Chapter 9/15. 2990 words.
Also at Archive of Our Own.
Summary: On Friday night, the battles are over until Monday. The Spy and the Heavy continue to help their new Medic cope with his situation. Meanwhile, the new Scout continues his new extracurricular activities.
Many thanks to our beta reader ProtoNeoRomantic.
Gunter made it to dinner, ate in silence, listened to Vlad's recapping of the battle without really hearing. It was when Samson nudged him that he looked up.
"Doc? You all right?"
Gunter seriously considered nodding, then shrugged.
Vlad leaned back and looked at him for a long moment. "This weekend we'll get everyone up to speed on how life goes around here," he said. "We'll go over it in the morning. You're on your own for the night."
Watching Gunter eat his supper – hollow-eyed, mechanical – Martin felt cruel. Cruel for even trying to bring the man up to speed in the first place, for forcing him onto the battlefield, for trying to keep him fit enough to keep going back. Would it have been kinder let the man fail, let him face the consequences of a broken contract before he even had an Über device, before he'd seen the horrors of the surgery and the battlefield firsthand? Kinder to let him retreat into psychosis after that first morning?
Never mind. It would surely be crueler, now, to let him self-destruct. Especially since he could see that the man was strong enough to handle this, once he got accustomed to seeing the violence each day. And the team truly needed him.
Martin had helped a much younger and more fragile person cope with the aftermath of violence and betrayal before. He would not fail this man, now.
"This weekend we'll get everyone up to speed on how life goes around here," Vlad said. "We'll go over it in the morning. You're on your own for the night."
Martin paused long enough to murmur a few words to Samson and Vlad. Liam might come up of his own accord, which was fine; but Lonnie seldom came to the roof on Fridays. He disapproved of the smoking and the drinking both. Tonight, that would be for the best. Finn, Krieg, and Sasha all seemed to be adapting well enough, they could be left to their own devices surely.
(Martin made a mental note to ensure his room was secure. If anyone got bored and curious, it would not do to have his own room invaded.)
Gunter was Martin's main concern, and not only because Vlad had put him in charge of getting the man ready for battle in the first place. After a quick stop to grab a few things from his room, he grabbed the doctor's attention and led him through the passage in the attic that lead to the flattest part of the roof.
None of them had been here for a while – with so many of the team gone, and Samson stuck in some kind of near-catatonia, none of the rest of them had had the heart to spend time here, where they could see off into the distance, under the starry desert sky.
~ ~ ~
Gunter wondered dully why Martin had taken him to the roof. So he could fall off again? Maybe if he did it often enough, he'd learn to like it?
He sat heavily on the roof, drew up his knees and hugged them. When he looked out, he could see across the valley, and the dark sky full of stars. The moon wasn't up, and the stars and the base were the only source of light here.
"I wonder whether we could find a place here for you to dig," Martin said after taking the first drag on his cigarette. "One of the old mine shafts, perhaps? The gravel pits? They're abandoned now, and perhaps there might be something worth finding, if you dug from the sides of a pit."
Gunter didn't bother to reply. You couldn't dig just anywhere. His own specialty was Indian cultures, and the likelihood of a good site around this place was probably nil.
But it helped get his mind out of the black pit it kept falling into. Dark shapes obscured the stars briefly: bats on the wing. It was quiet here, with only breezes and distant sounds, either insects or maybe the bats, or his own team or the Reds –
He buried his head in his arms. He'd thought he could do this, but it was worse the second time. He had to get out, even if it meant a black mark. Even if it meant going home in defeat. He wouldn't be killed at home.
~ ~ ~
Sasha had waited for darkness. He'd planned even better this time, which wasn't hard because the first time he hadn't planned at all. He wore a dark gray sweater and black pants and socks, so he'd be harder to see. What the hell else was he going to do on a Friday night, cooped up in this place? No movies, no TV, nowhere to go, no girls, nothing to do.
He didn't know where most of the others went, but that was something to learn, wasn't it? So he'd search around quietly in the dark. Tomorrow he'd have all day to poke around legally, but he was bored now, because this place was boring as shit when they weren't fighting.
Sasha eased out of his window and listened. No noise yet. He did a chin-up on the gable, being careful now that he knew at least one person would go up to the roof, and peeked over. In the near-blackness, it looked like maybe some dark shapes against the sky? Maybe? Wait, that definitely sounded like someone talking, but too quietly for Sasha to catch it.
He dropped back to his windowsill. No way he wanted to take the roof right now. But – he looked down the line of windows – if the guys were on the roof, they weren't in their rooms, were they?
