Author: Jordanna Morgan (email@example.com)
Archive Rights: Please request the author’s consent.
Characters: Mike Donovan, Ham Tyler.
Summary: Running toward danger is one thing. Running away from friendship is quite another.
Disclaimer: The characters and the premise of V don’t belong to me. I’m simply playing with them.
Notes: Written as a Fandom Stocking gift for Wendymypooh on LiveJournal.
“Pick up the pace, Gooder!”
Scrubbing the back of his hand against his stinging eyes, Mike Donovan stumbled over uneven, trash-strewn ground. His shin encountered a painfully hard something that fell down with a metallic clang, and his muttered curse mingled with the simultaneous imprecation from Ham Tyler beside him. Then Tyler’s iron grip around his arm jerked him sharply sideways, an instant before he felt the heat of a laser bolt seemingly inches from his head.
Heck, he could even detect the brightness of its flash—which was a pretty good feat in his condition.
It wasn’t that Mike was entirely blind. Unless it was his imagination, the sea of dark blurs in front of him was getting a little lighter. Still, out of the few occasions he’d taken a shot of Visitor venom in the face, this was without a doubt his most direct and potent hit to the eyes.
It had happened only a few minutes earlier, when he and Tyler were ambushed in what was supposed to be a simple meeting with a fifth column contact. In the swift confusion of the fight to escape, Mike had knocked off a shock trooper’s helmet. Reptilian jaws gaped in front of him, and the lights-out followed an instant later, coupled with a punch to his gut that toppled him. Through the searing pain, he was vaguely aware of a few more assorted thumps and thuds around him; then silence, broken tersely by Tyler’s voice. And then, somehow, they were running.
He wasn’t entirely sure how he’d survived to run this far.
Well, that wasn’t true. It was kind of obvious, really. The reason was Tyler.
Ham was in fantastic shape, considering he’d had the spare breath to swear at Mike in something like eight different languages while practically holding him up for the first two blocks of their flight. On the other hand, he politely declined to observe that without prompt medical treatment, some of the damage might be permanent this time. Mike was more than aware of that. He had to listen to Julie’s morbidly enthralled scientific ramblings about her studies of Visitor venom, besides sitting through the frequent cautionary briefings she gave on the subject.
In any case, it wasn’t worth thinking about at the moment, because laser burns would be somewhat more of a problem than eye damage.
Tipped off-balance by Tyler’s savage yank on his arm, Mike went down hard on one knee, and almost fell across another large metal object that scraped his hands like rust. Tyler gave him an ungentle push between the shoulder blades, cramming him into a small space that welcomed him with an eager array of sharp edges and old nails. What is this, Tetanus Park?
Two shots blasted from Tyler’s gun. A laser bolt responded, sizzling against sheet metal somewhere not far above their heads. Ham answered with one more bullet… and sudden peace descended on the scrap-metal playground surrounding them.
At least for about as long as it took for Tyler to open his mouth.
“Come on,” he ordered gruffly, dragging at Mike’s arm again. “There were more of ’em right behind those. We’ve gotta lose ’em.”
“In a junkyard?” Mike guessed, as he grudgingly allowed Tyler to haul him out of the crevice he was wedged into. Perforce they moved on, and with his free arm held up to fend off any protruding obstacles, he did his best to keep up with the half-jog pace the older man set.
“At least a guy with a gun leading a blind man is less conspicuous here than out on the street.”
“I am not blind.”
“Then you tell me which way back to base.”
There was no arguing with that. Mike shut his mouth and resignedly let Tyler lead him.
With a minimum of further collisions, they crossed a crunching gravel lot, and reached the slightly cooler and darker ground in the shadow of a building. Tyler held up for a moment, clearly looking and listening, then nudged Mike forward again.
“Looks like this used to be sort of an office. Step up over the sill—watch the broken glass.” Gripping Mike’s wrist, Ham guided his hand down to explore the jagged shards that protruded from a low window frame. Mike carefully measured the clearance, swung his leg over it, and stepped in, somehow managing to avoid the shattered battlement.
More glass clinked on the bare concrete floor as Tyler followed. He moved off briefly, giving the office a once-over, and returned to Mike’s side a minute later. “We should be able to stay out of sight here until the troopers take off.”
“Or take them by surprise if they come check this place out,” Mike murmured pessimistically.
“I’ve got no intentions of having a heroic standoff in a scrapheap.” Tyler put a firm hand on Mike’s shoulder… and suddenly the younger man felt his jacket being unceremoniously pulled open, his automatic lifted from his shoulder holster. The hand retreated, and he heard the click of the gun’s clip being removed to take stock of its ammunition.
He tried to roll his burning eyes, but gave it up when the movement made them water, and settled for a sarcastic, “You’re welcome.”
“You’re not gonna be any use fighting like this.” The disgusted shake of Tyler’s head was almost audible. “You and your gambles on lizards that are supposed to be turncoats…”
This had been the primary subject of Tyler’s profane tirade on the run. Now that he could address it properly, Mike shot Tyler a glare that was rendered somewhat less than effective by his inability to focus his eyes. “Philip referred him personally—and Philip’s never steered us wrong. Not deliberately.”
