Mark R. Chandar stretched his left hand from his sickbed and held James Porter firmly. Like the force he would apply during an arm wrestling. Posture too.
“Nah then*1, James!”
It was like the situation when he just woke up and went out of his room for the shower and shave while saying “good mornin’!” to James, who also just went out from the adjacent room.
But it was one of the things Mark was least likely to do. James certainly understood that, so did Mark’s geek buddies – whatever the young man did and said was the same as his coding style -- plain, concise and straightforward. He always greeted his English teammate with either “James” or “Smoke”, any interjection was considered “unnecessary” and excluded from his dialogues. Greeting someone with sleepy eyes, expression of emotion and even dialect might be something common for most of the other operators. But for Mark? It sounded just odd.
“What’s on your head?” James had a hilarious impulse to touch the genius’ forehead to see if his brain was melted by fever, but a sudden and -- relatively rational – thought stopped his playful mood. The guy just struggled to escape the grasp of Death and come back to alive, so a high fever was indeed probable. Now James felt bloody sad at the fact.
And Mark suddenly began his self-review. “I’m injured… Should have a few broken ribs if my feeling isn’t wrong… Was too close to the explosion. And I feel pain in my right leg, too… There was a bullet going through –" It was predictable. He didn’t know his teammates already resolved what happened to him by the traces on site.
“Don’t speak so many words so quickly! Aren’t you ‘Mute’? How did you become a chatterbox? Wait here. I’m bringing your ‘Moni’ here to block your crappy mouth!” All lies. God knew how damn eager he was to hear Mark speak again. But he just couldn’t bear to listen to the miserable statement anymore. The young Yorkshireman had already suffered too much.
James even pretended to be ready to leave, but Mark didn’t let him. The young man’s force refusing to let James go also made his hand somewhat painful.
James took a deep breath. The smell of disinfectants and diseases made him nervous and feel like the one he cared could pass away anytime. He wanted to take Mark out of here if it was possible. He turned back and looked at the mummified Yorkshire boy laying on the bed. No. The warrior who returned alive from fighting alone against dozens of enemies.
He was the youngest and most inexperienced one in the team, but the tall, strong and talented man was dependable enough. It wasn’t suitable to treat him like a kid anymore, and James should restrain the mother hen attitude. James thought, the egg didn’t hatch a chick but an ambitious eagle.
He held Mark back, on the left hand which was the only uninjured part over his body. His right hand had hurt due to the communicator he crushed before falling into a coma. The fragment of hard plastic ripped his gloves and got stuck into his palm, but it was still a minor injury.
He was not joking -- James wanted to go around every church, temple and shrine to thank anyone who let his Mark come back alive. His Mark. He never held his unashamed thought back, just like whatever that would come out his mouth.
“The wounds are certainly going to leave scars.” His fingers hooked Mark’s hand slightly.
He didn’t mean the small wounds on his hand, but the many bigger wounds ripped over his body, caused by the explosion and bullets.
James had seen Mark’s enviably beautiful naked upper body, which featured smooth and flawless light brown skin, on the side of the swimming pool in the base. Now, it would have ugly battle-worn marks – he thought it was such a pity.
“I don’t mind.” Mark rolled his eyes, “and don’t you guys always say… each scar is a medal of a real man?”
Did Mark just tell a joke? James’ heart was jumping up and down with this word. My God, had the sun risen from the west today?
However, when James looked at Mark again and found out he seemed not likely to be proud of the “medal of men”, his excitement vanished in a second. Mark’s indifferent expression didn’t look sarcastic either. It just made the supposed joke he said sound like a neutral remark, such as “I come from York”.
“Sounds like you’re going to receive ‘the Medal of Dullness.’” Smoke cocked an eyebrow.
The confusion crept into Mark’s face as if thinking if the “Medal of Dullness” truly existed, before his eyes moved up and brightened again. He gazed at the small glass window on the door, which displayed vague silhouettes. Yes, his other teammates had come. Gustave – Doc was the first one Mark recognised from the crowd. He faintly recalled the moment after his teammates found him and took him out of the site. He wondered if there was the final moment of his life. The blood blurred his vision, and his consciousness floated in the air. What he only felt was a group of men led by Doc pushing him along with a bed with wheels in a hurry. So, the destination was the surgery room, not a mortuary or a hall for his funeral. Lucky him.