~ ~ ~
"I expect I am displaying my own ignorance, to make such a suggestion," Martin continued softly, exhaling a thin stream of smoke into the dark. "But if you came here believing there was a site here, perhaps that means one could exist in such a place, no? Dry and rocky?"
The silence stretched between them, until Martin broke it again, smoothly.
"I thought you would like to sit up here for a while. There is usually a breeze in the evening, and it is quiet. Inside, there is of course no breeze, and more noise."
Gunter nodded. He realized he wanted to think of anything else, and conversation with Martin would allow that. He made himself raise his head and take the offered drink. "You can see a long way," he said, knowing it was banal, but it was all he could think of. "I didn't know what kind of site it would be here. Usually there's arrowheads or pottery or maybe an old stone foundation, or a cliff dwelling… something to indicate people were there."
"I was blind," he said. "I should have asked more. But I needed a job, and I wanted one so bad that I should have asked more than I did. I've got experience, I've got my doctorate. But there's only so many positions or funding available. So I thought this was a great opportunity. I could do my work, get paid for it… and I didn't ask a lot of questions. Stupid."
He drank some more.
"So now I'm here, all nice and legal, and it's my own damn fault. And all the blood… I don't know how you do it. I fell today."
Martin said nothing, and Gunter became aware of someone nearby. He turned and saw a big shape in the darkness: probably Samson. The man was so quiet.
Samson sat on Gunter's free side. Nobody spoke for a while.
"I fell, and I couldn't move," Gunter continued. He didn't care if Samson heard it. "I broke my back… and the other Medic came at me, like he couldn't wait to carve me up." His hands unconsciously went to his face. "I should've never let him touch me. The Uber device. He's a madman. I think they all are."
~ ~ ~
Sasha eased his way along the side of the building. He was light enough to hang from the gable and anything his fingers and toes could grab onto. He'd ditched the socks for better sense of his feet, and had made his way past two windows. One had light but the wooden blinds were closed, so he got past that as fast as he could. The other was locked.
He had one more window, and if this one was locked he'd have to turn around and go back. Which sounded pretty good right now; his arms ached with the effort. But he'd try this window first, because he didn't want to come back this way a second time.
~ ~ ~
There was another little stretch of silence.
"You said, just after you arrived, that you were not a sociologist, but an archeologist." Martin offered the bottle to Samson, but did not partake, himself. "I thought it a shame. A sociologist might learn many interesting things about a group of men in such circumstances. Forever at war, but on regular hours, never dying – at least, not staying dead – the same eighteen men in a closed community for months on end. Little contact with the world outside."
Martin exhaled an angry stream of smoke.
"Small wonder some are madmen. Some come here because they are madmen, because this is a place where they can be mad without reprisal. Red Medic is one such, I believe. I also avoid my own counterpart. But no, I do not believe all of them are madmen. Most of them, like most of us, come here for reasons of their own, and stay for reasons of their own, and manage to stay as sane as anyone in this cruel world."
He stubbed his cigarette out on the rugged metal roof, and dropped the butt in the beer bottle someone had left here for the purpose.
Gunter knew the whole setup smelled fishy – a war where nobody died, that ran on banker's hours, with people from all over the world but isolated in one place. And yet, here he was. He wouldn't have believed it if he hadn't seen it himself.
Samson waved off the bottle Martin offered.
Maybe Martin was right. The Spy didn't seem crazy. Samson had retreated from the world, for several days… like how Gunter felt now. Maybe some of them had made a mistake.
"I came," Samson said, "because it was a place I could be."
Gunter turned to look at him in the darkness.
"I was in the Army," Samson said. "I can be very angry. It can make life difficult when I get angry. Even in the Army. Here, I can do it safely, because nobody is hurt for long. It lets me be angry, then be my true self, because the anger is released."
Nobody spoke for a bit. Gunter thought about Samson's words. That… made sense for him to be here, then, if Samson was a violent man. He could let out those urges and yet at the end of the day, everyone was still alive. Though whoever was on the receiving end of those urges probably wished him dead.
"David," and Samson sighed, "I told him about the money I was earning here. I sent it home to him, to use for our village. He wanted to know more. I warned him it could be a bad place for a doctor. He came anyway. He had trouble, just as you do. He was not a madman. He did this because we sent the money home to help our family and our neighbors. Thanks to this job, they were better off."
Gunter now felt guilty. It wasn't like he had any grandiose plans for the money; he just wanted a good job doing what he loved, and to show his parents that archaeology was a real career.
