“Keep moving, damn it!” Henderson yells, and even though I can’t see a thing, somehow I'm doing it. Somebody’s hauling me along, but the pain’s enough right now that I got no clue who it is.
“Where’s the captain?” Frankie’s voice is right in my ear, so I guess it’s him. Should’ve figured.
“Richards is dead,” Henderson growls in response. “Robard and—” Whoever else he was going to report on is swallowed up by a burst of gunfire and a hard gasp from somewhere. I open my left eye and bite down on a scream as my right eye tries to follow suit. Fuck, that hurts!
“Move, soldier!” Henderson is barely holding it together suddenly, but my sight’s so blurry I can’t see shit. “God damn it, Clay, move! ”
Frankie shoves me behind some rock formation from the feel of the stone at my back. I’m blind and dumb. Damn stupid fuck-up on my part—I never saw the guy’s knife coming and now I’m pretty sure I’ll never see anything again.
“Henderson! I need… fuck.” Frankie’s grating anger says it all and I suddenly wonder how many of us are left. This mission went to shit pretty damn quick, didn’t it? But then we knew we were the Judas goat from the beginning. Send in us grunts to keep 'em busy while the big boys take down the kingpin. Fucking army.
I resist the urge to slam my head against the rock behind me, though I suppose it can’t hurt worse than what I’ve already got. At least the firefight has died down—along with everyone else, I suppose.
“How're you doing, Roque?” Frankie’s anger suddenly turns to concern. That in itself freaks me out. Frankie is a hundred percent soldier out in the field. We both are. What we do off-mission is our own concern, but we keep it military when it counts. His touch is gentle as he reaches for the bandage Henderson slapped on my eye before he and everyone else started dying on us.
“God damn!” I gasp. I’m not going to throw up. I’m not. I don't even try to look at him with the eye I got left. "Don't fucking do that."
“Sorry. Sorry. Just... stay still,” Frankie whispers, worried as shit.
Like that’s going to help. Fucking swear, nothing has ever hurt this much— “You touch me again, I’m gonna rip your fucking eye out!” I’m serious, too, and he backs off. I try not to grab for the bandage but... God, man, my fucking eye!
“Which’ll leave you where, huh?” he asks, fear and anger in his words. “No way we killed them all, Roque, and we’re pretty damn conspicuous.”
Because he’s hauling me around. “Get the hell out of here and find a cave,” I tell him. No use in the whole team being slaughtered. If anyone deserves to make it out of here, it’s him.
“I plan to,” he promises. “Lucky you gets to come along for the ride.” He hauls me back to my feet and I try like hell not to puke on his boots. Nearly make it, too.
“Better be a big damn cave or we’ll choke on the smell.” His grumble is accompanied by a shaking that I figure is him kicking chunky bits off his toes.
But of course he drags me along anyway. He’s a fucking boy scout, Frankie Clay. Drank the kool aid and believes whole hog in Truth, Justice, and the American Way. And the idea that no one gets left behind.
“Down!” he barks suddenly, dropping me to the dust and blowing out my eardrum with the sound of his AK. My left eye pops open and I can just barely see a man in dark robes drop dead a few yards from us. Clay grunts as he lifts me back to my feet and the world starts going black. I’m fucking useless…
I don't know how long it's been before I come back to myself, but I realize that Frankie’s slowing down, his breath coming in heavier pants. Damn boy scout. “You hit?” I ask, knowing the real answer and knowing I won’t get it.
“There’s a cave over here to the east,” he replies. “Might be defensible.”
Sure. Until the both of us pass out from blood loss.
Still, there’s nothing I can do about it right at the moment, so I just let myself be dragged along. I’m barely awake for the last bit—until Frankie drops me to the ground and lands on top of me.
“Fuck, man, what the hell?!” I cry, adding a cracked rib to my injuries.
“Yeah, sorry. I just...” Frankie gasps in pain, rolling off me. I steel myself to open my eyes again, and my right one stays closed this time, thank God. Blood has probably glued it shut. The cave’s dark after the never-ending desert sun, and he’s not much more than a heaving shadow between me and the entrance.
“Now we both need a medic,” I snap, trying to break the mood.
He chuckles hopelessly. “I’m afraid we’re fresh out of them,” he tells me, grunting as he sits up and reaches toward me. “I grabbed Henderson’s bag before we bugged out, though.”
I can’t help myself as I jerk away from the hands that are headed for my face.
“I was serious about ripping your eye out,” I tell him.
