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This page last viewed: 2017-08-16 and has been viewed 3250 times
Summary: A story about how the guys met up in Vietnam.
Author's note: I am not a soldier, so much of the information about Vietnam or the U.S. Army may be false. "Grunt" is a slang army word that refers to non-ranked soldiers on the ground. "Flyboy" refers to pilots. Both are not very nice, but may not exist except in my feverish brain. Words in italics denote the character's thoughts.
Warning: PG-15, for lots of swearing. The guys are just in really bad moods, kay?
Disclaimer: I don't own them. I should, though. Respectfully, I'd like to claim ownership of Colonel Stryer, Mouse, Sidewinder, and Hunter, cause they're great.
Comments: Yes please! Always happy to accept both praise and criticism.
Thanks to all at the VA, especially Cabaret and WallyGator, for putting up with me and sending encouragement. Many thanks to lovpeppard, for military information.
* * * * *
Captain H.M. Murdock waited outside the colonel's office. He was badly hurt, and desperately needed some sort of rest, but he had received an "urgent" request for his presence on base.
Damnit, it's not fair. I saved all those people, and just 'cause things didn't go exactly to plan I'm gonna be hauled over the coals! A couple of grunts passed, whispered about him. He knew exactly what sort of a reputation he was getting on base, but he just didn't care. He was a good pilot, he knew that much. Everything else could go hang.
"Captain, Colonel Morrison will see you now." Morrison had a habit of hiring cute blondes to be his secretaries. Whatever the attraction was, it must not last long. Seems like every time I come here it's a new girl…
He practically staggered into the office. He was tired, couldn't remember being this drained for a long time. He tried to look a little more presentable, however, when he saw Morrison had company. Three guys, grunts. One colonel, older than him, looked a little hard, a little too…military for Murdock's tastes. A big black man, in ripped fatigues, with muscles like a damn horse. Trouble. And a kid – lieutenant – who was obviously just some pretty boy. He was grinning inanely, which really pissed Murdock off. Why are these pretty boys always grinning? Do they think that somehow we're all gonna sell 'em our grandmothers just 'cause they flash their teeth?
Morrison stood up as he entered, extended a hand that Murdock ignored.
"Look, colonel, do you think we could get this ass-kicking over as quickly as possible? Only, I've gotta be up in the air again by three, and I haven't even had a chance to visit the doc yet…"
Morrison smiled a little wider. "And how did your last mission go, Murdock?" It was obvious he'd already talked to Stryer. Bastard.
Murdock smiled back, a little crazily. "Well, sir, everybody made it back alive. I'd say for Stryer that's a definite first."
The unknown colonel laughed quietly. Is he laughing at me or with me? The laughter was gone as soon as it arrived, and it was impossible to tell. Nevertheless, it seemed Morrison shot the guy a warning look before continuing. "Stryer tells it a little…differently. He's put you in for a court martial – "mutiny", he says."
Murdock put a hand on the desk to steady himself. Mutiny? Even for Colonel Stryer that was a bit extreme.
"He says you refused to comply with a direct order." The black guy snorted too. Were they all laughing at him? The pretty boy was definitely still grinning…maybe this was some new form of torture, panel interrogation by humiliation or something. Murdock felt his already frazzled nerves give out, and knew he was about to say something he'd probably regret in the morning.
"With all due respect, sir, Stryer is an asshole. The order he gave me was to take off without one of his men, who was about five feet away at the time." Morrison and the hard colonel exchanged some sort of look. Murdock felt his anger increase, wanted to explain himself before he was given a dishonourable discharge…
"He was just a kid! No more than nineteen, and Stryer told me to leave him behind! I could practically reach out and pull him in, but that…that bastard told me that he'd decided that that one was gonna die. I did not agree with his decision, so I waited a couple of seconds. Just switched off my radio and waited."
The military-type colonel spoke up – his badge, Murdock now realised, read "Smith". Great, Colonel Smith, like there aren't a million of those in the Army.
"Morrison tells us that your return journey was a little bumpy, captain." He grinned again. Goddamnit, these grunts think they know everything…
"Well, sir, if you feel that you could fly over some of the harshest jungle in 'Nam, with no co-pilot, an injured man in the back and a hole in your oil line, I'd like to take you up over DaNang right now and try it. Sir." Colonel Smith's grin, if anything, got bigger.
"What use do we have fer a pilot who can't fly?" The big guy spoke up now…sergeant, Murdock noticed. Yeah, probably some dumbass drill sergeant brought in to scare the shit outta me…well, I'll show them.
