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Realities 1/1

Realities
by SnowFlake

RATING: PG
DATE: February 2003
SUMMARY: Murdock struggles with himself and his surroundings after getting back to active duty after the POW camps. Face isn't doing much better, and is the bringer of bad news.
COMMENTS: Yes, please.
WARNINGS: Language, mentioned suicide.
Author's note: Thank you to sweet witchbaby for putting up with me and for patiently beta'ing the many versions that I sent her way. I blame a temporary bout of writer's insecurity for all the harassment. And a big thank you to Mel for helping out with an early version of this story.

* * * *


Mellowing sun. Vast, green cotton fields spreading as far as the eye could see beyond the fence. Cloudless, deep blue skies above. The smells of home all around.

Home. Murdock sat back in the white-painted porch swing and gave a slight push with his bare feet. The chains squeaked a little in protest as it moved. He didn't know for sure if it really was home any longer, he'd been away for too damn long. Hadn't been back since he shipped out. And it had only been for two days. He wanted to think it still was. Didn't really have anywhere else to call home. He gave another push with his feet.

He'd wandered all the familiar paths, cut across the train tracks behind Thompson's old hardware store, climbed the Ghost tree, its knotted, twisted branches pointing silently towards the sky. He'd jumped from one stone to another along the drying, over-grown stream that snaked through the field.

The fourth stone from the right, the big one that looked all secure, was to be avoided. A scraped knee and a bruised ego had driven that lesson home long ago (Tracey's curly hair had bobbed around her shoulders as she'd jumped down, landing next to him in the stale, shallow water, giggling behind her hand like only a ten-year-old girl could).

He lifted his eyes from the weather-worn boards of the porch. Squinting at the low-set sun he scanned the rural landscape that spread out in front of him. Something was nagging at the very edges of his consciousness. He got to his feet. Something that hadn't been there before, something that felt out of place. He frowned. Something that made him real nervous.

As he looked down, the shorts and t-shirt he'd been wearing had been replaced with full flight gear. Fatigues, heavy armored jacket, helmet, boots, the holster to his .45 was strapped to his side.

A soft rustling sound crept up around him. The deep-red petals of Grandma's blooming azaleas slowly withered in their well-kept flower beds. The grass in front of the old house yellowed, dried up, and blew away the rising wind. The sound intensified, changed pitch.

He spun around. Bright fire crackled and hissed, licking the huts and houses with its deadly tongue. The overwhelming smell of jet fuel was there instantly, burning his lungs, burning his eyes, and he just knew he had to get away, get away from the fiery wreck of mangled metal that had been his slick.

Hot, crazy light danced in the blackness (where had the sun gone?), illuminating the jungle that had crept up all around him. And above he saw the battered belly of Shaker's hovering Huey, its rotors catching the flickering firelight as they sliced through the darkness.

Little lights of green flew from the gunner's M-60 like a deadly, iridescent string of pearls, trying to give the stranded, injured men on the ground some kind of protection.

There was a roar of flames, a blazing trail across the black sky, and the Huey banked steeply, pull up pull up pull up, too steeply, and Murdock watched in horror how the massive rotors shredded thick foliage in slow motion as the slick fell out of the sky.

As fire added to fire, the world skewed, stretched, and finally imploded with a soundless crash. Murdock woke with a start.

For a moment he lay unmoving on his back, heart hammering wildly in his chest, disoriented, before his mind caught up with his body, and the who and the where and the why returned to him. Strangely muted at first, the sounds of the base came back little by little; voices drifting from the open mess hall, a screen door rattling in its frame somewhere, and a deuce-and-a-half
rumbling past outside the fence.

And then there was the unmistakable sound of approaching helicopters (two or three Hueys, and at least one of them limping badly. He could hear, could feel, the dissonance in the heavy song of the engines), growing louder by the second.

Groaning he lifted himself up on his elbows. The wooden crates he'd pushed together in the shade of the hangar wall to create a makeshift resting place had gone from slightly uncomfortable to downright painful during his nap. He swallowed, his mouth tasted ashen, and rubbed the backside of his hand over his eyes. They still burned from dreamed fumes.

How long had he slept? Judging from the sun, pale behind high, thin clouds, about half an hour. He still felt bone-tired. The bleak overhead daylight washed out to a foreboding dirt-gray hue at the horizon. This morning the hot wind had carried more than red, gritty dust across the base. It had carried the faint scent of rain. The first rain in seven weeks.

