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  1. (This takes place just before the Junior Detectives go to the desert. The term liefde is Afrikaans for love and geliefde means beloved in the same language. And the character Kantorek appeared in my entry Decisions.)

    Gary Courtyard
    San Francisco, CA

    Nace heard the chime of his cell phone and groped about for his bedside table for it. He was vaguely aware of Goliath barking as well.

    “Alright! Alright! I’m up for the love of God!” Nace groaned until he saw the display on the Motorola phone. He saw Angela’s name on it and the annoyance at the early hour rapidly faded.

    She wouldn’t call unless this was a bloody emergency! She knows the time difference! I hope to God she’s alright! Nace thought. Almost a year ago last Tuesday he had nearly lost her to a gunshot in Cape Town. And he would take nothing for granted.

    “Hullo,” Nace began, hoping he didn’t sound too bedraggled.

    “Hey,” Angela said, “I didn’t wake you, did I?”

    “No, my liefde, you didn’t,” Nace replied.

    “You’re a horrible liar, Nace,” Angela quipped. But even tens of thousands of miles away Nace could tell something was wrong.

    Deciding the direct approach was the best, he began, “Are you alright?”

    He heard her voice slightly break on the other side, a sniffle right after it, “No, I’m not…”

    Nace felt his heart sink and tried to keep the emotion out of his voice, “What’s wrong?”

    “Remember that case computer crimes got?” Angela began, with a slight sniffle, “The one when you were packing to leave?”

    “Vaguely,” Nace replied, hearing Goliath bark in the background.

    “We solved it today,” Angela said. In his mind’s eye he could see her wiping a tear from her eyes.

    God! I wish I was there! If nothing else to hold her as she’s going through this! Nace thought. He gulped, hopefully she didn’t hear it, and asked, “What happened?”

    “We got the guy and we’ve got a strong case…” Angela began, with a hiccup. He heard her crying briefly on the other side of the line and it made his heart sink.

    I wish I was there to just hold her as she’s going through all that! Whatever it is!
    Nace thought. He knew all he could do was listen as much as it hurt.

    “There’s something more? Isn’t there?” Nace replied, knowing Angela had something she needed to get off her chest.

    He heard Angela hiccup again after this bit of crying before he heard her respond, “Yeah...and we found his computer’s hard drive. We had to do a data recovery of terabytes of...I can’t even describe it...those poor...Oh my God!”

    “Angela, its alright, I think I can imagine what you’re talking about,” Nace replied.

    “It’s just how could someone be...I mean to do that to kids...Why?” Angela asked.

    “There are evil blokes in this world,” Nace replied. Kantorek was one, and I sent the wanker before King Minos as he deserved.

    His fingers lightly touched the brass casing from that kill. Kantorek. A Serbian mercenary sniper operating in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. One who tended to pick his targets based on his caprices of that given week. Remembering the week it was children. And how two weeks later he finally had killed him.

    “I-I know,” Angela said, “But having to prepare that evidence packet. To see what that guy was all about. I can’t unlive it.”

    “God, I wish I was there,” Nace replied, “If nothing else to just hold you.”

    “I wish you were here too,” Angela said, pausing before she composed herself, “I love you.”

    God, ek is lief vir jou,” Nace replied, sniffling, barely managing to say in Afrikaans, ‘God, I love you…’

    “I miss you too, geliefde,” Angela said. He could almost see her weakly attempting a smile in his mind’s eye.

    “Your Afrikaans is getting better,” Nace replied.

    “I had a good teacher,” Angela said.

    Goliath barked again, somewhat more plaintively.

    Angela asked, “Let me guess the little fireball is awake?”

    “He woke the moment you called,” Nace replied.

    Goliath cocked his head as he regarded Nace and Nace cupped the mouthpiece on his phone before speaking, “Yeah, it’s mommy. Unfortunately she’s had a bad day…”

    Goliath whimpered as if he understood and Nace replied, “Unfortunately flying you over there wouldn’t be quite so easy.”

    He moved his hand away from the mouthpiece, “Yeah, the little fireball wanted to know if you were alright. I had to tell him that flying him to Cape Town was out of the question.”

    “I know,” Angela replied, “But I at least can talk to you.”

    “I wish I could do more than just talk to you, love,” Nace replied. Hoping his own voice didn’t break. It killed him to see her hurt.

    “I’m fine,” Angela said, “They let me off early after I turned in my report. And I’ve got tomorrow off.”

    “That’s good to hear,” Nace replied, “At least they weren’t complete wankers.”

    “I managed to fix the bathroom sink, it doesn’t drip anymore,” Angela said, “At least fixing something kept me somewhat ok…”

    That’s a good sign, she’s minding what she normally likes to mind.
    Nace thought, reflecting the number of handyman type projects he and Angela would get busy with around their apartment. I’d worry if she called the maintenance man over that.

    Nace crossed his bedroom in long strides before he headed to a computer and began rapidly typing away at the keyboard. He knew a website of a florist in Cape Town and the address of their apartment by heart.

    “Nace?” Angela asked.

    “Oh, I heard every word, love,” Nace said.

    “I know you did, but you’re up to something. Spill…” Angela began.

    “Sorry love, classified operation and all,” Nace said, smiling. If he couldn’t be there in person, flowers were somewhere in the neighborhood of a next best thing.

    He heard something that sounded like a kitchen cabinet opening, picturing Angela grabbing a coffee cup and a filter out of the cabinet. Knowing she was probably making herself a pot of coffee.

    “Let me guess, some more coding tonight or taking in a movie,” Nace asked.

    “A movie,” Angela said, “I don’t know if I should go near a computer right now.”

    Whatever she saw had to have shaken her up,
    Nace thought. Because he knew if she was brewing a coffee pot he knew she was either going to have a movie or coding marathon.

    “Probably for the best,” Nace replied, “So what’s on the tap tonight?”

    The Princess Bride, Finding Nemo, and The Princess Diaries,” Angela replied, “I feel like watching something lighthearted and innocent.”

    “And I wish I was there with you to share the coffee pot and stay up all night with you,” Nace replied.

    “I wish you were here too, honey,” Angela said and then she heard the buzzer from downstairs, “Hold on, I’ve gotta get this.”

    Nace could faintly hear Angela talking with the fellow downstairs through the call box, then allowing him up to their apartment door. He heard the slight creak of the apartment door hinge and faint smatterings of her conversation.

    The door closing and the sound of water running in a vase told him what he had planned had worked out exactly as he’d thought.

    “They’re beautiful,” Angela said.

    “Not as beautiful as you,” Nace replied.

    “Thank you,” Angela replied, “I’m going to keep this right at the coffee table and then press them so I still have them when you come home.”

    Nace smiled, “I’m honestly more looking forward to seeing you again.”

    “You’re such a teddy bear under that hard exterior,” Angela said, “It’s like a part of you the junior detectives here rarely see.”

    Nace grinned and said, “Well, you bring out the best in me, liefde.”

    “Aww...you’re making me blush,” Angela said.

    Nace could already mentally picture her sitting on the sofa, her legs folded underneath her as she fiddled with the TV remote and her coffee cup.

    “What are you thinking?” Angela asked.

    “Well,” Nace said, “To be honest I’m picturing your look after you’ve had a hard case and just want to relax.”

    “Oh, what are you thinking?” Angela teased.

    “Well, I picture you wore something comfortable, maybe something loose fitting. Like your Tampa Bay Lightning jersey and a pair of sweatpants or shorts.” Nace began.

    “Close,” Angela replied, “I threw on your Johannesburg Lions Rugby Jersey. The red cotton one. It helps remind me of you.”

    “That explains why I couldn’t find it while packing,” Nace replied, with a smile.

    “So what are you up to today?” Angela asked.

    “The JDs are going on a field trip to the Mojave,” Nace replied.

    “Oh nice. That means you get to spring more of your surprises on them,” Angela surmised.

    “Yeah,” Nace replied.

    “Get ‘em good,” Angela replied, “Can’t have San Francisco lag behind Cape Town’s academy.”

    “I will, love,” Nace replied, “And they’re a sharp bunch.”

    Nace went on to describe his charges to Angela and he heard the slight laugh of mirth from the other end of the line.

    “You’re so going domestic,” Angela teased.

    “Well if going domestic helped me find you, I’m not totally complaining,” Nace replied, before glancing at his alarm clock, “Hate to do this, but I’ve got to get going. Got to get to the bloody airport and all.”

    “Ok,” Angela replied, “It was great to talk to you. I love you.”

    Ek is lief vir jou. I’ll call you later when I get there,” Nace replied.

    “I’ll be here,” Angela said before she hung up the phone.

    Nace swiftly packed his bag and taking Goliath’s leash, walked out the door, locking the apartment and heading out to train in the Mojave with the JDs.
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  2. (Author's Note: This takes place almost a year before the events of ACME Retro.)

    Groote Schuur Hospital
    Cape Town, South Africa

    "You once asked me what I was willing to give up for you," Nace said as he pressed a small metal object into the palm of Angela's right hand and gently closed her fingers around it.

    As he held her hand in both of his he heard the steady beeps of the EKG that was monitoring her heartbeat. Blinking his eyes, relief and resolve at the same time running through him.

    "N-Nace..." Angela said, weakly.

    Nace moved his hands away from Angela's right hand and said, "You have my answer, love."

    Angela opened her hand and immediately recognized the silver badge bearing Commando knife within the laurel wreath. The badge of the South African Special Forces. She stared for what felt like hours at the small silver badge.

    "I almost lost you earlier this week, and it honestly nearly killed me inside," Nace replied, "Everything from before you got shot went through my head..."

    "Trewlaney?" Angela began, referring to the suspect they had been pursuing.

    Nace gave a small smirk, "He's currently keeping an appointment with King Minos. I, as well as half a dozen nine millimeter rounds, ensured it took place."

    "Again, Nace, I have to point out that Dante was an Italian poet not a theological doctor," Angela quipped.

    "That aside," Nace began, "After I put the wanker down everything went through my head. To include our last fight before we went on that case."

    "I remember that vividly," Angela replied.

    "And you asked me a question that I felt you needed me to answer," Nace replied, "I'm sorry it took me a week to do that."

    "A week?" Angela asked, "I've been out for a week?"

    "As of about half an hour ago, yes," Nace replied, glancing at the wall clock that read half past midnight.

    Angela noticed the seven days worth of beard growth on Nace. There was also a certain careworn look to Nace. She could see the bags under his eyes too, a sure sign that he had barely slept in that week.

    "You have my answer, you only need say the word..." Nace began, before Angela cut him off.

    "Nace," Angela began, cutting him off, "I couldn't ask you to do that. It's part of who you are. I love you enough not to do that to you."

    Nace smiled slightly, "And I love you enough to know what is truly important in life."

    He could see tears welling in Angela’s eyes as her eyes wandered from both the badge to Nace alternately.

    “You mean the world to me, love,” Nace replied, “I honestly can barely put into words how much this is so. I went through it in my head how exactly I was going to talk to you about all this throughout the week. So I thought I deed will match word."

    "I know you kept this in your pocket since you were temporarily assigned to us, to remember where you came from," Angela replied.

    "And I trust it to you," Nace said, holding her hand.

    Angela sniffled, "And I'll take care of it."

    "I'll be right back, I'd best flag down the nearest nurse," Nace replied.

    "I'll be right here," Angela said with her usual light smirk.

    Nace fought down some irrational part of his mind that feared Angela's condition would take a turn for the worst if he left and walked out of the room, nearly colliding with the nurse on her rounds.

    A few moments later Nace returned with the nurse in tow, stepping back and letting the nurse do her job of taking Angela's vitals.

    The nurse turned to Nace and said, "Angela needs her rest now. You can come back during visitor hours tomorrow."

    "Right," Nace replied, before he headed back over to Angela's bedside.

    "Getting kicked out?" Angela said.

    "Looks like it, love," Nace replied with a wry grin of his own, "I'll be back tomorrow."

    With one more clasp of her hand he added, "I love you."

    "I love you too," Angela replied, "Get some sleep. I'll see you tomorrow."

    As Nace walked out of the Groote Schuur, he felt the drizzle of raindrops landing on him. Briefly he thought of hailing a cab back to their place, but decided he needed a walk. Nearly losing Angela this week had made him think more about the future. In another year and some change his tour attaching him to ACME would be up and he would return to 4 Recce Regiment, based in nearby Langebaan and back to the never ending pace of training and operations inherent to being at the apex of South Africa's military edge.

    But will it support a marriage? Well Dad had managed doing that for years. Mum supported him through it all, minding me and the siblings. But do I want to subject Angela to that lifestyle too? What if she has another posting that sends her back to the US? Nace thought as he walked down several more blocks in the rain.

    Perhaps it would be better if I looked into an instructor or even an agent position at ACME. If nothing else it's somewhat more regular hours. Nace thought. I've got a year and some change to get that sorted out.

    It would be a year plus that would mean he would have a lot to think about. It would be a radical change. Desiring to join the South African military and being part of it had been a major part of his life. But there were more important things outside of the uniform and a career in it, and that was the point of giving Angela the badge that had been the culmination of many years of training and hard work to earn.

    I shall bring this before God. Nace thought as he passed by a nearby church.
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  3. (This takes place during ACME Retro, and is a longer version of the telephone call Nace had with Angela there in the roleplay)

    It was at that El Guero Canelo that Nace would smile as his phone vibrated. He would see the telephone number labeled Angela and grinned. It was a little after nine P.M. in Cape Town and provided Angela wasn't busy with any more computer work for her class of Junior Detectives she would likely be watching a movie.

    "Hullo." Nace said simply, his smile brightening.

    "Hey you," a female voice echoed on the other side of the line, "I miss you."

    "As do I, love." Nace replied softly, "So how was your day?"

    Sitting in that Tuscon restaurant Nace could almost see Angela lightly flickering a stray strand of her dark brown hair away from her forehead as she spoke with a light flick of her wrist.

    "Well, the JDs in Cape Town miss you almost as much as I do." Angela replied.

    "I didn't have any idea I was so missed. Other than by you, of course, love." Nace replied, taking a sip of water from the bottled water he had bought.

    "Great save. And well, the JDs miss your booby trap lectures the most." Angela replied with a slight chuckle.

    "Who's teaching that since I've gone?" Nace asked.

    "Some older fellow, his name is Fosby." Angela replied.

