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Highlander Holiday ShortCuts
Fortitudine, for mackiedockie 
21st-Dec-2011 10:35 am
HL/Seekret SantARRRRRGH
Title: Fortitudine
Author: Seeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeekrit aka enviropony
Written for: mackiedockie
Characters/Pairing: Joe, OCs. A dash of Methos. A hint of J/M slash.
Rating: R
Genre: Gen, with a hint of slash.
Warnings: cursing, graphic description of wounds, discussion of physical and mental trauma
Author's Notes: With thanks to the folks at military_beta, who help us civilians not look like total idiots about all things service-related. I'm sure I've still gotten many details wrong, though, and for that I apologize. Fortitudine was the original motto of the US Marine Corps.
Summary: Joe volunteers at the Bethesda Naval Hospital, because history has repeated itself.





Joe does one more count of the till, checks that the sound system is properly connected, and runs a critical eye over the new arrangement of tables in the back corner of the bar.

“Relax, Joe,” his day manager says. “It’ll be fine.”

“Hey,” Joe says with a shrug, “It’s not every day I let a new kid open the place without supervision.”

“She’s hardly new, or a kid,” Bradley points out. “And she’s done this before, as you well know.”

“Not at my bar,” Joe counters. “And when you get to be my age, everyone’s a kid.”

Bradley rolls his eyes a bit. “Take a pill, Skipper,” he says, exasperated. “I’ll be here until eight tonight. It’ll be fine.”

Joe sighs. Yeah, it’ll be fine. Marcie’s a great bartender, an excellent manager, and has a knack for stepping in to diffuse arguments before they get ugly. The truth is, he’s not really worried about Marcie opening the bar tonight.

He’s worried about where he’s going to be while she’s doing it.

“All right, Gilligan,” he says to Bradley. “The island’s all yours until Mary Ann arrives. I’m outta here.”

“Have a ball, Skipper,” Bradley says with a wave, and goes into the back.

Joe collects his keys and heads out the door.

- - -

The hospital’s real name is unwieldy, and has an acronym that Joe, despite his stint in the Marines, has a hard time remembering. Civilians mostly call it Bethesda Naval Hospital, or the Navy Medical Center, even though it’s been a Joint Forces operation since its BRAC-enforced merging with Walter Reed Army Hospital. Joe thinks about taking the Metro, then figures there’s no way he’ll be able to haul his sorry carcass up the stairs at Woodley Park on the way home - the elevator and the escalator are out today - and drives to Bethesda instead.

The guards at the gate let him through with an air of bored disinterest – Contractors, Joe thinks with a mental snort – and he finds an accessible spot that’s actually a reasonable distance from the entrance he’s looking for. As he locks his car, he wishes he’d brought one of his guitars, but this is his first volunteer stint here, and he doesn’t want to overstep himself.

After everything he’s been through in his life, Joe’s a little ashamed that a bunch of beat-up kids are making his heart race worse than the first time he saw a Quickening.

- - -

Washington, DC is not first on Joe’s list of Places to Retire. It isn’t on the list at all, actually. He’s still hoping to make it to that little island in the Mediterranean that Methos has been going on about, lately. Small, warm and full of rich tourists, it sounds like the kind of place a guy could make an easy living. Nothing to do but play music and serve drinks, sit on the beach and forget that there’s anything at all beyond the horizon.

Reality is a bitch, though, so here Joe is, not anywhere as far south as he’d like, but not so far north that his joints put up a constant protest. DC winters can be unpredictable, but he finds enough excuses to make for France come January, so he's managing.

He’s not really retired, either; not anymore. Another city, another bar as a front for Watcher operations. Joe’s the regional fallback guy now, not in the thick of daily operations, but tasked with emergency support duties: hiding and relocating Watchers who get noticed by their assignments, mostly. There are way more of them than there used to be. Modern technology has once again outpaced the Watchers’ centuries-old methods. If Joe had thought that the creation of the first computerized database had precipitated a mess, it has absolutely nothing on the minefield that is internet tracking, social media and GPS locators. "Fuck you very much, Apple," Bradley had said once, and Joe can’t agree more.

