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Halfway towards the shambling mess of a camp his unit called a base, Tom realized at least two slightly important details.

Detail number one: He looked like a zombie. He couldn’t deny that he wasn’t exactly magazine cover material at the moment. Aside from his uniform being crumpled, messy, and a resting place for ashes, he was covered in his own blood.

Well, that was an exaggeration but blood is blood and he had it smeared all over his neck, hands, and hair after a slip up on his part.

He had tried to fix Steve (Thanks commie), honest, it’s just that he forgot about the blood. He hoped his trigger happy companions don’t decide to just take out their guns and- oh wait, right, armistice. No guns. Well that settles it then.

Detail number two:  His General is fucking dead. Maybe that should have been his first detail but he didn’t think he had the patience or the sobriety to really prioritize anything at the moment, nope, he was just flat out drunk and also very very annoyed.

“-and don’t forget! Pledge allegiance to the Red Natio-!”  A sharp gust of air followed the flask as it flew at high speeds towards a small screen mounted on the bark of a nearby tree. The visage of a proud man in all his annoying glory split into broken pieces as the screen shattered upon impact, it whined low while it shut down, bringing with it the pre-recorded video that played on loop non-stop ever since they got here.

Tom’s breaths came in and out in ragged, uneven beats. His one arm was still outstretched from throwing his flask as he glared at the broken piece of technology he had come to loath at first sight, oh how he had waited for the chance to do that. He wasn’t concerned about whether or not Tord knew one of his little toys was now out of commission, the bastard knew where they were here in Norway now anyway, there was no point in trying to hide from him.

The British man looked up at the canopies of trees, scowl set in place “Next time that’ll be you for real commie!!” He shouted, knowing that there will always be a chance that Tord will hear him somehow. He flipped his middle finger at the trees for good measure before stomping away angrily. Stupid Tord and his stupid propaganda.

It was clear Tord loved rubbing his victories in, the whole speech back at their old house, the propaganda, and this ‘armistice’ were just a few of the shining examples.

The man clearly invented a lot of the technology he used for his ego party (propaganda), it only went to show that he had too much time in his hands than he knew to do with, so what else but to make your head inflate right? Videos upon videos of himself decked out in his full cleanly pressed military regalia, spouting bullshit about his ‘glorious nation’, littered the country like trash.

‘Which it is’ Tom seethed. His hand picked idly at the makeshift bandage around his neck, a split second clumsy job he had done when he began his trek back to base. It used to be part of his uniform, it felt really scratchy against his skin but what was he supposed to do? Ask for a medical kit back at the base? HA.HA.HA! He knew what answer he’d receive if he did. He just hoped he tore off a relatively clean part of his uniform, if he gained an infection he was going to be beyond screwed. He went for this long without getting sick, if he did now it would be very ill-timed.

Tom snorted, and because no one would do it, he gave himself a high five.

The walk back to the base wasn’t easy, they had tried to make it so that none of Tord’s forces would be able to follow them back should any of them need to retreat. The General had mapped out multiple paths back to it, each more labyrinthine than the last.

None of the paths were to be used more than three times by anyone so that there wouldn’t be any traces of footprints. Tom had, like everyone else, been forced to memorize all of the General’s paths, it gave him a splitting headache on most days but fortunately he had used the path he was currently on only once, this allowed him a second tread back as long as he kept his steps light.

No one was allowed to cut through the forest, so Tom had to jump, side step, inch through, and squeeze between bushes and trees on the way back. He huffed in protest to his uniform getting snagged more than once, he was already a mess as it is.

The ash that stuck to multiple parts of him didn’t help either, he sneezed a couple times, he thought he would be used to this by now. The ash had been a constant presence for months, coating everything it could land on and painting the area in an eternal shade of winter, he practically breathed the stuff.

Tom grimaced but continued forward, dusting himself off a few times just to be rid of the excess dirt, he wouldn’t want any of it to follow him back to his quarters.

With one last hop over a small pointless rock, Tom was instantly greeted by the sounds of laughter and chattering. Stationed at a small slightly crowded clearing were tents of different sizes and quality, adorned with badly sewn on numbers for each team in the unit, some patches were falling apart at the seams but none had cared to fix it, not like they could even if they wanted to.

There were crates strewn across the base, all of which had once held rations but were now used as pseudo tables and chairs by every soldier who wanted something else other than the ground to rest on. Some crates even had small personalized tags to show who claimed it. Tom spotted his own little crate that he had painted a droopy happy face on with some soot, it was starting to fade out.

There wasn’t really much to the base but in all honesty it was the best one Tom’s been at in over years of this shitty war. They- him, Edd, and Matt- had only been given the chance to join the war at its most dire, back when supplies, men, and support began to rapidly decrease as the Red army drew closer and deadlier.

They hadn’t even finished seven months of their preparatory training before the government practically yelled at the higher ups to deploy them immediately. So off went men and women alike, all barely prepared for what was about to hit them like a storm, desperation at its finest ladies and gents, not a lot of them lasted long.

Anyway, crappy bases but this one was the best in a long long time, somehow they even managed to retain a television too, well not really an upside since most of what was broadcasted were sloppy news reports and Tord’s shitty propaganda. Entertainment didn’t come often these days, kinda bums you out a bit when all you get is your General’s monthly tap dancing competitions.

Oh oops…yeah not gonna get any of that anymore either, sucks.

Tom sighed at that as he walked past his unusually cheery comrades. How in the hell was he going to tell them what had happened? Not to mention that the General’s death was partly his fault…

“Eeey! It’s Tom!! Back from getting pissed aye??” He looked up at the sound of his name, startled. One soldier, who he had come to know as Greg, slung an arm over his shoulder and grinned at him once he was close enough “Can’t say I’m not jealous that you still got alcohol lying around mate, care to tell me who your dealer is?” He joked.

Tom laughed albeit awkwardly and ducked out of his hold “Uh huh, not really keen on sharing thanks” Not that he didn’t like Greg- nice guy, good with knives –he just liked his alcohol a lot more and boy was there a constant lack of it these days. The one in his flask had been saved for a time, the quote on quote armistice had just set him off enough to take it.

“Aaah pssh! I’ll figure out how you have all that booze one day!” Greg winked and gave him a dig on the arm, one which Tom hissed at as Greg had actually punched him quite hard in reality. Tom rubbed his arm and glared at his comrade as the other began to guide him towards the little recreational center they had set up, which was just the television surrounded by sacks and crates used as chairs.

“So something’s off about all this” Tom started, looking around at the happy faces of the eighty-nine from what was once five hundred men gathering around the television or off having a drink with their friends “I don’t think I missed a holiday or someone’s birthday, have I?”

Greg chuckled beside him “You missed a lot when you were gone. Don caught something on the news the moment you went off to get pissed” He pointed at a solider up in front of the rest of them, laughing and chatting with others as they made fun of the propaganda currently being broadcasted “Apparently some world leaders convinced ol’ Red to sign a peace treaty, can you believe that Tom?! A peace treaty!” Greg laughed, more out of surprise than anything else “Red said it himself in one of those bloody announcements of his, they’re supposed to start the last hearing today”

Tom winced, he looked up at Greg and found the man smiling to himself, rubbing one of his pockets that held a photo of his family, how did he know? The man never stopped talking about them the first time they met, he showed him that photo more times than he could count, a photo of a little doe eyed boy and a widely grinning woman. Two people who Greg sorely missed.

There was a glimmer of something like hope in the man’s eyes, one which Tom realized he had seen on every face he passed by. Fuck.

“You don’t really believe that do you?” Tom asked, crossing his arms and awaiting Greg’s response.

The man stiffened beside him, the hand on his pocket stilled for a second before it dropped away, he laughed “Yeah I get what you’re saying, but there’s a chance you know? Red had set down all these requirements, there was a hell of a lot of them, a lot being that every country he conquered is his now. Obviously that really blows and I feel bad for thinking like this, but the rest of the world is off limits, meaning this could all stop once he signs the papers….we could go home you know? Deal with the damage and, yeah, that’ll take a while but we’re home”

Tom swallowed, he looked away from Greg, finding that the man’s expression was way too much for him at the moment “…but what if he was bluffing?” ‘He was’ “What if he was lying?” ‘He is’ “Do you really think all of this, this whole goddamn war, would end just like that?”

Greg stared at him, wide eyed. The man opened his mouth to reply but the sudden wave of excited cheering had made him look the side where many of their fellow soldiers began to wave everyone over, the undeniable sounds of a news broadcast came to life on the television. In a matter of seconds Greg was pulled over by his buddies, leaving Tom to watch him be led away by happy faces while he stood still. He didn’t need to watch to know what was about to happen.

Tom looked to the ground and began to circle around the huddled soldiers until he reached a point close enough to hear what was happening but not see it. He spotted his crate and approached it, sitting down Tom tiredly reached for his left pocket only to freeze and curse himself, right, he threw his flask at the stupid monitor on the way back.

“...ussion regarding the terms have been under tight wraps until just a few short hours ago”  A woman’s voice wafted into his hearing, Tom propped his chin up on his palm, not really concentrating on most of her words but he caught some important ones between the usual news build up drivel. He closed his eyes “Tord Larsin, more commonly known as the Red Leader, is now taking his place amongst the rest of the world leaders, ready to establish what may now be the most important treaty this world will come to know”

Tom’s mind wandered back to the hours before he came back, just as the news reporter had began to make a speech about peace and order. Back in that part of the forest where one step brought you into a barren wasteland, littered with the dead, a picture of an unfinished mass grave.

“-eem very civil so far, this reporter believes that perhaps this is the start of a clean slate-“ The knife against his skin, the awful smell of tobacco and gunpowder mixing in the air, the warm sensation of his own blood seeping into his shirt “-and with one last stroke ladies and gentlemen this war is drawing to a close! The crowds all around me are cheering! We are finally-“

“Once I get back to my base where those pathetic world leaders are, I’m going to have them all shot”  Tord’s voice rang clear in his head, as if he were back there, up against that tree with a knife on his neck and a maniac toying with him. The smile on the other’s face flashed in his memory, an unwanted thought that he tried to will away.

Tom heard the gasps behind him, the shouts of horror, yet he still didn’t look. He buried his face in his hands as his hearing picked up what was undoubtedly the sound of shots and screams of panicked people “-es! The Red leader has called in his men!! THE WORLD LEADERS! THEY-!” The sounds from the television were hard to differentiate from the sounds of his unit shouting in outrage, almost everything sounded the same now “NO! GET AWAY FROM ME! I-!” There was a scuffle, the reporter screaming in the background as what sounded like Tord’s men taking her somewhere.

“I suppose I need to explain something” Tom snapped his head up at the voice, everything in him rose up in defense, suddenly he was aware of his surroundings, the dull grey landscape around him came to life, each side screaming danger at him, it honed his senses almost to the point of overstimulation. His heart hammered wildly as he stood up and turned to look at the screen. Standing behind a lectern, holding what Tom guessed were the treaty papers, and flanked by men holding weapons no one recognized was Tord.

The Red Leader smiled at the camera, calm as a sunny day, even when behind him were the lifeless corpses of once proud world leaders, each and every one of their expressions frozen in a state of fear “I think my critics will all be speaking ill of me for this, saying that I had unfairly broken the armistice for allowing my men to carry weapons to a meeting of peace” He chuckled.

Tom didn’t realize it but his feet began to lead him towards the television, he easily made his way around his stunned and angered comrades, most giving him no mind in favor of watching the screen intently for the world’s number one bastard’s next words “In reality, I had not in fact gone against the armistice, for you see, the armistice had already ended long before I came here” There was a cry of protest in the background when the Red Leader began to tear the treaty in two, whether it was from the screen or behind him, he wasn’t sure.

Tom’s hands clenched into fists as Tord lifted up a very familiar looking knife, it was caked with blood, his blood “I came to a certain..scuffle just a few hours ago, it was all in self-defense really” Tom scowled at the screen, he could feel himself shaking with anger. ‘Self-defense my arse’ “Alas, only one of us lived to tell the tale, but the armistice had already been broken” Tord grinned, he looked at the knife for a few more moments, even gently cleaning off a bit of the blood before he lowered it out of sight and turned his attention to the camera once more “Really, why are any of you surprised?”

The Tord in his memory suddenly spoke up again, sighing “You would think they would learn by now”

The Red Leader cackled.

Tord grinned at him.

I’m not just going to give this up!

Tom felt more than saw the spirit of every man surrounding him plummet deep into the ground. The hopes of ever coming home, of seeing their loved ones, of finally being able to rest, gone in a moment. Tom knew better than all of them though, so he couldn’t sympathize.

Tord sighed on the screen, wiping away a tear as he smiled, Tom wanted nothing more than to punch him “I was really disappointed that no one saw this coming, I suppose none of you really know me…” He leaned forward, his one eye staring directly at the screen. Somehow, Tom felt he was looking right at him “Then again, maybe one of you do, hm old friend?”

Tord laughed as murmurs grew in intensity behind Tom and on screen. No one knew what the mad man was talking about, but he did “Rest assured, I’ll be waiting patiently for your response, or hm, maybe you won’t do anything. You’ve always been too lazy to act on your own, such a shame” He tsked “Oh well, I’ll just keep doing what I need to whether you do something or not” He waved at the camera with a sweet smile “Though I really would prefer it if you did something, old friend

Then he gave the troops behind him a two finger signal. A loud resounding kschk! Echoed before the soldiers open fired. The last thing to be heard were cut off screams before a bullet embedded itself into the camera. A blank screen followed next.

A heavy silence weighed down on all of them. The soldiers, once celebrating a possible cease to all this madness, wore grim expressions. The men and women around him looked to each other in dismay, some laid a hand on the bandages covering the injuries they received, some closed their eyes and hung their head. It wasn’t over, they were still trapped, they were never going to go home. This was never going to end.

In the middle of it all Tom gnashed his teeth, his hands shook and felt painful with how much his nails dug into skin, if he didn’t stop now he was going to draw more blood. Tord that bastard, openly mocking the whole world, taunting him because he knew he was listening. It set him on edge.

Years, four fucking years of this bullshit, of Tord playing God.

Tom was tired of it.

“We have to leave” Tom took three quick strides towards the television and flicked it off, surprising some of the soldiers that had zoned out to stare at the static. Tom turned back to the rest of them, growling when none seemed to even snap out of their stupor “Are any of you hearing me? We have to leave! Start clearing the base out!!” He nearly shouted.

“Whoa whoa, Tom!” It was Don this time that spoke up, staring at him like he had grown a second head. The man stood up, almost towering over him, Don had always been freakishly tall out of everyone in the camp. He moved his hands in a placating manner  “Breathe man, look I know that right now is a really bad time, and you might be a little freaked out, but you can’t just decide anything without the General’s-“

“He’s dead” Tom cut in sharply, glaring Don down as the man gaped at him “He’s dead and if we don’t get out of here we’ll be too”

“Dead?” Don sucked in a breath. The man looked him over from his boots to his hair, only now noticing the spots of red peeking behind the ash stuck to his skin, the soldier took a step back in shock “Tom…” He breathed unsteadily.

Tom stood rigid in front of all of them. All of their eyes bore into him, it made him uncomfortable to be in the center of attention, but he needed to make it clear to them that staying here won’t keep them safe anymore. Tord knows they were here, it wouldn’t take him long to send out troops in search of them, guns blazing.

“We don’t have time for explanations” Tom gritted out, one hand darting to his pocket to fish out what was left of the General, his bloodied rank patch. Tom held it out for them to see, some stood up in alarm at the sight of it “The General is dead. I think you can guess what happened when you look at this” He gestured at the patch “At me” He pointed at himself “And what the commie bastard just told us”

The stunned silence was even worse than the last one. Tom scrubbed his face and pocketed the patch once more “If you want to stay here until the moment the Red army comes back at us at full force then fine. I, on the other hand, am going to make a tactical retreat” He marched through them, not needing to push anyone aside as each and every one of them parted a path for him “This is my decision, whether you follow it or not is up to you” He called over his shoulder once he left the quiet crowd.

It didn’t take long for someone to shout ‘EVACUATE! NOW!!’ soon after he had said his piece. Tom ducked his head and pocketed his hands, he looked back once to say goodbye to his tagged crate, then headed for the nearest jeep, it was the one closest to his tent so it wouldn’t be such a hassle to get the rest of his belongings, it was a long way out to the extraction point.

 


 

Tom sat quietly on the passenger seat, one elbow out the window as he watched the world go by. The rumbling hum of the jeep was enough to lull him into an almost calm sleep but not quite.

It was dangerous to travel anywhere in Norway, seeing as Tord’s base of operations was at the heart of it, though ever since the armistice security had been downgraded somewhat, a ploy of Tord’s to lure the world leaders in with promises of safety, and now the whole world knew how well that went. There was a silver lining to this of course, now no one would fall for any of Tord’s shitty lies. Tom wondered why anyone would ever even believe him in the first place, people are idiots.

The road they travelled was partly hidden, one side forest and one side clearing, they mostly kept to the side where the trees covered them just enough from any hostiles in the air. At the pace they were going it would take just an hour and a half until they reached the extraction point, and since they had contacted them a few hours before there should be waiting helicopters ready to fly them out of Norway. That was already a relief to think about.

The country was eerily quiet, any and all sounds were currently limited to the crunch of dirt and gravel beneath the wheels of their jeeps, not even the wind dared a whistle. It’s been like that for a while now but it never failed to give him chills, out beyond the distance was a small village, still populated but held no living soul to be seen.

“It’s the curfew” Tom blinked twice at the voice, he turned his head to look at the driver, she gave him a pointed look before looking back to the road “You were looking at the village” She answered simply.

Tom’s eyebrows furrowed in confusion, he looked her over, trying to remember if he knew her but came out blank. Though it was clear from her accent that she wasn’t originally from England, not exactly uncommon but it still surprised him at times, so he really wouldn’t have known her, most of the recruits he trained with way back when were all Brits “Uh, sorry, curfew??”

She laughed at his question and shook her head “I can see it in your eyes, you were wondering about it” She shifted in her seat just as they hit a bumpy road. Tom gripped onto the door of the jeep, trying to steady himself with one hand “..when all of this started, Red created a curfew for the whole of Norway” She muttered once they were off the bumpy road, there was a heaviness to her eyes as she spoke “We were not allowed outside during certain times, it was a very strict rule”

“You’re Norwegian?” Tom blurted out but immediately shut his mouth out of embarrassment, she already made that clear. Still, she didn’t seem to think much of his question and nodded her answer, though she said nothing else.

Curiosity peaked within him, he had heard of refugees enlisting in the British army before, though most of the stories told were never really nice. Usually, the refugees became human shields or cannon fodder, most of all those who were associated with the Red Leader once. It was an unfortunate discrimination, but it made sense that a girl like her was at the front lines, who knew Norway better than someone who had lived their whole life there?

“Are you going to ask me the question?” She brought him back from his musings when she spoke. Her fingers tapped a beat on the wheel as she glanced at him.

“Erm, I’m not really sure what you’re talking about?” Tom offered, genuinely confused.

The girl laughed “Then you’ll be the first to tell me that you’re not interested to know what it was like…” She sighed, leaning back into her seat with a resigned air about her, she looked back at him “…to live under him I mean, under Red” She looked tired, infinitely tired, like the weight of the whole world had suddenly seeped into her bones, and the only thing that could move her at all would be the very jeep she was driving.

Tom sighed and crossed his arms, he moved his gaze to the side as he sunk into his own seat, wishing desperately that he had a drink in his hand at the moment. Oh if only she knew “I think I have a good guess” He muttered quietly, a familiar empty sensation crawling up his chest, leaving him just so so tired.

The driver scoffed beside him “Trust me, I don’t think you can imagine what it was like” He ignored her, it didn’t really matter, he wasn’t interested in comparing scars with someone else, doing that made him think too much about things he didn’t want to revisit. So he shut his mouth and turned away from her, he wasn’t in the mood to talk anymore.

Instead he looked up at the grey sky, wondering quietly if it was about to rain or snow. The sky had always made him uncomfortable the first time he was sent here, it was like the horizon was merely a still painting hanging above them. There was a weird sort of anticipation that rippled through him when he looked at the sky, waiting for something to happen, but it never changed, not even the clouds seemed to move an inch.

There was an unsteady calm that settled over them, Tom was nearly lying on his side trying to get comfortable in his seat, though in truth he knew he wouldn’t be able to relax by how his attention shifted to every little thing that moved in his vicinity. Four years was short when you looked at it but a lot of things can happen in mere months, enough to make him just a little paranoid.

So Tom wasn’t all that shocked when the jeep suddenly lurched forward and rattled violently, a loud explosion from behind them echoed throughout the road, followed by startled shouts of their fellows now peeking out from the jeep to see what happened. The driver hit the brakes, nearly sending Tom flying to the front at the sudden stop, and ducked half her body out her window. Meanwhile he opened his door and stepped out halfway to look to the back where they heard the explosion ring out “What the hell happened?!” He shouted, the first to break the tense silence.

At the very end of the line of vehicles, a lone jeep had burst into flames. There was a panic among the soldiers who were in it, some were pulling unconscious comrades out of the fire while others desperately tried to put it out. They ran to and fro, helping out the injured and loading them into the other still intact jeeps while the rest scrambled to save what weapons were stored inside.

That was when the chaos started.

The soldiers on the ground were suddenly waving frantically, they were shouting but Tom couldn’t make out the exact words they were saying. Some began to run, even abandoning what they were salvaging from the wreck and hopping on to the closest jeep they could latch on to. The panic spread, the jeeps behind them began to blare their horns, more and more soldiers poked out of their vehicles and made wild gestures to the ones up front. Tom narrowed his eyes at them, trying to follow at least one of them who had taken to pointing at the sky…

..oh FUCK.

DRIVE!” Tom slammed his door closed and pulled the girl back down from where she was standing. She gasped in protest to his rough handling but spared no second in flooring the gas. The tires screeched loudly before they sped off, the fastest they had gone ever since they came to Norway.

Everything outside their windows went by in a blurred mix of greys and greens, the wind whipped harshly against them, making Tom squint. His gaze darted to the side mirror, watching in mute horror as dozens of small red orbs began to descend from the clouds. He could vaguely make out the rest of the unit’s vehicles catching up to their speed while some struggled with the added weight from the wrecked jeep.

“Faen faen faen FAEN!!” The driver shouted beside him, he could see her looking at her mirrors in agitation. She had begun to lean forward, as if willing for the jeep to go faster than it already was “Pokker! I thought we’d already dealt with enough of those things!!” She cursed a few more times, her knuckles turned white with how hard she had gripped onto the steering wheel.

Tom was about to say something when a flash of red whizzed past them and exploded close to their vehicle. The driver screamed and swerved enough to keep them steady while Tom coughed and waved away the black smoke. He held his breath and furiously began to dig around the small black supplies bag in front of him, he snatched up a pair of gas masks and leaned over to put the second one on the driver, she nodded once as a thanks while he strapped his own on. Tom reached for the jeep’s radio and flicked a switch “MASKS! NOW!!” He yelled into it, though he knew that the rest would know what to do now that the first Sentinel had bombed them.

Tom held tight to any part of the jeep he could reach, the distant sounds of explosions and frantic yelling only worsened his already panicked state. He cursed and reached for his rifle, Tom took in a deep breath and held it as he pushed half of his body out of the jeep’s window and ripped off his mask. The wind blew harsh against him, making his hair fly widely around his face and his uniform’s collar to open flat against the back of his neck. He steadied his rifle while his right foot hooked itself to the bottom of his seat, from his scope he could make out other soldiers already firing at the farthest Sentinels, quick cracks of their guns were all he could hear in the howling wind.

The British man took his aim and shot down the Sentinels he estimated were far enough from their jeeps, the orbs dropped fast when his bullet reached them, they exploded into thick plumes of smoke on the ground, the deadly chemicals wafted into the air and joined the grey that refused to leave the sky “Extraction!! Extraction!! Respond immediately over!” The driver’s rushed words flew into the air, Tom nearly missed them through the loud shots of his rifle “EXTRACTION RESPOND! WE ARE IN NEED OF IMMEDIATE ASSISTANCE!!” The girl’s voice raised up in volume, she was clearly becoming terrified. Once or twice Tom heard her yell when a Sentinel exploded too close to their jeep.

“WE ARE BEING PERSUED! I REPEAT WE ARE BEING PERSUED!! R.S.415 IN PURSUIT!”

A sudden jolt that made the jeep airborne for a few milliseconds made Tom lose balance, he shouted in surprise and nearly dropped his rifle in an attempt to steady himself, thankfully reflexes had kicked in just in time for him to catch himself on the door and hoist up his weapon “STEADY!” He barked at the driver who was trying to recover from the jolt as well. Tom’s eyes widened when he spotted a shadow zip close to the driver’s window, but she seemed too disoriented to notice or even attempt to maneuver away. Tom felt his stomach drop “LOOK OUT-!”

His warning came too late, the Sentinel dropped its flight and exploded right beside them. The jeep was sent flying to its side. Tom was immediately thrown out by the blast, he hit the ground more times than necessary and was sent spinning, he gasped and grunted as he was tossed about, everything moved in a dizzying fashion, he screwed his eyes shut and threw a hand out to try to get himself to stop. He skidded across the ground when he dug his fingers into the dirt, gritting against the pain Tom managed to stop just as the jeep flew above him, he ducked and spun himself fast enough to see it crash land to the side of the road.

Goddamnit!” He struggled to stand, scraping his boots against the ground a few times until he managed to stand up, take his rifle, and run up to the damaged vehicle that most of his fellows began to crawl out of, though sluggishly “Move it!!” He shouted when he was within their earshot “Sentinels won’t wait for you to heal, get to running! The extraction point is just a few feet ahead!! Carry the injured if you have to! JUST GO!!” Gunshots from behind them caused them all to scramble. Tom groaned in frustration, he turned around and began to shoot at the Sentinels once more, watching in satisfaction as more fell to the ground. He stopped when he noticed that most of his unit had already evacuated the jeep and were now in the distance running towards a waiting copter.

Tom fired one last shot at the Sentinels before he took to running himself, nearly tripping over the bits and pieces of the jeep scattered all over the clearing. There was another loud explosion behind him, it blew hot air in his direction, Tom whipped around and sucked in a breath at the sight of two jeeps that had crashed into each other, a few soldiers had managed to get themselves out but it was evident that there were trapped ones still inside.

Tom tore his gaze away when a group of Sentinels began to circle the wreck. He kept running, even as his lungs burned, even as his legs protested his movements, even as the distinct whine of armed Sentinels pierced the air, even when the howls of agony deafened him and the last loud explosion ended it all. A new black pillar of smoke joined the sky.

The wreck had at least served a long enough distraction, Tom hopped into a copter just as it was taking off, he took an empty seat and buckled himself down. He let his head hit the wall behind him, it wasn’t until one of his teammates began to shake him to get his attention that he realized how frantic and shallow his breaths had become. Someone was making gestures at him, trying to make him follow his breathing. Tom’s sockets watered, he blinked them a few times and tried his best to follow his teammate. Once he was deemed stable, a helmet was offered.

“You okay Tom?” A muffled voice asked over his radio.

Tom gulped in a breath of air, he laughed hollowly “Is anyone?” He answered back. He looked around the familiar faces he could make out beyond the helmets. Most of them came from his jeep, then he noticed something off, he frowned “Where’s…where’s our driver?”

Some of them looked to each other, no one answered him. Tom swallowed hard and looked down at the country they were leaving behind, it was getting smaller and smaller by the seconds but he could still make out the wreck of his jeep, now being probed for life by Sentinels. He hung his head and breathed in softly “…who was she?”

There was a beat of silence, one too long. Did no one know this girl? “….Elin” Someone answered “Her name was Elin”

Tom let that bit of information settle before he nodded numbly. He let himself look back down at the carnage they left behind, where Elin was left behind.

They say refugees all had but one chance to escape and they took it.

Elin had hers. A second one would have been too farfetched.

By now the copters would have already been out of the Sentinel’s range, they wouldn’t pursue them anymore being this far from their area. It was a rare time of peace, though no one seemed to take it, not that he could blame them.

Three copters couldn’t possibly have carried all eighty-nine of them. The thirty-six that were left shut their eyes and plugged their ears. Tom didn’t.

He watched as the last of his unit left on the empty pad of the extraction point fired in vain at the onslaught of Sentinels surrounding him. One shot was all it took for him to join the rest of them, lying dead in a pool of their own blood.

He looked away.

Chapter Text

The dull thrumming sound of the helicopter’s propellers cutting through the wind was staring to wear his patience thin. Tom wrapped his arms tight around his chest and tried to make himself as small as possible, he hissed out a breath at the sharp cold nipping of the wind against his face. The sky had already darkened to an inky blue, by all means he should be asleep by now but freezing to death was making it a little impossible to do so.

A lot of what he owned had been destroyed back in Norway, most important of all being the ratty coat he was provided when he was first deployed there. It was the crappiest coat he owned, it made him itch and was beyond uncomfortable to wear because it was so stiff, but at the end of the day it was still a coat that kept him warm, he had never wanted something so crappy to come back to his life more than he did at the moment.

Tom rubbed his hands together and breathed out hot air, he rubbed his arms and tried to get the feeling back in them. A couple months in Norway did nothing to improve his cold resistance, in fact he remembered being in this very situation more than once.

He let out a shaky sigh and turned his head to look out into the vast empty sky that surrounded them, it’s been a few hours since they escaped Norway, they were well on their way to Denmark by now for a quick restock before heading down to one of the bases set up by their allies, which just happened to be in Belgium.

Of course they had originally planned to make a flight towards Germany, it was one of the countries that still had enough supplies for a few thousand or so men. Since it went into strict lockdown when the war started the country became a form of sanctuary, the prime minister made it clear that they were against the Red army’s intentions and had allied with Britain immediately. With the whole country on high alert, Tord’s forces had yet to penetrate their defenses, it was one good thing.

They had radioed permission to gain access into Germany’s airbase when they started the evacuation process back in their old base, they even used the emergency line. With the global broadcast of Tord’s blatant disregard of the treaty there was validity in their use of it, the General and every single higher up had given emphasis to the responsible use of the emergency line, their situation definitely called for it.

The thing was their sudden take off from their post had been seen as a cause for concern, the higher ups in charge over at Germany suggested that they seek clearance from Belgium first before attempting to land in Berlin. They were talking about filing a report about the events that transpired, since their unit was the closest to the main enemy base they needed to be processed and evaluated before given any of the aid usually available to their army.

Sure it was annoying but Tom digressed, they were paranoid. Tord’s little stunt was a huge blow to the world. Tom rubbed his temples, even without him being physically here the Norski arsehole still managed to inconvenience him.

The Brit let out a long suffering sigh, he burrowed further into his arms and glared at the floor, he hated his life “You should really have someone look at that when we land” He shifted in his seat to give his attention to one of the soldiers still awake along with him. Some of them had actually succeeded in shutting their eyes and getting some rest, though a lot of people couldn’t stand the cold like him. The man who addressed him was seated across from him, he pointed at his own neck “I noticed that you hadn’t changed your bandages even when we evacuated, I saw the blood, that’s a little too much to have on your neck”

Tom scoffed, he propped his arm up on his knee that he pulled up to his seat “And have them waste their precious resources on some lowly Private?”

The soldier laughed “If they want to keep this army intact, they better be damned prepared to spare some resources to keep us alive. Us ‘lowly Privates’ happen to make up a lot of their battalions, the sooner they realize that maybe they’ll finally give us some long needed flu shots”

The two of them shared a chuckle at the absolutely abysmal state of concern for the lower ranked soldiers. Though the both of them probably couldn’t care any less about it anymore, one learns to live with the hands you’re dealt, it was almost expected that they weren’t priority, what with the government trying to desperately save the soldiers they deemed indispensable.

“Look all kidding aside, you really should have that checked” The soldier leaned back against his seat and regarded him seriously “This is war, I know, but we can’t afford to lose more than we already did”

That had instantly shot down the previous mood they were in. Tom grimaced and shook his head “Yeah, I get it. Though they are sending us towards a command center, I think that already tells us a lot about their priorities”

“Hell, a maniac just shot some prime ministers and presidents” His companion smiled bitterly “I’m pretty sure they’re still trying to wrap their heads around it, give it time, they might at least have a medic on board there in Belgium” The soldier leaned forward and extended his hand “Private Samson, though I go by Sammy”

Tom huffed, an amused smile on his face as he took the offered hand and shook it once “Tom, just Tom”

Sammy grinned at him before he let him take back his hand “Yeah that introduction was more for me than you, I know who you are”

“Don’t think I really did anything to make you pay attention to me, unless you were there during the General’s fourth tap dancing competition. I swear on my life that I wasn’t trying to outdo the General, there was a spider on stage”

Sammy laughed loudly then got shushed by their teammates that were jolted out of their slumber. He quietly apologized with a sheepish grin before turning back to his conversation buddy “Ha! Wish I could’ve seen that, but nah I was stationed at the trenches around that time I think. Heard the stories though, who would’ve thought the General was a sore loser” He snickered “Well, I really doubt a lot of people wouldn’t know you by now, at least not after what happened back there in Norway, pretty sure none of us would be here right now if you hadn’t decided that evacuating was for the best”

Tom ducked his head, he could hear a form of gratefulness in the tone and frankly he wasn’t very sure how to react to it “It was the obvious choice at that moment, someone would have thought of the same thing, I was just the first one to say it”

“Hm, you sure about that?” Sammy crossed his arms and raised an eyebrow at him from under his helmet “If you asked me I was about ready to get my gun and give Red what he had coming to him” He sounded angry, his tone taking a gruff turn at the mention of the leader they had all come to hate “I was angry Tom, a lot of us were. We sure as hell were ready to fight tooth and nail just to get one shot between Red’s eyes, one look at each other and we knew we were all thinking the same thing. We were the closest we’ve ever been to that madman, there was a slim chance of success but we didn’t care”

“So why did you listen to me?” Tom asked, curious “I said that evacuating was my choice, whether you wanted to or not was up to you. Why follow me?”

Sammy paused, he scoffed and looked at him with a twinkle in his eye “Tom, you were like us mate, angry. I could see it on your face, maybe even beyond the anger we felt, whatever your reasons you seemed like the one who wanted to fire that bullet into Red’s brain most of all, and yet it didn’t take up the whole of your thoughts” He tapped the side of his helmet with a smile “You still had enough clarity to see that we aren’t in the greatest shape, in a war like this one doing dumb irrational shit will get you killed instantly. Frankly, someone with a level head is valuable to any army”

Tom really wanted to correct him at this point, level headed was definitely not the word he would describe himself with back at the base. It was something more along the lines of pissed and tired as hell. Though he couldn’t get another word in because Sammy was still going on about painting a completely different picture of him, he sighed and tried to cut in anyway “Sammy this is really flattering and all but I don’t think you really-“

“-and I never really got to thank you”

“-wasn’t like- uh, excuse me?” Tom sputtered to a halt. Sammy had been talking over him but he did catch the last bit about thanking him for something.

Sammy smiled, it was a genuinely grateful one that Tom wasn’t used to seeing sent his way “Back at..back at the extraction point” He started softly, clasping his hands together in front of him “I was one of the guys from the wreck, lots of the jeeps behind us sped past ours without a second glance, some of the ones that crawled out early enough even got to hitch a ride the first chance they got” Sammy scoffed “I’m not mad, I don’t blame them for wanting to high tail out of there, the whole thing was a nightmare and we had less men than what we started with, a whole wave of Sentinels would be a horrifying thing to face down as we were”

He sighed out a breath then looked back at Tom “Then there was you, the guy who told us to get our arses out of dodge and warned us that the first Sentinel bombed. You came for us, banged up sure but you ran towards us the instant you could then gave us enough time to escape by standing as a distraction” Sammy laughed a little, quietly as to not disturb his fellow men “I thought ‘Man that guy is crazy’ you didn’t even bat an eye when you turned to gun down a Sentinel wave until we got to safety. It was..pretty heroic” He shook his head and leaned back against his seat once more, he straightened his posture and lifted his hand to a salute before Tom could stop him “None of the guys can tell you now, but on behalf of all of us I’d like to say thank you, you got us out of there alive”

“Ah, you don’t really have to- oookay you saluted, fantastic” Tom slumped his shoulders at Sammy’s show of gratitude. He really didn’t have the heart to tell him that he got him all wrong. He didn’t have the energy to anyway so he might as well let him believe what he wanted about him. He sighed “It’s nothing, anyone would’ve done it. Besides, I’m pretty sure I saw you back me up on the field once, let’s just call it even”

Sammy chuckled “Whatever you say boss” Tom bit his tongue at that ‘Don’t bother correcting him, not worth the time and energy’ It sure as hell didn’t bother him, it just meant that he would at least have an easier time in the army, some support from fellow soldiers never hurt.

“Hey Sammy?”

“Hm?”

“Did you really mean that? The whole ‘fight tooth and nail to put a bullet between Red’s eyes’ thing?”

Sammy chuckled as he settled down comfortably in his seat, obviously ready to call it a night “Sure as the sun rises in the east. If I have to fight like hell to get there-“ a yawn “-then so be it”

Tom hummed thoughtfully at his answer, he kept his gaze to the ground as he continued “What if you have to cross lines you don’t think you should? What then?”

The solider tipped his helmet up at him, amusement clear in his eyes “Tom, we’re talking about gunning Red down for good” He stretched his limbs a little before closing his eyes “It’s basically mandatory to cross lines just to get to him, it’s going to be a free for all from now on mate, we’re on a race against the clock. There isn’t anything I wouldn’t do just to end all this” And with that, he instantly dozed off, finally getting the sleep he needed.

Tom however didn’t attempt to rest like Sammy had. The Brit rolled the other soldier’s words around in his head as he looked back out the empty sky, there were too many clouds that night “Hope you really meant that Sammy” He muttered, thoughts and plans bubbling quietly behind his forethoughts of wanting his crappy coat back and wondering if the copter had any alcohol stashed around to help him warm up at least


 

When they first arrived in Belgium it was Sammy who had to drag him out of the helicopter, unfortunately Tom only had two hours of sleep under his belt, so it made him a lot more irritable than he usually was. Sammy took it in stride though and even laughed at him when he was finished yelling.

The airbase they landed on was a relatively small one, though lately due to a rapid need to gain information as quickly as possible, the airbase had been converted to one of the lesser command centers but was still important as it was the closest one to the Red Army’s home base. It was here that reports from units sent to the Scandinavian countries went to first.

Stepping on to the tarmac ground, Tom immediately knew he wasn’t going to like being there. It was two in the morning, at least according to the helicopter’s built in clock, but the airbase they landed on was already a flurry of busy officials and lower ranked soldiers running around to get to whatever order of business they needed to attend to. People were barking orders left and right, no one was keeping still, the intercom blared new announcements once every five seconds, and was all in all the worst place his sleep deprived self could be in right at the moment.

An officer had been the one to intercept them the moment all three helicopters landed and unloaded their whole unit. The man had to shout over the multiple lovely sounds that plagued the airbase, one of which being the loud screams of a handful of jets that had just been cleared for takeoff a few meters away from them ‘Isn’t that some sort of hazard?’ Tom thought as he watched people run around the already dimly lit base with reckless abandon. Maybe the pilots had been trained to sense the presence of people, who knows, it was their problem.

Tom shoved both of his hands into the pockets of his uniform just as the officer gave up screaming his instructions and took to pointing intently at a tent that was set up at the sidelines of an active runway. Great, Tom could already feel the headaches. His unit began to move towards the large tent, some moving faster than others and flinching every time an aircraft took off close to them.

Tom chose to take calmer strides, he silently cheered when the people around him thinned out somewhat, it was getting really hard to breathe. He noticed that others lingered behind like he did, some he recognized- Don, Greg, and Sammy- and some he didn’t. Guess they weren’t very jittery either.

“Ah, one second son” A hand on his shoulder halted his movements, Tom looked over to the officer that greeted them in mild confusion and irritation. What could he want? “You’re Private Thompson are you not?”

“Sir, I certainly am, sir” Tom replied with less enthusiasm most soldiers would have when addressing a higher up. It was clear on the officer’s face that he didn’t take too kindly to his tone as the grip tightened on his shoulder and he was spun around to fully face the older man.

“The Generals would like to have a word with you, from what we heard about your situation you happened to have witnessed an important event. One that, might I add, was a very crucial tipping point of this whole mess we find ourselves in” The officer looked him straight in the eye, Tom became slightly uncomfortable with the intensity of the gaze but he refused to squirm under the pressure, he’s been through worse “I would suggest manners, the information you hold is very delicate Private

“Sir, I more than others know how delicate it is, sir” Tom stared the officer down, his neck tingled with phantom pain.

“Is there a problem here?” Tom recognized the voice as Don’s. Sure enough the small group that lingered at the end of the whole unit had gathered behind him after some noticed that he had been held back by the officer.

The man blinked in surprise, as if he’s somehow forgotten that there were other soldiers present other than Tom. He frowned at them “No there is not. I am simply supposed to accompany Private Thompson to give his report to the Generals. This matter is none of your concerns” He growled out the last part, trying to assert himself amongst the group of lower ranked soldiers who watched him with what looked like honest apprehension “Get to your tent, Privates” He hissed.

The group behind Tom were quick to give their salutes, they turned to leave but Sammy stayed a moment to throw a few words at him “We’re close by, boss”

Tom gave him a look over his shoulder just as the officer motioned for him to follow and begin to walk to the center of the airbase. At the heart of it was the command tower where the higher ups gathered to do whatever it was higher ups did, stare at maps? Assign inexperienced new soldiers to their deaths?? All Tom knew was that they were arseholes that hid behind walls instead of fighting the battles they so desperately wanted to win. He’d definitely never seen any of the four star generals join the fight even once.

Oh wait no, actually there was one four star (General Ells?), a little loopy but she was fantastic out in the field, she gets a pass.

The officer in front of him stopped walking and moved to the side, he gave him a look and gestured at the rickety looking metal stairs that he apparently had to climb. Tom muttered less than pleasant things under his breath before making his way up the steps, wincing every time they seemed to rock to the left. He approached the stark white door that led to the main office of the tower, there was a square frosted window wherein he could make out the blurred figures of the Generals inside. He rapped his knuckles against the door and waited until someone called for him to come in.

With a push Tom was greeted by the sight of two Generals conversing with each other over a map, he was suddenly hit hard with familiar scents that he hadn’t exactly been able to smell in over the years he spent in service to the army. He swallowed the saliva that spontaneously built up in his mouth. He wasn’t going to be able to get any of those anyway.

“Private Thompson I assume” One of the Generals finally looked up from the map to greet him. The man circled the table with a mug of real coffee held close “You are from the Norway unit yes? Come, there are things we have to discuss” He beckoned him over with two fingers. Tom shut the door behind him with a soft click. He took quick strides towards the two Generals and stood at attention.

The one that greeted him waved his hand at him to put him at ease “It has come to our attention that you have been made witness to what may be the deciding turn of the peace treaty” The first General took a sip from his cup then set it down in favor of folding his hands behind his back, a show of refinement “According to the report we have been handed yesterday by one Corporal from your unit, you had ordered an evacuation then later had claimed that your General had been killed

The second General in the room looked up at that “That’s a very large claim, more so that you had told your fellow soldiers that the Red Leader himself had been the cause of your General’s death” He straightened up, joining the first in staring Tom down. A tag team intimidation technique of sorts “Now, Private Thompson, by assumption one can create allegations against you. What we want to hear is nothing but the truth from you from this point on” He circled the table and towered over Tom “All you need to do is to tell us exactly what transpired, the Red Leader had made it perfectly clear that we are now entering the second phase of this war, we just want to know when it started”

Tom shifted his attention to the both of them. He knew well enough that if he told them the truth of what had happened back in Norway he would be subjected to lasting consequences. He had a chance to take Tord down, a split second decision to run for his General’s rifle would have led them down a different path, would have led the world to a different outcome. During that time in the forest he was standing at the crux of their future, and what was he at that time? Oh yeah, drunk.

Definitely not what he wanted to tell paranoid higher ups.

At that moment, Tom made another decision “Sir, I went out into the surrounding forest of our base after I noticed that the General didn't return from his patrol. It was unusual, he never took more than two hours, three passed by the time I decided to check. Halfway towards the edge of the forest I spotted him, only…he was trapped at a standstill with the Red Leader”

He thought back to Tord’s words “I heard most of what the Red Leader said. He spoke about the treaty conference and how it was pointless. The General tried to keep him speaking once he caught me hidden behind the trees, he wanted me to attack”

Tom needed to sell his story, so he put himself back in that forest, he made himself hear Tord’s taunting voice and see his smug smiles. His expression twisted into contempt “But I’m afraid he looked at me for too long, the Red Leader saw through his ploy and shot him as soon as he was able. It was there that he assaulted me and I was forced to fight back”

He reached behind his neck and began to untie the cloth around it, he winced when it stuck against his skin. He took great care in peeling it off despite the sting he could feel from doing so “He held me at knife point and I received this injury from it. I was left to live simply because he wanted me to send a message”

“And what might that be?” The first General questioned, morbidly intrigued.

Tom let out a breath and kept his eyes to the floor, the perfect picture of a soldier angered and in distress “I believe you heard it from him once already sir. Just before he had knocked me unconscious, he told me: ‘I am not just going to give this up’

Tom finished quietly, never once lifting his gaze to gauge the reaction of the Generals. Thankfully he had not been given the chance to even tidy up when he came to the base, most of his scratches and injuries would line up with the story he gave, so it wouldn’t be too hard to believe in the slightly less truthful version of the event.

“So he really had broken the armistice beforehand” The second General’s voice cut through the silence, he growled and slammed a hand on the table in frustration “Bastard”

“There is nothing we can do about it now” The first General turned away from Tom to address his partner “The armistice is long over, there is no point in getting frustrated over-“

“No do you not understand?” The second snapped his head up at him, angry “This maniac had never even considered the armistice seriously, even going out of his way to find an officer of ours to kill just so he could say that he never broke the armistice to begin with after he murdered the world leaders!!” He gripped the table tight, his nails scratched the surface of it and emitted a low screeching sound that Tom winced at “He’s treating this as his entertainment! As if millions of lives are not at stake!!” He fumed.

The first General sighed and shook his head, he glanced at Tom “We have what we came for Private, you may take your leave” He turned his back and proceeded to walk towards his partner, that was the end of it.

That is if Tom hadn’t decided to cut in at that very moment of dismissal “No, sir, wait”

The first General paused, he turned to look at him, surprise underneath his features “Excuse me Private? You have given your report, there is no need for further discussion”

“Sir, with all due respect-“ Which honestly wasn’t a lot “-I hadn’t given the full report of the events that transpired in Norway. Regarding the extraction of my unit” Tom’s jaw set firmly the moment the General began to show disinterest in his words, he continued on and barely gave the other man any chance to cut in “We called in for the extraction of all eighty-nine men from the Norway post. As we had originally been five hundred it was unexpected that we only had three helicopters awaiting us upon arrival, why was that sir?”

The General, if he had caught his tone or not, didn’t show it when he turned to face him again “The evacuation you called, Private, was unplanned and spontaneous” He walked towards him again and made sure to get into his personal space just enough, he narrowed his eyes at him only this time Tom didn’t cede to his intimidation tactics “You cannot expect that we would have been able to send all the needed aircrafts on time to extract every single one of your unit’s soldiers”

“Our General had long since requested extraction by the time the armistice was set” Tom fired back, losing the patience he had quicker than he anticipated “He was denied clearance of leave even as he expressed that our unit is no longer capable of taking on the frontal assault of the Red army. Had we stayed, we would surely have died sir

“That is enough Private!” The second General cut through, bristling “We understand that you may not approve of our decisions but your unit is not the only unit we have to look out for!!” He scowled at him “Had it not crossed your mind that perhaps there are other units in more dire situations than yours? Have you not considered that there was a possibility that we did not have enough aircrafts as it is because this godforsaken war has drained us of every possible resource?!

He breathed heavily, staring at Tom with nothing but contempt for his insubordination “We will NOT risk everything we have on just one unit alone! As Generals we make the tough decisions, we are devastated everyday by every report of loss we receive, but if we want to have any hope of winning this war we will have to act accordingly even at a great cost. Now I want you out of this office and to your quarters! Do I make myself clear?!

Tom stopped himself from taking a step back at the burst of the General’s anger. He scowled at the floor “Sir, yes sir” He muttered before turning sharply to leave. He had one last thing to say but he contemplated hard about whether or not he should tell them. A petty part of him wanted to keep the bit of information away but in the end he gave in to his better half “The Red Sentinels have been reactivated, sir” He announced once he made it to the door “They have begun retaking their posts in Norway, their global network should be active once more”

“You may take your leave” It was the only reply he received but Tom didn’t stay long enough to hear or care about what the Generals had left to say. He made his way down the stairs, passed the officer still waiting there without a second glance, and set his sights on the tent where the rest of his unit should be. He needed sleep, his head was throbbing painfully by this point.

When he reached the tent, only a few of his fellow soldiers were awake, most likely the ones that had been able to sleep in the helicopters, he paid them no mind and made a beeline for the first empty cot he could see. It still felt as crappy as he remembered but exhaustion could make anything feel like it was made of soft feathers, thankfully sleep had easily found him this time. Tom dreamt of nothing.

 


 

There was a certain calming rhythmic beat to the sound of his men marching in unison around him, it was a steady sound that never missed its cue, it was almost therapeutic. Tord walked calmly behind the small troop he brought with him, at his sides he was flanked by his two most trusted soldiers, Paul and Patryck. The both of them scanned the area critically, watching for any sign of threat to their commander, out of everyone in the army the both of them had the sharpest senses, nothing usually got past them, it made Tord proud.

They weaved their way into the thick forest that Tord kept a close eye on after finding out that a dear old friend had been present in Norway the whole time. He passed by the tree he had pinned Tom up against, he lingered for a moment and smiled fondly at it, he could still see traces of blood underneath it, Tord patted the tree with a chuckle before proceeding onwards.

“Red Leader!” One of his soldiers further up ahead called. The man saluted him and produced an item he found “A monitor has been compromised, we believe this may have been the cause”

Tord hummed and looked down at the dented flask that was presented to him. He took it from the soldier and inspected it in the light with a faint smile on his face, Tord weighed the item in his hand and made shooing motions at the soldier who gave it, though he didn’t watch him leave, his full attention was given to what he was holding.

“If you would like sir, we may check the monitor’s surveillance camera to identify the vandal” Paul suggested beside him, eyeing the piece of metal with a look of offense.

Tord chuckled and pocketed the flask, his robotic hand made placating gestures at his soldier “Oh no need, no need” He reassured and continued walking, Paul and Patryck were quick to keep up with his strides “I already know who owned this, in fact I was expecting it ” The two soldiers turned to each other, confusion written on their faces. Patryck shrugged at Paul while the other frowned, they didn’t press any further.

Almost nearing the center of the forest, Tord’s men stopped their march and took to a two line formation, each man moved in sync as they armed themselves with their rifles. The troop stood at attention the moment Tord drew close, a resounding “HA!” boomed in the small forest in place of a salute to their leader.

Tord walked between the lines with his head held high, a regal air about him. His strides were long and graceful, it made his coat flutter quietly behind him, almost no one could hear his steps, to an outsider it would almost look as though he were gliding. A commanding officer greeted him at the end of the formation, once he was out the troop dispersed and took to a larger formation that covered Tord’s perimeter. The Red Leader looked around at the clearing they found, there were some tents still standing, others collapsed in an uneven mess on the ground, a number of abandoned jeeps and what appeared to be old rations crates.

“So this is where you were hiding” Tord mumbled more to himself than anyone else, stepping over a few scattered items to venture further into the abandoned base. The officer at his side took it as his cue to speak though.

“Yes sir, after the armistice the Sentinels were quick to find out where the enemy base was after the monitor had given out its distress signal” The officer continued on even as Tord sat down on a nearby crate, seemingly paying no attention to his report as he picked at an empty can of peaches with a bent fork that he found “We believe that the men the Sentinels pursued at the border may have been the same army that tried to infiltrate the base. There are confirmed several casualties on their side-“

“General?” The officer immediately clamped his mouth closed at Tord’s cheery tone. The Red Leader didn’t look up from his assault on the poor defenseless peach can, as though it held more importance than the soldier beside him “I’m just a little curious. How come none of my Sentinels were able to find this base the first time? Is it not your job to find out where our enemy is hidden?”

The General stiffened, a cold washed over him at his leader’s words, it was enough to make his heart skip a beat, at least that’s what it felt like “Sir..” He began after gathering enough of his wits to speak coherent words “We were taken by surprise by their first assault, I had to direct all our forces towards pushing them back sir, that included most of the Sentinels we had”

“But they are called Sentinels are they not?” Tord looked up, an almost bored expression on his face. He aimed at a nearby tree and flung the bent fork at its bark. The dulled piece of metal embedded itself into the wood with a sharp crack, the General flinched at it “Why were they not guarding the perimeter of my base? The assault should have not come as a surprise, General”

His casual conversation like tone only made the General panic even more. The man broke out in a cold sweat and attempted to save face “I- We were concentrating resources on the- uh- the frontlines sir. A-As it was, there had been no need for the Sentinels to- to be active in our area, I received no report on any activity from the enemy concerning the base sir-“

“And yet there clearly was, as you put it, activity concerning my base” Tord directed his expressionless gaze over to the General, one hand gesturing around them at a once active camp “Do you know how close this is to my base General? This camp that housed more than a hundred men armed to the teeth??”

“We outnumber them by the thousands sir, they were no immediate threat”

Tord hunched over and clasped his hands near his forehead, making him look as though he was praying. He sucked in a breath through his teeth and tutted at the General “Ooh General, General, General..” He sighed and stood up. He patted his pants as if removing dirt before he folded his hands behind his back and smiled at the officer. The man seemed to shrink into himself, not liking the attention he was suddenly given.

Tord’s eye was sharp as he looked at him “We never ever underestimate the enemy” He held up one finger on his flesh hand and began to circle him like a shark, the General stood rigid “I wonder where you got this overconfident zeal. I surely never think of even a single enemy soldier as ‘not an immediate threat’

He stood behind the General, a tight lipped smile on his face. Tord leaned forward so that he could whisper in the man’s ear “The one belief I have, General, is that every soldier is dangerous. It does not matter who they are, every single one of them had been given a form of training to become part of this war” Tord patted the man’s cheek with his robotic hand and rolled his eye at the terrified gasp. What was his problem? They were only talking “And every single one of them, General, desperately want to kill me”

He pulled away from the shaking man. Tord moved to his side and patted his rank insignia sewn on to his shoulder, the General swallowed hard and blinked furiously at him. Tord frowned, disappointment rolling off of him in waves “I would advise that you keep my belief in mind, General. I’ll have none of this happen again, am I clear?”

“Yes sir!” The General responded almost too enthusiastically “I will keep a close eye on our perimeter from now on sir, I will make sure that nothing evades my detection, I will not fail you again sir!” Eager to please, Tord rolled his eye once more, typical.

He shooed the man off with one hand and gave him one last order to have his men sweep the base for anything of importance. The General gave him a stiff salute before turning on his men and barking order after order at them to search the camp. Tord sighed to himself and looked to his side, he beckoned Patryck over with a flick of his wrist, the man quickly joined him “Paaaat” He drew out his name playfully “I would like for you to be on standby until I say otherwise, will you do that for me please?” He asked sweetly.

“Of course sir” Patryck responded, one hand immediately flying to the pistol at his side. ‘Good boy’ Tord thought, his right hand men always knew what he wanted from them “Might I ask who I will have to remove when the time comes?”

Tord fished out a cigar from his pocket, Patryck instantly offered a lighter, he thanked him for it and inhaled the soothing tobacco from the cigar, he sighed out the smoke “I’m thinking of opening a new position for General, but as of the moment I’m not very sure who I can assign for the job just yet” Tord pouted at his cigar and shrugged at Patryck “I’ll be sure to let you know when I’ve come to a decision, I’ll need your input for it, okay?”

“Anytime sir” Patryck responded with a smile of his own, subtly shifting his gaze over to the frantic General still yelling orders in front of them.

Tord beckoned his other right hand man forward. Paul nodded at him once “Paul, do you happen to have your Sentinel monitor? I’m afraid I didn’t bring mine along”

Wordlessly Paul produced a small rectangular red framed glass plate from his coat pocket. Tord took it with a thanks and pressed his hand down on the surface of the glass. There was a quiet whirr then the screen came to life in front of him, showing the status of his Sentinels worldwide. Tord flicked through most of the information streaming into the screen until he found the footage of the home base Sentinels from yesterday.

The footage showed nothing but the grey sky at first, clouds whipped past the Sentinel as it dove down to a lower altitude. The clouds cleared and the screen was suddenly overwhelmed by a wave of other Sentinels currently engaged in battle with the soldiers aboard a number of jeeps. Tord flipped through multiple Sentinels’ footages, though each caught a good look at opposing soldiers none peaked his interest. Sure he could put out some small wanted posters for them, but they weren’t priority.

Paul and Patryck had left him at this point to monitor the other soldiers walking around the abandoned camp. Tord let them do what they want, he knew they’d do their jobs well without his supervision. Besides, he was too engrossed with finding the right Sentinel with the right footage he needed. Tord waltzed over to a nearby tree without looking up from his screen, he leaned against it and continued to scour for what he wanted, occasionally puffing out breaths of smoke from the cigar trapped between his teeth.

He almost skipped past one Sentinel who had flown close to the first jeep. It showed nothing of importance at first, just the top of the jeep it was pursuing. Tord knew it was about to dive bomb into it and didn’t think much of the footage until a certain someone climbed out from the window and began to take aim at the Sentinels. Tord’s eye widened with interest, he felt a smile tug at his features “There you are”

Tom fired at the Sentinels with an accuracy Tord didn’t realize he had. He missed a few times but many of his shots actually reached its target, and all while on a fast moving vehicle? Tord was impressed. The Sentinel that had caught Tom on camera flew low to engage. There was a split second where Tom’s attention shifted over to the approaching Sentinel, it wouldn’t be obvious to a lot of people but Tord saw the shift in his sockets, it was subtle but he saw it. Tom moved his rifle from its default position to aim at the recording Sentinel, he pulled the trigger and an emergency message flashed on the screen, the Sentinel shut down soon after.

Tord rewound the footage until he came across the image he wanted, that of Tom taking aim at the Sentinel. He set the photo aside for the moment, he’ll definitely use it soon.

Every single solider is dangerous.

A person like Tom was even more so….because Tord was like him.

The Red Leader grinned.

Chapter Text

ONE, TWO!”

“THREE, FOUR!!”

“FIVE, SIX!!”

“SEVEN, EIGHT!!”

Their drill instructor began to shout that stupid chant, but thankfully he had enough practice of being able to tune it out. Of course a lot of them began to shout back the appropriate reply to the chant but Tom had instead taken to sloppily mouthing ‘watermelon’ every time he needed to speak up like the rest of them, so far no one had noticed so he continued on with his little ruse.

It was five in the morning, a sorely unreasonable time for anyone to be awake. Though Tom was pretty much used to it by now after years of being forced up, a small part of him still missed the good old days when sleeping in past ten was still an acceptable practice for a man of his stature. How time flies so painfully, nothing is any fun anymore.

“SHARP LEFT ONE-TWO!!” Tom turned on his heel in sync with the rest of his unit. Currently they were being put through the usual early morning exercises. Most of the harder parts of it were over, now they were just putting on a good run to cool down. Tom scoffed, cooling down from exercise with more exercise, a pretty sadistic route if you asked him.

By the time the instructor had finally relinquished his hold on them, the whole of his unit gasped in relief. There were some kind souls that somehow managed to get a hold of towels and water bottles, they began to pass it around as quickly as they could.

“Here” Tom looked to his side after he finished popping his neck. Sammy stood there with a set of towels and bottles and a smile on his face, Tom muttered a thanks as he took his share, he took to wiping off his sweat first before even attempting to drink.

“Augh, you never really get used to all that” Sammy groaned when he finished his bottle of water “Two hours too early to be doing any extensive exercises right now, haha. How come you don’t look like death?”

Tom shrugged at him “Four years of it kinda makes you immune” He twisted off the cap on his bottle and started chugging most of the water down. The cooling sensation in his throat was a welcome change.

“Ah well, guess that makes me the rookie”

“You haven’t been on the field that long?” Tom chucked the now empty bottle over his shoulder. He heard it hit someone when a loud ‘OW MY EYE!’ sounded out behind him.

“Uh, just a year actually. I was stationed out in ‘chester for a bit before I got assigned to our Europe unit” Sammy wrapped his towel around his hand as the two of them began to walk away from the area, most of the unit began to disperse as well but some stayed behind to rest for a while with some friends.

Tom chuckled beside him, slinging his towel over his shoulder “Lucky you then, you weren’t around when we had nothing else but raisins to eat after supplies ran low. Worst eight months of my life”

Sammy laughed at that with a shake of his head “Oh uh right, me and the guys were wondering” He stopped Tom with a hand on the shoulder, one the other looked at in surprise before turning his attention to the other soldier’s face “We were planning on having a bit of fun with some birds we found lingering about out back. Charlie found these unused bullets lying around in the grass and told us they were still useable. It’s a bit of harmless sport and we wanted to invite you along, that is if you want to”

Tom thought about the offer for a while but ultimately decided that he didn’t really want to have to spend some time firing a gun at birds, he already wasted years of his life with a gun in his hand firing at all sorts of different things. He just didn’t see the appeal of doing what was literally his job now but on poor unsuspecting swallows “Sorry Sammy, if it’s all the same to you I think I’d rather spend a bit of time lying around somewhere. I don’t really have the energy for much right now”

Sammy visibly deflated at his answer “Really? I mean it’s fine yeah sure, but you know, we aren’t exactly going to be, well, a unit for long. We just thought we’d have a bit of fun with all the guys before we gotta go”

Tom sighed “Ask me again later if you’ll catch me, maybe I’ll be up for it, but I’m just gonna watch”

Sammy nodded at that, somewhat reluctantly, and gave him a quick dig on the shoulder “Sure thing boss” He waved him off as he turned to jog in another direction, probably towards the poor birds that’ll be dragged into a mini war soon.

The Brit watched the other soldier leave with a frown. Sammy had really taken to calling him by that nickname these days, no matter how much he told him to stop the other soldier would just laugh and tease him with it again. After four days of trying Tom just threw his hands up and let Sammy be, if he was going to be stubborn then fine, he could call him Sally McSpaceCat and Tom still wouldn’t care.

A few hours from now, the Norway unit was soon to be no more. As it was they were the smallest unit taking shelter at the airbase, most of the other units consisted of more than a hundred soldiers. Their measly thirty-six could easily be overpowered by even the smallest platoon of the Red army’s. The obvious solution? Distribute them to any other unit that would take them.

It wouldn’t be a hard thing to do, most units jumped at the chance to take soldiers with experience from the frontlines. A lot of them had been praised for being able to come back from the main force of the Red army actually. Though Tom didn’t feel like celebrating that fact, they barely made a dent in Tord’s forces the months they spent there. They barely survived, how can five hundred men easily dwindle down to the pathetic double digit number they were at?

It was sad to think about. The procession for the deceased had taken place a day ago during their stay here, a lot of dog tags had been handed back that morning, two small crates had been flooded with silver. Not every tag was present though. The mere thought of it almost threw him back into unpleasant memories. Tom froze in the middle of the runway, a falter in his steps nearly making him trip, he steadily breathed out and shook his head then continued walking forward.

Those units waiting to adopt them really don’t know what they’re getting themselves into, he hoped they liked damaged goods, but apparently it doesn’t really matter to any of them, as long as they were tagged with the Europe Frontal Assualt Program’s seal then they were a must have item. Come one come all! Get your newly made trauma victim!! The latest models of course! They’ve been through some shit!!  Tom chuckled.

On his walk back to the tent, Tom’s hearing picked up what was the distinct loud shrill of a drill instructor griping hard at the soldiers he was commanding. It would have flown over his attention had the voice not sound eerily familiar, he craned his neck to have a better look at who was at the forefront of the new battalion that had landed in the airbase just the night before.

“AND I DON’T WANT TO SEE ANY OF YOU COME CRAWLING BACK TO ME UNTIL YOU CAN CRUSH A BOULDER IN BETWEEN YOUR THIGHS! DO I MAKE MYSELF CLEAR?!

“SIR YES SIR!!”

The battalion dispersed into a fast sprint the moment Tom decided to jog over and have a closer look at the drill instructor. He nearly did a double take at the person he found when the man turned to his side and allowed him to have a better look at his face “Sergeant Hilarson?!”

The Sergeant himself startled at the sound of his name. The man looked around irritably for a second, wondering who the hell was trying to call him before his eyes landed on Tom standing just a few feet away from him. He narrowed his eyes in confusion but they quickly widened when he recognized the eyeless soldier in front of him, a surprised smile graced his features.

“Well I’ll be damned!! If it isn’t Private Bowling Ball!!” He guffawed and marched straight towards Tom. The Sergeant slung an arm over his shoulder so hard and fast Tom nearly fell over “Look at you son! All grown up and in the army!!” Hilarson gave him a once over, he looked pleased “I knew you would make something of yourself! The last time I saw you, you and your little friends managed to topple over an entire enemy base!!” He cackled in amusement, loud enough for everyone to hear. Some soldiers even stopped to look at the two of them curiously. Tom hid his face.

“I uh, it’s nice to see you too Sarge” Tom managed out.

Hilarson sighed happily and gave Tom one more excited shake before he let him go “Tell you what Bowling Ball, why don’t you and I catch up? I’d love to hear what kind of trouble you’ve been up to after I let you go, and now that we’re both military men we’ll have plenty to talk about! My tent is right over there near the firing range, make yourself at home. It’ll take a while for me to whip these rookies into shape!”

There was an obvious genuine cheer to Hilarson’s words, but a look in his eyes told Tom that there was something else on the Sergeant’s mind. Hilarson clapped him on the back and shooed him off to the direction of his tent.

Since Tom didn’t have the chance to say no, he shrugged and decided that maybe killing time with Hilarson would at least give him something to do other than sleep. Hilarson’s loud shouting followed him all the way to the Sergeant’s tent.

 


 

Tom was fiddling with a tower of cards when Hilarson finally came over to the tent. The man barked some last orders behind him at the unfortunate soul who had apparently messed up the drill, there was a threat of physical violence that Hilarson displayed by cracking his knuckles at whoever made him angry. It made Tom laugh and think back on the days when Edd had crossed the Sergeant more times than necessary.

Unbelievable!” Hilarson huffed as he marched inside the tent “Those were simple orders, SIMPLE ORDERS!! I can’t believe how much of a hard time they were having with those SIMPLE orders!!” The Sergeant cracked his neck and continued to mutter under his breath. Tom opened his mouth to remind him of his presence but Hilarson beat him to the punch “You a whiskey man Bowling Ball?” He shot the question his way just as he knelt down and began to rummage through a little grey storage bin.

“Isn’t it a little too early to, uh, drink sir?” Though it was mostly to be polite, Tom didn’t usually give a damn about time when it came to alcohol.

“Hah! Time’s an illusion Private, alcohol just helps remind us that it is” On cue, Hilarson pulled out two shot glasses and a bottle of whiskey. The man hummed a tune and joined Tom on the square table where the card tower stood proud in the middle. Hilarson dropped the whiskey bottle on top of it, scattering the cards. Tom held back his whine, he worked so hard on that “Think of this as a social drink” Hilarson said as he slid the second shot glass towards Tom “That’s what people say to make getting smashed with their friends valid right?”

Tom laughed and eyed the bottle with interest “To answer your first question sir, Smirnoff is more my style but lately I’m pretty sure I could settle for anything. To the second, hell yeah it is”

Hilarson guffawed at his response, he received the first pour of whiskey as a result “Now don’t get too greedy Private, I only gave you a shot glass for a reason. The good stuff’s scarce these days” He poured his own helping of the whiskey which he immediately downed.

Tom didn’t rush, he tipped the glass in Hilarson’s direction before knocking it back. The familiar burn going down his throat made him groan in appreciation ‘Oh alcohol, how I’ve missed you’ “I hear you Sarge, just lost my ration a few days ago actually”

“Shame that is” Hilarson gave him a look of pity while one hand stroked the bottle of whiskey between them “Been saving this ol’ girl for a special occasion and, well, seeing a good old Private of mine seems appropriate” He poured them another round, though this time both only cradled the drink close. Hilarson scoffed at him when his eyes travelled upwards to his hair “I see you haven’t changed son, that monstrosity of a haircut still hasn’t been tamed”

Tom ran a hand through his hair with a smile, his fingers got snagged a few times, even he could admit that Steve was starting to become a long mess “Cutting Steve with a knife isn’t easy, ironically the only sharp thing I can’t find would be a good pair of scissors, Sarge”

Hilarson’s shoulders shook with subdued laughter, he shook his head “Aaah, I’m not quite your Sergeant anymore Bowling Ball. It’s Lieutenant Colonel now, I’ve been bumped up a few ranks for all my service in this war” He knocked back his shot glass then leaned against the table to point at Tom “How long’ve you been serving son?”

“About four years and a half by now” Tom twirled his glass around on the table, watching the clear liquid swirl within it “I joined not long after Poland fell I think, all I really remember was being shoved into a jet to be deployed in Netherlands for a few months before I got booted off to Austria”

“A Euro Program are you?”Hilarson’s eyes widened in surprise and mild astonishment, the Colonel slapped his hand on his knee and nodded in satisfaction, he was grinning “That’s quite the unit you joined Bowling Ball! And you’re still a Private??”

Tom mirrored his expression as he leaned forward and took a few sips of whiskey from his shot glass. He hummed “Actually I’ve been in line for a promotion for a while now, technically I’m a Lance Corporal? But they never put it down on paper so I’m basically stuck as a Private forever, with how many operations have been going on we don’t really have time for a ceremony. I don’t mind, I’m not ready for more responsibility”

“Oh I hear you son” Hilarson nodded along to his words “Being a Colonel isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Having a whole battalion full of thick headed dimwits is a headache. Still, the title earns respect, it’s one of the upsides to it”

The Colonel shook his head and downed another shot of whiskey, by now Tom had lost count of how many the man had, he was still nursing his second one “So tell me son, with this whole war right now, what made you want to join? When Poland fell we were already falling apart as an army, I wouldn’t think anyone would have joined at that point”

“Trust me, I didn’t want to” Tom knocked back the rest of his whiskey and leaned against his chair heavily. He huffed out a breath and crossed his arms over his chest “Edd was the one who came up with the bright idea of wanting to join the army, Matt instantly jumped for it because when had he never gone with any of Edd’s plans? At that time I reasoned that it would suck being on my own, so I just went fuck it and joined alongside them, again” He scoffed “And look where that got me….”

“In a tent with your old commanding officer and a bottle of whiskey?”

“I was thinking of something a little bit more along the lines of having the worst time of my life but yeah, that works too”

“Hoho, war wasn’t kind to you huh? Surprising, the last time you were deployed you didn’t seem too bothered coming back”

“Colonel, we literally only trained for minutes then we were deployed into the field and came back in less time. Compare that to four years and I think you’ll start to understand why I’m losing more sleep these days”

Hilarson snickered and shook his head, pouring himself more whiskey “Ah yeah, you have a point. Sorry son, time’s a little different when you’re in the military, I swear I saw you and your little friends grow up right before my eyes like I’ve been with you for years. You’ve gotta forgive an old military man for forgetting how all this normal world stuff works”

Tom huffed, weirdly being able to relate to the Colonel “To be fair, Edd did tell me that it felt like a million years had passed in the first minute we stayed there. Military time’s weird”

“Aaah the little green schmuck, yes I remember him well” Hilarson rolled his eyes at the memory, there was a hint of annoyance to his expression but nothing more negative than that, the tinge of fondness still stayed “I suppose I expected that all of you would join all together, you all seemed inseparable from the start. You’re all in the same place at the same time….again” Then it disappeared.

Tom paused at the tone of Hilarson’s voice. The Brit looked up at the Colonel, watching as he looked down at his shot glass with a nonchalant expression “I’m old Bowling Ball, but not that old” He slid his eyes to the side to look at Tom, they were searching for something, to what it was Tom had a guess “I remember four bright eyed new recruits joining the army once too. Four fine young men that proved themselves a formidable bunch at the end of the day, each with a distinct color that they favored”

Tom’s breath caught in his throat. Fuck. How could he have forgotten? Hilarson was their commanding officer. Hilarson remembered. His gaze darted towards the entrance of the tent, the look that Hilarson was giving him was starting to make him panic, the Colonel had something up his sleeve and Tom was sure he wasn’t going to like whatever it was the man was going to do. The way Hilarson subtly shifted his position on the chair so that his legs partly obstructed the exit only worsened Tom’s situation.

Why didn’t he see this coming?!

Hilarson drank his whiskey and drummed his fingers on top of the table. He lifted four fingers up “Green” One finger tapped down “Purple” the second one followed “Blue” The third finger landed on the table a little louder and a little harder than the first two. Tom stared at the final finger. Hilarson gave him a knowing look “…Red”

The last finger fell to the table top, the soft tap somehow lingering for longer than it should have. Hilarson sighed clasped his hands together on the table, he regarded Tom with an almost accusatory gaze “Tord Larsin” Tom felt himself flinch at the name, he couldn’t find his voice as he stared at Hilarson’s intimidating look “A young Private of mine who favored the color of blood…now my enemy who has too much of it on his hands”

The Colonel stared at him silently for a few seconds. He reached over and took Tom’s shot glass from him, he poured more alcohol into the glass and offered it back.

Tom hesitated before he reached out and  took it. He held it close to his chest “You could imagine my shock and devastation when I turned on my T.V. and saw the face of a Private I personally trained now standing as the leading commander of a dangerous army” Hilarson frowned at the bottle of whiskey in his hand “Perhaps I have a fault in all of this” His voice grew quiet, it was unusual and strange since Hilarson had been known for his strong lungs “Had I not trained that group of young Privates, perhaps we would have seen a different outcome”

Hilarson looked back to him once more, an unreadable expression on his face “Tell me the truth son” He leaned over the table, one finger jabbed at Tom’s chest “Did you know that your little friend would lead us all into this death trap of a war? Are you here for a good reason? Or are you here for him?

A soft click made Tom stiffen, he knew that sound. Tom followed Hilarson’s other arm that had disappeared under the table. He was absolutely certain that held tight in that missing hand was a gun, a gun that was pointed straight at him, ready to fire should Hilarson deem him untrustworthy. Tom slowly set his shot glass down on the table and laid both of his hands flat on top of it “I’m not a spy” He said firmly.

“I didn’t say that you are son” Hilarson’s tone was calm, soft. Outside the tent the sounds of the army going about their normal routines suddenly sounded too far from where they were, they sounded muffled, white noise in the back.

The loudest sounds that Tom could hear were his own breathing, Hilarson’s, and the quiet clicks of the gun under the table when the Colonel would adjust his grip “All I’m saying is if you knew this would happen. That all of this death, loss, and hardships were to become our future the moment you stepped into my training field” Hilarson breathed in slowly “Well?”

Tom held him in a steady glare, he didn’t like being held at gunpoint, he certainly didn’t like being associated with Tord “No, none of us knew that this would happen” He made sure that Hilarson would understand that he had nothing to do with the commie suddenly wanting to screw the world over and make it his.

Hilarson hummed at him, not quite believing his words “Larsin is your friend is he not? How can I trust your word?”

Tom growled at him, he bared his teeth “He’s not my friend. Tord was never my friend” The eyeless soldier challenged the Colonel with a look of pure loathing. Even the thought of the Norski had never failed to make his blood boil.

Hilarson stared him down, his expression never changed. They stayed in that standstill for what felt like hours until the Colonel finally leaned back and flicked the safety back on his gun. Tom let out a breath he didn’t know he was holding “So, you’re telling me that when the time comes, you’ll be able to put your gun to Red’s head and pull the trigger? Could you do that to someone you knew?”

Tom knew the answer to that already but he hesitated, by just a millisecond. He thought back to Edd, to his friend who made them join the military for the sole purpose of actually getting to Tord to only talk to him, not kill him. Edd had firmly believed that somewhere in the bloodthirsty bastard the world had come to know as the Red Leader, was the friend he once knew. He could admit, he didn’t know Tord the way Edd did, he was the least of them all to know if there was any decent bone in the Norski’s body.

It was that thought alone that made him hesitate, the thought of Edd and nothing else, nothing else.

Tom on the other hand didn’t let Hilarson know what he was thinking. The Colonel still had his gun “I can” He said as confidently as he could while keeping eye contact with the man. Was he good at acting? A bullet will have to decide.

Hilarson gave him a once over, his gaze was slow and contemplative, Tom tried not to squirm. After a while the Colonel nodded in satisfaction “Then I suppose we truly are in this war together” The easy going smile from before returned. Hilarson sighed “I hope there aren’t any hard feelings Bowling Ball, you have to understand that a man would have his suspicions about all this”

“I-It’s fine” Tom managed to cough out “I get it, I would’ve done the same thing”

Hilarson raised his glass to that, Tom got the message and shakily clinked his own against it “So Private, if you don’t mind me asking” The Colonel began, easing back into the casual tone from before their little confrontation, though Tom was still hyperaware of the gun he was holding “After your unit gets done here in the airbase, where are you headed to next?”

“I don’t know” Tom answered immediately “I guess you hadn’t heard but my unit is going to get distributed” He raised his hand that was holding the shot glass, he noticed he was shaking just a tad so he set it down again. He supposed he was still a little spooked “We’re uh….we don’t have the appropriate number of soldiers that will let us handle a Red platoon on our own, not anymore. The higher ups figured that letting other units take us in would be the best course of action”

Tom’s sockets widened when Hilarson suddenly began to choke on his whiskey, he stood to help him but the Colonel made him sit back down as he pounded a fist against his chest. With one last cough Hilarson’s raspy voice broke through “You’re from the Norway unit?” He asked incredulously, eyes wide. At Tom’s stiff nod Hilarson let out a loud cut off laugh “Well bloody hell! What a time to be alive!!” Hilarson grinned at him “How about this Bowling Ball? I happen to have a few slots available on my battalion and I want to have you in one of those” The Colonel jabbed a thumb over his shoulder where his battalion should still be “I’ll even bump up your rank to what it should be by now, though I must admit, I’m partly doing so because I’m going to need the helping hand of a capable soldier to lead this nightmare of a battalion”

Tom frowned at him, his eyebrows furrowed together as he leaned back “I don’t know Colonel, out of all people I’m the least excited about being put back up the frontlines”

Hilarson chuckled and gave him a wink “That’s the part where I’ll have to say that you’re wrong” The Colonel grinned at him “Although yes there is danger to this, my unit is not of the frontlines variety. We specialize in more covert operations at most, we don’t land a direct hit to the Red army’s forces, rather we chip away at them and slowly make them fall” Hilarson set his alcohol aside to regard Tom in seriousness “I can’t assure you that you won’t be in any danger, son. War won’t let you leave without gaining a few scars. What I can assure you though is that it won’t be as bad as the frontlines”

Hilarson reached across the table and put a hand on Tom’s shoulder, it was a reassuring gesture that Tom could appreciate “I’ve heard the stories son, I’ve lived through them too. Take it from your senior, you’ll at least be able to sleep”

Tom looked up at Hilarson with slight apprehension. A large part of him screamed bloody murder about being dragged back out into the field, after four days of struggling to sleep, after waking up every night and hearing the loud deafening boom of explosions and telling himself it wasn’t real, after four whole days of being nowhere near a gun, he wasn’t quite sure if he could handle going back out again.

Still, he knew that he couldn’t keep hiding at the airbase forever, the higher ups would sooner push him back into Norway than let him stay any longer than he had. If Hilarson’s claims about his unit were true, then he was the best shot Tom could have. He debated with himself a little while more, of course he hadn’t seen any other units out there that could be a bit more subdued than Hilarson’s then again he couldn’t risk losing this chance. With a long suffering sigh Tom nodded, resigning himself to his fate.

Hilarson clapped his shoulder and extended a hand out to him “Welcome to my unit, Corporal Thompson” Tom frowned at the hand but shook it anyway, he chose to ignore his new title as well. Hilarson circled the table with his shot glass and pulled Tom into a one armed hug “To the end of this war” He lifted his glass to the air and smiled down at his new recruit.

Tom laughed dully and lifted his glass as well “To the end of this war” He echoed and toasted with Hilarson. Both of them downed their shots at the same time, it was basically the equivalent of signing a contract, but a lot more fun.

Tom wasn’t excited about it but whatever.

 


 

“You just call on me brother when you need a hand!”

“We all need somebody to leeeaaaan on!!”

That was the first thing he heard when he came back to his unit’s tent. Tom was slightly taken aback by the loud boisterous laughter that his unit howled with without care. The whole unit of thirty-six were there, some sitting on their cots, others standing on them and leading the song, and others scattered here and there happily yelling back the next lyrics at the ‘lead singers’, even if they were out of tune.

During the four days they had spent here they had been on their best behavior. Since they were part of the frontline assault they had always been somewhat professional about things. Now though…

“THOMAS!!” Tom yelped and tripped on his boots when one of his fellows suddenly popped up in front of his face with a happy grin. The Brit landed harshly against the ground, it knocked the wind out of him straight away, curse you alcohol. The person who surprised him laughed out loud then offered him a hand which he batted away with both of his out of spite “Don’t be so sour! It was slightly your fault that you weren’t paying attention. You a solider or aren’t you?”

“Haha Don, very funny” Tom hefted himself up, though he stumbled quite a bit until Don finally decided to help him steady himself, despite his protests.

IIII know! I’m a funny guy, didn’t you get that?” Don ushered him inside and through the rowdy crowd of their teammates still yelling and whooping like a bunch of excited teenagers. When Tom reached his claimed cot he shooed off his comrades that had decided to use it as a trampoline, they laughed him off for a bit until Tom flipped the cot over, causing the two soldiers to topple to another cot and into ungraceful tangles of limbs. They laughed, Tom did too.

“Here take this” Just as soon as he fixed his cot and was able to sit down, Don shoved a glass of he didn’t know what the fuck into his face.

Tom scrambled to hold it, he looked down at the liquid questioningly and narrowed his eyes in accusation at Don when he noticed that almost everyone in their unit was holding the glass of slightly foggy liquid “Wait wait wait, hold up, are you guys…drunk? How the hell did you-“

Don cut him off with another burst of laughter, he shook his head “We wish! This is just orange juice Tom. It was something me and the boys found when we were out shooting at birds” Don lifted the hand that held his glass as he pointed to the group of ‘lead singers’ still standing on top of their cots, egging on every single one of their teammates to join in their awful tone deaf singing.  

“Don’t tell the Generals but we just happened to come across jugs of this stuff, we took just two, they’ve got a hell of a lot” Don winked at him and took a big gulp of his juice, he let out a satisfied breath “I mean, sure, we kinda wanted it to be alcohol, but you know what? Orange juice is pretty swell too! And darn it if they won’t let us enjoy this last day as a unit!”

Tom held back a smile and decided against telling Don that he had indeed gotten happily smashed without them “So I’m guessing that everybody has a foster home now?” He absentmindedly swirled his cup.

“Aye lad, we’ve all been happily adopted and have our new mums and dads! Tis a merry Christmas indeed for us tiny Tims”

Tom mock gasped at him, one hand flying to his chest in offense “Donovan! We do not use such language in this house! The ‘C’ word is a no no! What would your father say??!”

His companion rolled his eyes at him and kicked his cot with his boot, making a bit of Tom’s juice splash into his face with a jolt “Ah piss off ya Scrooge!”

Tom wiped his face clean of the juice then pretended to wipe away tears instead as he stood “Oh woe! Cursed out by my own son! I have failed as a parent!! I feel myself getting faint!” He flashed Don a quick mischievous grin before he tipped forward and threw the rest of his untouched orange juice on him. Don gasped in surprise and spat out the juice that got in his mouth while Tom crumpled to the floor in a dramatic heap. The rest of their unit had caught on to the show, they clapped and laughed.

Don glared down at him with a smile “Jokes on you Thompson, now you’ll never get to taste this swell orange juice”

Tom sat up and promptly stole Don’s glass from his hand, he took a sip and handed it back “I’ll live”

His comrade shook his head at him, amused, before he stood up and yelled to get everyone’s attention “Hey! I think it’s about time we had a toast yeah?!” The cheers that followed answered Don’s question. He grinned at all of them then made shushing noises for everyone to settle down.

When the tent was quiet enough, Don regarded all of them with a sincere look of gratefulness “Now I know we hadn’t done something like this before, I mean come on, all you madmen came from different units before joining our clumsily sewn together battalion. What the hell do I owe ya?”

There were answering chuckles and one loud amused exclamation of ‘Arsehole!’ that Don gave a thumbs up to “In truth though, I think I can speak for all of us when I say that I owe each and every one of you my life” He paused “Back there in Norway, it was one giant shitshow, part of me didn’t think I’d come back from that ever. We can’t deny that the frontlines were literally hell on earth yeah?”

Don laughed quietly but almost no one made a sound, the unit listened intently to his next words “In the end, all of us worked hard to get each other out of there, we struggled against the cold, against Red, against death itself, and now here we all are. In this crappy tent, all alive, and drinking not alcohol” That at least had earned him quiet laughter “I don’t know about you guys but I can genuinely say that it’s been an absolute honor serving with all of you bastards”

Don raised his glass to all of them, smiling “To this battalion, my brothers and sisters in arms” Everyone raised their glasses to that, cheering.

“To the ones who didn’t make it back” Another soldier stood up with his glass raised, the bottom of his lip quivered. Tom recognized his voice, he was the one who told him Elin’s name “We won’t forget any of them” Another cheer was raised to that toast.

“To the ones who saved our lives” Tom looked up at that, it was Sammy this time that raised his glass. The soldier gave him a look and that was all it took for him to feel flustered, yup that toast was definitely aimed at him “We’ll always be thankful” Some soldiers close to him laughed and began to prod at his back when they saw him try to hide his face from utter embarrassment. Tom hissed at them and batted their hands away but they didn’t leave him alone and even began to push him to make a toast.

With a roll of his sockets, Tom stood up, not before kicking one of them in the shins. He raised his empty glass “Please pretend that there’s still orange juice in this or else I’ll look stupid holding this up” His unit laughed while some just nodded with smiles on their faces. Tom hummed “To the end of this war” He echoed the toast he had with Hilarson just moments before, it seemed appropriate “May Red trip on his bloody face” The unit whooped at the toast with a renewed vigor. Multiple clinks of glass against glass resounded throughout the tent as each soldier drank to every one of their small speeches.

Tom let a half smile out at the sight of what was once a bigger unit. They weren’t what they once were when they started, but they were all good people fighting the good fight. Tom felt that he really would miss them at some point, you can’t just forget the people you spent months in battle with. Never in a million years.

With that thought in mind, Tom turned to the group of soldiers he was most familiar with “Hey guys! I bet you all your crappy biscuits that I can drink a glass of orange juice while singing the anthem and doing a handstand on Greg’s head!!”

“YOU’RE ON BOSS!!”

“God take all of them Tom! BUT I STILL WANNA SEE YOU DO IT!!”

“What- NO! Piss off!! You are NOT going to do a handstand on my head!!”

“DO IT!! DO IT!!”

At the end of the day, Tom happily packed a whole backpack full of crappy army biscuits.

 


 

The Norway unit stood side by side outside of their tent. Men and women alike turned to each other and bid their goodbyes as soon as they were called on by their new commanding officers. Some hugged, others shook hands, and others simply waved with a promise of seeing each other again.

Tom bit his lower lip the moment Colonel Hilarson spotted him and was making his way over, the senior officer landed a hand on his shoulder and smiled at him “Ready to go son?”

The eyeless soldier sighed, he looked to his right where some short and long time friends still stood “I uh, give me a sec?” Hilarson followed his gaze and nodded with a knowing look. The Colonel stepped aside and allowed Tom to make his way in front of the people he knew but may never see again.

The group stopped chatting when he stood in front of them, he smiled sadly “So, this is it I guess” He extended his arm out to them, not caring which one will take it “I…didn’t hate spending time with you twigs as much as I thought I might” Greg was the first to step forward. The man chuckled at him and surged in for a hug, Tom stiffed “I- um- okay then, this is happening, uh..” He hesitated but gently patted Greg on the back.

Greg laughed and let him go “It was fun while it lasted mate” He clapped him on the shoulder.

“I won’t forget you boss” Sammy spoke up and took the offered hand to shake, Tom was slightly relieved he didn’t go for a hug.

“Yeah, don’t get trapped under a jeep again Sammy, I won’t be there to save your arse” Sammy grinned at that and nodded at him once before letting the last person he knew say his goodbyes.

“Don’t be a stranger Tom” Don ruffled his hair, Tom ducked out from under his hold and glared at him. Stupid freakishly tall Don “If you see me bleeding to death out there on the field, at least say hi yeah?”

“Don’t count on it lank” He received another rough hair ruffle for his comment. Tom laughed and shoved him.

Corporal!” Tom turned around, he spotted Hilarson in the distance tapping his wrist at him. He waved him off.

“That’s my cue” Tom stuck his hands in his pockets as he began to back away from his unit “I’ll see you when I do I guess” He gave them all a two fingered salute and turned on his heel, the sounds of them yelling their goodbyes at his back being the last thing he heard from them as he joined Hilarson towards his new unit.

“You excited to get to Germany, Bowling Ball?” Hilarson asked him as they stepped into the waiting helicopter, it was larger than the one his old unit came in. One seething part of him wondered where this was when they were getting extracted from Norway.

Tom shook off the thought “Who isn’t?” He huffed out a laugh and poked at the flimsy bandages on his neck “If they’ve got supplies, I’ll definitely be excited for it”

Chapter Text

The forest that surrounded the area brought about a fresh breath of air. The mountains sang with the quiet hum of the breeze, a gentle soothing sound that echoed throughout the ecosystem, an unheard lullaby that only makes itself known to those who stop and listen close enough. Ever so often would the sounds of other life join in the orchestra of the wind, chirps and chitters  of different animals chime happily to the beat that only nature could provide, each creating the beautiful concerto of life with their melodic tunes.

“RAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGH!!!!!!!!!”

Tom’s body seemed to rattle in shock at the sudden loud sound. The Brit immediately plugged his ears as soon as a shrill ringing began to assault his eardrums, he screwed his eyes shut and turned away from the unnatural cause of deafness “AUGH! Alright! Alright!! I get it Colonel!! Holy pizza pops on a pedestal you can STOP now!!!!!”

Hilarson, thankfully, heard him over the earthquake inducing scream he had just launched straight into his ear, the Colonel pulled back with a half amused smirk and crossed his arms over his chest “That is what you call a battle scream Corporal” Hilarson knocked him over the head with a fist, causing Tom to yelp and hiss in pain “Not that namby-pamby little baby shriek that you have”

“We aren’t all blessed with large lungs, sir” Tom quipped, rubbing the back of his head.

“Is that back talk I hear Corporal?” Although Hilarson’s tone was in warning, it was clear the man meant it in good faith. The Colonel gave Tom time to recover before he made him snap back to attention “You have to understand son, having a loud enough voice will do your men a lot of good when you’re in the heat of battle. Shouting orders over the sound of gunfire isn’t easy, and when you need to make a split second decision it is crucial that all of your men will hear you” He hit Tom on the chest with the back of his hand, making the younger man wheeze “Now I want you to actually try this time, understood?”

“Eh- ah…” Tom grimaced at him and rubbed at his arm “Colonel I- I don’t know I feel a little, uh…”

“Out with it son! I don’t have all day!!”

“I mean…” Tom looked around them. They stood in the middle of the training field that the German fort had provided for them. It was an open spaced grassy patch of land that was divided into sections by white plastic strips. At the moment only a few platoons of their battalion were present, each one training in the specialized sections, some examples being a firing range and a training course. A few meters away from where they stood was a stone wall where more than twenty guards were stationed doing their rounds in their assigned perimeter, each scanning the area within and outside of the fort’s walls.

A summary: there were way too many people.

Hilarson caught his look and rolled his eyes, he landed another swift knock on the head that made Tom yell in pain and surprise. Before the younger man could retaliate, Hilarson pushed into his personal space and used his all too infamous drill instructor voice on him to shut him up “LISTEN HERE AND LISTEN GOOD SOLDIER! I AM NOT GIVING YOU A SUGGESTION!! WHEN I SAY YOU’LL SCREAM YOU.WILL.SCREAM. BECAUSE THIS IS AN ORDER FROM YOUR COMMANDING OFFICER AND I WILL NOT TOLERATE YOUR INSUBORDINATION!! DO YOU UNDERSTAND?!?!!”

“S-SIR YES SIR!!”

“THEN TAKE A GOOD LONG BLOODY BREATH AND GIVE ME YOUR BEST BATTLE SCREAM!

“AAAAAAA- no this is stupid I quit” Tom barely dodged another fist to his head courtesy of his fuming Colonel.

Hilarson rubbed his temples in annoyance and glared at him “GODDAMNIT SON! I am TRYING to teach you how to be a good leader! If you want to live up to your new title as my Lance Corporal then you better bloody well do as I say!

