Chaos & Control (Part 3)
The team try to mend broken things.
**SPOILER WARNING: S1E7 (Battle Scars)**
Part 1 & Part 2
Hunter could see everything, every scuff mark that blemished the floor; he could tell which ones were old, left behind by the standard-issue boots of troopers long gone, and which ones were newer, etched into the durasteel by scurrying claws.
He could hear everything. Every metallic ache and moan of the cruiser as it continued to settle, forlornly, into its permanent, planetary grave.
He could smell everything. The overwhelming tang of rust that grew like mould on the skeletons of starships, and then underneath that, the much more subtle organic rot of those that used to inhabit them.
Nothing could escape Hunter's scrutiny. For him, the world and all its features were compressed, flattened and stretched tight, like the skin of a drum, and laid bare before him to read as easily as a map.
And yet, as he roamed that med bay, he had never before felt so utterly lost.
Like he couldn't find a way out of that room. Like he couldn't discern up from down.
His head pounded with the sensory overload. Ever-present, unrelenting. But all of it, useless and irrelevant. The only feeling that mattered right now was the tempo of Omega's heart, palpable on his sternum as he held her against his unarmoured torso. The strong, sturdy beat of his own pulse nearly overpowered it, but it was definitely there. A warm fluttering, almost as if her ribs were caging a small bird.
Hunter moved about the space, following some invisible, repetitive path. But he was treading with the trepidation of someone trying to carry a candle against the wind; a task that presented such a fine line between protection and suffocation.
The pacing had been Echo's suggestion, apparently, it was supposed to be calming. And Tech had flat out refused to hand her over until Hunter had agreed to remove his chest plate first. But any misgivings he had initially harboured were quickly assuaged as the techniques demonstrated their merit. Omega had barely stirred once.
Getting Wrecker back to the med bay and onto the gurney had taken Rex and Hunter nearly half an hour. That boy weighed an absolute solid fucking tonne. Laying there on his back, his stillness was… unnerving. Eyes closed, face slack. Wrecker was never this still. The blue glow of the surgical chamber ahead made his skin look pale...
Hunter decided to turn away.
"I believe the pod has been appropriately calibrated," Tech announced, straightening from behind the console and adjusting his goggles. "We can initiate the procedure."
"Do it." Hunter gave the command immediately, still facing away. Tech keyed in the start sequence. The tray squeaked on rusty wheels as it was drawn into the mouth of the pod, carrying Wrecker along with it.
Scattered throughout the room, the Batch stood in stiff silence. Hunter in the corner with Omega, Tech by the control panel, Echo beside the machine, and Rex near the doorway. Even standing apart, their thoughts were gathering in the same place. They could be about to lose their brother. And if this didn't work, then they could even be on the precipice of losing themselves, and each other.
If that happened, Omega would be left here, with no one.
Hunter groaned inwardly at the retrospection. She had literally said that to him. And he, ever the fool, had been so quick to offer her assurances. Promises that - now - he didn't know if he could keep. If they couldn't get the chips out, or if the procedure killed them in the process, then, either way, he would break them. And Omega would be alone, or…worse.
Hunter felt sick.
"Hunter?" As though his suffering had summoned her, there was a tiny voice against his collarbone.
Quickly, he settled on a crate and rested her in his lap. Omega sat upright, still clinging to his blacks with one hand, and rubbing her eyes with the other. Stars, they looked so red, and sore. When she finally lifted her face to him, an incorporeal vibroknife lanced through his gut.
She looked...hollow. As though she had just returned from the edge of some dark, nameless place. A place that had threatened to claim everything, and nearly succeeded. A place that all of them knew.
"Hey, kiddo." He brushed the hair from her face. "How're you feeling?"
There was a long pause as she looked towards the medical pod. Only Wrecker's boots were visible. Within her line of sight, Tech and Echo busied themselves, watching her only from the corners of their eyes. The last thing they wanted was to overwhelm her.
"Is Wrecker okay?". Her voice was raw, like she had swallowed a ream of sandpaper, and yet, the question was untarnished. After everything that had happened, after Wrecker had nearly killed her. Hunter marvelled at it. It was pure, unabashed forgiveness.
"He's going to be fine, Omega, I promise". Kriffing hell, he just couldn't help himself, could he?
She looked back at him, and Hunter barely managed to disguise his wince as her small hand touched the side of his neck, shadowing where Wrecker's rather massive hand had been, far too recently. Had she noticed the bruising?
