A/N: Thanks for the reviews and sorry for the lack of life signs. Being a busy, busy bee.
Warning for character death.
In which no-one goes to the funeral.
She didn’t go the funeral. None of them did. They all knew that there was nothing in the coffin. Nothing that mattered anyway.
He’d always been too cocky.
Thought that being out of sight of must mean he was safe. Thought that since he was looking at the world through a sniper scope, the world could only look back at him the same way.
A grenade lobbed onto the second storey roof he was posted on taught him differently. Buffy didn’t think the second between his heartfelt, “Fuck,” and the detonation had been enough for the lesson to sink in.
So she didn’t go the funeral.
And neither did the boys.
They would have gone and hunted down the fucker that killed Texas, but the guy was dead before their sniper, gunned down by Roque a split second too late. All that was left was to buy a few bottles of cheap as shit booze (Texas’s favorite and they were just sentimental enough to drink the swill, which they never did while he was alive) and get falling-down drunk.
They were camped out at Clay’s place because it was closest to the base they’d arrived stateside on. Roque’s place was a hundred miles further out and Snake’s apartment was up in New England. Buffy had a room at Dawn’s place in Cleveland, but she wasn’t about to invite a unit of grieving special ops men into Scooby territory. That way lay only pain.
They were all scattered around the living-room: Clay in the love seat, Roque stretched out on the couch. Usually she would have fought the man for the spot, but he’d been in a piss-poor mood ever since Afghanistan and she knew that he would take the smallest provocation as a reason to start a fight. She might have enjoyed beating Roque up any other time, but not now. Not when he’d only be fighting to lose. If he was angry enough with the world to get his bones broken, he could do it without her help.
She took another swig straight from the bottle and pointed at the dead potted plant on the windowsill next to Snake’s head. “What’s that?” she asked.
Snake, sitting against the wall on the floor, twisted enough to look at the plant and snort. Clay threw the cap of his bottle at him and informed her primly (as prim as one could get with half a bottle of shitty booze in them), “It’s a plant.”
She nodded, feeling the alcohol sloshing around in her head a bit. Uh-oh. Better stop now, unless she wanted a return of Cave-Buffy. “I can see that. But why’s it there?”
“Plants brighten up the place,” Clay said and it sounded like a quote. Roque snorted, contempt thick in his voice. They all ignored him.
“We haven’t been stateside in four months,” Buffy felt the need to point out.
“He was allergic to that kind, I think,” Snake suddenly said from his spot on the ground and everyone turned to look at him. He was curled up, bottle forgotten at his feet and there were tears in his eyes.
Buffy sighed and fought the urge to look away. The techie was older than her, but she felt like his mother for real these days. He wasn’t made for special ops. He’d simply pissed off the wrong person at the wrong time and landed his ass in the perpetual war-zone that was the life of the Losers. He’d confessed, on the flight back, that Texas was the first buddy he’d lost. It had made Buffy feel impossibly old.
She and Clay and Roque were down, yes. But it wasn’t guilt that was putting them into this mood, or even loss. It was failure. Clay as the commanding officer, Roque as the one who’d had the shot at the guy that killed Texas and Buffy as the girl with the hero complex (and preternatural reflexes). They had all failed. And the price was Texas’s life.
But Snake had been the man’s friend. Maybe his only real one on the unit. He’d grated on the nerves of the rest of the team more often than not. Three of the Losers were here because they’d failed. The fourth was here because he’d lost a friend and that… sucked.
It sucked really hard.
Time to play Mom.
Buffy put down her bottle and made her way over to their curled up techie, pulling at his elbow. “Up you go, buddy,” she said, managing to get him mostly upright before he thought to protest.
“Where we goin’?” She looked down at his bottle and sighed. Falling-down drunk was about right.
“We’re getting some coffee in you. And then we’re getting you a tattoo.” Hey, if it worked for the rest of the unit, it would work for him. Besides, she had a star to add to her collection and she was pretty sure that, somewhere on his body, Clay was collecting fallen men, too. They all needed a dose of ink, was what they needed.
Also, Buffy needed to stop drinking.
Snake tried to focus on her with bleary eyes. “I never got a tat before. Does it hurt?”