The Watchers hadn’t pulled Joe back in for his knowledge of modern technology, though. That horse had run him down about the same it blew by the rest of the organization; now they hire kids like Bradley and Marcie to try and rope it back in. What Joe is good at are the practical, common sense details of changing identities - don't use your phone, don't use your credit card, wear gloves so you don't leave fingerprints, and a thousand other basic things that the Watcher Academy can't seem to get through the heads of its newest recruits. The last few years' worth of new Watchers are so married to technology and instant results that most of them literally don't know how to function otherwise. It is Joe's job to catch them when they fall, and to hold their hands while they find their footing again.

Joe hadn't been happily retired, but some days he wonders if maybe it would have been better to stay oblivious to the mess the Watchers are making of themselves. (But maybe it isn't a mess at all. Maybe these are just growing pains, and Joe, traditionalist that he has become, can't stand what the Watchers are growing into. He thinks this must be what it is to actually get old. He wonders, as he always has, how Immortals learn to let go of such thoughts, to roll with the centuries the way they do. He knows that the ones who feel old are the ones who usually don't make it.)

He heads to the main lobby, wincing a little at the impersonal, institutional look of the place. It's a hell of a lot more modern than he expected, but there's an air to it that has memories of his own recovery rising up anyway. The volunteer orientation had been in a different building, and they hadn't had time for a tour. It's the first time Joe's been exposed to this particular atmosphere in decades, and he' shocked to find that his hands are actually shaking. He never feels like this going into a civilian hospital.

He must look a little lost, or a little pathetic, he thinks, because the volunteer at the front desk asks, "Sir, can I help you?" in an entirely too-kindly voice.

"Uh, yeah," he says, pasting on a self-deprecating smile, "I'm supposed to be volunteering in Rec Room E today, but I have no idea where to go."

"Rec Room E?" the woman echoes, and shuffles some papers. "Mr. Dawson?" she asks after glancing at a bright yellow sheet.

"That's me," Joe says with a grin, and wills his hands to stop shaking right the hell now.

"Outstanding!" she chirps happily. "I'm Margaret. So nice to see new faces here. Okay, take the elevator up to the fifth floor, and ask for Peggy at the nurses' station. She's the volunteer coordinator up there."

"Thank you, Margaret," Joe says, hoping he sounds as charming as he thinks. Margaret smiles broadly, but he suspects she's like that all the time, so he doesn't count it for much.

He shares the elevator with a blonde Air Force colonel in dress blues, and has to resist the urge to stand at attention. The woman gets off at the ICU floor, and Joe hopes that whoever she's going to visit is going to pull through, because she looks as wrecked as her rank and uniform allow. He gets a glimpse of a pair of SFs springing to attention as the doors close, and wonders what sort of big-wig warrants their presence.

The fifth floor is a moderately organized jumble of wheelchairs, walkers and crutches. Joe sees maybe two guys moving without assistance while he's waiting for Peggy to make an appearance. His hands are shaking again, but he's been here, he's done this, he's seen worse - done worse, damn it - and he will not let this get to him. He focuses on why he's really here, but that only makes his pulse pound in his ears, so he pulls out his cell phone and, with stiff, trembling fingers, sends Methos a text message. It takes him twice as long as usual to tap out the words Need a distraction, but the reply is almost instantaneous. Methos knows where Joe is today, and he'll know what to say.

Cubs are losing.

Or not.

I don't care! since when are u a ball fan, anyway? Joe harps on about proper grammar in modern communication almost as much as Methos does, but right now he really can't be bothered.

Since yesterday. I have a bet going with Amy.

That makes Joe grind his teeth. If u get her in trouble again i will kill u

Give me a little credit, Joe.

Because you are a paragon of thoughtfulness Joe shoots back.

The truth is that he's concerned. Methos and Amy have maintained a careful, well-hidden friendship for well over twelve years now, but lately Methos has become a little reckless. He's already gotten her called on the carpet for hacking the Watcher systems from her computer - for the express purpose of leaving mocking notes in his files, no less - and he's being less and less covert in their interactions. It worries Joe, because there are plenty of people who remember what a farce Methos made of the division tasked to find him, and while they may not want to kill him (right now), neither do they want him anywhere near any of their people. He knows the lengths to which the Watchers will go to protect themselves, and so does Methos. Joe wonders if the Old Man's playing at something again, or if he's finally losing it for real.

You wound me. Methos writes back, but a voice interrupts before Joe can be appropriately scathing in return.

