Immortal War (Peregrine x Bubblegum-Wolf)

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  1. All in all, it was anything but a pleasant place. While coastal India may be known for palm trees and lavish farmland, Northern Uzbekistan was about as far as it was possible to get from "paradise". While the village may have had enough pipeline to keep it from turning into a dry husk, only a few feet beyond its last road the Desert of Red Sand began in full force. Kyzyl Kum was a place so waterless that the term "dry" could no longer even apply to it. The few gangly shrubs that did manage to worm their way up through the endless miles of sand were haggard, and the small clumps would suddenly give way to another massive, rolling dune. During the day, the sun beat down upon the pale sand, and the heat rose in waves, distorting the air and turning the world into some sort of phantasm. During the night, without anything to hold the heat in, the temperature would plummet, and the little animals would burrow their way into the sand to try and collect the last dregs of heat.

    The heat was now at its greatest, and the few locals who managed to scratch out a living in this desiccated land had wisely retreated from the heat. In some ways, this was ideal for the Navy SEAL team that rolled its way in a little after midday. With fewer people in the streets, the chance of getting spotted before closing in on the target was greatly reduced. But this also meant bearing the full heat of the sun, and while the bulletproof camouflage suits may have been as pale as the desert sand, it didn't keep the heat from building up. But they bore it with the stoic, nervous sort of tension typical of any big mission. And this was the biggest they had received yet.

    When the revolution began in India five years ago, the leaders of both political parties had scattered to the winds. Had the revolution only mattered to the Indians, it might have been settled quickly. The lowest Caste system members could rebel all they pleased, but if they could not get food and shelter their revolution would quickly die out. Had the first election been between democracy and something other than a Communist party, the US may have not deemed it necessary to tamper with the election, despite the massive support the party received from the working class. Had the information not gotten out, those same people might have waited for the next election, believing that enough effort on their parts might change things. And, perhaps, if Russia had not quietly lent its complete support to the Communist party, their leaders would never have dared ignore the peace talks after the information came out.

    But the past was not a place of "what ifs". It was a Communist party, America did tamper with the election to ensure a Democratic win, and the working class of India did find out. Russia was infinitely eager to have both the first and second most populous countries in the world as Communist states, and the US would do anything to make sure that did not happen, even if it meant resorting to assassination. And so the full on war began with the final goal on both sides being to kill the leaders of the other side. Then the resistance would crumble away.

    That was why the SEAL team worked its way slowly past the buildings, exchanging a quiet, nervous word and sharing a brief laugh to relieve some of that indefinable pressure of responsibility. They were looking for one of the Communist leaders, no one as important as the running "President" or "Vice-President" but someone who, with the right prompting, could reveal a location that might get the US teams one step closer.

    Of course, there was also the matter that the US had to quietly protect its interests in the Indian Democracy in such a way that the Russian and Communist teams would not find out. And both sides did their absolute best to do these assassinations quietly. No one wanted another Cold War. And so, even though the whole world knew that America and Russia were only a step away from war, no one said a word, as though it would break some sort of unconscious treaty that kept the bombs at bay.

    The village had not been a particularly attractive place. The walls were made from the same sand that surrounded the village, and it caused the buildings to almost look like dunes of their own. The streets were continually dusty, and they funneled the heat like a sauna. But now that they were through it there was no time for complaint, no time for anything but one last small joke, one last attempt to pretend that this was nothing more than normal, one last moment to remember that they were doing this for the greater good, and they must succeed. And so they wiped a couple of drops from their foreheads, and then received the order to move forward.

    From the rooftops, one man had watched the procession pass through the village with silence written on his face. A small, wry grin spread across his face as he watched the team move slowly forward. His clothes were loose but neat, the kind of lazy professionalism that only came naturally to those who had been under observation their whole life. His white-blonde hair was shaggy but neatly styled with small curls coming down to frame his ice blue eyes. Despite the bright, fierce sun, not a single drop of sweat beaded on his fair skin.

    The grains of sand that flung themselves fearlessly into the wind and raced each other along the rooftops did not nestle into the folds of his light blue collared shirt and his grey slacks. In fact, they did not touch him at all as they skidded straight through his outstretched hand.

    At the moment, he called himself Connor, for it was the name that Italy Hershal had given him. This was after she had finally convinced herself that this apparent figment of her imagination was not a sign of impending madness, but rather a man in his own right even if he was only visible to her. He had refused to give her a name, and so eventually she had been forced to pick one. Connor. The name she had always meant to give to the pet dog she never had.

    In some ways, it was an appropriate name. For, like a dog, Connor stood up and began to jog after Italy as she drifted from his line of vision., His bare feet sunk half an inch into the rooftop that would not hold him, and he cared too little to rectify the lapse. No one was watching after all. When they reached the edge of the little community, he jogged out through the open air as fluidly as he had across the rooftops. He was making for a run-down building with heavily boarded windows. It was a dilapidated old thing, and had been made to look as though it had been uninhabited for years.

    That was, after all, the point. That was the point of coming to hide in such a godforsaken little place, where the only ones to keep you company were locals who had so faded from the rest of society that they only knew the things that were of direct relevance to their own survival. No one was supposed to be able to find them, and to keep their own necks safe even politicians who had grown used to the comforts of civilization over the course of a pampered life would retreat to the most menial of existences.

    After five years, though, it was only human to become a little lax. They had gone into politics for the money and fame, most likely, and while they may truly believe in the creeds they professed, there were things that were more important in life. Pleasure and entertainment, if they could not be found wherever the men were, would have to be brought in. A satellite TV, however carefully smuggled in, stood out in a landscape where most residents didn't even have a mobile phone. And who wouldn't want to grant these men a few of their small wishes? They had, after all, sacrificed five years of their life for this greater good.

    As he grew close to the building, Connor slowed and dropped a little bit from the sky. He came to rest in front of a wooden door and paused, stretching out his fingers slightly. This time his fingers didn't pass through the door, but rather settled on the cracked grey wood with the merest whisper of contact. It was like the echo of a dream, something too impossible to truly be understood, but put into context of something to processed upon re-awakening. Italy’s world was like that for Connor, only an echo of sight, sound, and sensation that was too dreamlike to be reality, but far too real to ever be relegated to nothing more than a dream.

    Sometimes, when Connor slipped back out of Italy’s world and into his physical body, that was the only thing that kept him believing it had really happened. The realness allowed him to know it truly wasn't just a dream, a hallucination created by his desperate mind to give him back some form of influence. His physical reality was four walls, and the inability to control his own destiny. Italy’s world was a dream of power, a dream that proved his own ability to change his own miserable existence, for how could it even be called a life, that he led. And it was far too true to ever be a dream.

    And as his phantasm fingers touched the door, the door touched him back, and the world passing around him paused. In the mind within his own mind he stepped away from the door, and turned to look around him. In that indefinable way of dreams, he knew he was looking at the world as it had been five years ago. In the end, little looked different from present day. There were only two things that separated Connor’s dream of contact from Italy’s reality where a young Navy SEAL led her mission. The first was that it was night. The moon was high in the sky, but its cat-scratch glow did little to illuminate even these pale red sands. The second was the beat of helicopter blades echoing within his ears. It descended slowly, sending the sand that inevitably piled up in the shelter of crevices scattering away to a new and more peaceful destination.

    The skids had yet to even touch down when seven men started jumping out. One hesitated briefly, but a firm push on his overlarge buttocks tumbled him out. Only the arms of another man waiting below kept him from falling flat on his face. As the last man in the helicopter jumped off, the barrel of his gun caught a single beam of moonlight and glinting dangerously. He pushed his way through the small milling crowd of solders and the blubbery politician as the helicopter blades sped up and pushed the aircraft away. The man rammed his shoulder into the door, springing it open, and the other men herded their principle into the house.

    Connor pulled his hand away from the door, and studied his fingertips for a moment, a cursory sort of curiosity in his face. Italy would be pleased because there was no doubt that her target was in the building. But that soldier had the look of a man who had endured many campaigns, and he knew the risk of laxity even if the others did not. It was surprising that he had not yet realized there was a hit-team crawling up towards his door.