"Damnit, you grunts always say that! Do you have any idea how difficult it is to fly? All you do is complain – we weren't fast enough, we weren't smooth enough, we didn't manage to evade some sort of invisible sniper fire…You guys are about as useful and reliable as an ice cream van in Hell anyway. You're never where you say you'll be, you're never on time, you never say thank you…you don't want pilots, you want a fucking chauffeur service!"
Pretty boy's turn now, he thought. He turned to the lieutenant, met his even stare with one full of challenge. Pretty boy shrugged. "I don't know, colonel, he's got a lot of attitude. Won't follow orders, doesn't take criticism well…in short, he's just not what we're looking for." Pretty boy flashed him another toothy smile, and Murdock realised that he hated all three of them. Smith. Peck. Baracus. Stupid names. Wait a minute…Smith, Peck, Baracus…great.
"Hang on, I've heard of you guys." Murdock grinned at them. Now he could get his own back.
"Sergeant Baracus. Normally found in the stockade for beating the crap out of officers that rub him the wrong way. A little…attitude, maybe?" Baracus growled, actually no-shit growled at Murdock. Who the hell was this guy?
"Peck. Two-bit thief and con artist. Also normally found in the stockade, that or wrapped around the nearest blonde." Pretty boy's smile vanished instantly, and it looked like he was about to get up, when Smith put a hand on his arm to stop him.
"And Colonel "Hannibal" Smith. Reckless leader who likes to send recruits to their deaths by, quote "going through the front door" end quote. Known as Hannibal 'cause his plans normally end up with the participants lost in the Alps, knee deep in elephant shit." Murdock grinned at all three of them at once; much in the manner they had greeted him. Well, if that doesn't get me thrown out of the army, nothing will.
Morrison was hiding a smile. Murdock's observations of Delta Team and Stryer were extremely accurate, if a little muddled by gossip. Within a couple of minutes they'd all managed to completely piss the others off. Fantastic working relationship.
"Captain Murdock, I'd like to introduce you to your new team – Delta Team." The reaction to this was anarchy. All three members of the team jumped up and started screaming at him, whereas Murdock seemed more shocked than anything else.
"QUIET!" They all shut up. "My mind's made up. You need a good pilot, and believe me, Captain Murdock is the best in 'Nam. He just…has a bit of an attitude. But I'm sure Colonel Smith can work on that."
"No way. No way I'm workin' with this…this fool." Baracus got up, and Murdock realised that although the big guy would kick his ass in three seconds flat, he was actually taller than him.
"Face, take this guy and put him in your quarters." Pretty boy started to protest, but Smith overruled him. "Your quarters are supposed to hold two, Face, and you've spread out all over 'em. It'll do you some good to learn to share."
Pretty boy whined. "Aw, Hannibal…"
"Go, lieutenant. You too B.A., I need a private word with Colonel Morrison." Morrison and Smith exchanged a look again. Murdock felt too drained to argue, just followed Pretty boy out of the room, working hard on keeping upright.
* * * * *
Hannibal watched the motley crew leave, and felt instinctively that this was not going to work. He turned to his CO. "I can't help but feel that you're trying to offload some sort of problem case on me."
Morrison smiled. "It's always worked in the past."
"Face and B.A. are different – they have actual talent for something. You want me to baby-sit a pilot who can't even fly?"
"I've known Murdock for a couple of years. He is the best, Hannibal. He just has…issues." When Hannibal remained unconvinced, Morrison continued. "You said exactly the same thing about Peck, and about Baracus before him. Bottom line is, you need a pilot. Peck nearly bought it on that last job 'cause your pilot was too green to know what to do."
Hannibal shook his head. "Did you see that guy? He was so covered in bumps and bruises it's a wonder anybody made it. I don't want a pilot who's a liability."
Morrison moved over to the window that faced out into the motor pool. "That's the helicopter he was flying, colonel." He pointed towards what Hannibal thought looked like a skeleton of a helicopter. It was shot to pieces, burnt out and the pilot's seat was smashed in. "That's why he looked like that. No other pilot could have landed that chopper and got everyone out alive. He's good."
Hannibal turned to Morrison, took a deep breath. "And there's no one else."
"No one worth bothering you with."
He nodded. "I'll see what I can do. But I'm making no promises. There are some people even I can't save."
* * * * *
Murdock had to stop in the corridor and rest his head against the wall. He had thought at the time that it was more important to get to Morrison than to the doctor, but now he wasn't so sure. The wound in his leg where the front panel had collapsed on it was starting to hurt. Bad. It could get infected.
