Until the Nightfall

Ghost had always believed that he didn’t want or need anyone in his life. Too bad Soap didn’t stop to ask before worming his way first into Ghost’s unit and then under his skin. At first, Ghost accepted their friendship begrudgingly, but he warmed to the banter and awkward flirting soon enough.

Upon realizing their friendship had grown into something deeper and more serious, Ghost is left torn between duty and longing. With each mission, Ghost is reminded of all the things he can’t control, and it’s becoming clear that this – whatever it is – he has with Soap, just might be one of them.

Click here for Archive of Our Own.

Click here for Czech translation.

Wordcount: ~33 000

Disclaimer: This work of fiction contains adult themes and potentially triggering scenes including but not limited to following:

  • Depictions of violence or torture.
  • Mention of suicidal ideation.
  • Physical and psychological trauma.
  • Power imbalance.
  • Detailed depictions of gay sex.

Chapter 1

Leaning against the wall of the building, Soap felt the discomfort of damp clothes clinging to his skin. Bloody rain. Why did it always have to rain? Well, to be fair, it wasn’t raining on that last mission in Adal. A sandstorm was a not-so-nice change of pace. Soap exhaled, and the tiny raindrop clinging to the tip of his nose fell to his shemagh.

The sergeant froze as he heard a burst of lively laughter, followed by an unintelligible stream of drunken Russian from around the corner. Soap gripped his silenced pistol even tighter.

„Ghost, you copy?“ Soap whispered.

„I copy,“ the voice on the other side was gravelly and stone cold, with a distinctly British accent.

„I’ve spotted someone, eleven o’clock, around the corner.“

„Do you need my assistance?“ Ghost could have easily handled it; he had the Tango scoped already. But he didn’t want to impose. After all, there was a reason why MacTavish made it to the Task Force. Young as he may have been.

„Naw, just watch my six, Lt.,“ Soap assured him, though he didn’t really need to make the request. Honestly, he just wanted to hear Ghost’s voice to confirm that there was someone out there looking out for him.

„Always do, Johnny.“

Soap smiled, even though there wasn’t anyone to see it. He could think about the comment and the particularities of Ghost’s voice later. Approaching the very edge of the building, he hazarded a quick peek around the corner.

Just in time to see a short, almost bald man emerging from the unkempt old house to an even messier back alley. The way he walked betrayed severe drunkenness. Soap retreated. He heard a typical click of a lighter.

Knowing he couldn’t hope to remain undetected as the Russian was facing the end of the alley, Soap abandoned the original plan that had him sneaking inside. The man started smoking his cigarette, gazing at the steel-grey sky with low-hanging heavy clouds. Leaning further into the wall, Soap used his elbow as a stabiliser for his pistol. The shot had to be flawless; otherwise, the injured man might cause quite a ruckus.

Soap focused his attention on the target. The Russian was approximately fifteen meters away. It shouldn’t be a difficult shot. Still, Soap calmed his breathing and controlled it. He aimed, gently caressed the trigger, and pulled it.

The Russian swayed before toppling into the muddy ground, a bleeding hole marking the centre of his forehead.

„Seems like you helped him discover his third eye. Good job,“ quipped Ghost, ever the joker. Soap chuckled before cautiously stepping into the back alley. He surveyed his surroundings warily, his pistol trained on any movement.

Going around the body, he briefly looked at the cigarette, drowning in the dirty puddle, before carefully setting foot inside the house.

The mission has been relatively straightforward: gather the intel on the local terrorist cell. Laswell had a hunch they’d been in bed with Makarov and planning an attack in Europe. It should’ve been an easy win: Especially since they didn’t have to infiltrate a heavily guarded and fortified compound but a secluded, small village. That’s why they send just Soap and Ghost as his support.

Soap was making his way through the house, trying to ignore the strange smell of someone else’s home. He stepped into every room, making sure it was empty before proceeding. Most of the rooms were filled with trash or junk.

„Vanya!“ a woman’s voice called out from deeper in the house. Soap followed the sound, careful not to overlook any doors along the way. He had an inkling that „Vanya“ was currently resting outside in peace.

He found the woman at the end of the long hallway, in what seemed to be a living room. The telly was on, woman’s back to Soap. An AK-47 peered from behind the couch’s backrest. The sergeant aimed and swiftly shot her in the head. Looking around, he still didn’t see anything even remotely useful.

„Nothing so far. We sure this is the right house?“


„All right. I’ll check for the basement. These old houses usually have one.“

Soap found the entrance sooner than he thought. An old shoddy door just outside the kitchen. He yanked them open. And set off a flashbang. Temporarily blinded and disoriented, Soap grasped for something to stabilise himself but instead stumbled forward and off the short flight of stairs leading down into the underground.

The fall didn’t last long but was far from forgiving.

„Fuck,“ Soap groaned, lying sprawled on his back on the dusty floor.

„…Soap?…“ there was a lot of static, either caused by the fact he was underground or the radio suffered some damage during the fall.

„I’m fine. What kind of psycho booby-traps their own house like that?“ Soap complained, struggling to his feet. He wasn’t exactly fine; he had banged his head, and his left shin throbbed with residual pain from hitting the step’s edge. His left ring finger was less than happy, too, possibly broken. Soap preferred ring finger to middle one. Wouldn’t want to lose the capacity for a double flip-off.

„You won’t be fine for long if you stay there. I’ve heard the bang all the way here.“

„Aw, I knew you cared,“ Soap smiled, not missing a chance to jab at Ghost. Looking around the floor, he found his pistol, grateful the fall didn’t set it off. „I think I might be onto something here, gimme a few minutes.“

„You know what a MacTavish and a yappy pocket dog have in common?“

„Dinnae ken, dinnae want ta.“ Soap looked around. There wasn’t much besides shelves filled with pickled vegetables and jams. However, his gaze fell upon a rusty door on the opposite wall.

„Neither knows when to let go of a bone.“

„Hilarious, you should’ve been a stand-up comedian, Ghost,“ Soap replied dryly, thinking about the chances of the next door being boobie-trapped as well.

There was some commotion going on upstairs. Time was running out, and Soap didn’t have the luxury of weighing his options. Pushing the door open – luckily free of grenades or stringed shotguns- he entered a smaller, better-maintained room. He literally stumbled upon the base of operation.

„Jackpot Soap grinned as he proceeded to photograph documents, maps, and photos strewn across several desks. And finally, there it was—a laptop. Typically, he would copy the drive and leave it to avoid revealing the true objective of their mission. However, he didn’t have time for that now, so he j took the laptop and tucked it under his tac-vest.

„Sergeant!“ Ghost didn’t sound amused. Not exactly angry, but definitely concerned.

„I’ve got it, retreating now.“

Soap left the building the same way he first came in – by the back door. Going on the main street seemed too risky even before he probably set the whole village on high alert. What he found just outside, however, made him pause. He stared at the slaughter. There were about ten bodies littered across the alleyway. Most of them had holes in their head, and some of them had multiple holes elsewhere.

Soap felt his throat go dry. Not only due to the sheer amount of death before his eyes but mainly because he realised that without Ghost watching his back, all of these fuckers would pin him in the basement with no way out. But Ghost was out there, and he was watching out for him. Always.

Stepping over the corpses, Soap made his way toward another alley that would bring him closer to their extraction point. As he rounded the corner, he heard a distinct click behind him. It could have been anything, but a highly trained soldier like Soap recognised the sound of a gun’s safety being disengaged. Turning around, he had his pistol in hand, ready to shoot, acutely aware of his disadvantage.

His eyes locked with the eyes of a woman, her AK-47 trained on Soap. That was all he could register before Ghost intervened. The woman’s eyes widened in surprise as her blood splattered on the wall beside her.

„Target neutralised,“ chimed in Ghost quietly and calmly.

„Thanks,“ Soap nodded, acknowledging the assistance, and gestured in Ghost’s general direction.

„You’ve got two incoming, two o’clock,“ Ghost informed him. Soap squeezed into a nearby doorway and waited. When the first target, a tall and lanky man, came within range, Soap took a knife and stabbed the man in the ribs quickly and repeatedly before holding up his limp body as a shield and taking a shot at the second Tango.

„Get out of there, Johnny, you’ve got multiple hostiles incoming,“ Ghost could’ve been as well his guardian angel, feeding him information to keep him safe. He was very sure Ghost wouldn’t appreciate the comparison. „There’s a dead end to your left. Find cover and stay there for a bit.“

„In a dead end?“ Soap asked, only slightly dubious of Ghost’s plan, but he followed the instructions nonetheless.

„Ye of little faith,“ Ghost answered neutrally. A heartbeat later, Soap heard the unmistakable sound of a human body hitting mud on the ground. Then another.

„Clear, go on. I’m going to lose the visual, Johnny. Proceed with caution to the RVP.“

„Roger that, Lt., caution is my middle name,“ Soap chuckled at his own joke. Once he got into the denser, narrower side streets, he could swear he felt the absence of Ghost’s eyes on his back.

„What’s your status, sergeant?“ Ghost’s voice sounded slightly breathless, indicating he had either been running or got into CQB. Soap surveyed his surroundings, comparing the buildings with a map he had memorised.

„Approximately three hundred meters to the edge of the village. Would be faster if I could sprint over the square,“ Soap replied, considering the quickest route.

„Sure, if you mean to sprint into your grave. Go around.“

„Alright, better not wait for me with the dinner, then, darling.“

„Wouldn’t dream of it,“ Ghost deadpanned.

Soap then embarked on a scenic route of a piss-poor Russian backwater village. He was making slow but steady progress. There were hostiles, sure. Soap did take care to either kill them quickly and quietly or hide or sneak past them.

It all went fine, all things considered. Until he risked a glance over his shoulder, and upon turning back, he found himself face-to-face with a kid. The boy couldn’t have been more than ten, and his dark brown eyes and dishevelled mop of blonde hair reminded Soap of someone. The boy stared at Soap, visibly surprised, his gaze fixating on the soldier’s gear and the pistol in his hand. Soap inwardly cursed, holstered his gun, and raised his hands to make it clear he meant no harm. He also forced a smile.

The boy came closer, apparently curious. Soap let him. It might be fine, he thought; as long as the kid didn’t scream, everything was fine, under control. However, at that moment, the boy’s eyes focused on the Union Jack on Soap’s Tac-vest and made a decidedly easy math between the commotion on the other side of the village and an armed man he’s never seen before.

The moment the kid opened his mouth, Soap lunged forward, clamping his hand over the boy’s mouth while blocking his nose at the same time. He held the boy securely but gently against his chest until he felt the smaller body relax. Checking for vital signs to ensure the boy had only fainted, Soap carefully laid him on the steps beneath a sheltering roof.

Fortunately, Soap was nearing the outskirts of the village at that point. The opening of the alleyway was already visible before him. He paid close attention to the sounds around him—the rain hitting rooftops, barrels, and scrap metal, the squelching of mud beneath his boots, and distant shouts, likely originating from the direction of his earlier encounter with the flashbang. Soap cautiously stepped out from the relative safety of the alley. The path before him seemed clear.

In the next instant, the world turned upside down. Soap found himself on his back, gazing up at the cold, grey sky above. Breathing became a struggle. His attempts came out as wheezing, shallow gasps. Pain enveloped him, agonising and all-encompassing. Two seconds later, his training instinctively kicked in, allowing his breathing to regain some stability.

Suddenly, a double-barrel shotgun was pressed against his face. He could only guess he got shot by it. Point-black range, no less. If not for his body armour, he would undoubtedly be dead by now. There was still some damage despite the protection. Some cracked ribs, or broken, if he was unlucky.

Soap focused beyond the weapon. The man who ambushed him was big, bald, stocky and mean-looking. Still not as big or menacing as Ghost, Soap thought belatedly. He was still shaken and dazed.

„Soap, status,“ Ghost in his ear. He must’ve heard the gunshot. Soap made an attempt to raise a hand in which he held the pistol. A heavy boot belonging to a heavier man stopped him before he could do something, stepping on his wrist and forcing him to let go of the weapon. Soap gasped in pain.

„Status!“ Ghost insisted. The Tango standing above Soap took the shotgun and turned it around. The man said something in Russian, Soap didn’t understand a single word. The last thing he heard before receiving a butt-stroke to his head was Ghost’s voice urgently calling out his name.

Chapter 2

A bucketful of near-freezing water jolted Soap out of his relatively peaceful state of unconsciousness. He jerked involuntarily, registering several things at once. His chest got a proper beating. Not only did it hurt, but there was also an unfamiliar burning sensation. Glancing down, Soap discovered that his gear and t-shirt had been stripped away. The cause of the pain and the burning stared him right in the face as he observed bloody smudges around his shoulders and collarbones where the pellets had struck, finding vulnerable areas where his body armour couldn’t protect him. Next up: his wrists. The right one that he got stepped on still hurt, although the ache was dull. He was, however, bound right now with plastic ties biting into his skin. His head hurt real bad, too. He could be concussed. Probably was.

„Fuuuck,“ Soap groaned at length, hoping to ease the pain through words alone.

„Good morning,“ someone greeted him, promptly delivering a powerful blow to his jaw. Soap choked on a mixture of blood and water, coughing forcefully for a few seconds. The man wasn’t finished: „I hope you’re feeling talkative because I have plenty of questions.“

„We gonna play Bingo?“ Soap glanced up at his captor, recognising him as their secondary target: Igor Galkin, a former GRU operative who had assumed command of this particular terrorist cell. They had been authorised to eliminate him upon identification, but gathering intelligence took precedence.

„Yeah, exactly, only instead of a marker, I’ll be using this,“ he took out a knife. Soap’s knife.

„Dinnae have yer own toys?“ Soap said, irritated to see his equipment in the hands of the enemy.

„I do, but I was thinking that your buddies might appreciate it if they find you gutted by your own knife,“ Galkin’s smile was sickeningly sweet.

„Generous of you to assume I have buddies,“ Soap smirked, even if he was only partly joking.

„I know of at least one—the sniper. We found the car you probably wanted to use to escape. It’s only a matter of time before we locate your friend. Once we do, we’ll bring him here, and you can watch him die. Or perhaps he can watch you. I haven’t decided yet,“ Galkin taunted.

Soap started to laugh. An honest outburst that hurt like hell, but he couldn’t help it. „Yer not gonna find ‘im. He’s gonna find you, and if you do see ‘im, it’s gonna be the last thing you ever see.“

Despite his imposing size, Galkin moved swiftly. Soap only registered his presence when he was too close, just moments before he tightened his grip on the knife and stabbed Soap in the thigh. The sergeant didn’t even try to suppress the cry of pain. Tears welled up in his eyes, but he didn’t care because, oh God, the pain was excruciating.

„Enough small talk. Who are you?“ Galkin’s icy gaze bore into Soap’s eyes.

„Your mum,“ Soap sneered, ever defiant.

Galking grabbed the knife, still buried in Soap’s leg, and twisted it, eliciting a gut-wrenching howl from Soap. The pain was unbearable, constricting his throat and making it difficult to breathe.

„Let’s try this again,“ Galkin said as he pulled the knife out forcefully. Soap’s jeans were soaked with water as it was, so the blood stain was only slowly growing.

„SAS,“ Soap managed to say. It was a calculated choice, even as much as uttering „Task Force“ would probably get him killed quickly.

„SAS? What the hell do you want with me?“ Galkin looked truly confused for a second or two. Soap was simply glad for a short time-out. Apart from obvious injuries, the room was also freezing. Soap, barefoot and soaked, was starting to feel the biting chill seeping into his bones.

„We wanted you,“ Soap lied. Well, not really, but it was a half-truth at best.

„Bullshit. If that were true, you wouldn’t try to sneak away with this,“ he nodded to the laptop, now sitting on a table in the corner. Soap noticed the ruined chassis. His body armour apparently wasn’t the only thing that protected him from most of the pellets. Soap could only hope that Laswell and her people could still dig something up from it.

Galking stalked closer to Soap, who struggled in vain to escape, only feeling the plastic ties digging deeper into his wrists. The Russian seized the knife and pressed it against Soap’s throat this time. The Sergeant froze, fully aware of its sharpness. He had sharpened it himself just before the mission.

„One more lie and I’ll gut you, boy,“ Galking threatened, stepping back. Soap wished for Simon to hurry the fuck up. „So, again. What were you after?“

„Information. Plans. For the attack in Europe,“ Soap replied, his breath visible in the cold room.

„Good, now we’re getting somewhere. How do you know about it?“

„I don’t know. We only got the mission brief; it’s a need-to-know basis,“ Soap admitted truthfully. He was bloody cold now. His teeth started to chatter.

Galkin wasn’t happy with Soap’s answer. He didn’t even say anything before going up again and stabbing Soap’s other leg in the same brutal manner as before.

„I’ll batter ye, ya bawheid!“ Soap spat out, his accent thick.

„Calm down, we’ve only just begun,“ Galking taunted, a smile playing on his lips. Soap glared back at him with all the fury he could muster.

Just as the Russian went on to ask another question, or perhaps to, yet again, repeat the previous one, an explosion shook the building. There was a crack in the wall opposite to Soap. The painting crumbled some more. The explosion wasn’t in the building, but it was close enough. Soap savoured the sound and the tremor like a favourite song. Galking looked around before grabbing a radio and barking out several orders in Russian. His attention momentarily diverted from Soap.

Seizing the opportunity, Soap rocked back on the chair, toppling over with it. The wood didn’t break, but at least he managed to free his legs. He wasn’t sure how much use they would be, but he was about to find out. Fortunately, Galkin didn’t want him to meet his demise too quickly, ensuring he avoided hitting any major arteries.

Alerted by the noise, the Russian quickly turned his head, realising Soap was charging at him. It was an uneven fight. Soap was wounded, his hands still bound to the chair, barefoot, and, of course, unarmed. On the other hand, Galkin loomed larger, stronger, unharmed, and armed.

The Sergeant skillfully dodged the knife, delivering a powerful strike to Galking’s groin with one of the chair’s legs. The Russian groaned and instinctively grabbed his cargo pants in a belated attempt to protect himself.

Then, with a resounding crash, the room’s door swung open, colliding with the wall. Standing in the doorway was Ghost, his towering presence filling the frame. He looked pissed. No, Soap corrected himself; he looked fucking furious. His shoulders tense, his eyes cold, hard and unforgiving. There was also a concerning amount of blood on him, while the man didn’t seem to be injured.

„I hope I’m not interrupting,“ Ghost growled, dark and low, as he assessed the situation. His Sergeant was bound to a chair with a knife stuck in his leg, and then the big Russian standing close to Soap, undoubtedly planning Soap’s quick but painful demise.

Ghost raised his arm, and it was then that Soap noticed what he was holding. It wasn’t a gun or even a knife—it was an axe. A rusted, old axe that Ghost must have found somewhere in the village. He was about to go full medieval on Galkin.

Galking made a desperate move for the gun holstered at his thigh. But Ghost was quicker, as Soap expected. Of course, he would be. He was the Ghost, the Spectre. There was no chance he wouldn’t be faster. Galking dropped to the ground with a heavy thud, the axe embedded in his chest.

Soap blinked several times, trying to process the surreal sight. After taking it all in, he sank back into the chair with a groan. Now that his life was no longer in immediate danger, the adrenaline subsided, and the pain in his body surged once more.

„Sitrep, Johnny,“ Ghost requested, kneeling beside the chair. He began cutting the plastic ties, carefully inspecting Soap’s wrists and fingers for any signs of serious injury.

„The laptop’s over there, a bit banged,“ Soap nodded to the table, „I’ve got some pellets in the chest, could fashion a nice necklace out of them. Probably some cracked ribs too. Head’s all messed up, and then there’s this,“ Soap gestured toward his wounded legs.

„Didn’t hit an artery, did he?“ Ghost inquired calmly, focused on assessing the severity of Soap’s wounds.

„Naw, he wanted a committed relationship,“ Soap smirked, attempting to maintain a brave facade.

„Alright. This has to go,“ Ghost stated, eyeing the knife embedded in Soap’s leg.

„No shit, Sherlock,“ Soap replied, trying another smile but was rudely interrupted as Ghost swiftly grabbed the knife and pulled it out in one motion. The ensuing string of sounds and insults from Soap was far from coherent.

Ghost raised an eyebrow, or at least Soap assumed he did; it was often hard to discern under Ghost’s mask.

„Can you walk?“ Ghost inquired while retrieving the medical kit and beginning to bandage Soap’s legs. The rest of his injuries either didn’t appear as severe or were simply beyond their limited medical equipment.

„I think so,“ Soap nodded, waiting for Ghost to finish the dressing before he tried to stand up. He managed to get to his feet, but his knees wobbled. Ghost moved to support him, but Soap raised a hand to decline the assistance.

„It’s fine. I’m alright,“ Soap assured him, despite both of them knowing he was lying.

