A/N: Welp, this was a wild chapter. :D I'm still maintaining that SaR's canon-compliant, just don't think too hard about it.
Starts shortly before the end of the last chapter, about when Wrecker noticed Hunter breathing oddly again.
Fire in his mouth. Fire in his lungs. Fire in his blood.
It has to be.
A wheezing breath, a shaky smile, everything's okay.
Don't show it.
Somewhere, something shrieked.
A sinuous tongue rasping across scaled lips. A challenging roar, a snap of the teeth, and a crack.
Blue overhead, glittering with golds. Green about him, snapping and rustling under the tramp of a thousand small feet. Voices murmured around him, too loud one second, and a whisper the next.
"Snap- …smell you."
"...take a bath, Boost."
Lightning crackled like a beast, tamed by metal. A thump in his chest, a ragged gasp of wet, rotten air. His tongue tingled with the snapping air.
His eyes turned up, caught by a miniscule flash of light.
Glittering on the branches in the orange and golds of the setting sun. Beams of light, dancing across the ground, reaching from treetops and racing to the sky.
"Hunter, it's fine!"
Shivers took hold, and his vision narrowed.
Brown and white, big as the moon and staring into his own. Big, rough hands gently cradling his aching body. A voice. Loud and persistent, and scared.
It pulled at him… to shivers and haggard breaths. To a body pounding with pain.
"You're fine, Hunter!"
Strange white-and-gray armor invaded. Another frantic voice adding to the cacophony above him.
"Breathe, Hunter, breathe with me!"
Breathing hurt. Living hurt. He didn't… want to feel anything.
"Come on, stay with us!"
He didn't want the pain anymore…
"Sithspit, don't you dare-"
He was… floating. He couldn't… feel anything.
Free, he let his senses roam again. Let the moaning wind twist him through the trees. Branches rattled around him, as if shaken by the loud, distorted roar of fury.
For a second, he hesitated. That voice…
Then he was gone, rushing with the whispering wind and plummet of droplets. Sunlight sparkled around him, somehow brighter than ever.
A twist of the wind and there was space. Bowing grasses and open space without end. Nothing below him, nothing above, nothing…
I don't feel anything.
Distantly, Hunter knew that should have worried him. But everything was gone and he didn't hurt, and that was good.
Wind twirled around him, and Hunter with it. He could see everything and he could hear everything. It was sharp and clear, but quiet. Quieter than normal. It didn't press on him from all sides with jabs and howls, even when he covered his ears.
Everything and nothing.
The fog hit him out of nowhere, dragging him down. Not with weight but a heavy, dark feeling of pain and hurt.
Hunter would have lashed out, but feeling nothing meant moving nothing. The fog was covering him, suffocating, and all he could do was feel it encompassing him.
It was gone as quickly as it came, whisked away by a flicker of warm, invisible light. Hunter drew back, wary, uncertain in this unfeeling body.
A prod from the other side, but calm and unflinching while Hunter's senses jumped in surprise. It was light and warm, radiating calm.
Hunter turned without moving. The fog, the light, and the calm surrounded him without moving. Or perhaps they moved as Hunter did, lightly and…
For the first time, Hunter tried to look down. Swaying grasses meters below and a squat, rusted metal vehicle.
But no Hunter.
"I'm dead, aren't I?"
Hunter might have spoken, but he didn't hear his voice. The three presences seemed to understand, though. A pulse of sadness ran through them, the sensation like a stab to Hunter's nonexistent chest.
The air tingled like a storm was approaching. But while the wind curled briskly about them, the darkening sky was clear. No lighting…
The tingling persisted, until Hunter realized a fourth presence had joined them. It crackled and spat like a ball of lightning when Hunter tried reaching his senses toward it.
At the same time, Hunter sensed something else. It was bigger, steadier. It was warm, but still weighed down with a clench of sadness like the foggy presence. Most of all, it felt alive.
