Going Up North

Megan Katherine Donovan

"It has been one year since the Afghanistan tragedy. One year since nine members of our armed forces have fallen. We would like to take a moment to remember those who gave their lives to save twelve young children kept hostage. in loving memory, we remember: Jillian Bore, Michael Carmack, Lily Sien, Jeffery Molten, Mathew Trevors, Dominique Standish, Rachel Black, Sarah Lyfe, and Raymond Verlish…"

Liam flicked off the television quickly, making a failed attempt at stopping his emotions from getting the better of him. He had thought that after one full year, he would at least be able to hear his name without it bringing him waves of guilt.

Apparently not.

What if he had gotten there sooner? Or better yet, hadn't left at all, like he promised? What had Raymond been thinking as he bled out on the forest floor, awaiting his return? Trust? Hate? Pain? Loyalty? Forgiveness?

No, that was a little far to even hope for. He wouldn't have forgiven him, not after breaking their promise…

It had been the year 2002. Liam had been seventeen at the time, and a year away from having the freedom of living out of his father's house.

His parents- Tanya and Elijah McRay –had gotten a divorce when Liam was nine years old. Since then, he had stayed at his father's house- a house that, without Tanya's warming, homey touch -had become a jail of sorts.

His father, being a retired air cadet, brought him up in a strict fashion, not allowing him to go to a public school or play on any sports teams. He had grown up isolated, and enforced the same upbringing on his son.

When he hit seventeen, he decided to extend the leash his father kept him on, and signed up for the military, wanting to escape Elijah's prison.

It was there he first met Raymond. With his short, curly, dark hair, tanned skin, dark green eyes, and strong Russian accent, he looked as far away from Liam's straight dark blond hair, pale skin, and light blue eyes as possible, but the two hit it off instantly.

They became roommates, pulling childish pranks on each other and telling the other about their families. Raymond told him and his life in Russia, comparing it to the busy streets of Toronto. Slowly but surely, the two became more like brothers.

"Hey, Liam." Raymond piqued up one day, his head hanging out his bed as Liam brushed his teeth in their small bathroom.

"Hm?" He mumbled, mouth full of toothpaste and his toothbrush. He spat and toweled his mouth before sticking his head out of the door.

"I have a question." Raymond explained, pulling himself up into a sitting position.

Liam rolled his eyes, "Good God, get on with it. We haven't got all day."

The other bot just narrowed his eyes and flashed him his middle finger before carrying on, "We've been taught countless times before that we can't save all of our comrades," He began slowly, "Right?"

He waited for Liam to confirm it with a solemn nod before continuing, "Well, if it ever came to that situation, what would you do?"

"I would follow instructions." Liam responded automatically.

Raymond frowned, "But what if it was me? I mean, I know I wouldn't be able to leave you in combat."

Now he hesitated before answering, "Well… I've never had siblings before, but I'm pretty sure I could never leave them wounded. And you're like a brother to me… so no, I don't think I would be able to ditch."

Raymond held out a fisted knuckle, "Swear?"

Liam grinned and tapped his own knuckle with Raymond's, "Swear."

"Liam?" A familiar voice broke him out of his reverie, and his fiancée, Lena Brookes, came into the kitchen with an armload of groceries. He swept over to Lena, helping the poor woman with the heavy bags.

She frowned, "Liam, what's wrong? You're crying." Her small hand touched his cheek, which he hadn't noticed had been wet.

"Just thinking," He said thickly, clearing his throat and turning away.

"Oh Liam," She said sadly, understanding what he was talking about, "That was never your fault." He just nodded in return, not trusting his voice.

After a couple minutes of silence, he spoke up, "I think I'm going to go out for a walk." He grabbed his coat and threw on his boots, opening the door and walking out.

His feet made wet slapping noises against the cement, his hood pulled over his face to shield it from the rain. Walking by a closed shop window, he stopped to access his appearance.

His blond hair fell just a bit into his eyes- he definitely needed a haircut. And a shave. His chin was scratchy with stubble he hadn't bothered to shave off those past few days.

Liam let out a sigh and continued to walk down the street, spotting a park to the left of him. A couple kids still played on the slick bars, still outside despite the rain. A voice called out, and the two bots rushed to who was presumably their father, burrowing their faces in his jacket.

The sight made Liam's stomach whirl. He remembered Raymond and he talking about kids on day.

"I think I'd name him Damien." He puffed, hurtling over a large obstacle alongside Liam. He pulled himself over as they tore down the tracks to the tires, placing each foot dead centre in the tires quickly.

