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Stuck With Each Other

Stuck With Each Other

by SoulSeeker

 

Rating: NC-17 for language, implied slash and violent content

Summery: What happen to the boys after the break-out of the P.O.W. camp. Sequel to "Stick With Your Unit".

Dedicated: To everybody who wrote great comment cards, wanting a sequel. Well, here it is!

Disclaimers: Don't own anything but my cat, Jade. She only loves me though, and she's very jealous of anybody else!

 

  

                                                       STUCK WITH EACH OTHER

 

  

     Opening the gate they walked silently into the green jungle.

 

    They kept away from trails, preferring to walk though the thick jungle instead. Off the beaten path to keep their captors off their backs. They had already changed positions in the group. Hannibal went to the back of the column to pull rear guard and the man behind him took point. Face drifted up one space and they continued to push ahead. Two scouts came back and another two took their place. The front scout made sure that they didn't walk into V.C. central and to check for booby traps. The rear scout made sure that all signs that a group of Americans passing through were erased. Except for B.A., all the wounded were shifted to other shoulders so that the ones helping them could take their places to relieve others. B.A. refused to let Murdock go. Refused to let Ray or Big Mic take him out of his arms. He would keep him safe. Nobody else. It was his lil' brother and nobody was gonna touch 'em.

 

     B.A. felt like they had been walking for days, even though he knew that it was only for a few hours. He made one of the other guys load his back down with supplies; they could use a little lighting of their own burdens. It wasn't as if Murdock was heavy. Far from it. He felt like he was carrying a load of dried sticks. Nothing like carrying a person. B.A. just wanted to get his hands around that General's neck and squeeze tight. Made no sense at all why a person would treat another person this way. No sense at all.

 

    Murdock slowly came awake. Not wanting to alert the guards that he was awake, he feigned sleep, trying to figure out where he was. Was he in the cage, basement, or interrogation hut? He felt the warm sun on his face, so that that ruled out two of his choices. He was in the cage then. Safe for now. Except ... he felt arms around him. Big arms holding him. Holding him down! The cage wasn't safe anymore! Nowhere was safe! Franticly he began to struggle in the arms, trying to get away. Trying to get to somewhere safe! 

 

    "Stop squirmin' fool! Gonna make me drop ya'!" B.A. told the suddenly awake Murdock. He instantly froze.

 

    He looked down at the large brown eye starring up at him. The ill man was looking at him as if he never saw him before. Thinking on his past behavior, B.A. wasn't too sure that he did remember him. Wouldn't surprise him at all if Murdock was permanently screwed in the head.

 

    He kept talking to him, secretly hoping that Murdock would suddenly start teasing him. Joking around like he used to. 

 

    "Ain't nothin' buta sacka bones. Gonna fatten ya' up proper. We get ya' ta a hospital, gonna call my mama. Get Faceman ta' get her here. Get her ta' cook and feed ya'. Good soul food too. Nonea that hospital crap either. Getcha some cornbread and black-eyed peas. Big chunks of hamhocks and collard greens. Fried chicken, chittlens, home grown tomato's and corn on tha' cob. Chocolate cake from scratch. Nonea that crap made from a mix either. Home made. Face'll get tha' ingredients somehow. Ya' know he can get anythin'. Butcha gotta share with us ya' know! Can't have alla mama's food ta' ya'self. Gonna get ya' fatten up and fixed up. Gonna make ya' well. Ya' here me, fool? Gonna make ya' better!"

 

    Murdock stared up at the large man holding him. He felt like he should know him, but his mind was still hazy. He felt ... safe. Safe for now at least. But the large dark man holding him sounded like he was upset and worried. He wasn't able to understand was he was saying, but the tone sounded ... off. How he knew this fact, he didn't really understand. But he didn't want him to be upset or worried. He wanted him to be happy. If he can't be happy, at least someone else could be. Reaching up with his uninjured arm, he awkwardly patted the big man on the opposite shoulder as if to say, 'There there. Everything will be alright.', and drifted back to sleep.

          

    B.A. couldn't believe it. Just couldn't! Here Murdock was, as close to death's door then anyone of them had ever been, and he was trying to comfort him!