    "Oh bloody Hell not him." Nace groaned, and he heard his girlfriend laugh on the other side of the line.

    "Yep, Fosby himself, the fellow that you call South Africa's Ben Stein." Angela replied.

    "Sodding monotone and all. I still remember when the old bloke was teaching me at EOD school and at times it was all I could do to stay awake during his lectures." Nace replied, knowing that Staff Sergeant Fosby was widely said to be one of the best EOD experts in the South African National Defense Force and was equally regarded as one of the most boring of lecturers.

    "Please tell me he's not up to his old tricks once more." Nace grimaced.

    "So," Angela said, teasingly, "you want me to lie to you?"

    Nace chuckled, recognizing Angela's brand of humor as he did so, "No, don't. Let me guess, he set fire to the wastebasket in the classroom, right?"

    "Yes he did." Angela replied, "Resulting in the building getting evacuated."

    "I also distinctly recall having told the story of him doing this while he was instructing me in the finer points of bomb disposal." Nace replied, "He was, and by your account still is, crazier than a cesspit rat."

    Angela laughed on the other side of the line before replying, "Yep, I saw him taking the smoke detector in the classroom apart the next morning and opening all the windows as wide as they would open."

    "And I presume sticking pieces of paper in the wastebasket?" Nace asked.

    "Bingo." Angela replied.

    "Something has to compensate for his monotone voice. I suppose lighting the garbage can on fire helps keep the JDs awake in his lecture." Nace replied.

    "Not even Mark the Narcoleptic falls asleep in that class." Angela replied, "And to think they used to complain about me using the air horn on him, or the time you wired a siren on a pressure plate into his seat."

    "I was rather proud of that particular bit of engineering." Nace countered.

    "Which certainly solved the mystery as to why you brought a classroom chair back to our apartment and started dismanteling it when I walked in." Angela replied.

    Nace chuckled at the memory and the fact that his somewhat of a neatfreak of a girlfriend had asked him why there were various tools and parts of a chair all over the living room floor. He almost didn't hear her next words.

    "So how are the San Francisco JD's doing?" Angela asked.

    "They're doing well, they seem an earnest and hardworking lot. They took well to my booby trap lectures." Nace replied, recounting the incidents where he booby trapped various parts of the abandoned town.

    "Sounds like you're having fun." Angela replied.

    "I am," Nace replied, "As is Goliath."

    "I miss the little ball of fire almost as much as I miss you." Angela replied, "Though the apartment's tidier without him."

    Nace took a glance at his charges, eating at a nearby table and conversing amongst themselves before he said, "I miss you too, Angel. I love you, and I'll call later on."

    "I love you." Angela said before she hung up on her end.

    For a brief moment Nace ruminated on a thought that had come into his mind. He had been six months into the eighteen month assignment training Junior Detectives back in South Africa before being sent to San Francisco. He found he enjoyed watching his charges grow into their chosen profession. Between that and his budding relationship with his girlfriend he wondered, not for the first time, if transferring into South Africa's military reserve or leaving the South African military alltogether to work fulltime for ACME as an instructor was a good idea.
  4. "I am the Bread of Life. He who comes to me shall not hunger. He who believes in my shall not thirst. No one can come to Me, unless the Father draw him."

    The long walk. Bomb disposal operators, no matter what nation they hail from are familiar with these three words. And it was during a presence patrol where the men of 4.1 Recce Commando in a village that Nace would disarm his first mine.

    Captain Charles Munro, the patrol leader, spoke quietly to the village elder in the small hamlet the patrol had come into. He gestured for Nace to come over, he had been standing nearby as inner security for Munro's talk.

    "Nace, the headman over there says there's a cache about 150 meters down the road. Go check it out, take Serge and Lidani with you." Munro ordered.

    Nace nodded and walked with his teammates flanking him slightly behind on either side of the road, eyes ever alert for booby traps and mines. He had a small, collapsible metal detector in his left hand, his right remaining on the pistol grip of the R5 rifle, but his main defense were two of his mates as well as Kreuger and Shah from concealed positions with their sniper rifles and optics.

    Finally reaching the near rotted out shack 150 meters down the road. He could see Serge and Lidani had taken positions somewhat further back, about twenty-five meters away. He was now on his own.

    Not totally. Nace thought as he crossed himself. Approaching the shack's door, which was ajar. Scanning the area around the door, and finally the door itself. Something about it wasn't quite right.

    "And I will raise you up. And I will raise you up. And I will raise you up, on the last day."

    The light hitting the door showed something shimmering around the knob. Probably just a bloody spider web.

    Looking closer. No, it was something translucent tied around the knob. Fishing line. And fishing line pulled taut. What is it connected to?

    Following the line, careful not to touch it. Scanning the ground ahead until he reached the end of the clear monofilament line. A tangle of vines in front, at around ankle level.

    Dropping to one knee and seeing that there was a clothespin in the brush, but with pieces of metal with wires just barely visible glued to each of them separated only by a small piece of balsa connected to the fishing line. Had he simply pushed the door open the rest of the way the balsa would've been yanked away and the two pieces of metal would click together and close an electrical circuit, triggering whatever was attached to the wires.

    "The bread that I will give is My Flesh for the life of the world. And he who eats of this bread. He shall live forever. He shall live forever."

    Following the wires seeing that they were partially hidden by the leaf litter of the nearby trees. Seeing that they lead to a small piece of metal sticking out of leaf litter, that was just behind and to the right of where he had first noticed the door and the monofilament.

    Reaching into his toolkit for a paintbrush and lightly brushing the leaf litter away. He noticed the electrical fuze and the circular upper piece that told him the device was an OZM series mine, electrically fused.

    The OZM series of mine was popularly nicknamed the 'Bouncing Betty' due to the fact that they were designed to pop out of the ground to about a half meter into the air before exploding and shooting fragments all around.

    Had he simply pushed in the door the rest of the way the mine would've been set off, killing him most certainly and likely Serge and Lidani too.

    Right, now to deal with this. Nace thought.

    If he cut a wire he very well could trigger a hidden collapsing circuit and blow himself up anyway. And even if there wasn't a one, he would have to still disarm the mine itself, an easily more complicated matter if there was some form of anti-handling device on it.

    Blast in place then. He set his backpack down and pulled out one of the plastic explosive charges in his kit before setting it up alongside the OZM mine, unspooling the firing cable and holding the igniter in his hand.

    Retrieving his backpack he moved back the way he came towards his team mates, relaying his information and that the mine was rigged to blow.

    He could hear Serge talking on the radio in a low voice and after a delay of a few minutes, knowing Munro was processing the information he heard Serge relaying the command from Munro to blow up the mine.

    The three men got behind what cover they could before Nace ignited the explosive charge. A loud boom told him that the charge had done its job, destroying the mine in place.

    "And I will raise you up. And I will raise you up. And I will raise you up on the last day."

    Sometime later, after two enemy anti-tank rockets and several hundred rounds of ammunition were captured at the shack and destroyed in place by Nace and Serge, the patrol's demolition and EOD specialists, the men returned to base.

    "Good work, Bilby." Serge said.

    "Had you not pulled a similar trick during the training cycle I might not have caught that." Nace said.

    "Hah," Serge gave a great belly laugh, "that bloody siren had the lot of you spooked."

    "From the other lads, you're a wanker." Nace said, referring to a prank where Serge had used a similarly wired device connected to a siren when he was conducting a booby trap class for the unit.

    "But I still give credit where it is due," Nace said, "Both for you being a wanker and you teaching me even more about booby traps."
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  5. (OOC: This takes place during the ACME Retro Timeline. This was written with @Jason West .)

    (Warning: Rated PG-13 for disturbing themes, language, and war violence.)

    Geary Courtyard
    San Francisco, CA
    United States of America
    2004 (Retro timeline)


    Nace Bilby was busy with the routine of moving into his apartment building. His latest item he was carrying up to his apartment was a Yugoslavian M76 rifle.

    Externally resembling an AKM-47 rifle with a long barrel and a telescopic sight, mechanically it was nothing like its infamous cousin. It was chambered in 7.92x57mm Mauser, with a semi-automatic action and sporting ten round magazines. The rifle sported a heavy telescopic sight, variable powered to allow for adjusting for different ranges. What looked to be a Serbian coat of arms was visible on the stock, which was splintered near the top, where a bullet had grazed over the top before striking the rifle’s past owner.

    After hearing what sounded like someone moving in next door to him, Jason West decided he would step out to see if he could lend a hand with moving things in. As he pulled the door closed, he bumped into a man carrying what he recognized as an M76 rifle.

    “Sorry about that sir. Nice rifle. I haven’t seen one of those in ages. The name is Jason West and what might yours be?” Jason asked.

    “Nace Bilby. Pleasure to meet you.” Nace replied with his British accent as he put out his hand for a handshake.

    “What brings you to San Francisco, Nace?” Jason asked while shaking Nace’s hand.

    “I’ve been sent to ACME by the South African National Defense Force as a guest instructor in firearms and EOD for their Junior Detective program. And you?”

    “ACME has brought me on as a guest instructor for the technological portion of the Junior Detective program. I’m also well versed in weapons. If you need any help with your weapons classes, feel free to ask me. I brought most of my weapons along with me. I’m sure between the two of us, we’ll have plenty of unique weapon systems for them to learn on.”

    "Right, I'll be more than willing to lend a hand." Nace replied, "My areas of expertise are various sniper rifles and the many Kalashnikov variants one can find floating around Africa."

    ---

    Democratic Republic of the Congo
    1998

    The screaming of the wounded man, shot through the stomach melded with the keening wails of his wife who stood beside her wounded husband.

    What the hell, Kantorek? An Olympic Medallist marksman and you fail to score a kill? Rifleman Nace Bilby thought as he scanned the town and the nearby jungle, searching for possible locations the shot could’ve come from.

    For all of this deployment Nace and other snipers from 4 Special Forces Regiment, South African Special Forces Brigade, had been trying to hunt down a Serbian mercenary sniper named Kantorek. The locals as well as several of the United Nations Peacekeepers were very much in dread of the crosshairs of this former Yugoslav police counterterrorist sniper turned mercenary as he never missed a shot.

    There’s no way you’re bloody ego is going to let you walk off from a miss. Nace thought as he watched and waited, hoping Kantorek would fire another shot.

    Lance Corporal Jan Kreuger also scanned the area with the spotting telescope and his binoculars. The more experienced Special Forces operator whispered, “What do you imagine Kantorek’s targets are this week?”

    “Last week it was women. The week earlier it was school children. And the week before clergy and aid workers.” Nace replied, trying to keep calm.

    I hope you do fire again, wanker. Nace thought. Just let me give you a third eye and send you straight to the Phlegethon River where you’ll be boiled in blood.

    “This time it looks like old men.” Kreuger remarked.

    “And hopefully this time I give him a third eye.” Nace replied from behind the Steyr 669 sniper rifle.

    “Oi, wind your neck in, Nace.” Kreuger said, coolly, “Looks like a patrol’s headed their way.”

    There indeed was a patrol of some of the UN Peacekeeping contingent was heading their way. It was as they arrived at the scene that Kantorek fired again.

    The shot tore into the wife’s skull just below her right eye, sending her falling to earth. The nearby medic had been splattered by the results of Kantorek’s shot.

    “The three old houses near the treeline.” Kreuger said.

    “Right.” Nace replied. Come on, wanker. Show yourself.

    Kantorek fired a third shot. This one hit his original victim in the head. He’s got to be firing a semi-automatic. That’s a hell of a fast reacquisition of a target.

    “Third house to the right.” Kreuger said.

    “On it.” Nace replied, looking through the large hole in the roof. He saw a man perched atop the rafters, well back from the hole like a well trained sniper. But his face was pale and unshaven. And that gave him away.

    Nace was all business now.

    “Range, 978 meters.” Kreuger said.

    “Right.” Nace said, adjusting his aimpoint. Squeezing the trigger with a slow and steady pressure and feeling the Steyer buck with the recoil. Hearing the report of the rifle. Then seeing Kantorek’s head pitch backward as the bullet punched through his torso, causing him to fall from the building rafters like a shotgunned bird.

    Vae Victus. Nace thought. Suffering to the Conquered.

    “**** you, Kantorek.” Nace said, simply as he worked the Steyr's bolt slowly and letting the spent brass eject slowly so he could catch it and stick it in his pocket. After all this hide might be useful again.

    ---

    Langebaan, South Africa
    1998


    “Bless me Father for I have sinned.” Nace said as he sat in the confessional, “My sin is that of murder.”

    “You are a soldier, my son.” the priest said.

    “Yes, but I should not act with passion or hate in battle. I acted with both.” Nace began, “On this tour we were against a mercenary sniper, a Serb named Kantorek. He was a bloody murderer, a cruel bloke who just enjoyed shooting people like they were targets at a carnival booth.”

    “I shot the man. And I don’t regret having done that. For this I sinned.” Nace replied.

    “Do you believe that you were a soldier in a just war, Nace?” the priest replied.

    “I do, Father. But an action where I shot a bloody kid does not feel like I’ve done God’s work as a soldier.” Nace replied, “Wankers were using children as soldiers. And I shot one of them. That I do regret...”

    ---

    Democratic Republic of the Congo
    1998

    Put the bloody rifle down...Nace was practically screaming in his head, despite his face sporting a neutral and calm expression.

    The crosshairs of the Steyr were aimed at a skinny youth clad half in camouflage fatigues with a knockoff sports jersey. In the lad's hands was an AK-47 rifle, and he woe combat webbing with three more AK magazines.

    He had dug them up from a cache in the abandoned farm that Nace's team had been watching for several days. They had confirmed that the the farmhouse was where this particular group of fighters had been staging increasingly brazen attacks.

    Now they were about to get the tables turned on them. From another direction a patrol of other operators from 4 Recce Regiment were moving silently towards the farm.

    "I've got the bloke with the RPG." Krueger said from just behind Nace and to the left.

    "The one with the folding stock AK and the cigarette on stag (sentry duty) is mine." Lance Corporal Ajay Shah said to Nace's right.

    Bloody hell, he's a sodding kid. Part of Nace's mind screamed about his target. For the fifth time in what felt like hour long intervals he shoved the thought of the lad's closeness in age to his youngest brother who was but twelve.

    "In position." Came a whisper in Nace's radio headset.

    "Right. Nace, we're firing on your shot." Krueger said.

    Right. Can't sodding hesitate or others will die if I bollocks this up. Nace thought.

