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It was a slow day on call and Davis had spread his kit out all over the floor of the spare office suite claimed by the Valkyries, checking it over for damage. It was something he did every week, just in case something got dropped, worn out, or broken. On a Shout was not when he wanted to find out the hard way. Lying nearby, Osiris was half asleep having run himself ragged all over the training grounds earlier in the afternoon. This time, all Davis found was a dead torch battery. He started to pack it all up again, each piece going back exactly where it was supposed to when Jamie joined him, his own pack slung over his shoulder.

Davis grinned up at him from his position on the floor, rolling his rain gear back up. “Great minds think alike.”

“Something like that,” the curly haired medic said as he looked around for a clear bit of floor.

Jamie dropped his pack on the far side of the room and started to unpack it, careful to stay in his own little area so his stuff didn’t get mixed up with his mate’s. Osiris heaved himself up and came over to say hello. Jamie gave the big dog a scratching. Osiris arched into his hand grumbling happily.

It was so comforting, to be petting a dog, doing something as relaxing as sorting his kit out and sharing the space with a friend. The TEAR Coy wasn’t anything like the posting he had been expecting. After the intense experience of deployment with the Ghurkas in Brunei, he never expected to feel so bonded to another team. To his shock, he was comfortable in a way he hadn’t been since leaving home. With its eclectic mix of scientists and military specialists, this place was open-minded, safe.

“Careful,” Davis warned lightly, “He’ll have you keeping that up all day if you let him.”

Laughing, Jamie let his hand drop back to his lap. Osiris nosed at his shoulder for a moment before sighing heavily and ambling back to settle down near his master’s feet again.

“Sorry, Davis, didn’t mean to spoil him. Guess I’ve just been touch deprived.”

Looking up Davis cocked his head, curious. “How long have you been back in country since your last deployment?”

“Six months,’ Jamie replied. “Two months decompression, a little while subbing out of Grantham, and then assignment to this outfit.”

Davis nodded sympathetically. “In which case, spoil the mutt as much as you like. I can certainly understand how being out in theatre could make a man lonely.”

They continued working for a while, companionably silent as they each checked over their equipment. Eventually, Davis finished. Not feeling the pressing need to be anywhere else, he drifted over to watch as Jamie continued meticulously checking through his medic’s kit. Beside him, one of Major Sayer’s requisition forms and a log sheet waited. As he went through the kit, he noted down which items and drugs he still had and quantities thereof. Watching, Davis grimaced.

“I think I’d go nutters if I had to document my kit that closely,” he offered sympathetically.

“Trust me; it’s better than the alternative. Last thing you want as a medic is uncomfortable questions about why you’ve less morphine in your kit than you should according to logs.”

Davis grimaced again. “Yet another reason I’ll stick to dogs.”

Jamie smiled wryly as Osiris lifted his head and ambled over yet again. Carefully putting down the stack of packaged syringes he’d been counting out, he put a hand on either side of the big dog’s head and scratched thoroughly, closing his eyes in enjoyment. Watching, Davis was bemused, he’d rarely seen anyone other than the other dog handlers enjoy interaction with a trained military dog so thoroughly.

“Mate, you must have been really lonely in Brunei,” he laughed.

Jamie’s eyes snapped open and his look skewered Davis to the wall like a bug pinned to bristol board.

“You’ve no idea,” Jamie replied quietly, hands going still along Osiris’ jaw.

Davis swallowed convulsively around the tight lump in his throat. “No girl to come home to then?” He asked uncomfortably.

“No,” Jamie’s replied flatly. “No boy either.”

Flushing hotly, Davis looked down at his hands. “Sorry, I didn’t mean - “

“No worries,” Jamie said dismissively. He stood quickly, tossing items back into his kit and cramming the log and requisition forms into one of his combat trousers’ pockets. “Look, I’m going to -” He gestured vaguely toward the door, leaving the sentence hanging as he shouldered his pack, rubbed Osiris’ head one last time, and made for the corridor.

