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My Dearest Mark

Chapter Text

Mark R. Chandar stretched his left hand from his sickbed and held James Porter firmly. Like the force he would apply during an arm wrestling. Posture too.

 

Nah then*1, James!”

 

It was like the situation when he just woke up and went out of his room for the shower and shave while saying “good mornin’!” to James, who also just went out from the adjacent room.

 

But it was one of the things Mark was least likely to do. James certainly understood that, so did Mark’s geek buddies – whatever the young man did and said was the same as his coding style -- plain, concise and straightforward. He always greeted his English teammate with either “James” or “Smoke”, any interjection was considered “unnecessary” and excluded from his dialogues. Greeting someone with sleepy eyes, expression of emotion and even dialect might be something common for most of the other operators. But for Mark? It sounded just odd.

 

“What’s on your head?” James had a hilarious impulse to touch the genius’ forehead to see if his brain was melted by fever, but a sudden and -- relatively rational – thought stopped his playful mood. The guy just struggled to escape the grasp of Death and come back to alive, so a high fever was indeed probable. Now James felt bloody sad at the fact.

 

And Mark suddenly began his self-review. “I’m injured… Should have a few broken ribs if my feeling isn’t wrong… Was too close to the explosion. And I feel pain in my right leg, too… There was a bullet going through –" It was predictable. He didn’t know his teammates already resolved what happened to him by the traces on site.

 

“Don’t speak so many words so quickly! Aren’t you ‘Mute’? How did you become a chatterbox? Wait here. I’m bringing your ‘Moni’ here to block your crappy mouth!” All lies. God knew how damn eager he was to hear Mark speak again. But he just couldn’t bear to listen to the miserable statement anymore. The young Yorkshireman had already suffered too much.

 

James even pretended to be ready to leave, but Mark didn’t let him. The young man’s force refusing to let James go also made his hand somewhat painful.

 

James took a deep breath. The smell of disinfectants and diseases made him nervous and feel like the one he cared could pass away anytime. He wanted to take Mark out of here if it was possible. He turned back and looked at the mummified Yorkshire boy laying on the bed. No. The warrior who returned alive from fighting alone against dozens of enemies.

 

He was the youngest and most inexperienced one in the team, but the tall, strong and talented man was dependable enough. It wasn’t suitable to treat him like a kid anymore, and James should restrain the mother hen attitude. James thought, the egg didn’t hatch a chick but an ambitious eagle.

 

He held Mark back, on the left hand which was the only uninjured part over his body. His right hand had hurt due to the communicator he crushed before falling into a coma. The fragment of hard plastic ripped his gloves and got stuck into his palm, but it was still a minor injury.

 

He was not joking -- James wanted to go around every church, temple and shrine to thank anyone who let his Mark come back alive. His Mark. He never held his unashamed thought back, just like whatever that would come out his mouth.

 

“The wounds are certainly going to leave scars.” His fingers hooked Mark’s hand slightly.

 

He didn’t mean the small wounds on his hand, but the many bigger wounds ripped over his body, caused by the explosion and bullets.

 

James had seen Mark’s enviably beautiful naked upper body, which featured smooth and flawless light brown skin, on the side of the swimming pool in the base. Now, it would have ugly battle-worn marks – he thought it was such a pity.

 

“I don’t mind.” Mark rolled his eyes, “and don’t you guys always say… each scar is a medal of a real man?”

Did Mark just tell a joke? James’ heart was jumping up and down with this word. My God, had the sun risen from the west today?

 

However, when James looked at Mark again and found out he seemed not likely to be proud of the “medal of men”, his excitement vanished in a second. Mark’s indifferent expression didn’t look sarcastic either. It just made the supposed joke he said sound like a neutral remark, such as “I come from York”.

 

“Sounds like you’re going to receive ‘the Medal of Dullness.’” Smoke cocked an eyebrow.

The confusion crept into Mark’s face as if thinking if the “Medal of Dullness” truly existed, before his eyes moved up and brightened again. He gazed at the small glass window on the door, which displayed vague silhouettes. Yes, his other teammates had come. Gustave – Doc was the first one Mark recognised from the crowd. He faintly recalled the moment after his teammates found him and took him out of the site. He wondered if there was the final moment of his life. The blood blurred his vision, and his consciousness floated in the air. What he only felt was a group of men led by Doc pushing him along with a bed with wheels in a hurry. So, the destination was the surgery room, not a mortuary or a hall for his funeral. Lucky him.

