The Burdened


I love you as certain dark things are to be loved;

Secretly, between the shadow and the soul...


First impressions, MacTavish had come to realise, meant nothing.

"Welcome to task force 141," he threw to the new recruit, boots up on his desk, smoke from his cigarette curling gently upwards.

"I can't be arsed with introductions. I'm your captain, do what I tell you and use your initiative or you won't last long here."

The young man remained expressionless, his gaze fixed upon the captain's reclining torso. A mask covered the majority of his young features, but MacTavish had a small picture secured to the sergeant's file with a paperclip in front of him. The captain saw no point in ordering the newbie to take it off, and he wasn't feeling particularly antagonistic.

"Yes sir," came the forced reply. Though his posture was exemplary, the sergeant's fists were clenched at his sides, and his jaw set as though it pained him to defer to his new captain.

MacTavish sighed. So he was one of those. A soldier with too many issues for mainstream deployment, but too valuable to be discharged.

"You won't make any friends here with that huge chip on your fucking shoulder."

"Is that all, sir?"

"No," MacTavish swung his legs down from his desk, and stubbed out his cigarette in the dirty glass ashtray. "Think about a callsign. Did you have one in the SAS? You won't need one right away, nobody knows your fucking name anyway. It's useful for radio-"

"It's 'Ghost,' sir," came the steady reply.

MacTavish found himself nodding. At least the new recruit was decisive, even if he did seem like an arrogant prick.

"Good, Sergeant," he replied, "now get the fuck out of my office. I'll see you at six-thirty here, tomorrow morning. You have a briefing for a mission with me and another four members of the force."

"Sir."

So when that cocky young man, with hollow eyes that spoke of tragedy, looked defiantly up at the him, MacTavish knew there'd be trouble. This was the only area in which Simon Riley was thoroughly predictable.

3.2 kilometres from Base

The first surprise regarding the new recruit was the way the rest of the soldiers reacted to him. It seemed that MacTavish had been wrong about Ghost not making any friends, for his men seemed to be pulled towards the newcomer's brooding charisma, a fact that inexplicably irked the captain.

MacTavish first noticed the phenomenon of Ghost's popularity on the first Saturday after his sudden arrival, the last Saturday of the month. This was the day when, circumstances permitting, members of Task Force 141 migrated to the closest bar to the base with the sole intention of getting as bladdered as possible, before stumbling back to base in the early hours of the morning. Normally, this tradition was strictly reserved for those who had earned their place in the task force, which often took months.

MacTavish had arrived at the bar later than usual, entering alone rather with than the customary horde of comrades. Fucking paperwork. There was too much of the stuff ever since he'd become captain.

Looking round the dimly lit bar, MacTavish froze. His eyes were locked tightly across the smoky room with those of another man, who looked vaguely familiar. It wasn't this familiarity that caused him to pause, though. It was the look of surprise on the man's face. MacTavish held the eye contact until an unreadable expression crossed over the other man's face, lips quirking upwards slightly, and he broke away from MacTavish's stare.

It took longer than it probably should have, considering his state of sobriety, for the penny to drop. The black material rolled down around his neck, the face; good looking in a disturbedkind of way, with eyes that suggested an age much greater than the face. Those eyes had been none other that Ghost's. The shadows cast by the flickering lamps played across the sergeant's turned face as he was persuaded to participate in some drinking game.

MacTavish was taken aback for two reasons; the first being how the hell the new recruit had integrated himself so fully with his men. It usually took at least a few weeks of missions before the men of Task 141 accepted a recruit as anything but the 'FNG.' MacTavish could hear the call of 'Ghost! Ghost, try this, you'll puke your fucking guts out!' from across the bar. They were already using his callsign, despite it not being even a week since his arrival.

The second reason MacTavish was unnerved was because of the look his sergeant had just given him. It held none of the previous hostility or rebelliousness that he had shown to MacTavish just days before. No. If anything, MacTavish thought, the young man looked strangely curious.

"Cobra please, mate."

The barman obliged, placing the opened bottle in front of MacTavish with a nod.

MacTavish didn't approach Ghost that night, and his subordinate kept his distance. He found, however, that he met his subordinate's eyes more than he considered normal.


I love you as the plant that never blooms,

But carries in itself the light of hidden flowers;


Somewhere in Mexico...

The reason for Ghost's change of attitude, he found, was MacTavish himself.

The pair were hiding in the sparse trees that bordered an open stretch of barren sand. Their target building lay in the centre of the wide area, where cover was nil and snipers were rife.

"At least seven foot mobiles armed with...Barret. 50cal sniper rifles, what looks like...ACOG sights-definitely not thermal. Two on the roof, two in the top-floor windows, three smoking outside the house," Ghost narrated from his binoculars. "There are two separate patrols with dogs-looks like they're using submachine guns, and...RPGs-fucking wankers- and what could be a five man ambush party at two o'clock. Sir, do you think we should wait until dark?"

So they waited, and the silence between them made the minutes stretch into hours, and the hours even longer than that.

As the harsh Mexican sun began to slide lazily between the trees, MacTavish began to feel the effects of sleep deprivation, having given up sleep for the sake of safety the night before. From the occasional jolts of Ghost's head, he could tell that Ghost must have been fatigued as well.

"Talk to me, soldier."

"Sir?"

