AN: I'm writing this for me more than I'm writing it for any sort of great reader experience.
If you don't understand a certain turn of phrase or jargon, I'm truly sorry, I've tried to make it as reader friendly as possible—just in case. Really I'm only posting it as a convenience to one of my readers.
And on that note, I'm not really happy with the quality of Army!Brittana fic out there. This is a tad more detailed than just the fluffy reunion scene, yet incredibly at the whim of my own personal experience, imagination, and knowledge.
FM 21-18: Procedures and Techniques of Foot Marches.
You hate Fort Campbell and how it's so hot. It's literally four in the morning and you're already sweating.
And you're just standing here.
You haven't even started moving and you're already sweating.
They call you all to the line, because they finally decide to get this over with and you move with the rest of the herd to the starting line on the street. A random sergeant trying to be high-speed moves through you all, checking your Camelbak for water, your ruck for the right amount of weight, and making sure the glow stick tucked into the band on your helmet is visible.
Lord knows it would be a tragedy if you got hit by a car.
When he inspects you, he raps his knuckles against the front of your protective vest and you realize he's making sure you have your ballistic plates in. You take offense because no one else was checked and it means he assumed you would try to lighten your load. What you don't know is, if it's because you're a girl or if he just thinks you're a bad solider.
You'll take both; to some people they're synonymous.
The grip on your rubber training rifle tightens as the whistle blows and you take off just a second behind everyone else. This twelve-mile road march is a qualifier for Air Assault School and you need to be on that roster. Not because you want to go, because you don't, and not because you think it's a useful school, because it's not.
You need to go so you can graduate and finally be able to pin the shiny little badge to your uniform like the assholes in your company that make it such a big deal. They have such a superiority complex, it's unreal. You'd rather go to Airborne School, because jumping out of planes is badass and makes repelling from a helicopter look super lame.
You don't want to be a dope on a rope, but you know they'll respect you a little more if you're wearing that badge. So, if you have to go to a ridiculous school to keep from doing pushups every time someone drops an Air Assault coin, you'll play along.
You hit the gravel trail on the other side of Market Garden Road. This is normally when everyone stops their run and starts rucking, but you keep running. You need to work twice as hard on these things because you're so short. Your little legs need to move twice as fast to cover the same distance in the same amount of time as your fellow soldiers, you figured this out a while ago. To make up for your shortcomings you end up running most of the twelve miles. You have this run/walk cycle down to an art.
"Going for a nice run?" someone calls as you pass.
He thinks it's amusing that you're shuffling along at the same speed as he's walking, damn his long legs.
"Let's see who finishes first." You pick it up to get away from him and pull ahead.
By mile eight your run/walk has turning into a jog/shuffle/walk. That's fine, you're still making great time. There's only a handful of people ahead of you, a lot more are behind you. You're the lead female and that means something to you. Wiping some sweat off your brow, you slow to a walk and take in a deep breath. Fuck, it's hot. Your helmet is getting annoyingly heavy on your head, and your thighs are chaffing from the seam of your uniform. You should have worn spandex, but you'd probably have ended up a heat casualty.
The medic's field ambulance is rolling along the vehicle trail just waiting for someone to fall out. As it passes, you catch a glimpse of the senior medic sitting in the back, one leg hanging out and holding the door open with her hand. She's not even wearing her helmet, which is a safety requirement in military vehicles. You find the idea that a medic is being unsafe ironic, and it gives you a boost to start running again. You're sure if any of the senior sergeants saw her like that she would get scolded, but hey, she outranks you and sometimes it's astounding what medics can get away with.
Maybe you should think about reclassing.
You didn't really have a plan when you joined the Army, you couldn't afford to go to college and the recruiter made this seem like a means to an end. You still haven't decided if he was completely full of shit, but you know that you sort of hate your job. He sold you on the idea by asking if you had ever gotten pulled over, which was an obvious yes. Then he asked how you would like it if you were the one writing the ticket.
You liked that idea at the time.
Now, being a Military Policewoman, is a lot of work, long hours. You never get any of the garrison four-day weekends or holidays because you have to pull shift. You're constantly seeing the worst of the same people America likes to pretend are the best of the best. You hate it. Maybe if you liked your unit better, things would be fine. But you don't. They're a bunch of assholes.
Less than a mile to go and you're beyond the point of lucid thought. If a car passed you might take a shot at jumping in front of it. The only thing you can focus on is trying to keep your breathing steady and the guy in front of you.
You hate that guy, about twenty meters in front of you, shuffling along like he owns the place.
