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When in Doubt

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          Ghost POV
          It had occurred to Ghost that he might have to reveal his face at some point, but he hadn't though it would be necessary to his life on base. He tried so hard to keep to himself at first. But the other Privates were so bloody nosy. First it was the Captain, or rather soon-to-be. They'd have to survive training first.

          He'd been told to go check out the lodgings and meet his new team. New team, full of bloody amateurs. Or so he thought.

          The captain-to-be is the only one there, sitting on a cot close to the ground. He has a showy Mohawk and a scar over his left eye. His curiosity is piqued so he comes to stand in front of his new leader. The man is carefully cleaning a revolver with a small brush. Riley is wondering how delicate he has to be with his meaty fingers to not break the brush.

          "Is there something I can help you with?" he doesn't look up, but Ghost somehow doesn't find himself offended by the lack of attention.

          Ghost is, to say in the least, shocked by the low gravelly tone accompanied by a Scottish accent. He sounds harsh. Ghost really wishes that the first thought his brain cooks up isn't to be friendly to this man. But alas, those Brit manners step in front of his attitude.

          "I was told to report here and meet the rest of the team?"

          "Aye, and that's me. More of a partnership really." He finally looks up at Ghost.

          His left eyebrow ticks up at the sight of his mask. He could go ahead an' be bloody curious, because Ghost isn't taking it off. They size one another up for another few seconds before Ghost clears his throat.

          "Name's Ghost, mate."

          "Captain John MacTavish, but I'm not your mate yet." He stands up and levels him with a stare. His hard blue eyes seem to pierce Ghost's black shades.

          "What do I call you? Got a call-sign?"

          "MacTavish is fine. John if you like." he finally puts his hand out to shake and if Ghost was one for doing as much, he would have sighed in relief. That was starting to get awkward. "You got a name?"

          Ghost knows he's only being polite, but the idea of giving his name out willy-nilly doesn't sit right. Ghost shakes his head. MacTavish doesn't frown, per say, but Ghost thinks he detects a hint of the need to roll eyes.

          "Should ave' figured with a call-sign like Ghost." he chuckles.

          "I like my privacy." Ghost answers, sitting down on the cot on the opposite side of the small tent.

          MacTavish crouches next to his cot and pulls out a small gun case. Ghost catches a glimpse of letters carved into the top. CJP. It can't be MacTavish's initials, since there's no M. With that thought, Ghost thinks it might be worth it to stick around just to unravel the mystery of the gruff man before him. It better be worth the jet-lag from the base in England.
MacTavish glances out of the tent before latching the flap down. "Don't we all." he turns back to his bunk and pulls out his next box.

          It's bigger. Not so much in width, but in length. The case itself is steel blue. This one does have his initials on it. J"S"M. The S must not be his middle name since it's in quotes, so that must be his call-sign.

          Scarface? Funny, but unlikely. Ghost mulls it over for a couple of minutes in his head. Maybe if he works with him for a little while he'll figure it out.

          Captain MacTavish's POV

          So this Ghost fellow is quite a character. No name and no face. There are things that MacTavish knows already from their brief talk. He's a Brit, which is far from a problem. He has a name with a reputation, maybe? Much like Ghost, MacTavish is keeping his distance for the moment. Watching, figuring, calculating really.

          He's not a really large man, being more on the lean side by his appearance. Unlike John himself. John is 6' 1" with heavyset shoulders and thighs. Thankfully, hours in the gym keeps his waist slim. This Ghost is taller, roughly 6' 4" if John had to hazard a guess. That doesn't say much for the muscle he could be hiding under his loose black shirt.

          He won't be an easy man to impress, that much is for sure. Though John has the suspicion that he might have already. Ghost doesn't have much for belongings that he brought with him. He knows for certain the Ghost didn't miss the initials on the first gun case. And he's observant enough to catch the ones on his assault rifle case, though they are small. 

          John has been cleaning his M4A1 for the last ten minutes, and Ghost's silence is starting to unnerve him. When MacTavish looks up though, Ghost isn't there and a note lies on his pillow.

          'Went to mess, I'll be back with food : )' it reads.

          MacTavish notes the open flap and the smell of food in the air. Who is this guy? A sneaky Brit with secrets and smiley-faces. It's going to be a long week.

          Not five minutes later, John looks up at the sounds of quiet eating and finds Ghost sitting on his cot, back against the support beam of the tent. Ghost catches him looking and gestures to a plate on MacTavish's right. Two biscuits with meat gravy. The gravy far outweighs the biscuits, and he has no fork.

          "I'd let it cool a little if I were you." Ghost suggests.

          "You seem alright."

          Ghost tilts his plate so John can see what he's eating. He has his gravy corralled by the shredded remains of his biscuits. He has a couple of slices from an apple and chunks of watermelon. Where he got such wonderful fruit is beyond John's comprehension. They don't really get much fruit out here.

          "Care for a piece?" Ghost asks, catching him eyeing the fresh specimens.

          "I don't really have a fork to eat it with. I'll survive."

          He doesn't hear Ghost move, but something white flashes past his peripheral vision and he turns to see a fork stuck in one of his biscuits.

          "You tryin' to prove something, Ghost?"

          "Old habits die hard."

          Ghost has the bottom of his mask pulled up so he can eat. Square jaw, no stubble, mouth with a natural upward tick.

          "Stop."

          "Stop what?" MacTavish asks, putting as much fake innocence as possible into his words.

          Very childish, he knows, but it's worth it. John picks up his fork and twirls it between his fingers. As the top comes up a second time, a piece of watermelon is impaled in the tines. John doesn't glance up at Ghost, instead just eating the watermelon the Ghost was kind enough to donate.

          "Stop analyzing me. You won't find anything."

          "Whatever you say, Ghost."

          Ghost gives him what must be a funny look under the mask, but MacTavish ignores it. He opts to grab his plate after putting his gun away and eats the supper that Ghost had scavenged for.

          Everything Ghost says is almost foreign to John. He's weirdly pleasant to the man who didn't even look up to acknowledge him. Every kind offer or action is only more confusing. And John can tell that he isn't kissing up to anyone, he's just genuinely nice. John is skeptical.

          Ghost puts his plate just under the edge of his cot and lies down. No one will be able to step on it and he won't make a mess of it spilling it off his bed. Smart. Common sense, but smart. He's asleep soon after that.

          He doesn't notice when John gets up and clears away his plate. He doesn't notice John mumble something sometimes while he sleeps. As John moves around out of restlessness, not having been on a flight, he listens to his new teammate breathe. Ghost doesn't know that the other man is taking solace in the fact that he's not getting a FNG. He doesn't know any of it because at the moment, he's dead to the world.

          Ghost's POV

          Ghost is thankful when MacTavish finally turns in. He'd been cleaning the last gun in the case under his bed for the past 20 minutes, pretending he's not studying the man across from him. Even though Ghost told him to stop, he feels eyes on him every once in a while, and hopes that the good captain can't tell that he's getting the same treatment. As the tent gets dark, Ghost falls asleep. He's not letting his jet lag get the better of him just because there's a man that he doesn't trust yet in the same room as him.

          He doesn't wake up until the horn the next morning. MacTavish makes his way outside with Ghost on his heels. He tosses Ghost his shades over his shoulder and Ghost just stares at them.

          "How did ya' get these, mate?"

          "1: I told you I'm not your mate. 2: You sleep like the dead." MacTavish grins to himself.

          He slips them back onto his face, concealing the curl of brown hair and the blue eyes that usually stay hidden underneath. He glares daggers at his captain's back. He probably didn't even look at what was underneath. He just took them because he could. He knows that MacTavish wouldn't invade his privacy after saying that he liked his own just as well. They stand together in a slot marked for their "team" with letters and numbers.

          TF 141.

          "I believe a 'Task Force' requires a few more men, don't you?" Ghost asks.

          MacTavish levels him with a look. "I believe you know exactly how much two men can get done."

          Ghost nods and sits down on the bench in front of their practice range. MacTavish follows in suit and waits for roll call to get over with.

          A man, Corporal Dunn, walks by each group. "Rangers, Spetsnaz, Op For, Militia, tell me when you hear your name!"

          MacTavish whispers in Ghost's ear. "Supposedly, once we get our first mission over with, some of the Rangers are being transferred to us. The best ones anyway."

          "Private Archer." Dunn calls.

          "Ranger!" is the response.

          "Corporal Shane."

          "Op For!"

          "Private Royce."

          "Ranger!"

          "Meat!"

          "Militia!"

          "Ozone!"

          "Spetsnaz!"

          "Toad!"

          "Ranger!"

          "Private Sanderson!"

          "Ranger."

          Ghost tilts his head. "Has he not earned his call-sign yet?"

          "Must be an FNG." MacTavish mutters.

          Many more names follow, and most have call-signs. In quiet curiosity, Ghost wonders which recruit will be the first to join them. Hopefully, someone with a little experience.

Chapter Text

          Private Gary Sanderson's POV

Gary huffed at roll call that morning. He's one of the very few who hasn't earned their call-sign yet and he was sure that the new task force noticed it. That's what they're training to do. Qualifying to be on any team was hard enough, but to be on Shepard's personal Task Force? But what Gary does notice was that there are only two guys on it now. He knows what that says about how difficult it is to get in. It leads him to wonder what it took for the two who did make it.

          They have a stack of files next to them, and the one with the skull mask is looking over one with mock interest. Not that Gary can tell behind the mask, but his posture says he's not very interested in what the file has to say. Suddenly, he looks up, as if aware he's being watched and Gary turns away. He seems to shrug from Gary's peripheral vision. He looks up at MacTavish and he talks quietly. MacTavish, thank goodness, isn't wearing a mask. Gary can read his lips.

          'Can you really blame em'? We probably seem fairly daunting.'

          The masked man talks again and MacTavish chuckles. They're watching Sargent Foley use Private Allen as an example. So far, he hadn't missed. Scratch that. He'd missed once. His grenade toss leaves MacTavish smirking.

          'He's got a good arm.'

          The masked man's response makes MacTavish chuckle.

          'You'd think so. Not braggin' or nothin', but I've thrown in leagues."

          This time the masked man laughs.

          MacTavish narrows his eyes and cuffs him on the back of the head. 'Play nice, lad. I'm still your captain.'

          The man shrugs and looks up at MacTavish again, his shoulders shaking with mirth at something in his words. MacTavish looks around and does something surprising. He gives the man an "accidental" shove off the bench. He lands on his ass and glares at MacTavish.

          'Told ya' I wasn't your mate.'

          Are these two friends, or not? Their joking manner and quiet conversation suggests that they are, but the captain's words all seem to be objective. So maybe they don't know each other?

          Gary was intrigued. Even without much ground between them, they seem to be getting along. The masked man still sits on the ground, arms on his knees. If he didn't seem so pleased with himself, Gary would think he was sulking. Who is this guy?

          MacTavish kicks him lightly in the back and the man looks up. 'Private Archer is doin' the pit with his sniper. Care to watch?'

          He nods in response and gets up, dusting himself off. He seems more animated than the captain, but just as reserved. Then Gary realizes that they're testing each other. Gary notes that he's still got 30 people before his run. Not that one run takes very long.

          As if to prove a point, Archer asks to see them run it first. MacTavish accepts and the masked man laughs. Dunn stands by the side.

          "I don't like to see one-up-manship here, but in this case, the record high is mine."

          "We'll just see about that." MacTavish growls, cuffing Ghost again.

          The man finally speaks loudly enough for Gary to hear and he realizes that the masked man is a Brit. Then again, the captain is Scottish, so what does that prove.

          "You know, I don't really think Shepard would like you hitting your men, MacTavish." Corporal Dunn says.

          "Hardly my problem what the General would like. And Ghost doesn't mind, do ya' lad?"

          Ghost nods enthusiastically. "I love bein' whopped upside the head for tellin' the truth, mate. Makes me feel acknowledged and appreciated."

          MacTavish sighs at something in Ghost's statement. "For the last time....."

          "I know, 'I'm not your mate', but..."

          "No buts, Ghost, go run the course. That's your punishment."

          Gary has a feeling that Ghost is rolling his eyes. Well, maybe not a feeling and more of a hunch based on the way that MacTavish whops him again. Those two are going to be good friends by the looks of things.

          Ghost's shoulders tense, as if he's going to argue, but instead he nods his head and walks down the dusty steps. MacTavish tilts his head a little. Gary narrows his eyes. Ghost seems like a trouble-maker, but when it comes to taking orders he straightens out. MacTavish seems to take this into account as he stands on the ledge of the pit, watching Ghost move with deadly precision. Gary wonders how many times he's done the course. Out of curiosity, he follows MacTavish.

          Dunn doesn't even have time to tell him to switch weapons because it's faster by the time Ghost gets his M9 reloaded. Gary was shocked. He's never seen anyone reload like that. Apparently, MacTavish hasn't either and looks suitably impressed. He glances at Dunn who has zipped his mouth shut. Gary can't resist laughing and walks back out to his place in the line. Captain MacTavish runs it next, and ties Ghost for best time running the pit. Ghost wraps an arm over his shoulder, since he is taller, and laughs.

          "Now that's what I'm talkin' about, mate!"

          MacTavish opens hit mouth to argue, but stops short. "Yeah, that's the way it's done. Now let's get up there so we can watch Private Archer use that rifle."

          Archer doesn't miss a single shot, and moves quickly though he's holding a large weapon. He's only two seconds shy of Ghost and MacTavish's new record. He glances up at the ledge and sees the two agreeing on something. They hit D in the alphabetical order and MacTavish pushes Dunn off the ledge and into the pit.

          "That's for testing me." MacTavish urges him onward. "Please, show us your best."

          Dunn frowns, but does as he's told. Gary listens to the time at the end and smirks. 4 seconds behind. They'd be very hard to beat with a time of 24 seconds. Gary wouldn't be shocked at all if they took Archer.

          He hears Ghost talking behind him and tunes in. "He wasn't trying to be disrespectful, mate. He was just defensive."

          "Do you know what measuring contests lead to on the battlefield?" MacTavish growls.

          "Do you know what hatred does?" Ghost asks. "You should apologize."

          MacTavish sighs. "I know."

          Huh. Words from the wise and the experienced.

          Gary watches them go back to their tent. They go off on a mission tomorrow, and they get to take one recruit with them. Gary can't help but wonder who they'll take. He hopes it's him. Gary isn't about to be cowed, so when it reaches S in the line he tries hard. He ties with Toad, who was a second behind Archer. A lot of the newest recruits end up with 30s and even 40s.

          When he wakes up the next morning, the two members of the TF 141 are geared up and ready with a nervous-looking Archer at their side. Gary smiles. He deserves it. Anyone who can reload a sniper rifle that quickly should be with the best.

          One day soon, even though he's an FNG in most people's eyes, that will be him.

Chapter Text

          Ghost POV

          MacTavish sits down on his cot and lies down. "You gonna apologize, mate?"

          "Shove off, Ghost. I'm gonna let him stew."

          "You know as much as I do that that's a bad idea, mate." Ghost frowns under his mask.

          "I'm not your mate." he sighs. "And I know. He's just so... self-righteous." MacTavish grouses.

          Ghost shrugs. "He doesn't know us."

          MacTavish chuckles. "Ghost, we don't even know each other." he rubs his neck. "Ah, maybe I've misjudged."

          Ghost shakes his head. Unbelievable. This man looks like he would tear you in half with one wrong word, and yet here he is, battling with his conscience over whether or not to apologize. Ghost chuckles.

          "What's so funny, Ghost?" MacTavish growls.

          "You have quite the guilt complex for someone so scary-looking, mate."

          John raises an eyebrow at Ghost as he sits down all casual-like on his cot. "You think I, the one without a skull on my face 24/7, is the scary-lookin' one of the two of us?"

          Ghost puts a hand to his chest, as if scandalized, but then gets serious again. "Go do it, or it'll bother ya' for the rest of the day, mate."

          "Crimeny, you're one pushy ghost." MacTavish glares at him.

          "Get moving. I'll accompany you to talk to the good man."

          "Gonna make sure I don't hit 'im?"

          Ghost shrugs. "That's up to you. Challenge him to a fist-fight for all I care, just don't rile him up any further."

          They walk out and ask around as to Dunn's whereabouts. Most don't know. Finally, they just try to find him themselves and end up in the rec tent. Dunn is passed out on a table with a book on his chest. Ghost gently taps him on the forehead and he snaps up, raising the book over his head as if to hurl it at someone. Ghost puts his hands up in surrender.

          "Easy, mate."

          Dunn throws the book anyway, but Ghost bats it away. "Back off!" Dunn shouts.

          "Hey!" MacTavish shouts.

          Dunn flinches away from his loud voice and scrambles off the table. "Don't mess with me." Dunn growls.

          "We don't want to mess with you, Dunn." Ghost tries to soothe his temper.

          "Then what do you want?" he snaps.

          Ghost sighs. "Take a deep breath. This may come as a shock, but we're here to apologize."

          Dunn freezes. "What?" his head tilts, and Ghost finds it kinda funny how confused he is.

          MacTavish heaves a breath. "Look, I... probably...."

          "He means 'shouldn't have'." Ghost smirks.

          "Don't make this difficult, Ghost. Or you'll run the pit 50 times." he turns back to Dunn. "I shouldn't have made an arse out of ye' earlier. And, I am trying to...."

          "He's 'going to'." Ghost folds his arms, his smiling skull wrinkling downwards with Ghost's frown.

          "Apologize."

          Dunn blinks and then busts out laughing. "You made that.... so much more awkward.... than it was!" he cries. He attempts to breathe and laugh and starts to cough.

          Ghost laughs too and the tips of John's ears turn pink. "All right, you've had your laugh. I got what I came to do over with, I'm out."

          Dunn grabs his arm, calming himself enough to apologize. John nods and motions Ghost to follow. Ghost shakes his head, but follows John out of the tent anyway.

          "Was that so difficult, mate?" Ghost asks.

          "It was with you challenging my words at every step." John snaps.

          Ghost rolls his eyes. "You don't sound like you're actually sorry if you use words like that."

          MacTavish huffs and trails over to Shepard's tent. Ghost doesn't like where this could go, but he sticks around. He's never met the man, but if John's hunch is right, it could be a long day.

          MacTavish's POV

          John is not known for his infinite patience. Surely, Ghost could have figured this out by now too. He's not going to wait around for Shepard to pick recruits for him, while the ones they should keep are more obvious. Given, most of the ones that look like they might be worth it aren't FNGs. Though there is one.....

          At present though, MacTavish is determined to put Ghost's little "apologize, mate" mush behind him and move forwards.

          "General Shepard." John calls.

          "Come in. Just keep it short, I have to be somewhere it ten minutes."

          He can feel Ghost tense beside him. "We want to test out a recruit. Today, in a live-fire op."

          Ghost mutters 'we?' under his breath and MacTavish wants to elbow him.

          "I'll allow it. Rubber bullets only." Shepard responds.

          John can't resist tilting his head a little in confusion. "I would have thought you'd have some reservations, sir, seeing as how Ghost and I haven't even run our first team mission."

          Shepard puts an elbow on the desk, looking a little exasperated. "I have a condition, of course. You two have to run your team op in a live-fire situation. Let's just say I already know where you're going for this, boys."

          "And where might that be?" MacTavish asks.

          Shepard just twitches his mustache. "You'll find out when you get there, won't you?"

          MacTavish hesitates and looks to Ghost. Ghost looks like he's about to shake his head when Shepard interrupts them.

          "That's what I like to see. Teams only work well together because they listen to one another. You two obviously have that bit figured out. Now all you need to do is be able to get everyone else coming your way on the same page."

          Ghost slowly nods and John accepts. "We'll do it, sir."

          "Good. Now which recruit did you want?" Shepard asks.

          "Private Archer shows promise." MacTavish says. "And he has a gift with that rifle o' his."

          Shepard smirks. "So I've been told. Form what I've heard, he almost beat you two with a bolt-action." he opens up a file from his desk drawer and tosses it across the table at John.

          John reads aloud. "Private Ian Archer, sent to the Rangers by British Intelligence." he pauses as Ghost tenses again, but moves on. "Grew up in a good home, but not much money." he pauses again when he notes Ghost getting seemingly more uncomfortable. The weird part is, he doesn't seem to be paying any attention to the words. "His father was killed in an attack on a British Naval base, and his mother moved to the U.S. to get away from it."

          John glances at Ghost, whose right hand is twitching a little. MacTavish closes the file and thanks Shepard for his time.

          The general nods briskly before skirting off wherever he was going. MacTavish turns to Ghost. Ghost takes a deep breath.

          John sighs. "You want him on the team, don't you?"

          His fist clenches before he nods tersely and leaves the room. John follows him, knowing that Ghost is allowing him to do so. He could so easily slip away, like he had the night before. Ghost ends up in the TF 141 tent, which is where MacTavish had assumed he'd been headed all along. He sits down on his cot and runs a hand over his head.

          "You want to tell me what's botherin' you, Ghost? I know it doesn't have anything to do with Archer's file. You just kind of spaced off for a while."

          "Was thinking of what that might do, for the kid is all." Ghost sighs. "If Shepard gets his claws in 'im, he's never getting back out. And even if he manages to, he won't get out unscathed, mate. Maybe they shouldn't......" Ghost trails off.

          "You think this squad might be leadin' em' to die, or to be used?" John sighs. "Look, You said you wanted him on the team, but you don't want him to be trapped. How does that work out in that head o' yers?"

          "Just look at the way Shepard handles things. He bargains for what you want, sure, but you really don't know the cost until you show up."

          John rolls his eyes. "You're too much of a cynic, Ghost. Shepard wouldn't put us in any situation we couldn't handle without knowing our limits. Why do you think you're here?"

          Ghost seems to make a split-second decision and pulls his mask off. He looks John in the eyes and John sees just how much doubt and fear for everyone else is boiling up. "You were right. I not only don't like the top dog, but I don't trust him, either." Ghost shrugs. "I can't explain it, but I've got a bad feeling."

          John sits on the edge of Ghost's cot and makes sure that Ghost is looking at him. "If you can't trust your superiors, who can you trust?"

          "You're my superior, and I trust you, but I do it because I know you're in this for the right reasons."

          "And you think he's not?" John raises a brow. Sure, he had his own misgivings about Shepard when he first met him too, but not enough to doubt his leadership or position. If Ghost is getting this much of a feeling off of one meeting and just what he's observed, maybe John should reconsider.

          Then another thought occurs to him. When did he earn Ghost's trust all of a sudden?

          John shakes his head. He never really let go of his doubts, just buried em' behind experience with the man. But isn't that what the perfect trick would look like?

          "Just work with him for now. We'll figure out Shepard later."

          Ghost nods, albeit a bit sullenly.

          John takes a moment to study the new face. No visible scars to speak of. Brown hair with blue eyes mark the TDH box for any lass out there bold enough to ask him somewhere. He looks about 30 to John, though to anyone who doesn't know that he's already been through a lot would say early 20s.

          Ghost rolls his eyes. "You done side-eyein' me, MacTavish?"

          "Quite, mate." John smiles.

          Ghost has gone and proved himself now, through his raised eyebrow of surprise suggests he doesn't know how.

          Archer's POV

          To say Archer was surprised when Captain MacTavish shook him out of bed in the morning would be an understatement.

          "Grab your gear. We're movin' out to the sand range in a half-hour. Get yourself some breakfast. You won't want to be out all day on an empty stomach."

          He leaves abruptly and Archer drags himself out of bed. "All day? Where could they possibly be taking me that'll take all day?" he mumbles.

          He looks out of the tent flap and sees that the sky is barely starting to turn blue instead of black. Why so early? He pulls on his fatigues and grabs his rifle from under his cot. It's a good thing he cleaned it already. He sees a stack of gear near the chopper pad and puts his rifle and duffle full of spare clothes next to it. He walks to the mess tent and grabs some chow. He heads back to his bunk, quickly taking a calming breath. He heads back out to the chopper and finds the blades spinning up with both Ghost and MacTavish inside.

          They seem to be chattering away, so Archer hops in and tries to figure out what in the bloody blazes they're talkin' about. Ghost seems to be talking about something that interests him, but he seems to be speaking a whole 'nother language. As far as Archer can tell, it's still in English..... maybe?

          MacTavish laughs. "Slow down, Ghost. You're making' an awful lot of fuss about something that can be explained to a child."

          "Would you explain flying a British airship to a child, mate? Britain is all about the sea, and travelling while expanding. Flying is like riding in a bucket of bolts waiting to drop form the sky."

          Oh. He listens to Ghost go on with his vivid description of the last plane he was on. Now that he knew sort of what Ghost was getting at, it sounded more like English. Archer tilts his head back and listens to their stories. He wonders, out of all they've said, how much is exaggerated. They get to talking on old captains and both of them reach a point where they go quiet, in silent regret and respect. Archer tilts his head. Even now that they've had to move on, they still have a few moments to mourn properly.

          Archer takes what seems to be a short nap, but when he wakes up they're about to land at the training base. Ghost is asleep too, so Archer doesn't feel so bad. MacTavish gets up, which causes Ghost to shake himself awake. MacTavish chuckles and stretches. His back pops and he exhales. The chopper lands as MacTavish hops off. Not after, but while he jumps. Ghost is right behind him and Archer grabs his weapon and takes the less dangerous way off while holding onto such a thing. John and Ghost don't seem to have such reservations about jumping off of things with a gun in hand. Should he really be so anxious to join their team? He chuckles. Yes. The answer is yes. Crazy as they may be, he can't pass this up. He's honestly pretty stoked that they chose him as their first try-out.

          It's them against every guy on base. They load up with rubber bullets in the supply tent and head down. Archer is shocked that they didn't tell the commander on base that they were there, but since they didn't, the guy should already know, right? Archer shakes his head to clear it. These guys may be crazy, but they're not inconsiderate.

          As they get closer to the session, Archer gets more antsy. Ghost turns around and sees him fidgeting.

          "Calm down, will ya', mate? You're not gonna do as well if you're vibrating in anticipation."

          "Sorry, sir."

          "I don't want any 'sirs' out of you, mate. Call me Ghost."

          Archer nods and tries to calm down. Finally, he's steady and he switches off the excited part of his brain for the steady part. He's cool-headed, and professional now. Ghost, MacTavish and Archer walk through a canyon, weapons at the ready. A weapon fires and MacTavish hisses as a rubber bullet clips his arm. He fires back after shouting to the the others to find cover.

          Archer pokes his head up and sees the flash of light as the shooter fires. He pulls up his rifle and steadies. He feels kind of sorry for the guy on the other side. This is gonna leave a mark. He sees the tell-tale edge of a helmet over the slight rise of the canyon wall and aims at that. If the guy is lucky, this won't knock him out.

          The firing stops and MacTavish motions Ghost and Archer forwards. They canyon splits off into two caves and Ghost taps MacTavish's shoulder. John turns and listens and then puts Archer with Ghost. Ghost moves towards the cave on the right and Archer follows while MacTavish goes the the left by himself. Archer engages the thermal in his scope and aims up, glancing around. He sees a flash of white and puts a hand on Ghost's back.

          Ghost glances back and sees Archer with his rifle still up. Ghost gets behind him and Archer takes point.The white flashes again and Archer takes a steadying breath, seeing just a corner of it behind something. Ghost suddenly pushes him.

          "Ambush!" he shouts.

          Archer takes a crack at the white as he goes down. There's no going cold in the scope because he's not dead, but the teams here are trained well to stay down when they should. Archer sweeps the room and catches two more behind barrels and Ghost shoots a couple more. Archer clears the corners while Ghost moves towards the back door. Ghost kicks it in and Archer catches up, flipping some switches for lights in the room. It appears to be a closet of some sort. Archer backs out of the room and moves for another door. This one is open and he nudges it aside as he creeps through.

          Suddenly, Ghost rolls out of the closet coughing. Some sort of gas or smoke billows out of the doorway and Archer drags him back from it, keeping clear.

          "What did you do, mate?"

          "I picked up a laptop from the floor and it triggered a release mechanism. Next thing I know, I'm coughin' up my lungs."
Ghost staggers to his feet, seeming to recover.

          Archer and Ghost walk through the door Archer was checking and find themselves travelling through a tunnel system. It splits off in two directions and they hear footsteps coming down the other side. Ghost presses against the wall of their branch of the cave and Archer mimics him. As many battles as he's been in already, the chase should long ago have stopped thrilling him, but it still does. The anticipation of seeing just who comes around the corner is the same.

          As soon as Archer can see the man's back, Ghost already is on him with an arm around his throat. Until he sees the Mohawk on his head and lets him go.

          "Captain. Pleasure to see you here." Ghost huffs, standing away from him.
MacTavish turns around with a smirk on his face. "It'd be more of a pleasure if you hadn't had your arm around my throat, mate. Other than that, all the same."

          "The back of your head must've confused him." Archer smiles.

          MacTavish glances at Ghost then looks to Archer. "Well, aren't you a cheeky lad."

          Lad? Archer is almost 30, and he'd very much like to be taken seriously. "I'm not a 'lad', mate." Archer growls.

          MacTavish narrows his eyes. "And I'm not your mate."

          Ghost sighs. "Can we not go through this again, mate? It was bad enough with just me. You don't need to do this now. We have to focus on the mission."

          MacTavish fires his weapon down the tunnel in the way they plan to go and a surprised shout echoes towards them. "I am. Get your arse movin'."

          Ghost hangs back with MacTavish while Archer looks ahead through his scope. He can hear them talking, but he's to focused on listening ahead and watching for heat to know what they're saying. At least until MacTavish scoffs.

          "Blimey, Ghost. You can have your moral debate with me later."

          "I'm just sayin'....."

          "I know what you're saying, mate. And you can save it."

          Archer can't resist laughing. "You two argue like an ol' married couple."

          Ghost glares from behind his shades. "Shut your trap."

          Archer chuckles and fires his rifle at another heat signature down the hallway.

          Then MacTavish chuckles too. "I don't know, Ghost. Maybe we should let 'im talk. He might just dig himself a hole large enough to fall in."

          Archer huffs. "The only problem bein' that I don't have a shovel." Archer hits another guy coming through the tunnel.

          MacTavish laughs. "I think we'll keep you."

          Archer lowers his weapon and stares into the tunnel. He takes a step forwards and takes a rubber bullet to the shoulder. Slamming to the floor, something rolls up beside him. Eyes widening, he grabs his gun and jumps back at Ghost and MacTavish. His long arms catch their waists and they fall to the floor just as the grenade explodes.

          "Looks like someone forgot what live grenades look like compared to dummies." MacTavish grunts and sits up.

          Archer sucks in a breath of relief and starts to get up too. He groans a little as he feels a couple of snags in his back. Bloody shrapnel. Ghost is on his feet as soon as Archer looks good enough to stand. Archer grips his rifle and turns around, peering into the smoke with it. He shoots three times for the guys who are coming down the hallway who seem to think they have cover in the smoke.

          He pauses, waiting. After a few moments, he deems it safe enough. "Clear."

          MacTavish takes point and Ghost is right behind him. Archer takes the rear, though he's not directly behind so he can look ahead. The walls seem to sink away and Archer knows that the room has opened up.

          Ghost and MacTavish look to Archer, who tells them it's clear again. They look at each other, then at him.

          They speak in almost scary unison. "We're keeping you."

          "I'll need someone to spot for me." Archer says.

          Ghost tilts his head. "Until we sort out our candidates, and ourselves actually, you'll have to watch your own back for a little bit."

          Archer already has a spotter, and he really hopes that Toad makes it. He's never really said anything to anyone in his soon-to-be old team. He's always been more quiet, but Ghost and MacTavish have him cracking jokes. Bad ones, but still.

          Toad is pretty much the only one who holds more than just a smidge of respect in Archer's eyes out of 'em all. Archer has high standards, and a couple of those guys wouldn't know left from right if their hands were labeled. He wonders, though, if a couple will still end up here. He hopes not. They seem to have high standards too.

          All the lights flip on in the room, blinding the men for a half-second before voices are heard. MacTavish stands next to the double-doors leading out with his gun ready. Ghost gets on the other side and Archer retreats to the far end of the room. MacTavish and Ghost strobe at the edges of his thermal sights, the quad-weaved indicators sewn into their clothes. Archer waits even as the door burst from their hinges. Ghost and MacTavish catch the first few, but a guy comes in between them. He "stabs" MacTavish in the arm, but Archer picks him off before he can do anymore "damage".

          Archer chuckles. "They seem to like hitting your arms."

          Ghost joins in after flipping a guy over his shoulder. "Maybe they're jealous, mate."

          MacTavish laughs. "They have every right to be."

          A guy from the floor pipes up. "Or maybe they wonder if they're fake."

          MacTavish locates where the voice is coming from by a glance at Archer, who is pointing fingers. Naughty, naughty. Pointing fingers is so rude. Oh, well, in that case, how about weapons. Pointing weapons is good. Archer hits him with another rubber bullet and surprises a yelp out of the man on the floor.

          MacTavish towers over him. "What's your name, soldier?"

          "I'm..."

          "It doesn't matter, Erikson. Because you're dead."

          Archer wonders how MacTavish knows his name without being told, but then also realizes that the man has a tag on his fatigues. The man sighs and nods. Archer gets up from behind his cover on the floor and walks towards the doors. His gun is raised. He can feel the hairs on the back of his neck prickling with a bad feeling. He can hear something shuffling further down, but nothing shows in his scope. He fires anyway and hears a pained cry from the end of the tunnel. MacTavish and Ghost are with him in a half-second and are following him down the tunnel. He can feel his heartbeat in his fingertips. He doesn't like this. A hissing noise comes from overhead and MacTavish pushes both Archer and Ghost forwards.

          He disappears inside the smoke, coughing. Ghost grabs his arm and pulls him out of what must be tear gas. He has his mouth and nose-cover up, so he's actually not too bad. They run out of the tunnel and into the open. Outside, finally. Archer immediately spots movement and pulls up his gun. In the open space, Archer can see everything and barely needs to put his gun down. Ghost and MacTavish end up standing idly by. He can sense another presence behind them.

          "Duck!" he shouts, swinging his barrel over his senior officer's heads. He's glad his back is flexible, because the amount of swing needed to pull off a 180 while standing in one place is tricky to achieve. Their would-be back-stabber lands flat on his arse, the rubber bullet hitting him in the chest. The man groans and rocks back and forth. Archer would be sorry, but he's got to work on sneaking around. Though Toad is his spotter, most snipers learn to have eyes in the back of their head.

          They continue through the training for six hours. There were ammo boxes along the way so they didn't run out. By the end, Archer realizes that they didn't confuse their grenades. They had live ones everywhere. He wonders if that's just a silly mistake or if something's wrong. MacTavish has a few cuts and scratches, but nothing too severe. Ghost seems to have some out unscathed, the bloody sneak. When they board the chopper to go back to base, Ghost and Archer fall asleep right away. MacTavish waits until he knows they're off the ground to stop his vigil.

          MacTavish's POV

          MacTavish hopes that Archer can sleep all right with those bits of shrapnel still in his back. They'll get him fixed up back at base. Ghost, on the other hand, is snoring lightly. He's never had trouble sleeping because he knows to nap when he can. John still doesn't know how soon Shepard is going to ship them off on their mission to who knows where. Archer will be moved to the task force as soon as they hit ground again. With no actual medic on base, Ghost will have to help him out. MacTavish would, but Ghost has steadier hands than he does. At least, that's what he's found so far. Out of all the people in the world Shepard could have stuck him with, the last thing he expected was Ghost. He was already a seasoned soldier, and he didn't seem to have a hard time with bad memories.

          MacTavish sure did. He had dreamed of losing Captain Price repeatedly. John sighs. He feels like a broken record. And there were times just as bad that didn't involve losing someone. If Ghost had caught him mumbling in the past couple of nights, he hadn't said anything. And he certainly hadn't treated him any differently if he had. John is shocked by how attached he's become to the young Brit in two days. His slinking around the tent because he could had become an amusement for the both of them. And so had preforming skilled tricks with food. Ghost would have a good laugh at John's terrible aim, and they'd both be shocked into silence when he actually hit something.

          John looks up as Archer wakes with a groan. He stands up and strips his ghillie top. MacTavish winces in sympathy at the blood on Archer's back. The shrapnel had gone straight through the suit.

          "Would you like some help?" MacTavish says.

          Archer jumps. "Captain, you surprised me. Shouldn't you be resting?"

          "Not until we hit ground. You'll be transferred almost immediately upon arrival."

          Archer nods and tilts his head. "I think I'll leave it until we get back."

          John nods. "I'll 'ave Ghost help you out. He'll do a better job than me."

          Ghost murmurs something in his sleep and John looks over at him. Maybe he's not so uninhibited by dreams as MacTavish thought. Archer doesn't seem to notice.

          Upon landing, Ghost stands up and slings his weapon bag over his shoulder as if he had never been asleep. Archer steps stiffly down from the helicopter and Toad practically bounces up to him.

          "How did it go?"

          Archer looks passive, like he'd been to Ghost and MacTavish. Least until the cheeky lad starting spoutin' jokes. He shrugs and his back stiffens.

          "Are you okay? I want to know what happened." Toad says.

          Archer waves him off with a short 'maybe-later' and turns to attention as Shepard shouts his name. MacTavish hadn't realized that Ghost had already skipped off and given their report to the general. Archer had slipped his ghillie back over his shoulders to hide his blood-stained shirt, but didn't zip it up in the front so he didn't die of heat. He approached Shepard with as little stiffness as possible. Shepard shakes his hand firmly and mutters something to him.

          John has the sinking feeling that Ghost is already behind him, having packed everything back into their tent. He glances back and sees Ghost happily sitting on an ammo crate drinking some water. The chopper is empty behind him and the rotors have already stopped spinning.

          He sees Shepard swing his hand towards a couple of privates and Archer seems to grimace. He walks back towards John and picks up his rifle from beside him. "Guess I'm officially part of the team. Shepard has them moving my stuff." he sounds a little irked, but mostly tired.

          "Come on, they'll have already come and gone by the time we reach our tent." MacTavish waves to Ghost, who raises his lean body of the crates to follow. MacTavish would envy the easy grace with which the man moved, but he prefers the muscle just in case he tries to fight someone big. Archer is as tall as Ghost, but he's a little thicker in the shoulders and waist. Ghost is eerily quiet behind them and John can't help but look to see if he's there. Almost shocked that he is, John looks at his posture is a glance. He seems a little.... distraught. He's watching the ground as he walks, not seeming to pay attention to everything like he usually would. John figures it could be one of two things. Either that Shepard thing is still buggin' him, or his dream in the chopper is wearin' on him.

          John sinks back and gives him a friendly nudge, which weirdly seems to startle him. John shakes his head at him and Ghost nods obediently.

          Don't dwell on whatever it is, John conveys.

          Archers steps into the tent for the TF 141 and blinks. John chuckles.

          "Told ya' they'd 'ave already come n' gone. Now sit down and let Ghost have a look-see." John orders.

          MacTavish notes the new stuff under Ghost's cot and smiles. That means he's sticking around. At least that'll give MacTavish some time to start solving the human puzzle standing before him. Archer hisses as he slips the jacket from his shoulders. Ghost looks at him in concern as he sits down on a wooden stool. Ghost takes a look at the blood on the shirt and pulls his mask and glasses off. He grabs a kit from under his cot and pulls out a pair of tongs. He grabs the bottom hem of Archer's shirt and starts to pull it up. Archer's breath catches in his throat and he winces. Ghost pulls the shirt gently away from the sharp edges of the shrapnel sticking out of him and eases past the dried patches of sticky blood.

          "I can't believe you, mate. You've had this in your back for six hours without one bloody complaint?"

          Archer shrugs. "We were busy."

          Ghost shakes his head and throws a rag at MacTavish. "Wet that. I need to clean this up before I can start." he touches a cool hand to Archer's back. "The skin is feverish. We need to hurry this up." he growls. "You should have bloody said somethin', mate."

          MacTavish quickly wets the rag and Ghost cleans Archer's back. Old scars litter it, mostly on the left side. MacTavish laughs to himself. He's gonna have some new ones now to even things up. Most of them are thin lines, but some are thicker and more ragged. He'd been caught and tortured before he came to Shepard's Ranger unit. If he's uncomfortable with Ghost and John seeing his back, he doesn't show it. Ghost starts to pull out shrapnel and Archer doesn't make a peep. He sterilizes everything once he's done and puts gauze over the worse ones. A couple required a few stitches.

          "That's gonna be sore." Ghost says, offering him a shirt to slip into. "You can do regular workouts, but nothing that'll put to much strain on the tissue. I'm warning you, mate. If these aren't partially healed by the time we get back because you keep tearing them open, I will find you."

          "Get back? Where are you goin'?" Archer asks.

          "Shepard let us take you for a day on the condition that we ran our first team mission, just the two of us, in the field."

          Archer settles down on his cot and chuckles. "Well, you two have fun with that."

          "We don't leave until noon tomorrow." MacTavish huffs.

          "Darn." Archer snaps his fingers, sounding a little sleepier. "Thought I was going to get rid of my nurses."

          Ghost cuffs his head. "Not on your life."

Chapter Text

          Ghost POV

          Ghost went to wake Archer bright and early in the morning. Archer was so pleased. Well, actually he woke up with a growl and rolled over so Ghost could lift up the back of his shirt. Ghost grimaced a little, but wasn't too surprised. His skin was patchy and red, but as far as he could tell, nothing was infected.

          "You're an idiot." Ghost declares.

          "Mm-hmm." he mumbles.

          He's dozing lightly when Ghost puts his cold hand on Archer's back. "Bollocks. The skin is worse. You really should have said something, mate. I'll have to go over this again."

          "How bad?" Archer asks. He's awake now. 

          "You'll most likely need a couple of cool compresses and someone to clean 'em every few hours." he turns to MacTavish. "I can't believe we broke 'im on his first day."

          MacTavish turns over and glares. "We?"

          Ghost huffs. It was the one time.

          "Hold on, you two didn't break me. That was me saving your stupid arses from a grenade." Archer argues.

          "That's what you say now. Sit up for me." Ghost smirks.

          Archer sighs and does as he's told. Or would have if his back hadn't stopped him. Archer muffles a groan and pushes himself up with his arms. Ghost shakes his head. 

          "I'm serious about havin' someone take a look at these, Archer. If you're not careful, they will get infected. And we are not equipped to handle that here."

          "I get it, okay mate? If I don't you'll find me anyway."

          "You got that right, mate." 

          Ghost strides smoothly from the tent to get some water and a cloth and briefly hears MacTavish start to talk. Archer mumbles back a quiet response. He grabs a canteen for Archer and some coffee from the mess tent for MacTavish. He gets a couple of side-long looks from a couple of Privates.

          "Is there something you want to say, mates?" he turns his smiling-skull gaze on them, his eyes hard. 

          He sees a couple of shivers in the room, and just for the effect, he starts to laugh. A couple of the young Privates look terrified. There is one though who just raises a brow. Ghost remembers him. Sanderson. He looks more amused than anything else. He goes quiet just as a sheet from the side of the tent blows loose. When the flap settles, Ghost is long gone and he can hear their astonished gasps from outside. He smirks the whole way to the TF 141 tent.

          He opens the tent flap and MacTavish immediately perks up at the smell of the black coffee in Ghost's hand. He tosses the canteen to a sorry-looking Archer. MacTavish is eyeing the coffee and Ghost moves ever so slowly to hand him the cup. He's rewarded with a half-hearted glare to which he responds with a grin. He walks back out to the mess tent for breakfast and wonders if MacTavish thinks him strange for always bringing him food and drinks. For Archer, that's probably normal. Ghost honestly wouldn't do that for anyone except his family, but he's convinced that MacTavish deserves his trust. That, and doing as much helps him figure the guy out a little at a time. 

          No one is watching the table where the food is sitting, so Ghost takes this moment to reappear. He fills three plates and whisks away before anyone notices he's there. Sort of. He feels a pair of eyes on him anyway and turns his head to glare at Sanderson. He shrugs and goes back to joking with his team members. Ghost growls. This kid is getting on his nerves, though he does seem to have very acute spacial awareness. Another pair of eyes land on him from the other side of the room and he frowns. Shane, maybe? Or is that Royce? 

          He shrugs and walks back to the tent. MacTavish must see him coming, two plates in his hands and one balanced professionally on his head, and opens the flap for him to slip in.

          "Show-pony." MacTavish mutters. 

          Ghost cleans Archer's back again while he eats and finds it still entirely too warm. He wets the cloth and presses it against the fevered skin gently. Archer exhales in quiet relief and continues eating. The tent falls into a comfortable silence.

          They go to training, though Archer stays out of most of it because Ghost said so. He doesn't want to die young. Or at least that's what he says. 

          It hits noon and Ghost and MacTavish retreat to their tent to retrieve their supplies. Ghost settles in for a long flight and MacTavish follows in suit. It didn't slip Ghost's notice that there were jungle green camouflage suits in the chopper's supplies. 

          Somewhere in the South American jungle

          When Ghost wakes up, the air is muggy. He blinks awake and looks outside the chopper. As he had expected, jungle trees line the ground so he can't see past their thick canopies. He nudges MacTavish, who is already sweating, with his boot. John jerks awake and looks around.

          "Where in the bloody 'el are we?" he asks. 

          "If I haven't missed my guess, it looks like South America, mate."

          John sighs. "With any amount of luck, the local militia won't recognize us on sight."

          Ghost chuckles. "Don't get your hopes up, mate. You know how the "plan" works out with teams, don't ya? Besides, we probably won't need luck. Look at the sky. They'll be battening down the hatches for this storm." 

          "We don't even know what we're doin' here." John growls. 

          "I warned ya', mate. There's no promises that this ends well."

          MacTavish cuffs him upside the head. "Aren't you just a ray of sunshine, mate?"

          The co-pilot comes back with a file in his hand. He gives it to Captain MacTavish and sits back down. MacTavish opens the file and grunts. He tosses it to Ghost. 

          "Why are we going after.... oh."

          "That figures, doesn't it?"

          "What, that we would get the biggest bomber in South America for our first mission? It seems about right, actually." he pages through the file. "Manuel Estraga. Former local militia, now he's a explosives dealer for them. Has a background in petty theft. He had two fingers cut off for stealing a couple of house-ware items when he was young. He got into the militia with his brother and was going to stay in the business until he was kicked out for letting an American weapons dealer go instead of forcing him into the ground for early retirement."

          "We're laying siege to his house and hoping that he doesn't have a private army guarding him." MacTavish smirks. 

          "How far away are we landing? His security has to be pretty tight. And if he deals explosives, then he's likely to have a bunker of some sort."

          "3 miles. It's directly beneath his house."

          Ghost is about to respond when the pilot announces that they're landing at the drop point. Ghost and MacTavish suit up and grab their rifles, attaching silencers to the muzzles. Ghost has just put on his suit, but he already feels like he's going to sweat to death. At least with his mask he can skip the grease for his face. Poor John has no other option because of his Mohawk. He watches as MacTavish takes the side of his palm and smears a streak up the side of his head, then does the same thing to the other side. 

          Huh, not bad, actually. He doesn't feel near as sorry for him now that he knows the guy can at least look cool while he's doing his job. The weapons were pre-modified to fit the terrain, so as soon as they're off with their ammo, the chopper lifts away. Ghost and MacTavish walk, nearly crouching through the dense brush, all the way to the perimeter of the house. The place is secluded. They can see patrols moving over the slight hill that lies between them and their goal. 

          They pick off a couple of guys who are by themselves and then take out a whole group. One group has four people, so when they are all facing one way, they aim for the head and kill two birds with one stone. Two more solo men meet them on their way up to the back of the house. It's raised, almost as if he thinks he's livin' on a beach. The back door is strangely unlocked and Ghost glances back at the spot where they hid all the bodies with a frown. 

          "Don't you think this was a bit too easy?" he asks. 

          John just pats him on the shoulder, attempting to reassure him. It doesn't work. There's a niggling feeling in the back of his mind.

          The first floor is simple. There's a kitchen, a bathroom, and a living room, all of which are small. There's a set of stairs that lead up, and a set that lead down. Ghost closes the door that they had come through and goes up while MacTavish stays behind to watch his back. He hears a couple of muffled shots, which is probably a couple of sleeping guards. Ghost is back down the stairs in a few seconds and then is following MacTavish down. The second floor is filled with cots and a few napping soldiers. Thankfully, only a choice few of the cots have people actually sleeping on them. The sleeping soldiers don't even have time to shake off their haze of confusion before they are dealt with. They head down another set of stairs and find the makings of a workshop of some sort. There are molds for explosives everywhere, and some of it looks familiar, though Ghost can't figure out why.

          He can smell the repulsing smell of kerosene and a few other elements. He checks around corners of cabinets while John examines the workshop. Ghost looks up at the sound of the wind tearing at the top of the house. It's pouring in a matter of seconds and Ghost frowns. All the remaining guards will be coming down to escape the storm. They'll be trapped if this goes badly. 

          Ghost pushes a cabinet back, revealing a small hatch. MacTavish motions that he'll go first and Ghost nods. He pulls the cabinet back in place behind them to avoid suspicion if someone comes looking. The stairway is steep, and so skinny that MacTavish has to shuffle sideways. This Manuel must be tiny.

          They reach the bottom and find the little man staring at them owlishly. "So, you made it."

          John frowns. "What's that supposed to mean?"

          "I means you're in time to die. I've been waiting for someone to find me for three days now. It was only a matter of time."

          Ghost looks back at the way they came. The tunnel collapses. "No!" 

          A fire starts in the middle of the room and the small man grins. "We will burn together!!!"

          Ghost shoots him and he stumbles back in shock.

          The chamber shakes and Manuel starts to laugh. "That would be the tornado! What perfect timing!" he shouts, blood coming out of his mouth.

          A piece of rock comes down and knocks Ghost flat against the ground. He yelps in surprise and John is there in a second to get it off. He gains his feet only to be thrown back to the floor as the foundation of the room shakes violently. MacTavish helps him up and drags him back over to the passage. He tears away at the dirt and glances back at the fire. It's spreading to the tables, and the bomb supplies aren't helping. Ghost latches onto a piece of big debris and tugs it away. The tunnel yawns wide enough to fit through one at a time. 

          "Ghost, go!" MacTavish says. 

          "No, I'm smaller than you! If you go last and the hole gets too small we'll be screwed, mate!"

          "Fine. But I'm sticking with ya'."

          Suddenly the fire bursts out violently and starts to travel up through a vent. It's probably laced with something flammable. The heat sears at Ghost back and he takes off his ghillie jacket as it starts to burn. He coughs as MacTavish pushes himself through the hole. The floor shakes again and he stumbles back. A hand latches onto him and pulls him closer to the hole, gripping the loop on the back of his pants and pulling him through. John is on the move and Ghost can see double for a sec as a piece of the ceiling clocks him on the head. He falls and John is about to grab him when their segment of the tunnel starts to crumble. Ghost hears a sickening crack as a piece hits John's shoulder. John holds onto the wall for support and he offers a hand to Ghost. Ghost takes it.

          Don't let there be an actual bloody tornado. Ghost begs.

          MacTavish's POV

          Pain lances up and down his arm as Ghost takes it, but he pulls the masked man to his feet. He bare arms are scratched from being pulled through such a small hole and his head wound is bleeding, but other than that, he's okay. The tunnel is far from sound and MacTavish is wheezing from all the dust. He can hear Ghost behind him, which should be a clue that he's hurt more than he's letting on. They get to the top step and John has to push with his feet, unsure of whether or not his arms could take it. The tunnel crumbles away just as the fire starts to come from the vents. Are the walls made of asbestos? John's mind screams. His shoulder feels like it's on fire. His heart hammers in his chest, but he pulls Ghost onward. The next set of stairs is already engulfed in flames, the fire spreading to quickly to be normal. A cross-beam comes down in front of them and MacTavish shoves the burning wood out of the way. Ghost gets ahead of him and John hears a creak. He jumps for Ghost and something tears into his left leg. 

          He almost screams, but it dies in his throat as the weight leaves him and someone.... no, not someone, Ghost, is pulling him up. Ghost is coughing more than breathing and MacTavish knows that they can't be cuttin' about down here. He limps a lot, but he knows that they both have to be able to move so he pushes forwards. His lungs are starting to constrict and he coughs hard. Ghost slows to help him, but MacTavish points to the stairs. 

          "Go!"

          "I'm not leaving you behind, mate!"

          MacTavish takes a good look at Ghost. His chest heaves and the bloody hole in his balaclava looks worse. But he's not going to make it if he dithers about like some hog-tied bampot. Ghost grabs him and hauls him up the next flight of stairs. MacTavish does most of the walking, but Ghost is still supporting far too much of his weight. The first floor is in tatters and fire rolls off of everything. A part of the ceiling comes down and sends hot ash across their arms. John shields his face, and Ghost maneuvers around it. John feels the floor disappear as Ghost shoves him roughly away. He rolls out the door onto the flaming and charred porch. 

          "Get to the rendezvous point! I'll meet you there!" Ghost disappears in the smoke and John gets to his feet. 

          No tornado, at least. Must have been some nasty thunder.

          He stands just outside of the building for a moment before going back in. He screams Ghost's name, his leg and shoulder forgotten. He hears something collapse and a scream of pain follows it. He sees Ghost stumbling up the stairs. He makes a break for him and catches sight of a bleeding wound in his side. Ghost makes the top floor and rushes to the end of the hallway, hurling himself clear out a window. MacTavish follows, hirplin terribly. Ghost rolls, in a feat of luck or skill, and catches the edge of the building, dropping him onto his feet on the ground. John slides on his back and rolls as he lands. No one said that Ghost's landing was very graceful in that moment and he smacks into the ground. Dazed, he struggles to gain his feet and he takes a swing at MacTavish before realizing who he is. 

          "What are you still doin' here, mate?"

          "I came for you, now move!" 

          Ghost wheezes next to MacTavish as he hobbles away from the burning building. John notices him gripping his side to stop the bleeding. John's leg isn't all that great either, for that matter. Shepard will hear about this. Ghost was right. Shepard sent them in blind and the man was already expecting them. 

          Ghost staggers to the side and braces himself on a tree. John sees that one of his arms is nearly black from the flames and his lip is split. John half-carries him the rest of the way and the chopper is waiting for them. The pilot looks beyond shocked, but he lifts off as soon as they're both inside.  The flight back is uncomfortable, the turbulence from the storm making it near impossible to fly an even line. It is faster though. John applies his make-shift medical skills and patches Ghost up. He seems to improve after a while. He's well enough to bandage MacTavish's leg and reset his shoulder. John is beyond grateful, but his shoulder hurt so much that he blacks out for a little while. 

          When he wakes up, Ghost is shouting for help as the chopper touches down. His near-frantic screams draw out everyone from their tents and a Sargent Lewis runs from the Ranger tent to help. She makes Ghost back up and she looks at MacTavish. She has her medical kit with her and she keeps a cool head. Archer is sprinting towards them and he jumps inside the chopper. 

          "I can help." he says. "I have field medic training."

          "I'm sure everyone in your group does. That's why these two are still alive."

          Ghost is trying to steady his breathing, but the wound in his side is so obviously making that hard. Archer tends to him while Lewis's steady hands are stabilizing John quickly. Archer looks at Ghost's head wound and tries to wipe away some of the blood. 

          Ghost's head lolls. 

          "Ghost, stay with me!" Archer shouts. 

          His side is patched up, so Archer lifts the now-unconscious man over his broad shoulders and carries him to the medical tent. John takes Lewis's offered hand and he limps along with her to follow them. John sighs in relief to find Archer standing over a stable Ghost by the time he gets there. Archer looks furious. 

          "What happened out there?" he asks. 

          John tells Lewis to go tell Shepard about this. And also to let him know of her acceptance into the TF 141. 

          "He was waiting for us the whole time." MacTavish staggers to a cot and sits on it. "He knew we were coming, and Shepard sent us in blind. We were chasing after an explosives expert. We were... in his bunker in the bottom of the building. The tunnel we used to get down nearly collapsed with us in it."

          Archer sits on the end of a rolling cot with a sigh. "You barely got out?"

          "The whole place was burning down around us."

          Shepard walks into the tent, at least having the courtesy to look shocked. "What happened out there?"

          John tells him about it again, answering it the same way he had answered Archer. He lets out a wheezy chuckle. "As soon as I'm able, I'm going to wallop your arse."

