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Coming Down 1/1

Coming Down
by SnowFlake


Rating: PG for a little language
Disclaimer: I own nothing, I claim nothing.
Comments: yes, please
Warnings: a little language
Summary: Face waits for Murdock. Set in VN, after the POW camps.
A/N: This story was written for witchbaby, in an attempt to offer some diversion during a very difficult time. And I would like to include emma in that dedication as well, with the hopes that it can offer some of the same to her.

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Coming Down

I watch him out there on the makeshift basket ball court next to the hangars. It's him and the ball and the darkness of night. No one else. Nothing else. He's been out there on his own for a long time, but no one has approached him. His do-not-disturb sign is lit up in neon tonight.

That sign includes me, too.

Sometimes that hurts, the fact that when he's like this, I'm no different to him than all these faceless, nameless people surrounding us. All the people who weren't there.

His hair is sticking to his forehead, darkened and lank with sweat. He feigns a quick move to the left and jumps, letting his wrist elegantly steer the ball to the intended target, the rickety backboard and the metal hoop. Two quick steps and the ball is moving under his hands again. He's messed up tonight. More than usual, I mean. He went straight from the all-clear at the infirmary to the deserted ball court. No shower, no food, no nothing. Didn't even look at us when he walked by. His flight gear is still lying where he dropped it in a pile next to the hangar wall.

The ball hits the side of the hoop with a dull sound and bounces off to the side. It goes far. He just stands there for a moment, staring hard at the treacherous hoop, then turns to retrieve the ball. He disappears into the compact blackness under the watch tower. I hope he gave the guards a heads-up before going in there. They've been trigger happy as hell ever since the sapper attack last week.

Curses follow him as he makes his way back out from there. Guess he didn't. It's weird; we encounter death on a daily basis here, but flirting with it on your own terms holds this strange attraction. Seems he agrees. I'm not sure what it is, maybe it's the need to restore the belief that you're in some sick way still in charge of your own fate, not just a pawn in someone else's game. Or- and the longer I spend here, the more I'm leaning towards this possibility- maybe we're just fucked up, maybe we're simply addicted to this crap.

He's back under the hoop again. An arm goes across his face, wiping away the sweat, before he starts up again. They're several pilots short right now, have been for a while. They go out first thing in the morning, drop one group off, then get back and pick up more guys to drop off. They get a few minutes at base to fill her up, check her out, and then they go out again (knowing that the odds of ending up under fire while out there are pretty much one to one). And again. And again. Regulated flight hours went out the window weeks ago.

But he's fine with that kind of heat, he thrives on it. And he's still the best damn pilot I've seen. Despite what some people say. I don't worry about that, not one bit. He's still an ace in the air, doesn't do any mistakes. But it's when things slow down, when night comes creeping, and the engines power down, and there are no more SAMs and crap to dodge, that's when he gets into a little bit of trouble. A lot of trouble.

I know this kind of trouble. The kind where you're just so super-charged, so wired, you can't stop moving for a second. The kind that follows running out of adrenaline somewhere around mid-morning but you still have to find a way to keep going. But he's got another layer of trouble underneath that. Trouble none of us really know how to relate to. Troubles that scare the shit out of me. Sometimes I don't think I know him anymore.

He was moving with a manic kind of energy when I first got here. You could almost believe there was someone else out there with him, an invisible opponent who had challenged him to a life-and-death game. Wild, dangerous energy was bleeding off him. Five minutes into his solitary ball session, he disposed of his shirt. He quickly gave up on the buttons and pulled it over his head. At least that was what he tried to do. When the offending piece of fabric finally came off he was agitated to say the least. A couple of vicious kicks got the shirt well out of the way. A few minutes later the t-shirt went the same way. That was two hours ago. He's slowed down a little. He's moving with concentrated purpose now, his attention solidly on placing the ball in the hoop. His ghost companion seems to have been dismissed.

It was bad out there today, around the forward firebases up north. The word was all around the base. Bad for the guys going out, and bad for the guys taking them out. Four Hueys are no-fly tonight, two of those four hardly made it back at all. His was one of them. It was apparently more of a crash than a landing, nothing graceful about it. But like they say: a good landing is any landing you can walk away from. He could. His crew chief couldn't. Not because of the landing, though. He'd taken a bullet through the neck as they'd taken off from the last insertion. Nothing to do about it. Except for cleaning the blood off the walls.

The darkness all around whispers softly in the warm, soothing wind. It's not the hot, dry, gritty sound from a few months ago, when the only thing as far as the eye could see was sun scorched browns and yellows. It's greener now. The rains are starting to work their magic.

He bounces the ball a few times out on the court and lets it fly. It goes through the hoop, and hits the dusty concrete with a dry, dull sound. He gathers the ball again, and lines up for another shot. It's a careful, controlled shot that doesn't even touch the hoop as it goes through it.

It's him now, all him, not the stranger who walked past us a few hours ago.

He gets like that when he can't get all the pieces to fit properly, when he can't really hold himself together. And the best thing to do when he looks like that is to leave him alone. Leave him alone until he doesn't want to be alone any longer. Anything else is rather bad for your health.

He'll come meandering our way after a couple of hours, and for a while he'll stick close any way he can. It's like he's seen something in himself when he gets like this, something that terrifies him, and I think company helps him ignore it until he can touch it. Even if it's late, and we're all conked out in the team hootch, he'll sit with his feet propped up on the table, smoking and reading whatever he can get his hands on. Sometime during the night he'll leave and go to his own hootch. Or sleep there with us, if there's a cot available.

The sound of the ball is heard against the concrete again, I can tell he's on the home-stretch now. He's looking tired, the last of that impossible energy finally having drained from him. I think he'll be joining me here on the sandbags soon (I'm not kidding myself by thinking he's not aware of me), smoke the last of my cigarettes, and talk about high school crushes and fast cars, and what we're going to do with our lives. It won't be long now. Another ten minutes, maybe.

He stops in the middle of the court and concentrates on the long shot. The three first shots are misses, going an inch too low, hitting the metal of the hoop. I hear him growl and I grin in the darkness. He's definitely been hanging out too much with B.A. He offers a few choice words to the world in general and the hoop in particular, and tries again. And misses.

Okay, so maybe not ten minutes. Twenty?

~ The End ~


Coming To Terms by SnowFlake
Coming Down by SnowFlake



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