Driver Needed, Now Hiring
A/N: Sorry for the lack of life signs. Been a busy bee. Thanks for your lovely reviews.
+Driver Needed, Now Hiring
In which we learn how to become a Loser in five (easy) steps. Well, five and a half, really.
+0: First, you gotta agree to take the job.
The first time Linwood Porteus met Lieutenant Colonel Franklin Clay the man’s arm was in a sling and he still sported the last vestiges of a helluva shiner around his left eye.
He stood in front of Pooch’s door and asked to be let in. “I’ve got a job for you, if you want it, son.”
At first, Pooch didn’t even realize the man was military. He’d been on forced leave for the past month because he’d punched his CO in the face in Afghanistan to go back and save two guys from his unit against direct orders.
He’d made it out, the guys made it out, the car made it out and the annoying as fuck CO who’d put his own escape in the only vehicle they had above getting two wounded men out of the line of fire had made it out, too. Unfortunately.
As it was, the only thing between Pooch and a DD was the fact that he’d been in the right and the CO obviously in the wrong. Still, no-one wanted a guy who didn’t follow orders if he didn’t like them. He’d been sitting at home since he got back stateside and Jolene was just about to shoot him for sitting on the couch all day, brooding and bitching.
Clay asked, “Can I come in, son?”
He sat on Pooch’s couch, drank coffee from Jolene’s good china with a wry smile of amusement at the flower patterns on it, and wanted to know, “Ever heard of the Losers?”
Pooch had. Everyone in the world of black ops had. The Losers were the cream of the crop and the kind of crazy that stood out in a room full of lunatics. When a mission was impossible, it went to the Losers and they got it done with a hefty dose of luck, even more insanity and a whole helping of mad skills.
The Losers was where the military’s rejects and orphans went to either sink or swim.
Very carefully, Pooch said, “Yessir.”
Clay leaned back into the couch and said, “We lost our sniper last week.”
Holy hell, Pooch thought. No wonder the man looked so tired and beaten up. They’d probably just arrived state-side, body-bag in tow. Proof that the Losers’ famous luck wasn’t always lucky. Pooch’s manners wanted him to offer his condolences, but the soldier in him clamped down on the manners. His momma would have been ashamed but Pooch had met men like Clay before. They didn’t like hearing ‘sorry’ from anyone. So he waited and wondered what a dead sniper had to do with him, a driver.
“Command says we lost him because we’re short the regulation five men. That’s bull, but an order’s an order. So apart from needing to find a new sniper within the next week, I also need a driver. Want the job?”
Later that day Jolene looked at him, long and hard and a bit scared and then sighed because she’d been complaining that he was climbing the walls for the past month and she knew he thrived on danger. She knew he wanted that job. So she sighed and nodded and let him go.
He loved her all the more for it.
+1: You gotta accept the idiosyncrasies.
Pooch figured out why Clay thought the whole ‘five men’ thing was bullshit when he first met the rest of the unit on the plane that was going to take them to an ‘undisclosed location’. Jolene had dumped him at the gate of the base an hour earlier, kissed him goodbye and told him not to fuck up. He’d promised to try.
The first guy through the doorway Clay. The second his SiC, a big, angry man named Roque. Third was the tech and former driver, Snake. Then came the new sniper, a surly, short guy by the name of Miller and then, when Pooch thought everyone was accounted for, a short blonde woman in civvies followed, cup of Starbuck’s coffee in hand, yawning widely. Five men
She dumped her gear next to the door, unsecured, and slumped into the nearest seat. “Why do missions always have to start in the middle of the night?” she asked no-one in particular.
No-one answered while they all secured their stuff and buckled in. Clay called out the all clear and Pooch felt the plane start moving. Just like that, off to a new mission with a bunch of strangers. Pooch was more excited than he probably should have been.
The plane was picking up speed when Roque, who had, until then, only glowered silently (looking like a serial killer, in Pooch’s humble opinion), answered, “It’s not the middle of the night. You just don’t know when to go to fucking sleep.”
Miller grunted his assent, which was funny, because he didn’t know these people from Adam either. The woman gave him a look but said nothing about it, slurping her coffee.
“Say it with me, people,” she demanded after a moment. “Noc-tur-nal. Unlike Snake, I can’t sleep anywhere and at any time.”
