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Forward, the Light Brigade

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"Elephants don't eat people," Ryan's laughing while he says it, mouth spread in a wide grin and leaning over the table. "I mean it. I don't know who told you that but they were lying to you."

Sean sips his drink and shoots a smug look across the table at Tom, waiting for Ryan's companion's response. This has to be it. No way does Ryan have a shot of getting laid tonight but Tom shakes his head and Sean motions for Max to grab them another round of whatever it is they'd brewed up this week. Tom can't expect to win this bet and when he has to pay Sean's tab he's gonna be hurting.

"You're full of it," she says, rolling her eyes. She's pretty and blonde and her name is Karen. She's way too smart and nowhere near drunk enough to sleep with Ryan. "My cousin goes on expeditions into the Missouri Wastelands to capture wild elephants all the time. He told me that they have to be totally cautious about capturing them because they'll eat a man in two bites."

Ryan scoffs, actually scoffs and it's all Sean can do not to throw his arms in the air in victory. "Have you ever met an elephant?" Ryan asks, just like Sean knew he would. "Because I have. See, Tom here does recon sometimes and I go with him a lot to HQ South. I've met our Elephant Cavalry hundreds of times and they don't eat people. No way."

For a second, Sean thinks the girl might be impressed that Ryan's a low-level grunt with access to HQ. It's got a kind of prestige associated with it that just might win her back. Now Tom's looking smug and Sean wishes there was some way to flip him off without drawing attention.

"You must be stupid," she tells Ryan and Sean wants to hug her. "Of course our Elephant Cavalry is okay, they're tame. The army's trained them and disciplined them and everything. I'm talking about wild elephants. The elephants who've never even encountered mankind that live down south in the Missouri Wastelands or the Louisiana Territory, those elephants are man-eaters."

Ryan shakes his head again, turning to Sean and Tom and pointing to her with a can you believe this girl expression on his face. "You obviously don't know anything about elephants. Sean told us all about them. He read us some book about how a long time ago, back before The Fall, elephants used to be kept locked up in pens and cages so people could go see them for entertainment. It wasn't until the Rebellion started up that we started capturing and using them again."

Sean remembers reading it out loud, some children's book he'd found and kept because Tom had mentioned wanting to learn how to read. It had had bright colors and easier words than anything Sean had for himself. Tom nearly broke his hand punching the wall in frustration when he didn't get it right away.

"You can read?" Karen's looking at him now, eyes wide and impressed. Sean's not really sure what he should say.

"Yeah," Ryan answers for him. "Sean's like a genius with words and stuff, he loves reading. Tom says the only reason he went into Command was because it gave him an excuse to keep a daily diary."

Karen's face falls and she jerks upright. "Command?" she clarifies and Sean knows exactly what she's worried about.

"Oh, dude, no," Ryan's laughing again. Karen looks visibly annoyed. Tom's so paying for his drinks. "This is Sean's place too, beautiful. He's hardly gonna rat you out for being here when he's pretty much part owner."

"Sean's the worst commanding officer in the whole army anyway," Al adds, reaching out for Sean's drink and taking a big sip for himself.

"Oh yeah," Max and Ryan say at pretty much the same time. Karen looks relieved.

"You know I'm still in the room, right?" he asks and they all laugh at him. Because his men are a bunch of slacker jackasses and it's his own fault. Even Tom's laughing and if anyone doesn't have a right to laugh about someone being a terrible soldier, it's Tom.

Karen takes everyone laughing at Sean as an excuse to duck out of the booth, which Sean doesn't blame her for. Ryan, possibly admitting defeat or possibly too drunk to bother going after her, stays where he is.

Sean grins and Tom gets up. "I need to settle mine and Sean's tab," he can hear Tom saying to Max and because Sean is nothing if not a magnanimous winner he sits back and offers the rest of Tom's drink to Al.

"No seriously, Al, Sean said he would," Ryan's saying when he turns back to them. Al's watching Ryan with that look he gets when he's deliberately trying to egg someone on. Sean kind of resents the fact that he knows exactly what Al looks like when he's doing it and yet falls for it every time.