“For God’s sake, Roque,” he grumbles. “I’m trying to see if that’s what he did, you shit, so stay still and shut up. ”
The terror in his words finally gets to me and I suck in a breath and hold it. It’s got to be done. God knows how long it’ll be until we get out of here, and if my eye gets infected, I’ll be a fucking pirate. And it's still there right? And working? I mean, ain't much call for a one-eyed soldier and, hell, there's nothing else I know how to be.
“Go,” I whisper, before I chicken out.
He’s careful with the bandage, but just having air on the right side of my face makes me want to puke all over again. And then he starts in on cleaning up the damage and Jesus... I don’t even realize I’ve grabbed on to Frankie’s arm until he murmurs, soft and calming, “You break my arm, I’m not going to be able to clean this up.”
My eyes open on reflex at that tone in his voice—the one that always gets me—but he’s a blurry/clear mess that makes me dizzy to look at. “Everyone else?” I ask—for something to ask. Anything that ain’t him wiping alcohol over my eye.
“In a better Hell than this, for damn sure,” he mutters. And then he tapes a new bandage on the eye and sits back from me. I almost miss the heat and the smell of him so close. “Looks like you’ll keep the eye. I think.” He gives a hiss and I hear him thud against the cave wall nearby. "Gonna have a wicked scar, though." His voice is weaker than I'd like. "We need to clean up that jab in your side, too."
Yeah, with all the losing a fucking eye, I forgot that the damn guy stabbed me in the gut, too. Hurts like stink now, though I'm thinking it can't be too serious, since I haven't bled to death yet. "Thanks for reminding me."
"Any time," he whispers, spent.
I risk opening my undamaged eye again and get a clear look at him finally. Franklin Clay is one unholy mess. There’s blood all over the front of his desert gear, and while a fair amount of it might be mine, at least some of it is from the hole in his shoulder.
“We’re a pair, ain’t we?” I joke, because there’s nothing else to do at this point.
"A pair of losers. Damn straight." Those eyes of his open and he stares at me, cold and frightened. We’re up shit creek. “Not sure we’re getting out of this one, buddy.”
Yeah, I’m not sure we are, either. “Hell, we were just a decoy anyway, Frankie,” I remind him, staring at the dark rock ceiling above us. “You know that. Hit hard and stir the nest. Distract them so the other strike team could take down the real target.”
"Anything to get the job done." Frankie shakes his head, fatalistic. “Casualties of war, right?”
I shrug. “I suppose.” I’m expecting a comeback—a denial, a defense of the idiots who call the shots. Something. When there’s silence I look over and see that his eyes have drift closed. “Hey, Frankie! Come on, man.” I'm not doing this alone.
He blinks heavily and sucks in a breath. “Need to take care of this, huh?” he asked dully, staring at the blood on his chest.
My chuckle hurts like hell. “And they say you’re the brains of this operation.”
“Yeah, fuck off.”
Frankie starts working his way out of his jacket and shirt, which has to hurt as much as my eye. There’s two holes in his shoulder, small in front, too damn big in the back. “At least it went all the way through,” he gasps.
I nod my agreement and lean my head back against the wall again. I keep my good eye open, though, watching him as he cleans off his chest and wraps a pressure bandage around his shoulder to get the exit and entrance wounds in one go. Frankie isn’t a hardbody; a little too much meat on him for that. But he’s got a hell of a set of muscles...
“You gonna stare at me all day?” he asks with a rude smile in his voice.
“There’s nobody else here,” I remind him, leering back.
He leans over me again and that look... "Get your clothes off for me," he murmurs with a grin.
And then the bastard picks up the fucking medkit. "I still have to take care of that jab."
"I'll jab you myself, you fucking tease," I grunt. Not that this is the time or place for anything but the man's a total fuck when he wants to be.
"Promises, promises," Frankie replies.
He helps me work my shirt off and I look down at the bloody hole in my side. Not bad—especially not considering the damage that asshole did to me above the neck.
I close my eye as he works on cleaning and binding the wound. It's killing his shoulder, I know, but for once in my life, I'm glad to have someone taking care of me. Especially this someone.
"There you go. Good as new," he lies.
"Yeah," I quip back. "Now we're just trapped in a cave waiting to be found and executed by a bunch of pissed off gun runners."
He slumps back down, leaning against me on his good side. “Won't happen," he tells me, reaching over to grab his rifle and handing me his pistol. “Night's falling and they got their own wounds to lick. We regroup a little and hightail it to the rendezvous in the morning.” He turns, close and warm with a candid caring in his eyes. “I’ll get us out of here, Wil,” he murmurs. “That’s a promise.”
And Frankie Clay hasn’t broken a promise to me yet.