Snake grinned, clutching his computer tighter as they took off. “It’s a skill,” he boasted.
“No, it’s not,” Roque shot down, “It’s you being a lazy fuck.”
Snake pointed and glared right back. It didn’t look half as scary on him. “Take that back, man. I saved your ass more than once.”
“Columbia,” Roque argued.
“I was not sleeping
. I was passed out from blood loss, you jerk.”
Judging by the SiC’s expression, that was no excuse. Pooch smothered a chuckle as Snake looked away from the big man, attempting to hide behind his computer. Apparently, he wasn’t willing to outright fight with Roque. Pooch couldn’t blame him. Fucker was scary
The woman finally finished her coffee and put a hand out to snap her fingers in front of Roque’s face. Apparently, she wasn’t scared of the guy like any sane person would have been. “Stop being mean, Roque.”
“Shut your face, Mom,” he shot back, not missing a beat.
She grinned brightly at him and then sunk back into her seat, turning to Clay who, until then, had watched everything with the indulgence of a parent. “You gonna gimme some names, Clay? Or do I have to call them New Guy and Other New Guy?”
Pooch chuckled and wondered who the hell the woman was. She was in civvies on a plane full of army guys, comfortable with them and obviously not shy about her place. Miller was blatantly checking her out.
Clay pointed at them in turn. “That’s Corporal James Miller, our new sniper. And Sergeant Linwood Porteus, the driver.”
She looked at Pooch very carefully before asking neutrally, “Linwood?”
He shrugged. He loved his momma, but he’d accepted long ago that she’d been very high when she’d named him. “Just call me Pooch.”
A smile grew on her face and Miller was positively leering at her now. “Roque?” she sing-songed.
He grunted in return and pulled out a – holy motherfucking shit, that was a knife! “What?” he asked as he pulled out a rag and started wiping down the blade.
“You can never, ever, ever poke fun at my name again. ‘Linwood’ is way worse than ‘Buffy’.”
Pooch, who knew all about horrible names, merely raised an eyebrow. Buffy? Sounded like a hippy-kid. Californian, probably. Miller, on the other hand, had been absent in tact school when they covered names and choked out loud.
“Buffy?” he barked, laughing, “You’re fucking jokin’, girlie.”
He was pretty sure a blind man would have noticed how the three male Losers tensed up when Miller called Buffy ‘girlie’.
“Miller,” Clay interrupted before anything happened, “Meet Summers. She’s on loan from Para.”
There was a warning in there and Pooch heard it loud and clear. It didn’t say ‘don’t mess with our girl’, like one would expect. It said ‘don’t mess with that woman if you value your balls because she’s gonna wear them on a necklace’.
Anyone working for Para was tough as fucking nails. Anyone Para thought good enough to loan to a special ops team on their own
was probably scary as hell. And a unit like the Losers wouldn’t be dragging anyone with them if they were a hindrance rather than an asset.
Summers pulled her weight. So Pooch shrugged and said, “Cool. Do they really have shrink rays?”
Miller, though, seemed to miss the warning he’d just been given completely because he inspected her like a piece of meat, heel of her boot to the top of her head, and snorted. “Yeah,” he drawled. “Sure.”
Roque stopped polishing his knife just long enough to raise his head and look
at Miller. It was the look the snake gave the bunny shortly before dinner time and Pooch couldn’t quite shake the feeling that he’d just passed a test and Miller hadn’t.
+2: You gotta be crazy.
They called it a practice mission. Training wheels on. Half throttle. Basically a walk in the park.
Pooch had no idea what to call it because he was busy trying to stay the fuck alive and not lose his shit in the process. He’d narrowly avoided getting blown up along with his car and was now crouched behind barrels with questionable contents (probably highly flammable and going to blow him up anyway
) and trying not to get shot by the angry motherfuckers they’d been trying to very quietly steal all their intel from.
Summers was crouched next to him, bandaging up Clay’s left arm with a piece of her shirt, lest their fearless leader bleed to death. Clay, who didn’t seem all that concerned with dying, was shooting with his good arm and yelling orders at Snake over comms. Miller was somewhere above them, laying down cover fire that didn’t do much good and Roque was to their left, hiding behind a couple flimsy crates. Considering them, Pooch decided he liked his barrels just fine after all.
