Fighting Redemption
Author:Kate McCarthy

Jake shook his head in mock disgust. “That all you got, mate?”

 

Ryan chuckled and turned back, continuing behind their Troop Commander, Paul “Monty” Montgomery, as he set the pace along the Pakistani border. Monty was enough to inspire confidence in any soldier—fit and experienced with uncanny instincts. He’d proven himself numerous times under fire. Relying on Monty to make split-second decisions—whether to fire or hold ground, push forward or retreat—was reassuring as fuck.

 

Twenty-five long days they’d been in the field now, finishing up their final patrol before heading back to base. Their SAS team was tasked with reconnaissance. Gathering intelligence on the Taliban in the mountains of Eastern Afghanistan was notoriously dangerous.

 

The air was dry and hot, and the mountains rocky and a pain in the ass to navigate under the cover of night. And the dust—fuck, he was over it. It got in his hair, his clothes, and even his ass crack, making the trek that much more uncomfortable.

 

“Is that all I got?” Ryan raised his brows at Jake as they kept up the punishing pace. “It’ll hold you for now.”

 

“I need more than that to hold me. I need a drink and something to fucking eat.”

 

Ryan’s stomach grumbled in reply, rolling over with a loud, queasy thump. Rations had been depleted two days ago, and he’d been pushing away visions of thick steaks and hot chips ever since. “Don’t talk about food.”

 

“How much further ‘til we hit our extraction zone, Monty?” Jake called out quietly.

 

“Two k’s,” Monty replied without allowing his focus on their surroundings to waver. Despite the talk, the hunger, and the exhaustion, his entire team remained alert and vigilant. The thought of an action being the cause of an injury or death was their worst nightmare—simply unthinkable. But that shit happened, and when it did, Ryan was just that much more determined to keep being a soldier. They all had more to fight for than a war—they were fighting for those they’d lost too.

 

“I can handle that,” Jake replied. “Not so sure about Kendall here. He’s looking a bit weak and tired. Maybe we need to stop so he can have a nanna nap.”

 

With a back aching from the heavy weight of his pack, Ryan turned and rolled his dark brown eyes at Jake.

 

Jake grinned in reply, his teeth white against the filthy camouflage covering his face. Jake was a good looking sonofabitch—choppy blond hair, green eyes, and a movie star smile. It fooled most because he was a tough, determined bastard with more drive in his pinky finger than any other asshole that made it through SAS selection. Jake could out-run, out-shoot, and out-lift all of them. He was only one of a handful that made it through the hell that was SAS selection.

 

“Good one, asshole,” Ryan muttered. “Why don’t you quit eyeballing my ass and keep your mind to the fucking terrain.”

 

After a few moments of peace, a loud thunk broke the silence and a quiet “fuck” was muttered. They turned and laughs rang out at their team sniper, Chris Galloway, on his hands and knees, palms no doubt bleeding from the sharp rocks. He stood and dusted his hands on his Army issue fatigues.

 

“Go fuck yourselves,” he said with a rueful grin.

 

“Christ. No talk about fucking. I’m horny,” Kyle moaned.

 

“You’re a sick bastard, Brooks,” Jake told Kyle.

 

Kyle grinned and grabbed his crotch. “No sicker than you.”

 

Ryan tuned them out for a while, concentrating on keeping his feet moving, until Jake’s voice filled the silence again. “Gonna Skype Fin when we get back. You should say hello to her, Kendall. You never do.”

 

The old familiar ache at the mention of Jake’s sister taunted him, and he shoved it away. “Why the fuck would I want to do that? You Skype enough for all of us combined...” he shook his head “...chattering like a fucking girl.”

 

Ryan had no intention of talking to Finlay Tanner, and he was desperate to keep it that way. Six impossibly long years had passed since he walked out of her life. Despite not having seen her since, Ryan thought of her constantly, the ache of missing her hurting a little more each day. The never ending loneliness he felt had been his choice, and he forced himself to live with it. Being a soldier like his grandfather had been Ryan’s dream for as long as he could remember. Like blinking or breathing, it was just there, living inside him, giving his body a reason to function. He couldn’t let anything stand in the way of it. Yet Fin almost had, without him even realising it until it was almost too late.

 

Jake interrupted his thoughts. “Too bad. I’ll drag you there if I have to. Maybe Fin might be able to get a smile out of you, considering my jokes are wasted on your sorry ass.”