"Conversation. It keeps the brain stimulated," he explained. "Makes it easier to stay awake."

"..."

"You can ask me something. Anything. I can't promise I'll answer honestly though."

"Then what's the fucking point, sir?"

MacTavish didn't answer. There was no point really, other than that he was bored and tired with a grumpy bitch for a subordinate.

Suddenly, a shot rang out across the open space, and both soldiers were instantly eating dirt, chests pressed against the dry earth and aiming down their sights at their target building.

"Hold your fire, sergeant!" hissed MacTavish, knocking the long muzzle of Ghost's Dragunov into the ground, sensing the other man's killing intent. "I don't think they're shooting at us."

"Then what the fuck are they shooting at, Captain?"

"Eleven o'clock," MacTavish indicated with his rifle. "They're killing time, shooting rabbits. Our cover is sound."

"Must be as bored as us," muttered Ghost, letting out a breath between clenched teeth. "Arseholes."

MacTavish got the feeling that Ghost was getting restless, like he himself. Unfortunately, due to the covert nature of their mission, their activities were strictly curtailed.

Neither men had moved from their prone positions, both had their gaze fixed on the small warehouse in the distance. It was MacTavish who moved first, snapping the safety into place on the body of his M14, detaching his heartbeat sensor to rest it beside him in easy sight.

"There's another two hours before it'll be safe to move out," said Mactavish, leaning his back against the dry trunk of a juniper tree, using the pain from the rough bark to ground himself against his fatigue. "You should catch some sleep. I don't know when we'll have another opportunity like this."

"No thank you, sir," replied Ghost, mirroring MacTavish's actions, propping himself against the tree opposite to him, his rifle resting against his torso as if it belonged there. "I won't sleep on a mission."

MacTavish had nothing to say to that, so instead checked his ammo, enjoying the feel of the cool, hard cartridges between his rough fingers. He counted sixty cartridges in total, and then counted them again to be sure, before replacing them in his chest pocket.

The reflective glasses Ghost was wearing prevented MacTavish from knowing if he was being observed or not, and the sergeant's posture gave little away. He could have been sleeping , or even grinning madly beneath the mask and MacTavish would be none the wiser. It unnerved him.

"Why did you become a member of Task Force 141?" came Ghost's voice, quietly.

MacTavish turned his face towards the sun and smiled. So the FNG did feel like talking? About fucking time. He was finding it difficult to see what the other men found so interesting about the masked man. He barely said a word, aside from jargon and profanities.

"I was twenty-four, fresh out of the SAS," he began, putting both hands behind his head. "My commanding officer there took a shine to me. Said he knew a place I'd fit right in. You know how it is in our line of work; you get swept along, passing through ranks and regiments until you find the place you belong. I didn't have a reason for joining 141-I didn't need one, but I know I'll never leave."

"That's the best way to come to a position like yours," Ghost muttered. "Holding people's lives in your hands. You care about your men."

MacTavish could feel Ghost's haunted, piercing gaze even through the mirrored lenses, before Ghost turned up his head to observe the sky. His masked profile cut a sharp silhouette against the sunset, and MacTavish could just make out the strong line of his subordinate's jawline through the textured material.

"...I wasn't expecting that," Ghost continued. "Not here. When I made that stupid, fucking amateur mistake on the roof, I thought I was dead. Should've been."

It took MacTavish a moment to remember what Ghost was talking about; situations like that were ten a penny. Just two days ago, Ghost had become pinned down when the soldier providing his covering fire was incapacitated. He'd been clipped by a bullet above the temple, and was losing consciousness. MacTavish popped a smoke grenade and hoisted the weakened sergeant over his shoulder, carrying him up to the evacuation point on the roof. It had been difficult, due to the lack of covering fire, but they made it with life and limbs to spare.

MacTavish frowned. He had to admit, grudgingly, that Ghost was an exemplary soldier, especially since his attitude problem had suddenly disappeared. As far as he was concerned, the only mistake Ghost had made was being slightly in the way of a bullet. Technically, he couldn't fault his tactics or actions.

"Tell me where you think you went wrong."

Ghost let out a deep breath.

"I relied on somebody else, and nearly got myself, and you, killed because of it." The gloved hand gripping Ghost's rifle tightened fractionally. "...I make a point never to rely on anyone else, or be a burden to the team."

It certainly fit his file. Ex-SAS, betrayed by his partner and commanding officer, it was no surprise that he preferred his allies where he could see them. It also probably explained why he refused to sleep on somebody else's watch.

"I see." MacTavish ran his hands over his short mohawk, and the sun-reddened skin on the back of his neck. What a complete fuck-up he'd been landed with. An extremely competent fuck up, but a train wreck nonetheless.

Ghost must have felt that he'd revealed too much of himself to his captain, as he put his binoculars to his eyes, scanning the warehouse again for activity. His posture had become closed again, and it was clear that he wouldn't initiate any more conversation.

"Ready up, sergeant," MacTavish ordered. "They're almost blind to us now. Oscar mike in ten."

It was true, the sun had disappeared behind bare mountains and rocks, the sky a deep red, growing darker still with every moment.

As the soldiers exchanged their long range weapons for their close range M4A1 Carbines, sliding on their thermal sights and silencers, MacTavish felt a quiet excitement burning through his veins as he heard Ghost's magazine lock into place.

