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by Victoria S. Haslam
Warnings: Vietnam story, passing reference to ill-treatment of characters in POW camp.
Summary: Some thoughts on the use of a certain song...
Author's Notes: This is my first ever A-Team story, so comments are welcome. I've always thought "You Are My Sunshine" was an odd choice of song for the team, and having recently read the rest of the lyrics, it seems somehow even less appropriate. The song was written in February 1940 by a man who later became Governor of Louisiana.
Copyright: August 2002
never particularly sure why he had chosen that song. It was a loser's song
after all; a song about sunshine, love, hope and the loss of all three. It was
a song that had been written almost a decade before any of the young men in his
command had been born, nearly two years before America had joined in the
(second) Great War to end all wars (only it hadn't). Too young himself to be
part of that war, he had followed his father's footsteps into the military as
soon as he was old enough and seen action in every war or trouble spot around
the world since. It had kept him busy.
And yet there he was suggesting a song from a simpler time - a more innocent era when all a man had to worry about was losing his girl to another guy ñ to his group of battle-weary youngsters, most barely out of their teens but already far older in experience than many a man twice their age. Suggesting they use a song about sunshine in this place of incessant rain and hot, steaming bug-infested jungles, a song about love in a country torn asunder by hate, a song about hope in a world where thoughts for the future did not extend much beyond the next weekend pass. Only the song's feeling of loss was appropriate and even that was more wistful in tone than the gut-wrenching emotion each of them knew so intimately. The irony of the situation had not been lost on him.
Maybe it was the irony that had made him choose. Maybe it was the look of disgust he had seen written so clearly across his lieutenant's expressive face. Maybe there had been some other factor entirely involved. He wasn't sure. It was not as if he particularly liked the song himself. At least he hadn't... then.
He remembered the discussion clearly. They had all been gathered in his quarters - just a slightly bigger version really of the mud and bamboo hooches they themselves occupied - the desk where he did his paperwork shoved back unceremoniously against one wall to make room for the entire team, the single bare light-bulb overhead casting its garish glow over the proceedings. He could hear the interminable drip, drip of the rain outside, knew without looking that a hazy grey pall hung over both the camp beyond the door and the fetid, rotting jungle which loomed no more than a couple of hundred yards away. When the Army spoke about being 'in-country', they had no idea what they were talking about; when the soldiers did, they meant it.
The team had all been present and accounted for. The three command officers - himself casually leaning back on one hip against the desk behind him, facing his two lieutenants who had commandeered the room's only chairs. They were an intriguing study in opposites, those two. Dark-haired, dark-eyed Ray Brenner, already a seasoned veteran at 20, calm, reliable, cautious, leaning forward now on the canvas seat, attention firmly fixed on his commanding officer. And the impossibly young-looking, often irreverent, Templeton Peck, whose real age was anybody's guess including his own, golden-blond hair just a fraction longer than regulation length, wide blue (almost-innocent) eyes that hid an impressive though frequently wayward intellect, lounging back in his chair, one graceful leg crossed carelessly over the other, looking for all the world like a rich Californian playboy (with the emphasis placed firmly on the 'boy' part) relaxing beside the pool. All he needed was a champagne glass and a bevy of beauties to complete the picture. His commander had no doubt that the savvy supply officer already had the former stashed away somewhere in his quarters and could rustle up the latter at a moment's notice without batting much of an eyelid.
Below the two lieutenants, seated on the floor in various poses, ranged most of the enlisted men, eight of the finest hand-picked soldiers he had been able to find, while at the back, a dark presence guarding the door, stood the burly sergeant, B.A. Baracus, arms crossed firmly over his big-barrelled chest, immobile apart from his eyes which quartered the room, always alert even here, even now. Which left just the pilot, a man who had been with them almost since the beginning, although his permanent assignment as flyboy for the team had only been ratified some five weeks before. Long-limbed and rangy, Captain H.M. Murdock leaned casually against the rusted old filing-cabinets stranded forlornly opposite the door, a small smile lighting his features, obviously pleased to have been thought of and included in this little pow-wow.
He was proud of these men, prouder than he ever had been of any other group he had been given to command, would fight for each and every one of them (and had already done so on many occasions) and in return had earned both their respect and their loyalty. They were his - his men, his team. Something special, something bound together, both to himself and to each other, in a way he wanted to acknowledge.
Which is why he had called this meeting. The song had been his idea. A signal, a way of letting each other know they were there, a means of recognition beyond the visual. Useful on a dark night in enemy territory or in a bar-room on leave just before things began to get ugly. A snatch of melody, a lowly hummed tune, a few words quoted out of context would be enough to let them know they were not alone when things got rough. And out here, things always got rough, eventually.