"What about you?" she asked, voice flecked with worry. "Doesn't this hurt?" He allowed himself a dry chuckle, taking her little hand in his.
"I'll be fine too," he assured, "I've survived much worse".
"We should put some Bacta on it," she mumbled. But before she could slip out of his grasp, Tech was there, kneeling beside them both with a medkit. Omega looked pleased with the convenience, right up until she realised that he was probably not there for Hunter.
"Miss Omega". Tech rested a gloved hand on her arm and tilted his head at her. "Might I suggest that before you start looking after us, we take a moment to look after you? Now that you are awake, I would like to quickly check you over, to ascertain that you have not been injured".
She blinked at him. As soon as he said it, she suddenly became aware of the shards of pain that were worming their way into the foreground of her sensorium. She bobbed her head in acquiescence, though it seemed a little reluctant. Tech risked a brief, surreptitious glance over her head at Hunter, who returned the look knowingly. They were both acutely aware of the blood staining the back of her clothes.
Across the room, Echo leaned against the wall, arms folded, standing sentinel from a distance. Tech opened up the medkit and began organising its contents, keeping his tone casual. "Tell me, are you experiencing pain anywhere?"
"My knees," she answered, settling her eyes on some spot on the floor, "a-and my back. I think I scraped against something when I… w-when he…" she trailed off, unable to finish. A ripple of panic disrupted Tech's I-have-everything-under-control expression. He did not have this under control.
Gratefully, Hunter swooped in. "It's okay, kid," he whispered immediately, giving her hand a little squeeze. She released a trembling breath.
Tech computed the data in nanoseconds and frowned deeply beneath the burden of comprehension. It was one of them that had done this to her... Holding her might be okay, but this was different. It was likely going to be uncomfortable. She had to know she was safe, or he could risk being more harm than help.
"Omega," Tech exhaled, turning to offer her his full attention. "We are here for you. No one is going to hurt you anymore". He stated it like a fact, though it did not escape his internal logic that, technically, none of them had been successfully de-chipped, yet.
Omega swallowed thickly and directed a few meek nods towards her own feet, as though trying to convince herself. "I-I know," she managed. Then, when Tech didn't move, she lifted her eyes to meet his. Her gaze was open and unfaltering. "I trust you".
The serious lines of Tech's face softened, giving way to the subtlest of smiles. The sensation that bloomed in his chest at her words was as lovely as it was short-lived. Like some beautiful, rare flower, blossoming in the immediate path of a raging wildfire. Before he could savour its sweetness, the dual implication of her statement hit him like an earthquake aftershock. And it shook him to his core.
He had asked for it - for her trust - like he might have asked her to pass him a tool he needed while working. But, deep down, he had done so in the vague hope that she was just going to point, and laugh, and show him that he was already holding what he needed.
But no. He had asked, and she had left to go someplace. When she returned, clutching that precious thing, she had placed it in his hands without hesitation. Looking down upon it in his grasp, he could see that it was whole, but only because...she had stuck it back together with tape and glue.
They had broken it. And yet, she had still offered it to him, so freely, and for some reason, that hurt even worse.
With great force of will, Tech compartmentalised his anguish. He put it in a box, with a date and a label, and stashed it away. There would be time to deconstruct it later. Right now, he needed to focus. He realised Omega was looking at him like she had wounded him, so he tweaked his lips into a reassuring smile, though it was only skin deep.
"Let's start by examining your knees," he suggested gently. "May I roll up your trousers?"
Omega nodded, then leaned sideways to rest bodily against Hunter, who curled his arm around her. Absentmindedly, her fingers fiddled with the sleeve of his blacks while Tech eased off her boots and began rolling up her pants. He paused every now and again, assessing her face for any change of expression, concerned for her comfort. But, besides looking a little dazed and bewildered, she didn't react. Having exposed her knees, he hummed to himself thoughtfully - they were red, cut and grazed. After a brief examination, he was satisfied that the damage was superficial.
"Some mild abrasions and contusions," he reported. "I am going to apply some Bacta, is that alright, Omega?"
Another nod. She tugged at a stray thread. Tech prepared two Bacta patches and applied them with trained accuracy. Omega flinched with the initial contact, but as the cold gel soaked into her skin, the discomfort buzzed away and was replaced by a pleasant tingling.
