Disclaimer: Eric and Taylor don't belong to me (they're borrowed from BVE without permission, but no harm, no foul and no money made). The character of Remart (aka dark-hair) is inspired by the character of the same name in Michael A. Stackpole's novel 'I Jedi' (no harm, no foul and no money made).
With very grateful thanks to Shayna for all the help with the basic logistics and helping me plot out Taylor's career. Also very grateful thanks to Vanessa for helping me out with location and situation details (not to mention spellchecking my German!). Also very grateful thanks to Ree for allowing me to borrow her and helping me brainstorm the ending of this. Also very grateful thanks to Gamine for carefully picking out the nits and making sure I stayed true to characters. Ladies – I thank you.
Please note: I'm not a member of the US Armed Forces, nor am I a Spangdahlem resident so please forgive any errors in protocol or location, and no offence is intended.
Timing: Six months after Almost Unreal/about two or three weeks after PRWF finale (although I know I'm probably messing with PRWF canon!)
Taylor felt nervous.
Not a feeling she generally admitted to, but today was different. Today was, so the saying went, the first day of the rest of her life.
She had always figured that when she finished being a ranger – at least in so far as she'd thought about that – she would go back to the air force. But then she'd met Ben Johnson and…things had changed.
The thought of Ben made her smile a little. She wasn't sure quite what they had together, but it was definitely good.
He had been the one who suggested she joined the Silver Guardians.
"It's not the exciting high-life you might get in the air force,"he had pointed out, "but you won't need to hide that you've been a ranger with us." He'd then pulled an adorable face. "And you'd be able to work with me – there's no 'no fraternisation' rule."
The rest of the conversation had become lost as they both became interested in other things, but it had been enough to plant the idea at the back of her mind.
And so, here she was, about to face an interview for a position in the Silver Guardians. It wasn't the interview itself that was making her nervous but the man she was being interviewed by.
Commander of the Silver Guardians.
A man who seemed to know her a great deal better than she knew him.
"Ms Earhardt, if you'd like to go through," said the secretary, a pleasant looking woman whose desk plate said she was Gina Thomas. "Commander Myers is ready for you."
Oh good…"Thank you." Gathering up her courage – there was no way that he would bring up Germany in interview, after all – Taylor got to her feet and followed Gina through into the conference room.
Eric was apparently studying some papers as Taylor entered. He looked up at her footfalls. "Ah, Ms Earhardt – thank you Gina – please take a seat."
Taylor took the seat immediately opposite him as Gina left the room. There was a long, long moment of silence. Eric continued to study the papers until Taylor found herself shifting nervously in her seat.
"So," he said, looking up suddenly. Taylor jumped. "Why, exactly, are you interviewing for the position of squad commander?"
"I have a lot of command experience and I believe that I would be bringing some new and useful skills to the Silver Guardians." She hesitated a beat then decided that, given who Eric was, mentioning rangering wasn't a bad idea, she added, "Plus, having finished my stint as a ranger, while I want a change I want to do something where I can continue to help the community."
"I see." Eric's expression gave nothing away. "What new skills would you be bringing to the team?"
"I hold a pilot's license…"
"We have no use for someone who can fly fast jets," Eric cut in.
"…and have had training for a helicopter license," Taylor finished, ignoring his comment. "If I get this job, I would be willing – in my own time – to complete that qualification."
"I see." Eric glanced down at one of the pages of his document. "You are aware," he continued, "that the vast majority of Guardian business is done in conjunction with Silverhills PD?"
"What would your reaction be to learning that you had been rostered for traffic duty?"
"I would do it to the best of my ability."
"Not the question I asked," Eric shot back. "What would your reaction be?"
Taylor blinked and squirmed. "My reaction?" she finally echoed.
"Yes, your reaction. Would you be happy? Ecstatic? Pissed off?"
Taylor blinked again. What on earth kind of question was that?
"It's a simple enough question, Ms Earhardt," Eric continued. "What would your reaction be?"
