Standing stock still, Craig resists the urge to twitch in agitation as he awaits the Corporal. Twenty minutes before Craig was calmly sitting on his bunk after a relaxing shower, now he stands in the cold, crisp night air worrying about what his future may hold. There had been no indication in Brooksie's tone when he had said he wanted to speak to Craig, and that, is what worries him most.
The statement made was so matter-of-fact, void of emotion and direct that Craig could not read into it in any way. Is this how they do it? Is this how they can someone? "Sorry, mate. Better luck next time. You just don't have what it takes, maybe the army will take you," Craig's mind continues to flicker from unsettling thought to unsettling thought and he struggles to remain still.
A door squeaks as it opens and Craig is brought crashing back to reality as the Corporal steps out in his "civvies".
"You comin'?" Brooks asks Craig.
He nods, drops into stride beside him and they walk side by side. One - seemingly - comfortable with the silence, the other - Craig - trying to hide his impatience and fears.
The crunch of their footsteps on the ground echoes inside Craig's head like a drumbeat in an empty music hall, adding to his unease. They both reach the mess hall and Craig hesitates at the doorway.
"Corp, come on, this shit is killin' me," he smiles awkwardly and rubs his hand across his neck in an anxious gesture. "What is it you want t' talk about, am I gettin' binned?"
Brooksie laughs, shakes his head, slaps Craig on the shoulder - gripping it and steers him into the mess hall.
"No, but we'll get to that in a bit, I want some scran in me before we talk shop."
Releasing an inaudible sigh of relief, Craig allows himself to be guided towards the queue. He grabs a tray and takes his place at the end of the line, Brooksie coming up moments later and right behind him. The line moves slowly, although he knows he is not being sent home, he still runs through all the possibilities. Bog duty next week? Naa, not even Brooks is that cruel, or is he? Is he gonna reem me over that little fall off the rope? Bitch at me for picking up Carson during the run? Ahhh fuck it, may as well wait for him to tell me.
They both stood in line, and gradually edged along selecting their meal from the selection on offer as the mess staff ladled and scooped the food into bowls and plates. Craig's stomach rebelled at the conflicting scents from all the food and had to shut out the smell as he picked vegetable soup for starter - roasted potatoes, sweetcorn and roast beef for his main and passed on a pudding. Brooks followed up and Craig watched as the Corporal's eyes devoured everything in sight. He eventually came away with a somewhat larger bowl of soup than Craig's own - roast potatoes, sweetcorn, peas, chicken and a small slice of the roast beef - before adding a sponge cake drowned in custard to the already overloaded tray.
"Wallace, do me a favour, grab some of those rolls an' stick 'em on your plate. Good lad."
Grabbing a few rolls, Craig dumps them on the little remaining space on his own tray and they thread their way through the throngs of laughing trainees and trainers alike until they locate a couple of empty seats. Finally, they both plop their trays down and Brooks curses, gets to his feet, dodging his way back through the crowded hall and returns bearing four bottles of water, handing two to Craig as he sits with a relieved sigh.
Craig starts with his soup - tearing up one of the rolls to dip in it - he brings the drenched piece of roll up to his lips and blows on it gently before finally daring to drop it into his mouth.
He watches Brooksie with his peripheral vision as the Corporal rips open the chicken, Craig grimaces as he spots the insides are a lot more pink than they should be - when cooked at least. Brooks looks up as he hears a hissing intake of breath and flashes a grin towards his companion.
"Y'r stomach gets used to it," he says simply before laughing at Craig's sceptical expression.
"Corp, you don't "get used to" salmonella, you get sick or you get dead."
The Corporal almost chokes with laughter at Craig's deadpan delivery of a reworked speech he had given the recruits on the first day.
"Very good," he replies with a mouthful of undercooked chicken.
They both laugh and lapse into silence as they eat some more. Craig picks at his main, gives up on the veggies and demolishes the roast beef easily just as Brooks finishes his sponge cake; virtually hoovering up the custard.
Pushing their trays to the side, they both relax back against the plastic seats, Craig feeling queezy and Brooksie looking pleased and rubbing his belly before releasing a huge belch which somehow silences the entire hall for a few moments. The chatter reestablishes itself when he leans towards Craig again.
"Ok, so I know it is early days with you guys, but I think you've got it in you to lead the training group; under me of course," he stops and covers his mouth as he feels another belch coming. "Sorry, false alarm. Anyway, I've been watching you and looks to me like you can handle it. You lead by example and already the guys in the group seem to look up to you and draw from the silent strength you radiate.
"I may change my mind later, depending on your ongoing performance but you don't grumble, you just get on with it. Even after that nasty as hell fall from the rope - I've done that and I know it hurts - but you? You, got up and finished the climb and the rest of the course without a complaint. That is something I haven't seen in a long time. As a result, I want you to lead the group. You're already effectively doing that anyway. Dropping back to help motivate your mates during the runs, picking them up if they trip or fail at an obstacle and driving them on through it."
Craig nods and smiles. He tries hard to hide the swelling pride in his chest. "Thank you, I promise I will do my best."
"I know your type Craig, You'll always push for more than your best, I can see that in the way you carry yourself and the way your eyes narrow when you come against a challenge. During that bleep test I was worried; I thought you'd either get to the end of the disk, or your heart would explode."
They both laugh and Craig flushes red at his battle with the disk, the instructors had eventually stopped it when Craig's face had turned blue from borderline hypoxia. Everyone else had dropped out gradually, one-by-one after reaching the minimum expected level. Craig though, he had kept going, seeing it as a test against himself, all he could focus on were the bleeps echoing around the large training hall.
What Craig doesn't know, is that the instructors all had a go after sending the recruits off to barracks at the end of the day. Every one of them Commandos at the full height of fitness. Brooksie was the last one standing and even he was 10 levels shy of Craig when his body refused to go on. Without knowing it, he had earned the ungrudging respect of every NCO who had witnessed or heard of the feat.
They both sit in silence before Brooks taps something on the table and opens his palm. "This is yours until you leave or I find someone better," he hands across a shiny steel pin shaped like a dagger.
Although not an official badge of the Royal Marines, that dagger signified the best recruit in Brooksie's training squad. Other instructors had their own pins and chose someone out of each of their own squads to wear it. Craig, is left speechless by what he sees as an honour and takes the pin in stunned silence.
"Now, go enjoy your weekend, 'cause come Monday, I'm goin' t' expect so much more from you. That pin," he points sharply towards the pocket Craig had slipped it into. "...makes you my bitch for the forseeable. Now piss off."
The genuine grin that follows robs the last words of their harshness and Craig grabs the trays as he stands. He detours to deposit the trays where they are cleaned, a grateful porter thanks him as he turns and exits the mess hall, barely suppressing the smile spreading across his mouth.