Later he sends, and puts the phone away with an apologetic grin. "Sorry, had to talk someone out of doing something stupid. You must be Peggy." He puts a hand out - steady as a rock - and the woman takes it, then giggles in surprise as he lifts it for a gentlemanly kiss.

"Did it work?" she asks, the tinge of a blush rising in her cheeks.

"Never does," he says with a shrug and a wink.

Peggy shakes her head in mock exasperation. "I see you're a charmer, Mr. Dawson," she says. "Always good for morale, that."

"I aim to please," he replies. "Please, call me Joe."

"Gladly," Peggy agrees, "but I hope you're ready for a whole lot of 'Mr. Dawson,' because most of these guys are still in, and none of them are going to let go of the formalities right off the bat. It helps keep them grounded." She leads him down the hall toward a door with children's drawings plastered all over it.

"Yeah, took me a while to get rid of the 'Yes, sir's' in my vocabulary, too," Joe says. "Made a great impression with my new employer, though." Formalities ground soldiers and Marines, but the thing that's steadied Joe for years has been Methos. The simple, incredible fact of his existence - five thousand years of walking, talking history willingly drawn to Joe's word, to his touch - is like a light switch. He's good now. He can be here; he can talk about it. He figures if he has a meltdown, it'll be later. Right this minute, he's solid.

"That's right, you're a combat veteran, too." Peggy opens the door and ushers Joe inside. "Some of them will want to talk to you about that. If you'd rather not, just tell them. They'll understand."

"Nah, it's fine," Joe says. "I gotta be good for something, right?"

"I'm sure you're good for plenty, Joe," Peggy answers solicitously, and Joe figures she must be a counselor , not just a volunteer.

There are about fifteen guys in the room, and two women camped out at a corner table like it belongs to them. A few glance up in interest, but most are busy watching baseball on the big-screen tv, or playing some sort of video game. A couple are making a valiant stab at reading, despite the noise.

Joe heads over to the tv. "Cubs still losing?" he asks when he recognizes the team colors.

"Yes, sir," one of the guys answers, a boy who can't be older than twenty. He's got one arm in a cast, and the other isn't there. "Hope nobody bet on this one, because it's not a game, it's a slaughter."

"I've got a buddy who's going to be out some cash, then," Joe says.

A couple more of the kids - because really, there's not a one over twenty-five, here - look over at him.

"Okay, folks," Peggy says. "This is Joe Dawson. He's a new volunteer. He'll be covering this afternoon. Go easy, okay guys?" There's a flurry of nods and 'Yes, ma'am's,' and a few curious pairs of eyes follow Joe as he and Peggy head over to a desk stacked with books.

"They're not really that bad, are they?" Joe asks, although he thinks he knows the answer. They're probably just as bad as they need to be to protect themselves.

"Don't worry, they'll love you," Peggy assures him. "We try to screen our volunteers pretty thoroughly, but sometimes we get people who just aren't a good match for a place like this, and this group in particular likes to sort them out in a hurry. Okay, so here's the deal…" She shows Joe how to work the lending library system, and where all the books and DVDs go. There's a sign-up list for the computers scattered around the room, but she says half the kids have laptops now, so it's almost never used. "Mostly you just have to keep track of the media, and call for a nurse if someone falls or has a flashback or something." She smiles at Joe's sympathetic wince. "It doesn't happen too often, thank goodness. The therapy programs here are excellent. Now, there's a guitar over here that someone donated, and a keyboard, but don't let them get too rowdy. There are patients trying to sleep down the hall."

"Yes, ma'am," Joe says, grinning. "We'll keep it nice and low."

Peggy blinks. "Oh, don't tell me. You play guitar?"

"Oh, yeah. I run a blues bar in Georgetown."

"Well, at least you'll keep them entertained," she says with a laugh. "Okay, all set?"

"As I'll be," Joe says. "Go on. I'm pretty sure I can hold the fort, here."

"I think you can."

Peggy leaves with a wave, and Joe spends about ten minutes re-shelving the books strewn across the desk and thinking wistful thoughts about his old store before someone draws his attention.

It's one of the kids from in front of the tv. He's got a book in each hand, and a defiant glare on his face. "So, I borrowed this one, Mr. Dawson, but I'm not done." He gestures with one of the books, then with the other. "Can I borrow this one, anyway?"

