By Brigitta B.
Prima Series: Chronicle 5
Response to the Vin Fanfic and Discussion Group July 2008 Challenge - Admission
J.D. gazed at the stars overhead. In the narrow patch of space directly above him were millions… billions… probably trillions of blinking pinpricks of light in the inky darkness. J.D. knew how far away the stars were – he’d Googled it. Was anyone else out there on some other planet, in some other universe staring up at the stars and thinking the same thing? It was times like this, stretched out on his back around the campfire surrounded by the six men who had filled the hole left by his mother’s death, that J.D. firmly believed there was a greater power directing all things.
The young man sighed loudly, rolled his head to the side and smiled contentedly at his companions. Vin was leaning against his saddle, a mug of coffee warming his hands, his cowboy hat still atop his head despite the fact the sun had set more than five hours earlier. His expression was blank, his blue eyes distant, undoubtedly reflecting on a long and mostly forgotten time in his life -- far from unusual.
Chris was seated beside Vin… also far from unusual… lips set in a thoughtful frown, whittling away in the flickering light of the fire.
On the other side of Chris, Buck sat cross-legged, staring far too intently into the campfire for someone who only an hour earlier was doing the hokey pokey on the back of a horse. Em7’s resident optimist often ‘crashed’ after a mission, and this night was no exception. The team’s escape from hostile rebels that afternoon had been closer than any of them had expected. Buck had piloted the chopper like a skilled madman. While Buck had a reputation for cracking jokes when riding an adrenaline high, in the wake of a close escape Buck inevitably faced his own mortality. J.D. had seen it many times in the 18 months he’d been a member of Em7. Strangely, it was Buck who found debriefing the most confronting. Buck fed greedily on adrenaline in tight situations, allowing him to climb well above conventional and sensible cautions into a zone where risks were nothing more than arrogant and entirely too enticing dares. All of which meant Buck had the longest distance to fall afterwards. On the journey down, Buck had to make peace with himself. Only then would he return to his typically jovial self.
J.D. shifted his gaze to Josiah who was reading the Bible. J.D. didn’t know how his friend could read in the limited light, but he suspected Josiah knew the book by heart anyway. Josiah’s mumblings were strangely reassuring. There had been a time when J.D. had found them irritating, but no longer.
Further around the circle of support, as Josiah called it, was Nathan -- stretched out on his side, and like Buck, drawn to watching the memorizing flames dancing in the small campfire they’d built at sundown. Next to Nathan, Ezra slept. He was wrapped in a blanket, the white bandage on his arm glowing under the stars. The wound had been deep, but Nathan had stitched it on the spot... with rebels bearing down on them. Then they’d kept running for their rendezvous with the chopper. Now, the painkillers were doing their job and Ezra had succumbed to their numbing bliss.
J.D. rolled onto his side and sat up. Five sets of eyes drifted to him. Dunne grinned.
Smiles leaked onto the faces of his companions. “What the hell are you grinning at, boy?” Buck demanded.
“Nothin’. Just… this is great isn’t it?”
“Being alive is something to celebrate,” Josiah agreed, closing the Bible and placing it on the ground beside him.
“I admit, I had my doubts we’d get out so easily,” Nathan baited.
Buck shot his friend a happy glare. “Easily? EASILY!”
“Admit,” J.D. murmured, an idea springing to mind.
“Looks like trouble,” Vin murmured, eyes twinkling. “What have you got in mind, kid?”
“What is the hardest thing you’ve ever had to admit, Buck?”
Buck beamed. “Well, that’s easy. It’s damn hard admitting that while I can handle triplets with ease, quads really stretch me to my limits.”
“You’re disgusting, Buck,” J.D. chuckled.
“And loving it,” Buck agreed, leaning back against the trunk of the tree behind him. Clearly he had rationalized his actions and was ready to face the world again. “Okay, Larabee. Let’s hear it. Hardest thing you’ve ever had to admit?”
Chris pursed his lips thoughtfully and the mirth left his eyes. “That I could go on after I lost Sarah and Adam.”
J.D. frowned. He’d hoped to keep this light. Of course the fact Chris was prepared to admit something so personal meant he was totally relaxed with all those around the fire and that meant a lot to J.D.
Buck and Chris exchanged a look reflecting their emotional history. J.D. shot Josiah a look of desperation. “Josiah?”
Josiah stretched his back. “I find it hard to admit sitting on the ground like this is harder than it used to be. I think the Lord is trying to punish me for my misspent youth.”
There were soft chuckles and snorts from all.
“Nathan?” J.D. prompted.
“Hell, J.D. The hardest thing I’ve ever had to admit?” Nathan shook his head. “Come back to me later. I’ll have to think on it. What about you?”