Watching the medic’s retreating form through the windows in the office wall, Davis couldn’t help but feel miserable at having blundered so badly. Shaking his head, he shouldered his own kit and headed for the service bay with Osiris trailing at his heels. A few moments after his footsteps receded to echo, Mace’s head popped out from the door to the captain’s office where she’d been working. Door mostly shut, she’d still heard more than enough to be uncomfortable with the exchange. Aching in sympathy for Jamie, she resolved to corner him as soon as the opportunity presented itself, see if perhaps talking to someone with a little more similarity of experience could help him let go of what was obviously a hurt long held.

~~oOOo~~

Mace lay on her belly in the grass and used her pack as a rest for her rifle. The Valkyries were spread out in a line on either side of her. They were out in the predawn hours at Battersea Park, fortunately before the tourists and school groups arrived.

The creatures they were chasing were small quadruped, with blotchy brown hide. Someone identified them, but Mace didn’t remember what they were called. In her mind she was referring to them as ‘quick little piggy bastards’. There was a whole herd of the damn things, happily grazing in the predator-free park.

When they arrived the portable detectors led them right through the carefully maintained trees and duck-ponds to where the Tear was glittering brightly in a stand of bushes. Posting one person to close enough to keep an eye on it for any additional incursions, they spread out. There were tracks everywhere, but the creatures hadn’t moved far from the anomaly.

Right now the entire herd of seventeen was alternately grazing and watching the soldiers nervously in a small field with a pond behind them and a high bank on one side. It wasn’t a corral, but it would do. Lt. McTavish used the you-you-you method of selecting volunteers to move through the woods on the far side and flush out any strays out into the field.

When they were confident all the creatures were in the field, they would each pick a target and in theory it would be like shooting fish in a barrel. Any soldier knows what happens to theories about how the battle is going to go. No plan survives contact with the enemy, that why they’re called the enemy. Even if the enemy in this case was little piggy bastards.

Right now the only thing they had going for them was that the creatures had a strong herd instinct and had yet to see the unfamiliar humans as a threat.

Mace wiggled slightly, trying to get comfortable on the dirt while Jas, Toff and the new guy Donny slipped through the trees to ring the creatures in.

The Lt. came over the comms, “All teams are in position. Don’t let them get past you. I don’t want to have to make Ms. Agatha work too hard on a Monday.”

Mace chuckled at the thought of the tough-as-nails PR woman caring about something so mundane as Monday before focusing at her chosen targets. A few moments later, Lt. McTavish gave the order to fire at will.

She grinned, and her glee was echoed up and down the line as they all fired at once. Half the herd hit the ground, dropped instantly, and the rest panicked. Two big ones were running right at her. Mace had enough time to hit the bigger one square in the chest and that just made the other one run faster, making low bellowing sound. Mace brought her weapon around and fired again- she missed.

“Shit!” She cursed and jumped sideways. Wheet, wheet The creature dropped, almost at her feet. Mace looked up. Lily was grinning at her, and then theatrically pretended to blow smoke off the barrel of her taser.

“Just call me dead-eye.” The tiny blonde said with a smirk. “I believe that you are going to owe me a cider at the pub later.”

Mace looked around. All the creatures were down and the trio that was down in the woods as beaters were already walking towards the unconscious animals littered around the field. Mace was gratified to note that the beast at her feet wasn’t the only one that nearly broke through the line.

Lt. McTavish was giving orders for them to bring the trucks around and get the beasties loaded before the beasties woke up from the taser jolt and rubber shot the team used in their rifles. She looked down at the beastie. Up close it looked more like big, malformed goat than a pig with a too big head and long tail. She grunted and set her weapon down on her pack.

“Help me drag this one over there with the others,” she asked Lily. Together, they manhandled the 200 kg creature around to where the vehicles were already pulling up. Toff and Floyd walked over to her and she took a quick step backwards to get out of their way while they heaved the creature into the truckbed- and her foot rolled on a stone. “Bugger!” She cursed as she fell backwards, reflexively putting her hands out to slap the ground. That worked, on a flat surface like everywhere she ever trained. This was Nature. It was not flat. Pain shot through her head as the side of her head slammed into a large, jagged rock.