"I don't want kids." He replied, feeling a bead of sweat drip down his temple.

"Seriously?" He grunted, almost tripping in his haste to get past the tire section.

"Seriously." Liam confirmed, running and leaping to catch his hands on the high bars, his skin sliding painfully against the metal. He could hear his heart beating in his ears, feel Raymond's presence behind him as he finished the bars and slid under a barbed fence into the thick mud, the murky puddle coating the majority of his face and body. He heaved himself out, watching Raymond pull out as well.

"What's so bad about kids?" He asked, gulping the air in greedily, "I would have a million if I could.

Liam snorted in reply, his own chest rising and falling rapidly, "Really? A million? Good luck finding someone willing enough to give birth that many times."

Raymond shoved him, "You know what I mean."

"Yeah," Liam grinned, shoving him back, "Yeah, I do."

That had been two years after they met, when Liam was nineteen. Eight years later he remembered being promoted to General, laughing with Raymond as he told him he was going to propose to Lena, and that Raymond was expected to be the best man. Naturally, he was ecstatic.

"You're growing up!" Raymond crowed, nudging him with his shoulder. Liam could just faintly see the Japanese symbol for 'loyalty' tattooed on his arm. Liam had the exact same on his own arm.

"Oh, shut up." He retorted, unable to keep the grin off his face.

"And you're sure you want me to be the best man?"

"Of course, you should have known you would have been."

Raymond grinned, "Correct. I just wanted to hear you say it again." Liam rolled his eyes, just as his two-way radio starting to let out a noise. They instantly stopped laughing as Liam pulled the radio out quickly to hear Sergeant Nick Thomson's voice melt through.

"General McRay, Do you read me? General Mcray, Do you read?" The Sergeant's voice came out snatchy and overlapped with static.

Liam quickly sent out a reply, "I read you, Sergeant. What's the situation."

"Twelve hostages… children… heavily guarded…" The answering reply was chopping, but the two could figure out what he said. They rushed to their feet and raced to inform the others of Sergeant Thomson's urgent call.

It took a split second to tell the other troops and another minute to receive the coordinates from the radio. This time, the one who told them their location was another man, who told them the Sergeant had been shot. Deeps chills ran throughout Liam's body. That's where you're going, He thought to himself.

He ignored the chilling thoughts racing through his head and got his gear and weapons, Raymond blankly following his actions before they headed put the door with eight other people, piling into the military truck. He could see Mathew climbing into the front seat with a frown on his face.

"What's the plan?" Asked Raymond, his gaze searching Liam's, who was the highest ranking officer, and therefor called all the shots.

He tried not to let it pressure him too much as he answered, "We'll scope out the compound first. Find exits, post snipers." He decided finally.

One of the female soldiers, Jillian, frowned, "Scope? But the children!" She protested.

Liam regretfully shook his head, "I won't send anyone in without knowing where we are." Seeing her about to speak again, he cut her off, "We'll scope quickly." She was still frowning, but nodded her agreement.

"After that, Raymond and I will go in and rescue the kids. Fall back and take out an threats." Liam continued grimly. He hoped that Raymond wouldn't mind his part in the plan. His reassuring nod told him there wasn't a hope in the world that he wouldn't follow him in, even if he changed his mind and begged him not to go. They were in this together.

Together… Liam's hands clenched the iron fence, holding it so tightly that there were small indents on his palm when he pulled away. The rain had eased up a bit, but he was drenched anyways- and freezing cold.

He shook himself, stamping his feet on the ground a couple times to try and warm himself up. It didn't work, and resulting in him splashing puddles everywhere.

As he turned to go, Liam spotted the name of the place he was standing, Saint James cemetery. Hesitantly, he pushed open the rusting fence and stepped inside, reading the rows of headstones lain out in front of him. He could practically hear the corpses yelling- crying out pleas to the ones they've left behind. But Liam was only searching for one voice in particular.

The forest surrounding them was eerily quiet. The troops had abandoned their truck a mile or so back, wanting to creep up on their prey unnoticed.

Every small noise made them jump, turning around and training their gun in the general direction from which the sound emanated from.

Finally they reached their destination. There were two guards posted on the door, giving the impression the inside was even more heavily guarded. With a quick not to the others, they pulled out one of their guns and slid a silencer on it, shooting the two guards simultaneously. Their bodies slid to the floor and laid there, unmoving.

It took them two minutes to set up snipers and proceed with stage two of the plan- get inside. The soldiers moved slowly, weighted down by their gear.

Liam's heart was beating so fast- so loud –that he was sure it would alert the others. He felt a hand on his shoulder and flicked his eyes up, knowing who it was.

