2238-02-25 - Against All Odds

The Picon Rescue has many moving parts. This is the one that follows Gage and the boy Nate, and the pilots, Ines and Hunter. (Ines doin' GM-y things.) Follows directly the events in 'We'll Get Them' and 'Even If It Hurts.'

Date: 2238-02-25

Location: The Ranch

Related Scenes: 2238-02-24 - Even If It Hurts 2238-02-24 - We'll Get Them 2238-02-25 - Under Siege

Plot: Operation: Bullhorn

Scene Number: 1668

Jump to End

Hours pass. The ranch is silent, dark, and cold as a grave.

For the beleaguered refugees, more of whom arrive all the time as some few splinters of the groups fleeing the mine gradually find their way back, those hours must feel endless. The assault on the mine began at sundown, plunging the safehouse into breathless tension, endless anticipation -- of rescue, of annihilation -- and the hour continues to creep, hush uninterrupted. 2000. 2300. 0100. 0300.

It begins with an underwhelming sound, a snow-muffled pop in the darkness of the woods beyond the some-time haven of those lost and left behind. But that pop is swiftly followed by others, advancing and increasing in volume, carrying on that dampened tide of sound a wave of inevitable violence.

-

It's been some time since Nate fell asleep in the upstairs bedroom. Even the Tauran's pacing ceases eventually, due to sheer exhaustion if nothing else -- but neither sleep nor comfort grace Gage's shoulders tonight. He's settled for a long pacing path that takes him from Nate's room and down the corridor, down the stairs and through the common areas of downstairs. Some are sleeping -- trying to sleep -- others, like him, are too far from it even if they wanted to.

The Tauran marine's upstairs when the first noise comes. It's underwhelming, but the mere sound of it zings through his blood, trained through months and years to react to it instinctively. His hand goes to his weapon, lifting to search for the threat -- absurd of course, since he's indoors. He yanks open Nate's door, "Get up, kid. Get your coat on. Hurry!" There's an air of command and urgency that brooks no arguments.

-

Groggy, of course, Nate comes blearily awake and sits up, swiftly leaving the disoriented fog of someone not quite awake for an alarmed look. And always, always, the questions begin immediately. They begin as he kicks the blankets off of his legs and begins to get up. "Are they here? Are they-"

pop

His eyes go wide, then. Fear-stiffened movements have him ripping the bedclothes apart, searching for his coat, searching for his backpack. "Where is it? I put it here!" Mounting anxiety reaches higher registers in his voice. He's managed to overlook it twice as he tosses the blankets back and forth.

Outside, those popping reports are joined by a sudden shout. Still distant, but not distant enough. And as the noises travel through the house, the ranch begins to come alive. There are bodies in the halls, on the stairs -- people are rousing, which is good; but they're milling, which is less useful. Shadows darken the already darkened doorway of the room.

"What's going on?" someone demands, as though the Tauran might somehow know something more than anyone else does.

-

"Nate, just--!" The impatience of the marine wars with the father, the once-father, Gage's frustrated growl exhaling as he stalks into the room, pulls away the blanket to reveal the backpack, and pushes it towards the kid. "Stay close."

That figure in the doorway, too, gets a growled response, definitely not father, all-marine. "Get your weapons, we're under attack. Get the women and children somewhere safe, you're looking after them." Because he had the nerve to seek direction, and apparently the Tauran's totally on point with getting his way.

If the order of 'the children' applies to Nate too, he doesn't enforce it, instead clattering down the stairs, the occasional glance over his shoulder to check the boy's nearby. "If you've got a weapon, take up positions at the windows. If you haven't, get the frak out of the way!"

-

Nate's tense enough that he doesn't complain when the backpack gets shoved his way -- he just takes it and puts it on even as they're moving.

The man in the hallway yields before the oncoming storm that is an agitated Timber Wolf marine, managing only to partially sputter some protest or other that he fails to fully give form to before Gage is off and away, down the stairs. He reaches out to grasp Nate's backpack by the handle on top, obviously taking the instructions he was given seriously -- "Hey, whoa, little man, you heard what he-" -- but his well-meaning objection ends in a yelp as Nate does something that winds up with his being let go, on Tomak's heels again before more than a few seconds have passed.

The instructions Gage is giving could not be more clear, but most people still don't seem to know how to defeat their own growing fear to follow them. It's in large part the guerrilla fighters who help to break things up and get them moving. Word spreads quickly. There are other marines on the property, but everyone's spread apart, overseeing different groups, keeping watch on other approaches.

By the time Tomak's within sight of the windows there are already dim sparks sometimes evident in the woods, leading off a split second before the accompanying report reaches the house. It'll be moments before whatever that is spills out of the woods onto the far lawns.