“Buggery fuck fuck.” Mace winced and cursed some more as she held her head. She was already pushing herself to her feet as Lily reached her and pulled her hand down by the wrist to avoid the blood already liberally covering the other woman’s fingers and palm. Lily eyed the wound critically.

“That’s nasty.” Lily observed, “You’ll need to get stitched up when we get back.” She let go and Mace went back to holding pressure on the wound.

“I hate head wounds, they bleed like the dickens.” She griped and allowed Lily to guide her over to the seat in the truck. She was just easing in when Toff popped up with the first aid kit. There was too much blood in her eye to really tell who it was, and that stung just as bad as the original wound.

She heard more than saw Lily snap on a pair of nitrile gloves so she could start wiping the worst of the blood and mess away before pulling her hand down again and quickly pressing a wad of gauze on. From the slight residual ringing in her left ear, it felt like the injury must have been rather nearby. She couldn’t tell how deep it was and her mate was carefully not telling her while she wrapped the bandage around her head.

“Your hair is all grubby. It’s far enough down that I think they’ll be able to stitch without cutting it.” Lily took a step back to admire her handiwork. “Excellent. You look like an extra in a war movie.”

Toff appeared up at her elbow, with his ever present grin, “or a zombie movie. Come on, groan ‘brains’,” he suggested in a slow drawl.

Mace was in no mood. “Piss off.” She snapped at him. “Fuck me. We bag seventeen creatures and I bang myself up on a ruddy rock!”

“Don’t worry about it,” Lily told her while she packed up the first aid kit. “Shit happens. Besides, I’m certain Fee will be more than happy to kiss and make it better once the medic’s done with you.”

Mace groaned. She was fucked. Her lover was going to give her a ration of shit for the injury. On the other hand, as Lily had insinuated, she was also very likely to insist on kissing and making it better. As she leaned into the back seat of the truck, Mace couldn’t help the small grin the floated across her expression at the thought. Fucked indeed....

~oOOo~

Mace waved off Lily’s offer of assistance when they got back to the Roundhouse. “I’ll be fine. It’s only a cut.”

Looking at the way the bandage was staining red, Lily grimaced. “That’s more than ’just a cut’, Mace. Sorry, needs stitching. You’re going to medical and that’s final. I’m not going to have the captain flay me alive for having not seen this tended to.”

Stubbornly, Mace continued to argue. McTavish put an end to the discussion in that straightforward way of his. He ambled around the vehicles until he was standing in front of the two arguing woman. “Mace. Medical. Now.”

“Yes sir.”

She snapped off a slightly laconic salute and began the trek toward the medical centre. With a nod of his head, McTavish released Lily from cleanup duties to follow along, making sure that Mace reached her destination and did so without incident. Despite the fact that she outranked him, it’d been his field to command. The last thing he wanted was to deal with either of the captains’ ire if their course-mate wasn’t seen to properly. The entire ARC knew about their protectiveness of each other, and the fact that Fee and Mace were involved had only strengthened that.

Shaking a lock of Irish red hair out of his eyes, McTavish nodded to his second and began giving orders. As soon as the juniors began breaking down the kit, he’d go work on filling out the incident reports so he could be done before imminent shift change.

 

On the floor above the service bay, Mace walked into the medical wing trailed by Lily to find Jamie Sorenson emptying out and sorting a cupboard. He looked up when they arrived, and his eyes widened at the bandage on Mace’s head.

“Why didn’t you call ahead?” He demanded to know as Lily guided Mace over to the nearest private exam room.

“It’s not that bad.” Mace was still trying to shrug it off. “It’s bloody, but there wasn’t any reason to call ahead, it’s not like my arm got bitten off or something.”

