Heart of my Enemy

by Julnick


"Give me something with an umbrella."

"Into those pussy drinks, huh? I always had you pegged as a pussy drink type."

Tem gave him a vague smile taking the drink from the bartender. He slid it down in front of the man who had spoken. "No, Al, it's for you..." Tem motioned and the bartender passed another shot of Jack Daniel's across the bar to him. He threw it back and bared his teeth. "Myself? Into pussy? Not so much." He motioned for another shot.

"You're drinking too much," Jay muttered, nursing his own drink on Tem's other side. Tem ignored him, staring steadily into the mirror behind the liquor bottles.

"What's that supposed to mean?" Al said suspiciously, not hearing Jay's comment. Tem fingered his glass, his lips curling maliciously. "What are you a pillow biter?" Tem didn't answer. Al's eyes went wide. Alcohol was making him belligerent. "You are! Fuck!"

"Cool it, Al." Jay's voice was cold and hard.

"He's a faggot!" he repeated. "You better not try nothin' with me, I tell you what, I'll kick your ass from here to... I tell you what..." He was shaking his head, blustering.

Tem threw back the shot he'd been playing with and ordered another. Jay began to ease of his stool.

"Kick my ass..." Tem murmured, a humorless smile playing at the corners of his mouth. The alcohol was working on him as well, but in opposition to his increasingly obnoxious companion, his tone was getting quieter, harder. Another shot went down his throat and he turned on Al, raising his voice slightly. "You've got nothing to worry about, mate. You're not my type." Malice glittered in his eyes.

"Damn straight, I tell you what," Al said loudly. "I'm not a fag."

"No," Tem corrected softly, his face lighting with a wicked smile that didn't reach his eyes. "You're not a man."

Al reddened, the flush creeping up over his collar and spreading to his ears. He jumped up, knocking his stool over with a loud crash. Tem was on his feet before it hit the floor, body taut, the smile gone from his face.

Jay was between them. He put a hand on Al's chest. "I wouldn't..." he warned the bellowing man.

"Hold me back! I'm gonna kick his fairy ass..." But Jay didn't need much strength to restrain him. As the man looked past Jay, there was fear in his eyes. Tem's were cold and steady.

"Tem," Jay said. "Back off or you'll be fighting *me*."

Tem smirked. "I was a Navy SEAL."

Jay's expression didn't change. "I was a Green Beret. Want to answer the age old question?"

But Tem's demeanor had changed so abruptly that Jay blinked with surprise and nearly forgot he was supposed to be holding off Al.

"I thought you were a shrink," Tem said. He sounded strange.

Jay looked at him with concern. "I am. I wasn't always..." Al was looking on with interest.

Tem cocked his head. "Outside," he said, his voice expressionless.

"You guys gonna fight?" Al asked enthusiastically.

"No!" They both turned on him and he flinched back. John looked curiously at Tem who had already turned away and was heading for the door. He quickly followed him out. Al stayed where he was, looking sulky.

*****

Tem stopped and put his back to a car. "I need to talk to you," he said urgently.

Jay stared. "Okay..."

"No. Privately."

Jay thought about it for a moment. Tem was slightly unsteady. He couldn't drive. "How about I take you home?"

"No. Do you have an office?"

Jay bit his lip. "Yeah... I have an office. You want to go there?"

Tem nodded.

*****

He watched Tem surreptitiously as they rode the elevator to the fourth floor. The man was jumpy, but he was always jumpy, eyes constantly moving. Except when he was angry. Then they focused with frightening intensity.

He slid into the corner of the elevator, out of sight of the hall when the door opened again. Jay stepped out and looked at him. Tem sidled out into the darkened hall and followed him to a door near the end of it. Jay shook out his keys and unlocked the door, letting them into a suite. He flicked on the lights and closed the door.

"Lock it."

Jay said nothing. He locked the door and turned back to Tem, who was scanning the room with his eyes. "My office is this way." Tem watched him cross the suite and open one of the doors. He turned on the light and stood in the doorway, waiting for Tem to come in. Tem approached slowly, glancing around the interior of the room. Finally, he stepped completely inside but he stopped Jay before he could close the door.

"Does this one lock?"

Jay closed the door and pressed the button on the knob to lock it.

"Who has keys to this room?"

Jay didn't question him. "Housekeeping has a master. No one else." He motioned to the table and several cushioned chairs. "Sit where you'd like." He watched as Tem carefully pulled a chair into the corner of the room near the door and sat uneasily. He looked pale. Jay took another chair and pulled it around the table so he could face Tem without it between them. He leaned forward, putting his elbows on his knees and rested his chin in his hands, trying to be as non-threatening and non-shrinklike as possible. "So what did you want to talk about?"

Tem stared at him so intently, Jay began to feel uncomfortable. "I need to tell someone who'll understand."

"I'll do my best," Jay said carefully.

Tem stared for several seconds more. "I can pay. I have money."

Jay leaned back. "You want me in a professional capacity?"

"I want you quiet."

Jay frowned. "I don't understand."

"Shrinks can't talk about what they hear. Right?"

"That's true. But you don't have to pay me for confidentiality. Why don't we just talk as friends. If you really want to talk to someone professionally, I can give you some names, it wouldn't be..." He hesitated. "It would present...problems for me to take on a friend as a patient. You can be assured that nothing you say will be repeated unless I feel you are in danger of hurting yourself or someone else."

Tem considered. "I'm not going to hurt no one."

"Then we have no problem."

"But I need your professional advice."

"Maybe you'd like me to refer you to someone..."

"No. It has to be you. You'll understand."

Jay looked at Tem carefully. The young man was hurting over something. The professional in him pushed aside their personal differences and the healer, for the first time in his life, quelled the ethical questions that niggled at his mind.

"Why don't we consider this a free consultation then go from there..."

Tem dug in his pocket and pulled out a small stone. He began to work it nervously between his fingers. "I'm not a baby," he said suddenly.