    Nace took in air, centering his shot slightly below the boy's nose. 450 meters. I can easily make this shot. The round will kill instantly, severing the brain stem from the spinal column. Should be almost no pain...

    Pressing the trigger slowly, feeling the rifle buck. Thanks to the suppressor fitted to the Steyr the report was barely a thump. He saw the lad's head pitch backward as he dropped the AK he was carrying and fell into the damp mud of the compound.

    And almost instantly Krueger and Shah fired their own rifles, dropping their respective targets.

    Like wraiths appearing from the jungle dawn the other South African Special Forces operators slipped into the farm and with silenced weapons dispatched several other fighters they found lurking in the compound.

    Resquiat Im Pace. Nace thought to himself.

    ---

    Johannesburg, South Africa
    December 24, 1998

    “Angels we have heard on high. Sweetly singing o’er the plains. And the mountains in reply. Echoing their glorious strains.”


    Nace Bilby stood on the balcony of the second story of his parents’ home in Johannesburg, listening to Christmas carolers singing on their block as he did so.

    He could hear his sister, Rey’s, footsteps as she stepped up the stairs, to the upstairs hallway behind the balcony.

    "Nace, mum's looking for you." Rey said.

    "I'll be right down, Rey." Nace said curtly to his oldest sister.

    "Nace, what's the matter? You've barely said two words to anyone since you've been home." Rey said.“Is everything alright, Nace?” Rey asked her younger brother, “You’ve been home for two days but you’ve barely said a word to anyone.”

    “Just tired from the trip from Langebaan.” Nace replied, referring to the harbor where 4 Recce Regiment was based on the Atlantic coast of South Africa, “Bloody flight nearly all the way across South Africa had me tired.”

    “Nace,” Rey said, “Everyone’s worried.”

    “Gloria, in excelsis Deo! Gloria, in excelsis Deo!”

    “I’ll be fine.” Nace replied, recognizing the strains of the singing carolers included his younger sister Danielle and his youngest brother, David.”

    “Rey,” a calm, yet commanding male voice said, “let me deal with this, love. Go help Mum in the kitchen.”

    Nace saw his father coming up the stairs to the balcony with a case of beer under his arm.

    “Mum might be somewhat irate with me for carting this up here on Christmas Eve.” Senior Chief Warrant Officer Jason Bilby said as he headed up the staircase.

    “Hey Dad.” Nace said.

    “I agree with Rey,” Jason replied, without preamble, “Everyone’s been worried since you’ve come home.”

    “I wonder if I made the right choice to become a sniper.” Nace replied, absently fiddling with two brass casings in his pocket. Both casings had held the bullets that killed Kantorek and the young Congolese fighter respectively.

    “You can always request transfer from the Regiment. Life in Special Forces isn’t meant for everyone.” Jason replied.

    “I don’t want to leave the Regiment entirely, Dad.” Nace replied, “I enjoy being Special Forces. I’m considering moving my specialty to EOD.”

    “Alright, what prompted the move?” Jason asked.

    “Shepherds, why this jubilee? Why your joyous strains prolong? What the gladsome tidings be? Which inspire your heavenly song?”

    “I shot a bloody kid.” Nace replied, “One of those child soldiers that keeps turning up on the news.”

    “Hate to say this, son.” Jason replied, “But if the shoe on the other foot, he wouldn’t have regretted shooting you.”

    “I know that.” Nace replied, “But I can’t help but remember the lad was practically David’s age.”

    “Gloria, in excelsis Deo! Gloria, in excelsis Deo!”


    Nace blinked as his father handed him a can of beer before opening one of his own to drink. “The lad was misguided, and now he faces the harsh judgment of Minos for the bad choice he made.”

    “The blokes we fight don’t hesitate to recruit kids to do their dirty work.” Jason agreed, taking a pull of his beer.

    “Come to Bethlehem and see. Christ Whose birth the angels sing; Come, adore on bended knee, Christ, the Lord, the newborn King.”

    “This is true.” Nace replied, producing the cartridges from his pocket, “Strange, in the case of the first of these rounds I don’t regret punching the man’s ticket to the nearshore of Acheron. But this other one, I pray for clemency for.”

    “War is hell.” Jason replied, “Bollocks to calling what’s going on in the Congo a sodding peacekeeping action or whatever klankie politically correct words they use these days.”

    Nace took a pull of his own beer, “Kantorek was a bloody murderer and he frankly deserves the likely submersion in Phlegethon for what he did.”

    “Gloria, in excelsis Deo! Gloria, in excelsis Deo!”

    “I agree with that.” Jason replied, taking a pull of beer. After finishing that can and crushing it, he took another one from the case.

    Nace finished his own beer, and took a second from the case, and took another drink.

    “See Him in a manger laid, Jesus, Lord of heaven and earth; Mary, Joseph, lend your aid, With us sing our Savior's birth.”

    Nace glanced over, spotting Danielle and David in the crowd of carollers, singing with their friends on the block.

    “In some way I can’t help but wonder if I’m no better than Kantorek.” Nace replied.

    “Certainly not. You didn’t relish killing the kid.” Jason countered.

    “I did relish killing Kantorek, because he deserved it.” Nace replied, “I still remember when he shot three aid workers in the span of a day. That day more than ever I wanted to give him a third eyehole.”

    “I understand exactly how you feel.” Jason replied. Thirty years of military service, a vast majority of it in Special Forces, gave him that perspective.

    “Gloria, in excelsis Deo! Gloria, in excelsis Deo!”

    “I don’t regret firing this round,” Nace held up one of the two casings in his hand, “this one to put Kantorek before King Minos.”

    “But this one I know militarily it was the right thing to do. It enabled us to have a casualty free mission and the elimination of one troublesome band of enemy fighters.” Nace replied, holding up the other shell casing, “But recalling the one I shot was a sodding kid.”

    “Killing is a burden we soldiers bear.” Jason replied, with a pull of his own beer, “The effects of it, I mean.”

    “But the damndest thing, I realize I can now live with it.” Nace replied, “And now that I’ve decided to move from sniping to EOD, where I feel I can still do a lot of good and actually save lives, it’s become more bearable a burden.”

    “Dad. Nace.” a voice came as twelve year old David Bilby walked up the stairs, “Mum says dinner’s ready.”

    “We’re on our way.” Jason said.

    Nace hugged his kid brother and said, “I’ve missed the lot of you since I’ve been gone. It's good to be home.”
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  6. It’s A Long Way to Tipperary - September 2005​

    “It’s a long way to Tipperary, it’s a long way to go.” Nace Bilby sang to himself, seeing condensation forming in the air as he marched in the late autumn air. Through his red tinted headlamp he looked at his map and shot the bearing towards the point he had to find.

    He hiked down the steep hill, one of many such features of the Brecon Beacons, some especially inhospitable terrain. It was where the United Kingdom’s Special Air Service held its Selection. He felt the straps of the bergen (A/N: British slang for backpack) digging into his shoulders as he continued his hike. There was at least fifty five pounds worth of kit in the backpack and he took a sip from the CamelBak hydration tube, ruefully noting the weight of water wasn't counted as the final fifty five pounds the Bergen was to weigh at the end of this exercise.

    Reaching the valley floor, he started to attack the incline. Going around on the ridge wasn’t an option. From his look at his map he knew it was at least three to five kilometers out of the way, with another three to five kilometers to get back on track.

    “It’s a long way way to Tipperary, to the sweetest girl I know.” Nace continued as he hiked up the incline. To think I hated that tune when I was a lad and now all I can do is sing it.

    Briefly thoughts of Evey entered his mind, wondering what she was up to at the moment. Likely sleeping, unlike me. No rest for the wicked...

    Putting thoughts of sleeping beside his slumbering beloved before glancing at his watch, hoping he wasn’t going too slow. He stopped after hiking up the next incline over. That hill had slowed his progress, taking almost an hour longer than he’d planned. Likely going to have to run down the sodding thing once at the top. Nace thought.

    However running might well run the risk of injury. But I have to make sodding time. Nace thought. In the foggy dawn Nace thought to himself. Bollocks to this. I have to run to make the sodding time hack.

    "Good bye Piccadily, farewell Leicster Square. It's a long long way to Tipperary, and my heart's right there."

    And if I step on a sodding rock wrong or find a bloody hole it's goodbye to my chances at Selection and likely a broken ankle. Sodding got lost on that last fire break...Nace thought as he took a deep breath and hoped to God he wasn't going to injure himself racing down that decline.

    Finally trudging up the last incline, finding the point.

    "Oi," a London accent sounded, "You one of the Territorial (reserve) lads?"

    "Yes staff." Nace replied.

    "Right. Show me where you are on the map..." The sergeant said.

    Nace blinked twice then pulled out his map and pointed to an area just under the crest of the hill he had just trudged up.

    "Right. Now, head to this point here..."

    Nace wrote down the coordinates. Last few kilometers. And it was half down and half up hill.

    Wanker. Nace thought and as he headed for his last point the lyrics echoed in his head.

    "It's a long way to Tipperary. It's a long way to go..." Nace grunted as he walked into the cold air of the autumn.
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  7. 14 September 2013
    1950 hours
    London, England
    United Kingdom

    "We both have dangerous jobs, Nace." Caitlin Pike began as they washed the dishes together after having shared a meal Nace had prepared, "What would you do if something happened to me?"

    Long seconds passed as Nace looked over at Caitlin, his eyes staring into his partner and now secretly lover's eyes. They had known one another for eight years now, close friends before becoming more than that. A kiss on New Years Eve, some months of awkwardness, an honest talk that summer and the decision made to be more than friends.

    "I would do all in my power to ensure nothing would happen to you. I went to the church the day we decided to become serious and before God I swore to myself that I would do all that I can to protect you. And if I failed in protecting you, then I swore to avenge. And if I failed to do either then I pray for God's mercy lest I be condemned to cross the Acheron to be damned to Lake Cocytus." Nace intoned solemnly.

    "Nace, I hate to point this out, but as a fellow Catholic I feel I have to tell you that Dante was an Italian poet, not a theological doctor." Caitlin replied.

    "Nonetheless, his words impressed upon me the value of loyalty." Nace replied, "In all things, to include those most dear to me."

    "You really are devoted." Caitlin said, "But if the worst happened to me, I wouldn't want you throwing your life away in some quest for revenge."

    "I don't want to fail you, either as a partner or as a significant other." Nace replied.

    Caitlin put her arms around him, Nace returned the embrace, the dishes forgotten as both of them removed the rubber gloves, placing them on the sink's rim before heading to the living room. Sitting down on the couch, Caitlin rested her head on Nace's shoulder as his arm slipped around her waist turning to lightly kiss her lips.

    "You haven't failed me as either." Caitlin said smiling.

    "I pray I will not." Nace replied. Doing so once was bad enough, I'll never forget how I'd failed Evey.

    Caitlin shifted her position a bit to get just that much more comfortable, "Have I told you before your sofa is really comfortable?"

    "I do recall that, and I do recall someone also enjoys little moments like this." Nace replied, "Which is good, because I do as well.

    Nace shifted slightly, bringing his legs up onto the sofa, as Caitlin shifted her own legs underneath her. He held her close to him and he heard her yawn softly.

    "Long day?" Nace quipped.

    "Well yesterday was, with all that paperwork." Caitlin replied.

    "It was a rather substantial case." Nace replied, "Let's not forget it was also a rather long night."

    "In a good sort of way I hope, Springbok." Caitlin teased, running her index finger along the Springbok's logo on the green jersey Nace wore.

    Nace smiled back, "Of course it was."

    Nace yawned as well, "However for tonight a little moment like this would be just lovely."

    Both of them shifted their position so they were lying down on their sides as Nace reached over for a fleece blanket that doubled as a drape over the back of his sofa. He tucked it up to Caitlin's chin, breathing in the scent of her shampoo as he put both his arms around her waist, one hand on her stomach, Caitlin's hands holding his other hand in both of hers.

    "Good night, love." Nace said.

    "Good night." Caitlin replied, before closing her eyes.

    God, I pray to you that I do not fail Caitlin in the same manner I failed Evey. Help me be strong and vigilant enough to protect her. Let me not betray her. Nace prayed before he fell asleep as well.
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  8. (This hymn yet again inspired an entry. PG-13 for disturbing themes.)

    The hymn echoed in Nace's mind as well as his ears. After Communion Nace could hear that song playing as the choir sang it in celebration. It certainly helped as the Blessed Mother was someone Nace would pray silently to as he returned to his pew.

    "Hail Holy Queen Enthroned Above. O Maria. Hail Queen of mercy and of love. O Maria. Triumph all ye cherubim. Sing with us ye Seraphim, Heaven and Earth Resound the hymn, Salve, Salve, Salve Regina."

    Crossing himself. Silently praying, "Blessed Mother, I implore you to intercede for me. For the first time have I opened my heart again."

    Twice before had he opened his heart. Twice before had it been damaged. Forever the date of 22 June 2012, and the hour of 11:31 P.M. would be burned into his heart. His former fiancée, Evey, lost to Non Hodgkin adult Lymphoma of the bone marrow. If only she hadn't defected to VILE they might have found it sooner. She might not have died. But in Evey's case anger at ACME's internal affairs department failing to protect her parents, key witnesses in a case against the Russian Mafiya, led her to betray ACME.

    Finding her again, thanks to Carmen's intercession, on 18 December 2011 was bittersweet. She was terminal and did not have much longer left. Staying with her for those six months, by her bedside every spare minute he had. Tearfully telling her he had never hated her, only what she did and that he was willing to forgive because he loved her. But that love would not be enough to save her.

    "I haven't had the most fortune in affairs of the heart. Evey died and I'm not sure Caitlin is ever going to speak to me, ever since Russia." Nace prayed again, his mind now moving on to the events of the last year.

    "The cause of joy to us below. Oh Maria. The spring through which all Graces flow. Oh Maria. Angels all your praises bring. Earth and Heaven with us sing. All creation echoing. Salve. Salve. Salve Regina."

    11:45 PM of December 31, 2012. The year 2013 would be upon them in the next quarter of an hour. Standing with Caitlin in the backyard of Chief Inspector Carlyle's house. The London office was celebrating with their boss. Anthony and Rey always threw a good New Years Eve bash.

    "Are you ok?" a voice behind him.

    Turning to find Caitlin standing there, he could see worry on her features. And yet again reflecting how she could read him like a book. Not a bloody surprise, we've known each other for seven years.