"Let's do this," came the young man's echo of agreement.

Later that night, MacTavish was to realise that Ghost had even more scars than he himself.

MacTavish was nursing bruised ribs three kilometres from the evacuation point, after misjudging the distance of the rooftop adjacent to the warehouse, hitting the edge with his torso. Ghost was sitting next to him, and it appeared he had finally given in to fatigue, for his covered head lolled forwards in a rare display of vulnerability, though the black gloved hands still gripped the rifle loosely.

The two-man siege had been a success, SAS training, superior technology and killer instinct securing their hollow victory. Their intel had proven wrong, and the target nowhere to be seen. They were sitting tight until the insane amount of enemy patrols had cleared the area. MacTavish and Ghost may have been using silenced weapons, but their targets certainly hadn't been. The captain hadn't expected flare guns, or for some retard to use an RPG in close combat. What the hell did they teach hired muscle these days?

Sighing, MacTavish rested his head back on the harsh sandstone supporting him. This mission had been an utter pile of bollocks. The only possible way the mission could be redeemed in his eyes was if the hard drive he swiped from the safe room contained any information of value. That bastard of a commander Shepherd had better be grateful.

Moving his hand to the pocket on his outer thigh, he felt the shape of the intel they'd risked their lives for. His fingerless gloves dragged coarsely across the fabric of his trousers, catching in the smooth cloth. Examining them, he found singed material, the heat resistant fabric melted into rough peaks. Jesus, that RPG had been close. If Ghost hadn't sabotaged the tango's aim, MacTavish would probably be missing his trigger finger right about now, at the very least.

Although saving lives was a common occurrence during Tasks Force 141 missions, MacTavish was rarely the one being saved; his quick methods and natural instinct often affording him opportunity to get his men to safety when they were down. He had to admit, it was a strange feeling, knowing you'd be a whole lot worse off if it wasn't for another person.

"Come in Bravo Six, foot mobiles clearing the area," buzzed MacTavish's radio. "I repeat, foot mobiles clearing the area. We're Oscar Mike to your position, ETA twenty minutes."

"Change of plan, Oxide?"

"Sit tight, we're coming to you."

"Roger that, Oxide," MacTavish replied. "Holding this position. Bravo Six out."

Well that made things a little easier, though it meant more waiting around. Looking at his sleeping sergeant, MacTavish didn't see any reason to wake him. I would be a while before the rest of their infantry caught up with them, and he knew that Ghost hadn't slept these past few days, his stubbornness preventing him from meeting that basic human need. MacTavish would have to discipline him for this when they got back to base, as sleep deprivation reduced a soldier's functionality, endangering the team, contrary to Ghost's intentions. Probably.

The sleeping soldier moved fractionally, his fingers twitching around his gun, his head moving to the side. MacTavish observed this silently, and noted that the mask had ridden up slightly around his neck, exposing a square inch of the sergeant's skin, pale, but slightly dirty from the time spent in the Mexican desert (that dust shit got everywhere). There was a slight flexing movement as the younger man swallowed. MacTavish looked away, suddenly uncomfortable, though it was completely illogical; many of his other subordinates went around without masks, their necks exposed. Why should Ghost's neck be any different? Maybe because he wasn't aware that it was being looked at by his captain.

MacTavish felt suddenly irritated with that little stretch of skin. Why would he even want to look at it, anyway? There was absolutely no reason. Stupid skin. Stupid Ghost, for looking so goddamn vulnerable. He looked nothing like the born killer the SAS had made him out to be; their best man.

Turning his shoulders away from the sleeping man, he checked his heartbeat sensor. Nothing. The clusters of hostile patrols had moved on. There was still at least fifteen minutes until the convoy arrived to pick them up.

A strangled cry sounded suddenly from behind MacTavish, and he whipped around quickly.

Ghost was tearing at his face, breathing fast as though panicked. His glasses hit the rocky floor with a clatter. Was he having a fit?

"Are you alright mate?" MacTavish reached for Ghost's shoulder, concerned.

The captain found himself on his back, pinned to the dusty ground by his own sergeant, whose surprisingly light weight bore down on his torso. He laid still, waiting for an explanation, but ready to flip his subordinate if things took a turn for the worse.

Ghost ripped off his mask, gasping for breath. His eyes were wide, but unfocussed.

"No, not the coffin," he pleaded to somebody. "I told you, I'm not dead yet. Don't bury me with him. Please..."

The young man slackened his hold, collapsing on his captain, his head resting on MacTavish's chest. The sergeant was shaking.

"Ghost," MacTavish called steadily, grabbing his subordinates jaw, trying to make eye contact. "Ghost, talk to me, soldier! Riley!"

As if coming out of a daze, Ghost's eyes slowly regained focus, the gaunt, green irises contracting around the huge pupils as he looked up at his captain.

For a moment, the man was still, the recognition and relief clear in his expression.

"Captain..."

The he scrambled clumsily off the captain, leaping back as though burned, his typical grace lost in his mortification.

"Nightmares?" MacTavish eased himself calmly into a sitting position, slipping a packet of cigarettes out of his chest pocket, offering it to the pale soldier in front of him. He usually never smoked at night during missions; the cherry of a cigarette was one of the first things a sniper looked for, but their cover was solid, and the situation called for it.