Hunter instinctively moved toward the feeling of life. The other four did the same, until they were bunched together. If they'd had bodies, Hunter would have been pressed on all sides. As it was, he could feel their light and heavy sadness, their curiosity and wary pain.
The sensation wasn't Hunter's this time, but shared in a hot crackle.
The fog and the light joined into the silent conversation. Excitement flashed like sunlight from the calm.
Pain yanked at Hunter. He reached toward the source, curious and cautious. Pain was his only reward, and Hunter retreated.
"Stop!" Hunter tried to say.
The noise abated. For a few minutes, it was just Hunter and the fading sunlight.
He watched the sun disappear across the field. Sunbeams played across the grass, shifting and waving against the growing darkness. A single beam shot skyward, reflecting off a small, metal surface below. Hunter shifted, and he heard the voices as clear as day.
"-heading your way."
"Maintain position, Harper. Neither of them should be moving… we're coming to you."
"...should I tell them?"
Hot, heavy grief hit Hunter. He automatically drew back, but there was no escaping. It was suddenly everywhere, leeching at the life and light. It clawed at him, and Hunter wanted only to get away.
Fix… how? Hunter was dead; he couldn't fix anything… right?
Hunter looked up as well as he could, not having a body. In escaping the grief, he'd returned to the forest. The other presences were there, loosely drifting in a breeze. Or maybe on their own volition. The longer Hunter grasped the fact that he was dead, the less everything he saw and felt made sense.
Not it. Not the end. It's not okay.
The biggest presence, the one that felt like life, seemed to pulse. It didn't express in any way like the other presences, but it was warm.
Drawing closer brought back the pain in Hunter's phantom chest, but he found he didn't want to push back this time. He thought of his brothers. He'd seen firsthand what losing Crosshair had done to them. And Crosshair was just temporary; if Hunter was gone forever…
They need me.
Hunter didn't want Omega and his brothers to suffer so soon after Crosshair was taken.
The bigger presence gave no response beyond moving closer. The four others followed suit, shifting and twisting with curiosity. The sparking presence drew closer and hotter.
Hunter was back in motion, backtracking against the wind and into a different world. Everything shone in the moonlight, bushes sparkling and winking at the soft glow of the trees. Animals rustled in the darkness, slow with sleep and growling gently amongst each other.
The sun was gone, but the world was alive.
It was in the darkness that Hunter found the grief, rising from the ground like wavery heat. He hesitated, then pushed onward.
Forever passed in a second, and Hunter found Tech, Wrecker, and Wolfpack. Turning away couldn't stop him from seeing his burnt, lifeless body cradled in Wrecker's arms.
The others had followed, the jumble of words and emotions coming with a weary crackle.
"No going back."
Too… no. No, please!
Hunter returned to his body, shifting and whirling, grasping with nonexistent hands. Desperation rose in him when nothing changed. Wrecker marched onward, a soft shimmer of moonlight sliding down his cheek.
A snap had Hunter shying away from himself and the fearful presence. Sad warmth fell over him, and Hunter knew the largest presence had followed as well.
The larger presence had no words -perhaps it didn't have the ability. But the warmth filled Hunter's being.
Hunter might have sighed if he'd had lungs. He didn't want to be stuck like this, not so soon. He still had years he wanted to spend with his brothers and sister. Adventures to be had, places to visit, new things to discover. A brother to rescue. He wasn't ready to die…
The warmth pressed upon him. Fierce determination filled Hunter.
Hunter rushed forward again, passing through Wrecker to curl across his physical form. Pain stabbed at him, but Hunter refused to let go.
I won't die so easily.
The pain spread. He braced himself and pushed onward, pain swamping every fiber of his being and darkening his vision. He opened a mouth he no longer possessed and cried out in silence.
A shout echoed it.
The air turned hot and stale, choking him. Something squeezed, feeling oddly like a cough, then a wheezing sound filled his ears. He jerked, then heard a cough. The air cooled and soothed. The wheeze stopped and was replaced with voices.
"Put him down!"
