Joined: Sun Jan 02, 2011 9:56 pm
Re: The Dogs of War
Well, here it is, folks.
Chapter 11 – Deja Vu All Over Again
Forward Operating Base Bravo; Infirmary. 1542 hours.
Very slowly, Duke woke up. The murky darkness fell away, and his dulled senses gradually started to regain their function.
The Shepherd could tell he was lying back against something soft, with his head propped up. Off in the distance, he could hear faint sound of echoing voices calling to one another. Nearer at hand, a faint, rhythmic beeping sounded off, maybe once every few seconds.
Every square inch of the dog's body ached straight down to the bone. With a great effort, Duke pried his heavy eyelids open and blinked a few times, before turning his head as much as his stiff neck would allow to take a good look around the room.
White. White everywhere. White beds, white walls, white floor, white ceiling … all a uniform, sterilized, bone-bleached white. An air conditioner sat lopsided in the window across from Duke's bed, wafting cool air in his direction. The Shepherd glanced to his left and noticed a small rack of medical equipment next to his bed; a heartbeat monitor and a limp bag of saline solution that led to an IV buried in the fur of his arm.
Yep, he was in the infirmary. Gingerly, Duke shifted his position and tried to sit up. A bolt of pain shot through his leg. Duke slowly lowered himself back down to the bed with a low groan, doing his best not to move at all. “Nngh...”
A cheerful man's voice broke through the silence. “Well, well, well, look who's finally up.” Duke glanced left and right, trying to see where the speaker was. A grey-haired doctor wearing a pair of glasses and a stethoscope stepped into the Shepherd’s field of view. “If it isn't doggy Rambo,” he went on with a faint grin. “Didn't I tell you not to show your face around here again?”
Duke's ears perked up a bit, and a tired smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. “Heh. Hey, Doctor Coe. Can't say I'm too thrilled about seeing you from this angle again, either.”
Doctor Coe let out a small laugh at that, and glanced down at the clipboard he held in one hand. “There's this novel new thing called 'avoiding injury'. I'd recommend you try it sometime.” He set his clipboard down on a small end table and leaned on the metal railing of Duke's bed. “Anyway, you know the drill by now. Stay in bed, no sudden movements, et cetera et cetera.”
Duke nodded in response. “So, anything feel out of the ordinary? Aside from the fact that you probably feel like you've just gone through a meat grinder?” Again, a nod, this time accompanied by a roll of the eyes. Grinning, Doctor Coe gently scratched behind the Shepherd's ears. “It's good to see you're doing alright, Dukey ma boy. Some among us were starting to worry that you wouldn't make it.”
The Shepherd's grin slowly faded. “Why's that?”
“You've been out for almost three days, boy,” Doctor Coe said. “You got banged up pretty badly out there. It was touch and go for a while.”
Duke rubbed absently at his temple. “At the risk of sounding really cliché, what the heck happened?”
“Ah, I think that's a tale your friends would rather tell themselves. Should I go get them?”
“I can wait. They're all probably busy right now. Wouldn't want to disturb 'em. “
Dr. Coe glanced over his shoulder at the door to the infirmary with a knowing grin on his worn, wrinkled face. “I wouldn't be so sure about that, Sergeant Walters,” the doctor said with a laugh. “You hear that? You can stop eavesdropping and come in now, ya bunch o' mutts.”
Almost the instant Coe finished his sentence, the doors to the infirmary were flung inwards, and in a flurry of moving fur, a crowd materialized around the sides of Duke's bed; Sebastian and Achilles, followed closely by Bailey and Zara. They were all still in their sandy, stained combat gear – sans Zara – looking like they had walked into the ward right off patrol duty
Sebastian and Achilles were the first ones to speak. The energetic German Shepherd and hulking Doberman pushed past each other for a better spot, talking a mile a minute all the while.
“Aw, man, we thought you guys were goners-”
“ - disappeared for days - “
“ - shot up pretty bad - “
“ - had half the army out lookin' for ya - “
“Hey, hey, hey,” Doctor Coe grumbled, pushing through the ring of excited dogs. “Give the boy some space, ya bunch of sandy mutts.” Bailey flashed Sebastian and Achilles a cold glare to drive the point home. The two big dogs balked and took a few steps back, ears flat against their skulls. “Now, one at a time,” Coe said, a faint grin tugging at his lips.
Duke used his elbows to push himself back, sitting up before he spoke. “Right, right. Because I'm a gentle flower.” The big Shepherd giggled under his breath. “Ah, let 'em mob me. I'll live.”
Doctor Coe shrugged. “Suit yourself, Duke. I'm sure MacNamara can make sure no one smothers ya. If anything starts bleeding again, just call.” With that, the grizzled doctor stuck his hands in the pockets of his white jacket and strolled off toward the door, whistling tunelessly under his breath. The moment he was out the door, the dogs crowded around once again.
