Saving Corporal Baird
AN: Thanks to Ash for the review. This is the last chapter of this story, so I hope you've all enjoyed reading it. All your follows and favourites have been very much appreciated.
AN2: Small extra warning for the large amount of swearing in this chapter. Baird is not a good patient.
Marcus and Dom had been gone for about half an hour and Baird's temperature had been rising steadily over that time. Cole knew that if it went any higher, then the result was probably brain damage. He resorted to stripping the blankets off Baird's body, regretting the discomfort that he was causing but knowing that it had to be done. The doctors didn't always think that such rapid cooling was a great idea with a fever, but Cole wasn't left with much else that he could do. They'd exhausted the supply of different antibiotics and nothing else that they had with them would work.
He'd just finished another round of checks on his patient when Cole saw the explosion and felt the resulting shocks through his boots.
"I hope they got out in time, baby," he said to himself and then put a finger to the button on his headset that would activate the radio link. This was the test. If the Seeder was gone then he should now be able to contact Jacinto.
"This is Cole, come in HQ. I hope you've got your ears on Anya, because we need a Raven evac asap." He then began to repeat the message, until on his third run through he got a reply. Relief flooded through his body and he sagged against a wall for a moment.
"Cole!" said Anya's voice. "Where are you? Command's been going crazy. Jace and Sam got back days ago with the Maran hospital convoy."
Cole gave a deep throated laugh, he was so happy just to hear Anya's voice.
"We're in Etreya. Marcus and Dom just took down the Seeder that was jamming the coms. We need a medevac to Jacinto asap. I've got Baird here with me and he isn't looking so good," said Cole and he gave Anya the coordinates of their position and a quick rundown of Baird's condition.
"Cole, we already have Ravens in bound to your position. KR Eight Zero should be with you in fifteen minutes," replied Anya.
"I look forward to seeing them," said Cole. "We'll be here waiting, got nowhere better to go."
"Same here," came a familiar voice. "We should make it back in time to bug out with you, but don't wait up. We'll catch the next ride if we have to."
"Not so loud, Cole," said Marcus. "The Seeder is ash. Dom and I both made it and we're fine, if a little toasted around the edges. Back with you in ten. Fenix out."
After that it was just a matter of making sure that the Raven didn't get shot up too badly before landing, which was child's play as far as Cole was concerned. He positively enjoyed shooting the overly confident grubs that walked into his firing line, and never felt like he'd be overrun. He would have given his life to protect the injured Baird, but it never looked like it would come to that. Dom and Marcus made it back to the landing zone just as the Raven was getting ready to take off. They jumped on board seconds before the helicopter had been about to leave. KR Eight Zero headed back to Jacinto with its cargo on board.
Once there, Baird was rushed off into the depths of Jacinto Med, with Marcus a few steps behind, because he'd been officially in charge of his medical care up until this point. Cole and Dom were left to pace the waiting room, and desperately hope that they hadn't been too late to save that most precious, and sharp instrument that was Baird's brain. Two hours later, Marcus stepped into the waiting room, his armour missing and a tired look on his face. His shoulders were slightly slumped.
Cole frowned. "Oh no, please don't tell me…" he began, but Marcus shook his head.
"No, Cole, it's okay. Baird's a tough one. I wouldn't describe his condition as good, but Hayman thinks he'll pull through now that we've got him back. He's in intensive care, but that's mainly to monitor the new antibiotics and keep his temperature down. All his injuries have been cleaned and dressed. Hayman chewed me out, but I think I'll live." Marcus sat down heavily, clearly tired to his bones.
"Can I see him?" asked Cole.
"Probably. He's still unconscious," said Marcus, closing his eyes. "Talk to Hayman."
"No you don't," said Dom, grabbing hold of Marcus and hauling him to his feet. "If you fall asleep here then you'll give yourself a bad back. Anya's allocated you a bunk, so you might as well use it."
Marcus groaned and stretched. "Okay, okay, I've got the message. The two of you should get some rest too."
"Yeah, as soon as I've made sure that Baird's properly tucked in," said Cole, his hand on the door, ready to go and find Hayman.
Cole pulled open the door and Jace and Sam tumbled through. Word travelled fast in Jacinto.
"So what's the news on blondie?" asked Sam, getting straight to the point.