"I…" Taylor tried not to let her unease at the question show. "I wouldn't be happy about it, but I would still do it," she finally managed.
"I see." Eric made a note on his papers, set his pen down and finally, fully met her gaze, full force. She tried not to let it intimidate her. "Ms Earhardt, do you have a problem with me?"
"Me?" She wasn't really succeeding.
"Do you see another Ms Earhardt present in the room?" Eric snapped. "You are sitting there giving me bullshit answers, so either you really don't want to be here, or else you have a problem with me. If it's the former, the door is behind you, don't let it hit you on your way out – I do not appreciate having my time wasted. If it's the latter, I'd like to know just what it is I'm supposed to have done."
Taylor's jaw hinged open. "I…"
Eric folded his arms across his chest and continued to pin her to her seat with his glare. "Ms Earhardt, something you should know about me. I might have been a Marine but that does not automatically render me deaf, dumb, blind and stupid. More to the point, I am perfectly capable of telling when someone is uncomfortable with the idea of being in the same room as me."
Eric leaned back in his seat. "Ms Earhardt?"
"Then there's the door."
"Then tell me what it is I'm supposed to have done. One or the other."
"You really are a son of a bitch."
"Guilty as charged," Eric retorted, "and right at the moment, not especially guilty about it. You have," he paused to look at his watch, "five minutes to give me an answer."
"Oooh I knew I didn't wanna do this…" Taylor muttered. "I knew this was a bad idea."
"Four minutes," said Eric. "What's it to be?"
"Germany," Taylor spat.
And to her surprise, Eric actually rolled his eyes. "Oh good grief," he muttered. "And you're holding that against me exactly why? I had very little to do with it – and I'm betting what I did have to do with it you don't remember."
"You were there!" Taylor retorted, too angry and upset to care that she was probably now wrecking whatever chance she had of getting this particular job. "You were involved."
"Yes I was," Eric agreed. Before Taylor could take that casual admission, he had leaned forwards and added, "And I'm betting you have no idea who put a stop to it that night in the bar, or how you got home that night."
Taylor stared at him. "What are you talking about?"
"Are you prepared to actually listen to what I have to say?" Eric asked. "Because if you're not, there's very little point my saying it."
"I'll bite," Taylor answered.
"Good." He settled back in his seat. "Then pin back your ears and listen without interrupting. Middle of April 1999. We were both newly stationed at Spangdahlem."
Taylor nodded slowly – that was hardly news to her. Admittedly she hadn't known Eric was also newly posted to the base – but as a fresh group of Marines had arrived at the base at the same time as she did, it wouldn't have been a hard thing to work out.
"I got some…bad news that day," Eric continued. "I decided that I wanted to drown a few sorrows when I got off duty…"
***Spangdahlem AB, Germany – April 1999***
"Ein Bier bitte."
"Drei Mark, bitte."
Eric handed over the coins and accepted the mug of beer when it was offered. With a depressed sigh, he carried it over to an out-of-the-way table and sat down. This was very likely the first beer of many – after all, it wasn't exactly everyday you got a letter from your girlfriend telling you she'd dumped you because your marching orders contrived to make you miss her birthday. Again.
He took a large mouthful from the mug and swallowed, grimacing at the bitter taste. He'd forgotten how sharp the taste of German beer was. Oh well – it would do for his purposes…
"…and here we are!"
The loud, brash voice made Eric cringe, even as its owner made the bar door crash back on its hinges. He'd come to this bar, just off base, precisely because he wanted to avoid pilots and their egos. Looked like he was out of luck on that count. Through the now open door swaggered six or seven people. They were all dressed in civvies but the arrogance in their walks suggested they were all pilots. Looked like a squadron had decided to go out on a bender.
Eric shrank back into his seat. Perhaps if he just sat here, quietly drinking his beer, the barman wouldn't realise he was American too.