    He had been drinking a bit, though nowhere near as heavy as he had after Evey had passed away. Seeing her step closer to him. They had been getting close over the months since Evey had gone, even closer than they had been as partners and friends.

    Almost two years ago in 2010 she admitted she had feelings for him, which stunned him but she also had said she respected the fact that he was still with Evey.

    "I'm alright." Nace said.

    He noticed she had set her mostly empty drink onto a small table, the table Clementine and Katie, his nieces, loved to play tea party on. "Hard to believe it's been seven years." Nace quipped, "We've known each other that long."

    Taking a step closer to her to talk, hearing her reply, "And we haven't driven each other crazy in that time."

    "We had some moments." Nace replied, "Like our first case when you went missing."

    Caitlin replied, "You saved my life in that case, though."

    Nace looked at her, and knew she remembered when he popped open that Egyptian sarcophagus, the one the failed Ph.D. turned serial killer had imprisoned her in with an old fashioned alarm clock. Knowing she remembered him unwrapping the layers of linen bandages the killer had wrapped her up in.

    "I think we are even in that regard." Nace replied, "I don't know what I would've done over the last six months if you hadn't stopped by that day. You may well have save me from the Wood of the Suicides."

    "Nace," Caitlin replied, "You can't have known if you would have or wouldn't have done that."

    "My strength had faded that day. I don't know what I was even capable of." Nace countered, "Then you rang my doorbell."

    "Fine, I'd agree we are even on that side. But I agree we have also had our share of firsts." Caitlin replied, trying to steer the conversation to a lighter tone, "Like I never met an adult who never had been kissed."

    Despite himself Nace smiled, "That certainly was one moment I'm never to forget. Certainly not after Cecil bloody near had a heart attack."

    "It's not every day you see a man get his first kiss at 21." Caitlin teased.

    11:59 PM would find them in each other's arms. "I guess that answers the question if I'm going to kiss anyone this New Year's Eve." Caitlin said with a wry smile.

    Angling their faces so their noses wouldn't bump. First a light and chaste kiss before they drew closer. Eyes closed and heart hammering, neither quite hearing or seeing the flash of fireworks outside or hearing the celebration as the ball dropped on the Carlyle's television set.

    An awkward few months would follow, before on 1 July 2013 Nace and Caitlin made the decision to try and make a relationship work, as discreetly as possible. He remembered when she had asked him, "Did you regret New Years Eve?"

    He replied he hadn't and again his heart open to love again he began a relationship with his partner of eight years now.

    January 5, 2014 in Yekatrinburg would bring this to a screeching halt. The pursuit of Yuri Vorikov, a Russian Mafiya enforcer, would end with the man's death. Caitlin would hear Nace shouting the names loudly as he fire his Sig again and again, firing rounds into the man, "Sarah Hammond. Liam Hammond. Evey Hammond. To Acheron's shores I send you, vermin!"

    The straw that would break the camel's back would come on 9 January, 2014, when Jean Tainer, an American businessman accused by his British secretary of rape, would try to flee Nace. This would end with the man being shoved head first into a pub's plate glass window, shattering the glass pane.

    The savage bellow of, "Vae Victus." would echo into the night. But it would be after the two agents had finished their debriefing that the death blow to that relationship would end.

    "I don't know you anymore, Nace. I can't recognize the fact that you've turned into a monster in the name of revenge." Caitlin had said, recalling her sobs and the pained look, "You're following a path I can't follow. You're breaking my heart."

    And sadly the pair would go their separate ways. Caitlin to instructor duty at the Honolulu Field Office and Nace to an assignment at ACME HQ.

    "Oh Gentle Loving Holy One. Oh Maria." the hymn echoed through the sanctuary, "The God of light became your Son. Oh Maria! Triumph all ye Cherubim. Sing with us ye Seraphim." the Choir sang, "Heaven and Earth resound the Hymn. Salve. Salve. Salve Regina."

    "Things with Caitlin were my sodding fault. I'm the one who drove her off." Nace said to himself, "I pray that she finds someone better suited than I. I also pray that I don't bollocks this up."

    Since moving to San Francisco earlier in 2014 Nace had met a young woman at the ACME lab, Molly O'Sullivan, and they had gotten to be friends but within the last week he had felt differently towards Molly than he had. It was unexpected.

    "I honestly didn't think, Blessed Mother I could feel this way towards someone this fast. I just hope I don't bollocks this up. I pray for guidance and better fortune this third time my heart has opened itself to love again." Nace prayed, crossing himself before taking his seat on the pew for the final blessing by the celebrant.
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  9. (Written with Molly)

    Nace Bilby started to spread bedding across the sofa in the hotel room that he and Molly were sharing.

    "Right, I'll sleep on the sofa and you can get the bed." Nace began, as he walked over to the bed and grabbed a pillow to put on the sofa, “I think the bed’s a bit more comfortable and thus you should get it.”

    Nace glanced over at the blonde woman walking out from behind the privacy screen waiting for her answer.

    When Molly heard that she was going to be sharing a room with Nace as part of their cover, there wasn’t much to worry about. They had already grown close within the past few weeks and she knew it would be more comfortable with him than a stranger. Though she hadn’t thought of the sleeping situation until now.

    “That's not quite fair, I think. You can go ahead and take the bed. I'm fine on the couch.” Molly said as she looked at the hotel room’s tiny sofa, “Besides, I think I fit on it better than you."


    "That's awfully ungentlemanly, I'll not have the lady be uncomfortable." Nace replied as he regarded Molly, over one shoulder, as she was standing behind him and to the left.

    "There’s no need for that, boyscout. Really. I insist." Molly replied.

    "I do believe chivalry is not extinct, thereby a lady should be the comfortable one." Nace countered, with a raised eyebrow.

    Seeing as he wasn’t changing his mind, the blonde decided to switch to more stubborn tactics, "Yes, but just look at that couch. It's silly! Your feet would hang right off! Listen, if you're not getting on the bed then I will take the floor." Molly grabbed a pillow off the bed and lay on the carpet.

    "For God's sake, Molly, I'm sure we can share the bed..." Nace protested as he turned around to see Molly on the floor and walked over to her.

    As Nace did so he realized that his last sentence didn’t come out the way he’d intended, one that could easily be misconstrued. He began to turn beet red and said, “Oh bugger that didn’t come out right…”

    Molly giggled at Nace’s backtracking, she thought it was endearing everytime the South African would get tongue tied. He only admitted to her recently that his first kiss was at 21 years old, and though he was usually intuitive, she felt he still had a long way to go towards understanding women. Her nickname for him--boyscout--came from both his adherence to the code of chivalry and lack of relationship experience, "I'm sure you didn't mean it that way.” As Molly peered up from the floor she saw the king sized mattress, "It is a big enough bed."

    Nace reached a hand down to help Molly stand up, and he felt that just oh so electrifying sensation run through him. The same one that felt like he had stuck his finger into an electrical socket that would immediately be followed by a certain pitter patter of his heart. The same feeling he would get whenever he and Molly would touch for any reason.

    Molly took Nace’s hand, realizing how easily he pulled her up. Her cheeks became warm with a blush and she spoke quickly to hide the fact, “We can be logical adults about this.”

    Nace nodded, satisfied she was steady on her feet and reluctantly let go of Molly’s hand, he had noticed the smooth feel of her skin and rather immediately noted it felt exactly as soft as it looked. He turned towards the couch, taking the bedding from it and began to spread it back onto the bed. He did note the blush in the back of his mind, but chose not to say anything, wondering just what that was all about.

    He had very nearly missed Molly’s next words, being somewhat lost in a small reverie.

    "You can take the right side, and I'll be here. Deal?"

    "Deal. You get the left side and I'll get the right." Nace said, as he slid into the bed beside her, "Good night."

    Molly smiled serenely, satisfied that a truce had been reached before she crawled under the blankets and turned off the lights, “Night, boyscout.”

    ----

    The next morning Nace knocked on the bathroom door. He didn’t hear any noise so he opened the door just in time to be graced by the sight of Molly’s bare back as she dried herself off with a small white towel.

    Molly spun round, clutching the towel to herself, letting out a short scream before shouting, “Nace! Why didn't you knock?"

    “Oh dear God, I’m sorry...I didn’t know you were there.” Nace stammered. Granted under other circumstances that was a sight he would have loved to see.

    Eyes up, eyes up, wanker. Nace thought as he further said, “I did knock, and I didn’t hear anything so I assumed the bathroom was empty.”

    Nace turned a bright shade of crimson from embarrassment, attempting to think of anything but looking down. Keep an eye towards her face. Eye towards face. For God’s sake, bru…

    Molly shifted her weight forward, to make sure that they had eye contact as she asked, “Nace?”

    It was around then that Nace realized that due to Molly’s shorter height maintaining eye contact meant he did have to look down. And see her clad in little more than water droplets and a small white towel.

    “Yeah?” Nace replied, still in somewhat of a daze. He was still turning red, trying the best to think of the least sexy thoughts he could think of.

    Molly stepped closer to him, till she was oh so kissably close to him, before saying in a husky, instructive voice inches from his face, “...Knock. Harder. Next. Time.”

    “Right. Sorry about that.” Nace replied. Wanker.

    Molly smirked before pushing Nace backwards a tad, making sure he was outside of the doorframe. It was only because of Nace’s current stunned state that she was able to accomplish this.

    “And, at least let me get dressed.”


    Standing outside the doorframe Nace said, “Right, I’ll leave you to finish up in there.”

    Nace saw Molly turn around as she closed the door and was it his imagination or did he notice a sly smile on her face while she did so.
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  10. (This was written with @Rose and takes place before the events in Carnival)

    West San Francisco. Along the Beach. 11 o’clock. Sunday Morning.

    Nace tossed the stick and Goliath raced into the water after the it, grabbing a hold of it and running back towards his master. Halfway there he started barking and put the stick down. Nace noticed that Goliath began barking at a pair of approaching people.

    “Check!” Nace shouted, a command to stop barking and head back his way.

    “Terribly sorry about that, miss.” Nace said to the woman.

    Rose had been slightly alarmed when the large German Shepherd appeared out of nowhere and began to bark. In her entire life she had only held a nodding acquaintance with canines and so trusted her first instincts. Meaning, she might have over-reacted a bit when she took a step in front of the nine-year-old girl she had been walking with. As soon as she spotted the owner of the dog, her muscles relaxed a little, but she continued to keep a sharp eye on the dog and the master.

    “No harm done.” Rose would have turned away at that, but her ward somehow managed to escape from safety and fearlessly headed straight for the dog, giving Rose no time act in prevention.
    “What’s his name,” the little girl asked, holding out her hand for the dog to sniff.

    Nace slapped the side of his leg and the dog headed up to his side, sitting and panting with his tongue hanging out as he regarded the pair. He noticed the little girl’s reaction and gave a command to his own ward, “Gentle.”

    That meant that Goliath would gently sniff the little girl’s hand. Nace turned to address the child, “His name is Goliath, like the Biblical giant. Just hold your hand out in front of his nose but don’t touch yet, let him smell you, let him get used to you.”

    Goliath would angle his head up and sniff gently and Nace said, “If you want to toss the stick with him, you’re more than welcome.”

    “Again, I’m sorry about that, Miss…” Nace said, vaguely certain he’d seen this woman somewhere around ACME before.

    All throughout the conversation, Rose had kept a tight grip on one of the girl’s hands as her ward attached herself to Goliath. When the stranger offered to let the girl throw a stick, Rose rather reluctantly let go. “Just be careful, Katie.”

    “I will!” Katie smiled up at Rose before taking the stick from the man’s hand. After running a safe distance away from Rose and the stranger to ensure no injuries in case of backfire, she tossed it for Goliath.
    Rose, still keeping an eye on girl and the dog, turned to the man. “It’s really alright. I forgot how much Katie liked dogs…Thanks for letting her play with yours for a few minutes.”

    “You’re welcome.” Nace said, before holding out his hand, “Nace Bilby, I work at ACME and I think I’d seen you around.”

    Rose took Nace Bilby’s extended hand, realizing there was something familiar about the man’s face. “You’re correct, my name is Rose Ningolsham, and I also work for ACME.”

    “I thought I’d seen you around the gym once or twice.” the South African replied with a smile, “So are you new here then? I only recently moved here from the UK.”

    “Yes, I am fairly new. I moved here and started in the middle of last December.” Rose began to slowly walk onward, seeing that Katie and Goliath were moving further and further away from them. The girl seemed as excited to chase after the stick as the dog.

    "He is a big sweetheart with kids. My nieces love him." Nace said, showing a photo on his iPhone of Goliath with two little girls ages eight and six, he was rolled over on his back while the girls scratched his tummy and rubbed it.

    "You seem to have some sort of military background, I kind of feel you've got that sort of vibe." Nace observed.

    Rose sent a shooting glance towards Nace at the change of subject. From his outer appearance, he didn’t look at all like someone she wouldn’t trust, exactly, but there had always been a reservation inside of her when speaking about her military time. Mostly because of the strange blankness that those years contained.

    “I was in the Navy. A couple years in the reserves and three years active duty. You?”

    "I was in the South African Army for nearly three and a half years and then I joined the British Army Reserve, with 21 SAS, one of the reserve regiments of Britain's Special Air Service. What did you do in the service?"

    “My specialty was Naval Architecture, but most of the time I was doing something else. It wasn’t, in fact, until shortly before I was discharged that I finally was in a place to put my specialty to use.” She paused, silently rehearsing what she had read about her military service. It wasn’t that she couldn’t remember everything. The skills were still there. The memories were just blurry. “I did extra training for Individual Augmented duty, but that was cut short. Mostly my time was divided between being an aide, a division officer on a ship, and a recruiting officer.”

    "So you're a Rupert then?" Nace said, "That's British Army slang for an officer and that's not necessarily demeaning."

    “I’ve never heard that term before, but…” She studied Nace Bilby’s face skeptically, seeming to ponder whether ‘Rupert’ was actually not ‘demeaning’. “Yes, I was an officer. I’m guessing you weren’t?”

    "No, I'm a sergeant with the British Army Reserves. And I wasn't being insulting with the Rupert bit." Nace replied, "Actually we weren't sure where the name Rupert for officers came from. My old commander, Captain Taylor was affectionately dubbed Rupert by our lot."