 

James also noticed the bustling outside. Apparently, everyone in Rainbow had put down their tasks to get here after they heard Mute had regained his consciousness. Perhaps they just didn’t enter because of James. Everyone in the base had already known how mad Smoke became after hearing Mute got an injury, after all.

 

What was in their minds during these days? And how about mine?

 

James felt sorry. However, he still insisted on the monopoly on such a refreshing moment. He adjusted his posture to ensure he had his back facing the door, so that no one could observe Mark’s and his mouths.

 

“By the way, Mark, do you have a boyfriend?”

 

Mark’s jaw, one of the few parts barely wounded on his body, almost got dropped by the unpredicted question.

 

James then later realised the question was not good for Mark’s… Recovery, if he should choose a reasonable word. He switched to a “gentler” saying. “How about a girlfriend? You should have one or two girls in your mind, right?” And it appeared to become a worse question.

 

Mark blinked with confusion. A rare expression from the young man known for his intelligence.

He just couldn’t grasp what James meant. Were they really in the infirmary? Not shooting the scene of a soap drama? He wanted to react, but his every brain cell felt lacking energy under the medicine, so he was unable to think smoothly like usual.

 

James still waited for Mark's answer, even though he supposed it should be negative. “Partner” didn’t look like something a nerd like him would get.

Mark then gave up seriously thinking of the proper answer and threw in another joke of the day, “I do.” Right, he almost lost the fight on keeping his normal, logical and smart behaviour. When the lousy physical condition couldn’t support his rational thinking, Mark would turn out a garrulous idiot like James.

 

James’ mouth fell open and became a circle.

 

“In fact, I have four. They are all called ‘Moni’.”

Mark spoke the sentence quite slowly, and James’s mouth gradually set back into a line following every word Mark said. Should be a ridiculous scene.

 

“So, Moni is a girl?” James asked.

Mark nodded.

James slapped his thigh, then laughed heartily. He used to believe Moni had an industrial and straightforward square design that quite fit masculine aesthetics. Who could tell they were, surprisingly, four girls?

 

To think again -- Mark was a man, and Moni was a woman in accord with Mark’s aesthetic standard. Would it be a cue of his sexual orientation?

 

James decided to put the issue behind for a while. At least, what he knew today was that Mark was single. He wouldn’t make such a joke at all if he wasn’t. James won’t let the overthinking ruin his little joy by now.

 

He withdrew his hand from Mark’s grasp, and knocked the young man on his head gently, “Take a good rest. I will come again later.” And he whistled as went out the door.

 

James closed the door behind him. “Mark feels somewhat sleepy. Would somebody else like to look after him for a while?” he told others before walking away.

 

Mark had just awakened, and still had a psychological assessment waiting for him. No one could tell if the man looked calm but had trauma deep in his mind, and would he cause any trouble when he was left alone in the medical ward. If somebody were accompanying Mark to sleep, it would be great, but James didn’t think he could handle the task. It didn’t mean that he wouldn’t like to, he swore – just because he couldn’t bear with seeing the mass of injuries closing his eyes. It appeared too close to his nightmare.

 

Being in the service for so many years, it was the first time he ever tasted a shot of fear.

 


 

James turned on his laptop to write the mission report as soon as he returned to his dorm room.

 

The rules of Rainbow required a written report from everyone back from an operation. Minor ones without accidents could do roughly, but if there were casualties, those must be reported seriously. This time, because one of the teammates was just lucky to escape from getting KIA, they had to write their reports in great detail to reconstruct the process, so that they could figure out the reason of the accident.

 

Everyone had already submitted their reports except Mark and James. Nobody would urge James after seeing him distracted with his severely injured buddy, anyway.

 

After James quickly entered the brief summary of the operation, like date, time and location, he made a cup of black tea for himself and began recalling what happened on that day.

 

In fact, what involved James was simple. One of the SIS intel directed them to a small town located at the centre of a small country ravaged by wars, where it was suspected that terrorists had hidden bombs and their other weapons to cause casualties to innocents. And when they went to eliminate the terrorists, both local police and military were nowhere to be seen. Therefore, what James and others in the same group should do was just shooting anyone except for themselves.

 

So, it then appeared like a mechanical task that depended on his muscle memory, like at the shooting range. It was too boring that he could even get it done without his eyes open. But Mark was in a totally different situation.

 

To Mark, it was like jumping on an express going to the hell without knowing whether it would return or not.