 

    "Damn crazy fool. Don't gotta worry about me. I'm fine. Ya' tha' one that needs worrying over. Not me. Nutten' buta buncha dried up bones. Nutten' but air and skin."

 

    B.A. quietly muttered to himself about fools and food and didn't notice the silent tears rolling down his dusty cheeks.

 

     They pushed on.

 

    Face finally made it up to B.A.'s place in line. Glancing at the sleeping man he asked, "Is he alright?"

 

    Worry and concern for him was clear in his voice and posture. He tactfully ignored the signs of B.A.'s tears. He shed enough of them himself to last a life time.

 

    B.A. growled at him, "Course he alright, whatcha think? Ain't gonna let nobody hurt 'em again. Go on and leave us be. Ain't got time ta' look after botha ya'. Now go on and pester sumbody else."

 

    With one last growl directed at him, Face drifted off to confer with Ray at the head of the line. B.A. looked down at his charge.

 

    "Another damn fool that needs lookin' after. Not like I ain't got enough ta' do, lookin' after ya', gotta keep Faceman ona leash too. Damn fool gonna get hisself killed he don't watch out."

 

    Hannibal finally called for a halt to rest up and to tend to the wounded. He sent a few out to keep watch and others to break out the food. He admired Big Mic's team. He had the foresight to grab sternos to cook with, eliminating the risk of fire. They'd also grabbed a few pots, along with jugs of precious water. Murdock woke up again and stayed awake.

 

    B.A. gently sat him on the ground, propped up against a fallen tree trunk. Slowly, so he wouldn't frighten him, B.A. carefully wiped the dirt from his bare feet with part of his own tattered shirt. Murdock watched him but still didn't speak a word. He thought it was creepy, the way the man was in pain but didn't even whimper. He should be screaming, crying, cursing; anything but just staring though somebody like they weren't even there. He knew the pilot was in pain. Hell, judging from the wounds on his body, who wouldn't? But he didn't show it and that just wasn't right. He was so far into his head that he didn't feel pain. He didn't feel pain or anything much at all. Except fear, apparently. Fear seemed to be the only thing he felt. The sergeant didn't think that anybody shouldn't feel anything but just fear. There should be some glimmer of hope in there somewhere. If somebody didn't have hope, well, they pretty much didn't have anything to live for. And Murdock deserved to live. If nothing else, just to annoy the hell out of him again.

 

    B.A.'s soft smile faded a bit when he failed to react. He heard a crunch of leaves behind him and he whirled around, ready to defend the both of them. It was Ray with medical supplies. He was surprised. He had expected Face to hovering around them, taking charge of Murdock like he used to do in the cages.

 

    Ray responded to his unspoken look. "Hannibal has Face distributing the rest of the supplies and helping the others. He didn't think that anybody else would know what stuff to use. Tell ya' one thing, it wasn't reassuring to see Face having to sniff everything in order to identify this home made shit. The look on Hannibal's face was priceless. Too bad he doesn't read Vietnamese, huh H.M.? Maybe you can give him lessons later, Captain. After we get outta this hellhole."

 

    Murdock just continued to stare through them, arms tightly wound around his stomach. Ray shared another look with B.A. They both agreed that it would be Ray to do the biggest part of the patching up. Not that B.A. couldn't do it with gentleness, but Ray needed to feel useful too. He had managed to turn all of his anger and rage at his tormentors in the camp and turn it towards something productive. Nursing the others. He was almost as good as some of the medics they had.

 

    Getting as close as possible without scaring his friend, he lowered himself until he made eye contact. Smiling at him, he softly talked to Murdock. "Hey, H.M. How ya' doin'?"

 

    He didn't expect an answer and wasn't disappointed when the silence remained. Murdock flinched backwards and drew his legs up when Ray started to examine his arm.

 

    "Hey, hey, hey. Take it easy, now. I just want to look at that arm, o.k.? Just look at it. I promise I won't do anything without telling you. O.k.?"

 

    Ray kept his arms extended, palms up. The decision would be up to him. Murdock glanced from one man to the other. Thinking about it. Chewing on his bottom lip in concentration. Thinking about it again. He finally came to a decision. 'Why the hell not? It isn't as if anything that they could do to me now would be as bad as what was already done. Maybe they'll even do me a favor and put me out of my misery.'