Ghost took one with trembling fingers, and nodded, offering nothing else. It was clear by his refusal to meet his captain's eyes, and his hunched shoulders, that MacTavish just shouldn't go there.

Shit, he looks a mess, MacTavish thought. The file he'd been given for Simon Riley had given some history, sure, but it had glossed over the gory details regarding Riley's time in the SAS. He inwardly cursed the fact that most of Ghost's information was highly classified; so much that even he wasn't allowed to know the soldier's past.

"Convoy'll be here in five minutes," said MacTavish, lighting first his own, and then Ghost's cigarette. "You ready?"

Ghost nodded again, gritting his teeth at the sky, and letting out a long stream of smoke from between his teeth. He'd stopped shaking, MacTavish noticed.

Neither soldier spoke of this incident for nearly six months.


So I love you because I know no other way

Than this, where 'I' does not exist, nor you,


Somewhere in Afghanistan...

MacTavish realised that Ghost was the closest thing he had to both a friend and a second-in-command at the compulsory re-training workshop in Fire Base Phoenix.

It was that time of year again, when the Task Force 141 boys had to go over their basic weapons training, and learn how to use any newly developed ones. They also got to run everybody's favourite basic course, 'The Pit,' where it was plain embarrassing to take longer than forty-five seconds.

"Right, men," Shepherd began, looking over the troops with something akin to resignation. "I don't think any of us particularly want to be here. Let's just do our jobs, and get the hell out of this desert. Corporal, if you will."

The Ranger's Corporal opened the cases of weapons, a generous selection of automatic machine guns and pistols, accompanied by many stacks of ammunition. MacTavish noticed that his personal favourite, the M4 Carbine, was absent. Ghost's trademark ACR, however, was sitting smugly next to the M16. MacTavish turned to his left, and raised an eyebrow at Ghost, who looked at him briefly, before turning back to Shepherd. MacTavish knew he was grinning. Bastard.

"Take your pick boys," said Shepherd. "I'll be watching."

"Alright men," announced MacTavish once Shepherd was out of earshot and had taken a seat above the course. "The pair who gets the slowest time has to do ten laps around base wearing full chemical protection."

"Yes, sir!" came his unit's reply.

"Worm, and... you, the FNG," MacTavish pointed at the newest recruit.

"It's Scarecrow, sir," he replied.

"You two go first. Don't embarrass the team."

"Yes, sir," said the FNG eagerly.

The pair disappeared behind the corner, and gunfire began, along with Worm shouting commands to the new recruit.

Just over half a minute later, the pair came bursting through the exit, panting furiously.

"Thirty-six seconds," remarked the Corporal, sounding vaguely impressed.

"Not bad for an FNG," called someone from the unit.

Scarecrow beamed at them, before quickly putting on what he probably thought was a gruff, manly expression.

"You two did well," commented Ghost to the two soldiers.

"Cheers sir," replied Worm.

"Thankyouverymuch, sir," echoed Scarecrow, grinning widely.

There it was again.

MacTavish had noticed this happening more and more frequently in the past few months. Why were his men call Ghost 'sir,' when Ghost was just a sergeant? Even now, another member of the task force was asking his opinion about weapons, calling him 'sir' all the while.

"Oi, Worm," he called to the young officer, as another pair emerged from the pit.

"What's up, Captain?"

"Why do you call Ghost 'sir?'"

"Are you being serious, Captain? He's your right hand man. Everybody knows that." Worm looked up at MacTavish suspiciously, as if expecting some test. "Whenever you have a two man mission, it's always him you take with you. Whenever our unit splits up, it's always him you give command of the other team to. He's with you."

MacTavish was stunned for a moment. He thought about it. Worm was right. Since when had he and the fucked up FNG gotten so close?

Even now, looking over the shoulder of the soldier he was talking to, Ghost flashed him a collaborative eye-crinkle. It was lighthearted, not like the strange, slightly sad looks he sometimes caught his sergeant giving him when he thought he wasn't looking. It was his job to keep an eye on his men, and his natural ability to spot things others couldn't, but he still never understood what was going on in Ghost's head. Other people were so easy to read, and Ghost was one of very few that MacTavish didn't find incredibly transparent.

There wasn't time to dwell on this, however, as all of the pairs besides MacTavish and his apparent 'right hand man' had been through the pit, the most recent of whom had achieved a time of twenty-five seconds.

"Nearly beat the current record, those two," observed the Corporal.

"What's the record?" asked Ghost, picking up the ACR, just as MacTavish had known he would.

"Twenty-two point six," the soldier replied. "A pair of English guys from the SAS a good few years back. Bravo, I think they were with."

MacTavish grinned. Price and Gaz, those old bastards. He had no doubt it was them. There would be something satisfying about running the same course his commanding officers had, something nostalgic. He felt the unbearable urge to beat the record.

Ghost had instantly looked at MacTavish at the mention of the callsign 'Bravo.' He knew about MacTavish's old callsign. No doubt he suspected there was something more to MacTavish's sudden seriousness than male pride.

"Think we can beat it?" Ghost asked him.

"Just who do you think you're talking to?" MacTavish grabbed the M16, and snapped the magazine into place. "Of course we can."

"Let's do this," agreed Ghost.

