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Melissa shields her eyes against the glare of the sun as she spots a dark shape in the distance. Shifting from one foot to the other nervously, she exchanges a look with Kurz as the unmistakeable whirring sound of helicopter blades gets louder and louder with each second.

There’s a sombre silence amongst the crowd massed at the landing pad, military personnel and medics gathered as the helicopter lands, grass blowing in all directions as the blades spin ferociously, wind whipping their hair around their faces. As soon as the helicopter touches the ground, there’s a flurry of activity as a team of medics rush towards it and with some manoeuvring and a couple of barked commands, they come bearing a stretcher. Melissa’s face turns ashen as she recognises the figure. There is a tuft of spiky hair, almost black with dried blood, and tan skin mottled with bruising. Her heart wrenches; Sousuke.

Sousuke is still and pale, uniform ripped and tattered, blood soaked bandages covering his torso. His leg is in a splint, and although he always looks small against the larger, burlier mercenaries in Mithril; it is the first time she has ever seen him look vulnerable. He is still awake, blinking drowsily with whatever the medics had shot him with on the way back to base, but he is breathing heavily, arm clenched tight around his stomach. Behind him, another helicopter lands, and her face twists into rage as Gauron is led out in cuffs. His legs and arms are shackled – there are two guards holding what look like cattle prods – but there is a nasty smirk plastered onto his face, and even his guards look disgusted. He leans slightly, to peer at Sousuke’s prone form in the stretcher. If possible, his grin grows even wider, and eager to block his line of sight, Melissa rushes to Sousuke, relieved to see him conscious.

“What happened?” Her voice is loud, almost a screech of panic.

“We…” Sousuke could barely form words, his throat hoarse and weak. “We had a fight.”

*

It took three days to find them. When Sergeant Sagara Sousuke failed to report in at the designated checkpoint, with his entire team were missing and non responsive to comms, it didn’t take long for the superiors to take notice. The mission he had been placed on had been very important – instrumental, in fact, as it had involved the Russian KGB and their dealings with various warlords in the Middle East. And when Sergeant Sagara had failed to be as prompt as usual in radioing back his coordinates, a task force was immediately assigned to retrieve, and if necessary, terminate him if he had compromised his mission in any way.

They were also aware of another missing soldier. Gauron had been sent on a mission to assassinate the leader of the rebel force within Helmajistan. The proximity of the two missions was too close to be coincidental, and it was almost certain that the two missions had gone very sour. Although Gauron was nowhere near a perfect soldier (he almost never bothered to radio or communicate with superiors during missions and it wasn’t unknown for him to disappear for a weeks without a trace,) he was a brilliant strategist, a perfect assassin, and one of the most dangerous men alive. Other than Sousuke, he was also the other counterpart to the LAMBDA driver, and absolutely essential to Mithril. Sousuke was less of a flight risk, but Gauron, well, Mithril had been playing a fine line between black and grey ever since they had captured and converted him from rebel forces. It was well known that the conversion had nothing to do with personal values, and instead a lot to do with money.

But they were both missing, and they had both been assigned to missions less than 3 leagues from each other, and it didn’t take the top strategist in Mithril to know that something was very, very wrong.             

*

Gauron looks at the form on the bed. Sousuke has long since stopped moving, and he’s smoking, blowing the smoke idly from between his lips. There is a banging on the door, and Kurz’s voice rings through the room. Funny. Why would they send a sniper to do a soldier’s job? He’s sat on a chair in the corner, legs sprawled in front of him, an almost empty bottle of whiskey in one hand and a cigarette in the other.

His gaze flickers to Sousuke again, watching the blood drip slowly onto the floor. It’s slowed down a lot. It isn’t a long time before Kurz rams himself against the door, and it breaks inwards, the door frame splintering into a thousand shards as Kurz rolls into a crouching position, a gun aimed right for Gauron’s head.

“Make one move, and I will kill you.” He growls, and it would be cute if Gauron could care less.

Instead, he smirks insolently, and drains the rest of the whisky.

The shot shatters the bottle and neatly skims the side of his face, drawing blood. He starts to chuckle, and then laugh, as soldiers surround him and handcuff him, and as soon as he’s secured the medics rush into the room and they then turn their attention onto Sousuke.

*

They stay for night in a cheap hotel, right after they had finished cleaning up after the mission and Sousuke is about to turn and say something to him when Gauron presses a gun to his stomach. He feels the muscle tense, behind the gun, and his eyes are panicked, confused, before they settle into abrupt understanding.

“This is about Zaidou.”

It isn’t, but it makes Gauron angry anyway, because he couldn’t give a fuck about who Sousuke chooses to sleep with, because as long as he keeps crawling back to him it doesn’t even really matter. But it’s the assumption, the mistaken assumption that Gauron even cares that angers him. What he really hates though, is being forced into any situation at all, and it enrages him that he is here, in this situation.

When he’s finished with this, he is going to fucking destroy Mithril.

“I am going to hurt you.” He says, emotionlessly, using a tone that Sousuke has never heard him use before. “Badly.”

“Can I,” Sousuke coughs, voice clearing, “Can I ask why?”