"Liam has nowhere else to go. He's wanted in England for bombing. He, like David and I, is of two worlds, and not truly at home in either. Lonnie is afraid of the world outside. The new men… I do not know."
"And Vlad?" Gunter asked, interested despite himself.
Martin stirred. "Perhaps you should ask him that yourself."
So, Gunter thought, why am I here? Besides being hoodwinked into a job. I came here looking for work. I'm almost out of money and I have debts to pay. The money I could earn here is still good; it's just violently earned. Nobody else seems to have a problem with who killed who, at the end of each day. No more than someone might be bothered by getting cut off on the road, or finding out nobody made a fresh pot of coffee.
But can I do this? He squeezed his eyes shut. Red Medic, coming at him with a bloody saw. The Uber surgery. The… most of this was about Red Medic, wasn't it? If he were honest, that was the man who terrified him the most here. Not his own team. Not even most of the other team, despite the high number of madman wearing red. Red Medic. Did the man have a name? It didn't matter. It was difficult dealing with the blood, but the mad doctor was terrifying.
Gunter unfolded a little and tried to work out the kinks in his arms and legs. If he could stay out of Red Medic's way, maybe he could… no. He couldn't. Not in an enclosed area, not with so few people. But if he couldn't avoid the madman, what could he do?
And Red Medic wasn't the only one gunning for him. That first day, the Red Sniper had shot at him repeatedly. The Red Heavy had come after him. He knew now that they'd been targeting him – like Martin said, attacking, like chickens (that was an odd concept), trying to peck him to death.
The bad part was that it was working. He didn't want to stay here. But until he could get out, he had to deal with it.
Gunter took a deep breath, started to speak, changed his mind. He was still weary, and would love nothing more than to go to sleep and wake up to discover this was all a horrible nightmare. But this was his new reality.
~ ~ ~
The window had been closed, but unlocked. Sasha gratefully sat on the windowsill with his feet hanging inside the room. Getting here had sucked, and he still had to get back to his own room. But he'd proved he could do it! Good thing the room was empty.
His eyes were already adjusted to the darkness, but this room looked pretty empty, like someone was just using it as a hotel room. Sasha wondered whose it was. Nothing was set out, no pictures or personal stuff or nothin', which meant it wasn't one of the veterans. Obviously it wasn't his room. That left Doc, Krieg or Finn, and it could be any one of them.
Sasha slipped into the room and tiptoed toward the door. Locked. At least the guy had some sense.
The Scout heard something fly into the room. Holy shit, what was that? He looked around, nervous – animals could bite or somethin' – and saw a fluttering of wings near the nightstand. "Aw, shit," he muttered. How was he going to get a bird out of a room?
~ ~ ~
"Doctor," Samson said at last, "Vlad tells me you were tricked into this job."
"You didn't know what job you signed up for."
Gunter nodded, then said, "Yes."
"But now you know. And it will get easier," Martin said.
It could hardly get worse, Gunter thought. But wasn't that a good thing? The bottom of the pit means there's nowhere to go but up. Or to get stuck at the bottom.
"Even those who know ahead of time often do not immediately adjust," Martin said, the smoke from his exhalation looking white in the dark. "If you had, then you might indeed be mad. But you are not. And you will overcome this and be stronger for it."
That made sense too. Gunter took the cigarette Martin offered him.
He would still try to get out. He had to. But he could… he could get through this until then. He could avoid or defend against Red Medic. Keep sucking on peppermints. Nobody was really dying, and his team were normal people, mostly.
If only there weren't so much blood and body parts…
"I'll try," he said at last. A thought came to him as he smoked. "It must be hell on the Reds to have him for their doctor."
Now he took the liquor Martin offered. It burned, and that was fine. He was still alive, wasn't he? And it was the weekend… no killing for two days. Two days, and if he kept busy, that would help. Stay too busy to think.
~ ~ ~
Sasha despaired of getting the dumb bird out of the room. It wouldn't leave, and he couldn't make noise or he'd get caught. Plus he'd wasted so much time on the beast that he hadn't done any snooping – investigating – and he knew he had to keep investigations short.
The hell with it. Sasha exited the window and closed it almost all the way. Whoever lived here might think the wind had blown it open, or they hadn't closed it properly. That would explain the stupid bird if it was still here when they got back. Probably as soon as Sasha was gone it would fly out on its own.
He didn't like the slow crawl back, either. Someone was definitely on the roof, so he had to take it extra-careful, and that meant he couldn't be fast. It drove him nuts.
By the time he returned to his own room, his limbs ached and he just wanted a drink and to kick back. This spy shit was hard.