Joe guesses this is the first test. The kid is very young, and his head is covered in skin-grafts and half-healed wounds. He looks like maybe he got shot in the face. He's clearly trying to make Joe flinch.

He's not going to have much luck. "Well, let's see what we've got." Joe puts a hand out for the first book, and the kid gives it over. "What's your name?"

"Private First Class Sean Michaels," the kid says. "USMC. They've got us listed by service in there."

Joe nods, and scans the book. "Okay, Marine, you can keep this one. Doesn't look like anybody's asked for it." He gestures for the other one, and smiles, pleasantly surprised, when he sees the title. "Herodotus, huh? Man, it's been a while since I read this. You taking a class, or just reading it for fun?"

PFC Michaels eyes him warily, and says, "My sister says I'll like it. Looks boring, but I'll try anything once."

"If you can stick out the genealogy bits," Joe tells him, "there's some great stuff in there. Skip ahead if you want; there's not a plot to lose." Joe's a stickler for reading a book straight through the first time, but that's not everybody's gig, and he can see that this kid might get fed up before he gets to the good parts.

"You a history teacher, sir?"

"God, kid, don't call me 'sir,'" Joe moans. "I got out as a lance corporal."

This perks Michaels right up. "You were in? When?"

"Nam, buddy. It's where I got these." Joe snags his cane and taps it against his prosthetics. Might as well open that door now. Let them know he's willing to talk, if they want to.

"Seriously?" Michaels straightens out of his defensive slouch. "Man. What branch?"

Joe grins. "Semper fi, Private."

Michaels squints at Joe for a moment, seems to decide that he's not bullshitting, and says. "Rock on. Nice to meet you, Mr. Dawson." He turns to the room at large, and says, "He's cool, y'all."

"Call me Joe, Michaels." Joe says as every eye falls on him. "All of you, call me Joe, all right?"

"Yes, sir," echoes around the room.

"And don't call me 'sir!'"

- - -

It's about an hour from the end of Joe's shift before the reason he's here is led through the door. The new arrival shuffles forward tentatively, leaning on the arm of a nurse. He's looking at the ground, hunched in on himself like he's waiting to get hit. The nurse gives Joe a nod, then deposits her charge in a patch of sunlight by the far window. "I'll be back in an hour, okay Terrance?" she tells him.

Terrance shrugs. The nurse pats his shoulder and comes over to Joe, getting scattered waves from some of the other guys still in the room.

"You must be Mr. Dawson," she says in greeting. "I'm Wendy."

"Nice to meet you, Wendy," Joe replies. "And please, call me Joe."

"As you like, Joe," she agrees, then points to the window. "That's Terrance. He likes to watch the sunset, and he can't see it from his room, so we bring him here. He rarely does anything else; he might pick up a book or a magazine now and then, but mostly he just sits there. Page me if there's a problem, okay?" And she's off before Joe can say a word. He shakes his head ruefully, and turns to contemplate Terrance.

Wilson, Terrance D. Lance Corporal, United States Marine Corps. Born in Illinois. No college degree. Caught the edge of an IED blast, lost part of his left arm.

Saw his platoon leader die in the same blast. Saw him rise again.

The similarities to his own past, when Joe first read the file, had made him shiver.

The main difference between them was that nobody had been able to get a Watcher near the kid until now. The consequence was that the doctors were quite convinced that Terrance had lost his mind.

The advances made in the treatment of trauma-induced mental health issues had worked against the Watchers. Instead of being told to calm down, and being left more or less alone, as most men had been in Joe's time, Terrance had been observed almost non-stop since his evacuation from the field. The platoon leader's Watcher had died in the explosion, so there had been nobody around to reassure the kid that he wasn't seeing things. The Watchers hadn't even heard about him until two weeks after he was stateside again, and then only by chance. Some bright soul had done a bit of research and realized that Terrance had been in the same platoon as their lost agent and his Immortal.

The bitch of it is that because a sandstorm had prevented an immediate evac, the Immortal, James Devine, had had time to wake up, perform first aid on the survivors - Terrance had been the only one awake to see him do so - and clean himself up enough to pretend that he'd only been knocked around a bit. He's still in Afghanistan, plus a commendation, and Terrance is here, not really crazy yet, but on the road to it.

