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Tie Your Boots Tight (The Fall is Coming)

Chapter Text

 

'In preparing for battle, I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.’ -Dwight D. Eisenhower

 


 

 

Keith sighed as he walked to LZ Connor. The sun was already warm on his face, despite the fact that it was barely oh-six-hundred.

The scrub plants made soft crunch noises as he headed toward the pad, and only served to remind Keith how much he hated Stratis. Despite only sitting on the dumb rock for a few months, he had come to despise it with everything that he could get.

The barren grassland, rolling hills and seemingly-endless Mediterranean sun might’ve been kind to some civilian tourist, but it was biting and bitter to Keith.

Beside him, Shiro yawned, lightly tapping out a beat on the side of his gun.

“Shiro, c’mon.” Keith growled, trying to urge his brother to hurry it up.

“That’s Commander Shirogane to you, young whippersnapper.” Shiro winked, then set his back a bit straighter and started forward faster.

Admittedly, Keith had always called him commander outside of when they were alone, but...

The comm buzzed briefly with a connection. “There you are, Shirogane!” Staff Sergeant Thace’s voice crackled as the Hummingbird settled itself on the ground. “Get in.”

Nodding, Shiro jogged over and easily slid into position on one of the side seats, Keith doing the same as the Hummingbird’s rotors spun faster.

“Alright, we’re set. Let’s go.” Thace ordered.

“Understood. November’s away.” The pilot announced, the Hummingbird sweeping from the ground easily as they headed into the sky.

The grassland-hills of Stratis spread below them, sparsely dotted with trees that got thicker in certain areas. The sun, breaking the weak cloud cover, simply shone on, uncaring of anyone’s skin problems. Keith didn’t care much about the endless dust or the constant smell of gasoline, but the sun was something he just couldn’t stand.

“Hey, what’s the deal with the roads? Why the lockdown?” Shiro asked, staring over the empty stretches of dirt road.

Thace scoffed. “Someone forgot to tell the AAF Commander that we were decommissioning the airbase. He’s off throwin’ a hissy fit over there right now. It’s a mess.”

Over on the other side, Keith heard Lacey laugh. “You’d think the greenbacks were actually competent or something.”

“I wouldn’t go that far.” Thace agreed, as Shiro shook his head lightly.

“Hey, check out Maxwell! There’s a helo!” Lacey pointed out, as a larger helicopter was rising into the air. “Didn’t we finish with that place?”

Keith just leaned his head back on the Hummingbird’s side. Unless they were giving him orders, he didn’t really care.

“Guess not.” Shiro filled in. “Then again, I don’t think command seems to know or particularly care what is going on. Part of me can’t blame them.”

For another peaceful few minutes, they flew in silence, and Keith watched the burning sun rise above the pitiful rock most called Stratis. He hated the place.

Dull, open, and so boring. A waste of his and Shiro’s skills.

“Mike-26 sure looks quiet.” Lacey commented, looking around.

“Most of the guys shipped out already.” Thace answered without pause.

Shiro chuckled. “Just us left doing the monkey work, huh?”

“You’d rather be on a boat in the Pacific?” With an incredulous noise, Thace glanced over from the cockpit.

“I’d rather be the hell off this rock, sir.” Shiro laughed.

That got either noises of agreement or faint laughter from everyone on the Hummingbird as it tipped to circle a mountain.

A small base, just a checkstop tank and car, sat surrounded by sandbags. There were few people there, milling about like ants, as Keith just watched.

“I see LZ Baldy’s packed up!” Shiro said.

“Nice, we might get out of this place in oh, twenty years.” With a short sigh, Lacey put in his quip.

“Greenbacks wouldn’t stand for that shit, Lacey.” Huffing, Thace glanced toward the small outpost. “They’ve had a stick up their asses about Baldy for weeks now.”

“Yeah, well they can respectfully go fuck themselves, sir.” Lacey replied. “We didn’t butcher half our own population and I sure as hell didn’t ask to be on their pissant island!”

“Well if that ain’t half the problem.”

Keith rolled his eyes. He had barely seen any fights in the area, nevermind what he had been doing. Whether packing supplies or just sitting at a checkstop, the whole thing had been unbelievably boring. As the Stratis civil war wrapped to a close and NATO forces were moved off of the islands, there was only cleanup left.

Then Shiro turned a bit, and blinked. “I thought the roads were closed!” He called.

Keith also twisted to see, noticing the truck roaring from Rogain, down the dirt slope with a cloud of dust behind it.

“They are.” Thace said.

“Why’s there a truck leaving Rogain?” Lacey asked, staring after it.

“No idea. Maybe it’s something important.”

“Alright guys, I’m gonna turn us around before bringing us in. Try not to fall off.” November chuckled.

The small craft twisted itself around over the military encampment, easily going to settle down on the landing pad. Keith could pick out a few of the people hanging around the base, either repairing vehicles or commanding.

First off, Frasier, who was waving them down to the ground. Next was Holt, tinkering with a dying engine before sliding out, signalling to the driver to start it, and watching it run.

Keith actually knew Holt, and her brother. Both on the small side, but being mostly non-combat engineers, neither seemed to be displeased with the state of the island they were working on. After all, the male Holt seemed to just sit in LZ Connor and handle vehicles, not even a complaint about the heat.