    Connor's eyes suddenly went wide, and he whirled around, taking the shortest path back to Italy. Had he physically been there he would have made it back in time. But he had no such limitations. He appeared in front of Italy only a split second before the bullet hit her forehead. The moment it touched her skin all of its momentum vanished, and it clattered harmlessly onto the stone in front of her feet.

    At the same instant, Connor's head rocked back, so hard that it seemed his neck should snap. A wash of blood sprayed from his forehead, and he could not help but cave forwards as his knees gave out from underneath him. Away from Italy’s world, back in his physical body, he could feel the scream start, a harsh, keening shriek that would draw the attention of anyone nearby should they care enough to wonder why he was screaming. But they didn't. They had long ago learned to ignore his screams.

    The pain, the all consuming agony, did not touch his phantasm face. Not while Italy was looking. Dealing with that pain was left to the physical body, it would have to find its own way to cope. He stood slowly, the cavity in his phantasm skull already starting to form back into a proper shape. Only the slightest flicker of darkness deep within his light eyes could attest to his silent suffering, but it was so easy to miss, especially when the only person who could see him would not want to see the pain she caused.

    "Latimer is in the building," Connor told her, his rich tenor unchanged from its usual sweet lilt. "But his 'security' has spotted you." He paused for a moment, and almost seemed to flicker. "There is a sniper on the roof at about ten-thirty. And he's aiming for Hanks."
  2. The hazy shimmer of heat waves floated above the pale rosy sand and created an undeniably beautiful illusion that phantasms danced among the dunes as Italy Hershal led her elite team of Seals over the unmarked landscape, Footsteps quietly crunching against partially hidden stones or creating a gentle shush of shifting sand. Her figure was the smallest of the group, shorter than The others by at least a hand's breadth, but this didn't deter from her lithe muscular build or the confidence that carried each of her steps over the undeniably harsh surroundings. Her height nor her pale complexion also didn't appear to have any deterrents on the respectful glances she often caught from her team, similar to the one she spotted on A few faces as she cast her cinnamon colored gaze out around them. Things hadn't always been that way, with respectful looks from her fellow soldiers and herself being in such an important leadership position. But things had drastically changed when Connor had appeared.

    On that day, Italy had thought that she had finally snapped and was going crazy, Disbelieving as a man appeared right in front of her out of thin air. He talked to her, Interacted with her, commented on the things that she did, But no one else reacted to his sudden appearance and the first attempts she made to touch him saw her hand slipping through his body like smoke. At first, she had thought to talk with someone about it, discuss with a therapist the possibility of her mental instability due to recent trauma she may have suffered during the increasingly difficult situations she found herself getting out of. Was her sudden climb of recognition because of her accomplishments somehow uncovering an instability that had been buried in the recesses of her mind? But her unbreakable streak of stubbornness had planted her feet from pursuing that line of action, Made her Square her jaw and continue on her bullheaded way in forging The career she pursued in the Navy, joining in a war to keep her country safe.

    It wasn't until the day that she got into a deadly gunfight that she started to pay any serious attention to the blonde stranger that seemed to stalk her every step. She and The rest of the small team that she had been assigned to had received instructions to quietly handle a small skirmish that had broken out between a rebel group and a local ally party, Marching into the conflict without the knowledge that they would most likely be outnumbered three to one. Her invisible companion had been there, intent and serious, Sticking next to her like a golden retriever following their master. She had done her best to ignore him, to focus on her team and the mission they had to achieve, But found that increasingly difficult to do once they were ambushed by a group of rebels heading towards the main conflict. After that, the only clear memories that she could recall of that incident were the spray of bullets that had exploded in her direction, cutting down her companions on either side of her, The clatter of the metal as it fell away from her body, and the crimson Bulletholes that appeared in The man that only she could see, each in the exact location where she thought she had been shot herself. She and a man called Bryce Hanks had been the only survivors of that encounter, She had been the only one who hadn't suffered any injuries, and she had finally accepted Conner's existence.

    Not that he had asked her to call him Connor. The man had blank faced refused to give her his name, stoking her Irish temper that always seemed to be a layer of heat beneath her skin. Eventually, she had been forced to call him something other then man, Hey you, or blonde figment of my imagination, And had opted for a name that struck her sense of humor. Connor. The name she had always wanted to give the golden retriever she had never been able to adopt, The same dog that the man reminded her of on the first day that he had saved her life. And after a time, he came to accept the name, Responding to it when she would talk to him, And they're strange relationship had quickly blossomed.

    Pushing The memories that had momentarily surfaced to the back of her mind, Italy signaled for the team to move behind a low cluster ofstunted shrubs, their twisted branches providing a minimal amount of Space between them, Providing perfect cover to make a temporary observation spot. As one, the group transitioned into crouches, peering through their convenient cover towards the dilapidated building a stone's throw away. Italy found herself on the far edge, Closest to the building, with her left shoulder pressed up against Hanks's right. The two old Friends quickly cast a look of reassurance at one another before they simultaneously turned back towards the building, Hanks withdrawing a small set of binoculars from his pocket.

    "doesn't appear that there is anyone in the building." The middle-aged man grunted in his low growl, Absently scratching at the stubble on his chin. "... But they've got most of the windows boarded up to hide that sort of thing. I think I can just make out the edge of something metallic on the roof, But I wouldn't be able to tell you what it is."

    Pursing her lips together with the information, Italy was more focused on studying the building for details that she hadn't prepared herself mentally for the sudden reappearance of Connor. He popped back into existence only inches in front of her, Causing her heart to launch into her throat and a jolt to rock her body that nearly cut her teeth through her tongue. Simultaneously, A distinctive pop sliced through the silence an instant before she felt the familiar press of a bullet against the skin of her forehead, saw Conner's Head rock back with the impact, His form falling to his knees A moment later, meeting her eyes with his fathomless dark gaze. She barely was aware of his message, focused as she was on the steady dripping of the blood across his face, But her body was able to react for her, first with a fierce joy and then a sudden grip of terror.

    "Hanks."her voice choked out of her as she twisted just in time to hear The second and third pops of the sniper rifle, Watched as her friend's lips parted in a surprised gasp of pain as the bullets impacted in his chest. "No... Get down!" Her groan turned into a sharp command, The rest of her team dropping to the ground as she herself landed on her belly, instinctively reaching out for her friend as he groped at the single bullethole that penetrated the space between his armor.

    "Hanks..." She gasped through her dry lips, clutching at one of his hands with both of hers and squeezing tightly, feeling the rush of heat behind her eyes as the shock and anger began to set in. She watched as he turned his faded denim gaze in her direction, saw the intense pain flickering in their depths, And felt her heart nearly break as she heard the distinctive bubbling of liquid that was quickly filling his long as he labored to breathe. "I-I'm so sorry..." She forced out in a strangled whisper, Feeling the hot tears beginning to spill out over her cheeks.

    A bloody hand was suddenly pressed against her face as Hanks tried to wipe the tears away. "Hush now firecracker. Don't cry for me." He wheezed out, Using the nickname he had given her after seeing her bright orange hair, Before lapsing into a fit of coughing that left his lips speckled with blood. His hand collapsed back onto his chest, weakly reaching for his right shoulder and barely being able to press his fingers against it before he lost strength. "just don't forget about me sweetheart. Keep yourself safe...."

    In response, Italy just managed to press her own hand against her left shoulder, fingers just managing to brush the edge of the tattoo that she had placed on her back. The one of the twin snowy falcons, One with his wings spread in-flight , The same image that Hanks had on his opposite shoulder , The one he had drawn for them after they had survived the massacre ... She nodded, watching as the light finally faded from his eyes , A small smile twitching at his lips , And she felt herself threatening to break into a sob as she leaned in and pressed a kiss to the man's quickly cooling mouth, tasting the blood as she said her last goodbye to the man that had become her father, her brother.
    With the heel of her hands, Italy forcefully rubbed away the tears from her eyes, Made herself take a deep breath through her mouth that made her chest ache, And finally managed to push away her explosive emotions to deal with when she had gotten the rest of her team to safety. With one last huff, She pressed her palms into the ground and lifted herself onto her hands and knees, Looking towards the remainder of her soldiers.

