Title: "Demon Days (Or Five Times 2nd Platoon Tried to Mend Brad Colbert's Broken Heart)"
Rating: R (for language and mild sex, nothing offensive)
Character/Pairing: Colbert and assorted members of 2nd Platoon
Summary: It's nice having friends.
Disclaimer: Not mine (because they're real people!), so I'm borrowing Simons/Burns' versions for a few paragraphs.
Author's Note: Years ago, when I first started writing fanfic, I swore I'd never write slash, but I love this show and I want to write for it and there are absolutely no female characters, so it kind of happened anyway. Plus, I want to reach through my tv screen and take Brad Colbert home with me and make him smile Alexander Skarsgard's gorgeous smile every day for the rest of his life. But I digress…I wanted to write for these characters, Colbert in particular, and here it is. Title and cut courtesy of Gorillaz. I hope everyone enjoy.
There's a sound when a bullet rips through human flesh, the squishy, sucking sound of a foreign object pushing into a space it isn't supposed to occupy. Brad remembers the first time he heard that sound, before the Marines, before 1st Recon, before Captain America proved there's no such thing as superheroes.
He's seventeen years old and his parents are away and Julie's sprawled beneath him, legs spread wide over his hips, her heart beating in time with his. His fingers creep slowly up damp thighs, disappearing between them while she gasps, back arching and hips slamming into his. Her eyes are wide, lashes fluttering rapidly, and her voice only shakes a little as she reaches up to brush his hair from his brow. "I'm ready," she whispers, breath skimming warm and familiar across his face.
He kisses her, tastes forever on her tongue, and presses inside, trigger finger opening her wide. She doesn't scream (like he thought she might) and she doesn't cry (which he hoped she wouldn't), and instead her eyes widen and her lips breathe his name. He barely realizes what she's saying, because he's young and he's stupid and he's never done this before and she's Julie, the girl he's loved for five years, and he can't believe she isn't pushing him away and telling him she isn't that kind of girl. "Are you okay?" he asks, worry creasing his brow. "Did I hurt you?"
It takes a moment, but she nods and looks at him the way he's been looking at her since she walked into his lit class in sixth grade. "Keep going," she says, lifting her hips in a way that makes him slide deeper, harder, as his breath hisses between his teeth. She smiles deviously and moves again. "I've heard it only gets better."
He pulls back, prepares to move back in, and there's a noise filling the room, something squishy and sucking and kind of gross, but he ignores it and pushes for home.
Person steers them through Al Gharraf, bullets slicing easily through the thin skin of their humvee. His M16 rumbles against his shoulder, and across the road a man in black pajamas falls. Brad doesn't hear the bullet cut through flesh and bone and blood, and he's thankful he doesn't see the man's eyes as the life slips away from him. Through the smoke and the din, his brothers screaming around him and their fear catching in his teeth as he breathes them in, all he can see are Julie's eyes rounding with wonder and the sleek, slippery feel of his body inside hers.
Fom the backseat Trombley screams his success. He hits one, a knee explodes, another win for Team USA. Brad doesn't turn to watch him fall, tunes out the rookie's play-by-play.
He focuses on what used to be, and before he has a chance to really let it all in, he and Person are laughing in the front seat while Wright searches for his sanity in the rear. Trombley smiles maniacally, and Brad doesn't want to know what was running through his head when the SAW lit up.
It's only when he's curled in his ranger grave, death and destruction sweating through his shirt, that he remembers the black pajamas weren't the only people ruined today. The memory picks up again, and he can feel soft skin against his and blonde hair tangling between his fingers and he dies a little more inside.
A pack of Skittles zooms through the air and lands on his chest, right over his heart. He looks up and Trombley's standing next to the humvee, a psycho's smile lighting up his face. "From the team, Sgt," he insists, but what he's really saying is, "thank you for letting me get some, thank you for making this war meaningful, thank you for making me a man."
"Get some rest," Brad responds. "We have a long day tomorrow."
Trombley disappears behind a berm and the Skittles' wrapper rustles through the whisper of the shamals. The candy tastes sweet all the way down.
II. Doc Bryan
Without the batteries needed to keep his NVGs alive, Brad watches the Iraqi landscape through the lens of something far more human. The artillery illuminates the sky like a perverted 4th of July parade, dealing death and destruction where he expects oohs and awws, and through the murky haze he watches another building explode and more civilians suffer the consequences of someone else's war.
