1. To the alpha fire team - what were your first impressions of one another?
“That Henn was a little fuck-slut and Hinde was too tall to be a commando,” Blackwood says instantly.
“Don’t just take the fucking piss,” Henn laughs, “answer properly.”
Blackwood sighs, the sound turning to a slight growl at its thin end.
“Okay – Henn – that he seemed really young, but he had his shit more or less together most of the time. And he had come into the marines straight from school, and passed selection first try, so I knew he was tougher and smarter than he looked.”
“Gee, thanks,” Henn grimaces.
“And Hinde – he seemed really quiet, and kind of – prim,” Blackwood says with a slight laugh.
“Fuck you,” Hinde laughs, shoving his booted foot against Blackwood’s slightly.
“Yeah, see, you always say that but you never do,” Blackwood laughs. “You’re prim.”
“I’m straight,” Hinde says as he wipes a hand over his face and huffs laughter into his palm. “Okay, my turn. Henn – that he was kind of young and naïve to be out here.”
Henn slides sideways into Blackwood, laughing hysterically.
“I didn’t say I was right,” Hinde laughs. “And Blackwood – um, that he’s really good at what he does? I felt good about being in a fire-team with him.”
Blackwood looks momentarily startled, and then suddenly finds something very interesting on the edge of his shirt cuff.
“Okay, me,” Henn says. “Blackwood – hell yeah, that I’d do him three ways from Sunday. Hinde – that he could not be fucking straight with a face like that, no way.”
“Hey, you’re the one who wanted us to answer properly,” Hinde says.
“That is my proper answer,” Henn protests.
2. Blackwood - are you married? What's your home life like?
Henn lifts and drops one hand in imitation of the trajectory of a missile arcing to earth, and blows his breath out explosively.
“Not married, not anymore,” Blackwood says with steely good humor.
“What’s that they say?” Henn says. “Third time’s a charm? Oh, wait, no it wasn’t.”
“Are you actively looking for a punch in the face?” Blackwood asks him.
Henn subsides a bit.
“As the fucking rug-rat says, I was married - ”
“Three times,” Henn says with glee.
“I swear to God, you’ll have to stick your toothbrush up your fucking arse to clean your teeth if you don’t stop,” Blackwood says.
Henn presses his lips together as tightly as he can while he’s sniggering.
“ – and I have five gorgeous daughters,” Blackwood says. “I’m very lucky.”
“Tell us what your home life’s like,” McMath says, with the narrow amusement of a man kicking a rattlesnake to see if it’s awake.
“Imagine walking down the Korengal Valley bollock naked carrying a big sign that says fuck the Taliban and fuck the Yanks too,” Blackwood says without hesitation. “It’s like that, except they take all your money away first. I fucking run onto that plane at the end of a leave.”
McMath presses the heel of his hand against his mouth to stifle his laughter.
“Knowing my bloody luck, Henn’ll turn up pregnant as well, and that’ll be number four,” Blackwood says darkly. “Though, at least that way there’d be another bleeding bloke in the whole mess, I feel like the last of the Mohicans most of the time. Next question, for God’s sake.”
3. Hinde - why the army? What propelled you into the military?
“My dad’s boot up my bum, mostly,” Hinde says with a slightly sheepish smile. “I had horrible marks at school - too busy playing football and shop-lifting. And I sure as hell didn’t want to go to university or anything, even if I’d been able to get in. I couldn’t get the dole, and my dad said if I didn’t find something else I’d have to work in the shop with him, and just - ”
Hinde wrinkles his nose in undisguised disgust.
“ - but, y’know, if it wasn’t working in his shop, it’d be working in someone else’s, or fucking cleaning toilets somewhere. I told my dad I was looking for a job, but mostly I was just hanging out with my mates, being completely bored. My dad got madder and madder - eventually he said he was just going to throw me out, and that would break my mum’s heart - and I just thought, shag it, I’m not waiting for him to throw me out, I’m leaving. Except, y’know, where do you go with nine pound and two failed A levels?”
“The British Army,” Henn says, in a basso profundo announcer’s voice.
Hinde huffs a fragment of laughter.
