Charlie grimaced at the ground in the pale moonlight.
This was a familiar path on the property. He knew the hills and curves with such clear and vivid familiarity that he would not have to use his stop watch, but since waking up, things had changed. Assuming the runner's starting off position, Charlie put his fingers on the dirt as he leaned forward on the balls of his feet. He waited for his stopwatch to beep before he pushed off, running the path at a break neck speed.
Waking up in Duibne had been terrifying. The smells were familiar but...not. The feel of the sheets on his body, view of the ceiling, but more importantly the coppery smell of blood and excrement penetrated his nose as he turned and looked at Lewis who had his back to him.
Charlie took the first hill, pumping the new muscles in his thighs.
Slipping out of the bed, Charlie felt the familiar tile under the balls of his feet. It shouldn't have been, but it was. He knew the four inch by four inch tile had pale blue diamonds in the center. Standing flat on his feet, Charlie looked at the back of Lewis' head as his buddy looked down. Following Lewis' gaze, Charlie saw the bodies of two men he had never met, but knew as Pipers.
"Lewis? Matty? Is that blood?"
Charlie took the next hill and as he crested it, felt his sneaker slip, almost making him trip, but he pushed off down the hill and took the next quarter mile at a full out sprint.
Why did he always think of these few moments after waking up from what felt like a restless sleep? It was the same thing, every time.
"Is that their blood on you, Matty?"
"Oh no, Charlie. This is Vivienne's."
Charlie had wanted to ask who Vivienne was, but that revelation would come later. Right then there was two dead bodies in his hospital room, bleeding all over the familiar tile floor.
He could feel the burn in his legs as he pushed his body to the edge of what he knew he was capable. Running wasn't the only thing that had changed about him. His stamina and endurance had faltered, falling far below what he knew he could manage as a Piper. Charlie no longer ranked almost even with the LT in physical prowess and ability. Still stronger than a human man, his werewolf abilities betrayed him.
Charlie was no longer the man he was. So what was he now?
Crossing the end point of his run, Charlie slowed down to a stop and bent over, gasping for air. His heart trembled in his chest, not from the exertion, but from the inevitable. Lifting his watch, he looked at the time.
Charlie's body shook with a spasm of fear and despair. Every night he pushed himself on this path, the same path he had run before, and looked at his watch with the same sense of self loathing. A run he could normally do in less than three minutes took him a full seven. Never worse, but never better. It was a reminder that Charlie was half the man he used to be.
Crumbling to the dirt, Charlie gasped for air as he crossed his legs together and hugged his knees. Rocking quickly, he squeezed his eyes shut as he sobbed quietly. Shaking his head, he struggled with the incomprehensible changes. It was more than a man could bear.
"I'm not me. I'm not me."
And it wasn't just his body that had changed.
Standing quickly, Charlie restarted his watch and took off like a shot back in the opposite direction. He kept pushing, harder and harder, as he took the turns and hills, passing through the huge oak trees within the Long Run. If he couldn't even run as fast as a Piper, why would he even stay as one? They had stripped him of his rank already. They had taken everything away and he had no memory as to why.
All he had left was his mind and that was broken, too.
He was bleeding now. The coppery smell of his blood filled his nose, pushing the wolf in him to the surface, wanting to bite through his new skin. Gone were all the scars - the tell tale silver burns on his fingertips that all Pipers had to some degree, the scars on his head from his beatings as a kid, and his badges of courage serving as Sergeant in the Alpha's Pipers. It was all gone - everything that was him before, anything that told a story, a pivotal moment in his life was gone.
The tears dried and the anger began to boil his blood.
If he wasn't Charlie Hammond, if he wasn't the Alpha's Pipers Sergeant, if he wasn't anything but a curiosity to even his own friends...then what was he?
Suddenly the dirt beneath his feet shifted and his vision tunneled as it stretched out in front of him and a burst of speed gathered from his chest down into his legs and Charlie felt his body not move but expand.
The oak trees around him blurred - even their sweet smelling scents faded and twisted into nothingness. The friction of fast and hard speed pulled at his skin and almost as quickly as the burst of energy had come, his feet stumbled and he flew forward, through bushes and down a hill into a thicker part of the forest, directly in the path of one of the larger oak trees in the forest.