“Like hell,” she nodded, trying to tow him towards the door. “Colonel? You comin’?”
The older man nodded and stood, amazingly steady after two hours of gloomy drinking. He got a handle on Snake and Buffy went to poke Roque, who hadn’t so much as twitched. “You comin’, big guy?”
He grunted. She poked him again. He came up swinging, eyes bright with anger. Rolling her eyes, Buffy caught his fist and held it there, in the space between them. He growled and tried to lunge at her from his position on the sofa. The momentum sucked and she had him flat on his back with a knee between his shoulder blades before he had time to take another swing at her.
She pressed down hard once and then backed off slightly. “You done?” she asked, intentionally light.
He spat, “Fuck off!”
“Great,” she chirped with a cheer she didn’t feel and let go, hurrying towards Clay and Snake, who’d watched the exchange with blank faces.
They slipped out of the door a split second before a bottle hit the door and shattered on impact. Roque howled and Clay hollered right back, “You’re cleaning that up, Roque!”
She’d been right. There was an eagle on Clay’s shoulder and exactly ten small, black and gray stars in the background. It looked very patriotic. Texas became the eleventh star.
There was a joke in there somewhere, but Buffy was still too blitzed to find it.
Snake, who had sobered up only slightly after they poured two big cups of Starbuck’s rattiest coffee down his gullet, picked an armadillo. Because it was the Texas State Animal, or something. A fucking armadillo!
The tattoo artist, who’d taken one look at three trashed-at-noon people with dogtags (Buffy’s were a gift from Ri, not official) and spared them the usual ‘not while you’re drunk’ speech. Since his parlor was only around fifty miles from the nearest base, Buffy figured he’d seen his fair share of soldiers come to ink their losses.
He’d done the armadillo on Snake’s shoulder without a single raised eyebrow, patiently listening to Snake extolling their dead sniper’s virtues, few as they had been. But since one didn’t speak ill of the dead, both Buffy and Clay had simply looked on and not said a word about how, in the end, it had been Texas’s own arrogance that had gotten him killed. They’d warned him that the fight was moving to his position, had told him to run. The angle had been all wrong, so he hadn’t even been able to give them cover. He’d simply stayed up there because he thought he was untouchable.
The tattoo artist did raise an eyebrow when Clay pulled off his rumpled shirt, revealing almost thirty years of warfare carved, shot, slit, stabbed and inked into his skin.
“Jesus, what are you people? Special ops or something?”
Star number eleven.
Since the tattoo was tiny, Clay was done in under fifteen minutes and Buffy was next, pulling her own shirt up to bare her stomach and the seven stars already decorating it. She pointed at a spot halfway between hipbone and navel and said, “Same as the others, but bright green.”
Texas had called her ‘Green Eyes’ exactly once. She’d punched him in the face for it. It was one of her fonder memories of the idiot. The guy with the needle shifted around her for a moment before tracing a finger across the scar she’d retained from getting stabbed during Sunnydale’s last stand.
“I could cover that up,” he offered, very studiously not looking at the other scars left from ten years of fighting for her life. She was pretty sure she was scaring him a bit and drunk enough, still, to find it funny.
“Nah. Just where I showed you.”
By the time they returned to Clay’s place, it was dark. Roque had cleaned up sloppily and then proceeded to help himself to their booze, since he’d blown his up. He was drunk enough to be mellow for fucking once and Clay pulled out a deck of cards.
They played a few rounds (with Buffy losing every single time) before Snake conked out on the floor, bitching about how his shoulder burned.
Clay rolled his eyes and threw a blanket over the man before pulling out a bottle of twelve-year-old scotch and pouring three glasses. They toasted Texas and downed the drinks with little regard to taste and expensiveness.
Then they gave up on cards and went to find themselves some horizontal surfaces for the night. In two days their new sniper and the driver the brass had insisted on them getting (because, apparently, the entire fiasco that had been Afghanistan could be blamed on the fact that they did not have a driver, when they should have.) were going to report for duty and they were going to be sent back out no more than a week after that. Easy job, to give the new guys time to integrate, but a job nonetheless.
Life went on.
Another thing Buffy loved about being a Loser? No-one called you heartless when you didn’t cry.