-

Gage sets up beside one of the windows in the kitchen. If he noticed the brief altercation upstairs he's studiously ignoring it, instead growling, "Get behind the bench. If I see you peek your head up, Ringo aint never going on any adventures." These are the things you learn to threaten kids with: kid-size things they'll understand.

He pops his magazine, grimaces, and slams it home. There's something resigned in his expression, under the stiff focus that springs up as he exhales, lifts his weapon, and aims, waiting for a good shot, and only a good shot. He hasn't the bullets to spare anything but that.

-

The first bipedal figure to emerge from the woods within Tomak's line of sight is human -- Cylons just don't stumble that way. Like a coursed hare they -- gender impossible to discern -- have been flushed from the forest and out into the open. The overgrown pastures have over a foot of long grass weighed down now by heavy, powder snow, and they leave massive rents behind as they pass through it, and as their feet tangle in it, and as they fall. A pop from the treeline stops them in the effort of trying to get up again. A second some seconds after that stops them moving at all.

There's just enough moonlight to make out the first of the cylons as they emerge from the woods, pale blue light sliding over metallic bodies like luminous drool...and no tell-tale wedges of glowing red. None at all. They've covered their- eyes? Because it's dark. Because that would matter.

It's only three. But on the far side of the property, out past the barn, comes another quiet, distant pop.

-

For a moment, a heartbeat of instinct, Gage's finger presses the lightest of touches on the trigger. Recognition filters in a beat later, and he eases off with an exhale, not lingering on the almost-disaster. There are bigger things to focus on. "Frak. Get out of the frakking way," he's muttering, heedless of the fact that Nate's nearby. These are the things you put up with around marines.

The fact that the tell-tale gleam of red doesn't accompany the cylon is offputting. But no so offputting that, after a moment of focused breath, the marine lets out a single shot, the retort loud within the confines of the kitchen. His muzzle shifts, aims, and fires a second time. And then he lowers it, because... well. Three cylons. Two bullets. The odds are not great.

All he can do, for the time being, is watch.

Well, truthfully, there's more he could do. Energy -- in the form of adrenaline -- zings through him as the plan lights through his brain. "Nate -- whatever you do -- don't follow. Promise me." He's standing, face transmuting into its usual stubborn set.

-

One of the cylons Gage aims at topples over, a killer shot -- literally and figuratively. The other one stumbles, but doesn't fall. And it's just as well that he stops shooting, because there are other pops happening elsewhere, too. In the woods,. On the back side of the property. Some of those are answered from the house, but not many. There's no wild return fire -- people are holding onto the resources they have left, what few resources they are, for the last possible moment.

The net continues to tighten around the ranch, and Gage Tomak gets An Idea, and as he rises and gives that order he'll find himself on the receiving end of his second wide-eyed, fearful, betrayed look in one twenty-four-hour cycle. "What? Why? No! Don't leave me!" The tears from Nate are faster and more overt, but at least he doesn't call the Tauran a bastard.

ELSEWHERE:

It took hours for the rescue mission to come together. Stirling had to meet with the Colonels, then there were emergency meetings, time for pilots and marines to volunteer -- only volunteers participating, and still it's very nearly the entire squadron -- and briefings for the volunteers based on information provided by Hunter and Ines. Then the preparations on the airfield, then safety checks-

By the time they were actually ready to go, Ines felt as though she was moments from losing her mind with anxiety. Poor Hunter King had to bear the brunt of that ill mood.

Now, she's sitting in the pilot's seat of a raptor -- she's not flying a viper tonight for numerous reasons, concerns related to her blood pressure chief among them in spite of the vasopressors and fluids they pumped into her for hours before scramble -- with an IV in her arm and the bag literally hanging off of the side of her seat, her heart pounding, just one part of an impressive cloud of aircraft racing over the tops of the seemingly endless forest below.

-

Correction: he doesn't call the Tauran a bastard, yet. "I need you to stay here, keep an eye out, Nate. I have to go." Gage is brisk, but he senses the rising fear in the boy, reaching over to brush a hand over his shoulder. There's plenty of things he could say -- plenty of lies, or distractions. In the end, he goes with, "There are people out there -- maybe other kids like you -- and I have to get them to safety. Be brave for me, okay? Ines--" he fumbles on her name, grinding him to a halt like he's a stopped clock. Rebooting. "--they'll be here soon, okay?" He frakking hopes, anyway.

There's another person there, a Picon fighter, with a rifle and a pistol. Logic dictates he should commandeer the rifle, but instead, he holds out his hand. "Give me your pistol. Going to play distraction. Look after the boy for me."

-

First Hunter King had gotten back. Then he had sat in the medical bay, while in the bay next to him he listened to Ines shove things and shout.