Charlie fell forward, his hands hitting the dirt and he felt the skin rip from his palms up the underside of his forearms. Smaller limbs and tree branches snapped and broke, whipping out at him and slicing his skin as he had the foresight to finally tuck and roll, but he could not stop his direct path into that large oak tree in front of him, that was until everything just stopped.
Charlie was pretty sure he had stopped, but he had to open his eyes to actually see if he was, in fact, dead because strangely enough, he just couldn't tell.
Lifting his head from his flat on the ground position, Charlie spit caked dirt and blood from his mouth. His entire body ached, but as he pushed himself up onto his knees, the pain began to ebb away. Swallowing, Charlie looked down at his palms, fully expecting to see at the very least new scabs of torn skin, but there was nothing but a soft, red bruising. Twisting his left wrist, he checked the time.
He was six minutes late for the morning run. Shaking his head, Charlie stood and tried to remember what happened. He had been running like he did every night, then he remembered the sick, palatable depression that had taken him further into the forest, pushing him to run faster. Then something happened. Charlie turned and looked back at his path and felt his stomach drop to his feet.
Behind him was one the biggest oak trees he had ever seen on the property. Charlie was directly in front of it, give or take two feet, but he had landed almost up against it. Turning back around he looked, confused at where he was or where he had come from exactly. Nothing was disturbed beyond where he was standing, so slowly Charlie looked back at the tree and moved around it.
There was a direct path of broken tree limbs, disturbed leaves and tracks in the dirt leading up to the oak tree and then it stopped.
"But...." Charlie said to no one in particular. He kept looking at the path of his destruction as he backed up, putting more distance between the oak tree and himself. Suddenly the urge to throw up was imminent and he turned, throwing up last night's dinner or what was left of it. With his back to the tree, Charlie stood up and began to run back toward the trail the Pipers would be taking. He felt his stomach cramp and he turned his head to the side, dry heaving as he felt his mind try and tell him what happened. That somehow, some way Charlie ran a direct path into that Oak tree and ended up on the other side. But his body was refusing to accept it because that would only mean one thing.
Charlie passed through the tree, not around it.
Refusing to think this thought, Charlie double timed it back to the trail, wiping the blood and vomit away from his mouth.
The group slowed down and stopped in front of Charlie. LT walked up to Charlie and gave him a strange look.
"Yeah, I was...swimming. Lost track of time."
"It's good cardio." Charlie wiped at his mouth and fell in line at the back of the group.
The other Pipers nodded silently and then looked back at LT. Charlie avoided eye contact with LT who stood just off to the side looking at Charlie, a strange expression on his friend's face. Charlie forced himself to relax, stretched out his arms waiting for LT to pick the run back up again. Ten seconds ticked by as the other Pipers began to talk among themselves. Twenty. Finally LT walked up to Charlie, tugging at his arm, pulling him away from the group.
Raising his eyebrows, LT turned toward the group and ordered them to run ahead without them. Charlie would not be able to keep up, hadn't been able to since waking up, so he decided to take the opportunity to talk to Charlie as they finished up the run.
"I'll run with you, come on."
"You don't have to do that," Charlie said, his voice clearly on edge.
"Dude, you smell like blood. Come on, I'm not stupid."
Charlie scratched at his neck, refusing to make eye contact.
"You're not going to tell me what you're up to out here?"
"I'm not doing anything, just...getting some running in."
LT nodded. So Charlie was running at night to try and pick up his performance. LT wanted to press, but Charlie was already having a difficult time, so he let it go. Reaching out he shoved Charlie, making his old Sergeant look up at him sharply.
"Show me then. Let's go."
LT started to walk backwards, smiling at his oldest friend. Charlie had been a gimpy little nerd when they first met, battered and beaten for being different and smart. But even back then there was something about Charlie, something he saw now in the man he almost didn't recognize. Charlie had beat the living fuck out of a group of kids that had tormented him - only he had done it in a straight up, one on one fight with each, but there was nothing honorable about what Charlie did. The gimpy little kid fought downright dirty, almost killing the leader of the group, certainly doing severe brain damage. LT had met Charlie after that incident when his Uncle Shayle had taken Charlie away and closer to the Hammerthynns and Jamesons, offering him a gift, a chance to be reborn.
Thirty some odd years later Charlie was reborn again, but it wasn't by his choice. LT had been the one to object to the Eternity to bring Charlie back from the brink, said Charlie wouldn't want it, and looking at his best friend now, LT knew he was right.
