(Written for Quinntana Week 2012 back in March)
Day 4: Professionals In Uniform.
Trigger warning: this story contains low-level gore and emotionally traumatic content.
She gripped the ball tightly between her hands, the faded orange skin rough against her palms. A body pressed tightly to her back as sweat coated her tanned skin and soaked into her plain black singlet. The muscular arms encircled her and tried to bat the ball from her grasp, the brunette bending at the waist and fending off the man's advances. She sidestepped around him, spinning and taking the shot, the ball rebounding off the backboard and going through the hoop. It hit the ground and bounced high, the midday sun shining in her eyes.
"That's game," she jeered, skipping around the hot bitumen in an impromptu victory lap. She passed her best friend, Mack, giving her a high-five on her way back to the hoop. "And I do believe you owe me twenty bucks, Puckerman."
The man hung his head, shaking it lightly with a soft chuckle. He wandered over to her and fished around in his cargos, retrieving a scrunched up note from his side pocket. The girl picked up the ball and rested it under her arm, before holding out her other hand expectantly with a cocky smirk on her lips. Puck just rolled his eyes and handed her the money, pointing a playful finger at her.
"Watch yourself, Lopez," he assured her with a grin. "Someday I'll win my money back."
"Yep, all two hundred of it," Santana jested, shoving the note into her back pocket, before palming the ball. She skimmed her eyes over the horizon as she dribbled the basketball lazily. Heat lines were coming off the sand in the distance, the dunes stretching as far as the eye could see. The sky was a clear blue, the odd wisp of white cloud breaking up the endless hue. There was a Black Hawk to her left, its blades stirring the air and whipping tiny strands of hair around her face that had fallen from her plait.
Using her free hand, Santana pulled back her singlet from her skin and wiped at her brow. The heat was stifling as the sun beat down on the court, sinking into the thick rubber soles of her boots. It was something she'd gotten used to over the past three months that she'd been stationed at the base. And she'd have to deal with it if she was going to get through the rest of her tour. It was unfortunate that they saw very little action too. It was mostly routine supply runs, training drills and desert patrols. Pretty standard compared to some of the other Afghan bases in the area, so she wasn't even able to escape the desert heat for more than a few hours at a time either.
Looks like I'm just stuck in this shit hole.
Santana was watching an eight-man drill jog past, the Staff Sergeant yelling abuse at them as they held their weapons high, when two tiny hands drew her attention away from the group. They shot out and took the ball from her grasp. Santana spun around, her eyes snapping to Mack a few feet away. The petit brunette laughed, Santana chasing after her. She'd reached the girl, wrapping her arms around her waist and lifting her off the ground when a tan Jeep pulled up to the nearest tent. Two uniformed soldiers rushed out of the open flap to help unload the supplies, the doors of the Jeep opening as they approached the back.
Santana's laughter died in her throat, dropping Mack to the hot bitumen as her eyes fell on the girl that had just jumped down from the passenger seat. She chewed at her lip, her gaze following her to the back of the truck. Her short blonde hair was up in a high ponytail, the girl helping the other two while the driver turned off the ignition. She had a bright smile stretched across her lips as she unlocked the back tray, the taller girl talking to them and swinging the door wide. Santana vaguely registered Mack's hand waving in front of her face, her eyes on the blonde as she grabbed at a box and carried it undercover.
"You need me to go get you some water, Sarge?" Mack teased, the ball resting loosely in her arms. "Or do you want me to go ask her for some stitches to help sew your jaw back on?"
"Shut up," Santana retorted half-heartedly, her eyes still on her.
She reappeared after a moment, taking another box from the back of the Jeep. Just as she reached for it her gaze flicked over to the basketball court, catching Santana staring. The brunette faltered, her mouth going dry. The girl just shot her a smile, before going back inside and out of the sun.
"Forget it, Lopez," Puck said, coming up beside them. "The only way you're getting near Quinn Fabray, or her hands is in a body bag."
Santana ignored her friend's teasing words and grabbed the ball off Mack. He was right though. Quinn was one of the trauma surgeons on base, and short of getting critically injured, Santana wasn't getting anywhere near her. She'd spent the last few months watching her from afar, but the girl just seemed untouchable. Back home she would've had no problem getting someone like Quinn, but over here it was different.
