The ride passes in silence, and I stare out the open side window, feeling the breeze on my face and smelling the sea. Ryker eases the truck to a stop on Roosevelt—only a little over a mile from the church. If I need to bolt, I can walk there.
It’s then I notice the sign. Emerald City Tattoo and Piercing. “What are we doing here?” My right hand reflexively goes to my left bicep, where my Special Forces tattoo used to be.
“Righting a wrong,” Ry says as he turns off the engine. His voice drops so low, I have to strain to hear it. “And maybe…finding something we all lost.”
Even though I’m not sure anything can right the wrongs from the past six years, I grab my rucksack and follow him inside.
“Dax?” He’s sitting on a bench against the wall, his folded cane in his hands.
As soon as he hears me, he heads right for us. “About damn time you showed up. I’ve been here half an hour.”
Ryker gives Dax a quick one-armed bro-hug, and even though they’re both clearly uncomfortable with the gesture, a part of me aches to be able to have that kind of physical contact again. But every time I think I’m ready, panic takes over. These are my brothers. The two people I’m closest to in the entire world. And I can barely manage to shake their hands.
Dax turns to me, and I swear he can see into the depths of my soul, despite being mostly blind. “Pick up the phone once in a while, asshole.”
I don’t respond, and Ryker reaches into his back pocket and pulls out a folded piece of paper. “Inara’s an artist. When she’s not killing people or translating boring legal documents into half a dozen different languages.”
Spreading the paper out on the counter in front of me, I freeze. It’s… “Holy shit.”
The Special Forces insignia, a crest with two crossed arrows bisected by a dagger and the motto—De Oppresso Liber—overlays an intricate design of a phoenix bursting from the flames. And encircling the entire design: ODA 212 Rip Dax Ry.
Tears burn, but I refuse to let them fall. Instead, I grind my fists against my eyes for a moment until I think I can speak again. Turning to my brothers, I realize I’m not the only one about to lose his shit in the middle of the shop. “Okay. Yeah. Together. Right?”
The relief on their faces breaks something inside me, and I let go. For a minute, I can shove my shame and fear aside. As Dax and Ry each put a hand on my shoulder, I return the gesture and let my tears fall for the first time since the plane landed in Seattle.
“Together,” Ry says. “Brothers. Always.”