 

James blew on his quivering fingers to warm them before he continued writing, while his mind flew back to that early morning.

Chapter Text

James braced behind the bucker to watch Jager disposing of the bomb. The German covered the module in a bomb suppression blanket and put it into an isolation bag, before continuing defusing. However, a severely injured but not dead terrorist struggled to crawl toward him and the bomb.

 

To the disposal team who was well-armed and in the whole, it was easy to disarm him just by kicking his hands.

 

They didn’t have room for any more captive as well, so it was reasonable to end the pain for the unfortunately fallen guy as soon as possible, and forever. James raised his shotgun to handle the task, and his head immediately burst out into a mess of blood.

 

The tacit understanding urged his teammates to do the same job to penetrate the poor man’s corpse mercilessly like a stuffed toy. More blood ran out from the bullet holes and formed a red pool, then seeped into the crack between floor tiles through his hand. The dimming light made the blood look somewhat blackish and dazzling with the reflection.

 

Jäger only got distracted for a second before went back working on the remaining wires of the bomb, then finally, a raised big thumb expressed the sure sign – cleared!

 

Other teammates cleaned the site briefly. The bomb was successfully disposed of, the hostiles here were all eliminated, but they had the intuition that it wouldn’t end so quickly. Something wasn’t right.

 

They took off the thick and heavy hazard suit before evaluating the situation. It should be no one in the stronghold anymore, but the number they had killed was lower than the estimated number provided by the intel.

 

“Hey babe, there’s 12 fewer than the estimation. Are you sure you have the correct number?” James contacted his defender teammate, who lived in the adjacent room and always got into the same team in training. If there were not an emergency, Smoke would be the first one in priority to communicate with Mute. As a man with a potty mouth, his behaviour in the field didn’t moderate at all.

 

There were only two technicians on the field. Jäger came with the stronghold team for bomb disposal, which wasn’t his specialisation, but he still amazed others with a clean and flawless result. Another was Mute, who stayed overground with Bandit. On their task, Bandit would call it “some nasty things,” while it named “sabotage” in Mute’s acute word. The detail was just sabotaging the energy, network and any communication in the building. Bandit dealt with electric wires, and Mute concentrated on the phone lines, broadcast and comm devices. With the counting “three, two, one” and it got the entire blackout. Then the bomb disposal team assaulted the underground fortress, terminated the threats, everything was nice and smooth. Except for the wrong number of hostiles.

 

Mute was responsible for the intelligence in operation, so James was all ready for scoffing the little genius. It was particularly rare to catch him making mistakes, he could never miss the chance.

 

However, there wasn’t any answer from his headset.

 

No voice from Mark.

 

“Mute? Babe?” An ominous suspicion crept over James, “Reply!”

 

No response. Only white noise. James tried to capture anything useful from the hissing sound, but no result.

“The blocking of other channels is off,” Vigil also tried to figure out the issue, so he adjusted the communicator and shifted the channel for several times.

“I can’t get Bandit, either. The relay isn’t working.” Jäger followed. His speculation could be correct if Bandit lost the connection at the same time as Mute. They discussed in a low voice immediately, the staggering sights were like sharing the same idea. James felt his heart dropping heavily like a stone.

 

Mute disrupted the radio channels frequently used as soon as they started the action, and only remained a few ones for team communication. He also prepared the relay to maintain the connection between the underground team and overground one. However, the effort seemed like totally vanished as they couldn’t call anyone above despite there was no longer disruption.

 

Had Mute turned it off on purpose? Or he was forced to do so? Or the device was destroyed? Was Mute beside?

 

James predicted the worst situation. Because Bandit was working on another route in the facility, he could barely support Mute if there was conflict happened to him.

 

Lion gazed at Smoke for a while before launched his EE-ONE-D. The once blown-up relationship in private between Lion and other SAS operators didn’t prevent him from ending up well among others in the team.

 

The time was before dawn, and it provided another convenience for the EE-ONE-D as there wouldn’t be any others scanned. All the citizens left in the depressed small town were all sleeping still in their houses.

 

The result showed up on everyone’s device almost real time. The 3D diagram constructed of the contours of human and green perspective lines made them anxious.

 

There displayed approximately a dozen of persons approaching the corner of a building in the complex. And another a lone silhouette rushing in a hurry toward the same direction from another side.

