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Just Another Lucky Outcome

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“I’ve never seen anything like that,” Nelson shook his head.

Raylan snorted almost silently next to her, and Rachel could practically see the thought bubble above his head, There’s a lot of shit you’ve never seen, Nelson. She kept mostly quiet too, pulling her jacket out of her locker.

“I’ve never seen Gutterson like that,” he kept talking, to the room at large. Rachel felt herself tense up now, defensive on Tim’s behalf. “He really was a- a soldier.”

“Of course he was,” she couldn’t help but snap, all but throwing her vest in. “You think he’s been lying all this time about being a Ranger?”

There was an embarrassed silence behind her, the whole room filled with it. Except Raylan, of course. He just raised an eyebrow at her, calmly shutting his own locker. “I know,” Nelson finally said. “I just never... thought too hard about it, I guess.”

Another obvious set-up, another Raylan smirk. Rachel just glared over her shoulder. “It’s true, though,” Winston, the other marshal who’d been in the convoy, spoke up. “That guy out there was not the same kid who sits in our office every day. I didn’t recognize him. It was...” he trailed off, shook his head. At a loss.

Rachel fought back the three or four emotions warring through. Defensive still, maybe a little pride for Tim, but some worry too. “Whether he’s that ‘guy’ or that ‘kid’, I don’t think either of them would appreciate you talking about him like this.”

They had the good sense to look chagrined again, but Rachel doubted the chatter would stop anytime soon. Hell, Art had wanted to recount the whole story once they were all settled back in Lexington.

But he hadn’t, because he’d seen what she had too- the second Tim found it safe to stand down from ‘Mission Mode’ (what she always called his mindset when things got tense in the field), he had balled up his hands to keep them from shaking. Disappeared into the armory until most everyone had gone.

And then he’d been fine again today... until, of course, he had to shoot that guy. (We left him without backup, Rachel scolded herself for the third time in the last hour.)

“Wonder how many times he had to diffuse IEDs in Afghanistan,” Winston mused out loud, probably without meaning to. “You think he saw a lot like that?”

Rachel whirled around, ready to snap again, but Raylan blocked her path. He pulled his jacket on, oh so casual. “Gentlemen,” he drawled. “Keep this in mind. Your little adventure of almost getting blown up yesterday? Just another morning for that ‘kid’ out there. And today, while you were coming down off your adrenaline highs and crying to your wives and mamas about almost dying, Tim went out, found the guy who did it, and put him down. And found the witness we were all looking for.” He stepped closer, lowered his voice. “So, maybe, don’t disrespect him by turning him into breakroom gossip, okay?”

Rachel followed him out, one last glare sent their way. “Didn’t know you cared so much,” she murmured, just barely keeping the smile off her face.

Raylan looked affronted. “Me? Care? I just don’t want Tim getting stupid questions about it. Smartass Tim, Trigger Happy Tim, I can handle. I have a feeling Morose Tim would scare the shit out of me.”

She gave a quick laugh. “You have no idea.”

Raylan glanced at her, recognizing that there was a story there but not asking. He looked to Art’s office, to Tim at his desk staring so hard at his computer, then back to Rachel. “We left him without backup,” he said in a rush, somehow still casual.

“I know,” and she was still quiet. “Just another lucky outcome to haunt me later.”

He smirked- not mocking, more like agreeing. “I’m heading out. Make sure he’s not morose before you leave.”

“He’s already joking when I try to ask him anything,” she pointed out, her attention called to the fax machine as it went off. Since when did they get faxes this late in the day?

Raylan just did his stupid smirk again, putting his hat back on. “Yeah, but are the answers maybe real anyway?” Then he was gone.

Rachel could just leave too. She was off the clock and still smelled like a damn coal train. But the fax machine was spitting out some file, and Tim was still at his desk. She sighed. “I’m never having children,” she vowed to herself, heading over to grab the fax. “Never.”

***

Sometimes Tim couldn’t even tell if he was joking or not.