His rifle is at his side, knees puncturing holes in the sand, and his elbows dig deep into the berm as more rounds zig and zag through the sky, destroying people's lives with each new burst of light.
He kissed Julie for the first time on the 4th of July, thirteen-years-old and still wet dreaming about a girl with long blonde hair and blue eyes and the best rack in the whole junior high. She'd lain next to him on his mom's favorite quilt, her parents thirty yards away, eyes trained on the sky while bursts of red and white and blue filled the night. Her hand had rested next to his, their fingers a trigger's width apart, and he'd felt the hitch in her breathing when she'd moved her hand just the tiniest bit and their skin had touched, sizzled, like a spent shell burning a trail through flesh. He'd turned to her and saw the question, the dare in her eyes, and he'd pressed his lips to hers while his future exploded overhead – war, the Marines, one and the same.
She'd snuggled into his shoulder, left hand resting over his heart, while the show went on around them. "That's gonna be you, right?" she'd asked, her gaze never leaving the sky, shades of freedom catching in her eyes. "One day, we're going to throw parades just for you."
Another round explodes and shades of red and white and blue fill the sky, tracers and mortars dueling for top billing in the show of military might. He lifts his rifle to his eye, painting the world in shades of muted green and gray, and wonders what waits for the enemy when the fireworks let up; he doesn't think it's a parade. He wonders, when he goes home and it's California sunshine tanning his skin and shards of the Pacific catching between his toes, what will be waiting for him.
Doc Bryan appears on the berm, rifle slung low on his hip and bandana shielding his brow from the sweat the constantly stings their eyes, and there's a cigarette hanging from the corner of his mouth. His upper lip is still fringed with a mustache, his fuck you to those more focused on grooming instead of bringing all the men home still breathing.
Doc is silent for a long time, watching the artillery fall, wincing when each round finds its target. Brad doesn't offer conversation either; after their confrontation over the wounded boy, he's too tired to serve as the receiving end of Bryan's frustration.
"I hate this, you know?" Doc finally says, breaking the silence with words rather than explosions. "Helping Marines is who I am, but all the women in that city, all the kids? They don't deserve this."
Brad nods, lowers the rifle, watches the destruction through human eyes. "That hamlet we lit up…I can't get it out of my head."
Bryan takes a final drag on his cigarette before it arcs through the air, the still glowing butt a feeble contender against the brunt of Marine force. His empty hand reaches out, clamps on Brad's shoulder, fingers squeezing tight. "I got word from the battalion surgeon. The boy's gonna live." He pulls his hand back, pushes up in the sand and trots off while Brad releases a breath he didn't realize he was holding.
It's forty degrees outside but he can still feel the burn of Doc's touch, understanding and forgiveness seeping through the MOPP suit and coating his insides, pumping straight to where it counts.
When he closes his eyes in his ranger grave, the lights ringing above his eyelids feel less like destruction and more like liberation.
Espera invites Wright to Thanksgiving dinner and Brad winces from the front seat of the parked humvee. He hates thinking so far in the future, when it's only April and November is months away and there's no guarantee he'll make it back to see another Macy's parade. But Espera has faith in the white man bringing him home, believes in a day to celebrate all he has in the world: a wife, a child, a family, a future.
His last Thanksgiving with Julie, she made a sweet potato casserole – the kind with the marshmallows that he hates but his mother loves – and various family members kept whispering in his ear about what a special girl he'd brought home. Four years later, the only thing special about her is how badly she managed to break his heart.
Wright disappears, calling after Baptista for the photo of his girlfriend that has yet to turn up, and Espera props an elbow on the open door of humvee one.
"Thanksgiving, Poke?" Brad asks. "I thought it was all about the white man raping and pillaging your people?"
Poke rolls his eyes. "Dawg, you know the white man's gotta rule the world. Exterminating the red man? That's not cool. But Thanksgiving – only time the white man admits he couldn't rule the world without someone else's help."
Brad nods a concession, and pulls off the rifle scope. "Pass me that lube?" he asks and Espera grabs it from the hood with another eye roll.
"Seriously, dawg…do you hear now homoerotic we sound?"
Brad smiles and shrugs his shoulders. "What do you expect when a guy can't even take a shit without the other sixty-nine guys watching?"
