Shore Leave

Eric

December 2421

Corpsman 2nd Class Eric Mitchell sits and listens with the rest of his squad from Fox Company of the 232nd Marine Brigade stationed on Terra Nova for their daily mission brief. The entire 2nd Frontier Division has been on heighten alert because of recent pirate activity in the Exodus Cluster. The Alliance's Third Fleet patrols the Cluster's mass relay and their presence near the relay has kept the pirates away from Terra Nova. That doesn't stop Eric's unit from doing daily patrols in the country side outside the planet's capitol, Scott.

Eric is looking forward for the patrol to start. The sooner is starts, the sooner it ends then he can finish packing a few things for his trip to Earth to visit Derek in Chicago. The twins haven't spent much time together since Eric left for basic training. This is his second extended leave since joining and he went home to Elysium to visit his momma, Neena, and his grandmother for his first leave, so this time, he's headed to visit his twin. He misses being around his brother. That was the hardest part of basic training for Eric, dealing with not having his twin with him all the time. The two weeks they spent together between graduation and basic training is something the young medic will treasure forever.

"We leave in five," barks the patrol leader once the mission brief ends. Gunnery Chief Baker turns to his medic, "Mitchell, aren't you short?"

Eric replies, "Yes, Chief, I am. I'm scheduled to leave on the 2200 transport to Earth."

Chief Baker nods to the medic, "If you want EJ, I can get a replacement for you. I got a feeling, we're going to see some shit today."

"If that's the case, don't you want me with you, Chief?" asks the Corpsman with a sly grin on his face. He appreciates the gesture, but would rather do his duty then have someone cover for him because he is scheduled for leave in fifteen hours.

Baker slaps Eric on the shoulder, "That's why I like you so much and why I always want you with us, EJ. You're not afraid of getting into the shit with the rest of us."

Eric chuckles, "No, Chief, I'm not." The medic double and triple checks his medial supplies and he makes sure he has enough clips for his SMG. He follows the patrol leader to their rendezvous point to begin their daily patrol. They should return in six to seven hours, which gives the young soldier plenty of time to finish packing for his much awaited trip to Earth.

Earth

Derek Mitchell sits on a stool with a paint brush with tiny bristles clinched between his teeth and a small bristle brush in his hand working on the painting he is turning in for his final project in his oil painting class. The young artist has been selling his oil paintings since high school and he had hoped this class was going to challenge him, but it hasn't. What the class has done is give him enough oil paintings for another showing in Dray's gallery on the Citadel in a few months. This is going to be his second showing and the biggest one. Derek is slowly making a name for himself with his oil paintings, but doing them as his only source of income isn't his plan. If all goes well, Derek will graduate next school year after the spring term with his BA degree in Visual and Critical Studies. He's been debating if he wants to stay an extra year and earn his BFA degree or start looking for an actual job.

It wasn't until Derek started college that he truly understood how talented he really is as an artist. His family has always told him he was very talented, but he always thought that was family saying it to make him feel good about himself and his talent. It didn't take him long to figure out, he has a wonderful gift and is as talented as his family has always told him.

Derek takes the brush from his teeth, dabs it into the black then the white, mixes the colors together before putting the brush to the canvas. A few flicks of the artist's writs and the painting is completed. He starts cleaning up his brushes when he hears his roommate and partner, Maximilian "Max" Schmidt, is finally up after coming home late from his show last night.

Derek says loud enough for Max to hear him, "I finally finished my painting, Max. You should come and see it."

"Finally, you've been working on it non-stop for the past few days," replies Max as he walks to the other end of the loft. He stops dead in his tracks when he sees the Chicago skyline at night in oils on a canvas. "Wow, Derek, that is...just amazing." Max walks closer to the painting, leans to look at the details with his arms behind his back. "You have such an eye for detail. If this isn't a 'A' painting, I don't know what is. The way you shade and your lines, so subtle at times, but it's what makes the piece. Is this one going to Dray's gallery?"

The young artist smirks at Max. "I'm not sure. It could end up at the museum here if Tiller picks it. Some lucky sap gets his or hers painting displayed in the front window for the summer. They always pick the best from each type of medium. Summer is when the next young artist series showing Dray does is being held."

Max notices a dab of paint on Derek's mustache. "When are you going to stop getting paint in your facial hair, Derek?" asks Max as he removes the paint with care.

Derek shrugs his shoulders in response. "Hungry? I have an hour before I have to be in class. I can make something quick if you want.." He kisses Max before heading to the kitchen to make himself a quick ham and cheese omelet.

"Nothing is faster than good ol' cold cereal," replies Max as he follows Derek to the kitchen.

"Have you taken a good look outside, Max? There's snow on the ground and you want cold cereal. Bah." Derek waves his hand dismissively as he starts beating his three eggs.

Max starts laughing at Derek response. He knows his partner prefers to cook than to eat something quick like cereal. Whether its hot or cold. Derek likes to cook and Max likes to tease him about it because Max can't boil water without boiling the pot dry. "Well, there is a box of hot cereal in the cabinet too. You can have that. It's quick as well."

Derek turns to look at Max, so he can give him an eye roll. "Add water and heat is not my idea of cooking, Max. Besides eggs are quick too." He cuts up a slice of ham into strips and lays them neatly in the eggs then adds some shredded colby cheese on top. Once the omelet is finished cooking, Derek asks, "You sure you don't want one, Max."

