They sat on the back steps of the Haus, watching idly as Dex and Nursey wrestled each other on the sudsy tarp Ford had procured from somewhere. Bitty sipped at his beer, teeth clacking softly on the brown glass, and grinned as the scent of hops and mud and the cold, October air took him back to his first few college parties, three years and a lifetime ago. He shifted back, leaning more heavily against Jack, who was a step above him and sitting with his knees pressed up against Bitty’s ribs.
Bottle dangling loosely in Bitty’s fingers, he stretched his legs out in front of him. Tonight he wore navy sweatpants, the kind that tended to ride up and sling to his calves, and the zip-up hoodie he’d stolen from Jack earlier, overlarge and gray and soft to the touch from years of wear. Jack laughed as Dex landed on his ass, dragging Nursey down with him, and Bitty closed his eyes to relish in the warm rumble of Jack’s chest against his back. He rested both elbows on Jack’s thighs and bit back a laugh as Jack dangled his arms over Bitty’s shoulders and tight against his chest. It was nice, sitting together, watching their friends do stupid shit in the privacy of their own backyard.
Bitty took another swig of his beer and almost started as he felt lips at the back of his head. One of Jack’s hands rested somewhere around his diaphragm, absently massaging the skin there and Bitty tilted his head back, looking up into pale eyes.
Jack didn’t say anything – didn’t need to say anything – and smiled at Bitty softly. He wore his old Samwell sweatshirt tonight, the one that was too tight across the chest and shoulder and fraying at the collar, and Bitty marveled at the way it brought out the pink in Jack’s chill-rouged cheeks, his wind-chapped lips.
“Red’s your color,” he murmured, smiling into the kiss Jack surprised him with.
“That’s my line,” Jack said, icy nose brushing against Bitty’s deliberately.
Bitty reached up to brush gently at the bruises along Jack’s cheek, mottled shades of purple and green. Jack had been wild after that particularly rough game, bowling into his apartment still hyped up on adrenaline and hoisting Bitty into his arms like a man possessed. Bitty felt his gut tighten and blood boil at the memory, and part of him was tempted to drag his boyfriend back into the Haus and get him into his bed, but there was such a softness in this moment, a quiet sort of peace, he dared not shatter it.
“Your clothes, your line…” Bitty whispered against Jack’s lips. “What won’t I steal?”
“You forgot my heart in your list,” Jack retorted.
“That one was out of vengeance, you know.” Bitty rested his head on Jack’s shoulder and angled his body to face him better. “Because you stole my heart first. It was only fair.”
“An eye for an eye?” Jack asked, chuckling.
“My heart for yours,” Bitty said. “Always.”
Jack kissed him properly then, their lips pushing and pulling in waves of warmth and tongue and teeth. The rest of the world disappeared when they were intertwined like this, just Jack and Bits in their cocoon of happiness.
The Haus steps beneath Bitty were old and splintered and the backyard was loud and muddy and everyone was drunk and the world roared in Bitty’s ears, but the silent, subtle smile on Jack’s face tugged at Bitty’s heart in a way nothing else ever could. Whatever the future held for him–for them–Bitty couldn’t feel too scared when Jack held him close.
You were perched on top of the couch, staring outside of the window as rain was pouring down from the sky. You leaned your chin on your hand, sighing as you looked up to see the clouds covering the sky, and lighting strikes appearing every now and then, making loud booming noises every few minutes.
You love the rain, you really do. But it’s summer, and you and your boyfriend, Jisung, were planning on going to the beach today. But of course the rain decided to come falling down the sky on a mid-July day.
“Y/N?” You hear a familiar male voice say from behind you. You turn around, seeing Jisung standing there, raising an eyebrow at you. “What are you doing sitting by the window? The rain might leak through, you know.” You just giggle at what he says before he approached you, sitting down and placing both of your legs on his lap.
“Ughh, I’m so sad we can’t go to the beach today. I know you’ve been planning our beach date for today for the longest time ever.” You say, starting to feel really sorry for your boyfriend and his plan to go to the beach for a date. Jisung just smiled and pat your head. “Hey, it’s fine. We can do so many other things than going to the beach.”
You looked up at him, raising an eyebrow before opening your mouth to speak. “Other things? Like what exactly?”
Jisung grinned devilishly. You looked at your boyfriend with a worried expression, scared and nervous at what crazy idea he could possibly come up with. “It’s raining, and when was the last time you’ve been outside during the rain?” he asks you.