They’d each given him that quick-side-glance, casually-voiced ‘y’alright?’ thing, the kind they always did after a ‘good’ shooting, the kind that always made it easy for him to shrug off, move along. Nothing to see here. “I got blood on my nice shirt, you know how hard that is to get out?”

But there was a cloud over his head. He could feel it, and he wouldn’t be surprised if they could see it. He just... he didn’t understand why. It should be over. Because he got the bad guy. He got the guy who set up the IEDs, the guy who would’ve killed an innocent(...ish) woman, the guy who killed Mark.

But it didn’t feel over. It just felt like a heavy weight settling on his shoulders, the back of his neck. He bowed his head a little under it, pretending to concentrate on the computer screen. There was an open browser tab blinking in his face- he could open it up, do a search for any next of kin or info on Colt.

Or he could open it up, send an email to Mark’s father. He met the guy once, some barbeque a few months after they got back from that tour. (He should probably email Rob, Conley... Josh too, if he was sober again. Maybe some other guys in their unit. They should know about Mark. And they should know Tim fixed it. He fixed it.)

Or he could just open the tab and go to Amazon, buy a paycheck’s worth of books and DVDs. Spend a little extra on the faster shipping, maybe 2-Day, get it to his place by-

A folder dropped into his line of sight, right on top of his keyboard and curled fingers. “We need to talk.”

He looked up carefully at Rachel, surprised. “Huh?” was his entirely intelligent reply.

She was looking at him... oddly. Almost concerned. His hackles went up a little more, even as he reached for the folder. “Fax just came in. They did a ballistics check on the gun of the guy you went up against today. Colton Rhodes?”

He narrowed his eyes as he read over the report. It had been a nice piece. He was willing to bet every penny he was about to spend on Amazon that Colt had snuck it back here from the service. It was also-

“The bullets in the gun,” Rachel was still talking slowly. “Match an unsolved homicide from a few days ago.”

Tim froze, very careful not to look up, not to look at Rachel, not to look away. Give nothing away. Shit. He hadn’t even thought about this, that they’d be able to link it to- why hadn’t he thought of that? “The gun-for-hire gunned somebody down? I’ll alert the media.”

Tim,” Rachel wasn’t having any of it. (Then again, when did she ever?) “You want to tell me why your name is on the police report for it?”

He considered his options for a comeback carefully. It was like picking a weapon out of an arsenal sometimes, you had to find the best one for each particular situation. “Is there a way out of this conversation where I can just say no, I don’t want to tell you?”

With Rachel? Indirect honesty usually worked best.

She eyed him, warring between accepting and pressing further. He rolled his lips in between his teeth, bit them, ticked his jaw to the left and right a few times, then shrugged. “I knew the victim, can we leave it at that?”

“You-” she almost repeated it louder, caught herself just in time. “How?”

He went back to looking at the file, pretending to read. “So we leaving it at that or not?”

She did that thing where she let out a breath without it becoming a sigh, then nodded. “Are you o-” she changed tactics mid-sentence. “You need anything? Dinner?”

He kept his eyes trained on the paper. “Nah, thanks. I’ve got some stuff to finish up here.” Those books weren’t going to order themselves. And there had to be a John Hughes DVD he hadn’t bought yet, right?

She was quiet, and he couldn’t bring himself to look at her. “All right. I’ll see you tomorrow,” she stepped away when he nodded, then came back. “I’m not the only one who’s going to see that file, Tim. Just- just be ready, okay?”

He nodded again, handed it back to her. “Night.” His eyes glued themselves to the next nearest thing, his computer. He listened as Rachel packed up her things- slower than normal, he noticed- and headed out. All around him, desk lights were being turned off, bags and jackets gathered, people quietly chatting as they made their way out.

Tim, however, stayed where he was. He’d rather be here in a slightly uncomfortable desk chair with faster internet and unlimited coffee than at home. Where it was only him. He was just too tired to be alone with his thoughts right now.

“Tim.”

Of course, he could also jinx the whole damn thing and end up with Art standing in front of his desk, so...

Maybe this whole goddamn day was a jinx.