    "Our cover has been blown. We need to get in as close to the building as we can, keep out of range of the rifle. We can come back for Hanks later, but for now I want your top priority to be getting to that building. Understood?" She said in as steady of a voice as she could muster, Meeting the gaze of each of her team before she received a nod from each of them. She hesitated a moment before returning a nod of her own, Standing as they did and rushing out into the heat of the desert to reach the protection of the building.
  3. For a moment, as he stood there watching the tears stream down Italy’s face, Connor allowed himself to wonder which was more painful, getting shot in the head with a sniper’s bullet, or watching the pain in her face as her oldest friend too his final breath. Italy was a professional, and she knew her job. The sniper on the roof would take another shot if he was given a chance, and she and her team needed to move. They didn’t have much time anymore, because there was no doubt that the Russians were professionals as well. They would not have trapped themselves in that run-down shack of a house, and, even after five years of nothing, they would have plans in place for this moment.

    Connor had his own jobs to do, so he stood and walked away from Italy, hands shoved deep into nonexistent pockets. He pushed thoughts of Hanks from his mind, or rather, he pushed all thoughts of his own lack of reaction from his mind. He may not have known Hanks as long as Italy, but Connor had been there since the team had come together. He had floated invisibly, watching as they laughed, played cards, risked their lives hundreds of times over for their own, personal greater good. He may never have had a chance to interact with them, but he knew the strengths and weaknesses of his team. And they were his team, perhaps even more so than they were Italy’s. She may call out the orders, she may be the one that the team looked up to, but Connor was the one who puzzled the pieces all together, who gathered the information it was impossible to get, and positioned each member of the team where they would do the most damage. In some ways, it was like watching the death of a TV show character. There were echoes of emotions, a sense of deprivation, but no true, deep seated loss. No anger, no sorrow, just an empty echo. And that was as scary as anything Connor had ever faced. The only taste of comfort he could find in the situation was that, if he had been able, he would have taken that bullet for Hanks. No matter the questions it might have raised. And that was no real consolation at all.

    There were five soldiers inside the building. Four of them were seated around a table playing cards, next to a man who was unmistakably Latimer. The desert had wicked away all excess fat from his body, and he was as lean as any of the guards, if not as strong. His face was perfectly blank as he looked down at his hand, and his eyes when he glanced at the other players was stony. Five years in the desert seemed to have done him some good. No one would ever dare call him blubbering now.

    The fifth soldier was standing by the door, absentmindedly leaning against the wood frame. Connor recognized him as well. This was the man who had pushed Latimer out of the helicopter five years ago, the veteran who was likely going to cause a lot of problems for Italy and her team. She had already lost one friend today, and that loss would catch up to her soon enough. The last thing Connor wanted to do was add another American body to the pile. In all likelihood, that meant the Russians would be sacrifice.

    As soon as the first shot went off every man in the room froze. The men playing cards laid down their hands, unconcerned about revealing their winning, or losing, deal. There were larger concerns. One shot might be an accident, a warning, or a drill, but the second and third shots that followed in rapid succession meant that someone was definitely out there. The guards were reaching for their weapons, and Latimer stood, panic in his eyes. One of the guards hustled him away from the rest, towards a back room.

    Connor stepped up in front of the veteran soldier and stretched out ghostly fingers. They came to rest against his cheek, fading into the man’s neat beard. He closed his eyes and Podpolkovnik Pavlov reached up a gloved hand to scratch absentmindedly at the spot.

    If nothing else, Connor had been right about his estimation. Pavlov had joined the Russian military young, following in the footsteps of his elder brother, father, uncle, grandfather, and great-grandfather. He had taken to soldiering naturally and efficiently, and had quickly risen through the ranks. He would likely still have been working directly on the Russian fronts if he hadn’t accidentally made an enemy of his superior officer. The man was corrupt and held a grudge like no other, and had gotten Pavlov relegated to guard duty as soon as he had gotten the opportunity.

    The Podpolkovnik had taken the job with the same acceptance he took every order he was given, and had devoted himself fully to the protection. Five years was a long time, but the man had never allowed himself to falter, and he was as prepared for attack now as he had been weeks after they had first arrived. If anything, he was more prepared now, because he had time to set everything up to his advantage. Even as he was signaling one of the men to take Latimer out the tunnel they had dug in the back room to a jeep waiting less than a mile away, he was running through calculations, taking into account the potential number of enemies, as well as the position of every person in his own team.

    Beside the sniper on the roof, the four guards in the house, and Pavlov himself, there were also four more guards who were living in various houses in the village. They would have heard the shots at least as clearly as the men in the house, and would be preparing just as efficiently. It was a clever plan. A team that did not have the same resources as Italy likely would stay in “hiding” near the building, unaware that there was a clean line of sight to them from the village they had just passed through. With a team as small as Italy’s picking off even one or two with that strategy would be enough to ensure a Russian victory, likely without any losses. The jeep was simply a precaution, and the flat desert around it would allow for a clear view of anyone approaching. If any enemy soldiers somehow managed to make it through the Russian ambush, it was doubtful they would be able to catch a jeep on foot.

    Italy had less than a minute to get her team into a new position before they became trapped between two sets of Russian soldiers. He only took a brief moment to check the general direction of the jeep before carefully flickering back into existence in Italy’s peripheral vision. Now was not the time to have her flinching.

    “They are moving Latimer to a jeep, less than a mile to the northeast,” he relayed. “One is escorting him, so there are going to be four soldiers coming out of the house in just a few seconds. But there are four more coming from the village, dressed as civilians. If you stay here they’ll have you pinned. Best to take them on even footing, so find a way to take out the sniper on the roof and send Rhodes after the jeep. The only clear alley is the one just left of center, the rest have Russian soldiers coming down them.”

    It would, as always, be up to Italy to decide how much of this to tell the rest of her team. By now it didn’t really matter how much she told them; they trusted her to make the best decisions. War was not a foreign territory for these SEAL’s. They worked together as a well-oiled machine.
  4. Fear and uncertainty momentarily clutched at her heart at the heavily uneven circumstances she and her team were finding themselves in, she didn't want to lose another friend today, but Italy forcefully pushed aside her doubts and gritted her teeth. She briefly cast a look of gratitude towards Connor before she was back in action, cool and confident. Twisting quickly, she reached out and grabbed Rhodes by his upper arm, Instantly attracting his attention and gaze.

    "they will most likely be moving Latimer out the back of the building, I want you to catch them before they can get whatever vehicle they have stored out there. The desert flattens out to the northeast, Go that way. Now!" She managed to get out in a rush of words, impressing them on her companion with a squeeze to his arm. She was satisfied when a determined expression Touched his face and he gave her a confident nod before silently slipping around the corner of the building and out of her sight.

    With wholehearted faith in her best runner, Italy twisted back towards the rest of her team, quickly pointing to the leftmost section of the village they had just come out of minutes before. "we'll need to head back in that direction to give him a sufficient distraction to make it out safely. I see movement in the village, which will most likely be Village supporters the Russians have recruited, Except in the leftmost area. I want us to head in that direction and spread out, try and get behind them. I'll take out the sniper. Go!" She clipped quickly to the rest of her team, watching Yoong nod hard once and Sophia smoothly pull Her gun swiftly from her back before the three soldiers took off at a dead run towards the village, Italy only waiting a heartbeat before she followed after them.

