September 10th, 2015

Peter had grown to love his vz. 58 P. It had gotten him through his first mission without a scratch so of course he'd feel nostalgic about it. Maybe that's why he didn't feel right with the AK-74M that was slung over his shoulder. He also wasn't happy with the image that stared back at him from the full sized mirror on the back of his bedroom door. He was dressed in an Estovakian combat uniform. According to his papers he was Junior Sergeant Vasily Grechko. It wasn't hard to swipe a Stovie soldier off the street and take his uniform. There were so many drunk Estovakians stumbling around at night it made it too easy. He still didn't like the way he looked. Despite the uniform making him look sharp something didn't seem right about wearing the same clothes the enemy wore. He was so caught up with the person in the mirror he jumped when someone knocked on the door. LeAnn opened it a little and stuck her head in.

"Jesus." she said coming in and closing the door behind her. "I never knew you looked so sexy in uniform."

"Don't get use to it. Where's the baby?" Peter said fixing his collar. It was still crooked when he was done. LeAnn took it upon herself to make it straight.

"He's by my mom's. I wanted him there just in case….just in case something happens." LeAnn looked at the well shined combat boots Peter now wore. "What if something happens?" LeAnn murmured still looking down.

Peter lifted her head up by putting his hand under her chin and pushing gently. "Nothing will happen to me. I promise." LeAnn's amber eyes seemed to stare right into Peter's soul seeking a hint of falsehood. She put a hand on side of Peter's face and let it rest there.

"I'm taking your word for that. Just please come back to me." LeAnn said conforming her body to Peter's. She pushed herself up on her tip toes and pressed her lips against her husband's. They embraced for a short period of time before breaking apart. LeAnn's eyes watered.

"What?" Peter asked concerned. LeAnn managed a smile, a fake one but a smile none the less.

"Nothing." she said wiping the tears away. "Carter and Jack are waiting for you in the living room. You should go."

Peter looked at the depressed expression on LeAnn's face. Did she really think something is going to happen? "I'll be back as soon as I can." Peter said running a hand through her hair.

"Okay." LeAnn muttered and went into the bathroom. Peter felt a sinking feeling as he heard her muffled sobs. Fist balled, Peter walked briskly out the room. Carter wore normal civilian clothes and looked bored out of his mind. He kept running a hand over his bald head and tapped his fingers on the cheap wooden table. Jack on the other hand looked vibrant as ever. He looked strange to Peter in an Estovakian colonel's uniform but to any other Stovie he'd look like one of their own. It had been a little tougher and easier to snag a colonel. The hardest part was luring him out. Louis had discovered that one of the Stovie colonels had a love for little boys. It was difficult to get him away from his body guards but once they got him to the poorer part of the city where Stovie units tried to avoid it was all too easy.

A sly smile crept across Jack's face when he saw Peter. "Nadeyus vy eto ponimayete, tovarishch." Peter said in perfect Estovakian. I hope you understand this, comrade.

"Da. Mne trebuyetsya neskolʹko sekund, chtoby perevesti khotya." Peter replied. Yes. It takes me a few seconds to translate though. His Estovakian accent was….decent to say the least.

"Enough Stovie talk." Carter said shaking his head doggedly. "I think we're behind schedule." The trio checked their watches and went to walk out the door. Carter went out first to make sure none of the other of the apartment tenants were outside. They couldn't be 100% sure that none of their fellow Emmerians would rat them out to the Stovies so they had to be careful. Carter proclaimed the coast was clear after a thorough walk through. Peter, feeling alien as ever, stepped out followed by Jack.

"How much time we have?" Carter asked.

"Thirty minutes until the first planes touch down. That should give us plenty of time." Jack said as he put on his lavish officer's cap. Peter, being a junior sergeant, put on his utility cover as well.

"I'll see you guys later. We should have everything set up by the time you bring your friends." Carter said. He wished Jack and Peter luck and the group split into two groups. As Peter walked down the steps he wondered where Jack was going. He'd saw someone drop off a decent sized pipe bomb but Peter couldn't see how that would fit into their plan. He decided it was best not to think about it for now as he got to the sidewalk. Jack never did anything for no reason. If he had a pipe bomb delivered it was because they'd need it not because he wanted one.

He felt out of place wearing the Stovie uniform. His fellow citizens gave him dirty looks and crossed to the other side of the street when he went by. It surprised him that no one recognized him but all the bulky gear he had on made him look a lot bigger than he really was. His hair was properly tucked under his cap and he tried to make his face as mean looking as possible.

