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When the people you trusted turn on you, when you are the last one standing, should you take your secrets to the grave? Or make the murderers pay?
Former Marine Recon, Mackenzie ‘Mac’ Jackson has secrets. The things he did for his country, the things he saw, must never be spoken about. Until that is, his team is targeted.
A shift in political alliances means one particular mission undertaken by Mac and his Fire Team needs to be wiped from the history books. Starting with the team itself.
Forest Ranger, Samuel Larson wants to find the Marines who saved his life. He just wants to say thank you. What he can’t know is that he’s walking into a firestorm of betrayal and murder.
When Samuel arrives at Mac’s place he throws Mac’s plans for hiding out of the window. Abruptly Mac has to protect a man that threatens his heart, only this time he can’t be sure he will succeed in keeping Sam alive.
Multitaskingmommas – 5/5 – “….This is not a story where instant gratification through erotic scenes and angst-ridden drama drives the read. This is an action-packed story full of intrigue, thrill and mystery. Who was behind all the killings was something the reader has to discover by reading through the whole story. As both Sam and Mac get busy to keeping themselves alive their feelings for each other develop slowly. This is the part I really loved to read for it slowly revealed the different layers of each character. I love how they developed and along with it, the plot developed strong.Romantic, yes. Thrilling, definitely.
Erotic? Now, what RJ Scott is not erotic?….”
Guilty Indulgence – 5/5 – “….The story is fast paced and will grab your attention from the beginning. The mystery element in this is well thought out and will keep you reading just to find the answer. And while the boy Sam may have had some hero worship going on for Mac, the adult Sam feels so much more. But getting the Marine to let his guard down and trust Sam with his secrets isn’t easy.
Suspenseful, and sexy make a great combination. I for one can’t wait until the next installment!….”
Prism Book Alliance – 4.5/5 – “….The second book in The Heroes series and just as good as the first!
Rainbow Book Reviews – “….‘Last Marine Standing’ is the second book in a series that is fast becoming one of my favorites by RJ Scott. This novel is exciting, oozes danger from every page, and captured my attention on page one, not letting me go until the very final page. Military men and the guys they fall in love with fascinate me, but wounded (internally as well as externally) ex-Marines like Mac just get to me on a whole new level….”
Bike Book Reviews – 5/5 – “….This is the second book in the Hero’s series by Rj Scott, and I will say I enjoyed this one as much as the first! This book will grab and hold your attention from the first line, and you will find yourself wanting answers, but not wanting the book to end. I am a big fan of Rj’s and one of the reasons is her wonderful talent with character development. I love Samuel, and want to hug him! That is a testament to a great author! Thanks for this one Rj, can’t wait for your next offering!….”
Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words – 5/5 – “….I thought the first book in the Heroes series was wonderful, but Last Marine Standing has taken its place as my favorite. I loved these characters, the other Marines and the surrounding people and places that make this so memorable. You could read this as a stand alone but it adds so much to read the stories in the order they were written….”
Rainbow Gold Reviews – “….I LOVED this book. From the very beginning it grabbed me and refused to let me go till I finished it. It was the perfect mix of suspense, romance and hot guys. It was fast paced from page one and I love when a book can make me want to put aside all housework and focus only on reading. I took my e-reader with me while I waited in line to pick up my kids, I woke up early just so I could get a few chapters in, and I stayed up late just so I could finish it….”
Joyfully Jay – 4.75/5 – “….Yessir (and ma’am), I loved this story. It’s almost the gay romance version of a John Grisham, complete with action, intrigue, and conspiracy theories aplenty. From the beginning, this story is sweet and exciting. I was enraptured from scene one, which is perfect, to the very end….”
Bookwinked Reviews – 4/5 – “….This is one of those RJ Scott books that is a lovely, enjoyable read. It is not a romance book perse, as it is not the focus of the book. The plot resolves around an event in the past that involves both Sam and Mac and there is lots of action and adventure. I liked that about Last Marine Standing. It also makes the budding romance believable….”