“Yeah, pretty much. I mean, my mum and dad have lived in India and England, but I’d pretty much never been anywhere except Bristol. I thought about the navy, actually, but the recruiter seemed like a bit of a wanker, so I tried the army instead. That bloke was okay, so I thought I’d give it a go.”
He shrugs one shoulder.
“And?” Blackwood prompts.
“And I fucking loved it,” Hinde grins. “I mean, the first time I did an assault course I thought I was having a shagging heart attack, I just wanted to stop but the PT instructor was screaming at me and I didn’t know what else to do so I just kept going. And when I got to the end, there’s the four of us that finished, out of eight that started. I just - I dunno, I just thought, bloody hell, I just did something that someone else couldn’t.”
“How did the Royal Marines happen?” Garrett asks.
“Eh, a bunch of us took the All Arms commando course,” Hinde says. “On the forced march? It was fucking raining, it was freezing, I had a broken pack strap and the fucker leading our unit couldn’t follow a map. I just looked at him and thought, you wouldn’t be let in the commandos as a fucking boot shiner. I can’t stand you, you incompetent fucking shit. I want to be somewhere you’re not. Somewhere they wouldn’t have you if - oh. Yeah, okay, I want to be in the commandos."
There’s some general laughter, and Hinde grins.
“Yeah, I joined because I was annoyed at some twit.”
“Hands up, everybody who decided at the All Arms course,” Blackwood says.
Everyone except Barr and Henn raise their hands.
“It’s like, you realize you belong with the instructors, not the trainees,” Garrett says.
There’s a soft murmur of agreement through the group.
"Anyway, that's me," Hinde says with a smile.
4. Henn - are you as sex obsessed as I imagine you to be?
“No,” Henn says indignantly.
“Yes,” McMath says.
“He’s more obsessed than you imagine,” Hinde says.
“It’s perfectly normal,” Henn protests. “I am perfectly normal.”
“You’re a sodding nympho,” Blackwood says.
“Hands up everyone who’s never had sex of any kind with Henn,” McMath says.
Hinde raises his hand. Everyone else starts laughing, including Henn.
“How does it feel to be the section bike?” McMath grins.
“How does it feel to be the reserve cyclist?” Henn counters.
“Ooh, ow,” Barr winces. “That was harsh.”
“What’s the most number of times you’ve had sex in one day?” Cullen asks.
Henn considers for a moment.
“Adjusting for the time zones you cross between England and here, or no?”
“You’ve done it on a troop transport plane?” Hinde says in disbelief.
“They’re full of troops,” Henn says.
“Have you ever done it with a guy who wasn’t a commando?” Garrett asks.
“Don’t be fucking disgusting,” Henn says righteously.
Garret claps his hand over his face, and wipes it abruptly sideways.
“Would you do a para?” he says.
“Their mascot’s a fucking Shetland pony,” Henn grimaces. “No.”
“Special Air Service?”
“Yeah, but only if he kept the beige beret on.”
“US Marine,” Garrett challenges.
“Only if he didn’t talk.”
“Oh fuck yeah,” Henn says. “He could talk French at me - and those tight combat trousers? You better fucking believe I’d do that.”
“Okay, we’ve established that Henn is more obsessed with sex than anyone could possibly imagine,” Blackwood says.
“I don’t follow football,” Henn says reasonably. “I have to do something.”
“So you decided to shag the entire fucking corps?” Hinde says.
“Excluding you, straight boy,” Henn grins.
5. To the entire section - what sort of leader is John? What do you think of him?
There’s a flurry of slight smiles, glances, then serious nods.
“Yeah, he’s good,” Blackwood says, on everyone’s behalf.
There’s another round of nodding.
“We should probably say a bit more,” McMath says.
“Okay,” Blackwood says gravely. “He expects everyone to do their job, and do it really fucking well. If you do, he doesn’t give you shit about anything else.”
“Yeah, he’s pretty laid back as long as you’re doing your bit,” McMath says.
“And he’s a doctor – he used to be a doctor, I mean,” Barr grins. “What’s handier than that? Other sections get a medic, we get a surgeon.”
“And you know he’s going to be right there in a fire-fight with you,” Garrett says. “Not trying to lead from the back, like some useless fuckers.”
