Status: Complete.

I Want You to Live

Chapter 25

The building was silent as the small group of soldiers crept down an empty hallway. The dark interior was cool. A musty smell seeped from the cracked walls. If Rusty hadn't known better, if he hadn't been plenty of places like this one before, he would've swore the place was abandoned. He did know better though, and after all, rats always liked the sewers the best.

Rusty was second in line, Ty directly behind him. Their boots barely kicked up dust as they moved stealthily towards their intended target. Rusty kept his gun ready, his elbow sliding down the wall as the unit moved as one. The condensation from the dank cement left his uniform damp. Sweat tickled his forehead beneath his helmet and night vision goggles. His muscles stayed tense, ready for action at a moment's notice.

Peyton's face suddenly popped into his head and he struggled to push it back. He had to keep his mind clear. Lives depended on it. He was usually so good at shutting out everything except what was right in front of him, but in that moment he lost the battle. He hadn't seen her in six months, and he ached for just one touch. It had been weeks since they had been at base, so no letters had been sent or received.

That was the longest the couple had ever been without seeing one another, let alone without speaking. It was starting to get to him. His mental stability was slipping and he found himself wanting to rush through this mission. He needed to get back home where he belonged. He had served his country, proudly. Now it was time to serve his wife and any future children they had together.

Sarge raised a hand, causing their procession to come to a halt. The mouth of the hallway opened into another corrider, leading left and right. The group waited, watching as their leader seemed to listen and think. He motioned for Rusty to move to the other side of the wall. Keeping his rifle steady, he ran hunched until his shoulder connected with the concrete.

He was promptly followed by five other men. Once the group settled into position, Rusty glanced to Sarge and received one short nod. The two groups moved simultaneously as they swung around the corners. Guns to eye level, they swept back and forth until it was confirmed there was no threat. Both branches of hall were empty.

The two groups searched the sparse rooms off the halls to no avail. They reconvened at the starting point and continued on. Rusty's eyes were growing tired from the constant strain, the constant scanning for dangers. His hands ached from gripping his weapon so tightly. He felt as if his nerves would snap if they didn't end this soon. This deployment had sapped his emotions so entirely that every move felt like he was in quicksand.

As the team slithered on down the hallway, their feet moved as one, like a giant centipede. Rusty couldn't contain the thoughts of their last mission. It was much like this one, except not everyone had made it out. Anxiety tried to choke him. He feared history repeating itself.

The dark, silent tomb filled with an eerie cry. Every muscle in Rusty's body contracted as the scream echoed throuhout the building. The hair on the back of his neck stood at attention as goosebumps chased one another down his body. The soldiers went into defensive mode and crouched low, forming a tight circle. Their backs pressed into one another's as they raced towards the noise.

Where there were screams of agony, something sinister surely lurked. Every natural born instinct in a person's body told them to run. To flee for their own safety. Even after years of training for these kinds of situations, years of living these situations, Rusty's own mind still begged him to do the same. It was in these times that he was thankful his mind shut down and his body performed.


Peyton threw her head back and flung her arms open wide, letting the sun soak into her skin. Today was a good day. She grinned up at the cloudless blue sky, eyes closed. She was finally starting to feel like herself again. There was joy to be felt and beauty in the things around her. The only part of her missing these days was Rusty.

Not even thoughts of his absence could bring her down now. Even without hearing from him for a solid two months, she knew he was okay. He was still alive. They had a connection so deep that she was positive she would know if something happened to him. The humming just beneath the surface would cease and she would know. Until then she wasn't stressing over it. It wasn't good for her.

She had slowed down with her horses over the past few months. They were still getting all the love and affection they needed, but she rode less. She had hired a local college girl to help out with the training aspect. She was a dream with the creatures. Peyton saw so much of herself in the young lady.

She swayed slightly as she rode into the short cropping of trees. The tightly packed branches blocked the warm sunlight, causing her to be momentarily blinded. She relaxed into the saddle, allowing the horse to have its lead. This was a familiar trail that they often traveled. The horse knew it as well as she did.