„You and I clearly have a very different definition of ‚fine,‘ MacTavish,“ Ghost remarked, as dry as ever.

„So what’s your suggestion?“ Soap inquired, observing as his lieutenant packed the accursed laptop into his backpack.

„I could carry you,“ Ghost shrugged, and given his stature, the gesture seemed oddly out of place.

„In your dreams, Lt.,“ Soap retorted, giving him the middle finger. If he were to agree, he would never hear the end of it. „Do you have any stim packs?“

„I do, but you’re not getting any,“ Ghost replied, straightening up and slinging the backpack over his shoulder. „You said it yourself, Johnny: your ribs are busted, your head is messed up, and we’re not in immediate danger. I’m not risking you having a seizure.“

Soap listened to Ghost’s reasoning, and although he had the urge to object, he refrained. Ghost was his commanding officer, and his argument made sense. Soap located his clothes and gear in the corner, painstakingly and methodically putting everything back on. Each moment was agonising. The cold, damp clothes startled him momentarily, and tying his shoes proved to be a lengthy process.

Once both of them were standing upright again, Ghost positioned himself next to Soap and, without uttering a single word, guided Soap’s hand to rest on his own neck while placing his other hand on Soap’s waist.

„Take my gun. If you see any movement, you shoot, understood?“ Soap nodded, reaching around Ghost to retrieve the gun from its holster.

They limped through the village that seemed almost deserted. Soap caught glimpses of faces behind windows, but they vanished the moment he focused his gaze in their direction. After a while, Soap began to relax slightly.

„Do ye ken what trees and terrorists have in common?“

„What?“ Ghost replied, casting a sidelong glance at him. He liked to tease Soap about his accent. Liked to pretend he didn’t understand him. It could be challenging at times, especially when Johnny had a few drinks too many, but he usually got the gist of it.

„They both die if you hit them with an axe,“ Soap delivered with a weak grin.

Ghost huffed out a sound between a snort and a groan. „You learn fast, Johnny.“

„Aye, Ah was trained by the best. British Intelligence,“ Soap chuckles.

„Tell me you’re not quoting The Rock on me, Johnny, or I swear to God I’m gonna leave you here.“

„I wouldn’t dare, Lt.,“ Soap said but the tone of his voice said otherwise.

„Good,“ Ghost grunted as the conversation died. At least for a little while before Soap spoke again. Softer this time: „Simon?“

„Hm?“ Ghost glanced at him briefly, hoping he hadn’t underestimated the severity of Soap’s injuries. Soap liked to push boundaries, but Ghost’s name was reserved for serious talk only.

„Thank you. For coming back for me.“ There was something honest and unguarded in Johnny’s eyes.

„Told you I’ve got your six, Johnny. Always,“ Ghost averted his eyes. „Let’s get out of here.“

„Yes, sir.“

Chapter 3

Ghost got Soap to medical as soon as they landed. The Sergeant was drowsy by then, barely conscious. Ghost had to let him fend for himself. There was nothing he could do for Soap once he was in the care of doctors, and Ghost was needed elsewhere. Before leaving, however, Ghost checked up with the doctors about the extent of Soap’s injuries. The worry alleviated as he was told that Soap had a few weeks of recovery ahead of him, yet all things considered, he was very lucky.

The Lieutenant had a debriefing awaiting him, one that he dreaded, considering how far off the mission veered off-course.

As Ghost entered Price’s office, he was met with a stern gaze from behind the desk, where the Captain sat. Standing at attention, Ghost remained motionless, his ever-present mask hiding any emotions that might betray him.

„Bloody hell, Simon, it should’ve been a routine mission, a simple information retrieval without bloodshed. Yet you managed to decimate half the village, bring down at least one building, and Soap is lucky to be alive. Do you have trouble comprehending orders, Lieutenant?“ Price pinched the base of his nose, his frustration evident.

„No, sir,“ Ghost said, carefully neutral.

„What happened, then?“ Price furrowed his brow, reclining in his chair as he scrutinised Ghost with his gaze.

Ghost licked his lips, a subtle gesture hidden beneath his balaclava. He would much rather let Soap recount the events. Not because he hoped to slither through the responsibility but because Soap usually did the briefing. He was much more talkative, more articulate, and warmer all around. If only he weren’t in the hospital.

„The initial phase of the mission went according to the plan. Soap on the ground while I covered him from a distance and maintained situational awareness. The Sergeant managed to enter the Alpha Site. While looking for the primary target, we were forced to adjust the mission plan due to unforeseen circumstances, but we came through, sir.“ Ghost never once implied that it was Soap who blew the cover. If their roles were reversed, Ghost would’ve checked the basement door for traps, but only because he had much more experience. The Lieutenant was sure that Soap would never not check another door in his life.

Price mumbled something unintelligible before locking eyes with Ghost: „You’re lucky you did come through. Even luckier that Laswell and her people managed to get what they needed from the piece of junk you’ve brought back. Kate asked me to tell you not to use important assets as body armour next time. Now, how’s Soap?“ The Captain shifted the conversation, well aware of Soap’s condition. It was part of his duty to be informed, even if he didn’t care, which he did. No, he had an entirely different reason for asking. His gaze trained no Ghost while maintaining a casual expression as not to tip him off.

„He’s had an emergency blood transfusion, and the surgery is planned to remove the shotgun pellets. He’s concussed with some badly bruised ribs. Nothing’s broken, so he should be fine within a few weeks. I fully expect that he will be insufferable after two weeks at most,“ Ghost provided a thorough update.

Price regarded him with a troubled expression, which unsettled Ghost. He had seen that look on a few occasions before, and it never bore good news.

„Sir?“ the Lieutenant asked, fully aware of the danger the question posed. He was eager to leave, preferably five minutes ago.

„Simon,“ Price began, pausing to choose his words carefully. The tone of his voice seemed more fitting for a conversation with a child rather than one of the most dangerous men in the British army. „You have no idea about the trouble you’re in, do you?“

Ghost furrowed his brow, tilting his head slightly.

„You truly don’t. Dismissed, I suggest you take some time to reflect on the amount of detail you gave me on the mission compared to the detail you gave me on Soap’s condition.“

Ghost lingered for a few seconds too long, caught in the realisation like a deer caught in headlights.

Ghost went to his room. The privacy his rank and allegiance with Task Force 141 afforded him one of the few luxuries his life held. Normally, the silence and solitude were a welcome respite, but now they felt almost suffocating. He was left alone with his thoughts, haunted by Price’s penetrating gaze and the weight of his words.

Sitting on the edge of the bed, Ghost removed his gloves, tossing them onto the bedspread. Simon stared at his hands, pale skin marred by scars and calluses. These hands were the tools of his trade, in a way. In the same way, he himself was nothing more than a weapon. Some days, he was barely even feeling human anymore, the result of years and years of careful distancing and meticulously maintained isolation. But at that moment, he felt undeniably human, and the sensation was unwelcome, unfamiliar, and confusing.

He thought these things would stay away as long as the balaclava stayed on. Judgemental looks, unsolicited opinions, uncertainty, emotions, and feelings. He found solace behind his mask, shielded by the layers of clothing that acted as his armour. Until Price called him out on his bullshit, and everything came crashing down.

Price told him he was in trouble; if anything, Ghost found it to be a gross understatement. He was, in fact, in deep shit. He also felt phenomenally stupid for not noticing it himself and much sooner. Soap. Johny. Ghost closed his eyes, clenching his fists so hard it would’ve drawn blood if his nails weren’t as shortly clipped as they were. This was all wrong. Ghost was Soap’s commanding officer. His colleague. A brother in arms, if he were to be slightly more sentimental.

His mind wandered back to a conversation they had shared amidst the rain-soaked and blood-stained streets of Las Almas. Johnny was wounded, alone and somewhat clueless in a city swarming with hostiles. Ghost couldn’t abandon him even back then when they served only a few missions together. Instead, he helped him find the way through the dark streets and enemy patrols. Every minute spent helping Soap lowered his own odds at survival, yet he maintained the radio contact, telling Soap bad army jokes to keep his mind off the looming death. Ghost could hear Soap’s laboured breathing, indicating that his injuries were worse than initially reported. If Ghost truly possessed the cold heart he claimed, he would have left Soap to die, weighing the odds and deciding they were not in Johnny’s favour. Ghost told Soap the friendship was not in a field manual. Should’ve heeded his own fuckin‘ advice. With Johnny, however, he never could, and now he was paying the price. Over and over.

He didn’t abandon Soap in Las Almas, and he didn’t leave him in Russia either. Ghost knew he could try to justify his actions by citing the importance of salvaging the mission and retrieving the laptop, but deep down, he knew the truth. He had come back for Johnny. As they hobbled through the village to the extraction point, Ghost wished he didn’t kill Galkin so quickly. He would’ve liked to take his time with the Russian, just the two of them and Soap’s knife. Ghost was no stranger to revenge; this still caught him off-guard.

He berated himself for being a bloody hypocrite. Ghost, Johnny, this whole mess was all becoming too much to bear. Frustrated, he forcefully pulled off his balaclava. What good it was, anyway, if it didn’t protect him like it was supposed to? Simon couldn’t hope to hide, especially not from Soap. Bloody Scot would sniff him out, no matter how hard he tried to hide. It was a good thing Soap had no clue about what was going on in Ghost’s head. If he did, he would laugh so hard. Hell, Ghost wanted to laugh at himself, too, for being such an idiot. For months he did all he could to invite this disaster right at his doorstep.

The stolen glances, the unprofessional banter during missions, allowing Soap to casually touch him whenever he pleased—it had to stop. Ghost needed distance to regain control of the situation. He had naively believed that things could easily return to normal with a little self-discipline. But he should have known better.

The following week proved to be relatively uneventful. Soap was on medical leave and, therefore, very easy to avoid, especially since Ghost took to train some recruits. Price and Gaz left for a follow-up mission in Germany after Laswell recovered the necessary intel from the laptop Ghost and Soap retrieved.

During this time, Ghost solidified his decision, even doubling down on it. When Price offered him a position in TF141, Ghost hesitated to accept. Having worked alone for so long, he wasn’t certain if he could reintegrate into a team dynamic, let alone assume the command. Getting too close to someone in the squad has been the least of his worries back then. No, he feared he might become too cold and revert to his lone-wolf mentality. Now, he had a newfound responsibility not only to the mission but also to those under his command. Any compromise on his part would inevitably place his soldiers in jeopardy.

As Ghost settled back into his role, slipping back into the persona of Ghost instead of Simon, he found it less comfortable than it had once been. The months spent alongside Soap had softened him.

As Price and Gaz returned only a few days later, they called for a celebratory drink. Despite the mission deviating from the initial plan, they had successfully located and dismantled the terrorist cell in Berlin, striking at its very core. All thanks to the intel Ghost and Soap got.

141 sat at the bar near the base, which they started to frequent after returning from Chicago. It had taken Price several weeks of cajoling to convince Ghost to join them, assuring him that he only had to show up once and could leave whenever he wanted. Since then, Ghost had become a regular presence at their drinking meet-ups, though he typically remained quiet, just sitting in the corner and sipping his bourbon. He would jokingly claim that his main motivation for attending was Price’s tradition of buying the first round. It was a thinly veiled lie that everyone saw through, yet no one dared to call him out on it.

As Price and Gaz raised their glasses, clinking them together in a toast to a job well done, they took hearty gulps of their Guinness, Ghost raised his glass wordlessly, uncovering his face up to his nose so he could take a drink.

Soap arrived at the bar only a few minutes later, and Ghost’s attention immediately gravitated towards him. The Sergeant looked much better compared to the last time he had seen him. There was still a slight limp as he favoured his right leg; other than that, he looked fine. Soon enough, he joined them at the bar, sitting between Gaz and Ghost. Soap glanced at their drinks.

„You’re quite the poser, aren’t you?“ Soap teased, gesturing towards Ghost’s beverage choice, before ordering a beer for himself.

„It’s an acquired taste, Johnny. Maybe one day you’ll be old enough to appreciate it,“ Ghost deadpanned, taking a sip of his drink.

Soap, seizing the opportunity to involve Gaz and Price, turned to them with a mischievous expression. „You know, I have this theory,“ he began, leaning in as if sharing a secret. „I think Ghost is secretly a huge snob.“ Both Gaz and Price gave him an incredulous look, prompting Soap to continue, „Just think about it! Those headphones he’s always wearing? I bet he’s listening to something… What kind of pretentious classical stuff do you think he’s into?“ Soap looked at them expectantly.

And to Ghost’s annoyance, Gaz and Price decided to play along.

„Bach? Or Beethoven?“ suggested Gaz, glancing at Ghost as to gather the level of his annoyance on a scale of inert-murderous.

„Rachmaninov,“ said Price without hesitation.

„Ah, I love that. The melancholic piano with a touch of existential dread. Very Ghost,“ Soap remarked, grinning.

Ghost’s response was measured and silent, but a small smile played on his lips. „Don’t pretend you know anything about musical instruments other than bagpipes, MacTavish.“

„Oi! Away an bile yer heid!“ Soap spat out. He always got frustrated when someone teased him about being Scottish, which was what made it so easy and rewarding.

„Apparently, English isn’t your strong suit either,“ Ghost chuckled.

„Touché,“ quipped Gaz, setting down an empty glass and asking for another with a gesture to the bartender.

Soap, taking it as a challenge, graced his squadmates with some more sophisticated Spanish insults he had recently learner. He had picked up some basic Spanish in Mexico and, upon their return, asked for proper lectures. The request has been approved, as it was deemed a useful skill for soldier to have.

Seeing as both Price and Gaz looked at him with visible confusion, Soap grinned triumphantly.

„You’ve gotten better,“ Ghost said quietly behind Soap’s back. And in Spanish. Oh, right, Soap remembered. The Lieutenant knew the language, though Soap had no idea to what extent. Ghost didn’t want people to know.

„I’ve been told back in the day that I’m good with languages. I mean, I have to be to talk to you wankers,“ Soap replied, keeping his voice low. He was aware that they were sitting in a bar full of Brits, and he didn’t want his next beer to be spit-flavoured.

„Well, your Spanish is going to come in handy on your next deployment,“ Price remarked without going into any more detail.

Chapter 4

They gathered in Price’s office a week later for a pre-mission debrief. Soap couldn’t keep still. Gaz shot him a look, but it went unnoticed. Ghost, growing impatient, couldn’t hold back any longer and growled at Soap: „Get a grip, Sergeant, or you’re gonna get tied to a chair. Again.“

Gaz snorted at the threat. Soap looked at his Lieutenant with a mixture of shock and a hint of hurt, but he quickly composed himself and stopped fidgeting. Price, who had been observing the exchange, let it slide and spoke up.

„Well, now that you’re all here, I won’t keep you in suspense,“ Price said, pulling out a map, laying it on his table.

„Colombia, huh?“ Gaz read aloud, taking note of the title in the corner. „Sounds like fun.“

Soap’s face lit up with a grin as he realized the significance of their previous conversation about his Spanish. „Now I get what you meant about the Spanish being useful, sir.“

Ghost said nothing, waiting for Price to provide more details about the actual mission. The Captain then took a few folders, opened them on the first page with some general info, clipped photos, and placed them on the table for everyone to read.

It turned out to be a weapon smuggling ring, not the largest or most troublesome, but it still fell within their expertise. Ghost skimmed through the pages, realising that this mission was relatively low-key compared to their recent treasure hunt for the bloody missiles.

Gaz noticed it, too, as he spoke next: „So, what’s the angle? Why this? Why now?“

Price smiled, „You’re gonna like this. We’re cleaning up American mess.“

Ghost, not missing a beat, remarked, „Sounds familiar. Should get on their payroll as a bloody cleaning lady by now.“

„Not another case of „misplaced missiles“, is it?“ Soap groaned.

„No, nothing that big, if the intel holds up. It’s quite amusing, actually. This smuggling ring, led by Diego Mendez,“ he pointed out the name in one of the folders, „they’re a step above amateurs, but somehow managed to get their hands on a whole shipment of US Army goods: weapons, vehicles, gear. While none of it poses a significant security risk, it would be highly embarrassing for the brass if those items were to fall into the hands of more prolific terrorist groups. So, your task is to locate Mendez and persuade him to tell you where the shipment is.“

Ghost took one of the folders and skimmed through it. „There’s not much to go on by, sir.“ He wasn’t even sure how they were supposed to find Mendez.

Price nodded. „That’s why I’ve pulled some strings and arranged for local assistance,“ he said, producing yet another folder. „Once you arrive, your point of contact will be Captain Enrique Herrera of the Colombian army. He’s not special forces, so go easy on him. Herrera should provide you with any relevant intel the Colombians have on Mendez and his operation, and he can also offer some backup if needed. You’re leaving tomorrow at 0500. Any questions?“

„No sir,“ Ghost answered, loud and clear. Neither of the Sergeants didn’t dispute it.

The flight to Colombia was very long and even more uncomfortable. Army planes weren’t exactly known for comfortable seats or friendly service, and they were so noisy that no one would be keen to strike up a conversation. Well, no one except for Soap. Just as Ghost had predicted, after two and a half weeks on medical leave, Soap was a proper pain in the ass. He tried his best to engage Ghost in conversation, but Ghost played it off, pretending to be reading a book to get rid of the Scotsman.

Thankfully, it worked, and Soap shifted his attention to Gaz. But even Soap’s endless repertoire of rubbish to talk about eventually ran dry. So, he pulled out a notebook and a pencil case from his duffel bag and started sketching away.

Ghost lifted his gaze from the book, taking a moment to look at Soap. They were all aware of his hobby by now, yet Ghost couldn’t help but be mildly surprised each time. Who would’ve thought that Johnny had a talent for art? Drawing and killing, quite a combination. Then again, most folks wouldn’t think of Ghost as an avid reader either, especially not someone delving into anything more sophisticated than tactical maps, dossiers, and reports. It made Ghost wonder what other surprises Johnny had up his sleeve.

Ghost hesitated, realising that he should stop calling him Johnny. He couldn’t even recall when or why he started using the nickname in the first place. Fortunately, there were plenty of alternatives: Soap, MacTavish, Sergeant. It was just a matter of getting used to it.

After enduring hours of constant engine noise and sporadic turbulence, they finally landed and disembarked the plane. The air outside was hot and humid, everyone’s favourite combination.

„Bloody hell, I thought British weather was shite,“ Ghost muttered under his breath, the words barely audible. However, a heavy hand suddenly landed on his shoulder, causing him to freeze.

„You know, if you took off that mask, you’d feel a lot better,“ Soap smirked.

„You know what would make me feel better, MacTavish? Giving you a good thrashing,“ Ghost shrugged off Soap’s hand and stepped away. Soap hesitated, realising that Ghost’s response fell within the boundaries of their usual banter, but his tone was different. Soap took the hint and left Ghost alone.

Captain Herrera was in his late forties but had the aura of someone much older. Ghost reckoned that serving in Colombia would take a toll on anyone. Standing beside him was a younger woman, her uniform said: Lieutenant V. Díaz. Her curiosity barely concealed as she eyed Ghost. Herrera, however, remained unfazed, as if Price had adequately prepared him for their rag-tag group of misfits. Díaz has been charged with babysitting Gaz and Soap, including explaining their procedures and showing them the base, while Herrera and Ghost took off to discuss the mission.

Ghost ignored the looks he got along the way. In a few days, they would return, and he would never see any of these people again. Nonetheless, he felt a sense of relief when they arrived at Herrera’s office, finally able to breathe a bit easier.

The Captain handed Ghost two dossiers—one on the organisation and the other focusing on its leader. Ghost opened the first one, realising that most of it was written in Spanish. It would be Soap’s homework, then. Mendez’s dossier proved to be the same.

„There’s not much, I’m afraid. This particular gang is somewhat low priority. I wish we could go after them, but as long as there are bigger fish to fry, we won’t get the people or the funding we need. So just let me say, Lieutenant Riley, I’m glad to have you here. If you require any equipment, I can provide it, as well as assign two of my people to assist you,“ Herrera explained.

„Thank you, Captain. I appreciate the assistance,“ Ghost nodded. While Herrera served as Price’s contact, trust was not easily earned. Ghost had experienced too many betrayals to let his guard down. He preferred not to bring in anyone he hadn’t personally vetted, however, he couldn’t disregard the advantage that local knowledge of language, customs, and terrain could provide.

„I wish you the best of luck, Lieutenant,“ Herrera responded as Ghost turned to make his way back to his team.

He found his men in the barracks, barely giving a glance to the room with the two bunk beds. In their line of work, any accommodation was acceptable. Gaz was in the process of changing his shirt, while Soap had claimed the lower bed closer to the door, either sleeping or attempting to.