J.D. grinned. “When I was little, I stole a cookie from the jar in the larder. My ma was a chambermaid for a rich family. There were only enough cookies left for everyone in the family to have one with their supper. I had to admit I took it when there weren’t enough. Ma was really disappointed in me. I learned a lesson that day.”
“Lessons learned when young are the most important,” Josiah preached. “They stay with you for life.”
J.D. nodded and glanced at Vin. “Your turn.”
Vin shrugged and when he spoke his voice was low. “Hardest thing I’ve ever had to admit was I’d been keeping something from my colonel.”
“Happens all the damn time,” Chris pointed out with a smirk, nudging Vin.
“True,” Vin agreed, but the response was serious.
J.D. could tell he had hit upon a sore point for Vin. He hadn’t meant to, but then, Josiah said sore points were best shared. “You were thinking of something specific?” J.D. asked curiously.
Vin’s gaze drifted toward the campfire and settled there.
“Are you talking about Liam’s attempts on your life?” Chris whispered, the tone almost devoid of emotion.
Everyone waited. Vin sighed deeply. “Thinking about the day before you took me to…” His voice faded, his expression tightening with discomfort. Telltale pinching at the side of his right eye indicated the return of a memory. “I wanted to tell you but... I couldn’t. Then....”
“…I forced your hand,” Nathan realized.
Vin pulled his gaze from the campfire and let it settle heavily on Nathan. “Yeah.”
Nathan nodded, apparently understanding exactly what Vin was referring to. Josiah and Buck still looked mystified and Chris -- J.D. could never tell what Chris was thinking.
Nathan, appearing to sense his companions’ confusion, elaborated softly. “I knew Vin was sick leading up to the Shu Nai mission… and I knew he hadn’t told Chris.”
J.D. returned his attention to Vin, hoping he would elaborate. The only time his older teammates spoke about their experiences in Katinda was here under the stars after a mission, perhaps because the tension of current missions reminded them of past ones.
“Wanted to tell Chris but…” Vin whispered, once again lost in a place long forgotten.
“What happened?” J.D. asked, carefully directing his attention to Nathan.
Jackson shot a look at Josiah who was assessing Vin critically. When he shrugged, Nathan checked with Chris and receiving an almost indiscernible nod of approval, Nathan exhaled slowly.
Nathan’s chest tightened as Chris delivered the news. They’d known the Shu Nai mission was imminent, but Travis had been confident recent talks would negate its need. Unfortunately negotiations had broken down. Thus, the next morning the STF1 would fly out to destroy the Kat Cong command base at Shu Nai. While this would be one of the most dangerous missions they had conducted in the last few months, Nathan’s concern was directed elsewhere.
The medic flicked his eyes to Vin… waiting. Tanner remained silent.
“Any questions?” Chris asked, scanning the group.
Nathan studied Vin. “Come on,” he whispered quietly, willing Vin to speak to Chris, but Vin remained silent.
The sun was setting and shadows blanketed the compact encampment. The men’s tents arced around a common area where the fire would be lit in less than an hour. They were camped in friendly territory and so could afford the luxury of a fire. Winter in Katinda was one of extremes. The days were muggy in the thick jungle but the nights dropped below zero. Most of the men doubled up to stay warm.
“Fine. Bed down early. We leave at first light,” Chris ordered, rising and disappearing into his tent.
Buck sighed, getting to his feet. “I better check the chopper.”
Josiah reopened his Bible and became enthralled immediately.
Nathan’s gaze narrowed. Vin glanced at him, his expression blank. Without comment, the younger man rose, staring intently at Chris’s tent. With a mumbled curse, Vin picked up his rifle and strode off into the jungle.
Nathan shook his head. He’d seen the conflict reflected in his companion’s face. Vin was doing battle with himself, but he was unintentionally putting Nathan in a no win situation – unintentionally because Nathan was certain Vin didn’t realize he knew. The medic had a responsibility to report his suspicions to Chris… should have done so three days ago when he’d first noticed Vin reaching for his temples. At the time he’d suspected the onset of a migraine, but it hadn’t eventuated, so Nathan had let it go. However his instincts had been pricked and so he’d kept a very close watch over Vin. Unfortunately, it was obvious to Nathan’s trained eye his younger friend’s health was deteriorating. Vin was doing a masterful job hiding it from everyone, specifically Chris, but Nathan had been studying him for signs… and they were there. Had he not noticed Vin initially reaching for his temples, Nathan, himself, may well have missed the well-hidden indications that all wasn’t well.
Nathan directed his attention at the ground, torn between his loyalty to Vin and his responsibility to his leader. Vin was ill and should have reported it to Chris, but they’d all known the Shu Nai mission was pending and Vin would be essential to the safety of the unit. It was this, Nathan assumed, which had sealed Vin’s lips.