You sit in thought as you were trying to think of an answer to his sudden and random question. When exactly was the last time you went outside while it was raining? You kept thinking before you finally came up with your answer. “Um, since I was 6 years old, probably? I don’t even know, Jisung, why are you suddenly asking me about how long it’s been since I’ve been out in the rain?”
Jisung’s grin reappeared back on his face. “You’ll see. Now come on, go put your raincoat on and meet me outside.”
You widen your eyes at his request. “Wh-what?! Why outside? Jisung, it’s raining, are you stupid?!”
Jisung chuckled at how cute you were sounding. “If it means I’m your stupid boyfriend, then yes, yes I am stupid.”
You glared at him, crossing your arms. “You are my stupid boyfriend who does the most stupidest things ever! Why would you want to go outside during the rain, are you cra- Hey!” As you were rambling on to Jisung, you felt him lift you up over your shoulder. “Put me down, stupid!” You yelled. Jisung ignored the slaps that you gave to his back, and grabbed your raincoat from the coat rack before heading outside to the porch.
He finally set you down. You were still glaring at him and crossing your arms for taking you outside while it’s pouring rain. He smiled at how cute you are when you’re mad and pinched your cheeks. “You’re so adorable, Y/N~ Now put your raincoat on and come with me!” He exclaims before stepping out onto the yard, raising his arms out in glee as the rain poured all over his body.
You had to admit, you adored how daring your boyfriend is, but you still couldn’t deal with how hard the rain was pouring down. But nonetheless, you still put on your raincoat and carefully stepped down the porch, making sure you don’t slip and fall down the stairs considering it’s wet.
You made your way towards Jisung, stepping into a huge muddy puddle in the grass. You scrunched your face in disgust, while Jisung laughed at you. “Come on, let’s jump in some mud puddles!” Jisung said excitedly. You stared at him with a ‘are you kidding me’ look on your face. You couldn’t believe how childish your boyfriend was acting, but at the same time, you could believe it. Jisung was currently jumping from mud puddle to mud puddle, laughing like a little kid as he got his rain boots completely dirty and soaked from the mud and the rain. You were laughing and decided to join in because why not. It seemed fun and watching your boyfriend having fun made you smile and want to join in with him.
You and Jisung held hands as you two hopped from mud puddle to mud puddle. At this rate, you could care less if you got dirty or soaked from the rain. As long as you’re with Jisung and having a great time, nothing mattered to you anymore.
You and Jisung both laughed as you and him lied down on the wet, muddy grass. You picked a piece of mud on your finger and wiped some on his face. “Hey!” He shouted. You grinned and quickly stood up, trying to run away from him but he immediately caught up to you, capturing you in his arms. He slapped a handful of mud on your face, laughing like a maniac.
“Gross!” You complained, though you didn’t really care, you just laughed it out. Jisung pointed a finger at you, laughing hysterically at the huge pile of mud that he plastered onto your face. You glare at him. “You’re not getting away with this, Jisung!” You yell before bending down and grabbing a handful of mud and throwing it at Jisung. Jisung flinched, but the mud still hit his side and splattered on his arm.
Jisung laughed and made fun of your weak throw before sticking his tongue out at you. He ran away, though failed at doing so as he completely fell on the grass from how wet it was. You laughed and jumped on top of him. You and him laughed as you both lied down on the wet grass, the rain pouring down from the sky and landing on the two of you.
“This was fun.” Jisung sighed out, completely exhausted from the little mud fight you two just had. You giggled and buried your head in his chest. “Definitely. Especially since I totally beat you in the mud fight.” You replied to him.
He scoffed. “You didn’t beat me.”
“I totally did.”
He chuckled and sighed in defeat. “Okay, okay. My own girlfriend beat me in a lame mud fight, whoopdy doo.” You and him laughed before you leaned up to peck him on the lips.
“Gross, your lips taste like mud.” You say, pretending to make a sour facial expression.
“My lips do not! And there’s no mud on my lips.” Jisung said.
“Yeah, exactly.” You say. Jisung glared at you and quickly kissed your lips before pulling away immediately. “Gross, your lips taste like mud!” Jisung teased. You glared at him and slapped his chest.
“Sh-shut up!” You yell, your face turning red and you could feel your cheeks heat up in embarrassment. Jisung grinned and pulled you in closer to his chest.
“I’m kidding! Ahh, you’re so cute when you’re angry.” Jisung teases you, kissing the part of your cheek that doesn’t have mud on it. You pout at him before he kisses your forehead. As you two were snuggling on the wet grass, the rain still pouring down from the sky, you spoke up.