Duke looked from face to face. Bailey was just letting the hint of a smile show through her gruff expression. Achilles and Sebastian had made no attempts to hide their excitement, and that didn't seem to be changing. Zara was leaning on the edge of the bed, looking at him with a carefully reserved expression... though her rapidly wagging tail betrayed her true thoughts.
“It's good to see you're doing better, Walters,” Bailey said gruffly, finally letting a lopsided grin show through. “Though you should try and stop getting shot. It's a bad habit.”
“I'll work on that, MacNamara,” Duke grumbled, but he found himself smiling as well. “Hey, it's great to see all of you, but could someone tell me what the heck happened?” The small crowd of dogs quieted, smiles shrinking a few notches. Sebastian, Achilles and Zara each cast a glance at Bailey. The stocky Boxer looked between each of them, then back at Duke, and sighed.
“You're going to be debriefed by the lieutenant general anyway,” she said. “Are you sure you don't want to just wait until then?” Duke's look told her all she needed to know. “Alright, fine,” she said. “Here's how it went.” Bailey stepped closer to the side of the bed, the other canines shifting back to let her pass. The Boxer plopped herself down in a thinly padded chair near the head of the bed, right next to Duke. Her feet dangled a few inches above the floor.
“We managed to take out the the two guys who came in after us, but not before you got hit,” she said. “You … got hit pretty bad, Walters. Twice. Missed anything too important, thank God, but it was enough to put you out of commission. Medics said you went into shock.”
Duke offered a pained grin. “Bah. T'is but a scratch.”
Achilles let out a short bark of laughter. “A scratch that pretty cussin' near bled ya out, man.”
Bailey just rolled her eyes and went on. “Me and Zara scrambled and barred the doors, but we figured it was only going to be a matter of time before we had half of Rasshim's guys bursting in.” She fell silent for a moment, and Zara picked up the tale. She spoke in a soft, clipped tone.
“After some minutes, we began to hear shooting from the other of the town's sides,” she said in accented English. “They were not shooting at us, but we stayed hidden all the same. After some time, the gunfire stopped. Men came around, searching houses. They were yours, not the warlord's.”
“Sergeant First Class James Anselmo,” Bailey said with a broad grin. “Remember him, Duke? You saved his sorry butt six months ago and now he got around to returnin' the favor.”
A grin slowly spread across the Shepherd's face. “Ha! That's perfect.”
The Shepherd's cheer might have been just a bit too loud, because Doctor Coe took that moment to come marching back into the ward. “Alright, alright, finish it up, we need to give the boy his rest,” the man grumbled. “If he tears one of his stitches it's gonna be on you.”
“This'll just take a minute, doc,” Bailey called back. To Duke, she said, “When Rasshim saw that he was up against a couple squads worth of US Marines, not just a few wee harmless pups, he decided that it might be time to get outta dodge.” The Boxer flashed Duke one of her toothy grins. “He didn't make it halfway across the square. Anselmo saw to that personally.”
Duke just nodded, drumming his fingers on the metal rail attached to his bed. “And Hazid?”
Zara grimaced, baring a sharp canine. “The Anselmo man took him prisoner, but they did not restrain him well. Your Marines stopped near a city on their way here. He managed to escape.”
Before Duke could say anything, Bailey cut in. “Eh. Hazid's one desert mutt, no offense to our new pal here. He'll be a nuisance at best.”
The big Shepherd nodded again and shrugged his shoulders. This was hardly an unacceptable outcome, especially considering everything they'd been through in the past couple days. But there was one more detail … “What did the brass say about Zara?”
Bailey shrugged. “The lieutenant general still hasn't made any final decisions. For now, Zara should be free to stay on the base.”
“Alright. Minute's up, everyone out!”
Bailey nodded and got up from the chair, flashing Duke a lopsided grin before walking for the door, snapping her fingers to catch the attention of her two subordinates, Sebastian and Achilles. The Doberman and Shepherd made a lazy salute before following in Bailey's footsteps. “See ya 'round, sergeant,” Sebastian said with a broad smile. Duke nodded once and grinned. “Good to see you guys.”
Zara, however, lingered by the bedside. Duke's grin softened when he looked back to her, and he opened his mouth to speak. The slender female jackal reached out lightning-fast and closed it again with one paw, gently squeezing his muzzle shut and laying one finger across his lips with her free hand. ”Shh,” she said in that same soft tone. “I'll meet you back here by dusk.” The Shepherd could only meekly nod.
“That means you too, Zara!” Doctor Coe shouted from the side-room he'd stepped into. Zara glanced over her shoulder before quickly turning back to Duke. She released his muzzle and took a step toward the door, then froze halfway through the motion, looking like she was teetering on a cliff's edge. In a gesture that almost seemed an afterthought, she turned back, leaned over the bed, and gave Duke a quick kiss on the cheek. She jumped a few steps back, did a quick, mock salute and darted for the door.