They reached the meadow that overflowed with its vibrant artwork. The pair trudged on through, until they reached the farthest corner, away from the trail opening. Underneath the shade of a large oak tree, two gray slates stood. A lump clogged her throat as she slid from the animal and ambled towards the headstones.

"Hi, mama. Hi, daddy," she whispered her greeting. She collapsed in the narrow strip between them. Lovingly, she traced the carved lettering on each. "It's been a while. So much has happened."

A solitary tear slipped from her eye. She tucked a wind blown strand behind her ear before pulling her knees up. This was the only thing that she hadn't shared with her husband. He knew her parents were buried on the land, probably had even guessed in this field they had adored. She had never brought him there before, though. This one thing had been hers alone.

"I need to tell y'all something," she confessed, bubbling over with anticipation. She bit her lip, suppressing the urge to blurt it out. She sighed in contentment, wanting to savor the moment a little longer.

Maybe I'll finally bring Rusty here when he comes home.


"We're not prepared to handle a hostage situation," one soldier hissed, keeping his voice low. "This was not part of the plan."

Rusty stared at him in bewilderment. Was this guy serious? Since when had any mission ever gone precisely as planned? He refrained from cracking the guy in the jaw. The only thing holding him back was the fact that he would have to lug his deadweight back out. The soon-to-be rescued hostage was already going to add an extra obstacle. They didn't need two.

"We're not leaving him," Rusty insisted, staring the man directly in the eye. His grey eyes were stormy as they dared him to object again. "It's against every moral code we live by." A quick sweep around the room confirmed that majority agreed with him.

After following the source of the scream, they had found a small room containing a badly beaten man. He had fallen unconscious before reaching him, head slumped towards his chest. Afraid of being caught, the team had backtracked, hustling into a deep, dark room to hash out a new plan. Time was limited, each second his watch ticked off being pounded into his brain.

Someone flopped the badly sketched map onto the table. The group gathered around, silently agreeing the man needed to be rescued. Rusty studied the wrinkled paper. A frown marred his forehead as he mentally went through different routes of evacuating the prisoner as quickly as possible. All options looked daunting. This was a new risk added on.

"The best option is taking this corrider," Ty spoke up, dragging a finger around the paper. Rusty held back as a few others vocalized their disagreements. His eyes stayed glued to the paper, trying to figure out his friend's thinking. "Hear me out. It takes us towards a high traffic area, but there's an exit right here. It would be closest to evacuation point number two."

Rusty started slow nodding, seeing what Ty had come up with. It was risky, but no more than any other choice. It would send them straight towards a fleet of enemies, but it was the best chance for the prisoner. From a brief initial assessment, the man was in critical condition and was at risk of bleeding out. Time was of essence for his survival.

"Anyone disagree?" Sarge questioned, eyes scanning the cluster. No one answered. "Good. We'll move together until we get to John Doe and then we split. We still have a mission to complete."

Sarge finished dividing up the team, sending only three to evacuate the wounded captive. It wasn't ideal, but they would need the most manpower when they made it to al-Shishani's chamber. Besides, the less men moving together, the less noise they would make. If all went according to plan, the three soldiers and hostage would be out of the building and to a rendezvous point in as little as twenty minutes.


Peyton brushed her horse out and left the barn. She paused halfway through closing the door when she noticed two men standing on her front porch. She finished pushing the door closed and slowly proceeded towards the duo. As she passed the driveway, she noted the dark sedan parked in it and another man in the driver's seat. His eyes met hers briefly, flickering with an emotion that she was unable to read before they darted down to the steering wheel.

Something was off about the situation and she felt uneasy as her steps drew her closer to the men. The air was tense and quiet as she ascended the stairs. The two men stood facing her, both clad in dress uniforms, signifying they were Army. One held a Bible against his stomach, fingers clenching it tightly. Her concern grew when she saw the white of his knuckles. The other one eyed her, warily.

"Can I help you?" she questioned, guard raised. She brushed her sweaty hair from her face and glanced down at her dusty attire. They probably thought she was a mess.