“You can.” Gauron says, “but I’m not going to tell you.”

Sousuke steels himself, and he knows it’s going to be bad, and Gauron’s slightly fascinated to see Sousuke’s mission mode slide over his expression. He can see him calculating escape routes, the possibilities involved in jumping out of the window, the chances of him overwhelming his oppressor, and when he realises that all his options are firmly nonexistent, only then does he see the fear settle in. Only then, his body stiffens and becomes rigid, and then acceptance happens.

“Take off your belt.”

Sousuke acquiesces, hands steady but slow, unbuckling his belt, pulling it through his trouser loops. The firearms come next, and Gauron counts three knives, a grenade, two guns and a taser. He examines one of the knives before using it nudge Sousuke’s hands to his shirt buttons, and grins sardonically.

“Carry on.”

So the shirt is unbuttoned next, and it slips off his shoulders, and then his black undershirt, which ruffles his hair as it is pulled off over his head. His hands stray down to his trousers, hesitating slightly at the zip, but it’s more of a twitch of the fingers and before Gauron can say anything, he deftly unbuttons the top button and draws down the zip. The sound is loud, and slow.

This isn’t the first time they’ve done this, and Gauron knows for a fact that it also isn’t the first time Sousuke’s done this unwillingly. He can already see the old mannerisms kicking in, the shuttered expression, the quiet acceptance, and he hasn’t got the heart to tell him that this time, it isn’t going to be quite the same.

*

It is another month before Sousuke wakes.

They had to put him on sedatives to allow his body to heal without the mental trauma, and when it becomes apparent that his body is healing, the cuts, bruises and lacerations scabbing over and once his broken arm is beginning to mend, they wean him off the drugs and sedatives slowly, and he begins to stir. He grimaces slightly in his sleep, but he never quite cries out, not even a whimper escapes his lips as he tosses and turns.

It’s painful for Tessa to watch, and she clenches her fists into her skirt, pale hands even paler with anger, trembling slightly. If she had her way, Gauron would be ten feet under the ground by now, either dead or in a cell left to rot underground.

However, the higher ups in Mithril had intervened upon his behalf. All she knew at the moment was that he would not be terminated, but rehabilitated, and he would be punished severely for his indiscretion. She is white with anger, and she doesn’t trust herself to speak, knowing that decision, ultimately lies with the fact that other than Sousuke and Gauron, no one else knows how to manipulate the LAMBDA Driver. With Sousuke borderline catatonic, Gauron is Mithril’s only other choice.

Kalinin visits, regularly, along with Mao and Kurz, and Zaidou, Gauron’s previous partner comes also at times. There are plenty of people who are curious and attempt to visit just to see the extent of the damage themselves, and Tessa marks their names down with a vicious and yet sickening self satisfaction. She doesn’t need people like this in Mithril, or at least not on her submarine, and the transfer requests are signed and handed in as soon as the day has ended. She has the best medical team on hand, and she has the best psychiatrists on her staff, trained and ready to help at a moment’s notice.

And when one day, Sousuke finally wakes up, she is proud that she doesn’t cry, because he doesn’t need people pitying him, and he doesn’t need the patronising platitudes that their superiors spout out at him. In fact, she knows exactly what he doesn’t need, but she wishes she knew what he did.

*

“Hey buddy.” Kurz says, leaning against the hospital door.

Sousuke looks up, and struggles to sit up in the hospital bed, lips twisted downwards into a grimace.

“Kurz. Can you tell the nurses that I don’t need constant supervision?”

Kurz just smiles. He was the one who found Sousuke first (bleeding and trembling, face so pale that he had sworn he was dead) and he doesn't have the heart to tell him he's been placed under watch for his own protection. As if to help prevent him from answering, Mao barges in, holding a six pack of beer and a couple of DVDs under her arm. She’s unapologetically loud, and she fiddles with the TV on the wall, whilst Kurz pats him on the shoulder lightly.

“How’s your arm?”

“Better.” Sousuke winces, rolling his shoulder slowly. His arm is still in a splint, still healing, but he can manage his movement slightly. He sits stiffly on the bed, and looks sourly at the IV attached to his arm. “I also don’t need any pain medication; will you please pass that message onto my doctors? They aren’t listening to me.”

Mao snorts, from behind the TV, a mouthful of wires and Sousuke can see her hooking up the TV to some kind of…gaming console.

“Yeah, but they’re worried you’re not in your right mind. They’re not going to be listening to you until you get cleared for active duty.”

“I am always ready for active duty.” Sousuke intones, completely serious.

Kurz pauses, looking at him sympathetically.

“Bad news buddy, Tessa’s sticking the psychs on you.”

There’s a dangerous pause, but then Sousuke sighs, body suddenly relaxing and drained from all tension.

“I suppose it’s to be expected.”

It’s a surprisingly tame reaction, and Mao and Kurz exchange relieved glances before they turn on the TV, and place a DVD in the player, handing the gaming control to Sousuke’s good hand.

“But in the mean time,” Mao cackles, “Here’s the latest specs and training simulations for the newest Arm Slaves.”

The look of adoration she receives warms and reassures her. For a little while longer, they can all pretend things are still okay.

tbc