Haven’t decided on a title yet, but I AM working on the next book…
Gunnery Sergeant Aaron Miller didn’t feel quite so disconnected when he reported back in to the Marine Special Operations Battalion at Pendleton on Monday thanks to Master Sergeant Matt Carter’s data dump over the weekend. First Sergeant Brill just looked up and nodded. “Welcome back, Marine. You’re on LIMDU for thirty days. Your team’s on a field exercise, so for now you can help out here. Captain Ragsdale is checking out Friday. Ten bucks for the kitty for his gift. Get yourself a cup and come on back.”
Aaron went down to the mess and got a cup of coffee and stuck his head into the captain’s office. Other than a few new pictures, it looked the same. He went back to the admin office and Brill directed him to a chair.
Aaron laughed in relief. “First Sergeant, I’m glad to see nothing changes,” he said quietly. “And thanks for letting me know everybody made it when I called from Germany. I probably wasn’t real coherent, but I was worried about the troops.”
“Aaron, I didn’t blame you for calling,” Brill replied. “You did what was right, and what I’d expect out of Marine in charge. In your mind, you hadn’t turned over command of the team.”
“Speaking of the team, who’s running it now?” Aaron asked.
Brill smiled. “One of your old runnin’ buddies. ‘Snake’ Venman.”
Aaron’s eyes grew wide. “He’s onboard now? God, I haven’t seen Snake since Iraq.”
“He’s a Gunny now too,” Brill said. “He got seconded over from three/one the day after you got hit. Since he was on orders here anyway, they just moved him to us early. Pissed his wife off, she had to finish the check in here by herself.”
“He still married to Patti?” Aaron asked.
“Yeah,” Brill said. “She and the kids stayed with Darlene for a couple of weeks while she got quarters and their stuff moved in. Them damn rugrats would have had me pulling my hair out if I’d been here.”
After dinner, Jesse Miller nee Cronin and Felicia Miller nee Lopez caught up as Felicia cooed over Jace and told Jesse she thought she might be pregnant too. Jesse smiled and said, “Does Matt know?”
Felicia shook her head. “No! And I’m not telling him until I’m sure. But I wanted to talk to you about moving in.” Felicia rushed ahead, “Jesse, I want to sell my little house. It’s too far out and living here is damn near as close to work time wise as it is. And the market is tanking. Matt’s going to ask Aaron if he would mind. It’s not like I have a bunch of stuff, but what I do have is better than some of the furniture here. I’d be willing to move it over here if that’s okay with you.”
Jesse smiled. “I’d love it. For all practical purposes, we’ve been roommates for the, well until Aaron got hurt. And if it saves money, so much the better. And we can finally get rid of that damn couch! Yours is much better!”
Felicia hugged Jesse and said, “Thank you. I can even help with Jace and give you and Aaron some private time too. But don’t say anything until Aaron asks okay?”
Jesse nodded. “Yeah, let them think they’re in charge.” Jesse and Felicia both laughed at that.
A week later the teams came back from the desert and Aaron had his reunion with the teams. Sergeant McKenzie was the first one to see him and said, “Welcome home, Gunny!” The others crowded around backslapping him until Snake walked in. They fell silent and parted as Snake and Aaron faced each other.
Snake put his hands on his hips, shaking his head slowly. “Damn, look what the cat drug in. A wanna be Marine.”
“I’m glad to see you haven’t changed Snake,” Aaron replied. “You still trying to make expert?”
They met in the middle of the room and pounded each other on the back, much to the relief of the teams. Finally, Aaron turned and said, “Snake, well, Gunny Snake and I go back to Quantico together. We were in the same Scout Sniper class. Ended up in the same platoon. We both made Fallujah. Sumbitch has been following me for years!”
The teams started laughing as Snake and Aaron went into the office. Snake pointed at the desk. “Still your team, Aaron. I’m just the fill in. Well, actually I’m filling in for both you and Mayhew. Don’t know if you heard, but he’s got severe infections in both legs. They still don’t have him cleared for duty. He’s been stuck at Balboa since January. He said he’s got his own drawer in the med lab’s fridge for all the shit he’s apparently dealing with.”
Aaron moved behind the desk and winced at that. “Damn, Mayhew’s injuries didn’t look like they were going to be that bad. I thought he’d already have been back!”
McKenzie stuck his head in. “Anybody want coffee?” Both of them nodded and Aaron looked slowly around the office.
He looked at Snake and finally said, “Dunno if you heard, but I’m LIMDU for at least the next thirty days. Brill’s got me working at HQ. Rather than confuse the troops, I think it might be better if I just stayed out of the way. How did you end up coming in behind me anyway? I didn’t know… hell, I still don’t know what went on after I left.”
Snake shrugged. “I was coming out of the schoolhouse at Quantico, orders to three/one and Patti was already on the way out here after the move. She’d taken the kids home for a couple of weeks of seeing the grandparents, and I was just starting the in processing. Shit, I didn’t even get to housing! They put my ass on an airplane that morning, and I was at Herat a day later and at FOB Apache the next day. I didn’t even have a weapon, had to use yours. Least you coulda done was clean the damn thing!”
