Title: Hold Your Breath and Count To Ten
Author: Jedi Buttercup
Disclaimer: The words are mine; the worlds are not.
Summary: Dr. Anne Glass pauses for a moment between crises. 2600 words.
Spoilers: Falling Skies post-1.10 "Eight Hours"
Notes: For the 2011 girlsavesboyfic, the "saves the world and perhaps also the boy" edition. Post-S1 finale. Because there's almost no Anne-centric fic out there.
Anne closed her eyes, pressing the back of her hand against her mouth, and tried to take a deep breath, listening to the brush of wind through the trees. The grey cinder block wall of one of the conservation area's abandoned outbuildings pressed firmly against her back, one of the few pillars of strength currently available to her in her uncertain circumstances.
She took another breath- too short, too quick; and it wasn't helping at all that she recognized her own symptoms- and held it for a long second, struggling to calm herself before she let it out again. She'd never been claustrophobic before, but sometimes now- even when she was outside under a clear autumn sky- she just felt like she couldn't draw enough breath, like the world was closing in around her.
The ache would pass; it always did. But every time, it left her feeling- like- like she didn't even know what.
No; she had to be honest with herself. She did know. She knew what she was feeling. It was just that she felt even worse when she acknowledged it.
I'm just a pediatrician: just the only doctor the survivors of the Second Massachusetts had among them. It didn't matter that Anne didn't always know what she was doing; what mattered to them was that she was there to do it, to hold their hands and bind their cuts and soothe their bruises.
I don't know what I'm doing here: but then again, did any of them? Colonel Porter had turned the scattered remnants of Boston into a coherent organization, but they'd all started out just like she had: lost, grieving, and struggling to survive. The ones who'd actually known what they were doing had mostly been killed by the aliens before the resistance even properly got started, targeted exactly because they were more prepared than the general population and thus more easily noticed.
The nail that stuck up was the one that got hammered down. And maybe that was what had her so out of sorts these days: the continual wait for that hammer to finally find the rest of them.
I'm not Tom's goddamned widow: no, just the most approachable non-military advocate the civilians had left, since Weaver had returned from the attack with only a handful of wounded men and no second in command at his side. Who else were they going to talk to? Her Uncle Scott? Pope? Too many of them were still too wary to approach Weaver directly, and frankly, she didn't blame them, after his increasingly erratic behavior in the days leading up to their departure from the school.
But if they could just stop giving her that pitying expression when they approached her and saw Matt huddled near her with his crayons, or Hal bringing a pail of water over to her tent-
Anne took another breath, gently sinking her teeth into the meat between her thumb and forefinger, and used the mild, bruising pain as a focus to clear her swirling thoughts. Everyone knew Tom had asked her to look after his kids; everyone knew she'd been in on a lot of the critical decisions since she'd revenged Dr. Harris' death by stabbing the Skitter who'd killed him; and if they hadn't seen Tom pressing his lips to her knuckles that last evening like a knight taking leave of his lady, all too many of them had seen them walking with their hands tucked together in the days before.
It just seemed- ridiculous, how deferent everyone was toward her now, and it was easier to blame it on them all missing Tom than to acknowledge she'd actually earned their respect in her own right.
"Hey. You okay?" a voice asked in her ear, and Anne flinched, free hand dropping to the gun holstered at her hip even as she pushed off from the wall and swiveled to face the person who'd spoken.
"God. Maggie," she blurted, stilling again as she recognized her visitor. "You startled me."
"Yeah, I noticed," the blonde woman replied wryly, shrugging a shoulder in half-apology. "Lourdes was looking for you, and I'd noticed you walking out this way, so I volunteered to fetch you. You up for it, or should I tell her I didn't see you?"
She searched Anne's face with her eyes as she spoke; Maggie wasn't the friendliest person in camp, especially around the male fighters, but she'd warmed to something about Anne, and they were close friends enough by now that she could see through most of the masks Anne tried to put up.
"I'm fine," Anne replied, summoning up a wan smile from her meager store of renewed composure. "I was just clearing my head a little. Is Anthony awake again?"
Maggie shrugged, allowing the change of subject, though her expression was still worried. "Not that I know of. Looked like she was dealing with a couple of kids with the sniffles, but I think she wanted to talk precautions in case it turned out to be something more serious."
