“Here.” Torin dropped a fresh bottle of water in Kyr’s lap, making him scramble to catch it before it did any damage.
“My hero, sir.” Kyr sat up to drink, chugging down most of the bottle in one go. “Newly promoted to Lance-Corporal, and you’re still my bitch.”
“Shut your ugly face.” Torin settled down on the bedroll beside him, scratching absently at his hip where his belt was rubbing. “They’re only promoting people because the dumbass officers keep getting themselves killed.”
“Nobody’s promoted me.”
“That’s because you suck.” Torin leaned back with a grateful sigh.
“No, that’s why I should be promoted.” Grinning, Kyr ducked Torin’s swat and then settled in against his shoulder, picking up his magazine again. “Either way, I’m just hoping we’ll actually get to do something before the snow falls again.”
“Don’t have a lot of time left, it’s already fall. Now shut up and let me sleep.” Torin closed his eyes, lacing his hands across his stomach.
Kyr smiled a bit, thinking suddenly of Solan. He thought back a few days to try and figure out the date and decided that it wasn’t quite Solan’s nineteenth birthday yet. It felt like five years had passed instead of just one since he’d showed up for his last year of school and met—and fell in love with—Solan Yorke. The thought soured his smile and he turned back to his magazine, trying not to itch for a fight. After boot camp they’d been sent to a base camp for a few weeks of intensive training and then assigned to a battalion and shipped off to join the front lines. At the front lines they’d participated in a few skirmishes, but mostly they had sat at camp, waiting to be actually useful.
“Maybe they’re going to turn tail and run,” he said out loud. “The Fae.”
“You see my eyes closed, Kyrianos? That means I’m asleep,” Torin murmured. “And no, they’re not going to run. They’re just gathering themselves up to charge. Now shut your yap before I shut it for you.”
“Yessir.” Kyr returned to his magazine, half-listening to the chatter around him.
Akiva passed them on the way towards the tent’s open entrance and gave Kyr’s boot a kick. “Why don’t you two just get a fucking room already? Just looking at you makes me feel gay.”
“Like anybody would ever look twice at your sideways hick ass,” Kyr said without looking up from his magazine. “Besides, I can’t, I’ve got an appointment to fuck your mother in half an hour.”
“Suck a dick, Kyr,” Akiva said, continuing on his way.
“Like I said, your mother, half an hour,” Kyr called after him, and felt Torin’s shoulder move as he laughed. “Thought you were asleep, LC?”
“It’s impossible to sleep with you braying in my ear,” Torin said. “Do I need to gag you?”
“I didn’t know you were so kinky.”
“I’ll do it with my sock. One I haven’t washed in three weeks. One that smells like Turner looks.”
“Sorry, did you say ‘sock’ or—” Kyr cut off with a yelp when Torin punched him hard in the back. “Ow, fuck, I’ll be pissing red for a week now.”
“You deserve it. Let me sleep, Damascus. That’s an order.”
“All right, get your beauty sleep.” Kyr rubbed at his spine and went back to his magazine, listening to Torin’s breathing soon slow and deepen. Around them the rest of their team—Mikael and Akiva, who had gone to boot camp with them, and a handful of other guys who hadn’t—read, bitched, and worked on their gear, all waiting to be told what to do next.
The rest of the day passed without news and as the sun set, Kyr let himself out of the tent to go visit a friend he’d made in another battalion, coming back with a water bottle full of vodka and a grin. He went back in just long enough to grab Torin and his jacket, and together they found a spot out of view of most of the camp to sit and drink, passing the bottle back and forth until it was empty. When it was done, Kyr slumped back across the crisp grass and put his arms behind his head, looking up at the stars as they began to appear in the dark velvet of the night sky. The full moon, heavy and orange, had begun to rise over the horizon, bathing the camp in its light.