Charlie seemed to struggle with something, staring at the ground as LT pulled further and further away till finally Charlie moved, jogging to catch up. Whatever Charlie was going through now, LT just couldn't comprehend. They weren't teenage boys with devastating loss in common - LT's own parents dead and gone as well as Charlie's - but grown men going in two different directions, although LT had no idea where Charlie's was taking him. All he knew was that they did something wrong in defying God Charlie Hammond and now Charlie had to pay for the extra bit of time that had looked like a gift but seemed to be turning into a hell on earth for him.
LT twisted, running forward with Charlie as they ran back to the edge of the Tikerak for the morning sparring.
Lewis twisted away from the other Pipers, holding his god daughter with greedy hands.
"Come on, Lewis."
"AHHHHH!" he grumbled even angrier. "She's mine. Get off."
"That is one grumpy nerd," Red mumbled under his breath as Viv watched the Pipers fight over Catherine. The little girl was oblivious to all the attention from the other men. She was completely focused on her Lewis, bobbing her head forward, smacking her forehead on his strong chin. Viv was thrilled Lewis took to Catherine with such enthusiasm, possessive and protective over her daughter, Viv knew there wasn't anything Lewis wouldn't do for Catherine for as long as he lived.
God, just don't let them get married, she thought to herself.
"Give her here, Piper Kearney." Duncan reached out for his granddaughter and gently took her in his huge arms. "Her grandmother will be here soon so I need to get as much of her as I can."
Viv gulped thinking of her future mother-in-law. She had never personally met Mrs Jameson, but Viv knew she was no joke. You raise four Jameson boys and you learn right quick how to control that much testosterone with a single look. It made Viv nervous.
Duncan looked at Viv, signaling that he was leaving, and with a small smile Viv watched Catherine and her grandfather walk back to the Den. The Pipers all said goodbye, waving to her as she stared at them over Duncan's shoulder.
"I cannot wait for her to get into high school," Viv mumbled. Brig laughed, nodding.
"She'll never have a date with them around. God I can't wait!" Brig said happily as LT and Charlie finally made it back to the sparring grounds.
The wind brought their scents before she saw them, but she felt her stomach tighten at the sight of Charlie. He and LT came in at a slow run, stopping at the sparring circle. Charlie's skin was slowly starting to tan again, but it was different somehow, like years of skin damage from the sun had never happened; nary a freckle or blemish - just soft, Caucasian white skin. Viv looked away and at the circle of Pipers, letting her eyes unfocus.
Brig was walking up to the others and his aura shone brightly in her jungle sense, along with Hammer who was coming up from the opposite side. Physically they were still equal in strength and authority, clearly showing them as the Alpha males. Her eyes moved from Piper to Piper.
Her first time out to the Tikerak was almost exactly a year ago. Viv looked at each Piper with her sight, gauging each man for his worth like she did back then. Dom and Marthinus had the faintest of glows with Marko and Red following, Red's glow just slightly brighter. As LT and Charlie walked up, JT stepped into view and confused her for a moment, blurring LT's glow, making it brighter than normal. Immediately she shifted her gaze and looked at Charlie. He lacked any glow whatsoever - ranking not fourth below the LT, but at the bottom. A year ago this time Charlie was easily LT's equal, but so much had changed.
Moving to the edge of the sparring circle, the Pipers laughed and talked as Hammer and Brig conferred near the middle. Viv looked at her mate as his scent floated over to her, wrapping her in the tingle of warm lust. Immediately he turned his head and looked at her, making her blush with his piercing blue eyes. Viv made a face, playfully glaring at him and he winked at her, giving her goose bumps. Pointing at JT, Hammer called the new Piper into the circle and then Brig lifted his chin, nodding to LT.
"Oh...uh," Red mumbled quietly, looking back and forth between JT and LT. Viv stepped up to Red and nudged him.
Viv looked back at the two Pipers moving to the center of the ring and again JT blurred LT's glow, but that wasn't what shocked her. The look that passed between JT and the LT was molten lava, but just for a moment.
Red looked down at Viv and winced. "This...might not be a good idea."
There it was again, that hidden animosity that the two men were carrying for each other. LT's demeanor completely changed. Yes, he had the Jameson bravado his uncle, the Commander had, but this was different. This was...bad. Just short of pissing on the ground to mark their territory, Charlie felt the fight between the two men was more than just for fun.
It was personal.