Then in the debrief. Where he listen to Ines shove things and shout.

Then to the tarmac. Where he listened to Ines shove things and shout.

So when it came to what he wanted to fly. He had said a Viper. When they stopped laughing he had been assigned a Raptor. Because he was still one of the best pilots they had. Which brings us to now, as he forms up with Ines on her wing. Roaring towards the rang with the rest of the flight.

"I can't believe they actually let you fly." Over the coms, a private channel even because he's good enough to set that up. Its sent towards Ines in her own ship.

Silence for a few more heartbeats then. "We /are/ going to make it in time."

-

The moment that Gage trips over Ines' name is the first moment that Nate wonders -- it's all over his face -- whether or not Ines really did make it out or not. Maybe he questions it because the Tauran told him not long ago he wasn't leaving, and now he's doing that, too; everything he's saying becomes suspect, another boogeyman to worry about. But he'll have to worry about it alone: much as he might want to, as determined as he is, Nate's far too afraid to follow Tomak out into a night peppered with gunfire, and it's just as well.

He turns angrily away from the marine, so he never sees the guerrilla fighter hand over his pistol. Perhaps mercifully, it means he's not staring daggers into Gage as Gage prepares to go off on whatever errand of madness he intends -- but it's probably possible to feel them, anyway, shards of something furious, ephemeral and intangible, radiating out of the boy like spines.

He isn't the only one with the thought that it would be best to draw the cylons away from the house, though he's probably the only one with his specific plan in mind, and very possibly the only one with the expertise to make it happen. Instead there are Picon rebels forming hasty plans on the other side of the property, and like Tomak, they're counting bullets.

-

There are things that the marine knows to be true. One of these is that you can't convince a stubborn boy from a truth he's decided on without some kind of tangible proof otherwise. And the reason Gage knows this is he was once that boy. Still, he wants to say something. The urge is in him, but like with Ines, when he looks at the angry lines of the boy's turned head, the words stick in his throat. So, once more, he says nothing.

Gage gives a mute nod of thanks to the Picon man as he shifts the rifle strap down, holding the pistol at his side. Even empty, he doesn't give up his weapon. Habit. "Spread the word. I'm going to create a distraction. Ought to take advantage of it." He doesn't wait around for confirmation -- time is of the essence -- just opens the door, slips out -- none of his usual wary checks. He knows exactly where the enemy is -- coming in hot and fast.

The sunken fuel tank is set back from the house, across an open space -- in the unlikely event that should it explode, there's no way it would damage the house. Tonight, the unlikely is becoming certainty, as Gage Tomak speeds his way from the house to the fuel tank.

He keeps low, moving quickly, the shadow of his bulky fur coat undoubtedly standing out to those in the house -- maybe to the approaching cylons, too. No time to think about that now -- he moves, runs, as if his life depends on it. As if other lives depend on it.

-

It wasn't that long ago that Gage Tomak sprinted across an open field at night, breaking from cover in line of sight of cylons in a desperate bid for a fence, a treeline, and the freedom beyond. It was a much larger field and there'd been more ammunition to rely on, but some things remain the same: the silence, the cold, the stark aloneness and the vulnerable sensation of open air everywhere. The physical push of it, the singular goal -- and also the way in which he's not sure what's waiting for him at the finish line. A month ago it was a rocket that set the woods ablaze; now it's the twisted wreckage of a heavy raider left smoldering on the airstrip at the mine.

But what else is there to do? Then, as now, the answer was run, and fight, and hope.

He's halfway there when the first bullets pepper the air around him. They sound strange: their traverse through the air is typical, but they land in dense snow, little piff sounds marking each one. Only one, then two, the fire of a single cylon. As he closes in on his objective, however, it becomes more, the sounds overlapping.

ELSEWHERE:

Ines isn't alone in her raptor. In addition to the usual ECO, there are three marines stacked to the gills with equipment for what will hopefully be a swift and temporary touch-down. All of them can hear Hunter on the interior comm, but if Ines is concerned about his remarks it doesn't read that way in the response he gets: a fierce, "I'd have liked to see them try to keep me on the ground."

She wouldn't, actually. She has no idea what she would've done if Stirling hadn't let her pilot this raptor. But now she's in it, so she can afford bravado, fuel to burn on the pyre of her need. Adrenaline-soaked, she'll pay for every last rapid heartbeat later, but for now? She feels none of the aches and pains at all.

We are going to make it in time, he says.

In the shadows cast through the faceplate of her helmet, her brows dip dangerously down. The marines in the back of the raptor sway gently with the increase in thrust.