Crystal’s Many Reviewers – 5/5 – “….RJ Scott is fast becoming one of my favorite authors! This story grabs you right in the beginning and just doesn’t let go. Your heart goes out to the 14 year old Sam, and then for the 25 year old Sam. So happy that he was able to overcome his trauma and become strong man. Mac, such a loyal friend, and leader, never forgetting or taking lightly any of his missions or the people they affect … and an excellent twist at the end….”
Padme’s Library – 5/5 – “…There is intriguing mystery and involving characters from beginning to end that captured my heart and nothing was able to draw my attention away, not even eating or sleeping.”
2004, in Japan
“You’re the sensitive one. You do it.”
Mackenzie ‘Mac’ Jackson glanced at Bear, then took a second look when he realized the idiot was talking to him. “What?”
Bear’s tone was deadly serious as he spoke, but his eyes sparkled with amusement. “It’s genetic, right? You people have a sensitive side that the rest of us men don’t.”
Mac was instantly up in Bear’s space. The asshole had done nothing but rip on Mac since he’d come out to the team, and today was no different. Most of the time, Mac could ignore the teasing. After all, none of it was meant to hurt. But all four of them were still on a high after extraction, and Bear should know better than to push the limits.
“Do I look like the sensitive type?” Mac knew exactly how he looked: tired—no, exhausted—with the start of a beard and his fatigues, while clean, torn in places, evidence of what they’d done. The four of them on the team had been taking turns watching the kid in the hospital room, since no one was entirely sure the threat was over. They paired up, one inside the room, one outside. This was handover time, only this time… this time it was different. This time all four of them had heard the kid and the doctor talk. And what the doctor said had left them all quiet.
Bear put his hand on his hip and sashayed a little, which looked ridiculous.
Mac shoved him. “I will kill you.”
Bear squared his shoulders and smirked. “You could try.”
Mac weighed the pros and cons. Bear certainly lived up to his nickname—broad, strong, straining the damn fatigues—but Mac knew his teammate’s weaknesses. He estimated he could take him in about five minutes, but he’d probably get a few broken bones in the process. He relaxed his stance, ready to go toe-to-toe with Bear, but Spider put a hand between the two men.
“The kid’s crying,” Spider pointed out helpfully.
Mac shot his friend a shocked look. Did Spider really think the best thing for the poor kid in the bed was to have some idiot go in and tell him everything would be okay?
“That doesn’t mean he needs one of us to talk to him,” he asserted.
Bear crossed his arms over his impossibly broad chest. “You saw the results of what they did, heard what he said. One of us should say something. Threaten to go kill someone or something.”
“We already killed everyone who hurt him,” Spider said evenly. “No one left to shoot.”
Mac and his team could have been back stateside, or at least on to another mission. But no, instead they were outside the kid’s room, where they had been over the last few days. They had no official reason to go home, there was no next mission yet, and the Under Secretary had demanded they stay. Something about the kid and his sister possibly still being in danger had all four Marines required to unofficially stand guard—at least they had something to do.
“I should say what?” Mac snapped. He was furious at himself for even being here in a situation he couldn’t control, let alone listening to the rest of his team who felt he should be interfering. Samuel Larson and his sister had nearly died, and what the Marines had found when they rescued the kids was more than enough to have Mac sick to his stomach.
The damn politician wanted to get Sam on camera thanking his rescuers. Mac doubted Sam was in any position to say thank you. If anything, this was merely a photo opportunity for Graeme Larson, the Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security.
Not one of the four of them said anything or indicated, even to each other, that they had heard anything. Not for the longest time. Then the doc left, and all of them were more than aware that the kid they’d rescued was in there. Distraught. And there was no sign of his dad, who was holding a press conference on the ground floor.
“So what do we do?”
Mac wasn’t surprised when Bear spoke. It was always Bear who vocalized everything as a way of rationalizing a mission or the consequences of said mission. He was the loud one, but he was also the one with an uncanny understanding of what should happen next. Mac valued his input. Until, of course, Bear had pointed out that Mac was the sensitive one.