The little kids more holly and jolly than they had been in a fortnight, rushing in the streetlights,
See the bus coming from the corner of their eyes, rush ride up inside, to see what’s to arise,
Hopping off the bus to the school that belay, here is the young generation, to start their first day.
All the giddy and glee they felt in there first years lost in sight, flicked off like the switch of a light.
Office cubicles are only yet to come, yet these kids are already looking tired and glum.
It’s the 12th year of school, and the oppression has already come, sinking in and smothering them in the mud.
They hop on the bus, with the bus driver who doesn’t give a damn, walking towards the school with 50 textbooks in there hands, they don’t understand the work that’s inside, but if they didn’t finish it, then trouble would arise.
They walk into school with their frowns and broken crowns, no shit to give to anyone, for no one can put them anymore down.
They are the young generation, the generation that broke, the generation that had so much potential, the generation that could have spoke,
Words of power and intelligence and enlightenment into the world, but the only one who needs enlightenment is the young generation at hand.
Brainwashed by the textbooks and worksheets they don’t understand, forced in the school they would leave, but they can’t.
We are to blame, because we fell horribly short, we could’ve fed them knowledge but we fed them a bunch of junk that we didn’t understand, dittoed the books, and cracked down on any sort of creativity, because 5+3 equals 8, but so does 6+2, but not in this damn school.
So with our books and our tests we pushed down and oppressed the kids who are to run this world someday, and with our lessons we depressed, with our non caring attitudes and tests we stressed and turned our kids into miniature vessels of pain and utter confusion and a black hole of nonsense we spout from the desks and we doomed our own kids, and we doomed ourselves.
You snickered, tucking your hair behind your ear as you
crouched, your breath escaping you in clouds of white.
“Ha-ha, very funny (Y/N),” Clint muttered dryly over the
Bluetooth in your ear, and you could just tell that he’d
rolled his eyes.
“Love you,” You sang quietly, eyes peeled for any
inconsistencies in the frost covered field that lay before you.
“But seriously,” He drawled. “You should get to work. It’s
pretty dangerous out there, you shouldn’t be distracted.”
“Who says I’m distracted?” You scoffed, eye roving over the
darkened hills. A steel grey sky loomed above you, the cold nip of the wind
promising snow. In all honesty, it was rather beautiful out, although the way
the harsh wind bit at your skin was rather bothersome.
“You warm enough?” You heard him ask, and you realized your
teeth were chattering.
“Uh, kinda,” You managed, struggling to quiet them down.
“I’m trying. It’s a little chilly out here.”
“It’s minus nineteen (Y/N).”
“Yeah,” You grinned. “A little chilly.” You winced as a
sharp wind tugged on the jacket you’d wrapped around yourself, your fingers
tightening around the rifle in your hands. You were supposed to shoot down
anyone who got too close to the operation some kilometers behind you, but you’d
seen nothing yet, save for the odd animal that meandered across the deserted
“There’s nothing out here Clint,” You whispered, eyes
snapping up towards the sky. It was starting to snow, small dots of white
dusting the ground. “How much longer do I have? I didn’t dress warm enough for
“Uh-” There was a pause, and you heard the rustling of gear
before he answered you. “About an hour.”
An hour?! Oh for Christ’s sake. “Shit, really?”
You groaned, dropping back onto your rear, your legs aching from having been
crouching too long. Your joints were stiff and your muscles ached. You’d been
out here for three hours already and all you’d done was stare at a field. You
were one sniper with acres of forest surrounding you and this one empty field.
Did they honestly think anything was going to-
Movement on the far right side of the field had you lurching
forward, your breath caught in your throat. “Shut it!” You snapped, and Clint’s
muttering’s in the background ceased. Was that-?
“There’s someone here,” You whispered, and you heard Clint
“One or more?” He demanded, voice suddenly serious.
“I think just one-” You paused, and suddenly multiple
figures came into view. Cursing, you crawled forward, making sure you remained
hidden as you adjusted your scope. “There’s about four or five. All male.”
“Do they appear to be posing a threat?”
Well, a rifle and bag of ammo was definitely a threat.
“Yes,” You answered curtly, eye narrowed as you peered through the scope. “I
think I can I take them out.”
“Alright, make it quick.”
You nodded to yourself, struggling to keep your breathing
level. You hated killing people, hate-hate-hated it. It didn’t
matter if they were good or bad, it still weighed heavily on your conscience.
But this was your job and unless you wanted the good guys to lose-
“I’ll go as fast as I can,” You sighed, heart heavy within
your chest. You froze though, breath escaping you in a gasp when your sight
landed on another man’s scope, the end of his rifle pointed directly at yours.