“With all due respect sir, I thought we were supposed to be a covert unit?” This time the fist to the head had not been dodged. Tom firmly believed that by the end of this he was going to get a concussion.

“Don’t sass me boy! I am giving you a direct order so you better bloody damn stop being so goddamn shy!” Hilarson gestured at the troops running and training around them “Do you think this stupid battalion’s going to bat an eye at you screaming for battle at the top of your lungs when I’m the one training you?!” He reached to the side and managed to forcibly yank a soldier towards him by his collar. The man yelped in surprise at suddenly being face to face with his commanding officer, he shot Tom wide eyed confused looks but quickly turned back to Hilarson when he began yelling.

“DO YOU HAVE A PROBLEM WITH ME TEACHING YOUR CORPORAL HOW TO PROPERLY YELL SOLDIER?!”

The man looked about ready to piss himself out of fear “N-NO SIR!!” He hastily replied, wanting nothing more than to be let go.

Hilarson however didn’t have any plans of letting him leave any time soon. The Colonel shoved the shaking soldier towards Tom, a firm grip on the man’s neck so that he wouldn’t look at anyone else but him “TELL THAT TO YOUR CORPORAL SOLDIER! TELL HIM YOU HAVE NO PROBLEM WITH HIM YELLING LIKE A MADMAN!!”

“I-I HAVE NO PROBLEM WITH YOU YELLING LIKE A MADMAN SIR!!”

“YOU HEAR THAT CORPORAL?!” Hilarson shook the soldier hard in front of him like a little ragdoll “ARE YOU SATISFIED?!”

The shaken soldier was giving Tom his most desperate pleading looks, silently mouthing for him to say ‘yes’ so that he could leave. Tom took pity on the guy and gave Hilarson a nod. The Colonel’s demeanor changed instantly and gently set the soldier he took aside “Thank you Private, you are dismissed” The man shakily saluted and basically sprinted back to his platoon who had watched the whole thing while laughing. A sharp look from Hilarson broke their jovial mood and soon the whole group was back on their jog around the training fields, putting as much distance as they can between them and their Colonel.

Hilarson gruffly snorted at their departure, he turned back to Tom with an expectant look. Tom winced but cleared his throat and took in a deep breath “Aaaaaah!....?”

The Colonel rolled his eyes and grabbed him by the collar of his shirt “THIS IS WAR CORPORAL! A BABY’S TOY GUN WILL DROWN YOU OUT WITH THAT SCREAM. PUT YOUR LUNGS INTO IT! RAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGH!!”

“AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGH!!”

“LOUDER CORPORAL! A SCREAM LIKE THAT WOULDN’T EVEN WAKE ME! AND I HAVE SLEEPING PROBLEMS!! LOUDER!!

“AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGH!!”

It went on like that for a little while longer, Hilarson would scream at Tom and Tom would try to scream back. The Colonel didn’t seem particularly impressed with any of the Corporal’s attempts but he was clearly pleased that they were at least making some progress. Hilarson cut their little session off the moment Tom began to cough violently after he had accidently choked on his own spit. The Colonel was behind him, patting his back as he continued to dislodge the unwanted saliva in his lungs “Can’t say I’m pleased that this happened but you did your best”

Tom pounded a fist against his chest, he groaned and held his throat now covered with clean new bandages “Hooray for me” He rasped out pitifully.

Hilarson at least had the decency to give him an apologetic look when he saw him clutch his neck. He sighed “We’ll put off that part of your training for now, we’ll concentrate on your strategizing for a while” He lead Tom out of the fields with a guiding hand on his back, they passed by a few soldiers who looked at Tom sympathetically, they’ve all been there. The two soldiers soon stepped into hard stone, the sounds of the training platoons behind them fading away to a dull buzz, soon it was replaced with the steady tomp of boots and chatter of other soldiers from other units the world over.

Fort Nirgends was the German base that had been since then established as the main supplier of resources and was the first place for the army to retreat to should they ever have the need. It was a base that had taken two years to build and is still in the process of expanding. Stationed high up in the mountains, Nirgends had yet to experience any attempt of attack from the Red army, its name was also a barrier against the enemy, as the army simply called it by its English name should they want for a hasty retreat during battle: nowhere. It threw the Red army off a lot.

Nirgends was a relatively open aired fort, most of its defense depended on the thick forest within it and surrounding it, along with its wall of course. Although it did have shelters in its perimeters it was clear that the fort made extensive use of the forest it was built around. It was only an upside that it had a certain calming effect on many wounded soldiers.

Hilarson’s battalion had long since been due for a visit to the fort, it was purely his bullshit luck that enabled Tom to have found the Colonel and have him recruit him on the day they were supposed to leave. Hilarson had recently finished up a recon mission over at Spain- well what was left of it- and was simply stopping by Belgium to give the Generals in charge his report.

When Tom had asked him about Spain, Hilarson simply stated that he wanted to speak no word of it. He didn’t push the Colonel for more than that, if Hilarson respected his wish to never speak of Norway then he didn’t dare to speak of Spain. The latest report of its fall was enough of a clue.

At least for now, they could try to forget about those sore topics. Nirgends lived up to its name of being a sanctuary, were it not for the very uniforms they wore everyday Tom would have forgotten about the war entirely. It’s been a good week, he worried a little about whether or not they were shirking off responsibilities as ‘visiting the fort to restock’ looked more and more like a vacation, but Hilarson reassured him that their battalion was allowed to stay for this long, they weren’t needed just yet.

“Remind me again why I’m making my throat suffer?” Tom coughed into his sleeve as they wove their way into the main hallways of the fort alongside other soldiers. The men around them looked worse for wear, a brand new regiment that had recently come from the frontlines of Belarus. A lot of the soldiers in the fort usually sported some sort of injury. Tom idly touched his neck with his bandaged hand.

Hilarson breathed out through his nostrils and rested his arm on Tom’s shoulder, he patted him sympathetically “You’re a leader now Bowling Ball, as the new Lance Corporal of my unit I’ll have to put you in charge of a section at some point. Since this war won’t let us get back to base it’s up to me to give you the proper leadership training”

“Making me lose my voice is leadership training?”

“Watch that tongue son, it’ll land you in trouble one day” Hilarson clicked his own tongue at him in displeasure “Making sure you’ll always be heard is one of the basics, as it is the only thing that’ll hear you is a little deaf kid”

Tom bit his tongue against a retort on his lips, if he knew Hilarson by now he’ll either blow him off or hit him for back talking. Ever since they landed in Germany, the Colonel was adamant in training him, there were the usual physical aspects of training, most of that he did with the rest of the unit, but Hilarson added brand new ones that actually made Tom gain a migraine once or twice, and it’s only been a week.

Apparently being a Corporal required certain finesse in the art of strategizing and command. Hilarson spent a lot of time teaching him one-on-one regarding the how-tos of being the top dog. So far Tom had to cram every single battle strategy that Hilarson came up with and relearn a lot of the layouts of each war theatre and what was happening in all of them. He’d spent hours over a world map with Hilarson asking him about what he’d do in a certain scenario, there was always a fifty-fifty chance he’d pass the test but Hilarson thought differently each time.

Tom was starting to miss just being a Private.

Hilarson made the both of them turn a corner in the hallway where the barracks were stationed. The Colonel moved forward first and fished out a key from his pants pocket, unlocking the second door they came across, Tom instantly moved past him while Hilarson closed the door behind them. Hilarson’s room wasn’t quite like the common rooms of the other soldiers, since he held a higher position he was allowed a hybrid room that was both his bedroom and office.

Though Tom really didn’t think of it as the Colonel’s living quarters, the only comfortable piece of furniture in the room was a single dusty brown couch that was pushed up against the wall, it wasn’t even that comfortable, it was stiff and full of holes. Other than that a single wooden table and a chair were the only things present along with a world map tacked on the wall. Pretty simple living standards but as the saying went these days: Soldiers can’t be choosers.

Tom took a seat on the not comfortable couch while Hilarson crossed the room to take two water bottles from the only creaky shelf he had. Without looking, the Colonel tossed a bottle over his shoulder which Tom caught with ease “Has anyone radioed in?” He asked while rolling the bottle between his palms.

Hilarson threw him a look when he reached his desk, he shook his head “Checked this morning, not a peep” The Colonel plopped down on the wooden chair behind his desk, he rubbed at his face and leaned forward, supporting himself with his arms “If this goes on any longer, I’m going to have to have a word with the squadron overseeing Hungary” The Colonel sighed and hung his head, he tapped his fingers a few times on the desk.

Tom frowned from the couch but knew he couldn’t do anything to console him. In truth, Hilarson had been somewhat of a wreck ever since he had to send out a group of soldiers to do some recon in a town in Hungary upon request. His reaction was somewhat understandable as Hungary was considered frontlines, though not majorly. The week where they stayed in Nirgends had Tom waiting in for a message from the deployed company alongside Hilarson.

Though the Colonel had always told him that they needed a quiet space to continue his one-on-one strategy training, Tom knew the only reason he was here was because Hilarson was hoping that he would be able to give the unit advice on how to leave Hungary should they ever get into trouble. He was from the Europe program after all, he of all people should know what to do to escape a frontline theatre.

The only problem was that Tom had no idea how he stayed alive for so long either, he didn’t know how to tell Hilarson that.

“Anyway! We’ve got more pressing matters to deal with Bowling Ball, that being your know how on strategy” Hilarson seemed to shake off his earlier emotion as he stood up and took the small blue marker hanging by a thread near the map. He tapped it a few times on the wall “Well? Are you going to stand there or are you going to come here and learn how to be a soldier?”

Tom huffed and stood up from the couch and approached the map. A quieter part of him hoped that they wouldn’t receive any bad news from Hungary, he wasn’t sure about what he’d even say should Hilarson count on him to get his men out alive.

Norway flashed through his mind, Tom blinked it away.

 


 

He scraped an arm against the edge of a barbed wire, the sharp metal snagged skin and fabric alike, dragging across his arm and ensnaring him in its grip like the talons of a waiting predator. Tom yelled in surprise at the sharp tug against his arm, FUCK! He needed to get free and quickly, the distant sounds of gunshots behind him warned him of the dwindling time he had left to run to safety.

He was shaking, badly, his heart was in his throat and his whole body was cold. Tom didn’t think he could concentrate enough to free himself but damn it! He was going to try! The British man moved his caught arm just a fraction, most of the sharp edges dislodged but some dug deeper, Tom bit back a scream and used his other hand to help maneuver his caught one out of the wire. Beside him a fleeing soldier was shot down, blood sprayed to the side of his face.

“Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck FUCK!” Tom gritted his teeth, his sockets widened with each passing second he spent trapped in the wire. An enemy soldier open fired in his direction, bullets rained down on the ground, Tom could do nothing but throw himself lower, inadvertently digging more of the wire into his skin.

Tom screwed his eyes shut and curled into himself, he could hear everything that was happening around him but he also couldn’t. Everything was loud, too loud, his hearing would dart to and fro from hyperawareness to complete nothing, it was like he was being dragged back and forth from consciousness. His body twitched convulsively at every sensation, a lot of his injuries suddenly heightened in pain until it was all he could think about.

In a fit of desperation Tom’s free hand began to claw at the wires, he tugged frantically at the ones that had snagged him in the first place. He didn’t dare to look at what he was doing to himself, if he did it would only worsen the state he was in. His head began to feel light and fuzzy, it was only then that he realized how fast he was breathing. For a moment, Tom couldn’t place what he was feeling, he flinched at every explosion, locked up at the sound of gunshot, and shivered at the cut off screams.

KSCHK!

Tom’s eyes snapped open at the sound, his head whipped up to where he heard it and felt his whole body freeze instantly. A Red Sentinel hovered just a few inches above his head, the orb hummed with mechanical whirrs as its one glowing eye stared him down. The Sentinel flew closer until its gun was pressed firmly against his forehead. The metal against his already cold skin sent him into another fit of shaking. It was too cold, colder than Tom had ever thought it would feel like.

He was terrified.

The Sentinel took its shot.

Tom screamed loud followed by a pained gasp as the world turned upside down and a sharp smack to the side of his head blossomed in pain. The eyeless soldier groaned and laid there on the floor for a little while as his mind tried to ease itself back into reality. Tom struggled with the sheets that had stubbornly wrapped around his body like a snake, he kicked them off in agitation until he finally let himself breathe and calmly untangled himself.

A loud thudding sound from outside his door caused Tom to irrationally lock up in fear. Quick rapping sounds against his door reminded him of where he was, with a shaking breath he said “Come in”

The wooden door swung open with ease, revealing a wide eyed Hilarson looking around his room for potential danger. The expression quickly faded as the senior officer’s eyes landed on the soldier on the floor, Hilarson approached him slowly like he was some wounded animal. It definitely felt like it. The Colonel knelt down in front of him “Son, I haven’t heard someone scream that loud in a long time. What happened to you?”

He offered an arm to help him up but Tom waved it away and pushed himself up into a sitting position. He hated the look Hilarson was giving him, he didn’t want his pity “Just a stupid nightmare, I don’t even remember what it was about” He muttered, making sure that he didn’t look at the Colonel at all.

Hilarson still had the goddamn look on him. It wasn’t the first time the Colonel had caught him in this situation. During the week they spent in Nirgends Tom thought that he could finally rest easy, Germany was a safe country, nothing and especially not Tord had dared to come tromping in the night. It was something he constantly reminded himself when he sat at the edge of his bed and stared at the clock, watching the night pass him by. He never got any further from putting his head on a pillow.

It just felt so..so stupid. He knew Norway was far from where he was, he knew that the frontlines were going to become a fading memory now that he was out, he knew he was safe. Yet somehow part of him never believed it. Part of him would always see that cold barren landscape he spent months looking out into from inside his ratty old tent, part of him would always hear the explosions, the gun fire, the shouts for help. Part of him was stuck in Norway, and that part never left it.

He hated himself for it.

“It wouldn’t be ‘just a stupid nightmare’ if it got you so pale and twitchy” Hilarson sighed at him and didn’t miss the quick scowl that fitted across his expression “Look son, that clearly wasn’t just a nightmare, you aren’t-“

“Norway” That had immediately shut Hilarson up, between the two of them that single word said a lot already. The Colonel knew he hated thinking about his time at the front lines, usually that one word would get him to back off, but it seemed that Hilarson wasn’t going to let this one go.

“…Tom” That was a surprise. Hilarson never called him by his actual name before “You might think I don’t know what the hell you’re going through, but I think you’ve forgotten that I’m your senior”

“Are you trying to make me talk about my feelings?” Tom snapped, quickly raising his hackles at where the conversation was going. Residue fear from the nightmare- the memory –made his throat close up, it was almost hard to breathe.

Hilarson raised his hands in a placating manner, he waited for a few seconds until he deemed Tom calm enough to talk to again “I’m trying to make you understand that you aren’t the first soldier I’ve come to help” The Colonel looked at him seriously, Tom hadn’t realized it but he had already turned his head to look curiously at him. Hilarson thinned his lips “This isn’t something exclusive son, every soldier has their demons. In my whole career of being in service to the army, I’ve had my fair share of comrades and subordinates waking up at night believing that they were dead”

Hilarson was quiet for a moment, the man looked to the ground and took in a deep breath “My old superior had, once, woken up from something so unbelievably awful that he couldn’t stop crying for an hour straight….we only got to calm him down when we proved that every single one of us was still alive” His eyes flickered back up at Tom, an old sadness seeping through his expression but it didn’t stop him from remembering.

Tom flinched at the hand that landed on his shoulder, at the same time he was thankful for it, it felt solid and real “Tom, I have my own demons. Why do you think I’m here at four in the morning?” Tom blinked at him and slowly turned his head to blearily peer at the small wall clock in his room. Four twenty eight a.m. “I haven’t slept a wink son, right now I’m afraid of closing my eyes for even a few seconds” Hilarson’s voice was unusually soft, though it was a welcome change. Tom couldn’t stand loud noises at the moment.

A quiet hiss brought him back to reality, Hilarson was looking at him with something like concern “Looks like you hurt yourself more than I thought” Tom raised an eyebrow at him and Hilarson pointed at his temple. One hand came up to touch it, it came back wet and sticky.

The Colonel stood up and whirled around until he stepped out of his room. Tom stared dumbfounded at his hand, not even noticing that Hilarson had left him on his own. A few minutes hadn’t passed by and Hilarson had already come marching back with a little white kit in his hand, the man knelt down in front of him once more “Don’t tell the medic but I swiped an extra kit from him, a small just in case kind of thing” He took a piece of cotton and dabbed a clear liquid into it, Hilarson swiped it against his bloodied temple, Tom yelped at the sting and moved his head away. Hilarson frowned “Sorry, it’s disinfectant, the floor isn’t exactly…clean. Do you want to do it?”

He offered the cotton ball to him, Tom glanced at it and gave him a shaky nod. Hilarson passed him the piece of cotton and Tom got to gently wiping at the gash on his temple, wincing just a little at the biting sting. When he was done, a small gauze pad was applied to the wound courtesy of Hilarson, the older officer looked him over with satisfaction. Tom suddenly laughed, surprising even the Colonel “I guess you weren’t expecting me to be this fucked up right?” He smiled bitterly “Maybe you should’ve gotten someone a bit more stable. Sorry to say this but I think I only joined you to escape the frontlines…”

Hilarson shook his head at him and patted his shoulder “Son, I knew that you were carrying baggage. For fuck’s sake you were from the ninth Norway unit. There are stories about the soldiers who came back from that hellhole, none of them are good” The Colonel put his other free hand to his remaining shoulder, as if steadying him “Son, Tom, despite my title I’m still your fellow soldier and at a war like this one? We soldiers look out for each other. I know that you most of all have the most to deal with, especially because of Red” Tom’s gaze darkened at the mention of Tord.

The Colonel shook him lightly, the grip on his shoulders tightening “You’re scraped up son but that’s okay, I would be concerned if you weren’t after everything you’ve been through” He chuckled then he grew quiet.

Hilarson seemed conflicted with himself, he opened his mouth a few times but it always clamped shut afterwards. The Colonel rubbed the back of his neck and breathed out slowly “Look…..I was supposed to announce something this morning to the whole battalion. We’ll be leaving Nirgends soon for a recon mission in Poland” Hilarson’s expression twisted in regret “The mission itself isn’t of top priority and I would hate to drag you back into the field in your condition. I would completely understand if you’d want to take a day to recover son”

Tom gaped at him, he didn’t even consider Hilarson’s offer, he shook his head “Colonel no, I’m not- I can shake this off. If we need to leave then I’m ready to go” Though the thought of coming back to the fray is more than unwelcome, Tom didn’t like being seen as dead weight. He wasn’t going to let his stupid fears stop him from doing anything. More so if it meant that he’d get another chance to get back at Tord for everything he put him through.

“I’m not very convinced son” Hilarson frowned at him “Besides, the intel we currently have still needs a little more brushing up. There are a lot of questionable facts that still need evaluation, we’ll just take a few more days here in Nirgends until the scout team in Poland gives us the all clear” The Colonel gave him one last pat and a tight smile before he stood up “We won’t be doing our training tomorrow son, you’ll need your rest. Do something you’ll enjoy, understand?” Hilarson turned to leave.

“No Colonel-!”

Midway out the door, Hilarson snapped himself into a rigid stance but he didn’t turn to look at Tom still on the floor “That wasn’t a suggestion Corporal” His words were sharp and left no room for discussion. Tom snapped his mouth shut and nodded mutely, even if Hilarson didn’t see it he knew the Colonel would interpret his silence as an agreement. A low sigh “….it’s best this way son, you need time whether you like it or not” Then he was gone, the door only slightly ajar as Hilarson left without closing it.

Tom sat stiffly on the floor, his breathing came out in ragged angry bursts. He stood up, marched towards the door, and slammed it shut as hard as he could. Sliding down against it, Tom buried his face in his hands and tried his best not to scream. If there was one thing he hated, it was being treated like an invalid. He can still fight, no matter what anyone says he’ll always be able to fight if it meant reaching Tord like he always said he would.

Instead he was there, in a room on the floor after a stupid nightmare, reprimanded by his new commanding officer for being weak, struggling to come to terms that he wasn’t in any danger in the fort because he was fucking stupid, and is pathetically pitying himself for everything above. He was a fuck up.

Tom wished he had alcohol.


 

Early in the morning, Tom was already up and about. Like the Colonel had said, Hilarson wasn’t going to come looking for him for their usual one-on-one, in fact he even rattled around in his room for a while but after the first hour passed with no sign of Hilarson, Tom quietly left his room and avoided the usual path that led to the Colonel’s office.

During the entire week he spent in the fort, Tom never found any interest in exploring it. Hilarson was always right beside him, leading him here and there and pointing to where the next phase of his training were to take place, with the Colonel he never had to really memorize any paths. Now though, he knew absolutely nothing about where the hell anything was, and with Hilarson out of the question Tom decided to just spend the rest of his day in the training fields, the only other place he could find seeing as he spent the majority of his stay coming back to it over and over again. Staying in his room all day seething won’t help him, he needs a distraction and he knows it.

Out in the field, he could always forget about where he was and how he got there. Nirgends lived up to its reputation, with nothing but nature surrounding the fort it was almost as though they stepped into a different dimension all together, a timeline in the chaos where the war never existed. Despite the few groups of soldiers still performing their drills around him, they faded out in the back as Tom drowned everything out in favor of just forgetting.

He stayed in a relatively secluded part of the training fields, just keeping his head up high and watching the clouds float aimlessly above the hidden fort. Sometimes his memories bled into the sky, though none were the ones that usually bothered him, they were just the quietly unsettling ones. The way the sky had looked so dead and unreal in Norway, nothing ever changed and nothing ever moved, an eternal foggy grey that refused to leave him be. He remembers that sky well, a separate entity from the one that he watched live before him, the sky that he spent many days looking up at, waiting for something that would never come.

Blue has always been his favored color, a sky that held none was a disheartening sight.

Tom’s quiet start to his morning didn’t last very long when he picked up the sound of someone approaching. Out of reflex he tensed up and fell into a stance when the person came too close, his hand was about ready to strike out when the person jumped back and raised his hands “Hey! Whoa it’s okay!” The soldier who approached said as quickly as he could and didn’t move until Tom relaxed himself, he blew out a breath “Augh, I-I’m sorry I didn’t mean to startle you! I just- you’re the new guy right?”

“That depends, who’s asking?”

Tom reluctantly stuck his hands back in his pants pocket as the soldier smiled and extended his hand, Tom gave it a look but made no move to shake it. The soldier laughed awkwardly and slowly took his hand back, each finger closing over the palm one by one “I’m Corporal Morales, we’ve never been properly introduced but I’m your assigned superior”

“‘Assigned superior’??” Tom arched an eyebrow at him in confusion, he crossed his arms over his chest “I thought that was the Colonel’s job? The hell do I need an assigned superior for??”

“Ah yeah” Morales sputtered out, slightly surprised at Tom’s abrasiveness, clearly the man had never dealt with a newcomer like him before. He cleared his throat “Usually I’m the one who teaches the new recruits how we run things here, I just- I don’t know, I have noticed the Colonel taking a certain interest in training you himself but it seems today he isn’t around, I figured maybe it was about time we got introduced”

“I see” Tom drawled, immediately losing interest in the conversation.

Morales seemed to become flustered at his tone, the Corporal bit his lower lip “Look, I know this is sudden and you clearly don’t want me to be here” Tom raised both his eyebrows at him, keeping his neutral expression in place as if telling him he was stating the obvious. Morales sighed “But you’re part of our unit now, and if there’s one thing I know about operating in this unit it’s that trusting the team is the most important thing we keep in mind. You’ve been made a Lance on the spot or so I’ve heard, it raises a few unkind rumors amongst the ranks, as a Corporal myself I don’t stand for that kind of thing in my unit” He extended his hand again and this time with a gentle smile “So please? It’s nice to meet you, I’m Corporal Morales, your assigned superior”

Tom scoffed at Morales’ attempt to redo their introduction, this time at least he decided to humor him, if a man goes through all that effort just to say hello then it would be rude not to grace him with a response. Tom shook his hand firmly “I’m Tom”

Morales grinned at that and gave his hand one last firm shake before letting him go “It’s great to have you on board with us Tom, welcome to our unit” The Corporal nodded his head to the side, motioning for Tom to walk with him, with a shrug Tom moved from his position and followed Morales to wherever it was he was taking him. He didn’t have any solid plans anyway “So…I heard you’re from the EFA Program Tom, it’s good to know we have someone experienced with handling the Red army up front in our unit”

Tom winced at the mention of the program, he never liked it when someone brought it up, even if it was just in casual conversation. In fact, nearly any title he earned in the military was thrown behind him, there was a reason why he introduces himself only by name “That’s a bit much to say, I think everybody here has experience with the Red army to be honest, unless someone forgot to give me a memo saying that everyone else is fighting a different enemy”

“Oh you know what I mean” Morales chuckled, Tom’s absolute dislike of talking about the program going over his head as they continued walking across the field “Not everyone’s had the chance to face off against the main base”

“I wouldn’t call it a chance, it’s more of a sentence, you don’t get a choice in the matter” Morales bit his tongue at that. The Corporal looked to his side to see Tom giving him a warning look, with the fact that he had no eyes to begin with only made the other man seem even more intimidating, there was a threat in there somewhere and Morales felt that taking the risk to see if Tom would follow through with it would only end disastrously for him.

Morales shuddered and sought to quickly change the subject “Right, well, I’m home base so I probably don’t know better” He chuckled uneasily in his attempt to save face ‘Jesus, talk about scary’ Morales silently thought as he glanced at Tom, the once glaring expression now gone from his face, replaced with one of indifference as he looked around the fields. Morales wondered if Tom had even been glaring at him moments before, his fast change of emotions was slightly jarring “Anyway, I’d just like to warn you that there are Corporals other than me. I’m planning on letting you introduce yourself to them just so everyone gets on the same page okay? It’s kinda tradition for new Corporals in this unit to get to know their seniors”

“Sure, whatever”

Morales frowned at his dismissive tone but said nothing else when it was obvious that making any small talk with the other Corporal would be useless by now. He thinned his lips and took to silently guiding the new recruit towards the firing range where a group of soldiers stood laughing and chatting together, sometimes even heckling the ones trying to get a shot in on the target set up in the distance. Morales was the first to step forward “Guys!” He called over their noise as he waved to get their attention, he stopped in front of them with Tom silently coming to his side. Morales gestured at him “This is-“

“Oh hell! If it isn’t Norway!!” One of the soldiers up front guffawed when he caught sight of Tom. The man himself narrowed his eyes at the obvious title of address. He crossed his arms as the soldier he’s seen around Hilarson before came forward, a smug smile on his face. He had an air of confidence, experience under his belt no doubt, calm and collected despite the sharpness of his eyes, a picture of a man, a leader, who believes in his own power.

Tom immediately hated him.

“It’s Tom actually-“

“Jev you didn’t tell me we’d be meeting Norway today! How’d you snatch him outta Colonel’s hands?” Fucking rude. Tom bit his tongue at being blatantly ignored. He glared at the soldier who took to giving all his attention towards Morales, as if he didn’t exist at all. He seethed at that. Maybe following Morales out here was a bad idea after all, he was happily enjoying a relatively calm morning on his own, part of Tom contemplated turning around on the spot and never looking back.

Morales looked over to him for a split second and noticed his expression, he turned to the new soldier “Mars” He hissed in warning “I just happened to run into Tom here out in the field, Colonel wasn’t around so I assumed this would be a good time to introduce him to the boys”

The soldier huffed at that and slid his eyes over to Tom, he took his time looking him over and frankly it felt slightly violating for Tom. The Brit straightened himself up and squared his shoulders, the soldier chuckled “Easy tiger, I’m not Red. Remember, this isn’t the frontlines anymore, be a bit more aware of that, kay Norway?”

“Martin” Morales hissed again, this time jabbing the man harshly with his elbow.

“Ugh, chill Jev, it’s just poking some fun” The soldier winced at the jab but quickly schooled his expression once he turned back to Tom. He sighed “So, I’m Corporal Finnigand, Martin Finnigand if you want the whole thing” Unlike Morales, Finnigand didn’t extend a hand in greeting, in fact he seemed more inclined to challenge Tom than anything else with how he looked at him.

Tom raised an eyebrow at him, quietly rising to the unspoken challenge “I should care about your name why? You clearly don’t care about mine”

That at least elicited a reaction, Finnigand’s face twisted into a tight smile, Tom smirked at him “Ah, a wise cracker, I bet the Colonel has tons of fun with you” Finnigand turned his head to address the other soldiers behind him “Get a load of this guy, just cause he’s the Colonel’s new pet project he thinks he can back talk his superiors” He laughed, the soldiers behind him laughed tentatively.

“Cut it out Martin” Morales frowned at him, disappointment wafting off him “We get it, you’re a jealous arsehole. Can’t you just greet a new recruit normally??”

“Jev come on, he’s been given a shit ton of star treatment ever since Colonel adopted him, give him any more and he’ll start feeling entitled”

“Maybe consider the fact that he’s new to our unit? Not to mention the fact that he’s…you know”

“Jev, saying EFA isn’t the same as toeing around racist slurs, Norway’s a big boy, he can handle it”

Mars-“

“Look as much fun as it is to listen to you guys talk about me while I’m standing right here” Tom cut in, quickly growing tired of their small squabble about him. In fact he was already starting to turn around to leave “I think I’ve had enough social interaction for today. I would like to say this went well but I think that only extends to Morales, so, bye”

As Tom turned his back on them, a hand on his shoulder forcibly spun him around again, courtesy of Finnigand “Ohohooo! Hold on there Norway-“

“It’s Tom” He shoved off the hand on him and straight out scowled at Finnigand, a small part of him registered the gesture as a threat and his whole body screamed in defense.

The whole process didn’t go over Finnigand who raised his hands up in mock surrender “Sure, Tom. See we have this little thing we do amongst Corporals, call it tradition. Since you’re technically a Corporal, you aren’t exempted from this”

“Fuckin’ hell, Mars you aren’t seriously gonna pull this crap again?” Morales looked instantly tired as he looked at his partner, there was a small pitying look sent Tom’s way but in all Morales just silently begged Finnigand to stop talking.

“Hell yes Jev! Norway- oh oops- Tom here’s part of the family now! We all went through this, why shouldn’t he??” He shot Tom a snarky grin, one Tom returned sarcastically. Finnigand scoffed at him and began to walk to another part of the fields close to one of the fort’s inner walls, he beckoned everyone over with two fingers without looking behind him.

Tom was ready to make his escape were it not for the soldiers Finnigand was with pushing him towards the location the Corporal gallivanted off to. Morales protested to this of course but he was immediately drowned out by the group’s excited chattering. In the end the other Corporal resigned himself to following after the group, if only to mediate whatever disaster his partner was cooking up for their poor new recruit.

They walked for a little while before Tom was finally given one final push forward where Finnigand was waiting patiently with his hands on his hips, standing beside what looked like an old fuse box on the wall. Tom’s eyebrows furrowed in confusion as Finnigand’s fist landed a strike close to the fuse box, jolting it’s rusted metal door open with a pop.

The Corporal flipped it open with one finger, revealing a rather filthy set of wires and switches in dire need of cleaning, Tom winced at it “Oookay, so am I supposed to be impressed by how dirty this is- wait don’t tell me” He gave Finnigand a deadpanned look “Am I supposed to stick my hand in that?”

Finnigand laughed “Not far from the truth there Lance” He pointed a finger at an area of the fuse box where a few wires jutted out haphazardly, sometimes crackling as sparks of electricity flew off it “Think of this as an initiation, just a friendly competition between a senior Corporal and a junior one” He smirked “The name of the game is to see who’ll last longer, me or you, the both of us will keep hold of one of these broken wires, first one to let go loses. Everyone’ll place their bets of course”

Tom stared silently at him for a few seconds, waiting for the punchline. When none came he had to blink twice to see if he actually heard that right, Finnigand didn’t look like he was even kidding in the slightest, he actually looked expectant, waiting for him to accept to this whole thing.

Tom gaped at him after realizing he was honest to god serious about it, he scoffed “Why in the ever loving fuck would I even do that??” Tom rolled his sockets and waved Finnigand off, already leaning away from the other soldier “This is stupid, you’re stupid, you know what? I’m leaving, I’m not doing this” A chorus of ‘boo’s started behind him, he paid them no mind and parted a way in the middle of the small crowd of soldiers who forced him into the situation. Fuck that, he’s gone.

“Hah! See Jev? Norway isn’t up to it after all, who knows, maybe he isn’t even part of EFA. Boy, won’t Colonel be disappointed!”

“I know what you’re trying to do, it’s not working!” Tom called over his shoulder, already making a distance between him and Finnigand’s posse. He didn’t have to waste his time over them.

“Well if you can’t even handle a little shock I wonder how you’ll even do in the field!!” That made Tom stop, he could hear the small implication in the man’s words but he didn’t turn around just yet. Finnigand continued “That’s right Norway! You heard me! If some measly little fuse box already got you running, what more will a whole Red battalion do? Oh wait! That’s right, EFA corps are just soooo fucked in the head that they can’t even see the color red without having a meltdown!!”

MARTIN!!”

Morales’ voice shouted loudly, continuing on to a lengthy reprimand that Tom didn’t hear over the static sound that flooded his hearing. He didn’t notice until later that his nails were starting to dig into the palms of his hands, the residue fear and anger from the earlier parts of the morning coming back in succeeding waves with each of Finnigand’s taunts.

A blind kind of fury took over his senses as he turned back to where Finnigand was still standing, now being shouted at by a visibly angry Morales. Tom marched straight up to the fuse box and picked out a particularly broken area of it. His vision narrowed.

Noticing Tom’s return, Finnigand pushed Morales aside with a smirk, hand hovering over his own chosen wire “Not a coward after all huh?”

Fuck offBefore anyone could blink, Tom slammed Finnigand’s head into the fuse box. There was shouting, either from Finnigand or the other soldiers around them, Tom didn’t care. He didn’t know how long he stood there, but soon there were people pulling him off of Finnigand.

Someone was shouting for help somewhere, Finnigand collapsed to the ground in a screaming heap, Morales was saying something to him in frantic waves, someone was holding his arms back, was he struggling? It felt like it, he was saying something too, probably at Finnigand, but even he wasn’t sure about what he was spouting out at the downed soldier.

The whole event flashed by in blurs, but by the time Tom gathered enough of his senses to make out the world around him, Hilarson was in front of him, shaking him by the collar of his shirt.

SNAP OUT OF IT SON!Tom opened his mouth to say something but a quick crack of a hand across his face made him stop. He gaped at the ground, unsure of what the hell just happened, but a blossoming sting on his cheek clued him in to the fact that Hilarson just slapped him, hard.

“..ow” He mumbled, slowly turning his head back to stare wide eyed at Hilarson’s face. The Colonel was breathing hard, he looked pale as a ghost.

Seeing as Tom looked as though he was back with them, Hilarson turned to the soldiers around them  “Well what are you idiots still standing there for?! GET FINNIGAND TO THE MEDIC BAY GODDAMNIT!!” There was a flurry of action around them as soldiers scrambled to do as they were told. Tom vaguely registered the loud yells of pain from Finnigand being carted away but his dazed state didn’t allow him much more than that.

Tom felt as though he was floating, like he was watching everything unfurl from a higher standpoint. His body felt numb and almost boneless, the static in his ears was still there, no matter how much he shook his head it wouldn’t go away. Hilarson was saying something again but the static was making it hard to hear the exact words “…Colonel?” He croaked out, surprised at how raspy his voice sounded, had he been shouting?

“We need to talk son” That was the only sentence he could understand, soon he was being led out of the training field and back into the fort. Hilarson kept a hand to his back the whole way.

 


 

He was seated on a couch- when did that happen?- it was the uncomfortable couch that Hilarson owned in his office room- when did they get there??- Hilarson himself was pacing back and forth in front of him, shooting him looks of concern more times than he could count, if he cared to keep track that is. It felt like hours had passed in that room with nothing happening to either of them. Finally Hilarson stopped in front of him, he began to speak “Tom…that- what happened out there in the field?” The Colonel knelt down to his level, his eyes spoke nothing but worry “Son, what happened?”

Tom lifted his head up at him, a blank kind of confusion fitting across his expression. His head felt like cotton “I…I don’t know, that guy- Finnigand- he said something and I- this morning wasn’t..” He heard himself say.

Despite how choppy he spoke, Hilarson seemed to understand the gist of it. The Colonel’s hand came up, hesitating before he slowly put a hand on Tom’s shoulder. Tom turned his head to look at the hand, he was quiet “Tom, you assaulted your senior officer, you shoved his head into a broken fuse box and kept it there, it took four men to get you to stop before I came along” Hilarson’s grip on his shoulder tightened “Do you even remember any of that?”

Tom slowly shook his head, the same blank expression never wavering. Hilarson bit his lower lip and stood back up “God….Son, we’re going to have to put you through a mental evaluation….” Hilarson lifted a hand to his eyes and shakily sighed “I should have done this the moment we set foot on Nirgends….I’m sorry son, this is partly my fault. I shouldn’t have assumed you were fine, I shouldn’t have put this off for so long”

The words Hilarson said never reached the Corporal who began to draw into himself. He assaulted someone?

What happened next after that, Tom could never remember. There were bits and pieces that flew across his mind: a medic, questions, a bottle of pills, an order from Hilarson, the ceiling of his room, the incessant ticking of his clock, waking up at odd hours, and being put to sleep were really the only clear things in his memory. Tom wasn’t sure about how much time passed him during the whole process. It could have been just a few hours, maybe another week, it was fuzzy and thinking about it made his head hurt.

At the moment he was seated at the edge of his bed, having just woken up from a dreamless sleep, a very rare thing for him but a welcome blessing nonetheless. Tom stared at the floor and didn’t move from his position even as someone knocked on his door and let themselves in, he didn’t even do anything to acknowledge their presence “..Tom” He looked up at his name and found Morales standing near the doorway, the Corporal slowly walked inside but didn’t shut the door behind him. Tom couldn’t blame him, he wouldn’t want to be alone in a room with the person who nearly fried his friend to death either.

“Hey Morales” Tom found his voice and offered a shaky smile as the soldier pulled up the only rickety wooden chair he had in the room to sit in front of him “I didn’t think you’d want to see me ever after..” He trailed off, partly because he didn’t want to think of it and partly because he still wasn’t sure about what happened.

Morales didn’t look as though he was about to bolt out of the room, so maybe that was a good sign “I’m over it, it’s been days already and Martin’s pretty much healed, it was about time I confronted you about it anyway”

“It’s been days?” Tom choked out his thoughts. The hell? It only felt like hours had passed.

Morales looked at him in concern but the expression was pushed away as soon as it came “Yeah, at least four days to be exact” The Corporal frowned and took a deep breath “You..really don’t remember?”

Tom clasped his hands together in front of him, he shook his head with a sigh “I’m sorry…I really don’t..” He quietly admitted, hanging his head. How fucked up was that? He can’t remember almost killing someone. Tom almost let out a smile at that, nice going, now everyone knows you’re fucked up.

His only companion nodded along to his words, Morales stayed silent for a moment but continued to speak after a while “I..don’t blame you for what happened” He started slowly, startling Tom with his words. The eyeless soldier stared at him in confusion but Morales paid his surprise no mind “I’m not excusing what you did, it was awful, but there were other factors at play. For one, I should’ve taken your hint from the start, you didn’t want me there and maybe I shouldn’t have pushed you to meet the other Corporals” Morales sighed “Of course, Martin has a fault in this too, he shouldn’t have said those things. I don’t want to assume but..from what I know, being EFA gives you a shit ton of issues..”

“That’s not an assumption, it’s a fact” Tom didn’t mean for it to sound so harsh so he quickly apologized when he saw the slightest flinch that Morales had done when he stopped talking.

“I know this will sound fake but Martin’s really sorry about the things he said. He wasn’t aiming for a bad spot, he just has this unfortunate habit of running his mouth, hopefully this’ll teach him something” Morales chuckled “Don’t hold a grudge against him, Martin has a weird way of making friends and taunting just happened to be one of those ways, he wouldn’t have known you were-“

“Fucked in the head?”

“I wouldn’t say that, maybe sensitive about certain topics?” Tom snorted at that, smiling for the first time in days. Morales grinned at the turn of his mood and laughed quietly as well. When the laughter died down, Morales continued “I’m sorry that your first meeting with some of the unit members didn’t go too well, but it’s quite a story to tell isn’t it?”

“Yeah for you maybe, I can’t remember half of it” Tom joked, eliciting another chuckle from Morales.

“Look…the real reason I came here was because the Colonel asked me to tell you something, in regards to your participation in this unit” Tom tensed up at that, here it goes. Hilarson probably realized what a huge liability he was after his little episode, he probably went ‘oh shit no thank you’ and was now going to drop him entirely.

Maybe they’ll leave him behind in Nirgends until someone figures out what to do with him? Either way, Tom was expecting it to happen at some point. The only reason he was still serving was because the Euro program actually handled nutjobs like him before and knew what to do, obviously Hilarson’s unit was not of the EFA kind.

Tom quietly resigned himself to his fate, the Euro program will probably sniff him out once he’s unitless, then it’s back to either the frontlines or home base for extensive evaluation.

“You might not like this but until proven otherwise, you’ll be operating with a senior Corporal on every mission we’ll need to carry out. I know the Colonel’s been brushing you up to be a solo leader but…we just want to be safe you know? Have someone at your back in case anything like what happened with Martin goes down”

“Yeah I was expecting- what?” Tom sputtered to a stop, gaping at Morales. Did he hear that right? “I’m sorry, you’re not kicking me out of the unit?”

“Uhm, no?” Morales’ eyebrows furrowed together “You’ve been recovering well these past few days, I mean, it’s not like this is the first episode our unit had handled. Didn’t the Colonel give you the whole ‘A soldier’s demons are not exclusive’ talk?” He smiled “Of course, this is up to you, recovery isn’t just going to happen that quick. The Colonel will gladly dismiss you if you wanted, he told me, our battalion isn’t lacking in men and we sure as hell won’t drag a newly released EFA soldier back out into the field if he didn’t want to, being part of that program entitles you to a few things after all” Morales gestured at the door behind him “If you stay or go is your choice, you don’t have to make it now though-“

“I’m not leaving” Tom immediately answered, halting Morales mid-sentence “I’m not leaving” He said firmly, this time keeping eye contact with Morales. Part of him wanted to take the escape, but he knew he would never live with himself if he just gave up halfway, not when he already got so close to where Tord was. The whole reason he still struggled to push himself forward was because he wanted to get to him, he was too far into everything to just back down now. Just because he had a little slip up doesn’t mean it was going to paralyze him forever.

Besides, giving up was basically the equivalent of letting Tord win.

He sure as hell won’t give that commie the satisfaction of seeing him fall.

Morales stared at him, the Corporal gave him a once over, confirming that he meant every word he said. With a sigh the soldier stood up and pushed the wooden chair back where he found it in the corner of Tom’s room “Alright, if you really meant that we’ll be having that recon mission in Poland soon enough, but you’re still ordered on bed rest until further notice. The Colonel already assigned you a partner, he’s a good man, I think you’ll work well with him” Then Morales was gone, out the door and closing it shut behind him, leaving Tom to himself again.

Staring at the door Tom breathed in deeply and flopped backwards into the bed, a loud creaking sound responding to his actions. He stared at the grey ceiling and wondered if he really was ready for his first recon mission in this unit. Poland wasn’t a pretty place, he’ll have to ask Hilarson himself about the details of the mission.

Maybe after a nap, he had to convince the man that he was starting to do well for himself after all.

Chapter Text

Recovery was never one of Tom’s strong suits, looking back at it even Edd’s attempts to rehabilitate him out of his alcohol problem fell short in the years that followed, as much as he or anyone would try he just never really seemed to get better properly. Somehow something was always missing, a small dark patch within himself that never healed but never directly showed. If Tom were to be honest about it, any form of recovery he’d receive should probably last his whole lifetime, but he just didn’t have that time to spare.

So like always he put up a front, smiled, nodded, and pretended that everything about himself was fine.

Of course even with his practiced acting skills he wasn’t immediately released from the little recovery program Hilarson put him on. At least three more days passed since Morales told him about the conditions set for any of his continued service, in those days he would have frequent visits to the fort’s doctors and be checked up on by Hilarson from time to time.

They gave him a schedule: Take sleeping pills at night, wake up for meals, routine exercising and even flat out recommended meditation. Tom silently agreed to everything, fighting against them would only do him more harm, the only thing he refused to do however was have a local psychologist come talk to him about his evident issues. The only reason it never happened was because he had lashed out at the suggestion, he didn’t have an episode per say but apparently he lashed out hard enough for Hilarson to back off about it. It seemed the man became a bit more sensitive about his mood these days, he picked and chose the topics he would fight Tom over very carefully.

Tom didn’t want to talk in depth about his experiences, forcing himself back into memories he’d rather forget- even he could admit- scared him.

“How are you feeling today son?” That quiet afternoon Hilarson insisted on him taking a walk with him in one of the fort’s inner gardens. The Colonel picked one that was less frequented to at least give them both peace of mind. There were some birds sticking around the small trees of the garden, tweeting happily without a care, Tom almost envied them, they didn’t know what was happening beyond the fort walls.

He didn’t particularly hate Hilarson’s suggestion of a walk, he just hated the fact that the man walked on eggshells while talking to him, waiting for him to snap. Tom was honestly feeling better already, that routine he was on greatly improved his health at least, and with the sleeping pills he took he actually slept nowadays, it was a refreshing experience, he hadn’t realized how bad Norway actually was-

Nope. Not going there.

Tom glanced at the Colonel beside him and shrugged “Fine I guess, nothing new”

“You guess?

I’m great then” Tom shot back before Hilarson could make anymore assumptions about his thoughts “Really Colonel, I’m doing really great. Don’t think too hard on it”

Hilarson sighed “I know, you’ve been telling me the same thing every time I asked” He stopped walking and turned his body to face the younger soldier. Tom got the message and stopped to address him as well “I’m just..worried son. You look fine, you act fine, but I know for a fact that something like this goes down deep. Not a lot of men in your position ever come out the same”

“I think I’ve already noticed that I’m not the same Colonel” Tom tried to lighten the mood but Hilarson wasn’t having it.

“I’m not in the mood for quips Tom, this is serious” The Colonel frowned at him and looked to the side, towards the exit of the garden where the sounds of other soldiers came softly wafting in “Soon we’ll be having a recon mission and you’re still adamant about coming along. I know this one’s minor but…” He turned his head towards Tom again, mild distress in his features “As your commanding officer I have the authority to force you to stay up here in Nirgends, I have half the mind to do it too”

“Colonel” Tom gave him a disbelieving stare, he shook his head at him “Colonel you told me I could join the operation as long as I’m feeling up to it, are you backing down from your word?”

“Now now son, we don’t need to argue about that” Hilarson moved his hands in placating gestures “I don’t have any plans to take back what I said, but you have to understand that I’m only trying to look out for you and the rest of my unit” He hesitated before he got the next words out “Tom, I don’t want to lie to you, but I’m afraid you can become…unstable” Hilarson winced at the word and didn’t even look at Tom to see how he reacted “What happened with Finnigand was the prime example, you could hurt yourself and others if you get thrown into situations of high stress. As the Colonel of this unit, I don’t want to risk you or anyone else should you go into an episode”

“I haven’t even had an episode these past few days!” Tom pressed indignantly “Colonel you have to believe me! I can’t just sit here in the fort knowing I could be doing something, you know what this means to me”

Hilarson bit his lower lip at that, he rubbed his shoulder in discomfort “I-I know, I know you have your personal grievances against Red, I know you have something to settle, but if destroying yourself in the process to get to that goal is what you think is the best route, you’ll force me to bench you” Tom looked away at that, wrapping his arms around himself to keep from inadvertently striking out at the Colonel. The man sighed “Son…you’re asking a lot out of me, it’s going against everything I stand for..but I also know that robbing a man of his chances would be the worst thing another human being could do”

“So what does that mean for me?” Tom looked back at him, still keeping his arms secure around himself.

“That means I won’t stop you from joining this operation but you have to promise me that you can handle going back out there” Hilarson’s signature move of making sure he was paying attention came out: a hand on his shoulder. Tom figured it was the Colonel’s way of trying to read him closely, as if physical touch would reveal if he were lying “Are you sure you’re fine? Can you handle going back out there to face the Red army?

Tom kept eye contact with the Colonel, with one sharp nod he said “Sir, yes sir”

Hilarson scanned his face critically, when the Colonel let go of his shoulder he nodded and went back to walking, Tom followed close beside him “Then we’ll be leaving at seven sharp, pack the essentials” And those were Hilarson’s last words about the matter.

 


 

 

Poland used to be the first line of defense they had against Tord’s allies near Asia before Germany, it was a fairly large country with many advantage points, the only problem was that they weren’t prepared for what Tord had created on the first year of war. As insane as the Norwegian was he actually had a brain behind his manic smile, a fact that too many people overlooked until he began inventing brand new weapons for his growing army. Poland didn’t stand a chance.

Warfare instantly changed when the last of Poland’s forces were struck down, the world watched with horror as the Red army ravaged the land, wielding weapons no one has ever seen before. Back then only a select number of soldiers had been allowed to carry the new weapons Tord created, understandably so as Tord had close to nothing when he declared war. Now though, with his seemingly infinite amount of supplies, almost every soldier in his army had some shiny new toy.

Their side scrambled to create new weapons to counter Tord’s, sure they could destroy them but what they didn’t count on were the various countermeasures Tord created should they succeed. He had always been a sore loser, the Red Sentinels showed the world just how much of a sore loser he was.

Weapons that were allowed to fail, it was more horrifying a thought than a lot of people believed.

Poland was made the first tragic example of Tord’s crazed lust for power, the country was basically empty now.

Their mission, as Hilarson explained, was to infiltrate a base that the Red army owned and hopefully learn some new information about their movements. They had apparently been looking for this particular base for a while now, since Poland was a ghost country it gave the Red army the perfect opportunity to do whatever the fuck they wanted. The base itself was, according to the reports, supposed to only be one of the lesser command centers, an easy job. Hilarson told them that they would be in and out without anyone noticing.

The previous unit that had spied on Poland reported that they spotted more than a few of the enemy’s regiments enter and exit the country, too many to count. They drew a conclusion that there must have been a base somewhere, after literally a year and a few months of searching they finally found it.

Now it was their turn to make a move.

They landed in an area a few miles away from the base they were targeting, it was secluded and it seemed that not a lot of the Red Sentinels came by to check on it. Perfect.

The unit had to set up a makeshift camp, it would take a little while to really scope out the base and how protected it was, there was also the problem with the Sentinels flying around it. They could easily be spotted if they didn’t take care of those things, gunning them down wasn’t an option either, it would alert too many people. It was only one of the first things they knew about, who knows what else was lurking behind the base’s walls.

Hilarson had done an extensive version of preparatory training before they left Nirgends, which meant Tom had to go through every single one of the strategies that the Colonel taught him before, he wasn’t happy about it but he understood why it was needed, it was his first official operation after all. Even most of the other Corporals were involved in showing him the ropes of the whole thing. Finnigand was the most iffy about teaching him but was quick to get over himself for the sake of the unit. Tom appreciated that about the other man at least.

At lot of preparations happened before they were off, Tom even got to meet his partner Corporal and the section they were to lead together. He didn’t quite catch the man’s name but he seemed decent enough. They ran through plans together and talked strategy regarding their assigned task, it went smoothly and Tom figured he could carry out most of what his partner wanted from him on the mission.

Saying he could and doing it were two completely different things though.

Tom looked down at the map he was provided, it was a tentative layout of the base that had been created by the unit before them, there wasn’t a lot to it but they couldn’t ask for more details from the last unit, they really couldn’t. The British man scrubbed at his face as he scanned the various notes scribbled all over the map’s borders, they didn’t make much sense, seems like the last person that handled this map was confused beyond reason, what the hell did they mean by dangerous blue??

Tom glared at the writing- dangerous blue???- he squinted at the ceiling of the tent he was in as he raked his memory for anything he had encountered that could be counted as a ‘dangerous blue’, he growled when he came up with nothing and shoved the map to the side. Damn vague notes.

“Couldn’t make sense of it either?” Hilarson asked from his side of the tent, there were others with them, some Corporals and Privates that were part of the battalion, each and every single one looking over the base map and drawing up strategies in preparation for its infiltration.

“It doesn’t make any sense!” Tom huffed, pointedly ignoring where his map had landed “You’d think they’d give more attention to detail in a war”

Hilarson scoffed “Pretty hard to manage details when they didn’t even know what the hell hit them” He shook his head at the map he was looking over, muttering some annoyed sounding words under his breath, he sighed “We’re going to have to probe the borders of this thing if we want to have a clearer look on this map” He frowned “If we’re lucky, maybe they left all their scouting to the Sentinels, there’ll be a lot less to deal with…”

Hilarson trailed off, lost in his own musings. Tom took that as his cue to take his leave, with the map being ultimately useless and their Colonel only in the phase of making a plan, there really wasn’t much left for him to do. He swiftly exited the tent, knowing full well that Hilarson will call him over once he was needed.

Tom treaded towards the end of their campsite, even without binoculars one would be able to spot the tiny speck in the distance, the very base they were to infiltrate soon. Tom felt a little uncomfortable standing under the sun, their campsite was too out in the open for his liking. After months of being holed up in caves and forests, open fields weren’t exactly his thing. Sure there were boulders and rocks and all those good things giving them cover, and literally miles between them and the base, but Tom always had something over his head, he figured he just wasn’t used to it.

He watched as a helicopter flew over from another direction, it slowed down once it reached the base’s vicinity. There was a pause in its flight before it began its descent to what Tom could assume was the landing pad within the base. From this distance he couldn’t really make out how large the base was, the map was unhelpful so he ruled it off immediately, though he did see that this particular base didn’t have as much protection as most of the main bases that Tom had to deal with before.

This one might be…easy?

Tom scoffed, nah, it probably wouldn’t be.

 


 

 

There was a large clearing between the base and their hiding place, a pretty tactical move on their end that could be said is impressive, but for Tom it was an annoyance. The British man looked over to the section that Hilarson assigned him and his partner. They were crouched down behind bushes and trees, each waiting for the signal either he or his partner will give. He winced, was he really prepared to handle the lives of a number of soldiers?

“Thompson, what do you think?” A whisper beside him grabbed his attention. His partner Corporal peered over from the bush they hid behind, eyes darting at all of the soldiers that were patrolling the side of the base they were targeting “Those guys up there look like about, what, fifteen in all?”

“No, it’s not like that” He quickly cut in and moved closer to his partner, he pointed at the wall “If we know the Red army well, they’ve got something like a backup wall behind this one, it looks like one wall from this angle and all of the soldiers you see are on one of them only, but in reality once we try to get the jump on them, the soldiers on the other wall will be too far for us to open fire on. They’ll take us out instantly”

“Ah, one of those bases” The Corporal tsked “I hate those”

It’s been two days since they landed in Poland, during the course of that time Hilarson had sent a number of sections to scout out what they could about the base. Most of what they knew was that the Sentinels dwindled in number when night fell, most likely because they drained too much energy to operate at all times, at night the soldiers on guard doubled in size to compensate for the lack of Sentinels. Not that they weren’t dangerous but they took it as a good opportunity, it was better than dealing with dive bombing lethal gas robots.

Tom’s mind shifted into gear, the years he spent planning operations with his old teams coming back to him. He was confident in his experiences and what he knew of how the Red army operated, so far they hadn’t seen much change to their tactics. That was Tord’s weakness, his over confidence.

Tom hummed as he looked up at the wall, he hoped they could pull this off “Okay, we’ll split the team between the two of us, just like we talked about. If one gets caught at least the other will be able to land a jump on them, scouting out our building should go by quicker too” He slowly stood up from the bush and shifted to standing behind a nearby tree “If Finnigand’s team on the other side were successful, we’ll be seeing some action soon”

“Right, well, let’s just get into position. They’ll be signaling us” With one last firm nod, the two Corporals called for their men and headed off into different directions.

Tom’s team trailed lightly behind him, he held up his hand when all of them reached the edge of the small forest. He waited until the spotlight gliding around left the area before he allowed his team to move forward. The clearing was a nightmare to cross, not because there was anything happening, but because the anxiety of being caught by a patrolling officer was proving too much to bear.

As said before, Tom didn’t appreciate open space as much as he might have years prior. He held his breath every time a soldier on the wall moved from their position, wondering if they had spotted them sprinting across the clearing, when they didn’t do anything he let himself relax. The moment his hand touched the wall, Tom let out his breath and waved for the rest of his team to hurry up as they occupied the wall’s blind side. Tom turned his head at the sight of his partner’s team coming into contact with the wall from the other side. His partner spotted him and waved out a few signals, ones which meant to standby and wait for Finnigand’s move.

It wasn’t long until there were sounds of a scuffle on the other side of the wall, gaining the attention of a few soldiers patrolling the area. Tom nodded at his team and pointed upwards to the top, his soldiers nodded and deployed the grappling wires on their belts, a somewhat new tactical equipment that their side had been able to scramble together amidst the chaos. It’s not exactly on par with the advanced weaponry that Tord regurgitated out to his army, but they were usable and very quiet equipment perfect for operations like theirs.

Tom waited until most of them were halfway across the base’s wall, he steadied his own wire and was ready to launch off had a soldier not suddenly turn the corner and stop dead in his tracks.

Tom whipped his head around and stared at him, the man stared back in surprise. Before he could pull out his gun, Tom leapt towards him and wrapped his arms around his neck then covered his nose and mouth. The man struggled against him and tried to shove him off by hitting him against the wall behind them. Tom growled and quickly reached for the button on his belt that made the wire hoist the both of them up the wall. Tom stopped the wire a few feet off the ground, the man in his grip choked and kicked his feet, scratching at his arms desperately. Tom tightened his grip on the man, waiting until he felt the body go limp in his arms, passed out.

Tom breathed out silently and let the soldier go, the man fell to the ground in a crumpled heap, he’ll probably be sore when he woke up. He looked down at him for a while longer before he continued his way up the wall, quickly. If there was a soldier patrolling the grounds, there was a very real possibility that someone else will come across the unconscious man and alert the rest of the base. They had to do this quick if they wanted to come out with the least amount of casualties.

Tom jumped up to the top of the wall once he was close enough, he spotted his team dragging the bodies of the enemy soldiers away along with his partner’s and Finnigand’s team on the other inner wall. Some of them had some injuries but it looks like they managed to surprise the Red army long enough to neutralize the immediate threats “Team” He called them over “There was a soldier that took me by surprise on the ground, we need to move quickly, there may be more of them down there, consider this route compromised so do not under any circumstance attempt any escape here, understood?”

A soft chorus of ‘yes sir’s were their replies, Tom nodded and motioned for them to move forward, he and his team grappled down to the other side of the wall, entering the base. Tom steeled himself, back into the fray.

They snuck into the opening of the inner wall while the rest of the troops found other entrances on the different sides. It wasn’t easy trying to smuggle in his whole team, especially when Tom often forgot that he wasn’t alone in the operation. He nearly had one Private run smack dab into the middle of a Red troop when he didn’t give the order to standby as he ran to another location. Luckily one of the other Privates was able to pull his teammate back by the collar of his vest.

The rest of the infiltration had gone on relatively smoothly, though they did have to get rid of the soldiers that took them by surprise occasionally. Getting rid of the bodies was an unpleasant experience that Tom still wasn’t used to. Snuffing out a life wasn’t easy, more so as he didn’t even know these people, but this was war and they were on the wrong side.

Tom’s team soon found themselves inside one of the buildings after dodging platoon after platoon of soldiers milling about the base on their own business. His partner had checked in with him not long before, saying that his team had successfully gotten to the other end of the left wing building they were targeting.  Tom was glad that they at least hadn’t gotten caught.

The base had three buildings in total, all connected to each other through a series of hallways. The one they were in was the left wing, the one Hilarson’s team was targeting would be the main and middle one, while the last and right one was left in the hands of another more experienced Corporal.

Their goal was to find out as much as they could and get the hell out of dodge, which honestly was a lot easier said than done. The map clipped to the side of Tom’s belt was still the same old map that proved to be entirely unreliable, the details were all missing and only a few rooms had been marked with something that indicated that it was important. Anything other than that was way too vague, in all Tom was going in it blind.

‘Great’ He thought as he lead his team down the first hallway they came across ‘Give Tom a useless piece of paper and a whole basket full of lives he’ll be responsible for, fantastic idea!’ He wasn’t blaming Hilarson for any of his decisions, in fact the man did have a plan regarding this whole operation with an added fuckton of safety measures. They were only a small portion of the men Hilarson brought with him, it really pays to have a large unit at your disposal. Tom had forgotten about what that felt like.

The hallway they were in had very few doors in them, all locked by a complicated looking machine. Tom grumbled something about ‘stupidly complicated inventions’ and ‘dumbass norski paranoia’. He halted his team when the door closest to them beeped and swung open. A woman in a lab coat stepped out and spoke to someone beyond the door, a few muffled words were exchanged then the door was shut. Tom gave his team an order to stay down before he rushed forward and took the woman by surprise from behind.

She gasped and stumbled backwards with his grip, Tom covered her mouth and pressed his pistol against her back, she instantly froze “Shh” He slowly began to move the both of them backwards while the rest of his team took their positions and aimed their weapons at the scientist just in case “Now I want you to open up that door for us, try anything sneaky and we will shoot” Shakily the girl nodded and Tom removed his hand from her mouth. He kept his gun on her even as she began to walk back to the door she came from.

Trembling fingers reached into her pocket to pull out a small transparent card, she waved it against the contraption locking the door and waited for the green light above it to turn on. Tom nodded to one of the Privates beside him to move forward first with his gun raised, the door opened up and the Private he sent in made quick movements towards the only other scientist in the room, there was a cut off yell and the sound of a gun hitting against something before the soldier gave them an all clear.

Tom stepped inside with the woman in tow, ignoring the way she gasped and whimpered at the sight of her partner unconscious on the floor. Tom sighed and thanked his luck that the Private had enough sense to not fire a weapon in the enemy base, they couldn’t risk getting heard. Tom walked the woman over to her partner and muttered an apology, she turned her head to look at him fearfully but the butt of his pistol had already collided hard with the side of her head. She crumpled into an unconscious heap but Tom had managed to catch her before she fell.

“Tie them up and make it quick” He handed the scientist over to another Private who saluted and made her way over to the first soldier that came in. He holstered his pistol.

Tom looked around the room with a critical eye, taking note of the various vials and other such containers that held bubbling chemicals. This definitely was a lab, the only question was what did they use it for? “Search around for any information, we’ll need to know what they could be making” It was all it took to put his team into motion, the lot of them moved around the room in quick strides.

A vial full of clear liquid within a protective case caught Tom’s attention. He approached the container cautiously and peered at the vial within it, there was a warning label stuck to the container.

CAUTION: HANDLE LIGHTLY

Tom frowned at it and lifted the glass case from the vial, something about this particular mixture rubbed him the wrong way. As gently as he could, he took the vial from its case and inspected it in the light, he couldn’t tell what it actually was but it was important in some way, maybe if-

A Private knocked into him just as he turned around, Tom scrambled to keep a hold of the vial but couldn’t stop it from hitting the side of a table, a hairline fracture appeared on the glass.

Almost instantly, the liquid inside the vial began to turn black, Tom gasped when a thin smoke escaped the fracture, his sockets widened in  recognition and he immediately placed the vial back into its protective case, he shut the glass tight around it and watched as it began to fill with a thick smoke. He knew what this was “Sentinel gas” His team gathered around him in surprise when he said that. They morbidly watched the container fill with the lethal gas that could kill them within seconds.

Tom frowned at it, finding something off about the whole thing. Why on earth would there be a lab creating Sentinel gas…in a base….

Tom backed away from the container and pushed past his team, he leaned against the door and listened for any sound of someone approaching, finding none he unclipped his radio and tapped at the small black button at its front three times, a special little feature that allows him to request contact with the receiving end without possibly alerting any hostiles around them.

There was a short buzz before someone’s voice came crackling in “Sect two??” His partner murmured into the radio, possibly keeping low in a room like he was if the other Corporal was able to answer to his request of contact.

“Sect one, I’m reporting in” The frosted window of the door provided little visual of the world outside, Tom kept his ear pressed against it as it would be his only chance of staying alert to his surroundings as he spoke “We’ve found a laboratory, the activity here seems to link with the production of Sentinel gas. Are there similarities on your end?”

“Sentinel gas?!” His partner incredulously repeated “Hell, that’s some find but no we don’t have similarities here, though I think I’ve gotten something weird too”

Tom clicked his radio off when the sounds of footsteps echoed in the hallway, he gestured at his team behind him to keep still and quiet as the persons outside passed by their door. There was a moment wherein they paused in their tracks, Tom slowly reached for his pistol just in case. The tense waiting game they found themselves in soon melted away when a door on the other side of the hall opened and the people outside stepped into the room, the door locked with a faint beep.

The team of soldiers all relaxed simultaneously, with a quick nod from Tom the rest of them went back to scouring for information. Tom clicked his radio back on “I’m sorry, you were saying?”

“We’ve found..blueprints” That made him look down at the radio in surprise, Tom listened in as faint shuffling noises in the background became more evident with his growing interest “They’re pretty old but some of them look familiar. These look like prototypes I think. Sentinels, Peacemakers, everything we know but outdated”

“Are they all the first generation from year one?”

“No, see that’s the thing, we’ve never seen any of these before, but it’s obvious that these were the first attempts. The year one versions we saw were pretty much more advanced than these” His partner muttered something to a soldier behind him, he sighed “This is really strange, two. Our intel told us that this was supposed to be just another Red base. I have to tell you the truth, the other Red bases I’ve gone into never had any of these things” He said with an air of concern “I’m not feeling too good about this operation, we’ll keep checking around but you’ve gotta speak to the Colonel immediately. Something’s off about this base”

“Will do, out” Tom cut the connection and quickly looked around at his team “Checked everything?” At their nods Tom called for someone to take the transparent card from the unconscious female scientist. Once that was out of the way, Tom readied his pistol and slowly pushed the door open, he gave quick glances to the left and right of the hall and moved his team out when it was all clear.

They checked out most of the other rooms, avoiding the one that was currently occupied, and found that a lot of them were variations of the same lab. The Sentinel gas were constants in every room but with each one downwards the quality and quantity of it decreased until one of the labs had almost no trace of the gas other than what appeared to be the calculations for its creation.

It was getting increasingly strange. Red bases usually had more barracks than- actually usually never at all- labs. From Tom’s experience even frontline Red bases never had any of the strange rooms they came across, both he and his partner’s teams.

The last room they went into was a small storage room for material, most of all metals and silicone. The hallway in front of it would lead to the connecting path towards the main building of the base. Tom took this time to check in with the Colonel while his team watched for hostiles. He pushed the black button twice on his radio and waited for response.

A quiet click answered, Tom spoke first “Colonel? This is Sect two. I’m reporting in some strange findings”

“Not you too son”

Tom blinked at Hilarson’s tone, he sounded like he was on the verge of panic, that wasn’t good “Sir what do you mean by that?”

“Devinson’s team from the right wing just reported in about what they found” Metallic clanking noises nearly drowned out Hilarson’s quiet voice. Tom could feel some old instinct within himself screaming danger at their situation, those noises were unusual for a Red base. In fact they sounded too…rhythmic “Son, there are no barracks, no common areas, no training fields and definitely no command centers” Hilarson’s voice sounded shaky and urgent, the man seemed to have realized something about the supposed base, Tom had one guess to what he was thinking but even he didn’t like the answer to it “The right wing is full of testing rooms according to Devinson’s report. The main building….son, there are these- these machines. This place isn’t a base, we’ve made a mistake coming here, I’m ordering an immediate evacuation, get to the meeting point and-!”

A shout from the background made Tom jump in his skin. He paled at the sound of gunfire and the Colonel’s breaths coming out in puffs as he ran. There were orders yelled and more sounds of bullets flying through the air. Then it all went to shit.

A wash of red light began to fill the room followed by loud blaring alarms. The ‘base’ came to life in a scream of panic that alerted each and every one of its soldiers of their presence “Fuck! Colonel what was that?!” Tom cried into the radio and waved his hand frantically at his team to begin evacuating.

Shit! We’ve been compromised! Fucking hell- Why are there so many-?!”  Hilarson cursed and continued barking his orders at his soldiers “DAMN-! Get to the meeting point! I’ll call in the rest of the men!!”  Hilarson cut off their connection at that point, leaving Tom to hear nothing but the sounds of the alarms.

Tom sprung into action, he and his team burst out to the hallway in front of them, he ordered his team to be on the ready for anything now that the enemy knew they were here. The useless map clipped on to his belt was snatched up by his own hands, as useless as it was regarding details it was still a map, Hilarson had marked out the way to the meeting point for them beforehand. Tom picked the closest route to them and led his team down winding hallways that seemed to go on forever. The Red light didn’t help in the slightest, it’s constant on and off routine was starting to give him a headache.

HALT!” Tom skidded to a stop as a troop of Red soldiers came running in from a corner. He doubled back to his team and ordered an immediate fire. Since they had already readied their weapons, his team made quick work of the Red soldiers that intercepted their path, thankfully the troop that caught them were less in number compared to them, within seconds they were jumping over the bodies and continuing their escape.

Soon the exit into the main building of the base was near, Tom rammed into the double doors as hard as he could and shot down the surprised guards waiting on the other side. His team flanked him, weapons raised, ready to take on any more coming their way.

The main building was nothing like the left wing from which they came from, there were large tubes and pieces of machinery that groaned and hissed ever so often. The air smelled of smoke and oil, an unpleasant scent that seemed to choke the air out of your lungs should it be breathed in. Tom paid it little attention as he was more focused on getting his team out of there alive. They ran through the factory like building, maneuvering their way around the pipes and machines that littered the area.

Scorching heat from his left made Tom falter, a large contraption puffed out flames. He held his team back lest they get burned and moved around the machine just as another team of Red soldiers caught up to them. This time they gave no warning and took to open firing on them, bullets bounced against the machinery around them, sharp pings cutting through the air as they did.

They didn’t have the luxury of retaliating so they ran as fast as they could away from the bullets. Someone yelled behind him, followed by an unusual sound of air hissing, and Tom turned just in time to see a Private fall to the ground, blood quickly pooling around him, but he was alive. Tom stopped running but ordered the rest of them to continue forward, at the front of this building should be Hilarson with the rest of the battalion, he could hear the telltale sounds of a fight happening just up ahead.

The British man sprinted back to help the wounded soldier, the young Private winced and yelled when Tom pulled him up to his feet “GET A HOLD OF YOURSELF!” He shouted as he slung the man’s hand over his shoulder “We’re getting out of here Private! TOGETHER!” Tom pulled out his pistol and fired a few shots behind them as he ran off with the Private limping in tow.

Up ahead, he spotted Hilarson and his men in the middle of a fight with the Red army blocking their exit out. Hilarson was barking orders at every man available whilst firing at the enemy himself, Tom could hear everything he was saying even from the distance ‘Huh, guess he was right about the big booming voice thing’ Was the thought that crossed his mind as he approached them. Some soldiers, when they spotted that he had wounded, waved him over to the concrete cover they were hiding behind.

He slid down behind the cover with them and gently set the wounded Private down beside him, others began to check the man over for his injuries. Tom took his rifle and aimed at where they had just come from, as soon as the first soldier came through he shot at them, quick and precise. His actions had turned a few heads from his team and other soldiers shifted aim to take out the ones coming in from the back.

When the threat from behind was long gone, Tom hurried over to Hilarson’s side to join in the fight. The Colonel glanced at him once then returned to his rifle “I see you made it out son!” He yelled over the gunfire.

“Not yet Colonel!” Tom took down three soldiers coming their way but it looked to be in vain as more appeared from behind, instantly taking their place “We’re not out of this base just yet!”

The scuffle lasted for far too long, Tom knew that they didn’t have enough ammo to graze through a whole regiment of Red soldiers even with the help of the rest of the battalion from outside, the enemy was quickly advancing towards them. The moment Hilarson gave the order to fall back to another exit was the moment Tom knew that they had to think of something and quick.

Someone tugged at his pant leg, he looked down in surprise and found the Private that he saved from earlier, he had dragged himself across the ground, a thick streak of blood behind him. He was about to ask what the hell he thought he was doing until the man reached up at him with a bloody hand, he held his wrist and deposited something on his palm.

“Sir…u-use it” The Private gasped out, struggling to keep himself up, the giant hole in his stomach- Fuck! How had he not noticed that?! -quickly becoming too much for him to bear. He forced himself up to Tom’s level, still gripping at Tom’s wrist with both of his hands “Use it” Tom could do nothing when the Private suddenly paled and began to crumple to the floor, the grip on his wrist loosened, he was gone. He looked to his hand and slowly opened it, finding a familiar vial full of clear liquid, waiting for him.

Sentinel gas.

Tom’s mouth opened in shock at the sight of it, the deadliest gas that the world has ever known was now literally sitting on the palm of his hand.

The Red army’s most lethal weapon, now his to use.

Tom clenched his hand around the vial and looked up at the approaching Red army, they were planning to corner them, then slaughter them, they’ll die and if that happens…..then he’ll never be able to get to Tord. 

That was the chance Tom wasn’t keen on ever losing.

He hated this gas, he hated it because Tord designed it, because he used it on so many people, he used it on so many soldiers, he used it on Tom. He created this gas to purposely take away lives.

At that moment Tom acted on his anger, he lifted the vial in his hand and aimed at the men who chose to follow a madman ‘Let’s see how you like it, commie fuck’ It was the last thing he thought of when he popped the vial open and threw it into the air right in front of the approaching army. Aiming carefully Tom shot at the glass, the vial shattered upon impact, severely disturbing the liquid within it. The liquid burst into a black smoke, taking up a large area where majority of the Red soldiers had run into.

Shouts of surprise coupled by gurgling painful gasps were sounds that Tom had become familiar with in regards to the gas. He turned heel and began to run to the opposite direction as the gas slowly approached “FALL BACK! THAT’S SENTINEL GAS!! FALL BACK!!!Hilarson was the first to snap out of it and quickly echoed Tom’s order. Their army scrambled backwards towards the other exit located at the right wing. It was a mad dash full of urgency, they couldn’t let the gas catch up to them. Hilarson was shouting into his radio, probably telling the team outside to evacuate.

Tom was at the tail end of this retreat, he looked at all the machinery in the main building, finding that each and every one of them had been creating parts of weapons. His guess was right. This wasn’t just a base, it was a weapons factory. The gas, the machinery, everything here was set to become new weapons in the future.

Tom couldn’t allow that.

Reaching around his belt Tom fished out a couple of grenades. He ripped their pins off and shot them at the machines that surrounded him, he didn’t care to aim, explosives will always hit their mark as long as they were close. He began to sprint with a newfound energy and caught up to a waiting Hilarson just in time “BETTER MOVE COLONEL!” He yelled and pushed the man into the entrance of the right wing and kept running “I HAVE A FEELING THINGS ARE ABOUT TO BLOW OUT OF PROPORTION!!” It was the most shittiest thing he said all day, but hey, he was coping with stress.

Hilarson gaped at him, completely confused and very concerned “Corporal what the fuck-“

A loud explosion behind them made Hilarson pick up his pace, finally understanding what his Corporal meant by the inappropriate pun. They made it out of the right wing just in time for a burst of flame to erupt from inside the building. They waited for it to subside then ran up to the wall, following the rest of their teams out of the base through their grappling wires.

Once outside, Hilarson flagged down a waiting jeep, they hopped on and drove out of the base’s vicinity, most of them looked behind them to watch the enemy base crumble with each second that passed them by, large fires and thick smoke being the only indication they had that it was falling. The ride back to their camp was quiet, the only light they had being the bright orange glow of the enemy base quickly disappearing in the distance.

“Ho-ly fuck” Everyone turned their heads to the Private who had spoken up. The man was looking at the floor in evident shock, he looked up at them in disbelief “Holy fuck!” He repeated, a wide smile stretching across his face “Did that- We- We took down a base?!”

“Not just any base soldier” Hilarson grinned at all of them “Looks like we took down a weapons factory” Tom blinked as the Colonel turned to him, Hilarson seemed to be holding back tears. Tom wheezed when the Colonel suddenly pulled him into a tight hug, Hilarson held him at arm’s length, a wide smile on his face You did it again son!!” He laughed loud and shook Tom excitedly, making the eyeless soldier blubber dizzily. Hilarson turned back to the rest of the soldiers “WE TOOK DOWN A WEAPONS FACTORY!!!”  

His voice boomed with loud glee, infectious enough to make the other soldiers with them cheer loud and pump their fists in the air, celebrating. The jeep shook with their movement but even the driver didn’t seem to care, they were all caught up on the high of a successful operation, who gave a damn?

Tom coughed with each hard slap that Hilarson landed on his back, he moved out of his reach but the Colonel quickly scooped him back to his side, hugging him with one arm “I’ve said it once before Bowling Ball, but I’m so proud of you!” He shook him again, giddy “I knew you could do something like this again!! BY GOD! We are going to celebrate as soon as we get out of here!!” Hilarson cackled and ruffled his hair, making Tom wince at the pressure he put in his grip “This is something worth celebrating!! We’ve FINALLY gotten a good hit on them! You should be proud son!”

Tom smiled shakily at him, giving up on trying to move out of the Colonel’s hold. His reluctant grin seemed enough for Hilarson who turned back to the other soldiers to cheer and laugh just as he should, they came to Poland in anticipation of infiltrating a normal base for information, instead they came out of a weapon’s factory that they burned to the ground. Why shouldn’t they celebrate?

Tom looked back at the burning base and wondered only one thing.

‘What’s your move Tord?’

 


 

Two days later on a misty morning near the border between Netherlands and Germany, Tom yawned and stretched his limbs. In one hand was a cup of water and on the other was a stale biscuit that he was forcing himself to eat, there was nothing else for breakfast anyway. The British soldier bit into the biscuit, the unhappy frown on his face deepening the more he chewed, Tom coughed and spat out the offending piece of ‘food’ immediately and downed the rest of his water.

“Ugh that’s dry” He coughed and spat a bit more, feeling crumbs of the biscuit linger in his mouth, sapping his saliva. Tom looked down at the biscuit wrapper with distain, what the hell was he thinking making all his old teammates bet their biscuits on his stupid dare? There were still waaaay too many biscuits left for him to shovel through. He should’ve asked for something better.

“TOM!!” Hilarson yelled behind him from inside his tent, Tom turned around “Get in here son! The broadcast is starting!!”

Tom nodded at him and discarded the remaining biscuit and its wrapper to the side. He jogged up to the biggest tent in their camp and got in. Many other soldiers were seated around on foldable chairs or just plain standing, one thing’s for sure though, they were all leaning towards a lone radio that Hilarson was fiddling with at the front. Tom set his glass down on the ground, there really wasn’t anywhere else he could put it, though someone did trip on it later.

“kssh- a re-hhssk-der’s impor-shk-tant message” Hilarson let out a victorious ‘HA!’ once he was able to fix up the radio enough for it to give out a relatively clear sound, the words still sounded grainy but they could understand it well enough “Greetings!” Though part of Tom wished it was still broken the moment Tord’s voice echoed from the radio, especially in that stupidly fake cheer of his. Still, everyone had quieted down to hear what the Red Leader had to say, they waited anxiously.

“Good morning to all! I hope you are having a wonderful start to your day!” Tord laughed good-naturedly on the radio, Tom rolled his eyes “Yes yes, I do hope you are all waking up to a good day!....I surely am not” Mocking murmurs filled the tent at the sudden shift of the Red Leader’s tone, Hilarson shushed them all “It has come to my attention that a very..bold move has been made by enemy forces. [sigh] And I thought we would all be getting along by this point already”

“FUCK YOU RED!!” A soldier shouted from behind, inciting the rest of them to cheer at that statement.

Tord began to speak again but Tom could barely hear him over the incessant noise of his unit, he growled “OI! SHUT THE FUCK UP!!” He bellowed at them, at least it had gotten them to stop. Tom turned back to the radio.

“-mess but I can assure you that its nothing we cannot handle” Tord’s voice wafted back in “Though this new development certainly has angered me, I suppose it’s my fault that it happened” The low dark chuckle made their hairs stand on end, something about this didn’t sound right “After all, I did ask for it. You certainly have an interesting way to answer me, old friend”

Tom stiffened, he felt Hilarson put an arm on his shoulder but he didn’t acknowledge the Colonel’s presence, he stared straight at the radio, awaiting Tord’s next words “I admit, I am impressed, your actions certainly have an edge to them I can relate to. Hahaha, such brutalityThe sound of clapping, sharp and quick, sounded from the radio “I shouldn’t have expected anything less from you, to have pulled this little stunt of yours off is certainly a testament to your skills” Tord tittered with amusement “All I have to say on this matter is: Congratulations. You’ve done very well”

The Red Leader’s loud cackling was the last thing they heard before the broadcast on the radio ended just like that. The unit drowned in silence. Each soldier unable to understand what the Red Leader meant in that rather short announcement.

In the middle of them all, Tom shook with rage.

“Son-“ Hilarson started but Tom abruptly stood up and stormed out of the tent. The Colonel watched him go with concern, other than Tom he could understand the meaning behind Tord’s words. Hilarson frowned and shook his head ‘That boy is going through too much’ He thought sadly.

Outside the camp Tom seethed. The eyeless soldier paced in a back and forth motion, his hands clenched and unclenched at his sides as he grumbled and half yelled out his frustrations. Tord had, once again, managed to make even a huge victory for their side sound like it was nothing at all. He mocked them, mocked him, congratulating them like a parent does to a child’s pitiful attempt at anything basic. One of Tord’s lines had, however, hit a large mark within Tom somewhere.

“I admit, I am impressed, your actions certainly have an edge to them I can relate to. Hahaha, such brutality

Tom gripped at his hair and tugged hard, but not even the sharp sting could distract him from the sick feeling crawling its way throughout his body. He kicked at the ground, dirt sprayed in front of him but he didn’t care if it got on him. Tom growled and tried to calm himself down, he breathed in deep steady breaths. The thundering of his heart told him that he wouldn’t exactly be able to get rid of the feeling any time soon. Tom covered his eyes and tried not to let it consume him. Tried.

An idea struck him at that very moment, a stupid one. He pulled his head up and looked back at the tent where Hilarson and the rest of the unit were still in. As quietly as he could he headed straight for the supplies tent and snatched up a hidden bottle of alcohol he saw Hilarson stash away. He felt a little bad for taking another man’s alcohol but at the same time he didn’t care very much.

Tom stepped out from the tent and made a dash for his own one a little ways out from their camp. In the last four years he spent suffering through this war, Tom decided to finally get black out drunk.

Just forget.

Just forget.

For a little while, just forget.

 


 

In a base stationed at the heart of Norway, Tord leaned back on his chair and flicked off the announcement button. The Norwegian man blew a raspberry at the ceiling as he sunk into his chair, he yawned but refused to move any more than he had. Who knew being a world leader required such early morning announcements? He half wanted to sleep in that day but he couldn’t put off this particular announcement anymore.

The first time the news was sent his way he had boiled over in rage. Paul had to stop him from gunning down the messenger in his office, which would have been bad for the carpet honestly, it was a struggle but the man was able to leave with his head in tact….for now. The news of the weapons factory he had set up in Poland getting destroyed really shook him to the core, how could his men have let some enemy soldiers into the base so easily? Has his belief of never underestimating the foe even stayed with any of them??

Obviously the destruction of the factory was a huge blow, most weapons production had slowed and now an uncomfortable amount of his men were stuck wielding weapons that he had already deemed severely outdated. It pained him to see them holding the standard rifles.

He was ready to have most of the soldiers from that base executed- well most of the soldiers that had still survived- but after he reviewed footage of the attack from that day he almost felt pity for them, they never would have stood a chance.

The moment his dear old friend came running into view, Tord knew that it was almost inevitable that this little base of his were to fall to his friend’s hands. Tom could be lethal if he wanted to be, that little use of Sentinel gas had certainly gotten Tord to watch on with interest, who knew Tom could be so heartless. He of all people should know how painful it was to succumb to the gas, a bullet through the brain would have been a lot more merciful.

He supposed it was partly his fault that it happened, he knew he should have warned his men about Tom the moment he found out that his friend was still alive. Tom was one of the only people capable enough to oppose him seriously.

The other two, weeeeell, let’s just say that dumb luck is their biggest trump card.

Tord had pouted at the footage not long after, he remembered visiting the Poland base just a few days before Tom came in. Damn. Had dear sweet Tom been a bit more early, Tord would have gotten the chance to run into him a long time ago. Such a shame, he missed his friend.

Tord turned his head to the side and unsheathed a knife from his belt. Little dried flecks of blood stuck to its surface, he grinned at it and ran a finger reverently over the spots. Patryck had berated him for refusing to clean his knife, saying it was unhygienic, but Tord waved him off without a care.

He sighed and twirled the knife in his hands, he positioned it horizontally in front of him and imagined a soft neck at the end of it. Tord bit his lower lip as the memory of Tom pinned up against a tree took hold of his vision, he could still see the contempt and fire that raged within his friend, even when he was so close to death, dear sweet Tom was still fighting against him.

It was such a riveting feeling, holding the life of someone so stubbornly defiant in his hands, a person who showed him little to no fear even with all the power he had in his disposal. No matter how much he gained, in the end he knew that Tom simply wouldn’t care. Tom would fight him till the bitter end, a battle for dominance until their last dying breaths.

An involuntary shiver shot through Tord’s frame, he chuckled and placed the knife down on the table. He shouldn’t get lost in such intense fantasies, it wouldn’t do for a leader like him to think so lewdly, he had a reputation to uphold after all.

Tord raised his robotic hand, the center of it glowed and a screen appeared in front of his desk. He flicked through the files until he found that one photo of Tom that he really liked. It would be such a shame to waste it. He turned to his microphone, still staring at the photo “Paul~” He sang into the intercom “I’m going to have to add a new wanted man to our little collection” He tapped at the screen to enlarge the photo of Tom ready to shoot at the Sentinel who took it. He grinned “Make sure the price for this one is very high, we can’t risk another one of his little stunts”

The intercom switched off, Tord leaned against his robotic hand and smiled up at the photo of his friend “What else will you do Tom?” He whispered to the photo, gleefully imagining all the cute little things Tom would shout at him if he were really there.

Three sharp knocks to his door rudely shook Tord from his thoughts. A soldier stepped in with files in his arms, before he could speak however the Red Leader glowered at him menacingly “This better be important solider” He growled, his flesh hand surreptitiously sliding towards the bloodied knife still on his desk.

The man visibly paled and seemed to forget himself at that moment, his mouth struggled to move as he flickered his eyes downwards towards the files he held. He knew it was a death sentence to break eye contact with the Red Leader when being addressed but most of his senses had flown out the window the moment his commander gave him a dangerous glare. He swallowed “S..Sir, you told me that should I find any-“

“Look at me when you’re talking soldier, didn’t I tell all of you to look at me when we’re talking?”

The man’s heart jumped to his throat as he forced himself to look up and keep eye contact with the Red Leader’s terrifying gaze. His one eye sharpened down to a slit as he looked him over, the solider swore the cold zap of pain that went through him was almost physical. He refused to flinch, Red Leader hated it when people ‘overreacted when they were only talking’ “T-The new weapon sir!” He blurted out, relaxing a fraction when he saw the way his commander’s gaze softened, he took this chance to finish his report “We- The Poland base, when it was attacked, the General entrusted with the testing of the new weapon used it on one of the enemy soldiers sir. His body was found, killed from the shot”

“Aaah, that weapon!” Tord leaned back on his chair with an excited smile, the knife in his hand quickly returning to its sheathe as he spoke “So what’s the autopsy? What’s the wound like?”

“Slightly cauterized sir, he still bled out but it was a clean shot straight through his body”

Tord clapped once, still grinning “And the weapon?”

The soldier winced and Tord’s excitement plummeted just a little “It’s broken sir, exploded not long after it fired. It’s unstable nature is still a problem, only one shot is allowed for now”

The soldier watched as the Red Leader pouted from his seat, it almost made him do a double take, he never gets the chance to see the man as anything other than terrifying. He flinched when he stood up and made his way towards him, the soldier was afraid he had done something wrong and was about ready to shut his eyes and wait for death had his commander not clap him on the back and smiled at him.

“Well I appreciate this report! Don’t worry too much over the weapon, nothing I can’t fix” He gave him one last pat before moving past him and out the door “Oh! And be a good boy and call on the labs on the intercom, tell them I’m coming down to have a look at the designs again, I have a feeling I’ll be in there for a while to fix our little problem. You got that?”

“Sir yes sir!” With one happy nod, the soldier was left standing alone in the Red Leader’s office. The man stared at the door for a while, disbelieving, then he shook his head and crossed the room to do what his commander asked of him. Better not disappoint him, no, their scientists may have already done that.

Chapter Text

Tom suppressed the urge to gag when he was jostled once more in his seat. A hand shakily covered his mouth as he screwed his eyes shut, willing for the world to have mercy on him and stay still, but of course the world was an arsehole and when had it ever been kind to him of all people? Tom clutched at his stomach and bent over until his forehead touched his knees.

Hilarson glanced but once at him from where he was on the driver’s seat, the Colonel sniffed and cleared his throat, saying nothing. The man simply kept his loose grip on the wheel and steadily moved them through the steep climb in the dirt road deep into the German forests.

Tom was once again seated on the passenger seat of a rickety old jeep, though this time not by choice. He was originally riding with the rest of his fellow soldiers at the back but the moment he threw up on someone’s boots was when Hilarson barked at him to haul arse and transfer to the front, he was extremely thankful for it as the back of the jeep jumped around in seizure inducing motions with every acceleration. He wouldn’t have lasted long.

Though riding up front with Hilarson may be a bit more comfortable, it was severely awkward. Why? Well…

“I..I’m really sorry” Tom managed out and quickly regretted it as a new pounding sensation against his head flared to life with his attempt to talk. Hilarson gave him no reply, the Colonel didn’t even spare a grunt of acknowledgement in his direction, in fact Tom was pretty sure he made the jeep jump over a hole in the road as shakily as it could. It rattled Tom in the most awful way possible that he groaned and curled in on himself. He deserved that.

“You really need some serious help Bowling Ball” It was a while before Hilarson actually began to speak to him again. That was actually the first sentence he’d ever heard come out from the Colonel’s mouth ever since they left Netherlands and travelled to Germany. The Colonel’s voice was full of disappointment and pity, Tom didn’t think he could feel worse than he already did “That was some scary business that happened back there son. You weren’t in your right mind. To think I thought you were actually getting better” Tom winced but couldn’t bring himself to open his mouth and reply, he knew he would start gagging the moment he did, so he just let Hilarson reprimand him as much as he wanted.

He really should have known better but back there in the border it just seemed like the most natural thing to do for him. Tom had- to put it simply- fallen back into old habits, and Hilarson had become the first witness of his relapse.

“What the fuck do you think you’re doing Corporal?!” Hilarson’s voice sounded like it was underwater, Tom could almost imagine the barrage of bubbles that would angrily escape the man’s mouth, he giggled at the imagery even as he felt the Colonel pick him up by the lapels of his uniform. Tom didn’t bother to keep himself upright, Hilarson would be doing all the work for them Goddamn it! Corporal are you drunk?!

“Whats it to ya?” Or at least that’s what he thought he said, Tom didn’t care, everything felt too heavy to move and that included his mouth. He blubbered uselessly at the Colonel before he gave up trying to explain why he so wanted to DESPERATELY forget. Tom laughed through his teeth and patted the Colonel’s cheek, his head lolling to the side “I mean, whast- wh- whats all of this to us?? Uh wait- haha never min’, I don’t know words”

“Son….” Tom couldn’t understand what emotion Hilarson was showing him, it really didn’t make any sense. Why didn’t Hilarson continue to be mad at him? Hilarson was mad the first time, so why isn’t he anymore? He should be mad at him but right now he was just being weird. The Colonel looked at him wearily and somewhat eased his grip on him “What you’re doing to yourself, this isn’t right!” Hilarson shook him, good, he was mad….but then he wasn’t? Tom was starting to get agitated by all these mood swings “Red mocked us, so what? He does it all the time! But you and I know that this hit him harder than he makes it seem. So why-“

“No no no nonononono shhhhhh” Tom tried to lift a finger up to Hilarson’s mouth to shut him up but ended up clumsily splaying his fingers all over his whole face, the Colonel sputtered and shook his hand off “I don’ want to talk about stupid Tord” Tom hiccupped and swung the hand still holding the bottle around “Goooonna stop thinkin’ ‘bout whats his face, gonna forget”

Hilarson scowled and stopped the hand with the bottle from reaching its destination. Tom whined at him and tried to pull his hand away but Hilarson’s grip stayed strong on his wrist, the man shook his hand until the bottle was flung far away to shatter on the ground. Tom whipped his body around at the sound and let out a pitiful cry at the loss of his alcohol, NOOOOO! How was he going to stop thinking now?!