"Nah, I'll add water and heat," says Max as he grabs a bowl and the hot cereal from the cabinet. "Isn't your brother going to be here tomorrow evening?"

"Yea, I'm suppose to pick him up at the spaceport at 1845. I still wish we could have gotten tickets to see Kahn Wahn's show tomorrow. She always sells out so damn quick when she comes to Chicago. And she's here often too." Derek sits then starts eating.

Max stirs in a splash of milk and a few blueberries into his hot cereal. "I know, it sucks. Dave and Julian are the only ones we know who are got tickets and their seats are nose bleed."

Derek says in between bites, "At least they get to see her. We get to hang out with my brother and embarrass him with the combat simulator run he did with momma, grandma, and Neena before he left for basic. He doesn't know I have a copy." He does his best evil laugh while rubbing his hands together.

Laughing, Max looks across the table at Derek and wonders what his twin will be like. They've had a few vid chats over the past few months, but they've not met yet. From the few chats with Eric and how Derek talks about his brother, Max gets a sense they're more alike than either will admit and are very different at the same time. He knows Derek is looking forward to seeing Eric, but he has finals soon and end-of-term projects are becoming due.

Derek has made that clear to Eric, he's visiting at a bad time, but will do the best he can without hurting his grades to spend as much time with his brother as possible. The brothers haven't spent any quality time together since Eric left for basic in 2419. They've seen each other once for part of a day when Eric was able to get a short leave to attend his grandfather, Raymond Mitchell's funeral earlier this year. Derek has one more major project due next week and needs about eight to ten more hours to complete it.

"Crap! It's snowing again. I need to get out of here," comments Derek as he puts his dirty plate and fork in the dishwasher.

Max stops Derek from cleaning up the stove, "Go to class, Derek. I'll clean up. I have a meeting with Arnie about an audition for a local car dealership ad. That's this afternoon."

Derek kisses Max, "You're the best. Love you." He quickly grabs what he needs for today's classes then heads out the door to walk two blocks in the wind and snow. Derek is too cheap to use a taxi or bus to get back and forth to class. His loft apartment is two blocks away and only a ten-minute walk. With it snowing and the wind to go with it, it takes a little longer.

"Love you too, big guy. Please be careful. It's starting to look bad out," replies Max. He waits until his partner leaves before he starts cleaning up the kitchen when he receives a call from his agent that will change his life forever.

Terra Nova

Eric and his squad return from another uneventful patrol. A few guys complain about the lack of action. For Eric, the lack of action is a good thing. It means no one needs patching up and they can fight another day. Even though Eric will admit, the lack of excitement over time gets boring. Walking, patrolling the countryside is starting to get boring for the entire company. There is some activity on Eden Prime, but Terra Nova has been quiet.

Eric sits on the ground with a data pad in his hands, filling out his patrol report when Lieutenant Luntz says, "I hear your patrol was quiet, Corpsman. Doc Potter wants to see you once you finish with your report."

"Yes, sir, patrol was quiet as always. Thank you, sir. I'm almost finished," replies the Corpsman. He stands to salute his commanding officer. The Lieutenant salutes back, turns on heel, then walks to check with others from the patrol.

Eric shakes his head as he watches his CO talk to Chief Baker and Corporal Tritt. Private Marcus "Mookie" Adelson dangles his arm on Eric's shoulder, "Have you noticed, EJ, that Lt. Putz never goes on any of the patrols, but will always walk and talk to everyone who did go on one. I hate that guy. He has no balls."

"Trust me, Mookie, I've noticed. I agree with you too. No balls. I mean fuck, I'm one of two medics assigned to this company and I have no problem going on a patrol and firing my SMG if I need to. I'll shoot ya then bandage ya up," replies Eric before he starts laughing. "Look, Mookie, I need to finish this report then report to Doc Potter."

Mookie smacks Eric's shoulder, "Damn, EJ, you and those damn reports and you're not even a NCO. That's bullshit if you ask me."

Eric says, "It's part of my job. There isn't anything I can do about it. Imagine the paper work Baker or Putz have to do. My reports are nothing compared to the stuff they're reporting on." The medic smacks his buddy playfully with the data pad, "I don't mind the reports. It's putting up with people like Slacker that bothers me."

Mookie glares when Eric says "Slacker". "Fuck that lazy fuck. I'll see you later. Enjoy finishing your report." He pushes his buddy playfully then leaves Eric alone to finish his report. Which doesn't take the medic long.

After reporting to Doc Potter, Eric finds Mookie playing poker in the base's rec room with his other buddies, Chen, Dusty, and JJ. "Hey guys, who's winning?" asks Eric when he pulls a chair to sit between Chen and JJ.

Chen replies, "Dusty is as usual. I swear she cheats."

"Hey! I do not cheat. I can't help it if you are a lousy card player, Chen," retorts Dusty as she win another hand. "Ha, I win again." She collects her winnings and leaves the table. "Thanks for the credits, fellas."

The remaining players start saying, "Oh, come on, Dusty." or "Let me win my credits back." JJ looks at Eric to say, "You want in? We need fresh blood in the game."