"Good job, kid," Hunter praised warmly, kneading her upper arm with his hand while Tech fixed her trousers.
"Now, then, how about this sore on your back?" Tech inquired. "Where does it hurt?"
"It's sort of in the middle, right he--AH!" she had twisted her arm around to gesture but doing so had pulled something taut. It felt like barbed wire woven under her ribs. Now she was frozen in place, too afraid to move, her face creased with the pain.
Tech reached up to adjust her posture, delicately moving her arm back to a resting position. She whimpered as her upper body straightened. "Can I have a look?" he asked softly. She nodded vigorously this time, her nose still crinkled, eyes screwed tight, wordlessly begging him to make the pain stop. "Hunter," Tech murmured in a lowered tone, "lean her forward for me, please".
Hunter brought his arm up in front of her and Omega gingerly folded herself over it, pressing her face into his unarmoured bicep. His other hand stayed rested over her shoulders. Slowly, Hunter rocked her forward until she was nearly bent double. With the greatest care, Tech started to peel up the hem of her tunic. Her fingernails plunged into Hunter's arm and she hissed through her teeth as dried blood - adherent to the fabric - separated painfully from her skin. Tech paused his progression.
"You're doing great," Hunter soothed, rubbing a small line in between her shoulder blades with his thumb, hoping it might distract her.
"Mmhmm," was all she managed in reply, the tense sound muffled by his arm.
Once her posture had eased a little, Tech proceeded cautiously, folding the garment up until he had fully revealed the jagged, bloody gash that ran parallel to her spine, from the bottom of her ribs down to the waistband of her leggings.
"Oh, dear, ad'ika," Tech sighed. Omega nuzzled even more firmly into Hunter's embrace and stifled a sob. "Hold this for me," he instructed, rolling up the excess material so that Hunter could pin it out of the way with the hand at her shoulder. As Tech turned to the medkit, Hunter craned his neck to see, and bristled. It was a woeful sight. She was painted red.
"Miss Omega, I am going to have to clean and dress this," Tech told her apologetically, shuffling medical implements around. "It may hurt a little, but try to sit still. I promise it will feel much better afterwards."
Omega inhaled deeply as if steeling herself. "Okay," she whispered. It was laced with fear but delivered with courage. Hunter leaned in a little closer and pressed his lips to the back of her head.
With the calculated movements of a surgeon, Tech used gauze soaked with mild antiseptic soap to clean away the blood and better reveal the extent of the laceration. Omega squirmed a little, withdrawing ever so slightly from his touch.
"I am sorry, ad'ika," Tech breathed morosely.
"Hang in there, kid," Hunter murmured into her hair, "we're nearly done". She made a little sound, and stiffened with determination, holding perfectly still against Tech's ministrations. Even so, Hunter could hear her grinding her teeth. Whether it hurt or was just scary, he couldn't tell.
Now that he could assess it properly, Tech was content that the scratch was not deep and did not require stitches. He took the tube of Bacta from the medkit and dispensed a precise volume onto his thumb. Steadying his hand on her, and using as little pressure as possible, he smoothed the gel up the length of the cut in one quick motion. The immediate, intense sting made Omega arch her back and cry out. But Hunter was there, squeezing her a little closer as she groaned against the sharp pain.
A few moments passed, and…finally, relief.
The cold burn subsided into a deep heat that seeped into her muscles, dulling the ache, and washing over her body like a wave of warmed honey. Hunter exhaled quietly as he felt her practically melt in his arms.
"Does that feel better?" Tech asked.
"Mmhmm," she sighed, blissfully this time.
She sat more comfortably for the remainder of Tech's treatment, and Hunter could feel some semblance of strength returning to her limbs. Once Tech had applied a sticky bandage over the Bacta, he rolled her tunic back down, nodding with satisfaction as she sat up and tested her new range of motion.
"All finished. That was very well done, Omega".
She timidly looked between the two of them. "So, is it…my turn now?". There was quiet hopefulness in her tone.
Tech tilted his head at her. "Your turn to what?"
Omega gawped for a second, as if astounded he needed to ask. "To look after you! All of you got hurt! I want to help…"
Tech allowed himself a wry chuckle. None of them had been seriously injured in the skirmish, and he was about to tell her as much, but the words died in his throat. There was this look on her face, this glint in her eye. The Batch was everything to her. Her whole world; and it was hurting. But she was prepared to fix it, the only way she knew how. With tape, and with glue.
