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Day 1

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I see skies of blue, clouds of white...Bright blessed days, dark sacred nights....

They pick up snatches of music on the short-wave; he sits, legs stretched out in front of him and his weapon cradled against his chest and all he ever wants to hear is spoken words but, still, Louis Armstrong's horn sings out in the dark. He just wants to hear Brad's voice. Sometimes, he touches his earpiece and bites his lip.

Bravo Two One, this is Bravo Two. Are you on the line?

They make terrible time; they barely move. They crawl, broken-backed. They move from safe-spot to safe-spot and some of the guys talk constantly but Q-Tip is quiet and grim. Nate watches him closely. The last thing that they need is someone flying off the handle; the last thing they want is to lose anybody else that they can ill afford. It's been twelve hours since Nate last saw Brad. The screaming had started first, disorientating on all sides. The war was supposed to be over. None of them had had time to get their weapons up at all, except Brad. Nate remembers watching him in the flare from the tracers, his jaw set. They had come from every angle, so quickly and the only option had been haul ass, scramble, scatter, oscar mike. They'd taken all of the ammunition tha they could grab, all the water, all the food.

It had taken too long to realise that they were going in opposite directions and a turning tide between them.

"I'm gonna get you cleaned up now, LT," says Mike, gently, crouching down at Nate's nine o clock. For a moment, Nate can't parse what he's saying into sense and then he remembers the hand that reached out and grabbed him, inhumanly strong (like every end-of-the-world movie he'd ever seen), and slammed him into the wall, his temple clipping brick. He'd got his sidearm up and blown half the slack face away and then swooned against the wall for a moment but then Mike had been grabbing him by his collar, dragging him along and it hadn't occured to him until the last moment to wonder where the fuck Brad had gone.

He lifts one hand and touches the side of his face.
Blood and sand dried gritty.

"You're a fuckin' nag, Mike," he says, but it's mostly to make himself feel better.

Mike doesn't say anything else. He shifts closer on his knees, iodine in one hand, cotton swab in the other.
Nate closes his eyes and breathes through the sting.

They're pinned down for the night in a school, too many windows by far. He moves among them, helping nail plywood into place. They leave gaps to fire through. The go over an escape route over and over again. It's not much, but it's something. Q-Tip and Christeson sit back to back and try to recall half remembered hip-hop lyrics. Rudy sits cross-legged with his rifle across his knees and chants softly. Nate rubs his fingers against the shallow graze on his temple and he watches them all. He refuses to believe that the ache in his chest could be his heart; he's a Recon Marine, one million dollars in the making and, if anyone can get through this in one piece, he has to believe that it's him. And they need him. And so he'll continue.

He remember something that Trudeau said.

He must sleep, for a while. He opens his eyes and, for a moment, he can't make sense of what he sees. White light dances on one wall, reminding him of Prom night, a rented tux and a girl named...Lisa. They'd kissed but never gotten any further than that and he'd lain awake all night, his arm around her waist, keeping a careful inch between their bodies. Careful. He'd been so careful, even then.

It's weird the things that come back to him.

And still the light's dancing. He stares at it for a long moment before he can make sense of it; temp lights catching in broken glass and throwing up dancing patterns on dark walls. He wonders how far this thing has spread; if it's just them, just Iraq or the whole of the middle East or if the whole fucking world is sinking under the weight of it all.

He kind of hopes that, somewhere, boys like him and still picking up girls called Lisa and taking them to Prom.
It wouldn't make anything better, but it would definitely help.

The later it gets, the quieter they fall.
It's their first night out on their own in the dark, and they'll find a way to go get through it.

Marines make do.

Across the room from him, he watches Dave mutter and rock. Of all of them, this is probably the hardest on Dave; everything had been hard on Dave already, insane to survive insanity. It's not like Dave's got anywhere retreat to. Nate pushes to his feet before he realises what he's doing and Mike's at his shoulder, solid as rock.

"This might not be your fight, Nate," he says, quietly. "Might be fuck all you can do here."
He gives Mike a look, looks for words that mean I have to try.

"Hey, Dave," he says. Dave's eyes are wide and dark in a smudged face and Nate remembers forcing a smile and watching Dave walk away.
No walking away.

He sinks down onto the floor, back to the wall and, a moment later, Dave sways closer and a moment after that, Nate shifts until he can drop an arm around his shoulders and draw him in close. For what feels like a very long time, Dave trembles against him and Nate just sits there with his cheek against Dave's short hair. It ought to be an insult to some overtly masculine part of him, but it isn't. He just numbers the experience and counts it as the first crack in his warrior's heart.

And he still can't forget what Trudeau said.
It's not the end of the world, but he feels like he can see it from here.