"Nah, I'm leaving in a few hours. I just came by to hang out until I leave. I need all my credits for my trip." The medic shakes his head at his buddies. If he wasn't headed to Earth, he would join them. Eric isn't as good at cards as his momma, Kaja T'Soni, or his aunt Liv are, but he usually comes ahead when playing with his marine buddies. Dusty is right Chen is a lousy card player. Chen gives little clues to those who see them when he has a good hand or is bluffing. Dusty has noticed them and so has Eric, but no one else. Eric hangs around for a few hours before he heads to his bunk to pick up his bag so he can catch the 2200 transport to Earth. In roughly twenty hours, Eric will be in Chicago and he can't wait.

Chicago

The transport carrying passengers from Terra Nova has landed and Derek is waiting outside the terminal for Eric to disembark the transport. He is dressed in a burgundy sweater with jeans and boots. The collar on his wool trench coat is up to keep the winter winds off his neck. Derek's face lights up when he sees his twin through the crowd.

The young medic is dressed in his Alliance dress blues with his military bag over his left shoulder. He sees Derek with a full beard and mustache and hair pulled back into a pony tail. He weaves his way around a wife and daughter reuniting with the husband/father to give his twin a gigantic hug. "Wow, Derek, you look good. Little rugged with that bushy beard of yours, but good just the same. How have you been?" Eric hugs Derek again.

"I'm great. You saw the snow outside, all this hair helps keep my face warm. In the summer, I do trim it. Wintertime, I don't even bother," replies the young artist as he strokes his beard. "I hope you have a coat. It's freezing outside. Welcome to Chicago, Eric." Derek playful smacks his brother's upper left arm.

Eric drops his bag, so he can dig out the winter coat he has on top. "I came prepared. It's summer on Terra Nova, but I know it's winter here.." He puts his coat on and scans looking for Derek's partner, Max. "Where's Max? I thought he was coming with you."

Derek plays with his beard with a prideful smile on his face. "Max is at his place getting ready for a last-minute performance tonight." Derek leads Eric outside to a waiting taxi. He informs the driver to take them to his apartment.

"What do you mean his place? I thought he moved in with you a few months ago?" asks the curious twin.

"He did." Derek motions with his hand which tell his twin, he wants to tell him without some stranger being present.

Eric takes the cue then asks, "So, how has school been?"

Derek beams when he talks about school. Things are going well for him and he likes to talk about his projects. "I have one project left to finish, a research paper due, then there are my finals. That's what's going on. It's a little stressful right now, but I did finish my oil painting yesterday. It's my computer animation project I have to finish. Everything is due next week. I have several hours of work to do on it before I'm finished with everything. Sorry, Eric, you came at a bad time." He puts his hand on Eric's shoulder.

"It's okay, Derek. Do what you need to. I can manage. Hell, it would be nice to lounge on a sofa and relax for a few days. I don't need to do anything beside hang out with you. That doesn't mean we go out and do something every night. If we just go out tonight and tomorrow, I'm good. I can also find trouble on my own." Eric winks while he sticks the tip of his tongue out.

Both starts laughing. Neither twin has gotten into too much trouble since Eric finished with his juvenile probation. The trouble they have gotten into hasn't been anything serious. For Eric, his troubles are the same troubles anyone his ranks have. Locker not organized neat enough. Dust on a window sill or a bed not made tight enough. For Derek, trouble is disagreeing with a professor.

The taxi drops them off in front of Derek's apartment building. Derek tries to take Eric's bag, but Eric won't let him. As they enter the apartment, Eric's mouth drops open. It's a loft and very open. The only walls are between the kitchen/bathroom and the rest of the loft. Derek and Max have used a few room screens to separate the bedrooms and Derek's studio are from the rest of the loft. Derek's studio takes up one-third of the open area.

"Holy shit, Derek, this place is so open and big. You are paying for this, not momma?" asks Eric as he leaves his bag in a chair. The medic takes a look around the loft. He sees there are two beds and one doesn't look used. "Is this the bed I'm using?"

Derek brings Eric his bag, "Yes, I paid for the entire year up from when I sold a painting last summer. Momma helps me pay the bills for it because I don't have a steady income and Max is still paying for his apartment, but we're looking to move his stuff to some place cheaper. That is the bed you are using. It's Max's bed from his apartment, but the sheets and everything are freshly washed and clean."

Eric puts the bag on the bed and starts removing his things and putting them in the empty drawers. "So, if this is Max's bed, why does he still have his own place?"

"Look around. Where would we store about twenty different costumes? Plus his wigs and everything else he has. I thought you knew he did drag for a living." Derek moves his arm from the left to the right.

"I do know that. I guess I didn't think about where he stores his outfits. So, what's going on, Derek? You wouldn't say anything in the taxi." Eric tosses the empty bag in a corner then heads to the couch.

Derek follows his twin and sits next to him. "Max has been given an once-in-a-life opportunity and I told him he had to go for it. Remember we tried to get tickets to the Kahn Wahn show tonight?"

"Yea, you said Max was disappointed too," replies Eric.

The young artist beams when he says, "Well, Max's agent called him yesterday and told him Kahn Wahn wanted Maxine Deville to open for her tonight. Grandma sent me a message a few weeks ago informing me that Kahn Wahn was going to surprise a local drag queen by having them be the opening act while she is on her Earth portion of the tour. When she leaves Earth, she's taking a few of the opening acts with her." Derek pauses so he can hopefully remember how many she is taking with her on a galactic tour to many different planets. "I think ten, but it might be twelve. Kahn Wahn's tour is thirty cities on Earth. Then she taking the show off planet for ninety days."