    Rose nodded silently. Her attention once more drawn away to watch as Katie tripped over her own two feet and fell. The dog stopped its excited dance and turned back to guard what he seemed to think was now his responsibility. Rose waited till she saw a wide smile spreading over Katie’s face as the girl reached up her hand to pat the dog, and then all Rose’s muscles notably relaxed. Almost without her knowledge, a smile, similar to the one on her daughter’s face, spread over her own.

    “I see. What did you say you did for ACME?”

    "I work as a firearms instructor as well as a conventional agent. What about you?" Nace replied as he watched Goliath playing with the young girl. Goliath was wagging his tail and licking Katie's face.

    "Looks like she's made a new, four legged, friend." Nace remarked, smiling as Goliath licked Katie's face.

    “She has. Your dog is nice. Very patient.” Rose glanced down at her watch offhandedly. “I work for ACME’s Marina and Ocean Services Subdivision or simply MOSS.”

    "He is good with kids, my nieces love him." Nace replied and remarked, "Fits with your naval experience."
    “Yeah, it’s nice to finally put my specialty to some use.” She waved towards Katie, signaling for her daughter to return. “This is where I turn back towards my apartment. It was a pleasure to meet you, Nace, and thanks.”

    “Likewise Rose. If Katie ever goes on about dogs I can always see if Goliath might want to come over.” Nace offered.

    “I appreciate that. I’m fairly certain that my apartment building allows animals...I could probably keep a horse, if I had an inclination. Anyway…” Rose’s thoughts were snatched away as Katie came up and reached out her hand in expectation of it being held. She took it in hers and then turned back once more to Nace. “I’ll, no doubt, see you around in the near future. My contact information isn’t hard to find, if you need anything…so…I hope you have a lovely day.”

    “Same to you. If you need anything regarding the firearms department I’d be more than willing to assist.” Nace replied, watching Rose and the little girl depart and smiling that he and Goliath knew someone new in San Francisco.
    Mikal, Derrin, Ann and 2 others like this.
  11. [Rated PG-13 for language. Many thanks to talking to @Ivy and @Carmen for creating this journal.]

    Now Zad, Afghanistan
    14 February 2006

    Boredom is an oft feature of military life regardless of the nationality of the soldiers. And on Tuesday the 14th of February 2006, Valentine's Day, boredom did strike the rooftop overlooking the town of Now Zad.

    "For fuck's sake." Cecil grumbled, "We haven't even heard a shot fired in anger for a sodding week."

    "Mr. 'Kill Something' growing bored is he?" Ajay remarked as he stretched and yawned after setting his binoculars down. The town was practically a ghost town.

    Some scattered laughter echoed across the rooftop, namely over Cecil's usual t-shirts that usually had the words Kill Something emblazoned on it.

    Mad Max, sitting on top of a quartet of sandbags stacked on the rooftop, rifle on his lap, began, "Well lads, today being Valentine's Day I do believe a bit of intellectual discussion is in order."

    "Can you even spell intellectual?" Cecil quipped.

    Muted laughing from various bored troopers echoed out. Sergeant Angel lay on his back, head on his backpack, hat pulled over his eyes as he caught a quick catnap.

    "Fuck off, Cecil. At least I'm not walking up 'ere on the roof bellowing, 'I'm bored' like an elephant with a hernia." Mad Max countered.

    Even more laughter, and from below his hat Sergeant Angel said, "Alright, Max, enlighten us, what is this weighty intellectual matter you wanted to discuss?"

    "Well, Boss," Mad Max said, with mock solemness, "Owing to the fact that the lot of us are up here on this roof and not in the company of the fairer sex..."

    Max turned over to where Nace sat, reading a Valentine's Day card from Evey with a broad smile on his face, and commented, "At least not in the physical company of the fairer sex."

    "Get to the bloody point, Max." Angel remarked.

    "Well, I was wondering what you lot think is the best part of relationships with the ladies?" Mad Max said, "Ajay?"

    "What do the Yanks say, Plead the fifth?" Ajay remarked as he went over to his laptop, opening it up and turning it on.

    "Boring sod you are." Mad Max grumbled, "Cecil?"

    "Oh that's easy..." Cecil began, "When the chase is over and you're in the cab on her way back to her place."

    Nace remarked, "I hope you go to her place, if your flat's anything even remotely resembling your desk at work or anyplace you live in around here you'll send her running for sure."

    Somewhat more spirited laughter followed, to include Mad Max guffawing loudly over Cecil's typical (dis)organization.

    "Alright Trench Poet," Mad Max remarked, "Wot do you think?"

    "Oh that's easy, the first kiss." Nace said, with a smile.

    "Hah." Cecil remarked, "This from a bloke who's first kiss was his partner at work."

    "You wanker." Nace growled at Cecil.

    "Wait, what? Who's this partner at work?" Mad Max asked.

    "That would be Agent Caitlin Pike." Cecil said, "Brunette, nearing early to middle thirties, keeps herself in good shape..."

    "I like this one already." Mad Max remarked, "Come, let's hear it."

    Nace remarked, "What's to tell...it was conversation where I mentioned I'd not kissed a woman before and one thing led to another and..."

    "Oh Bollocks." Cecil replied, "There's a hell of a lot more to that, Nace."

    "Piss off." Nace replied, mildly annoyed.

    "Oh for fuck's sake, you lot, what did happen?" Sergeant Angel said, in his best 'Sergeant' voice.

    "Right...it all happened in June of last year, I'd just asked Evey out and had a date set up on Friday evening..." Nace said with a tired sigh, after all this lot wasn't gonna let him hear the end of it until he told them, "And by the way, Cecil, you're a complete sod."

    ---

    London, England
    United Kingdom
    1 June 2005

    "Well, you can quit slagging me now." Nace remarked as he walked into the small break room on the third floor of the ACME London Office on Baker Street, "I finally did it."

    Caitlin Pike looked up from the coffee pot and poured herself a cup before saying, "And what did she say?"

    "Why she said yes, actually." Nace said with a smile.

    "Congratulations. Two things, first, would you like some coffee? I just made a pot. And second, what do you have planned?" Caitlin replied.

    "First, no thanks on the coffee, if you brewed it." Nace quipped, "If you spill of your coffee near a cemetery you'd inadvertently kick off the zombie apocalypse."

    "I see you've absorbed the finer points of humor, Springbok, very good." Caitlin said, lips curving up in a wry smile.

    "That wasn't a joke." Nace replied as he reached into the refrigerator and took out a bottle of water and uncapped it, "I swear you should put a warning label on your coffee, it can double as battery acid."

    "Strong and bold, the only way to drink coffee. Come on, Nace I grew up in a city that never sleeps." Caitlin replied, "Las Vegas never sleeps."

    Caitlin took a long swig of her coffee before saying, "And now on the subject of your date, what are you planning?"

    "Well, I thought of something nice and low key. I figured a bit of coffee at Foyle's Bookstore would be a nice place. I've been there a handful of times and think it's got a nicely relaxed sort of atmosphere." Nace said.

    "Good, low key sort of place." Caitlin remarked, "So do you hope to get a first kiss out of the deal?"

    "I honestly hadn't thought that far ahead, I am hoping for a kiss. After all it would be my first ever." Nace replied as Caitlin began to sip coffee from her mug.

    At this Caitlin promptly dropped her mug and began coughing in mid swallow. Nace ran over to her, whacking her on the back a couple times to help her clear her airway until she started to breathe a bit more normally.

    "Wait, Nace, how old are you again?" Caitlin asked.

    "Twenty-one going on twenty-two next month." Nace replied, sipping his own water, "Why?"

    Caitlin flicked a stray strand of her chestnut brown hair away from her face before adding, "You mean to tell me that in twenty-one years you'd never kissed a girl?"

    ---

    Now Zad, Afghanistan
    14 February 2006

    "Wait, you mean to tell me up to this point you'd never kissed a woman?" Ajay asked, his laptop and the movie he had been watching entirely forgotten at this point.

    "For fuck's sake, you lot, Catholic schooling all the way through my educational life doesn't exactly lend itself to these sort of opportunities." Nace shot back.

    Mad Max laughed back, "Oh, I don't believe this, your first kiss was from a woman over a decade older than you. You got cougar hunted, mate."

    "At least I remember my first kiss you wankers." Nace replied, irritated.

    "At least I can't remember my first kiss." Mad Max quipped.

    "Max, I have to point out that memory loss of any sort isn't anything to be proud of." Ajay interjected.

    "Probably because you'd been hit in the head a few times too many." Nace added.

    "Right," Sergeant Angel said, with a grin of his own, "Now let's get back to how Nace got his first kiss from this 'cougar' of a partner he has back in London."

    "Right," Nace replied, "It was after Caitlin had recovered her surprise that it all kicked off."

    "And that was where I stepped in." Cecil replied, lighting yet another cigarette.

    "Will you let me tell the sodding tale you bugger." Nace shot back at Cecil.

    ---

    London, England
    United Kingdom
    1 June 2005

    "So you basically terrified yourself away from a first kiss as a teenager because of especially vivid Dante interpretations and Dominican Friars." Caitlin said, "I have to admit, that's not something I've ever seen before. But what do you think the natural conclusion of a good date is."

    "Well, a kiss goodnight generally." Nace replied, somewhat sheepishly.

    "Alright." Caitlin said, as she took a couple steps towards Nace, "Knowing that, do you know what to do when that comes about?"

    "I would imagine it's instinctive and relatively simple." Nace began, quirking his eyebrows as he spoke.

    "You would imagine?" Caitlin said, drawing herself to her 5'7" height, "So you would imagine you know what to do? What is it you always say, training ensures that soldiers know what they're doing."

    "I do believe this is a slightly different situation." Nace replied, looking Caitlin in the eye as he spoke.

    "Is it? You keep saying you rehearse things in the military to ensure that things are automatic." Caitlin replied, continuing walking up to Nace until they were standing close to each other, "Alright, now imagine I'm Evey and the date's over."

    "Are you barking mad?" Nace remarked.

    "Will you humor me? I'm trying to ensure you have a good 'end of the first date'." Caitlin replied, taking the final step till they were at an intimate distance by anyone's standards.

    "Alright." Nace said as he leaned forward and kissed Caitlin, a light sort of peck on the lips.

    "Nace, that's how you kiss your mother." Caitlin said, "Think romance, as much as your Dante shaped psyche will let you think...or even beyond it."

    "Right..." Nace said, and this time he tried to let his lips linger on Caitlin's a bit longer, felt Caitlin pull him a bit closer.

    "You are a lousy kisser." Caitlin remarked.

    "I wasn't trying." Nace replied, "Wait a bloody moment, you were trying?"

    "Nace, this isn't going to work if you keep fighting me." Caitlin replied.

    "Alright." Nace replied and taking deep breath, closing his eyes, and pulling Caitlin close to him, he let his lips capture her upper lip and letting it linger a bit in fact. He waited a few seconds, eyes closed and the next thing he heard aside from his own and Caitlin's breathing was the sound of a coffee mug breaking and a surprised shout.

    "What the hell!?!?" Cecil said as he walked into the room.

    ---

    Now Zad, Afghanistan
    14 February 2006

    "So let me get this straight," Mad Max said to Cecil, "You heard Nace and Caitlin going on about Nace's parochial schooling and honking about Nace never having kissed a woman in his life until that point when you headed over to the break room."

    "Yeah, I had been fixing Caitlin's computer because a software patch didn't go in right and I went to go find her and overheard them talking in the break room." Cecil replied.

    "So you were hanging round the outside of the room the entire time and then you announced yourself." Nace replied.

    "Well, I'm sorry, how does one announce 'Oi, I'm out here and you two might want to not rehearse a first date's kiss'?" Cecil countered.

    "And I'm sure you didn't tell Evey about all this?" Nace said.

    "Well, if I told her I would've told her exactly what happened." Cecil said.

    "Good story, Nace," Sergeant Angel remarked, "Even though as an experienced lawman I must say kissing one's partner at work isn't the smartest move."

    "You might want to let Caitlin know that." Nace replied.

    "Oi, Bilby," Mad Max said, "Do you know if she's seeing anyone?"

    "As far as I can tell, she isn't." Nace replied, "Why?"

    "Good, I've got a month to figure out how to make my move." Mad Max said.

    "I don't think you're her type, bru." Nace replied.

    "I do believe she does like her men to have brains not scar tissue in lieu of brains." Ajay replied, with a snide grin.

    "Not to mention she seems to like them younger." Cecil added.

    Laughter echoed amongst the men into the Afghan setting sun as Mad Max grumbled, "Bollocks to you, Cecil."

    ---

    London, England
    United Kingdom
    11 March 2006

    Nace Bilby stepped out of the brown brick building that was part of the Albany Street Barracks near Regent Park that Saturday morning. He walked with several of the blokes out of the building. Ajay had just kissed his wife and was currently beaming as he beheld his three children in their stroller.

    Mad Max and Cecil had headed off to the Tube station to get to the nearest pub. He had to smile at the fact that those two had been planning exactly what pubs they were going to the second they got back to the United Kingdom.

    He saw Evey just then and ran to meet her, feeling her arms around the back of his neck as his own arms went round her waist. Angling his face to the left a tad so that their noses wouldn't bump, lightly catching her lips with his own. Seeing her eyes close a fraction of a second before his own closed and holding her close to him for several seconds. After a long while letting go and looking into her eyes.

    "I missed you." Nace said, with a smile.

    "I missed you too." Evey replied as they walked towards the Tube to get back to their flat.

    As they got back to their flat Evey began, "Oh, I'd been meaning to tell you, please let Agent Pike know she's a good teacher."

    Nace's eyes went wide, "How did you..."

    "Cecil told me." Evey remarked, with a smile, "And I have to say that I wouldn't have been able to tell that I was the second woman you'd ever kissed."

    "But you are the one I actually try my damndest while kissing." Nace replied, holding the door to their flat open.

    "I definitely am grateful for the effort..." Evey said with a smile as she walked past him into the flat before grabbing his arm and tugging him inside.
    Mikal, Contessa and Molly like this.
  12. (From a discussion with @Ivy about Nace's time in the United Kingdom I created Nace's partner, Caitlin Pike.)

    “Agent Nace Bilby reporting, ma’am.” Those five words would be what would begin Nace’s partnership with Agent Caitlin Pike, ACME London Branch.

