+Some You Lose
In which there are meetings. And knives.
“We’ll send in Summers.”
When Lt. Colonel Franklin Clay had put in a request for help because of the demon fuckers that made it impossible for him and his team to obtain their objective of taking out an American drug lord hidden away in the Columbian jungle, he’d expected to be told that they’d send in a Para Unit.
The Para Squad, formally Paranormal Defense Squad, was who dealt with the fairy tale parts of the world. The branch was fairly new, officially, but it did its job and didn’t fuck up too badly too often. They were the kind of people who responded to requests like this. You know, green guys in drug lord’s employee, my daughter just exploded, where did the snow in June come from, why is the water flowing upwards and who the fuck let all those Dracula-wannabes into the house? Freaky Shit, capitals absolutely required. You reported something like that, they sent a Para Unit your way and wished you good luck. Except, that’s not what they’d told him.
Instead, they’d said: “We’ll send in Summers.”
Not a unit. Summers.
As in, one person. He (politely) repeated his statement of at least twenty fucking non-humans on site. Sir.
and the answer stayed the same. “We’ll send in Summers.”
And then a dead line. Hung up on him. Desk-jockey asshole.
After staring at the phone incredulously for a moment and then cussing for about five minutes, he’d done the logical thing. He’d started calling in favors to find out who this wunderkind Summers
(If there was one part about being Special Ops that Clay loved, it was the favors. Since he technically didn’t exist, he knew a whole lot of shit about a whole lot of people and the expressions on their faces when he – spook of spooks – paid them a visit and told them that they owed him one was simply hilarious.)
His favors hadn’t yielded shit.
So he’d gone a few steps up the food chain and called in a few more favors. And eventually found a mousy guy with a nervous tick who told him, via satellite feed, that Summers had popped up on the radar in ’03 as a liaison between the Para Squad and a private firm that was in the same business. ‘Liaison’ had quickly become ‘the wet blanket we throw on every fire we can’t put out ourselves’.
Somehow, Summers had been moved from conference rooms to the Columbian jungle and no-one seemed to find that strange. Clay had wondered, for a moment, why exactly the chick was letting herself be kicked around the globe like an armed band-aid, right up until his informant stopped giving out information and started ranting.
Summers was psychotic. Demon hunter of the worst (which meant, in Clay’s book, the best) kind. Kill count way beyond triple digits. He didn’t know if he believed that, but he figured he knew why the woman let herself be shoved into the field when she was supposed to be nothing but a liaison. She was a fighter, same as the Losers, hardwired for action, action, action.
After that, he’d known what to listen for and caught some more rumors. All going in the same direction. Insane. Insanely good. Psychotic. Killer. Hero. Nutjob.
She was gonna fit right in.
Two weeks after he’d put in his request, Clay was standing on a teensy-weensy heli-pad on a teensy-weensy base somewhere in Columbia, waiting to pick up Summers.
The heli touched down and he watched from a safe distance as the door was pushed open and a short blonde jumped out, a duffle slung over each shoulder. Her long hair whipped around every which way, making him cringe. She screamed something into the heli and someone seemed to scream right back because she threw her head back and laughed.
She didn’t look
But then, not everyone could look like Roque.
She waved and then ducked down, jogging towards Clay. The heli was back in the air before she reached him and they stood there, just looking at each other until the noise died down enough for them to hear their own thoughts again.
“So, you’re Colonel Clay?” she asked, looking up at him. She was a tiny thing, frail looking, especially in her civilian clothes. Her hair was a tangled mess around her shoulders, getting in the way of the bags, making his fingers itch. But even without all the intel he’d gathered on the woman, he wouldn’t have mistaken her for harmless. There was a glint in her eyes that said ‘killer’, said ‘danger’. He wasn’t dumb enough to ignore it, not after a lifetime of dealing with people that had that very same look. Not after being one of them for the better part of twenty years.
‘Small’ didn’t mean much when all you needed to be a killer was a finger to pull the trigger.
He nodded and held out a hand for her. “And you’re Summers.”
She laughed as she nodded, taking the hand. Laughing turned her from pretty into mesmerizing. She had the animal magnetism of a great cat when she let herself go like that. He bit back a sigh. They’d been stuck in this goddamn jungle for the better part of two months now, with barely any human contact. A woman like her in a camp with four horny men? There’d be blood and he had the feeling it wouldn’t be hers.