Ahead of him Baracus looked back, snorted, and carried on. Peck rolled his eyes and hurried back.
"C'mon flyboy, the sooner I get you home the sooner I can get rid of you." Pretty boy grabbed him by an arm and pulled him along the corridor. The captain broke free.
"Listen, lieutenant, I outrank you. You can't order me about." Murdock rubbed his leg quietly, trying to hide the blood that was now obviously seeping through his fatigues. Peck looked down at the blood and sighed again.
"Pilots. Always have to be heroes. Guess I'd better get you to the doc." As he put an arm around Murdock to help him along, he muttered, "Can't even fly a damn copter."
Murdock pushed him away. "Lieutenant, go and tell the doc I'm on my way. Wait for me until I get stitched up, and then you can show me to my quarters." He pulled a mock salute.
Pretty boy smiled and shook his head. "Never gonna happen. You can find your own way home."
"Direct insubordination, huh? That's gonna look good on your record."
Peck narrowed his eyes, moved away to look at Murdock. "Hannibal wouldn't let you. He'd throw you off the team so fast it'll make your head spin. Not than you're going to be on the team long, but…"
Murdock moved closer, stared into pretty boy's eyes. "Do you know what they call me on base? "Howling Mad"." He drew himself up to his full height, even though it hurt his leg to do it. "I'm insane, lieutenant. And I have nothing to lose."
Peck swallowed a couple of times, then smiled, saluted and stalked off towards the doctor's office. Murdock waited until he was out of sight, and then collapsed.
* * * * *
Hannibal poked his head round the door to his lieutenant's quarters. He took in the scene – Face sitting with his back against the wall, reading some magazine, totally engrossed. The new captain, Murdock, lying face up on his cot, with an arm casually resting across his eyes. The trouser leg of his fatigues was stained with blood – the Vietnamese laundry girl hadn't visited yet.
The room had been divided roughly into two parts. Face's part was full of boxes – things he was keeping for people as "favours", or in exchange for supplies they needed. The captain's side was bare. It seemed he had almost no personal possessions – at least, none in sight.
"Captain, a word in my office." Hannibal disappeared. The young lieutenant glared at Murdock over the top of his magazine. The pilot didn't move in response to the order.
"You better get going, flyboy. Hannibal gets pissed if you keep him waiting."
"You have no idea how truly scared I am." Murdock slowly got up, faking tiredness. In reality, he had been resting because his leg hurt so damn much. Maybe he should have taken the pills that the doc prescribed, but he didn't trust drugs. The painkillers could lower his defences; leave him open to attack somehow. In Nam, you always had to be ready for attack.
Murdock raised himself off the bed and walked to the door. The stitches in his leg were killing him, made it painful just to walk, but he wasn't about to show weakness in front of this jumped-up lieutenant. As he opened the door he blew a kiss back at the kid.
"Don't wait up, darling."
The lieutenant, in return, gave him the finger without tearing his eyes away from the magazine.
Everything was going just fine, just like it normally did on new teams. As Murdock moved across the camp to his CO's office, he tried to remember how many times he had been transferred since coming to Nam. Ten? Twenty? A hundred? Morrison could probably tell him, had been looking out for him as long as he could remember. Ever since he was just a recruit, fresh out of flight school, still wet behind the ears.
Since Murdock was so experienced at switching teams, he had developed a foolproof routine for dealing with it. He didn't even seem to need the routine these days, not now that he had a reputation. "Howling Mad", they called him. As he walked across the camp, head held high, biting his lip to keep from crying out in pain, grunts and flyboys alike got out of his way. Even those who had been there longer than him had heard of him, and he had a clear path to Smith's office.
He walked into the colonel's office without knocking, just to show him who was boss. He was determined, as he had been with Pretty boy, not to show the pain of his wound. He walked tall, knowing he was a little taller than the colonel. Smith looked up from some paperwork he had been studying, that annoying grin still fixed to his face. Damnit, why is he always laughing at me? Is my shirt on backwards or something?
"At ease, captain." Smith gestured at a rickety chair in front of him.
"I was, sir." Murdock grinned back as he sat down. Fine, if he wants to play "who's got most balls" I can do that. Have done it, always won.
Smith leafed through the folder on his desk. Whatever it was, it was pretty full. "You have quite a record, Murdock. Insubordination, assault, drunk and disorderly, and now an accusation of mutiny."
It was his file. Chalk up one for Smith.