    Each slam of her foot against the desert sand sent a small jolt through her legs, Scattering grains in small clouds away from the impacts, and Italy felt every step, every heartbeat, every breath, Adrenaline rushing hot into her veins. The world around her seemed to sharpen with clarity and she could feel it in her bones when she reached solid rocks buried deep within the sand, Her mind and body acting instantaneously as she skidded to a stop, Using her momentum to turn her body back towards the solitary building. Her hands were already flying towards her rifle, pulling it free and swinging the muzzle up, Finger already pulling on the trigger. Several bullets sprayed into the building, breaking through wood with shattering cracks, Securing the interest of the soldiers within, before she was pointing towards the roof, attracted by subtle movement of one who wished to stay hidden.

    At the last possible moment, the sniper popped into view, His gun pointed directly at her. Italy didn't hesitate as she pumped The trigger three times, Aiming for his chest, head, and shoulders. Before her shots could reach him, he had already done the same, several bullets exploding in her direction, No doubt heading for her own chest and head. But just as the pressure touched her awareness, the bullets fell away harmlessly, rolling away from her to be lost in the sands. She only waited for the space of time that it took for the body to crumple to the surface of the roof before she was turning away towards the village once again, sprinting as quickly as her legs would take her for the safety that The buildings would provide.

  5. Connor stayed directly on Italy's heels as she took off after her team, but his attention was on the sniper on the roof. Connor could see him tracking, calculating, preparing his shots for the easy targets racing across the open ground. However, when his eyes got to Italy, it was not surprising that he got a little distracted. The Russian sniper had experience, and he put his faith into his gun every time he pulled the trigger. Even before he saw the bullet strike Italy, he dismissed her as dead. Until a moment ago he had been completely convinced that there were two dead American SEALs in the sandy field in front of the house. Now there was only one, and that second it took him to adjust was exactly what Italy needed to get her team to safety.

    The soldier still fired his gun, but he was firing at Italy mostly by instinct. And his instinct was remarkably good; Connor felt his shoulder flame suddenly with pain, the second bullet hitting his collarbone, and the third plunging directly into his heart. If it wasn't for him, that sniper would have just traded his life for Italy's. If it wasn't for him, she would have been dead before she even got a chance to send of that first shot. But Connor was there, and Italy's shots flew true. The first struck the soldier in the shoulder, the second one hit him straight in the forehead, followed a moment later by a third bullet just below the eye. The man didn't even have a chance to blink in surprise before he was falling on the rooftop, ruined face leering in a death grin.

    Italy was safe for the moment, since there was no one else currently present to take a shot. She and her team would be able to slip into the village before the Russian reinforcements arrived, and the four men in the house were only just starting to move again after Italy's gunfire. The man escorting Latimer was hustling the politician along quickly. He had already cleared the end of the tunnel that came from the safehouse, and was moving his charge across the open desert, gun firmly clasped in both hands and eyes scanning the empty horizon rapidly.

    Connor flitted on ahead of the two, and came to the parked Jeep. It was only a minor irritation that the thing was still in working order, even after years parked in the desert with sand blowing into every crevice. What was beneficial was that the Jeep was only concealed from the top. Any plane or helicopter passing over would not be able to distinguish it from the sand that surrounded it. However, there was no way to conceal its height in such a flat stretch of land. Even if Rhodes got slightly off course, he would be able to see it if he even was somewhat on target. The problem with that was that the soldier and Latimer would also be that much more likely to see him, and there was little that Connor could do to protect him.

    The Podpolkovnik and his three men had finally broken away from the safehouse and were carefully racing after the last glimpse of Italy as she vanished into the village. It was large enough that, even with the eleven soldiers, it was possible for everyone to miss everyone else, simply through pure dumb luck. The chances of that actually happening were small, but it made it much more likely that the Americans would come across the Russians in smaller groups, giving them better odds.

    Connor watched in mild fascination as the Podpolkovnik directed one of his own men in the direction of the Jeep. Apparently he was willing to take no chances with his charge's safety, even though the chances that Italy knew about the Jeep and would send someone after it were very small. But obviously not zero. This was another moment where the American team might find itself trapped between soldiers. It was something he would have to let Italy know, so that she would have the chance to pass on the warning. Right now, though, she was going to be occupied with keeping herself and her team alive, as the seven soldiers convened in towards the four fleeing SEALs. Their odds were not good, but, once more, Connor's intel would prove invaluable. He kept his eye on all seven soldiers, tracking their current location and the direction in which they were heading, ready to report to Italy whenever she asked for the information.
  6. The wave of heat trapped by the buildings was a physical slap in the face as Italy made her way into the desert town once again, a small gasp just managing to escape from her lips at the inhibiting temperature and tightness of the skin on her face. Blinking several times, she fought past The feeling of wanting to stop, to take a drink of the warm water sloshing around in her canteen. There were too many soldiers running about that wanted her and her team dead for her to take a break now.. Gritting her teeth together as tightly as she could stand, The redhead ducked into the narrow space between two of the small sand houses, pressing her back up against the rough surface of one of the outer walls, Doing her best to ignore the uncomfortable prickling that doing so send down her back, The trickle of sweat it triggered. She quickly and efficiently took up her rifle, having never restrapped the weapon onto her back after shooting the sniper that had been on the roof of the hideout. Quickly making sure that the shell had ejected correctly, she lifted the weapon to her shoulder, aiming the muzzle towards the street she had just vacated.

    "Thank you Connor. I wouldn't have been able to do any of this without you." She said in a voice that was barely more than a breath, Momentarily turning her light brown gaze on The blonde man that flickered into existence at her side. She offered him a small, if tired, smile, happy to be able to focus on him without causing alarm, even if it was for a brief moment. With a small nod, her eyes refocused on the street, sharpening her attention to be alert for any movement that wasn't one of her own.

    Movement wasn't long incoming, a man coming out of an alley on the opposite side of the street, his attire marking him as a local, But the high-powered weapon he carried in his hands telling of a position that was much closer to soldier then innocent standby. He was quietly muttering something in broken Russian into a handheld radio, gaze narrowly observing his surroundings, steadily heading in the direction of Italy's position. She didn't need much prompting to fire a double round at the man, satisfied when crimson blossomed across the front of his shirt, A short gasp reaching her just as he crumpled to the ground, clutching at his chest. She swiftly ducked out of his line of sight, barely breathing as she listened to him scrabble weakly for his weapon, his last death rattle as his movements slowed. Assured that he wasn't going to suddenly shoot at her, Italy peered out at the fallen man, watching for any sign of a twitch or jerk that meant he was still alive, relieved when she saw no such movement.

    "Are the others alright," She breathed to Connor after a moment, turning to look down the opposite direction of her hiding place "is there anyone coming in our direction?"
  7. At the first hint of Italy’s voice, Connor was at her side. It had taken him longer that he would ever admit to grow used to her world, the world in which he dwelt right now. The body was the only constant that a human mind knew, and if he hadn’t already been insane the complete lack of anything to ground upon would have driven him mad. But now it was as natural as his body breathed, and he didn’t think about what it meant that he was here, and able to change things. It was part of his reality. One day, it might prove useful in changing his situation. Right now, however, it was Italy who was important.

    He watched Italy take down the local gunman, neither of them feeling even a taste of remorse as he fell to the ground. Both of them has deen too much suffering, had experienced too much loss, to be touched by his death. He had made his choice, and they were all fighting for survival. Only one team could come out of this alive.

    Connor followed up behind her, briefly looking over the surrounding area as she checked the soldier for any signs of life. Once she was convinced he was dead, she asked Conner for the information that only he could give her.

    “There are six soldiers coming after you, three from the house, three from the village. At the moment, none of your team is set to intersect with them. However, your gunshots will have alerted anyone who didn’t know to your reentry into the village. They are already starting to circle around, and they are going to move inwards from the outer edges, hoping to trap your team.” He was silent for a moment, and once more seemed to flicker. The Russian soldiers were adapting quickly to the situation, and were falling into formation. The shock of the sudden arrival of enemy forces had barely even registered, and any moments of stress were being washed away under years of training.

    “Two soldiers are heading for the Jeep. The one with Latimer, and one that the leader of the Russian operation sent afterwards. If Rhodes isn’t prepared, he could be caught from behind by that second soldier, since neither of them is really expecting another soldier.”