Marcus gave her the rundown of Baird's injuries, since she and Jace hadn't been informed of exactly how badly injured Baird was. "Hayman thinks we made it in time," said Marcus. "He's in intensive care, but he'll pull through."
Sam let out a deep breath, and nodded. "Okay, so he lives to snark another day. I was really worried there for a moment. I should have known that he was too bloody minded to die on us."
"Yeah, that's about right," said Cole. "I'll catch up with you all later. Right now I've got to go check on him for myself."
When Baird woke up, it was a slow drawn out process. First there were sounds and then there was awareness of the sounds meaning something, finally there was light on his closed eyes. He couldn't peel his lids open though, everything was too heavy. There was also the sound of an annoying incessant beeping sound. It was rhythmic and sounded important, but it was also extremely irritating.
"Anya's pissed off at Marcus," said a familiar voice. "Nothing new there, I guess. She reckons you should have all come back with the convoy and it wouldn't have made that much difference to your condition. I don't know. It's hard to judge when I wasn't there. I reckon she was scared that she might have lost him and is taking it out on Marcus. She'll come round. Those two are all over the place."
Cole. He had no idea why he was giving him the story of Marcus and Anya's love life.
"Sam came by. She says to hurry up and wake up because her rat bike's sounding rough again."
That would be because she never did any maintenance on it. He'd have to give her some lessons in that at some point. He couldn't keep replacing parts all the time to keep the thing running. It was a good bike, but it needed more love from its owner.
"I'd have a look but you know my skills are pretty basic, and I'm spending most of my time sat in the hospital at the moment, keeping you company."
Why would Cole be sitting around the hospital? Was something wrong with him? Hang on, no, he said that he was keeping someone company. Baird would have frowned if he'd been awake. Was he sick? Was it him that Cole was keeping company with his inane chatter? That seemed to have a ring of truth to it.
He considered that for a moment, but he was tired. He decided to sleep on the problem and maybe he'd be able to work out what was going on when he felt better. He felt hot, achy and weak at the moment. It was a familiar feeling, but he couldn't place why. He just needed more sleep and then he might have the answer. Moments passed and even that slight awareness left him.
The next time he awoke was different. Life came in with a rush. Suddenly he was aware of things happening around him and he didn't know where he was or what was happening. There was beeping and talking and pain. There was a lot of pain, especially down his left side as he tried to move.
His eyes snapped open, desperate to get some idea of what was happening to him. The beeping was getting faster and people were talking more loudly. He felt hands on him and he struggled to free himself from their grip.
"Baird, you need to calm down, we're in Jacinto. We made it back to Jacinto Med," said the nearest voice. His eyes met dark crystal blue ones.
"Marcus," he breathed. He forced himself to stop struggling and start to get his heart rate under control.
"Yeah, asshole, Marcus," replied the sergeant. He looked over at someone else who was standing nearby in a white coat. It was the older woman that he remembered from the field hospital in Maran.
"If you could try to be a little less violent in your awakenings then that would help your recovery," said the woman. "I don't want to have to redo any more of your stitches, or deal with another wound infection."
Baird gave a slight nod, and realised that he was still dead tired. He sighed with a parched throat. "Water?" he asked.
Marcus held the glass and positioned a straw so that he could drink. It was like déjà vu from Maran.
"You'll be pleased to know that we got the infection under control and with rest, you should make a complete recovery," said Hayman.
Baird glanced around himself. "Fuck, this 's 'tensive care," he croaked. He could barely raise the energy needed just to look around, but he knew he was hooked up to every medical monitoring machine known to man and had tubes where none had been before.
"Yes, you've been quite ill Corporal," said Hayman. "And you still need round the clock observation, so for the moment, and until I'm completely happy that your condition is stable, you'll be in intensive care."
"Jus' wanna sleep anyway," said Baird. "Don' care where. 'Least it's not a 'Dill." He closed his eyes, and once more fell into the waiting arms of sleep. This time at least he knew that he was safe in Jacinto, with his squad watching over him.
Marcus couldn't help but smirk a little at Baird's words before he fell asleep. He guessed that the engineer wasn't that bothered at the moment about which bed he was in as long as it wasn't moving. To be honest, he'd just been happy to get Baird back to Jacinto in one piece and before his heart stopped from the fever. He settled himself back into the chair beside Baird's intensive care bed and waited.
