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A short story by

James Waugh

Virgil Caine screamed into the darkness. He had sweat through his sheets during the night and now was cold from kicking the covers off of his naked body.

"Virgil!" Rufi said, clutching his arm and pulling him back down to the softness of their pillows and her lips. "You're here, baby. You're with me." She nuzzled his strong shoulder, her delicate blonde hair like silk against the stone of his muscles. Virgil was breathing hard, almost panting. His chest heaved up and down and his heart pounded.

"Hell. I'm… I'm sorry, Ru… I'm…"

"Shhh. Hush, baby. I know. I know."

Over the year of their courtship she had grown used to his night terrors… his memories. When they got engaged, she committed to living with them. She had grown used to the times when she'd wake him up, wiping the tears off of his face, staring at the tender incongruity of a man of his size, his strength, crying in his sleep. It was just one more thing that made her love him.

"I just… They're back, baby. I can't believe they're back. I always knew, but… a man hopes, you know?"

A woman does too, she thought. "You're not answering the recall, Virgil. You don't have to go back. I told you. We decided: Daddy will take care of this. We gonna start over. Ain't no one is going to find out who you are. No one needs to know where you been. Tomorrow night, all this worry will be behind you."

He thought about those words a moment before answering. He thought of the possibility of not being the man who had faced down the zerg during the Brood War, the man who'd held the line against wave after wave of zerglings during those long months and survived. He didn't know who he was without that part of his life, and the thought of finding out was one of the more terrifying things he'd ever experienced.

"I know, Ru. I know. Part of me, though… I've never been a man to run before."

"You ain't runnin'. Damn it, Mengsk got his best outta you. He's got new marines to deal with this. What the hell he ever do for you, huh? For us? Daddy paid for your surgeries, not the Dominion. You paid your debt and you know it. How many times you almost die, Virgil? How many friends you lost?"

"I don't want to talk about this anymore." He was thinking about the UNN report he had seen before bed. He was thinking about the images of them, a horde rampaging over Tiria, overrunning lines of soldiers. He was thinking of those teeth and talons and that horrible, harmonic chittering sound they made as they charged.

"The recall ain't right, Virgil. It ain't. You're out of the military. They have no right to call you back in just because there's a new threat. You were there four years ago. Let someone else handle this one."

"I told you I ain't going back, Rufi… So I won't."

He leaned over and kissed her forehead the same way he did every night before they turned off the lights and went to sleep. He pulled her tiny frame toward him, and her warmth and softness felt right. When they came apart, she rubbed her finger across the large jagged scar that ran down his neck to his belly button, then up to the zergling tooth that he wore around his neck on a rope of skalet leather.

"I hate this thing. You know I hate it when you wear it to bed. Pokes me… Take it off."

He smiled. "Alright. I'll take it off." And he did, setting it on the nightstand.

"Tomorrow, we go… All of it will be behind you. 'Sides, it ain't like I'm not sacrificing here too, Virgil. I gotta start over too. Leave my friends, my family. Daddy."

"I know that."

"Now go to sleep, you big lug!"

As she rolled over, Virgil stared at the ceiling fan. It churned around and around, casting bladed shadows against the dark walls illuminated only by yellow moonslight from outside. He thought about the new life Rufi was offering. Salvation from all he'd faced. He wondered if once a man had faced the zerg, lost friends to the zerglings, and looked them in their vacuous, bleak eyes, whether he could ever get them out of the deep recesses of his mind.

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