Xander sighed scrubbing his hand over his nearly non-existent hair while warily eyeing the other men milling around. They were just as wary of him. It was obvious he wasn't one of them thanks to his eye patch and the fact he hadn't gone through Prep School with them. He suspected he’d also freaked a couple of them out last night when they’d snuck over to do who knows what while thinking he was asleep. He hadn't bothered to open his eye when he asked if there was something he could help them with. They’d tried to bluff saying they were just going to their locker. They hadn't been happy when he pointed out they bunked on the other side of the barrack.
Now there was a clear three foot radius around him as they all waited for the commanding officers to show up and training to begin. One of the younger guys had just started edging towards him when two HMMWV pulled up. They all quickly straightened into ranks.
“Atten-SHUN!” called out the class leader and they all snapped to. The bulk of the instructors climbed out of the second HMMWV before another instructor, the Master Chief according to his tabs, followed by the Base Commander Turrentine got out of the first.
When Turrentine began to speak and Xander realized it was a “You’re the best and brightest, Go SEALs!" pep talk he tuned the man out. If he was actually there to become a SEAL he’d probably find it inspiring or at least listen. Since the only reason he was there was because of bruised egos and being too stubborn, too dumb more likely, to back down from a challenge he just waited for the speech to end and the real torture to begin.
“I give to you your chief instructor, Mast Chief John James Urgayle. Good luck, gentlemen.”
Turrentine and Urgayle exchanged salutes and then Turrentine got back in the HMMWV and left. Urgayle regarded them silently, a bullhorn held at the small of his back. The sun beat mercilessly down on them but still Urgayle just watched them. Someone two rows back and several over from Xander was the first to break, shifting just enough that it drew Urgayle’s attention like a laser. The soldier gulped but held position.
“Seaman Harris, front and center!”
Xander started at hearing his name, almost didn't respond but quickly recovered moving to the front of the group. He returned to the attention position that Graham Miller and his Marine Recon cousin spent the last two months drilling into him.
“Sir, yes, sir!” Xander responded as soon as he was in position. The Master Chief made a circuit around him, a sneer of disdain twisting his face. He finished his circuit in front of Xander so far into his personal space he almost quipped that he expected dinner before they go any further but swallowed it back.
“Remove the eye patch, Seaman,” Urgayle snarled. “This isn't Pirates of the fucking Caribbean.”
“Sir, yes, sir.” Xander stripped off the patch and shoved it in the pocket of his BDU’s without breaking eye contact. He was slightly gratified when Urgayle actually blinked in shock at the sight of the sunken socket and scars. He quickly rallied though.
“Who the fuck let you through Medical for this program?”
“Dr Averson, sir,” Xander responded, naming the on base doctor who’d done his preliminary physical.
“Sir,” one of the other instructors started but Urgayle held up a hand.
“Care to explain to me, Seaman Harris, why the only thing in your file is information that I can get just by looking at you?”
“It’s classified, sir.”
“Where did you serve, Seaman?”
“Hell and Africa, sir.” Xander suspected he would pay for the flippant remark but couldn't help himself.
“I want specific postings, Seaman.”
“It’s classified, sir.”
“Where did you train?”
“It’s classified, sir.” Xander could see Urgayle's right eye starting to twitch.
“Are you even a Goddamn sailor in this man’s Navy?”
“If you say it’s classified I’m going to shove my foot so far up your ass you’ll wonder why you bothered with breakfast!”
“Sir, yes, sir!”
Clearly disgusted by the lack of answers, Urgayle stepped back just enough to shout, “Instructor Pyro! I believe these men feel like a jog down the beach. Back in formation, Harris.”
This was going to be so much fun, Xander thought as he fell into line with the others. He needed to get through 3 days to satisfy the Admiral and a week to satisfy himself. Though he kind of hoped that he was sidelined with an injury rather than actually quitting.
Standing with several of the other instructors, Urgayle folded his arms over his chest, watching the candidates run.
“I want an eye kept on him. I don’t like that injury and I really don’t like that he couldn't positively confirm that he’s actually in the Navy.”