That was alright. Keith had a lot to mentally say about the heat.

“Shirogane, Kogane, go see Harlow. She’s the Lieutenant in Rogain.” Thace directed. “Lacey, go make yourself useful for a change. I gotta piss.”

Shiro rolled his shoulders back before walking up to Harlow.

And for a moment, Keith had to do a double take.

She was tall. Maybe an inch shorter than Shiro, sharp white hair at sharp contrast with her dark skin. For a moment, he wondered if it was dyed, but then realized that it was probably just pale, then bleached by the sun.

It was tied in a neat bun, pinned to her head, and her stern but bright blue eyes assessed Shiro as he saluted.

“Staff Sergeant Takashi Shirogane reporting for duty.” Shiro stated with an air of kind professionalism.

“Private Keith Kogane, also reporting.” Nodding to her, Keith gave a salute as well.

Harlow chuckled, a soft noise that seemed inordinately gentle for a military base. “At ease.” She said. “There’s been a change of plan. Commander Antok requires support down by Kamino.” Her voice was calm and collected, and stunningly level. She also sounded British, despite the stars an stripes on her shoulder. “He left just as you were coming in.”

“Any idea why, ma’am?” Shiro asked.

Her eyes narrowed slightly at Shiro, despite his respectful tone. “No, Staff Sergeant.” She said, low. “Take the trucks over there with Thace. Go quickly.”

“Understood.” With that, Shiro headed toward the armoured vehicle, humming to himself again as Keith followed.

“Well?” Thace barked sharply as they approached.

Shrugging, Shiro nodded to the truck. “Sounds like Antok needs some heavy lifting done at Kamino. I’ll drive.”

“You can handle that?” Thace asked, smirking.

“Screw you...” Shiro chuckled with a head shake, getting in the front seat.

As Thace headed to the other side, Keith hopped in the back seat. “Sergeant Lacey, grab that second truck. We’re headed to Kamino.”

“Hold up a second there, Staff Sergeant, let us get out of your way.” November piped up, the Hummingbird’s rotors starting just as Keith slid into the concealed back of the truck.

“Sure! Appreciated!” Shiro called back to November.

Keith just settled in the back seat, letting Shiro and Thace talk up front. For a while, the car just drove on, a few sharp turns, but nothing too major, until they stopped again.

Outside, voices called about checking the truck, footsteps close to the door.

“Jeez, the AAF are really on edge today.” Shiro muttered, catching Keith’s attention.

“Yeah. I’ll give Lacey the heads up.” Thace sighed, then the radio buzzed. “Sergeant Lacey, be advised, the Greenbacks are really waving their dicks around today.” He reported. “Be on your best behaviour at the checkpoint, soldier.”

“Yes Staff Sergeant, I’ll put on my best smile.” Lacey replied.

The truck started again, and away they went, with Thace complaining the whole while about the Greenbacks. Not that Keith didn’t agree. They seemed fairly incompetent, and now with CSAT coming in to stir the pot, it was only going to get worse.

“Wait, shit, is that Antok?” Thace gasped abruptly. “Shirogane, stop the truck!”

Shiro brought them to an even halt, prompting Keith to leap out of the back without a second thought.

A car, flipped on it’s side, and a shallow explosion crater in the dirt road. As well as Antok, on the ground, and silent.

“Shit!” Shiro barked, racing over to begin compressions.

“Broadway, this is point X-ray. We’ve lost contact with Kamino, I repeat, lost comms with Kamino, can you confirm?” A new voice came to the radio, and Keith stood with his gun at the ready. He wasn’t certain what was going on.

“Fuck, he’s not breathing. Staff Sergeant Shirogane to Kamino, come in!” He barked. “Requesting urgent assistance, over!”

There was silence for too many seconds.

“Kamino, I say again, requesting urgent medical support at our position, Commander Antok is down! Please respond!” Shiro called again.

Nothing, as Keith walked around the overturned truck, and stared down the hill to silent Kamino.

Then an explosion rocked through his chest, the steady patter of rifles and machine guns rattling at the gun range. Something was horrifically wrong.

The radio crackled with gunfire and frantic breathing, before the report came in. “Kamino to Broadway, shots fired! Requesting support! Broadway, do you copy, over!”

Shiro left Antok, running to the edge of the hill to see Kamino as tracer rounds launched off rocks, yellow streaks whipping into the sky.

“Kamino, Broadway, we read you, wait one.”

Keith quickly turned his gun on the forest, eyes wide. Something was happening.

“Thace, Shirogane, this is Rogain!” Harlow’s voice came through the comms quickly. “Get your asses back here!”

“Copy, Rogain, but... What about Kamino? What the hell is going on?!” Shiro demanded.

“No buts, Staff Sergeant, that’s an order! Out.” Harlow finished.

“Understood, ma’am. Out.”

“This way.” Thace ordered, waving them toward the forest. “We’ll be safer on foot.”

“Right behind you, sir.” Keith responded, pulling his gun up properly. MX, tan, and unfortunately boring.

The comms kept blaring, from Echo reporting gunfire across the island and Broadway dispatching whatever they could.

“Broadway, give me a report!” Echo requested.

“Situation unclear Echo, wait one.”