A lone dust devil dance wildly across the still-empty landing pad. Murdock turned his eyes to the sky and waited.

It had become something of a ritual, coming out here every day, watching the helicopters return with what was left of the outfits that had gone out that morning. The Hueys would come back battered and shot up, the pilots still half-wired, half-dazed, adrenaline burning hot and bright in their blood. But God, he envied them.

For five weeks (thirty-nine damn days), ever since he'd been cleared to go up again, he'd done nothing but fly ash n'trash missions in the rear. Nothing real, nothing that made a damn bit of difference. And the bastards made him fight for every hour. He couldn't hold that against them, who wanted to put lives in the hands of a freakin' loony? Who wanted to fly with one?

Actually, he *could* hold that against them. And he did.

So what. Who cared about the way the sober ones would glance his way discretely over their beers, and the not so sober would turn and stare openly? Morbid curiosity battling it out with awe, intimidation, fear, in their eyes. Who cared if they made little detours just so they wouldn't get in his line of sight?

So what. He didn't need them anyway.

What he needed was to return to the one thing that still had the feel of a constant. People didn't have that feel. People changed. They moved, got new best friends to play with, got drafted, got transferred, got blown to little, bloody pieces, got dragged out in the middle of the night and shot. People weren't constants.

The first Huey appeared over the tree line beyond the barbed wire.

The rotor wash whipped the dry foliage furiously as the skids clipped the highest branches, and Murdock knew the pilot was in a hurry. He cast a quick look to his right and his gut tightened. A triage team was crouched down next to empty stretchers on the right side of the landing pad, their faces already covered in the crooks of their arms, protection against the wall of dust
and debris that rose.

With an effort he forced his body to relax, and squeezed his hands in under his thighs. Sitting on them was a good way to keep them from doing things he didn't want them to. Smoking was too, but he'd forgotten the cigarettes as he left the hootch.

It was a rough landing, the slick bounced and bucked, and even before her skids were flat on the ground they were hauling people out. Murdock craned his neck and managed to spot Hannibal in the tired, downtrodden pack that filed out after the dead and wounded had been taken care of.

One down, too many to go.

Hannibal's left boot was untied, the laces dragged in the dust as he made his way off the pad. He moved stiffly, limping a little,
seemingly not wanting to place his full weight on his left foot. His face was set in a grim mask, and the lingering paramedics and scattered onlookers quickly moved out of his way.

The image of Moses parting the Red Sea came unbidden to Murdock. The man had taken his people home once again. Tired. Dirty. Wounded. Dead. Moses/Hannibal had this thing about leaving people behind. Even when 'people' was hampering their escape and was nothing but a burden. Even when 'people' just wanted to lie down and not ever see or hear or feel or know
another thing.

The two other Hueys touched down in the dusty haze behind the first one, and their passengers poured out from the open cargo bays. Murdock leaned over to the left to get a better view.

Across the flight area Face's head came up as Ray sidled past him under the slowing rotors. Murdock could see Ray grinning wickedly at a newbie who was trying to keep up with him. Ray was gesturing with the rifle as he recounted something or other, forcing the guys behind him to duck under the rifle butt as it swung back. A shove in the back and Ray shouldered the rifle,
continuing his tale without missing a beat.

Face came to an abrupt halt. The stop was so sudden that B.A. walked right into him, and Face stumbled forward. He shot a quick, appeasing grin at the B.A. and moved out of the sergeant's way while his fingers tugged at the buckle of his web gear.

Murdock narrowed his eyes. Something felt wrong. ~Face~ felt wrong. He grabbed the fatigue shirt that had functioned as a pillow, intent on heading over to the landing pad, but gazing over at Face again while pulling it on, he hesitated.

Face was complicated. Murdock had known that since the day he laid eyes on him for the first time. Rain-soaked jungle fatigues clinging to his body, wearing four days of bush on his person and in his eyes. As if Face had felt Murdock's gaze on him, he had turned and zeroed in on him. Smiled that trademark Peck-smile. But there had been an edge in those charged blue
eyes that had set off a whole battery of warning bells in Murdock's head.

Face wanted you to look. But he didn't want you to see.

Face's attention deserted the web gear buckle and his hand raked through his hair, leaving it standing wildly on end. He was now the only one left on the pad, with the exception of the aircrews that were going about their business.

