Sometimes you just don't have a choice
Adam sat back with a satisfied smile as the fire finally caught and started licking at the dry pine branches, throwing out a comfortable heat. "Ah, nothing like a good fire after a good drenching." He grinned and struggled out of his wet clothes, hanging them up on a bush that was under their shelter from the still-falling rain. "I'm starting to agree with Magenta though." Adam commented wryly. "Wednesdays really seem to have it in for us. I mean, come on. The helijet breaks down on us in the middle of the worst rainstorm in this part of Maine, we ditch in a gorge and for whatever reason our radios can't get a signal out through this rock."
In the middle of wringing out his socks, Blue couldn't help but notice as Paul edged back when a branch snapped and spat sparks in his direction. The American considered saying something but let it go. He knew how much Paul hated fire. It'd been the last thing he'd seen before waking up to the bright lights of Sickbay and the shattering realization that he was no longer the same man he had been that morning.
"Agreed. I'd almost think we've irritated someone other than the Mysterons at this rate. I'm just glad we finished the mission first." Paul eyed the fire for a moment. "I guess we'd better set up." He said at last, peeling off his sodden vest and starting to inventory his surviving gear. Blue watched as Paul retrieved his various bits of emergency kit from on his person. First came the standard, Spectrum issue items. The emergency beacon, a button compass, a first aid/survival kit in a flat bag that was fitted to the small of the back , a backup communicator and a tiny super bright torch, the basic gist of which had been 'borrowed' from International Rescue.
All were dropped onto the cleared patch of ground with Blue's own things as they were produced, reminding Blue of a magician palming coins and cards.
Then came the non-standard equipment.
Colonel White, after arguing with the World Council and failing to make them budge on the issue of extra hardware to be carried on one's person, had given the Colour Captains unofficial official permission to 'pad out' their personal arsenals as they saw fit. Adam smiled to himself as he recalled that particular meeting, seemingly a lifetime ago, at a Koala Base that still smelled of new paint and carpeting. Two days after the meeting Paul had shown up in the common room with a box of all sorts of interesting items to share.
He watched as Paul extracted a carbon-ceramic knife from one boot and a second, smaller one from the back of his tunic, just under the belt. A coiled nylon garrote came from a slit in the lining of the stab-proof tunic. From the red backpack came some survival rations, another emergency beacon and a slim plastic case packed with various bits of currency, a set of lock picks and some pills that Adam had no desire to know the purpose of. Finally there was a plastic ziplock bag with a sheathed scalpel, some bits of string, a survival blanket and several pairs of rubber gloves. These were all added to the growing pile as Adam retrieved his own back up knives and expanded first aid/survival kit.
He was surprised that Paul still had the garrote after the fuss it caused two months ago, but the ziplock bag was something he hadn't seen before.
"What's that?" Adam queried, poking the plastic bag.
"That," Paul nudged it under the first aid kits in an attempt to hide it, "is called the DGTBC kit."
"The 'Dear God The Baby's Coming' kit."
Blue blinked once, twice. "Okay...why do you have one?"
"Because there is no way I ever want to end up needing one and not having one again." Paul answered sourly, stretching his long legs out in front of him and leaning back against the tree that was holding up one half of their improvised raincape shelter.
Adam grinned at his partner's distinctly unamused expression. "There's got to be a story behind this."
"No." Paul suppressed a shiver. "Living through it was bad enough without re-telling it."
"C'mon Paul, spill." Adam wheedled. "We're going to be stuck here for most of the night, and you can consider it repayment for that tip off about Westfalen Industries."
Scarlet groaned and held up his hands in a gesture of surrender. "Alright, alright." He sighed and settled down more comfortably. "I was a sergeant at the time, on loan to a British Special Forces unit. My patrol had been picked to go on a joint mission with a team from the US Deltas. We were sent out to deal with something near the Ural Mountains..."
Footsore, cold and weary, ten men picked their way across the frosty rocks of the Ural Mountains, two of their comrades slung between them on makeshift stretchers. Far off to the north, they could still see a smudge of smoke blotting out the stars over what had been an important Bereznik weapons factory.
One of the men broke himself off from the rear of the group and headed up to the front where the British CO had placed himself. "Sir?" He asked, glancing between the leftenant and the treacherous ground.
"Yes, Reddings?" Leftenant Marshall asked the medic.
"Mowake and Ross are getting worse." Reddings' frown was clear in the sharp light of the moon. "We need to find shelter or we're going to lose them. I've already spoken to Lieutenant Harachi." He continued, glancing back to where the American CO was spelling one of his soldiers at a stretcher.
"He suggests a stop while two of our scouts go and find a safe layover."
"Good idea." Marshall nodded and held up his fist. The soldiers behind him quickly stopped, the stretchers were set down and four soldiers immediately broke off to check the immediate area for any surprises.
"Fish, Metcalfe." Marshall called softly, grimacing a little at the first soldier's nickname, though he had to admit it was far better than the unfortunate name he had been born into- Rowbottom. The two soldiers approached, waiting for orders. "You two, we need shelter and somewhere for Reddings to work. Find it and report back." Marshall instructed.
The two troopers vanished into the dark shadow of the mountains. Marshall busied himself with a quick conference with his American counterpart and marking their location in as a waypoint on the GPS strapped to his wrist.
Barely thirty minutes later Fish appeared out of the gloom. "Sirs, we've got a good spot." He reported in a typical Texan drawl. "A lil' house with a barn, just a mom an' two kids in residence. Met is there, keeping th' fire goin' fer us."