It only took five minutes to get to where he wanted to be. He only had a few minutes to have to do what he needed to do and get out of there. The old lady that swept the sidewalk in front of a tailor paid him no mind as he walked in. A bell attached to the door announced his presence and the smell of new leather filled his nose. An old man hobbled out of the back room with yellow measuring tape draped around his neck. His wrinkled face looked like he'd been there and done that and when he did it it was worse. His grey hair protruded this way and that making him look like an evil scientist.

"What can I do for ya?" Roger Davis, or as Peter knew him Uncle Roger, said propping his elbows up on the counter. Roger's normally squinted eyes widened when he saw his great nephew in the foreign uniform.

"Hey." Peter said smiling awkwardly and took off his utility cover off.

An Estovakian soldier emerged from one of the dressing rooms and checked himself out in the mirror. He grumbled something and went to the counter. "Dobryy denʹ." the Stovie said pulling out his wallet and placing several bills on the counter. Good day.

"Deystvitelʹno khoroshiy denʹ." Peter replied. A good day indeed. It was pretty chilly inside but Peter felt sweat running down his back. Luckily the Stovie adjusted his belt and walked out. Peter waited until the door closed to ask in a hushed tone, "Any more of them?"

"No." Roger said picking up the printer paper like bills and depositing them in a cash register. "I'm getting real tired of this god damn occupation money. Ain't worth wiping my ass with!" Peter couldn't help but laugh at his great uncle's colourful language. Roger set his gaze on Peter. "Come over here and give me a hug. I haven't seen you since those sons of a crippled horses came around." Peter walked around the counter and hugged the much shorter man. Despite his frail appearance Roger squeezed Peter in a bear hug and lifted him off the ground.

"I thought you were kidding when you said you wrestled sharks in the Navy. Some kind of grip old man." Peter said beaming when he was on his own two feet.

"Kid's stories." Roger said smiling. He had a smile that made his whole face squinch up and his eyes squinty. "I wrestled whales." Roger said sounding almost serious. That made Peter crack up. "Now would you like to tell me why you dressed up like a damn Stovie or is it All Hollow's Eve all ready? Don't tell me you done hopped in bed with those assholes." Peter stopped smiling.

"Pretend you didn't see me in this uniform. I need your help with something though." Peter said. He looked around nervously. If a Estovakian decided to walk in now to get his trousers fitted than he was screwed.

"Anything my boy!" Roger boomed louder than Peter would have liked. Peter dug into his boot and pulled out a piece of paper. Roger took it and spread it out. He opened a draw and pulled out a pair of glasses with lenses that looked three inches thick. His wrinkles reminded Peter of canyons as he scanned the letter. "Does LeAnn know about this?" Roger said becoming serious. Peter just shook his head too ashamed to speak. "I know a place. It will have to wait until the store closes."

"That's fine. Thanks Uncle Roger." Peter said putting his cover on.

"Let's call it me paying you back for taking down those Stovies at that gun shop." Roger said.

"How'd you know who did it?" Peter asked concerned. If someone had told his great uncle that meant people knew he did it. If people knew he did it than there was a chance he'd be visited in the middle of the night by a squad of not too happy Estovakians.

Roger's chapped lips formed another smile. "Boy I was born at night but sure as hell not last night. You just be careful. I'll take care of LeAnn. You just worry about yourself and the people fighting next to ya."

Peter nodded and walked out. Just as he did a group of Stovies walked in. He took the rifle off its sling and cradled it in his arms. Now he needed to look like your average Estovakian on patrol. He'd practiced his tough guy walk at home but never in full combat gear. Peter squared his shoulders and took longer strides than normal. The webbing around his inner thigh still chaffed and rubbed his skin raw. Peter had to admit he felt like a complete badass. The way people crossed to the other side of the street when they saw him coming and never looked him in the eye made him feel superior. No wonder the Stovies were so cocky.

A BMP-3 ground to a halt next to him. Peter was showered by tiny bits of concrete as the tracked vehicle pulverized the road trying to stop. He looked up the Stovie standing on the turret and struggled to remember any of the Estovakian he'd picked up over the last few days. The Estovakian was standing with his back to the sun so Peter couldn't make out his face.

"Privetstvuyut vas bespoleznoy sobaka!" the Stovie barked in a deep, booming voice. Salute you worthless dog! Peter stood ramrod straight and saluted smartly. All he could do was hold his breath and hope that no one alerted the Estovakians of his visit to the tailor. Now that he thought of it he should have bought a pair of shoelaces or something so it didn't look like he went in there for nothing.