          "Of that, I have no doubt. You can yell at me later, but you two need to rest up." he walks out of the tent, still unaffected. 

          John sways. "I think I'm gonna be whitey." 

          Archer gets him some water. "There'll be no honkin' up on my watch, mate."

          Something pricks John's arm and he sinks back onto the cot. "Take care of Ghost, mate."

          "I'm takin' care o' the both of ya. After that, I'm gonna go tell Shepard to shove off."

          "Archer." John holds on to the last strings of consciousness. "Keep the bloody 'el away from 'im."

          Archer looks into his eyes and sees the fear there. John can't believe it, but Ghost was right. He may have looked surprised, but there was something off. He may have just botched his whole streak of trust with MacTavish with this stunt. And John has the loose end. 

          He's goin' to unravel this bampot's whole world. There has to be a reason that Manuel knew they were coming. 

          He's not letting this one go. Not like before. Not like with Price.

Chapter Text

          Archer's POV

          He's been listening to John grouse about having to wear a sling for the past three minutes. He didn't want to be in one, that's for bloody sure. But it's hardly Archer's fault that he went an' got his shoulder dislocated. Still, he took it with grace and moved over to Ghost. 

          His breathing had improved significantly, though it was still more difficult than Archer would have liked. His side had already scabbed over, which is a good sign. He had taken off Ghost's mask to get a better look at his head wound while Lewis was out on a coffee run. He didn't appear to have a concussion, but it's still a little soon to tell. He'd woken up once, asking about John, and Archer had told him he was fine. And then.....

          "Did you keep your bloody back together?" 

          Archer sedates him with a sigh, putting his mask back on, and then turns to strap MacTavish into his sling. He isn't happy. Archer tries give him painkillers too, but that doesn't go over well. 

          "Mind yourself, mate. I still have one good arm to hit ye' with."

          Archer's slight temper flares, and he's pretty sure John noticed it. "It would be harder to hit me if you were unconscious."

          MacTavish rolls his eyes and lies down. "Hittin' your superior might get ya' in a little trouble."

          Lewis comes back in with the coffee.

          "It's been 20 minutes. Where were you, Lewis?" Archer huffs. 

          "Sorry, but you guys aren't the only ones with injuries. A team of Rangers just came in, a couple of them were almost critical."

          "Not the worst excuse." Ghost mumbles. 

          She looks over at him. "Good, you're awake."

          She helps half-asleep Ghost sit up and gently presses a cup into his hands. He takes a sip and nods his thanks. Archer is glad he's not shaky or anything. That would be bad. As he drinks, his voice gets less scratchy. 

          "Private Archer." Sgt. Foley's voice calls. 

          "Sargent Foley, sir." he turns around.

          "At ease, Private. I'm just in to check on the members of the task force. Your arrival made quite the ruckus."

          "I blame Shepard." Ghost grumbles. 

          Archer nods in agreement. "From what it sounds like, he sent them in blind."

          There's chatter outside the tent. "General Shepard." People are greeting him as he walks by. Archer frowns. Are they all outside the tent?

          Shepard comes in and heaves a breath. "So you've had a few hours to recover. Would either of you please explain, in detail, what happened?"

          MacTavish is off his cot and up in Shepard's face before Archer can blink. "You know bloody well what happened! You were testing us and sent us in without giving us the whole story!"

          Archer is surprised by Shepard's reaction, his expression ever-patient and cool. "I gave you everything you needed to complete the mission." 

          "Were you going to explain that he was waiting for us? Or that he turned his whole house into a bomb?" MacTavish growls. 

          Shepard is an emotionless wall. "If you had even bothered reading the warning on the file, it would have said that he was a compulsive liar, and his paranoia was bordering on a psychotic episode."

          Archer looks at Lewis, who is standing on Shepard's left side with wide blue eyes. She holds Ghost back as he attempts to get up and defend MacTavish. "Stay put."

          Shepard grinds his teeth. "For this, you're getting a new addition. You don't like it, take it up with me later. Just be glad I'm not suspending you for insubordination."

          John squares his shoulders and Archer holds his breath. He frowns. "Sir."

          Shepard nods. "Good. Now you two focus on healing. No more missions until your upwards of dying." his voice is coated lightly with concern, his hand resting on John's shoulder. "We need you healthy."

          MacTavish sits back down as Shepard leaves. He hangs his head. "You s'pose we're getting the new guy before or after we've got the new base?"

          Ghost still looks angry, not that the mask helps. "Before, knowing our luck."

          Archer nods. Shepard isn't the kind of man you want to piss off. And they'd gone right ahead and done that.

          Ghost gestures for Archer to come over to him and he does. He grabs Archer's shirt and checks on his back, even with Private Lewis right there. She winces at the sight. 

          Ghost nods. "Archer."

          He cringes. "Yeah, Ghost?"

          "You're confined to the tent for the time being. You broke a lot of this open messin' around."

          Archer gapes. "Messing around? I was helping you."

          Ghost directs Lewis's hand to Archer's skin. "Holy bollocks, you're hot."

          Ghost tilts his head at exactly the same time as Archer and she covers her mouth with her free hand. MacTavish laughs. 

          "Lewis, please take care of him." He says, still laughing. "You need to be a little less flippant with your needle than with your words."

          She puts a nervous hand on her brown bun and then pulls Archer over to another cot. "Sit." 

          Suddenly, a young guy stumbles into the tent, as if he was pushed. "Um, hi?" he pulls himself up and straightens his shirt. Op For fatigues, Archer notes. 

          "Shane? What are you doing in here?" Archer asks.

          "Uh, Shepard sent me." he tries to straighten his messy gold-blonde hair, but is sticks right back out. 

          Ghost chuckles. "Goody. An FNG. Figures."

          Archer shakes his head. "Actually, he's not. He just acts like one." 

          Shane glares, but nods in affirmation.

          "How many missions you flown, kid?" Ghost asks. 

          "Run, actually. I'm not a pilot." he says. 

          Ghost puts a hand to his head to feel his wound, but Lewis stops him. "Leave it or you'll regret it." she looks him in the eyes from across the room. 

          Ghost's hand stops in its course and narrows his eyes at her. "How badly will I regret it, love?"

          She huffs. "I'm not saying a thing. You're being naughty... son of a half-eaten cabbage."

          MacTavish's chuckle rumbles from his throat and he's wheezing before long. Archer coughs and Ghost's mouth drops open in shock. Shane blinks, his light hazel eyes scandalized. Sadly, Ghost recovers.

          "Naughty, eh love? You gonna put me back in line?"

          She glowers at him. "Don't make me come over there."

          "Or what? You'll...?" he raises an eyebrow under the mask. 

          Archer frowns. "Ghost. Let the poor girl keep her dignity."

          Ghost shrugs. "All right, mate. I suppose I'll just continue to question young Mr. Shane."

          He doesn't exactly look comfortable with this being brought back to him, but makes a noncommittal sound. "What do you want to know?"

          "I want to know if you've ever been given a call-sign." 

          Shane tilts his head. "Not that I remember. Why?"

          "Cuz I've got one for ya'."

          MacTavish sighs. "This ought to be good." 

          "How about... Scarecrow. I think it fits your straw hair quite nicely."

          Self-conscious, Shane runs a hand through it. "I... I guess so."

          MacTavish nods. "It's okay, kid. Let it sink in a little bit. You'll get used to it. Not everyone agrees with their name at first. I sure didn't." 

          After being silent for so long, everyone is surprised when Lewis pipes up. "I didn't either. Still don't. So if you come up with somethin' you can let me know."

          Ghost looks curious. Archer huffs. As curios as a guy can look behind sunglasses and a mask. The smiling skull is still a little disconcerting. And he can't seem to keep focused on Shane either. 

          "What is your call-sign, love?" Ghost asks. 

          It's a completely innocent question, but Archer can feel her tense behind him. "I'd rather not, Ghost. If you don't mind." 

          "We'll get you sorted. Don't you worry." MacTavish smiles. 

          She relaxes and Ghost takes up his interrogation of Shane again. 

          "Where are you from?"

          "Nebraska." he shuffles nervously. 

          "Well that explains it, then." Ghost says. 

          Shane frowns. "Sir?"

          "The hair." Ghost shakes his head. "You're so dense. You've got to lighten up, kid."

          He nods. "So I've been told." 

          He still looks so serious that Archer is finding it hard to believe that he's still standing there, instead of like, hiding or something. 

          "You're a long ways from home." MacTavish says.

          "Yes, sir."

          MacTavish shakes his head and Archer smirks. "Hasn't anyone told you 'at ease' yet, Shane?"

          "No, sir."

          "Well, at ease then." John rolls his eyes. "This isn't an interrogation, despite what Ghost is leading you to believe."

          Ghost pointedly looks away, studying the flap of the tent. "I don't know what you're talking about, mate."

          "Uh-huh. And I'm Australian." MacTavish huffs.

          Shane becomes more animated all of a sudden with his release and he laughs. "I have to say, you two are awesome. The way you handled coming back from your mission..... that was totally skilled."

          Ghost raises his eyebrows. "Bloody 'el, MacTavish. You've gone and turned 'im into a bloody fan-girl."

          John waves a hand. "It's better than the stiff manner he 'ad before." 

          "And, your team's patch for the TF 141 is so cool. Do you guys know who came up with that? And Ghost's mask. I mean that is some scary stuff. And does your head get cold with your Mohawk?"

          Ghost chuckles. Archer bets he knows who came up with the patch, and judging by Ghost and MacTavish's shared look, they both do. Both seem exasperated.

          "I take that back." MacTavish says. "I like the stiff better."

          Shane looks crestfallen, but he smiles once he realizes that it's a joke. 

          "I don't know. The nerd is kinda funny."

          Everyone in the room jumps except Archer. She'd been so quiet for the past couple of minutes that they forgot about her. It's kind of hard for Archer to forget since she's sticking a needle in his back. 

          Well, Ghost didn't forget either. Archer been watching him (NOT) watch her for the past five minutes. Ghost isn't as subtle as he'd like to believe. She's been practically hiding behind Archer the whole time, ever since she said his back was hot.

          "Next thing you know he'll get out the streamers and pom poms, love." he says. 

          Shane lets out a strangled gasp. "Hey!"

          Ghost laughs. "Get out of here, Shane. Go and put your bunk together in the tent."

          "Yes, sir." he walks away, his blonde hair blowing all over.  

          Generally, there would be regulations for hair as crazy as his. Archer smirks. Discipline at its finest, but the hair is unaffected around here. Shepard doesn't seem to mind, and if he does he doesn't get his way. Oh, well. And he knows that Ghost has an unruly head of chocolate brown hair under his mask.

          

          MacTavish's POV

          His leg has been killing him ever since he got up to tell off Shepard. He doesn't say anything though because he'd already threatened Archer for offering him painkillers the first time. He doesn't need them. Other people, like those Rangers who came in, can use them more. 

          He scoffs as he thinks of what Ghost would say to that. 

          Bugger it, you're such a softie. Just take your bloody painkillers and quit your whinin'.

          Archer would knock him over the head and force feed him if he had to. Which he won't. MacTavish didn't become the leader of this team to be mothered. 

          He thought he blamed Shepard for what happened earlier today, but after his reaction he has doubts. Like he needed any more. Bad enough Ghost is bringing back the old ones.

          Once Scarecrow leaves, the tent is more quiet. MacTavish leans back on his cot and takes a short rest. His throat is still oh so wonderfully dry, but the coffee that Lewis brought helped some. 

          He muses over what this team might become. He's already gathered four people, and he needs to get the base set up to handle more. Or Shepard could just send them to their new one that he had built. It was built inside a huge oasis in the middle of the same desert they're in now. Shepard had apparently spared no expense.

          Suddenly Ghost groans in his sleep. Lewis is by his side in a moment, before MacTavish can even roll over to look at him. She checks on his head wound and finds nothing wrong there. She moves to his side and is just about to pull the bandage back when he grabs her hand.

          "It's nothin', love. Just leave me be." he moves her hand away with a grimace.

          She gives his hand a squeeze and he tries to pull away. "That's not nothing." Lewis peels the bandage away and a breath of surprise escapes her. "How did you break this open?" 

          He shakes his head. "Don't know. Leave it alone, love." he tries again. 

          MacTavish starts to get up to help her keep him down but it's like she has eyes in the back of her head. "You stay put, Captain." 

          "Ghost you listen to her. She's trying to help."

          Lewis puts her hands on the skin around the wound and Ghost stills. "I need some cloth to clean this up. It doesn't look too bad, actually. I think just the reopening might have startled him."

          Ghost does seem more calm now than he was when he first woke up. She cleans the wound and puts a new bandage on it. Telling Ghost to sleep, she settles on a cot closer to him just in case. MacTavish laughs inwardly. It may not be just for his benefit. Ghost has taken a liking to her already, and she doesn't seem to be resisting too much.

          Archer is lying on his back staring up at the roof of the tent. Ghost settles back in and so does John, but Archer doesn't seem to be. His breaths puff out in the cool night air. Footsteps wake MacTavish up again and he sits upright. Shane enters the tent and lies down on a cot. Though he's not sick or injured, he came to join them anyway. A feeling of pride wells up inside John's chest. That's the kind of loyalty he's looking for. 

          Ghost showed it countless times inside that bloody burning house. Archer did the same with that grenade, and now he most likely won't let them live it down. Scarecrow's is different. His shows quietly, but no less obvious. MacTavish marvels at how short a time he's known them. He'd be more aggressive about it in the field, John would guess. 

          "What's keepin' you up, Scarecrow?" John asks.

          "Not used to sleeping alone. Always had siblings or other people around." 

          Definitely not a loner like MacTavish himself. He's always wanted to be left alone, preferring the quiet that it brings to the blustering noise that comes with obnoxious groups. He should get along just fine what with the team growing so quickly an' all. He and Lewis should like each other okay.

          Ghost likes to be around people who aren't annoying or that he can tease easily, one of which being MacTavish himself. He likes the quiet people so he can either A) hang out in silence, or B) rile 'em up. Archer seems to be the same way. Crazy Brits.

Chapter Text

          Shepard's POV

          Ever since they got kicked out of the medical tent by the Rangers, the TF 141 has been restless. Shepard knows that they're healing, and he gets that. But could they not blow things up and scare the living daylights out of the FNGs? Apparently not. In Shepard's eyes, pranks should not be tolerated if they cause chaos everywhere. And even if they don't. He's starting to wonder whose grand idea this team was. 

          Then he remembers that it was his with a sickening jolt and a groan of irritation. He lays his head down on his desk and shakes it back and forth. This isn't going to the way Shepard imagined. Of course, then again, he never imagined losing Price the way they did either. MacTavish had been his Lieutenant for a couple of years until he inherited the position from Price when he died. 

          Dropped off the face of the earth is more like it. He just, went dark, and when MacTavish turned around, Price was gone. No one knew where he went. Not even the guys on the UAV screen. Everything had been going according to plan right up until they'd gone to Karachi. There were just too many corners to cover. 

          Losing Price was.... regrettable. It hit MacTavish hard when a lot more members of his team died shortly after that. At least he had closure for them. Price would always be that unanswered question. Everyone except him went home. He still wanted to fight, to save people. 

          Now here he is laughing with his new team less than a month later while trying his best to stop Scarecrow's pranks. Ghost's too, for that matter. 

          Shepard picks his head up off the desk and his face is tired. Ghost had seemed so grown-up in his file. He is in real life too, but only when he needs to be. Shepard's head aches just thinking about his stupid move with putting Scarecrow on the 141. There's no fixing it now, but he can always pay more attention later.

          Something explodes outside and Shepard presses a hand to his face. "Oy."

          In something he assumes is unrelated because it's been a half-hour now, chattering starts up.

          He hears MacTavish yelling at someone and Ghost is doing the same. At least he's not involved this time. Shepard doesn't want to poke his head outside, but curiosity gets the better of him. Ghost is on the ground spewing curses like rays of sunshine, and MacTavish is standing over him with his fists raised against anyone who would come any closer. Anyone, being Spetsnaz. Bunch of over-righteous punks, if you ask Shepard, that is.

          The 141 has too few members to compete with Spetsnaz, but Shepard isn't going to intervene. He can already see the Rangers walking over. There is one or two members of Spetsnaz standing with MacTavish though, so that's a good sign. He can hear the men jeering at them. 

          "You can't just take recruits from wherever you want! They should have a choice!"

          "You can't come here and get new members as hand-outs!" another one calls. "Stop pranking us!" a shrill voice says.

          "We didn't pick 'em!" MacTavish calls. "And we never pranked Spetsnaz!"

          Most of them I picked. Shepard thinks. But they agreed to it when MacTavish did.

          The Rangers rally behind MacTavish and so does Op For. Shepard frowns. This is going into dangerous waters and off the deep end quick. The Militia are very pointedly not getting involved. 

          A big guy bowls into MacTavish, who slams him to the ground. Ghost yelps as a particularly angry guy kicks him. Shepard can feel his blood start to boil and he's about ready to stride out and discipline every single one of them. Then a man steps out from the Spetsnaz crew and stands between them. 

          "Ozone! What are you doing?!" one shouts. 

          Ozone look pissed. "What do you think you're doing? You just assaulted a superior officer, and kicked a man while he was down! They just came back from a mission where they almost died, and here you are beating the living crap out of them!" he's shouting now. "Also, you tried to tackle your superior officer's superior officer while he was protecting his Lieutenant! WHO IS BLEEDING, BY THE WAY!!!" Ozone's chest heaves and he kneels down in front of Ghost and lifts his hand away from his side.

          His hands are both bloody and his shirt has a soaked patch where he bled through. Ramirez helps Ozone get Ghost to his feet. Ramirez was one of the ones who had already sided with the 141 when Ghost got knocked down, apparently. Scarecrow and Archer look mad. He feels sorry for Spetsnaz. Almost. Most of their group have the courtesy to look ashamed as they help Ghost limp back into the medical tent. Lewis is standing by with a black box in her hands, and a twitching body at her feet. Must have been the guy who put Ghost on the ground in the first place. 

          She reels her prongs back in and leaves him there, following Ghost into the tent. Presumably to patch him up for the second time. 

          Time to shine.

          Shepard strides out in all his glory and glares at Spetsnaz. "Need I remind you that you are soldiers? No? Or how about the fact that we're supposed to be able to put petty differences aside? No?" he takes a breath. "I want you all to run 100 laps around base, and if you're not done by 2200 tonight, you'll be on kitchen duty for two months! Now go! Go, go, go!"

          The Rangers hesitate. 

          "Not you." he says.

          He walks into the tent where Lewis is patching up Ghost's side. Ramirez and Ozone are with him. MacTavish walks in and rubs his leg. Archer makes him sit. It had been four days since either of the two had had an incident and they'd been healing up nicely.

          "Ozone, Ramirez." Shepard greets. 

          They turn and salute. "Sir."

          "You two showed good values today. If MacTavish will agree to it, I'll offer both of you spots on the team."

          Ramirez is wide-eyed. "Just like that?"

          "Just like that." Shepard says, a smile in his voice. Ah, rookies.

          "Agreed." MacTavish says. 

          Ghost is lightly dozing on the cot when Ramirez finally speaks. "I think I'll wait. Until I have more experience."

          Shepard dips his head in respect. "All right, Ramirez." he says softly. "You have my respect. Dismissed." Ramirez leaves the tent and Shepard turns his gaze to Ozone. "What'll it be, Ozone?"

          Ozone considers for a little bit longer. "I'll do it."

          "Good. The new base for the 141 is ready. I'm sending you guys out there as soon as Ghost is travel-ready. I'll be staying here, so if you need something you'll have to call. I'm giving one building to Lieutenant through Captain, and the other to Corporals and Privates. Even with so many rooms, you guys are pairing up. There's safety in numbers boys, and you never know when something might happen. Feel free to make your own arrangements, and no one be afraid to room with Lewis. She doesn't bite."

          Ghost laughs. "Tell that to the poor wanker she tased earlier." he sits up. "And I'm ready to fly, by the way."

          "Good, I'll have you boys, and girl, on the first plane out tomorrow morning."

          Everyone salutes and he walks out, silently praising whatever deity he feels like to be getting them off his base so they can stop causing havoc here. They can destroy what they want over there. Though he really hopes that they don't, because that's costly. Their training coarse is already about 3 times the length of the pit, and a whole lot more difficult. They have to run it in pairs. 

          It should amuse them for a day or so. Then they'll be bored again. Then it'll be trips out to the desert range again. Then they might, just might, find the armory and investigate that for awhile. And if he's lucky, Ghost will find that underground tunnel system and get lost and keep the rest out of Shepard's hair for three days looking for him. 

          Ozone or Scarecrow might find their way into the rec room and stumble upon the hundreds of movies that are 'hidden' under the carpet and have to watch them all. MacTavish should find the gym pretty easily, and Ghost will probably join him for that after he gets out of the tunnels. Lewis should find the messy medical bay less than appealing since he specifically asked for it to be left all out of order once he found out MacTavish had invited her. It's top of the line. She'll live.

          Live. Shepard chuckles to himself. Living, and the medical bay. What a horrible joke that would be. 

          They don't know it yet, but all the trees are hooked up by wood and wire as some monkey crap that one of the designers made up. For "fun", they said. As if they didn't have enough to play with already.

          And if that's not enough, they have two shooting ranges and a helipad. What could possibly go wrong? 2 helipads, actually. Even better. 

          Shepard reaches his desk and looks around to make sure he's alone before starting to clunk his head on the desk. What in the world has he done? He's setting the world's oldest children loose on a playground violent enough to agree with them. 

          The next Morning

          Shepard wakes up so ready to get rid of his children. He gets dressed back up, laces his boots and goes to shake the 141 out of bed. When he gets to the medical tent, it's not just the 141. He blinks in shock and notes everyone else in the tent. Corporal Dunn is a big surprise to see, sitting in his chair beside the cots. His brief history with the 141 hasn't been great, and he's been a little sour ever since Foley put him on training recruits for the program. He's got Toad, Meat, and Royce with him. Ghost is standing creepily in the corner, and if Shepard were a lesser man, he would be flipping the guy off. 

          MacTavish is asleep along with Archer, Lewis, and Scarecrow. 

          "Everyone who's TF 141 get up, get your stuff, and get a move on." Shepard says. 

          Lewis pushes glasses up on her face and her brown hair is puffed around her face, her eyes as big as moons. Still asleep, but looks awake. 

          Within ten minutes, the whole team is ready and packed into the cargo plane. Nikolai is piloting, so the trip is a little faster than predicted. 

         Shepard is jumping for joy, on the inside of course, as Nikolai calls to say they've landed.

         

         MacTavish's POV

         John stares at his drawing of the 141 patch in the plane. The wings were for Price, and the skull was for his team. And the knife... the knife was for the man MacTavish would one day find, who was responsible.  

          Soap's Task Force 141 Logo

          That would be a bloody cold day.

          He can't believe, to this day, that he could just lose someone in the blink of an eye with teammates everywhere, watching each other's backs. The memory is still burnt fresh in his mind, but now he's got a team to think of. He's got a new team, and he's going to honor Price by taking good care of it.

          He looks up and finds Ghost staring at him with concern. "You okay, mate? You're awfully quiet."

          "I'm all right."

          Scarecrow glances over to see what MacTavish is looking at. His eyes widen a little. "It was you." 

          John looks at him and he shakes his head. "Unbelievable."

          John shakes his head to clear it and wonders what the new base is like. It's bound to be something good. 

          Ghost is still watching him as the plane lands. MacTavish assures the young Brit that he's fine and walks off the plane. He stops short at the sight that greets him. 

          Ghost voices his thoughts for him. "Holy Bollucks." 

Chapter Text

          MacTavish's POV

          "Holy Bollucks." 

          Lewis stumbles out of the plane. "Holy balls, this place is big."

          Ghost's head tilts at her words and MacTavish thinks she's adorable. She's way too innocent to be here, but at the same time, she did tase someone on Ghost's behalf. She'd good-looking, but altogether not MacTavish's kind of woman. Ghost seems to like her though. At least if he hangs out with her, John can spare himself lectures on his way of dealing with people. 

          Ozone is gazing around, eyes wide. "This place is awesome. Are you seeing that training coarse?"

          "Seeing it?" Scarecrow says, starstruck. "I think I'm dreaming it."

          Ghost chuckles and mutters under his breath. "Oh, if only you had a brain."

          MacTavish rolls his eyes. "Yep, that's all fine and dandy, now come on, you muppets. Let's not stands here all day gawking at it. Let's use it for what it was built for."

          "First dibs." Lewis says. 

          "Grab a partner." MacTavish orders. "Looks like you'll need one."

          John watches her snag Ghost's arm and tug him away to the start. He doesn't seem to be resisting her very much, but he does seem surprised. MacTavish is glad that she's eager. He wouldn't want to have a lazy medic. 

          The start of the course is to pull a car backwards 50 meters. It's not parked of course, because that would be rude. MacTavish finds a timer in a box next to the starting line. The coarse ranges all over, even on top of the building for Privates and Corporals. 

          They start at the nose of the car and MacTavish yells at them to go. Together, Lewis and Ghost round the car and pick up an end of the pull bar at the back. It's not a very heavy car by the looks of it, so Ghost and Lewis make it to the end quickly. 

          The second part is elevated. Two posts roughly six feet apart with a beam connecting them on top starts it, and nine more sets follow. At the bottom, a mud patch with barbed wire to crawl under lies in wait. MacTavish sighs. 

          "Up!" MacTavish shouts. "Get on top of those beams, Lewis! Ghost, you'd better catch up, you're losing her!"

          With the agility of a cat, she leaps for the first bar and flings her hips up and around it until her feet land flat on the top. Ghost settles with a pull-up and leaps after her. Her feet seem to be feather-light, but Ghost is determined to gain that ground back. MacTavish's eyes widen as he pushes off the very edges of each beam. If he were to go even an inch further, he'd fall. And he'd probably hit his head. 

          "Lewis, you're taking a swim!" MacTavish shouts. 

          The third part of the course has a beam set a foot higher and two feet further away, to where she'd dive into a 15 foot channel of water. Ghost would be running along the side, keeping her clear of bad guys. There's a gun waiting for him on the first barrel.

          "Ghost, watch her back!" John shouts.

          Ghost jumps down as she dives into what must be frigid water. He grabs the gun and shoves a clip into it. He ducks behind a bunch of crates and the "guys" start popping up. The new signs are so shiny. Too bad it won't last. Ghost nails each of them in the head, but there's a lot more than back in the Pit. MacTavish jogs closer, since they're moving away from him quickly, and sees Lewis make it to the center of the long pool. She shakes herself a little and looks back at Ghost. He quickly shoots the remaining targets in his way and catches up with her. 

          MacTavish thinks that looks a little frustrating. There's a lot of places for guys to hide behind barrels and walls. She dives in and he pushes through, grabbing extra clips from little dips in the ground. Stores, maybe? 

          MacTavish sees a watchtower not far away and climbs it. He hasn't missed much. Lewis is struggling hard through the water now. 

          "Ghost, the current changed!" she shouts. 

          "Just hold on, love! Give me just a second!" Ghost pops up and fires, emptying his clip into several guys. A couple of them are doubles and MacTavish goes ahead and gives him accuracy points in his head. Lewis reaches the end of the water and Ghost pulls her out. He can hear Ghost groan at the sight of the beams again, but this time, they're arranged like stairs, in a spiral up to a beam that's got a wire hooked to it. The wire is thick. They'll have to go across hand-over-hand. 

          Ghost tests it first once he's up the spiral of beams, and MacTavish finds it appropriate considering he's heavier. She'll have assurance that it'll hold her, and he'll help her onto the building. 

          Ghost does exactly that and she's still leaving water everywhere. MacTavish can hear her whoop when she sees the zip-line on the other side. 

          "Race you!" she says. 

          She picks up a gun and bullets tear into the center mass of her targets. Ghost is slipping along the edge, making far more progress. However, there's a tower in the corner and there seems to be a movement-activated rubber-bullet-firing mini-gun inside of it. A bullet barely misses Ghost's head and MacTavish puffs out a breath of relief. He rolls towards it and fires at the "bad guy" behind it. The firing stops and he turns the corner, only to be taken down by a well-aimed punch from Lewis.

          "Holy bollocks!" she squeals as Ghost lands flat on his arse. 

          It's really strange for MacTavish to hear that coming out of an American accented person, but she makes it work. Ghost's head tilts in curiosity again, and Lewis giggles. She says something that MacTavish can't hear, and he thinks that maybe it's a good thing judging by how Ghost chokes. She must be pretty forward. 

          Leaving him stunned, she grabs onto the first reel on the zip-line and slides away. She hollers with delight on the way down and she rolls with the landing. Ghost had recovered and was chasing her across the grounds on their way back. She may be light on her feet, but Ghost is faster. Except for when he tries to pass her up, she jumps on his back. 

          Just as he's about to cross the line, Lewis sticks her leg out in front and wins. MacTavish laughs and slides down the pole to the ground. She plays dirty. Probably his kind of lass. 

          "She wins!" MacTavish laughs. 

          "Only because she bloody cheated, mate."

          "I never saw any rules." Lewis teases. 

          "Were you even looking, love?" He asks. 

          "No." 

          "Of course not." He huffs. 

          He tries to put her down,  but she hangs on tight. The arms around his shoulders trap him and an almost-forgotten Archer coughs. 

          "You two prats do know you're in public, right?"

          Lewis looks him straight in the eyes and blinks before mimicking his voice patterns. "All I see is the team. Scared of a little public affection, Archer? I suppose I could make it fair, mate."

          Archer's eyes widen and then his eyes narrow. "That's not playing nice. MacTavish, tell her that isn't nice." he looks at him. 

          Lewis jumps off Ghost's back, and if MacTavish isn't mistaken, he seems a little disappointed. She hugs Archer, then Ozone, then Scarecrow, and then MacTavish. Because Miss Lewis seems to be a tease, she plants a kiss on MacTavish's stubble. His blue eyes gaze into hers and she smiles, then, jumping back onto Ghost's back, she giggles again.

          "Mush, my British steed! To find the towels!"

          Archer is slack-jawed, surprise coloring his features. Scarecrow is pulling Ozone away to run the coarse. MacTavish finally takes a moment to look at their time. It had seemed like forever, but their time was 4 minutes and 8 seconds. Ghost is tottering like an old drunk and Lewis is holding onto his forehead. Indulgent pest, MacTavish thinks. Lewis is a welcome addition if she can get these boys to smile. They'll need it. 

          "The showers seem a likely place to look, love." Ghost chuckles. 

          "Take me, steed." 

          Ghost trips over his own feet and Darcy cackles. "You did that on purpose."

          "I don't know what you're talking about." 

          "Sure you don't, love."

 

          Lewis' POV

          Lewis had thought she'd outgrown giggling, but the 141 is just so much fun. She hadn't laughed this much since before she'd been in service. And Ghost just made her giddy with the way his accent wraps around words. She didn't have to see his face to know he was handsome either. She could feel the impressive shaping of his shoulders and back as she was hanging on him too. And Wow were his shoulders nice. 

          The look on MacTavish's face was beautiful when she kissed him. He was a friendly person, as mean as he looked. And he must like her a little bit, otherwise he would have pushed her away. Not in the like like way, but in the friends way. She thinks she like his eyes, especially the scar. About half and inch above his eyebrow, down to the middle of his cheek, it rested about three-fourths healed. Many people wouldn't agree with her, but it looks nice. It gives him character.

          Ghost bumbles along now at a good pace, headed for the building in between each of the barracks. There have to be showers somewhere. Lewis rests her chin on Ghost's head. He's so warm, and comfortable. Before she knows what hit her, she's snoozing up there and Ghost realizes this.

          Ghost POV

         

          Instead of waking her up and facing her wrath, he picks up a towel and carries her off to the barracks. Senior barracks are on the right of the medical/shower building when he walks out and he heads inside.

           MacTavish, dressed down into a tight-fitting shirt and his pants, is already picking a room. 

          Ghost chooses his wisely before finding Scarecrow and asking where he's staying. Having her in the same room with him would drive him absolutely crazy. Sadly, he and Ozone are bunking up together, and that leaves his only option to be MacTavish. If anyone can hold his own against her, it'd be the captain. 

          He knocks. "Uh, Captain?" Ghost cringes.

          "Come on in, Ghost." 

          Ghost opens the door and finds MacTavish sitting on one of the beds. He claimed the one on the left. Ghost lifts Lewis higher on his waist. 

          "I have a...."

          "Go ahead and put her on the bed, Ghost." he smiles. 

          Her breath is tickling his ear and he has to resist tilting his head to get away from it. He puts her down as gently as possible, but finds himself still trapped in her arms. MacTavish comes to help him, and Simon is glad that he can't see the embarrassed blush spreading over his cheeks.

          "If you've picked out a room, you can share it with Archer. You two should get along all right."

          "Already do, mate. Thank you."

          "I'm not gonna let you do anything you'll regret."

          Ghost nods, grateful. He puts the towel under her head and retires to his room.

          He sleeps through the rest of the afternoon, tuckered out by all that running around. Archer peeks into the room at around ten and he plops down onto the other bed and passes out. The next day is spent exploring after training in the morning. 

          The shooting range is nice, and Ghost can say from personal experience that it could be worse. The came up with a name for the coarse, instead calling it the Jaunt. It was entertaining for the first couple of hours that morning, but then it was time to hang out. The mess hall was a grand thing. There was a chef there who's name was Marcus, and he enjoys catering to specific wants or needs. Apparently, food grows well around here. 

          As far as Ghost can tell, the wind doesn't blow into the place very much, so people enjoy being outside on the basketball court. Ghost prefers the football that he found under the mound of basketballs. MacTavish played with him for a little while, but then he got distracted by something in the trees, so Ghost's last toss hit him in the head. He barely turned to glare before turning and walking towards the leafy beasts. Ghost, curious as ever, got Lewis to come with him and the followed MacTavish. 

          A rock hits Ghost in the back and he sees Lewis crouched behind a bush, signalling for him to get down. She signs to him, and Ghost is quick on the uptake. It's a trap. Bloody MacTavish and his weird infatuation with trees. A water balloon splats next to Ghost, but he doesn't move. Where in the bloody 'el did he find water balloons? If this is Shepard's idea of a base for grown men, and woman, he was sadly not far off.

          Something rolls up against his leg and he looks. A balloon. Lewis is holding three more and Ghost is smiling wryly when a balloon hits him right in the mask. He topples in surprise and he can hear MacTavish cackling from somewhere above him. He looks around, but can't find him. What he does see is boards running from tree to tree in the world's probably best jungle-gym. 

          Oh, MacTavish is going to get his.

Chapter Text

          Lewis' POV

          To say she didn't have to hold back laughter as Ghost got hit in the face with a balloon would be a lie. She would be shrieking in it if she didn't have dignity, or the need for MacTavish to not know she's there. Ghost shakes his head and glances around just as another balloon splats on his back. Lewis barely has time to blink before he's gone. Wow. She had thought the term Ghost was a joke, or irony, because she always knows when he's around, but the ability to just disappear is uncanny. 

          Suddenly, she sees movement up in the tree above her and sees John looking around. It'd be hard to miss a person without a shirt and pale skin, you'd think. Geez, it's hard for her to miss him when he does wear one, but somehow he's gotten around that. She sees Ghost in another tree about thirty feet away. He throws his balloon at MacTavish, twists behind the tree he must have climbed, and he's gone again. He's good. The best part is that he was completely silent, so MacTavish didn't turn until it was too late. As it impacts with his face, he flinches to the side. Lewis can see Ghost from the ground, prowling in the upper levels of the canopy that are bridged across each other, stalking John. He drops a balloon straight down onto his head and Ghost drops to MacTavish's level. The weight of John's surprised step and Ghost weight falling behind him makes him lose balance. 

          Lewis is awestruck when Ghost wraps around the bridge and hangs on from the bottom. She sucks in a breath as her eyes crinkle with mirth. MacTavish is looking up from the bridge where he tumbled onto his ass. He should be looking down. She giggles and tosses her balloon at him. Sadly, her aim isn't as good as Ghost's and it sails over the bridge and smacks into the ground. She pouts until she hears MacTavish curse from the bridge above. 

          Ghost is still hanging underneath him, but MacTavish is moving over to another tree. Ghost pulls his legs up and grabs a balloon from a hidden bag along the edge. Lewis grabs the bag she found under the bush she hid next to and crawls along the ground. She's only wearing her fatigues, so she's not very camouflaged. A stick clatters to the ground next to her and she looks up. MacTavish is circling around a tree and he wings a balloon across the wide gap to the other side of the bridge. She hears Ghost take a tumble and MacTavish running across the bridge. 

          "Ghost!"

          Lewis looks back and sees Ghost hanging on by his fingertips, thirty feet above the ground. Ghost groans as MacTavish grabs his arm. 

          "What wrong?" MacTavish asks. 

          "I wrenched my shoulder, just pull me up."

          Lewis frowns. He couldn't have wrenched his shoulder. There is no possible.... She grins. 

          "Gim'me your other hand." John says. 

          Lewis spots the flash of color in his palm before he swings his hand up and releases the balloon. MacTavish grabs his wrist anyway and pulls him up. Ghost is laughing, but he's also nods in gratitude. MacTavish pulls the balloon bits from his Mohawk and flicks them at Ghost. Lewis looks up and hurls her last balloon at them. 

          It sprays them both as it breaks on the rope of the bridge. "That'll teach you two lug nuts to make me worry!" she shouts. 

          Ghost chuckles. "I'd be more afraid, but I'm wearing a mask." 

          Great. He has a stupid shield with a skull on it. He rubs his bare hands together and winces. MacTavish grabs the hand that was holding the rope and makes Ghost uncurl his fist. Darcy can't see from below, but she's guessing that he's got a smidge of rope-burn. 

          "You'll live." 

          Ghost curls his hand back up and huffs. "Of course I'll live. I don't need to be mothered." he gets up and climbs down the ladder. "I'll see you at mess."

          MacTavish climbs down after him and stands next to Lewis. 

          "Wonder what's got his goat." Lewis smirks.

          "He's very private. If somethin's botherin' 'im, he won't say a thing."

          "Is there? Something bothering him, I mean?"

          "Not that I know of. He's probably just tired of bein' treated like a sick kid." 

          "He's kinda got bad luck." 

          MacTavish shakes his head and walks off towards the barracks. Lewis looks on thoughtfully. Maybe John is right. Ghost is very independent.

 

          Ghost's POV

          Ghost hisses as he opens the door with his burnt hand, but continues on into his room. He knows MacTavish will be at the door in a couple of minutes, and Archer's worried stare has been following him around the room since he came in. 

          "Spit it out, mate." Ghost snaps. He hangs his head a little. "Whatever you have to say, say it. I'm sorry for barkin' at ya'."

          Archer's response is simple. "Should I be worried?"

          Ghost shakes his head. "No, mate." There's a knock on the door. "That'll be MacTavish." 

          He strides over and answers it, ushering MacTavish in. "Archer, dismissed."

          Archer tilts his head in confusion, but does as he's told. MacTavish turns to face Ghost and pins him to the spot with a stare. 

          "All right. What is it now?" MacTavish lowers his eyebrows.

          "It's nothing. Just leave it lie." 

          MacTavish shakes his head. "This is the point where answer me or I'll order it out of you."

          Ghost frowns. MacTavish wouldn't do that. What if he needs to know?

          "I shouldn't have tricked you."

          "I kind of expected it." MacTavish smirks. 

          "Um..." Ghost is a little confused as to why. 

          "I was playing around with a sneak in the trees. You honestly think I didn't expect you to play a trick of some sort on me?"

          "I guess so." 

          Ghost still feels guilty for doing it, no matter what MacTavish says. 

          "You've got quite the guilt complex." MacTavish chuckles. 

          Ghost takes his mask off and MacTavish seems to freeze. "I need to be able to keep your trust."

          "Ghost, one little prank isn't going to make me lose faith in you. You've already earned my trust and it's going to take a little more than a water balloon to the face to deter me."

          Ghost relaxes. "Good." Ghost hesitates. "Can I ask you a favor?"

          "Depends on what it is. I am'no jumpin' off no cliff for your entertainment." John chuckles. 

          "I need you to switch me and Lewis in our sleeping arrangements."

          "Done. She is a morning person, and that does nae work with my grumble and grope for coffee routine." his smile falls short. "Might I ask why?"

          Ghost doesn't like the prick of shame and weakness that burns through him, but MacTavish wants to help. "I have nightmares."

          "How often are these nightmares?"

          "Most nights. So far, I've been okay, but Archer is getting suspicious."

          "Why can't Archer know?" he sounds more curious than anything, and Ghost appreciates that.

          "I can get fairly violent, and I don't want Archer to be on the receiving end of that."

          MacTavish crosses his arms and raises his left eyebrow. "I see how it is. Just looking for an excuse to hit me, eh mate?" he smirks.

          Ghost chuckles. "Always, mate. That's what friends are for."

          Ghost really isn't expecting the whop upside the head, so he turns to glare before recognizing the good-hearted laughter that follows. He shakes his head and grabs his stuff from under the bed. He hadn't unpacked anything, having been really too busy throwing things. Archer, on the other hand, had spread across half the room already. Looking around, there's a picture of him and what must be either his brother or best friend, one of his parents, and a bunch of plain shirts strewn about. 

          MacTavish looks him over again and Ghost rolls his eyes. "Archer's gonna think you don't trust him."

          "Archer has a mind and thoughts of his own. He may figure somethin' is wrong, but he knows we trust him."

          MacTavish huffs. "We?"

          Ghost glares. "It was one time. One bloody time and you will not let it go."

          MacTavish shakes his head and walks to his room Ghost leaves his stuff on the bed and meets a confused Lewis's eyes. "We're swapping rooms, love."

          She smiles and grabs a duffle from under the bed, hopping off to Archer's room. A cheery 'Hi, Archer' is heard as she slips through the door. 

          Ghost doesn't get that girl. It's like she knew. Then again, she is the medic, so she would. But it would be near impossible to know that they were switching rooms unless they were listening in, which wouldn't be very trustworthy. 

          MacTavish pats his shoulder. "Come on, let's go see if we can find the armory around here."

          Ghost nods and walks out the door.

          MacTavish is way, way to nice to be normal. At first he seemed so gruff, but now he's turning into a friend and he's more simple than he lets on. Not that he's not still a mystery from the scar to his Mohawk, because he is, but Ghost is starting to care less and less about who he was before. The scar must have a story, but MacTavish has never let on as to if it's good or bad. 

          Then again, Ghost still isn't telling MacTavish anything either. Ghost thinks to himself wryly. He'll learn enough once the nightmares start up. 

          And on that thrilling note, Ghost gets glared in the eyes from across the base. Something shiny is catching the sun, and it's really bloody annoying. Ghost taps John and John follows his gaze.

          "Well, we should check it out, at least."

          Ghost grins. "We couldn't get into any real trouble, could we?"

          MacTavish shrugs. "I'm sure Shepard wouldn't have put anything out here that he didn't want us to mess...." they reach the door and open it. "....with."

          Ghost's eyes widen and he takes off his shades to make sure he's not seeing things. 

          Ghost is almost toppled as Scarecrow runs in. "They're beautiful!" he says, picking up a combat knife and tossing it over his shoulder. Ghost yelps in surprise as it hits the wall next to his head. Scarecrow is nowhere to be seen until his blonde hair surfaces among the boxes and boxes of guns. 

          MacTavish sighs and starts to look through it himself. Ghost keeps an eye out for flying objects, but the rifles catch his attention. He's always had a thing for up close and personal, but the sheer power behind the long range precision weapons has an attraction that he hasn't been able to shake. Up close is always more fun when others have a rifle because it's harder for the bad guys to shoot you with it. Something snuggled up in the corner catches his eye.

          Ghost's jaw drops. "Oh, my, land." Ozone steps in behind him, but Ghost pays him no mind as he heads for the ladder in the corner that leads down. "Another floor."

          MacTavish laughs and accompanies him. Ghost goes down first and MacTavish quickly descends after him. 

          "See anything you like?" MacTavish chuckles. 

          Ghost swats at his leg as he jumps off. "Not really, mate. Get yer' arse out of my face."

          Ghost chuckles as he hears chatter from upstairs as Lewis and Archer show up. "Where'd those two go?" he hears Scarecrow say. "Don't know. They could be off in Disneyland for all I care, look at these snipers!" Archer scoffs, bootlickin' the rifles as Ghost had been. 

          Ghost looks around the small room and sees a small switch on the far side. He moves over and flips it and drops into the ground. 

          "HOLY BOLLOCKS!" Ghost shouts in surprise. 

          "Ghost!" MacTavish lurches for him, but he's too slow.

          Teetering on the edge of unconsciousness as he hits to floor, he looks around. There's not much to see but black, and the trap door above his head is shut. He groans and rolls onto his side. 

          He growls at Shepard as he black out. Oh yes, Shepard. He's such a blithering saint.

Chapter Text

          Gary's POV

          So, Spetsnaz' reaction was a little overkill. There is no doubt about that. And yes, Gary had been in the pack of Rangers to rise to the 141's defense. Gary just didn't get it though. Not all of the Spetsnaz guys would be angry, just the ones who really missed Ozone. Which is stupid, because Ozone left them after the fact. 

          Gary really doesn't get the Spetsnaz guys sometimes. Ramirez left for the Rangers though, and Gary would be willing to bet that it didn't make them any happier. 

          Gary shakes his head to clear it. Spets guys are touchy anyway, even without Shepard picking guys from every team to come join them. Come to think of it, no one had even accepted invites to the 141 from Spetsnaz until Ozone, so there should have been no reason.... Ouch. Makes my head hurt just thinking about it. Focus, Gary. 

          Oh yeah. I was in the middle of a mock fight. 

          And just like that, a fist slams into his jaw. Gary is knocked flat, but he rolls to his feet and grabs hold of Dunn's legs, pulling him down. Dunn topples and Gary pretends to pull a weapon and shoot him. 

          He grins. "You're dead."

          Dunn just chuckles and lets the next person step up to mess around. So far, Gary was 3 and 0, and he was kind of itching for a challenge. He rubs his jaw and smirks at Dunn. 

          "I'll give you this, cuz you hit hard." 

          Allen steps into the ring and lifts his fists. He's not a real tall guy, nor is he very big, but his muscles still outpower most of the guys in the Ranger unit. Well, aside from Archer, but he's gone. Allen is also smart, and weirdly light on his feet. 

         Before Gary can even think, there's a fist in his face and a leg around his own. Gary blinks. 

         Am I on the ground?

          There's clapping and laughter right up until Gary sweeps an arm out to grab Allen and they tussle on the the ground for a good ten seconds. 

          Allen manages to stun him and Gary twists away. A punch lands next to his head and Gary latches onto his arm. Unorthodox, but effective. Allen loses his balance as Gary pulls him forwards and he lands on his back. Gary is on him in a second and holds a hand to his throat as if holding a knife there.

          Allen puts his hands up in surrender. "All right, Sanderson. You win. Just won't stay down, huh?" 

          Gary wipes his nose with a smile. "Nope."

          Gary curses internally as the next person steps into the ring. Major Vernon. I am so dead. This guy trained Ghost. Or at least that's the rumor. Marcus Washington follows him in and stands next to Dunn at the edge of the ring. 

          "You want a real challenge, mate?" Vernon says, crossing his arms. 

          He's Gary's height, but he's bigger everywhere. Shoulders, legs, back. I'm going to die!

          Gary squares his shoulders and raises his chin in defiance.

          Vernon laughs. "I never said I was gonna fight you, kid." he puts a hand on Gary's shoulder. "I'm sure since you keep getting up, you'll come back alive."

          Gary stiffens. "I think I'd rather be punched, sir." he coughs. "With respect."

          Laughs rise from the group surrounding them and Gary internally cringes. "Scared, Sanderson?" someone taunts. Vernon silences them with a raised hand.

          "I'd say he's pretty brave." Washington smirks. "He was ready to take you, Major."

          Gary soars high inside at the praise, but he's still wary of this "challenge". 

          "Tell you what, kid." Vernon smiles. "You do this for me and come back.... intact.... I'll put in a word for you with Shepard."

          Gary clears his throat. "What do I have to do?"

          Cheers start to clamor around him and Vernon whispers in his ear. "I've heard the the good Captain is a merciful man."

          Gary startles. "You mean, Captain MacTavish, right?"

          "Yes. You've got to sneak onto the base and leave something from me in his room. If you get caught, well, you have my good wishes."

          Yikes. That's comforting.

          "And!" Vernon says. 

          Shit.

          "He's gotta do it at night!" 

          Gary chokes, then swallows to clear his throat. "Are you sure this is a good idea, sir?" 

          "Whoever said anything about this being a good idea?" Washington shakes his head. "You really are an FNG."

          Gary turns a little red as his temper flares. Oh, he is going to show this guy.

 

          MacTavish's POV

          "Ghost!" MacTavish shouts. 

          MacTavish had been turned the other way, and Ghost's surprised shout had him turning and leaping for the edge of the hole. The trap door closes and MacTavish yanks his arm back to keep it from getting caught. His shout has the rest of the guys coming down the ladder with weapons in hand. MacTavish gets up and searches the corners and walls. Nothing seems to be there.

          Archer looks around. "Where's Ghost?"

          "He fell through the floor."

          Worry colors his tone and MacTavish feels like a fool. He should 'ave been keeping an eye on Ghost. They wait a few minutes in weighted silence before leaving. MacTavish has a feeling that he should stick around a little longer, and it pays off when he hears muffled curses from below him. The relieved breath that leaves him shocks him into silence and he listens to Ghost rant.

          Some of it is cohesive. "Bloody Sh...rd! Shepard ...... bloody SAINT!!! ....Screw ... MacTavish! NOT FUNNY! Gonna BURY ...... in a mot.......... desert! ... Leave your..... icles for ... buzzards!"

          Ouch. MacTavish is glad he's not down there with 'im. There's a pause. 

          Great, he's got more to say. "When I...... you....... KILL YOU BOTH!...... Not.... en the people.... SOUTH AMERICA ..... FIND YOUR BODIES!" he pauses, hopefully to breathe. "..................!!!! Beat your..... ains out!. ....GRANDCHILDREN will ..... it!"

          MacTavish can't keep himself from trying to stop him. "Ghost!" he shouts. Shoutin' at the bloody floor. Feel like a muppet myself. 

          MacTavish let's the call sink in and Ghost is silent. Great. The silent treatment now. How adult that is. He shakes his head. 

          "Ghost, I'm gonna get ya' out of there. Just hold on."

          If MacTavish isn't mistaken, the silence is for the muttering of 'Bloody well better' or something along those lines. 

          That's when John sees it. There's a part of the wall that's a little different and when he touches it, it flickers. He stands away from it and tugs it. The hatch snaps open and MacTavish pulls one of the weapons and quickly jams it open. 

          "Ghost! Are ya' alright? How far down are you?"

          Silence. 

          "Ghost, if I had known there was going to be a trap door, don't ya' think I would 'ave told ya?" More silence. "You're making this difficult! If you keep this up, when I find a rope or a ladder, I'm leavin' you down there."

          MacTavish can hear him mocking from below. "Fine." Strangely, MacTavish could almost swear he hears a fluttery breath. "I might have a concussion from the fall, and I think I actually hurt my shoulder this time, mate." there's a pause again. 

          MacTavish's eyes narrow. "And?"

          Ghost curses. "My chest hurts some."

          "How far did ya' fall?" 

          "I hit somethin' on the way down. I think that's why my ribs hurt. I fell another distance. I don't know. 30, 40 feet."

          And that's all that wrong? That muppet is lucky he didn't break his fool neck. "S'pose you can climb?" There's a grunt of pain from beneath him and MacTavish is on alert. "Ghost?"

          "Probably." Ghost responds. 

          "Never mind. I'll find somethin' you can hold onto and pull you up." 

          Something lands or drives over the ground and dirt rains down into the hole. Ghost lets a panicked shout loose that startles the life out of MacTavish.

          "Ghost? Are you alright?"

          "I'm fine!" he growls.

          Liar. MacTavish stabs one of the many knives around him into the floor and draws an arrow pointing towards the hole. He jams it into the ground and then jumps down. He feels the rock wall with his hand and angles himself so he's sliding down it. It's swoops downwards and out and MacTavish latches onto the ridge and slides the rest of the way. 

          "Ghost?" His voice echoes around like it's a huge place. 

          The dirt showers down again and there's a groan nearby. 

          "Ghost? Talk to me, mate."

          MacTavish shudders. This place is downright eerie. John can hear some short breaths nearby and he heads towards the sounds. Ghost's form in barely visible in this light, but MacTavish crouches next to him anyway. 

          "Ghost?" he murmurs. 

          He curls into himself and MacTavish rests a hand on his shoulder. That seems to do the trick, only it doesn't garner the response John was hoping for. 

          Ghost grabs his arm and pulls him close. "Get small." he orders. 

          MacTavish frowns.

          "Come on, Tommy."

          Oh. This is must be some old PTSD. MacTavish doesn't know whether or not to go with it and play this out, or to snap him out of it. He decides on the latter.

          "Ghost, wake up." He shakes him slightly. "You're just rememberin' things, mate."

          Ghost stills and looks around before attempting to squirm away. He's holding his shoulder and trying to gain his feet.

          "Simon!" John hisses. 

          Ghost whips towards him and recognition finally dawns. He drops to his knees and MacTavish kneels in front of him. MacTavish puts a comm in his ear and calls for Archer. He doesn't answer right away, but it's soon enough that MacTavish doesn't snap at him.

          "Did you get him?"

          "I need you to go back to the weapons room on the bottom floor and lower a rope or somethin'. Ghost is in a bit o' trouble and I need your help to get 'im out." 

          "On it. What kinda trouble we talkin', mate?" 

          "Apparently, he does nae have good underground memories."

          Archer gets quiet. "Does anyone?" 

          Ghost hangs his head and deflates a little. "I'm sorry, mate."

          MacTavish shakes his head. "You have nothing to be ashamed of, Ghost."

          Ghost sits down and pulls his mask off. "There was a bombing when I was younger, and my brother Tommy was with me." The rubble above their heads rains dust and rocks onto them and Ghost squeezes against the wall. "Our house got hit and we got trapped in the basement." 

          John sits next to him and Ghost nearly leans into his shoulder. Not enough for MacTavish to really notice, but close enough to move the fabric of John's sleeve. A startled breath escapes Ghost as the ceiling rumbles again. 

          "My brother almost suffocated before I could get us out, and he's been in and out of the hospital ever since."

          He seems to calm down some as he talks, but that doesn't stop him from leaning closer as the dirt rains down on them. Soon, he's pressed into MacTavish's shoulder and John can feel his heartbeat. 

          "My mother died when... when the building collapsed. I was headed up the stairs with Tommy on my heels. She opened the door, smiled, and then she was gone."

          John can't help but feel a nick of sympathy. Losing Price had nearly the same effect, but Ghost at least knew for sure.... MacTavish may never have closure. 

          "My mentor's name was John Price. When I first met him, I was barely off the bench. He was an old grump long before I came to know him. He didn't like me any more than I wanted an old man."

          "Is that the initials on the gun case? CJP?" Ghost asks.

          "That's the one." MacTavish sighs. "Then I got to know him. Much as we argued, butted heads, he was more like my father than a mentor."

          "How did you lose him?"

          "We were in Karachi, and we turned a corner. I looked back, and he was gone. That was it."

          "How long did you look?"

          I still am. "Not long enough."

Chapter Text

          MacTavish's POV

          At this rate, Ghost is gonna have a heart attack before Archer gets back. John is running out of things to tell about Price, and he's almost afraid that he'll have to move to himself. And he also keeps forgetting how young Ghost is. 

          Ghost shakes a little, now wrapped securely under one of MacTavish's arms. MacTavish frowns. This is too big a reaction to just be from when he was a child. There's bound to be a hoard of other things, none of which that Ghost will probably ever say, that make him twitchy about bein' underground. 

          Ghost pulls his injured arm a little closer and MacTavish lets Ghost's head drop onto his shoulder. John's never been a fan of physical contact of any sort, and this is pushing it. But this is his teammate, his lieutenant, and MacTavish would rather die at the hand of Zakheav than leave one of his men alone if they're hurt. Emotionally or otherwise. 

          He has to force himself to keep still when Archer calls into his ear. "MacTavish."

