Make noise. That had been their main objective. Kaz still remembered how Big Boss had put it, looking him dead in the eyes from across the table, singling him out from the rest of the group.
“Should be easy enough for you, huh?”
The idea was to draw some of the guards off the objective, where it was rumoured that a group of local rebels had stockpiled a considerable store of weapons, in advance of making some sort of significant move. It would be impossible for Snake to attempt a simple infiltration and extraction on his own, Kaz could tell from the photos they had, what they knew was already there, both in terms of men and equipment. So, drawing at least half of them away with a clumsily straightforward approach from the opposite direction Snake would use to simultaneously make an approach of his own seemed to be the best option.
MSF was still a scruffy operation. That they were sending their most senior medic into the field spoke plainly to that, but a big score here could take them to the next level. Kaz more than anyone was conscious of this. It was the first chance Boss had given him to prove himself on a mission. His small squad, Condor, Gazelle, Jaguar, and the battlefield medic… he didn’t have a code name, were selected for their experience in recon, and medic especially for his ability to quickly get anyone back on their feet with his first aid that had been honed to instinctual perfection. After all, there wouldn’t be any easy retreats here if things went south.
They would have to seem to be twice as many men as they were to draw enough guards off their routes and ensure Snake’s safe passage. Hopefully it would just be a short diversion, enough to distract them while snake would Snake to fulton out a significant percentage of their gear, and then they could disperse without engaging directly, a situation where they’d almost certainly be outnumbered and outgunned.
It was risky. Possibly kind of stupid. But if they never aimed higher, how would MSF grow?
“Yeah, easy,” Kaz responded flatly. It would be his second time on a battlefield, and the first time… He just didn’t want to repeat that.
It had all been going so well. They’d drawn five or six guards off the point, and then—
Kaz cursed aloud in surprise at a series of gunshots that came close, way too close, as one of the guards took some rash exploratory shots into the bush where he and the medic were hiding. Condor, Gazelle and Jaguar were each successfully drawing away a pair of guards, not spotted yet, but Kaz’s exclamation garnered a dark chuckle from the guard walking towards his and the medic’s position, who motioned to the pair of men who had been attempting to track Condor a few yards away.
The medic instantly had his arms around Kaz, dragging him behind a thick tree stump before deciding on their next move. One hand clamped over his mouth, the other drawing his own pistol, he whispered urgently into the radio mic dangling around Kaz’s neck.
“Condor, give us some cover fire. We have to get out of here.” He pulled his hand from Kaz’s mouth and moved it down to just below his arm, preparing to hoist him up. “Ready to run?”
Kaz nodded, trying not to look too terrified.
“In 3… 2…”
The gunshots rang out before Medic finished the countdown, and Kaz was pulled up by his armpits, half-dashing half-sliding in a scramble to get away from the firefight behind them. It was all a blur. They scrambled up a small, heavily wooded hill before taking cover behind a few boulders.
“Oh god… fuck…” Kaz panted under his breath. “M-my leg… I can’t feel my leg… They got—“
Medic responded almost immediately to the panic keying up in his subcommander’s voice, snapping into his emergency training. He looked down at Kaz’s leg, everything intact at first glance, but the ankle was bent at an unnatural angle.
“You’re OK, you’re OK.” Medic quickly holstered his gun, ears still tuned for any update from Condor or Gazelle over the radio. He pulled Kaz’s legs out straight, rolling up his pant leg and swiftly cutting through the laces of his boot with a pocket knife, pulling it off and removing the sock. Underneath, Kaz’s ankle was already an angry, inflamed red, the soft purple and green of heavy bruising already forming. “It’s a dislocation. A bit of a nasty one. You can’t feel it because you’re in shock.”
“Wh-what…” Kaz said weakly.
The gunfire had died off. Medic took the radio again, still paying close attention to Kaz’s breathing and color. “Condor, Gazelle, Jaguar, any updates?” After a few seconds of tense silence Jaguar came on the line.
