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Don't Be Afraid
Jared opened his eyes, meditating had taken sometime, but he was sufficiently calm. He had decided not to hold mana while he was meditating, clearing his mind of everything.

He was in the basement where he had practiced with Jay. He went to the basement every so often to practice using magic. The other Legionnaires had mostly stayed away from it. His purpose here wasn't to use magic, but to relieve his sense of unease. The situation in Sierra Leone was bad and bothered Jared, so he came to the basement to relax and ease his own fears.

Jared was shirtless and the chill of the underground room slid across his skin. No matter - he would be warmed up in moments. Like most students of aikido, he had some knowledge of how to use a blade. He had found a broom in the basement that would work as a makeshift bokken for working through katas. He removed the handle - after all he wasn't here to sweep. It was light for a bokken, but would do for now.

Jared moved through them, slowly at first, focusing on his breathing. The moves were deliberate and graceful - almost like a dance. Although he felt the calm, the fear was still there - fear not only for himself, but for his his brothers-in-arms and the people of Sierra Leone as well. The slow katas were not enough. Jared needed to move.

Jared went to his Wallet and scrolled through the music on it. Music always got him in the mood to exercise. As a gamer, he always found the music of video games inspiring - particulary retro games from the 1990's and early 2000's. He soon found a track the suited his mood - Don't Be Afraid - the battle theme from Final Fantasy VIII.

As the intro began, Jared moved into position and as the energy picked up in the song, Jared began the katas once more. Their pace quickened, the katas still held the grace, but this time it was a deadly grace. Soon, Jared's heartbeat was quickened and his skin became glistened with sweat. Jared became to feel exhilarated and in his excitement, he drew mana into himself and summoned a ball of flame that he sent spinning around his body as he did the katas.

One more, and another, and another, and another. Soon Jared had five orbs of flame orbiting his body and the heat increased the sweating, the exhilaration of the katas and magic driving the fear - both of the situation and of his magic - away as he fought his invisible opponenet. Like the name of the song, Jared knew he didn't have to fear. Under the leadership of Danjou and with men such as Jared and Jay fighting for their cause, the Legion would fight for a better life for the people of Sierra Leone, and they would succeed.

The track ended and with it, Jared's katas. He dismissed the balls of fire and stood still for a moment, breathing and sweating heavily. A bead of sweat hit his eye and stung until Jared blinked it away. And then Jared smiled. It might take awhile, but Sierra Leone would be free from tyranny.

Edited by Jared Vanders, Sep 7 2014, 06:26 PM.
[Image: ekene_zps9a638a42.jpg]


He'd trusted his brother until the hammer had come down, and even then he'd still taken the kitchen knife to school. That was fear, though, fear that still ached dull and insistent beneath the bandages. Natalie said to trust the legionnaires, but Ekene was sceptical. The man who's name sounded like Jack had been kind, and Ekene wanted to be safe, but men could say kind things then do the opposite. They could make promises, then smash your hand to pieces when you were too afraid to do what they asked. Men hated. It's what they did. Things wouldn't change if they didn't. Jack didn't hate. Didn't seem to. But he also talked about things Ekene didn't fully understand.

What Ekene did know is that he missed his family, missed them in a desperate keening way because he knew things wouldn't go back to the way they were. Natalie said the school was safe. She didn't say about his brother, and Ekene didn't ask, but he wished he'd asked about his mother. Probably she didn't know. The Temne had lost. Ekene wasn't hopeful, and if he thought about it for too long tears pricked his eyes and he didn't want to cry where people could see. They would laugh, which would be bad, but worse would be if they asked questions. The legionnaires hated him for hurting the man with the sunglasses. What would they do if they knew he had killed his own best friend?