Not long after MacTavish's boast, the pair were panting back at the ammunition crates, weapons hanging from limp fingers, panting heavily with exertion.

"You guys are crazy," the Corporal remarked, staring at his stopwatch.

"Did we beat it?" gasped MacTavish.

"Just a little bit."

"What's our time?" Ghost demanded breathlessly.

"...Eighteen seconds," said the Corporal, looking at them dumbly. "You British guys really are crazy."

There was a roar of approval from the men, some of them whooping and cheering.

"You fuckin' trashed that course, Captain!" yelled Worm, punching his arm. "People are gonna be talkin' about you guys for years."

The next day, MacTavish filled in the application for Ghost's promotion to Lieutenant, his second in command, officially. At least this way he could make it look like he'd had a say in the matter.


Thanks to your love, a certain solid fragrance,

Risen from the earth, lives darkly in my body.


South Yunnan Province, China

When the Captain realised that something else entirely was going on between he and his Lieutenant, the situation was far past saving.

The land breathed. That was the only way the Captain could describe it; the heat from the setting sun, the mild rain that cooled his neck, the sigh of the trees around them. It was late summer in the province, the harvest season over. Paddy fields lay empty on the serrated hillsides.

It was hard to believe that the Chinese mafia's reach extended this far, the military's intel pointing towards an underground weapons supplier in the area. Due to the thickness of the forests, it was impossible to discover the location from the air, or even by satellite. The available members of Task Force 141 were split up into pairs, scouring sections of the jungle for the terrorist threat. It was was a near impossible task, hence why it had been assigned to Captain MacTavish and his team; they had a knack for succeeding at the impossible.

A small flock of birds suddenly took flight above MacTavish and Ghost, and both officers crouched low, scanning the area for movement.

"Think it was us that spooked them, Captain?" asked Ghost in a whisper, barely audible in MacTavish's earpiece, his eye fixed down his sights for activity.

"Aye, most likely," MacTavish replied in the same low whisper.

A long moment passed with neither soldier moving, before Ghost, a few metres ahead of his captain, signaled that it was clear with a sharp forward motion of his gloved hand.

The two men proceeded to pick their way quietly through the humid environment, keeping low and close while searching for signs of human disturbance.

Hours passed, and the men grew fatigued. MacTavish could see the tiredness in Ghost's posture, though the man would never admit to needing to slow down or stop. Although the Lieutenant had become less opposed to accepting help from his comrades, he was still loathe to feel like a burden to others.

It grew dark quickly in the forest, and soon neither men were able to see clearly enough to pick up the tiny signs they were looking for. The night vision goggles they were wearing were no good for tracking, the resolution of the little screens nowhere near as sensitive as the human eye.

"Let's stop here for a few hours," MacTavish sighed. "We'll make better progress if we wait for dawn."

Ghost's shoulders dropped slightly, and he turned to face the captain, pulling off his high-tech goggles. Mactavish could see the barely concealed relief on Ghost's face. The mask was somewhere in Ghost's small pack, proving impractical in the humid conditions.

MacTavish drank in the sight of Ghost's face, pale yet flushed with exertion. It wasn't incredibly uncommon for Ghost to forgo the mask in front of his commanding officer, but MacTavish still felt the need to remember every bead of sweat, smear of dirt; the exact set of the lieutenant's jaw as he winced with the motion of shrugging.

"It's up to you," he replied. When he received no response, he added; "I'll notify the base we won't be back tonight."

Ghost turned away, holding his headset while speaking into it quietly.

MacTavish shrugged off his pack, setting his rifle down next to it. He was beginning to doubt if the camouflaged weapon would see any action, but experience had taught him never to let his guard down. The gun remained within reach.

"I'll take first watch," he informed Ghost.

"Yes Captain," Ghost sighed, setting his ACR next to his captain's weapon. MacTavish had made it very clear months ago, when Ghost 'forgot' to wake him up for his watch, that he wouldn't stand for any of this 'not needing any sleep' nonsense.

MacTavish had come to know (to a very small extent) what to expect from his lieutenant. When they slept under the stars, Ghost rarely dreamed of his past, the phenomenon occurring far more often under a low roof, in the dark. The captain, over the many 'incidents,' thought he had a good idea of what plagued the young man's unconscious. It remained unspoken that he knew, though by the look Ghost always gave him when he brought up sleeping, Ghost knew that he knew at least some of what had happened to him.

The tentative spiderweb bonds of trust that formed the night he first saw Ghost dream were something that the captain would rather not lose. He liked the harmony he enjoyed with Ghost as a soldier, as a friend, but more than that, he enjoyed the friction, the chemistry. Nobody else could insult him the way Ghost could, cockney profanities and all, and walk away with a straight nose. Nobody else could smack him on the back of his head for being reckless while he was bleeding out of his side, and get away with it. Similarly, nobody else had the privilege of being the only person Ghost relied on without him angsting about it. Nobody else shared the private smirk that passed between them when General Shepherd came on the intercom. (Ghost had mentioned to MacTavish that sometimes he thought he could hear Shepherd's moustache scratching against the radio microphone.)

The steady, near-silent breaths on MacTavish's left began to speed up, becoming shallow and pained, drawing his attention to his subordinate. Ghost's face was tense and pained in the dark, and a strangled groan sounded in the clearing.

Shit.