***

Art frowned a little, hoping it looked stern and not concerned. “I hope you don’t think you’re getting overtime pay for this.”

“Juuuust catching up on stuff,” Tim drawled slowly without looking up. And that’s how Art knew he was right to be concerned. Tim usually liked to look him in the eye when he spoke. Especially if he was being purposefully obtuse or difficult; he liked seeing the reaction. (Unless it was about Afghanistan, but that was another deal altogether.)

Art studied him a little harder. Tim was always a fairly ‘still’ person, seemed like he could never be rushed to anything. It made a nice cover- people underestimated him. But right now he was holding himself still. Or holding himself together. Either way, it was off. “It’ll keep till later. Want a nightcap?”

Tim seemed to freeze, tense up even more. He finally glanced up at Art as though sizing him up, almost hesitating. But the day Tim Gutterson turned down free booze was the day Art ate Raylan’s hat. He stood up dutifully, followed Art back into his office, even managed to sprawl carefully across the couch after Art handed him a glass.

“You know,” Art let out a half-grunt as he settled into the chair across from the couch, trying to go for casual. “That Ellen May is a chatty girl.” Tim just raised an eyebrow, sipped the bourbon. Art continued, “Told me the whole story of what happened in that tent. Three times, actually.”

“She try to save your soul too?” Tim asked, tone just the right mix of dry and bitter, like gin and scotch stirred together.

“Only a little.” She’d told him a lot, though. How she’d tried to thank Tim afterwards, how Tim wouldn’t talk, how the preacher-girl Cassie had taken charge, keeping Ellen May out of the tent until Raylan and the locals arrived. She’d also told him what had happened before that. “You want to tell me who Mark is?”

Tim looked up sharply, eyes narrowing. “No,” he nearly spat out.

Art swallowed back a sigh, regarded him again. Calm. “Look at this from my perspective, Tim. I learned a lot of shit today. I need to piece it all together.”

"Boss-”

He held up a hand, both to silence Tim and to count off his fingers. “You shot a man who possibly was going to shoot a woman, or maybe two women, I don’t know, and who tried to shoot you. Fine. But that man is the same one who tried to blow us up a day ago. A man you’ve ‘crossed paths’ with before, as you said. Then I get a Harlan detective calling me two hours ago to say the ballistics of this guy’s gun match an unsolved double murder of his. So far so good?” he checked with Tim.

“Do you even need me here for this?”

He ignored it. At least he was still being a smartass. Art didn’t have to be that worried then, right? “This Harlan detective tells me that he called one of my deputies to the scene to identify a body, because he was the last contact before the victim was shot full of holes.”

Tim was staring down at his glass, swirling the liquid slowly. “Do you need me here for this?” he asked again, much quieter this time, almost defeated.

“Tim, look at me.” He was using his fatherly voice. He didn’t mean to, but sometimes with the dysfunctional nutcases in his office, he felt needlessly and stupidly paternal. Tim glanced up at him reluctantly, met his gaze. “Did you know Colton Rhodes murdered your friend when you shot him today?”

To his credit, Tim didn’t look away when he nodded. “Knew it yesterday, too.” He shrugged one shoulder, took another sip from his glass. “I knew it the day that Harlan detective called me.”

“Well, shit.” Art took his own sip, letting it go down smooth and slow. Giving himself the time to try to... try to nothing. It wasn’t worth saying you should’ve told me. It was pointless. It wouldn’t have mattered then, it didn’t matter now. He rubbed his jaw. “How did you end up at that church tent today?”

Tim took his time answering again, not exactly bolstering Art’s confidence. “I could say that I saw Ava Crowder up at Limehouse’s and followed her from there.”

“You could,” Art mused, trying to play along, trying to pretend this wasn’t starting to scare the shit out of him. “And that’s exactly what you’ll say in your official report. But what else could you tell me?”

He pursed his lips, blew out a breath, deflating. So tired. Too young to sound this old. “Cassie St. Cyr, the girl who ran that church. She called me when Ellen May showed up there this morning. Was worried Colt or Boyd would be right behind her.” Quirked his eyebrow for a second. “Smart.”

