Hook sat frozen in his chair. He had paled, and tried to swallow. Had he heard correctly? General Redwing outlined SICON's plan...and that meant he had to lead an original squad? A squad created from scratch. That hadn't happened since....well, before OPC.
Although he could see the infinite wisdom in her dark brown eyes, see her lips move as she continued to speak, he heard nothing but the sound of a rushing wind.
He gripped the arm-rests tightly, and clenched his jaw.
Redgwing paused. "Lieutenant?"
"What about my assignment to Antarctica? I was to leave in two days."
"You can't tell me that you are honestly looking forward to going."
Hook looked away from her questioning eyes. "Actually, ma'am, I was. It would afford me...the privacy."
"The isolation, you mean. You're running away, Hook. That's not a soldier's actions."
Hook shot her a look. She calmly gazed back at him. He got to his feet and began to pace.
"You actually approved this plan, General? I killed my team! Don't you understand?!"
Redwing heard the self-imposed torture in his cry.
"Sit down, Lieutenant!" She snapped.
Hook rolled his eyes, and sat back down.
She sighed. "Lieutenant, I've got eight different portfolios on my desk right now. One survivor from eight squads. How does that look to you?"
"What you're saying then - I look good on paper. These other troopers lost their squads, so who better to lead them than Hook? I'd like to meet the messed up person who thought up this idea."
She didn't say anything.
He stared at her desk. "Then, allow me this one request. As on officer of the Mobile Infantry, please, General - allow me to turn this down and go to Antarctica."
He held up a hand and got to his feet. "I can't...I can't face anyone right now."
Redwing looked down at his portfolio. "Anything else, Lieutenant?"
This time, he met her eyes.
Practically falling over himself to flee from Redwing's office, somehow Hook didn't feel that he'd get the chance to see Antarctica.
The second her doors were closed, Redwing leaned back in her seat. She ran a hand through her dark hair, and swiveled the chair to face the large window.
"I take it, then, things didn't go well." Razak said softly as her stood behind her.
"Only to me."
For the first time in a long time, she reached up and took his hand. His left hand.
"Thank you," she said.
Razak stared at her long fingers. Her skin was still smooth and unblemished.
"Haven't I done my job, Jean? Haven't I worked my tail off to be the best damn general this side of Sanctuary? Just once, I'd like our victory to be counted by the number of lives we saved. And not in the planet we annexed."
"What now? SICON's threatening the traditional mind-swipe."
"What was Hook's reaction?"
"I didn't tell him. But I don't think he would care." She sat up, and turned to face him. "Jean, there's nothing inside him anymore. He's just a shell of a man."
"Don't let this get you down. You've managed to get this far." He was pleased to see the slight tint of pink that colored her cheeks.
"And this, coming from a man who still hasn't settled down."
Razak shook his head. "My standards are too high."
There was gratitude in her eyes. He made his way to the door. "Before things get too mushy in here, let me have a word with Lieutenant Hook."
The smile came easy to her lips. "Jean - we were never mushy."
She heard his laughter before the doors closed behind him.
Hook was startled by the knock on his door. He frowned as he got off the twin-size bed. Cautiously, he opened the door to peek outside.
Razak stared back at him.
"Lieutenant?" Hook was surprised.
"Mind if I have a word, Lieutentant. It would allow me to get out of the rain."
Hook slowly opened the door and allowed Razak into the darkened room. He stared at the rain that fell hard on the sidealk.
Razak, in turn, frowned at the state of affairs in the room. Seemed that Hook had repeatedly turned away house-keeping. The bed didn't seem made at all. And the piles of dirty clothes..... Hook shut himself off from the rest of the world.
"What can I do for you, Lieutenant?" Hook asked, gesturing for Razak to sit in the single chair.
Razak took it, though his eyes never wavered from Hook's troubled ones.
"I understand you were offered a new assignment. And turned it down."
Hook looked down at the industrial carpet. "Regardless of what you know of my ... situation, Lieutenant, I am no good to anyone out there. In the field."
"I beg to differ. There is a bond that you share with the other troopers."
Hook laughed sarcastically. "Do you hear yourself? What, you guys want us to be the Black Sheep Squadron? Another experiment for the SICON books? I don't owe anything but my service."
"You owe your loyalty."
Hook clenched his fist, and took a threatening step towards Razak.
"Who are you to throw their memory in my face?" He hissed.
"You can't deny that every trooper has lost someone they've cared about. Locking yourself in your quarters, Lieutenant? That's rather foolish."
"Get out, Razak!"
Razak remained in the chair. "Hook. They've offered you a suicide mission. I'd rather think you'd prefer to go out, taking as many bugs with you as could. Personal ... revenge. And it's all personal, isn't it?"
Hook's head began to swim. The nightmares he continued to suffer from, now besieged his mind; the names, the faces, the voices - the relationships - of Hook's Hellions swam in his head.
Razak continued to press. "Say you do go to Antarctica. SICON will find someone else to lead this new squad. Someone that doesn't have the experience you do."
"Of losing a squad?"
This time, Razak jumped to his feet and got in Hook's face. "Your self-pity reeks. Don't you feel yourself drowning in this room? You haven't answered your mail. Haven't left this base. You're addicted to the sleeping pills. That's Section Eight, right there. Do the Hellions deserve that legacy?"
Hook reacted instinctively; he threw a punch that would have made any man think twice before antagonizing Hook again. Only, Razak wasn't any man. And he'd steeled himself; he ducked, and grabbed Hook's arm, yanking him to the ground, and getting him in a lock.
Razak bent close to Hook's ear. "Regardless that you don't want to hear this, but you are the only hope of survival for that new squad. You are the one man who can shoulder that responsibility. Get over yourself, and clean up. I expect you to report to Redwing's office tomorrow morning."
"Or what?" Hook spat.
Razak tightened his grip. "Or, you'll be the poster child for Section Eight. And you'll still be reporting to General Redwing."
Razak released Hook, and with a snort, headed for the door.
"I despise a man who wallows in self-pity."
Hook didn't look at the door that Razak left open, but instead listened to the heavy rain.
"I despise myself."