Charlie's eyes moved from LT to Paulson. Paulson was at least three inches taller than LT, probably fifty pounds heavier, making him almost as big as Marko who was the closest to the Hammerthynn direct line. Charlie didn't know anything about JT, but stripped of his rank, he wouldn't. Red knew apparently, and whatever it was, it was enough to put LT on his guard. But everyone got along with the LT - respected him, liked him - he never had to pull his rank on anyone or assert his authority, but that was clearly what he was doing now facing Paulson in the circle. Paulson, the newest and lowest ranking Piper on the team. Hell, he was lower than Charlie. But Charlie saw it clearly.
Paulson's stance was pure alpha male. There was nothing obviously submissive about the way Paulson was looking at LT. From the piercing glare down his nose, tense shoulders that looked deceptively slouched, to the flexing of his fingers as he balled them up into fists and relaxed them again. Vivienne must've seen it, too, because just then she stepped into the ring up to the Commander, pulling him back for a word.
Charlie watched as she spoke to the Commander, the Beta following closely. Charlie flicked his eyes back to Red and could feel the tense anxiety seeping out of him. Suddenly Vivienne stepped away from the Commander and Beta and moved toward LT.
"At ease, Piper," she murmured with a smile. He wondered if that was something he would have liked about her before, her easy going body language that emitted a suggestion so slight that it was almost an afterthought. Charlie looked at her from head to toe and felt nothing.
LT's body language changed as he turned to Vivienne and shrugged. LT took one step to the side, not far enough to clear Paulson, and walked past him, purposely giving him a stiff shoulder to which Paulson didn't even react to. No fear in that man, no acquiescence to LT's authority and he kept his back turned in silent defiance.
Charlie raised his eyebrows and wondered just who the hell was JT Paulson.
The LT wasn't the type to ride a man, not like he had experienced in the military. JT had TIs that were malicious, Chiefs who were blundering idiots with nothing but their rank to hide behind, and inexperienced officers who hadn't jumped more than they were required in a year, but the Pipers were different. He figured it had something to do with the natural wolf pack mentality within them. There were lead wolves, the Alphas that controlled the pack: the Beta, the Commander, and of course LT and Red. Then there were the cannon fodder, the rest of the pack that were subservient to the alphas. From what Shalye, the training Piper Commander back at Glenveagh, taught him - the lower Pipers had no need to rise above their position, unless called to it like Red had been. Authority would come, but only direct lineage family members rose quickly to leadership. This all made sense to JT and he accepted it, but it wasn't what he felt.
LT felt threatened by him. JT could not only see that but he felt it. But why JT and not the other higher ranked Pipers? And why did JT care?
Miss Vivienne looked up at him with her warm brown eyes and smiled. "I am so going to kick your ass," she said in an unmistakably erotic purr. JT felt his cheeks blush and he winked at her.
"Looking forward to it, ma'am."
"Yeah but I've been waiting months for this."
"You try being pregnant, squeezing a baby out, and losing your figure."
"You haven't lost your figure, ma'am," JT mumbled making Brig glare at the young Piper.
"Eyes elsewhere, Piper," Brig snarled. JT straightened his posture and turned away.
"Yeah Viv, why not start with Charlie instead?" Hammer stepped up next to Brig with his hands behind his back.
Brig looked over at Hammer and let out a reluctant sigh. "I don't think he's up for it. Not yet."
He saw Viv consider it for a moment but avoided looking in Charlie's direction. Brig still saw the pain flash across her face when dealing with Charlie. That guilt ran deep.
"It'll give me a chance to evaluate him, if anything."
"You up for this?" Brig asked surprised. Viv only shrugged, nodding.
"Dismissed Paulson," Hammer said and JT immediately stepped away and back toward the edge of the circle. "Still, be interesting to see Paulson and the LT fight it out. Little rivalry never hurt anyone."
Brig narrowed his eyes in thought. "There's conflict there. Was hoping it wouldn't come up."
"It might not," Hammer countered.
He considered the look that passed between his nephew and the bastard son of an Alpha. "Meh," Brig mumbled.
"Charlie," Hammer said turning around to look at the startled Piper. "You're up. You and Viv."
Everyone turned and looked at Charlie. His blue eyes were bright and wide. With everyone staring at the poor kid, Brig immediately felt bad putting him on the spot, but there was nothing he could do now that Hammer had called it.