"Good work, get everyone up and lead us there." Marshall ordered, quietly smiling to himself at the nickname his sergeant had been unceremoniously saddled with.
It wasn't long before the welcome yellow light spilling out from a rustic low stone building came into view. Smoke curled from a chimney at one end, and a few minutes careful scouting confirmed that they were alone in the area, aside from a few sheep and a cow in the nearby wooden barn.
One of the shadows surrounding the building detached itself from the rest and resolved into the tall frame of Sergeant Paul Metcalfe. "Area secure, sir. I've talked with the occupants and they've agreed to let us stay in the main room for the night, but no longer." He reported as the two CO's made their way to the front.
"Good work Sergeant." Harachi nodded. "Not bad for a Brit." He grinned tiredly and led the way to the cottage.
The house was simple, a large kitchen/dining room with separate rooms for bedrooms and it didn't take long for the wounded to be placed near the warmth of the fireplace and a watch to be set at strategic points around the house. Sleeping bags were unrolled and the men looked forward to their first warm night in two weeks. Their heavily pregnant hostess watched the proceedings with some trepidation but her two children, a boy of about nine, and an elfin looking girl of maybe seven, overcame their shyness with the help of an offering of chocolate and peppered the visitors with rapid fire questions in Russian until their mother ushered them away for bed.
Night slowly deepened. The soldiers broke out their rations and shared them with their hostess; she gladly accepted them and somehow managed to turn them into an edible stew which was quickly wolfed down with great enthusiasm. Clean up had just started when the mother suddenly gasped and pressed one hand to her side with a wince of pain.
"Reddings, go see." Marshall ordered, brow creasing with concern. The medic nodded, went to her and asked a couple of questions, gently feeling her distended belly. Then everything suddenly clicked and Reddings paled. "Dear God the baby's coming!"
All around him the trained, hardened fighting men of two countries slowly moved away from the groaning woman with identical expressions of slowly dawning horror. "What...what do we do about it?" One of the troopers asked. "Doc?"
All eyes turned to Reddings.
"I don't know!" He protested, running one hand through his hair in a nervous gesture. "For some reason command thought it would be more useful for us to learn how to dig out bullets, not catch babies!"
"Fish?" Harachi looked to the Texan. "You've got a kid, what do we do?"
"No way sir!" Fish shook his head. "We were in the Balkans when she popped out!"
"Reddings, you've gotta think of something." Marshall warned, eying their hostess warily.
"I know, I know! Just gimme a minute..."
The room fell almost silent as the medic frowned and tried to dredge up the information they needed. "...I've got it! Who speaks the best Russian?" Reddings looked around at the men.
"That would be Phelps." Marshall supplied, turning to look at the man who was attempting to look as inconspicuous as possible and at the same time slip out the door. "Phelps, here."
"I'm gonna need blankets, towels and boiling water too, we need clean cloths to wrap the baby in, a sterilised knife and two bits of sterile string to tie the cord with, who's got the longest bootlaces?" Reddings added as Phelps made his way to the front of the room.
"Jóse, Fish, get that kettle and get water from that well out front." Harachi ordered, then bent and cut some of the excess off his bootlaces with his knife. "Phelps, ask the lady where she keeps her linens."
Things moved rather rapidly after that. A bed was made up infront of the fire and the wounded moved as far as they could be from the action. Reddings cast a critical eye over the set up and arranged what he thought he'd need on a clean towel as Phelps helped their hostess to the bed then rather stealthily made his way over to the door, making sure he attracted no attention this time. "Wait!" Reddings barked, just before the officers and the last of the men could evacuate themselves. "I need someone to catch the baby!"
Harachi glanced around at the troops and made an executive decision as to whom looked the least threatening. "Metcalfe, you're up."
"What? Me?" Paul gulped, visibly going slightly green at the thought of aiding at the birth.
"I'm not making it an order, move!" Harachi jerked his thumb towards Reddings just as the woman let out a pained gasp, followed by some fervent cursing from the medic.
'Helped' by a thoughtful shove between the shoulder blades, Paul found himself propelled through the doorway just before it was rather securely shut behind him. He had time to utter one heartfelt oath to get them all back for this before Reddings grabbed him and hauled him over for a crash course in obstetrics.
The next few hours passed in a blur of screams, mess and all sorts of things that the young Sergeant had no desire to remember but would probably be etched into his memory until his dying day. Either way, as the grey dawn started to stain the upthrust rocks to the east, Paul found himself placing a squally, blanket wrapped bundle in the understandably exhausted woman's arms and plunging his hands into a basin of warm water, scrubbing hard. "I am never doing that again!" He muttered to himself. Reddings joined him at the basin a moment later. "At least not without gloves." He offered a tired smile.
"No, not without gloves." Paul smiled back.
Phelps cautiously stuck his head around the thick door. "Is it over?" He asked, ducking back out when a boot was thrown at him for his efforts.
"Oh boy." Adam shook his fair head and chuckled. "You're a far braver man than I am." He stirred up the fire with a stick. "Do you ever wonder about the kid?"
"Sometimes." Scarlet admitted, reaching around to move Adam's socks before they burned. "That farm is in Bereznik territory now." He added, his mood turning sombre.
There was silence for a time. Paul looked up through the trees to where the moon faintly glowed through the high-flying clouds and tried to not think about what the tiny farm might be suffering under Bereznik rule. Instead he remembered a stone-flagged floor, covered with warm wool rugs, a roaring fire and a little baby boy with a wisp of brown hair, an excellent set of lungs and christened Sacha, in honour of the 'protectors' that helped him into the world.