud clang as complete blackness surrounded him. As unnerving as the thought was that they had shut him away from the world even more, he sighed with relief when he no longer felt the continual cold shower pelting him.
"Small favors," he whispered as he sank down into the pool. There was no need to remain standing; the water wouldn't rise anymore and he couldn't possibly get any more wet than he already was. Sleeping while sitting up wasn't something foreign to him, so he got as comfortable as possible and let himself doze in the quiet darkness.
Clay watched anxiously the next morning as two men pried open the hatch. He had been furious the night before when the near-monsoon had seemed to hover for hours over the compound, creating puddles of water in every small dip in the dirt. Jensen would be sitting in one of those puddles, wet and miserable, and it had seemed like no one would do anything to help him. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, they had taken pity on the hacker and closed down the hatch. It wasn't the best option in Clay's opinion, pulling the kid out and getting him somewhere warm and dry would have been preferred, but at least it had stopped any more water from slipping into the hole. It was a good thing, too, because the storm had not passed until just before dawn. Who knew how deep of a pool Jake would have been sitting in had that hatch not been sealed down.
The yelling started as soon as the first sliver of light must have made its way down to Jensen. Clay couldn't help but grin at the colorful way in which the tech manipulated basic words in the English language to sound like insults. As usual, the guards completely ignored the slew of angry babble and lowered down a basket of probably the bread that the rest of them seemed to get as their breakfast offering. A moment later, his guess was confirmed when a sopping wet hunk of dough came launching back out of the hole, smacking right into the back of one of the guard's head as he turned to walk away. The man stiffened, and Clay found himself actually hoping that he would slip and yell something down at the kid. At this point, after so long going without, Jensen needed to have interaction of any sort. It would fuel him on some level that the others would never understand, nor did they need to. They just knew that the two things that kept the kid running whenever he found himself in a low spot were his computers and someone to pay attention to him. Right now Jensen couldn't possibly have been in a lower spot, literally, and had gone without technology or conversation for entirely too long. Someone lighting into him a bit for throwing a tantrum would be the spark that he needed.
It didn't happen. With some slight coaxing from the other man, the offended guard clamped his mouth shut and stalked away. Clay would have sworn he had heard a whispered dammit floating out from the hole had he not known how impossible that would be at his distance.
Knowing his team was still in one piece, he turned back to his task of trying to figure out a way to get everyone free with them all relatively in one piece. The camera above his cell was the thing that kept stopping him at every turn, tying his hands so he couldn't try anything. There was probably a blind spot if he stood just beneath it, but it wouldn't do him any good except give him the pleasure of knowing he was invisible from prying eyes for the time being. There was nothing in that particular corner of the room that would help him formulate an escape plan, and his captors knew it.
Movement caught his eye on the screens outside his cell and he watched with bated breath as a man stood just outside Pooch's reach and taunted him, describing in detail all the things done to one of the women on his wall. The transport expert kept his eyes firmly shut until the man ordered him to look at the picture, making sure Pooch remembered the threat that lingered on his friends if he didn't comply. Taking a moment to ready himself, Pooch forced himself to do as told, staring at the graphic image as the man laughed, continuing his story in detail. Clay saw the change that came over his man, saw the intensity with which he took in every horrible detail of that woman's injuries, searing them into his memory before his gaze turned to the man who had killed her. There was murder in Pooch's eyes and something more dangerous…something sinister. This marked the beginning of the sixth day being forced to look at those pictures, his ears burning with the words of death the torturers joked so casually about, the parallels they would make to those women and Jolene.
"Shit," Clay mumbled. Pooch was slipping across that line that stopped good men from doing evil things, and the Colonel wasn't sure if he'd be able to hold him back from whatever form of vengeance was formulating behind those dark eyes. Then again, Clay wasn't entirely sure he would even try after what those men had been doing to all of them. Maybe he would just let Pooch have his fun and reign him in after the bloodshed was over…
"Shit," he said again, a little louder this time. He couldn't allow himself to think like that. If one of them went that route, they'd all crumble under the weight of disgust over what they'd done when they snapped back to reality… if they snapped back to reality. For all he knew, one murderous rampage could lead to more, something he'd seen all too often in fellow soldiers on the battlefield. Some of them just never stopped.
Not his team, they wouldn't become like that. He had to get them out, and fast before one of them fell over the edge.
One look at Cougar and Clay felt his heart sink, wondering if he wasn't already too late. The sniper sat at a table surrounded by his usual meal buddies, flashing them an easy smile as he softly told them a story about a pet rabbit he used to have. For once, the man actually looked like he was genuinely enjoying the company, which meant he probably had something up his sleeve. The tale continued until it got to the point where Cougar revealed his family had fallen on hard times and couldn't afford to eat. One day, the young boy who would grow to become the dangerous sniper looked at his beloved pet, his best friend at the time, and apologized to it before slitting its throat. With no remorse, he skinned and gutted that rabbit, turning it into a stew and offering it to his family so they wouldn't starve. A feral grin crossed his face as he finished talking, and he gave one of the men at the table a friendly slap. "We're friends, right?" he asked, receiving an uncertain nod from the man. With that, the sniper leaned forward and dropped his voice down low and dangerous. The smile disappeared from his face as he hissed, "The others, they are mi familia ."
The man, looking suddenly uneasy, excused himself politely from the table. The look Cougar drilled into the back of the man's head was very similar to the one Pooch was still wearing, not a good sign for Clay. That's two down, he thought with a sigh, flipping his gaze over at Aisha.
It had been three days since they left her alone with the exception of bringing her meals, hand feeding her so they could keep her bonds in place. In all that time, she had sat stone still, not even working at the ropes behind her back. She slept when exhaustion won over, ate when food came, and talked when she was instructed to speak, which was only rarely. They seemed to have no interest in her other than what her name was, where Roque was (to which she simply answered "dead"), and what she meant to Clay (to which she replied "I'm his fuck buddy" and nothing more). Beyond that they had let her be, and she had remained eerily quiet.
Clay knew it wasn't about her being submissive. She would never fold that easily, especially when they hadn't really done much to harm her. No, she was sitting behind that blindfold plotting all the different ways she would make those men scream when she got out of that chair, just biding her time before all hell broke loose. There was no doubt in her mind that someone would slip up eventually, and when that happened, she'd be ready for it. Whether that moment came after the rest of them had been killed or before mattered not to her, the result would be the same. It was in times like these that Clay had to remind himself that she had already crossed that line a long time ago, and it was only a thin veil of self-control that kept her just on their side of compassionate professionalism when it came to taking out only the necessary threats. Watching her now, it was obvious that she had let that veil drop the moment the blindfold went on, and for her every single person in the compound had become a "necessary threat." When she got loose, it would become a search and destroy mission.
It wouldn't be too much longer before one of them tried something, and here he was with no plan in place, no way to be ready for the moment when the shit started hitting the fan. Something needed to give, someone needed to slip up, some miracle needed to step in or they would all wind up dead, either in body or in spirit.
A sudden laughter rolled into his cell and it built to something nearing hysteria. Hanging his head, he shuffled over to the window and listened to the odd sound of bubbling amusement pour from the hole.
"Fuck," he whispered. The kid had finally lost it.
Four down, he frowned, turning to lean his back against the concrete wall and sliding down to sit on the cold floor. He had nothing, no way to help any of them. He was their leader and he had failed them all.
What the hell? he shrugged, and allowed the images of men dying very badly at his hands finally flash through his mind. Five, he thought with an evil smile.
Another two days came and went and Clay, along with the rest of his team, still had no idea what they were being held for. He kept his eyes on Jensen's prison wondering what was going on down there. After the almost maniacal laughter had died down there hadn't been another sound that came from the hole. The only way the Colonel knew his man was even alive was because three times a day men still lowered meals down into the silent abyss.