          "What is it?" his whispers. 

          "We caught someone sneaking around base."

          MacTavish frowns hard. "And who might that be?"

          "It's one of the FNGs from Shepard's base. He claims that coming was his idea, but I'm not believin' a word of it. Sanderson, I think." Archer pauses. "He had a note from a... a Major, it looks like."

          MacTavish chuckles. "You can let him scurry back to base."

          "Says he needs to talk to you before he goes anywhere." Archer huffs. 

          MacTavish growls under his breath. "You find rope yet, Archer?"

          "Some, how far down do we need to reach?" 

          MacTavish looks up at the small hatch above them. "At least sixty feet. Maybe more."

          Archer is silent for a moment. "He fell all that way?"

          "Aye, that he did. Minimal damage too. I think he's asleep."

          MacTavish could swear that Archer is rolling his eyes. "You jumped in the hole too?" 

          "Aye. We're waitin' on you, mate. Hurry it up."

          There's a thump above them and John looks up. A rope drops through the hole and MacTavish smiles in approval. He taps Ghost. 

          "Wake up, mate. Archer's ready to get us out."

          Ghost stirs and looks up. "How much did he grab? The whole heli?"

          John chuckles. By what's comin' down the hole, he'd assume so. Sadly, something shakes the ground and rumbles the cave under their feet. Ghost buries his face in his chest and takes a few deep breaths. 

          "What in the blazes is goin' on up there?!" MacTavish shouts. "Whatever it is has got to stop!"

          "Nikolai brought his chopper to pick up our little issue topside. Why? What's wrong, mate?" Archer asks.

          "It's shakin' the whole cavern, and it's not gonna be easy to move Ghost as it is."

          "There's not much we can do. Just keep him calm enough to get a hold of the rope and hang on for dear life."

          MacTavish pulls Ghost up with him and walks towards the wall to feel around for the rope. Ghost seems back to normal now that he's come out of his little episode. 

          "I got it, mate." Ghost says.

          MacTavish grabs the clip at the end and slips it through Ghost's belt loops. "Hold on."

          Momentarily surprising MacTavish, Ghost grins. "You bet your arse, mate."

          Blinking his way back the situation at hand, John calls up to Archer. "Now, Archer!"

          John can hear a heave of effort from above and glances up. Archer has one foot braced on the edge so he has something to keep him in place. 

          Archer chuckles and it seems to brighten the cave. "You're heavier than you look, Ghost." 

          Even clutching to the rope, Ghost gets up the nerve to let go with one hand and flip him off. 

          "I should drop you now, mate." Archer jokes. 

          Ghost, grumbling something under his breath, swings over to the ledge he hit earlier and gives Archer a little break. "You wouldn't dare." 

          MacTavish smiles and picks Ghost's discarded mask up from the floor. Fool forgot his mask. Archer starts to pull him up again and MacTavish waits patiently. Ghost hisses as his shoulder bumps into the strong cord. Lewis is gonnae have a field day just yellin' at 'im for getting himself hurt. MacTavish chuckles to himself.

          There's someone topside who's gonna get an jab for sneaking onto John's base as well. 

          Ghost gets through the hole and Archer tosses the rope down a second time. MacTavish tugs the rope when he's ready and another boot appears in the hole. Ghost is helpin' Archer out, at least. MacTavish sighs in relief as he crawls back through the hole. Shaking off the gloom of the cavern, he climbs the ladder and heads outside. Ghost seems as relieved as John is, but takes a seconds to snag his mask from MacTavish's hand and slip it back on. 

          Archer points to the medical side of the middle building. "That's the only place we really had to hold him. He's strapped to a gurney right now." 

          "Anyone watchin' 'im?" MacTavish asks. 

          Ghost straightens his shirt and his dog tags clink against his chest. MacTavish watches him pull his demeanor back together bit by bit, and Archer does the same. 

          Archer is the first to say something. "Done preening, mate?"

          "Shut your trap." Ghost growls. 

          Archer shakes his head and answers John's question. "We've got Scarecrow and Ozone on him."

          "How'd you find him in the first place?" Ghost pipes up.

          "I didn't, Lewis did." Archer smirks. "She caught him snooping around in the barracks and tased him til he passed out. Poor kid didn't even see it comin'." 

          "I don't think anyone ever does." Ghost snickers.

          "Ought to start callin' her Sparks, ya' know." MacTavish grins. 

          Archer's deep chuckle is abruptly halted as a ruffled Gary Sanderson tumbles out the door of the infirmary. He's looking behind him the whole way, so when he gets close, MacTavish sticks an arm out and clotheslines him. He rolls to his feet and swings. 

          MacTavish can't help but hit back and bark out a warning. "Hold still, ya' little scunner!" 

          John wrestles him to the ground again and puts a hand on his throat in a flash. Sanderson looks suitably impressed and guilty at the same time. 

          His eyes widen as he sees who's got ahold of him. "Captain MacTavish!"

          "Aye." he growls. "And just what do ye' think yer doin' on my base?" he's a little pissed, and his accent starts to show more. "I ought to knock ye' straight and send ye' back to Shepard with yer tail between yer legs."

          "H-hey, just hold your horses, man!" Gary stammers. "I only came because of Major Vernon...." he freezes. "Well, shit."

          Ghost looks stunned from the glance that MacTavish tosses over his shoulder. MacTavish helps the kid to his feet.

          "Mon then. Yer gonnae be a thorn in mai side, yer gonnae show me why Vernon chose you to sneak over 'ere." Gary looks confused and MacTavish smiles. "Com'on! Show me what you got!"

          Sanderson cocks his head and then seems to get the idea. "You want me to punch you?"

          Ghost shakes his head. "He wants you to try, ya' bloody tosser."

          Sanderson scowls. "I'm going to do more than try." 

          MacTavish dodges his first swing easily and socks him in the stomach. He doubles over, but keeps his feet. Ah, how gratifying. In a devastating uppercut, MacTavish flips him onto his back and Sanderson groans. He gets up though. Gary attempts to tackle MacTavish around the waist, but John sees it coming and dodges. 

          MacTavish widens the circle by prowling close to his guys, who are now all here. Including Lewis. Scarecrow and Ozone seem to be rooting for MacTavish, mostly because the FNG managed to slip away from them. Ghost is passive, with crossed arm his skulled grin seeming to egg him on. MacTavish motions for Sanderson to get up.

          Gary seems like he's already been fightin', if MacTavish hadn't missed his guess. He has a black eye, which most certainly did not come from this fight.

          MacTavish isn't expecting the kid to grab his arm once he's up, but John slips out of that easily enough. It's just the job of dodgin' the messy haymaker that Sanderson throws at him that keeps him on his toes. Gary manages to get ahold of him a couple more times, but MacTavish is playing with him. He throws a punch that hits Gary square in the jaw. He's on the ground.

          It doesn't looks like the first time he's been there.

          The speed with which he gets up is almost dizzying, but not near enough. Ghost is worse. Sanderson is picking up on MacTavish's speed and agility and starts going for joints to slow him down. Not that it works, but MacTavish is a little impressed. 

          "You know, I should bench you for sneakin' in here." MacTavish says, dodging what would have been a nice blow to the head. "I think if you win this, that's what I'll do."

          Sanderson seems, unperturbed. "Yeah, and what if you win?" he tries to sweep MacTavish's legs out from under him as if it's a practiced move. 

          "I bench ya' fer longer." MacTavish chuckles, grabbing the kid's wrist and flipping him over his shoulder.

          Gary pants a little and huffs. "Right. Thar's only fair. I win, I get benched. You win, I get benched."

          MacTavish can't help it, so he throws a punch out of nowhere into Gary's left cheek. A collective gasp leaves his group as Sanderson hits the dirt. Hard. He wheezes for a little bit, then draws himself back up. He's tiring, but he's not staying down. 

          "John." Ghost warns. 

          "It's alright, Ghost. I'm not goin' tae kill him."

          Gary gets around his shoulders, but MacTavish manages to wriggle out of that too.

          Ghost makes a sound in his throat. "You're like a bar of soap, mate." 

          Realization dawns over Ghost's features, and MacTavish swings a little harder than he meant to at Sanderson. Poor laddie looks near walloped, but he gains his feet, albeit with a little more sway.

          "Stay down, kid." MacTavish shakes his head. "You're gonnae make a mess of yourself."

          He stumbles and John catches him. 

          Chuckling, MacTavish wipes blood from his lip. "You're as bad as a cockroach. Just won't stay down."

          Ghost bobs his head. "There you go. Roach."

          In stunned gratitude, Roach smiles. "This is so not how I imagined earning my call-sign." he looks down at the ground. "I'm still getting benched, huh?"

          MacTavish ruffles his unkempt blonde hair. "Aye, that ye' are. Three months."

          "Training only, for three months? Are you frigging kidding me?" 

          "I'm sure you'll survive it, Roach. We'll let Lewis patch you up. Send Vernon my regards." Ghost smirks under the mask.

          MacTavish looks up at the secretive Brit and sees the bruise that's just now turning a shade on his shoulder. Ghost sees him analyzing again and shakes his head. Not in the mood apparently. Lewis notices too, and he waves her off in favor of helping Roach.

          MacTavish has a feeling that a concussion isn't as likely as Ghost thought. He'd be more out of it than he is, and he would have let Lewis help him. Stubborn sook

          It takes a couple of hours to get him off the base, since Nikolai had retreated to the rec room for some coffee. They didn't really know where to look. MacTavish had seen the empty cup and promptly knocked him from his chair.

          Nikolai looks up at him with a fake scowl. "I never liked you, you know." he huffs. "I can never figure out why."

          "Must be my personality. Come on, up ya' get. You've got to take Roach back to base."

          "Roach?" he strokes his chin. "Is dat what they're calling him now?"

          "Kid wouldn't stay down." MacTavish chuckle. "Move your lazy arse, Nikolai. You can come sip cheap coffee later. Make sure he's tells Shepard he's benched for three months."

          "I'll holt you to dat." he says, getting off the floor and putting his mug in the dish pan near the door. "See you soon."

          "I'm sure, mate." MacTavish says, wishing him farewell.

          He has this niggling feeling that this won't be the last they see of Roach.

Chapter Text

          Roach's POV

          Roach sits at a desk in the middle of the camp, literally benched. So rude. Dunn and Allen stop by to offer their congrats, and Vernon walks by with a grin on his face. Though he appears to be smiling, Roach is growling very angry-like to whoever came up with this, this torture.

          MacTavish must be laughing at him right now, somewhere over at his base. Not that Roach isn't thankful or anything, but this is horrible. 

          Shepard quirks a brow as he moves to roll-call for the morning. "What are you doing, Sanderson?"

          Gary perks up. "MacTavish benched me, sir."

          "Did he now? What for?"

          He doesn't know??!!! Oh man, better come up with an excuse fast. 

          "He said that I was antagonizing his team." Gary makes a point to look down with a guilty expression. 

          "And were you?"

          "No, well yes... but no. Not if you ask me, but in his eyes..." Roach stammers.

          "Get up, Sanderson. Training starts up in ten minutes."

          Isn't getting up what got me in trouble in the first place? Sanderson gives himself a shake and stands, stretching. Ramirez sees him coming and waves. 

          "Hey, Roach."

          Yeah, Roach. It hadn't taken long for his new name from the 141 to spread once the other Rangers got wind of it.

          Gary waves a little uncomfortably and shifts so it isn't so painful to breathe. Maybe being benched isn't such a bad thing if it keeps him from getting worse wounds. Roach rubs his jaw and winces. MacTavish had hit him hard. The ground was there way faster than in any other fight Gary had been in and he'd never been so dizzy in his life, aside from when he was little and got his wisdom teeth taken out. Humph, I'm lucky I didn't get any more teeth knocked out. 

          Allen pats his shoulder with a smile. At 5' 7", it was almost difficult for Allen to reach Roach's shoulder in the first place. It seems easier now and Roach realizes that he's hunching. 

          "How hard did he hit you?" Allen smirks. 

          Roach turns to face him and Allen seems to cringe at the deep purple-black bruise on Gary's face. "Pretty hard." 

          Dunn puts him in a headlock, not seeming to care. "You did good, Roach. You came back alive! I wish I could have seen the look on his face."

          Gary shakes his head. "You really don't. And I think Ghost was hurt."

          "How would you know that?" 

          Gary jumps at the sound of Vernon's voice right behind him. He tilts his head, thinking back. Ghost's breathing, maybe? It could have been his stance, but that was strong as ever too. 

          "It was his voice. Like it was tight, or he was holding something in."

          Vernon sighs. "It wouldn't be the first time. I'll give MacTavish a call later."

          "So... you did train Ghost?"

          Vernon shrugs one shoulder. "I didn't really 'train' him in the traditional sense. I just shaved off his rough edges is all."

          Imagining Ghost with rough edges is a little comical, but he had to start somewhere. Even MacTavish got pulled out of selection as an FNG. The thought makes him chuckle, but he's pulled from his thoughts by the thud of a body in the ring. Ramirez is man-handling Allen as best he can, but Allen's surprising amount of weight put him on the ground. Ramirez tries to gain his feet, but an imaginary combat knife is up under his throat before he makes it.

          Allen chuckles and helps him up. "You did good, Ramirez. Welcome to the team."

          He flushes. "Thanks."

          Roach rubs his jaw again with a grimace. It's gonna be sore for a while. It's already stiff, and that's annoying enough. Over in Op For, there's a couple of guys missing Scarecrow, but most are happy for him. No hard feelings seem to have turned up, and Roach is quietly thankful. Op For is pretty dangerous group when they're mad, especially Bearcat. He's a little older than most of the guys in that unit, but he keeps up just fine. Rumor has it he exploded on Shepard and ranted in his face for a whole half-hour and got away with it without reprimand. 

          Stand-up guy, though. 

          Gary pulls himself back out of his own head, yet again, when his name is called to go up against Toad. True to his name, the spring in his step keeps him light on his feet. He's kind of scrawny, if Roach is entirely honest. That doesn't stop him though. Scrapper to the very last, he's at his best in a fist-fight. Gary, on the other hand, is easily sidetracked. He only really gets his bearings after getting hit a couple times, which isn't helpful.

          Wham!!!

          Whistles rise up around the circle and Gary spits out a little dirt. His ears ring. The hit seems to resound for a good five seconds, but Gary is awake now. With a hiss, he pulls himself to his feet and eyebrows all around him shoot up. An arm flashes past him, but it doesn't have the opportunity to pull back. Gary grabs onto him and twists Toad to the ground. Toad curls so his feet can kick at Gary's upper body, but Roach is prepared. He lets Toad overbalance and straddles his midsection, holding him down with an arm. Gary mimes holding a gun to his head and Toad sighs.

          "You know, it's hardly fair that you let someone get in the first hit and then completely slam the door." 

          Roach grins, even with his stiff face. "See it as a consolation prize."

          Toad laughs. "I think my prize is knowing that someone did that to your face that you didn't beat." 

          Roach shakes his head, the ring in his left ear still persisting. It makes him nauseous and his vision blurs, causing him to sway off of Toad. I'm so woozy. Gary lands on his back with a soft thud and everything gets fuzzy. 

          "Medic!" someone shouts.

          Corporal Dunn is hazy in his vision before it all goes dark. 

          

          Cpl. Dunn's POV

          He'd been on the outer edge of the circle, knowing how Sanderson's fight would end. But he hadn't been expecting the sound of a punch to echo around the whole base. Or what follows.

          "Medic!"

          That was Toad! Dunn pushes through and sees Toad getting up and Sanderson on the ground. Toad is trying to get him to respond, but his eyes are dilated and his head lolls in another direction. Dunn slides to his knees next to them and pries Toad away. 

           "I didn't try to!" he shouts. 

          Dunn has to wrestle to guy off twice, and have Royce restrain him. Toad struggles against his grip, but keeps a worried pair of eyes settled on Roach. Must have thrown over into panic mode. 

          "Roach? Are you listening?" Dunn shines a light in his eyes. The response is slow. "You got your antennae on, kid?"

          It's a really good thing that Dunn keeps a couple of supplies on hand in case of emergencies. About twenty seconds too late, Gary murmurs something.

          "Antennae, really?" 

          Dunn sighs in relief. "How many fingers am I holding up, Gary?" Holding up three, Dunn sends up a prayer. 

          Gary narrows his eyes. "Uh...." he lets his head fall back on the dirt. "Seven."

          A couple of sympathetic winces come from the group around them. 

          Dunn huffs in frustration. "I guess that's better than twelve. Or none, for that matter. Suppose you can sit up for me?"

          Gary shakes his head and scrunches his eyes shut. 

          "Are you nauseous?" Dunn asks. 

          Gary nods and hisses through clenched teeth. "Might hurl."

          "Don't move your head too much." he glances around. "Someone get me a stretcher!" 

          "Just... just give me a minute." Gary groans. 

          Dunn holds up a hand for them to wait and Roach takes a few deep breaths. Propping himself up on his elbows, he glances around. 

          Someone starts a chant. "Roach! Roach! Roach!"

          Dunn looks at Gary, who seems a little better. Maybe he's only seeing six now. "They're cheering for you to get up. You gonna?"

          Roach takes Dunn's hand. "Always."

          Dunn helps him to his feet and he sways for a second before straightening. They cumulative holler that goes up is, frankly, awesome. Roach seems to be soaking it in, but Dunn knows that he needs to be looked over again in the medical tent. Sooner, rather than later.

          Vernon and his men are getting ready to move out, and the Major glances over. Dunn wonders where they're going for a moment before remembering that Vernon isn't restricted to base. Neither is his team. They could be going literally anywhere.

          "Hey, Dunn!" he shouts, waving him over.

          "Yes, sir?" Dunn strides over to him.

          "We could use a medic where we're goin'. Care to tag along?"

          "I've got to take care of Roach, but you could probably slide over and ask the 141 if you can borrow Lewis. Thanks for the offer though."

          "I will do that, Corporal. See you around."

          Roach is still standing by the time Dunn turns around to get him, but he looks about ready to pass out. Dunn gets Gary to drape an arm over his shoulders and he walks him to the medical tent. Roach settles onto a cot and Dunn does a thorough workup. 

          "You should be set to go in a few days, Gary."

          "A few days?" Gary looks like he's going to deflate. "Well, I guess that's okay since I'm benched anyway."

          Dunn chuckles. "The only difference being is that now you're benched from training too."

          Roach opens his mouth to protest. 

          "Don't argue with me on this, Roach. It's for your own safety."

          When did I become his father? Don't do this, don't do that, don't start the cat on fire! Blah, Blah, Blah. Just what I need.

          "Fine."

          "You're such a teenager."

 

          Two Days Later

          Dunn has a bad feeling about this. Wherever Major Vernon and his team went, they haven't come back, or reported in. They got confirmation on Lewis going with them, and Ghost went too.

          There are a couple of things in their favor though. Roach is on the mend, his face having gone from purple to yellow-green. He's healing fast. His concussion makes him dizzy from time to time, but he's getting that less often.

          There's been a little activity on the 141 base. Shepard sent them a new recruit, Poet, but they're not sure about him yet. Poet says it's making him nervous. His new call-sign seems to mock him because he's always finding some way to jumble up his words. Dunn has told him repeatedly that they don't mean anything by it, but Poet doesn't seem convinced. Chemo is headed over today because Shepard wants to get a team put together ASAP. 

          Yet, here Dunn is, hovering over a sleeping Roach and wondering what's bugging him. As if in response, the buffeting noise of chopper blades reaches his ears. It's not quite right though. 

          "Incoming chopper!" 

          Dunn is out of the tent and over at the edge of the base in what feels like an instant. His gold-green eyes widen in shock as he sees the chopper. It's on fire, and the pilot seems to be having a hard time keeping it in the air. It dives to the ground and crashes about a half-mile from the base. Dunn hops into a truck where the ready Rangers are already starting it up. 

          When they reach the crash site, the fire is raging everywhere. A frustrated growl from twenty feet away from the wreckage sounds. Dunn runs for it and finds Lewis, cut up and crying, wrestling her chute from her back. 

          "Lewis!" Dunn crouches next to her. "Was there anyone inside?!"

          "I'm the only one." she hisses. She kicks the chute bag and crouches down on the ground, starting to sob. "Ghost made me leave, and now they're all captured back there! He told me to get help, so I flew the chopper, but it got hit and I've been.... I've been.."

          Dunn grabs onto her arms and she thrashes. "Easy! Where were you?" 

          "We were in Venezuela, going after a guy named Manuel Roba. He got ahold of Washington and threatened to execute him if we didn't surrender and so Vernon came up with a plan and we ambushed them when they brought Washington to the meet..." she rubs a hand on her forehead, taking a deep breath. "And they shot him, right in front of us. He had a bag over his head. I don't think he even knew what was going on." she chokes back another sob. "Then a guy caught Ghost by surprise and he told me to run.... to run away." she puts her arms on her knees and shudders. "I'm such a coward. I listened to him."

          "Hey, you're not a coward. You were following orders." Dunn soothes. 

          "What good do orders do when it means you just got your captain's lieutenant killed?" she trembles. "I should have gone back. I should have... done something. Vernon got captured at the same time Sparks did, and I didn't get a chance to see where they took them." she hugs her knees closer. "I shouldn't have listened to him."

          "Lewis, you were... look, if you had stayed, there's a chance you would be dead. You don't know what happened to them. They could have escaped..." 

          "How?!" she shouts. "Tell me how?! Tell me that it was the right thing to do to leave four people that I'm supposed to protect, in another country!!" she coughs on another sob. "Tell me that it was the right thing to do, because I can't convince myself that it was right to come back to base safe and sound, and have to explain to my captain that I left Ghost there. I left him.

          Dunn picks her up off the ground, carrying her bridal style, but she doesn't seem to care. She curls into his chest and holds onto the front of his fatigues as if her life depends on it. Eventually, she falls asleep or passes out from exhaustion and her grip loosens slightly. He's sitting in the truck with her like that because she still won't let go. 

          When he gets out and he's still holding her like that, he gets a few sidelong looks of concern. He reaches the medical tent and Roach is sitting up, waiting for him. 

          "Lewis!" 

          Dunn attempts to put her down on a cot, but she won't let go. "Listen to me, Lewis." he whispers. "You're on base, and you're safe. Nothing's going to happen to you here. You're safe. You're okay."

          Unable to escape, or unwilling, he lies down next to her, keeping as much distance as possible between him and her as her grip will allow. The only parts of him touching her is his arms and chest where she's firmly latched herself for the foreseeable future. Dunn's experienced this before, except last time it was with a scared little boy in Brazil who had just lost both of his parents in an air strike by the other side. 

          Roach takes over a cot closer to them and keeps a close eye on them both. Lewis has always been nice to him, even when he was the newest recruit on the base. Dunn had always chuckled at that because all the new recruits get picked on, but now he understands it. She was more of a big sister to him now that he will almost never get to see. 

          And if something happens to Ghost, she might leave and he'll never see her again. 

 

Chapter Text

          Ghost's POV

           Oy. I am about ready to sock Shepard right about now.

          Lewis had bandaged up his cuts and scrapes, and Ghost allowed her a couple of minutes worth of dithering. Ghost has a few bruises and his shoulder is in a very temporary sling. He doesn't have a concussion, but that doesn't stop his head from aching. 

          Lewis smooths her hair down and Ghost chuckles. "There's really nothing to worry about, love. I'm fine."

          She shakes her head. "I really hate having to patch you up."

          "Why is that?"

          She shakes her head. "It's stupid, Ghost." 

          Ghost takes a careful step towards her, wary of her taser. "I'd like to know, love."

          "Because that means you're hurt, duh." she smiles a little timidly. "And you have to put your shirt back on."

          Ghost's mouth runs dry and he swallows. "Not if you don't make me."

          Darcy giggles. "You wish. Now are you going to let me under that mask or do I have to take it off myself?" 

          His eyebrows shoot up and his breath catches. Why does she do this to me?

          "To check your head, dummy. Looks like you could use it seeing where your thoughts are going." 

          Her grin is mischievous, and Ghost reaches out a hand to the side of her face. "My thoughts are right where they need to be, love." he smooths a curl behind her ear and she blushes. 

          "Sure they are. Now go get changed, Ghost. You've got training in about..." she looks around for a clock and finds it haphazardly slung on the wall. "fifteen minutes."

          Ghost sighs. "All right, love. Have it your way. Play hard-to-get all you want." his breath leaves him as Lewis turns into his side. 

          "I don't play games."

          Resolute to try to stick this out, Ghost kisses her cheek. "We'll see, love."

          We'll see.

          The next morning.

          Ghost is jerked awake by MacTavish snapping upright in his bed. He props an elbow on his knee and leans his face into his hand, breathing heavily. 

          "Soap?" 

          MacTavish freezes. "Please don't call me that, Ghost."

          Ghost sits up and pulls his cover aside. "Are you alright?"

          "I'm fine, mate. I just need a minute."

          "Nightmare?" 

          John smooths a hand over his Mohawk with a shaky sigh. "Something like that." he closes his eyes, taking calming breaths. 

          "Did you...lose Price again?"

          John nods and gets up from his bed. His upper body is caked with sweat and he seems to be headed for the washroom. He comes back out with a towel and wipes himself down. Eventually, that would be Ghost. Except there might be a black eye involved.

          He puts an ice blue shirt on and black pants and heads out for an early.... Ghost looks at the clock. 3:13 breakfast. Ghost could never eat that early, but he throws on some pants and joins him anyway. The night air is brisk and Ghost gets a chill over his bare back. 

          "There's a reason I put on a shirt, mate." MacTavish chuckles. 

          "I'm sure I'll survive." Ghost rubs one of his arms. 

          MacTavish shakes his head, but hastens his pace across the yard. Poet had slept in the other building, so they creep past his room once they get inside. Poor kid was so nervous durin' their outing, he almost dropped his gun. He kept his head though. He had a few speaking issues, but otherwise he's okay. Havin' the tail end of your sentence end up at the beginning must be annoying. 

          Ghost sighs in irritation at his sling. He'd fought with it on yesterday, much to his chagrin, and won against both Archer and Scarecrow. After that he was tuckered out. MacTavish had whopped him on the head and sat him down on a bench.

          His shoulder feels all right now, but he's not willing to take the sling off for fear of risking Lewis's wrath. Ghost had taken off the kitten band-aid on his face though. It was an insult to his manhood. 

          MacTavish opens the door to the mess hall and looks around. "Marcus?"

          There's a clatter in the kitchen and he stumbles out the door. "Coming. I mean, here, I mean.... good morning, captain." his black hair is all over one side, as if he slept on it all night. 

          Until now, of course. 

          "What were you needing, cap?" he straightens his shirt, his dark brown eyes still half-asleep.

          "An early glass of milk, and a pancake or two. Ghost?"

          Ghost turns and asks for some water and a single pancake. He's not very hungry. He stands still for a few moments, breathing softly.

          "Ghost?"

          "Yeah?" Ghost murmurs, realizes that MacTavish had been talking. 

          John smiles and puts a guiding hand on his back, steering him over to a table. It's early, and though MacTavish had him awake, he's starting to droop. Nothing earth-shattering is going on, so Ghost is fairly certain that sleep sounds good. 

          Ghost isn't sure when it happened, but his head is on the table and he's asleep. 

          He wakes up in his own bed and looks around. There's a plate of food next him, but MacTavish is gone. Probably hit the gym. Ghost enjoys his pancake and whisks out of the room. It's officially 6, so Ghost takes a jog around the compound. Lewis is out on the edge of the base smelling flowers. 

          Ghost crouches next to her, tapping her shoulder. She turns around and hits him. Ghost topples and drops onto his side, protecting what he can.

          Lewis shrieks in surprise and kneels next to him. "Balls! Are you okay?"

          Ghost chuckles and sits up. "I'm fine, love. I'll have you know I've been hit harder."

          She's about to answer when chopper blades start cutting through the air. Lewis gets to her feet and pulls Ghost along behind her. Ghost feels like he's drifting, and has been for the past eight hours, but his intuition is kicking and and he knows something is going on. 

          Who could that be? Nikolai should be in his bunk, and Scarecrow.... right, not a pilot. Why can't I think of a good reason for there to be a chopper flying about. 

         Because there isn't one.

         They reach the yard when it seems to want to land. A shout gets his attention. 

         "Hold your fire!" MacTavish growls. 

         The chopper twists and Ghost sees Vernon in the passenger seat. Ghost waves and the chopper settles safely on the ground. 

         Vernon is off and has an arm around Ghost before the 141 can put all their guns down. "Morning, Riley."

         "Shut up." Ghost hisses. "No one knows that here."

         Thankfully, the beating blades silence that so the rest of the team doesn't hear a thing. 

         "Not even your captain? Ghost." he tuts. 

         "MacTavish knows, although I'm not sure how. My files are pretty blacked out."

         Vernon pretends not to hear and lets go of Ghost to shake MacTavish's hand. "Morning, Captain."

         "Major. What brings you to our neck of the woods?"

         "We're in need of a field medic, and Dunn is busy back in Phoenix with Roach."

         MacTavish tilts his head. "What happened to Roach?"

         "I think he got knocked in the head."

         MacTavish narrows his eyes. "Must have been after I was done with him." he shakes his head and Ghost smiles under his mask. "What do you need our medic for?"

         Yes, please. Tell us what you're attempting to do with my medic.  Ghost thinks. Hold on... my medic? Where did that come from?

          Ghost shakes his own head and realizes that he just missed MacTavish allowing her to go. "I'll go with her, mate."

          MacTavish looks him dead in the eye, straight through his shades and mask. He searches for something in him and Ghost raises his chin in question. Finally, MacTavish nods and relief floods through Ghost.

          "All right, mate!" Vernon turns with a grin. "Looks like the band is back together."

          Lewis grabs Ghost's hand and he looks down at it, then at her. "Thank you."

          "No problem, love." 

          She lets go as quickly as she grabbed him and grabs her field kit, loading onto the chopper. Ghost runs back to his room and grabs his lucky knife. So far, whenever he's had it, he's been able to come out of every situation he's been in on top. Ghost jumps in the chopper and MacTavish wishes them luck. 

          In the chopper, Ghost greets Sparks and Marcus Washington with handshakes. "Gentlemen, long time."

          "Right on, mate." Sparks answers. "You should have been sending postcards."

          Ghost snickers. "Where should I have been sending them, mate? It's not like you lot would ever read 'em."

          Marcus smiles, but is otherwise silent. Ghost smirks at the thought of how different the mess chef is compared to him. Chef Marcus always seems like he's had too much coffee, while this one is quiet as ever. Not to say that Washington couldn't be an obnoxious little prat, because Ghost remembers the toad in his underwear drawer. Ghost is fairly certain that Sparks still hasn't forgiven him for that snake.....

          Lewis nudges Ghost's boot and he glances over at her. She taps her leg with her finger. Morse code.

          Trust these guys?

          Ghost taps back, glancing around the chopper at his old family. With my life.

          She leans into his shoulder and rests her head. Sparks raises his eyebrows suggestively and Ghost ignores him. He looks a little hurt to have not gotten a response, so Ghost gives him the finger. His grin is blinding, but Ghost merely tilts his head onto Lewis's and shuts his eyes. The other boys chatter around him, and Ghost realizes with a pang that they haven't changed a bit. But I have. That's why they can joke around and I'm silent as a statue. That's why Vernon is pretending not to watch me in concern. That's why I'm almost foreign to them now.

          Ghost used to feel an ache for them because he missed them, but now he's got a new family and he finds himself less attached. He still loves them like brothers, that'll never stop, but he doesn't miss them the same way. Ghost is a little saddened, but there's no changing the truth. 

          He falls asleep against Lewis's warm mass and just drifts through his dreams. He loses his mother again, and Tommy dies before he reaches the hospital. His father telling him get out and never come back is painful. Ghost's old team becomes vengeful and they kill the 141. 

          "Ghost." someone shakes his shoulder. 

          Simon grabs onto the offending hand and twists it without moving Lewis. Opening his eyes, he finds Vernon looking at him with worried eyes. "You were making noise."

          Ghost nods. "Generally do." Ghost lets him go and closes his eyes again.

          Vernon's hand pats his shoulder and Ghost cracks an eye to watch him sit back down. This man was the closest thing Riley had to a father once, and he hasn't lost that.

          Vernon catches his eye and offers a warm smile. One that Ghost returns. 

          Lewis snuggles into his side and Ghost looks at Vernon. His wry grin makes Ghost want to stick his tongue out at him, but he's an adult. Mostly. Washington is asleep and Sparks is keeping the pilot company up front, so Ghost feels safe enough to wrap a protective arm around her. 

          I hope this mission doesn't make too much trouble. I'd like to live long enough to try to explore this thing with Lewis. 

Chapter Text

           Ghost's POV

          The shouting of the chopper pilots pulls Ghost out of his sleep. Vernon is telling them where to land over the racket of the chopper blades. Ghost wakes Lewis up with a small nudge and she looks around. Lewis blinks, giving herself a shake. Ghost chuckles. 

          "You awake, love?"

          She stands up and stretches, inhaling. "I am now. How long till we land?"

          Ghost stands up and moves his stiff knees. "About..." he glances at his watch. "A minute."

          "A minute? Why didn't you wake me up sooner?"

          "Because I was still asleep too." 

          Lewis shakes her head and mutters, "Bag of lazy old bones."

          "Old? Who you callin' old, love?"

          Lewis just laughs and straps a gun to her hip. Ghost tries not to focus on it and ready himself for the mission. They have the element of surprise for the time being, but Ghost isn't sure how long that'll last. It never does. Sparks and Washington are sitting on the railing, ready to jump off. Vernon is shrugging a rifle over his shoulder with a heavy sigh. He looks tired.

          Ghost widens his stance so he can just jump straight out of the chopper and Lewis copies him. The pilot pulls the camouflage netting over the top as soon as they're off and tells them to give him a heads-up when they're on their way back. Ghost lets Vernon take point, used to following him right behind. He keeps Lewis as close to his side as possible, making sure he doesn't lose her in any confusion. She may be the field medic, but she's still a soldier. Her hands are steady on her weapon and Ghost is proud of her ability to stay calm. Though this is definitely not her first firefight. 

          

          Lewis's POV

           Wow, it's a good thing Ghost is here or I'd be freaking out. I don't even know these guys.

          Lewis walks close by his side and tries not to ogle his shoulders. It is so not the time for that. He keeps glancing around, as if he thinks something is up. Lewis wonders if that's just him keeping an eye on her. She chooses to believe that that's not the case. She can take care of herself. Ghost is tense, but that's reasonable. Sparks is watching their six and Washington is up by Vernon, clearing around the trees. So far, Lewis hasn't seen anything fishy. 

          They come into a small village fifty meters outside the treeline. 

          "Our intel says that Roba is staying with his brother in this camp. He's got mercenaries hired to keep them safe. Watch out for snipers, and keep your heads down. The house is 90 meters to the north. Stay frosty, mates." 

          Vernon's warning is enough to wake Lewis up if she wasn't awake before. Her eyes skirt to the villagers, who are acting like seeing forces come in with guns is an ever-day occurrence. They barely spare a glance and continue on with their day. Sparks comes up next to her as Washington peels off to check out an alley. 

          "50 meters. Keep it tight. Washington."

          Silence meets them and Lewis gets a bad feeling. 

          "Washington, do you read?" Vernon whispers urgently. "Washington!"

          The door to the target house snaps open at 30 meters and Lewis snags Ghost's belt loops, ducking them both behind a crate. He falls back and whispers at Vernon to hide. Vernon lies down at the base of a tree, but Lewis doesn't think he has enough cover. She looks back to the door with a gasp. A man walks out, almost dragging a hooded man behind him. Tossing him to the ground in front of the house, the man pulls a gun. Roba, Lewis growls. Washington's shape is easy enough to identify, and his head is twisting around trying to figure out what's going on.

          "I have your man!" Roba shouts. "If you don't surrender to me in ten seconds," Roba takes the safety off and puts the barrel to Washington's head. "He dies!"

          Washington stiffens, but doesn't move. She looks at Vernon, but she feels like something is missing. 

          "10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5," he pulls the slide back and presses it snugly against Washington's head. "4, 3..."

          "All right, all right!" Vernon shouts, getting up from the ground. "Let's not do anything hasty."

          Roba smiles and pulls his gun away from Washington's head. "We can be civil." 

          Lewis cringes. His smile is crooked. Ghost's tension amps up though and he's itching to do something. She still has ahold of his belt loops in silent warning. Where's Sparks? Roba wings his gun back around and shoots Vernon in the shoulder, then down to Washington's head. Before Lewis can blink, his head is practically gone and Ghost is gasping in shock behind her. She can't let him move, or he'll go out there. Ghost turns to her.

          "You have to let me go, love."

          "No. You'll be killed."

          "You don't know that."

          "Did you not just see that? He's ready for you to come out, he is waiting for the opportunity to shoot you." she whispers. 

          "He doesn't know that we're here." Ghost argues. He glances around. "Love, I need you to go."

          Lewis is about to answer when Sparks charges into the clearing, guns blazing. Ghost tells her to get back into the trees thirty meters and watch for him. They drag Vernon into the house. 

          "If I get caught, I need you to run. You have to get out of here, and get MacTavish. Take this with you."

          She stares at the knife. "Ghost, I'm not leaving you."

          "Yes, you are, now go! I'll be your diversion. Sparks is gonna get himself killed if he's not careful, and I've got to go rescue his sorry arse."

          Lewis can tell that he's scared, no matter what he says. "I won't do it."

          "Yes, you will! Someone needs to make it out of here, and if it's not all of us, it's gonna be you. Go!"

          She can tell he isn't going to let her win this, so she does as he asks. She can see what's going on from thirty, so lying down, she watches Sparks clip Roba. Get him. Kill him, kill him. Ghost pops up from beside the crates and lays down fire. They look surprised by a fourth man and shoot back out of panic. She wants to call out to him to watch his six, but he turns and knocks the guy out before he can do anything. She sighs in relief. Sparks gets pinned down and Lewis knows he's running low on ammo. He doesn't have the same blind-spot sixth sense that Ghost does and he gets clocked from behind. Ghost can't risk shooting at them, and Lewis has to clamp a hand over her mouth to stop the surprised scream when Ghost takes a shot in the chest. He staggers, and Lewis can hear him wheezing through the comms. That's not good. 

          "Run." 

          He looks back too late as he's reloading and throws his gun at a goon behind him. It connects, but he's still stunned from the bullet he took. 

          He slurs one more plea for her to run before the butt of a AK-47 connects with his head. Dazed and on the verge of panicking, she gets up and runs. Gunfire rings out behind her. She's been spotted. She leaps a fallen log and dashes back through the trees. Her shirt tears open on a branch and pulls her off her feet. She cuts the piece of fabric away and rushes to pick up ground. A sob rises in her throat, but she chokes it down. A bullet rips past her and her breath catches. That was close! 

          "Nik... Remac, spin up the chopper now! I'm comin' in hot!"

          "How far away are you?" he asks. 

          "200 meters and closing! Hurry! We've got to be able to dust off as soon as I get there."

          "Are the others coming?" he asks, his voice rising an octave. 

          Thankfully, she can hear the sounds of thick switches being thrown. "No. The got captured and I have to get my captain... I have to get them back."

          She shrieks as a bullet whizzes straight past her cheek. After a few moments, the pilot tells her he's ready to lift off. Her heart hammers in her chest as she flies through the trees. Lewis hears the chopper and she's almost home free. Suddenly the ground heaves and she's thrown forwards into the ground. RPGs!

          Her ears ring, but she pulls herself up and powers on towards the heli. Hurling herself into the back and slamming the door shut, she yells up to Remac. "GO!!"

          The chopper lurches into the air and she clings to the straps in the back for dear life. Remac steadies it and Lewis jumps up to the co-pilot's seat. She can feel her eyes prickling with tears, but she knows that she has to keep it together until the base. 

           Suddenly, the chopper lurches and Remac slumps forwards. A gaping hole is in the glass and blood is everywhere. She grabs onto her joystick and pulls the chopper back up, swerving to one side. A missile barely misses the back rotor and bullets pelt the doors. Lewis dives for the ground to gain to speed and levels out. An RPG manages a lucky shot and she can see smoke out of the corners of her eyes. 

          Tapping on her computer console, she targets the SAM sites giving away her position and fires the only missiles she has. Soon, the gunfire stops and she can hear the creaking of metal. She risks a glance into the back. One of the doors is missing and she's fairly certain the smoke is coming from the rotors. They won't last forever. 

          She looks at the coordinates for both bases and plots a coarse to the closer one. It's not where she needs to go, but if the chopper will last even that long, it'll have to do. 

 

          It took flying five hours to finally get close to the base, and the chopper is officially on fire. She's still a half-hour out and she's already cried most of her tears. Lewis is relieved when the base comes into sight, but the alarms start to blare and the ride gets really bumpy, really fast. 

          "I will make it, I will make it. I have to get Ghost back. I have to." 

          She's so close when the chopper goes down, and Lewis has been flying close to the ground for just that reason. It's very early morning here. She bails. The wind is knocked out of her and she loses consciousness for what seems like eternity. Then she opens her eyes to see Dunn and she loses it. 

          When she finishes, he picks her up, and she can't complain. She's too tired, and probably couldn't walk anyway right now. She's not hurt too badly, but she's still been knocked around quite a bit. Grabbing onto the front of Dunn's shirt, she holds on. It's okay. You're okay. You're safe. Dunn keeps talking to her, but she's too dazed by everything to answer. All she can do is hold onto the nearest, most solid thing in her proximity, and that's Dunn. She pretends to fall asleep, and when he tries to lay her down she keeps her grip. Lewis knows how selfish that is, but she needs the extra weight. She needs something to hold onto. 

          

          Lewis wakes up, her hands still firmly clinging to Dunn's shirt. Outside, the sky seems to be bright with mid-day sunlight and she looks at Dunn. He's snoozing next to her, but still touching as little as possible. She's appreciative, and she's not about to move either. He looks like a peaceful angel, and if he's willing to sleep through the day, she will too. She worries for Ghost and whoever is left, and tries not to think about Remac. Mostly his head all over the chopper. Not helping. 

          Before she know sit, she's crying again and the reality of possibly being the only person who... who... No, Ghost will make it back, and he's going to bring whoever he can with him. I'll drag him back myself if I have to.  

          She lets her tears fall onto the cot in between her and Dunn, quietly enough that he won't wake up. The guilt is clawing at her and she just can't help but feel like if she'd stayed she could have saved someone. Instead, the only person she saved was herself. She keeps thinking back to Ghost telling her to go, and she imagines a scenario where she stays and everyone, including Washington and Remac, makes it back alive. She pulls Dunn a little closer and cries into his shirt. He doesn't seem to know or care, just exhaling and curling an arm around his head, sprawling. She'd shake her head if that wouldn't wake him up. 

          She opens her eyes and glances around. Roach is steadily sleeping away on a cot nearby and she smiles at his bruised face. That gets her to thinking about MacTavish, and she wonders what she'll tell him. Shepard walks through the tent flap and she squeezes her eyes shut. 

          "Sargent Lewis?" he whispers. 

          She raises her head, careful not to shift Dunn. "Sir?"

          He looks around for anyone he might wake up and comes closer. "Nikolai is here to pick you up, Lewis."

          Lewis tries to uncurl her hands, but they're still clenched in Dunn's shirt. She has to remind her body that there's nothing to worry about right now and slowly uncurls her fingers. Dunn cracks an eye open, but he doesn't seem like he's actually seeing anything before he closes it again. Carefully, she slides from the cot and pulls the knife from the pocket of her jacket. She examines the jacket and deems it pretty much useless by her standards. Stuffing the knife in her pocket, she tells Roach good-bye with a hand through his hair and then she's following Shepard. Nikolai greets her warmly, but his eyes are looking behind her for Ghost. Looking back at her, he takes one peek back at her eyes and hugs her. 

          "Dashenka." he hands her a new jacket.

          "Nikolai, just fly us home, all right?" 

          Nikolai nods and puts and arm around her. He opens the door the the co-pilot's seat and she jumps in. He spins it up and they're in the air faster than Lewis would have hoped. Dunn is waving at her from the tent entrance with bed-head and Roach has an arm around him with a wide grin. At least someone's happy. 

          Lewis is thrilled that Nikolai is flying her, because she crashed the last heli she flew. She wraps her arms around herself and thinks about all the time that she wasted getting back to tell MacTavish. Almost a day, and they could be dead by now. All because she rammed into overdrive and then slept all day. 

          She reaches light fingers into her new jacket and finds the pockets warm. Slipping the knife inside, she decides she'll keep it warm too. It'll be waiting when he gets back.

Chapter Text

          Vernon's POV

          The Roba Residence

          So the whole "we can be civil" bit was a lie. Vernon had given this wanker a chance at showing he has a little honor, but that went out the window. With a bag over his head, Vernon can only hope that Ghost, Sparks and Lewis are holding up outside. He can hear Sparks shouting insults from inside the house and is tempted to shake his head. Cocky twat.

          It's only when it all goes silent does Vernon begin to worry. The sounds of bodies being dragged across the floor has him tilting his head to listen for signs of life. Two more chairs are moved over and they're hefted up into them. Vernon can hear wheezy breathing on his left and hopes that he's not dying, whichever man he is. Lewis must have escaped because there's not any signs of her from what he can hear. Vernon used to be able to tell which of his guys was which by the way they breathed, but with one barely breathing and the other struggling to breathe at all, it's not possible. 

          With Washington dead, he's got a fifty-fifty chance of guessing correctly. Moving on from that thought, he listens closely for any signs of the two waking up. The building is quiet now except for the guards chatter. Vernon sighs in relief to know that the rattling inhales were temporary. He's deathly quiet though, so that must be Ghost. Who could hit him hard enough to result in that?

          "Ghost?" Vernon whispers. Vernon tilts his shoulders a little and winces. "Ghost? You all right, mate?"

          Ghost groans. "Mmm."

          "I'll take that as a yes. Sparks?"

          "Peachy."

          Vernon winces suddenly as one of their captors grabs his shoulder. "Oi! Hands off, bloody tosser!"

          He's backhanded and Vernon is glad his head is bagged so the guy can't see his reaction. Gettin' too old for this. The bags are taken off soon after and Ghost is looking around wildly. Vernon can tell the relief in his body language that he doesn't see Lewis anywhere. Sparks is still, but he is angry as a bear. Vernon looks for any tools to escape and finds that they best way would be to slip out.'   

          "Ghost?"

          "Yeah?"

          Vernon lowers his voice below whispering and Ghost turns his head. "You remember that trick you used to use in training?"

          "They one you told me not to use because it's dangerous to myself? Sure, I remember it."

          "When the time is right, I need you to do it."

          Ghost shakes his head. "Last resort only."

          Vernon growls under his breath. Ghost has always had different plans and ideas. It's what makes him a good soldier, but it makes him really hard to get along with. 

          "You got a better idea, mate?"

          "I have one." Roba walks into the room with two armed guards at his side.

          And of course Ghost has to get mouthy. "Does it involve us escaping with your head in a bag?"

          Vernon shakes his head. This won't end well. 

          Roba narrows his eyes. "No, it doesn't." he walks over and grabs Ghost's bottom jaw. "I have a better idea."

          Don't do it, Ghost. He's baiting you. "Ghost." Vernon warns.

          Not to be cowed, Ghost does it anyway. "Well, I kinda like my idea, to be honest. I think it would have...."

          Roba sneers. "You're gonna make jokes?" he pulls a knife and stabs Ghost in the shoulder. "How about we play a game?"

          Covering Ghost's mouth with his hand, he twists the knife and Vernon looks away. Ghost is breathing a little heavier, but he's otherwise quiet. 

          "Not much of a screamer, are you?" Roba asks. 

          Wiggling the shaft of the knife, Ghost inhales sharply. Vernon looks back at his masked face and sees his jaw drop. Uh-oh.

          Now usually, Ghost doesn't bite, but the satisfying shout of pain from Roba is almost worth it. Losing his temper, Roba tosses Ghost's chair to the floor with him still in it. Ghost rolls onto the floor and sweeps a leg out under the closest man. Grabbing his weapon, Ghost turns and shoots three more guys within five seconds. Aiming at Roba, Ghost takes a crack at him. With his hands still tied, a man behind him reaches under his arm and pulls on the restraints just in time to save Roba. Ghost is flipped onto his back and another man holds down his legs. 

          A third comes and jams a needle into Ghost's arm. Ghost struggles, but after a minute or so, he starts to go slack. Rolling Ghost onto his stomach, they still hold him down. Too smart for an old trick. Too bad. Roba is standing off to one side and Vernon smirks at his awed face.

          Then his face turns to hate and puts Ghost's chair back on its legs. They toss him roughly into it, but he's too glazed to notice. Strapping him into it so he doesn't slide to the floor, they drag him back over to Vernon and Sparks. Vernon almost wishes he wasn't wearing his mask so he could check on Ghost, but something tells him it wouldn't be pretty. 

          "Ghost?"

          His head lolls back. "Major."

          Not a good sign. "What did you do to him?" Vernon growls. 

          "It's just a muscle relaxant." Roba assures him. "With a couple hallucinogens mixed in"

          Ghost's breath hitches and Vernon can see him squeeze his eyes shut behind his shades. 

          "He should be a real comfort during shipping."

          Shipping? That's not good. 

          "Pack 'em up, boys." Roba chuckles. "We're going on a trip." 

          The remaining men grab Sparks and Vernon. Vernon turns and watches Ghost try to wriggle away, stubborn as ever, and Sparks slam his head back into the nose of the guy pushing him along. The man lets go in surprise and Sparks jumps, pulling his hands under his legs and out in front of him. wrapping his wrists around the guy's neck, Sparks holds him hostage.

          Roba shrugs and shoots Sparks through his guy and Sparks gasps in surprise. He stumbles and his now-dead hostage crumbles to the floor. Sparks looks down at his shirt, confused, and then he drops to the ground. No.

          "What have you done?! You killed both of them!"

          Sparks' hands are covered in blood and he coughs some up. Ghost doesn't seem to be processing that right, so he's non-responsive. 

          Roba points the gun at Vernon and his eyes widen. "You know, it's very redundant to answer your own questions, old man." 

          Seething, Vernon growls. "You already shot me once! What's stopping you now?"

          Putting his gun away, Roba shrugs again. "Well, it's more beneficial to me to have more than one of you. And a little extra incentive is always helpful."

          Ghost just now seems to realize that Sparks is dead and he starts to mumble under his breath. Or he's hallucinating a little more. Either option has the same result. Vernon was worried about him before all this happened, so it's about par for the course that he has to be more worried now. 

          Roba is yet another problem. He seems to have a couple of screws loose and then some.

          

         Ozone's POV

          Two Months Later

          As much as Ozone knew that Ghost was very skilled in basically everything, he was starting to worry. They never found a body for Vernon or Ghost. They could have been dumped somewhere, or they could be captives now. He doesn't honestly know if the latter would be a blessing or a curse. If they were dead, at least the 141 would have closure and they wouldn't be getting tortured in an Afghan cave. If they're really lucky, Ghost might have found a box of scraps or something so he could at least attempt an escape. 

          But right now there's a lot of doubt as to whether they're even alive. Ozone couldn't even begin to guess at where they are. The only lead they have is Lewis, who came back with a vacant look, a lot of tears, and guilt. 

          Ozone has been monitoring every channel he can think of including static burst and Morse Code. He's been sitting in front of a computer for weeks now, and he really needs some food. Lewis is off searching with MacTavish and Archer for clues as to where they might have gone. 

          Ozone is about to doze off when he hears it. He pulls his feet from the table, spilling papers everywhere, and he grabs a pen. His pad of paper is two inches away and he starts to scribble onto it. It's mostly numbers and Ozone quickly realizes that it's coordinates. Slamming his hand down onto the alarm, he continues scrawling his chicken scratch on the pad. 

Need Rescue ASAP

Latitude: 31.22 Longitude: 69.26

Verno...........

          The message cuts off abruptly and Ozone is sprinting down the hall. Nearly slamming into MacTavish as he comes around the corner, he waves the page in front of his face. 

          "I got a message from Ghost! He sent me coordinates. He's in Russia!"

          "How on earth did he get to Russia? Especially if he was traveling with South Americans?"

          "Who cares?" Ozone is flipping his lid. "Ghost is alive, and we have to hurry. We don't know what it took for him to send this. If we waste time now, he could die."

          "It could be a trap." MacTavish growls. "We don't even know if that's from Ghost."

          "I think he was going to tell us something about Vernon. I got the first five letters of Vernon's name before it cut off. He might have gotten caught."

          Ozone can see the doubt churning in John's mind, but he seems to break down. "Fine, we'll check it out."

          MacTavish looks almost resigned to the fact that he might not like what he finds, but it's worth a shot. If it was Ghost, he risked his life to send this. The 141 isn't about to let him down.

 

          After a long flight overseas, Ozone is ready to hit someone. Scarecrow hasn't stopped chattering since he got in the plane, and Archer hasn't stopped brooding. Lewis is quiet, but she looks relieved to finally have a lead. MacTavish has his head bowed and is smoothing a hand down his Mohawk, one of his only tells that he's nervous. 

          Clearing the house when they get there is the worst, one room at a time, by one floor. At the last door, it's Ozone and MacTavish, and Lewis running point. Kicking it in, MacTavish sweeps the room and is about to declare it empty. Ozone watches his head swivel and knows he heard something. 

          "No, no, no. Not this again. You're not real!" Ghost's scratchy voice hisses from nearby. 

          MacTavish starts towards him, but Ghost scrambles away. 

          "Stay back!" he shouts. "Leave me alone!"

          MacTavish approaches him slowly. "Ghost? Are you hurt?"

          "Get back!" Ghost throws out a hand and MacTavish dodges it. 

          "I promise you, I'm real, mate."

          "You always promise that, but you're not even here." his voice drops to a desperate whisper. 

          Ozone takes a good look at him and realizes that he's holding his wrist close to him, as if it's broken, and he's covered in dirt. His fingers are torn up and there's dried mud matted in his hair. Did they bury him?

          MacTavish keeps getting closer until Ghost hits the wall. "If I weren't real, would your evil me do this?"

          Wrapping his thick arms around Ghost, Ghost yelps as if MacTavish had burned him, but he doesn't fight it. He's frozen for a moment before he presses into John's warmth. He's mumbling something, and Ozone could almost swear it sounds like "Soap" over and over again. Ozone has no idea what that means, but it must mean something because MacTavish pulls him closer.

          "You're alright, mate. We'll get ya' out of here."

          Lewis comes closer and Ghost turns his frightened gaze on her. Ozone realizes that his mask is torn, and his shades are missing. Blue eyes. Terrified blue eyes land on her and he jumps away from MacTavish. 

          "I don't want to play games with you." Ghost murmurs. "I don't... I don't want to..."

          MacTavish pulls him back and Lewis crouches next to him. Reaching out to touch her cheek, Ghost shivers. She leans into his fingers and Ghost smooths a hair behind her ear. "I don't play games."

          She kisses his cheek and he seems to shrink away from their contact. 

          "Ghost, can you walk, mate?" MacTavish asks. 

          Ozone can see that he wants so badly to say yes, but he's too skinny to be healthy and probably couldn't carry himself if he wanted to. 

          "Yes."

          Ozone blinks. 

          Without another word, MacTavish helps him to his feet, an arm around his shoulders, protecting him. Lewis is on his other side in case he needs it. He actually seems okay, aside from his wrist. Ghost presses into the captain's side so much that Ozone has a ridiculous fleeting thought that he might get absorbed. 

          As soon as they got back, they got a status report on Roba, and it appears that he caught an accidental bullet while fleeing the building. Because of their small team, the 141 had reached out to the Rangers and the other teams. (mostly the Rangers) So the person who "accidentally" killed him could have been anyone. It could have been Roach, or Dunn, or Meat, or Royce, or Hopper, or Skullic. Literally anyone, mostly because they all knew to some extent what had happened and they didn't care if SOCOM wanted him alive or not. 

          "Wait." Ghost says suddenly. "Vernon, we can't leave his body."

          "Can you show us where it is?" MacTavish asks. 

          Ghost nods slowly and points to the back of the house. "He's buried back there."

          MacTavish obviously sees something that Ghost isn't saying and he gets a couple of the Rangers to go get him. 

          Ghost starts to speak again, quietly. "I didn't know if you'd gotten my signal."