Regardless, the time had come for Nathan to act. First, he would examine Vin to determine the extent of the illness, then he would report to Chris. It was likely just a bad cold, which shouldn’t present a problem. Of course, if that was all it was, why hadn’t Vin shared the information?
Nathan collected his rifle and headed into the jungle. About a five minute walk south of the camp was a small creek where Vin often went to think. Perhaps Vin just needed a gentle prod and then would go to Chris himself.
The coolness of the approaching night was seeping through Vin’s buckskin coat. He shivered, unconsciously pulling the material tighter around himself. His throat felt like sandpaper and it was becoming difficult to suppress his need to cough.
“One more day.”
The bank of the creek was damp, and sitting here like this lacked common sense, but he needed to think and his feet had brought him here. He was surprised Chris hadn’t realized something was wrong, but he’d done his best to keep his distance today without appearing he was.
He had never felt so torn in his life. He had to tell Chris - he had to. Secrets got men killed… but this secret would keep his team alive. If he wasn’t certain of that, he’d have told Chris the moment the headache had become more than just an annoyance. He just needed to deceive Chris for another 24 hours.
Deceive? A lump formed in his throat. God, he was deceiving Chris. Vin shut his eyes and the acid burning his stomach was overwhelmed by the ache in his chest – betrayal. He was betraying Chris’ trust but… he had to believe Chris would forgive him this deception. Admitting he was ill could get his team killed. He believed that. Chris would understand. He wouldn’t like it, but he’d understand.
Vin sighed and peered at a single leaf as it struggled to stay afloat in the slowly moving creek. He felt like that leaf. Events had been moving slowly and he’d been struggling. Now, events had been brought forward and he was going under. He had to tell Chris… but he couldn’t. Chris wouldn’t call off the mission, so they’d go without him and he wouldn’t allow that. If the boys were going, so was he. Without him, they’d have no cover.
The same reasoning continued to repeat over and over again in his head… and had been for two very long days.
The leaf hit a rock rising out of the water and it quivered, suspended in motion. Vin’s gaze narrowed. The small leaf bounced against the rock… butting its head against an immovable obstacle… then sank into the clear water, the battle lost.
Vin shut his eyes again and reached up to massage his pounding temples. This wasn’t a common cold. He’d spent two days praying that was all it was, but just after lunch, his suspicions had been all but confirmed.
“One more day,” Vin murmured. He just needed to hold on one more day. Then the mission would be over and he’d be able to tell the others and face his Colonel’s wrath.
Nathan followed the boot-worn trail to the creek. The team had been camped in this spot for two months… the longest they had camped anywhere.
Vin turned toward him as he rounded a bush.
For a moment the two men stared at each other. Vin frowned and returned his gaze to the water. “I’m okay.”
“I don’t think so. I think I’ll check for myself.”
“My word ain’t good enough for you for some reason?” The growl was husky and contained more than annoyance.
“Your word is fine with me, but you’re not giving me your word, are you, Vin?” Nathan waited, knowing the challenge was unfair.
Vin drew in a deeper breath and exhaled slowly.
“That‘s what I thought.” Nathan crouched.
“Started three days ago.” Vin admitted.
“Yeah, I know.”
Vin glanced at him, puzzled.
“Saw you reach for you temples. Thought it might have been a migraine.”
“Wish it had been,” Vin whispered.
Nathan reached for Vin’s brow, surprised by the heat radiating from it. “You’ve got a fever. Throat?”
“Yeah. Worse today than yesterday.”
“Three day flu,” Nathan diagnosed, patting Vin’s arm with assurance. “You should be fine in the morning.”
Vin nodded but kept his gaze over Nathan’s right shoulder. Experience had taught Nathan Vin found it impossible to live a lie, and his body language was telling the medic that was what he was trying to do. “Anything else you should tell me?
Vin shrugged. “Nothin’ comes to mind.”
Vin’s Adam’s apple jumped.
“The whole truth.”
Vin cursed softly. “My joints are a bit achy but it’s nothing. Really. I guess we just need some leave.” His blue eyes flashed the appeal… pleading for Nathan to accept the statement.
“Joints?” Joints wasn’t good and took Nathan a little by surprise. Sliding his hands to Vin’s glands, he probed the badly swollen tissue. Swollen glands, achy joints, fever. It was likely a virus. “This is a lot more than a cold, Vin. I want a blood test.”
Vin nodded dejectedly. “I should have lied to you.”
Nathan smiled. “You couldn’t lie if your life depended on it, kid.”
“What if your lives depend on it?” Vin murmured. He lifted his gaze to meet his friend’s and Nathan could see there was more.