“Yeah, well, if that happens have fun going to the hospital.” Jamie retorted smartly. One of his private nightmares was running into a situation in the field which was beyond the scope of his skills. With the gung-ho attitude of the soldiers, they would bring it to him anyway. He might be SF just like the rest of them, but his fear of mortality and permanent injury was a hell of a lot stronger. He’d seen too many cases in Brunei of something that was “just a scratch” which turned into a septic living nightmare for the treating medic a few weeks later.

He grabbed the kit for stitches, and stacked a tray with local anesthetic, surgical glue, bandage material, and instruments. Jamie called down the hallway as he was assembling his tray, “Are you allergic to anything?”

“Shrimp!” Mace said cheekily, “So no fisherman’s platter for me, whatever you do!”

Jamie rolled his eyes and replaced the iodine on his tray with alcohol. “You’re probably allergic to iodine Mace, for future reference. I’ll make a note in your chart.”

Speaking of her chart, he took a quick peek at her sitting quietly on the exam table, swinging her legs and Lily seated in the corner and decided that he had a few moments. “I’m going to look at your record, this will only take a minute and then we’ll get that bandage off and see what’s what.”

“Take your time,” Mace told him resignedly. “I’m not going anywhere.” Her eyes sidled over to Lily who was texting someone. Probably coordinating bets on how many stitches she would need.

Jamie returned, putting a kit down on the bed beside her with a heavy thump. “I’ve got it from here, Lily. Why don’t you go get reports written up?”

“Ta!” she said, and with a cheery wave, headed off toward the bowels of the building.

Mace grimaced annoyance, “could have waited on my own. It’s not like I needed the babysitter.”

“Would you have even come in if she hadn’t?” Jamie asked quietly as he began laying out supplies on the tray.

“Eventually. I mean, I probably would have tried to see if it had stopped bleeding first.”

“So you would have unwrapped it somewhere like the locker room, got blood all over the floor, and wouldn’t have a way to rewrap it?”

Mace grumbled at him. “Something like that. You don’t know. It might have stopped bleeding!”

“Lovely job, that. So now you’ve left your mates to clean up after you and whomever does so is going to be open to blood-borne pathogens. Well done you. Nice of you to be so competent in taking care of things, Captain.”

“Yes well, we can’t all be infallible, Mister Sorenson,” she snapped, hands fisting on her combat trousers as he injected anesthetic around the injury. “Oh wait, that’s right, you’re not infallible either, just a hurt little bi-boy trying to cover his own ass whenever his mates get too close.”

Startled, Jamie’s head snapped up. He had to put the syringe he’d just used down with excessive care to give himself time to reply without temper.

“I’m going to assume, captain, that means you overheard a certain conversation between Corporal Messinger and I earlier this week. I’ll politely remind you that we thought we were alone when that conversation took place. And that I did keep my temper. Yes, Davis might have poked me in a raw spot, but unlike you, I didn’t snap back.”

“Oh so we’re playing high and mighty now are we?” Mace replied hotly, blue eyes blazing. “You’re not the only one who’s had to deal with people’s snap assumptions, you know.”

“You’re only after one side, so what would you know? Me? Soon as people find out what I am it’s ’oh watch out for your boyfriends AND your girlfriends, and sleep with one eye open while you’re at it, because this one’s after anything with a pulse.’

Mace grabbed his wrist, stopping them both cold. Green eyes met blue and it was Mace who looked away first.

“But that’s where you’re wrong, Jamie,” she whispered. “I understand completely.”

He ignored her and started to poke around the edges of the wound to make sure it was numb before he started to clean it off. Releasing his off hand, Mace let him and she started talking about something she rarely talked about; herself.

“I’m just like you, Jamie. And I’ve gotten the same shit for it over the years. I know exactly what it’s like to have people treat you like ‘Oh god, you’re going to steal my boyfriend and molest me at the same time!’ It fucking sucks. People think when I’m with a woman that I’m just a lesbian, but that ignores all the time’s that I’ve tripped and fallen down on some cock,” she noticed his shocked expression, “Oh yes, there have been almost as many times that I’ve wound up with a man as a woman. Not here and not lately. But when I’m with a man then people assume that I’m over my girl attraction. That he ‘cured’ me. So don’t you even take that self-righteous, long suffering tone with me.”