Eric asks, "Did you tell Max this before yesterday?"

"No, I promised grandma I wouldn't. But she did inform me that Max's act was on the radar and it was possible he would be the surprise local act for the Chicago show. He doesn't know I know anything about it, but I was surprised when he told me yesterday. I'll be honest, Eric, I forgot about it. I got so involved with school stuff that the Kahn Wahn show was an after thought." Derek shows signed of guilt because he not only forgot about it, but also because he's keeping secrets from Max.

Eric pats his brother's arm, "Do worry, I won't say anything to him and act very surprised if he says anything about it." He winks at Derek. "So, I take it Max is unable to get us in to see the show?"

Shaking his head with a negative look on his face, Derek answers, "He hasn't told me we can go, so I am guessing that is a no, he can't get us in. I'd love for you to see him perform live too. You have watched the vids I've sent?"

"Oh yea," answers Eric enthusiastically. "I'm a fan, Derek, I really am. He is the perfect person for you, bro. I am so happy for you."

Derek smacks Eric's arm. "Thanks. Come and see what I've been working on this term." The artist leads the medic to his studio. It's divided into two areas. One area is nothing more than a desk, a computer terminal connected to two monitors, and a chair. The other area has shelves holding a wide range of painting supplies. Against the brick wall are several completed paintings of various sizes. Sitting on the easel is Derek's oil painting of the Chicago skyline at night.

Eric's reaction to seeing the painting on the easel is similar to Max's reaction when he saw it. "Holy shit, Derek. That's done in oil? It almost looks like a picture. Fuck me if my brother isn't a kick ass artist." He gives Derek a tight hug. "Wow, is all I can say. Momma sent me a picture of the skyline painting you sold last year, but this one blows that one away. Or maybe because I am seeing this on up close and the other was only a picture."

Derek drapes his arm on Eric's shoulder. "I agree, this one is better than last year's painting. I sold last year's painting to a couple who live on the Citadel but are from Chicago. They told me it reminded them of home. It felt cool to hear that. I wasn't sure what to say as a reply except thank you."

"I bet they would love this one too. You should contact them and see if they want to buy it without going through Dray's gallery." Eric points to the desk. "Any projects over there you care to share with me?"

"Of course, I have several projects to show you." Derek turns the terminal on. Once ready, he shows off the first project he did. It's a basic four-inch by four-inch line drawing of a bee and flower. Derek hits a few keys then the picture suddenly has color added to it. The coloring is slightly off in a few spots and that cost Derek a few points when he turned it in. "I got a low-grade on it, but because I really didn't know how to use the software as well as I should. It forced me to learn how to use every tool available. Look at this."

Derek brings up a picture of a house with snow on the ground and on the roof. There are holiday decorations on the house and in the yard. Music starts playing, the holiday lights start blinking to the beat. About thirty seconds into the song, Santa with his reindeer land on the roof and they all start dancing. Eric laughs when he sees a reindeer in the back row make a goofy face. "I think you have the software down now. What did you get on this?"

"I don't know. I still have to finish it. There are things in the background I need to add and make sure they work properly. I tried before and it crashed. So, I did something wrong, but I'm unsure what it is. I can turn it in as is and get a good grade, but it's incomplete." Derek points to the terminal. "So, this is what I'm going to be doing on Sunday. I need to figure out why it crashes when the snow turns into Happy Holidays and blinks in red, green, and white." He strokes his beard with his left hand.

Eric asks, "What's for dinner? It's almost 2000 and I'm famished."

"We have a few options. There is a pizza place around the corner or hotdogs a few blocks down. We're walking. I don't own a skycar and everything I need is within a two to three block radius. School is two blocks away. There are two different markets for me to buy groceries and one is between here and school, so I stop there often to pick up stuff." Derek is very animated when he explains how he does things.

Eric rubs his chin with an evil grin on his face. "Did you say pizza? Good hand-made pizza and not that shit they serve on-base? I'm not limited to four different ones? I can get anything I want on it even pineapple?" Even though Eric is still in his dress blues, the young medic rubs his stomach with his tongue hanging out.

Derek rolls eyes and shakes his head. "Yes, yes, yes, and yes. So, we're having pizza then? You changing clothes?"

"No, I'm wearing this for the night. I thought I would look my best when I meet Max for the first time. You know, give him a good first impression." Eric stands tall and proud in his uniform. "Where's the pizza?"

Derek grabs his coat while tossing Eric's his. The twins brave the cold night air to walk around the corner to the busy pizza place, Lou's Pizzeria. Most customers are getting their pies to-go and the counter usually has a chair or two open for someone to sit and eat a slice or two. Tonight, Derek is surprised to see an actual table open. Normally, him and Max are sitting at the counter or taking it home.

Mikey, the owner's son, sees two new customers sit down at a table and neglects to grab any menus when he sees Derek. Mikey knows Derek orders one of three things and doesn't need a menu. He greets the table, "Nice to see you Derek, Derek's brother. I'm assuming your his brother. I think that is what Derek would look like if he shaved."

"Ha, ha, Mikey, this is my brother, Eric. We'll take a pitcher of Thessian Ale and a large deep-dish with half pineapple, ham and...?" Derek looks at Eric to see what he wants for his third topping.

"That's it. Just pineapple and ham. I would like a little extra of both as a third topping. If I know my brother, he is getting ham, mushroom, and sausage," replies Eric.