Jay blinked. "I don't think you're a baby," he said, feeling suddenly uncertain about where this conversation was going.

"Don't look at me like I'm something...weak and helpless. Just because..." He seemed to be fighting some kind of internal battle.

Jay realized his mistake and leaned back in his chair, crossing his arms over his chest. Tem's face relaxed slightly. He glanced around the room again.

"I was a Navy SEAL."

"You said that earlier," Jay said, keeping his tone conversational. He didn't add anything, just waited. Tem worried his stone and took a deep breath. Abruptly, emerald green eyes came up and focused on Jay's, bright and intense. Jay doggedly held the stare.

Without breaking eye contact Tem finally said, "I'm going crazy."

Jay carefully discarded several answers. He thought for a moment. "Oh yeah?"

Tem looked slightly surprised. Then a ghost of a smile flickered across his face. "Yeah." When Jay didn't say anything, he looked down at his stone.

Jay stood up and turned his chair around, sitting down and gazing at Tem over the back of it. "I've heard that's a pre-requisite for seals."

The smile reappeared momentarily then was gone. "I see things," Tem said quietly. He looked keenly at Jay for a reaction but Jay kept his face impassive, sensing instinctively that it was time to stay quiet. "And I hear things..." Again Tem looked but got nothing so he continued. "They're bad things. Things I remember. I can't tell anyone about them. No one would understand."

"Can you tell me?"

Tem studied his stone, then fixed his eyes on Jay once more. "Did you ever see combat?"

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~Heart of my Enemy~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Tem opened his eyes painfully, his head throbbing. He struggled, feeling panic beginning in the dark places of his mind. His team was gone. They'd have left him by now. He knew they'd be back for him. But he didn't even know where he was. How long until they found him? The heavy shackles bound him, helpless. His resistance was rewarded only with chafing and blood where the rough metal opened his skin. The chains were bolted to the floor and the wall behind him. For the first time in his life, he was completely and utterly helpless and alone.

The door opened, casting a crescent of light across the floor. Tem blinked. A figure darkened the doorway for a moment then Tem shut his eyes as blinding whiteness flooded the room. Painfully, he forced his eyes open and squinted at the man standing before him. He ran his eyes up from the boots to the ragged fatigues to the dark, mustachioed face and mop of untidy black hair. The dark eyes glinted at him like chips of the blackest obsidian. Tem swallowed. His stomach was ice. He could almost feel himself pale as the man studied him coldly.

"American." The man spat in the dirt at Tem's feet. Tearing his gaze away from his captor, Tem took advantage of the light to take in his surroundings...what little he could see of them. He was in a cell. The walls at his back and on two sides were cinderblock. Grey and dirty. Facing him was a wall of bars. Beyond those was a narrow passageway which ran out of his line of sight to the right and left. The man stood outside the bars, staring at him. "Land of freedom." Tem jumped and looked at him. His English was halting and heavily accented but comprehensible. He spat again. Tem jerked back to keep it from hitting his foot. It glistened in the dirt like a raw oyster.

The man took a ring of keys from his belt and unlocked the cell, hung them on a hook by the outer door and strode forward. He stopped in front of Tem and crouched, leaning in until his face was a scant foot from Tem's. Tem gave a violent jerk on his restraints but could not move. The man laughed.

"Dirty American. Stupid American."

Tem was breathing hard with a combination of anger, fear and exertion. The man leaned back and surveyed Tem for a moment, then slowly withdrew a long knife from a sheath at his thigh. He shifted it from one hand to the other for several seconds, letting the gleam from the bare bulb overhead flash in Tem's eyes. Then he settled it tightly in his right hand and drove it down with a sudden movement twisting it deep into Tem's thigh.

Tem bit back a scream. Pain seared though his leg, all the way through his body, overwhelming his senses. There was nothing else. Scrambling, he focused his mind through the agony. He opened his eyes. The man was staring at him, grim triumph lining his face. He lifted the knife and brought it down again straight into the wound. This time, with such force that the tip stuck in bone. Now, Tem did scream, struggling desperately.

The man wrenched the knife free and rose. He looked down at Tem for several minutes, but Tem was barely aware of his presence. His mind was registering only pain and danger. He fought helplessly against the shackles. There was a creak and clicking of a lock. Then the lights went out, and Tem was left in an aching darkness, agony sweeping over into the cold grip of shock.

*****

He woke as light flared against his closed eyes. He blinked, wincing. His leg was throbbing and as he looked down at it, he found it had been wrapped in a tight, crude bandage. Blood had soaked through the dirty white cloth, but the pressure seemed to have stemmed the flow.

His heart pounding, he looked up at the men who were now entering the cell. They were speaking Spanish. A couple of them laughed and shook their heads. One of them was carrying a battered, white bucket.

The man in front nodded at Tem then pointed to him and opened his mouth wide, then nodded again, motioning at Tem. Tem stared at him. He pointed again, more insistently.

"You!" he said.

Some of the other men began speaking to him in rapid-fire Spanish. Tem just stared at them, clenching his teeth.

Two of the men approached him and hauled him to his feet. Tem hissed as he tried to put his weight on his wounded leg and it nearly collapsed beneath him. The first man walked up to him, frowning. He motioned the one with the bucket forward then he grabbed Tem's jaw. Tem jerked back, out of the man's grasp. He could smell gasoline.

The man looked at him for a moment, then raised his foot and brought his heel down on the bloody bandage. Tem screamed and found himself choking on acrid liquid. It was in his eyes and his mouth. He struggled out of the two men's grips and spat and coughed violently. The smell of gasoline filled his sinuses. His eyes were burning and watering. His clothing was soaked through. He heard the men laughing around him.

