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Funeral Pyre

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Sonny dies first. Clay catches him when he does.

 

It’s a sharp crack in a nondescript house, and Sonny’s head snaps back in a spray of blood and brain matter that sticks to clays skin and gets caught in his hair. The older man crumples, and Spenser trades gripping his gun for grabbing the uniform of his team mates body.

 

He doesn’t know what he does. He barely knows what he says, but he catches Sonny, and lays him on the ground, and puts a bullet or seven into the asshole who shot him.

 

He tells Hayes. He knows that much. Through the haze covering everything and through the thick air that flooded his lungs, he knew he told Hayes.

 

Sonny Quinn dies first, violent and morbid, just like Clay always expected he would.

 

 

Ray dies second, and Clay loses the ability to breath.

 

His death is actually more violent than Sonny’s, but Clay doesn’t get to see it, so it doesn’t instantly stick in his head that its happened.

 

It’s a grenade, its a small room, its the look on Ray’s face right before he dies when he accepts that he won’t get to see his family again. It’s Jayson looking devastated after Sonny, it’s a grenade appearing from nowhere, it’s the two of them making it out the door but Ray not.

 

It’s watching the first person on Dev Group who accepted him turn into pink mist, and its feeling the heavy air stolen stolen from his lungs, to hard to get back.

 

Ray Perry dies second, protecting his brothers, just like Clay always expected he would.

 

 

Jason is the last to die, and Clay wishes he could’ve gone with him.

 

Another scene, another jump in time, another funeral he’ll have to go to where there won’t be any body.

 

He’s lost so much, in whatever time its been, he can’t lose Hayes, can’t lose his team leader, can’t have him sacrifice himself so Clay can live.

 

He can’t have that happen, but it does anyway.

 

They’re leaving, running from the graveyard place that holds the remains of their team, and they’re pinned and we just need a distraction, that’s all and we can get out.

 

You can get out Clay.

 

Take care of them Clay.

 

Your team is your family, didn’t you know that Mr. Spenser?

 

You’re family is dead Clay.

 

It’s all on you.

 

Jason Hayes dies last, valiantly, with pride, and with honor. He dies among his family, just like Clay knew he would.

 

 

Clay dies the day his mother does. He dies when his dad leaves, he dies when he sees his name on the bottom five, he dies when Brian hits the ground.

 

He dies, but his body stays, and each time he’s got something to come back to, something to resuscitate him (his grandparents, the Navy, Stella, Dev Group ).

 

This time he does not.

 

He’s alone. And the people he wanted to be closest too are gone.

 

Clay Spenser dies when his team does, the only one still alive, the only one still breathing, the only one who makes it while wishing with every part of his being that he could go with them.

 

Just like he was always afraid too.

 

…..

 

Clay thinks he might be dreaming. In fact, if anything, he knows he’s dreaming. He just doesn’t know which part is the dream, and which part is real.

 

There’s the place where his team is dead, and he’s alone in a forest, running for his life while trying not to sob. Thats the place where he can’t connect the dots (can’t remember what they were doing, where they were, where they went), where all he can remember is them dying and him living.

 

Then there’s this other place. And in this other place he’s not running, but he’s breathing like he is, and he’s not alone, but he wishes he was.

 

This other place is half light with daylight, and its dusty and there’s a lot of noises happening. The walls are stone and the floor is dirt and he’s chained to the wall. His wrists hurt in this place, and he knows there’s something important about the voice yelling outside the room.

 

He closes his eyes, or he opens them, because the other place is gone, and he’s running, running through the sparse trees and dodging bullets, knowing his team is gone, knowing his family is gone. Knowing he didn’t get to die with them.

 

Wanting to die with them.

 

A bullet tears through his side and he screams, tripping over something, falling to the ground, vision going dark at the edges.

 

It clears, and he’s at the other place. Or maybe it’s another place, a different place. But it’s still the other place, it’s the place where he isn’t alone. That’s how he knows one part of this is a dream. There’s the place where his team is dead, and there’s the other place where they are not.