You rolled over, gun and bag forgotten as you threw your
arms protectively around your head, yelping as dirt sprayed up around you. How
in the hell had they seen you?!
“(Y/N)?!” You heard Clint shouting, but you ignored him,
opting instead to drag yourself towards the brush just in front of the forest
that had been resting behind you. How had they known where you were?!
“(Y/N)!” Clint shouted again, this time more urgently.
“What’s going on?!”
“They bloody well saw me!” You hissed, tossing your hair out
of your eyes as you dragged yourself on to your feet, the shouting of men
echoing throughout the empty lands behind you. “They fucking saw me Clint, what
in the hell do I do now, the base is too damn far away-!”
“Where’s your gun?” He demanded and you swore, hands flying
to your sides. You’d left it behind in the bag.
“I’ve got nothing on me Clint, I have to run.” Your mind was
racing, your face paling at the idea of it all. Sprinting through uncharted
territory in the snow at dusk with men chasing you who had full intentions of
putting a bullet through your skull? What a wonderful way to spend the
“I’m sending a team out to meet you halfway, go now,” Clint
barked and you ran, lungs already burning from the cold as you tore through
shrubbery, earthy soil kicked up behind you as you leaped over fallen trees and
shrubbery. Why in the hell had you insisted you go alone, why in God’s name was
wrong with you?!
“I’ve got a team meeting you halfway (Y/N),” Clint’s voice
was stern, but you could hear the shake despite the hard edge. “Just keep moving.”
“Well no duh,” You wheezed, arms pumping furiously. But it
was hard, a lot harder than you had anticipated. Your remote location had been
incredibly beneficial for the team, but the landscape was making your escape
difficult. It was all hills, and dead trees, and steep inclines and declines
and your calves were already burning.
“Oh fuck Clint,” You gasped, throat feeling raw. “I really
need to train more often.”
“Stop talking and run,” He snapped, but you barely caught
the end of it, gasping when your ear piece slid loose and dropped into the
earthy soil. Cursing, you made to slow but forced yourself to keep going.
Moving backwards could get you killed, and an ear piece was not worth it. You’d
find the team another way.
Swearing, you leapt over another rotting log and quickly
ducked under a few scraggly branches, your feet pounding relentlessly into the
ground. You could still hear men shouting behind you, their voices seemingly
closer. Oh God, was this seriously going to be the end of you? Were you seriously
going to be known as the agent who died in a forest?!
You yelped though, eyes widening and heart racing when the
ground beneath you suddenly disappeared, an incredibly steep slope looming
before you. Body teetering dangerously over the edge and mind reeling, you bit
back a loud scream when your foot slid in the wet earth and you started to
fall, hands reaching desperately for any sort of hold, but there was nothing.
“No!” You shouted, hands clawing at the earth as you rolled,
a slew of profanities escaping you.
Oh God-Oh God, oh God-No-
Sharp pain erupted in a multitude of places and your limbs
struggled mercilessly to gain some sort of balance, though you continued to
tumble downwards, your vision blurring. The bottom was swiftly approaching, and
you nearly sobbed, images of broken bones and head injuries flooding your mind.
There was a loud crack and a sharp gasp escaped you, a
scream nearly tearing loose and suddenly you had stopped, your legs a mess
beneath you. Oh God, no please-
You lay still for a moment, chest heaving and tears spilling
before you even dare move. Had you broken something? Please…please don’t say
you had. Oh God please-
You shifted, pushing yourself up onto your elbows as you
took in your scenery. A small creek lay before you, the ground littered with
greyish-brown twigs and decaying leaves. Snow still fell softly and you chewed
the inside of your cheek, the dull throbbing in your leg proving impossible to
ignore. You knew that ache, you knew it all too well.
You shifted, dragging yourself up onto your side, but the
ache only intensified and you cried out. You’d most definitely broken
something. How the hell were you supposed to get away now? How the hell was
Clint supposed to know where you were?
Oh God you were going to die out here.
A sob escaped you and you looked wildly around you, your
heart in your throat. Where could you go? Where would you hide?!
“No nonono,” You sobbed, tears falling freely down your
cheeks. You had no way to contact Clint and you were definitely not at the
halfway mark. Though the voices seemed far away, you could definitely hear the
men who had been chasing you, their shouts carrying over the steep hill you’d
just toppled down.
Turning your head wildly, you noted the expanse of trees
around you and realized that there really was nowhere to hide, and there was no
way you were going to climb a barren tree, they’d spot you from a mile away.
