one_man_army: ([c: weary])
He's not been up to his room yet since he got back to the bar, but he's glad to see that it's still in the same condition as he left it once they step inside. Carl leans the rifle against the wall near the door and locks it behind Trudy once she's inside.

"It's almost frightening how much the prospect of sleeping in a true bed tonight excites me," he says, glancing towards the bedroom. He sets the backpack down near the closet, and then looks over at Trudy.

"But I'm not going in it until I get a shower."

It's an open invitation to join him if she wants, but he won't mind either way - his goal is to get the layers of dirt off of his skin - even a shave at this point would be a bonus.
one_man_army: (Default)
The first order of business is most definitely the desire to get out of his dirty work clothes and into a shower - the same goes for her as far as her flightsuit goes. Dinner will come later, probably. And possibly a raid on the cabinet in their small kitchen that holds the liquor, if the conversation topic proves it necessary.

But first: shower.

He unlocks the door to their apartment upstairs and holds it open for her, lights coming on as she walks through.

"Was it just me, or tonight did the bar seem a little...off, to you?" he asks, closing the door behind them and locking it.
one_man_army: ([c: black tank])
He's gotten very good at navigating through the reading system on her flatscreen, the last few days, between looking for doors back to the bar - and he's even practiced his art skills a bit, too. (There are various sketches of her room stacked neatly on her desk, more practical than artistic in nature, but it's something.)

When she gets back from her shift, she'll find him on the floor.

(Doing crunches. He's been doing a lot of PT the entire time he's been here, if only to distract himself from the cabin fever that's starting to set in and the boredom that creeps up when she's out flying.)

He was also grateful that his iPod was in the bag he packed, even if it means that he doesn't hear her come in the room because of the earbuds drowning everything else out.

(If he closes his eyes, he's not stuck on a moonbase in the future with what is looking like a dwindling chance of ever getting home again.)
one_man_army: ([c: seriously?])
When he steps through the door from Milliways, he's expecting to find the interior of his tent, which is why his head is ducked. His rucksack is over his shoulder - he'd thought it might be a good idea to bring some certain items from the Bar through in case things went wrong with his room - but when he suddenly runs his face smack into a rack of metal shelving, he yelps with surprise and confusion.

(Also? That is going to leave a bruise.)

Carl glances around at the room he's found himself in, realizes he's not in his tent (and therefore probably not in Africa, either) and immediately steps back with one hand poised to grab the doorknob back to the Bar.

Except the doorknob isn't there either.



Just where the hell is he, and why is he in what appears to be a storage closet?


+++


He spends two minutes quickly mapping out the room, while digging out his sidearm and stashing it at the small of his back where it'll be hidden safely in his concealed-carry holster. He's glanced at some labels on shipping crates and all it tells him is the department the items (whatever may be in the crates - he doesn't check) are intended for.

Science. R&D. Technical.

So he's...in a lab. Maybe.

Wherever he is, he can't stay in this storage closet forever. He tries his cell phone - no service, but it figures.

He hears footsteps outside of the door (hallway? offices?) and freezes, but relaxes once they pass.

Obviously he is going to need to get out of here and figure out where the hell he is. Carl shifts his bag on his shoulder and walks towards the door, waiting until there is relative quiet before he opens it and walks out like he's belonged here this entire time.

It's a hallway. Slick walls and smooth floors, signs posted near the doors. All right, he can manage this. He starts off in the direction he hears voices - lots of voices - figuring that at least then, he can try to blend into a crowd (hopefully) and figure out what the heck the Bar has gotten himself into.

He rounds the corner and finds himself staring at a huge open room, full of hundreds of people that appear to be packing (and unpacking) various boxes, bags, and crates. The tech is definitely nothing he's ever seen before, and a lot of them seem to be carrying what looks like gas masks at their sides.

One of the larger crates is lazer-stamped with three letters on the side: RDA



And then it clicks.



He's on Pandora. (Probably, anyway.)



"...shit."


He has got to find Trudy.
one_man_army: (so tired)
When he wakes, the images from his dream are still fresh enough in his mind to recall all the details. As he sits upright, he rubs at his hands to ward off the feeling of asphalt digging into his palms without even noticing, and he can taste a strange hint of copper in his mouth.