His vision was blurred, but he could hear their heavy footsteps retreating toward the door of the cell. The light went out, but he could still hear them breathing, muttering. Then he heard a sound that turned his gut to ice. He began to pray for the first time since childhood. He prayed to his mother's gods. He prayed to his father's god. Please. The match hissed and flared in the darkness. He could see the vague outline of a man's face, and when the match was pulled away, it left a glowing ember in it's wake. The man exhaled, and the smell of tobacco smoke wafted across the cell. Please... Please... Please... The hand with the match rose, then there was a flash of movement the flame nearly disappearing then glowing to life again at Tem's feet. He flattened himself against the wall, watching, praying.

The light glowed orange for a moment, then blue, shrinking and fading until it winked out in the darkness. Tem gave silent thanks to any deity listening, nearly sinking to the floor in his relief. But it was short-lived. The cigarette smoke was stronger now. The voices were muttering more loudly. Tem got a sinking feeling deep in the pit of his stomach. The glowing ember shifted and moved down through the darkness. Then was raised. Tem closed his eyes.

Suddenly, there was a scraping and dim light brightened the room. A new voice in the doorway was barking angrily and too rapidly for Tem to understand. Pleading tones answered but were met with more anger. Tem cautiously opened his eyes. The figure in the doorway moved into the room beyond, allowing Tem's tormentors to exit, mumbling quiet apologies to the interloper. The door closed and once again Tem was left in darkness.

*****

Day and night lost meaning. It was all darkness, always darkness. Periodically the light would go on and someone would push a bowl of water or rice into his reach. For a while he threw up. For a while longer he refused food and drink. But they did nothing to force him and finally his desperate will to survive drove him to eat. He used a small portion of each bowl of water to cleanse his wounds as best he could, but he could tell they were badly infected and getting worse. They were hot and painful and slowly the cell seemed to be getting colder until he was shivering nearly constantly. He awkwardly positioned his bound hands so he could feel his own forehead and he touched hot, sweaty skin.

I won't die. I won't die. I am a SEAL. I will not die.

They never unshackled him. He slept in his own waste. When he did sleep. Mostly he just stared. Stared into the darkness and waited.

*****

One day, or night, the door opened. The light blazed. And two men came in, dragging a third between them. The third man was speaking Spanish, quickly and desperately. The two carrying him barked at him roughly. They dragged him down the hall to Tem's right. As they passed the cell, the prisoner caught a glimpse of him and for a long moment their eyes met until he was hauled out of view.

There was a clanking of metal on metal and the scrape of a lock then the captors' footsteps approached along the corridor. The light blinked out, the door closed, and Tem was left in darkness once more. But this time, it wasn't silent darkness. Speaking for the first time in days, maybe weeks, he cleared his throat and said haltingly into the velvet blackness, "Mi nombre es Tem..."

*****

Tem began to divide his time into waking and sleeping periods, coordinating them to coincide with Antonio's. His Spanish knowledge was skeletal and Antonio's English was about the same. They worked out certain words they both knew and had strange conversations around them. Then sometimes they just spoke, each in his own language. Following the rhythms and sounds of a conversation if having none of the communication. Just hearing another voice, a kindred spirit, Tem felt himself growing stronger, his will stiffening.

But at the same time, with increasing frequency, the mustachioed man brought an old car battery into the cell, attached wires to the terminals and ran the current through Tem's body. Which body part he chose each of these times seemed to vary by his mood.

Until now, Tem had taken the treatment wordlessly. But on this occasion, either for pain or fever-borne delirium, he spoke.

"Why?" he choked out, hoarse, his throat aching.

The man looked at him coldly. "Why, American?" he growled. "Why I want you feel pain?" He touched the wires, smiling darkly as the sparked. He pulled them apart and lowered them toward Tem's injured leg. Tem tensed. The wires touched the edges of the unhealed wound. Tem screamed again and clenched his teeth, scrabbling against the dirt floor. The wires came away. The pain stopped.

"What do you want?" Tem moaned. "What do you want to know?"

"You know nothing, American. I am teaching you." The wires touched skin again. When they rose he spoke again. "Is that pain, American? Do you think now you know pain?"

"Yes!" Tem said through clenched teeth, his eyes closed tightly.

The circuit closed again through his leg and he writhed. "You know nothing."

"Then TEACH me!" Tem cried desperately. "TELL me what I should know!"

"You should know THIS!" The agony flared again, sharp and hot. "Know pain!"

"WHY?"

The man stopped, gazing at Tem. When the white-hot current didn't come again, he opened his eyes tentatively.

"Because you are American. Land of freedom. You come here. We fight. We want our freedom. Be like fancy Americans. Americans, you kill us. You kill our children. You kill our babies." His face was contorting with fury. "You kill my daughter."

"No..." Tem whispered.

Seemingly forgetting about the battery, he backhanded Tem hard across the mouth. "Not 'no', stupid American. Not 'no'. You do it. She is dead!"

"No... Not me... Not children... We only fight soldiers..." But in his mind's eye, images of ten-year olds with machine guns were spinning wildly.

"We want our freedom! We want to have what you have! You kill us for that!"

Tem felt sick. Tears were threatening in his eyes. He could only shake his head.

"Why? Because I want you feel what I feel every morning. Every day. I know my daughter is dead! Because of you! You..." He spluttered in rage, searching for a word terrible enough... "Cockroaches! Buzzards! Filthy... American!" He spat it out as if a curse.

Then he touched the wires to Tem's leg again, this time holding them there. Tem screamed until he didn't recognize his own voice and darkness closed in around the edges of his vision.

*****

The lights were out again when he opened his eyes. He heard quiet, muffled sobs.

"Antonio?"

The sobbing stopped instantly. "Tem? Not muerto?"

"No," Tem said quickly. "Not muerto! Not dead... Passed out...um..." he struggled for the words in Spanish. "Asleep... Dormir?"

"Dormir," Antonio echoed weakly. "Asleep. I am...sorry, Tem... Hurt you."

"Sorry? No! Not your fault. Dammit I don't know how to say that. No problemo. Okay?"

