A/N: Wo~hoah! It's been a loooong time. I must have some pretty awful writer's block to take over six months to update a story, huh? And that's seriously the best excuse I can come up with for taking this long. Gah, I feel terrible. So I'll shut up and get on with it instead. (Is anyone even still reading this, lol?)
Thanks for reviews for the last chapter from: xDoItForTehLulz, Featherine Augustus Aurora, Butterscotch MacTavish (love that name), ChaosGarden, Aeta Plokha, T-K, Simon-Ghost-Riley, Jackie (x5!), SeptumPellucidium, Augustus Shepard, Ghostriley, Sadistic-Kit, Bu1u, well that was unexpected (dat name), Nioba, Zoey H, Pedobeth, DeRez, and Simple Shimmers. You all are incredible and leave wonderful reviews and deserve a way better author than me!
He knew that the searing pain was a sort of warning sign– a "hey, maybe this isn't the best idea" from his brain – but that didn't stop Roach from struggling to his feet aside the hospital cot that had been his jailor for the last couple of weeks. He was getting too damn twitchy, lying prone all this time, his state of consciousness depending on the amount of drugs hooked up to his bloodstream at the moment.
The good news was: the surgery had gone well. Aside from what would probably be a few nasty scars marring his back, he was practically guaranteed a full recovery.
The bad news was: said recovery was still several weeks away – at least until he would be officially permitted to hold a gun for Task Force 141 again. And not before he had been fully assessed psychiatrically to affirm that he still had the sanity for the job.
A few weeks ago, that may have been a major cause for concern. That was before he had slept (in what was usually a peacefully drug-induced state) for at least five days' time. Now, his stability had never felt so reliant on getting his finger back on a trigger.
The nightly monitoring of his condition had ceased after the first couple of days, the ones where his life had been a kinetic force – here one minute, easily gone the next – before they had transferred him back to base to begin recovery. He didn't remember much of it, sans the first time he had truly regained a stable form of consciousness and the lieutenant had been there, waiting for him.
He hadn't been the least regretful of irritating his injuries enough to require some pretty heavy shit to get to sleep that night.
Distantly, he wondered if it was even possible he didn't have some sort of masochistic bent after all.
Finding himself semi-stumbling towards the door in a haze of what felt like that fourth can of beer, only with the giddy stupor replaced by a throbbing spine and a slight but irritating headache, his mind quickly negated the thought.
There is nothing normal about you.
Maybe for the better, he reminded himself; the lieutenant was far from normal himself. If they both weren't irreversibly fucked up, what would be the basis of their understanding? Hell, the man even kissed like a tortured soul.
Not that his brain needed reminding of that now, when he was trying so hard to grasp the door handle with the coordination his limbs had yet to regain.
The door gave way after a couple attempts, and he found himself in a deserted corridor, aimless. At around three in the morning, where was there to go? A breath of fresh air sounded nice until he remembered hearing about the sandstorm that had kicked up around the base earlier in the day; a faceful of desert didn't exactly strike him as appealing at the moment, especially since he was wearing nothing but a faded pair of sweatpants. Shirts had yet to become bearable to his wounds.
Choosing instead to switch off his thoughts, Roach let his feet guide him to an unknown destination. Which of course meant somewhere he'd be nothing but an annoyance at this time of the night, but hey, it was the first time since the explosion that he'd been able to plant his feet on the ground without being forced back off of them. That was something in itself to celebrate.
So it was completely on a whim that when he passed the usually abandoned, clunky old computer lounge (filled with dated technology salvaged from the scrap heap of society for reasons unknown and unappreciated by the soldiers subjected to using it), he noticed a glow emitting from inside the unhinged door and felt curiously compelled to discover its source. Careful not to make a sound, Roach nudged the wood aside to peer in.
A lone figure slouched before one of the ancient monitors, profile silhouetted by artificial light. It was a posture of exhaustion, as evidenced by the elbows planted on either side of the keyboard, by the chin resting on intertwined fingers, by the convex curve of the spine. Exhausted, but contemplative. Or, at least conscious, judging by the occasional tap of keys and click of the mouse.
The glow of the screen granted just enough visibility to confirm what Roach had already suspected, given the hour and somewhat isolated location, and without much thought, he maneuvered out of the doorway and into a chair near it, content with silence for the moment. It gave him less to explain and more time to think, without being alone.