Espera is uncharacteristically quiet for a moment, watching the sun set over another infinite expanse of berms. The desert is quiet tonight too, and the only sound is Marines blowing off steam. Even the radios are relatively silent. "Brad, you should come this year too."
Brad looks up from the rifle. "Come where?"
"Thanksgiving, at mi casa."
Brad shakes his head and turns back to the rifle. "Thanks, but no thanks." He remembers Thanksgiving last year (in Afghanistan) and the one before that (serving meals at a homeless shelter rather than face the family and memories of Julie), and it's probably the holiday he hates more than any other in the entire world. Even Christmas. Christmas means presents; Thanksgiving means an ugly trip down memory lane.
Espera reaches through the open door and wraps his hand around the lube, brushing against Brad's fingers and holding tight. Brad can feel Poke's skin against his, its warmth melting into him. Espera's fingers stay there, holding on for a second or two too long before pulling away, and Brad feels a little like he's been burned.
Espera pulls back and sticks the lube in his pocket, but won't release Brad's eyes. "Seriously, dawg, it will be good for you." He gestures to the empty desert, the endless berms, the faceless boys trying to stay alive. "There's more to life than this."
Brad knows there's more, had it once and watched it walk away into the arms of his best friend, but he also knows he doesn't have to have it all to have something.
"Yeah, okay," he agrees and Poke doesn't smile but a knowing smirk still springs to life in his dark eyes as he pulls away.
Brad turns back to his gun, and instead of counting strokes of the rag he counts days. Suddenly, November doesn't seem so far away.
Every time he came home, twenty pounds lighter and three shades darker, Julie would strip him down in the bedroom of their house that was never quite a home and mark each new scar with the line of her tongue. Even without a bullet puckering the skin of his shoulder or stomach or flank, his body bore the marks of a warrior, a web of scars and scrapes and burns mapped across him from head to toe.
Julie would press her mouth to each mound of raised flesh, her lips sliding wet and warm to every battle wound, each permanent reminder of the death constantly knocking on his door.
She'd hold him afterwards, her body slick with sweat and him, thighs still clamped around his hips, and she'd press her mouth to his, open and taking him in. "I'm so glad you're home," she'd whisper against his mouth, sliding her fingers across his chest, her pulse catching onto the rhythm of his heart. "I'm so glad you're in one piece." He'd kiss her back, lips parting and teeth clashing, tasting relief on her tongue. Her hands would roam, stroke the muscles of his arms and his chest, check to see that he was all there.
He never had the courage to tell her that he always left some part of himself in the desert.
Person drives over debris somewhere along the MSR and a chunk of rock flies through the open window, slicing the skin right below the strap of Brad's kevlar. He winces, fingers abandoning his rifle scope long enough to press against the wound, staining his skin red in the harsh Iraqi sun.
He curses under his breath and Person looks up from the road long enough to inspect the damage. "Aww, fuck, Brad," he says. "You okay?"
"Yeah," Brad growls and digs through his side pouch for a bandage. He hates being away from his weapon, hates taking even a moment for himself, even if it means saving his own life, because there are three men where they should be four and the safety of an entire company rests with his leadership. He hurries to patch the cut, stem the flow of blood, ignores the new scar marring the skin of his throat.
The bandage glows in the sun, pure and white in an ugly world, and the cut gradually stops bleeding. The sticky, gooey feeling doesn't go away, but Brad's fingers remain on his rifle, his men safe and secure around him.
It isn't until dark when he can finally treat the gash, but it's in an awkward spot, long and curving towards the back of his neck, and no matter how hard he tries he can't reach it.
Doc Bryan has bigger fish to fry – dysentery and trench foot occupying his time – and it's Person who sees him struggling behind the humvee and lends a hand.
"Here, let me," he says and pushes his NVGs further up his nose to see better. "You're such a fucking giant, Brad," he mutters, dropping to his knees behind Brad's back. "Fuck forward observers – all you need to do is stand up and the Hajjis could land mortars right on top of us."
"Yeah, well, we can't all be whisky tango midgets like you," Brad returns, biting down on a gasp as astringent bites into the wound.
It takes Person a while to clean it, and Brad remains silent throughout. The cut is long and deep, and Brad knows it will leave another permanent mark. He pushes away Julie and her tongue, warm and wet, scraping along his latest battle wound. It's been four years since she sold him out for a desk jockey, a weekend warrior terrified of Backdoor and barely brave enough for Malibu swells; he's used to counting the scars on his heart alone.