 

    Very hesitantly and very slowly, he lowered his legs and placed his left arm in Ray's hands. Ray and B.A. smiled at him. Murdock just turned his head and looked out into space. The two men shared another sad look. The man was worse off then they thought. Ray examined the arm more closely. It needed to be cleaned and drained before they could set the arm. Fortunately, Hannibal insisted that some of the water be used on the worse of the wounds. With no alcohol to disinfect, water would have to do. They'll ration the rest and pray for the next monsoon to hit before they ran out.

 

    "O.k., buddy, I'm just gonna clean off your arm a little, just to see what kinda damage there is. Just a little water and gauze, that's all." No reaction.

 

    Very carefully, he poured a little water on a small piece of gauze and began to gently clean the dirty arm. It wasn't as bad once it was cleaned. Only a few places were puffy with infection and it wouldn't take much to break the skin and squeeze the pus out. It would be sickening and gory for someone not used to it. Unfortunately for them, they were used to dealing with a lot worse. But, it had to be done. The quicker the better before it got worse and gangrene set in. Once that happened, death wouldn't be far behind. It was a miracle that it hadn't set in before now.

   

    "H.M., I'm gonna haveta press a few of these sores now, to get the pus out. It'll hurt some, so if you wanna scream or somethin', that's o.k. with us. But it has to be done, o.k.?" Still no reaction.

 

    He carefully pressed on one of the largest wounds, pushing everything to one side and breaking the skin on one corner with a sharpened piece of bamboo stalk. B.A. grimaced when it broke, sending yellowish white pus oozing down the side. Ray kept pressing until it ran clear with a little blood tinge. Murdock still didn't so much as blink through the whole process.

 

    "O.k., now I'm gonna do the other three. We're almost done here."

 

    Working quickly and still talking, he managed to drain all of them. Now for the salves. Reaching down and grabbing a knee, he gently shook it a little, to get Murdock's attention. He kept shaking until he finally looked at them. His face was still blank but Ray went ahead anyway. Maybe he'll just snap out of it at the smell of the stuff. He hoped so. It was pretty rank.

 

    "O.k., man. Now for the medicine. Sorry it smells like shit, but Faceman says it's the best thing for  infections. Whewww, get a whiff of this. We could use this to knock out a whole company of V.C. just by the smell alone." Still nothing.

 

    Taking another piece of gauze, Ray dipped it into the jar and began to spread it liberally over the sores, putting extra on the infected areas. After picking at the rope burn a little, getting the embedded fibers out of it, he doctored the wrist. B.A. had taken a step back when the jar was opened, but leaned back in once the shock of the smell wore off. He couldn't believe that the smell alone didn't bring tears to the crazy man's  eye. He knew his own was watering. Ray wasn't in much better shape, being as close to it as he was. He was actually trying not to cough. He wasn't having much success at it, if the muffled noises were anything to go by.

 

    Finally, finally all of the arm was covered. He would've liked to wrap it now, but the arm needed to be set first. Nodding to B.A., he continued to softly talk to Murdock.

 

    "O.k., buddy, B.A.'s gonna hold your arm still while I set it. It's gonna hurt, so feel free to yell all you want."

 

    B.A. took a firm hold of his shoulder and upper arm, bracing it for Ray to pull and set it. Ray made sure that the splints and wrappings were close by, in order to quickly bind the break. With one hand on his wrist and the other just below the elbow, he gently pulled on the arm to separate and to reconnect the bones. The arm wouldn't budge. He pulled harder. Nothing.

 

    "Ah, fuck."

 

    "What's tha' matter, man? Jus' set tha' arm. Smell's getting' ta' me already."

 

    "Can't set the arm, B.A. It's already started to knit together. Musta been broke for awhile. Doc's gonna haveta re-break and set it at the hospital. Only thing we can do is just wrap it and hope it doesn't break in another place. Sorry, man."

 

    Murdock still showed nothing on his face. Ray wrapped it and as soon as he released the arm, it shot back to the safety of its hiding place. Holding out his hands again, just like the first time, Ray asked, "Can I see the other arm, now?"