A Drill Sergeant once told you that the best pacer is someone you hate. All you need to do is find them and get angry, your pride will take care of the rest.
It's there, inside of you, your pride. Boiling like this Kentucky heat. Telling you that this isn't shit, you're fine, all you have to do is finish this mile. You can already see the start point on the other side of the field. The sun has finally come out and while that adds a new layer to how uncomfortable you are, it's a sign that at least two hours have passed and you're still going strongish.
Twelve miles in three hours. In full tactical kit and thirty-five pounds on your back. It's not that bad. You can do it.
You will do it.
You tell yourself that you hate the guy in front of you so much, which might be true, you can't tell who he is from here. All you know is that you're better than him and you want to beat him. You need to step it out, overtake him, show him up, qualify for this stupid school and finally get that stupid badge, and finally be a part of the club.
You're so busy conjuring your hateful motivation that you fail to see the large stone mixed in with the loose gravel of the trail.
You're on the ground before you realize what happened, a shooting pain in your ankle.
"You alright, Lopez?" Some asshole in a gator drives up to you after seeing your fall.
"Fine," you reply, embarrassed and lost in a dose of pride that was making every fiber of your body move towards the finish line as fast as it can.
Scrambling, you push your weapon's buttstock into the ground to help yourself to your feet. When you try to step off, because that guy has doubled the distance between you and you need to catch up, there's so much pain in your ankle that your knee gives out. You fall to the ground again.
"Shit, I'm calling the medic."
"No!" You check yourself. "I mean, I'm fine Sergeant, I just need to—"
"You need to sit the fuck down and wait for the medic. You're out, Lopez."
He barks it like it was the final say in the matter and, of course, it is. Listening to him on the radio, you try not to get too worked up. You try to ignore the rest of the qualifiers that pass you along the trail. By the time the field ambulance rolls up that guy made it to the finish line, and if it wasn't for your carelessness, you would have been with him.
"Hey." The senior medic jumps out of the back of the truck. "What do we got here?"
"Lopez messed up her ankle." He gestures to you needlessly. There's no other soldiers sitting on the side of the trail like a dejected castaway. "Look, I'm heading over to the start point, bring her in alright?"
"I'll take care of it," she says with a nod, walking over to you. She waits until he's driven away to crouch next to you, one hands resting on her knee, the other readjusting her patrol cap. She looks at you with blue eyes that make you think she actually cares when she asks, "Are you alright?"
You look away because there's something in her tone that implies that she's not asking about your ankle. Maybe it's the moisture on your face—the streaks you're convinced are only sweat—there's no way they're tears.
"I'm fine," your voice is horse and dry from breathing so hard during the eleven and three quarters miles that you actually finished. Too bad it wasn't enough.
"Take off your gear and tell me what happened." She glances at the foot you've been subconsciously guarding with your hands. You give her the short of it while you take off your ruck, vest, and fish your patrol cap out of your cargo pocket so you can take your helmet off too.
You're very excited to see that you've sweat through your uniform top and you can't even start to imagine what your hair looks like. She looks like she always does, cool and collected. Her blonde hair pulled back into a bun that always has at least one little strand sticking out. Her patrol cap is cocked back on the top of her forehead in a manner that's gotten her into trouble every now and then. Usually, she's good about only doing it when it's just her and the soldiers.
Staff Sergeant (SSG) Pierce is one of the few female Non-Commissioned Officers in your company and leads the medical section. She's quiet, but not in a timid kind of way. She only says what she needs to exactly when she intends to. She doesn't talk to hear her own voice and you like that about her. From what you've heard from people in Headquarters Platoon, she's a fair leader and makes sure to take care of her people.
You wish your first line supervisor was interested in taking care of you.
"Hey Flan," she calls to the driver. "Come out here and help me get Lopez into the back of the truck."
Specialist (SPC) Flanagan, the junior medic in the company, is quick to move around the truck. Opening the double doors of the field ambulance and popping the cord to release the staircase into the working position.
"Can I touch you?"
You blink at the question. No one has ever asked you that before. The Army can be rough, and people are quick to rush in and put you where they need you. You're shoved into lines, through ranges, out of buses. You've never been asked before someone touched you. Hell, even in some medical appointments, it felt like the doctor was just trying to get it over with.
Your stomach turns a little. Is there a reason she asked? Would she ask anyone else? Does she know you're—
No. She was asking to be polite, because she's polite, and professional.
"Just to get you into the truck," she continues when you still haven't answered.
You can feel yourself blush. You're staring like an idiot. Hastily, you answer, "It's fine."