Still, “We’re going to die.”
Over comms, Roque laughed. “Man,” he crowed, “Fifty dudes with AKs.”
Summers nodded as she finished tying the knot. “Standard fare,” she added as she spat out a piece of fabric from ripping her shirt, picked up her own gun with a look of distaste and asked, “You seen anything with wheels before the good times started?”
Pooch, who was still hung up on the way Roque had said ‘fifty dudes with AKs’ like other people said ‘cloudy with a possibility of rain’, took a moment to work through what she’d just said. Good times? Su-ure.
“Jeep,” he finally managed. “Through that door.” He pointed to the far side of the warehouse they were in and then quickly pulled back his arm and returned fire.
“Snake?” Clay asked, ducking around the barrels long enough to try and get a look at the place.
“On my way there, boss.”
“Good. Roque, we’re coming at you. Cover us. Mom, take the rear.”
Wo-ow! There were at least sixty feet of open space between them and Roque and again as much between him and the door, which was probably locked. The bad guys were up on the gallery, overlooking everything. “We’re really
Summers smacked him upside the head. “Positive thinking!” she demanded.
“We’re really gonna die
!” Pooch crowed, smiling widely.
Summers snickered. “That’s the spirit. I’ll cover you.”
With that she shoved him out of their cover into the line of fire and Pooch had no choice but to run. He suddenly missed his barrels. They’d been really awesome, in hindsight. He kept most of his attention on running without falling, sending random bursts of cover fire in the approximate direction of the bad guys. Clay was right behind him, whooping loudly. If Jolene ever found out about this, she was going to kill him.
It took a breathtaking seven seconds for Pooch to skid behind Roque and his crates, safe again. Well, safer. Roque was laughing so hard, he seemed close to tears.
Pooch spun to check that Clay had made it and noticed Summers still behind the barrels. She gave him a short wave and then swung, throwing her gun their way, leaving her unarmed. The fuck?
He figured out what she was up to a second later when Clay grunted, “The Amazing Mom is afoot again.”
Roque nodded and ducked around a crate to lay cover fire for her, as she suddenly stood, arms above her head and launched, head first, into a flip. Another, another, another. She practically flew across the open space, faster than Pooch had run and offering less of a target with her crazy acrobatics. She ended with a cartwheel over Clay’s head and landed in a crouch next to Pooch, who handed her back her gun.
Smiling sunnily at him she asked, “Next trip?”
Lord help him, but Pooch laughed.
+3: You gotta be able to hold your liquor.
“’N t’n, y’know, t’n, he’ssss, like… he’s…, ‘n I says, I says…he’s…,” Miller trailed off, mercifully forgetting what he’d been going to say. Summers watched him with an expression of distaste, lip curled in a very unattractive way. Pooch, who had watched her make faces behind the sniper’s back all night, found himself hoping (not for the first time), that she didn’t look like that at him when he wasn’t looking.
“Awesome,” Roque agreed with the man, not moving a muscle in his face. He grabbed the bottle, swept an arm over the table to collect all the empty glasses and started refilling them until half an inch from the top. No more, no less. He’d been doling out the shots all night and even as their levels of intoxication passed ‘drunk’ and reached ‘utterly smashed’ he’d never spilled a single drop.
As a seasoned soldier, Pooch had seen men put away their weight in booze, but the Losers were acting only slightly tipsy after four plus bottles of tequila between the six of them. Could we say functioning alcoholics, anyone?
He guessed more shoot outs, more danger and more insane schemes equaled a need for more booze to drown out the shit, but this was getting ridiculous. They were drinking like fish, damn it, and they weren’t letting either of the two new guys back out. Hell, even Summers was drinking like nothing he’d ever seen.
She weighed a hundred pounds (he knew, he’d gotten to carry her unconscious ass last week) and drank like Roque. Sure, she’d muttered something about ‘feeling that’ early on, along with ‘giant snake monsters’ and ‘cavemen assholes’, but that didn’t seem to be stopping her. When he’d asked how she wasn’t unconscious on the floor about an hour ago, she’d shrugged and said something about a super-metabolism. It had taken three tries, but she’d gotten the word out correctly in the end. Pooch knew women could hold their liquor. Jolene could play drinking games with the best of them. But this? Was fucking out there. Way out there.