 

At that moment, the explosive sound shocked from overground, likely from C4. The stronghold echoed with the vibration wave and shook fiercely, dust blew up, and bricks fell. The temporally turned on electronic system got utterly blacked out, too. Every light bulb extinguished in the same second, and some of them even dropped to the ground and became scattered fragments of glass. The disaster of the shock flying small debris in the damaged building mess of small debris forced all the operators dispersed to brace themselves at the corners of the building until the shaking stopped.

 

Lion relaunched his drone, but no detection of any human activity this time, but a bunch of messy noise. “It doesn’t look right. There’s probably fire on site.”

 

They deduced the situation was one of the two teammates was going to support another, who was likely hiding from the hostile encirclement. Then following the explosion, all their tracks were gone.

 

The worst situation had probably happened.

 

They believed Mute was the one in distress, and Bandit was the one reaching him to help from the dramatic speed of the lone silhouettes. Bandit was a talented sprinter and one of the best in the team in the running. Mute was not slow but lacks the explosive speed in dashing. Or the rushing figure was another fleet-footed terrorist? Or in fact, they were all wrong, all the people detected were not enemies at all?

 

James got restless.

 

He remembered a few years ago, when the boy named Mark R. Chandar joined SAS, they had some faint conflicts. However, Mute had kept a perfect record without any principle mistake afterwards. Ironically, James now felt so fragile and uncontrolled deep in his mind, just like every word he jeered at Mark was showing up on him.

 

He wished the explosion was caused by either Mark or Dominic – the two maniacs always had a nitro cell in their pack for either work or battle purpose – but not caused by an enemy.

 

Thinking of Mark might be injured or worse, James almost felt he lost his soul.

 

The group moved toward the entrance and were ready for rescue. However, Jäger, the one stayed inside for watching, called them to stop.

 

“There's something unusual. I’m checking.”

Jäger moved back to the abused corpse of the earlier terrorist. The floor tile in front of him had collapsed. He checked it with a flashlight and revealed a deep tunnel which turned horizontal at the bottom toward a direction.

 

So, it was where the poor guy’s blood went to. Not just the crack of the tiles, but the hidden way to escape. And the truth behind the lone but stubborn guy crawling toward Jäger during the bomb disposal was probably not for stopping him but trying to catch up his merciless companions who left him alone and escaped.

 

James reached the tunnel and gazed at the darkness and turned to the corpse, then felt like he had made a horrible mistake. If he didn’t kill him in the first place, he might end up helping to reveal the way far earlier!

 

In such the irony situation, Jäger still looked optimistic and calm with quick thinking. He took off the glove from his right hand and stretched to inside the tunnel, “there’s air circulation, so it was an exit at the end. If those people were hostile, they should go for this way. I’ll go down to see.” He then leapt in the tunnel.

“Alright. Team Bravo and Charlie still move out as planned, and Team Alpha follow Jäger.” After a brief instruction, James threw some glow sticks inside the tunnel and jumped down in a hurry.

 

The underground passage with half of the human height looked rough but stable could be the escape route those terrorists made on purpose. Based on Lion’s detection result, the people went to this way earlier should all reach the surface at now. They moved faster with a specific speculation that Mute was nearby the exit.

 

The overall situation now appeared clear: the assault with electronic and communication disrupt was successful in stunning the enemy, but they overlooked the structure of the stronghold and gave a small group of terrorists a chance to escape before then.

 

And they found Mute, who was guarding the facilities nearby the exit.

 

They couldn’t ensure the acute location of the exit until they reached the ground. Whatever it should be out of the planned combat zone. They would never leave Bandit and Mute alone if they knew there was a hidden route at the start.

 

James couldn’t hold his worrying. He even pushed Jäger aside to go ahead of him.

“Smoke, be cautious. There may be hostiles guarding the exit.” Jäger reminded, but he found the Englishman ignored his advice and increased his speed.

 

Jäger felt surprised at Smoke’s strange behaviour like he cared of nothing but saving his English teammate. Naturally, it was understandable that Jäger would also do everything he could for keeping every single teammate from distress. But Smoke looked desperate and lost composure which shouldn’t appear on anyone who went to rescue.

 

Was Mark so crucial to James that made him lose his head over him? Jäger remembered James complained to him about Mark was disgusted with him on the last Christmas party. How did the English defenders develop into like this just for three months?

 

It was out of Jäger’s grasp.

Chapter Text

Bandit had already discarded his backpack, only left the necessary weapons and gears with him. Dashing for a long distance, he even tasted out a little flavour of blood from his throat. He still felt he was not fast enough.