Tyler grunted. “You trust that lizard too much. Just because you were pals with his brother—”
“Don’t you dare bring Martin into this.” The words came out more hotly than Mike intended. He hesitated for a moment, and then hunched his shoulders and shoved his hands into his pockets, his jaw set. “Philip has proved himself on his own, a dozen times over. His help is just about the best thing we’ve got going for us. And if you don’t like that… then you can go back to Chicago.”
He expected a cynical retort to that, and was surprised when none came.
It was only a few months now since Tyler had returned from Chicago—or wherever else he might have gone after taking Robin Maxwell north to safety. In typical Tyler fashion, he’d come swooping in with guns blazing, just when the resistance had its back to the wall; and with barely a pause for a deadpan crack about the mess, he started bluntly giving orders and ultimatums. Just as if he’d never left.
Having him back was a greater relief than Mike would ever admit to. With Diana literally hanging over them in the Visitor flagship, Los Angeles was the front line for the resistance. It was here, under her charge, that the Visitors carried out their most dangerous schemes. It was here that the fight went hardest against the resistance—and the frightening truth was that they’d been a step from falling. For all their hard lessons since the Visitors first arrived, Mike and Julie and the others could never be what Tyler was, or replace the skills and the particular kind of leadership he brought them. No matter how much it hurt, they needed him to make them face the ugly realities of war.
But he was still infuriating as hell.
His contempt for the fifth column remained one of the biggest sticking points. Facing an enemy so alien—in physiology, in language, in culture, and most of all in its advanced technology—there was no chance humanity could win this war without help from within the Visitors’ own ranks, teaching them to understand what they were fighting. In Mike’s mind, this was a simple, inescapable fact. How could Tyler be so blind to that reality? After all his years of making war, how could he disregard the value of double agents?
And yet, for what seemed but a brief moment before Ham left, Mike had thought there was a chance that could change.
Gingerly Mike picked his way over to the wall, braced his back against it, and slid down into a sitting position, folding his arms over his knees. Now he was sure his eyes were improving slightly, but the world was still a blur.
“Why did you leave, Tyler?”
He spoke quietly, but the question was loud in the stillness. Except for the faint crunch of movement on shattered glass, that silence stretched out a little further before Tyler’s response, just enough to prove that the answer didn’t come readily… or, perhaps, truthfully.
“Somebody had to make sure Robin got to Chicago safely.” Tyler’s brusque voice came from a relatively sheltered corner of the window, where he must have posted himself on watch.
“Plenty of other people could have done that—and you took your sweet time getting back, too.” Mike turned his head toward the lightness of the window, although he still wasn’t quite sure he was looking directly at Tyler.
“I had business elsewhere. That ship up there isn’t the only one sitting over the planet.”
“But it is the flagship. Diana’s ship.” Donovan tilted his head keenly. “Before the Visitors came, there wasn’t a time we crossed paths that you weren’t jumping into the world’s latest powderkeg—with a match in each hand. Even in the first invasion, that was true. But walking away from the center of the action… that isn’t your style.”
Glass shards scraped as Tyler shifted his weight, and Mike knew he’d hit a nerve. He quietly pressed home his point.
“It was just after Willie got shot that you left. I remember what you said that night, Ham.”
I care about this lizard.
Even as murky as Mike’s vision was, he saw the older man flinch, a backlit shadow moving sharply against the light beyond. Ham remembered, too; and Mike smiled grimly. Now he knew the truth of the suspicion he’d held since Tyler left.
“If you could say you cared about him…” He trailed off deliberately, allowing Tyler to chew over any number of possible conclusions to those words.
If you could say you cared about him, it means admitting that a Visitor can be something more than just a monster.
If you could say you cared about him, how much more could you feel for the rest of us, your fellow humans in the resistance?
Mike was taking a chance, and he knew it. The answers the old warrior filled into that blank could drive him to run again. But he had run before, only to come back… and this time, Mike wanted to know for sure that he would stay.
After a long moment, Mike heard Tyler mutter a few words half under his breath; something about hostages to fate. It was nearly inaudible, and perhaps he was speaking mostly to himself.
Tyler’s dark shape by the window stirred and straightened. A lengthy hesitation stretched out, and for a moment, he seemed to be on the verge of repeating the words…
Until Mike sensed an abrupt change, a sudden tension from the other man that he could literally feel. Tyler moved sharply, and Mike heard him curse as he dropped to a crouch. By some wizardry of perfectly-trained stealth, not even the glass under his boots made a sound now. The only noise was the soft click of a gun being readied.
His pulse jumping, Mike crawled over to Tyler’s side, and barely whispered. “The Visitors?”
“Four of ’em.” Tyler turned away from the window, sparing Mike a grave glance that was not entirely lost in the dark. “Working their way over here.”
“Is there a back door to this place?”