He feels Trudy shift in the bed beside him (and he wonders if she'd even been back to sleep after she had woken up earlier) but he doesn't glance over at her because he doesn't trust his vision just yet, afraid of what sort of spectre he might find.

It was only a dream. He's still in Milliways, not back home. (Wherever home is.)

"Bloody 'ell," he finally mutters under his breath, letting out a quiet sigh.

(I'm not lonely.)
one_man_army: (the art of war)
This year, the rolling green lawns at Arlington haven't been paved over with asphalt; the rows upon rows of white marble headstones haven't been bulldozed to build hundreds of columbariums in their stead.

(He's grateful for that.)

With his hands stuffed deep into the pockets of his jacket, he walks along the main roadway and ignores the quiet conversation of a group of tourists who are consulting a map near the visitor's center. He doesn't have far to walk to make it to the section he knows Harris is buried in, and he definitely doesn't need to consult a map.

Section 57 -- past the war dead of Iraq and Afghanistan in 60 and 61 -- is close to the main entrance. The rows of headstones still stretch neatly across the grass, but here the solid carpet of green is broken by the occasional discolored patches of freshly cut sod and upturned earth.

Staff Sergeant Timothy Harris, aged twenty-four, (promoted in rank posthumously after being killed in action), is sitting on the ground beside his headstone. His field jacket is draped lightly over the marble slab and a lit cigarette is resting at the corner of his mouth. When Carl approaches, the younger man smiles.

"Afternoon, Captain."

Carl swallows past a lump in his throat as he moves closer, and sits in the grass that covers the foot of Harris' grave.

(What he doesn't say: Afternoon, Staff Sergeant. How are you?, because the kid is dead and buried at twenty-four, never married with no children, shot and killed in some dusty courtyard in Beirut, his body shipped home in the back of a cargo plane in a flag-draped casket.)

He nods his head. "Afternoon, Staff Sergeant."

"Want a light?"

Carl shakes his head at the offer -- he hasn't smoked since that day in Lebanon when everything went to hell, because every time the glow of a cigarette flares he's reminded of the smell of burning skin and screaming.




They sit quietly for awhile in silence. Carl watches a bird hop from headstone to headstone a few rows over, while Harris smokes without a word, the thin wisps of grey curling up into the cloudless October sky.



It's the dead man who breaks the silence first, with a question.

"Did you get him?"

(Not did we get him, because he got shot before they made it to the building, his blood soaked body having to be pulled back to safety after the sniper plastered his brains across the sandstone pavers.)



"No, I didn't."

(Because it wasn't Harris' fault that the stairwell was guarded by a bastard with a cache of grenades, or his fault that the commander back on base decided to pull the plug. It hadn't gone to shit -- completely anyway -- at the moment in which the kid was struck down and killed.)



"Damn."




Harris lights yet another cigarette as the sun tracks slowly across the sky, rays broken and scattered by the bronze leaves of a nearby Pin oak. The golden glow that the late-day light gives the young soldier's skin makes him look like he's alive, and Carl appreciates that.

They both look up as a young woman and an even younger child -- likely her daughter, from the way she holds the girl's hand -- pass by a few rows over. Carl nods his head at the pair; the little one waves and flashes them both a bright smile before they continue on.




"Mom didn't see you, did she."

"She never does. The kid's cute though," Harris smiles, and for a moment Carl realizes just how young the man really was. "They come to see her dad at least once at month. He's only been gone a year or two."

"Afghanistan?"

"Yeah."

"That's shit," Carl says, looking down at the grass.

"No," Harris shakes his head. "That's life."




It's nearing five o'clock (and Carl knows he'll have to be going soon, though he knows that the captain's bars stitched into the collar of his field jacket will earn him a little more time if security starts to round up the last of the still-straggling visitors) when Carl glances up at sight of movement in the corner of his vision field.

Harris is brushing grass off of one knee. "Guess it's time for you to go, huh?"

"Just about," Carl says softly. He bites the inside of his cheek to ward off the pinpricks of heat that suddenly threaten at the back of his eyes. He clears his throat as he stands, looking over the vast expanse of gravesites that surround them. "Hey, Staff Sergeant?"

"Yes, sir?"

"You...you're okay?"