„Get up, Soap. I’ve got some work for you,“ Ghost announced, holding up the dossiers. He could have easily read the files himself, or asked one of Herrera’s people for assistance. However, this was an opportunity for Soap to practice.

Soap’s eyes immediately snapped open. He smiled, blue eyes shining brightly as he took the folders. MacTavish was a good-looking lad, a fact that Ghost had long accepted but tried not to dwell on. They had a job to do, and he couldn’t afford distractions.

Soap eagerly began reading, sitting on the edge of the bed, slightly hunched over the pages of text and photographs. Ghost could tell whenever Soap paused to ponder over a word or phrase, his eyebrows knitting together and his lips pursing in concentration. And the moment he deciphered it, a smirk would appear on his face, celebrating his small victory. At the end of each page, Soap provided his Lieutenant with a summary. Ghost nodded to show his understanding, occasionally asking questions to clarify certain points or to gauge Soap’s thoughts. They fell into a steady rhythm, comfortably transitioning between silence and conversation. It was moments like these that had led to Ghost’s downfall, he realised—peaceful, shared moments that almost felt domestic.

Ghost was never good with people, so he didn’t talk to them if there was a way around it. Johnny was different. Maybe after that long night in Las Almas. Maybe even before that. Ghost recalled a moment from their prison break night. Alejandro remarked that he couldn’t call Soap Johnny, to which Soap retorted that only Ghost could get away with it. It did something to him. Too subtle to notice back then. Ghost couldn’t fathom how they ended up so close anyway. They couldn’t be more different, and when Ghost first laid eyes on Soap, he was convinced that the Sergeant wouldn’t last long. Yet, within a matter of days, they grew closer than Ghost had ever been with soldiers he had served alongside for years. He was fucked. Proper fucked.

Ghost averted his gaze, realising he was staring at Soap’s lips for far too long. He went over some simple mental exercises to help him last a potential interrogation. Keep calm. Focus. Control your emotions. Ghost was great at controlling his emotions. Only he wasn’t so sure anymore.

„That’s pretty much it,“ Soap concluded as he closed the second dossier, the one Colombians had on Mendez. „There ain’t much in ‚ere, especially on Mendez. We might’ve to hit some of their operations and ask around.“

„Or we could pull a Soap-special like with El Sin Nombre,“ Gaz chimed in.

„Nah, not a chance,“ Ghost killed the idea before it could’ve even taken off. He didn’t like the plan then, and he didn’t like it now. Back then, in Mexico, they didn’t have time and therefore had no choice. At the moment, they had both.

„I could pull that off,“ Soap shrugged with a shit-eating grin.

„Not up for discussion, Sergeant,“ Ghost said with such gravity that made Soap raise his hands in a gesture of apology.

„Alright, alright!“ Soap surrendered.

Their target was an unassuming warehouse on the outskirts of Buenaventura. The port cities had a notorious reputation for being a den of anything even remotely illegal. Ghost was cautious; there wasn’t that small a chance that the neighbouring warehouse was used by a drug cartel, human trafficking ring or someone else he had no immediate beef with.

Taking the lead, Ghost entered the warehouse, skillfully navigating a service ladder and leaping through a broken window on a narrow walkway. He had to be careful with the rifle slung across his back, ensuring it didn’t accidentally make contact with any railings that could give away his position.

Positioning himself in a corner, Ghost surveyed the exits. Stacked boxes and barrels provided sufficient cover. His next task was to assess the number of hostiles present. Retrieving his rifle and crouching into position, he meticulously observed the people below, searching for visible weapons, potential concealed arms, or any telltale signs distinguishing a civilian from a thug.

Captain Herrera had assigned two of his own people to assist Ghost. They were to act as backup, stationed at both entrances to prevent anyone from escaping. The last thing they needed was someone tipping Mendez off about their operation.

„Bravo 0-7 in position. I have a visual on twelve Tangos. Armed mostly with AK-47, pistols, two SMGs. The entrances are clear for entry. Be advised, there are civilians in the area,“ Ghost relayed the information to his team.

„This is Bravo 7-1, in position at the southern entrance,“ Soap.

„Bravo 2-6, in position at the northern entrance,“ Gaz.

„Charlie 5-1, in position by Bravo 2-6, standing by,“ Lieutenant Díaz.

„Charlie 5-2, in position on Bravo 7-1, standing by,“ Sergeant González.

„Maintain your positions, Charlie; keep an eye on the entrances and intervene as needed. Bravo, prepare to breach on my command,“ Ghost looked through the scope again, searching for the best target. He picked one, a woman with an AK-47 slung over her shoulder. Once his Sergeants get in, anyone in close proximity would be swiftly dealt with. It was the hostiles at the back that posed a potential challenge. Ghost focused on regulating his breathing, his finger gently resting on the trigger guard before settling on the trigger itself.

„Go!“ Ghost commanded just as he pulled the trigger. His voice rough but clear. The shot was flawless—a clean headshot. Although, at this distance, it was hardly worth bragging about. Both entrance doors burst open with a loud bang, nearly drowned out by the ensuing chaos.

„Grenade out!“ Soap’s voice crackled over the comms as he hurled a flashbang into the fray.

Anticipating the explosion, Ghost briefly shielded his face with his forearm. He wasted no time, swiftly returning to his sniping position a moment later. The disoriented and temporarily blinded enemies were easy targets. Ghost methodically identified and eliminated them one by one—scope, aim, shoot, reload. His movements were almost robotic, honed by countless hours of training and field experience. Empty brass shells clinked onto the walkway with a dull sound. Glancing outside the scope, he quickly checked on the boys below.

Gaz moved stealthily through the warehouse, armed with his shotgun. Anything that crossed his path and posed a threat was left either dead or incapacitated. He was quick, efficient, and cautious in his approach.

In stark contrast, Soap appeared to be a force of a damn nature. He darted from one cover to another, leaving a trail of confusion and chaos in his wake. Not having a shotgun didn’t stop him from going in up close and personal.

Rolling out of the cover right into the group of three Tangos, Soap shot one with his pistol before switching to a knife and showing off those famed CQB skills of his. Crouching low, he deftly slashed at the ankles of his adversary, causing him to stumble and miss his shot. Seizing the opportunity, Soap swiftly rose, throwing the knife with deadly accuracy. With that, proceeded to the last remaining enemy.

In a brief struggle for control of the gun, a gunshot echoed through the air, its impact causing the bullet to ricochet off the floor. Reacting swiftly, Soap delivered a powerful kick to the man’s knee, eliciting a cry of pain. Ghost winced almost imperceptibly; that was a nasty move. With the enemy distracted and limping, Soap took the gun, delivering a forceful strike with its handle to the back of the man’s head. Ghost wasn’t easily impressed, but Soap had earned it.

The carnage lasted only a few minutes before whatever was left from the armed force dropped weapons and knelt down, hands behind their heads. Gaz herded the survivors together while confiscating their phones and any items that could be considered weapons. Soap proceeded to secure them with plastic ties. Now for some questioning.

As Soap asked for the leader of the group, several people glanced over at the dead body nearby. Well, that was a shame. Second in command? The eyes turned to a man in their midst. Soap beamed at him and proceeded to question him about Mendez. Loyalty, it seemed, was a scarce commodity when challenged with a gun. Before long, they had the address and even some proper intel. The number of people Mendez kept as his personal guard, security measures, or at least some of them. And parts of Mendez’s schedule, including the fact that he rarely ventured outside the safety of his house.

„Well done, Sergeant,“ Ghost said, proceeding to get down from the walkway. They were done here, leaving the detained people in the warehouse. Herrera would tip off the police once Ghost and his team had Mendez in their custody.

Gaz accelerated, pushing the speed as they raced back to the base, knowing they had to come up with a plan before Mendez realised something was up. Ghost was tense. Time was precious, and although the detour wasn’t entirely a time wasted, he understood the potential consequences they might face. Nonetheless, the decision was his, and he preferred not to enter the crime boss’s residence without proper preparation. Herrera could provide satellite photos and additional equipment, at the very least. Ghost began outlining a rough plan in his mind, considering the various factors at play.

„Hey, Ghost, why did the soldier blow himself up?“ Johny baited him. Soap, Ghost had to correct himself. He really should get used to it.

„Keep the comms clear, Sergeant,“ Ghost reprimanded him.

There was a silence, then: „Yes, sir.“

Gaz glanced at them in the rearview mirror. First at Ghost, then at Soap.

Ghost tried to convince himself that he wasn’t disappointed. He was simply doing what was necessary because what he wanted was never of any importance. He didn’t have to isolate himself necessarily if he had the utmost confidence in his willpower and self-restraint, which he didn’t. Not anymore. Ghost dragged his attention, kicking and screaming, back to the issue at hand. The other issue. The plan.

Chapter 5

Once again, Ghost found himself in Herrera’s office. This time, the room was crowded, with Soap and Gaz standing by his side, and González and Díaz joining them alongside their Captain. They gathered around the table, examining the satellite images of Mendez’s opulent mansion.

„I had a conversation with Watcher, and there has been a change of plans,“ Ghost announced, sensing all eyes turning towards him. „Our new objective is to extract Mendez and bring him back here, while faking his death.“

Gaz visibly relaxed. As far as changes of plans went, this one was not so bad. Ghost carefully studied the images, taking in every detail he could. The two-story building had a surprisingly minimalist design, a deviation from the norm. Around here, the crime bosses were usually much less subtle, flaunting their wealth and power left and right.

„Do you have any explosives, Captain?“ Ghost looked up, an idea taking on a more specific shape.

„I believe so. Standard C4, why do you ask?“ Herrera visibly tensed at the question. Díaz seemed intrigued, a smile tugging at her lips, while González probably shared his superior’s concern.

Instead of answering, Ghost turned to Soap with a question of his own: „Would you be able to level that building?“

„Thought you’d never ask, Lt,“ Soap grinned.

Herrera, on the other hand, seemed to lose some of his composure, visibly contemplating the idea of providing them with explosives. Ghost chose to ignore his hesitation, still focused on Soap. „Terrific. Let’s get to it, then. Tell the Captain what you need and remember you’re gonna carry it, so I suggest you make smart choices.

Turning to Herrera, Ghost continued, „Captain, can you arrange for an electricity outage?“

„A blackout? Hm,“ Herrera looked at the table, bringing up the map of the city, „yeah, he’s secluded from the rest of the city, shouldn’t be a problem.“

Ghost then addressed the rest of the team. „Alright, listen up. Charlie, you’ll take up a backup position here,“ Ghost pointed to a forest road on the map. „Bravo team will arrive at the foothill and leave the vehicle there. We’ll proceed up the hill, utilising the vegetation for cover. Once we reach the perimeter wall, we’ll initiate the blackout, which may cause confusion and heightened enemy activity. We know there will be a minimum of ten hostiles on the premises. We come in quiet, and we stay quiet as long as we can. Gaz and I will look for Mendez while Soap sets the charges. Once we locate Mendez, we’ll exit the same way we entered. Once we’re out, Soap detonates the charges, the explosion creating a distraction for us to leave.“

Ghost proceeded to outline contingencies and emergency plans in case of any unforeseen circumstances or complications. Herrera, wearing a serious expression, addressed Ghost directly. „Lieutenant, if something goes wrong, I can’t provide much assistance. I’m already going to be pushing the limits by providing you with explosives and interfering with civilian infrastructure.“

„Understood, Captain. Thank you,“ Ghost replied calmly, devoid of any visible emotion. „Bravo team, Charlie, we leave in twenty. Be prepared and stay focused.“

Upon Ghost’s arrival, both teams were assembled by the two off-road vehicles. Soap stood there, holding a duffel bag in one hand and a smaller package in the other. The expression on his face resembled that of a child who had received the perfect Christmas gift. Ghost felt the corners of his mouth curl upward involuntarily before he regained his composure.

„Does everyone know what they’re supposed to do?“ Ghost asked.

„Yes, sir,“ came the unified response.

„Moving out!“ Ghost ordered, his voice resonating with authority.

Ghost took a seat in the back of the vehicle. He never liked riding shotgun unless necessary; it exposed him too much. There was a duffel bag filled with explosives between him and Soap, and Ghost couldn’t help but muse about the irony. Soap seemed unusually quiet as well. However, Ghost didn’t have time or inclination to dwell on it. Instead, he focused on checking his gear. The extra magazines tucked in his tac-vest, several different grenades precisely where he was used to having them close at hand. The silencer on his pistol and a red dot on the assault rifle. He shouldn’t be needing it, but he learned the hard lesson of „better be safe than sorry“ a long time ago.

The way up the hill was harrowing. The dense vegetation made it difficult to move, and the sweltering heat added to their discomfort. Yet, no one complained. Ghost led the way with Gaz on his right and Soap on his left. They moved swiftly and silently, navigating the challenging terrain with drilled efficiency.

Fortunately, the hill, though steep, was not overly tall. Before long, they caught glimpses of white patches through the foliage—the perimeter wall. By that point, everyone was drenched in sweat. Gaz adjusted his cap to shield his forehead from the glistening heat, while Soap used the hem of his t-shirt to wipe at his face.

Ghost switched to the channel dedicated to communication with Herrera: „Charlie 1-1, this is Bravo 7-0. Cut the power.“

After a brief silence, the response came: „You’re good to go, Bravo.“

Returning to their regular channel, Ghost surveyed both his sergeants. „Ready?“

They nodded in affirmation. Ghost leaned against the wall, clasping his hands together to create a platform for Gaz. With Ghost’s assistance, Gaz hoisted himself up and positioned himself on top of the wall, extending a hand to help Soap. Once Soap was up, they worked together to bring Ghost over.

Beyond the wall, the sight that greeted them was far from an impressive garden. It was more of a desolate expanse of neatly trimmed grass, with an excessively large swimming pool as its centerpiece.

„I don’t reckon we could…,“ Gaz implied, gesturing towards the water.

Ghost didn’t utter a word. Instead, he swiftly vaulted over the wall, landing softly on the grassy ground.

„We could always accidentally fall in,“ Soap shrugged, a mischievous smile on his face, as he followed Ghost’s lead.

Aware that they needed to move quickly, Ghost scanned the surroundings. If anyone happened to look out of a window, there was no way they wouldn’t notice three heavily armed men crouching by the wall.

Motioning with his hand, Ghost signalled Soap to go left while Gaz teamed up with him to move straight ahead. The glass patio doors were conveniently open, providing them with an entry point. Once inside, they would split up according to the plan.

Gaz could never understand how was Ghost capable of moving so quietly, when he was built like a bloody fridge. On the other hand, he did the callsign justice. The Sergeant was steadily two steps behind, having Ghost’s back and ensuring they wouldn’t get flanked. Their cooperation wordless and seamless.

Choosing the path of least resistance whenever possible, if they could go around a guard unnoticed, they did. If they couldn’t, they had a variety of choices on how to tackle the situation. Silenced pistols or throwing knives did most of the work. With a single exceptional instance of Ghost simply sneaking up and breaking the guard’s neck. Gaz reminded himself how glad he was to have Ghost on their side.

As they cautiously navigated through the ground floor of the mansion, there was still no sign of Mendez. Ghost decided to open a private communication channel with Soap, whispering softly, „Soap, we’re moving upstairs. What’s your status?“

„I still have some charges to plant on the pillars and outer walls. You’ve got time. By the way, this guy doesn’t even have a basement. What kind of wannabe is he?“ Soap replied, his voice laced with amusement yet still careful to maintain a low volume.

Ghost led Gaz back to the stairs they had noticed earlier. He was about to ascend when they heard a shout and agitated voices speaking Spanish nearby. It seemed someone had discovered a body, alerting the others.

„They are aware of our presence, Soap. Proceed with caution,“ Ghost promptly informed his fellow Sergeant just as one of the guards entered the room, firearm at the ready. Ghost’s hand instinctively reached for one of his knives, but Gaz acted faster, dispatching the man with a good old headshot.

„Thanks. You go upstairs, find Mendez, I’ll hold the stairs,“ Ghost said, unstrapping the rifle from his back. Oh, he had a hunch it would come in handy. Gaz nodded but hesitated, as the shot rang out, bullet hitting a wall next to them.

„Go, Sergeant!“ Ghost raised his voice. This time he complied. Another shot hit the stairs with a loud click of metal hitting metal. Ghost tightened his grip on the rifle, pressing the buttstock against his shoulder and disengaging the safety as he calculated the general direction of the shooter. Ghost would have to go through the door, exposing himself briefly.

In the end, he made the decision to leap through the doorway. Taking a swift look around and assessing the situation, he spotted one Tango at his three o’clock and another at four. Squeezing the trigger, he braced himself for the recoil. A burst of three rounds resounded through the narrow hallway, with two bullets finding their mark and the third narrowly missing. The other guard displayed some quick thinking, helping his injured comrade and seeking cover around the corner.

As expected, it didn’t take long for a hand holding a pistol to emerge, firing blindly in Ghost’s general direction. The Lieutenant deftly shuffled away, opting not to test his luck. Standing guard by the door, Ghost failed to notice another hostile manoeuvring around the building, entering through a different garden entrance with the intention of catching Ghost off guard.

Startled by a noise behind him, Ghost swiftly raised his rifle, finger resting on the trigger. He stopped himself just in time to avoid shooting Johnny, immediately pointing his gun down. The Sergeant looked sheepish, standing over a lifeless body. Ghost quickly assessed the situation. Soap had likely just saved his life.

„Good timing. Have you finished setting the charges?“ Ghost inquired, momentarily shifting his gaze from Soap to keep an eye on the door.

„Almost, I’ll let ye know,“ Soap replied before disappearing once again.

Barely a minute later, a flashbang grenade landed in the room. „Bloody hell!“ Ghost cursed as he quickly turned away and covered his eyes. Before he could fully recover, two guards pounced on him. They were no pushovers but far from being elite. One of them struck Ghost’s arm with a baton while the Lieutenant manoeuvred in the confined space, making it difficult for the second guard armed with a gun to take a shot.

Ghost pressed forth, using his sheer strength to snap the man’s wrist, forcing him to drop the pistol. Ghost caught it and immediately pulled the trigger. The shot landed in the Tango’s chest. He gasped, but Ghost noticed no blood. They were likely wearing body armour. Not a problem, Ghost thought as he simply adjusted his aim slightly higher, right into the face.

Seizing an opportunity, the other guard lunged at Ghost and plunged a knife into his shoulder. Ghost was fortunate; the man had likely aimed for his neck, but Ghost managed to move at the last moment. Growling, Ghost grabbed the knife and yanked it free, not even hesitating before he slotted the weapon in the other man’s throat. The guard clawed at the knife, gurgling as he slowly slid to the floor.

„Ghost, this is Gaz. I’ve got the package. Am I clear to go?“ Gaz radioed in.

„Clear. Come on down,“ Ghost replied, his attention momentarily focused on his injury. It was bothersome and painful, but not severe enough to hinder his movement. „Soap, are you ready to go?“

„Aye! Just need to do the final check…“ Soap began, but Ghost cut him off.

„Forget the check. We’re moving. Meet us at the RVP, and be there in five.“

Just as Ghost finished speaking, he noticed Gaz descending the stairs, leading a smaller, middle-aged man. The Sergeant appeared a bit rigid, and Ghost’s eyes landed on the bloodstain on Gaz’s stomach.

„You alright?“ Ghost asked, his tone curt.

„Yeah, the bastard knifed me, but I’ll live,“ Gaz dismissed it casually.

Ghost nodded and led them through the building, retracing their steps. He meticulously checked every corner and room they passed, inwardly cursing the wealthy and their penchant for oversized houses. Thankfully, they were nearly out.

They sprinted across the grass and crawled over the wall, carefully manoeuvring Mendez between them.

Four minutes later, they reached the car. „The Package“ was securely stowed in the trunk, blindfolded and ready for extraction. If they weren’t one man short.

„Soap, where the bloody hell are you?“ Ghost asked, low and dangerous.

„We’ve got a problem, Lt.,“ Soap’s voice crackled through the radio. Ghost glanced back at the villa’s top floor, visible through the dense foliage. Ghost indeed saw a problem. Heavy security blinders now covered all of the windows Someone had restored the power, triggering the automatic security measures.

„You’re still inside?“ Ghost asked, already knowing the answer.

„Aye, just wanted to double-check the timers. Thought I had more time,“ Soap responded. Ghost couldn’t help but growl in frustration. Fuck MacTavish! And fuck the last-minute shite he was always pulling!

„So find yerself some a bloody tool and get the hell out of there, Sergeant!“ Ghost’s anger seethed through his words, his frustration reaching its boiling point.

„I tried, Ghost…“ Soap’s voice trailed off, carrying a hint of apology, and there was definitely something else he wasn’t telling. Ghost waited for the other shoe to drop. Didn’t have to wait long. „I’ve set the charges so it was timed right for your departure.“

Gaz exchanged a glance with Ghost, their silent communication speaking volumes. Oh, shite.