-

"I'm pretty sure a stiff wind would have knocked you down, but what do I know. I just fix things. Not people." He shoots back. To most people antagonizing the angry Ines would seem foolish, but its not quite that simple. She might can figure it out, trying to keep her focused on him. Distracted in the middle of the boring part of the mission. The flight time. Giving her something else to target other than herself.

He's trying, in many different versions of the word.

The marines behind him look towards each other, shaking their head about the madness of the pilots as Hunter matches her increase in thrust, making sure to keep pace with her and the rest of the Vipers flying support.

-

Gage doesn't pray. He probably should -- maybe should've slipped the preacher a ten-er to do that for him -- but when the bullets start, he zigs and zags, presenting a weird, shifting target. At least one of the bullets catches the edge of his furred coat, making him stumble into the snow for a moment as red splatters against white -- but then he's up again and moving, not bothering to waste bullets from the pistol at this distance.

Fingers are already freezing in the cold, wintry air by the time the Tauran makes it to the fuel tank. The hump of its sunken form provides a sparse kind of protection that he leans into, breathlessly. The pistol is tucked into the waist of his pants as he turns the wheel on the door -- creaking and squeaking loudly the whole time he does so. There's no time for anything fancy -- he pulls the leftover det cord from one of his pants pockets -- growling as he realizes he hasn't any of his gum to hold it in place. He makes do, half closing the door again to trap it in place, providing just enough air to provide fuel for the inevitable firestorm that's coming.

And now for the fun part. Or, depending on your point of view, the stupid part. It worked last time, so he tries again, pulling the pistol free and slamming it against the edge of the fuel tank. It's mostly underground, so its reverberations aren't as loud as they were at the air strip, but he doesn't let that deter him, because plan B is also happening at the same time.

Plan B goes something a little like this: "FRAK YOU YOU FRAKKING TINCAN, RUSTBOLT, ASSHOLES! YOU'RE MAKING ME MAKE A KID CRY RIGHT NOW AND YOU SHOULD FEEL LIKE A SACK OF DICKBAGS. YEAH, YOU! GO FRAK YOURSELF."

As plans go, it isn't the worst he's ever had.

...barely.

-

It's the yelling that draws the attention of the small group of Picon guerrillas gathering on the other side of the house. They're preparing to make a run for the treeline -- maybe hoping to flank the cylons still hovering just beyond the shadows of the evergreens -- but they stop, heads tilted, to listen to some crazy motherfrakker start yelling at the top of his lungs, clearly in open air. They exchange glances, and change plans, though they wince as they do: the cylons are still on-coming in their assault, and there just aren't enough bullets to go around. There are no easy decisions at this late and dangerous hour.

When they round the corner they have some modest cover in the area where cordwood stacks have been heaped against the side of the house -- enough, at least, that they can get a look at the obviously insane marine out in the field on that tell-tale bump in the snow-covered sod. They put it together quickly enough. Quickly enough that the holes starting to punch into the ground close to Tomak -- alarmingly close to that sunken fuel tank -- suddenly stop, because they're taking occasional shots in the direction of the cylons aiming that way. It offers Tomak some small reprieve, but it won't last: he's drawing attention from most of the metallic bodies on this side of the property.

On the far side of the house, however, comes a sound of shattering glass and a muffled, collective scream.

-

Gage holds for as long as he can. Longer than he should, by all rights. If this were a standard op, Mercer would be yelling at him to get his ass into gear. But then, if it were a standard op, he'd have sniper cover, and a team of marines to back him up. Well, he may not have those things, but the sporadic gunfire from behind him certainly helps bolster his mood.

"IF YOU KILLED HER IM GOING TO COME OUT THERE AND PERSONALLY RIP YOUR CIRCUITS OUT OF YOUR HEADS. YEAH ASSHOLES, YOU HEAR THAT? MY PICON FRIENDS ARE GOING TO FRAK YOU UP TOO."

Plan B might be working a little too well. He can see the glint of approaching cylons. Closer, closer. Stupidly close. Maybe the Piconese behind them think he has a death wish; instead, for the first time since he saw that raider crash, he feels like he can breathe.

His fingers are definitely freezing. Which means that, when he hears the scream, he's fumbling for the wires of the detonator cord. It isn't long. Maybe isn't long enough -- but he both knows and accepts that. Sparks the wires together, tensing, growling when nothing happens. Again... nothing. <<Frak!>> He has one of those moments, those stretches of time where he can literally feel the seconds pass by, marked by the beating of his heart, every second one punctuated by a flick of the wires, a spark that fizzles out and then, finally -- one that doesn't.

Time starts moving again. He breathes in. Remembers he's right next to the fuel tank -- turns and runs the frak away. There's no zigging or zagging to avoid bullets from the cylons -- right now his only priority is the thing that's about to explode behind him.