“What are you talking about? You mean the mission? Even if it is something like Glandular Fever or Ross River Fever, you’re in the early stages so if you’re feeling strong enough tomorrow, I can pump you up on stuff to get you through, so relax.”
Vin nodded but again turned away. Nathan eyed his friend for a few moments and then a single horrific thought struck. There was no way…he grabbed the front of his friend’s shirt and started to unbutton it. Vin shoved his hand away.
Vin didn’t respond.
Nathan’s anxiety spiked. “Rash!”
Still Vin said nothing so Nathan ripped the shirt open, two buttons flying into the creek and sinking. Nathan rocked back on his heels stunned. On the left side of Vin’s chest was a very light red and purple rash. The purple was the deadly key. “Vin, this looks like…”
“I know,” Vin snapped, attempting to button his shirt.
Nathan grabbed his hands and pushed them away so he could get a better look. He ran his finger tips over the slightly raised outbreak that was only the size of a dime. “This is the early stages. It will spread. When did the rash appear?”
“About four hours ago. You agree it’s in the very early stages so I’ll run the mission with you guys tomorrow and then…”
“No.” Out of the question. Nathan examined Vin’s glands again, shaking his head slowly. He couldn’t be sure without a blood test but all evidence was pointing toward Jungle Fever. Jungle Fever – they were words that put fear into the heart of even the bravest soldier. Jungle Fever was a new virus, also known as the Katinda Virus due to the fact the only diagnosed cases were soldiers serving in the region. The virus followed a set pattern. Day one – severe headache. Days two and three – flu-like symptoms. Day three – raised red and purple rash beginning on the chest and spreading to the back and limbs by the end of Day Five. Day Four - a temporary reprieve from the symptoms, before Jungle Fever hit with full force on Day Five.
The fever worsened with each day following day five, and almost always required hospitalization. There were two strands of the virus known simply as Type A – mild and Type B - severe. Type A, if treated quickly, lasted a week and was no worse than a bad case of influenza. Two days in hospital on fluids and a week’s rest, and the soldier was back in the field. Type B, on the other hand, required hospitalization for two to three weeks. Recovery was slow and most sufferers were sent home for at least two months. If Type B wasn’t treated, it caused convulsions, coma and death. Only a month earlier, Nathan had read of a Type B case that wasn’t treated for five days and the soldier had died. The young man had hit day four and when all symptoms disappeared apart from he rash, he made the fatal mistake of believing he simply had three day flu.
“Nathan, I’m ordering you to keep your mouth shut until tomorrow.”
Nathan stared into his friend’s fiery eyes, unsurprised Vin was serious. “Sorry, Lieutenant. When it comes to the health of this unit, no one give me orders.”
“For God’s sake, I’m only asking you to sit on this for 24 hours.” The appeal was heart-felt and full of despair and frustration. Vin looked younger. Then again, perhaps Nathan simply never took any notice of his age. He was just Vin – lieutenant, tracker and sharpshooter. -- incredibly mature and competent. However, right now, all of that was gone and Nathan was staring into the face of a young man barely out of his teens… an ill and very distressed young man who was appealing to his friend for help.
“Please.” He was begging and Vin wasn’t a man who begged for anything. “Vin, if it was just a cold, I’d consider it, but this could be… this looks like Jungle Fever and you don’t mess with that condition. I want you in hospital as soon as possible.”
“That’s my decision!” Vin scrambled to his feet. Desperation left him with nowhere to go but to attack.
Nathan rose and stared him in the face, countering Vin’s ice-like stare. “No, it isn’t. It’s my decision.”
Vin’s face flickered with anger. He lifted his hand and pointed at Nathan, clearly ready to verbally attack again, but he’d lost the battle and knew it. He dropped his hand, his face paling with defeat. “Nathan, I’m begging you…”
Nathan’s stomach did a slow roll and he whispered. “I’m sorry, kid. The colonel has to be told. I’m in this as deep as you. I should have said something earlier so you aren’t going to be alone when he explodes. You’re ill, Vin.”
“He won’t cancel the mission. You’ll go without me.” Vin’s pain was palpable.
Nathan exhaled slowly and placed his hand on his patient’s shoulder. “That’s his decision, not ours. If we trust him to make decisions we like, we must trust him when he makes decisions we don’t like… I’m quoting Josiah exactly by the way.” The final comment didn’t ease the tension as intended. “Vin, I’m sorry.”
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© June 2008 Brigitta B. : This relates only to the creative property in this story. The distinctive way the story unfolds, the specific dialogue and unique situations are mine. I acknowledge that the characters and settings belong to MGM and Trilogy Entertainment and thank them sincerely for turning a blind eye so I can borrow them. (g) No infrigement of copyright was intended and no profit has been made from this story... so, please don't sue me. It wouldn't be worth your while.
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