Gears in Therapy
Please note: This literature is rated T for language, adult themes, violent acts, and some gore.
Disclaimer: If Kade Riggs owned Delta Squad, life would be a hellofalot more interesting. Whenever some idiot tried to put a parking ticket on Kade Riggs's car, a King Raven would fly in low and Marcus and Dom would jump off, kick the meter maid's ass, and then toss a grenade (for the sole purpose of looking like badasses) and walk away while it exploded, causing an unrealistically huge fireball and leveled an entire city block. However, Kade Riggs DOES lay claim to all original characters, plot lines, and some of the funnier jokes in this fanfic. Ask if you'd like to borrow something--except for the jokes. I suppose those are open source.
This story is a work in progress, but at this time I am updating it regularly. I would very much appreciate any and all feedback. I like to say the 'review' button is to fanfic writers what an open guitar case is to a street musician. If you like the story, let me know. Fanfics can't live on bread alone;-) I've come a long way as a writer, but I've got a long way to go, so constructive criticism is also very welcome.
Also note: I've never done a page such as this before. Please bear with me while I get the hang of it:-)
Chapter 1: There's Some Guy Named Dom On My Couch Edit
Dom Santiago sat on one end of Dr. Chelsea Kerria's couch, staring at the clock with his head propped up on his fist. Bored. So bored.
"Dom," Dr. Kerria said, her voice carefully neutral. "We have forty minutes left. Why don't you tell me about work?"
Forty more minutes--whoopdi-do, Dom's expression clearly read.
Chelsea Kerria had seen that same expression on half a dozen other men just in the past two days. She knew getting frustrated wouldn't help, but sometimes she wanted to scream "Just say something!" at them. It wasn't her fault the war with the Locusts happened, and it damn well wasn't her fault it ended three years ago. She'd been fast-tracked into a triage medical program and about to ship out to a mobile COG hospital when the war finally ended. From there she'd skipped through several medical units before getting her discharge and finally landing a job three weeks ago as a psychiatric consultant for Bender Fields Incorporated, a newly formed demolition company specializing in tearing down and cleaning up buildings made uninhabitable during the war.
The vast majority of Bender Fields' workers were former Gears, like Dom, and they all struggled with making the jump to civilian life. Many of them left the COG involuntarily, pushed out by injuries or because they were 'too old.' COG had a limited budget these days--and once a soldier hit the magic number 30, they essentially were forced out. Most of these guys had lost their families in the war, they suffered from post traumatic stress, and none of them wanted her help.
But tri-weekly psych exams were mandatory, and Bender Fields wanted Dr. Kerria's stamp of approval on all employees every single month. They hired her after a number of increasingly disturbing incidents climaxed with one man coming to work and emptying a pistol clip into his demo team before eating a bullet himself.
These men were all dangerous and, even with the war over, under a great deal of stress.
"How are things going with your team, Dom?"
Uninterested in her questions, Dom rubbed his nose with his knuckles like it itched. He snorted long and hard, like he needed a Kleenex but couldn't stomach being polite enough to use one.
It had taken only three weeks to wear Chelsea's patience thin. She knew it was important to remain calm and professional, but she was young--still in her early twenties and far under-trained for a shrink, especially a therapist expected to deal with men half again her age with their brains shell-shocked into a pile of goo.
Hell, 'Dom Santiago' had probably forgotten more about dismembering Locusts than she knew about psych therapy. A real kick in the pants that was. They were both here for the same reason, because they needed jobs, and they didn't know how to get by any other way.
Chelsea tossed her notebook on the floor and took a minute to crack her neck to each side.
"Damn, I'm starving," she said. It was the least professional thing she'd said in front of a 'patient' and she wasn't too surprised when it garnered some interest. Dom actually seemed to perk up a little.
Food? What, where? his expression said for a minute, and then the monotone face slammed back down. Oh no, she wouldn't maneuver past his defenses via his stomach. No, ma'am. Not in this man's army.
