... recalling the double-time marching chant back at Fort Bragg: “Airborne Ranger Green Beret, this is the way we start our day,” running the sandhills before dawn, the rumor that one team had run over a PFC from a supply unit who had been drunkenly crossing the road in front of them. The team had trampled him and left him behind, never getting out of step, chanting each time their left jump boot hit the ground, “Pray for war. Pray for war. Pray for war.”
~ Sympathy for the Devil by Kent Anderson
He'd never prayed for war. He'd mouthed the words and shouldered the gun and been top in his class. He never disobeyed an order. He never gave any less than his best but he never prayed for war. With blood on his face and oil coating his lungs and sand in his boots, with a sunburn, the dizziness of constant near-dehydration and the never-never feeling that came from realizing that he was half a world away from his home ... Booth never did anything that wasn't regulation.
A stare tracked him in the shower tent. Seeley felt it. Someone stood too close when they were called to briefings. Tall boy, new to the desert but fitting in with the group without struggle.
Booth was just a grunt, but his sniper status made him different from the others. He worked on his own, took his orders straight from the CO. He joined each roll call, he ran with the team. He showered and shaved and when they were called out, he stayed behind. When they were off at night, he would be gone for days.
In eight months, Seeley had twelve clean kills. He knew he wouldn't be going home any time soon.
He never got used to soundless nights. They were worse than the ones filled with artillery that lit up the dunes.
Booth sat just outside his tent, the rest of his team on recon. His webbed chair balanced in the sand and his eyes closed. He didn't open them even when he knew he wasn't alone.
“What does anyone do around here for fun?”
Seeley snorted. His head still tipped back as if he was tanning by moonlight.
“The Saudis keep everything fun out.”
No beer. No porn. No drugs. No America.
“Where're you from?”
“I'm fresh outa Michigan.” The new boy said, sitting down on the heels of his boots in the sand beside Booth. “It's still snowing there.”
“I remember snow.” Seeley sighed.
They drank bottles of illegal beer and watched the stars move across the sky. Talking when the urge came. Sitting silent for the most part. Seeley didn't mind the company, which was odd for him. He had his friends, but for the most part, he was a loner. It came with the job.
His own team called him the Reaper behind his back, sometimes to his face.
Seeley kept trying to tell himself it was just a job.
“You got someone back home?”
They were under the shade of the mess tent. Pushing food around with plastic forks and pretending that it wasn't so hot that breathing was an effort.
“Not really.” Booth answered.
Girls wrote to him, one more than others. But he didn't consider any of them his. Back home they were convenient places to put his cock when the hunger became unmanageable. Socially acceptable choices to hang out with, eat with, dance with. He could see himself marrying one. Having a couple kids. Following in his father's footsteps and wearing a badge.
But it wasn't anything that drew him.
“I got a girl. Long legs, tight ass, breasts the fit perfectly into the palms of my hands.” The boy laughed and Seeley looked up. There was absolutely no humor in the smile that met Booth's eyes.
“She's probably fucking my best friend right now.”
“Why'd you sign up then?”
“I enlisted in the Guard after high school. Never thought they'd send that letter. I needed the money for college.”
“Yeah,” Seeley shoveled another mouthful of the tasteless food into his mouth. “You and one hundred thousand others.”
Later that night, Booth walked perimeter patrol. The star-filled sky was covered with clouds and the air tasted like iron. Rain was on the weather bulletin, but no one ever believed that.
“Why're you here?” The boy asked, trudging beside Seeley.
Sand hissed where they walked. It filled in their empty bootprints after they passed as if even the desert objected to their presence.
Seeley waited for the usual scoffing, the disbelief. The incredulous what the fuck. Instead, he got a nod in the dark, white teeth muted by the absence of light.
“Sounds like something you'd do.”
Their shift was done. They were back in camp before dawn, in the only temperate time of the day. Dropping their packs, stowing their guns. Stripping out of sweat-soaked uniforms and walking slowly to the showers.
It was deserted. The rest of the platoon slept in the relative cool air. Undershirts and boxers were dropped, boots left by the flap. Seeley turned on the water and stood under it, let it soak through his short hair and wash over the grits of sand that never disappeared. No matter how long the water poured over him.
He put his hands up on the plywood wall and closed his eyes. Losing himself in the sound.
Booth didn't even open them when he felt the boy's mouth on his cock. Welcome heat for a change. Smooth tongue, insistent lips. He simply thrust forward and sighed and came when his balls drew up tight and his muscles contracted.
After, they ate breakfast and talked football and hockey.
Two weeks later, Booth fucked him. Four weeks later, they were chasing down opportunities to be alone that wouldn't arouse suspicion. Off duty trysts in the dark.
Seeley flicked a scorpion off the blanket, sending it skittering off into the sand. He rolled back and slid his hand over tanned skin. Shoulders to ass. Licking his fingers and then sending them in, hunting for that one, perfect spot that would make the body in front of him writhe and twist and arch. Anything that would make those slim hips lift off the wool and bring that hard cock to him. Salty sweet on his lips, his other hand moving up to cover the boy's mouth and keep his whimpers and cries muffled behind flesh and calluses.
Booth found a new urgency in his missions. Find. Kill. Come back.
Twelve hits became sixteen. Twenty. Twenty-seven.
He lost count. He didn't care. He lived for the dark and the moments when he could bury his frustration and pain and loneliness in the willing body beneath him. When he was held in arms that were strong, when he could see himself in light brown eyes that didn't flinch.
Four months passed in a blur of blood and death, oil and heat and sex.
Booth came back from a three day job only to find orders for the next already waiting. Just enough time to check his mail or change his underwear or find his lover.
The boy's team was back, but he wasn't with them.
Seeley grabbed the Sergeant's arm as he passed, headed to the waiting helicopter.
A question. An answer.
Booth was planted on a rooftop of a burnt out apartment building. Unshielded sun beat down on him, sweat poured down his cheeks, dripped off his jaw. His rifle sight crossed on the skull of his mark and he knew that this would be the one he missed.
It had to be.
Tears in his eyes. Unbelievable pain in his soul. The vision of one more body in a flag-draped coffin being loaded back to Michigan and icy cool air blew over him out of nowhere. The soft pressure of a kiss on his lips, the phantom touch of hands on his hips.
His finger tightened. His sight cleared.
Thirty clean kills.
He heard the chant in his head even when he slept. The sound of boots hitting the earth with heavy precision. A determination that couldn't be stopped. Wouldn't be deterred. Boys trained to be killers without conscience.
He knew he wouldn't be going home any time soon.