Smiling, John left the shower room and heard them laughing until he reached the doorway to the stairwell. He was glad for it. Breaking the seriousness of the day was good medicine for the psychological state of the soldiers. The day had been rough, and John himself was still shedding the stress that had mounted throughout the patrol. When he got to his room, Andrea was standing near his cot, kept upright by a set of crutches. “How are you feeling?” he asked, walking into the room and sitting on his cot.
“I'm doing a lot better. They said considering what it looked like when I first came in, that the damage was pretty clean. I'm still very sore, obviously, but I should make a full recovery in a few months.”
“Can you sit?”
“Sort of, most of the damage is just below my ass on the right side,” she said playfully, a smirk on her face. “Want to see?” She hobbled over to him and turned around.
John held her hips to steady her when she got in front of him, and then pulled up the gown she was wearing. The dark blue and purple bruising made it easy to find the wound, the black stitches of it's suture neatly tugging the flesh together. “Nice,” he said.
“My ass or the stitches?” Andrea asked, looking back at him with a smile.
“This cheek doesn't hurt does it?” John asked, groping her left buttocks.
Andrea laughed, teetering on the crutches. “Stop it,” she said between giggles. She turned herself around. “I'm just glad you're okay after hearing about what happened on the patrol. I'm not sure what I'd do without you.”
John got up and put his hands on either side of her face. He looked her deep in the eyes and said, “You'd go on Andrea. Not because you don't care for me, but because you're the strongest person I've ever met.” He kissed her, and she wrapped her arms around him, the crutches falling with a clatter to the floor.
Beyond the doorway, Michael stood, watching their embrace. For a moment, he felt jealousy that flared up like an explosion in his chest. Then, as if blown out by a fierce wind, it was gone. He looked at Andrea, her face softened as she hung from John's shoulders. In the void left by his jealousy, he thought he felt a glimmer of happiness spring roots. He smiled, and continued walking.
When he got to his room, Ashley was sitting on his cot.
“Hey, I put your dirty clothes in the laundry. You owe me twice now.”
Michael smiled. “Do I now? I thought one had to agree to such things.”
“Not around here, when people do you favors, you pay them back.”
“Ah, I see. Well how exactly am I supposed to pay you back?”
“Maybe I'll just leave my dirty jumpsuit on your bed someday and you'll get the idea.”
Michael looked at her for a moment, not sure if she was hitting on him. “What kind of idea would I be getting?”
Her eyebrows raised. “Are you that thick?”
“Hah,” Michael laughed, nearly dropping his towel. “The sexual innuendo in that line is just too obvious for me to use at this point.”
Ashley shook her head and threw him his clean clothing. “Get dressed, I'll bring you to dinner.”