Without even hearing him move closer, Carl feels the presence of the younger man at his shoulder. They're both staring at the obscured headstone, the digital pattern of desert camo oddly out of place against the clean lines of white marble and the lush green carpet that surrounds it.

"I'm fine," Harris promises him. "Besides, I've got plenty of company. Thorton's just up the way, there," the kid nods his head to an area just a few yards over to their right. "It's not like I'm lonely or anything."




"That's good," Carl finally says, after a moment's pause. "And, you know, Harris?"



There's no reply, and when Carl turns to glance at the headstone, both the young Army Ranger and his field jacket are gone, leaving only the cold marble slab to stand in silence.

He bows his head, then turns to walk up the hill, headed for the road.



Crossing the parking lot, he tips his head to the woman and her daughter he saw earlier as he passes their car -- as he turns his collar up against the chill, they pull out onto the road.

Their car backfires, twice, as they round the bend and drive out of sight.


He's on the ground before he realizes what's actually happened.




"Hey man," someone calls from a few yards away as he's picking himself up off the asphalt. "Are you all right?"

Carl nods. "Yeah...yeah. Just stumbled, s'all. Thanks."

The concerned citizen gives him one more once-over, then nods and climbs into his car.



Swallowing hard, he tastes a bitter tang of copper against his tongue -- must have cut his mouth when he hit the deck -- and heads out towards the Metro station, willing his heart to calm down.


(One shot to the leg. One shot to the head. He stopped moving, then.)
one_man_army: ([stock: african sunrise])
Eight months after arriving in Zimbabwe, he got his first chance to take some leave -- some of the volunteers took advantage of the break to go home, visit family, or return to 'civilization' for a bit -- and he promptly disappeared.

He'd been camping in Matobo National Park for almost two weeks before he'd found a door to the bar, but once he'd found it, it made sense to head to Milliways in search of his girlfriend.

(As well as a hot shower he didn't have to pay for at one of the lodges.)



The door from the bar opened out into the pre-dawn twilight, hints of color lighting the eastern sky to reveal an expanse of wild bush country surrounding the campsite.

Carl shifted the pack they'd picked up at the bar (she'd need gear too, if she was going to stay for a bit) on one shoulder as he stepped aside to let her through.

"Welcome to Matobo."
one_man_army: (tank)
He's got the bag of burgers and fries in one hand, and a six-pack of cold beers in the other as they ascend the staircase towards the rooms. Thankfully, his room hasn't moved (or if it has, Bar has been kind enough to put it back where it was when he left) and everything seems to be in order as they step inside.

Carl places everything down on the small dining table and then glances at Trudy.

"I think they'll keep long enough for me to jump into the shower and rinse this grit off. Do you mind if I grab one real quick? Though if you're starvin', I can wait."

And when he says real quick, he means it. He is a professional at military-style showers.
one_man_army: (soul in your eyes)
He's got everything he thinks he's going to need for a possible extended stay out in his world spread out on the bed in front of him; two empty duffel bags sit on nearby chairs, waiting to be used. Clothes, laptop, a few assorted books and maps, cash, his weapon and three spare magazines, chargers for electronics, running shoes and combat boots, toiletries, notebook, and a handful of various odds and ends all have to go into the bags, but he hasn't yet started packing.

Carl is simply standing at the end of the bed, looking over the items.



(In reality, he's looking through them. Instead of what a man would need for a temporary trip to look for work with an aid organization, he's seeing a cache of firepower and explosives. Battle gear and body armor, tactical tools, dossiers and intel reports.)



He's so focused on what he's not really seeing, he doesn't hear Trudy come into the room behind him until she shuts the front door -- and he jumps slightly, realizing where he is.


This is Milliways. Not your house in North Carolina. You're not prepping for a mission.
one_man_army: ([halloween] kilt)
Carl's got both hands free as he and Trudy make their way upstairs -- Bar 'helpfully' gave them a napkin telling them not to bother with the bottle of scotch or the glasses because she'd have them upstairs waiting -- and he's actually rather grateful for this small detail when they reach the door that will lead them to room 165.


Why is that, exactly?


Because it enables him to slide his hands to his girlfriend's hips as she moves to unlock the door, his lips falling to the back of her neck as his fingertips press lightly against the exposed skin at her waist.

"Didn't think I'd make it up here 'fore jumpin' you, t'be honest."
one_man_army: (so tired)
The hardest conversations to have are the ones where nobody speaks.