Joe knows that Devine was just trying to protect his secret, but would it have killed him to reassure the kid somehow? Now it's Joe's job to convince the Terrance that what he'd seen hadn't been a shock-induced hallucination.

Joe waits for the rec room to mostly clear out - it's dinnertime - before he casually makes his way over to Terrance. Only two guys are left, headphones plugged into one of the video game tv sets as they slug away at each other in some kind of fantasy scenario.

There's an empty seat by the window next to Terrance, but Joe doesn't take it. He stands a little to the side, as if admiring the view, and says, "Looks like it's going to be a nice night."

Terrance flinches, then glances up for a moment. He leans further into the side of his chair, as if to get away from Joe. "If you're going to talk about the weather, gramps, then fuck off."

"Ouch," Joe says. "I think that's the first time I've been called 'gramps.'" It isn't. Not by a long shot.

Terrance doesn't answer.

"Mind if I sit?" Joe asks, indicating the empty chair with his cane. "My back's been killing me lately. I think it's time to go see the doc, again."

"Whatever," Terrance mutters.

Joe thumps inelegantly into the chair. His back really has been bothering him, even when he's sitting, and he wonders if it's these new prosthetics messing up his spine. They're balanced differently than his old set, and while they make walking easier on his old bones, he seems to be paying for it in other ways.

Can't win for losing.

They sit quietly for a while, but Joe knows he doesn't have much time to make his case. Wendy will be back soon.

"So, what are you in for?" he asks lightly.

Terrance shoots him and incredulous gaze. "Are you kidding?" he rasps, waving the bandaged stump of his arm.

"Ain't it a bitch?" Joe says. "One minute you're golden, the next minute you're flying through the air, and when you hit the ground, you know something ain't right."

"What the fuck do you know?" Terrance snarls, shifting further away, so that his chair scrapes a bit against the carpet.

Joe lifts both his pant legs in answer. "I don't even remember what my original feet looked like," he says with a little shrug.

Terrance frowns, but it's not hostile. "What, you was in Vietnam or somethin'?"

"Bingo," Joe says. "It's almost a cliché, you know?"

The kid is silent for a moment, before saying, "I don't remember hitting the ground." He pauses. "I don't remember gettin' blown up, either. I remember the sergeant cursing, and then it all goes black."

He doesn't go on, and Joe wishes he had the strength to say, 'I'll never forget the moment I felt the mine under my foot. I'll never forget feeling it go off,' but he doesn't. He won't, ever. To this day, it makes his guts curdle, that feeling of knowing what was about to happen and not being able to do anything about it. He's never experienced such profound fear in his life, not when he was facing the firing squad, not when Ahriman stood before him, not ever, not once in all the years he's lived since then.

It still makes his vision black out, if he thinks about it too long.

"I hallucinated a bit, after," Terrance says, very quietly. "That's what they tell me. I woke up, and there was bodies all over the place, like dolls my cousin threw away, you know? The sergeant was lyin' almost on top of me, and when I tried to move him, there was…" he stops, and doesn't go on.

Joe's read the file, though. He knows what Terrance has told his therapists. Devine had sustained a blast wound to his back that went straight through his armor. Terrance had put his hand right into that mess and felt shards of the man's spine between his fingers.

Terrance was a good Marine, though, so after he'd vomited, he'd heaved with what was left of his strength and shoved the body away, tied off his arm with a tourniquet like he'd been taught, tried and failed to reach one of the other survivors. He'd lain there, watching a sandstorm raging in the distance, and waited.

An hour later, the body he'd moved sat up, and that, finally, was when Terrance had started to panic.

The kid's silent, and Joe wonders what to say. "There was a hole in his back, wasn't there?" he asks gently, at last.

Terrance flinches. "Who the fuck are you?" he demands, looking betrayed. "You another shrink? I had enough of that shit."

"I'm not a shrink, kid," Joe says, "but I've seen some of the same things you have."

"I'm not talking to you," Terrance says bluntly, and turns away.

Joe sighs. There's really no way to convince the kid he's telling the truth, he realizes. No matter what he says, Terrance will just think it's some psychologist's trick. He sits there at a loss while the world outside falls into blue twilight. Finally, on a whim, he pulls up his left sleeve, and puts his wrist out in front of Terrance. "Hey, kid, you ever seen a tattoo like this before?" he asks.

