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To Pay the Piper

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Fic: To Pay the Piper (Good Day for It)

Spoilers/Warnings: SPOILERS for the film; if you haven't seen it yet and don't want to be spoiled, do not read.
Legal: Everything belongs to Nazz Productions and Nick Stagliano; I'm just posing a bit of supposition here

The dining section off to the side of the café is usually drafty, but it seems much too warm as he hands over the steaming cup. It has an added shot from the bottle he keeps tucked away in the kitchen, not much, no one will notice, and screw 'em if they do. He'll just say it was his idea; he's seen this before. "Doug?" The deputy still hasn't holstered his service revolver; Hec manages to pry it away, replacing it with the coffee, making sure the deputy has a good hold before letting go.

Muddied, far away eyes – can't even tell the color of 'em between the dim light and the blown pupils – stare back for an empty moment before Doug lowers his head and takes a sip. The coffee's hot and spiked but the deputy doesn't even flinch. Hec wonders if he's even there now, if there's anything left inside that vacant look.

Doug's a good man, been a good mail-order deputy. Folks laugh when he says that, but to Hec, anything you sent away for was considered 'mail-order' as far as he was concerned and always would be. Sweet Springs got a pretty good deal, he figures. An ex-big city cop who'd come to fit right in to the slow, tedious safety of their town.

He feels the eyes at his back. Smells the hot copper of spent gunfire still thick in the air. There's a too goddamn helpless feeling in standing there watching Doug look at what he's done.

They all know what he's done. What happened before. Before he came here and joined Legion Post No. 92, helped coach the Post's baseball team. Before he made Rose's a second home and shouldered the day-to-day lives and troubles of the people of Sweet Springs.

Rose appears at his elbow with another cup, bringing with her the sweeter scent of the same perfume she's worn every day for the past fifteen years. It's oddly soothing in the midst of the carnage. Hec stops her with a hand to her arm. She looks to the deputy then back. "You sure?" she asks, the depth of her question reaching past the immediate. He's sure. Doug Brady had demons to wrestle, no getting around that. Well, hell, didn't everybody? He may have put a few down today, or added to their number. Either way, it'd certainly been a good day for it.

"Don't worry. I got this," Hec says, turning her around. He wishes he could take back the ribbing they gave Doug earlier about the girl being dangerous; it sits in the pit of his stomach like a hot coal. "No more of your coffee today… he's about as skittish as a blind horse as it is."

Hec's had a long love affair with Rose's face, that easy, lived-in feeling of knowing all the lines and expressions and what they mean, the shape of her eyes, the way they reconcile her features with tenderness, or fire when need be. There's caring there, now, as she tells him they're sending the State Police, too. He just nods, squeezes the soft, strong hand he's still holding and tells her to go on and leave them be for a bit.

"You know," the deputy says when she's out of earshot, "if you asked her seriously, let her know you really mean it, she just might say yes."

"Yeah, I know," Hec says, smiling. "But then it just wouldn't seem right… not being able to pester her about it all the time."

"Sorry, Hec." The deputy's voice is like a whisper on the wind, almost too low for Hec to hear. "Shoulda known something was wrong."

Hec smiles, certain he did know, certain Doug would have come back on his own, but proud all the same of his own quick thinking and tactical subterfuge – Doug won't touch his meatloaf and succotash with a ten-foot pole. "You did good, son… that was a brave thing you did," he says again.

Doug starts to shake his head. "I didn't want to have to shoot anybody today."

"I know." Hec takes the half-empty cup from the deputy's shaking hand and chooses his words carefully. "It's okay, Doug. This time. They were bad men. Didn't give you a choice. They'll see that. Rose and me, we'll tell 'em."

"No time to think—I didn't think, I just…"

Outside, the urgent wails of a siren come closer until they choke off silent at the door. Probably Luke Eversby. The boys serve in the militia together. He pulls aside Doug's jacket and slips the revolver back into the holster, wishing like hell the kid would stop looking at the bodies on the floor and the blooming dark stains beneath them. The squad car pulses red and blue light into the room, the same pattern over and over across the wood paneling. The stench of the blood wafts up; oblivious to the uninitiated, but so clear it leaves a ferrous taste at the back of Hec's throat. Doug would smell it, too.

"Deputy," he says, his voice clearer now, more 82nd Airborne, figures that tone will cut to the chase quicker. "There's your back up, now."

The small bells on the door jangle out of time, as if from some other dimension. A dimension full of serene black and white landscapes with happy, smiling faces, a dimension where three men didn't lay bleeding all over Rose's floor and the fate of another didn't hang in the balance.

Doug's eyes slowly meet Hec's; they dart back and forth a second or two before he licks his lips, squares his shoulders, and nods his head. "Yeah, okay," he says. "Thanks."