AN: Hey guys, I kinda feel that this and the next chapter have to go together so I put them up at the same time. I hope you enjoy!
A deep rumbling voice echoed through the room and Felice felt the creature sitting on her ribcage freeze in its motion, the silence after the command reverberating unnaturally loud. She turned her head in the direction of the speaker, but could not quite process what she was seeing.
Optimus, Ratchet, Bee and what seemed to be the whole NEST team and her men were standing at the other end of the room, weapons trained that the three Decepticons.
"I'd rather you leave her in one piece."
Relief, glorious warm relief flooded through her body as Felice heard the familiar voice and her eyes searched for the speaker. Lennox had taken position next to Optimus, his eyes locked with hers, his expression fierce and set.
"We heard every word, Scalpel." Optimus said. "It's over."
And he together with other Autobots made to step forward, ready to shoot the small Decepticon and his two guards.
"Stay where you are!" Scalpel shrieked at once, holding the drill close to Felice' face.
At once, the Autobots stopped dead, knowing that they could not risk Felice being killed. Everybody looked at her, but the young woman's eyes where trained at only one. Her gaze had wandered from Lennox to Ratchet. Praying that he would get her clue she stared at him, rolling her eyes wildly as if following the flightpath of a fly. She repeated the movement and only when his optics widened for half a second followed by the tiniest of nods, she took in a deep breath and hollered: "Ratchet NOW!" and squeezed her eyes shut.
A second later, the unmistakable buzzing of countless insects filled the air, the noise swelling in her ears. She did not want to watch what was about to happen next for if it went wrong she rather preferred not to see her killer.
There was some commotion and a tone much like the sizzling of a light arc, then two muffled sounds as metal hit concrete followed by a third high-pitched noise. A scream, high and furious, then something heavy made contact with Felice abdomen. She let out a panicked scream and tore her eyes open just to see the limp form of Scalpel lying on her.
"Get it off!" she shrieked, writhing against her cuffs.
Then Lennox was at her side, lifting the body of the Decepticon and throwing it to the ground haphazardly. Felice pushed herself up, vaguely realizing that Scott and Jones had unchained her, and slung her arms around Lennox' neck. She felt him pulling her to him and did not care that his gear made painful contact with her body and relief overwhelming her, she burst into tears.
"I'm sorry." she sobbed, trembling violently. "I shouldn't have acted against your orders. I am so sorry, Lennox."
"Shh, it's alright." he murmured soothingly, lips brushing her hair. "It's over. You are safe now."
It took a while, but eventually Felice regained her composure. Carefully, Lennox disengaged himself from their embrace and took her face into his hands.
"Are you OK?" he asked anxiously, eyes locked with hers.
"Uh-huh." she nodded.
The lights had been turned on and when she looked up, she saw that Bee and Sides were tearing apart the two dead Decepticons, while the NEST team swept out to take care of Scalpel's body. Lennox followed her gaze and sensed her discomfort whilst looking at her tormentor. He reached out of her hand and squeezed it lightly. Felice turned and looked at him.
"I didn't know that Ratchet had some insects as well."
There was no accusation or anger in his voice, just mere curiosity.
"Yes, we recalibrated them so that they only attacked Decepticons. And their venom is not lethal to humans anymore." she replied mechanically and raised a hand to wipe some tears from her face. Then she spotted something in the rear part of the room.
"Easy, easy." Lennox warned as she suddenly swung her legs from the table, but she cast off his helping hand.
He watched her as she stood and with unsteady steps walked to the far corner of the room where a motionless figure was lying on the ground. Nobody spoke as she knelt down next to her dead friend and closed his eyes with a caring gesture. Demo – he didn't even know his name Lennox realized as he observed the scene – had sacrificed his life, maybe in order to save hers. He would never now. His heart contracted painfully in his chest when he heard Felice' sobs as she mourned her friend so openly. After a few more moments however, she stood up wiping the tears from her face and walked slowly, almost somnambulatory out of the room.
"Come on, let's clean this mess up." he said quietly to Jones, in order to keep his men busy and buy her some more minutes alone.
Lennox and his team exited the facility some fifteen minutes later while Felice was standing in some distance. She was talking to Ratchet but when she saw them the conversation ebbed away.
"Optimus, Bee and Sides are taking care of the Decepticons. They will destroy their remains as soon as we've left." Lennox said when he'd reached her. "You ready to go?"
Felice did not meet his eyes but looked towards the entrance of the facility. Two soldiers were carrying the body of her dead RIO to Ratchet who had transformed into his alt-mode. They opened the doors of the truck and the stretcher along with the two soldiers disappeared from view.
"I heard you." she said wearily and turned to the black SUVs.
Lennox followed her, placing a hand on the small of her back which she did not brush away. He took his place on the passenger seat while Felice sat in the rear, but glanced to her from time to time. Her look was unfocused and she seemed not to notice what was happening around her, yet when they arrived at Hickam she was the first to exit the car.
"I need to call Reigart and Demo's family." she said, her voice all business like nothing had ever happened. She was about to turn, when Lennox stopped her by gently taking hold of her arm.