 

However, this “not fast enough” could be controversial – he was not far from the explosion, he could even feel the hot smoke filled with the smell of gunpowder hitting his face. If he rushed in earlier for just a few seconds, he could become a charred corpse right now. Maybe Bandit was lucky in this way.

 

But the burning debris blocked him at the outside of the abandoned factory. Mute, the one he was rushing to save, got surrounded inside.

 

Mute could only speak in soft whispering in their last communication. He was undoubtedly trapped in here with enemies everywhere around. He told Bandit his situation and plan, and it was the reason Bandit hurried for this kilometre.

 

Even though he was running at the highest speed possible, he was not sure he would make it. The sound of gun firing could be heard on the way, and it didn’t seem optimistic considering Mute had to deal with dozens of hostiles.

 

Bandit thought he was late anyway. Mute might be still confronting the terrorists deep in the facility, or he might already be dead by the explosion. How many hostiles and explosives left, and the possibility of the second boom, everything else was unknown.

 

Bandit didn’t make a second thought and went to the side of the facility for another entrance. He was a man with no fear who didn’t mind going through the fire – he made far more dangerous moves than this during his undercover time anyway – but he just hoped whatever he did this time was worth the effort. He wouldn’t want Mute to die. He had an amusing discussion before they separated, and it would be a painful moment of his life if he was dead now.

 


 

“Hey, Mute. I’m just curious, how can you bear such a guy like Smoke?” Bandit asked in his boredom when sabotaging the transformer. Everyone knew Bandit liked to chat to kill time, and Mute was precisely the opposite -- no one had seen him launch a casual talk without someone else starting it in advance.

 

Mute was rechecking his gear before separating from Bandit, but the sudden question diverted his attention. He asked back after brief thinking, “do you dislike him?”

And Bandit was confused by the response. The young guy appeared to ignore the gossiping hint inside Bandit’s question, but treated it seriously as a complaint – “I don’t like Smoke, don’t you feel the same? How can you bear such the guy?”

 

It was why Bandit always felt those with high-intelligence somewhat troubled him. They assumed every word from your mouth was useful by default, which contained a specific message or reason, and they would analyse a possible significance even if there was nothing. Did they always have a habit of overthinking? No matter what, it was disappointing. Jesus, couldn’t we just chat about some useless shit sometimes?

 

“Oh! I don’t hate him, of course. Thanks to that guy, I’m very patient with noisy people.” He checked the time and suppose the assault team that guy led would be on site in less than twenty minutes. “I’m just curious about how do you get along. Well, Ma…Jäger and I just live upstairs. We can hear whatever noise you make.”

 

He almost leaked out the real name of his teammate in the comm channel; luckily, he realised it on time. During the mission, they should always call everybody with their call sign even if they were out of combat zone.

 

“I heard him knocking the wall between your rooms frequently, and why didn’t you even complain about it? If it were Jäger doing this to me, he wouldn’t be able to walk on the next day.”

 

Mute suddenly stopped the movement in his hands and gazed Bandit back. Bandit could even see the amber-coloured eyes vaguely underneath the mask.

 

He could have a clearer view if the lights were not too dim, but it was already enough. Could there have anything more satisfying than looking at the young guy’s complex eye expression?

 

“A half of the knocking is on me. I’m sorry if it has annoyed you.”

 

Oh. Bandit swore to the transformer, he never intended to ask for something like this. Nobody knew such a gossiping question could exchange such amusing information.

 

“How old are you both?”

“Smoke is 38 this year…”

“No, I mean, why two grown-up guys like you knock the wall all the time?”

Mute lifted his backpack and carried it with his shoulders, “we only do it when we have to. We have a cypher chart that can communicate with different knocking sounds.”

Bandit felt his jaw almost like dropped to the ground.

Federal police with undercover history, and almost reached his middle age had seen or experienced everything either harsh or strange, but two people live next door talking to each other like this? It was out of his wildest imagination.

 

“Why you can’t just call him into your room? Or go to his room? Do your rooms have no door?” Bandit thought the Englishmen must be crazy or idiots.

“Smoke is too talkative, and the points in his saying are too hard to grasp. Therefore, I made the cypher works like a filter. You should know such thing.

 

He surely knew it. A low-pass filter is a filter that passes signals with a frequency lower than a selected rate and attenuates signals with rates higher than the wavelength. Therefore, the wall worked alike in “passes the useful points, blocks nonsenses”. Bandit knew the theory, but he didn’t understand the reason behind it. God, why he could even get a tricky question in people’s communication like this.