"No," Antonio said quietly.

They were both silent for several minutes. Then Tem spoke, "We killed his daughter," he said softly. "Would I do this for my daughter? For my freedom and for my family? Isn't freedom why I fight, Antonio? What are we doing here?"

Antonio began to speak again in slow Spanish. Tem leaned back against the wall and listened to his voice, smooth and steady. At that moment, he thought that voice was the most beautiful thing he'd ever heard in his life.

*****

Tem tensed as the door opened. The mustachioed man came into the hall and Tem's heart sank, but the man didn't come to his cell, he turned down the hall to Tem's right and his footsteps faded then stopped.

Tem listened intently as the man began to speak rapidly in Spanish. Antonio answered, sounding desperate and terrified. Tem's heart began to pound.

"Leave him alone, you fucking bastard!" he shouted, pulling at his restraints.

The man was speaking again. Antonio interrupted him. Speaking very fast. Pleading. Suddenly the walls echoed with the blast of a gun. There was a cry and a soft, keening moan. Tem froze. Twice more it cracked the air. Then there was silence.

A terrible feeling had crawled into Tem's stomach and was killing him from the inside out. "Antonio!" he cried. "ANTONIO!" He heard footsteps approaching in the hall and he began fighting his restraints with more energy than he'd ever had. He strained against them shouting wildly. "Son of a BITCH! You SHOT HIM! You SHOT HIM IN CHAINS! You FUCKING SON OF A FUCKING BITCH! Come in here! Come fight ME! Fucking COWARD!"

The man ignored him. He calmly turned off the lights, went out and closed the door behind him. Tem screamed curses at the darkness until his voice left him completely. Then, for the first time since finding himself in this place, he cried. Silent, wracking sobs. He cried until he had no tears left, and then he stared. Stared into the silent darkness.

*****

They didn't take Antonio's body until it began to smell. Tem watched them numbly as they dragged it down the corridor. He was beyond feeling anymore. He didn't want to live anymore. He didn't care anymore. He didn't eat. He didn't feel hungry. He just stared and sometimes he rocked.

He didn't even fear the torture anymore. It just was. And without the fear, the pain lost its power. He detached, watched it happen to someone else. It didn't matter anymore. Nothing mattered. He just stared. And rocked. And waited to die.

*****

He was rocking in the darkness when the door opened for the last time. He stared at the silhouette, waiting for the bright pain of the light. It came after a moment, and he waited for his eyes to adjust.

"Reece?"

He blinked. The fever, he was hallucinating. He blinked again, the blinding brightness beginning to resolve itself to usable levels.

"Reece, are you alright?" The figure was moving toward him.

"Jeffries?" Tem stared. "Jeffries!" Looking at the man in face paint and jungle fatigues, Tem suddenly felt something he hadn't felt in so long he didn't recognize it. Hope. "What the fuck are you doing here?"

"Rescuing your ass, stupid." He began investigating the shackles binding Tem's arms. Tem felt his blood turn to ice in his veins.

"Behind you!"

Jeffries spun, bringing up his weapon, but the mustachioed man already had his own leveled, and he fired. Jeffries fell into the dirt and lay still. Tem stared at him then at the mustachioed man who was now turning his weapon on Tem.

"I can take two of you with me..." he said, his eyes were wild. Several things happened in the next few seconds. The man aimed the gun at Tem's face and fired. Tem closed his eyes, waiting for the final whisper of death, a second shot echoed off the walls and Tem felt shards of concrete pepper his ear and cheek. Slowly, he turned his head and opened his eyes, staring at the gaping hole in the concrete block. Then he looked back at the doorway and saw another figure standing over the fallen mustachioed man.

"I'm clear! He's in here!"

The man stepped over the body and came into the cell. He stopped first at Jeffries, grimacing and dropping into a crouch. He pressed his fingers to the side of the fallen man's neck.

"Grevas?" Tem asked in wonderment. The man gave him a quick smile.

"We've missed you, kid."

Another figure appeared in the doorway. "What happened?" he asked, stepping over the body and approaching the three of them, he wrinkled his nose.

"Must've been outside and doubled back around on us. Son of a bitch." He rested his forearms on his knees. Tem looked at Jeffries.

"Is he dead?"

Grevas nodded. Then he noticed Tem's leg. "That looks bad. Can you walk on it?"

Tem glanced at it. "Doubt it. I haven't tried. How long have I been in here."

The other man pulled a face. "Thirty-eight days. They moved you. We couldn't find you."

"We aren't at the compound?"

Grevas shook his head. "About twenty miles north-west."

It didn't seem real. The twilight nightmare was over and suddenly none of it seemed real. Just a bad dream. Except for the pain in his leg. And the sudden ache in his chest as he looked at the body of the mustachioed man and remembered Antonio.

"Get the keys off him, Johnson." Grevas motioned toward the body in the doorway. Johnson rose and pulled them from the dead man's belt. He studied them for a moment then handed them to Grevas who began testing them in the shackles. Johnson disappeared into the outer room for a moment then reappeared.

"The lieutenant and Martinez are outside. We have to get a move on."

"Someone has to get down here and help carry Jeffries. Reece can't walk. Shit man, you're burning up."

"I think I have a fever," Tem said unnecessarily. Grevas had found the key for the wrist shackles and pulled them off. In awe, Tem brought his hands to his face. His wrists were cut badly and infected.

"You look like shit," observed Johnson, glancing at Tem. "Goddamn, Jeffries." He ran a hand over his face, looking miserable. "It stinks down here. I'll get Martinez." Grevas glared him out the door.

He had opened the ankle cuffs by the time Johnson returned with Martinez. Martinez, an ox of a man, swung Jeffries' body across his broad shoulders. Grevas and Johnson each put a shoulder under one of Tem's arms and hefted him to his feet. He managed not to cry out as a flood of pain assaulted him, stiffness and sores from being held in the same position for weeks, the horribly infected stab wound, chafing from the cuffs. He staggered, putting more of his weight than he'd have liked on his comrades.

