Wake and Thrive

Prompt: More with Red Wolf and Whisper, how they got together, why he has no memory... by pygmymuse. Pause the Sonata

Thanks to pygmymuse for asking the questions that led to this piece. It took me forever to make it stand alone, but I hope it satisfies.


Liana Mir

Series Listing

16 — 02. Summer

When the Clock Strikes Midnight

16 — 02. Summer through 03. Autumn

Wake and Thrive

16 — 03. Autumn through 17 — 01. Spring

Its Own Absolution

16 — 03. Late Autumn

After the Grief

16 — 03. Late Autumn

Battery Acid

17 — 02. Summer

Accounting for Redemption

17 — 02. Summer

Counting Heartbeats

18 — 01. Spring

Song Between the Waking and the Dreaming

20 — 04. Winter

Echoes of Anchor Lost

21 — 01. Spring

Don’t Remind Me That It’s Over

21 — 02. Summer

Welcome

21— 02 Summer through 22 — 01 Spring

Name Me Another (or Glass Angel, Redux)

22 — 01. Spring

Glass Angel

22 — 01. Spring

Pause the Sonata

22 — 02. Summer

Without a Reason

22 — 03. Autumn

Learning Legato

23 — 02. Summer

Acceptable Cost

23 — 02. Summer

History Lesson on the Night Train

23 — 03. Autumn

Abyss Looking Back

23 — 03. Autumn

Collateral Damage

23 — 03. Autumn

Five Reasons I Love You

23 — 03. Autumn

Little Things

23 — 03. Autumn

Owning Beauty

23 — 04. Winter

Dream the Dance

23 — 04. Winter

Snow Day

24 — 02. Summer

As the River Breathes

AU 21 — 04. Winter

Normal written in coffee grounds

Wake and Thrive

He began at the bottom, nameless and empty, with a gaping hole where his life ought to be.

Red Wolf remembers nothing of his past or history before he became a member of Storm’s team of operatives. His only reassurance in the face of an uncertain future is the promise he woke to receive.

16 — 02. Summer through 03. Autumn
Kingdoms and Thorn Science Fiction
Short Story

Awake.

Red woke suddenly in the almost complete darkness of his room within the underground military facility, not sure quite what he felt, but knowing someone was there. He forced the instant tensing of his muscles to remain calm and kept his breathing soft and even. He would only have a moment if Storm or Maker had come to drag him out for training in the middle of the night. Red heard no more than a whisper of movement cutting through the air and went into a defensive block. His block was cut down with startlingly rapid effectiveness, and he heard a woman’s soft laugh as she sat up on the side of his bed and reached over him to flick on the lamp.

He stared at her. It wasn’t the team leader or Red’s personal trainer, the first and third ranked members of the team, both over six foot and all lean muscle and hard combat skills. It was Whisper, Storm’s right hand and the most dangerous woman Red thought he had ever met.

“What are you doing here?” he asked, groggy but still wary, tensed to fight. Never mind he could never win against her.

He had seen her. He knew all of his team, even if the women ignored him while they trained. He had seen her whisper, seen mirrors shatter, seen her defend herself against the other five team members–not him. He was new and still short on history since processing wiped out all memory of any life he’d had before. He couldn’t pretend to fight on her level.

“You thought I was Storm or Maker,” she said, asked—one or the other. She spoke sotto voice, as her wont, but he imagined it would be a sweet second soprano if she spoke much louder.

“You here to ambush me and see how I do?” he demanded. Maybe this was the next level of training. He really hoped not.

Whisper looked at him a little oddly, not quite puzzled, not quite amused. “You thrive when you are challenged.”

He looked at her and her unchanged expression, then set his jaw. “Is that a yes?”

She shook her head, turned it as she settled in better on his bed, back against the wall, legs thrown over his. It bothered him, this comfort she had at his expense, even knowing she was the one who’d named him, claimed him, brought him out of the worst feeling he thought he had ever known. But how would he know? He didn’t remember.

~

Wakened.

He woke feeling like death set on fire—feverish pain and choking cough. He opened his eyes, shifted his head left, right, to try and see where he was through the blinding blur of more pain.

Small cell. Air damp and hot. No, he was hot. Cement floor. Light coming in through a tiny square of barred window. Not a modern dungeon. How would he know? He’d never been in a dungeon before in his life.

He started to move and instantly regretted it. Where was he? What had happened? He shuddered in a breath and stopped breathing. Who was he?

“Breathe,” a voice said softly, almost whispering.

He tried to look around again without moving his head, and he could just see the woman kneeling down beside him. “Breathe,” she said, whispered; no, almost whispered.

He wondered if this was what dying felt like.

She lifted his chin to make him look at her—or to look at him. He winced, surprised at how much her touch hurt.

“Ciquerét,” she said softly, a tonal language, chiming, low.