Chelsea got up and headed for the rack to get her coat. "There's an awesome cheese steak vendor on the corner. It's really good as long as you don't think too hard about where he probably got the steak--or the cheese," Chelsea smiled, throwing on her coat. "Come if you want, or feel free to stay."
For a moment she thought he wouldn't follow her. She got out the door and all the way down the hall before her office door opened, and he appeared--head down as he trudged after her. She paused at the stairwell, waiting for him to catch up.
"Aren't you going to be cold?" she asked, eying his outfit: the same work-boots and cargo pants worn by most of the workers and a grease-stained white t-shirt, tattered around the collar. It had to be only forty degrees outside.
"Nope," Dom said, sliding past her and starting down the stairs. He easily hopped down the last three to the landing, just like a kid. The vast majority of COG veterans weren't so spry. Chelsea knew that first hand from moonlighting at a free clinic. There was a waiting list numbering in the thousands for reconstructive surgeries, prosthetic limbs and physical therapy.
Delta must've had angels watching over them, she thought, following him down to the building exit.
Bender Fields' main office building was a bleak gray structure, more utilitarian than anything. The front door opened out into downtown Jacinto, and it was surrounded by the first cluster of buildings that had been restored to fully functional capacity. It was lunch time, and office workers, construction crews and less savory characters alike swarmed the area, spending their hard-earned coin--or begging for it.
Dom walked next to her on the street-side of the sidewalk, both hands crammed into his pockets. He stood between her and most of the people they passed. He never split away, sometimes forcing other pedestrians to change course to avoid walking into him, nor did he encroach on her personal space. He was simply there beside her, a silent but formidable force. Three years after the defeat of the Locust horde it was still easy to spot a front-line Gear a mile away. They were the only ones left with serious meat on their bones. The rest of Sera had gone under severe food rationing for nearly two decades while the Gears on the front line were put on full feed. Dom was fit and trim, but he had broad shoulders, a barrel chest, and trunk-like arms and legs. He was tall, but not tall enough to justify the degree to which he resembled a giant. Out in public he got plenty of stares and was afforded a wide berth. She could only imagine how imposing he'd been in COG armor.
She also wondered if he stuffed his hands in his pockets because they itched to hold the Lancer he no longer carried everywhere.
Chelsea also got a few curious looks. A hurried business woman with short steely-silver hair appraised Dom on her way by, and then shot Chelsea an approving glance with one eyebrow raised. As if to say, If I were younger, I'd be jealous. Nice catch, girl.
Most of the other bystanders who noticed her were lanky young men. They'd glance at her and then scowl at Dom, though he seemed oblivious to their accusatory stares.
First you take our food, and now our women. When're you asshole Gears going to stop?
Single females were in extremely short supply these days. Women her age typically already had a husband and kids--lots of kids, if the government had anything to say about it. Young women could essentially choose the man they wanted, and Gears were a popular choice. Former front-line Gears unhindered by injury were rare but highly sought prizes because they were strong, battle tested and wouldn't be sent out on missions or patrols. More and more frequently Chelsea heard stories from tearful girls about how they'd gotten involved with a much older man, only to find they couldn't deal with his war-torn psyche.
Dom didn't say anything during the short walk, but Chelsea still learned a great deal just observing his behavior. Dom Santiago was a gentleman. He might not like talking to her, or even seeing her, but she was a young lady in his care nonetheless. He also responded appropriately to loathing and criticism. These were good signs. Sensibilities were often a good indicator of retained sanity.
Inside Bender Fields' he'd sulked with his head down in her presence, but outside he kept his head up. She had a feeling those dark eyes of his didn't miss much, even in a crowd.
Dom might be a gentleman, but he'd always be a soldier first. She must never forget that about any of them.
Chapter 2: Gears Out To Lunch Edit
They sat across from each other on one of the run-down plastic tables set out in front of the vendor's cart. Chelsea watched Dom pack away three large cheese steak sandwiches in awe. She'd taken it upon herself to pay for two sandwiches from Larry, the vendor. Dom had wolfed his down in seconds and then gone back to buy himself two more.
She found his appetite entertaining. It reminded her of the brothers she'd once had, before the war took them.
