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Rust Red Skies

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The first day on the job was never going to be the easiest.

 

It was a Tuesday, which might have seemed like a bizarre day to start a new position, if Jim's Monday hadn't been spent flying hundreds of miles across the world. No, Tuesday starts were fairly regular here, and he supposed he wasn't alone. He was one of seven new medics, flown out to relieve seven others, who had more or less swapped places with them on the runway, the plane merely turning around and setting straight off back for England.

 

He'd stood in the dust with the others, squinting up at the hot sky to watch it go, until the aircraft was little more than a speck in the early morning sunshine. It was surreal, almost. Silent. Silent, and already uncomfortably, swelteringly hot.

"That's that, then." Remarked a voice to his left, a girl with a Liverpudlian accent, before she clapped him on the back, the line of medics beginning to walk towards the barracks. The words made his chest feel tight, and he leaned away from her hand a little, never one for casual touching.

Glancing back at the barren runway, it didn't quite seem real, and Jim had to force himself to stagger along behind the other medics, dragging his heavy rucksack. They were all in thick khaki uniforms, in helmets and heavy vests already, unable to go without over here, lest the Taliban take their chances with the newbies. They were a line of identicals, all padding hopelessly through the dusty wasteland towards a new life. For however long they could stand it. Jim had felt determined that he'd be one of the best, that he'd excel the way he had in his science seminars, in his medical trials - and yet.. now..

He swallowed as they approached, slightly apprehensive. Gunmen and watchtowers manned the entrance to the base, and Jim frowned. It was enormous. He'd expected something-

"Smaller?" The girl said, finishing his train of thought. She smiled at him, and Jim smiled back a little stiffly, exhausted after the flight. "I'm Gin."

Jim raised an eyebrow. "..Like the drink?"

"Exactly like the drink."

"I'm Jim."

"Hi, Jim. Jim and Gin. God.. I know what you mean.. I thought it'd be tiny."

A voice piped up ahead of them, a little scathing. "Don't be stupid. This is main base. You won't stay here." A head glanced around, one in the identical sea of seven khaki helmets. "You'll be assigned to a group, and you'll have to go with them when they're posted out."

Jim frowned, glancing at Gin.

"Posted out?"

"To the towns. That's where it'll be. They want to make sure they're letting the kids go to school. The Taliban really don't like that.."

Gin laughed, "Is that why they keep shooting the medics?"

"Well, shooting all of them. Not just medics. Think so." The other voice was curt, and Jim grimaced, lifting his bag higher on his shoulders. Great. Being shot at was exactly what he'd wanted. He rolled his eyes. It had seemed a perfect path, given his skills with the sciences and his propensity for guns and fighting. It was an uncle that had suggested it, a world war two veteran. Army medic. A doctor and a fighter. But a medicine degree later, and a one thousand hour plane journey, and..

"I'm not sure I'll enjoy this as much as I thought."

Jim's voice sounded daft even to himself, and the boy with the curt voice turned around, looking at him incredulously.

"It's too late now. They need you. You've already been assigned."

"I'm not going to run off anywhere." Jim replied a little scathingly, the boy's tone irritating him. He shrugged, and Gin laughed, pushing him.

"Don't worry about Ryan. You're not alone. We're in it together. I mean, being shot at in a desert isn't exactly how I expected my-"

"MEDICS."

The bark made Jim jump, and he stood to attention a half second later than the others, already sweating through his uniform as a man strode out before them all, black hair buzzed short to his head and his expression stony. He spoke in monotonous rhythm, and Jim tried his best to listen, though he was distracted by looking around the barracks, everything green and khaki, and covered in dust. And by how tired he was. Jesus Christ, getting on that plane in England felt like years ago..

"Welcome to Camp Bastion. Don't get comfortable, this is not your home. Today, you will meet your sections, and you will all be posted out to your new stations. They've been waiting for you all damned day. Now. I want you all to head to the medical quarters...-"

It was just so fucking dusty. How the hell did anyone ever feel clean around here? Sweaty and coated in the stuff, Jim already wanted a damn shower. God knows where those would be, this place was gigantic. They were all forced to step to one side as a jeep pulled in, coated in dust, and then a squadron of men came jogging by, the entrance not the best place for whatever this speech was.

 

"YES SIR."