“What?” he rasped, squinting then to see her better.

She came into focus for one singular moment: short reddish brown hair falling into warm brown eyes full of too many things to read. Too much, but she whispered her answer in benediction and curse, “You will live.”

It was not the last time he saw her. Later, after the pain began to subside and he was introduced to his new leader, his new team, then he learned her name was Whisper and she was ranked second of six—now seven. He began at the bottom, nameless and empty, with a gaping hole where his life ought to be. Storm taught him the rules: told him to sit, made him understand, you do the things they tell you to do or you die. “I protect my team.” He wasn’t sure if it was a warning or a promise.

The third day, he felt like a human being again, skin cool to the touch in cool air, able to look in the small reinforced mirror of the communal bathroom and see something not haggard and wary. The third day, they introduced him to the training courts and the sweet, talkative girls moved out of the way to let Storm and Maker teach him basic combat. They beat the crap out of him while Whisper stood to one side and watched intently. When they let him up, when they got through his thick skull that he would learn this, then she lifted her hand less than a handsbreadth height and the men stood back and let her speak.

“He needs a handle,” she said softly, sotto.

He breathed heavily as he forced himself to stand—and winced. Did it matter if he had a name?

Her mouth quirked into the tiniest smile, more in her eyes than her mouth. “Red.”

Storm nodded then. “It’ll do,” he answered casually.

Red hair earned him a name, and it was less than the others but more fitting. Until Storm indicated with a sharp head motion that Red should move to the side, and the team practiced their own training, and Red’s world shifted into harder, harsher lines.

He did not know for sure, he couldn’t remember, but his dry mouth and the tingling in his hands told him he had never seen men and women do what they did.

Surge, more pint-size girl than woman in appearance, caught crackling lightning from Storm’s throws several feet from her hands and guided them to Maker, who made them vanish. Level-headed Minder kept her eyes on her opponent, Ashen, anticipating the black-haired woman’s every move with an accuracy that left him breathless. Any time Ashen landed a touch, Minder pulled away gasping and shaken, color drained from her face. Whisper stood in the center of the room in an intentional stance Red didn’t know, hands near each other, but seemingly innocent. He heard bare whispers of sound, like murmurs in her sotto voice; he watched mirrors shatter and tension snatch at and release her teammates. He saw that none of them held back.

Physically, they were teenagers. None of them were children.

They fought with and without their gifts, then Storm called him back out and beat the crap out of him again.

~

Awake.

“It’s not personal,” Whisper said softly.

It drew a ragged laugh from Red, and he eased himself up into a sitting position, studied the light and the shadows over her face in his small bedroom. He had seen her often, but rarely so close and only once, through pain-bleared vision, alone. Technically, his was only one part of a single large room serving for all three male team members, but a small sliding door separated his alcove from the other two and gave him a semblance of privacy in lieu of adequate space. He wasted moments taking in her unreadable expression, the features too sharp to be beautiful, but undeniably pretty. “Sure feels personal,” he replied evenly, mirroring the unreadability his entire team seemed to have mastered.

It was an honest sentiment. Maker perhaps not so much, but Storm was harsher than he had to be, almost angry when he lashed out at Red in kicks and pummels to make him learn proper defenses. He hauled Red out of bed at midnight, kept him up late, dragged him out early—always pushing, never satisfied.

Whisper shrugged. “You thrive when you are challenged.”

The words stopped him. He frowned, unsure of what about them niggled at him. He shoved it to one side, worked his own words over in his mouth, then colored his retort with acceptance. “They still beat the crap out of me.”

Whisper said nothing.

Her expression hadn’t changed, meaning clear enough for him to read that her opinion hadn’t either, and he clenched his jaw before releasing it abruptly. “It’s personal.” He settled back down on the bed on one arm and watched to see how she would react to that. He had learned to trust his instincts from the team—the women who gave him surprised glances when he summed them up exactly, named them well, analyzed the intentions behind their strategies and tactics. His instincts were becoming uncannily accurate, and he could not believe he was only imagining Storm’s hostility.

Whisper shook the short sweep of brown bangs out of her eyes and acknowledged his assertion with a flicker of lowered eyes. “Storm knows you’ll lead us.”

Red stilled.

He was nothing, a blank slate scrabbling to find something to write on himself with, and they had been doing this since they were children. They followed Storm, chose Storm.

“You’re crazy,” he whispered.

Her eyes shifted again, lifted brows just barely in her amusement. “Do you trust him to lead us?”

He opened his mouth, then snapped it shut and clenched his jaw. Storm was a leader, and he led them each with the amount of gentleness and harshness required. G—, he hated that she’d brought up the point, that she might be right that he needed to be shoved and pressed and held to impossible standards in order to surpass them, but lead? “Storm’s the best leader for this team, and we both know it.” He met her eyes and spoke on her level, not stopping to wonder when he felt he was her equal enough to speak so bluntly.

