Disclaimer: I own nothing
A/N: This is the last chapter! I rewrote it because I thought it was too intense, so I toned it down a bit, but this is what life is like for far too many people coming home from war.
When Tristan entered the house that night, it was eerily quiet.
"Babe?" He called down the hall. He heard a noise coming from the bedroom so he set down his stuff and walked towards the bedroom. "Hey, I didn't think you were…" He turned the corner to find her sitting on the floor in his room, a cardboard box and a knife sitting next to her. She stared at him with tears in her eyes. Tristan immediately broke eye contact and started staring at the wall behind her.
"Were you going to tell me about this?" She asked, the anger evident in her voice. He couldn't deal with this, not now. "Were you?" He didn't answer her. "Answer me, damn it!" She was freaking out.
"I can't do this." He said, completely overwhelmed at the thought of dealing with the situation. He walked out of the room but Rory followed him.
"You had a knife in your bedside table, Tristan. A knife! What the hell were you planning on doing with it?" At that, he snapped.
"Don't you ever, ever ask me that!" The fear in her eyes did nothing to stop him. "You have no idea what I've been through. While you were sitting in your precious guesthouse with your 'issues', I was either killing or dying; either way, you have no right. None!" He shouted at her, the tears streaming down her cheeks. He had her up against the wall, screaming at her at the top of his lungs.
"I'm sorry." She cried. He stormed out of the house, leaving her alone as she fell to the floor.
It was almost three in the morning when Tristan finally got home. He had been at the bar until closing, drowning himself in his memories. The guilt from the afternoon wasn't helping. He was pissed that she had found his box, even angrier that she had found the knife. He had no guilt for what he said. She didn't have a right to judge him, he was broken, and she knew that. He had explained it to her many times on so many levels, but this was his Mary he was talking about. She never faked the doe-like Bambi eyes she gave him, she was so naïve….
Rory was lying in bed, staring at the ceiling. She couldn't sleep after what had happened. She had talked to her mother, who didn't like what Rory had to share. She actually was worried for her own safety, but she had to believe that Tristan would not hurt her. But she hadn't seen Tristan today, it was someone else. It was then that she remembered the box. She tiptoed out of bed and brought the shoebox out from the bedside table. Glancing at the knife nervously, she quickly shut the drawer. She lifted the lid and was confronted with the picture that had brought her to tears. Tristan, lying on a hospital bed, wires stemming from a variety of machines attached to him. It was the day after his accident. The date on the back was a couple of days ago. That's why the symptoms had been so bad lately, it was an anniversary, she realized. Feeling completely horrible, she kept going. A purple heart, a picture of his unit with ten blacked out names on the back.
"Men who died." She heard from the doorway. She jumped a mile. Tristan stumbled his way to the bed and Rory froze. She didn't trust him anymore, especially when he was drunk. He grabbed the box and started rifling through it until he got to a Polaroid of an Iraqi girl, stuffed at the bottom of the box. She looked to be about 12. "Dead, because of me." He said, his eyes turning black.
"What?" She asked. 'And here comes the Bambi look,' he thought.
"I talked to her, via a translator. Her father started shouting and the next thing I know, I'm on the ground and she's just…pink mist." He started laughing. She didn't think it was funny.
"Tristan," she was seriously concerned. "You're drunk."
"I'm not…okay, maybe a little drunk." He fumbled with his watch and put it on the dresser. He grabbed his pillow and headed for the door.
"Where are you going?" She asked.
"I'm sleeping on the couch tonight."
"Because if I don't, I might wake up with my hand on your throat." He said honestly and left the room. Rory's heart stopped beating. He was serious.
The next morning, Rory came out to find Tristan showered and sitting on the couch. She couldn't look him in the eye.
"Hey." He said. When he got no response he tried again. "Rory, can I talk to you?" He asked as she poured herself a bowl of cereal. He reached out to touch her and she pulled away frightened. Tristan's stomach plummeted to his feet. He immediately regretted everything that had happened yesterday. "I'm sorry. About, God, about everything. I want to talk to you about this, I do, but it's just that you are…You're protected, shielded from everything. You're my Mary," He moved her hair out of her face and she shivered. "and I want you to stay that way. I never want you to ever hear about any of it, you can't even begin to understand what knowledge like that does to you."
"Tristan, if you are going through something, you have to tell me. Even if you just tell me that you are going through something and not to bother you about it."
"Rory, it's not something you bring up in conversation. 'Hey baby, I'm gonna sleep on the couch for the next week so I don't kill you in our sleep'."
"You had a knife. You had a knife in our bedroom and you didn't tell me about it. Why is it there?"
"I sleep better knowing it's there."
"Why? Because I need it to protect myself, to protect you!" He was starting to yell.
"From what?" She was counteracting him. Never raising it, her voice was calm, soothing almost.
"I just….I need it. Trust me, I just need to know it's there." The desperation in his voice was shattering to her. She knew that he believed what he was saying one hundred percent, his eyes pleading with her.
"Do you love me?" She asked him quietly.
"Of course I do."
"Will you do something for me?" He looked at her, afraid that he couldn't do what she was about to ask. "Will you see someone about this?" He closed his eyes. "I know that you've tried before, but Tristan, this is more than just bad dreams. This is getting scary for me."
"Scary for you? Do you think I like this? Do you think I choose to live like this? I can't walk down the street without checking every single rooftop for snipers. I can tell you exactly what every single person in a block's radius around me is wearing and what they look like."