"Ghost, wake up," he whispered into the man's ear, shaking his shoulder, anxious to avoid letting the nightmare progress too far.

The sounds escaping Ghost's lips stopped abruptly, and MacTavish suddenly found arms locked around his neck, hands on the back of his head, hot breath against his ear. The captain could feel the smaller man's trembling torso pressed against his own, and he could smell the rainforest in the dark brown hair that tickled his cheek.

"Captain," Ghost whispered shakily, but didn't release his grip. Fingers roamed over his closely cropped hair, eventually finding a hold in the collar of MacTavish's uniform.

No, Nobody else got to see Ghost like this, wide eyed with messy hair, utterly vulnerable. This was his Ghost. Nobody else was allowed to wrap their arms around those beautiful shoulders, to comfort a man who looked so untouchable with his spectral grin and arrogant posture. Nobody else had a fucking clue who Simon Riley really was...

It was moments like these that MacTavish didn't realise he'd been craving, until he could feel each quivering breath Ghost took under his hands, against his chest. It was as if a buzzing, growing gradually louder without his notice, had suddenly stopped, and he could finally think clearly.

MacTavish drank in the closeness through his pores, sucked it up as though it was all he'd ever have. Among the sighing trees, under the vespertine sky, which didn't know right from wrong. He enjoyed the silence and the peace of mind, for he knew it wouldn't last.

"Captain?"

There it was. Now Ghost would leap away from him as if burned, and ignore him for the next day or two, like all the previous times. Maybe even longer than that, considering how closely they were pressed together. The lieutenant would surely be mortified once he regained his senses.

"Aye, I'm here," MacTavish replied, relaxing his grip on his subordinate in preparation for the inevitable rebuff. He tried to distance himself from the situation, leaning away from the warm body before him. "How are you feeling, soldier?"

"...Don't let go," came the reply. It came reluctantly from Ghost's mouth, self loathing and fear and embarrassment forcing it out in a hushed breath. "Don't let me go."

And that was all Captain John MacTavish could take.

He pressed his lips against the lips that had gasped so temptingly before, that called him captain, that smirked at him behind a mask every day. He made them his, biting them, violating them with his tongue.

Ghost's t-shirt ripped so easily beneath MacTavish's strong fingers, revealing softly glowing skin, interspersed with thin white lines of fading scars; the sure signs of a soldier. MacTavish's hands were everywhere he could see, ripping more cloth when it wasn't enough, until the young man was shirtless before him.

Ghost's hands were getting in the way; maybe he was trying to protect his clothing, so MacTavish pushed the man to the floor, pinning those interfering hands above his head.

Perhaps Ghost had only just realised his captain's intentions, because he had begun to fight back, trying to escape the hold, kicking the air with his legs.

Hadn't it been Ghost who had been practically begging to be fucked? First with that attitude, then with the face(oh, the face), and now with his pleading voice. There was only so much a man could bear; even MacTavish had his breaking point.

Frustrated, he leaned back, letting the soldier beneath him breathe, about to demand what the bloody hell was going on.

Before he had a chance to demand an answer, one of Ghosts feet found an anchor on his chest, and kicked MacTavish sideways onto the floor. For a split second, Mactavish was sure Ghost was going to run off, leaving him and the mission to go fuck themselves. MacTavish had to admit he'd judged the situation wrong, however, when he found Ghost on top of him barely a second later, pinning him in the exact same way, assaulting his mouth with a pleading ferocity that shocked the captain.

Ghost's tongue fought with his own, and MacTavish groaned as he felt Ghost's hand gripping him firmly through the fabric of his trousers.

Ghost pulled back for a moment, catching his breath. A light breeze passed over the pair, and the motion of the air shifted Ghost's tousled brown hair gently across his forehead. The dim light from the stars reflected off his plump, moist lips, and for a moment, he looked truly innocent, sinless and pure, until he looked down at MacTavish with wicked challenge in his eyes.

Then MacTavish understood. Ghost wasn't fighting him, he was fighting for dominance.

He felt a feral grin split across his face, and he felt himself let go. This was Ghost. What the hell had he been expecting?

"I've been waiting for this," MacTavish muttered darkly. "Waiting for you."

And it was true. MacTavish hadn't known what he'd wanted from Ghost all these months, what he'd been craving, but his body was making it very clear to him now. It knew just what he needed, and how to take it from the man before him.

Ghost began clawing at the shirt of the man beneath him, the stretchy material catching on MacTavish's elbows as it came over his head. The second the clothing was out of the way, MacTavish was up, kissing Ghost forcefully, driving him back down to the ground. He loved the pained growl Ghost emitted as his back hit the floor hard.

"Took you...long enough...sir," gasped Ghost in between the furious attacks MacTavish was making upon his lips.

His hand was on MacTavish's hard arousal again, and the captain couldn't help but groan with both frustration and pleasure as his muscled back tensed and rippled in reaction to the young man's expertise. He pushed forward into his lieutenant's hand with eyes heavy with lust. He slid his own hand into the younger man's trousers to mimic the same actions, his hands encircling the base of Ghost's arousal, squeezing as he reached the hardened tip. The lieutenant beneath him gasped into his mouth, arching all the way off the floor, his chest pressed against his captain's, and his legs coming up around the scotsman's waist, squeezing with a vice-like grip.