Warm approval mingled with her amusement. Her mouth quirked in that tiny smile. “Then trust him.”

~

Asleep.

Compromise was only one of many offenses which could result in death. They called it a 48, cutting loose an operative who had positively identified or who had failed to cover their own tracks. Rett knew the meaning of the 48, had seen it enough times to know the bloody taste of it. Rarely were other operatives dispatched to handle the issue; framing for previous assignments—illegal by any book but the black one held by the Department—or simply abandoning to the consequences of compromise generally sufficed. An unnamed operative had been compromised, and Rett’s team held its collective breath until he informed them the operative would not be punished.

He wasn’t given the report on who it had been, only handed a slim file with the results of testing on two teenage males. One qualified for processing; for the other, standard initiating procedures would be fatal.

“Processing.” He said no more, kept his eyes on black type on white paper, and listened to the administrative officer—one of them—shift his feet back and forth.

“Someone has to be contained.” The response was bored enough to clench Rett’s stomach.

Contained. Two someones had seen too much and instead of punishing the operative, they would punish the ones who had seen.

Rett snapped the file shut. “You’re not supposed to make more of us.”

The administrative shrugged, uncaring. Never mind that none of them were ignorant enough to not know that processing was generally fatal, always agonizing, and one of the worst atrocities the Thorn Republic had ever devised to practice upon its children. And these were men.

“What level of processing?” Rett kept his voice as uncaring as the man’s. There was no way in heaven or hell the Department intended to give him an operative to train who had retained memories of his life before.

The administrative shrugged. “Heard they were giving him red serum.”

Full wipe. Rett nodded and reopened the file.

~

Wakened.

Storm was there when the pain first began to leave him. There was something of familiarity for the giant of a man standing over plain grey mattress, plain white sheets, and the plain grey blanket Red kept trying to kick and keep off. The team leader stood well over six feet and was all lean muscled physique, kept that way by constant exercise and hard combat, Red later learned. Those first few moments of recognition contained no hostility, only a watchful wary assessment.

“What do you remember?” Storm asked.

Red clenched his teeth against the ticklish agony left in his body and made himself sit upright, shake his head. Nothing. There was nothing—not even a name then.

Storm’s expression tightened, shoulders tensed. He raised his eyebrows and uncrossed his arms to sit down beside Red, then offered with something like friendship, “Whatever you think of, whatever seems familiar to you—at all,”—he studied Red’s face as if looking for something—”hold on to it. Don’t let go.”

“Do you remember?” Red asked then.

Storm’s face closed up into a mask. “My name is Rett.” He paused meaningfully. “Sometimes it’s better not to remember.”

It was Storm who introduced him to each team member, called Surge ‘Pint-Size’ and picked her up to swing her around and make her laugh; Storm who gentled for Ashen, the harshest most unrepentantly deadly member of their team; Storm who comforted Minder when she was quietly upset; Storm who swung his arm companionably around Maker’s shoulders, and who listened to everything each team member had to say. Storm went unreadable around Whisper but trusted her implicitly as his right hand and apparently one of the best hackers—“Tracer,” she corrected—and assassins in the Department.

Whisper— Red wasn’t sure who Whisper was.

He watched her in his training, watched the way every movement was muted, almost silent, and measured; listened to the way she used her tones, how she preferred that tonal language he didn’t think he had heard before; watched her grace—like music—and the way that when she ever laughed, however softly, her whole body laughed with her. She drew his curiosity because she stood in rank directly between Storm and Maker, the first and the third, and she never initiated conversation with him after that first day. If he asked her a question, she would answer it and he learned much from her over his first few weeks on the team, but nothing personal, nothing that helped him quantify her, not when her own interactions with the team showed inter-reliance but no more intimacy than she gave to him.

He knew the rest of the team gave her space, a respect that spoke of her ability and how she earned the rank, but only Storm looked at Whisper like he knew her, had always known her, and always would.

~

Awake.

Trust him. Pure admonishment couched in simple lack of judgment. You chose to follow, so follow.

Warily, Red leaned back and took Whisper in. She was quite comfortable on his bed, and it struck him for the first time that she was initiating an open conversation with him. “Trust him to pick another leader?” he asked. It was an effort to form the words and to keep his voice even as he shoved them out one by one.

Whisper said nothing, but her eyes were full of so many things.

“Why would he?” he made himself go on to ask. Red had started at the bottom of the team, ranked seventh. Now, he was fifth, and he still wasn’t sure how that had happened. But first?

“You’re a wolf,” she said, eyes asking why he didn’t know that. “You can stop any of us.”