“I hate this job,” You groaned, grimacing as you dragged
yourself into a sitting position. You had to walk somewhere and hide, and
although the idea of it made you want to cry, you knew it was the only way. And
to top everything off, you were going to have to drag yourself through the
stream. The current was virtually non-existent, but the water would be freezing
and your leg was going to take an even worse beating.
“I’m quitting this job as soon as I’m done,” You grunted,
shaking as you struggled to push yourself up on your one good leg. The stream
was fifteen some odd feet away and hobbling there through thick, wet leaves was
much more difficult than you had originally thought. They were thick, and the
heel of your boot tended to sink into the mud whenever you hopped, your arms
waving wildly as you struggled to maintain your balance. You’d lifted your hurt
leg up, making sure it didn’t touch the ground, although it ached from the
When you’d finally made it to the stream, you took in a few lungfuls
of air, silently preparing yourself for what you were about to do. Shaking, you
slowly eased yourself down the bank, forcing yourself to ignore the shouts of
the approaching men as you hobbled into the water. You noticed the drop in
temperature immediately, in fact it tore a gasp from you and you cursed.
Screw Fury, screw this mission, and screw the men behind you!
Adjusting to the water’s temperature was not an option here,
so you forced yourself to continue, ignoring the way the water burned your skin
and tugged at your clothing. It wasn’t too deep, reaching only the middle of
your thighs, but it was enough to have struggling through it. You’d been forced
to rest your injured leg down, gritting your teeth through the pain as you
continued to wade. Snow continued to spiral towards the ground, dusting your
hair and eyelashes. It would’ve been pretty if death was not perched on your
Teeth chattering, body violently shaking and slews of curse
words escaping you, you slowly made your way through the stream, your skin
aching and going numb. By the time you were drawing near to the bank, you were
almost certain that hypothermia and frostbite were on the top of your list of
things to worry about.
Grunting, you allowed yourself to topple forward, dragging
yourself from the water as you pulled yourself onto your belly, your leg
pulsing from the injuries. Breath escaping you in ragged gasps, you lay there
for a few moments, exhaustion overcoming you. You knew you had to keep moving,
but the way your leg nearly tore screams from your mouth every time you moved
it had you remaining still, your back growing damp from the leaves you were
currently resting on.
You need to keep
moving, you told yourself, chest heaving. Images of the men finding you
burned the back of your closed lids but still, you could not find the strength
to move. Just a little bit further (Y/N),
“I can’t,” You wheezed, eyes drifting closed as your head
dropped into the soft mud beneath you.
* * *
“For the love of God, where the hell are
you?!” He whispered to himself, eyes narrowed as he scanned the expanse of
forest surrounding him. You hadn’t answered him for nearly twenty minutes now
and he was erupting into a full blown panic. Had someone shot you? Kidnapped
you? Had you fallen? Were you dead?
He couldn’t think about that right now.
“Split up!” He barked, pointing to the
small group of men behind him searching the area. “I want agent (Y/L/N) found
They were quick to disperse, nodding all
the while, though Clint’s unease didn’t lessen. Where in God’s name were you?
Shaking his head, he picked up his bow and
slung it over his shoulder, starting a slow jog through the dead woods.
* * *
“Sir, it’s been nearly an hour now. Do you think maybe she’s-”
“I don’t give a shit if it’s been an hour,” Clint snapped at
the voice coming through his ear piece. “Keep
But he was chewing on his lip. Had you gotten to safety? Had
you been kidnapped? What if you had fallen somewhere? You would die out here in
the cold, it had been snowing for nearly two hours now. What if you had died?
What if you were dead?
“I have lost enough people in this life time,” He sighed,
shaking his head as he continued to move through the thick leaves piled on the
ground, making sure his feet landed lightly, careful to make little to no
It was then that he caught sight of you. You were lying on
your back, one leg twisted at an awkward angle, your face turned to the side. A
thin blanket of white was covering you, and you looked horribly pale.
Clint panicked, his heart pounding erratically as he
sprinted towards you down the small incline where you rested, a stream a few
feet from where you lay.
Please don’t let there
be blood please don’t let there be blood-
He skidded to a stop beside you, already crouching as he
inspected your body for wounds. You were soaking wet, your lips a pale blue. He
was wrenching his glove off in the next moment, two fingers pressing against
your neck. Your heartbeat was slow, too slow, but it was there.
“I found (Y/L/N),” He barked into his ear piece, eyes
running over your broken looking frame all the while. “She’s not doing so well,
she’s unconscious and she’s broken her leg, possibly suffering from
hypothermia. We need help now.”
Someone was rambling in the background but Clint had blocked
it out, his callused hands gently running over your torso instead, in search of
any other broken bones or injuries.