"We don't even have Arlington anymore. They built over it. Seventy years ago, It's...it's still Arlington, I guess, but it's buildings housing urns. They dug everyone up and cremated 'em, needed the fucking space."


His men. His commanders. His friends.

His parents.



The hardest thing about all of the unfinished conversations?


"They built over it."


Is that there's no place left to have them.
one_man_army: ([t] relaxed)
It had taken a bit of work on his end -- thankfully, he had contacts in high places in London that had been able to get him what he needed in regards to Trudy's identification and passport visas, because flying into Edinburgh would likely have been very interesting had someone wanted to know how Trudy got from the United States to England in the first place -- but they're in Scotland, finally.

It's been years since he's been here.

He's not sure if it's still home, but the moment he steps off the plane and into the terminal and spots the bi-lingual signs -- Fàilte gu Dùn Èideann, Welcome To Edinburgh -- he smiles.

There's no need for baggage reclaim with their backpacks and duffel bags, but they'll have to get a vehicle.

"Car hire s'down this way, if they haven't moved it since I've been here last."

He offers her his free hand, just because he can -- and because he knows she won't let him carry her bag.
one_man_army: (looking after you)
[after this]

They make their way into the kitchens, ignoring the various looks given to them by the waitrats (and the rats running around the kitchen in aprons and little white chef hats) as they head for the walk-in cooler.

"You might want to stay put," he says. "Just in case I don't come back. You can go for help?"

He's kidding.

Mostly.

(This is Milliways. Who knows where this door leads.)
one_man_army: (shocked)
[two & a half weeks after this]

He can't remember how he got to this bar, but he supposes it doesn't matter, in the long run.

(It's not Milliways.)

The sunburn he got on his first two days in the country has faded to an actual tan -- much to his surprise -- and he hasn't bothered shaving in a day or two, leaving a rough stubble peppering his chin and cheeks.

He's cradling a cold Corona between his palms, eyes focused on the wooden countertop of the bar. Behind him, a stereo is pumping out a stream of Latin hits, spurring the drunk tourists to dance and holler. There's a group of sorority girls on break and a bachelorette party, competing with a stag night and what he's pretty sure is a bunch of football players from California.

The crowd is thick enough that he has to elbow his way through the crush to get from the counter to the doorway; the few minutes it takes to make it outside is enough to finish the beer and start his lungs closing from the 'lack' of oxygen he feels. It's almost sundown.

He heads for the beach.

(One advantage to wearing combat boots is the lack of sand infiltration.)





He walks along the packed sand, ignoring the water that splashes against the leather -- there's a reason he still shines the damn things a few times a week, other than the comfort that the habit and routine brings him -- and he's ignoring the remaining crowds.

It's hard to feel like he's not being followed until well after sunset, when most everyone has retreated back to their hotels and the bars, to the dancefloor and the lounge, to the never-ending party that is Cancun.

He sits a short distance from the water.



(It starts with the rumble and crash of the waves, and then he hears the hiss -- foam against the sand -- and it spirals from there.)

He can't hear a damn thing.

Rothke and Miller are on the ground.
Bleeding.
Miller's missing his helmet.

(And half his skull.)

He can't hear a damn thing, just a hiss.
Someone is screaming at him.

Captain--
Miller's missing half his skull.
Rothke isn't moving.

Captain, you alright--
Miller needs to get his helmet back on.

Benton--
Helmet.

(Where the fuck is Miller's helmet?)

Captain, we've gotta--
Just a hiss, crashing all around him.

(Where the fuck is Miller's skull?)

He can't hear a damn thing.



He can't hear a damn thing.

The palms of his hands are pressed hard against the sides of his head, covering his ears (from the grenade) and his forehead is pressed against his knees, he's too close to the goddamn stairwell and there's too much noise--

(The ocean in front of him blurs into darkness and he can't feel his legs until a wave laps against his ankles and shocks him into awareness.



He yells.



Out of fear.)




He practically runs the few miles back to his hotel room, checking every shadowed doorway and fire escape, listening to the sounds of the late-night crowds moving through the beachfront town, of drunks laughing and singing, of sirens wailing, the pulse and breath of the night.

His hands are shaking as he packs his bag.

His fingers curl around a prescription bottle.