"It makes…interesting reading, I'll give you that."
"My mother always said, if you're gonna write something, you gotta interest the reader." Smith nodded, his grin increased a fraction of an inch, though Murdock hadn't thought it possible. One for me. The colonel snapped the folder shut, and fixed Murdock with an amused stare – much like a cat playing with a mouse, Murdock thought to himself.
"Pretty impressive. Out here in the jungle, not many commanders bother with filing charges against soldiers. Either you are extremely unlucky, or you have an amazing talent for pissing people off."
"Oh, I've often been complimented on my people skills." Murdock leaned back in his chair and put his boots on the desk, scattering dried mud all over the paperwork there, including his personal file. He and Colonel Smith never broke eye contact. Time to test the water…see what sort of a guy you really are. Smith gave out a curious little chuckle that Murdock didn't like. He pulled out a lighter, surprisingly new for Nam, and flicked it a few times until the flame showed. They were still staring. Murdock thought he saw something in the colonel's eyes, the emotion he'd caught back at the meeting. Then the colonel held the flame under Murdock's right boot.
Times were hard in Nam, and God knew the guys upstairs weren't going to waste vital ammo money on shiny new boots for the troops. Murdock reckoned he'd had the same pair of worn out lace-ups since he'd enlisted. And they weren't flameproof.
It was a battle of wills. Who was going to crack first? It only took a couple of seconds for the heat to travel to the skin, and coupled with the stitches in the leg the pain was almost unbearable. The colonel's grin increased, and he began chuckling. Murdock tried to grin too, but they both knew who had won this round.
To his credit, Murdock held out as long as humanly possible, but it was obvious Smith wasn't going to crack. Murdock moved his feet onto the floor, wanting to scream with the pain but knowing that if he did so he would lose his composed façade. He rubbed his heel angrily, flashing dirty looks at his CO, who was now laughing openly.
"A word of warning, captain. I am the boss here. If I say you do something, you do it. I won't put you up on charges if you disobey me; it's obvious that doesn't work. But instead I will make you suffer." The colonel leant across the desk, close to Murdock's face. The glint in his eyes had returned. Shit, this guy is crazier than I am.
"Game, set and match. We leave at 0800 hours tomorrow. Don't be late."
Murdock knew instinctively that there was going to be no fooling with this guy. He would have to be very careful, much more subtle than he usually was. However, he told himself that next time he would be ready. He had got sloppy; the wound in his leg had broken his concentration. Next time they had a battle of wills, he would triumph.
Murdock got up slowly, limping a little though he hated himself for it. As he got to the door Smith cleared his throat.
"Oh, and Murdock?"
Murdock turned around after a pause, not wanting the colonel to think he had won entirely. He removed the pain from his face, and tried only to show defiance. Smith analysed his expression silently for a few moments.
"You might want to visit the doctor. Again." As Murdock slammed the door shut behind him he heard that familiar little chuckle he was learning to hate.
* * * * *
Bastards. The lot of them – all bastards. It was late at night, but Murdock was most definitely not asleep. The doctor had simply given him some sort of cream for the burn, muttering something about how these idiot soldiers were always getting banged up. He had given him more drugs, which Murdock hadn't taken.
The pain wasn't helping his sleeping problems. He wasn't a deep sleeper at the best of times, and had trained himself so that he spent as little time resting as possible, but he was only human. He knew sooner or later that he would have to get some rest, or risk more punishment from his body the next morning. Plus, he really was a good pilot. He didn't want to risk any lives.
And that was why he blamed them – his new team. If it wasn't for their attitudes, he wouldn't be burnt, he wouldn't have to take painkillers and he might be able to get some sleep, however tormented it was. Murdock watched the man across the room with hatred in his eyes. He'd never had to share a room before – no one wanted to sleep anywhere near a crazy man. Who knew, he might knife you in your sleep…
Murdock watched the lieutenant's chest rise and fall, rise and fall with the rhythm of a man deep in sleep. He had always envied those who found it easy to fall asleep. Why, he'd once known a recruit who could take a nap in the middle of a firefight.
Peck's hair obscured his features a little, but even from that distance Murdock could tell he was smiling. Probably dreaming about some blonde. Hah, maybe he's dreaming about Smith. Murdock smiled a little, an image in his mind of Pretty boy madly in love with his CO. Well, he sure talks about him enough…
He glanced at the bottle of pills on the edge of the bed, sitting next to his canteen. Maybe, if he took them, they might stop his dreams. But maybe they wouldn't. Maybe they'd just take away his escape, he wouldn't be able to wake up, he'd be trapped there forever. He shuddered. No matter how bad the war got, he knew his nightmares were worse.