Mace sat very still, realizing that she hadn’t felt more than the tug of the surrounding skin as Jamie began carefully stitching the wound shut. If there was one thing she couldn’t stand- well, there were a lot of things she couldn’t stand - but people throwing themselves pity parties was high on the list. She carefully avoided looking at the basin full of blood stained gauze which he’d accumulated while she was on her tear.

For a while, Jamie didn’t respond, but eventually he asked, “How many people here know that about you?”

She thought about it honestly and finally had to shrug indifference. He immediately told her to hold still while he was working. “I don’t know. Fee, Will, most of the women I suppose. We talk. I’m not sure who else. It’s not any big secret but I don’t announce it to the world. It’s not the worlds’ business.”

Mace let him continue working while he pondered that.

“The Ghurka don’t have a place in their world for people like me.” Jamie began hesitantly. “Do you have any idea what it’s like, denying half of who you are just to avoid being shunned by your mates? I don’t regret choosing deployment with them, but doing so was like shutting down; becoming a shell of who I am.”

“No. I’ve never had to hide it that much, it must have been terrible,” she sympathized. “My granny was religious. When I was sixteen she caught me making out with my girlfriend and said we were both going to hell. I told her to save me seat if she died first. I wasn’t a very tactful teenager.”

Jamie barked laughter. “I don’t know anyone who was tactful as a teenager.”

Mace grinned back, feeling the slight thawing of his earlier hostility. They sat silently for a few more minutes while he continued to work. Eventually Mace realized he was done closing the wound. Jamie picked up a sponge and began to work again and it took Mace a moment to realize that he was ever so gently cleaning the rest of the blood off, not just from the wound where he’d need to apply a dressing, but from the surrounding hair as well. Looking down at her hands, now relaxed in her lap, she smiled softly.

“I think the worst of it is when people don’t understand. The assume being bi is about opportunism, having the chance to bed anything and everything giving you an even higher likelihood of finding a good lay. But it’s not. Yes, it’s about bodies, but more importantly, it’s about connection. My first girlfriend was the one who taught me that the reason I was bisexual was because I needed to connect to other people. It’s that connection that turns me on, makes me feel alive. The equipment doesn’t matter so much as having someone to hold.”

“The one your granny caught you with?”

Mace nodded.

“She sounds like she was ahead of her age then.”

“I said I was sixteen. She was a whole year ahead of me, and wanted to be a philosopher. Did it too; she invited me to her graduation when she got her doctoral degree.”

“Did you go?”

“Couldn’t; I was deployed at the time.” She lost herself thinking of old memories before she realized that Jamie was patting her hair dry, and gently running it through his fingers. She started connecting the dots.

“That’s the part you miss the most, isn’t it?” She asked quietly, not wanting to break the spell.

“What?” Jamie’s hand froze never the less.

Wincing at her mistake, Mace leaned back into his hand, encouraging him to continue his ministrations. When he didn’t continue on his own, she pulled away with a sigh.

“You miss touching things, people. It’s the lack of that sensation that leaves you raw and wanting.” She reached up and held his hand before running her fingertips over his wrist, up his arm.

Jamie closed his eyes in spite of himself and let her do it. “Yes.”

“When was the last time someone gave you a hug?” Mace demanded abruptly.

The length of time it took for him to respond was answer enough. Eventually though, he did reply with words that left her aching in sympathy.

“A long time,” Jamie finally admitted.

Mace was looking at her hands again as she spoke. “Setting rank aside, would you mind if I -”

Jamie looked at the top of her head for a few moments before nodding. He had a second to realize that she’d likely missed the gesture before her arms came around his waist and pulled him into a gentle embrace. Chin resting on the top of her head, Jamie’s eyes closed again and he exhaled raggedly. After a few moments, he pulled back to look down at her.

“Just don’t let your girlfriend catch you doing this, okay? Really don’t want to get on the bad side of that one. She’s scary!”