Duke watched her go, suddenly blushing brightly under his fur and feeling like his brain had momentarily shorted out. It was a few moments before he regained enough of his mental faculties to actually close his mouth. Beneath him, trapped against the mattress, his tail twitched in sudden excitement.
The sunset couldn't come fast enough.
Several hours later
Achilles flopped down on a well-used couch in the base rec room, ignoring the faint creaks the elderly piece of furniture made under his weight. He sprawled himself out in a way the he, inexplicably, found comfortable; one leg propped up on the back of the couch, another dangling off the edge, with one arm to join it. The other flopped over his eyes. Muttering under his breath, the muscular Doberman groped for the CD player he'd left on the ground nearby. After a few attempts, his finger found the 'play' button.
Rock? Metal? Nope. The first bars of the Blue Danube Waltz filled the air. In the corner, a few Marines playing Texas Hold'em stifled a snicker. Achilles just tuned them out, laid back, and listened to the music.
Things were finally returning to normal.
At the guard house, Sebastian and Bailey had both taken a seat on the rapidly cooling pavement, backs resting against the wall as they looked off down the empty road.
“Come on, Bailey,” Sebastian pleaded. “Just tell me.”
“No,” Bailey said flatly.
“Is it Achilles?”
The Shepherd fell silent for a moment, then nudged her in the side, wearing a sly grin. “Is it Duke?”
Bailey actually laughed at that. “God no.” She leaned over and gave the lanky dog a smack on the back of the head. “Give it up, stupid. 'Sides, I'd be intruding there.” She looked at him for a few moments with a knowing grin of her own to let that sink in, before turning away.
“Wait,” Sebastian said. “So... Duke and...”
“You really need to pay more attention, boy.”
“So who … ?”
“So... you wanted to talk to me?”
Duke and Zara sat on the sandy ground next to the back door to the hospital. By then the sun was nearly below the horizon, and the bereft of its heat source, the air was beginning to rapidly cool. The warmth of the ground below them was barely an echo of the scorching temperatures the base soared to during the day.
Zara leaned back, propping herself up on her elbows, and gazed at the tiny strip of sun above the horizon that they could see in between the buildings of the base. “I was just wanting to thank you,” she murmured. “Without you, I would probably be laying dead on the ground with a bullet in my belly by now.”
Duke gave her a curious look. “Last I checked, you were the one who took that guy out while I was being shot at.”
Zara allowed herself a small grin. “Well, you drew their fire. Either way, I am alive because of you.”
“Well, I could say the same thing,” Duke said. “Getting me and Bailey off the back of that truck probably saved both our skins. Heh. I guess now we're even.”
“So is that why you bothered to help me?”
The question caught Duke off guard. “Well, no. Not really. I didn't think of that until just now.”
Zara gave the Shepherd a pensive look and shifted closer to him. “Then why?”
“Well...” Duke fidgeted a little. “I dunno. I just … didn't … want them to hurt you, I guess.”
The female jackal let out a little titter of laughter. “Well, that is very sweet of you. Just don't go and get shot on my behalf. I'm very much capable of taking care of myself.” Grinning, she put an arm around his shoulders and seemed to slide just a bit closer. Duke did the same, the memory of the brief kiss still fresh in his mind.
“Sooo... about this afternoon,” he said, nervously drumming his fingers on the dusty ground.
“Duke, are you enjoying yourself right now?” Duke glanced over at Zara, trying to puzzle that one out. Here he was, sitting in close proximity with a female – who, he had to admit, was attractive in an unusual sort of way – while watching a sunset of all things.
He looked at her with a grin. “Why yes, I suppose I am.”
“Then don't ask stupid questions.” Zara leaned over and cuffed him on the back of the head with a laugh.
“Yessir, ma'am sir – Ow, hey!”
“You're lucky I like you, boy.”
But soon enough, the two of them fell silent, sharing each others' company as the sun gradually slipped below the horizon.
Well, that's that. After nearly a year of on and off writing, The Dogs of War is officially at an end. Really, I'd just like to thank all of you who took the time to read and comment here (seriously; I probably would have gotten bored and given up on this halfway through without y'all). I'd also like to thank GunRacer, for his help proofreading the last few chapters.
Now, fear not, the four or so of you who are actually reading this, for this shall not be the last ye see of Duke and company. I have a plan for a sequel of sorts, one that will - hopefully - surpass The Dogs of War in quality. And maybe length. I still need to work that out.
Anyway, I hope you all enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it. ^_^
(☞ﾟヮﾟ)☞ Tooth and Claw
Sequel to The Dogs of War~