Anne snorted, feeling a little more centered at the thought of such a mundane concern. They didn't exactly have flu vaccines anymore, or any special protections for the more vulnerable ones among them, like Sarah's tiny daughter, Anne's aging aunt and uncle, and the wounded fighters still convalescing under the stone-roofed pavilion she'd claimed for a temporary clinic. But it was a concern she knew how to deal with, not the uncertain footing of discussing supplies and patrol schedules with Weaver, or the sheer panic of the night she'd led the civilians there, trying to pick a defensible campsite based on her extremely limited knowledge of terrain and tactics.
"For all our sakes, I hope not," she said, turning her feet back toward the pavilion. "But Lourdes is right; we'd better go ahead and plan for the worst now. Winter will be here soon, and we'll have a hard enough time making it through without dealing with an epidemic."
Maggie nodded, walking at her side, one arm still resting on the rifle slung over her chest as though it was a security blanket. "Speaking of planning. You been keeping an eye on the medicine chest?"
Anne shot her a sidewise glance, frowning. There'd been a few murmurs about the camp's leadership in recent days, as Weaver's listless behavior and lapses in concentration had started to become more apparent to the remaining fighters and support personnel, but she hadn't thought it was that serious yet. Tom's abduction had been wearing harder on the Second Mass' Captain than it had on even Anne- but she couldn't really blame him, either, not after everything they'd been through beforehand.
"If you mean, have any other drugs gone missing... no, they haven't, and yes, I asked Jimmy to check Weaver's things when he helped set up the tents. Jimmy loves the man like a father, but he knows Weaver hasn't exactly been on an even keel lately, so he agreed. There was nothing; he really did go cold turkey, like he promised."
"You think that's making it better, or worse?" Maggie asked, brow furrowed. "We need him a hundred percent again as soon as possible; the civilians haven't noticed yet, but won't be long before they do. Even Pope's starting to give him these little speculative glances, like he's sensing weakness and watching for his moment to strike." She shuddered a little at the mention of the camp's least likable VIP.
"Don't worry. Pope knows the rest of us won't follow him," Anne said, pausing a moment to rest a hand on her friend's arm in reassurance. "We haven't forgotten how he joined us in the first place, and everyone knows he'd rather use the rest of us as cannon fodder against the Skitters than protect us. The Captain will be fine; he just needs to get used to regulating his sleeping schedule without the uppers and downers again, and once Anthony's recovered enough to take Tom's duties off his shoulders it'll give him more room to breathe."
Maggie narrowed her eyes at her, shrewdly. "You mean it'll give you more room to breathe. Everyone knows who's really holding everyone together right now, Anne, and it isn't Weaver."
Anne shrugged, face flushing a little at the exaggeration. "I'm just doing what I can. We all are, Maggie."
"Yeah, well, I'm telling you now that you can take another hour off before dinner tonight; you could use a break, and I know you haven't practiced with that gun of yours in a few days. I'd feel better if I knew you were safer, and I'm sure Tom will, too, when he gets back."
"If he gets back," Anne replied, biting at her lip. "I can't- I hope he does, but I can't spend my life waiting for it to happen, Maggie. I need to- I need to assume he won't. Then, if it happens-"
Maggie's mouth twisted. "Yeah, I get it. You're not the damsel in distress type, are you?"
Anne winced, remembering the family she'd lost in the initial attack and the difficult days and weeks afterward, before she'd responded to one of the Second Mass' recruitment flyers. "No," she said. "Not anymore."
"I hear ya," Maggie said, softly. "You will practice with me anyway, though, right?"
Anne smiled a little, remembering the laughter of their last practice; the other woman's arms strong around her, helping her adjust her aim. It had been one of the few bright spots in the last few weeks. And Maggie was right; she really did need to take more time to recharge, if nothing else to make sure she was able to give as much attention to her patients as they deserved. "Of course," she said.
"Great," Maggie grinned at her. "I'll leave you here, then; got to get back to my patrol."
Anne walked into the clearing that housed the clinic pavilion in a much improved mood from the one in which she'd left it, more relaxed than she'd been in days. Her smile dimmed, though, as the sound of raised voices reached her ears- more than could have been accounted for by a couple of children and their parents. Something else had changed in the last fifteen minutes, and it didn't sound good.