"Let's go, Charlie."
"If at all possible, Commander," Charlie's face tightened with obvious disdain, "I'd rather not."
"Oh snap," Brig heard Red mumble under his breath.
Here we go, he thought to himself.
"Suck it up, Piper. Front and center."
Charlie hesitated but moved forward till he was across from Vivienne. The look on her face was indescribable, at least to Hammer. Fury, embarrassment, shame...he couldn't tell what was going on in her head at that moment as she looked at Charlie, but in an instant she locked it down and her expression smoothed over. The hormones from the baby must still be wrecking havoc on her nerves; otherwise Hammer knew that Viv wouldn't have flinched. That's fifty years of Hammerthynn beaten into her; it wouldn't have let her.
"You're not up to fighting, Charlie?" Brig asked quietly.
"I am, sir."
"Then what's the fucking problem?" Hammer asked, annoyed.
Charlie's eyes flicked at Hammer and then at Vivienne. All at once his face hardened. "Can I speak to you privately, sir?"
"No, you may not. Spit it out and stop wasting our time."
Charlie swallowed and then look passed Vivienne. "I don't want to hurt her."
Brig snorted and turned away. "You really don't remember her, Charlie."
Hammer rolled his eye. "She fought the Commander and she's Elder trained. I wouldn't worry about that. Get to it."
Brig and Hammer turned away and walked to the edge of the circle, leaving Charlie and Viv in the center. They barely got to the edge before Charlie tried to raise another objection, but was cut off by a high kick to the stomach from Viv.
"Christ, she is dirty," Hammer said in a surprised and uncharacteristic snort.
"You don't know the half of it," Brig replied with a grin.
"Damn, Viv!" Red yelled out in a high falsetto voice.
Viv rushed Charlie as he tried to stand and grabbed his neck, putting her left knee dead center of his breastbone. Charlie had remained shirtless coming in from the run so he had nothing on but his running shoes and his shorts. Viv was wearing her dark blue Therian-Weave from boots to gloves. JT wasn't kidding, she hadn't lost her figure. The slope and curves of her hips were a little more pronounced, probably from the baby his medical training told him, but everything was still in its place and as firm as ever. It was quite distracting.
Charlie was still on his knees, gasping for air and holding his chest as Viv stood over him. It didn't look like he was going to fight back at all.
"Get up, Charlie," Red called out.
"You don't want to hurt me?" Viv said, snorting. "That's the one thing you've wanted to do since you woke up, Chester."
Red was surprised at Viv's sudden change. Not only was she ready to fight, but she was fucking pissed, and at Charlie. Lifting his head, Viv's right hook came down across his face, putting him down in the dirt.
"I swear to Christ if you don't get up, I'll put you back in DI."
Red and the other Pipers cat calling and hollering stopped. They all stared quietly, watching the fight play out, silently urging Charlie to get up.
Charlie backed up on the dirt, his face already bleeding from his split lip and broken nose. Viv stood over him, shaking her head.
"What are you waiting for, Charlie?"
Red heard the pleading in Viv's voice, like it was on the verge of cracking. Charlie backed up and stood slowly, glaring at her. Then he looked out at the rest of the Pipers, his eyes hurt and confused.
"Fuck," Red mumbled and moved over to the Commander. "Sir...please."
"Too late, Red."
Red closed his eyes and looked back at the fight. All at once he realized - they wanted to see Charlie's reaction to confrontation, to see if anything that made him the Sergeant was still there. The guilt ate Red up on a daily basis, taking Charlie's position and not by choice. Charlie either got with the program now or he never would, Red realized that.
Red stepped into the circle.
"Before you could take the LT, maybe once out of every four or five fights, but you could. Show us, Charlie. Me and Viv - that would be almost the Commander or Beta. Show everyone."
Viv stepped back to stand next to Red, her eyes still on Charlie. "At least try and hit me."
And that did it.
"At least try and hit me."
Charlie stared at Vivienne. Her words triggered something in his head - forcing old memories to resurface, things he had tried to forget but wasn't as fortunate to have included in the jumble of memories that were wiped clean. Charlie could barely remember where he had heard that before.
"At least try and hit me."
It echoed in his head, the voice changing timber, deepening as it vibrated. It was during a time when he wasn't a werewolf, wasn't even the man he used to be, forcing him to realize that just because you were given a gift, did not mean you deserved it.