          "Ozone was watching for you the whole time."

          Ghost looks over at him and nods gratefully. MacTavish pretends not to notice how hard Ghost flinches as he puts an arm around him again and steers him into the back of the plane. He balks at the ramp and MacTavish has to coax him on board. Lewis seems to have the perfect silver tongue for this because she's sweet-talking him into coming inside.

          "Come on, mate. Let's get you warm."

          Lewis hands him a blanket, which Ghost wraps around himself immediately, hiding the many marks all over him. Seeing Lewis and MacTavish seems to help and he seems to visibly brightens when Lewis hands him a knife. Umm, what?

          "I kept it warm for you."

          Ah.

           Ozone is relieved, and he'll be glad to get out of this place once the Rangers get back with the body. It's covered up, respectfully, and Ghost's blue eyes turn a little haunted. Noting again, the dirt all over him and the mud, Ozone can't help but think that they buried Ghost next to his Major's corpse. He's afraid that he's right. 

          Whispering assurances the whole way, MacTavish manages to keep Ghost calm throughout the flight. It was night when they got Ghost, and it's already night again by the time they get back to base. Ozone jumps off the plane and sheds his gear quicker than ever and flops face-first onto the bed. Hopefully Ghost's return will hold off anymore of Shepard's candidates. He'd be pushing his luck to ask that of MacTavish now.

          Wondering quietly if Ghost will ever get back to being some semblance of okay, he falls asleep. 

Chapter Text

          MacTavish's POV

          There are no words that could describe the relief that MacTavish feels. Ghost may be a little beaten up, but having him back on the plane resting on Lewis's shoulder is more than he could ask for. Archer is going to set his wrist the moment Ghost lets him close enough to do so. Well, let might be an overstatement. More like convincing him.

          "Come on, Ghost. If I don't set it, it won't heal right."

          "Just leave me alone for a little while, alright mate?"

          Archer tilts his head and frowns. "Ghost, I'm not above having Lewis hold you down."

          MacTavish raises his eyebrows in amusement. That's quite the threat.

          Ghost looks up into her eyes and she smiles. "It'll be less of a pain later if you let him fix it now."

          MacTavish watches her with respect as she handles Ghost expertly. She's telling him that he should do it, while giving him the choice for himself. She's very smart. It occurs to MacTavish that she could set it, but that's the moment that he realizes she's a genius. She's reestablishing bonds between the two. He's not very trusting and MacTavish can see his hesitance in his eyes. She's reminding Ghost that he trusts Archer as much as she does. Clever lass.

          It's not lost on MacTavish that she has very useful skills that just appear whenever she needs them. She's got a questionable background, just like Ghost does. The only name in the file is Lewis, with no first name or call-sign. The only clues into her past he really has is the fact that she didn't like her call-sign before and she knows how to fly a chopper. 

          While MacTavish was musing, he missed Ghost letting Archer set his wrist. Ghost doesn't make a sound, and MacTavish watches his eyes soften on Archer as he works carefully. With a smirk he uses his good hand to ruffle Archer's messy hair.

          "It's good to see you, mate."

          Archer pats his shoulder."All the same."

          MacTavish smiles. Ghost is strong, despite what may have been happening to him that last two months, though MacTavish can tell that being the center of attention is wearing him out. 

          Archer retreats to the bench across from them and glances it MacTavish, who is on Ghost's right, and lets a relieved smile show. MacTavish nods in reply and looks over at Ghost. He's got his fingers laced with Lewis's and he appears to be napping. He's obviously happy to see her and if he were a cat, MacTavish thinks he would be purring right now. She's got her hand up in the hair that's escaping from the remnants of the balaclava, carding through it gently. MacTavish shakes his head at the chocolate curls. No wonder he wears the mask. It keeps him from having to obey regulations. Glancing over at their fuzzy-headed Scarecrow, MacTavish takes it back. If anyone needs regulations, it's Shane.


          Thinking on Lewis again, MacTavish is wondering how Lewis manages to handle all the guys. Ghost is static-clinged to either her side or John's at almost all times. She's swimming in a sea of testosterone and competitive streaks, and yet she manages to just roll her eyes at them when they get hurt. Without fail, she cracks jokes and treats all of them like her brothers. Including MacTavish himself, and it's wiggin' him out. She's kept Ghost from having numerous panic attacks and gone on trips to the sand range to test out guys. She's just.... so useful. 

          MacTavish doesn't really like the idea of her slipping into every issue and fixing it so flawlessly. It's been about four days since they came back, and she just keeps doing it. She adapts to any situation. MacTavish is starting to wonder who the captain is, because all the men seem to like listening to her better. 

          "It's all in your head, you know." Lewis says suddenly.

          Instead of jumping, he turns his head slowly to looks at her. "What?"

          "Your lack of control over everything."

          What in the blazes is she doing?

          "They listen to me because I'm the medic." she turns MacTavish's head so he's looking her in the eyes. "You have a very expressive face."

          "And you know me that well?" MacTavish says softly.

          "It's my job to know."

          MacTavish gives her a funny look. "I thought your job was fixin' us up when we do somethin' stupid."

          "That too, but I need to be able to tell when something's wrong. Like I know that before I started talking, you were having doubts. You're confused."

          "Mostly by you."

          She nods. MacTavish is not only confused, but he's nearly mortified that she slipped into his room without him noticing. 

          "You have a very... uncanny way of making your skills known."

          "Like, the way I slipped in here?"

          "And the way you keep reading my mind."

          "And the fact that I know how to fly a chopper?"

          "And how you manage to handle five boys at once."

          She laughs. "For the record, you haven't watched me 'handle' anyone until you've watched me wrangle 18 Rangers to stand in a line so they could be punished firing-squad-style with paint-balls for putting blue paint in all of my soaps." 

          "18 Rangers." MacTavish chuckles. 

          "And a firing squad, don't forget them."

          "Who were they?"

          "Oh, just some girls from Op For who sympathized. Plus Roach and Dunn. They know better than to pull that kind of crap on me."

          "Sounds like you took good care of them."

          "I still am." she hesitates. "Can I be honest with you on something?"

          "I appreciate honesty." MacTavish smirks. 

          Lewis smiles. "Um, while we were looking for Ghost, Roach snuck onto base a few times." 

          MacTavish goes stiff. "Why wouldn't you tell me that?"

          "I know that you hate it when people sneak on base, especially Roach, and I figured you'd be mad."

          "What is this? A college dorm? Is he sneaking oot it the middle of the night tae come see ya?"

          "It's not like that, and you know better."

          "I can't have people sneakin' on base just because they can, Lewis. There are rules, and as a captain I have to enforce those rules."

          "I have a compromise." she says hastily. "You can report him if you catch him. If not, you'll let this slide."

          "Why would I do that?"

          "MacTavish, please." she puts a hand on his arm. "He was helping me look for Ghost. And..... Dunn may or may not have....." she mumbles the rest.

          "Are you serious, Lewis? Dunn too? How many guys are ye' goin' tae sneak onto my base?" 

          "I wasn't really in a good place when I came back from Venezuela you know. I needed them."

          "You could have come to me sooner."

          "And tell you what? 'Hey, MacTavish! I know how much you love it when people come here unannounced, so I'm letting Roach and Dunn come over for slumber parties and tea.'? That would have gone over so well."

          "Don't get snippy with me, Lewis." MacTavish warns. 

          "What, did you want me to lie? I try very hard not to lie to my CO."

          He frowns. "Obviously not."

          "You weren't exactly in the best mood either, if I recall. You blew up on Shane, and you almost broke Ozone's arm in training. So maybe you could have used someone to help you too. Archer had to threaten to sedate you."

          MacTavish sighs. All true. Smoothing his Mohawk, he's about to apologize.

          "I know you're sorry."

          He glares half-heartedly. I deserved that.

          Ghost opens the door and sees Lewis in the room, sitting next to MacTavish. 

          Pulling his mask off, he smiles. "What're ya' doin' in here, Lewis?"

          "Just giving MacTavish a talking-to." 

          Tossing his mask on the bed, MacTavish watches Ghost sigh before taking his shirt off. Lewis goes from stern mother to drooling rather quickly. But her first instinct is to look him over as a medic. MacTavish is proud to have this woman on his team. She's steadfast, and has a will of iron. There's no stoppin' her. 

          She puts her cool hands on Ghost's sweaty back and Ghost grins. He's lookin' a little more springy today. He's been working out in the gym more often lately and MacTavish can see that he's put a little weight back on. All he really had four days ago was 160 pounds plus change. He still looked strong enough, but being able to see his ribs was not pleasant. He's taking it slow though, which MacTavish thinks is a good thing. Right now, he's kind of toning and building at the same time. Maybe in a month or two, he'll be physically back to normal. 

          Sliding her arms around to his front, Lewis smiles gently. 

          "Love, I'm sweaty." he chuckles softly. "You're gonna get all wet."

          She whispers in his ear and he chokes. Craning his neck, he looks at her over his shoulder. She pecks him on the cheek and lets him go. MacTavish snickers at the spots on her shirt. Sadly, that draws her attention back to him.

          "You gonna forgive me?"

          "You gonna keep bringing Roach onto base?"

          "Well, I could bring just Dunn if that would make you feel better, but I think that would hurt Roach's feelings."

          MacTavish sighs. "Fine. If I catch 'em though, I'm gonna hit 'em."

          "Deal, my only rule is not in the face, because we all know how well that turned out last time."

          MacTavish smirks. "Yes, Your Majesty. I am humbled."

          "You better be."

          Lewis turning to John was convenient for Ghost to change, so when she turns around, he's in sweats and still no shirt. Kissing him again, Lewis tells him goodbye. 

          Looking the most peaceful he has since he got back, Ghost lies down on his bed.

          So far, he hasn't woken up in the middle of the night and hit MacTavish, but it's only a matter of time. With how strong he's getting back to being, MacTavish is willing to bet it would hurt. Lewis had given John a pager, in case anything were to happen. 

          Because of the whole, 'no sudden moves' portion of his memories, MacTavish asked him very politely to keep to training on his own for a little while. Or if he wants to train with someone, it'll have to be MacTavish. Ghost had accepted the latter and he'd been getting better about contact and moving. It had only been four days, and MacTavish wonders how long Ghost can keep a lid on it. 

          "I can feel you brooding over there, mate." Ghost says, a snark lacing his tone. 

          "Shouldn't you be asleep?" 

          It was a weak comeback, but it was really all MacTavish could think of. 

          "Right back at ya. And I just laid down."

          Rolling onto his bed, MacTavish smirks. "Alright. Just keep it downwind of Lewis. She'll skin us both if she knows we were up past 10."

          "There's not even a curfew." Ghost chuckles. 

          "Tell that to her. While you were gone, she was pulling the boys around by their ears and tossin' 'em into their beds. Ozone was the most often offender."

          "Sounds like her." Ghost murmurs lazily.

          For as quiet as he normally is, this is nice. Once he's asleep, there will be no waking him until morning unless something wakes him up in his own head. MacTavish chuckles as he remembers telling Ghost as much.

          1: I'm not your mate, and 2: You sleep like the dead.

          It's a comforting thought.

 

Chapter Text

          Roach's POV

          Gary nearly jumps out of his skin at the deployment alarm. Blearily opening his eyes, he stumbles to his dresser and throws on clothes. Dunn is attempting to hop into a pair of pants next to him and nearly falls over. Snagging a shirt, Gary walks out of the tent. He sees Red Cell over at the Op For tent, aiming his red goggles at the sky. Jester nearly runs straight into him and Gary looks over at the landing strip where a huge plane is sitting with the rear hatch open. 

          Shepard is standing in the center of the camp with a clipboard. "Sanderson, Dunn, Rook, Poet, Allen, Axxon, Canine, Meat!" He looks at his clipboard again and nods. He repeats his summons and Gary zips back into the tent to grab his gear. 

          Slipping into his shirt and vest, Roach comes to stand in front of Shepard with Dunn by his side. The others aren't far behind and Roach looks around. It's quite a mixed group. Usually Shepard wouldn't pull from each team, but something must be up. 

          "I'll brief you on the plane, so grab your gear and meet me there in five." Shepard starts walking towards the plane.

          Roach just follows him, glad to have been thinking ahead. Tent flaps are being thrown aside and the team members are all grouping in behind Shepard. They skillfully multitask in putting their armor on and avoiding bumping each other in the process. Smiling, Roach checks all of his laces and straps. His gun is strapped securely around his shoulder and his sidearm is at his hip. Doing a quick inventory of himself, Roach nearly walks into the side of the plane. Dunn just chuckles and drags him inside.

          Sitting down, Dunn sighs. "This feels good. I haven't been on a real mission since Shepard put me on the FNGs."

          "Corporal Dunn." Shepard greets.

          Next to Roach, Dunn stiffens. "Sir."

          Looking around, Gary sees everyone except Axxon. A set of footsteps clamber onto the plane and Axxon sits on the end, next to Poet. 

          "Axxon, nice of you to join us." Shepard says, his voice a subtle warning.

          "Sir." he fidgets in his seat.

          Roach shifts a little in his own. He's all for a little intimidation, but Shepard is such a stiff. 

          Shepard clears his throat and eyes everyone. "First things first. You guys are going up to the Ukraine and I'm splitting you up into three teams. Sanderson, Dunn, you're going to be team Alpha. You're going to be infiltrating a hostile base housed underground in an old tunnel system."

          "Uh, sir?"

          "Yes, Poet?" Shepard narrows his eyes.

          Poet clears his throat. "Task Force.... Wouldn't that be they'd do something? Covert ops their thing isn't it?"

          "Normally, but MacTavish is busy on base. He's got enough on his plate to feed a hoard of hungry Rangers, and doesn't need this to fall into his lap too."

          Poet nods and looks away, uncomfortable. Roach can't really blame him. 

          "As I was saying," Roach frowns at his pointed words. "The tunnel system is heavily guarded, so you'll need to utilize stealth for as long as possible. Team Bravo will be Rook, Poet, and Allen. You'll be working the perimeter to make sure no one gets in behind them once they're inside. Canine, Meat, and Axxon will be team Charlie. You three will be working to bring down the power grid from a remote location. Once it's down, they'll access the servers of the laptops running the operations. If you haven't gotten into the mainframe before the backup generators kick on, you will be detected. At that point, if you've made it in, you'll download the information and plant a virus. If you get caught instead, you'll need to be on site to transfer the information. Canine and Meat will play defense while you start the hack."

          Once you've completed the download, Both Alpha and Charlie will extract you and get you back to the LZ. From there, you'll hope you don't get blasted out of the sky."

          Roach can't help but clear his throat. "What if we do?"

          Shepard almost seems to growl at him with silence. "You'll have to find another transport back home." he walks from the plane and turns around at the end of the ramp. "Good luck, gentlemen."

          Right, just find another ride. So simple. People don't just leave planes lying around. The only one who's ever really flown in their group is Rook, and that hadn't ended well. The Australian really hadn't wanted another experience with that. Roach remembers the look on his face the day of and his usually coppery skin had been as white as Gary is. 

          Their pilot, Mason, made some minor adjustments as he hit a couple patches of unexpected turbulence. Usually, he was pounding along on some project or another in the hangar, but when he's needed he pulls himself away long enough to go behind enemy lines and back. 

          Roach's shoulder knocks into Dunn and the 'wise' field medic glares. "Don't."

          "What?"

          "Sway with the plane. It's annoying and unnecessary." 

          "What's gotten into you?" Roach huffs. 

          Dunn sighs and works his jaw. "Lewis told him."

          Roach is confused for a second before catching on. "Why?"

          "She said she wasn't comfortable lying to her captain." Dunn whispers. 

          "What did he say?"

          "So far? Nothing. She says he won't as long as he doesn't catch us." Dunn's expression is downcast. 

          "What happens if he does?"

          "Well, from what I understand, suspensions, he beats us up, or both."

          Roach almost smiles. "Both, from experience."

          Dunn shakes his head. "I'd rather take the beating." 

          Roach understands a little of his anger. Not a lot, but a little. Darcy had needed them after Ghost disappeared, and now that he's back Dunn is feeling a bit replaced. She's not telling them to stop coming though.

          "She still wants us to come."

          "What makes you think that?" Dunn answers glumly. "MacTavish said he didn't want you on base period, so what does that say for me?"

          Roach frowns, but then looks at it from MacTavish's end. "Dunn, he's not supposed to have people sneaking on base in the first place. We know better, but we did it anyway. If he catches us, he has to say something to Shepard. I don't think he wants to do that. And I got caught sneaking in for Vernon, so I'm already on his radar. Of course he doesn't want me there."

          Dunn's brow wrinkles. "Why do you understand this guy?"

          Roach does have a small smile at that. "I understand you. You have to look at it from his point of view. You didn't get off to a great start, but he doesn't want to get you in trouble. All he wanted to do was teach you a lesson when he first met you."

          "She's the closest thing I have to family, Roach."

          Roach pats Dunn shoulders. "I know." A thought occurs to him. "You know, he didn't say that he didn't want you on base. He must have been snookered into a deal with Lewis."

          "I don't think he gets 'snookered' into anything." he says, using quotey fingers. "He let her push him into it."

          "As long as you don't get caught, you should be fine." 

          Roach looks over at the guys across from them. Most are sleeping, but Rook is not listening with an amused smile. Roach glares at him and he just grins. Jerk. 

          "What happens when I do?"

          "When? I'm pretty sure Lewis is better than that. All I want to know is why she told you and not me."

          "I think she knew I'd tell you."

          He still seems a little hurt that she told MacTavish. Yep, Big Bad Corporal Jake Dunn. Really just a scared kid afraid of losing the only person similar to a mother he has left. True, she's not much older than he is, but she took care of him more than his mother ever did. 


          Mason finally announces their arrival into enemy territory. Dropping below the clouds is bumpy and with one particularly bad jump, the whole crew is awake. Mason fights to keep it steady and most of the guys grab onto the strap-net that's hanging from the wall. If Roach did that and they crashed, it'd be just about his luck to break his arm. 

          Mason calls back. "Obviously we have begun our descent, so grabs your chutes boys." 

          For a few moments, the sounds of straps tightening and fabric creaking fills the cargo bay. Roach grimaces as he pulls the ones around his thighs tight. Every other guy seems just as pleased with it too. I can wait to take it off. Roach sighs when his logical mind kicks in. You just put it on. So, what's your point? If you want to take it off so badly, just jump out without it and see how that goes. I wasn't going to do it now. Besides, you know if you don't strap in tight it's gonna fall off. Doesn't mean I have to like it. You'll probably like it better when it's keeping you from falling to your death. Sure, whatever you say.

          Roach is pulled from his thoughts by Dunn snapping his fingers in front of his face. "You in there?"

          Gary nods and cinches the strap around his chest a little more snugly. 

          "30 seconds to the drop." Mason calls. "Axxon, Meat, and Canine, you two stick with me for a little bit longer." 

          The light above the open door turns green and Roach jumps out first with Dunn three seconds behind. Bravo team is shortly behind. 

          Roach sends up a quick prayer as he dives towards the ground. Pulling his rip cord, he jerks upwards. Smiling, he steers towards a small clearing in the trees. 

          "Dunn, you see that clearing?"

          "Yeah. It's where I'm headed."

          I'm almost to the ground and nothing's happened. One of the wires in his chute snaps. I had to think it. 

          "Dunn, I have a little problem." Roach chuckles weakly.

          "How little is this problem?" 

          Another one breaks on the other side and Roach groans. "I'm about to fall to my death. My wires are snapping."

          He's about a hundred feet from the ground when he hears another wire creaking under his weight. Dunn is circling closer and he's watching Roach carefully. Ninety feet and a third wire snaps. Gary feels his stomach jump up into his throat at the same moment that something catches his chute. Looking up, Roach sees Dunn holding onto his chute with his legs and steering at the same time. He looks like an idiot. Roach swings from a single wire and starts to unbuckle himself. 

          "What are you doing?" Dunn asks, sounding a little nervous. 

          "I'm gonna jump down at a safe distance so you can land."

          "Right, okay."

          Roach probably would have been okay with his plan working slightly better, but he's only unconscious for awhile after the last wire breaks. It also takes Dunn slightly longer to find him than he would have liked. 

          Blinking, Roach rolls over with a groan and looks around. Trees, trees, aaand more trees. Great. 

          Hearing a light rustling in them, he pulls up his gun. A Ukrainian soldier comes through and just stares at him. 

          "Uh, hi?"

          The soldier opens his mouth to yell into his radio, but he never gets that far. A hand gets around his mouth and a knife is at his throat before he can get a word out. The man falls forwards and Roach sees finally sees Allen standing behind him. Dunn steps out of the trees next to him and stares blankly past Roach's shoulder. Gary turn his head and sees another soldier with his jaw dropped. A silenced shot tears through him and Roach flinches, looking around for the source. Sighing in relief, he sees Rook standing in the shadow of a fir. 

          "Remember, mate. We're here to watch your back." Rook smirks. 

          Roach rolls his eyes and Dunn approaches to check on him. "Dude, I'm fine."

          "I think I'll be the judge of that." Dunn smirks. 

          Shrugging him off, Roach looks around for Poet, but doesn't see him. In fact, both Allen and Rook have disappeared back into the trees too. Dunn rolls his eyes and starts walking towards the entrance to the compound. Well, stalking is more the term that Roach would use. Behold! The righteous walk. Roach gives hismself a little shake and follows. 

          When they emerge from the trees, Dunn leaps back at him and tackles Roach to the ground just as a search light sweeps over the area he was just standing in. It is really, really early morning over here. Roach pushes Dunn off and starts to creep towards the entrance. Some of the guys keeping watch suddenly topple over or crumple and Roach takes comfort in knowing that someone besides Dunn has his back. Dunn is great, but there's only so many people one guy can take care of. 

          Roach doesn't realize it, but he starts humming under his breath and Dunn taps him. Looking back, Dunn makes a slash motion across his throat. 

          Cut the noise.

          Tilting his head, Roach peers around a crate and sees a guy. He's all by himself, and if Roach is honest, that's a little fishy. Then Roach sees him pull something from between his lips and smirks. His smoke break isn't going to end well. Roach pulls his weapon up and pulls the trigger. A small puff of blood and a second later, he collapses. 

          Dunn and Roach walk by, and Jake checks for a pulse. 

          "Come on, Dunn."

          "I have to make sure. If he's alive, he could follow us." 

          "We have to get inside. Bravo is watching our backs anyway."

          Roach can feel Dunn's glare on his back. "You can never be to sure, Roach."

          "Yeah, I know. Me and my bad luck." Gary mutters. Like I needed to be reminded.

          Jake finally decides that the guy is dead and Roach leads the way through the door. Roach opens a door on the left as Dunn opens another one a little further down. There's a sharp crack of an impact and Roach turns. Dunn is flipping a guy over his shoulder in the hall and dispatches him with a silenced shot. Roach continues into his own room and clears his corners. It looks lake a creepy cave version of an office. Gives me the creeps. Dunn found a guy in his. Why are you creeped out? Excuse me for being uncomfortable in the middle of an enemy base. You just got in. The middle would be worse. 

          Sighing, Roach puts a stop to his internal debate and turns around. Roach's jaw drops as he sees a soldier holding a pistol to Dunn's head. Dunn has a cut above his left eyebrow and his lip is bleeding. How did I not hear this? Because you're a giant dolt? Roach raises his weapon and the man tenses. He sadly agrees with his inner voices.

          Dunn looks Roach in the eyes and Roach reads into it. Dunn lets himself fall limp as a rag doll and the man drops him in surprise. Roach picks him off with a couple of shots and helps Dunn to his feet. Dunn blinks a few times at the pistol still in the man's hand before sliding it away. 

          Roach wonders how many times Dunn's had someone get the drop on him. The first guy he took down easily enough and Dunn isn't surprised easily. Foley trained that out of him a long time ago. 

          Dunn opens the door to another room and finds the staircase that leads into the compound. "Roach."

          Roach scurries over and covers his six as Dunn leads down the stairs. Roach is really starting to hate how easily distracted he is. It almost got Dunn killed. 

          Reaching the bottom of the stairs, Dunn opens the door slowly. What he sees has him bringing his gun up and Roach is quick to follow. Roach stares wide-eyed at all the guys patrolling. There is no way we get through this. 

          There's got to be at least fifty guys in the the first cavern. Slinking along the edge and dragging Dunn with him, Gary finds cover behind a huge box and what appears to be clips of AK-47 ammo. And it is a huge box. 

          "You got a plan?" Jake whispers. 

          Gary looks around and quickly takes stock of everything around. "Not really. You?"

          Suddenly, Dunn stiffens and turns around. His gun makes three poofs and Gary turns around just in time to see a man almost twice MacTavish's size drop to the ground. Dead. 

          Roach sees the opening and pulls Dunn along the edge of the cavern. There are supply crates everywhere, and Roach has to squeeze both himself and Dunn into one to get past a patrol. Roach points up to the balcony to the computers and Dunn nods, pulling the file decryption drive out of his pocket. He sneaks up the stairs and slits a guy's throat. Roach, intent on seeing Dunn through this, collapses as something slams into the back of his head. 

          He sees Dunn turn hazily in his vision, and fuzzily shakes his head. Dunn sits down in the computer chair and steals the dead guy's hat. Roach looks up, his vision starting to get spotty, and sees the guy who hit him. He feels his hands getting tied, but his brain seems to have stopped working. Not enough for his logical voice to stop berating him, but enough that he can barely move. Your brain works? Now there's a shocker.

Chapter Text

          Roach's POV

Okay Logical Mind. I think I agree with you now. The middle is worse. So much worse. 

          Roach is dragging his feet behind three big guys who have him tied up and pretty much helpless. They've got his hands tied together in the front and he's being led around on a rope. The two bigger guys are turned around, pulling him towards them and Roach struggles. His heart hammers in his chest as a man behind Roach shoves him forwards and Roach takes three big steps to catch his balance. Being pulled along by his wrists isn't exactly comfortable, but it's that or go willingly. 

          He just hopes that Dunn and team Charlie have started the download. 

          The men holding him pull him again without a second thought and the ropes bite into Gary's wrists. They stripped him of his weapons, except for the knife hidden carefully up his sleeve. Convenient that he'd chosen it for today's venture, but not really. With how his hands are tied, there's really no hope of getting it out. All it's really doing right now is poking him in the arm. The barrel of a gun jabs in between his shoulder blades and he winces. Stubborn and pig-headed as always, he keeps dragging his feet. 

          "СТОП!"

          They stop pulling and Gary's shoulders heave. He's thankful for the respite until the guy behind him grabs onto his arm and hits Roach's right wrist. It snaps with a yelp from Roach and the man growls to him in Ukrainian. 

          "Перемістіть, або я розірву іншу."

          Roach can tell a threat when he hears one and starts walking. The two guys pulling him along tug at the rope because they can. Roach can't help but growl at the kind of sick satisfaction they're getting from his winces and whines. Worse, his wrist is starting to swell with how tightly the ropes are tied, and it's getting more painful with every shift. When they open the door to his cell, Roach disregards his wrist and starts pulling against them again. He bites his lip when the man who broke his wrist gets ahold of it again and grips tight, forcing him into the room.

          The tallest of them pulls Roach's arms above his head and threads the rope through the iron loop looming over him. Roach tries to pull away, but one of them cheap shots him in the solar plexus. Wheezing, Roach is picked up off the floor by the men and they pull on the rope until it's taught. Enough to remind him constantly that his wrist is broken. At least they didn't just hang him there. Something pulls on his lead rope and Roach looks up to see Mr. Break-Your-Wrists smiling. He tightens the rope until Gary really starts to struggle to breathe. 

          Roach holds his breath as long as he can, but after that, he's gasping for air that he can't get. The rope finally loosens and Roach is left there, wheezing and coughing. They didn't even ask him a thing, so they don't want or need any information. Yet. 

          Break-Your-Wrists chuckles on the way out. "Він почав червоніти." 

          His broken wrist is pinched in an awkward position, and it's taking all Gary has not to whine at it. He can feel the skin where he was punched getting sore. He's going to feel that in the... What time is it?..... later this afternoon apparently. 

          So far, he hasn't heard any commotion and he quietly prays for Dunn's safety on the inside, as temporary as it may be. He hopes that the data made it through and that they got in before the back-up generator kicked on. He hopes that everything, excluding him, went according to plan really. 

          Resting his head against his good arm, he closes his eyes. What are you doing? Roach's head snaps up as MacTavish's Scottish growl speaks in his mind. Greeaaat. A third voice. What am I supposed to call you? You idiot, he's trying to help us. Why? It's my head. Why is MacTavish in it? That's not MacTavish, dingbat. That's Roach. But I'm Roach.

          Shaking his head, Roach blocks out his internal debates, and ignores the new guy. Not new, Roach realizes, but more profound. He tunes back in. Roach is amused by his own brain sometimes, and the constant internal conflict gives him something else to think about. Not-MacTavish is telling him to pull his crap together, Get Up, and get out. Ooohhhh, ha ha, Roach. Slowly, as he listens to himself prattle on, the third 'voice' gets closer and closer to his own.

          He starts to laugh. The Voices of "Roach's" Roaches. Just kill me now. He wonders for a moment why the logical side of his brain is such a buzz-kill and that only makes him laugh harder. His laughing in the otherwise empty room is echoed around him, and it sounds menacing. It's like an evil villain. Roach spends the next however long making stupid bird calls.

          Someone comes in and Roach quiets. Another guy comes in and pulls the rope for his hand away from where it was secured to the floor. Oh, Hooray. It's Mr. Break-Your-Wrists. BYW comes close to Roach and Roach can't help but lean his head away in disgust. Before Roach knows what's happening, there's a fist in his stomach. BYW gets behind Roach and kicks his knees forwards. His knees buckle and he starts to fall, but the guy holding the ropes catches him. Roach stifles a cry of pain and focuses on breathing. 

          At least he is until he starts screaming, agony ripping through his whole arm. BYW has Roach's roped hand in one of his and the forearm in the other, twisting back and forth. 

          Roach is blinking back tears. "Screw..." Roach takes a shaky breath. "You."

          "Now, tell me..." he starts to speak, in accented English. "... where your little friends are."

          Roach hisses, and his brain realizes how ironic that is shortly after. 

          "No." Gary growls. 

          The grip on his arm tightens for a second and he groans, shaking his head. "How about something simpler? Who are you?"

          Gary remains silent, and the logical side of his head is clapping in a silent cheer. The fist in his face is less than pleasant, but that's nothing compared to his wrist. He wonders how long it's been since he was caught.

          "How about who you work for, eh?"

          Roach is so not in the mood for this. "The FFA."

          "And who might they be?"

          "Some really hardcore corn farmers." Gary spits. 

          With the next hit, Roach is seeing stars and the floor is spinning around. The next time he opens his eyes, he's lying on it with his hands crumpled awkwardly beneath him. His wrist is screaming at him, but Gary doesn't have the strength to move. No one is in the room, but the rope is tied down again. Why would they leave me on the floor? Because the knew you wouldn't be able to do anything even if you did wake up. You'll make it out of this, Sanderson. Right. And my right hand is gonna heal in three seconds. You're so negative. Sit your arse up, Roach. I thought you were Roach. We're all Roach, you dithering twat. 

          Sitting up hurts so badly, Roach wants to curl up and die somewhere. Preferably not here. The door opens and Roach crumples again from exhaustion. It took all he had just to sit up.

          A light shines in his eyes and Roach is in too much pain to wonder why. His heart is hammering though. Does that mean he's in trouble? Something touches his wrist, and he whines at the contact. It's enough to wake him up so he can thrash against them. 

          "Hey, hey!" someone is shouting at him. "Roach! Gary, it's me!"

          Roach is only paying attention enough to know someone is messing with his already-messed-up wrist. He doesn't realize it, but he's got tears running down his face. The rope around his neck is taken off and Roach finally takes a bleary look at whoever it is. A hand goes to the side of his face and Roach recognizes the smell of Dunn's stupid cologne. 

          Roach passes out sobbing into his friend's shirt. 

          When he next wakes up, he's on a plane with Dunn right next to him and his hands are free of that awful rope. His right is on his chest wrapped up in someone's t-shirt. Glancing around, the donor appears to be Rook. Snoring against Meat and Axxon, he doesn't seem to mind. Dunn is directly at Gary's head on the bench with a reassuring hand next to the one on his chest. Roach notes his swollen fingers and decides that waking up enough to feel pain can wait until later. 

          The rest of the way back to base, Roach's heartbeat thrums in his ears. 


          Rook's POV

          1 Hour Before Roach was Captured

          Of course this day had already had a fantastic start, right? Just what they needed was Roach out there, playing street pizza. Dunn had caught him easily enough, but that freakin' last wire snapping had caused Roach to fall farther than any of them would have liked. They spend 40 minutes looking for him. 

          Allen is the first to see him, caught dead to rights by a Ukrainian soldier. Rook sneaks around just to make sure that the poor brumby didn't attract anymore attention than just him. Thankfully, his instincts had been as good as ever. Dunn starts to dote on Roach and it's obvious the kid would like to smack him for it. Rook would too, but not for the same reasons. Rook shrugs and stalks off into the trees, regrouping with Poet and Allen. Surprisingly, Roach was fine, so Bravo covered behind them from the shadows. For not knowing Poet or Allen all too well, they worked nicely together. They were both quiet, and that suited Rook just fine. 

          Once Dunn and Roach disappeared inside, Bravo started keeping a closer eye on things. Dunn and Roach went suspiciously quiet for a little bit until Dunn started talking about plugging the decryption drive into the system. His voice has something up and Rook has the nerve to go and ask him about it.

          "Dunn, what's wrong?"

          "I'm disguised as their computer guy. I stole his hat and Roach got captured. He was fighting them pretty hard."

          Dunn sounds all-business, but Rook isn't oblivious to the worry in his tone. He'd learned to read people a long time ago. Dunn was an exception because of his surprising background. Rook hated him the first couple of days, the stupid kid coming off all rude and jerk-like. It didn't take long for Rook to recognize insecurity. 

          "They found him and he gave himself up so we could finish this." Dunn says quietly. 

          Rook looks around. Poet and Allen are twenty meters left and right of him, staring intently through the trees. He's fairly certain that they've picked off all the guys outside, so the only thing left to do is follow them into the compound. Allen is getting antsy, and he's not the only one. So far, getting into the system has been simple.

          The power suddenly flickers out and Rook knows that it's time to get inside. Allen and Poet close in on his position and they enter the door together. Rook intercepts a man coming outside for a coffee break and tackles him to the ground. Allen finishes him off and Rook moves to the stairwell. 

          "Be careful, Bravo. There's a lot of guys down here." Dunn whispers. 

          "Roger that. We're coming down the stairwell." 

          "Charlie, how's the hack coming?" Dunn asks. 

          "We're in." Axxon's growling voice answers.

          The lights snap back on just as Bravo hits the bottom floor. Peering through the cracked door, Rook can see Dunn up at the computer stations wearing a goofy hat. He hadn't been kidding. The amount of bad guys down here is not promising. It's a wonder that Roach didn't get caught sooner. 

          Rook really hopes Roach is okay. He knows just about how friendly the Ukrainians are from experience. Not something he wants to repeat. Chuckling, Rook realizes just how many things he's done that he'd rather not repeat. That poor plane. The prank with the melted cheese on his bed. 

          Team Bravo opens the door and slowly enters the room. The enemies are fish in a barrel down here. Rook signals to Allen and Poet to return to their twenty meter spread and then he signals to them to open fire. Guys start dropping, and the ones who don't right away have no time to turn and realize what going on. Some haphazard shots are fired back, and glass from the computer room breaks out. Rook smirks at Dunn's hat again as he fires on the soldiers below. 

          The room goes silent as the last guy goes down. Rook puffs out a breath of relief and changes mags. 

          "Everyone alright?" Rook asks. 

          Dunn checks on the download and waves down to Rook. Poet and Allen regroup with Rook and they head up the skinny metal steps to go meet up with Dunn. He's just pulling the drive from the computer when a shot slams into him. Rook and his team look out the window at a stray guy who hadn't gone down as Dunn flips to the floor. Poet fires at him. 

          "Tango down." he growls.

          Dunn grimaces and finds his feet, pulling a bullet out of his vest. "We need to find Roach."

          "Did you see which branch they took him down?"

          Dunn shakes his head and sets off for one. Rook follows him and hopes that they find him soon.

 

          Rook wipes sweat from his brow and stops Dunn. It's been four hours and they haven't found any sign of him. They've marked the caves they've been down with a insertion, and hadn't even been through half of them. 

          "Hold up, mate."

          "We've gotta keep looking." he says, facing towards another cave.

          Suddenly a scream echoes around them and Dunn visibly flinches. Rook feels a shiver go down his spine. "That's not good."

          Dunn storms off for another cave and Bravo scrambles to catch up. It's where the screams are comin' from all right. Clearing doors as they go down the tunnel, Dunn's determination is slightly scary. There are four men in the hallway that don't last very long. Rook doesn't have to guess what would happen to the remaining guys if Roach was dead when they found him. 

          They would have been there faster had this tunnel not been longer than the others with so many doors to clear. There seem to be less guys as they progress, but Dunn plows through those who are there. Rook and Poet drag him to a stop before he gets to reckless and he takes a shaky breath. With a shout of rage, he kicks in a door. 

          "I can't lose him."

          Rook puts a hand on his shoulder. "You need to slow down, or you won't be alive to find him. I know he's your brother, he's ours too. You just have to be patient."

          Dunn nods and lets Rook take point. The last door comes up and Rook swings it open. A form slumps to the floor and Rook motions Dunn inside. 

          "Roach." Dunn slides to the floor next to him and pulls out a light. "He's got a concussion." Rook watches Dunn grab onto the rope around Roach's hands. Him thrashing because of it was a surprise and Dunn starts to talk to him. "Hey, hey! Roach! Gary, it's me! Calm down." Dunn looks at him and sees the rope around his neck. "Poet, get that off of him."

          Roach seems to calm down and Dunn takes a look at his hands. Gently cutting the rope away, Dunn winces at the sight of his wrist. The skin is a sickly purple tint from the swelling being cut off by the rope, and his wrists are chaffed from all the movement. 

          "Rook, help me get him out of here." 

          Rook leans down and picks Roach off the ground bridal style. Dunn carefully puts his hand over his chest and walks behind him. Poet is in the front clearing side to side and Allen is body-guarding Rook's front. 

          "Axxon, tell Mason to get the plane ready. We're on our way out."

          "Did you find Roach?

          "Yeah. We're carrying him out."

          Meat is, as always, silent, but he hums in acknowledgement. Rook is realizing that Sanderson is heavier than he looks. He's always looked fairly slender, but now that Rook has to carry him somewhere, the kid is heavy. They get outside and Poet sweeps wide over the area. Rook would hesitate to say it, but somehow he knows that everyone is dead here. Rook adjusts his hold a little and Roach winces. Axxon, Canine and Meat appear from the edge of another treeline and run towards them. Bravo and Charlie form a circle around Alpha and escort them the rest of the way. The plane is already running when they get in and Rook puts Gary down as gently as possible. 

          Dunn kneels next to him and takes a good look at his hand. "It's been too long already. We need to set this."

          "Doesn't he need to be conscious for that?" Canine asks. 

          "Just... help me hold his arm steady. I'll need my medical kit, so hurry it up."

          Meat silently hands it to him and Dunn sets to work. Rook is worried about him. Roach should be awake for this. Dunn knows better. Rook snags his hand before he can do anything. 

          "Rook..." the look in his eyes is desperate.

          "I know you're worried. So are we. You've got to calm down and get him x-rayed before you do anything. Okay? You won't be helping him if you screw his arm up."

          Dunn nods slowly and opens up his kit to treat Roach's face. "We'll need to wrap it in something softer than what I have after splinting it."

          Rook sheds his vest and drops his shirt next to Dunn. "Good as we're gonna get, mate."

          Dunn takes a breath and nods again. Rook aids him where he needs it and then compels the poor guy to sleep. With Roach's hand safely tucked away in Rook's shirt, Rook sits down across from him with a sigh. Rook takes short naps when he can, but unlike the others, he can't actually sleep on a plane. If he's not at least sometimes awake to root for the plane, he has this irrational fear that it's gonna go down. So when Roach regains consciousness, Rook pretends to sleep. With one eye barely cracked, he watches Roach look around. 

          It's good to know that their little bug hasn't been stepped on.


          MacTavish's POV

          It's been a long two weeks. Just today, Ghost had a severe panic attack and he hasn't left their shared room since. MacTavish is on his way there when he gets a call from Shepard.

          "MacTavish." he answers curtly. 

          "Watch your tone, Captain." 

          "General Shepard, my apologies. What were ye' needin'?"

          "We're sending one of our Rangers over to your base."

          "Might I ask why?" his eyebrow quirks up. 

          "We sent in a team to the Ukraine and our Sgt. Sanderson was captured and injured. Since returning to base, the only person he'll even let close is Dunn."

          "And you expect us to be able to help, how? We're not a walking therapy clinic, you know."

          "He's lashing out, MacTavish. Dunn and I talked briefly and he thinks that Sanderson could use some space. Lewis has already agreed to help in his physical therapy as long as you're okay with it."

          MacTavish pulls the phone away to pinch the bridge of his nose. Of course she has. "Alright, sir. Send him over." 

          "Thank you, Captain. I wouldn't do this if I had any other option."

          "I know it."

          "He'll be over within two hours. Out.

          The phone clicks loudly from the other side and MacTavish pulls his ear away, winces. "Yes, sir."

          MacTavish knocks on the door, feeling ridiculous. It's his room too.

          "I know it's you, Soap."

          John really wished Ghost would stop calling him that. Instead of fighting him on it like he had on numerous occasions, he walks in the door. Ghost is lying on his bed with an arm tossed over his face. His new mask is on the floor.

          "You alright, mate?"

          "I'm... peachy."

          "Fantastic. You should be in just the right mood to learn that Roach is comin' here."

          Ghost sits up. "Why?"

          "The same reason you're in here instead of at mess."

          Ghost perks up a little. "What happened?"

          "Shepard didn't say. Just said that he was hurt in his last mission and he's lashing out. Needin' some space." MacTavish sighs. 

          "Figures."

          "He's gettin' PT though. So they must 'ave ruffed 'im up pretty good."

          Ghost nods. "I guess I can head to mess if you'd like me to."

          Ignoring his subject change, MacTavish nods. "I could get ya' somethin', if you'd rather not."

          Ghost looks at the door with hesitance. Shaking his head, he gets up. "I'll go an' get it. No promises that I'll stick around an' chat though, mate." grabbing his mask, he slips out.

          "I'll be waitin' on ya."

          It's been a little while since Ghost has talked to anyone except MacTavish. Any hope of him doin' so of his own accord right now is less than great. He is doing better though. MacTavish's training with him has benefited them both. Ghost especially, with his less than amicable response to being touched. MacTavish had more bruises from stopping Ghost's self-defense than he did the actual fight when he first started training again. MacTavish was less worried now, but Ghost was constantly closing himself away in here. Lately, his main problem had been getting Ghost out of the small corners he'd back into trying to get away from things that weren't there.

          His dreams were acting up, and Ghost's worst one was undeniably when they buried him. Ghost has been telling John bits and pieces of what happened, but never too much at once. He'd wake up gasping and clawing at air, and MacTavish really doesn't enjoy trying to hold him down. Much of his weight that he'd lost was slowly coming back, and it was getting harder and harder to steady him. At least his clothes were starting to fit right again.

          MacTavish turns to his right and picks up a plate of food, which has appeared out of thin air, as if it's common practice. Ghost hasn't stopped doing that since he showed up in the 141 tent the first day, and MacTavish still can't figure out why. Shaking his head, John looks down at what Ghost brought him. Ah, seafood. Must have been Ozone's night to pick what they ate. With the team growing as quickly as it is, MacTavish figured that it might be nice for Marcus not to have to make things up off the top of his head all the time. 

          Ghost stabs at his fish with a pained look on his face. He's not really thinking about it. 

          "Ghost, I think the fish is already dead." MacTavish smiles wryly.

          Ghost looks down at his plate and then gives MacTavish a skirting glance. "Sorry. I'm a little distracted."

          "I can see that."

          "Would... would you.... Never mind. I'll uh, work up to having an appetite." Ghost says, fidgeting. 

          MacTavish moves his plate off to the side and moves to stand in front of Ghost. "Ghost. Don't be afraid to ask me for help. It's my job as your Captain and your friend."

          "I just... I don't want you to feel obligated by respons...."

          "Ghost, you're no' listenin' to me. I am your friend. I want tae help you. Sure, it's a part of my responsibilities, but that's not what decides who I help." MacTavish sighs. "Ghost, you know I'm not all that great with words."

          Ghost frowns. "You don't have to..."

          "Just shut up for three seconds, would ye'?" Ghost's mouth snaps shut, as do his eyes, and he looks away, as if expectin' to be hit. Seeing that wonderful reaction has MacTavish scowling inwardly at Roba. "Come oan. Let go have a match or two. See if you feel like eatin' then, eh?"

          Ghost looks up at him and narrows his eyes, knowing that MacTavish is reading him like a book. So be it. "Alright, mate. But no whinin' when I kick your sorry arse." 

          MacTavish chuckles, patting his shoulder. "In your dreams, maybe."

          Ghost's eyes glint with mischief. "That ya' won't whine, or that I'd beat ya?"

          MacTavish doesn't answer and turns to head out. He's just pleased that a little of Ghost is showing back up. It's been too quiet around here. Scarecrow has had a couple of close calls with death since putting a ton of little spiders in Archer's bed. He never seems to see it coming. MacTavish nearly walks straight into the gym door while he's musing about the children he's got on base. Ghost's hand on his shoulder reminds him to actually stop. Opening the door, MacTavish and Ghost walk to the mats and have a couple of tussles. Ghost has been practicing on his own, apparently, and MacTavish is knocked flat.

          "Don't you dare go easy on me, mate." Ghost warns. 

          "Never crossed my mind." MacTavish grins, rolling to his feet. 

          MacTavish pins Ghost to the mats a few times to prove his point and Ghost struggles underneath him. "Golly, MacTavish. Feels like you've gained a few pounds." Ghost shoves him off.

          "You gonnae ask me how much I weigh next, Ghost?"

          "Wouldn't be rude." he smiles devilishly. "Unless you're saying you're a lady?"

          "Oh, you're gonnae want to take that back, mate." MacTavish growls. Pinning Ghost to the floor, MacTavish puts his thumb under Ghost's chin as a fake knife. "You lose."

          The door opens and Lewis is standing there awkwardly. "Uh, when you two are done messing around in here, Roach showed up."

          "We better go greet the little bug." Ghost huffs, trying to get up.

          "Not until you take it back." MacTavish smirks. 

          "Fine."

          "There's no slippin' out of this, Ghost. Say it."

          "You're a bloody man. Now get offa me, mate."

          MacTavish takes his sweet time. "Keep this in mind the next time you want tae insult my manhood."

          "That sounds like quite the threat. 'Oh no! Help me! I've called the Captain a woman and now he's gonna sit on me! Oh the horror!'" Lewis puts a hand to her head and fake swoons.

          Ghost catches her and grins. "Don't you worry, love. I'll save you."

          "We could flip it so I'm sitting on Soap." Lewis suggests, smirking.

          The tips of MacTavish's ears turn pink and Lewis laughs as Ghost carries her away. He's muttering to her and now she's the one coughing. MacTavish smiles. If anyone can leave that girl speechless, MacTavish will let 'em."

          That, and he gets a kick out her her finally being the one on the receiving end of a something most likely dirty. But he can't fault her too much. Any trauma that Ghost suffered is kicked to the curb any time that she's the the room. MacTavish has pretty much the same effect, but with less flirting involved. A little ribbing maybe, but that's about it. 

          Then he realizes that Lewis just called him 'Soap'. Bloody Ghost. With a sigh, MacTavish follows them out to the chopper pad. When they get there, the chopper is just landing and MacTavish sees Dunn putting Roach's arm in a sling. Ghost puts Lewis down and she goes to greet them. And to think I just made a deal with her last week about them comin' onto my base. Stepping down onto the ground, MacTavish notes the the slight limp in his right knee and raises a scarred eyebrow. The whole of the 141 comes to welcome him, but Roach doesn't look to thrilled to be here. He gives Lewis a one-armed hug and then starts moving towards the 141. 

          He awkwardly sticks out his left hand to shake, but MacTavish is having none of it. He ruffles the kid's hair and huffs. "Welcome back to base, Roach."

          "Guess so, huh?" His mouth lifts lightly and he licks the stitched cut on his lip. 

          "You've got nothin' to fear. We don't bite." MacTavish smirks. 

          "Tell that to Lewis." Roach smirks. 

          MacTavish hears her giggle and whisper something in Ghost's ear. Ghost clears his throat and MacTavish can't help grinning. Roach looks confused, but moves to bear hug Archer. Won't let anyone touch him, but he'll gladly initiate it. Must've been somethin' to be messed up so much in so little time. MacTavish wonders how much of his 'lashing out' is coming from being hurt and how much is from being crowded and treated like glass. 

          MacTavish notices the stiffness in his knees as he's moving around and frowns. Poor kid. Everyone is cautious of his arm, but other than that, nothing is different about their behavior. Roach seems to appreciate it and he turns around to wave as Dunn lifts off. 

          Nikolai is looking at the chopper and MacTavish chuckles at his longing to fly his Little Bird. Currently, his 'beautiful vessel', as he calls it, is in the hangar. Lewis and Roach move down the stairs and Roach looks around once he touches ground. 

          "This place is huge."

          "You get used to it, Roach." Lewis pats his shoulder. "For now, you get to room in our building."

          "Am I by myself?" Roach asks.

          "Nope. Nikolai is your co-pilot. Don't be afraid of hitting him. He can take a lot more than you'd think."

          "I think you are wrong, my friend. This bug is my co-pilot."

          Lewis giggles. "I was kidding, Nik. Roach, you have a harsh Russian dictator living with you now. If you don't wake up for morning training once your arm is better, he will flip your bed."

          Nikolai grins. "This will be your only warning."

          MacTavish huffs. "Haud your wheest, Nikolai. You stopped being intimidating when we found you tied to a chair in Russian territory."

          "That's not fair, So...."

          MacTavish glares at him and Nikolai shuts up. Having Ghost and Lewis call him Soap is enough. Before them, the last person to call him Soap was Price, and MacTavish had kept the name to himself since then. Until these two nosy jerks came and dug at it like it was buried treasure. 

          Ignoring Nikolai's confused glance, MacTavish turns to Ghost and finds that he's gone. Oh, mate. What's gotten into you now? 

          Lewis tugs his sleeve and tilts her head in silent question. "You want me to give him the tour instead?"

          "Yeah. I've gotta... go find Ghost."

          Not hard, but MacTavish can't help but wonder what it was this time. There was nothing coming at him, no sudden moves. Shrugging, MacTavish opens the door to their room and finds him on the bed again. He's curled up against the corner where his bed is with a hand over one ear. 

          "May I ask what happened?" MacTavish says softly. 

          Ghost is silent for a few seconds before he strips his mask. "It was the engine noise."

          "Engine noise, eh?" MacTavish sits down as close to Ghost as he dares. "Mind telling why?"

          "They had shot me full of muscle relaxants.... and, and hallucinogens. After that, they took... they put us with the cargo."

          "You weren't even in the plane?" MacTavish hisses. 

          Ghost shakes his head. "I couldn't see, and I was... barely lucid. Sparks... I don't remember exactly what happened to him, but I know he's dead." Ghost curls further into himself and MacTavish doesn't really know what to do. 

          Ghost isn't the touchy-feely type, but sometimes even Ghost needs someone. MacTavish hesitates before carefully placing a hand on Ghost's knee. "It's alright, Ghost." Wow, that's fantastic. Not awkward at all. Not. "Come on, Ghost. You need to snap out of this."

          Ghost is mumbling under his breath. 

          John barely hears him, but it rubs him the wrong way hearing Ghost say that. MacTavish's hands are firm on Ghost's arm as he gives him a shake. "You listen here, Ghost. You are not weak. If you were weak, you'd be dead. You're not weak for having emotions, that's what makes you human."

          "I can't even get through the day without having to hide from something. Or someone. I just.... I can't even stand near a bloody chopper for two minutes."

          "Hey. None of that is your fault. You've been put through a lot in the past two months, and from just what you've told me, you have very good reason to not be feeling your best."

          MacTavish never imagined having to hug his lieutenant, but desperate measures an' all that. Ghost gets really stiff and MacTavish is reminded of how he found Ghost in Russia. He seemed to be about ready to break, but he'd held on. All Ghost could seem to say was that awful call-sign, but MacTavish couldn't bring himself to care. 

          That makes MacTavish wonder. "Ghost?"

          Ghost relaxes a little. "Hmm."

          "How did you know it was me and not someone else?"

          "Because you were right." Ghost says quietly. "No version of you that I ever hallucinated ever did anything good, to speak of. I knew while I was there, because of the things you'd said before I got captured, that none of it was real, but it started to feel real. By the time you showed up, I was losing track of my days and I'd just been pulled out of the ground a few hours before."

          MacTavish is starting to wish Roba was still alive so that John could kill that little weasel himself. Ghost is quiet in his arms and MacTavish suddenly has no idea what to do. Lewis would know, but he's not about to move and wake Ghost up. He's net a heavy sleeper anymore, and that makes it really hard to keep him asleep. John knows he'll regret sleeping like this later, but Ghost isn't the only one that needs the rest. He raises an invisible cup of tea to Price, wherever he is right now and falls asleep. 

          Surprisingly, he doesn't dream.

Chapter Text

          It's been three weeks in the 141 base since Roach came over to them. Ghost is slowly returning to normal with the help of the team. Roach has actually contributed to his healing more than anyone would have thought. The two have become quite the nuisances around base. Soap doesn't know if the space has had a good or bad effect on the kid.


          MacTavish's POV

          MacTavish looks around Archer's room and rubs a tired hand down his face. It looks like a bomb went off and he was glad Archer wasn't inside when Ghost and Roach were doing this. Lewis's side of the room hasn't been touched, so that has him wondering if Archer did something to them first. 

          "Ghost!" MacTavish calls. 

          "I little help would be nice, mate. If you're ever gonna stop standing there." 

          MacTavish opens the bathroom door and finds Archer hog-tied on the floor. "Did Ghost and Roach do this?" he asks, kneeling down to untie the poor guy. 

          "I don't remember Ghost being here, but Roach was." Archer stretches with a groan.

          "How long have you been in here?"

          "Uh, three hours? Long enough to listen to them...." he sees what's left of his bunk and gapes. "...wreak havoc, apparently." he rubs the back of his neck. "Well, this sucks."

          "What did you do?"

          "Roach put a snake in my pillow, and I threw it on him in the shower this morning. Guess he didn't find that funny." Archer shrugs, putting his bed back down flat. "You should have heard that bugger scream."

          MacTavish can't help shaking his head. "Roach, or the snake?"

          Archer chuckles. "You can go, Captain. I won't be at training for a while. You can let Roach know that I'm not plotting revenge or anything."

          "Like he'll believe that." Looking around, MacTavish sees his shirts tied in knots and all of his pants and tied together and hung from the ceiling like Christmas decorations. All of his socks are laid out, but only one from each pair. The rest are missing. The only thing safe is his pictures, which still sit on the nightstand. "You're excused for now. Get this mess cleaned up. I'll expect you to complete your daily activities afterwards." MacTavish glances around again and notes his underwear strung up from the ceiling fan. "And I'll put Roach on kitchen duty, if you'd like."

          "It's okay. As long as he didn't put holes in anything, I think I'll survive."

          Walking from the room, MacTavish feels a swell of pity for Roach. He had to have had help tyin' all that up. His most likely bet, other than Ghost, for an accomplice is Scarecrow. That straw-haired menace is almost as bad as Roach himself. As well as he's doing, his wrist still bothers him more than he likes to say. It'll be probably another few weeks before Lewis lets him do anythin' at all with it. Ghost has been helping him with PT, making sure he actually does his exercises. Lewis strong-armed him into taking painkillers for a little while.

          He heads outside to watch the boys (and lass) train for a little while. Ghost has gotten back into training with them, and so far he's doing well. MacTavish and Lewis have managed to get him tempered down to mood swings. There isn't much they can do for the nightmares except be there, but there is a stunning change in his demeanor during the day. 