“Very smart,” Art agreed. “Almost psychic, considering she’d have to pull your phone number out of thin air. Unless there’s more you could be telling me.”

Tim drained the glass now, readying them both. “The day I found out about Mark, I drove down to Harlan. I tailed Colt from Crowder’s bar- I watched him shoot up in his goddamn truck- and I followed him to the church. He attacked that girl. I stopped him.”

“But didn’t kill him,” Art pointed out. “Or detain him for police.”

Tim studied his empty glass. “Crowder was there too. And he was- it wouldn’t have been clean.” He moved on from that quickly. “I gave the girl my card, in case either of them showed up again. I didn’t know it’d have something to do with Ellen May, just a hunch.”

“Huh,” Art finished off his own drink, refilled both their glasses. “Good hunch.” They were quiet, both of them, almost peaceful for a few minutes. “Tell me about Mark?” he asked again, his tone as gentle as he thought Tim would accept hearing.

The air around Tim softened, even if he didn’t smile. “He was... he was a good soldier.”

Art nodded, figuring that’s how Tim knew him. (What did it say that Art automatically assumed anything not marshal-related was army-related with Tim? Probably not something good.) “You served together?”

A nod back. “Last two tours. He was my spotter for one of them.” That said a lot without saying a lot. “He was a jackass for most of it. Talked too much.”

Art let out a chuckle, just for a second. “Everyone talks too much compared to you.”

A quirk of his lips, but Tim let that one go. “We couldn’t get him to shut up most days. And the shitty thing is, after they sent him home? Took weeks for the rest of us to settle and relax. It was too quiet without him.”

“Why’d they send him home?”

“Leg nearly blown off,” Tim looked at him fast, pointedly, then looked away. “IED.”

That term had new meaning to Art now. The memory of that car blowing sky high, the heat, all that uncertainty leading up to it... “What happened yesterday- looking out for ambushes, snipers and bombs- that used to be normal for you, huh?”

Tim shrugged. “On a different scale.”

Bigger booms, more bad guys, more people working like Tim worked. And more death. Art shook his head, not really wanting to picture it in any more detail than that. Thank God he hadn’t known Tim then; there was already this strange, retroactive fear, like, shit- how many things could’ve gone wrong, how lucky was Tim to even be here right now?

“He didn’t deal well with being back,” Tim continued of his own volition, maybe finally realizing Art just wanted him to talk. That Art actually cared. On a personal level. (Tim had a hard time understanding things like that.) “Isn’t much out there in jobs for vets with no normal skills and a busted leg. His dad didn’t make enough to help out. Couldn’t afford to go to school or anything. Got hooked on his painkillers.”

“Oxy?”

A nod. “Got kicked out of his apartment. Spent a few months crashing on couches here and there,” (probably ‘here’ as in Tim’s, but Art didn’t ask) “and we lost track of him for a bit. He got arrested for possession a few months ago. Me and a couple other guys, we, uh, bailed him out. Got him in a program.” Tim paused to take a drink, probably not used to talking this much at one time.

“That was good of you,” Art threw out supportively.

Tim looked back at him slightly confused, like it was obvious. “We take care of our own.”

The question now was, did Tim consider himself one of the marshal’s own? Art figured now wasn’t the time to ask that. “He cleaned up?”

“Some,” Tim shrugged again. “But he wasn’t the same. Still talked too much, but not... He kept people sane over there. Picked people up when they fell. Now we had to remind him to tie his shoelaces. I don’t know... he- he was different after his discharge.”

“Are you any different after your discharge?”

Tim blinked, his eyes then going comically wide (for him). Another blink, back to his normal expression. “Probably.”

He just nodded at that. “You did a good thing for him.” He had to say it again.

Tim shook his head right back. “For nothing.”

“Not nothing,” Art insisted, picking up his own copy of the file he knew Rachel had given Tim. “The autopsy-”

“Autopsy?” Tim snorted. “Bullet hole in his forehead wasn’t conclusive enough?”