Mikey writes down their order and chuckles at the twins. Derek's been a regular since he found this place within the first month after moving to Chicago. When Derek orders a whole pizza whether it is a deep dish or thin crust, he always gets the toppings Eric mentioned. Because Derek is a regular, like many other students, Mikey has gotten to know them as more then just customers. He knew Derek's twin was coming into town and wasn't surprised when they came in. They are not identical, but you can tell by looking at them when they are together, they are twins. Even with Derek's bushy beard while Eric is clean-shaven with stubble starting to show from not shaving earlier in the day.

"Here is your pitcher. Your pie will be about twenty to twenty-five minutes. Dad and Pauly are swamped with to-go orders. If you need anything in the mean time, let me know." Mikey nods and smiles at the twins before going back behind the counter to take another order from a customer sitting at the counter.

Eric pours the ale into his glass. "Friendly place. I am starting to see why you like living here. Fuck this snow shit, Derek." Eric points with his thumb at the snow outside.

"That did take some getting used to, but the people here are nice and friendly. Or at least this part of town is that way. I can't say that about every area. Some, yea, even momma wouldn't want to go there unless she had to." Derek pours a big head on his beer then drinks it and the foam sticks to his mustache. "Look, beer 'stache"

Eric laughs at Derek antics. It feels wonderful to be with is brother and Derek feels the same way. Both are older and some what wiser, but that isn't going to stop either twin from trying to make the other laugh by doing something silly. "You are as silly as ever. I love you for it."

Derek replies as he wipes the beer from his mustache, "I might be silly, but at least I'm not the weirdo."

"Do you remember what started aunt Liv to call us by those names? I don't. I just remember she called you silly, me weirdo and we called her goofy. I don't remember what started it all." Eric sips on his ale.

Derek shakes his head no, that he doesn't remember They talk about old times and what's going on with them today while they wait for the food. Derek is also waiting to hear from Max. The later it gets the more antsy he becomes when it comes to what is going on with Max. It's after 2100 when they finish eating and Max was supposed to be on stage at 2030 and his set was only suppose to last no more than twent y-five minutes and Max has one costume changed planned. This is the first performance in over a year that Derek hasn't been either in the audience watching or backstage waiting.

The twins start to walk back to Derek's apartment when he receives a text message from Max. He wants Derek and Eric to meet him at Club Georgio for the after party and he has news, but wants to give it to them in person. The artist's face lights up with excitement as he reads the message. "Hit the call taxi button on that pole, Eric. We're meeting up with Max at Club Georgio."

Eric elbows the button with his hands still in his pockets. "Do you think he has good news to tell you?"

"Us, he has news to tell us. Yes, I think he has good news." Derek isn't sure which is making him happier. Knowing his partner might have his golden opportunity to become the star he wants to be or having his twin by his side again. They get into the taxi and head to meet up with Max at Club Georgio.

The taxi drops the them off in front of the club. There is a line wrapped around the block of people trying to get in. Eric gives Derek a concerned look because he think they are going to have to stand in the long line to get in and he doubts many from the line actually get in. Derek has no doubts they will walk right in once they give their names to the man controlling the velvet rope.

"Name?" asks the bouncer in an annoyed tone. Having a big-time star is bad enough, but tonight there are two and they are in the VIP Lounge.

Derek and Eric Mitchell," replies the artist.

Bouncer asks, "Who is who? I need to know."

Eric says, "I'm Eric."

"I'm Derek."

"Thank you," says the bouncer as he unhooks the rope to let the twins through. "The VIP Lounge is up the stairs to the right of the entrance. Enjoy yourselves." The bouncer puts the rope back then waits for the next new person to arrive.

Eric says once they get inside, "This place is packed. No wonder there is a line outside. They can't let any more people in. Guess we got lucky being on the VIP list."

Derek replies, "I know, this is the hottest club in town right now and everyone wants to come here at least once. Max and I have been here a few times." Once they get to the top of the stairs and into the VIP area, Derek starts moving his head and shoulders to the beat of the music being played.

Eric starts chuckling at the goofy looking faces Derek is making as he moves to the beat. It makes Eric feel good being around his twin again. Each are making their own way in the galaxy, but that hasn't stopped the medic from missing his brother or his sister, Karrera. He would take the short trip to the Citadel, but Karrera informed him she is swamped with work and barely has enough time to sleep, let alone spend time with him. She wants to spend time with her brother as much as he wants to spend time with her, but like with Derek, Eric's timing is bad.

Because of what is going on in the Exodus Cluster, Eric was limited on when he could take his extended leave and knows he lucky to actually be able to be gone for more than a day or two. Some of the marines had their leaves canceled. Eric is making the best of it. If he spends a few days alone doing things, he's good with that. They didn't visit Chicago when they were on Earth together. Derek wanted to see it for the first time when he moved there, so they skipped Chicago and the entire Great Lakes region.

Derek stops suddenly and Eric runs into him. "What the...? Wait, what is Gaia doing here?" asks Eric.

"I don't know. I guess she is Kahn Wahn's guest or she just showed up, which is not like her. She likes her privacy and this isn't very private," answers Derek.

Maxine Deville squeals when she sees Derek and runs over to him. "I'm so glad you guys are here. I've been offered to go on Kahn Wahn's galaxy tour and your aunt Gaia is the show's MC."

Derek smooches on Maxine's cheeks. "That's great, Maxine. I am so happy for you."