 

    Murdock looked at him and thought about it. Trembling a little, he slowly offered the other one. Ray smiled at him again. Following the same procedure as before, he examined the arm and told Murdock exactly what he was going to do. It wasn't much. Mostly faded bruises, lash marks, and a strange pattern on the upper arms, near the top of his elbow. Deeply indented scab marks, evenly spaced around the flesh. He didn't see them on the other arm, but then again, most of the lesser burn marks were around that area.

 

    Wondering out loud he asked, "What the fuck caused that?" He didn't really expect an answer. He got one anyway.

 

    "Barbed wire. They tied my arms with it after they dislocated my shoulders." 

 

    Murdock's voice was soft but devoid of emotion. It was if he was discussing the weather. The other two men shuddered a little at the mental picture. That hadn't happened to either of them, or any one else they knew. They let a fresh wave of anger wash over them.

 

    "When did this happen, Murdock?" Ray asked softly. It had to have been after he was taken from them. They remembered dislocated shoulders, not both of them at the same time though, but they didn't remember any wounds from barbed wire.

 

    "Just before they threw me into the basement."

 

    Ah shit! The basement. Well, not an actual basement. That's just a name that Murdock came up with for the hole in the ground. Well, actually there were four holes in the ground. A cage about five feet deep and three feet wide set in the jungle floor. Too short to stand up in, too narrow to sit; a captive had to crouch there, legs cramping, shoulders brushing the sides, no way to get comfortable. And you were there for hours or days at a time. A weighted tarp covered up any light whatsoever. It was dark and cramped and scary for anyone unlucky to be in one. Especially for Murdock. No room for his long legs, no place to turn around in, no light and no air for him. Murdock always had a weird form of claustrophobia. Jet cockpits, covered foxholes, locked bedroom doors didn't bother him. Even being kept in the cages didn't really bring on the outright panic that happened when he was in the basement.

 

     B.A. remembered being in the hole next to him once. It was an experience that he'll never forget for the rest of his life. Lil' brother was taller then him; he knew his legs were practically around his ears, he couldn't imagine how the crazy man fit in there. He could hear Murdock begin to pant; fast, light and shallow at first. That changed into deeper breaths, ragged gasps with long pauses in between to yell at the guards, in both English and Vietnamese, that he couldn't breathe. There was no air at all. That he was going to suffocate to death. He tried to talk to the rapidly panicking man. Even tried to sing the Sunshine song. Nothing helped and nothing got though. Finally, after what seemed like hours, after hearing him bang his head repeatedly against the bars, after hearing the heart wrenching crying getting louder and louder ... there was silence. Complete and, to him, deafening silence. B.A. wasn't sure if he had actually calmed down or if he'd passed out from hyperventilating. He'd never know because each time that Murdock was brought back to the cages, he was quiet for days. Lost in his own little world deep in his mind. Even Face had trouble reaching him after those fun little personal trips to hell.

 

    "When?" Again came the same soft question.

 

    Murdock just shrugged and looked away. It was all a little fuzzy. He knew that it happened, but he didn't remember when and he didn't want to remember. He wished, not for the first time, that everything was fuzzy. He liked it when it was fuzzy. Fuzzy didn't hurt as much. It would've been better if there was no pain at all, but hey, he would take what he could get.

 

     Wrapping the arm quickly, Ray poured more water on a larger square of gauze. "O.k., Murdock. I'm just gonna clean you up a little, alright? Try to get some of that blood off your face and clean that wound on your forehead, o.k.?"

 

    Murdock finally moved without asking and without thinking. He cocked his head to give Ray a little more access. Ray and B.A. smiled at each other. At least it was something. He started on the bottom, still speaking softly. Nonsense mostly, but still hoping that he'll say something on his own. After using three pieces of gauze, he finally reached the forehead and made a gruesome discovery.

 

    "B.A., go get Hannibal."

 

    "What for man? What's wrong."

 

    "Just. Go. Get. Hannibal. Now."

 

    The voice was soft in order to not frighten the Captain, but the meaning was clear. 'Don't argue, just do as I said.' B.A. went and Ray continued to smile and talk to him, but he finished cleaning, all the way up past the hairline.