They had liked the idea when he had voiced it, the expressions of approval ranging from a delighted whoop from one of the privates, a stolidly-built carrot-top named Jenkins who hailed from somewhere in the Mid-West, to a quiet grunt from B.A. and Murdock's slowly drawled, "Good idea, Colonel." And then, Ray, ever practical, had asked if he had something specific in mind for them to use.
Odd how he had never really considered the question until then. He had been turning the idea of introducing some form of recognition code over in his mind for weeks - ever since they'd had one particularly hairy run-in with Charlie and only just managed to get the whole team out again in one piece ñ thinking through the pros and cons of it. How the system could work, whether there might be any pitfalls they should avoid running into, if the whole thing was practical or whether it was just some crazy notion that he should let die before it got out of hand. Yet never once had he actually thought about what they might use.
Put on the spot he had responded with the first thing that came to mind, not even sure why it had been that of all things, ready even as he said it to change the choice, to ask the group as a whole if they had any better ideas. But they were nodding again, evidently knowing the song he referred to... or at least most of them were. Swiftly he scanned his team, noting two of the grunts leaning into their neighbours, their faces questioning, their voices pitched to a low murmur, seeing Murdock's smile widen, his brown eyes sparkling with appreciation, caught the almost imperceptible nod from B.A. and the thoughtful expression on Ray's face, only to be stopped by the blank look coming from his other lieutenant, the man they had nicknamed 'Face'.
The younger man shrugged, shifting his weight forward and allowing the raised leg to slip to the ground. "I'm not sure I know that one, Colonel," he admitted quietly.
"Ah." It was sometimes hard to remember that Face, so knowledgeable beyond his years in certain respects, had also in some ways had the most sheltered upbringing of them all, resulting in odd gaps in his cultural awareness. Popular music was one such area, although since they had met, Murdock had apparently been spending considerable time bringing the young lieutenant up-to-speed. Obviously, this particular song wasn't one he had got to yet.
As if on cue, the pilot pushed himself upright and launched into a quick rendition of the seven line chorus, his warm pleasant warble making the most of the slightly saccharine words. Sparing no more than a brief glance at Murdock, the colonel had kept his eyes on his junior officer, watching as the man's initial surprise turned to blatant disgust.
"You're kidding, Hannibal, right? I mean, that's just..."
"...what we're going to use," he had stated firmly, secretly amused by Face's discomfort. Ice-blue eyes twinkling with barely concealed mischief, he had shot one further barb at the floundering man. "So you better get over it... Sunshine."
The reaction was immediate. With an audible groan, Face had leant forward, elbows on knees, burying his head in his upturned hands. A small wave of chuckles and snickers rose from the floor, while B.A.'s unmistakable rumble had come from the back with, "Man, Hannibal, that's bad." and Ray shook his head at the atrocious pun, trying manfully to keep a broad grin from his lips without much success. Then Murdock had stepped forward to add brightly, "Don't worry, Facey, I'll teach you the song."
A second groan had risen from the depths, then Face's head came back up, blue-green eyes directing a swift glare at his commanding officer in what the colonel had categorised as his lieutenant's 'Why-don't-you-just-shoot-me-now?' look, before settling a much gentler stare on the Air Corps captain. "That's what I'm afraid of, Murdock," he'd muttered in weary resignation, "that's what I'm afraid of."
That in the end had been that. True to his word, Murdock had ensured that not only Face but all the rest of the team knew their chosen song. They had stuck to the chorus only. He wasn't even sure he could remember how the verses went (although doubtless Murdock had known them) and decided it would be just as well to leave the whole thing well enough alone. No sense in pushing his unhappy lieutenant any further than he had to.
Life, such as it was in the hell-hole called 'Nam, continued. The war had gone on, an endless round of missions, insertions, extractions and hanging around the base camp in-between, trying to keep busy (or at least drunk) in an attempt to hold unwanted memories at bay, all punctuated by the occasional leave. Nothing much had changed. The song came in handy from time to time, once or twice in the bush, but far more regularly back at base or on one of the many side-trips to another camp or local town. He had known that Face still wasn't too thrilled with his choice of song and had never actually used it, but that wasn't really important as long as he never let any of the others down when they did (and he hadn't). The rest of the team had adopted the idea wholeheartedly and it worked. Nothing else mattered. There was no more significance to it than that.
At least there hadn't been. Until the camp.