“Tony’s on his way.”
Clint released a long sigh of relief, though his brows
stayed furrowed, worry tightening his chest. Why the hell had he let you go
It wasn’t long before Tony arrived, and when he did he was
far from his usual cocky self.
“She doesn’t look so good,” He muttered, mask up as he moved
over to look you over. “Help me pick her up, I don’t want her leg getting
Clint nodded before carefully hooking an arm under your
back. Slick, cool mud slid over his skin and he nearly pulled you into his
chest. How long had you been lying here like this?
“She must’ve fallen down the ravine,” Tony commented,
gingerly hooking an arm under your hip. Clint just nodded though, his eyes
still locked on your broken form. You’d never looked so fragile.
“I’m taking her to the tower, she needs emergency care
immediately,” Tony started, his second arm hooked under your shoulders where
Clint’s hand had been mere seconds ago. “Where are you going?”
Clint’s eyes narrowed as he turned his gaze towards the
ravine where you had fallen.
“I’m going to kill the bastards who did this to her.”
FYI - Mature content towards the end of the chapter!
Morning breath is gross. I know I shouldn’t care, but I do. So I shift to the end of the bed and slide out, trying to keep every movement quiet. Tip-toeing across the room I crouch down and root through my handbag trying to find the mints I always keep on me.
“What are you doing?” the duvet cover seems to question me, and I pause and throw my glance back over to the bed.
“Just, uh…. you know” I say, stalling for time and - bingo - find the box of mints and pop one into my mouth. The duvet cover shifts again and Harry emerges from its depths rubbing his eyes and fastening a slow, sleepy smile on me.
“You look beautiful” he says, his voice slightly croaky and I push my hair back only slightly self consciously. I haven’t been in this scenario for a long time, waking up with a guy. There were a few self conscious fumbles with men I casually dated over the last few years, nothing memorable and certainly nothing serious and I always left straight after. Adjusted my clothes, got into my car, and went home. This is a new kind of raw, me shuffling back into bed with him and rolling into his back, like we’ve been doing this every day for months.
“Morning” Harry whispers softly, his lips gently nibbling on my ear. He pulls the duvet back around us both curving his body into mine, and wrapping his arms around my waist.
“Morning” I say softly. “How did you sleep?”
“Amazing….. How ‘bout you?” His breath is warm on me, and I shudder slightly. I want him, but no good can come of rushing things. Slow and steady this time round Taylor, I remind myself, so I try to satisfy myself by running my hands across his arm. Rhythmically, brushing the thin hairs down and back.
“Best night’s sleep I’ve had in ages” I reply, voice low.
“Good…… Taylor?” he says, and I can tell he’s falling back to sleep. His breathing is deep and heavy, and his arm slackens on me slightly.
“Hmmm?” my eyelids are fluttering as well, pulling me back to sleep.
“How long can you stay?” He murmurs.
“Maybe a couple of days, I have to get back and rehearse for New Year’s”
“We’d better make the most of these two days then” and he squeezes me tightly before we both drift off, curled up in each other.
“You just have to run, dad. You don’t have to win.”
Gigi came downstairs early Friday morning as I was making coffee and could tell something was off. “I’m just nervous for the race, honey,” I told her.
Truth is that I had been nervous for weeks; the lingering stomach ache of apprehension to the unknown, the heavy of an x-ray blanket draped over my shoulders, the twitch of a looming deadline.
The Zumbro 50, my first 50 miler, also happened to be the first race of the calendar. I had skipped a few of my winter half-marathons to focus on longer distances, specifically to work up to 50. Now I was 17 hours from the midnight start and I wasn’t wearing it well.
“You just have to run, dad. You don’t have to win.”
My smile must have relayed the absolution of worry those words granted me and she gave me a big hug, standing there on the stairs.
Scratch-offs for karma, man.
My friend and training partner Scott picked me up later that afternoon for the 2 hour drive south to the Zumbro River Bottoms State Forest. We had enough gear to outfit a militia, if said militia was really into tight shorts, trail shoes, hydration packs, and body lubricants.
The weather forecast was iffy. A notoriously documented winter mindfuck in Minnesota hadn’t yet apologized into a Spring blossom worthy of mention and rain was in the forecast. Luckily, said running militia gear included rain coats. We’ll be fine, we thought.
After stopping in Zumbrota, MN for the last indoor bathroom we’d see for a while, Scott pulled out a stack of scratch-off lotto cards. Like, 60 of them.
“Aid station karma,” he said. “Each station I roll into, I’m slapping one of these in each volunteers hands. Karma, man.”
