It was late at night as T'Phai quietly paced outside the gate to the Zegema Beach base camp. He was performing 3rd shift sentry duty. Pvt. Flores has remarked that he had pulled the short straw which had puzzled him. There had been no straws to pull so he didn't understand how it was possible that he had received the shortest one.

Humans were so confusing.

Hearing the gate behind him open, he turned to see Sgt. Brutto coming out. He quickly stood at attention and saluted.

"Calm your Skinny butt down." He said, coming to stand besides the Colonel, "It's just the two of us out here."

Relaxing, T'Phai went back to his duty. "What has brought you out so early? Lt. Razak said you were to relieve me of my post at 0300. You are three hours early, Sergeant."

"Meh, I couldn't sleep. So I figured I'd give you some company." He took a seat on the ground and began to look out at the forest.

T'Phai took notice that Sgt. Brutto's shoulders were slumped and his normal rough expression was weathered and worried. He could see a slip of paper sticking out of one of the Sgt.'s utility packs.

"Did you receive a letter from home, Sgt. Brutto?"

"Huh? Oh, yeah. They did mail call just after we got back from patrol."

He nodded. "I see, was it bad news then? You look troubled."

"Not really, just frustrated." Taking his helmet off, Brutto ran a hand through his hair and gave a loud sigh. "My wife sent me Max's last report card and it wasn't so good. I'm just worried that he'll blow his chances at a good school."

T'phai gave a nod of understanding.

"I had hoped this was just a phase of his and he'd grow out it but things are worse now that I'm not there to straighten him out." Brutto glanced at T'Phai, "Do your kids give you any problems, Colonel?"

"Of course," He stated. "My son is not so different than yours. He has a very strong will and does not like being told what do too. He takes after my mate more so than I."

"You said your wife was a soldier. How did the two of you meet up?"

"She was one of the guards that was assigned to me after I was named Village leader. I found her striking but I am of the merchant class that managed to rise in the ranks of the military. L'War is from an elite warrior class. Our elders were not enthusiastic about the union. What of your mate?" T'Phai enquired, "How did you meet her?"

"Blind date," The Sgt. Began to smile. "Some friends set us up. I can honestly say that I was crazy about her from day one; she wasn't so crazy about me though. It took me a couple of months to prove that she should at least give me a chance."

"I do not understand. Humans do not choose their mates by scent?"

"Ugh, no. I'm pretty sure my scent was one of the reasons she didn't want to be around me."

T'Phai just blinked at Brutto. "Then how do humans know if the mate they bond with is the one they are most compatible with?"

"I'm sure it's different for everyone, but with me I felt…really happy whenever I was around her. One of my buddies said I looked like a puppy when we'd meet up."

"I find it highly unlikely that you ever looked like a young Earth canine."

With an exasperated sigh, Brutto shook his head. "It's a figure of speech. Anyway, we weren't exactly planning on getting married. It was just fun."

"If it was 'just fun', why did the two of you become bonded?"

Sheepishly, Brutto rubbed the back of his neck. "A few stupid decisions on our part forced us into tying the knot."

"I'm afraid I don't follow. Why did you and your mate tie a knot? Is that another human custom?"

Leaning back, Brutto shook his head. "No T'Phai, it's just another saying. It means we got married."

"If you did not plan on 'tying the knot', why did you?"

"Because, given what happened, it was the right thing to do. I wasn't going to leave her to do everything by herself."

"What happened was the conception of your son, correct?"

Brutto gave T'Phai a glance and nodded. "Yeah, don't get me wrong, I love them both. I just wish we had waited a little longer. Maybe things would be a little better."

"Things happen for a reason, Sgt. Brutto. It may not make sense at the moment, but one day it will be clear." T'Phai spoke, "Situations like yours are not uncommon back on Tophet. Emotions and urges take over and common sense is cast aside. L'War and I were guilty of giving into such feelings before we were bonded."

"Thanks T'Phai…" Grumbled Brutto, "I really needed that mental image."

"Your sarcasm is not lost to me."

"Joy." Pulling out his data pad, Brutto called up one of the few images of his family he carried with him. "I said I'd be coming back. That I was too mean to die but now, now I realize how stupid it was for me to say that."

T'Phai nodded. "Yes, it was."

Dumbfounded, Brutto glared at T'Phai.

"It was unintelligent to say you were coming back," T'Phai began, "But it is important for their wellbeing and morale to have hope. It was the right thing to do. I told my children and clan the same thing before enlisting in the Federal Service."

Brutto looked at the photo again. "Yeah. I guess I'm just worried about what will happen to them if something happens to me."

"I worry about that as well, I know my children are protected by my clan and if something happens to me they will be well taken care of but not being able to watch them grow or help them when they stumble is a fear that I have."

"I hear ya." Brutto sighed.

T'Phai looked down at the photo that Brutto held and pulled out his own to show him.

As he looked at the photo, Brutto couldn't really tell which one was which. To him all Skinny's kind of looked the same. "Um…you can see that they take after you, Colonel."

He nodded and looked back to Brutto's photo. "The boy looks like his mother."

"Yeah, sadly the rest he got from me." He sighed, "I had hoped all her good qualities would be dominate gene wise over all the stupid ones that run rampant on my side."

The Colonel remained quiet for several moments. "I believe you do not give yourself credit. It is obvious you care about your clan. You fight to protect them and guard their wellbeing. That is a very important quality as a father and as a soldier."

"Thanks buddy."

"Not a problem. You still have an hour before you are to take over. Would you like to go back and rest?"

"If it's all the same to you, I think I'm gonna stay out here. It's um…nice to have someone else who can understand where I'm coming from."

T'Phai nodded, "Agreed. Back on Tophet few officers were bonded and fewer of them had children. They are able to understand you as a soldier but as a father or husband, they are unable to see the world as you see it."

"Tell me about it. Most of the guys I know are career so a lot of them never got married. Not many joined for the reasons I did either."

Tilting his head to the side, T'Phai looked back at Brutto. "You did not join for citizenship then?"

"No, I was 18, married and had a kid on the way. I couldn't go to school so I enlisted. I had other options, but that one was the best for them. I could put food on the table and a roof over their heads. I could care less about voting, politics aren't my thing."

T'Phai just nodded. To him, it was obvious that the Sergeant needed the understanding of another husband, another father.

"They tell me I've got to be a soldier first and put everything else aside, but it's not that easy for me. They're the reason I'm out here, I can't help but think about them."

"I would be rather unsettled if you did not worry about your loved ones first," Interjected T'Phai. "While you must obey orders and carry out your duties as a soldier, your first concern is your family and returning to them safely while ensuring all those under you return safely to their loved ones as well. I think that being a father might be an asset in your rank."

Nodding, Brutto stood up and put his helmet back on. "Thanks a lot T'Phai. You might as well get back to the barracks and get some rest now. And hey…could you not say anything about this to the other guys?"

T'Phai nodded and saluted the Sergeant. "Do not worry, Sgt. Brutto. I will not discuss this with the others." As he left, T'Phai could see Brutto draw himself up to full height as he began his watch. Their exchange had done as much as it had for the Sergeant's state of mind as it had for the Colonel. It was welcoming to know that if he had any troubles from his clan, he could relate them to someone else.