Cougar's stories were becoming more and more horrific each time he told one and Clay would watch with detached joy as the men assigned to the sniper shift after shift became gradually more uneasy. The gleam in those brown eyes had gone beyond threatening, straight to something that would give any grown man nightmares. What made it worse was the Cheshire smile Cougar held permanently on his face, his almost chipper demeanor clashing horribly with the words coming out of his mouth. If that man got his chance he would rip throats out, and he would enjoy it. Clay smiled at the thought.
Pooch had traded his desire to keep his eyes closed for the sleepless task of memorizing every single photo on his walls. He spent every hour meticulously going over every inch of marked flesh on the bodies, putting names to the faces so it made the stories the guards told that much more real to him. When they were speaking, he would keep his attention on the victim of the story, matching violent actions to bruises and cuts, and would then likewise catalog the storyteller's face and voice to memory. Clay nodded with approval as he saw the promise in Pooch's features that everything done to those women would be returned tenfold to the ones responsible.
Aisha continued her silent rebellion. It was actually beginning to drive Clay nuts wondering what thoughts of violence were running through that girl's head. Every time someone entered her cell the Colonel would hold his breath, hoping that maybe this time the man would slip. It wouldn't matter how small the mistake, even blindfolded and bound Clay knew she would catch it, and she would act on it. He almost shivered in anticipation of having a front seat view of her type of wrath, and only hoped they'd let him live long enough to witness every second of brutality she would inflict before they stopped her.
A thought struck him then, more a memory of something Jensen had rattled on about once. He was spouting out a list of animals other than humans who were "complete assholes" and giving the reasons for his observations, the logic behind his thoughts actually valid and somewhat amusing. It was one of the few times that Clay had actually been interested in one of the verbose hackers random rants, and he laughed as the conversation came back to him now.
"Bottlenose dolphins," Jensen had gotten down to, causing everyone to look at him like he had lost his mind.
Pooch had laughed. "Like Flipper? They're always saving people from sharks and shit, how are they assholes?"
"Ah, the myths of Hollywood," Jake had said with a sad headshake. "Little known fact, dolphins are the only animals besides humans who kill completely for fun. I mean, sure, cats will play with their food before they eat it, or sometimes kill as a training exercise; and polar bears'll take it over the top and rip your head off when really all they needed to do was sweep the leg; but dolphins, they're like the serial killers of the animal kingdom. They pretty much only go after porpoises – and, no, porpoises and dolphins are not the same thing – and they'll like stalk them for days before they kill them. And it's not even about territory or food or any of the normal animal kill-drive triggers. They genuinely just kill for fun. Oh, and they do it by like punching their victim to death in all the vital organs. Not a pretty way to go."
"Remind me not to go swimming with the dolphins next time we're in Hawaii," Clay had laughed.
The thought of dolphins was on his mind now as he looked at Pooch and Cougar and Aisha and even inwardly at himself. They were no longer a pack of wolves, dangerous for the simple sake that they had been separated from their pack and would do what it took to protect their own; they were those damn unpredictable dolphins, and they were looking for some fun.
Clay laughed, wondering briefly if his voice sounded like Jensen's had two days ago.
It was dark and Clay lay back on his cot staring at the ceiling. Tomorrow would mark the ninth day in their prison if they made it through the night. There was something new in the air, he could feel it, and wasn't certain whether it was something to be dreaded or welcomed.
His thoughts were interrupted as a pleading voice carried through the darkness. "Guys?" It was questioning, almost begging, and incredibly sad. It was Jensen's.
Clay rolled out of bed and stood by the window to listen, debating on whether to just answer the poor kid and put him out of his misery. As it turned out, that seemed to be exactly what Jake wanted.
"If any of you can hear me, I know, all right? I know. Whatever they're telling you to do…or what not to do...shit...look, I don't want to do this anymore. Please, just make it stop. I can't….I can't do it by myself. I don't have anything down here to work with. Please?"
Closing his eyes, Clay pressed his head into the bars. The kid really had snapped and just wanted his suffering to end. The Colonel couldn't really blame him, he probably had it worse than any of them. At least the rest of them were inside, sheltered, having the guards coming by every once in a while to keep them entertained on some fucked-up level. Jensen had no one and nothing to occupy his time with, and had no clue if any of them were even still alive. What he was asking for, really, was not only a way out but also a way to confirm that at least one of his friends was still in this shitty world. All he wanted was some assurance that he wasn't completely alone.
"I'm so sorry," Clay whispered, turning away from the window. He wouldn't do it, he wouldn't be the one to pull the trigger.
He tried to ignore the continued litany of pleas coming from the hole, his eyes growing wet as the youngest on their team literally begged for one of his friends to end his life. It had to have gone on for about twenty minutes before the begging tone turned almost angry, and a phrase caught his attention: "What do I have to do, bribe you guys? For Christ's sake, if it's dinero you want, the fucking password to my account is 'Skippy', okay? Please, just do it!"
The specific words Jake used rolled through the Colonel's head: "Skippy", and emphasis on a mispronunciation of "dinero" so it sounded like De Niro. A persona and an actor Jensen had once associated himself with...shit, it's an act! Clay rushed back to the window, feeling like a complete idiot for thinking one of his men would give in so easily. Someway, somehow, Jensen had come up with a plan and was asking permission to act on it. Clay smiled, his head clear for the first time in days. All hope was not yet lost.
"Corporal Jake Jensen, I hereby release you from duty!" he shouted, loud and clear so that everyone in the shithole of a base could hear him. "You're dismissed! Go with God, soldier."
He raised his hand in a salute as guards rushed past him, the one who had made the threat to drown the techie snarling at him as he approached the window. "This is what you wanted?" he snapped as we waved a hand towards the men who were readying the hatch to be dropped.
"It's what he wanted," Clay answered, holding his salute and keeping his eyes trained on the swiftly closing hole.
"Thank you, Sir!" Jensen shouted at the last second, the relief in his voice evident to all who heard it.
"Now you will see that I follow through on my threats," the man sneered, giving the signal for the water to be turned on.
"Never doubted that you would," the Colonel shrugged, dropping his hand and turning away from the window. He prayed to God that he had read Jensen's message right and that he hadn't just sentenced the kid to an early death.
Day ten drug on longer than any other Clay could remember. The threat to kill one of them if the others misbehaved was not carried through this time as the guards informed each of the prisoners of Jensen's impending death. One member of the team was already about to be lost, they wouldn't be adding another this day. Instead, the guards stood back outside the cells, well out of reach of the infernos within when the news was given. Pooch and Cougar reacted in much the same manner, attacking the bars and screaming threats at the men who held them prisoner. No tears were shed, the rage that had slowly been building up inside each of them now twice as ready to burn a path of destruction through all who got in their way. Clay hadn't even heard of some of the things Pooch was promising to do to the men, and Cougar's Spanish was coming out so fast that Clay couldn't follow it. Despite that, he understood the tone enough to know that whatever the sniper was saying was even more frightening than the words hissing from between Pooch's teeth. Aisha, for her part, kept up her silent imprisonment. Her only reaction was the tiniest clenching of her jaw, which to Clay echoed as loud as a hammer being pulled on a revolver in a game of Russian roulette. In her case, though, she would have conveniently forgotten to empty the rest of the bullets out of the chamber; every shot would be a kill.
No food was offered that day, as the guards knew the prisoners would not eat. No gruesome torture stories were told to Pooch, leaving him in enraged silence to mourn over his friend. No visitors graced the little table in Cougar's room, no one brave enough to enter the lion's den. No one came to ponder over the enigma that was Aisha, not knowing how to handle the woman's complete lack of emotion. No one came to gloat to Clay over his failure to keep his family safe, the leader had acted on a mercy request from his suffering brother and they would honor his decision with an odd respect.
It wasn't until the last rays of light had disappeared over the horizon before the person Clay assumed to be in charge appeared before the window again.
"It is done," he said, nodding towards the hatch.