Nothing could have prepared them for life in Chao's Prisoner Of War camp. Hell, to be honest, he couldn't even call it living exactly, more like a day to day struggle for survival. He had been grateful from the start that only half the team had been captured, knowing that Ray would take care of the others for him, even if they were reassigned to another CO in his absence and might never be part of his unit again. But that had still left himself, Face, B.A., two of the grunts and... Murdock. They had known straight away that things would get difficult for the captain; the enemy had a dislike of pilots and often reserved their worst treatment for the flyers in their midst.
Yet, Murdock had not been the first one taken for 'interrogation'. In retrospect he knew he should have expected it. With his boyish good looks, striking blond hair (a colour almost non-existent among the Viet Cong) and obvious position as junior officer, Face had been the more tempting target. Within an hour of their arrival at the camp that late afternoon, the young lieutenant had been separated from the others, only to be returned to the cramped bamboo cage compound they had been thrown into, battered and bleeding, his eyes unfocussed, just before dusk. It had been but the start of their fight to survive and a brutal demonstration of just how few resources they would be able to call on in the coming battle.
By later standards, Face's injuries that first afternoon had been trivial, yet he had still worried about the lack of supplies with which to treat them. Infection would, in time, become a killer and while they were all fit and healthy to start with, the colonel had known enough about POW camps to know that their condition would begin to deteriorate over time. It was just a question of how rapidly it would happen. They would need to remain as strong as possible for as long as possible, by whatever means available.
For once the seemingly endless rain had come in useful, providing water with which to cleanse the lieutenant's wounds. That too was a resource they would lose in time, as the months-long rainy season finally came to a close, but he hadn't thought about it then. Just done what little he could do to ease the soldier's wounds, concerned by the young man's lack of response, until finally drawing the chilled body carefully into his lap, he had rocked Face like a sleeping child offering whatever comfort he could in the darkness. He wasn't sure when he had started singing the song - voice soft and low in the night - or how many times he ran through that same chorus, but suddenly he had felt a flutter of movement beneath his hands.
"Ah, Hannibal... that song. Did you have to?"
He had smiled down at the younger man, blue eyes meeting lucid blue as he eased his grip and allowed Face to shift to a more comfortable position. "Welcome back, kid," he had greeted softly, "How're you doing?"
And so the transformation had begun. It had started as no more than a call-sign for the team, but now as the days dragged into each other, as time shifted, blurred, extended or stood still, the song - their song - became so much more, not just for the six remaining members of Smith's unit, but beyond, rippling out among the other prisoners in the camp like a pebble thrown into a pond. A symbol of their unity, the badge of their defiance, a talisman they clung to for comfort and relief from waking nightmares, sleeping terrors and the dark places that provided little more than temporary escape. It became a reminder of past lives, of sunshine, love and hope in a place where none existed except in their hearts, a beacon warding off despair which otherwise might have overwhelmed them.
And then one day the rain had stopped and he had found himself gazing across the small cramped cage at Face, crouched low against the bamboo bars of their prison, Murdock, severely battered and mentally unresponsive from his latest meeting with Chao's thugs, cradled gently in his arms. A sudden shaft of sunshine had caught the lieutenant's matted, dirty hair, still finding something gold to glint off of and he had felt a slight gasp escape him at the sight. Face's wide blue eyes (no longer as innocent as they once had been) came up to meet his briefly before shifting to B.A. The big sergeant, he realised, had also been watching the former supply officer and the pilot. Then Face's gaze had dropped back to the man in his arms and, for the first time since Murdock had taught him the words, he began to sing.
In that moment, he had known what they had to do. Shuffling across to his junior officers, he had laid a hand on Face's shoulder and joined his own voice to the lieutenant's in gentle harmony. A few minutes later, B.A.'s soft bass was added, followed almost immediately by the rest of the team's.
"Hey, Murdock. I thought we'd lost you for good this time."
"Never. I'll always come back if you sing to me."
"Even when you don't want to?"
"Yeah, even then, " the pilot had promised softly, before shifting his gaze to his commanding officer. "Something on your mind, Colonel?"
"Yeah, Murdock, you could say that," he had grinned suddenly, "I think maybe it's about time we blew this popsicle stand."
They had all looked at him then, their faces filled with hope, trust, belief and acceptance and he had felt a surge of mixed pride and humility in the knowledge that these men would follow him to the ends of the earth and beyond.
"You got a plan, Hannibal?"
He'd grinned at the sudden eagerness in his second-in-command's voice. "Yeah, Face, I've got a plan."
A soft snort had come from B.A. on his right. "About time, sucker."
Three days later they had broken free of the POW camp and were on their way back to base - six team members, around a dozen other men from assorted units and a loser's song that had helped them survive the pain. As far as he was concerned, he would never let anyone try to take the sunshine away ever again.
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