Terrance growls. "Stop calling me 'kid,' gramps!" But he glances over, and the faded ink on Joe's pale skin catches his eye. "Yeah," he says after a minute. "Yeah. Our translator had one. Just like that, in the same place." He looks up at Joe. "What the fuck?"

"It had been strange, even in a dream, to have seen those dead men rise," Joe quotes, and watches Terrance startle. "You weren't hallucinating, Terrance."

Before he can say more, the door opens behind them, and Wendy walks in. She looks surprised to see Joe sitting with her charge, but says only, "Ready to go, Terrance?"

Terrance looks between her and Joe. "I want to stay longer," he says.

"Mr. Dawson's shift is up, Terrance," Wendy says. "It's time to close up the rec room for the night." She looks pointedly at the two guys in front of the game console. They're still playing, but one of them looks like he's flagging, slouched far too low in his wheelchair. "I'll take Privates Bentz and Dobbin to their room, then I'll come back for you." She doesn't wait for agreement, just heads over and jostles the kids out of their shared stupor.

When she's gone, the privates in tow, Terrance says, "She never calls me by my rank. She thinks I'm too gone to notice. Guess it doesn't matter, anyway. They're discharging me."

Joe grimaces in sympathy. "You were hoping to stay on?"

"I know two guys with missing limbs who are posted to FOBs," Terrance tells him. "But I'm too 'mentally unstable' to keep around." He sounds very bitter.

"You're not crazy," Joe says. "You weren't hallucinating."

That draws the kid's attention back to Joe's wrist. "What's that thing mean?"

"It means that I'm part of an organization that knows about people like Sergeant Devine," Joe says quietly, intently. "It means I believe you, because I've seen it happen, too. Your translator was one of us. He was keeping an eye on Devin, recording his life so that one day, if people find out about guys like him, we'll have a record of all the things they did. All the people they helped." All the people they killed, too, but he doesn't say that. Not yet.

"So what," Terrance asks, sounding hopeful despite himself. "You want me to join you, or something?"

"Yeah, Corporal," Joe says, laying a hand on Terrance's shoulder. "We want you to join us."

Terrance stares at him hard, then blinks and looks away. "You're screwing with me."

"I'm really not," Joe says. "I know it's hard to believe, but I need you to take a chance, here."

"Why?" the kid demands. "Why the fuck do you care? What you need a guy like me for?"

"That's what I asked the man who recruited me," Joe says, gesturing at his prosthetics. "No legs, no education, no money, nothing. Just a guy who liked history and the blues."

"I hate history," Terrance grumbles.

"You interested in combat tactics?" Joe asks. "Swords? Martial arts?"

Terrance shrugs. "Like ninja stuff? No. I like cars, man. And taking pictures of people. I love taking pictures."

Joe grins. "Son, have I got a job for you."

Terrance eyes him warily, and Joe pulls out his wallet. "Here, this is my card. It's got my cell phone number on it. Call me anytime, okay? When you're feeling stronger, I'll bring you by the bar, and you can meet the other kids. Marcie's a car nut, too."

"You call everybody 'kid?'" Terrance asks, taking the card and looking it over. "You own a bar, gramps? That's pretty cool."

"You're going to keep calling me that, aren't you?" Joe asks with false resignation.

"Long as you keep calling me kid," Terrance agrees.

"Guess I fell into that one, huh?"

"Uh, yeah?" Terrance rolls his eyes, and slips the card into the pocket of his robe as Wendy comes back in.

"Ready to go, Terrance?" she asks, but doesn't wait for an answer before coming over and reaching for him. Terrance allows himself to be levered up with another eye roll.

"'m ready, Wendy," he says.

"That's Nurse Parker to you," she reprimands, as if he were a child.

"That's Lance Corporal Wilson to you, then," Terrance shoots back.

She raises an eyebrow. "Yes, yes it is." There's something of a pleased air about her as she leads Terrance away. She turns to Joe just before they walk out the door, and mouths, 'Nice work!'

Joe huffs incredulously. Well, she's something else.

He pushes himself out of the chair, turns off the game console and all the tv sets, and shuts down all the computers. As he's straightening up magazines, he stops and takes a look around. So, he made it. No freaking out, no screaming for the hills, no blackouts. The memories are there, close, but not fresh. He's not drowning in them. He's got something to offer here. He's got something to gain, too.