"No really! I've only got like a year left on my conscripted service and Sean said he'd recommend me for elephant cavalry. I'm always helping them out with feeding and cleaning whenever I'm at HQ. There's not a single cavalryman who doesn't know me. I'm a lock once Sean gives me a recommend."

"Just because they let you shovel shit out of the pens doesn't mean they're gonna let you be a cavalryman," Al points out, reaching for the tin Tom left on the table. Tom likes to pre-roll his cigarettes so he doesn't have to roll them when they're in the field. This means he gets them poached a lot though, because he tends to leave the tin lying around.

Al lights up and Ryan leans forward to point his finger right in Al's face. "I know all of their names and their schedules, everything. I'm-"

"He likes them," Sean cuts in, because he knows Ryan won't mention it. "Ryan loves those elephants and it's really obvious to everyone who's ever seen him with them. The other cavalrymen know that and they know that if they trust Ryan with one, he'll take care of it." He's seen Ryan petting their trunks and sneaking them treats from his rations and he knows the other officers have too.

Ryan's grin is almost blinding in the low light and Sean doesn't want to break the moment so he doesn't say anything else. Al rolls his eyes, clearly about to say something when Sean's communicator goes off. Ryan and Al wave him off and Sean stands, making his way towards the back door. The last thing he needs is to answer a call from HQ with the noise of their little makeshift speakeasy in the background.

He brushes by Tom on his way out back and Tom furrows his brow and tilts his head to the side. Where are you going? his body language is asking. Sean taps his communicator and lets his palm rest on the small of Tom's back for just a second before he's on his way.


"Up and out, guys," he says once he's back inside and standing by the table. Everyone looks up at him for a second and Sean taps his communicator in explanation. "We just got called in to do patrol tonight."

There's moaning and groaning, most of which is coming from Ryan but Sean just shrugs. "Hey, you guys knew we were on call. Shit happens. Get upstairs, grab your gear and be ready to leave in ten." Ryan's still grumbling but they all do as they're told.

He and Tom trudge upstairs, ignoring Ryan and Max fighting over whether Ryan should bother to bring all of his grenades and Sean's grateful once again that he turned down a proper officer's quarters. They'd offered when he made Captain and he'd turned them down because the others were talking about renting some building together.

The building is old, practically ancient really, dating from before The Fall and though the foundation and walls are solid, it's drafty when it's cold and sweltering when it's hot. He and Tom spent all last winter sharing a bed, curled up close every night with at least four blankets, and every day last summer running their heads under the taps.

But if he had an apartment near the other officers in the Old Loop near HQ, he'd have to find transport all the way back every time he wanted to stumble home drunk or scramble to gather his gear. Here it's right upstairs and there's almost always someone to help make sure he doesn't break his neck on the rickety stairs.

He shrugs into his jacket and grabs his pack, trying not to roll his eyes at the bumps he's hearing from Tom's room. Standing in the doorway to Tom's room though, it's more funny than anything else.

"Conrad, if I were a better commanding officer I'd write you up for not being combat-ready," he says, trying to act stern. Tom doesn't even have the decency to look contrite. He just saunters over with a grin and wraps his hand around Sean's wrist.

"Good thing for both of us you're not, then, isn't it?" he asks, tugging him into his room. "Help me find my rifle? I know it was in the closet this morning."

"It's in the living room," Sean tells him, pulling him back out. "You tripped over it when you went to make coffee this morning." Tom's relieved smile is beautiful and Sean really wishes they had more time. "Go grab it. Down in ten includes you, Corporal."

Tom gives him a half-assed salute, headed towards the living room with a cocky grin and Sean's left alone in Tom's room. It's a mess, yet again. What few belongings Tom owns are in disarray all over the floor. Everything except Tom's camera and recon gear, in their proper place right next to his bed.

"How did you ever survive the barracks during Basic?" he asks Tom once he's in the living room too. Tom looks up from where he's checking his rifle and shrugs, which is sort of par for the course when it comes to Tom. Sean rolls his eyes. "Let's go defend the free nation of Chicago."