Murdock was sitting on his bed, trying not to move. He really wanted to wrap his arms around his body, not because it was cold – God knew everyone in Nam slept in their underwear the heat was so oppressive – but because the physical comfort it provided might relax him. He was very tense, he knew that much. If he hugged himself, maybe it would be like…before.
No. Stay away from there. Those are memories you left behind, remember? Memories you tried to bury.
Murdock concentrated on the pain, tried to keep focused on the here and now. But the usual late night doubts crept in. Maybe he was crazy. He'd been pretending so long maybe it was no longer a pretence. Maybe it was all his fault – like the guys said, he had caused those…losses. What if he was never forgiven? What if the memories never left him alone - he would be stuck like this forever?
At that moment a cloud shifted across the sky, and a single moonbeam found its way into the room. The beauty of it was almost unreal. It reached the lieutenant's chest, shining off something that caught his eye. What is that, a medallion? He got up, balancing his weight on his good leg, and limped over to the cot to get a better look. As he bent over he saw it was a cross on a gold chain. Not very well made, he noticed. This kid, known camp-wide as the worst womaniser since the camp dog was spayed, is religious? As if in a dream, Murdock reached down to touch it, to check it was real. His hand stopped maybe an inch away from it.
Peck's eyes were wide open. The light from the moon hit them, turning them almost silver. They were fixed on Murdock's. For a moment they just froze there, neither moving a muscle. Peck was in the position he had been when he had been asleep, one arm behind his head, the other on his chest near the cross.
Suddenly Murdock's bad leg gave out. He collapsed onto his knees with a little cry of surprise and pain. As he fell, his hand hit Peck's chest – the electricity there was amazing, like touching a mirror and feeling skin. Again, a moment that seemed to last for eternity. Murdock there, on his knees, looking up into the lieutenant's eyes with one hand on his chest. Murdock felt like they were in an old painting – the cripple meets the saint. But the moment, though it felt longer, was only a moment.
Peck grabbed the hand on his chest, and heaved Murdock up. He led him over to the cot and sat him down.
"Next time I'll check whether you're awake before I try to steal your jewellery." Murdock flashed him a look of derision as he said it, hoping that he could convince them both. For a moment the kid simply looked into his eyes. Maybe it was the dreamlike setting – the heat, the moonlight, the ominous silence outside – that was making them act strangely. But in his heart Murdock knew he was wrong.
"Okay." Peck said softly. "Okay." And he let go of the hand and moved back over to his cot. He was asleep in moments, his back to the captain. Murdock shivered involuntarily. Was that a dream?
He woke up the next morning in the position he had been sitting in, hands in his lap, legs crossed. He guessed he must have nodded off somehow, although once again it had been sleep full of horrible images.
"Sleep well? You certainly made enough noise." Their usual relationship had returned.
"Not as much as you – I thought you were dying. Who were you dreaming about, your boyfriend Smith?" The lieutenant didn't mention the incident the night before, and Murdock decided he must have been dreaming. You should be careful, idiot, or you really will send yourself crazy.
* * * * *
0800 hours. Breakfasted, washed and dressed – or as much as possible in Nam – the three of them appeared on base by the copter. It sat four, maybe five at a squeeze, two up front, two back. Smith was already there, a cigar in his hand. How do you get cigars in the jungle? For that matter, how do you get a brand new lighter?
Smith looked the three of them up and down, taking in their appearances. Face and B.A. looked fine, he decided, but their new pilot didn't look like he'd had much sleep. There was a restless look in his eyes, and he was ever so slightly leaning on his left leg. The colonel did a quick mental calculation in his head, and decided it was too much hassle to postpone the mission or try to find another pilot. If he's half as good as Morrison says he is, he can cope with a little leg wound.
"Right. Today's mission is a simple search and destroy. A group of VC snipers have been taking potshots at G.I.s and civilians about four klicks away. Our job is to get in, get them and get out. We have two hours." Murdock's eyes were unfocused, and Hannibal flicked his lighter to get the pilot's attention.
The captain grinned, and reeled off word for word what the colonel had just said, his eyes never leaving the flame. One for me, I think, Smith. Despite his cool exterior, Murdock was a little apprehensive – he knew that the colonel would probably try to outdo whatever advantage he thought he had. But I'm a big boy, I can handle whatever he's got for me.