          He finds Roach over by the range, watching Ozone shoot. Poet and Chemo are wrestling out in the grass, having been accepted two weeks ago. Archer got the team to leave base last week to go mess around at Shepard's out in Afghanistan. Shadow Company isn't the friendliest bunch, excepting Ghost, but they tolerated the 141 for as long as they could stand. Ghost's old pals didn't seem to recognize him, or just ignored him. Either way, Ghost didn't seem to mind. 

          Ghost is teaching Lewis the art of throwing knives and she throws a little low. Ghost winces in sympathy for the poor sign, because if he was a real man, he'd be crying. 

          "Try aiming for something more vital, love."

          MacTavish sees Scarecrow lifting weights with Nikolai spotting him. The mild-mannered Russian looks up as MacTavish walks by and smirks. "Hey, MacTavish! Come show this дурачить how a real man benches."

          Scarecrow puts his bar up with an insulted look on his face. "Hey, I may not know Russian, but I do know an insult. Better watch yourself, Nikolai."

          "Da. Like I'd watch a harmless mouse." His accented laugh makes MacTavish smile and he moves over to Scarecrow and puts him in a headlock. 

          "Come oan, Scarecrow. Show me what ye' got."

          "The last time you said that, you beat the crap out of Roach!" Scarecrow complains, his hands clawing at MacTavish's arms. 

          MacTavish isn't expecting the elbow that Scarecrow throws back and he stumbles away from the workout equipment. Scarecrow is on him in a second, so MacTavish works his magic and slips out of his grasp. Tackling him, MacTavish laughs. 

          Scarecrow's eyes widen and he tries to squirm away. "Not so fast, Shane." MacTavish catches him, flipping him onto his back.

          Scarecrow shoves at MacTavish's shoulders with a boot and MacTavish stands up. Scarecrow wipes dirt from his pants and huffs out a breath. Scarecrow looks MacTavish over and John lets him. Give the kid a fightin' chance anyway. 

          Suddenly, Scarecrow jumps for him and MacTavish slips out of the way. Anticipating Shane's leg sweep, MacTavish jumps and gets a thick arm around Scarecrow's throat. He drops into a crouch and drags Scarecrow with him.

          "Ah! You win! You win!" Nikolai crows. 

          MacTavish lets the scrawny mass wriggle away and chuckles, putting his arms on his knees. Scarecrow attempts to smooth his hair down and glares half-heartedly at MacTavish. 

          "Next time it's gonna be a fair fight."

          MacTavish smiles. "Aye. Might end with the same result though."

          Scarecrow moves over to the range and starts picking off targets.

          MacTavish still sits on the grass and looks out on his base. Usually it's horribly hot, so MacTavish takes a few minutes to just soak in the cool breeze and the abnormally cool weather. He closes his eyes and takes just a few moments of serenity for himself. He's got a good team, and a good base. He's got his boys steadily on the mend. No planes crashing or people falling in holes/off bridges. Soap remembers the last bridge he was on. Price nearly died, and MacTavish had gotten his scar. A piece of metal had caught him when they crashed the truck. Opening his eyes, he inhales deeply. It feels like forever ago. 

          He smiles, remembering the first thing Price ever said to him. What the 'el kinda name is Soap? How'd a muppet like you ever get past selection? 

          (Little does he know, Lewis is taking pictures of him sitting there in the grass.)

          I'd almost forgotten what this felt like. To have nothing on my shoulders. No responsibilities. Nothing. If only for just a few moments. 

          MacTavish pulls in a long breath. It's been a long time since he's done anything for himself, and just the simplicity of it grounds him. He can almost feel the stress sinking out of him. The gunshots slowing and stopping in the background completely slipped his mind.

          When he actually decides that he'd better get up and do something productive, the whole yard is empty. Looking up in the sky, MacTavish realizes that it's been almost four hours. Looking around, he finally sees the boys on the west end of the base, running laps with Ghost yelling at 'em.

          Smiling, he goes and joins them. Sneaking up to the back of the pack, he catches up and runs next to Archer. Archer would be at the head of the pack, but he has this problem with the ones who lollygag. So he stays behind and kicks them in the arse. Archer meets his eyes and his mouth tips up. 

          "Good of you to join me."

          "Figured I'd better help you out with all these lazy kids ahead." MacTavish huffs. He doesn't bother keeping quiet either, so he gets some shocked glances. 

          "Oi! MacTavish, finally decided to get off your arse, eh?" Ghost laughs from the front.

          MacTavish raises an eyebrow. "You tellin' me the stress of bein' bossy is too much, Ghost?"

          "I'll show you bossy, mate. Pick up the pace, ladies! If you're not runnin', you're not tryin'!" Ghost cackles at the collective groan from the group. 

          Their gait picks up and MacTavish settles in for a long run. Soap feels like he could run forever right now, so he'll probably run a little longer after Ghost lets the team stop. MacTavish notes the main culprits of lagging behind to be Poet and Roach. So far, Archer hasn't kicked anyone yet, but it's getting close.

          "So, ya' get your stuff down from the ceiling?"

          "Everything except for a sweater that seems to be glued up there." Archer sighs. 

          "Glue?" MacTavish's eyebrows shoot up. "Now that's just cruel."

          "It's okay actually. It didn't really fit anymore after, uh... uh..." Archer clears his throat. 

          "You don't 'ave to tell me, mate."

          Archer is about to respond when Roach gets within kicking distance. Archer kicks him forwards and Ghost hears him grunt, turning around. Ghost doesn't even seem to be trying, his run looks so simple. 

          "Move it, Roach! That's why Archer's back there! You're gonna hang out at our base, you're gonna work like one of us!" Ghost comes back towards MacTavish and Archer.

          Roach looks back at Archer and moves up a couple places. Poet chuckles, staying just out of reach, but still hanging back. 

          MacTavish smiles. "How's it feel bein' in charge, Ghost?"

          "Long as I don't have to do yer' paperwork, I'll be dandy."

          Looking back at Roach, MacTavish nods. "Archer, head up front an' lead for awhile. We'll handle it back here. I've gotta talk with Ghost."

          Archer gives a short 'yes, sir' and heads the pack into the trees. Their trail slopes gently upwards before MacTavish finally says something. 

          "I'm considering keeping Roach around, as a member. I know, that you've gotten to know him a little better than I have, and I was wonderin' what you'd think."

          Ghost's head tilts, as it always does, as he considers. "He's young, and intuitive. But he's also brash and obnoxious as 'el. I can never tell where his head is at, whether it's during training or not. He needs someone experienced lookin' out for him or he's gonna die."

          "Ghost, you might want to consider how he handled himself in the Ukraine. All the reports are good. He kept his head while he was in the thick of it."

          "He's a good kid, Soap. I just don't know about him though. He's strong, and intelligent at times. He's loyal..."

          MacTavish sighs heavily. "Ghost, stop kicking yourself." 

          Ghost stops in his tracks. "What?"

          "I know that you blame yourself for what happened to your team. I know how hard it is to not want to get close to people because of it. But I think Roach deserves a chance."

          Ghost seems to struggle with himself for a little bit before looking around. Taking off his mask, Ghost looks MacTavish in the eyes. "What happens if we get him killed?"

          "It'll be his choice, Ghost."

          MacTavish can see his inner turmoil just looking into his eyes. "I am the only surviving member of my team, Soap. I don't want to experience that again."

          Ghost gets a vulnerable look about him, and he looks like he might bolt at any second. Soap's having none of that. "Look, just give it some thought. I'll only ask him if we both agree he can handle it. Who knows? People get close for a reason, Simon. Maybe, for once, you should accept that." MacTavish turns to catch up before a though occurs to him. "You know, anyone else sees ya' like this, they'll stop bein' scared of ya'." 

          With that, Ghost's eyes narrow and he slips his mask and shades back on. "Right. Let's do this."

          "That's a yes, then?"

          "I didn't say no. Let's hurry up and beat these muppets to the finish."

          MacTavish shoves Ghost and breaks into a sprint. 

          "Oi! No fair!" Ghost shouts, pulling his head out of a bunch of ferns.

          Ghost catches up with a laugh and they come barreling through the trees. The trail is fairly clear, so nothing horrible jumps out and trips them. 

          "We have until next week to tell Shepard before they take him back to Phoenix. I think we might give him a little time to settle in."

          Jumping over a fallen log, Ghost pants back an answer. "We'll tell him the day before. Our decision might be a little more clear by then."

          "Aye. Sounds like a plan."

          "Just so we're clear, who's training this kid?"

          "Probably us."

          "Archer's pretty good. S'pose we could give him Roach?"

          "We could just train him like everyone else and have it over with."

          "True. Let him see all the different styles."

          "It's settled then?"

          They catch up to the group as Ghost responds. "Guess so." Once they're right up next to them, Ghost starts shouting out orders. "Last one back to base is doin' all the laundry! Get kicking, boys!"

          A series of curses rise up around them as their pace picks up. Ghost an MacTavish lead by a good stretch until Ozone runs from the back screaming.

          "Spider! Spider! GET OUT OF THE FREAKING WAY!!!!!!"

          From the middle somewhere, Roach pipes up. "Guess I know what's in store for your future."

          "If you so much as come near me with one of those, I will murder you in your sleep!" Ozone catches up to his superior officers and shrieks as Ghost runs light fingers over the fleeing Aussie's back. 

          "There seems to be something on you, Ozone!" Ghost shouts. 

          Ozone sheds his shirt and runs out of the trees. 

          "Should we catch him?" Ghost asks, a smile in his voice.

          MacTavish shakes his head. "He'll find his shirt and come back eventually."

          "Eventually, being when Roach has already found as many as he can and hidden them in various places?" Ghost asks. 

          Smiling, MacTavish looks back at his hustling team. "Depends on where he's headed, runnin' like that." 

          MacTavish watches them far a few moments and notices Roach push his way to the front so he's next to Scarecrow. He should fit right in.

Chapter Text

          Ghost's POV

          MacTavish and Ghost walks down the hallway to Nikolai's room to find Roach. Today is the day. Roach's wrist is nearly healed, but Lewis hasn't let him out of her clutches quite yet, but he has more than that to worry about. 

          Ghost is nervous. Not that he'd ever say it to anyone except MacTavish, but he doesn't know what to hope for. Over the past week, Roach had made it abundantly clear that he could fit in here. He let Lewis teach him how to shoot with his good hand so he wasn't so awkward if he needed to use it. He's also shown great maturity, by the fact that he never did find those stupid spiders to torture Ozone with. 

          MacTavish halts in front of the door with a breath. "Here goes nothin'. You ready?"

          Ghost nods. "Let's do this."

          MacTavish gives him a sidelong glance and Ghost ignores him, knocking on the door. Sure, he'd been saying that a lot lately, but it's nothing to worry about. 

          "Come on in!" Nikolai calls. "The bug is just getting out of the shower! No shame, this one!"

          "He's lying! I'm decent!" Roach calls. 

          MacTavish opens the door with a chuckle. "I would hope so, considering the question I'm about to ask you." 

          Roach is in the middle of drying his blonde mess of hair when he sees MacTavish's serious look. "Uh, am I in trouble, sir?"

          MacTavish shakes his head. "Please don't call me 'sir'. Makes me feel like Shepard. And it's much the opposite, Roach. I just..."

          "Look, I know I'm leaving base tomorrow, but if you want me gone sooner, I'll go."

          "Roach! Don't talk over me." MacTavish growls. 

          "Sorry, sir. I mean, MacTavish. Umm, sorry, Captain." Roach stammers helplessly, pulling his wrist brace back on.

          Nikolai is over in the corner grinning ear to ear. Ghost hears him laugh and mutter, "This is better than I'd hoped."

          Ignoring the fact that their self-indulgent Russian already seems to know about their offer to Roach, Ghost watches Roach struggle with the ties on his brace. 

          "Here. Let me." MacTavish moves closer, gently taking his hand as if asking permission. Roach nods and Soap ties his wrist into it all snug-like.

          "What did you need?" Roach asks, looking on wide-eyed as MacTavish delicately maneuvers the laces. 

          Pulling back, MacTavish smirks at his surprise. "Don't ever underestimate me, Roach." Ghost watches his face return to his blank seriousness from before. "We're offerin' ya' a place on the 141."

          "You what?" Roach's expression is one of shock as he drops onto his bed. "Is this like a prank? Or something?"

          "Roach, if it were, we'd be a whole lot less formal about it." MacTavish assures.

          "Right. Formal. Because me wearing a towel soaking wet is formal enough for this. I-I don't know what to say." He runs a hand through his hair and just stares at them with his confused blue eyes. He looks at Nikolai.

          "Hey." Nikolai points at him. "Don' lookat me. This is your choice, bug. Make eit count."

          Roach looks back at Ghost and MacTavish's waiting gazes and chews his lip for a second. "Wow, uh, yeah. Yes. Absolutely, yeah."

          "There ya' go. That wasn't so hard, now was it, Roach?"

          "I- I think I might faint." Roach says, looking light-headed. "Wow, I'm excited."

          Ghost helps him off the bed. "Come on, Roach. Shake it off. We're gonna go to mess, so if you wanna be there for the announcement, you'd better not pass out and get yourself locked in the infirmary."

          Roach nods, still stunned and MacTavish gives his shoulder a hearty pat. "Let's go give ya' a welcoming."

          Steering him from the room, Ghost and MacTavish chatter almost all the way to mess. Roach seems to recover from his shock and sits down at a table next to Scarecrow and Archer. Ghost thinks he still looks a little white in the face. 

          MacTavish puts two fingers to his mouth and whistles. The clamor quiets and all eyes turn to him. "Alright, mates! We've got a couple of new additions. One is not here today, since he is already undercover in Russia. But we can still celebrate Private Allen's membership along with our other recruit." Ghost leans against the window as MacTavish gazes around. "Sargent Gary "Roach" Sanderson, if you'll stand up please."

          Roach stands up and Ghost snickers at his lack of real clothes. Thankfully, he's not the only one. A lot of the boys shower and come to mess in a towel. 

          "We're welcoming Roach into our ranks. We hope you enjoy your stay." MacTavish smirks. "Welcome to the team, new guy."

          Roach's eyes widen and he looks around, as if expecting someone to steal his towel. "Uh, thanks."

          Lewis walks in the door and looks around. "Really?"

          "I guess so." Roach says shyly.

          Scarecrow starts to twitch and MacTavish's brow lowers. Ghost can see him starting to move for the towel and clears his throat. "Not with the lady in the room, mate."

          "Saved by the Lewis, Roach. Good job." 

          They start to chant his call-sign and Lewis hugs him, wet upper body and all. "Congrats, Cricket."

          "Gee, thanks sis. Glad my real call-sign has so much meaning to you."

          She pulls his forehead down about a foot and kisses it. "You made it. I don't think Roach minds one bit, little brother."

          With that, she hooks two fingers in his towel and tugs it jokingly. Roach scowls at her and grabs her hand. "No. Bad Lewis."

          She pouts and retreats to Ghost's side, where he puts an arm around her. A cheer finally goes up with Roach's name around the room and he grins wide. 

          MacTavish leaves the room and Ghost sees him gesture for Roach to follow. Curious. Shrugging, Ghost pulls Lewis a little closer. The morning sun filters around them and Ghost smiles at their shadow on the far wall. 

          She snuggles into his side and Ghost has to resist the urge to put his head on top of hers.

          "Do it. I dare you. Let everyone in the room know that you're a snuggle bunny."

          Ghost sighs at her mind reading and rubs her arm. "I don't think so, love."

          She turns her head and nudges his wrist. Ghost smiles under his mask . His wrist hadn't been broken after all, and Archer had figured that out as it popped back into place. Ghost's smile disappears as he remembers how it got that way. He remembers hitting the top of the box with fear and anger, and dirt raining down through holes in the top. He flashes back to the moment where he prayed for Vernon to forgive him right before he took his jaw bone.... 

          He didn't even realize the whine in the back of his throat until Lewis is hugging him with all her might. She's shushing him, and Ghost doesn't remember starting to tear up. Ghost can feel the hot tears in the wet spots of his mask as he returns the hug, grounding himself in her warmth. He catches Archer's eyes watching him in concern, and Scarecrows jaw tightening. The cumulative vibe from the room is very simple, and very obvious. 

          Anger.

          Ghost feels safe right where he is. The sun at his back, and a room full of avenging teammates in front of him, he's protected. Dare he think it, loved. 

Chapter Text

          Soap's POV

          MacTavish watches Roach shiver in the corner of the plane, clenching and uncurling his right hand. Rolling through his exercises, Roach seems to be steadying himself. Or he's retreated into his own head, and that won't end well. 

          "Roach."

          Roach looks up at Soap. "Hmm?"

          MacTavish holsters his M1911. "You alright?"

          "Yeah, just thinking about how we're supposed to land on this tiny ledge, release our parachutes, climb up a wall of ice and retrieve the ACS after planting C4 on a fueling station, which we could be caught doing, and then we have to find a way to get off the Russian base without a pick-up in an accessible area and....."

          "Roach." MacTavish smirks. "You're overthinking this. Just keep close, and try not to get yourself killed."

          "Right. That's a comforting thought. I'm just considering my last experience with a parachute."

          "Yeah? And what was that like?"

          "All the wires of my chute snapped, Dunn caught it with his feet, and then I almost fell far enough to die."

          John chuckles softly, shaking his head. "Only you, Roach."

          "Yeah." he chuckles nervously. "Only me."

          MacTavish watches him roll his wrist around a few more times before wondering if something is off with it. "Your wrist alright, Roach?"

          "It's a little stiff from all this cold, is all. Nothing to worry about." 

          "Hey!" Nikolai calls back. "30 seconds, my friends!"

          "Alright, Roach. Time to put that chute to the test."

          "Ha ha ha. Oh, that is so not funny, Captain." Roach says weakly. 

          "You're bein' too hard on yourself, Roach. Just trust yourself for once, eh? See how that works out."

          Roach stands up and gives himself a shake. MacTavish moves over to the rear door and opens it. "Let's go, Roach."

          "I will see you at the LZ!" Nikolai shouts. "Though how you will get there is beyond me. Good luck, my friends!"

          "See you soon, Nikolai!"

          MacTavish pats Roach's shoulder and jumps from the back of the plane, headed straight for the wall of ice on the left of the plane. Popping his chute, he steers carefully, glancing behind him to make sure Roach didn't get attacked by a hostile gust of wind. Thankfully, he's right on course. Once MacTavish gets within fifty meters of the ice, he lets go of his strings for a moment to grab his ice picks. 

          Roach's voice comes through the com. "Maybe this is a bad time, but I've never actually parachuted onto a wall of ice before."

          "All you have to remember is to release your chute once you're on the ice."

          MacTavish steers with his picks in hand and lets go once he's 30 feet away. Putting his picks out and his spiked boots forwards, Soap sails into the ice wall. He lets his chute fly as he skids down onto a safe little outcrop. Roach is a little too high at first, but once he lets go of his strings, the chute seems to drop. Roach shouts in surprise and slings a pick into the nearest piece of ice. Not familiar with impacting on ice, he slams into it too hard. The wind tries to snatch his chute, but it's pushed up against the wall and Roach is falling on top of it. MacTavish catches him nimbly and cuts the chute away as quickly as possible. 

          The skin around his eye is already reddening and MacTavish pulls his hat down and the chin part of his mask back up. Not much else to do but wait now. MacTavish moves out along the ledge and crouches, comfortable out on the small ledge. He doesn't bother messing with the ice crystals that he knows are building up on his thin beard. It's better for the weather anyways. Pulling out a cigar and lighter, he lights one up. The calming scent of the cigar steadies his mind. He hadn't been too keen on 'em until Price taught him what's what. Aye, Price. If you could see me now. I dinnae know if ye'd be proud, but at least one thing stuck. 

          Finally, Roach groans and comes to. "That sucked."

          "Actually, it wasnae too horrible."

          "Considering I'm not dead, I suppose I can agree with you."

          MacTavish waits in silence for Roach to check himself over. Roach looks up and comes closer to the ledge. MacTavish glances at him with an almost-smile and chuckles. 

          "Break's over, Roach. Let's go." He flicks his cigar over the edge

          Soap starts to make his way along the edge with Roach in tow and finds a flatter area to climb. "Stay here an' spot me." he pulls his picks up. "Wait for my go." he glances at Roach again with a chuckle. "Try not to fall to yer' death." 

          Roach hums behind him and waits for MacTavish to check the ice. 

          MacTavish gets a good eight feet up. "Alright, the ice is good. Follow me." 

          MacTavish is almost at the top when a jet flies over and the ice shakes apart. Staying in the same place, he waits for it to pass and then finishes climbing. Roach isn't far behind and he stands up panting with a smile.

          "Good luck. I'll see ya on the far side." Soap grins, and doesn't have to imagine Roach's look of horror as he leaps across the gap.

          "You expect me, who is horrible at jumping, to jump that?"

          "Just jump, or I'll tell Ghost you were too lily-livered to try it."

          "That's not fair!" Roach calls back.

          "Just jump already! We don't have all day!" 

          Soap hears Roach repeating something to himself before Roach is sailing through the air at the ice. He probably would have been fine had he been using his feet too, but as it is, his picks drag down the ice.

          "Hold on! Don't let go!"MacTavish drops down a couple feet when Roach's right pick slips from the ice. 

          "No shit, Sherlock!" Roach shouts. "Oh, gosh!"

          Soap makes a dive for him just as the ice breaks and he looks at Roach seriously for a moment before gesturing him over to a thicker bunch of ice. 

          "Use your legs this time."

          "Right, spiked boots."

          Soap swings Roach a little for momentum before tossing him a little further upon the ice. He gets it this time and speeds up to reach the top. When he feet touch flat ground, he stumbles a little and Soap punches his arm.

          Roach smiles at him gratefully and follows him onto the ledge. 

          Roach opens up his heartbeat sensor at the same time MacTavish does and they crouch low. "Keep an eye on that sensor, Roach. And whatever ya' do, don't shoot me."

          "Sir, yes, sir." Roach salutes him.

          "Cheeky lad." MacTavish grumbles.

          They walk for a short distance and come upon a two-man patrol. "These muppets 'ave no idea we're here. We'll take them oot at the same time. You take the one on the left." he takes a breath. "On three.

          MacTavish aims and counts up to three. Roach chokes down a giggle after firing, but MacTavish notices anyway. 

          "What's so funny, Roach?"

          "Nothing. Just didn't know you could count so high."

          "Think you're funny, do ya', Roach?"

          He straightens out nicely. "No, sir."

          "Good." MacTavish is about to tell him what happens to funny people in the 141 when he sees another patrol. "Another patrol. Same plan."

          "Captain." Roach warns.

          "What is it now, Roach?"

          He doesn't get an answer before Roach sneezes. Uh-oh. He sneezes three more times and the two guys turn around. MacTavish shoots them both and pushes Roach down next to some rocks. 

          "Sorry, Captain."

          Raising his scarred eyebrow, MacTavish huffs. "Anything else you'd like to do before we get closer?"

          In response, Roach gives a little mouse sneeze and looks away shyly. 

          "Come oan, Roach. Let's get movin'."

          They move towards the fence and the ground slopes down with a hill. John breathes in some snow and stifles a cough. 

          "The storm's a'brewing up. I'm gonnae get a little higher and provide cover with a thermal scope. Keep moving towards the northeast corner of the runway."

          "What happens if they see me?"

          "With this snow blowing the way it is, they shouldn't see you until ye' are very close."

          Soap starts to climb up the nearest slope, but Roach is still standing there, looking worried. 

          "Roach?"

          "Right. I'm going." he pulls his gun up a little higher. 

          "Don't worry. I've got yer' back, kid."

          Roach seems to take a little comfort in that and trudges off, becoming a bleak shadow in the reams of snow. With that, Soap heaves himself up the side of the icy rock and gets up high enough to see everything. 

          "Hey, Roach?"

          "Yeah?"

          "Got a little challenge for ye'."

          "What's that?"

          "Try not to alert anyone."

          "You know that's like daring it to happen, right?"

          "Think of it as stealth training, Roach."

          "Right. Training. The only difference being that if I screw up, these guys will actually kill me."

          "So don't screw it up."

          "Great encouragement there, Captain."

          Soap chuckles, but doesn't respond. Instead, he finds Roach in his thermal scope, ignoring the flare of the two tiny LEDs on his shoulders. Roach ducks behind a truck as a guy walks by it and MacTavish smiles. 

          "He's mine." 

          Roach peeks around the truck and makes a break for the right side of the tunnel-shaped building. MacTavish pans over to Roach's right and picks a few guys off the high points. One was just puffing out a breath of hot smoke when he met his death.

          Having done what he looked for, MacTavish looks back to the corner of the building for Roach. Bollocks, he's gone.

          "Roach, where'd ye' go?"

          "I saw some guys to my right dropping dead and figured I might check it out over here. I found this weird laptop after climbing onto the search tower, and it seems to be running some kind of code."

          "Hold onto it. We'll figure the laptop out later. Give it to Ghost or somethin'."

          "Okay. I'm putting it in the bag for the ACS. I hope that thing isn't very big."

          "Get movin', Roach." 

          Doing as he's told, Soap watches Roach scurry down the ladder. He winces in sympathy when Roach face-plants off the last rung. Ridiculous. MacTavish watches him skirt around the buildings until he reaches some snow fence. There's a guy patrolling by his lonesome along the ridge that MacTavish feels kinda sorry for. 

          "I'll take this one."

          Roach coughs lightly in the cold and MacTavish swings his scope, looking for anyone who may have noticed.

          "Take the ridge. It goes straight to the fueling station."

          Quietly, Roach crouches and starts to move. MacTavish spies a truck full of guys and warns Roach to get down. Roach quickly drops to the ground. 

          "Gross. Glad you didn't tell me to drop a few feet to my left. I'd have been lying in yellow snow."

          "Stay focused, Roach."

          Roach quiets and starts to move. Looking ahead of his path, Soap sees some blurs of motion that look fairly big. 

          "Hold up." Roach pauses next to a MIG. "I'm seein' some commotion to your east. Steer clear of that area."

          Roach glances around and starts moving again. He pulls the C4 from his back and sticks it on a pod. 

          "Alright, I'm moving, so keep an eye out for the truck. I'll meet ye' behind the warehouse." smirking, MacTavish slides down the hill. "Race you there."

          Roach groans in response and MacTavish would laugh if it wouldn't give him away. He hustles along the same path Roach had taken earlier, finding it already blown over with snow. Soap can feel his skin prickle as he walks by the door of the tunnel-shaped building's door and steps inside. There's a man standing up at the other end, his partner with his feet against the wall. Soap slips behind the standing one and slits his throat before he can utter a sound. MacTavish lays him down and carefully steps over the body, staying low as possible. 

          Crouching directly behind the man in the chair, Soap slides a hand over his mouth and jams his knife into the man's chest. He struggles for a moment, but not near hard enough to shake Soap off. He goes quietly. 

          MacTavish skips the next building and runs for the back of the warehouse. He's about to run past the first, but something in the window catches his eye. Another laptop in a strange place. This isn't near as bad as storming that old building in Russia to rescue Nikolai. Some poor sap had been scrolling through intel on the throne.

          Smashing through the window, John grabs the laptop and stuffs it in the front of his vest. He waits for Roach to show up, leaning against the door. It doesn't take too long, but MacTavish can't help himself. 

          "Took the scenic route, eh?" Soap shakes his head. "Follow me, and keep your head down."

          Roach shakes some snow off his back, as if he'd fallen on the way over, and stands next to the door. MacTavish opens the door and leads the way. They guy at the end of the hall reminds him of his first mission with Price. Except this man is definitely not drunk. Soap slinks along the wall and grabs the man by his collar, forcing him into the lockers. He's about to flip the guy onto his back when he goes limp. 

          Letting him fall to the floor, MacTavish looks back at Roach. "Just take the fun oot of everythin', don't ye'?"

          "That's what I get for saving your life? That I'm a buzzkill?"

          "I had 'im on the ropes."

          Roach smiles and MacTavish turns around, moving through the door. "Sure you did."

          MacTavish huffs and makes his way to the turbine in the middle of the room. "Roach, go upstairs and look for the ACS module."

          "On it."

          MacTavish is rooting through a few of the pallets when the huge door opens and three dozen guys level their guns on his. "Roach, I've been compromised. Stay low and go to plan B."

          "This is Major Petrov! Come out with your hands up in 5, 4, 3..."

          "Roach, sometime today might be good." Soap mutters. 

          Right on one, the fueling station explodes and most of the men turn around. The ones who don't shout out questions in shock. A few who must be newbies pull their triggers and Soap takes cover. He takes a bullet in the vest and another skims his knee. Soap pulls the round from his vest and watches Roach spray lead from above. MacTavish helps as much as possible before Roach comes to get him.

          "Roach, head for the runway!" MacTavish shouts. "I'll cover you."

          MacTavish gets out of the hangar and stumbles a few steps. Guess my knee was a little more than skimmed. It still works just fine though. 

          "Head for the MIG!"

          "There's guys there!" Roach exclaims. 

          "You have a gun! Just shoot 'em!" 

          He doesn't even get a shot off before it explodes.

          "They trying to kill us!" Roach shouts. 

          "How observant of you!" MacTavish snaps back. "Take out those snowmobiles!"

          Roach sprints next to Soap, shooting who he can. MacTavish sees the drop-off and gets Roach to look at it. Instead of letting him balk at it, MacTavish grabs his sleeve and hurls them both over the edge.

          Turning around at the bottom, MacTavish picks guys off the top of the ridge. The snowmobiles manage to make it down and MacTavish gets around the corner of the small cabin. He throws himself at the two people riding the first one that comes across his vision and the driver tries to hold onto the left handlebar for dear life. The snowmobile turns more sharply than it was ever meant to and does a 180. MacTavish is thrown from it and he lands on top of the driver. He's dead. 

          MacTavish sees Roach take out two guys who managed to get down and get off. 

          "Get on one, Roach! This is our way out!"

          "For the record, you're crazy!" Roach says, getting on anyway.

          MacTavish speeds off and laughs. "That's what you think, bug." he mutters. "You just wait til' you see what we 'ave to do to get to the LZ."

          According to the coordinates, they're halfway there when Roach screams. "Trees!" he pants. "I got stopped..... hey a laptop! What is with this random laptop thing?"

          "No idea. Been happenin' since I joined the SAS. Hurry up!"

          MacTavish guns down as many as he can before they reach their snowmobiles and looks back. Roach waves from behind him and MacTavish scoffs. Loon. 

          Taking the icy corner is tricky, and he hopes Roach didn't get caught up in the branches. The crest of the hill comes up and MacTavish makes sure Roach is still behind him before starting to go down. MacTavish only smiles when he reaches the end of the trees and sees the huge gap. Roach's reaction is a little more intricate. 

          "Whoo! No more trees! WHAT KIND OF SICK JOKE IS THIS!!!!!!!!" 

          "The kind that makes me happy on the inside." Soap laughs, howling the whole way over. He rides into the back of the plane. "Sir, we have the ACS and we made it to the LZ."

          "Good job. Now get back to base. We've got new intel to go over."

          "Yes, sir." MacTavish says, still flushed with exhilaration. 

          Roach is somewhat less excited, considering how he slips off the side of the snowmobile and passes out on the floor. Huh. Personally, I thought that was pretty fun. Oh well.

Chapter Text

          Corporal Dunn's POV

          The Ranger regiment is out in the streets of Albania, chasing down a lead on a guy who knows where Makarov is. 

          Dunn looks around, dazed and confused. Pain shoots up his right side, but he ignores it and turns to the flipped jeep. He was thrown from the truck. Apparently. He crawls over to the crinkled edge and looks inside. 

          "Rook! Worm! Are you guys okay?"

          There's muffled coughing and a curse from inside the vehicle. "Yeah! We're all right." Rook answers. 

          Dunn sighs in relief before trying to pry open the door. It's wedged shut, but Dunn can see Rook kicking the one on the other side. It pops open with a horrible squeal and Dunn winces, moving over to help him out. 

          "Come on, Worm. Let's go."

          Dunn pants and rubs his head. His hand comes back a little slick and he sees blood. Not that he didn't expect that, being thrown from a moving car and all. Worm seems to be okay, aside from a slight rattle in his breathing. Rook is too cool to get hurt, or so he says. 

          Looking around, Dunn takes a few deep breaths. "We need to find Foley." 

          The pain comes back and Dunn closes his eyes, groaning. Rook seems worried, but lets Dunn be. If Jake wanted help, he would ask for it. A wave of nausea rolls over him and he fights the urge to puke. If Roach and Lewis were here, they'd be going all doting mother hen on me. Dunn thinks. The thought saddens him, considering both are with the 141 now, and Dunn is all that's left. 

          Worm clears his throat. "You know, usually when people say something like that, they move to actually look for said person." 

          "Sorry. Just needed a few seconds to get reoriented." 

          The truth, considering his brain is starting to split things into double the more he looks around. He checks the street signs and moves towards the intersection. Rook and Worm are watching his six and Dunn takes a heavy breath and ignores the hitch in his chest. 

          "Dunn, how lost are we?" Rook asks. 

          "Uh-- somewhere south of sort of." Dunn looks again and sees the corner of another truck. "There. Come on!" 

          Rook takes point with Worm at the back, keeping their medic in the middle. Dunn doesn't really mind, for the most part, but he just keeps moving towards the truck. He sees their driver slumped over in the front seat, and Macey in the back. Dunn reaches through the broken window to check for a pulse, but it's no use. Foley was in this truck, though. He couldn't have gotten far. His ears pick up terrible wheezing nearby and finds Wells propped against a wall, bleeding from a wound in his torso. 

          "Wells! Wells, can you hear me?"

          "Stay back!" he whimpers.

          "Why? What's wrong?" 

          "There's a bomb on me. It's set to go off. I don't know how long." 

          His arm is at an awkward angle too. "Wells, who did this to you?" Dunn creeps closer anyway.

          Wells coughs and chokes on some blood before answering. "It was Al.... Al-" a shot comes from nowhere and rips through Wells' chest. 

          Dunn flinches back and scrambles away on his backside. Rook gets ahold of his collar and drags him back. Dunn groans and looks around. "Anyone see him?"

          "No." Worm grimaces. "I think I see Foley. He's unconscious."

          Dunn appreciates the fact that he doesn't automatically say dead. "Where?"

          Worm points him out and Dunn sees his body lying between two stone arches. "You can't reach him without leaving cover." Dunn looks at him. "Don't even think about it."

          "I have to, Worm. If he's alive, we need to help him get to cover. We already lost Wells, and if there's a sniper out there, we need every man we can find."

          "And how are we going to save him if you get shot running out of here?"

          "Seeing as how I outrank both of you, Privates, I'm considering your arguments invalid."

          Worm raises his hands in surrender but quickly brings them back down as a shot breaks through the car. "That is why you can't go out there."

          Dunn looks back over at Foley and is about to argue when the Sargent moves. He's turning around. "Wait, Worm, he's moving. Pop up."

          "What?! What if he doesn't miss this time?"

          "Sarge has a rifle and he's turning around. Now do it!" Dunn whispers. 

          Worm looks at the edge of the truck nervously before glancing at the Sarge. He nods and puts a hand on the door of the truck. Popping up, a shot tears through the mirror right next to his head and Worm ducks back down as quickly as possible. Foley fires off one shot and Dunn hears a scream of pain. Dunn makes a dash for Foley, not bothering worrying about the possibility that the sniper isn't dead. 

          "Foley! Are you all right?"

          "I'm fine, Corporal. Now get after him! He's not dead. He's the target, now go!" Foley scrambles up from his position on the ground.

          "He's the target? Worm, Rook, we gotta go after that guy!" Dunn is sprinting back the other way with Foley at his side. Rook and Worm leave their positions by the truck, way ahead of him. Dunn takes a sharp breath, wincing, but he pushes himself. 

          "Dunn, you take the back alley. Cut him off if he tries to get out!"

          "Yes, Sarge."

          Dunn takes off the the left and listens to Rook and Worm clear rooms above his head. Turning into the back alley, Dunn runs straight into the guy. He's shorter than Dunn would have expected. They both hit the ground and Dunn curls up, the pain in his side more pronounced.

          "Ahh--hnng." Dunn rolls over and looks at the man.

          Blood coats his left shoulder, but he gains his feet. Dunn looks up at his face and betrayal rips through him. His hair is black now, and his face looks more narrow than it did, but it's Allen. Allen doesn't look sorry in the least as Dunn cries out in pain. 

          "I tho-thought we were friends, Allen."

          "My name is not Allen." he answers with a Russian accent. 

          "Don't lie to me!" Dunn growls through gritted teeth. "You think I wouldn't recognize you just because of a haircut and a new accent?"

          Suddenly his face turns more expressive and he kneels down next to Dunn. "No. But I expect you to keep this to yourself."

          "Why? You're the one who turned traitor!"

          "Building clear! Dunn!" Foley calls. "Dunn!"

          Allen looks at the back door and back to Dunn. "I'm sorry for this." 

          His arm twitches and jabs Dunn in the face. He can feel himself being dragged and his head is lolling around, but Dunn is too dazed to speak. His side hurts like crazy as he's hefted over Allen's thick shoulder. Dunn can't tell if he whines or not, but he can guess. Allen walks for a little while, Dunn swaying back and forth over his shoulder. He finally stops and turns. Dunn passes out for a little bit from the pain, but comes around while Allen is strapping him to a chair. 

          Dunn hunches over, his ribs killing him, and twists his head to look at Allen. He's standing nearby, leaning against a table. Dunn's vision splits again and he blinks a few times until Allen comes back into focus. 

          "You okay, man?" he asks, his accent back to normal. 

          "What do you care? You were just trying to kill us a minute ago."

          "I don't have a choice." Allen answers, a little angrily.

          "That's bull." Dunn growls, sitting back up. "You have the option to not shoot your friends. O-oh, that's right. You betrayed all your friends."

          Allen strides over and punches Dunn in the jaw. "You don't get it, do you? Why do you think Shepard picked me to run the Pit that day?"

          "To put you on the 141. Just like Archer, and Roach." Dunn lets his head tilt back, blinking.

          "No. He needed me to go undercover. I'm here because I have to get close to Makarov, otherwise a whole bunch of people are gonna die." Allen tilts his head. "Roach made the 141?"

          "I don't believe you." Dunn answers.

          The next one is aimed for his ribs and Dunn anticipates the explosion of pain. It never comes. "Almost forgot about those ribs. Wouldn't want to kill you before I prove my point." Allen smirks.

          "Then you'll kill me? So much for still being friends."

          "Dunn, I'm not going to kill you."

          "Then why did you take me?"

          "Because if I didn't, Foley would have found you and you would have blown my cover." he sighs. "Look, I'd been meaning to find a way to tell you, but I got sent to the 141 before I could. I'm CIA, man." he waves an arm before recoiling in pain. "Mmmm." Dunn can see him biting his lip.

          Dunn doesn't know if he believes him of not, but he can't stop himself from being concerned. "Are you all right?"

          Allen looks at him, his brown eyes confused. "Thought you were set on me being a terrorist."

          Dunn shrugs and takes a labored breath. "I don't know. You make a pretty good argument." 

          "To be fair, I suppose shooting at Worm was pretty rude."

          There's the Allen that Dunn remembers. "You missed on purpose, right? And you shot Wells. Macey is dead. What about them?"

          "You think I want to kill you guys?" Allen huffs, sounding offended. "Was Foley trying to kill me?"

          "No."

          "Do I get to ask why?" Allen asks, sounding curious. 

          "You're not the one strapped to the chair, so I guess you can ask whatever you want. Are you gonna untie me?"

          "Probably not."

          Dunn's breath hitches uncomfortably. "Ahh- well, that sucks-ah!"

          Allen helps Dunn sit up a little straighter in his chair with a look of concern on his face. "Easy. I'm not quite sure what to do now." he laughs. "I should probably try to help." he takes Dunn's helmet off.

          "Well, if you're not going to untie me, there's really not much you can do." Dunn winces. "So... did the CIA put you in the Ranger unit?"

          Allen smirks."That's classified."

          Dunn huffs "So. what do I call you?"

          "Well, my cover name is Alexi, if you must know."

          Dunn chuckles. "Makes you sound like a girl."

          Allen seems to hear something and his whole demeanor changes and his eyes get hard. "Shut up." his accent is back. "Act hurt."

          "Sounds tough." Dunn hangs his head and lets his shoulders tilt forwards. "Do I have a black eye yet?"

          "Shut up!" Allen growls, slapping him, hard. 

          Dunn yelps and peers up at him. Allen salutes someone who walks in and Dunn almost expects to see Shepard. It is... sadly not. 

          "Who is this?" the man asks, his accent nearly impossible to decipher. 

          Allen responds in Russian, and what must be his commanding officer, scolds him in kind. Allen pulls Dunn's head up by his hair and he shouts in surprise. Allen growls something to the man and he comes around Dunn's front. Allen holds him still, but Dunn leans away from the man's prying gaze. He pulls a knife and presses it lightly to the corner of Dunn's jaw, right where the neck starts. Dunn swallows and suppresses a shudder. 

          The man laughs at that and Allen drops Dunn's head. Allen talks quickly enough that what little Dunn knows of Russian is lost on him. The stranger seems to agree with him and leaves the room with one last comment. Allen nods and Dunn looks him in the eyes. They're cold, and unfeeling. 

          The door shuts then locks and Allen sighs. "You are freakin' lucky, Dunn. You aren't dying in here today."

          "How do you plan on getting me out? They just locked the door."

          Allen pulls out a set of keys. "This is one of our safe-houses. I'm going to get reprimanded so badly for this, I'll probably have a hard time walking for the next two days. You'd better make this look good, Dunn. You can't tell Foley."

          "I'm not going to lie to my..."

          Allen punches him in the ribs and Dunn screams. "Yes, you are. He can't know."

          Tears prick his eyes and Dunn wheezes in short breaths. "Why not? He won't give you away."

          "He has to report everything to his commanding officers." Allen swings again, lower this time. 

          Dunn grits his teeth and breathes carefully. "So do I."

          "Dunn, I'm trusting you with this. I need you to help me." Allen looks a little desperate. 

          "Okay." Dunn groans. "Fine."

          Allen's fist hits him square on the jaw and Dunn watches the ceiling bulge over his head. There's like four Allens in the room now. "You promise me, man. This will not bite me in the ass."

          "I promise, alright? Now stop hitting me and let me out of here."

          "You know you have to beat me up, right?"

          "You think I can swing a punch right now? I don't know if I should be flattered or unimpressed with your comprehension of this situation."

          Allen pulls Dunn's knife from his boot and puts it in his hand. "Start cutting, Dunn. If you think using big words makes me want to get you out of here faster, you would be wrong."

          "You've got to be kidding me."

          "You want this to look authentic, you've got to hold up your end. Plus, you get to hit me anyway. So I'm not seeing your problem."

          Dunn frowns and starts sawing away. He's not expecting Allen's own knife to cut his arm and he shouts in surprise, dropping the one in his hand. Grumbling, Allen puts the knife back in his hand and continues to cut him up. 

          "You're making this very difficult." Jake growls.

          "Maybe it would help if you tried harder."

          "Maybe you- ah!- why? Why would you go for the leg? I have to walk out of here."

          "Well, I'd do your face, but you've already got a nasty gash up there."

          Finally, Dunn cuts through the ropes and shows Allen his hands. "You can stop now."

          "Took you long enough. Come on, now hit me."

          "I really shouldn't." Dunn says, standing and cradling his ribs. "But you deserve this anyway."

          Dunn swings at Allen and knocks him flat. Allen shakes his head and gets up. "Dude, you are gonna have to hit me harder if you expect to knock me out."

          Jake would love to hit Allen harder, but he's running the risk of seriously hurting himself if he does it. "I can't."

          "Yes, you can." Allen rolls his eyes.

          "Allen. Don't doubt that I really want to hit you right now."

          "I think I can believe it. Just do it, man. Tell Lewis I said hello."

          Dunn takes a breath and nods. He swings harder and Allen stumbles back, shaking his head again, but this time he looks dazed. He crashes into the table he was leaning against earlier and blinks. "Nice one." he mumbles, before sliding to the floor. 

          Dunn was a little stunned at first before the pain kicked in and he's holding his ribs again. He takes his gun from the table, slightly surprised that he was out long enough for Allen to strip him of his weapons. Dunn turns quickly to the door and stumbles as his sight turns upside-down. He fights the urge to hurl and moves towards the door. Shakily putting the key in the slot, Dunn takes a deep breath. Someone must have heard Allen's crash and he's coming down the hall. Dunn shoots him and his heart starts pounding. Why did Allen have to hit me in the ribs? Dunn wheezes and heads for the closest door. It's got a set of stairs behind it and Dunn raises his weapon. He's not ashamed (mostly) to say that he used the wall for support most of the way up. 

          He meets three guys in the hall and takes them out before they can say anything. A fourth comes through the door and shouts at the top of his lungs for help. It would be almost impossible to get out without trouble now. Dunn takes another door and winces at the bright light, which blurs his vision. A bullet clips his shoulder and Dunn falls into the alley. His adrenaline finally kicks in and he pushes himself up, running out of the house as fast as possible. His ribs don't really like that and it gets hard to breathe. He glances behind him and sees a few guys coming out of the house. Dunn fires a few rounds before turning a sharp corner and cutting through another abandoned house. 

          Jake can't help the whimper that bursts from his mouth as he clumsily maneuvers a door frame. Picking himself off the floor, Dunn stumbles to the door that leads into another alley and moves through it. Before he knows it, he's just wandering through the streets, hoping that he isn't moving in one big circle.

          His adrenaline rush wears off and he starts to list more than walk. He looks up at the sky after awhile, his head pounding like a drum, and finds it near dark. A couple of flashlights shine him in the eyes and he falls.

          He can barely hear what they're saying, but he recognizes the voices and assumes he's safe. He's in rough shape, but it looks like he'll live. Dunn laughs to himself in his head. Who do you guys think you are, the medic? Wait, right, that's me.

          They roll Dunn onto his back and Dunn groans. He doesn't remember struggles against them, but the next thing he know, his arms are pinned to his chest and he's pretty much screaming into a gloved hand. His vision clears up a little and he sees Worm's concerned face looking down at him. 

           "Ribs." Dunn gasps weakly, shaking his head. "Let go."

           Dunn nearly cries with relief when the pressure is gone.

          "Dunn, what happened to you? You were gone for hours."

          "I don't remember." Dunn wheezes. 

          "Do you know who did this to you, Corporal?" the Sarge's voice asks, worry coloring his tone.

          Dunn shakes his head. 

          "We went back to our truck and got your kit." Rook says, appearing on Dunn's left. "Hold still."

          A light shines in Dunn's eyes and he winces. "You've got a nasty concussion." Rook turns the light off and looks at Dunn's head. "You're missin' some hair, mate." The light comes back on, but it's not for his eyes this time. "This head wound is fairly big."

          "Think I had it earlier." Dunn mumbles. 

          "Where's your helmet?"

          Dunn makes a non-committal sound in his throat. "No idea."

          They wipe some off the blood off his forehead and Dunn hisses in pain. Unzipping his tac-vest, they pull his shirt up and check out his ribs. 

          "A couple of these are broken." Rook says, feeling around.

          "No kidding? Never would have guessed." 

          "Leave it to Dunn to take a beating that he doesn't remember." Worm chuckles.

          A sting of guilt goes through him that seems to register with his teammates as pain. Dunn looks at Foley as he takes his helmet off, smoothing a hand over his short black hair. 

          "Did you see the target, Dunn?"

          Dunn shakes his head. "Must have made it out the back before I got there. Didn't see any blood though."

          Foley takes a long look at him. "We're getting out of here. Our op is blown."

          He must be able to see something that Dunn isn't saying, even in the dark, because he never gives up a chase like that. Rook and Worm help Dunn up and he walks slowly in between them. In this case, they do have all night. Rook and Worm both have a supporting hand on Dunn's back and they gently steer him to follow Foley down the street. Every once in a while they have to stop and let Dunn rest, and he feels kind of bad.

          He wonders how Foley knows where the rest of the Rangers are camped out. Dunn's unit had left as soon as they got here. 

          He looks around and realizes that they're back at the trucks again. "Foley, why are we back here? Aren't we regrouping with the other teams?"

          They reach the truck that Foley was in and Dunn sees what's left of Wells in the shine of a flashlight. 

          "Sarge?" Dunn says breathlessly, feeling slight queasy. 

          "There were wounded with us still." Sarge says quietly.

          "And you left them here?" Dunn drops his jaw.

          "You were a more pressing concern."

          "More pres.... Sarge, you knew that they were alive and you left them there." 

          "It was a small mercy." he whispers. 

          Suddenly he stops and shines his flashlight at the floor. Dunn sees a person there, or what's left of one. Finally, his usually strong stomach gives out and he stumbles away from Rook and Worm, leaning against the wall and chucking his cookies. Did Allen do all of this? And if he did he couldn't have wanted to, right. Gosh, what about what Wells said about the person who put the bomb on him? It was Al-, Allen? The thought makes him sick all over again. 

          Rook puts a hand on his shoulder and pulls him away from the wall after Dunn wipes his mouth. A small mercy. 

          Foley leads them out from under the awning and Dunn hangs his head, still walking in between Rook and Worm. What do I do? Allen practically begged me not to tell Foley, but he did all of this. I made a promise to Allen. Dunn hisses at himself, but Rook and Worm adjust their grip, thinking that they're hurting him. You'd better have a damn good explanation for this, Allen.

          Dunn is exhausted. He's resting more of his weight on his teammates as he walks and they notice.

          "Foley, we've gotta stop." Worm says. 

          Jake's head is swimming like a fish in a pond. Right when Foley turns around, Dunn collapses. Worm tries to wake him up, but Dunn is long gone by then, already blacking out. 

          He's fading! We've gotta hurry! Rook! Get him up. Sarge, his ribs. We've got to get him help, Private. Rook, just do it!

          Then everything is dark. 


          When Dunn wakes up, he recognizes the intensive care unit. He's never been a patient, but he's visited enough guys to know it. He blearily sees a big man by the door until his eyesight sharpens and it's Captain MacTavish's Mohawk and startling blue eyes that come into focus. He's leaning against the door frame casually, watching. Dunn looks over on his right and sees both Lewis and Roach. They're cuddled up on a crappy couch, sleeping on each other. Looking back at MacTavish, Dunn sees his shadow (Ghost) hovering outside the door like a sentry.

          MacTavish doesn't say anything, but a flicker of relief crosses his face as he sees Dunn awake. The Captain nudges Ghost, who turns and looks in Dunn's direction. His mask wrinkles with Ghost's smirk and Dunn waves two bandaged fingers at him. Minor cuts and scrapes dot his wrists, and a few longer ones rest on his arms. A couple are stitched. MacTavish leans away from the wall and comes up next to the bed.

          "It's good to see you awake, Dunn."

          "How long have I been out?"

          MacTavish glances over at Ghost and the masked man shrugs. "Well, plus how long it took them to get you out of Albania, almost eight days." 

          "Eight days." Dunn answers quietly. "Umm, not to be rude or anything, but why are you here?"

          "Roach and Lewis heard you were in intensive care and came to see you."

          "Right, but that still doesn't explain what the captain of a special forces team is-ow!" MacTavish pokes him in the ribs. "What was that for?"

          "Quit yer' yappin' for two seconds, would ya'?"

          Dunn nods.

          "When Lewis and Roach both leave base, my medic and my new guy, I can't leave them unprotected..."

          "In a military base--- alrightalrightalright, geez! Stop poking me!" he hisses.  

          MacTavish huffs. "So Ghost came with, and when my lieutenant goes somewhere, he's a little temperamental with anyone out of the ordinary."

          Dunn sees Ghost shrug in his peripheral vision and smiles. "I don't think he thinks so."

          MacTavish puts a finger to his mouth and walks quietly, for such a big man, over to Ghost. He reaches an arm around his lieutenant's throat and rubs his knuckles into Ghost's skull. 

          The Brit squirms. "Bugger off!" 

          Lewis turns over with a sigh and both MacTavish and Ghost right themselves and stand still by the door. Dunn stifles a laugh as she turns back over.

          "It had been almost a day when Lewis found out I had gotten into the Rangers. She was pissed. Told me that she hadn't meant for me to follow her."

          MacTavish smirks and leans against the wall again. 

          "I wasn't technically following her."

          MacTavish chuckles. "With Lewis, 'technically' is relative."

          "I know that much, trust me." 

          "So. Do you mind tellin' me what happened?" MacTavish ticks a brow. 

          "I don't remember." 

          MacTavish tilts his head with an eyebrow lowered. Dunn winces, not liking it. "Sure, you don't. Just like you don't remember who beat the snot out of you."

          "That's because I don't." Dunn insists.

          Lewis starts to mumble in her sleep. "Whatcha gonna do when they come for you? Bad boy."

          Dunn blinks at her, cocking his head.

          "She always knows, Dunn. Just give it up." MacTavish smirks. "Thought you'd be used to that by now."

          Dunn sighs. "You have to promise not to tell anyone outside this room." Dunn sees Ghost still on the edge of the frame. "Ghost, that includes you. Get in here."

          Ghost closes the door behind him and leans against the wall. His gaze is cool as Dunn prepares himself. MacTavish moves to stand next to Ghost, arms crossed. 

          "I don't really know how to break this. He didn't say not to tell you, just not Foley." Dunn looks MacTavish in the eyes. "It was Allen." MacTavish is silent. "You knew?"

          "Of course I knew. I wouldnae be a very good captain if I didn't know my men were on undercover assignments."

          "He was telling the truth." Dunn says quietly, relief coursing through him. 

          "You talked to him?" MacTavish asks.

          "Yeah, right after he took all my weapons, tied me to a chair, and hit me in the face for calling him a traitor."

          "Can you blame him?" MacTavish smirks. "I think I'd 'ave hit ye' too."

          "All the same." Ghost says, chuckling. 

          "Good to know. Now you swear this won't leave here?"

          "You've nothin' to worry about from our end. We planned on keeping his mission a secret anyway."

          Dunn nods and looks over at Roach and Lewis. He jumps when Lewis is right next to him and gasps in pain. MacTavish and Ghost keep a straight face, and Dunn curses them internally for not warning him. Lewis just lets him sit there, groaning and wheezing. 

          "You deserve this, idiot." Lewis smiles. She grabs his morphine pump.

          Dunn pouts. "Why are you so mean?"

          "Because I'd be a sucky big sister if I wasn't." she giggles.

          Ghost seems to relax at the sound and Dunn can't help smiling at her. "True enough."

          "You'd better be out of here soon or Foley will have your hide."

          "I know. Allen said to tell you 'hello', by the way."

          "Well, the next time you see him, you can tell him I'm taken."

          "You just want me to get beaten up." Dunn accuses.

          "Maybe. Not that you can prove it."

          Dunn starts to laugh, but his head starts to hurt and his ribs remind him of why he shouldn't. He takes short, painful breaths, wincing. He makes grabby-hands for the pump and Lewis begrudgingly gives it to him. 

          "Don't get hurt anymore, Dunn. It may hurt now, but it'll be nothing compared to what I'll do if you don't get better."

          He laughs with a choked breath. "You'd skin me and feed me to the Russian's dogs."

          "You know it." She stands and kisses Dunn's forehead. "We'll see you later."

          She kicks Roach and he sits up, his hair all over and his eyes tired. "I'm up. I'm coming. Nice to know you're alive, Dunn. Next time try not going into a mini-coma."

          "Will do." Dunn says sleepily.

          Dunn watches Ghost sling an arm around Lewis's shoulders and MacTavish herds them away from the ICU. Well, that hurt.

Chapter Text

          Makarov's POV

          Who is Alexi Borodin? 

          It's a good question, truly. There is only so much that one man can find out, but he's just made contact with one of his associates in Rio. He's been a great help. He'd had the information on hand rather quickly though, and that leads Makarov to wonder. 

          Alexi Borodin in an American operative. He puts on a good show, but he was too useful at the right times. When Makarov had needed a way into the embassy, Alexi was there. And now today, his perfect timing has struck again, with a contact inside the airport. Not that Makarov didn't appreciate the easy in. He was easy enough to bribe. 

          They enter through the back door of the bag scanning area and Makarov looks around. "Alexi, take the back. Lev, with me. Viktor, make sure no one escapes the sides with Kiril." Makarov growls. 