"The point is, I totally killed that fucking rat, man," Ryan's saying. He's pretending to talk to Sean, but his voice is raised and he keeps looking back over his shoulder like he's trying to make sure Max is paying attention.

"Doesn't matter," Max says, fiddling with the communicator. "It was still the most disgusting thing I've ever seen." He's frowning down at the communicator and a frown from Max is never a good thing. They're about one and a half klicks out and Sean's about to ask Max what's got him frowning at the communicator when they hear it.

The explosion itself is loud, a deafening roar that nearly knocks him over. Ryan falls against him and Sean looks up, hoping he's wrong, that the explosion didn't come from where he thinks it came from. He's not that lucky. In the distance, flames climb high from the blown out towers of HQ south.

Sean can deal with that, as terrible as it is, but then they hear the elephants. Even this far away they can hear them, anguished trumpeting noises and the thundering sound of pounding feet that cuts off abruptly when there's a second explosion.

"The HQ South main tower was the primary target," Max says, still frowning and fiddling with the communicator. "Second explosion took out the cavalry paddock and barracks. There's a lot of interference but it sounds like they're saying it's everyone. Everyone's dead. "

"NO!" Ryan shouts. Sean knows as soon as he sees Ryan grip his gun tighter exactly what he's going to do. He takes off running and it's only Al grabbing hold of him as he runs by that keeps him from heading back towards HQ.

"Luciani! Hey, c'mon, don't!" Al's saying, trying to hold Ryan back without dropping his med-bag. He's managing, but just barely. Tom's trying to help him and Sean's just hoping he doesn't have to order Al to sedate him.

"Ryan," Max says, voice pitched low and resting one hand on his back. "Don't." Ryan does as he's told. His whole body sags against Al and Sean can see his hands balling into fists at his sides.

"What's the word from HQ? Are we being recalled?" Sean asks Max, once it's obvious Ryan isn't going to go off half cocked on some bullshit revenge mission.

Max lets go of Ryan and goes back to messing with the communicator. Sean frowns because Max shouldn't have to fiddle with the communicator to call in to HQ. He watches Max, takes in the way his brow is furrowed and how his hands are moving quickly over the dials.

He catches Sean looking and shakes his head. "What?" Sean asks. "What're they saying?"

"Nothing, Sean. They're not saying a damn thing. I can't get anything from HQ." Max's words don't make sense. Even if HQ South is in flames, they've got 3 other border headquarters as well as HQ Central. There's no way they're all gone, none.

"Is your equipment damaged?" Sean asks even though he knows it's not. Max never goes out with double and triple checking his gear. It's not damaged and it's only blind hope that has him asking.

"No way. I'm getting some short-wave traffic from the enemy and nothing could have happened between the base and here," Max says and Sean knows he's doing his best to be brave but right now Max just looks like a scared kid.

Sean sighs because he hates this part of his job and he's about to give the order to fall back when Max holds his hand up for quiet. He's adjusting the communicator just a bit and holding the earpiece to his ear, clearly listening to something. "We need to find cover," he says, once he looks up. He's focused on Sean, not looking at anyone else.

"What's going on?" he asks and Max nods towards the road they're on.

"We've got enemy soldiers on their way, a full squadron. They'll be here in less than ten minutes."

"Okay, fall back," Sean says, looking around for anywhere for them to stop and get their bearings. There's a burned out building close by and Sean points to it. "Fall back to that position, we'll figure out what to do from there."

They fan out and clear all four rooms before meeting back up in the main room. Max pulls out his map and gets to work on fixing their position relative to the enemy's. Somewhere in the distance, there's the sound of more bombing. Smaller this time, and Sean's a bad commander but even he isn't so terrible as to not recognize the sort of bombing that goes on before a ground attack.

The enemy is softening their lines, likely bombing along the perimeter defenses. Sean needs orders. "We'll sit tight here until we figure out what to do," Sean says and tries to ignore the way Max is frowning in the corner.

"We go out there and get them!" Ryan hisses. "Kill every last one of them!"

