A/N: You'll have to forgive my rudimentary knowledge of American geography. My understanding is that John Hopkins University Hospital is in Maryland whilst the Basic School (where Marine officers receive their basic training after earning their commission) is in Virginia. Now Virginia and Maryland border each other and Maryland in particular looks like a pretty small state. As an Australian – which most Matthew Reilly readers are – you get pretty used to huge distances. Hell, you drive two hours out of Sydney CBD in any direction and you're still in suburbs! So it looked to me like driving from Maryland to Virginia was probably equidistant to driving from Sydney to Newcastle, a very do-able drive. Perhaps though, one the average American, for whom everything is much closer, wouldn't attempt. If I have any American readers who would like to correct me, please do so!

Also, when a soldier receives a medal or award of some sort, they obviously can't wear that all the time. What they do get as well then, is a little embroidered "ribbon" sown onto their uniform and the pattern of that ribbon corresponds with the award. So when you see those colourful lines sown onto a soldiers more formal uniforms, what that actually is, is essentially a record of their career and the awards they've earned for it.

This is the last chapter, by the way. Thank you majorly to everyone who reviewed. Also, if you're an artist, especially if you draw Matthew Reilly fanart, please check out my profile, I'm rather hoping someone will volunteer to draw me some pictures to use as covers for my stories seeing as I am singularly lacking in that department. All credit, will of course, go to those artists. Let me know if you're interested!

Chapter 7

The next time Buck Riley saw Shane 'Scarecrow' Schofield, he was shocked.

Having been declared fully healed and ready for discharge, Shane had cleared his room in preparation to go home before Book even turned up to pick him up. It hadn't really taken much effort. Despite having spent nearly a month in the same small room, it was still as sparse as the day he had entered it. Schofield's few meagre possessions – his wings, the paperback's Book had given him, the shiny medals still in their boxes and a handful of drugs and spare dressings for his few remaining wounds were all already packed in a small rucksack, sitting at the end of the bed when Book arrived.

Shane himself emerged a second later from the bathroom, still towelling off damp spikes of black hair. From somewhere – Book supposed that being a military hospital, they probably had spares lying around for exactly this purpose – he had managed to obtain a khaki marine day uniform. The uniform changed him. He walked taller and there was a confidence in his stride that hadn't been there before.

"So," Book said, "You ready to go?"

Shane just nodded as he swung the rucksack over the once dislocated shoulder. It still twinged a little but if he stretched it out, it would be fine.

"So where's home then?" Book asked, genuinely curious.

"Wyoming," Schofield replied.

"I ain't driving to Wyoming," Book retorted immediately and a grin cracked Schofield's face but when he spoke, it was serious.

"Book," he said with the tone of one who had rehearsed this little speech in his head a fair few times. "I really can't thank you enough for everything you've done. You literally saved my life and this past month, you've been the single bright point in the darkness that's kept me sane. Last night, I made a decision. I want to be like that. I am lucky to be alive and I'll be damned if I'm going to waste that. Marines don't give up when the going gets tough, so if you could take me to the personnel office here, I'm ready to start getting my life back on track and making something new of myself. After all, they say that even though the door might've closed, there's bound to be a window open somewhere."

He finished with a shrug and Book gripped his shoulder proudly.

"There's something special about you, you know," Buck said and Schofield snuffed a laugh. "Shall we go?"

Somehow, over the ensuing months, Shane Schofield became an integral part of Buck Riley's life – slipping in as if he'd always been there - and if Buck had known he would have only a little more than a year in which to get to know the young man, he would have held onto each passing moment that little bit tighter.

It didn't matter that Buck Riley never got to see the majority of Schofield's great achievements and the man he would become.
It never mattered because in his heart, Book always knew that Shane was destined for something great.

From the moment he first slipped on a pair of reflective silver sunglasses and walked into the personnel offices of the United States Marine Corp with a straight back and his head held high.
He exchanged his flight status lieutenant commander's gold oak leaf insignia for the single gold bar of a lieutenant second class line animal without complaint, his mouth set in a steel line of determination.