Cole walked in a couple of hours later. He'd been spending most of his time here, but Marcus liked to take his turn as well. Cole was going to be somewhat annoyed when he found out that Baird had been awake, even briefly and he hadn't been here to see it. Marcus decided to get it over with and informed Cole of this as he took his seat.
"Damn, he had to pick the one time that I'm out of the room," said Cole.
"Hayman reckons he'll be waking up more now. We'd better come up with some plans to keep him occupied. The last thing we want is a bored Baird on our hands. We both know where that leads," replied Marcus.
"I hear you, baby," replied Cole. Usually it led to trouble, and Baird tinkering with stuff that he shouldn't. "What is there that he can do in bed and in a hospital?"
Marcus thought about it for a moment. "I guess our options are reading about Locust intelligence or stuff that needs fixing."
Cole nodded. "Yeah, but he's also got one damaged wing, so I'm not sure his fine motor skills are going to be up to much for a while."
Marcus agreed. "Okay, then it'll have to be Locust intelligence. I'll see if Anya can help us out. She was complaining the other day that they didn't have enough analysts, maybe she can get us some files that need to be looked over."
"Good idea, Marcus. At least we can keep his brain occupied for a while longer and give his body the time it needs to heal. Of course if he so much as thinks about getting out of bed, he'll have the full disapproving might of Delta to deal with, right?"
"Damn right," confirmed Marcus.
Days passed and Baird slowly spent more time awake. He was transferred out of the ICU and down to a ward for other Gears recovering from internal surgery and wound infections. Baird was still the one with the most severe injuries, but he was slowly healing. The stitches had closed properly and the skin was beginning to knit, eventually leaving only some scars behind.
But even though he was awake more, everything was viewed through a veil of painkillers. At some point they'd been upped again and everything had become slow and soft for Baird. He hated it, and because Baird hated it, Cole hated it too.
"When can I come off these drugs?" Baird had asked, his words slurring at the edges and running together. It was a question that he'd asked before, but Cole had just deflected and hadn't answered properly. There was a long pause, and the next words were said carefully. "Can't think, can't even see straight."
"Hayman says we can start stepping them down tomorrow," said Cole.
Baird was starring off into the distance and had lost the thread of the conversation. "What?"
"Hayman says we can start stepping down the drugs," said Cole.
"Good. I can't think straight. I can't even see straight," said Baird and went back to staring into the distance. "Did I already say that?"
"Yeah, Damon, but don't worry about it," said Cole.
"Fucking drugs," said Baird, he was clearly distressed. Even his emotions were being affected by the painkillers. Baird very rarely showed that he cared about anything, and never showed that something upset him. "Want my brain back. Don't care if it hurts."
Cole decided that enough was enough and went off to lobby the nurse on duty to start the regime of decreasing the painkiller dose that afternoon. Of course that had its own problems. As Hayman had said from the start, the painkillers were addictive if taken for too long and at too high a dosage. On the way back to Jacinto they hadn't had much choice in giving Baird more painkillers, just to get him to function well enough to fix an engine. Now Baird was paying for it. His body was used to the high dose it had been on for days, and now it wasn't getting it.
Baird entered withdrawal on only the second day of stepping down, and after that things went from bad to worse. He was wracked with tremors and cramps, but knew that there wasn't anything that he could do about relieving the pain. Hayman wanted to step back up and manage the withdrawal more slowly, but Baird was adamant that he wanted off the drugs as quickly as could be safely managed. Cole and Marcus tried to talk him into taking a bit longer, but he wouldn't accept anyone's advice and was determined to get back to his usual sharp self rapidly.
Cole hated to watch Baird in such obvious agony, but he wasn't going to walk out on his friend at the moment either. Baird may well be doing this the hard way, but he still needed support. The only pain free periods that he had were after his regular painkiller dose, when he was finally able to get some sleep and relief from the otherwise constant withdrawal symptoms.
"I did warn you," said Hayman to Marcus, as he took his shift to sit with Baird. Cole had already been with Baird for several hours, doing what little he could to help ease Baird's discomfort.
"It was either up his pain meds or get stranded in Etreya," said Marcus.