(The painkillers they gave him on the flight home from Germany.)

He does not want to sleep, anytime soon.

(The painkillers get stuffed into the bottom of the rucksack.)





He leaves a tip for the maid on the dresser and ducks out of the hotel room.






(It'll be another three weeks before he'll find a door back to Milliways.)
one_man_army: (reflection)
He wakes up in the cold sweat the morning that he decides it's time to leave, the fading memories of the dream that roused him from sleep still lingering in his mind as he rubs the sleep from his eyes.

Stop.

Please, for the love of god, stop.

I don't know.

I swear to god I don't know.

Please.

Stop.



Stop.



He looks down at his hands; in the reddish glow of his alarm clock he swears the skin of his fingertips is stained with dried blood. It takes a moment to shake off the haze as he climbs out of bed -- no matter that it's just past three in the morning; he won't sleep again.




The coffeepot on the counter gurgles quietly in the dark, the sole source of light in the room from the laptop sitting beside it. He's standing as he scrolls through the brief list of new emails that are in his inbox, barely registering the subjects, contents, or senders. His mind is elsewhere.

(His room upstairs in the bar, with sheets that still smell like her shampoo -- even though the Loompas have been in to clean and change them twice.)

He glances through the doorway at his darkened bedroom, and finds himself wishing she were here right now to keep him company.




He's getting attached.

You got attached to your men and they ended up dead.

Jack's buried (in this world, anyway) in Los Angeles beside his wife.

The less tying you to the world, the less likely you are to mess up.

No distinguishing marks.





He pours himself a cup of coffee and paces across the small kitchen, mug in one hand. He fingers his hipbone with his free hand, idly tracing invisible lines (catch a tiger by the tail) of a tattoo that doesn't exist on his skin.

As he sips the coffee, he's already running through possible scenarios.



By the time five o'clock rolls around, he's finished half the pot and packed everything he owns into the black rucksack he's had in the closet for the last two weeks. Most of his things are still in storage or at Milliways (it was easier to keep them at the bar, even with the risk of being locked out and away from his personal effects) and the furniture he could care less about.

He unplugs the coffee pot on the way out; slips an envelope under the door of the landlord's office, apologizing for his hasty exit and asking him to clean out the fridge, not to worry about the deposit and there's several hundred additional to make up for the hassle of having to sell the furniture.

A few hours after the sun rises, he's shaking hands with a friend of his at the curb of Raleigh-Durham International, handing over the keys to his Wrangler.

"You keep it in one piece," he says; tone joking while still serious.

(But deep down they both know that he'll never drive the Jeep again.)

"It'll be waiting for you, Benton."

(Just like the rest of us.)




The sliding glass doors usher him into the chaos of an early morning flight schedule, leaving behind the world outside. Carl glances up at the departures board, adjusting the straps on his pack as he scans the destinations.

(He's scanning the surroundings of the terminal too, out of habit.)

A faint smile quirks one corner of his mouth. It's ironic, but it's perfect at the same time. By the time he reaches the Delta ticket counter, he can already think of what she's going to say when he next wanders into the bar.


"You'd better have brought me more than a postcard."



"I'd like a ticket to Cancun, please."




It's as good a place to start as any.
one_man_army: (neutral)
His room (it's not like he's got it on a lease or anything, but he's been living in it for long enough that it's starting to pick up hints of his habits) is only a few floor up and a bit down the hall, and inside it's like most other rooms here at Milliways.

Bed on one side, couch and coffee table, chair, TV on one wall and a desk with chair against the other. A solid black crate sits at the end of his bed (locked, because even if this is Milliways he doesn't want anyone getting into his cache) and there are clothes in the dresser and closet, a bathroom through one door.

Carl drops onto the couch and places the bottle on the coffee table, then leans down to pull up his jeans so that he can work open the laces on the well-worn combat boots that he's rarely seen without.