"Which is why I want you to get help. You can't talk about it with me, but maybe you can talk to someone else, learn to live again Tristan. It doesn't have to be this way. You can put this all behind you and just forget abou…"
"Maybe I don't want to forget!" He yelled. Rory's gaze hit the floor, his words reverberating throughout the silent room. When she finally looked up again, she wasn't surprised by what she saw. He stood shaking, unable to calm his frazzled nerves, clenching and unclenching his left fist, as if he were a metronome, keeping perfect time to his frustration. She watched for a minute, her eyes traveling to that small scar she had first noticed. She nodded slowly, acquiescing to his anger. He sat down on the couch. Without saying a word, she walked over slowly and stood in front of him.
"Ok." She whispered her voice so soft that he struggled to hear it over his own heavy breathing. Yet, there was something in it that finally broke him. Maybe it was the guilt for yelling at her, maybe it was the fact that he knew she was right. But for whatever reason, the tears were finally allowed to flow freely for the first time since the accident. She pulled him in like a child. He latched onto her by the hips and pressed his forehead into her abdomen. If Rory was taken aback by the action, she never showed it. She just kept her hands around his head, holding him close.
"I'm sorry." He said. "I'm sorry."
"It's not your fault." She whispered. "None of it was your fault." He cried until he didn't have any tears left.
That next afternoon, Tristan was in a therapist's office. The fact that Rory was so scared of him she wouldn't even let him touch her arm was enough. But he also realized there was something in what he had said earlier, about not wanting to forget. Deep down, he was doing this to himself. He was holding on to this and not dealing with it.
"Tristan, you can never forget. The things that happened to you out there were life-altering. But you can cope. You can learn how to live with this so it isn't interfering with your daily life." Tristan wanted to believe her, but it was hard. "I know right now it seems like a long way off." She paused as if to ponder her next steps. "Could you come back tomorrow at four? There's someone I want you to meet."
Tristan returned the next day, just like he was asked. When he was allowed to step into the office, he was surprised by what he saw. Sitting in the patient's chair was his commanding officer, but he didn't look surprised to see Tristan. He saluted, out of habit and sat down next to him.
"Welcome Tristan. I'm sure you know Thomas." He nodded. "Well, we are going to have a group discussion today, if that's okay with you." She added. He nodded, still not speaking a word.
"DuGray, I'm a patient of the good doctor as well."
"Why are you here, sir?" He asked, finally finding his voice.
"The same reason you are son. I feel like I failed them, you." He said to Tristan. This was mind-blowing to him. Thomas had done everything in his power to get the unit everything they could possible want. He worked harder than anyone else to keep them safe. The therapist caught the look that Tristan let cross his features.
"Tristan, do you have anything you want to say."
"You didn't fail us. You did the best you could do. We couldn't have asked for a better CO."
"Ten men. Ten. I have to live with that number for the rest of my life. Nothing I do can ease the pain of their wives, their mothers. That's on me."
"We all have to live with that number. But what about all the men you saved. What about me?" Tristan looked at him. It was much easier easing his CO's pain than dealing with his own. "I'm here today because you got me out. I have been given the most wonderful second chance with a girl who I thought was long gone. That's on you too. My happiness, my future. You've changed my life forever."
"And look where you are sitting." Thomas said.
"I'm breathing. I've never been happier. So I'm a tad broken, you can't see what we've seen and not have some issues."
"I think what Tristan is saying is very wise." The therapist intervened.
"No one has ever accused me of being wise before." Tristan said to Thomas. They both laughed.
"I would highly recommend you two talking with each other more about this. I think it's very important that you two have the same experiences to fall back on and you can relate to each other. For homework, I would like you two to get together and just talk. It doesn't even have to be about this, just go out and live your lives as normally as possible. Thank you, you may go." She added to Tristan. He nodded. On the drive home, he thought about the session that day. He had never seen his CO in any situation other than on the job. Seeing that human side of him was comforting and disturbing all at the same time. When he got home, he found Rory cooking in the kitchen.
"Smells good." He threw his keys onto the table, not bothering to walk over and kiss her. He couldn't bear seeing her shrink from his touch.
"Wanna taste?" She asked as she held out the spoon. It was an invitation to invade her personal space and Tristan was more than happy to accept it. He took the spoon in his mouth.
"Mm, tastes good too. When did you learn how to cook?"
"In college. Ivy league has it's perks, but good food is not one of them." He smiled a truly genuine smile and it took her breath away. "You're smiling." She said with a grin. "That's good. It means that it's helping." Tristan didn't need clarification on the 'it'.
"You make me smile." She looked him, her smile fading into a serious expression. "You're the reason I get out of bed in the morning." Rory glanced down but he caught her chin and pulled her back up to meet his eyes. "The reason I'm still breathing? It's you." Rory closed her eyes as the tears began to slide down her cheeks.
"Tristan." She threw her arms around him and buried her face in his neck, her tears staining his collar. His hands came up the back of her neck and laced through her hair. He held her there, not wanting to ever let her go.
"I don't know where I would be without you, but I know it wouldn't be good." He murmured through her hair.
"I'm so sorry for everything."
"Shhh. It's okay." She pulled away, wiping her eyes.
"Remember what I said that day you didn't get on the plane? I'm not going anywhere. I meant it then and I mean it now. I love you." The devotion in her voice eased any pain that Tristan could possibly be feeling. "We are going to get through this, I promise." Tristan nodded and pulled her in again.
"Thank you." Those two little words spoke volumes to Rory. She knew what he meant. Thank you for staying here, for easing my pain, for forcing me to get help, for loving me, for being in my life. It was her favorite part of their relationship. They knew each other, better than they knew themselves sometimes.
"You're welcome." And with those two little words, Tristan finally felt like he could start living.
In the words of the Madeline books: "That's all there is, there isn't anymore." I hope everyone enjoyed this story. I tried to end it on a happy note, although it seemed like a stretch after writing about such awful stuff to give them a perfect fairy tale ending.