“What do I say?” Mac asked a little desperately. He turned to the one member of the team he relied on for levelheaded advice.
“Nothing,” Spider said. “We could leave it. You and Bear take your turn on guard while Wade and I go downstairs and stand at the periphery of the Under Secretary’s press junket, look like hardass Marines, and make sure we don’t get our pictures taken.” They’d only been in Japan as ornaments anyhow. The joint op with the Japanese Ground Defense Force was more about promoting military interoperability and honing individual skills than being something the Marine Recon fireteam was used to.
Still, thank God they’d been here, given how quickly everything went to hell with the Under Secretary’s kids being kidnapped. Japan had no war constitution, but they were strategically positioned as a counterweight to China’s growing regional power. Japan and the US were friendlies, and the situation was delicate. The hard line was that the Japanese didn’t negotiate. They wouldn’t be pulling their troops out of Fallujah, even if kids were involved. The softer line, the one whispered in shadowed doorways, was get the Marines in, get the kids out, and destroy all evidence.
Thankfully Mac and his team had been in the right place at the right time.
“Sounds like a good idea to me,” Wade said. He was the fourth in the team and the man of few words.
Mac looked from Bear to Spider to Wade. Bear had given him a way out, Spider had challenged him to consider what he was doing, and Wade had implied he’d support anything Mac wanted to do—just the way it always worked.
“Fuck.” Mac straightened away from the wall, brushed himself down, and turned to face the kid’s room. He’d go in, say his piece, come back out, and then he could go back to being the team leader and kick some anti-US butt. Simple.
Spider clapped him on the shoulder. “Go do that sparkly thing.”
“Fuck you,” Mac muttered tiredly but with heat, “all of you, and for fuck’s sake, go watch the sister.” His team melted away, Spider patting his arm as he passed.
Mac pushed open the kid’s door, and the first thing Mac noticed as he shut the door behind him was how cold it was in the room. The window overlooking the parking lot was wide open. The second thing Mac noticed was that Sam was leaning out of the window, too far over, the pivot of the balance on his tummy on the sill. A lift of his bare feet and the kid would topple out of the window. Mac saw a thin trail of blood from the bed to the window—Sam had pulled out his IV. Trying not to spook him, Mac moved to stand close enough to Sam to be able to grab him if he did anything stupid.
Sam’s shoulders stiffened, but he didn’t look at Mac.
“Go away,” he said softly. There was no emotion in the words. They were flat, not grieving, not angry, not hyper. Just nothing.
“What are you doing over here?” Mac asked conversationally. He moved a little closer to peer out the window. They were five floors up, plenty enough height to get Sam killed on the concrete. How was it even possible that the window was open this wide? Surely, even in private rooms like this one, the hospital would cover themselves against jumpers? Then he noticed the shards of a plastic knife, probably left over from dinner, and the screws on the floor. There was intent in the knife and the screws and the open window. Sam was pale, near white, and covered in bandages, his left ankle in a cast, and his breathing labored.
“You wanna talk?” Mac began.
Sam didn’t move to look at him. “Nooo,” he slurred from what Mac assumed was a combination of pain and the meds he was using to control it.
“I think you should.”
“Leave me alone.” Sam’s face flushed scarlet against the white as he spoke, but he still refused to look at Mac.
“I think I’m okay here,” Mac offered gently. He didn’t know what else to do, but he knew one thing for certain, he wasn’t going anywhere. He had been handpicked for the team he was in charge of. He might have only been twenty-five, but he was the best. He was a Recon Marine, and he led a fireteam with three more of the best. They did things that never got reported in the press and few people even knew about. He’d seen things that would make a normal person sick to their stomach. None of that prepared him to deal with the aftermath and the victims, though.
“How long did you watch?” Sam asked after a long silence.
Mac observed a bead of blood bubble where the IV had been pulled out and said nothing as it slid down Sam’s hand and to the floor. Sam wasn’t bleeding out, but hell, he needed something to stop the loss or protect it from infection, surely. Mac had heard of a fellow Marine losing a pint of blood in an unrelenting drip that he’d never even realized had been happening. Slow, persistent loss could make Sam dizzy, and then he’d fall right out the damn window.