"Hospital wing first." he said in a tone that left no room for argument though not unkindly. And to his surprise she did not object.
"You're right." she said with an absent gesture towards the cut on her eyebrow where the handle of Scalpel's drill had hit her when he'd slumped dead.
"I'll arrange the calls for you. Come to the conference room when you are ready."
"Thanks." she finally looked up and something like a faint smile flickered over her face.
Lennox nodded and turned to the enlisted soldier at the base entrance.
"Stay with her, Private."
"Will do, Sir." the young man replied crisply and turned to Felice. "This way, Ma'am."
When Felice left the infirmary half an hour later, she felt lot calmer than before. And although she knew that the hard time was yet to come, she was just relieved and glad that this ordeal was finally over. The insect-Decepticons had been destroyed by the Autobots and with Scalpel and the White Ghost dead they could hope for some calmer times.
She reached the conference room Lennox had spoken about and found the door ajar. The Colonel was on the phone with somebody but as he heard her knock, he beckoned her to enter. He spoke a few more words before he put down the receiver.
"It's Reigart. You can speak to him now."
Felice stepped closer.
"I'll wait with the guys."
Felice nodded her thanks and picked up the receiver, mentally readying for what she had to do.
The calls were dreadful, yet when she put down the receiver she felt a relieved. Relieved that there was finally closure. That the White Ghost and the creature standing behind him were finished once and for all.
She sighed and ran her hands down her face, suddenly dead tired but she forced herself to get up once again. She knew that the others were waiting in the mess, celebrating their victory. The time would come where she could mourn Demo, but after those horrible hours in that hangar with Scalpel she craved for some company and distraction. So she rose and walked the short distance to the mess, hearing the cheers and laughter from far away.
"And again Felice saves the day single-handedly." Epps smirked as he saw her entering the room.
"You know that's not true." she dismissed his flattery though his infectious smile lifted her spirits a fraction of an inch. "I have to thank you for the extraction." She looked into the room. "All of you."
"Oh, don't worry. You've got plenty of time to repay that debt over the next days. We're not returning to DC until Thursday. I'd say the next round's on you."
"Done." Felice laughed resignedly as the others hollered in approval. She then turned to look for something to drink when Jones stepped to her.
"I am sorry for your RIO." he said quietly, placing a consoling hand on her shoulder.
"Thanks, Ray." Felice replied. "And thank you for getting me out of there."
"Anytime." he said with a genuine smile. He nodded towards the door. "Lennox wants a word with you. He's waiting outside."
Felice tensed; the tiny whiff of good mood gone instantly.
"Tell him from me not to be that stern with you. You really saved the day after all." Jones suddenly said; his voice serious and warm.
"Did that ever work?" Felice grimaced, but she was touched about her team mate's support.
Jones chuckled but did not comment on that. Instead he wished her good luck with one last pat on her back and headed back to his team mates.
She found Lennox leaning against the wall just outside the door, hands in his pockets. When he heard her however, he pushed himself from the wall and stepped towards her. His gaze wandered over her face and he reached out, gently putting his thumb under her chin and turning her face in order to get a better look at her injury.
"Looks worse than it is." Felice said patiently and to her surprise Lennox smiled.
"That's good to hear. Come on, let's walk."
He turned and Felice followed him. Together they left the main buildings and strolled towards the small housing area on base where the stationary personnel had once lived. Nowadays, they preferred fancier accommodations and so the buildings lay in darkness, the neat sidewalks illuminated by only few lanterns.
"Jones forbids you to give me the sermon for what happened earlier." Felice said after a while, bending the words of her team mate shamelessly.
Lennox stopped and turned to her.
"Did he?" he asked, his eyebrows raised.
"Uh-huh." Felice nodded defiantly.
Lennox stared at her for a mere second, before he laughed.
"I'll grant his wish." he said, amusement still wavering through his voice.
Now, it was on Felice to stare at her friend.
"No sermon?" she gaped.
"For what? That you stopped the 'Cons from killing my men? That you were right about the insects and that your covert experiments with Ratchet probably saved us all?" He stopped walking. "That I acted like an idiot by grounding you and that this decision almost got you killed?" he finished quietly, sitting down on a stone wall separated the property behind them from the sidewalk they were walking on.
"It's not true. Scalpel wanted me and he would have found a way to get to me whether you'd grounded me or not." Felice said softly, sitting down next to him. "Though it was a scary way to be abducted." she grimaced.
"Scary…"Lennox murmured as if testing the word.
They sat next to each other for a long while, both dwelling on their thoughts and comfortable with the silence that enfolded around them. After a while Lennox turned to Felice.
"When have you been most afraid in your life?" he asked.
Felice considered his question.
"Really afraid? Like scared-to-death afraid?"
"Uh-huh." Lennox nodded.
"Only twice. When Chris and I were shot down over Iraq and when you were held captive by the White Ghost."
Lennox gaped at her.
"Not in Chicago or when you fought Matt?"
She shook her head.
"Not even today?"