The drag queen turns to the young man in the Alliance uniform, "So, you must be the twin I always hear about. Sorry about tonight. This was a very unexpected show and one I'm very happy I was able to do." Maxine gives Eric a hug.

"Don't worry about it, Maxine. Wow, you look great. Too bad we had to miss your show. I would love to have seen it. I am a fan." Eric smiles at Maxine.

Maxine asks, "Care to dance with me, Eric? I do like a man in uniform." Maxine is a big flirt and Derek understands Maxine is the one being flirty and not Max.

Eric looks over to his brother to gauge is brother's reaction to his partner asking him to dance. All Derek has is a big goofy grin on his face while moving to the beat. Eric answers, "Sure. After you."

Eric and Maxine head to the dance floor while Derek walks over to talk to his aunt. "I am very surprised to see you, aunt Gaia. What brings you to Chicago? Winter winds blow you in?"

Gaia gives her nephew a hug while chuckling at his humor, "Yes, I believe so. I was going to meet Kahn Wahn in New York, but since Eric is here visiting, I decided to meet her here instead. Too bad you missed Maxine's show. She really did wow the audience and Kahn Wahn tonight."

"Good, I'm happy for her and I would love for Eric to see her show. Damn, Gaia, I didn't even know you knew Kahn Wahn. Care to dance with me?" asks Derek as he takes her hand.

Gaia smiles and follows her nephew to the dance floor. The club's beats reverberate through the club. Everyone on the VIP dance floor turns their attention to Kahn Wahn when she finally makes her appearance in a new outfit. Gaia and Maxine excuse themselves to say hello to the tonight's star, leaving the twins looking at each other. Derek shrugs his shoulders and continues dancing with Eric following his brother's lead. The party at the club ends with last call at 0230.


Next Day

Eric is up before anyone else and decides to take a morning run while his brother and Max are still sleeping. The medic looks for something to wear to keep his head warm while he is outside. That is one item he doesn't have, a stocking hat to keep his head warm. He leaves a note for Derek and Max then heads out for a ten kilometer run.

Grant Park is near Derek's school, so Eric heads in that direction. It may be cold outside, but that doesn't stop the locals from doing what they need to do. It's late Saturday morning and already the city streets are alive with people and skycars landing near shops and taking off again. Eric takes his time walking to the park, so he can do a little people watching. Since their extended trip to Earth, Eric has noticed the differences between people who grew up on Earth and those who are from a colony.

Grant Park is bustling with activity, kids playing in the snow, families skating together on an ice rink. Eric stops and watches people ice skate and makes a mental note to ask Derek if he wants to go skating one day. He jogs along a trail near Lake Michigan. The crisp winter air is chilling Eric to his bones when a gust of wind pounds him coming off the lake. It's freezing cold outside, but Lake Michigan hasn't frozen over. The medic feels bits of frozen spray from the waves crashing along the shore.

Eric decides after his jo to stop by a shop to buy something to keep his head warm on his way back tog Derek's apartment. As he leaves the store, he sees in the distance two skycars collide with one spinning out of control, hitting another vehicle. He keeps his eyes on the three incoming vehicles. The third vehicle is a public transport skybus and it comes to a crashing halt in the middle of Michigan Avenue. The Alliance medic's training kicks in and Eric runs down the street towards the crashed skybus.

The skybus' fuel tank is leaking all over the ground. Eric's focus is to get everyone out of the bus before he can worry about attending to any wound anyone has even though he doesn't have anything with him like bandages or medi-gel. The back door is dangling from one hinge, Eric and another bystander pull the door open. Eric looks inside to see a skybus full of passengers and they all look injured to some degree. The guy who helped him with the door has magically disappeared, leaving Eric alone to help the passengers. The young medic helps those who are able to move on their own first.

The sirens from the first responders are getting louder, which means they are getting closer. There is baby crying in a knocked over carseat which gets Eric's attention. Eric checks on the baby first. The baby boy seems fine, but the female sitting next to the window has a piece of glass stuck through her neck. The medic checks for a pulse and doesn't find one. He mutters, "Shit" under his breath as he grabs the carseat and heads out the back of the skybus.

Someone from the crowd forming around the accident area flicks their cigarette butt at a pool of water. Or what the person thinks is a pool of water from the melted snow and doesn't think or realize the pool is actually fuel from the skybus. Eric is helping another injured passenger sit away from the turned over vehicle with the others then heads back towards the skybus when he see the fireball erupting from cigarette hitting the fuel. As soon as Eric attempts to dive out of harm's way, the skybus explodes sending shrapnel flying in every direction and hitting many people standing around.

Eric feels the heat from the hot metal burn his skin, but he also feels a piece of shrapnel has imbedded into his left calf. Grimacing in pain, the medic looks at his leg. A few burn marks and a piece of metal sticking out with blood seeping from the wound. Deciding to leave the shrapnel in his calf, the medic reaches inside his coat and rips the sleeve off his shirt and wraps it around his wound to help stop the bleeding. He looks at the burning skybus and knows there isn't anything he can do for anyone inside. So, he turns his focus on helping others he can help. He sees a young girl attempting to get her father to get up. Eric limps over to the fallen male and checks the body over.

The fallen parent has a pulse, but it's a weak one. Eric finds a small wound and takes his new hat and uses it to apply pressure to the seeping wound. The little girl cries, "Save my daddy, save my daddy!"