"Right, two hours. B.A., you've got the machine gun. Face, you're a-gunner." This meant assistant gunner – Face had the delightful job of running around after B.A. making sure the ammo for the gun didn't get in the mud, and reloading whenever necessary. Peck rolled his eyes and was about to whine when he caught sight of Hannibal's warning look. He suffered in silence, running a hand through his hair, scowling to express his feelings more subtly.
"Captain, don't be late. And keep your mind on the job."
"Never off it, sir."
Hannibal nodded, eyes narrowed slightly. The situation had changed since the previous day – lives were now at stake. Neither of them could really afford to fuck around, and no one in Nam could have grudges. It just didn't work like that. How could you go into a firefight with a guy you didn't trust?
But despite Murdock's devil-may-care attitude and his insolent behaviour, Hannibal did trust him. He'd read his record, knew the only real reason he was always getting into trouble was because he wouldn't leave a man behind. And because he would make his feelings clear in no uncertain terms.
Hannibal looked at the other two members of his team. They had been the same, still were sometimes. B.A. had tried to punch his lights out the first time he gave him an order, Face always seemed to end up in the stockade. But now they were different. Well-trained. Loyal. They trusted him. They were a team.
Looking at this angry new pilot, Hannibal thought maybe Morrison was right after all - there was something to this guy.
* * * * *
Face sat up front with Murdock. B.A. refused to go in the front, didn't like the sight of the ground disappearing below the chopper, and Hannibal needed the space in back for the map. As they took off, Hannibal heard a curious noise. At first he thought there was something wrong with the engine, but then he realised the pilot was howling.
Actually, no-shit, really howling in delight as they left the ground. B.A. and Hannibal exchanged a look, one apprehensive, the other amused. Up front, Murdock heard Face's voice next to him over the radio in his ear. "Uh, flyboy? You okay? That wound hurting again?"
Murdock was so happy to be in the air he didn't bother to reply, simply looked the man straight in the eye and howled again as loud as he could. Peck ripped off his radio from the sheer volume of the sound, and looked back at the crazy man next to him. He turned around to meet Hannibal's eyes behind him. "We're supposed to fly with this lunatic?"
Hannibal shrugged, and looked back at his map. As Face turned around, he realised Murdock was miming for him to put his radio back on. He did so, expecting an important message, but instead was simply met by yet another ear-splitting howl. He snatched off his headset again, flashing the captain a dirty look as he dissolved into laughter. He heard Hannibal chuckling in the back.
As he looked back at the pilot, still on the lookout for any more tricks, he realised the guy was smiling. Properly smiling. Face thought it over and decided since meeting the pilot he hadn't really smiled, except to insult them. Now this looked genuine. The dumb flyboy was actually enjoying himself.
Murdock had never been sure exactly why flying made him feel so good. Even as a child, when he learnt to fly his grandfather's old crop duster, it had been the best experience of his life. He had felt…free. Like he could leave all the shit that had happened to him on the ground, and just concentrate on the air. Now, of course, a lot of shit had happened to him in the air as well, but there was still that feeling of freedom, like you could simply fly off into the wild blue yonder and look for the end of the rainbow if you wanted. He wasn't very good at explaining it, but he knew its power. It was the reason he howled when he took off, to let out all the nervous tension, all the anger, all the memories that weighed him down on the ground.
He felt the lieutenant's eyes on him, even as he swung round to come in to land. He was used to being looked at, of course – point at the crazy man – but this was more…surprised. Like he recognised the emotion he saw there and approved of it, but hadn't thought it possible for this madman to feel it. Murdock shook his head a little. You're over-analysing this whole thing, idiot. He's just worried you're going to kill them all…
The flight wasn't nearly long enough for his liking. He had to simply drop off the team at the LZ and return in two hours, although he had volunteered for a medevac trip to fill in the time. He couldn't bear the thought of hanging around on base for two hours, with nothing to occupy him.
Landing always made him nervous; like coming down after the high, he was more paranoid than ever. The skids of the chopper barely touched the ground, giving it that nervous energy feel that Murdock loved.
B.A. leapt out as quickly as possible, ducking to avoid the deadly blades whirling above him. Hannibal followed more slowly, eyes darting back and forth for any sign of trouble. Together they checked the area for danger, found none.
Face checked his ammo and pack, and was about to get out when he felt a hand on his arm. He turned round and saw Murdock's eyes fixed on his. "Be careful."
He gulped. Was this some sort of premonition, a warning? He reached instinctively for the cross around his neck. Murdock noticed it, and smiled.