    

    Hannibal and Face were having their own set of problems. Some of the other men resisted the medicine at first. The smell alone put most of them off. The rest didn't trust a Cong doctor, no matter that Face knew what was helpful and what was poisonous. It took a lot of fast talking from both of them to get them to use it. A few of the men started cooking over sternos, carefully measuring out rice and dried fish. Most of it they were already used to and none of it was what they wanted. But, food was food. A few were voicing concerns about why Murdock was the only captain left alive. That was what started the fight between Face and a few others.

 

    "You motherfucker! You take that back!! He's not a traitor! I oughtta cut your tongue out just for thinking that!" It took both Hannibal and Big Mic to hold Face back.

 

    The sergeant wiped his bloody nose. "All I'm sayin' man, is that it's kinda funny that Murdock was the only one left alive. He was taken before any of the others. Why is he still alive? That's all I'm sayin'."

 

    Hannibal stepped up and addressed the group. He glared hard at each and every one of them.

 

    "The only reason that Captain Murdock was still alive is because he didn't break. He didn't give in to anything that Choa did to him. And I'm not implying that the others did. You all know that once Choa had his hands on a pilot, that man was good as dead. He laughed over that fact enough for all of us to know that's true. It didn't matter if the pilot broke or not. The reason he's still alive is just luck, pure and simple. You guys think you went through hell? It was nothing compared to what those pilots went through. You didn't see their interrogation hut. We did. What we had to endure was nothing to the nightmare they had to live though. Nothing! We were lucky that they left when they did, or Murdock would have been just as dead as the rest of them. So instead of moaning over the fact that someone is alive, be glad. We all lost friends close to us. Brothers to us all! So stop your sniveling and get over it. We all need to help each other right now. Getting out alive should be our top priority. The backstabbing is over with!"

 

    Hannibal was about to go on when B.A. ran up to them.

 

    Stopping for breath, he told Hannibal, "Ray said ta' come now."

 

    Face step up to him. "What's wrong with Murdock?"

 

    "Didn't say, man. Jus' said to bring you. Now."

 

    They all followed B.A. back.

 

    Murdock had begun to relax a little around Ray. Actually seemed to talk more to him and followed the conversation. Ray took this as a positive sign. That is until Murdock saw all the men coming toward him. His eye widen in panic as he drew himself up tight again. Burying his head between his knees again and fisting his hair with both hands, and began to rock and shake again. He didn't see a group of friends, he saw guards. Guards coming for him. 'Oh, God! They're coming for me again! Don't know how much more I can take. Please leave me alone. Can't take it ... can't take it ... can't take it.....'

 

    Ray watched with dismay when he suddenly started keening. First at a low pitch whine, getting louder and louder as the men got closer and closer. He felt helpless as the rocking and wailing got worse and the hands pulled hair out.

 

    Face reached them first. He didn't hesitate at all, just moved between them and placed his hands on Murdock's hands, stilling the pulling hands. They all watched as the noise halted in mid howl and the rocking stop. Face began to softly talk to him.

    

    "Shh, shh, shh. It's all going to be o.k., now. I'm here. I'm not gonna let anything more happen to you. Just relax and everything'll be o.k. I promise." He shot a look over his shoulder. "Can we get a little privacy here, guys? You're all scaring me, not to mention him, with those ghoulish looks. Now just back the fuck off."

 

    Everything was said in a calm and soft voice. His lullaby voice, Murdock would have called it, but no one was fooled one little bit. The undertone clearly said, 'Back off now, or I'll hand you your nuts on a plate'. Everyone backed off, leaving the two men alone.

 

    Reaching the original clearing, Hannibal turned to Ray.

 

    "Alright, what's up? Why did you send for me?"

 

    Ray looked around, wishing for privacy for this news. They'd all gone so long without it, that it was second nature to them to share what was going on. Besides, the others would find out soon enough and it would be better all around to hear about it up front. It was bad enough to tell it, it would be worse to hear it second hand. No telling what would be twisted in the re-telling. Flicking a look backwards to the two men in their own private world, he addressed the group. Even B.A. was curious and he'd been there. He couldn't imagine what Ray had discovered.   

 

    "You remember when we thought the way he was acting weird was because of his head wound?"