“His tox screens were clean,” Art looked him in the eye. “He wasn’t using again.”

Tim took that in, silent, somber. That bit of a frown in place. “That’s nice.”

“Kid, I know I don’t have to tell you this, but maybe you need the reminder- in this job, you take whatever ‘nice’ thing you can. No matter how small.” He leaned forward, wishing he could put his hand on Tim’s shoulder without freaking him out. “You helped him out that much.”

Tim shook his head- arguing or accepting, Art wasn’t sure. His glass was empty again, Art couldn’t even remember him drinking it. He refilled it for him silently, Tim grunting his thanks.

“What’s going on in your head right now?” Art asked, trying to be as quiet about it as he could.

Tim shrugged, his face scrunching up a little on one side, looking ridiculously young in that moment. “Some of the shit Colt said, before I dropped him.”

“What shit?”

Tim didn’t answer. He took another drink. Art took another drink. It was a few more minutes before Tim finally spoke. “Do you think this job is the only thing keeping me from ending up like Colt?”

“No,” he said immediately, without even thinking. Without needing to think. No.

But it was too quick of an answer for Tim, his face twisting into something doubtful. “We went through the same shit. We think the same way. Hell, if I’d been the one working for Boyd, I’da set up that ambush exactly the same.”

“Tim,” Art sat up, insistent now.

“All I do is follow orders,” Tim talked to his glass. “’S all I’ve ever done.” He took another drink. “Two months after my discharge, a buddy pulled me out of a bar by the ear. Said he was heading for Quantico, and I should too.”

"Shit, kid, I’d hate to think you almost ended up a feeb,” he joked.

Tim’s mouth might’ve smiled, but the rest of him didn’t seem to notice. “He never made it there. Stop-loss, all that. Sent back to Kabul. Still there.”

“You went back to the bar?” Art asked knowingly.

He shook his head. “Turned left instead, ended up at Glynco. Seemed close enough to what Rob wanted. I liked the idea of using the things I’d learned for something good, in- in a way where maybe I could do least amount of damage possible.” He glanced up at Art, but could only hold it for a second. “If I’d turned right instead, headed back to the bar, where would I be now?”

“Tim...” he hadn’t meant for his voice to sound so sad, but apparently it did. Enough for Tim to stiffen, inch a little farther away. “Damn it, Tim, just listen to me for a minute. You’re a smart guy. Resourceful. If you had wanted to be like Colton Rhodes, there wasn’t a damn thing stopping you back then.”

“Boss, I-”

No,” he snapped. “Nothing stopping you. You could go out now too, shoot a bunch of people, steal shit, needle up so you don’t have to live with your memories or whatever. You could get yourself hired as a hit man. Hell, Crowder’s probably got an opening now. You could walk out right now to the nearest bar and drink yourself to death. You could.”

“Then why am I right here? Everything Colt went through, I went through,” Tim muttered. “Every shitty thing he thought about, I’ve thought about. How am I supposed to-”

Art shook his head, sat forward even more. “Because you’re not him. You’re a good man.” Tim looked away with a huff, but Art pressed on, repeating. “You’re a good man. Past your badge, past your rifle, your army-” he waved a hand, whatever, “-medals, just you? Good. Man.”

“You know that, do you?” he managed to keep his voice dry, detached.

“I do,” Art kept his own voice firm. “Tim, I trust you. I want you on this team. I’m proud you’re on this team.” He stopped himself from sounding too annoyed as he added, “I think maybe I know you better than you realize, son.”

“You know me better than Colt does?” he raised an eyebrow, gave a dark little laugh. “Did.”

“He didn’t know you.”

That eyebrow raised again. “He did.”

“Tim-”

“He knew inside my head. Told me most of Mark died in Kandahar. Staring at me like I’m supposed to know I died over there too.”

“Bullshit,” Art snapped at him again. “You’re here. You’re not him- either of them.” He debated pouring another drink, wondered (not for the first time) how much he was contributing to this kid’s alcoholism. “You’re a good marshal, too. I mean it, Tim. I like having you on this team.”

