Lessons Learned

She came off the wall with muscles coiled and screams echoing in the dark shadows of a damaged mind. She wasn’t a fighter, she was a survivor, and surviving exacts a heavy price.

The challenger was on the floor choking for air and fighting for survival himself in the time it takes a child to hiccup. She stopped the killing blow a hair’s breadth from skin. It was, Nolan realized, a scary thing to see that iron control slide back into place. To realize how close they had been to disaster before they even realized it. She rose with the svelte grace of a jaguar. She didn’t offer the gasping man on the mat a hand up, she merely looked over his shaking form at Nolan, “I told you. I don’t spar.” And she did what few men dared to do; she turned her back on him and with measured strides left the room.

Nolan unclamped the cigar from his teeth and looked at his brother, “We need her on our team.”

Revelations

Nolan looked at the new team medic, and then looked at the rest of the crew. “He just called Ciara ‘sweet’” Willie stifled a snort. “My friend, Ciara is many things. Sweet isn’t one of them.”

The medic looked at them all and shook his head. “You don’t see it do you?”

Nolan looked at him, “What do you mean?”

“She wears her scars like the grandest diamond necklace, and because of that nobody looks past it. Yeah, she’s tough, she’s been through hell, and she can handle herself. But that woman, deep down, is sweet.” He looked at the old crew. “You don’t see it at all do you. You see the tough and don’t bother to remember she’s a person, not a machine.”

Smoke and Shadows

With the tequila cruising through my system, I ease back against the ratty bar, swiveling slightly on my squeaking bar stool. The people mill around me, bone numbing rock pumps out of crappy speakers, and the four Marines I just spent six months in the desert with eye me uneasily.

“Relax boys, this place isn’t gonna make me have a flash back to dark rooms and broken bones.” I flap a hand at them. “Go play. I’ll be fine.”

Nolan stares at me steadily, “Not you I’m worried about. It’s all of them.” He jerks his head at the crowd.

I smile and slither of my stool. “Gentlemen, I haven’t been in civilization in, well years. So, your babysittin ideas can go out the fuckin window. Now, I’m gonna go have some fun with that Italian stallion over there. I suggest you all do something similar before we gotta turn into smoke and shadows again.” As I saunter off I hear Nolan start to speak and wave my hand over my back. “I need a ride, I’ll give one of you fuckers a call in the morning.”

I hold my head and grit my teeth as Willie snorts and snickers his way down the street. The old rustbucket of a car he’s driving is and creaking and grinding and I kick the dash in a petulant fit of rage. My foot damn near goes through the floorboards. Willie’s snickers turn into guffaws.

“So what happened last night? You were there for a few hours and then you’d split. Nolan about had an apoplectic fit over it.” Willie shoots a sideways leer at me, you and that Italian stallion go work out a few kinks?” I sneer, “You know me…gunfights, car chases, and bodies in the water at the docks.”

Willie does know me and his eyes go wary as he studies me. “You’re kidding right?” I grimace as the car grinds around a corner. “For god’s sake Willie why do you drive this piece of shit?” I kick it again. “It’s a bloody disgrace.”

He laughs and pats the cracked sun seared dash. “Yeah, but she was a beaut in her day. Maybe sometime I’ll be here long enough to rebuild and restore her. Now, bodies? Do I need to be worried here?” I flap my hand at him and snuggle into the seat. “Leave me alone you gossip whore, you know I don’t kill and tell.” My voice slurs as I’m already starting to fall asleep.

His bushy blacks eyebrows wing up on his forehead. “How hungover are you.”

I open one eye and stare at him balefully before very precisely retorting. “I am flawless.” I close my eyes and give up as he starts belly laughing and slapping the steering wheel. Godsdamn it this is gonna be a long day.