Disclaimer- Action Man does not belong to me. It belongs to Hasbro, Bob and Marty, and Fox Kids. This short is rated PG by the Motion Picture Association of America for mild cursing. Foreign Language note- Deimos is Latin... means Panic. :)


I'm headed for the back hangar almost before Big Air hits the ground, prompting an acerbic remark from Fidget. Alex cuts her off with something, but I ignore them both. The pattern of their words nags at me, begging to be deciphered... No. Not right now. If I get sucked into one more complexity right now, I'm going to lose it. And I promised myself a long time ago that I wasn't going to let it happen anymore.
Into the hangar, grab my gear-- stowed right by the hatch, thanks, Alex-- and out the door before the dust has settled. I realize I'm almost running across the mesa, and force myself to slow down, to breathe...
It's twilight now... very peaceful out in the desert. I take another deep breath, my pace finally slowing to a walk as I set up the targets. The moon's full tonight, so I won't need to ask Alex to turn on the outside lights. Good... I really don't want to go back in there right now. Alex knows about my problem, of course... and I think Grinder's figured it out, but I haven't asked yet. Fidget, though, could never keep it from me if she did, so I know she doesn't know. And even though Alex thinks I'm being unreasonable, and I probably am, I just can't face telling her about it.
A hundred yards... that's pretty good, without a scope. Taking a deep breath, I raise the rifle to my shoulder, sight down the barrel and fire. Dead center, as usual. I smile a little, feeling the wind run through my hair as I reload. I'm a pretty good shot with most types of gun, but the rifle's always been my favorite. 20-20, usually. I've even won a couple of competitions.
Sight, fire, reload. Sight, fire, reload. The rhythm is simple, easy to concentrate on. Focus on that, narrow your vision until there's nothing but the rifle and the target. Slowly, I feel the tension seeping out of my muscles, the clamor quieting in the back of my mind. I sigh in relief, resting the gun against the ground. Another attack averted.
Panic attacks. Anxiety disorder. People know the words, but the words don't come close to expressing what it's actually like. Try to imagine walking around a corner and being confronted with the biggest, ugliest, meanest palmetto bug ever to come out of Florida, a cockroach the size of Jerry Springer. Now, imagine you feel that way WITHOUT the cockroach. That's the panic attack, kicking your adrenaline into overdrive on some mundane, stupid trigger that has nothing to do with fight or flight at all. With me, it's patterns-- complexity. I get caught up in the twists and turns... it's like information overload. Some people have 'em when they flash back on a trauma, others when they overload a sense. Sight, sound... I knew a guy in high school who had one triggered by the Nordstrom's perfume counter.
So yeah, I have panic attacks. Have since high school, actually. I hid them pretty well, from everybody except Alex. That's what having friends gets you-- fewer secrets. Not that I'm complaining. I couldn't even tell him about them, though... he had to find me in the middle of one before he knew.
Alex asked me once why I didn't get medication. There's a lot of reasons, I guess. For one thing, I'm too stubborn. I've never wanted to admit that I couldn't handle this stuff on my own. More than that, though, medicine is expensive. And while I know my parents would have gotten it for me, they didn't really have the money to spare. I could handle it myself, so I did.
Sure, we could easily afford it now, but now we've got a new reason. Masters is a piranha, ready to pounce on any sign of weakness that will make for sensationalism. I've already got a rep for being high-strung-- if it gets out that I have anxiety attacks, we'll be lucky not to lose all our sponsors. Nobody wants to be connected with a team whose manager cracks under pressure. And with all this Dr. X craziness, we've had enough trouble getting funding. I'm not going to risk losing that.
And speaking of that maniac... Gah. No wonder I had an attack. That swarm of trilobugs, having to work with Dr. X, riding shotgun-- and I DO mean shotgun!-- for Asazi the fern... and then there's getting Brandon back, which I still don't entirely understand. Having to deal with Alex's crazy plans, InterCEPT being a pain in the ass, trying to keep track of three teammates who don't understand self-preservation... It's a wonder I made it as long as I did.
I could go back in, I guess, but everyone else has their own problems to work through. Alex, mainly. His world has repeatedly been turned upside down over the past few months, and I think he needs to adjust to the idea that he's gonna be settling down for a while. Brandon's back, and the coach is going to be spending most of his time rehabilitating him for the foreseeable future. I'm not sure who to worry about-- ah, hell, they're perfect for each other. Hopefully they'll keep each other OUT of our hair.
You know, oddly enough... for all the damage Coach Grey did to us, I do owe him something... He was the one who first suggested I try out for the rifle team. Oh, sure, he did it to keep me away from Alex-- shooting's the only sport Alex WON'T do, and the only one I can't screw up. But still, even if he didn't know it, the man did give me something I can focus on... something to keep me sane when everything around me's going crazy.
Deep breath, feel the wind, cool and dry. I'm not ready to go in yet... maybe I'll do some more target practice. The moon's still bright and high...
And maybe I'm not as calm as I think.