“What do you mean watch?”
“Me and Jo, in that place. You have to do that, right? Do recon and stuff where you count the insurgents and form a plan of action.”
Mac paused before answering. Sam wasn’t asking how long it had taken the team to intervene, but just how long they’d watched what was happening in the camp.
Mac could lie. He could say they turned up and instantly took the camp members out, but they’d been there two hours before night had fallen because the lack of light would make a difference to a successful mission. Sam was screaming and sobbing as he was dragged over rough ground and thrown into a room next to his sister, his pants in his hands and blood everywhere. So much blood.
After an uncomfortable silence, Mac couldn’t keep back an answer, and something told him he needed to be brutally honest. Sam deserved that. “An hour, maybe a bit more.”
Sam moaned, the sound coming from deep inside him, and he bowed his head in the cold air. The movement shifted his center of gravity, and for a second Mac thought he was going to tumble out. He reached out to grab him, but Sam stopped his own momentum and instead he gripped hard to the windowsill.
“Oh God, you saw them, what they did. Oh God, what do I do?” He was broken and crying, and his grip on the sill lessened.
Mac was out of his depth, and he glanced over his shoulder at the door, wishing that someone with a psychology degree and the ability to deal with this would walk through.
“We saw them put you back in the room. We saw you and Jo get out. We saw you run. We saw bravery and how you pushed your sister out of the way of the bullets. That is what we saw. That is all we saw.” He wasn’t lying. Even with infrared, they hadn’t seen what the guards did to Sam, just the aftermath.
Sam finally looked at him, his eyes swimming with tears.
“I didn’t mean to,” he said on a sob. “I wasn’t trying to be a hero. I was terrified, and I just pushed her.” Sam clutched at his stomach and winced. If anything, he looked even more unsteady on his feet.
Mac moved a little closer, near enough to grab Sam and stop him from falling.
“Fuck, kid, being a hero isn’t always about slow-motion and the ability to consider things rationally, it’s about living in the moment and acting on instinct.”
Sam shook his head, so Mac didn’t push. Sam wasn’t going to be convinced in the space of a few seconds that what he’d done was heroic.
“I’m glad it was me and not Jo.”
And there it was again, the quiet heroism that Sam had inside him, that instinct he had to look after his sister.
Sam continued, “She’s a clever one, going to be in government one day like Dad. I’m just an artist, and I’m a man, I need to do that stuff, don’t I?”
Mac hesitated. He seemed to be doing a lot of that. His normally quick reactions to situations were lost in the need to say exactly the right thing to Sam.
“You’re important as well,” he said. “And no one is just an artist. What do you like drawing?”
“People. And trees and things, nature, y’know?” Sam offered quickly. He looked shy and had the most intense sincerity in his eyes. When he grew up, when he was legal, he’d be a looker. He was all soft smiles and gorgeous dark green eyes, almost forest green and brown in this light, framed with long sooty lashes.
“How do you think they knew?” Sam half whispered. He was staring down at the parking lot again.
Mac wasn’t following the question. “Knew what?” He turned when the door opened. A nurse hovered on the threshold, but Mac held up a hand indicating five. She frowned, and he smiled reassuringly. The last thing Sam needed now was someone fussing over his IV. Mac belatedly wondered if she had psychology experience and he should be asking her to stay, but she had held up three fingers, left, and shut the door after her.
“How did they know I was gay? No one knows. Not even Jo.”
Mac tensed. He suddenly realized where this was going. Sam thought his captors had abused him in the way they did because he was gay?
“It wouldn’t have mattered—”
“They hated me, and they hurt me. I don’t want that with any man I’m with.” Sam was broken, his voice harsh and his tears tracking down his cheeks.
Mac laid a hand on his shoulder and tugged him a little to pull him close. “It doesn’t have to hurt, kid.”
Sam leaned into him. “I can’t be gay.”