Bringing up the rear of the group was a slightly unexpected sight – a young woman. To Eric's eyes, she looked painfully nervous although she was also clearly trying not to show it. New pilot, then – which probably meant this was some sort of hazing. He swallowed more beer and shuddered. It was against every rule and reg in the book, but there wasn't a lot he could do about it.
Besides, he had other things to think about. Like Ree's letter to him – she'd accused him of being self-centred. Of putting himself first and her last in their relationship. Of using her.
"You can't back out, Taylor." The belligerent voice cut across Eric's thoughts.
He looked up to see the woman – Taylor, presumably – shaking her head. "I'm not going to do it," she said.
Eric debated with his conscience as to whether he intervened and decided to stay where he was. The less attention he called to himself the better.
"You'll do it," said the belligerent voice, which Eric finally traced to a dark haired man who was clearly the ringleader. "Or are you a coward?"
"Of course she's a coward," snorted another. "She's a woman."
Eric shook his head. And they said sexism was dead in the Forces…
"And what the hell's that gotta do with it?" Taylor snapped.
Guess she can fight her own battles,Eric decided, finishing his mug. At least for now. Just don't be dumb enough to…
"All right – whaddya want me to do?"
Eric groaned. It had crossed his mind to leave – it wasn't like he was going to get much thinking done with the clown posse in the bar. But if he knew anything about this sort of hazing, they were just as likely to strip her naked and leave her in the town square after getting her hideously drunk as anything else. It wasn't any of his business, but he wasn't prepared to leave Taylor to that fate.
Even if it was self-inflicted.
With a sigh, he got up and crossed to the bar.
"Noch ein Bier?" asked the barman.
"Nein – ein…"
"Seven pints of beer," interrupted the dark-haired pilot, "and the bottle of Jack Daniels."
"Entschuldigung!" The barman apologised to Eric.
Eric shrugged. "Schon gut."
"Seven pints of beer," repeated the dark-haired pilot, injecting a certain amount of irritation in his voice at not being served immediately.
The expression on the barman's face clearly said he'd rather serve the Devil than this arrogant asshole. Eric cringed all over again. The barman poured the seven pints and produced the bottle of Jack Daniels. "Forty Marks, bitte."
The dark-haired pilot wrinkled his nose in disgust at the cost but consented to pay and carried the tray of drinks away.
"Also," said the barman switching his attention back to Eric, "was möchten Sie?"
"Eine Cola, bitte," Eric answered. If he was going to do the white knight routine, it would be easier if he was sober. Worrying about Ree could happen some other time.
The barman smiled as he poured the drink. "Sie sind Amerikaner?"
"Leider," Eric agreed with a nod and a grimace. Looked as if the barman had realised he was from the base.
"Einsfünfzig, bitte." Eric handed over the coins. "Es tut mir leid."
Eric carried his drink back to the table he'd claimed earlier. The pilots had all claimed the three tables at the far end of the room. He could see dark-hair handing round the drinks, leaving the whiskey bottle on the tray. Eric had a sneaky suspicion what that was going to be for.
He sipped his coke. After the bitter taste of the beer, the taste of the soft drink was cloying and sickly. But just when he was debating going and asking for another beer and to hell with Taylor, he saw dark-hair open the bottle of Jack Daniels and liberally pour the contents into Taylor's glass while she was looking elsewhere.
Eric stared. They couldn't think she was that naïve? She couldn't be… Or perhaps she could be, he realised, as she took an unguarded mouthful of her now doctored pint. From the look on her face, she realised it was doctored the second she started to swallow, but she swallowed it anyway.
Young idiot!Eric shook his head. He probably should intervene now. Save her the hangover too.
She finished her pint and climbed to her feet. That one movement alone told Eric that there was no chance of him saving her a hangover. On his reckoning she'd just swallowed a pint of beer plus roughly half that of Jack Daniels – a substance that was potent enough when you knew to expect it – and it had obviously hit her hard.