-

Unaware of what it is that he was doing, the cylons continue to close in on him and lingering that long places him in a horrendously dangerous situation. When he does finally light the cord and get up to sprint, a hail of bullets chases him, and it would be so much worse if it weren't for the Piconese firing from the corner of the ranch house.

And then:

B O O M

It may not have been as much fuel after their assault on the mine's fuel depot, but it was placed in-ground to keep thieves away from it because it was necessary to fuel heavy equipment -- backhoes, mowers and the like -- and there's no shortage of remaining gas. It detonates with practically seismic force, the brisance sending a shockwave out through the property that can be felt as Tomak runs for his life. The top of the mound explodes open as the point of least resistance, twisted chunks of metal spewing hundreds of feet into the air and in every direction. The force alone is enough to slam into the fleeing marine's back like a battering ram. The windows in the ranch house shatter. The snow immediately around the tank passes from a solid to a gas state instantly in the heat. For just one moment, everything is lit with a brilliance to rival daylight, and then the darkness closes back in, dyed red by the torrent of fire gouting up out of the hole in the ground, and there's another

B O O M but there shouldn't be, because there isn't any secondary tank. He would know. He would have checked that sort of thing, and he's good at his job. And then again, another

B O O M

and this time it's followed by more screaming. Shrieking. Deafening, in fact.

But it's not another gas tank, and it's not another muffled howling of panic from within the house. It's the sound made by two formations of vipers as they scream over the ranch, scouting ahead of the main force of the flight. They bank hard, circle the ranch once, and rip away in another direction.

The horizon belches illumination, a sudden swell of it on the horizon that draws Ines' gaze -- directly in line with their heading. Her throat starts to close. "We have visual contact with the ranch," one of the viper pilots informs them. "Cylon ground forces visible in scans on approach. Looks like there was some sort of explosion on the south side. House is intact. En route to the mine now."

The cloud of aircraft begins to separate: some will trail the vipers elsewhere. To the mines, to the warehouse, in sweeps from one place to another across the woods. But Ines and Hunter are ranch-bound, and her heart is hammering the inside of her ribs like a sledge.

-

That first explosion? That wasn't a missile.

He knows what missiles look like, and that was not it. Not a rocket either. There is a flash of a grin as he receives the report of a unknown explosion. "Sudden gas fire. That sound like anyone you know?" He calls over the coms as the Raptor he is in comes screaching out of the sky.

Its not as fast or as manuverable as his old Viper, but it'll get the job done.

That is enough for him.

"Alright boys!" He calls over his shoulder. "We are going to be coming in hard and fast. Cylons in the woods and I'm not going to be touching down for long!" A glance towards his Gunner. "Find me some targets, get ready for supressive fire and rockets. And get the EW systems working...I think they know we're here."

-

The explosion ripples over the Tauran marine, around him. Something's burning, and Gage isn't sure if it's his hair or the fur coat -- either way the force of the explosion slams into him from behind, toppling him off his feet sideways into the snow, and he rolls. Everything seems to be on fire around him, including him. He can hear gunfire still, but it's distant, the pops turning into distant zings that feel remote enough that he isn't in a rush to stand.

Finally, he stills, lying on his back. He could just lie here forever, and no one would blame him--

Nate.

The thought brings him to his knees, and a stumbling moment later, to his feet. Something burns still -- not fire-burns, but probably-shot-burns, making him stumble unevenly as the shock of it burns through his thigh, just as the second and third boom explodes around him. There's a definitely moment of confusion, because of all the things he expected, the gods-honest truth was it wasn't for the cavalry to sweep in in time, no matter what he told Nate. He's moving again, unevenly, when it hits him.

They're here. They're here because they made it because she made it because she's still alive.

An inarticulate noise escapes his throat. He doesn't look up, even if he desperately wants to. She won't be there, they'll have her in the infirmary, fixing her, she'll be better. He half stumbles into the house, angling for the kitchen. "Nate?!"

"Nate! She's--" he chokes over it. "They're here!"

-

It's a shame that he's too busy to admire his own handiwork, really. As the gushing geyser of scarlet flame continues to bake the air on the south lawn of the house, and the snow melts, it leaves glittering, gleaming lumps disintegrated metal visible in all of the lengths of wet grass: shattered cylons. Countless of them. The woods are catching, as woods will do, and there the story is the same: silver-grey chunks of murderous machine, those damaged but still functional retreating, regrouping.

The detonation bought the other side of the house time to fight back against the invading Cylons at that back window, but the tide there is gradually turning. People are going to have to retreat further into the house. Out at the barn, who knows what's happening? There have been gunshots there, too, and out past the garage. It's a huge property. There's no way to know for sure.

But this side of it is temporarily clear, and this side of it is where Gage will find Nate, bursting out of the kitchen door to deliver another punishing collision to the marine's much-abused ribs.