    It was a tricky situation, one that would need to be handled carefully. The American soldiers were outnumbered nearly two-to-one, and although Italy had an advantage over the Russians, that did not mean that a trap couldn’t be sprung. The narrow alleys between the houses were ideal for such a situation.

    The Americans needed to find some way to get higher ground, and make sure that none of them got caught by surprise. It would be up to Italy to decide whether or not to let her team split, in hopes of slipping undetected between the Russian ranks, or keep them together, in hopes that the larger numbers would more easily be able to overcome the individual Russians.
  8. Italy gave her head a quick nod with each new piece of information, digesting the different pieces quickly, her mind branching out into a series of thoughts and ideas as intricate as a spider's web for a moment before she began to pull out individual threads. She gave Conner a grim sort of smile in appreciation before her fingers sought after her walkie-talkie, pulling the radio free from her belt and pressing down on the button defined on the side.

    "Rhodes. This is Hershal. Do you copy?" She spoke quickly, mouth close to the speaker, not wanting to be heard. But she wasn't as worried as she would have been if Connor hadn't been by her side, flickering like an old image on a movie projector every so often; old habits died hard.

    There was a short moment of silence before a soft pop of static came over the frequency, followed by the sound of someone panting and a man's voice, respect full despite the obvious fact that he was winded. "Rhodes here. Go ahead captain."

    A small smile twitched at her lips for the briefest of moments before Italy composed herself, lifting the portable radio to her mouth once again. "When I was making my way back into the town, I saw one of the soldiers breakoff to go in your direction. Keep your eyes open and watch your back. I don't want my best runner getting shot."

    There was only a heartbeat of hesitation before the static popped again and Charles responded, his voice carrying a renewed air of confidence. "Will do Captain. Thanks for the heads up." The transmission cut off into complete silence after that, ending the short conversation.

    Breathing a momentary sigh of relief, Italy lifted her head and began scanning rooftops, relatively confident that a soldier wasn't going to come bursting out of a nearby alley with his gun blazing anytime soon. Trusting that her ghostly partner would sound the alarm should anything arise, she began silently calculating the distance to the center of town and the likely locations of the rest of her team, continually scanning for signs of movement.

    Once again lifting the walkie-talkie still in her hand, she pressed the button on the side and spoke. "Yung. Thibodeaux. Sager. This is Hershal, do you copy?" She quickly ran through the basics, allowing sufficient time for her team to acknowledge and respond.

    "loud and clear captain" Sophia confirmed cheerfully.

    "Yung here." Came the quick and clipped response from Samuel.

    "i'm here too." Liam chimed in after a slightly awkward pause, either signaling that he was in trouble or more likely he was marginally uncomfortable with the social interaction that talking over the radio put him into. Italy would have bet money that it was the latter.

    "Those shots likely tipped off the Russians that we are in the city again. I want us to regroup in the center of town. Sophia, you'll join me when we meet up, Sam and Liam, I want you to stick together like Velcro. We're going to get up on two of the buildings, this will give us a higher vantage point, and from there we can snipe off any soldiers that come through."

    "copy that Boss!" Came another cheerful response from the Louisiana native, quickly echoed in much less enthusiastic voices from the others.

    "roger. See you soon." Italy allowed the conversation to cut out with a burst of static before she swiftly replaced the walkie-talkie in her belt, collecting her rifle and preparing to Sprint, chancing a glance towards Connor. "let's go."
  9. The American soldiers worked their way carefully towards the middle of town. Liam Sager and Samuel Yung encountered each other on a quiet intersection. A brief flash of sunlight that had managed to work its way down into the alleyways momentarily blinded Yung, and when he blinked his eyes clear he found a weapon leveled at him. It took the two men a moment to recognise each other, but as soon as they did they lowered their guns, smiling sheepishly at each other.

    Connor couldn’t help but shake his head a little bit at their actions. He had left Italy’s side as soon as it was clear that she was going to make it to the center of the village before she encountered any more Russian soldiers, wanting to check up on his team. They had worked together for long enough that it would truly be a shame if one of them died in friendly fire.

    Sophia was also working her way towards the center of town, but the young woman had managed to get her route slightly twisted. Connor let out a sigh as she turned down another alley, before leaving her to her meandering progress. She would make it eventually, and it wasn’t as though Italy was in any particular danger. He would keep her safe until such a time as Sophia could being watching her back.

    Briefly, Connor tried to locate Hanks, flitting through space until he found himself standing back in front of the old house. He let out a sigh as he looked down at the splayed form of Italy’s oldest friend, before devoting his attention back to the living. He briefly allowed himself the distraction of wondering who they would choose to replace the man, when the rest of the team brought his body back. It would probably take some time to make the shift, because they would be intent on Latimer, but when the new person showed up things were going to get interesting. Part of what made Italy’s team so very effective was that all of them trusted each other completely, and above all they trusted whatever Italy told them. They didn’t question how she knew, they just obeyed any instructions she gave. Getting a new person into the team would throw things off for a little while. Conner was used to working with Hanks as one of the new members. Now he would have to learn exactly what this new person would be able to take, and where he fit in with everyone else.

    And then Connor was gone, his thoughts cut off as suddenly as the life of the man who lay waiting patiently in the dust. He had work to do in the here and now.

    Rhodes was drawing close to his target, and Connor was pleased to see that the young man had remained almost perfectly on course. He only had a couple more hills to cross, and then he would be within sight of the Jeep. Latimer and his guard had only just arrived at the Jeep, and the Russian soldier was running the customary check-ups, making sure that the Jeep was still in working order. He knew that the Podpolkovnik had sent one of his comrades to help guard Latimer, and whether or not he liked the delay the soldier would obey his commands. The second soldier was built heavier and shorter than Rhodes, and the young American man had pulled ahead quite a bit in this unknown race. By the time the soldier arrived his comrade would be dead, and Latimer would be firmly in American hands. However, if the soldier took Rhodes by surprise things might quickly turn south.

    Rhodes was no fool, though, and he knew that the man was coming. He would make sure to keep an eye out, before borrowing the Russian Jeep to get back to the city faster. By the time he made it back, the situation within the village would be settled, and it would be time to start sorting out the corpses.

    Liam and Samuel had continued making their way towards the center of town, Yung up on point, Sager watching their backs. The town was small and winding, with many dark crevices where the two Americans could occasionally see the frightened eyes of the villagers. The men left them be, having no desire to harm innocents. However, at one of these places, one of the people suddenly lunged out, clasping a hand over Sager’s mouth after Yung had moved by. Sager twisted violently, letting out a muffled shout, before the secret soldier lifted up his other hand, a pocket knife plunging towards Liam’s neck. Sager twisted violently to the side, causing the knife to hit his shoulder rather than his neck. By this point, Yung had heard his companions struggles and had turned around. He took a half-second to aim, before pulling his trigger once. The bullet struck the guerilla fighter in the neck, and he let go of Liam as his hands went up by instinct to try and staunch the flow of blood. However, he only had time for one muffled laugh of protest, before he crumpled to the floor.

    Liam dusted himself off, his teeth gritted in pain. The vest had diverted some of the attack, but there was still a trickle of blood coming from the wound. Sager quickly wrapped a bandage around the injury, while Yung moved over to the fallen fighter. A quick inspection was enough to reveal that the man was one of the Russian soldiers, at which point Samuel let out a quiet breath. Connor couldn’t blame the man for his relief. It was one thing to fight outnumbered against the Russian soldiers, but if the villagers had turned against them as well none of the Americans would have made it out of the village alive.

    “One down,” Yung murmured into his receiver. “Sager took a knife to the shoulder, but other than that no injuries.”