The Colonel gripped on the both of his arms, digging his nails into them. Tom yelped “Stop that hurts!”

“You get a FUCKING grip on yourself Corporal!!” Hilarson hissed and pushed into his personal space, Tom was suddenly scared, he hated being here, wanted to leave, he wanted Hilarson to stop making him scared. The man seemed ignorant to his inner panic and even began to shake him “Running away from all of this isn’t going to do you any bloody favors! You’re going to tear yourself apart like this! What the fuck is your problem?! A few petty words finally hit the nail on the head for you???”

Tom bristled at the accusations. The fear he felt at being trapped was quickly replaced with a boiling rage, he was being manhandled, shouted at, and this fucker just made him lose his only chance of escaping completely. Tom wasn’t happy with any of it, he didn’t need someone to come in here and treat him like a child “Oh PISS OFF!” He snarled and began to struggle against Hilarson’s hold, but the alcohol in his veins weakened any blows he tried to hit on the man. It only made him angrier.

“Now you listen here boy!” Hilarson shook him once, a way to disorient him enough to make him stop. The Colonel’s face twisted with rage “You DO NOT speak to your commanding officer that way! In case you haven’t noticed I’M NOT the one trying to drown himself in alcohol just because some twink on television said some mean words!! What the fuck happened to actually fucking recovering huh?! Are you TRYING to prove to me how WEAK you actually are?!

Tom pulled his fist back and yelled as he threw his punch at Hilarson, the Colonel however was able to catch his fist on time before it landed on his face. Tom scowled at him and pushed against the hand holding his fist back, their arms shook with the struggle. The Colonel may not be saying it out loud, but Tom knew what he meant by his words: He was a fuck up. Some stupid eyeless freak who can’t handle the problems getting sent his way, hell, his first reaction to stress was to try and get black out drunk. The thing was he knew that he was a fuck up, he didn’t need someone to remind him that he was “You don’t fuckin’ know me!!” He angrily shouted and pulled back his other fist.

Hilarson quickly moved and caught his arm midway, since the Colonel had been the one supporting him up, Tom quickly lost his balance and half fell to the ground, if it weren’t for Hilarson keeping a tight grip on his arms he would have landed face first into it “You.are.drunk Corporal!” The Colonel pulled him up until Tom’s head was thrown backwards, so that they could meet face to face “What the fuck were you even thinking?! We’re supposed to be taking our leave and you decide to get pissed out of your damn mind?!?! Fucking hell!!”

Tom tried to kick at him, he wanted to smash his face in more than anything at the moment, but his legs felt like jelly, the only thing he managed to do was make himself unbalanced again with his sloppy flailing. He growled, cursed, yelled, attempted to hit and almost threw himself against the Colonel just to knock him over. All of his attempts failed and Hilarson just kept holding him steady, still giving him that DAMNED look of pity, like hell he needed any pity from anyone! “LEAVE ME THE FUCK ALONE!!” He yelled and pulled against Hilarson even more, each attempt becoming even more desperate than the last.

The Colonel waited him out with an air of calm, by the time Tom stopped thrashing he was already out of breath from all his screaming, he went limp in his grip. Hilarson opened his mouth to continue berating him but froze when Tom began to heave in large terrified gasps, the Colonel let him go and watched as he crumpled to the ground in a shaking mess. He said nothing as Tom curled in on himself or as wet sobs began to escape his lips. When Tom didn’t seem like he was going to recover, Hilarson finally stepped forward “Son-“

“I’m not like him” The Colonel stopped at that. Tom moved his hands up to his eyes in a futile attempt to keep the tears from falling, they instead pooled in the palm of his hands “I’m not like h-him” Tom repeated, desperation lacing his voice “I had to- they were going to- to- I didn’t have a ch-hoice”

Realization dawned on Hilarson to what Tom was struggling with. The Colonel knelt down and steadied the younger soldier by his shoulders “Tom of course you aren’t like him, you’ll never be like him” He frowned when the hands on the younger soldier’s face refused to leave “Son… I of all people understood your decision to do what you did, if you hadn’t maybe we wouldn’t be here”

“A lot of them died” Tom choked out “A-and they died so awful- I didn’t- and that Private, I-I didn’t even stay t’help him, I jus’ l-left-“

Hilarson moved slowly but soon the younger soldier was held tight against him, the Colonel rubbed circles on the distressed soldier’s back “Don’t do this to yourself son” Hilarson murmured and continued to comfort him “We make the toughest decisions in the heat of war, even if in the end it goes against what we believe in. In those moments some things just seem a lot more important than others” The Colonel sighed “Tom, when we’re out of the fire and we look back on it all, it will seem as though we would have had so many other chances to do something different…but be honest with me”

Tom’s sobs had subsided to quiet hiccups, he wanted to hear what Hilarson was talking about. The Colonel turned his head to look at him “would you really have been able to do anything different at that moment? Did you know that you could?”

Tom’s hands gently slid down his face, he sniffled and hung his head, thinking back to when he decided to throw the vial. Wordlessly, he shook his head.

“Then that’s all you need to remember son” Hilarson pulled back but kept him at arm’s length “You did what you thought was the best course of action, and we all have you to thank for keeping us alive”

“You have a problem Bowling Ball, and this whole war isn’t doing you any good” Tom wanted to scoff at that, of course this war wouldn’t be any good for him, people were constantly trying to kill him, no one would be okay with that “I’m starting to wonder if it would be best for you to step down from service”

“Are you serious?” Tom worked the words out of his mouth the best that he could, after a statement like that he wasn’t just going to stay quiet. Despite the spike of pain he felt in his temples, he continued onwards “I’m not just going to leave this war just like that. Do you honestly expect me to just suddenly go when I’m already so far into this?” Tom’s stomach rolled unpleasantly, he gagged and shut his eyes, the light was becoming too much anyway “What will I do after I take my leave? Go home and, what, go insane because this war fucked me up in ways I can’t even describe?? Wait for Tord to knock on my door and kill me?

“Tom…”

“Look Colonel, I appreciate your concern, but asking me to quit after everything I’ve been through is the most shittiest thing you could have done. I’m sorry that I cracked, I get it I fucked up, but I am not just going to give up my fight because I fell for a little while okay?” Tom turned to his side and away from Hilarson, the jeep’s constant rocking movements still made him ill but any kind of confrontation would be worse. He didn’t want to talk about his issues, he wanted a bed, a glass of water, and hours of sleep to get sober thank you very much.

There were moments when he could hear Hilarson attempt to say something before dropping it entirely. A long sigh told him that the Colonel would leave it at that for now, they’ll have plenty of time to talk once they reach Fort Nirgends.

 


 

Word about their successful mission in Poland travelled fast, which was to be expected, even though it was a complete accident on their part the operation was considered top tier. The strangle hold that the Red army had on the world loosened just a little with the fall of one of their weapons factory, they can’t mass produce Tord’s inventions fast enough anymore, one of the flaws of having advanced technology it seemed. The Red army would have to be forced to a halt for a time.

Their unit was welcomed back into Nirgends with cheers and open arms, the various units that came from all around the globe congratulated them for a job well done, even the higher ups manning Nirgends had expressed their joy over the success of their operation, Hilarson had looked about ready to cry at that point.

Everyone shook hands, clapped backs, hugged, cheered, and all around were hailed as heroes for it. The fort had never been so lively before, at that moment a glow of happiness that had been lost to the years of fighting an impossible fight had returned. For the first time in such a long while, hope for the future didn’t seem like such a faraway dream.

Though the smiling relieved faces were a sight to behold, and the way the fort’s hallways came alive with light sent a warm feeling through everyone, Tom couldn’t force himself to feel the excitement of the air when he was feeling dizzy and about ready to throw up where he stood. He hated being that guy but his own health was at the very top of his priorities list, he wasn’t just going to deny himself peace.

So before anybody could remember about his presence, Tom slipped away and blindly stumbled towards the barracks. There were a lot of rooms still unoccupied but through the hazy sick fog in his mind, Tom wasn’t exactly all that sure if he had chosen one that was empty. All he knew was that there was a bed, and despite his old grievances about the Nirgends beds being too stiff, he found himself sinking happily into the pillow with a relieved sigh, drifting off to sleep wasn’t that hard to do when you were hungover. The dull ache in his bones washed away with every second his consciousness faded out.

Sharp loud knocks interrupted his sleep, Tom sat up on the bed, a moment of panic quickly dying when he remembered where he was. He growled and pressed his hands against his face, it really annoyed him that his ability to sleep through almost anything was completely destroyed now, he used to poke fun at a lot of people for getting woken up so easily, now he was one of those but with a nice sprinkle of paranoia. Oh the irony.

That brought him back to the present, who in this post apocalyptic wasteland is trying to barge into his room?  He yawned and blinked blearily around him, a frown on his face. Right, there was a fifty-fifty chance he may have stumbled into someone else’s quarters in his half sick state, maybe the one knocking could be said owner, then again, why would they knock?

That conclusion was quick to leave when his door opened to reveal Hilarson stepping in with what looked like a glass of water, Tom swallowed at the sight of it “Hey soldier, feeling any better?” The Colonel chuckled as he walked in, shutting the door behind him with the sole of his foot.

“If by better you mean I can’t think straight and everything looks like clouds right now, then yeah I guess” He pointedly eyed at the glass of water that Hilarson brought with him, the Colonel caught him staring and wordlessly handed him the glass. Tom took it gratefully and savored the cool liquid going down his throat, he really hadn’t realized how dry his mouth was until now.

“Don’t finish it all, you’ll need it for this” Hilarson opened up his other hand to reveal a pill “Thought you might need it for the headaches”

Tom gaped at it before he plucked the medicine from Hilarson’s palm, he rolled it around between his fingers “I thought pain killers were extinct by now”

“Believe you me, they are, I just happened to know a guy” Tom scoffed at that and popped the pill into his mouth, washing it down with what was left of his water. He sighed happily, at least he won’t have to suffer through the rest of his hangover.

He turned back to the Colonel, still standing “Not that I don’t appreciate this Colonel but why couldn’t you have waited till a little while longer before you came in? I was in the middle of getting to sleep you know”

“Oh is that so? Hm, considering we came here in the morning and it’s dark outside now, plus the fact I haven’t seen you for hours I wouldn’t have guessed” Hilarson smirked at him “I didn’t interrupt son, you’ve been knocked out the whole day”

“Oh” Was all Tom managed to say to that. He missed a whole day?? Before that wouldn’t have been anything new, but recently that was a little too much time for him to have missed without his knowledge.

“Truthfully the unit’s been snooping around for you, they’ve been having a little party of sorts for a while now and they wanted you to join in. You did after all blow up the enemy base” At Tom’s slightly reluctant look, Hilarson laughed and waved his hand “Don’t worry, I told them off already, you need your rest so they won’t bother you today”

“So why are you bothering me today? I’m sure the painkiller and water combo is just your way into a bribe, Colonel”

“I take care of my soldiers Bowling Ball, I thought you knew that already?” Hilarson moved back and leaned against the door, leaned heavily against Tom’s only way out of the room. The eyeless soldier raised an eyebrow at him, he was expecting that to happen and Hilarson knew that he did by the way the older soldier smirked at him “Actually, I just came back from Morales’ room, needed painkillers like you did but…for more of an actual physical wound”

“Yup, I see where this is going and I don’t like it”

“You certainly won’t”

“But you’re still gonna go through with it”

“Exactly”

Tom sighed and shook his head, looks like Hilarson was assigning himself as his own personal therapist. He pulled his knees up to his chest and folded his hands on top of them, he gave Hilarson an expectant look and threw his hands out, telling him to get on with it first because Tom certainly won’t be the one to start.

“Alright, now you know that I respect your boundaries as any soldier should, but something up in that brain of yours is rattling around violently and it doesn’t seem to be getting any better”

“I mean, you know, kinda can’t avoid it with our situation”

“I know that but there are too many things that are setting you aside from the rest of us son. I can’t pretend that you don’t have something wrong with you, especially if you want me to keep you on active duty in my unit. Addressing this is important for your own good if not to avoid jeopardizing the unit” Hilarson crossed his arms over his chest and gave him a long hard look. Tom darted his gaze all over the room to try and ignore the drilling gaze of the Colonel, one hand came up to his hair and messed around in it, if only to distract him.

“Everybody in this unit knows that you’re from the Euro Program” Hilarson started “That’s already an indication that you may not be all that well in the head, especially if you came from the Norway corps. Ghost stories are made from those frontlines but we could only imagine what kind of hell you’ve been through”

“Don’t know why you’d want to willingly imagine that but okay” Tom was starting to become increasingly uncomfortable. He filled his thoughts with everything and anything lest that unwanted memories come back to blind him. Tom shifted on the bed and pulled his covers up a little bit more around him, had the room suddenly gone cold?

“I won’t push you to talk about Norway, that’s not what I’m focusing on” Hilarson amended almost as though he could read Tom’s thoughts regarding the matter. Tom’s stiff shoulders relaxed somewhat at the statement but he was still reluctant about where the topic was going “Tom, those people outside,” He jabbed his thumb over his shoulder at the door “they know that part of you, that you’re from the deadliest theatres in the war, that you’ve survived through it if not physically and they’ll understand if you’ve got baggage because of it. Finnigand most of all should know that”

“But..?” Tom pressed, ignoring the reminder of what he had done to a fellow soldier.

“But then there’s people like me, people who know of your personal ties to this war” Yup! There it is! The no crossing zone that Tom was afraid Hilarson would jump over to anyway. So crossed, so very crossed and Tom would happily like to skip out on this conversation now if not for Hilarson literally trapping him in his room.

“Colonel we’ve talked about this before” Tom said, wearily looking at his commanding officer “I don’t think there’s any use to prodding further into it. I knew Tord as my arsehole housemate, plain and simple”

“And that’s where your problem lies” Hilarson cut in, a serious air about him as he stared Tom down “Be honest with me son, when you’re out in the field do you ever think of the Red Leader?”

“Why wouldn’t I? He’s the end goal”

The Colonel’s expression softened at that, like he was talking to a child that didn’t know any better. Tom bit back the spike of annoyance he felt at seeing that “Are you really sure? Is it the Red Leader you see as the end goal, or is it Tord?”

Tom rolled his eyes with a scoff, a retort rolled to his lips but suddenly he stopped. The eyeless soldier paused in his tracks, thinking over the Colonels words again and again. Looking back to all the years he spent fighting, not once had he ever called Tord Red or Red Leader seriously, be it out loud or in his head. He sputtered at the realization and missed the knowing look that passed over Hilarson’s face.

“You don’t see the Red Leader huh? Unlike everyone else here, ol’ Red to you is just Tord” Hilarson pushed himself off the door and walked towards Tom. He stopped just a step away from his bed “This war for you is personal. Everything Red does, everything Red says, you take it the hardest amidst the millions of people who bear witness to it as well. You might not like it, but son, Red used to be part of your life at some point, long enough for you to react so violently to everything he does because it’s a slap to the face, a betrayal”

Tom refused to meet his gaze, his white knuckled grip on the sheets being Hilarson’s only guide to the conflict he was facing “Treating the war so personally is going to drag you to the ground. I don’t know what exactly is going on in your head but adding that sort of stress to what you already have is a deadly combination”

“I..Stop” Tom ground out through his teeth, surprising even Hilarson “Stop, just stop okay? You’re right, you don’t know what’s going on in my head. So just stop, I don’t want to talk about this” The Colonel frowned but chose not to speak when Tom snapped a glare his way. Tom knew the man was just trying to help, but he was crossing lines he shouldn’t even try to cross. It was too out of bounds.

Hilarson sighed, he knew when to back off “Alright, we’ll stop, but think about it a little at least…” The Colonel backed away from him but didn’t turn to leave just yet “…..how about your other friends?” Tom blinked in surprise at the question, he frowned at Hilarson which egged the man on to elaborate “You told me that all of you had enlisted to this army together, haven’t you heard from them?”

“..no” Tom tentatively answered, somewhat suspicious of where Hilarson was going with it after what he just tried to pull “I haven’t seen them since we were deployed”

The Colonel seemed to think those words over, he nodded to himself and sharply breathed in “Well, I’d best be leaving you to your rest, I’ve taken up enough of your time” With that the Colonel turned heel and made his way out of Tom’s room, but not before saying one last thing about dinner being served at the mess hall an hour from now and that Tom should at least come eat. It’s important to watch for your health after all.

Tom watched him leave, he was wide awake now. With a sigh he flopped back down on the bed in a boneless heap, it was exhausting talking to the Colonel sometimes. He knew he was just concerned but how do you fix something that’s in your head? How can someone from the outside hope to do it? Tom knew for a fact that he was fucked up somewhere, he also knew that fixing it now would be near impossible.

 


 

When Tom had, reluctantly, left his room to make his way to the mess hall he instantly regretted ever having done so.

The mess hall was a rather homey area, or at least the fort handlers had tried to make it look like it. Everything from the ceiling to the floor was made of the same grey stone material, the tables and chairs however were made from a reddish brown wood. The tables weren’t like the standard issue rectangular ones they had back at home, these tables were circular, or well, slightly circular since in reality they were jaggedly cut but the overall formation was a circle. The chairs weren’t even chairs, they were polished logs that could honestly roll away from you if you didn’t pay attention to your movements.

The fort had no electricity, another one of its defenses against the enemy, so the mess hall was bathed in the soft orange glow of fire, courtesy of the multiple candles and the single fireplace they had at the back of the room.

It was a nice place, yes, and Tom could see himself relaxing here on his own time, the only problem was that he wasn’t alone tonight.

Gathered around the jagged tables stationed across the room, standing, laughing, and overall being as loud as they could were all the soldiers from the units that had come to Nirgends, his own unit included. It seemed that even though night had fallen, none of them had any plans to cease their celebrations. The soldiers all around him were telling each other stories, some even talking over each other in their fits of excitement, more so his unit where he heard at least four retellings of what happened in Poland.

Tom heard a crash somewhere and winced, maybe if he was quiet enough he could sneak out of there with a plate of food to eat in his room-

“THOMAS!!”

Nevermind.

And so Tom was quickly pulled to the side and into a table where some of his new teammates and a few other unfamiliar soldiers were seated. He was given a loud over the top introduction and was promptly dragged into their riveting discussions about the Poland operation and how it was their start to putting Red on the run.

A lot of what happened on that table went by in a blur that Tom lost track of, first they were forcing him to tell his side of the Poland story, then they were cracking jokes, someone was courteous enough to at least get him food, which turned out to be bread and really sad soup, and now he was suddenly in the middle of a challenge with another soldier, both of them aiming their knives at the poster of Tord someone had put up on the wall for target practice. Traces of stale bread and soup trailed down the Red Leader’s image.

“THOMPSOOON!! COME ON THOMPSON IT’S ALL IN THE WRIST!! MAKE YOUR UNIT PROUD!”

“Yeah yeah will you shut up already?! If you want me to win this then you should let me concentrate!!” Tom shouted back at the enthusiastic supporter he had for this weird knife throwing contest. To be honest he hadn’t ever found any use for his standard issue knife other than trying to cut his hair when it became too long, which wasn’t even easy, his hair was a mess now.

Out in the field the only thing he’d ever used were his guns, the knife he owned always happily sat in silence on his belt, it still did actually. Which is why he didn’t know how to even properly hold the knife in his hand much less how to aim it, but no one called him out on his bullshit yet so he continued to pretend to know what he was doing.

His competitor finally threw his knife, and since Tom was basically just copying him, he threw his own knife as well. It spun in the air but landed with a clatter to the floor just a few feet away from the poster, his competitor’s knife didn’t hit the mark either but he was able to throw it farther than he did, it was basically a win already.

The opposing team cheered while his own unit let out disappointed ‘aw’s. He huffed at them “Oh ‘aw’ yourselves! I told you guys that I’m not good with knives!”

“WOO! Delivering the truth Thompson!! Speak your mind!!” Tom waved off the soldier who had taken to cheering him on. A series of teasing motivational sentences soon followed after, making Tom take swipes at his teammates in friendly retaliation. They laughed.

“It’s good to see you having fun Corporal” Tom jumped in his skin at the new voice from behind him. He spun around and was instantly face to face with his Colonel.

Hilarson stood with his hands folded behind his back, a faint smile on his face as he looked around the mess hall. At all the happy faces that were, for once, free of the stress and fear that plagued them throughout the course of the war “Isn’t this a sight? And to think that you played a large part in creating this, hm Corporal?”

Tom ducked his head, one hand reached to the back of his neck “Haha…” He laughed lowly in reply, really unsure about what to make of the compliment. He still wasn’t used to that, people thanking him for something.

“Oh don’t be modest Corporal! You’re a hero aren’t you?!” Hilarson said it loud enough for the whole room to hear more than to say it to just Tom. The whole room erupted into cheers and clapping, suddenly he was at the center of attention. Tom squirmed, feeling his face heat up. He glared at the Colonel but it didn’t have the effect he wanted due to his own discomfort at being praised. Hilarson laughed out loud and clapped him on the back “I’m teasing! Don’t look so mad son, give credit where credit is due after all. You shouldn’t be ashamed of what you accomplished”

“Sure, just…eh”

“Hahaha! Not a fan of large shows of gratitude are you?” Hilarson jerked his head out to the exit “Well, I have a certain surprise for you if you’ll take it. If you don’t want to stay here and have people clap at you, maybe you’d prefer the thanks of an old Colonel?”

Tom pursed his lips at that, curious as to what the Colonel may have in store for him. He looked around the mess hall one last time before shrugging and nodding at the Colonel to lead the way. Hilarson smiled and moved them out of the mess hall and back into the hallways of the fort.

Tom didn’t recognize the hallways that Hilarson led him through, in the days he spent in Nirgends the places he visited were limited to the training fields, mess hall, medic bay, and his own room. He was surprised at how large the fort actually was, the hallways just seemed to go on forever.

Finally, Hilarson stopped them in front of two large wooden double doors. The Colonel stepped to the side and pushed one of them open, he gestured in “I’ll be waiting outside when you’re done” Was all he said.

Tom frowned at Hilarson’s vagueness but didn’t hesitate to step into the room the Colonel directed him to. Once inside the door behind him gently shut closed, he was alone now. Looking around the room Tom recognized it as some sort of war room, there were maps hung all around the walls with one big world map laid out on the table standing in the middle of the room. There were papers scattered everywhere, each containing messages and reports from the units that came to Nirgends.

Tom circled the table that had the world map on top of it, his fingers glided across the map as he moved around it, going over some marked places he recognized as the frontlines. Some countries were crossed out, other countries were encircled. Tom had a fleeting moment of worry when he realized that there were more crossed out countries than encircled ones.

A single electronic beep made him look up from the map, just a few feet away from him stood a communications hub, a standard one with the usual radios that every base had. There was a red light flashing on one of the radios connected to a headset, the same beep sounded out once again before Tom decided to approach.

Taking the headset in his hands Tom looked it over, tentatively he slipped it on and sat down on the available seat. He hummed at the radio in front of him and slowly reached out to the switch directly underneath the blinking red light, it turned orange. The radio crackled to life in his headphones, he cleared his throat, was this what Hilarson wanted him to do? Well if not he could always play it off as the Colonel being too vague. He took in a deep breath “Uh, hello? I-“

“TOM!!!!! TOM IS THAT YOU?! HI!!” Tom yelped and nearly fell backwards on his seat at the loud screeching voice that assaulted his eardrums. He groaned in pain and shook his head, trying to clear his hearing of the shrill ringing that made him dizzy. What the hell?! What was this- wait….

Tom’s mouth dropped open, he recognized that voice. A large part of him feared to hope, to venture into his guess. It almost felt unreal to think of this answer. He swallowed hard “..Edd?”

Edd laughed happily from within the headphones, Tom heard him clap excitedly at his question, it was definitely him “Yup! That’s me!! God Tom it’s been forever since I heard from you!!”

“Forever’s an exaggeration but…yeah it has been” A warm fluttery feeling settled in his chest as he listened to his friend’s voice. Tom felt himself smile fondly, the stiffness he held in himself, always on high alert, was suddenly gone.

“I was honestly surprised! When my commander told me someone was looking for me I didn’t expect it to have been you!”

“Actually, I didn’t even know how to reach you. Hilarson’s the one who found you I think”

“Hilarson? That name sounds familiar”

“You called him Hillary”

Edd gasped loudly after a beat of silence where he tried to remember who ‘Hillary’ was “Sergeant Hillary?! Wow! I didn’t even recognize his voice when he told me that you were coming to talk! How is he? Does he remember me? Tell him I said hi!!”

Tom chuckled at his friend, leaning back against his chair. He missed this, he really missed this. He didn’t realize just how much he did until he heard Edd’s voice. A vision of home came back to him, of that old uncomfortable couch, the way too bright yellow white walls that he always hated staring at, the weird smell of bacon that never left their kitchen, Matt’s stupid junk scattered in random spots when he ran out of room, their creaky stairs, their barely maintained lawn, home.

Tom breathed in deeply through his nose and rubbed at his stinging eyelids. Edd had long since gone off into another one of his tangents, he was talking about some sort of bee attack he had to face just two days before, excitedly relaying every detail of his day like it was the most important thing to say. Tom didn’t have it in him to interrupt, he was perfectly happy just listening to the voice of a friend.

“Tom?”

Edd sounded confused, Tom realized that he had gone into radio silence the whole time his friend was speaking, he chuckled “I- ah- sorry, I’m still here. I’m still listening”

Edd was quiet. Tom frowned at the radio and wondered if they had disconnected somehow, but the soft intake of breath from the other side told him that his friend was still on “…I miss you guys” It was quietly muttered, a soft almost whisper. Tom on the other hand flinched like he had just been struck, he hadn’t been expecting that in the slightest.

He sighed, avoiding to look at the empty room he was in “Yeah, same here Edd”

His friend sniffled then laughed quietly “I’m sorry, I just hadn’t heard from either of you for so long. I was getting worried, I thought that…” Edd cleared his throat “Nevermind that, I’m just glad I got this chance to talk to you again”

Tom smiled sadly at that despite Edd never seeing that he did “From your tone I’m guessing this can’t happen again soon?”

“Haha, sorry, but yeah, I’m going to…well, my unit’s supposed to carry on this week long mission, I don’t think I’ll be able to get even remotely close to a radio” The laughter sounded forced, almost sad “It’s uh, been a little rough out here”

“..are you stationed at a front theatre?”

“Yeah, Belarus. Uhm, I don’t understand any of the signs here haha, it’s really easy to get lost” Tom recognized that tone of voice, it was the very same one he had as he dragged himself through Norway. He grimaced, did Edd go through the same things he did?

“…do you ever want to go back home? Edd, do you regret joining this war?”

Silence. Tom waited patiently for his friend’s reply, it’s been four years, maybe something changed “Of course I want to go home Tom but…” Tom sighed, he knew the answer already. Edd echoed his sigh but didn’t speak up just yet, he was still thinking on his answer “I..Is it okay if we don’t talk about this right now? I just…I just want to talk to you, please?”

He wasn’t going to fight Edd on this one, he wasn’t going to make their last words be about an argument. Tord was a good for nothing fuck, but he won’t let him ruin this rare chance he had at reconnection with an actual friend.

So Tom let it slide. He won’t think about Tord tonight.

“How about Matt? Has he tried to reach you somehow? Because if he ever tried with me I didn’t get anything”

“Uuuh no actually but if you were able to find a way then I’m sure we’ll be hearing from him too!!” Edd’s tone instantly shifted to his more jovial one, the previous topic completely forgotten “Hey! I’ve gotta tell you about my unit! A lot of them here are artists Tom!! We’ve been having these competitions for a while now (I’ve won a lot of them), but recently someone actually almost got me and guess what?”

Tom sighed, he knew that tone in Edd’s voice, with a faint smile he asked: “What?”

“We ended up in a..draw” He could almost imagine the wide grin on Edd’s face, completely satisfied with the shitty pun he just laid out for Tom to have the misfortune to hear.

“Sure Edd, that’s nice” Edd’s amused laughter was his reply, he leaned back on the chair and closed his eyes. For once, in his whole miserable life in service, Tom was able to finally relax, surrounded by the familiar voice of a dear old friend.

The rest of the night went by like that, with the two of them just talking about everything and nothing as though they were having yet another day back home. The both of them reveled in each other’s company, knowing that it might be the last they hear from each other again in a long long time. Tom knew it would be the last he would hear from his friend for a time, but he wasn’t about to let that ruin the moment. For once- once – in four years he wasn’t afraid of what he’ll see when he closes his eyes, he wasn’t aware of every minute detail of his surroundings, there wasn’t a pit in his stomach that made him feel sick, there weren’t any monsters waiting to slaughter him, his mind didn’t immediately and constantly remind him of where he was and how far he was from being safe.

So when Edd announced that he had to leave, Tom was reluctant to say goodbye.

“We’ll find a way Tom” Edd reassured him, Tom knew he would be smiling “So, see you later yeah?”

“…yeah Edd, see you later” And with that the radio clicked off. The sound of static in his ears felt a lot more painful to hear now, suddenly he was aware of how alone he really was. Tom took off the headset and stood up from the chair, never once looking back at the war room until he opened the door and shut it closed behind him.

“Hey” Tom whipped around in surprise, right, he forgot that Hilarson was still there. Hadn’t it been hours already? “So how was it? Are you happy with my little surprise?”

Tom stared at him then let out a surprised cut off laugh, he huffed “…yeah, I’m happy. Thanks Colonel”

“No problem son. Just don’t go about self-destructing again, who knows, maybe you’ll be able to do this more next time?”As Hilarson guided him back to the barracks, Tom smiled at the Colonel’s way of trying to keep him in line.

"Oh! And Edd says hi by the way"

"Hmph, if he called me Hillary please tell him the next time you see each other that I'm going to knock him over to the next world" Tom laughed at that.

It felt really nice to have people looking out for you.

Chapter Text

The day the Hungary unit that Hilarson sent off returned was supposed to be a joyous occasion, unfortunately war was a time for hardships and loss, this one was no exception.

Tom was outside the fort’s walls that day, though not very far from it. It was a chilly evening where the sky was only starting to become a darker shade of blue, low thin fog drifted between his boots but it wasn’t enough to obscure his vision of the ground. Tom was glad that he was at least lent a furred coat when he was asked to go hunting with a couple of soldiers in his unit and from others, they were still stationed at a mountain range and the cold was never forgiving in these kinds of areas.

The hunt was just a small thing, not much concern, Nirgends still had enough food to support regiments but they just needed a quick restock of immediate supplies for the incoming unit from home base. A quick in and out so to speak, Tom was just a little huffy about it though, meat was almost a rarity in the army, only top units had any luxury of acquiring such supplies, usually home base or priority frontline regiments. He tried not to take offense that his old unit had none of those, yeah since the Norway Corps weren’t at all priority.

Tom grumbled unhappily under his breath, he wasn’t expending all this effort for himself or his unit, he was hunting for some home base tossers who expected their supplies to be handed over to them, no work required.

“I can hear you seething you know” Finnigand whispered quietly beside him, the quiet crunch of grass and dirt being Tom’s only indication that he was close “Try to be civil? We’re hunting for food, not Red soldiers”

“Yeah I know that thanks” Tom snapped as he adjusted his grip on his rifle. He noticed the subtle flinch that Finnigand couldn’t stop and had to keep himself from searching out the marred flesh on the side of the man’s face. Tom sighed and crept forward with the rest of their group, not waiting for Finnigand to catch up “Just- it’s home base” He huffed, partly just talking to himself partly talking to Finnigand behind him “They say nothing for weeks since the Poland operation, no orders no anything, then after all that silence they go ‘Hey, why don’t we come over there and take like half of your supplies without any warning yeah? Yeah great, see you in an hour!’”

“We follow orders Thompson, home base has the reins, they crack it you run” Finnigand sniffed from behind “They have their reasons. We aren’t exactly in touch with everything happening back home. Who knows what’s going on over there”

“I have a guess” Tom scoffed and gently pushed a bush apart for them to cross over. Their team was slightly fanned out to have a greater width of the area, just in case someone misses what wildlife lingered around and can still be considered as food. He kept a close eye on most of them, but some were so far ahead that he couldn’t quite catch them in the mist of that evening “They’re probably getting ready to bunker down and save themselves, don’t you get it? With how much they’re asking for it almost looks like they’re gonna build a fallout shelter. They’re scared because T-“ Tom bit his tongue “-Red’s probably pissed as hell at us for blowing up his factory, now they’re just sitting on their arses with their thumbs in their mouths, waiting for the explosion”

Whether Finnigand noticed his slip or not, Tom wouldn’t know, the other soldier stayed dutifully behind him so he wouldn’t have been able to gauge his reaction anyway “..you don’t know that” It was a quiet response, but Tom heard the underlying tone that Finnigand didn’t quite believe his own words either.

It was a terrifying thought, that Tord was planning something to get back at them ten times the amount of damage they did, it was far from a wild guess because the man was well prepared for that kind of strike. It loomed over everyone heavily once the high of victory had worn off. Once again the world was in a state of a tense stalemate, waiting for Tord’s next move. It never came, Tord was quiet, that only served to make them worry even more.

Home base didn’t have a lot of soldiers on hand, most of the main corps were scattered all over the world trying to fend off Tord’s forces. What soldiers were back in home base were most of the commanding Generals and regiments that were considered as jacks of all trades when it came to dealing with the Red army. The supplies they were asking for covered almost five times the amount of people back home.

Cowards.

At least Tom was willing to bite the bullet in their stead right?

Tom didn’t grace Finnigand’s half assed excuse with a response. Instead he focused on the task he- reluctantly- had to do. According to the higher ups in Nirgends, hunting for food close to night fall had always been a successful endeavor, it was around this time that the animals hunkered down to find suitable nesting areas. Exhaustion from the day would mostly catch a lot of them off guard, though there are some who are still active at this time.

“Hold” A soft voice said from up front, halting Tom and the rest of the group in their tracks. The guy that was assigned the leader of their little hunting posse held his hand high in the air, enough for all of them to see at least. He motioned slowly for the rest of them to move forward, they kept their steps light as they approached their leader to where he stopped.

Tom looked over the guy’s shoulder for what he could have spotted. There near a clearing were two mule deer, quietly crunching on what appeared to be leaves, they didn’t seem very aware of their presence, though one of them did stop to lift its head up and scan the areas around it. Thankfully the dark of the quickly leaving day gave them enough cover along with their camouflage. There was a moment when the buck’s gaze lingered too long, but they knew how to wait, the animal’s attention quickly shifted away and back to its meal. Poor bastard.

Tom quietly lifted his rifle with the signal of their leader, he knew the drill, since he was positioned to the side his shots would be used as barring lines in case the deer would decide to escape towards him, giving the kill shots time to get to them while panicked “Steady” Someone whispered to his right but he paid more attention to the leader of their group’s hand, waiting for him to drop it and order fire. Tom’s vision flitted between his scope and the leader but a quick second caused him to double back to his scope.

There was a flash of something approaching in the distance that Tom couldn’t ignore, he literally couldn’t. Whatever it was was coming fast and in a plume of black smoke and fire, he wasn’t the only one to notice it either, the deer had long since looked to the sky in alarm and sprinted away, his own team had risen from their positions in shock, each one of them taking to their scopes to see what exactly was coming towards them.

It didn’t take long for the visage of a helicopter to come barreling into view. It was fading fast, something had gone horribly wrong by the way the propellers sporadically came to life and shut down again, they were losing altitude too quickly. They could do nothing but watch on in horror as the once airborne vehicle came down with a piercing shriek and crash into a near clearing from where they were standing, large pillars of smoke rose to the sky, a grim mark as to where the copter met its fate.

No words were exchanged between them as the team immediately took to running. They ran towards the direction of the copter without a care of how much noise they were making. Tom ducked past low branches and jumped over bushes to keep up with the rest of them, he felt his breath come in and out in cold searing gasps thanks to the cold mountain air, but he didn’t mind it much in favor of getting to where the downed copter was to figure out what the hell just happened.

Tom skidded to a stop when he reached the clearing, his boots dug up most of the dirt from the ground with his movement. He stood frozen for a second as he stared at the wreck in front of him, charred, mangled, twisted, and broken metal that used to make up a helicopter scattered in the clearing, flames danced dangerously close to the copter and washed the darkening area in a bright orange glow. The smell of smoke and burnt rubber permeated the air so thickly that Tom had to cough a few times before he could gather his bearings.

Movement within the mangled metal caught his attention, he sprinted forward with the rest of the group and helped heave off what parts of the copter were easy enough to move aside. Dust flew wildly as more and more parts were thrown away until the main body of the copter was clear of debris. Loud hacking sounds came from within the cabin and a grimy hand shot out from it, Tom heard the clicks of rifles around him but didn’t follow suit when an injured soldier came crawling out carrying something close to her chest “..h-hhhelp” She choked out, still reaching her hand out towards anyone who would take it.

Tom didn’t hesitate to take her hand, despite the hot burning sensation of the flames around them, in fact it only fueled his actions even more, if those flames got close to the fuel tanks they’ll all be in trouble “Hey! Some help would be nice!!” He barked at the soldiers around them, still wearily eying the one he was trying to save. Finnigand was one of the first to move forward to help, though he made sure to stay clear of Tom, up to the point where he absolutely avoided any form of contact with the other soldier.  Despite his reservations, Finnigand at least helped haul the injured soldier up along with what- or rather who- she was holding close to her person.

A young woman dressed in tattered white medical scrubs was dead weight against all three of them, her head had what appeared to be a torn off piece of fabric wrapped multiple times around it, a thick dried coating of blood seeped through the blue makeshift bandage.

Upon seeing an injured civilian, the rest of the team threw aside their suspicions and helped carry the unconscious yet breathing woman while Tom slung the arm of the injured soldier over his shoulders. She muttered him a breathy ‘thank you’ and struggled to keep herself awake as he guided her away from the helicopter and towards the fort.

Tom could make out nasty lacerations and burns on her and that was only through the dim light of the wreckage fire, who knows how bad it really was. A patch on her uniform was what stood out the most however, Tom had recognized it as the one for Hilarson’s unit. He had his suspicions but he had to belay them to prioritize getting help for the girl first, the probable meltdown can happen later.

 


 

There was a mass panic at the fort once they came back, the downed helicopter had drawn in the attention of the guards on watch, the following explosion was the one that had tipped everyone off. A team was dispatched to take care of the mess the explosion had created, after all, the pillar of black smoke so close to their base was basically a death toll, if they didn’t make it go away there was a chance that the enemy would catch wind and Nirgends’ anonymity would be put at stake. They couldn’t afford that.

The dispatched team had breezed past them when they got close enough to the fort, they paid them no mind. The leader of their team was already waving for the sentries on duty to let them in because they had injured. There was no trouble in letting them pass and it was only then that the extent of the panic inside the fort was made clear.

There were soldiers running around in groups, carrying papers, maps, and all sorts of things. There was at least one person in each group yelling orders that the others unquestioningly followed. Tom was surprised when he saw at least two helicopters leaving from the landing pads, bringing with it the battalions who had sought shelter in Nirgends. There was a tension in the air so thick that it was suffocating, though he had seen this coming for a while now.

Ever since Tord decided to play the waiting game, the whole world had become a stretched out live wire ready to snap, so paranoid of every little thing that one push was all it took for it to break. Though Fort Nirgends had been hailed as the safest base, it wasn’t exempt from the fear of what was to come next. With home base doing nothing to ease their fears, everything quickly fell into a free for all.

Tom had trouble trying to get through the mess of soldiers in the process of evacuation. He had to push past them with a hard shove of his shoulder, carefully and without jostling the soldier he was aiding. It took a while to be freed from the chaos but they were able to make it to the medic bay. A doctor came briskly walking up to them with wide eyes when he saw the two women they carried “What happened?” Tom could appreciate his attempt to maintain professionalism though, despite the clear distress at the panic outside this man was willing to continue doing his job.

“The copter that exploded, we pulled them from the wreck” Tom gladly handed over the soldier to a waiting nurse while the doctor looked the two over for any injuries.

“I-I’ll see what I can do. Thank you for your assistance, you may take your leave” He shooed them off with shaky hands, they didn’t object to it. Once outside the medic bay, the team was forced to see the panic that they had ignored moments before. Some even broke away when they realized that their units were one of the few that were gearing up for evacuation.

“You know, looks like home base won’t have to worry about a lack of supplies…” Finnigand muttered as he looked around the thinning crowd of soldiers, Tom almost didn’t hear him over the distinct sounds of propellers cutting sharply through the air. A gust of wind blew through the fort, courtesy of those very same propellers.

“Lucky them” Tom huffed.

By the end of the mass evacuation, the fort was almost picked clean. More than half of the soldiers that came were now up and gone, spurred on by the accident that happened not even a mile away from the protective walls. The higher ups had tried to control the situation of course but to no avail, the dread had become too much and now people acted on it. Without any official command from home base, Nirgends could do nothing to stop the regiments of soldiers from leaving, they were after all just serving as a supplies stop, they weren’t a major command center.

Currently Tom, along with other members of his unit, were gathered in the now silent training fields. Some sat on the grass, others paced, and a lot of them were leaning against the walls. Tom was one of the few who took to the grass, he had his knees pulled up close to his chest where he rested his arms on top of them, his chin was propped up on his arms as he stared silently at the blades of grass that swayed gently underneath his feet. Once, the silence used to be a refuge for him, now though….there was too much of it.

They weren’t quite sure about what they were waiting for, as it was they were directionless. Hilarson had left them as soon as Tom told him about the injured soldier that bore their unit’s patch, the shine of hope in the man’s eyes was brief when he remembered where she was in the fort, he ordered them all on standby while he went off to probably pry some information out of the girl, if she was well enough.

From the corner of his eyes he could see Morales talking to Finnigand from where they were stationed at the wall. Morales was the most frantic out of the two, he was making gestures with his hands and his face was open with emotions, Finnigand stood calm and seemed to answer most of his questions with ease, his hands were folded on his chest as he talked. It was almost surprising given what personalities they had usually, but perhaps there really was a reason why Finnigand was a rank higher than Morales.

Observing the two brought about a mood that Tom didn’t quite ease into the moment the fort emptied out. The certain unease that was creeping through all of them at the relative ‘peace’ that settled after the Poland operation. It was turning the world upside down, no one knew what to expect or what was happening next, there were no lines that required them to react a certain way, everything was up in the air and it was uncomfortable beyond reason.

As awful as it sounded, it almost seemed as though everyone wanted Tord to just make his move already, no matter how horrible it may be, at least they knew what to do. Fight.

Tom!” Hilarson’s voiced carried through the field, cutting past the eerie silence that washed over the fort. The Colonel didn’t even have to raise his voice actually, with how it was even a quiet mutter meters away from them would have still been heard all the same. Tom lifted his head up and turned to where Hilarson was standing, at the exit of the training fields. The man nodded at him and beckoned him over with a hand before he turned away and stepped out of sight.

Now, Tom wasn’t sure about what the hell Hilarson wanted, why was he of all people being called out at a time like this? He wasn’t the only one to have those thoughts it seemed as the eyes of his fellow men suddenly landed on him as he stood and walked across the field. Their gazes ranged from confusion, scrutiny, and suspicion. Wondering what role he had to play at the situation at hand.

Tom was already known to them as their only EFA soldier, as the unstable madman that nearly killed Finnigand, and as the one who tore up the Poland base in the first place. The first two suddenly became the most prominent in their minds, the last being slowly turned into a title of blame. If Tom hadn’t decided to throw his grenades maybe they wouldn’t be caught in this tense waiting game. It was enough to make some of them glare in suspicion. What made him stand out?

Tom ignored all of them but part of him really wished that Hilarson called him out in secret. Unfortunately he was being placed under the spotlight now and can do nothing about it.

In the distance, Morales stared on worriedly as Finnigand scowled at Tom’s retreating back.

“Son-”

“What the hell was that Colonel?!” Tom bit back when he reached the older soldier waiting for him in the closest hallway to the training field. He didn’t falter his stance even as Hilarson’s eyes widened marginally at his words. He sighed out a long breath, shook his head and crossed his arms “What was so important that you had to call me out like that? I’m sorry sir but singling me out at a time like this was a bad move”

Hilarson seemed like a deer in the headlights, he winced “I’m sorry Tom, I- this couldn’t wait, you can play this off as me asking advice from an experienced EFA like yourself, which honestly, isn’t far from the truth” He led Tom down the hallway leading to the medic bay of the fort. There was a tense silence between the two of them where Hilarson would sometimes glance back at him, almost as though he was going to say something, but the man would just double back and shut his mouth. The only sounds being the tap of their boots echoing in the hallway.

When they reached the bay’s double doors, Hilarson put a hand to one of them but didn’t push to open it. He looked to the floor with a contemplative expression before he lifted his head to look at Tom “Son…just be prepared for this okay? And I promise that everything you’ll talk about in this room right here will stay in that room”

Tom’s eyebrows furrowed in confusion, a distant thrum of anxiety running through his veins at the Colonel’s words, he tapered it down as best as he could “What..what did that soldier tell you?”

Hilarson thinned his lips, a grim expression on his face “You’ll have to ask her yourself” He pushed the doors open.

Tom was immediately hit with the sterile scent that only hospitals could ever have. There were windows in this room, allowing the cool crisp mountain air to circulate as a stand in for air-conditioning. Some medics and nurses walked quietly around the bay, going back and forth between the patients they still had. There was a steady buzz of medical jargon that went over Tom’s head, though he wasn’t here to be fretted over, the anxiety of a doctor’s visit still hit him as he set foot inside.

Hilarson was calm beside him, pointing him to where he needs to go. They passed by some empty beds and were nearing the one that had a curtain drawn around it, the doctor from earlier stepped outside and muttered some words to his patient before he drew the curtains shut once more. His moves were graceful and on beat as he turned to address the two of them “Ah, Colonel and I assume you are Corporal Thompson?” Tom could only nod at him, his gaze darted towards the curtains that hid the soldier he saved hours before, the doctor followed his line of sight and sighed “She’s stable but very very weak, my only wish is for you to not strain her unnecessarily, she still needs to recover”

Hilarson nodded “We’ll keep that in mind but she asked for this, thank you doctor” The man inclined his head to the side and carefully moved past them. Hilarson ushered Tom forward and took a step back “I’m going to make sure no one comes to this area unannounced, just hear what she has to say alright? Her name’s Mila” And with that the Colonel turned away, leaving Tom alone with a conversation he knew he wouldn’t like.

Breathing in a large gulp of air, Tom stepped forward and gently pushed the curtains aside. Resting on a bed that looked comfier than the ones in the barracks, the soldier he saved- Mila- looked up at him. Her head and multiple parts of her body had been wrapped in clean bandages, though there were flecks of blood here and there. She was pale, unnaturally so. Tom didn’t know if it was the light making her look as such but she definitely looked a breath away from death’s doorstep, she was lucky they found her so quick.

Tom stepped inside, weary of the fact that she hasn’t said anything yet, he cleared his throat “I’m Tom, you’re Mila right?” He tried to start.

Mila on the other hand was giving him no indication that she actually asked for him, she just stared. It was starting to become uncomfortable. Tom opened his mouth to speak again, maybe move the conversation along, but Mila beat him to the punch “You don’t have eyes” Her voice cracked several times but he heard what she said.

Tom winced at that and almost subconsciously turned his head away from her gaze, he’s heard that line all his life and by the time he was old enough to drink (not that it mattered) he usually gave no fucks about what people thought of him and his freaky condition. When people taunt you for something long enough, you start to obtain some pretty hard skin from it. Hearing it in this situation however, made some awful sensation crawl up his throat. Mila obviously wasn’t doing it to spite him, her tone was clearly just observant, but something about it made him uneasy “Yeah, I get that a lot. I see fine though” He tried to keep that weird feeling out of his voice when he spoke.

Mila fell silent again, her eyes didn’t leave him but they began to gloss over. Tom was afraid that something life threatening was happening to her but when she shifted on her bed he knew better than to run out for help. She searched him for something, what it was he didn’t know, but then she breathed out softly and thinned her lips “What makes you so special?” She whispered.

Tom gaped at her, confused “I..I’m sorry?”

“What makes you so special?” Mila’s drawn in demeanor was suddenly gone, replaced by a rising fury that set fire in her eyes. Fury that was somehow aimed at…Tom.

Tom took a step back at the anger he saw on Mila’s face, what was she mad about? He didn’t know her, she didn’t know him, and yet there she was glaring at him like he was the scum of the earth. If she wasn’t invalid at the moment, he was pretty sure this girl wouldn’t hesitate to strike him down with the closest weapon available to her. It seems she didn’t even remember that he saved her from the wreck.

“I-I don’t know what you’re talking about-“

Bullshit” Mila growled at him, almost making Tom flinch at her tone. Her body was rigid, tense, ready to pounce. Tom wanted to make her calm down but every time he moved Mila’s glare would darken. He wasn’t even sure what he was supposed to do at the moment. He blinked when a finger was lifted to point at him, looking more accusatory than anything he’d ever seen “I know you have something to do with this war, you’re connected to it somehow”

Tom swallowed hard as she laid out his fear, her words hung in the air like miasma. Tom wanted to defend himself, deflect, but something in her eyes told him that doing it would be no use. She knows something, something that wouldn’t deny or allude to his relationship with the man who was set on making the world fall over.

Mila growled “Do you know, do you know, what it was like in Hungary? What happened to us in Hungary?” The hand pointing at him flew to her chest, her eyes filled up with unshed tears as she tried to keep her sobs at bay “I’m the only survivor. We were a whole company of soldiers, exactly two hundred and fifty soldiers…now down to one” Mila’s voice shook with each word, angry sobs escaped her mouth as she tried to furiously rub her tears away. Her frame shook violently, she held her arms.

Tom reached out a hand to her but pulled it back when she yelled and tried to swipe at him with her nails like an animal “Don’t fucking touch me!” She screamed. In the distance, Tom heard Hilarson arguing with the medical staff, probably stirred by the commotion Mila was making. She didn’t mind the noise outside though, and took to looking up at Tom with malicious, sunken eyes “We were trapped for weeks. We had no means of getting home safely, no one was coming to save us” Her frown deepened when the tears in her eyes finally fell, she hiccupped and shook her head, muttering words under her breath that Tom couldn’t hear.

“Then..t-then..they found us” She whispered as she wrapped her arms around her middle, her eyes going wide with fear for a fraction of a second. Tom realized she was being thrown back into that very moment and damned all the consequences of his next move. He went through what was happening to her once before. So he crossed the small distance between them and laid a hand on top of hers, an anchor for her to stay in reality, to not be blinded by phantoms.

Thankfully, she didn’t seem to register that it was him holding her hand, she came back to reality but was still in the throes of a terrible memory “We fought those goddamned demons off for so long. We- we fought so hard but they…” She swallowed hard and shut her eyes, a hand came up to her mouth as she tried to stop her sobbing “T-They took us away, they took the ones that survived. We were….they took us..they took us to hell

Tom could do nothing for her, he knew, he could do nothing but listen as she forced herself to go back to times she would rather forget, he could do nothing as fear turned her blood cold and stopped her heart for a few beats, he could do nothing. Absolutely nothing “We weren’t the first ones….” She mumbled, staring down at her bed sheets with wide unblinking eyes, the tears still fell “…they took so many people….they were..they w-were….what they did to us…t-thHEY-

Mila was drowning, she wasn’t going to recover. Whatever it was she was trying to force out of herself was damaging her psyche, she wasn’t going to get through this. Tom tightened his hold on her hand and moved his face in front of her “Mila-AUGH!” Tom was sent sprawling to his side when Mila seemed to snap out of her daze and remember who he was. He didn’t even see her hand as it swiped down towards his face, making a new stinging pain flash across his nerves. He hissed and pressed a hand to his cheek, it pulled away sticky with blood.

She clawed his skin off.

There were deep scratches on the side of his face, she actually assaulted him.

Tom looked back up at her from the floor, wide eyed. The staff outside had finally pushed past Hilarson it seemed because now Mila was being forcibly restrained by a number of medics. She screamed and bucked against them, fighting a foe that no one else could see. Tom could only look on in shock as she began to froth at the mouth and snarl when she saw him still on the floor THIS IS ALL YOUR FAULT! THEY DIED BECAUSE OF YOU!

Someone shouted something about sedatives, a needle flashed through his vision and Mila’s abruptly ended scream was all he could hear.

Someone else joined the crowd in Mila’s room, he knelt in front of him “Tom! TOM!!” Hilarson was shaking him, pulling him to stand up. The Colonel ushered him away from Mila’s bed and out of the medic bay, Tom felt numb through it all. Once they were outside the Colonel looked him over and grimaced at the claw marks near the side of his face “Oh God son, that wasn’t what I wanted. I thought- I thought Mila could keep herself together long enough to talk I just-“

“..what did she mean?” Hilarson shut his mouth as Tom lifted his head up to look at him, his voice was quiet but there was something else mixing in his tone “Colonel, what did she mean? What did she mean by saying it was my fault?!” His hands moved forward before he could stop himself. Tom gripped onto the lapels of Hilarson’s uniform and shoved him up the medic bay’s doors “What aren’t you telling me?!” Desperation rang clear in his tone, something wasn’t right.

Hilarson’s hands held on to his own, trying in vain to pry them off. Tom had taken him by surprise and the Colonel knew he would stay trapped until Tom had his answers “…I didn’t want to alarm you son”

And what the fuck does that mean?

“Tom…please, we can’t talk like this” Hilarson stared him down calmly, Tom scowled at him, his breaths came out in rough bursts. After a moment of silence, the young soldier tore his gaze away and pushed the Colonel harshly against the doors as he let him go. Hilarson breathed in steadily as he approached his agitated Corporal, he knew better than to touch him however, Tom’s hands had curled into fists at his sides, he was shaking with restraint “Mila…Mila told me about what happened in Hungary, but not in detail” He started slowly “She stopped our conversation midway and that was when she asked for you, I-I didn’t know why, but she just kept saying ‘Thomas Thompson, he’s here right? Bring him over’”

Tom seemed to curl into himself with each word, his shoulders rose up, as though he was expecting a strike. Hilarson frowned and hovered close “I asked for her reason Tom, I didn’t just agree to her request. I knew that Mila wasn’t well, I wasn’t going to give you over that easily. I had thought….I hoped that she could keep herself in check long enough to tell you what happened in detail..”

Cut to the chase” Tom ground out and though he didn’t look at him, Hilarson felt a jolt of fear at the tone of his voice.

“…Tom….her unit was sent into a lab” Tom shot up at that, he whirled around to face Hilarson. The man didn’t say it out right, but he knew for certain about what exactly had happened to Mila’s unit in Hungary.

“You don’t mean..”

“Do you remember that girl she was with?” Hilarson cut in, surprising Tom with his change of subject “She’s dead son, blood loss. The poor girl couldn’t pull through”

“W-What does that have to do with-“

“It’s better if I showed you” Hilarson began to walk to the only other door in the hall next to the medic bay: The morgue. Tom lingered back for a few seconds, unsure if he was really ready to follow Hilarson and see what sort of sick damage was being done to the people in Hungary. He contemplated turning away, what the hell was he even doing getting involved in this?

It’s your fault they died.

Tom moved forward.

Hilarson was waiting patiently for him next to the creaky old door of the morgue, the Colonel watched him carefully before pushing the door open, disturbing an amount of dust as they stepped inside. Hilarson kept the door open behind them, even though the night had already fallen there were still sources of light outside that the morgue didn’t have.

The morgue was one of the least used places in Nirgends. Since they had a well stocked medic bay death had always been readily prevented somehow. The morgue was often left untouched as no soldier had yet to meet their end in the fort’s walls, which was still true, this woman wasn’t a soldier….

A musky scent floated through the dark morgue, the dust didn’t help at all in that regard. A single metal bed was out in the open, directly in front of the door where the light spilled through. There laid the girl Mila held tight in her arms, a girl the soldier had rescued in vain. A white sheet covered her from any prying eyes, that was about to change.

Hilarson moved to one side of the bed while Tom took the opposite. He looked down at the white sheet, unsure about what to feel about the whole situation, under it was a dead body, a casualty of war, an unfortunate soul that was caught in a fight that wasn’t her own, and now her life was unfairly taken away from her, did she feel pain when she died?

If their guess of what happened in Hungary was right, she might have felt more pain while alive.

Hilarson held the corner of the sheet and glanced up at him, Tom made eye contact and just gestured at him to get it over with despite his own nervousness. Hilarson shut his eyes for a second and gently lifted the sheet away from her face.

“Fuck!” Tom scrambled backwards once the white sheet had reached the bottom of her nose. His hand flew up to his mouth in shock as he stared down at the girl from the small distance he had placed between them. There was no doubt that this girl was a lovely creature in life, soft brown locks, smooth fair skin, a delicate pointed nose and full lips that would be the envy of every girl. All of that didn’t matter much though, not when one glaring fact was taking away all that beauty.

She had no eyes.

Black hollow voids stared up into the ceiling, dried blood stuck stubbornly on the patches of skin close to them, creating a picture of red spots dancing across her face, the optic nerves that had once been attached to her eyes dangled uselessly at the sides of her sockets, shining with blood and optic fluid alike.

For the most of his life, Tom has seen himself in a mirror. He spent countless times gazing back at the two empty holes sitting on his face, once seeing them as a mistake, once hating them for making him different, and currently thinking of them as nothing more than a part of him that will never change. What was unusual to many was a normality to him that he never paid much attention to. He always figured that if someone else were to be like him, he wouldn’t bat a non-existent eye.

This though, this? This awful display of bloody gore that shallowly imitated his normalcy? It made him sick to his stomach.

“Son, I need you to come closer”

Those words sent Tom into a state of fear, he shook his head vigorously “Colonel I don’t-“

“Tom” Hilarson simply said, a look of pity on his features but unwavering in his request. Gathering up what was left of his wits, Tom forced himself to walk towards the poor girl, he couldn’t even begin to imagine what she had gone through to end up here, on a cold metal table, inside a German fort’s morgue “Look closer son, at her eyes”

“There uh, there’s no eyes to look at Colonel” Tom swallowed.

“No I mean- the nerves” Hilarson reached into his pants pocket, his hand rooted around the pocket for a while until he pulled out a small black pen, most likely broken judging by the spilt ink within it. Tom held back a wince when Hilarson leaned down close to the girl’s face and lifted one of her severed optic nerves with his pen “Look, do you notice something off about this?”

Tom craned his neck forward, trying very hard not to notice the girl he was hovering over to see what Hilarson was trying to show him. He squinted at the optic nerve and blinked twice when he noticed a flash of light from its severed tip, upon closer inspection the object itself wasn’t creating light, rather reflected the light from the hallway outside. Tom sucked in a breath “Metal?”

Hilarson’s eyes flickered up at him, the man nodded and let the optic nerve slip off his pen, the Colonel threw it aside, wouldn’t want to risk infection anyway “It was one of the first things we noticed when she was still alive” He sighed and let his gaze linger on the girl’s face, a deep sadness seeping through his eyes as he reached down to pull the sheet up over her face again “The medics tried everything they could you know, but she just slipped so fast…” Hilarson shook his head in dismay “It’s a damn shame” He muttered mostly to himself, but through the quiet of the morgue, Tom was able to hear him anyway.

“Listen, Tom” Said man tore his gaze from the covered body to give the Colonel his full attention, Hilarson frowned at him “Mila told me a lot of things about what happened in Hungary, she wasn’t coherent, and I don’t blame her, but she told me just about enough to know that something fucked beyond belief is happening in that country”

“…and it has something to do with me?” Tom mumbled, he stepped away from the metal bed and moved himself closer to the exit of the morgue, he didn’t want to have this conversation in such a place, but Hilarson didn’t seem to want to move from where he was.

“We don’t know that” The Colonel was quick to reassure, he stood up straight again to meet Tom’s withering gaze “Tom, you might not even be directly linked to any of this, Mila’s not in the right state of mind, maybe she was just taking all her fears out on you? We don’t have any evidence to support her claims”

“But are they so hard to believe?” Tom crossed his arms and sent a challenging glare towards Hilarson “You and I both know that he knows it was me who blew his stupid toy factory to smithereens” He sneered “You think you know him? Guess what, I had to fucking live with the guy for years. Petty doesn’t even begin to describe him when he loses at something”

“Tom-“

No!” Tom growled, scowling “If there’s one thing- one thing- I have ever learned about him, is that if he wants to get back at me, he wants to get back at me” His hand flew up to his chest “You think I wouldn’t know? That something like- like this” He gestured at the cold lifeless girl who paid a price for his actions, an innocent soul who didn’t deserve her fate “Isn’t his way of calling me out?” Tom could feel himself trembling, he was teetering over the edge of his control. He ran his hand down his face and turned away from the room, he can’t stand looking at it anymore.

Tom felt Hilarson walk up behind him, he felt the man reach out but he moved from his reach before he could do anything. A quiet sigh “…I’m going to report this to home base, or at least notify the ones that are coming to Nirgends soon”

Tom scoffed “Then what? I doubt they’ll know what to do with your information, we know nothing”

“We know something” Hilarson pressed “There’s enough evidence pointing to unlawful activity in Hungary. I know for certain that home base won’t just let this slide”

“So..you’re going to give me up?” The Colonel froze at his words, he stared at the Corporal in confusion as Tom stepped out to the hallway and turned to face him “Face it, there’s going to be some truth to Mila’s words. Everything points to the fact that Tord’s trying to make a personal move on me, if Mila’s so convinced that I have a fault in this war, and mind you I’ve never even spoken with her once, there’s going to be a chance that someone will find something about me and connect the dots”

Tom sighed, the fire he had from earlier dying down to a bone crushing tiredness he hadn’t felt in a while. He threw his hands out and gave the Colonel a tight smile “I don’t…I don’t want to take that chance Colonel, I’m not risking losing my fight like that. If you’re still open to dismissing me, please do it, but I’m not going to stop fighting in this war”

Hilarson stared at him incredulously, the Colonel was dead silent, he didn’t know how he was going to approach the problem. The older soldier shook his head and strode forward, shutting the morgue door behind him on his way out “Son, no. I’m not going to let you go out there and paint a target on your back!”

Both of his hands landed on Tom’s shoulders, gripping hard at them. Despite that, Tom’s expression never changed, he diverted his gaze to the side as Hilarson continued speaking “You have a chance in this army, staying with us is your safest bet! If you go out there alone who knows what the hell will happen to you! Have you even thought this through son? What about supplies? What about weapons?? What about transportation???”

“I survived through worse Colonel, sooner or later I’ll be able to figure something out”

“How are you sure of that?!” Hilarson was looking at him with concern and underlying fear, it was clear as day that Tom was actually considering his leave of the army, it didn’t sit well with the older soldier “You don’t know what you’re asking of me Tom. I get it, this situation looks grim but you shouldn’t just start spouting shit like that without thinking!!”

Hilarson shook him lightly, trying to catch the younger soldier’s gaze to no avail. He hissed out a frustrated breath “Son, I’m not going to dismiss you from my unit” That had at least made Tom shift his gaze towards him just a bit, but the resigned air that he carried didn’t go away “We don’t know if you’re connected to this somehow, there’s no evidence! I’m still going to hand in my report to the higher ups but rest assured that I won’t jeopardize your position, do you understand me? Remember, calling you out is calling myself out, I have enough personal ties to this war to fall if you do”

Hilarson searched his face for understanding, Tom sighed and looked away from him, nodding once. The Colonel let out a shaky breath and let him go, he straightened himself up “I’m going to call in the home base unit coming to Nirgends, notify them of everything that happened so far. Just stay with the unit until I give an order, clear?”

“..sir, yes sir” Hilarson shooed him off with one hand, Tom didn’t need to be told twice. The Colonel watched him leave before turning to walk to another hallway himself. Thoughts of different worrying degrees circled the Colonel’s head as he tried to think up of what he needs to say to the higher ups coming to Nirgends. He knew that fabricating the truth of the war would lead him into serious trouble, but Tom’s situation needed his helping hand, that poor boy is facing something bigger than he was. Besides, he was also saving his own skin.

When Hilarson finally made his way into the war room, there were only two people left manning the communications hub, he greeted them warmly and asked for them to leave him be for the time being, what he was about to report in was sensitive. After sparing each other looks the two soldiers let him have his way as they stepped out to give him his privacy, Hilarson thanked them both.

The Colonel took a seat on one of the chairs near the communication’s hub, he flicked some switches and turned some dials until he found the frequency he was looking for, putting on the headset Hilarson tapped at the microphone a few times before speaking.

“Lieutenant Colonel Hilarson of covert unit 9A43 of the British army stationed in Fort Nirgends, requesting contact with incoming home base unit, over”

Wavering static greeted him before someone was able to reply “Krrrsh- nel Hilarson we read you, state your reason for contact”

“Advanced notification of events transpired near base, urgent”

“State your case”

“Former deployed company from Hungary has returned to Nirgends. Heavy casualties”

“How many?”

“Only one soldier and a civilian had been returned to us”

There was silence on the other side, Hilarson could hear quiet murmurs in the background “What are the states of the survivors?”

Hilarson hesitated, no doubt that the home base unit would want to have a word with Mila, of course Mila would tell them what she told both Tom and him, which meant trouble. He sighed “The civilian died shortly after she was brought to the fort, the surviving soldier is mentally unstable, we suspect trauma” Hilarson paused “There is also risk of compromise as the copter used by the survivors had been heavily damaged, Nirgends is currently under lockdown and evaluation until the situation has been deemed stable”

“Noted” Hilarson was about to cut off the connection, as that single word signified the end of the conversation. The incoming unit however, seemed to have something else in mind, the radio crackled to life again after the short chatter in the back subsided “Colonel Hilarson, we would like to inquire if a soldier by the name of Thomas Thompson is residing within the fort”

Hilarson froze. The Colonel’s eyes widened almost comically as he gaped at the radio, his blood turned ice cold at the request, he could feel sweat begin forming on his brow as he scrambled to answer the question, if he stayed silent for too long they would start to draw suspicions “May I inquire as to the reason?”

“That is information we are not at liberty to relay but we warn that this soldier may be suspected of treason” ‘Bullshit!’ Hilarson thought angrily, Tom couldn’t be ‘suspected of treason’, the boy had been with them in the fort the entire time! Hilarson himself had been in close contact with the soldier and he sure as hell knew for a fact that Tom wouldn’t betray them like that. Not him.

“I’m sorry, no soldier of that name has come to Nirgends as of late”

Silence. Hilarson waited with bated breath for their reply, he hoped he kept his voice steady enough as to not give anything away. Finally the radio crackled back to life “Understood, please standby, we will be reaching Nirgends in three hours, over” The connection was cut, leaving the Colonel to listen to dead silence.

As swiftly as he could, the Colonel stood from his chair and deposited the headset to the side. Stepping out from the war room, he didn’t even spare a glance at the two waiting soldiers he had asked to step out in the first place. His thoughts swirled with every long stride he took in the hallways towards the training fields.

Something was happening, something that won’t bode well for Tom. Mila’s accounts and now home base was looking for him? No, this couldn’t be coincidence, whatever it was the poor boy was going to be torn apart by both sides.

That was something Hilarson couldn’t allow as long as he breathed. His anger reached its boiling point at the thought of home base, what the hell were they planning? They were completely silent for weeks, making no move and displaying no interest in taking solid leadership against the Red army when they were down, and now they were putting out a manhunt for a soldier that helped give them the opportunity to strike that they never took?

Fucking cowards.

Whatever it was that was happening back home, Hilarson wanted no part of it.

The crunch of grass under his feet told him he finally made it out into the training fields, he schooled his expression when he drew close to his unit, they looked up at him questioningly “EVERYONE!” He shouted out loud enough for even the ones farther away from him to hear “ORDERS FROM HOME BASE!” Their relieved faces almost made Hilarson wince, he knew how long they all waited for some direction from their supposed leaders, it was just sad that he had to pretend for their sakes “WE WILL BE EVACUATING NIRGENDS NOW! OUR NEXT STATION WILL BE IN BELGIUM FOR THE TIME BEING! READY YOURSELVES AND GET TO THE CHOPPERS IMMEDIATELY!

His unit flew into action, readily making their way towards the remaining helicopters. Hilarson ordered the pilots of his unit to start manning the helicopters, which was somewhat strange, usually assigned pilots of bases would be the first to take control of transport helicopters, how were they going to get them back? Thoughts like those were quick to leave when Hilarson firmly reiterated his order, the pilots glanced but once at each other worriedly before heading out to do as they were told.

Amidst the chaos, only one soldier stood still. Hilarson made eye contact with Tom all the way across the field, the eyeless soldier watched him with a neutral expression, arms crossed, and lips drawn into a thin line. Hilarson nodded his head towards the landing pads where the helicopters waited, silently telling Tom to start moving. The eyeless soldier huffed and gave him one last long look before he turned and joined the rest of the unit in the evacuation.

Hilarson watched him go, he frowned. The Colonel knew that he wouldn’t be able to tell that boy about what he learned, not while Tom was in that state of mind. From that point on, Hilarson knew he was going to do his best to avoid any and all contact with the British army, he hated lying but this one particular lie was going to be a necessity for a while.

He’ll tell Tom in time, just not now.

Chapter Text

Weeks earlier

Metaphorical alarms were blasting through the main base of the British army. Although they were not under siege or in any immediate danger, they all knew that the fall wasn’t far from their doorstep. Parliament as it was could only send one panicked order after another to the higher ups of the military, phones never ceased ringing and one representative of the government after another came waltzing into the base, each one constantly hounding and begging for some sort of update, preferably the good kind.

The Generals had long since shut out the government, finding their constant finicky nattering becoming too much to deal with along with everything else. Phones were cut and the base put itself under heavy lockdown, barring all and any outsider from coming in, even if they were the Prime Minister. Of course the government was displeased by the turn of events, through calm compromise only one- one- representative was allowed to be inside, under the condition that they were not to disturb the Generals and will only do so when completely necessary.

That is how it was for Mr.Ensel, the very representative that the parliament decided to send. He was a fairly diplomatic man, patient and willing to listen, but their situation was becoming much too dire. Not when he followed the Generals through the base and became privy to so much information that would send the public into a state of mass hysteria, he could barely hold his tongue.

Currently he was seated at the head of a table where the Generals gathered around the world map they laid out on top of it, he was the only one sitting down. He swallowed hard at the sight of the map, angry red cross marks danced across the continents, one country after the other slashed out by a marker as the soldiers manning the communications hub of the room came in one by one, telling the Generals of a new fallen ally.

Each silent skidding noise of the red marker, a death toll.

“..Denmark” One General muttered under his breath, shaking his head as he drew the red marker across what was once the only remaining Scandinavian country still on their side. A curtain of despair hung over the leading military men as they stared down the sea of red that consumed most of the map’s surface. The General holding the marker cursed under his breath and threw it to the ground as hard as he could. He ran a hand down his face and braced his hands on the table “This is bloody hopeless!!” He yelled, breathing harshly.

“He hasn’t won yet!” Another General argued, looking down at the first with wide incredulous eyes “The moment we say we give up is the moment we basically hand the world over!”

What’s left to hand over?!”  The first General growled, staring his comrade down “Asia’s gone, America is a bloody fucking mess, the Scandinavian countries defected and Europe?” He laughed and pointed hard at the map, his smile anything but positive “On the brink of destruction” The General straightened himself up, pulling at the lapels of his uniform “What’s left to hand over?” He challenged.

Us” A third slapped his hand on top of England and looked to both of the other Generals “England hasn’t fallen and we won’t. Look, we still have our allies, Germany-“

“Is failing” The first General huffed, letting out a half hearted laugh “Didn’t you hear? Red made a new toy” He laughed again, throwing his hands out and turning himself in a circle to have a good look at everyone in the room “Losing his little factory in Poland only made him madder, now he’s dealing out the payback” He nodded at their paling faces “It’s a hard truth isn’t it? We think we win one second, the next thing we know more countries are dropping like flies” He shrugged and pulled up a chair, once he was comfortable the General pulled out a cigarette, he lit it up and began to smoke like his life depended on it “Face it gentlemen” He huffed out a long breath of smoke and looked at all his companions “We’re on a road to hell, and there’s no stopping it”

“So we’re giving up?!” The third General looked on the verge of screaming, no one seemed to be able to meet his gaze, it was enough of an answer for him “We still have troops out there! Ours! Waiting for us to give them the next move! Red’s got a new toy, so what?! His progress is the slowest it’s been in four years, this is our chance to strike!”

With what army?” The General who took to smoking looked up at him tiredly “You’re right, we’ve been fighting for four years, short time for a war but in a war like this one? Against a megalomaniac that can dole out weapons like it came from the fucking future? It feels like an eternity” He sunk further in his seat and flicked away his cigarette “We’re dying, don’t you get it? Not enough supplies, we lose more soldiers than we can make, our allies are in no better shape and now?” He scoffed “England’s just waiting for the final blow. Unless one of you can work a miracle, I have no bloody clue about how we’re going to stop the goddamned end times”

Silence engulfed the room, even the ones sitting at the communications hub had long since abandoned their tasks, their headsets hung lose around their necks, distant reports from distressed regiments worldwide fading to nothing but white noise. That General was right, they were getting backed into a corner with no hope of escape, years of fighting in vain had proved that they were on a losing side, the war drained them of everything they had, now they were grasping at straws and running on fumes. What were they even fighting for?

And that was when Mr.Ensel stepped in.

“Gentlemen” He stood up quietly from his seat but didn’t move even as the Generals turned their heads to look at him, though wearily. He hadn’t spoken much since he was permitted into the base, Mr.Ensel had always just been a quiet spectator to the scene “I believe I may have the solution to this problem, or at least, parliament does” Quiet murmurs filled the room, good, he had their attention. The only problem was convincing them, he sighed “We- the parliament- faced the same issue that you are facing now. England…is not in the best shape, we can barely support our citizens ever since Red cut us off, let alone support our own army worldwide..” He clasped his hands together and bit his lower lip “We decided..that our country is of top priority, meaning we need time to regroup, heal, and-“

“The parliament wants out of the war?” A General scoffed, cutting Mr. Ensel off mid sentence “You monkey suit types always look for an out” He pointed a finger at the representative, shaking his head “Forgive me for being rude but where is your common fucking sense?” He growled “If we even step one foot away from this war it’s game over for the rest of the world, newsflash, ‘the world’ includes England” He crossed his arms “You already know my answer to your request”

“And what does everyone else say?” Mr.Ensel frowned at everyone in the room, extending his arms out to all of them “I know how it sounds but the government didn’t just decide on this straight away. No, we held meetings and took days to argue and discuss on this matter. Then we realized: Is England not supposed to be our priority? The world-“

“-Needs us-“

“-can take care of itself” Mr.Ensel cut in, glaring at the General who interrupted “Are we supposed to be the world’s babysitters? No!” He turned to the first General still sitting on his chair, watching him with an unreadable expression “You said it yourself, we’re dying. What use are we in this war if we can’t even keep ourselves together in the first place?!” He huffed and looked around the room, regarding each person with seriousness “England.is.our.priority. If we have even the slightest chance of keeping our country alive, we’re going to take it. It doesn’t even matter where that chance comes from…”

Mr.Ensel breathed out a long breath and readied himself for what will happen next. Reaching into his coat pocket he pulled out a red framed glass plate and directed it towards the Generals, tapping on it twice the device let out a low whirr before a bright flash had the screen flickering to life. Who appeared on it had every soldier in the room pulling out a gun and hastily backing away from Mr.Ensel who stood tall even as weapons were pointed directly at him.

Quiet ‘tuts’ came from the monitor “Now now, we are all friends here are we not? I do believe I’m owed a warmer welcome than this

What the fuck do you want Red?

Tord grinned on the screen, leaning back on his chair the Red Leader hummed, he pressed his fingers together and tapped it on his chin as he ‘thought over’ the question “Well, I want a lot of things aaand they will come in due time, but recently I found out that I’m not a very patient man. I’m practically going- haha- insane with want these days” The Red Leader laughed through his teeth. His chair moved in an almost metronomic sway with the help of his boot on the table in front of him as he occasionally glanced at the screen “Ah but I’m being selfish aren’t I? Talking about myself when I should be talking about you! That’s why I’m here at all”

“Cut your bullshit” A soldier growled, cocking his gun at Mr.Ensel who momentarily flinched “We don’t have to listen to this, why don’t we just shoot this traitorous son of a bitch in front of us and smash your toy huh?”

Tord hissed in a breath through his teeth and pouted “Aw really? That’s not very nice, Mr.Ensel here is nothing but a messenger you know? Even I know better than to shoot an innocent messenger” He chuckled “Well, most times I do but that’s besides the point!” The Red Leader waved his hands as if to dismiss the earlier conversation, he placed his boots down and straightened himself on his chair “I’m here to, believe it or not, grant England amnesty” Tord held his right hand up and crossed his heart with his left one “Honest this time, not like that little debacle of an armistice yeah? Even I admit I may have been a little too extra. Like, eugh, bad bad Red Leader, don’t do that again” His robotic arm gave his flesh one a small slap to the wrist for show.

“You honestly, honestly, think we’re going to fall for your lies again?” A General spoke up and walked towards Mr.Ensel, gun still raised “Why in the seven circles of hell would we ever trust you again? After what you did in the armistice?” Once he was close enough, the General snatched up the monitor from Mr.Ensel who immediately shrunk away in fear, the soldier pressed the barrel of his gun close to the screen where Tord’s forehead should be “Unfortunately, Red Leader, our reply would be exactly what you see here”

“Uh, see what? Your finger?? General please, if you want to threaten me with a gun through my monitor, at least put the barrel on the actual camera of the thing so I can really feel the threat” That had the General bristling with rage, his finger moved on the trigger “Oops! Ah ah ah! We don’t want you cutting our little chat short now do we?” White gas began to leak through the frame of the monitor, Mr.Ensel was quick to swoop in and catch the monitor before it fell with the General who choked and convulsed on the floor.

The other soldiers yelled in surprise and tried to move forward but the sharp snapping sounds from the monitor stopped them in their tracks “Comrades, comrades, calm yourselves calm!” Tord made placating motions with his hands as Mr.Ensel lifted the monitor toward them once more “He will live, the gas is not lethal but it does paralyze you for a time. A simple precaution is all, see? I can play nice. No one in this room has to die, so why don’t you pay your fellowman the same courtesy and drop your weapons?” A silent threat of ‘unless you force me’ hung in the air. The soldiers looked to each other worriedly before, one by one, they set their guns aside.

Tord sighed “Mmm, breathe that air, much better right? Without all that unnecessary tension and drama we can all relax and have a nice chat now!”

One of the Generals gathered his wits and stepped forward, volunteering himself to speak for them “What do you want Red?”

Tord smiled up at him and wagged his index finger “Quite a question! Like I said, I want a lot of things” The Red Leader sighed and shrugged at the General “But I’m willing to make sacrifices because, well, this little thing just happens to be something I want more than the others. Hence your, ehem, amnesty” He cleared his throat and leaned forward on his desk, his expression cooling down from his fake cheer and back into the cold unfeeling look he had become known for  “I ask for this one thing and in return I will give England a free pass so to speak, I won’t attack you, I won’t try to overtake you, and you know what? Why don’t I just say you’re hands off now? No touch zone, off limits, that sort of thing” He winked “You’ll be free of me, which is sad for you I know, the rest of the world is coming along for the ride and you don’t get a chance? Pity”

“What are your terms if we agree?” The General pressed.

The Red Leader tsked at him for his impatience but carried on nonetheless “Just until I get what I want, my men should be allowed free roam of England, oh just search parties, no kill squads I promise” He crossed his heart again but this time he didn’t even bother looking at the screen, Tord looked bored more than anything else. He really didn’t enjoy negotiating “You can even monitor them if you want, I’ll send less men than you have there even! You can kill them off easy if I handicap them right?”

What do you want Red?” The General was quickly getting tired of the run around, he wasn’t considering a lot of what the crazed man had been saying. He sure as hell knew he wasn’t going to agree to just hand over what he wa-

“I want one of your soldiers”

Well.

That was unexpected…and anticlimactic.

What?” The General gaped at the screen, waiting for the Red Leader’s joke. It never came. Instead, the man stared back at him in all seriousness, hands clasped together under his chin as he waited for his response. The General blinked twice and forced his mouth to start working again “That’s it?”

“That’s it”

“You want one of ours?” After all that bargaining, all the things he said he was willing to offer, hell, he was offering England’s freedom, and all he wants is a single soldier??

Tord grimaced at his words, there, the catch. The General waited for something else but the next words out of the Red Leader’s mouth stumped him once more “To be more specific, I want the soldier who blew up my weapon’s factory. I doubt you know him despite his achievement because, heh, I was expecting to see him amongst your ranks..” The Red Leader’s eye seemed to darken in disappointment, which they didn’t understand why because the man looked about ready to rip them to shreds for some crime they committed.

The look was quick to leave though and replaced once more with a fake cheer “..but you know, semantics and all that, not important in a war right?” Tord smiled and pressed a button on his desk, an all too familiar image appeared beside his own on the screen “His name is Thomas Thompson” Tom, from when he was making his escape from Norway, was the image that Tord used. After all, he was so very fond of it, it was only appropriate that he used it for this particular deal “Give him to me and I give you amnesty, a fair deal right?”

“Why?” Tord’s smile faltered when one of the Generals had, yet again, an issue with his request. He rolled his eye, were these people stupid? They throw away chances like they have so much more to lose. Incompetent morons “Why the hell would the Red Leader even take interest in this single soldier?”

“Oh well it’s because I- none of your business” Tord droned and directed his deadpanned look at the General who spoke “You think I’m above a grudge? Hell no! I do what I do for personal reasons and this one is no different” Tord sighed “So, do we have a deal?”

“How can we trust your words?”

Tord groaned loudly and spun on his chair the moment he heard a shred of doubt in someone’s tone of voice. He didn’t even care enough to see who’s trying to refuse his oh so generous offer, he had half the mind to just send out his whole army to ransack England but that would be a waste of effort and time, a clean operation was what he was gunning for and a temper tantrum attack from him surely won’t be one. He tried to remember Paul’s breathing tactics to quell his anger, bless that man’s soul for being patient enough with his bursts of rage to teach him.

Steady breaths going in and out finally had Tord stop his chair from spinning to smile at the monitor again, he hummed “Mr.Ensel? I think you should say your piece”

All eyes were on the representative who cleared his throat uneasily, Mr.Ensel bit his lower lip “He’s telling the truth you know. The regiments that invaded the north of England pulled back on his command, none of the Red soldiers- be it on land or sea- are actively targeting England as of the moment. In fact, a lot of them are avoiding the British army worldwide, we haven’t had a major casualty yet”

“Is that enough for you??” Tord happily interjected, gaining everyone’s attention back “Although, I would rather keep this hush hush for now you know? Assuming Thomas isn’t with you I would like for your home base to be the only unit to know of my request…you see Thomas is, well, flighty and very unpredictable, I saw as much in Poland. Rest assured that you’ll have trouble with that one, dare I say, he may even put up quite a fight”

Tord looked to the side and began to quietly talk to an unseen person, he turned back to the screen “I’m afraid I don’t have long, schedules to run and all that, but I must say that this offer of mine will leave with me unless someone gives me a straight answer” He raised an eyebrow and drummed his fingers on top of the table “Remember, I’m not very patient”

Each of the Generals looked to one another for guidance only to find the same troubled look. They glanced at the General who had collapsed on the floor, now barely moving an inch. Red wasn’t even in the room with them and yet he was able to deal damage to one of their own, it was enough to grip their hearts in fear. This man was dangerous, even when he tried not to be.

Four years of fighting, four years of war, four years of Red sitting happily in his base, decimating the world with the least amount of effort anyone has ever seen.

What would happen if he got serious?

“Can’t you give us time to co-“

Consider?” Tord frowned at the General that spoke disapprovingly “Why? I gave your government days to talk amongst themselves, surely you can spare this one soldier for your safety?” The Red Leader watched their expressions, a twinkle of a thought gleamed in his eye “Hm, I’m sensing a bit of discord here, are you not in good terms with your government?

“We’ll do it” Tord straightened up at that, moving his gaze towards the General who spoke. He knew they didn’t answer his question but unlike them, he won’t pass on an opportunity to get something he wants “We’ll give you the soldier just keep your end of the bargain”

The Red Leader grinned at him, sharp canines glinting under the light “Well, how could I say no to that?” He leaned back against his chair, seemingly satisfied “Keep your army on ice and we won’t have any trouble. Oh and keep your eyes and ears peeled alright? I have a feeling Thomas wouldn’t be as easily found” The monitor shut down soon after, becoming nothing more than a transparent sheet of glass once again.

Mr.Ensel didn’t even have time to pocket the glass when a General darted forward and roughly lifted him up by the collar of his shirt, he gasped and struggled against the soldier’s hold “You son of a bitch!” The General snarled, shaking him “What the fuck is parliament thinking?! You dumb fucks are making deals with the devil now?? How long has this been going on?!”

“General, please stand down” Another called out, gaining the man’s attention. Mr.Ensel was sweating in a panic, trying hard not to whimper in fear as he uselessly tried to loosen the soldier’s grip on him. The General that spoke up stared down the first, his gaze was firm and full of authority. The first General growled and shoved Mr.Ensel to the side, causing the representative to lose balance and nearly tumble face first into the table, he hastily backed away from the soldier that assaulted him “It doesn’t matter if the parliament’s been making deals with Red, particularly this one”

“What do you mean it doesn’t matter?!” The General that had attacked Mr.Ensel said, he gestured at the representative “These clowns are dealing away our country! We don’t get a say in it?! What about the people? Do they even have their best interests at heart?!”

What do we have to lose?!” The second General challenged “If you would just calm down and think you would see that we don’t have a lot to lose in this deal! We don’t know if Red was telling the truth alright? But what is there for us to lose when we agree? We aren’t the ones pulling back our army, we aren’t the ones ordering a cease fire on enemies, that’s all Red. Agreeing to this might give us a chance to regroup if he actually follows through, if not then we get an advantage since he practically told his army to stand down! We don’t have a lot to lose, Red does”

“What about that soldier?” A man in charge of the communication’s hub cut through the conversation. He stood tall even as all the Generals gave him their attention, the man frowned at all of them “What about that soldier Red wants? Isn’t his life worth something? Doesn’t he get a say??”

“His life is worth his country” A General deflected “The moment he enlisted in this army he has already agreed to give his life in service. This isn’t any different, he’s giving to a good cause”

The man who spoke clenched his hands into fists but said nothing as he sat back down, stiffly. The Generals were already coming back to their own conversation, completely ignorant of the fact that they just blatantly threw away the value of someone’s life, just because he was just another faceless soldier in their army, expendable. It wasn’t new, low ranked soldiers like them weren’t important, but to hear a confirmation of how much they were worth…

Unforgivable.

Thomas Thompson could have been any one of them.

They were already being given orders to send out a message to all troops regarding a ‘traitor’ who needs to be found immediately.

Unforgivable.

 


 

Hilarson’s been moving them around a lot.

It’s been at least one month since they left Nirgends, suffice to say that the time they spent after that had been…odd.

When they first arrived in Belgium they didn’t even make a quick stop in the central command center stationed there, or any of the command centers for that matter. Hilarson stopped them near the borders of Belgium and kept to it until they managed to reach Netherlands. Not once did the Colonel give any indication that he was to report in, which was a strict protocol in their army because the main base needed to keep track of every unit worldwide, it was hard enough to manage a system so spread out.

No one dared to question him though, not at a time like this. Besides, Hilarson did say that he gained orders from home base themselves, there must have been more to it that he wasn’t telling them. Home base must have something planned for them. That was what everyone told themselves at least, if only to stay their worries and fears about what the Colonel was doing, though unrest amongst the unit didn’t completely disappear when the Colonel kept doing the same thing for a month: Get into an allied country, stay near the borders, and never report in.

Though they did still have operations they were small, mostly consisting of thwarting whatever Red troops they came upon while travelling, everything really just depended on whether or not they happened to spot a Red soldier that day.

In all honesty though? It was becoming increasingly difficult without the usual restocking they did at bases.

What really took the cake was the fact that Hilarson seemed to be keeping a closer eye on him these days. The Colonel just became a constant presence and in almost a creepy sense. Everywhere Tom went Hilarson wouldn’t be far behind, on some days the man would at least try to hide the fact that he was- to put it bluntly- practically stalking him but it still didn’t erase the fact that he was.

It didn’t stop there either and this particular one really got on Tom’s nerves. They had almost zero top tier operations waiting for them, most of them were basically milk runs that small sections of their units could handle. Sabotage Red camps, chase off Red soldiers from ally borders, small missions all in all and yet Hilarson- for some goddamned reason- never let him on board until he sent off a first group to do “recon”.

Like hell it’s recon.

Whatever it was Hilarson made those “recon” groups do tore something apart in their unit, and by something Tom meant his nonexistent trust bond with anyone ever because the days that followed the first “recon” group involved his fellow soldiers giving him looks and whispering behind his back. Days and days of constant hushed tones and unjustified glaring followed Tom like a curse.

It pissed him off enough one day that he picked a fight with a whole group of soldiers.

“IF YOU’VE GOT SOMETHING TO FUCKING SAY TO ME SAY IT TO MY BLOODY FACE!!” Tom spat with a snarl, the distinct tanginess of blood pooling in his mouth. He pulled hard against the two soldiers holding him back by his arms as he scowled at the soldiers on the ground watching him with a mix of fear and hate, the others surrounding them murmured at the commotion he was causing “I don’t know what the fuck your problems are with me suddenly but a heads up to the bullshit would be nice yeah?!”

You know why!” One of the braver soldiers shouted out in reply as he stood up, the black eye Tom gave him was starting to swell “Don’t act like you don’t! We’re out here risking our limbs and for what?! For you?!” He scoffed and looked around at his fellow soldiers “You championed one top tier operation and the Colonel suddenly wants to make us your personal security detail?!”

Tom’s eyes widened at that, he narrowed his sockets at the soldier and shook his arms free of the two still holding on to him. They yelled in protest, thinking he was going to lunge for the other soldier, but one sharp look from him had them falter and step back, Tom scoffed at them before looking towards the soldier who spoke once more “Well for your information, I’ve got no bloody clue about what you’re talking about” He took a step forward and rolled his eyes when the guy flinched. Piss baby “I don’t know what the Colonel’s been telling you about me but I have NO part in it. So why don’t you and your fuckwad friends take all your prejudiced gossip fueled arses and get the hell out of my face before I finish what I started?!”

That at least had the group scrambling away in a hurry, Tom watched them leave and turned to glare at the remaining soldiers still surrounding him “Well? Am I gonna say the same thing twice?!”

All but one soldier left him. Morales stepped towards him with a face screaming guilt and concern, the other Corporal tried to reach out to him but took his hand back when Tom stepped out of his reach “Tom-“

Don’t” Tom warned as he raised one hand up to make Morales stop talking “Don’t give me your bullshit excuse” He growled and turned to leave, each step he took sounding angrier than the last. Morales- and every other higher ranked soldier in their unit- were apparently privy to whatever it was Hilarson was hiding, knowing that other people were aware of a matter involving him only made his mood grow darker  “Hilarson doesn’t want to explain this? Fine” Tom threw out over his shoulder “All I have to say on the matter is when the fallout starts? This is all on his head”

When Hilarson asked to speak to him about the incident the next day, Tom blatantly refused to see him. Even then the Colonel offered him no explanation as to why the unit was suddenly turning on him, not that he expected anything. If Hilarson wasn’t going to work with him then Tom was going to extend him the same courtesy.

Which was why he snuck off with Morales’ group on their mission.

Tom stood near a wall with his arms crossed, currently they were near the borders of Denmark. It took a lot of convincing for Morales to get him on the mission in the first place but Tom wasn’t above using the guilt card. It didn’t take very long to get the other Corporal to cave in, not after how he’s been treated in the unit. Poor Morales just felt too responsible for everything.

This time though they weren’t in any rush to land some sort of attack at whatever Red army fuckathon was happening in Denmark, Hilarson simply stated that they were carrying out recon missions, all they had to do was snoop around town for a bit and find out whatever they can. After all, they spotted more than a few Red army helicopters passing through Denmark without a problem, which in itself was a huge problem. Denmark was supposed to be their ally.

It was strange wearing civilian clothes again, his uniform almost felt like a second skin with how long he’d been made to wear it. At least the furred coat he was unable to return in Nirgends provided him needed heat and a form of pseudo security, he felt much too vulnerable without his weapons, most of which he had always kept in the many pockets and clips on his uniform.

The itchy grey sweater and pants he had on didn’t have much room to hide everything, as it was he only had his pistol and it was already hard to take out quickly should he need it. He didn’t think he’d ever say it but civilian clothes kinda suck.

Makes him wonder how he survived for so long with his old hoodie on repeat.

Tom only looked up from where he was standing when Morales came back shooting glances over his shoulder at their team talking amongst each other in the distance. He scoffed “They gossiping about me again?”