“Shit, I’m going to lose my fuckin’ mind if we don’t do something soon,” he said after a few minutes of silence. “Get my ass all the way through boot camp without shooting Ermey’s fucking head off, all the way through training, just to sit around in a tent with a bunch of assholes.”
“I love you too, Kyr,” Torin said, grinning.
“Fuck off. You’re King Asshole.” He snorted. “Lance-Corporal. How long til they promote you higher and you lose all your brains?”
“Don’t worry, I won’t just leave you.” Torin leaned over to ruffle his hair. “You’re gonna get the Grooming Standard lecture soon, though, if you don’t trim this.”
“Fuck the Grooming Standard. I’m a soldier, not a hairdresser.”
“You’re fucking adorable when you’re cranky.” Torin leaned over and planted a kiss in the middle of his forehead, laughing at Kyr’s grimace.
“Somebody catches you doing that and the Grooming Standard’s gonna be the least of your trouble.” Kyr looked up at the sky again. “Wonder what they’re doing right now.”
“I dunno. Sacrificing small children, fucking sheep, whatever it is Fae do when they’re not screaming down on us and scaring people shitless. Fuck, that first fight, I thought I was gonna piss my pants.” He sprawled out across Kyr’s stomach, dropping the weight of his shoulders hard enough to make Kyr grunt. “What a load of bullshit.”
“This whole thing.”
“You’re a traitor to your people, sir.”
“Don’t start with me.” Torin twisted and tickled his ribs until he squirmed and they were both laughing. “We’re doing shit for no one just sitting here with our thumbs up our asses. You wanna declare a war, you need to actually go to war.”
“I think they declared war first.” Kyr reached out to run his fingers through Torin’s hair when he settled back again. “Maybe they’ll come to a truce and we can all go home.”
“Nah, not gonna happen. They see it as we stole their land, and we see it as them just trying to steal it back. It’s gonna keep going forever and ever until the insects rise up and kill us all.”
“You’re in a fucking cheerful mood tonight.”
“I’m just...” Torin sighed. “I’m frustrated as fuck right now. I feel useless.”
“You need to get laid.”
“Why, are you offering?”
“You wish. I’m sure we can find you a sheep somewhere though.”
“Seems more your speed.”
“How do you think I got the vodka?”
Torin paused for a moment then made a face. “Gross.”
Kyr just grinned, stroking Torin’s hair until Torin relaxed and his eyes drifted shut. When he was sure Torin was asleep, or at least dozing, he let his hand still and looked up at the stars again, trying to pick out constellations he only barely remembered from school. The wind picked up and he shivered at its sudden chill, feeling goosebumps rise up on his arms and bringing a sleepy grumble from Torin. Behind them the camp was settling for the night and after a few moments he reluctantly let Torin get up and pull him to his feet so they could go back before someone came looking for them.
Inside the tent he curled up on his bedroll and pulled his blanket over his shoulders, closing his eyes in an attempt to sleep. Outside the wind gusted again and he heard someone swear under their breath as the sides of the tent snapped and rippled. He waited a moment to see if the wind would blow the tent’s canvas walls loose and heard the first rumble of thunder in the distance, deep and menacing.
“The sky was clear five minutes ago,” Torin said softly. “You hear anything about a storm?”
“Haven’t listened to the radio lately.” Kyr rubbed at his arms, where the hairs were standing on end. “Storms can come up quick.”
If Torin said something in reply, it was drowned out by a loud boom of thunder from much closer, and by a gust of wind that yanked one corner of the tent loose and set it cracking like a gunshot. The tent’s occupants scrambled to pull it back down over its peg but the wind caught it again and pulled the entire wall out of place, knocking bedding and gear halfway across the tent. Swearing, Kyr grabbed the sledgehammer from behind his pack and ducked outside to try and anchor the tent before it was completely blown away.