“Sir, you have any idea on what’s going on?” Keith asked Thace, darting through the forest with him and Shiro. The rough terrain and slope didn’t lend itself to the flight, dodging rocks and fallen branches.

“Not a clue. Sounds like a goddamn invasion.” Thace hissed, leading them upward, toward the top of the hill.

“Wait... CSAT?” Gasping, Shiro stumbled for a second before running again.

“Just keep your head low, prep for contact!” Thace ordered.

Gunfire greeted them, and Shiro hit the dirt like he was born to it, instantly scoped down, prepared to fire. When yet another bullet landed too close, Shiro’s steady rattle told that someone found their end.

“Shiro, target that machine gunner! Kogane, the rifleman!” Thace ordered as yellow tracers roared through the woods, taking chunks from trees. Finding the rifleman, a Greenback who was crouched near a tree, Keith levelled his sights...

And hesitated.

“Kogane!” Shiro barked.

Keith pulled the trigger, the rattle of the MX loud in his ear. With his gun braced against a tree, he watched the man slump. For a moment, he had to stop and think about that.

“Shiro, target that man!”

Another sharp report said that Shiro had yet again done damage.

“This is Broadway, attention all NATO forces on Stratis, green on blue, I repeat, green on blue!” A moment’s pause. “The AAF now considered hostile!”

“What the literal fuck?!” Keith hissed, staring at the corpses of the patrol on the ground.

“Rogain, we just ran into a Greenback patrol south of your position, do you read, over.” Thace snapped into his comm as Shiro quickly got up from the dirt, sweeping the trees. “Rogain respond!”

Then gunfire started up north, far away.

“This is Rogain to Broadway, under heavy assault! Requesting backup, over!”

“This way, Kogane.” Thace ordered, hauling up the slope.

Hesitation, like whoever was on the mic was sad. “That’s a negative, Rogain. Broadway to all NATO forces on Stratis, code Foxtrot, code Foxtrot! AAF forces have overwhelmed the airfield and air station Mike-26. We’re pulling back.”

“Fuck me...” Thace hissed.

“Try to get-“ The line was lost to static, roaring in Keith’s ear like the machine guns seconds earlier.

Shiro shoved Keith forward by the shoulder. “Let’s go, c’mon.” He ordered, chasing Thace a bit faster. “Move it, Kogane.”

“Fuck, what do we do, sir?” Kogane asked.

“Stay focused, point X-Ray is just over the hill. Our best bet is to-“ A distant explosion, probably from Rogain, cut Thace off. “RV with X-Ray, and go with them!”

Emerging from the forest, Keith turned north, looking at Rogain.

A shattered shed stood where once, the makeshift barracks had been. Twin columns of smoke rose from a pair of cars, blown to shreds.

“Rogain’s taken a beating.” Shiro breathed, staring up the hill. “...Fuck.”

“Let’s hope X-Ray’s had better luck, go!” Thace snapped, turning up the hill and leading them forward.

Then Shiro swore. “Rifleman, up ahead! 75 meters!” He barked.

Thace hit the dirt immediately. “Kogane, target the sniper!” He barked.

Keith caught sight of the man immediately. The larger gun and bipod dictated at least a 7.62. A shot from that...

Levelling his sights on the man, Keith pulled the trigger, not taking the chance to hesitate this time.

After four or five bullets off, Keith landed hits. The man went down in a surprisingly noiseless slump, just as Shiro and Thace finished off the others. “Well, that’s not a good sign.” Shiro muttered.

“Area clear!” Thace barked, getting up from his spot beside the tree. “Wait... I hear a chopper, Shirogane...”

“It’s one of ours.” Confirming with a glance up, Shiro continued to run after Thace.

“Echo to all units in the Rogain area, we’re setting up an evac point at LZ Baldy, Over!”

“Echo, this is Staff Sergeant Shirogane! We’re heading to your position. Part of a detachment from Rogain. Just the three of us, how copy?” Shiro asked as they turned toward LZ Baldy.

“Solid copy, Shirogane! We’ll stall, but we can’t hold forever.”

“You’re a godsend Echo! See you there, out.” Huffing, Shiro shrugged his gun toward the point. “C’mon, let’s move!”

They continued sprinting down the Mediterranean steppe, fleeing like mad hares as they struggled to reach Echo in time.

“Echo to all units, we just got buzzed by a fast mover. Expedite, out!”

“Shit, we’re never gonna make it.” Thace hissed.

Shiro abruptly took a knee. “Kogane, target that rifleman! 200 meters, up ahead!”

A small Greenback patrol came nearby, guns already up and ready for a skirmish.

Keith caught sight of the man easily, scoping his irons to the appropriate distance, and pulling the trigger. It wasn’t that he hadn’t been in fights before. This was just so much different. The adrenaline was chaos, and there was no time to think.

“Shit!” There was a gasp. “Echo, fast mover vectoring on your position, get out of there!” Thace ordered, just as a jet roared overhead.

Abruptly, an explosion that boomed in the distance and the rising smoke of a destroyed vehicle made Keith’s heart sink.

“Fuck, Echo? Echo do you copy?”

Glancing frantically between Rogain and the chopper, dead on the ground, Keith turned to Thace. “What now, sir?”