Mike clenched his teeth until they hurt. Four shock troopers with body armor and lasers—and all they had inside that crumbling one-room shell of a building was two handguns and the pocketknives they both carried. If the junkyard outside was half the tangle Mike had the impression it was, they had no hope of picking off the Visitors before they could take cover. He and Tyler could be trapped, pinned down with a dwindling supply of ammunition, just waiting for Visitor reinforcements to take them.
“Come on.” Tyler put a hand under Mike’s arm. “We’ve busted up more lizards than this before.”
“That was when I could see.” Mike grimaced in lieu of a smile, and shook his head. “Give me my gun, and try to slip out unnoticed. You might make it without me—and I can buy you time.”
“We’re not having this conversation today. Get up.”
“Shut your mouth and get on your feet, Gooder. You’ve gained some weight recently, and I’m not gonna carry you.”
The harsh combination of iron firmness and black, derisive humor somehow stunned Mike into submission. Partially hauled upright by Tyler, he pushed himself to his feet, and stood just a little unsteadily. A cold weight was pressed into his hand; his automatic.
“Don’t actually shoot anything,” Tyler remarked, in that unreadable tone of his that might deliver anything from a joke to a warning.
Mike mustered a dirty look, pressed himself against the wall, and waited.
That was the worst part of fighting in the resistance, Mike reflected: the waiting. Endless hours spent waiting in ambush, waiting for messages, waiting for comrades to return from a mission—if they returned. Hours that should have been spent living a normal life. Hours to wonder how many more hours you might have left.
Finally, in the almost painful silence, Mike detected the sound of heavy, booted footsteps grinding into the gravel outside. A moment more, and he could make out voices, speaking in the guttural sibilance of Visitorese. He braced his body, closing his hand more tightly around his gun.
He could just make out the faint shadows that fell into the room through the window. Then more Visitorese, hushed and cautious as the shock troopers approached the opening. With the dark radiation visors of their helmets, they would have trouble seeing clearly into the dimness of the room, luring them closer…
Something wavered at the threshold of the window, then probingly reached inside. It was the muzzle of a laser rifle.
Tyler lunged—and like an antelope in the jaws of a crocodile, the Visitor was dragged into the room before he could squeeze the trigger.
In an explosion of crashing glass and cracking wood, the other three troopers spilled into the room. Tyler sent the first one spinning into his comrades, and Mike heard something clatter across the floor; the only other laser rifle they had between them. All four were probably carrying laser pistols as well, but if they were holstered, Tyler wasn’t going to allow any chance to draw them. He plowed into the Visitors with abandon, punching and kicking—and plainly trusting he was not alone.
Mike hesitated for only an instant before he jumped into the shifting mass in front of him.
If nothing else, he could still separate Tyler’s dark figure from the rust-red of the Visitor uniforms. He aimed for that color the way a bull would pursue a matador’s cape, kicking and swinging the butt of the heavy automatic in his hand, and he felt a blow hit home solidly before the sweep of a boot kicked his feet out from under him.
The thrashing fury above him went on for ten seconds more, and then it was suddenly over. A hand closed around his forearm, roughly pulling him to his feet…
“Watch it the next time you use a gun for brass knuckles. You nearly knocked my tooth out.”
Sheer relief and gratitude forced a laugh out of Mike, and with a shake of his head, he aimed a friendly cuff at Ham’s shoulder. He wasn’t quite sure he hit the mark; but if he was a little bit off, Tyler didn’t complain.
“Looks like we’ve got us a free pass through the manhunt.” Tyler bent down over the pile of unconscious reptiles on the floor, and Mike heard the sound of snap closures and rustling cloth. “Think you can get one of these on without seeing what you’re doing?”
“I’ve worn ’em a lot more than you have,” Mike shot back.
“Good—because I’m not dressing you, either. Try this one for size.” A bundle of red-orange fabric hit Mike in the face, and as he automatically reached up to seize the uniform, a hard helmet was shoved into his hands.
Chuckling, Mike retreated to the far corner of the room to wrestle the uniform on. He had indeed worn them enough in subterfuges to handle the alien fastenings and hidden catches by touch, and he had finished with his disguise even before Tyler did.
“I just wish I could see you in that getup,” he said scathingly, tightening the strap of his helmet.
“Shove it. We’ll be lucky if we don’t get shot by our own side the minute they spot us.” Tyler moved to Mike’s side. “Nobody’s gonna stand in our way in these, so you shouldn’t have to worry about bumping into anybody. Let’s get you back to Julie before your eyeballs melt.”
“My eyes are getting better,” Mike protested—and almost tripped over the outstretched arm of a sprawling Visitor.
He could have sworn he could hear Tyler’s own eyes rolling.
“Come on.” Tyler put a hand under Mike’s elbow. On the surface, the gentle pressure of the older man’s grip was only meant to guide him… but somehow, Mike sensed something more companionable in the contact.
Together they started forward, and Tyler hesitated for only a moment before his next words.
“Let’s go home.”
© 2010 Jordanna Morgan