"Ya proshu proshcheniya tovarishcha." Peter said in his best Estovakian doing his best to stress certain syllables and let others roll off his tongue. I apologize comrade.

"Tovarishch polkovnik k vam." the officer growled. Comrade colonel to you. Peter's hand cramped a little as he still held his salute. He was dealing with a colonel. For all he knew this man could bring him back to wherever he was stationed at and question him. Peter would eventually mess up and he'd be detained for more thorough questioning.

Then it hit Peter. If this man was a colonel then maybe….

Peter slowly tilted his hand so that it blocked the sun. When Jack's face came into focus Peter felt as if someone had just taken a massive weight off his chest. Jack looked different to Peter though. His face was puckered up like he'd been hit in the stomach or ate a lemon whole. An unlit cigarette hung limply from the corner of his mouth (mind you Jack didn't smoke) and a permanent frown scarred his face.

"Sadisʹ U nas yestʹ povstantsy , chtoby ubitʹ." Jack said jerking a thumb towards the back of the vehicle. Get in. We have insurgents to kill. Peter obliged and headed towards the rear of the BMP-3. The doors split open revealing a partial squad of five Estovakian soldiers. They all looked the same age as Peter and extremely unpleased at being in the cramped crew bay. Peter ducked his head as he entered the bay nodding to a few of the soldiers. They didn't try to make any conversation as the doors closed and they were swallowed by darkness. A few of the soldiers opened the firing ports letting in streams of light when the BMP lurched forward. The silence left Peter alone in his own thoughts. Immediately his mind went to LeAnn.

She'd think he abandoned her and the baby. Peter knew for a fact she wouldn't enjoy where she was going. His great uncle would go to their house right around curfew. A little before to make sure the fewest number of people would see. Most civilians were inside a bit early to avoid confrontations with Stovies who had quick watches and the Estovakians would be rotating shifts around that time. If Gracemeria was ever a ghost town it would be then.

"My sobirayemsya v gorod Emma?" one of the Stovies asked as he thumbs a cigarette out of a soft pack. We going to Emma Town? Peter smiled inwardly when the other soldier exchanged worried glances. Emma was the nickname for most if not all Emmerians. Emma Town was the poorer part of Gracemeria that Estovakians rarely went. The Resistance had a strong foothold in Emma Town so whenever a Stovie patrol goes through they can count on taking some fire. The Stovie response to this was slowly and methodically demolishing tattered apartment building by tattered apartment building reducing the size of Emma Town. At first engineers tried to lay explosives in and around each building but snipers and bounding mines stopped that. Now they used IMR-3s equipped with metal plows. Those get knocked out every once in a while too. It took a dedicated hunter-killer team with RPG-30 to slip past the Estovakian perimeter, hit the IMR-3 from behind, and escape.

"Pokhozhe na to." one Stovie said looking out the firing port. "Vy mozhete posmotretʹshlyukh , poetomu my dolzhny bytʹ." It seems. You can see the whores so we must be.

"Mozhet bytʹ, my mozhem poluchitʹ nashi khui sosatʹ , poka my zdesʹ." the Stovie that was smoking said. The other Estovakians chuckled and even Peter forced himself to. Maybe we can get our dicks sucked while we're here. Peter felt rage boil his insides. These so called 'whores' were doing what they had to do to survive. People couldn't afford to eat out like in the pre-invasion days and without customers most restaurants were forced to close. Even if people had money the restaurants couldn't get enough ingredients to make whatever they needed. The Estovakians liked to ration food and keep whatever was left over. The rationing meant that a lot of people went hungry now. Some women went as far as sleeping with the Stovie soldiers just to get a meal. It sickened Peter and made him hate the invaders more. He couldn't show it though. At the moment he kept an impassive look on his face and tried to ignore the revolting phrases they were shouting at the women on almost every corner. Thankfully their calls stopped when the BMP stopped.

The Estovakians racked the bolts on their weapons and got ready. The split doors groaned open flooding the troop bay with light. They stumbled out into the street and quickly fanned out. The half starving civilians cast the men a glance and started disappearing into building and alleys.

"YA ne lyublyu etogo." one of the Stovies said peering around with narrow eyes. I don't like this.

