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[ broken, not lost ]
by kHo

He likes to pretend he´s tough. And really it´s not pretending when you can back it up. He can back it up all he wants to though, but when the fire comes the fire comes. The fire eats, it consumes, and nothing withstands. Paper melts to ash, human flesh shrinks and peels, organs boil and cook, wood crackles and burns and finally breaks away. Metal even. Metal doesn´t turn to ash, it doesn´t boil, not the kind you build high rises with. It still cooks though, it cooks and it bends and it holds up for as long as it can, but it does break away in the end.

And it wasn´t that bad, really. He was gonna be fine. Franco would pull through, and he´d have cuts and scrapes, and he´d have bruises and burns. His skin would grow back, and his lungs would heal, and he´d be back on the job acting like nothing happened in no time. Because he´s Franco. Because he´s tough, and he´s Latino, and he didn´t grow up in Manhatten and not learn how to survive with a smile on his face. Because this is what he did, this is who he was. Tough Latino lady´s man with balls of steel and he did not crack, did not crumble. Not even when he did.

When September 11th hit it was crazy and hectic and beyond belief. The weight on their shoulders was enough to make them bleed even if the horror hadn´t been. Tommy found out about Jimmy and the look on his face had never been the same. They had all banded together, even more than before, after that, after hours of digging through ash and limb, because no one else would get it. Not even the families who lost relatives, because they didn´t have to do what they did. They didn´t have to watch their brothers, and they were brothers, die to save others. They didn´t have reach down a hand and come up with only a finger.

But they survived that, and they came out changed, but it wasn´t on the surface. Initially it was, the hugging and the crying, the telling each other ‘I love you´ was okay at first. But as the weeks went by it became something of the past too. The feelings were still there, the need was still there, but the words had left them. They still saw each other more than they saw their own wives, but the words hung in the air like the death they were surrounded by day in and day out.

Things are falling apart now though. Kenny is getting a divorce, and writing poetry. Tommy is having some sort of mental break down, one a long time coming, and he wasn´t accepting anyone´s help. Franco, who loves Tommy probably more than anyone else in that place, decided to all but turn his back on him because Tommy wasn't accepting his front. And Mike, well. Mike didn´t much matter because he was new, but Mike was having his problems too.

And then Franco got caught. Franco got trapped, and it was Tommy´s fault, and Tommy knew it. Everyone knew it, and just like everything else that got pushed to the side, nobody said it. And instead of breaking down and admitting he was wrong, admitting he needed help, Tommy put in for a transfer. The Chief won´t grant it, most likely, but the fact that he put a request in was enough to rip the house apart just as much as if he already had been transferred.

But Sean doesn´t know how to do this. He doesn´t know how to suck it up and move on. It was always Franco that told him how. Franco that kicked his ass when it needed kicking, and Franco to pour beer down his throat when that was the only choice left. It was Franco Sean was closest to, and now Franco was unconscious in ICU, and he wasn´t there to laugh at Sean´s fear of the unknown. So Sean sought out the comfort of the woman who didn´t matter precisely because she didn´t matter, because he doesn´t know how to do this, but women have that mother hen thing that maybe he needed right now.

Right now he´s sitting in the middle of a bar, sobbing uncontrollably, because it all finally came out. He took one look at her with those eyes that say ‘tell me´ and said it was a rough day. It started out as a laugh and he tried to cover it up with beer but somehow everything he´d blocked back there behind his chest in the past was pushing too damn hard and he was sobbing in public. Her hand was in his hair, and she was pulling him closer, but he didn´t even care. He knew he should have, he knew he should have been humiliated to be sobbing on the table top in a bar in New York, but he just didn´t.

His phone rang in his pocket and part of him wanted to throw it across the room. He wanted to break glass, to start a riot, to just go fucking nuts, because maybe then he wouldn´t feel so trapped. Maybe in the middle of a brawl he wouldn´t feel so god damned alone. His hand went to his pocket but he couldn´t pull it out, because suddenly he was afraid it was more bad news, and he just couldn´t take that right now. Her hand went inside instead and he vaguely heard her whispering soothing ‘I got it´ and ‘I´ll take care of it´ noises in his ear, but mostly he felt the absence of his phone.

The room went silent when she spoke next though. It didn´t matter that there was a motorcycle gang at the table over or that the streets of New York are never empty, the next two words out of her mouth were crystal clear.

“It´s Franco.”

His head shot up and his bloodshot eyes peered at her through hooded lids. “Don´t tell me. I can´t hear this right now.”

“No, Sean, it´s Franco.”

He shook his head, his palms digging into his eyes, panic spreading through him. “I can´t… not now. I can´t hear this now. They said he´d be alright… I just left long enough to come here… They said he´d be alright…”

She grabbed his hand and pried it away from his face. “Sean,” she said, and for a second it was like he was looking at his mother. That strength, that no-nonsense tone. “Franco is on the phone. Himself. To talk to you.”

He stared at her for a moment, his mouth hanging open, a litany of excuses about how he wasn´t ready to hear about Franco´s death still waiting to pour out. He held out his hand and felt the cool weight of his phone as she placed it in his hand. Raising it to his ear he breathed out heavily. “Franco?”

“I´m not dead you fucking moron, why don´t you have a heart attack?”

Sean laughed then, because it was only Franco that would say that. His voice was gruff, and it sounded like he was still half asleep, but it was Franco´s strength that bled through the lines. “Jesus.”

“Seriously, why don´t you? We could be roommates, me and you. Me with the smoke inhalation and the burns, you for being the pussy you are.”

Sean´s eyes squeezed shut and all he could hear was Franco´s breathing. Everything else disappeared into the black nothingness of the back of his eyelids. “Hey,” he said, smiling.

“I knew you´d freak out,” Franco said, breaking off into a hacking cough.

“Don´t,” Sean said, standing up and looking at the woman and thinking only that she didn´t know how to kiss. “I´m coming back to the hospital. Don´t talk.”

“You don´t have to come back, Sean,” Franco said, but Sean knew was he was really saying. “Go home. Get some rest.”

“I´m coming to the hospital,” he said again, mouthing a thank you to the girl he´d probably never call again and walking out into the busy streets of New York.

“You won´t get to see me,” Franco said, and his voice was quiet, and it sounded small in Sean´s ears. It was as close to vulnerable as Sean would ever hear from him.

“Yeah I will,” Sean said, stepping out into the street and looking for the bright yellow of the city cabs. “I´ll find a way.”

“Hey, Sean?”

Sean paused, backing up as a cab pulled up in front of him. “Yeah, Franco?”

“I was scared too.”

Sean smiled. “Pussy.”

Franco´s laugh was cut short by another groan and another cough. “Fuck you. Get your ass over here so I can kick it.”

“I´ll see you in a minute, Franco,” Sean said, smiling as he closed his phone.

That´s the good thing about metal though, even when it´s broken it´s never completely lost.

All feedback much appreciated!
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