Jack seemed to want him to be strong, that's what it had sounded like anyway. A man. And men didn't cry. If he was caught, what then? It didn't bear thinking about, and he was afraid of the consequences. Natalie had promised she'd let nothing bad happen to him, but she was still just a woman. So no tears where others could see. That was his first rule, often at the forefront of thought, but it was difficult not to grieve. Difficult not to be scared. It hollowed out his face, sucked the vitality from it. Ekene barely spoke, but he did as he was told. The menial didn't bother him. It was better than letters and book-learning.

They'd given him clean clothes, and he was glad to be free of the blood-stained ones, even if it didn't do much to dull the memories. He fetched, he carried; he helped in every way he was asked, and didn't complain about the pain in his hand even when it really hurt. But he didn't smile. Picked it up quick, though, and for most of the day had been fine. They kept an eye on him, he was aware of that, but they didn't treat him like a criminal.

Only then, for no reason, it hit him all over again. He needed a moment, only one, away from Natalie and the limping legionnaire, away from Jack and that important look, away from all the people who were kind only he wasn't sure if it was real. Things were never going to be the same again, and it was finally finally sinking in, and the tears were welling up in his eyes, which made him all the more afraid of being seen. Fearful of the consequences, and just as worried about stepping out of line, he slipped through a door, down some stairs into a basement.

Ekene scraped his sleeve over his face, and felt a little better for the momentary solitude. Until he realised there was someone else down here, his legs began to buckle and he tried to scramble back up the stairs.
Jared was putting his shirt back on when he heard a scuffling sound coming from the stairs. Someone else was down here and was scared of his presence. Jared placed the broom handle down gently and walked over to towards the stairs, keeping his eyes open. He wasn't worried, but it had sounded like someone had fallen.

His eyes feel upon a young boy and Jared was immediately glad he hadn't put on his gun belt. One of the native refugees. Jared recognized him although he didn't know his name. He had seen him working around embassy the the last couple of days. If what the other Legionnaires had been saying was true, he was responsible for Jay's injury.

Some had been judgmental towards the boy. Jared didn't hold to that idea. No one knew what had been going through the boys mind when he attacked Jay. He understood their frustration; the boy had injured one of their own - and it was a serious injury; however, the boy was likely scared to death and reacted out of a survival instinct. Jared couldn't judge the boy for what he did. In fact, Jared had pity on him.

Police training had taught him how to handle scared children. Jared didn't have much experience with it; he had went through the ranks to SWAT rather quickly with his military experience, but he knew the basics.

"Hi there. It sounded like you fell. Are you ok?"
Jared kept his voice soft and calm, keeping his tone unthreatening.

He moved into a crouch so he didn't tower over the boy. His moments were slow as not to startle him. "My name is Jared, what is yours?"

The name was a sign of trust. Names were important - not just what you were called. It was a part of your identity and a sacred thing. By giving his name, Jared was trying to establish that trust with the boy. Hopefully he could help the boy feel more comfortable around him.

Edited by Jared Vanders, Sep 14 2014, 03:51 PM.
He banged his knee, caught his footing, but was still unbalanced by the fear that he would land on his broken hand. By that time he had been caught. Terror held him still as he looked up a long way at the man who had found him. Vitriol filled the fear up, the need to defend himself in the only way he knew how - to attack before he was chewed up. But no. He was too scared to speak. There was no-one else down here, just him and the legionnaire, in a basement that must have ample dark spaces to hide the body of a boy.

He swallowed dryly as the man crouched low in front of him. He still wanted to cry; his eyes were burning with the pressure until it felt like his whole skull might explode. Which fired up awful images of how Kofi had looked after, and then the guilt reared, remembering how his friend had cried and cried and how hot the blood had been, how easy the flesh tore. Bile burned his throat. He hadn't even told Natalie why he'd done it, though she seemed to know. He wanted to be sorry but he was scared of that too, and maybe he shouldn't think about it at all except he couldn't help it.