It's two minutes still before they'll arrive, and it feels eternal. The cylons are rallying, those in the woods too far from the explosion to be dismantled beginning to gather again, and there's no telling how many remain. By the time Ines, Hunter, and the three other raptors assigned to the ranch location are within viewing distance of it, the column of fire is cloaked in black smoke that leaves a reeking smudge against even the night sky. And Ines-

That sound like anyone you know?

Her throat is constricted around a knot too tight to allow much in the way of breath, let alone speech, so Ines says nothing, but within her gloves her fingers are white with the pressure they exert on the controls. Her head buzzes like a hive of bees, too chaotic for thought, all instinct as they close in. The closest she comes is a single word, repeated over and over, like a mantra:

please, please, please

They have their orders. There's fire into the treeline, a sudden rush of swirling, almost cyclonic air as one raptor after another wheels close. The other three move further into the property -- toward the barn, the opposite side of the house, the garage. Ines -- and therefore probably Hunter, devoted as he's been to staying on her wing -- aim for the wreckage left behind by the explosion, without any hesitation at all. It's potentially dangerous, but what isn't? And it might be, it could be-

The treeline ripples with the first missile fired. The moment they land with a rough bump, time is ticking -- and it is not on their side.

-

He's come this far. Would be a compleate shame to just leave her to her own devices now wouldn't it?

Hunter's Rapor shudders as the missiles tear away from it. Submunition systems, not the best for air-to-air combat but against ground targets they work wonders. Ripples of high explosive tear down the tree line away from the house, turning night into day for a split second. Adding to the smoke in the air and the growing madness on the ground.

He doesn't tell the marines their jobs though, they know it better than he does.

The Raptor hits and the doors cycle open as a pair of them lay down cover towards the tree line and others turn towards the house, pounding across the green as Hunter uses the bulk of the Raptor itself as cover.

And gets one the loudspeaker.

"Picon taxi service here!" He shouts as he monitors the engines and the radio for hints at enemy reinforcements. "So get your arses moving!"

He can't carry everyone, but he is making as many runs as he can before this gets too hot for words.

-

This time, Gage doesn't try and arrest that groan of pain as Nate slams into his ribs. "Careful," he practically begs, exhaling a tentative breath a moment later, one hand slipping around to rest on the boy's head. The other still grips the pistol. "They'll be coming in soon. Get everyone ready," he growls to the nearest Piconese.

He keeps a light touch on Nate, but retains contact with him, some silent reassurance he won't leave the boy, not now. He slumps against the wall next to the door, watching for movement, his heart thudding in his chest. Some of the Piconese start to gather nearby. Some -- fewer than he hoped. And not the face of the father-and-son he'd been hoping for.

He's dripping blood on the floor. But none of that matters now.

He sees them, the pair of raptors thudding to the ground nearby. "Go -- go, go go!" He waves the others out, as he moves -- slower -- pistol held up, sweeping back and forth for any movement. There's glints in the trees -- too far for him to possibly hit -- but he tracks them anyway. "Nate, go. I'm right--" behind you. He doesn't say it. But he is, behind, the last, leg dragging painfully as he lopes towards those raptors, his heart thudding as he hears the chatter of the marine's -- his fellow marine's guns -- such a familiar, and painfully welcome sound.

Twice now, he had opportunity to leave and didn't. Twice he turned it down. But the third time is the charm, all but collapsing sidewards onto the bench of the raptor. Exhausted. Just done.

-

What Ines wants to do more than anything is look at the faces of the people fleeing from the ranch house. She wants to see who made it and who didn't. Tomak and Nate, yes, obviously, but the others, too. Not just Wolves -- the refugees, the Piconese. They lived together. They survived together. She wants to know.

She can't afford to. Her eyes have to be everywhere but on the bodies that spill out into the night, looking for Cylons on the ground that might be carrying rockets or pockets of fire that could present a threat to the raptor, as the viper escorts shatter the night with their circling, on overwatch, endlessly monitoring for airborne threats.

So it arrives almost too soon, the moment that one of her marines bangs twice on the back of her seat to let her know they're ready to go.

It's a moment she hadn't given much though to when she insisted that they be allowed to fly this mission: the possibility that she might actually wind up leaving him behind twice. If she'd thought about it she wouldn't have changed her mind, but it occurs to her suddenly and late, and even as she's closing the raptor up and the engines spool she's fumbling with her comm.

"Did we get them?" The words go to Hunter specifically, breathless and tight. She doesn't explain whom it is she's asking about; he knows perfectly well she's not asking about his raptor's belly full of escapees as a whole. "Do you have them?"