 

The other place is where they’re in the back of van, and they’re driving away from the room with the chains. Just like the first place, Clay can’t understand how he knows this, and he can’t remember going from one space to the other, but just like he knows Sonny died first, he knows its Sonny whos struggling to pin his shoulder to the floor, face serious and scared, showing too much emotion for Clay not to be scared.

 

Just like he knows Ray died second, he knows its Ray who’s working on his left wrist, the right already wrapped in gauze that’s being soaked through. He knows this, clear as day, knows the older man actually has a knee pressing on his upper arm to keep him still while whoever’s driving skids around a corner.

 

And just like how, in the first place, Hayes dies saving him, just like how he knows its his fault that his boss doesn’t get to go home to his family, he knows that it’s his mentor leaning over him, one both knees, one leg pressing weight on Clays to keep him from moving, the other providing enough stability for him to stick a needle into Spenser's arm.

 

They hit a bump. Something shifts. Clay goes back to first place.

 

…..

 

There’s little things that tell Clay that maybe the first place isn’t the real one.

 

Firstly, he can’t remember anything. Can’t remember where they are or why him and Sonny are alone. He doesn’t know how they got where they went, how he got to the place where Ray died, how he got the place where Hayes took his last stand.

 

He doesn’t know how he went from desert surrounding to a forest, but most of all he doesn’t know why he’s running away from the bad guys, when he could just stop, and let them shoot him. Let them end it.

 

He remembers watching Inception a year or so after it came out, and of everything that happened in it (very good movie) one thing always stuck with him. In a dream, you can’t remember how you got to wherever you are, because its a dream . Details are known, but you can’t remember how you came to know them.

 

The issue is, that all these things, all these things that indicate the first place is a dream, also tell him that the other place is a dream.

 

He wants it to be a dream. He wants their deaths - he wants catching Sonny as he falls, he wants the nothingness that became Ray, he wants Jason twisting with the impact of bullets while he runs - he wants that to be dream.

 

He wants it all to be dream. He wants it to be over. He doesn’t even know what it is (he knows he’s in the middle of nowhere afghanistan, knows its Stella’s roommates birthday tomorrow, but he doesn’t know this ).

 

Sometimes he’s back in the forest, running, heaving for breath, and feeling like his soul is gone, torn and ragged, bleeding pure agony from his chest.

 

Other times he’s back in the van, the team is holding him down, and he can’t stop screaming, can’t stop begging for them to kill him because it hurts , it hurts so bad .

 

Once they swerve so badly he’s thrown straight from the forest to the other side of the van. He gets a hand on Sonny’s glock, yanks it from the holster, cocks it, and then gets his arm slammed to the ground by Hayes.

 

Someone yells, and it echoes in the forest as he runs. His side hurts so bad, and he’s dizzy with exhaustion and emotion and everything -

 

-being thrown over someone's shoulder, not being able to hide the moan of pain as everything shifts inside him, as they run. The sound of chopper blades loud and fast, people talking, being laid down, cradled against someone's chest-

 

-running, running faster, can’t stop, need to make it home-

 

-moving again, not enough air in his lungs, pricks and pinches and hands that care mixing with hands that don’t-

 

-keep running, keep running, you have to live, have to get home, have to make it, have to-

 

“Hang on kid, just hang on-”

 

-have to make it for them-

 

There’s a bright light in his eyes, and a needle in his skin, and everything goes black faster than normal.

 

------

 

Clay wakes up, and things are not how he thought they should be.

 

First of all, there’s the notion that things should be a certain way, and he doesn’t know where that notion comes from, but he knows that peeling open his eyes to see the ceiling of a C130 is... confusing .

 

But again, he doesn’t know why it’s confusing. He tries to think back to their mission, and what happened, but all he draws from the blank space in his memory is a single snapshot of the boss leaning over the edge of a concrete hole, telling him it’s time to go home.

 

That’s not good, because that was...that was two weeks again.

 

How does he know this? Excellent question. One he can’t answer. He just knows he’s missing time, a lot of time, and something important happened in that time.