“Shit, I don’t know. Rogain’s down, Kamino’s fucked, it’s only bad news where we came from...” Searching around, Thace seemed to be starting to lose hope as well.

“There’s a forest over that hill.” Gesturing north, Shiro started forward. “We need to get out of the open!”

Keith sputtered slightly. “The forest?” He hissed.

“If you got a better idea soldier, feel free to share. Move!” Thace ordered.

The jog was a while, but that changed nothing for the way blood was roaring in Keith’s ears. He had wanted something to happen, but not like this.

He didn’t know what he wanted.

“Jesus, we’re alive... but for how long?” Thace snapped as they ran through the woods, eyes on the sky.

“...However long luck holds.” Shiro murmured softly.




“Get down.” Shiro hissed, making Keith drop as a massive helicopter flew overhead. “Stay low, Kogane. Let him pass.”

Keith’s heart was in his throat the whole time, the massive blades roaring above him.

“Let’s move.” Shiro snapped, the group rising to quickly sprint off, deeper into the forest.

Then, thankfully, the comms crackled. “Hello? Hello, does anyone copy?”

“Affirmative, Lacey, is that you? Over.” Thace asked, just ahead of Shiro.

“Sarge, thank Christ, we thought we were the only ones!” Lacey laughed in relief. “I managed to link up with a couple guys from point Zulu.”

Thace chuckled at that. “What’s your grid, soldier?”

“Uh, just north of Mike-26. 043043. We’ve been here for... shit, at least an hour now!”

Keith paused briefly to change mags in his gun, realizing he had only one bullet left in the previous one.

“Understood, we’ll be there shortly, how copy?” Thace demanded, panting slightly. It was a long way still.

“Solid copy Sarge. Just get a move on. Over.” Just like that, Lacey was out, and Keith started checking up the hill.

“Think we can make it there, sir?” Keith asked.

“I don’t think we have much of a choice, Kogane!” Glancing back, Thace’s eyes were slightly sharp and wide.

Shiro abruptly lunged forward to Thace, hand out. “Sergeant watch-“

The explosion rocked through him like a punch, staggering him backward with a gasp. He was out of range, but Shiro clearly wasn’t fully, having been thrown back. “Fuck!” Keith breathed, staring at the growing dust cloud.

Shiro was just a few feet away, coughing and clearly alive, but he no move to yet get up.

“Sarge? Sergeant Thace!?” Keith yelped, racing back toward Shiro, blinking dazedly at the sky. “Jesus!” He gasped.

“Keith...”

Shiro’s right arm was bleeding, the fabric mostly torn to pieces. His vest had caught the rest of any shrapnel... Or maybe Thace had.

“Shiro, you gotta get up, you gotta...” Keith whispered, still staring at the minefield, that was a minefield...

“Sergeant Thace, we just heard an explosion, are you guys ok!?” Lacey demanded through the radio. “Thace, Kogane, Shirogane, respond!”

“Y-yeah, Shiro and I are here... Fuck.” Keith whispered. Thace's lifeless body was torn and broken on the ground, half-ripped to pieces by the bomb. 

“Wait, what happened? Where’s Thace? Over.”

“Uh... a landmine, Shiro-gane is down!” Trying to speak through the shock and his ringing ears, Keith stepped back, pulling Shiro with him as he got out his first aid kit and started bandaging up Shiro’s arm.

However, the man was quick to wave him off. “I’m not down... Just can’t shoot anymore.” He hissed into his radio. “I can walk, Keith.” He snapped, grey eyes hard, stress and adrenaline driving irritation as he flipped around to his other side. “You’re gonna have to do the firing.”

Another crackle. “Shit, Kogane, Shiro, I’m sorry, but if we heard it you can bet the AAF did too. You copy?”

“We copy.” Shiro groaned, pulling himself to his feet with one arm. “Shock’s gonna wear fast, let’s go.” He ordered, shaking his head shortly before starting up the hill.

“Are you hurt, Kogane?” Lacey questioned.

“Y-yeah. I mean no - I’m fine.” He managed to stammer out, following Shiro.

“Ok, make your way to us, and we’ll go from there.”

Keith jogged ahead of limping Shiro, gun out and at the ready.

“This is Captain James Sendak, Royal Navy, come in, over.” A new voice, deeper and pissed off, spoke.

“Uh, receiving you sir. Sergeant Lacey. Over.”

“Maybe next time, don’t broadcast yourself over the whole net, soldier.”

Keith noticed a man up on the ridge just as they started conversing, Shiro clearly listening more than Keith did. Laying down and scoping in, Keith slowed his breathing right down. There was a while of silence, as bullets whizzed past them. Keith took a few tries to finally hit the man, but he couldn’t complain. They were alive.

“Just over the hill and across... the road.” Shiro groaned slightly, getting to his knees. “On our way, Lacey.”

“Shiro?” Keith asked, worried about his brother.

Shaking his head a bit, Shiro settled with a sigh. “Fuck. C’mon.” He ordered, heading forward. Shock was a hell of a drug, after all.

As they crested the hill, Keith dropped into a crouch, looking out at the road below them, then the small farm to the right.

“AAF patrol.” Keith hissed, nodding to the left. There were at least four of them, near an MRAP as well.