"They must not feed you at home," she noted.
Dom shrugged, eating the melted cheese off the foil wrapper. "We always had to eat fast during the war. Besides, three former Gears livin' in the same place and none of us cook, you know?"
A full sentence. Chelsea tried hard not to die of a heart attack.
"Your roommates work for Bender too?" she asked. It was a safe bet they did. There were very few lines of honest work these days--and most of them were in demolition or construction.
Dom balked at answering. On the one hand she'd bought him lunch, on the other--well, these guys didn't like talking about themselves; talking about buddies was forbidden.
Chelsea winked at him. "Don't worry, we're off record. I just want to be prepared in case I have appointments showing up expecting food."
That pulled a stunted laugh out of him. "Yeah," he said. "I can't make any promises about Cole, but Marcus--he won't bother you."
Cole and Marcus--two more members of the famous Delta squad. Interesting that the three of them had stuck together after the war. Then again, that wasn't so uncommon these days. Often war buddies were the only family these guys had left, and with the extreme housing shortage it wasn't uncommon for them to share rent on small apartments.
"Can I ask you a question?" Dom said. He waited, but Chelsea didn't protest. "Do you like what you do?"
"Trying to weasel out of distinguished war vets anything at all that might suggest they're about to go crazy and splatter their brains on company time?" Chelsea deadpanned. "It wasn't my first choice of careers. In fact, if I had to describe my job in two words: 'fucking ridiculous' comes to mind pretty quick."
Dom snorted a laugh. He seemed to approve of her cursing. "That sounds like the Gears. Rays of sunshine, one and all." He balled up the wrapper then took a sip from his drink. "It's bad enough we've all lost our families and have no one left to kill for it. On top of that, we're living in a complete sausage fest. Then, on top of all that, they expect us to talk about it with you: a pretty, intelligent young woman."
"So you're saying..."
"The guys on your couch are mostly unfortunate, sexually frustrated bastards."
Chelsea shifted in her chair, thoughtful. It hadn't occurred to her that some of her 'patients' might find her attractive. She'd never thought of herself as particularly good looking.
"You think I'm pretty?" she asked. There was some vanity involved in the question, but also a small amount of probing. She couldn't help it. After three weeks of straight nothing, it was nice to get a little perspective.
Dom froze in his chair, looking at her from under thick black eyebrows. "Uh," he hedged. "Well, I do actually think you're pretty--but you should know when I say that, it's different..." He rubbed self-consciously at the back of his neck. "Before E-day, I had a daughter. You're a little older than she would've been now, but girls your age--they remind me of her, of my Sylvie. She was three when she died."
Schooling her expression so she wouldn't gape in shock, Chelsea did a double take, studying him. How old was Dom Santiago? She would guess he had ten years on her, but not much more than that.
He must've read her face, because he heaved a sigh. "I got married at sixteen," he explained. "Had a wife and two kids and made commando all before I turned eighteen."
And then he lost them all, Chelsea thought, aghast. It still boggled her mind, the trauma these guys had survived off the battlefield.
Nervously lacing his fingers together on the tabletop, Dom seemed to take in everything around him but her. "I suppose you're gonna want me to talk about that."
Technically that was her job, right? Get these guys to talk about their pain? Then again, her gut said Dom generally had his pain squared away. Talking about losing his wife and children would strike nails through his soul, but it wouldn't reveal anything pertinent. No matter what anyone said, these guys were never going to get better or be normal. The important thing was to make sure they weren't a danger to themselves or others. The rest they were just going to have to live with.
"Do you think you're going to come to work and off a bunch of people?" Chelsea asked.
"At work, no," he said. Then he raised one eyebrow high in contemplation. "Although if Cole leaves the dishes piled in the sink one more time, my kitchen might turn into a blood-bath tonight."
The facade of humor and bravado was a common coping mechanism. Instead of calling him on it, Chelsea smiled. "I have no idea what I'm doing," she admitted. She had misgivings about confiding this in him. Perhaps she was cutting her own legs from beneath her, or maybe he needed to hear she wasn't stupid enough to think she could fix him. "But I think pretty much everyone on Sera is hurting. Personally, I don't want to subject any poor sap to tallying up everything he's lost. I am here for a reason, though. I'm supposed to try to find guys who are having a hard time keeping it battened down. That's my mission," she concluded.