Whether it was the desert heat making her soft, or the fact that hypothetically Quinn out ranked her by a good few grades, she just couldn't bring herself to talk to her. Santana would just freeze up and get tongue-tied every time the girl sent a smile her way, or would brush past her in the cafeteria.
I'm being cockblocked by the desert.
"Look at the bright side, Sarge," Mack cooed, slinging her arm over Santana's shoulder. "At least she knows you exist, right?"
"Yeah Lopez, it could be a lot worse."
"Fuck the both of you."
The cab shook as Puck navigated them over the rocky dirt road. Santana gripped her M-4 carbine on her lap, her thumb resting against the safety. She was in the back seat with Mack while Puck was up front behind the wheel. The afternoon sun was just reaching the horizon, the sand outside the Humvee's windows turning a dark orange in the fading light. She adjusted her helmet strap under her chin, unclipping it and letting it hang loose.
"So, I was thinking Lopez," Puck began, eyeing her in the rearview. "Why don't Mack and I just like, stab you? You know, like somewhere it wouldn't matter so much, like your ass or something?"
"What the hell are you on about, Puckerman?"
She could just see his face in the small mirror, his expression holding only a hint of sarcasm. She held his gaze, it flicking up from the front windshield every few seconds.
"Hear me out," he said, his eyes going back to the road. "If we injure you just enough to warrant an overnight stay, you'll finally have to talk to Captain Blondie."
"Fuck off," she retorted with a laugh as she watched the scenery fly by outside.
"Or you could just keep going the way you're going and end up there anyway when your ovaries finally explode," Mack jested, Puck chuckling from the front seat.
"You two need to shut up," Santana huffed. "I'm fine."
"Is that an order?" he edged innocently.
"Just drive, Puckerman."
"Yes sir," he saluted, setting his eyes back on the road ahead.
The three of them were driving to a checkpoint eighty miles out from the base on a routine patrol. They were scheduled to complete one every few days, and as it happens it was the only chance they really got to have a change of scenery. Not that it was much different. It was still the same rolling sand dunes and endless blue skies. But if she just closed her eyes she could almost imagine they were on a beach somewhere, rather than the middle bumfuck nowhere.
They did however pass a few abandoned shacks on the way that appeared to have been ransacked and pillaged until all that was left was just rubble and stone. Santana could see an old brick outbuilding coming up on their right, the brunette winding down her side window and letting the warm breeze hit her face. She leant her arm on the sharp ledge and poked her head outside. She watched it in the distance, her eyes narrowing when a flash of black appeared on the collapsed roof.
Santana didn't even get a chance to ask the question when a sharp whizzing sounded right near her ear, the back window blowing out. The Humvee swerved on impact, a cloud of dust and dirt flicking up behind them and engulfing the cab. Santana gripped onto the roll cage above her, her other hand on her carbine as the truck came to a complete stop. Puck revved the engine, the exhaust roaring loudly before it caught, and swung the Humvee round and back onto the road.
"What the hell was that?" Santana exclaimed, keeping her head low and her hand on her rifle.
"Sarge," Puck breathed, his eyes darting to her left. Santana followed his gaze to Mack, her skin going cold and her heart pounding through her chest. Blood was pouring down her neck and soaking into the collar of her uniform, the girl's eyes going wide as she coughed up more of the bright red liquid.
"Oh shit," Santana cursed, shuffling over to her and placing a tight hand over her throat. "No, no, no, no, no."
She applied pressure to her neck, but there was just too much blood. She couldn't stop it. Mack let out a gurgled choke and a groan, her hands grabbing at Santana's sleeves. The darker girl set her jaw in a hard line and forced down her emotions, keeping her hand firmly on the entry wound.
"Is she okay?" Puck asked from the behind the wheel as he speed along in a trail of dust.
"Eyes on the road, Puckerman!" she yelled in exasperation.
There was another loud ping to her right.
This time it was metal hitting metal, and then it all went black.
There was a blinding light swaying in the distance above her head. It swirled and darted from left to right, Santana trying to reach out a hand to touch the smoky white haze. But her arms weren't responding, staying dead weights at her sides. Her whole body felt numb. But her brain held the memory of pain shooting up her right side. It was distant but it sat in her peripheral and didn't fade.