          Makarov keeps their pace slow, stalking through the metal detectors. The lights flash and Makarov spares a glance at Alexi. His face is cold and emotionless, much like Viktor when he's focused, but this is different. He's detached from this situation, trying to hold on to what little innocence he may still possess. So far, he'd been loyal and near impossible to pull away from his work. He'd acquired the weapons for their mission today. But then the American soldier had escaped and Makarov had heard of it. 

          He shrugs his shoulder, still a little stiff. He's slightly hunched from his recent whipping, and Makarov feels a sense of justice. If he hadn't made the mistake of letting one person go, it wouldn't have come to this. Kiril and Viktor start firing among the people and screaming starts to erupt around them. Makarov's face twists into a savage snarl. It won't be long now.

          Lev handles the cops that are starting to come out while Alexi picks off the ones who are shot but still alive. That confirms Makarov's suspicions. 

          Finally, they start to go up the stairs and Makarov sees Alexi grimace. SWAT hasn't quite arrived yet, but the police are still trying to stop them. Lev goes down and Alexi avenges him quickly. That gives Makarov a moment of pause. Lev has always been a quiet one, and Alexi has had a dizzying effect on him. Smiles, horrible puns, and talk of girls... and small talk, which Lev had never before attempted in his life. No. This rat has crawled out of his last gutter. He may have friends in high places, but that doesn't make me oblivious to his treachery.

          Viktor had been the one to report Alexi's failure to hold onto the medic. He's never liked Borodin, and wouldn't have said anything if he didn't think it important. 

          Makarov dispatches an officer coming out of the coffee shop and steps over his body. The four of them hit the bottom of the terminal and open fire on the people cowering in fear with no way out. How is it the Americans say it? Ah, yes. Fish in a barrel. 

          Finally, the back door comes into view and Makarov takes one last rueful look at the dead in the waiting area. Allen is picking off the few remaining living before he catches up. Makarov can't help but be curious at him. He wouldn't have to make such an effort, yet here he is, massacring hundreds of civilians to gain light in the public's eyes. Moving out the other side of the airport, they descend the stairs and move through the old tunnels for all of the checked baggage. Once they get outside, SWAT trucks skid to a stop and men with riot shields jump out. Makarov orders Alexi to use his grenade launcher on them and he seamlessly does so. 

          He acts so loyal, and yet before I talked to my contact, he was rooting around right under my nose. Sadly for him, he doesn't have any idea that I'm onto him. 

          A second wave of men with shields comes out and Makarov picks a few off the edges. Alexi throws a grenade into their midst and Makarov knows that he's only surviving now. When they reach their escape vehicle, Anatoly opens the door and Makarov looks around, realizing that Kiril is gone. He helps Viktor into the back of the ambulance and the Makarov jumps in. Turning around, Makarov makes a split second decision and helps Allen into the ambulance. Alexi looks relieved to be getting out of here, and Makarov pulls his pistol from his belt. He shoves the muzzle up under Allen's ribs and fires twice, three times, and shoves him back. 

          Makarov smiles, his message delivered. The Americans might think twice before trying this again. Alexi looks on with fear written on his features, but it's fading as fast as he is. Smiling cruelly, Makarov holsters his gun.

          "It was a pleasure, Private Allen. Give Shepard my regards."

          Closing the door, Makarov sits down in the bench seat of the vehicle and sighs. This war has just begun.

Chapter Text

          Ghost's POV

          Code is fun to a certain extent, and maybe Ghost would appreciate it later, but he's been scrolling through the data on those laptops for the past two days. The first was being used for more than embarrassing activities, and Ghost had wiped the drives on that one so he'd never have to see it again. The second, which MacTavish had found was significantly more useful. Ghost is still working on the encryption around the files, but some early communications were easy enough to find. 

          Some of them including names and locations where Allen had recently been. Not that they'd ever get to ask him about it. There were fake names with the conversations, one being "Crook".

          The door opens and Ghost doesn't have to look to know it's MacTavish. "Need somethin', mate?"

          "I think it's time for ye' to get some fresh air." MacTavish presses a cup of tea into his hands. "Come on outside for a few minutes."

          "I'm just getting to the interesting part, Soap."

          Ghost smiles at his slight distaste for the name. MacTavish has gotten over most of it, and in some ways, Ghost thinks he likes it better than being called John. 

          "Yeah? And what might that be?" MacTavish answers, rolling Ghost away from his computers.

          Ghost smirks. "I've just gotten ahold of a few code names." he sips his tea as MacTavish pushes his chair down the hall. "Haven, Demon, and Crook. I'm not really sure about that last one. Flare for the dramatic, maybe?"

          "Or it's got two meanings." MacTavish answers, indulging his work-based conversation. 

          Finally, they reach the double doors leading out of the building and Ghost hops up. MacTavish opens the door and walks onto the crisp green yard of the 141 base. Ghost looks around and takes his mask off, enjoying the early morning sun shining on his face. New recruits, Meat and Rook, had brightened the place up with their...interesting habits a week ago. Archer had gotten his spotter back and Toad seemed beyond pleased.

          "Who do you suppose Haven is?" MacTavish asks. 

          Ghost shrugs. "There was a mistake early on in Rio, and there was another close by there, but that's from early stuff. Maybe two years ago. There's no telling where he is now. Until I can manage to work through the encryption, we won't know much more than those names. But, Demon is actually new to the game. As far back as I can go, it was just Haven and Crook until recently."

          "Demon make any mistakes yet?"

          "So far, it looks like he only receives information. All of it is heavily encrypted, just like every data file on it. I'm close though."

          "You could let Lewis take a crack at it." MacTavish suggests.

          "I should. She could probably sweet-talk the computer into tellin' her what she wants to know. I already told her about the names when she came in to keep me company."

          "You know somethin', Ghost?"

          "Hmm?"

          "I think I know less about that lass than I know about you."

          Ghost smiles. "She likes her privacy."

          They walk for a little while in comfortable silence. Ghost hadn't realized that it had been almost 36 hours since he'd slept, but now that he sees how low the sun is on the horizon, he feels tired. It's only an hour til' their morning exercise, but Ghost can feel himself drifting off. He takes another sip of his tea and inhales the soft honey scent. The sugar is waking him up, but the warm smell is putting him to sleep. It's quite the dilemma, really. 

          There were moments where Ghost thought he'd never see the sun again, yet here he is with a friend, strolling along the yard of a huge base. Suddenly the sun is more welcome and Ghost stops, closing his eyes. Sighing, he takes a deep breath and takes in everything around him. Soap's very black coffee nearly makes him dizzy with the strength and he asks for a taste.

          MacTavish smirks. "Looks like you could use it. How long you been at those computers anyway?"

          Ghost chuckles and takes the offered cup. It does the trick and Ghost is wide awake. He gives MacTavish his cup back with a nod of gratitude. 

          "Almost a day and a half."

          "Well, I cannae excuse ye' from yer' duties, but I'd suggest ye' get some sleep. I'll get Lewis to take a look at yer' progress later."

          Ghost grins as his accent slips through the cracks. MacTavish has to keep it to a minimal when he's on missions so people know exactly what he's saying, but on base he's very different. MacTavish leans down and rubs his knee with a grimace. 

          "How was Roach up in the mountains?"

          MacTavish chuckles. "Nervous wreck, that one. I've thought about putting a leash on 'im, but I think he'd find some unfortunate way to choke 'imself with it. Not too keen on jumping either."

          Ghost smirks and smooths down the front of his fatigues. "Horrible vertical. I don't know how he made in into the Rangers. They're hoppin' over junk all the bloody time."

          MacTavish steps onto the cement court and picks up a ball that Ozone and Chemo must have left behind. Always leavin' their crap everywhere. Miscreants.

          MacTavish shoots it up with one hand and Ghost puts his tea down. MacTavish on the other hand, chugs his coffee and puts his cup on the ground. Ghost retrieves the ball and tosses it back. 

          "You missed. Try again, mate."

          "Don't go too easy on me, Ghost. I dinnae like to be humored."

          Ghost chuckles and leaps up when MacTavish shoots, swatting the ball back down. MacTavish snags the ball and gets around Ghost before he gets turns around. Doing a layup, MacTavish grins and passes to Ghost. Ghost runs to the edge and shoots from the three-point line.

          "3-2. Keep up, Soap."

          MacTavish smiles, as if given an idea. Ghost gets the ball and MacTavish slips an arm in between Ghost's and steals the ball. 

          "What in the bloody 'el?" Ghost asks. "No superpowers on the court!"

          MacTavish shoots and scores again, chuckling. "4-3. Keep your chin up, mate."

          Ghost makes another shot from the three-point line and shakes his head. "Come on, short shot. 6-4. It that the best you got?"

          MacTavish grumbles something that Ghost doesn't catch and Ghost smirks. Stealing the ball again with his slippery fingers, Soap makes a shot from the three and Ghost smiles. 

          "7-6. You happy now, mate?"

          "Possibly." Ghost answers, grinning.

          Ghost is about to take another shot when he sees Lewis sprinting towards them. "Ghost! We've got something! Shepard just sent over a lead on Makarov!"

          Ghost drops the ball and MacTavish stands at his side. "What is it?"

          "It's one of his informants. A guy named Alejandro Rojas. He supplies him with weapons too." She hands MacTavish the file and he opens it. 

          "Never heard of him."

          "Alex the Red?" Lewis asks. "Ring any bells?"

          MacTavish raises an eyebrow and Ghost leans over his shoulder. MacTavish huffs, but otherwise says nothing. 

          "Lewis, go turn on the horn for deployment and go check on Ghost's decryption before we go. We're tracking this lead down now."

          

          Lewis's POV

          Lewis turns and runs to the pole in the middle of the yard, flipping the switch. Then she heads back into the higher ranks' building and skids into Ghost's computer room. She sees some files that have been opened up and she clicks on one. She stifles a scream of shock when she sees the identities of the code-names. No.

          All the information has been coming from Shepard? Shepard is Crook. That's horrible. Who the heck makes a play on words with their own names. No, Lewis. Stay focused.


          Shepard gets an alert to his laptop and opens it up. What he sees surprises him. It's the video feed from a laptop and the alert is for someone having cracked the encryption on his files and his identity. She looks shocked beyond all reason and Shepard smiles, typing into the communications box on his own laptop. There's only one way to stop her from telling MacTavish about this.

          You shouldn't have seen this, Lewis. Keep quiet or your team pays the price. 


          Lewis covers her mouth with a hand as words starts coming across her screen. Crook is sending her a message. Another comes after it. 

          Wipe this file from the laptop. If you don't, Captain MacTavish might have an unfortunate accident on his trip to capture Rojas. 

          What do I do? She tries to think of a way out of this and only comes up with one idea. This had better work.

          She heads to her room and pulls out what little makeup she has and her sneaky bag of pranks that she was saving for Roach. Archer watches her flurry from where he's putting on clothes across the room. 

          "Why the hurry, Lewis?" Archer asks. 

          "Archer, I need your help. You have to trust me on this." she packs her stuff into her go-bag  before Archer can see it.

          "What do you need?" 

          "I need you to lose track of me."

          

          Archer's POV

          They find the informant with relative ease, but Driver goes down. Archer loses him in the alley, but informs MacTavish that Ghost is coming around to meet them. 

           Roach, take the shot! Go for his leg!

          One shot cracks through the air and Archer sighs in relief. He can't see into the alley, but he knows that Roach wouldn't have shot if he thought he would miss.

This might take awhile. Go search the Favela, see if you can draw him out.

          MacTavish and Ghost get Rojas' assistant to talk and Lewis is at their six. She tackles a guy who would have shot Ghost and kills him. MacTavish swings around and catches a guy coming up on her left while Ghost holds their front. 

          Where's Lewis? We need a medic! Roach screams. Royce and Meat are down!

          Archer chokes as she falls. Lewis is gone.

          SHE'S WHAT? Ghost and Roach shouts at the same time.

          "She's gone." Archer says again.

          Unlike what she'd asked him to do, he kept an eye on her. And she was watching Ghost's back. Then two bullets hit her in the chest and she crumpled. There was no way she was going to get up. Whatever she needed Archer to lose track of her for was beyond her ability now.

          He hadn't even seen where the shots had come from. Only that there was a lot of blood and a look of surprise that morphed into horror before his eyes. 

          Archer blocks it out the best he can, but every time he blinks, he sees her expression. He focuses back on Ghost and MacTavish, his view tilting as Nikolai's plane shifts positions. Ghost's silence isn't a good sign and he can see MacTavish pull Ghost aside. Ghost nods and they move fast to capture Rojas. They startled him out of hiding alright. 

          Roach is close to getting pinned down in the alleys and Archer informs MacTavish. He orders Roach to use flash-bangs if he has to. 

          "I see him!" Roach shouts. "He's climbing on the rooftops!"

          "We have a shot at his leg, Captain!" Ghost says. 

          "Do not take the shot! We need him unharmed!" MacTavish answers. 

          Ghost huffs in frustration and Roach struggles into the upper parts of the Favela. 

          Roach, he's comin' up through the alley to your left! 

          Ghost's gravelly voice pipes up over the comes just as Archer sees Roach come into the open below the building where Rojas is running. 

          He's gonna get away!

          No he's not. MacTavish answers. 

          Archer sees the glass spray out from the side of the house as Nikolai makes another pass. MacTavish grabs ahold of Rojas and they sail towards a car below. There's another spray of glass and, if Archer isn't mistaken, an unhealthy couple of cracks and a pop that echo through MacTavish's receiver. 

          Archer listens to Ghost as he attempts to call in a pick-up, which Command won't provide. Ghost'll have their heads later. Archer laughs and Toad gives him a funny look. 

          "Nothing. I'll tell ya' later."

          "I can pick you up if you get to the LZ!" Nikolai shouts. "I can only land if you keep the militia under control!"

          "We'll take care of it, just be there, sharpish!"

          Archer packs up his rifle and sits down on a bench as Nikolai swings the plane around. A couple of stray RPGs try to hit them on the way by and Nikolai tells Archer and Toad to hold on. 

          Now that he's not looking through his scope, Archer sees Lewis's face again and he tries to block it out. He couldn't just let her out of his sight, that's not who he is. He was in the plane to watch their backs, and he was furious when Lewis told him to lose sight of her. Now, he's wishing he'd listened so he wouldn't see the blood all over her every time he closes his eyes. She had to have known something could happen to her.

          Nikolai is coordinating with the team as he flies overhead and Archer decides to take the co-pilot's seat so he can see what's going on. "I see you do not have everything under control! I cannot land, Captain!" Nikolai lets off flares and turns the plane. Archer ducks in his seat as an RPG goes right up in front of them. Looking over at Nikolai, he sees that the Russian is unfazed. 

          "Just get to the secondary LZ! We'll meet you there!" MacTavish shouts. 

          "I trust you have a way to get there, yes?" Nikolai smirks.

          MacTavish grumbles something that Nikolai just laughs about as he steers the plane towards the edge of the buildings. He sees MacTavish and his team make a leap across a big gap and takes a calming breath.

          "Roach!"

          Uh-oh. 

          Archer turns around and sees everyone but Roach in the back of the plane. He looks for him as Nikolai gets higher. "Roach! Roach!"

          MacTavish points out something. "There he is! Roach! You've got to move, mate! They're comin' for ya'! Dozens of them! You've gotta get to the rooftops!"

          Archer can only hope that that kid is moving because Nikolai taps one of his gauges. "I'm running on fumes here! If I don't leave in the next thirty seconds, we'll have to go!"

          MacTavish yells for Archer to come to the back and he rushes to MacTavish's side. "I need you to spot a path!" Roach hits the rooftops. "Roach, we see you!" Archer points out directions and MacTavish barks out orders to Roach.

          MacTavish throws the ladder out the door and Roach jumps for it. He's smart enough to get himself tangled up in it so he doesn't fall and Roach holds on for dear life. MacTavish pulls the ladder back into the plane and gets a trembling Roach unraveled. He's bleeding from a wound in his arm and his breathing is a little less than healthy. He still seems to be a little dazed and Archer kneels next to him, checking for a concussion. 

          MacTavish chuckles. "Roach. You need to get a little better at hanging onto things."

          Roach offers a weak laugh in return. "Does that include- my sanity?"

          MacTavish smiles, but then he sees Ghost press his back to the side of the plane and leaves Archer to help Roach. Then something occurs to Archer. 

          What are we gonna tell Dunn?

Chapter Text

          MacTavish's POV

          Ghost stands in front of Roach's door, a hesitant hand raised to knock. He sighs and lowers it.

          "How is he?" MacTavish asks, coming up behind him

          Ghost shakes his head. "As well as can be expected."

          "Does Dunn know?"

          "What do you think?"

          Nodding, MacTavish stands next to him. "He didnae take it well, I'm guessing?"

          "You could say that." Ghost shakes his head again. "Roach says he doesn't blame me. I don't know if I believe that or not. Hasn't spoken a word since he got back."

          "Maybe he just needs some time. They were very close."

          "I know it." Ghost answers. "I just don't think any of 'em were prepared for that."

          MacTavish makes a small noise. "Ghost, none of us were prepared." Looking at Roach's door, MacTavish turns his eyes to the ground. "She's still around, ya' know?"

          Ghost huffs. "Everyone is in bed by ten. Mess is neat n' clean. The medical building is still disorganized. Just the way she liked it." a short smile highlights his mask. "She's still here, alright."

          "Knock, Ghost. Tell Roach that."

          "Alright, mate. I'll see you at mess."

          "We're havin' it early today. You got about a half-hour."

          "Brunch, then. Right on." Ghost answers, knocking softly on Roach's door.

          "Yeah?"

          "Come on, kiddo. Open up."

          "One sec."

          MacTavish his opportunity to leave and heads back to his room. Really wishing for a good brew, he heads to the mess hall for the coffee pot. What he doesn't expect to see when he gets there is Archer with a bottle on Lagavulin in front of him, three-quarters gone. Archer seems to be alone, so there's no way he had help. 

          "Archer?"

          "Captain." Archer acknowledges, taking another swig. "Care to join me?"

          MacTavish slides the bottle away from him. "It looks like you've had enough, mate."

          Taking a long look at Archer, MacTavish sees that his eyes are bloodshot, and his face is gaunt. It seems like he's been at it awhile.

          "Yeah, probably so." Archer rubs a hand over the side of his face.

          "Were ye' close?"

          Archer shrugs. "She asked me for something, before..." he closes his eyes. "Nothin' I can do now."

          "It's a mite unlike you to drink alone, Archer." Archer shrugs again and MacTavish sits down next to him. "You know, I think I may join ye after all."

          Archer looks at him and MacTavish takes a long drink. It burns on the way down and Soap approves of the taste. He sits with Archer for a little while and only turns when the boys start filterin' in for mess. It's too quiet, and MacTavish takes another drink before standing and greeting his men. 

          Scarecrow and Ozone are talking in quiet tones. Chemo and Poet are the only ones who seem a little lively, but they didn't know any of their dead all that well. Nikolai sits down next to MacTavish with a weary sigh. Roach and Ghost come in together and Ghost pats Roach's back before joining MacTavish's table. 

          Glancing around, MacTavish sees three distinct groups. His own table, the ones more likely to drown their sorrows in silence. Scarecrow, Ozone, and Rook are talkers, while Roach, Chemo, and Toad are depressed. MacTavish had already announced their deaths when they'd hit home, and since then, no one has been in a good mood. Soap thought Ghost would be the first to lock himself away, but he'd underestimated him. Again.

          He started helping the others with it, and Soap can't help but feel a little proud. Full of his own flaws and demons, just like Lewis, and he put them all aside. MacTavish can't help but feel like Lewis brought this on. That only makes him more proud that Lewis had been a member of his team, as short a time as it was. 

          MacTavish hadn't been all too familiar with Royce or Meat, but he did know that both were fiercely loyal. Roach hadn't said anything about how Royce died. The two had been best friends, aside from Dunn, for a long time. They knew each other before the Rangers. Meat was from the Militia, so he hadn't been popular when he'd been assigned to Shepard's bunch in Phoenix. Lewis had been nice to him, and the two had talked a lot in their spare time. 

          MacTavish's phone rings and he stands up, pushing the bottle towards Ghost and Nikolai and moving away from the table. He puts a comforting hand on Archer's shoulder on his way by. "Don't let him drink anymore o' this stuff."

          He pushes the door open to the rec room and sits down on the couch. He answers the phone. "MacTavish."

          "Captain." Shepard greets. "I was sorry to hear about Lewis and the others. You have my condolences."

          "Thank you, sir. And?"

          "And I'm calling to let you know that the Rangers are shipping out tomorrow to Virginia. We've got an asset trapped there, code-name Raptor."

          "What do you need us to know that for?"

          "I'm sending the data over now. Go take a look at your computers."

          MacTavish walks back through mess after putting Shepard on hold (rude, but he's been wanton to do that since everything started goin' awry) and gestures for Ghost to come with him.

          When they reach the computer room, Ghost slides back into his rolly chair and graces the keyboard until he finds what he wants. MacTavish takes the General off hold. 

          "Ghost is pullin' the file up now."

          Ghost growls at the password on the file after typing in wrong twice in a row. When MacTavish sees what's in it, he tilts his head. 

          "Oilrigs, sir?"

          "The Russians are using them as SAM-sites. Until we get rid of them, they'll keep us out of their business."

          "I'll let the team know."

          "We'll lend you some extra hands from Op For. Keep safe out there, Captain."

          "Roger that. We'll be in the air ASAP."

          MacTavish hangs up abruptly before Shepard can and he smiles. Been wanton to do that too. Ghost keeps typing even after MacTavish hangs up.

          "Somethin' amiss, Ghost?"

          "Yeah. There's a file missin' from this laptop. It was downloaded somewhere and then erased."

          "How do ye' know that it was downloaded?"

          "There was a drive in the computer with a router to an unknown IP address. I won't be able to trace it."

          "We'll worry about it later. Come oan. We've gotta go take down an oilrig."

          Ghost gets up with one last look at the computers before leaving to go change into his gear. "Sounds like fun." 

          MacTavish throws on his vest and clips his thigh holster around himself. Ghost seems a little more distant now, and MacTavish clears his throat as Ghost fumbles with his shirt.

          Ghost doesn't answer, so Soap walks over and whops Ghost on the head. "Hey."

          "What?"

          "Somethin' on your mind?"

          "Well, I was gonna tell ya' that Roach barely touched his food, but now I'm thinkin' more about where that file could have gone and who might have deleted it."

          "After this is over, I'm gonnae give Roach a little talkin' to if he doesn't shake this."

          "He needs it. He just lost his surrogate sister, and his best friend. I'd consider talking to him whether he gets over it or not."

          MacTavish nods slowly. "So, if Archer, Roach, and Dunn are all upset over this, why aren't you, the one person who was closer to her probably than anyone else, reacting badly to this?"

          Ghost is quiet for a moment before answering. "It's what she would do. Soldier on."

          MacTavish smirks. "Aye. That she would. What did you an' Roach talk about this mornin' anyways?"

          "Mostly her." Ghost smiles. "Poor kid needs to get some sleep."

          MacTavish chuckles. "Archer too. Looked like he was in rough shape. Think we'll persuade him to stay home on this one?"

          "I doubt it."

          "Did you see how much of that bottle he downed?" MacTavish huffs. "He'll regret that later."

          "He said it was half full when he got it out." Ghost answers.

          "I'd believe him if I hadn't seen that look in his eyes."

          "I know, mate. Me too."

          MacTavish pulls on his boots and walks out the door. "See ye' at the chopper. Least Nikolai should be pleased. It's been awhile since he's flown his Little Bird."

          "We could all use a little fresh air."

Chapter Text

          Captain Price's POV

          The door to Price's cell opens and a light in shone in his eyes, waking him up abruptly. Price wearily props himself up on one hand and nearly passes out. His body is still recovering from previous beatings. They've been keeping him alive, but only enough that they can beat him the next day.

          Stubborn as ever, Price rolls onto his back. "Five more minutes, boys."

          They grab onto his dirty jacket and start to drag him out of the cell, kicking at cursing, when the floor shakes violently enough to throw his captors to the floor. Shouting starts up all around the cell block and the Russians begin to pull people from their cells. Some are less responsive than Price as they pull him up and put his hands behind his head, pushing him forwards and down the stairs.

          The lower level cells are empty for the most part aside from a few skeletons. Price looks away and tried to focus on moving. His whole body is stiff and achy, and he really starts to feel his wounds as they're jostled on the iron steps. His breathing turns into a wheeze very quickly and the floor shakes again. Closing and locking a door behind them, they lead the group from Price's cell block down another floor. 

          Price looks up as they cut through the middle of the floor to the munitions room above his head. If only. One of their escorts stops as they move through a tunnel and cuts the power. It doesn't take long for Price and a few others to stumble and he's rewarded for his clumsiness with a stunning hit to his cheekbone. Down another staircase, and through another tunnel, Price is out of breath and sweaty. He sinks against the wall for support, his vision tilting dangerously. 

          Price growls at his captor as they pull him up and his ribs complain. "Bugger off!"

          They hit him again and split away from the rest of they group, leading him into a circular chamber. They throw Price into a chair and he winces, cradling his ribs and trying to get this eyes to focus. In their panic they forget to tie him down and Price huffs in disappointment at their arrogance. If these idiots knew how to do their job, this might not have ended so bloody. Price is about to get up when the ceiling starts to crumble. Large chunks kill two out of three of his escorts, and the third is impaled by falling rebar. Price watches the leader of their little posse look around in horror with satisfaction. 

          He comes close and Price kicks a leg out. I'm gonna be sore in the morning for this. The man is so surprised than he turns around to face him. Price punches him in the face a recoils from the pain. Price still landed it pretty hard and he spins around like he's going to fall over. Not if I have any say in it. Price wraps his chains around his captor's throat and pulls hard. His eyes widen in shock as the wall explodes and one man makes his way through the wall. 

          I am not getting captured by someone else, just so they can do the same thing that these guys do! Price rushes forwards, grabbing the man's gun and pushing the newcomer to the floor with a heavy punch. Aiming at the kid's face, Price pants. 

          "Drop it." a calm voice growls. 

          Price looks at the pistol leveled on his head and past it to the person holding it. "Soap?" he asks, his chest heaving. 

          I don't believe it. I have to be dreamin'

          "Price?" 

          Countin' my blessins' I suppose. 

          "I believe this belongs to you, sir." Soap says, smiling a little.

          Price looks at the gun in his outstretched hand, taking it. Seeing that it's his own, Price looks at it for a moment. Good to know Soap's been taking care of it. If he were a lesser man, he'd probably cry right about now.

         "Who's Soap?"

          He's pulled from his reverie by the ceiling breaking and falling faster. Bloody 'el, Soap. Didn't even tell your team about your call-sign?

          "Shepard! We got 627!"

          Price doesn't know what he thinks of Shepard being in charge of this team, but he's too busy running out of the collapsing room to care. The kid that Price hit in the face is up and running, but he turns down a different hallway before rejoining them. Price follows Soap towards a chopper and Price sees the Little Bird. Nikolai, you sly dog. Made it into the 141. 

          Price grunts in pain and Soap glances at him before the roof starts to cave. "Go back! Go back! We'll find another way out!"

          "Sure hope you know what you're doin' Soap!" Price smirks. 

          "Piss off, old man." Soap answers, a grin in his voice.

          "Rude. That any way to speak to your Captain?"

          Soap steers Price and the other two into the tunnel that the kid had previously checked out. "I suppose not."

          "This is a dead end!" the kid shouts. 

          "Roach, tell me you didn't." Soap calls. 

          "I checked it while we were running, that's all. I promise!"

          Roach, eh? Curious name.

          Soap reaches the middle of the room and peers up through the hole. A falling beam crashes through and Soap slips to the side, nimble as ever. He looks specifically at where Roach was and Price turns. Poor kid wasn't so lucky.

          "Roach!" 

          Price sees that Soap is near frantic about this kid and digs down to him. "Looks like he's alright!" Price answers. "Whatever you're gonna do, Soap, do it fast!"

          Soap aims up through the hole and then puts hand to his ear. "They saw it! Get over here!"

          Price pulls Roach from the rubble and the kid staggers but stands. "Thanks."

          "Don't mention it."

          A rope drops down into the hole and Soap hooks up to it. Price takes the offered line and clips on. The force of the winch pulling the rope makes Price's stomach drop. Price puts a hand to his chest to help steady his breathing as he hold onto the rope as tightly as he can. 

          He hears a scream below and sees Roach pulling his arms up to protect his face. "Worm!" 

          Looking up, Price sees Soap swinging easily into the chopper and prays that he has the same luck. 

          "Worm, no!"

          Price takes Soap's offered hand and waits for Roach's form to appear. The kid stumbles in and gets unhooked, waiting for Worm to come up. Price allows himself to hope, since today has been a good day, that the 'Worm' made it out of the explosion. Soap and Roach pull him into the SPIE rig, and he's coughing up smoke.

          Price sighs in relief and sinks onto a bench to rest. Soap looks at him in concern.

          "We got a medic on this thing?" Soap asks, looking around. 

          "Don't worry about me, son. Take care o' your man." Price takes a sharp breath, waving him off. "It's good to see you."

          "You too, Price. You're sure you don't want a..."

          "Leave me be, son."

          Soap looks like he wants to argue, but lets it go. Price closes his eyes in silent gratitude. Never in a million years had Price expected to be rescued, especially not as the main target of a mission. He figured that he had one in about as much chance as a chicken flying.

          And it's good to see Soap too. 

          Looking at Roach, Price squints at him. "Sanderson?"

          The kid's head turns and he tilts his head. "You can call me Roach, sir."

          "You can keep your 'sir's to yourself, kid. Call me Price, or Captain. Whichever meets yer' fancy."

          Roach looks at Soap, who gives him an encouraging look. "Yes, sir." he answers, smiling. 

          Price narrows his eyes as Soap, who looks at him innocently. "What kind of operation you running here, Soap?"

          Roach suddenly starts laughing. "That's why you hit me so hard!"

          Price looks at Soap again, who smirks. "I hit you that hard because you deserved it, Roach."

          Roach sits down with a grin on his face, raising his hands. "Okay, whatever you say, Captain." snickering, Roach looks out the side of the chopper.

          "Somethin' funny, Roach?" Soap asks.

          "Soap, Soap, slippery Soap. You can't hold on, say nope nope nope." Roach chirps.

          "You think you're funny, kiddo?" Soap answers, his scarred eyebrow raising and the corner of his mouth ticking up.

          Roach closes his mouth. "No sir."

          "Good." 

          Price watches him and Roach interact and smiles. A good team, it looks like. 

          Soap holds on to the rail above his head and takes a deep breath, leaning a little out of the chopper. Price grumbles under his breath. He'd never liked it when Soap did that. It'd be just like him to break his fool neck. Price's mouth runs dry when he takes one hand off to wave at the other chopper. A few guys on the rail wave back, and Price recognizes the skull mask of Ghost. 

          He's been said to be a myth among the intelligence communities here in Russia, but Price can see that the opposite is true. May as well ask to make sure. 

          "Soap? Who is that?"

          Soap looks at Ghost and back to Price. "That's Ghost. He's my Lieutenant."

          Price remembers him, thinking briefly back on Kingfish. Roach had been there with Soap and Price himself, and Price remembers a strange man in a mask coming and taking a picture of the four of them. Price also remembers that same mask above Soap's head as he dragged him away during the mission. Price wonders if Soap knows that Ghost saved his life once before. It was a long time ago, and Soap looked a lot younger than he was at the time. 

          Price takes a long breath, wishing he had a cigar at the moment. It's been far too long since he's had one. Looking back at Soap, he sees him still leaning over the edge, hanging on with one hand. He and Ghost seem to be having their own conversation and the chopper is quiet. Price takes another breath and puts a protective arm around his ribs. Finally, Soap stops his leaning, but him sitting down on the outer rail doesn't make Price feel any better. He seems to have gotten over his fear of falling. 

          Price closes his eyes. It's good to be back where I belong.

Chapter Text

          Shepard's POV

          It's around midnight when Shepard is woken up by incessant beeping from his laptop. Pulling himself out of bed he moves over to it and blinks, ready to shut it off. 

          It had been a stroke of luck that Lewis had died. One less thing to worry about. He'd been thinking a little bit on fate, and wondered if it was meant to happen in his favor. Sure seemed like it, but Shepard wasn't one for fate. It never stuck.

          Blearily looking at his screen, Shepard taps it to make sure he's not seeing things. Suddenly awake, Shepard growls. 

          "No, no. What's going on here?"

          His screen is covered in open files, which are all downloading somewhere. Shepard tries to type but finds his keyboard inoperable. 

          "No!" Shepard snarls. 

          One of his files disappears, and then another. Shepard feels a wave of panic as the screen starts to become empty. Files downloaded. Delete All?

          Shepard tries to click 'no', but the mouse moves of its own accord and clicks 'yes'. Shepard stands and picks his laptop up by the screen, smashing it against his desk. He growls at it until all that's left is sparking wires and broken glass. His phone rings and he answers. 

          "What?" he snarls. 

          "Look at your phone, General." a masked voice responds. 

          Shepard pulls the phone from his ear and looks at it. There's a picture of two sailors in a boat with a woman before it goes blank. Weird.

          "You'll pay for this, whoever you are, wherever you are, I will find you and kill you myself." Shepard hisses.

          "Good luck.

          The line goes dead and Shepard hurls his phone at the wall. He runs a hand over his face, thinking on what to do. The hand moves to his head and runs through his thinning hair. What contacts do I have left? Shepard takes a calming breath. The HVI in the suburbsI'll have to find a way to make sure he doesn't say anything after. 

          Shepard picks his phone off the floor and scrolls through his contacts. By now, some of the Rangers should already be helping with the evac at the Washington monument, but Foley and his team are headed directly for the HVI. Calling him is risky, but if there's one of his Spetz guys in the area, Shepard should be in the clear. 

          He calls and the informant picks up. "Hello?"

          "This is General Shepard."

          "Shepard, it is good to hear from you. Do you have anyone on the way to help me out of here?"

          "My Rangers are on the way to pick you up as we speak. First I have a favor to ask."

          "Anything you need, sir.

          "I need you to find the files from the laptop you mailed me. Someone downloaded them, then deleted them from my server."

          "Sure thing. Give me a couple of minutes."

          Shepard waits with baited breath.

          "Whoever took these files did a good job hiding them, General. I don't know if I can....." the line goes blank and Shepard tries to get a response a few times. 

          He checks to location of the plane and finds it at a stand-still. So they took the plane down. Perfect.

          Shepard gets a notification to his phone and opens it, finding code running up and down the screen. They start to form words. Final piece of information, General. Algorithm. Can do no more. Patience. 

          Shepard sighs in relief. The HVI is most likely is dead, and Shepard is hoping he wiped the laptop and tossed it before the Rangers got there. 

          Sure enough, he gets a call saying that the informant is dead. He's got a briefcase with a few papers in it, but that's it. 


          

          Soap's POV

          Soap hates this. He found Price and kept Roach and Ghost alive, and that's perfectly okay. But being stuck behind a computer while the rest of his team is in the action on the ground? That is not okay. He can't protect them from here. 

          He's watching their positions carefully, but he doesn't like how far Roach is drifting. Then MacTavish loses his signal entirely.

          "Roach? Roach, do you read? Roach?" MacTavish sees the movement of his chute, so he didn't get caught on anything at least. "Price, I can barely see Roach's chute on my satellite feed. Too much interference. Do you see him, over?"

          The calm voice of Soap's mentor comes over MacTavish's receiver. "I'll find him, son. Keep an eye on the rest of your boys."

          "Thanks, Price."

          Soap shifts the camera so he can see the thermal view of the rest of his team. They seem to be right on course with Ghost at the head of the pack. At least that's right on track. 

          When they land, Soap can hear Ghost making sure everyone is accounted for. 

          "Soap. I found Roach. He appears to be intact. We're gonna head towards the sub base, over?"

          "Copy that. The rest of the team landed near Ghost, pretty far to the east." Price, as steadfast as ever, tells Soap to order Ghost and the team to continue on. "You got somethin' planned, old man?"

          Soap hears Price make a noise, but he otherwise ignores him. That's not a good sign. Soap pans back over to Price and Roach, even though the old man told him to keep an eye on Ghost. He hears Price remarking about their numbers and a dog. 

          "Dogs. I hate dogs." Soap remembers his last experience with one. It wasn't pretty. 

          Price had to put stitches in Soap's arm himself and he'd been missing a nice chunk out of his leg. That was a sucky day.

          Of course Price has somethin' to say about that. "These Russian dogs are like pussycats compared to the ones in Pripyat."

          "I'm sure back in your day, you fought bears, eh Price?" Soap snickers. 

          Price huffs. "You sayin' I'm telling campfire stories, son?"

          "Wouldn't dream of it. It's good to have you back, old man."

          "Cheeky...." Price grumbles the rest and MacTavish pans back over to Ghost. 

          All is quiet for a little while and Soap spins a few times in his chair. Price pipes up again and Soap turns back to the monitors. Mobile SAMs? That's not good. 

          "Have you found us some transport?"

          "I'm workin' on it. Out."

          

          Ghost's POV

          It has been easy to forget that Lewis is gone until Taco sprains his wrist, tripping over a branch. He turns his head to call for her before remembering that she isn't there. Right. Ghost kneels down next to him and he offers his wrist to Ghost. 

          "I'll trade you?" 

          Ghost chuckles. "I don't think so, mate. Hold still."

          Ghost's eyes widen at his bare arms. Who wears no sleeves in this kinda weather? Ghost wraps his wrist nice and snug and helps him off the ground. 

          "Don't worry. I can still shoot." Taco smirks. 

          Ghost shakes his head. "You're not my worry."

          Nope. That's that we have no real medic if we need one out here. Ghost takes a deep breath, his lungs burning with cold. Bollocks, I miss her. 

          Ozone walks the outer perimeter of their group as they continue on. Rook creeps silently along on Ghost's left and Taco has taken up the rear. Ghost is on point as they travel through the trees, and he scans the area with sharp eyes. He sees the long snout of a German Shepard poking through the brush and puts a hand up to stop his team. They close in around Ghost and he motions for them to get into the bushes as a light flashes around and the dog moves closer. 

          Two shots whisk through the man and the dog as Ghost fires. 

          Ghost and his team break through the treeline just as a predator missile smashes into a SAM-site. It was a lucky shot since the drone exploded right as the missile fired. Right on, Roach.

          "Go!" Ghost shouts. His team follows his express command and Soap warns them of friendlies coming in. Price and Roach made it through. 

          Lewis would be laughing and asking Roach if Price held his hand the whole way. Not the time, Ghost. 

          MacTavish lets the team know that AGMs are operational again and Roach rains fire down on the Russians. Soap is prattling on about how many he's killing with each hit. There's a guy who ducks behind cover and Roach opens up his laptop. 

          Ghost chuckles. "Overkill much, Roach?"

          "Middle name, Ghost. Middle name."

          Soap chuckles over the comms. "One guy? Come oan, Roach. You're not even trying.

          Ghost and Price move to the head of the group and lead them towards the sub. MacTavish tells Roach that the AGMs are on again and Roach picks the first huge target he sees over the snow fence. The chopper bursts and parts fly everywhere. The primary rotors spin end over end in the air and stabs into the roof of a warehouse. 

          "That got their attention! You've got about two minutes before that submarine dives!" MacTavish answers. 

          Ghost nudges Roach with an arm. "That's the way it's done."

          Roach seems to blush under the praise and Ghost rolls his eyes. They meet very little resistance up to the overhang and then it gets messy. Soap keeps arming the missiles as fast as he can manage and Roach is thinnin' 'em out with each shot. Ghost will give him that. He's a pretty good shot with a predator drone. 

          Price splits off shortly after and Roach and Ghost get up on top of the building to cover him. The operation starts to go pear-shaped as the silo doors open up. 

          "Price! Do you read?! Price, the silo doors are opening! I repeat, the silo doors are opening!!!" 

          "Good." Price answers.

          "What? Wait - wait, Price! No! We have nuclear missile launch! Missile in the air! Missile in the air!! Code black! Code black!"

          "The hard part ends here." Price says. 

          What have you done, Price? Soap trusted you. I thought I could.

Chapter Text

          Ghost's POV

          Back at the base, Ghost watches MacTavish pace around the room. Price is leaning against a table, acting as if he's done nothing wrong. Is it wrong to hope that MacTavish rips his old man a new one?

          Looking around the mess hall, it's empty, besides Ghost, MacTavish, and the man in question. Price is waiting for Soap to gather his thoughts, as if he's used to it. Ghost would usually smile, or say something, but MacTavish is in no mood to be messin' around. 

          "What did you think you were doing?" Soap finally says, anger evident in his voice. 

          Price raises an eyebrow. "I was protecting you."

          "By nuking the US? What good could come of that?"

          "Soap, you don't understand yet, but I'll explain if you just give me a chance." 

          Ghost stands by idly, his mask hiding his thoughts on each man. MacTavish looks to Ghost for a little support and Ghost thinks about shrugging. Ghost doesn't know anything about the guy, but the only way there seems to be is to hear him out. Ghost nods and MacTavish turns back to Price. 

          "Let's hear it, then. Why would you not tell us what you were doin'?"

          Price smirks. "You know why, Soap. You'd have thought I was crazy."

          "Price, I trust you. And I'm having a hard time believing that you sacrificed the safety of my team to bomb some Russians." 

          Price huffs and Ghost wants to smack the guy. "Your team would have ended up risking their necks no matter what I did, son. But you'd be fighting the Russians a whole heckuva lot longer." Price crosses his arms. "What do you expect me to say, Soap? That I'm sorry?"

          "If not to me, then my team, because you put them in more danger launching that missile-"

          "First of all, it was an EMP. Second, why are you so worried about your team? They came back alive, so they can obviously take care of themselves."

          MacTavish rubs a hand over his face. "An EMP?" Soap runs a hand over his Mohawk with a frustrated sigh. "You think I care what you launched?" he says quietly. "You used my team. You used me."

          Price looks pained for the first time this morning, and Ghost smirks. "Okay. Fine, Soap. Since it seems to be your goal here, I'm sorry. But I'm trying to protect you. I never lied about that." 

          Ghost growls low in his throat. Don't tell MacTavish what he wants to hear if you don't mean it.

          "Ghost, I need you to leave."

          Ghost blinks and opens his mouth to argue when MacTavish looks at him. How in the bloody 'el did Price deny this man anything? 

          As soon as the door is closed behind Ghost, he hears their voices start to carry. It wouldn't be hard to eavesdrop, but Soap had told Ghost to leave. Wandering over to their quarters, Ghost suddenly finds himself in Archer's room. Oh, bollocks. 

          Thankfully, the young sort-of Brit isn't in the room. He's still got a slight accent, and he uses the same words that Ghost does, but he sounds more American. 

          He looks at Lewis's side of the room with a strange sense of longing that he hasn't really experienced before. Her being gone hurts more than he wants to admit. With a heavy breath, he sits down on her bed. It still smells of her, ever so faintly. He turns a lies on her bed, staring up at the ceiling. He can still hear her giggling at him as he turns the side of his face into her pillow. 

          Shaking his head at himself, he gets up. What am I? Some lovestruck pup? Even if I was, it's too late now. Ghost, ever the self-loathing type, thinks wryly. She sure got my nickers up in a twist though. MacTavish did warn me, time and time again, not to let her go.

          Giving himself a shake, Ghost pulls himself towards her nightstand to grab the picture of him and Lewis from her drawer. Holding it gently between two fingers, he goes to his room to change. May as well hit the gym while MacTavish finishes up his arguing with Price. 

          The worst of it is, Ghost is starting to feel like a time bomb, ready to release all of its pent-up pressure. He doesn't like the feeling. Not that he likes feeling in general, because if he didn't he wouldn't feel a prick of hurt at being kicked out of the room. He wouldn't have to think about Lewis and how she gave him butterflies in his stomach like he'll never feel again. 

          An unbidden thought crosses his mind on the way towards the gym. He's walking through the long hallway that leads around mess when he thinks of the version of Lewis and MacTavish that he hallucinated while in Russia. Ghost's breathing picks up as he remembers the things they said, and the things they did.

          Before he knows it, he's scrambling back into a corner, panting. Tears build in his eyes as he flashes back to the old house in Russia. He ducks his head and curls into himself, starting to hyperventilate. No, no this can't be happening. What if all this wasn't real? Oh no. No. I never left.


          MacTavish's POV

          Stubborn old man. 

          MacTavish can understand why he did it, but that doesn't make him any less angry. Ghost hadn't been buying into it when Price said he was sorry. He was being overly protective, and MacTavish would never have gotten through to Price that way. As it is, Price finally admitted to making a mistake, and they managed a short phone call of apology to Shepard before the phone went dead. Huh, forgot to charge it earlier, I suppose. 

          It's started, son. The end of the war. 

          MacTavish shakes his head. All this, and Price expects it to be over because of one giant EMP. Soap has put his faith in Price for years, and he's not about to go and call the old man crazy. Especially since he was right. Taking away their technology before they could finish the fight was smart, as hesitant as MacTavish is to admit it after what Price could have cost them. 

          He doesn't want to think of what will happen when that thing detonates. It will nae be good. 

          With Price reinstated, Shepard let him stay with the 141, and that's probably for the better. Walking towards the gym for a long workout, MacTavish rubs his neck. It's already been a long day, and he'll most likely go a few rounds with a punching bag to relieve some stress. 

          Except when he gets there, Ghost is huddled by the door, smaller than MacTavish has ever seen him. "Ghost?"

          He's non-responsive, and MacTavish kneels next to the panicked young Brit. His breathing is too fast and he's shaking like a leaf. 

          Something akin to pity tries to surface, but MacTavish stifles it. When Ghost snaps out of this, the last thing he'll want is pity.

          "Ghost?" Soap tries again. 

          This won't end well, but alright. MacTavish rests a hand on Ghost's shoulder and he yelps, latching onto his wrist and lashing out with a weak fist. MacTavish winces as Ghost's sharp knuckles hit the side of his head, but he doesn't let go. Ghost looks up at him, and Soap can see his petrified blue eyes behind his glasses. 

          "Get away." Ghost whispers. "Please, no. Don't touch me!" Ghost swings again, and Soap lets the hit connect.

          "It's alright, mate. You're at base. There's nothin' to fear."

          MacTavish puts a hand on Ghost's head to take off his mask, and Ghost whines in fear. "Don't." Ghost tries to push him away.

          "Steady, Ghost. I'm not gonnae hurt ye'." 

          Pulling the mask off, MacTavish sees Ghost swallow. Ghost shakes his head as MacTavish nears, throwing another punch. Ghost lands a couple more, but Soap isn't about to leave him alone.

          "It's alright." MacTavish says quietly. 

          The look in his eyes is fearful and apprehensive, but he also looks as if he wants to believe what Soap is saying. 

          "Let me ask you somethin', eh Ghost?"

          Ghost immediately shakes his head and his breathing gets faster. That wasnae the right thing to say.

          "Come here." Ghost looks up. "Simon, come oan." Soap looks at him pleadingly.

          He takes a few more shaky breaths and looks MacTavish in the eyes. "Soap?"

          MacTavish drops his head in relief and smooths a hand over his Mohawk.. "That's it, mate." Soap rubs his scar and Ghost watches the movement suspiciously. "That's good."

          MacTavish wraps an arm around Ghost's shoulders and Ghost seems to calm down. "Soap?"

          MacTavish chuckles. "I really wish you wouldnae call me that, but yes?"

          "Thank you." 

          "Don't mention it, mate."

          Soap sits next to him for awhile in silence, letting Ghost get fully calmed. 

          "Care to go a few rounds?" MacTavish says quietly. 

          "Price makin' life difficult, mate?"

          "From day one." MacTavish chuckles. 

          Ghost laughs too and he seems to be improving quickly now. "I think I could go a few."

          Helping Ghost up, MacTavish opens the door to the gym, intent on actually working out. 

          "I guess I owe you a few free shots, eh mate?"

          "You don't owe me a thing." Soap answers. 


          August 15th, 8:37 PM

          Data Located: Caucasus Mountains

          Shepard smiles at the screen of his phone. Finally.

Chapter Text

          Corporal Dunn's POV

          "Dunn, talk to me!" Foley shouts. 

          "I'm okay!" Dunn pants. 

          Dunn and the others fight as long as possible while Wade rustles through the wreckage for Ramirez.

          "I found him!" Wade shouts. "He looks okay!"

          Foley sighs in relief. "Get him out of there!"

          Dunn wipes blood out of his vision that's coming from a cut over his eye. Dunn was on the verge of freaking out about fifteen minutes ago. But now the chopper is on the ground after being shot down and he's nearly out of ammo. 

          After helping Ramirez out of the chopper, Dunn looks out on the surrounding hostiles. This is so not good. 

          Dunn shouts in pain as he takes a shot to the shoulder, but that's nothing compared to his fear as one of the enemy birds appears in the sky. Scrambling away from it as it hurtles bullets towards them, Foley grabs onto his arm. Even as Dunn stifles a cry of pain, Foley doesn't let go. 

          "We've gotta move!"

          Ramirez looks around, still dazed. "Wade is down."

          "There's too many of 'em!" Dunn shouts, holding his shoulder.

          Dunn grimaces and risks a glance above the little rock wall. An explosion in the sky pulses outwards and seems to go right through everything. The enemy helicopter's light flicks off and it spins out of control. Sandler manages to get the door open to the chopper and Ramirez stumbles out. 

          "What's going on?!!" Dunn screams.

          "Get off the street! Get off the street, go!" Foley commands loudly.

          Dunn doesn't need to be told twice and he's booking it towards Foley. McCord joins them at the same time as Ramirez. Another heli smashes a still BTR right in front of Dunn and he gasps on surprise. 

          "This isn't good man! Whoa!" Dunn almost falls on his face, but steadies himself with an arm. 

          "Keep moving!" Foley orders. "Don't stop!"

          Ranger finds his way towards them as Dunn curses out loud. "What's going on?"

          "EMP!" Dunn responds, barely keeping a lid on his panic. His eyes widen in fear as a helo lists towards the building. "Look out!!"

          Snagging Ramirez, Dunn yanks him inside the building as the helicopter crashes in front of them. 

          Dunn takes a panicky breath and starts to talk to himself. "What are we gonna do?" he gets more hysterical as he goes. "What the hell are we gonna do now, man? Russians got us outnumbered, shit's fallin' from the sky. We're screwed man, we're totally-"

          "Get a grip, Corporal! Our weapons still work, which means we can still kick some ass."

          Dunn swallows thickly and nods. Foley moves to go outside and Dunn stays on his six even after being told to stay put. There is no way they're losing Foley after all this. 

          "It's over. We still have a war to fight, boys."

          Dunn chuckles weakly. "Unless you guys feel like staying back and making margaritas?"

          Ramirez coughs. "We wish, man. We wish."

          Dunn aims up on a truck and finds his sight to be out. "Might red dot's not workin'. What about you guys?" It's way too quiet out here.

          He gets a few head shakes in response and Dunn tries to temper down his freak-out. He takes a deep breath and nausea rolls over him. His ribs are still a little sore, and he's still losing blood from his shoulder. Ramirez helps Dunn right himself as he leans over. 

          "You okay, man?"

          "I don't feel too great. I'll be fine."

          "Dunn, take point." Foley says. 

          "Hooah."

          Dunn takes an uneasy breath before moving up. They approach an old brick building and an unknown man stumbles out. Dunn raises his weapon.

          "Star!"

          No response. 

          "Star, or we will fire on you!" Dunn has already had enough of this, and he doesn't need anyone getting the drop on him. 

          "I don't remember the damn countersign, alright? I'm just a runner, don't shoot!"

          Foley puts a hand on Dunn's shoulder, and his calm demeanor is a little contagious. Dunn takes a breath and lowers his weapon. 

          "The proper response would be 'Texas', soldier. What've we got?" Foley smiles. 

          Dunn would like to take a short minute to gather himself, but the 'runner' starts running again. "Where are you goin'?"

          "To tell everyone else! Get to Whiskey Hotel! Go!"

          Tell everyone else what? Right. Task Force. 

          Foley orders them to move out and Dunn winces as he situates his wounded shoulder. McCord looks at him in concern and Dunn attempts a reassuring smile. McCord looks far from convinced. 

          Dunn sighs with a wince and gives up. Grabbing more ammo from the handy-dandy ammo crate, Dunn hustles up the stairs to check on the downed Ranger. 

          "He's a goner."

          Dunn sweeps the main room. "Clear."

          He holds back a shout of pain as Ranger brushes past him to open the door. He says the callsign as he opens the door, but he's quickly gunned down. Dunn presses against the wall as Foley throws in a flashbang. Ignoring the uncomfortable position for his shoulder, Dunn peers through a hole in the door and fires at the first tango he sees. Following Foley through the door, Dunn opens fire across the room. Ramirez throws a grenade and takes out a guy behind a desk. Dunn cuts through an office and keeps low. 

          Reminds me of my first mission with Allen. Except this is a long ways from history class.

           Moving into another room of cubicles, Ramirez takes point and lets bullets fly. Dunn takes a moment to groan at the stabbing pain in his shoulder. McCord nudges him forwards and Dunn swipes at the sweat gathering on his brow. 

          "You sure you're okay, man?" 

          "I am..." Dunn takes a sharp breath. "Just peachy."

          Dunn joins Foley at the edge of the building. McCord nudges Ramirez in Dunn's peripheral vision and motions his head towards Dunn. Ramirez seems to sense that Dunn knows what they're talking about and shakes his head. McCord glares at Dunn, who looks away. 

          "We goin' out there, Sarge?"

          "That we are, Dunn."

          Foley jumps down and Dunn follows right after. To say his shoulder isn't happy with his actions is a bit of an understatement, but if Dunn shows weakness now, McCord looks like he's gonna go all mother hen on him. Dunn bites his lip and soldiers on. If Lewis were here, she'd have patched him up. Dunn stops his mind from going down that road. He's already angry enough on that front, and just after making nice with the 141 too. Figures. 

          There's some Russians standing on top of a tank and Dunn listens to what they're saying. Nothing he understands, but Ramirez is translating quietly in the background. There are people stuck inside the tank. 

          The Rangers pick the guys off the top and Dunn, being a medic with an ingrained urge to help people, speaks up. "What about the guys inside?"

          Foley huffs. "What about 'em?"

          That's cold, Sarge. "They're still people."

          "Don't argue with me, Dunn." Foley growls. "Those 'people' will come out and kill us if we open that door."

           Dunn blinks solemnly in the pouring rain and shivers as icy water trails down his back. 

          "I got our six." McCord whispers.

          "It's clear. I don't know what's worse, man. Dodging falling helicopters or freezing my ass off in this monsoon." Dunn tries for a light chuckle. 

          It seems to do the trick and the group brightens. "Hooah." 

          Dunn smiles. 

          "I got movement up ahead."

          "Think their friendly? Like puppies, or something?" Dunn asks. 

          Foley shakes his head. "Quiet Corporal. Hold your fire." he looks around. "Cover me. Star!" he looks behind him at his team. "Keep close."

          "Say Texas." Dunn begs quietly. 

          Gunfire erupts from the bus and Dunn shouts out a warning. It all happens quickly, and by the end, Dunn is shivering. He's not sure which of his issues is causing most of it, but blood loss has to be a fair contributor. And the freezing water that's got him soaking wet isn't helping. 

          The walk into the Eisenhower Building and shake the loose water off their backs. 

          McCord grins. "Feet dry."

          With nearly chattering teeth, Dunn chuckles. "Hooah."

          Foley makes Ramirez take point and he heads down the stairs at a fast pace. Dunn jumps a little as Private Justin brushes by. He'd forgotten that kid was here. 

          Dunn follows as fast as he can and stops in front of the huge door, dripping water everywhere. He smiles as Justin nerds out over the door and Foley answers his stupid questions. 

          "Dunn, get the door."

          Dunn grabs ahold of the heavy door and it creaks on its hinges. Peering inside, Dunn winces with sympathy. 

          "Man, this place is toast. Hope they got out in time."

          Ramirez laughs. "I'd like butter with my toast, please."

          Dunn jumps into the bunker with a smirk. "Only if you're cooking."