"Problem is," Dom said, "you're going to have to treat us all like you don't trust us. Like you're the adult and we're kids holding lit firecrackers."
"I assume that's been frustrating," was Chelsea's carefully worded response. She couldn't try to identify with his feelings. She couldn't. Period. She was a girl his daughter's age. She should be looking to him for answers--and expecting him to accept a reversal of the parent-child roles would only push him away.
"Yeah, you could say that. In the COG we didn't have time to worry about losing our minds. We just worried about tossing 'nades in the next grub hole..."
"I know, and I do trust you," Chelsea interrupted.
Dom paused, reversed, and did a double-take on her declaration. "You do?"
"I must. If I thought you were nuts I doubt I would've left the building with you," she said, shrugging both shoulders. "I'm practicing this witch-doctor brand of science, trying to pin-the-tail-on-the-psycho. Until I figure out what I'm doing, I'm going to have to go on gut instinct most of the time, right?"
Dom blinked his agreement.
"Well, I think you're smart and reasonable. Your priorities seem sound. You present logical chains of thought." Chelsea rattled off half a dozen facts to support her opinion, only stopping when Dom started to laugh.
"What?" she asked.
"Nothing. I was sitting here wondering why you didn't have a man, and now I think I know. Highly educated and too sensible for your age. Lots of guys find that an intimidating quality in a woman."
Seeing her puzzled expression, Dom held up his left hand, wiggling his ring finger. Chelsea glanced down at her own hands. Indeed, there was no ring there. As a rule, for most women 'spoken for' meant 'married' since the war had ended.
"I'll bet your mom or dad was an officer--not just commissioned, but academy grade."
Chelsea nodded, a little dumbfounded. She'd been right. Those dark eyes of his didn't miss much. She just hadn't expected them to see through her. "My mom was a COG engineer," she said, rediscovering her voice. "Dad was a Major--infantry."
"Pretty interesting duality you've got going there: all posh and proper one minute and cursing like a grunt the next. Fooled me for a while, because the posh and proper far outweighs the grunt."
That's because her dad died when she was a little girl, and her brothers followed after him one at a time over the next ten years. Mom was the only one left, and she'd grown old long before her time. When the Alzheimer's got bad enough, Chelsea was forced to turn her over to Veteran Assisted Living. Much of the time it was all she could do to pay the required portion of her mother's health care and keep her own tiny one-room living space.
Sera was a hard place for a girl to make it on her own. Especially with the breeding laws in place.
Chapter 3: Hate Thy Landlord, Love Thy Mechanic Edit
After four more frustrating sessions in the afternoon, Chelsea made her way home that evening with a light step. She'd had an actual productive conversation that day and she relished the rare triumph. From here on out, she could just talk to Dom Santiago like a co-worker, instead of trying to pry open his head with a jackhammer. She had a feeling if she wasn't careful he'd take her under his wing. Chelsea didn't tell him about her father's death, but he'd probably guessed as much.
Dom was a loyal guy. She knew that just from reading his service record. Once he decided someone was all right, he felt responsible for that person forever after.
Chelsea entered the rickety old four story building where she lived just as darkness began to settle over the city. The building was once a factory that dealt in polymers, with the production floor at ground level and offices above, but after the war a particularly industrious group used plywood to section off rows of squares just big enough for a cot and a secured locker. The rooms were cold, drafty, provided the bare minimum of privacy, and cost an arm and a leg. Chelsea had to share a bathroom with about twenty other people-both men and women-and before she could leave her room every morning, she had to stuff everything not bolted down into the heavy steel locker by her cot. Not even her pillow and blankets were safe from thieves.
Chelsea had a pistol that had belonged to her father. She slept with it holstered at her hip at night.
It had saved her more than once from being brutalized by drunks roaming after the bars closed down.