“You’re making him sound really boring,” Henn protests, “and he’s not, at all.”
“No, he’s a complete fucking maniac,” Hinde says. “I mean, even for a commando.”
There’s a general chorus of grins and agreement.
“Okay, everybody, the moment I realized Doc Watson is a fucking maniac,” Blackwood prompts.
“The thing with the bomb,” McMath and Barr say to each other simultaneously, and both of them start laughing.
“So, we had air support for some fucking thing, and Doc called the strike in for like half a mile to the east of us,” McMath says, “and when the bomb dropped it hit the fucking roof of the building right next to us, and the four walls blew out and there’s bricks and shit raining down on us. And the rest of us are all Jesus fucking Christ they practically bombed us - ”
He’s laughing too hard to keep talking, so Barr takes over.
“ – and Doc’s on the radio, just, like, okay, now try bombing our position on the off chance you hit the fucking Taliban by accident instead.”
Barr collapses sideways against McMath as they both go into fresh fits of laughter.
“The Yanks’ Humvee,” Garrett says, to renewed hilarity.
“Aw Jesus that was priceless,” Blackwood laughs.
“Us and a fire-team of Yanks got pinned in an alleyway; their Humvee was parked at the street end, and the Taliban were climbing aboard to use the machine gun on it,” Garret grins, “so Doc hauls off with an RPG and blows the bloody thing up. And the Yanks are all that’s our fucking Humvee. And Doc’s like, bill me, you fuckers, I just saved your lives.”
Henn’s leaning on Blackwood’s shoulder sobbing with laughter.
“No,” Blackwood says, “what he said was, you can bill us for the Humvee, but we’ll give you guys the RPG for free.”
“Crossing the road at Al Kushad,” Hinde says.
The laughter turns to softer warmer smiles.
“That was fucking classy,” Henn says. “That’s my one, too.”
“There was a pitched firefight that went on all night,” Hinde says. “We were on one side of the Al Kushad road, and there was a couple of sections of TA on the other side, who’d only been here like a week. And the Taliban were just raining shit down on us, tracer rounds, flares, fragmentation grenades – like, nobody was actually getting hit, but there was so much stuff flying that it looked a lot worse than it was – anyway, the TA guys were just getting completely rattled, they weren’t ready for that at all. Doc said he’d go over and steady them up a bit. So he just stands straight up and goes walking across the road like nothing’s happening, just, lala, a commando doesn’t duck and run for petty crap like this. It was brilliant, and the TA guys were like, whoa, okay, if he doesn’t think it’s a big deal, maybe it isn’t a big deal.”
“Cullen, what’s yours?” Blackwood says.
“The bit where he fires a missile at the guy we’re supposed to be body-guarding,” Cullen says.
“You’ve been here four fucking months and that’s the first thing you’ve seen?” Blackwood says. “That’s fucking tragic.”
“What’s yours?” McMath asks Blackwood.
“SUV at the roadblock in Musa Qala,” Blackwood says.
“Fuck, yeah,” McMath says. “That took nerve.”
“There’s a regular barrier on the road,” Blackwood explains, “and then there’s about two hundred feet of road with walls on either side, and there’s a blast barrier at the end of that. This SUV just ran through the regular barrier, and Doc and me and another guy were inside the blast barrier, and Doc yells at us to get out and he just starts shooting straight at the SUV, doesn’t run, doesn’t even back up, just kept pumping away at that thing while we fucking dived over the barrier.”
“Jesus, what happened?” Cullen asks wide-eyed.
“He shot the driver in the head, and then shot out one front tire and the SUV went into the wall,” Blackwood says. “Stone cold, it was beautiful.”
“Was he okay?”
“Oh yeah, he turns round and walks out from the barrier and goes I think I’ve got grit in my eye. He’s fucking insane.”
“We love him,” Hinde says daringly.
6. To the alpha fire team - what do you think of Sherlock, really?
There’s another rapid exchange of glances, though this time they’re warier and more interrogative. After a long beat, Blackwood says,
“We don’t get paid enough to have an opinion on that.”
He and McMath look at each other grimly.