The rotors were tied down and the slicks stripped of weapons and ammunition. The crews eventually dispersed in small groups, except for the crew chief of the Huey next to which Face lingered. He hovered around the craft, checking and double-checking old and new damage to the fuselage, the tail rotor, the ropes, all the while casting nervous glances in Face's direction. Finally taking pity on the guy Murdock made up his mind.

The first almost-inaudible rumbling of thunder rolled in over the perimeter fence as he stepped onto the landing pad. He pulled his cap down further as the gaining wind made a grab for it.

"Hey, Dom." Murdock grinned at the man. "Go get some chow. I'll make sure he doesn't mess with your girl."

Dom snorted. "You still owe me twenty bucks and a night pass for last time I trusted you." But the weary smile was thankful and he slapped Murdock's shoulder amiably.

The smell of kerosene and hot metal was strong under the rotors as Murdock stepped up. The air above shimmered with the heat that still rose from the dormant Huey.

Face was cradling his rifle in his arms, the wind tugging at his fatigues. His right hand was resting close to the k-bar in its sheath, and the sidearm was readily accessible in its hip holster. Murdock rounded him with space to spare. Despite what people said about his flying, he didn't have a death wish.

"So, tell me, darlin'," Murdock drawled, "what's a nice girl like yourself doin' in a place like this?"

A long second passed before the smile appeared on Face's lips. His eyes, a little dangerous still, didn't move from their horizon refuge.

"Been trying to get a drink for ages, but the service here is downright awful." There was a soft, singsong quality to Face's voice when he answered. As he spoke his muddy hands started a familiar roaming pattern. A soggy box of matches retrieved from one pocket and an unopened pack of cigarettes from another was the result. Working slowly, almost clumsily, he opened the
pack and tapped out a cigarette. Before lighting his own he held the pack at Murdock.

Murdock accepted and leaned in as Face offered the flickering flame. Even this close, Face felt far away (one foot firmly planted on the concrete landing pad, the other still soundlessly moving through dense undergrowth).

Murdock traced his finger slowly around a jagged, half-inch sized hole at the front edge of the pilot's side door. An exit hole. The bullet must have passed all the way through the helicopter and gone out the door.

A flash of lightning suddenly reflected in the dusty Plexiglas windshield. Counting the seconds silently until the rumble was heard, closer now but still faint, Murdock judged the time it would take until it was right on top of them.

It wouldn't be long.

Face sighed and shrugged out of the flak jacket. He lowered himself down on the hot concrete. Stiff with fatigue but still graceful, Murdock mused. Always graceful. The canteen grated over the surface with a dry sound, as Murdock pushed
Face's gear a few inches to the right with the tip of his boot and joined Face on the ground. Two feet of hot, dusty landing pad separated them.

Murdock wanted to sit closer to Face, wanted to offer more than arm-length comfort. But it wasn't that easy. Not as easy as when that comfort had been all that was worth holding on to.

Difficult to give now, and even more difficult to accept.

"Rough out there today?" Murdock watched the smoke from his cigarette get caught by the wind, dissolving into nothingness.

Face shrugged. His hand found the chain of his dog tags. Running two fingers along it to the back of his neck, he brought the wayward tags to the front, and tucked them in under his shirt. No big deal, his gesture said. Piece of cake. But dark blood in the caked mud on his knees and the front of his shirt belied him.

Face shook his head, somehow feeling Murdock's gaze on him.

"Not mine. I'm okay, just tired. Nothing a good night's sleep wouldn't cure." He wiped his face with his sleeve. "Just tired," he repeated absently.

"Dreams?"

Murdock didn't have to say nightmares. They all had them. Strange, terrible, fucked-up dreams. Talking about it was supposed to help. He caught the harsh laugh before it made it past his lips. Showed just how much they knew. Talking didn't
help at all. That he'd learned pretty quickly.

Nothing had been able to ground Murdock that one night, everything had just moved in on him all at once, crowded him to the point of panic, and the words had torn their way out from inside. Face had climbed onto Murdock's bed and listened, huge, scared eyes silently trying to soothe the unsoothable (it's okay Murdock talk to me you can tell me). Murdock had rambled,
raged and wept, and tried to put into words the images in his head that just wouldn't go away.

