“You know,” Rooney says, “I couldn't do this.”
“Do what?” Sully looks over, squinting against the unaccustomed sun.
“Be posted on a boat.”
It's their second day on the USS Torchwood. No twisted jungle of buildings, no mines, no RPGs, no scanning for snipers or just dumb fucks with a rifle and ammo. No one is trying to kill them.
It's fucking eerie.
(They're going home)
“...you're in the fucking Marine Corps.” This comes from Chandra, who has stripped down to shorts and her regulation black bra and is lying belly-down on the deck, baring the coloured ink on her back to the actually-mostly-blue sky above.
“So? I didn't sign up for being on any boats.”
“Ships,” Chandra says, her voice making clear that behind her sunglasses, the sergeant is rolling her eyes.
“Whatever,” Rooney says, just loud enough for some of Torchwood's crew to hear. Sully thinks about throwing something at him, but there is nothing close enough. And whatever he throws might end up getting thrown too far and bouncing into the ocean or is it the sea? He is suddenly struck that he doesn't know the difference, except maybe one is bigger than the other, but who decides this bit is what, because it's not like a country where there are borders on a freaking map, instead of just 'hi, here is blue and we shall call this bit the Pacific and this bit the Gulf of Whatever' and he'd always heard Golf when he was a kid, which confused him and gave him images of a sea of golf balls, but they just stick the label in the middle of the map without defining borders so he isn't, all of a sudden, entirely sure what he'd hit if he threw something into the water or, more importantly, exactly where he is.
Except on a ship.
With his company.
And there is his sergeant and team-leader sprawled out with blue-skinned and multi-armed Kali wielding swords and heads on her back, and there is Rooney who is normally on the main gun in their vehicle when they have one and Hutch who sits behind Sully is over there using Sullivan as a pillow, and Sullivan sits behind Sergeant Garcia in the third vehicle whenever they are in convey and okay, he knows where he is now.
It's just his brain, being all post-stims and post-adrenaline (and post-war) and stupid, so he rolls to his feet.
“Jake, what the fuck?” Chandra asks, glancing up at him through her sunglasses.
“Just getting some rack.”
“Sure. That's what they all say,” she says, but he can hear the edge of concern in her voice. “Hope you have fun with your right hand.”
He makes a face at her and makes his way inside and down a few levels to where they are all berthed. He's managed to be stuck with the bottom bunk, but whatever. It's only a few inches to the floor if he gets tossed out. Which he shouldn't because the sea is all calm and shit, and he can deal with this gentle roll of the floor.
In fact, it actually manages to get his brain to calm down (or...fizz out into another thought-generated static so it's like the mirror-image of calm and has the same function) enough so he can start to get to sleep.
No one's shooting at him.
He's not shooting at anyone.
They are going home and it's all going to be fine.
As soon as he actually sleeps, it's all going to be just fine.
His dad picks him up at the train station. One person, as in singular, as in there should be three people and there is only one. Your mum couldn't get out of work, Tommy couldn't get out of school, he'll say, and it'll all be true enough. Whatever. It still hurts, still a twist of gee, thanks guys that lances through him, as bright and true as all the thank fucking christ I'm home. And hell, he didn't even leave his dad on the best of terms, but his dad still flew in from Canberra and here they are. Lawrence Sully is pulling him into a hug and saying hey, hey there Jake, you're home, it's okay, you're home and okay, sure, Jake Sully is still only twenty-one, and he's back from war.
He hugs his dad back.
They go to a Japanese restaurant that's taking its last orders. It's night, late, and after the press of the street, Jake (who is Jake now, not Sully) is relieved to note that there are no more than six other people in the whole place, not including the waitress.
The waitress is cute. Shiny black hair, pin-stripped vest, pants that hug her ass before falling straight and out like a skirt. Jake wants to run his fingers through that hair, less because the girl is cute (which she is, cute as a button, which is really not his type) and more because hair. Hair, long and shiny. It's a status symbol, hair like that. It says that she has enough water to waste on washing it, enough money and pride to make it glossy as a gun. It's civilian hair. Luxury hair to fall around his face like a curtain and spill over his chest, hair that he's just never going to touch.
Jake lets his dad order and concentrates on other things than the cute waitress. The smells and the sounds and what he can feel. The table and the chair, the floor, the chopsticks he's twirling around his fingers. The fact that the floor isn't moving, which after the USS Torchwood and however many (not that many) damn trains it took to get from one side of the country to the other is a big thing he notices. He can feel the pressure of sound from outside, engines and machines and the mag-lev trains and the blare of ads on walls and clouded over sky and people, people who are at war but don't really give a damn because it's nothing more than more noise on their screens, and there are sounds he is missing. The dull, thudding boom, boom, boom of bombs and grenades exploding at a distance, the whine of mosquitoes and bang-crack of bullets hitting close enough to be annoying. The laughter and noise of his platoon.
