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Not Always a Bullet

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*

"No more rivers, Michael," Damien says from the cot two feet away from Michael's own. His voice is weary and it echoes in the blue-grey darkness. The defunct storefront they're cribbed in is too empty—encased in too much cement.

"I hear you," Michael answers, feeling very much the same.

"No rivers. No jungles. No bugs. Not for another month at least."

"Yeah. Yeah okay, deal."

"Too much vegetation. Poor mobility."

"Yeah. Agreed." Craning his head back to work out a kink in neck, Michael stares at the fissures in the tin roof. They're hardly visible, but the moon is shining, casting light through the cracks.

"I can't believe after all that, that Balewa bailed."

"Hmn." Michael can't help but agree with that one too. They'd both sworn a blue streak when they'd hit the road to find it empty. In truth, the only real win in their miserable day had been making it back to the exfil point before running out of ammo. Still. "We're meant to be sleeping, mate," he reminds. 

Damien goes quiet. In the shadows of the livid atmosphere, Michael hears him shift and fidget.

"And for the record, I hate alligators." 

"They were crocodiles, mate." And hadn't that been a close one. 

"No crocodiles in Colombia, Mikey."

"We're not in Colombia, Scott."

"Well we ain't in Baja. Not like we should be. Fuckin' Dalton."

Turning his head to the side, Michael squints. "What?"

Damien shifts again, causing the cot to creak. "The plan was always to come back to 20, wasn't it, Mike?"

Michael blinks into the darkness. "I'm not following you here, mate. You okay?" There's enough light that he can see Damien's profile. Enough light that he can see the twitch of his chin as he prepares to say something more. Before he closes his mouth. Then opens it again.

"Yeah. Yeah, I'm okay. Sorry. We're… it's not Baja. I know. Not… Kosovo. That was… that was… Where are we, Mikey?"

Michael rolls off his cot, staring down at Damien in the bluish light. After a beat, he presses his palm to Scott's forehead and holds it there.

"…the fuck are you doing?"

"Shit." Standing up, Michael crosses to the long desk near the wall, switching on the sputtering lamp.

"… the fuck did I do?"

"You have a fever." Michael grabs the lantern torch for good measure, carrying it back over to hang on a hook above Damien's head, casting them both in yellow light. Scott's eyes are glassy.

"Mike?"

"Hold still." Hunkering down, Michael takes a breath and proceeds methodically, checking wrists and ankles first. There are some vague spots, possibly bites from mosquitoes, but not anything he'd call a rash - yet. Moving back up, he starts with Damien's head, running his thumbs behind his ears and then up into his hairline.

Nothing.

"What are you doing?"

He sweeps downward next, rucking up Damien's shirt while scanning over his chest and sides. "Come on, sit up," he orders.

"What the fuck, Mikey?" Damien protests, but he follows, staying loosely compliant through the manhandling.

"That's good. Now lean forward."

Damien does, dropping his forehead onto the outside edge of Michael's shoulder without seemingly meaning to. He groans. "Head feels fucking heavy, dude."

"Yeah, just stay up for a minute."

Down by Damien's waist, right over his spine, Michael finds what he's looking for. "Shit," he repeats. "I'm going to lay you down again, but I want you to roll over, stay on your side, okay?"

"Michael?"

"You have a tick."

"A what? Fuck me." Clumsily, he complies, but tries to reach his hand back the moment his head is down. "Tick Fever? You think I have Tick Fever? Are you fucking serious?"

Michael grabs his wrist, noting the skin quality. Hot and dry. Gently, he redirects it to rest back down on the cot. "I've got it, mate. Take it easy."

Damien exhales, rolling his face into his makeshift pillow. "Just pull the fuckin' thing out. No big deal, Mikey."

Yes it is, Michael thinks. He clamps down his jaw before he actually says it. "Stay put," he orders instead. "Richmond left the med supply in the bunker with the tools. I'll be right back."

"Yeah. Yeah, staying put."

*

tbc