"You're the most likely to get your tail shot off, pretty boy. No hair gel in the jungle." He grinned manically, and pushed Face forcibly out of the chopper. As Face ran to get out of the way he heard the pilot howl again, as he shot into the air as fast as the machine would allow.
They all exchanged glances, B.A. scowling. "Every VC in the area'll have heard that." Hannibal only laughed. As one unit, on some silent signal, they moved into the jungle without a sound.
The rain began to fall.
* * * * *
"HANNIBAL!" Face had fed the last of the ammo into the machine gun and still these fuckers weren't giving up. The big guy beside him was panting from the effort of carrying the gun. This is fucked up, totally fucked up.
Face ducked down behind the hill he had been using for cover. He couldn't see Hannibal anywhere – the last time he had seen him he was behind that rock. But from his vantage point – pressed into the landscape like he was trying to put down roots – he couldn't tell whether his CO was alive or dead. He looked up at B.A., still firing off into the distance. "When we get back, someone's gonna pay." If we get back.
The rain was now coming down in floods, like the sea had decided to regain the land by air drop. He was covered in mud, as was everything else. In a way, it had saved his life. He couldn't be seen from a distance. But it was damn uncomfortable.
A movement to their left. A man zigzagging his way towards them. For a brief moment Face clutched his rifle, thinking a gook had somehow got behind them. Then he saw the cigar in the man's mouth. He threw himself onto the ground near his men, narrowly missing a bullet that passed overhead.
"This is ridiculous. The entire NVA's out here. How are we supposed to take 'em out?" Face knew he was whining, but this time he had good reason. The "small group of snipers" had turned out to be an entire division of the North Vietnamese Army. They'd hit maybe half of them, but were now held down somewhere south of the base.
Hannibal held up a handful of wires and plastic. It was the radio, shot to pieces. "I think I got a message through, but I can't be sure. And anyway, in this weather, I don't think anyone'll come and get us." As if to emphasis this, lightning flashed above them, followed rapidly by a long, low roll of thunder.
The team exchanged a look. "Accept death" had always been their motto. But this didn't mean they had to go quietly. Silently, they checked their ammo. B.A. had a couple of rounds left for the machine gun; Face a clip for his rifle. Hannibal only had a service revolver – his rifle was out of ammo. Not good.
On a nod from Hannibal they raised themselves slowly above the hill, and shot at where they thought the VC were. A couple of screams indicated that the bullets were not being wasted. But with the cacophony of gunfire in their ears, they didn't hear the twig snap behind them.
A barrel in his back was the first sign that someone was behind them. Hannibal instantly stopped firing, put his hands up. Face and B.A. saw him; saw the VC soldier behind him. The gook was badly hurt, his hand clutching a wound in his shoulder. But the hand holding the gun was steady. Face and B.A. exchanged a look with their colonel, who nodded slowly. They put down their guns and all three of them got up.
They stood in a line, their hands non-threateningly in the air. The gunfire from the other side of the valley had stopped – either the team had killed them all (unlikely) or they had seen that they were captured. Capture was not good in Nam. It meant a POW camp, and the Vietcong weren't awfully careful with their prisoners.
The gook cocked the gun, and gestured for them to move over to the side of the clearing. Face closed his eyes against the rain. Shit. None of them were naïve about the realities of a POW camp. Stories were always filtering back to base.
The wind was really howling now. Wait…howling? It was getting louder. So was the thunder.
Suddenly there was a gunshot. The bullet hit the ground about an inch away from the gook. As one man, the unit looked up. Swaying a little in the wind and rain, Murdock was leaning out of a chopper with a gun pointed at the VC's head. He appeared to be steering with his knees.
With one fluid motion, Hannibal took the gun out of the soldier's hand. He put his hand up – the other still clutching the wound in his shoulder – started yelling "Chu Hoi!" Vietnamese for "I surrender."
Hannibal motioned them all into the jungle, out of the way so that Murdock could land safely. The wind was really picking up now, and there were a couple of times when it looked like he was going to be blown into the trees.
The captain ran towards them, head bowed low against the rain, the chopper still whirring behind him. His hair was plastered to his head, giving him a wild look. His eyes matched this – he couldn't seem to focus on anything longer than a few seconds. Face recognised it, the look of a recruit on his first time in Nam. He guessed that the pilot hadn't spent much time on the ground in the jungle. It was making him nervous. Well, more nervous than he usually is anyway…
"What took you so long, captain?" Hannibal yelled over the roar of the wind.