Glancing over, Shiro swore. “Yeah. Ok. Head low.” He had gone suspiciously pale and was panting. Shiro was waning.

Keith slid across the road with his eyes mostly on the patrol.

“Kogane, you see that white house?” Lacey’s voice came through the comm, but close.

“Yep.”

“Not that one, the old one beside it.”

Turning, nudging Shiro’s good side, Keith noticed the men standing in and around that house, constantly watching for attack.

“Good to see you, Kogane.” Lacey murmured, clapping his shoulder. “C’mon. Down in the valley. They’ll have a harder time spotting us.”

“Understood.” With that, Keith slid to the side of formation as the group started to slip into the cover of the woods.

He didn’t like how Shiro was panting.




“Good to see you boys.” Sendak was tall. Intimidating definitely, with as much facial hair as he could get away with in the army.

Glancing behind them in a final check for any combatants, Keith stepped back a bit to Shiro, who was behind.

“You... Too... Captain.” The man panted, arm braced against his stomach.

“Jackson, heal Staff Sergeant Shiro.” Sendak ordered one of his men, a combat medic racing over to obey. “We’ve set up a camp up at Maxwell. Stay close, understood?”

“Yes sir.” Keith said immediately, the others doing the same.

He just hoped they’d make it there fast, for Shiro’s sake.

Chapter Text

 

'Lead me, follow me, or get the hell out of my way.’ -George S. Patton Jr.

 


 

 

Bombs exploded next to him, spraying him with sandy mud as he charged, almost recklessly, forward. A dull roar of gunfire and explosions deafened his hearing to any sort of commands or human tone, except for his own heavy breathing. It was too sharp, too young to be his own.

Eyes moved left without his command, head twitching slightly to that side with muscles he couldn’t stop, as a soldier he didn’t recognize ran up beside him, on dirt he couldn’t identify.

“Ellis! Move your ass!” Someone ahead of him caught his attention, directing his eyes forward as they crested a brownish, sandy hill, compacted by blood and a hundred footprints, and streaming with water. “Let’s move, people!”

He watched another soldier slip in the mud hesitated without helping as they raced over the hill, into the oncoming fire, literally, that natives were pouring out onto the ridge. The howls of his comrades roared in his mind as he started to cook inside his fire retardant fatigues, rolling into the mud to put it out.

Lungs heaving, he lay there for a moment, just as he heard the clump of a boot hit the dirt next to him.

A flamethrower, homemade, held by what looked like close to a teenager, levelled at his face.

There was the brief hiss of gas before-

 




Bombs exploded next to him, spraying him with sandy mud as he charged, almost recklessly, forward. A dull roar of gunfire and explosions deafened his hearing to any sort of commands or human tone, except for his own heavy breathing. It was too sharp, too young to be his own.

Eyes moved right first, then left, head focusing on the target objective ahead, as a soldier he didn’t care to recognize ran up beside him, on dirt he wasn’t familiar with, but knew.

“Ellis! Slow up!” Someone ahead of him called as they crested a brownish, sandy hill, compacted by blood and a hundred footprints, and streaming with water. “Let’s move, people!”

He watched another soldier slip in the mud, covering his front as he got up, but didn’t lose focus as they raced over the hill, into the oncoming fire, literally, that natives were pouring out onto the ridge. The howls of his comrades roared in his mind as he started to cook inside his fire retardant fatigues, rolling into the mud to put it out.

Lungs heaving, he rolled over and grabbed his gun properly, just as he heard the clump of a boot hit the dirt next to him.

A flamethrower, homemade, held by what looked like close to a teenager, levelled at his face.

He brought up his gun and fired a short full-auto burst, then swung around back over the ridge and charged forward, once more with his fellow soldiers.

 




Lance sat up. Slower than normal.

That one had ended prematurely.

Inhaling deeply and rubbing his face, Lance looked out the one rolled-up ‘window’ of the long tent. It was the only one he could actually see out of at the moment.

It was still early in the morning. Still time for more sleep, still time to go back to sleep.

He could examine the memories of that dream in the hours later. Instead, he simply rubbed his forehead, where the scar ran into his hair, and lay back down.

 




Oh-six-hundred, and Lance was standing near a truck that was being disassembled. “Well, I just think that we’ll end up going to Altis first, then home.”

“You’d just love to go to Altis. Get some sun, some shade, maybe some action.” Pidge’s voice echoed from under the truck.

“Oh, you know the kind of action I want.” Lance laughed with a wink. “Then again, I’d also like to leave these damn rocks behind.”

Pidge slid out, thin body twisting to escape. “Ugh, agreed. God, I’d kill a man for a fucking margarita.”

“Fuck, if I had a margarita for every bullet I shot this week, I’d still be shit for dicks.” Lance rolled his eyes, lowering his gun to his side, held by one hand. “At least Allura is just hanging out here at Rogain. I don’t have to go anywhere with Griffin. Fuck’s sake.” He groaned.

“Hey, at least Rizavi’s fun.” Pidge shrugged as she packaged up a... something. “Even if she’s the unit’s lesbian.”

Lance laughed, rolling his shoulders. “Hey, uh... Is Kinkade around? I wanted to ask him another weird history question.”

“Over there.” Pidge jerked a thumb to the side, where indeed, the tall man was standing. “Go be history buffs together.”