She saw indistinct faces floating amongst the white. Santana tried to call out, but her words got stuck in her throat. She could feel her body being lifted, her vision going blurry and nausea rising in her stomach. Or maybe it was something else. Either way she heaved, Santana choking around a breath.
The voice was so muted that she wasn't sure if it was real or imagined. It was soft and lulling, Santana's eyes closing against the gently sound. Her mind was becoming white noise. Nothing was coming in or out. She tried again to speak, but that same choking breath stopped her.
Her brain had finally registered her name when a searing pain shot just under ribcage and her eyes snapped open. The pain burned a path over her skin and down into her chest. She tried again to raise her arms, this time with more success. Her fingers reached the source of the sharp pain, her fingertips slipping slickly against her skin. Her hands were suddenly pulled away and held at her sides. She saw a flash of blonde out the corner of her eye, hovering in the center of her vision. The pain in her side was getting worse, the brunette choking again, the feeling of hot liquid bubbling up her throat. She couldn't breathe, her stomach convulsing, the pain becoming unbearable.
"She's suffocating," a voice to her left yelled. "Hand me that syringe."
A sharp pinch stung below her collarbone before a great pressure was lifted off her chest, one she didn't know was there until it was gone. She felt another pinch, this time on her upper left thigh, before everything went numb again, the edges of her vision going blurry.
"Stay with me."
There was that same voice. It was like angels singing, or maybe they were laughing. She could feel herself slipping. The last thing her mind registered was a hand gripping her own, before it all faded away.
"Is that an order?"
Santana's head snapped to Puck behind the wheel in the front seat. He was eyeing her in the rearview, a teasing smirk on his lips. She shook her head lightly before turning to her left, Mack sitting back and watching her with a smile. Santana scooted along the back seat and grabbed her by the neck, turning her chin every which way.
"Are you okay, Sarge?" she chuckled, swatting her hands away.
Santana sat back, her brow furrowing in confusion. She ignored her friends' concerned murmurings and looked out her window. A brick outbuilding was coming up on their right, Santana's eyes going wide. She swung back around to her friend just in time to see the bullet shatter the back window and her head hit the seat.
Santana jerked awake, her vision going in and out of focus as she tried to adjust to the dim light. Her eyes felt raw, her ducts stinging. Santana blinked a few times, trying to catch her bearings. She could see the dark green tarp roof of one of the bases tents, and the glowing of a table lamp to her left. She turned her head with a little effort, her whole body aching. She searched her limited view, but nothing looked familiar.
She swallowed thickly, her throat dry and hoarse. A white sheet was pulled up to her waist and an IV drip was sticking into her right arm. It felt foreign, the tape irritating her skin. She coughed slightly, reaching for the clear tube and tugging on it. She had a fair grip on it when a pale hand came down on hers and drew her attention away.
"No, leave it. It's what's keeping you with us."
Santana's breath hitched, those beautiful hazel eyes sparkling in the light. She opened and closed her mouth, trying to find her words, but nothing was coming out. Quinn smiled warmly at her and sat down on the chair beside her bed. Her left hand was still in hers, Santana's eyes fixed on their intertwined fingers. She thanked God she wasn't hooked up to a monitor, her heart reacting erratically to the soft touch.
"Where am I?" she asked after a minute, her voice cracking.
"I'd like to say you're in the hospital, but it's actually more of a tent," Quinn jested with a smile, before it promptly dropped from her face. "You were shot while you were out on patrol. You've been out for a day or two."
Santana shifted higher on the bed, a sharp pain shooting up her right side. Wincing she lifted the hem of her green t-shirt revealing yellowing gauze with a small patch of dry blood in the centre. She let her head fall back on the thin pillow, dropping her shirt back down.
"You're lucky to be alive," Quinn murmured, her thumb stroking the back of Santana's hand in comforting gesture. "You have Puckerman to thank for that."
Her head snapped to the girl when that name left her lips, hazy memories of what happened flooding back to her. She frantically looked around her at the other beds. There was only one other person in the tent, a man with a cast on his leg dozing on the far side.