Well now that’s just fucking genius. I felt good vibes just riding shotgun next to this magician. Things were looking up.
We arrived at Zumbro and had the better part of 6 hours to kill before our start. The 100 milers had already been on the course for 10 hours and were slowly appearing, here and there, out of the woods and into the clearing to the start/finish line to log another lonely loop.
I watched these normal people - these moms and dads and students and nurses and teachers and plumbers - I watched these guys come across the start/finish only to take off a sock to bleed a blister, to eat a quesadilla, to stand by the fire while a volunteer refilled their fluids only to head-down start running again without a word on their quest to hit 100; an arbitrary number that held mythical significance to each of them in their own way.
I watched these normal people run and eat and smile and cry and become unknown legends, unbeknownst only to them.
“An inch of rain.”
Time crawled until midnight. Scott and I both tried unsuccessfully to sleep a few precious minutes before the start. When 11:45 pm finally came, Race Director John Storkamp called for the 100 or so 50 mile starters and we gathered in the dark.
We were quiet. Eerie quiet. We’d seen the faces of the 100’s and knew we had a slog ahead.
John walked us through his race notes: to always defer right-of-way to those that have been on the trail longer, to help others if needed, to be smart, to have fun.
“And they’re saying we’re getting rain. Like, an inch.”
There was no cell coverage in the river valley and, while I wondered earlier what the clouds had in store of us, finding out simply wasn’t an option. Now I didn’t need to.
It was dark, obviously. I had one headlamp on my head and another strapped to my right hand, both woefully losing a battle to oppressive night that gave me 5 feet, maybe, before my light evaporated.
I kind of knew the course, thanks to some winter scouting with Scott and my other trail dorks Julie and John (I made a video of that run).
I knew I had the lungs. I knew I had the legs. Most importantly, I knew I had the stubbornness to get this done.
John counted us down and we were in it.
We were running.
We were racing.
And I farted.
In Ultras (any race over a standard 26.2 marathon, usually on trails instead of pavement), nutrition and stubbornness are 75% of the game. Keeping energy in and negativity out is a constant chore and learning the right way to stay fueled takes time.
Unfortunately, I had no idea how to eat for a midnight race. A time when my body, on a regular night, would only be expecting bed or nachos. Sometimes, both at the same time.
I ate clean that day; stayed away from red meat, not too much coffee, lots of water. But the combination off several peanut butter sandwiches and “lightly carbonated” vitamin water had my stomach bubbling. The Itis was happening.
Runners fart a lot. It’s fun. When it’s cold, it’s like a mini vacation to Florida for your ass.
Running just shakes everything up in your body and for the first several miles of any run, whatever air you had in your gut finds it’s way out. It’s science. I think.
But churning up the first big elevation to West Scenic Trail, the normally happy fun farts were scaring me. Not I’m gonna shit my pants scaring me, but more What the fuck is the matter with my stomach we just started this are you kidding me? scaring me.
Long fart story short, my stomach was in knots and I couldn’t eat. I skipped Aid Stations 1 and 2, forcing myself to stop at the 10 mile mark of Station 3 to try and eat a Grilled Cheese square while ascending over Highwater Trail.
I alternated between small nibbles and pulls from my water pack to suck the sandwich slurry down because whatever was going on with me was making me gag when I tried to eat.
This doesn’t happen to me. I was baffled.
I forced myself to eat a cold potato at Station 4. I kept running. The 3 miles to the end of Loop 1 flattened out and the potato seemed to calm the Itis. I spun the bad news in my head to a positive and thought of the fresh t-shirt and shoes in my drop bag that I’d switch to for Lap 2.
I farted one more time. And smiled.
As the 50 was a 3 lap deal, I had thought ahead of time of this race as 3 separate races. Lap 1: The Warm-up. Lap 2: The Slog. Lap 3: The Victory Lap. I was most worried about The Slog.
After a quick shirt and shoes change at the start/finish, I headed back into the woods. It was 3:09 am. My headlamps were still losing the war against darkness, but I had planned for a second wind when the sun would rise, because why not, right?
Oh right. The rain.
At 4 am, I started feeling rain drops and seeing flurries before an area called Ant Hill. I had my rain jacket on, so I wasn’t worried and pressed on.
Mile 20. Mile 24. Mile 28.
The rain increased, as did the wind. The sun-up I planned for didn’t happen. But I was feeling good, still trying to nibble here and there for fuel.
