Fog of War

“Take it easy.”

The words sounded 1,000 miles away. Garbled, like the speaker was underwater. Scratchy, coming through an earful of cotton balls.

Lance could feel the bands around his chest, waist, thighs, and shins. Every part of his body hurt, even parts he didn’t know could hurt.

His body vibrated and shifted in ways that seemed intended to cause him even more pain. The stench of copper flooded his nose, along with burning fuel and used motor oil.

Whirring finally penetrated his foggy brain, a sound as familiar to him as rain on a hot tin roof. Rotors moving at 500 RPM, buzzing in the background as the machine they were attached to sped through the air.

“Where?” Lance managed to ask. “Who?”

“On our way to the field hospital. Medevac’d out.”

The voice was closer now, a little clearer.

“Who?” Lance asked again.

He desperately wanted to open his eyes, but even they hurt too much. Sure, he was being transported to a hospital or medical facility, but that in no way meant they were safe. He tested the give on the bands holding him down. Nope, there wouldn’t be any getting out of those, not in his condition.

“Guys whose existence can be neither confirmed nor denied by any legal entity.”

A cool cloth moved over his face. He grunted at the burn that came with it. Some type of antiseptic wipe.

“Sorry. Just trying to clean you up some.”

Soft breath over the burn, cooling it just enough for Lance’s body to go slack. He managed to peel open his eyes. Blurry images danced around his retinas: hazel eyes, furrowed brows, and pinched lips.

“Three minutes out, sergeant.”

The disembodied voice behind Lance pulled those eyes away. Lance gritted his teeth and once again moved against the straps restraining him. Stabbing pain in his ribs quickly nixed that action. At least one broken rib, if not two.

“Take it easy, Mitchell. We’ll be on the ground soon.”

Pain from the overhead lights dissipated slowly. Lance opened his eyes a bit more fully. Bruises around those hazel eyes now. One nearly swollen shut. A bandaged nose that had been broken quite violently.

“Barrett,” he managed to say. “You look worse than I feel.”

Dave snorted, then winced. “Asshole. Don’t make me laugh.”

“How bad?” Lance asked. He turned his gaze to the ceiling of the Sikorsky HH-60M Black Hawk. The lights were dimmed, medical equipment beeped around him, and two people passed in his periphery.

“Two angels.”

Lance’s throat tightened. There had only been four of them inserted.

“Did they…did we get them out, too?” he asked next.

“We’re all on board. Look, try to get some rest. Triage only goes so far,” Dave said, resting a hand on Lance’s shoulder. “We’ll be on the ground soon.”

Lance nodded and let his eyes drift shut. Two angels. His teammates. His friends. His brothers. He was signing the DD-214 as soon as he got hold of a pen. He was done.

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