(And if he has to pull the knife from the boot-sheath first, well that's how it goes.)
one_man_army: (man with the hands)


















































001.Millitime.002.Paradox.003.Violence.004.Business.005.Nudity.006.Bound.
007.Plot.008.Crack.009.Woe.010.Doom.011.Glitter.012.Tea.
013.Coffee.014.Waffles.015.Kitten.016.Future.017.Past.018.Young.
019.Old.020.Security.021.Tending.022.Waiting.023.Kitchen.024.Lake.
025.Landlord.026.Wedding.027.Rats.028.Evil.029.Curse.030.Gunslinger.
031.Endless.032.Dead.033.Undead034.Alive.
035.Immortal.036.Human.
037.Party.038.Dreaming.039.Garden.040.Magic.041.Bar.042.Fucking Milliways.
one_man_army: (soul in your eyes)
Their exit from the bar opens into the sunlight; Carl slips on his sunglasses and holds the door for her, as they step out of what she'll soon realize is an information building at a rest stop along the highway. It's relatively quiet (a weekday morning isn't the busiest time for travel) with a few cars parked in the lot, a semi-truck or two further down, a family with kids letting everyone stretch their legs.

He's got a backpack over one shoulder, but he holds his hand out for hers, if she'll let him take it.

(There's a feeling he's getting -- that she might not, but he'll offer anyway.)

He waited until it was morning in 'bar time' to open the door, just to try to line things up on the outside. It will make it easier to take it all in, he hopes.

The area is densely wooded, trees a vivid green this time of year, and the North Carolina sky is blue and clear. Just like he promised.

"Want me to get that?"
one_man_army: (too old for this shit)
The day the discharge is finalized is the day it really hits him that it's over.

(It took a month to get his paperwork fast-tracked through the system; a month to sort through all of his things to figure out what belongs to the government and what belongs to himself. The house goes back to the Army, and so does the SUV he's spent the last few years driving. He's got a decent stockpile of weaponry in the safe in the closet, but only a few of the handguns and a shotgun are actually licensed in his name.)

Most everything he owns goes into a storage unit, and will stay there until he's found a place to call home.

He's got a couple errands he needs to run before he heads out of town. They're simple enough; call up an old friend and call in a favor or two, and he's got the license and hack into the network to prove that one Gertrude Maria Chacon exists in his world, with a clear record to her name.

He's at a gas station outside of the city, midway through filling up the tank on the Wrangler when something clicks in his mind and a cold wave of nerves runs over him. He feels exposed, here, standing next to the vehicle.

There's no cover. If someone starts shooting you've got nowhere to hide.

His handgun is tucked into the center console and he's wondering how long it would take to duck behind the door and grab it, eyes scanning the other vehicles as he tries to identify the threat. It's only after a moment that he realizes that there isn't one.

He replaces the fuel nozzle with a quiet click, shaking off the nerves that clench at the base of his spine as he climbs back into the Jeep, starting the engine and pulling away from the station, headed back for the highway.

He's not exactly sure where he's going.

It doesn't matter.




You've got nowhere to be.




He drives for a couple of hours until the shadows start to disappear in the noonday sunlight, then pulls off and finds himself a place to stop, a place to consume a bottle of water and a protein bar. (It's really an excuse to wait for the sun to shift in the sky -- shadows are the first hint of movement and the first sign of trouble on the horizon, and he finds himself missing them even though he's not sure why.)

It's a rest stop off of I-40, a handful of other cars parked in the spaces around him, and he eyes the drivers and passengers with an idle curiosity. He wonders where they're going. He wonders what their plans are. He wonders who might be on business, who might be on vacation. He wonders who has a criminal record. He debates which person would be more likely to snap and blow the tiny information booth to hell.

Stop it.


The questions echoing in his own skull end up being too damn loud for him to handle, so he climbs back into the Jeep, heading further down the road. Looking for something he's not sure he'll be able to find.

(Peace.)




He burns another tank of gas before he finds a hotel in Wilkesboro where he finally feels like he can breathe without iron weights pressing against his chest. The woman at the front desk asks where he's from and where he's headed, and he answers with something noncommittal as he books a one night stay.

The hotel room is quiet. He's grateful for it.

His duffel occupies a patch of carpet near the wall, and he sits on the end of the bed with his head in his hands, trying to focus on anything but the chill in his chest and the prickles of nerves running down his spine.

(There was a stairwell up to the second floor that made him hesitate before he headed up, and that makes him irritated. This isn't Beirut and he knows it, but it doesn't stop him from glancing out the window to check the non-existent rooftops for snipers.)




He skips dinner in favor of a shower. And eventually (at some unknown hour of the night) he falls asleep.