“Sam, if that is who you are, you can’t not be gay. I’m gay, and that is who I am.” Mac winced as he said the words. He hadn’t meant to speak so bluntly, but he was out to his team, he was out to his parents and friends. He wanted Sam to see it was a good thing.
Sam lifted reddened eyes to Mac, and there were so many questions in them. Mac stared at him for the longest time and saw Sam’s misery abate a little. He couldn’t help the smile he gave. But he could help the instant shock when Sam moved that little bit closer and kissed Mac full on the mouth.
Mac reared back and heard the yelp of pain as Sam lost his support and grabbed at Mac.
“Jeez, kid.” He reacted quickly. Sam began to cry again. Fuck. “It’s okay, kid.”
“I’m sorry,” Sam said between sobs. He was clutching his stomach and keening in pain. It was time to get him back into bed.
Mac reached around Sam and encouraged him away from the window, pulling it closed behind him. Taking the weight of the young guy was easy, he probably didn’t weigh more than one ten soaking wet, and Sam shuddered and groaned in pain as Mac guided him to bed. The two of them, Sam and Jo, had been captives for three days, and God knows what had happened beyond what Mac and the team had observed.
“Hang on,” he said in lame encouragement.
He opened the door and let the nurse in, then watched as she fussed around Sam. To her credit, she didn’t criticize Sam or call him on his actions. Neither did she call a doctor or ask Sam how he was feeling. When it was just the two of them, Mac pulled a chair up next to the bed.
Mac felt like introductions were in order. “So, I’m Mackenzie Jackson.”
“You stood inside my room for a while,” Sam began. He wasn’t looking at Mac. He was staring at some point in the corner of the room. The tears had stopped, but Mac wasn’t stupid, Sam might have cried, but that didn’t mean he’d dealt with everything he’d gone through. “Dad said something about you visiting, but I thought it would be after the press conference.” Sam tilted his head in thought. “After the conference would make sense,” he added. “From a political point of view.” He blushed and looked down at his hands in his lap. “Thank you,” he mumbled. He pulled a cell phone over from the small table and turned it over and over in his hands.
“It’s our job,” Mac answered. There was something about this boy, a fragility in him that wasn’t just to do with the tubes and wires but more to the way he held himself. Shy? Introverted? They’d already seen Jo: she was up and around and had laughed and joked through an entire five minutes with the press and Under Secretary in attendance. Of course, she hadn’t been sexually assaulted nor left in a hospital room long enough to be able to jimmy the window open far enough to be able to climb out and kill herself.
“So, yeah, where’s Dad?” Sam looked past Mac.
“Still in the conference so I understand. We were waiting outside.” Mac scooted the chair near the bed. He wasn’t going anywhere until he was sure Sam was going to be kind of okay or until orders had him moving away. Sam frowned at the action and looked uncertainly at the door.
“What?” he finally said. “Was there something… Is it Jo? But it wouldn’t be Jo. They wouldn’t have sent in a Marine. It would be a doctor, right? To tell me she was dead?” Sam babbled with fear, and Mac held up a hand to stop him.
“Jo will be fine. She and your dad are like a comic duo. Despite the bullet wound, she’s in good spirits.”
“Yeah,” Sam said. “She was doing okay earlier. I just—you know, things can happen, one minute everything is fine, the next you’re dead on the floor… or something.”
“She’s fine. I just wanted to come in and see how you were doing.”
“Dad’ll kill me for breaking a window.”
“I’ll tell him I did it. He’s smaller than me,” Mac teased. Anything to get a small smile.
Sam shrugged, and the movement caused the phone to slide toward the edge of the bed. Mac caught it and placed it back on the side table.
“One of those Sony Walkman phones,” Mac said conversationally.
“Dad left it with me this morning. It’s brand new and he said it’s the best thing to play music, but I don’t have any tracks on there yet.”
Silence. Mac had no idea how to further this sensitive subject with the kid in the bed.
“You’re fourteen, right?”
Sam tilted his chin. “June first I’ll be fifteen.”