When his mind finally relinquished control back to him, exhausted on the floor, his back pressed up hard against the far wall, he'd looked up. Looked up at Face. Blank terror that witnessed of reawakened demons had bled from blue eyes. And Murdock had put his head in his hands and wept again.

He hadn't spoken since. He wasn't silent, no sir, he'd never been much for silence, but he never spoke of the things that cut him into bleeding, aching scraps of nothingness again.

Face rubbed his eyes next to Murdock. "No. I mean... some, but that's not..." He started fidgeting with the rifle.

Murdock sought out the safety. On.

"Hannibal okay?" Murdock left the subject for the time being. "Our fearless leader looked a little worn 'round the edges there."

Sometimes he could badger an answer out of Face, wear him down with constant chattering and not-quite-asked questions. But he had the feeling this was not one of those times. If Face wanted to tell him, Face would tell him. If he didn't, Murdock would just be wasting his time. That wouldn't be so bad, he had plenty of time to waste, but chances were he'd also be getting a snarky requisitions officer on his hands. That he could do without.

"The fuckers at S-2 screwed up again." Face's tone was clipped, hard-edged, all soldier again. "The intel we got wasn't worth shit. Echo lost three guys."

People became shape shifters in Vietnam. The gentle, quiet one would all of a sudden be the most trigger-happy bastard around. The edgy, fidgety one would go deadly calm. Murdock would see it as he approached an insertion point. The
seemingly laid-back atmosphere in the chopper would fade, eyes would search the dense foliage rushing past below as bodies charged with adrenaline, weapons would be checked and re-checked.

Face was no different. When he went out, in his head or in reality, his speech changed. The tone. The inflection. And all inhibitions he had about foul language, ingrained so deeply by his upbringing, vanished without a trace. Face normally moved seamlessly between those two settings, but sometimes, just sometimes, Murdock saw him frown at his own words, stuck in that strange, fuzzy phase in-between.

They sat in silence, Face staring off into the distance, fingers playing with his dog tags again, Murdock watching him from the corner of his eye.

"Almost forgot." Face suddenly tapped the ashes off the cigarette and turned to Murdock, the jungle cadence in his voice gone once again. "It'll take a while to get that thing for you. Three, four weeks probably."

"I ain't goin' nowhere," Murdock shrugged, then grinned. "But four weeks? You losin' your touch?"

Face frowned. Murdock made his grin a little wider, reassuring, and then Face was smiling too.

"Hey, my sources don't normally deal with..." Face waved his hand aimlessly, "...toys."

"Contraband is more your style, I agree. But wait till you see it, Faceman. It's a one-to-sixty scale model of an Avro Lancaster. A real beauty. Four Packard Rolls-Royce Merlin 224, twelve cylinder liquid-cooled in-line engines with two-stage superchargers. Bombed Jerry into kingdom come."

Murdock's hand, doubling as the Lancaster, swooped down between them majestically, and complete with sound effects it unloaded its deadly (imaginary) cargo on the dusty ground. He shook his fist indignantly at the sky. "Ach, zeese Lancasters are vorse zan ze smell of sauerkraut."

Face just shook his head, amused.

Face was good at his extra-curricular activities. More than good, actually. Equipment and gear, extra C-rats, the newest assault rifles, the best sights; all of it magically rerouted from wherever it was originally going to finally end up with Hannibal's team.

And most anything else one could wish for was readily available, for a price of course, if Face was consulted.

And sometimes one didn't even have to ask. Sometimes it would just be there. The newest issue of Aviation Magazine lying around, a month before it arrived by regular mail. Quality booze in your glass at the OC. A flak jacket that just happened to turn up when four pilots had been lost in as many days because of the lack of exactly that item.

Those were the free ones, the ones Face would never own up to, and he would look surprised and hurt if you challenged his innocence in the matter.

He liked his secrets.

No one knew better than Murdock that keeping busy was just one way of keeping reality at a distance, keeping the mind from going unpleasant places. Spending countless hours concentrating over tiny plastic details, building model planes in the dark of night, was another.

Murdock glanced over at Face. "How much you want for it?"

"A ride."
Face smiled his I'm-up-to-something smile.


"A ride?"

"
That's it."

"Um, we talkin' the quarter-million buck variety here? You know, machine guns, armor plating, big, long, massive thingies that go round, round overhead?" Murdock illustrated with both hands.