Cole gave a nod of agreement.
"Fuck you all," said Baird, weakly. He was the centre of their attention at the moment. He was pale and sweating, with dark rings around his eyes. He shivered, and groaned as another cramp ran through his already aching body. "I don't need a fucking audience, or another fucking lecture on how I did this to myself. Now would you all please just fuck off and leave me to my fucking misery in peace." He curled onto his good right side, and screwed his eyes shut.
Cole exchanged a look with Marcus, and neither of them obeyed Baird's instruction to leave. Dom would have been here too, but Anya had finally tracked down a lead on his missing wife, Maria. Baird had actually understood, which was so out of character that it had worried Cole somewhat that he had received some sort of brain damage from the fever after all. That was slightly unfair of course, Cole knew that Baird had a good heart, it just struggled to get noticed under his usually abrasive demeanour.
Hayman shook her head, made a note on the chart at the foot of the bed and left to see to her other patients.
Cole dropped into the seat that was positioned at Baird's bedside, while Marcus made sure the curtain was drawn around their corner of the ward. They'd noticed that their friend wasn't keen on others seeing him in this state well before his comment about not needing an audience.
"You should drink some water," said Cole, holding out the glass with the straw towards the patient.
"I'll just throw it back up," said Baird. Every time he tried to eat, that was pretty much what happened. His appetite hadn't been good before the withdrawal had started, but now it was non-existent, something else which worried Cole.
"Just sip it," said Marcus.
"Your advice is noted, and respectfully, you can go screw yourself," said Baird, his voice muffled by his pillow.
Cole sighed and put the water down on the bedside table. He checked his watch again, although he'd only checked it minutes ago and knew exactly when Baird's next dose of painkillers was due. "Not long now, baby. Just hang in there."
"That's what he said in Maran when he was torturing me by wheeling me across a field of rocks the size of boulders," said Baird, pointing accusingly at Marcus.
"We got you home didn't we," said Marcus.
"Jacinto is not home," said Baird. "Nowhere is anymore. But, yeah, pat on the back, guys, for doing an awesome job of getting me back to Jacinto in such good shape." He groaned again, as another wave of cramps hit. "I am so fucking tired of this shit."
Anya pulled back the curtain just as Baird finished cursing. "I'm guessing things haven't improved much." She was carrying a thermal flask, which she placed down on the bedside table. She was still in her uniform, so not off duty yet.
"Fantastic, another person to watch me writhe around in agony," said Baird.
"Don't mind him," said Cole. "He's understandably in a bad mood. It's good to see you, Anya. Did you bring it?"
"Yes, it was tricky but I found some," she opened the flask and poured a little of the steaming, aromatic liquid into the cup that was also the lid.
"What is it?" asked Marcus.
"Chamomile, ginger and peppermint tea," said Anya. "It's supposed to be good for soothing an upset stomach."
Baird pulled a face.
"You're such a child," said Anya.
Cole just took the cup and helped Baird to sit up a little so that he could sip the liquid. He didn't ask if Baird wanted to drink it, he just held the cup to the shivering man's lips. Baird rolled his eyes and gave in, taking a few sips.
"My Mama swore by this stuff," explained Cole.
"Tastes like pond water," said Baird.
"Shut up and drink it. It'll help. Thanks, Anya," said Marcus.
"As if some stupid herbal remedy is going to solve the problem," said Baird, collapsing back on his pillows. "Might as well call the witch doctor in and get him to take the pins out of his voodoo doll." He stifled another exclamation of pain and did his best bury his head in his pillow. This was followed by muffled swearing.
"I've got to get back to Control," said Anya, a concerned look in her eyes. "Just let me know if you need anything else and I'll do my best to find it. Baird actually has a lot of favours owed to him, so it's surprisingly easy to get people to help. Certainly easier than I thought it was going to be."
Marcus said his goodbyes to Anya and then he and Cole settled in for the long haul. Neither of them were going anywhere at this point, and it didn't matter what Baird said or the insults that he threw at them.
About two hours later, the nurse appeared with Baird's regular dose of pain medication. Baird did his best not to let them see how grateful and desperate he was for this, but it was hard to hide. He sniped at the nurse to get a move on in a way that wasn't even normal for him.