"Where's Mack?" she asked, searching Quinn's face.
Those eyes dimmed and her lips turned down at the corners. It was like lead had filled Santana's stomach, her chest thudding heavily. She didn't need to wait for Quinn to speak to know what she would say. She could see the answer written all over her face before those words even left her lips.
"Don't say it," Santana choked, shaking her head and refusing to meet her eye. "Don't you dare fucking say it."
"I'm so sorry," Quinn soothed, gripping her hand tighter.
Santana clenched her jaw and slammed her head back into the pillow. She couldn't breathe, tears spilling down her cheeks and soaking into her shirt. Quinn shuffled forward on her chair and put an arm around her neck as an ugly sob ripped from her throat. She grabbed a fist full of the girl's jacket and gripped it in her hand as she let her tears fall freely. Long fingers combed gently through her dark hair, the taste of salt on her chapped lips.
"She can't be gone," she mumbled into Quinn's chest, her words strangled and heavy. "I was right there."
"You did everything you could," Quinn murmured as she held her close. "There was nothing more you could have done for her."
Santana let another sob rack her body, the girl staying quiet and just letting her grieve. She didn't know how long they stayed like that, Quinn just holding her until her breathing leveled out and her eyes ran dry. It seemed like it had been hours. She felt empty and numb, the only thing holding her together was Quinn's arms and her steady heartbeat that thudded against her ear. Santana took a ragged breath, he lids puffy and her throat thick.
"I'll go get you some water," Quinn murmured, moving out of the embrace. "Think you'll be okay for a minute?"
Santana just nodded numbly in response and watched her walk over to a nearby water cooler. She turned her eyes to the ceiling of the tent, her body exhausted and aching for sleep. But she didn't want to close her eyes, knowing who'd be behind them when she did. She didn't want to see that face, or those eyes right now.
Quinn walked back over with a metal cup, handing it to her and sitting back down. Her hand resumed its position back on Santana's, the brunette's lips quirking a little at the gesture. She took a sip from the cup, the water bringing some relief to her dry throat, though it didn't do much to alleviate the pain that weigh down heavily on her chest.
"So it looks like you'll be going home after you're healed," Quinn said, sitting forward a little on her chair. "Some people have it so easy."
"You should try getting shot sometime," Santana deadpanned. "Hear it gets you a one-way ticket."
She looked over at Quinn, a pained expression on the girl's angular face. She knew she didn't mean any harm by the comment, but she had to admit it was little too soon to be making jokes. Quinn looked down at their hands from a moment and began shaking her head apologetically.
"Sorry," she mumbled. "I've been told my bed side manner could use some work."
"It's fine," Santana assured her, trying to muster a smile. Quinn just nodded, sitting back a little.
Santana really shouldn't have been surprised at the news of her going home. She knew that was usually the case in these situations. But it still didn't stop the empty ache that shot through her chest at the thought of leaving everyone that was still here.
"Do you have someone waiting for you back home?" Quinn asked after a moment. Her fingers were still intertwined with Santana's, her thumb making soothing circles on her palm. She was doing it almost absently, her eyes on Santana as she spoke.
"No, I don't," she murmured, shaking her head lightly. "What about you?"
Santana couldn't help the hopefully tone in her voice, or her eyes from darting down to their hands. Quinn followed her gaze and chuckled. She let out a heavy sigh, before removing her fingers from Santana's and standing up.
"You should get some rest, Sergeant," she told her with shy smile. She straightened her uniform and turned her back to her. Santana watched her go before her voice kicked in part way across the tent.
"Can you sta-" Santana stopped midsentence, Quinn turning on her heel with an expectant set to her brow. "I mean, will you be here when I wake up?"
She looked at her for a moment, her eyes narrowing in contemplation, before she began making her way back over and sitting down. "I can wait until you fall asleep," she whispered softly. "I don't have anywhere I need to be."
Santana let a smile tug at her lips at her words. Quinn settled into the hard folding chair once again, keeping her hands in her lap. Taking a calming breath, Santana pulled the sheet further over her chest, before closing her eyes. Sleep took her almost instant, Santana praying that thoughts of the blonde filled her dreams, rather than images of the one she'd just woken up from.