Morales turned his head back towards him and blinked twice, like he had forgotten that Tom was with them in the first place. The other Corporal swallowed once and let out a shaky smile “Well, we’re all clear here so you’re free to join us if you want”

Tom sighed and pushed himself off the wall of the building he was leaning against. Morales was one of the rare few who didn’t suddenly take to playing the ‘let’s all hate Tom for some obscure reason’ game. The man never liked touching upon any subject that hinted at some sort of bad blood against Tom, usually Morales would mediate it. Tom knew for a fact that whenever he was assigned into a team, almost all of the soldiers would give him the cold shoulder, at worse take hits at him, but when Morales was around the former would at least be toned down to cold civility.

“’All clear’, let me take a shot here, Hilarson’s telling all of you to hide alcohol from me isn’t he?” Tom joked, jabbing Morales with an elbow “Whatever, I tell him I’m fine but I guess he doesn’t really trust me now does he? Hurts a bit to know that he won’t even tell me what’s wrong that I can’t even know what ‘all clear’ means”

“Tom…” Morales looked uncomfortable with each word that came out of his mouth. Tom knew it was a low blow to harass one of the only soldiers who didn’t look one inch away from pulling a gun on him, but he needed answers. It sure as hell won’t come from Hilarson or any other soldier in their unit. Morales didn’t say anything else though, in fact the man took to pursing his lips and looked away from him. Tom rolled his eyes and kept silent on their way back to the team.

The soldiers waiting for them stopped talking once Morales and he were close enough, as usual the customary withering gaze was directed at Tom before Morales cleared his throat and began to reiterate what their current assignment was “We all know what to do right? Tail the soldiers around town separately and take the routes we mapped out. Make sure you won’t get caught and most important of all, do not engage” The soldiers took to standing in pairs of two, no one chose Tom as a partner (as usual) so he stuck his hands into the pockets of his coat and stepped a little closer to Morales, sneering at the soldier he caught glaring at him.  

Once they were all paired the group went their separate ways, Morales guided Tom towards their assigned path with a hand to his back but Tom walked faster to shake it off, the other Corporal sighed behind him and took to walking at his side instead.

No words were exchanged between them as they walked around the town, Tom saw Morales try to start talking from the corner of his vision but the other Corporal would always deflate at the last second and move his gaze away with a grimace. Not that he blamed him, he’d be a jittery piece of shit too if he was hiding something important from the person he was walking with. Tom made sure to let Morales know he wasn’t happy, once or twice he might have growled when Morales walked too close.

The town they were in was fairly small, a few shops and buildings here and there, not a lot of people were outside but it wasn’t a complete ghost town. There were still telltale sounds of a quietly busy town, a soft humming buzz that floated in the air, enough to be somewhat peaceful in its monotony and steady repetition. Today was a cold day too, grey sky and a slight nipping wind that validated Tom’s use of his coat.

The soldiers they were tailing weren’t far from where they were walking, just a few hours prior Morales’ team had gone ahead to check around town for any Red soldiers, there were a handful of them making rounds but they didn’t seem to have a sequence as to where they were going, it was almost as though they were simply loitering around instead of being there for some official business.

“There’s two of them” Morales spoke up for the first time beside him, halting him in his tracks and turning him to face him, to make it seem as though they were talking while shooting subtle glances towards the soldiers a meters ahead of them “We’ve been on their trail for two days now and still nothing” Morales frowned and shook his head “It’s always the same spot though”

“Maybe it’s a meeting point” Tom offered, watching as the two soldiers happily chatted away under a lamppost while civilians passed them by. It was always unnerving to see that, how normal people would walk around them as though they were part of the crowd, like they didn’t know that these men worked for someone who could order a mass genocide if he wanted to, and he did once.

“A meeting point for what though?” Morales bit his lower lip “We’ve counted them all but only these two come here, there’s got to be a reason”

“Or maybe they just like the lamp, ever think about that?” Tom didn’t see Morales’ incredulous look, not that he cared, because he was busy keeping an eye on the two soldiers who began to take their leave of the corner lamppost and into the street behind it.

Tom took a step forward to follow but was stopped by Morales’ hand, turned to look at him questioningly “Wrong way, we’re sticking to our route” He nodded his head towards the other street farther from where they were standing.

Tom gaped at him and looked back to the street where the soldiers disappeared to “What, why? Morales they went down that road!” He pointed to where they last saw the soldiers “If we go down the other one we’re going to have to circle around them and risk losing their trail!”

The other Corporal hushed him and looked around wearily, none of the townsfolk seemed to have caught wind of their conversation, they simply walked by without a care. He sighed “I didn’t make the rules Tom, this is for safety reasons, at least this way they won’t suspect that they’re being followed” Morales pulled him towards the road before he could protest “We made a plan, we’re going to follow it. I know it doesn’t seem reasonable but just…don’t argue with me on this alright? I already let you come here without the Colonel knowing so just..please?”

Tom bit back his remark at Morales’ tone of voice, the man genuinely sounded tired and on the edge, he couldn’t bring himself to push the man for more than what he was already doing. Morales was one of the last remaining allies Tom might even have, it was best not to discard that, so he shut his mouth and took his hand back from the other Corporal. Morales glanced back at him worriedly but relaxed when he saw that Tom was going to follow him without complaint.

Nothing really happened during the time wherein they followed the Red soldiers around town, the two soldiers really didn’t seem like they were up to anything, a quick check in with the others told them that no command centers were around for miles, most of the soldiers they’ve seen here just looked as though they were having a casual day out.

Tom would have believed that if not for the fact that they still carried their weapons with them. A bout of satisfaction filled him when he realized they were the standard rifles the army first operated with during the first year of war. Good, at least Tord was having difficulty with supplies.

The town itself didn’t seem to be, well, in any danger. Usually when the Red army came into an ally nation at least half of the country would look like a storm of unfathomable size just came in and wrecked the land. The whole shebang of end times, burning buildings, screaming civilians, troops marching to a metronomic rhythm in aligned groups tromping down bloodied and broken streets as the sky darkened to a black red hue. It was their thing!

So why did the town look normal?

After hours of watching the two soldiers essentially doing touristy activities, Tom began to grow more and more agitated. The first day where nothing happened was a relief but now, now that it’s the second day, it was starting to rub him wrong. Red soldiers don’t just show up to an ally country to go window shopping.

Where the hell was the Danish army???

“Tom stop looking at them, you’ll give us away” The man in question stopped squinting at the bakery across the street. Cradling a cup of coffee close to his chest, Tom leaned heavily against the couch he was sitting on, barely able to stop his leg from shaking due to his growing worry. Morales frowned at him from across their table, holding his own cup of coffee halfway towards his lips. Tom didn’t question how the other soldier got any money to buy them coffee, it was still coffee and he hadn’t had any for years.

It was around one in the afternoon already, they came into town and started recon at eight in the morning. No surprise that the soldiers they tailed were still on happy vacation mode because now the two soldiers had stopped by a bakery across the coffee shop they were in to buy cupcakes of all things. Morales got them a table close to the large glass window of the shop overlooking the street, they still had a clear view of the two who had taken to fawning over a two tier cake on display. What the fuck was even- are they still at war or not?!

Tom turned his attention back to his coffee though he had to consciously stop himself from biting hard at the edge of the cup every time his vision darted back to the bakery to see the two soldiers doing stupidly arbitrary things like picking out what fucking cake they wanted or some shit, oh like they aren’t in the middle of a bloody fucking war that lasted for four years where countless people fucking died-

Tom” Morales hissed, drawing Tom away from the two soldiers. He looked down to his free hand and found that he had clenched at the table so tight that his knuckles were becoming white, the table made protesting creaking noises to his actions as he let go and slid his hand to his lap instead.

“Sorry, sorry I-I didn’t mean to do that” Tom breathed out quietly and took a few more sips of his coffee, relishing the warmth that seeped through him and tried to focus on that instead of the carefree Red soldiers just a walk away from him and his gun.

He heard Morales sigh before the other man straightened himself up on his chair, Tom darted his gaze towards him in alarm when he saw the look on his face. Uh oh, he knew that look maybe a little too well, Hilarson showed him that face more times than he could count already. He subconsciously raised his shoulders in defense when Morales began to speak “Control yourself Tom, don’t jeopardize our mission just because you have some sort of grudge against the Red army”

“It’s not a grudge‘At least not against them’ Tom huffed at Morales and set his cup aside “As if I’ll just risk the operation like that? Who the hell do you think I am??”

“Yeah? Well, digging splinters into your skin can make anyone concerned. Especially when you look at the soldiers like they’re nothing but moving targets in your way” Morales’ lips turned down in disapproval but there was hint of pity in his eyes. Tom flinched slightly at the sight of it but said nothing when Morales seemed to start debating with himself. The man looked out the window and back at him, he opened and closed his mouth a few times, a start of a word barely making it past his lips before he withdrew.

Morales pursed his lips and looked to his lap where his fingers tapped at the radio clipped on his side. A quiet click told Tom that Morales had switched the device off. He raised an eyebrow at Morales questioningly as he breathed out shakily before looking up at him “Tom I- I shouldn’t be telling you this but it’s been a month and I- You should be able to…” He trailed off, swallowing hard “I-I thought Colonel would have told you by now, I just don’t know why-“

“Morales what are you talking about?” Tom cut in, seeing that the other man needs a bit of time to gather his wits first before trying to speak. Though the man’s own nervousness was starting to affect him as well, he wasn’t even paying any attention to the two Red soldiers they were trailing after.

Morales swallowed again, his fingers clutched at his shirt in an effort to steady himself. The soldier gave him a wide eyed conflicted look as he tried to work his mouth again, after a minute he seemed to get his thoughts in order “Tom I-“ His eyes darted to the side momentarily but it was enough to make the other soldier freeze up in alarm.

Tom sat up straight at that and didn’t dare look behind him as Morales had yet to move his eyes away from whatever it was he saw. His hand carefully slipped towards his pistol, the familiar weight was welcome in his hand “Morales, what’s happening?” He whispered quietly as he turned his head slightly to where Morales was looking at.

Three men in uniform stood rigid in front of the coffee shop’s only cashier. The girl was speaking with them though Tom couldn’t make out the exact words they were saying, one of the men was holding up some sort of paper towards the girl, from his angle he couldn’t see what was on it but the girl’s eyes widened at the sight of it. The moment her gaze shifted towards their table was the moment Tom knew that some of them weren’t going to walk out of this shop unharmed “We have to go!” Morales hurriedly slid out of his couch with Tom hot on his heels.

They made it at least halfway out of the shop before a click of a gun made them skid to a stop. Tom spun around quickly and aimed his gun at one of the men behind them, his eyes widened when he recognized the coat of arms sewn into their uniform. The Royal Danish Army.

“What the fuck…” Tom breathed out as he stared down the once allies that they had, he vaguely saw Morales slowly turn around to meet their adversaries but the man didn’t react at all to the fact that their allies were pointing guns at them, on purpose. The patrons of the coffee shop had long since yelled out in alarm when the first gun was drawn, a lot of them backed themselves up into corners, anywhere far away enough from the inevitable shoot out. Wide terrified gazes surrounded all five of them as they held each other in a stalemate.

“You, no eyes” Tom looked up at the man who spoke and shifted the aim of his gun towards him. The man didn’t seem the least bit perturbed that a deadly weapon was now aimed between his eyes and instead stepped forward calmly “Your name, it’s Thomas Thompson is it not?”

Tom flinched at his full name. What the hell?! He darted a confused yet panicked look towards Morales who gave him one look before turning away from him in shame. What the hell?!  He scowled at Morales before moving his glare towards the Dane that spoke “I’m not at liberty to share that information, especially to a traitorous rat” He sneered, slightly squeezing the trigger of his gun in warning.

“Traitorous?” The Dane scoffed “We are no longer allies of England Mr.Thompson” Tom felt his blood drain from his face when one of the men at the side unrolled the piece of paper he saw from earlier to reveal a photo…of him.

WANTED

THOMAS ‘TOM’ THOMPSON
REWARD:
AMNESTY

His old jeep, he recognized the old jeep he rode out of Norway instantly. That photo was taken on the day his old unit escaped Norway. Suddenly every single unwanted memory of the hellish country came back and blinded him, every explosion, every cry for help, every scream and agonizing wails of fellow soldiers long dead had all at once shot through his mind like a bullet. There was a loud ringing in his ears that almost made him double over in shock, the world spun, shook, and blurred in and out of clarity.

..What?

“Thomas Thompson, by order of the esteemed Red Leader of the Red Nation you are hereby under arrest for acts of terrorism and crimes of war. Come quietly or we will use fo-“

BANG!

Morales yelled in shock as a spray of blood and brain matter splattered into his face. His own voice was drowned out however by the loud panicked screams of the shop’s patrons as they watched with pure unadulterated horror as the once proud soldier fell to the ground with a big gaping hole in his head, he made a disgusting squelching noise as he landed on his face.

The two other soldiers were slow to react due to their surprise and was quick to fall to the ground beside their comrade in screaming heaps when their knees had been shot out by two more bullets. Morales gaped at the scene and stepped back when a small pool of blood began to snake its way towards his boots. His face scrunched up in disgust then he turned his head to reprimand the soldier beside him….he felt his blood go cold at what he saw.

Now Morales knew Tom as a generally unreadable character, in the short time they spent together Tom’s range of emotions when he was out in public seemed limited, more often than not the other soldier would always be nonchalant about things. Though, Morales knew better by now.

Tom’s face….he’d seen that before. The cold shadow that seemed to obstruct clear view of his expression, the way he stared down at the dead body with unabashed malice, and though he may not have eyes Morales thought they seemed emptier, lifeless, like Tom wasn’t all there. The calm demeanor he displayed was severely taken away due to the gun shaking in his grip, still aimed at where the soldier once stood.

Martin Finnigand stood at the other side of that look once.

Morales flinched when Tom made a grab for his wrist and hurriedly pulled him out of the shop while it was still in a state of chaos and panic. He said nothing as they began to dart their way out of town since the commotion had alerted the two Red soldiers they were tailing, Morales looked back once to see that they were in the middle of requesting back up before Tom pulled them both into a corner.

They skidded to a stop near an alleyway and Morales was forcibly thrown into it, the Corporal stumbled and gasped in pain when he hit the wall behind him. He paled significantly when he looked up and saw Tom marching straight towards him with his gun still firmly held at his side “T-Tom please snap out of this! I-I can’t- don’t h-“ He yelped and raised his hands up when he saw the gun move upwards.

“Don’t be a git Morales, I haven’t lost enough of my mind to shoot you dead just yet” Tom huffed and finished pocketing his pistol before he crossed his arms and looked expectantly at his fellow Corporal “I can’t say that my patience is doing any well though, there’s only so much I can stand to ignore but this?” Tom laughed, humorless in its tone. It sent a spike of fear through Morales’ body. He growled “What the fuck was that about?

Morales swallowed hard before he was able to gain back enough of his courage to look up at his fellow Corporal again. Tom was angry, he knows despite the almost uncaring look he was giving him, underneath his exterior the other soldier was thrumming with anger. Morales only had to look at the hand holding his dominant one tight to know that Tom was already trying to physically stop himself from threatening him with his gun. Morales could feel his heart beat wild against his chest “H-Hilarson…” He managed out, his voice was shaky “He didn’t tell us until a few weeks a-ago”

“That I’m apparently wanted by the Red army? So much that my reward is bloody amnesty?!” Morales couldn’t stop himself from looking away in shame and fear. He gasped when he felt himself get lifted up by the collar of his shirt and was forced to make eye contact with a seething Tom “Why would this be kept from me?!”

“W-We don’t know!!” Morales gasped out, his hands gripping onto Tom’s arms when he found that he couldn’t make his grip loosen one bit. The other’s strength surprised him but he wouldn’t have expected any less from an EFA soldier like himself “Hilarson wouldn’t explain why! We don’t know why the Red army wants you captured that badly!! All we know is that Hilarson wants any trace of your wanted posters gone before he lets you on an operation!”

So that’s why. Tom glared hard at him, searching his face for any sign of a lie. When all he found was panic in the other soldier’s eyes he let him go, but not without a hard shove against the wall, Tom stepped back and held his gaze “We’re not done here, when we get back to base I want to talk to you, everyone who Hilarson first reached out to and Hilarson himself. You got that?”

“Y-Yes sir” Morales stammered out as he stood, momentarily forgetting that he was a few ranks higher than the other Corporal. Though the fear that pooled heavily at the bottom of his stomach withheld him from realizing it, Tom didn’t seem to care about the slip.

Tom huffed at him and turned around to lead them back out the town before any of the Red soldiers grouped up to hunt them down. He knew he could have found a better way to handle their previous situation but shooting down the traitorous bastard was satisfying. Part of him was horrified that he thought so but that part was silenced immediately.

A sharp hiss of air near his face followed by Morales screaming in pain made him stop. He whirled around wide eyed as he watched Morales clutch at his side and slide back down the wall, leaving a trail of red behind him. Ignoring the warm sensation of blood running down his face, Tom quickly took out his pistol and turned to where the gunshot came from to confront their attacker. He didn’t even see the metal pipe that was swung towards his head before he completely blacked out.

 


 

Black, it was what greeted him when he tried to open his eyes. His head felt painful and muddled, any and all thought that he tried to bring forth would fall apart before he could form it. There was pressure around his head that only worsened his disorientation, he moved his head around in an attempt to remove it but whatever it was won’t come off. Tied. His mind supplied after a moment of trying to scrape itself back together.

Tom groaned and almost choked at the texture he felt in his mouth, his mind wasn’t all there just yet so he couldn’t make out what the hell it was. His eyebrows scrunched together in annoyance as he lolled his head around before he gave up and let it hang downward. He breathed in and out steadily and allowed himself a few minutes to come back into reality. His teeth bit down hard at the object in his mouth.

Slowly but surely his mental state eased itself back, Tom quickly took to assessing his situation, starting with what was keeping him from speaking ‘Gag, that’s a cloth gag’ He grimaced at the realization and drew his tongue as far away from the cloth as possible. He wouldn’t know where the thing’s been and he sure as hell won’t want to risk germs if it was dirty. Blinking his eyes a few times and still seeing nothing clued him into the fact that he was indeed blindfolded, Tom moved his head to the side and shook his arms, he found that they were tied up behind his back with some sort of rope.

Oh for fucks sake.

He got kidnapped didn’t he?

“Mngf!!” Tom pulled at his hands to no avail, the rope was tied to somewhere. Moving around with his feet won’t do anything either as they had also been tied up. It seems his kidnappers may have thought this through, even straining his ears didn’t give him anything, since the blindfold went over them any sound would be muffled. He doesn’t know where he is.

Tom stopped struggling and fell back to his first position and thought long and hard about the time before he was captured. The memory was still muddy and unclear, whatever hit him really did a number to his head. He growled and forced himself to concentrate. There was..was someone else with him a-a soldier, Morales, yes that’s his name. They were talking…about what? Talking…..

“That I’m apparently wanted by the Red army? So much that my reward is bloody amnesty?!”

Tom gasped.

Wanted, he was a wanted man. The Red army was looking for him. Tord was looking for him.

That thought alone was enough to fuel him with a newfound energy ‘Fuck fuck FUCK!’ Tom’s mind drove itself into a panic as his hands desperately tried to feel for the knot of the rope tying them together. Biting down hard at the cloth in his mouth, Tom moved his limbs around in an attempt to loosen his restraints. He had to get out and fast, his kidnapping was most likely related to the fact that fucking Tord put a bounty on his head, a particular bounty that was basically a get out of jail free card that an insane number of people wanted. If those Danish soldiers weren’t an example of that he didn’t know what was.

A few more attempts at loosening the rope was not in vain as Tom felt his restraints slacken ‘YES!’ He inwardly cheered when his fingers closed around the rope. Looks like whoever kidnapped him was shit at tying knots. He moved his right hand up to his face to remove his blindfold.

A loud creak alerted Tom that someone, probably his kidnapper, was entering whatever room he was being held in. Tom stilled himself and made a quick decision to pretend that he was still down for the count, his hand darted behind him once more and tugged a few times at the rope, it was still tied to something. Good.

At first there was no sound, it almost made Tom think he was hearing things which wouldn’t be too farfetched since someone played baseball with his head. Then slowly but surely, light steps began to approach him, tap tap tap.

Tom made sure to keep his head down even as he felt the presence stop in front of him, when that person lowered themselves to his level, Tom took his chance and darted his hand forward. He heard their sharp gasp as he was lucky enough to have grabbed their neck. He twisted them both around and pinned the person to the floor while he used his own body weight to keep them down, which was harder than it sounded with both his legs still tied. Using the rope that bound his hands, Tom closed it over the neck of his kidnapper as his other hand reached up to tear his blindfold away.

It took a moment for his vision to clear and a few more times of blinking for things to come into focus. The room he was held in was shabby, no furniture and a rotting wood floor, the paints on the wall were an ugly shade of brown that was starting to peel off steadily. There were no windows, the only one that was there however appeared to have been walled up. It didn’t clue him in to where he was. Damn it.

Finished with assessing the room, Tom directed his full attention towards who he managed to catch off guard and did a double take.

A young woman who didn’t look older than thirty stared up at him with wide terrified eyes, her whole frame shook in fear as she tried to take in gasps of air around the rope pressing down on her neck, she whimpered. Tom blinked out of his adrenaline filled haze and loosened the rope around her neck though he didn’t quite let her go. He removed the gag from his mouth “…who are you?” He asked quietly, silently telling her to keep her voice at the same level by putting in a bit of pressure on the rope once more.

The woman swallowed hard and shut her eyes momentarily, she spoke out in a shaky voice “I-I..I do not mean to hurt y-you” She sobbed “P-Please do not h-hurt me”

Tom gave her a once over, his sockets narrowed in suspicion but he eventually relented when the first tear escaped the woman’s eyes. He sighed and slowly eased off her while untying the ropes around his legs. Once he was freed from his restraints he reached for his pistol only to find that it wasn’t in his pocket. Cursing silently, Tom held the woman’s hands together as he heaved her off the floor “Just- I’m going to tie your hands together, don’t try anything”

The woman shakily nodded and tried to keep her sniffling at a softer volume while Tom worked the rope around her wrists. She pointedly tried not to look at him when he was finished with the knot and took one step away from her “…d-don’t kill me pleas-se..” She choked out, only serving to renew her tears as she turned her head away in fear.

Tom’s eyes widened at her request, though he technically had attacked her when she came in he hadn’t shown her any intention of causing fatal injury to her person, yet here she was crying uncontrollably, shaking like a leaf and sounding absolutely certain that Tom wasn’t about to let her get out alive. The terror in her voice was real, it almost sent him reeling that he was the cause of it “What? No! Hey wait a minute I’m not-“ He reached out to her but stopped when she let out a small withheld cry at his movements, she seemed to curl in on herself.

He bit his lower lip and tried a different approach “Look, I’m not going to hurt you” Tom raised both his hands slowly and waited until she looked back at him, still sniffling “I just want to know where I am okay? I just want to leave, that’s all” Tom sighed at her “I’m not going to hurt you” He repeated gently, he didn’t want to scare her more than he already apparently had.

The woman let out a choked sob and shook her head at him, she began to back away into the wall behind her “N-no no no nononono” Her lower lip quivered as she spoke “Y-You lie”

Tom frowned at that but didn’t move to go after her, she’s too afraid of him, for some reason he has yet to know “Shh, I’m not lying” He tried to reassure her by moving his hands in placating gestures, he almost felt as though he was talking to a child “Just tell me where I am and I’ll leave you alone, I promise this is all that’s going to happen”

The woman screwed her eyes shut and pressed herself into the wall even more “n-n-no, lies…” She muttered as she sank to the floor in a curled up ball, waiting for something that was never going to come.

Tom grimaced at her reaction, he knew he wasn’t going to get any answers from her anymore, not when she was like that. Giving the room and the strange woman one last look, Tom slowly made his way out into the dark hallway behind him and shut the door of the room once he was out. He stared at the closed door for a little while before he looked around the dim hallway, picked a side, and quietly walked towards whatever was waiting him, fully aware of the fact that he had nothing but his coat to defend himself with.

 Walking down the hallway led him to a corner that made him circle around to a stairway. Tom concluded that he was in some sort of building, most likely an old apartment complex due to the multiple doors he passed before coming to the stairway. He made sure to listen closely for any sound in the apartment, the woman he met couldn’t be the only one involved in his capture, she couldn’t have been his captor in the first place, not when she was so scared of him that she looked about ready to run.

Tom kept his steps light when he began his descent down the stairs, every single one of his senses on high alert as he peered around corners for any other sign of life. The first few floors he went to were all empty, quick checks proved him right, at first he was relieved at that but the continued silence was starting to worry him. What if they knew he was out and were waiting to ambush him?

“…ept it, is it really going to be that easy?” Tom stopped on the last step of the stairs when a new voice floated in from the door closest to the stairway. Backing up a few more steps he hid in the shadowed landing of the stairs and tried to strain his hearing for the voice once more “I’m not sure if we can trust his word for it, don’t you think he could be lying?” The voice was muffled but the accent was what threw Tom for a loop, he shook his head in disbelief but the person’s accent didn’t change. British.

“Hvilket valg har vi?” Another voice joined, Tom recognized the accent, the woman had the same one “What other choice do we have? We…we’re out of choices my friend. The Reds seem determined enough to find this Thomas Thompson man, they don’t get like that unless their leader really wants something” There was silence on the other side, Tom hoped they weren’t whispering just as he was starting to get some goddamned answers to all the shit he’s gone through in the last few hours “My friends, this may be our only chance you know? We could be spared an awful fate this way, you saw the reward, we may even get our lost friends back…”

“…and if it really was a lie? What do we do??”

“….just pray, pray that he will make it quick”

Tom’s hearing was so focused on the conversation that he failed to notice another presence coming up from behind him. The sharp click of a gun made him lock up in surprise, sighing at his carelessness Tom raised both his hands up in surrender as the gun was pressed firmly against his head “Don’t move” The person behind him growled as he felt a hand reach for his wrists and kept them at his back. The person nudged him forward and soon Tom found himself entering the room of his captors with a hard shove that sent him to the floor.

Tom gasped out the breath that was knocked out from him in the fall as the people in the room let out surprised breaths at his sudden entrance. Tom blinked and tried to heave himself up but didn’t go any further when someone stepped on his back and pushed him into the floor again. Tom glared and craned his neck up to see the people who caught him and had every intention of handing him over to the enemy.

“What the fuck?!” The Danish voice he heard from earlier exclaimed, he wasn’t surprised when he saw that it belonged to a uniformed Danish soldier, the man was staring down at him in shock “What- You escaped?!” Tom cried out when he was roughly pulled up by his hair before the grip shifted over to his sweater, he gritted his teeth and struggled against the man’s hold “How did you-?!” The Danish man’s eyes suddenly widened. He looked around the room in fear, it seemed he didn’t find what he was looking for because Tom was swung against the closest wall and kept there by the man’s angered grip, he gasped out a breath and shut his eyes “What did you do to Edith?!”

Tom opened one of his eyes and stared down the Danish soldier, he glared at the man, not liking how he was being handled “I don’t know what you’re talking about”

“Hey!” Tom’s assaulter barked as he stepped into the room, gun still in his hand “Calm down! I found Edith tied up in Thompson’s room, she’s shaken up but she’s fine” He gestured at Tom with his gun “Unless you want to make us lose the only available opportunity we have at freedom, I suggest you don’t damage the goods yeah?”

The Danish man huffed and sent Tom one last glare before he was let go. Tom stumbled and used the wall to keep himself upright as every single person in the room reached for their weapons and directed it at him “Great” Tom grumbled unhappily and raised his hands “A little extra for little old me isn’t it?” He eyed all their weapons, particularly the metal pipe one of them was holding. There was a thin layer of blood still on its side, most likely his.

“Sorry lad” The only British soldier in the room spoke up “but from what we heard, you’re pretty dangerous. Precautions are essential” He cocked his gun in warning.

The patch on his shoulder made Tom narrow his eyes at him, he knew what it was “You’re a Euro soldier”

The British soldier raised his eyebrows at him, glancing but once on the patch on his shoulder “I was” And that was all he said.

Tom let a shadow of sympathy cross his expression. There was a silent understanding between people from their program. The thought almost made him excuse the man for planning on using him as a bargaining chip for freedom, the keyword being almost, he’d rather not be handed over to his asshole ex-housemate. He scowled at all of them.

“What now?” The Danish man asked the room seeing as no one was making any move to do something, they were all focused on keeping Tom where he was standing. The Danish man looked to the one who brought Tom into their room in the first place “You contacted the closest Red army base right? What did they say?”

“They’re on standby but we won’t be heading to their base. They’re sending representatives to verify that we actually have Thompson”

The Danish man bit his lower lip “…and what about Oskar? Are they…?”

His companion sighed and looked away from him “They…they’re considering, if we hand Thompson over they might let him go. At least that’s what they said”

“What are we waiting for then?!” The British soldier moved towards Tom with his gun still held high. Tom stood his ground and raised his head when he came closer, his fellow EFA soldier simply gave him a troubled look before he nudged him to turn around with his gun. Tom glared at him but a warning click made him move, he felt the gun press against his back “We’ve had this conversation already so I say the sooner we finish this the better!”

The people in the room looked to each other, a silent conversation amongst comrades. With one moving gesture from the Danish man the rest of the people in the group moved out of the room with Tom at the front. The Corporal shot the EFA soldier one long look that the other one ignored. Traitor.

They led him outside the building they were in, the sky was already dimming outside. Tom huffed at the sight of the dark sky, it only meant that he’d gone missing for hours already, with no sign of his unit anywhere he knew for certain that he would have to get himself out of the situation on his own, if he can.

Looking around them he found that they were near the town he and Morales’ team were in, though this particular building was at the outskirts of it, and with the night coming in not many people were around to see this exchange happening, though Tom had an idea that even if there were people they wouldn’t do anything to stop it. If letting Red soldiers prance about their town freely was any indication.

“Did they say when the representative was coming?” The Brit behind him asked as they stopped at the edge of town, in front of the only road leading out of it.

“They just said to wait where we are” The one who contacted the Red army stepped beside Tom, giving him a once over that Tom growled at. The man shook his head at him and Tom felt the barrel of a gun prod at his side in warning “Once we hand Thompson over they’ll take us to their base under protection”

“You sure about that?” Tom scoffed, the first time he spoke to them properly since they met “EFA here knows what I’m talking about” He turned his head to look at the Brit behind him “The Red army doesn’t do negotiations. They’re more of the ‘take what we want finders keepers’ kind of people” The Brit behind him pursed his lips in response, Tom laughed lowly “See? He isn’t even denying it, why bother with them at all? You know for a fact that they wouldn’t hesitate to shoot you down just to avoid giving you anything in return”

“There’s no use goading us on Thompson” The soldier beside him said, giving him a look of pity that honestly Tom wasn’t standing for “This isn’t personal, we’ve got nothing against you but we won’t just let you go, not when you’ve got a price that high on your head” He sighed, the look on his face shifting to a resigned air of someone with almost nothing left to lose “This war is…it’s taken a lot. We don’t have a choice, we’ve got our own people to look out for and we’re taking any chance we get to keep them safe”

“Even if it means throwing away your morals?” Tom growled.

The man bit his lower lip and looked away from him “Like I said, we have people we need to look after”

Tom’s retort was cut off when a bright light began to come in from a distance. He felt the blood leave his face when a jeep moved up the road, he could make out a few soldiers riding on its sides. No doubt about it, these were Red soldiers.

The jeep stopped a few ways away from them, its fog lights still on and practically blinding him and the group he was with. Its low rumbling continued on even as the soldier driving the jeep hopped off and began his calm approach towards them, he moved in front of the jeep and stopped a few feet away from where they were standing. The man had his hands folded behind his back as he regarded them all before his head stopped in Tom’s direction. Squinting against the light, Tom sneered at the man as if daring for him to come closer.

The soldier cleared his throat “This is him?” He asked in a low voice, inclining his head towards the captured soldier.

“I don’t know how you Reds think we could be faking this” The Brit behind Tom spoke out, moving himself to the side so that the Red soldier could see him “He’s got no bloody eyes for crying out loud! Either you take him or you don’t but I’m sure your dear leader wouldn’t be happy with you losing your target, am I right?”

The Red soldier in front of them said nothing, he looked behind him at the jeep where his mouth moved in quiet words none of them could hear or see because of the jeep’s bright lights. The soldier turned towards them once more and extended his hand out “Bring him over”

Tom sucked in a breath as the Brit behind him pushed him forward. Just a few more steps and he was going to be wrapped up like a present for Tord of all people, and who knows what that sick bastard has planned for him. Knowing Tord the Norski would prolong whatever it was he wanted to do to him, and made sure Tom knew every single time that Tord had won.

He’d rather die.

One quick decision, and that was all it took. One move that decided his fate and Tom was willing to take the chance of freedom no matter what freedom meant for him. One swift kick to the person behind him and Tom managed to catch the Brit off guard, the man fell to the ground with a yell as Tom reached out for his gun. One moment where everything hit him all at once, the things he’d rather forget, the feelings that crippled him, the thoughts that scared him to no end, the promise that everything was going to stop in that moment.

How tired he was. How much he wanted it to just stop.

He was still terrified.

No surprise that he’s taking the coward’s way out.

Tom bit the barrel of the gun and-

SON STOP!” The soldier behind him darted forward and pulled the gun away from him just as Tom squeezed the trigger. The loud shot momentarily deafened him as he gasped out a breath. Arms wrapped around him and restrained his hands from moving the gun again, not that it mattered, his hand could barely hold the gun without shaking badly. It clattered to the ground as Tom tried to steady himself after what he just tried to do.

Son, you’re safe. We’re here” Hilarson turned him around as the jeep behind them unloaded with soldiers from their unit, they surrounded the group that captured him. The fog lights were switched off, giving Tom enough time to adjust to the new darkness and finally see the Colonel’s face clearly. Hilarson looked him over, panic in his eyes still clear when his vision caught the discarded gun on the ground so close to Tom’s feet “God…Tom I- We’ll talk, we’ll talk okay son? I shouldn’t have…” Hilarson sighed in frustration and shook his head “We’ll talk” He repeated firmly before turning his gaze over to his soldiers now rounding up the ones that took Tom “Tie them up and bring them to the camp, we’ll figure out what to do with them there”

The soldiers unquestioningly followed Hilarson’s orders and began to herd the group into the other waiting jeep behind the first one. Once they passed by them, Hilarson looked back at Tom, the guilt in his eyes heavy and potent enough to be clearly seen “I’m so so sorry son” He muttered and put a hand to Tom’s back but the younger soldier stepped away from him, still looking up at him with disbelief. Hilarson frowned “This time Tom, I promise we’ll talk”

“…you knew” Tom whispered out, not quite angry, more accusatory than anything “You knew about this, you knew that the Red army’s looking for me and- and I- fuck!” Tom held his head in his hands, his breaths came out in shallow quick gasps that had Hilarson moving forward in alarm.

Tom scrambled away from him and waved his hands frantically, he tried to glare at the Colonel but his panic was beginning to make him tear up, making his look lose some of its fire “Son you need to calm down-!”

C-CALM…DOWN…?!” Tom gasped, clutching at his chest as he struggled to breathe “Colonel…you…lied...to….me” He coughed and raised a hand to his eyes when he felt the tears start to fall. Shit shit shit, not now “I…wanted…out…but you…made…me..stay….then..you lie??”

Hilarson’s eyes widened as he stepped back from the younger soldier. The Colonel let out a shaky breath that sounded close to a sob, he felt awful. Watching one of his own break down was never easy for the man, knowing that he caused it or at least played a part made him rethink everything he thought was best. He’s an abysmal example of a good commanding officer, he failed the one soldier he took under his wing. It made him sick to his stomach “Tom please calm down” He approached the soldier slowly “I promise this time that I won’t keep anything from you ever again. Please just give me the chance to talk to you”

Tom swallowed hard and lowered his hand from his eyes, he wrapped his arms around himself as he regarded the Colonel wearily. He opened his mouth to reply but was cut off when someone tackled him from behind and brought a knife up to his neck. Tom froze and Hilarson yelled in alarm, the soldiers surrounding him quickly turned their attention to the commotion and aimed their guns at the attacker.

Edith!” The Danish man cried out from where he was being held back by the unit soldiers.

The young woman- Edith- stared at all of the soldiers pointing their guns at here in wide eyed fear, but she didn’t back away from Tom, she didn’t seem like she was going to “H-He cannot go w-with you!!” She cried, desperation thick in her tone “I-I need him to s-see my O-Oskar again!! I need h-him!! They promised t-to give him back!!”

“Steady now darling” Hilarson extended his arms out to his unit and gestured for them to lower their guns slowly as he moved towards Tom and the woman holding him hostage “We can’t allow you to do that, I’m sorry. No one has to get hurt here”

“NO!!” The woman shrieked and pressed the knife closer to Tom’s neck, the Corporal scrunched his face up at the feeling of the blade. Hilarson momentarily stopped his advance “T-The Red army said-“

They lie” Hilarson pressed “You know they won’t keep their promise, Edith right?” The Colonel took one step forward then another when Edith didn’t flinch away. One wrong move could make the panicked woman accidentally slit Tom’s throat with how shaky she was “Love, they won’t keep their promise but we-“ He gestured at the unit “-We can keep you safe. So please, don’t do this”

Edith’s eyes were wild and wide as she darted her gaze towards everyone surrounding her, she spat near the Colonel’s feet, scowling “I-I don’t need to be safe” She hissed and began to quickly back away “I need m-my Oskar to be s-safe!”

Tom heard a click to his side, the British man turned his head and spotted Finnigand crouched near the bushes, gun raised. He was aiming. Tom paled “FINNIGAND NO-!”

BANG!

EDITH!!” The Danish man screamed in horror once the shot rang out. He watched as the woman crumpled to the floor in a lifeless heap and saw nothing but red. The man and his companions drew their weapons and began to open fire on the unit surrounding them but it was in vain, they were too outnumbered. It wasn’t very long until they joined Edith on the ground, a thick pool of blood slithering out in thick tendrils of red.

Tom stood gasping in the middle of it all, he felt the splatter of blood behind him, he heard Edith’s body fall to the ground with a loud painful and wet smack. He felt Hilarson move him but everything went by in a blur that he couldn’t make out. Soon enough he found himself at the back of a jeep, watching as they left behind the bodies in their rush to escape. He heard someone yell about a Red vehicle quickly coming, but all he could think about was how Edith sounded so much like he did moments before.

Desperate.

Tom touched the bandage still around his neck, he found a small cut there but the blade never reached his skin.

 


 

The unit was quiet when they made it back to their camp. There were some soldiers waiting for them when the two jeeps unloaded, no one said anything. Hilarson was one of the last few to come down from the vehicle, he cleared his throat to gain everyone’s attention “We’re moving, get the choppers and load the jeeps. This place isn’t safe for us anymore”

“I think you mean this place isn’t safe for Thompson anymore Colonel” One soldier spoke and marched right up to the Colonel, a group trailed behind her, the same angered look on all their faces “We’re done Colonel. It’s pretty clear now that you aren’t getting any orders from home base, hell, I’m sure we’re considered deserters now just because you decided to play FAVORITES!” Agreeing yells from behind her increased in number and Hilarson could only stare on in horror as most of his unit were beginning to turn against him “We don’t matter right?! As long as Thompson is safe it doesn’t matter how many of us you lose right?!”

“Is this mutiny soldier?!”

“No Colonel. It’s a wakeup call” The soldier starting the revolt seethed “I signed up for this war because I wanted to protect my fellow countrymen from the Red army, I was prepared to lose my life for a good cause but this?!” She snapped her glare over to Tom who just got out of the jeep, he returned her look but with no emotion behind it, he just stared at her as he crossed his arms calmly. She scoffed “I’m not risking my life for something trivial. You’re my commanding officer Colonel, but I don’t fight for you, I fight for England and it’s clear that you aren’t doing the same anymore”

How dare you” Hilarson growled and stepped into her personal space You do not know what I’m fighting for Private but my fight for my home is still my priority”

“Oh? Then why did you bring a troop with you to save him?!” She pointed at Tom, disgust in her eyes “Back in Spain” She snapped, watching Hilarson flinch with satisfaction “Back in Spain we had a section that was trapped behind enemy walls, they sent us distress signals upon distress signals begging for us to help them, but what did you do Colonel?” She hissed “What did you do?!”

Hilarson looked away from her, he clenched his fists “…I ordered a tactical retreat-“

YOU DIDN’T EVEN TRY TO SAVE THEM!” The soldier yelled “You abandoned them” She spat and turned away “I’m not going to wait for the day you’ll do the same to us”

“Then fucking leave!” Tom looked up in surprise when Finnigand came marching up to the female soldier, scowl set in place. The Corporal stood over her, his expression dark “We don’t need your kind here. We don’t need ungrateful whiney arse bitches to stay with us. Especially the ones that forgot about everything the Colonel’s done for us in this war” He snarled and pushed her. He ignored her indignant cry and gripped at her uniform’s collar “Leave. Just fucking leave, traitorHe shoved her away and turned to the rest of them “That goes for all of you!” He lifted his rifle up “I’m not afraid to fight”

The female soldier gaped at Finnigand and looked back to the Colonel, Hilarson didn’t meet her eyes. With a huff she and the group that followed her marched out of the camp, leaving almost less than half of what the unit was before. Finnigand glared at all of them until they were out of sight, they didn’t stop them from taking one of the copters they swiped out from Nirgends’ landing pads. They didn’t need more than one anymore anyway.

The ones that were left behind were silent, the soldiers who stayed looked to their Colonel for guidance, one that Hilarson didn’t think he was ready to give yet. The Colonel waved them away with one hand and stayed where he was until most of them cleared out, leaving only him, Tom, and Finnigand standing. The man sighed, looking older than he had ever been once he lifted his head to look at his remaining Corporals “We’ll talk in my tent…just come when you’re ready” He told Tom before he too walked away from them.

Tom watched the Colonel go but tore his gaze away when he heard Finnigand scoff and turn to leave as well “Finnigand” He said, making the other Corporal stop but he didn’t turn to look at him “Why didn’t you-“

“Why didn’t I leave? Why didn’t I side with the deserters?” Finnigand huffed and shook his head “Don’t get any wrong ideas, I agreed with everything she said about you” The Corporal turned around to meet his gaze “Why the fuck am I being ordered to keep you safe? After all, we aren’t on the best of terms” He gestured at his scarred face, Tom blinked rapidly at the sight of it “I’m not doing this for you. I’m doing it for the Colonel and for…” Finnigand swallowed hard and sighed. It took him a moment to speak again “..Jevin Morales….he’s dead”

“What?”

“Heh, the bastard died the way he wanted to. A hero, or at least I like to think that he did” Finnigand smiled but there was nothing, no emotion, in it “After you got taken, Jev dragged his bleeding arse to the camp, asking for us to save you. Stupid git didn’t accept any medical help until he was sure we were going to get you” He tsked and closed his eyes for a second before he looked back at Tom “Jev thought you were worth saving, as stupidly annoying as he was Jev was still my best friend….don’t make him regret his conviction, whatever it was Jev saw in you I hope you live up to it Tom” Finnigand gave him a tight smile as he turned to walk back to his own tent.

Tom stood there, silent, unsure of what to make of what Finnigand just told him.

Jev thought you were worth saving.

Tom’s empty chuckle responded to that thought.

Chapter Text

 

The tent was dark when he came in but it almost felt…unnatural. It was like any light from outside had been barred from coming into the tent. It felt like he had stepped through a portal actually. Tom squinted at the darkness, he held the tent flap open behind him to let some of the moonlight in, though it did nothing as whatever invisible barrier had been set up only allowed the light a few feet inside before disappearing into the dark completely. Tom frowned “Colonel?” He called out softly.

“Come in son, close the tent” Hilarson’s voice came from within but Tom had yet to clearly see the man. With one last look outside the Corporal shut the tent’s entrance and tried his best to maneuver in the dark. There were some things he could make out: Chairs, maps, and bags. Other than that though was a mystery as the dark swallowed up anything two inches ahead of him.

Although any other person would be bothered by the dark, Tom didn’t quite feel that discomfort. Even though he knew he wasn’t alone and that the Colonel shouldn’t be far, the quiet and dimmed atmosphere of the tent felt like…safety, he supposed. Compared to the outside world where everything just essentially blew up in his face, the almost eerie feeling of nothingness in Hilarson’s tent was a refuge from the madness.

A sharp scratching noise in front of him was his only warning that Hilarson had lit up a match. Tom blinked at the sudden source of light and collided with the Colonel’s desk with a yelp due to his momentary distraction. Hilarson scoffed at him in amusement as he reached up and lit the lamp that swayed gently over his plastic white desk. Tom on the other hand coughed and clutched at his stomach as he recovered from his little accident.

“You alright there son?” Hilarson asked quietly as he shook his hand to extinguish the match. His soft smile partly shadowed by the minimal amount of light they had from the warm orange yellow glow of the lamp above them.

“Yeah, I’m fine just give me sec” Tom coughed again and shook his head before he looked up to meet the Colonel’s gaze, though the man had his eyes partly closed, almost as if he were struggling to stay awake. Tom pursed his lips at the sight of the Colonel, the man had always jokingly commented about how he was too old for anything, but at the moment the Colonel really did look old.

Tom never really paid close attention to the man before but now that they were alone and face to face with nothing on their minds that was all he could really observe. The makings of crow’s feet near his eyes, the wrinkles that were beginning to form near his mouth and forehead, and the seemingly permanent eye bags that spoke of lost sleep, Hilarson definitely aged a lot since the first time Tom met him, though it wasn’t just physical “It’s impolite to stare Corporal” Hilarson commented with a smile, tearing Tom away from his musings.

The younger soldier flustered, not having realized how long he kept silent “Sorry…” He muttered, looking down at the table as he ducked his head.

For a moment none of them spoke. The two soldiers simply stood there, letting the silence cover them both. Throughout the course of the war, the both of them had to deal with one problem after another, each one increasing in difficulty and number. When they solve one, another would just come out and destroy whatever progress they thought they made. It crushed them slowly, tearing away at their spirits until they could feel nothing at all. A big gaping hole was left in their chests, feeling emptier and emptier the more days passed by with no end to the war.

A moment of silence, a moment of nothing, could at least ease them of their worries if only for a while. By choosing not to address the new problem, they could at least forget it existed, this way they’re given time to breathe.

They didn’t think they could handle something heavy again, not all at once.

Which was why Hilarson decided that this time he was going to do it right, for both their sakes.

“I lied to you Tom” The Colonel croaked out as he braced his hands against the table to lean forward. The Colonel’s withdrawn expression didn’t change even as he saw the subtle flinch that Tom did at his words “You were right, I lied. I kept all of this from you, I kept the fact that the Red army put a price on your head from you, I…” Hilarson paused, the Colonel looked to the side and clenched his jaw. He sighed “..I kept the fact that home base wants you arrested from you….”

Tom sucked in a sharp intake of breath. The Corporal whipped his head up to look at the Colonel, wide eyed and disbelieving “I…they what?”

Hilarson looked back at him, his mouth turned down to a slight frown “Home base told me so, back in Nirgends…..” There was a flash of anger in the man’s eyes as he recalled the events “They told me that you were accused of treason. Naturally I called bullshit and told them that you weren’t around. I have a sinking feeling that maybe Red got to them somehow and now they…” The sigh he let out was borderline growl, the Colonel shook his head “I couldn’t let them do that to you son, I couldn’t”

“But why didn’t you tell me??” Tom wanted to be angry, he really did, but he just…couldn’t. An emotion as intense as anger wasn’t going to come as easy to him at the moment, so sadness took its place, a feeling that Tom hadn’t been able to display so openly in a long long time “Why did you have to keep it from me?”

“I didn’t want to upset you” Hilarson’s eyes looked down when Tom scoffed, the man blinked a few times before he was able to look the Corporal in the eye again “Tom…You can’t deny that you weren’t in a stable state of mind back in Nirgends. You can’t tell me that you weren’t in a state of panic either. I’ve been your commanding officer for months now, I know that you aren’t okay”

“So you decided to coddle me?” Tom scoffed again and despite wanting nothing more than to put up a front, both of his arms wrapped around his middle as he looked away from the Colonel, as if shielding himself “I’m not a child Colonel, I don’t need protection, I don’t need you to…” He trailed off, leaving Hilarson to fill in the blanks.

The Colonel gazed down at his Corporal, silent. Hilarson pursed his lips as he shut his eyes, memories of years before the war poured into his mind in a steady stream, when once he would shut them away and let them pass as quickly as they could, remembering such a peaceful time always placed an ache in his heart that he could never hope to alleviate, because he knew it wouldn’t get any better, not while he was alive.

Slowly opening his eyes again, Hilarson instantly landed his gaze on one of his only remaining Corporals. Seeing Tom gave him more memories of his days back when he was still a Sergeant, back when he was given an order to be on recruit duty and became absolutely livid about it. He had better things to do than train a couple of starry eyed, clueless Cadets! He remembered just how much he fumed during the whole process.

And yet, those became one of his fondest memories. The start wasn’t the best: The training field was ruined, they lost one helicopter, a few soldiers got shot, and a jeep caught on fire, but the end? He still remembered how proud he felt, how he was amazed at the potential that each of his recruits displayed, how absolutely floored he was when they came back unknowingly with a victory over toppling an enemy base at the time.

Hilarson wanted nothing more than to continue to help those recruits grow, because at some point he realized what good they could have done in the army. Though ultimately he had to let them go, unfortunately the mess they created couldn’t be overlooked despite their achievement.

Despite his short lived plan, Hilarson saw Tom’s group off with a smile and a salute, having full faith that those boys would make something of themselves. They had that shining potential after all.

But then….

..but then……

Hilarson smiled sadly and rounded the table, the Colonel stopped at its side and waited until Tom acknowledged his presence and turned to face him. The Colonel almost scoffed at how far the younger soldier had gotten, he wasn’t surprised, the old swell of pride that settled in his heart grew at the sight of the Corporal, it seemed like only yesterday when he was just a Cadet “Son...do you remember when you first signed up for the army? Not during this war, back when I was just your Sergeant?”

Tom blinked twice, confused at the question. Nevertheless, he nodded slowly but said nothing else. Hilarson’s lips quirked upwards at his response “You boys were…a surprise, when I was assigned to recruit duty I was pissed as hell, training a bunch of bumbling Cadets wasn’t my ideal way of spending my week off..” He laughed lowly, just a jump of his shoulders “Then you boys went off and destroyed the training fields and an enemy base”

“That was an accident” Tom said, meeting Hilarson’s eyes for the first time since they started talking “The thing with the enemy base I mean but, uh, the training fields too I guess…”

Hilarson laughed “Call it dumb luck or even stupidity, but what I saw in you boys was potential” The Colonel let out a grin, pointing at Tom “You had the makings of something in you, I saw as much when you trained. I knew that it only needed some coaxing” He slowly moved forward until he was just a step away from the Corporal.

Hilarson had his hands folded behind his back as Tom looked up at him questioningly “I was never a mentor in my years of service but hell I wanted to be yours” Hilarson’s smile never wavered even as Tom seemed to sputter at his statement “I knew, I bloody told myself: ‘This is it, these boys are the ones we were looking for’. A lot of my superiors have always told me that if we were ever given the chance to guide but a spark of potential within a Cadet, we would know straight away that they would have what it takes…and that we’d want to be part of that growth”

Hilarson looked to the side and ran a hand down the table’s surface “I’ll be honest, I never understood what they meant by it. In the army people look for three things: Glory, Honor, Service. I was looking for the first, and the thought of being forced to guide a youngster that’ll swipe that from under me? Hah! I hated it….until you boys”

“Colonel….” Tom swallowed, having a bit of trouble doing so. He rubbed a hand behind his neck, rolling responses on his tongue but none of them could make the cut. He looked to his boots and let out a long sigh “I…how were you even able to become so sure? How were….I don’t understand how you got that impression from us I don’t…we weren’t even proper…” He bit his tongue with a wince, he couldn’t even properly say what he was thinking.

“Potential doesn’t mean that you’re perfect off the bat son” Tom felt Hilarson’s hand land on his right shoulder, he looked up at the Colonel again and found the man smiling down at him, and though it was completely out of the blue, Tom’s mind called back a memory of when his father was teaching him how to fish. He got tangled in the wires once and he cried in distress and frustration, but his father was ever patient and calmly unwound the wire from his frame and told him to simply try again with his soft and fond voice “You boys needed time to learn, I of all people should know how imperfect you all were, I was there when you wrecked the fields”

Hilarson’s hand patted Tom’s arm, where his Corporal insignia was sewn on. He remembered when he had to do it back in Nirgends after Hilarson had the patch made, he and the Colonel spent hours scouring the base for a decent set of needle and thread. Unfortunately they only managed to find a rusted needle and a thin spool of pink thread, and since none of them knew how to sew, Tom’s patch was crookedly sewn on with a messy pink border.

Hilarson tried to make it better but ended up pricking himself more times than necessary, Tom was no different. They had laughed at the silliness of the situation and Tom had no qualms donning his uniform in public despite the bad handiwork on his sleeve. The Colonel told him it looked fine, but Tom knew better, though he decided to humor the man anyway by proudly showing it off to the unit, but not without saying it was the Colonel’s work.

“Son, potential just means that you have so much more room to grow. You may not become great but that doesn’t mean you can’t be more than who you are now” Tom took in the Colonel’s words, even though he couldn’t quite believe them, somehow they gave him…comfort. He held on to the words, not understanding why.

Hilarson was holding on to both of his shoulders now, watching him closely “I know you might not see it in yourself son, but I do….when Larsin-“ Hilarson stopped when Tom jolted, the Colonel let out a breath through his nose and waited a bit before he began speaking again “..when he came back to the world in the most unimaginable way possible, when he grew in the way I feared…I felt like a failure, I felt that I had a fault…I thought that, if I had just fought hard enough to let you boys stay, maybe I could have guided him down a better way and we wouldn’t be here. I had faith, but you boys were so young. I’ve seen Cadets with delusions of grandeur after only a few days in the army, I should have known better, especially after your success”

“So..I’m what? A way to make your guilt go away? Is that why I’m here?” Tom’s tone had no bite to it but Hilarson still faltered.

The Colonel sighed and let him go “I won’t deny that when I saw you, I felt that it was like a second chance to right what I’ve done wrong. I won’t deny that I wanted to feel justified knowing I at least succeeded with one of you, that I didn’t fail one of you as a commanding officer. In my scramble to save that chance I put you in danger, and not just you, the very unit I promised myself I would look after” Hilarson took off his hat, he gazed down at it in his hands and rubbed its rim “It was a selfish endeavor and I realize that now…I just want to do right by you son, if you’ll give me a chance to be a better mentor…that’s all I want”

Tom looked at him quietly, for a while he said nothing, just searched the Colonel’s face for something he could understand. He sighed quietly “…you hid things from me”

“I did”

“You lied”

“I did”

“You can’t trust my ability to handle situations on my own. You think I mess up more than anyone. You think I’m not capable”

“…”

“….you’re not wrong” Hilarson’s eyes snapped up in surprise at that, Tom looked at him with a half amused smile. Tom scoffed and took the hat from the Colonel’s hands with almost no resistance, he looked it over and chuckled “This is an old hat. It’s the same one from when you were a Sergeant?”

Hilarson gaped at him for a few seconds, slightly surprised at the sudden change of subject. The Colonel huffed and shook his head “It’s stupidly impractical, I know, but the old thing’s got some sentimental value”

“That a story to tell??”

“I doubt you’d want to hear it son, it’s long too”

“We’ve got time, at least before the evacuation right?”

Hilarson laughed “No but tell you what” The Colonel inclined his head towards the exit of the tent “Once we get out of Denmark and find a new place, I’ll pull out a table and a couple of chairs, maybe finally take out that half empty vodka bottle and some shot glasses THEN I’ll tell you the story” He extended a hand toward the Corporal “I’ve got a lot to tell you, that sound like a fair deal?”

Tom smirked and shook the hand given to him “Holding your word to it”

A quiet agreement passed under the deal, maybe even a hint of forgiveness, who knows? All Hilarson cared about was being the mentor he should have been from the start, now that Tom was giving him that chance he wouldn’t make the same mistake of wasting it. He promised he’d look after this boy to the best of his abilities, teach him all he needs to know to survive, keep him from danger while making sure he knows how to do it himself.

Hilarson was going to do it right this time, he was determined that he would.

 


 

Three months ago today their battalion had its first successful yet accidental major mission: the day they were able to take down an entire Red weapons factory. It was a clear blow to Tord’s forces when most of the soldiers began to come into battle with less and less of the Red Leader’s personally designed advanced weapons, even the hoards of Sentinels had lessened somewhat after the Poland factory’s demise.

Two months and some weeks ago today was also when Tom had become globally wanted.

They spent many a day hiding away from enemy and ally alike, Hilarson did everything he could to make sure they were never detected. Despite essentially becoming deserters, the Colonel still had a network of his own, people who were unquestioningly loyal to him, be it old subordinates or friends. Hilarson told Tom as much when he asked how they were able to go on for so long under the radar.

The Colonel had smiled and winked at him when he said that home base had quite a few of his old friends, the Colonel regularly got updates from the heart of the base, courtesy of a comrade he had served with years before. The man worked the main communications hub, he was one of the first to warn Hilarson about what home base wanted, after all, he was the one Hilarson reported to about the Poland operation. He of all people would have known Tom was in his unit.

That was one good thing at least.

During the time they spent on the run, more and more of the unit’s soldiers wanted out. Hilarson didn’t stop them, no one expected him to, even so a majority of them stayed out of loyalty. A lot of Hilarson’s subordinates were much like Finnigand, they couldn’t disregard the care the Colonel had for them when they served the army. They still had a significantly large number, so they weren’t too concerned.

Though the operations Hilarson put them on were significantly smaller now because of their dwindled number. The most action they get would be raiding a Red camp instead of a base. Milk runs.

Without much of a direction in the war other than trying to survive, they just hit at any Red activity they could come across. Hilarson’s connections would sometimes tell them about other Red activities somewhere but taking the missions they suggest would really require whether or not their numbers could handle it or how risky it was.

Usually they declined because Tord’s forces doubled every day.

The more time passed, the more obvious it was that the Red army was beginning a free advance on ally nations, troops after troops invaded and scoured the land without any resistance from their once enemies, hell, the nations might as well have become their allies with how they just let the Red army in like that. It was a shocking revelation but no one took it hardest like Tom.

Hilarson had to hold him back from destroying a Red monitor that was mounted near a building within a small town in Germany. There were countless monitors around them but this was the first one Tom noticed. Like all monitors, this one spewed out the usual Red army propaganda, usually Tom would roll his eyes at it and move on but what came next made him stop.

Tord himself came on the screen, greeting with that shit-eating grin of his at whoever was watching, he said his usual spiel of updates with his pseudo friendliness before turning to a different matter entirely. Tom froze the moment his image came into view beside Tord, the Red Leader then proceeded to warn people of how dangerous he apparently was, how he mercilessly killed soldiers with the Sentinel gas he stole from the Poland factory, how he shot down the Danish soldier- how the fuck did he even get that footage?!- a supposed ally without a shred of regret.

How he killed a civilian girl- Edith- for no apparent reason. A photo of her bloodied form appeared not long after.

It was just another form of Tord’s twisted propaganda. He painted Tom in the way he saw fit, in the way that the masses would fear. An uncontrolled trigger happy madman.

Just like Tord.

No wonder the whole world wants him caught.

Son, leave it” Hilarson quietly told him as he held his arms. Tom shook with unbridled rage as he tried to steady himself through his breathing, the ducked his head to keep the hood of his coat from sliding off, he wouldn’t want to be recognized in such a crowded area, it would be disastrous.

Tom gritted his teeth and turned away from the screen, letting Hilarson wrap one arm around his shoulders as the Colonel hurriedly guided him away from the town “We’ll get him Tom, I promise” Hilarson told him once they were at a safe distance.

Tom really wanted to believe him.

When it was clear that maneuvering through unfamiliar countries that were actively trying to hunt them down was becoming difficult, Hilarson pulled a few more strings from his connections. It took days but eventually the Colonel ordered what was left of their unit to start packing up for a long ride. They were going to England.

They were going home.

Tom thought the idea was stupid at first, home base was looking for him, and Hilarson wanted them to go to the very place where they could easily track him down?

Tom had a spike of distrust at what Hilarson suggested, maybe the Colonel finally got tired of having to constantly be on the run, maybe he was finally throwing in the towel and figured that Tom wasn’t worth all the trouble.

“Son it’s not like that” Hilarson reassured him as he did one last check up on the helicopter they were to use “These countries are clearly not our allies anymore, trying to run across Europe now is dangerous, more so because we’re in unfamiliar territory, we don’t know these countries, and now that we’re on the British army’s shit list asking for help isn’t an option” He sighed “I know England won’t be any better but it’s home, we know England. We have an advantage there. So please, just trust me”

Tom couldn’t really argue with him after that, not when Hilarson pleaded earnestly with him. Not when the world felt like it was crumbling to pieces.

Because it did.

With the Red army spreading like a plague in Europe, the higher ups from home base were unable to stand it. Technically Red didn’t say anything about stopping the war right? It was that one thought alone that turned everything into shit. Without the government’s knowledge, a group of military higher ups secretly began to plan amongst themselves, the Red army was spread out and busy looking for Tom, which could only mean that a lot of their resources were directed towards his capture, and with the Poland factory still out of commission, Red’s forces were severely handicapped.

They started looking for all of the old members of the Norway corps.

Tom had been saved a fate worse than death, mostly because Hilarson would never ever give him up, but he couldn’t help but think of his old unit. All of the men and women he spent cold disastrous months with, the soldiers who joked with him, fought with him, and shared a ratty tent with. He thought about Greg and his family photo, of Don and his freakish height, and of Sammy who just didn’t know when to give up calling him ‘boss’.

Did any of them escape the higher ups like he had? Or did they have to drag themselves back into hell?

When the report of the newly deployed Norway corps getting decimated reached his ears, Tom hadn’t been able to sleep well in what felt like months. What the higher ups didn’t count on was that Tord- the very inventor of the weapons they feared- would have his own factory in that fortified base of his where he would happily create newer and deadlier weapons each day.

They lost a huge part of their army to that suicide mission.

Tom would be one of the soldiers from the Europe Frontal Assault Program still left alive, if not the only one. He didn’t dare to see if he was.

If that didn’t prove to be the worst thing to ever happen to them, a rift ripped open between the government and several heads of the army. Of course they blamed the higher ups for sacrificing lambs to the slaughter, and of course the higher ups played it off as an opportunity they couldn’t risk losing. It tore them apart from the inside despite the attempts of many to hold them together, they couldn’t afford infighting at the face of a devastating blow, but ultimately the damage was irreparable now.

It was their fault the army was broken down into factions now. Tom called it karma.

Their current location was at the outskirts of Brighton, Hilarson chose this particular area because the British army paid this part of England no mind, and now that they were scrambling to keep themselves together, it became easier to hide out there. Brighton was pretty much empty too, the people had long since evacuated when a Red battalion docked in and began to set up camp there.

They combat the platoons they come across as best as they can, but ultimately they try to avoid contact with the battalion. Hilarson opted to keep an eye on them in the meantime because despite becoming disillusioned with the government, he firmly believed in his heart that England was still worth saving. As long as the battalion stayed put they won’t do anything drastic.

It was already close to midnight but Tom couldn’t really find it in himself to try sleeping, now that he had no access to sleeping pills he was pretty much fucked. Their camp had a great view overlooking a part of Brighton, the docks weren’t very far either so the smell of salt and sea easily drifted by with the breeze. It was weird seeing the town shrouded by darkness, Brighton was such a lively town back then, what light was in it now usually just came from a Sentinel passing by making its rounds.

“Couldn’t sleep?” Tom turned his head slightly when he heard the crunch of grass from behind him. Hilarson stepped into place beside the Corporal and joined him on the ground where he sat, watching the small beams of Sentinel lights float by.

“Was planning on seeing if I can hit a Sentinel with a rock from this distance actually, the thought’s been bothering me for days now and I just couldn’t let it go” Tom joked and threw a pebble up and down for emphasis before discarding it to the side.

Hilarson chuckled in response but didn’t look away from the Corporal just yet, the older soldier studied the Corporal’s face “….you know” Tom groaned jokingly when he heard the tone in Hilarson’s voice, the Colonel jabbed him with his elbow with a roll of his eyes at his reaction “Shush son, let an old man worry about his charge”

“You’re not my mom”

“Hm, might as well be with how much you stress me out at times looking after you” Hilarson tapped his index finger against his lips with a smile while Tom grinned and shook his head at him “Kidding aside son, I can see that all this running is starting to wear you down…” The Colonel clasped his hands together in front of him and rested them against his thighs “I’ve been talking to some friends of mine..they have a safe house in Scotland, so far nothing’s happened there so I figured-“

“No thanks” Hilarson sighed deeply, expecting the answer but still hoping the Corporal would take the chance “I’m not just gonna sit around and wait Colonel, you know that. I don’t think I could handle not knowing what was happening outside” Tom pulled his knees closer to his chest and looked back out into Brighton’s  lifeless streets “It’s dangerous for me out here, I know, but at least I know what to expect”

“Just consider it, if you ever find yourself in need” Hilarson offered, hoping that Tom would actually think about the safe house at some point “You know I would do my best to make sure you get out of this alive, but…this is a just in case you know? There’s only so much I can do for you at my age”

“Colonel, no, don’t talk like that” Tom frowned at him, his eyebrows furrowing together “I’m not asking you to throw yourself away for me, I appreciate everything you’ve done but I can take care of myself”

“I know, but between you and me, I know for a fact that only one of us has any chance of facing Red head on” Hilarson reached over and ruffled Tom’s hair, the Corporal yelped in surprise and batted his hand away, blinking rapidly at the Colonel in confusion. Hilarson guffawed at him and shook his head “You youngins just have more energy you know? I’d be lucky if I didn’t just keel over in the middle of the war at this point”

“Colonel you’re not that old”

“And your hair isn’t that long, but we both know that’s bullshite” Hilarson grinned then his eye lit up in remembrance. The Colonel snapped his fingers and hurriedly turned to his side, one hand rummaging around in his pocket. Tom’s eyebrows drew together in confusion as he leaned over to see what the Colonel was doing, he quickly drew back when the man straightened up again and turned to face him, bringing the hand he was hiding behind his back forward and presenting an item Tom blinked twice at “Tada~” The Colonel happily sang and let Tom take the item from him.

Tom looked down at the item in his hand and laughed “You found a pair of scissors…” He inspected it in the light, finding that the blades were slightly dented but it seemed usable enough. He listened to the satisfying snick of the blades when he began to test them out.

“Think of it as an early Christmas present” Hilarson hummed as he watched Tom twirl the scissors around in his hands “Of course I could’ve waited until December but just seeing how long your hair’s gotten is making me uncomfortable, I’m getting rashes just looking at it”

Tom chuckled and kept hold of the blades “I mean, I don’t celebrate Christmas but getting free shit is always good so thanks” He ducked the playful hit to his head that Hilarson sloppily launched.

The Colonel tsked at him “At least try to sound a little bit more grateful than that you snot nosed brat” Hilarson yawned and shook his head, the man rubbed at his eyes and sighed as he stood up “Unfortunately I don’t seem to have your insomnia, and now that I’ve reached my quota of stressing out over your health today I think I need to recharge” He popped the stiffness out from his back “And don’t expect me to help you cut your hair Bowling Ball, if I had it my way all of that’s gonna come off”

“Aw, matching hairstyles? I feel so close to you already Colonel”

“Don’t be a smartass son” Hilarson clicked his tongue at him and- because he knew it would annoy him- gave Tom’s hair one last ruffle as he left. Tom huffed and slapped his hand off “I’m going to need you for training tomorrow, don’t care if you’re sleep deprived, just don’t be late” With that said, Hilarson continued on. The Corporal watched the Colonel leave until he turned to another path towards his tent.

Tom scoffed once Hilarson was gone, already knowing how their routine went. Hilarson’s been giving his training more emphasis the past few months since they had no obligation to do any immediate missions. It’s just been lesson after lesson for him, the Colonel seemed really enthusiastic about imparting what knowledge he had too, Tom didn’t have it in him to ruin that for the Colonel, he knew the man was trying to make up for what he didn’t do. In its own way, it was touching.

Smiling to himself, Tom looked down at the present the Colonel gave him. It was about time he cut his hair anyway. Tom stood up and with one last look at Brighton, the Corporal headed back to his own tent to look for some reflective surface that’ll help him see what he was doing to his hair. He’d be damned if he had to face Tord looking like a clown.

Lost in his thoughts, Tom failed to hear the quiet beep close to where he stood. A gush of air followed then silence.

 


 

The next day found the renegade unit quietly going about their own businesses. Most of the soldiers that were up and about had taken to some light exercising while others opted to just have a steady chat with their friends. It was still the early morning so the haze of sleep still hadn’t left the camp, making it feel as though everyone were simply floating by, no one really paid any real attention to what they were doing.

Augh fuck!”

Mostly everyone.

Tom coughed hard when his back hit the ground painfully, the Corporal blinked away the dark spots in his vision as he focused on the chuckling voice above him “You’ll have to do better than that son” Hilarson grinned, upside down from Tom’s view. The Colonel offered a hand to help him up which Tom reluctantly took “Don’t sulk son, it’s good that you’re learning”

“M’not sulking” Tom said, definitely sulking. This wasn’t something new; Hilarson had long since convinced him to have some hand to hand combat training, the Colonel had warned him that he wouldn’t hold anything back since Tom should have some experience having been  trained by the EFA program. The problem was Tom was deployed with only several months of training under his belt, so when Hilarson decked him silly at the second round, Tom knew the man began to pull some of his punches.

Fuck you Hilarson. He thought grumpily, not that he was really mad, just miffed about getting his arse handed to him more times than he could count. It made him realize just how unprepared he was, if Hilarson could throw him down like it was nothing what about Tord? He practically begged the Colonel to stop pulling punches. He needed to do this seriously.

“Just remember son, your foes will always have a tell” Hilarson, in his pristine white yet sweat soaked undershirt, began to take his offensive stance again as he leveled Tom with a serious gaze. The Corporal swallowed and mirrored the man’s stance. Hilarson began to circle him and Tom followed suit “Pay attention, the slightest shift may save your life. Know how to predict your enemy’s next move”

“Oooh, I guess I’m gonna learn how to be psychic n- OW FUCK!” Tom saw the swift kick coming towards him and managed to brace himself just as it landed on his left bicep. The kick sent him skidding to the side, Tom had to dig his feet into the ground to stop himself from moving.

Pay attention” Hilarson smirked at him with a raised eyebrow and gave him no time to recover as he swiped a fist towards him. This time at least Tom was able to avoid the blow, the Corporal ducked underneath the man’s arm and threw a punch. Hilarson caught it with his hand and twisted his arm around, making Tom yell in shock as he was turned “Too predictable so-“ Hilarson was unable to finish his sentence as Tom pushed his own arm down behind him, Hilarson’s grip faltered allowing for Tom to bring his elbow in and hit him across his temple.

The Corporal twisted himself around when he felt his arm go free and locked the Colonel’s head in his arms, he dipped himself down under the older soldier and kicked at the man’s stomach. The swing caused Hilarson to trip over Tom and land face first into the dirt above the Corporal’s head. He groaned and picked himself back up, Hilarson shook his head a few times to get rid of his disorientation and shot an amused glare at Tom who began to laugh “I may be predictable Colonel, but I know how to escape”

His laughter was short lived when Hilarson kicked his legs out from under him. Tom was sent to the ground in a graceless heap. The Colonel stood and dusted his hands off “Add inattentive to that list son” Hilarson assumed his stance once more “Again”

Their training went by like that, with either one of them getting beaten- mostly Tom- and Hilarson interjecting lessons after lessons in the gaps between their spars. By the end of it, Tom was nearly gasping for breath, hunched over and using his knees as support. Hilarson approached him with a small smile on his face and a bottle of water that Tom gratefully took but didn’t try to drink just yet, there still wasn’t enough air in his lungs.

“I’d say you’ve been improving quite a bit these days son, well done” Hilarson wiped at his bald head with a towel and chuckled when Tom just waved his comment off with an undignified squeak of air “We’ll be moving on to more advanced techniques next time but you still have to work on your predictability and inattentiveness. You need focus son, keep telling yourself that alright?”

“Y-yeah…yeah what- huuugh- ever” Tom gasped out as he straightened himself again. Popping the bottle of water open, he instead took to splashing his face with the cool water. He heard Hilarson’s disapproving tongue click but he didn’t care, the cold sensation did wonders for his heated skin.

“If you’re done wasting precious resources I hope you remembered that you’re supposed to be on ration duty today. You know how pissy Finnigand can get without his food, so you best be off-“

“COLONEL! COLONEL HELP!!”

Both Tom and Hilarson straightened up at the voice, the two soldiers turned to the entrance of the camp and paled at the sight of the two soldiers that came into view. The first one was battered as hell, scrapes and bruises littered his skin, the second one was worse, the first soldier had his arm around his neck to keep him standing while his companion tried to desperately press a cloth to the side of his torso, blood seeped from between his fingers.

Hilarson sprinted into action with the rest of his unit, the soldiers on standby took their injured comrade away to get treated while Hilarson steadied the first. Tom followed after the Colonel but he stood at a distance, close enough to hear but far enough to not get in the way, he vaguely recognized Finnigand appearing beside him but all his attention was on Hilarson and the injured soldier.

“Steady yourself, breathe, calm down and tell me what happened”

“O-Our section!” The soldier’s voice shook as he tried to tell his story “Colonel we- w-we didn’t even see it coming! We kept our distance like you told us to, and yet- t-they shouldn’t have seen us!!

Hilarson yelled in alarm when the soldier seemed to sway on his feet, the Colonel gripped at the man’s arms and tried to keep him up “Get a grip!!” Hilarson shouted, though his face showed nothing but concern and fear “What happened?!” He gritted out, hoping to get some answers out of the soldier before he passed out in exhaustion.

“Our section, p-please help them Colonel. The Red army…they have them” The soldier’s eyes rolled back, unconscious. Hilarson called for help when he noticed the bullet wound near the man’s chest, as it had been wrapped in a bandage the Colonel hadn’t been able to notice it until now. The soldier was quickly carried away for medical attention, the adrenaline had probably worn off, causing him to finally succumb to his injuries.

That left Hilarson with a new problem, the section of his unit that was taken. The Colonel paced in a thin line, mumbling under his breath. His eyes shadowed over as he tried to organize his thoughts, so lost in his own mind the Colonel didn’t even notice the small crowd of soldiers that began to crowd around him. The unit murmured amongst themselves, waiting for the Colonel to come to a decision. Though a lot of them were expecting for the man to quickly abandon ship, if there was any form of Red threat, Hilarson would always order an evacuation, by now everyone knew why…

“Rescue them” The words snapped the whole unit from their thoughts before they turned dark and hateful. The soldiers, including Hilarson himself, turned their heads to look at who spoke. Tom stood tall, his gaze determined as he stared Hilarson’s own surprised eyes “Colonel, rescue them” He reiterated firmly, taking one step forward for emphasis.

Hilarson stood, gaping open mouthed at Tom. The Colonel sputtered and worked his mouth “Tom-“

“It shouldn’t be up for debate Colonel, we’re going to rescue them” Tom walked forward until he was in close range with the Colonel. He squared his shoulders and looked the man in the eye “We’re dealing with a Red battalion, we can handle it. We’re not leaving without that section Colonel”

Hilarson wanted to protest but the look Tom was giving him told him that he shouldn’t challenge the Corporal’s decision. If he did, they would end up in a hell of a fight. He knew himself by now, he was fond of the young soldier, the months he spent with the Corporal proved just how taken he was with the boy, he thought of him like a son. Teaching Tom, looking after him, fighting with him, Hilarson was too attached.

That’s why he was afraid.

But he wasn’t Tom’s family, he was first and foremost his commanding officer. As that commanding officer he had to act accordingly.

So Hilarson stepped aside, taking with him any feelings of protection over Tom, and Lieutenant Colonel Hilarson took his place.

He was a commander and Tom his subordinate. That was all it was.

“…I want one squad to stay behind” The Colonel snapped at attention and addressed the soldiers surrounding them. At the authority in his voice the soldiers stood at attention and quieted down to hear the rest of the Colonel’s commands “Should things go south down there, I want a team ready to make a quick evacuation. All of our supplies need to be ready for leave and in the chopper by the time we come back, so I want this camp cleared. UNDERSTOOD?!”

“SIR YES SIR!!” The soldiers moved quickly, taking down tents and restocking crates full of what supplies they still had with them.

Finnigand!” The Colonel called out to the crowd, singling out the soldier he was looking for.

Said Corporal made quick strides towards him and saluted “Sir!”

“I want you to come on the rescue op, I need your marksmanship and your expertise on Brighton if we want any hope of this rescue becoming a success. Ready your team, we’re leaving immediately”

“Sir yes sir!” Finnigand saluted one more time before he turned sharply to do as he was told.

The Colonel watched him leave then turned his attention to the last soldier he was considering. Tom met his gaze and stood his ground “I’m coming with you Colonel” He said, his stance all but challenging the Colonel to defy his words.

For a moment, Hilarson’s eyes fluttered, an order to stay with the squad evacuating the camp at the back of his throat. Tom was the one the Red army wanted the most, he was the one the Red Leader wanted to capture and do god knows what to, he was the one in the most danger. Hilarson held his tongue. The Colonel nodded “Under one condition: Stay with Finnigand. We don’t want to lose you to the Red army after everything I’ve done to keep you here, clear?”

“Sir yes sir” Tom saluted, turning to catch up with Finnigand in the middle of preparing his team. Hilarson watched him go then turned his gaze towards the empty town ahead of them. The Colonel narrowed his eyes at a Sentinel he spotted hovering over a number of buildings. It was a good thing they were a covert unit, they know how to keep out of the enemy’s detection.

Silently, Hilarson worried. Something heavy settled at the bottom of his stomach, he felt something awful about the situation. In the end he chalked it up to last minute nerves and shook it off. No, they can do this.

They have to.

 


 

 

The sound of their boots crunching against the asphalt road was unnaturally loud, but they shouldn’t be too surprised. The only things that populated the ghost town were the mounds of propaganda and the occasional Red Sentinel hovering about.

Tom kept his steps light as he walked down the road with Finnigand’s team. From the corner of his eyes he saw one of them reach to the side and rip off a piece of propaganda that had been stuck on a pole. The soldier scowled at the poster of the Red army’s insignia before he crumpled it up in his hands and tossed it to the side with distain. Not that it made much difference, lots of those things still flew around the town like confetti, maybe that soldier should go around and crumple up all the posters if he really wanted to do something about the propaganda.

Finnigand was right beside Tom, the other Corporal kept darting his gaze to every dark corner and alley they came across. Occasionally the man would shoot him glances as well, but Finnigand mostly only kept his attention to their surroundings.

In the first few months they spent near Brighton mostly just involved keeping a close eye on the Red battalion stationed there. Hilarson regularly sent out scout groups to monitor their activities with specific orders of staying as far enough as possible. They had long since mapped out the town and the sites of the Red battalion’s camps. In fact they just came from another Red camp, it was one of the smaller ones with only a few soldiers up and about. The captured section wasn’t there but they cleared the area out at least. Less Red soldiers to worry about.

They just hoped the captured section was still there to save.

For now they were entering an assigned dead zone, meaning that area had active hostiles in it and would require for them to have absolute stealth to get around, so no talking or radios were permitted.

The looming buildings around them were both an advantage and a disadvantage, since they acted as cover and a blind. It would always be unknown whether or not something would be hiding behind one of the structures, the way that some windows of the building were completely open only made them even more paranoid, none of them could really see inside those even with their scopes.

A low humming made them momentarily lock up, Tom sucked in a breath through his teeth and looked to Finnigand who gave him the same panicked look. The two Corporals ushered their team into a nearby dark alleyway as quickly as they could just as a pair of Red Sentinels rounded the corner behind them. Tom was the last to run in, barely missing the gaze of the hovering orbs by a hairsbreadth. He skidded against the puddle of questionable water in the alley and ducked behind the nearest dumpster with some of the other soldiers.

The two Red Sentinels hovered slowly past the alleyway they were hiding in. Tom peered around the corner of the dumpster to see when the two would leave. Just as he landed his gaze on the Sentinels one of them stopped moving and turned sharply to face its one glassy eye towards the alley. Tom darted back behind the dumpster holding his breath.

The only thing his vision could pick up was the sky as he pled to whatever higher power would listen that the Sentinel didn’t see him. The humming that steadily grew louder behind him told him otherwise however. Blood rushed into Tom’s ears as he held his rifle close to his chest, preparing to fight.

TUNK!

The humming stopped and lowered itself at the thudding sound. Tom looked to his side and saw Finnigand holding a couple of pebbles in his hand behind a discarded mattress. The other Corporal eyed him and tapped a finger against his lips, he jabbed a thumb towards the Sentinel’s location and Tom peered around his hiding place just in time to see the Sentinel leave to investigate the source of the sound.

After minutes of waiting, Finnigand deemed the area safe enough for them to move out into. Their team carefully filed out from the alleyway, after double checking that the roads were once again empty they moved toward the path that would lead them out of the dead zone and into a safe house for their usual check in with Hilarson’s team on the other side of the town.

 


 

The safe house they headed to was one of the countless abandoned buildings in Brighton. It was an old apartment complex that Red Sentinels had long since scanned for life, the glowing Sentinel tags on the door clued them in on that fact. As long as they didn’t disturb the tags or what held them the Sentinels wouldn’t ever bother coming back to the building.

Tom and the rest of the team quietly waited around a single radio someone put in the middle of a table. Some of them had taken to the couches surrounding the table while some leaned against the walls. They decided to stay in the old administration office of the apartment complex, going up to the other floors would have been useless as a number of Sentinel tags littered the stairs and blocked the elevator, use any of those and the Sentinels would be alerted of movement in a supposedly empty area.

Tom kept his eyes on the radio, agitation slowly gnawing on his insides. He looked to the only other Corporal in the room with him and opened his mouth “The answer’s no” Tom blinked and shut his mouth at Finnigand’s reply to his yet to be formed sentence. The other Corporal hadn’t even looked up from where he was seated, gazing down at the floor.

“I didn’t even say anything”

“Didn’t need to hear you say it, can feel you about to suggest something stupid” Finnigand held a hand up just as Tom was about to angrily retort. The Corporal calmly looked up at him, unimpressed “Look, I know you’ve got this whole ‘gung-ho kamikaze guns blazing’ EFA spirit but that’s just not how we operate here. I get that you’re worried about the Colonel, he hasn’t been late to a check in yet, but covert operations naturally take long. The whole point of this is to evade detection, so we have to be careful, slow and steady is our motto. I wouldn’t be too worried”

Tom bit his lower lip, Finnigand had a point. He was probably worried over nothing.

Biiiip

See? Worried over nothing.

Tom moved forward before anyone else could and clicked the radio on, there was momentary static but Hilarson’s voice soon broke through it “Sect. one respond, Colonel speaking”

“Sect. one responding, Corporal Two reporting”

“Ah good, I assume you’ve all made it into the safe house fine?”

“There are Sentinel tags here but nothing to worry about. How are things on your end Colonel?”

“Two Red camps, still nothing. I’m starting to worry, there’s a possibility that the main camp may be where they’re being held but it’s a risky place to check”

Tom looked up an shared a look with Finnigand, the other Corporal crossed his arms with a frown directed at the radio. Tom thinned his lips “Are we to move in on the camp sir?”

“No, not yet, there are still a few more smaller camps to check. I want your section to hit those first”

“And you Colonel?”

“Recon the main camp, I’m not going to engage, just see if there are any traces of the captured section”

“Wait Colonel!” It was Finnigand this time who spoke up, protesting “You can’t just do that without us! Like you said: It’s risky!! You’ll need our backup!”

“Corporal, I will not engage. We’re going to keep our distance at a close safe house. Just check the remaining surrounding camps and meet up with us as soon as you can”

“Colonel-“

“That’s an order Corporal” Finnigand shut his mouth at that but Tom saw the conflict in his eyes, the Corporal looked away from the radio, hands clenched at his sides “I’ll report in any findings I receive. Take care” Then the line was cut.

Finnigand was the first to stand to leave, he snatched the radio up from the table without a single word spoken. He glanced at Tom, words hanging by the tip of his tongue, but whatever it was he was about to say died out, leaving him to simply huff and turn away “You heard the Colonel men, it’s time we pay those Reds a visit” The soldiers of Finnigand’s team looked to each other worriedly before following their Corporal back out the streets.

Tom lingered behind for a while, staring at where the radio once stood. A pang of pain shot through his chest, unchecked worry and dread. As much as he wanted to follow Finnigand to take care of the other Red camps stationed in Brighton, a large part of him was screaming to run to where Hilarson was. Something didn’t feel right and constantly ignoring that gut feeling was starting to wear Tom down.

Thompson!” Came Finnigand’s voice from the outside, impatient. Tom rubbed at his chest and let out a long sigh. It’s nothing.

It’s nothing.

 


 

Once again, the other Red camps didn’t have any of their comrades. It wasn’t easy dispatching them either, each camp they infiltrated became increasingly difficult to take by surprise. Finnigand nearly lost an eye to an enemy soldier just moments before. Had it not been for Tom coming up from behind the Red soldier, Finnigand would have surely gone home with a bullet through his skull. Finding nothing of importance, the team was now headed out to Hilarson’s team’s location.

Tom had quickly memorized a lot of the streets in Brighton when it was evident the first few days that they were going to be stuck there for a while. It was an old habit that plagued him constantly, he didn’t actively remind himself to take note of everything around him, it just sort of happens. He would always find himself looking around at landmarks or signs, mapping out pathways and the time it took to reach each one from any side until he had the whole place down by heart.

At least he knew of any escape routes should there be any need.

So relocating to the next safe house didn’t take him and Finnigand’s team very long, they were in and out of the streets just like that.

The building their team occupied should be adjacent to the one Hilarson’s team was assigned. The two buildings overlooked the main Red camp from a short distance. It was about a twenty minute walk away from them. They were able to move up this particular building as no Sentinel had cared to tag it just yet.

Prior to going out into the town, Hilarson told them to follow a tentative plan. The two assigned buildings they had were meant to be standby stations, places where their teams could wait for the other should a situation arise where they would have to come in and take a hit at the main camp. With how small their unit had gotten, it would take a lot of careful moves to even try to take it down.

Their team stopped at the middle floor of the building, quickly taking to the windows surrounding them to keep track of their surrounding areas lest they be taken by surprise by a Red soldier or a Sentinel that just happened to be passing by. Tom and Finnigand took the windows facing the direction of the main enemy camp, the two Corporals silently took out their rifles and began to check their scopes. Tom shifted his towards Hilarson’s assigned building while Finnigand flashed a mirror towards it with the use of sunshine. No response.

Tom swallowed down the hint of anxiety that shot through him and instead moved the scope back towards the main camp in the distance. Finnigand would keep watch for a signal from Hilarson.

Ten minutes into waiting and Hilarson still hasn’t responded to Finnigand’s constant signals, no matter how many times Tom checked the adjacent building’s many windows, none of them would shine with the familiar glint of another mirror. Tom frowned when the scope suddenly blurred right in front of him, what was happening? He pulled out from the scope and looked down to his hands, he was trembling.

“Finnigand…” Tom looked to his partner worriedly and saw the exact same expression on the other Corporal’s face “The Colonel’s…you don’t think..?”

“I…I don’t know” Finnigand swallowed hard and looked down at the small broken mirror in his hand “I- you sent the Colonel our standby signal right?”

“Yeah, a fuckton of minutes ago”

Finnigand let out a shaky breath and pocketed the mirror, not trusting himself to keep it in his grip “Maybe he had to take a dead zone?  Being this close to the main camp I wouldn’t be too surprised if he had to”

Weak. It was a weak reassurance. Tom’s heart hammered in his chest in rapid uneven beats, the worry he felt since the beginning growing tenfold. Finnigand’s own projecting emotions didn’t help him calm down.

It only got worse. Just as Tom had an order to start looking for Hilarson on his lips, a loud booming voice made his blood turn cold and his mouth go dry because it had shouted:

“THOMAS THOMPSON!”

Tom nearly dropped his rifle when he heard the unfamiliar voice shout his name. The eyeless soldier steadied himself and peered through the rifle’s scope once more, ignoring the sudden panicked look in Finnigand’s eyes as he did the same thing. His sockets widened when a Red troop suddenly marched into view of his scope. It split down in the middle and a man heavily decorated came through them with his head held high. Tom recognized him, Hilarson pointed him out once when they went on a partial recon mission in Brighton on their first month there. The General.

Tom’s pointer finger jumped to the trigger of his rifle but the General’s next words made him stop “Do NOT attempt to fire! We have come to make you a bargain!!” Every fiber of Tom’s being screamed at him to pull the trigger. End it, his own voice shouted in his head, END IT! He shouldn’t be stupid to trust the enemy General, much less strike up a bargain of all things with him. Tom hissed out a breath and began to pull the trigger down.

From behind the General a group of soldiers were shoved forward, harshly. Each of them had a bag tied over their heads. The soldiers were pushed to the ground on their knees one by one, though the last struggled the hardest he was eventually down on his knees as well. The sight made Tom turn cold. No.

The General spoke again “Did you really think we couldn’t predict where your unit might run to?” The bags covering the faces of their captured allies were ripped off two by two, revealing familiar faces of the leading section in their unit. ‘Hilarson’ Tom mouthed when his wide eyed gaze landed on top of his Colonel scowling and struggling with his bonds, he was bloodied and bruised but he was alive. It alleviated the fear crashing against Tom somewhat but not entirely. They were still at the hands of the enemy. Anything can happen now.

“This is where our bargain comes into play Thompson!!” The General’s voice wasn’t as loud as Hilarson’s would be, but within the deathly quiet town it was the loudest thing around for miles. Tom scowled at the General and aimed at the man’s head through his scope, for now he’ll have to listen and wait for the opportune time to take action. He glanced to his side and saw Finnigand doing the same thing, he was rigid and breathing heavily. Panicking “You see I’m getting tired of having to deal with your unit every single day! We have a schedule to keep and we wouldn’t want to be held back any more than we already have!!”

The General began to walk around the captured soldiers but he kept his gaze up and around him, as if thinking he would catch a glimpse of where Tom was hiding to speak to him directly “To tell you the truth Thompson, we could have easily left this town to head towards London and join the rest of the army waiting there”

Tom felt his team tense up around him at the mention of the Red army already being in London. He could sympathize somewhat. London had always been an image of the last safe place standing, being as they were they couldn’t possibly attempt Nirgends- and who knows how that place is anymore- so London had become their second best bet at security.

To hear that even that was in jeopardy only made them feel even more trapped.

“And we would have weeks ago had a Sentinel not catch sight of you”  A Sentinel?! Tom tried to remember when a Sentinel had caught sight of him, back in the alleyway? No, that Sentinel would have come for him if it saw him, when they were transferring safe houses? No, they didn’t run into any Sentinels on their way between them, they were careful.  

The General moved behind the captured soldiers and waved two of his fingers forward. Eight men from his troop stepped forward and took their position behind each member of Hilarson’s team “Honestly it was quite a shock, had I known you were part of the pesky unit hassling us these past few months I would have actually given a serious order to hunt you down” He laughed and took his place behind Hilarson who tried to snap at him but the General kept him down with a painful grip on his head, the Colonel yelled in pain as he was continuously pushed down, Tom’s throat locked up at the sight.

The General guffawed “To think that Red Leader wants you captured so badly? You? Careless enough to not notice that a Sentinel followed you back to your camp??” He leaned down near Hilarson’s ear, still smirking upwards at any direction he thought Tom might be in “Personally? I thought it was sweet how your dear Colonel here cared so much about you, he even gave you an early Christmas present! HAH!!”

“You found a pair of scissors…”

“Think of it as an early Christmas present”

No fucking way. Tom had to stop himself from physically flinching, yet the words still felt like a sharp slap. How in the fucking hell did he MISS a goddamned SENTINEL on a quiet night like that?!

His gaze quickly went back to the Red troop below them when Hilarson’s unit began to cry out protests and angry demanding shouts to be let go. The Red soldiers were aiming pistols at their heads. The General was pointing a pistol at Hilarson’s head “THE BARGAIN BEING!” He shouted over them, shooting the unit hard cold looks until they quieted down, though Hilarson took to growling and cursing him “Thompson, the lives of your teammates will rely on your compliance to this offer. We will let all of them go, grant the rest of your unit safe leave out of this town, if you agree to turn yourself in”

FUCKING BOLLOCKS!!” Hilarson fought harder against his captor as he tried to stand up, the General pushed him down harder than before, a dull painful thud of his knees hitting the floor making Tom flinch but Hilarson didn’t seem to back down just yet “DON’T LISTEN TO THEM TOM!!” Hilarson snarled, pulling against the hold of the soldier behind them “DO YOU REALLY THINK THESE BASTARDS WILL JUST LET US GO?! THE MOMENT WE TURN OUR BACKS THEY’LL GUN ALL OF US DOWN!! DON’T GIVE THESE PIECES OF SHIT ANYTHING!