„How much time do we have?“ Ghost asked, though he dreaded the answer.

„Some two minutes, sir,“ Ghost has never heard Soap like that. So… defeated. But the Lieutenant refused to just give up.

„Then shut the fuck up and start searching for something useful!“ Ghost’s command was sharp and resolute.

Gaz could’ve as well read his mind, opening the trunk and taking Mendez out. Ghost grabbed the captive by the shoulders, yanking the hood off his head and bringing his face close to Ghost’s mask.

„How do we reset the security protocol?“ Ghost’s voice was laced with menace, promising excruciating pain if he didn’t receive the answer he desired.

„Y…you can’t… it’s programmed… to last for an hour,“ Mendez stammered, his words trembling just like his whole body.

„You must have some hiding place, some shelter,“ Ghost persisted, shaking the man for emphasis.

„T…there’s a tunnel below the house. It leads into the woods,“ Mendez confessed, his complexion turning ashen.

„Where’s the entrance?!“ Ghost practically shouted, his grip on Mendez tightening, surely leaving behind bruises.

„In the kitchen! There’s a button under the sink!“ Mendez yelped. Honestly, Gaz was kind of surprised the man didn’t piss himself. Many would.


„I’ve heard ‘im, on my way,“ Ghost listened to his breathing, quickened, panicked, „In the kitchen now… the sink… Got it!“ He called out triumphantly.

And then time caught up with them.

The explosion was spectacular. A thunderous crack followed by a resounding boom as the charges decimated the supporting pillars and crucial outer walls. The shockwave pushed Ghost and Gaz back a couple of steps, triggering car alarms within a radius of hundreds of meters. Ghost instinctively turned his gaze away, only to quickly face the crumbling house, obscured by a cloud of dust. Calling upon his training, he hooded the Mendez once again before shoving him back into the trunk and closing the door. He was moving on autopilot until he secured their target fully.

Then he started to fall apart in a manner perhaps even more spectacular than the explosion earlier.

The communication channel was filled with nothing but static. Nonetheless, he made an attempt: „Soap, status!“


„Johnny, do you copy?“



Only the relentless static echoed in his ears while thoughts raced through his mind, repeating the words „No, no, no… not Johnny, not now. Not like this!“ like a broken record.

Chapter 6

„Ghost,“ Gaz said softly, placing a hand on his shoulder. The touch triggered a memory, just two days old, of Soap doing the same thing when they touched down. Ghost turned his head so quickly that he almost strained his neck.

But there were no piercing blue eyes staring back at him, no mohawk, no mischievous grin. It was Gaz, looking just as shaken as Ghost felt.

Simon knew what Gaz wanted to say, and he knew Gaz would be right to say it. Ghost was torn, feeling his soul clawing at his flesh. He was the commander, Gaz was injured, and they needed to return to base immediately to deliver Mendez to Laswell. He had a mission to complete, no matter how difficult it was. No matter how much he longed to sprint up that damn hill and dig through the rubble with his bare hands. He was a professional, one of the best.

„Man the fuck up, Riley,“ Ghost whispered to himself, pressing the wound on his shoulder to rekindle the pain. Harder. The surge of pain awakened his nerves and shifted his mind into survival mode. He took a series of deep breaths before climbing behind the wheel. Gaz silently slid into the passenger seat.

Ghost hesitated, his hand hovering over the radio. He had been listening to the static on the Bravo frequency, holding on to that last thread of connection. Once he switched channels, it would be gone—the final remnants of Johnny.

„I can handle it,“ Gaz offered, his gaze gentle, and Ghost hated it with every fibre of his being. Abhorred it. He felt weak and seen, and every time that happened in the past, the punishment wasn’t far behind.

„I can take care of the bloody comms, Sergeant!“ Ghost snapped, his words unnecessarily sharp.

„Sure,“ Gaz backed off, giving him space.

As Ghost reached for the radio button, the static shifted, likely due to interference.


„….ost…. o… you… py…“ At that moment, Simon’s heart stopped.

„Johny?!“ Ghost asked, emotions flooding his system and short-circuiting everything in their way. He let them run free, at least for the moment.

„Soap!“ Gaz chimed in, relief evident in both his voice and expression, „You almost gave us a heart attack, you wanker!“

„Lads… ye dinnae ken… how braw it is tae…. hear ye,“ Soap’s voice came through, the static still present, and his accent thick, making it a challenge to understand him. Yet Ghost could swear it was the most beautiful sound he had ever heard.

„Where are you, and what’s your status?“ Ghost asked, his voice filled with urgency.

„Ah’ve reached the tunnel… managed tae get out. Eventually,“ Soap replied, his voice strained.

„I’m sending Charlie to get you. Hang in there, Sergeant,“ Ghost replied before switching the comms to another channel and informing Díaz and González about the situation. He could drive around the hill and pick Soap up but decided against it for at least two reasons. One: he would either kill Soap himself, for real this time or do something perhaps even more regrettable. Two: judging by the way he sounded, Ghost could foresee a very hasty ride to the hospital. No, it was for the best to let Colombians handle this. If they didn’t, Ghost would deal with them in a very Ghost-like manner.

Ghost and Gaz needed to get rid of Mendez. The Lieutenant was actually a little bit surprised he didn’t have Laswell on his back already.

„Watcher 1, this is Bravo 7-0. We’ve got the package and are en route to you.“

„Understood Bravo 7-0, Watcher 1 standing by.“

Starting the engine, Ghost got back on the road, keeping his mind carefully blank because otherwise, he would’ve crashed the car into the tree or something.

Laswell awaited them on the base, casually leaning against the Blackhawk. The cigarette in her hand was a gross violation of safety protocols, not that she cared. As soon as she spotted their approach, a smile formed on her face, and she began walking towards them. Flanking her were two of her operatives, a man and a woman. The kind of people that looked like an embodiment of Hollywood „spook“ cliché.

Taking Mendez off Gaz’s hands, the two operatives loaded him onto the helicopter. Ghost had a pretty good idea of what would await the man, but he didn’t dwell on it. He was a soldier, and his mission had concluded.

„Thank you, boys. It’s always a pleasure working with you. Send my regards to your Captain,“ Laswell expressed her gratitude before she climbed into the ‚Hawk and issued the command for takeoff. Ghost felt a mix of emotions about the thanks he received. It wasn’t something he was accustomed to, and he wasn’t sure if he appreciated it or not. Nevertheless, he respected Laswell’s no-nonsense approach and professionalism.

Right now, he had a ride to the hospital ahead of him. Gaz was sweating profusely, more than usual in the sweltering heat, as his injury was taking its toll. Someone should probably see to Ghost’s shoulder as well. And then there was the matter of Soap, but he forced himself not to dwell on it too much. During the ride to the base, Charlie informed them that Soap was in rough shape, drifting in and out of consciousness. They had found him just in the nick of time. Ghost had no doubts whatsoever that Johnny kept the troublesome news to himself to shield Ghost. Trying so hard to put up a brave front to sound marginally fine, so Ghost could focus on the mission. Ghost knew that, and he was pissed because Soap should never feel the need to protect his Lieutenant.

„Are you alright, Ghost?“ Gaz inquired as they continued their journey. It would have been amusing to be asked that question by a man with a bleeding stomach, but Ghost simply didn’t have any more fucks to give. Exhausted both physically and mentally.

„I’ll be fine once we’re on our way back,“ Ghost responded, wincing at the weariness in his own voice.

The Hospital visit could’ve easily ended up in a disaster. Ghost had been flagged by security the moment he stepped out of the truck. Two bulky men with hands on their guns already making their way to him.

Fortunately, Díaz, sitting in a waiting room, spotted them as well, jumping to her feet to defuse the situation before it could blow. It took some arguing and name-dropping to get the security to leave them alone, but eventually, she succeeded.

Once a doctor examined Gaz, the tension eased. The Sergeant was promptly taken to the emergency room, while a timid-looking nurse guided Ghost to a private waiting room, presumably to ensure he didn’t frighten half of the patients to death.

Díaz was arguing with Soap’s doctor, stating that as Soap’s commanding officer, Ghost should be privy to his medical information. But they were in Colombia, unofficially, on top of that. Frankly, they were lucky the hospital personnel agreed to treat them at all.

„Could you at least tell me the gist of it? Is he stable?“

The doctor sighed, evidently too tired to argue anymore: “ He’s stable for now, but his condition is still critical.“

„When can I see him?“ Ghost wasn’t backing down.

„He’s in surgery, could be hours before we can let you see him. It might be for the best if you would leave. We will call you if there’s a significant change or when you can visit.“

I’m not leaving,“ Ghost stated firmly, his determination evident.

With a shrug, the doctor left, gesturing towards the row of empty chairs in the waiting room. Díaz excused herself and returned to the base, leaving Ghost alone with his thoughts. He sat in the waiting room, scanning the Spanish posters adorning the walls—people with fake, too-white smiles selling various products or advertising this test or that vaccination.

An hour later, Gaz joined Ghost, looking noticeably better. Without hesitation, he lifted his blood-stained shirt to reveal a neat line of stitches.

„Thought you said it was just a scratch,“ Ghost remarked, noting the seriousness of the injury. It appeared to be deeper than he initially thought and in a dangerous area.

Gaz smirked. „What can I say? I’m like that Black Knight from Monty Python.“ His smile faded quickly as he took a seat beside Ghost, and they sat in silence for a few minutes.

„Any word on Soap?“ Gaz finally asked, breaking the silence.

„Not much. He’s in surgery. Stable, but it’s touch-and-go,“ Ghost replied.

„He’s lucky he made it at all. I honestly thought…,“ Gaz’s voice trailed off, his words heavy with unspoken thoughts.

Ghost nodded in agreement, understanding the weight of Gaz’s unfinished sentence.

„You should really have that looked at, Ghost,“ Gaz remarked, gesturing towards Ghost’s injured shoulder. Ghost grunted, considering his options. Eventually, he made up his mind and stood up, determined to track down a doctor.

It was a quick work. Cleaning the wound, stitching it up, covering it with a sterile gauze. Twenty minutes later, he was back with Gaz.

They sat there in silence for hours. Four, to be precise, before a nurse arrived. It was a relief, as bad news was usually delivered by doctors, not nurses. The nurse hesitated in the doorway, observing Ghost, clearly contemplating whether to call security or not. Gaz stood up to resolve the situation in a peaceful manner.

„He’s just concerned about his privacy,“ the Sergeant explained to her, hoping she understood English since he sure as fuck didn’t speak Spanish. Thankfully, she nodded, though the tension in her shoulders remained. „I was told to take you to the soldier.“

Ghost stood up wordlessly, resembling a grim reaper.

„Right, yes. Lead the way?“ Gaz tried to appear non-threatening, smiling cautiously and being mindful of his gestures. Truth be told, compared to Ghost, even a bloody tank would seem less intimidating. Fortunately, the nurse realized that the sooner she completed her task, the sooner she could maintain a safe distance from the towering, masked man.

As she guided them to the room, the nurse informed them that Soap was in a medically induced coma, allowing his body to fully focus on healing and recovery. He wouldn’t awaken for at least a day, possibly longer.

Gaz thanked her for the information as she let them through the door and left them alone. Alone with Soap, who, despite decidedly not being a small man, looked somewhat small and fragile in the hospital bed. That was partially because there wasn’t really much Soap to see. His forehead was bandaged, his neck supported by a brace, and his left arm encased in a cast. He was pale as a sheet.

„Bloody hell,“ Ghost muttered, drawing nearer to the bed.

„Yeah… fuck. I mean, I didn’t know what to expect, but he didn’t sound too bad on the comms earlier,“ Gaz said, removing his cap and running a hand through his short hair.

All they could do now was wait. Wait for Soap to wake up. Wait until he was well enough for the journey back.

They landed on British soil a week later. As the plane descended beneath the heavy, dark grey clouds, the rain began to patter on the aircraft, giving them a quintessentially British welcome back home.

As the loading deck descended, Ghost was already standing by it, ready to leave the plane the minute he could, putting some hard walls and distance between Soap and himself. On the way back, Soap either talked to Gaz or said nothing at all but the tension between him and Ghost was tangible.

Ever since waking up in the hospital two days after the explosion, Soap had made an effort to sound fine. He cracked jokes left and right, attempting to bring some levity to the situation. One such infamous joke was the one he had tried to tell Ghost earlier.

„Ghost, why did the soldier blow himself up?“ Soap didn’t even wait for a response, likely afraid that Ghost would shut him down. „He wanted to C4 himself.“

Ghost didn’t laugh, as was his usual response. In fact, he remained silent and motionless, his eyes giving nothing away. Soap licked his dry, slightly cracked lips, and Ghost couldn’t help but notice the movement, acutely aware of his own actions. He knew he had to say something, do something to break the silence. He knew what he had to do, but knowing didn’t make it any easier.

„I don’t find your insubordination amusing, Sergeant,“ Ghost’s voice was harsh, his gaze hard, and his posture unwavering.

Soap looked at him with wide eyes, the hint of a smile fading in an instant.

„My… insubordination?“

„You disobeyed a direct order, which put you in a high-risk situation that could have compromised the entire mission. Focus on your recovery for now, Sergeant, but I suggest you start preparing your defense for when we return,“ Ghost’s tone was cold, matching the coldness he felt within. The pained expression on Soap’s face hurt him deeply. The loss of their usual playfulness, replaced by a somber and serious demeanor, as he quietly replied, „Yes, sir.“ Regret began to gnaw at Ghost’s resolve. If he was doing the right thing, why did it feel so wrong? He clutched onto his doubts tightly,  holding them by the throat as he squeezed hard.

Ghost’s room was cold, dark and quiet, as always. The Lieutenant didn’t even bother switching on the main light, instead heading straight into the bathroom. The flickering light cast an eerie yellowish glow over the small, white-tiled space.

Methodically, Ghost removed his clothes, carefully folding them. The balaclava remained, the last piece to be taken off. As he pulled it up, it felt as though his face went with it. Avoiding his own reflection in the mirror, Ghost turned and stepped into the shower stall. He knew what he would see there—a monster.

As the hot water cascaded over his skin, Ghost gasped, finding solace in its warmth. Here, in the confines of the base, in his homeland, he could find a semblance of relaxation. The sound of the water hitting his body and the tiles of the stall brought a familiar calmness.

Suddenly, Ghost’s hand swung forward, colliding with the wall in a forceful punch. A sharp pain surged through his scraped knuckles, traveling up his arm to his shoulder. The stitches on his stab wound throbbed painfully but held.

The water quickly turned tinged with pink, soon becoming a solid red as his hand bled. Why had he hit the wall? Ghost wasn’t angry. He felt… he struggled to find the right word, his frustration growing. It was reminiscent of all those visits to a shrink, those moments of being asked, „How do you feel about that, Ghost?“ followed by his silence, not because he wanted to utter something stupid like „I want to tear apart the barracks.“ No, it was because he genuinely didn’t know the answer. In the end, he settled on „empty.“ He felt empty, as if he had lost something, which was absurd because how could he lose something he never had?

He slept for shit that night. The cold, damp air seemed to cling to his skin, conjuring up memories of Manchester. Memories of his father, a snake with cruel eyes. It felt as if those old wounds had been torn open once again, as if the scars themselves were bleeding. In his dreams, the familiar landscape of Manchester transformed into a dark and eerie tunnel. His flashlight cast a feeble light on the thick dust that enveloped him. He called out but no sound could be heard.

As he ventured further into the tunnel, he came across a cave-in. And there, amidst the rubble, lay a lifeless body.


A Kneeling beside him, Ghost felt a deep sense of knowing, an understanding that Soap was gone. He knew it and he knew it was his fault.

Jerking awake, Ghost gasped for breath. Sweat was quickly cooling on his skin, making him shiver in the cold.

With a sudden jolt, Ghost snapped awake, gasping for breath. His body was drenched in sweat, which quickly turned cold in the air, causing him to shiver. „Fuck,“ he muttered through gritted teeth. Nightmares, he knew well. Memories of his childhood, he could deal with. Soap dying? That was new.

Chapter 7

Soap hated the hospital just like any other person. The stay this time was downright miserable. The weather outside was shite, and he swore that his broken arm hurt even more whenever it rained. The relentless boredom was unbearable, made worse by his limited mobility. He couldn’t even draw. The one small mercy being Gaz, who visited every other day, chatting him up, laughing with Soap at some stupid animal videos on the internet. Price visited a few times, too, asking Soap how he was faring, what the prognosis was and slightly hinting at the chewing out that awaited Soap once he was feeling better. As Price put it, „I won’t reprimand you while you’re stuck in a hospital bed, Sergeant.“ Soap even received a call from Alejandro and Rodolpho, though they refused to disclose who snitched on him. It was evident that people cared about him, yet he couldn’t shake the tightly wound feeling inside. He was grateful for the visits, but the one person he longed to see the most seemed to have disappeared.

Ghost never visited. Not once. Ghost’s absence weighed heavily on Soap’s mind as he wanted nothing more than to apologise. When he was in a Colombian hospital, they didn’t talk much. Well, Soap talked plenty, hoping to ease the tension between them to see if they were okay. Ghost was silent. Until he wasn’t, suddenly throwing around words like insubordination and consequences leaving Soap with a sense of something irrevocably broken between them. The thoughts lingered in Soap’s mind, consuming his attention in the absence of other distractions.

Soap fucked up; he was painfully aware of it. He finally, gradually made Ghost trust him and open up to him, started to see glimpses of Simon. The more he saw, the more he longed to see more and to be closer. Of course, he understood that what he truly wanted could never happen. Ghost would never allow it, and Soap would never jeopardise their friendship for a fever dream of his touch-starved cock. Unfortunately, it didn’t even matter anymore, as Soap found a way to ruin it anyway. With their friendship shattered, Ghost returned to his cold, impenetrable self, a skilled soldier with a gaze as lifeless as a shark’s. Soap desperately wanted to mend their relationship, but how could he when Ghost refused to even see him?

Soap was discharged a week later. The neck brace had thankfully been removed, and his hand was now supported by a more practical sling. Most of the cuts and bruises had healed, and the damage to his pancreas was on the mend. The hand remained the most enduring issue, with the doctors advising him to wait for at least another week.

In the meantime, Soap found himself confined to the base. Not necessarily, but he had nowhere else to go anyway. He took the opportunity to pester the instructors for assistance with the recruits and engage in general training activities. Even with his hand still healing, Soap found solace and distraction in the work, however light it may have been.

Soap tried to find Ghost on several occasions but never succeeded. If the man didn’t want to be found, it was impossible to do so. Soap caught glimpses of him now and then, catching sight of his presence in the mess hall or elsewhere on the base. However, whenever Soap wanted to come up and just talk to him, Ghost pulled off a Houdini act and simply disappeared.

Soap began to fear that the damage to their relationship ran even deeper than he had initially suspected. Perhaps Ghost no longer wanted Soap as his partner or had lost faith in him completely. The mere thought of Ghost requesting a transfer for Soap, deeming him unfit for 141, sent waves of panic through him. He couldn’t bear the idea of leaving. 141 was the only place where he truly felt at home, comfortable, and happy. He also needed to clean up the mess with Ghost. He could get to him once, so he could do it again. However long it would take, whatever sacrifices he would have to make.

Just a few days later, Soap had been called to Price’s office. He knew he couldn’t avoid the conversation indefinitely, but he still felt a sense of dread as he approached the door. Tapping lightly on the glass pane, Soap waited for permission to enter.

„Come in!“ Price’s voice sounded preoccupied.

Soap opened the door, observing Captain Price hunched over his desk as he filled out paperwork. Looking up, Price nodded. „Ah, Soap, come on in, Sergeant.“

Soap stood before Price’s desk, maintaining a rigid posture despite the discomfort of his neck sling. He focused his gaze straight ahead, slightly above Price’s head, fixating on a distant point outside the window. The sound of the pen scratching against paper filled the room as Price finished his paperwork. Then, the creak of the chair signalled Price’s attention shifting towards Soap.

Price studied Soap intently, his elbows resting on the desk and his moustache partially obscuring his mouth as he spoke. „Care to explain what the hell you were thinking? I’ve seen you pull some stunts over the last several months, God knows I’ve let it slide, but not this time.“

Soap could feel the weight of Price’s scrutiny, causing him to tense up. „I understand, sir. I apologise for what happened. I got caught up in the moment, trying to do everything right, but that’s not an excuse.“

„Damn right it isn’t. So, let’s be perfectly clear. Once you’re cleared for active duty, I expect exemplary conduct from you, both on and off the field. Do I make myself clear?“

„Yes, sir.“ Soap hoped that would be the end of the conversation, but the Captain had more to say.