Roque slung the full glasses back to their owners and raised an eyebrow at Clay, who sat next to Miller. The Colonel elbowed the sniper and got nothing but a grunt from the man, who’d sunk into himself at the end of his sentence.
Then Miller snored and Pooch snorted, feeling himself sway a bit in his seat. Oh yeah, he was way, way, way
past drunk. He really hoped those guys didn’t do shit like that regularly, because his liver would turn deserter within a month. That shit wasn’t healthy.
“Gone,” Clay observed before asking, “How many was that?”
Pooch thought he was asking about drinks, but Summers answered, “Three. His first command, his first time – can we say eugh
– and the mission in Burma that went belly up. All in under,” she stopped to check her watch, “Three hours.”
Snake, who looked the drunkest out of the ‘old’ Losers, giggled a bit. “He’s gonna get us killed.”
Clay nodded, his SiC simply shook his head in disgust and Pooch’s booze-soaked brain finally put the pieces together. “This was a test,” he said, proud that he barely slurred.
Summers nodded and then grabbed onto Roque’s shoulder to keep from falling off her chair as she swayed dangerously.
“Pussy,” the big man rumbled in her direction, but didn’t brush off her hand like he would have if she’d been anyone else.
“Asshole,” she shot back without missing a beat. “I weigh half as much as you and I matched you, didn’t I?”
“Yeah,” Snake threw in, waving a hand in front of his face distractedly. Pooch found that hilarious and bit back on a giggle without much success. Cut him some slack here, he was drunk as a skunk. “But you’re gonna be use…use…uuuseeeless for the next three days.”
Summers’s answer was short, to the point, and delivered with a single digit.
“You got us drunk to see if we talk out of school when we’re blitzed,” Pooch stated, not asked.
Clay nodded, slowly and carefully. Now that Miller was a goner and Pooch had apparently (he hoped) passed the test, they all suddenly looked a lot drunker than before. Less carefully hiding it, maybe. “Loose lips sink ships,” he offered unapologetically. Then he hooked a thumb at Miller. “He failed.”
“Did I pass?” Pooch asked, needing to be sure.
Mom stood, slowly toddled around Roque and Snake and patted Pooch on the head. He thought she meant to pat him on the shoulder and missed. “Tototally,” she assured him. “’S important. National security. Plus, people who can’t hold their liquor are boring
She smiled brightly, nodded to herself and turned to stagger to bed. The men watched her go until she was out of sight. Then the Colonel asked, a bit wistfully, “Remember the time we tried to do it to her?”
Snake and Roque made noises of agreement. Vaguely. Pooch’s question probably showed in his expression (his poker face was shot
after two beers) because Clay took pity on him and said, “We could barely keep up. Only way to get her drunk is to do it fast. If you give her time…” he shook his head mournfully.
Pooch decided he didn’t want to hear the story because he wouldn’t remember it anyway in the morning and put his head down on the table next to his still full glass. He closed his eyes and hoped, really hard, that someone had thought to stock up on painkillers before this little test.
If not, they were all fucked.
+4: You gotta know when to shut your mouth.
The whole team watched dispassionately as Miller stormed out of the room after Summers had fired one snippy comment too many in his direction and no-one had interfered on his behalf.
Pooch, even though he knew he had nothing to do with the constant friction, felt guilty. So far, he had passed all the little tests the team had thrown at them and he felt comfortable with these people. Miller did not. It was his own damn fault, mind you, for being a chauvinist, arrogant asshole, but there it was.
“Summers,” Clay finally sighed when Miller was safely out of earshot. He sounded resigned more than annoyed, and Pooch knew it was because there was no controlling Summers. Between her and Roque, their CO had his hands more than full.
The blonde shrugged noncommittally. “He’d going to get himself killed because of his arrogance,” she said plainly.
“Wouldn’t be the first sniper to go that way,” Roque countered and Snake stiffened behind his laptop.
“Texas was not arrogant,” he bit out, fists clenching on the table. Instant anger.
Clay sighed again, sounding even wearier than before. “He was a fucking idiot,” Roque said, still conversationally. Casual cruelty. He was good at that, when he wanted to be.
Snake jumped to his feet, almost upsetting the table and his tech stuff. “He died saving our lives!”