Sean pinches the bridge of his nose, rifle hanging off his shoulder. "Ryan, we can't go get revenge for elephants," he tells him in the most patient voice he can.

"It's not just elephants!" he shouts and everyone hisses at him to be quiet. "It's everything, Sean," he continues, voice pitched low but still angry. "It's the library they burned last month."

Unfettered access to the library was most of the reason Sean hadn't turned his parents down when they pushed him to go into Command. There had been a suicide bomber though, a young man who'd made it into the lobby before blowing himself up.

Sean had cried for nearly a week and Tom must have volunteered to do clean up duty on the ruins because he brought Sean four books. They'd been stuffed up his shirt, burnt covers and a little smoke damage but still perfectly readable. Sean knew he should turn them in. The remaining books were going into a national archive and locked up tight underground. He couldn't though because he was never going to get the clearance to go to the Chicago National Archive and this was his only chance to ever read again.

Tom had just stared, unblinking while Sean had held them close and hadn't asked questions when Sean pulled him into bed with him, spread his legs and begged for Tom to fuck him.

Sean goes out of his way not to pass the ruins of the library now because he can't bear to see the charred remains of what used to be his favorite place in the entire world.

"It's about the hospitals they've taken out," Ryan continues and they all glance at Al. His entire family died in the last hospital bombing and he'd spent weeks looking haunted and drawn, clutching his med-bag like he could stop it from ever happening to anyone else. None of them had known what to do for him. It was the most lost Sean's ever felt.

"It's about curfews and the blackouts and the fact that we can't make music after six because they're out there and they can take us out. This is about how they're all ruining our lives, they're stealing it from us whether they kill us or not. Let's get some fucking payback."

It's true, all of them spend the time they're playing, in the little band that will never be more than just something to do to pass time, worried that they're making too much noise. It's just the five of them and some half-broken instruments put back together just well enough to coax sound from the battered strings, skins and keys.

"We're gonna die anyway," Max speaks up from where he's been bent over his map, trying to work out coordinates. "We're behind enemy lines. I don't know how we did it, but we did. I'm monitoring the short-wave traffic and we're surrounded. They don't know where we are for now but as soon as they start moving they'll be right on top of us. So, either way we're dead."

He sounds so resigned and Sean remembers the stories Tom used to tell him about this crazy kid he knew named Max with wild hair and thick glasses and a sunny smile. He remembers stories about how he was some sort of genius with communicators or something, how he'd built a communicator that would get a signal all the way across the barren Central Wastes to Los Angeles.

Sean's never known that kid. By the time he met Max Steger, he'd already been through basic and lost both of his parents in a raid. He's not like that at all anymore and Sean really, really hates the army and the enemy for making Max lose his smile.

"Let's do it then," he says, and he's surprised by how sure he sounds, how brave in the face of imminent death.

Max has been listening to the bombing and he's got a timetable for when this one will end and the next one will begin. "That's when we should attack. Their focus will be on the bombing, we'll take more down with us."

Sean agrees and Max gets to work on customizing what little C4 and grenades they're all carrying while Ryan hands him things he needs. He's under strict orders not to do anything but fetch and carry for Max but even Ryan doesn't look like he's in the mood to mess around right now.

He turns away from them and sees Al setting his med-pack against the other wall. It really hits him then. They're not getting out of this, none of them. Al isn't even bringing gear to help if they get injured.

It's terrifying and he keeps a tight hold on his rifle because his hands are shaking. He ducks into one of the other rooms, just to collect himself for a second. He needs to breathe and he owes it to the others not to look this scared in front of them.

Tom follows him, of course. He ducks into the room with a lit cigarette and offers it to Sean. He takes it, wanting anything to calm down a bit. Leaning back against the wall with his eyes closed he inhales deep, tries to think of anything else.

He and Tom do this, sometimes. Sean has dozens and dozens of memories of lying in bed next to Tom, laughing and sharing a cigarette. Tom takes a couple of deep breaths, like he always does before he's about to say something and he's not sure how Sean's going to take it.