She reached out and set one hand on his, and he froze at the sensation. His mind tried to process that she referred to his gift, the one he hadn’t even known he had at first to sense the threads of their energy, to reach out and grasp it in his hand, tighten it, squelch it; but his body seemed to be entirely focused on the fact that her hand was warm and she was leaning over him close enough for him to smell her clean, fresh-washed scent.

He pulled his hand away, frowned at it, and flexed it before clenching his fist. “Not any.”

Whisper shrugged, turned away, unequivocal disagreement.

Red paused and breathed again. Clear his head. Calm down. “Why are you here?”

Whisper inhaled slowly, tilted her head to look at him at an angle. Defensive position, Red noted, bewildered that someone like Whisper would need one, would be… Nervous?

“You watch me,” she said softly, “but you never say anything.”

He blinked, startled.

She hesitated, then leaned over again, kissed him briefly, and pulled away.

It took a moment before his dim quarters came back into focus for him—military grey walls in an underground facility, the only light from the small lamp near his head on the stand, the only furnishings that stand, his bed, the chest of drawers in the corner, the sliding door. The only sound was Whisper’s soft breath, so silent, so like her, he could only hear it because he wasn’t breathing and had apparently forgotten how. That amusement was back in her eyes again, and it shook him out of the moment.

Had she challenged him? Red leaned forward on his arm, searched her open, waiting gaze and found no challenge, only that same way she looked at Storm, like he knew her. Red was fairly certain he barely knew her at all.

He had never dared to touch her. She had always been across some invisible line of reserve he knew he wasn’t the only one to respect, but with her move, she had smudged the line into something barely definable, barely there—something she would let him wipe away.

His hand found her waist and simply rested there. He studied her expression, her reaction, which seemed nothing at all, and leaned forward to see her better in the dimness. “Why?” he asked, his own voice barely a whisper.

She shrugged, and what else could he have expected her to say? Some list of his finer qualities? He breathed her in, drew her closer, having to tighten his grip on her to complete the motion. He kissed her this time, and she returned it.

“You’re stronger than you think,” she said, voice soft against his face.

“Am I?” he asked, voice even, the assessment making him pause and assess her.

“Yes.” She had weighed him from that first day, that first moment—blessed and cursed with warning and promise.

“What did you tell me that first day?” Red asked abruptly. There had been nothing familiar in her words or her favorite language for him to latch onto, but he had anyway, needing some reassurance when he had nothing else. You will live.

She tilted her head in appraisal; puzzlement flickered through her gaze. He raised his eyebrows expectantly in the lengthening silence. “I told you then.”

“No,” he corrected softly. “What does it mean?”

It took a second, then he saw understanding flare. She narrowed her eyes, reached for words more precise. “You will thrive.”

~

Asleep.

Rett stopped only long enough to collect Whisper with a sharp jerk of his head. She fell into step behind him as they walked the ramps down into lower levels. He caught her tensing in his peripheral vision as they moved down into the third deepest of the underground military facility. He knew she was as resistant to red serums as he had been to green. She remembered the pens.

The cell was in the medical containment grid. Whisper shot him a questioning look, her first open response. He didn’t answer, just stopped five doors to the right and looked in the gridironed cutout on the door.

A redhead, clearly beginning stage three—considered the worst of them. He was feverish and pale, and trying as hard as he could to break the rope tying off his hands so he could get at the pain under his skin. The ropes were a mercy. Rett remembered wanting to tear his skin off.

He looked at Whisper. “He’s ours.” He left her standing beside the door and watching.

Gloria was where he expected her. A practical, talented field medic by choice and indentured operative medic by draft, she had been assigned to their region several years back and earned the teams’ respect over time. She didn’t stop what she was doing when Rett came in. She was taking reads on the Database, a girl from another team in the facility.

“Database.” He nodded. “Gloria.”

“He wasn’t my work,” Gloria said shortly.

The Database ignored them both.

Rett shrugged. “Don’t care.” He crossed his arms, leaned against the wall, and waited for her to look at him. “When it’s all over, give him another dose.”

That got the Database’s attention. “You want him to forget?” she demanded harshly, forgetting herself that there was more to remember than who they were before they became operatives. There was the processing itself.

It was simpler to say, “Sometimes it’s better not to remember.”

~

Awake.

It was a matter of time before Red mastered his training, learned the things Storm shoved him into and demanded of him. There were days when Storm treated Red like he hated him or was angry with him, days when he watched him with naked approval in his eyes.

Three months after wakening, Storm named him Red Wolf. Six months and he told Red Wolf to take center on the training courts. When Storm called the team into formation, Red Wolf stood at its head.

#


Kingdoms and Thorn Science Fiction

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4 Responses to Wake and Thrive

  1. Kabobbles says:

    Okay...

    Now I'm curious about all of the team.

    I'm also very intrigued by who/what Red Wolf was before he joined the team.

    I have more questions... I need more answers. Or just more. :P

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