His legs wobbled again, and this time his butt fell down hard on the step behind him. Ekene buried his head in his arm, huddled into his knees. He could feel the tears welling hot and insistent despite it all, knew he was going to be in serious trouble, willed desperately to stop his chest heaving tell-tale sobs. If he heard the man's question, he didn't respond. Probably it fell on insular, deaf ears. "Please don't tell Jack. I'm supposed to be a man."
The boy caught his footing and fell backwards, landing seated on the step. The boy drew his knees to his arm and buried his face in his arms. The boy started crying, and Jared's suspicions were confirmed when the boy spoke.

"Please don't tell Jack. I'm supposed to be a man."

It took Jared a couple of seconds to realize that Jack was Jacques; the boy had some trouble pronouncing his name, but it was obvious the boy was scared - scared that he would tell Jacques that he was crying and probably for other reasons too. Anger filled Jared, but he wasn't angry at the boy. He was angry at the situation the boy was in. He should be outside playing games and running - not crying on a basement step.

Jared stepped forward and sat next to the boy, remaining silent for a few seconds, thinking of what to say.

"I won't tell Jacques. No worries, but there is no shame in crying. 'Crying isn't a sign of weakness. It's a sign of having tried too hard to be strong for too long.'"
Jared didn't remember where he had heard the quote, but it seemed to fit. "We're taught that as men, we need to hide our feelings. We can't show that we're sad, worried, or scared. By letting those we're weak, but really, that's a lie."

Jared paused to let what he said sink in. "The problem with keeping them in is that as more emotions come, they build up inside of us, and eventually it needs to be released. Sometimes that comes through tears. Sometimes - through other ways."

Jared was scared to bring up the next part; he didn't want the boy to feel guilty, so he kept his voice soft and non-judgmental. "Sometimes it builds up so much that we make bad choices. We don't understand why we do it - sometimes we feel like its the only choice to make. This is why it's important to find ways to deal with the feelings before they become too strong."

Jared sighed. "It's why I'm down here today. I was scared and upset, so I came down here to exercise. It helps me deal with those feelings. It gives me a positive way to let those feelings out, and you know what...I feel better now."

Jared pulled out a granola bar he had kept in his shirt pocket for after the workout. "That reminds's time for my post workout snack...hmmmm...not sure if I can eat it all. Do you want to share?"

Edited by Jared Vanders, Sep 15 2014, 10:24 AM.
He wasn't sure the man was right, but the words sounded nice anyway, and he listened to them silently while the sobs subsided. By the time he had finished, Ekene's head finally peeped up, eyes swollen. His cheeks were smeared dark with tears, which he scraped away with a rough sleeve. A stifled sniff. "You were?"
What would a man like him have to be scared or worried about? It didn't make sense, but he didn't sound like he was lying.

"Yes please."
His dark eyes lit hopeful in response to the offered snack, still a little wary, but these were the most words he'd spoken to anyone but Natalie since the hospital. His injured hand lay still in his lap, and if he was still hunched over a little he at least seemed a bit more alert. He looked at the legionnaire properly for the first time, thinking about what he'd said. "I did bad things. We left Kofi at the hospital."
His lips snapped shut as soon as he said. He shouldn't have said it, he didn't want to talk about it even if bottling it up was bad. He didn't know how to feel better about that. Didn't know if it was right that he should.

"I'm Ekene. What's your name?"

The boy eventually brought his head up, and Jared knew he was getting somewhere. He was at least listening and had calmed down a bit. The boy wondered if he was scared and Jared nodded at the question.

Jared saw the boy's eyes light up at the offered snack, but the boy continued talking - saying he did bad things and he had left Kofi at the hospital.

Damn...Jared didn't know the fate of Kofi, and didn't know if the boy did either, but the way the boy became suddenly silent led Jared to believe that he did. Another reason the boy was upset - another reason that Jared was angry at the situation.

After the boy introduced himself - Jared definitely knew he was reaching Ekene now - Jared leaned down and gave him a quick side-hug. "I'm Jared. Nice to meet you Ekene. We all do bad things - what's important is to make it right if we can. If we can't then, we have to continue moving. Either way, we learn from it. But I can tell you don't want to talk about that right now, and that's okay. I want you to know though that if you want to, I'll listen and I won't judge."