“You think he’s a CIA spook?” Instructor Hayward asked.
“They have they’re own Camp. Why send one of their boys here? And even the spooks will retire someone with that kind of disability. No, this came from high up the pipeline and I don’t like it.”
“Yes, sir,” they responded.
By the end of the day many of the instructors found themselves mildly impressed by Harris. He wasn't the best in the class by a long shot but he was sitting near the top of the middle. What really impressed them was his spatial awareness on his blind side. No one had managed to sneak up on him and they’d definitely tried.
Xander, for his part, was just happy to have survived the first day along with the cleansing Medical insisted on doing of his eye. Grabbing food from the chow line, he was a little surprised when one of the guys from his boat crew waved him over. He nodded warily as he sat down. They were all watching him with varying degrees of interest. It was Bud Hansen, their boat leader, who got things started.
“Where in Africa have you served? Iraq?”
“How’d you lose the eye?” Rafe Ortiz asked.
“Dude, I want to know how you always know they’re coming up on your blind side,” Dave Merriman demanded.
“Rumor has it you’re CIA,” Chris Jacobs put in.
Xander looked at the three men who’d remained silent. “You have anything to add?”
“Nah,” one shook his head. “They've pretty much covered it.”
“So?” Merriman prodded.
“I’m not CIA. The idea of me as some kind of super spy is hysterical actually. I can’t tell you more than I’m part of a Special Operations group. More than that requires Presidential permission. I have been in Iraq. No, I won’t say where or what I was doing. I've crossed the length and width of Africa about half a dozen times in the last two years. I have really good spatial awareness and my other senses have learned to compensate for my missing eye. As for how I lost it I was protecting a group of girls from an insane preacher turned serial killer. He didn't like the way I saw things and gouged it out with his thumb. More than that and I either can’t or, honestly, don’t want to talk about it.”
Hansen looked at the others before meeting Xander’s gaze and nodding. “Keep pulling your own weight and we won’t have an issue.”
“Works for me.” With that they all settled in to eat while bitching about what a hardass Urgayle was.
The next day was even more grueling than the day before but Xander pushed through, ignoring Urgayle’s questions, insults and insinuations as best he could. The second day rolled into the third which turned into the fourth until he lost track of the days completely and just kept going; following the man in front of him. Somewhere in the back of his mind he’d simply decided quitting wasn't an option. He was going to take this ride as far as they’d let him.
On day 10 of training Turrentine was working on paperwork when his Yeoman opened his office door.
“Sir,” the young man said, only a slight quaver to his voice indicating there might be a problem. “Sir, Admiral Greeley from the Pentagon is on the phone.”
Turrentine froze for a brief second then nodded. “Thank you.” He waited until the door was closed before picking up the headset. “Admiral, how can I help you, sir?”
“What’s the current status of Seaman Alexander Harris?” The man asked getting right to the point.
Quickly bringing up the relevant file, Turrentine blinked at his screen. “Seaman Harris is doing well, sir. He’s currently in the number 11 spot of the class standings.”
“That little shit hasn't rung out yet?” Greeley demanded.
“No, sir, he has not,” he responded, both eyebrows shooting up at the Admiral’s reaction.
“Well hell. And he’s at number 11, you say?”
“Yes, sir. He has the number one spot locked for swim times but his running times are only so-so.”
“I’m never going to hear the end of this. I can’t believe he’s made it this far.” It was clear the Admiral was talking to himself but Turrentine didn't dare interrupt. “Should have known those girls were too damn gleeful when I made that damn bet. I want weekly reports sent to my office on Harris. Notify me immediately if he DOR’s or is dropped on medical reasons.”
“Good man,” Greeley grunted and hung up.
Turrentine slowly replaced the phone in the cradle. Well, that was interesting. Just who the hell was Seaman Harris?
“According to what Yeoman Randal found out Harris is here because of a bet Admiral Greeley made with someone he referred to as ‘those girls’. And the Congressional waiver was signed off on by none other than the President,” Hayward announced as he entered the instructor’s office.