The taller one, standing to her right spoke, "Mrs. Balkins, I'm Sergeant First Class Lincoln Waverly. I have been asked to inform you that your husband, Sergeant Rusty Balkins, has been reported dead in Afghanistan at 0500 on April 21, 2012." Peyton's mouth dropped open in disbelief as she started vigorously shaking her head. The man continued, pretending to not see her emotions, "On the behalf of the Secretary of Defense, I extend to you my deepest sympathy in your great loss."

An awkward silence ensued as the three stared at one another. They watched her, most likely waiting for her to break down. She watched them, waiting for one to crack a smile and tell her it was a joke. Maybe Rusty would pop out the front door and she would smack him for joking about something like that. Neither happened.

The other man cleared his throat and took a tentative step towards her. His hand gently clasped her forearm, causing her to jump. He jerked it back and shifted, clearly uncomfortable. "Ma'am-"

"Mrs. Balkins," Sergeant First Class Waverly softly reprimanded the younger man. It seemed to only worsen the man's nerves. Peyton peered up at the Staff Sergeant. His voice was gruff and face impassive, but she could see the compassion swimming behind his hazel eyes.

"Mrs. Balkins," the younger man started again, after clearing his throat for the second time, "I'm Chaplain Brent Morris. First off, I would like to offer my condolences. I am very sorry for your lo-"

"Would y'all like to come in?" Peyton suddenly asked. "I have coffee and sweet tea. It's awfully hot out here." She gave them a forced smile, fanning herself.

Chaplain Morris sent Sergeant First Class Waverly a confused look. "Is there someone we can call for you, Mrs. Balkins?" Sergeant First Class Waverly asked, "Family or a friend?"

Before Peyton even realized it, she had collapsed in a heap on the porch. Both men immediately rushed forward, reaching for her. They grasped her arms and helped her into the house, where they gently deposited her on the couch. Chaplain Morris scurried off to the kitchen. Sergeant First Class Waverly knelt in front of her. His hazel eyes bore into her, concerned. With a touch so gentle it caught her off guard, he brushed the loose tendrils back away from her sticky face.

"Sylvia," she whispered without meeting his eyes. "My best friend, Sylvia." She struggled to list off the phone number, but managed to after a couple failed attempts.

Chaplain Morris returned with a water and the two soldiers spoke a few feet away. Even if she could've heard the muffled voices, she didn't care to listen. She was still reeling from the news. News that she was unable to fully comprehend.

"Mrs. Balkins?"

"Peyton," she replied, absentmindedly. Her hands propped her forehead up as she stared at her wood floor. I need to mop.

The Sergeant First Class cleared his throat, causing Peyton to look up at his towering frame. Seeming to notice her discomfort, he knelt before her again. "Your friend said she would get the next flight out, but it'll still be a few hours before she can reach you. Is there anyone else? Someone closer, maybe?"

Anyone closer? She strained through the fog of her brain to think of anyone else. "Have you told his father?" she asked all of the sudden.

"Not yet. He'll be notified next," he replied, shifting to his other knee.

She nodded, but his answer didn't sink in. Had he asked me something? "Rusty, h- he's really gone? He's really dead?"

The pair of soldiers shared an uneasy look. Sergeant First Class Waverly looked down before meeting her gaze again. His whole face spoke of his sorrow and she knew, even before the sharp nod. She knew there hadn't been a mistake. That this was no joke. Her husband was dead.

Briefly, as the two stared at one another, she wondered how many times he had done this. How many other deaths had he relayed? What a terrible task, a terrible burden to forever carry with you. She knew he remembered every single time, because she knew his face would be forever imprinted in her memory. How many parents? How many wives had he made into widows?

Widow! She was now considered a widow! And just like that, the tears came flooding forth. It felt like after surgery, when the anesthesia starts wearing off. The numbness fades and you're left with nothing but the aftermath, the pain. She wailed uncontrollably, like a wounded animal. The pain was all encompassing, suffocating her, killing her. Dying of a broken heart surely did exist.
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I'm back!!!! I have no good excuse as to why I went so long without writing, but I'm here now and ready to finish this. Two chapters remaining! This was a hard chapter to write, but I felt like this is where it would lead all along. I knew from the moment they met. Let me know what your feels are! Did you see it coming? Are you surprised? Love it? Hate it?