 

“Smoke doesn’t know what you think, do you?”

“I haven’t said it yet.”

“You shouldn’t say.” Bandit thought the narcissistic guy would be sad if he knew it, but he changed his idea in a second, “oh no, I think you better tell him sometime. There shouldn’t have any secret between teammates, right?”

Of course, Bandit gave the advice up to no good. He couldn’t wait to see how hilarious James Porter’s face would become after he knew the harsh reason behind the supposed-to-be-fun cypher thing.

Mute just nodded his head and prepared to leave without any word, as if unknowing it harboured a malicious intention. Or he didn’t think it was a bad idea at all.

“Wait,” Bandit stopped him, “one more thing. Can I have the cypher chart? Therefore, I can use it with Jäger.” He didn’t say the word “tease”, and it was one of the reasons he wanted to do with it. He thought Mute would agree – referring to Jäger, the young genius was generous with his knowledge. He could guide others with anything if it were not confidential – or the person was terrible in manner, of course.

 

But Mute refused him directly, “we can’t use the same cypher. Do a new one by yourself. You only need to make codes, and the algorithm is easy. I can help you with it.”

 

Bandit didn’t care about the explanation, because he didn’t really need the cypher. After all, he could come up with a million ways to make fun of Jäger. He countered the first sentence instead, “why we can’t use the same cypher?”

 

So sharp. Bandit felt like himself was like a visa officer, who always presumed the migrant was illegal at the start even if he wasn’t.

“Because he just likes to talk nonsense to me, like romance, sex and after-retirement plans. You wouldn’t like to hear them.”

……And the guy just revealed the reason by himself.

Bandit thought, who wouldn’t? Training and mission day by day were so dreary, who wouldn’t welcome some entertainments except such the nerds growing in the lab like you? And the topics of that English chatterbox, wasn’t he courting Mute? Or harassing him? Or a mix of both? What a crazy man, and an innocent child who hadn’t recognised the fact.

 

“You just talk on such the topics with him?”

“Not opposed.”

 

He was even “not opposed”?

 

“And you just reveal this to me?”

“There’s nothing unsuitable to say,” Mute answered.

Bandit felt like getting into a maze. He believed that he had caught Mute’s biggest skeleton in the closet, but Mute didn’t think it was embarrassing at all. Maybe it was like “wise people are never afraid of being fully seen”? *1

“Okay. One last simple question,” Bandit thought, he just couldn’t make fun of the little guy today, so he went direct, “why don’t you just marry him?”

The two freaks seemed to suit each other so much. Then why didn’t just let them get together?

And there came Mute’s another question, “can we marry a teammate?”

Oh. Bandit found out he had never seriously considered the question, either. Could Rainbow operatives like them marry each other?

 

Appeared like they could, at least in theory. There was not a single word from Rainbow’s rule that forbade them to marry a fellow teammate, although there was no precedent. But on second thought, they might be unable to do so. Bandit heard some organisations would separate couples to different groups because the intimate relationship could involve personal affection into high-stakes missions. People said it would become a drawback.

 

“I don’t know. You may know it once you get married. Let’s bet will Six order you to divorce afterwards! Oh, I forget it again. He wants us to call him ‘Harry’. He seems like a nice guy, anyway; you can try to persuade him.”

 

Bandit realised two guys talking marriage sounded so ridiculous, as much as those English freaks knocking the walls to chat on sexual topics. He tried to discard the problematic thought, by talking more problematic things.

“Well, after he takes office, the new recruits he selected are like… Let’s see. We have many enough chatterboxes in defenders, and he just gets another one from Australia recently!”

But Mute didn’t get a response anymore but just hearing at Bandit talking nonsense. Then he stated, “it’s time. I have to go.”

 

Bandit wasn’t happy about Mute’s indifferent reactions, so he just waved his hands to let him go. Leaving the dim yellow light of their camping lantern, Mute’s figure disappeared in the night in no time.

 

Bandit looked at the direction Mute left, and he thought if he had spoken something unnecessary. Mute seemed thoughtful when going. God would prove him, he just bullshitted all the way, but the exclamation and sarcasm were genuine. He didn’t intend to make the young man think of his life decisions.

 

Who knew what kind of solution Mute’s binary brain would calculate? 0 or 1? Yes or No? Wouldn’t he truly propose to Smoke?