 

Second thing that’s not as it should be - the plane is quiet. Eery, tense, quiet. Not that the silence doesn’t happen, but it only happens at night, when they turn off the lights to let people sleep. And that silence isn’t so thick you could stick a knife in it.

 

Third - he’s on a gurney, which might help explain the memory gap, but in answering that one question (clearly he got hurt) it opens another (why the hell are there cargo straps restraining him to said gurney?)

 

Finally - and this one’s probably the most important - his team, the entirety of Bravo team is sitting around his bed.

 

That shouldn’t be the most surprising part, but it is. And not because they’re around him (although that’s abnormal enough) but because they’re here on the plane with him, and they’re alive .

 

Ray is right next to him on his left, feet propped up on an empty hammock someone set up, hands across his chest while he seems to exam the ceiling. Next to him is Davis standing with her arms crossed, staring at some random point across from him with murder in her eyes. Farther back and still to the left is Blackburn, sitting down and working something but looking more tired than usual.

 

Sonny is bent at the waist, using both arms to brace himself at foot of the bed. His head is down, hanging low while his shoulder look raised, almost as if to carry a heavy load. And then there’s Hayes to his right, sitting on a crate, looking for all the world like he just shot his dog.

 

He didn’t, did he? Clay loves that dog (he loves dogs in general, and this one is a little shit but is damn good at his job).

 

Someone must’ve been nice enough to give him pain killers too, because he can’t feel anything when he tries to focus on his body, and he wouldn’t be strapped to a gurney if he wasn’t hurt. Unfortunately, that also means his head feels really light while the rest of his body feels really heavy. So the plane hits a little bit of turbulence, and it feels like he’s falling even if for a split second. The sensation is unnerving, and Clay’s entire body jerks in response. A raciness under his skin that’s like that of an adrenaline rush has him snapping his head to the side in an effort to release the electricity under his skin.

 

He jolts, and so does the entire team, the dead quiet of the plane shattered by the hopeful movements of Dev Groups Bravo team. Head pop up, eyes refocus, postures are straightened with the pretense of hope. Hayes standing now, glancing at him then at Trent, who’s fiddling with his IV to his left.

 

There’s a thousand things that Clay wants to ask, a million question and details he needs explained, but what ends up coming out of his mouth is a slurred, “Did you shoot Cerberus?”

 

Jason sighs, and the team deflates, that sense of hopeful apprehension disappearing. People shift again, assuming more comfortable positions.

 

“Go back to sleep Spenser.” Hayes whispers, and Clay has never heard him so defeated. Trent must put something in his IV then, because the world takes on a soft, cotton candy like texture, before becoming too slippery for his mind to hold onto.

 

--------------

 

Sonny visits him first.

 

Actually, Clay doesn’t really know if he’s the first in the room. All he knows is that when he wakes up (heart pounding from running in the forest), Sonny is the only one in the room.

 

At first neither of them attempt to say anything, mostly because Clay is still very groggy, and it takes him a few minutes to actually get with the idea of consciousness. Sonny doesn’t talk, but Clay attributes that to the fact that its Sonny, and he can do a perfect imitation of gruff stoic Hayes when he wants to.

 

Let’s be honest, Sonny is the point and shoot guy with a temper. Certainly not the “I’m very good with emotions” guy. If anyone, that’s Ray.

 

Regardless, when Clay finally gets his eyes open for real, Quinn is the one standing in the corner, arms crossed over his chest and eyes narrowed as he flicks his gaze from Clay, to the monitors next to the hospital bed, then back again.

 

If Clay didn’t know any better, he’d say that there was suspicion in his eyes.

 

To be honest though, Spenser could care less. He’s more occupied with the deep ache of relief in his chest, seeing his team mate healthy and standing and not with a quarter sized hole in his forehead thats weeping blood.

 

“You’re not dead.” Clay says, voice rough and crackling. He tries to swallow away the dry feeling in his throat, but doesn’t quite succeed. Sonny doesn’t move, but he can see the way his team mate tenses.