“Who the fuck is this kid?” Instructor Jameson demanded. “He’s fucking Aquaman in the water and I don’t care how good your senses are; no one missing an eye has that good of spatial awareness outside of kung fu movies.”
“He’s taken up the 2IC spot in his boat,” Pyro commented. “If something happens to Hansen the others will look to him first.”
“He’s kept at least three guys who aren't in his boat from dropping,” Instructor DeBell added. “Overheard him telling Jenkins that if he could do it Jenkins could do it. Jenkins retorted that Harris was fucking Superman. That’s when Harris tripped and landed on his face in the O course. He was laughing so hard.”
Urgayle stared out the window at the surf. “Bring him in for another chat. I want to know what the hell is going on.”
“Yes, sir,” Jameson practically purred jogging outside. Five minutes later Harris was standing at attention on the porch.
“Seaman Harris,” Urgayle drawled from the doorway. “Please tell me that you are not here because of some bet with Admiral Greeley.”
The way Harris’ jaw clenched for a moment was answer enough. Before he could light into the kid Harris dropped out of attention enough to look him square in the eye.
“Permission to speak freely, sir?”
“By all means,” he allowed figuring it would be enough to drive the kid out if he didn't quit on his own.
“I’m not here just because of the bet. I’m part of an organization that is sanctioned by 90% of the countries that belong to the UN. It recently went through a change of hands and a major overhaul that is finally allowing us to change how we train our operatives. The SEAL training program was recommended to us by some of the advisers the President loaned us. However I won’t put any of our trainees through something I wouldn't do myself.”
“You’re telling me that you’re here on a fact-finding mission for some pansy-ass spook program?” Urgayle growled.
“No,” Harris growled back before stripping off his shirt to display an impressive amount of scarring. “I’m here because I know I need this training; because it’s a fucking miracle that I've survived the last ten years fighting the war I fight with the little bit of self-training I've managed. I’m here because our operatives need every advantage I can give them.”
Hayward suddenly pushed forward, grabbing Harris’ arm to turn him. Urgayle noticed Harris’ barely restrained reaction to being manhandled.
“Jesus H Christ on a fucking pogo stick,” Howard breathed looking at a particular scar. “You’re a Goddamned Hunter, aren't you?”
“You got a problem with that?” The quiet steel in Harris’ voice had Urgayle’s eyebrows going up; something telling him this was about more than just shooting deer.
“Hell no. One of you guys saved me and a buddy while we were on leave a few years back. Guy by the name of Winchester.”
“Father or the sons?” Harris asked.
“Son, I’d guess. About you’re age, named Dean. Bought him a few rounds as thanks. The stories he told were scary as fuck. Sir,” Hayward turned to Urgayle. “I recommend letting him continue with the training as long as he can. Ten years facing the shit he probably has with no training deserves respect.”
Urgayle looked between the two of them impassively, arms folded over his chest. The cryptic conversation had left him with far more questions than answers. He also suspected trying to get straight answers would just leave him with a headache. Hayward was a good man and a good SEAL who didn't hand out respect to just anybody. Finally, “I don’t like being lied to.”
Harris winced. “Technically I never lied to you. Just omitted a whole lot of shit. I didn't want you treating me any differently than you did.”
That was an interesting way to put it. “Care to explain why your Congressional waiver is actually a Presidential waiver?”
“My organization is very need to know and very few people in the government need to know.”
He could tell that wasn't the whole truth but it wasn't a lie either. It would have to do for now.
“If I agree to you continuing then you will continue to do your absolute best. We will not treat you any differently than any of the others. If I even suspect you’re not giving your all I will break your fucking leg myself for your medical discharge. Am I understood, Seaman Harris?”
“Oorah, Master Chief!” Harris shouted snapping back to attention.
“Dismissed.” Urgayle waited until Harris was gone before looking at Hayward. “I better not regret this.”
“Oorah, Master Chief,” Hayward responded with a grin.
A Goddamned bet, Urgayle thought to himself, looking back out at the surf. What the hell was his Navy coming to?