    At that point Liam and Samuel chose to climb up onto the rooftops near the spot where they had met up. Down in the alleyways the heat was trapped by the buildings, but at least those same buildings provided a measure of shade. Up here there was nothing to protect them from the heat of the sun. The two man panted like dogs, before wiping a hand across their foreheads and setting out. Neither of them took off their helmets, though, as long hours of training had taught them that heat was far easier to survive than a bullet to the head. They both, however, began to take sips more frequently from the bottles that were strapped over their shoulders, Liam favoring his newly acquired wound. It would not pay to get heat stroke now.

    They jumped their way carefully from rooftop to rooftop, moving as silently as possible, keeping an eye out for any Russians who may have had the same idea to get a higher vantage point.

    Sophis had finally managed to get her directions straightened out, yet her circuitous route seemed to have benefited her, for she reached the well that marked the center of town first. She folded herself back into a shadow, head bent forward to hide her pale face. Italy would be the next to reach her. Connor did a quick search of the area, noting the Russians who were still alive.

    Other than the two who had gone to escort Latimer, there were still five Russian soldiers alive. One of the guerilla fighters who had been hiding in the village had joined up with Pavlov and the last soldier from the house. The three fanned out along the streets. moving carefully and doing their best to stay in sight of each other. The Russians, too, had chosen safety in numbers, rather than spreading out to see if they could flush out the American soldiers.

    The last two guerilla fighters had also managed to locate each other, and they were rapidly drawing closer to Liam and Samuel. However, if the two American’s kept their eyes out, they would be able to spot the lithe figures of the Russians skulking through the alleys from their higher vantage point.

    Italy had almost made her way to the center of the village, but Pavlo and his team were quickly moving in that direction as well. Connor silently fell into pace behind her, his expression serious. “Sophia is waiting to the north of the fountain. But a group of three Russians is going to be entering the area soon.” His message was mostly implicit. If she was found, Sophia would not be able to survive the attack.

    “If you hurry, you will be able to lay a trap for them. But be careful. Their leader is an old hand at combat, and not much is going to take him by surprise.”
  10. The air scorched her throat on its way in and out of her lungs as Italy kept up a steady ground eating pace, slowly enough to minimize the sound her steps made, fast enough that she was becoming a little winded, and always she kept her gaze roaming. She did her best to ignore the sticky pole and shift of the layer of cloth against her skin as she threaded her way steadily towards the center of town, senses on high alert. But through sheer luck and the constant watch of her faithful companion, the lithe woman encountered no difficulties before or after she set foot on the well trampled dirt that ringed the solitary stone well. Adrenaline and tension momentarily tingled along her extremities as she caught sight of a slightly hunched figure on the other side of the square, but quickly and easily brushed the alarm aside as she reminded herself that it was only Sophia who waited for her, Conner's words still fresh in her mind. Silently approaching the solitary soldier, they caught and held each others eyes before Thibodeaux broke into one of her customary grins , Hershal returning the expression in a muted version of her own, and the pair wordlessly located the nearest access point that would get them to the roofs.

    If nothing else, the heat intensified to an almost unbearable peak as Italy hoisted herself up onto the sandy top of the building, wiggling forward on her belly and despising the grit that managed to slip into any available opening, quickly pivoting around to position herself at the edge of the precipice. Balancing her rifle on it's handle, she began a sweeping surveillance of the streets below, rotating the barrel along with the motion of her eys, Sophia at her side stretching out and doing the same.
  11. The stage was set. It was time for the final altercation to begin.

    In all the chaos, with the inferno sun beating down, creating distortions in the air, among the pounding hearts and ragged breath of the fighters, both Russian and American, despite the swirling sands, carried by the eddied wind, Connor was a still pond, reflecting everything, revealing nothing. He watched from countless locations as events began to unfold.

    The first to draw close was Pavlov and his two escorts. They had separated into two and one to round one of the largest houses in the village, which was right near the well. It would have been an ideal spot for an ambush, had the opponent been someone a little less battle wise. The house was rather artistic, with a dipping roof, a canopy, and a small garden of hardy desert plants, all of which provided ideal cover for fighters and snipers. By splitting up to go around it, Pavlov guaranteed that, should they come under attack, there would be at least one person to back up the others. It was the unconscious move of a master tactician. But, with Connor’s help, Italy was better.

    “They are coming,” he whispered quietly in her ear, sending a phantom shiver up her back. “One on the left of the big house, two on the right.” Her fingers flicked out, directing Sophia’s attention to the left side of the building, while she lined her own scope up on the right. When they rounded the corner, it was only natural that the soldiers would take a moment, glance at each other, make sure that nothing unexpected had happened. In that moment of inattention the two American soldiers would strike.

    There was a very narrow window of opportunity, barely a heartbeat of time, where the attack would succeed perfectly. As the soldiers glanced at each other their minds would unconsciously focus on the details of a familiar face, and their attention to the rest of the world would fall. If the Americans managed to strike at that exact moment there would be two dead Russians staining the windblown sand even more red than it already was.

    However, a stray glint of sunlight struck the barrel of Sophia’s rifle, reflecting it towards Pavlov. He reacted instantly, as both Sophia and Italy realized what had happened and hastily pulled the trigger.

    “Vniz!” he bellowed, before dropping to the sand. Down. Both soldiers were quick to respond to the order, but not quite quick enough. One bullet hit through the neck of the guerrilla soldier. A shower of blood cascaded over his tan shirt, and he dropped to the ground, gagging. The other soldier was struck on the temple, where a bloody flower bloomed. He too dropped to the ground, limp as a rag doll. Connor quickly dropped down off the roof and checked the damage both of the soldiers had sustained. The man who had been hit in the temple was out of the fight for good. The bullet had torn through his brain, rendering him unconscious. He would be dead long before he would receive the medical aid required for him to survive. However, the other soldier was more lucky. The bullet had not struck any major arteries in his neck. If that was all the damage he took, he very well might live. But he was in shock, one hand clamped tightly over the gunshot wound. If he didn’t move soon, one of the women would remove him permanently.

    Pavlov scrambled desperately for cover, lunging for the house they had just passed. He dove wildly, narrowly dodging Italy’s shot, which grazed his arm. Groaning, Pavlov leveled his rifle, firing several quick shots towards the rooftops, where Italy and Sophia were forced to duck for cover. The Russian who had been hit in the neck took this moment to move for cover himself. He too scrambled away, one hand around his neck, the other clinging stubbornly to his gun. However, unlike Pavlov, his only goal was to get as far away as possible. He staggered into the nearest alley, barely dodging a wild shot from Sophia, and vanished around a building.

    “Go,” Italy ordered, pulling of several successive shots in Pavlov’s direction. Sophia used this moment to dart towards the edge of the roof, jump to the next building, and drop into the alley after the Russian.

    The gunshots had not gone unnoticed in the rest of the village. Both duos, American and Russian, came to a halt, heads turning in the direction of gunfire. Both paused briefly, allowing the faintest taste of worry to grace their tongues, before refocusing on their own missions. Connor tracked both of them through the city, watching as the two different groups grew closer and closer together, Liam and Sam on the roofs, the two guerrilla fighters through the streets. At the moment, neither of them knew how close their opponents were, but all of them remained perfectly vigilant. But whichever group spotted the other first would have an immediate advantage in the battle that was soon to come.

    Shells littered the ground around Pavlov, and were scattered all across the roof on which Italy lay. Both of them had spent nearly all of their ammunition, and soon they were going to reach a stalemate, a moment where they would have to retreat, or engage in hand-to-hand combat. They could both feel it in the air, that moment coming towards them, and Connor watched with anticipation to see how they would both react.

    Pavlov discarded his rifle, extracting a hand pistol from a holster around his waist. He quickly fired off two shots, before grabbing the radio around his waist. He grabbed it, quickly brought it up to his mouth, and spoke in rapid Russian.

    The burst of words was not particularly loud, but it was loud enough to cause both of the guerrilla soldiers to flinch. It was clear from their attitudes that they had been expecting to maintain radio silence. Their expressions turned fierce, however, as they heard the orders from their Podpolkovnik. In as few words as possible, Pavlov had outlined the severity of his situation, and requested their aid. They glanced around quickly, before moving rapidly towards the center of town.