"So... so we're gonna die," Tom says and Sean wants to deck him for bringing up the terrifyingly obvious facts.

"No shit, Conrad," he says and takes another deep drag on Tom's cigarettte.

"Yeah, I know I just... umm." It's possible Tom's blushing and Sean doesn't know why. "You know I... you know, right?"

He and Tom fuck, a lot, tumbling into Sean or Tom's bed or rutting against each other on the couch, quick blowjobs back behind their little speakeasy. The truth is Sean hasn't had sex with anyone besides Tom in months. He'd told himself it was because he was tired, that there wasn't really a need because Tom helped him out plenty.

That's what it is, helping out. Every time Tom climbed on top of him, rode him hard with his head tipped back, moaning low and dripping sweat onto Sean's chest, every time Sean got on his knees and closed his mouth around Tom's cock, taking him in as deep as he could while Tom tugged on his hair, it was helping out.

"What?" Sean asks because he has to have it wrong.

Then Tom reaches out, takes Sean's hand and squeezes it tight. "Sean… you know, right?"

Tom spent an entire day cleaning out the charred remains of the library to secure Sean four battered books that Tom had no interest in. Sean saved up three months worth of Extras stamps and a month's worth of cigarette rations to buy Tom the camera that meant he got to do re-con and take pictures when he's not in the field.

Sean called it helping out. He and Tom are kind of stupid.

He shakes his head. "You're telling me now?" he asks but he smiles so Tom knows he's not all that mad.

"Not like I'm gonna get another chance," he says with a shrug that brings him closer. Sean turns his head, ready to lean in but Tom beats him to it, leaning in and pressing his mouth to Sean's. It's a good kiss, like all their other kisses have been, Tom's a great kisser.

"Who knows," he says once they break apart, leaning his forehead against Tom's. "Maybe we'll see each other on the other side."

Tom pulls him back into another kiss, pushing him up against the wall and holding tight to his hips. Sean doesn't have anything else he can say, nothing that's going to change the fact that he and Tom have only gotten their heads out of their asses about this shit right before they're going to die.

It seems like a terrible idea now that's he's thinking about it, sending Tom in to die. He doesn't think he can watch it, doesn't know if he can give the order knowing Tom's going to be shot full of holes, that his blood is going to be spilled. This is why he wasn't supposed to do this.

I can send you back he wants to say, opening his eyes just a little. Tom's watching him, kissing him with both eyes open like he does sometimes. It used to bother him, back when he and Tom first started doing this. He got used to it though, just like he got used to all the other times Tom stared at him strangely. You can take pictures and i can send you back to HQ. One man could make it through. He won't though because Tom would punch him in the face.

"I love you" Tom whispers against his mouth, half mumbled but Sean can still hear it. Sean doesn't want to cry. He's about to die in the most heroic and tough way possible. His life is about to end like one of the pulp heroes he used to read about, there's no reason for him to ruin that by crying.

"I love you too," he replies and there's no way to hide how he sniffs after the last word. Tom doesn't look much better though. His nose is a bit red and his eyes are wet. Tom never could fake at being okay.

"Uhh," Max sounds embarrassed and he clears his throat. When Sean turns his head, he's looking away. "We're ready, we're gonna need to attack in about five minutes."

Sean could stay here for the next five minutes. He could stay here with Tom's arms around him and his arms around Tom. He could spend the last moments of his life kissing and being kissed, maybe jerk Tom off. The others deserve better than that though and Sean pushes Tom away, straightens his uniform and picks up his rifle.

"C'mon," he says, trying to smile. "Time to go stay pretty forever."

He nearly chokes on the order. He has to look away from Tom to give it, look at the ground and pretend it's not what it is, that they're not all going to die.

They surprise the enemy completely.

Ryan sets off the bombs Max made in just the right place and takes out nearly every man the enemy has on point. It's an ugly firefight and Sean loses his rifle after it jams, has to continue on with only his sidearm.

