Mason’s head whipped around at the screams. They were too deep, too masculine to be any of the women the washing flapping on the line belonged to. They were screams of rage, terror and the need for vengeance, all rolled into one.
Where was the kid?
“Secure the perimeter!” he bellowed, sprinting back around the outbuildings the fight had taken him around back to the farmhouse. “RENNOX!”
The scene that met his eyes brought him up sharply. The courtyard behind the farmhouse was one of carnage. Most of the bodies were Jem’Hadar but there were one or two in starfleet uniform as well. Mason blocked that out for now, their stillness assuring him that nothing could be done at the moment.
Instead he focused on the young yeoman standing in the middle of the courtyard, his rifle trained on the Jem’Hadar on his knees in front of him. The kid’s face was twisted with rage, his eyes wild.
“You animals!” he shouted, neck flushed. “You killed them!”
No, Mason realised, Rennox wasn’t flushed. He was covered in blood. Mason’s gaze snapped for a moment to the bodies to the left of the farmhouse door and his eyes widened. They’d been butchered. In a way even his stomach turned.
“You fucking slaughtered them!” Rennox shouted, jabbing the muzzle of his rifle toward the captured Jem’Hadar. He was injured, favoring his side, but he watched Rennox with blank eyes. “You… you… I’ll fucking kil—“
“Rennox,” Mason said, stepping into the kid’s line of sight. Carefully. Slowly. Just in case Rennox got trigger happy. “Put the weapon up.”
“No!” Rennox shook his head, determined, as tears streamed down his face. “D-did you see what they did? These animals… they… they…”
“I know, kid,” Mason kept his voice low, a deep rumble.
He kicked himself mentally that he hadn’t checked that side of the door out more. All he’d done was given it a quick glance to make sure there wasn’t a hostile there. If he had, if he’d clocked where the bodies were in relation to where the kid was, he could have moved him on past all that quickly. Saved him from seeing the horrors of war like this. “But put the gun up. You don’t need to do this.”
“I DO!” Rennox snarled. “They need to pay.” Another jab of the rifle in the air. “He needs to pay for what they did!”
Mason inclined his head, taking a few steps closer.
“I’m serious Tavik,” he said. Just a few more steps. “You do this, and it’s never the same as before.”
The Jem’Hadar’s gaze flicked to Mason as he neared the kid, not moving, not flinching as he stared down the muzzle of Rennox’s rifle at his own death. He favoured his side, injured arm curled in and the other arm wrapped around himself as he dripped blood into the dirt and dust he knelt in.
Mason didn’t pay him much attention, instead focused on Rennox. The kid’s hands shook, but he had his finger on the trigger, beginning to squeeze…
“You do this, kid,” he warned. “And part of you never comes back. Believe me, I know.”
“He killed them,” Rennox whispered, his tone so heart-broken and torn that the heart Mason thought was dead and silent ached. “He should pay for that.”
“He will,” Mason murmured, finally close enough to reach out and put a hand on the rifle Rennox held. Gently he pushed it down. “But you’re not that guy.”
Rennox looked up at him, his blue eyes wide and tortured. In that moment Mason knew he should never have allowed him to come along. Shouldn’t have put him in this situation.
The moment the rifle was off him, the Jem’Hadar roared and launched himself forward. Mason moved without thought. Shoving Rennox to the side, he had his rifle in his shoulder and a round off before he’d taken his next breath. The Jem’Hadar stopped like a puppet with its strings cut, eyes wide as a bead of amber blood rolled down from the hole in the center of his forehead, down his nose.
The drop of blood and the body hit the ground at the same time.
Mason turned to Rennox and held his hand out to help him up. The kid’s eyes were wide and dark, his lower lip trembling, but he reached out and took Mason’s hand in a stronger grip than he expected. He hauled the younger man to his feet and looked down at him.
“You good?” he asked as he slung his rifle over his shoulder.
The question wasn’t whether Rennox was going to be okay. He knew the kid had a long road ahead of him, filled with broken sleep and nightmares, of guilt and self recriminations. That was a problem for the future. The question was could Rennox function and do what Mason needed him to.
Rennox just stared at him, and Mason thought that was it. He’d seen too much, more than he could handle, and it had broken him. But, as he watched, the kid somehow put himself back together and gave a shaky nod.
“Good man,” Mason said, clapping him on the shoulder.
Altering the grip, he herded the kid out of the courtyard and away from the place he’d nearly made a mistake that would have cost him part of his soul. He scooped up the kid’s rifle as they went, not stopping until they reached the rest of the fire team behind the outbuildings.
“Perimeter secure?” he asked.
“Aye sir,” a lieutenant answered him. There was dirt and blood on her face, but her hands were steady and her eyes clear. “And contact has been made with what remains of the local forces. They’re starting to assemble the civilians for relocation.”
“Excellent.” Mason squeezed Rennox’s shoulder. “You’re up, kid. Contact the Resolute and let’s get these people to safety, okay?”
For a moment he didn’t think the kid was going to answer, that he’d folded in on himself. But then his chin came up and he nodded. “Yes sir, I can do that.”
He walked off. Mason watched him for a moment, then looked at the lieutenant. “Go and herd him the other way, make sure he stays away from the action.”