„Good, because if I so much as hear Ghost utter your name in a less than favourable manner, I’ll loan you off to the Marines.“

Soap squirmed uncomfortably at the prospect, his expression revealing his strong aversion to the idea. „I’d much prefer to avoid that, sir.“

„I’m not joking, Sergeant, so I strongly advise you to get your act together. Ghost knows what he’s doing, not that I should have to remind you. He’s the Lieutenant, he gives the orders, and you execute them. Ghost is doing everything in his power to complete the mission and keep you as safe as reasonably possible. You don’t have the right to sabotage that. You keep doin‘ shite like this, and that loan to Marines might not be temporary, do you understand?“

„Yes, sir, I understand,“ Soap replied, his voice trembling slightly. The threat of a transfer was a low blow. Price knew full well how much Soap loved 141. Still remembered one of those squad drinks; it was getting late, they had enough to loosen them up, and the alcohol really had Soap’s mouth running, just telling them how he didn’t fit in with his last unit, how grateful he was for the opportunity to join 141. Went so far as to tell them that he considered the squad his family.

That was true for most of its members, Price included. They all had very little to lose as far as their personal lives were concerned, but they had each other. That was why they could go out there time and again and risk their lives on a mission nobody else would even touch.

„I believe we’re done here, Sergeant. Dismissed.“

Soap left the office in a daze. It wasn’t the first time he had been reprimanded, but bloody hell, Price knew how to get under his skin. He needed a bit of cheering up; these past few weeks had been nothing but doom and gloom.

Making his way to the barracks, Soap knocked on Gaz’s door, already formulating a plan to take the other Sergeant out for a couple of pints.

The plan fell apart the moment Gaz opened the door and Soap caught sight of the duffel bag on the bed, surrounded by a jumble of belongings. Gaz was being deployed.

„You off somewhere?“ Soap asked as Kyle welcomed him inside.

„Yeah, last-minute call, you know how it goes. Actually, I thought you came because Ghost told you we were deploying?“

Soap tensed immediately. Ghost? Why would… then it dawned on him. And oh, that stung.

„You’re teaming up with Ghost?“ he tried to sound casual despite feeling anything but.

„Yeah, mate, I… really thought… he didn’t tell you? Not at all?“ Gaz paused, taken aback, clutching a pair of socks in his hand.

„No, he didn’t tell me anything,“ Soap responded, his voice filled with a mix of sadness and resignation. „I haven’t spoken to him in weeks. I guess I’m out of the loop.“

„Damn, well… he was proper shaken by what went down in Colombia. I’m sure he’ll come round eventually,“ Gaz tried to reassure him.

Regret and guilt washed over Soap in an instant. „Yeah, I suppose you’re right. Thanks, Gaz,“ Soap attempted a smile, but it fell flat. Instead, he changed the subject: „So, the mission. Tough one, is it?“

„Nah, should be a piece of cake, especially with Ghost. We’re going after one of Hassan’s men. Laswell thinks he might have some intel on Makarov. If all goes well, we’ll be back in a day or two,“ Gaz replied as he finished up his packing.

„Give ‚em hell,“ Soap slapped him on the back.

„Cheers, mate. See ya when we’re back. We’ll have a pint or somethin‘,“ Gaz grinned, slinging the duffel bag over his shoulder.

„Sure,“ Soap forced a smile. It was a bit easier this time as he walked Gaz across the base. He paused when he spotted Ghost standing there, decked out in desert-coloured tactical gear.

Ghost glanced at him briefly, exchanged greetings with Gaz, and then gave Soap a curt nod. „Sergeant.“ Soap couldn’t help but flinch. Not a „Johnny“ or „Soap,“ just the rank, spoken with the most neutral tone imaginable.

„Ghost,“ Soap nodded in return.

He watched them both as they got on the plane, leaving him on the tarmac.

The helicopter hovered above the sandy terrain, allowing the two men to prepare for their jump. The cover of darkness concealed their presence as they descended several kilometres away from their target. The noise of the helicopter in the silent desert night carried far and wide.

Ghost adjusted his tactical vest while Gaz studied the map. Once they had their bearings, Ghost took the lead, guiding them forward.

They ran, maintaining a steady pace over the long distance, their breaths the only sound breaking the silence. Then, Gaz broke the silence.


Ghost made a noncommittal sound in response. He didn’t consider Gaz to be particularly talkative; perhaps he had picked up the habit from Soap.

„I know it’s none of my business, but are you and Soap okay?“ Gaz asked cautiously.

The question didn’t come as a surprise, but Ghost didn’t particularly like it. He could tell Gaz to piss off. Only it sort of was his business, despite what he said. They were squad mates; they needed to know they could rely on one another because their lives depended on it. Any trouble between team members was never solely their own.

„Soap will come around,“ Ghost finally responded, his words a mixture of admission and deflection.

Gaz understood the unspoken message and remained silent. He knew that when Ghost didn’t want to talk, there was no point in pushing him. Besides, they were nearing their destination.

Climbing a small dune, they cautiously peered over the top. As expected, there was a small camp on the other side. A handful of tents, a few trucks, and motorcycles. Somewhere within that camp was Kamar Zamani, a Captain under the late Major Hassan’s command.

Gaz raised his binoculars, scanning the area for any hostiles.

„I see two targets at three o’clock… another patrol at nine. One carrying an AK-47, the other with an MP5, interesting,“ Gaz relayed the information to Ghost, who was already readying his silenced rifle. Adjusting his position to control the recoil better, Ghost looked into the scope, switching to thermal.

Gaz instructed him when it was safe to shoot. Their first target was a lone man walking out of the tent, presumably to relieve himself. Poor git had no idea just how much relieved he was going to get.

„Two hundred and fifty meters, no wind, no correction necessary.“

Ghost disengaged the safety, aimed and eliminated the target flawlessly.

„Two Ts at three, two hundred meters, all quiet, line it up,“ Ghost hummed, waiting for the two men in his scope to line up so he could take them both with one shot. The moment they did, Ghost took a breath and pulled the trigger.

„Nicely done, sir,“ Gaz chuckled.

„Now, the last two at eight o’clock, one hundred and eighty meters. Take them out,“ Gaz instructed.

Once again, Ghost timed his shot perfectly, neutralising the two targets simultaneously.

„Two birds with one stone, that’s what I’m talking about. We’re clear to proceed,“ Gaz said, stowing away the binoculars as Ghost slung the rifle over his shoulder.

Quickly but carefully, they started to descend into the small valley between the dunes.

They snuck into Zamani’s tent. Gaz took one guard down with a knife just as Ghost grabbed Zamani, stuffing a piece of cloth into his mouth and forcing him to kneel down.

„I’ve got questions, and you’ve got answers. Nod, if you understand,“ Ghost explained, his voice rough and quiet. Zamani nodded. Gaz stood a watch at the tent’s entrance, peering through the slit for any signs of danger. Ghost continued his tone firm, „If you attempt to call for help, I will kill you. If you lie, I will kill you. If you so much as fucking move… you get the idea. Clear?“ Zamani nodded again, fear mixed with contempt etched on his face.

Ghost took out the gag and started asking questions Laswell told him to. She was on the com, listening in. Zamani confirmed Hassan’s cooperation with Makarov and told them how long was it going on. Ghost inquired about Hassan’s successor, the type of resources Makarov was providing, and what he sought in return. Ghost asked to point, and Zamani answered obediently. The deeper they dug, the clearer it had become that Laswell’s hunch had paid off once again.

Suddenly, a commotion erupted outside the tent. Gaz signalled to Ghost that it was time to leave.

„We’ve got what we came from. Good job, Lieutenant. Get rid of him and get out of there,“ Laswell commanded. Ghost didn’t hesitate, taking out his pistol and shooting Zamani point blank. Gaz was already working on a way out, cutting through the tent to allow them to evade the majority of the hostiles.

„We’ll take their vehicles,“ Ghost informed Gaz as they manoeuvred around the encampment.

Ghost cursed as a burst of bullets narrowly missed him. Without slowing down, as that would make him an easier target, he sprinted towards the trucks.

„Gaz!“ Ghost called out to check on the Sergeant.

„Right behind you, sir!“ Gaz replied, slightly breathless.

Ghost jumped in a small jeep, relieved to find the keys conveniently left behind by the terrorists. Another hail of bullets ricocheted off the vehicle as Ghost ignited the engine. Glancing back, he strategically tossed grenades near the remaining vehicles to create a diversion before accelerating away, Gaz tailing closely behind on a bike. The grenades wouldn’t destroy all of the vehicles, but it should give them a head start at least.

As they raced along a dusty road, they maintained a vigilant watch through the rearview mirror, ensuring they weren’t being pursued. The only illumination in the distance came from the fading eastern sky. It seemed like everything had gone remarkably smoothly.

„Watcher 1, this is Ghost. We’re en route to RVP,“ Ghost relayed to their contact, his voice steady. Little did he know that those would be his final words before the world shattered around him in a deafening explosion. Suddenly, everything turned upside down, then righted itself, only to plunge into chaos once again. Amidst the cacophony of noise and searing heat, Ghost struggled to comprehend the blinding brightness that engulfed him.

Fire. Pain. Then darkness.

Gaz jolted at the sound of an explosion nearby. Instantly turning around. His heart sank as he saw Ghost’s jeep falling to the ground, engulfed in flames. The parts of the car started to rain down. Gaz could only see the underside of the wreckage.

„Ghost!“ the Sergeant cried out. Without a second thought, he swiftly turned his bike around, determined to reach the scene as quickly as possible.

Amidst the roaring flames, another sound caught Gaz’s attention. He glanced up and saw headlights approaching, but their erratic movement betrayed the danger. Gaz suddenly understood what happened. The road was rigged with mines.

Faced with a heart-wrenching decision, Gaz weighed his options. The likelihood of Ghost surviving seemed nearly non-existent, and venturing closer to the wreckage would put him at great risk. With a sinking feeling in his chest, he turned the bike back, going off the road to avoid the mines.

Sitting inside the helicopter now, Gaz removed his cap, his trembling hand running through his hair before he covered his face with his hands. The weight of grief bore down on him, as if a part of himself had been left behind on that desolate road. Losing comrades in the field was nothing new to him, but each loss took its toll, gnawing at his soul with thoughts of „it could have been me“ and „I should have done something.“ He knew there was nothing he could’ve done. There was no way of knowing about the danger, but the knowledge didn’t make it any easier to bear. How many times had Ghost saved his life? Now, Gaz would never have the chance to repay that debt.

He called Price not long after.

Chapter 8

„You wanted to see me, sir?“ Soap cautiously entered Price’s office, peering inside. „May I return to active duty?“ His voice held a glimmer of hope, but Price knew he was about to shatter it.

„Come in, Soap. Take a seat,“ the Captain motioned towards the chair. Soap regarded him with suspicion, his mind already racing. Price could practically hear the gears turning. There were plenty of aspects of his job that Price disliked, but delivering this news was undoubtedly one of the worst.

„There’s… no easy way to say this, son, so I’ll just be direct. It’s Simon,“ Price began, seeing as Soap knitted his eyebrows together. Deep down, Soap likely knew what Price was about to say. „As of this morning, Ghost is MIA.“

Soap stared at him, visibly struggling to process the words. Price stood up, moving closer and placing a comforting hand on Soap’s shoulder, feeling the tension radiating from him. „I know you two were close and… I’m gonna be honest with you, son. It doesn’t look good. You probably shouldn’t keep your hopes up. Not this time.“

They all had their fair share of close calls. Ghost more than most, given the number of solo missions he undertook. Soap was silent and rigid. A combination so uncharacteristic for him that it was worrying.

„If there’s anything I can do to help, if you need to talk, you know where to find me,“ Price offered after a minute or two of heavy silence.

„Ah… Ah think Ah need tae be alone now,“ Soap finally responded, rising from his seat and requesting to be excused. Price nodded, granting him permission to leave.

As he sat back in his chair, Price couldn’t shake off the feeling of bitterness that settled within him. What a mess. Ghost wasn’t only the best of 141. He was also a glue that held them together, even if it seemed improbable to those outside their squad. Simon wasn’t warm or fuzzy, but he was fiercely loyal to people who managed to earn his trust. It wasn’t easy; most simply feared him, never bothering to look past the mask and the reputation, but Price knew better. Even after everything Simon’s been through, he never grew bitter. Sure he liked to pretend to be all brutal and emotionless bastard, but even that happened less, especially since Soap’s arrival. The kid had been a positive influence, and Price was keen to see where Simon would be in a few months or a few years.

Instead, all he had left was an open personal file and two men who were undoubtedly shaken and possibly traumatised. While his concern should have been directed towards Gaz, his intuition told him otherwise. As soon as Gaz returned and cleared the psych eval, he left to see his parents and siblings. He had people he could lean on. With Soap, Price wasn’t so sure; on top of that, he was painfully aware of the absurdly complicated relationship he had with Simon. While not sure if it was indeed a relationship or just a tremendously fucked up camaraderie, it was clear that Soap wouldn’t take the news well.

If Price allowed him to return to active duty and sent him on a mission, he wouldn’t come back; of that, he was fairly certain. It was up to the Captain to keep an eye on the Sergeant, but it was damn painful to see the Task Force disintegrating right before his eyes.

„Fuck!“ Price barked out as he slammed his fist on the table.

With the commanding officer missing and his two sergeants on leave, Price made the decision to suspend the entire 141 from active duty. Soon after his meeting with Price, Soap vanished without a trace. In his leave permit, Soap simply wrote „Personal reasons,“ and as he was still on medical leave, no one questioned it. Price had his sources, though, and he knew that the Sergeant had returned home to Glasgow.

Giving the two men a couple of days of solitude, Price decided to call them to check in on how they were doing. Gaz answered the call, sounding fatigued and somewhat disheartened, but he assured Price that he was with his sister and her family, who would be looking after him.

On the other hand, Soap did not answer any of Price’s three attempts to reach him throughout the day. A nagging feeling in his gut urged Price to pack lightly and make his way to Scotland. Something was wrong, and Price never liked not knowing, however harsh the truth.

The very next day, Price arrived in Glasgow. The city wasn’t very picturesque, but Price has seen worse. Navigating through the long, winding streets, he eventually arrived at a run-down five-story apartment building on the outskirts.

Locating the intercom, Price found the name „MacTavish J.“ He wondered if the buzzer even worked, but there was only one way to find out. He pressed the button and waited.

„Who’s this?“ came a distinctive Scottish accent, causing Price to smirk.

„It’s Price; you gonna let me in?“ The Captain considered his odds, estimating that they were probably around 40:60 in his favour.

There was a brief silence, and then the door buzzed, granting Price entry. Opting to take the stairs rather than the decrepit-looking lift, he ascended to the third floor. Finding the door ajar, he knocked before entering.

„What do you want, Captain?“ Soap greeted him immediately, without any pretence of pleasantries. Price observed Soap closely, noting that he looked far worse than he had anticipated after just three days. And it wasn’t just his appearance.

Surveying the state of MacTavish’s flat, Price couldn’t help but feel a pang of concern. Soldiers were generally known for their tidiness, making the most of the limited space in barracks. But here, it was a different story. Empty beer cans and liquor bottles littered the place, and there were no signs of food containers or any indication that Soap had eaten. The stench of neglect hung in the air.

If Price ever looked for a visual representation of depression, he would have to look no further.

„I simply wanted to drop by and check on how you’re doing,“ Price eventually responded to Soap’s question. His gaze drifted across the cluttered living room, landing on a particular item amidst the rubbish on the TV table. His heart sank as he recognized it with a heavy certainty—Soap’s service weapon. It was removed from its holster and left there on the table. Did Price even need to speculate about the reasons? Was it necessary?

„I’m fine, sir. Thanks for asking. You can go now,“ Soap nodded towards the door, his body language screamed apprehension and discomfort.

„John,“ Price began in a softer tone. It was a mistake. Soap’s eyes instantly hardened.

„Just say what ye want and away with ye…. Sir,“ Soap stood there, arms crossed firmly over his chest.

„I just want to talk to you for a bit. You’re not fine, don’t insult me, Sergeant,“ Price said with a touch more emphasis. The use of Soap’s rank seemed to have an effect as he deflated slightly, realizing he was speaking to an officer.

„Aye, sir. Ah didn’t mean to insult ye,“ Soap’s accent slipped as his intoxicated mind struggled to keep up.

„I know, son. It’s all right. Now, come and help me. Let’s tidy up a bit in here, and then we can sit down and talk, okay?“

And so they did. Soap’s flat was thankfully small, making the cleaning process quick and manageable.

With the floor now clean and the small couch cleared of clutter, there was finally space to sit down, although the presence of Soap’s gun on the table remained as a silent reminder. The easy part was over, thought Price; the hard part lay just ahead. Soap didn’t object to sitting on the couch, even though it was a tight fit, leaving little personal space between them.

„Is there someone, anyone, you could talk to?“ Price began again, hoping for a more positive response this time. Soap shook his head silently, and Price recalled a detail from his personnel file. „But you do have your parents, don’t they live around here?“

Soap visibly tensed at the mention, and Price inwardly cursed himself. It was the wrong question, clearly hitting a sensitive spot.

„I’m not in touch with ‚em,“ Soap admitted, his voice devoid of emotion.

„What about Gaz? Or people from your previous unit?“ Price didn’t want to give up. MacTavish always exuded the air of someone who makes friends easily. What with that optimism of his. As much as he wanted to, he didn’t know Soap all that well.

„Gaz has enough on his plate as it is,“ Soap shook his head again, rejecting Captain’s ideas one after another.

„You were close to Simon,“ Price stated, more as an observation than a question, knowing the answer already.

„Aye, for a while,“ Soap’s hands trembled, his fidgeting growing more restless. „I reckon I pissed him off at some point. Been too annoying, then I disobeyed the order, and he had enough of me.“

„Why would you think that?“ That sounded like the polar opposite of Simon’s problem with Soap and Price couldn’t feel but confused.

„“He just cut me off one day. No warning, no explanation. But he said it before that there’s nothing about friendship in the field manual. Guess we both forgot. Ah thought Ah’ve found a place I could fit in, finally, but Ah was just kiddin‘ meself. I fucked up, and he wanted nothing to do with me. He probably would have requested my transfer anyway,“ Soap shrugged, sounding indifferent, but Price knew there was more beneath the surface.

 „That’s bullshit, John. I’ve spoken to Ghost over these past weeks, and he never hinted once he considered having you transferred. In fact, he asked about your condition and expressly told me that even if I threatened to loan you off to the Marines, he would oppose it. He wanted to have you by his side, knew you two made for a good team.“

„Then why didnae he say somethin‘? Why ignore me and give me the cold shoulder?“ Soap shook his head, a mixture of confusion and disbelief evident in his expression.

Price sighed deeply before responding, „Because I instructed him to. Or at least, he thought I did.“ He pinched the bridge of his nose, furrowing his brow. He couldn’t look Soap in the eye. „He cared for you a great deal, Soap. Enough to be of concern to him and to me. I only wanted him to be careful, but Simon, being Simon, just went overboard.“

The silence was loaded. Price had no idea if it was a good idea to tell Soap, but the Sergeant had a right to know.

„How did it happen?“ Soap asked out of the blue. Price surmised he didn’t mean his very short talk to Simon. He was asking about Ghost’s last mission.

„Are you sure, Soap?“ Price asked, hesitating. In Soap’s current stat, telling him was a monumentally bad idea.

„Ah’m fuckin‘ sure!“ Soap uttered, voice rougher than Price had ever heard it. He looked at his Captain and there was an ocean of pain and anger in there. But that was good. Anything was better than the hollow resignation from earlier.

„He drove over a landmine,“ Price finally said, not going into any details. Not that he had to. There was a sharp intake of breath. Soap knew what a landmine could do to a vehicle and the people inside. He was a demolition expert after all.

„The intel he got… was it any good?“ Soap tried to sound and seem impassive, but there was a dull shine to his eyes and a tremor to his hands.

„Yeah, top-notch,“ they both knew that no information was worth Ghost’s life, but if Soap wanted to find at least a semblance of meaning to his death, Price wouldn’t deny it to him.

„Good… that’s… good,“ Soap managed to utter, his voice choked with emotion. His body seemed to collapse inward, his elbows resting heavily on his knees as he buried his face in his hands. He was trying to stifle the sobs, but the grief rolled over him like a freight train. Once the control slipped, there was no coming back. Price put a hand around his shoulders, letting the other man lean on him slightly as he finally allowed himself to mourn.

Price didn’t say anything. What could he say? Empty platitudes and meaningless phrases? He wouldn’t dare. Instead, he was adamant about sitting there as long as he had to. Providing silent support. He would stay there a whole night if that was what it took.