"Can I see him?" Clay asked, unable to hide the gruffness in his voice.
The man shook his head. "Not tonight, it has grown too dark and predators may come for the body. We will pull him out at first light. We will give him a proper burial."
Clay turned to him and asked the same questions again that he asked every day. "Why are you doing this? What do you want from us?"
And again, the man gave him the same answer. "It is not time yet. A few more days and perhaps you all will be ready."
Absently nodding his head at the expected response, the Colonel silently thought, You may not be here in a few more days to tell me. Taking one last look at the sealed hatch, he turned back to his cot and sat on the edge. He watched the screens with renewed interest, waiting and hoping that something would happen to confirm that Jensen's water-bloated body was not trapped in that hole outside his window.
It had to be roughly around midnight when a crackling noise came from the television set. Doing his best not to show any reaction for the camera other than casual interest he strolled forward and rested his arms on the bars in his usual manner. Only once his body completely blocked the view of the screen from whoever was watching him did it react, the entire thing filling with static. It flashed and jumped several times before a string of whispered words began to stream through the speakers, none quite loud enough for him to make out. After several seconds of this the screen lit up in bright display for only a half second before dulling again and the whispers stopped.
"They're heeere," a creepy, childlike voice came through loudly.
"Jensen?" Clay asked tentatively.
"Hello Daddy," the voice continued in it's little girlish manner. A familiar laugh broke the eeriness before Jensen's voice spoke clearly. "Don't tell me you haven't seen Poltergeist?"
The grin that crossed the Colonel's face was spectacular, and he knew if he saw himself in the mirror there'd be moisture hovering in his eyes. "God kid, it's good to hear your voice. I wasn't sure…"
"Ah come on, they couldn't get rid of ol' Jensen that easily. Listen, I've got a plan, but I need to know if they told you who they'd go after next."
"Next?" Clay questioned.
"Yeah, next. I'm already dead so I couldn't really ask who they'd go after first, right? So, who's next? Who'd they threaten if you messed with your camera?" Jensen continued, his voice sounding slightly impatient.
"Aisha, she told them we were fuck buddies. Guess they assumed that'd make her pretty important to me," the Colonel responded with a smirk.
"Good, I was hoping you'd say her. Actually, I was sorta counting on it. I gotta run, they'll get curious if they realize they can't hear anything from your cell. See ya later, Clay."
The screen flipped back to its normal display and Clay shook his head. Sighing, he moved towards his camera and once again found himself hoping he had interpreted the hacker correctly. Reaching up a hand he grabbed the small spying device and ripped it from the wall before turning back to the TV set.
"Showtime…I think," he uttered, and waited for the fireworks to begin.
Jake hid in the shadows, shivering as his clothing dripped water all over the floor. After a few moments several men ran by and he waited a few beats before creeping out and following after them. As they rounded a corner he stood back and waiting, attempting to force the blurry images of several men into one image clear enough to tell him exactly how many of them there were. He settled on three and prayed he was right, a wrong answer would get both him and Aisha killed.
A door opened and as soon as they stepped into the cell Jensen was on the move. With deadly efficiency he snuck up to the man closest to him and wrapped his arm around the man's neck. The slight grunt his captive made had the other two men turning towards him, firing straight into their fellow guardsman without batting an eye.
"Shit!" Jensen hollered, shoving the weight of the dead body in his arms towards the two gunmen. As they staggered against the new burden he dove to the ground, rolling up behind Aisha and cutting her ropes in one swift movement. He pulled her out of the line of fire just as the two guards regained their composure. On the way down, she gave the chair a violent kick, hurtling it back towards the sound of gunfire. The man in front threw up his arms to protect himself against the flying piece of furniture, the impact knocking him back into the second man. Aisha had her blindfold off and sprung onto the closest man to her with the speed of a rattlesnake. Jensen didn't even watch as she lit into her target with ruthless abandon, instead going after the second guy and making sure he wouldn't be a further hindrance to their escape plan.
"Aisha, I gotta move," he alerted her. "Don't waste all your energy on that one, there's more coming." He pointed at the camera in the room. "Smile and wave at the all the nice dead guys, then go give 'em hell, okay?"
She quickly snapped the guard's neck and turned towards the camera, winking at it with a sly grin. "They're going to wish they're in Hell by the time I'm done with them," she said with a cold smirk.
"That's my girl," Jake grinned back and took off down the hall.
Aisha watched him for a second, allowing a mixture of relief, gratitude, and pride swell through her. Their obnoxious-as-hell tech nerd was still with them, and he had just possibly saved all their asses. She made a promise to herself to buy him something shiny when they got back to the States before letting the cold urge to kill return to the forefront of her mind. The footsteps of several more guards coming echoed down the hall, and she took an extra second to grab whatever weapons she could find off the bodies before rushing right towards them.
Clay watched everything play out from his cell, laughing as gunfire erupted from somewhere off screen and a distinctly male voice cried out in pure agony.
Jensen hissed as he threw himself back into a corner, just barely missing being seen by other guards rushing off to meet Death, herself. His shirt was covered in blood, most of which came from the man he used as a bullet sponge busting out Aisha. Unfortunately, the thing with sponges was that most things passed right through them. As much as he had tried to torque his body to maintain maximum protection, he still took a graze across the top of his right shoulder, knocked one bullet off its thankfully slowed trajectory with a rib (which he hoped was merely bruised and not cracked, but hurt like a bitch), and suffered from one piece of metal that had neatly lodged itself partway into one of his abdominal muscles. Being able to just see the glint of the misshapen bullet amidst the blood, he had taken only a moment to dig it out with the knife he had snatched off the very first man he had attacked, the one who had been blocking his way to the security room.
Jensen thought back to those first moments of freedom where he was still scrambling to figure out how to get the rest of his friends free. Heading to the security room seemed like a logical choice, assuming this base had joined the 21st Century and had cameras installed to watch the prisoners as most others did. He made his decision, and once there, Jensen had peered through a window carefully, assessing the layout of the camera consoles in each room, suppressing the laughter that threatened to bubble out at the sights of seeing all the blurred images of his friends alive. He also had to suppress his desire to just burst in and start taking out everyone in that room. Action like that would only get him killed and make his whole awesome breakout-from-the-pit adventure a waste of time. He had needed a plan, and got it when he noticed the distinct light of a television set glaring through on Clay's video feed. That's where he would start, tapping into the sound and video feed from the outside lines; and, if he were lucky, he'd go for Aisha next. He hadn't needed to see her to know she'd be hungry for blood, and he wouldn't have to worry about the effects a violent killing spree would have on her. She'd done it before, after all, and would do it as many times as it would take. At the moment, that lust for death was exactly the type of distraction he'd need to get the others out.
So far, everything was going neatly to plan, discounting the part where he was going to use that guy as a hostage to persuade his pals to be the ones to unleash the She-Hulk into the world. It never occurred to him that they would just open fire on one of their own like that, and now he was paying the price for overlooking the possibility. He should've just shot the three guys in the back of the head, ruthless like they would've been, but instead he had shown compassion and was now standing there hugging his arm against the bloody mess he had made of his torso. It had been hard to dig the tiny ball of metal out of his body when he couldn't see straight, but he had done the best he could. Cougar would just have to patch him up when they got out of this mess, and he'd have to remember to go by the rule of "shoot first and ask questions later" from here on out.
Cougar. According the layout of the building Jake had quickly studied, the sniper's room would be the next one he came across. Making sure the hall was clear, he slipped out of his hiding place and only wound up having to kill two men on his way to the cell, one of which had a set of keys. He also took their weapons with the intention of keeping one freshly-loaded gun for himself and giving the other to Cougar, but one look at the man behind bars had Jake wondering if he'd even need it. The sniper looked ready to tear throats out with his teeth if he had to.
"Cougar," Jensen called softly, bringing the man instantly to his feet.