It's like a miracle or something though because when Sean looks around for long enough to get a handle on the situation… they're winning. The enemy is falling back behind a copse of trees. It's the element of surprise, of course. Sean knows that. As soon as the enemy regroups and realizes where the gunfire is coming from, they're completely fucked.

He can hear them, coming back out, hears gunfire and shouting and he's reloaded, ready to go. He's not expecting the aerial attack. One minute he's ready to die and the other he's got cover coming from on high, three planes and about six choppers.

Sean could kick himself. He really is the worst fucking commanding officer in the army. Radio silence from HQ always precedes an aerial assault. It's actually in the textbook at command school.

They won, the enemy is retreating completely because they're cut off and there's no way they're getting any further. Ryan throws himself on Sean's back. "Look at those fuckers run!" He shouts and then turns to the now empty battlefield. "That's right! You think twice before messing with Chicago!"

There are dead bodies all around and Sean feels like a terrible person but he can't help grinning, squeezing Ryan tight to him. "Tom! Motherfucker, we did it!" he shouts, turning around once Ryan's jumped down to go climb all over Al. He doesn't see him.

Last Sean saw, Tom was less than two hundred feet away. "TOM! TOM!" he shouts, running towards where he last saw Tom, panic deep in his chest.

Someone raises their hand but they're too dirty for Sean to see who it is. He runs over and throws himself down beside them and yeah, it's Tom. There's so much blood. "Tom, where," he swallows, getting it together to be a commander, to ask a question he has to ask. "Where are you hit?"

One of Tom's arms is crossed over his chest and when he raises his finger, Sean sees he's holding his jacket against the juncture of his shoulder and neck. Then he nods down to his stomach and Sean can see blood there too.

"Al! AL!" he shouts, reaching down to press his hand to Tom's side, trying to staunch the blood as much as possible.

"GOD FUCKING DAMMIT," he hears Al curse and remembers that he didn't pack any of their med supplies.

"Go get them!" he orders. "Run!" His entire body is shaking, except where his hand is steady against Tom's side. He's pressing hard against Tom's blood and dirt matted clothing because Tom's not bleeding out now, no way. Al takes off running, faster than Sean's ever seen him run and he feels a little bad for yelling,. Tom is Al's friend too.

"I'm glad," Tom's whispering, because Tom's an idiot who's wasting his strength on talking at a time like this.

"Shut up, you need to concentrate," Sean tells him.

"Shhh," Tom says. "I'm glad that we... you know. I always wanted to tell you. I wanted you to know."

"You're not going to die," he says and yeah, he's crying again, fuck his pulp hero ending. "You were only allowed to die when I was going with you. You can't now. That's a fucking ORDER, Conrad."

Tom coughs and Sean pretends he doesn't see the blood at the corner of his mouth. "I'm a shit fucking soldier, Sean."

"C'mon, Tom," he whispers, shaking Tom just a bit when he sees his eyes starting to droop closed. "Just one order, just follow this one, please, please, just once."

"I really do love you. You're so pretty in the mornings and when you read," Tom's whispering now, voice faint. "I always wanted to take a million pictures of you."

"You still can, Tom, don't… c'mon," Sean's saying. He has to move out of the way because Alfred's finally back with their medical kit and he's pulling out his supplies, giving him morphine and plasma.

"Hey Al, take care of-" Tom begins and Al cuts him off.

"Shut the fuck up with that shit, Conrad. You take care of Sean, I'm not gonna be in charge of him, you can't pay me." Tom tries to laugh and it just makes him cough up more blood so Al doesn't say anything else. Once Al's got bandaging on Tom's side, all Sean can do is hold Tom's hand, blood slick fingers sliding through Tom's mud caked fingers.

"Max got HQ, Med-evac's gonna be here in five, Tom. Be a man, stick around, fucker," Al's saying and Sean doesn't know how his hands can be so steady right now.

The Evac helicopter gets there and they load Tom inside. Sean almost cries he's so relieved. Then Tom stops breathing and the med-evac guys shove him aside. They have to defibrillate and Sean can only watch from the floor next to Al, heart in his throat while complete strangers hold Tom's life in their hands. He doesn't notice he's holding his breath until he hears a beep off the monitors.