The rain started almost the instant he stepped outside, drenching him in seconds. A brilliant flash of lightning illuminated the camp and he saw at least one collapsed tent, and soldiers racing around attempting to secure everything down. The rain came down harder, stinging the bare skin of his arms and neck. Swiping a hand across his eyes to try and get the water out of them, Kyr shoved into the face of the wind and tried to grab the snapping edge of the tent. Beside him half of his unit was trying to do the same thing, while the other half attempted to keep the tent’s insides from being blown halfway across the camp.
Another purple-white flash of lightning half-blinded him, and the following bellow of thunder nearly sent him to his knees with its sheer power. Across the camp the wind caught a tent and yanked it out of the hands of the soldiers holding it, sending it for a short flight before it got wrapped around a truck. In all the commotion, Kyr barely heard the rising growl behind him until Torin grabbed his arm tight enough to bruise and spun him around.
In the stuttering flashes of lightning he saw the clouds swirl and begin to drop down in a funnel, deceptively slow and easy. He stared at it, vaguely aware that his mouth was hanging open, the sledgehammer forgotten in his hand. The funnel seemed to widen between one blink and the next, until it blocked out the horizon completely, a whirling vortex of shadow and debris in the night. Sirens usually reserved to warn of an incoming attack began to go off, their wails cutting through the clamour of shouting soldiers and heavy booms of thunder. At the base of the funnel Kyr saw a series of short blue flashes of light and dimly realized that the tornado was tearing up power lines.
“Move your stupid ass,” Torin snarled in his ear, yanking him back a few steps. All around them soldiers dropped whatever they were holding and ran for the nearest ditches, abandoning the tents to the roaring wind.
Kyr hesitated a moment longer, despite Torin’s yelling, and saw the tornado pick up one of the heavy supply trucks parking at the edge of camp, tossing it to the side like a children’s toy. Hail fell suddenly, rattling off vehicles rocking in the leading edge of the wind and exploding into snow when they hit the ground. One clipped his cheek and he flinched back from the sting, finally turning on his heel and bolting for shelter.
He felt the wind pluck at his clothes even as he dived into the nearest ditch on Torin’s heels. Overhead thunder boomed and the tornado roared as it steadily swept across the camp, snapping electrical lines and shredding armoured vehicles like tinfoil. Kyr huddled in against Torin’s side, protecting his head with both arms, and dug his elbows into the ground as the winds tried to catch him and pull him away from safety.
Something rattled above him and he glanced up automatically, just in time to see the truck he’d been riding in that day fly over his head and smash down into another ditch. He heard someone scream and the hollow woomph of something exploding nearby, followed by a fireball that rose into the air despite the driving rain. Kyr followed its path with wide eyes, barely conscious of the debris being flung all around him despite the slowly dying winds, until he caught movement out of the corner of his eye. He ducked automatically but the movement came a second too late. Pain exploded through his face and the rain went as red as blood before fuzzing into darkness.
He opened his eyes again a few seconds later and found himself high in the air, dragged along by the tornado’s winds as it gradually wound itself out and collapsed. His first thought was that he’d somehow been picked up out of the ditch by its power but he stayed in the air even when the tornado had tattered away into clouds that were already beginning to break up. In the distance he saw two figures standing on a high hill overlooking the camp, tall shadows in the darkness, and even as he wondered who they were, he came close enough to see one of them was Solan.
The man standing beside him was very tall and broad across the shoulders, crowned by a pair of heavy pale antlers. Kyr thought briefly that this was the buck he’d seen in his dreams, finally given Fae form. He watched the way Solan laid a hand on his arm and the way the man looked down at Solan with a tired smile, and felt a surge of bitter jealousy deep in his gut. He reached out towards them, trying to stake his claim even now, but something wrapped around his waist and hauled him back, until he blinked and opened his eyes back in his body.
Torin was leaning over him, cradling his face in both hands, his expression frightened. Above him the clouds had cleared enough to reveal bright stars and a hint of the full moon, and the rain had faded away to a drizzle. Kyr groaned a little, gradually becoming aware of the swollen, throbbing sensation in his cheek and jaw, and a sticky dampness on his skin from hairline to chin.