As dusk settled, casting the room into shadows, Soap’s sobs gradually subsided, giving way to a sense of calm. After a while, he finally spoke, his voice tender and subdued. „I’m hungry.“

„Obviously. What would you like to have, son?“ he asked, his tone gentle yet resolute. It was a good sign. Soap was far from okay, but it was a start.

Price stayed with Soap throughout the night, settling on the couch after they had shared a pizza. Soap almost drifted off to sleep before Price insisted he retire to bed. In the morning, he would convince the man to return back to base with him. There was no way Price was leaving the lad to his own devices.

Chapter 9

Two weeks after the botched mission, and both Soap and Gaz had both returned to the base. They focused on their usual combo of training themselves and helping to train the rookies they always did between the missions, finding solace in the routine.

Price was sitting in his office, sifting through the personnel files. There weren’t many potential candidates to fill Ghost’s position, and there were none who could’ve hoped to fill his shoes, but the 141 needed to move on. They all needed to move on.

The call came in the afternoon. Price sighed and aswered. Laswell knew about their situation. If she had a mission, it had to be life or death.

 And it was.

Price stared out of the window of his office. It was unusually nice that day. Sunny, with a warm, light breeze. He allowed himself a moment to compose himself as he sent some Private to fetch his Sergeants. He had absolutely no idea how it’d go. They have only just barely started to pick up the pieces. Jesus Christ.

Walking in, both men looked carefully neutral.

„I know these past few weeks haven’t been easy. On any of us. But I need 141 back in the field. I need you out there. And most importantly, Ghost needs you,“ he said, holding their gazes as shock settled in their faces. Gaz gaped. Soap appeared unsteady on his feet, struggling to regain composure.

„The MIA is the worst there is, the not knowing. Laswell had everyone she could spare looking for Ghost, for confirmation. So there could be closure for all of us. And she did find him. Alive, held by Al-Qatala.“

There was only stunned silence to answer him. He got it. It was too much, too soon. To only just accept the harsh reality and have it pulled from under their feet the next moment. The line between good news and bad news became blurry.

„Or I could send in the Marines,“ Price shrugged. Perhaps it was a little cruel, but he needed them to focus. Their training would pull them through, he was sure.

„Not a fuckin‘ chance!“ Soap growled, his voice filled with anger and determination. His eyes burned with a fierce fire, and his hands clenched into tight fist. He looked ready to take on the entirety of Al-Qatala all by himself. Price understood that, too, the need to put all those excessive emotions to use: the anger, the grief, the pain and the regret. Just a few weeks ago, they nearly consumed him, but now Soap could utilize them to destroy their enemies. „Ghost is one of us. We’re goin‘.“

Gaz nodded in agreement, supporting Soap’s fierce resolve. „What he said.“

„Brilliant! Let’s get to it, then,“ Price declared, pulling out a map of Al-Mazrah and placing it on the table. With a marker in hand, he drew a circle on the map and added satellite images of a complex of buildings. „This is Al-Qatala’s prison. The area is heavily guarded, with both human personnel and automated systems, including cameras and electronic locks. Gaining entry won’t be easy, and extracting Ghost will be even more challenging. We have no intel on his condition, so we must assume he sustained injuries during the crash and while in captivity.“

Gaz inquired about the possibility of backup, assessing the situation and considering whether two men would be enough for the task at hand.

„Farah agreed to help, but she needs her men elsewhere, not to say that she wouldn’t be willing to lend them to an all-out raid deep behind enemy lines. And as much as I’d like to join you in on this one, this mission is currently unsanctioned, so someone needs to stay here and make it right so we’re not all court-martialled when you get back.“

Both men nodded in understanding.

„The plane to Urzikstan leaves in three hours, so pack up, gear up, and bring Simon home.“

„Yes, sir!“ Sergeants replied in unison.

As soon as the door closed behind them, Price took out the scotch. It was clear to him that the following hours were going to be among the longest of his life. Relief washed over him at the mere prospect of cleaning up the mess between Simon and Soap he may have inadvertently contributed to. They only needed to free Ghost, to bring him home, then the boys would simply gravitate to each other like they always did. If this whole ordeal wouldn’t make them act, Price was firmly set to nudge them in the right direction.

Price was well aware of both the potential and the potential disaster of not only allowing but encouraging to violate one of the most fundamental military rules: you do not start a relationship with your commanding officer. Yet the benefits of this particular violation were clear: Simon would gain a proper reason not to get killed out there, and Soap could sure as hell benefit from having the steady and reliable Ghost by his side to temper his impulses.

However, they could just as easily spiral down to a pit of unbridled and senseless violence, pushing each other past their limits until they would destroy not just their enemies but themselves, too. Honestly, though, that could already happen. They were always a volatile mix, the two of them. If Price wanted any proof, he could look no further than Simon Riley’s flawless decision-making. As soon as he caught a whiff of being even marginally vulnerable, he panicked and burned the bridges to isolate himself. And let’s not forget John MacTavish, attaching himself to Ghost in a way that the moment Ghost was gone, Soap’s whole world came tumbling down.

Price couldn’t deceive himself into thinking that he had complete control over the situation. All he could do was steer it in the right direction and hope for the best.

„Gaz, stay with the car, we will probably need to scatter quickly. Farah, could you go through the northern entrance? I want to have someone who actually speaks the language inside. The quicker we find Ghost, the better,“ Soap instructed his teammates. Technically, nobody nominated him for mission commander, but nobody complained, either. Soap was a dog with a bone when it came to Ghost. He was hyperfocused, considering every angle he could think of.

„Sure, mate,“ Gaz accepted his assigned task, while Farah simply nodded in agreement.

„Let’s go,“ Soap tightened his grip on his gun as he and Farah split up, heading in different directions. The prison wasn’t far, and the rocky desert terrain provided them with good cover, both for their vehicle and themselves.

Soap unstrapped the wire-cutters from his backpack, carefully cutting through the outer perimeter fence. There was another fence a few meters ahead, making this part of the mission particularly risky. With no cover available, Soap had to crawl forward, minimizing the chances of being spotted.

Once through the second fence, he quickly took cover behind a building. Spotting a surveillance camera, he instinctively hid as its watchful lens scanned the area. Soap wished he had a friend in the control center, someone who could guide him, just as he guided Ghost back in Mexico. The power and skill at his disposal during those moments were exhilarating, even if only temporary. For now, he had no choice but to wait for a few seconds before cautiously changing his position, hoping for the best. The southern entrance to the building awaited him just around the corner.

Peeking out, he spotted two guards standing on either side of the door. They were chatting, guns slung over their shoulders. Slackers, Soap thought to himself, as he took out two throwing knives. They were Ghost’s knives, but Soap had claimed them on the field. He had asked Ghost if he wanted them back, but the Lieutenant had declined, so, over time, Soap had built up quite a collection. He’s gotten a lot better at using them recently, too.

A moment later, there was no one guarding the door. Soap moved quickly, dragging the bodies out of the open space, taking a keycard and slipping inside. How did the terrorist got so many fancy tech, anyway? Not that he had any time to dwell on it.

„Soap, this is Kilo, I’m inside, no sign of Ghost so far,“ Farah chimed in.

„Same here, Kilo,“ Soap responded, cautiously moving forward.

Turning the corner, he caught a glimpse of another enemy. The circumstances were not in his favor. The long corridor offered limited cover points. The guard was walking away, approximately ten meters from Soap, a risky distance to cross, when all it took to turn it into a disaster was one look over the shoulder.

Regardless, Soap had no choice. They needed information, or they would wander aimlessly until they were discovered or stumbled upon something significant. Crouching low, he stealthily closed the distance between himself and the guard, silently swapping his pistol for his trusty knife.

Soap kept his focus on the guard’s back, silently willing him not to turn around. With only three meters remaining, Soap heard Arabic coming from around another corner. He inwardly cursed, pressing himself into the doorway of a nearby cell and waiting. The conversation grew increasingly distant until a door slammed shut, muffling the voices entirely.

Soap felt the tension in his muscles as he peeked out, seeing the guard moving a few more meters away. He didn’t have time for this. Resuming the advance, he was faster this time. With just two meters left, he leaped over, grabbing the guard’s gun with one hand while pressing the knife against their throat with the other.

„English?“ Soap asked quietly. The guard slowly nodded in response. Thank fuck!

„There’s a prisoner here, a big white guy,“ Soap continued his interrogation.

„The skull?“ the guard asked, sounding unsure, his thick accent making even that single word difficult to understand.

„Yes, that’s the one. Where is he?“ Soap pressed, his voice low but intense.

„Lower floor… cell 43,“ the guard replied, sounding sincere. „Please don’t kill me… I… I have a family! They forced me to be here!“ The terrorist began pleading for mercy, but Soap was unimpressed. This was basic counter-terrorist training: A lot of them would promise anything to get away with their lives, only to blow themselves up a week later in the crowded market. This was no recruitment centre; nobody forced the guards to be there. Quite the opposite. It was considered an honour to deal with the enemies personally. Soap slit the guy’s throat effortlessly.

„Kilo, this is Bravo 7-1. I’ve found a lead. Lower floor, cell number 43. Stand by for confirmation,“ Soap radioed in.

„Understood, Soap. Standing by,“ Farah responded, her voice steady and determined.

Soap quickly located the stairs and descended, cautiously checking for any signs of activity below. Finding the coast clear, he proceeded down the corridor. Cell 38 was right in front of him, with cell 39 on the left and cell 40 on the right. He spotted a guard a few cells away, confirming that he was on the right track.

Drawing his silenced pistol, Soap took aim and pulled the trigger without hesitation. The guard slumped against the wall before sliding down, leaving a trail of blood. Grabbing another access card, Soap unlocked the door and stepped into the darkness. The underground area was dank, and it reeked of mold, blood, sweat and piss.

„Ghost, are you there?“ Soap called out softly, but there was no response.

„Ghost?“ he tried again, wrestling a flashlight from his tactical vest.

Finally, a faint beam of light illuminated the area. Soap spotted Ghost immediately. He was curled up on the floor, covered in a filthy rag that once may have been a blanket. His blond hair partially obscured his face, and Soap could see that most of his clothes had been stripped away along with his mask.

„This is Bravo 7-1. I’ve found him. Kilo, return to the car,“ Soap radioed in.

„This is Watcher 1. Copy that, Bravo 7-1. That’s excellent news. Can you make it to the rendezvous point?“ Laswell’s voice sounded momentarily cheerful before returning to its usual stoic tone.

„Stand by for confirmation, Watcher 1.“

Soap knelt down beside Simon, carefully removing the dirty blanket to assess Ghost’s condition. With each revealed patch of skin, Soap’s breath caught in his throat. Ghost’s breathing was wheezing and irregular, indicating more than just surface injuries. He was also running a fever.

Someone had patched him up, but it was evident that they had done a crappy job. Just the bare minimum necessary for him to live long enough to be questioned. Soap noticed the telltale signs of burns peeking out from under the soiled bandages on Ghost’s chest and upper right arm. The skin was cracked, bloody, and undoubtedly infected. Another bandage drew his attention, tightly wound around Ghost’s left hand, protecting his pinky finger. Even with the bandage, it was clear that the finger was shorter than it should be.

„Steamin‘ Jesus,“ Soap exhaled, taking in the damage. Soap hated himself for it, but he needed to try to wake Ghost up, as much as an agonising experience it would be for the Lieutenant.

„Simon? Simon, can you hear me?“ Soap gently placed a hand on Ghost’s good shoulder, hoping that addressing him by his name would carry more weight than his callsign.

Ghost jolted awake, suppressing a painful whimper that threatened to escape. His eyes, cloudy and unfocused, met Soap’s gaze. Johnny looked at him with a mix of concern and confusion. It was strange to see Ghost’s face without the balaclava, and there was a moment of pure terror that flickered across Ghost’s expression before he composed himself, causing Soap to look away. Seeing Simon’s unmasked face was a privilege that was not granted at that moment.

„Johnny…“ Ghost’s voice was quiet, raw, and damaged. Soap turned back, unable to suppress the onslaught of emotion at hearing his name again. It was so long since Ghost last called him that. And only a few hours ago, Johnny had been sure he would never hear it again.

„Can you walk? Fight?“ Soap asked, refocusing back on the mission at hand. He could deal with the heartache later.

„Johnny…“ Ghost repeated. Pain was etched on his face, understandable given his condition. But there was also regret in his eyes as he squeezed Soap’s forearm, as if longing to convey something of utmost importance. Soap felt himself breaking apart, but he couldn’t allow it, not yet. Retrieving a stimpack, he didn’t hesitate to inject Ghost. They needed to get out of there.

As the drugs kicked in, Simon took a breather as Ghost took over. His eyes clearing and his breathing, though still labored, quickening. „Help me up, Soap.“

Soap complied without hesitation as Ghost steadied himself.

„It’s nice of them that they patched you up, Lt.,“ Soap smirked as he brought the dead guard through the door. Ghost needed some clothes. These were definitely not the right fit, but they’d have to do. Joking was Soap’s diversion tactic. If he kept joking, he wouldn’t have to think about what they did to Simon. If he kept focus on the mission, he wouldn’t have the urge to hug the Lieutenant, to tell him that he was going to get them home and everything would be alright. If he played the good soldier, he could take all of his unrequited feelings and shove them back down his own throat instead of throwing them up right in front of the very person they were meant for.

„Yeah, had a proper service, too. Wellness ‚an all.“ Ghost replied dryly, struggling to fit into the small shoes. Casting a quick glance at Soap, he noticed the profound relief on his face, causing Ghost to pause for a moment.

„So sorry Ah ruined yer holiday, then.“ God, how he missed this. Their banter. It came so easily and naturally to them. He missed this, and he missed Ghost, still reeling from the fact that he was in fact, alive.

„I’m sure you’re gonna make it up to me, Johnny,“ Ghost smiled. It was tight-lipped, laced with barely contained pain. Soap basked in it nonetheless.

Soap reached into his tac-vest as he remembered something, taking out a bundle of black fabric he handed out to Ghost. A balaclava. This one was just a plain black, not one of Ghost’s own, but that hardly mattered. „Thought you might need it.“

Putting it on, Ghost visibly relaxed. „Thank you, Johnny,“ Ghost said quietly. There was more to his words, but they had hardly time for that. Ghost took the guard’s pistol, checking the magazine, and nodded in approval. „So, what’s the plan?“

„Gaz and Farah are waiting outside with a car. Helo is going to exfil us in half an hour and then the plane home. Sound about right?“ Soap explained.

„Heavenly. Lead the way,“ Ghost nodded.

„This is Bravo 7-1, confirming we are a go.“

„Copy that Bravo 7-1, picking you up in thirty, Watcher 1 out.“

„How did you find me, anyway?“ Ghost asked, curious.

„Laswell did. Turned half of the Adal upside down,“ Soap told him.

„Good girl,“ Ghost nodded as they moved to the door. „Let’s get out of here, Sergeant.“

“Yes, sir,” Soap grinned, remembering similar exchange.

Chapter 10

Thanks to the stimulants, Ghost managed to function deceptively well. The injuries still slowed him down, but never once did he ask for a pause or for Johnny to slow down. They made steady progress, with Soap leading the way and using his own body as a shield for Ghost. Meanwhile, Ghost wielded his gun with precision, making the most of his limited mobility.

With a gun, Ghost was as precise as ever. However, when it came to close quarters, that was when Soap came in. And the man was brutal. A force to be reckoned with. It wasn’t like Johnny wasn’t effective in the past, but he was downright feral at that moment. Conserving his ammo in case he might need it later, most of his kills were with knives. Either tossed, or held.

As they rounded a corner, two guards appeared. Ghost swiftly dispatched one with a well-placed shot, mentally counting the bullets he had left. Meanwhile, Johnny capitalised on the element of surprise. He leapt forward, running up the wall, and used his momentum and weight to take down the second guard. In a swift, lethal motion, he stabbed him in the trachea. Ghost couldn’t help but marvel at the sheer efficiency and deadliness he was witnessing.

Soap rose to his feet, a splatter of blood on his face more frightening than any warpaint ever could be. In Las Almas, Soap told Ghost he wanted to be like him. Ghost could very well see that happening right before his eyes. The thing was, he wasn’t sure if he liked the idea. He didn’t want Johnny to become another Ghost; he wanted him to be Soap. To be Johnny.

During his captivity, Ghost had endured every imaginable form of interrogation from Al-Qatala. The terrorists threw at him everything from brainwashing to beating to electrocuting to waterboarding and more. He used to believe he didn’t need anyone, that he didn’t want anyone to get close to him. But in that dark, stinking pit, he needed, and he wanted. At times, teetering on the brink of consciousness, he imagined that Johnny was there with him. Usually, he was telling Ghost corny army jokes. Sometimes he was just sitting close by, Ghost could sense his presence near. On a particularly bad day, when the interrogators dragged him back in, sleep-deprived and in so much pain he could only laugh at it, his brain conjured up Johnny, lying beside him and holding Simon’s hand. So when Ghost opened his eyes just moments ago and saw Johnny kneeling beside him, he couldn’t be certain if it was real or a figment of his imagination. He almost asked him. He needed to talk to him, to tell him. Something. Anything. And he would. Later.

They escaped through the same route Soap had entered. Making their way through the southern entrance and the gaps in the fences, they left behind a trail of bodies and an emptied gun. Barely three steps away from their freedom, an alarm blared behind them, urging them to move faster.  Ghost mustered the last ounce of strength, embracing the sharp pain coursing through his body like an old friend. They heard a commotion behind them, not daring to turn back. They could hear the commotion behind them but dared not turn back. Ahead of them lay a steep incline of sand-covered rock they needed to climb.

„We’re bringing the party to you, Gaz. Be ready,“ Soap relayed through the comm before turning his attention to Ghost „You hanging in there, Simon?“ Of course he wasn’t. Ghost’s brow glistened with sweat, fortunately, absorbed by the balaclava. The effects of the stimulants were likely wearing off by now. Soap couldn’t bear the thought of Ghost collapsing at that moment. He would stand by him, defending him until the very last bullet.

„Shut up and keep going, Johnny,“ Ghost barked, his words cutting through the air. To hide his own problems and worries.

They managed to get to the peak. The car was waiting about forty meters down by the foot of the hill. Farah was already there, too, on a light motorbike, waiting by the car.

With careful steps, they began their descent, almost losing their footing several times. The journey down was much shorter, and within a minute or two, Ghost took the shotgun while Soap jumped onto the flatbed, signalling Gaz to drive.

As the first members of the pursuing party appeared on the hilltop, they opened fire. Soap crouched in the pickup truck, returning fire blindly to provide some semblance of cover. Farah joined in as well. Fortunately, the motorised units were forced to take a longer route, and by the time they would get to the foothill, 141 would be long gone.

The helo landed in Sakhra just as the sun began to set, painting the sky with fiery reds and oranges. Ghost stumbled on the tarmac, squinting in the harsh light after being in the dark helicopter. The brightness overwhelmed him, and he quickly averted his gaze, feeling his legs give way beneath him. His head spun violently.

„Johnny…“ he managed to call out, turning back to face his Sergeant, who was already on his feet, concern etched across his face. „You should… call for an EMT,“ Ghost uttered, his voice strained, before collapsing onto the unforgiving tarmac.

„Gaz, get help,“ Soap called out to his teammate, not that he had to, Gaz and Farah were already on their way to the nearest personnel. As Soap knelt beside Simon, checking for his pulse, he noticed his breaths were just irregular gasps, betraying a cardiac arrest. The explosion, the imprisonment, the torture, and now the rescue—it had all taken its toll. Once the effects of the stimulants had worn off, Ghost’s body simply gave in.

Soap started CPR right away, yanking the balaclava off. He knew he was hurting Simon with every compression and wished there was any other way. However, his ribs would heal, but only if Soap managed to get his heart beating again. He knew the procedure well, like every soldier did: thirty compressions at a steady rate, pinch the nose, take a breath, give him the air he needs, do it again, and repeat everything.

He checked for a pulse once more, desperation gripping his heart when he found none.

„Fuck, Simon, don’t do this to me!“ Soap whispered, his voice trembling as he resumed the resuscitation. He refused to give up. „Come on, ye wanker! Dinnae ye fucken‘ dare!“

On the third attempt, he felt a faint pulse. It was so weak he could have easily missed it. Soap sat back, looking at Ghost’s face, at the pale eyelashes. Johnny was exhausted. Completely, utterly done. Not even physically, as much as the mission has been taxing, he had only barely comprehended that Ghost had been alive and then almost lost him again. Right there, before his eyes, with Soap’s hands on Simon’s chest and Soap’s lips on Simon’s. There’s been only one word in his mind, just hanging there, like a forgotten picture in an empty apartment: „Enough.“ He’s had enough, and he felt only moments away from falling apart, breaking up into tiny little pieces carried away by the wind.

The sound of sirens had been among the most beautiful things he ever heard in his life.