"We've got him back," one of the Evac medics say and Al reaches for Sean's hand, squeezing it while Sean takes deep breaths. For now, he's alive.

They're not the only soldiers in the waiting area for the ICU, which is hardly a shock. Sean throws off his jacket, can't stand to look at Tom's blood on his sleeves for another second and Al rubs softly at his neck. Sean's not going to cry, not here. He's the highest ranking officer in the room and he still has to debrief with the brass whenever they call him up. He hopes it's not before they get news on Tom but there's no guarantee.

Sean doesn't know how long they've been there when a doctor comes in. He's a major, so Sean reaches for his jacket, so he won't be out of uniform in front of a superior. It's not his, it belongs to one of the other poor bastards waiting for news but it'll do. Sean can't focus on getting the right clothes, not now.

"You came in with your friend, right? The corporal?" The doctor asks. Sean nods and Al holds his hand a bit tighter.

"I'm afraid there was too much blood loss. The damage was too severe and we couldn't suture it properly. I'm so sorry for your loss but we put time of death at shortly after one AM."

Sean just... he can't, he can feel Al holding him up, knows in his head that he probably just fell but he can't... Tom can't be dead. Tom can't be dead because he's Tom. They're in love and they're going to- "No," he says, too loud in the quiet room.

Al holds him up against him. "Shhh, c'mon, Sean. C'mon, we should, c'mon," because Al doesn't know what to say either. Al doesn't know what to say if Tom's dead.

"NO, I... I don't believe you." He's shaking his head and he looks up at the doctor, anger flashing in his eyes. "I want to see him. I have to see him."

The doctor looks confused. "Him?" he asks.

Sean manages to stand up on his own. He holds his head up and looks the doctor straight in the eye. "Yes. I have to collect his dog tag anyway. I have to write his family. I have to see him." He's crying again and if the doctor doesn't stop looking so confused he's going to pull out his sidearm and shoot him in the fucking face.

"Your friend, the young blond corporal... she's a woman," the doctor says and Sean shakes his head.

"No, Tom's not a girl. He's not... why are you?" His whole head is swimming.

"Doc, are you sure you're talking about our friend?" Al asks and Sean can hear the hope in his voice.

"You're 2nd Lieutenant Brooks, right?" he asks, pointing at Sean's jacket. His stupid, borrowed jacket that doesn't belong to him.

His stupid jacket that Sean kind of loves because this means- "Tom's not dead? Tom's... he's okay?"

The doctor thinks for a second. "The blond gentleman, two bullet wounds and a moderate amount of blood loss?"

"Yes, Corporal Conrad, for fuck's sake," Al says and Sean takes a second to hope the doctor doesn't write him up for swearing at a superior.

"We'll have to keep him for a while, make certain his wounds don't get infected but yes, he's fine."

Sean knows somewhere in the back of his mind that he shouldn't be this relieved. The other guys, the other team in here, they just lost one of their own. He should offer his condolences, keep his happiness in check. But he really, really doesn't care

Tom's alive and that is all that matters.

"He's alive," he whispers to Al and Al pulls him up hard against him, squeezing tight.
"That fucker, that fucking fucker," Al says but Sean thinks he might be crying too.

Sean can't visit him because he's filthy and covered with mud, blood and god knows what else. He's told he can tomorrow though, as soon as he's cleaned up, debriefed and had a night's sleep. The sun's already rising when he leaves the hospital and he falls asleep to the sounds of his men celebrating their victory and Tom Conrad being the man too stubborn to die.

Debriefing takes for fucking ever and by the time Sean's let out, it's already night again. He goes to the hospital anyway. Tom's room is on the top floor and from the window, Sean can see most of Chicago, burnt out buildings and rubble filled streets crammed between apartments packed with families.

Tom's asleep, eyes closed but chest rising steadily. He's so gorgeous Sean almost can't breathe. "You son of a bitch," he whispers, sitting down next to him.

Tom's eyes flutter open and he smiles sleepily. "Where have you been?"