Does she have them? She can't turn and look. Gravity shoves the raptor's passengers downward as it rises, turning as it does, a tight angle to gain altitude and leave before any possible reprisal.

-

The pop of the guns, the scream of the engines, the shouts of people rushing for the Raptors. It sharpens the senses, quickens the blood, Hunter's focus is on the panels and controls even as he hears the ping of small arms fire off the bulk of his Raptor. It only takes moments to fill, the Raptors aren't ment for large scale troop deployment.

They reach capicity /fast/.

Then its time to go, he can only hope he can fly again once he gets back to base but that is a slim hope.

For now though he buttons the little aircraft back up, turning the nose homeward, engines causing the entire frame to shake.

Annd he hears that breathless question. That plea. If he doesn't say yes...

...she's stretched taut...

Wound so tight. If the answer to that question isn't 'FRACK YES' then he knows she might shatter for good.

"Please," He calls back over his shoulder as he urges the Raptor to speed. "Tell me someone back there has a fetish for blowing up gas tanks. Cause if there is someone wants to tell you what a frackin' dumbass you are."

-

Nate's looking about exhausted as Gage is -- and frightened, too. As cool as the idea of flying in a raptor is, in principle, there are people he doesn't know with guns, and only a handful of familiar faces -- with some of the previous occupants of the ranch having been replaced by refugee prisoners from the mine. He sticks close by Gage, whose grunting as he bends -- tries to bend -- to look at his thigh, only to have his ribs protest in a painfully immediate way.

And then he's laughing. Because what's not funny about not being able to tend to your wounds because of your other wounds?

Oh right, concussion.

It's not that thought that sobers him up. Nor even the fact that the marines -- his fellows -- don't recognize him under that lengthy, impressive beard. He's imagining it. She wouldn't be here, they wouldn't let her. Concussion, probably. But he still pushes to his feet -- tries to, anyway -- Nate protesting, asking -- as always -- where he's trying to go going and why, and he's definitely going with him this time, because...

Other things. But he doesn't hear them. The Tauran marine can't stand, strains against gravity with a stubbornness like he expects it to give way to him. And eventually, it does -- when the raptor evens out. He stumbles towards the front of the raptor, the dirty faces of the refugees and Piconese alike glancing up at him as he passes. He sees none of them.

Sees... her head. Maybe it's her. And then he's sure, and his breath is one of relief -- and so much more -- hitching in his throat, so it's just an inarticulate noise.

-

All across the comms, good news is coming in: one raptor after another lands, fills, and lifts off again. There are -- at least thus far -- no fiery explosions in the sky to signal the demise of a raptor and everyone in it. One of the raptors remains grounded near the barn for reasons Ines doesn't catch, listening to the other groups report back with only half of an ear because until she knows one way or another about Gage and Nate, she can hardly think of anything else. She pilots for those first few moments almost entirely on instinct and reflex, and it's a fine demonstration of just why she was fast-tracked to a viper in the first place. She sits close to the bottom rung for experience and flight finesse with the Wolves, it's true -- she once ranted about that at great length, before the inaugural run that would become a routine -- but she's a natural. It comes back to her like breathing.

Or rather, entirely unlike breathing. Because the longer Hunter's question is answered by silence from his passengers, the less and less sure she is that she's going to be able to take a breath. They're not in his raptor.

He wasn't wrong to worry. Her voice sounds small, and she doesn't even use his last name; her tone is pleading, as though he could change reality on her behalf. Knowing the Piconese pilot, he probably would, if he could. "Hunter..."

She can't stand it. They wrench up into the sky and draw roughly parallel with Hunter's raptor, swiftly chased by vipers, but she can't stand it any longer, grappling with the harness that keeps her in her seat. Unlatching buckles, twisting around-

To find him standing behind her chair before she can even stand up, her face a mask of astonishment behind the faceplate of her helmet. She brings a gloved hand up as though to cover her mouth as her eyes take on a tidal rush of feeling, but of course she can't actually cover her mouth, and it'll detract points from her style score at the end of the mission. Because this is the moment. This is the one-liner moment, the payoff near the end of the movie. She knows exactly what to say, too.

A little flick of a button pipes her voice into the speakers that address the interior, over the engine noise. "You didn't really think I'd leave you, did you?"

And it would be so cool, if she weren't choking on half of the words. It's almost cool. It's half-cool. She might care about that later. Not now, though.

At least Hunter gets to hear them, too. He can stop worrying about her sending the raptor into a deliberate nosedive into the earth, now.

-

/You didn't really think I'd leave you, did you?/

That comes over the coms as Hunter turns his nose home, watching for problems. Targets. Missiles inn his direction, however he glances at his EW officer and smirks.