As the drug hit his system, he relaxed. All the taught lines of pain disappeared from his face and he uncurled his body, sighing in relief.
"That is the good stuff," said Baird.
"Yeah, baby. You should get some sleep before it starts to wear off," said Cole.
Baird nodded, exhausted as always, and closed his eyes. Marcus and Cole watched their friend fall asleep rapidly. Finally they too could relax for a while, at least until the cycle began again.
It took three days for the drugs to leave his system and the constant cramping to stop. There wasn't a lot that anyone could do for Baird during that time. Tea and a cold flannel to wipe the sweat away was about the most that they could manage. Despite Baird's earlier assertions, the tea did help to calm his stomach and he was able to keep very small amounts of bland food down. It eased Cole's worries if nothing else, but Baird could see that he wished that he would eat more. He'd definitely lost weight, and fighting off the infection had taken more energy than he had to spare.
The addictive pain medication was replaced by something less addictive, but unfortunately not as effective. The only good thing about this was that his injuries had healed a lot and so the pain was already less than it had been. Cole and Marcus were still hanging around, using their considerable size to intimidate the medical staff into letting them stay by his bed at all hours. One of them might be pulled away for routine duties, but the other was always there. Baird wished he could say that he didn't need them, but their presence did help; whether it was by keeping him occupied by bringing him files of grub intelligence that needed analysing, something that must have come from Anya, or just waking him from the inevitable nightmares that he suffered at the moment.
Cole knew him well enough to realise that as soon as he started getting better then boredom would be a problem for him. So having something to do kept his brain occupied, and stopped him dwelling on the constant low level pain from his healing body. Picking up knowledge about the grubs had been something of a hobby at first, but it had come in so useful on their various deployments that he'd begun to take it more seriously. He often wondered if he was the only Gear out there that read the intelligence bulletins that the COG put out to its army. It was all stuff like "kryll like the dark and will kill you unless you stay in a well-lit area", "a theron guard is usually armed with a torque bow" and "corpsers are armoured, aim for the soft underbelly". It was pretty basic stuff, mostly, that got sent to the general Gears.
The files which Anya had sent over were definitely not basic and far more interesting. They seemed to detail some theories about the grubs which he'd never come across before, things about their structure and leadership. They suggested that there was a leader, someone who was more than just a General. There was also information on a language that they'd found a few examples of and they were trying to put together some sort of decryption of it. Baird found it all fascinating, and a lot of it needed analysis and conclusions drawing from raw data randomly collected by Gears. One file noted that they needed more technically minded Gears to collect interesting artefacts, and Baird's own name was there as someone that they intended to ask to help out. He wasn't that surprised. When he got back on duty he might just do it for them.
However, right now he was more concerned about the lack of movement in his left arm and hand. The shrapnel from the explosion back on the Tarla Plain had ripped into his left arm muscles and now they needed to heal so that he could get full movement back. Hayman hadn't thought that it would be a problem, but it didn't seem to be happening. His left arm was still weak and he couldn't grip properly with his hand.
Cole and Marcus would take him down to his daily physiotherapy session in a wheelchair, Marcus pushing and Cole walking alongside. It still surprised Baird that anyone cared about him at all, let alone enough to hang around and push him to physio sessions, but apparently he wasn't to be trusted on his own. His walking was coming on well and it wouldn't be long before he could scrap the wheelchair entirely, but long distances were still beyond him for the moment. Right now, it was his injured arm that was causing everyone consternation. If it didn't heal then he couldn't be a Gear, and if he wasn't a Gear, well no one really wanted to think about that, especially not Baird.
This particular day had all started out as a fairly routine session which, admittedly, he'd been dreading. He was so damn fed up with things getting no better that it was beginning to grate on his nerves. Somehow both Cole and Marcus had picked up on that, maybe he hadn't been hiding it that well. Now Cole was worried, and Marcus was being a dick by annoying the physiotherapist. Baird just couldn't take it anymore. He knew that they both meant well, but it wasn't helping.
"How exactly does repeating the same exercise over and over help him?" asked Marcus in a less than friendly tone, with a little annoyance behind it.