 

     Hannibal nodded. That was the explanation that they'd come up with. A concussion was the only reasonable excuse for the off-the-wall behavior that he'd displayed. It couldn't be anything else. Well, anything that they'd wanted to think about. It was hard for the ones close to him to think that he'd finally went over the edge.

 

    "There's not a wound." Ray let that sink in.

 

    And sink in again. B.A. broke the silence.

 

    "Whatcho' talkin' 'bout man? You as crazy as that fool over there."

 

    Ray shook his head. "I checked, man. I checked real carefully when I was cleaning his face. There's nothing there. No scar, no scab, not even a faded bruise. Nothing that will explain the amount of blood on his face. Nothing could have caused that amount of blood loss at that particular angle."

 

    "What does that mean?" One of the men asked. He was as curious as the rest of them. What was the big deal?

 

    "It means," Hannibal answered for Ray, "that it isn't his blood. It's somebody's else. Is he talking at all? Did you ask him?"

 

    "Yeah, he's talking some. Not much though. I didn't ask about that, thought that you'll want to do it."

 

    The same soldier asked, "What's going on? What really happened back at that cage?"

 

    So Hannibal told them about Murdock's rescue, leaving out parts that was nobodies business but their own. Ray revealed the facts about the interrogation hut, in graphic detail, leaving the men grateful that at least one of them survived it. B.A. told them about the barbed wire and the basement, leaving all of them sick to their stomachs. They all looked over to the two oblivious men.

 

    Face caressed the hands resting in loose fists on bony knees. He smiled at him. Murdock didn't smile back, but he wasn't hiding his face again. Face took that as a good sign. At least he wasn't screaming and struggling again. Another good sign. Still speaking in his soothing voice, he went on as if the men holding the meeting behind them didn't exist. As far as he was concerned, they didn't.

 

    "You know, we're gonna haveta get some meat on those sexy bones of yours. Don't wanta cut myself hugging you, ya' know. As soon as we're released from the hospital, I'll take you out to the most expensive restaurant in town. We'll order the most expensive thing on the menu, hell, we'll just order the whole menu and wash everything down with a good bottle of wine. Now don't worry, I'll know just what vintage to pick. And don't worry about cost. With the amount of back pay owed us, not to mention back bets that guys owe me, I figure that we could just buy the whole damn place. Eat whatever we want, whenever we want. And desserts! We'll pig out on desserts. Ice cream, any flavor we want, cakes, pies, Cherries Jubilee, Baked Alaska, things they set on fire and things we can't pronounce. And then, after a long and gluttonous meal, we'll just lie around on a beach somewhere. Soaking up the sun, catching a wave or two. I'll teach you how to surf. Ah, baby, there's almost nothing like riding the sparkling sea with the sun warming your back. And then, afterwards, we'll spend long days in a big bed somewhere. Some place where we'll never have to get up for anybody or anything. We can make love to each other for hours at a time. Just us. How does that sound to you, huh?"

 

    Just as it looked as if Murdock was going to answer him, he flinched and stiffened. He began to look fearfully around for a place to hide again. Face looked behind himself. Everyone was heading their way again. He sent a scathing look over at them, but faced Murdock with a smile. Tightening his hands, but not too hard, he tried to sooth the jangled nerves.

 

    "Shhh, it's gonna be alright. I'm not gonna let anyone hurt you. Remember? I made a promise and I intend to keep it. Let me handle everything, o.k.?"

 

    Not waiting for a nod, he stood up and faced the oncoming men with a scowl on his face.

 

    "What do you want, now? You're starting to get on our nerves, you know. No need for a committee, now is there?" 

    

    Hannibal had to take control of the situation before it got any worse then it already was. Between the men needing answers and Face protecting Murdock like a lion with a cub, it could get ugly. Better solve the problem now rather then later.

 

    "Face, I need to talk to him. Ray says that the blood on his face isn't his. I want to, no, I need to know where it came from. We all do. It just might help him in the long run to get this over with now. We don't mean to scare him, but it has to be done now."

 

    "Everybody?"

 

    Hannibal looked around and gave an order, "Alright guys. You can all back off a little. I'm not gonna send you away, but crowding him will get us nowhere. You can listen, but just back off for now."

 

    The men drifted back some, but still with in earshot. They had as much right to find out as anybody. They needed to know what happened.