"YA ne dayuyebatʹ, chto vam ne nravitsya!" Jack barked as he jumped down. To help make his officer appearance more realistically he carried an AKS-74U. "Vy tuda, kuda , chert vozʹmi ya vam skazhu." I do not give a fuck what you like. You go wherever the fuck I tell you to. The soldier gave Jack a dirty look and Jack stared right back daring him to do anything. Needless to say the soldier looked down first. Peter spotted a small boy poking his head out the alley. He couldn't have been older than nine or ten. He was bonier than kids his age in the pre-war days; another effect of the damn rationing. Despite looking like a skeleton he hefted a L81A1 that was taller than him up to his shoulder. Peter hoped that the kid didn't get noticed and he wouldn't think Jack or himself a Stovie.

CRACK

The Stovie who said some rather profane things about Peter's fellow Emmerian women fell to the ground. His comrades twirled around and fired. Too late. The kid had already disappeared into the alley. The Stovies turned their guns on whatever civilian they saw.

"Derzhite ogonʹ!" Jack yelled. "Derzhite ogonʹ!" Hold fire! Hold fire! After a few more frantic shouts the soldiers lowered their smoking weapons. Fifteen people, ranging in age from twelve to seventy, lay sprawled out on the street with pools of blood spreading underneath them. Jack banged on the side of the BMP. The commander popped out of his hatch and looked down at the dead Stovie. Jack and the commander exchanged a few words. They were speaking too fast for Peter to mentally translate but he caught on that Jack was ordering the commander to do something. The commander and gunner hopped off the BMP and dragged the dead soldier into the back of the vehicle. Jack turned around towards the panicky soldiers. "My vse yeshche mozhem poymatʹ nemnogo yebatʹ. Davayte dvigatʹsya!" We can still get the little fucker. Let's go! Jack led the group in a fast jog down the alley.

Peter noticed from the start that this alley wasn't like most in Gracemeria. This one had so many twists and turns it was like a maze. If it wasn't for Jack he was sure he would have gotten lost. Jack led them into a wide courtyard that was covered in trash. Everything from faded posters for a concert two years ago to dirty mattresses and everything in between littered the ground. They fanned out a little looking at the filth in disgust. Peter figured the Stovies thought this was what all of Emmeria looked like.

"Kudapoyti nemnogo derʹma?" one of the Stovie soldiers said stepping forward cautiously. Where did the little shit go? The Stovies scanned the blank walk that towered over them and pointed their rifles at every dusty window. No sign of the boy. The Stovies were so busy searching for the young sniper that they didn't notice Jack and Peter slip behind them.

Suddenly the stained mattresses flipped over revealing spider holes dug into the concrete. Hooded resistance members materialized amongst the trash completely surrounding the Stovies. "Polozhitʹ oruzhiye vniz!" one of them shouted in barely understandable Estovakian. The soldiers spun around to see Jack and Peter aiming their weapons at them. Peter stifled a laugh when he saw the expression on their faces. They looked shocked and angry as they lay their rifles on the ground. Carter walked over to Peter and Jack armed with his MAT-49. He pulled the black balaclava he had over his mouth down revealing a smile.

"Took you guys long enough. I actually took a piss in my spider hole waiting on you two." Carter jerked a thumb towards the Stovies. "The hell are we gonna do with those them?"

Jack narrowed his eyes and looked at the prisoners. "We need Estovakian uniforms right?" Carter nodded his head. "Razdevaysya ! Ostavitʹ na vashem bokserov!" Jack shouted. Take off your clothes! Leave on your boxers! The oldest of group, one that was maybe a year older than Peter, looked at Jack frowning. Jack pointed at the ground with his carbine to show where he wanted to the clothes to be.

"Eto ne spravedlivo!" the oldest spat as he undid his belt. This isn't fair.

"What he say?" Carter asked. Jack told him and Carter laughed. "It wasn't exactly fair when you damn Stovies used burst missiles to wipe out half our damn air force." Carter said looking directly at the oldest soldier. He mumbled something in return. Carter brought his submachine gun up to his shoulder and growled, "What did you say mother fucker?"

The Stovie poked out his chest and crossed his arms. A startling act of defiance but when the Stovie let his pants go they dropped around his ankles. "Poshel na khuy." Fuck you.

The other Stovies dived to the side as Carter lit the defiant Stovie up. The report of the MAT-49 was echoed off the walls loudly. Hot shell casing sizzled as they landed in dirty puddles. The Estovakian fell backwards onto a mattress. Carter swapped out magazines and walked off not saying another word.

"Such a hothead." Jack said rolling his eyes. "That's one less uniform we can use. The Stovies waiting for us back at the BMP probably heard that. I'm going to go tell them everything is fine. Can you get some of these guys changed out so we can jack the BMP?"