    But the relief was never to reach Pavlov, for the two Russian soldiers had not been the only one to hear the communication over the radio. Sager and Yung had frozen at the first bout of static, but the moment the communication was cut off they moved quickly in the direction of the noise.

    “Italy has their leader pinned down,” Liam panted. “If we can get the ones down there, the battle should be ours.” Neither of them questioned the need to fight the Russian soldiers, even though there was no way for them to know exactly how many men were down there. Nor did they wonder whether or not Rhodes would be able to handle the challenges that were coming his way. They focused perfectly on their own tasks.

    The two SEALs split up, widening their search zone as they worked to cross paths with the Russian soldiers. They moved as quickly as they could without sacrificing silence. They knew where their opponents were heading, and were not willing to give up the advantage of surprise.

    Finally they found them, hurrying down an alley only a few intersections away from the place where Italy and Pavlov were battling. There was no time to hesitate.

    Yung grabbed a pebble from the rooftop, and threw it down the road behind the two soldiers. It clattered off of a wall, and bounced down the street. One of the soldiers whirled around, leveling his gun, and his partner took a few steps ahead. Taking a deep breath, Yung leaped off of the roof, his switchblade in hand. He jumped true, and the guerrilla soldier looked up just in time to see a black shadow falling from above, before the knife plunged into his neck, and he crumpled under Yung’s weight. The SEAL quickly extracted his knife, and slit the soldier’s carotid artery. The Asian whirled around, his gun in his hand, prepared to face the other soldier. But he too was on the ground, a last couple beats of blood pulsing from the hole in his chest before he went still. Yung glanced up to see Sager, gun still firmly clasped in his hands.

    There was no need for thanks between the two men. Sager had known that Yung was going to jump before Yung himself had. The two had gone through so many missions together that there was no need to question or hate Yung’s somewhat reckless attitude. It was a part of him, and, so long as it was taken into account, it made Yung into a miraculous weapon.

    The gunshot from Sager’s gun had echoed through the village, and reached both Italy and Sophia. The woman had been patiently tracking the fallen blood from the Russian’s neck wound, and was drawing close.

    Connor appeared beside Italy once more, quietly reporting Liam and Sam’s success, as the two men had decided not to use the radios because of what had happened only minutes before.

    No shots had been exchanged between Italy and Pavlov during that whole time, so the single shot from Liam had rung clear. When no shots followed, it was obvious the fight was over. Italy knew the answer, but Pavlov could only guess whether that meant he had lost his only chance for relief or not.

    Sophia had finally managed to catch up with the bleeding Russian. As soon as he heard her footsteps he whirled around, rapidly pulling his trigger. Sophia only barely managed to duck back around the corner before the bullets struck the walls, creating a shower of dirt, sand, and plaster.

    There was a moment of silence, where Sophia could hear the ragged breathing of the soldier. It was clear that the blood loss was starting to take a massive toll on him, but it was also clear he wasn’t going to go down without a fight. Sophia waited quietly for him to make a move, any move. He too waited, certain that he had heard someone following him, but his time was far more limited than Sophia’s. Finally he was forced to move. He kept his face in Sophia’s direction as he began to sidle towards another alley, gun still firmly clasped in his hand. As soon as he was out of sight Sophia shadowed him down the alley. Sophia was in her element. She had her job, and all it would require was doggedness and patience. Those two things she had in excess. The Russian soldier moved consistently towards the edge of the city, always careful, and always shadowed by his unwelcome guest. Several times he tried to lure Sophia out of hiding, but she was in no hurry. Eventually the lack of blood would cause him to make a mistake, and then she would have him.

    The silhouettes of Liam and Sam appeared suddenly on two roofs, before they were forced to drop to the ground as Pavlov realized they were not his own men and fired at them. But Pavlov was desperate now. Connor could see the panic building in his eyes and the sweat beading on his forehead. He had realized that no one was coming to aid him, and that he was trapped. He was not going to be getting out of this situation alive. For a moment he began to tremble, the gun shaking in his hands, before a strange stillness seemed to wash over him. His eyes went empty, and Connor felt a new respect for this man he had come to know. There was only one thing he could do at this point to create the greatest chance of success for his mission. His fingers dropped down, touching three small throwing knives that was holstered behind his neck, before he grabbed the empty rifle and the handgun he had been using, and raised them above his head.

    “I surrender,” he shouted in heavily accented English, before throwing the rifle and handgun, followed by another two smaller handguns, out onto the dusty ground. After that came a switchblade, a hunting knife, and a heavy throwing knife. Yung let out an impressed whistle.

    Connor appeared next to Italy. “He’s going to attack once you get close. There are knives behind his neck.” A short laugh slipped from between his lips. “He’s got courage.”

    Pavlov stood slowly, hands above his head. None of the American’s moved, until he stepped out from behind the terrace where he had taken shelter.

    “Povorot,” Sager called. Slowly Pavlov turned in a circle, revealing his, apparently, unarmed status. Cautiously, the two American soldiers began to move towards the edge of the roof.

    “Hold,” Italy called, and the two stopped immediately in their tracks. “Tell him to drop the throwing knives as well.”

    Sager complied without question. “Nozhi!” Pavlov did not move. “Ostav'te metatel'nyye nozhi!” Slowly Pavlov’s hands began to move to the knives. His eyes were still empty. In one fluid moment, so quick it might have been possible to miss it, he grabbed the knives, chucking all three at Sager. Normally he would have been able to dodge easily, but he had already taken a knife to the shoulder, and he had not expected Pavlov to act in a way that would get him killed. One knife glanced off of his breast plate, the second one flew wide past his head. Sager dropped, one arm going behind him as he twisted, and the last throwing knife tore through the sleeve, embedding in his wrist and partially severing both the radial and ulnar arteries. Even as Sager screamed, blood pouring down his forearm, Pavlov dove for his gun, only to be hit by a rapid burst of gunfire from both Sam and Italy. He collapsed to the ground, gasping, and his hand only just managed to close around the gun before he went completely limp.

    “Damn it,” Italy swore under her breath. Connor could see her emotions on her face. She knew he had the knives. She should have been able to prevent this.

    “He’s fine,” Connor told her calmly. “He won’t die from that.”

    Yung was already moving. He pulled out another bandage and kneeled down beside Liam. Quickly he put together a tourniquet, partially cutting off the circulation to Liam’s lower arm, before he carefully removed the knife, covered the wound, and wrapped it tightly. When the tourniquet was removed red began to seep through the binding, but it quickly slowed. He would be getting a nasty scar, but the wound was not fatal.

    Rhodes was drawing nearer and nearer to his target as well. He had slowed his pace, growing more and more cautious of coming across the vehicle by surprise. It started as a small speck on the horizon, and Chase (a well earned nickname for Charles) slowed from a trot to a walk. Once he drew a little bit closer, and confirmed that the thing he was seeing was a Jeep and not some malformed cactus or a rock, he dropped into a crouch. Latimer and his escort had just loaded into the Jeep, and the engine was turning over. There was no time. He checked quickly behind him, making sure that the soldier that was coming after him had yet to draw into sight, before leveling his gun. It wasn’t a shot that many would take, but Chase was the best shot on the team. Even Yung had stopped trying to challenge the young man, because he simply could not win.

    He took a deep breath, closed one eye, and pulled the trigger. The bullet flew true, tearing through the side of the soldier’s head. He let out a surprised gasp, more at the report of the gun than the pain, before falling limply over the steering wheel.

    Latimer almost screamed, but now he was acting for self-preservation. He had to get away. He pushed the dead man out of the way, ignoring the blood all over his clothes, and desperately tried to floor the accelerator. But Rhodes moved even quicker. One bullet went into the tire, instantly puncturing it. Latimer finally managed to press the pedal, and the car began to roll forwards, but not quick enough to keep Rhodes from hitting the second tire. Realizing that his escape vehicle was no longer escape-worthy, Latimer grabbed the rifle off of the dead escort, and unloaded the clip wildly in Chase’s direction. The brunette dropped flat to the ground, cowering behind a small mound in the sand as bullets flew around him. Moving quickly, Latimer used the momentary reprieve to jump out of the car and start running, trusting to the fact that the American team was here to kill rather than capture. Chase took off after his prey.