"You're playing a dangerous game, Ghost," warned MacTavish. If Ghost wanted out, he'd better run now, before there was no going back.

"Captain..." Ghost locked his arms around MacTavish's neck again, running his fingers in the short mohawk, tugging on the hair where he could.

In answer, MacTavish extricated his hand, instead working on the trousers themselves, the buttons of Ghost's clothes popping off onto the rainforest floor. He worked them over the sharp hips, and blunt arousal of the writhing man beneath him, knowing that he was past the point of return. He had to have his lieutenant, feel him, be inside him.

Easing Ghost's legs back down, MacTavish effortlessly flipped the soldier onto his stomach, unfastening his own military trousers. At the sound of the zipper, Ghost turned around, wide eyed, the leaves around him rustling as he wriggled beneath his captain.

"What are you-?"

"What do you think?" MacTavish interrupted. Surely he'd seen it coming? Ghost wasn't exactly naive. You didn't touch a man like that unless you knew exactly what you were getting into.

"You think I'd let you-"

"I'm not asking, soldier," MacTavish gritted his teeth, losing the battle for self control, before leaning down to Ghost's ear, and whispering; "not like you have been. For months."

Ghost looked about to protest, but let out a breathy moan as MacTavish slid a hand under him, stroking and squeezing the man's arousal, circling the moist tip with his thumb. He increased his pace, and was satisfied when Ghost raised his buttocks, allowing his captain better access to his throbbing desire. The pale cheeks pressed against his arousal, providing the friction that MacTavish so craved.

"See?" MacTavish whispered. "Your body's begging me all on its own."

"That's not..." Ghost tried to object, but his voice suddenly lost all integrity, turning instead into a cry of lust as MacTavish ran a wet finger over his entrance.

MacTavish rubbed his own saliva onto his erection, all too aware that there wasn't a more conventional substitute.

"For fuck's sake..." man beneath him muttered the into the floor, no longer struggling.

"You can handle it, Lieutenant."

MacTavish used his hand to position his tip at Ghost's small entrance, the other hand tracing the smooth muscled lower back of his subordinate, feeling the dormant strength there. The strength that, if MacTavish was anybody else, Ghost would be using to kick his ass right now.

He began to ease forwards, bringing his hands to Ghost's hips, using them for leverage as he found the resistance of the tight passage too much. He made a little progress, the little clenched ring of muscles slipping halfway over his tip. He groaned.

"Why the fuck are you so tight, Ghost? It's pissing me off," he ground out, gritting his teeth, trying to remain in control. He wanted to thrust into his subordinate as hard and fast as he could, but if he did that, he'd be using blood as lubricant.

"Fuck off, Captain," Ghost moaned with resentment, his voice muffled by the ground. "Let's switch..."

"Just give me a second..."

He spat into his hand again, rubbing it along his shaft, and once more, over the tip, before trying again.

This time, rocking gently into the tight passage, he made a little more progress, but he knew things would go easier if Ghost wasn't so tense.

"Come on Ghost, you've got to relax, mate," he said, reaching his right hand round to tug expertly at Ghost's rigid member, using his palm to make circles over the head before stroking him from base to tip again. "Give me something to work with..."

And slowly, under the rocking motion MacTavish continued to exert, and the dextrous ministrations of his hands, Ghost began to ease up, letting the engorged head of MacTavish's arousal slide into him. Almost without warning, the rest of MacTavish's length followed, impaling the young man suddenly.

Ghost was instantly tense again, biting back a cry among the dark trees, limbs jerking, trying to get free.

"You fucking bastard," he groaned, trembling around his commanding officer. He sounded winded, short gasps passing quickly through gritted teeth. "You absolute wanker..."

"Hold still," MacTavish ordered calmly, though internally, he was fighting with himself, trying not to lose that precious control. Ghost was so hot and inviting, it was a struggle to pause for any length of time.

He continued to work the protesting Ghost's arousal from the front, while rocking gently in an attempt to loosen up Ghost's vice-like grip. He must have been doing something right, because Ghost's muscles fluttered around him, and the young man arched back onto him, pushing the Captain up to the hilt.

"Ahh," Ghost gasped, his fingers crushing dry leaves as they contracted into balled fists.

MacTavish, smiling slightly, finally allowed himself to move, sliding out a few inches before pushing up to the hilt again, enjoying the way Ghost arched up to meet his thrusts. He drank in the expression on Riley's face; one of complete vulnerability, arousal and, despite his earlier protests, trust.

With no hint of pain given by the Lieutenant, MacTavish began to increase his pace, wondering at how deep Ghost could take him; deeper than any woman ever had, given his size. Ghost let out a moan, and cursed again, arching into MacTavish's movements, pushing himself hard against the thrusts.

"Ghost..." MacTavish growled, "you want it harder, Lieutenant?" He punctuated the question with a particularly vicious thrust, squeezing the tip of the soldiers erection with his right hand as he did so.

A hushed cry of pleasure-pain escaped Ghost's lips, and he turned his head to look at his Captain with pleading eyes.

"Yes...sir..."

It was exactly what MacTavish wanted to hear, and he took full advantage of Ghost's consent, each powerful thrust driving the man beneath him forwards. MacTavish brought his left hand under the Lieutenant, caressing the man's beautiful, scar-etched chest with his rough fingers, pulling Ghost close to brace him against his rough penetration.