He blinked away the daze her laughter left him in and asked instead, “What’s so funny?”
“One of these days someone from the military is going to voluntarily use my first name. I really, really believe that.”
He grimaced but didn’t say anything. It was better that way. Who the fuck named their child ‘Buffy’? He nodded toward the jeep parked at the edge of the clearing they were in and said, “Ready to go?”
She laughed again. “You’re being very polite, Clay.”
He considered taking offense to how quickly she dropped his title, but she was a civilian and he was pretty sure it was revenge for calling her ‘Summers’.
“You’re a civilian,” he pointed out as he led the way.
“Doesn’t stop most big wigs from barking orders at me like I’m a dog with a trick,” she idly answered, hoisting her bags higher on her shoulders. He had to bite down on his instinctive impulse to carry the woman’s bags for her. Around here, people pulled their own weight. If she was used to it, she would take offense to him offering. If she wasn’t, it was high time she learned.
“Things are a bit different around here,” he told her as he got in on the driver’s side, leaving her to dump her gear into the back. One of the bags made a loud clanking sound. Weapons then, not clothes. He was starting to like this woman.
She hopped in shotgun and slammed the door before her hands went into her hair. As he started the car and turned them back towards camp, she finger combed it and then started braiding it back.
Really starting to like her.
Now if she was all that he’d been promised, they might just survive this mission.
They made small talk on the half hour ride through the jungle. Mostly harmless but somehow useful stuff. How much did it rain here? How far to the nearest town? Where did they get supplies from?
But he learned a few things about her, too. She was twenty-five and didn’t act like it. She was on a first name basis with Miller, the man who ran Para, and Finn, his SiC. Actually, she called them Gray and Ri, so it took him a minute to catch on to who she was talking about. When he asked, she said they ‘went way back’. He left it at that.
They reached camp (two rusty metal sheds and a tent) just as they started to run out of conversation and Summers looked around with a grimace. “Goodbye, personal hygiene,” she muttered, sounding girly for the first time. “I’ll miss you.”
Clay barked a laugh and got out, grabbing one of her bags as he went because, hell, why not. He picked the one with the weapons in it and was a tiny bit impressed at how that tiny girl had lugged it around like it weighed nothing when really, it had to weigh a hundred pounds.
She grabbed the other bag wordlessly and followed him to the bigger shed (house, pardon him), where the rest of the team would be waiting. On the way, he pointed toward the tent. “Sleeping quarters,” and the smaller shed, “Storage.”
Military said women should have their own sleeping quarters but that sure as shit didn’t fly out here. Summers didn’t bat an eyelash, only said, “Chorus snoring. Awesome.”
It didn’t even sound particularly sarcastic.
Inside the house he dumped her bag close by the door and got greeted with a few grunts and waves. Summers stepped up next to him and he pointed at everyone in turn. “Roque, weapons, Texas, our sniper and Snake, tech and transport. Everyone, meet Summers.”
Texas, a tall, gangly man who never tanned, grunted and frowned. Snake looked up from his equipment long enough to register a fifth life form inside the building. Roque looked like he couldn’t decide whether to laugh or yell.
Summers snorted before Clay could say anything. She dumped the bag she was carrying on top of her other one and said, “No, this is an elaborate joke. They hired me and flew me all the way out here to screw with you. Punked!”
Since Roque wasn’t actually used to anyone being stupid enough to give him lip, he sort of stopped in his tracks and frowned. Texas looked like he was almost laughing. Clay most certainly was.
He got himself under control when his SiC finally settled on snarling and glowering, which was completely lost on Summers who turned to Snake and asked, “So whatcha got?”
Since he wasn’t looking up, he didn’t realize she was actually talking to him until Clay barked, “Snake!”
His tech jumped so high he almost cleared the edge of the table with his ass and Clay sighed. There were two ways to land in this unit. The first was being screwed in the head badly enough that no normal command wanted to deal with the fallout of when you inevitably lost it and went on a killing spree. The second was pissing off someone high up in the chain of command. He and Roque both fell in the first category. Snake and Texas were in the second.