She tottered a little as she made her way to the lady's room. Seeing her reach that comparative haven, Eric's attention snapped back to dark-hair and his cronies. He wasn't surprised to see glasses being switched round on the table. Nor was he surprised when the half pint that ended up at Taylor's place on the table was filled with more Jack Daniels.
What did surprise him was when dark-hair produced a small, white pill and dropped it into the glass.
That did it.
Eric got to his feet and started across the room, even as Taylor started to make her unsteady way back to the table.
"Ma'am," said Eric, intercepting her, "if I were you, I'd call it a night right now. You don't look so good."
"Hey!" objected dark-hair.
"I don' feel so goo'," Taylor mumbled, swaying straight into Eric's arms.
"Hey!" objected dark-hair. "Get your hands off her!"
Eric glared in dark-hair's direction. "The lady is going home – and if you want to make a fuss, be my guest, but I'll be forced to tell the MPs you've been drugging her drink."
The look on dark-hair's face at that threat was priceless. Eric enjoyed every horrified line in the expression. "You wouldn't…"
"Try me," Eric retorted. With an arm around Taylor's waist, he started to walk her towards the exit.
"You can't do that!" exclaimed dark-hair.
"I just have," Eric shot back.
Taylor stared. "You're kidding!"
Eric just looked at her. "Do I look like I'm kidding?"
"They drugged my drink?"
Eric shrugged a little. "I only saw him put one pill into your glass but the way he reacted and the way that one pint hit you…"
"I can't believe I was so naïve not to notice…" Three-year-old feelings of humiliation resurfaced. "I can't believe…"
"It happens," Eric replied in a surprisingly gentle tone of voice.
"What I don't get," said Taylor, "is why you got involved period."
Eric shrugged again. "I don't like people picking on folks like that."
There was something unsaid about that. Taylor could see it a mile off. "So it was you that took me back to base, huh?" she said. Eric nodded. "And the nickname?"
He offered her an apologetic expression. "Didn't see it happen – just heard about it on the base grapevine."
"I suppose Ejector Earhardt was getting off pretty lightly from Remart," she admitted. "The dark-haired ringleader," she added.
Eric nodded. "So do you think you can work with me now?"
Taylor blinked. They were back with a job interview? What the…?
"It's a simple enough question, Taylor," Eric repeated, "can you work with me?"
It was the use of her first name – which up to this point had been absent from any address he'd made to her – that made her realise that this whole 'interview' had been a set up. "You son of a bitch!" Not so much angry as incredulous.
Eric smiled a little, looking amused. "The job is yours, Taylor – if you can work with me."
"What was this all about?" Taylor asked.
"Getting the truth out," Eric replied. "You'd make a very good Guardian, but I can hardly employ you, if you're uncomfortable with sharing a room with me." That, Taylor had to admit, was a good point. "I have no problems with you – never have had. But you…"
"Have spent the last six months actively avoiding you," Taylor admitted sheepishly.
Eric just lifted his eyebrows. "That's one phrase for it." Taylor squirmed again, this time in embarrassment. "So can you work with me?"
"Are you planning on dragging Germany up again?"
Eric shook his head. "The only reason I brought up in April was to get your attention. Believe me," he added ruefully, "I have very little reason to want to think about that year."
Again Taylor could hear that there was something going unsaid. And from the visual clues – the tightness of his posture, the way the amusement had faded from his eyes even if his mouth was still curved slightly upwards – whatever it was, it wasn't something minor.
"I don't like being manipulated," she stated.
Eric smiled a little bit, the humour genuinely returning to his expression. "Does anybody?"
"And at the first opportunity I am so gonna kick your ass."
"You can try."
"And you can bet your ass I'm not gonna sit back and take any more crap from you."
Eric's smile widened. "Didn't for one moment think you would."
"But I can work with you." Taylor smiled. "Even if you are an ex-Jarhead."
Eric's smile turned wry. "I guess I can expect more of that one, huh?"
It was Taylor's turn to smile. "Oh you can count on that."