Author: Sunhawk
Warnings: OC POV, gen fic, depressing situation

Just a Reminder

It's become a ritual. I don't care for it, but what's a simple Supply Sergeant going to say to a bunch of ex-Gundam pilots? I've thought about saying something to the higher-ups, because it really is a crappy thing for the guy to do to his old team-mates, but... I don't know; they're all golden. Even if the one in question isn't a field agent anymore for the... uh... obvious reasons, I can't help but feel like nobody will listen to me anyway.

But I watch it every time. See the team come in pumped-up and wired, see them grinning and laughing, handing me their requisition slips and then checking the equipment as I hand it out, joking with each other. You can almost feel the electricity in the air; they're on that much of a rush.

And then he comes in. Rolling into the midst of them in that chair of his, grinning like a loon. Grinning like he's going out too. Grinning like he still could.

'That's no way to wrap a grip, Chang!' he says. Or, 'Let me check that strap, Yuy... you never did buckle up tight enough.'

The laughing and joking doesn't stop. They include him, they laugh at his barbs and toss them back, but you can feel something dampen. You can feel the electricity ebb.

'Who taught you how to carry frags, Barton? Turn that damn belt around before you blow us all up!'

'Damn it, Winner, did you skip lunch again? I can look at you and tell; take this energy bar before you pass out.'

Same song, different refrain. Every damn time. It makes me crazy to watch it; can't the guy see what he does to them? Hell, I can see it and I'm not even their friend. They come in pumped and ready to go, and they go out subdued and much quieter. It's got to kill them seeing him like that; has to give them some God-awful visions right before going out.

But like I said, it's become a ritual. He does it every damn time they go out any more, so I've got to the place where I know it's coming, which just makes it all the harder to deal with when it does.

This time is no different; it's Yuy and Chang equiping for something bad enough to require AKs and half a dozen fragmentation grenades. The sheet says I won't see check-in for at least three days. I've just handed over the last of it when Maxwell comes wheeling down from the elevator. They greet him and he needles at them, checking equipment while they joke.

I can feel the level of adrenaline seem to go down as they talk and I can't help but grind my teeth. It's getting harder and harder to keep my mouth shut each time I have to stand by and watch the guy. This time even more so when Maxwell finds a worn strap and makes Yuy switch out rifles. It rankles. I'm not some damn green-horn that I can't look at the strap and see he's right, but I guess it's just that last little bit of irritation and I can't help muttering to myself as I strip the webbing after they've walked off.

Somebody really ought to do something about that guy.

'You got a problem, Sergeant?' a voice asks in a deceptively level tone and I whirl around to find Maxwell back at my counter.

I glance down the corridor and see no sign of the other two, and wonder what made him come back. I look back and meet that cold stare, working at it and wishing I dared.

'You got something to say to me,' he says quietly. 'Then spit it out; there's nobody else here.'

'I think what you do to them sucks,' I blurt, expecting to catch some kind of surprise in his expression. Maybe some bit of remorse. 'You rubbin' your condition in their faces like that.'

I'm the one who is surprised though, when all I get is a cold kind of smirk. 'Is that what I'm doing?' he asks and somewhere behind that broken frame I can hear the man he used to be. It rather shocks me when I have the urge to step back.

Some part of me feels just a bit bad for talking to a cripple that way, but some things just need to be said no matter what. 'It's a fine thing to want to see them off,' I tell him, trying to ease the words a bit, and I'm not ashamed to admit I was thinking about reprimands as much as his feelings. 'But you coming down here don't do them no good. Seeing you right before having to head out on a mission. You're bad for morale, Maxwell.'

He snorts at the line, giving me a grin that just makes a shiver want to run down my spine. 'Moron,' he says almost amiably. 'I'm supposed to be. You think I come here for my sake? You think it makes me feel better to sit here watching them gear up knowing where they're going, and that my days of being anything but a paper-pusher are over? You think seeing them off does anything for me but give me nightmares?'

I flat out blink at him, wondering what the hell, and the next thing out of my mouth is, 'Then what the fuck? Are you some kind of masochist or something?'

That cold, calculating half grin is back, but I gotta say there wasn't an ounce of humor in it. It made me wish somebody else would come down that corridor and give me an excuse to drop the damn conversation.

'I come down here,' he says in that quiet tone again. 'to remind them that reckless isn't always as easy as dead. I come down here to make sure they remember that there are consequences to doing stupid shit that are worse than not making it back, and that even Gundam pilots aren't indestructible.'

There's something in his eyes that I just can't look at, and while I'm looking at the frayed strap in my hand instead, I hear the squeak of his chair moving away. I'm glad; I've got no answer to what he's said.

No answer for a guy whose self-appointed duty is to keep his friends safe in the only way he has left... by being a living reminder.

I go ahead and give in to that shiver while I listen to the ding of the elevator coming to take the guy away. I toss the worn strap into the trash and decide that I'm gonna need a beer after work.

Down the hall, the elevator doors sigh shut.

Hell... maybe I'll just stop and get a damn six pack.


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