    At the same time, Sophia finally managed to capture hers. The Russian had been growing more and more wobbly as blood continued to pour from his neck. Finally, a poorly placed foot caused him to trip, and Thibodeaux pounced. A round caught him in the shoulder, the next in the neck, the last in his face. His fingers squeezed spasmodically on the trigger, sending out a burst of gunfire that missed Sophia by several feet. She let out a relieved huff, before turning to make her way back to Italy.


    “All clear,” Italy replied. Sophia picked up the pace, leaving the eyes of the villagers to watch the growing puddle of blood around the body of the Russian.

    Rhodes was drawing closer to Latimer, but was primarily keeping his eyes out for the last Russian. He would undoubtedly have heard the shots fired, and would know that something had gone very wrong. Rhodes didn’t have much time. But Latimer was relying on the fact that Sager didn’t know about the backup man that Pavlov would have sent after Latimer and his escort. When the man finally revealed himself, Chase was the first to move. A bullet hit the man in the gut, causing him to double over, a second flew over his head. The third hit him in the shoulder, the fourth went into his face.

    Latimer dropped to his knees, shock written on every line of his face. He knew all was lost, and he remained still and limp as he waited for Rhodes to grab him.

    Sighing, Rhodes studied the damaged vehicle. He was going to have to walk back. He lifted Latimer to his feet, twist-tied his hands behind his back, and pushed him back in the direction of the village. Latimer whimpered.



    “I’ve got Latimer.”

    “Well done. It’s clear here. Hurry back.”

    “Vehicle’s out. Walking.”

    “Copy. Over and out.”

    Connor studied Latimer, somewhat surprised with how complacent the man was being. He would have thought capture by the Americans would have created a much greater level of panic. But perhaps he was prepared to make a deal for information. Not that Connor was prepared to wait for any such thing. His hand closed over the back of Latimer’s head.

    The man was not a treasure trove of information, that was for sure. The closest thing Connor got was a map of the world with various locations marked, with red pins, a previous safe house, and, most importantly, the code name of the man who had organized the entire undercover retreat. Proshli. Russian for gone, from which Connor derived a small amount of pleasure.

    But, in his exploration, Connor picked up something entirely unexpected. Suddenly, Latimer’s calm attitude made sense. He was beside Italy in a flash, unconcerned of whether or not he made her flinch.

    “He has a kill-pill.”

    Italy’s eyes went wide, and she immediately grabbed her radio. “Check him for a L-pill!”

    Rhodes moved quickly, but Latimer had already completed his final action. He bit down hard, cracking the glass and releasing the neurotoxin. He crumpled instantly, twitching in the sand, white foam beginning to gather around his mouth.

    “Fuck,” Rhodes said quietly, as Latimer fell still.
  12. With a sharp cracking sound of plastic hitting metal, Italy let her head fall against the end of her rifle, her helmet the only thing that kept her from slicing open her own forehead. That... and Conner. A slew of angry bitter words hissed out from between her teeth, frustration making her eyes sting with hot tears. She could see every hour of the months upon endless months of careful planning and preparation melting away as easily as an ice cube in the relentless desert heat as she pressed her skin into the edge of her helmet, every minute colored crimson. The Russian General, his team of soldiers, Latimer, Hanks... All of their bodies stained the mission with crimson failure.

    "No!" Italy suddenly forcefully spat out, slamming both of her fists into the ground and shoving herself up onto her knees. "I will not let this all and in failure!" She growled, dragging the pads of her gloved fingers sharply across her cheeks and smearing away the gritty tears. Tucking away the part of her that wanted to continue crying and release her frustration with a scream, The young woman put her fists onto her thighs, took a deep breath to the full capacity of her lungs and held it, before releasing the air in a burst and shoving off of the ground to get to her feet. No, Italy Hershal was not going to give up that easily.
    Briefly casting her cinnamon colored gaze towards the mess of blood, guns, and knives in the square below, Italy quickly stooped and collected her rifle and walkie-talkie from where she had left them on the rooftop. Ejecting the empty cartridge from her weapon, she quickly replaced it with a fully loaded one, Locking it into place with a slam of her palm before fitting the firearm into its strap across her back once again. As she worked, she cast a glance towards where she could see Conner standing, His outline flickering as it always had.
    "Thank you... A job well done partner." She just managed to givea brief smile before she had to look away again, lifting the walkie-talkie to her mouth and depressing the button that made it crackle into life. "Great job team. We managed to do some good today. I'm proud of everyone of you. Let's collect the dead, pack up, and get back to camp. Drinks on me tonight."

    Clipping the radio back on to her belt, Italy walked over to the edge of the roof, swinging herself down over the edge and allowing herself to dangle for a moment by her fingertips. With another deep breath, she released her hold, dropping to the ground with a soft thud and absorbing the impact in the balls of her feet before she straightened up and turned towards Yung and Sager. "Liam, how's your arm holding up?" She asked as she approached, crouching down and collecting weapons as she came.
  13. “He’s going to need stitches,” Yung replied almost immediately, cutting over Liam who had opened his mouth. Despite the blood soaked rag wrapped tightly around his wrist and the crimson bloom forming on the bandage on his shoulder Sager had almost certainly been about to say that he was fine.

    “Why is it that you are the one who got hurt?” Yung asked, a look of mock indignation on his face. “That’s not your job.”

    Liam smiled sheepishly, before clenching his teeth to muffle a groan of pain as Sam finished tightly tying the bandage around his wrist. “I’ll try and remember that,” he panted. “Now would you stop chatting, and hurry it up?”

    Conner watched this exchange with nothing more than his standard, blank expression. But inside, his thoughts were muddled with one thought too important to be ignored, and the other too terrible to be forgotten.

    Hanks was dead.

    To the rest of the team, this mission was going to have been a waste. There would be none of the relieved drinking, the celebration of life, when they got back to their station in America. After all, they may be alive, but one in their number was not. And the man they had come to collect, the information that was so important for this war, was gone, dead, lost to a false tooth filled with cyanide.

    Of course, Conner knew everything that the American government would have been able to eventually extract from the communist diplomat. He had yet to tell Italy that, in a way, this was not a failure. It simply wasn’t a success by the standards of the American military.

    They would have to go collect his body soon. They would leave the Russian soldiers out here to dry up in the heat and be picked apart by vultures, but they would never leave Hanks. He had a family and a team that wanted a chance to grieve for him some place other than the desert.

    They’d never need to know about the fifteen year old boy, waiting for his uncle Pavlov to return home from guard duty, who would never again get the chance to see him. That boy’s grieving would be done in silence, with an empty coffin offering no comfort.

    But that was the cost of war. Hanks, Pavlov, the eight other nameless Russian soldiers, they had all been good soldiers, and they had all died with their beliefs firmly in mind.

    Would he grieve for the lost lives? Perhaps. Perhaps even now there were tears silently running down the face of the body, as it released some of the sorrow that he could not currently feel. Maybe that would draw the attention of those who watched him. It had been so long since they had seen him cry.

    But they would all adjust, they would move on. That was the nature of humanity. Someone else would come in, and eventually he or she would become another part of the team. Maybe next time it would be Sam, his luck finally run out and he would be cast into the oblivion he had so luckily escaped eight years ago, when a bullet from the front line had tore through his chest, but caused no permanent damage. Maybe it would be Sophia. Maybe Liam.

    The only thing he could guarantee was that it would not be Italy. Not so long as he was watching her.

    Sam helped Liam to his feet, before patting the taller man on the back. There was a moment of silence, and everyone’s gaze was inevitably drawn towards the lone shack, and the body that lay in front of it.

    “...We should go,” Sam said, voice quiet and heavy. “I don’t like the idea of him just... laying there.”
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