    The thirty-three year old American turned from her desk, away from her computer screen to see the dark haired fellow in the green South African Springboks jersey standing to her left. She swiveled her chair and turned to face the man, standing at a relatively rigid position of attention and smiled.

    “Hey Springbok, you should know this isn’t the military and you’re not talking to a superior officer.” Caitlin replied and stood up, extending her hand, “Caitlin Pike.”

    “Nace Bilby, ma’am.” Nace replied, shaking her hand with a firm handshake.

    “And it’s Caitlin, not ma’am. Ma’am makes me feel old and besides we’re both agents. Basically we’re equal rank.” Caitlin replied.

    “Ok ma….” Nace began, then caught himself and said, “I mean Caitlin.”

    “Better,” Caitlin said as she turned back to her computer to lock the monitor, Nace noticed that she had been looking through his personnel file from the Johannesburg Office but chose not to mention anything on it, “I think it’s about time for a coffee break. Want to join me?”

    “Sure.” Nace said, walking with his new partner towards the staircase, and going down towards the first floor cafeteria only for Caitlin to grab his arm.

    “No, not the cafeteria, I found a place called Costa Coffee Shop when I first moved to London. I figured I might as well get you out of the office.” Caitlin said as she headed to the small anteroom in the building foyer where employees put heavier coats.

    Nace grabbed his own tan jacket and Caitlin noticed its vaguely military lines. She knew Nace was a former member of the South African National Defense Force and she could detect an introverted seriousness in the younger man.

    As they stepped outside and walked the block to the coffee shop Caitlin asked, “You seem to be awfully quiet.”

    I wonder if I got a statue instead of a partner. The guy seems a tad monosyllabic. Caitlin thought as they walked.

    “Think ten times, speak once.” Nace said with a slight smile.

    Caitlin pursed her lips and said, “So you think I’m somehow foolish because I’m talking more than you?”

    “Not at all. You just think and speak a lot faster than I do.” Nace replied.

    “Ah.” Caitlin replied, “So is that quote an original saying or is it a line from literature?”

    “It’s a variation on a German sniper maxim from World War II: Camouflage ten times, shoot once.” Nace said.

    “What does that mean?” Caitlin said.

    “It meant to be observant and meticulous when concealing oneself and shooting only when one felt it was exactly right to do so.” Nace replied, “I adapted it when it comes to speech, after all was it not Thomas Jefferson who said, ‘It is better to be thought of a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt’.”

    “Very good.” Caitlin remarked as they walked towards metal and plate glass facade of the coffee shop only for Nace to take the final few steps to the door to prop it open for her.

    “Thank you.” Caitlin said.

    “Force of habit.” Nace said.

    How much about this guy is, force of habit? Caitlin thought as they both walked to the counter to order their drinks.

    As they sat down with their respective coffees Caitlin said, “So tell me about yourself. What makes my new partner tick?”

    “Well,” Nace began as he took a sip of his coffee, “I hail from Johannesburg, South Africa and I’m the second oldest of five children. My eldest sister, Rey, lives here in London with her husband.”

    “Rey, as in Rey Carlyle, Inspector Carlyle’s wife?” Caitlin asked.

    “Yes, she’s my sister.” Nace replied. Caitlin’s expression remained somewhat inscrutable but Nace could tell she was thinking something, just what he couldn’t quite ascertain.

    Whoa, and people think there's nepotism with me with my ex-husband. Caitlin thought before adding, “You do realize Inspector Carlyle is the most likely candidate to replace Chief Inspector Dietrich if he ever calls it quits or gets promoted, right?”

    “Rey did mention that.” Nace replied, evenly, noticing that Caitlin took a long drink from her coffee cup.

    Rey had mentioned earlier in the week that Caitlin was Chief Inspector Dietrich’s ex-wife, the pair having divorced about a year ago. So he wasn’t alone in being connected to someone in the ACME London Office hierarchy.

    “Ok, so continuing on, you’re the second of five children, with your oldest being the wife of the United Kingdom’s ACME Branch’s second in command.” Katilin quipped, “I’m almost wondering if you’re related to some government official or the British Prime Minister somewhere.”

    “No such relations. Next after me are the twins, Michael and Danielle, they’re both seventeen, five years younger than me and are preparing to attend university here in the UK in the fall. And then there’s David, the youngest brother at fourteen and still a secondary school student in South Africa.”

    Caitlin asked, “So what did you do before you went to ACME?”

    “Well, I enlisted in the South African National Defense Force at seventeen, joining the infantry and becoming trained as a sniper.” Nace replied.

    So that’s where all the sniper knowledge comes from. Caitlin thought as she listened to Nace telling the rest of his story.

    “When I was nineteen I attempted to follow into my father’s footsteps by joining South Africa’s Special Forces. It was an intense selection and many of us, me included, were unable to complete the course. I wound up collapsing on an endurance march and being removed from training. Two years later I finished my tour and enrolled in the ACME training center in Johannesburg, finding a posting in the UK to spread my wings.” Nace replied.

    “So what brought you to the United Kingdom?” Caitlin asked.

    “Opportunity, both at ACME and in the United Kingdom’s Territorial Army.” Nace replied. At Caitlin’s curious look he added, “The United Kingdom’s 21 and 23 Special Air Service units are Territorial Army formations that are always looking for recruits. I submitted my paperwork for vetting last year and am attempting to join 21 SAS, the unit that has a squadron in London.”

    “So why the United Kingdom? Doesn’t that create some sort of conflict?” Caitlin asked.

    “Not at all. A member of my family has served the British Crown, Rhodesia, or South Africa over the span of five generations.” Nace replied, “My earliest known ancestor served with the 24th Regiment of Foot in South Africa in the late nineteenth century, my great-grandfather fought and died for the British crown as part of a South African Brigade in World War I, and in World War II, my grandfather, the Major, served in the Special Air Service in North Africa, France and the Mediterranean.”

    Military tradition and strong family ties, interesting. Caitlin thought and realized she would have to keep on this whole SAS thing of her partner’s. Her mind was racing along at a mile a minute, barely hearing the South African speak next.

    “So since we’re swapping stories, what is yours?” Nace asked.

    “Oh.” Caitlin said, “Well, I was born in Las Vegas, Nevada and lived there till I was nineteen years old and enrolling in ACME’s San Francisco academy.”

    “So your parents still live in Las Vegas?” Nace asked.

    “As far as I know, yes. I’ve honestly not talked to either of them in years.” Caitlin replied.

    For fourteen years as a matter of fact. Caitlin thought before continuing on, “After graduation I did a short internship in the Vancouver Field Office, for about two years where I met my now ex-husband. We were married at the end of my internship and moved to London together when he was promoted to Chief Inspector.”

    Nace did some mental calculations and figured that her ex-husband was definitely Chief Inspector Gordon Dietrich. Seems typical to what I’ve heard of Chief Inspector Gordon Dietrich, the man’s got an eye for the younger women. Especially given my partner was twenty years old when she and Gordon met and the man’s in his mid-forties now.

    “If I may ask…” Nace began.

    “Why we split?” Caitlin said, “Well, I’ll be honest, it was largely my fault. I would call myself a reformed workaholic. I put in long days all the time as a young agent, eager to prove myself out there.”

    “I’m sorry to have brought that up.” Nace replied.

    “No, don’t worry about it.” Caitlin replied, “It’s not something I’m shy about admitting and besides since we’re going to be partners we might as well be honest with each other.”

    Turning the line of conversation around Caitlin asked, “So what about you, do you have a girlfriend in South Africa or here?”

    “No, I don’t.” Nace replied, “I hadn’t really had much time in the past few years to find a relationship.”

    I see. Caitlin thought before saying, “Well, just a bit of free advice, don’t marry your career.”

    “I do appreciate the advice.” Nace replied as they finished their coffee and headed back over to the ACME London Office on Baker Street.

    After heading towards the office Nace noticed a slender young woman carrying a flat screen monitor and a computer tower. Her wavy brown hair was pinned back in a simple ponytail and the weight of what she was carrying seemed to be a minor bother. She wore a short sleeved blouse in three colors and a pair of tan slacks and a pair of flat soled shoes.

    “If you’ll excuse me.” Nace told Caitlin.

    He noticed the American’s wry smile and that she seemed to be holding back some wry comment as she headed upstairs.

    “May I help you with that?” Nace asked the young woman.

    A pair of brown eyes peered around the computer tower as he spoke and their owner replied, “Ok. Thanks for the help, and you are…”

    “Nace Bilby, I just transferred here from Johannesburg earlier in the week.” Nace said as he took hold of the tower and the monitor, “To whom am I speaking?”

    “Evey Hammond.” the young woman replied as the South African hefted the load.

    That is awfully kind of him. Evey thought. A couple of detectives had passed her by with not even a second thought when she walked by with all that computer equipment in her hands.

    “So where too, Evey?” Nace asked.

    “Third floor, if it’s not too far out of your way.” Evey replied.

    “On the contrary, that’s where I work, with Agent Pike.” Nace continued as he headed up the stairs with Evey in tow.

    “Thanks again,” said Evey as they reached the landing of the third floor, “It was just my luck that the sodding elevator was down today.”

    Nace pushed the door open and said, “After you.”

    Evey said, “Oh no, you’re carrying the computer and all.”

    “I insist, ladies first.” Nace replied.

    The English gentleman, something I thought extinct. Evey thought, bemused as she walked through the door and towards the desk to the right of Caitlin’s. Nace set the computer tower down and then the monitor before starting to connect it.

    Evey took the folded paperwork from her pocket, a form to sign for the computer. She noticed the name of the agent this computer was being assigned to was the same agent that had helped her carry the thing up the three flights of stairs.

    “Sign here, here, and initial here. And once again thanks for the help.” Evey asked.

    Nace smiled as he signed the form and Evey said, “Right, your computer is imaged and ready to plug into the network. Give us a call at IT if there’s any sort of issue.”

    “I do appreciate it. Thanks.” Nace replied, smiling back. Those were very lovely brown eyes of hers.

    It was after Evey was long out of earshot that he heard Caitlin’s voice, “What was that?”

    “What was what?” Nace replied as he turned over to his new partner.

    “Oh come on, anyone could see you had unmistakable puppy dog eyes just now.” Caitlin replied, “You’re not the only quiet and observant one in the room, you know.”

    “Well…” Nace said, somewhat bashfully.

    “Ah ha.” Caitlin said, with a triumphant grin, “So when exactly do you plan on asking her out.”

    “Uhm...soon I imagine.” Nace replied.

    “I’ll hold you to that.” Caitlin said, grinning like the Cheshire Cat. Springbok might actually be an interesting sort of person to work with.
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  13. "Hail Holy Queen Enthroned Above. Oh Maria. Hail Queen of Mercy and of Love. Oh Maria. Triumph all ye Cherubim. Sing with us ye Seraphim." the Choir sang, "Heaven and Earth resound the Hymn. Salve. Salve. Salve Regina."

    Nace lightly closed his eyes as he heard the song at Mass that Sunday morning of 5 June 2005. Two days earlier he had actually done it. He had asked Evey Hammond, from Information Technology, out on a date earlier in the week. And that song of celebration resonated through his mind.

    "Almighty God," Nace prayed to himself after receiving Communion and returning to his particular pew, "I am truly grateful. I have fallen in love with a wonderful woman and I pray to you that I am the man she deserves in her life."

    "The cause of joy to us below. Oh Maria. The spring through which all Graces flow. Oh Maria. Angels all your praises bring. Earth and Heaven with us sing. All creation echoing. Salve. Salve. Salve Regina."

    On that Saturday evening of 3 June 2006, before going to the pub where his family and Evey waited to congratulate him on his latest achievement, earning the winged dagger beret of 21 Special Air Service Nace stopped by the nearest church. He could hear the hymn as the choir rehearsed.

    He could still feel the ache in his shoulders and that his legs still felt vaguely gelatin-like as he recalled the Long Drag's sixty four kilometers of marching through the roughest terrain of the Welsh countryside with over fifty-five pounds of backpack and a rifle. How by not even halfway he had been clinically exhausted but finding an unknown strength to keep going.

    Kneeling as he heard the Choir's rehearsal, Nace crossed himself. "Blessed Mother, I am truly thankful for your Holy Intercession. God has blessed me with new found success in my endeavor to join 21 SAS and of course having fallen in love with a wonderful woman. The latter I am far more grateful of. I humbly ask for your Intercession to our Heavenly Father for His blessing for Evey. I know she hasn't lived the best of lives, may I be the man to give her the love she deserves."

    "Oh Gentle Loving Holy One. Oh Maria." the hymn echoed through the sanctuary, "The God of light became your Son. Oh Maria! Triumph all ye Cherubim. Sing with us ye Seraphim." the Choir sang, "Heaven and Earth resound the Hymn. Salve. Salve. Salve Regina."

    It was 23 June 2012. Not even 24 hours earlier Evey Hammond had passed from the world. She had been in terrible pain. He remembered the sigil he had given her over six years earlier pressed into his hand which now rested between the palms of his hand as he knelt in prayer.

    Crossing himself. Remembering Evey's last words. Remembering her tears and the choked sobs from both physical and emotional pain, "Nace, I don't want you to mourn the rest of your life. I want you to live, to be the wonderful man I love, to be a husband and father..."

    "Blessed Mother, I pray for strength." Nace said, "I pray for a strength I don't know I possess. I ask again for Your Intercession that I find that strength to keep going. I don't understand why I loved a wonderful woman only to lose her. I may never know or understand. I pray only for strength, strength I don't think I possess..."

    Crossing himself and walking from the pew. Making a decision sometime later to seek another assignment, elsewhere. There are too many memories in the United Kingdom for him, namely memories of a lost love.

    Boarding a plane for San Francisco to start life anew. A brief orientation and work once again. And now in one more week he is to go on a mission to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. It is the last Sunday before 1 March 2014 when he walks into the chapel yet again, crossing himself and celebrates Mass. The song for celebration of Holy Communion was Hail Holy Queen.

    It had been an interesting time arriving in San Francisco. For the first time in over a year has he felt those same butterflies in the stomach for a woman without the stab of guilt. Dr. Freeman had said that was a good thing and to explore those feelings.

    Crossing himself once again at the end of Mass and walking from the chapel...
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  14. [Rated PG-13 for language]

    November 4, 2006
    Now Zad, Afghanistan

    "Bloody trench poet you are." Mad Max remarked as he flipped through a page of the book he was reading during a bit of downtime on the rooftop.