"If you mean one of those," Face pointed at the helicopter next to them, "then yeah."

"Monsieur is aware that it comes with an unreliable, crazy fucker of a pilot?" Just when had he run out of humor to cover for the bitterness?

"I'm counting on it." Face's eyes were very serious and they held Murdock's for a few seconds. Grounded him. The feeling of failure, of uselessness, of betrayal, took a tiny step back. Breathing got a little easier.

"You're not running some deal here that'll land me twenty years in Levenworth, are ya, Muchacho?" Murdock tilted his head back and looked at Face under half-closed lids.

Face laughed. He shook his head, but didn't offer any other explanation or clarification. Murdock thought about it for a few seconds, then nodded. No big deal. Wasn't like he'd never 'borrowed' a Huey between missions before. Well, truth be told, he'd only done it once, and almost got shot down, not to mention court-martialed, but that was a different story.

Face's smile waned. "Got a letter from Father Magill yesterday." His hand abandoned the charging handle of the rifle and a chewed-down fingernail started drawing slow circles in the fine, red dust that had resettled on the ground.

"The City of Angels still standin'?"

"Home sweet home.
Yep, still standing."

Murdock snorted. "Sweet? Faceman, ya got it all wrong. Sweet is chocolate from your darlin' on Valentine's. Or helpin' an old lady 'cross the street." Murdock inhaled the smoke and held it a few seconds. "Dry socks and a decent smoke qualify too. But LA's got smog and traffic and earthquakes and God knows what. I just don't understand what you see in that place."

"I asked him to visit Sugar," Face said, ignoring Murdock's interjection, his hand coming to an abrupt stop an inch above the ground. Then in a sudden, jagged motion his palm erased the figures in the dust.

Something in Face's voice made Murdock uneasy.

"So... how's he doin'?"

Face just sat there for a second, head tilted to one side, apparently listening to the wind that was whining with ever-increasing volume around the wires securing the helicopters. Then he got to his feet.

Murdock realized he didn't want to hear the answer. Wanted to cover his ears with both hands, and just walk away. Wanted to believe that Sugar (soft-spoken, always soft-spoken, even in the hottest situations, but with a wild streak the size of the DMZ, and a smile to match Face's) was doing okay, that he'd bounce back, that he someday, somehow, would be the same
person he'd been before. Anything else was just too scary to think about.

Too damn close-to-home scary.

"Seems he didn't wanna do the life thing anymore. Blew his head off."

The words were spoken so softly they were almost drowned out by the rumble of thunder. Murdock felt his stomach drop, tighten sickly as they registered. His chest tightened again.

Sugar had joined Hannibal's team two months before the fateful mission that had ended in prison camp for those who survived. Murdock had long ago decided that the guys who died in that crash had been the ones who lucked out. He pulled off his cap and ran both hands through his hair, nails scraping his scalp. Don't go there, man.

Face stood unmoving for another couple of seconds, his hands deep in his pockets. Then he turned around and walked away. He looked back over his shoulder at Murdock who was still sitting next to the Huey.

"Are you coming?" He didn't wait for an answer.

Murdock stared at the back of his friend. He wasn't fooled by the casual front being displayed. Maybe before, before getting to know Face so very well on their extended vacation in hell, he might have been. Before he had witnessed firsthand how Face was able to absorb everything, just about, and keep it inside, locked up without a trace.

But there were some things not even Face could hide.

Hushed whimpers had woken Murdock. Freezing, clammy morning fog was lying heavy over the open area in the middle of the still-dark camp, swirling slowly around the sleeping prisoners who were curled up close to each other for whatever scraps of body heat could be spared.

As he got to his knees he caught a split-second glimpse of B.A.'s eyes in the dark. B.A. was half-sitting, half-lying against the bars next to Murdock, his breath just about visible in the predawn cold, watching Face intently from under half-closed lids.

Face was in the furthest corner of the crowded cage. Murdock had fallen asleep with his head in Face's lap, Face's cold fingers resting on Murdock's hair. He hadn't noticed when the other man had moved away in the freezing night. Now Face's hands were clasped over his mouth and over them his eyes were bright in the darkness. Bright, fixed firmly and unblinkingly on
something in the darkness outside the cage that no one else could see.
They were bright and strange, and it scared Murdock.