“Eat dirt, Pigeon.” He called as he got up and walked off, toward Kinkade. “Hey, Ryan.”

“Hm.” The younger man said, glancing to Lance.

“So, last night, was doing some looking... Can you tell me like... about a war with rain? And sandy dirt? And flamethrowers?” Lance listed off.

Facts stuck with him after the dreams. Maybe not all the words spoken, or orders, but reactions and facts. Ellis, someone had said.

“...Vietnam?” Kinkade said slowly, staring at him.

“Yeah, that sounds about right...” Lance murmured, scratching behind his ear. “Yeah. Thanks.” With a wave, Lance walked back toward his station

Vietnam. That was... more than a half-century ago. He remembered learning about it, vaguely. Much of it was still obscured, but Lance didn’t mind. He just wanted to know the time period.

As he reached his watchpoint, he pulled out the small, waterproof notepad, and flipped to an open page.

It wasn’t hard to find. He had flipped through the pages a lot, so the new ones were easy to separate from the old.

Quickly, he wrote down ‘Vietnam - Ellis?’ on the page, then the date. 2035, July 7th.

On a whim, he flipped back just a few pages.

The first one, labeled for 2029. Just three months into his first deployment. A month after he had taken a grazing headshot that had dropped him so suddenly he didn’t know what happened until he woke up weeks later.

‘Had a dream about fighting with an AK in a sandy desert. Felt real.’

He shut the book and slid it back into a pocket, setting his back against the sandbags with his gun in his hand. It was comfortable to stand there in the sun, not needing to run around the crumbling towns of Stratis with Allura for no reason, or needing to be launched on missions to corral the last of the resisting forces.

Now there were less than a full hundred of them on the miserable rock.

Most of his squad mates had been sent off, just him and a few others now, stuck with Allura and fucking Griffin. The man did his royal best to piss him off, he swore it. Griffin had barely been there for six months, replacing Lance’s friend and former spotter, Ward. He was fresh out of boot, and exactly that cocky.

Griffin hadn’t been sitting on Stratis for three fucking years.

The steady thud of a chopper’s blades came closer, and Lance turned his head up to locate it.

A Hummingbird. Kinda cute, with a lot of guys on it’s rails. Lance turned, watching Fraser wave it to the ground, then two hop off and head toward Allura.

Griffin, ever the eager to please, stood near Allura in almost-full attention.

Rolling his eyes, Lance went back to watching the hills below, catching Antok’s truck stop at the AAF checkpoint, then continue forward.

Instead, he contemplated the dream last night. He had known what to do on instinct, like how ‘Ellis’ was going to react, but couldn’t quite. Vietnam. I’ll need to look that up more when I get to a better spot.

Allura’s conversation with a Staff Sergeant and a Private was lost to Lance, but they must’ve gotten their orders, because they immediately headed off to the second Staff Sergeant who had arrived on the helicopter. Thace, if he remembered correctly. Apparently, Antok needed some help.

When the helicopter moved, Lance waving a cheery ‘goodbye’ to November and receiving a short one in return, he waited for the trucks to drive away before crossing the camp. “Morning Princess.”

“Good morning, Lance.” Allura smiled at him gently. She never allowed any sort of disrespect, except from him. Then again, they had known each other the longest. “Anything strange going on?”

“Aside from the abnormally friendly bunny rabbits that have reappeared, nope.” He chuckled, then sighed. “We got a date yet?”

“I was thinking Chinese.” Allura bantered back without batting an eye.

“I meant for getting off this rock.”

There was a pause, wherein Allura glanced at him, he smirked playfully, winked, Allura rolled her eyes, and they both went back to normal. An often-repeated pattern that both of them had come to enjoy. “No. Unfortunately.” She sighed.

In the last few years, Lance had gone from having a gigantic crush on Allura, like some kind of teenager, to being her best friend. Honestly, having her tell him she was going to ‘fuck that cute guy’s dick off’ in a bar while they were off duty was both the funniest and the worst thing he could’ve heard.

“So, we’re still stuck here for what, at least another month?” Lance asked with a sigh.

“Probably.”

Then someone was yelling across the base, and several soldiers sprinted to the side.

“...What the fuck?” Lance muttered, stepping away from the little station where Allura was, and toward the gathering soldiers.

Then he caught the smoke rising in the distance. “Fuck, is tha’ Kamino?” Someone asked nearby, even as Allura and Lance worked toward the front of the group.

There was a few moments were everyone tried to identify the issue, and nobody knew what was going on. Then, “Kamino to Broadway, shots fired! Requesting support! Broadway, do you copy, over!”

Allura assessed the situation in moments. “Formations ready, now!” She ordered. “If we need to provide support, we need to be ready!” Turning about, she headed back toward her table with her notes. “Thace, Shirogane, this is Rogain! Get your asses back here!” She barked to the detachment.

“Copy Rogain, but... what about Kamino?”

“No buts, Staff Sergeant, that’s an order! Out.” Allura barked. “McClain, help the engineers get inside. Griffin, on me!”

“Yes Ma’am.” Lance barked back, running toward the disassembled trucks.

“McClain, what’s going on?” Kinkade asked as he darted toward the engineer’s base.

