Why let Kaya and Citizen Z have all the fun? This is pure indulgence.

Not Again
-- by 10K_fever

10K lay quietly, trying to sense his surroundings without giving away that he was conscious, or that he was near enough conscious to be aware that he wasn’t doing very well. He was extremely uncomfortable, sandwiched between something. Maybe he was buried alive. No, he could breathe okay, so maybe he was trapped by something.

He cast his thoughts back. Oh, yeah, ambushed and beaten to a pulp…again. He was one pathetic scout if he’d let someone jump him. They – there had been four of them, he remembered – had ambushed him as he’d been climbing some rocks to find a higher vantage point. One of them had roped him as if he’d been a recalcitrant calf and dragged him off balance. The landing had hurt, but worse, it had stunned him and left him momentarily breathless.

After that, attempting to fight was useless, so he’d simply surrendered to their rough handling until he could figure out some way to overcome the odds. But he memorized their faces just in case they ever met again; unlike many who thought they were badass tough guys, 10K knew how to kill, had killed, and didn’t mind doing it again if necessary, and he never thought of himself as badass.

They’d relieved him of his rifle, sling shot, and backpack, which held all his spare ammo and meager supplies of water and food. Angered that he hadn’t carried more provisions, they’d started to beat the crap out of him. His own rage had flared, and he’d fought back even while knowing resistance would only make it worse. There had been a few rewarding moments, he recalled hazily. The satisfactory crunch of a breaking nose and the subsequent howl of pain. Broken noses hurt; he knew this from personal experience. He didn’t use his fists, but rather his elbows and knees and whatever else he could put into motion in such close quarters. Screams of anger and pain had blended, and he knew his skill had dislocated some of his opponents’ joints and possibly caused some broken bones as well.

But the four had been tough enough to bring him down, and once down, he was virtually helpless under the sheer weight of numbers. After that, he didn’t remember anything.

So, back to the present. Something was tickling his cheek, a minor irritant considering the hurt radiating through him. Even his head hurt, but since he seemed to be thinking, or at least doing a good semblance of thinking, he probably wasn’t severely concussed. Tentatively, he opened one eye to see what was on his cheek. Hair. It smelled clean and felt soft, so there was no way in hell it belonged to one of his opponents. At the back of his neck he could feel something hairy and coarse. He felt the faintest quiver of unease. Did some hairy beast have him in its grasp? Was he about to be something’s dinner?

He must have moved enough to surprise the beast. The hair on his cheek disappeared and was replaced by a face no more than an inch from his own. “10K?”

He knew that face. “Addy?”

She looked uncomfortable. “You’re awake.”

“Maybe.” He wasn’t really certain of anything. Maybe he was having a dream, and not a particularly bad one at that. He’d had his brains scrambled a time or two over the past few years, but that didn’t mean he liked it.

“Close your eyes.”

“What?”

“I said, close your eyes.”

He obeyed, and felt her weight shift off his chest. He’d been very warm a moment ago, but now cold filled the void where she had been.

“I can’t believe I fell asleep,” she said, so he took a chance and looked at her. “It’s so damned cramped back here, I felt like a pretzel.”

10K looked around for the first time. He was in the backseat of their crew cab pickup, one of many vehicles they’d used over the years. This one was a little better than most, but no great shakes. No wonder he’d felt as if he were being squashed. “What happened?”

“We found you a few hours ago, unconscious, beaten up, and freezing.”

Okay, he remembered most of that part. “Uh-huh.” He tried to sit up, then realized arms were wrapped securely around his shoulders from behind.

A bleary voice murmured, “’s gonna be okay, kid. Just relax.” This was followed by the gentle sound of snoring he knew so well.

Doc? Doc was behind him, holding him. And Addy was suddenly blushing.

What the eff?

With abrupt horror, 10K realized he was wrapped in a blanket, and judging by the way its coarse fibers felt against his skin, he was naked beneath it. He struggled harder and managed to sit up.

“Oh, hey, kid, you’re back,” Doc mumbled from behind him. 10K heard a jaw-cracking yawn. “Thought you’d sleep a bit longer, but I’m glad you’re awake. I think my whole body has gone numb.”

Clutching the blanket tightly around him 10K managed to untangle himself from Addy and put his feet on the floorboards. In the process, he came face to face with Warren, who was apparently kneeling on the front seat. Her chin rested on her arms across the backrest. Why did he suddenly feel like the cheese in a mousetrap?

She smiled at him. “How are you feeling?”

“What happened?” he countered, feeling silly wrapped only in a blanket with his three fully-clothed companions hemming him in from all sides.

“We found you unconscious in a ditch,” Warren explained calmly. “You were soaking wet and suffering from hypothermia.”

The four miscreants who’d beat him had also stolen his clothes and left him for dead? How had he ended up in a puddle of water at the bottom of a ditch? He wished he could remember.

He looked around a bit desperately. “Uh, my clothes -- ?”

“Drying on the hood, unless they’ve frozen solid in the cold,” Warren answered.

Okay, he hadn’t been naked when they’d found him, a small blessing. But that begged even more questions.

10K shivered inside his blanket. It was getting very cold inside the truck. “Then why -- ?” He couldn’t really complete the question because it all felt vaguely indecent.

Warren spoke carefully, enunciating each syllable as if to a toddler. “Hy-po-ther-mia. Doc held onto you all night trying to keep you warm, and Addy and I took turns.”

Oh. No wonder Addy was blushing and had told him to close his eyes. He could feel heat rising in his own cheeks. Maybe there was a reason her tee shirt was on inside-out. A bundle of fabric landed in his lap: clothes. Some his, some not. He snaked an arm out of the blanket to grip them tightly. “Uh – “

“No way we’re getting out of this truck,” Doc interrupted from beside him. He’d rearranged his lanky form once 10K’s weight had stopped pinning him to the side of the truck. “It’s freezing out there, in case you don’t remember.”

10K answered honestly. “I don’t remember.” He looked at all of them in turn. “Maybe you could close your eyes?”

Addy grinned mischievously. “I dunno, did you close yours?”

“I didn’t,” Doc confessed. Addy’s look could have skinned him alive, and 10K’s own furious glare would have finished the job.

He looked back at Addy. “I closed my eyes,” he admitted morosely.

Warren grinned and shifted around behind the wheel. “You’ve got three minutes, then we’re getting off this road and finding cover for the night.”

As the other two also turned their backs to him, he couldn’t help but reflect on the inequalities of life: Why was he always unconscious when the good stuff happened?

The End

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