“Now now, who gives you the right to assume anything about us?” The General backhanded Hilarson, causing the Colonel to fall to his back, a pained gasp leaving him involuntarily as his head hit the hard road. He wasn’t given any time of reprieve, the soldier in charge of him harshly tugged him back up to his knees “I am a man of my word Thompson!” The General turned back to addressing Tom. He raised his right hand up in the fashion of taking an oath “If you allow your capture we will allow your unit to go free….but should you refuse”

He nodded to the side, two soldiers adjusted their guns and blew a bullet through their respective captives’ heads, long before either of them could even realize what was about to happen. Tom held in a gasp at the scene, his scope gave him a horrifying close view of his teammates’ bodies falling to the floor with a hole in their heads “What will it be Thompson?!” The General asked, looking around him “Will you accept?!”

“DON’T YOU FUCKING LISTEN TO HIM SON!” Hilarson’s voice cut through the haze beginning to shroud Tom’s mind “THEY LIE AND CHEAT! DON’T BELIEVE IN ANYTHING THE RED ARMY TELLS YOU!!” Two more shots rang loud in the air. Four left.

“If you don’t learn to be quiet you’ll force our hand!!” The General barked, looming over Hilarson.

Fuck you” Hilarson spat in the man’s direction, causing the General to hastily step back in disgust.

“For that you have but seconds to decide Thompson!! Or we will take you by force!” The General shouted, he sounded angry now. He pulled up own gun and pushed the barrel in between Hilarson’s eyes, the Colonel didn’t even flinch. Instead he glared him down with everything he had. The Colonel had always expressed that he would fight until the bitter end, no one had any reason to doubt his words now.

TEN!” Tom’s heart thundered in his chest, his aim on the General was still clear, but there would be a consequence to his actions. Should he pull the trigger now, the army behind the man will retaliate and open fire on all of them, leaving no survivors “NINE!!” He swallowed hard around the lump in his throat, if he gave himself up there was a possibility that the General would actually let the unit live, but this was the Red army, the army a backstabbing lying son of a bitch had created with his own hands “EIGHT!! SEVEN!!

“Sir he’s going to kill them!!” The panicked voice of a Private beside him joined in. She looked at him, distraught “Sir what are we going to do?!”

SIX!! FIVE!!!”

“DON’T DO IT TOM!!” Hilarson shouted “DON’T YOU FUCKING DARE LISTEN TO THIS MAN!!”

“FOUR!” A loud ringing in his ears made Tom gasp and nearly crumple to the floor. What will you do what will you do what will you do what will you do?! His finger trembled on the trigger.

“AS YOUR SUPERIOR I AM GIVING YOU AN ORDER! DO NOT LET THEM TAKE YOU!!”

Tom noticed Hilarson’s eyes shift to the side and look directly at him through his scope, something glimmered in his eyes.

“THREE!!”

“Never EVER believe them Tom!!”

“TWO!!!!”

“FIGHT THEM! DON’T LET THEM WIN!”

Hilarson smirked.

“ONE!”

“Son…I-“

BANG.

Hilarson’s form fell backwards, a spray of blood spreading behind him. Tom turned away from the scene with a hand flying up to his mouth. FuckfuckfuckfuckfuckFUCKFUCKFU-

“YOU SON OF A BITCH!” The General had no time to see where the voice came from as a bullet shot straight through his shoulder. The man gasped in pain as he fell back while his troop instantly sprung into action and took aim at the building the shot came from. Bullets rained into the building, shattering the windows they were looking out from.

Finnigand shouted in alarm and ducked under the windows to avoid the curtain of metal piercing through them “EVACUATE! EVACUATE!! The Corporal shouted over the gunfire, ushering his unit away from the windows and towards the emergency exit stairs at the side of the building. Finnigand skidded to a stop when he realized that they were one man short. He looked back wide eyed when the ringing in his ears cleared and the sound of someone screaming their lungs out began to assault his hearing. Tom.

“TOM!!” Finnigand ran back to the window where the other Corporal stood throwing caution to the wind, open firing on the Red troop below him without ducking for cover from their bullets. Somehow Tom only managed to gain gashes from bullets barely missing him but if he stayed there out in the open any longer he would surely get hurt. Finnigand pulled at his arm “TOM! WE HAVE TO LEAVE!! TOM WE HAVE TO LEAVE GET A FUCKING GRIP ON YOURSELF!! TOM!!” Finnigand used all his strength and pulled the other Corporal to the side to punch him square in the face.

Tom fell to a boneless heap on the floor, he had stopped screaming but it seemed he stopped being there as well. Finnigand knelt down and pulled him up by the collar of his uniform “I am NOT going to lose someone else today!” Unshed tears made the other Corporal’s eyes glassy, Tom looked back at him listlessly “Don’t you fucking dare make everything that just happened here for nothing you STUPID ARSEHOLE!” Finnigand forcibly made him stand and began to pull him towards the emergency exit whilst keeping out of the bullets’ line of fire “You are going to make it out of here alive. Don’t make Hilarson’s death be for nothing

Those words had at least spurred Tom on again as Finnigand found himself being pulled to the emergency exit instead.

Sliding down the last of the stairs, Tom and Finnigand landed on the ground with a loud thud, ignoring the sharp stinging in their soles they sprinted after their team now a few ways ahead from them. Tom hissed when something grazed against his arm, Finnigand stopped  to look at him in frantic concern, his hand flew to the wound as he looked back to find Red soldiers in pursuit.

Tom picked up his pace as Finnigand cursed and did the same thing, they ran in sharp turns as to avoid getting hit by the bullets tearing through the air around them. They spotted their team turning a corner but fearful screaming made them run even faster to get to them to provide much needed aid.

Gunshots, explosions, smoke.

Red Sentinels.

Tom grabbed two of his fleeing subordinates by the arms when he caught them resurfacing from the corner they turned to while Finnigand frantically yelled into his radio for the evacuation team waiting for them back at the camp, the four of them dashed towards another road where they had to vault over a wooden fence in order to pass into another waiting road quicker. The mental map Tom had told him that the street they were on had paths that led to their camp at the outskirts of the town.

The team of four ran through turns and intersections. Were it not for Tom’s memory they would have gotten lost somewhere in the middle. Red Sentinels and soldiers would try to stop their advance but they were able to fend off most of the threats with what little ammo they had. It wasn’t soon enough for the sight of their camp to appear in the distance, the evacuation team frantically flagged them over.

Loud whirring noises from the helicopter’s propellers sent a breath of relief through Finnigand and the two remaining subordinates from his team. They quickly boarded the helicopter alongside the rest of the evacuation team. Finnigand panicked for a split second when he lost sight of Tom but calmed down when he saw the soldier at the end of the helicopter, watching as they lifted off from the ground until the bay doors shut closed, leaving behind Brighton for good.

Tom hadn’t moved from his position near the chopper doors, even as they were already flying through a steady altitude. Finnigand was starting to worry, he knew Tom and the Colonel had history that ultimately formed the almost familial bond they had. He wouldn’t know for sure what’s going on in Tom’s head but he knew it must be devastating.

Finnigand sighed to himself as he made his decision. Standing up, the Corporal steadily made his way towards his fellow at the very back of the helicopter, none of the other soldiers seemed very inclined to check up on him anyway, it seemed all of them had figured out the Corporal’s situation much like Finnigand had but had no idea on how to address it. Being one of the last of the higher ranked soldiers, the responsibility fell on Finnigand’s shoulders.

The Corporal stopped behind his comrade, Tom didn’t acknowledge his presence. Finnigand sighed “Tom…” He started softly, the dull thrumming of the helicopter’s propellers cutting into the lapse in his words “I know we didn’t…aren’t on the best of terms but I just…” He bit his lips at the continued silence of the other Corporal. Finnigand mentally berated himself, the man was already grieving, the least he could do was extend his condolences “..the Colonel meant a lot to us as well, but I know the two of you were close….I’m-“

I’m going to kill him” Finnigand’s words caught in his throat at Tom’s tone of voice. The Corporal locked up in fear, a quick glance to his side at a close soldier showed him paling as well. In all his life in service, only a few things scared Martin Finnigand. He’d seen enough of everything to be immune but the voice Tom used?

The side of his scarred face throbbed.

It fucking terrified him.

Finnigand struggled to get his mouth to work again, say something to belay the dark storm that came in the form of the very Corporal that was in front of him. If he didn’t then he knew for a fact that Tom was going to do something horrific, he should know, he took the brunt of it before “T-The General?” He cursed at himself for stuttering.

The low chuckle he received sent chills down his spine, despite its almost cheery tone, Tom’s rigid stance bastardized its intended emotion “Why would I waste my time on him? No…

The emptiness that Tom had always vaguely felt inside of him finally tore him apart, he felt it, it grew until it ate at everything that made him himself. It terrified him yet calmed him at the same time. He was trapped between a vicious cycle of emotions that pounded painfully into his head without rest. Anguish, horror, betrayal, devastation, terror, despair…anger. Tom guffawed at his situation, startling everyone in the helicopter with him. It won’t stop.

“Tord” Tom growled, abruptly cutting off his own laughter “I’m going to kill Tord”

“The Red Leader?!” Finnigand momentarily forgot his fear and gripped at Tom’s shoulder “Tom you’re in shock, you don’t know what you’re talking about! There’s no way in hell you’ll even have a chance of touching the Red Leader-!”

“Red Leader??” Tom turned around to face him, surprising Finnigand with the wide amused look on his face “You don’t understand. Tord can call himself whatever the fuck he wants but to me it doesn’t mean shit” Tom towered over Finnigand, making the man pale and back away from him, not liking the way he looked at him. Having no eyes only made it so much worse “Do you know why Hilarson wanted to keep me alive? Do any of you know why?” He looked up at the other soldiers in the helicopter with his arms spread out towards them. They said nothing, mute horror gripping at their throats.

“Tord is- for the lack of a better more appealing word- my friend” Tom spat out the last word like it physically pained him to say it “Remember those times when he would call out an ‘old friend’ in his broadcasts? Guess who lads!” For a moment the soldiers simply thought he lost his mind, but looking back at the old broadcasts and the fact that Tom was wanted so highly by the Red army, they couldn’t deny the fact that was staring them in the face.

Their eyes widened at Tom, Finnigand took more steps back “Y-You’re a sp-“

Not a spy” Tom rolled his sockets at Finnigand “You see, I know Tord, I lived with him, fought with him, talked to him. Meaning I could be one of the only people capable enough to actually get to him and put a bloody bullet in his head” He smiled at all of them “And now you know this, the question is, what will you do with this information?” Tom’s expression turned dark “Because I assure you, I’m ready to fight to my dying breath if it means giving Tord what he deserves

For a while the unit was silent. No one dared to move, no one dared to speak. Then one lone soldier stood up from his seat, keeping a steady gaze with Tom as he lifted his hand up to a salute “Sir, at your service, sir”

It caused a ripple effect, soon enough soldier after soldier saluted him, referring to him as a higher ranked officer. Finnigand was the last to do it, the Corporal thinned his lips and saluted him as well “What are your orders sir?”

Tom was slightly surprised at their response but nonetheless it was a welcome one “London” He said “Take us to London”

A Private went ahead and ran off to the front of the helicopter to inform their pilot of the new destination as well as the events that had just unfolded in the cabin.

It seemed a new army had just been brought to the world.

With someone who may even be as capable as the Red Leader himself at its helm.

Part of Tom grieved over his loss, but the larger part pushed it aside. There was no time for it.

Tord.

I’m going to kill you.

Chapter Text

Patryck was a smart man, capable, cunning, the best of the best. It wasn’t a surprise that he was one of the Red Leader’s right hand men. Many people often assumed that it was his skill set alone that allowed him to rise to the top, what many didn’t know however was it was only a partial truth.

It was probably considered nepotism but it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that Red Leader would only want people he could trust to be the closest to him. Paul and he knew the man long before he established his army, they both earned a place at his side as -dare he say it- he considered them friends.

Which was why he was stuck with delivering the bad news, anyone else would surely be shot.

The soldier stood quietly in front of the last room located at the end of a long white hallway. The sleek black double doors that towered ominously made a certain unease settle at the pit of his stomach, though it didn’t last very long, he’d been there many times already.

The low hiss of other doors opening ways behind him at least reminded him that this level of the base wasn’t entirely devoid of life. A steady chatter of jargon he could only hope to understand after extensive periods of study filled the air as their scientists went about their own business behind him. Some shot him worried looks when they saw him but made sure not to linger long lest they be accused of loitering.

“Patryck, I don’t suppose you’ve come all the way out here to admire the doors?” Patryck jolted at the voice that interrupted his thoughts. He looked to the side where a camera mounted on the wall had moved to focus on him, the device whirred as its lens zoomed in on his face “No need to be shy! The door’s open, just let yourself in”

Patryck saluted at the camera as the speaker let out a soft click. The man took one step forward and the two doors immediately slid to the side, once Patryck was in the room the doors slid shut, just as quick as they went.

The room he entered wasn’t quite like the usual laboratories this level of their base housed. While all of their labs were relatively focused on only one study thus kept in appropriate order, this lab was a whirlwind of activity that left it in a constant state of chaotic order. Metals and half finished parts littered a number of desks, machines of different sizes and uses stationed at every corner, blueprints and sketches were pinned on the walls, and one small section of the room was dedicated to chemistry but it was overshadowed by the more mechanical areas.

Patryck easily maneuvered his way around the mess, though it didn’t stop the grimace of disappointment from slipping into his expression. He honestly thought that this place would get fixed up by now after the last accident, Red Leader should really know better. Then again, when the man thinks up a new idea there was no stopping his excitement to create it, tidiness just happened to be one of the prices to pay.

“Good afternoon Patryck, please do watch your step, I lost a screw somewhere and I would like to recover it. If you happen upon it please don’t hesitate to give it back” Hunched over the desk in the middle of the lab filled to the brim with blueprints and metal parts was Tord. The Red Leader hadn’t even looked up when he greeted his soldier, too engrossed with the soon to be device in his hand that he studied in the light.

Unlike when he was busy operating the base, Tord’s choice of clothing had changed. In place of his usual regalia was a red sweater and black pants, easy to move in and not too stifling.  Though Patryck spotted smudges of oil barely visible on his leader’s pants, were it not for the slight sheen he would have missed it entirely. He frowned in disapproval, judging by the stains on the man’s hands Tord had yet to shake off the bad habit of wiping them down on his articles of clothing. Laundry day was going to be a hassle yet again.

“I’ve come to report in sir, regarding Thompson” Patryck was not one to withhold news, no matter if it were bad. The sooner it was over with the better. Red Leader of all people would appreciate his straight to the point nature. From behind his clear goggles, Tord’s one eye shifted towards Patryck’s face, gleaming with interest “A deployed battalion reported that they encountered Thompson at their post. Brighton, England I believe”

“And may I assume that they captured dear Thomas?”

“..negative sir, Thompson escaped, not without injuring the General in charge”

“General…?”

“General Weth, the one you asked me to remove when time comes”

Tord sighed deeply through his nose and pretended to nonchalantly inspect the device in his hand once again. Patryck however knew that he was doing everything in his power not to throw the device across the room out of anger, the subtle sharpness of his eye told him just as much “That’s a shame, I have to say that I’m very disappointed in our General. That’s two strikes already”

“Shall I….?”

“No” The device was set back on top of the table while Tord opted to make himself busy by going over his blueprints once more. Sometimes adding new equations and sketches as he went along, anything to keep his hands from crushing his new invention, it took him quite a while to develop it after all “An army doesn’t grow on trees Patryck, until we find a suitable candidate to take his place we won’t jeopardize the army by having an empty slot, more so of a high position”

The device on the table let out a quiet fizzing noise. Patryck looked over at it in confusion, Tord on the other hand snapped his gaze at it in panic. The commander let out a mixed noise of alarm and frustration as he took a small metal dome from the other side of the desk and quickly slammed it on top of the device with a loud CLANK!

FFTUNG !

Patryck flinched when the dome jumped a few millimeters in the air, he breathed out a sigh of relief when he realized that Tord had used his robotic arm to hold the dome down, thus keeping it from flying off. His leader didn’t seem to share his sentiments however as Tord lifted the dome slightly and scowled at the tendrils of smoke that escaped. No doubt that the device was no more.

For a minute Tord just stood in the same position, Patryck calmly stayed as he was as well, he knew what was coming next. The Red Leader breathed quietly through his nose, his mouth pressed into a thin line as he continued to watch the smoke. As Patryck silently predicted, the dome was slammed harshly against the desk, enough to make it bounce backwards and clatter to the floor, revealing the charred remains of what was once part of the new gun model his leader had been working on for the past few days.

“Steikje” Tord growled under his breath, he turned away from his failure and removed his goggles from his face. Tiredly, the commander rubbed at his eye and hissed through gritted teeth. A barely visible grey circle under it spoke volumes of how much sleep he had days prior and frankly it was starting to make him irritable. Clenching a fist at his side, Tord stiffly drew in another breath, calming himself before he does anything he would regret later “Might I ask, Patryck, how is General Weth??”

Patryck straightened up at the tone of voice his leader used “More or less recovering sir but from what I heard Thompson shot him in the shoulder, unfortunately the injury will keep him from being able to properly handle weapons for now”

“Hm, why hadn’t he requested for medical leave?” Tord turned around to face Patryck again, confusion written on his features “Surely he knows I will allow my men to return to home base if absolutely necessary? This injury sounds so very serious

Patryck thinned his lips. Red Leader knew exactly why the General didn’t want to come back to home base, he sure as hell knew the General himself was aware that their commander wouldn’t be happy with his failures “I suppose he believes it to be minor sir, Weth has always respected your wish to not be bothered by inconveniences”

“Inconveniences??” Tord guffawed at the word “Why Patryck! Where ever did you hear that?” The commander gave his right hand man a bewildered smile and shook his head “If I have a soldier unable to properly fight because of an injury I won’t force them back into the field! What do you take me for? The world’s governments??”

“Shall I have communications send Weth permission of medical leave then?”

“Whatever keeps him alive” Tord shrugged and began to sweep off the pieces of burnt metal off his work desk and into a bin under it. It wouldn’t be new that Tord would allow someone to return if they suffered legitimate life or service threatening injuries. Back then, when he first started, he wouldn’t have allowed it as much but now that he could afford it the issue wasn’t of concern. Monitoring his soldiers’ health was part of why his army was always on top form.

Though Weth….he’ll just say that this was a different type of special case.

“What will we do about Thompson, sir?” Tord stilled at that. Right. Tom was back in England.

The Red Leader hummed thoughtfully. In all honesty he wasn’t exactly expecting that Tom would up and actually attempt to come back to England, not after he spread word of how he wanted him captured throughout the whole of Europe. He knew Tom, though he teased him when they were younger, the eyeless man was a lot smarter than he made himself look.

Whatever it was he was planning, Tord knows he won’t like it.

“…send in more search parties, whatever happens, catching Tom should be priority” When he was done cleaning up his desk, Tord turned to his blueprints and crossed out a few equations “Thomas is not someone I’m keen on turning my back to, especially if he’s left alone with his own thoughts. My old friend is..not exactly the most stable person, and his emotions often get the best of him” A wry and bitter grin wormed its way into Tord’s face “As a result his actions tend to be, haha, explosive” Tord’s robotic hand seemed to twitch at the last word but only for a split second “Did you know he tried to stab me with a broken bottle once just because he was irritated that I woke him up?” He sighed fondly, an inappropriate response to a frankly horrifying memory “Good times”

“I’m…sure it was sir” Patryck answered uneasily while Tord laughed and waved him away. The soldier took his cue to leave and saluted his leader, he turned and began to walk to the exit, ready to do the tasks assigned to him.

“Oh and Patryck?”

“Yes sir?”

Tord smiled at him from behind his desk “About General Weth’s medical leave. It’s an order, not an invitation”

Patryck nodded once and continued on to leave his leader to his own devices. Once the towering doors slid shut behind him he let out a sigh of relief. At least his leader seemed to be in a rather civil mood despite the shortcomings that came their way.

Back inside the lab, Tord stared at the shut doors with the same smile he gave Patryck before he left. It didn’t leave even as he looked back down at his blueprints and continued to work on the adjustments he needed to make to his newly designed weapon. The steady scratching of his white pen becoming a dull sound that filled up the room.

Then the sound began to double, each stroke becoming more defined, the pen pressed harder against the paper, enough to have it make strained popping noises every time it glided against the surface. Soon the words on the blueprints became erratic, jumbled, rushed. Then Tord’s hand paused mid equation. The pen shook in his grip, then it flew across the surface, leaving behind a large tear in the middle of the blueprint.

Again and again, the pen slashed violently against the paper, tearing months of research and trials into unreadable bits that scattered all around the Red Leader’s feet. The pen continued its path of destruction, even when there were no more blueprints to destroy. It instead left marks of white scratches on the desk’s surface, all until Tord broke the pen in his grip, sending white ink splattering all over.

The smile on the leader’s face became crooked.

Tord let out a noise in between a sigh and a laugh. All at once feeling the pressure of stress bearing down on his shoulders. The Red Leader wrapped his arms around his middle and curled in on himself until his forehead touched his desk, ignoring the sticky white ink on its surface. Tord could feel himself shaking, either from rage or the urge to scream he didn’t know.

He sucked in a breath and straightened himself up, running his flesh hand over his face he blindly reached behind him for the chair he hadn’t used in days while in the lab. Sinking against the piece of furniture, Tord let his eye dart listlessly at the mess he made. He laughed, knowing that he’ll soon realize what he’d done once he was out of…whatever this was.

A few months ago, England’s military went back on its word. It sent out a large regiment in secret, gunning for his main base. Of course Tord had seen it all coming from a mile away, but what he didn’t expect was the absolute fuckery those idiot Generals had their men do.

It was a suicide mission in every sense of the word.

Tord felt like he watched a personification of his own Red Sentinels come to life.

It was definitely desperation on their part that drove them, the last attempt of a cornered animal. Even Tord could admit that he was taken aback when a line of soldiers ran head first towards his base without much weapons. When he had his men intercept them….

Tord looked up at the large screen of their command center, he clicked his tongue in disapproval when he realized that the wave of soldiers screaming for battle coming their way were in fact British army soldiers. He recognized a few of their faces and laughed when most of them matched up with members of the silly special program they made just to combat him head on. He felt touched that they thought so much about him.

Ultimately though, they were stupid to try again. Their cute little program doesn’t work.

One upside to it is that Thomas was part of the program it seemed. At least they did one thing right: Bring his old friend right in front of his door. He almost felt giddy with the thought, there was a huge chance that Thomas could be out there after all.

Tord hummed and sat down on a vacant chair near the screen, it may have belonged to another one of his men manning the communications but he couldn’t care less. From their side, in contrast to their enemies currently screaming their lungs out and giving away their position, they were calm and going about their own business as usual. The steady chatter was reminiscent of a simple business firm on a regular work day, even though they were to begin a battle outside of their walls.

The Red Leader swung the chair from left to right as he paid attention to the events unfolding outside. Occasionally making popping noises as he pursed his lips and blew out air. His men were well on their way to meet the approaching enemy regiment head on, he could somewhat make out their reports coming in from all around him. Tord sighed, when will they learn?

Tord stopped swinging his chair when he noticed something…odd. The Red Leader sat up straight and narrowed his eye at the monitor in confusion. His own men were taking their positions behind covers close to their base, but the enemy soldiers didn’t take to their own covers and instead ran through the forest with reckless abandon. They were out in the open and yet they didn’t seem to care.

Tord stood up from his seat in alarm, he looked around the room and found that no one else seemed to be aware of the situation like he was. He even spotted a few of his men chatting happily with their friends, laughing and generally paying the battle no heed. He growled under his breath, yes he was guilty of the same bored outlook on the battle, but at least he knew that he should still pay close attention to it.

Never underestimate the enemy : His firm belief.

So why were his own men getting so goddamned cocky?!

HEI! DIN FAENS ROMPESLIKKERS!!!!” Tord shouted at the room, using all the anger and authority in his voice. The room seemed to collectively jump in fear when he spoke. The soldiers stopped and stared at him wide eyed, unwilling to move lest they have their leader bear down on all of them while he was in this mood. Tord scowled at them “If you bastards haven’t noticed, the enemy is currently running straight at us and they’re not stopping. Not even for COVER!” He pointed at the main screen “Am I the only one who noticed something off?! GET TO YOUR STATIONS AND GUIDE THE TROOPS!!”

The room scrambled to do as their leader commanded, most dodging out of his way to get to their assigned stations. The one soldier whose chair he took didn’t even spare a glance to his lost item, he simply stood at his desk and began to work without question.

Tord huffed in agitation, mayhaps he’d gotten slightly lenient with his men after all these years. During his early days when he was an arrogant, cocky young thing, he wasn’t afraid to make examples of his own troops should any of them fall out of line. As he grew older however, he realized that excessive execution just to make a point won’t lead him anywhere good. He needed his army to grow.

Of course his army still remembers him as he were back then and they do still fear him, sometimes they just find a way to toe the lines of his limits. It was tempting to revert back to old ways but he can’t afford that kind of behavior now that he’s at war against the whole world.

The whole world…he would have laughed at it once before, if he were younger he would, thinking himself to be a God-like threat to have the whole world watch for his every move, to have the whole world fear him. The thing is, the deal with being feared is that no one wants him to be around, in a war like this one it only means one thing: everyone wants him dead.

Fear is a such a strong driving factor, it makes people do things they never hoped to do if used the right way. Though he used fear to his advantage, he was quite aware of how dangerous it can become. He knew how his enemies worked because of fear, he knew how his men worked because of fear. Fear brought him above…but he knew it could be his downfall.

He looked around the room, at all the soldiers who enlisted into his army. Tord barely knew any of them, they were strangers that- while fought for him- were still obscured in many many ways. The human mind is so complex, every thought shifted and turned faster than anything in the world. Generally, he knew what they thought of him, he knew they were afraid of him, he also knew that people tend to do everything they can to survive.

With the fall of the Poland factory, their army had recently come to a slower advance. Regiments worldwide had to pull back due to a glaring lack of available weapons. They even lost a few battles along the way, which was an honest shot through some of the soldiers’ moral, at least the new ones.

Tord had noticed that newer soldiers tend to be bolder, arrogant, thinking that his army was invincible. The Red Leader would take time to say otherwise, they were strong but they weren’t Gods and this war needed to be thought out carefully in order to succeed, but the younger ones seem to always brush it off with a laugh. They couldn’t possibly lose!

But when they did, well, the younger ones began to doubt.

They began to look at him strange.

They began to whisper.

‘Is Red Leader fit to be commander?’

He knows what they say behind his back.

He saw three soldiers talking amongst themselves, then one made the mistake of glancing at him as they whispered.

Tord pulled out his old handgun and- before anyone could blink- shot at the three unsuspecting soldiers busy manning their stations. They never even saw it coming. Blood splattered against the monitors they faced as their bodies slumped forward with a loud thud. The people around them yelled in alarm but quickly checked themselves when they saw who shot their fellowmen.

The Red Leader snarled at the ones who turned to face him “ What? ” He growled “I thought I told all of you to pay attention to the battle? What are you staring at? ” When they hesitated to move, Tord shot at the ceiling. The soldiers felt their throats constrict in fear and hastily turned back to their tasks at hand. The soldiers close to the bodies readily ignored them, no one even moved to remove them from the premises.

Someone walked up to the Red Leader’s side “Sir..” The pistol moved so fast no one could’ve seen it, it landed between Paul’s eyes. The soldier himself didn’t seem as concerned that his leader aimed a weapon at him. The man sighed “Sir, please remember to breathe”

Tord didn’t move the gun from its position, he seemed to search Paul’s face for something before he sighed and turned his head away from his soldier, bringing the gun down with him “I know, I know. Oops” He pocketed his pistol though his hand still seemed twitchy as his eye moved around the room, watching his men closely.

Paul watched him with concern, unlike most of the soldiers, he and Patryck would know when their leader’s fits of lashing out meant something more. These past few months were enough to make them concerned. Red Leader almost never goes anywhere without a weapon, even when retiring to his room the man would be armed to the teeth. Patryck should know, he almost got shot at, beheaded, then electrocuted just because he forgot to knock on their leader’s door when calling him down for breakfast.

Paul sighed and shook his head at his leader, though Tord didn’t see it “I’ve had my men create a perimeter around the base, some of the Sentinels are on standby should we need it sir” A safety check always seemed to calm the man down these days, which was still true as he saw the tension ease off his leader. Paul continued “The enemy doesn’t seem to have any other regiment than the one directly in front of us, our scouting teams checked the vicinity though some of our men are stationed around our blind spots just in case”

“Good, that’s good, thank you Paul” The two men turned their attention towards the main monitor where a clear view of the approaching army was being displayed. Their frontline team should be waiting as well, ready to take them out. When the enemy neared the no man’s land close to their base, Tord nodded at the soldier in charge of sending the waiting team out to intercept them. The soldier barked an order into her headset for the team to steadily approach the barren land as well.

Tord’s eye sharpened when their enemy didn’t stop their rushing advance, in fact, the British soldiers even ran out into the no man’s land with just as much care as they did in the forest. Paul, who stood beside him, was the first to speak up about it “This is damn weird, they’re not stopping” He voiced out what the two of them were thinking, Tord could only nod in agreement.

“What are they trying to-“ The Red Leader stopped himself when he caught one of the enemy soldiers throwing something aside when they were at close range with their waiting frontline team. His eye widened in realization when one soldier ran faster and got ahead of his team to barrel into a troop of Red soldiers “Tell them TO RETREA-!”

Tord’s last minute order fell short when the enemy soldier who ran into a Red troop exploded into a bloody shower of viscera and smoke. No sooner had it happened did the other soldiers follow suit, taking out more and more of the Red frontline team with each sacrifice.

Suicide bombers.

They were a fucking regiment of suicide bombers.

“GET THE SENTINELS ONLINE!” Tord shouted, letting Paul handle the rest as his right hand man began to give orders to the waiting Sentinel handlers he put on standby. Soon enough the monitors of the room were overwhelmed by a sea of metal and red. The Sentinels immediately located they enemy soldiers and began to dive down to engage. Having no other weapons whatsoever, the enemy soldiers could only face the small robots head on. Tord thought for a split second that they really were stupid enough not to think it through, but the way the soldiers ran straight for the Sentinels told him otherwise.

For a moment, Tord felt a pang of worry when he remembered that Tom could be somewhere within the sea of idiots ready to waste their lives for a government that didn’t give a damn about them. A quick inputted command into his personal Sentinel monitor had the robots scanning the advancing regiment for the lone soldier he was after. It would be a shame if Tom were to die so idiotically after all, not after everything he did.

No, he wasn’t concerned. Just had an ulterior motive. Though it seems he shouldn’t have to worry after all, even after searching long and hard Thomas wasn’t in the crowd. At least the other man was smart enough to avoid this pointless endeavor. Tord had to give him credit for that at least. The Red Leader pretended that he wasn’t just holding his breath.

An old feeling of dread began to worm its way up his back when he realized that the battle was taking longer than he liked. Tord shook off the feeling and scowled at the main monitor. Watching as more and more of his Sentinels took care of the bombers the same way they did to his Red troops. Too many. That was too many Sentinels to lose.

Some of the enemy soldiers managed to break past the Sentinel waves and go straight for the Red troops still stationed outside. Many were gunned down but some managed to get close enough to do their job. It was a frenzy of gunfire and explosions, sometimes rattling the fort when one soldier was lucky enough to get too close. Their command center was now a large contrast to what it was before, now all his men were yelling into their headsets, trying their damndest to maneuver their way out of the shitshow they found themselves in.

In the end of it, none of the enemy soldiers were able to infiltrate the base, but they caused some significant damage on their numbers.

Too many Sentinels and too many soldiers lost.

Desperation indeed.

The command center was quiet, unsure how to mark the battle, did they win or lose? No one was certain. The soldiers around the Red Leader slowly turned to him, waiting for his reaction. Tord simply stared up at the main monitor, the feed was quiet now. He turned on his heel and began his leave of the room, his boots made soft tapping noises against the floor, the only sound “Get this mess cleaned up” And those were his last words as the doors shut behind him.

He can’t hope to replace what he lost as quickly as he’d like, not when he was already drowning in the problem of getting his soldiers new weapons on time.

‘Oh Thomas, just had to hit where it hurts hm’

In the meantime, he was going to pay England back for their little stunt.

Tord knew he was starting to break down from stress, he could barely keep up with everything as it is. Shakily, he pulled out a cigar from his pocket and lit it up with a Bunsen burner that just happened to be close by, he didn’t think he could steady his hand enough to properly hold a lighter anyway. He sucked in a deep breath from the cigar and slowly blew out the smoke, the soothing feeling of warmth spread in his lungs as he leaned back on the chair. It was funny to think something so cancerous would give him comfort.

At least having dangerous vices were one of the things he and Tom had in common.

“Ah yes, the cause of my problems” He muttered to himself and flicked off the ash from his cigar into one of the torn up parts of his old blueprints. Tord knew from the start that losing one of his major weapons factories was going to be tough, he just forgot to put into account that on top of the world war he was currently in, it would become so much worse.

Now everything was coming down on him fast and wearing him thin. It only made the prospect of catching Tom all the more appealing. Tord looked down at the cigar in his hand and figured that the first thing he was going to do was burn Tom with it, preferably somewhere the whole world can see. Face? Neck? Forehead? Who knows.

The longer he left Tom unattended, the more the brunet will find a chance to deal another heavy blow. That was something he couldn’t allow. He knows that Tom is angry with him, no doubt about it, and when Tom gets angry he becomes akin to a force of nature.

One that Tord has definite plans to tame of course. That much will and power is just begging to be commanded, besides, it would be dangerous to not at least have it on his side.

Tord sucked in another lungful of smoke.

 


 

Tom took another swig of the burning liquid.

The eyeless soldier let out a long sigh as he leaned against the interior of the helicopter, the hand holding the bottle of alcohol swung downwards and hit the wall with a soft tap. Sparing one glance out the bay doors he watched as soldiers walked around their camp while some went further out to join the scouting team currently watching over their perimeter.

It’s been two weeks since they escaped Brighton and headed up to London. Unsurprisingly, the Brighton General wasn’t bluffing when he said that the Red army finally made its way into the city. When they first approached they had to combat a Red aerial force just to land safely. The good news was that they only encountered a minor squadron, the bad news was they were good shots.

Tom drank again when his vision landed on the multiple holes that littered their helicopter. Flight wasn’t going to be an option for them anymore.

“It’s going to be a free for all from now on mate, we’re on a race against the clock”

Sammy’s words echoed in Tom’s head, he had to scoff at it, who knew his old unit mate would predict their future so well.

Brighton’s seen better days but London was worse off. Sure, unlike Brighton, London still had its citizens but they were so few and far in between and it was only because those people had no other choice than to stay, travelling outside London was dangerous, other cities were either destroyed or under siege. When faced with venturing out into the unknown or staying somewhere dangerous yet knowing what that danger is, people will most likely choose what’s familiar.

Where they crash landed was in a part of the city that was already damaged beyond belief. What used to be buildings were now mountains of rubble, mangled metal jutted out dangerously from the piles while miscellaneous items were strewn about. Some items were still recognizable like books or bags and other such things, though others were like puzzle pieces that no one could identify.

It was clear that this place used to be a residential area. The items still around seemed much too personal.

They were situated behind the more towering piles of rubble, even if their copter’s tail stuck out from behind no one would bat an eye at it in this area. In fact, it blended in quite well among the broken bombshells and abandoned tanks.

What would it have been like, he wondered, to see machinery like this rolling down a road where ordinary folk lived. One day to have woken up to the sound of an impending battle just outside the door. Did any of them know what was going to happen to them?

Tom set the bottle down, ignoring what alcohol was left. The thing was watered down anyway. He didn’t feel like drinking anymore.

Standing up, the eyeless soldier took up his rifle that was quietly sitting beside him. She was standard issue, nothing special, but she was familiar, reliable. His rifle held out for so long that he couldn’t really imagine taking up another weapon and still be confident about his shots. Though, he knew by now that in a war like this one? Against an enemy so advanced? As much as his rifle meant to him, she wasn’t going to make the cut this time.

Which was why he had this operation planned the moment they reached London.

“Finnigand” Tom called once he was out of the helicopter and within the other Corporal’s earshot. The man turned towards him sharply, his hand raised to a salute that quickly went down when he saw the look that Tom was giving him. It was a quiet agreement amongst the soldiers that all command of the unit switched to Tom after his reveal. Though they weren’t quite sure how to react to him.

Tom was a man who knew the Red Leader, in a way that no one else does. He was someone who saw the man behind the monster, the weakness in his strength. Out of everyone, Tom had a fighting chance against an enemy they always saw as a God-like threat, because Tom knew how to make that God human. At least, that’s what they believed. That’s what they wanted to believe.

It was better than venturing into the thought that if Tom was friends with a person like the Red Leader once, and people tend to attract the company that suits them, there was a possibility that he could be so much like him.

They favored to forget what they’ve seen Tom do before, more specifically the ones that revealed an instability within him. Which was why most of them tended not to look Finnigand in the face, he was the prime example after all.

So people didn’t know how to react to him, to keep him pacified, to keep him on their side despite knowing that Tom would never defect, not when he showed absolute contempt at the thought. They treated him with respect, amidst the chaos he showed them a direction to walk when they were out of options. He was what they had left, he was their chance. Losing him meant losing the shred of hope they had of ending the war. Hilarson’s actions made a lot more sense these days.

Tom was their leader now and they followed his every word. So when the man himself insisted that he was just another Corporal in their ranks they humored him, despite thinking otherwise.

“Are the teams ready?” Tom took to walking up to the front of the camp with Finnigand following at his side. The soldiers around them silently parted a path for the two soldiers, most tipping their head downward when Tom passed by, a certain habit they picked up in place of a salute. Tom wasn’t fond of it- just as fond as he was of them saluting him, cute the first time but not in succession- but he tried not to let it show, they were twitchy around him as it is, he pretended not to notice.

“More or less, you know how it is si- Tom” Finnigand coughed at his slip but relaxed when the other soldier didn’t acknowledge it “London’s in bad shape and we’re still reeling from the…” He glanced at Tom, unsure of how to broach the subject of their loss. Despite what Tom thinks, Finnigand knew it was a tipping point for the man, it was a sore subject no matter what he insisted “..our numbers just isn’t what it used to be, and knowing the Red army is around main base isn’t helping moral”

“Well I can’t do much about that can I?” Finnigand snapped his mouth shut at the tone of Tom’s voice. There was a hint of annoyance barely subdued, but like most emotions Tom would display these days, it was quickly put into check to be replaced by a mask of indifference. Finnigand always thought it was strange that the other soldier would do that, he dared not question why though.

Tom sighed as he looked out into the broken streets through the slightly open spaces of the rubble. Adjusting the rifle slung on his shoulder, the Corporal waved his hand as he separated himself from Finnigand’s side and began to climb the rubble out into the entrance of their camp “Just make sure that your men can handle going out there without fucking up. Like you said, our numbers aren’t what it used to be, if we want to succeed then they have to be prepared” Tom looked back once “In short: Tell them to suck it up, I’m not risking my life with unreliable men” Then he was out of sight, sliding down the rubble the rest of the way down.

Finnigand pressed his lips into a thin line, not the first time wishing that Hilarson was still around. The older soldier always seemed to know what to do, particularly when it came to Tom. Unlike the rest of them, Hilarson seemed to have a different outlook on the eyeless soldier, his view made it easier for him to talk with and guide the Corporal even when it went against Tom’s wishes. Hilarson was never fazed when Tom got angry with him, sometimes he would even laugh and ruffle the soldier’s hair, much like a father would to his indignant child.

They didn’t dare do half the things Hilarson did, not when Tom’s gaze would darken when they tried, not when they felt the flare of anger ready to burst within him, not when they were afraid of what he could do.

Did they fear him?

Maybe….possibly..

‘Colonel..you left too soon…’ The pang of sadness was dutifully ignored. Finnigand had a job to do.

 


 

Tom waited with his team until the Red platoon marched out of sight. He peeked over the corner of the building they hid behind and made sure that none of the Red soldiers stayed. Finding the coast clear he turned to his men and urged them to move ahead with him, they walked in relative silence across the street.

Wherever they were, Tom was familiar with it, which was why he could at least lead them through with relative ease. Well, he recognized it, he hasn’t exactly been back home for years so his memory was just a little fuzzy. The thought didn’t fail to send an uncomfortable feeling through him, the idea that he would somehow forget about the place he grew up and spent most of his life in was unpleasant.

That sadness shifted into anger, he could only blame one monster for that.

As he and his team travelled further down, Tom thought back to the small Danish town where he was kidnapped. He remembered thinking how odd it was that the town wasn’t destroyed when there were Red soldiers walking around out in the open. The army had always been aggressive, wherever they went destruction followed. He had to wonder why Denmark was spared that fate, oh right, because they were spineless turncoats.

London looked exactly like Tom’s expectations of what that little Danish town was supposed to look like.

They had to jump over chasms in the streets more times than he could count, sometimes Tom would spot the glare of metal from within the holes but he could never properly make out what it was. Debris were a constant now too, most were scattered and charred, most likely due to an explosion of some sort, but some covered entire paths, it wasn’t impossible to climb over though just time consuming. They didn’t take those routes.

A number of vehicles were left abandoned in the streets, some of those in a stilled picture of collision. Tom could imagine the mad scramble to escape once the Red army began their attack, it was almost expected that some poor bastards would come to an accident in the panic. Tom paused momentarily when he saw a dragged blood trail leading out from one of the cars, a look to the second one revealed nothing. He looked away and continued forward.

Most of the buildings were still intact, as well as they can be that is. Some of the structures were steadily crumbling apart as it is if they weren’t already completely gone. The most unsettling ones however were the buildings that were completely scorched, ash stuck firmly on their surfaces while the windows sported a black char that extended outwards, indicating a fire started from within.

“Fuck…” Tom stopped walking to look back at who spoke. Finnigand stood in front of the entrance of one such scorched building, the soldier had a hand to his mouth as he looked up at the barred doors. Concrete roadblocks were pushed up against the wooden double doors, though it seemed that whoever was inside still tried to get out. The doors were partially open, enough for a hand to pass through, which was exactly the case.

Gripping tight at one of the roadblocks was a burned arm. Several scratches and marks of dried blood on its surface showed the desperate last minutes of the unfortunate soul trapped within the building as it burned them alive. What could have been going through this person’s thoughts? To have successfully opened the doors enough that freedom was literally at arms length, to have a shred of hope for their survival so close to their reach, only for it to be false hope. Did the fire get them first or was it the smoke? Did they feel a thing?

“Let’s go” Tom pulled Finnigand away from the sight when the man didn’t seem to want to move. The other Corporal nodded his head shakily and let himself be guided from the scene. His stomach rolled uneasily and he quickened his steps. His fellow soldiers seemed to share his sentiments as they too hastily tore their gazes away from the tragedy to put as much distance between them and the building as quick as possible.

Tom spared the building one glance after seeing how upset his team had become at the sight. He let his vision slowly move from top to bottom until it reached the charred remains of a once living, breathing human being. He waited for the horror, the despair, the sickening feeling, anything.

Tom continued walking.

Traversing London proved to be quite jarring at most times, the lot of them were used to sieged cities and evacuated areas, places that had long since been abandoned after battles were waged between two warring sides. London however was none of these, the city itself was still undergoing the process of becoming what Brighton was now.

With their militia in shambles it wasn’t surprising to have found individual factions of rebels- paramilitary for the ones who held themselves high- roaming the streets looking for Red soldiers to fight. Most of the factions consisted of ex-military men and women mixed in with civilians who were tired of running. They had yet to see one consisted of only civilians, after all where else would they get their weapons from other than a disillusioned military?

None of the factions seemed to want to work together though, believing that each of them had the better idea for purging the world of the Red terror. Tom remembered seeing at least two factions argue with each other guns raised during one of their supply runs the first few days they spent in London. Their unit decided not to intervene and let the rebels do as they wanted, the extra chaos was an advantage to keep themselves and their plans out of the Red army’s priorities.

Besides, the rebels had their uses, it was just fortunate that they often forgot to be careful when they were so busy trying to fight off Red soldiers with everything they had. Information was easy to obtain from them when they had such loose tongues.

Gunfire from behind them echoed distantly. Some of the soldiers glanced over their shoulders in search for the location of yet another scuffle between the insurmountable army and what was left resisting them. For many of those rebels each battle would be their greatest and possibly last, so few that they are. Although for the Red army, it was simply another inconvenience to be dealt with, they were close to their goal as it was, what more were the remains of a dead militia?

They were close, yes, but they hadn’t won yet. Tom was determined to be that thorn in their victory, in Tord’s victory. What would be sweeter than to dangle success in front of the bastard and never let him have it?

The thought let a vicious smile into his features.

“They sound too close don’t you think Tom?” Finnigand drew close, his own battered rifle held tight against him as he looked back to where the gunfire sounded from “Are you sure we should be doing this now? With the rebels out and about like this I mean, there’s always a possibility that we’ll get caught in the crossfire”

“Which is exactly why this is the best time” Tom didn’t miss a beat in answering him, he didn’t spare his fellow Corporal a glance as they continued forward. They still had quite some ways to go before they got to their destination. Explosions from behind warned them that the Red army was starting to retaliate. Tom didn’t have to look back to know that black smoldering pillars were beginning to rise to the sky, though they were fewer than he was used to. Looks like Tord was being cautious about his weapons these days.

Finnigand opened his mouth to reply only to have Tom shush him and usher them into an alleyway just as a rebel faction emerged from the other side of the road. They waited them out patiently and had no trouble keeping cover as the wave of rebels were too occupied with trying to get to their fellowmen currently in battle with the Red army, any noise they could have made was easily drowned out by their cries for battle. Some drove jeeps while others ran beside their vehicles, brandishing weapons of different types. Uniformity wasn’t very important now.

When the last of the rebels ran past them, Tom quickly moved his team back into the road and towards their destination “We know that today they’ll try to take back the main base, which is stupid, that place is too well guarded and filled to the brim with Red soldiers” As if on cue, a red tank came in roaring from the other street beside theirs, only partially obscured by the crumbling buildings and rubble. The team hesitated to move for fear of being seen, but when Tom kept at his strides they were quick to gather their wits and continued to follow the Corporal “We’ll let the confusion work for us, with the Red army too distracted to notice anything beyond the main base we’ll be able to do whatever the fuck we want, so long as the rest of the teams do their jobs. Have you checked in Finnigand?”

“Yes..” Finnigand tapped at the radio clipped to the side of his belt “The first team should already be up ahead, they’re just waiting for your cue now”

“Good. Tell them to stay on hold-“

REBELS!” Tom and his team instantly turned to the source of the voice. There was a moment where the team tensed up in preparation of an attack, thinking that perhaps a Red troop had mistaken them for a rebel faction. Instead they were met with the sight of a group of Red soldiers and an actual rebel group colliding with each other, not far from where they stood.

The moment the two sides met was a picture of disaster, colors meshed, voices chimed in discordant tones that would eventually be drowned out by the responding gunfire, soldiers from both sides rammed into each other in reckless abandon, throwing away what caution they had to ensure that they drew first and final blood.

Their unit watched on, speechless and frozen. One soldier raised his rifle to aim at the Red troop when it was evident that they were going to decimate the faction with ease, especially when the Red tank from earlier was clearly coming in to provide aid “Don’t” The soldier flinched as he looked up from his scope just as Tom lowered his gun with his hand “We didn’t come here to fight their battles”

“Tom..” Finnigand started, gaping at Tom “Those- they’re our fellow soldiers! You saw their uniforms right? It wouldn’t hurt to lend them some aid! Especially since we’re so close and we-“

“We didn’t come here to fight their battles” Tom hissed, stepping into Finnigand’s personal space, he glowered at him “What good will we do? Do you think we’re in any better shape than them??” Finnigand flinched and took one step away from his fellow Corporal but Tom instantly gripped at his collar to pull him back “I don’t give a shit if they used to be one of ours” His gaze darkened as he growled, making the rest of the team subconsciously inch away in fear “Our military’s gone, that means we’re all on our own now. Besides, do you really think they’d do the same for us? Especially if they realize that I’m here??”

Tom threw Finnigand back, the Corporal stumbled but was able to steady himself with the building behind him. He stared up at Tom, wide eyed. The other Corporal narrowed his sockets at him in disapproval “I’m not gonna bullshit you Finnigand, I’m no hero. I’m not fighting to clean up this goddamned country or the world of every single Red soldier we come across. What I’m fighting for is personal, there’s only one bastard I’m gunning to kill and I won’t stop for anything until it happens” Tom’s stance revealed nothing of the emotions that oozed out in his words, he almost looked calm, which made it all the more terrifying as he said his next words “And if you try to fucking stand in my way, I don’t care where my pistol will point to next

Finnigand nodded stiffly, feeling his heart hammer in his chest even as Tom stepped away from him and continued to walk towards their intended location. The soldier Finnigand saved from receiving the blow of Tom’s anger helped him steady himself again, the man murmured apologies that the Corporal didn’t hear, Finnigand’s ears only picked up his own breathing.

A memory flashed in the Corporal’s mind, back during the first year of war, back when Red made his first public appearance.

Stand in my way and you will find yourself at the end of my gun

Finnigand’s rifle shook in his grip as he watched Tom’s retreating back. It was scary, that it was so easy to see a coat of Prussian blue in place of his uniform, that it was easy to see someone else in his posture, to see a man that was tainted with Red.

The Corporal swallowed hard and followed close behind, trying to keep such thoughts away.

They had a job to do.

Chapter Text

During the first week of their stay in London, Tom had the unit keep track of the Red soldiers that stationed themselves in the city. It was easy to follow their routine. There were at least a dozen or so Red platoons in charge of dealing with the rebel factions still in London and one company currently taking hold of what used to be their main base. At least trying to, from what they’ve gathered the British soldiers up there were holding their own well enough that they still had partial control of the base. For now, the main building would be divided between them and the Red company.

Although, that wasn’t their priority just yet.

First: despite only ever seeing frontline battalions and regiments in his line of service, Tom took notice of many things. That being that every Red unit, be it a corps or section, would always have a Sentinel or two keeping close watch. An eye in the sky so to speak. With their visuals being as broad and sharp as it appears to be, Sentinels were the perfect watchdogs. Even a single Sentinel could be dangerous.

This time though, there were none.

Every platoon they monitored, even the company, had none of the little flying orbs. Sentinels were practically one of the Red army’s signature weapons, they were the equivalent of what handguns were to the rest of the world’s armies. It came as a surprise when they realized what was missing, no wonder Red platoons were now in charge of what Sentinels usually do. No wonder they were struggling to get London under their control.

Second: like many of the Red units they came across before they decided to come back to England, the Red soldiers’ option of weapons have been reduced to some of the standardized ones that none of them had used in over three years. They were still efficient, just not as deadly as they were when they still had their default weapon of choice. A rifle like gun that they named Peacemakers.

What was unusual however, was the fact that none of the Red platoons had a place where they could restock their ammo. Now that they were using standardized rifles, it was odd to see that the only ammo they had were the magazines that were clipped to the sides of their belts. That only meant two things: They were arrogant enough to think that they could capture London with such a limited supply…

..or that they weren’t worried about running out of ammo because they were going to receive more soon.

All signs pointed to the second one, the Red army didn’t seem as perturbed that they were basically wasting bullets trying to hunt down each and every last rebel faction still active in the city. The excessive and careless use hinted that they were simply using up the resource to its fullest because it would soon be considered obsolete.

This behaviour was unusual for their army. Tord himself was considerate of their weapons and resources, he wouldn’t have stood for them wasting what little they had unless he deemed it unimportant.

They didn’t need to look any further to find out that two transport vehicles will soon come into the city with new weapons for the Red army. Covert units specialized in information gathering after all.

By the time they reached their destination the afternoon was fading fast. From what the scouting team reported before, the only other way any sort of Red unit would be able to freely go to and from London would be through one lesser known road that led up to the ex-main British military base through twisting intersections. It was the only sound choice they could make, the main road and others were closed off by paramilitary groups or were too destroyed to go through.

Tom stopped at the edge of the very road the Red transport vehicles were to pass through. He looked out into the distance, seeing nothing but the desolate landscape that London had become. It would be a while before the vehicles come rolling in.

A gust of cold wind blew past him, enough that it made him shiver slightly. He sighed to himself, autumn should be ending around this time of the year, the few barren trees still around clued him in to that fact. He was thankful that at least he had one decent coat waiting for him by the time winter came around.

A soft smile barely seen under the moonlight “Think of it as an early-“

Focus.

Tom ground his teeth together and shook his head. No time, you do not have that time Tom. You cannot be distracted. Tom covered his eyes with one hand as he steadied his breathing. Everything was hinging on his ability to continue moving forward, to finish what he started. His own survival depended on him being grounded enough to keep himself out of harm’s way. He can’t afford to be weak.

“Tom-” The response was immediate. Finnigand was lucky enough to see it coming since he was already wary about approaching his fellow Corporal. The soldier raised his arm up to block the hit that was intended for his left temple, he skidded to side just a bit when it landed. The Corporal hissed at the feeling of the blow, it packed a lot of power, but at least it wasn’t his head.

Finnigand missed the panic that passed over his eyes, Tom was quick to correct himself when he came back to his senses. He lowered his arm “Finnigand” He said in acknowledgement, taking one step away from the other Corporal. However, he said nothing else.

Finnigand rubbed at his arm as he followed Tom’s actions. The Corporal wasn’t expecting an apology and Tom didn’t seem very inclined to give him one anyway. Actually, the other looked annoyed, as if he were at fault for eliciting that reaction, he frowned. Finnigand knew he and Tom didn’t start off on the best of terms- it was a disaster more than anything- but the other Corporal had built a somewhat cold yet accepting civility towards him during the past months that followed their little debacle. Now though, any trace of that civility had completely disappeared.

Only a fool would think that there would be anything else other than distrust in Tom’s gaze.

“We’re just about done over here” Finnigand jabbed his thumb over his shoulder, choosing to pretend that Tom hadn’t just tried to knock him unconscious “I thought I should let you know, just in case you wanted to make the rounds and check if everything’s in order” Tom nodded once and proceeded to walk past his fellow Corporal without another word. Finnigand sucked in a breath “You can talk you know”

That halted Tom in his tracks. Finnigand took his chance to continue “I used to do it all the time for Jevin” It was quietly muttered but in the short space between them, Tom could hear it just fine. He tensed up at the mention of Morales’ first name, unseen by Finnigand “I’d sit there and listen to him vomit his feelings out while he cried like a baby. Bloody bastard was always so emotional...I wondered why he was even in the army” There was a hint of a smile in the way Finnigand spoke. He sighed “Tom...I know I’m not the Colonel, but I know what an incoming breakdown looks like. You can’t-“

“Leave me alone Finnigand” Tom’s voice was subdued, a contrast to when he had berated his fellow Corporal hours before, and yet it still managed to make Finnigand feel uncomfortable.

“Tom-” Finnigand turned to reach an arm out but stopped at the withering look Tom was giving him. The Corporal let his hand suspend in the air, as if expecting Tom to accept the help he was trying to give. He knew that wouldn’t be the case the moment Tom turned away from him to approach the team still working behind them. Finnigand took his hand back and shook his head. He should have known anyway, Tom wouldn’t accept help from someone he barely knew, let alone didn’t get along with.

Though he wasn’t stable, that much was obvious. If Tom went on like he did, it would only spell disaster. Finnigand sure as hell knew that it won’t just be bad for the man himself. Whether he acknowledged it or not, Tom was who their unit was looking towards for guidance now, they had no one else. If he fell, they would be directionless. They’d be like the rebel factions, without a plan or sure way to fight back.

Finnigand clenched his hands at his sides, resolving that one way or another he’ll set his fellow Corporal straight again. After all, he was still the last remaining superior of their unit. If the Colonel had ever taught him anything, it was that looking after his team should be on his priorities.

 


 

Tom was the only one still standing when night fell, most of his team made themselves comfortable on the ground when the second hour passed them by with no sign of the transport vehicles. Even he could admit that standing around for hours was starting to make him uncomfortable, but standing back up from a sitting position wasted precious time and he wasn’t about to risk it. So instead he leaned against the building they were hiding behind, holding his rifle close to his chest.

It seems that the Red army was waiting for most of the rebel factions to back off so that it would be somewhat safe for the vehicles to pass through. It shouldn’t be long now, most of the gunfire began to cease the moment the sun left the sky. Not that it mattered, they were already where they needed to be with all of their preparations just waiting to be used.

The plan was simple: ambush the incoming transport vehicles and take whatever weapons they have stored. There were three teams on standby, the first was in charge of explosives. Earlier- before Finnigand confronted him- Tom had the team plant bombs in certain areas of the road, some of them will hit the vehicles directly but most will merely lead them to where they want them to go.

The second group is somewhat related to the first. They were a form of distraction, their job was to add to the chaos of the explosives, just so the vehicles will stay confused and unaware of what was to come. The group will have to take up the role of a pseudo rebel faction, in case they needed to throw off the enemy. All that they needed to do was come in guns blazing, it didn’t matter where they shot.

The final group was Tom’s, they were the finishing blow. His group would be the largest out of all three, a whole wall of soldiers to open fire on the incoming vehicles. They had enough bullets to spare, and there was no way in hell the vehicles wouldn’t be in a sorry state by the time they reached their point. Besides, though Tord created feats of advanced technology in his weapons, he didn’t seem to extend that towards other machinery. The vehicles were armored but they weren’t impervious or could fly or some other shit like that.

Tom would be pissed as hell if they could actually fly.

Though they weren’t going to believe that the plan was solid. Anything can go wrong, he told them, so you sorry lot better be prepared to save your own arse when we get fucked. Tom made it clear that the operation was going to be a hit or miss, at the end of it they should be aware that what they were attempting was a huge risk. No one had ever tried to take out a Red transport vehicle, no one ever thought to, as most armies were too busy pushing back the Red threat that loomed over their countries.

They would be the first and in this situation being first wasn’t something appealing.

A soft rumble jarred a few of his nearly dozing soldiers awake. Some of the men straightened up in alarm and looked out into the street, mistaking the sound for what could be the start of their operation. Tom on the other hand looked to the opposite direction where the street would lead to where their ex-main base should be. He’d been quietly scrutinizing the location as they waited, though most of the gunfire in their area had faded away the ones near the main base persisted. Until now.

The succeeding shockwave answered his suspicions, someone just detonated a bomb, enough to cause ceasefire.

It’s time.

“All teams on standby, get ready” Tom ordered over his radio but said it loud enough for his own team to hear. The soldiers quickly moved to their feet, taking up their weapons and positioning themselves in their assigned areas. Tom walked calmly to his own position in the middle of their scattered formation, his radio still held firm in his grip as he gazed out into the distance.

The thrum of nervousness and unease that coiled around the unit was thick enough to be cut by a knife. The coldness of that night added to the weight of what they were about to attempt, freezing their fingers and making their skins feel clammy and dry at the same time. The soldiers in Tom’s team would sometimes glance towards him for any signal to attack but the man simply stood at ease, waiting.

Tom let himself breathe in quiet, rhythmic beats. One, two, one, two, one, two. Phantom pain that slithered around his neck left an itch that pricked at his skin, Tom chose to ignore it like he always had these days. He didn’t know why or when, but the injury on his neck suddenly flared to life in his attention, as though it were still fresh. The first time it happened he nearly clawed bandages off trying to get at that itch that never seemed to go away.

Tom would find himself absentmindedly rubbing at his neck, keeping a hand on top of where the injury would be, or making the bandages tighter than they were before. Anything to stop that itch, that incessant, prickling, biting, burning itch.

That ghostly pain wasn’t real, he knew it wasn’t, even as sometimes it became unbearable, even as sometimes he could still feel the edge of that knife- his knife- sliding across his skin.

That pain was meant to distract him, weaken him.

He won’t let it do that. He won’t let Tord do that.

This operation may be risky, but he was determined to see it through. This will be his stepping stone to the day when only a few steps will stand between him and finishing what he should have all those years ago. This time he was going to do it right.

This time he won’t turn away until he’s absolutely sure that Tord stays dead.

“Team one” Tom called over the radio, giving the leader of that team no time to reply as his vision narrowed down at something approaching the road “I see lights in the distance. Confirm hostiles, Red transports usually have escorts”

The soldiers around him locked up at his words, most taking to their scopes to try and see the approaching enemy, though they wouldn’t be able to. Tom waited patiently for the report but it didn’t stop the impatient tapping of his foot or the way the breath in his lungs seemed to lessen at every second of silence. Finally, his radio buzzed to life “We can confirm the two Red armored vehicles sir, they’re flanked by a motorcade, at least a dozen or so armed Red soldiers”

Motorcade. That wouldn’t be hard to handle, the second team could take them out along with some of their IEDs. Tom nodded in satisfaction “Anything else?”

....Red Sentinels” Team one’s leader murmured, sounding resigned to a deathly fate “There’s a small group of Red Sentinels around their perimeter”

“..damn it” Tom swore silently, he had that possibility stirring around the back of his mind, he was hoping that the transport wouldn’t have those damned robots around. This was going to get messy but they can’t back down now. Not when they went through all that trouble just to deploy this plan. Beside him, a soldier made the sign of the cross, whispering prayers for salvation that only he knew the words to. If Tom still had faith maybe he would have done the same, but he learned a long time ago that no one will ever come to answer.

If he wanted a miracle, he’ll just have to make his own.

Masks, now” Was Tom’s last order over the radio as he clipped it back into his belt. He reached for his own mask that dangled loosely around his waist. His team followed suit and quickly donned the gas masks that only partially protected them from the Sentinels. Though it did well to keep them from dying of poisonous gas, it did nothing to shield them from the bullets or shrapnel.

Whether or not they’ll live to see another day and earn a fighting chance against the Red army will all boil down to their success this night.

“The motorcade is going on ahead of the vehicles, no sign of advancement from the Sentinels. Approximately five minutes until first area contact” Tom’s radio crackled, he kept his gaze trained on the approaching Red transports through the slightly scratched lenses of his mask. They were but specks in the distance, though they steadily grew larger with every minute that passed them. Anticipation thrummed through the area, preparing for the danger that was to come “The motorcade has passed the entrance, two minutes until the vehicles enter”

The Red motorcade could now be easily seen even by Tom’s team from where they stood, should they move any further it wouldn’t take long for the Red soldiers to spot them as well, even shrouded in the dark. Tom stood his ground however, though he could feel the slowly rising panic amongst his team “Thirty seconds till vehicles enter first area”

The roaring sounds of the fast approaching Red motorcade began to tear through the air all around them. There was a distant yell and it wouldn’t take a genius to realize that the Red soldiers had now spotted Tom’s team in the distance and were gearing up to intercept them, the distinct powering whine of Peacemakers pierced through the night.

“Ten seconds!”

The first shot from one of the Peacemakers grazed past Tom’s temple, his team shouted in alarm as a rain of bullets began to assault their position. Luckily they had enough mounds of rubble and discarded roadblocks to hide behind and wait out the attack, though at the speed the Red motorcade was going there was no doubt that they’ll be able to reach them soon.

Warm blood trickled down the side of Tom’s face, rolling past his cheek but made it no further as his hand flicked the blood away. Barely seen bullets raced past him, most nearing their target but ultimately only giving him a few scratches. Peacemakers had exceptional range and power but their one downfall was the accuracy if fired from such a distance like this. The eyeless soldier didn’t seem inclined to move from his open position, even as his team was practically screaming at him to duck for cover. He didn’t need to.

The second vehicle crossed the threshold. Tom tapped at his radio.

“Blow ‘em to hell”

No sooner had he said those words, one of the bombs closest to them detonated. Hot air blew past Tom’s team as the explosion washed them in a blinding yellow hue. It took the motorcade by surprise, engulfing them in a cloud of smoke and fire. Shouts of alarm were their only indication that the IED had hit its mark as the motorcade struggled to regain their momentum. Some of the motorcyclists emerged from the dark cloud but only to crash into each other and jump away from their damaged motorcycles. The bits of metal that once belonged to the vehicles barely made it to Tom’s feet.

“Under no circumstances” Tom hoisted his rifle up and aimed it forward, his team following suit as they emerged from their covers “will any Red soldier make it past our line” Tom looked back at his team, illuminated by the harsh light of the explosions in front of them. Although it seemed that they glowed with a fire of their own, gripping hard at their rifles and holding themselves up high as they listened to Tom’s words “Am I understood?!

“SIR YES SIR!!” They replied in unison, loud and powerful, discarding the previous thrum of anxiety with a will to see the operation through and fight for another day. The soldiers took to their offensive positions and held their grounds, watching for any approaching Red soldier.

“Team two engaging! Red soldiers are emerging from the armored vehicles!”

“IED beta detonated! Vehicle number two is losing control, ready the next IED!!” Reports steadily came in through Tom’s radio, he partially kept track of them whilst making sure that any Red soldier close enough to their area would immediately be gunned down with a crack of his rifle.

The scene in front of them reminded him of his time in hell: constant fires, loud incomprehensible screaming meshing together with the desperate shouts of confused unfortunate souls. The explosions from their planted bombs seemed random at times but looking closely would reveal the orderly detonation of each one. None harmed any of their teams and yet were precise whenever a Red team came close.

Team two of their unit was doing a splendid job in adding to the chaos, the soldiers made sure to intentionally create a battlefield littered with crossfire. Since they were so scattered and constantly on the move, it would be hard for the Red soldiers to pin an exact location to fire at, and with the smoke from the explosions cornering them into blindness it wouldn’t be long before they were taken care of.

A large explosion set the area ablaze, one of the armored vehicles screamed to a stop as it was toppled over, hitting the ground as it spun and crashed into a nearby building. The vehicle itself wasn’t damaged due to its plating but its smoking underside revealed marred metallic nubs where the wheels used to be, completely blown off by a well timed explosion.

“Vehicle one down! I repeat, vehicle one down!!”

Tom gazed upon the area littered with pieces of metal and bodies. The loud deafening explosions, the frantic yells of Red soldiers knowing that they were falling apart, the chaos. Back then, he always felt that it was satisfying to break things, if only to be rid of emotions that took hold of his senses, to allow himself carnage when nothing else could alleviate him of the pressure that weighed on his mind.

Edd would always disapprove of it, always telling him how it wasn’t a good way to cope, looking at the messes he made with sadness, looking at what he did to himself with fear. For a while he thought he was right about that.

Then again, that feeling of satisfaction, that he could cause something to be destroyed…its euphoric.

Tom felt a wide manic grin stretch across his face, reveling in old feelings that he tried to cast aside.

“Caution! Red Sentinels are on the move!! They’re trying to clear a way!” Tom snapped his head up at that, moving his attention away from the Red section trying to break through their defense to the loud humming of approaching Sentinels. He jumped to the side and into a nearby cover when two of the Sentinels began to open fire on their position. He growled under his breath peered over the cover to keep track of the Red section. They were too close for his liking.

Before he could send off more shots their way a rain of bullets halted his actions, forcing Tom to duck back down and wait for the Sentinels to stop firing. It would be hard to get rid of the things as they would have recognized that they had gas masks on, their kamikaze program won’t waste on a fruitless endeavor. As weird as it was, having the Sentinels dive bomb would have led to an easier battle. Fuck their A.I., if only they weren’t as aware of battle situations.

“Shit shit shit” Tom was acutely aware of the Red section nearing their position, if they didn’t push them back now they’d be able to break through and possibly clear the way for the second vehicle still intact. Currently they had succeeded in stopping it but as soon as the driver finds an out it’ll speed past them no problem. Not to mention their lack in appropriate ammo, they needed to end this soon.

Tom lifted himself just a bit to be able to look beyond the roadblock he hid behind. Team two was still on the move, distracting enough of the Red soldiers to keep them in the area, but with the Sentinels now taking action it was becoming difficult to keep up the crossfire wall they set up. The small red orbs zipped through the air, circling close to the Red soldiers to provide cover from the sky whilst the soldiers themselves made sure that no enemy soldier had a chance to gun them down.

Bloody Sentinels.

Tom gritted his teeth, his mind worked on overdrive to think of a possible solution to the Sentinels plaguing them, he scoured his memory for anything that could help. He’d encountered the damned things too many times before, there must be something. He needed to find a way to trigger their kamikaze program and do damage to the Red soldiers.

‘Come on Tom focus’ His own agitated voice echoed in his mind, drowning out even the sound of gunfire ‘The Sentinels have an A.I. that lets the little shits be smart enough to know when not to play cannon fodder. They won’t bomb if we have masks or if Red soldiers are too close so…I don’t fucking know! Make them bomb you then blow?!’

Tom gasped in realization, he turned his attention to the radio at his side and brought it up to the front of his gas mask Team one, where’s the second vehicle?!” He scrambled to stand as he practically threw himself over the roadblock to scan the fire ridden landscape for the currently missing in action transport vehicle.

“Close to the entrance sir! After the first vehicle went down they might have seen past the plan, they’re currently waiting out the fight until its cleared for them to move!”

A crooked smile wormed its way through Tom’s expression, an electrifying shock of anxiousness mixed in with excitement made his spine tingle. It was the very same feeling he would get right before he allowed himself to break something, the feeling he would get when nothing began to matter.

Anguish, horror, betrayal, devastation, terror, despair…anger.

Each emotion can swallow him whole, but he won’t let them. He was in control. He can make them go away….

..He can make them go away if something b r e a k s.

Tom hastily ran to the other side of the street, much to the surprise of the soldiers in his team still taking cover from the gunfire. The Corporal stopped at the last group in the line of soldiers and pointed at three soldiers “You three!” The soldiers chosen all flinched in surprise but quickly followed their leader to an alleyway when he ran off again and beckoned them to come follow.

Once in the safety of the alleyway, Tom had all three of the soldiers come close as he pulled off his mask to speak to them properly “Can you hold your breath?” He asked them, the question completely catching them off guard. The three soldiers looked to each other in confusion, Tom’s smile was quick to leave when they wouldn’t give him an immediate answer, he growled “Can you hold your breath?” He asked again, this time a darker tone to his voice.

“We- We can sir” One of the soldiers hastily replied, noticing the dip in his mood “But why are-“

“Discard your masks” Tom looked at all of them expectantly, crossing his arms and waiting for them to do as they were told. At their stunned silence he scowled. Did he have to repeat himself again? “That was an order. Discard your masks. Time is against us so you all should better bloody well do as I say!” Three gas masks were quick to find their way to his feet, Tom clicked his tongue and peered around the alley and back out into the mess of a battlefield he created.

“We have three Sentinels out there” Tom started, squinting against the light of the roaring fires in the street “That’s three too many” Tom turned back to the small group of soldiers he gathered, each waiting for his next words with bated breath “You all know how Sentinels work don’t you? More specifically their kamikaze program??”

“They go after soldiers who can succumb to the gas…” One soldier stated, glancing once at her discarded mask near Tom’s feet, a realization she didn’t want dawning on her as she stated those words.

Tom smirked at her, stepping over the masks and intentionally keeping them out of their gaze “Correct” Somehow that one word became akin to a death toll, a loud ringing bell that stuck the three soldiers to where they stood. An icy cold fear gripped at their hearts, making the air they breathed- despite its warmth due to the smoke and fire- almost agonizingly freezing.

“Sir-“

“Don’t interrupt me Private” Tom snapped, glaring at the soldier that spoke “I’m not sending you out there to die” He scoffed “Don’t think so low of me, fuck you if you did” Tom moved his head towards the battlefield, silently telling them to move forward “The Red soldiers are starting to condense to one spot, or at least most of their men are” He pointed to the area halfway across the road where the second team was busy trying to take them out “That means that the Sentinels will come back to that spot after they make rounds” As if on cue a Sentinel flew past them, raining bullets before circling around the Red soldiers at the halfway point.

“I’m going to run interference with the second team” Tom tuned back to address them “Your job is to have the Sentinels try to bomb you in the areas I’ll be making stops at, get their attention and make absolute certain that they’ll land in the areas I want. Sentinels have a second of reaction time before they bomb, meaning you have a split second to evade them before impact or else they’ll just pull up and try to shoot you again”

“Sir this is suicide!” One of the more panicked Privates stared at him disbelievingly, shaking his head Sentinels are gas bombs but they’re still bombs! There’s the explosion, the shrapnel, and not to mention that even if we hold our breaths the gas is so thick that we won’t know if we’re running in the right direction! What if-!”

The Private had no time to finish his frantic rant as a fist collided with his face. The two other soldiers locked up in fear as they watched Tom march up to the downed Private. The soldier himself flinched in fear of what was to come, expecting another blow, but then Tom simply helped him back up his feet with a gentle hand pulling him up by the arm “You were being hysterical” Tom told him as he steadied him again. The Private’s mouth hung open in confusion and shock “Tell me Private” Tom regarded him seriously “Why did you join this war?”

The Private blubbered uselessly for a second then said: “I-I wanted to protect my family”

Tom’s expression seemed to soften at that, a memory of Greg and his family photo came to mind “No matter what the cost?”

“Yes”

“Even if it were your life? You would give that for the people you love?” The Private nodded mutely. Tom looked to all three of them “I’m taking a risk here, this is what this plan is about” He told them “You’re not the only ones putting yourselves out there, I’m going to willingly play as a distraction for the Red soldiers. I’m going to stand out there and make myself completely open, do you understand?” Tom gave them his most disarming smile “Please trust me, I have a plan, and we will succeed tonight. I know we can stop this war; all you have to do is trust that I can get us to the end”

The soldiers’ looks of apprehension slowly melted away as they took his words into consideration “Just follow my lead, we’ll show those Red soldiers that they shouldn’t fuck with the British army” One Private cheered at that, making the other two grin “I’ll call off the crossfire and have the second team cover you while you take out the Sentinels” Tom stepped out the alleyway, readily followed by the three soldiers “Ready men?!”

“SIR YES SIR!”

“GO!” The small group dispersed, each looking out for the Sentinel closest to them while Tom ran to the halfway point to take his position. The smile he had dropped to a scowl.

Cowards.

To think that they needed more reassurance to do what they fucking signed up for? What else do they need??

Bloody fucking cowards.

“Team two I’m coming your way, cease crossfire and provide cover!!” Tom shouted into his radio just as he crossed the fray of bullets slicing through the air. He stopped near the area of the Red soldiers currently holing themselves up and began to join in on the second team’s advancements.

“SIR!!” His radio crackled with the panicked voice of team one’s leader “Sir you can’t stay there! We-!”

“Detonate when I tell you to” Tom rolled to the side to avoid another rain of bullets from the Red soldiers who had spotted him out on the open, he knelt on one knee and retaliated with his own shots from his rifle, he managed to hit one at his side but that was all he could do amidst the chaos.

“Sir?! But you-!”

“Did I fucking stutter?” Tom growled into the radio, barely missing a bullet by a hairsbreadth. The radio was quiet after that, Tom took it as their agreement and continued his onslaught of the Red soldiers. Distant succeeding gunfire caught his attention, he turned to the side and found one of the Privates currently engaging a Sentinel. Its one glassy eye was glowing red, no doubt locking on to the position of the Private. The kamikaze program is activating.

“HEY!” Tom shouted, running to a location closest to the Private. The soldier looked up at him and nodded when Tom signaled for him to have the Sentinel bomb where he was standing. The Private slowed his run until he was close enough to the location. The Sentinel hummed loudly and began to fly so fast that it could only be seen as a blur in the air. The Private stood his ground, up until the last second the soldier ducked down and rolled away as the Sentinel hit the ground with a loud BOOM. A thick cloud of black smoke quickly began to spread.

‘One down’ Tom ignored the shouts of the second team trying to get him to run to safety, he spotted the second Private starting to make her run towards him. They made eye contact and Tom shot at the road, marking where she was to have the Sentinel crash. The soldier nodded at him and began to run faster with the Sentinel hot on her heels. She yelled when a bullet managed to scrape her arm but she continued to run until the distinct humming of the kamikaze program’s activation began. She darted to the side just as the Sentinel was about to make contact. Another black pillar of smoke began to rise to the sky.

Tom looked around for the third Private but found that the soldier was nowhere to be seen, he cursed under his breath when the third Sentinel appeared from the entrance point without the soldier he assigned. Tom immediately fired at the Sentinel, quickly gaining the robot’s attention. The flying orb, zoomed towards him and Tom stood his ground-

A Red Sentinel hovered just a few inches above his head, the orb hummed with mechanical whirrs as its one glowing eye stared him down-

Fuck! Not now!’ Tom’s vision blurred as he felt his heart leap to his throat. The burning scene shook before him until a familiar sight of a cold ashen wasteland began to replace his reality. He struggled to breathe. Norway.

The metal against his already cold skin sent him into another fit of shaking. It was too cold-

Stop it.

The soldiers around him were screaming at him to find cover, the Sentinel was coming in too fast-

It was too cold-

Stop it.

You are in control.

-colder than Tom had ever thought it would feel like-

STOP IT!

“-OM! DON’T BE A FUCKING IDIOT GET OUT OF THERE!!” That was Finnigand’s voice. The Corporal was running towards his location, flanked by a team of his own. Tom was frozen, trapped in the throes of an unwanted memory, breaths coming in and out in quick ragged successions. He couldn’t hear them, he couldn’t-

He was terrified.

A laugh, condescending, spiteful. An eye glinted with amusement, malice underneath the façade of friendliness. A smile that made his skin crawl. A voice that he hated to hear “Are you afraid Thomas?”

Tom lifted his rifle and aimed at the Sentinel “I’m not afraid of youHe held his breath and shot.

In that second the world seemed to stop, the deafening sounds that surrounded him were suddenly cut off and silence took its place. Soon even the sight of the world around him disappeared, replaced by an inky darkness that surrounded his vision. Tom spared no time running through the black fog, still hearing nothing but soft ringing in his ears as he made his way out into the light.

Once the world surrounded him again, Tom found himself a few feet away from a stunned Red army, he smiled “Tell the devil I said hi” He unclipped his radio and dropped to the ground, giving the Red soldiers no time to process his words “Detonate!!”

All at once the sounds that had been muted came back at full force. The explosion behind him was loud, bringing with it scorching hot air….and the Sentinel gas.

Tom kept himself low even as the shouts of surprise began above him, he didn’t dare look up just yet while the gas did its work. Violent coughing and gurgling noises from the Red soldiers however made the same crooked smile from earlier worm into his features. Blood splattered beside him.

Something broke.

 


 

The rest of the fight went down easier, with the Sentinels taken care of and a large portion of the Red soldiers dead, they were able to make quick work of the ones still left behind. The Red section that had tried to escape through the third line was immediately pushed back and dealt, the second vehicle that had stayed behind only housed at least seven Red soldiers, all of whom had been tied up and were now awaiting their fate.

Tom stood quietly in front of them gas mask once again in place, it wouldn’t do for the Red army to be aware of his location just yet, and though the soldiers were tied up he wasn’t going to risk it. Who knows what sort of communication device Tord had made for them, for all he knew the Red army could be telepathic now.

“You won’t be able to make them work” A Red soldier spat vehemently at him, Tom merely inclined his head towards the soldier’s general direction “Red army weapons only respond to registered soldiers, it will recognize that none of you are one of us, so don’t fucking bother” He sneered.

“That so?” Tom asked innocently as he paced in front of them.

“Yes, so you rebel fucks wasted your resources for nothing!!”

Tom smiled from behind his mask and turned to the side when he felt the presence of one of his soldiers purposely come up to him “We found it sir, just like you said, it was on their leader” The soldier handed him a red framed glass plate. He nodded his thanks and held it up, raising his eyebrow at the once vocal Red soldier who had paled significantly at the sight of it.

“You don’t know how to-AUGH!” The Red soldier screamed in surprise when a shot to his shoulder rendered one of his arms completely useless. Blood seeped through his uniform as he writhed in pain.

“Shh shh shhhh” The soldier clamped his mouth shut when the barrel of a pistol pressed firmly against his forehead. Tom knelt down in front of him, drinking in the man’s reaction to the situation. Fear. He caused that “Cooperation will get you a long way Corporal” Tom lifted the man’s dead arm, ignoring his whimpers as he pressed it against the glass plate.

The device whirred to life, the glass lit up with a light blue hue that darkened as its systems activated. Tom stood back up and holstered his pistol, he whistled in appreciation as he flipped through the numerous files of data the device displayed “Gotta hand it to the commie bastard, he knows his tech” Tom hummed as he continued to scour the device for what he wanted, the soldiers around him stood quietly, weapons trained on the Red soldiers on the ground should they attempt anything.

“Oh, fucking finally, here we are” Tom cleared his throat as he scanned the information in front of him “Peacemakers model TL20. Rifle based….range and firepower…hmhmm ah! A special feature of the Peacemaker is that it only responds to a singular user, when handled the P-TL20 will scan for prints and will lock on that user alone. If used by an outside party, the gun will take preventive measures...”

“I told you” The Red soldier that Tom shot growled “Won’t work for you”

“I wouldn’t be too sure about that” Another soldier beside Tom handed him the very rifle they were talking about. It was sleek, lightweight, and had a barrel that was quite small compared to their own standard issue rifles, but like most of Tord’s weapons it was best not to judge it by appearance alone. Peacemakers were formidable weapons; many armies worldwide would agree.

Tom inspected the gun for a moment, he removed the protective case that surrounded its handle and spared the Red soldier one last look, the man’s gaze was faltering. Tom chuckled and held the rifle’s handle firmly with his other hand wrapping around the barrel. A soft whine emitted from the gun until a streak of red light ran through its body. Activated.

“Care to tell me if it won’t work still?” The Red soldier was silent, Tom tsked at him “Should’ve thought twice about lying to a frontline soldier hm? I’ve seen how these work, unfortunately for you” The rifle was quickly aimed towards the Red soldier, a split second of fear was all he managed before a bullet shot clean through his head, making it burst and split outward behind him as he fell back to the ground with a disgusting squelch.

The soldiers flinched at the scene, some barely holding back a surprised shout while most stared at the body in shock, speechless. Well, now they knew what an up-close Peacemaker shot would be like, they’ve only ever seen what damage the rifles could do from a distance, even then they were already terrifyingly powerful.

Tom looked down at the body, then almost silently through the shock induced silence he muttered “..that was a lot stronger than I thought”

Another Red soldier caught his words however and snarled “You think this is funny?” He growled “Red Leader will find out about this and he won’t be happy to know that an insignificant rebel faction had the gall to try and steal our weapons!”

“Try??” Tom scoffed at the Red soldier “We already did”

The rifle was raised once again and the Red soldier laughed “Killing us with our own weapons? I bet you think that you’re poetic about that”

Tom huffed out a laugh and slung the rifle over his shoulder, much to the confusion of the Red soldier “Your weapons are too strong for their own good” He gestured at the dead Red soldier whose head was scattered to the ground in bits and pieces “I bet he barely felt a thing. Which is more than what you bastards deserve” Tom reached for his pistol and aimed it at the Red soldier “How about I shoot you in the lungs instead? I hear drowning in your own blood is a sick way to go. Oh right, you should know, dear Red Leader used to do that to a lot of his enemies right?”

The Red soldier flinched away, the color from his face quickly draining. Even his comrades were beginning to squirm at the prospect of it. They’ve all heard the stories before, it used to be a signature kill for the Red Leader, having people drown from their own blood by making their lungs collapse. It was a horrifying sight to behold as the person so desperately tried to breathe in air only to cough out blood until the lack of oxygen finally kills them or sends them into shock. It was a cruel way of prolonging a death.

Only someone just as cruel would be capable of taking a human life that way.

“T-Sir” Finnigand stepped forward and stood beside Tom, putting a hand on top of the pistol to keep the man from firing “Don’t go down that road” The soldier muttered quietly, giving Tom a look of warning. The other Corporal should know what he means. 

Tom gazed back at Finnigand, sockets narrowed dangerously from behind his mask. After what felt like eternity, the Corporal sighed and lowered his pistol, shooting the remaining Red soldiers one last scowl Tom addressed his own unit “Take all the weapons you can carry, we’re going back to base” He began to walk away from the tied up Red soldiers, his unit followed close behind.

“So you’ll leave us here?!” Tom heard one Red soldier shout but he didn’t stop walking.

“Pretty much!” He replied as his fellow soldiers began to do their clean up of the area “I don’t really care anymore, besides, the other rebels would probably be more than happy to deal with you!” As for them? Well, they had bigger things to attend to.

Along the way out of the road, Tom nearly tripped on a discarded rifle. The eyeless soldier looked down at the weapon in irritation before finally noticing the spilt blood close to its side. His vision wandered upwards and spotted the third Private he had assigned to the Sentinel plan slumped against a roadblock, eyes glassy and bleeding out from his throat. He’d been shot, huh? And not by the Sentinel it appears.

Tom shook his head in disapproval.

Useless.

In the distance, Finnigand watched Tom leave, concern gnawing heavily at his insides.

 


 

The base was alive with celebration, though it wasn’t quite like the party they had back in Nirgends, they did have to lay low after all. It still had the same spirit though, comrades all together telling stories and enjoying each others’ company. Though there was a lot less alcohol to go around it didn’t dampen the buzz of happiness the soldiers had at a successful operation.

Many of the unit soldiers had taken to gathering in small circles, simply relaxing and enjoying what peace they could still have after what was essentially a high stress operation. Many chose to ignore the fact that perhaps their number had been lessened somewhat, mourning can come when the sun rises to reveal all that they had done, tonight was a time of rest. They can afford to be selfish, if only for this time.

Finnigand however was not taking part of what was happening like he had before, not that he wanted to anyway, it would be a lot lonelier this time around. The Corporal looked around their base and squinted at the shadowed faces that were scattered in various areas, all with their own group of friends. Well, the moment he realized that the soldier he couldn’t identify had a companion he was quick to move on, they weren’t who he was looking for.

The Corporal circled around and huffed in agitation after another unsuccessful hunt for his elusive fellow soldier. Finnigand sighed and mentally berated himself, of course he wouldn’t be out in the open, Tom doesn’t trust anyone, not anymore. The Corporal looked up at their old helicopter and steadily made his way towards it.

“Finnigand” Said soldier blinked in surprise the moment he stepped on to the darkened bay of the downed copter. Looking further in revealed just the man he was looking for. Tom was seated on one of the chairs still intact, the eyeless soldier had his head leaning against the copter’s wall as he stared listlessly at the other Corporal “Here to talk to me? I know you didn’t like the way I acted out there”

Finnigand sucked in a breath “I didn’t, but I don’t think anything I’ll say will get through to you” The eyeless soldier huffed out a laugh at that statement. The Corporal shook his head “Tom…what you did out there, it wasn’t- You weren’t yourself”

“Oh and you know what I’m like. Corporal?”

Finnigand bristled at that and turned his head to the side “Jesus fucking Christ Tom, you made three of our own attempt a suicide mission!” His voice was barely subdued, hints of panic and fear oozing through his words “I talked to the ones that survived, do you know what they thought of the mission? They were completely convinced that you knew what course of action to take to ensure victory”

Tom was quiet for a moment, simply looking up at the hole littered ceiling of the copter “And that’s a bad thing?”

Finnigand looked back at him, wide eyed and disbelieving “Might as well fucking be with you” He hissed “Do you know what that means? These people-“ He gestured out behind him, where the rest of the unit was “-trust you. Whether you like it or not you’re responsible for the lives of soldiers now willing to follow you to the fire. Do you understand that? You’re not just looking out for yourself now

The Corporal lifted an item he was holding before he threw it forward, Tom managed to catch it before it clattered to the floor. He looked at it questioningly, it was a leather journal “What-“

“You have your own agenda Tom, but don’t think for a second that you can just use this unit for your own gain” Finnigand seethed before turning sharply “…I figured that if I can’t talk some sense into you, maybe the Colonel can” Tom jumped at that, he straightened up on the chair and gaped at Finnigand’s retreating back. A protest to wait and tell him what the fuck he was going on about died on his lips the moment the Corporal was out of his sight.

Tom gritted his teeth and let his head hit the wall behind him with a loud thud. He looked down at the journal, apprehension flooding his senses. A large part of him was screaming for him to get as far away as possible from the offending thing. He didn’t need it, it won’t help.

….

Fuck it.

Willing the last bit of his fears away, Tom opened the journal to the first page.

This belongs to:

A.Hilarson

P.S. I still can’t fucking believe I’m doing this, goddamn.

A snort was ripped out from him involuntarily, Tom covered his mouth and blinked rapidly at the handwritten words. Some letters were pressed deeper the more it went on, Hilarson was probably getting irritated, not that his words didn’t relay that already. Tom swore he could almost hear the older soldier’s voice. He flipped to another page.

Dear D Hey Journ Entry # FUCK IT

So I don’t know what in the name of our lord and savior I’m supposed to be doing with this thing. Some shrink had me evaluated and said that I had ‘emotional problems’ whatever the bloody hell that meant. She said that I needed some way to express how I feel if I wasn’t comfortable with a coddle fest support group.

 Now, I wouldn’t have tolerated this but she threatened to report me to my superior to force me on leave and that’s the last thing I need right now. So whatever, here I am. Happy now miss mental health??

Oh right I’m supposed to write down what I feel.

I am pissed.

  • H

Tom couldn’t help the soft smile that was pulled out from him the more he looked through Hilarson’s journal entries. Most were just as disgruntled as the first entry had been, more or less just the Colonel complaining about how much he hated being forced to constantly write in his journal. Though as time moved on the Colonel began to complain less and less about how the journal was irrelevant to him and began to talk more about his own life. Whether he realized it or not, Hilarson was beginning to use the journal in the way his psychologist probably wanted him to.

One journal entry however stood out, Tom paused at it and recognized the date as around the time he and the others first joined the military.

What.the.fuck?!

ARE THEY SERIOUS?!! RECRUIT DUTY! I’VE BEEN PUT ON RECRUIT DUTY!!

I get a vacation maybe one or two days in a whole year, and instead of getting that break I’m stuck training KIDS who can’t even properly hold a gun much less shoot with it! What am I supposed to do all day? Stand under the sun and watch a bunch of Cadets fail?!

Besides this isn’t even OFFICIAL recruitment! Just some stupid public stunt!! None of these worms are even going to be sent to a relatively dangerous theatre! Much less on their own?? PHE! Don’t make me laugh!

I’m going to try and plead with my superior, I’ve served my country well in my career, there has to be some allowances for an old dog like me. I really REALLY don’t want this.

Feeling pretty PISSED right about now

  • H

The following entry after that was written down days after the first, this entry in particular was the cleanest one out of all the others. Mostly because it was the shortest as well.

…I guess I was wrong about recruit duty.

  • H

Tom had to reread the entry a few more times, not quite believing that those were the only words that the Colonel jotted down as a response to their recruitment. In all honesty he was expecting a rant of some kind. Although Hilarson had said that he was fond of that little experience, the man didn’t fail to include that the trouble they caused nearly gave him an aneurysm.

Flipping through the page revealed no other words regarding the matter, so Tom shrugged and continued to leaf through the Colonel’s entries.

The ones after that were simply the Colonel going about his daily life after he was relieved from recruit duty. Short stories about his friends and subordinates or what kind of food he missed having, little arbitrary things that made up the simple life the Colonel enjoyed, at least he sounded like he did. Hilarson’s writings became particularly enthusiastic when it was about scaring his new recruits. Tom found himself smiling at most of the entries, especially when Hilarson began to complain about his own age and how old and tired he was getting.

Tord Larsin

Tom froze, doing a double take on an entry he almost skipped over. He stared at the name for the longest time, it was underlined twice as well as encircled, it was hard to miss it. He began to read the entry.

I know that name…damn me I know that name. My memory isn’t the sharpest anymore but I’ll never forget those names. Fuck fuck fuck FUCK FUCK FUCK!!

The Red army’s taken up Norway by now, we thought it was nothing more than some silly civil war over there. I don’t keep up with politics, that kind of stuff happens a lot right? I don’t fucking know. Their leader’s always been a mystery, no one’s seen the bastard…. until now.

I can’t There’s no way H ow am I even going to begin with this? What am I supposed to say? Right now I can’t even process what the hell I saw. That couldn’t have been- maybe I saw it wrong, my sight’s pretty busted to hell now, perks of growing old aye? Haha.

No it couldn’t have been him. Not one of mine, I know those boys, they aren’t capable of something like that.

It was him.

The words on this entry seemed to shake with each sentence, Hilarson’s writing was nearly incomprehensible. Tom had to squint at the crossed out words to even try to make out what the Colonel had written. The last words the man wrote however spoke more than the ones he erased, somehow those simple words managed to make his devastation clear. Tom breathed in slowly and moved to the next page.

The rest of the pages after that were all scratched out, Tom could make out letters and words but ultimately they were illegible. Hilarson seemed conflicted with himself on whether or not he should write down the now scribbled out entries. Tom had a guess as to what they were about. After more pages of jumbled and blacked out entries the eyeless soldier finally came across one that could be read. Four years after the entry wherein Hilarson found out about Tord.

Tom swallowed hard when he saw what the next entries were about.