"Jensen?" Cougar asked tentatively. He walked over the cell gate and looked his friend up and down, the disbelief evident in his eyes. "Pensé que eras muerto," he whispered.
Jake chuckled a little, wincing as the motion jostled his injuries. "Nah, clearly I'm okay. You know how much easier this would be if I were dead, though?" He talked as he bent down to quickly try each key in the lock. "I'd be an awesome ghost, just floating around right through the walls, scaring the pants off all these dudes instead of worrying about getting shot, not feeling like Nana's Pomeranian during bath time...yeah, that would be nice. You ever see a wet-"
His rant was cut off as the door swung open and Cougar immediately pulled him into a tight hug. Jake hissed in pain but didn't pull away, reaching his free arm up to pat the sniper's back. He told himself the sudden wetness in his eyes and the little tremble he felt pass through his body was from the pressure being put on his wounds, but he knew better. Over a week spent down in a hole with absolutely no human interaction had taken its toll on the hacker, and having a nice long reunion with his friends would have been great but they didn't have time for that. He shook his head and pried himself out of the embrace.
"We gotta split, Cougs. Pooch and Clay are still in lockdown."
The sudden weariness in the blond's tone finally got through the sniper's shock at seeing his friend alive. Looking at how the blood mixed with the water dripping off Jake's shirt, and feeling the warmth where fresh red stains had appeared on his own clothing, the realization dawned on Cougar that while the hacker may be alive, he was clearly not okay. The bastards had hurt him, not just locked him in a hole like they had laughed about, or nearly drowned him like they thought they had, but had actually taken blood. The fact that the injuries were most likely acquired during the rescue didn't matter to Cougar; all he needed to turn that ball of flame living inside him to a white-hot mass of fury was seeing the way his friend, his brother, was trying valiantly to keep the pain off his face.
Jake saw the darkness settle back in the sniper's eyes as approaching boot heels rang out down the hall. Before he could react, Cougar gripped the front of his shirt and tugged him around, pushing him down onto the cot and reaching to pull the knife from Jake's boot at the same time.
"Stay," Cougar told him.
Jensen pulled the other gun from his waistband and made to hand it to the sniper. "Here, this'll be a little easier."
Cougar hardly glanced at it and shook his head. "I don't need it," he growled.
Shit, Jake thought, and sucked in a breath as deep as his hopefully-just-bruised rib would allow. When he spoke, he made sure to put a little edge in his voice, doing his best to channel Clay. "Dammit, Cougar, we don't have time for this! Aisha's out there on her own somewhere, and by now they probably put extra guards on Pooch and Clay; and that's if they haven't just shot them to save themselves the trouble. Now take the fucking gun!"
Whether it was his Clay imitation or his logic Jensen didn't know, but a grounded focus flashed in the sniper's eyes as he turned back to grab the weapon. Jake gripped his friend's wrist tightly before he could pull away, making damn sure Cougar saw the intensity in his eyes.
"Kill them fast," Jensen ordered.
There was a slight hesitation on Cougar's end before he gave the hacker a sharp nod. Jake released his grip on the sniper's wrist and watched as the man slipped out of the cell, reminding him of a panther that was eager to go out and toy with its prey. Seconds later, he heard the distinct sound of bodies falling to the floor with a heavy thud, noting that a single shot had yet to be fired. The gunplay began immediately after that and despite Cougar's order, Jensen pushed himself off the cot and rushed to join the battle in the hall. It was over before he even set foot outside the cell.
From within his own guarded room, Clay kept his eyes glued to the screen. The way Jensen's face paled just slightly as he lowered his gun told the Colonel all he needed to know about how Cougar had dispatched those men. He grinned slightly as he realized what effect this live feed was having on the men who stood outside his cell. They were almost entranced by the TV, watching in fear as their numbers dwindled, wondering when the demons Jensen had set loose on the compound would come for them next.
What they failed to pay attention to was the fact that one of those demons was standing right behind them. When one of them backed away from the horrors on the screen and put himself a little too close to the bars, Clay made his move. In two seconds flat he pulled the man's gun and shot down all four of them, every one dead before they hit the ground. Another minute later, his cell door swung open and he stood outside it, watching the screen long enough to see Pooch's assigned guards fell to some invisible force. Knowing all his people were out, he slipped down the hall as fast as he could to hopefully find Aisha and rendezvous with the boys, intercepting their unnecessary mission to rescue him. He didn't need it, never really did as long as he knew his family was safe. Now that they were, Papa Bear was out, and he was pissed.
Pooch looked up when he saw the bunch of men standing outside his cell go down in a bloody heap. A second later two familiar faces were peering in at him sporting wry grins.
"Damn, I'm glad to see you fuckers," Pooch chuckled as he waited patiently for Jensen to get the door open. Just as Cougar had done, the transport specialist pulled Jake up into a hug as soon the barrier between them disappeared. "Good to see you, man."
"You, too," Jensen grunted out.
Pooch pulled back immediately, holding the hacker in front of him at arm's length. He felt the blood on his hand from the shoulder graze and noted the way Jake kept that arm pressed tight against his torso. "How many times were you hit?" he asked.
"Three." Jensen shrugged with his good arm at Pooch's concerned look. "They're all flesh wounds, nothing serious."
"Uh huh, that's why you look like you're about to pass out, right?" Pooch argued. He turned his attention to Cougar and glanced down at the blood splattered all across the sniper's clothes and face. "How 'bout you?"
Cougar smiled coldly. "It's not mine."
The same deadly cold smile was sudenly matched on Pooch's face. "Good," he said. "Hope you didn't kill too many of 'em. I promised these ladies a little payback."
Jake looked up at the pictures his friend was referring to and shuddered at the brutality of their deaths. If Pooch had been in here staring at these walls for going on eleven days…
"You, too?" he mumbled under his breath. He was having a hard enough time trying to keep Cougar reigned in, and now to have to deal with Pooch? Suddenly he found himself having a whole new respect for Clay's ability to maintain control over the lot of them. Speaking of… "Okay, Clay's next, then we have to find where Aisha ran off to. Should be easy, all we have to do is follow the trail of breadcrumbs, and by that I mean bodies."
Pooch pulled a couple guns off the dead guards, shoving one in his waistband while he checked the clip on the other one. "If I call any of these fuckers mine, you guys better back the hell off. I've got some scores to settle."
"Pooch, we don't-" Jake started, but was cut off.
Pooch glared at him and pointed at the photos as he spoke. "They did this shit to these women, Jensen, and they enjoyed telling me about every fucking minute of it; and that was before they started in on what they'd do to Jolene. They're going to pay for this."
"Alright," Jensen sighed, nodding warily. "Respect the dibs, got it. Can we go now?"
Without answering, Pooch moved off down the hall towards the sound of the nearest promise of human targets, Cougar right on his heels. Jake sucked in a calming breath and followed after, doubting he'd even get the chance to use his gun anymore. He'd be too busy trying to hang onto the leashes of two bloodthirsty pit bulls.
Clay heard a muffled grunt from somewhere ahead of him and wondered which of his crew he would run into first. His shoes left bloody footprints on the floor as he walked, a testament to his own venture into the darker recesses of his soul. Coming upon a swinging door, he stood beside it with his back to the wall and pushed it open about an inch before a bullet came careening towards him, only just missing his hand.
"Anyone fires at me again, they're taking one in the knee, I don't care whose side you're on," Clay warned.
A second later the door swung open to a grinning Pooch. "Colonel! We were just on our way to get you."
"I saved you the trouble," Clay said as he stepped into the room. He grimaced at the sight before him, afraid to count the bodies of the base's inhabitants strewn about all over the floor. What was once the mess hall had become a battlefield with only the members of his team still standing at the end of the fight. His eyes flicked around the room, quickly assessing the states of his makeshift family. Pooch still kept an entirely too happy smile on his face as he plopped down at one of the tables, Cougar stood back against one wall beside another swinging door looking almost bored, Aisha sat up and wiped a bloody hand across the sweat shining on her forehead, apparently finished with whatever she had been doing to the man who now lay dead beneath her, and Jensen…
"Where the hell's Jensen?" he asked.