"No problem." Peter said shouldering his rifle. Jack looked at the body, sighed, and jogged off. "Okay," Peter said sounding a lot more confident than he felt. "Someone get these prisoners out of here. If they try to run shoot them. Check the sizes of those uniforms. If you fit them put them on. Males only please. Stovies don't allow women to serve as infantry." He thought about what would happen to the boxer clad prisoners as they were led into a cellar. Probably brutally interrogated to see if they knew anything important. They'd most likely be killed afterwards and their bodies would be dumped in front of the airbase as to say "This is what happens to invaders". The last one was about to disappear into the cellar. He looked back at Peter. No way the Stovie was older than sixteen. His bumpy acne scarred face reminded Peter of most of the kids he went to high school with. The Stovie's eyes were red and brimming with tears. He knew what was going to happen. His bleary eyes stared right into Peter's for a split second before being forcefully shoved down the steps. For the first time since the invasion began, Peter felt bad for what he had done.

000

Stas liked many things about being in the Estovakian Army. He liked the order, the uniforms, and warm cots when you weren't on maneuvers. One thing he didn't like though was the food. When he was younger and the Civil War was still in full swing he was forced to eat many things. Horses, dogs, cats, and ferrets. Once, when they were forced to hide in the sewers for three months because of constant bombing from Eastern Faction bombers, he was forced to eat human meat. His mother told him it was rabbit but he'd eaten rabbit before. That tasted nothing like rabbit. Army food was one step up from eating human. He didn't have to worry about that now. Mrs. McKellar cooked like a master chef.

"What did you say this was called again?" Stas asked spearing a piece of meat on his fork and put it in his mouth. It looked like it would be dry and tasteless (like any meat served in field kitchens) but it was anything but. An explosion of flavor attacked his taste buds. Despite its dry looking appearance it was juicy and tender. He absolutely loved it.

"Beef brisket." Alexis said as she cut her piece of brisket into smaller pieces and smiling sincerely. "My mom taught me how to cook it when I was ten."

Stas' face seemed to light up when he ate another piece. "They should make you the company cook. Our morale would surely go up if we ate this every day. Don't you think so Sergeant Major Kamorov?" Sergeant Major Yuri was the only one who sat at the table rigidly. His movements seemed almost robotic as he mixed his mashed potatoes with gravy.

"It is sufficient." he mumbled. That was enough for Stas. If Sergeant Major Yuri didn't insult something right away it meant he liked it no matter what else he said.

A pea flew across the table a bounced off Stas' nose. Stas sat up straight in his seat surprised but then laughed. Young Madison sat across from him loading another pea into her fork. A glare from Louis made sure she didn't launch it. Instead she plopped it in her mouth. When everyone was finished eating Alexis collected all the plates and went into the kitchen to wash them. Louis headed up to his room and Sergeant Major Yuri went to his living room to clean his rifle. Madison led Stas up to her room.

As usual Madison pulled out her art set and they started painting. Madison drew a house that was considerably better than what most five year olds could. The picture was happy with flowers in front the house and many bright colours. Stas drew a T-90 tank stopped in the middle of a ruined street. A squad of his fellow soldiers sat on the hull beckoning to a pretty woman in a tattered red dress. You couldn't see the woman's face because she wasn't facing him but the soldiers. In one hand she held a yellow flower out like a symbol of peace. The other hand was behind her back and held something more sinister. She held a detonator that led to explosives strapped to her. But the explosives were under her dress. All the soldiers saw was a pretty girl in the red dress. Stas purposely left the back of the woman's dress torn so whoever saw this picture would know the deadly package she carried. "The Woman in Red" was what he would call it.

"Stas?" Madison asked as she carefully filled in flower petal.

"Yes my little sneg krolika?" Stas replied. Stas had grown close to Madison to the point where he called her sneg krolika. It meant snow rabbit in Estovakian.

"Why did you come here? You shut down my school and killed my friend's dad. You are my best friend and all but why did your country have to come here." Stas stopped painting and felt the brush fall from his hands. Such a complex question asked by a five year old who probably didn't even know where Estovakia was on a map. How could he explain exactly why his country invaded to such a simple minded child?

"I…I can't answer that. I'm sorry." Stas said picking up the paintbrush. His painting wasn't ruined. It did have a red splotch on the corner but that wasn't too bad. He went to add the final touches but Madison put her tiny hand on his. Stas looked down at her and resisted the urge to cry. Madison had this look on her face. She looked sadder than he'd ever seen her.