“Cool,” Mac said for something to say. “Look, you probably need to talk to the doctor, about… things. About what happened to you, so he knows what—”
Sam’s smile dropped in an instant at the reminder, and all of Mac’s calming work was lost as temper flashed in Sam’s eyes. “I’m not telling anyone else. You’d better not say a word. Get out,” he snapped.
“I didn’t mean to—”
“I said, get out.” Gone was the shy, embarrassed, crying boy who’d kissed him. Instead there was confidence and anger.
“No,” Mac insisted. “Look, I’m sorry about… everything… I saw enough in the helo to know you’d been hurt, and my team… they thought… fuck, I wanted to talk to you.”
Sam grew agitated and yanked at a wire with a button on the end to call the nurse back in. “I don’t want to do any more talking. Forget everything.”
“I can’t. I came in here, and you were getting ready to throw yourself out a window—”
“I wasn’t, and I wouldn’t. I…” Sam’s face crumpled, and he began to cry. “It hurts and they… I wanted the pain to stop…” He yanked at his IV again.
Jesus. Mac grabbed his hand and stopped him from pulling the IV out. “Look. You can’t bottle it all up. Okay? Just because they thought it was fine to hurt a kid doesn’t mean that it will be like that when you meet the right person. Or that you’ll never come to terms with it.”
Sam covered his face with his hands, but not before Mac saw more tears in the kid’s eyes. “Please, go away.”
“I heard the doc say everything will be fine, and all you need to do is look after yourself—”
“You listened to what my doctor said? Fuck. I can’t do this.”
“I just wanted to say, your partner, when you’re older, he won’t care what happened if you tell him, explain to him. Okay?”
“Please—” Sam’s voice broke.
“And you should think about getting counseling.”
Mac stood. He wanted to say something profound, even though the unsettling feeling that he shouldn’t have done any of this was stabbing him insistently. Damn Bear and his observations and Spider with his clever way of challenging Mac.
“I’m so sorry,” Mac said finally.
“Don’t come back,” Sam snapped, his hands still covering his eyes. Mac turned to the door and had taken a few steps when something whizzed past his head and connected with the doorframe. He glanced down to see the Sony phone in three pieces, the small screen cracked. He stooped to pick it up and placed it on a small table inside the room. Then he left.
Sam cried himself to sleep. He had to sleep because when he was asleep he didn’t have to think about a single thing.
What the hell was Mackenzie Jackson thinking? Sam didn’t want to hear about how some mythical future partner would totally understand how he’d been abused and kept in a windowless room with his sister.
What Sam hadn’t counted on was that the dreams would visit him again. When they came, they were intense and as clear as if they were happening now. Was it from the medication they were pumping into him? Or because his brain was struggling to process what had happened to them? He didn’t know.
The dreams always started at the point when the two of them ran from the camp. They’d made it some way from the guards as quietly as they could. In Sam’s nightmare, the night was obsidian black, and he couldn’t see what was chasing them.
To his aching muscles and his pounding heart, it felt like he had run a marathon already. Blood ran freely from the wound in his stomach, and the pain was blinding, his lungs burning and his focus blurred. Then there were the guns. The thudding of bullets into the tree he was using to support his weight. The bullets slowed down in his dreams, like he could avoid them if he ducked, but his legs were jelly and he couldn’t move in the molasses-slow playback.
“Jo, guns.” Even in the dream, he could taste the copper of blood from cracked, bleeding lips.
I’m so tired. You need to run.
“Hurry! Sam!” Jo yanked at his arm, and the excruciating snap of agony had him stumbling into her. He fell into a tree, and ropes of gray slithered out from the trunk with hands grabbing at him, separating him from Jo.
“Go,” he shouted, but even as he shouted, there was no sound, only Jo staring at him, trapped by the same hands, and she was smiling. As another thud split the wood to his left, he shoved at Jo, pushed her out of the way, and she yelped as she stumbled, a small sound, nothing to show what had happened. Then in startlingly slow motion, she gripped Sam and slid to the ground, taking him with her. She stared at him, pinning him with her body, and he couldn’t move her, couldn’t understand why she had stopped running. Then there was blood. It spilled and pumped and covered him as his sister began to die with quiet acceptance.