Person's fingers push against his neck, the bandage sticking to the wound, keeping it clean, keeping him alive. "I'm sorry," Person murmurs.
Brad shrugs his shoulders, rolls his neck. "It happens, Ray. You're doing the best you can. We all are."
Person nods, or Brad thinks he does, the air changing as it brushes against his neck. He's about to take his leave, dig a grave and tuck in for the night, when something warm and wet, a butterfly kiss, presses against the back of his neck. His entire body tingles as warmth spreads through him.
"Night, Brad," Person whispers and rises to his feet, disappears into the humvee in a blur of radio chatter, his phantom kiss still clinging to Brad's skin.
Brad whispers a goodnight of his own and digs his grave, one foot at time, limbs working together in fluid motion. He no longer needs Julie to feel whole.
The day Julie ended it for good, they went for a walk on the beach with the ocean lapping at their toes and heartbreak catching in the breeze. The salt of the sea had mingled on his cheeks with the tears he swore he wouldn't cry, and sometimes, when he peels of his MOPP suit and comes face to face with the briny shirt clinging to the contours of his chest, it brings him back to that day and he hates her all over again.
Every time he walks through the desert, sand kicking up against his legs and catching in his hair, salty water coating every inch of his skin, it's all he can do to keep from slamming his fist into the nearest Marine's face. With kevlar molded to their scalps and scarves protecting their faces from the shamals, it's easy to pretend his brothers wear Paul's face, because once upon a time Paul was his brother too, and he knows too well how that story ended.
When Fick asks him to take a walk through the dunes, he concentrates on his breathing, charred skin and burned metal and death far more comforting than the sun and sea of the Pacific. Fick keeps an even pace with him, so different from Julie skipping to keep up with his longer strides, slowing him down and tripping him up.
They disappear behind a berm, and it's strangely, achingly quiet. The artillery is blessedly silent and the sand buffers the Marines' chatter and all he can hear is the low murmur of the shamals and Fick's feet kicking up sand against his shins.
"What's up, sir?" he asks because they've been walking a good ten minutes and he still doesn't know the meaning of the journey. Fick hasn't mentioned an impending mission, hasn't requested tactical advice, just walked with him in companionable silence through the wasteland.
Fick stops and settles down in the sand, turns his face to the empty sky and closes his eyes. "Do you remember what I said to you about personal feelings?"
Brad sits down beside him, keeps his gaze trained straight ahead. "Not to let them get in the way of doing our job."
Fick opens his eyes and they lock on Brad's. "Trouble is, we're human, Brad. Sometimes we can't help how we feel."
His fingers creep through the sand to rest on Brad's, softer than he imagined but just as strong as his own. "You can care about your men. In fact, you should care about them. I'd be concerned if you didn't. Whatever decisions you make…you bring them home."
Brad turns his hand so Fick's rests inside his palm, fingers intertwined and locked together. He contemplates Fick's words, because home hasn't been a place he's known since Julie left him. "Home," he mutters under his breath. "With the chain of command in this battalion, I keep wondering if it's a place I'll ever see again." He doesn't mention the other part to Fick, that it's been four years and counting and he's still searching for a place to rest his head.
Fick turns to him and his face is grim in the shadowed light. "Plato said only the dead will see the end of war." Suddenly, he breaks into a smile that takes years off his face; in the moonlight, he looks no more than fifteen. "We may not see the end of war, but we'll see home again. I'm assured of this."
Brad hates that phrase, hates hearing those words spill from his commander's lips time and time again only to be proven wrong. He stares into Fick's eyes and wants to hate him for another false promise, but all he sees is shades of strong, determined, dedicated blue. Fick believes in his words to his soul, and when he's looking at him that way, Brad thinks he can believe them too.
Gunny's voice crackles over the radio, and the moment is broken. They look away, but their hands remain entwined, and Brad uses the connection to draw Fick to his feet.
Fick disappears as soon as they reach camp, head bent beside Gunny's as they slip deep into conversation, and Brad ambles back to the humvee. Wright is scribbling furiously in his notebook while Walt scrubs away at the big gun, and Person shoots down yet another baby name Trombley suggests.
He slips into his seat and shuts the door, his team's chatter continuing around him as he settles in for the night.
He closes his eyes and he's home.
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