"Tipping the chef," Cougar shrugged, tilting his head towards the door he stood guarding.
Clay smirked and pushed his way into the kitchen, patting the sniper on the shoulder as he passed. What he saw before him stopped him cold and he was almost unable to suppress the laugh that threatened to ruin the hacker's "lesson." Jake apparently really did decide to take it upon himself to give the chef a few tips regarding the use of spice in his food.
"Oh, here's a good one," Jensen smiled as he dug another container out of a cupboard. "See, you have all these great flavors right here, you just have to experiment a little. Try it." The chef, tied to a chair with a funnel taped into his mouth, adamantly shook his head with tears in his eyes. "Ah, come on, you'll like it. It's got a bit of a kick, perfect for Mexican food." With that, the blond poured a little of the red pepper down the man's throat, ignoring the whimpers and now free-flowing tears.
"And I thought they were bad out there," Clay smiled. "You're ruthless, Jensen."
Jake spun around and dropped the peppershaker. "Oh thank god," he breathed with honest relief. "Take your job back, I don't want it. Those three are…are…"
"Difficult?" Clay offered, bemused.
Jensen's eyebrows shot up. "Difficult? Ha! Difficult is us on our best behavior. All three of them are fucking crazy! Do you know how many times I've had to say 'just kill the guy already'? I think Aisha actually said something about pulling someone's intestines up through their nose; and the scary part is, I'm not sure if that was a threat or a description of something she already did…" He shuddered at the mental image before continuing. "And I had to shoot a guy that Pooch was, um, let's call it 'venting on.' There was a bullet hole and a steel pipe involved, which I'm positive he pulled out of thin air because hell if I know where he got it from. The whole thing was not a pretty sight; and the noises that dude was making, they were even worse. Pooch got kind of upset at me for the mercy kill so he's not talking to me right now, by the way, which brings us around to Cougar. He went for actually cutting the tongues off some of these guys and leaving them alive, except for this one who I think he was about to start skinning if I hadn't stop him. What's up with that?"
Clay shook his head with a frown. "I'll tell you about it later. First I think what we need to do is get the hell out of here." He nodded at the chef who still sat bawling in the chair. "You gonna kill him?"
Jensen turned back. "Nah, I think he learned his lesson, didn't ya big guy?" He pat the man on the head and ripped the funnel out of his mouth, then without warning shoved the entire chair over onto its back. Twin yelps of pain came from chef and hacker both, and Jake gripped the edge of the counter with his left hand as he re-tucked the right against his body protectively.
Clay was beside him in an instant, pulling the arm away so he could inspect the wounds. He cursed as he saw the ragged hole in Jensen's stomach. "Why didn't you take care of this sooner?" he demanded, but his tone was softened by the concern he felt.
"We were kinda busy," Jensen replied through clenched teeth.
The Colonel stood and grabbed the hacker's good arm, leading him back out into the mess hall. Without stopping, he simply stated, "We're finding the infirmary," and didn't even look back to see if the others complied with the subtle order. Without question they all fell in position around their leader. They were a whole, functioning unit once again and they had a mission to fulfill – tend to their injured – and God help anyone who stood in their way.
Jensen found that with Clay back in charge, the adrenaline he had been feeding off of to keep the team from slipping into complete insanity slowly drained away. With each step he took the pain and blood loss was finally catching up to him, and he couldn't keep himself from letting the Colonel take more and more of his weight. The others saw this and as Jensen's obvious exhaustion grew, their need to linger on torturing their victims dwindled. Each new challenge was dealt with in swift efficiency, no more thought put into their actions than clearing a path to their destination. By the time they located the infirmary and emptied the room of all who didn't belong, it was all Jensen could do not to just collapse on the sickbed outright.
"Cougar, Pooch, get that shirt off him," Clay ordered as he began searching the room for the proper medical supplies. "Aisha-" He looked up to see that she had already moved to stand guard by the door without his asking. She gave him a sharp nod, telling him that anyone who tried getting in wouldn't have the chance to change their minds.
Clay heard a sharp gasp behind him followed by the sniper's quiet voice. "Don't help," Cougar scolded softly as Jensen tried to pull his injured arm out of the sleeve.
Pooch tsked as he gently pulled the ruined shirt over Jensen's head. "You do know you're supposed to avoid the little shiny things that come out of the ends of the guns, right?"
Jake gave him a mildly annoyed look. "Oh, is the Pooch talking to the Jensen, now?... That doesn't really work with my name, does it?"
"No, it doesn't," Pooch smiled. "And it's kinda hard to stay mad at a guy who looks like a drowned Pomeranian that someone used for target practice."
Jensen turned to Cougar, looking rather pleased with himself. "See? I told you! Didn't I– Ow! Shit, Clay, give a guy a little warning!"
"Sorry," the Colonel muttered as he began cleaning out the wounds. As a means to distract the kid from the painful process, he asked casually, "You want to tell us how Houdini got out of the water torture cell?"
"Nope, but I will tell you how I got out," Jake replied, his voice tight with pain despite the smart-ass grin he was wearing. "Remember that storm we had a few nights back?..."
God, it's cold! Jake thought, wondering if the sun had yet to rise outside his blackened hole. He had given up trying to sleep in his inch of water only about an hour after he had sat down, he was just too damn miserable. Instead he resorted to his normal pacing, trying his best not to let the crushing darkness get to him. He allowed his mind to drift through binary codes and various algorithms until he lost all track of time. When the hatch began to open he was so lost in thought that he didn't notice it. It wasn't until he blinded himself by stepping into the thin beam of light that he finally realized his current torture was over. The fact that the end to the darkness was now mildly painful to him pissed him off, and he made damn sure the guys opening the hatch knew about it.
He kept his head turned down away from the burning light as he heard the sound of his typical breadbasket being lowered to him. He reached blindly for it, accidentally knocking the bottom of it with his hand so it tipped its contents into the pool of water at his feet.
"Great," he muttered as he reached down to pick up piece of the bread. It was soaked with muddy water, definitely not consumable. Overhead he heard one of the guards chuckle as they walked away, and that was enough to push his frustration right into anger. Aiming towards the sound, he heaved the sopping chunk from the hole and smiled with satisfaction as he heard the footsteps and the fading conversation stop. He had hit one of them.
"Come on, you bastard, get mad," he willed, waiting with bated breath for any sort of reaction. Almost a full minute later the footsteps resumed their retreat. With a huff, Jensen punched his fist into the dirt wall, the wet mud squishing around his knuckles effectively dulling the impact.
"Really?" he asked, his tone one of calm disbelief. He wasn't even allowed that one primal method of letting go of his anger. Feeling utterly defeated, he dropped back down onto the ground with a splash and rested his elbows on his knees. Bored, he picked up another piece of the mushy bread and rolled it around in his hands for a few minutes before it completely disintegrated. "Did you know there are fifteen hundred known species of yeast? And that's probably only like one percent of them," he said dryly, then chuckled. "I know, I know, 'shut up, Jensen.'"
He stared at the floating bread bits for a while before he absently began singing Ninety-nine Bottles of Beer. It wasn't until he got down to bottle forty-five before a thought occurred to him – the water he had been sitting in was all but gone, had probably been disappearing slowly this entire time. He stared at the ground in confusion for a moment, knowing there was no way it had just seeped into the dirt. The ground was too saturated for that, and it wasn't nearly hot enough with the little sunlight he was getting for it too have evaporated. Standing up, he searched around his cell until he noticed the water still pooled a little bit around the one area where the rocks were piled in the corner. He stooped down and dug at the stones, prying a couple of them free and feeling around in the muddy puddle. What he felt made him pause, and he checked again just to be certain. His fingers traced the outline of a small metal grate, the water draining through it moving too slow for him to even feel it's pull, but disappearing nonetheless.