          Ramirez follows him and gives him a friendly nudge. "That depends on if you'll get your lazy ass into Shepard's tent to ask for bread."

          Dunn tries hard not to frown. It probably would be funnier if Dunn actually had any desire to talk to the high ranking general. 

          "Even if I did ask, he wouldn't do it." 

          Foley moves to the front of the group. "Now is not the time boys. We're Oscar Mike."

          Dunn takes a step after him and almost stops, biting his lip. He squeezes his eyes shut as the sudden burst of pain passes. McCord spares Dunn a glance as he walks next to him.

          "You gonna be okay?" he whispers.

          "I'll be okay as soon as we retake the white house." Dunn answers, staring straight ahead. There's no way the Russians are keeping it for long.


          Picking himself off the ground, Dunn hides behind a branch. High ground, my ass. Dunn looks through the scope of the rifle stationed next to him, picking off the machine gunners behind the sandbags. 

          His vision blurs at he aims to shoot at a runner and pain shoots up behind his eyes. Dropping away from the gun, he sneaks along the bushes with Ramirez covering him. McCord and Foley and watching their six and Justin is picking guys out of the second floor. At least one of our unit is a trained sniper. 

          Ramirez is taking out their search lights one by one. Dunn pushes Justin down beside a bush just in time to save him from a tango to their front. Tackling him, Dunn wrestles with him until he has the advantage, which is waning with every movement. Dunn finally shoots him, but he rolls off, leaning into the grass for a long moment. Dunn groans and holds his side for a couple seconds before gaining his feet. 

          Ramirez drags him back to the ground, ducking behind a truck as a soldier fires an AK over their heads. Dunn's eyes water as his shoulder hits the hard metal and he bites his lip again, choking back a shout.

          Dunn gasps instead and Ramirez looks at him with worry. Shaking his head, Dunn gets up. "Don't worry about me. Worry about them." he gestures to the rest of the team as they push into the building. 

          Entering the oval office, Dunn looks around. The place is empty. He hears something though and moves towards the wall, peering at the edges of a painting. Ramirez gives Dunn a funny look. 

          "What? Tell me you don't hear that." Dunn growls. 

          Ramirez raises his hands in surrender and Dunn pulls the painting from the wall. Dunn gasps in surprise. 

          "Dunn, get the door!" Foley looks at him. "Dunn!"

          "Sarge." Dunn answers. We're gonna get blown up. "Are you reading this?"

          "That's why we gotta go! Now get the door!"

          "Roger that." 

          Dunn shoots the door and ducks in cover as bullets spray around them. 

          "We got less than two minutes before they flatten the city!" Foley shouts. "We gotta get to the roof and stop 'em! Let's go! Let's go!"

          The seconds seem to fly and Dunn moves quickly, his pain forgotten as adrenaline pushes through his system. Foley kicks a door open after Ramirez takes out a couple of hiding Russians. Two of a kind. Dunn chuckles to himself. 

          Before they know it, they've got 30 seconds and Dunn is rushing up the stairs. 

          "Use your flares!!" Foley shouts.

          We're gonna die! We're gonna die! Ramirez strikes his flares against the wall. He and Justin frantically wave them in the air.

          Their abrupt change in plans rings through the comms. "We got a countersign! Abort mission! Good to see you boys!"

          Dunn closes his eyes in relief and sinks against the wall. Justin and McCord lean next to him.

          McCord wipes some water from his face that Dunn ignores. "So, Moscow next? Ready for a road trip?"

          "Couldn't be more." Dunn answers, panting. "We're gonna burn it to the ground when we get that far."

          Foley walks by and rests a hand on his medic's head for a few moments. "When the time is right, Corporal. When the time is right."

          He tilts his head against the wall and gulps in air. 

          Justin smirks. "Maybe this is premature, but, are we there yet?"

          Ramirez turns and stumbles. Dunn is on his feet in less than a second and by his side. "You okay?"

          "I'm good. Just took a couple of bullets in various places, and I might be slightly shocked. You should go sit back down. You look like you're gonna pass out."

          "Only if you come with." Dunn answers, nearly crying with relief. 

          "Agreed."

          McCord looks a little shocked himself at Dunn's sudden energy. "Do we have anyone besides Dunn with medical expertise? You're lookin' pretty pale, pal."

          Foley looks at him and runs a scrutinizing glance over him. Dunn's chest heaves with exhaustion and his shoulder hurts, but he's otherwise okay. At least in his mind.

          "Come here, Dunn." Foley says quietly. "Take a break, Ramirez. Find some coffee around here."

          Dunn moves towards Foley and the Sarge pulls him over into a quiet corner. 

          "You still got your kit, Dunn?"

          Dunn nods and pulls it off the strap that keeps it on his back. 

          "Alright, Corporal, get your vest off so we can get that shoulder taken care of."

          Dunn unzips it and gently drops it on the floor. He nearly cringes at the amount of blood that's caked on the inside of it. He looks at himself and realizes that it has nothing on his shirt. It's usual green color is nearly black on the left side and Foley looks at it with shocked eyes. 

          "Why didn't you say anything?"

          The rest of the team is staring at it, but Dunn is too tired to care. "I didn't know it was that bad." 

          Foley looks skeptical. "The medic didn't realize he was bleeding all over the place?" he looks at Dunn's expression. "Alright Corporal."

          Dunn, suddenly light-headed, sinks to his knees. Foley smiles and Dunn attempts to return it. "Sorry, Sarge. Blood loss is making me woozy."

          "It's okay." Foley steadies him. "You're shivering, Jake."

          "Monsoon. M'still soaked." is Dunn's only answer.

          "I can see that."

          The Sarge pulls Dunn's sleeve until he can see the wound and Dunn stares silently off to one side, his mind incredibly quiet. He barely notices when Foley starts to sew him up. Just so tired. 

          Dunn gives himself a shake when Foley snaps his fingers. "I'm awake."

          Foley chuckles. "You should take a nap, Corporal. Let's go commandeer the break room, boys. I think there was a couch down there." 

          Helping Dunn to his feet, he moves his team back down two floors and they set up camp in the lounge. Dunn ignores the ache in his side as he flops face first onto the only intact couch in the place. Sadly, it takes him a few minutes to fall asleep and he watches Ramirez and McCord drag couches from the adjoining rooms. He watches Justin make the first pot of coffee from a half-shattered pot with a smile. 

          "Betcha the water's still hot." Foley huffs, pulling a bullet out of Ramirez's arm.

          Dunn finally drifts off as the rest of the guys start slurping down the honey-colored liquid. Hope you're proud, Lewis. The Sarge finally is. 

Chapter Text

          Ghost's POV

          Ghost leans quietly against the rock of the mountain, waiting for Archer and Toad to get set up. The snipers are falling into silence as they prepare for the mission. The other boys are all in formation except Ghost, who's in charge on this one. Something isn't sitting right, and he doesn't want to go anywhere until he figures it out. 

          Soap and Price are chattering quietly, mostly joshin' each other, but he can tell that MacTavish is tense. His answers are less comments than grumbles and huffs. 

          Thinking quietly to himself, he looks at his team. It's a small group, so maybe they'll be able to keep the element of surprise for once. Fat chance, but it's worth a shot. Ghost shakes his head, looking to the front of his team. He doesn't like this. After all this time, Makarov simply lets the information they need slip? No. 

          Roach looks at him, sensing his nervousness. He smiles reassuringly, and Ghost wishes he could return it. Usually the team would be goading him for taking so long, but he just can't shake this feeling that something's about to go wrong. 

          Resigning himself to having that feeling the whole time, Ghost moves to the head of the group. If Lewis were here, she'd find some way to distract me. Not that it'd be appropriate.

          Roach taps his back with two fingers to remind Ghost to move. Ozone and Scarecrow fan out to the edges as Roach and Ghost take the middle. At least Ghost has cover in the trees. 

          "Engage Makarov on sight. An' don't let him live." He's cost us too much already.

          A mine suddenly rises up in Ghost's line of sight. "Ambush! Get down!" he shouts, dragging Roach to the grassy floor. "Move! Targets! Left side! Left side!" 

          Ghost pulls Roach to his feet and the dazed bug shoots a few rounds to the left.

          "Keep movin', kid!" 

          Ozone and Scarecrow stay fanned out and pick off the soldiers running around the flanks. The ground in front of Ghost erupts and he's kicked to the ground. Recovering quickly, Ghost pants out a warning.

          "Mortar fire! Get into the smoke." he coughs. Bollocks, that hurt.

          A shot whips past the side of Ghost's head and another one comes from the other direction, knocking the shooter flat. 

          "Cutting it a little close, Archer." Ghost says, his heart pounding.

          "That's the thanks I get for savin' your arse?"

          Ghost stabs someone in the chest and runs straight into Roach. The little bugger screams in shock and raises his weapon. Ghost puts his hand up in front of him in an appeasing gesture and turns, punching another guy and then dispatching him. Roach fires into the smoke at more men. As they come out of the smoke, Ghost frowns at the smoking craters that the Russians are crawling out of. One tries to hide behind a stump, but Ghost fires his ACR and the bullets go through it. Roach cries out in pain and Ghost looks over at him. He's got a strained look about him and he's wrapping something around his arm. 

          Ozone is covering him while Scarecrow engages a few guys on Ghost's right. Another bullet whizzes straight past Ghost and hits a man who was crawling on the ground. 

          "My apologies, mate."

          Archer huffs in response. "Now he thanks me. You see how he is, Toad?"

          "Roach, you've got two on your right." Toad answers, keeping focused. 

          Ghost laughs on the inside, but he's stopped by the fence next to the house. "Cut the chatter, boys." Ghost orders. 

          Cumulative agreement echoes through the comms and Ghost sighs in relief. 

          "Two away." Archer says.

          As he speaks, two trucks move out of the driveway of the house and Ghost shouts for his men to open fire. "Don't let them get away!"

          They almost reach the end of the driveway due to them being bulletproof when two missiles blow them up. 

          "Contact front!" Ghost shouts. "Keep pushing, mates!"

          Sniper bullets rain down on the group of guys getting out of the trucks and Ghost thanks their lovely snipers, ignoring the tickle in his left lung. He knows he's not hurt, so it must be nothing. 

          The area around the house is finally clear and Ghost notes the different points of entry. This could get messy. 

          "Roach, you and Scarecrow take the bottom floor. It'll take the top with Ozone. You two work your way back up when you're done."

          Roach nods and Ghost moves towards the door at the back of the house. He and Ozone breach and a man slips past the door frame, attempting to stab Ghost. He's stopped quickly by Ozone and Ghost clears the back room. Ozone catches a guy behind the couch and another on the balcony. Ghost makes his way into the kitchen and ducks as another guys sprays lead his way. Ghost throws a flashbang out from behind the table and pops up, taking out the stragglers. 

          Ozone shouts out that his end is clear and Ghost moves into the back room. With the last bullet in his clip, Ghost manages to stun the man waiting for him. Ghost whips him across the face with his ACR, reloads and finishes him off. Ghost moves around the back and heads up the stairs, only to get hit in the jaw with the butt of a rifle from a guy in the bathroom. He falls to the floor, but the soldier doesn't get a chance to fire off a shot before Ozone takes him out. 

          "Thanks, mate." Ghost says, rubbing his jaw.

          "No problem."

          They breach the next room and Ghost takes out the two people inside before Ozone even gets a shot off. "Clear."

          Roach finally echoes him. "The basement is clear. We had a couple who tried to escape out the door, but they didn't get far."

          Coming back down the stairs, Ghost feels that tickle in his lung again. Pushing it away, Ghost responds, seeing a data drive on the table. "Roach, get up to the main floor to copy these files."

          "Sure thing, Ghost.


          She's been tracking Shepard ever since she 'died'. Archer had promised her that he would turn a blind eye, but she knew he could never do it. If one of them died and he could have stopped it, he would never forgive himself. She had known that he would be watching.

          Her phone vibrates and she opens it up. It's her proximity alarm. Looking above her head, she sees several men parachuting to the ground. Oh no. He found it. 

          She paid off the Russians around here to keep her presence quiet and she'd left a little something in the house. It was the safest place she could hide it at the time. It holds every file, and every conversation between Haven and Crook. AKA: Shepard and Alejandro Rojas. 

          The DSM.

          Figures that Shepard would find it somehow. Probably with another one of his dirty little contacts. The biggest file in the DSM will make it difficult to get out in a timely manner if they try to take it, since it's the first file from the laptop Ghost had been working on. When she'd sent it to herself, she hadn't expected it to be that large. And in order to copy it, they'd have to download the firewall with it, which would make it near impossible to hack. 

          When the people get low enough for her to pick them off, she realizes that it's not Op For, or the Militia. It's the 141. Oh no. 

          As soon as they're below her, she starts to climb down. When she hears the mortars start to fire, she knows she's taking way too long and slides down onto a short outcrop. There's a cloud of smoke down in the valley and gunfire echoing everywhere. Peering over the ledge, she sees a small track that looks relatively easy to maneuver.

          She knew that Shepard would come for it eventually, it was only a matter of time. But she didn't know that he'd send the 141 to retrieve it. I wonder what lie Shepard came up with to get them to come. 

          It goes quiet and she picks up her pace. That's not good. The soldiers will be coming in from the hill. She looks at her phone again and checks the progress of their download. They've gotten three-quarters into the firewall already and she takes a shortcut, sliding between two trees. Checking again, the pace is picking up and she thinks about what'll happen if Shepard gets his hands on it. 

          Coming onto a rocky ledge, she spots the two snipers all ghillied-up in their chicken suits. At least that's what they've always looked like to me. She hears Archer telling them that Ozone is down, and Scarecrow after that. It's already happening.

          She comes up behind them and Archer tenses, rolling over with his sidearm aimed at her head. He freezes when he sees her face. "No. You're dead. I- I watched you die."

          "It's me, Archer. I promise!" 

          Archer's hands starts to shake and Toad turns over slowly with his sidearm out too. 

          "I'm not here to hurt you." she says, her voice shaking. "I'm here to help." she stammers until she comes up with something he'll believe. "The DSM."

          Archer pulls his hood down. "How do you know about it?"

          "That's what you're after, right?"

          Archer stands up and steadies his arm. "No. We're chasing Makarov. How do you know about the DSM?!"

          "Because I made it! Wait, Makarov? Why would Makarov be here? It that what Shepard told you?" she answers. 

          Ghost screams loud enough in Archer's headset for Lewis to hear and she looks frantically down the hill. Toad sees her worry.

          "Archer, put the gun down! It's her!"

          "I knew you'd be watching, but that doesn't matter. You need to cover Ghost and Roach or Shepard will kill them!"

          A bullet suddenly whizzes past them, taking Archer's headset with it. He gasps in surprise at the same time that another shot tears through Toad's chest. 

          "Toad!" Archer exclaims. He kneels next to him and then looks at Lewis. "Can you help him?"

          Lewis looks at Toad and she can already tell that there's nothing she can do. She shakes her head with tears in her eyes and Archer frowns. Toad gasps for a couple more seconds before going still.

          "Archer, you have to take out that sniper! I'm gonna go catch up to Ghost and Roach. If you're gonna shoot me, I'll be wide open, but if we're gonna save them, you've gotta help me." she nearly at the end of her tether and she's starting to panic as the seconds fly by.

          Finally, Archer nods and lies back down. She takes off down the hill and shoots anyone who even looks like they might pull a weapon on her. She hears the crack of Shepard's .44 Magnum, and then two more shots after and a sob rises in her throat. She doesn't have time to think about it before a mortar strike throws her back into a tree. And then it's dark. 


          Ghost's POV

          Shepard asks them if they have the DSM and Ghost quickly snaps that they have it. Now is not the time to be worrying about the stupid download. Roach groans and Ghost grabs onto his jacket, dragging him backwards. Roach picks up a dead man's gun and starts to fire into the treeline where Ghost had popped red smoke. 

          Finally, the pave low swoops in and mows the enemy down, giving Ghost a chance to help Roach stand up. He's bleeding from a couple wounds and he's got a gash on his forehead from the mortar strike that took him down. He groans again and stumbles to his knees. 

          "Ghost. Go!"

          "What kind of friend do you think I am, Roach?" Ghost growls, pulling him back up and carrying most of the poor kid's weight. Roach is fading, and fast. Ghost drags Roach towards Shepard as the hatch to the pave low opens up. 

          "Do you have the DSM?" Shepard asks, for the thousandth time.

          "Yes sir!" Ghost hisses, the tickle back. The hair raises on the back of his neck.

          "That's one less loose end."

          Shepard puts an arm around Roach and Ghost sees him move for his side. A gunshot breaks the roar of the pave low's engines and Roach gasps. He stumbles back and Ghost turns, raising his weapon. Ghost falls back in shock as the first bullet tears straight through him. Suddenly his lungs burn and Ghost barely has time to register it before another shot rings out and Ghost blacks out.

          "We're bein' attacked by Shepard's men at the boneyard! Do not trust Shepard! I repeat, do not trust Shepard!"

          He wakes up not long after to the feeling of being picked up. It hurts too much to breathe, let alone move to get away. He keeps his chest as still as possible and bites his lip to resist groaning in pain as he's tossed roughly into a ditch. Tilting his head towards Roach, he sees the bug gasping for air to no avail. Liquid drizzles over Ghost as he passes out again and he knows what's coming next. 

          He just hopes that Roach is gone before the flames eat him alive. 

          He wakes up a second time and the fire is raging around him. His lungs hurt like no other, but he drags himself onto his stomach. Roach seems to be unconscious, or dead. Groaning in pain the whole way, Ghost crawls to his feel. Ignoring the puddle of blood beneath his hands, he makes his way over to Roach and pulls on his jacket. 

          "Come on, Bug." Ghost whispers desperately. 

          It hurts to much for Ghost to care if anyone hears his pitiful wheezing or not. His only worry is getting Roach out of this fire. Ghost unzips the kid's jacket with faltering fingers and tugs it off with what little strength he has. Ghost lifts Roach over his shoulder and gains his feet with a scream of pain. Ghost gasps with tears in his eyes and, still bleeding, makes his way out of the ditch. 

          It's not twenty feet before Ghost stumbles and falls, Roach tumbling to the ground. It seems to rouse him though and Roach coughs.

          "Roach." Ghost mumbles, his vision blurring. 

          "Gh-Ghost." Roach answers. 

          Ghost drags him a little further from the ditch before Roach stops him. 

          "Sto-stop." he gasps, tears running down his face. "Ghost, you gotta stop. There's nothing you can do f-for me. You've gotta go after that- that asshole Shepard."

          "No, you've gotta stick with me, Bug."

          "I'm not gonna make it." Roach says, trembling. "Ghost. Can you do somethin' for me?"

          Ghost doesn't know what to do. "Anything, Bug." 

          Ghost groans, putting a shaking hand over his wounds. Roach reaches a hand out to Ghost and the Brit takes it, pulling Roach into a one-armed hug. 

          "Don't leave me." Roach whispers. 

          He hears voices calling for him, but he's too stunned to care, instead he wraps his other arm around Roach and holds onto the kid. "Never, bug."

          Roach nestles into him for a few seconds when someone touches his shoulder.

          He looks up and sees a familiar person, who falls to her knees when she sees Roach cradled in Ghost's arms. Ghost takes a shocked breath. 

          "Lewis."

          She moves so she can see the kid's face and he blinks at her tiredly. "See you round, Lewis. Ghost-" he chokes. "Take c-care of her."

          Ghost laughs shakily. "I will if I live through this." Ghost pulls Roach close and pulls his mask off. "I promise, little bug."

          Roach raises a shaky hand with a weak laugh. "Pinky-promise?"

          Lewis covers her mouth with her hands as Ghost wraps his finger with Roach's. Tears roll openly down his face and Lewis sobs quietly. Ghost gently lays Roach's hand on his own chest and Roach breathes his last. Ghost vision blurs and he feels light-headed. Ghost tugs Roach's dog tags over his head and slings them over his own neck. His breaths are painful now that he thinks about it again.

          That's it then. I've lasted long enough to stay with Roach. Finally, he realizes that there's another pair of hands at his back, minimizing the blood loss. 

          "Lewis, who's behind me?" Ghost whispers, his voice thick. 

          "It's just Archer. He's patching you up." Lewis answers, her hands wiping away a constant flow of tears.

          "You dizzy at all, mate?" Archer asks, his voice horribly gentle.

          Ghost nods.

          "Good. That'll be the anesthesia."

          He stuck me with a needle and I didn't even know. Lucky prat. 

          He can still feel the blood leaking under his shirt and the pain from his lung, but he's slowly fading. Ghost gently leans Roach back onto the ground and Lewis leans forward, tears and dirt streaking her face. She kisses Roach's forehead and Ghost hugs her. He's too shocked by Roach's death to care why she's alive. She's there, and she's solid, and she's warm. 

          Finally, Archer tells Ghost he needs to lie down so he can patch Ghost up in the front and Lewis helps him lean back. He's numb now and he can barely feel Lewis lay her head on his chest before he drifts off. I'll see you around, Roach.

Chapter Text

          That's one less loose end. BANG!!!

          Ghost bolts upright with a hoarse scream. It turns quickly into gasps for breath as Ghost grips his chest, groaning aloud. He leans back on the soft surface he's sitting on and pants, squeezing his eyes shut. He opens his eyes and notices that he's seeing vivid colors instead of muted ones that he sees through his sunglasses. No mask either. The room isn't all too great condition-wise, but it looks familiar. He was just in here?

          Stifling a feeling of fear, Ghost looks for a way out. There's a wide open door to his left. He'd move for it, but he's too busy groaning in pain. Still holding a hand on his chest, Ghost realizes that he's not wearing a shirt and his dog tags clink together against his hand. If they know who I am, why aren't I dead?

          Ghost notes that he's in the last room he breached with Ozone, the broken TV no longer sparking in the corner. He swallows and coughs because his throat is so dry. It also tastes a bit like blood, which is not a good sign in knowing how bad he was. He coughs again and the taste gets stronger. Is, apparently. The more he wakes up, the more pain he's in. Curling onto his side, Ghost looks around and tries to find a less conspicuous way out. There's a small window letting in a shaft of light above his head, but nothing Ghost could dream of reaching in his condition. 

          Suddenly, a person walks in the door and Ghost relaxes when he realizes that it's Lewis. She sees him on his side and smiles. 

          "You're awake. Bet you feel great right about now." she moves a bit of hair behind her ear and comes closer. 

          Ghost tries to sit up with a groan. "Oh, yes. Fantastic. Peachy, even." he leans on one elbow with a weary sigh. 

          "Ooh, you're sarcastic when you're hurt." Lewis sits down in the bed next to him and lifts the bandage over his torso. "How are you really feeling?"

          Ghost would love nothing more than to bury his feelings beneath 18 layers of sass, but he has a feeling that Lewis wouldn't respond well to that. "Like I got hit by a truck and stabbed after." he presses his face into the pillow on the bed, looking up at Lewis with one blue eye. "How bad is it?"

          She puts a gentle hand on Ghost's bare shoulder. "Well, the worst is those two bullets from Shepard. The one nearly punctured your left lung and the other nearly caused you to bleed out, but since I had Archer helping me, you came out just fine."

          "Where is he?"

          "Oh, you know. Downstairs helping the Russians mop up."

          Ghost coughs lightly and groans. "You've-ah- been working with the Russians?"

          "Are you serious right now? Of course not. Don't make me hit you in your bullet holes." she traces a threatening finger over his bandage. "I've been paying them."

          Ghost uses his free hand to grab hers. "One more question, love. How are you alive?"

          Lewis sighs. "Ah." she leans over his back to peek under the bandage there. "The inevitable question." 

          "Just tell me why. Please?" he pulls Lewis's hand gently to thread his fingers with hers. 

          "Well, as you've so keenly learned on your own, Shepard is a bad guy." she lies down next to him and looks him in the eyes. "Do you remember when we left for Rio?"

          Ghost nods. How could he forget? Lewis had just interrupted their basketball game with work. 

          "Right before then, Soap asked me to check the progress of your decryption. When I got there, there was a file that had been opened. I looked at it and I found out the identities of your code names."

          "Who were they?" Ghost asks, his voice throaty. I blame it on the dryness, Ghost tells himself, trying to ignore how close their faces are.

          "Shepard, Rojas, and Makarov."

          Ghost freezes. "Rojas? Why would he be talking to Shepard?" 

          "Shepard gave Allen up. That's how Makarov knew to leave him at the airport. Shepard sent Rojas the information on Allen, and since Rojas was one of Makarov's contacts, he told Makarov about it. Or Makarov had suspicions. I'm not sure."

          "But why fake your death?"

          "Shepard found out that I knew. Maybe he had some sort of alarm set up so he'd know, but I have know idea how. He sent me a message, threatened the team, Soap specifically. And so I copied the files to the DSM and put them in this camp. I got caught on my way in, but I managed to talk him into-"

          She doesn't get to finish before Ghost is kissing her. "Shut up, love."

          Lewis smiles into it while roving a hand through his messy hair. "You're the one- who asked."

          "Hmm." Ghost pulls back. "I suppose I was."

          Ghost feels a thrill goes through him as her light fingers find the nape of his neck. Looking into the clouded teal of her eyes, Ghost finds himself short of breath. Lewis eases him onto his back and Ghost sighs, staring up at her. 

          A thought occurs to Ghost and he's suddenly worried. "Soap? Do you know if he's alive?"

          Lewis doesn't answer, instead resting her head on his chest and curling into his side. "I think we're alone."

          Ghost frowns. "No. You know better. Soap at least made it. And the old man is stubborn as a brick wall."

          She takes a deep breath, and Ghost realizes that there's a slight rattle to it. "I just... I just keep thinking about Roach."

          Ghost closes his eyes as the blurry memory of Roach's scared face comes unbidden into his mind. Roach never deserved this. He deserved to be happy, and throwing spiders on Ozone, and running for his life. Ghost shifts his head with a long exhale. He's already shed his tears for Roach, and now it's time to end Shepard. 

          Or it would be once the pain in Ghost's chest and side subsides to a manageable level. Ghost wraps an arm around Lewis, steadying himself. Lewis tilts her head up and presses the ridge of her nose under his jaw. Strange, but not bad. 

          Quietly basking in his pain, Ghost wonders where Soap is. 

          A noise startles Ghost from the doorway and he looks up. It's a Russian soldier. Bloody 'el. Ghost reaches for the sidearm on the floor and points it at him. The Russian removes his mask and Ghost drops the gun. 

          "Archer. You twat! I could have shot you!"

          Lewis traces light circles on his chest, making him choke on a breath as Archer smiles. "Good to see you're feeling better."

          Ghost coughs, the copper taste in his mouth getting worse. He twists onto his side and heaves a few shaky breaths as Lewis rubs his back. The syrupy blood drizzles onto the pillow and Ghost wheezes an inhale. Lewis gestures for Archer to come help her and Ghost coughs again, blood puffing from his lips. 

          "Hey, just try to breath normal for me, okay?" Lewis murmurs. "There you go. Come on, Ghost. That's better."

          "Maybe not." Archer chuckles, wiping the blood away from Ghost's lips.

          Ghost closes his eyes with a huff. "Bugger off, bloody nuisance." 

          "Awww, look at him bein' all stubborn and hissy." Lewis says, still rubbing Ghost's back. "You're fine, little kitten."

          "Kitten, my- arse." Ghost smirks, his breathing finally easing. 

          He pants lightly, worn out from his struggles. Archer leaves the room for a bit, pulling the mask back over his head, looking terribly close to an enemy. As Ghost recovers, swallowing, Lewis sits back on the bed, stroking his hair gently. That feels pretty good. Blimey, my lungs just wanna shrivel up and die. 

          Drifting, Ghost closes his eyes again. The ache in his chest fades slowly, and he feels Lewis lie down next to him right before he falls to nothingness. 

 

          Archer's POV

          Slipping his mask back on, he walks out the door. After hiding his regular fatigues, Lewis tossed a set of red ones from the Russians on his head.


          With an inward snarl of disgust, he slides it on. Shaking his head, he looks at Lewis. Lucky girl didn't have to change, because she's been paying off the Russians with some magical money that apparently grows on trees. And it doesn't make it any better that one of them killed Toad, and another killed Ozone, Scarecrow. And Shepard killed Roach. 

          The Russians that are left around are currently patrolling the perimeter or doing other chores. With most of them gone, the main man, or woman, seems to be Lewis. A few of them approach her and ask questions and she gestures off to some direction or another. As far as Archer can tell, she's running the place.

          Hanging over his shoulder is a delirious Ghost. He's been murmuring things. Some about Roach, some Lewis, Shepard, and some about Roba. Every time Roba comes up, he gets a little distressed and starts squirming. Archer wishes there was something he could do, but Lewis disappeared somewhere between the hill and the house. Ignoring her absence, he struggles to keep moving uphill with Ghost. As small as he looks, he's heavy. Archer seems to be the only one uninjured out of the three of them. Not that he didn't have a few cuts and scratches of his own, but nothing compared to Lewis, who he'd taken a good few minutes to tape up her side after the mortar strike, or Ghost, with one through-and-through, which nicked his lung, and another through-and-through that he had been losing blood from rather quickly. 

          Archer works his jaw and tries to put all his square problems into a round hole. Working as well as it ever does, Archer adjusts Ghost and trudges into the house. Lewis appears out of thin air and gestures for him to follow. He's too tired to jump, and too numb to argue about somewhere safer. Gently placing him on a makeshift bed, Lewis and Archer set to work doing a better patch job. He's fairly stable once they're finished, so they leave him alone for awhile. Poor Ghost'll be feeling that when he wakes up. Toad and Roach will never wake up.

          Looking inside the fridge, Archer finds milk and a mostly whole glass and pours himself some. He barely tastes it, and what he does taste seems sour. Looking for something a little stronger, Archer pours it out the broken window and searches the cabinets. These guys are Russians, so there's bound to be some alcohol around. Shockingly, he finds a relatively nice bottle of Scotch in a high spot. 

          Rinsing out the glass, he pours a little into the bottom and gives it a taste. It burns, and that's good enough for Archer. As he pours some more into the glass, his hand shakes. 

          "Come on, Archer. At least save some for Ghost."

          Archer turns and sees Lewis standing next to him. "Now where's the fun in that when I could be drowning my sorrows?"

          Lewis frowns hard and Archer winces. "That's not funny."

          Sitting down on a stool, Archer hangs his head. "I know it." 

          Her arms snake around his shoulders. "You could probably use a good hug."

          Archer huffs. "You're a hard person to stay angry at, you know that?"

          Lewis laughs. "All part of my charm, I assure you." her head tilts towards the doorway. "Ivan, I told you that room was off-limits. What happened to that?"

          "Sorry, miss." Archer watches him scurry away.

          Shaking her head, Lewis turns to look at Archer again. "They seem to like you... miss."

          She glares at him. "Of course they like me. The only ones left are the ones that do."

          Archer works his jaw and takes a swig of the Scotch. "Started a new bunch, have we?"

          As soon as Archer's glass in on the table, Lewis's fist hits him in the face. "How dare you say that! You think that I wanted to fake my death? You think that I wanted to leave?"

          Picking himself off the floor, Archer scoffs. "Did you have to lie to everyone about it? We all thought you were dead! We mourned for you!" Archer growls. 

          "And I'm sorry! There is nothing I can do or say to change the fact that I tricked my team. But there's only so much I can do when I find out that Shepard is selling information to Rojas!" Lewis has tears in her eyes. "What do you expect me to say?"

          Archer rubs his jaw. "If you hadn't left, they all might still be alive."

          Lewis gasps, hurt clearly evident in her eyes. "If I hadn't left, Shepard would have killed Soap."

          "And yet Roach is dead. Is that a fair trade?"

          Finally the dam breaks and she sinks to the floor. "You think I don't know that Roach shouldn't have died?" she whispers, tears streaking down her face. "It should have been me!"

          Bollocks. I'm a bloody prat. Look at what I've done. "Lewis?" Archer crouches next to her. 

          "No. You're right. Roach is dead because of me."

          Putting her back to the door frame, another Russian comes inside. "Miss?"

          "Yeah?" she wipes her face with a sleeve. 

          "Are you all right?"

          She gets back up. "Yeah. I'm fine. What did you need, Kazlov?"

          Archer is surprised by the fact that she knows all their names, but then remembers who she is. 

          "The border patrol just came back and they were wondering if they could turn in."

          "Yeah. Go ahead. I don't think anyone but us is coming back here. I'll find something to eat and call you guys upstairs."

          "That's not necessary, miss. We will suffice." he bobs his head and leaves. 

          Archer huffs and gives his jaw one last rub. "I can see why they like you." he glances away from her eyes. "Look, I'm sorry."

          She looks at Archer, burrowing into his soul with her blue eyes. "Forgiven." 


          Heading down the stairs, he knows that he was wrong. So wrong. He couldn't blame Lewis for this anymore than he could blame MacTavish, Ghost or himself. Shepard is the one to go after, and Archer is going right that way once they figure out where he is.

 

 

Chapter Text

          Soap's POV

          It had been all well and good right up until it was time to land. Shepard had sent some of his Shadow Company along with them because of their small numbers and they sit quietly on the other side of the plane. Only a couple of Rangers were lent because of the small fights still going on in Washington. MacTavish has only a couple of his own members with him, but it's enough for comfort. Price and Rook.

          Now the plane is bucking as explosions rock the hull. Thankfully, it's time to bail out. Shrugging his chute straps over his shoulders, Soap stands near the door of the plane. Erikson comes up behind MacTavish and Price after that. Soap's arm hair raises as he opens the door and he turns. 

          Erikson shrugs. "You know, it's a shame Ghost couldn't be here."

          His tone is conversational, but it makes MacTavish bristle. "And why is that?"

          "Because maybe that way you'd get to talk to your Lieutenant before Shepard kills him." 

          Soap doesn't quite register his words right and is stunned when his face meets the side of the plane. His vision is spotty, and by the time he figures out what's going on, he's plummeting towards the ground. Over his comm link, Soap can tell that Price is fighting them and Nikolai is steering as sharply as possible to throw Shadow Company off their game. Blinking profusely to try and see something, Soap tries to grab his chute string. Successfully doing so, he pops his chute and looks at the ground. He's coming down way too fast.

          Roach's dislike of chutes makes a little more sense now. 

          Soap lands a little harder than he'd have liked to and he stumbles to one knee. Stripping his chute, he looks back at the plane and sees two more figures parachuting down. 

          "Soap! Soap, do you read?!" Price shouts. 

          Soap rolls onto his back for a few seconds and watches price spiral towards him. "Aside from getting kicked out of a plane? Peachy." Soap sees Rook headed in a different direction. "Where's Rook goin'?"

          "He's gonna get us some transport. I'm coming to ya'."

          Keeping low, Soap crouches next to the side of an old plane, his spine hurting from the impact. His shoulders and back, which already weren't happy from his trip out the window with Rojas, smart and MacTavish waits for the old man to land. Nikolai announces that he'd gotten the Shadow Company guys out of his plane, but he had to fly higher and further away to stay safe. 

          Finally, Price touches down. The first thing the old man does is check on MacTavish and the Scot shrugs him off. "I'm fine."

          "Sure. And I have time to make flapjacks right now. Let me have a look."

          Soap glares at him, his scarred eyebrow lowered with a silent threat. "I said I'm fine, old man. Let's get a move on."

          Price shakes his head with a huff. "Stubborn kid."

          Soap moves along the edge of the plane and takes a breath through his mouth at the sight that greets him. Shadow Company have flooded the place, and they're fighting the Russians. Price is trying to get through to Ghost and his team, but no one is answering. Pulling out his rifle, he picks off as many as he can without drawing attention to himself. Price sticks close enough to scout a path, but far enough that MacTavish has to fend for himself. 

          Hiding inside a plane, Soap tries to get through to Ghost and Roach. He doesn't like the feeling in the pit of his stomach. 

          Price reappears next to Soap and gives his shoulders a shake. "They're dead, Soap. Shepard is cleaning house. It's just us now!"

          Guilt hits him hard as he realizes how much he should have listened to Ghost. The curious Brit seemed to know it the whole time, but MacTavish never wanted to see it.

          "Shepard betrayed us."

          Price huffs. "After all these years, and you don't know better?"

          "I should have listened." Soap says quietly, running a hand up his Mohawk. 

          "Yeah, you should have, kid." Price huffs, stalking up the slight ridge to look ahead. 

          Soap narrows his eyes. "Not to you."

          Price turns, his frown evident. "Who should you have listened to then? Shepard? Look where that's got us."

          "No. To Ghost. He told me the day he met Shepard that there was something off about his behavior, that he was working us to his own ends."

          Price smiles. "Knew I liked that guy for a reason. Come on, Soap. What's done is done, and you can't change that."

          "He was troubled, Price. Very troubled. Even before he came to the 141. He's told me little of his past, but none of it is good."

          Price grabs Soap's arm. "Soap, we are not any good to him dead. We have to get Shepard and then he can rest. We can rest easy knowing he's in the ground."

          An explosion breaks the ground under Soap's feet and he shouts in surprise, being thrown a ways away. He lies stunned for a few moments before groaning and moving to his knees. 

          "Price!" Soap shouts.

          MacTavish swipes at the dirt in his eyes and looks for him. 

          "Soap! Do you read? If you're alive, don't worry about me! May be old, but I'm not brittle yet. Keep moving towards the extraction point."

          "And where is that?"

          "Just head to the West end of the boneyard! Nikolai, be advised that the LZ is hot!"

          "Advised, Captain Price! Just try to have it under control by the time I get there, yes?"

          "Sure, Nik. Just get there, sharpish! I'm gonna try to contact Makarov!"

          Soap moves as quickly as he can, letting the Russians fight Shadow Company for him. His head still hurts from being thrown against the plane, but he keeps moving.

          Finally, Price gets through to Makarov. "Shepard is after you with a blank check and his own army! You won't last long...."

          "If you're after him, I'm willing to bet you're in the same boat. You won't either."

          "Like it matters. All I want is Shepard's location and I'll take it from there. If he becomes known in history as a hero, you're not gonna have many friends left." Price pauses. "Let me make it easy on you."

          "You'll find this cuts both ways eventually, Price. But, as you say, 'like it matters', so... he's using Site Hotel Bravo. Captain MacTavish knows it."

          Soap pauses, thinking about how he'd know when he remembers their trip to visit Shepard's base. The Shadow Company there had been reclusive if they could. He almost misses Nikolai telling Price that he'll be late. Not that Soap can blame him, since sandstorms have gotten them in trouble before. 

          A member of Shadow Company takes him by surprise and clocks him over the head as he skirts the edge of the boneyard. Turning over, the man's face morphs into shock and he drops his weapon. 

          "Holy crap! Captain MacTavish? What are you doing here?"

          "Is your comm broken, kid?"

          "Yeah. A- A Russian nearly shot me in the head!"

          Soap chuckles. "Just keep shooting the Russians and keep your friends off my back and we'll be right as rain." he keeps moving and dodges a falling helicopter. He sneaks through an old plane body with one set of seats left inside and gets the drop on a man of Shadow Company. A Little Bird like Nikolai's cuts across the sky and Soap lets it be. The Russian inside the bullet-proof vehicle should keep him occupied. 

          Hiding next to a small bulldozer for a moment, he has a few ill-timed seconds to think. Ghost, Roach, Archer.... all of those he just sent on the trip to the mountains. And the couple of Rangers that he hadn't seen make it off the plane. Stop thinking about it, MacTavish. Price is right. You're no good to them dead. 

          Pushing past his thoughts, MacTavish forces himself to move. 

          "So, can I ask what's going on?"

          MacTavish aims at him before realizing it's the kid from earlier. He opens his mouth to respond when a bullet cuts through him. Stifling a pained scream, MacTavish gasps in shock when the kid's head disappears. Anger overrides any other emotion he could have felt and he moves out into the open. 

          Running hard, Soap tackles a man, cracking his skull against the side panel of the plane. "That's for the boy."

          Slouching against a propeller, Soap puts a hand to his shoulder. A group of Shadow Company move through the body of the plane and fire at MacTavish. A couple break cover and MacTavish picks them off as quickly as possible. His shoulder burns with white-hot fire and MacTavish bites his lip. It's been a long time since he's had to do that. His spine protests an abrupt movement to shoot someone coming up on his six and Soap lists off to one side. 

          "That hurt."

          "Soap, are you alright?"

          "I'm fine, just keep movin' old man!" Soap snaps. "You donnae have to mother me!"

          "Easy, Soap. No need to bite my head off. Are you hurt?"

          Gritting his teeth, Soap tells him no and pushes into the slanted plane. 

          "Don't lie to me, son. I know you."

          Soap looks into the sky and sees Nikolai fly over, popping angel flares to divert enemy fire. "Soap! I'm approaching the boneyard and I see you do not have everything under control! AGAIN! Very unsafe to land! Look's like when I was in Afghanistan with the Soviets!You and Price need to learn the definition of 'under control'!"

          Price shouts at him to land the plane and Nikolai cusses him out in Russian. Nikolai has never been paid enough to crash his plane and he never will. Soap chuckles softly and cuts them both off. 

          "Maybe we'll have it clear next time, my friend."

          "Yes, Soap. And maybe you'll hurry up and get to the LZ like Price says, eh?"

          "Working on it. See you soon Nikolai." Soap says, sliding down the hill.

          Nikolai continues to cuss out Price for his lunacy and Soap traipses up the hill, leaving bodies as he goes. A truck swerves towards him and the man with the gun on top turns in Soap's direction. Taking him out, Soap ducks in cover as another Little Bird swings into range. Just as a bullet clips MacTavish's shoulder and takes him to the ground, a suburban whips a corner and crashes right next to him. as Soap climbs to his feet, Nikolai announces his one minute warning. 

          "You two had better get over here and get your asses in this plane! I'm leaving in one minute!"

          "Soap, you've gotta move!" Price shouts. "Nikolai isn't messin' around. He will leave without us! Get a little further west!"

          Giving himself a shake, the pain wakes him up. Some bullets hit the Little Bird and it swivels out of control. MacTavish looks around for the shooter and sees Price waving him over. Weaving through what's left of the wreckage, Soap climbs into the passenger side door and Rook takes off. 

          "Good job with the transport, mate." MacTavish smirks. 

          "Live to please." Rook laughs, turning sharply.

          Price smacks the side of Soap's head and MacTavish winces, turning to look at him. "You're a bloody mess, and we're gonna have to have a talk about your idea of 'fine', boy. Now shoot that truck!"

          "Sure thing, ol' man." Soap twists in his seat and fires at the people in the back of the pick-up chasing them.

          Price gets the driver and the truck hits a plane. It's not enough though, but Soap doesn't have time to do anything else before Rook swerves onto the runway. Blood sprays on MacTavish's face and he looks at Rook. Another man lost. Soap grabs the wheel and aims for the back of Nikolai's plane. His position isn't appealing to his shoulder, considering he has to steer with it, but it's the best he can do. As soon as they're in, Nikolai lifts off and Soap pants, fumbling out of the truck. 

          Nikolai laughs. "See, I make you run for it! Only fair, seeing as how you never make it safe for me to fly!"

          Soap unzips his vest and leans against the small door of the plane, sitting down. Resting his arms on his knees, Soap lets his head drop. He moves his left hand back to rest at the nape of his neck, just barely touching his black hair. His fingertips are slightly sticky with his own blood. Soap can hear Price appeasing Nikolai before his footsteps come to a stop in front of MacTavish's feet. 

          "Soap?" 

          Closing his eyes, Soap pretends to not hear him. 

          Price sighs and crouches in front of him. "Soap, come on. Look up at me, son."

          MacTavish's can't ignore concern that Price's voice is laced with and looks up. Knowing he could never lie to Price face to face, Soap lets all the raw anguish creep over his features. I've just cost my team their lives, and I couldn't do a thing to stop it.

          Price's face softens as he looks at Soap and he puts a comforting hand on MacTavish's shoulder. "It's not your fault. There was nothing you could do."

          Soap shakes his head. "That's the problem." Staring at the floor, he tries to ignore the feeling of doubt at his actions. "I was their captain.... and I failed."

          Price growls suddenly and Soap's head snaps back up. "Listen here, son. You are not to blame for this! Your team's death is on Shepard's head, not yours. We're not gonna let him get away, Soap."

          Grief rolls over him in waves and he thinks that Price might be able to feel it. "Do you think they suffered? At the house in the mountains?"

          Price's shoulder's droop. "What do you think, son?"

          Inhaling shakily, Soap answers. "Ghost would never go out without a fight. Archer and Toad would never have felt a thing if they were picked off. If Roach stuck close to Ghost like I told him to, he probably fought too." Soap runs a hand over his face. "And if Lewis had been there...."

          "Lewis who?" Price asks quietly. 

          "You never met her." Soap murmurs. "But she was brave, and stronger than anyone could give her credit for."

          "Sounds like you were quite taken with her." 

          "Not me, no. Ghost, actually. She was- she was confusing. A lot like Ghost, in many ways, but still her own."

          "You and your boys never talked about her." Price says, sitting down next to Soap. 

          "No. She died in Rio. It hit the team hard, especially with losing two others. Meat and Royce."

          "But mostly her, eh?"

          "She made friends so easily, and she loved Roach and Dunn a lot. Ghost too."

          Price scoffs. "Dunn? That prissy medic from the Rangers?"

          Soap chuckles. "He's not that bad. He was sneaking onto my base to see her, though. Ghost had been taken by Roba, a Spanish smuggler of weapons, and people I suppose. And he came when she needed him. Wish she'd told me though."

          "How is it you know then, son?"

          "She told me a few weeks after he'd started coming. Roach, sneaky bug, had been coming with him, even after I kicked him out the first time." Soap puts a hand on the top of his head. "She loved all of us."

          "But Dunn? Really?"

          "Come on, old man. Stubborn coot that you are, she would have liked you anyway. What's so different about Dunn? From what he told me, and what little she said, she raised that boy."

          Price sputters a little and Soap raises his scarred eyebrow. "How old was this woman?"

          "No idea. Any files she had were blacked out completely. I don't even think Shepard knows."

          "And you trusted her? With all that you didn't know? What's wrong with your head, son?" Price smacks him again.

          Soap doesn't like his tone and he spits back his answer. "With my life. She proved herself over and over again, and if I met her again, I'd trust her in a heartbeat."

          "What about Shepard, eh? You didn't know much about him either. Would you trust him too? Because he's who killed your team."

          Soap flinches and hangs his head low. He chokes out an answer. "I don't need to be told that, Price."

          He can feel Price hesitate before his gentle, calloused hand comes to rest on Soap's head. "I know, son. And I'm sorry."

          A few tears slip from his eyes and Soap lets them fall the the metal floor. "They can't all be dead, old man."

          Soap expects Price to huff and tell him to toughen up, but he doesn't. He just sits there quietly with Soap. 

          This ends with Shepard, whether I die or not. I swear it.

Chapter Text

          Lewis's POV 

          It's officially been two days since Shepard had gone bad-cop. She'd moped her way through most of it, and taken care of Ghost for the rest. He's been doing better, but she hasn't let him out of bed yet. Only hours ago, she tended to her own side, and grimaced at the sting of the cleanser. Ghost is less than happy with his difficulty breathing, which being in a lot of pain doesn't help with. Thankfully, he slept through most of the day yesterday.

          Lewis doesn't think they'll be able to stay much longer before Shepard gets away with killing everyone. The Russians are slave to her will, and that's pretty helpful when she needs supplies. A few have gotten to know Ghost and Archer and don't seem to mind them. Ivan sometimes keeps watch while they sleep, though Lewis doesn't think he knows that she knows. 

          Most of the patrols check in with her and ask her if she needs anything before they leave. Reminds her of being at base with the 141, just... more crowded.

          Moving into the spot that she's transformed into a computer room, Lewis scrolls over every frequency for a glimpse of Shepard. There's a ping out at the desert where the Shadow Company base is and she listens in. As far as she can tell, Shepard is planning to stay there for a few days. She'd pieced together a comm from what was left of the three she'd found. Archer's had been to damaged to work with and Ghost's was all jumbled up inside but usable. She'd went up the hill and found Toad's, but couldn't stand to stay any longer than necessary.

          So far though, she couldn't get a signal out.

          A hand touches her shoulder and she turns. It's Ghost. 

          "What are you doing up?"

          "I couldn't sit still anymore. Breathing only hurts a little less than it did yesterday." 

          He's still shirtless, and the bandages don't ruin the effect. Dropping the pen that she has in her mouth, she smiles up at him. Standing up to greet him, he latches an arm around her waist.

          "What has gotten into you?" Lewis giggles. "Since when are you so pleased with human contact?"

          His chuckle is lovely and she lets herself press against him. As long as he doesn't seem to be hurt by it, she's gonna milk this for all it's worth. Ghost drops his head so he can press a light kiss on her lips.

          She hums in the back of her throat in amusement. "Tease."

          "Always, love." pressing his own mouth a little more firmly on hers, she tilts her head into it. 

          She can feel his pulse quicken under her hand, which somehow ended up on his arm. Her heart flutters as his hand goes up to her face to trace her jaw. 

          A throat clears from the doorway and they pull apart. "Is this gonna become a thing with you two?"

          Sighing in relief that it wasn't Chenlov or someone else like that, she smiles at Archer. "What do you care?"

          "Because if I have to pull you apart in the heat of battle, I'm not gonna be happy." Archer smirks, running a hand through his short, and also wet, blond hair. 

          "If you stole all the hot water, I'm not gonna be happy." she counters. 

          Archer averts his gaze as Ghost recaptures her lips, surprising her. "There are other times to shower, love."

          Her breath catches as she sees his expression and she hopes Archer is gone by now. His blue eyes are on her the whole time. Ghost finally has to stop and catch his breath and she flushes with color. 

          "Are you going to answer my question, Ghost?"

          He takes a short breath and his expression turns pained. "What was that?"

          "Why all the contact now?"

          He pulls her close and she puts the side of her head against his chest, listening to his heartbeat. Archer is no longer at the doorway. 

          "MacTavish told me not to let you go."

          "Did he now?"

          "Mmm." Ghost hums. "I lost you once, and I learned how right he was." he kisses her temple. "I'm keeping you this time, love."

          His tone is possessive, and she finds herself once again peering up into his eyes. This time, she initiates the kiss and she's taken with how gently Ghost returns it. Something's telling her that he knew Archer was watching the last time, but that doesn't change what she felt about it. She enjoyed it. A lot. 

          They stay like that as long as Ghost can stand when he finally pulls away. "Tryin' to suffocate me?"

          "Nope." she presses one more kiss on his lips before sitting back down. "Trying to remember how to work."

          Ghost pulls a second chair over and leans towards her shoulder, pressing light kisses to it. It makes following Shepard's communications very difficult, but she decides to let him be. She's only wearing a tank top, so he keeps moving up until he reaches her jaw. 

          "Ghost!" she scolds. "How am I supposed to get any work done with you doing that?"

          "Who said you were supposed to?" 

          She turns her head to glare menacingly at him, but he ends up kissing her on the lips and she finds herself lacking speech. Ghost doesn't seem to mind that she's trying to do something, and Lewis really wishes he'd let her at least finish before he continues this strange behavior. 

          "Ghost." she warns. 

          "Fine, love. I'll be back. I'm gonna go for a walk with Archer." 

          Now she glares. "If you have any trouble at all, I want you to ask for help. I don't care if you have to ask one of my Russians around here, because they'll help. Archer better not break you or I'm-"

          Cutting her off with a kiss, she growls. "Shut up, love. I'll be fine."

          "I'm serious. If you need anything, if you're having trouble breathing at all, I want you to ask, okay?"

          "Alright, love. Promise." 

          He steals one last kiss before joining Archer, who reappeared at some point, at the door. The ache in her chest comes back as soon as he's out the door and she checks her tape. He really makes me forget everything. This is ridiculous.

          It could be worse, but she hasn't shown it to Ghost yet. She doesn't want him to worry while he's hurt. He'd never let her out of his sight again with the way he's acting. Not that she's complaining. It is very strange though. A week and a half ago, he'd barely let anyone touch him, let alone make contact himself. Gosh, it sounds like I'm talking about an alien. 

          Turning back to her computers, she tries to remember how to use the mouse. This is gonna get frustrating really fast. Blinking a few times, she remembers that Shepard had been sending some information to the CIA. Hacking quickly past the firewall, she opens the file. Her jaw drops when she sees Soap and his captain on the world's most wanted list.

          She spends fifteen minutes staring blankly at the screen. Soap and Price are alive, and she hasn't heard a peep? As soon as they got out, they must have gone underground. If one of them wasn't hurt, they would have attacked Shepard by now. Someone knocks on the door frame and Lewis turns in her chair. Ivan is standing there, Ghost's arm over his shoulder.

          Lewis stands up and takes Ghost. "Thanks, Ivan. I'll find a nice bottle of Vodka somewhere to thank you. I'll even share the orange juice so you can make a fuzzy navel."

          Ivan just laughs quietly. "There is no need, miss. I found him outside on a tree stump. I thought you may want him back."

          She wraps an arm around Ivan. "Thank you."

          He pats her head and goes back outside. "I'll keep an eye out for your other friend."

          She gets Ghost settled into a chair before she sits down in front of him, their knees touching. "So, where's Archer?"

          "He's out running." Ghost says tiredly. "He offered to take me back to the house, but I figured backtracking would be pointless. I let him move on. Figured the dawn patrol would be out and about sooner or later."

          She can tell that he's tiring and helps him back upstairs to the bed. "You should rest for a little bit, Ghost."

          "Only for a little bit." he chuckles. 

          After she gets him settled, he tugs at her waist to get her to lie down with him. She obliges after a few moments and he lets out a heavy breath, sinking a little further into the bed. Her side isn't comfortable, but she's not about to let Ghost see that. 

          "Any news, love?" Ghost asks quietly.

          "Soap and Price are still alive."

          Ghost relaxes more with that knowledge, and she figures it's been eating at him. "That's good. That's very good."

          "I figure we have maybe a day or two before they get ahead of us. So we'll have to be packed up by tomorrow, and we'll have to find a way out of here."

          Ghost nods. "If they're hurt, I give it a solid day, minimum, before they go after him. Two at most."

          "Three if it's Soap. With how bullheaded he is, I want to bet that Price will keep him benched as long as possible."

          "So, a day and a half then?"

          "Yeah. Get some sleep, Ghost. I'll start preparations."

          "Yes, ma'am." Ghost mumbles, nestling his nose into the crook of his elbow.

          Giggling at him, she pulls away after carding her fingers through his hair. The sound he makes in his throat is akin to a purr, and it makes her smile. She hopes that he's ready to move as much as he might have to once they hit Hotel Bravo. She gazes at all the marks on his body for a moment before retreating back downstairs. She moves towards the horn that she'd recommissioned as a bell and sounds it three times. She'd told both Archer and the Russians that it was only a call to get back to the house, not an alarm. 

          She opens up the doors and moves to the desk that she'd moved to the center of the room. Looking at her stolen watch, she guesses about two minutes before they all start filing in. Ivan's morning patrol is the first in and she gets them to look for a transport out of the area. Watching their path out the window, she sees them start to open up sheds and look behind barns for any spare vehicles. 

          Kazlov's border guards are next and she puts them on gathering weapons, ammo, and anything that goes boom. He reminds her a little of Kamarov. Not a great since of humor, but he makes up for it with ability in the field. 

          The rest of the men who come in, she puts on border guard to make sure no one creeps along while they're busy. Looking around the house, she notes that it's filthy and decides to put someone on clean-up. A few someones. 

          Then, Shepard is finally gonna go down. A few back-up copies of the information she downloaded are hidden around. One is right in Shepard's backyard, actually. Shepard was going to get his hands on the DSM eventually, and there was no doubt about him destroying it, but nothing said she couldn't make more than one copy. She just prays that she doesn't have to use them, because it'll get messy.


          MacTavish's POV

          Soap wakes up, his back stiff and his shoulders aching. If ever there was a good sign that he's not in great shape, that would be it. Looking around, he notices that he's still in the same position he fell asleep in. Ah, Price. Why would you let me fall asleep like this?

          He's still against the door of the plane. The hatch is open in the back and both Price and Nikolai are gone.

          Raising his head, MacTavish tries to work the stiffness out. Soap imagines a nice run right about now might clear him up. Soap gets up, but has to press his back against the door to remain there. His vision swirls in a tight circle and he gets woozy. Soap doesn't remember losing that much blood. Pushing away from the wall, he tries to gain his bearings. 