Barely three days later, it was Buck Riley who dropped him at the Basic School in Quantico to begin the six month process of re-training and by the looks of his schedule, it seemed that Schofield had signed himself up for every damn course he could. If nothing else, everyone around him had to admire his sheer stubborn perseverance.
Shane Schofield, they all learnt, never gave up.
Never.

That first day, Buck felt like a parent taking his child to school for the first time. The same sense of pride at how much they had grown and anticipation of how much further they would reach, tempered by the desire to hold onto them forever, overwhelmed him again and briefly, he pulled Shane into a gruff one-armed hug, holding him tight around the neck before pushing him off into the crowd of milling young marines.

For a moment, Schofield hovered on the edge of the group, fiddling with his sunglasses. Perhaps the others could sense he was different – he had been here before, young and whole, and was now returning again, broken but determined to rebuild – and they left him alone.
Until another young man who appeared similar in age to Schofield, excused himself from the conversation he was involved in and make his way over.

"Andy," Book thought he heard him introduce himself as, "Andy Trent."

As he drove away, Book saw Schofield offer his hand. Saw them talking animatedly. He even thought he might have seen Shane pull down the sunglasses just a little to expose the tops of the scars and his bright blue eyes to Andy Trent's enthralled view and he smiled to himself.
Shane would be just fine.

And only a few days after that, a delivery arrived on his front doorstep.

Not for him though.
It was for the lovely Paula in gratitude for allowing him to monopolize her husband.

A huge bunch of beautiful tropical flowers.

Courtesy of one Shane Schofield.

Buck remembered the day he graduated from the Basic School for the second time and the day he was awarded for all his hard work with command of his very own recon unit.
The very first name he asked for was Staff Sergeant Buck Riley, who was of course, proud as a button to serve under the young lieutenant.

He knew that amongst the marines that made up their unit, he was the only one who knew how Schofield had earned the Purple Heart ribbon sewn across his right breast. In fact, most of them had absolutely no idea that Shane Schofield had ever been anything than an earth-bound ground marine, so well did he take to the role. His marines, even those much older than him, held him in the highest regard. Perhaps it was due to his own experiences but as a commander, Schofield looked out for his men in a way that was rare. He threw the same amount of effort and determination into bringing his men home safely as he did everything else and they loved him for it.

Book though he saw a lot of Jack Walsh in him.

Buck remembered the first day Shane had been handed a maghook.
He had flopped down in the grass beside Riley, held up the shiny silver device and proclaimed with simple admiration, "I think I like this thing."

Deprived of eye contact through the now ever present sunglasses, Book learnt to interpret the various ways that Schofield compensated with what remaining facial expression he had left.
Like the way he smirked with only one corner of his mouth raised when he was amused but trying not to show it.
How he stuck his tongue out that same corner absentmindedly when he was concentrating hard.
The way he chewed his bottom lip when he was nervous.
The full encouraging smile that lifted his cheeks and made him look like the young man he was when he was proud of his team and the twisted little half smile he tried to suppress when he was proud of himself.

Shane had broken his nose in hand to hand combat training.

Book had let him cry on his shoulder at the funeral of Lieutenant Andrew Trent, USMC.

And on one particularly memorable occasion, they had been attempting to hand make pizza dough in the small base kitchen at Pearl.
Somehow, half the dough had ended up on the ceiling and the other half, covering Book.

And now, a full year almost to the day since Buck Riley had pulled Shane Schofield out of that mess in Bosnia, they were all sitting in the small rec room of the USS Shreveport, bound for some hell-hole in Antarctica. A tinny television was flickering, playing reruns of some T.V show called 'Who Wants to be a Millionaire.' Sailing in Australian waters still, they were only picking up Australian television and that poorly at best.

Book sat in one chair in one corner of the room, trying to get away from the noise, with his pen poised thoughtfully over a blank page of a novel he knew he'd never finish.

Schofield sat curled up in the other chair in the opposite corner, his nose buried in a very old and very battered copy of Lord of the Rings.

Between them, the rest of the unit milled around, variously playing cards or watching the television and generally making a lot of noise and yet over it all, Buck heard the host clearly.

"The first Lord Protector of England was…?"

"Oliver Cromwell," Shane Schofield muttered under his breath without looking up from the book.

Buck Riley just smiled.

fin