“I don’t know. A fucking invasion?” With that, Lance ordered one of them to get the box of parts to the side.

Then the truck on the east end of camp exploded.

Burning debris scattered across Rogain, suddenly illuminated by more than just the sun, by the unnatural light of an exploded vehicle.

When he heard the distant whoosh of something launching, Lance reacted.

Grabbing Pidge, just crawling free of the truck she had been working on, and Kinkade, Lance dove behind the nearest sandbag, pulled them close to his sides, and held his breath.

The car that Pidge had been underneath exploded in a wave of heat that Lance felt, various pieces of fire-hot, explosion wrought metal burying themselves in the dirt nearby.

“Fuck me...” Pidge breathed with unfathomable softness.

“This is Broadway, attention all NATO forces on Stratis, green on blue, I repeat, green on blue!” A moment’s pause. “The AAF now considered hostile!”

Lance gritted his teeth, then shoved Kinkade and Pidge up. “Get moving, swear to fucking God...” He hissed. “Go. Right fucking now. Stay the Hell away from the cars.” Pulling out his sidearm, Lance shoved it into Pidge’s hands, letting her flick the safety off. “Go.”

“Rogain, we just ran into a Greenback patrol south of your position, do you read, over.” A voice rang through the comm in Lance’s ear as he turned it to the broadband channel. “Rogain respond!”

He opened his mouth to answer, when the deafening roar of a Mk200 sang through the space.

Lance hit the dirt without hesitation, slamming the bipod into the ground and scoping in. Out of the corner of his eyes, he saw one of the men go down, and another try to drag him out of the way.

That got his blood up.

The first guy, a fucking Greenback, went down with a single shot through his helmet, Lance turning his gun to the next one with a snarl.

“This is Rogain to Broadway, under heavy assault! Requesting backup, over!” Allura yelled through the comms as she and Kinkade dropped near Lance, the latter setting and firing off his gun. His Mk-18 ABR didn’t sound half as loud as Lance’s EMR.

There was a while where the base managed to fight back, Lance eventually switching to full auto to skip the entire part of pausing between shots. He apparently needed two to put these bastards down. “Cover me!” He called to Kinkade as he snapped out the magazine and loaded another one.

“That’s a negative, Rogain.” The man in the mic at Broadway sounded... sad. ”Broadway to all NATO forces on Stratis, code Foxtrot, code Foxtrot! AAF forces have overwhelmed the airfield and air station Mike-26. We’re pulling back.”

Lance blinked, and took a second to look up at Allura, crouching behind a blocker. Her eyes were wide, stunned that Broadway was just leaving them.

“Try to get-“ Static, same as the gunfire, ripped through Lance’s mind. His heart sank.

Leifsdottr and Rizavi abruptly appeared to the other side of Allura, Rizavi pulling up her gigantic gun, and unleashing hell to the upcoming Greenbacks.

“Allura! What the hell is everyone doing?!” Lance shouted.

With a frustrated growl, Allura brought up her gun again, trying to get some shots off, but they were being pinned. “I don’t know!”

A grenade exploded just in front of their tiny area, forcing Lance to raise his rifle and hip-fire it. God he hated hip-firing his beloved gun with a passion. “Then let’s get this group of of here!”

“Good plan. Rizavi, Kinkade, cover me!” She ordered, spinning to help an engineer to his feet.

Swiftly, she called to Griffin, Leifsdottr and Holt, who guarded their backs as they managed to call over more soldiers. It was deafening, nearly unable to hear Allura call to anyone else, as Lance stood with Rizavi and Kinkade, and did their best to buy them time.

“McClain, time to go!” Kinkade shouted through the comm, just as Rizavi called for cover, reloading her machine gun.

“Harlow, are you guys clear? Over.” Lance called, gesturing for Kinkade and Rizavi to start moving. They hesitated, but obeyed after a few moments. He wasn’t leaving until they had the space they needed.

“We just-“ There was a grunt, then Allura’s voice returned. “We just reached the forest! Move quickly! Over.”

“Understood. Out.” Backing up a bit, Lance tossed his head behind him, getting Rizavi and Kinkade to truly start on the retreat.

The next second had him knocked on his back after something small exploded nearby. His ears were ringing, and someone was dragging him to his feet.

Without really being aware of what had happened, what was going on, or anything else, Lance rolled over and grabbed his gun properly, darting after Rizavi as they ran, practically sliding down much of the hill.

It took a few minutes to finally reach Allura and the others, crouched like field mice in the forest beneath Rogain. Cleaning out his ears and shaking himself to readiness, Lance huffed. “We got any plans?”

Just as he spoke, the steady thud of a helicopter roared above his head. “Echo to all units in the Rogain area, we’re setting up an evac point at LZ Baldy, over!”

“We’re never gonna make that one.” Griffin growled.

“LZ Oscar is that way!” An engineer pointed out. A few of them didn’t even have guns past a small pistol, wholly unprepared for an attack. “We can rendezvous with them.”

Allura and Lance both glanced to the LZ, on top of a hill nearly a klick away.

“...McClain, you’ve been in these forests before.” Allura said darkly. He had been fighting in these very forests, just a few months prior. “I’ll take your advice on this one.”

Lance assessed them. Four members of a squad, himself, Allura, and five engineers, only one of whom actually had a decent weapon.