Thomas Thompson

Another one of mine, heh, I should have known. When one of them shows up the others do too. He looks just like I remember him, outrageous hairstyle and all. The other two weren’t around though, not even that little green nuisance. I suppose dealing with just one would have been easier anyway.

I cornered Thompson in my tent, it was ridiculously easy to lure him in, how the hell is that boy even still alive? Of course I had a few..choice words with him, I didn’t get the reaction I hoped but he could be lying.

Though I’m not the Lieutenant Colonel of a covert unit for nothing, I had Thompson join us if only for me to keep a close eye on him. He MAY say that Larsin and he were at different sides now but…I’ve learned not trust the words of someone associated with the Red Leader too easily. Who knows.

I sure as hell won’t make the same mistake, if Thompson’s lying then I know what I need to do.

  • H

About Thompson

Shit….the boy’s in bad shape. I admit that maybe he’s just bullshitting his way through to gain my trust, maybe I’m too personally involved to see otherwise, I won’t lie that maybe I’m still hoping that one of them wasn’t completely lost to the illusions of war. Like Larsin.

But…no one can fake trauma like that, Thompson’s crumbling from the inside, I know what that looks like and if he’s just acting the part, then he’s a damned good actor. We’ve only been in Nirgends for a week and I can clearly see that he’s not right in the head. Any more than this and Thompson will start to fear his own shadow.

I think he needs help. Maybe I can give it.

  • H

Most of the entries following were the events that unfolded when Hilarson took him in. His episode with Finnigand, his scheduled routine, the small in between moments when the Colonel would simply talk to him, and the Poland operation. The Colonel’s tone even gradually changed through some of the entries, at some point he stopped calling him ‘Thompson’ and simply switched to ‘Tom’ or ‘Bowling Ball’ if he was feeling particularly playful. Tom felt his heart stutter at that realization, though he wasn’t quite sure why.

As he was flipping through the pages, one of them fell off the journal. Tom scrambled to save it, he fell from his seat and managed to catch the displaced page before it managed to flutter away. He sighed and shook his head at the page but stopped when he went over the first sentence he saw and realized that it wasn’t just a journal entry. It was addressed to him. Tom sat on his heels and moved to where some of the moonlight pierced through the bullet holes, the paper shook in his grip.

Tom

Son, did you know that in the military some of us are made to write a will? It’s a lot more commonplace than you think, we know that there will always be a possibility that maybe we won’t be able to come back home. I’m an old soldier son, in the military my life could be considered unnaturally long, I know its only a matter of time before I have to go.

I don’t have a lot to leave behind, my family’s long gone now.

So perhaps I can leave you something, son.

Tom, I know it’s not my place to be telling you how to live your life, I’m not your father, so to make this easier why not just take it as advice from your superior? Some ‘life-experience tips’ or whatever it is that people call these things…

Son, war changes people. Sometimes we’ll do things we didn’t think we could, sometimes the change is for the best and sometimes its for the worst. I won’t dance around the topic son, this war we’re in means more to you than most, it’ll fuck with your head Tom, it’ll turn you into something you don’t want to be. I’ve kept you under my wing long enough to know that you’re barely keeping yourself together as it is, I tried my best to make sure that you don’t fall apart completely, you know that.

Tom, Larsin used to be your friend. Don’t try to deny this, I’ve seen the way you become when anyone even remotely says his name. You’ve been betrayed, you’ve been hurt by someone who used to be part of your life, I’m sure your other friends feel the same way. This is the truth you’re avoiding son, I know its hard to accept but its better than pretending that it isn’t there. You can’t keep running Tom, it’ll hurt you a lot more if you do. Though it sure as hell already did damage.

..no matter what you believe son, you’re not too far gone to save. You punish yourself more than anyone else does, that whole incident with my alcohol proved just as much (though I’m still mad at you for stealing my drink). Larsin may have been your friend Tom, but you are not him. You do what you need to because you know it’s the right thing, Larsin does what he does because he’s selfish.

You may act like it Tom but I know that isn’t the case. You care about your other friends, you’re fighting to keep them safe.

Don’t let this war change you Tom, don’t lose yourself in the process. In the middle of all this madness, don’t give in to the easy way out: damning the consequences and giving in to that part of you that tears you apart.

It’s going to be hard son, but I have faith in you.

Take care.

  • Lt. Colonel Abe Hilarson.

Tom could barely see the last few words on the paper, he furrowed his eyebrows in confusion at the sudden blurriness, he rubbed at one of his eyes in agitation and it came away wet. His hearing picked up a gasping hiccuping noise, soon enough Tom realized that the sound was coming from him. He covered his mouth as his shoulders began to shake uncontrollably, the soft pit-pat of tears hitting the parchment being the only sound rivaling his gasps for breath.

It was like a dam had broken the moment he read the last words. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t stop the spill of tears from escaping him, it was like the came out on their own, even as the full force of loss had yet to grip at his heart. Tom squeezed his eyes shut and curled in on himself, inadvertently crumpling up the Colonel’s departing message in his hands.

What the hell was he doing?

Tom bit his tongue as he tried to stop a despairing cry. All at once realizing the gravity of the situation he had been forced into. This was exactly why he didn’t want to address it, this was exactly why he stamped off the emotions that stemmed from it.

He wasn’t a leader, he didn’t know how the hell he was going to be able to move on like this, he was way in over his head. Edd was a leader, if he were here he would know what to do. His friend had always been the first to take initiative, confident, outgoing, and willful. Everything that he wasn’t.

Hilarson was a leader too, a man who had experience under his belt. Strong and assertive, the Colonel knew exactly how to move a unit as one. His guidance was crucial in the war, if it weren’t for him he was sure that the unit wouldn’t have made it as far as they had now.

Hilarson’s gone now.

The Colonel left a hole that was impossible for Tom to fill.

Tom didn’t chose this, he didn’t chose any of this. He was never given a choice.

Why wasn’t he allowed to ever have a choice?!

A loud cry was ripped out from his throat, one full of emotions he tried to keep away. A truly heart clenching mix of conflicting feelings all in one agonizing wail.

It took a while for him to calm down, at this point he didn’t even care who heard him. Tom let himself grieve for the first time and not just for Hilarson. For every other person he lost along the way, for the fact that he couldn’t even be with his only friends, for the fact that he was completely and utterly alone.

By the time his sobs died down, Tom still had a hand covering his eyes. He sniffled and few times and took in a deep breath before he allowed his hand to fall away. He blinked a few times to regain his vision as he stared down at the piece of paper partially crumpled up in his hands. He rubbed at his eyes one last time and tried to smooth out the letter. A wet portion of the paper drew his attention as ink from behind began to bleed through.

Tom flipped the paper over and paused at the new sentences he found at the back. It was shorter than the front.

P.S. You didn’t think I would just leave you with a few words did you? You’d probably hate me if I did and besides, I can do better than just words son. I can give you help.

I have friends Tom, in many many places. I have some mates up in Scotland, they have a safe house. I’ve already told them of you, all you have to do is contact them through my radio. I have the frequency sketched at the back, just tell them your name and they’ll get you- and my unit- to the safe house.

In case you need to know the movements of the British army however, I have a contact at the main base. His name is Harvey, he runs communications-

Tom stood up at that, rereading the same sentence over and over again in disbelief. A plan quietly began to prod at his mind.

This could work...

Paying the rest of Hilarson’s words no heed, Tom sprinted out of the copter and began to frantically search the area for one particular soldier. The others around him looked to him in shock, not expecting that he would emerge from the copter. Some soldiers had even lingered close when they first heard his cry, figuring to check if he was alright. Though none of them were given any mind as Tom sprinted past them and towards the soldier he was looking for.

“FINNIGAND!!” Said soldier jumped in surprise and looked around until he spotted his fellow Corporal running towards him.

“Tom what-?!”

“Look I’m sorry for being a git and I’ll apologize properly later but right now I need to know where you found Hilarson’s journal” Tom gasped out when he finally reached his fellow Corporal.

Finnigand looked at him in confusion “When we got out of Brighton the evac team loaded all of our supplies into the copter, including Hilarson’s personal effects” The Corporal pointed to the side where a lone tent they used to store their supplies in stood “It took a while for me to find it but all of Hilarson’s belongings are with the rest of our stuff…but what does this have to do with-“

“Martin you’re bloody brilliant!!” Finnigand sputtered when Tom referred to him with his first name. The Corporal opened and closed his mouth, unable to form a coherent response. Tom showed him the crumpled piece of paper with a grin “I have a plan but I’m going to need your help again” Finnigand blinked rapidly at the paper, still unable to speak. Tom took his silence as hesitation and frowned “Look..I realize that I wasn’t being a good…leader” The eyeless soldier grimaced at the word. Tom pursed his lips and looked to the ground in shame “Finnigand, I’m asking for a second chance. I shouldn’t have acted the way I did”

Finnigand stared at him in wonder. He could admit that for a moment he thought that they would lose Tom. That familiar sadistic, manipulative streak that he saw growing within the other Corporal terrified him. Finnigand bit his lip and let out a sigh, he nodded “….What do you need?”

Tom looked back up at him, then smirked “Well for starters, Hilarson’s radio”

 

Chapter Text

A shower of debris spilled onto the road, the result of a rather violent explosion caused by the pursuing Red tank. A group of rebels scrambled to escape the approaching enemy as they jumped over the rubble that blocked their way to safety, they ducked at the sound of gunfire, barely managing not to get hit by the bullets that sliced through the air. Some blinked at the harsh red tail of light that gradually faded away once the bullets passed, warning them of the power behind each shot.

“RUN! RUN GODDAMNIT!!” The leader of this rebel group shouted once the gunfire behind them slowed, only to fade into the ominous hums of the Red tank going after them. Harsh, loud clicks made the group bolt upright and hurriedly run from their cover as the tank prepared to fire at them, giving the group mere seconds to flee.

Gurgling hisses then a piercing whistle was the last thing to register in the leader’s mind before the scene behind his group went up in flames. The rubble that littered the road flew into the air at breakneck speeds as yet another chasm was formed. The leader saw it happen too late. A large piece of the road had become airborne and was flying too close for comfort. The man could only watch in mute horror as it slammed directly into two of his subordinates, ripping out their startled, fearful, screams as it crushed them alive.

NO!” The leader faltered in his retreat, staring wide eyed and gasping at the bloody scene. The rubble moved slightly, the quiet crumbling sounds of the debris completely drowned out by the pained sobbing of a dying soldier. The man looked up at his leader, pleading, words unable to come forth as he worked his mouth around the blood and dirt.

“I..don’t want to die..” The soldier mouthed as tears spilled from his eyes, desperately reaching a broken hand out to his leader, seeking salvation. The Red tank drew nearer from a distance, making the earth around them shake with what felt like fear.

“SIR! WE HAVE TO LEAVE!!” The rebel leader felt the rest of his men pull him by the arm, he didn’t fight them, but he didn’t turn away from his dying soldier. He watched as his subordinate grew smaller in the distance, he watched as the man wept his eyes out from the realization that he was being left to die, he watched as the Red tank rolled over the soldier, grinding him into a sticky gore as it continued to pursue the rest of them.

How.

How did the Red army find them?

The rebel leader looked around him, what used to be their safe zone in London was quickly getting overridden by Reds. Most of his men should have escaped by now through the different failsafe routes of their makeshift camp. That thought was enough to calm him just slightly, but watching as everything he built, everything they strived to achieve, everything they committed themselves to quickly be ground to dust…

It was agonizing.

How could this have happened?

“SURRENDER NOW REBELS!! THERE IS NO WAY OUT!” The Red Colonel that was hunting them down shouted to the winds. The Colonel rode the very Red tank that pursued them while the rest of the Red soldiers were on foot, scanning the area for any movement “We would have come to an agreement once!” The Colonel’s voice boomed as the tank rolled to a stop in the middle of the road. He smirked, knowing full well where the rebels ran off to “Alas, you just seem to think that fighting this futile fight would be better than joining us in the new world!”

The Colonel signaled for his men to line up and prepare to fire, they were to create a curtain of bullets the moment they spot any of the rebels. No one was to survive “Your world is dead. It was about time for change anyway..”

“Sir…” Behind a building, the small rebel group looked to their leader for guidance. The man himself stared intently at the ground, hands clenched tight at his sides “Sir, what do we do?” A soldier asked, voice low and barely audible through the Red Colonel’s ramblings behind them. They were going to be upon them soon, and with their numbers as it was….

The rebel leader sucked in a deep breath, his heart twisting as his mind came to a conclusion, he turned to his soldiers, the people he had come to care about after many many years “It was my greatest honor to serve and guide you all” His voice shook as he continued to speak “I may not have gotten us to where we wanted to be….but I’d like to believe that, perhaps, I’ve done enough” The leader’s hand came up to his rank insignia, long since torn apart but still clinging on to his uniform like a stubborn child. Lieutenant. That was to be the rank he’ll die with “I rose up to my call, I fought for my country, I fought for my unit, I fought for this world…that is enough”

The group was silent, no soldier dared to speak. Then they all looked to each other, imprinting the last faces they’ll see in their minds. One soldier came up to the rebel leader and quietly put a hand to his shoulder. The man looked up at her and found her smiling, as were the rest of his unit “It was enough” She said.

The rebel leader mirrored their smiles, aware of the clicks of the Red tank ready to fire once again. The man breathed out slowly and unslung his rifle from his shoulder “If I were to die, I want to fight as I do” The soldiers nodded at his words, preparing their own weapons without prompting. The rebel leader grinned and lifted his rifle “FOR ENGLAND!”

FOR ENGLAND!

“FOR FREEDOM!”

FOR FREEDOM!

“FOR THE WORLD THAT BELONGED TO US!” The rebel leader faced the road, the thundering beat of his heart fueling his entrance to their final battle “AND IT IS IN THIS WORLD-!”

THAT!

WE!

DIE!!

The group chorused loudly as they ran screaming for battle into the streets, the rumbling shake of their boots hitting the ground almost rivaling that of the Red tank’s. The Red Colonel smirked as they appeared back into the street in a neat little easy to target bundle, readily throwing caution away to fight their last desperate fight. He turned to his men to give out his order-

SHFFF!

The Colonel paused, he looked down at himself in confusion, feeling something wet spread across his abdomen. The soldier coughed as a vicious red began to seep through his uniform, he pressed a hand against his stomach as a blossoming pain began to burn through his senses, the Colonel gasped for breath as he fell from the tank and into his men who scrambled to save him. Though only one thought ran through his mind.

A streak of red light…..Peacemaker shot.

A Peacemaker shot him.

The moment the Colonel fell all hell broke loose. One by one, the Red soldiers began to drop as energy infused bullets tore through their ranks from the side. The ones that were lucky enough to realize that the Peacemaker shots were not their own immediately took the chance to run for cover, shouting at their fellows still standing around in shock to do the same. The Red Colonel’s men quickly ushered him away the moment it became evident that the confusion and panic won’t die down easily.

The rebel group in front of them stopped midway, just as shocked as the Red soldiers themselves. The rebel leader held a hand out to keep his men away as they watched the surprise battle unfold before their very eyes. The group collectively locked up when another unit emerged from the opposite side of the street, a unit that was clearly wielding the Peacemakers that attacked the Red unit but weren’t Red soldiers themselves.

The rebel leader’s eyes narrowed in realization, he knew of only one other rebel faction that had those weapons.

SIR THE TANK!” The leader snapped his head to the side when the distinct gurgling hiss of the Red tank stirred up the air. Its massive barrel moved downwards and aimed directly at their position.

“Move- MOVE MOVE!!” The rebel leader shouted, even shoving most of his men to the side as they made a mad dash to avoid getting caught in the tank’s aim. Amidst the crossfires however, it was hard to do. The tank groaned as it fired its shot, sending debris flying through the air. Some rebels were knocked off their feet as they ran, gaining a few scratches in the process, their fellows stopped to quickly pick them back up as the tank readied itself for another attack.

The massive vehicle began to move once more, intently going after the fleeing rebel group. Despite the fire power behind the Peacemakers’ shots, the tank was relatively unaffected by the scuffle so long as it kept moving. Its barrel moved with a whine, carefully aiming at a location ahead of the rebel group’s movements.

SHHFFF- TUNG!

The tank ground to a halt almost instantly, its viewport completely destroyed. The barrel moved to different directions, as though the crew within were unsure of whether or not they should still keep firing despite losing all visuals to the outside world. Though the rebel leader knew they wouldn’t risk hitting their fellow soldiers now that the fight was edging closer to their location, and without knowing who was outside, it was unlikely that the crew would risk themselves as well. The barrel was lowered, just as he suspected. The tank was trapped.

Of course, only one thing could effectively destroy a Red tank’s viewport. There wouldn’t be much of a mystery as to what it was by now.

The sound of approaching footsteps made the rebel group turn around, again the same unit of soldiers wielding enemy weapons came into view. They walked with caution, Peacemakers raised and at the ready as they approached the now dwindling number of Red soldiers still trying to fight back. One of the men from the unit however, immediately ran towards the downed tank, he threw something into the barrel and ran to the side “READY!”

The unit stopped just as the tank’s barrel was completely blown off by an explosion. The metal smoldered heavily, a thick cloud of smoke emanating from the affected area and the tank’s ventilation. The hatch was hastily opened soon after, releasing more of the smoke into the air. Red soldiers hurriedly tried to escape to safety only to be shot down by the new unit as they jumped from the vehicle.

The rebel leader thinned his lips and turned back to the approaching unit, his eyes narrowed to slits as the soldiers quietly parted a way for their leader. He stepped forward when he saw the man he was looking for “Mask” He nearly hissed.

“Mr. Verns” Tom greeted cordially, tipping his head down to the rebel leader’s general direction as he adjusted his gas mask. The Corporal stopped just a few feet away from the tank to wait for the rebel’s approach “What a lovely surprise, I don’t think I expected to run into you today”

“This is my area”

“Oh is it?” Verns bristled at the monotone and borderline uncaring way Tom spoke. The rebel leader raised his arm but stopped when a few of Tom’s men aimed their Peacemakers at him, seeing his movements as a threat. Tom raised an open hand when he noticed what they were doing, he clicked his tongue in disapproval “We’re among….friends” He chided at them. The unit reluctantly lowered their weapons.

“We’re not friends, mask” The rebel leader growled, pointing at him “Don’t bullshite me either, you know that this part of London belongs to me. You don’t have a right to be here”

“My unit isn’t a rebel faction arsehole” Tom seethed, quickly getting tired of the other man’s uncalled for animosity towards him “I don’t do your playground rules and I have no obligation to do so. With how fucked up the world already is I don’t see why I have to subject myself to your shitty discount government” The Corporal sighed and shook his head “Fantastic way of saying ‘thank you’ by the way”

Verns bared his teeth in agitation. Not once, even when they first met, not once had the Lieutenant trusted the man behind the mask. The fact that he even wore the damn thing at all times already raised a lot of red flags but there was something else. It was more of a gut feeling, but there was something about the man that set him on edge, something…off. It was severely unjustified, even he acknowledged that it was, but no matter how much he tried, the Corporal just rubbed him the wrong way.

“Now you listen here EFA” He spat, watching as Tom’s shoulders tensed with the title he was given. Although the Lieutenant was from a unit worlds away from the EFA program, he would recognize the worn patch of the Corps from anywhere. He mostly used the title to wind the Corporal up, seeing as though it was the only thing that got to him “You may have a history of throwing caution to the wind and doing whatever you want, but we have these rules for a reason”

“Reason being that you’re all huffy children that can’t play with the same toy?” Tom leaned toward him “Playground, Mr.Verns” Tom leaned away when the Lieutenant tried to take a swipe at him. He raised a hand to his unit when they moved forward to help him “Why can’t you just talk to me properly without trying to deck me, especially after I saved your arse?”

“Right, you just so happened to be in the area- my area- when a Red unit decided to come attack??” Verns growled “I don’t buy your act, EFA

“Truthfully we’ve been hunting the Red tank unit for a while now. So technically yes, I just so happened to be in the area” Tom walked ahead and stopped near the body of a Red soldier, he carefully slid a Peacemaker magazine from its container and clipped it to the side of his belt “Restocking, I suppose you can call it. They’re the only remaining unit with Peacemakers after all”

Verns opened his mouth to argue about why the hell they hadn’t even thought to warn them if they’ve been on the Red unit’s trail, a loud snarl however interrupted him before he spoke YOU!” The two soldiers looked to the side where the Red Colonel came staggering in, pale faced and still bleeding. Although his eyes seemed to flare with what remained of his energy and coherency, his shaking hand reached for the pistol at his side. Verns didn’t miss the way he directed his glare at Tom in particular YOU- WE HAD-!

The Red Colonel went no further as a single shot had the man fall backwards, dead.

Tom lowered his pistol and nodded at his men “Search the area for stragglers. I don’t want any Red soldier left alive” The unit behind him saluted and went off to do as they were told, leaving Tom relatively alone with the Lieutenant and his rebel group, although some of his unit mates stayed behind to keep guard, just in case “Verns, unless you have Peacemakers of your own I suggest you get going” Tom called over his shoulder as he went about to loot for supplies as well “Now that the Red army found out about your little hideaway, you’d best find a new place to settle in”

The Lieutenant wanted to argue, he wanted to push for answers, he wanted to know what the hell the Red Colonel was going to say, but one look at Tom’s men eyeing him, Peacemakers close to their sides, Verns knew that pushing the masked man will lead to nothing good. Tom gave him a clear dismissal, which he scowled at, but his men were in no shape to fight either. He was backed into a corner. He may be hot-headed but he wasn’t stupid to think that they can go against this unit in particular, more so as it belonged to a ruthless EFA soldier.

“You watch your back, mask” Verns seethed as he turned heel, marching away with heavy steps. The rebel leader’s group lingered behind for a second, glancing at their leader and at Tom before one of the soldiers ushered for them to follow after Verns.

The soldier separated from them and quietly approached Tom just as he turned around at the sound of her footsteps. She stopped close to his men and sent him a warm smile “Our leader doesn’t seem to want to show it but we are grateful for the rescue” She darted her eyes towards the part of his uniform that was supposed to have his name sewed on, only to frown at the torn up area where it used to be “Though, it would have been nice to know who to thank”

“Don’t thank me just yet” Tom rubbed at his neck as he looked at the soldier, his hand stayed where it was “…but you’re welcome”

The soldier smiled at him with a nod, she turned to leave without another word and quickly joined the rest of her team. Tom watched her go, absentmindedly tapping at his bandages until the rebel faction was just a speck in the distance “I don’t think this will work” Finnigand stepped up beside him, gaze locked on the rebel faction as well “Verns clearly doesn’t like you, and I suppose he has good reason”

“Will you shut up about it?” Tom snapped at his fellow Corporal as they both began to walk through the road, keeping an eye out for anything usable as they passed through “And of course this will work, it’s working, just not with Verns” He narrowed his eyes at his companion through the lenses of his mask “Don’t play the moral high ground with me, I blatantly told you about what I planned to do. If you didn’t like it you would have shut me down from the start” Tom stopped walking and faced Finnigand, annoyance coming off of him in waves “Except we don’t have the luxury to play nice now do we? Unless you want this war to keep dragging on”

Finnigand shot him with his own glare, standing his ground “I-“

“I’m going to stop you right there” Tom growled as he took one step into the Corporal’s personal space. A jolt of fear caused Finnigand to take a step back “Am I endangering our unit? No, at least not by what you think. I understand if you have a bleeding heart when it comes to this, but you cannot care about every single one of the other units out here. You want me to act like a leader? Fine. As your leader its my job to carry out what needs to be done!”

Tom stared the other Corporal down, after a minute he sighed and stepped back, hands raised “…I’m not having this argument with you again. Finnigand, what I’m doing is necessary. For the love of whatever’s looking down on us stop fighting against me, you’re making this more difficult than it needs to be”

Finnigand frowned at him, the Corporal’s mouth moved to say something but whatever it was was quick to die on his lips. The soldier shut his eyes and swallowed hard, he sighed and turned his head away from his fellow Corporal. For once- in two weeks- choosing to ignore everything he had done so far to get them to where they were. The Corporal walked away from his companion without another word.

Tom breathed out heavily as he watched his fellow Corporal go, this wouldn’t be the first time they argued this week and he knew it certainly won’t be the last. To think it was easier to deal with Finnigand when they weren’t on speaking terms. His fellow Corporal’s recent actions were starting to grate on his nerves each day, frankly he was getting tired of him, especially when Finnigand just couldn’t seem to make up his mind about him.

The Corporal clicked his tongue in annoyance and whistled for a soldier who was nearby. The man immediately dropped what he was doing to stand in front of him and await orders. Tom leaned close to whisper, glancing but once around them to make sure that no one was listening in “Track Verns’ rebel group, when they set up base come back and report to me directly. I should be the first to know of their new location, clear?”

“Yes sir” The man bowed his head and silently slipped away to start following the rebel group. None of the other soldiers took notice of his departure, which was exactly what Tom wanted. The Corporal cleared his throat and straightened himself out before he went off to check on the rest of his men.

 


 

They’ve been making a name for themselves, or rather Tom has. Two weeks have passed since their successful operation, now alongside their old weapons were the ridiculously advanced ones that had caused the world more trouble than they were worth. Suffice to say, they’d become a force to reckon with.

Although they had to play it safe the first few days. Tom knew that the Red army would be pissed as hell when they found out that the weapons they were promised never made it to their intended handlers. Thankfully they didn’t have much to go on other than ‘A rebel faction stole them’. Tom made sure to limit their use of the Peacemakers when the Red army began searching for their culprit.

The first days were all about patience, thankfully an army in fear of what their leader might do if he found out about this blunder couldn’t be. At that point they were desperate.

And so came Tom, a false answer to their prayers.

Finnigand tried to punch him the first time he told him about the plan. His fellow Corporal was furious beyond belief, thinking him mad for even considering it in the first place, even going as far as denouncing it in front of their unit. Tom however was not one to back down easily, he put just as much energy into defending himself and backing Finnigand into a corner. As much as his fellow Corporal tried, Tom was still the one the unit was willing to listen to, especially after he had put them at an advantage with the Peacemakers.

Eventually, Finnigand had no choice but to step back when it was obvious that Tom was going to void his opinion on the matter. He had scowled at him and turned away, wanting nothing to do with the plan. That was fine, he wasn’t needed anyway.

When night fell, Tom had but three soldiers at his side as they crept towards a known Red camp, ready to execute the start of his plan.

“Remember,” Tom kept his voice low as he spoke to his team “If anything goes wrong, start firing with your Peacemakers, draw them away and escape to the routes I showed you. The others should be there to bring you back to base” The three soldiers nodded and proceeded to separate from him to get to their assigned posts. Tom took in a deep breath and donned his gas mask.

Show time.

Tom casually walked towards the Red camp and continued to do so until he stepped into their search light where they could clearly see him. The Red soldiers responded in kind and were quick to surround him, weapons trained and ready to fire should he make the wrong move. Tom raised his hands up and stopped walking, quietly waiting for the unit’s leader as he walked out from his tent and approached him, stopping only a few feet away from where he stood.

“Well well, this is a surprise” The Red Captain folded his hands behind his back as he looked Tom over “I assume you’re a rebel and not a trick or treater then?”

“This is the only way I could keep my fellows from recognizing me when I left” Tom answered lowly, keeping his head down while occasionally looking up at the Captain. Painting a picture of a shamed man pushed to desperation. Tom let out a long sigh “I..I can’t take this war anymore. I just..” He shut his eyes, he needed to make this believable, an image of his friends and their old home passed through his mind, sending a twinge of sadness through him. Tom swallowed “…I just want to go back to my family…”

“And we should care about that why?” The Red Captain scoffed, turning his nose up as he circled Tom like a shark, though Tom caught the mild curiosity that danced across the soldier’s eyes.

“….I know the faction that stole your weapons” Tom still had his head down but he heard the quiet taps of the Captain’s boots come to a complete stop behind him. Tom smirked, gotcha “They’ve been trying to recruit the others- the other factions I mean- they came for my faction just two days ago, even offering our leader a Peacemaker of his own if he agreed to join them” Tom took his cue when he felt the Captain purposely step into his personal space, he jolted in ‘surprise’ and stammered out the rest of his story “He- He accepted but when they told us they were going to try and wipe out all the Red units in London I knew it was a stupid plan. They only had so many Peacemakers to spare and so what if they did? We were running out of ammo as it is and our numbers were dwindling and-“

“Where’s your proof?” The Captain growled, his gaze darkening the more Tom rambled on. The Corporal took a step backwards when the man began to tower over him “Let’s say I don’t believe you and think that you’re just bullshitting your way out of this war like the coward you are, what real man would ever turn on his own?” The Captain narrowed his eyes “See, I don’t like being lied to, especially if it involves a matter as serious as this” He gripped at the collar of Tom’s uniform and pulled him to his toes, Tom held his arm and pretended to struggle “Let me ask you again: Where’s your proof?

Tom darted his hand into his side pocket and hurriedly produced a Peacemaker magazine. The Captain’s eyes widened at it, slowly he let Tom go “I man-managed to take this from our leader when he left his tent” Tom flinched when the Captain snatched the magazine from his hand. He blinked in surprise, he honestly hadn’t expected that but at least it helped him with his act “Everyone knows you can’t touch a Peacemaker that’s been activated if it isn’t yours. I wasn’t sure about the magazine but I took that chance and..”

Tom let himself trail off as the Captain continued to inspect the magazine, not that he’ll find anything wrong, it was authentic in every sense of the word. Though it was too bad that he had to give up one of his magazines to carry out this plan. The Captain looked back at him, his face flat and unreadable, the man lightly shook the magazine in his grip and moved his jaw from side to side, contemplating. Tom stood still, glancing once to the side where his unit mates should be, he tried to keep his breathing steady, willing for the Captain to just answer him already.

“….So you say you know where this faction is?” Tom genuinely jumped in his skin when the Captain spoke to him again after a minute of just making him uncomfortable with his scrutinizing gaze.

Tom nodded shakily “Yes they- they told us where their base was when our leader agreed to join our factions. We were supposed to leave for that base tomorrow”

The Captain grinned at him, too many teeth bared for him to see “You do realize that if you rat out this faction, you’re going to put your own faction in danger as well” The Captain moved in front of him and tapped the front of his mask with the magazine “You must understand that we can’t leave any survivors. If we’re given the chance to lessen the rebels while we deal with this thieving faction, well, as they say: Two birds with one stone”

Tom held his tongue, ‘debating’ against himself. When he deemed the silence to be long enough he stiffly nodded once, keeping his head to the ground as he did so “Like I said sir, I just want to go back to my family”

The Captain chuckled, Tom felt a hand ruffle his hair, gentle at first but as the hand left there was an obvious harsh pull. He scowled from behind his mask, barely restraining himself from reaching up to break the man’s hand. The touch left him feeling disgusted, part of him contemplated ripping off his hair just to be rid of the lingering sensation. A memory of Tord doing the same thing in that damned Norwegian forest came to mind, his repulsion multiplied by the thousands.

“I suppose you’ll be wanting something in return for this information?” The Captain continued, a small smile on his face “Don’t be surprised if I oblige, no matter what you think not everyone in the Red army goes back on their word. Any friend to the cause deserves a reward” The soldier’s hand however inconspicuously shifted towards his pistol “Though I suggest that you make it reasonable, there’s only so much we can allow”

“Just safe- safe passage out of London!” Tom snapped his head up, waving his hands in haste “Please I just- that’s all I ask. I’ll leave straight away, no one knows I’m gone right now and I’d rather not have my faction hunt me down for- for turn-“ Tom let out a shaky breath “-turning..”

The Red Captian huffed, amused by his pleas. He signaled for his men to lower their weapons and Tom let himself relax when they did so “You’re a traitor, boy” The Captain said, beckoning Tom closer with two fingers, the Corporal readily followed him “The sooner you accept that fact, the better it’ll be. You clearly don’t believe in your old cause, why let it throw you into unnecessary guilt?” The Captain put a hand to his shoulder as he guided him to his tent. He smirked at him “Have you ever considered joining the Red army instead? Well, not that we have much to do but clean up these days, still, we’re always open to new recruits”

Tom felt his stomach curl in on itself at the mere thought of him ever joining the Red army. He tried not to let that disgust color his voice as he replied “I..I apologize, I don’t think I can stand to be in an army anymore, s-sir. I-“

“Yes yes I know. You just want to be with your family” The Captain sighed as he opened the flap of his tent and guided Tom inside. He went further in and fished out a map from a small bin before coming back “For all that it’s worth, we appreciate your aid. Now then, you were going to show me the location?” He unfolded the map, looking at Tom expectantly.

Tom happily obliged, pointing him to a location that- unfortunately for the good Captain- did not house his unit but did house the meeting place for two real rebel factions that had planned to unite under common cause. It was a historical event as they had long since been at odds but were finally willing to put their petty squabble aside. A shame that Tom had to rain on their parade but…it was a necessity. They’ll thank him someday.

When Tom was allowed his leave, he had never felt a more electrifying feeling of excitement. Phase one was complete.

The Red Captain was the first Red unit leader he fooled, the man held true to his word and allowed Tom his safe passage when he held up his end of the deal. In all, he seemed like a fairly decent human being, for a Red soldier at least. Still the man was just that, a Red soldier, so Tom had no qualms blasting him into itty bitty meat pieces when he came to the two rebel factions’ ‘rescue’.

The rebels hailed him their hero and friend, even as he lied through his teeth.

Time and time again, Tom steadily built his reputation on deceit. It was worthy to note that almost every single one of the Red unit leaders never asked for their comrades’ aid, hungry to steal a powerful victory for themselves and win the favor of their leader. It rarely worked well for them in the end but it was a weakness that Tom abused. Some were easy to convince, others weren’t. Particularly a Red General that tried to assure his safety by keeping Tom at his side when they attacked a rebel group.

Needless to say it was the easiest mark. Tom didn’t even have to order his men to swoop in for the rescue, all he required was his standard issue knife and the perfect moment to cut the General’s throat open where the rebel group could see.

Many of the rebel leaders tried to get his unit to join their faction, but Tom would always politely decline. Still, they were grateful for his unit’s aid and offered whatever help they could give.

Tom now had most of the rebel leaders in his debt.

Most.

Lieutenant Alistair Verns, the rebel leader with the largest faction and the one irritating thorn in the way of Tom’s plans. Out of all the leaders, Verns seemed to be the only man who could somehow detect that maybe Tom wasn’t being truthful. Even when Tom wouldn’t stage a rescue and genuinely help the Lieutenant with a problem, the man would essentially hiss at him and threaten physical violence if he didn’t ‘Get the fuck out of my face right now’.

Tom will admit to one thing: Verns was a keen son of a bitch. Which made him a hindrance.

He knows Verns was trying to get the other rebel leaders to turn against him, his spies would tell him just as much.

Tom had nothing against Verns personally, but he was in the way. Verns was in HIS way.

Well, that was going to change.

Krrsck- Thomas? Thomas my boy are you there??”

“Hey Major, fancy hearing from you today” Currently Tom was once again inside the cabin of their destroyed helicopter, it had become his pseudo office as of late as he preferred to spend more time within it than anywhere else. Though he was thinking of moving into a tent now that winter was slowly coming upon them, hole ridden metal didn’t exactly keep the chill away. Tom pulled his coat tighter around him as he sat on a nearby chair close to Hilarson’s old radio, a paper and pen clutched in his hands.

“Haha, I haven’t been shot yet lad if that’s what you’re wondering” Major Harvey Awlins. A man Tom had acquainted with two weeks ago. He was the contact that Hilarson used to rely on when they first heard of the British army’s plan to turn Tom in. During the course of the weeks, Tom kept a steady contact with Harvey for updates on the main military base, as it were they were stuck in a standstill. It seems as though the Red company had noticed a certain…sudden lack in allies. Harvey was the only one at that base to know why that was.

“Yeah well, keep it that way please. I don’t exactly stay around for your conversation skills, sir”

“Cheeky aren’t you? Tch, Abe did say that you had a mouth on you. I wonder what ever happened to respecting your elders”

Tom’s hand- that was holding his pen- faltered on the paper. Harvey was still talking but the Corporal’s hearing looped over Hilarson’s first name. Tom sucked in a sharp breath, ignoring the cold sting to it, as he tried to stop thinking about his old commanding officer. He gave himself time to grieve, that should have been enough.

‘It’s not just that’ Tom scowled at the barely audible voice in his head, he pushed that voice away, just like he always did.

“-ut anyway, Tom, we’ve lost all visuals on the Red tank. I assume that’s your doing?”

Tom pulled his attention back to the radio when Harvey began to speak about a relevant topic “More or less. It would’ve been impossible without the Peacemakers honestly” A few more writings on the paper were scratched off as Tom continued to talk “We’re gaining ground out here so don’t worry Major, we’ll be able to save your sorry arse soon”

Harvey laughed from the other side of the radio “Now now my boy, don’t start treating me like a damsel in distress”

“So you don’t want my help”

“For goodness sake lad let me finish. I’m not a damsel in distress, I’m just in distress, so yes some help would be nice” Tom scoffed but said nothing else as he was too preoccupied with his writing. Harvey was the one to break the silence once more “He would have been proud of you” Tom blinked rapidly at that though he continued to write as if he hadn’t heard it “You’re doing so much good Thomas. I can understand why Abe thought the world of you. Thank you for what you’re doing”

Please don’t-“His voice cracked and faltered as the two words rushed out of his mouth, Tom cleared his throat and took a moment to collect himself “..don’t thank me just yet”

The radio was quiet, Tom didn’t care, he continued to write on the paper even as the silence stretched on for longer than it should have “..Abe wasn’t joking…” He probably wasn’t meant to hear that as Harvey had muttered it so low, but the interior of the copter amplified it enough for him to hear. Tom decided not to comment on it “I suppose I should leave you to your plans Thomas. If you’re close to completion as you say you are then by Jove have at it! I’ll be awaiting your arrival here as always”

“Yeah, bye Major” Tom clicked the radio off and leaned back against his seat. He looked down at the paper in his hands…

I know there’s a lot I can’t tell you both I don’t even know if you’ll find this. Maybe you’ll hear something about me and learn that they aren’t complete lies. I did what I had to. I just want to apologize for hope that you can forgive m at least move on from this point forward. I am so sorry know that you want me to explain but I..

Tom crumpled the paper up and tossed it away. He let his head fall back against the wall as he stared up at the grey sky he could see from the holes of the copter walls. Wind whistled through the cabin, cold enough to make his breath condense in front of him. Not the first time feeling that ache in his chest that faded into an empty feeling.

Did he choose to be EFA? No.

Did he choose to get separated from his friends? No.

Did he choose to be a leader? No.

Did he choose to always have a gun in his hands because his life was now a series of threats and bloodshed? No.

In all honesty, Tom would want nothing more than to leave everything behind, to finally have that choice. He was tired of fighting just to retain his right to stay alive. He was basically just dragging himself forward, constantly at war with himself as he faded back and forth from apathy to self-loathing.

‘Why bother anymore?’ One side would say. Because of HIMThe other would shout.

Tom had long since planned out the solution to his problem, heavily revised from his first plan of ‘shoot everything colored red’. It was only a matter of time and just a bit of effort now.

If he could feel sorry about using the people he involved in this plan, that moment had already flown out the window. Not like they could find retribution if he succeeded, they wont be able to lay a hand on him when all this ends…

“Sir” Tom lazily beckoned the soldier standing at the cabin’s entrance over, he let his hand drop heavily at his side when the man approached him. He didn’t bother fixing up his posture and just continued to stare up at the ceiling as the soldier stopped a few feet beside him “Sir, Verns’ rebel group is setting up camp near the river Thames. I stayed to watch for any other indication that they were to move on from there but Verns began to set up camp at one of the buildings still intact”

Ah, so it’s the soldier he sent after Verns “Thames huh?” Tom absentmindedly nibbled on his lower lip as he tried to piece together a mental map of London “That’s like, an half an hour from here right?”

“Yes sir, though faster if we take the jeep”

Tom hummed in thought, while it would be nice to take the jeep all the way out, it would cause too much noise. Still, it saved time and they hadn’t been able to use it since the first time they stole it from a Red unit. He’ll have to think a little more about what he wants to do, at least he knows where Verns decided to nest up for now “Thank you, that’s all I really need for now. I’ll call when I need you back” The soldier bowed his head and took his leave, Tom would have been completely alone again if it weren’t for the fact that someone else decided to come into the copter.

“Why are you spying on Verns, Tom?” Finnigand’s voice echoed in the cabin. Tom discreetly took in a heavy breath as he piled his arms on top of his eyes when the other Corporal began to walk towards him. He really didn’t want to have this discussion with his fellow Corporal. Everything they’ve ever talked about these days always ended with the both of them feeling frustrated with the other.

“Didn’t anyone ever tell you that it’s rude to eavesdrop??”

“Tom I’m serious. I’ve been giving you a pass for all the other shit you’ve been doing but this is just madness” Tom couldn’t see Finnigand, but he was sure that the other Corporal was glaring at him by now, he didn’t grace the other with the same look and continued to try and pretend he wasn’t there “We’ve been harassing the poor man for days now. Goddamnit I don’t have a bloody clue as to what you’re even hoping to achieve at this point! The bloke’s at the end of his rope as it is! If this is still about gaining all the rebels’ favor you’re not doing a good job by constantly cutting Verns’ faction to shreds!”

“If he would just accept my help for once maybe that wouldn’t be the case but no”

“So putting a target on an innocent man and steadily killing off his men is the solution??”

“You make it sound so much worse than it is”

“YOU are DIRECTING RED UNITS after Verns’ faction almost DAILY!” Finnigand shouted, throwing his hands up in the air as he stopped directly in front of his fellow Corporal “Tom, you’re forcing them on a death march. Those soldiers can’t handle another attack. You’re killing them” This time Tom removed his arms from his face to look directly at Finnigand. The Corporal’s voice was shaking, pleading “We have enough rebel factions willing to lend you their aid. Verns-“

“Is a wildcard” Tom snapped, he stood up to put himself on equal ground with his fellow Corporal. He won’t take this matter sitting down “He has a large rebel faction at his beck and call. If they aren’t put under control they’ll just get in the way of everything!”

Get in the w-?! So what? You cull the herd?! Who are you to decide whether or not these people get to live or die?!!?

That’s it “Oh! Well that’s simple let’s see here- THE ONLY BLOODY ONE IN THIS GODFORSAKEN CITY WHO ACTUALLY HAS A PLAN!” Tom threw his arms out and turned sharply away from Finnigand, his coat fluttered behind him as he began to pace agitatedly in the limited space of the cabin “’Tom what should we do??’ ‘Oh Tom what happens now?’ ‘Tom lead this unit’ ‘Tom you know the Red Leader, so that means you can stop this whole fucking-lasted-for-four-years war ON YOUR OWN! I’m SURE you’ll be FINE!’

Tom’s wide smile edged closer to a snarl the more he spoke, he stopped pacing and stood stiffly in front of Finnigand “Do you honestly, HONESTLY, think that I have enough fucks to give at this point?!” His hands clenched into fists at his sides, they shook with restraint “I have been going at this war for longer than I wanted. I have enough to worry about. MY FUCKING EX-HOUSEMATE IS THE GODDAMNED ‘RED LEADER’ YOU’RE ALL SO WOUND UP ABOUT. Oh and not only that! For some reason, that arsehole ex-housemate wants to capture ME

Tom was screaming at this point, everything that he’d been holding back the past weeks finally pouring out. Finnigand’s constant prodding surely didn’t help “What do you want me to admit? I have a personal vendetta?? Well guess what? OF COURSE I HAVE A PERSONAL VENDETTA!!”

To Finnigand’s credit, he didn’t so much as flinch at Tom’s outburst. He just quietly stood, waiting out the end of the tirade “How many times am I supposed to make this clear?! I want Tord DEAD. He’s the reason any of this is even happening! He’s the reason for all this shit that’s been happening to me. I shouldn’t have thought he was dead all those years ago but then I was too fucking stupid to see that I SHOULDN’T EVEN HAVE BEEN GUILTY OVER-!”  Tom quickly bit his tongue, he physically flinched at the sudden wave of old emotions he thought he’d buried a long time ago.

Tom covered his mouth, eyes wide and staring at nothing as he tried to rein himself in again. Minutes of silence passed through the two Corporals, neither willing to speak. Tom shut his eyes and sighed into his hand, he turned his head away from his fellow Corporal “What I’m doing is necessary” Though it was meant as an answer, it just sounded like Tom was trying to convince himself “I know we have a chance of ending this once and for all. Sacrifices are just part of the process….”

Tom scowled and pushed past Finnigand “Whatever, I don’t expect you to understand. Just do as I say”

“Where are you going”

“Where else? I’m going to have someone do recon on Verns’ faction, get the lay of the land and all that” Tom looked over his shoulder “What’re you gonna do? Stop me?” He scoffed, turning away from his fellow Corporal to look for the soldier from earlier.

“..wait” Tom flipped Finnigand off over his shoulder and refused to stop walking. He felt the Corporal run up behind him, he sighed when a hand clasped his shoulder “I’ll go”

Tom did a double take “Excuse me?”

“I said I’ll go, I’ll do the recon with some of my men” Finnigand walked around him and blocked his path, Tom frowned at him and opened his mouth to speak but the other Corporal simply cut in before he could get one word out “I wasn’t made a Corporal for no reason Tom, I’m one of the best when it comes to sensitive operations. Knowing Verns he’ll probably have a perimeter set by now. If you send the rookies out there, they’ll get caught in no time”

Tom raised an eyebrow at him, skeptical. He crossed his arms over his chest “Right, you, the guy who never took direct action in any of my plans suddenly wants to do one?”

Finnigand looked to the side, the Corporal pinched the bridge of his nose “I don’t like this. I don’t like ANY of this. You’re making me turn my gun against my fellow soldiers, to say that I don’t think that you’re a sick fuck would be a complete lie” The Corporal swallowed hard and shakily got the next words out “But…you’re right, you have a point okay? We aren’t going to survive this war by being saintly. I just…I’m not- I’m not used to this. I just didn’t think this war would get this desperate this fast…” Finngand shook his head and sucked in a breath, he looked back at Tom “I’ll do the recon okay? I’ll do missions that’ll be like this but I won’t join anything else. If it gets you closer to finally sticking a goddamned bullet in Red’s brain then fine. I’ll do it”

“…” Tom looked his fellow Corporal over, taking most of his words into consideration. He nodded slowly and waved him off, no other words were needed. Finnigand bowed his head and did a sharp turn to leave, Tom watched him gather his men for the mission. Finnigand glanced back at him only once before he exited their camp.

Chapter Text

According to the recon group’s report, Verns holed himself up in what was once a pub near the river Thames. The building had three floors but only two were stable now since the roof of the building had collapsed into the third floor. Verns would be at the second floor while most of his guards would be stationed in the first. The rest of his faction occupied the area surrounding the pub.                         

Tom had the recon team observe the faction’s activities for eight days, enough that they would be able to learn whatever routine Verns assigned to his soldiers. Tom joined the observation on the last two days so that he could have a visual of the situation at hand. Often times drawing up and scrapping various plans to infiltrate the second floor.

Tom didn’t say anything to his recon team but he didn’t care to cover up his plans either, by the time the eighth day came around, they were all aware of what he was planning to do.

Verns was going to die.

Out of everyone in the recon team, Finnigand was the one Tom expected to protest against his wishes, and yet the only opposition he gained from the other Corporal was a hooded look of resignation in his eyes when he explained a need for a diversion and quick escape once the deed was done. Finnigand simply gave him one long look then turned away, it was almost unnerving. He’d been used to the other Corporal being at odds with him. Tom took that blessing nevertheless.

When Tom was finished finalizing his plan, it was also the day when it first began to snow.

Tom sat the the edge of his tent’s entrance, papers regarding the soon to be operation carelessly scattered behind him. The eyeless soldier had his knees pulled up to his chest with his arms hugging them close. Tom watched his breath come out in small foggy puffs, enjoying the mundane act as their camp was quiet for once. Most of the unit had retreated to their respective tents to keep out the chill, only a few were up and about for now.

Tom felt his eyelids grow heavy as he continued to listen to the whistling wind that would come and go, sometimes it made the snowflakes twirl when it passed through before disappearing completely, allowing the little white flecks to gently flutter to the ground. It had the same kind of excitement as watching paint dry but Tom wouldn’t have it any other way. If he could, he would have just stayed and watched the snowflakes all day.

He didn’t have that choice.

Tom stretched as he stood up, reluctantly he discarded his coat and threw it within his tent. It wouldn’t do to wear such a thing to a covert mission after all, although he quickly missed it as a cold chill ran through his body when a snowflake landed on his neck. He yawned and carefully made his way towards the exit of the camp. He made sure not to make as much noise as he passed by the multiple tents, he didn’t have it in him to disrupt the steady silence.

Sliding down the rubble, Tom was greeted by the sight of the mission group waiting patiently near the jeep they were going to use. Finnigand was at the driver’s seat when he saw him coming, the Corporal nodded at him in acknowledgement while the other soldiers silently loaded themselves into the back “Ready?” Finnigand asked as Tom swung himself over to the passenger’s seat.

“Might as well be” As they went down the road, Tom couldn’t help but be unnerved by how somber the day felt.

 


 

Their jeep stopped a few meters away from where Verns’ camp should be. They still had time, Tom wanted this particular mission to be carried out near nightfall so that they could have the cover of darkness on their side. Besides it wouldn’t hurt to let the team prepare for what was to come. Tom could sense that his men weren’t particularly- for lack of a better term -enthusiastic about this one. From what he’d heard, Verns was a good soldier.

If the situation wasn’t like it was, Tom could admit that it would be a shame to lose a man like Verns, but people like him just can’t keep up with the new world. It would be a mercy. It was necessary.

Verns was never going to budge and Tom can’t keep wasting resources. That’s just the way it is.

“Tom, can I talk to you?” The man in question gestured vaguely at the space beside him. Tom barely registered Finnigand’s presence as the Corporal moved to lean against the jeep’s front like he had. The two Corporals looked out into the distance where a building with a collapsed roof stood proud amongst its destroyed brethren.

“Last minute protests I’m assuming?” Tom started when Finnigand had yet to say anything, at this point he wasn’t as concerned about what his fellow soldier had to say. Finnigand can’t and won’t stop him, the other soldier knew this as well.

“…Is there really nothing else you can do? Does this really have to be the way?”

Tom looked to the ground and sucked in a deep breath “Say that I’m a power hungry megalomaniac” The Corporal stood up straight and cleared his throat, letting his two hands suspend in the air palm up as he spoke “On one hand I have control over most of the world” Tom moved his right hand up “On the other, I’m still struggling to gain control” He lowered his left “Then say I lost something crucial, something that can help me control the parts of the world that just won’t stop telling me to fuck off, then I found out that someone I know is the cause and I’m not particularly fond of them”

Tom glanced at Finnigand from the corner of his vision, the Corporal had his lips pursed as he listened “What if that person somehow gained control of a militia? Not a proper one but a militia nonetheless, filled with people who are angry, armed, and out for my blood. Then lo and behold, that militia is stationed in a country I don’t have under my control. More than that, they’re a large enough militia that can hold down a city, a city in which a military base with a full armory is located”

Tom scowled at the sky as he let his arms drop to his sides “Now, I’m also a paranoid piece of shit, I felt threatened enough to try and capture this person when he was still on his own. How do you think I’ll feel if he gains control of everything above?”

“Threatened” Finnigand furrowed his eyebrows together as he stared at his fellow Corporal incredulously “Is that supposed to be your end goal? Make the Red Leader feel threatened? Last time I checked that never ended well and usually involved the man throwing his whole army at whatever’s threatening him. Even with the rebels on our side I doubt we’ll be able to fend off the Red army as a whole”

“Tord won’t be stupid enough to do that” Tom rolled his sockets as he stuffed his hands in his pants pockets “Like I said, one part of the world isn’t under his control. He has his other factories but the Poland one was crucial since it mass produced a lot of his weapons, now it’s gone. No advanced weaponry equals a longer war. As far as we know we still have major countries fending off the Red army. Tord won’t jeopardize his take over for something this trivial”

“But..?” Finnigand pressed, sensing something else behind the answer.

“But he’s a petty arsehole” Tom growled “He’ll be careful about his army but if he sees a chance to get to me, well…” The Corporal waved his hand “Reservations tend to fly out the window, especially if I pose enough of a threat he’ll want me out of the picture so-“

“You want to draw him out” Finnigand spoke slowly, his mouth hung open in disbelief “Are you…are you serious?!” Finnigand hissed, he kept his voice low as he looked back to the jeep where their unit mates were, not wanting for them to hear this conversation “Tom, are you seriously going to stand there and tell me that we’re doing all of this to draw out the Red Leader?? Here?!

“I thought you understood that I had to be within firing range in order to kill him?” Tom’s voice was flat and unamused, he looked at Finnigand as though he had drooled all over his shirt.

“I know that but-! I just-” Finnigand gritted his teeth and hissed out a breath in frustration “I thought you had something a little more- I don’t know- elaborate than ‘bring the enemy dangerously close and fight him off with an unstable militia’!! And how would you even be sure that the Red Leader himself would even come here??”

“Trust me, he’ll show” Tom turned his head away from Finnigand, blatantly showing that he was beginning to lose interest in what the other Corporal had to say “I’ll personally make sure of it”

Finnigand bristled at his demeanor, the Corporal hissed a breath out through his teeth “And if he does? What happens to the rest of us?”

Tom looked back at him once, giving the Corporal a long look. Finnigand couldn’t guess what emotion the other Corporal was hiding underneath his exterior, which wasn’t reassuring as Tom simply looked as though he hadn’t quite thought of that when he made his plans “You play your parts of course” He muttered low enough for only Finnigand to hear “If I say fight, you fight. If I say stop, you stop. All that matters is that I get close enough to Tord to end this”

Tom”

Shut the fuck up” Tom seethed, scowling at Finnigand as he pushed himself off the jeep “You’ve been at my arse ever since we got here. I don’t bloody care about what you have to say about my planning alright? I’m giving you a solution and what do you do? Spit it back at my face” He stepped closer to the other Corporal, something in the way he looked at his fellow soldier darkened with each step “I’m warning you Finnigand, don’t keep doing this”

Finnigand swallowed hard, he briefly glanced at the pistol holstered in Tom’s belt “..Hilarson wouldn’t have wanted this” He hissed out as a last ditch effort, it was a low blow and he knew it.

“Hilarson’s fucking deadTom shot back through gritted teeth. Finnigand startled at the words, his eyes widened as he looked at his fellow Corporal “Stop living in the past. Whether you like it or not I’m the one in charge now” Tom huffed as he turned away from the other Corporal “Here I thought you wanted me to take control, make up your damn mind”

Finnigand stood still, not quite believing what he had just heard. The Corporal slowly moved his eyes to the ground as a wave of despair washed over him. He thought giving Tom Hilarson’s old journal could have made the eyeless soldier realize that he wasn’t acting the way he should, Finnigand even thought he was starting to get out of what ever it was that took hold of him when the Colonel died.

When he gave him the journal, Tom seemed to move away from the violent, uncaring take that he had when they first got to London. Looking at the way he is now though it was clearly a mistake. It wasn’t an improvement, rather it just seemed to make him realize some sort of twisted validation for carrying out his personal vengeance at the expense of everyone else.

An impulsive, emotion driven Tom, Finnigand could have handled.

A cold, calculating, clear headed one bent on vengeance? It was another story entirely.

“I don’t want you anywhere near the mission” Tom said over his shoulder, still refusing to face the other Corporal “Clearly you aren’t all for this. I can’t afford you messing up if you’ll have second thoughts” Tom began to walk away from him, Finnigand simply watched him leave “Stay with the jeep, that’s final” The eyeless soldier turned sharply towards the other soldiers riding at the back. Leaving Finnigand alone at the front.

Finnigand clenched his hands into fists.

Behind the jeep, Tom covered his eyes with one hand. A painful sting in his chest almost enough to make him double over from physical pain. Finnigand’s words really hit hard, he can’t deny that every tone of accusation and disbelief lanced something awful through his lungs. He rubbed at his eyes when he felt something wet fall against his palm.

This won’t matter when everything ends. He knew it won’t.

 


 

The operation is supposed to be simple. Tom didn’t have to think too hard about this one as he’d been part of assassinations before when he was still with his old unit. As his old unit was not of the covert kind, their assassination attempts were far from silent, the tactic they used was called ‘Distract and Dispatch’ or as he had once heard it be lovingly called ‘Shooty-Stabby’.

Truth be told, Tom only had two chances wherein he had to utilize this tactic, and it involved far smaller Red units than the rebel faction they were targeting. What needed to be done was one group had to stay at a safe enough distance to engage the enemy while a smaller group quietly made their way to their target’s general location. Once the target was found it was just a matter of killing them quickly and quietly enough amidst the chaos, then all they needed to do was escape.

Simple when said, harder to do.

For this mission Tom forbad the use of Peacemakers. Now that they dispatched the Red tank unit, they were the only ones that had any access to those weapons. He needed Verns’ faction on his side, letting them find out that he in fact wanted their leader dead would break everything he’d been building up. So for now their old rifles and pistols will have to do.

With one last reminder for the soldiers in charge of the jeep, Tom began his trek towards Verns’ base with only one other soldier by his side. The two of them will be enough for the attempt and infiltration. Though Finnigand had scowled at him when he didn’t even give him a second glance, not that he ever considered the other Corporal as his partner, Finnigand wasn’t reliable at the moment and Tom didn’t trust that the Corporal would actually ensure his safety.

It was a particularly chilly night when the mission officially started. Without his coat, Tom had to suffer through a biting cold that nearly had his teeth chattering. The soldier with him wasn’t faring any better either as he would constantly rub at his arms and blow out hot air into his hands. The sooner they had this ordeal over with the better. Tom could practically feel his fingers beginning to numb from the cold.

The only good thing about that night was the soft almost blue glow of the moonlight, there were still a few clouds hanging about but the night was relatively alive with the shine of the starry sky above. It wasn’t as difficult to traverse through the streets though Tom had tripped over some debris that he hadn’t been able to see well enough.

Slowly but surely, the candle lit glow of Verns’ base came into view. Tom and the soldier he took with him slipped into the shadowed parts of the road as they drew near. The three story pub stood close to the edge where city met the river, the soft bubbling sound of rushing water floated gently through the cool air. With half the city forced into silence, it was the loudest sound for miles.

Tom squinted against the darkness as he located the guards that stood on watch at the forefront of the road leading up to the pub. They had their rifles close to their chest as they gazed out into the distance in front of them, ready to defend. Behind those guards were ones that circled the perimeter of the building, they walked at a certain pace that ensured no area would be left open for long. It’ll be a tight squeeze but there is an opening.

Tom looked back at the soldier accompanying him “Well, I suppose this is where things get interesting” It was mostly nerves, Tom didn’t have any intention of having chats with the soldier, for the life of him he couldn’t even remember the man’s name. Did he ever ask? Ah well.

“I suppose sir” The soldier muttered quietly, a tad unsure as to how to respond to the sudden prompt for small talk.

“Don’t be so tense” Tom said as they neared the building closest to the first line of guards. They stayed behind it as they looked up at its height “After all, I’m sure you’ve done this before, being covert and all that” Tom pressed a small contraption on his belt, a grappling wire shot out with a low hiss, it latched on to a window above. Tom tugged at the wire, relieved that it didn’t hit a broken part of the building. Once he was sure that it was stable, he tapped at the button of the reel and began his way upwards, the soldier behind him following close.

The first time Tom had to practice with the grappling wire, he had almost slipped off the side of a wall and nearly died of a heart attack. Hilarson had been the one to train him, though the Colonel often laughed at him more than taught him. The man would simply stand at the bottom of whatever high structure he was making Tom climb, shouting unhelpful motivations as Tom struggled to keep himself upright.

It wasn’t his fault that he was slightly wary about using the grappling wires, the lines were just so thin and he had to rely on most of his balance to ensure that he wasn’t going to fall against the wall while the wires pulled him up. He did once and it hurt like hell. Tom could still remember what Hilarson’s warning was.

‘Watch your step son!’ And at that very moment, distracted by thinking about the very warning that Hilarson made him heed, Tom’s foot caught on a crumbling window ledge. The Corporal gasped as he was thrown forward, he held his arms out and managed to catch himself before his face smashed into the brick wall ahead of him. Tom flinched when he heard the loud crack of the ledge hitting the ground below them.

“Did you hear that?” Tom’s head shot to the side where his partner was. He urged the soldier to keep climbing just as he heard two rebels that were part of the guard group come walking towards the alley where they came from, brandishing flashlights in their grip. Shit. Tom slipped downwards and into the open window below him, he hurriedly retracted his wire and darted to the side when the yellow light drifted upwards to his position. He steadied his breathing and listened quietly.

“God, there’s another one” He heard one voice say as the light went back and forth on the area of the missing ledge “Damn, London’s in pretty bad shape. Now we’ve got buildings just waiting to fall apart. I’m not sure how safe we are here if everything’s as fragile as paper”

“It’s just on short notice..” Another voice chimed in as the light drifted down, leaving Tom shrouded in darkness yet again “As soon as the Red unit up ahead clears out we’re free. Hopefully they won’t find us here” A beat of silence. Tom jumped in his skin when the light was directed into his area again, he waited them out until the distinct click of a flashlight turning off echoed “Well c’mon, we’ve wasted enough time here” Tom silently moved towards the window to peer down at the street below, he watched as the two rebels began to leave the alley to join their group at the road once more.

The Corporal blew out a breath and turned himself around so that he was facing the top of the building. He spotted the soldier he brought with him looking down from the roof, the man gave him an all clear and Tom spared no time scaling the rest of the way up.

Once they both made their way down the other side of the building, the two soldiers snuck their way behind the first defense line. The perimeter guards were slightly tricky but all they had to do was time it right. Since they’ve had days of observing the routine it wasn’t hard to slip past their defenses either, although there was a close call when Tom’s partner ran a second too slow. Thankfully the guard that passed them by seemed slightly sleep deprived. Tom felt a twinge of guilt hit him, he was the cause of most of that.

A steady chatter began to join the calming sounds of the river beside them. Some windows of the broken pub had a number of candles sitting quietly on their sills, the flames danced in a nervous flutter against the cold wind, miraculously none seemed close to getting extinguished. Tom and his partner made their way around the building, half aware of the rebel faction within the first floor seemingly getting pissed off their arse.

Tom swallowed hard at that, the last drink he had was too long ago already, even then it had been watered down to shit. His fingers twitched at the thought but he pushed the feeling aside, even when his head began to pound furiously. Oh withdrawal, hello old friend.

Once they were behind the building, Tom instructed for the soldier to stay and keep watch, just as they had planned. The Private nodded once and went off to find a suitable hiding area so that the perimeter guards won’t catch him unawares. Tom scaled the building and slipped into the hole in the roof where it caved into the third floor.

The Corporal landed with a barely audible thud, thanks to most of the debris from the roof he was able to at least break his fall, his entrance kicked up some of the dust from the debris and sent them flying in every direction. Tom covered his nose and mouth with a hand as he waved his way around the dust, his noise tickled a bit but he was able to keep a sneeze away. If there was one thing he hated about this stupid war, it was all the dust that came with it.

Tom kept his steps light as he maneuvered his way around the darkened floor, careful not to step on any noisy floorboards as he made his way through. All things considered, the third floor didn’t sustain that much damage, apart from a few broken furniture and other such things. Tom spotted some broken bottles along the way and silently mourned the loss of alcohol.

Making it to the stairs would mark the end of the easy part of the plan, Tom crept into the landing and scanned the room in front of him. Thanks to the dark he was at least shrouded enough that no one would see him unless they looked close. Like the first floor, there were some candles scattered all around, though the tables that already had candles in the first place only had the one. Tom slowly inched his way down then stopped to locate where Verns was.

KRSCHHHHHH!

Tom flinched when a bottle flew towards the wall in front of him, it shattered upon impact and sprayed a shower of broken glass. For a moment he thought that he’d been found out but as he drew closer to where it had come from- that being the bar beside the staircase- he heard the telltale sounds of someone gasping for breath as they held their sobs at bay. His sockets widened when he rounded the corner and found Verns slumped behind the bar, nursing what appeared to be his fifth bottle of alcohol.

It was a pitiful sight, Tom had come to know Verns as the headstrong Lieutenant turned rebel leader that actively hunted down any Red unit still moving around London. The man always held himself high, he exuded confidence in his posture, initiative in his words, valor in his actions. The puffy eyed, red faced, sobbing man on the floor behind a bar was a far cry from that rebel leader.

This would be easy.

Tom unsheathed his knife and steadily approached the inhibited man. Verns was too preoccupied with rubbing his eyes out to notice him anyway, and with how much he’d already had to drink Tom doubted that the man would be able to do anything about what was going to happen. When he was close enough, Tom lifted the knife above his head and aimed for the chest. Then Verns looked up.

Tom faltered, sockets meeting eyes. The two soldiers held each others’ gaze, the knife still suspended in the air, poised to strike. Verns’ eyes scanned Tom’s face, illuminated by the faltering light of the candles, confusion clear across his features as he didn’t recognize the soldier in front of him. His gaze wandered up to Tom’s arm still holding the knife, he said nothing as he looked at the weapon intended to end his life. The Lieutenant’s eyes glossed over when he found a familiar patch on the Corporal’s arm.

“EFA…” The man muttered, his voice cracked as his did so. Verns moved his eyes back to Tom’s face, he scoffed “So this is what you look like under that mask of yours. Don’t know if you- you look better ‘r worse..” Verns’ eyebrows scrunched together in thought as he tried to point a finger at the Corporal, though he seemed to struggle with even lifting his arm “Y’look familiar, don’t know where”

Tom stared down at the man, silent. The Corporal slowly let his hand fall to his side, the knife glinted in the light “My name is Thomas Thompson” He said, keeping his voice at the same volume as Verns. Though he was ready to keep the man silent if need be.

“Thm’s Thomps’n” Verns slurred under his breath as he hung his head and looked to the bottle in his hands. The soldier lifted the bottle to his lips and took a large gulp of the liquid inside, he let out a sigh and shook his head, allowing the sting to assault his throat “Ah, I th’nk I know you” He wagged a finger at Tom’s general direction as he laughed with his mouth closed “Yer the one home base wanted, said you’re a traitor”

“They were lying”

“Oh?” Verns looked at the weapon still clutched in his hand “Th’n I guess that knife’s for show?” The Lieutenant drank again, this time finishing the whole bottle before he threw it to the side and let it shatter on a nearby wall.

Tom pursed his lips and knelt down to the man’s level “It’s just a safety measure” He moved a bottle away from the Lieutenant’s reach when he saw the man trying to get to it. Verns shot him a glare but said nothing else “I’m here to offer an alliance. I know you don’t like me but we stand a better chance against the Red army if we work together. I have a plan alright? I just need the numbers to make it work and all the help I can get-“

Tom stopped when Verns’ quiet chuckles began to escalate into loud laughter. Tom felt himself stiffen when he thought that someone might come in to check on the Lieutenant, but after the first few minutes passed with no one coming he let himself relax. Verns began to calm down not long after, the man sighed and wiped away a tear that fell from his eye as he laughed “Yer sooooo full of bullshite Thompson” He rolled his eyes and pointed at the knife in Tom’s hand “D’you think I’m fuckin’ blind? Alliance my arse, you’re here to kill me and take my unit away” Tom’s gaze darkened, his hand inconspicuously inched toward his radio, he tapped at the device twice “Y’see?? You’re givin’ me a nasty look right there, means I’m right aye?”

“I don’t want it to come to this Verns. If you would just cooperate-“

“You’re a damn snake you know that?” Verns hissed as he snatched up the bottle that Tom tried to take away from him “I know you’ve been the one sic’ing those Red dogs at us for days now. You’re a fuckin’ liar trying to play some sort of war hero, is that what you want? Glory??”

“Not even close” Tom seethed as he glared back at the Lieutenant “I want this war to end just as much as you do, but you’re making it damn hard for me to do that”

“Oooh look at mister big shot ‘ere. ‘Oh I can stop the war on my own and save everyone’!” Verns pitched his voice in the way he could mimic Tom, although mockingly at best. The Lieutenant scowled at the wall in front of him and waved his newest bottle of alcohol around “You really think you’re the only one that can end this? Some fuckin’ sick sense of self-importance there” Verns looked back at him, squinting against the candle light “Let m’tell you something, there’s a lot more honorable men out th’re who can stop this shitshow. I sure as hell would rather help them instead of you

Tom stared back at him, a blank expression on his face. He sighed “I’m not an ‘honorable man’ Verns, when did I ever say that I was?” He leveled his gaze with the Lieutenant, unwilling to cave into the man’s accusations and taunting “I’m doing all of this because it’s personal and I’m not gonna deny this ever. I’m not here to be a hero, I’m here to get rid of a backstabbing son of a bitch I should have killed years ago” Tom caught the distinct rumbling of an engine outside, soon accompanied by the confused voices of the rebel soldiers below, he took in a deep breath “I’m asking you to help me get rid of the Red Leader. Are you seriously going to pass this?”

Tom barely had the time to move his head away when Verns angrily threw his bottle at him, it shattered behind him as the Lieutenant scowled darkly, his eyes glistened with unshed tears “You made me watch my men dieThe Lieutenant sneered at him “Fuck. You.”

RED UNIT!” Someone from the first floor shouted as the first barrage of gunfire pelted through the windows below. The jeep must have already been spotted, it was a good thing they decided not the tamper with the Red army tag at its side. If the rebel faction believed a Red unit was after them it was even better.

Tom flipped his knife in his hand “Sorry” Verns’ eyes widened marginally as he registered the knife coming towards his person at full force. The Lieutenant barely managed a gasp before the blade sunk deep into his neck, cutting off whatever response he was about to form. The man gurgled and writhed on the floor, looking at Tom with wide accusatory eyes before the light in them faded out, his movements came to a stop.

Tom yanked his knife out of the body, Verns’ corpse slumped to the floor, blood gushed out of his neck and soiled his uniform with a deep shade of red. The Corporal looked away from what he’d done and sheathed his knife again. Tom looked up to the ceiling and let out a shaky sigh, trying to ease the nauseous feeling that coiled in his stomach-

BANG!

Tom let out a cry of surprise as he was sent to his knees, he coughed and sputtered at the metallic tang that assaulted his mouth. The Corporal gasped for breath as his forehead touched the floor and hot white pain began to spread across his side. Tom wrapped a hand around his abdomen and felt the exact spot where he had been shot, blood seeped through his fingers as he began to shake.

Tom whimpered as he tried to turn himself around to face his shooter, he choked and struggled to keep himself up as whoever shot him began to walk towards him. A pair of boots stopped at his head “I’m sorry Tom”

Tom’s eyes widened at the voice, he lifted his head up and stared disbelievingly at who he saw. Finnigand. The Corporal knelt in front of him, his face covered by shadows as he stood facing away from the candlelight, Finnigand looked behind him where Verns’ body sat before he looked back at his fellow Corporal “I tried” He began “I tried to give you the benefit of the doubt. I wanted to believe that my best friend saved you for a reason. I wanted to see what the Colonel saw in you

Tom tried to speak but found that the pain was too much for him to bare, he convulsed on the floor as he continued to cough. Finnigand stood and walked away from him “Tom you’re…you’re dangerous” The Corporal continued, his posture stiff as he picked up two bottles from the bar’s shelf “I thought that maybe you would be different. I thought I could trust that you wouldn’t be..” Finnigand glanced at him then closed his eyes “But all that you’ve shown me since we got here is that you’re not far from the fall. You’re too consumed in your own selfishness that you’re doing everything you can to make sure you get what you want. Does that sound familiar to you?”

“..you..fucking..” Tom growled out as he tried to lift himself up, he managed only half way before he was forced to use the bar as support as he tried to sit on his heels. His one hand pressed down hard on his wound to stop the bleeding, his vision blurred in front of him, he struggled to stay awake.

Finnigand began to pour out the alcohol, he shook the first bottle he opened and moved around in order to spread it throughout the room. He stopped behind his fellow Corporal “..I really thought you wouldn’t go through with this” Finnigand looked back at Verns’ body, a deep sadness reflecting in his eyes. His voice bore no emotion as he continued “When I heard you trying to negotiate I thought I was wrong about you but you just..you killed him, just like that. You murdered an innocent man”

Tom flinched when a cold liquid was poured all over him, the scent told him that Finnigand just tipped over an entire bottle of vodka on his person. He struggled to get the words out his mouth but all he managed were pained gasps through his dizziness. He watched Finnigand’s blurred figure walk to a candle in front of him, the Corporal turned back to face him “We made a mistake once, we didn’t take a threat seriously when he started, now look where we are” The Corporal stared listlessly at the candle in his hand before he let it drop to the floor, the fire was quick to catch on to the alcohol and began to spread “…We’re not making a second one. I’m sorry, I’m not risking this”

Tom at least had enough foresight to see where this was going, as quickly as he could he lifted his hand and fired his pistol at Finnigand when the Corporal was aiming to shoot him yet again. There was a shout and a crash, Tom couldn’t make out what was happening exactly but he was sure that he managed to hit the other Corporal. He bit his arm when he forced himself to stand, it barely muffled his scream.

Through the pounding in his head, Tom could hear the sounds of hurried footsteps starting to climb the staircase going up to the second floor. Not good. He needed to find a way out before the rebels reached them and see their leader lying dead in a pool of his own blood.

Tom barely made it across the room when someone tackled him from behind. He yelled when his injured side collided with the floor, he twisted himself around and looked up at Finnigand’s hysterical face “I’m doing the right thing!” He gritted out as his hands found their way around Tom’s neck and began to press down.

Tom gasped and clawed at the hands, black spots began to dance across his vision with every second that passed them by. The hot searing flames all around them roared and sucked away what little oxygen was left for Tom to cling on to, his movements slowed. Tom moved his head to the side and spotted a nearby broken bottle, his hand reached for it even as the world began to fade out. The moment his fingers closed around the bottleneck he slammed the object straight into the side of Finnigand’s face.

The Corporal screamed and jumped off him, giving Tom enough time to suck in a deep breath and attempt to stand. Adrenaline kicked in immediately as he limped away from the other Corporal “TOM!” He heard Finnigand bellow just as he turned to try and fend off the other soldier. The man collided with him, sending the both of them tumbling across the floor. Finnigand tried to push him into the now large fire but he had been able to dodge the attempts so far.

Finnigand kicked at him, the force was enough to careen Tom into a nearby window. The eyeless soldier grunted in pain but had no time of reprieve as he was whirled around and a fist connected with his face. Finnigand wouldn’t let up on his assault, quickly hitting his fellow Corporal with blow after blow after blow, his fist came back bloodier with each strike.

Tom’s head hit the window behind him multiple times, enough for it to begin to crack. The eyeless soldier gritted his teeth and spat blood into Finnigand’s eyes just as he pulled his fist back for a particularly powerful punch. The Corporal flinched and tried to wipe the blood away but that mere second was all Tom needed. He flipped their positions and sent all his energy into one hard hitting kick right in the middle of Finnigand’s abdomen. It sent the Corporal flying into the window which shattered upon making contact with him. Tom couldn’t celebrate however as his fellow Corporal gripped hard at his collar and pulled him down with him.

The two Corporals fell out of the second floor, cold wind whistled in their ears as their bodies broke into the surface of the freezing river waiting below.

Tom didn’t have time to take in a breath before he got pulled under the water, the Corporal choked and kicked off the soldier that was dragging him down. Tom broke to the surface and sputtered but was immediately pulled back in. He could barely see anything in the inky black depths of the water, but he could still make out where Finnigand was.

The two fought for dominance with Finnigand constantly battering Tom with kicks and punches. Tom felt his lungs burn with the need for oxygen again, a barrage of bubbles left his mouth in his struggle to get the other Corporal off him, his fading vision doubled his panic as his hand instinctively went for a weapon to protect himself with. His knife.

Tom quickly jabbed the knife forward, not caring where it hit, when the hold on him didn’t loosen he began to blindly stab at whatever surface he could reach, panic over flooded his senses. He continued his actions until the arm that closed around his waist loosened, Tom wasted no time kicking at Finnigand’s head to make him let go as he swam back up to the surface.

When he finally broke for air, Tom violently coughed out what water he could still feel in his lungs. He gasped for breath as he tried to keep his head above the water. Tom looked back to where he came from and found the pub succumbing to the spreading fire that Finnigand started. The rebels ran in a panic, most helping whoever got caught inside the fire, some lingered, looking to the second floor. They wouldn’t have to stay for long, Verns was already dead.

Tom’s breath condensed in front of him, all at once the cold of the river began to hit him from every side. The eyeless soldier’s breaths began to come in and out in small hiccups. Tom forced himself to move, the longer he stayed out here the more he was risking himself, the Corporal swam up to a collapsed boardwalk a few meters away from the pub and heaved himself up.

Tom held back his cries as he pushed his body up to dry land, his hand flew to his side where his bullet wound still seared hot with pain. Distant shouting warned him that the rebels were soon going to start checking the area for the culprits of the crime.

Without his prompting, his legs began to hurriedly carry him away from the area as best as they could while only one thought ran through his mind.

‘Go somewhere safe’

 


 

Tom was absolutely delirious with pain. The eyeless soldier stumbled through the streets and nearly crashed into various stationary objects. His mind didn’t quite work as well as it should given his situation, any coherent thought that tried to break through the haze quickly died before it gave Tom any chance to comprehend it. All that really carried him through was an instinctive pull towards somewhere he could recuperate and tend to his wounds.

The world around him blurred together, no matter how much he blinked nothing came into focus, even if he tried his hardest to concentrate on what was in front of him. His body felt like it was made of lead and was only getting heavier by the minute. Tom’s eyelids dropped downwards but he shook himself awake every time it happened.

The eyeless man tripped on his own two feet but managed to catch himself before he fell completely. Shakily, Tom pulled himself up again and continued to run to where his legs were taking him, he squinted at his surroundings and felt an odd sense of déjà vu at every watery building that he could make out.

Finally, he stopped in front of one of the buildings that were still in tact in the area. Tom hurriedly ran inside when he saw that the front doors leading in were wide open. Once inside Tom slammed the doors shut behind him, he barely reacted to the loud echoing bang he created from his actions.

A small puddle of water began to form around his feet, Tom’s hair hung low around his face as more droplets added to the puddle below. His consciousness began to fade from his grasp and Tom would have allowed that to happen had someone not just come around the corner and stopped dead in front of him. Tom grabbed his knife and held it out in defense, despite the way his hand shook as he did so “Do-don’t come close- close –e-er” He stuttered out “I-“ Tom doubled over as a coughing fit hit him at full force.

TOM?!” The person in front of him shouted in alarm and darted forward. Tom felt his legs give out from under him, he fell into the person’s arms just as he was about to hit the floor. He shuddered and took in shallow breaths as whoever it was lifted him up again. He felt a cold hand touch his forehead, he whimpered and moved his head away “Oh my god, Tom you- you’re burning up I-! Oh no, no no no no, stay with me! Oh god, Tom stay with me!!”

That voice. He knew that voice. Tom looked up at the face of the not-stranger, he narrowed his sockets and tried to focus on the panicked blue eyes that looked back into his empty ones. Tom felt a small smile worm into his expression when he figured out who it was, he let out a breathy laugh and let his head hit his friend’s chest “..Matt..Matt you….” He managed out, just barely, before a quiet release of breath pulled him into unconsciousness.

Chapter Text

The flames licked at the soles of his boots, although they hadn’t consumed him the burning sensation stuck to his skin. Biting, tearing, burning. His body refused to move, no matter how much he screamed at himself to get out of the flames, his heart thundered against his chest as the air became too hot to breathe, he choked on his breath only to cough out red.

“You’re too dangerous” Tom lifted his head, fighting against the impossible weight that tried to pull him down. It was a struggle to keep himself up, the pressure was adamant on keeping him stuck to the floor but he sure as hell won’t let it “Tom, you’re too dangerous” Tom’s eyes widened as he stared up at the barrel of a pistol. The flames around him roared and rose up to new heights as Finnigand stared him down, his finger ready on the trigger.

His fellow Corporal’s visage flickered, wavering as someone new took his place. Tom felt his stomach drop when the new person came into focus, he tried to move his head down but found that he couldn’t turn away. He opened his mouth as he tried to speak but a quick shot from the pistol had him screaming instead. His body was freed from the pressure, allowing for him to wrap an arm around himself as he began to bleed out from his side.

“I’m sorry son” Hilarson knelt behind him, one hand coming down on top of his head “I’m doing this for your own good” The hand in his hair moved gently, almost comfortingly. It made Tom feel even sicker, considering that the Colonel had shot him point blank just a few seconds ago. Instead of it being a calming gesture, it just felt heartbreaking “I promised to guide you son, I failed you. I’m sorry” Hilarson sighed “The least I can do for you now is this, I’m not going to let you fall any further Tom”

Tom could only gasp and cough as he stared at the fire in front of him, never minding the Colonel behind him. His eyes stung painfully as he continued to feel the burning pain at his side and the gentle hand that combed through his hair, tears rolled down his face as he began to hiccup and clutch at his aching chest.

“Shh shh, no need for that” Tom stiffened at the new voice. The hand in his hair suddenly tightened its grip and began to pull. Tom cried out as he was forced to bend backwards, he struggled against the hold. When it was clear that he wasn’t going to win, Tom shut his eyes tight before the new face came into view “Look at me” The voice ordered. Tom refused to comply, the hand tugged harder at his hair “Thomas” He kept his eyes shut.

“Tch” Tom’s eyes flew open when he felt the familiar sharp edge of a blade against his neck. He tried to move himself away only to stop when his head hit a body behind him. Sharp canines glinted menacingly in a taunting smile “There you are” Tord leered as he began to steadily slide his knife across his throat. Tom’s hand flew to the hand holding the knife, though his weakened state couldn’t allow for more than a slight delay. Tord chuckled above him “Oh Thomas, how I adore your fight against inevitability, its so unbelievably stupid

“To-“ Tom choked as the knife violently cut his throat open. His mouth hung open in surprise as blood began to gush out from his neck. His body convulsed as shock began to settle in, though Tord wouldn’t let him go. The Norwegian smiled down at him and wrapped his robotic arm around his waist to pull him up while his flesh hand ran across his neck, coating his pointer finger with blood.

“It’s such a beautiful color isn’t it?” Tord hummed against his ear, Tom’s eyebrows scrunched together in anger as the Norwegian continued on even as he was dying “Though I admit..” Tord lifted the finger towards his mouth and licked off the blood “I rather like seeing it on you” Tom could only watch on in mute horror as the man in Red lifted his knife again. The eyeless man began to thrash weakly against the arm wrapped around his middle as the knife came down in a blur, directed to his chest.

Tord cackled.

Tom shot up from the bed, screaming. A pair of arms wrapped around him and pulled him close to another warm body. Instead of calming him however, it only served to fuel his panic. The eyeless man screamed louder and began to buck against whoever was trying to keep him from moving “SHIT SHIT FUCK GET OFF ME!! GET OFF ME GET OFF ME GET OFF ME!!!!” Tom screeched as he harshly shoved the person away from him. He gasped when a shock of pain shot through his side, Tom’s hand immediately flew to where his wound should be only to find it already wrapped in bandages. He curled in on himself as he tried to calm his breathing. Sweat rolled down his face.

A wave of nausea stunned him. Tom covered his mouth to keep himself from vomiting. His gut twisted uneasily as he tried to forget what the nightmare was about.

“I’m sorry!!” Tom shakily moved his head to the side. Matt stood with one hand pressed against the wall, his eyes were wide and afraid as he looked at his friend “I thought- I thought physical touch was supposed to help!”

“Does it look like it fucking helped?!” Tom snapped, though his voice had cracked and pitched high when he spoke “Never EVER do that shit to me ever AGAIN!” Matt flinched, his lower lip quivered as he tried to form some sort of reply, instead he swallowed hard and stared at Tom like a deer in the headlights. Upon seeing his friend’s reaction, Tom faltered. The Brit sighed and shut his eyes, slowly he pulled himself back up into a sitting position and covered his face with one hand “I didn’t…I didn’t mean to yell. I just..I’m-“ In that second, Tom’s mind finally began to register what he’d seen. The Brit froze, his breath caught in his throat.

Matt.

“I know you might be confused” Matt began softly, his hand slowly peeled itself from the wall behind him as he took one cautious step forward. The ginger haired man paused when Tom jolted at his movements. His friend flinched away from him, staring as though he were a ghost. Matt raised his hands up to his chest as he took another step forward “I-I’m sorry for scaring you Tom. I didn’t know what to do and I just- you scared me too”

Matt stopped at the edge of the bed, he gave Tom his most disarming smile, though shaky “You can’t possibly have forgotten a face like this have you?” Matt laughed quietly as he gestured at himself, though he frowned when Tom only continued to stare at him. Matt’s dark blue eyes seemed to lose their light at the continued silence, he rubbed at one of his arms and sucked in a breath as he looked to the floor “It’s..Tom it’s me, I’m-“

“Matt” Tom muttered. Matt snapped his head back up at that, his eyes shone with a growing happiness. Tom swallowed hard as he continued to look up at his friend, taking in every detail he could and matching it with memory. He was older, dirtier, and had a bit of scruff but Tom couldn’t deny that the person at his side was Matt.

“Yeah, that’s me. I’m Matt” The man in question carefully lowered himself to the side of the bed, when Tom didn’t move away Matt allowed himself to sit. He smiled wide at his friend “Tom I- I didn’t think I would-“

“Matt” Tom said again, a little louder than before.

Matt frowned in confusion, his mouth hung open before he shut it closed. He cleared his throat “Uh, right, yes that’s my name. Tom are you-? OOF!!

Without thinking about it, Tom surged forward and pulled Matt into a tight embrace, heedless of his own injuries Shit, Matt” Tom gritted his teeth, willing for the flood of emotions to stop pounding against his chest as he held his friend close. Though if he knew himself, he was sure that the pricking sensation in his sockets was an indication that he was losing his control.

Tom felt Matt return the hug after a moment of hesitation, he heard his friend’s relieved breathy laugh as he tightened the hold “H-Hi Tom” Matt half-whispered half-laughed out as he began to sniffle. A twisting ache in his heart grew tenfold as he came into terms that his friend was here. After so many years of feeling oddly alone, of never seeing the two faces of the people he was close to. Matt didn’t want to let go.

Tom could feel himself shaking, disbelief fought with reality. The part of him that had been taught not to hope for more crushed the possibility that any of this was real, he’d been fooled too many times in his life and he would be an idiot to believe blindly. Yet as he sat there with his arms around his friend, hearing his voice and feeling his presence, knowing in his heart that it could be no one else, Tom chose to ignore that voice of caution. Matt was here.

He missed him.

Matt” Tom pulled out of the hug first, smiling wider than he ever had in years. He rubbed at his eyes as he felt tears begin to pool, though no matter how hard he tried he couldn’t get them to stop “I just- I can’t believe you’re here. I th-thought I wouldn’t-“ Tom covered his mouth when he felt himself close to a sob. Great. He laughed at how pathetic he was being, he couldn’t even keep himself together long enough. How the hell did he survive this far at all?

Matt chuckled and wiped his own tears away, he leaned back and let his arms fall boneless back to his sides “That’s a first” His voice cracked as he spoke, swelling with emotions he tried to rein in “I didn’t think you’d be happy to see me. I thought you said you hated me”

“I say a lot of shit I don’t mean” Tom replied once he deemed himself stable enough to talk, he pressed a hand against his eyes “Especially when I’m drunk” He smiled at his friend as he let his hand fall back to the sheets, though it was shaking “Matt I just- fuck please, please tell me that I’m awake” Tom ran a hand through his hair as he let out a near hysterical cut off laugh “I-If this- this is some sort of..of sick joke I- I don’t like it” His throat began to close up on him, Tom sucked in a breath through his teeth and buried his face in his hands. A new wave of tears left him, one that he tried to will away.

Matt moved forward in alarm when Tom began to cry once more. The ginger haired man moved closer to his friend’s side and rubbed soothing circles on his back, Matt had to stop his own emotions from overwhelming him at this point, if he didn’t they’d both be in trouble “Tom shh, hey I-I’m here. You’re not dreaming” He cooed softly and pulled his friend into a one armed hug “To be honest I don’t- haha” Matt rubbed at one of his eyes in surprise when he felt it start to water “I hope I’m not dreaming either. That would…that would be really cruel”

“I’m sorry. Fuck I’m so sorry” Tom breathed out as he attempted to pull himself together again. He ground his teeth and wiped at his eyes as hard as he could. He let himself breathe just a few more times before he felt he could face his friend again “I just- Matt you’re here!” He held his hands out in a gesture at Matt who could only laugh and shrug in response “I can’t believe this! All this time and you- you’ve been here! I could’ve found you holy shit!”

Matt went silent after that. His smile slowly dropped away as he turned his eyes to the side. Tom’s eyebrows furrowed together, confused by the change of mood.

 “..how long?” Tom blinked in surprise, cut off before he had the chance to ask what was wrong. Matt wasn’t looking at him but he had heard the barely audible question. His friend sighed beside him and a ran a hand down his face.

“Matt?” Tom edged closer, silently encouraging his friend to continue talking.

The man in question looked back at him, Matt thinned his lips as his frown turned deep, he fiddled with his thumbs as he shrugged “How long have you been in London? I always thought that you were still stationed in Norway…”

Tom did a double take. What? He gaped at his friend, surprise kept him from forming any coherent words as he sputtered “How did you- you knew I was stationed in Norway??”

Whether Matt noticed that he didn’t answer his question, he didn’t show it. He ran a hand through his hair with a small nod “I wasn’t the..best soldier” He laughed lightly with a shake of his head “Though I was the most dashing one” He jumped his eyebrows at his friend which triggered Tom’s kneejerk reaction to scoff and roll his sockets, it only made Matt’s grin widen “I got sent back to home base after a few months and I was part of communications” He gave Tom a half smile “They have this list of people stationed at the frontlines and I wanted to know where you and Edd were so I just kept looking, and well, that’s how I found out”

“…Edd’s not with you then” Matt froze at that, he looked at Tom with wide eyes. His mouth opened but he quickly shut it after a while. Matt turned away from him and shook his head. Tom sighed heavily, he ignored the sinking feeling in his chest at the confirmation. He opted to move the conversation along instead.

“You didn’t think to contact us at all?” It wasn’t said in accusation, though by the way Matt deflated Tom knew he took his tone of voice as something else. Not that he blamed Matt, the years they spent together had somewhat made his two friends used to the fact that he wasn’t even tempered, by now they would expect that he was always slightly annoyed at everything.

To say that it didn’t hurt that they saw him like that would be a lie, a lot of things changed over the years.

“I..I know I should have tried” Matt continued softly, one hand came up to rub at his arm as he looked back at the floor “But everyone was just so tense and nothing was okay, there were people always calling and asking for help and I couldn’t just ignore it. I wanted to talk to the both of you because I missed you so much but people needed me to do my job and I thought it was the right thing to do for now because I knew the both of you would be okay, you had to be okay, you were always okay-“

Tom laid a hand on top of Matt’s shoulder, steadying his friend when he saw that Matt had forgotten to take a breath as he went on his tangent. Matt flinched as he turned his head to look at him again, unshed tears made his eyes glisten “Matt it’s okay, you don’t have to explain”

Matt huffed out a laugh at that, his hand came up to Tom’s on his shoulder, holding it as though it were his anchor. The blue eyed man turned his gaze to his lap as he blinked away the moisture in his eyes with a sad smile. After a while, Matt lifted his head and loosened his grip on Tom, he smiled shakily and rubbed at one of his eyes “I’m happy you’re here Tom”

Tom smiled at him and clasped his hands back together again “Same here. I’m glad you’re okay”

Matt’s eyes wandered towards his hands, they were still shaking. The Brit frowned and looked back at Tom’s face, when the eyeless man simply offered him a small smile Matt deemed it alright to continue talking “I just…I hope you don’t mind but I had to remove your shirt to bandage the wound. It was really bad and I couldn’t work around your uniform so I-“

“Matt relax, it’s fine” Tom reassured once he recognized that Matt was beginning to ramble “You didn’t do anything wro-“ A cough disrupted the sentence, Tom doubled over as another fit took hold of him. He felt Matt stand up in alarm but he made no move to touch him, most likely wary of his actions after Tom’s outburst.

“Ah uh- w-wait right there okay? I think I have something that can help” Matt said as he dashed out of the room in a hurry not long after Tom’s coughing fit began to subside. Tom rubbed at his throat with a sigh, surprised that fresh bandages had also replaced his old one, meaning Matt probably saw the large scar that ran through his neck. He winced at the possibility of his friend asking about that particular scar, it definitely didn’t need bandaging anymore so why did he keep it hidden?

Tom tried not to think about that possible conversation and took in his surroundings. He was in a bedroom, that’s for sure, from the looks of it the room was probably Matt’s. There were a number of broken mirrors and cracked frames all around him, plus he had spotted Matt’s old civilian clothes draped over a chair, it looked worn and had a darker color but it was undeniably his friend’s favorite attire from way back when.