He was planning to sign on for as many shifts as it took to convince Terrance to join the Watchers, but Joe knows now that even when the kid's safely ensconced at the Academy in France, he will be coming back here. He's got stories to tell, if these guys want to hear them. He wants to hear their stories, too.

Maybe it's forty years late, but he thinks he's due for some group therapy.

-end-
Comments 
21st-Dec-2011 05:57 pm (UTC)
Oh, it's here! And when I shake the box and read the label, I realize it is Just What I Wanted! And damn, I have to go to work, so I will marinate all day in the spices of Deferred Gratification, all the better to enjoy this story. (Okay, I did peek under the wrapping and read the first few paragraphs, so I KNOW it's going to be good...)

Thank you, ever so much, Sekrit Santa!!! I'm very happy to share this tale with everyone on the eve of the sun's return. Not to mention Duncan's Birthday! And a Happy Solstice Night to all!
21st-Dec-2011 06:02 pm (UTC)
Fantastic story, Thanks so much!
21st-Dec-2011 06:21 pm (UTC)
What a wonderful tale! I can hear every word coming out of Joe's mouth. Love the text banter with the Old guy!
21st-Dec-2011 07:18 pm (UTC)
I love this story! It's so perfect that Joe has found another soldier like himself and now he can return what Ian did for him. Loved the texts between him and Methos too.
21st-Dec-2011 11:00 pm (UTC)
This is a lovely thing. It doesn't pull the punches, showing enough of that bitter reality to make the reader feel it, even if not quite as viscerally as Joe does. And there is hope and strength and courage all the way through.

And the text messages are wonderful.

Really impressive & well done.
22nd-Dec-2011 01:18 am (UTC)
Very, very touching and wrenching and fabulously done. I wasn't at all sure where this was going at first, but as I realized some poor trooper had seen an Immortal die and revive right in front of him, I was totally pulled into the story. Joe did a fabulous job with the guy,and you did a wonderful job writing Joe.

The text messages are a really nice touch.

Well done.
22nd-Dec-2011 02:34 am (UTC)
This is wonderful. I love seeing this side of the Watchers, where part of their purpose is reassuring the poor witnesses that they aren't crazy.
(Deleted comment)
29th-Dec-2011 06:52 am (UTC)
Definitely. There are so many issues inherent to maintaining a long term secret society that there should definitely be more stories that fill in how the Watcher's manage to do what they do.
22nd-Dec-2011 05:22 am (UTC)
Nice one! You caught the visceral reaction that happens reentering a traumatic situation and gave us a real Joe.
22nd-Dec-2011 06:29 am (UTC)
Tried to comment yesterday and it didn't work, but the old comment style is back for me today so...
This was great, and Joe of course with his practical no nonsense style is just the person you want telling you the person you saw rising from the dead wasn't a hallucination.
22nd-Dec-2011 09:45 am (UTC)
Now, yeah? That's Joe. That's his voice, that's his attitude, that's his doubts and inner demons that still rise up and chew at the fabric of his being. And that's Joe again, fighting them off for one more day, and putting up a rear-guard action for his fellow travelers.

I love every line of this fic to pieces. I love the youngsters in Joe's Bar loving him well enough to tease him and look after him while he looks after them. I love Joe using Methos as a lodestone to steady his course. And I love how this fic shines at showing how intently Joe not just watches, but hears and empathizes with other people when they tell him true tales. Even the parts that don't make it into words.

Thank you. This is wonderful.

22nd-Dec-2011 03:24 pm (UTC)
Oh, and I saw that Air Force colonel on the elevator. There is a whole sparkling pocket universe of stories in that little chance encounter that are now playing happily in my head. So Bonus!
25th-Dec-2011 11:37 pm (UTC)
Every time I reread this story I see new layers and make new connections. The excellent background research underlying the prose lends Joe's reactions on entering the hospital a painful authenticity. I can feel the sounds and smells and military trappings inadvertently triggering some of his most deeply buried memories, griefs, fears.

And still, he goes on.
22nd-Dec-2011 02:42 pm (UTC)
Wonderful story. I was just reading about Joe's backstory, so I really enjoyed reading about Joe carrying the tradition forward. The characters were all so well written, too - I got quite lost in the story and didn't want it to end.