“...Nadia, how fast are you on the draw with that thing?” Nodding to her gun, Lance gave her a second to answer while he turned to his map.

“Damn fast I’d like to say, sir.”

“Up front. Arrange in an arrow formation, Holt, Frasier, and...” He stared at engineer numbers three and four for a moment. “...you two, get in the middle. Lieutenant Harlow and I will lead. Stay low, be ready for a fight.” He snapped. “Got it?”

“Yessir.” Everyone said, and Allura smiled. She had, multiple times, attempted to get Lance to take a promotion, but he had repeatedly said he didn’t want it. Outside of true meetings though, she took his advice.

“Are you alright, Lance?”

“I got blown back earlier, but I’m fine.” He murmured to Allura with a nod. “Time to go.”

He wasn’t entirely fine. His one ear was still ringing, though that was fading, and he had a headache to tear him in half. But he had to get the group to safety.

Forest running had to be one of his least favourite activities, and that was when he was prepared for it.

Four engineers weren’t in much more than a t-shirt, pants, and a light vest, and the fifth one was Pidge. Who, while she had the stamina to match someone three times her size, she had the legs of a short person.

Not that anyone would comment when she was jogging to keep up with them, lest they get a cap in their ass.

“McClain! 200 meters, front!”

Lance brought his gun up without hesitation, hitting his knees behind a fallen log.

The crack of his EMR was certain to get attention, but Lance couldn’t be bothered. His base was attacked, his friends and commander were at risk. He still had very little idea of what happened other than the AAF went batshit and there were lots dead.

When return fire chunked a piece of a tree by Pidge off, Allura made for them to draw off, get behind the others.

“Kinkade, the autorifleman! 100 meters!” Allura’s voice was steady and commanding, utterly in control of the situation.

Kinkade swore as he obviously missed the initial shot, and the return fire of a machine gun spoke fully of his miss.

“Covering fire!” Rizavi shouted, setting her gun up on the log and spraying at the enemy. The others waited behind the volley before Kinkade took a second shot, and the return fire vanished.

“Fuck me...” Pidge breathed from where she and the other engineers were hiding.

Lance stood up. “Time to go. Now. That’ll bring ‘em down on our heads.”

Getting the group moving was stunningly easy, all back in formation without issue, and heading toward LZ Oscar. It was an unfortunately short time before they came across an opening in the forest.

“Go around the edges.” Lance ordered, stepping out, just a few feet, into the light.

A fast mover roared overhead, and he dropped almost instantly, warily watching the sky.

And watching LZ Oscar get blown apart.

“Go west! Puta madre Dios...” Lance swore, waving the group back toward him. They’d need to go the other way.

“What the hell just happened?!” Pidge gasped, staring at him.

Shaking his head, Lance jumped ahead. “LZ Oscar took a hit from a fast mover. It’s fucked, so time to avoid this place. Let’s move.”

Then there was a crackle. “Rogain area, this is Captain James Sendak, Royal Navy, come in, over.” The voice was hard, aged, and utterly mean. Lance made the immediate assessment that he wouldn’t like whoever was on the other side of that voice.

“This is Lieutenant Allura Harlow, over.” Allura returned as they ran a little faster.

Gesturing, Lance made Kinkade go to the back to watch for stragglers or anyone who tripped. “Watch the rear.”

“Good to hear from you, Harlow.” Sendak chuckled, a sound that made Lance hate him more. He couldn’t even explain why. “Now, I’m assuming you are in danger, so we’ve set up a base of operations at Maxwell. If you can make it to 045095, there’s an RV that can take you there, over.”

“Sir, by this point it would be easier to just go to Maxwell.” Allura said grimly. “Can you avoid shooting us, over?”

Sendak made another deep chuckle. “That can be achieved, Harlow. We will see you soon. Out.”

Her eyes flicked to meet his as Lance ran through his knowledge of Stratis, and the approximate location of Maxwell. “...Well.” Lance sighed. “...There’s a way through the valley.”

“Then we have to take it.” Allura rumbled.

Lance bit his lip. “Anyone got any supplies?”

“We just used a first aid kit on Frasier.” Griffin commented, almost grimly from where he was sitting next to the man. “We’ve got...”

“Three left.” Nadia finished. Technically, Griffin, Rizavi, Leifsdottr and Kinkade were all part of a squad.

He didn’t know where their leader was, and that made his heart sink. Veronica might not have been close to the family anymore, but they still cared for her.

“Anyone got a mine detector?” Lance finally asked after they had gone through basic supplies.

“I do, sir!” The man who spoke up had to be young. Just one of the engineers who had come out a few weeks back to disassemble some shit and leave. He didn’t deserve to be here, for this shitpit.

“Then you get up here with Leifsdottr. Don’t leave her side, and run the hell out of that thing.” Lance ordered. “I wanna know if a damn paper clip is here, get me?”

“Yes sir!”

Lance nodded to Allura. “All yours-“

“No, McClain. I might know battles, but you know this forest. Get up front.” Allura snapped with a smirk. “I suppose you might get that promotion sooner rather than later.” She said as she came closer.

“But I like my specialist title.” Lance pouted with a smile, revelling in the joke to ease the tension. Then he hardened once again. “Let’s move!”