It's too fucking hard to watch this, but he can't turn away—it's his job. He's survived ten missions with this psycho, and any one of them could've been the last. This one, maybe.
Will James thinks he's invincible, and every bomb-threat deployment brings them one step closer to finding out he's not. Will James can still pretend there's no possibility of failure, because he didn't have to pack up his commander—his friend—and send what was left of him home in a government-issue box.
It still hurts, two months later, and the whole sequence replays itself endlessly: the stalled robot, Sanborn and Eldridge sealing Thompson in the suit, Thompson going into danger-range to free the robot, and then the earth and sky exploding all around them.
Sanborn knows the risks, the cost to everyone if the mission goes sour, and yet he has to stand there and watch Will James throw sense and protocol out the window exactly when the situation demands them most. Hell, half the time the motherfucker takes off the protective suit.
He's going to get himself killed, no doubt. Problem is, he might take Sanborn and Eldridge along with him.
The bastard's good with bombs, maybe even the best yet. He's got some kind of feel for them, some superhuman instinct for where they are and whether there are more he hasn't found. That seven-bomb cluster three weeks back… they were lucky, unbelievably lucky. James didn't quit after finding the first series of wires (even though it had already taken too damn long), and he didn't set off any of the bombs in that grouping. Three square blocks, Sanborn figures, would've been the minimum. Nothing but bodies and debris after an explosion of that size.
Sweat trickles into Sanborn's eye in the unrelenting heat as he scans the perimeter while trying to tether James back to the team before he goes loose cannon again. James is approaching the suspicious vehicle. "Do not open the door," Sanborn commands, only to see James reach out his hand. "Do you copy? Respond!" he barks, for all the good it does.
He braces himself as James opens the door anyway and slides into the passenger seat, and why the fuck do they even bother calling this a team? James doesn't listen to him and they can't help him, other than monitoring the area. Any sharp-shooting soldier could do that, without wasting all the special bomb-squad training Sanborn worked so hard to learn.
The next five minutes stagger by slowly, every nerve in Sanborn's body alert and messaging home constantly as he surveys windows, doorways, the edges of alleys and the roof-lines above. Then James gives the "all clear" signal, and they cover him while he makes his way back to the jeep.
Sanborn can't help noticing how relaxed the Sergeant seems, cucumber-cool apart from the smile, while Sanborn himself fights to stay focused as they pack up and leave the area, always watching for snipers or other danger along the way.
They get drunk later, back at the barracks. Sanborn and the Sergeant take shots at each other like last time, testing something that might be anger or revenge, or some twisted kind of friendship that has its roots in disregard and distrust. It's fucked-up, no matter how you look at it, but all of them are laughing in the end.
It makes no more sense than any other damn thing that goes on in wartime, that's for sure.
Months go by, and all three of them are still alive by grace or miracle. Sanborn's no closer to understanding James or his dumbass antics, and he never will be. He's no more comfortable with the risks either, no surprise there, because only a fool would ignore them. He'll never be that stupid.
It's when they find the abandoned body of the boy—packed with enough C-4 to take out the surrounding buildings—that something finally changes.
James stays behind so long that they almost go back to get him, and he doesn't set the body to blow like he's supposed to. Instead, he staggers out into the sun with the dead child in his arms like a precious burden.
What for? Sanborn wonders, because it's too late to do anything that matters. They're on damage-control here and the clock is ticking, and this isn't the first child to die in this godforsaken war.
Then he unravels the look on James' face, something vulnerable and fleeting.
Will James might think he's invincible—probably still does, and maybe always will.
But today he finally realized that other people are terribly, heartbreakingly mortal.
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