In a minute, there were medical professionals taking over, checking the life functions again before loading Ghost up and rushing straight to the nearest hospital. Soap watched with a hollow gaze, the weight of emptiness crushing his every thought and emotion. The fight was far from over, he knew, but at that moment, he couldn’t bring himself to care. All that remained was the haunting memory of Simon’s departure from the helicopter, those warm, brown eyes locking with Soap’s, and the way he spoke his name in a way that no one else ever had. The thought of it being the last memory he’d have of Simon almost made him throw up. It would ruin him. This time for good.

Gaz came closer, offering a hand to help Soap stand. He took it. Just as he accepted a hankie. Soap didn’t really know why Gaz gave it to him but thanked him anyway and used it anyway to wipe at his face. It came away dirty with dust, blood, sand, sweat and… oh. That wasn’t really sweat, was it?

„You holdin‘ up, mate?“ Gaz asked carefully. Under any other circumstances, Soap would shot the man down for it.

„Not really,“ Soap admitted, his voice heavy with the weight of regret. He was way past giving any fucks.

„Got’cha. Farah could give us a lift to the hospital,“ Gaz proposed, looking at Soap with a frown. Soap nodded, not trusting himself with words.

The great void was now filled with regret. He was a coward. Looking death straight in the eye but still a coward. First, he thought that Ghost would never want him like that, that friendship was more than fine, and he should cherish it. Then, when it became clear that „the problem“ was getting slightly out of hand, he knew he should tell Simon. It was no longer just about the two of them; it could affect the rest of the squad, too. So he opted for excuses. It just wasn’t the right time to tell him. It never was.

 When Johnny found him in that hellhole, when he saw the way Ghost looked at him as if he was a goddamned saint, he still couldn’t bring himself to say it. Later, he told himself, when they would be safe. As if they ever were. He had so many opportunities and didn’t take even one. He deserved to get fucked over it. Still, he hoped that whoever was pulling the strings would take pity on him and wait just a little bit longer.

„He’ll pull through. It’s Ghost. If anyone can do it, it’s him,“ Gaz patted Soap on the shoulder as they started for Farah, waiting by the car.

Soap was sitting on a torturously uncomfortable chair in Ghost’s room. The personnel made him scrub himself clean, sprayed him with disinfectant and forced him to wear a clean suit, citing the infection that Ghost was fighting and emphasizing the need for a clean and sterile environment.

Simon’s face was exposed. Again. Soap didn’t like it but understood the necessity. There was also a collection of bags hanging over Simon’s head, dripping steadily to deliver fluids and medication straight into his veins. The doctors expressed their surprise Ghost was even alive with everything that was wrong with him. Soap couldn’t help but smirk at that. Ghost would probably be able to stay alive just to prove his point and piss his captors off.

It was already dark outside; the street lamps illuminated the room, casting harsh shadows over Simon’s face, making his scars look more prominent. Soap followed them with eyes. The large one stretched from his lips and went up, around his eye to his eyebrow. Another one went straight through the other eyebrow, creating a clear division. Yet another, biting into his upper lip. Soap recalled a piece of conversation from way back when they were in Las Almas. Soap asked Ghost if he wore the mask because he was ugly. Ghost turned the joke against Johnny, saying the opposite was true. Soap didn’t believe him until he actually saw him, just a few days later. He still thought that Ghost was joking and didn’t believe himself to be handsome, but to Soap, he undeniably was.

Without the scars and his nose being slightly askew as it was broken one too many times, Ghost would have been conventionally handsome. In the way that would not catch Johnny’s eye. Soap had never been interested in ordinary people, and ordinary people had never been interested in him. But with the scars and old injuries, he became Ghost. Simon. A man with a thousand stories etched into his skin. Soap knew he was fucked; he knew for a long time. Yet it wasn’t until a few weeks ago in Glasgow that he realised the full extent of it.

And suddenly, Ghost wasn’t forever gone. Unattainable. The regrets had been easy before. The neverending circle of „should’ve told him“. At the moment, however, all the „why I could never tell him“ was back. What if he didn’t want to hear it? What if by telling him, Soap fucks it all up again? What if Price was wrong, and Ghost would have him transferred? Soap was a chronic overthinker. Sure, he could be impulsive sometimes, but at any given moment, his head was just stuffed with things. Thoughts. Ideas. Images. He dissected everything he saw, analysing it from every angle. Ghost had often asked Soap if he could quiet down his thoughts.

Soap smiled at the memory, closing his eyes for just a minute. He slept through the rest of the night.

It took three days to stabilise Ghost’s condition enough for transportation back to Britain. Price and Laswell even went as far as to get them a really nice plane that would accommodate Ghost’s medical needs. For most of those three days, Soap didn’t leave Ghost’s room. After the flight, he only did so because Price ordered him to get a grip, go eat something and, for the love of god, sleep in the bed for once.

Another three days after the touchdown, the doctors decided to wake Ghost up. He looked terrible, but according to the actual professionals, improved tremendously. Having the top personnel and equipment at hand certainly didn’t hurt.

Ghost’s eyelashes fluttered, and his breath hitched as he slowly woke up. Opening his eyes into the dim light, he still squinted.

„Welcome back, Simon,“ Price smiled at him. Ghost stiffly nodded. At the same moment, he realised his bared face, a look of discomfort ghosting over his features. Soap stepped up, handing him a balaclava with a printed skull on it. Ghost remembered an eerily similar event but couldn’t quite place it, his mind foggy and annoying unfocused. He was drugged halfway out of his mind. He held the balaclava but didn’t put it on yet.

„How…,“ he croaked before succumbing to a violent coughing fit. His throat felt dry and parched and the cough hurt his busted ribs something crazy. Soap was suddenly there, holding a glass of water with a straw to Simon’s mouth. He would’ve been annoyed if he wasn’t actually needing the help.

Wincing as straw touched his painfully cracked lips, he pushed past the pain and drank. He had to slow himself down, knowing full well what would happen if he didn’t.

„How… long?“ he managed to ask, his voice clearer this time.

„Twenty days since your mission to Urzikstan, six since we got you out,“ Gaz provided without a second thought.

As Soap moved to set the glass aside, Ghost reached out surprisingly fast and caught his wrist, unwilling to let him go. They locked eyes for a fleeting moment before Soap broke the gaze. He gently freed his hand from Simon’s grip, placed the glass down, and stepped back to where Price and Gaz stood.

„What’s the prognosis?“ Ghost asked. He was really asking when he could be cleared for active duty.

„It’s hard to say, but I wouldn’t hold my breath if I were you. If those ribs hurt like broken, it’s because they are. Among other things. Don’t rush this, Simon, not this time, I very much doubt that anyone in this room wants to repeat the Sakhra.“

„What happened?“ Ghost asked, his memory still hazy.

„You don’t remember?“ Price seemed surprised. „Well, it doesn’t matter. What I mean is, if I hear you tried to leave way too early, I’m going to have you cuffed to the bed, understood, soldier?“

„Yes, sir.“

Ghost found out what happened in Sakhra a day later by interrogating a nurse. Apparently, he walked out of the helo and nearly popped his clogs. Would’ve, too, if not for a “Sargeant doing the CPR”. He couldn’t have known it was Soap, and yet he somehow knew. Maybe it was his expression the day prior. The way he refused to look properly at Simon.

He wanted to ask Soap about it. And a great deal of other things, too. Only Soap seemed to be clairvoyant because, on the precious few visits he did, he always brought Gaz along, too. Ghost was irritated, both by Soap’s childish way of avoiding proper conversation and the fact that he was bedridden for the foreseeable future. Bored out of his mind and in pain most of the time.

The burns on his body were healing, requiring regular exercises to prevent loss of mobility in his right shoulder. It was a tedious process that Ghost passionately hated. The explosion also cost him four broken ribs, further aggravated by beatings he had endured during the interrogations in the prison and Soap’s first aid. His chest was a bloody jigsaw puzzle. Recovery would take months, the doctors told him. Maybe three, if he was lucky, more if he wasn’t. Then the finger. Oh, he was right pissed about that. It was just a pinkie and just a part of it, but whatever, he was partial to his hands! The myriad of cuts and mostly faded bruises he wasn’t even registering.

One of the more eventful days had been when Price paid Ghost a visit. He brought along books to keep Ghost occupied, but the real highlight was their conversations. Sometimes they discussed the books Price brought, while other times, they reminisced about past missions. However, there was one topic they consistently avoided: the events at Al-Mazrah. A few days after Ghost woke up, Price asked about the interrogations, but it seemed more like a formality to assess the risk of any leaked information. Apart from that, they stuck to safe and familiar subjects.

Until one day, Price unexpectedly broached the unspoken rule.

„You still haven’t told him,“ Price stated out of nowhere. Ghost raised an eyebrow, momentarily taken aback by the sudden shift in topic.

„No,“ Ghost admitted, knowing exactly what Price was referring to.

„Simon, this has gone beyond ridiculous and entered the realm of pathetic. Clearly, your attempts to isolate yourself and suppress your feelings haven’t worked. Might as well indulge it before that constant double-checking and manoeuvring will kill either of you,” the Captain sighed, standing up from his chair and walking up to the window. The weather was shite once again.

„I won’t! I can’t! I’m his CO. I can’t play favourites with the lives of my men!“ Ghost replied, his voice rough and marginally raising.

„Shut up, and look at me!“ Price commanded, his voice stern and unwavering. Ghost complied without flinching, panic evident in his eyes. Each word he spoke served as a feeble shield, an excuse to avoid confronting the truth. It was ironic, really, how much blood stained his hands, how many lives he had taken. And yet, he was terrified by his own emotions.

„If it were anyone else, I would have them separated the moment I became aware of it. If I had even the slightest doubt, I would have transferred Soap immediately,“ Price stated firmly, crossing his arms over his chest to emphasise his position.

„But you didn’t,“ Ghost frowned, trying to grasp Price’s point.

„No, I didn’t. Do you know why?“

„No, sir.“

„Don’t you dare call me ‚sir‘ during this conversation, son,“ Price admonished before continuing, „I know you, Simon. I’ve known you for quite some time. When I mentioned that I knew how you felt about Soap, it was to ensure that it wouldn’t blindside you and affect your decision-making. I didn’t transfer Soap because I have confidence in your abilities and your sense of responsibility.“

„Maybe you shouldn’t,“ Ghost muttered under his breath.

„You know, that doesn’t even matter because there’s more to this than just you. I know for a fact that if Soap caught as much as a whiff of you favouring or coddling him in any way, he would kick your arse six ways to Sunday. You wouldn’t humiliate and disrespect him like that, and even if you tried, he wouldn’t let you. And I know you know that. So, let’s cut the bullshit: You can have this, and frankly, I think you should allow yourself to have it,“ Price’s voice softened while his eyes held as much resolve as ever. It wasn’t an easy decision; it would also put Price into a very difficult position should anyone ever question the nature of Ghost’s and Soap’s relationship.

Ghost stared, speechless. He never thought about it that way, yet he couldn’t really find any fault in Price’s reasoning. Soap was touchy about his rep and would probably eat Ghost alive for trashing it. But that didn’t magic away all the issues. Not by a long shot.

„I don’t care what you do about it, Simon, but you will do something, or I will,” Price promised, briefly stopping by the door before leaving Ghost alone.

Chapter 11

The third week after Ghost’s return, the Lieutenant requested to be released from the hospital. The doctors protested, not that there was much else they could do about it. If Ghost didn’t want to be somewhere, there wasn’t a force to keep him there. So he just got his merry mix of prescription meds and limped his way back to the barracks. He was far from being fine, and it would take weeks for him to recover fully, but being away from the hospital walls would at least alleviate some of his misery.

Arriving at the door to his room, he noticed an innocuously looking package on the floor. No doubt the only reason it didn’t get stolen was common knowledge as to whose door it was. Taking it and unlocking the door, the room was just as he left it. Baren of any personal items, save for a book on the bedside table. Ghost paused, thinking that he almost lost a chance to finish it. It would be one of the few, if not the only, unfinished business that would be left of Simon Riley.

Shaking off his thoughts, Ghost focused his attention on the package. He placed it on the table and carefully unwrapped the plain brown paper. Inside, he found a „Get Well Soon“ card, seemingly intended for children. On the front, there was a drawing of a bear with a bandaged head, but someone had skilfully added Ghost’s mask to its face. It was undoubtedly Soap’s handiwork. Opening the card, Ghost discovered the signatures of his teammates, along with a handwritten message that read, „Remember: it’s not drinking on pills if you’re only washing them down.“

Taking the whiskey out of the hard box, Ghost looked at the simple bottle adorned with stag antlers. That was a fairly expensive, not easily obtainable and very thoughtful gift. Ghost smiled, imagining the doctor shouting at his squad mates if they were even real. Ghost closed his eyes, exhaling and taking a deep breath. He pushed through the pain, feeling the injured ribs as well as fresh scars. None of it bothered him as much as the last conversation with Price. How long did he want to beat around the bush? How long did Soap? Or did Johnny really think Ghost stupid enough not to notice how he used Gaz as his personal babysitter? He didn’t visit Ghost in the hospital alone even once.

On the other hand, Ghost was equally to blame for the current sorry state of affairs as Johnny. Perhaps even more. When Johnny got to him in Al Mazrah, Ghost was dead set on telling him, yet he never did. Never as much as hinted he wanted to. Even during those awkward group visits, he could’ve easily asked Gaz to leave them alone. Hell, he could just do it with Gaz in the room. God knew the man had seen much worse. He didn’t do anything because he was afraid. Because maintaining the status quo was simply easier. He’s had enough and he also didn’t take Price’s words lightly. If the Captain promised to do something, he would do it, and in a manner that would teach Ghost a lesson. He didn’t want that, and frankly, Soap didn’t deserve it. Thinking of, Soap didn’t deserve a lot of shit that Ghost gave him these past weeks. Taking the bottle, he decided to be the adult, and face his problems.

Clad in a plain black t-shirt, regulation cargos, and a simple balaclava, Ghost stood in front of Soap’s door, his hand hovering hesitantly before knocking. He had no idea if Soap was on the base or halfway across the world, but there was only one way to find out. Moments of uncertainty passed before the door finally opened. Soap appeared before him, his eyes unfocused, his mohawk disheveled, and dressed only in a white tee and boxer briefs. Only then Ghost stopped to think about the time.

„Ghost…?“ Soap murmured, his voice tinged with a yawn. „What’re ye doin‘ ‚ere?“ His thick accent made it hard for Ghost to understand, so he made a guess.

„Only an alcoholic drinks alone,“ Ghost replied, lifting his arm to display the bottle in his hand.

Soap blinked, trying to process everything before stepping aside with a faint smile to allow Ghost inside. „Do ye ken wha‘ time is it?“

Ghost didn’t and frankly, didn’t care.

„I couldn’t sleep,“ he said instead. Soap turned to look at him, this time much more aware.

„Do ye wanna talk ‚bout it?“ the Sergeant offered with great care. Ghost hated it when someone was tiptoeing around him.

„I wanna see what kind of piss did you wankers buy me,“ he dodged the question as he set the bottle on Soap’s desk. There was an opened notebook with a short pencil weighing the page down. Ghost looked at it, his eyes immediately locking on a drawing of… himself? It was a rough sketch depicting Ghost sitting on a bench and flipping one of his throwing knives. He did that often enough yet had no idea when did Soap draw him.

Feeling like he invaded, Ghost looked away quickly without a single word, instead opting for sitting on the edge of Soap’s bed.

„I wanna be present to you telling Price he bought you a piss,“ Johnny smirked, as he rummaged through his things. Ghost noticed something black and glinting on the nightstand. One of his own knives. He wasn’t surprised to see it. Since Las Almas it has become a kind of tradition, Soap hunting for Ghost’s knives on their missions. He always asked if Ghost wanted them back, and Ghost always refused without telling him why. Because to tell him would be to admit he wanted Johnny safe. Ghost couldn’t be there with him all the time, watching his back. So, at the very least, he provided Soap with something to defend himself—a piece of equipment he knew was top-notch, having used and vetted it himself. Usually, Ghost wouldn’t even consider lending his gear to someone, let alone giving it away. Yet Soap had to have a neat collection about now.

The Sergeant finally emerged victorious, holding a single glass in his hand. „‚Fraid I only have one, so either we share, or I’ll be your bartender for tonight.“

„That your plan, Johnny? Get me drunk and then interrogate me?“ Ghost asked, keeping his voice carefully neutral as he took off the balaclava. The Scotsman turned on the sound of his name. Judging by his expression, he wanted to say something, only as soon as he registered Ghost’s exposed face, he just stood there, with a mouth slightly agape. „We gonna get to that drink sometime today?“ Ghost reminded him as a smile tugged on his lips. Taking off shoes, he simply occupied Soap’s bed. It would be polite to at least ask but Ghost was always a bit of a bastard.

Soap nodded, opening the bottle and pouring a very generous amount. Turning back to his bed, he frowned. „At least scoot over.“

Ghost did, making space which Soap immediately used, settling down beside him. They were half sitting, their backs to the wall, shoulders touching on a bed that was designed for one person. „Alright, so, to your speedy recovery, Lt.,“ he raised the glass and took a sip before passing it to Ghost.

„To a long, healthy life that we won’t ever get,“ replied Ghost with his own toast as he tasted the bourbon. It was good. Excellent, even. Sliding down his throat, leaving a taste of fruit and smoke. „So, what do you say, is it better than Scotch?“

„Don’t ask questions you don’t want to know answers to, Simon,“ Johnny chuckled. Ghost suppressed the need to react physically to the sound of his name. It might’ve been the first time Soap said it outside of some life-threatening situation. Was it too late to put balaclava back on? To leave? He came in here with a steady resolve but now, with Johnny so close, with his humour and expressive eyes, Ghost was reminded what exactly was he risking. Was it worth it?

As Ghost rested his head against the wall, he looked up on the ceiling, as if he could find the answers written there. He felt Johnny’s eyes on him and he refused to acknowledge it. „I should go.“ Even to him it sounded more like a question, reflecting his indecisiveness.

„You can definitely try. I’d be surprised if you got as far as to the door,“ Soap, amused, nudged him with the shoulder, taking the glass from Ghost and sipping on the whiskey.

„Is that supposed to be a challenge, Sergeant? Do you doubt your commanding officer?“ Ghost shot him a mildly menacing look. There was a hint of panic in Soap’s expression before he figured Ghost was just taking a piss with him.

„I’d be willing to bet, but I don’t wanna drag you to the ER in the middle of the night, and then explaining Price why have I: one: let you drink on opioids, and two: didn’t take care of you.“

Ghost let the words run through his head as he, again, took the glass and drank from it. They were about halfway through it. As he imagined the scene Johnny described, he couldn’t stop himself from laughing. At first, a chuckle, low in his chest, then a full-out bark of laughter. It hurt so bad but he didn’t care. Closing his eyes, he revelled in the feeling. Carelessness, lightness. At least for a fleeting moment. Before the reality returned, harsh and uninvited.

He heard the clank as Soap put the glass down on the bedside table. Then: „Simon?“ Ghost shivered at that. A simple, involuntary reaction to the way his name sounded in Soap’s voice, spoken so softly in the dead of the night. He could get used to it. He wanted to. But it won’t happen for a myriad of reasons. Soap understood he wouldn’t get a verbal reaction, so he went ahead to ask what he really wanted to ask: „How out of it are you?“

„Not much, just a little tipsy,“ he answered truthfully. Usually, he got to this point after at least three glasses. But usually, he wasn’t as sleep deprived and medicated halfway out of his mind.

„Why did you come here, really?“ ah. There it was.

„So I was right. You wanted to get me drunk and interrogate me,“ Ghost looked at him. Soap had one of the most serious expressions he’s ever seen on him. It didn’t suit him.

„I just… Ah guess I wanna ken what’s going on. With ye, and this whole… thing,“ Soap gestured between them before averting his gaze. It seemed that Soap had more courage in him than Ghost. „I used to think we were okay. More than okay, actually, but then one day, ye jest pulled the plug without any warning or explanation. And now you just waltz in here, acting like it’s all good and peachy? What the fuck is a lad tae think?“

„That’s fair,“ Ghost admitted. He was stalling, but he should’ve known better.

„Bullshit! And stop stalling ye bloody eejit!“ Soap was feeling bold, grabbing the still half-full glass and taking a healthy gulp. Ghost winced. That was a damn good bourbon; it should’ve been savoured, not used as a courage shot.

As Soap offered him the glass back, he threw the reasoning out of the windows, downing the rest of the drink in one go. He could feel guilty about it later. He already suspected he would also feel very sorry in the morning. „I had to do it, Johnny. Because we were more than okay, as you put it. You have no idea how much more.“

„What makes you think I didn’t know?“ Soap frowned. Ghost raised his eyebrow. Well, at least now he could answer the question of whether or not did Soap notice and how much of their interaction was as innocent as it seemed. Now he knew, but it wasn’t making him feel better.