So he made it all the way to their apartment huh? Tom had to scoff at that, though he couldn’t quite remember much through the haze of that night, he was still surprised he ever even made it here. Especially since he found Matt of all people purely by- oh..

Bullshit luck, right. Didn’t think that was still active seeing as how everything went for him these days.

Loud thumping sounds of rushing footsteps steadily approached his location. Tom had to consciously remind himself that it was only Matt coming back with whatever it was he ran off to get, he didn’t want to cause the other Brit any more unnecessary stress as it is, he didn’t trust himself to react well to anything in the state he was in. Still, it didn’t stop his heart from leaping anxiously when Matt came bounding into the room, he stopped at the foot of the bed “It was hard to find one that was decent but thankfully not a lot got destroyed so here” Matt held out what he brought with him.

Tom gaped at the item in his friend’s hands. It looked slightly torn, stretched to hell, and dusty but he would recognize it from anywhere. It was his old blue hoodie. Tom swallowed after a beat of uncomfortable silence “…I’m not wearing that”

Matt’s smile disappeared, the Brit looked down at the hoodie in his hands with a frown “I know it doesn’t look good but it’s not that bad I promise! We can shake off the dust and you can still wear it!”

“No” Tom pulled the covers closer to himself, never once breaking eye contact with his old favorite hoodie “Matt I’m not wearing that, just give me my uniform back”

“Tom…” Matt started, still frowning. The blue eyed man circled the bed to reach his friend’s side. Tom momentarily lost control of his actions and visibly recoiled when Matt held the hoodie out towards him, the eyeless man stared wide at the article of clothing like it was about to come to life and bite him. Matt sat at the edge of the bed “I can’t give you your uniform back, it’s still wet and it’ll make you even more sick. You can’t stay shirtless either, you’re recovering and it’s getting really cold outside”

“I don’t care, you’re not gonna make me wear that thing” Tom seethed and wrapped his arms around himself.

“Why are you being ridiculous??” Matt shoulders slumped as his gaze turned incredulous “Come on Tom, you used to wear this all the time! What’s wrong with it now??” His friend refused to answer, he even moved further away as he continued to stare at the hoodie. Matt wasn’t sure why he was even protesting to this, he remembered just how often Tom used to wear the hoodie, almost refusing to don anything else. He frowned when Tom began to cough again “Tom…” He moved closer and continued to hold out the hoodie “I just don’t want you to get sick, please just wear it”

Tom stopped looking at the hoodie when he heard Matt’s tone of voice. Looking back at his friend’s face only worsened his hold on his resolve, the blue eyed man was giving him the most pitiful look, his eyes shone with concern and it was just so genuine that Tom had a hard time believing it was directed at him. When was the last time he saw something so earnest?

‘Matt cares about you’ Tom flinched at the thought. Though part of him knew it was true, years of awful experiences screamed at him. Memories of fellow soldiers turning their backs resurfaced in intensity, most importantly his most recent betrayal. Someone just tried to kill him and he had the wounds to show for it. Even his face still hurt from the blows he received- what?- just hours before? It was morning now. Tom was sure that if he found a mirror, he’d find cuts and bruises. A tangy taste on his lips told him that it was probably split.

‘How can you trust him? What if he turns on you? He’s probably planning to kill you, you’re weak, you’re vulnerable. Didn’t he just try to suffocate you?’ An unwelcome set of thoughts slithered into the back of his mind. Tom blinked in surprise when he felt his hand try to close around the hilt of his knife, except it wasn’t on his belt anymore. His heart hammered hard against his chest. Tom’s vision darted to the side where a creaky side table stood, his pistol and knife were laid out on top of it ‘They’re within reach, you can jump for them when he tries anything-‘

Tom inwardly growled at himself and forced his hand to move the opposite direction ‘Shut up’ He hissed at that irrational, fearful part of himself as he gingerly took his hoodie from Matt’s hands. When Matt smiled brightly at him, Tom knew he had nothing to fear ‘He’s going to KILL you! HE TRIED TO KILL YOU-‘

‘It was a goddamned hug, arsehole. Piss off’ Tom quieted that voice immediately just as he pulled the hoodie over his head. Matt wasn’t that kind of person, whatever part of him believed that he was anything else was wrong. He’d been out cold for what felt like hours now, if Matt really wanted to harm him he would have done it.

When Tom resurfaced from the hoodie he turned to see Matt smiling softly at him, the blue eyed man put a hand to his chin as he looked him over, seemingly satisfied Matt nodded to himself with a grin and gave him a thumbs up “Looking spiffy Tom! Still suits you just fine!” Tom chuckled at that. No, Matt was his friend, he wouldn’t hurt him.

‘Are you sure-‘

‘Yes’

“That wasn’t so bad now was it?” Matt asked as he hopped off the bed with a bounce to his actions, he shot Tom a grin before he began to walk towards the door “Stay here, you’re probably hungry and I’ve got a few supplies around, I got your fever down a little bit but I think you should still drink water now that you’re awake. Promise I’ll be right back!” Then he was gone, dashing out the room again with urgency.

Tom sighed to himself as he fell back down into the bed, he coughed into the sleeve of his hoodie as he began to feel the warm dizziness that could only come from illness. Part of him wanted to shut his eyes and fall asleep, it was hard to ignore that need to recuperate. Though he knew that he won’t be able to do so now that he was awake, too many things ran through his head, specifically what had happened to him to lead him to this point.

He had been betrayed….again.

Tom’s hands fisted the sheets around him in anger, Finnigand couldn’t have done that on his own. There was only one safe entrance into the pub, only he and the recon team knew of where it was. Unfortunately, the mission team he chose had a few of those soldiers from recon…who just happened to be Finnigand’s men ‘DAMNIT!’ Tom slammed a fist down on the bed, it bounced harmlessly but still had enough force behind it to make the mattress creak. He turned his head to the side as he scowled. Stupid stupid STUPID!

He should have known, he should have seen this coming, but he was just too focused on the mission to notice. Tom looked out the only window in the room, resolving that one way or another, if those traitors were still around he’d deal with them personally. They’ll learn what happens when anyone tries to turn against him, if he needed to make examples so be it.

Tom’s had enough betrayals.

The eyeless man schooled his expression when he heard the faint tapping of boots become louder outside of the room. Soon enough Matt poked his head inside, carrying what appeared to be a small wrapper and a glass of water, a medi-bag hung on his arm “Here” Matt helped him sit up again and handed him the glass and the wrapper while he himself pulled up a chair and began to rummage through the medi-bag.

Tom whined when he recognized the wrapper that he was handed “Ugh no, really?” He turned his pitiful gaze at Matt who only laughed as he compared two bottles of medicine in the dim light “Matt do you want me to get dehydrated?” Tom groaned when he opened the wrapper and- yep- saw the familiar dry biscuit that he had been forced to eat months before. He wet his lips, already feeling the moisture get sucked out of his mouth just by looking at the offending piece of ‘food’. With a grimace he set it to the side along with the glass of water.

“Oh I’m sorry I couldn’t find chicken parmesan anywhere, I’ll be sure to let you know after I too suffer from eating those god awful biscuits because, well, that’s all I have” Matt stuck his tongue out at him playfully as he settled on one of the bottles he was holding. The blue eyed man turned to face him and dabbed a bit of the clear liquid into a cotton swab, Matt reached a hand out to his face then hesitated “Uhm, this is disinfectant. I didn’t get to your other injuries yet because you were asleep and they looked really bad, I thought it would be better to treat them when you were awake, so I could tell if I’m hurting you I mean..”

Tom scoffed at that and leaned himself forward, anything to delay him from eating the soul-sucking biscuits. Matt took his cue and gently lifted his head up by his chin so that the light from the window could give him a clear view of the cuts that marred his face. As gently as he could, Matt dabbed the cotton swab on a particularly nasty cut above Tom’s eyebrow, he only paused once when his friend hissed in discomfort “So what happened?” Matt spoke lowly as he continued to treat Tom’s wounds, careful to move his head around to check for more injuries.

“It’s a long..long story” Tom breathed out, watching as Matt hummed in reply and continued to clean him up as best he could. Though he was concentrated on his work, the slight flicker in his eyes told Tom that he was paying close attention to his words. Tom continued “Things happened, lots of things, maybe I’ll explain them better later but long story short: I was betrayed by my own men. One of them tried to kill me” He gestured at his bullet wound “He’s the one that shot me”

Matt’s hand stilled just as he was about to apply a bandage on a cut at the bridge of Tom’s nose. The blue eyed man turned his wide eyes at his friend’s empty ones “..what happened to him?”

Tom shut his eyes and moved out of Matt’s reach, he pulled his knees up to his chest and partly burrowed into his hoodie. The familiar material against his skin reminded him of a different time, of a different him. He knew he wasn’t the same Tom as he was before, he wasn’t blind to the changes he’d undergone. If it were the old him in his place, that Tom would have been disgusted by everything he’d done so far. Even wearing this hoodie felt desecrating.

That Tom would have been horrified, he on the other hand felt nothing.

But he couldn’t let Matt see that.

“He really wanted me dead, Matt” Tom started slowly as he turned to look back at his friend “He was so ready to kill me right then and there, he even tried to burn me alive” Tom shook his head and looked down at the sheets when Matt still hadn’t moved “I did what I had to”

Matt was quiet, the silence gnawed on Tom’s insides. Then the mattress dipped beside him and he found his friend pulling him into a one armed hug “Did he deserve it? Was he a bad person?” Matt murmured as he rubbed comforting circles on Tom’s arm.

Tom stiffened in his friend’s hold but only slightly, he bit his lower lip and nodded slowly “…he deserved it” but he wasn’t a bad person. Tom held his tongue.

Matt drew in a breath beside him, Tom missed the way his friend’s eyes flickered towards him in slight concern. The blue eyed man nodded and gave him one pat on the shoulder “Then it’s okay, you don’t have to explain. You’re safe here Tom. All of that’s behind you now” Tom smiled sadly at him, Matt frowned “Oh..I guess not?”

Tom let himself inhale deeply as he shook his head “Matt there’s…I can’t stay here” He felt Matt’s arm fall behind him, but his friend said nothing. He kept himself quiet as he looked at Tom in concern, the eyeless man took that as his cue to explain. He bit his lower lip “I have a unit out there, my unit. Believe it or not but I’m responsible for something now” He laughed, humorless in its tone as he looked down at his shaking hands “I have things I need to do Matt and I can’t just leave it”

“Why can’t you?”

Tom didn’t answer straight away. He debated against himself as he tried to sort out what he can tell his friend. Though he felt guilty for even trying to filter the truth, Matt deserved to know didn’t he? Tord turned his back on all of them, only a few people would understand Tom’s reasoning for doing what he did, Matt was one of those.

…then again, Tom didn’t think Matt would be okay with the idea of actually killing someone they knew, on purpose nonetheless. More so that Matt could barely even remember Tord, but he saw how it affected Edd and him. Matt was a witness to Edd’s sleepless nights, to Tom’s excessive drinking, he saw how much he and Edd fought about what had happened. He was the one that had to separate them when their arguments started becoming violent.

HE NEVER FUCKING CARED ABOUT US!

Tom looked up from his lap and stared up at nothing as the room before him shifted and bled into a memory. The cold, broken room turned into a fuzzy memory of his old living room. He saw himself standing opposite from Edd, his old friend was glaring at him but his eyes glistened with tears threatening to fall “HE DID!Edd’s voice didn’t sound right in his head, it sounded like it was submerged underwater “Something must have happened! That wasn’t Tord! If we could just find a way to contact him maybe I can-“

No! Do you even realize how much of a bad idea that is?!” Tom was about ready to pull his hair out in frustration. Edd was being irrational, he couldn’t fucking see sense! He was clearly in denial and Tom just didn’t want to deal with it “Tord turned his back on us. He tried to kill us! I’m not gonna let you give him the chance to finish us off! SO JUST STOP TRYING TO FUCKING DEFEND THAT PSYCHOPATH!”

“I’M NOT DEFENDING HIM!”

“OH FUCK YOU EDD! You ALWAYS defend him!” Tom marched forward, the alcohol did nothing to sooth his frayed nerves. It only proved to make him lose his grip on his emotions, he couldn’t stop himself from shoving Edd backwards when he was close enough “Tord was fucking mental! He was a violent, perverted, gun humping piece of shit and you just never took the time to actually see that he was because you’re too sentimental!

“Tord was my friend” Edd growled back as he steadied himself again, angry that Tom had actually gotten physical with him. His glare darkened “I knew him long before you or Matt did! He has a few quirks so what?! You don’t see me constantly ragging on you about your alcohol intake!”

“ARSEHOLE! YOU SENT ME TO REHAB!” Tom yelled as he balled his hands into fists at his sides “Tord had fucking guns in his room and I sure as hell KNEW that he didn’t have a license for them! Guess what?! You didn’t do shit!”

“You were destroying yourself with your drinking! You were always drunk off your arse and you got physically violent with us! I had to intervene!”

“Let me say it again: Tord.had.fucking.GUNS! That didn’t concern you at all?! He was a goddamned PSYCHO IN THE MAKING!”

“AT LEAST HE DIDN’T TRY TO STAB ANYONE WITH A BROKEN BOTTLE!”

Tom gaped at Edd, his shoulders stiffened as he harshly shoved his friend backwards again“YOU’RE FUCKING BIASED!

“Don’t bloody touch me like that again ” Edd warned as his whole body became rigid, he held Tom’s glare with his own as the eyeless man’s fists shook with restraint.

Matt took this time to step in between them, he gently took Edd by the arms and slowly made him back away “Guys…” He looked to the both of them, pleading for them to go no further “Stop, please please please just stop. I don’t want to hear this, I don’t want to see either of you like this please. You’re both scaring me”

Edd and Tom continued to stare each other down, the air was thick and tense around the three of them. Each waiting for the other’s next move, the threat of physical violence hung like poison between them, it was a very real possibility at this point. Matt didn’t know if he could stop it from happening, it broke his heart to see his friends act so hostile. Weren’t they supposed to support each other?

Tom was the first to break eye contact. He scoffed and sharply turned away from his two friends “Screw you guys, get the fuck out of my flat. I don’t want to deal with this” Tom left the living room as quick as he could, the loud slam of his bedroom door followed soon after.

Matt looked back to his other friend, Edd was breathing in deeply, he still hadn’t relaxed. Matt shook him by the shoulders “Edd, let’s just give him some time. You’ll both feel better after you’ve cooled down, then you can make up again! Okay?”

Edd tore his gaze away from the direction Tom stormed off to, his gaze softened when he looked at Matt “It’s not gonna be that easy Matt…” He sighed and covered his eyes with one hand. With a shake of his head, Edd led Matt out of Tom’s apartment. They stayed quiet until the door shut closed behind them.

Tom pulled himself back from the memory before it got the chance to get to him. He never did get to apologize for his actions, the guilt of it still weighed heavy on his heart, he shouldn’t have treated Edd like that. They were both hurting, his inability to be a decent friend only worsened their situation. The fact that Edd was so willing to forgive and forget not long after just made it worse. They didn’t part on bitter words, but Tom never forgave himself.

With a sigh, he forced himself to face Matt again. His friend simply smiled at him, ever patient. Matt deserved just as much of Tom’s apologies as Edd did, the ginger haired male had done his absolute best to make sure that he and Edd never went too far, if anything Matt had been the one to hold their crumbling friendship together. It took such a toll on him too, to the point where Matt had once forgotten to fix his hair. Appearance had always been important to him, just the fact that he forsook his need to be presentable for them already spoke volumes.

No matter what the two of them did, Matt never gave up on them. If that didn’t at least warrant him the right to know about what Tom planned to do, then he didn’t know what could.

“Matt..do you remember why we joined this war?”

Matt paused at that, his eyes looked up to the ceiling as he tried to recall the events that led them to this point “I..yeah, I think. It’s about, uhm, T..Todd?”

“Tord”

“Right, yeah, that one” Matt laughed shakily “I’m sorry, I don’t really…well no, I remember him a little bit. Just bits and pieces..” The blue eyed man sighed through his nose, his right hand gripped on to his left arm as he looked back at Tom. He grimaced at the bruises and cuts on his friend’s face “He hurt my face and…he hurt you and Edd”

“And you know that he’s hurting other people now too right?”

Matt flinched and turned away from Tom, he shut his eyes. Tom winced when he noticed the way Matt had locked up, his friend wrapped his arms around his middle as a subtle tremor ran through his frame. Matt’s eyebrows scrunched together before he shook his head “I know” His voice was quiet, resigned “I’ve had to listen to a lot of people asking for help when I was still with my old unit. I mean, I know that I’m not always aware of stuff but I just…” He turned to look back at Tom, his eyes were shadowed over “How can I not see what’s happening? People I knew got hurt and some of them…some of them never came back”

Tom put a hand on top of Matt’s arm, supporting him as best he can given their situation. Matt chuckled at the action, he laid his hand on top of Tom’s and gave it a light squeeze before he let go “…do you want to know how I got here?” Tom nodded once and stayed quiet, opting to let his friend do all the talking he needed to do for now. Matt smiled softly at him before he took in a deep breath “The base was under attack. I don’t think we were prepared for it because the Generals were mad at each other, they focused on themselves more than they did for us” Matt’s expression hardened somewhat, Tom was momentarily surprised by the hidden contempt behind his gaze “I blame them for what happened. If they weren’t so busy fighting each other maybe my teammates would still be-“

He coughed, seemingly choking on the words that refused to leave him. Matt continued after he cleared his throat “The Red soldiers got into the base and no one knew what they were supposed to do. One of the Generals ordered a lockdown I think. My teammates and I were trying to get to one of the safe zones but this Red soldier came in and he had a bomb and…” Matt sighed shakily, one of his hands came up to his head “I just- I froze. I couldn’t do anything. We were already pretty injured and some of my teammates were hurt really bad. The part of the base we were in was so destroyed that we didn’t have a lot of ways out. We were cornered and the Red soldier was going to kill us and I couldn’t- I was scared

“Hey” Tom moved closer to his friend, he held Matt by his shoulders in an attempt to steady him “Matt, you’re okay. Remember to breathe, you aren’t in that base anymore”

Matt shook his head and buried his face in his hands “I’m not okay” He whispered out through gritted teeth. Tom didn’t know what else he could do but rub circles on Matt’s shoulders when he heard his friend heave in wet breaths, it was best to let him ride it out, though Tom still felt a pang of sympathy went Matt began to sniffle “The Red soldier threw the bomb at us, one of my teammates threw himself over it and told us to get away, but it was too strong and we were trapped. The explosion took everyone but..” Matt’s laughed mixed with his sob as he tried to get the next words out “I was behind them, I don’t know how or why, but when I woke up I was the only one left”

‘Cheers to you bullshit luck’ Tom didn’t say it out loud but he knew Matt might have the same idea as he did “I..ran” Matt wiped at his eyes with his uniform’s sleeve. Tom hadn’t noticed it much before, but now that he was looking closely, Matt’s uniform was scraped up to hell, some parts were even singed while some had large tear marks “I couldn’t find anyone else, there were too many Red soldiers. I had to fight my way out with a, hah, metal pole”

“Didn’t you fight off zombies with a mop?” Tom smirked.

Matt laughed a little at that “Well, I AM good at hitting things really hard. Quite a valuable talent really” He shrugged and continued on with his story “So I ran until home base was far behind me. I don’t remember a lot of what happened next after that. I just kept going until I couldn’t see anymore Red soldiers” He closed his eyes with a sigh “I don’t like this war, I didn’t want to be part of it any longer…so I went home” He gestured at the room “It’s not much now but it’s home….” Matt refused to look at Tom once he was done, he took in a deep breath “I guess you think I’m a coward now. I don’t blame you”

“Why would I think of you like that?” Tom frowned and let go of him “Matt, you just made a choice. I don’t know what you’ve been through and what you’ve seen, I sure as hell have no right to judge you” Matt gave him a withering look from under his fringe, Tom sighed “You had every right to hate being dragged into this war. It’s a shitty war Matt, started by an equally shit person. That’s why…” Tom hesitated. Matt was looking at him curiously, waiting for his next words “..that’s why I’m going to make sure that Tord never hurts anyone else ever again”

Matt’s eyes widened at that “You don’t mean-?”

“I’ve been planning for it for a while now” Tom cut in before Matt could finish his sentence “I have a unit to command, I have allies to call on, I even managed to steal Peacemakers. If I hadn’t been betrayed, well, I could have been carrying out the next steps by now” There was a hint of anger in his tone, but Tom quickly corrected himself when he remembered who he was with “Matt I know we joined this war because of Edd, and that he had something else in mind, but you have to understand that Tord isn’t worth saving anymore. Not after everything he did”

Matt frowned at that, a visible conflict in his eyes as he listened to his friend’s words “Tom I-“

“He’s hurting a lot of people Matt” The blue eyed man shut his mouth at those words. Tom leveled his gaze with him to regard him seriously, he needed to make Matt understand “Tord will never, ever, stop hurting people until he gets what he wants. He’s cruel and selfish and even if Edd were to confront him, he won’t care. We mean nothing to that bastard. He’s had a taste of power, he’s not going to let that go” When Matt still looked hesitant, Tom switched to a different tactic “Think about your teammates. Did they deserve to die just so that commie fuck could play God? Because he thinks he can choose whether or not people get to live or die?”

‘Hypocrite’ Tom ignored that voice in his head.

Matt’s eyes slowly lowered themselves to his lap, the blue eyed man swallowed hard “….What about Edd? He’s not going to be happy”

“We can’t wait for Edd” Tom tried again, gentler this time “I know it sounds awful Matt but there’s nothing else we can do. I-“ Tom touched his neck, the scar seemed to throb at the touch “You saw what’s under these didn’t you?” Matt glanced back at him then at his hand that had covered the area where his scar should be. Matt nodded “..I met Tord in Norway” He started quietly, not caring to look at Matt’s reaction “I confronted him, what I got in return was a knife to the throat. Tord’s a monster. Edd didn’t see it but I know for a fact that he won’t hesitate to kill us now. He isn’t our friend Matt, he never was. If no one stops him now, more innocent people are going to die

Matt let out a shaky breath, he turned away from Tom and wrapped his arms around himself. Tom let him move away, he wasn’t planning to force his friend to agree anyway, in all honesty it would be better off if Matt didn’t want to be part of this. It was one less person for him to worry about, besides he didn’t want to put Matt in danger and this area of London is rarely visited. His friend would be safe here.

“I need to leave soon Matt, you understand why right?” Tom broke the silence after a minute passed with his friend refusing to give him a reply. Matt turned his head slightly, at least he was still paying attention “My unit is still out there and they’re waiting for me to come back. I’ve come too far, I can’t just back away now” Tom looked down at the sheets, he scowled “..and I’m not just going to let Tord get away with what he’s done to us. I’m never going to forgive him for hurting us” Tom’s gaze darkened, black, poisonous, hate dripped into his voice “This world doesn’t need that monster

Silence followed soon after that, with both Tom and Matt turned away from each other. The wind outside the windows whistled low, a flurry of white dashed through the glass as the snow outside swirled and fluttered in a dizzying dance. Frost crept at the side of the panes, it snaked its tendrils into patterns as the cold grew heavy. The world outside was quiet, in only the way winter could silence it. All Tom could hear clearly was Matt’s quiet breaths beside him, along with the occasional creak of the mattress when his friend shifted.

“….He hurt a lot of people..” Tom turned his head back when Matt began to speak, his friend still had his back turned to him “He hurt you and Edd” He muttered low as he moved to face Tom again, only partly. Matt still had his eyes cast to the ground as he spoke “I barely know him now, I can’t even remember him at most times” Matt lifted his eyes up to Tom’s face “You’re really going to make sure he doesn’t hurt anyone else anymore?”

Tom felt some of his defense lower at the look his friend was giving him. Matt still looked uncomfortable with the idea of planning to have someone killed, but he seemed to understand that it was better off than having to sacrifice more people on the off chance that Tord would change. Though he supposed it was because Matt’s memories regarding Tord had been damaged by the commie’s own invention, he didn’t have the same attachment as Edd did.

It would have been harder to convince Edd, despite everything he would have still clung on to his memories of a Tord that no longer existed. Accepting that his friend was gone would have broken his heart.

It’s a good thing he and Matt shared the same sentiments.

“When I’m done with him, he’ll never hurt anyone ever again. He’ll never hurt us again, we won’t ever have to worry about him anymore Matt. I promise” Matt’s eyes searched his face, his lower lip quivered as his eyes began to glisten. Tom didn’t stop his friend from surging forward to pull him into another hug, he simply patted his friend on the back as a wet patch began to form on his shoulder where Matt pressed his face against as he sobbed.

Tom tightened his hold on his friend, he shut his eyes against the storm of emotions that gripped at his heart Well playedHe heard his own voice say despite his attempts to block it from speaking Too bad he doesn’t know. Tord isn’t the only one that’s going to hurt himTom hung his head when he felt himself tear up. Willing desperately for the voice to go away.

You’re a liar

‘But they’ll be safe’

Anything to justify your own selfishnessTom ignored it, like he always did. He was good at that, ignoring his own thoughts, especially the ones he didn’t like. Alcohol had always helped him stop thinking, but these days his own mind was free to turn against him. As it was doing now Coward

“I want to go with you” Tom jolted, momentarily surprised that another voice joined in. He let out a breath when he realized where he was again and let go of his friend when Matt pulled away. At his stunned silence, Matt continued “I know it’s going to be dangerous but I just found you again. I just-…I don’t want to be alone anymore” Matt gave him his most pleading look as he held both his hands “I want to help, I want to protect you too. If we find Edd again, maybe we can all protect each other, just like we used to” He smiled, a hopeful look shined in his eyes.

Tom dreaded that.

You’re going to hurt himFor once, he agreed with that thought. If Matt was going to come with him, it’s going to become a lot more complicated. If Matt knew about what he really wanted to do, what he had to do, his friend would never let him go through with it. He’d be no better than Tord.

So Tom had no idea -despite everything telling him that it will end in flames- why he had told Matt “Okay”

 


 

They were about to leave the apartment around the late afternoon, the snow outside had yet to cease, many areas were already beginning to get blanketed by white. From the looks of it, the road will start to become harder to traverse, be it on foot or by vehicle. Tom’s mind steadily constructed new solutions for travel as he gazed out the window, barely minding how he buttoned up his uniform while he was deep in thought.

Matt was stubborn about their departure, he made Tom rest for a little while more since his uniform had yet to dry hours before. Tom had to settle on a compromise before they left, that being that Matt was to monitor his health a little more to see if he was fit to move out again. According to his friend, he’d stayed up for quite a bit trying to relieve the slight fever that took hold of Tom the night before, he was just worried that it could return on short notice.

Other than a cold, Tom was fine enough to move about, though excess strain could plunge his health to another low. He promised Matt that when they find his unit, he’ll halt all plans to look after his health for a time. It was crucial that they leave to find his soldiers now though.

If those traitors thought he was dead, then only heaven knows what they’re trying to do to his unit right now.

“I’ve finished packing up! I think I have everything I need” Matt waltzed back into the room, a small backpack was slung over his shoulder. Now that it was cold outside, Matt had donned his old overcoat on top of his uniform. It hung a little on his frame, it made Tom frown at how much weight the other man must have lost over the years.

“Well if you’re all set we-“ Tom coughed into his sleeve, he shook his head at Matt when his friend moved forward to try and help him “-ahem. I think I’ve figured out where my camp is, we’ll be there in an hour if we hurry, hopefully my unit hasn’t been hijacked by those backstabbing fucks yet” Matt shifted from one foot to another, when he had yet to move from the doorframe to allow Tom to pass through, the eyeless man crossed his arms and lifted an eyebrow at him questioningly, he tapped his foot “What now?”

“It’s just, it’s really cold outside” Matt frowned at him as he pulled at his overcoat “Your uniform’s still a little damp, are you sure you don’t want to use your hoodie? At least for now”

Tom huffed and gently pushed Matt out of the doorway “We’d better hurry” Matt pursed his lips at his blatant attempt to avoid answering. The blue eyed man sighed and wordlessly turned to the front door, he walked out of the apartment, the soft taps of his boots trailed after him.

Tom lingered by the door as he tore his gaze away from where Matt walked off to, he reached for the doorknob and slowly pulled the door closed. His blue hoodie lay discarded on top of the bed, rumpled and hastily thrown to the side. Tom didn’t even spare it a glance as the door shut behind him with a soft click.

When he came out to the hallway, he found Matt standing not too far from the entrance of his apartment. His friend stared longingly at the door of his home, Matt was leaning against the wall, he tapped his fingers against it when Tom passed by him “Come on, this won’t be the last time you’ll see this place you know” He tugged at Matt’s arm when he had yet to move.

“You’re not gonna go to your flat?” Matt asked him as he fell into step with Tom.

The eyeless man shook his head “I don’t need to” Tom knew Matt had more to ask him. Why wouldn’t he want to go see his home? Why was he avoiding it? But the blue eyed man kept quiet at his side, despite the questions swirling in his mind. Any thought was wiped from them once they set foot outside and a strong gust of cold wind nearly blew the front doors completely open. Thankfully the both of them caught the doors before they slammed against the walls.

“Are they nice?” Matt’s steps were a tad livelier than Tom’s as they walked down the road. His steps had a subtle bounce to them while Tom took quietier strides. The eyeless man was a little concerned about it, as by now he was more used to soldiers around him being cautious about everything, even the way they walked. Part of him struggled to adjust to his friend’s presence again.

“Who? My unit?”

Matt rolled his eyes with a smile as he trotted in front of Tom, he began to walk backwards while his hands held on to his backpack’s straps “Who else would I be talking about Tom?”

Tom huffed at him in amusement “I mean,” He gestured at his face, now slightly bandaged “they’re not arseholes but some of them did try to kill me. Just don’t be too trusting”

Matt frowned, he swung his hands behind his back as he turned to walk properly beside Tom again “But they’re your unit, aren’t you supposed to trust them?” He looked up ahead and hummed thoughtfully “If you can’t trust them, how will they trust you? It’s really important if you want to lead them you know”

“….” Tom glanced at Matt with a frown of his own, he wanted to protest to it. His mentality recoiled at the idea, especially now that it’s been proven that anyone in his unit could turn on him if given a reason. They were a means to an end at this point, his bitterness forbade him from thinking otherwise. The bullet wound at his side prickled with pain.

“I get that you’re a little worried about them after what happened to you” Matt had caught his look and put an arm around his shoulders. Tom sputtered when he pulled him closer in the abrupt one armed hug “But some bad people don’t make up your whole team! If your unit’s been following you for this long, that just means that a lot of them really believe in you Tom! It won’t hurt to trust the right people this time” Matt grinned wide as he squished their cheeks together “And now you have meeee! And I’m great at trust!” He sang cheerily.

Tom groaned, though it was more out of habit, he pushed Matt off him with a bit of playful force while the ginger haired man laughed and ruffled his hair. Tom hissed at him and batted his hands away, Matt raised his own in mock surrender “Yeah, lucky me” The eyeless man deadpanned, scrunching his face up in false disgust. Matt stuck his tongue out at him.

Tom felt a warmth spread in his chest at their familiar interaction, he knew that even the cold of the afternoon can’t take it away.

The rest of their walk was…. unnaturally calm, at least in Tom’s opinion. Every time he would try to fall back into his habit of being hyperaware of their surroundings, the moment Matt would start happily chatting away at him Tom would suddenly forget about everything and listen intently to what his friend had to say. Sometimes he found himself completely engrossed in the conversation, most of them weren’t even relevant! Yet every time he realized he was being too lax, he hadn’t even noticed.

It was starting to mess with him. Tom would berate himself for even thinking of dropping his guard for even a second. A ball of anxiety began to curl into his stomach the more he caught himself unawares What are you doing?! You’ll get yourself killed!His mind would yell in a frenzy. Tom had to force himself to breathe at most times.

“So then I said ‘Well maybe you shouldn’t have left it there!’ Which was most certainly her fault. She wasn’t even using it! If I get the chance to wash my hair properly nothing on this earth is going to stop me! I take self-care very seriously. Speaking of which, we should talk about your hygiene because-“ Matt cut himself off when he finally looked close at his friend. Tom was gripping at his uniform’s lapels so hard his knuckles were turning white. They’ve been friends a long time, so Matt could tell that Tom was darting his gaze around too fast for it to be normal, his sockets shifted subtly but Matt could see it. The blue eyed man touched his friend’s back, Tom whipped his head up in alarm, his hand twitched towards his pistol.

“Whoa! Tom!” Matt ran in front of him, he pressed his hands against his friend’s chest “Easy, easy. Breathe, it’s just us right now” The blue eyed man looked around him, searching for whatever it was that had Tom so tense. Finding nothing he frowned and looked back at his friend “Is there something wrong? Did you see someone?”

Tom looked up at him, his stiff shoulders steadily relaxed as he registered Matt’s presence “I- no I didn’t see anyone I was-“ He moved his hand away from his pistol, angry that he had let some irrational fear nearly blindside him. In front of Matt nonetheless “It’s nothing Matt. I’m sorry, I just thought I heard someone following us”

Matt didn’t look convinced, he moved in front of his friend with a frown “You’re really scaring me right now Tom. What’s wrong? You can tell me, you know that right?”

“Matt…”

“Tom” Matt countered with a half smile, he rocked on his heels as he refused to let Tom move past him “I’m your friend. I’m worried about you, that’s all” The smile turned sad as Matt straightened himself up again “I know I’ve never…done much to help you before” The ginger haired man looked to the ground. Tom frowned at the guilt that flashed through his eyes, he wanted to correct that but he felt that doing so would only make his friend feel worse.

“I’m trying to notice more things now, like- like Edd did” Matt turned his eyes back to his friend “But Edd’s not here so I just- I just want to help you” He reached forward and took both of Tom’s hands in his, he squeezed them tight and grinned brightly “You don’t have to keep doing it alone anymore Tom. Edd and I will always be here for you, that’s what friends do! I just want you to know that okay?”

Tom stood gaping, unable to fully comprehend what Matt just told him. The words he wanted to say lodged at the back of his throat. He almost couldn’t stand to look at his friend in the eye when Matt was being so open and trusting…when he wasn’t.

The guilt in his heart ate at him, it tore and clawed at his chest so painfully that Tom almost doubled over from the feeling. He let out a shaky breath.

“Matt-“

Sir?!” Tom’s head whipped up at the voice, he pulled away from Matt’s hold and went around his friend. He narrowed his sockets at the approaching figure in the distance and only let himself relax when he noticed the newcomer as one of his Privates who was loyal enough, more specifically one of the Privates he used to destroy the Red Sentinels from their first mission. The man stopped just a few steps away, he gasped for breath “Sir I can’t- I can’t believe it! You’re alive!!” The soldier pulled himself up again, smiling wide “I was on patrol today and I saw you walking down the road through my scope! At first I couldn’t believe it was you but then- That doesn’t matter! Welcome back sir!!”

Shit. Tom growled, he had completely forgotten that he had a perimeter set up around the camp for security. With the traitors still alive who knew what bullshit they fed to his unit at this point, for all he knew they were already turning the other soldiers against him and his plans. If it wasn’t this particular Private on patrol today he could have been shot on their command.

“Private” Tom started calmly despite his own growing anger. The soldier stood at attention when he began to speak “Did my mission group come back to the camp?”

The Private fidgeted uneasily at that, the man nodded stiffly “Yes sir. They said that…” His gaze faltered for a split second “They said that you were dead sir, and that you had a fallback plan should you die. We’re in the middle of your ordered evacuation sir. I’m only here because they said to look for any sign of Corporal Finnigand but now that doesn’t matter! You’re here sir! I should call in the unit and tell them you-“

“No, don’t call them” Tom warned and pushed the Private’s hand down when he was about to reach for his radio. The man looked up at him in question “Corporal Finnigand is a traitor, he tried to have me killed” The Private’s expression turned to shock as Tom stepped away from him, his countenance darkened “I suspect that his men are in on it and I would rather not have them know that I’m still alive”

“..what do we do sir?”

Tom smirked at the Private and continued forward, his hand tapped at his knife “Simple. Go back to base. It’ll be a surprise” The Private nodded at that and dutifully followed after his leader, only speaking up again to tell Tom that he had used the Red army jeep to do the patrol, at least this way they could make it back to the camp before everyone was finished with the evacuation process.

Behind them Matt stood quiet. The ginger haired man stared after his friend in concern. The way Tom’s demeanor had changed….

Matt swallowed against the slithering fear, he began to walk to catch up to the two soldiers that had completely forgotten about him.

 


 

Tom, along with the Private that ran into him, steadily made their way towards the entrance of their camp. No one was outside, so that was one good thing, but there was an obvious flurry of activity behind the mound of rubble that hid their location. Looking up at it, Tom could hear the steady voices of the soldiers that occupied the camp, but there was one soldier talking above the chatter, most likely one of the fuckholes that thought they could get away with betraying him.

They won’t.

“They didn’t say anything else about what happened in Verns’ camp?” Tom didn’t turn his head to look at his subordinate as he asked his question.

“Nothing sir, just that one of Verns’ men managed to kill you in the crossfire” The Private scowled at the ground, his rifle held tight in his grip “I can’t believe they would lie. They’re our fellow soldiers aren’t they sir? And to turn on you like this…” He shook his head in dismay “You’re our leader, you managed to get us so far in this war sir. We would never have gotten this chance without you” He looked over to his commander, his gaze was firm “I promise you sir, many of us would never betray you like this. Not after all you’ve done”

It was one thing to hear it and another to believe it. Although the Private’s words offered some sort of reassurance, Tom wasn’t too keen on giving his unit the benefit of the doubt. Not after this blow. Though if many of them had the same mindset as the Private beside him, he won’t be too vocal about his true thoughts.

Tom held up the pistol his subordinate loaned him, unfortunately his own gun seemed to have been damaged in his scuffle with Finnigand “I should hope so Private” He growled under his breath as he made his way up, the Private followed close behind him, ignorant of the subtle threat to his words.

Once they were on top of the rubble, Tom looked down at his unit going to and fro from their tents and the downed copter, mostly just checking their supplies it seemed. With no other transport vehicle than the one Red army jeep they stole, they would have to think up a new way to move everything. From the looks of Finnigand’s traitorous section, they were stuck with that very problem, which was why they were still here.

Unfortunately for them.

So” Tom’s voice cut through the air like a knife, immediately silencing the unit as a whole. The soldiers stopped what they were doing and looked up at him in shock, some even rubbed at their eyes in disbelief at the sight of him while others looked to their comrades for confirmation. The cold wind whistled harshly throughout the camp, snowflakes whirled by in a messy flutter, some landed on Tom’s face as the wind blew his hair around his face. Tom moved his gaze towards Finnigand’s unit, he scowled at them and pointed a finger in their direction “You fucking arseholes thought you could kill me huh?

The colour drained from the section’s face, their leader stepped back. It took a split second of knowing looks before the team turned on their other unit mates, they punched and pushed their fellow soldiers to the side and bolted to the other exit on the other side of the camp “GET THEM!” Tom barked out his order to his stunned unit. Fortunately some of them managed to get out of their initial shock and hurriedly ran after the fleeing section.

The soldiers yelled in a frenzy and fought off the ones trying to pin them down but in the end their fight was useless, they were outnumbered. In no time at all, the turncoat section was brought back into the middle of the camp, restrained. The other unit members trained their Peacemakers at them, though some looked uncomfortable pointing a weapon at their fellow soldiers. Nevertheless, they kept their guns aimed as Tom slid down the rubble and approached the section with the calm yet long strides that only someone who held so much power could acquire.

His demeanor alone almost made the section flinch away in fear.

“You lot have some explaining to do” Tom stood in front of them, some of the snowflakes followed his steps and fluttered forward when he stopped walking. He studied the faces of each soldier and could only chuckle when none of them seemed to want to meet his gaze “Why so shy? If you had enough balls to try to kill me I’m sure one of you can look me in the face and tell me: Why?

Silence met his question. Tom clicked his tongue in disapproval and began to pace in front of them, scrutinizing each soldier as he passed them by. He paused when one of them flickered his eyes up to him, Tom didn’t miss the contempt in the soldier’s eyes. He hummed and lifted the man’s head up by his chin “Something you want to share soldier?”

The man’s gaze darkened, he moved his head away from Tom’s grip and spat at him “You know why. Corporal Finnigand saw through you, you’re no different from him

Tom brought his sleeve up to his face to wipe away the spit. He sighed and turned away from the soldier only to spin back and punch him so hard that the force sent the man to the ground. The soldier gasped out when his breath was knocked from his lungs but had no time to recover as a boot ground into the back of his head, burying his face into the dirt once more “You goddamned idiotTom hissed “You know nothing. Corporal Finnigand knew nothing. He was a paranoid fuck who was so delusional that he saw problems where there weren’t any” He leaned down close to the Private’s ear “And look where it got him. Dead and drowned at the bottom of a river”

The Private sucked in a breath when the boot was replaced with the barrel of a gun “I don’t give a shit about your excuses” Tom pressed the barrel down hard until he heard a groan from the soldier below him “You chose to betray me” His finger began to press down on the trigger, heedless of the protesting shouts of the other section members around him “I don’t like traitors

“Tom…” Somehow, in the middle of all the shouting, that one quiet voice broke through Tom’s hearing. Tom’s sockets widened in recognition as his hazed up mind caught him up with everything that transpired before he returned to his base. He stood up, much to the surprise of the soldiers around him, and slowly turned himself around to where the voice came from.

Matt.

Standing in front of the soldiers that gathered around the scene, his friend had his hands over his mouth in shock. Tom felt himself flinch at the sight but he couldn’t look away “Tom” Matt repeated and stared at him with wide scared eyes, his irises darted back and forth from the soldier on the ground to the pistol still clenched in Tom’s grip. After a beat of silence, Matt took one step forward, then another, then another, until he was standing just within reach of his friend “Don’t they..don’t they get a chance to explain? You can’t just- they’re your soldiers aren’t they?”

They can’t get a chance to explain, they’ll just turn everyone against you’ Tom didn’t let his emotions seep through his expression, he stared Matt down with a hooded look to his eyes. He didn’t react even as Matt held his hand that held the pistol “Tom, this isn’t you. You aren’t-“

“Do you see that helicopter over there?” Tom cut in, his voice was low enough so that only Matt could hear it. His friend was taken aback by his reply, so it gave Tom the opportunity to keep talking. He stepped away from his friend and gently shook his hand off “Matt, wait for me there. You don’t need to see this”

Matt gaped at him, he shook his head vigorously “Tom-“

Wait.for.me” Tom hissed at him with his shoulders squared, his tone left no room for protests. His expression softened soon after “Please Matt” Tom looked to the side and gripped his pistol tight “This needs to be done”

Matt took a step back, at Tom’s warning look the ginger haired man could only shake his head as he turned to run towards the downed copter. Still, even his departure alone made Tom feel something awful strike him through his chest.

Matt will understand when we explain later

“You are traitors” Tom turned back to the section he was beginning to despise more and more “I want this unit to know that what you’ve done could have jeopardized everything we’ve built up” Tom looked to the pistol in his hand, for a moment he simply stared at the item. Then without any warning, Tom threw the gun to the side and turned away from the section “You didn’t just turn your back on me, you turned your backs on this unit. Every man and woman who worked hard to achieve what we have now are the people you put in danger”

The expressions of the soldiers around him slowly but surely began to shift into anger. A steady whine of activating Peacemakers pierced the air as Tom made his way out of the surrounding crowd of armed soldiers, he turned back to face the section “When we escaped Brighton, you chose me to be your leader. I brought this unit to a new height, so much that we’re known as the strongest rebel force in London alone” He scoffed “Without me, we wouldn’t be here”

Tom took in a deep breath “I am your leader” He scowled at them and lifted his hand, the soldiers around him took their firing positions And you betrayed me” Tom threw his hand down.

BANG!

Chapter Text

The jeep creaked quietly as another body was loaded into its cargo hold. Matt watched as the soldier in charge of the macabre task hopped out and dusted his hands off. The man was quick to turn his attention to his friend outside the vehicle, the two soldiers happily chatted away, even laughing after one of them told a joke. An obvious attempt to pretend that what they were doing was normal.

As the two soldiers went their own way, they allowed Matt a clear view of the very person who had ordered them to do this unsightly task. Tom stood with his arms crossed over his chest, his friend was speaking quietly to one of his subordinates, nodding his head ever so often to confirm something the other soldier would say. He looked so calm, so unbothered, even when another lifeless corpse was carried into the jeep right in front of him. Tom didn’t even flinch.

The eyeless soldier himself subtly moved his gaze upwards, Tom had long since noticed Matt quietly staring at him from underneath the shade of a tree. The ginger haired male had his arms wrapped around his middle, a sickened expression slowly etching into his face as the jeep was loaded with more of the dead.

Tom quickly looked back at his subordinate when Matt made eye contact with him, he wasn’t sure whether or not his friend noticed him staring- usually he wouldn’t be caught given his weird situation- but he and Edd had always somehow known where he was looking. He supposed it was only because they’ve known each other for so long.

“They’re agreeing to help with the siege but one of them is hesitant to merge”

His subordinate’s lowered voice slowly made its way to his hearing again. Tom simply nodded at his words as he tapped his index finger against his lips “That’s fine, if they don’t want to join in the end we’ll still have quite the number, added that the home base soldiers cooperate” Tom looked back to the jeep when the last body was loaded in. The two soldiers in charge turned to him and gave a sharp nod, they were done. Tom pursed his lips and turned back to the soldier he was speaking to “Alright, you’re excused. Hold the base down while I’m gone”

The soldier hesitated to leave “Sir..you could ask someone else to do this. Today could be detrimental to everything we’ve planned if something happened to you out there”

Tom shook his head “Nothing will happen today, I’ll be fine. Besides, you know what to do if anything does happen to me”

The soldier took in a long breath through his teeth, it came out in a condensed fog. It was snowing today too, though not heavily. The soldier gave Tom a quick salute before he turned and accompanied his two other fellows back into the center of the camp, leaving Tom alone with the jeep turned hearse.

The eyeless soldier sighed “Matt, you should go back with them” He called without looking at his friend. Tom turned and steadily approached the driver’s end of the jeep, his coat fluttered behind him as he moved “It’s getting pretty cold out, you’d best make your way to your tent”

Tom heard the quiet crunch of dirt as Matt circled the jeep and emerged at the front of it. The ginger haired male wordlessly put his hand on top of the vehicle’s door, obstructing Tom’s way in. Matt fixed him with a steady look from under his fringe “I’m coming with you”

Tom let his eyes fall closed at the request. The Brit buried his head in his hand, fearing that Matt wouldn’t back down “You don’t want to come with me for this Matt”

“Yes I do” Matt challenged, still keeping his hand firmly on top of the door.

Tom dragged his hand down his face as he looked back at his friend. It’s been…weird between them. Ever since Tom ordered that execution, there’s been this confusing tension with him and Matt. They still spoke but there would always be this invisible wall that made their words awkward and their actions stiff around each other.

Tom tried his best to make it seem like nothing changed, but Matt would never go along with it. He would joke around, talk to Matt like he always did even before the war, but his friend would more often than not have to force himself to laugh along or speak. Matt tried not to make it look like that, but Tom could see right through it. It became pretty clear where his friend stood when Matt had, once, outright run away from him when he saw Tom approaching from a distance.

To say that it made him feel awful was an understatement.

He wouldn’t blame Matt if he hated him in someway now.

“Matt I’m…” Tom began, a subtle tremor going through his voice as he looked to the side “You know what I’m going to do right? You really really don’t need to see me do this” He almost sounded pleading, which wouldn’t be far from the truth. Tom didn’t want to give who could be his one last remaining friend any more reason to be disgusted with him.

To see him as a monster.

It would destroy him.

Matt was quiet, Tom didn’t dare to look up and see the expression on his friend’s face, he was scared to do so. Wordlessly Matt stepped back from the door. He circled the front of the jeep and opened the passenger door. Tom could only shake his head when Matt entered the vehicle, waiting for him. The eyeless soldier steeled his nerves, he swallowed around the lump in his throat and got in the driver’s seat. Without speaking to his companion, Tom drove them out of the camp and into the streets of a deathly quiet London.

 


 

 

The smell of rot was easy to ignore but it still made Matt’s stomach twist in disgust every time he got a whiff of it. The cold wind could at least stave it off somewhat, although hints of it lingered despite that. The Brit fiddled with the hem of his overcoat, finding nothing else he could do with his hands. It was calm for the majority of the ride out into the streets, but Matt could feel that uneasy tension he’d come to know slowly settle in the air the more time passed.

Matt shifted his gaze over to his friend, Tom had taken to leaning back against his seat, he was almost slumping. One hand had a loose grip on the steering wheel while the other kept a tighter grip on the neck of a vodka bottle. On any other day, Matt could have reprimanded his friend for drinking and driving, but this wasn’t any other day.

All things considered, he almost couldn’t berate Tom for drinking, the stench of decay coupled with this thick awkward air nearly justified it. Though Matt couldn’t help but be nervous when Tom took a large gulp from the bottle as they maneuvered around a bomb chasm. The blue eyed male gripped onto his seat when the jeep leaned a little too close to the hole.

Tom looked over at his friend just as he set the bottle down beside him again, having noticed the way Matt tensed up. The eyeless soldier sighed through his nose and looked back out into the road, what was he supposed to say? He didn’t even know how to fix this..thing between them. No matter what he thought he should say, it would always sound so empty and insincere. Especially when he felt no remorse for anything he did, the only thing he felt bad about was upsetting Matt.

He could at least apologize for that right?

“Matt-“

“Tom-“

The two looked to each other in surprise, both sputtering out their barely made sentences. Tom cleared his throat and snapped his gaze back to the road in front of them while Matt pursed his lips and looked back down at his lap. The silence that followed stretched out for too long, the window to speak to each other was definitely closed out now. Tom however wasn’t going to let that happen “You- You should go. First. I mean. Talk” He winced at the stiffness of his voice.

Matt frowned at him, his eyes darted around Tom’s face as the eyeless soldier would occasionally glance at him. The more he kept quiet, the more his friend fidgeted in his seat. Tom drummed his fingers against the steering wheel but immediately took a shaky gulp from his bottle when Matt didn’t start speaking yet.

“I…” Matt began, folding his hands on his lap as he turned away from his friend “I don’t know what to….to say to you Tom” Matt missed how his friend’s grip on the steering wheel tightened. Tom swallowed down his fear and tried to concentrate on driving, though it was becoming increasingly hard to do as his friend- were they still?- continued to speak “I- You really-“ Matt ran a hand through his hair as he tried to collect his thoughts “You’re..different

Tom laughed shakily at the statement “Different good or different bad?”

“I don’t know” Matt quickly replied, still refusing to look at Tom as his eyebrows furrowed together in distress “I don’t know okay? When I look at you, you’re still Tom, you sound like Tom, you act like Tom but….” This time Matt did look at his friend, his eyes widened when he saw Tom nearly hunched over the steering wheel, shaking “B-But-! I didn’t mean it like that Tom!! I wasn’t saying that you weren’t-“

“No, no I get it. I get it” Tom breathed out as he shook his head vigorously, he blinked rapidly when he felt a dampness at the edge of his sockets. He growled under his breath and cleared his throat, if only to be rid of the tremors in it.

“No, Tom I didn’t mean….” Matt trailed off when Tom turned his head away from him with a sigh. The ginger haired male bit his lower lip, his frown deepened. Matt wrapped his arms around himself as he looked out the window, there was no use trying to talk again, he messed up. What was he even thinking saying something like that?

The stifling silence returned with a vengeance, only interrupted by the jeep’s low humming. Matt glanced at his friend when the vodka bottle swung upwards, looks like Tom was nearly finished with the thing. Matt jumped in his skin when Tom suddenly threw the bottle out his window with a snarl, a distant shattering noise followed soon after.

Matt felt his mouth go dry. Tom was glaring at the road now, a white knuckled grip on the steering wheel. He flinched when Tom turned his head to look at him, in a fit of uncontrolled panic Matt leaned away in an effort to put space between them. Tom’s expression softened at that before he grimaced and looked away again. Matt paled at his own reaction “Tom-“

“We’re here” The jeep lurched forward as Tom slammed his foot down on the breaks. Matt was nearly thrown out by the sudden stop but Tom swiftly left the jeep as soon as it came to a halt. Matt opened his mouth to call him back but faltered when the driver’s door was slammed shut and his friend walked out of sight.

His dismissive behavior stung but Matt couldn’t blame him, he should have phrased his sentences better, Tom was already upset as it is. Maybe he shouldn’t have avoided him for so long, he clearly hurt his feelings and that was the last thing Matt wanted to do to his friend. Not after they just found each other again. With a sigh he exited the vehicle.

Matt nearly fell over when he stepped down from the jeep, his foot rolled on top of a broken pole which caused him to slip backwards. Thankfully he caught himself on the door before he met with the ground, the metal pole however rolled away with a rumble, dragging along a torn Red army flag.

The ginger haired male straightened himself up and looked around. Tom stopped them in one of the areas of London that had long since been discarded as uninhabitable, by civilians and soldiers alike. Dust and snow blended together seamlessly, drifting through the gentle breeze, piled on top of one another, inseparable. No one could really tell what this place used to be, nothing amongst the charred remains and gaping chasms could tell the stories of those who used to dwell in it.

This was one of the first places the Red army destroyed and turned into a base. Evidenced by the multiple traces of their activities here. Peacemaker shells, bomb casings, a number of abandoned Red vehicles and some torn apart tents scattered throughout the area. The British army managed to drive them out at some point but the area was unsalvageable now. All that was left was a hollowed out shell of what it used to be. Not even the occasional scavenger would find anything of use here.

Matt coughed as he waved away the motes of dust that flew too close as he walked, a quiet sadness sinking through his chest as he looked out into the destroyed area. There was a real possibility that he could have walked down these streets once, passed by the people who lived here, and never noticed a thing, never really knew what this place looked like before the war.

That thought alone made him feel some sort of guilt. This place will now only be a cold ashen wasteland to him. Not remembering it as it once was felt desecrating somehow.

Quiet grunting and dull thuds had Matt slowly approaching the back of the jeep. He peeked around the corner and found his friend dragging out one of the bodies of his former subordinates. Matt vaguely recognized the man as the supposed leader of the renegade section. Though he quickly averted his eyes when the empty glassy ones of the dead man came into view. He winced when Tom seemed to give up being careful and let the body fall to the ground with a muffled thud, disturbing the ashes around them.

“Augh fuck that’s strong” Tom muttered to himself as he coughed, he knew he should have done this days before but they couldn’t find the time to amidst all the planning. Still, decay isn’t a very pleasant scent to continuously inhale, the sooner he finished this the better. With a huff, the eyeless soldier began to pull the dead man by his arms, keeping his head held high in a futile attempt to escape the rotting scent.

Tom was clearly trying to ignore his presence, even as Matt walked close enough for him to notice, his friend simply kept pulling the dead soldier along. Matt wasn’t about to let him just continue on as if nothing happened “…Who was he?” Broaching may be a good start, he knew he can’t just swing back into the first conversation like that.

Still dragging the soldier in question Tom offhandedly replied, “Dunno, Schmidt or something” He darted his vision towards the man’s name tag sewn on his uniform. ‘Smith’ it read. Eh close enough. Not like he’d ever bother with them, not after what they tried to do. Tom silently seethed at the memory, he definitely didn’t care about their names, they were going to die with a collective label of traitor, and that was just fine with him.

Though the dark storm in his mind faded just a little with the reminder that, perhaps, a certain someone wouldn’t agree with his sentiments. Just as he reached the driver’s door, Tom let go of faceless-traitor-number-one and straightened himself up just as Matt emerged from behind the jeep. His friend was giving him a look, one that he wasn’t able to determine, though he was sure that disappointment was in the mix.

“Tom” Matt tried to make his voice firm, he squared his shoulders and kept eye contact with his friend “I- We need to talk, okay?”

Tom thinned his lips as he scrutinized him. The eyeless soldier shrugged and heaved the dead man up again once he got the driver’s door open “Talk” He said simply, grunting as he pushed the dead man into the driver’s seat and carefully leaned him against the steering wheel.

“No- Tom I mean-“ Matt approached his friend with one hand reaching out. He drew back sharply when Tom flinched away from him, his sockets widened momentarily before he schooled his expression back to neutral, though it took him a lot of effort to do so. Matt raised his hands to his chest, showing that they were empty “We need to talk seriously. I can’t do it while you’re doing…whatever this is”

Tom gave him one long look, the Brit sighed and covered his eyes with one hand. With a shake of his head, Tom gestured at the area beside the two of them “Just give me a few minutes okay? I’d rather finish this up first so just wait, please?” Matt didn’t see anything wrong with the request, so he simply nodded once and moved over to the other side of the road, he sat on the sidewalk and looked away from his friend. He had a feeling Tom wouldn’t be comfortable with him watching whatever he was going to do anyway.

Once Matt was out of the way, Tom continued on with his task. The eyeless soldier turned back to the Red jeep, the very same one that took his unit a lot of effort to steal. He ran his hand across its side as he walked to the back, feeling the scrapes and dents of bullets that once belonged to enemy…and ally. The newer dents were courtesy of Verns’ faction, from the very night when he was betrayed.

The memory made his side prickle with a phantom pain, Tom’s hand hovered over the bandaged bullet wound. Thankfully it hadn’t caught an infection and he was able to receive medical help back in his camp, though he was warned that too much strain could reopen the wound. Were it not for that fact, they would have been executing the next phase of his plan by now.

Tom felt the familiar black hatred grip his heart, seething at the unforeseen hindrance. If given the chance he would gladly kill Finnigand again, and this time he’d make it slow. Maybe even watch his life drain from his eyes, at least that would give him the satisfaction he missed when his fellow Corporal died by his hand.

Finnigand was lucky he was dead.

Matt looked up in surprise when he heard a familiar whining sound. The Brit let out a cut off surprised yell when Tom began to fire rapid Peacemaker shots at the Red jeep’s gas tank. Matt stood in alarm and ran towards his friend, especially when Tom looked eerily tense as he shot at the tank. Panicked urgency carried him faster across the road “TOM!! STOP YOU’LL MAKE IT EXPLODE-!”

The barrel of the rifle stopped his advance, Matt felt the blood leave his face as his strides sputtered to a halt. Wide eyes met empty voids. Tom said nothing as he looked him over, his finger still dangerously close to the Peacemaker’s trigger. Matt’s heart seemed to stutter as he felt the barrel surreptitiously press harder against his chest. Soft dripping noises of the gas leaving the tank seemed to accentuate the tense air.

After an uncomfortable amount of silence, Tom eased his finger off the trigger and slowly pointed the rifle upwards and away from Matt, the blue eyed male let out a breath he didn’t know he was holding “Peacemaker bullets aren’t incendiary”

Matt blinked twice in confusion “W..What?”

“Peacemaker bullets aren’t incendiary” Tom repeated. The eyeless soldier reached up one hand to his head and peeled away a small bandage on his temple, a scarring graze peeked out from underneath “They’re strong, yes, but they’re also really fast. So fast that they burn just a bit and make it seem like they’re incendiary” Smoothing the bandage back on his skin, Tom turned the Peacemaker to shoot at the Red jeep again, Matt yelped and jumped back a bit at the sudden action “But they’re not, Peacemaker bullets are made to tear through things. Why do you think Red soldiers tend to fire them in groups?”

Tom turned back to the jeep and shouldered the Peacemaker once he deemed the damage was enough “Besides, these things don’t blow up like they do in the movies Matt, and with the snow I doubt the gas will get hot enough to cause an explosion. Though you might want to step back even so, once I burn this thing I mean”

B-Burn?!” Matt stuttered out in disbelief as Tom reached into his pocket and fished out a lighter, large enough to occupy most of his palm “Wait but- isn’t this your unit’s only jeep? Why would you just destroy it?”

Tom pursed his lips at that, the eyeless soldier lowered his head as he glanced back at his friend. Was he ready to tell that story?

“…Matt” Tom started softly as he weighed the lighter in his hand, there was just a bit of fluid left in it “It’s….complicated” The eyeless soldier worried his lower lip as he made the decision to sugarcoat the truth just a bit. Matt may be his friend but he knew that there were some things the other wasn’t ready to hear, at least about him and the things he did. An old familiar feeling of disgust was struggling to break through to him, scratching and screaming at the back of his mind.

You’re a disgusting human being

You’re sickening, why would anyone waste their time on you?

You don’t deserve anyone’s sympathy

Murderer

Coward

MURDERER

LOOK WHAT YOU DID

LOOK WHAT YOU DID

MURDERERMUDERERMURDERERMURDERERMUDERERMURDERER MURDERERMUDERERMURDERERMURDERERMUDERERMURDERER

YOU’RE NO BETTER THAN HIM

Tom’s hand flew up to his head as a painful pounding sensation began to assault his senses. The eyeless soldier masked a pained wheeze through a quiet sigh, desperately trying to keep himself standing even as the world blurred and spun around him. It’s been like this for days now, no matter what he did this pressure that pressed down on him never seemed to go away. It’s been getting worse as of late, he hadn’t been able to hold down any food for a while now, what food he did manage to eat always came back up later on.

You don’t deserve anything, not after what you did.

Thank god the unit was able to scavenge alcohol during their last supply run. That had at least lessened Tom’s unwanted thoughts for a while. So far, none of those thoughts were as vocal as they were days prior and that was enough of a blessing.

Murderer. Matt trusted you. Murderer. You’ll hurt him. Liar. Coward. Murderer.

Though one bottle won’t stop the stubborn ones.

“Tom, are you okay?” Tom flinched at Matt’s voice, though it was a relief as it cut through the ones that deafened him as they jumbled together in his mind. Tom turned to Matt who had finally gotten the courage to approach him and place a hand on his arm, the weight of it grounded him somewhat. Tom focused on that feeling “You’ve gone a little pale, you’re really worrying me” Matt frowned at him as he tightened his grip on his arm “I know it’s been really weird but..I’m trying to understand all- all of this” He sighed “But it won’t go anywhere if you don’t talk to me…”

Tom gently eased his friend’s hand off his arm and stepped away from him “We’ll talk. Just let me finish this” Matt seemed to want to protest but Tom had already turned away from him to reach the cargo hold of the Red jeep. The moment the other pulled out a gas can, Matt hesitantly backed away while Tom set to work to make the Red jeep as flammable as possible.

A few minutes later, the two friends were seated on the sidewalk opposite the jeep, watching as bright angry flames rose up to new heights and consumed the Red jeep along with its long deceased passengers. The smell of burnt flesh and stale ash mixed together horribly, but at this point no one would bat an eye at it.

Awash in the yellow glow of the fire, Matt silently turned to look at his friend seated beside him, though there was a sizable space between them. From this distance, they could both still feel the warm air that exuded from the flames, though it helped with the cold somewhat, it couldn’t stave off the tense atmosphere that refused to leave them. Tom wasn’t looking at him, the other male seemed content to just watch the vehicle burn.

“I guess…your Christmas bonfire tradition hasn’t changed at least?” That attempt to lighten the mood earned him rapid blinking and a surprised snort from his friend. Matt chuckled at the reaction, his smile widened even more when Tom turned to look at him, a barely restrained and genuine smile of amusement twitching past his defenses.

It was such a familiar sight, a rare slip of the Tom he knew, but the moment was over too fast as Tom’s smile faded when his friend looked away from him again. Tom clasped his hands in front of him, his gaze locked to the ground as he breathed in deep. The eyeless soldier let out a long sigh. Here goes everything “Matt… are you afraid of me?”

The question caught Matt off guard. His mouth flapped uselessly as he tried to work through his surprise “What- Where would you get an idea like that Tom? Of course I’m not afraid of you, that’s a really weird question to ask me!”

“I’m being serious Matt”

“Well I’m serious too!” Matt huffed and crossed his arms, turning his incredulous look at his friend when Tom decided to meet his eyes again. Out of all things to start their talk with, Matt seriously didn’t expect it to be something as farfetched as that “I’m not afraid of you Tom. That’s silly! You’re my friend, if I was afraid of you- which I most certainly am not!- I would’ve run away a looong time ago” He shrugged at his friend with a half smile and moved just a little bit closer “So get that silly silly thought out of your head Tom, that’s not what I want to talk to you about”

Tom could appreciate Matt’s attempt to make the situation a little less tense. Despite everything, at least Matt’s honest happiness wasn’t tainted by any of the horrible things he went through. It made his own heart warm at the thought, that’s one good thing that survived, one good thing in this awful shitty world. A good thing from a time that seemed made up now, his only link to a better life long forgotten.

Tom did not want to lose that.

So he dreaded it when Matt continued to speak, a serious expression replacing his smile, a ball of anxiety curled up in Tom’s stomach, there was no telling where this talk was going to go “…What you did a few days ago was..scary, at least that’s how I felt at that time. I know they were bad people but the way you did it…” That was an instant verbal slap to his face if Tom had ever heard one. A heavy guilt ate at his chest, causing Tom to involuntarily wrap his arms around himself, the process didn’t go over Matt’s head “Tom please don’t think too hard on it, I’m not afraid of you okay?”

“I shouldn’t have done it in front of you in the first place” Tom rubbed at his face tiredly, the fire in front of them was starting to die down somewhat, lessening the harsh glow that illuminated them both “I lost my damn head, I was acting out of line and I just couldn’t control myself”

Tom decided that maybe at least being honest with his thoughts was okay, after all he did care enough about his friend to admit that he never wanted Matt to see that side of him “What that section did was- was unforgivable. They tried to kill me and turn my unit on me, anyone would be pissed but I was…” Tom winced and shook his head “I shouldn’t have let my emotions get the better of me, Matt I swear I wasn’t- I just wasn’t thinking straight and I was so angry. I didn’t mean to scare you like that”

“You really did…” Matt answered shakily, he still wasn’t completely sure how he felt about the situation “I know you were just- you were doing what needed to be done. I- It’s not the first time I saw that happen they were-“ Matt sucked in a breath “They were bad people, they hurt you, they were traitors” Though it didn’t really sound like he believed his own words, Matt looped that thought in his head until he did. Otherwise…well, no, he won’t even go there. Tom is his friend, he’d be a bad friend if he thought like that.

“Yeah, they were” Tom spat, consciously belaying his anger by keeping his gaze on the burning jeep with him. Those traitorous fucks were burning quite nicely, he scoffed but quickly composed himself when he remembered where he was. He clasped his hands together and turned back to look at his friend “Matt I- I feel really bad about upsetting you. I know you’ve been avoiding me and I just don’t- what I’m trying to say is-“ Tom let out a distressed groan, why was it so hard to apologize? Matt deserved to hear it.

Hindrance. He makes you weak, you CAN’T be weak. Why should you apologize? Those BASTARDS got what they deserved-

Matt is my friend. He’s the only one I can trust. Please don’t make me lose him. I can’t lose him.

Tom covered his eyes as his heart pounded heavily in his chest. His mind’s been everywhere lately, it was getting harder and harder to concentrate. He wasn’t even quite sure which of his thoughts were right most of the time, he felt all of them so strongly. Instincts drove him to be defensive, to protect himself, no one can be trusted.

He knew one thing though.

Matt is his friend.

Amidst the screaming, wailing, confusing thoughts that plagued him, that was the only clear one.

It was the one he desperately held on to. He feared that maybe if he didn’t, he was lost.

Matt is his friend

Matt is his friend.

“I’m sorry” Tom managed out even when his throat constricted around the words. Both his hands covered his face as he curled in on himself, a pitiful sob managed to escape him despite his efforts to keep it in “Matt I’m so sorry, I didn’t- I didn’t mean to scare you. Please don’t hate me”

His thoughts swirled violently.

He’ll leave. He hates you. Monster. Monster. Monster. Murderer. Matt is afraid of you. He SEES what you are. Selfish. Murderer. LiarLiarliarliar. You’re no better. YOU’RE NO BETTER. He trusted you.

“Oh my god- Tom!” Matt instantly stood from where he was seated to move to his friend’s side. He squeezed his friend’s shoulder while another hand rubbed soothing circles on his back “Hey, hey no, shh wait. Tom I don’t- I don’t hate you, I would never hate you!” Matt stared down at his friend in slight disbelief. He couldn’t even begin to imagine what Tom went through to break down like this. Matt had seen just how fearful and isolated Tom was when he was with his unit, adding the fact that his own men tried to have him killed any person in his position would have crumbled too.

Matt was the only friend he had and what did he do? He turned away from him, avoided him when he needed someone, abandoned him.

The guilt was overwhelming. Matt couldn’t believe how badly he treated his friend.

“Tom I don’t hate you! I don’t okay?” Matt croaked out as his own emotions began to spiral into a mess. He felt so awful. The Brit wrapped his arms around his friend and held him tight “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to make you feel like I did! I just- I was- I needed to think but I didn’t-“ Matt bit his lower lip, god he was making excuses now, he gritted his teeth “Tom, I don’t hate you” He reiterated instead, hoping that his friend understood what he couldn’t say.

Tom stilled. All at once his mind seemed to settle, he concentrated on Matt’s words and that seemed to finally calm the storm. Just the mere presence of the other centered him, the familiarity of it all soothed the frayed parts of his mind, he tried to remember what it felt like.

God knows that he needed to.

“I’m sorry” Tom muttered as he gently eased his friend off, he shook his head “I’m sorry okay? I’m sorry..”

“Hey it’s okay, we’re okay” Matt reassured once more, opting to stay close enough just in case. Tom seemed to be in a delicate state, he wasn’t just going to let him fall apart like that “..Tom, I know that you have this- this huge responsibility now, and that means that you sometimes have to do really…extreme things” Matt took a second to collect himself before he stood again, Tom stared up at him in a mix of confusion and apprehension “I..I don’t know if I can do what you do but…the least I can do is be here to keep you steady. I know you’re scared of trusting people now but,” Matt smiled warmly and offered his hand “You trust me don’t you?”

Tom stared at the offered hand, a faint voice at the back of his head protested to the implications taking the hand meant. Trusting someone. The last time he put even just a little bit of trust in someone, he ended up on the other end of a gun. He would never say it out loud but a large part of him was afraid of that. Almost getting killed does mess with you.

Besides, though he had nothing against it, trusting Matt meant pulling him into troubles he was better off not having. Tom knew how dangerous it would be for his friend, he at least still had enough coherency to prioritize the safety of someone he cared about over his own issues. If he confided in him more than necessary people will notice, people will use that against him. Matt was important to him, he was an anchor, and if he lost him somehow….

No.

That will never happen.

He can’t lose Matt.

….but...

It felt really selfish. Matt’s hand felt a lot less scarred than his, clearly home base treated him well enough. Tom let his friend pull him up, the warm smile that he was given could have rivaled the heat of the flames in front of them. Matt cared about him so much…

Then why?

Why does it feel like it was killing him?

They said nothing else to each other. Not even when they both went off to go back to the camp, leaving the burning jeep behind them for good.

Matt hummed a happy little tune as they walked back together, smiling away.

Tom thought about why safety suddenly felt like he was drowning.

 


 

All the evidence that alluded to their involvement with the Red army has been destroyed.

Good.

The people who posed as a threat were all disposed of.

Okay, that’s good.

The rebel leaders are willing to join forces as long as they get to replace the old Generals of the British army.

Good, yes.

His plans were all in motion, there has never been a more perfect time to strike than now. They had everything they needed to succeed. Everything was in place.

That. Is. Fine.

Everything is fine.

So why doesn’t it feel FINE?!

Tom coughed violently and let go of the bandage he was wrapping around his neck. The eyeless soldier took in rasping breaths as he held his throat, he hadn’t even noticed how tightly he wrapped the bandage. His fingers brushed against the scar on his skin, noticeable as it interrupted the smoother expanse of his neck, Tom’s fingers twitched at the feeling before they began to dig into skin.

Disgusting disgusting disgusting.

Tom forced himself to stop before he did any serious damage on his person, no matter how much the feeling of the scar on his neck made his stomach turn. He closed his eyes for a few seconds, clearing his mind of any thought or memory that would send his mind into a frenzy.

You. Are in. Control.

With a long sigh, Tom slowly opened his eyes. The first thing that greeted him was the unrolled gauze bandage that lay on the table in front of him. Wordlessly, the eyeless soldier picked it back up and stared down at it. Tom pursed his lips and went back to covering up the scar on his neck, it was such a silly thing to do but he just can’t stand it. By all means, the scar had already healed long ago but there was this unbearable itch that wouldn’t go away unless it stayed underneath the neatly wrapped bandages. It was a blemish, a reminder of him.

Tom wanted to erase every trace of Tord from this world.

The scar seemed to throb. Tom ignored the urge to tear off the bandage.

He supposed the talk with Matt from earlier left him slightly on edge. Ever since he had Finnigand’s traitorous unit killed something went off kilter. For the first time in a long while, Tom was starting to second guess every decision he made. The more days passed, the more he thought back to the people he had to discard in order to succeed, it always left him feeling nauseous at the end.

 

The rebels.

 

Verns.

 

Finnigand.

 

The rebels.

 

Verns.

 

Finnigand.

 

The rebels.

 

Verns.

 

Finnigand.

 

His head was spinning. Some sickened feeling was twisting itself through his chest, like sticky heavy tendrils winding through his lungs and constricting around his heart. Tom couldn’t quite explain it, he wasn’t even sure what it was. Why was he feeling this way? He hadn’t had this problem before.

Matt’s horrified expression shot through his mind.

 

It was necessary, they were in the way. You were doing the right thing. Taking down Tord is more important. This was NECESSARY. YOU ARE IN CONTROL. IT WAS NECESSARY-

 

“SHUT UP! I CAN’T THINK!! SHUT UP!!Tom clutched at his head, his breaths came out in ragged beats as he tried to steady himself. One hand came up to his mouth in shock, who…who was he even yelling at?

 

What the hell was happening to him?

 

“Sorry sir!! You heard the leader men, tone down!!” Tom flinched as he looked to the closed entrance of his tent. The muffled voice of one of his men continued on to reprimand his unit outside, he hadn’t even realized they were being loud. It was a little surprising that they didn’t seem too fazed by his accidental outburst, then again, Hilarson was their commanding officer.

Tom braced himself on the table, his unfocused gaze staring down at the maps and drawn plans that was laid out on top of it. He was vaguely aware of the gauze bandage rolling out to the edge of the table- when did he let go of that?- for some reason, its movements seemed mesmerizing, captivating almost as it teetered towards a sudden drop.

Tom felt an odd anticipation as the gauze roll reached the end of the table. It fell to the ground with a muffled thud. The uncut bandage tugged on Tom’s neck.

 

The unit outside was noisy.

 

The rebels.

 

Verns.

 

Finnigand.

 

The bandages were too tight. Too tight. Too tight. He can’t breathe.

 

The rebels.

 

Verns.

 

Finnigand.

 

Matt was afraid of him.

 

The rebels.

 

Verns.

 

Finnigand.

 

Fear made people turn on him. Fear made people hindrances. Matt is afraid. Fear made people traitors. Matt is afraid. Everyone is afraid. How can you trust them? How can you trust them? How can you trust them? How can you trust them? If they’re afraid how can you trust them?

 

The rebels.

 

Verns.

 

Finnigand.

 

They’re looking in, they’re seeing. They’ll realize what kind of monster you are. They’ll kill you if you’re not careful, don’t let them see, don’t let them see. When people see, people fear. Fear.will.kill.you.

 

The rebels.

 

Verns.

 

Finnigand.

 

It was his fault, not yours, this is happening because of HIM. What happened was necessary, what happened was to stop him. Necessary.

 

The rebels.

 

Verns.

 

Finnigand.

 

Tord

Tord

Tord

Tord

Tord

Tord

 

Tord.

 

T-

 

“Tom?” The eyeless soldier sucked in a surprised breath. All at once the jumbled, screaming, thoughts that swarmed his subconscious disappeared, thankfully replaced by the steady hum of reality.

 

Matt.

 

Matt.

 

Hold on.

 

Breathe.

 

Matt.

 

Tom turned himself around and saw Matt’s silhouette hovering just outside of his tent “Tom?? You’ve been in there for a while now! Your subordinates are telling me that we’re supposed to be moving now! Are you okay in there?” Before Tom had the chance to properly deflect, Matt had already made his way in.

“Matt what-“ Tom pinched the bridge of his nose and shook his head, it still felt a little fuzzy. He clenched his free hand into a fist at his side, it was shaking “-what are you doing here? I thought I told you to wait for me??”

“It’s boring out there and no one wants to talk!” Matt huffed as he approached “Besides, I’m just checking up on you. You were taking really long”

Tom pursed his lips at that, Matt said it in such an offhanded way but he knew his friend had hidden concerns about him. Their talk certainly triggered something within his friend, as ever since they came back Matt started becoming a hovering presence. Matt tried to make it look nonchalant but it was obvious that he felt that he had to be within arms reach at all times, for a reason that Tom was too tired to figure out.

It was the worst kind of timing.

Today marked a very important day, burning the Red jeep was just the last thing that had to be done before they attempted this particular task. Today, they were going to attempt to take back the main British base.

Preparations had actually taken quite a while, Tom had to send out most of his men days before to ask for the aid of the other rebel leaders. Having proven himself to most of them, a lot of the leaders had agreed to join the attempt, taking back the base had always been the prime directive for a lot of them, they just didn’t have the firepower to do so until now.

In the base itself however, Major Harvey Awlins had been constantly updating Tom regarding the activities of the Red company stationed there. Currently the Red soldiers holed themselves up in the left wing of the base, though they took to blocking most of the exits that could lead the trapped British soldiers to freedom. Harvey reassured him that it wasn’t as bad as it sounded, since they were forced into ceasefire at this point, but it wouldn’t be impossible to take action on the inside so long as there was help.

By now, Tom had already drawn up the plans for every section in his unit. Everyone knew what they were supposed to do, which was why the camp was alive with the constant movement of his soldiers preparing for the siege.

The pieces were all in place, it was just a matter of moving them.

 

We’re close. Almost. Almost. Yes, this will end. It will. See? Everything was necessary. Tord will die, we’ll make sure of it.

 

Wait.

 

Matt.

 

Focus.

 

Focus on Matt.

 

“Matt you know why I ask you to keep out of my tent” Tom sighed as he watched his friend circle his table and pick up the messily unrolled gauze bandage that somehow made it to the other side of his tent “If people find out that we’re actually friends they’ll start making connections and that’ll put you in danger. Not only that, if Tord found out that I found you-“

“Relax Tom” Matt tutted as he approached the table with the gauze roll in hand “It’s not weird for ‘old unit mates’ to get together once and a while. I’m sure your unit won’t think too much of it” He frowned at the bandage with a shake of his head “Though, I still don’t understand why you feel like you can’t trust them. They’re good people you know”

‘Old unit mate’, that was how he introduced Matt to his unit. He knew that Matt tended to think the best of most people, so Tom had to be cautious for both of them. No matter what his friend said, Tom knew better. There were just a few things that he can’t risk, letting people find out that Matt and he shared history was one of those, because it also meant that he shared history with Tord.

He was already being hunted down, Matt didn’t need that target on his back. If one of them was to survive this, Tom made sure that it was going to be Matt.

“Do you have anything to cut this with?”

Matt drew him back from his musings. His friend had finished rolling the gauze bandage back up, now the only thing left to do was cut it off from his wrappings. Tom took the roll from him when Matt offered it, he gestured at a small bag propped up on one side of the tent “There’s, uh, a pair of scissors in there somewhere, if you could…?”

“Yeah no problem! I can do that!” Matt walked towards the bag with a skip to his step, humming as he did so. Tom subconsciously followed his movements, twitching every time Matt moved suddenly. He was grateful for his friend’s humming at least, when silence came so did things he didn’t like thinking about “Aha!” Matt hopped up, holding the pair of scissors in the air triumphantly. He turned on his heel, admiring the scissors in his hands “Wow, these are actually still in working condition, I haven’t seen a decent pair in a while now”

Tom eyed the scissors with a withdrawn look, his eyelids fluttered at the sight of it, he cleared his throat and took it from Matt “It was a present” He quickly snipped the extra bandage from his wrappings and quietly rolled up the gauze once he was finished.

“Oh? It’s an interesting present to give I guess”

“You could say that” Tom was grateful that Matt didn’t seem too interested to know about where he got the item from. That was just another thing he would rather leave untouched. He can’t afford to be distracted, especially now of all days. Speaking of which… “Matt” Tom set the scissors down on the table, right beside the gauze bandage.

“Hmm??”

“Okay so…you know what we’re going to do today?”

“Erm, take back home base?” Matt’s eyes wandered over to the table where a map of the main base lay on top, marked only by a few scribbles of a pen “That’s why you asked me about where the broken parts of the base was right?”

“Exactly” Tom looked over to the entrance of his tent, confirming if it was still closed. From the sounds of it, no one was close enough to hear their conversation. Still, Tom stepped closer to Matt just in case and kept his voice low enough for only his friend to hear “Listen, you know this base. Meaning you’ll know which places are safe” Tom placed his hands on Matt’s shoulders, making sure that his friend paid close attention to his words “What I want you to do, Matt, is stay behind the lines with the last section”

“What?” Matt sputtered out, eyebrows furrowing in confusion “But…but isn’t that the backup section? Don’t you need me at the front to tell you where to go??”

“No, Matt, look I’m-“ Tom let out a breath through his teeth “I..I’m going to be honest with you okay?” Matt seemed slightly taken aback by his words but the blue eyed man nodded mutely nonetheless. Tom pursed his lips “This operation is really really risky. If you’ve been in home base for as long as you said you had, you probably know that the Red army’s looking for me right?”

“The Generals made a mistake agreeing to that” Matt spat in disdain.

Tom let a small smile slip out at Matt’s reaction before he continued “Yes, well, it happened” He tried to keep the bitterness out of his voice “I have no doubt that Tord’s the one who issued my capture, he saw me in Norway so it probably shouldn’t have surprised me. The thing is…he doesn’t know that you or Edd are even still alive”

Realization slowly dawned on Matt’s face “There aren’t any wanted posters for us…”

“And I want it to stay that way” Tom looked to the ground and let go of his friend, he took one step back “Matt, I don’t want to put you in danger. If we can avoid it, I’d rather not let Tord find out that you’re still around and so close to me” The eyeless soldier clasped his hands together, he worried his lower lip “..I just want to keep you safe for as long as I’m able”

“But I want to do that for you too!” Matt protested, realizing that Tom was essentially going to keep him out of the fight and as far away from home base as possible “Didn’t I say that we could protect each other like we used to??”

“That’s just the thing Matt. If you keep yourself hidden from Tord, you’ll be doing me a favor” Tom walked passed his friend and towards his beaten up bag. Rummaging through most of the items within, the eyeless soldier pulled out his gas mask before he returned to the conversation “As long as he doesn’t know that you’re here, there’s a less likely chance that he’ll find a way to use you against me. I can’t afford that risk in the position I’m in”’

“But-“

Please don’t fight me on this” Tom cut in before Matt could get another word out, he didn’t care if he sounded like he was begging “Matt, I can’t afford to lose another person I can actually trust” From the corner of his vision, the blades of the scissors seemed to gleam despite the minimal light that entered the tent. Tom turned his head away from it “Look I- I just can’t take another hit like that” He didn’t think he could stop himself even if he tried, the mere idea of losing Matt terrified him.

He was slipping.

He knows.

Matt is the only thing he can hold on to for now. The only constant thing in a reality where nothing felt safe anymore, where the people around him could turn in a second. Where fear was dominant.

He can’t lose him.

“If you think I’m being unreasonable then at least do it to give me some peace of mind. I’m not asking for much, just for you to stay safe. Please Matt” The gas mask in Tom’s hands creaked in protest as his grip tightened around it. He fixed his most pleading look at Matt who stared dumbfounded, completely caught off guard by his words and demeanor.

A minute of silence passed over them both, with Matt moving his mouth in vain as nothing came out. After blinking rapidly, the blue eyed male thinned his lips and sucked in a sharp breath “If..if it means that much to you…”

Tom let out a sigh of relief, loosening his vice like grip on his mask. He put a hand to Matt’s back and began to usher him out of the tent “Stay with the section at all times, don’t come near the base unless I tell you to, and never let any Red soldier see you, okay?”

Matt nodded silently to the conditions set for him, though he was still hesitant about the whole thing, Tom seemed much happier knowing that he was safe. Wasn’t that what he wanted? For Tom to be happy?

At Matt’s frown, Tom decided to give in to at least one leeway “I’ll stay in touch with you through the radios” They both stepped outside of the tent and were immediately greeted by the cold nipping air and the sounds of the unit going about their last minute preparations. Tom slipped on his gas mask before they went any further “I promise I’ll let you know when it’s safe as soon as possible. Just promise me that you’ll follow my instructions”

That at least looked to have satisfied Matt somewhat as his friend’s lips quirked up in a half smile “Okay. Right. I-I can do that”

 

He’s safe.

 

I won’t lose him.

 

I

 

Won’t

 

Lose

 

Him.

 

Perfect.

 

Tom smiled wide underneath his mask. Feeling just a little bit at peace for the first time in a long while.

 

You are in control.

Chapter Text

Four years.

Everyone said that the war effectively ran for four years. It started nearing the end of August, around the time that summer was about to fade. Crisp green leaves began to shrivel and paint themselves bright colours of oranges, yellows, and reds. Swaying in uncertainty as the season’s tides began to change.

It started when Poland fell, when a whole country was brought to its knees. When the course of history repeated itself just a few days short of September.

The whole world watched it happen. 

The 30th of August, at exactly 7:39 p.m.

The first year began.

However, this was not the date that was to be remembered. It shouldn’t have been. For in reality, the world had been at a murderer’s mercy for nearly nine years.  

The first five years was not a war.

It was a massacre.

If there was something to be said about the Red Leader, it was that he planned ahead. There was no way to predict what he had done all those years ago, no one had ever thought to look. The world was preoccupied with other matters, other issues, other problems that every country deemed priority. World leaders played the unbroken game of politics. Taunting, goading, boasting. Subtle threats against allies they now so desperately reach out to.

The public had been no better, tired of this dance of higher power. Bored and angry at the repeated show of idiocy from the very people they trusted to lead. So disillusioned by the hopeless case of their government did they turn away and let them destroy themselves, all while they lived their lives and pretended that the world was a better place.

Ego-centrism had a reputation to blind even the most learned scholar.

The Red Leader played on that weakness, gathering allies that grew fearful of their own neighbors, promised power to the ones that greedily reached for it. For one moment, allies became enemies, and the world suddenly came to a stop.

One by one, major military bases all over the world were cornered and destroyed. Transportation, roads, communication, all of it was cut. It was the preemptive strike that blindsided the world, a gruesome showcase of how far the Red army’s web of influence reached since the date of its unknown conception.

The strike came from everywhere, all at once. No one knew the enemy, it could have been anyone. There was neither face nor name to link to the attacks, and for this reason alone had every country decided to close itself off from its neighbors. Yet, the attacks never ceased, and the blame was thrust unjustly to all sides. 

Red planes ruled the skies for all those years, bringing about desolation wherever they flew. They hit with purpose, always a base, a post, a port, whichever they please. They came in large groups, with one squadron always staying behind to hover over populated areas. Hostages.

They were considered the first Red Sentinels, though the gas was a prototype, it was still a cruel and painful way to go. Tord hadn’t yet perfected it. It took days for its victims to die, but one whiff was enough to cause paralysis, no one could stop it. Hundreds of people had lain still in the streets, loved ones watching on helplessly from behind the safety of their gas masks and homes, waiting for the release of death to end their suffering.

In some twisted way, the current Sentinel gas was more of a mercy.

More and more bases could only surrender, lest more and more civilians were subjected to this inhumane execution.

On their side, the Baltic bases were the first to fall, followed by the Falklands, then Cyprus. The UK Military had been clipped of its wings from the start, and the government couldn’t do anything but try to evacuate their people, they were on the verge of vulnerability and they couldn’t ensure the safety of the country.

While most were able to leave London and go further north, namely the politicians and the royal family, other evacuees had to be crammed into boroughs, waiting for the next line of transport vehicles to wheel them out of a targeted city, unsure whether or not tomorrow will still come for any of them as the Red planes drew near with each passing day.

Tom remembered what it was like to be taken from home and shoved into a cramped and humid building with the rest of the evacuees. They’d been locked in for weeks, with so little food and water to go around while they waited. He, Edd, and Matt had to share one room with three other families and five solo evacuees, his memories of that time consisted mostly of constant sleep to stave off the starvation.

Winter was the worst time, as they had to suffer through biting cold without any protection. After all, the sudden evacuation was prompted out of fear and urgency, supplies had not been considered priority. The enemy wouldn’t hesitate to harm civilians, so the best course of action was to try and get them as far away from the city as possible. With their army stationed so far from home, and currently battling a seemingly indomitable enemy, they had no form of immediate protection against a merciless army.

“We’ll be okay”  

Edd had told them once, as they huddled together in a corner, while one of their roommates stuffed his only winter jacket into a hole in the window. He remembered how tightly Matt held on to him during those nights, shivering and sniffling miserably as his breaths came out in short hot puffs, until eventually he ran a fever.

Edd had fretted over him, even sacrificing his own hoodie to keep Matt warm. The moment their friend began to blabber incoherently at hallucinations, Edd had almost lost himself to worry. Tom couldn’t do anything. He never did do anything useful did he? Just watched as Matt went delirious with sickness, and as Edd did everything he could to make it better.

Three weeks later, they were told that the evacuation roads had been bombed, and that it was now too dangerous to leave.

All of them, at least those who made it, were sent back home. All the while Red planes circled the greater London outskirts, ready to gun down any evacuating vehicles who dared to leave. During this time, the Cyprus base had been struggling to retaliate, but as thousands of civilian lives were put on the line, they had no choice but to stand down.

They lived their lives in unsteady peace, with most of the world military now making an effort to push back the unknown threat, under the watch of a faceless enemy for five years. Hoping, praying, that they would somehow win.

The 30thof August, 7:39 p.m. 

Tord Larsin became known to the world as Red Leader.

 


 

 

While there were still some British bases all around the world, they’ve learned their lesson from the first time they left their country wide open. Though England had tried its best to continue providing worldwide military aid, a large portion of the British army set up bases in different parts of the country. With the fall of the Dhekelia Cantonment, their second largest base next to the one in Germany, it was decided that fortifying the country would be better for the safety of its citizens.

The main British military base used to move around quite often, the title went wherever the top Generals decided to hole up in. They didn’t have much of a choice after all, the official bases they had were all in shambles, they had to make due with airports and clearings or smaller bases that survived the five years’ raids.

Eventually, they settled down in the nearly deserted London.

More specifically, the Tower of London.

It almost sounded poetic. 

Night had already fallen by the time they reached an area just a little bit out of the ex-military base’s range. They set up a temporary camp where most of the rebel factions converged and met up one more time to solidify their plans. The wind grew colder as the night marched on, and even though it snowed, none of it accumulated, merely melting away on any surface it landed on. Tainting everything with a frozen touch that felt like the burn of a flame.

Tom stepped into his role of leader almost naturally, despite the difficulties he faced, he was able to command his men with confidence and speak to the rebel leaders with ease.

Matt watched his friend from a distance, that was all he really could do, ever since they had that talk back in Tom’s old tent, the eyeless man had made an effort to distance himself from him the moment they set out to travel. Matt was forced to linger behind with the last section from Tom’s unit, and he hadn’t had any contact with his friend since then.

Although he knew that it was for his own safety, there was an irrational sting in his chest every time Tom turned away from him just as they met eyes.

Matt, despite trying his best, wasn’t very good at hiding his worry. He couldn’t help but track Tom’s movements as he walked around their temporary camp, gas mask in place, as he was flanked by the rebel leaders. It was….odd, to see Tom hold himself this way. There was no offense behind it, but Matt wasn’t used to Tom having so much initiative and...

..confidence.

Was it though?

Matt couldn’t help but feel guilty thinking this way, but Tom was just so different. It was like he was looking at a stranger sometimes, if it wasn’t for the fact that he knew it was his friend under the gas mask, he wouldn’t have thought it was Tom standing there conversing with the rebels he was about to lead.

He saw the gas mask tilt to his direction a few times, but Tom gave no indication that he saw him. Matt watched him lead the rebel leaders into the lone tent in the area, and that was the last he saw of him for a while.

“So how’d you get to know our leader?”

That was a question he hadn’t been expecting. Currently, Matt had been whisked away by the section he was assigned to, they’d decided to have a little sit down while the commanders continued on with their own little chat in the tent no one was allowed to approach. Matt bit his lower lip as he tried to remember the cover story Tom constructed for him, he felt himself panic when he realized he couldn’t quite recall what it was “We..we’re from the same program..”

Matt winced inwardly at his half-assed attempt. It must have shown on his face because the soldier he was conversing with snorted and rolled his eyes “Yeah yeah, but you seem to have some hell of an attachment, Prince” He jabbed a finger at Matt’s shoulder, which caused the other to pout at him, though Matt seemed to have wanted to glare “Don’t tell me ya makin’ goo-goo eyes at the commander, that’s highly inappropriate” 

“Lay off him, Baxton” Another soldier scoffed across from them, seemingly tinkering with the Peacemaker in his hands “They’re EFA, that program’s as secretive as it gets. Besides, I’m pretty sure Prince here’s just making sure our commander’s not touched in the head”

“I thought we left that kind of shite to AMS?”