 

“On position,” when Jäger’s voice from his headset broke the distraction in Bandit’s head, he immediately went back into the task on his hands.

 

And now, the broken relay made Team Alpha, Bravo and Charlie unreachable, and the young guy with the possible big secret of at work sexual harassment – or engagement – was also locked in the shabby factory in the fire. It was one of the most fucking unfortunate days in his life. Bandit took a deep breath, put on his gas mask, and vaulted in the side door from the workshop.

 

He made a wise decision to bring this along with him, or the result would be certain death.

 

The small side door was an alternative entrance he just found, and it should have another same one at opposite if the facility were symmetrical in structure. But he didn’t know which door caught less fire, and which was closer to Mute. He could only try his luck.

 

Just a few steps forward, Bandit had discovered nothing but highly increased air temperature. And another man was dashing toward him.

 

But he was entirely on fire and barely recognisable.

 

He was burning. His clothes degraded into charred scraps hanging on his body. His dry throat made the final whine. Creasing his forehead, Bandit shot him, and he felt down to Bandit’s feet following the gunfire. Bandit noticed the scraps falling off from his body was not clothes, but his burnt skin.

 

The man was not Mute.

The next wasn’t. And the next wasn’t, either.

 

There were not many flammable things here but seemed to lack of fire extinguishing equipment. So, anything caught on fire would just wait until it burned off steadily. The sight became even more unpleasant while Bandit going deeper.

 

There was no one alive on the ground. And even corpses got more charred and broken. He wouldn’t even recognise Mute from them if he was dead among them. The facility was so large that he felt anxious and a bit frustrated. He was really unable to do this alone.

 

He called for helicopter again, although it was a barely useful action. Even if the pilot and first officer took the risk to join the rescue, it was still not enough. But it was the only contactable unit for Bandit.

 

At the moment, he heard a familiar voice miraculously, just from the opposite he supposed another side entrance existed –

 

“Bandit!”

 

Jäger had made Smoke give way back for him. He was the first one out of the tunnel and found his teammate wandering here through the flare and smoke.

 

Bandit turned back to Jäger and others in Alpha team came out one by one, included their medic, and the Britain hooligan suspicious by either sexual harassment or courting on work… He greeted them and briefly explained the situation here and understood the reason behind the absurd situation. The path guided his teammates back to the surface was the same way the terrorists surrounded Mute had passed.

 

With no second word, they separated to search.

 

When James passed beside Bandit in a hurry, he felt something unusual in Bandit’s eyes. He didn’t think of it in-depth in such a depressing situation. If Bandit even had trouble searching, it meant the possibility to find Mute alive was very faint. After all, such a young guy encountering dozens of hostiles here – no one dared to believe he could make it.

 

James was seeking for possible traces of Mute, then suddenly shouted to Bandit, “what did he say?”

 

Other teammates nearby raised their heads and glanced at him.

 

It was probably Mute had contacted Bandit before the connection lost, might be situation reports or other things. No matter what, it was not a proper time to ask.

 

Bandit shook his head to express negative. He gazed at the head printed with a yellow biological hazard warning logo, thinking the filter thing should wait until they found Mute alive. Or it wasn’t funny to tell at all.

 

James reached deeper inside the workshop, and he saw a minor reflection of his flashlight when it pointed a specific direction. It didn’t seem unusual, because there was a bunch of reflective objects in the factory. However, it also made James expect it was from Mute. He remembered every tiny object that reflected light on Mute’s battle suit, such as his safety harness – as a fellow SAS operative, James was wearing the same thing.

 

The ground was a mess with shallow pits, and James must be cautious to keep moving. Seems like these pits were vestiges of extensive machine tools. “God, if Mark got here during the gunfire, he would fall into one of them.” James thought, while found out the source of reflection in surprise. It was really the harness!

 

Mark was finally discovered but curled up in the hole without any movement. Even the bright flashlight was unable to wake him up. The ash blue coloured uniform was dyed black by Mark’s blood, and the strong coppery flavour had penetrated the filter in James’ gas mask and hitting his nose.

 

James had always been fearless on the battlefields, smoke, gunshot, blood – no matter others’ or his, all made it more exciting. He had enjoyed every moment in danger and stress. However, he realised he could still get afraid and disgusted at the flavour of blood now.

 

“Here, Doc--!” He yelled to their medic in desperate.

 

Please hurry up to save my beloved lad.