Why Ghost was awake and still working this late, he could only attribute to the lieutenant's impeccable work ethic and tendency to keep odd hours. He could recall at least one time over the last week that he had awoken somewhere in the middle of the night, only to find the Englishman by his bedside, tapping away on his laptop, and had drifted back into unconsciousness to the soothing sound of the keys.
Why Ghost wasn't in his own room and on his own laptop, he could only speculate. Not that it really mattered, anyways. There were far more important things jockeying for position in his mind.
Like, an increasingly complicated relationship with a man who'd been nothing more than his superior and occasional friend until recently. Like, how he was beginning to wonder if his previous lack of success with the female population had been an overlooked precursor to these developments. Like, how he had ended up with full-torso bandages and a guilty conscience to begin with.
Maybe it was all just a little too much to think about.
In the scope of things, none of it had an effect on the job he'd be expected to resume once recovered. None of it was really necessary to understand in order to shoot a gun; individual conflicts would always be of secondary concern for their breed of soldier. No one understood that more than he did, past and present, probably future. Not for the first time, he wondered if he had perhaps chosen the wrong career path, but heck, what else was he good at? Decisions had never been a particular strong suit of his, but he certainly was getting better at that. He had sacrificed a hostage to save a friend. Sacrificed a chance to stop the buy guys for the chance save one of the good.
Selfish or not, he couldn't regret that. Maybe that was improvement. Maybe that meant it was okay not to be overthinking things all the time - things like pulling the lieutenant closer when rationality told him to push away. Disregarding the complications of starting something emotional in a world where emotions were a weakness. It would've been so much easier to write off if Ghost hadn't mirrored his hopes, impulses, raw desire for something more. If he had pushed when Roach had pulled, things wouldn't be so confusing.
Yet he was sleeping better than ever. Part of that could be attributed to the drugs pumping through his bloodstream, part to the fact that there had been little to do but sleep. Still, the nightmares were fewer and in between bouts of the closest he had come to peace since donning his uniform. Waking up to see disheveled sandy hair and an exhausted but honest smile every once in a while had only helped. Which led him to care less about how or why or when any of this had happened and more about how amazing it felt. How he could reach out and tousle that hair without concern over what it meant or how it'd be interpreted. How he could, but he wouldn't, because just watching the lieutenant, both engaged and disinterested in whatever task was at hand, was satisfying enough for the time being.
If life had felt more like this before, he'd probably be married with a couple kids by now instead of in the middle of a war. Maybe he'd have been okay with working off the rest of his days in a cramped cubicle, if it meant the sort of stability he felt now. Maybe his biggest problem would've been paying off the mortgage of some cookie-cutter suburbanite home.
Maybe that was a bit of a stretch.
Regardless, Roach found himself grinning, nearly on the verge of laughter as he thought about the absurdity of it all. The reality was that he was here, still breathing, and still able to smile about the lot life had thrown him.
Right now, he was comfortable with leaning over the front of a grimy plastic chair, stuck in the middle of godforsaken nowhere, his chin resting on crossed arms, his thoughts pleasantly positive for the moment. He was fine with letting his eyes drift shut - even if all he had been doing all day was sleeping - and simply listening to the periodic tapping of the keyboard and subtle click of the mouse. It felt right, natural even. Unhurried. Relaxed.
He'd have plenty of time to think about things later.
The fact that he was up this late, parked in front of a crummy computer, neglecting a rare opportunity for a good night's sleep – all for a pointless game of Solitaire – surprised even Ghost himself. With all the all-nighters he'd been pulling lately for work, it was astounding that he still was having trouble sleeping. That he'd resorted to playing computer games in favor of research or finishing a report really said something about his state of mind.
If anything, now was the time to be ramping up his efforts. With all the leads they had lost and all the ones they had yet to verify, it was crucial to be on the top of his game. Yet following the wake of his team's failure to secure the hostage's safety (and the shock of nearly losing the sergeant – days of fear, anger, grief all rolled into one), Soap had temporarily removed him from the majority of his duties, citing the need for recuperation. It was a subtle display of compassion, concern for the soldiers he was ultimately responsible for, that didn't go unappreciated by the lieutenant. Still, it left him with more time than he knew what to do with, and that resulted in ridiculous things like playing Solitaire in the middle of the night or spending hours in the hospital ward, watching over a man he'd given up on trying to rationalize his attachment to.
Whatever bizarre relationship they had, whatever had led up to it, really took a backseat to his overall concern for the sergeant's well-being. If he was to be honest with himself, Ghost knew that Roach was far too affected by this lifestyle to maintain it. Any other soldier he would've recommended for dismissal, would've reported the signs of instability when he'd first noticed them.