The rain was now a steady sprinkle as I hit Mile 30 (“Selfie time!” Seriously though, I took a selfie. I immediately hated myself.) and though there was no beaming sun rays, I could see without my headlamps and promptly Fuck You’d to both of them into my jacket pocket.
I passed several 100'ers who all cheered me on as I slowly passed them. Yeah. Cheered me on. These people who were entering their 23rd hour of running. They were simply beautiful in their exhaustion and faces and unsteady legs. I wanted to hug them but probably would have inadvertently knocked them over. I thanked them instead.
I hit the open field of the start/finish, the 33 Mile mark, at 6:39am. I knew The Slog was over and it was Victory Lap time. My wife and daughters would be there when I entered this field the next time and then it was Fresh Clothes and IPA City and Cheering On Everyone Else Time.
But as I made my way through the clearing to the start/finish, I saw two little girls in the pack of volunteers and other runners refueling for another lap. Unbeknownst to me, my wife had gotten them up a 4 am for the drive down and surprised me early.
I almost cried. I don’t cry much, but I did everything I could not to cry when Lolo and Gigi ran out to hug me as I finished Lap 2 of 3. They were to be my beacon of completion. My trophy. But seeing them now, I just wanted to stop.
I kissed my girls, my wife, my dog (who ended up kissing/licking everyone else who crossed the Finish line… “free salt face!”), changed my shirt again, put on a new headband and said I gotta go, I need to finish and be done.
They cheered me on and I left.
There are 4 Aid Stations per lap. I hadn’t thought much of the distance between each, until now. What had been my original mental plan of running 3-races-in-one became a more granular race of “just get to Aid Station 1” followed by “just get to 2” and so on.
Achievements were measured in tenths of miles versus 10’s of miles.
And then the rain.
The sprinkling had been bad on Lap 2, enough to make 9-10 miles of the previous lap mud-laden and slow. But doable.
Around 7 am the sprinkles stopped fucking around and turned to hail. Then a down pour. With lightening. The kind of lightening where it was thunder at the same time because Jesus Christ we just might die out here.
My victory lap was getting tenuous and when the wind hit and the rain was so intense it was going down the back of my neck, soaking my shirt and compression sleeves, the shivering started.
It was around 45 degrees when I was running the Coulee Trail between Stations 2 and 3 and I had to clench my jaw while running to stop my teeth from chattering.
I passed some people on the trails who didn’t look too good, but they just kept moving, as did I, knowing that stopping wasn’t an option.
I took personal inventory and rationalized the situation. How was my head? Still clear. My nutrition? Wobbly stomach was in control; good there. Any injuries? None. Then keep going because you’re just cold ya dummy.
So I kept going.
The trails were now a total wash-out. I was “running” in ankle deep water because the sides of the trail ruts were too slick/too deep in mud and bog hopping was the best option. Plus, I couldn’t feel my feet anymore, so why the hell not?
Get To 4
My game of Aid Station to Aid Station survival was working like a charm and when I hit Station 4 I blew on past it WAIT you didn’t “blow on past” anything REDACTED when I hit Station 4 I hobbled on past it and keep going (happy, dick?).
2.88 miles to the finish, my girls, some beers, and best of all, the chance to cheer everyone else on behind me.
I was running with 3 guys the past few miles and they kicked it into a gear the last mile that I didn’t have. Also, the women’s eventual first place winner overtook me at this point like I was standing still. See was flying. I got goosebumps. It was rad.
I hit the final field, a quarter mile to the finish, all alone. Happy as fuck. Tired as everything. And grateful that I had the opportunity to try this crazy race.
I waved to my girls from the distance and they started cheering. Sarge, our 5 month old Golden Retriever started barking. My friends Julie and Bob (who had volunteered ALL NIGHT to help other runners) started clapping. And my dad popped out from behind everyone with a huge smile to tell me how proud he was.
Did I mention that my dad had chemo last week for recently diagnosed lymphoma? AFTER a triple-bypass heart surgery a few months ago that none of us saw coming? Yeah, he said he was proud of me.
It took everything I had not to start crying by all the beauty that was around me at that moment.
I finished. It was beautiful. And I can’t wait to do it again.
⬆️And people I’ve never met💗 Do you ever have that feeling? The “I have no idea how this is going to work out, but I know it’s going to be good” feeling? I’m feeling that right now.
Grateful for the busy week ahead. This Thursday is the International Balboa Lindy Fest here in Houston (what are the odds?) I plan to find local Lindy Hopper willing to take me on. Ha! Good luck🍀 Saturday is the Mighty Mud Dash and Sunday I’m headed to Utah. I’ve never been to Utah before. Hmmm… Busy girl💃