Status: Active.

Little Hand Grenade

Chapter 1

Freedom can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people. To me, freedom meant separation from the Army. I signed a four-year contract right out of high school, and another 2-year after that. My job was to debrief my superiors on current missions, and occasionally I'd be given important information to process and pass along. I worked in intelligence, and they definitely didn't want me to go. They were willing to sweeten the deal; promotions, bonuses, higher clearance and higher pay, but I knew my days with them were over. I think three generals were present at my signing, hoping to intimidate me into changing my mind. I spend the last couple years telling them what to do, so they didn't scare me anymore.

"I hate to see you go, O'Connor," said the staff-sergeant behind the desk, accepting my signed release papers. "But you've earned it. America will never know what you've done for them."

"Thank you, sir," I replied, on the edge of the hard wooden chair.

"No, thank you, ma'am. Now get the hell out of here before you make General Oller cry."

* * *

"We need to cancel the tour," said the label representative, fidgeting and looking down as he spoke. This wasn't news that he liked to deliver, and news we liked less to hear. "After the incident in D.C.--"

"We can't cancel!" I exclaimed from the hospital bed. "I'm fine, this is stupid! We just came out with a new album and I won't disappoint our fans like this."

"I'll see what I can do, but I'll tell you now, it doesn't look good," he said seriously, glancing down at the gunshot wound on my upper arm. "We let you keep playing until Portland, and you're not healing, so here we are. It's not good for anyone when you start bleeding all over the stage. Gun wounds take weeks to heal. I'm going to go make some phone calls, but it doesn't look good." I let my head fall back on my pillow and growled in the back of my throat.

"Alex, he's right," Jack said from the chair nearest to me. I closed my eyes and prayed that one crazy person wouldn't ruin it for the tens of thousands of others. "You were shot."

"In the arm, it hardly counts," I scoffed, glaring disdainfully at the bandages. "I wonder if they have Kailey behind bars."

"Most likely, at least until daddy bails her out," he chuckled, and fell silent. Kailey was an ex-girlfriend, and we had recently reconnected as friends. I figured she wanted me back, not that she wanted to kill me. Jack dozed off, and I was about to do the same until the rep from Hopeless returned from his phone calls.

"We'll continue the tour on one condition," he said, getting straight to the point. I would do anything to continue these shows. "We're hiring a personal body guard who can drag your ass off stage when you pass out."

"Done," I said immediately. "Where do we get one?"

* * *

My plane landed in Portland, OR, and I took a taxi to one of the only hotels with available rooms. It was a shady part of northeast Portland, but after Syria and Afghanistan, the United States wasn't so scary anymore. I still wore my uniform, and had taken my bags out of the trunk when a figure dressed in black held a knife to my driver's neck. Really? This soon?

"Take all the money out! Now!" It was definitely a man, and he didn't shy away when he saw me. If anything, it made him bolder. He exchanged his knife for a gun, and the driver moved even faster.

I didn't have to think twice. In a matter of seconds, I was over the car, disarmed the man and held his own gun to his forehead. I could see the sweat that beaded on his forehead and dripped to his eyebrows, his eyes shifted back and forth rapidly and his hands shook as he held them up.

"Call the police," I told the taxi driver, and never took my eyes from the criminal, but he did something I least expected. He snatched his knife from his boot pocket, and when I shot his weapon shoulder, he threw the knife at the driver, piercing his abdomen. Shrieks and cries of pain were soon overwhelmed by the sound of sirens, and I rode with the kind taxi driver in the back of the ambulance. What a great first day back. The night seemed blacker than it had an hour ago.

The EMTs stabilized him quickly, determining that no major organs were injured. My first two years as an infantryman steeled me for things like these, but that didn't mean I liked to see them happen. It sure beat an exploding Humvee, though.

I wandered around the clean hospital, found some coffee, and wandered back to see how my taxi driver, his name was Pavel, recovered. He thanked me incessantly when he saw me, and his family had arrived to thank me as well. Pavel's attacker was going to receive justice because of me, and according to the family, this wasn't his first attempted murder or robbery. His son was only four years old, and hugged my leg quickly before scampering back to his mother.

A man in a button-up shirt and slacks nearly mowed me over when I stepped into the hallway, talking animatedly on his phone, and froze.

"Let me call you back, don't hire anyone yet," he said, and ended the call. "Hey, um, ma'am?"

"Yes sir?" I asked, ready to leave the hospital and find a new hotel. "Can I help you?"