 

“No.” Sonny replies carefully, sending a glance now through the small window on the door of the private room. He casts a critical eye over Clay. “How many cases of beer do you owe us?”

 

Clay balks at the question, but figures that its a test of some sort and he won’t get any farther by not answering it.

 

“Do you count the case of the summer ale I got you?”

 

“No.”

 

“Then ten.” Clay answers with confidence, having a tiny list on his phone of all the beer the guys drank at the bar and all the ones they’ve expressed hatred for simply for this purpose.

 

For some reason Clays answer has Sonny’s posture softening till he’s almost relaxed, and his eyes go wide for second or two while relief spills off his face like an open facet. Then the SEAL comes back to life, and Clay watches idly as he schools his face back into the near emotionless mask they all learn to wear. He walks forward a few steps, planting himself in a chair next to the bed, eyes searching Clay’s like there’s something important there to find.

 

“I guess you’re back.” He says.

 

“Back from where?” Clay responds, then rolls his eyes at his words. That wasn’t the smartest response he could have come up with. Sonny looks to the door again, and Clay wonders if maybe the rest of the team is out in the hallway and he’s supposed to be getting them should anything happen.

 

Although that would be weird, seeing at the first time Clay got hurt it was like “ you’re fine, bye, have a nice time in medical” the second he got off the helicopter. If he’s being honest though, Clay wasn’t that hurt by that. He was glad the team gave him space, because the injury was barely that and he didn’t need any coddling. So if anything, the whole team being here would be weird.

 

“What do you remember?” Sonny asks, and Clay scans the nightmarish images in his memory, then hits a nice blank wall when he tries to go before them.

 

“Um...the chopper ride after we went to get the Air Force’s drone.” Sonny raises and eyebrow but doesn’t comment.

 

“Yeah, the docs said that the drugs might mess with your head even when you woke up.” He says, texan drawl coming out full force as he leans forward, putting his elbows on his knees.

 

“Is that what happened?” Clay asks, genuinely curious watching Sonny shift around in the seat. He nods after a few moments of silence.

 

“Yeah, uh...well you don’t remember anyway so...we were just doing a little recon, and then the building we were in got ambushed and-” He cuts himself off, and seems to swallow past something. Clay feels a pit of dread start in his stomach, heavier than the relief. So maybe not all of it was a dream….

 

“We had to split up, and you were with me, and there was a grenade and- I don’t know man, next thing I knew the boss was screaming at me and you were gone.”

 

Clay has not known Sonny for long. In fact, he knows very little about him. But he knows that he’s never heard him sound so uncertain.

 

“Sonny-”

 

“Spenser just shut up and let me tell you what happened.”

 

Clay shifts slightly, but manages to keep his mouth shut. Sonny sighs, running a hand through his hair.

 

“The sadistic jackasses didn’t kill you, as you might have noticed. According to intelligence gathered after the fact, they were transporting something pretty important, and had we not been in that house at that time, we probably wouldn’t have gotten in the mess we did. That said, it took us about twelve hours to find you, and you were changed to a wall tripping so bad you were looking into the next century. Enter an exfil across the city, Brock driving like a fucking mad man, and some more dickheads shooting at us, and we were out of the city. You only almost died about five times, so it wasn’t really that bad I guess.”

 

Well that certainly fills some holes in his memory, but Clay knows that isn’t all that happened. He knows by the wariness in Sonny’s eyes that he can’t hide, the way he shifts around to much in the chair, and the look of exhaustion he wears.

 

Clay doesn’t ask though. While he doesn’t remember what happened leading up to his rescue, he remembers what he saw, he remembers-

 

- Sonny shot, Ray gone, Jason sacrificing himself-

 

“So- so everyone got out right? Like- everyone got out? Unharmed?”

 

Sonny looks at him again, and for a split second, Clay thinks he sees an disproportionate amount of emotion there.

 

“Yeah Clay. We got out. Everyone's alive.”

 

And if a part of Clay wants to cry hearing that, well, then no one has to know.