„If you did, then you’d know why I had to put a stop to it. For fuck’s sake, Johnny, if you could see yourself back in that Colombian hospital when I chewed you out… I felt like I’ve gutted you,“ Simon admitted, his face reflecting the pain he felt. That moment has never sat right with him.

„If anything, I wanted to gut you, Ghost,“ Soap replied after a brief silence. „And just to be clear, I disagree. I don’t have to understand or agree with your decision. We’re risking our lives on a daily basis. Why the hell shouldn’t we have something nice for once?“ He sounded so confident in his words and beliefs that Ghost truly wanted to believe it as well. The thing was, a simple belief wasn’t enough to dispel many serious issues at hand.

„Because we’re in the military, Johnny,“ Ghost said, quiet, just a little bit broken, „we’ve voluntarily enlisted. There are rules and regulations, and they’re there for a good reason.“

„Are you seriously going to feed me the bull about regulations? Are you shitting me? Well, go ahead, then, and tell me again what you told me in Las Almas. About there being nothing about friendship in the field manual, ye arsehole!“ Soap straightened his back, not even trying to conceal his anger. The quip about Las Almas went deep, and Ghost knew full well he deserved it. He thought, for a moment, that Soap was gonna launch at him and deck him right there. He didn’t. Ghost knitted his eyebrows together and set his jaw as he ran his hand through his blonde hair.

„Price noticed, alright? I didn’t know… how serious it was until he told me. And it scared me shitless, Johnny,“ Ghost admitted quietly. He was boring holes into the door across the room, so he wouldn’t have to look at Johnny. Into those beautiful eyes that haunted him wherever he went.

„I know,“ Johnny replied, his voice soft and gentle. Ghost wanted to ask for elaboration, because, what the fuck? How could he know? He didn’t have to. Johnny went on: „After you went MIA, I…. I wasn’t in a good place, Simon. I took some time off, went to Glasgow to be alone and to think, which, mind you, was a royally stupid idea.“

Ghost frowned. He would’ve liked to cross his arms on his chest, but the cracked ribs wouldn’t be too keen on that, so he just nodded and listened on.

„Price was worried, ‚bout me, doin‘ something stupid. And he wasn’t far off, too, but that ain’t important. Anyway, he got to Glasgow, we sat down and we talked, about ye, mostly. I thought I fucked up, been too annoying, too chatty, just pissed ye off. Wouldn’t have been the first,“ by the end of the sentence, Johnny spoke so quietly that Ghost had to strain his ears. It was obvious he wanted to come off as levelled, but he couldn’t fool Ghost. Simon had a hunch long ago that Soap’s cheerfulness and self-assurance were just a ruse. At that moment, he knew he was right all along.

„Johnny…,“ Ghost said, unsure whether he wanted to apologise or explain himself. In his mad run from what they had with Soap, he never stopped once to think about Johnny and what it might do to him. Soap just raised his hand to shush Ghost. He wasn’t finished.

„Price told me that you cared about me, and that’s why you killed it. I don’t even know if I was more relieved or really wanted to swallow a bullet,“ Johnny smiled, but it didn’t reach his eyes, and the chuckle that followed was fake and lifeless.

„Johnny!“ Ghost couldn’t stay silent any longer. Soap, surprised, looked at him, and there was pain and sorrow so profound in his eyes that Ghost’s throat tightened in response. Simon’s hand, which has been restlessly twitching for the past several minutes, shot out to grab Soap’s tee. He never wanted to hurt him. Never wanted to see him like this, especially knowing he was the sole cause. But right now, he needed to silence him. Both the things he said and the ones he only hinted at buried deep inside Simon, causing a carnage worse than a hollow point. He almost ruined it. Ruined him.

Grasping the tee tighter, Ghost pulled him closer, cupping his face with a bandaged hand, staring at that wide-eyed wonder as he lowered his head and kissed him. The kiss wasn’t long, and it wasn’t passionate. Just their lips pressed together. Still, he made sure to get his point across. This wasn’t a one-off thing or something he would write off as a mistake in the morning.

He felt Soap tense in his hands, then taking a breath before a shuddering exhale. Ghost backed off a little bit but didn’t let him go. Nobody ever cared about what Simon wanted, including Simon. But this was about Johnny, and whatever Johnny wanted, Simon would give him. And so he awaited the verdict.

Johnny was looking at him, shock written all over his flushed face. Ghost found it endearing, even if it was for all the wrong reasons. Soap was an elite soldier. Highly-trained killer. He would slit a man’s throat without hesitation, but a kiss threw him off. Ghost smiled. Soap’s expression changed suddenly. Simon had no idea what did Johnny see on his face, but it was enough to almost have him melting. And then he got his answer.

Johnny’s hands sneaked around his neck as he put a bit of weight into it, trying to get Ghost on his back. Ghost tensed and stifled a gasp as his injuries sharply protested increased pressure. Soap, realising his mistake, backed off immediately.

„Fuck! Sorry, I’m sorry! I forgot, are you alright?“ he apologised as he lightly touched Ghost to make sure he was fine.

„I’m not,“ Simon said, low and dangerous, „and I won’t be unless you finish what you started.“ This time, it was Ghost looming over Soap, bracing himself on his hands not to stress his chest too much. Soap got the message and finally lifted his head to kiss Ghost back. Slowly and carefully at first, but when Ghost didn’t pull away, he got bolder. Caressing Simon’s scarred face, feeling for the stubble as he gently bit his lower lip. The corner of Ghost’s mouth twitched in amusement. He should’ve known MacTavish would be just like that. Playful, cheeky, with a touch of shyness.

As Soap licked into his mouth, Ghost didn’t even try to resist, parting his lips and allowing Johnny to do as he pleased. He did push back eventually, but it was a silent and mutually accepted shift in power balance. Ghost didn’t have to force anything; Johnny was as good at following his lead here as he was in the field.

Pulling back after a while, Ghost placed a palm on Johnny’s chest, pushing him down onto the mattress. He glanced down to see part of Soap’s stomach exposed as his tee tucked up. A fine line of dark hair ran from his belly button down. Ghost licked his lip. He wanted. And for the first time in his life, it mattered because what he wanted, Johnny did too.

Simon slid down on the bed until he felt his legs dangle off the edge. He didn’t care because he got to tuck the t-shirt even more and kiss Soap wherever he could. Everywhere. Holding him down at the waist as he kissed and licked and grazed the skin with his teeth. And he longed for more.

„Simon,“ Soap gasped, sounding breathless as he put a hand on top of Simon’s head, threading his fingers through blonde hair. Simon shut his eyes, trying to remember when was the last time someone touched him like that. If he even possessed such a memory at all.

He kissed his way up Soap’s body, slowly, meticulously. The moment he got to his chest, a sudden weakness came over him, which might or might not have had a connection to the alcohol and his medication. Simon laid his head on Johnny’s chest, listening to his quickened heartbeat. Laid as he was, he felt Soap’s hard-on through the thin fabric of his briefs.

Simon lifted his head: „I could use a shower.“

Judging by the way Soap’s eyes lit up, and his face conjured a grin, he was fully onboard.

Soap went right ahead, discarding his tee and removing his briefs, casually tossing them on the floor. Ghost watche, not even trying to hide his interest. He has seen Soap naked before, of course. They had more than their share of missions with no option other than the river or a lake. Shared utilities were also common. On the other hand, it wasn’t that often he had seen him naked and turned on.

„You coming?“ Soap glanced back bashfully, a parody of coyness. Ghost chuckled at the obvious innuendo as he decided to follow suit. Taking off his clothes, mindful of any strenuous moves while he neatly folded them and then stepped into the shower stall.

It wasn’t small, but it wasn’t exactly designed with two bulky men in mind. They needed to really huddle together if they hoped to actually close the door. Ghost licked his lips, tasting remnants of whiskey and Johnny. There were old scars tugging at his lips as he did so. Sometimes they bothered him, but not tonight. Not even when Soap turned around, raising his hand and touching them gingerly. Just the barest whisper of fingertips where the skin met the scar tissue. Ghost closed his eyes, appreciating that Johnny, for once, kept his mouth shut. He didn’t want to hear any cliché shit about how his scars were really beautiful. They weren’t, even though they were a part of him, and he was relieved that Johnny accepted it. Truth be told, he was somewhat lost. There was no training or manual to prepare him for a situation like that. He only had his intuition and feelings, both impaired by years of abuse and disuse. He was only hoping that Soap could navigate these uncharted waters better—for them both.

Johnny’s fingers found their way higher, scratching Ghost’s scalp, causing Simon to shiver and moan before he could sto himself. The sound shocked him, but he relaxed when he heard Johnny’s soft chuckle. There were a lot of ways he’s heard Soap laugh, but this right there was new. Gentle and intimate. Ghost wasn’t sure if he deserved such attention and care. Before the doubts could consume him, Soap leaned in, guiding Simon’s head for another kiss. His hand remained on Ghost’s scalp, while the other one traced the contours of his back, mindful of the fresh scars.

They kissed languidly savoring each moment, before Soap pulled back to finally turn on the water and retrieve a shower gel from the shelf. The generous amount he dispensed made Ghost raise an eyebrow.

„Now the callsign makes sense. I knew it had nothing to do with your skills,“ Ghost smirked, playfully teasing the Scot as he watched the white foam envelop Soap’s hands.

„Brilliant, Ah’ve not heard that one before,“ Soap groaned. His revenge was swift and efficient, literally taking Ghost by the balls. Simon froze, the grin on his face quickly replaced by a surprise at first, and soon a pleasure, as Johnny rolled him between his fingers, gentle but firm. „Go on, Lt., tell me the one about a bar of soap in the communal shower,“ there was a dare in his voice while he studied Ghost’s face.

„Seems like… you’ve got the upper hand here, Sergeant,“ Simon said through gritted teeth. He could’ve easily taken over. Or perhaps not so easily, given the fuzziness of his mind and the fact that Soap’s hands on him simply felt too good.

„Seems like I do,“ Johnny grinned, his hand sliding higher to palm Ghost’s hard cock. Simon gasped, instinctively grinding against the touch. His hands found their place on Johnny’s shoulder and waist, ready to seize control, to press him against the wall, to claim his mouth and let their cocks rub together until Soap moaned and begged. But for now, Ghost allowed Soap to lead the way.

Soap leaned in, his teeth grazing Ghost’s neck before he bit down, greedy little thing. Simon hissed at the mix of pleasure and pain, quickly soothed by Soap’s licks and kisses. It felt as if he were the center of Johnny’s universe, receiving his undivided attention. And yet, it was overwhelming, the sensation of Johnny’s hand sliding lazily along his length, slick with foam, , while his other hand tangled in Ghost’s hair and his mouth ravaged his neck.

„Johnny,“ Ghost rasped, feeling Soap’s cock twitch against his thigh at the sound. He made a mental note of that observation, to be used later. Placing both hands on Soap’s shoulders, Ghost gently pressed down. Not with too much force but enough to get the message across.

Soap looked at him, raising an eyebrow with a mischievous grin before obediently dropping to his knees with a „Roger that, sir.“ Simon didn’t even try to unpack the bundle of conflicting emotions he had about Soap using his rank or the jargon in that particular context.

His brain shut up the moment Soap opened his mouth. Ghost had to brace himself against the wall, one hand finding its way to Soap’s mohawk, marvelling at the fact it was just long enough to allow someone to grab it. No, he corrected himself, not someone. If he ever caught anyone doing that, Ghost would break both their arms. If Soap didn’t do it sooner.

„If… fuck… if only I knew… This would’ve shut you up… I would’ve… done it sooner,“ Ghost rasped, struggling to form a coherent sentence as Johnny worked him up. Licking with broad, languid strokes, pressing with just the tip of his tongue at the cockhead before going down on him. Simon urged him on gently, never taking away the choice to pull back.

Simon looked down, nearly coming from the sight alone. Soap’s brilliant blue eyes locked with his own as his mouth stretched around Ghost’s prick. „Fuckin‘ hell, Johnny…“ Ghost moaned, closing his eyes to regain a semblance of control and find his footing.

When he looked again, he noticed Johnny working on his own hard-on. That just wouldn’t do. Ghost moved his foot, nudging Soap’s hand away. That was his to appreciate, cherish and take care of. Soap’s mouth twinged in a semblance of a smile, as much as he was able to smile around Simon. As a token of either appreciation or subtle revenge for Ghost’s intervention, Johnny slightly adjusted the angle, pushing further down on Simon, taking him deeper until he reached the back of his throat, and then even further.

„God! Fuck!“ Simon cried out, clutching at Soap’s hair, very nearly blacking out. He felt Soap’s gag reflex kicking in and the way Johnny fought it to last longer.

„So good, Johnny… so… fuckin‘ good,.. let go, luv… ya gotta breathe,“ he had to put in a bit of strength to pull him back. Soap whimpered, taking a few deep breaths before just going at it again without a hint of pause or hesitation as the gentle stream of water washed away the tears. Simon was his, and he wanted all of him. Angling his head, trying to relax as much as he could and just slowly letting Simon bury himself in his throat. Kneeling there, taking Simon’s cock, Soap felt powerful. Every moan, gasp, and word of praise that Ghost gave him was a testament to the control Johnny had over the man.

Soap took Ghost’s hand and placed it back on the top of his head, silently encouraging him to continue. He wanted this, wanted Ghost to fuck his throat raw, and who was Simon to deny him? Holding on tight, Ghost kept Soap in place as he thrust in and out of his throat with quick, measured thrusts. The heat, tightness, and the way Soap’s throat worked around his prick felt too perfect to last.

Johnny was his, and he was Johnny’s, and he was so fucking close, chasing his orgasm until suddenly, there was nothing at all as the tightness peaked, the tension swelled and broke. He was coming down Johnny’s throat feeling him swallow around him. Simon’s whole body was trembling, shuddering in the aftershock.

Suddenly remembering where he where and under what circumstances, he showed Johnny back. Soap knelt there, hunched over, coughing and touching his throat gingerly. He quickly regained control, lifting his teary gaze to meet Simon’s eyes. A shit-eating grin plastered on his pretty face.

„Bloody hell, MacTavish,“ Simon growled, pulling the Scot up by his upper arm so he could kiss him. Licking past his lips, tasting himself on Soap’s tongue. „What kind of idiot chokes on a prick?“ Simon joked, his tone light and soft.

„Ah would, anytime, if it’s yers,“ Johnny grinned, his voice hoarse.

„Cheeky,“ Simon smiled, „let’s move this to the bed.“

„Ye dinnae have ta,“ Johnny said as they settled back in bed and Ghost’s hands started to roam his chest.

„English, MacTavish,“ Simon chastised playfully, even though he could understand.

„I said that you don’t have to do that,“ Soap repeated.

„Mhm… I didn’t have to throat-fuck ya a minute ago, too,“ Simon smirked, his smile widening as he saw Johnny’s face flush red. „Look at you, Johnny, being all shy on me now.“ Simon rolled over carefully, trapping Soap beneath his body. Somewhere between the blow job and the bed, Soap had gone soft, but Ghost planned on rectifying that soon. Lowering his head, he kissed Johnny on the lips, then trailed his lips along the stubble on his jaw and down his neck. Johnny gasped into Ghost’s ear, sending shivers down his spine.

„That’s a good boy,“ Simon whispered against Johnny’s skin, feeling his prick starting to harden again. It twitched just as he said the words. Simon chuckled, kissing Soap’s collarbone and sliding lower, licking at his nipple.

„Do you have any lube?“

„Um… just… gun oil?“ Johnny stammered.

„Hmm, kinky, but no good. Never mind, we can do without,“ Ghost hummed as he lifted Johnny’s legs up.

„What… what are you doing?“

„You have your tricks, Johnny, and I have mine,“ Ghost smirked as he bent down to run his tongue across Soap’s balls, his perineum, and all the way to his arse.

Soap yelped, his eyes widening.

„Ghost…!“ Soap started what was presumably a mild protest, as Simon put his tongue back to use, circling his hole while rolling Soap’s balls between his fingers, much like Soap had done to him earlier. Johnny keened, shivering as he shut his eyes tight.

„Look at me, Johnny,“ Simon purred, revelling in the reaction he got from a few simple words. Johnny obeyed, locking his gaze with Ghost. He was flushed, his lips parted and still slightly swollen. Simon felt a tinge of pride. „I want you to see what I’m doing to you, to remember it. Maybe you could even draw it sometime,“ Simon grinned, his canines glinting in the low light. He was still figuring Soap out, learning what worked, what didn’t, what he liked, and how much. Already, a picture was starting to form in his mind.

“Jesus… yer gonna kill me,” Soap’s eyes widened at the words. If not bent over, in what was perhaps the most exposed position he ever found himself in, he might’ve looked almost scandalised.

„Never. But anyone who looks at you the wrong way is fair game,“ Ghost hummed, resuming his ministrations, teasingly prodding at Soap’s entrance with the tip of his tongue. As he closed his hand around Soap’s leaking prick, he set a punishing pace, coordinating his tongue with his hand.

Johnny moaned, then whined, a bit too loudly to be safe in the barracks. He realised it, too, simply biting down on his own forearm. It didn’t last long. Soap being Soap, he couldn’t help but be vocal, but he did try to keep it down, no matter how difficult it clearly was.

“Simon… Si… dinnae stop, please… God, please,” Johnny pleaded, close to the edge. Simon wasn’t backing down, only slightly pausing at the pet name Soap used, unsure whether he liked it or not. Deciding on the latter, he proceeded with a form of punishment. A penultimately feral growl escaped Ghost as he tightened his grip and pushed his tongue deeper.

Simon clamped his other hand over Soap’s mouth just in time to muffle a cry of pure ecstasy as Soap came. Simon looked him over, from the spent prick in his spunk-covered hand to the cum splattered on Johnny’s abdomen and chest, to Simon’s tattooed arm pressed against Soap’s mouth, and finally, Johnny’s eyes, glistening with unshed tears.

„Gorgeous,“ Ghost hummed, letting Johnny’s legs down onto the bed. Johnny gave him a sloppy, sleepy smile that was soon replaced by shock as he watched Ghost lift his right hand and lick the cum off, all while maintaining eye contact. Ghost was so going to enjoy teasing Soap and weaponising his shyness.

Soap took a few minutes to restart his brain before getting up and unhurriedly disappearing into the bathroom, presumably to clean himself up. Suddenly, a wet washcloth was thrown at Ghost. He caught it and cleaned his hands before tossing it back to Johnny, who was waiting in the doorway. Just a few minutes later, Soap switched off the bedside lamp and lay back down on the bed. Ghost shuffled to the very edge, giving him more space.

„Yer gonna fall off,“ Soap muttered.

„Not your problem,“ Ghost retorted.

„Price seeking revenge on whoever hurt his golden boy kinda is my problem,“ Soap smirked, his voice audible in the close proximity. Ghost could imagine the sparks in Soap’s blue eyes and the lopsided grin.

„If Price has a golden boy, it’s you.“



„Shut yer trap and come closer, or I’ll shove ye off myself.“

Ghost wordlessly shuffled closer. As soon as he was within grabbing distance, Soap immediately embraced him. Not too tight, mindful of Ghost’s injuries, but they were intimately close. „‚This okay?“ Soap asked on the verge of sleep. If Ghost were honest, he wasn’t that much better off.

„It’s more than okay, Johnny,“ Simon whispered as he returned the embrace. „I wanted to ask… why didn’t you want me to touch you earlier?“

„Ah… I already… in the shower,“ it was a quiet admission. And it was, honestly, kinda hilarious.

„Oh, did ya? So I’ve just…,“ Simon had to lift his head as if to get a better look at him, only he couldn’t see anything in the dark.

„Pretty much, aye. Nearly killed me,“ Soap huffed out a laugh.

„I was about to say I made you come twice,“ Ghost chuckled.

„Ye and yer dirty mouth, Simon,“ Soap groaned. Simon could imagine how flushed he was.

„Mmm… you love it,“ Ghost smiled, running a finger across his bicep.

„I’m pleading the fifth.“

„We’re not in the States, cowboy.“

„Could ring up Laswell, see if the CIA wants me?“

„I’m not letting go of you, Johnny.  You should’ve known before you started this,“ Simon’s voice lost its joking lilt, turning to a more serious tone.

„I kinda knew, I think. There’s no way to have Simon Riley just a little bit, is there?“ Soap replied quietly.

„Would you want that?“ Simon asked, barely above the whisper, careful not to let the emotions bleed into his voice.

„Never,“ Johnny leaned in to kiss him.

„Good,“ Ghost breathed out and smiled into the kiss.

They were going to be alright.

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