          He pulls the sleeve of his shirt up and sees a thick white bandage on his shoulder. A matching one is wrapped around his forearm. He can feel the tightness in his back without having to shift a muscle. 

          Grimacing, he hears footsteps coming towards him and looks up. "Price."

          "Sit down, Soap. You're gonna wear yourself out."

          Soap nods and shifts to sit on the bench. The truck is gone, and Rook along with it. When his back touches the side of the plane, Soap winces. 

          "You alright, son?" Price asks. 

          Soap raises his left eyebrow at Price with a slight growl. "Peachy."

          "Not with that attitude you aren't." Price huffs. "You hungry?"

          "What've you got, old man?" Soap glances at him.

          "Me?" Price chuckles. "Nothing. But Nikolai's got a nice breakfast outside."

          "Of course he does."

          MacTavish looks at the door with a little sadness. Price pats his shoulder and helps Soap to his feet. 

          "You've been asleep awhile, Soap." Price smirks. 

          Wonder how much time I lost.

          "Almost two days, if you're wonderin'. You gotta work all the kinks out in the next day or so, kid, cuz after that we're goin' after Shepard."

          "Whatever you say, ol' man."

          Price grumbles. "You just like to remind me I'm old, don't you son?"

          "I'm not reminding ye' of anythin'. Just take off that boonie. Should be reminder enough."

          Price smacks him and lets go. "For that, you're walkin' yourself out of this plane. Make it snappy, 'cause I don't think Nikolai is waitin' around."

          Soap shrugs, his weariness gone at the aspect of breakfast. It's bound to be a long day. As promised, Nikolai is at the back of the plane sitting down. Next to him lies a pile of beef jerky as tall as Nikolai. 

          That won't last a day with us three.

Chapter Text

           Archer's POV

          Archer grips his rifle with a rough, calloused hand. Ghost watches him through freshly veiled eyes. His sunglasses are deep blood red, and if Archer was afraid of Wounded Ghost, he might have chills. As it is, he knows what Ghost is capable of, he respects that, but now it's Archer's job to protect him. Lewis had washed and stitched Ghost's jacket, which is now protecting his tightly bandaged chest. From where Archer sits, the only inclination that Ghost is hurt at all is the slightest hunch in his shoulders. 

          A day and a half had come and gone pretty much before Archer could blink. Ivan and his team had scrounged up a chopper, and Kazlov found a little bit too much ammo. Lewis had assigned most of the Russians to stay back and guard the place, but picked out a few as an escort into Hotel Bravo. 

          Looking up to the pilot's seat, Lewis coolly monitors the controls with Ivan as her co-pilot. Three others, that Archer does not know the names of, sit with them in the chopper. Her hair is in a snug braid at the back of her neck. 

          "I can feel you staring at me, Archer. Something you want to ask?"

          The Russians chuckle, and Ghost with them. Archer flushes and rubs the back of his neck. He'd forgotten she does that.

          Shifting in his seat, Ghost makes an uncomfortable sound. Archer glances at him, but doesn't pry, instead leaning his head against the cool metal of his weapon. These past few days have been filled with anger, loss, confusion, and Archer is so done with all of it. Shepard will not walk away if Archer has to take the shot himself.

          "Hey... Archer." Ghost says gently.

          Archer looks at him, but he has to look away once he sees that Ghost's shades are gone and his pleading blue eyes are staring straight through him. 

          "Look at me, mate."

          The sheer amount of concern and worry in his tone makes Archer do it anyway. "What?"

          "Be careful out there. If I see you taking risks that you shouldn't, I will make you come back to this chopper. I am warning you, as your superior and your friend, that I will not hesitate. You keep a cool head in the field. I need you to do that now."

          "I'll do what needs to be done." Archer mutters back, tears burning at his eyes. This will be for Toad. I'm seeing it through.

          "Five minutes!" Lewis calls back. "We're gonna drop altitude here pretty quick, so hold onto your lunches."

          "Don't crash this bird and we'll be fine, love!" Ghost laughs. 

          Archer is more than glad to hear it, since he hadn't been too keen on laughing before Lewis showed up. He still feels a small prick of betrayal at the fact that she used him. Knowing that it tears her up inside doesn't make him feel good for feeling that way. He's willing to bet that if it could happen all over again, she'd still make that choice. As he thinks about it, there really wasn't that much else she could do.

          Archer ducks his head as the chopper jumps down a few feet. 

          "Ivan!"

          "Miss?"

          Archer ignores them until the chopper starts to lower gently. 

          "We're landing almost two clicks from the back entrance!" Lewis shouts over the wind. "From there, we'll take out the patrol that guards this area and take their uniforms! Use stealth as much as possible in this sand!"

          Archer listens to seconds click by in his head until Lewis lands the bird. Archer is off in a couple seconds, pulling his ghillie hood over his head. All the Russians are dressed similarly and they head the pack. Archer waits for Lewis and Ghost to step out before he starts moving. He can hear Lewis warning Ghost to try to stay out of the thick of things if he can and him agreeing. Glancing back, he sees them share a chaste kiss and then they're moving.

          The strange part was that Lewis kissed the mask. 

          Making sure that they catch up, Archer calls quietly up to the four Russians up front. Ivan signals them to stop and Lewis nods at Archer. Keep an eye on him.

          Archer takes a deep breath and slips to the back of the pack. He sweeps the area with thermal sights and taps Lewis shoulder.

          "Half a click, dead ahead. The patrol is coming our way."

          "Keep a bead on them. Ivan, once we get the uniforms, I want you guys to get out of here."

          "But, miss...."

          "Don't argue with me. I'm serious."

          Ivan opens his mouth again, but snaps it closed. "Yes, miss."

          Archer smirks. Keep on getting your way, Lewis. If you weren't so scary, you might not. He's not ashamed to say that Lewis scares him a little. She's secretive, not unlike Ghost, and she has a cleverness about her that Archer can't ignore now. He trusts her with his life, and nothing could change that, but once bitten, twice shy, they say. 

          They come up on the patrol, and the muffled piff piff piff of silenced weapons pushes through the air. The Russians reluctantly leave after Lewis has her new outfit on. Ghost struggles with his sleeves for a little bit before he gets it. Archer keeps a close eye on their surroundings and moves with them once they start off. Lewis grabs a headset off of one of them and hands it to Ghost. He can hear Ghost breathing a little heavier, but so far he seems okay. They put their old clothes in a duffle and carry it along.

          Ghost suddenly talks into the headset with an American accent and Archer turns to look at him. It's perfect, and doesn't sound a thing like Ghost at all. 

          "It's still clear out here. No disturbances. Copy, Nightshade?"

          "Nightshade?" Archer asks. 

          "It's to make sure that it's really the team receiving the message. Shadow Company doesn't like impostors."

          Archer huffs. "I wonder why."

          Lewis puts a hand up to stop their chatter and points to an iron door. Archer tugs the handle and finds it well-oiled. Gets some good use, at least. Heading down the stairs, Archer feels a little claustrophobic. He's been trapped one too many times to be comfortable in this spot, and he can hear Ghost's breathing pick up ahead of him. 

          "Easy." Lewis soothes, giving Ghost's hand a gentle squeeze. 

          "Mmhmm." Ghost hums back, his tone tight.

          Archer lowers his weapon slightly and pats his back reassuringly. Ghost nods and gives himself a shake, letting out a slow breath. Archer feels the cloying air around him sticking to his back. It doesn't take long for the space to open up, and he can feel the tension leak out of his shoulders. Archer's eyes widen as he sees all the crates of ammo around. It looks like they've all been living in these caves with the sleeping bags and food bags around. Rations. 

          Archer feels a pang of disgust with Shepard that only multiplies as he turns a corner and sees ten sleeping bags all within inches of each other stuffed in a small 'room'. When an alarm starts to ring, Ghost starts asking what's going on into the headset, using all sorts of jumbled code words and questions. 

          "Lewis, we've got a problem, love." his normal accent is back, and sounding a lot more like himself. 

          "What?"

          "Soap and Price are storming the base."

          "Uh-oh. Uh, we've gotta move to the planes. If Shepard is getting out of here, it'll be in something that covers distance quickly."

          "That'll be the rafts. It's the quickest way out as long as Soap and Price are on his tail."

          "Something tells me that not much will be able to stop them." Lewis mutters. "Come on. Ghost lead the way to the planes. He'll need an escape once he hits the end of the river."

          Ghost moves as quickly as he can with Lewis helping him long. Archer keeps an eye on their six without making it look that way. At least, he hopes so, because he nearly runs into Lewis as she's getting the hatch of a plane open. Ghost is starting to wheeze, so Lewis hustles him up into the co-pilot's seat with Archer getting ready. Hiding up in the cockpit with the two, Archer watches eight men file into the back of the plane. Lewis growls, but it has to be done. Ghost gives her directions with stunted speech and she flies over a mildly camouflaged area. The guys start piling out of the back and Lewis points out Soap and Price. Archer watches Ghost's jaw drop as something happens, and if Archer hadn't squeezed so far under the console, he might be able to see it. 

          Lewis takes a few minutes to loop around the side of the caverns so she could find the mouth of the river. 

          "There!" Ghost says. 

          Crawling out of his hidey-hole, Archer moves towards the side door. "Lewis, I'm gonna pick off some of those other rafts!"

          "Do it fast, Archer! Soap and Price are way outnumbered! And there's a few birds out there with guns spinning up!"

          Ghost growls at something said in the headset. "They want us to stick around and cover them for a minute and then move towards the waterfall!"

          "Shepard needs extraction!" Lewis shouts. 

          "Give me a few seconds!" Archer hisses. 

          "That's about all I can spare! Make it snappy!"

          Archer picks off as many as he can before Lewis has to leave. Having a brief moment of clarity, he realizes that shooting the rafts would be more efficient. Suddenly, Lewis swerves.

          "What's going on up there?!" Archer shouts, rolling to protect his head.

          "Soap is shooting at us!"

          "Divert to pick up Shepard!" Archer calls back. "Soap will have to kill us later!"

          Archer sees Ghost pull his 141 jacket and mask out and swap them. Strange thing to do, but Archer's not about to question it. Archer moves up to the front with them and hangs onto their seats as Lewis shifts again. Soap and Price get ahead for a little bit, but then they reach the rapids. Lewis aims for the spot right before the waterfall, knowing it's their best chance for Soap and Price to get him. Archer takes his Shadow Company head gear and hides again. Lewis puts a leg in front of his line of sight, but he knows she's trying to conceal him. 

          Shepard makes it in and Lewis leaves the hatch open. Two soldiers made it in with him. Lewis turns and Archer can tell that she's facing Soap and Price. Ghost looks out the window, slipping his mask on and saluting with one hand. 


          Ghost sees Soap through the window and pulls his mask over his face. Pulling his hand up, he salutes Soap. He sees the shock on his face and he tugs on Price's arm. Ghost reads his lips. 

          Price, stop shooting! Ghost and Lewis are in that chopper!

          If that's true, they know what they're doing, son.

          Smiling, Ghost jolts as the chopper veers. Price is yelling at Soap to back up, and Ghost watches the ground come closer. Ghost looks into the back and spots Shepard. Shepard sees him too.

          His eyes widen in shock. "No. You're dead!"

          "So are you." Ghost growls. "Lewis says hi."

          Shepard sneers. "If only she could see you now."

          "And I am so proud." Lewis laughs. "Let's end this!" 

          Shepard's face is priceless. 

          Finally, Ghost feels the impact, but not for very long. It's all black until he feels hands on his face and he blearily looks up. Pain tears through his chest and he cries out. A hand covers his mouth and Ghost struggles weakly. 

          "Archer!" someone screams. "Archer, where are you!"

          The hand goes to his face again and Ghost whines. "Lewis?"

          "It's okay, I'm right here."

          Ghost's vision clears a little and he cold almost swear he sees Soap stumble by through a hole in the chopper. "Soap!" Ghost coughs. "You've gotta...mm... you've gotta go help Soap." 

          "Soap will handle it." she hesitates. "Are you okay?"

          "I'll hold. Go help Soap."

          "I'm not leaving you again. Not this time, Ghost."

          "That's... incredibly loyal of you, love... but Soap needs you more."

          She furrows her brow before pulling up his mask and kissing him hard. "I'm coming back for you."

          "I expect nothing less."

          Waiting a few minutes, he hears the crack of a sniper rifle and then a .44 Magnum. He forces himself to move towards the sound and out of the shots and checks his wounds. Ghost finds himself okay for the most part and moves along. He stumbles when he sees Soap's form on the ground. 

          "Soap." 

          He didn't fight that hard to get here just for this. Ghost moves towards him and sees Price lying on the ground. Shepard is half on top of him with a knife in his eye. Looking back at Soap, Ghost sees the bloody hole in his chest. He kneels next to him and sees Soap's blue eyes staring up into the sky. 

          "Soap, look at me."

          At first, he doesn't respond, but then he turns his gaze on Ghost. "You're out of yer bloody mind, Ghost."

          Ghost chuckles, putting his hands on the wound. "Take it easy, mate. We're not losin' you yet."

          "Easy." MacTavish tries to laugh but chokes. "Cuz that's our line of work."

          Ghost pulls his mask off and looks around. "Lewis!" 

          "I'm bringing Archer. I'll be there soon!"

          The old man rouses and coughs, shoving Shepard away. "Strange. I don't remember winning that."

          "Y-You're bloody lucky, old man, that I'm here to clean u-up your mes-messes." 

          Soap's face scrunches up in pain right when Lewis reaches his side. Archer is leaning against the side of an old truck heavily, his right knee bent at an awkward angle. Lewis sets to work and Price watches her hands fly with wonder. 

          "You're Lewis, eh?" Price asks. 

          "The one and only. Well, maybe not. I'm sure I can find another naughty old man who knows another Lewis out there."

          Price chokes and Ghost laughs. "You were doin' so well, lov. You've regressed." Ghost kneels next to her, holding a hand to his chest. 

          "You know you like it."

          Soap takes a short breath and closes his eyes, laughing too.

          A chopper lands and Nikolai joins them on the ground. "Deshenka!"

          "Hey, Nik. Good to see you. We need to move someplace safe. Help Archer out, would ya?"

          Price helps Soap to his feet and Lewis helps carry him while Ghost takes Archer's other side. Ghost chuckles and catches Archer as his stumbles with a groan. Nikolai gets them all loaded up and Lewis gives him directions, then comes back to Soap, who is quiet, but still awake. 

          Nikolai gets in the air as quickly as possible and Lewis comes back to Soap's side. "Soap, what's your blood type?"

          "A."

          "Guess that's me." Archer chuckles. 

          "Well, that's just in case, so I know who I need to grab if you start dying." Lewis smiles.

          "That's a comforting thought." 

          Ghost smirks at them and looks at Archer's leg. He must have been thrown from the plane somehow, because he wasn't there when Lewis woke him up. 

          Soon enough, Lewis has Soap stitched up and in remarkably good shape. Price's face is already turning colors and Ghost smiles at him in amusement. Price raises an eyebrow at him. So that's where Soap got it from. 

          Price pulls out a flask and offers Ghost some. 

          Ghost lifts his head, shoving his mask in his pocket and taking a swig. "To the fallen."

          The small words are echoed around him and his eyes lift to the sky. See you around, boys. 

Chapter Text

          It had been a rainy day, Soap thinks, watching his team through the veil of smoke. The last one where they were all truly together. 


          "Come oan, ya' muppets! Get movin'!"

          The team groans collectively and picks up the pace. The ground beneath Soap's feet is sticky with mud. Lightning cracks the sky and MacTavish looks to the head of the pack to check on Ghost. He seems to be doing alright, so MacTavish looks to Roach, the new kid slipping and falling into the muck. The team keeps running and Soap helps him up. 

          "Keep movin', Roach."

          "Yes, sir. c-Captain."

          MacTavish shakes his head and watches Archer handle the very back. Ever watchful for lollygags, he pushes through the mud as if it's an old friend. Once it starts to pour, Soap considers letting them turn in. Ghost is out ahead of the group, determined to finish and get it over with, it seems. Scarecrow looks like a wet dog up ahead of him, shaking his head when he can't see anymore, throwing water from his wild hair. Lewis catches up with Ghost right when it starts to hail.

          Soap raises his voice above the rain. "Everyone back inside, double time! We're not gettin' our heads split open oot here!"

          It's a shame really. They'd only been running for an hour, and they morning has barely begun. 

          "Get to the mess hall, and we'll figure out what we're doin' after that." Soap orders, his voice barely carrying through the pattering around him. 

          Their pace picks up again and Soap urges them into a sprint as it starts to hail harder. Looking back, he sees Archer keeping an eye on Ghost and Lewis. Lewis is slipping in her very worn boots and Ghost is trying to keep her on her feet. Goodness knows she'd never let him carry her.

          It's a long run back to base, but the cover of trees close to the it looms ahead of them, keeping them running. A chunk of ice hits MacTavish on the arm and he winces.

          "Keep your heads down, boys!" Archer shouts. 

          MacTavish sends up a quiet prayer for the hail to not get any worse before they get back. 

          Thankfully, for once in their incredibly unlucky lives, they reach the base before anything can go wrong. It's a good thing that they were already on the return trip, otherwise things may have been different. MacTavish steps into the closet, soaking wet, and grabs a load of towels on one arm, and many more in the other. 

          Seeing his shivering team, he makes them strip their wet clothes and tosses each a towel. Lewis is thankfully still in her undergarments and dries the fastest, quickly wrapping the towel around herself. Scarecrow's wet hair is dripping onto his nose and he sneezes. 

          "You lot go grab your sweats from the gym."

          "What are you gonna do, mate?" Ghost asks.

          "I'll wrangle us up somethin' to do. In three hours, we'll start training again, so we'll make do with little activities." 

          "Please, Soap." Ghost rolls his eyes, quickly drying his shades and putting them back on. Didn't even take off that bloody mask. "These boys don't need any help to find things to do."

          "Breakfast, then?" Soap huffs, ignoring Ghost's quiet use of his call-sign. 

          "Sounds like a plan." 

          MacTavish waits for the group to clear out towards the gym before walking towards mess. "Marcus?"

          MacTavish winces at the crashing of pots and pans coming from the kitchen and the black-haired cook stumbles out of the area, batting at the offending objects with a spatula. 

          "Sorry, Captain. I'm still working out the kinks in the small space. It wasn't well thought out."

          "Shepard, I believe, was having an issue deciding on whether to keep us occupied and wanting to inconvenience us at all times. Though apparently the med bay was perfect for Lewis."

          Marcus raises and eyebrow. "Unfair." giving himself a shake, he gets right back to it. "What did you need, Captain?"

          "Some soup. I brought my boys in once it started to hail, and I was thinking a hot meal might do 'em some good."

          He wades back through the catastrophe of a kitchen and flips on a couple of burners. "I'll get on it. You go dry off, Captain. By the time you guys are warm again, it'll be ready."

          "Alright. Keep warm in here, Marcus."

          "Always."

          Walking back into the hall, he gets to the intersection and is shocked to a stop by Roach. What in the blazes? The kid is gently pushing a foot along the ground to propel his tiny pink scooter. He's humming quietly, not even paying attention, as he turns a corner and disappears. MacTavish blinks owlishly before Ghost taps him on the shoulder. 

          "Don't even ask, mate." 

          "Don't plan to." Soap moves for the gym to change with Ghost on his heals. 

          When he gets to the gym, he decides that maybe he'd rather be out in the hail. Sitting on one of the benches, Lewis is braiding Scarecrow's hair as Archer draws kittens on his arm with a sharpy. He doesn't seem to be objecting to either. Poet and Chemo sit quietly in a corner, bouncing a yellow ball with a smiley-face on it (courtesy of Ghost, he's sure) back and forth. Nikolai is flying a strange makeshift helicopter around the room, which is making a funny whirring noise. 

          Simon Riley hasn't taken off that mask yet and Soap steers him towards the laundry room, sitting him down and throwing in a load of wash, his mask along with it. Ghost sneezes and shakes his head, water dripping everywhere. 

          "You're an idiot, Ghost." 

          Soap hands him a clean towel from the out basket and he quickly dries off his face and hair. The hail pounds on the roof and Ghost's face turns strained. 

          "You got a fresh mask around here anywhere?"

          "In my room across the yard." Ghost huffs, focusing on MacTavish. 

          "Well, as far as hiding yer face is concerned, this is as safe as it gets."

          Thunder crashes and shakes the windows, sending Ghost hurtling for a corner. Determined to let Ghost know that it's completely safe, Soap pulls out a laundry crate and sits down in the middle of the room with an eyebrow raised, arms crossed. 

          Ghost takes a few deep breaths and turns his head back towards MacTavish. Waiting patiently for Ghost to come out, Soap backs his crate against the rumbling washer. Seeing Ghost's apprehension at reality sends a spark of fury through Soap. Once again, a pity that Roba is already dead.  

          The door opens and Lewis walks in with a basket of wet clothes under one arm. Soap gestures with a slight jerk of his head towards the corner and Lewis sees Ghost there. Closing the door behind her, she starts another load next to Soap's. 

          She plops down next to him on the crate. "You know, Soap, I found something really interesting in the mess hall."

          Soap inclines his head to look at her. "And what might that be?"

          She reaches an arm to the top of the machine and pulls down a plate. "There was this bowl of fresh biscuits and gravy just sitting there. I didn't know whether or not I was going to share, but I can't have all the bread anyway."

          Out of the corner of his eye, Soap sees Ghost prick up. Oh, she's good. She's very good.

          To put it bluntly, one moment the plate was in her hands and she was about to stab one with her fork, the next, she's swiping blankly at dead air. Just to make sure, she swipes a couple more times. Shaking his head, Soap looks around for Ghost. The light sounds of Ghost scarfing it down come from above his head and Soap looks to his left, seeing a black-clad leg hanging down from the lid of the washing machine. 

          Soap pulls another crate over and makes room for Ghost to slide down in between them. When he finally does, Lewis slips an arm around his shoulders and watches him with adoration. And yes, it does occur to Soap that somehow she knew that Ghost was having an issue, but when it comes to Ghost, MacTavish has never really minded her eerie abilities. 

          Soap smiles at his plate when he sees the shreds left over from Ghost's little habit. His calm demeanor is torn away as thunder crashes again. Soap and Lewis wrap reassuring arms around him. As long as it doesn't turn out like last time, Ghost should be fairly.... safe. Soap remembers seeing Ghost catatonic in the corner of their shared room. Fury and vengeance that could never be sated crept through him. He doesn't even want to know what Lewis is thinking right now. 

          It had taken hours to get him to respond to anything, and he had come out swinging. Roach had to pin him down, which didn't help his panic. Soap fought off the murderous feeling that crept up his spine, opting to pull Ghost into his strong grip. And Ghost fought. 

          Pulling his mind away from the painful memory, Soap tugs Ghost to his feet. Distracting him seems to be the best course of action and Soap pulls him out of the room. Ghost's tense shoulders relax a little once they're moving and Soap takes up a position on the mats. Ghost looks around, seeing the room empty. No one to see his face. Soap goads him and amusement lifts Ghost's eyebrow in challenge. 

          Lewis shakes her head. "Boys."

          Ghost chuckles at her as she leaves the room, then turns to Ghost. Only to take a hit to the jaw. 

          "Well wasn't that a cheap shot?" MacTavish winces, rubbing his chin.

          Soap takes comfort as Ghost steadily forgets about the raging storm, their blows less than serious, but enough to make it ambient noise. Soap never forgets about it because it also stirs some older memories. Price had always been big on explosions. 

          Soap had been captured once. Seemed like a long time ago. Price had been arrested in a slight misunderstanding, and they'd taken MacTavish the minute his back was turned. And, as per usual, he'd been hurt. Price had come in, guns blazing, C4 exploding, and Soap had been knocked out by a blast. Crazy old man.

          The memory lingers in Soap's eyes as he thinks about Roach. He'd experienced nearly the same thing before he died. Except Price was the one caught and Roach was knocked down. 

           Soap laughs as the memory of Roach on that scooter stays in the front of his mind. 


          His neck is sore from resting in an odd position for so long, and he feels too warm. It takes forever to open his eyes, and when he finally does, the sunshine is too bright. Looking around, he's settled on a porch of some sort. He's lying on a cot, his top half gently propped up by some pillows. He doesn't have a shirt, and it looks like someone has been repeatedly checking the bandages wrapped all over his chest. 

          Sitting up, Soap has to take a deep breathe from the pain. Squeezing his eyes shut, he manages to gain his feet. A gentle knock on the wood of the porch makes him turn his head. Then he looks instinctively for a weapon seeing that it's a Russian soldier. Picking up a gun off the table, Soap aims at the soldier's head. 

          He heaves a sigh and walks straight past. "Miss Lewis, are all your friends this way?"

          A small hand rests on MacTavish's wrist and he sighs in relief. "Lewis."

          "Yep. Thanks, Kaz. You can take a break." 

          "Thank you, miss Lewis, but I must decline." 

          Soap puts the gun down and watches her walk away. "Where are ye' goin'?"

          "Ghost is out sunning himself by the water, the lazy squirt. I'm pulling him in for lunch."

          Lazy squirt? Lunch? "Alright."

          "Drink your Scotch, then come in. You look like you could use it."

          Soap looks to the table beside his cot, and sure enough there's a half-drunk bottle of Scotch there. Lewis treks around to the back of the house and Soap pours a glass. Checking his pockets for things he may have had on him before, Soap only finds his lighter and a box of his favorite cigars. Lewis.

          "Mr. MacTavish?" the voice from earlier says quietly.

          "Need somethin'?" Soap asks, keeping civil. For now.

          "The grumpy old man wants to see you." 

          "Is he alright?" Soap asks, wondering why Price didn't come out to see for himself.

          "He's confined to bed rest. Miss Lewis's orders."

          "And he hasn't tried to escape? Or kill someone? Must have learned somethin'."

          The man, Kaz?, chuckles and saunters off the porch like he owns the place. "I think Miss Lewis is more of a force to be reckoned with than he thought."

          "I'm not surprised." Soap huffs. "What about Archer?" 

          "Also on bed rest. His leg was uh.... damaged."

          "Broken?"

          Kaz?, Really gotta figure out this guy's full name, shakes his head. "No. Dislocated, fairly bad."

          "Is he alright?"

          "He is on crutches. Came out for breakfast, then Miss Lewis put him back in bed."

          Unlike Price, Soap wouldn't be shocked if he had stayed there. "Nikolai?"

          "He's in the best shape out of any of you. Keeps fighting with the old man."

          MacTavish hears a very Ghost-like chuckle and cranes his neck to look over his shoulder. He sees Lewis with him, supporting him at the waist. There seems to be a bandage on his neck. If Soap had to guess, there would be some over his chest, judging by the added bulk there. His whole left forearm seems to be bandaged.

          MacTavish is glad to see Ghost on his feet. Turning, Soap sees that Kaz is gone. Retreating inside to what seems to be Lewis's base of operations, Soap looks around for any sign of his teammates. He hears the sound of clacking crutches in the adjoining room and follows it. 

          "Archer?"

          The clacking pauses and Soap comes into the room. 

          "Ah, mornin' mate. Lewis made lunch, so she's rounding everyone up."

          MacTavish looks around the kitchen and sees three plates stacked at least 30 high with pancakes. "She made pancakes for lunch?"

          "That seems to be all they've got around here." Archer smirks, attempting to shrug. "That and fish, but not everyone here is as keen on that as Ozone was."

          Was. Soap thinks to himself. As soon as the thought slips into his mind, he closer his eyes as pain burns through him. Mental or physical, it's not fun. 

          The Russians start to file in and Soap has to remind himself that they're friendly. Just think of Kamarov. Soap huffs at himself. Kamarov wasn't all that friendly either. 

          Masks come off left and right as they shuffle into the line. None of them seem to mind the pancake meal. Archer clumsily maneuvers a plate around his crutches as Lewis walks in with Ghost. His arm is snaked around her side and Soap could almost swear he sees a brief flicker of discomfort wash over her face. Her eyes meet MacTavish's and he silently asks her about it. Her face tells him 'no' and he decides to ask her about it later. 

          "Oh, bollocks! The old man! Ghost, you can go ahead and get some food. I've gotta go get Price, or he'll starve."

          "Alright, love. Don't let him get under your skin." Ghost answers, his voice tender. 

          Without his mask, Soap can tell that he's in a rather good mood at the moment. Turning abruptly at the sound of Price's less than good-natured grumbles, he moves away from the two Brits. Wonder why Ghost said that.

          "...iness, Lewis. You may be the one patchin' me up, but I don't have to do as you say."

          "I am the medic. Even though you're a captain, I am the law."

          "No way in bloody-"

          "Price." Soap hisses, leaning against the door frame and watching the old man with sharp eyes. "Do as the lass says."

          "Soap...."

          MacTavish shakes his head. "You'll not argue with me, Price. She's just tryin' to get you up for lunch."

          "She's also the one with a whole army of Russians at her beck and call....."

          Soap grins and Price looks astonished. "Precisely. Lewis has every man here to back her up except for you, old man. It's yer' choice."

          Soap shakes his head on the inside. Price knows better than to doubt Soap, and he should also know that starvin' himself to spite her isn't goin' to help his case. 

          Price heaves a breath. "Alright, Soap. Have it your way."

          Soap watches him leave and sees Lewis sit down on the bed. "Lewis?"

          "It's nothing."

          Soap doesn't believe that for a second as her hand gently tracks over her side. "Right. Lewis, you have your secrets. We all do. But if you're hurt, you need to let us help. If not us, then Archer. And you should tell Ghost."

          "Tell me what, mates?" Ghost says, walking through the door with food on three plates. One on his head, and one for each hand. 

          MacTavish smiles lightly and then nods his head towards Lewis. "Tell him."

          Moving away with a plate from Ghost's hands, he heads out to join Price. Their resident elder is situated out on the porch where Soap was when he woke up. 

          He looks far older than he is, bags under his eyes and all. He hasn't been much for sleep since the Gulag, and it's obvious now that Lewis should be slipping sleeping pills into his dinner. If she hasn't been already. 

          "Hey, Ol' Man."

          "Is that all you ever call me, Soap?"

          MacTavish feels a smile cross his face, but it's fleeting. Sitting next to Price on a chair, wincing the whole way, Soap stabs into his lunch. 

          "Seems fitting."

          Price grumbles, but otherwise remains silent. 

          Soap didn't expect the pancakes to be all that great, so when the taste is actually satisfying he starts to eat a little faster.

          Finally, Price speaks. "How many did you lose?"

          "All but those who are here. I've no idea if Poet and Chemo are even alive." Soap's hand automatically moves to smooth over his Mohawk. Lost.

          "You seemed fond of that Roach fellow."

          Soap sighs. "Not at first. Ghost's late Major got him to sneak over an' leave a message with me. I taught 'im a lesson and sent 'im back to Shepard."

          "How did he end up on your team then? I wouldn't figure you for the type to take in the first sneak to poke his head out of the gutter."

          "We named 'im Roach for a reason. He came back, like always. At first it was for Lewis."

          Price huffs and mutters under his breath.

          Soap whops him on the back of the head and Price nearly jumps oot of his skin. "I dinnae care what ye' think of her. All she's done so far is help ye', and all you've done is complain."

          "I told ye' before, Soap, you don't know who she is."

          "No? And what do you know? You haven't had her watching your back before."

          "Where was she when your team died?" 

          A harsh British tone, cutting, like glass, hisses from the door. "She was trying to save them."

          "Ghost, go find Lewis." Soap turns to looks at him.

          "Why? So this old prat can insult her?" Ghost gestures angrily towards Price.

          "No, so she can settle this." 

          Soap takes the insult to Price with a grain of salt, knowing that he deserves at least a little of it. Ghost looks like a man lookin' to hit someone. Most likely, Price is the intended target.

          "Ghost." Soap warns. 

          His blue gaze is steely and he turns away with something akin to a smile on his face. 

          Soap cringes as he hears the sound of metal on glass on his right. Price jumps out of his seat and grabs the gun from the stand.

          "So, you needed to talk, Cap?" Lewis says casually, her legs crossed one over the other. 

          So that's what Ghost was smilin' aboot. "You and Price."

          She stabs a pancake a little harder than necessary, but remains composed.

          "Price doesnae trust ye', and it's throwin' our team off."

          "It would probably help if he'd just shut up and eat his pancakes."

          MacTavish has to hide a smile, but it's obvious the old man sees it just fine. It's gonnae be a long next couple of days.

Chapter Text

          Corporal Jake Dunn's POV

          He couldn't believe it when he saw the broadcast. The 141, or whoever is left, have been labeled as fugitives. Captain MacTavish is alive for sure, and this older guy called Price. The name sounds familiar, but he can't place it in his mind. The Ranger unit was pulled out of the war zone, and are now back at base resting up. Dunn would be out trying to figure out what's going on in the outside world, but Foley confined him to quarters as soon as they got in. 

          Dunn figures it's probably for the best. He's stressed enough as it is. So far, the casualties of the 141 who aren't being charged hasn't come, but Foley says it's due back before the end of the day. 

          Supposedly, a lot of the Rangers are being retasked to Delta Force to help with the Russian invasion. He's never met 'em personally, but he's heard that they're just about as big and bad as the SAS used to be. Somehow, he doubts that. MacTavish came to the 141 straight out of the SAS and he's a whole 'nother breed of soldier. 

          He's not expecting the call over the PA system so soon, but the list is in. Throwing his light sheet off, he heads outside for the first time since he got back four days ago. Dizzy, he pauses to catch his breath, but after that he's off like a shot. It feel so good to get his blood pumping again. Stepping into Foley's office, he stands quietly in front of the desk. 

          "Sit down, Corporal." Foley says, his voice stern. It's an obvious warning that he shouldn't be out of bed.

          Dunn does as he's told and crosses his arms, holding back a grimace as his shoulder smarts.

          "Let's not beat around the bush, Dunn. You want to know who's on the list."

          "Yes, Sarge."

          Foley rubs a hand down the side of his face. "It isn't pretty."

          "I don't expect it to be."

          Foley lightly drops the file on the table and walks from the tent. "Feel free to situate yourself back in the tent once you're done. I have training to attend to."

          Dunn looks at the folder, wondering how a manila piece of card stock could be so daunting. Finally picking it up, he opens the first page. Alphabetical, it looks like. 

          Listed by callsign or last name. 

          Ian "Archer".

          Gary "Roach" Sanderson.

          Ghost.

          Lewis. 

          Meat.

          Ozone.

          Royce.

          Shane "Scarecrow" Schofield.

          Toad.

          Dunn runs a hand over his face with a fluttery sigh. Both Lewis and Roach are gone. Ghost too. A sense of loneliness washes over him and he wipes his eyes. 

          Suddenly, the flap to the tent comes open and Dunn turns towards the intruder.

          "What do you need?"

          "You've got mail, Dunn."

          "What?" Dunn snags the envelope as the courier presents it to him. 

          Quickly unsealing it, he unfolds the paper. 

          Save IndiGo

Save The ChiMe

          Never of WaLt 

Dearest eAten MoD,

Love EleCt Wish IS.

          Dunn huffs. This doesn't make any sense.  Wait.....

          Save indigo. One, two three four.... 12 characters in the first line. He knows this. He doesn't remember where he knows it from, but he knows it. I and N are the two middle letters. I is capital.

          I.

          Great. First line done. Maybe.

          The second line should only have two important, the third 3, and so on. 12 more characters. Most obvious would be Save Me, but Dunn doesn't think that's it. M must still be important, and if he goes off of that, then the only corresponding letter is A. 

          I am.....

          Three letters for line three. Most likely being first, middle and last. 

          I am not.......

          Line four. Dearest has only D capitalized. eAten.... The capital A marks a second letter next to it? Maybe? Three words, which means two important letters have to be in the middle. First letter, last letter. 

          I am not dead.......

          Dunn takes another look at the last line and chokes. How did I not see this? 

          I am not dead,

                               Lewis

          She's the one who taught me how to code in the first place. 

          Bearcat comes in and finds Dunn laughing hysterically, holding his sore ribs. 

          "Dunn, is something wrong?"

          Dunn takes a few deep breaths, but he can't manage to stop laughing. "Lewis, haha, you sly dog. Ouch."

          "What wrong with you? Lewis isn't here, mate."

          Dunn hands him the letter. "Here. Read this."

          Bearcat humors him, but then glares at Dunn. :You expect me to understand what Lewis has to do with this gibberish?"

          "She wrote it."

          Bearcat huffs. "Well, obviously the words mean nothing, so what does it say?"

          Dunn digs through Foley's drawers (in the nice kinda way) and finds a pen. He circles all the important letters and lets Rook spell it out on the page. 

          "That's not possible. Archer said he saw her die."

          Dunn shakes his head. "It wouldn't matter. She plans so far ahead, she would have known by then that Archer could have seen her."

          "Look, Dunn...." Bearcat sighs, his tone dark. "You've accepted it, and moved on. She could have written this expecting to survive and she didn't."

          "You don't understand, Bearcat. This is just like her! Just, please look at the date. All of it is her hand writing!""

          "This was two days ago."

          "Right. But it's been almost two weeks since the 141 was disavowed. Let me see that!" Dunn snags the page again and looks at the numbers. "It's not just the date, there's more. She waited!"

          Bearcat raises an eyebrow. "I'm not pickin' up what you're puttin' down, mate." His Aussie accent peeking through. 

          "These are time stamps!" Dunn runs a hand through his blond hair and scribbles on the page. 15:36:15. "This is when the 141 went after Makarov...."

          "No, mate. Sorry to burst your bubble, but that's a 12:30:15. It's just the date"

          Dunn chuckles. "Look again. The five is upside-down, and the 0 in 30 has a loop in it. This is Lewis, B. I can promise you that."

          He huffs. "Gonna ask to pursue it?"

          "Ask? No. They'd never let me go. I'm going on my own."

          "Like my great aunt down the stairs by herself you are." Bearcat growls. 

          Dunn gets up and shoves the letter in his pocket. "You can't stop me."

          Bearcat tries to halt his walk with a hand shoving his shoulder, but Dunn grimaces and grabs onto the pole of the tent to brace himself. Bearcat apologizes, but Dunn ignores him, making his way to the tent. Bearcat catches up with him and McCord sees what's going on. Of course he does. And McCord brings Ramirez, who brings Justin. 

          "Just how in Creed's Hill do you think you're going to get there?" Bearcat asks. 

          Dunn huffs. "You don't hang around Lewis without picking up a few tricks."

          "Are you gonna fly there?" Bearcat questions again.

          Dunn shoves some closes into his go bag and just looks at him. 

          "Fly where?" 

          Dunn watches McCord march his merry band of Rangers through the flap of the tent. 

          Dunn smiles at him. "Lewis is alive. And I'm going to find her."

          Bearcat looks helplessly at McCord and he looks at his group. "We're coming with you."

          "You don't have to.... You'll be discharged."

          "Our choice, Dunn. Whether you like it or not."


          "Miss Lewis?

          "What is it, Kaz?" she says, answering the hail on her new comm system. 

          "Our border patrol has spotted a chopper headed this way. What are we to do when it lands?"

          Lewis pulls her feet down off the desk, looking out the plastic on the windows. "When they get out, bag 'em and bring them in. Don't kill whoever-it-is, cuz we don't know what they want."

          "Yes, Miss."

          "On second thought, give me a minute to get suited up and I'll join you." She smiles, putting her hair up in a messy bun. 


 

          Dunn lands the chopper nicely. He's beyond thrilled that Justin didn't offer to fly, because no one inside would have lived to tell the tale. They bail out and Dunn takes stock of what they got. Sneaking out of base was a royal pain in the ass, since there are new guys everywhere, asking where everyone is going and why. Basically, they got out with what they had on, and a couple of tac vests. 

          Ramirez shrugs a shoulder. "You know, I thought we were done for awhile."

          "You're the ones who came with me." Dunn replies. 

          They pull their weapons up and trudge down the mountainside. Dunn raises a hand for them to stop when he gets to a small clearing. Graves. He gets a tug in his heart and he approaches them. Crosses rest above the churned dirt and a smooth spot has the names carved into it. 

          "Who are they?" McCord asks. 

          Dunn spots Toad first. His breath hitches and a strangled answer comes from his throat. "The 141."

          When he sees Scarecrow and Roach, he as to look away. Ozone is there too. A hand rests on his shoulder and Dunn sees McCord looking at him. There's so many that aren't here, though.

          "Come on, man. Let's go check out the house."

          Ramirez and Justin stick to the outside of the group, keeping watch on the flanks. Suddenly, Russian's emerge from the trees from all around them. Dunn feels the hairs on his neck rise too late and he's putting his weapon down before he knows it. 

          Of course, the rest follow his lead and the Russians close in. 

          A shorter soldier approaches Dunn, but still keeps his distance. 'Who are you?"

          "Not telling anyone who isn't taller than I am." Dunn snaps. 

          The soldier comes up close in his personal space now, and Dunn fights the urge to fight. His shoulder aches due to the sudden use and he feels a little like he's torn the stitches, and it doesn't help that he's leaning a little backwards, leaving all his weight to that side. 

          "You sure?"

          Dunn tries to see past the shades.... blood red shades? Where has he seen those before?

          The soldier waves a hand and suddenly the others come closer too, putting bags over his team's heads. Dunn struggles to keep his balance as he's pushed along, and his shoulder is really starting to protest. 

          "Steps." a soldier warns. 

          Dunn trips anyway and a rough hand forces him inside. They pull Dunn's hands over his head and zip-tie them there, and by the sounds around him, his friends are getting the same treatment. The bag comes off though.

          The short soldier from before reappears. "Who are you?"

          Dunn is about to answer when the soldiers keeping their hands by their necks catches Dunn resisting. They pull back, it appears, and Dunn yelps. Yep, tore my stitches. And probably the muscle, again.

          "You are injured, no?" the short man asks. 

          Dunn's Adam's apple bobs as he swallows. "Sorry. Wasn't kidding about the height thing." 

          Bearcat looks at him with a glare. "Why do I trust you on these things?"

          Dunn chuckles. "Because you like me."

          He's slapped and his head jerks towards the short man. (Really need to figure out this guy's name.) "Shut up."

          "Hey, you could have just asked, there's no need to be short-tem-"

          He reaches up to Dunn's head and grabs his hair, dragging his head back. A harsh kick to his knees sends him to the ground, but the soldier holds him upright. They reach for their mask while speaking, and the voice changes as the mask comes off.

          "Even at this height, I can still kick your arse, kiddo."

          The hand in his hair leaves, but he's still staring up at her as her soft hand cups the side of his face. "Lewis."

          Bearcat blows out a breath of air. "Alright, Dunn. I officially believe you now."

          "Hey, Lewis." McCord says, smiling for all the world as if he expected this. 

          "Hey, McCord. Still benching 250, or you pushing for my record?" she pulls away and Dunn gains his feet again.

          He laughs. "It's good to see you too."

          "You can cut 'em lose, Kaz. And you can go back on duty if you'd like." she laughs, and the sound is airy, as if she doesn't have a care in the world. Turning her head, she calls for someone. "Come on out boys, it's time for show and tell."

          There's a clacking noise and Dunn watches a person on a single crutch emerge from what looks like the kitchen. "Hello, mates."

          "Archer? You were on the casualty list." Dunn says, mystified.

          He chuckles. "Don't believe everything you read." 

          Archer finds something to lean against just as a couple more guys come in. 

          There's a little chatter, and Dunn stands with his team at the door. Captain MacTavish walks in, and Price and Nikolai are behind them yet. Once everyone has said their hellos, most of the 141 file out and meander off. Ghost sticks close to Lewis though. 

          Dunn can't stop himself and he hugs her. 

          "Love you too, Dunn."

          "Just answer me one question?" he asks, putting her out at arm's length. "If Archer saw you die, how are you alive?"

          "Really? That's the question you pick? Ghost, take me way. Dunn, make yourself and your team comfortable. I'll be doing our regular meeting in a couple hours."

          Ghost wraps an arm around Lewis and presses a kiss to her forehead. "There you go. You got your kid back. Happy?" he asks as they're walking away. 

          "Quite." she turns her head. "Nice job on the code, by the way."

          Dunn and his team just stands there like idiots for another ten minutes. 

          Justin chuckles nervously. "So, we're here, surrounded by Russians and the 141..... Now what?"

          Dunn looks around, unsure of where to go to. "I have no idea."

Chapter Text

          Captain Price's POV

          It's been about a week since the Rangers showed up. Price is having a hard time getting used to 'em. Thankfully, in his case, they seem to stay away. Price is fairly certain that Soap is the only one who has approached him as of late. 

          He and Corporal Dunn definitely do not mix. 

          Sure, he'd started off cordial enough, but Dunn caught Price mouthing off to Lewis. She was attempting to wrap his chest, since he was still suitably beaten up from the Gulag, and he wouldn't stop moving. She was probing around with her cold fingers for which spots were the worst, and then Price batted her hands away. 

          The look on her face was nothing short of scolding. 

          She snagged the tape on his chest hair and he was just about to snap out a curse when she huffed. 

          "Don't you swear at me. If you swear at me, I'll shave you." she'd said.

          Worse was that he'd been able to hear Soap and Ghost spitting out their drinks in the kitchen from laughing so hard. They got theirs. Lewis had dragged them into her makeshift hospital room. Ghost was coughing and wheezing, so she'd made him sit down. Soap was being wrestled into taking painkillers since he was holding his chest like his heart was trying to jump out. He was still laughing. 

          Not that Price wasn't happy to see Soap laughing, but being the object of their amusement wasn't his idea of fun. 

          After that, she'd gotten back around to Price and he'd finally snapped at her. He could have sworn the the temperature in the room dropped twelve degrees. Ghost and Soap's gazes were suddenly less friendly, and Dunn was standing outside the door ready to help her. 

          What he said isn't worth repeating. 

          Now, he's restricted to bed rest and he's got a splitting headache from being bored for so long. Unfortunately, she'd also cuffed him by one hand to the bed. She knows him too well by now. 

          He'd gotten over his trust issues (mostly), but she still rubs him the wrong way. She's too sure of herself, and the way everyone here was at her beck and call makes Price edgy. 

          Honestly? He's not even sure that snapping at her was worth it. When the Rangers walk by his room, something akin to pity appears on their faces, as if he's a child in time-out. 

          He can see her hands moving out at her desk as she coordinates the dawn patrol. Archer is back on his feet, so he's headed out with Kazlov. Bloody Russians everywhere.

          Price glances at his cuffed hand, rattling the cuff with affront. He's got better things to be doing than sitting around nursing his wounds. He looks to Soap, who's sleeping soundly on a cot nearby, sans the cuffs. The crease that habitually appears on Soap's forehead is gone. He's more restful than Price has ever seen him.

          Grudgingly, Price admits to himself that Lewis takes good care of the team. That still doesn't make him her poster boy.

          He's startled back into his boring reality by Soap's breathing picking up. It goes downhill from there. Price attempts to go to him before remembering the cuff, and he's fairly certain his pinched skin isn't a fan. 

          He grumbles under his breath before calling to Lewis. 

          Something in his tone must have tipped her off, because she doesn't question him from the other room. She's by Soap's side in a couple of strides and starts to check him over without laying a hand on him. Smart.

          "Soap." she says, trying to coax him into wakefulness. 

          She poises a hand over his chest, and Price has an idea of what she plans to do. "Lewis, don't."

          "I won't hurt him, Price." she answers, not looking back at him. 

          Price is about to warn her again when Soap's arm flies out towards Lewis' face. She simply blocks the hit and snags his wrist, pinning it to his chest and sitting on top of him. He struggles for only a moment and Price is stunned. 

          He doesn't open his eyes, but Soap puffs out a breath. "Lewis."

          "Right here."

          He turns his face into the pillow and cracks open one blue eye. His chest heaves and hitches in a way that looks uncomfortable. Lewis lets his hand go in favor of checking his bandages. She prods and asks if he can feel in a couple areas. He nods, looking exhausted. 

          "The skin's a little feverish." she tells him.

          Price watches them interact, her still casually sitting on his stomach, and him letting her. Price tries hard not to let his displeasure show at the utter faith Soap puts in her. She finishes her query and hops off. 

          "Rest easy, Soap. Try not to die."

          He hums (read 'huffs') and closes his eyes. Price is appalled. 

          What in the ever-lovin'.... He turns his head and finds Lewis staring him down. 

          "What?" she growls.

          He gives her a look. Her hair is up in a tight bun, but a a few wisps of hair are escaping. "You know what." 

          She shakes her head and leaves, rejoining the Russians out in the main room. "You're on the east. Take Justin with you to help him familiarize with the borders."

          A Russian nods his head respectfully and his team trails after him. They head out just as the night patrol comes back in. They look exhausted.

          "Mal." Lewis calls, drawing the leader's attention. Malenscnik, Price thinks. 

          "Yes, miss?"

          Price rolls his eyes and lies down, his cuffed hand sprawled above his head. He's about to drift off when gun-fire pops somewhere around the house. There's shouting and Price jolts back up. He presses his free hand to his temple as his eyes get a little fuzzy. Soap reaches for the pistol beside the bed and rolls to his feet. Price wants to protest loudly at the blatant disregard for his own safety, but Soap's discomfort disappears as he moves out of the room at a crouch. 

          Lewis bolts from the house with a rifle in hand. Soap follows her, issuing a quiet order to keep low. She obeys and lets Soap take the lead. Price isn't about to sit around, so he looks around for something to help him get out of the cuffs. Finding a screwdriver, he jams it between the cuff and the mattress frame. He jiggles it to find the weak point where the cuff joins and wrenches it to the side. 

          The screwdriver slips and Price's head snaps up at the sound of more gunfire. He tries again and the cuff creaks under the pressure. Price growls at it as he hears Soap ordering his team around. Finally, the cuff breaks and Price grabs the nearest gun. He heads outside, joining Soap. 

          "What's going on?"

          "Shadow Company." Soap growls. "Or what's left of them. They ambushed the team to the west."

          "Any survivors?"

          "We don't know yet." Soap pops out from behind cover to take a guy out, then crouches back behind the tree. 

          Soap is reloading when one of the Shadow Company soldiers makes a break for the house. He aims at Soap and Price reaches out to him, shouting a warning. Another man tackles him and Soap tumbles to the side. Price shoots and kills the first soldier before turning back to Soap. He's kneeling over the second person as they brush themselves off.

          Price keeps a sharp eye as Soap drags the person who tackled him behind cover. He sees another soldier slinking around the perimeter in Shadow Company clothes. His head turns and Ghost's mask smiles at him. 

          Lewis is going to kill you, kid. 

          He disappears into the brush.

          The person who tackled Soap looks up. "They won't make it through the defenses." Price is shocked by his relief that it's a Russian.

          A loud crack echoes through the air and Soap stiffens. "Sniper!" he ducks into the boathouse.

          Price hears Lewis shouting orders on the other side of then house. "They've got us pinned down!" Price growls.

          Soap chuckles. "Not if I know Lewis."

          A sniper shot comes from inside the house, and Price knows that Kazlov's team made it back. Or at least Archer did. 

          From where they are, Price can see Dunn dragging Russians to the relative safety of the porch. Price looks around for Ghost, but doesn't see him. 

          "Lewis." Soap acknowledges. 

          Price turns and she frowns. "You shouldn't be out of the house."

          Soap puts a hand on her shoulder. "Let it lie. He's here now, what's the plan?"

          "Most of Kazlov's team made it back down the hill, and the east is flanking them. I've got the rest of us covering the back of the house. Archer is upstairs covering you idiots."

          "No need to get nasty." Soap says, smiling. 

          "We're going out to the front to join Kaz. He's waiting on us now."

          "What about Ghost?"

          "He's infiltrating their ranks. We're hoping our borrowed clothes fit in with the group."

          "You know?" Price asks. 

          "Know what? That Ghost is out there somewhere? Yeah, of course I do."

          Soap peers around the corner of the building. "We've no time for that, Price. Save your bickering for a different time. Just mind your bullets. Watch out for Ghost."

          "Where's those Rangers?"

          "Dunn is over there," she points to the porch. "..but I'm guessing you know that. Justin is out front with Kaz, Bearcat is up with Archer, McCord is with the dawn patrol, and Ramirez is setting up my computers in the house so I might be able to hijack a drone if we need it."

          Price nearly sputters. She can do that?

          She holds up a finger. "And yes, Price, before you ask, I can do zat." she barrels on. "So, I need to stay close in case we're in dire need, but I need you guys to go up the right flank. We're a little shorthanded on that end. All I've got is the patrol that went south over there."

          "On it."

          Soap, Price, and the Russian move quickly to where Lewis needs them. It's only after Price is there does he realize that Lewis has turned the tables on Shadow Company. Now they're the ones boxed in.

          Breathing hard ahead of him, Soap chuckles. "Well done, Lewis."

          "You see why I have trust issues, Soap? This worked out too nicely. Near bloody perfect."

          "It's her way." Soap says quietly. "You'd better watch yourself."

          "Have I not been telling you that this whole time?"

          Soap shakes his head. "I refuse to argue with you on this, ol' man. And I've 'ad more reason to trust her recently than I've had to trust you."

          Price's mouth runs dry. "Soap."

          "Later."

          The Russian behind Price chuckles and Price has half a mind to throw him to Shadow Company. "Domestic troubles?"

          Now Price really wants to give him to Shadow Company.

          Price can see the other Russians across the yard, finding cover in the barns. This is going too well.

          The gunfire soon lulls to a stop and Soap gestures Price behind a short fence. "Keep low." 

          "I can take care of myself, Soap."

          Price waits for a response, but Soap treads cautiously into the open. Sighing, Price stays right behind him. There's a shrill whistle that Price doesn't recognize.

          "That's Lewis. Stay put." 

          Price grumbles as Soap straightens, relaxing slightly. Price sees the Russians start to file out of the trees and resists the urge to pulls his weapon up. Soap turns around as a throat clears.

          "I'd say that went well."

          "We'll have to count our blessins', eh Ghost?"

          "I'll count when Makarov's dead." Price huffs. 

          "Well, aren't you just a lovely rainbow this mornin'." Ghost growls. 

          Price is interrupted in his sharp reply by a voice. "You guys all good?"

          He turns, seeing Lewis leaning against the porch railing. "Peachy. Any idea what just happened?"

          "Last ditch effort would be my guess. Shepard most likely sent them to clean this area up, before he died, obviously."

          Price rolls his eyes. "Why did it take them three weeks to get here?"

          She opens her mouth to reply when she stops, words dying in her throat.

          She's moving suddenly and tackling Price to the ground. There was a report from a rifle shortly before and Lewis grunts as she collides with him. 

          A shot goes off in the house and Archer shouts an all-clear to them. 

          Soap shouts out orders and Ghost pulls Lewis off of Price. "Lewis?"

          "I'm good."

          Price would believe her, but the wet spot on his clothes says otherwise. "Ghost, check her for injuries."

          The blood drains from her face as she spies the wound before they do. Price pulls the boonie from his head as she stumbles and Ghost catches her. 

          "Dunn!" 

          Price swallows as Ghost puts pressure on her side, her eyes glazed from the pain. "Lewis, stay with me." Ghost croons, his voice near gentle. He pulls the shirt up and tears away the bandage that rests over what's left of her shrapnel wound, using it to soak up the blood. 

          "Sounds like a plan." she murmurs. 

          Ghost chuckles weakly. "I was shocked you were still alive, but I didn't want you to get shot for real, love."

          "Not my idea, but someone had to save the old man." She smiles. 

          No, no one had to. But you did. 

          Price sits on the ground next to them, Dunn finally arriving to help Ghost take her into the house. Maybe she's not so bad.

          She stops them and calls Price's name. "Get your arse back inside and onto that cot. I may have been shot, but I'm still watching you."

          Ghost and Dunn laugh, and Price reluctantly joins them. I was wrong.

          Heaving a breath, he treads into the house and settles on the bed. For once, he lies down without complaint, His muscles ache, and his bones are stiff. 

          There's no way he'll ever admit to Lewis that she was right, but rest sounds better than ever. He's almost outraged to find that he needs it so much after doing pretty much nothing. Placing his boonie on his head, he crosses his arms and drifts off. 

          He's vaguely aware of Lewis' voice giving orders and hurried steps to carry them out. I still think this is insane.