    The man he was addressing, Nace Bilby, sat with his rifle on his lap and writing on a sheet of paper. He barely broke stride in his writing to flip Max off which caused Ajay and Cecil to start chuckling.

    "Seriously, Nace, you are a bloody trench poet." Mad Max remarked, "I mean there are a couple computers on the base you can use to write an email. Why write a sodding letter?"

    "There's something quaint about getting a letter." Nace replied casually.

    "Wonder what he's writing?" Cecil remarked.

    Max cleared his voice and said in the most poetic way a fellow who resembles a football hooligan can, "Dearest Evey, Here I sit bored atop a roof in the arsehole of the Hindu Kush, otherwise known as Afghanistan. Cecil's slowly poisoning the lot of us with his chain smoking..."

    "Fuck off..." Cecil quipped, holding a lit cigarette between his lips.

    "Ajay's hosting yet another movie marathon on his laptop, probably another sodding Bollywood drama." Max continued.

    "Don't blame me for your lack of culture, Max." Ajay replied as he was sitting at his laptop, indeed with one earphone in watching a drama from Bollywood.

    "So who's killing who, or who's fucking who?" Cecil replied as he headed over to watch the movie that Ajay was just watching.

    "Mail call." Came a voice from the stairs, as Stan came up the stairs with mail.

    Stan handed the mail out to each individual soldier sitting about on the rooftop. Nace beamed when he got an envelope with Evey's delicate penmanship on it.

    Nace tucked the letter he was writing into his pocket and had just opened the letter from Evey when Mad Max snatched it out of hand.

    "Hey, what the hell?" Nace remarked.

    Mad Max, made a not at all convincing attempt to sound like a young woman born and raised in London, "Dear Nace."

    Snickering started from among the other troops on the roof. Nace decided he would rather not risk damaging the letter by trying to tear it out of Max's hand as the latter held it up and continued an entirely unconvincing impression of Evey.

    Max took a sniff of the paper, "Somebody put a bit of perfume into this one."

    "You wanker." Nace replied.

    "Your letter arrived yesterday and I hope you're well. It was sweet to get a letter from you and I think I'm going to make an album of your letters of late." Max continued, "I do hope you appreciate the dab of perfume, I hope it travelled well and that it reminds you of me."

    "How sweet." Ajay quipped, pausing his movie.

    "Tell Cecil I said hi." Max said, and then broke from his impression of Evey before remarking, "She knows Cecil?"

    "They're coworkers in the real world, dickhead." Nace replied.

    "Whatever." Max remarked, then went straight back into his impression, "And let him know that Ruth and I made sure Cecil's desk is the model of efficiency and organization."

    "Oh Wot!?!? Tell Evey she shouldn't have. Literally. That's my system of organization she and Ruth were messing with." Cecil remarked barely noticing that with his first words his cigarette had fallen out of his mouth.

    "System of organization my arse." Nace replied, "Your desk looks like a grenade exploded in one of the drawers."

    At this laughter began to echo, given Cecil's camp bed was equally as discheveled looking, as was the little corner of the ops room he usually worked in.

    "I have to say your letters make your mates come alive whenever I read them." Max continued and then broke from his impression of Evey yet again to say, "You write about us?"

    "What the hell else would I write about other than sitting in the middle of Afghanistan? Besides things like contacts and the like we get into aren't exactly things I want to tell my girlfriend." Nace replied.

    "So what do you tell her about us, exactly?" Ajay asked.

    "Will you sodding let me continue." Mad Max replied, then yet again clearing his throat and failing to impersonate a young woman from. London, "Seems like Mad Max is exactly the sort of person you'd want around if you're in a bar brawl. However be sure to tell him Go Arsenal for me."

    Nace and several others laughed at Max, given he was the solitary Manchester United fan on that rooftop.

    "There's no accounting for bad taste." Mad Max quipped before continuing on his impression, "Tell Ajay congratulations on the triplets."

    Mad Max once again broke from his impression, "Triplets, wot sort of fertility treatments is your wife on? And three mini Ajay's..."

    "Better than one miniature you." Ajay quipped, "Propogating bad taste in sports. How foul."

    More laughter at the expense of Mad Max followed as Sergeant Angel came up the stairs, "What's going on?"

    "Just finishing a reading aloud of a letter Nace's girlfriend wrote him." Max replied, before going back into his impression, "Sergeant Angel seems like he's guaranteed to be the chief constable wherever he should fetch up."

    Angel let his lips curve up with a slight grin as Max continued, "I also wanted you to know that I finished the bit of shopping you requested. I can't wait to see you again, please be safe. Love, Evey."

    "What bit of shopping?" Max asked as he handed Nace the letter again.

    "Let's just say my next care package will contain an item that best fits each of you, and that it was supposed to be a surprise." Nace replied with a grin.

    "What did you ask her to get?" Max replied.

    "You'll see, mate. Consider those my Christmas gifts for you lot." Nace replied. Downtime and boredom sure did a lot to people under these circumstances, and despite having had Evey's letter read aloud to his mates on the roof Nace had to smile. It felt good to hear from her from many thousands of kilometers distance, even with Mad Max's utter butchery of an impression of Evey.

    He he took his letter out and continued to work and noticed Mad Max looming over him, "Oi, tell Evey thank you for all of us."

    "Right." Nace said before signing his letter off, sticking it in the envelope with the stamp already pasted to its top right corner and walking downstairs to get it ready to mail.
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  15. [Rated PG-13 for unsettling themes]
    "He today that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother. Be he ne'er so vile this day shall gentle his condition. And gentlemen in England now abed shall think themselves accursed they were not here, and hold their manhoods cheap, while any speaks that fought with us upon Saint Crispin's Day!" - From William Shakespeare's Henry V.

    ---
    15 October 2006
    Now Zad, Afghanistan

    The feast of Saint Crispin would begin as a first mission for the Afghan National Police element being trained by members of 4 Troop, A Squadron, 21 SAS. For several weeks the Afghans were learning basic patrolling and rifle marksmanship by A Squadron’s soldiers.

    Nace loaded rounds into the magazines of his SA80A2 rifle and examined the Sig pistol strapped to his leg. The roof of the walled in compound on the edge of Now Zad which served as a patrol base members of the Squadron shared with paratroopers from 7 Para.

    The rooftop of one of the tallest buildings had been commandeered by the reserve men from 21 SAS who specialized in long range reconnaissance and surveillance and that rooftop gave them a good vantage point to watch into the town of Now Zad.

    Trooper Nace Bilby was atop the roof, scanning the surrounding town with his binoculars briefly. “Another group of refugees.” Nace remarked as he noticed a fleeing group of about eight people clustered around a donkey, a little girl sitting astride it with a blank, frightened expression on her face.

    Best not think of Clementine and Katie. Nace thought, referring to his nieces, as he blinked.

    Lance Corporal Maxmillian ‘Mad Max’ Maynard, a powerfully built fellow resembling a football hooligan at six foot two remarked, “So much for the community the ANP (Afghan National Police) are to be policing.”

    “Haven’t seen too many Bobbies carrying Kalashnikovs back home.” Trooper Ajay Goshdashtidar, a first generation Indian immigrant to the UK, remarked as he adjusted an antennae on his radio set.
    Nace scanned through the lens of the telescopic sights of one of the L96A1 sniper rifles that was on the roof briefly, “Stalls in the marketplace are starting to close up.”

    “It’s not even that hot outside yet.” Mad Max remarked.

    Nace scanned the shadier areas of the buildings, seeking anyone possibly avoiding the day’s heat. “No sign of anyone in the shade. Wonder if they think the Taliban’s going to kick something off today?”

    The sound of footsteps coming up the stairs could be heard and the lanky, 5’10” and blonde haired Sergeant Nicholas Angel trotted up the staircase. “Right lads, patrol briefing, half hour.”

    “We’ll be there.” Mad Max remarked, “Looks like the shoppers are leaving the marketplace early. Looks like we’re going to get a contact.”

    “Right,” Angel said, “let’s just remember we want to make sure that the locals have confidence in their police. And by that we patrol with them.”

    “Got it, boss.” Mad Max remarked. Sergeant Angel, in his civilian life, was also a police officer in Sandford Glouchestershire, was the patrol commander for the four Brits and twelve Afghan policemen who were patrolling into the marketplace.

    Mad Max was checking, for the hundredth time, the medical kit that he carried. All his trauma management equipment, bandages, tourniquets and saline drips were in place.

    Nace checked a few explosive breaching charges that were in his backpack. If he had to demolish an obstacle, he had to make sure the explosives were rigged. He stuffed the other newly loaded magazines into the pouches on his body armor and checked the pouches for his grenades and his night vision kit had fresh batteries in it.

    And his final pre-combat ritual was reaching into a pocket of his uniform and taking out a small photograph from a seaside carnival in Mablethrope. It was one of Evey smiling, standing leaning against a railing, her legs crossed at the ankles in a demure sort of pose with the ferris wheel and the seaside in the background. He smiled briefly before tucking it in his helmet.

    “That’s bad luck, Nace.” Mad Max remarked.

    “Oh bugger off, Max.” Nace remarked, “I don’t go giving you grief over the sodding Manchester United patch you’ve got velcroed into your right arm.”

    “That’s because it’s good luck.” Mad Max remarked.

    “So’s this.” Nace remarked, hefting his helmet where Evey’s picture rested in its webbing.

    "Which reminds me.” Ajay said, with his slight Indian accent, “How did you like that Arsenal FC patch we had sewn into your medical bag?"

    “You wanker.” Mad Max grumbled at the reminder of the episode when they’d first arrived in country.

    “Never, ever underestimate how quickly a local tailor shop can do a custom job in Kandahar.” Ajay remarked, “Go Arsenal FC.”

    “Ajay, since when do you give a toss about sports at all?” Nace remarked.

    “Never, actually. An opportunity to give Mad Max grief, however, is priceless.” Ajay remarked, as he adjusted a couple straps on the backpack which contained his radio.

    Cecil, a lean bodied communications expert from 63 (SAS) Signal Squadron (Reserve) attached to the unit as a communications expert, ambled up the staircase with his own radio set. “Get out the garlic, it’s a sodding vampire.” Nace remarked.

    Cecil flipped the men the bird, “Bloody Operations Room feels like a sodding jail cell. I figured I’d get a breath of fresh air.”

    “Oh come of it, Cecil.” Nace remarked, “You work in a similar sort of place when you’re at ACME back in London.”

    “Hah. Join the Army. See plenty of fresh air and go to exotic places and meet interesting and exotic people and kill them. Bollocks.” Cecil quipped as he headed over to a satellite communications antennae to make a couple adjustments.

    There were quite a few other troopers from 4 Troop on the rooftop, either scanning over Now Zad through various optical instruments, dozing under mosquito nets, or reading books.

    “Right,” Mad Max said, “Let’s get on with it.”

    “Nice to have known you wankers.” Stan, from behind one of the sniper rifles, joked.

    “And you dickheads.” Nace quipped back, stealing another quick glance at Evey’s picture before donning his helmet.

    What a sodding paradox. Best to put Evey out of my mind for now for the best hope of seeing her again. Nace thought, as he walked down the narrow, cramped staircase into the courtyard where the Afghans were standing with the interpreter who was relaying Sergeant Angel’s instructions.

    “We’re patrolling through the market square, establishing police presence in the area.” Sergeant Angel began. He went on about patrol formation, dispersal, speaking with the locals to get a sense of the Taliban presence in Now Zad since the Paras had arrived in the spring where they had been fighting heavily with them.

    The men from A Squadron, SAS arrived in a relative lull in the fighting, where they were put to work training the Afghan policemen and doing a handover of responsibilities with the men from B Squadron, 23 SAS.

    This day, the Feast of Crispian would be the very first contact A Squadron, 21 SAS, would have with the enemy.

    Nace couldn’t help but briefly take a deep breath. Peacekeeping duties all over Africa with the South African National Defense Force working with the United Nations were a far cry from the full on sort of fight he was expecting. He could feel his mouth was dry as he hefted his rifle. Quietly he turned around and crossed himself.

    Please God don’t allow me to fail. May I do honor to my father and grandfather and the other generations before me. Nace thought. He turned around to regard his fellow troopers, British and Afghan alike. And knew at once to focus on what was at hand.

    No more thinking of the past or the future, just the present. He tugged back on the charging handle on the SA80 rifle and heard the bolt slam a round home into the chamber. He did the same for the 9mm Sig at his hip.

    He looked over the patrol and thought to himself. I might save their lives, they may save mine. I cannot fail them.

    He could hear his footsteps crunching the gravel of the base. Could feel the heat, the dry arid heat. Feeling the desert dust being flickered about by the light wind. Eyes moving, watching around the town.

    “Marketplace looks like its clearing out.” Mad Max remarked.

    “Right.” Angel said, “Stay on the alert lads.”

    Nace heard the metallic click, flicking the safety catch off of his SA80, scanning through its SUSAT telescopic sights around the market square then heard the first bang of rounds. Saw one of the Afghan policemen fall riddled with holes.

    “Contact front! Contact front!” Shouted Mad Max from the patrol front.

    All around Nace he could see members of the patrol taking cover behind whatever they could find. Nace ducked behind a junked car and fired several rounds. At near the rear of the formation he scanned behind him, hearing Mad Max and Sergeant Angel engaging the enemy to their front.

    He heard more fire from the sides of the patrol as Ajay and two of the Afghans returned fire on another group of Taliban trying to maneuver towards their formation.

    Nace noticed a fighter, wearing a pair of high top sneakers and pair of tracksuit bottoms and a grimy white t-shirt carrying his AK-47, trying to sneak towards Ajay and the others.

    Think you’re a clever sod do you? Nace thought, he knew now one thing with certainty. He was going to kill the man as he tracked him through the SUSAT sight and then he squeezed the trigger, sending four rounds in rapid succession that pierced the Taliban fighter’s chest, neck and head, just underneath the jaw line.

    Right then, a life just like his had ended and he had been responsible. All he felt was the recoil. That man was trying to kill me. But I got him first.

    Nace noticed a door out of the corner of his eye, “Building to the right.”

    Sergeant Angel noticed around the same time, “Max, Nace, break into that building, we can flank the sods that way.”

    Mad Max removed a couple explosive charges from Nace’s backpack and attached it to the metal door.

    “Fire in the hole! Fire in the hole! Fire in the hole!” On the third shout Nace pulled the igniter and a loud boom sent the door flying into the building.