(And do I get a hint of SG-1 with the worried blonde colonel? Hmmm? Must be Jack in ICU, or is Daniel dying/dead again?)
22nd-Dec-2011 05:01 pm (UTC)
Nice.

(And bonus points for the Methos-and-Joe interaction. Methos is 5000 years of clever, but Joe is wise.)
23rd-Dec-2011 05:10 pm (UTC)
This is one of those stories that you don't realize you were missing in your life until you read it. What a terrific idea, and so well done. I feel as though I've read a missing piece of Highlander canon.
23rd-Dec-2011 07:56 pm (UTC) - "and thinking wistful thoughts about his old store"
This is good stuff. I enjoy and respect how you used the repetition of Joe's war experience, changed for today's technology, medicine and expectations. Out here in reality, we hear every day how that same mortal trauma is visited on generation after generation, so in there in the fantasy world, of course the additional trauma of witnessing an immortal resurrection (or quickening, or goodness knows what all strangeness) is as likely to be inflicted atop all that, too.

This story is complete as it is, and I don't mean to suggest it's not, but... I could happily hang around for future stories about Joe's work as a volunteer here, and getting Lance Corporal Wilson on his way.

(The canon resonance of the tiny reference to Juniper Books was my favorite tidbit.)

Thank you for sharing.
(Deleted comment)
31st-Dec-2011 09:06 pm (UTC) - Re: "and thinking wistful thoughts about his old store"
>"He seemed as at home there as at any of his bars."

Please forgive me the nostalgia trip if you already know this! :-) The Joe character was originally conceived to be more like the Ian character (Joe's mentor) turned out to be (Joe was even named Ian in the first draft of "The Watchers"), which is why Joe, when we meet him, runs Juniper Books and wears tweed blazers. Over time, they began writing more of Jim Byrnes into Joe Dawson, thus layering the "bookstore and bar" approaches to Joe's life, so to speak...

On reflection, I realized that your "Fortitudine" is one of my three favorite pieces in this ficathon, and, in my opinion, one of the two best. Really excellent work! Thank you again for sharing.
24th-Dec-2011 08:37 pm (UTC)
That was real. That happened, right?
- perfect portrayal of Joe, such a quietly intelligent story. Bravo.
25th-Dec-2011 10:34 pm (UTC)
That is AWESOME!!!!

I loved Joe getting the shakes just walking into that VA hospital, and texting Methos to ground himself. (And that AF colonel in the elevator!) And so skillfully written that, until Terence walked in the door, we had no idea that Joe was volunteering for any reason beyond just wanting to give something back.
26th-Dec-2011 02:40 am (UTC)
Lovely story. Joe's voice felt pitch perfect to me. Loved the idea of him paying it forward to the next generation.
28th-Dec-2011 10:00 am (UTC)
Loved this. Joe's voice is spot on and good to see him with the next generation of Watchers. And Methos being Methos.
30th-Dec-2011 01:24 pm (UTC)
Such a wonderful, poignant story!
1st-Jan-2013 06:26 pm (UTC)
Wow, it's been ages since I've read Highlander fic, but what a wonderful return! That is an awesome story - superb Joe and just a hint of Methos (bonus points for the Carter cameo!). Plus, you did damned fine on sprinkling in DC details. This is such a tightly written story and I greatly enjoyed the read!
Thanks for a fantastic, vivid and completely in character story!
3rd-Jan-2013 02:08 am (UTC)
This was amazing! The whole thing felt so alive and real – between Joe’s nervousness, Methos’ distraction texts, and the interaction with all the various characters in the hospital.

I especially loved the little details about bringing the Watchers into the 21st century.
3rd-Jan-2013 05:13 am (UTC)
You were recommended at Crack Van and I'm glad yours was the first story of the month. Good voice for Joe and a very nice story. Thank you for sharing.
3rd-Jan-2013 08:14 pm (UTC)
Loved this. It's been ages since I read any Highlander fic, but this one was a fabulous place to start. Perfectly in character. (Got here from Crack Van)

Edited at 2013-01-03 08:15 pm (UTC)
7th-Jan-2013 09:31 pm (UTC)
This is fantastic. Thank you!
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