The chorus around him was loud and unexpected, and the group of medics stood to attention, Jim standing dumbly, having missed whatever was said. They broke apart, all heading for a large metal fronted building near one side, and at a loss, Jim hurried after them, bag making his shoulders ache. Fuck, he needed a lay down.

"What are we doing?" He asked Ryan quietly, who gave him a scathing look.

"First rule, listen to the commander."

Gin laughed, pulling him to one side and whispering mock-conspiratorially.

"We've got to go and collect our packs. Shhhh."

"Packs?"

"Painkillers, syringes, bandages.. You know, general supplies for the medical tents." She shrugged. "Wherever we're going won't have had fresh kit since the last medics were posted out."

"Oh... right."

Gin squeezed his shoulder.

"Are you okay?"

"Sorry.. it's just a lot to take in."

Gin smiled sympathetically. "You'll get used to that."

"You've done this before?"

"I was a volunteer a few times. And my brother did it full time. I know what to expect."

They ducked into the medical building, gloriously air conditioned, relief hitting Jim in waves - though there was no opportunity to stop and enjoy the cool. Everything was happening so fast, and he felt dizzy. More khaki medics approached from every angle, speaking fast and loading up their arms with thick bags; black, white, grey and khaki, all marked with red crosses. Jim almost toppled over, the brisk woman loading him up giving him a disapproving look.

"So you'll need to put the black bag away immediately when you arrive, it's refrigerated but it's better in an actual fridge. You should have one in your med tent. Sutures, bandages, plasters, tourniquets.." She talked a mile a minute, ponytail swinging as she turned to find more things to load him up with, Jim getting dizzier and a touch more panicked by the moment.

"-Absolutely don't forget to lock the drawer that these are in-"
"Store these on the top level-"
"-Don't give these out willy nilly because you'll regret it when you don't have many left-"

Jim glanced over desperately at Gin and Ryan, who were nodding as they were loaded up, seemingly pleased with everything they were being told. Or understanding it, at least. He turned to the woman, who was mid-lecture about the importance of proper sterilisation.

"So.. so I'll be.. alone in my med tent?"

She looked at him like he was crazy.

"Well yes.. I mean, we can't afford to give more than one medic per team. And you lot will insist on getting yourselves blown up.."

Jim swallowed, his mouth dry. "..I-"

"Off you go. You're being posted."

He turned, Gin and Ryan already halfway out of the building, holding their new bags with ease. He swore internally, thanking the woman and then running after them both, arms already aching with the weight of his med bags. Gin seemed to be in the middle of a harrowing story about a field amputation, Jim trying his hardest not to listen. It was one thing being trained how to do it.. another imagining that he'd actually be good at doing it, given his skill with science and lack of squeamishness. But the idea of actually going out there.. of being tasked, alone, to save a life.

A year in Afghanistan was enough to bring a doctor out of 'Junior' status. If Jim made it home, he'd be earning double what he would be if he'd just gone straight into a British hospital.

 

If he made it home, seemed the operative phrase at the moment..

He almost walked straight into Ryan, the medics all having stopped again, a new man barking orders at them now. Before he knew what was happening, Ryan had stalked off to the left, a group of ten or so men cheering and pulling him into rough bear hugs. Oh. He'd been assigned.

 

Fine.

 

Jim was fine. He could do this.

 

Look into the eyes of the men that he was being trusted to protect and save. Anything from a blown off limb to a blister. A bad cough to a bulletwound. Jim wasn't sure he'd ever felt so ill in his life, and it took every ounce of his strength not to run for the Bastion gates. But then.. where would he go?

"Virginia Miller."

Gin gave his shoulder a squeeze and then headed off to the direction that the man with the piece of paper pointed, sweating visibly under the sun but smiling when she reached the eight or so men, and two girls. They clapped her on the shoulder, immediately taking the med bags away to hold. Jim swallowed again, fixing his eyes on the man with his piece of paper, rather than the two groups around him still waiting for their assignments.

"James Moriarty."

Jim nodded, and stepped forwards, hoping that he'd done so with confidence. He'd once hoped to be a leader. Some kind of boss, some kind of head of a department. But science seemed to lend itself well to helping people, and now he was stuck with all that damned responsibility.. Lives. Men's lives. His men. A finger pointed to the right, and a cheer went up, louder and more boisterous than the cheers so far, arms grabbing at him, pulling at the med bags, slapping him on the back and hugging him so hard that he was seeing stars, uncomfortable being so damned sweaty and dusty.