Gently, but with as much speed as possible, they guided him out into the outer room and up a flight of stairs. To Tem's surprise, the stairs ended at a kind of storm cellar-style door, which opened out on the outside. As they stepped out into the jungle, Tem glanced back to find a couple of vents and no other evidence of the building he'd spent the last month and a half in. He stared.

Grevas nodded. "That's why we couldn't find you. No fucking recon on this place."

The lieutenant was watching the trees warily he gave Tem a nod. "Good to see you kid, you look like shit. Let's get you the fuck out of here."

*****

Tem held as still as he could as the doctor prodded and cleansed his leg. His commander stood a few paces back, watching, a pained look in his eyes.

"Burns," the doctor murmured, examining the wound closely. He turned and looked at the X-ray again. "You're lucky the knife didn't break off. We'd've had a time getting it out with that infection."

Tem didn't answer. He didn't like it here. He'd slid back as far as he could on the bed, getting his back as close to the wall as possible. His commander had quietly locked the door behind them and Tem thanked him silently. The doctor noticed but didn't comment.

Everything was dangerous here. There was no safe place. Tem felt his heart had been pounding without rest since they'd left the building where he'd been held. He'd refused to sleep on the ship, he didn't even close his eyes. He never wanted to see darkness again.

Most of the crew gave him a wide birth, eyeing him uneasily as his teammates half-carried, half-dragged him to the doctor. They had stayed outside the door while the lieutenant closed and locked it from inside.

The doctor carefully cleaned and bandaged Tem's wrists and ankles, and cleansed the cuts and abrasions on his face. Then he sighed and turned his attention back to the leg wound. "It actually closed up fairly nicely for being left to its own devices...." He studied it more closely. "Bad infection though. In your blood. I'd like to have you on IV antibiotics. I want you back at base as soon as possible."

They were both looking at him. Something in their eyes said damaged, broken... He tried to clear head, organize his thoughts.

"No..." he muttered. "I'm not..." He was cold, his mind was jumbled, he realized he was shivering again. The doctor pulled a blanket over Tem's shoulders.

"Not what?" he asked kindly. But Tem didn't want kindness, he didn't want the look of pity in his eyes. He ground his teeth in frustration.

"I'm not... I'm not..." He couldn't find the words to express what was in his mind. His mouth worked silently. "Not..."

The lieutenant stepped forward and put a hand on his good leg. "Easy, seal..."

Suddenly he remembered something important. Something he had to tell his commander. "Sir?" He looked into the lieutenant's face. "I gave up..."

The lieutenant shook his head. "No you didn't."

Tem nodded. "I did. I wanted to die."

"You didn't die, seal. You didn't give up."

"But, sir..."

"Cool it, Reece." His voice had gone hard. Tem shut up and listened. "You are a seal if I say you're a seal. You gave up if I say you gave up. I say you're a seal. I say you didn't give up if you got out of that fucking hellhole alive. Any questions?"

Tem shook his head, feeling vaguely relieved despite his determination that he'd failed. He felt something else as well. A creeping unease hovering around the edges of his consciousness. The room began to dim, it wavered and went dark.

*****

Tem woke in a hospital bed. He tried to move his arm and was rewarded with a dull pain. He looked down. A long IV tube ran from above his head to a shunt taped to the inside of his elbow. He sighed, leaning back against the pillow.

He didn't feel quite as sick. The fever seemed to have broken. He was sweaty and cool but not chilled and shivering. He glanced around the room. It was stark and bare. Old tile lined the floor and the walls had been painted mint green. A chair had been pulled up to face the bed. Tem wondered who had been sitting in it.

Then the door opened and Grevas walked in. He was carrying a styrofoam cup that carried the smell of stale coffee. He rubbed his face roughly with his free hand, turned the chair around backwards and swung a leg over it. He looked at Tem and blinked.

"Hey, you're awake!"

Tem didn't answer. A heavy weight lay on his chest. It was too much work to speak. He just nodded. Grevas sat with him in silence for several minutes.

"We've been taking turns staying with you. We're on liberty for another week. How do you feel?"

Tem shrugged, moving his leg slightly. It was tender, but the throbbing pain had gone. "Okay," he muttered. But he didn't. The weight was growing heavier, his throat was becoming tighter. It was hard to breathe. "Jeffries..."

Grevas hesitated for a moment. "He's dead."

Tem nodded, feeling his eyes begin to burn. "My fault..."

"No," Grevas said firmly. "It is not."

"Didn't warn him in time..."

"Reece. It's not your fault. It's ours. We thought the building was secure. Our fuck up, not yours."

Tem shook his head. Tears were beginning to trickle down into his ears. He closed his eyes tightly, trying to hide them, force them back, but he couldn't. He began to shudder. Jeffries... And Antonio... He couldn't tell Grevas about Antonio. He couldn't tell anyone. It was too hard to explain. They would never understand.

Grevas put a hand on Tem's arm. He said nothing. Tem almost wished he would leave, but he didn't want to be alone. He just shook...and cried...until he fell asleep.

When he opened his eyes again, Johnson was sitting in the chair, reading a book. Tem quickly closed his eyes again before Johnson could see he was awake. He didn't feel like talking.

The next time he awoke it was to terrible screaming. He heard shouts and running footsteps. He opened his eyes and realized the screams were coming from his own throat, and he couldn't stop. He was soaked in sweat, he'd pulled the IV free from his arm and there was blood spattering the sheets. He screamed again, kicking the sheets away from him.

Two orderlies and a nurse came pounding into the room. The orderlies grabbed his arms holding him, struggling, as the nurse pushed a needle into his arm. They kept a hold of him as slowly he stopped writhing and lay still. The nurse gathered the bloody sheet and bustled it out of the room, returning with dry clothes and sheets. In a peaceful haze, Tem allowed himself to be changed and put back into a clean bed. His last memory before slipping into a dreamless sleep was his commander's worried face in the doorway.