“If they’re even still alive at this point-“

“Jesus, Mary, and Joseph! Could you be anymore depressing ya sod?”

“Look, all I’m saying is, Prince should understand the commander more than anyone” The soldier with the Peacemaker directed his gaze towards Matt, who visibly squirmed under the other’s scrutiny “Came from the same hell, yeah? Surely that would mean they’ve got a mutual understanding”

“I don’t really know about that…” The section seemed to simultaneously pause at the statement, they all turned to look at Matt, who quickly realized his mistake and began to stammer “I-! Well it’s- T-Thompson and I were old unit mates-“ He coughed, fingering his collar as he tried to maintain a healthy amount of eye contact, if only to not be suspicious “-but we- I was pulled into another unit that was a little, ehm, behind the lines so I..” Shit shit shit. Matt should tell Tom about this later, he mentally berated himself for not remembering his own cover story.

“Huh, well, that kind of explains why you don’t have the same vibe as our commander”

Matt blinked twice at the soldier sitting beside him, he leaned forward and tilted his head “’Same vibe’??”

“I mean, no offense Prince, but you’re pretty….” The man’s face scrunched up as he tried to think of a word to describe Matt “Ugh, I don’t know, you don’t feel like you have baggage. Which, if you ask me, is super fuckin’ weird for an EFA soldier” 

“No one fuckin’ asked you, Baxton. You arsehole

Piss off!” The soldier- Baxton- spat while the section laughed. The man flipped them off before he rolled his eyes and turned back to Matt “Look Prince, I’m being honest here, unlike these PC fuckholes,” He sneered at his fellow soldiers who either ignored him completely or chuckled at him “I’m loyal to the commander, hell, I’ll follow the bastard straight into hell if he intends to make good on his promise. He’s shown he’s a capable enough guy, more than once actually”

Baxton glanced around them, checking for people who weren’t part of their section. Despite there being only people in their unit currently surrounding them, the man inched closer and whispered so only Matt could hear “And him having history with Red himself? Fuck, the man knows that monster, if that isn’t a chance then I don’t know what is" 

Matt held back the nervous lump that formed in his throat, he ignored the urge to swallow around it at the mention of Tord, and the fact that Tom knew him personally.

‘I do too’

Tom’s agitated voice echoed in his head.

 

“If people find out that we’re actually friends, they’ll start making connections and that’ll put you in danger!  

 

Matt held his tongue, Tom was doing so much for his safety. It was best to stay silent, he knew he could run his mouth without him noticing sometimes.

“Yeah, me too” Baxton seemed to interpret his silence differently as he patted his shoulder “God, when I heard about that tidbit of information, nearly had me seein’ me own mum in heaven, bless her soul” He sighed, somewhat distractedly, before he shook out of his reverie “Still, to have someone who knows Red on our side, that’s something I’m not keen on losing. No matter the cost, no matter the smarmy bastards who’ll say otherwise”

“Hush” The soldier across from the two of them chided, he frowned as he set his Peacemaker aside “Corporal Finnigand was a traitor, yes and so was his men, but don’t forget that he was a good man and a great soldier before his fall, as was the rest of them” He seemed to draw into himself, thinking about something he dared not say out loud “This war is…it changes people, it turns them into something they shouldn’t be. I respected Corporal Finnigand, but it’s….” He trailed off.

“But what ya egg? C’mon, don’t make yourself sound so dramatic and just spit it out already”

The soldier huffed at his fellow and rolled his eyes “Never mind, it’s just in bad taste to speak ill of the dead. Let it go and stop being a child, the man’s gone already. The Colonel wouldn’t want us to act this way”

Silence engulfed the section. Matt looked around in confusion when the soldiers suddenly seemed to want to ignore each others’ eyes. Even Baxton had openly winced, his jaw clenched, as he directed his gaze to the ground, he gnashed his teeth together. Despite his subconscious telling him it was a bad idea, Matt opted to ask the question that hovered in his mind.

“Who’s the Colonel?”

If it was possible, the air had become thicker in response to his question, though Matt didn’t seem to notice it much as genuine curiosity had him looking around for an answer. He turned to look at Baxton, expecting that he would be the one to say something, but the man seemed to tense up even more and his mouth stayed firmly shut about the matter.

“Prince…” The soldier in front of him started, he cleared his throat “The Colonel he- well, he was our commanding officer before Thompson”

Was?” 

“Ya daft Prince? Don’t make us say it out loud” Baxton snapped beside him, though Matt had flinched at his tone, the other soldier didn’t see it as he turned his back to the section and hunched over himself with his head in his hands.

“H-Huh?” Matt’s eyebrows furrowed together at the reaction “Did I..did I do something wrong?”

“Don’t take Baxton’s arseholery personally” The soldier continued, seeing as his teammates didn’t seem to want to continue this particular conversation “The Colonel just meant a lot. To all of us” The man’s hands fisted his pants as he scowled at the empty air “And there isn’t a damn day we don’t hate those Red bastards for what they did, not a single damn day

His gaze wandered towards the scratched off Red army insignia on his Peacemaker, and his look had darkened at the sight of it. With a sigh, he lifted a hand to his eyes and rubbed at his eyelids, willing for his composure to settle before he returned Matt’s gaze “Prince, I know you’re new and all, so consider this a tip from all of us” He let himself breathe one more time before he continued “Thompson…he and the Colonel were close, so it’s in your best interest to never mention our old commanding officer to him” 

He met eyes with the other soldiers in their unit, an unspoken understanding sadness seeped into their eyes “We’ve all seen how much it affected him, and we thought it best to leave it in the past if we want him to be in top form. Heaven knows we’ve tried the same for all of us” His turned his look towards Matt once more, serious and pleading “Do you understand, Prince?”

Matt frowned, thinking the words over. After a moment, his eyebrows shot to his hairline as his mouth hung open.

“Matt, I can’t afford to lose another person I can actually trust”

 

Oh. OH.

 

Matt felt the lump in his throat grow bigger, his heart pounded against his ribs, crushing his lungs and restricting his ability to breathe. 

No wonder Tom had an unusual obsession with his safety. He already lost someone that he-

 

“Do you understand, Prince?”

 

Matt blinked back into reality, only to see the whole section looking at him expectantly. Baxton had even turned himself around again to glare at him, waiting for the right words to come out of his mouth. Matt sputtered as he scrambled to answer “Yes, I-I understand, yes” He gulped shakily then raised a hand to his mouth, he stilled for a second, then he stood up “I- um- I need- I need some air” Without waiting for permission to leave, Matt hurriedly walked away from his section and to whatever random direction his feet took him. 

His stomach roiled unpleasantly. It didn’t settle well with him that his friend had been subjected to so much, all the while he hadn’t so much as experienced half of what Tom had. They wore the same uniform, they trained under the same program, but Matt didn’t think he should even be considered in the same level Tom was in.

The EFA patch on his shoulder burned with every scrape of its stitch work against his skin. It was still in mint condition, perfectly sewn, and firmly attached to his uniform.

In the few instances where Matt had seen it, Tom’s patch was beaten, hanging by a thread, and stained by flecks of blood that could have belonged to him, or someone else. 

Through all these years…where had that patch dragged his friend to, when Matt was spared? 

He was safe behind a wall while Tom- while all these people- was beaten bloody, hanging on to what little hope he had, and tainted by the poison of this war. Saved only by his willingness to adapt to a world that took any chance it could to run him through again and again.

 

“I don’t know you, Matt” Tom told him, just as they were about to leave camp “And you don’t know me. At least personally” He chuckled “It’s like playing pretend, okay?”

 

Was it pretend?

Matt didn’t know how far from the camp he went, but by the time he noticed there was a distinct lack of background murmuring from other soldiers all around him. The Brit sighed to himself as he stepped over a hole in the street, he could have taken this time to relax if it wasn’t for a voice muttering loudly from somewhere in front of him. He peeked around the corner of a crumbling building and nearly bit his tongue in surprise.

Matt floundered for something to say, it wasn’t as though he’d meant to run into Tom, he just wanted to get away to a quiet place, to think, to process what he’d just learned, but there he was, and Matt couldn’t place what he was feeling when he saw his friend. He stepped back just a little, holding on to the front of his uniform as he quietly observed the man he was supposed to know.

Tom had his back to him, he paced a small distance in the little area he restricted himself to, his hands were gesturing wildly in front of him, shaking, grasping at empty air while he continued a frantic conversation with no one.

Matt couldn’t see his face but this time it wasn’t because of his mask. London was steeped in darkness, it slithered in the streets and swallowed even the tiniest fraction of light. The moonlight tried its best to break through this thick wall of shadows, but even then it couldn’t give much more than a faint glimmer through the streets. 

Tom’s profile, despite standing under the clear sky, seemed to be sinking into the shadows no matter where he stepped. The shadows crawled up his legs, twisting through his torso, until it crept around the features of his face, leaving nothing more than his silhouette to be seen.

Matt struggled with the sight, for some reason he couldn’t help but feel afraid as more of the darkness engulfed Tom’s face.

 

What if he’ll never see him again?

 

Matt couldn’t explain why that thought formed, or why it troubled him so.

“Tom” Matt blurted out, without meaning to, and it had sounded so small in his ears as he stepped forward.

He stopped his advance when his friend jolted so suddenly that he almost fell backwards. Tom’s eyes were wide as his head snapped towards Matt’s direction. His whole body tensed up in alarm while one hand flew to the clip that held his pistol, the other towards his face. Matt had never felt a stronger urge to tear that hand away, just so he can see his friend’s face clearly. He wanted to seeTom. He needed to. 

Matt swallowed shakily as he straightened himself “Tom-“

A click.

Matt immediately raised his hands over his head when he saw the shadow of a gun raise towards him. His heart stuttered in his chest at this turn of events, he swore under his breath when he realized that Tom probably couldn’t see him through the darkness. By the way his friend suddenly shifted into a stance as he approached with his gun, Tom definitely didn’t recognize him. 

“Tom- Tom it’s me” Matt tried slowly and took one cautious step forward, hoping silently that the moonlight was enough to show his face.

Slowly but surely, Tom stuttered to a halt. Matt saw his head tilt up and down ever so slightly, scrutinizing him. Maybe he stepped in the right place, maybe Matt’s eyes finally adjusted to the never ending darkness, but Tom’s face came into clear view, and he saw the way his hardened glare softened up from behind his fingers.

“…Matt?” The gun was lowered, and so was the tenseness that drew Tom’s body taut. He coughed into the hand that slid from his eyes. Just like that, his whole demeanor had changed, he seemed softer somehow, familiar in a way that made Matt’s heart ache with homesickness. If he wasn’t looking, he would have missed the subtle way Tom’s lips turned up, or how he looked almost fond

Tom cleared his throat after a moment, he turned his head away and the look disappeared “I’m sorry, did you need me for something?”

“Uh, not really” Matt laughed quietly as he scuffed his boot against the pavement, he sobered up when he remembered how Tom reacted to his sudden presence “Did I catch you at a bad time?” He knew he should be shaken up by having a gun pointed at him, by his friend no less, but he was starting to understand why Tom did certain things. Part of him wasn’t happy about it though, never could be, because he knew it wasn’t healthy but… 

How does one talk about that? Especially now when they were going to do something important.

For now, he’ll keep those thoughts to himself. Tom didn’t need to be troubled by those right now.

In front of him, Tom locked up for the barest second, he straightened his posture “No, you- you didn’t. It’s, ah, nerves I guess” He chuckled, his hands rested on his waist as he shook his head “Only an idiot won’t be nervous about this whole deal, lots of people tried this before and failed so…” He flashed him a small smile, but Matt wasn’t entirely convinced, not with the way he seemed to struggle with the expression “But no worries, I know this will work. Anyways, you shouldn’t be seen with me Matt, so just, go alright?” It was a clear dismissal, but Matt wasn’t listening to that. 

There was a tremor in his voice.

He’s hiding something. 

Matt frowned. He took in a deep breath, steeling himself for whatever was going to happen next.

“Tom, I think I should still go with you” 

Silence.

Tom’s expression fell. 

“I’m sorry? I seem to have misheard you?” Tom’s shaky laughter pierced through the air, his hand lifted up to his hair in sputtering movements before it combed through it “Hey, so, what was that? What did you say?” 

Stiff upper lip. Matt lifted his chin up to meet Tom’s eyes “I want to go with you Tom, I want to be closewhen you go through with this operation-“ 

“Hahaha, I’m sorry, what did you say?” Tom’s lips were twitching upwards, his hands hovered in front of his chest, palms facing each other “I seem to be, erm, mishearing you Matt. Oh wow, is- is it noisy or- ah- hm, it’s- it’s um” He shook his head a few times.

Tom” Matt stressed, trying to take control of the escalating situation. He felt himself sweat at the sudden shift in the air as Tom continued to stare at him with wide unblinking eyes “Please, I need to make sure that you’ll be okay, I’ve been thinking about what could go wrong. It’s scaring me” Even when his instincts screamed at him to stay away, he stepped closer to his friend and reached a hand out “You need me to-“ 

No” 

Matt yelped when Tom’s hand shot out and grabbed his wrist, he squeaked in surprise as the grip tightened. He used his other hand to try and pry off the one around his wrist, but found that he couldn’t make it loosen no matter what he did. Another cut off yelp was forced from his throat when Tom dug his nails into skin “Ow! Tom stop you’re hurting me-!”

You listen to me, Matthew Prince” Oblivious to his friend’s pain, or perhaps even ignoring it, Tom pulled Matt down so that they were at eye level with each other. Matt clamped his mouth shut in fear as Tom’s expression continued to darken “Do not under any circumstance ever TRY to bloody go with me” The tone of his voice betrayed his attempt of intimidation, it pitched ever so slightly at the end, and Matt didn’t miss how the grip around his wrist seemed to tremble “I do not ask you for much, for once in your fucking life won’t you listen to me?!

If there was a sudden damp patch on Matt’s sleeve, he didn’t dare comment on it as Tom continued to keep him in place.

“Never ever ask me to let you go with me. I will not subject you to that. Never

Matt couldn’t move his mouth, what was he supposed to say? 

Tom let him go, but he couldn’t look at him anymore. 

“Don’t do this to me Matt, please” Even though he was whispering, Matt felt as though Tom could have screamed those words at him “You’re making it so goddamned difficult, more than it needs to be” He laughed mirthlessly as he ran his hand through his hair again “Of course, of courseit has to be difficult! When was anything ever easy? Fuck me right?”

“Tom-“ 

Tom raised a hand to stop him, Matt complied, albeit reluctantly “Shut up, Matt, just- shut up” He laid a hand on top of his chest, willing his heartbeat to slow before it sent him into a panic “I can’t- I can’t deal with this right now. Just, please, stay with your section and don’t try anything”

Matt reached out a hand, afraid of losing control of the conversation “Tom we can-“

“Don’t touch me” Tom snarled as he hurriedly backed away from his friend like a cornered animal, his eyes blazed with a fury that had Matt frozen on the spot “Stop trying to fucking touch me! What the fuck is it with people and trying to touch me?!” Tom wheezed out, his breaths turned shallow. Matt moved forward, Tom shot him a scowl verging on panic “DO NOT FUCKING TOUCH ME! BLOODY FUCK-! 

“Tom-!” 

Goddamn it MATT!Tom managed to force a deep breath of air to his lungs just as his eyes began to water “Can you stop being an idiot for one second?!” Tom pinched the bridge of his nose, his free hand wiped furiously at his eyes as he tried to calm himself down “…please I-“ He coughed “Matt I’m begging you not to fight me over this. I am so so..” Tom closed his eyes “..tired…I just want one thing to go right, and if that will be your safety, then it’s all I ask”

Tom is hiding something. He was fine just a few hours ago, what had happened in that short amount of time? Did something in his talk with the rebel leaders do something?? Matt wanted to ask him, tell him what was wrong, but he hesitated.

He hesitated because looking at Tom now, whatever it was that was bothering him weighed heavily on his mind. He looked paler, almost fragile, as he stood there with an arm wrapped around his abdomen, and another cradling the side of his head with his eyes shut. The bags under his eyes seemed more pronounced now, and the way his gait swayed warned Matt of an exhaustion that seeped deep within his bones. 

…was he really going to stand here and give Tom even more grief? After everything his friend had endured?

Matt’s hands itched to pull Tom into a comforting embrace, right now his friend left himself wide open- for the very first time since Matt joined him- surrendering to whatever force will come his way right now, he won’t fight back.

Giving up.

It left a bitter taste in Matt’s mouth.

“..okay Tom,” That earned him one open eye, Matt held on to his own arm as he smiled sadly at his friend “okay, we’ll do it your way. I’m sorry for-“ trying to help you “-asking”

Tom could only laugh, but the lingering bitter defeat in his voice twisted something awful in Matt’s chest.

“..thank you”

With that, Tom slipped his gas mask back on and left without another word. Matt stood still, he wouldn’t be useful out there anyway. The section he was on was a lookout section, they wouldn’t be anywhere near the fight.

When he returned to the camp, his teammates were the only ones there.

 


 

Tom almost lost his footing during the march.

A strangled noise from the back of his throat was dutifully pushed down, but he couldn’t quite stop the shuddering breath that carried his frustration. 

He inhaled frozen air that dusted frost into his lungs, constricting him, halting his breaths. Tom was convinced that the icy air was spreading through him, freezing his body from the inside out, cutting his nerves from feeling every time he breathed in. There was an acid numbness that began in his chest, slowly making its way to his hands, his legs, his head. He held his hands together behind him, masking how much he feared how little he could feel when he moved his limbs.

He stood tall, even when the cold threatened to take away even what little feeling his body still had.

Admittedly, he suspects it wasn’t just physical. 

There was a gaping hole in him, and he couldn’t find the strength to make it go away.

He was so so tired.

 

He was so tired of being betrayed.

 

There really was no one was there? No one at all he could trust.

 

And

 

He

 

Wanted

 

To

 

S c r e a m

 

But there was one person.

A flicker of warmth, even small, was enough to keep the chill away. Tom could feel his hands again.

Matt. Matt was waiting for him. His friend. The only one he can trust.

Tom held on to that feeling, for the first time, afraid that he would lose it all in an instant if he wasn’t careful. This will keep him from being consumed by the cold, this will keep him breathing. Alive. He will not lose it.

With a steady, shallow, breath, Tom lifted his head up.

The Tower of London.

Historically, it was a fortress that courted fear. The symbol of oppression for a ruthless conqueror, who wished to solidify his legacy upon the path paved by his self-built power. Its structure stretched wide, the inhabitants protected- or imprisoned- by the stone curtains that held back the bloody tales that oozed through the cracks in its walls.

The old Generals must have thought it was fitting to become their headquarters. After all, what better place to put a last stand than a fortress that was built for that purpose? They’d outfitted the fortress with the necessities of a proper military base, surrounded her with vehicles of war that stood on the broken foundations of a once proud city, armed her inhabitants to the teeth with weapons and bloody tactics to ward off a growing enemy that encroached upon their land. 

And they failed.

Tom knew better, so he couldn’t sympathize.

There was no real way to win this. Unless they were willing to, once again, taint the fortress’ walls, this overwhelming structure of might that hid its beauty behind sharp talons and rotting silver tongues, with the blood of the very people she was built to protect. 

Tom’s fingers twitched.

The Tower of London was the execution block of traitors.

And Tom was going to give it what it wanted. He hummed to himself in delightful anticipation. The Tower seemed to sing with him.

From what he knew, the Tower had been split into two sides. On its right were the British soldiers, on its left the Reds. A large portion of its first wall had been blown apart, the ugly gaping chasm festered with the presence of the Red soldiers that brutally violated years of its long standing history. Their Red vehicles trickled out from the space like poisoned blood from a wound, positioned in a way to defend its perimeter from oncoming threats. 

It shouldn’t be much of a problem, this was only a Red company, with the numbers they had now they could easily make up a battalion. Not as large as Tom’s unit had once been, but enough to overwhelm them with numbers. With the addition of their Peacemakers, and lack thereof for the Red company, chances of success were quite high. 

It was a standard siege, as long as things went smoothly, the main base would be theirs once more.

However, Tom wasn’t going to share his latest suspicions with his fellow soldiers. They needed to be confident for this operation, he needed them to be confident for this operation.

Unlike the rebels, Tom gave his unit special orders to ensure that they would come out unscathed, if he was right. For this operation, all of them were going to wear a gas mask. Tom explained it away to the rebel leaders as a method to identify his unit, in case it was forgotten that they were now the only ones who had any access to the Red weapon. For the ones that didn’t take that answer, he simply said it was for the protection of his men, the Red army would want the unit that stole their weapons, more than the rest of the rebel factions, it was best to not let them identify his soldiers.

There were objections to his decision, but he had a vote of confidence, and they left it at that. 

When he distributed his unit, he gave himself over- with a section of his men- to one particular faction that he wanted to keep an eye on. Verns’ faction. Which was now run by his second in command, a woman who had been the very first to take his hand when he reintroduced himself to the rebel leaders. He knew her of course, she thanked him when he ‘rescued’ them from the Red tank unit weeks before.

Her gratuity had easily blinded her, and she was pliant to any way Tom decided to fit her into his plans. 

So unlike Verns. 

Seems the late Lieutenant thought against his better judgment, hadn’t listened to an instinct that inevitably made him right. He never uttered a word about Tom’s indiscretion to his unit, he hadn’t shared any of his doubts, not a single word. Not even when he felt so strongly about it.

 

…that may not be entirely true.

 

They were waiting in the distance for now, somewhere on the right side of the base close to Mount Brass, one of the many artillery towers that fortified the base. There should be fellow British soldiers waiting on the other side, if they were lucky- which depended for Tom. His section will have to scale up first as they had covert equipment that wasn’t available to the rebels, then they’ll just pull the faction up using the ropes they’ve brought along.

Majority of them, however, were all positioned to the left of the base where the Red company laid in wait. Tom’s team had the honor of quietly uniting with the trapped British soldiers, while the rest will dispatch the Red soldiers. They didn’t have much of a choice, or else Major Awlins will believe this to just be a rebel siege if Tom doesn’t meet up with him first. It will end disastrously for everyone if that was to be the case.

In a way, this siege felt like the Poland operation all over again. Tom almost couldn’t believe it’s only been a few months since that particular event in his life, that it had only been one year. It almost felt like a lifetime ago. Things were…things were different, things felt different. He could still recall how unsure he was when he joined his first operation in Hilarson’s-

Tom heaved in a deep breath. Wincing when he felt the rawness of his throat.

…In Hilarson’s unit. He’d been fresh out of his old unit, thrumming heavily with anxiousness and pure unadulterated fear. He remembered how he felt so out of his element as a newly promoted Corporal, given the mantel of leader when he was much too inexperienced, He still was, but he was never given a choice. He’s too far into it to back off.

The nightmares still happened, but they followed him to his waking days now.

He’s grown numb to it all, the only thing he can do now is work the machinations of his head and finish what he started. Even if he was now just starting to realize how he was fighting a losing battle against everything, against himself.

It’s only a matter of time. 

“…is it alright to be honest with you, mask?”

Tom snorted, keeping his eyes in the binoculars as he tracked the movement of the other factions in the distance. 

“I find that being much too open these days tend to end in tragedy, but alright, if you want a weakness to be exposed to me”

Verns’ second in command laughed quietly, Tom didn’t pay attention to whether or not she actually found it humorous. 

“Personally, I believe trust will lead to a harmonious union and subsequent victory” She continued on beside him. They were side by side, on level ground, but Tom couldn’t help but think she was sinking deeper into the soil, lowering herself compared to him, all due to her seeming naivety. One he will entertain, for now. Ultimately, he doesn’t care, but for the sake of the operation, he will “We couldn’t have done this on our own you know”

Faint amusement tickled his tone. You really couldn’t “Is that right?”

“You’ve seen how chaotic it was”

He didn’t know her name, he doesn’t want to, it was irrelevant, but something about her made part of him pay attention. Her eyes, maybe. She might be a ditz of a woman, but her eyes were that of a soldier, and no matter what, he felt he could still find a shred of respect for people like him.

Tom thought about his unit, his actual unit, the Ninth Norway unit of the EFA Corps, and almost felt a sting constrict his heart when he remembered their fate. The only people in the world who would know what he felt, gone. The only people who understoodwhat was necessary. They knew, and they were gone.

There was no one else in the world like him, not anymore. He was completely and utterly alone.  

“Not one of the factions agreed with each other from the start you know” God, she was still talking. Tom didn’t want to talk, her voice was starting to grate on his nerves, but he had enough practice in covering up what he felt. His face remained stoic, despite how his eyebrow would occasionally twitch as the woman beside him continued to talk.

 

Static. Static.

 

Her voice was static.

 

He can’t understand her, why is she still talking? He can’t understand.

 

A quiet breath escaped his lips.

“The current leaders served under different Generals, all with different beliefs. You already seem to know that there was..a disagreement in the main base” She smiled wistfully, her eyes clouding over with a memory “The Lieutenant’s commander, General Bisset, was an honorable man. He didn’t want any part of the conspiracy Parliament stupidly agreed to, he wanted to take control because of their inability to lead. He would have been ourcommander too if he hadn’t been-“ 

“Murdered?”

She seemed surprised that he took part of the conversation after his continued silence, he had yet to look at her. Her eyes shadowed over as she sighed “..yes, exactly. It was because of this that none of us wanted to work together” She smiled at him, small but genuine “We were lucky you came along when you did, mask” Her eyes wandered to his nametag, disappointed to find that it was still as destroyed as she first saw it. Tom honestly didn’t know what she was expecting.

“Still, I would want to properly thank you for all that you’ve done, and are doing” At this, Tom stiffened. He slowly lifted his eyes from the binoculars to look at her, but only regretted doing so as the sight of her made him sick.

“Will there be a chance to know who you are?” She chuckled.

Verns’ glassy, dead, eyes stared back at him through hers. Accusing. Damning.

Tom’s head spun, and his headache returned tenfold. Worse than its ever been, enough to make the corners of his sockets water from the pain. Not for the first time, he was glad he was wearing a mask. 

Verns’ eyes were still staring at him, he swallowed down the bile. 

“We’ll see” The scar under his bandages throbbed, he ignored the urge to dig into his skin and get rid of that blemish. Tom turned back to the binoculars, the frost laden wind tussled his hair “…but don’t thank me, not yet” 

“Mask-“ 

It didn’t take long for the sound of gunfire and alarmed yells to cut off her voice, Tom felt relief flood him, odd as it was.

“Let’s go” 

With a practiced movement, the faction followed Tom through the dark streets, braving the cold gusts of winter wind as he approached Mount Brass while the Red soldiers were distracted. Tom could hear their enraged outcry when the first Peacemaker shots tore through their units. 

Wait.  

Tom held his hand up, halting his unit as he brought the binoculars back up to the lenses of his mask. He still had a theory that needed proving, and now they were close enough for him to see. 

A rebel faction had taken cover behind one of the downed British tanks, they were holding their ground well enough, and the Red company seemed to be struggling to cope with the sheer number of rebels that decided to attack them this time. Tom knew they had access to bombs, hell, they used them before and weren’t afraid to do so. So that begs the question, why weren’t they?

Tom spotted a section of his unit in the middle of it all, firing at the Red company with the Peacemakers that they stole, right in clear view of the Red soldiers. They were only partially hidden by the factions, for now they would be support. Tom didn’t want to risk the Peacemakers running out of bullets too soon.

To an outsider, there wasn’t much to be seen, but Tom knew that Red units have never hesitated to fire at his men before, especially after they realized that his unit was the one that snatched up their promised Peacemakers.

What was different now?

His men were all wearing gas masks. 

The Red soldiers were aiming at the faction surrounding them, the bullets were only barely scraping against their general location. 

The binoculars in Tom’s hands creaked in protest to his tightening grip.

 

God fucking damn it.

 

Move!” Tom barked to his section who quickly flanked him as he began to make a dash for Mount Brass, the faction trailed behind them, hanging back for a few meters in case something went wrong.

Tom stopped his men at the base of the tower, he pointed up with two fingers and they immediately deployed their grappling wires. Once again, Tom waited till they were halfway up before he deployed his own wire, he turned back once to the area the faction should be hiding in, he pressed an index finger against his lips before he reeled himself upwards to join the rest of his section.

He landed on the tower with a dull thud, he crouched low once he was stable, though the wall gave a good view of the chaos going on at the other end of the base, they still had to find the British army soldiers trapped on this side of the ex-main base before they attempt to do anything else.

Major Awlins told him that they were going to evacuate to the Headquarters of fusillers, there was somewhat of a distance between that and Mount Brass, so they’d have to pick up the pace in case the Red company realized that they shouldn’t just pay attention to their side of the base.

“Alright, throw the ropes down and get that faction up here” His section sprung into action behind him while Tom surveyed the area for any indication of the Red army coming towards them. So far, the fields were quiet and only the west of the base had any activity in it. He worried over the fact that there were no British soldiers to be seen, and wondered if they had been pushed so far in that the Headquarters really was the only place they could hide in.

Tom tapped at his radio, it should do some good to know what was going on outside at least “All units, what’s your status?” 

“The Reds aren’t budging sir, they’ve got a barricade set up around the chasm”

“Fuck, we can’t break through just yet, but we’re drawing them out one by one”

“We’re encountering some of their patrol groups around the perimeter, rebel factions currently engaged”

“Team three provide back up only! Do not pursue! That is not our priority!”

The reports began to stray from the relevant ones Tom was waiting for. He bit the skin of his lower lip as he thought about the possibility that he and his team might have to get through this relatively on their own. While Verns’ faction was large enough to provide back up, they were now only the size of a platoon, but surely the Reds won’t risk leaving post to pursue them, because that would leave them open to the rest of the units outside.

There was no time to hesitate. They were in enemy territory, every second counts.

Tom debated radioing Matt, he promised to keep in touch.

“Caution! Red vehicles advancing!! Armed Red soldiers engaging!”  

Matt will understand. 

Once the ropes were thrown down, Tom and his section went on ahead. Verns’ faction had to secure the area for them, so they’ll have to go on separate routes beforehand. The faction will be circling around the workshop close to the base’s hospital and, hopefully, clear the area near the roman city wall that marked the separation between the Red soldiers and British soldiers stuck in the base.

It’s a little while later that Tom’s section reached Martin tower, close to the Headquarters where the supposed British soldiers should be waiting. They had to scale up again, just so they wouldn’t be caught unawares on the ground. It was quiet for the most part, with only the background noise of the gunfire near the base’s first wall, it faded to a distant buzz as Tom focused on the task at hand.

INCOMING!!” 

Tom had no time to register the yelled warning before a massive explosion rattled the entirety of the base and blew a gust of hot air in his direction, displacing even the winter wind that cut through the city like steel. 

His section yelled in surprise when they were thrown off balance, some hitting the tower face first, while others flipped upside down on their wire. Tom was able to catch himself before he was knocked off his feet, he crouched on the wall as he rode out the shockwave with the rest of his rattled section “What the fuck?!” Tom gritted out through clenched teeth, feeling a sharp vibration pierce through his entire body, the sensation akin to volts of electricity. One of his soldiers shouted in pain, the surprise of it shaking the man’s control to rip the anguished sound from his throat.

Once the shockwave died down, Tom found himself blinking dazedly as the feeling in his arms- the feeling in anything at all- struggled to return. There was a shrill ringing in his ears that drilled into his skull so badly that he was convinced his ears were bleeding. A sharp pain in his head caused Tom to lurch forward, dry heaving, it felt like someone had shoved his brain into a blender before they crammed it back into his head via hammer.

The soldier farthest from Tom, and by comparison closest to the explosion, vomited blood. The man rasped in wheezing breaths before he fell backwards and went slack on his wire. Tom stared wide eyed at the man through the tears in his eyes and the coughs that tore through his lungs.

SHIT! WHAT-“ Tom shook his head, ignoring the sudden migraine the action brought him, he scrambled to the top, despite him slipping once or twice even with the use of his hands. He fell ungracefully into the top of the tower and rushed to the vantage point that will give him clear visual of where the explosion came from. He pushed his mask off his face. 

There was a giant charred chasm in the space Verns’ faction should have been in. He saw some of them lying on the ground, still as a corpse, while others seemed to be struggling to move, crawl away, whatever it took to escape the slowly approaching Red soldiers. Unfazed by the explosion that had effectively, somehow, swiped the ground from under them.

The blood drained from Tom’s face.

The sounds from the outside stilled, all gunfire had ceased.

 

“ksschk- on- sssssck- TO- schhhk- M!!”

 

The radio on his belt struggled to come to life, Matt’s voice came in chopped up syllables and static.

 

Static.

 

What the hell was that?!

 

“kssSH- MANDER! W-sssshhccckkk- ATION!

 

“NE-schkkcccshhh- BOM-“

 

“SOMETHING- ksssccccchhhsssshhhhh- SEEN, WE WEREN’T-ssshccckkkk”

 

“sssssssshhccccc-N’T MOVE

 

“LEADER!”

Tom whirled around and saw his section trying to pull the passed out soldier from earlier up the tower. He ran to their side and began to pull at the man’s wire, slowly heaving the body up to the flat ground of the roof. Tom knelt beside the man and felt for a pulse, there was one but it was faint “What the hell?!” A soldier exclaimed from beside them “What the fuck could have done that?! We weren’t even in the explosion!” 

What indeed. 

Tom glowered at the empty air. Part of him wasn’t surprised.

“One of you stay with him and keep him stable! The rest of you, move your arses and get going!” Tom hooked his grappling wire around one of the tower’s merlons, he prepared to rappel down “Look alive! The Reds have something new in their arsenal!” As ordered, one soldier stayed behind with their downed fellow, while the rest of them followed after Tom. A pit of anxiety twisted in their gut at the prospect of an unknown Red weapon. One that could deal so much damage even to those far away. 

The last time they faced unknown Red weapons, Poland had been reduced to rubble.

When they landed, the sound of gunfire slowly began to start up again, though there wasn’t as many. The factions outside may have felt a little of the effects, but they were too far for it to have done much to them. Tom took note of what he knew of the weapon so far, just from experience.

It was clearly an explosive, extremely powerful, but it had a range. When detonated, it has the ability to cause what felt like shockwave vibrations able to potentially damage nerves, or perhaps shock them beyond capability. Enough to cause a list of problems that can either render them temporarily incapacitated or passed out entirely.

And, for some fucking bullshit handwavey magic reason, Red soldiers are not affected by any of it.

 

Fucking Tord.

 

Tom cleared the small distance between Martin tower and the Headquarters building with his section. He held his arms out to stop them from going any further, they kept to the shadowed part of the area. He peered around the corner and found Verns’ faction struggling to collect their bearings. None of them had been directly hit by the bomb, optimistically they were only rendered immobile like the soldier Tom left behind.

The bomb can destroy, the chasm proved that, but the Red soldiers were using it to merely disable. This was not their usual tactic, if they encountered a foe, it was always shoot to kill. Tom already knew why though. 

They’ve been informed about his unit, they wanted to make sure his unit was there, possibly for capture, before they did any real damage. Judging from their numbers, this was only a Red squad, composed of only ten Red soldiers. It could easily be overtaken by Verns’ faction, but with the way they were now they won’t be able to retaliate.

Tom’s section only consisted of around seven soldiers, including himself, but now they were down two men. Even with the faction, it would prove to be a bit of a struggle with the limited amount of ammo they still had. Not to mention that the Peacemakers don’t have unlimited rounds either, and they had yet to know if the Red soldiers kept more of that new bomb around. Tom was not keen on getting hit by it again, even now his mind was still a little groggy.

 

Shit, this is getting bad.

 

Before he could open his mouth, another loud explosion detonated in the distance, sending a deep rumble to the ground that had Tom nearly toppling over before the subsequent shockwave downed him completely.

He couldn’t warn his section to brace themselves for fear of giving away their position, he hoped they understood as he sunk his teeth into his arm when the vibrations began to tear his insides apart once more. His screams were muffled by the fabric as the pain came in succeeding waves. He vaguely registered his section curling in on themselves as he had, clenching their jaws tight to keep their wails at bay. Despite that, he could have sworn he could still hear screaming before the ringing in his ears returned. The tang of blood pooled into his mouth. 

The vibrations faded and was replaced by a disturbing numbness throughout his body and the sudden onslaught of migraines. By the time Tom could tolerate the ache, he found his forehead pressed to the ground, the heels of his palms digging into the sides of his head. Any moment before that completely gone from his mind. Unease settled in his chest at that realization.

The crackle of his radio broke through the fog in his mind. The voices of his unit jumbled together in an incoherent mess.

 

“kschkkkkk-OMBERS- sccchhhhh”

 

“T-ccsshhhh- OPING THE-“

 

“RED SO-Kkkkksccccchhhh- ENGA-sssshhhh- TANCE-“

 

The shockwave wasn’t as bad as the first one, but given that they’d already been exposed to it in the first place, it only added to the first strain on their bodies the initial explosion caused. Tom could feel his pulse quicken as a familiar black emotion took a stranglehold on his senses.

 

FUCKING TORD!

 

“Son of a bitch” Tom groaned as he pushed himself up, spitting to the side once to be rid of the metallic taste in his mouth. He pulled his mask back down his face with more force than necessary, with a swift sweep of his hand he held his personal Peacemaker in a tight grip before he turned the corner, ran, and open fired.

 

Consequences be damned.

 

The Red squad scattered in surprise when close proximity Peacemaker shots began to pelt their position. A few unlucky ones reacted too late and were gunned down where they stood. They couldn’t tell just how many soldiers were using Peacemakers as Tom held down the trigger while he ran, it was too dark to see. The only option they had was to throw themselves into the nearest cover to get a better handle on the situation.

Tom used their momentary retreat to slip into the ranks of Verns’ faction, he thought for sure that more of them would have recovered somewhat by now, but from the looks of it only a handful of soldiers could stand, and that already seemed difficult to do “Oh god” Tom muttered to himself as he looked around to assess the damage. He knelt down beside a soldier who had crumpled to the ground, wheezing. His hand hovered over the man, but there was nothing he could do.

 

There was nothing he could do.

 

Oh fuck.

 

FUCK.

 

He didn’t know what this new weapon was, how was he going to combat this?!

 

His thoughts were cut short when an onslaught of bullets fired over his head, Tom threw himself to the side and ran for the nearest cover. His section came running in halfway through his sprint, they were a little worse for wear but at least they were mobile “COVER ME!” He yelled, prompting them to take out their Peacemakers and collectively aim at the Red squad. The hum of the rifles pierced the air as their energy infused bullets ripped through the cold wind and into the Red soldiers.

Tom looked back once and managed to see one of the Red soldiers throw something before he was shot. It flew sloppily through the air, due to his abruptly ended throw, a cylindrical shape that flashed blue. It didn’t take long for Tom to realize what it was before he was pushing his section to start running.

RUN! RUN! THAT’S THE BOMB-!”

They managed only a few meters before the explosion threw them forward. Tom screamed as the shockwave hit him at full force, the vibrations went up a few more notches, tearing through his insides like a jagged knife. White hot pain scorched through his body, travelling from his limbs and up to the back of his throat. Tom supposed that this was what dying felt like.

The agony just wouldn’t stop there, Tom cried out as he felt that heavy numbness spread through his body, rendering him helpless and unable to give himself a way to alleviate what will happen next. Electric pain shot into his head even worse than the first two times it happened. He must have been lying there, wailing, for hours at most. It felt like that much time passed.

There was a sudden jostling sensation at his side, a high pitched yelp tumbled from his mouth as it only proved to heighten the sharp stinging pain in his temples. The world blurred past the edges of his vision, but he couldn’t even feel anything from the neck down. There was no way he was moving on his own. However, he wasn’t all too happy being jostled so carelessly. Pained gasps escaped him without prompting, but even he couldn’t keep his control after that hit.

 

“Tho—my boy! Hold on!!”

 

He didn’t know what was happening anymore. It was just white, white, white, white, white, white. He can’t see. OH GOD HE CAN’T SEE.

 

“SNAP OUT OF IT!!”

 

Who was that?! What was happening?! Fuck, where is he?! FUCK FUCK FUCK!

 

“—THOMAS!

 

Hands were holding on to his arms, the ringing in his ears was dying down until he could hear the telltale sound of gunfire, but it sounded closer than it had been before. Tom blinked the spots from his eyes, his mind slowly recalibrated itself to the present, but the person in front of him didn’t seem to have that time.

 

“HURRY! HURRY THOMAS!! STOP FIGHTING, IT’S ME!”

 

Tom only then realized that he was subconsciously trying to pull away from this person, his heels dug into the ground and his whole body leaned back. There were still spots floating in his vision, he blinked rapidly to be rid of them until the dark surroundings of the main base came back into focus.

Major Harvey Awlins’ pleading eyes drilled into his muddled mind.

Quickly now! Inside!!”

He felt the Major push him forward into some sort of building, he staggered but he couldn’t find his balance. Tom found himself face first into the floor, a sting on his forehead warning him of a potential bruise later on. He hissed in discomfort and pushed himself up on shaky arms as he cradled his face. He heard the doors behind him shut, accompanied by the Major’s rapid breathing.

“Thank God! I got to you just in time my boy” The Major was at his side in an instant, a hand to his back, the man looked him over, checking to see the damage done on his person.

Tom groaned, still extremely rattled by the bomb and its effects, a dull throb at the back of his head was his only warning before he turned to the side and began to retch. Blood splattered to the floor. Tom could barely breathe through the whole thing as snot dribbled from his nose, tears streamed freely from his eyes as he continued to gag, a combination of his saliva and blood mixing together to the floor.

“I’m sorry, Thomas” Major Awlins grimaced beside him, his hand rubbed circles on his back “This newest edition to the Red Leader’s sadistic line of weaponry doesn’t have an antidote I’m afraid. You’re going to have to ride this out”

Tom retched in reply.

By the time the eyeless soldier could collect his bearings, he was pale and wheezing. Tom wiped his mouth with the back of his sleeve, he rocked himself backwards and away from the mess he made. His sockets were blown wide, red at the edges, tear tracks still visible under the waning moonlight that pushed through the windows. 

“Whe- Where..?” Tom rasped, his face scrunched up in pain, even talking would bring back the pounding in his head. Open discomfort showed on his face, the Major frowned at his expression and rubbed circles on his back again.

“Waterloo block” He replied quietly, so as to not aggravate the state he was in, as he moved to kneel beside Tom again “My men and I were forced out of Headquarters I’m afraid. We’d only recently been displaced when you lot came along”

Tom nodded slowly, only partially listening to the Major, as he attempted to stand. Major Awlins made protesting noises and gently pushed him back down into a sitting position “I advise against movement, Thomas. The sickness that comes from that bomb’s shockwaves is not to be trifled with” The soldier placed a hand on top of his own chest and he breathed out shakily “We barely survived it the first time it was used on us. Give or take a few minutes, it’ll dull enough to be tolerable”

Tom scowled, his tongue felt like lead in his mouth, his head was still swimming and his stomach rolled uneasily, but it won’t stop him from exposing this lying bastard “Fir..st time?” He spat, glaring venomously at the older soldier who seemed to pause at his tone.

The Major stared him down, Tom returned his look with more ire. The silence that stretched on between them was tense, the eyeless soldier was vaguely aware that his guns were absent from his person, likely thrown when he was caught in the blast, or purposely left behind so that he wouldn’t be as dangerous when caught alone. 

A quiet exhale parted the Major’s lips, the older soldier stood at full height, not once breaking eye contact with the downed soldier in front of him “..How long have you known?” His voice was steady, quieter, a contrast to the cheery voice that Tom first greeted on Hilarson’s radio.

“Recent” Tom replied, his smile all teeth and mirthless. An ache still throbbed through his body, but he could stand a few more waves of pain. He laughed breathily, if his eyes became damp as he did, he wouldn’t mind it “I’m disappointed, Major…”

Major Awlins turned his head away, it was enough of a confession, the final confirmation of guilt.

Tom didn’t want to acknowledge it at first. At the time, Major Awlins had been one of the few he thought he could still turn to. Hilarson had put so much trust in the man, and Tom had trusted Hilarson above anyone else for a long long time. To say it didn’t hurt at all would be a lie. In a way, Tom tried to find that link he had with Hilarson in the Major, that undeniable feeling of being safe enough with someone else who cared about him.

Try as he might, Tom couldn’t recover from the gaping hole Hilarson left behind. He was gone too soon, especially now when Tom needed him most.

 

He just wanted to stop being so afraid.

 

After Finnigand’s betrayal, Tom had no choice but to reevaluate the people he was supposed to trust. He prodded at the edges of the little bubble he made for himself, and inevitably found another ugly truth. 

At some point, Major Awlins decided that fighting for him was no longer worth it.

Tom thought back to their conversations, before his unit was active in London. The Major spoke in earnest, readily supporting him in his endeavors as he gave him as much information as he needed. After they stole the Peacemakers however, the Major seemed jumpier, frantic, more urgent. What tipped him off was the fact that the Major seemed to know information that shouldn’t be available to him so soon.

 

“Tom, we’ve lost all visuals on the Red tank. I assume that’s your doing?”

 

The Major called him on the very same day they took down the Red tank unit. Tom thought nothing of it at the time, as he had other priorities on his mind, but when he had the chance to think about it, there wasno possible way the Major should have known that. It had only been a mere hour when the Red tank unit went down, and Major Awlins had no outside contact other than Tom. At least, that was what he thought.

The Red tank unit was taken down in Brixton, a short distance from the Tower but was impossible to make the trip to due to barricaded roads, there was no one else there except for Verns’ faction.

He spoke to the rebel leaders. Asked if they’ve been able to contact main base before. Asked if they knew anyone from the inside.

Verns’ second in command, in all her blind trust, told him about a General and his chain of command. Lieutenant Alastair Verns’ commanding officers.

One of them was Major Harvey Awlins of the 2nd Core Infantry Regiment. 

Much like how Tom’s EFA patch branded him to the world as damaged, Major Awlins’ CIR patch marked him a traitor of the same caliber as his own subordinate, Verns bore the same damned patch.

How else could the Red soldiers have known that he wore a gas mask?

Verns’ eyes stared at him through the Major’s, much like how his faction had whenever Tom would meet their eyes.

A shiver of hateful disgust travelled up Tom’s spine.

 

Why can’t the dead stay fucking DEAD?!

 

He’ll have to remedy that.  

“Thomas” Major Awlins began, he stepped back from him, glancing but once out the window as a bomb- not the Red army’s thankfully- detonated. Red soldiers outside scrambled to retaliate, but it was clear they were starting to get overwhelmed despite their efforts “You’ve seen what the Reds can do now, that bomb?” Major Awlins smiled shakily, looking older than he was as he turned his gaze towards Tom. The eyeless soldier shifted his head away, he doesn’t want to see“Just when we thought we were winning, Red just up and advanced even more of his weapons”

The factions outside seemed to be steadily pushing into the base, more and more Red soldiers fell to the sheer amount of enemy soldiers advancing towards them.

“It’s like breaking a bone, every time we manage to clear out some division of their army” Major gave him a pointed look that Tom didn’t see “Or destroy their means to retaliate, Red always ensures that they come back stronger, deadlier, impossible to kill

“And you think handing me over will help?”

Major’s smile was sad, withdrawn “I thought the Generals were cruel for doing that to you my boy. I really did” He cast his eyes to the floor with a sigh “But I watched my men succumb to the sickness of their new weapons, each day it got worse, and the Red army didn’t care, just one bomb after another” Major Awlins drew his pistol, Tom stiffened on the floor as it was pointed at him “I started to understand, Thomas this is not personal. I am so sorry that there can’t be another way, but I’m protecting my men, my country” His eyes seemed to glisten “I want to give England time to heal. You hold our country’s amnesty. Red is dangerous and he will kill us all if he wants to. I just want to give my people a chance to stay alive”

 Tom scowled up at him, shakily rising to his feet “My men are coming”

“I know” 

“How do you plan on capturing me then?”

Major Awlins pressed his lips into a thin line “Thomas, you’re going to leave with me, of your own free will” At this, Tom scoffed, bordering on a guffaw, but the Major didn’t seem to take an offense to his reaction “I’d like to believe that you’ll be willing to sacrifice for the best interest of our country. You’re a soldier after all” 

Tom’s quiet chuckles turned into laughter, loud and echoing in the building they stood in. The Major said nothing, watched as his body shook with the strain of his laughter. Tom ignored the acid burn that scorched his head, his laughter turned a little more hysterical, breaking him through the pain he felt. At this point, Major Awlins shifted uncomfortably, all at once his instincts told him something was about to go wrong.

“I’m no soldier Major” Tom’s voice chuckled, it sounded rough and scratchy. He grinned “I don’t care about this country’s ‘best interest’” Despite the wide smile, the shadow that fell over Tom’s eyes made the Major grit his teeth, in order to stop the thrum of anxiety from coursing through his veins. Tom took a step forward “You will not stop me from getting what I want” 

Major felt his face pale, he blinked once, twice, but somehow the soldier in front of him became unrecognizable. Stranger. Dangerous.

Stay back, Thomas!” Major Awlins gathered every bit of authority in his voice, his grip was still level, gun trained firmly on the eyeless soldier who was slowly slipping from his grasp. The Major floundered, an odd fear striking into his lungs as Tom seemed to fade right in front of his eyes. His heart constricted.

His dear friend, Abe Hilarson, entrusted him with the safety of this boy. He recalled how Abe had sounded so fond of his charge, Harvey had been happy for him, the war had taken its tool on him, and he lost everything. Thomas was an unexpected blessing, but Abe had worried for the boy’s stability, feared that he would lose him to the demons that a war thrust upon impressionable youth. For as long as he was able, Abe protected Tom.

Then he died.

Tom was left alone.

Major Awlins cursed the war, cursed Red, for destroying everything it touched.

For giving him no other choice but to betray his dear friend’s trust.

 

‘I’m sorry Abe’

 

“Thomas, I WILL shoot!” Major Awlins fired a warning shot near Tom’s head, the other hadn’t so much as flinched “You don’t have to make this difficult!”

 

“I don’t plan to, Major” Tom looked to a window.

 

Major Awlins’ eyes widened in realization, he hurriedly stepped back.

 

A Peacemaker bullet shot through his arm.

 

He yelled.

 

Tom ran forward.

 

Harvey felt his hand grip on to his wrist.

 

He stared at the barrel of his own gun.

 

Thomas.

 

“Goodbye, Major” Black voids drilled into his vision, empty, cold, merciless.

 

Was this really Abe’s boy?

 

Harvey’s last thoughts were shattered from his mind as a bullet tore through his skull, and yet, he was fully convinced he had been shot in the chest first.

 


 

Tom looked out from the highest point of Waterloo block. The main base was in shambles, chasms from the Red bombs dotted the grounds, filled with the bodies of enemies and allies alike. The surrounding buildings threatened to crumble, stone walls rumbled as they collapsed into debris and ruin.

Major Awlins' unit had been found in the hospital building of the base, a battalion. They were on the verge of death. There was nothing they could do.

The units that survived that night now wandered aimlessly around the base, wondering if they had even won at all. 

The snow seemed to start settling into piles now, steadily filling the gaps and holes that the fight had caused, as if it were trying to cover their mistakes, their shortcomings.

It was quiet that morning, save for the wind whistling in their ears.

Tom couldn’t hear it much, he’d effectively gone deaf on his left ear.

He didn’t hear Matt come up from behind him, but his steady presence was enough of a tell. 

Tom felt safe around his friend.

Matt didn’t say a word as he turned himself around to face him. Tom walked forward until his head hit his friend’s chest. He wrapped his arms around Matt, all at once shifting his entire weight onto him, he didn’t think he could bear it for much longer. He buried his head into Matt’s shoulder and took in a shuddering breath. 

Matt sighed quietly in his ear, his deaf one, and returned the embrace. One hand rubbing the back of his head. 

The snow fell heavier, turning London into a clean white slate.

 

Chapter Text

Admittedly, it was rather strange to be holding down such a mundane job at the end of the world. Still, they had people to feed and wet markets to stock up, besides money still had a value no matter how many bomb chasms get blown into the world nowadays, they were just lucky none of the money-grubbing bastards fell into them. Come to think of it, they might be funding the war at this point, hm.

That was besides the point, but he couldn’t help but feel a little disturbed. Fishing is a humble business, and an honest job that his family held up for years, knowing for a fact that the money they make, and the game they catch, would be given over to help war efforts made him feel like he had just let a pig farmer wipe his boots on the back of his shirt.

“Darin! Hoist me up will ya boy?!”

Darin looked down from the fishing boat to see his father rowing up to them on his little dinghy, he waved his hand in acknowledgement, and turned to get the attention of one of the new hands they hired before they set off to sea “Hey! Hey Lou!! Help me get the old fart up here!”

The brown-haired man he was trying to call over continued to walk along the boat as if he hadn’t heard him, Darin rolled his eyes and cupped his hands around his mouth “LOU! OI LOU!!” To his credit, Lou seemed to have been snapped out of whatever stupor he was in. He looked around dumbly, shooting looks at the other deck hands before he turned his attention towards Darin. He pointed at himself, Darin huffed and waved for him to come closer “Yes! Get your ass over here Lou!”

There was a moment where Lou hesitated but eventually came over and shot Darin a shy, albeit confused, smile. Lou was a pretty stupid guy, Darin wasn’t trying to be mean, in fact some of Lou’s buddies explained that he was dumb as bricks, couldn’t talk for shit and usually people had to speak real slow for him to understand.

It didn’t bother Darin much, mostly because Lou made up for it with his kindness. Besides, it wasn’t really a secret that Lou and his buddies may not be from Denmark, most of them had awfully strange accents when they spoke Danish. They were probably refugees, but Darin wasn’t a snitch despite his country’s new position in the war. If they came to Denmark for safety, and caused no trouble, it wasn’t Darin’s business where they were from.

“Alright Lou,” Darin snapped his fingers in front of his face to make sure Lou was paying attention “We’re gonna get the geezer up, ‘kay? Just throw these hooks down” He demonstrated by pulling at the hook on his side and throwing it down to his father’s dinghy. Lou paused then copied what Darin did, though a little clumsily as the hook hit the side of the boat with a loud ping.

“Jesus fuck! Are you trying to get that oaf to kill me?!” Darin’s father shouted from below.

Ignoring the outcry, Darin clapped his hands and nodded “Very good, Lou! Now, once dad hooks up his dinghy, we’ll pull him up with this,” He gestured at his crank and pointed at Lou’s own “see? Pull it towards you on three. One, two, three!” Thankfully, Lou seemed to get the gist of it and started to crank in sync with Darin. Once his father was at level with the boat, he jumped off his dinghy and into the deck.

“You know, if this bag o’ nails didn’t come with the new crew, I would’a stranded him at the port” Darin’s father pushed Lou by the face, though he had done so lightly and with a tight lipped smile. As always, Lou didn’t seem to mind and made small huffing sounds as he recovered his balance “God he’s so fucking dumb, if it weren’t for the fact that he’s so damn cheerful, he’d’ve been chum by now”

“Shut yer mouth, old man. Lie down before your Alzheimer’s kicks in” Darin got a light punch to the head for that comment “Besides you fuckin’ with the mentally handicapped, did you see any fish out there?”

“Mmm, spotted a few trouts and wayward mackrels, other than that not a thing”

It was to be expected, after all it was in the middle of winter, no fisherman in their right mind would think they’d make much this time of the month, but with the war going on resources were running thin. As it was the wet markets near the ports only had a handful of sea critters rotting on their stands. Just yesterday, Darin spotted maybe three tiny crabs being sold along with a pathetically withered little squid.

In his opinion, defecting to the Red army gave them no benefits, they weren’t a targeted country anymore, but they were still bleeding from the inside. The war was still taking so much from them, as if they hadn’t switched sides in the first place. That was just his opinion though, fishermen have no business in politics.

“I guess we aren’t meeting the quota again this week” Darin huffed “What a load of shit. Don’t repeat that Lou” He wagged his finger playfully at Lou, who was still standing there swinging his arms distractedly. All he was offered was a small vacant smile, Darin smiled back.

“Kid’s mute son, doubt he’d be able to if he tried” Darin’s father moved him away from the dumb deck hand and towards the front of the boat, leaving Lou to wander away on his own. The two fishermen gazed out into the cold, dark expanse of the winter waters. Sharp, salt-laden, cold winds cut through them, providing a frozen burst of air that had them squinting.

The old man sighed, forming a thick cloud of his breath beneath his nose “This is so fucked up” Darin watched him dig through his pockets until he found a cigarette and lighter. His father offered him one, which he gratefully accepted, and the both of them enjoyed the subtle warmth and calm the nicotine brought as they huffed.

“It’s so hard to believe that a world war’s happening right now” His father continued as they leaned against the bow “You read about that shit in books, y’know? You hear about it, but damn, it’s real different now that it’s happening”

“It’s not like how I expected it” Darin commented quietly, taking the stick in between his fingers and watching the embers glow “I really didn’t think we’d still be fishing, I mean. It’s like, it’s just another day”

“What? You want bombs to rain down on us or something?” Darin’s father laughed and shoved him “Stupid boy, war ain’t cheap. It’s expensive as balls, costs a lot more than people think, and bombs sure as hell don’t grow on trees” He puffed out smoke and waved his cigarette around “We’re the lucky ones though, Denmark ain’t seen much of the bad till after we joined the war” He bit his cigarette and held up five fingers, counting off “Them folks over at Poland, Sweden, Belarus, England, hell especially Norway….well, bombs from the sky were probably more of a mercy than the other things that happened to them”

He nudged his son when Darin started looking a little pale at the thoughts swimming in his head “To give credit to folks though, I’m sure there’s people like us out there right now, living their routine like nothing’s amiss. If there’s one thing a man will fight for, it’s his day-to-day, it’s pretty much all everyone’s fighting for these days”

“We seemed happy enough to give it up”

“I like your smartass mouth, but you better not spout that shit back on land” Darin’s father admonished with a wave of his cigarette “The big wigs made their choice, we’re small folk, we’re alive, and still able to do our jobs” He inhaled a lungful of smoke “I doubt you’d be able to fish the Reds’ weapons out of their hands if you tried, as much as it sounds bad, it’s best if we keep our heads down till all this blows over”

“Whatever you say” Darin relinquished, but thoughts stirred quietly in the back of his head. His eyes snapped up when he spotted a speck in the distance, a black dot in the sea of white and deep blue. He elbowed his father and nodded towards it “Say, did anyone else from the port decide to go out before us?”

The old man squinted at the speck his son pointed towards, he brought his binoculars up to his eyes, he said nothing as he tried to get a glimpse at the other vessel. He huffed as he pulled away with a frown “Well shit, I think we’d best stop talking about the devil”

Darin pressed his lips to a thin line “…a Red ship?”

Wordlessly, Darin’s father passed the binoculars over to him, he peered into them and saw the Red army insignia tagged on the ship, followed by their flag haphazardly whipping through the wind like a captured snake. It seemed like one of the larger vessels that transported a lot of their troops, when the winds get too shaky for their liking.

No doubt others will be following after the ship, and it’s most likely the smaller ones have already gone ahead. Judging from their course, they may have come from the docks of Oslo, which would be where a section of their main Navy should be stationed. Though it seemed a little odd that a combatant ship and its supporting flotilla would be called away from their station.

Darin frowned as he turned to his old man “I wonder what’s got them in a tizzy”

“Who knows” His father responded as he turned to walk back to the bridge to steer them somewhere they can fish “Not our business to” Darin pursed his lips and heard his father offhandedly say: “Stop gawking like a fish Lou, you’ll catch flies” As he was walking away.

Darin hesitated to leave, but he turned his back on the Red ship eventually, knowing that his father was right, it wasn’t their business to know. Still, the uneasiness never left him. He passed by Lou on his way back, the deck hand absently stared out into the distance with a vacant look.

Darin patted his shoulder as he passed, though he couldn’t help but think that Lou’s eyes seemed sharper somehow. The thought was gone once his father called for him to come to the bridge.

Lou stood silently in the middle of the deck, he watched as the Red ship continued its course. He went up to the bow and braced his hands against it, his knuckles turned white as his grip tightened around the edges “This can’t be good” Though his voice was a little shaky from disuse, a distinguishable British accent still laced his words.

He felt a hand land on his shoulder and nearly jumped, but relaxed when he recognized his commander’s voice “I heard that” He whispered through his teeth “You’re supposed to be dumb, which shouldn’t be so hard” His grip on his shoulder tightened “No blowing our cover, got it?”

He nodded in reply, and got a pat on the back for it.

Good lad. Well, Lou, I best leave you to whatever it is you’re doing” His commander gave him one last hard look behind his smile before he went off, he spoke Danish to the crew who actually were real fishermen from Denmark. He frowned to himself, really, it wasn’t his fault he couldn’t learn a new language as quick as the rest of them.

Edd turned his attention back to the Red ship sailing just across from them. It was a miracle they even survived for this long considering their humiliating defeat in Belarus. They were lucky enough to escape capture so far, but the chaos their unit caused was enough to put them on the red. Pun absolutely intended.

His unit had been split up, and their General had yet to contact them, but they agreed to meet up in Denmark, commandeer some local ships if they have to, and make sail towards either Germany or Belgium if the could manage any of that.

What they didn’t expect however, was Denmark turn coating on them.

It just…they were just in so deep in their mission, no contact outside of their unit, of course they should have expected something to change while they were in Belarus, a new command or anything from higher up really. This though, they didn’t think that everything would be this screwed up once they resurfaced. They even tried getting into contact with the main base, nothing, just static.

They’ve been in the dark for so long…just to…..

The Red ship in the distance was starting to fade.

Edd leaned heavily against the bow, not for the first time wondering about his place in this war.

His hand came up to his chest, the phantom weight of his dog tag seemingly suffocating. What did he want exactly? What was his goal now?

Maybe, a long time ago, he could have said Tord. He was doing this for his friend, he wanted his friend back.

Today, where he stood, he wasn’t so sure of that answer. He was starting to forget a lot of things. Things like reasons and excuses, the list of lies he told himself while he was out in the field, things he repeated to himself when he had doubts, when he watched people he became friends with get thrown into the maws of death.

All because of….

His hand came up to his face, he felt the scruffiness of his chin and frowned at the feeling, he hadn’t done much upkeep on himself, unsurprisingly, he didn’t doubt that he didn’t look as stellar as he’d like to be.

It’s difficult to be so positive these days, but he tried.

He really really tried.  

As he watched the ships sail further away, he couldn’t help but wonder if his friends, if Matt and Tom, were somewhere far and safe. It was one of the only thoughts that kept him floating. He hoped they were safe, they had to be, but he couldn’t find out while he was stuck here, with no means of contacting them, to let them know he was still around.

Maybe it was about time they figured something out together, it’s what they’ve always done.

Edd tried not to think of the unknowns, the possibilities that he had yet to discover while marooned on a different country. The way his chest twisted in apprehension made his limbs feel numb, weightless and dangerously untethered. He figured a part of him was still stupidly hopeful, but he couldn’t help but feel resentful that he still was. Not thinking about it made him breathe easier.

It was easier.

“Lou!”

His fingers dragged slowly inwards till they dug into the palm of his hand, leaving hairline scratches on the bow of the rusty old ship.


 

The room was deadly silent, save for the harsh winds that blew outside, steady and unbroken. It didn’t seem like the weather was going to let up, like the world decided to just freeze over in a feeble attempt to be rid of the conflict currently tearing it apart. The windows were basically whitewashed at this point, frost crawled over the glass panes as the snow fell heavily through the city.

Thomas Thompson stood at the head of the meeting table, on the second floor of the Headquarters of Fusillers within the now crumbling ex-military base: The Tower of London. The eyeless soldier was silent, standing, and hidden behind his gas mask. He had one finger tapping a quiet beat on the table as he discerned the people who stared back at him.

Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap.

It was like listening to a clock, a broken one that ticked the hours by too fast, too much for someone to catch up with, like it was warning of something important one was about to miss, because they were wasting so much time just staring, just listening to the seconds rush past them. It caused an odd kind of anxiety to mix with the cold, thick air, making a heavy weight settle in the stomachs of the room’s occupants. One that Thomas Thompson was not affected by.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

None of them could meet his gaze.

Tap. Tap.

His finger kept tapping, daring. The wind outside continued to blow, the glass panes of the windows rattled threateningly, nearly succumbing to that force of nature.

Tap.

“So that’s it then?”

His voice wasn’t raised, wasn’t telling of whatever he truly felt. It was level, clear, and just loud enough for those farther away to hear him over the sound of the howling wind. Though the mask made his voice somewhat funny and muffled, no one could make an excuse to say that they didn’t quite understand what he said.

No one dared utter a word, as if some base instinct told them that it was a bad move, despite the fact that there were more of them against one person, who at the moment did not appear or feel hostile, certainly not with how he relied on the table to carry most of his weight as he struggled to stand straight. Still, they felt that they shouldn’t test it.

Tom kept quiet as he looked over the rebel leaders seated at the table, admittedly, there were less of them this time. It was no secret that that night was a heavy, and unexpected blow. The cause of their current distress sat innocently in the middle of the table, inactive and dark unlike the ones that blew chasms into the base just a few days before, the ones that glowed a sickly blue before they detonated.

Regrettably, a certain Major had his faith shaken, and chose not to warn them of this new weapon.

The result being their forces getting cut in half, sure the soldiers hit by the shockwave survived, but they were left with a multitude of complications that essentially made them incapacitated, possibly for the rest of their natural lives.

Verns’ faction took the heaviest hit, with almost all of the remaining soldiers bedridden in the base’s hospital. Some unable to move, some blind, and others in a coma. There was nothing they could do, with no medical aid, no support from the government, or means of contact with any other outside forces.

Still, they tried everything, tried to keep the faction as comfortable as possible, gave them what little food they had, whatever wayward medical supplies they scavenged, it wasn’t much but during times like these, they were sacrificing almost everything to keep them alive.

Nothing.

No one got better, after all that.

And yet, despite these facts being out in the open, staring everyone dead in the eye, it seemed that no one wanted to accept that inevitably the men will succumb to the bombs’ sickness, it was the problem he faced now, the problem that could be so easily solved if not for the very people before him.

Tom took in one final breath before he spoke again, this time, with icy finality.

“I’m closing the hospital doors, for good”

For a moment, the wind outside seemed to stop.

The room slowly began to erupt with outraged cries from all the rebel leaders. Each shouting out colorful exclamations at the man who could barely stand on his own, yet held more power than most all of them in the room without their knowledge.

“That isn’t fair!” One of the younger leaders stood up from his chair to be at level with Tom, there was no way he was going to take this sitting down “Those men in there are fighting for their lives! They fought for our cause, they fought for your cause! Why would even think of abandoning them?!”

“You know damn well that our supplies can’t take the strain of you lot wasting it on dead men,” Tom crossed his arms as he faced him “And you have the gall to ask me why?”

Be reasonable!” The leader pressed, as he slammed both his hands on the table, shaking it just a tad, but not enough to faze the eyeless soldier at its head “We’re in no state to take on the Red army like this! With most of our men dying we can’t possibly go through with any of your plans!” His voice shook as a sneer crossed his expression, eyebrows furrowed together as he glared at the EFA soldier “We can save them!”

“How are you sure?” Tom scoffed, he squinted behind his mask “I don’t know what bullshit fantasy you live in, but as far as we know, there’s no fucking cure for ‘bomb sickness’”

SO WE JUST LET THEM DIE?!”  The leader raised his voice to talk over Tom, his teeth gnashed together as his temper flared “You assured us! You told us to trust you! That you knew enough to make sure we suffer the least amount of casualties possible. We trusted you! Do you know what that even means??” His hand had hit the table with each sentence uttered, the banging grew louder the more he went on, up until his fist began to hurt, yet the soldier didn’t care.

“Now, my men are dying,they are dying and I’m aware that they are, yet I can’t do anything for them!” He gestured out the window, to the direction of the once hospital “Those men trusted me as their leader, they trusted my decision to place my trust in you!And look where that got them!” He leaned over the table, pointing a finger at Tom as he jabbed at the air “Have some bloody fucking decency!! You already dragged us through this shit!! How blind do you have to be to not see that we aren’t enough to face another attack?! Not with those new goddamned bombs! If we could just-! 

“And what use are defective soldiers in this war?!” Tom snapped, jabbing a finger in the direction of the leader “You would starve and neglect able soldiers to try and save the ones with one foot in the bloody grave?!” He slammed a fist on the table “We are closing those doors! AND THAT’S FINAL-!”

Tom felt a familiar scorching burn spread through his body, he coughed, violently, and tasted metal on his lips. His breaths became ragged, short and dragging, as he tried to reign in his emotions, he couldn’t afford outbursts anymore, not in this state.

He noticed that the room had gotten quiet, he looked up to see the rebel leaders staring at him, he growled under his breath and stiffly swept his hand towards the door “Out

The rebel leaders didn’t move.

“GET OUT!!!”

This time, the commanding officers of the rebel factions made their leave, but a hidden contempt boiled behind the eyes of a few, not that Tom cared for what they thought of him.

Once the doors behind him shut closed, Tom removed his mask, somewhat irately as his fingers scrabbled for a hold, he felt a clasp snap weirdly but could only focus on taking it off. Inhaling deep, he struggled to catch his breath. He leaned heavily against the table, pushing his whole weight forward as he wheezed, a hand came up to his chest, rubbing at an area that felt sore and heavy, as if a stone had lodged itself into his airway, keeping him from breathing well.

It’s already been a week, and yet the effects of the bombs lingered on his battered body.

Tom steadied himself of the table, gulping in air like a man drowned. He felt lightheaded, weak. He struggled to stand upright, dragging fingers along the table as he tried to keep his balance. He sighed to himself as he covered his face with a hand.

Once the world seemed to right itself, Tom opened his eyes and turned to a nearby window. He kept himself out of sight, but he was able to see a bit of the outside. There were a few soldiers milling about the grounds, most weren’t his unit members. He saw a group of them converge near the headquarters, they shot glances at the floor he was in.

He clicked his tongue in disapproval as the soldiers’ conversation seemed to turn heated.

There’s been some tension between his unit and the rebels for some time now, true to his original plan, Tom’s unit suffered the least amount of injuries and casualties. Although they weren’t exempt from the damage done by the new bombs, take him for example, there’s no avoiding the resentment felt by the rebels for giving his unit the best chance of surviving the raid.

After all, they were a means, a few stepping stones on his path to a bigger threat. What else could they have possibly expected?

Tom shook his head as he walked away from the windows, he sat down on the nearest chair and felt his whole body ache. He rubbed at his temples and spared the doors of the meeting room a glance. He considered it for a few seconds before he stood up, albeit shakily, and locked them just to be sure.

His gas mask sat quietly on the table, flecks of blood dotted its insides.


 

“Could you believe that arsehole?!”

Matt looked up from his position against a wall, he watched as the rebel leaders exited headquarters together with Tom absent from their ranks, they shushed the one who had cried out in a fury. He tilted his head as some of them seemed to nod towards his direction, shooting him and his section with a weary look before they turned to another direction, decidedly away from them.

“Get a load of those clowns” Matt turned his attention towards the section he was assigned to, the same back up one from the night of their raid. Baxton leaned against him, his arm propped up on Matt’s shoulder, the man spat at the ground towards the rebel leaders with a scowl “Shitheads think they run everything, no wonder they haven’t done squat till we came along”

“That’s a little mean to say” Matt frowned at his fellow soldier.

“Should he say that? No. Is it true? Afraid so” Another soldier sidled up beside Matt, from what he knew he was the section leader, only really known to him as ‘Corporal’. The man sighed as he adjusted the strap of the Peacemaker he had on his shoulder, he watched as the rebel leaders scurried off to their respective factions “And you know that I hate to agree with whatever Baxton says”

“Ye, wanna go then? Uh? Ya prick” Baxton goaded as he pushed himself off of Matt, causing the other brit to pinwheel a bit when he lost his balance. Matt turned a disapproving look at the soldier but was pulled into a one armed hold “Prince here gets me though, don’t ya Prince? Just can’t stand any of those uptight gobshites”

“Oh leave him be, Baxton” Corporal crossed his arms, giving Baxton a pointed look “Stop trying to bully Prince into being your yes man, let the poor lad speak for himself for once”

“Ah well” Matt said as he stepped out of Baxton’s hold “I’m not a yes man by any means but, well, Baxton does have, uh, a point, Corporal” He looked up as another section passed them by, the soldiers hadn’t so much as acknowledged their existence as they passed, although he didn’t miss the almost too wide berth they gave them “The factions don’t seem too inclined to be friendly towards us”

“Could you blame them?” Corporal said “Out of all those who participated in the raid, our unit had been the only one to avoid any fatalities” He nodded his head towards the direction of the base hospital “Lots of their men are in critical condition, and so far none of them are getting better”

“Yeah, and Thompson’s been trying to shut the doors on that morgue for days now, but the pricks keep vetoing him” Matt snapped his head towards Baxton, eyes wide as his eyebrows shot up. Baxton shrugged at him “What’s with the look? It’s an obvious choice, we’ve been rationing food and yet it’s never enough, but the guys up in the hospital take almost 60 percent of everything, and for what? Most of them die off a day or two later”

Baxton” Corporal hissed through gritted teeth “Do not speak of those men so casually, soldier”

“The hell are you doing trying to get up on yer moral high horse??” Baxton scoffed at Corporal as he shook his head incredulously “We all agree with Thompson’s decision, it fucking sucks of course, but it is what it is”

“I..To-Thompson wouldn’t really- he wouldn’t do that, right?” Matt looked between the two soldiers then behind them at the rest of their section who had been quietly listening in, no one met his gaze.

Corporal sighed, placing a hand on Matt’s back “Prince, look, this situation is…” His expression scrunched up, searching for the right words “..it’s really difficult, and it’s one of those times where hard decisions have to be made”

He turned his head to look at his section “Our unit may be the least damaged, but since we’re well and deep into the winter now, there’s no knowing how far we can go on with such limited supplies, same goes for the surviving rebels. A lot of us were still hit, and without the means to help us heal right…well….” He gave Matt a small pat to the back, smiling sadly as he stepped back “I don’t envy Thompson, that’s for sure. I wouldn’t know if I’d have the guts to ask an officer to let his men die”

Matt floundered for words to say, somehow even finding the action of opening his mouth difficult. The words sat at the back of his throat: ‘Tom wouldn’t let them die’ and yet he couldn’t even find it in him to defend his friend that way.

 

Did he even know what Tom would and wouldn’t do anymore?

 

“Chin up, Prince” Baxton gave him a small nudge to the side of his head as he turned to walk back to the building their unit set up base in. The soldier hoisted his Peacemaker up and shot Matt a small smirk “We just have to tough it out, it’s what we’ve always done yeah?” He clapped him on the shoulder as he went off.

“Things won’t be easy from here on out, just keep that in mind, okay?” Corporal said, he nodded his head towards their base “Now come on, you’ll catch your death out here” He emphasized his words by rubbing at his arms, his breaths puffed up into a cloud as he exhaled. He gestured for Matt to follow after him, waiting patiently as the snow fluttered around them.

Matt gave him a short nod, he turned to walk towards their base as soon as Corporal did, but for a small moment, his steps faltered as his head made a minimal turn towards the direction of the base’s headquarters. Matt stopped himself from moving any further than that, he squared his shoulders and followed his fellow soldier’s lead.

He needs to put some faith in Tom.

He could trust his decisions.

That’s what friends do, right?

 


 

It was still snowing come the afternoon, there was very little they could do about the chill it brought. They had nothing but the clothes on their backs to help retain what little heat they had, some soldiers had even taken to huddling together for warmth. Even in the poor state they were in, they were already considered the lucky ones, at least they didn’t have to be on patrol outside in the freezing cold.

Due to the circumstances, a scouting team had been sent out to scavenge anything to help the soldiers stave off the cold. They couldn’t hope to find much of anything, but desperation allowed them to push forward. There had to be something left out there, London was a big city after all.

It was a little while later when the scouts returned with what they found, those being a few scruffy looking jackets and dirty sheets. It wasn’t ideal, but they couldn’t be picky about what they receive, with so little supplies to go around this alone was considered a blessing.

The faction leaders had called out men to come and take their share of the find, while it isn’t close to being enough, it was something. The idea of sharing hadn’t been lost, surely.

Each faction was allowed two sheets and up to ten jackets in all, a rather hard to manage division as currently their makeshift military housed a battalion’s worth of men, and each faction housed at least half of a company.

They weren’t going to last this winter.

Tom had watched this sad distribution go on, and only found that it irritated him to no end. He stood a few ways away from the faction leaders, not that they wanted to be any closer to him either, to monitor the supplies being given to the representatives without wanting to snap at the people right next to him.

 

Idiots.

 

He seethed quietly as the rebel leaders continued their somber little play, knowing full well that there would be enough sheets and jackets to go around if they made use of the ones in the hospital. Instead, they just stood there, played poor sick victim, and consciously sentence their men- no Matt- to suffer through this cold winter.

Tom’s recalled a time from long ago, when Red planes ruled the skies, and three friends had huddled together during a cold winter’s night, in a room with a broken window that whistled in the freezing air, while one of them fell ill with no means of recovering.

His stomach turned at the thought, of it happening again, when he had those means.

He can’t let Matt go through that again.  

Tom steeled himself as he approached the rebel leaders, they didn’t think to look at him until he uttered: “We need to close down the hospital”

The officer closest to him paused, he turned an incredulous look towards him and scoffed “This again? You know that we would never allow that right?”

“I am trying to keep my men, and by extension yours, from dying of the cold!”

At this point, everyone had turned to see the cause of the commotion, soldiers furrowed their brows as they listened in on the conversation, wondering about why their most secretive occupant had suddenly decided to wave his presence like a flag.

“We are not having this conversation right now, Mask” Another officer said, gesturing out at the boxes of supplies that were yet to be distributed “We’re already doing everything we can to help the men survive”

Tom guffawed at that, shaking his head as he held it in his hand “Oh that’s rich! Everything you say??” The brit crossed his arms “That’s a load of bullshit. Let me spell out what ‘everything’ is: close the fucking hospital”

“Are you mental?! What fucking good does closing the hospital do?! You’re pulling at straws!!”

“It has supplies!” Tom pressed, his teeth gritted as the strain of his frustration began to wear on his body, he could feel that he was close to another fit but chose to ignore it “You’re all daft if you think those pathetic excuses of fabric will do anything for us! Look at your men!” Tom gestured at the soldiers, all sunken cheeked and pale “You would rather choose the dead over the living? And you call me mental??”

“Those men are alive!” An officer shouted “I am not abandoning my men!! Sentencing them to death won’t change anything!”

“Oh go fuck yourself! When they die, we get more supplies” Tom said, rather offhanded in his tone as he leaned toward the opposing officer “Is that change enough for you?”

You goddamned piece of FUCKING SHIT!”

The rebel leader pulled a pistol on Tom, the representatives from his unit yelled in alarm as they drew their Peacemakers on the faction officer, in return the officer’s group did the same and aimed their own weapons at Tom’s unit.

“HEY HEY STOP!” A rebel leader raised his hands towards the two opposing sides, he gave Tom and the officer opposing him pointed looks “Stop! Both of you cool your fucking heads and STAND DOWN!

The two sides made no move to lower their weapons, the officer snarled as he adjusted the grip on his pistol This piece of shit has been pushing us for far too long, are any of you even hearing what he’s saying?! He wants us to close down the hospital! What mental piece of work would ever ask permission to kill someone?!”

“From what I remember, soldiers do that” Tom hummed “Or wait, I don’t think they do anymore, do they?”

“You open your fucking mouth again-“

ENOUGH!” The rebel leader between them bellowed, effectively silencing the growing chatter from their subordinates as well. He glared at them both “We’re all tired! We’re all sick! And if you two haven’t heard, this isn’t the time for infighting! With an army from the future at our doors, don’t you think we have bigger problems?!”

He turned to the officer, scowl still in place “You, kid I don’t fucking know or care about what unit you came from, but your shitty behavior is atrocious and a disgrace to our army, control your anger soldier, and tell your men to stand down

The faction officer growled low, keeping his gaze on Tom. Eventually he relented and lowered his arm, his soldiers followed after his lead.

The rebel leader turned to Tom this time with a pointed finger “And you, I know how much of a mental case EFA are but we won’t stand for that bullshit! You don’t have the right to demand things of us just for assisting us before! Especially not shit like killing our men!

“Oh? So when those Red soldiers almost killed you without my help, that was just assisting to you?” Tom scoffed “I didn’t have to save any of you, I just so happened to hate the Reds more than I do for pseudo leaders like you, I’ve always had a problem with authority like that”

The rebel soldier walked closer, almost towering over Tom as he stared him down, the eyeless soldier met his gaze unflinchingly “You do not have the right to demand things of us, you have lost the faith we had in you the moment you chose to use our men as shields for your own” He jabbed a finger on Tom’s chest “And really, how would we ever trust a man who hides himself behind a mask? From my experience, only the guilty have something to hide” He leaned into Tom’s personal space, intrusive and scrutinizing “What do you have to hide, Mask?”

Tom stood silent, after a moment he turned away from the rebel soldier “We’re done here, I have nothing more to say to you lot” He pulled his jacket tighter around him as he signaled his men to follow after him “It’s like talking to a goddamned brick wall”

The other faction leaders watched him leave, some felt that the cold air had gotten thicker somehow after his departure. Soldiers looked to each other, worried, not for the first time wondering if they hadn’t yet seen the last of the barrel of a peacemaker rifle, in the hands of those supposed allies no less.

“…keep watch over EFA’s unit” The rebel leader said to his fellows as he rejoined them “I’m not sure we can trust Mask not to do anything rash”

“Do you have to tell us?” The young faction officer shook his head “I haven’t trusted him even when Verns was still kicking. If he was still around, he’d be screaming at Mask for even looking at his direction or at us for ever collaborating with him”

“I admit that it was necessary for us to join forces with him, seeing as he had access to Red army weapons” Another leader said “But I can start to understand why Verns never wanted him around”

“Alistair did have quite the mouth on him, the old bastard never knew when to shut up”

The rebel leaders chuckled softly at their reminiscing. Even now they could admit, Lieutenant Alistair Verns had always been the best of them, it was actually his lead they followed since their denouncement of the British army. Verns had been one of the vocal ones, openly criticizing the higher ups’ decisions.

From their unfair disregard of one of their soldiers- Thompson was it?- to the suicide mission they sent too many to die in, Verns had been there with his commander, kicking and screaming about the unjustness of it all, of how low they had gone that they almost reminded him of Red himself.

Verns was a good man, and a great soldier. He never deserved to die like he did, at the hands of the Red soldiers who saw him as nothing more than a hindrance to their plans.

Maybe once, they thought they could avenge him, take down as many Red soldiers as they can, ensure that Verns’ death meant something to them. Perhaps it was guilt, how they felt that it was their fault they lost him, if they hadn’t spent so much time fighting amongst themselves, refusing to cooperate with each other, then maybe Verns would still be alive.

Even if Mask hadn’t reached out to them, asking them to cooperate, the news of Verns’ death would have been enough for them to find reason to seek each other out again.

And now, they were losing Verns’ men as well, dying as sick as they were, killed the same way their commander had been: At the hands of Red soldiers.

They couldn’t even do right by him, by saving his men, they couldn’t even manage that.

So…how would they manage to defeat the Red army? If they couldn’t even save a good man’s people?

The rebel leaders grew quiet, each turned away from each other, they ignored the chasm behind them though, unwilling to look at the damage that was done, by a weapon they knew nothing about.

A weapon from an army that only grew stronger each day.

What else could they do, what would they ever hope to do?

All they could do now was grieve, and wait in the tomb they made for themselves.

Taking back the base meant nothing at this point, it wasn’t a victory, they realized that now. They trapped themselves here, and no doubt that the Red army was coming for them, for the sins they committed against them.

What else could they do but grieve?


 

During the next few days, there had been a significant divide between them and the rebel factions. Their unit was constantly avoided, so much so that they had to resort to acting independently from the factions' activities. They even had to form their own scouting team, seeing as they weren't sure where they stood with the rebels anymore. As much as Matt tried his best to befriend a few soldiers who wandered close to his unit’s base, most of them would just shoot him an indiscernible look before they made a quick departure from their area.

Matt even tried to become as harmless as possible, which wouldn’t be so much of a feat as he was one of the rare few in his unit who didn’t own a Peacemaker. The only weapon he was really allowed to have was a beat up pistol that belonged to, erm, some dearly departed soldiers. He rarely used it as it is, and still, his attempts to make amends were ignored.

He tried not to take too much offense to it, he was quite proud of his charms after all, but he supposed after that mess that happened during the supply distribution….

While he felt sick at the thought of leaving those men to die, he couldn’t quite ignore how bad their situation was becoming due to the shortage of supplies. Just yesterday he had to split an army biscuit with Baxton, and it actually tasted good. It was a travesty that it ever even came to that point, that he didn’t even care how dry the biscuits were, was a miracle.

Even Tom, who had been the one to distribute the biscuits from his own stash after they received such small amounts of rations, had looked genuinely perplexed as he bit into a biscuit without feeling the need to spit it out.

Matt had his reservations about Tom’s decision to close the hospital, but he was beginning to see why it was a need.

So…why didn’t the rebels?

Why did they look at them as though they were the scum of the earth? They were just as desperate to survive as them right? It was morbid and some may say inhumane decision, but they couldn’t keep living like this.

Tom had been persisting a lot more lately, but he was always brushed off. When Matt saw him, he would always be in a dark mood, always tense and agitated that even he couldn’t approach him if he wanted. Lately it’s gotten worse, Tom was always yelling and goading the leaders on, then pay the price for it later through his fits. Sometimes it wasn’t even about the hospital, sometimes Tom would just try to convince them to participate in his planning. The Red army would come upon them soon, they had to prepare.

The rebels brushed him off, again and again.

As though they decided that enough was enough. This was where it ended. They made no move to construct a plan for the inevitability of the Red soldiers coming to their shore once again.

Tom hadn’t taken to their decision too well, and he had to be held back once when he threatened a rebel leader with a Peacemaker.

Since then, he holed himself up in his quarters, and Matt rarely ever saw him outside anymore. He worried himself sick over his friend, but Tom didn’t open his door for anyone, not even him.

These days, Matt couldn’t stand to be in the base, even the building his unit was in began to feel suffocating. Everything felt like it was all tangled up and knotted, he couldn’t stand the stares, he couldn’t stand the silence, he couldn’t stand the whispering, the secrets, the cold, and the scent of death that plagued the base.

He just couldn’t stand any of it anymore.

Without so much as a word to Tom- because why would he care to listen to him anymore? –Matt began to join the scouting efforts, just so he could be freed from the unbearable weight that hung over the base.

The streets of London, no matter how marred and broken, was a familiar sight. Before he ever met Tom again, Matt spent a lot of his waking days scavenging for food and supplies, like all the other Londoners who couldn’t freely escape the city. He could recall some odd days when he fell into old bomb chasms, with one even containing a box of crisps, as well as meeting some kinder scavengers who didn’t mind sparing a drink or two.

While his situation wasn’t ideal, things felt a bit easier back then.

Matt felt his heart twist in guilt, he didn’t regret finding Tom again- of course not!- and he shouldn’t be thinking like this. So what if it was easier for him? He had to be there for his friend now more than ever, Tom had no one to turn to, no one he trusted more than him, he even said so himself!

He’s…he’s still his friend, his good old friend Tom! And he said he needed him, and yes he knew that him going out like this isn’t what Tom wanted for him, but he just…he could help with the scavenging, so Tom didn’t have to worry about their supplies so often.

Matt sighed as he held his arm, that sounded too much like an excuse.

‘I couldn’t stand to be there’

 That was the truth.

Matt pushed it down, he shouldn’t think like that, he should want to be there, for Tom.

‘I can’t stand it, I’m-‘

No.

No, he isn’t.

“Prince!”

Matt blinked rapidly as he looked up from his musings. Baxton waved him over while their other unit members scoured the other nearby buildings. Matt approached him, lightly jogging as he tried to take a peek at what he found, he stopped at arm’s reach as Baxton excitedly gestured at a pile of what looked like…

“Maltesers!” Baxton said with a grin “Ah god! It’s been sooo long since I’ve seen sweets, and frankly I used to fuckin despise maltesers, but anything is better than the slop we’ve been chewing on for days now”

Matt laughed “Huh, where did you find these?”

“Oh shit you won’t fuckin believe this” Baxton beckoned him over with a finger, not before he stooped down and snatched up a crumpled box of maltesers, the two of them walked over to an abandoned British tank “See I was originally looking for ammo, I thought that maybe there’s a chance some wanker died in here with his gun, but fuckin jesus I hit the jackpot instead!” He kicked at the tank, Matt was decidedly confused “Bastard was a sweet hoarder, don’t know where he fuckin hid these, didn’t he ever learn that sharing is caring? Would’ve been nice to have when we were still in the army”

As Baxton stared up at the tank, taking his time nibbling through a single malteser, Matt observed the man who had somehow decided to attach himself to him. He leaned against the tank and considered his question “Hey…what was it like? On the outside I mean” Baxton side eyed him, more curious than anything, Matt decided to clarify “Uh, well you know that I was transferred to home base well before I was sent far away. I was…always wondering about my old unit…and Thompson..”

Baxton sucked at the chocolate stuck to his fingers, he hummed and pocketed the box of maltesers “Hm, that’s a bit of a loaded question there Prince”

“Oh! I don’t mean to pry! You don’t have to-“

“I’m just fuckin with ya!” Baxton laughed “I don’t mind telling if it’s you, Prince. You’re wayyy too mushy to be a dick about whatever I say. That’s the refreshing bit I like about you” Baxton turned his back to the tank, he followed Matt’s lead and leaned against it as he crossed his arms “Let’s see, well, it was your usual tour affair I suppose. We got sent off to the rest of Europe to assist, mostly. We had shitty food and shitty living spaces, but they were a hundred times better than what we have now”

He paused, looking at Matt as though he was debating with himself, then he shrugged and went on “We were one of the special ops, CO9A43, real hush hush and all that. The one thing the army did right by us was give us some fancy tech and allow us to travel freely between bases, because we were just important enough to have some priority. We ran covert missions so we weren’t often out in the open” Baxton shrugged the shoulder with the Peacemaker strapped to it, he grinned “Hard to believe these days huh?”

At Matt’s shrug, Baxton shook his head, still smiling “And uh,” He coughed, somewhat stalling as he took a moment to clear his throat. Baxton blinked a few times before he continued “You know about the Colonel by now, he was our commander. He shrieked like a banshee, but he was a damn good soldier, and an even better leader” He blew out air as his words came out wet, his eyes began to sting, so much so that Baxton pressed his palms against them “Ahem, jesus, I didn’t think I’d ever talk about this sober”

“You..really don’t have to” Matt said, he reached out a hand but pulled back when Baxton shook his head.

“No no, I’m fine. It was just…it was so fucked up, it was- when we lost him I thought I just up and skipped dying and went straight to hell”

“Ah, that’s kinda possible…”

“Huh?”

“Um, nevermind” Matt cleared his throat, awkwardly “Please continue?”

Baxton side eyed him, he tilted his head at an angle that allowed Matt to see a scar on his chin “You’re a bit of a weird one, ain’t ya Prince? Though I guess that’s a packaged deal with EFAs” He looked down, somewhat restrained “Thompson was a lot weirder though, and a lot more fucked in the head. I think the first time I ever heard ‘bout him wasn’t when he was recruited, no, it was when he nearly made fried chicken from a commanding officer that, get this, just pissed him off”

Matt gaped, he blinked rapidly “He did what?”

“Ah, he didn’t tell you?” Baxton bit his lower lip “Well, I don’t blame him for not wanting to, the whole thing kinda screwed with Thompson for a bit as well, he even went to see a shrink or something. Though, I really shouldn’t be telling you any of this Prince, not if Thompson hadn’t. It’s really not my place to air another man’s dirty laundry, not especially my leader” Baxton nudged him with his boot “I like you Prince, I do, but I know where my loyalties lie”

Matt wanted to press for more details, but Baxton yawned and pushed himself off the tank before he could say anything else “Anyway, it should be about time we went back to the base, I doubt we’ll find anything good at this point, plus I’d hate to be out here when it gets dark” He smiled and patted at his pocket as he backed off from the tank “Old boxes of maltesers from a dead guy isn’t much a bad find though right?” He smiled and walked back to the meeting spot, where a few of their fellow soldiers stood waiting with their own finds.

Matt pursed his lips, he thought about maybe attempting to speak with Tom later. His mind recalled the last few days, of the times he saw Tom and witness him grow agitated and almost…dangerous.

His heart thundered in his chest.

He shouldn’t pry.

It was a long walk back to base.


“Oh my god, I was such a fuckin idiot!” Baxton laughed with his fellow unit mates as they stepped over the debris “Do any of you remember how badly I screwed up my grappling wire? Christ! Didn’t think I’d get that gunk out at all!” The unit members around him laughed good-naturedly, with the exception of Matt who only smiled out of courtesy a