"Very well," he conceded. And with that, her eyes lit up. The contrast was striking…how dull had they been this whole time? These were the eyes Tech remembered. Amber-brown, like his own, but wide, bright, and star-filled. It reminded him of when she had seen Hyperspace for the first time. Watching every button he pressed, every lever he pulled. And, finally, that pure, unadulterated wonderment as the planets and celestial objects stretched into infinity, silver threads bending effortlessly around them. A whole galaxy of worlds, pressed close but not touching.
Tech felt something ease inside him. It was surprising - he had been utterly oblivious to the strain of his apprehension, unaware of how heavily that box of anguish had truly weighed. But now it felt lighter, and with a soundless sigh of relief, he lent Omega a hand and helped her hop off Hunter's lap.
Omega gestured to the ground in front of her. "Okay, sit here," she directed. Tech obeyed, shifting off his knee and into a cross-legged position. She stood in front of him and placed her hands on either side of his face, tilting it this way and that as she examined him for cuts or bruises. "Tell me, are you experiencing pain anywhere?" she asked seriously. Tech laughed again under his breath at her mimicry.
"I shall admit to a slight headache," he told her truthfully.
She stepped back to consider him, scrunching up her face the way she did when she was thinking, and holding a curled finger to pursed lips the way that Tech did when he was thinking. "Hm, we should check for a concussion." She held out a finger at arm's length in front of Tech. "Follow me with your eyes, but don't move your head!" She began to slowly drag her arm, up and down, side to side. Tech easily tracked her movements, smothering his smile.
"Good! Now I'm going to ask you some questions to check for memory loss." She jabbed a thumb unceremoniously towards Hunter, "What's his name?"
"That's…Hunter," he answered with patient amusement.
"And what's my name?"
"Do you remember where we are?"
"We are on a Venator-class star cruiser, on the north-eastern continent of Bracca."
"And how did we get here?"
"I flew us here, on the Havoc Marauder, which is parked approximately 8.27 klicks directly south-south-west of our current position."
She nodded several times. "I don't think you're concussed, Tech, but probably we should still wake you up every few hours on your next sleep cycle, just to be safe."
"A very astute suggestion," Tech said sitting back, genuinely impressed. "You appear to be quite the proficient medic."
Omega's eyes lit up again at the praise.
"Looks like you have some competition on your hands, Tech," Echo teased from across the room. "If Omega keeps this up, you could be out of a job".
Tech leaned past Omega to fix Echo with a glare. "Well, I suppose it is a good thing, then, that I perform a number of useful functions," he retorted back. Echo and Rex laughed, and it was a pleasant sound. It bounced around room, as if the walls themselves were joining in.
"Oh, no, don't worry, Tech!" Omega exclaimed with dismay, "I promise not to take your job".
Hunter craned forward to cup her shoulder. "None of us are replaceable, kid. We may be a squad, and we all play our parts, but we're also family". He paused, before smiling at her. He didn't say it, but it was there. Unspoken words that hovered in the space between them.
And that goes for you, too.
He knew she had heard them, in her own special way, because she utterly beamed, and it was utterly glorious. As if a light had turned on in the room. All of the shadows that pressed against the corners of their minds became a little softer, a little thinner, and a lot easier to bear. Hunter and Tech both grinned openly. Even Echo, from his distance, felt warmer.
Wrecker was out of the tube for a total of five minutes before she fell asleep on him. Half upright in the chair, head and arms slumped over his enormous vambrace. It didn't look particularly comfortable, but none of them had any intention of moving her.
Unfortunately for them, the procedure had only reached its conclusion after she had very dutifully covered every scratch and welt she could lay hands on with Bacta and a bandage. The four of them were reminiscent of walking sticker books by the time she was through with them. Was it a terrible waste of precious Bacta? Probably. Did the Batch care? Not in the slightest.
They were proud as hell of their kid.
Tech and Hunter had nearly dozed off themselves by the time Wrecker's hand began to lift from its place on the table. The arm that carried it was strong, thick with muscles like iron-wrought cables. But its owner knew its strength. Its power. And when he reached to stroke Omega's hair, the touch was tamed, tempered; raw destructive capability reduced to the gentlest of gestures.
He had never intended for it to be otherwise.
"Hey, kid, why the long face?"
And that's the end of The Space in Between: Chaos & Control arc.
MORE SPACES IN BETWEEN TO COME!