    Trench clearing time. Nace thought as he flicked the SA80 safety to burst and moved to the right into the room and Mad Max hooking left as they scanned the room.

    "Clear!” Nace shouted and followed Mad Max into a second room of the building before he ran towards a staircase. Nace headed up the staircase first, with Mad Max behind him and a couple other Afghans.

    Sergeant Angel was next, along with Ajay. Ajay reached towards Nace to grab a couple more explosive charges. This was going to blast a hole through the wall, mouseholing to get to the next building to fight towards the enemy.

    Once again Nace shouted “Fire in the hole” three times before blowing a hole into the wall. Immediately on the other side of the hole were several Taliban fighters trying to run outside to take the fight to the British infidels. Mad Max immediately started firing, and so did two of the Afghan National Policemen nearest him, riddling the three Taliban fighters, to include one carrying a Rocket Propelled Grenade launcher.

    “Grenades! Watch out!” Mad Max shouted as he charged into the room with Nace on his heels as two Russian grenades rolled down the staircase near the building he had just breached a hole into.

    Nace and Mad Max jumped to the floor facing away from the grenades which rolled slightly past the two men before exploding, throwing shrapnel around. Nace briefly checked himself, no blood he could feel.

    Christ the King. Nace thought to himself as he pulled a pin from one of his own grenades and hurled it up the stairs. After a boom he heard a burst of gunfire from up the staircase. Both Mad Max and Nace hurled a grenade apiece up the stairs and then Mad Max used the 40mm grenade launcher underneath the barrel of his SA-80 before running up the stairs with Nace directly behind him.

    A Taliban fighter with an AK-47 lay dead at the top of the stairs, the grenade shrapnel having ripped wounds all over his body. Ajay and Sergeant Angel went in next, “To the roof.” Angel shouted.

    Nace noticed a wooden ladder that led to the building’s roof and slinging his rifle he drew his pistol and climbed the thing, hoping the ladder wasn’t going to break under his combined bodyweight and all his kit.

    He popped open the small wooden cover and scanned around 360 degrees before shouting, “Clear!”

    Ajay followed up the ladder followed by Sergeant Angel and Mad Max and several of the Afghans.

    “Right, we hold the rooftops. Ajay, get a hold of the operations room.” Angel replied, “Everyone else, make sure none of the sods get up this roof. We’ll strongpoint here.”

    That would mean that the SAS men and their Afghan allies would hold up at that roof until help arrived.

    Nace could hear Ajay on the radio to the operations room, “This is Alpha Zero One, we are at the rooftop of the second house on the south end of the square. We’ve got heavy enemy fire and…”

    Ajay ducked as rounds zipped by him, before he popped a 40mm grenade and a short burst across the market square at the opposing rooftop where he figured the shooting was coming from.

    Nace continued to scan for targets through his SUSAT scope, firing rounds. He noticed the Taliban fighters weren’t acting like the usual neighborhood riff raff who would hold their weapons out and fire off single long bursts to hope to hit British troops. No they were moving like trained soldiers, ducking in and out of cover, firing single shots or controlled, short bursts..

    Professionals this lot. Nace thought.

    More shooting, and not from the lads on the rooftops or the Taliban. These were coming from the British outpost’s rooftops. The men on the roof were returning fire with the sniper rifles and occasionally the machinegun if large groups of enemy presented themselves.

    Nace heard the pop of the UGL (underslung grenade launcher) from Mad Max’s rifle go off as he let fly with a 40mm grenade towards an alleyway where he’d seen some Taliban trying to flank around the building. Nace watched as some of the Afghan National Policemen fired back as well.

    He flicked the safety on the SA-80 back to single shot. No telling how long they were going to be marooned on this rooftop. He scanned through the SUSAT scope and noticed a fellow with an RPG trying to aim towards the roof.

    One of the ANP had seen him and started firing bursts from his AK at the man, causing the RPG gunner to backpedal, accidentally squeezing the trigger and sending the rocket flying upward at a forty-five degree angle into the sky where it exploded harmlessly.

    Wanker. Nace thought, firing a couple rounds back towards the gunner in case any of his mates decided to fire from that low wall atop the rooftop on the other end of the courtyard.

    “Need some help here.” Sergeant Angel said calmly over the radio as a round cracked past his head.

    More shooting, Nace turned and noticed a force of men from the Paras and other members of 4 Troop were moving towards the sound of gunfighting and now the Taliban were reacting to this next contact.

    A loud bang. Dirt and debris thrown into the air. An IED had exploded, severely wounding one of the Paras. His mates dragged him to safety and a torrent of gunfire was leveled toward the Paras.

    To their credit the Paras reacted exactly as airborne troops would in any such situation. With aggression. One group of Paras returned fire while a second group took over a second rooftop getting one of their machine guns atop it to establish a base of fire and a third group began trying to move on the Taliban positions nearby.

    The Taliban turned their guns on this new element. He could overhear Sergeant Angel talking to the reaction element.

    “Right,” Angel said, “Bravo One One, we see you moving.”

    Nace scanned through the SUSAT telescopic sight, firing towards the muzzle flashes he could see coming from near the windows of different buildings.

    The Paras’ movement had slowed. They had fought their way into the market’s northwest corner and could see the combined Afghan and British patrol, however they were also running into some drama of their own.

    Mortar bombs began exploding, but these were British mortar rounds. The Paras back at the outpost were firing from their mortar tubes, the rounds exploded onto the roofs that Sergeant Angel and the commander of the Para quick reaction force.

    The Taliban fire still didn’t die down much, if at all. There would be lulls only for the Taliban fighters to relocate to other buildings and fire back from alternate positions they had prepared the day before, having watched previous British patrols into the market.

    The sound of rotors could be heard and Nace glanced up in time to see a pair of Apache gunships flying towards Now Zad. He could hear Ajay on the radio with the Paras who had an air controller with them.

    Max was setting up a large orange VS-17 panel to prevent the helicopter crew from engaging the joint British and Afghan patrol. A second was set up near where the Paras were. The Apaches made a second pass, but this time they were firing the 30mm chain guns underneath their noses at targets the Para’s forward air controller was indicating.

    Ajay was also relaying other targets that he noticed, even exposing himself to potential danger to direct targets. Rounds zipped close by his head. Nace fired down that same direction the shots had come as well, noticing a couple tracer rounds, bullets with chemicals that burned bright to help direct fire for a shooter.

    Under this combined onslaught of direct fire the Taliban fighters began to move off, the fire began to die down.

    Soon the fire stopped all together. An eerie lull settled over the marketplace turned battlefield as Nace loaded another magazine into his rifle, noticing everyone else doing the same as he scanned over the battlefield.

    Nace could hear scattered talking on his own Personal Role Radio (PRR), the small radio set that each individual soldier had in order to talk to his mates.

    Reporting on the status of ammo, equipment, injuries if any. Mad Max was tending to wounds on one of the Afghan National Policemen before the patrol joined the platoon from the Paras and headed back to base.

    The wounded were being flown out by a helicopter, two British and three Afghan. Nace felt the adrenaline surge just wind down as he climbed to the rooftops where he and his mates were standing their vigil.

    Nace removed his helmet, looking out over the setting sun, drinking a bit of water before he disassembled his SA-80, cleaning it with an old toothbrush and a rag in one of his shirt pockets after sliding off his body armor.

    He looked inside the helmet and allowed himself a small smile despite the rough day, the picture being a window back into a better time. Then he glanced around at his mates, who were cleaning weapons that had just been fired before reassembling them.

    He today that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother. Be he ne’er so vile this day shall gentle his condition. Nace thought as the sun set.

    ---

    Terms:

    Squadron - Roughly sixty people

    Troop - Roughly sixteen people

    Brick - Four man patrol
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  16. London, England
    United Kingdom
    3 June 2007:

    “They’re playing our song.” Nace said with a smile, holding Evey’s hands in both of his as they sat at a table at a cozy little restaurant, one that Evey had favored. It had a bar and a small dance floor.

    She often said the small gastropub near the Thames had that warm 'hearthy' sort of air she liked.

    And they had a nice selection of music. Which was why Nace very discreetly contacted them before their arrival and asking if they had a certain song in their repertoire. He had smiled when he had learned this was so.

    The lyrics of Sting’s Fields of Gold began to play, “You’ll remember me. When the west wind moves. Upon the fields of barley. You’ll forget the sun. In his jealous sky. As we walk in fields of gold.”

    “You arranged for that, didn’t you?” Evey said.

    He could just tell by the little dimples at the corners of her mouth from her smile, the warmth he could see in her brown eyes and the light crinkle on her nose that she was delighted.

    In his mind he could hear an angelic chorus of the Seraphim and Cherubim in celebration. Seeing Evey smile like that always lit up his heart.

    “You know me entirely too well, fair lady.” Nace replied. His heart was doing the unmistakeable pitter patter that it did whenever Evey was pleased.

    “I’m touched.” Evey replied, there was the light sniffle as she said, "It's times like this where I wonder if you're too good to be true."

    “May I have this dance?” Nace asked.

    “I thought you’d never ask.” Evey replied as Nace led her to the dance floor, as they slow danced to the song.

    “You do realize this is the anniversary of our first date two years ago, right? And if I recall correctly it is the exact hour I kissed you in the downpour." Nace said, smiling.

    "I know you'll love the Star Trek reference but you definitely put Tholians to shame on punctuality and memory of dates." Evey said as they swayed to Sting's vocals.

    "So she took her love, for to gaze awhile. Upon the fields of barley. In his arms she fell, as her hair came down. Among the fields of gold."

    He could feel the softness of her hand with his own, and his other hand resting at the flair of Evey's hip.

    "To think we actually had a rather nasty fight the day this became our song." Nace replied.

    "I do remember a field of barley near where the car broke down. Though I do wonder if your brother in law intentionally put us on that case." Evey said.

    "I have tried asking Anthony. He is quite evasive about it." Nace replied.

    "I'm sure your military mind can come up with something." Evey remarked.

    "I'm not waterboarding my own brother in law." Nace joked.

    Evey smirked as well as winced with that remark, "That was not funny."

    You wanker. Nace thought. Remember Evey's parents? Victims of torture? Insensitive much?

    "I do see a slight smile." Nace replied, trying to inject a bit of humor into that but also apologizing, "And I recall someone wasn't too pleased with Anthony putting us on the same car to Dorset. But for what it's worth I'm sorry, for any unpleasant..."

    "It's alright." Evey said, "I do recall I had a few rather unpleasant things I wanted to do to your brother in law when he put us together on that case during that row."

    Nace felt a sharp pain from the memory that moment nine months ago, August 3, 2006. The night he feared he'd lost Evey forever. For two weeks they avoided each other at work and Evey had actually left their shared flat.

    "Honestly the bed of our flat felt too big without you." Nace replied.

    "Will you stay with me. Will you be my love. Among the fields of barley. We'll forget the sun in his jealous sky as we lie in fields of gold."

    Evey remembered that night too well as well. The entire two weeks of that row resulting from the manifestation of every woman who has ever loved a soldier's greatest fear. The fear of loss.

    Evey moved closer to him as they danced. "I cried on Ruth's sofa after I walked out that night, for almost three nights after that."

    Nace held her closer to him, feeling her heartbeat blend with his own, her head resting on his left shoulder. Dancing cheek to cheek now. Holding her close to him remembering how that song meant he would try his damndest never to hurt Evey like that again.

    "See the West Wind move, like a lover's soul. Among the fields of barley. Feel her body rise, when you kiss her mouth. Among the fields of gold." Sting crooned.

    Evey slid her head off of Nace's shoulder, sliding back a bit.

    Nace looked into the deep brown of his lover's eyes. Feeling her move closer. Angling his face slightly so their noses wouldn't bump.

    Their lips found one another, a light chaste kiss. But one speaking volumes. Two pairs of eyes closed as they held each other, simply swaying to the music.

    Parting and simply dancing again.

    Evey remarked, softly, "I can't believe it was a fight that made this our song."

    "God works in mysterious ways." Nace replied, "I do find this a lovely song."

    "Me too. And to think I thought that day in Dorset was Anthony being a meddlesome sod." Evey replied.

    "I recall this song played before we had the breakdown, and we were just getting somewhere." Nace began, "And I'm glad we were able to sort it out."

    "And it was then that your grandfather's cap badge poked me in bottom." Evey said, recalling how she had the brooch in her back pocket that day.

    "And I reminded you about the promise I made our last anniversary, where I gave it to you." Nace replied, "And I repeat, you mean far more to me than that winged dagger."

    "I never made promises lightly. And there have been some that I've broken. I swear in the days still left we'll walk in fields of gold. We'll walk in fields of gold."

    "And I repeat what I said that day, I won't ask you to give up something that's part of you. As much as it may scare me, I can't ask that of you." Evey said, "I love you enough to know that being in the SAS is you."

    "The fact that I have you at home inspires me to my best out there so I can come home safely to you." Nace replied, "You inspire me."

    Nace could see tears in Evey's eyes and gently brushed them away, "Really?"

    "Really." Nace said.

    "Remember that song was playing in the tow truck when I finally got signal." Evey said.

    "I distinctly recall holding hands while we rode to the garage." Nace replied, smiling about resolving that fight.

    "Many years have passed, since those summer days, among the fields of barley. See the children run as the sun goes down, among the fields of gold."

    It was that moment that Nace knew he wanted one thing. To ask Evey to marry him. If it was God's will that he had children it wouldn't feel right if she wasn't their mum.

    "Nace?" Evey asked.

    "Yeah." Nace replied.

    "What are you thinking?" Evey asked.

    "How this song just perfectly expresses how I feel about you." Nace replied, this was true.

    "It is lovely." Evey replied, "I used to think bit depressing but it grows on you. I do think it is our song."

    Part of Evey did think what it would be like to settle down and have a family. During the times she and Nace babysat his nieces Clementine and Katie she had wondered how she would be as a mother.

    She imagined what it would be like to walk through that same barley field with Nace as they would watch their children run through the field.

    "You'll remember me when the west wind moves upon the fields of barley. You can tell the sun in his jealous sky when we walked in fields of gold. When we walked in fields of gold. When we walked in fields of gold."

    The last notes of the song ended and Nace gently walked Evey, arm in arm, back to their table.

    "Happy anniversary, love." Nace said, as they sat at their table, enjoying a good meal and a pint of ale apiece.
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