Murdock cut him off with a single look. "No time! Gotta get going - VC on their way!" The team sprang into action, heading towards the chopper before he had even finished speaking. Hannibal pushed the VC in front of him, his revolver in the man's back.
"Baracus, in first. The gook in the middle, Smith the other side. Peck, up front with me." The team complied with his orders – the unwritten rule of Nam was that in the air, rank didn't matter. You did whatever the pilot told you. Hannibal kept the gun pointed at the Vietnamese soldier, although he looked too frightened of B.A. to actually try anything.
Murdock didn't howl when he took off, and flew as low as possible. Face could actually feel the chopper shake as an occasional tree scraped the underbelly. "What's the rush? The VC can't catch up with us now."
The pilot didn't even look at him, was too focused on flying as fast as possible. "We're in the middle of a lightning storm. We're inside a giant metal piece of machinery, with six rockets and a full tank of fuel. What exactly do you think is going to happen?"
Face looked around at the rapidly darkening skies. In effect, they were inside a giant lightning rod. Suddenly he understood Murdock's apprehension as he saw a flash only a few klicks away. God, if you get me out of this I'll owe you one. He looked at the man sitting next to him. I'll owe you both one.
Without warning the VC guy in the back went nuts. He started bucking around like he was having some sort of fit. B.A. tried to restrain him, and Hannibal cocked the gun, but it was no good. He just wouldn't calm down. The gook kicked the pilot's seat and the chopper lurched forward as Murdock accidentally nudged the joystick.
"Shit! Do something, Hannibal!" B.A. yelled, narrowly missed a fist thrown at his face. The colonel steadied the gun pointed at the soldier; ready to do whatever he had to to protect his team…
"Wait! Peck, take the joystick for a moment." Face tried to protest. "Just keep everything steady!" Face reached over and tentatively held the flight stick. There was a nasty moment when everything tipped to one side, but he managed to steady the copter. Murdock turned round and leaned through the gap in the seats. He grabbed the VC's arm and pulled his face level with his own. He yelled something in Vietnamese.
Face felt like reality had crumbled. He was flying a copter in a storm, while his teammate was speaking in Vietnamese to a VC soldier. What the fuck is going on? Whatever was happening, he knew Hannibal and B.A. were just as confused as he was.
The gook calmed down, maybe because he was as surprised as they were that Murdock spoke his language. The captain pushed him back into his seat and turned round to take the controls again. Face just stared at him, and Murdock had to forcibly remove his hands from the joystick.
"Look, I can explain, or I can save our asses." He turned back to look out of the windscreen, scowling. Face could see the base come into view, and tried to push the matter to the back of his mind.
"When we land, get out and run. Get as far away as possible and don't look back. Smith, take care of the gook." The lightning was getting closer now, and Face wasn't sure who would get to base first, them or it. He could see the lights coming closer; see a couple of people running for cover.
The skids touched down and they all ran. Face followed Hannibal and B.A., who were dragging the VC soldier. Face ran as fast as he could; hadn't run this fast since college. He had sprinted maybe 20 feet before he realised Murdock wasn't behind him.
He stopped and turned around. Although it was dark and difficult to see, he could make out the copter swaying in the wind about a foot off the ground. Murdock was still inside, trying to turn the machine to land in a particular way. What the fuck is he doing? Doesn't he know it could blow up at any moment? What the hell does it matter how he lands it, as long as he gets away? The pilot was struggling with the controls against the storm. Face couldn't move – with every second the lightning was getting closer. Finally Murdock landed the bird apparently how he wanted it – facing out towards the jungle. He powered down and practically threw himself out of the door.
What happened next would be forever seared into Face's memory.
He saw the lightning arch down to hit the chopper, and at the time all he could think was that it made no noise. On cartoons, lightning always made an electric type of sound, but in real life, it was silent. An almost blinding flash of light as it hit the wet metal.
Then, in slow motion he saw the rockets fire, heading harmlessly into the jungle. That was why Murdock was landing it like that – they could have headed into base.
Murdock. He was running towards him, arms waving, shouting something he couldn't hear. He charged at him, knocking him to the ground.
Then sound returned. The long, low roll of thunder mixing with the explosion as the fuel on the copter ignited. Lying on his back with Murdock half on top of him, watching the flames shooting overhead, and the smoke blending with the darkness of the clouds.
He was wet. His clothes were a little scorched, and everything ached from where he had hit the ground.
Murdock slowly raised himself up. He looked terrible – he was cut and burned, covered in mud. "You're a fucking idiot," he wheezed, before they both blacked out.
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