“He died because he was too fucking arrogant to run when Clay told him to. He thought he was safe and he thought he knew better. That’s why he’s fucking dead.”
“That’s not true!”
“Yes, it is,” Summers threw in her own two cents, infinitely more gentle than the SiC, but still in a tone that did not tolerate disagreement.
The tech looked close to tears and Pooch made a point of studying the ground. It was one thing, knowing you were on the team because someone else was dead, but having it spelled out like this? Sucked ass. Snake was obviously grieving for a dead friend and the rest of the team had no patience for it, which didn’t help. Snake shoved his equipment to one side and thumped his fist on the table before pointing an accusing finger at Summers.
“Like you’re any better? Texas was arrogant? What about you? You obey orders when you feel like it, and last week, huh? Clay told you to get out but no, the great Buffy Summers has to stay back and go hand to hand against a bunch of demons just to prove she’s better! How’s he more arrogant than you?!”
The woman sighed and ran a hand through her hair, looking frustrated. “I’m still alive, that’s how. I know what I can and can’t do and Texas didn’t. It sucks, but it’s his own fucking fault he’s dead and you know it.”
For a moment, Pooch thought the tech was going to jump her and try to claw out her eyes or something, he looked so angry. Then he reigned himself in and spat, “Fuck you. All of you. You fucking arrogant… fuck!”
He stormed out and Summers flung herself back in her seat, kicking at the crate serving as a coffee table hard enough to send all kinds of maps and drinks flying.
For the longest time, none of the four left in the room said anything. They all knew Snake was right. Pooch looked from Clay to Summers to Roque and wondered when their luck would run out.
+5: You gotta trust the team.
Okay, so, maybe this was negative thinking, but Pooch was fairly sure that he was about to die. Messily. Painfully.
Which was kind of expected in his line of business, but fuck all if he planned to do it today
. Today started out nicely. There’d been sunshine and breakfast that didn’t come prepackaged and unrecognizable and he’d gotten to phone Jolene to just chat for a while, blowing off steam.
At least he thought that had been today. He suspected he was missing some time, seeing as how the last thing he remembered was waiting in the chopper for the team and now he was stripped down and duct-taped to a chair in a dark, dank, hot as fuck hellhole of a room that looked like the inside of a cancer patient’s lungs. No, seriously.
But then he supposed that the scenery should really not be his top concern, seeing as there was a grimy little table in the corner by the door, piled high with shiny silver things that had suspicious brown flecks on them that were definitely not rust.
He considered panicking for a moment and then decided to think rather than shake and gibber. He conjured his woman’s face in his mind, took a deep breath and started working on getting back to her.
His head rang like a church bell and he tasted blood. His left arm was burning like a mother and he vaguely (very vaguely) remembered having been grazed there. The wound in his thigh was definitely not
a graze, but it had scabbed over so at least he wasn’t going to bleed to death. He didn’t know where he was, but inside the stronghold of the terrorist fucks they’d been sent to take out was a fairly good bet. He didn’t know how long he’d been here, but not too long. Someone would have paid him a visit already. The last he had heard from the team they’d been blown somehow. Roque and Clay had gone to ground under radio silence, which meant they were (had been) headed for the secondary rendezvous fifteen klicks out. Snake had been pretty far out with his toys, so he was probably safe and sound. Miller had been supposed to cover them, so chances were good he was either dead or seriously hurt because the cover? Yeah, not so much.
Pooch had no idea where Mom had gotten to in the whole mess but he had faith in the woman. She was scrappy as hell and determined enough to give even a fucking Taliban pause.
So he figured his chances of getting saved were fairly good. The team was most likely alive and together and this whole mess wasn’t even close to the Losers’ standards of FUBAR.
So Pooch leaned back in the rickety chair and relaxed as well as he could. Cramped up muscles were the last thing he needed when the cavalry came riding in. He closed his eyes so he didn’t stare at the torture instruments in the corner the whole time and breathed in time with the throb in his thigh and arm. In his head, he edited the whole story for when he’d tell it to Jolene.
Thirteen thousand two hundred and twelve (maybe thirteen) throbs later, there was screaming somewhere close by and no gunshots. Mom then, or Roque. They were the only ones that would get this far into the place without a shot.
Pooch stopped counting and opened his eyes.