*****

Tem spent most of his waking hours crying, and most of his sleeping ones with terrible, vague nightmares. Something awful happening that he couldn't stop. Someone behind him but he couldn't move to turn around. Trying to run, but his feet tangling in vines, falling, his pursuer closing on him. Most nights he awoke screaming.

They didn't release him.

Slowly, the tears stopped coming and settled deep within him as a dark depression. Slowly, he trained himself not to scream as the faceless enemies closed on him in his sleep. He just opened his eyes wide in the darkness, his heart pounding, his clothes soaked with sweat, silent.

He told the shrinks everything they wanted to hear.

They let him go back to his team.

*****

They were moving quickly through the jungle. At a hand motion from the point man, they scattered, finding trunks to press themselves against and twisting to look around them, through the trees, at a small village. The sun was just beginning to brighten the sky in the east, they still had cover of darkness. Tem recognized the layout from the briefing pictures. Their target would be to the west end of the village, a corrugated metal shed.

The point man motioned again, circling around, skirting the village toward the west. Tem waited then followed, keeping an eye on the darkened huts. As they silently entered the village from the west, they found their target was indeed where they'd expected.

The point man crept around the corner of the shed, surveying the huts. All was quiet. He motioned. Tem and Grevas slipped around the corner and briefly studied the padlocked door, it was old and rusted. Grevas pulled out a set of tools and quickly had the door unlocked. Tem followed him into the inky darkness within.

Everything was green and grainy through his goggles. He pulled a sheet off of one of the piles. Wooden crates were stacked four high. He carefully pried the top off of one of them. Grevas was doing the same to another. They looked at each other, then ran.

"MOVE MOVE MOVE!" Grevas was shouting. The devices were crude, but they would be plenty effective. Tem skidded to a halt in the dirt outside the shed. Gunfire was coming from the trees to the west.

He and Grevas ran east, keeping the shed between them and the trees. Within seconds, there was a roaring explosion of light, sound and heat. A wall of force slammed Tem to the ground, knocking the wind from him. His ears felt numb, he thought he heard gunfire behind them.

He began to rise and dropped flat on the ground as gunfire erupted from somewhere ahead of them. Single weapon. Sniper. There was nowhere to go. Gunfire still rattled behind them to the west. Bullets from the east were sending shards of clay raining down on them. Tem looked around frantically for the source.

"Shit!" Grevas grabbed him and hauled him into a doorway. They flattened themselves against the cool adobe. A bullet struck the corner and shattered the clay. Tem fired blindly in the direction of the sniper. Another bullet hissed past his face. He crouched into the shadows. They waited. Silence. Grevas edged up to the corner and jerked back into the shadows as another bullet buried itself in the wooden door. He muttered a brief curse. There was another smatter of gunfire in the woods behind them.

The sky was lightening. The brightness through Tem's goggles was beginning to hurt his eyes. He fired again. They heard footsteps scampering over the roof of the building the shots had come from. Tem fired, another shot came at them. He gritted his teeth, snarling silently.

Grevas cursed again and hauled off his own goggles, firing twice. Suddenly there was a shot from the corner of the hut, mere feet from their position.

"Reece!" Grevas shouted, whirling. He fired just as Tem turned.

"NO!" Tem stared at the body on the ground. "Oh my god..." he said slowly, stepping out of the shelter of the doorway and sinking to his knees.

"Oh no... Oh Jesus Christ, no..." Grevas moaned behind him. "All I saw was a shadow, I didn't... I couldn't... Oh God... Oh Jesus."

There was a final shot from the corner of the adobe hut, and Johnson rounded it then froze.

Tem didn't realize the gunfire had stopped. He pulled off his goggles, tears streaming down his face. Grevas knelt beside the small girl, wheezing prayers. Tem's leg was searing with pain, but he hardly noticed. He just rocked, clutching his belly. "Oh my god... Oh my god..." He could hear the crackling of the wires on the battery. The searing pain in his leg. "Oh my god... Oh my god..." The smell of his own flesh burning under the current. He pressed his hand to his thigh.

"Reece! Are you hit?" The voice seemed to be coming from far away. Tem felt himself being pulled to his feet. His leg buckled under his weight. He kept his hand clamped down hard. They dragged him, half-limping, across the dirt into the trees. He heard more voices. He was set on the ground, a trunk to his back.

"Reece," said another voice. The lieutenant. Tem struggled to focus his eyes. The lieutenant was crouching in front of him. "Let me see your leg." He grasped Tem's wrist firmly and pulled his hand away. Tem glanced down. The cloth was smooth and whole. His hand was clean. The lieutenant stared at it, then at him. "Reece?"

Tem began to cry again, sobbing softly.

"What the fuck is going on?" he heard the lieutenant hiss.

Grevas spoke, his tone dull and lifeless. "We... I...shot a kid..." His voice began to crack. "I didn't know, sir... I just saw something move... I..."

"Quiet." The lieutenant looked from Grevas to Tem. "Get yourselves together. Now!"

Tem held his breath, willing the tears to stop. Grevas was silent. The lieutenant looked around at the rest of the team. "We're getting out of here, seals. All of us. We met our objective." They nodded silently. "Get up," he said to Tem. "Move!"

Tem scrambled to his feet, grimacing as pain wracked his body. He settled his weight on his right foot. The lieutenant rose with him and leaned very close to his face.

"You are walking away from this, seal. In every sense of the word. Do...you...understand?"

Tem nodded mutely, gingerly settling some weight on his other foot.

And they walked out.

*****

Tem lay very still in his bunk listening to the heated voices, muted through the walls. He stared blankly at the ceiling. The voices went quiet for several minutes. A shadow fell over his bed.