"We'll be fine." Raymond murmured, although he didn't sound very convinced himself. Liam nodded again and continued to stalk up to the compound, straining to hear something through the door that could tell him if there was anyone on the other side. Hearing nothing, they entered one-by-one into the building, ready for anything at any time.

A shot rang out, then two, then countless numbers of bullets were sailing through the air. Beside him, he heard a gasp of surprise and saw Raymond leaning over one of the troops while Dominique covered him.

"She's gone." Raymond said ruefully, his Russian accent filled with grief. He quickly made the sign of the cross and urged Dominique on.

When no other shots ran out, Liam glanced around to see the damage. Besides Lily- The woman Raymond had been with –Mathew and Rachel had also fallen. He felt his throat constrict in agony and wondered who else would lose their life by the end of the mission.

They continued to move until they heard the sounds of whimpering children, and opened up a hidden door to uncover twelve small bodies huddled around each other. Their skin was pulled tight over their skin, which was covered in ash. One small girl, upon seeing the soldiers, let out a squeak of terror and flattened herself down to the floor.

"It's okay- we're here to help." Soothed Jillian, holding out a hand. The girl reached out and took it, then proceeded to cry as the woman hugged her tightly.

Deciding to tryst them, the kids followed the soldiers in a herd, all of them holding hands amongst each other. The sight of their bedraggled looks and torn clothes sparked a hint of rage for whoever was heartless enough to harm these children within Liam.

More shots ahead of them rang out, and Dominique glanced at Raymond and Liam, "Get those kids out of here!" He shouted before returning fire at their enemies.

Hastily, Liam nodded and tried to get the kids moving quickly, but they were clearly tired and too weak to manage a run.

Angry shouts behind them got Raymond to whip out his gun and fire behind him. Liam briefly heard Raymond give a grunt of pain, but since he could still hear his friends heavy footsteps behind him, he decided to try not to worry as they threw themselves out into the open forest.

No men followed them out of the building, so they traveled only a small while before sitting down to await the others.

"Do you think the others are still alive?" He asked Raymond, leaning down to inspect the kids wounds.

"Maybe, I don't know." Raymond's voice got his attention first- the note of pain and slight panic in it –before he turned around and caught sight of the blood.

He had clearly been shot more than once, his hands holding his stomach in pain, scarlet red blood spilling out of the cracks in between his fingers. His tanned face was scrunched up in barely suppressed pain.

"Get that look off your face," Raymond grunted, "I'll be fine."

Liam could only shake his head, "No, I really don't think you will be. But I'll fix you up, patch you so that you'll be as good as new." He managed to choke out a small chuckle, but even that was strained as he saw his friend slowly bleeding to death in front of him.

He could hear footsteps in the distance, and he glanced up in panic, "More are coming. Raymond- we have to leave."

Raymond struggled to sit up, but eventually shook his head, looking defeated, "I can't. You bring the kids to safety."

Liam barely heard him, "Get up Raymond." He glared at him, "I'm not leaving you. We promised, remember?"

Raymond knew Liam was too stubborn for him to win this argument. Still, he shook his head, "Take the kids to safety first. Then come back for me."

Liam looked down at his friend, propped against the tree with his bloody hands clutching the gun, and knew this would probably be the last time he ever talked to him. He hung his head and nodded slowly, "I'll be back." He vowed, ushering the kids away from the spot. He could just barely see Raymond's eyes start to flicker around, determinated to stay alive until Liam came back. He could only hope he made it in time.

Liam's hands brushed over the headstone, the rocky edges biting into his skin. The name engraved on it was just barely noticeable from all of the flowers leaning against it, but he knew what it said, Raymond Verlish.

He remembered the day with such clarity that it hurt. Leaving Raymond. Bringing the kids back to safety, then running off as soon as they were in medical care to go back to him. Finding the place, which was covered in thick blood. Running, screaming Raymonds name. Finding nothing.

Authorities never did find his body, but they proclaimed him dead to the rest of the world, so Liam thought it was only right to give him a headstone, where people could go to visit him and find peace within themselves.

Liam wasn't granted with such a gift.

The memory would always haunt him, always shake him so violently to his core, the actions and feelings of that day burned into his memory, interwoven into everything he did, so that every day he could feel the same sense of loss and confusion as the last.

He brushed his fingers against the tombstone one last time, hearing a small noise behind him. He figured it was another one of the mourners, here to commemorate the loss of the soldiers. It wasn't until he heard the Russian accent that he froze.

"Am I too late for the wedding?"

Raymond.