“Shit, you scared me.” Torin looked up and waved to someone, gesturing for them to come closer, then looked back down. “What’s my name?”
“Asshole,” Kyr managed in a slurred voice that didn’t sound anything like his own.
Torin laughed a bit. “Good, you’re fine then. Fuck me, I thought you were dead. You stopped breathing.”
“Not dead.” He reached up and gingerly touched his swollen cheek, flinching when his hands came into contact with torn skin. “Not good.”
“No, not good.” Torin sat back a little and swiped a hand across his cheek, leaving a streak of fresh mud across his dirty skin. “I told you to put your fucking head down, not stick it up like a fucking idiot. You’re lucky whatever it was that hit you didn’t just yank your dumbshit head right off your fucking neck.”
Kyr looked up at him, frowning a little even though it hurt, then reached out to take Torin’s hand, feeling Torin’s fingers shaking under his. “Hey. I’m okay.”
“You almost weren’t. Fuck.” Torin ran his other hand through his hair and took a deep breath, visibly calming himself. He moved back as one of the medics jumped down into the ditch and began inspecting Kyr, then called for a backboard, ignoring Kyr’s protests that he could get up himself.
When the backboard arrived, the medic strapped a brace around Kyr’s neck and he was heaved onto the board and told to lie still. Trying not to grimace—if only because it hurt his face—Kyr did as he was told, looking up at the sky as he was carried out of the ditch. Torin walked beside him for the first couple of feet, then someone called for him and he jogged away after promising to come check in on Kyr when he got a few minutes of break. Kyr sighed and let the medics poke and prod at him until they were satisfied that his neck wasn’t broken, grateful to sit up when they finally removed the neck brace. He sat crosslegged on the cot they’d given him and held an ice pack to his face to try and bring the swelling down, watching medics cross back and forth to tend to the other injured.
It was dawn before Torin arrived, looking bone-weary and covered in dried mud, his rifle slung over one shoulder and Kyr’s in his other hand. He smiled a bit when he saw Kyr and sank gratefully down on the end of the cot, ignoring the fact that he was getting dirt all over the sheets, and handed the rifle over. “Thirty dead that we know of so far, and the body count’s probably going to rise. Still missing a whole bunch of people too.” He scratched at the mud on his cheek. “And shit is spread everywhere.”
“Anyone in our unit?” Kyr asked, automatically checking to make sure his rifle was loaded and ready to go.
“Can’t say for sure. Akiva’s one of the missing, but he’s a tough fucker.” Torin glanced at a group of medics clustered around a bed in the corner and lowered his voice. “I heard the officers don’t think it was a natural storm.”
“It wasn’t,” Kyr said, thinking of Solan, thinking of the man with the antlers and the steady violet eyes. “Wild Fae magic. When I was... out, I saw a guy with antlers, standing on that big hill behind camp.”
“You turning magic on me, Kyr?”
“You don’t believe me?”
“No, I believe you. I’ve heard their king is some huge guy with antlers like a fucking deer.” He looked moodily at the open tent flap. “If they can keep pulling tornadoes out of their asses, we’re fucked like a three-dollar whore. You can’t gun down a storm.”
“We can try.” Kyr grinned at the look Torin gave him, and after a moment Torin snorted and grinned back, shaking his head.
The sirens went off so suddenly that Kyr’s grin took a few moments to slip, even as Torin’s eyes went wide with alarm. An officer stuck his head into the tent to order all able-bodied soldiers out to the front lines to meet an attack. Torin got up immediately, unslinging his rifle from its strap, and Kyr was only a few steps behind, trying to ignore the pain still throbbing in his head. Together they stepped out into the crisp morning sunlight and jogged for what defenses the tornado had left them, settling in to wait for the Fae army.