"Why would they bother putting a drain down here?" he thought aloud, pretty sure it wasn't for the comfort of their prisoners. If that were the case, or if they were worried about it filling too fast with rain water, they would've made the hole bigger and wouldn't have bothered with the hatch-
"Oh, you've gotta be shitting me," he muttered, putting it all together. It wasn't just a cell, it was a water chamber; one they'd probably used before and had every intention of using again, hence the drain. It just needed to be small enough to make sure the chamber filled faster than the water could make its way out.
A sudden image flashed through his head, one of that hatch coming down to send him into total darkness once again, then feeling water pouring down over him until it got to where he couldn't stand anymore, lifting him until it pressed him up against the cell's ceiling and then filling his lungs, drowning him…
Panic set in and he scratched frantically at the grate, chipping off pieces of his fingernails as he clawed it from the ground. When he finally pulled it free he dropped it aside without much thought and scooped at the dirt at the edges of the hole.
"Please, please, please," he muttered as he worked, praying his fingers wouldn't brush against the metal edges of a pipe. After several minutes of digging the water suddenly sucked down quickly from his line of sight. He got control of his fear and sat back on his haunches, staring at his work with a widening smile. Not only was there no pipe, but the hole widened significantly once he had dug down a little over a foot. If he kept at it…
He began to laugh at the implications, and despite his efforts, he just couldn't stop. The way out had been right here at his feet the entire time! Grabbing one of the rocks with one hand to use as a shovel of sorts and continuing to pull at the dirt with his other, he began the process of making his escape route big enough to fit his body through. The thought of the looks on the guards faces when they discovered he was suddenly missing had him laughing all over again, until it occurred to him what might happen to the others in retaliation for his escape…if they were even still alive. For now he had to assume they were and that it'd be up to him to rescue them. The thought urged him on, and it would continue to do so over the course of the next two days it took him before he reached the end of the drainage tunnel.
"It dumped out into this little canal not too far outside the base perimeter," he explained, his voice soft as he lay back on the bed with his eyes shut. Cougar finished tying off the last of the stitches on Jake's shoulder as Clay moved to inspect the hacker's hands. They were a mess, and he cursed himself for not noticing them sooner. Of course, with as much blood covering them as there had been (from both Jensen and various now-deceased base personnel), it would have been near impossible to see how damaged they were without a closer look.
"Let's get him sitting back up," the Colonel said, issuing a small groan from Jensen that said do we have to? Clay gave him a sympathetic smile. "We need to wrap these wounds, and get your hands taken care of."
"They're fine," the blond argued even as he allowed Pooch and Cougar to push him into a sitting position. He sighed at the disbelieving look his Colonel shot him. "Don't wrap them, okay? I can't shoot if I've got mummy hands."
Nodding at the compromise, Clay began the process of scrubbing the dried dirt and blood out of the many cuts, scrapes, and raw spots on Jensen's hands, careful to work gently over the exposed sensitive flesh where the kid's nails had partially broken off. "Why'd you have them fill the tank?" he asked, again trying to keep the hacker talking as a distraction.
Jensen did his best not to flinch at the renewed stinging in his hands. He knew what Clay was doing with all the questions and couldn't have appreciated it more. Talking not only helped him keep his mind off the pain, but it was also just nice to run his mouth off at someone after so long. To him, it was like taking a breath of fresh air after escaping from a burning building. Smiling slightly, he continued with his story. "A few reasons, actually – ah! Easy on the ribs, Cougar!"
"Lo siento," the sniper practically whispered, but kept the pressure tight on the bindings. The impact of the bullet had cracked the rib that had stopped it, despite Jake's insistence that he was merely bruised. Cougar would tell him later that his "Jedi mind tricks" had failed him, after they were home free.
"Anyway," Jensen said as he glared at the sniper, "I had some time to think things over while I was playing in the dirt…"
He kept his mind pulled in several different directions as he worked, partially focusing on making sure he was following the natural path of the drain, partially keeping track of the time so he'd be able to get back out and put the rocks back in place before the men came with his meals, and partially filtering through different plans that would ensure his escape would go unnoticed for the maximum amount of time possible.
His thought process was interrupted when he suddenly realized he was at the point where he could actually shove his hand through the small opening at the end of the tunnel. That circle of light had been like a beacon to him, gradually growing larger as he inched his way closer and closer towards it. Now, finally, he was at the end and he dug frantically to widen those last few feet of dirt enough to stick his head through. With one big push he laughed as he broke free of the tunnel, then gasped as he had to grip the edge of the hole to keep himself from tumbling forward.
"What the hell?" he mumbled as he stared down a steep drop-off into a near empty canal. "Oh, I bet you think you're realllll funny, don't you. 'Hey! Let's make this guy dig for two and a half days then watch what happens when he finds out he's being held prisoner on top of a fucking cliff!' Are ya laughing? Huh? Well I'm sure as hell not."
He quickly assessed the distance to the bottom, determining it was too far to simply jump without possibly breaking a leg, and that certainly wouldn't help anybody. It might not be too bad of a fall if the canal actually had any water in…
"Jensen, you're a goddamn genius," he whispered, pushing some more dirt loose to make the opening a little wider before wriggling his way backwards down the tunnel and up into his cell. It'd be the perfect plan: by having the guards fill the chamber with water, not only would it provide a way to slow his decent into the canal but would also make sure no one took notice of his absence. He'd be dead, after all, and as long as he timed it so his demise would happen at night they'd probably let him be until morning. Granted a probably was not the best word to be working on, but it was the best he had at the moment and had to take the chance. There was also the concern that if he just let the water continue to drain out as fast as they pumped it in, it would spread too thin in the canal and wouldn't do much to cushion his fall. The only way past that was to let his cell fill almost completely before releasing it down the drain, thus creating a deeper pool at his point of impact. That meant he'd had to recreate the original drain setup in hopes that he could dig it back out fast enough to keep himself from drowning. He could probably do it. Probably.
Which left only one other issue: how did he get the guards to turn the water on in the first place? He had already tried his best to annoy the crap out of everyone who came by, and his few attempts at climbing out had only left him with injured pride and not so much as a laugh from the guys up top.
"Think, Jensen," he told himself, picking up his previous pacing habit now that the task of digging was over. "You're in this hole for a reason, and you're still alive for a reason. That probably – what is with me and that word all of a sudden? Focus, kid... Okay, you're not dead yet because they're using you for something, ransom or bait or…" He snapped his fingers. "Or as a threat to keep someone else in line, which means someone is still alive; and that someone isn't talking to you because either they can't hear you or they're not allowed to. So, all you have to do is make them screw up somehow, but you can't make it obvious that you're doing it on purpose." He stopped pacing. "Wait, no, scratch that. You want to make it painfully obvious that you're doing it on purpose. Oh man, you're gonna have to put on like an Academy Award-winning performance for this one, Jake. I just hope they get the hint…"
"I almost didn't," Clay said as he slipped off his jacket and handed it to Jensen.
"I noticed," the hacker frowned, "I mean seriously, was the obvious hint that I was acting really necessary? You didn't actually think I'd want to kill myself after only nine days, did you?" The fact that suddenly no one wanted to make eye contact with him told him all he needed to know. "Oh, that's just great, thanks for the vote of confidence, guys. I can go at least two weeks without having someone to talk to, I'll have you know. How fucking weak do you think I am?"
"No, not weak," Cougar was quick to correct.
"Nine days is a long time for anyone to be in a hole in the ground," Clay explained, his voice subdued. "And the night they shut that hatch… Would've been a lot for me to handle, and I'm not exactly a social butterfly."
"We were all in bad spots," Pooch jumped in. "Could've been any one of us."
Aisha turned towards them. "Hey, I was fine," she argued.
Jensen shook his head. "You don't count, you were crazy when we met you."