He screamed soundlessly in his head, panic pushing him to move, but she was a dead weight and he was falling under her. Nothing could stop him, he was dying, and he wanted to run and he couldn’t.
Please don’t die. You can’t die. Jo.
A blinding light ripped the air apart around him, shouting, screaming, and the noise of guns.
Take him down. Clear. On your six. Clear. Clear.
Jesus, fuck, we should have moved sooner.
Are they even alive?
Sam opened his mouth to shout. The voice was American. The man was real—in the dream he was as real as if Sam could touch him. He was pulling at Sam, yanking him back from the free fall, and Sam was so grateful. Look at me! Help me! Help Jo. But he couldn’t speak or move, and when the pain was too intense, too much, as they pulled his sister from him, all he could do was lose his grip on life. He would die here, but that was okay, because then the nightmare would stop. Every ounce of fight had left him. He could easily let himself die here.
Kid? Wake up for me?
Is he alive?
I have a pulse. What about the girl?
Through and through, lost a lot of blood, stopped it.
Bear? Get me ex-fil. Spider, take him. I’ve got the girl. Wade, recon, and Bear?
Five minutes to ex-fil, sir. Kid? Sam?
Abruptly the tone of the words changed. “Sam, you need to wake up.”
Sam heard the talking in his sleep, the words around him, a haze of firm, capable tones, but if he opened his eyes, the pain would be worse. He knew it would.
“Sam, wake up, it’s just a nightmare.”
With his eyes closed, he could try to push back the cramping in his sides and stomach, the agony of his ankle, the terror of what he’d seen. Jo had to be dead. His beautiful sister was lying on him, unmoving, her blonde hair matted and red with blood.
Sam’s whole world tilted as someone lifted him and threw him over their shoulder like a sack of potatoes. His stomach rebelled, and he retched in time with the waves of pain.
They stopped moving, and Sam cracked open his eyes in his memories. Four men stood in front of him, one cradling Jo. Americans. Then it was nothing but the movement and noise and chaos, but in all of it, he felt safe.
Come on, kid, I need you awake here.
Should you be waking him?
Fuck off, Bear, he’s pulling his IV out again.
Was the guy trying to make it worse? Sam didn’t want to be awake, and the pain in his arms grounded him. “No…” Sam moaned. Or at least he thought he did. He didn’t know whether or not it was loud enough for anyone to hear.
And the nightmare let him go.
* * * * *
The beeping was the first thing he noticed. The pain was there but at a distance, and there was no other noise. No shouting, screaming, or guns. Just peace.
“Hi, Sam. You hurt yourself.”
A light flashed in his eyes, and the murmur of voices had him attempting to move his head.
Jo? He had to know. Where is Jo?
“We told you, Sam, Jo’s fine. Can you hear me?”
I can hear you.
* * * * *
Sam blinked open his eyes, then closed them immediately. This wasn’t the first time he’d awoken, but every time he tried to open his eyes, the light was too bright.
He tried again, slower this time. He pulled his hand up to shield his eyes, but something stopped him. Weakly, he pulled at the cannula preventing him from moving his hand, but he gave up when the fucking thing wouldn’t move.
He’d been in this place five days. Somehow after his last memory of that Marine, Mac, talking at him about… God, he couldn’t think about that as the shame flooded him… Five days, that was what his dad had told him. Jo was awake and fine. She’d bled a lot, but she wasn’t dead, and at the end of the day, a shoulder wound wasn’t as impressive as the kind of damage Sam had sustained. The guards hadn’t kicked Jo or knifed her or used her as a punching bag. They’d left her alone. She just been shot, but even that had been a through and through.
Or that is what his dad said. Graeme Larson was happy enough to tell Sam all of this, about how brave Sam had been, about how not many fourteen-year-old boys would—or could—have survived.
Are you proud of me, Dad? Really? For not dying?
The way he felt, the images he had in his head, the shame and fear that dogged him and followed him into nightmares? Dying would have been easier.