James also noticed the bustling outside. Apparently, everyone in Rainbow had put down their tasks to get here after they heard Mute had regained his consciousness. Perhaps they just didn’t enter because of James. Everyone in the base had already known how mad Smoke became after hearing Mute got an injury, after all.
What was in their minds during these days? And how about mine?
James felt sorry. However, he still insisted on the monopoly on such a refreshing moment. He adjusted his posture to ensure he had his back facing the door, so that no one could observe Mark’s and his mouths.
“By the way, Mark, do you have a boyfriend?”
Mark’s jaw, one of the few parts barely wounded on his body, almost got dropped by the unpredicted question.
James then later realised the question was not good for Mark’s… Recovery, if he should choose a reasonable word. He switched to a “gentler” saying. “How about a girlfriend? You should have one or two girls in your mind, right?” And it appeared to become a worse question.
Mark blinked with confusion. A rare expression from the young man known for his intelligence.
He just couldn’t grasp what James meant. Were they really in the infirmary? Not shooting the scene of a soap drama? He wanted to react, but his every brain cell felt lacking energy under the medicine, so he was unable to think smoothly like usual.
James still waited for Mark's answer, even though he supposed it should be negative. “Partner” didn’t look like something a nerd like him would get.
Mark then gave up seriously thinking of the proper answer and threw in another joke of the day, “I do.” Right, he almost lost the fight on keeping his normal, logical and smart behaviour. When the lousy physical condition couldn’t support his rational thinking, Mark would turn out a garrulous idiot like James.
James’ mouth fell open and became a circle.
“In fact, I have four. They are all called ‘Moni’.”
Mark spoke the sentence quite slowly, and James’s mouth gradually set back into a line following every word Mark said. Should be a ridiculous scene.
“So, Moni is a girl?” James asked.
James slapped his thigh, then laughed heartily. He used to believe Moni had an industrial and straightforward square design that quite fit masculine aesthetics. Who could tell they were, surprisingly, four girls?
To think again -- Mark was a man, and Moni was a woman in accord with Mark’s aesthetic standard. Would it be a cue of his sexual orientation?
James decided to put the issue behind for a while. At least, what he knew today was that Mark was single. He wouldn’t make such a joke at all if he wasn’t. James won’t let the overthinking ruin his little joy by now.
He withdrew his hand from Mark’s grasp, and knocked the young man on his head gently, “Take a good rest. I will come again later.” And he whistled as went out the door.
James closed the door behind him. “Mark feels somewhat sleepy. Would somebody else like to look after him for a while?” he told others before walking away.
Mark had just awakened, and still had a psychological assessment waiting for him. No one could tell if the man looked calm but had trauma deep in his mind, and would he cause any trouble when he was left alone in the medical ward. If somebody were accompanying Mark to sleep, it would be great, but James didn’t think he could handle the task. It didn’t mean that he wouldn’t like to, he swore – just because he couldn’t bear with seeing the mass of injuries closing his eyes. It appeared too close to his nightmare.
Being in the service for so many years, it was the first time he ever tasted a shot of fear.
James turned on his laptop to write the mission report as soon as he returned to his dorm room.
The rules of Rainbow required a written report from everyone back from an operation. Minor ones without accidents could do roughly, but if there were casualties, those must be reported seriously. This time, because one of the teammates was just lucky to escape from getting KIA, they had to write their reports in great detail to reconstruct the process, so that they could figure out the reason of the accident.
Everyone had already submitted their reports except Mark and James. Nobody would urge James after seeing him distracted with his severely injured buddy, anyway.
After James quickly entered the brief summary of the operation, like date, time and location, he made a cup of black tea for himself and began recalling what happened on that day.
In fact, what involved James was simple. One of the SIS intel directed them to a small town located at the centre of a small country ravaged by wars, where it was suspected that terrorists had hidden bombs and their other weapons to cause casualties to innocents. And when they went to eliminate the terrorists, both local police and military were nowhere to be seen. Therefore, what James and others in the same group should do was just shooting anyone except for themselves.
So, it then appeared like a mechanical task that depended on his muscle memory, like at the shooting range. It was too boring that he could even get it done without his eyes open. But Mark was in a totally different situation.
To Mark, it was like jumping on an express going to the hell without knowing whether it would return or not.
James blew on his quivering fingers to warm them before he continued writing, while his mind flew back to that early morning.