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Title: Vigil

Title: Vigil

Author: lamardeuse

E-Mail: poutinette@canada.com

Rating: PG

Pairing: F/M

Website: http://poutinette.tripod.com/ateam/index.htm

Disclaimer: The A_Team does not belong to me, but if they did I would ply them with eggnog and mulled wine until they did my bidding. All characters, alarums, excursions and concepts belong to Stephen J Cannell and Frank Lupo.

Warnings: Language, slash (implied).

Summary: A response to Cathy Fisher’s challenge to write a story around the lyrics of a Christmas song or carol without mentioning the lyrics or title directly in the story.

 

 

Christmas Day, 1970

7:04 a.m.

 

He’d been hearing choppers all night.

Only problem was, there hadn’t been any choppers. None that were flying outside his own head, anyway.

He tried not to think of all the things that only existed in his head now. The list kept getting longer.

He’d limped out here before dawn, wrapped himself up in the blanket from his hospital bed and counted the stars as they disappeared. The sun was starting to gain in strength after popping up over the horizon, but clouds were threatening to obscure it. Too late, you bastards, he thought, too late; I know it’s there, and you can’t kill it, no matter how hard you try. It’ll be back tomorrow, and the next day, and the next, even if you never let me see it again.

He squeezed his eyes shut, pressed the heels of his hands into the lids.

Shit.

A nurse emerged from the Quonset hut that served as the recovery ward with some white pills and a glass of water, watched him while he swallowed the medicine down like a good little boy.

When she left, he spit them into his hand and shoved them into his pocket. Would’ve been nice to be able to throw them on the ground; Vietnam could do with a coupla snowflakes on Christmas day.

For some reason, that struck him as funny, and he started laughing. The kid sitting on the other end of the bench glanced at him out of the corner of his eye.

"You OK, Cap?" the fella asked. He was healing from a leg wound too; wouldn’t be long before he was sent back into the green.

"Peachy," grated Murdock, reaching into his shirt pocket for a Lucky Strike. He held the pack out to the corporal, who smiled and took it from him.

"Thanks," he said. "My mom sent me some stuff. I’ll trade ya a couple of her cookies."

"Whut kind?"

"Gingerbread."

"Fuckin’ A," the pilot murmured, sticking the cigarette between his lips and lighting up.

When he heard the chopper this time, he didn’t bother to look up. Either it was there or it wasn’t.

"Hey!" the kid exclaimed. "I bet that’s the mail."

It was there. Whaddaya know. He dared a glance at the landing pad. Now that he was paying more attention to the Huey, he realized the engines weren’t sounding all that great. In fact, they sounded like a five-hundred pound guy trying to run the last few yards of a marathon. The door gunner was hanging out the side, and from where they were sitting it was just possible to make out the look of fear in his eyes.

The corporal had picked up on it. "What d’you suppose is wrong?"

About six feet up, the gunner jumped. He hit the ground and tucked into a roll, then scrambled off the pad. The chopper rose for a sec with the loss of his weight, then dropped like an anvil. The rotors let out a screaming sigh of relief as the skids slammed down.

Four guys ran for the ship and started unloading crates.

Twenty minutes later, they were still unloading.

"It’s like Mary Poppins’ frickin’ handbag," marvelled the corporal.

When the bay was finally empty, the gunner jumped back on with a six-pack of Blue Ribbon under his arm. He broke open one of the bottles just as the chopper leapt back into the sky.

One of the grunts who had been doing the unloading walked toward them, pushing a gurney groaning with booty. "Merry Christmas, boys. Our brave gimps get first pick. What’s your poison?"

"What’ve you got?" asked the corporal, beaming like a six-year old being given the run of the candy store.

"Shit, we got everything. Those crazy bastards loaded up their Huey with beer, bourbon, pretzels, chips, chocolate, and a few dozen back issues of Playboy. I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a real girl in one a’ them crates."

"And the mail?"

"Next chopper, he said. It’s comin’ in a couple of minutes."

"Oh." Murdock didn’t miss the sound of disappointment in the kid’s voice. "Well, what do you want, Cap?"

What I want, he thought, wasn’t on that ship either. "Go for the bourbon, kid. That’ll put us in the holiday mood."

"You got it," grinned the private, who handed them a bottle, then headed to the ward to play Santa there.

The two of them sat together, puffing on their cigarettes and swapping the whiskey back and forth.

"You expectin’ a Christmas card?" Murdock ventured, surprised he wanted to know the answer.

The corporal looked at him, then took another swig. "My girlfriend. She’s a little confused about how long it takes stuff to get here. Thinks Vietnam is just around the corner, on account of she sees it on TV every night."

The kid’s bitterness was something Murdock could understand. "Nobody knows how far away we are," he muttered. "Not even us."

The corporal nodded, stared at something only he could see. "Sometimes I feel like I’m on the goddamned moon."

They raised their eyes as the next bird descended.

This one sounded fine, and Murdock listened to the music of the engine and the rotors working to defy gravity. He missed being up there. Things were easier the further you got from the ground.

Two fat canvas sacks came out of this chopper, and Murdock hoped the dumb broad had mailed her card in time for it to be sitting in one of them.