Aaron laughed at that sally, and waved McKenzie in with the coffee. McKenzie asked, “So gunny, when are you coming back?”
“Still being decided, Mac,” Aaron said. “Don’t you like working for Snake?”
McKenzie realized he’d put himself in a bad place and mumbled something as he got quickly out of the office.
“Aaron, you gonna make it back?” Snake asked. “I know you’ve been through the mill these last few months and I gotta tell you, you’ve aged. You in a good place in your head?”
Aaron bowed his head for a minute, then looked squarely at Snake, “When things went to shit over there, I knew I was dead. I just wanted to take as many of them with me as I could. I didn’t want these guys to get killed because I’d fucked it up.” He waved toward the team bay and continued, “That I’m even here is a miracle. That I have a wife that has stuck by me through all this is miracle number two. Miracle number three is Jace, my son. I’ll admit I got really depressed in Walter Reed, especially when they couldn’t figure out what was wrong. Once they finally got the stump fixed, and I got moved to Brooke, things started looking up. When I held Jace for the first time, I vowed then to never give up. He’s what I’m living for.”
A single tear rolled down Aaron’s cheek. “I got another chance, Snake. I’m here to tell ya, I’m not going to screw it up. The nightmares are still there. Just another set added after Fallujah. I talked to my father-in-law, John Cronin, about it. He’s a Special Forces Nam vet and he said they never go away. The thing to do is to learn to manage them. He said he does that by beating them down with good thoughts and memories.”
Snake leaned back. “I’m glad to hear that. Patti and I both were worried about you. Nobody here was getting any information or if they were, it wasn’t getting communicated down to us. Now that you’re back, we gotta have you and your wife over for dinner.”
“Great! Just no damn rattlesnake chili, okay?”
“You’re never going to let me live that down are ya?” Snake asked plaintively.
Aaron laughed. “Nope, never!” Aaron got up. “I need to get back, and I know you’ve got to get the duty roster done. Take care of the guys, will ya?”
Snake and Aaron hugged as Snake said, “You know it. I’ll talk to Patti, maybe this weekend?”
“That’ll work. I’ll give Jesse a head’s up.”
Aaron checked into rehab at the Pendleton hospital and Doc Fischer and Chief Holt welcomed him back with their special brand of humor. Aaron sat gasping as he finished a round of machines. “Damn, chief, what are you trying to do? Finish the job?”
Chief Holt grinned. “Nah, I wouldn’t do that, gunny, they’d deduct my pay for that. I just need to get a good starting level for you. Doc says I’ve got thirty days, so I’m planning on getting you all the way back. You’re at maybe eighty-five percent now. You and I both know you can do better.”
Aaron grumbled, “Only if I survive. Only if I survive. How many days a week?”
The chief looked at his calendar. “I figure three days a week. I’ll give you weekends off since I know you’ve got a new baby. Can’t have you snoring and waking the baby up.”
Aaron started. “How did you?”
“Your lovely wife brought him by. She hasn’t forgotten us, unlike some people I might mention.” Holt said.
Aaron put his head in his hands. “Oh damn. I should have guessed. She told me she fed y’all, too.”
“Oh yeah. That she did. You’ve married one helluva lady, Gunny, and I’m doing this as much for her as for you. Like I said, a class act.” Holt replied.
“Don’t I know it,” Aaron said. “She stuck by me through all the BS. More than most would have done. I know I didn’t treat her real well some of the time, and I’m trying to make up for that.”
“There is another reason, too, gunny. They’re starting to do a lot more med boards. Seems like they’re putting a lot of people out, which is really stupid. With the facilities today and the technology in prosthetics, there is no reason to kick people out. Hell, the Army’s got double amputees still on active duty!”
“Okay, I can take the hint,” Aaron replied. “You know I’ll do the work, Chief. If we’re done here, I need to get back and cover the desk for Brill this afternoon. He’s going down to San Diego for the graduation this afternoon. His nephew is graduating today, and Brill’s been hosting his sister and her hubby up here.”
Holt slapped Aaron on the shoulder. “Good. Take it to the showers, gunny, and I’ll see you Monday.”
Twenty-one days later, Doc Fischer stood in the rehab area and watched Aaron perform the required exercises and said, “Okay, gunny you’re cleared to return to full duty. I guess I won’t have to fire the chief. But, I do want you back here monthly for checks on the prosthetic. I think we’re probably going to have to do new socks and possibly a new cup for you before long.”
Aaron smiled from ear to ear at those words, and said, “Thank you both. What now?”
Doc Fischer handed Aaron an up chit. “Give this to the command. They can enter it in your records and put your lazy ass back to work.” With that, the doc was gone, leaving Aaron goggling at him and the chief laughing.
 LIMited DUty