"James, Jamieeeeee, my man!"
"Welcome to the team, J dog."
"I'm gonna call him Jim."

"I like Jim." He managed with an attempt at a confident nod, before stepping back with pink cheeks, looking at them all. Well. They were all taller than him. Most of them the same age, a couple older. An arm fell roughly around his shoulders, the voice a Yorkshire accent.

"This is Greg, Devo, Ballbag, Jakey, Ali, Max and Skeets."

Jim nodded, those names all disappearing almost immediately. Greg had ginger hair. Devo was the same height as him. Ballbag and Jakey were both tall and dark haired, though Jakey had a sour face. Ali was Asian and very good looking, Max black with a broad smile, and Skeets one of the tallest, thinnest people he'd ever seen. He repeated them in his head, before that accent started up again.

"And I'm Dougie, that's Betsy and he's James too. But you're Jim. So that's ok."

"..Right.. right.. okay."

Dougie was walking with him now, the others all turning away to talk amongst themselves, rather excitedly.

"The captain's just sorting out the last few things now, and then we're posting out. You'll hate him, right arsehole."

"You don't like your captain?" Jim asked meekly, and a loud guffaw came from 'Betsy' - a stocky blonde man who looked less like a 'Betsy' than anyone Jim had ever seen. He'd have to get used to these fucking nicknames. James II turned to look at them, grinning.

"Don't listen to Dougie. Seb's nice."

"But don't call him that." Jakey chided, calling from the front of the group, a few more laughing and Jim frowning again. "He'll have your balls."

"Then what do I call him?"

They'd slowed in front of a building towards the back of the camp, and the men stopped as someone walked out, all standing to attention with yells of;

"CAPTAIN, SIR."

 

Bewildered, Jim dropped his bags and stood to attention too.

 

The man that had walked out was one of the most good-looking men that Jim had ever seen.

Wearing khaki trousers tucked into laced boots, he had a belt at his hips, and a white vest that hugged a toned chest and torso, damp with sweat in a couple of places. A pair of dogtags hung down, the khaki jacket that Jim and the others wore buttoned right to the neck, open and hanging off the man like a summer shirt. He was carrying a large wrapped box, and tossed it to one side, into the back of a dusty van, wearing thin bandages around the palms of his hands, most likely to prevent callouses, Jim decided. Blonde hair in need of a trim hung down slightly over his forehead, near amused green eyes that matched a smirk and a clean, stubbled jawline that could cut fucking glass.

Jim found himself gawping, and the Captain sauntered over in silence, looking down at Jim's dropped bag.

"..At ease, medic." He muttered with an arched brow, the words making Jim's ears burn. The Captain shifted his weight from one foot to the other.

"Tell me," He said, tilting his head teasingly at Jim."..You any good?"

Frozen, Jim nodded stiffly. That smile slid from the Captain's face, and suddenly he was breathing Jim's air, his face inches from his as he yelled.

"YOU WILL ANSWER ME WHEN I SPEAK TO YOU, MEDIC, IS THAT UNDERSTOOD?"

"Sir yes sir!" Jim squeaked, and then "Yes! Yes, I'm good."

He sounded weak to his own ears, resentful embarrassment burning in his stomach and the Captain stepped back, nodding once. He bent down, picking up Jim's bag. He pressed it back against his chest, and Jim took it, knocked back a step.

"For your sake, medic, you'd better be." He quipped, before turning away, all interest in Jim seemingly disappearing as quick as that. He sauntered back towards the building, calling behind him.

"N.E.E.A, fall out. Fill the tanks. We have a post to get to."

Jim's comrades all relaxed, a couple laughing and clapping him on the back again. Jim stood frozen, not sure he'd ever been more embarrassed in his life. To think, he'd thought he was good looking.

"Don't take it to heart," Devo said, though Jakey was still laughing and Ballbag and Skeets were pretending to throw their bags on the floor and stand to attention, squealing like little girls. Mocking him. Jim's cheeks burned again, and he looked away, a lump in his throat. He was too tired for this. He felt like fucking crying, which wasn't like him at all. He was the best. Always the best. Always in control.

Dougie walked over, and ruffled his hair.

"Told you he's an arsehole. Come on. You can ride up front."