She shrugged off the insult and changed the subject. "If you all are done playing doctor and story time, you think we can get out of this dump? I'm getting bored."
Clay frowned and moved to stand beside her by the door. "Where the hell are the rest of the guards?"
"Maybe we got 'em all?" Jake asked hopefully, but the look on his face showed that not even he believed it.
"Something's not right," the Colonel stated, more to himself than to the others.
Aisha glanced down the hall again before turning back to him. "Well we can't just stay here. I say we go now before they regroup."
"They're probably already regrouping," Pooch pointed out. "That's why they're all out there somewhere and not getting their dumb asses shot coming down here."
Clay smirked. "There's only one way to find out. Aisha, Cougar, I want you on point. Shoot anything that moves. Pooch, you're watching the rear. Jensen, you're center with me."
"I don't need a babysitter, Clay, I'm a big boy," Jake argued.
"With three bullet holes, fucked-up hands, half blind, and running on pain pills," Clay reminded him.
Jensen laughed. "Oh. Right. What was I thinking assuming I could shoot straight all doped up on extra strength Tylenol?" To make his point he slid off the bed and stood solidly…until Cougar gave him a little shove from behind. Had the sniper not been right there to immediately catch him, the sudden shift in balance would have sent him straight to the ground. "….Okay, so maybe the blood loss factor is a slight problem," he admitted sheepishly.
"You're center with me," Clay repeated with an amused tone, reaching out to pull the hacker beside him. Cougar moved up next to Aisha, and with a nod from the Colonel, they burst out into the hall with guns at the ready. Soundlessly, cautiously, all five moved as one through the compound with the same thought running through their heads: they were going home.
The halls remained strangely devoid of any life as they made their way to what they perceived to be the safest exit. Growing increasingly uneasy with all their senses on full alert, the sudden sound of machine gun fire from somewhere outside had them all diving for cover. It went on for several minutes before the compound went completely silent again, and Clay signaled for all of them to stay put while he inched forward towards the door. Staying low to the ground he pushed it open a crack and waited to see if anyone took a shot at him. When nothing happened he cautiously peered out only to find that the grounds were littered with yet more bodies. They were strewn about everywhere, scattered in random positions as if they had been trying to run from something.
"Jensen, how many did you take out on your way in?" he whispered.
"Only one outside," Jake responded breathlessly, a result of the painful impact with the wall when he had thrown himself against it. "Why?"
Clay waved them forward so they could see the carnage for themselves.
"They kill each other?" Pooch asked, keeping one steadying hand wrapped around Jensen's arm.
"Someone did," Clay answered, "and they're still out there somewhere. We stay low, stick to the walls, move from cover to cover as fast as possible. They open fire, try to split up if you can. We don't want to be one big moving target, got it?"
At their nods Clay took the lead, signaling for them to move out behind him. They fell into their own order automatically, Cougar taking up position right behind Clay, making sure Jensen followed closely. Pooch put himself directly behind the hacker and Aisha guarded their rear.
Nothing stirred around them and even the animals in the jungle beyond the perimeter remained maddeningly quiet. Clay felt the pit in his stomach grow as they passed body after body, several of which had been shot in the back as they had tried to flee the base. So far there had been no sign of the shooters, and that unnerved him more than anything else. It was as if they were just waiting for that moment when Clay and his team tasted freedom, then they would shoot them down.
He made the team stop behind a small building that served as their last form of cover. Beyond that a wide, open area stood between them and the relative safety of the trees. If anyone was waiting to take them down, this would be where it would happen.
"Doesn't feel right," Clay mumbled, certain he was being watched.
"What do you want to do, Colonel?" Pooch asked. "Look for another exit?"
Clay thought for a moment. "No, they're out there, and they're following our movements. We need to create some sort of diversion or smoke screen; essentially we need to disappear."
Pooch grinned. "So you need us to blow shit up."
"Exactly," Clay smiled back.
Before they could make any further plans a loud voice carried through the entire compound on a PA system. "That won't be necessary, Colonel. I do believe you and your men have proven yourselves more than capable of escaping. You're free to go now."
They glanced at each other in confusion before Clay stepped away from the building a little bit, looking up to the speaker attached to the roof. "You don't really expect me to just parade my team out in the open so you can gun us down, do you?"
"Colonel, we've had eyes and ears on every one of you since you were brought here. I assure you if we wanted to shoot you down we would have done so by now, but it was not our place to do so. That responsibility was to fall upon the men you see before you."
Clay sneered at the voice behind the speaker. "Kind of hard for your men to take us out when you killed them all."
A different voice came across the PA, a darker one. "Those men were failures. I hired them for a job and they refused to complete it."
The first voice chuckled. "You'll have to excuse my associate. He's not accustomed to losing a bet."
Bet? Cougar mouthed.
"I lost $500,000 because of those chicken shits," the second voice snarled. "A whole base full of supposedly hardened criminals and they're running away from four soldiers who they claim to be demons and one speck of a girl."
Aisha looked insulted, then quickly smiled when the first voice laughed again. "Did you see what that 'speck of a girl' did to the three men who were involved in her last test? I don't believe that part of the male anatomy belongs there."
Clay, Pooch, and Cougar stared at her with wide eyes, causing her wicked smile to grow. They decided it'd be best just not to ask, turning their attention back to the speaker.
"You want to clue us in on what's going on?" Clay asked, "because I'd really love to know what a bet has to do with me and my team being tortured for almost two weeks."
"Oh, where are my manners?" the first voice responded in a humored tone. "I haven't had to explain this before. You see, you're the first team that's ever made it out of this alive."
"Worthless bunch of assholes," the second man complained, still grumbling about the men he had killed.
"Hush now, the Colonel has earned his explanation. You see, this is an observation sport we run for high-stakes rollers. We have Mr. Miendez – that would be the man you spoke with the most, Colonel – use his contacts to bring in what they consider to be some of the most top-notch fighting teams in the world. It seems you and your men have quite the reputation of being unbeatable around these parts. You should be proud."
"Quit kissing ass and get on with it," Clay growled, already knowing where this story was headed but wanting to hear it nonetheless.
"Of course. The bet goes like this: Miendez gathers intel from his sources regarding the teams in order to ascertain the best means of torture; which in your case his sources were obviously outdated, but no matter. Those betting place money on how long individuals will last before they snap, either by losing their minds entirely or simply finding some way to end their own suffering. If any member of the team is successful in finding some means of escape, the bets shift to how long that person will last, whether or not they will attempt to rescue their teammates, and if they do, how long it will take before they all get gunned down. As you are the only team who has actually managed to make it out alive, all bets were lost. As one of the organizers and the bookie of this event, I made quite a bit of money off you gentlemen (and lady, of course) so you have my gratitude. My associate, on the other hand, never could learn not to place his own bets on the games. Ah well, some people have to put their hand in the fire to find out it burns, I guess."
"A game?" Clay snapped. "You put us through all of that for-"
He was interrupted when voice number two came through the speaker again, this time without the angry tone. "Camera B is out," he informed the other man, then immediately after that, "and so is E….and J…What the hell?"
Clay turned around and his face dropped when he realized someone had slipped away while they were distracted. "Jensen," he muttered.
A split second after that two gunshots rang out over the PA system along with the pained cries of the men who belonged to the voices. The next sound they heard was Jensen's voice, so low and cold that they almost questioned whether it was actually their tech speaking.
"Names," he demanded.
"I don't know what-" Voice number two's words were cut off by another shot being fired and another wail.
"I want the names of the sick fucks who were betting on our lives," Jake clarified.
Voice number one answered quickly. "A book. We keep the list in a little black book. It's in that drawer there."
As the sounds of Jensen digging out the item he sought carried through the speakers, Clay turned back to the rest of his team. "Anyone know their location?" he asked, only to curse when no one had an answer for him. He looked back at the speaker and yelled, "Jensen, what's your position?"
