"Why the fuck didn't she come to us with this!?" My temper rises as I pace back and forth in front of West's desk..
Meanwhile he flicks through the creepy surveillance photos on my phone, the ones that Ellerie had tried to hide from me last night..
I heard her shuffling around in the kitchen after I arrived at her apartment.. After she has acted so strangely answering the dooor armed the way shd had, my suspicions got the best of me..
I'm not proud of myself, but I'm getting to the point of desperation when it comes to knowing her secrets..
And I'm not even entirely sure why..
West and O'connor share a look with each other.. West shaking his head with his brow furrowed, while O'connor snorts with laughter.. "Heh, Us.. You mean, you?"
I scowl at him, now is not the time for his juvenile jokes.. Yeah, I care about Ellerie, but it's more than that.. We are supposed to be her team mates..
And she didn't feel like she could trust us.. Any of us..
I'm well aware of the ways I have fucked up..
Believe me, I'd be the first to admit the reel of my mistakes is long when it comes to that woman..
But this is beyond just me..
This is Alpha's screw up..
"Not just me, O'connor.. She didn't come to any of us.. She doesn't trust any of us.. I'm pretty sure she went to Paxton.."
Patrick let's out a low whistle and a chortles a taunt.. My jaw twitches with irritation.. "Ah, you mean Mr-Steal-Your-Girl?.. Yeh man, you should definitely be worried.."
I glare at him, stony eyed.. He holds up his hands in mock surrender.. "You're missing the point, dumbass.. She's gunna chose Delta.."
West drops my phone with the creepy snapshots of Ellerie on the desk with a growl.. "God damn it.. We need her. I fucking warned you Ford.."
I've had enough of that shit before he even gets going.. No way am I going to let them pin this whole thing on me.. If Ellerie decides to transfer to Delta Force, it won't just be because of me, and these two fools need to see that.. "Are you fucking kidding me, West?"
He gives me a warning look, but I ignore it..
They both need to own their actions.. I may have overstepped in my concern for Ellerie's safety, but these two have little but the pitiful excuse of letting their prejudice against outsiders and the FBI cloud their judgment of her..
Far more than I ever did..
They treated her as though she was untrustworthy.. Something that would have hit hard for her, given the effort she put in.. Of all the mistakes I've made, not trusting her was never one.. "She's not an idiot, you think she didn't notice the way you guys excluded her?.. I'll admit I fucked up, I got overinvested.. But you guys.. You didn't invest in her at all.. Why would ahe stay?"
Patrick's face is set to stunned and I'm not sure whether it's from my calling them out, or by my admission..
Calling my feelings for Ellerie and 'over-investment' is about as close as I've gotten to admitting out loud that those feelings actually exist..
I have no idea how its going to sit with the bossman, given the last woman I 'overinvested' in was his only sister.. My love for Dahlia is what got her killed, something I'll never forgive myself for and I doubt West will either..
I definitely haven't been even close to experiencing a love like that again.. I won't allow it... I can't survive losing it a second time..
O'connor rubs the back of his neck guiltily and grumbles under his breath.. "Well, shit.. Maybe.."
West rises from his seat behind the desk, running a hand back through his hair with a sigh.. "Alright, alright.. O'connor, give us a minute.."
Patrick nods and strides past me to the door, placing a hand on my shoulder along with a brief nod as he bushes by..
His way of silently apologising..
I'll take it.
The door clicks shut and West motions to the seat opposite his.. It feels like a trap, but there's not a whole lot I can do about it now.. I sink into the chair and watch as he slowly lowers himself into his.. "I'm going to say something and you're going to listen.. You're not going to argue and then you are going to leave my office.. I don't want to have this conversation again.."
I nod and brace myself, I have no idea what kind of shit is headed my way, but West is not a guy I want to be on the bad side of..
He speaks low, keeping his gaze fixed on mine.. "When Dahlia died, I never blamed you.. Only myself.. If it weren't for me, she would never have enlisted, let alone been in that hell hole in the first place.."
I don't want to hear this.. I don't want to hear how it's not my fault because it is.. I think back to that night..
It was my second tour overseas, and it was Dahlia's first.. Our tight-knit unit was made up of the four of us, me, O'connor and Dahlia with West leading us in command.. Stationed on the Eastern banks of the Eupharties, it was supposed to be a straightforward extraction.. We go in, take out the hostiles, secure the assets and get out.. But the whole op went sideways when insurgents swarmed..
Mortars and gunfire rang out, explosions shaking the earth beneath my boots as West sent out the call to fall back..
Smoke and haze clouded the dark night sky, and the strobing flashes of bullets and bombs burst through the blackness..
Next thing I knew.. I was down..
Two high calibre rounds, one in my shoulder, the other in my chest..
I can still feel the molten lead burning a hole straight through me every time I think about it..
West's voice pulls me from my thoughts.. "Dahlia, she tried to go back for you.. And I stopped her..thought I was making the right call, sending them ahead to the rally point.." He closes his eyes and huffs out a short breath, his expression pained as if he too is remembering that night..
"You should've left me there.." I tell him..
He sighs.. "It wouldn't have mattered.. Because she didn't listen to me anyway.. She never did when it came to you, Jackson.. But if I hadn't have wasted time arguing with her, then--" He shakes his head..
But there it is, that's exactly why I blame myself.. The burning ache in my scars intensifies.. "I don't see how this is--"
He holds up a hand to stop me..
"My point-- is there are a hundred ways to dissect what happened that night, Ford.. But the truth is.. You, me, O'connor.. We all wear the guilt of her death.. I believe that's the real reason for our.. Less than ideal treatment of Ellerie.."
I nod, willing to concede his point .. "I can agree with that.."
He leans back in his chair, his expression pensive while he nods thoughtfully, pausing as if calculating whether or not to continue... "I thought you might.. This next part however.." I narrow my eyes at him.. "You've been stuck, Ford.. Ever since getting out, you've been torturing yourself with her ghost.."
I shake my head and make a move to stand and end the conversation there.. But he presses on, despite my obvious discomfort.. "You gotta find a way to let her go, brother.. She wouldn't want to haunt you like this, she would want you to live.."
His words hit a little too hard.. I know she would hate to see the shell of a man that I have become.. But I don't know how to 'live' anymore..
There's a darkness inside me that corrodes everything good in my life, tainting my thoughts with doubts.. and it scares the shit out of me..
I don't really know how to respond to his brotherly lecture.. But, I know he's just looking out for me so I opt for a kinder reply.. "Yeah.. I, uh, appreciate you saying so, West.."
He coughs and gazes out the window, and I take a little pleasure in knowing he is as uncomfortable having this conversation as I am.. And I hesitate, unsure if there's more..
"Dismissed.." He grunts and I nod, turning and heading for the door, just as my hand grips the doorknob he throws out one last comment.. "I know I made a snap judgement about Ellerie.. I will fix it, Ford.. But for what it's worth, I do value her.. And, Dahlia would've liked her, too."