Eric doesn't respond to the little girl, but he is doing all he can to save the little girl's father. There are three different EMT teams responding to the accident and more are on the way. The fire department is putting out the fire, with the police finally taking control of the gawkers in the area. With the authorities in control of the situation and an EMT takes over for Eric, he stops and sits on the ground in pain. The shrapnel is still sticking out of his calf with blood continuing to seep into his sock and shoe.

As he looks at his calf, a female medic says, "Here allow me. You're injured." She kneels down next to the wounded Alliance medic to tend to his wounded calf. The medic cuts through the makeshift bandage while cutting Eric's pant legs from the ankle to the knee. "Sorry," is her response when Eric grunts in pain as she moves the piece of metal.

Eric looks at the medic and swears he knows her from his unit, but she left a few weeks after he was assigned to it. "Chief Finn, is that you?" He was assigned to the unit as her replacement.

The female medic turns her head to see the face of the person she is working on for the first time. Her expression is shock and surprise. "Corpsman Mitchell, you're the last person I was expecting to see today. What brings you to Chicago, EJ. That is your nickname isn't it?"

"Yea, but my name is Eric. I'd rather be called by my name than EJ. I'm here visiting my twin brother who goes to school not far from here." Eric points in the direction of the Art Institute.

"Well, Eric, all done. We should take you to the hospital to get your leg looked at by a doctor." Medic Finn finishes taping the med-gel bandage around Eric's leg.

Eric feels the medi-gel in the bandage working. The pain in his calf is dulling, so he attempts to stand. He puts his weight against Finn as he steadies himself. "No thanks, Chief. I only need to get back to my brother's apartment."

Medic Finn nods to Eric and gives him a bright, warm smile. "Only if you're sure. You can call me Amber instead of Chief, Eric." She remembers Eric when he first transferred into Fox Company and how she thought he had a cute smile and a great ass. She also thought he was a little immature, but seeing how Eric was helping people when she and the other medics arrived on the scene tells her, he has matured over the past year. Seeing him again, gives her pause until her partner grabs her attention to help another accident victim.

Eric only smirks at Finn as she runs off to help someone else. He remembers Fox Company's senior medic when he first transferred to the unit. He always thought she was nice, but never gave her much thought. He was assigned as her replacement and she helped get him accustomed to being an active infantry unit's medic. When he looks down the street he need to go to his brother's apartment, Eric sees several reporters interviewing a few victims with them pointing in his direction. This makes Eric to want to walk around the block to avoid the press, but he needs to get off his feet as soon as possible.

An uniformed police officer stops Eric as he starts to leave the scene. "Excuse me, sir. I need to ask you a few questions about the accident."

"No problem, officer. I need to sit on that bench over there." Eric points to the bench about ten meters away. The longer he stands and moves around, the more pain he is in. Finn's right, he does need to see a doctor about his calf.

The officer helps Eric sit then starts asking him about his involvement with the skybus passengers. Eric calmly explains how he saw the skybus get hit and crash after leaving a store with a new winter hat. He points to the blood soaked hat lying on the ground. The officer nods as he types notes on his omni-tool as Eric tells him in detail every person he helped. The officer thanks Eric for both is time and helping others in need. He doesn't get a chance to stand up when two reporters sticks their omni-tool microphone in Eric's face and starts asking questions about rescuing people in the skybus before it exploded.

Eric only gives the reporters the nickname his Alliance buddies have given him, EJ. He rather not have his full name known to everyone when the story hits the airwaves any minute now if they're not already broadcasting live from the scene. The first time since he left the store and saw the accident happen, Eric looks at his hands and clothes. Both are bloody and his left pant leg flops in the winter breeze from being sliced to the knee.

What adrenaline Eric had while helping others has disappeared since he sat down to talk to the officer then to the press. His legs feel wobbly and he starts to feel light-headed from standing up too quickly. He reaches back to feel for the back of the bench and loses his balance when Finn says as she helps Eric remain upright, "I gotcha, tough guy. Lie down, we're taking you to the hospital."

Eric doesn't argue or say anything to Finn. He's exhausted, in pain and as soon as he lies back down he closes his eyes and passes out. The last thing he remembers seeing is Amber Finn helping him lie on the stretcher Medic Finn scans Eric's ID to check for contact information for his brother, Derek. She finds it listed then contacts Derek with details on where they are taking Eric. Her next call is to the Alliance to inform them one of their soldiers has being injured while on leave.

Finn fills out her paperwork inside the hospital and her partner fills out his paperwork in the ambulance, while she waits for Eric's brother to arrive. She doesn't want to leave the wounded soldier alone. Even though Eric is the unit's medic, she still sees him and even herself as a soldier or an ex-soldier. Like Eric, she also carried a SMG with her on missions with the unit. Finn's partner starts complaining in her ear about how long it's taking for her to get back to the ambulance.

Finn doesn't care and knows her partner will probably complain to their superior about what she's doing. She's bending department regulations, but wants to makes sure Eric's brother shows up before she leaves. The female medic raises an eyebrow when she Derek for the first time with his long brown-hair down and unkempt facial hair. Finn thinks for twins, they're nothing alike. She thinks that until she sees the same smile she is attracted to radiate from Derek when he looks at Max. With Derek arrival, she makes her partner happy when she finally leaves, but not before slipping a note into Derek's hand and asking him to give it to Eric.