But Ghost had always been more selfish than considerate. His detachment had served him well in his profession of choice, his soft spots few and insignificant compared to his tendency to act logically and with little emotion. Losing people – friends, comrades, what little family he'd once had – only had reinforced the nature already inherent in him. Which is why the unusual fondness he had for Sanderson - that rare and inexplicable urge to drop the façade before him and acknowledge that, yes, he'd been scarred long ago, too – perplexed him. Which is why he had kept the sergeant at his side, regardless of what he knew was truly best for the young soldier.
Selfish, selfish, selfish. But not without care.
Following the accident, he had changed his mind. He had steeled himself to send Roach packing, to oust him to whoever could authorize his discharge, because losing someone else seemed like a worse fate than solitude. And all it had taken to crumble his resolve was defiance from a man pumped with too many drugs to think straight. A metaphorical bitch-slap from a depressed ICU patient. And a kiss, a refection of his own buried intensity, that had ripped away his weakened resolution completely.
He felt like a hormonal teenager all over again: confused, excited, and a little bit nervous. It drove him crazy, in more ways than one. But that wasn't exactly a bad thing, just something he was trying not to overthink.
Ghost yawned, covering his mouth lazily, and pushed away from the screen. The plastic chair protested the sudden shift in weight to no avail; if anything, the lieutenant slumped back further, bringing a hand up to rub at his slightly blurry vision. All the cards were starting to look the same and he'd been on a pretty bad losing streak for the last ten or so minutes. Coupled with random and somewhat embarrassing thoughts, he was starting to wonder if trying to sleep might be a better idea after all.
The monitor went dark with the press of a button and the Englishman moved to stand, rolling his shoulders in a feeble attempt to loosen muscles sore from inactivity. He had pushed the chair back in place and turned to leave before he paused, noticing for the first time the figure sprawled over a chair by the door. Closer inspection revealed the telltale bandages criss-crossing the sergeant's torso, the scruffy appearance but relaxed expression of someone still doped up on pain medication, and a measured breathing rate that indicated sleep had already set in.
The lieutenant stood there for a minute, wondering how long ago Roach had snuck in, why he'd said nothing. Then he wondered how he hadn't noticed, because the chair creaked when he slung an arm around the sergeant – careful not to disrupt the bandages - to hoist him off of it. Then he wondered if they'd been feeding him at all when he felt how thin and weightless the American had become, how easy it was to pick him up and how limply he sagged in his arms.
Then he told himself to just shut up and bring the sergeant back to the medical bay, further thoughts be damned. There was no deeper meaning to any of this, there was no reason for added concern. There was nothing more to it than laying Roach back on the springy cot, pulling a couple sheets back over him, and leaving. Nothing more.
But Ghost was reaching down, tentatively, to brush the bangs away from the sergeant's face. He looked so much younger like this, fast asleep and removed from trouble. The lieutenant couldn't help but to wonder what the expression would look like awake, perhaps accompanied by an optimistic smile. That was a little too much to ask for, but it didn't stop him from thinking about it all the same. When his brain reminded him that he'd decided not to think about any of this right now, he was already leaning down and pressing his lips to a creaseless forehead, already smiling at the thought.
For the moment, he was grateful enough to be alive. Grateful that they were both alive. And perhaps a little optimistic for the future himself.
It was never too late to hope, right?
A/N: So that was a short chapter that pretty much got us…nowhere. But sorting-out-the-feelings chapters are important, too! So, sorry if the wait has been a little disappointing, but this gets me on track again for the next installment.
(I just realized that there's not a single line of dialogue in this entire chapter…2800ish words with no dialogue took a lot of time to write -_-)
Actually, this chapter was one of the more difficult ones to write so far, only because it was nothing BUT feelings and thoughts and completely action-less (and writing action is one of my favorite things to do); also, switching character perspectives is never exactly easy, especially if you're trying to parallel thoughts on the same event, but I felt it was necessary to bring things full circle here. Quite a lot to live up to the last chapter, though. I tried my best. (feel free to tell me if it was a success or an utter failure)
Anyways, this story will likely not exceed 10 chapters (in total, not 10 more), but there was overwhelming support for the alternate ending, so I'm thinking very hard about that one! Thanks again for the prolonged support of my wonderful readers (seriously, I would've given up on this long ago without you guys), and as you know, reviews are always welcome. ;)
Also, if any of you have a question for me (about anything), feel free to PM me/write it in a review. I'll try my best to respond back; it's the least I can do for disappearing this long.