“You okay?” his dad asks, and Jake hears him from a distance made up of all the things he isn't hearing.
“Sure,” he says, and then he grins. “So how was the war?”
His dad pulls a face at him. “Shouldn't I be asking you that?”
Jake shrugs, suddenly awkward. “If you want. I mean, your version would've made more sense.” Jake's dad is a journalist; he's good with words, at coaxing patterns and sense and logic out of interviews and information. His name is Larry, Larry short for Lawrence, and Jake's mouth suddenly doesn't know which to say, Dad or Larry.
“You okay?” Larry Sully asks again once the cute waitress has put food on the table and sauntered off.
“Sure,” says Jake. “I mean, I guess so. Hasn't really hit home yet.”
What hasn't hit home he doesn't say, and his dad doesn't ask. They eat and talk. They eat food that is actually food, as in grown in an actual tower-farm and caught in an actual tank, and Jake's dad foots the bill almost defiantly. Defiant against what, Jake doesn't know. They eat real food and they talk, which really means that Larry talks and Jake listens to what happened while he was away in that other world known as war.
It happens two days later. Jake's catching a train back to Camp Pendleton and the tiny apartment he can call his own as long as he remains a Recon Marine, only he's suddenly sick of moving. He wants to stand still, so the next stop he gets out. He walks with all the other people getting out, which is fine, and honestly, the smell isn't much better than Venezuela. Water-shortages, cheap food, too many people; that's all the same.
No one is wearing a uniform, including him. That's new. That's odd. That's weird, because where the fuck is his team? Where is Chandra, where is Hutch, where is Rooney, where is- but Ackerley took a bullet to the head. He doesn't have the weight of his rifle or of his ammo or his armour. He doesn't have the weight of the radio, which is more than just physical weight, it's the weight of all the frequencies and codes in his mind and the weight of being responsible for the radio and does he even have his pliers in case he has to hot-wire anything and -
He adjusts the strap of his filter-mask and takes a deep breath, heading down the stairs to the arcade. There are benches, a fountain with digitised water and pots with real plants hanging from the arches. No bullet-holes, though. There are cracks and crevices and chipped paint, but no bullet-holes. Awesome. Outstanding.
Beyond the arches are shops. Shops for clothes, for filter-masks (posters on the windows showing the latest fashions of latticed patterns on the glass masks, big flowers for the mouths on the cheaper plastic and paper ones), for food.
Like, there are choices.
About where to go and what to do and the coldness that has settled in his bones and mind starts to waver and twist. Cold, because war has made him so, cold because after all those months away and he's got a body-count now, an actual honest to god body-count, and it's made him a bit cold, a bit mean. Capable of evil now, that's him, although right now, he's just sitting very still and trying to focus on a piece of pavement so he doesn't freak the fuck out.
He's not entirely sure what he's freaking out about, but it's there. It's a panic and a tightness and a scattering feeling around the edges of his mind.
He doesn't even have to go back to base. Not really. He's off, he's got leave, he can do whatever the hell he wants.
What Jake does is find his phone which he barely remembers how to use, and he goes to contacts and is about to hit Ackerley's number, only then he remembers Ackerley got shot in the head and is in a coma somewhere, so he hits Chandra's number instead.
“Jake, jesus,” she says when he stumbles into her apartment. It's a common thing she says, even though she wears the image of her goddess on her back. Jake, jesus, what the hell.
“Not sure,” he says, dumping his bag on the floor. She's wearing a floral skirt and an old black t-shirt, but she's still Chandra. Raksha Chandra, whom he trusts with his life and who he owes his life, she who can command his silence and his speech and his actions and anyway, she's a friend. A good friend. One of the best. The best.
“Right,” Chandra says. “You. Couch. Now. Want a beer?”
“Sure,” Sully says, walking over and collapsing on said couch. Bed. Couch-bed, two-in-one, whatever. He listens to her move about her space before she hands him a cold bottle and falls back on her couch herself.
She doesn't say anything other than 'enjoy', and he's pretty sure he loves her for that.
“I miss it,” Sully says at last. “Already.”
“Yeah, I know,” she answers, snorting a laugh. “Me, too.”
Then, a bit later, she says, “Video game?”
“Thought you'd never ask,” he replies and this time, her laugh is full-bodied and infectious. By time she's set the game up and is handing him a set of controls, he thinks he can breathe again.