Joining the voices was a jostle of limbs, hands on his face, his arms. Each touch prompted a pulse of pain, and Hunter groaned in protest.
"Okay, okay, easy," cut in a voice Hunter was too distracted to give a name to. "Here, Wrecker, put him here. That's it."
The hands went away, but Hunter found the broad flat surface pressing on his back too open. He preferred the warmth of being held, no matter the pain it brought. He wanted to say so, but Wrecker wouldn't hear him…
Hunter shifted. His body was oddly heavy compared to how he'd been drifting just moments earlier. He wanted to see what was wrong. Doing so proved to be difficult, like prying open his eyelids after a long sleep.
Four faces were staring down at him with matching expressions of pure shock. Wrecker looked like he'd been crying, actually. Tech was, for once, not staring at his datapad. Wolffe and his medic -Whisky, Hunter thought- looked like they'd seen a ghost.
Hunter opened his mouth -and was both delighted and baffled by the result- and tried to speak. All that came out was a rasp, but it got a reaction.
"Hunter!" Wrecker shouted in delight.
Wrecker scooped him up. Hunter bit back a groan of pain, not wanting to be put back down. He did let out a sigh, however.
"Hunter, how did you…" Tech hesitantly put a hand on Hunter's arm.
"'M here," Hunter said, slurring from his clumsy mouth.
Everything felt clumsy and heavy, really. When he tried to raise a hand to Wrecker's arm, his hand just kind of flopped loosely to the side.
Whisky leaned forward, medical scanner in hand. "That is-"
"Impossible," Wolffe finished.
"Obviously not." Tech, as usual, regained his composure. It didn't stop him from openly staring at Hunter, though.
"Can' ge' rid'o me…" Hunter trailed off, the simple act of speaking wearing him out. "...be fin'in'a minute…"
"Shush," Wrecker said, his voice husky.
"All your vitals are stable," Whisky said. He kept glancing at Hunter over the scanner. "Burns will take some time to heal, but… well, other that that, you're perfectly healthy."
"Told ya," Hunter said. Despite his weariness, he maneuvered a hand to push against Wrecker's chest. "Ge' me up."
"Absolutely not," Wrecker said.
Hunter opened his mouth, but Whisky jumped in.
"You were dead for fifteen minutes, Hunter. I don't care how fine you think you feel, you aren't taking a single step until I've had time for observation."
Hunter huffed. Whisky dropped his eyelids halfway to give Hunter a thoroughly unimpressed look.
Wolffe flinched, then turned and said over his shoulder, "Comet, call Harper and let them know. Knowing Echo, he's going to try and come out to meet us if he thinks Hunter's still dead."
Hunter watched Wolffe's face with amusement. Wolffe's expressions were shifting between relief and disbelief, and his eyes kept darting to Hunter.
Hunter's eyes drifted halfway shut. No matter what he'd told Wrecker, he was utterly spent.
"'M gonna sleep," Hunter mumbled. "No' dyin'... 'kay?"
Wrecker's laugh was shaky. "Okay, Hunter."
"You rest." Tech's hand hadn't left Hunter's arm. "That was too close."
Hunter hummed in agreement. He could feel himself drifting off, and welcomed the thought of sleep.
At the same time, he sensed the presences from before. Shifting and curious, they all gave off varying amounts of relief and jealousy.
Except for the larger one, the one full of life. It moved closer, its presence urging Hunter to remain conscious for a few seconds longer. Finally, it spoke.
Hunter forced his eyes into focus. He found Wolffe's scarred face and grunted out his name. Wolffe turned. Hunter dragged up his last dregs of strength to pass on the message.
"Gen'ral Plo's so… s'proud, Wolffe."
A/N: Hunter's statement about not dying so easily is a reference to the Crimson Corsair. A scene from his comic inspired my running theory that Hunter can hear Force ghosts.
That's all I got to say. Thanks again for sticking around to read my rambles, you're awesome. :D Until the next ramble, Griffin, out!