Lennox noticed that she blanched slightly, but then she blinked and again her eyes blazed with defiance. She would not let this terrible ordeal affect her life more than she could help it, he knew it.
"Those things were frightening, sure." she replied. "But being unable to react in a situation where a person you care about was – for me – much worse than fighting against 'Cons or a 6'2" Marine." she said with a small smile. "Why?" she asked and watched Lennox ponder her reply for a few moments, before he seemed to come to a conclusion.
"Do you know when I've been afraid the most in my life?"
She shook her head.
"Take a guess."
Felice thought. There hadn't been many occasions when she'd seen the Colonel worried, but on those few where she had, she had played a vital part in. Slightly abashed, she went through all the things that had happened since Chicago.
"The China-op where I fell from that galley?"
"Pretty terrifying, but no." Lennox said with half a smile.
"The day you heard about the training accident at the carrier?"
Vividly, she remembered his panicked voice back then. But to her surprise he shook his head again.
"Where's the love?!" she exclaimed in mock offense.
"Come on, one more try."
"I cannot remember much of your reaction back then, but the night when I was poisoned by Scalpels minions?"
"Close." Lennox acknowledged, watching his counterpart raise her hands in surrender. She was clearly out of answers.
"It was today." he said softly.
Felice stared blankly at him.
"Remember what you said to me the night after you've been poisoned? What if one of us dies the next day and we never get the chance to talk to each other again?"
"Uh-huh." Felice nodded.
"I could not think of anything else since we got word that Scalpel had you. That I had yelled at you because of that stupid op. That the last words we'd said to each other were full of anger."
"Yeah, after all we've been through you should've known better." she teased softly.
"Old habits die hard." Lennox replied with an apologetic grin.
Felice chuckled. "Yeah… that they do."
"Anyway, I've learned my lesson. Or to be exact I've learned two." Lennox said, straightening up and turning to her.
"One: Don't argue with Felice Manning. She'll do whatever she wants anyway." he smirked. Felice rolled her eyes had him.
"And what is the second one?" she asked.
"Don't wait until it's too late. Life is too short." he said, his voice suddenly dead serious.
Felice watched him reaching for his dog-tags and before she truly realized what was about to happen, he'd slipped a small golden band with a diamond from it.
"Will…" she said warningly, but could not keep her voice from shaking. She was far from ready to take that step and he of all people should have known that. But as she pried her eyes away from the ring and towards his face, she saw Lennox' eyes sparkling in amusement, the familiar smirk enlightening his features.
"Don't freak out. I am not going to propose." he told her with a smug smile, taking her hand, turning it and dropping the ring into her palm. "I just want you to have it."
With trembling fingers, Felice picked up the golden band, turning it over. She would bet anything that it fit her perfectly. And frankly, the very thought of it terrified her. She was not ready to give up her job at Oceana which she would have to if she wanted to have a life – a real life – with Lennox. She loved him and he was more important to her than any job or even flying, but a marriage? Now?
She looked at Lennox and her eyes must have been an open book, because when he spoke his voice was gentle and soft.
"I know now that forcing you to make a decision is never a good idea. But I want you to know that I made my decision. I chose you. And I am here for you no matter what."
Still at a loss, Felice stared at him.
"For how long did you have it?" she asked quietly, turning the ring over and over in her hand.
"Just after you've been poisoned..." he faltered as if unsure how to continue, but when he did his voice was filled with such intensity it stunned her. "We are living on borrowed time. And when I saw you lying there … I didn't want to waste any more time, but I couldn't bring myself to ask you. It never seemed the right moment and then you went back to Oceana. I saw that you were no doing well and that those nightmares were not gone…" He ruffled through his hair, taking a deep breath. "When I found out about the experiments, I just wanted to protect you. I know you called Morshower and persuaded him to send you as backup. I also know that you did it to prove yourself. But you didn't have to do that. Not today or any day else." he finished, the look in his eyes gentle and sincere.
His blue eyes were piercing through hers; tearing down the walls she'd raised to protect herself like they weren't even there. He was looking directly at her soul, seeing right through the cover of a tough-as-nails spec-ops soldier and down to the scars a life of constant fighting had caused. And suddenly everything – Matt's threats, Scalpel's torture, her nightmares – came crashing over her. She wasn't done flying jets or taking the challenges the Navy or NEST had to offer. But she was done doing it alone. She knew it now. He would stand by her side, no matter what.
Wordless, she slipped her hands around him and buried her face in the crook of his neck, holding onto him tightly. Without hesitation Lennox pulled her close, holding her safely in his arms.
"You are not in this alone." he whispered in her hair as he felt her trembling with silent tears. "Not ever."
He then disengaged from their embrace, his fingers reaching behind her neck, unfastening the silver necklace with the pendant he'd given her for her NEST graduation and slipped the ring onto it. He then closed the necklace and rearranged it.
"For when you are ready."
She looked up to him, her voice barely a whisper as she spoke.
"Be patient with me, will you?"
But Lennox merely smiled and leaned in, pressing his lips onto hers and that was all the confirmation and reassurance she needed.