"Patch me though to the cabin com on that other Rpator would you?" The relief in his voice is palpable in his own ship, but when that patch is does he clears his throat once.

"What she means to say," Comes Hunter King's voice into Ines' cabin. "Is that you're a dumbass. And you should stop. She's also mad at you."

Hunter is helping here. Really.

"Just thought I should remind her."

-

Gage doesn't have any fancy one-liners for her, practiced or otherwise. Maybe he doesn't even really hear hers, as muffled as it is -- as much as his ears probably still ring from the explosion. Instead, he just pulls her into a hug, wrapping his arms around her, not caring who sees. Not caring that she's supposed to be piloting and they're probably going to nosedive into the earth at any moment anyway.

For a moment, it just doesn't matter.

And then, Nate: "INES!" and he's flinging himself at her with the same velocity and intensity as he did Gage earlier.

King's words earn an amused snort from the marine, whose gaze doesn't waver from Ines. "Tell him -- thank you." It's a simple thing, really, but it speaks volumes, much more than he could ever voice. Thank you for getting her home safely. Thank you for coming back for all of us.

And: "You're still mad at me?" That was like a whole few hours and several explosions ago.

-

It would just figure that he wouldn't hear it.

He is such a frakking asshole.

When she pulls her helmet off and reaches to loop her arms over his shoulders -- over this time, not under, his poor ribs are never going to recover at this rate -- she draws the chilly, slick tube of a plastic IV like with her left arm, still hooked up to a half-empty bag of saline, antibiotics, and god only knows what else. And it's not until that moment -- the one that she has her hands on him and he's alive and they're in the air, the place she's always been able to escape the horrors of this ridiculous war, that Ines actually feels as though she's made it out of the blackout zone. It wasn't over until then. Until now.

...Which is absurd because of course, they're still in it, and she's supposed to be piloting, yes. Someone has to. Presumably she's getting a little bit of backup help from her ECO. Maybe. One hopes.

She winces as Nate collides with her side with the force of a tiny cannonball, staggering her a little. It'd be worse if she'd let go of Tomak, but one arm refuses to do that. The other one gives the clinging Nate a one-armed hug. "See, I told you," she says to the boy, which could mean anything.

She glances at the sidewall of the raptor as Hunter cuts in to deliver that message, then at Gage, simultaneously amused and apologetic. "I will," she promises, with a tightening wince. Because she hasn't, has she? She still hasn't thanked King for what he managed to do. Without him -- what he did on the airstrip at the mine -- they wouldn't be standing here at all, would they? And all she's been doing for the last few hours is-

Yeah. That'll need fixing, later. When they really are out of it, and safe -- or as safe as Wolves ever get.

For now, she pushes an incredulous breath out, expression sharpening. "Yes. I am." But the flint in her face melts almost immediately, replaced with everything that the previous look wasn't. "But I'll be angry later."

Fever-hot fingers array on the side of his face. Shadows throw a veil between them as she leans; it's probably possible to feel the heat from her forehead long before it's close to his, just before-

-Nate glances downward and tugs, alarmed, on Ines' sleeve. "Hey! Gage is bleeding! Like, kind of a lot."

And so he is.

Stalled mid-lean, Ines leans back again, opens her mouth, closes it. She looks down at the indicated smears on the floor. Then she's all business: "Get him back on the bench, Nate. The marines have supplies, they'll stop the bleeding, at least." She's already turning away, reaching for her helmet, her seat. The need to get them back to base, and treatment.

-

"She yelled for about three hours straight," King drawls helpfully across the coms as he relaxes back in his chair. His eyes half closing with the slow leaching away of adrenaline. "I'm pretty sure she made up whole new words." He adds after a moment before he falls silent, letting them have a moment he is sure they are having.

...or bleed on each other. Which is sort of like a moment.

Again a long. Slow sigh before he just exclaims.

"I HIJACKED A FRACKIN HEAVY RAIDER!"

...ok. He's done.

-

Gage's, "Later works," is full of amusement, because, that means now, right in this moment, she's not. Her fingers brush against his face, and he exhales a breath, long and low. He leans and then--

He's going to kill that kid. Like, 50/50 odds Nate never makes it to base. Granted, he is bleeding, but not like comparatively a lot. The words -- the protest -- in his head sounds smoother than the way they come out, "It aint-- I'm-- I--" he's frustrated, on so many levels.

And just, frak it.

As Ines's turning away, he stops her, snaking out an arm to pull her back towards him, his lips pressing against hers, ice-cold against fever-hot. It's intense, but brief, because he is swaying, and Nate's face is screwing up, his EWW! voiced aloud.

Odds are creeping up to like 60/40.

I HIJACKED A FRACKIN HEAVY RAIDER!

Gage starts laughing again.

Concussion, definitely.


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