Tomorrow will be another day.



(The first day of the rest of his life.)
one_man_army: (no words to be found)
He's standing in the cemetery all over again, the heat of a midday Los Angeles breeze causing his shirt to stick to his skin. The stones are blurring around him, everything rippling as his vision wavers. His fingers touch smooth granite as he kneels in the grass, trying to hold himself together.

It wasn't supposed to happen like this. Jack was always one of the best of them. Jack had saved his ass more times than he can even count. (He can't count, not now when he can barely breathe.) It wasn't supposed to happen like this. He'd gotten out of the service before things got messy, Carl thought to himself. He'd gotten out while he still had a reason to.

He had a reason to step away from everything (he had a family, a wife and a daughter) he'd ever known. It wasn't supposed to end in a joint headstone and daughter left without parents. It wasn't fair. Jack had done the right thing.

The air around him tastes like dust, and he blinks to clear his vision. The cemetery is different now. He doesn't recognize the stones or the names. There's sand everywhere, tan stained with pools of deep red.

Carl looks down at his hands.


(Twenty-one civilians killed as a result of the military action.

Fourteen soldiers killed as a result of the military action.

The military action which was brought on by the intelligence gathered by the lead man on the operation. The intelligence gathered by their captain. The intelligence gathered by him. The wrong intelligence, which lead to the deaths of fourteen men and twenty-one civilians in an operation that was supposed to be easy.

It wasn't supposed to end like this.)




They're clean.

They shouldn't be clean. He shouldn't be standing here. He's been in seven different states in the last two weeks. Three different countries. He's heard 'Taps' played almost a dozen times. He tried to make it all the funerals, but it wasn't like the families planned their schedule around the rest of the dead that had to be buried. He'd visit the others soon.

He's walking.

He's not sure where he's walking to. It doesn't matter. He knows he's supposed to be walking. That's all that matters right now. Eventually, he breaks into a run. The sand is stinging his eyes (or maybe that's the tears) but he keeps pushing as his lungs choke on a lack of oxygen. He's lightheaded and it feels like it's supposed to.

Smoke fills the room.

(He has no idea where the room came from, but it's unimportant at the moment.)

"Get down, get down!"

That damn stairwell looms in front of him, an open path to their target but it's not safe. They can't risk losing anymore men. He glances around at his squad, but there's nobody there. The bodies aren't even there, just headstones, cracked and littered around him. The smooth granite is scarred by bullet holes and shrapnel from the grenade blasts. There's blood trickling down his face but he can't feel the wound it's coming from.

He looks down at his hands again.

(That's your blood, not theirs.)


I am an American Special Forces soldier. A professional!
I will do all that my nation requires of me.
I am a volunteer, knowing well the hazards of my profession.



He charges up the stairs.

His boots leave prints on the metal but they drift away like ash as he rises towards the upper levels of the building. Not the first floor, not the second or the third either. No, he's up higher. Their target isn't a fool. They've gotten rid of the sniper.

A man steps out of the doorway. He's wearing a familiar uniform but Carl puts two bullets in his chest before he can even identify himself. When the body slumps against the wall it's obvious that he's not American. He's an enemy.

Carl keeps climbing the stairs. It's harder to breathe up here. There's a breeze that reminds him of standing in front of the headstones out in Los Angeles, hot and dry, sucking the will to live out of his soul.

(Jack is dead. It wasn't supposed to happen like this.)

I will not fail those with whom I serve.
I will not bring shame upon myself or the forces.





He kicks down the door that leads to the roof, and finds himself alone. A single click echoes from somewhere behind him, and he feels the strength in his knees waver as they threaten to buckle beneath his weight.

"Get down!"


I will never surrender though I be the last.
If I am taken, I pray that I may have the strength to spit upon my enemy.




Carl kneels against the rooftop, though the tar paper feels wrong beneath him. It feels like the grass back in the cemetery, half a world away. He wants to be anywhere but here right now. The mission is a failure. It wasn't supposed to end like this.

(It didn't end like this.)

He looks up at the sun at the same time the man behind him pulls the trigger, the last thing registering in his brain is the light searing his retinas before everything goes completely and utterly blank.

(It didn't end like this.)



My goal is to succeed in any mission, and live to succeed again.







Nothing.



(He wishes it had.)
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