"I want you to make me a promise." Madison said squeezing his hand.

"Anything sneg krolika."

"Promise me you won't hurt anyone. You can't just promise though you have to pinky promise." Madison held out her pinkie and waited for Stas to wrap his pinky. When he didn't she frowned deeply.

"You know I can't do that." Stas said slowly. He wanted her to understand the first time so he wouldn't have to be burdened with doing it again. "I'm a soldier. My job is to hurt people."

"No!" Madison yelled slapping Stas' hand like a mother would with a small child. "The job of a soldier is to protect people and make the world fair." The passion in Madison's voice was overwhelming. How could she think of something that…..complicated.

"I'll protect you. That much I can promise. I won't let a thing happen to you or your mommy and daddy." Stas said as he picked her up.

"Pinky promise?" Madison asked holding out her pinky again. This time Stas did wrap his pinky around her pinky. Madison frowned again.

"You have a stain on your uniform. You really are a messy eater." Stas looked down and got plucked in the nose. Stas' sneg krolika roared with laughter.

000

Even though Louis had his door closed he heard his daughter's laughter. It bothered him a great deal that his daughter was best friends with the enemy. Or maybe it wasn't. It was possible Madison could get some information from Stas. It wouldn't be anything too important but every bit counts. No. His family was already in enough danger. He didn't need to put them in any more. Louis really had two choices. He could continue doing as he was doing and support the resistance and the Emmerian government, his adoptive country, as a whole putting his family in danger now but if the Emmerians won making sure they were safe in the future. On the other hand he could support the Estovakians, the defilers of his new homeland, and secure safety for his family now but if the Emmerians won they'd be in danger later on. There was no in between. Sooner or later you'd be forced to pick a side.

He knew which side he was on now. He was on the good side. Or at least he hoped it was the good side. Some of the things he'd heard the resistance doing made him regret supporting them. He knew he had no room to talk. He pulled out his fair share of teeth during the Circum-Pacific War and it still bothered him to this day. The resistance wasn't anywhere near the same level as the SIS but he couldn't deny they were growing. And he was helping the organization grow. He specialized in logistics. Whenever the resistance needed explosives; he got however much was needed and then some to wherever it needed to go. Whenever they needed more weapons; he was the one who dug up an under protected weapon storage site to raid. Whenever they need a place to hide those weapons; is the one who finds an abandoned lot or a backyard garden to put them.

At the moment Louis was trying to find a way to get orders to another cell across the city. They couldn't use the landlines. Stovies had those bugged to kingdom come. Same with e-mail. The Estovakians were trying to jam cell phone signals doing so with great success. He knew exactly how they did it. They had an Il-76PP flying over the city in random patterns. The converted military transport was going to be damn near impossible to take down. Maybe if they borrowed a crop duster from a farmer out in the countryside and put a Red Top Missile on it. No. There was always a flight of MiG-29s somewhere over the city. They'd swat the crop duster out the sky before the pilot could get close enough to fire off the short range missile. Louis lay his head in his hands and closed his eyes. He had to find a way faster way of getting orders and whatnot around the city. Most of their operations required synchronized actions from multiple cells and that couldn't be done with couriers hand delivering things.

Suddenly he felt a weight on his back. Instincts told him to arch his back and stiffen. He relaxed when he heard Alexis' soft voice in his ear. "I hate seeing you this stressed." she said coming around and sitting on his lap. He wrapped his arms around her and pulled her close.

"I'm fine." Louis said trying to smile. It didn't work.

"You're lying to me. I didn't even ask if you were feeling alright. You know for a person so smart you really are kinda stupid." Alexis ran her smooth hand behind his ear and let it run down his jaw line. "It has to do with Jack and his friends huh?" When Louis just stared into space that was all she needed to see to confirm she was correct.

"I left Osea because I was worried that another war would flare up between Osea and Belka. Look what I got us in to."

Alexis grabbed Louis by the chin and turned his head so he faced her. "You didn't know this would happen. Now you're trying your best to end it. Do not beat yourself up over it."

"I love you." Louis said smiling for real now. He meant what he said too. No matter what happened Alexis always stuck by his side. When he was deployed on extended tours during the Circum-Pacific War it was thoughts of her that kept him going. He had to keep her safe. No matter the cost. If that meant helping slowly bleed the Estovakians dry then so be it.

"I love me too." Alexis said with an impish grin.