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Clean Sweep

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"Goddamn it," Pritchard snarled, his hands slick with blood and pushed deep into the inner mechanisms of Adam’s shoulder. Adam wasn’t sure what he was trying to do, but he didn’t stop him—at this point, it wasn’t as if he could make the situation any worse. "I’m a programmer, not a—a field surgeon, you really can’t hold your own on a mission for fifteen minutes?"

The mission had taken longer than fifteen minutes—by a few days, actually. But Pritchard’s hands were shaking, and his eyes were wide and dark, and Adam had a feeling it might be best to hold back on antagonizing him for the next couple of hours.

At least they finally had what they came here for. All that disk drive had cost Adam was four bullets to the chest, an EMP to the torso, and the functioning in his right hand. He just hoped it would be worth it—if they got it back to Janus and it turned out to be some low-level desk jockey’s collection of fantasy football spreadsheets, Adam was going to quit on the spot.

Assuming they got back, anyway. From the way Adam’s vision was fading, it looked like it was going to be a near thing.

The two of them were crammed in the back of a semi truck whose AI Pritchard had commandeered, Adam laying awkwardly among pallets of tinned soup and Pritchard hovering awkwardly over him. He blinked, and the truck’s metal ceiling swam; another blink, and it seemed closer—

"Talk to me," Pritchard interrupted, pulling him back to reality.

"What?"

"Don’t pretend you didn’t hear me."

Adam snorted. "I heard you. I just can’t believe I heard right."

"I’m not desperate for the pleasure of your voice, if that’s what you’re trying to insinuate. But I don’t want you passing out on me and making my job harder, either. The circuits here aren’t easy to reach to begin with, and all this blood’s not helping." He somehow made it sound like Adam had chosen to bleed all over the pallets, just to inconvenience him specifically.

Pritchard had staunched the flow of blood as best he could—and Adam was probably going to owe him for ruining his jacket, he was sure he’d end up hearing about that one later—but the EMP was another matter entirely. Adam’s systems were down, struggling to reboot after the force of that last blast, and in the meantime he was bleeding out without his Sentinel online.

Adam sucked in a breath. It left him dizzy and lightheaded; no matter how deep he breathed, it wasn’t enough. The world was dotted with static, black dots growing across his vision.

"Pritchard," Adam said, "thank you."

It would’ve been worse without him here. The guards, the gates, the biometric-coded keycards… Adam would have been shot within the first day if he'd been trying to break into that facility on his own. Not Pritchard’s fault he’d messed it up at the last minute. It felt important, somehow, that he let Pritchard know that right now.

"No," Pritchard snarled. "Absolutely not. You do not get to do some woe is me routine while I’m actually working to fix this."

"I’m serious," Adam protested. "I really—"

"Fuck you."

"Pritchard—"

"Fuck you," Pritchard repeated, and slammed something that crackled with electricity directly into Adam’s shoulder port.

Adam hissed, more in surprise than pain: sparks popped behind his eyes, the hair on his neck lifted, all his systems began flashing to life in front of his eyes at once. Half on instinct, Adam shut down everything he could manage to turn off—the HUD, the Infolink, Icarus and CASIE and Typhoon—and diverted everything he could into the Sentinel and his bio-battery.

"Come on," Pritchard said, watching him intently. "Did it catch?"

There was sweat beading on his forehead. His hands felt strangely warm where they were wrapped around the wires in Adam’s arm.

"Yeah," Adam said, opening and closing a hand just to feel the miracle that was his body actually responding to him once more. "It—yeah. Thank you." He felt cold for an entirely different reason now; he’d come close enough to dying to feel himself fading, just then, and he’d barely even realized. His enhanced organs barely functioned when he was suffering EMP damage, even at the best of times, and having major blood loss was far from the best of times. "What was that? A biocell?"

Pritchard held up his phone—or, rather, the shell of it. The glass was cracked and smoke curled out from inside the screen. "I wish I had a biocell left. That was a half-charged solar battery being plugged directly into your insides." He grinned then, just a little, ever the proud hacker even in a situation like this. "Welcome to the field medicine of the twenty-first century."

"Guess you missed your calling," Adam said. "With your bedside manner, you could’ve been the next Florence Nightingale."

"God," Pritchard groaned, "what does it take to get you to fall out of love with the sound of your own voice for five minutes?"

"In my defense, you did literally just tell me to talk to you."

"That was when I thought you were dying," Pritchard said. "Now that I know you’re not, I’m going to my previous opinion on whether or not I want to hear your voice. Which is a resounding no, by the way."

The biggest complaint anyone ever had on missions with Adam was that he was too closed-off, too unreadable; it was nice, in a way, to know there was at least one person out there who didn’t agree with the majority opinion—even if that person was Pritchard, and the reason he disagreed was because he’d never be able to keep himself to one complaint about working with Adam.

But—still. His words didn’t match up with the exhaustion in his voice, or the relieved slump to his shoulders, or the way he still hadn’t let go of Adam. He’d ruined his jacket and his phone saving Adam, left his safehouse to join Adam on this mission in the first place, risked discovery and capture and torture and worse to act as his support.

"Pritchard," Adam said, softer this time, and he moved the arm that wasn’t currently opened up and jerry-rigged to a cell phone so he could press his hand against Pritchard’s arm. It was easy to be honest, here and now, in the hazy aftermath of what could have been his death. "Thank you. Really. I—wouldn’t have survived without you here."

"I said shut up," Pritchard said, and then he moved towards Adam, uncoordinated and exhausted, and—clumsily, roughly, one blood-soaked hand on his shoulder still and the other cupping his cheek—kissed him.

"Mmph," Adam said.

Pritchard kissed like he was trying to start a fight, like he expected to be shoved away at any moment. Instead, Adam pressed his good hand against the back of his head, tangling it in his long hair, and pulled him in closer.

It wasn’t the worst end to a mission he’d ever had. Not by a long shot.