"Sergeant…" began the female physio, Lieutenant Elsie Serrano. She was actually pretty tough and clearly dealt with a lot of stubborn Gears. "I'm grateful that you're here to support Corporal Baird, but you need to let me do my job. I've rehabilitated hundreds of Gears and got them back out in the field."
"Then why isn't he getting any better?" asked Marcus.
"Yeah, I mean shouldn't he be making some progress?" asked Cole.
"Enough," Baird shouted, as he failed to grip the wooden rod that they were using to practice with for the umpteenth time. "Cole, Marcus, just get out of here. I don't need you hovering around me while I fail. I mean it, scram."
"Damon…" began Cole.
"Out!" shouted Baird.
For once, Marcus and Cole did as he asked and left the room. Perhaps it was obvious that he wasn't going to take "no" for an answer this time.
"Sorry, they're idiots," said Baird, turning back to Lieutenant Serrano. "Can we try this again without their "help"?"
"Of course," said the Lieutenant. "I do understand the frustration, but you're getting there."
Baird shrugged. "I'm not making much progress. I can't grip or manipulate objects and I'm not going to be much of a Gear if I can't hold my gun or fire it."
"It won't come to that, we just need to keep working. But even if it did, I heard that you were good at fixing things," said Serrano. "I'm sure the Engineers would welcome you to their ranks."
"Digging latrines? No thanks," said Baird. "I'm not really a desk job kind of guy either."
"Like I said, you just need to give it some more time," said Serrano.
"Yeah, right. It might help if Marcus and Cole stopped hovering all the damn time too," said Baird. "Fuck knows why they're hanging around anyway."
"They're your friends." The physio repositioned the equipment for Baird to try again.
"Cole maybe, but I'm pretty sure Marcus thinks I'm an asshole," said Baird, trying once again to grip. This time he succeeded. "Huh. Maybe I am getting somewhere."
Lieutenant Serrano smiled. "Maybe you just needed to take the pressure off yourself."
They didn't really make any more progress that day but very slowly the arm began to work better, and Delta began to back down a little from their panicked state of alert about their wounded squad member. More days passed and little by little Baird, and everyone else, began to believe that he'd be back shooting grubs in no time. His appetite improved, even his nightmares got better and Hayman started talking about a discharge date.
Dom returned from chasing his lead on Maria, with little to show for it. Marcus took him out to get drunk. It didn't help but at least it didn't make anything worse. Baird supposed it made everyone feel like they were doing something.
Then orders came through that Marcus was being assigned Jace and a new recruit to the squad while Baird convalesced, which sort of threw everyone. They'd all been so used to thinking of themselves as Delta, that when more orders came in for Baird, saying he was going to be Sigma's new squad leader, no one knew quite how to feel about it. That was the army for you, it took units that functioned well as a team and then ignored that, splitting them up as it suited them.
Baird supposed that they couldn't just have the entirety of Delta waiting around while he got better, but he'd kind of got used to being Delta. After all, Fenix had saved his life, so he sort of owed the guy. Or something. That and the others were somewhat used to their social misfit engineer's way with words. He had finally gotten to the point where he felt they understood that he didn't always mean what he said. Orders were orders though, and Sigma was at least his.
Just less than a week after that, Baird found himself standing outside the hospital. Cole was no more than half a step away in case he should stumble or feel worse again. It was going take him a little more time before he could stop treating Baird like glass, but Baird reckoned it was baby steps. He had nearly lost him, and although Baird wasn't good at the touchy feely stuff, he thought he knew how he would have felt if their positions were reversed. Even if he wouldn't have been quite as solicitous by this point. Every second phrase from Baird's lips at the moment was "Cole, I can do that myself". Still, they'd be back to the merciless teasing before long, it was just how things worked.
He had to admit that he still felt weak, but he was extremely glad to be out of Hayman's clutches. The rest of Sigma were meeting them later, and it looked like the current idea for the light duties that Hayman had ordered involved driving a Centaur on patrol. No one who could hold and use a gun really got proper light duty these days, unless they were physically missing limbs or something. The COG didn't have enough men for that. It wasn't exactly what Baird would have wanted to be doing but it was better than sitting around the hospital, or the barracks.
"You okay?" asked Cole, as he watched Baird looking around at the Gears marching to where they needed to be.
Baird nodded. "Yeah, I'll be fine. Come on, we've got a war to win."