"Alright." She moves herself behind you. "Please, don't put any weight on your injured foot. I won't let you fall. Flan, could you grab her gear and throw it in my seat?"
That was another thing SSG Pierce was known for, being polite to her soldiers—she asks, she doesn't order. It was an implied order, obviously, because no one would ever say no, but it's nice that she tries.
He takes your stuff as she slips her arms under your armpits and you hope you don't smell as bad as you look. She doesn't seem to care that you're soaked with sweat. Maybe it's just the medic in her, medics are used to gross stuff. She lifts you into a standing position with an ease that makes your stomach flip as if she had dropped you. Carefully, she's able to get you into the back of the ambulance without putting your foot on the ground. All the litters have been tucked away and you sit on the bench where she wants you.
"Call the start point and see if there's anyone up there that needs to be checked out," she tells Flanagan as he appears at the double doors.
"Did you want me to shut these, Sergeant?"
"Yeah, in case we have to move, thanks."
The doors shut with a crisp clash of metal. There's a moment where the only thing that can be heard is your breathing, still heavy from the ruck march. The harsh florescent lights above you completely wash out SSG Pierce's skin, giving her an almost ghostly appearance. You watch her move along the bench opposite from you, unzipping her large aid bag and laying it out flat. You shiver, the air conditioning catching your damp clothes in the worst way.
She looks back at you. "Can you take off your boot?"
You can feel a throbbing against your boot and you really don't want to take it off, to face this reality. You start moving anyway. Even your laces are moist from your perspiration and you've never felt so unattractive in your life. It's almost as embarrassing as falling out with only a quarter mile to go. You heave off your boot with a choked groan. It hurt as much as you thought it was going to.
"And your sock," she coaxes gently. She takes the boot from you and scoots forward in the bench to get a good look.
"My feet are probably really gross," you mumble gruffly.
"I've seen worse." She's smiling but if what you've heard around the company is true, she's not joking. You eye the deployment patch on her shoulder as you rip off you sock. With it comes a painful bit of skin that you wish was still attached to your heel.
She's asking if she can touch you again. This time you almost say no because her hands are too pretty and delicate to touch your gross, bleeding, mangled foot.
You nod because it's all you can do.
After a dose of hand sanitizer, she's quick to take your foot in her hand. She's gentle enough to be reassuring, and firm enough for you to realize she quite comfortable with other people's feet. It's oddly intimidating. Medics are a weird breed. She makes a note of the blister on your heel with a muttered, "Jeez."
You haven't heard a word like that in a really long time. There's something about it that's innocent and good natured in a way that you've never been. Sometimes you feel like the way people speak in the Army is harsh and unforgiving. The more swear words you can throw in the better, and don't even bother keeping up a vocabulary level, all the Army needs are acronyms.
"They're telling me someone needs an IV," Flanagan calls back from the driver's seat.
SSG Pierce rolls her eyes at that. "Tell them to drink water and we'll be right there."
He goes about his task and she focuses back on hers. She's detailed with her examination, but it was hardly necessary, your ankle is already turning a nasty color and swollen.
"Push against my palm," she directs. You try to point your toes against her hand but can't without it hurting too much. She can see the cringe on your face and tells you to stop. "Well, your range of motion is crap, and you can't put any weight on it."
Funnily enough, you had that figured out.
"I want you to go to the hospital today for an x-ray, and you're going to have to go on profile until—"
"I can't," you say it before you can think better of it. "I can't go on profile—" Her eyes skate up to yours from where she is wrapping your ankle and you amend the statement to finish with, "—Sergeant."
"You're not going to Air Assault School on an ankle like this."
Your hate motivation is coming back in the worst way, morphing into a hate guilt trip about how stupid you are for not seeing the rock.
"You need to let this heal so you can go next cycle," her tone is a little softer and you suck your bottom lip into your mouth and look at the ceiling. You want to cry.
"It's not just—it's not just that stupid school," you mumble because there's no way Flanagan can hear you from the driver's seat, the truck is so loud. "I don't want to be that stupid girl in the back of the formation because I'm a broken piece of shit. Our PT test is coming up and I need to—"
"Brushing off this injury isn't going to get you any closer to proving yourself."
You hate that she just called you out like that. Half the time you act like you don't care because for the most part, no matter how hard you work, you're still running in circles. You're still not Air Assault qualified, you don't have the highest physical fitness test (PT Test) scores, you only got the expert marksmanship badge by one point.
You're still just a girl with a bad attitude.