Charlie tore off his shirt that was still hanging on the back of his shorts and wrapped it around one hand and pointed with the other at Marko and Dom.
"Let's make this interesting," he said. "Marko, Dom. Front and center."
Charlie was surprised to hear the authority back in his voice, but not as much as seeing Dom and Marko immediately react to his command.
"Charlie, this isn't necessary." LT spoke quietly from beside his uncle, but the Commander and Beta stood stoically by. "Four against one? It isn't possible."
Charlie let his shirt dangle from his hand as he pointed at Marko with the other. "Let's go."
Marko did not hesitate; he heard the order and reacted as any Piper would have if the Sergeant spoke. Charlie felt it deep in his chest, the change in his voice and demeanor resonated and it felt fucking incredible. Marko came at him, full speed with his three hundred plus pounds, and Charlie lifted his shirt, pulling it taut with both hands and moved just out of Marko's path, twisting the shirt around the upper arm closest to him and leaned back, putting his weight into a spin that sent Marko directly into Dom, taking both of them out, knocking them against the wooden benches.
Marthinus and JT looked down at the two men, pulling Marko off of Dom. Marko was dazed, Dom was out cold.
Charlie looked back at LT without a trace of smugness; his expression was blank and calm. "Two against one. Red."
Red's face, had it not been a tense situation, would have been comical. His eyes were wide with shock and his mouth gaping open. He took a step before Viv put her hand out and stopped him to whisper in his ear. Red snapped out of his shocked moment and they spread apart, Red in front of Charlie, Viv moving behind.
Charlie didn't wait for Red to figure out what to do, he rushed his buddy with as much force as he could muster in several feet, which wasn't much at the level of fighting he was capable of, but it was enough to surprise Red into the defensive.
Red immediately slipped out of his joker character and put on his big boy pants. Charlie had lost something while he was sleeping, something that made him the Sergeant of the Alpha's Pipers. They had all begun to wonder if he was ever going to find it, but until then Red stepped up in rank and became the Sergeant, doing a damn fine job of it. A year ago Red was just slightly below Charlie in Viv's mind's eye, but a lot happened in a year, certainly in the months that Charlie was sleeping.
Charlie didn't wait for Red to ready himself. The old Sergeant came at him like a shot in the dark, focused and tense with strength Viv had never seen Charlie have before. Charlie began to glow; it was subtle at first, but with his body language and agile maneuvering of Marko, he moved up in her mind's eye quickly. This was the Charlie everyone was waiting for.
Red twisted into a defensive move and caught Charlie mid stride, grappling him with an equal strength and agility that made them both glow brightly. Charlie had made it clear - there would be no holding back, but that could mean a severe ass kicking for him if his body and reflexes failed him. Casually Viv stepped back toward the edge of the circle as Red and Charlie twisted, kicked, and pummeled each other with iron fists. Red had something to prove, a rank to hold onto and as much as Viv knew he regretted stepping up, no Piper would ever step down. So on the other hand, Charlie had felt the sting of losing rank while he slept and the shame of not being able to gain it back, so he had as much to lose as gain as well.
Viv reached for hickory bo staff as everyone watched Charlie and Red push each other in the dirt, spit and blood flying. Red had the benefit of both Elders present, before Vigo dropped out of duty, and learned exclusive Hammerthynn training that Charlie had gotten years ago. It wasn't something Charlie would forget, but he wouldn't be expecting it from Red. Then in a lucky move, Charlie twisted Red, getting him in a head lock, using all his upper torso muscles to crush bone and squeeze air.
Puckering her lips, Viv took the hickory bo staff and walked back to Charlie and Red, twirling the six foot staff with her fingers when she whistled softly to get Charlie's attention. He looked up at her and caught the tip of the staff across his cheek, stunning him and releasing Red. Viv felt the swing in her core muscles. Woof, she thought, she needed to get back into her advanced yoga again.
Stunned, Charlie reached up and touched his face, pulling back blood as Viv returned the arc of her swing and clipped his hand away from his face just to piss him off. He rushed her as Red crumbled to the ground, shaking his head, trying to stabilize his oxygen deprived brain.
Viv kept out of Charlie's reach, using the staff to trip him as he clumsily used brute strength on her. She swung the staff hard and fast against his back, propelling him forward. Charlie got up on his knees and turned toward her as Viv licked her lips and twisted the staff playfully.
"You are trying to hit me, right?"