"Sorry, Colonel, I'm not done yet," the hacker muttered as he tucked the book inside the pocket of Clay's jacket. He stared at the screens in the console in front of him, his eyes lingering on one that showed a clear view of the hole he had sat in for so long. "Were they all watching?" he asked, his tone one of casual curiosity.
The man in the Armani suit who was the owner of that damn chipper 'voice number one' dared to speak again. "Watching what?" he asked, the fear evident in his tone. He was answered with another bullet and cried out in agony.
"Dammit, Jensen, what is your position, soldier?" Clay's voice poured into the room.
Jensen closed his eyes for a second and turned away from his Colonel's order. When he opened them again he stepped a little closer to the two men cowering before him on the ground, each with a bleeding hole in one leg and one arm. "Yesterday, when the chamber was filling with water, were they watching?"
"No," cried the sniveling man in the ugly brown business attire. "It's too dark with the hatch closed. No one could see what happened. We assumed you were dead until you reappeared on the video feed hours later."
More of Clay's orders filtered into the room, but this time he was talking to the rest of the team. "Spread out, I want him found, now."
"Let me finish this, Clay!" Jake nearly shouted.
"That's a negative, soldier, now stand down!" the Colonel yelled back. He waited for a second, hearing nothing but pained cries and groans until two more shots carried through the speakers, echoing across the compound. "Go," he ordered the rest of his team.
They each lit out in a different direction, all of them feeling a mix of confused emotions. They had been used for nothing more than a rich man's game, all of them abused mentally for endless days for the simple sake of sport and greed. Words did not exist that could describe their level of rage, and secretly they were each rooting for the hacker, hoping he inflicted as much pain as humanly possible before they could reach him. On the other hand, they were upset at themselves for not noticing just how over the edge he had truly slipped. He had been the one keeping them all together in their flight from their prison cells, the one making sure they stayed focused on their mission of getting their brothers out alive. It should have occurred to them that all was not well when he began to toy with the chef, allowing himself to get distracted from his own goal. That should have clued them in, but they were all so focused on their own forms of revenge that they overlooked it. Now there he was, alone in a room facing off with the men responsible for all their suffering, and no one was there to stop him. No one could step in to take the place of his wilted conscience, preventing him from doing things to those men that would forever plague him in his nightmares. As much as they wanted those bastards to pay for what they had done, none of them were willing to sacrifice their youngest brother to his demons in order to achieve that outcome. They had to get to him, and fast.
They heard Jake's voice come through the speakers again, his words coming out in little more than a whisper. "Do you have any idea what it feels like to almost drown?"
Despite his urgent need to get to his man, Clay couldn't help but slow his steps so he could better hear Jensen's eerily calm words.
"I lost my bearings down there," the hacker continued. "I kept swimming down to try to find the drain, but it was so dark… I couldn't see anything. I just, I'd swim down until I hit the bottom and feel around and I kept getting handfuls of just mud. I couldn't find the damn rocks… The last time I came back up for air it was too late. The water had already reached the top of the chamber."
Cougar froze for only a moment, his face dropping at the thought of how afraid his friend must have been. "Dios mío," he uttered before he took off at a dead sprint, feeling the urgency more than ever to stop Jensen from succumbing to his poisoned thoughts.
"I went back down, didn't have any other choice. Ya know when you can't breathe, your lungs, they burn. And your head, geezus, it feels like it's going to explode. Makes it really hard to focus…and there I was, trying to find this tiny little metal grate in the dirt; and the whole time I was digging around all I kept thinking was how I was going to die, and then how my friends were going to die because I failed... and you want to know what else I was thinking?"
Pooch kicked open a door, hoping it was the right one. The room before him was empty and he cursed at the lengthy pause Jensen was allowing to linger after his last words. That could only mean whatever the hacker was about to say next was not going to be pretty.
"I was thinking that if we made it out, and if I got the chance, I was going to show whoever the hell had me put in that hole exactly what it feels like to drown."
Aisha frowned as she ran. "Didn't know he could sound that scary," she muttered to herself, not sure whether to be concerned or impressed.
Jensen squatted down between the two men, looking curiously at the one arm on each that he hadn't shot yet. "Just to make things even," he shrugged before pulling the trigger two more times. He waited until their cries quieted down, ignoring their pleas for forgiveness as he tossed the gun aside. Sliding out a knife, he rested the point gently against the breast of the Armani suit. "I don't have time to mess with dragging you out to that pit, so we'll have to settle for just putting a hole in each lung. Drowning in your own blood might be more poetic, anyway."
Just as he was about to slide the knife home, the door flew open and Clay pushed in, hooking his arms under the hackers' and pulling him up off the floor.
"NO! CLAY, DON'T!" Jensen screamed, struggling against the Colonel's hold.
"It's over, Jensen, it's done," Clay repeated softly over and over again.
Jake kept up his kicking and squirming, adrenaline fueling his weakened body. "They need to know what it feels like," he argued, his teeth grinding together as he tried his best to pull free.
It didn't take long for Cougar, Pooch, and Aisha to reach the security room, easily locating Jensen and Clay in the separate console room that was connected to it. Cougar and Pooch ran to Clay's side, offering their help to calm down their wild friend.
"Tell him to let me go!" Jake shouted at Cougar, pleading with the sniper to allow him to finish the job he started. Cougar shook his head and Jensen angrily turned his eyes to Pooch.
"Sorry man, can't do that," Pooch sad sadly.
Aisha walked past the struggle and stood for a moment staring down at the two men who were bleeding all over the floor. "Fuckers," she hissed, and put a bullet in each of their heads.
"NO!" Jake screamed. "Dammit, Aisha, they were mine! Damn you!"
He struggled for a few more minutes before he realized his efforts were wasted. His targets were dead and he had nothing left to fight for. Slowly, he allowed himself to sink to the ground, Clay guiding him gently all the way down. He stared numbly at the two bodies in front of him for several long minutes, his whole body shaking in anger, exhaustion, pain, and finally at the thought of what he'd done and what he was about to do. "I'm sorry," he whispered. "God, Clay, I'm so sorry. I don't… I didn't…"
The Colonel wrapped an arm around Jake's shoulder. "It's all right, kid, I know. There's nothing to be sorry for."
They sat in silence for a long time, just letting the knowledge that they were alive, together, and truly free settle over them.
"Colonel?" Jensen asked tiredly, of course being the first to break their quiet reverie.
"Yeah, kid?" Clay grinned, looking down at the man he still kept a tight grip on.
The blond looked to be lost in thought for several seconds before he spoke again. "When was the last time we had pizza?"
The others laughed. "Too damn long," Clay answered, taking it for the cue that it was that the hacker was ready to get the hell out of there. They all were.
As they headed out, this time they moved straight for the main entrance of the compound, knowing there was no one left to fear and hoping to find a vehicle of some sort parked not too far outside. They found a few jeeps within a mile of the gate and breathed a sigh of relief when the cars started without difficulty. Trekking through God-knew how many miles of jungle with Jensen having to be more or less carried between two of them would have made for a fucker of a trip, and Cougar whispered up a quiet "gracias" for being able to avoid that particular ordeal.
Pooch and Aisha jumped into the front seats of the jeep with Pooch slipping into his usual role as driver, and Jake found himself getting settled in what he would normally call "the bitch seat." He wasn't about to complain about it, though. With Clay and Cougar - his role model and his best friend - flanking him on both sides, he felt an almost overwhelming sense of comfort that he greedily accepted.
Then there was the matter of the weight of a certain little black book pressing against his chest. That realization brought a small smile to his face, along with a sense of unfinished business he would have to tend to. When he went after them, though, it would be with a level head. He would extract his vengeance in his own way, the Jensen way.
Yep, every last fucker in that book would be sitting on a street corner begging for pennies by the time he was through with them. That would be their torture, only Jake wouldn't stick around to see how long each one would last before they lost it. He just didn't give a shit.