 

And he finally understood the reason for his recent unusual emotions. Unknown whenever it had been, but he had begun feeling love for Mark R. Chandar.

 

The dirt in the pit absorbed the blood and transformed into the mud, and the young lad was lying among the mixture of the mud and his blood along with the broken pieces of his devices. He was severely injured, but luckily, alive. The fragments of his communicators tore his palms, and both his submachine gun and pistol dropped beside him. The only thing in his hands was his nitro cell. The detonator on it looked fine and whole, but the remote was nowhere to find.

 

Everybody couldn’t hold their exclamation that Mut was lucky to collapse at the place. Or if he was down in the fire field filled with sparkles that detonate the nitro cell – not just Doc, even the Lord couldn’t get him back alive.

 

After the teammates gathered up here, James left to let Doc do his job. But the blood scent was still thick in his nasal cavity. And the nitro cell – for what the hell reason Mark was holding the thing on the ground? If even just a tiny sparkle reached here – even though he knew it had never happened, he was still frightened.

 

“We can’t protect each other if any ‘contingency’ happens.”

He recalled the word he said while pushing Mark on the wall. He hated his prophetic mouth. Even though the worse ‘contingency’ hadn’t happened by now, but how about tomorrow? And another day after? Risk always existed if they were still in the service, after all. No matter how small the possibility was, it was undoubtedly a risk.

 

And James regretted. He regretted saying such cold words when he pushed the little genius on the reinforced wall. He regretted not showing affection to him. Yes, the thing he should do at that time was stripping down their masks and kissing him, as wild as possible!

 

Doc finished the emergency treatment when James was still stuck in his crazy thought. Doc patted his back and reminded, “the bleeding has been staunched. He won’t die by now, and we must transport him to an operating theatre with adequate equipment.” James noticed that Doc was prudent in his words. The combat medic with exquisite skill and selfless heart, who always helped others’ lives as much as he could manage, wasn’t even sure that he could successfully save Mute’s life.

 

James could do nothing but watch his teammates carrying the genius lad with a large piece of canvas and getting him into the helicopter waiting on the yard of the facility for a long time. It was a comforting little thing that the cloth wasn’t covering Mark from above. But he still felt anxious deep inside.

 

The first direction of the helicopter must be the closest hospital for emergent surgery, then it would come back to pick them up to the base afterwards.

 

During the waiting, they had to clean up the site, included erase any trace of their actions. Like collecting rubbishes such as cartridges and magazines and restoring the electronic and communication before dawn. All special equipment must be recycled. And anything else useful for evidence or intel couldn’t be missed, either. It was the way they kept mysterious with deterrence. The enemy might know there was such an international elite team of counter-terrorists existed – as some of their operations had appeared on the presses – but the exact form of the group was always a colossal iceberg which most of it concealed below the sea level. The more lack of information the enemy had, the more puzzled, fragile and easy to be defeated they became.

 

Although this time, they almost turned into the defeated side, they still made it. Thanks to Mark, he stopped the trouble of escaping terrorists, and survived, temporarily.

 

“Temporarily” became a word James deeply hated.

 

James returned to the site Mute was found earlier. He sorts of wanted to stay at this cursed place for a little longer, for an uncertain reason. He was surely not a guy Mute needed right now. Who he firstly needed was Doc, and secondly, other teammates with noticeable emergent treatment and first-aid experiences. Moreover, there would be a professional medical team to take care of him in the hospital. Smoke thought he would be a burden if coming along with them. He would be satisfied here to do nothing but cleaning up. Right now.

 

He looked at the considerable blood stain Mark left, and the nitro cell he left in the pit. His mind exploded with fury in sudden.

 

“Fuck you! Fuck those White Masks! Fuck the C4!”

 

With a roar, he grabbed the nitro cell and threw it into the fire on a far direction with no one presented, with his full force. The detonator caught fire at first, and “boom—” a massive blaze rose up like a furious beast, but it quickly fell off as there was almost no flammable left.

 

The helicopter flew far, and who was going to clean up the stronghold just prepared to leave. Seemed like no one would be affected by the explosion, and it was precisely James wanted. He had desired to do so, as soon as he found the nitro cell in Mark’s hands. After venting his anger, he felt the questioning gazes from others around. He might frighten someone, and it was something. The nitro cell could work as substantial evidence after undergoing trace examination. He had discharged the resentment, but he must face Harry to give a proper explanation afterwards. Whatever, he didn’t mind it at all.