"Lieutenant wants you," Grevas said, his voice flat.

Tem silently swung his legs off his bunk and rose, passing Grevas, who was heading for his own bunk, expression unreadable.

Tem stepped out of the barracks and walked the short distance to where the lieutenant was standing in front of another building. Tem stopped in front of him. "Sir."

His commander gave a short jerk of his head, and Tem followed him inside. "Close the door," the officer said brusquely. Tem obeyed and turned back to face him, emotionless.

The lieutenant picked up a piece of paper and waved it in front of Tem. "What is the meaning of this?"

"I shouldn't be here, sir," Tem said dully.

"Bull. Shit." The man's eyes were hard and piercing. Tem stared through him.

"Yes, sir."

"Who are you?"

Tem blinked. "Reece, sir," he said in confusion.

"I know you name, boy. Tell me who you *are*. *What* you are."

Tem swallowed. "I'm a seal, sir."

"What does that mean, boy?"

Tem glanced away for a moment, but the lieutenant continued without an answer.

"It means... You don't give up. You never give up. Not on me. Not on your team." He paused. "Not on yourself."

Tem resisted the urge to shift his weight on his feet.

"DO YOU UNDERSTAND ME, SEAL!"

Tem jumped at the sudden roar. "Yes, sir!"

The lieutenant looked at him for another minute and sighed. He looked like he might say something else, but stopped himself. "Request denied. Dismissed."

Tem looked down and walked to the door, letting himself out quietly.

Several of his teammates looked at him as he reentered the barracks, but, thankfully, no one said a word as he sat down on his foot locker, pulled off his boots and shirt and crawled onto his bunk. He didn't sleep that night.

*****

Grevas wasn't at mess in the morning. He wasn't at the briefing. Tem looked at the faces of the men chosen. Men he trusted with his life. But still, he couldn't shake the sense of lurking danger. He wondered which of them would go home in a crate.

*****

The mud sucked at his boots, water seeped through the seams. His heart pounded hard against his chest, his eyes scanned the green jungle around them. It was alive with movement and sound and was making him jumpy. He knew that was dangerous and took a deep breath, trying to calm himself.

There was a crack in the underbrush to Tem's right and he froze. He saw the shadows of his teammates disappearing into the muddy, overgrown river. Tem eased into the water himself, lowering his body down into the murky depths, watching keenly through the reeds.

Ripples across the brown surface signaled movement behind Tem and he glanced back. Delan was approaching slowly, Tem looked upstream and saw the other men closing ranks. He frowned and began to move closer to them, keeping his back to the bank and his eyes on the direction of the sound.

There was another crunch of boots in vegetation. Tem flattened himself into the reeds, catching Delan's eye. Delan shook his head slowly, his expression strange. Tem looked at him questioning, but was given only a nod upriver.

Tem turned his head again and saw the others melting into the reeds as well. Johnson was four feet ahead of him, Delan was less than an arms length behind. There was another footstep, and a clank of metal. Then a whispered voice, and another, speaking rapid Spanish.

Tem felt his heart begin to race, the tepid water felt suddenly cold and claustrophobic. He ran his tongue over his dry lips and glanced back. Delan was looking at him, eyes wide.

"No..." Delan mouthed silently. Tem stared at him, fingers tightening around his weapon. Delan's eyes focused over Tem's shoulder at the team ahead of them. Then he quietly touched Tem's arm and slipped beneath the surface of the water. Tem glanced upstream. The water rippled slightly along the reeds and grasses of the bank, but was otherwise undisturbed.

His heart threatening to break his ribs, Tem sank down into the water. The current tugged gently at his clothes, caressing his skin like a phantom lover. It was dark. Too dark. He squeezed his eyes closed more tightly, feeling his lungs begin to strain against the need to breathe.

He let one hand drop to the silty mud at the floor of the riverbed and nearly screamed as a hand closed around his arm. Gathering himself, he touched the hand with his own, and Delan motioned him backward under his touch.

Tem touched the bank at his right and, using it to keep his bearings, began to creep down stream, letting the current push him slowly backward. His lungs were beginning to scream for air, and he was becoming light-headed. Pressing himself as close to the bank as he could, he eased himself to the surface of the water.

Delan was already up, as were several of the men upstream. The grasses and reeds overhung the bank here. Their fatigues blended into the green shadows. No one moved. Tem took a slow, silent breath, trying not to gulp the sweet, hot air. There were more voices above and ahead of them. Tem tried to sort them out, count how many, but the panic was rising again. He jerked around as he felt a touch on his leg, but Delan was several feet away, both hands on his weapon, focused on the sounds above them.

Tem closed his eyes for a moment. He could smell gasoline and cigarette smoke. The water suddenly felt icy cold, he shivered, clenching his teeth to keep them from chattering. He glanced at the point man who had just turned downstream. Slowly the man raised one hand in front of his chest and opened it, closed it, opened it again, and once more. Then held up three fingers. Eighteen.

Tem's gut was tight, his breath was coming in shuddering gasps.

"Stupid American..."

Tem jerked. The voice had come from inches behind him, but he could feel the soft dirt of the bank behind his back and head. And icy tingle crept up his spine. Slowly he twisted around to look above and behind him, but all he saw was thick undergrowth. He twisted back, gripping his weapon until his fingers ached.

"Stupid, dirty American..."

Tem flattened himself against the bank, eyes squeezed shut against the terrified tears. He began to pray, muttering under his breath. He nearly screamed as a hand tightened around his bicep, but a second hand clamped over his mouth.

Frozen, he heard Delan's breathless whisper in his ear. "Hang on, Reece. Hang on, man. We're going home. Stay with me..."

Tem began to rock. The voice was echoing in his ears. He could feel the rough metal cuffs on his wrists. Gunshots. He spun, his feet unsteady on the soft silt. He raised his weapon, strong hands were pulling at his arms. Gunshots. Searing pain jolted through his leg and it buckled, dropping him under the water. He cried out, water surged into his lungs.

