Brett grabbed Riley by her flack jacket, slamming her into the wall with a pained gasp. Startled at the ferocity of the attack, Riley froze for a moment as the man she had trained and known for years pressed his forearm against her windpipe, cutting off her flow of air. Riley managed to get her palm under his chin to push his face up and away, desperately hoping to get some leverage, but he had over a 100 pounds on her, and what strength remained was rapidly deteriorating as her lungs screamed for oxygen.
“Shh, shh, shh, shh. Just go to sleep. Go to sleep.” Riley bristled at Brett’s patronizingly soothing tone. While relief flooded through her that Brett didn’t want her dead, like hell was she just going to let this asshole put her down. One thing about close combat that Brett seemingly forgot, if someone was close enough to hit you, you were close enough to hit back.
Riley brought her knee up sharply, right into the other man’s solar plexus. Brett wheezed as he hunched over, loosening the pressure on her throat. Choking out a gasp, Riley shoved him away, trying to create distance, but Brett barely stumbled back before he was on her again. Riley tripped him up by locking her foot around his ankle, but he managed to grab her jacket once again and took her down with him. Riley angled it so she landed on top of him, with Brett hitting hard against the floor with a grunt.
Riley wasted no time, grabbing Brett by his vest and shouting into his surprised face, “Stop it, Brett! Stop! Aren’t enough people dead already?!” For a moment, Brett did just stop, and Riley pressed her advantage hoping to get through to the man. “This needs to stop; O’Neil, Thomas, Tilson, we need –“
Riley was taken by surprise as Brett shifted his weight suddenly, rolling until she was under him, and Brett straddled her waist, resting all of his weight on her diaphragm. His hands mirrored her own by grasping her vest, and started shaking her, “We don’t need to do shit, but get our asses out of here! They’re dead, Riley! Nothing we do here will make a damn bit of difference. Crying, screaming, fighting, doesn’t change the fact they are dead!”
“That doesn’t mean we should forget about them!” Riley bit out, unwavering in face of Brett shaking her like she was a rag doll.
“Oh! So, I should drink myself into oblivion, like Gabe?!” Brett sneered. “Spend my nights chasing the end of a bottle because I can’t move the fuck on with my life?!” Riley opened her mouth ready to put this asshole in his place, but was cut off as Brett continued, his voice manic. “He gave up! He abandoned us, abandoned the team because he couldn’t forget. Yeah, it sucks! His kid didn’t deserve to die!”
Riley slowly started to shift her weight down, getting into position to hopefully toss Brett ass over tea kettle while he was ranting.
“Akram’s wife and child didn’t deserve to die!”
“Jenny didn’t deserve to die!”
Riley’s eyes widened in surprise, and she instinctively stopped struggling, shocked to hear the name of Brett’s dead wife for the first time in over 5 years. He never talked about her.
“She was supposed to be safe!” Brett seemed to crumple in on himself, several emotions warring on his face. The death grip he had on her flack jacket lost all of its aggression, and his attempts at shaking her felt weaker than a baby. “She was supposed to be safe, safe behind her desk. She wasn’t supposed to get involved!” His voice cracked, his emotions finally overwhelming him. “It was supposed to be me.” Riley barely heard the last whispered part as Brett’s body hunched over until his forehead rested on Riley’s shoulder.
Tentively, Riley relaxed her grip, reached around, and enfolded the distraught younger man in a hug. Moments later, Brett’s body was wracked with silent sobs, and Riley just held on as the man finally broke down.
Riley thought she finally understood. Soldier’s guilt.
Soldiers were sent into dangerous situations all the time. The fear and anguish fom their families could be overwhelming, and some couldn’t take the constant shadow of death lingering over their loved ones. But for the combat soldiers, like her and Brett, to come home and find out a loved one was killed in an act of senseless violence while you were protecting your country, trying to keep it, and by extension, your family safe, the blow fell even harder. Soldiers dying, as macabre and twisted as it was, it was expected. No war was without casualities. That was the reality soldiers faced everyday. Civillian life though, was supposed to be safe. Soldiers that came home to death, felt that guilt of still being alive. As if they had died instead, somehow their loved ones would still be living.
That was Brett’s guilt. Not the massacre in the Hindu Kush. Right or wrong, Brett had justified the killing in his head as protecting his brothers and sisters in arms. Once the locals had starting shooting, whether they had good reason or not, Brett had only reacted in kind. Brett was right in that regard, war was shit and sometimes shitty things happened, to both sides.
Riley knew one thing though. You couldn’t hide from your actions, you had to own up to it and face the consequences or the truth would do it for you.
Gabe was right. The Temple was designed to bring the truth to light, and it had uncovered Brett’s deeply buried secret, the truth about Brett’s guilt.
Brett’s shifting drew Riley out of her musings. The sobs seemed to have subsided for now, with the bigger man letting his body fall sideways, tumbling off Riley to land on his back, arms and legs akimboed. Riley studiously ignored Brett’s splotchy face with its red eyes as well as the wet patch on her shoulder where Brett had layed his head. Neither spoke as each tried to gather themselves, only Brett’s harsh panting breaking the silence until a soft exclamation was uttered by the distraught man.
“I’m so sorry, Shaw.”
Riley’s forehead scrunched in confusion.
Who the hell was Shaw?