Ghost cried out, before biting down on his own hand to stifle his voice. MacTavish knew he was close by the feel of the lieutenant's girth in his hand, rock hard and tremulous. He himself wasn't far off. He lowered his head to Ghost's neck, inhaling his scent. He loved the little area between his ear and neck. Whenever Ghost relaxed around him enough to take off the spectral mask, his eyes were always drawn to that small stretch of tender skin, though he only now realised why.

MacTavish kissed his lover's neck, smiling into the soft skin, before biting down in pleasured anguish as Ghost began contracting around him rhythmically, signaling his release. Ghost's back went completely rigid, and his head tilted back at an impossible angle, and wet, hot fluid spilled into MacTavish's hand. The sight of the lieutenant's face, jaw clenched and eyes tightly shut in rapture, drove MacTavish over the edge. He shuddered, grunting curses as he came, gripping the lieutenant's torso so hard it would surely bruise. He ground out all manner of obscenities, whispering them into Ghost's ear as he emptied himself inside the man beneath him, until finally, the right words came out;

"I fucking love you, Ghost. I love you."


I love you without knowing how, or why, or from where,

I love you straightforwardly, without complexities or pride;


The silence that greeted them as they trudged back onto base was palpable, though MacTavish couldn't blame his men for staring. The pair looked a mess. MacTavish had given Ghost his own shirt. Given that he'd all but destroyed the Lieutenant's, it seemed only fair. Ghost's mask was firmly back in place, covering any evidence of their en\counter. MacTavish knew there were hickeys and bruises under the black material.

MacTavish was shirtless, having packed no spare for the night's search.

"Something happen out there, Captain?"

It was Worm, looking at MacTavish inquisitively.

"I lost my shirt," he replied simply, shrugging.

"It happens sometimes," agreed Ghost, looking at the Captain and nodding slowly. "Rainforests are fucked up."

"Oh I know what you mean," said Scarecrow excitedly, who had come to investigate. "I lost all my socks. Maybe it's monkeys."

MacTavish and Ghost agreed that it must have been monkeys, before heading back to the temporary barracks to get cleaned up. Ghost hit the showers first, dumping his pack next to MacTavish's before disappearing into the showers.

Sighing, MacTavish held his head between his hands, gazing at the uneven floor.

"Jesus Christ, Ghost, sir, what the fuck happened to you? You've got bruises everywhere," came another voice from the showers.

"...I got mauled by a bear."

MacTavish grinned.

They were finally headed back to HQ, once their intel had proven false after all. Some soldiers were moaning about what a waste of time the whole expedition had been, cursing whoever had decided it was a good idea to send Task Force 141 on a dead-end mission.

They'd been traveling for two hours in the crowded vehicle, and it was beginning to get dark. General Shepherd had said something about not being able to get military airspace permission; the Chinese government could be touchy about things like that.

Inevitably, the conversation had taken a turn for the dirty, and the task force members had been recounting sexual experiences for the better part of the journey, with the occasional masturbatory fantasy thrown in. The main debate seemed to be about who the most fuckable movie-star was, arriving at a stalemate between Megan Fox and Jessica Alba.

However, like tired-out children, the soldiers eventually grew quiet, instead staring at the sunset, or dozing with lolling heads. Before long, it was difficult to make out individual bodies in the fading light, silhouettes of napping soldiers rocking with the vehicle's motion.

MacTavish's right hand lay at his side, the cold metal of the convoy seat cooling his knuckles. The palm, however, was warm, for in it was the hand of another soldier, one who had slipped his hand into his Captain's in the darkness of the vehicle. His very own Lieutenant Simon Riley. His Ghost.

MacTavish found his own eyes closing, slipping away from consciousness with a smile, in the comfortable lull of nighttime travel. He was sure Ghost was smiling too, for the Lieutenant was tracing his thumb over the back of MacTavish's hand. MacTavish turned to look at his second in command, though all he could see was the traces of darkening red clouds reflected in Ghost's glasses.

He tightened his grip on Ghost's gloved hand, and Ghost leaned towards him, his shoulder coming to rest against MacTavish's as he leant his head back on the canvas covering of the convoy. There was only a thin line of contact between them; running from where their knees brushed, to their hands-held secretly in the dark, and their shoulders, pressed as close as they dared. It was enough, for the time being. There would be no nightmares that night.


So close, that your hand on my chest is my hand,

So close, that your eyes close as I fall asleep.


Author's notes: Just to clarify, I know Ghost was transferred to the 141 as a Lieutenant, but I chose to make him a Sergeant here as a fluffy plot device. Also, if you wander around Fire Base in the beginning, you can hear a couple of guys talking about Ghost and MacTavish, and they really DID complete the course together in eighteen seconds! =) Crazy, huh?

The sections of poetry used are by Pablo Neruda, 'I don't love you like the salt-rose.'

I know a lot of you who have me on author alert will be like "Wtf? Where is the DeiSaku?" and I apologise. I don't know if AoD will be updated anytime soon. It's just not the refuge for me that it used to be anymore.

*Dedicated to my wifey and co-conspirator Abbey, as a late Christmas present.*

*Beta'd by the lovely MagicHorse, thank you so much, dearest.*

I hope you enjoyed my perverted ramblings; they come from the heart.