“We’re all fine, managed to evade and regroup, but they’re still looking for us so we’re going to spread out again…” He paused, obviously a bit anxious. “But I guess that’s the point of the game this time, huh? Is Commander Miller ok?”
“He’s hurt but not critically… I’m going to have to stay with him, though.”
Kaz grabbed the radio from Medic, forcing himself, despite his shallow breathing and the cold sweat beading on his forehead, to throw in some words of his own.
“Don’t do anything crazy, alright? If you’re outgunned, retreat.”
“Yessir.” Jaguar signed off.
“Alright,” Medic said, taking the radio from Kaz and shutting it off. “We should be able to see them coming if they managed to follow us up here… I have to set your ankle and put it in a splint, though. If we try to move too much without doing that the damage could be permanent.” He leaned forward, untying Kaz’s scarf, pulling it from around his neck with a few gentle yanks. “That part will hurt, so…”
Kaz dutifully shoved it into his mouth, mumbling around the lump of fabric.
“Do it.” Kaz stared down his chest nervously, watching the other man’s hands closing around his bare foot. He could only distantly feel the slight pressure and warmth, but it felt weirdly intimate.
“Hey, was that your first time in the field just now?”
Kaz glanced up to give him an annoyed look, but Medic didn’t give him time to answer before twisting and yanking his ankle back into place. The handkerchief in his mouth muffled his resulting scream, letting him retain a sliver of dignity. After he finished tightly wrapping some thick bandages around Kaz’s ankle to hold it in place, the medic helped sit him up straight against the rock, then sat next to him, allowing Kaz to rest his head on his shoulder.
“You might suddenly feel tired, but it’s nothing serious. That’s normal.” The medic unholstered his gun and set it in his lap. “I figure we should just wait things out here, until the others give an all-clear.”
“Mm,” Kaz responded, letting his head sag onto the other man’s chest. “That uh.. wasn’t my first time, you know?”
Medic laughed. “I was teasing you. It sure as hell seemed like it. So what was?”
“Uhh,” Kaz found himself wanting to lie, but suddenly too exhausted to come up with a story. “That was actually… when Snake wiped out my unit... I was scared shitless. I wanted to die right there.”
“And now you work for him, funny how things go, right? He sucked me in like that too.”
“Y-yeah… If I don’t totally botch this… If I haven’t already—“
“Shh, worrying about it now doesn’t change the situation.”
Kaz went quiet for a while, and Medic resisted the comfortable urge to join the man dozing on his shoulder. He kept his hand on the gun in his lap, ears tuned to any sound of footsteps that may indicate someone had tracked them. He flinched slightly when he heard Kaz speak, soft but close to his ear.
“How about you? You seem pretty comfortable with a gun, for a medic.”
“Well, I just wanted to be a family doctor, but by the time I was finished medical school the economy was so bad I was in no position to start my own practice, and there weren’t many jobs left for locals…” Medic sighed, keeping his voice low and ear tuned to the sound of footsteps. It was good to talk to someone, even if they weren’t fully out of the woods yet, and Kaz still seemed woozy. Better to keep him alert. “There was a lot of unrest too so there were plenty of military groups looking for a medic… it felt like the only thing I could do, to provide for my family, and really help people,” Medic went on.
“Yeah… my parents and my little sister. Not so little now, though. She just got married, but they all still live on the farm together.”
“Must be nice…”Kaz said, shifting slightly against him.
“Having a big family like that, I never really—“ Kaz paused as he felt the medic’s finger over his lips again. He watched as the other man slowly lifted the gun from his lap, turning to peek through a slim crack between two of the boulders they were leaning up against.
One of the guards was nearby, a few yards down the slope they had scrambled up. He was by himself, but others might be close. Medic’s mind raced with possible ways to defuse the situation as he heard Kaz’s breathing subtly speed up next to him. Moving both of them would be a hassle to begin with, slipping further away undetected was nearly impossible given Kaz’s condition.
If he got a few steps closer, they’d have to prepare to fight their way out.