Murdock could feel the fear staining his voice, making it shrill and loud against the barrier that his teeth were forming (had to be quiet, had to), and he struggled to get up, to get to Face. Shake him into moving. Into reacting. Into stopping those horrible, hushed sounds.

BA tensed behind him and an arm came around and held him down. Feverish warmth seeped through damp clothes and Murdock slumped back. They had spent the remainder of the night like that. Pretending they didn't see Face come apart.

He liked his secrets.

Murdock crushed what was left of the cigarette under his boot and reached over and collected the gear Face had left behind. Leaving him alone just now was not really an option.

Heavy drops started falling as Murdock walked. They hit the hot asphalt, marking it with large, dark spots that evaporated before the next one could hit the same place. The thunder growled again, the rolling sound washing over the base. Just as Murdock reached the hootch Face shared with another lieutenant the downpour started for real, and he took the three steps to the screen door in one.

As he closed the door behind him the sound of the rain grew muffled and muted against the corrugated roof overhead. He shook the water drops out of his hair, his eyes slowly adjusting to the semi-darkness of the room.

Face was nowhere to be seen, but Murdock could hear him move in the small inner room. His muddy jacket and t-shirt were in a heap on the floor, and the rifle was lying on the desk, silent and dark on the white backdrop of the many reports that littered the tabletop.

Face came back into the room, bare-chested, toweling his face and hair with little enthusiasm. As he threw the towel on the chair, Murdock was already busying himself pouring the bourbon Face kept in the bottom drawer of his desk into two reasonably clean glasses.

"Help yourself, why don't you." Face pulled a clean t-shirt over his head. The bed complained bitterly as he flopped down heavily on it.

"Don't mind if I do." Murdock grinned and handed him the smaller of the drinks. He tossed the wet towel through the still-open door to the inner room, and turned the chair around, straddling it. He held his glass up to Face.

"To Sugar."

Face's eyes skittered a little. Then he seemed to find his center, and he lifted his own drink slowly. "To Sugar."

They clinked the glasses together and drank.

"You should eat something." Murdock put his glass on the edge of desk next to the rifle. Using his index finger he rotated the barrel slightly so that neither Face nor he were in the direct line of fire.

"I'll grab something later. I'm not hungry."

They both turned towards the window as the room filled with blinding, white light. The roar of thunder wasn't even a second behind. The sound had lost its rounded, rolling nature, it cut sharply through the air now. Harsher. Harder.

"Admit it, you're just too damn lazy to go to the mess." Murdock turned back to Face, blinking away phantom images.

Face said nothing. He emptied his glass in one sweep, got up, and poured another drink. Sitting down again, back against the wall, knees drawn up, he rested the glass against the side of his face for a long time.

"You know what I'm gonna do?" Face's voice was raw.

"What?" Murdock reached over and put his empty glass on the desk. Draping his arm over the backrest of the chair he leaned his chin on it. He tilted his head and tried to asses the mood of the Green Beret, the combat-experienced Special Forces lieutenant in front of him (the tightness around eyes and mouth fading; young and barefoot and sleepy, short sun-bleached hair
sticking in all kinds of directions)

Not an easy task even in the most advantageous of conditions.

"Gonna go to town tonight," Face yawned. "We're not going out tomorrow, and I got a few hours r n'r to kill." Sliding down, Face made himself comfortable, manhandling the pillow under his head until he was satisfied with its shape. The drink came to rest on his chest. Blue eyes drifted closed.

"Anyone else going?" Murdock's arm snaked out and rescued the still half-full glass from its perilous position as Face shifted without opening his eyes. A few drops of amber liquid sloshed over the rim and over Murdock's hand.

Annoyance colored Face's sleepy voice when he answered. "I don't need a baby-sitter." He paused, eyes still closed, one hand smoothing down his light hair. "Not gonna do anything stupid, just need to get out."

Murdock lifted his hands tiredly, palms out. "Hey, I'm not planning on volunteering."

No. Not tonight. Didn't mind most of the time, the two of them were a force to be reckoned with. Had pounded some serious ass from time to time. Drunk the bar dry. But not tonight.

"Good," Face mumbled, turning toward the wall. "And it's not like you don't do stupid things. You do." There was a long pause before he continued, "You ever regret things, Murdock?"

Murdock got to his feet, causally. Walked to the window.