He shook his head. Not her fault. Not anyone’s fault. It was a pain in the ass not having anybody to blame. He’d stopped believing in God when he was five, so he couldn’t even go there.

"What you waitin’ for, Cap?"

Murdock took a final long drag of his first cigarette, then used the still-burning end to light a second one. "I’m waitin’ for my present."

"You sit on Santa’s knee?" chuckled the kid.

"Damn! I knew I forgot something."

Maybe he could blame Santa Claus, the pilot reflected. That SOB had a lot to answer for. Would a hog take him all the way to the North Pole? If he refueled in Seoul, then took the Great Circle route...

"Hey! Is one of you Templeton Peck?"

Murdock sucked in a breath. "He ain’t back yet."

"You in his unit?"

He paused. "Yeah. I guess."

"Close enough," the guy told him, and thrust a clipboard and a pen at him. "Sign anywhere."

Murdock signed.

The grunt raised an arm. "Over here." Three huge crates were deposited in front of the pilot, and then they were alone again.

"Holy crap," the corporal whistled admiringly. "You hit the jackpot." He eyed Murdock mischievously. "You think we should open them?"

"No." He stared at the crates, wondered if this was all he was going to have of him. "Yes."

"I’ll get a crowbar," the kid grinned, pushing himself to his feet and limping off.

 

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

 

"I’ll be damned."

"Probably."

"Let’s set them up."

Murdock pursed his lips. "What if it rains?"

"We’ll get some fellas to help us move them inside." The kid turned pleading eyes to him.

Murdock flung his cigarette on the ground, stubbed it out with a vicious grind of his boot. "All right, all right." He heaved himself off the bench and his knees kissed the red dirt.

 

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

 

The third chopper was wounded. Badly.

He knew they were on it.

The corporal was reading his card for the hundredth time, but he tore his gaze away from his girl’s perfect penmanship to watch.

Watching was all Murdock could do. He clenched his hands, half expecting to feel the solid comfort of the stick. Instead, his fingers gripped air, and his nails dug into his palms.

Shit.

Smoke fanned out behind the ship, escaping from the engine compartment.

Trim, trim, fucking trim, she’s coming in too fast, watch the angle--

Beside him, he heard the corporal reciting a prayer. Face’d like that. He never mentioned it, but Murdock could see his nose scrunch up whenever the pilot said something irreligious. He loved making him do that, did it on purpose sometimes.

The rage boiled up in him then. He’d always been too angry to be a good Christian. No, he thought, not like this, like you’re in the stands at a goddamned football game. On your feet. For them.

He rose as the slick descended. The earth beckoned to the dying bird, arms reaching to ensnare it in a murderous embrace.

He started running. There was no pain.

A truck passed him, the tank it was hauling loaded with fire retardant.

They were going to have a white Christmas after all.

Fifty feet, forty, thirty, too fast, too fast, but he would’ve done the same thing, get her on the ground before the whole thing explodes--

The ground slapped the chopper hard. The skids bowed out, absorbing the shock. He held his breath as the blades flexed slightly, then rebounded before they had a chance to slice into the tail. Murdock could hear the sickening whine of the rotors as they powered down, the shouts of the guys as they poured out of the open doors. He saw BA, the beautiful mudsucker, and Ray, and Morty, and--

"Where’s Hannibal and Face?" he yelled.

"Gettin’ the pilots out. They both wounded." BA’s arms tried to hold him still. "Fool, get back! You know that chopper’s ‘bout to cook off!"

The truck began spraying the engine compartment. He could see the flames licking up around the rotors.

"C’mon!" Ray hollered.

Wait wait wait--

There. First Face, then Hannibal, emerged from the cockpit with the two fellas slung over their backs. Murdock ran forward to help them manhandle the guys out the side.

Face’s eyes met his.

"My hero," Face said.

Murdock stumbled then, and strong arms caught him.

"Hand ‘im over, LT. You can hold up the fool."

As they hobbled away from the now-smoldering slick, whiteness fell to cover them all.

 

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

 

Christmas Day, 1970

9:30 p.m.

 

Murdock drained the last of the bourbon. The corporal--Jerry--had been invited back to their hooch after the pilot had told them about the prayers.

The seven of them sat sprawled in sling chairs and on bunks, in companionable silence. They sat and stared at the display, arranged by Face and Morty, in one corner of the tent.

"Sorry we opened ‘em, shur," Jerry slurred. He’d be puking into a latrine before the morning.

"That’s all right, Corporal," Face replied. "I think they brought us luck."

"Got ‘em wet, though."

Face grunted. "They’ll dry out." He pushed himself to his feet, sauntered over and squatted down in front of the Virgin Mary. His hand rose, and his fingers brushed gently over her delicate, serene features.

Murdock flashed on the sensation of Face’s hand over his heart, as they lay together in the dark of a Saigon night three months ago. The fingers lightly combing through the hair on his chest, then pressing into the hollows between his ribs.

"There," Face had whispered. "There."

The sacred and the profane. Definitions he’d always thought meant nothing, until he met Face.

Because Face was both of those things, and much, much more.

Maybe they all were.

"Which one’s Jesus again?" he drawled.

Face’s nose scrunched, and Murdock grinned. It was a merry Christmas after all.

 

 

End


Vigil by lamardeuse

 

 


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