1.3.4 An officer may only use deadly force when it is necessary to save himself/herself, a citizen, another officer, or a prisoner from death or serious bodily injury.

It's over in a matter of seconds; seconds, counted out in a series of heartbeats, of a rhythmic pattern of blood roaring in his ears. One-two-three-four-five. He stops breathing. It's pure animalistic instinct, minimizing movement to avoid spooking or spurring the predator on.

Two minutes ago, he'd been dreaming about synchronized swimming. Naked. In a bowl of ice cream. With all the 'My Little Pony' ponies. Whose names he all knew.

Five seconds ago, something in his subconscious kicked, and heaved, and shoved him toward a groggy state of alertness, and he couldn't even—didn't even have time to conceptualize a complaint before the cool press of (steel?) against his neck jolted him into sudden and immediate motionlessness.

One-two-three-four-five. The knife is gone and he doesn't move in its absence, still and silent with raw panic for at least another beat, or two, or five, and only then do impulse and the vestiges of decent training have him reaching, grabbing hastily and belatedly for the gun that isn't there.

"Easy," echoes in his brain. Whispers his attacker. In peculiar stereo.

a. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: An anxiety disorder that can result from exposure to short-term severe stress or the long-term build-up of repetitive and prolonged milder stress.

With the wind in his face, the headache and persistent nausea feel a little less debilitating, a little more bearable. He alternates sticking his head out into the warm Virginia breeze like a dog—quelling the urge to let his mouth hang open—and being a responsible motorist going at least fifteen over the speed limit and singing (horribly) along with his offensive (-ly poppish) soundtrack.

Shakira's 'Hips Don't Lie' ends on a merciful note—no fighting, no fighting—and the next track syncs up, and he adjusts his sunglasses in the rear view, watching precious cargo #1 dozing, #2 paging through notes, #3 meeting his gaze amicably enough as if she hadn't nearly murdered him twenty-four hours ago. Awkwardly brief conversations about bears and 'just in case's and 'you never know's filter in and out of his head. He grips the wheel, tries to wall those off and pack them away and compartmentalize like a healthy adult—

There's only two types of people in the world
The ones that entertain, and the ones that observe

—imagines Britney instead, half-naked, gyrating and swinging a whip around, and finds that a satisfying enough interlude, until vague recollections of campy music videos shift into something a little more real. He feels. Fond? Warm? At the thought of overprotective elephants. Of fingers (trunks?) raking through his hair, ruffling and stroking, caressing his cheek with maternal pride. Of clowns, jugglers, women with friendly smiles and full beards, hulking strongmen and each of them greeting him with the companionable ease and intimacy of family. His perspective tilts and he's breathless, upside down and swinging from a trapeze bar by his knees that doesn't seem nearly sturdy enough but his arms are outstretched, waiting, waiting the most precise, measured breath for hands to grab onto that—

never come.

He hears the clamor before he can lay eyes on the source. And he doesn't even, doesn't see their unnaturally bent bodies long because the stage is swarmed almost immediately but he feels like he's screaming except he's not making a sound.

Anguish and loss and grief slam into him like a physical force, a one-two punch to his diaphragm that steals the breath from his lungs. He's paralyzed with the combination of someone else's heartache and vivid memories of fire and smoke and sirens and he doesn't even feel the steering wheel slip between his slackened fingers, nor the sudden jerk as he's crowded against the door and precious cargo #3 is wrestling for control.

He comes back to himself with firm pressure digging into his shoulders and the gentlest of shakes and no explanation except the devastating sadness is gone and he's left with impressions of remorse like he'd seen, felt, something he shouldn't have.

41.2.1 Sexual harassment includes conduct that links favorable treatment in employment to sexual favors. It can also involve unwelcome touching or other physical contact, and/or verbal conduct […]

That remorse amounts to absolutely nothing, in the end. He's inundated with memories, impressions and emotions that don't belong to him and the triggers become less and less obvious. Not that a Britney Spears song isn't as ridiculous as they get, but. He can't butter toast without flashing back to some battle, some fight, some stupidly-dressed villain flinging condiments in his direction and he lifts himself off the kitchen floor, panting with exertion, expecting to be covered in ketchup or dangling above a vat of acid or wrapped in a giant plant tentacle for the twentieth time and something in him snaps.

It doesn't become clear until his breath is mingling with Etta's, her lips red and pretty and a little swollen with the force and vigor of their collision and he has just enough time to be perplexed by the whats, the whys, the whithers before—

—he's not him anymore.

He wants to put some distance between them, resume his panic attack, maybe fall onto his knees and cling to Etta's legs and beg for forgiveness because he'd been such a douche when their positions were reversed, but his body does precisely none of those things. Potentially to the benefit of whatever scraps of sanity and/or dignity remain within their possession. Instead, his body quips. Leers, playfully. Entwines itself with Etta's bizarrely accepting person and they kiss, and kiss, and kiss.

He doesn't mind as much as he probably should. But he's still calmly (not calmly), rationally (not rationally), eloquently (definitely not eloquently) voicing his protests that only have volume on the inside of his own mind, and eventually—when he's not so distracted by his alien space babe ex-girlfriend's tongue in his mouth, Dick answers.

He doesn't entertain the idea that it's his impassioned influence that earns him an earnest explanation. More than likely it's the fresh sting of Etta's slap across his—their—his? cheek that has Dick Grayson expounding on their circumstances in a way that's one part contrite, five parts 'I've got practice in bullshitting and making it sound like our situation isn't nearly as bleak as it seems, pay no attention to the hopelessness behind the curtain, I was probably a cheerleader in another life.'

Then Etta's leading them to her bedroom (to sleep) and he makes a mental note to resume being outraged with Dick later. He doesn't feel their body respond, or hear it ringing in their brain, but he gets the distinct feeling that Dick's laughing at him.