Apparently, she's noticed the times when you actually tried, or maybe she had been in your shoes once. You steal a look at the rank on her chest, wondering if it's easier for medics. You want her rank, you want the stripes instead of the shield you're wearing. You wish the people in your unit treated you like they treat her.
She finishes wrapping your ankle as the ambulance pulls into the parking lot you started at.
She breaks an icepack and hands it to you. "Put that on your ankle. Who's your NCO?"
You give her the information she wants and she climbs out of the truck. You listen to her feet walk away on the gravel and overhear her telling Flanagan to check on the rest of the soldiers. You sit back against the metal wall of the ambulance and wish you were one of them.
After getting your x-ray, you find out that it isn't broken, but the amount of bruising and swelling suggests a crazy bad sprain. They give you a profile and, to add insult to injury, you're put on crutches.
There are snickers and jeers as you hobble your way down the company hallway to get to the medic's office. You already checked in with your NCO, and he told you to take a copy of your profile to them because they track that stuff.
The door is open and welcoming, very unlike your platoon office that feels like a shark tank.
She looks up from her computer as you walk in, a smile comes to her face and for a moment you think she's going to make fun of you too.
"I knew you were smart." She stands to meet you because she knows you're inconvenienced to move. "Do they need you right now? Or can you hang out for a second?"
"I have time, Sergeant," you mumble. Honestly, you're looking for an excuse to not go back to the rest of your squad.
"Good, go ahead and sit down." She takes your profile and you sit in the chair next to her desk awkwardly shuffling with your crutches.
It's a larger office than your platoon office, because medics have a lot of... stuff. The room is lined with wall lockers, shelves of medical supplies, litters standing in the corner, boxes on top of everything. The second desk in the office is SPC Flanagan's. You're jealous that he has his own desk. His own space in this office where he can almost appear to be an equal.
"So, this profile is for three weeks," she reads it and is making a copy while she talks. "Just a sprain then?"
"You don't have to do that," she laughs quietly. "Not in here, this is a safe space. You can relax."
You don't know what she means, and you don't want to offend or disrespect her, so you just keep quiet. You watch her fingers tap on the side of the copy machine as she waits for her papers to print. Today's stray bit of hair is tucked behind her ear, waving in the breeze coming from the window. You're not sure how she's able to make that uniform look so... slimming? It fits her thin frame in flattering manner. She should be on one of those recruitment posters. Your uniform makes you look like you've gained twenty pounds.
When she's done making copies she moves back to her desk, pulling out the big book of profiles, and flips to the blue tab. "Third Platoon, right?"
If it wasn't her job to know, you would be flattered. "Yes, Sergeant."
She glances at you because she literally just told you that you don't have to do that, but some habits die hard.
"I like your platoon," she admits, tucking a copy of your profile into a document protector. "It has the least amount of profiles, and not because they want to be hooah," she says the word with a little eye roll, "and tough it out."
You're not proud to be one of the few people on profile. Now you feel guilty for hurting your platoon's reputation.
"Now." She put away her book away and looks at you. "Specialist Lopez."
Swallowing the tightness that has sprang up in your throat, you make sure you keep her eyes.
"I would really like it if you stayed off your ankle for at least two of your three-week profile. Think of it as a favor to me."
She says it like it's an option, and you nod because it's that or give her another yes, Sergeant.
The smile she sends you is genuine, and you can't stop yourself from dropping your eyes to her lips to appreciate it. Then you drop your eyes altogether because you can't be staring at her lips. That's just wrong on so many levels.
"I asked around, and the dates have been released for the next Air Assault School after your recovery time." She shuffles through some papers on her desk, honestly the whole thing is a mess. She finally finds the paper and hands it to you. "I made up a recuperation schedule for you, and I've already given it to your platoon. It took a little convincing, I'm not going to lie, but I got your squad leader on board."
Your name is typed at the top, and after the two-week profile phase, there's about three weeks of recovery PT drills to get you into shape for another qualifier. You look up at her, asking yourself why you become a medic so you could have worked for someone that actually cares about soldiers.
"Now, it's really important that you stay off of it, and do all the ice and compression stuff I put in there, so you can recover in time, and hopefully," she gives you one more smile, excited that she found a way to get you to follow your profile limitations, "we'll be able to get you your wings."
You stay off your ankle like your life depended on it, hobbling everywhere you go with your head held high. Each time she passes you in the halls, or during formation, she gives you this proud little smile, that makes you feel like this wasn't about Air Assault School, or even getting better. It makes you feel like you are doing this just for her... and maybe you are.