“But there is something wrong with me,” Tim almost grumbled, bull-headed and worn out. “Isn’t there?”

He almost sighed. Almost. “There’s something wrong with everyone, kid. Do I think you have some troubles? Yeah. And yet I stand by everything I just said. Good man. Good marshal.”

“Good soldier,” he was still muttering.

“Damn it, are you really this hateful of yourself, or are you just purposefully making my job harder?” Art was only half-joking.

Tim smiled, sure, but Art couldn’t tell what emotion was behind it. “Who’s to tell anymore.”

He regarded Tim again, wondering what tactic he should take. If there was one at all. “Ten years from now, when I think back on being almost bombed in a convoy in goddamn eastern Kentucky, you know what I’m gonna remember?”

“Ten years from now, your mind’s still gonna be sharp enough to remember shit?”

He let that go with a warning look. “I’m gonna remember how capable you were. No panic, no bullshit. No hesitating over what to do. You got the job done, better than anyone else could’ve. I’m gonna remember you taking charge, getting every man through it. Hell, you were the youngest there by about a dozen years, Tim. You’ve only been a marshal, what, two years?”

“Twenty-two months.”

“Twenty-two months.” Shit, Art just felt really old sometimes. “And I’ve known you for eighteen of ’em. And Tim?” he leveled another stare. “I trust you. There are marshals in this office I wouldn’t trust with washing my windows. But I trust you.” He sighed, stretched back in his chair. “You probably saved my life and those other guys in the convoy. Partly because you used to be a good soldier. And partly because now you’re a good marshal.” He pointed his glass at him for emphasis. “And there’s nothing wrong with being a little of both.”

They were quiet again, neither of them reaching for another drink. “‘Under peaceful conditions the militant man attacks himself,’” Tim spoke with his normal drawl again, not the tense voice he’d slid into.

Art relaxed a little at that. “Johnny Cash?”

“Nietzsche,” Tim smiled a little, actually smiled.

Art relaxed even more. “Eh, I was close.” He set his glass aside, pondered the point of that quote, took Tim’s glass away too. “Do you trust me, Tim?”

Tim looked confused by the question, or at least where it was coming from. “Yeah,” he answered after a beat, not a trace of uncertainty in his answer.

Art nodded. “I won’t let you become Colton Rhodes.” He waited, watched, let that sink in. A vow. Then before Tim could argue or sass or whatever, “I’ll shoot you before I let that happen.”

Tim narrowed his eyes even as a smirk played across his face. “You quick enough on the draw for that, Boss?”

Art hid his relief. As long as Tim was calling him that, he was still here. There had been that slight worry for awhile- he and Rachel had discussed it once or twice- that it would take one bad case for Tim to leave the marshals and re-enlist. Seeing Tim so in his element with the convoy disaster yesterday hadn’t really helped that, truth be told. “I’ll get Rachel to do it,” he finally threw back.

“Rachel likes me,” Tim argued.

“I’ll get Raylan to do it,” he corrected himself.

A beat of silence, and Tim tilted his head. “Touché.” He stayed where he was on the couch, watching as Art stood and put on his jacket. “That it for the heart-to-heart?”

“For now,” Art answered truthfully. “There’ll be a short inquiry in the morning on the shooting, but I’m sure they’ll call it in your favor. As for the rest, we’ll take it a day at a time.” He gestured for Tim to get up and get out. “Now, speaking of Rachel’s wrath, let’s go.”

"Go?” Tim was confused again, but obeyed.

“She’s been waiting for us across the street for a good half hour or so. I don’t know about you, but I’m starving,” Art smirked unrepentantly at the way Tim started glaring again. “Chop chop, kid.”

“You two planned this?” he accused even as he gathered his jacket and followed Art.

Art grinned, daring to grab Tim by the shoulder now and shove him towards the elevator. “Caring about you? Shit, Tim, we definitely didn’t plan on that.”