Gunshots...

*****

He was cold. He could smell fresh blood. Death. His stomach lurched and he gagged, trying to roll onto his hands and knees, but his body wouldn't respond. He heard soft voices. English. But he couldn't understand the words. Something began to press at his mind. Pain. It was distant and cloudy but insistent. Pushing at his thoughts. Demanding his attention. Irritated, he tried to focus on the sensation, but it slipped away from his grasp. He tried to open his eyes, but he couldn't feel his face. Dark mist pressed in on his thoughts...

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

"They gave me an honorable discharge..." His lips curled into a humorless smile. "Honorable..." he muttered, looking at the stone in his hand with odd detachment. "They all died." Glazed emerald eyes met Jay's. Jay struggled to swallow, he felt cold to the marrow of his bones. Tem looked away. "Honorable discharge...

"But they never left." Tem's voice strengthened again strains of hysteria laced the undertones. "They're always here... I hear them. I see them. All of them. They touch me. They hate me..." Tears glittered in the bright, slightly wild eyes.

Carefully, Jay eased his grip on the back of the chair and took a shaky breath. "What do they say?" he asked softly.

Tem looked down for a moment, his expression hidden. When he raised his face again it was streaked with tears. He choked on his answer. Finally, it came out in a strangled whisper.

"Remember..."

*****

Jay watched the young man silently. He had curled into himself in the corner of the room and tucked his head into his knees. Jay hoped he was asleep. Cautiously, he lifted a pad from the corner of the table and began to write.

*****

Jay bolted upright. Sweat soaked his T-shirt and boxers and the tangled sheets that trapped his legs. He blinked in the darkness, grasping at familiar shadows, re-centering himself in the present. Carefully, he slowed his breathing and waited for his pulse to return to normal.

When he'd shaken most of the anxious cobwebs of the dream, he unwound the sheets and dropped his feet onto the floor. He very much needed a drink.

*****

Tem slunk into the office, surreptitiously locking the door behind him. Jay looked up. He'd agreed to meet with Tem after hours to protect the shreds of pride and dignity the battered man had left to cling to.

Tem eased into a chair across the table from Jay, eyes darting about the room.

"Are they here, now?" Jay asked gently?

Tem's eyes focused intently on him and he nodded. "I can't sleep. I drink until I pass out. But they still come in my dreams." Something in his tone was angry, belligerent. His gaze was hard and cold.

"Can I talk to them?"

Tem's eyes narrowed. "They aren't real," he said finally. "I'm not stupid. I'm crazy..." There was bitterness and anger in those last words and depths of pain that made Jay's chest ache. He took a deep breath.

"No," he said slowly, "you're not crazy."

Tem's expression betrayed nothing. "I hear footsteps. I hear voices. I feel things on my skin and there's nothing there. I see people that have been dead for years. I *saw* them die. But they touch me, they speak to me. They're *dead*."

"Tem, you were wounded in combat. You were wounded when you in a POW. When your leg was wounded, you couldn't walk on it. When the fever was high enough, you couldn't think straight."

Tem gazed at him silently.

"The things you saw and the things that were done to you, they aren't things that our bodies were designed to see or experience. Our bodies or our minds."

"I'm crazy," Tem said flatly.

"No," corrected Jay, "you're wounded. Your body has healed, but your mind hasn't. It's just a wound. A very deep and infected wound on your soul. On your mind."

Tem was silent for a long time, staring at the surface of the table. Jay was beginning to wonder if he was trapped in another flashback when he spoke. "Can you fix it?"

Jay took a deep breath. He'd dreaded this conversation for the past week. "I can't give you a magic pill. You have to heal it yourself, ultimately your body heals it's own wounds, and your mind has to do the same. You have to allow it to heal, just like the body. You have to open the wound, clean out the infection, and let time ease the pain."

"I don't know how to do that."

"You have to remember and you have to let those memories out. You have to cry, you have to grieve, you have to mourn and scream and *feel*."

Tem was shaking his head. His eyes were filling with tears again. "I can't," he whispered. "I can't, it will kill me."

"It won't. I can help you control the pain while you do the healing. I can stop the hallucinations. I can help with the depression. It is going to hurt. I can't stop that. But you can do it slowly, so no one moment becomes so terrible that it swallows you in the pain." He hesitated for a long moment. Tears were beginning to slide down Tem's face again. "You need to find someone to talk to, who can lead you through the process and support you. He swallowed. "I can't be that someone."

The briefest flash of hurt and betrayal lit Tem's eyes before the walls came down so hard around his emotions that Jay almost felt it as a physical barrier around the man.

Aching to reach through those defenses, but knowing he never would, Jay tried to explain. "We're friends, Tem. My ethics... I can't treat my friends. I don't even work with talk therapy, I handle the drugs..."

The eyes that fixed on him were glacial. He stopped talking.

"You can give me the drugs?" Tem's voice was flat and unyielding.

Jay took a deep breath. "I can refer you to someone. You can tell them the symptoms without getting into the cause. I can even send my notes without any of the details... Tem... I'm sorry."

"Don't..." the tone spread ice through Jay's veins. "Do *not* give me your pity. I don't need your sympathy. I don't need your kindness and I don't need your friendship. Go. To. Hell."

Jay looked down for a moment. "Fine..." he said, coming to a decision. "You're a half-breed, son of a bitch Navy brat who thinks with his cock which he'd need two hands to find in the dark." He met Tem's eyes.

Tem's lips curled into a feral smile. "Glad we understand one another..."

*****

Jay waited until he heard the soft click of the outer office door close before sinking back in his chair and closing his eyes. He'd lost a friend today for knowing too much. Tem would never forgive him for that. But with care, he wouldn't lose the enemy. He sighed at the irony. "Son of a bitch," he muttered and closed the file in front of him.


~ Julnick

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