"Actually, I have a little problem," he said, beckoning for me to sit down. He took the seat next to me and I watched him warily. "I work for a record company, and I need to find some personal protection for one of my bands. They had an accident a couple days ago in D.C., and I was wondering if you might be interested."

"I've been out of the Army for less than forty-eight hours," I told him seriously. "I think I've had enough of protecting people for a while."

"Wait, please!" he begged as I tried to stand and leave. "Do you have a job ready for you yet? This is only temporary, I promise. It'll be impossible to find someone to take on a job for only a year, and if you hate it by the end of this tour, I'll let you leave."

"Temporary?" I asked, tapping my lips with my pointer finger. "Well, I don't have anything set up...I still need to make a few calls to Langley, but I suppose some good old-fashioned body guard duties would be a nice break from intelligence." He looked at me expectantly, and I sighed. I was hoping to have a month of relaxation, but this man looked desperate and he caught me in a particularly good time. "Sure, why not."

"Excellent," he said, breathing a sigh of relief. "That man in there, you saved his life, didn't you?" It was more of a statement than a question, but I nodded anyway. He glanced down at my luggage, and chuckled nervously. "You really did just get back. Come on, I'll introduce you to the band and we'll get you set up in a hotel room."

He led me further down the hallway and into another clean white room similar to Pavel's. A young man around my age was in the bed, probably one of the band members, gauze wrapped around his upper arm, staring blankly at the wall. He must have been fighting the drowsiness from the drugs, and turned his head slowly to look at us.

"Ma'am, this is Alex," he said, and I half-raised my hand to salute before letting it drop awkwardly. "Alex this is..." He trailed off, his face red with embarrassment.

"Vanessa O'Connor, sir," I filled in, and he perked back up.

"This is Vanessa. She's your new body guard." The man in the bed, Alex, scanned me up and down before staring at my face. I've lectured generals, ordered around lieutenants and given direct orders to Green Berets, but this young man's stare was making me nervous and not the good kind when you thought someone was going to kill you.

"A girl, Joe?" he asked, his eyebrows lifted. "Are you sure?" One thing that being in the Army taught you as a woman was to never take shit from men. Ever.

"I've been the hand behind entire battles, I think I can look after a handful of boys," I retorted, forcing him to turn his attention to me. "Maybe this was a mistake."

"No! Alex, she saved a man's life today, cut her some slack," he said, but Alex didn't look like he was going to cut anyone any slack. Something about him made me angry.

"She's part of the war, which is complete bullshit," he argued, and wouldn't let Joe get a word in edgewise. "She just said she is the one who controls the battles! I don't care if no one will know; I will know that she's part of the reason why people are dying over there and for no good reason."

"Do you sell more records that way? Pretending like people are dying in vain? When was it a trend to tell a soldier than her friends are dying for nothing? I must have heard that ten times on my way home from Afghanistan," I said furiously. "Meanwhile, my brothers and sisters are trying to protect your right to hate us. Why don't you go out and tell the insurgents to stop hating America? Or maybe you can tell them to stop strapping bombs to kids, I'm sure they'll go for that one. Oh, wait. It's about oil, I forgot. I was only working in intelligence, but I have no idea what's going on."

"I never said I hated the troops--"

"You may as well have," I interrupted loudly. "You can hate war as much as you want, but it's going to happen. No amount of protesting is going to bring us home, because we're there for a reason. We want to fight for our country, and we won't stand for terrorism. I would be willing to bet all of the money in the world that even if every single man and woman was taken from the Middle East and the military ordered everyone to stand down, some of us would still go fight anyway." He looked like he wanted to say something, but didn't. Instead, he sighed and bowed his head.

"I'm sorry, I'm just...having a bad day," he said, looking down. "I didn't mean to offend you; I just wanted it to be known that I don't support the war. I appreciate what you've done for us." His voice was strained, and it was obvious that he had a lot more to say, but he must have put touring at the top of his list.

"I'll pretend the conversation never happened, sir," I said, and forced a smile. "Thank you." I assumed I was the reason he was allowed to continue touring. It made sense. When a semi-famous person is shot, someone has to take measures to make sure he's safe to continue traveling and playing shows, hence Joe recruiting me in a hospital.

"Well," Joe coughed, and set an arm on my shoulder. "Shall we go to our hotel?" The tension in the room was so thick it was hard to breathe. Forget that conversation? Yeah right!
♠ ♠ ♠
I'm not sure about this idea, I feel like it could offend some people.
I'm exaggerating both sides, but the war is kind of a controversial subject.