There used to be a lock on the 'door' of her room, but it had been splintered by the first genius who thought it'd be a good idea to kick her door in. She'd been using a piece of rusted scrap metal to wedge the door shut, but as she approached Chelsea could see a new door been hung while she was at work. There was a note stuck in the crack.
Grabbing the note, she scanned it, the pit of her stomach dropping out.
Blah, blah, tenet complaints about the level of noise after hours, blah, blah, evicted immediately.
Bullshit. She never made any noise. Yeah, she'd dropped a guy who broke into her room, but that was six months ago. She had to sleep through thumping music, babies wailing, and people screaming at each other every single night. Someone died in or around the building at least once every three months. She'd been a model tenet by comparison.
Fuck this! Chelsea hauled off and booted the door in. With a sharp crack it swung open as easy as a whore's legs. Spinning in the locker code, she opened it, only to find her things gone. Everything-pistol, blankets, even her clothes.
"Fuck!" she screamed, punching the side of the metal locker, denting the thin steel
The landlord gave her the same song and dance at his office; a back room in a bar down the street. Chelsea didn't even want to know what kind of business he ran out of that back room. She had a good feeling he'd ousted her because someone had come along willing to pay more rent and hand over a heavy 'deposit' on the room. It was a random event. Nothing personal, just a casual business-like 'screw you the fuck over.'
He wouldn't even give her personal belongings back, claiming he'd given them to a neighbor to give back to her-a neighbor who's name he didn't even remember. Someone who claimed to be a friend of hers.
Not friggin' likely.
Several hours later, Chelsea sat on a park bench, wrapped up tight in her long winter coat. It was dark, she'd long since lost feeling in her fingers, and ironically enough if she'd still had her father's pistol, she probably would've gone back into the landlord's office and blown him the fuck away. It was ironic, because she was supposed to be the sane one. She was supposed to be able to keep her head.
Then again, if she still had the pistol she probably wouldn't be so angry. Losing the last item her father owned hurt the most. It was her security blanket. The very symbol of her freedom and independence. She doubted she'd sleep much without its comforting weight at he side.
What now? the obnoxiously rational part of her brain kept asking. The bank's closed so you can't get a new room until at least tomorrow, and you'll freeze out here.
Where the hell did all the city's homeless go? She saw them panhandling everywhere during the day, but at night they all disappeared.
Maybe there's a shelter.
Or maybe they weren't really homeless.
Eventually Chelsea walked back to Bender Fields, knocking on the locked front door until the night guard came out and opened it.
"Can I help you, ma'am?" he asked, looking her over.
Chelsea related her circumstances to him in a defeated monotone.
With a pained look on his face, the guard listened. "Ma'am, I'd love to help you, but they made it pretty clear. If I let anyone in here at night, they'll fire me. I got a wife and kids. I can't lose my job."
"But I work here. I'll just stay in my office, just one night. No one will ever know!" she pleaded.
The guard huffed a sigh. "Tha's what they're afraid of. First they'll get one employee living here, and soon everyone will think they should be able to. This housing game ain't pretty, I know."
A loud, insistent voice came from inside. "Where the hell are ya, Fred? I've only got two fucking hands! I need to test the hydraulics on this drill and I can't do it by myself, no matter what these idiots think..." A blond man with oil-splattered goggles pushed up on his forehead appeared next to the security guard. "Who's this?" he asked, all business.
The guard sighed, his eyes rolling upward. This blond man seemed to actually try his patience more than she did. "She works here, Baird. She lost her place after work."
"Doesn't seem like that's our problem," Baird said. "This drill working by morning, that is a problem. Lady, I'm not going to lie to you. Fred here is a terrible assistant. It's always 'But, Baird, I have to patrol the building!' and 'But, Baird, I should really be watching the security cameras!' He's a whiner and he's got no machine intuition. You got any experience with machines?"
Chelsea shrugged. "My mom was a COG engineer," she said. "We kept a vehicle running during most of the war."
"Well, why didn't you say so?" Baird said, grabbing her arm and pulling her inside. "Come on, sweetheart, we got work to do."