She could see a cluster of shadows thrown against the curtains separating the soldiers' area from the rest of the clinic, and hurriedly grabbed a pair of gloves off one of the stone tables serving as supply counters in the central area as she moved in that direction. "Lourdes?"
"Anne!" The former med student's voice pierced through the din, and then she emerged through a gap in the curtains, looking frazzled. "Thank God, you're here!"
"What is it? Maggie said something about sick children... is it that bad?"
"No! No, it's not Mickey and Tina- it's, well. He's back, Anne. But there's something-"
Back? He? Anne's heart lurched in her chest. "Tom?"
"Yes," Lourdes bit her lip. "But the aliens- he hasn't said anything, but he's not- Dai had to knock him out to stop him from trying to get to Weaver."
Lourdes looked terrified; and Weaver, when he emerged from the curtain behind her, looked even grimmer than she'd seen him in the aftermath of the failed attack. "Dr. Glass..." he began, haltingly.
Anne thrust her hands into the gloves, mentally cataloguing the supplies she had left over from their last go at de-harnessing recovered children to keep her hands from shaking. "Let me see him," she said, pushing past both of them to shove the curtain aside.
Lourdes hadn't been exaggerating. "God," she said, swallowing convulsively at her first sight of Tom Mason after two weeks of Skitter hospitality. His face was still the same, bar a few bruises, but-
"Water," she added hoarsely, her own voice almost unrecognizable to her ears. "Lourdes, get a pan of water boiling on the gas grill; we'll need it for sterilization. Scalpels. Morphine. The blow-torch; I think someone said Pope had it yesterday for an armor experiment. And- Rick, if you think he can handle it. The radio, if not; we need to know if he's transmitting back to them."
"The radio," Weaver nodded jerkily, then passed the order on to Jimmy, who was hovering nearby. Hal and Dai were standing a little further over, by Anthony's table slash bed; she jerked a thumb at them, then gestured toward the far side of the pavilion. They immediately got the idea, working together to lift the blanket under the ex-cop to clear the area around Tom in case things got loud, or- messy.
"You said he didn't say anything," she said, her voice shaking only a little as she finally approached the table they'd laid him out on, tentatively reaching a hand to touch the scaly green thing visible above the collar of his shirt. It was hooked into his spine at the back of his neck just like the children's harnesses always were, but didn't spread downward as far as one of those would; presumably because it simply needed to control him, rather than prepare his body for conversion.
But why would they send him back like this at all? Weaver had said Karen told them the aliens just wanted to talk. Why the obvious tampering? Was he supposed to be a go-between? Or had they just decided it wasn't worth dealing with humans after all and sent him back to damage the resistance?
Something sparked in her mind at that, and she turned wide eyes on Weaver. "We're going to have to evacuate. Now. If they are tracking him... it might not even matter if I can get this thing off. If they already know where he stopped, and they have flyers out with those guided bombs like they used on South Boston..."
"Damn," Weaver cursed, something sparking to life in his eyes again at that. "Dai! You done over there? We need to call a meeting. Now!"
The two ducked out of the tent, paying her no further attention; Hal, trailing behind them, stopped at her side with a firm scowl on his face. "You can't mean you're just going to leave him like this," he said, belligerently.
"No, I'm not," Anne replied firmly. "But the whole camp doesn't have to stop while I'm working." She didn't want any of his sons looking in on this- it wasn't going to be pretty, and there was no guarantee she wouldn't lose him. She couldn't think about that; she wouldn't think about that. Hal had to go. His brothers were going to need him.
He could read the subtext of her look easily enough. "No; no, I'm staying right here. Dr. Glass..."
"Lourdes will call you if we need you. Hal, you know what your dad would say if he was awake."
Hal's jaw worked at that, and he glanced down at Tom, tears standing in his eyes. Then he tore his gaze away, angry and wet, and stormed toward the path toward the core of the encampment. He stopped as he passed her though, gripping her arm tightly with one half-gloved hand.
"You'll fix him, right?"
Anne met his gaze with as much reassurance as she could. "I'll do my best," she promised.
"That's- all I can ask," he choked out, then let go again and tore off after Weaver.
"Anne...?" Lourdes said hesitantly from behind her. "What do you want me to do now?"
"Pray," Anne replied softly, summoning a wobbly smile. "And- pass me that morphine. Let's get to work."