Charlie stood and walked toward her, his eyes cold and hard. Viv shrugged and swung the staff again, twisting it quickly when Charlie reached out with a hand and caught the top of the staff, stopping it halfway. His hand had been a blur and the shock of the hickory should have vibrated his arm like a giant funny bone, but instead he grabbed the bottom of the staff just above her hand and Viv watched in awe as Charlie's muscles flexed hard against his skin. A sneer crept up into his face as he snapped the staff in half.
Viv backed up, dodging the bits of hickory that flew back at her and put space between the two of them. Charlie took his half of the staff and snapped it again in two, throwing the broken bits of wood to the side. Viv gripped her half and broke it over her knee, a fantastic bruise just waiting to show up later that night radiated up her leg painfully. Something was wrong, but she'd figure that out later. Charlie walked slowly up to her, his face void of any emotion except for his cold, blue eyes. Viv took the two pieces of wood and held them loose in her hands and rushed Charlie, doing her best to use the wood pieces to leave red welts along his arms and shoulders. He got close enough to grab her neck when she twisted and put her knee up into his stomach and her elbow across his cheek - a move that should have put him down in the dirt, but instead he grabbed her waist, something she had not counted on and pulled her close, lifting her off the ground and squeezed.
"Oh shit," Brig mumbled.
"What, I don't get it?" JT said quickly to Marthinus standing next to him.
Marthinus winced, "She's going to knee him into tomorrow. She did it to the LT."
Brig heard the two Pipers talking and he held his hand up to silence them. Charlie grabbed Viv and squeezed the air out of her, making her grunt painfully like LT had. Brig looked quickly at LT who made a face and closed his eyes, waiting for it. As much as Brig didn't want Viv kissing Charlie, he wanted her to do it quickly so they could end the fight and congratulate Charlie on a job well done. The old Sergeant had performed amazingly well, taking three Pipers out, including the new Sergeant who was just getting back up to his feet next to Hammer. Then Viv's hands dropped the bits of hickory from the broken bo staff and wrapped her arms around Charlie's neck, readying herself as she lowered her lips to his. Then Charlie's head reared back and he snapped it forward, breaking Viv's nose.
Charlie released Viv and dropped her to the ground. Dazed and bleeding profusely from her nose and mouth, she tried backing away from Charlie when he stepped over her and knelt down, grabbing her by her collar with his left hand and hitting her solid across the jaw with his right.
She was out cold.
Charlie's chest heaved, sucking in air and his hands were bloody and bruised as he stood over Viv's unconscious body. Brig's mouth gaped open he felt his crossed arms relax. No one said a word.
JT took a step into the ring, getting Charlie's attention. JT pointed to Viv and Charlie stepped over her body, moving closer to the other Pipers. Brig kept looking down at Viv and looking up at Charlie. Finally he looked at Hammer whose gray eye was bright and wide.
"Well...done, Charlie," Hammer said looking at Brig.
Brig cleared his throat and eloquently added, "Uh...yeah."
Paulson was a medic, he remembered, and when the Piper pointed to Viv, Charlie took a step back to allow access to Viv. He stood over her like some sort of prized kill he realized and he painfully shuffled over to the LT who reached out and grabbed him by the neck, pressing his forehead against Charlie's.
"Fucking A, man." LT smiled at Charlie and pulled him into a hug. Charlie was confused and winced as he hugged LT back.
Red came up and put his hand on Charlie's shoulder. "Welcome back, Sergeant," Red said with a sad smile.
One fight didn't mean his rank back, Charlie knew this, but he smiled at Red just the same.
"She is going to fucking kill you when she wakes up. I hope you know that," Red added as he reached out and gave Charlie a playful slap on the cheek. "Just fucking KILL you."
Charlie looked over at Vivienne on the ground. JT had snapped smelling salts and he was helping her up, looking at her face when he caught her eye. Something crossed her face, an expression of some sort of relief that changed to pain as JT picked her up into his arms. Charlie swallowed as Viv pulled her arm out and pointed at him. Then something akin to a smile peeked out beneath the blood.
"Yeah," Charlie mumbled. "I guess I should apologize to her."
"No don't," the Commander said stepping up to Charlie and reaching out to shake his hand. "It'll just piss her off even more."
Charlie shook the Commander's hand, wincing at his broken fingers, but returned the hand shake just the same. With a deep breath, Charlie looked up into the sky as the other Pipers laughed and congratulated him.