~You mean like not being able to hold it together, Facey? Like running away in my head and leaving you all behind because I was too weak, too damn weak, to take it any longer? You mean something like that?~

"I cut off Faith Moore's hair in third grade." Murdock rubbed his eyes with his knuckles. "Became quite a looker later on, ya know, but never forgave me. Real shame. Why?"

Incoherent mumbling was all the answer he got as his friend buried his face in the pillow.

Murdock found the Lucky Strikes on the sink in the inner room. Cigarette in mouth, he went through Face's jacket in search for the matches. His fingers caught something else as he pulled the pack out.

He turned the card over. Tommie Agee. Mets outfield. One corner of the card was dog-eared, the autograph had smeared a little.

Sugar's hero. Murdock's fingers shook a little. He willed them to stop. Agee was all Sugar had talked about for weeks after that third game last year. Last year. Far away, long ago. A lifetime ago. He took a deep breath, held it.

He replaced the matches and the card before he hung the damp jacket over the chair again.

The air had already cooled slightly from the rain as he pushed the door open. Leaning heavily against the doorframe, Murdock smoked the cigarette and listened to the sound of the rain and Face's deep, even breathing.

When the cigarette had burned down he flicked the butt from his fingers and drew a hand through his hair. He needed to talk to Hannibal.

He left the door open as he walked silently across the floor to Face's desk. The clip separated easily from the rifle, and Murdock set the two items on the desk. Cleaning the weapon was something Face would have to do himself when he woke up. Tomorrow morning, most likely. He collected the reports and put them in a pile next to the weapon.

The hard-trodden ground outside was too dry to absorb the amount of water that was being dumped on the base. Shallow pools of water had already formed everywhere. Within a few hours the place would be a mud pit, and nothing and no one would escape its dirty embrace.

He turned his face to the sky, and let the rain soak through his hair, through his clothes. He enjoyed the short second of no thoughts (a luxury these days, seemed he spent most of his time herding his thoughts away from the ever expanding mine fields in his head) before he pulled his cap on and started walking towards the tactics tent where Hannibal would be.

Murdock stomped his boots hard in the puddles as he passed them. He smiled a little. He liked the rain. Back home it had always felt like the start of something new. Like the old was somehow washed away, and new things were given a chance
to live, to grow. It even washed away bad moods on occasion.

The patter of falling rain mixed with the voices that bled out from the sandbagged tactics office. The base commander. Loud and angry. The tactical officer, trying to cut in. He heard Hannibal's voice too. Low. Sharp as a razor, and just as deadly. Murdock hesitated a moment. Then he continued walking. He'd talk to Hannibal later.

At least it wasn't his ass on the fryer this time. Being on the receiving end of Hannibal's anger wasn't good for your health.

He slowed his steps as he reached the dog pen. The German shepherd in the closest cage wagged his tail but refused to come out into the rain.

"Made yourself all comfortable, huh?"

The dog cocked his head at the sound of Murdock's voice.

"Well, I can't blame you. It's just dinky dao pilots who enjoy getting wet to the bone. Just stay right where you are."

A small sound came from his left. A golden retriever, its honey-colored coat not yet soaking wet, was pressed up against the fence in the next cage.

Murdock held his hand flat against the fence, allowing the dog to smell him, and was rewarded with a warm lick. Sticking his fingers as far through the loops of the fence as he could, he rubbed the dog's ear gently.

"You think I'm worth getting all wet over, do you, boy?"

Walking to his own, empty hootch suddenly didn't appeal to Murdock. He sank down to his knees, ignoring the half-inch of water that had collected out side the cages. He was soaked anyway.

He closed his eyes and tried to memorize the feel of the cool metal, the dog's fur under his fingers, the heavy drops that trickled over his forehead, down his neck. If he stayed out here, maybe the rain would give him a new start. Maybe it would let him remember his way back to himself. He wasn't sure he liked who he was now. That person felt dangerous. Not like him.

Murdock wiped the cap off his head and leaned his forehead against the fence.

Maybe if he stayed out here long enough he would be able to put to rest this bad, bad feeling that was stirring, itching, under his skin. Before it grew too hungry. Before it consumed what was left of him.

But this wasn't Texas rain. And this wasn't home. And Murdock knew that this rain, no matter how heavy, how long-lasting, didn't stand a chance against reality. Not this reality.

Not reality, Vietnam style.


~ The End ~


Realities by SnowFlake

 

 


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