They were both very, very good in their chosen profession, sniper and tech, but out here, on missions that were only half a step above ‘suicide’ (and sometimes not even that), that wasn’t enough. When the shit really hit the fan, those two were a weakness instead of an asset. Clay just hoped their transfers got approved before they were dead, but he wasn’t holding his breath. He liked those kids, but that was how life was for a Loser. Sink or swim. Most people sunk and it was an ugly job, finding new swimmers. Judging by the way Summers looked at a startled Snake, she saw that Snake wasn’t a combatant, too. Tech support, with the stress on ‘support’. He manned the comms and drove the get-away car.
Question was: Which side of the equation was she going to come down when things got hot? Asset or weakness?
“Yes, ma’am?” the techie asked as soon as he had himself back under control (which, admittedly, was faster than it had been three months ago, maybe they’d turn the man into a real Loser after all).
“Don’t call me that, I’m younger than you,” she shot back, in a way that said she’d had this exchange many, many times. “I wanna see what you got about the reason I’m here.”
Snake blinked owlishly at her and then looked at Clay, who motioned for him to go ahead and pull up the footage. Snake nodded and worked his magic on the computer in front of him. With a few keystrokes, he’d pulled up the surveillance cameras in the compound, which he’d tapped within two days of their getting here.
He flipped through a few files and came up with the stills he’d made and enhanced, showing everyone in the compound. He pulled up the pictures and shoved away from the table a bit to make room for her. She bent at the waist to take a closer look and, like Clay had predicted, the drooling started. There wasn’t a pair of eyes in the room (except her own) that wasn’t fixed on her ass or cleavage.
Sleeping with a woman in close quarters was going to be an exercise in pillow biting, unless she started wearing bags. And even that probably wouldn’t help.
Summers either didn’t notice or ignored the drool pooling around her feet with long practice. She clicked through a few pictures and then looked up at Clay, lips quirking in a less friendly version of her earlier laughter. “You sure know how to pick ‘em, Clay.”
She nodded and straightened, stepped around the table and leaned against it with her hip, arms crossed. “Those guys,” she hooked one thumb over her shoulder at the computer, “Are some of the toughest suckers you’ll find.”
She said ‘sucker’ instead of ‘fucker’. Cute.
Still, that didn’t sound very good. “How though?”
“Only way to kill them is head and heart.”
He raised an eyebrow. Standard kill shots if you wanted to make sure your enemy was really dead. One in the heart and then another in the head, so the fucker won’t get back up. “I can do that,” Texas piped up, patting his rifle, slung over one shoulder.
She shook her head, not even looking at him. “Guns won’t do. You need to cut the head off and the heart out. You can put them down temporarily if you damage either, but they’ll get back up if you don’t finish the job within, say, fifteen minutes. Quick first move, take them out, then pretend it’s Halloween and get carving.”
Which meant the entire op was going to be close range combat. Which meant, past the initial assault, Texas and Snake would be utterly useless. Shit.
Summers looked them all over once, head cocked to one side. Roque was the only one who met her gaze evenly, playing with one of his ever present knives. She snorted, he smirked. “So,” she finally asked once she was done with her inspection, “Hand to hand?”
Clay nodded at Roque and then raised his own hand, admitting, “I’m good bare, not with knives.”
She didn’t look like she’d expected anything else. Instead she sighed and turned back to Roque and nodded at the knife dancing between his fingers. “You that good with a real blade?”
Texas choked and barely managed to turn his head away from sensitive equipment before snorting coffee. “Real blade? Girl, what do you call that ten inch monster he’s handlin’?”
Roque, who didn’t like it when you insulted his babies, flipped the knife in his hand and changed the grip to a fighting one, glaring black death. Summers smiled brightly at him. “A toothpick,” she announced.
Roque being Roque took offense and lunged forward like a dog on a chain, all teeth and snarl, knife up at his shoulder, ready for a killing move. Summers blinked, tried to look impressed.
Clay, who’d been watching her instead of his SiC’s usual antics, was pretty sure she’d followed the entire move. She’d tracked
it and Roque, while a big motherfucker, was by no means slow.
“So,” she repeated, “Real blades?”
Yeah, Clay was going to like this bitch just fine.
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