The guard was so close, it was unsafe to even use the radio, and yet, thanks to the rock formation between them, he hadn’t noticed their presence. Medic felt a gentle tug on his fatigues, and glanced away for a moment to see Kaz’s hand, clinging to a handful of fabric near his hip. Holding on, as if he was a kid scared that his parents would leave him behind in the crowd. What, Medic thought to himself, Is he thinking I might bolt without him?
Looking back to the approaching guard, Medic slipped one hand down his side and gently squeezed Kaz’s hand, what he hoped would read as an acknowledgement of some sort, before steadying his breath and flicking off the gun’s safety. At this point he knew, if the guard made a move to come around the corner of the rock formation, they’d have to do something.
He waited. He listened to footsteps that seemed to come impossibly slow. Was he dawdling? Did he already know they were back here? There was the sound of a boot crunching on a branch that seemed impossibly close, like it was right next to his ear. And then the sound of a radio crackling.
“Intruder detected. All guards return to base immediately.”
The man stopped, clumsily fiddling with the radio a bit before replying.
“What do you mean? We’re tailing the intruders out here.”
“Idiot, don’t make me say it twice!” The guard had the radio turned up loud, the faint voice of an extremely perturbed sounding man seemed to boom out like a thunderclap in the tense silence.
“Woah, what’s wrong?”
“Half of our gear is missing, get back here now before it’s all gone.”
The guard swore under his breath, turning then rapidly pacing in the opposite direction. It wasn’t until his footsteps faded to be nearly inaudible that Medic let out the long breath he’d been holding.
“You really were about to shoot him,” Kaz said quietly, impressed.
“Until the last second I was praying I wouldn’t have to, and I hope I never have to. But you know, to protect the people I’ve been charged with caring for, I wouldn’t hesitate.” Medic matter-of-factly flicked the safety back on and re-holstered his gun before extending a hand to help Kaz up, letting him lean heavily onto him to take the weight off his injured foot. Kaz flicked the volume switch up on his radio so they both could hear.
“Snake, the guards we managed to distract have been notified about the supplies missing, if you’re not already out—“
“Yeah yeah, Kaz.” Big Boss’ voice crackled back. “One step ahead of you.”
“You’re already out? All clear?”
“Yeah, all clear. And they had some pretty nice toys locked up in that storehouse.”
Kaz smiled, a broad grin splitting his face as he looked excitedly up towards Medic.
“Right! Great work Boss! I’ll tell the others!” He quickly fiddled with the dial. “Condor, Jaguar, Gazelle, the guards after us were called back to base. Are you all clear too?” He continued to smile, in absolute relief and elation as three enthusiastically positive responses came back. “All right, let’s meet at the coordinates we agreed on. A Jeep should be ready nearby. Great work today. Over and out.”
Medic still felt shaken by the close call, but Kaz’s happiness was a bit infectious.
“Starting to enjoy the job?” He asked, with a teasing smile.
“I guess. Would be better if my foot didn’t hurt so fucking badly.”
“I could carry you on my back, you know.”
Kaz blushed slightly in response, pouting. “I’m fine, geez. It’s only about a kilometre away. Just—“ He hopped onto one foot, throwing his arm around the medic’s shoulder. “I can manage like this, ok?”
“Suit yourself. I’ll get you some crutches when we get back, you’ll probably need them for at least 3 or 4 weeks to be safe.”
“Damn, lots of paperwork for me, then.”
“That’s right, and I’ll be making sure that’s all you’re doing.” He waited a while, until they had gotten into a comfortable rhythm, carefully navigating the uneven jungle footing, before going on. “By the way, what were you about to say?”
Kaz was silent for a few seconds.
“You know, just before we heard the guard. You were talking about your family…”
“Oh, was I? I… don’t even remember what I was going to say.”
Medic turned, trying to get a good view of his subcommander’s face, but the glare of sunlight cutting through the trees as the sun lowered in the sky turned his ubiquitous sunglasses into solid, reflective curtains.
“Well… fair enough.”