Derek and Max wait for two hours for news about Eric when two Alliance personal talk to the nurse in charge at the nurses station then proceed into the examining room. Derek and Max exchange glances when the Alliance personal enter and leave the examining room after a few minutes with Eric using crutches following behind. Derek and Max move across the waiting room to meet with Eric. "You just had to go and play hero didn't ya?" teases Derek as he hugs Eric carefully. Max follows suit.

"Yea, my training kicked in. I guess I impressed someone with stars on their uniform, cause I was just told I was a goddamn hero and the Alliance needs more soldiers like me in their ranks." Eric uses air quotes when he says goddamn. Waving his hand, "Bah, I was doing what I was trained to do, nothing more. If it was my day off and I lived here and worked as an EMT, I would have done the same thing."

Max asks, "How did you hurt your leg?"

Eric tells them what happened as they exit the hospital. A nurse forces Eric into a wheelchair and Derek carries his brother's crutches until they get outside. Derek made sure the taxi was waiting for them. Max helps Eric into the taxi then they head back to the apartment. Their plans of another night out dancing at a nightclub is nixed, but neither Derek nor Max mind. Eric's actions make them both proud of him.

"Oh, damn, I forgot. Some woman in an EMT uniform named..." Derek pulls the piece of paper with a name and number on it from his pocket, so he can see the name. "...Amber gave me this to give to you. I'm not sure how she knew I was your brother, but here, there's a number on it." He hands the paper to Eric.

Eric smirks when he looks at the paper. Nice, she wants me to call. I'll do that after I wake up. I am tired as hell and lying down sounds good about now. "Thanks. That's Chief Finn. I was her replacement in the unit. She left the Alliance about six weeks after I transferred to the unit I'm in. She was one of several medics who showed up at the scene today. I'm going to call her after I wake up. I need to lie down. My leg hurts and the pain killers are making me drowsy."

Derek nods and smiles. "You should call momma too. She wanted to hear from you while you are here."

"I know she does. I was going to call her after my run." Eric has a sheepish look on his face. "Things aren't going as planned today." He goes to lie down on the bed for a few hours. While Eric is sleeping, Derek starts working on his research paper and Max leaves to head to his place to pack for tour he is going on for the next three months.

When Eric gets up, the first person he calls is the medic, Amber Finn. Running into her is turning into a blessing. It gives him someone he can spend time with while his brother finishes his projects for school. For Eric, female company is always welcome. Eric's next call is to his momma. Kaja is the typical parent of a child in the military. She's extremely proud of him and worries about his safety at the same time. Kaja reminds Eric, what he did today is something their family has always done by putting themselves in harm's way to help protect others. Then she teases him about getting injured while helping. That's a family tradition too.

Eric spends the rest of his leave splitting his time between Derek and Amber. Because of his injured leg, Eric is unable to do the things he wanted to do outside in the snow. He wanted to try ice skating or go north to the ski hills in Wisconsin. The only thing he ends up doing are activities he can do while sitting. Which wasn't his plan, but he has learned during his short military career that plans change quickly and one must adapt to the change if they are going to survive the day. The medic makes the best of the situation and seeing Chief Finn turned into a bad situation into a great one.

Normally, Eric has a flippant attitude when it comes to meeting someone while he is on any type of shore leave. He isn't looking to form any type of romantic relationship with anyone. At least not while he is serving in military. He has seen the strain it has on the few married soldiers in his company. "Love'em and leave'em" has been his motto until this leave and he started spending time with Amber Finn. She has given him a different outlook on romantic relationships.

The Alliance medic isn't sure if things between him and Amber will last once he returns to his unit, but his wants to try to have a relationship even a long-distance one with Amber. During his flight back to Terra Nova, Eric thinks about his leave and how he wishes it was longer. He didn't get more than two days to get to know Max before Max left with the drag star, Kahn Wahn and his aunt, Gaia for a galaxy-wide drag show tour. When he starts thinking about Amber and how he ran into her, it puts a smirk on the medic's face. Momma always said things happen for a reason. We won't always know what the reason is, but it happened for a reason. When he was younger, he always thought that was his momma's way of explaining why his mom died. Now, he is starting to see she was explaining life in general and isn't a poor explanation on why his mom died.

Eric chuckles to himself when he thinks of the nickname a few guys in the company called Chief Finn after she left the Alliance, Frigid Finn. As much as he's love to flaunt how Finn is anything but frigid, but figures that is info they don't need to know. He knows he is fortunate to have someone care for him who understands his duty to the Alliance. Amber does care for him and he cares for her, but the light-year difference is going to be the major hurdle for them to overcome if their relationship is going to last longer than the few days they spent together. He knows he is in for major teasing by his buddies for his actions that led to his injured leg.

One of the last thing on Eric's mind when he dozes off is wondering if getting injured while on shore leave really is a family tradition like his momma says and wonders what type of adventures his grandparents had during their shore leaves during the Reaper War or even before the war. His grandfather, Leia Shepard, saved the colony where he grew up while on shore leave. He can only imagine the other things she did during her other shore leaves while she was serving. Eric has learned one thing, shore leave for his family means never having a dull moment.

A/N: I do hope everyone enjoyed Eric's shore leave. Hannah's is next, but it won't be done for a few weeks. I'm still writing slow, but I am putting more thought into my stories. I hope they are more entertaining. I have not started Hannah's story, but I plan on starting it today.