“He seems decent enough,” McMath says, still locking eyes with Blackwood. “He fits in well.”
“Listen to yourself,” Barr says. “He’s a civilian who fits in well with commandos. That’s fucking weird, right there.”
“Come on,” Garrett says. “Who do you think he is?”
“Never mind who, what is he?” Henn says. “When he got here , yeah, he was just some soft-arse civie, but on patrol - ”
“ - it was like he was just from another section,” Hinde says. “Like, he completely knew how to do the job; it was just a case of figuring out who was going to stand where.”
“So he’s military?” Cullen says.
“He’s not military,” McMath says, shaking his head. “He’s never fired an assault rifle before - you could see he had no idea what the recoil was going to be like.”
“So you upgraded him to a sniper rifle,” Hinde says.
“Fuck off, you’re just pissed ‘cos you can’t hit a nail with a hammer,” McMath says.
“Look, I know this sounds insane but - did you notice the way he puts his hand on the pistol grip at rest?” Barr says, “with his thumb straight out?”
He holds his hand in the air, fingers lightly curled and thumb extended. Hinde’s frowns in dawning realization, but everyone else looks utterly blank.
“I’m doing that,” Hinde says. “I’m supposed to rest the tendon whenever I can. What’s he - ?”
“I think he’s copying us,” Barr says, leaning forward intently as he talks. “I don’t think he’s military, I think he’s just really really fucking good at copying people who are.”
“Do you think he’s - I dunno, like, a clone, or a fucking alien, and they’re using us to train him as a super-soldier?” Cullen says in a rush.
Everyone looks at him, until he blushes deep pink.
“Cullen. Get off the fucking internet,” Blackwood says. “I mean it.”
“Whoever he is, he’s in some deep fucking shit,” McMath says, his voice softening. “I mean, he’s been grabbed once, and someone shot down a fucking chopper just to warn him off trying to leave. That’s some serious fucking shit, right there.”
“He’s got be someone really fucking important,” Henn says. “I mean, it’s gotta be a really big fucking deal whether he solves the killings or not.”
The silence among them ruffles with soft exhalations and nods of agreement.
“So keep it tight,” Blackwood says, looking from one man to another. “We’re what’s between him and them. Let’s make sure it stays that way.”
7. Again, to the alpha fire team - what do you really think about what's clearly going on between Sherlock and John?
“Ah, fucking hell, man,” Blackwood says, rubbing both hands over the short crop of his dark hair. “Nobody answer that.”
“It’s fucking scandalous,” Henn says. “I am seriously fucking scandalized.”
“What are you even on?” Blackwood laughs.
“I’m serious,” Henn says. “Doc? That’s fucking wrong. It’s like finding out your mum and dad used to fuck each other.”
Blackwood splays his hand over Henn’s face and shoves him off.
“Hey, if the VIP wants a little arse-action along with his body-guarding,” McMath says, “at least he’s got the wit to get it from a commando.”
“Yeah, can’t fault his taste,” Barr says.
Blackwood’s smiling rather ruefully.
“Spit it out,” McMath says.
“I don’t think they’re just shagging,” Blackwood says. “I think they’re - ”
He grimaces, shrugs.
“ - romantically involved,” he says at last.
“God, that sucks,” Garrett says.
“Jesus, don’t be a downer,” Hinde says. “What’s wrong with falling in love?”
“What’s wrong is that, realistically, Holmes can’t stay here playing at being a commando for the duration,” Garrett says. “Sooner or later, something’s gonna have to give.”
“Fuck. You think Doc’s thinking about that?” Henn asks.
“He’s Doc, of course he’s fucking thinking about that,” Blackwood says.
There’s a moment of heavy silence.
“What do we do?” Hinde asks, looking at Blackwood.
“I don’t fucking know, man,” Blackwood says. “Try and look out for the two of them, I suppose. That’s all we can do.”
8. HINDE, WILL YOU SLEEP WITH ME?
Henn shoves Hinde between the shoulder blades; Hinde rocks forwards easily, his expression shifting into something softer and heavy-eyed.
“Sweetheart, I thought you were never going to ask,” he says, his head dropped so that he’s looking at you from under the thick black fringe of his eyelashes.