Jared shifted away a little bit and unwrapped the snack. "It's snack time now anyways. Let's just enjoy our snack for awhile."

Jared broke the bar into two pieces - one about an inch long and the other maybe three inches. He had the smaller piece in his right hand and the larger in his left.

Jared lifted the smaller piece - "This one is for me."
He lifted the other piece. "And this one is for you. They look about even right?"
Jared gave Ekene an encouraging smile. It wasn't about fairness - Jared just wanted to see Ekene smile.
Ekene was stiff under the hug, but he didn't reject it either, and the man shifted away after. He said that bad things were okay if you tried to make them right, but that only opened up a great big void in Ekene's mind. He didn't know for sure that Kofi was dead, but there had been an explosion at the hospital, and so much... he shuddered, retreating his thoughts away from the memories. And he couldn't give the legionnaire his leg back, or turn back time to stop himself doing it. Unhappiness tugged down his lips.

Moving on. How did he do that either? He was in a strange place with strange people, and he longed for normality. And things weren't going to be normal again, were they. Everything had changed, and Ekene was adrift in it. Tears burned the back of his eyes again, but this time he kept them at bay, and Jared was still speaking and telling him he didn't have to talk about it right now. For once what a grown-up said he did. The distraction was appreciated when the packet rumpled, and he gladly turned his thoughts away.

He watched Jared break the bar in half, expressionless on the outside, until he realised the man hadn't divided it equally at all, which seemed a silly mistake. The smallest smile hitched the corner of his lip, not quite reflected in his gaze. "That's not even."
He didn't move to take the larger bit, Jared was much bigger than him after all, and despite progress he was still a little wary. Maybe the legionnaire was just toying with him, it was like something Ekene's brother would do.
Jared caught the subtle movement of the lip - a slight smile - on Ekene. It brought a smile to his face as Ekene said, "That's not even."
Jared was getting through to Ekene.

Jared looked back down at the snack quizzically and chuckled a little. "You're right - yours is bigger than mine. I can't believe I did that."
He broke a little bit more off of the larger piece, making them even, albeit one of them was in two parts. He handed the solid piece to Ekene. "That's better."

They sat eating the snack for awhile. Jared kept silent for awhile. He hoped the young boy was understanding what he was saying but he had his doubts. He needed to find a way to explain it better, but wasn't really sure how. He needed to think, but still wanted the boy to be comfortable. He knew if he had grown up in Ekene's situation, he'd have major trust issues.

"This place is nice isn't it? It's quiet - a good place to be alone for a bit. You know hardly anyone comes down here. I was glad you came down today, Ekene."

As he thought about it, he realized that treating Ekene like an adult would help. He could just ask him if he understood what he was trying to say. "I've said a lot of things to you today, Ekene. Are you understanding, or is it confusing? I can tell you're upset, and I'd like to help you if I can."
Jared gave Ekene an encouraging smile to go with it. So far things had been going really well. Jared hoped he could keep it up.
It wasn't a trap. Ekene's shoulders sank in relief, and he accepted the bar and nibbled on it quietly. For a while there were no words, but the silence wasn't a bad one, and Ekene felt himself grow at least a little more comfortable. Jared made no demands of him. He hadn't mentioned anything to make Ekene's gut sour up, or cause him to retreat from the kindness, and so for now he was content just to sit.

"Everything's different now. I don't know if I'll ever go home. I might not have a home any more."
He said this factually. The grief was buried deep down, perhaps because in that moment he didn't feel entitled to grieve for his own life at all. He understood that things had changed. Understood, in some way, that Jack had taken him underwing. That he had a lot to be grateful for despite all the horror.

"Shouldn't I be punished? For what I did?"
That's what he didn't understand. What he supposed he was still waiting for.

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