Mace laughed, muffled against his chest before they finally broke apart.

Jamie offered her a warm smile as he began tidying up. “You’re clear to go. Keep it clean, don’t get the stitches wet for a few days and I’ll give you some antibiotic cream to put on. You’ve had stitches before, you know how it goes.”

“Yes, mother,” Mace looked at his back while he put things away, carefully not looking at her. “Jamie... in the future... if you happen to need to talk, or hug, or.... Just come find me. I won’t tell anyone.”

“Yes ma’am,” he replied giving a mock salute and the tiniest trace of a grin.

“Also,” Mace wondered if she was about to undo all the hard work she had done to get him to trust her, but they had to be a team, all of them. “Also, you have to talk to Davis. He doesn’t realize all the baggage people like us have. He didn’t mean to be rude but there’s no way he can avoid it in the future if you don’t tell him what he’s done.” She held up a hand to stave off his protests and continued. “You don’t have to tell him everything but you do have to make things right with him. He can’t be wondering what innocuous statement is going to make you angry on a Shout. It’s too dangerous where we’re out in the field together for him to be walking on eggshells around you.”

Jamie groaned. “I suppose you’re right. I’ll talk to him.”

Mace got up off the table and gently hugged him again. “Go square things with your mate. He’s young, inexperienced. He just didn’t know any better. It’ll work out, promise. I know that sounds trite, but it will. You just need time to be back. That’s also probably annoying as fuck to hear. People said the same to me and much as I hated it, they were right.”

“Right,” Jamie agreed with her. “Now I’ve got to clean up all the blood you dripped on my nice clean floor.” She could tell that he was about done talking about his feeling for the day, or probably, for the month so Mace thanked him for the neat stitches and left.

Fee and Lily were waiting in the locker room when she got there. Fee hauled her lover close and squeezed the breath out of her and for once, Mace didn’t complain. “I was worried!” Fee told her gruffly. “Lily threatened to sit on me if I even looked towards the medical bay.”

Lily came up beside them, “I thought that Jamie didn’t need to work while this one was glaring daggers at him.” She clapped a friendly hand on Fee’s back, “So come on then. Inquiring minds want to know. How many stitches?”

Mace blinked at her. “You know, I didn’t ask.”

Fee looked at her curiously and Mace shot her a look that quite clearly said ’I’ll tell you later’. Pulling the hair carefully back from the injury, Fee laughed. “Sorry, Lil, if you want to know it looks like you’ll have to go ask Jamie. The wound’s got a dressing over it and there’s no chance in hell I’m going to annoy the medics by making them redo their work just so you can win a bet.”

“Spoilsport,” Lily quipped, but there was a smile on her face as she flounced off to write her report.

Fee watched her go for a moment before turning back to look at Mace again. “So what was that all about?”

“Your dog specialist put his foot in it earlier this week with Jamie. I was just, erm, making sure they worked that out before it got in the way on a call out.”

“This something I need to be aware of, officially, as his OC?” Fee asked, concern immediately evident.

“No,” Mace shook her head. “It was just a misunderstanding, and Jamie didn’t speak up when he should have. No harm done, love.”

Smiling her gratitude, Fee pulled Mace in close once again. “Well thank you for handling it anyways. It isn’t your command, but I do appreciate you looking out for them.”

“We’re family,” Mace replied quietly. “We owe it to each other to see that nothing keeps us from looking after each other. It’s just humanity, plain and simple. Sometimes all people really need is a reminder that humanity is more important than any rank or rule.”

Fee was looking at her a touch oddly. “That was a beautiful speech, Mace. But are sure you want to stick to that analogy?”

Suspicious, Mace asked, “Why?”

“Because that would make Kavan and Alex the fathers figure for TEAR.”

Mace laughed and shoved at Fee. “Don’t make me laugh! I’m wounded and on drugs!”

“Oooo,” Fee purred. “Does that mean I’d be taking advantage of you if I pinned you to the wall right now and kissed you senseless?”

“Yes please!” Mace said as she reached hungrily for the other half of her soul.