Charlie felt normal again, for one very brief, very bright and shining moment.
Viv sighed through her mouth and looked up at JT. His thumbs were pressed on the sides of her nose, running them gently down, feeling for the break.
"Ma'am, he got you but good."
"Thank you, JT."
"Well, it's not like you didn't get a couple in before he went all crazy on you."
"I believe the term is 'billy bad ass," Viv replied as her stomach tied up into knots just waiting for JT to - "OUCH JESUS CHRIST!"
JT pulled his fingers back, holding his hands up high. "It's done, it's done. I'm sorry, ma'am."
Viv sighed unhappily and ran her tongue over her teeth. "He fucking knocked a tooth out."
"At least you won't have a matching scar on that other cheek."
"That's a shame. I think that would look pretty cool, don't you?"
JT snorted as he reached out gently, turning her face to the side, checking the cuts and bruises. Viv took the opportunity to really look at JT as she stared up at him. He had let his short military buzz grow out a little longer and it was a soft black with thick waves that he combed back away from his face, but still had a bit of curls dusting his forehead. His eyes were a deep, dark brown and had somewhat oily skin.
"You should exfoliate more."
JT's eyebrows furrowed, "I'm sorry?"
Viv pointed at his cheek bones and nose. "Exfoliate more. You have an oily T zone."
"Good to know that as you stare into my brown eyes, you notice my oily complexion, ma'am." He grinned at her as he lowered his hands and shrugged. "You're good to go. Your tooth is a lost cause, by the way, but now at least you can smile really big and be all ghetto if you want."
Viv grinned at JT's humor. She had been complimented often at her ability to assimilate into American culture, adopting the references and slang with ease (much to Simon's dislike) but JT was the only American born Piper that she knew of.
"You're all west coast flava, aren't you?"
JT grinned as he washed his hands in the Den's medical clinic patient rooms. The same one Red had performed surgery on Viv for her broken right cheekbone months earlier. Viv looked at JT, all 900 feet of him, and admired the view as he dried his hands.
"Sacramento California, ma'am, born and raised."
"Yeah but your family is Canadian, you know."
JT stepped back up close to Viv and put a finger up to his lips. "Shhh, don't tell anyone." He looked at her mid-section. "Ribs?"
"With honey BBQ, please." JT made a face and laughed. "Better. Nothing broken."
"Ok." JT held his hand out to her to help her off the table and she gladly took it.
"Our flirting is shameless," Viv said with a blush as she walked solidly out of the room.
"I won't tell if you won't," JT said holding the door open for her.
"Considering I must look like utter shit right now, I am flattered."
JT winced. "Well, there is a lot of bruising. Just avoid mirrors for a couple days."
"Fantastic," Viv mumbled unhappily as she walked out into the hallway. Brig was waiting out in the hall with his father and they both grimaced when they got a good look at her. "Wow, thank you very much, gentlemen."
"He beat your ass," Duncan said with more humor than Viv liked.
"Me and three other Pipers." Viv raised her eyebrows and leaned up against the wall next to Brig. JT gave Duncan and Brig a polite nod and a wink for Viv as he left the area. Brig scowled and looked at Viv.
"Stop," she said moving closer to her mate, despite Duncan being there. "We do have to find him a girlfriend though."
"Not all the Pipers need girlfriends."
"Well they are serial daters, I guess."
Duncan grunted again.
"He's talking...well grunting about you, you know," Viv said pointing up at Brig.
Brig looked at his father, "Dad, come on."
Duncan walked up and looked at Viv's face, his fingers warm and calloused on her chin. "Broken?"
Viv hooked a thumb in JT's direction, "The good medic rectified the situation and caused a great deal of pain doing it."
"Good," Duncan replied. Viv arched an eyebrow at Brig's father's sense of humor. "Catherine is with her Lewis down in the Situation Room." With a wave, he walked off in the direction JT had gone.
"Her Lewis," Viv mumbled. "He'll want to keep her for at least a couple hours."
"Are you offering after 'ass beating' sex?"
"Is that what those crazy kids are calling it now?" Viv looked up at him with a quizzical expression.
"I believe so, yes."
She sighed. "Be gentle?"
Viv squeed as Brig picked her up roughly and threw her over his shoulder, making her laugh as he jogged down the hallway up to their apartment.
((OOC - Everyone out))