 

    Hannibal, Face, B.A. and Ray approached the seated man. He shrunk back a little, but didn't panic like before. He eyed them all wearily. Hannibal crouched in front of him, smiling a little. Murdock spoke first, surprising them all.

 

    "Hey. What's up Colonel?" He sounded almost ... normal.

 

    "How ya' doin', Captain?"

 

    "Fine. And you?" 

 

    "Be doin' great, once we're out of here. Murdock, I need to ask you something. Are you up to it?"

 

    "Sure, sir. Whatcha' wanna know?"

 

    The other men couldn't believe the conversation. It was like listening to two men shoot the breeze at the local bar. Not discounting the fact that those same two men were dressed in p.o.w. clothes, running from the enemy, and one of them was hanging on to his sanity by a very thin thread; it was the most bizarre thing that they'd ever heard before.

 

    "Murdock, son, I need to know about the blood."

 

    "What blood, sir?"

 

    "The blood that was on your face. We know that it wasn't yours. Whose blood was it? Can you tell me anything that you can remember about it?"

 

    Murdock brought one trembling hand up to his face, trying to think. Blood ... blood... blood that wasn't his. He wasn't sure what he meant by that. He didn't know ... wait ... wait ... he remembers something. Or rather someone. Coal black hair, green eyes, bad puns ... Baxter! Captain Jack Baxter. He remembers now. At first he didn't understand what had happened. One second he was in the next cage, the next he was gone. He didn't remember then when either of them was taken or what happened next. But now he knows. Now he remembers.

 

    "Jack Baxter. Captain Jack Baxter. It's his."

 

    B.A. and Ray held back the man who came forward. It was his pilot, his friend. He was white and shaking. They told him to keep cool, stay calm, don't startle Murdock into silence again. He was talking now and they didn't want him to stop. He'll tell them all that he knew, when he was ready.

 

    "Can you tell me what happened, son? Can you?"

 

    Murdock nodded again and went on. "They dragged both of us into the hut. Tied us half onto the table, facing each other. They stripped our shirts off and used the cane. My back got numb after awhile. Then they started to ask us ... something ... I couldn't really concentrate then, but whatever we said, they didn't like it. They just kept hitting us, over and over. They wouldn't stop for a long time. Then Choa came in. He said that one of us was gonna talk, or else. We couldn't tell 'em anything. I mean, we couldn't tell 'em any secrets. We're not suppose to tell secrets, so we didn't. He got mad. He said that one of us'll die if we didn't talk. We still didn't say anything. Then he took out a big knife and said that if we didn't speak, he'll kill one of us. I looked at Jack and shook my head no. He looked at me and shook his head. I didn't mind dying. Had nothin' to lose anyway. At least death wouldn't hurt. I told him to go ahead and kill me. To just do it. Jack said the same thing. The General smiled, said that he was bluffing and started to go. I thought that he was just gonna leave. Then he grabbed Jack by the hair and slit his throat. I couldn't look away. I felt somethin' warm hit my face. I waited for him to kill me, but he just smiled and left the hut. That's the last thing I remember before you guys came for me. Why didn't he kill me? I was ready. Why leave me?"

 

    They all stared in shock. The one thing that concerned Face was the Murdock didn't stutter. Not one word. It was as if he was telling them about a movie or something. That it didn't really happen. That he just didn't finish telling them that he watched a good friend get murdered right in front of his eyes. No one had any answer for him.

 

    Hannibal watched as he pulled back into himself, gently rocking, silent again. He looked back at Face, not knowing what else to do. He sat down beside him again and just laid a hand on the moving back. He wasn't sure what to do either. Hannibal left them both there and joined the others. They all drifted back to the clearing. No one knew what to say. They all felt more protective of him now. They all silently vowed that if they ever saw that Cong General again, there would be nothing left of him.

 

    The guys standing watch came back and others took their place. They were filled in on what happened. They made the same vow. When the food was ready, Ray took them their rations on large leaves. It was the best they had without plates or bowls. It wasn't much, but still more then they had in the camp. Rice, bits of dried fish, Lin's bread, and some bananas that someone found. He carried a small jug of water for them to share. Nudging Face's shoulder to get his attention, he silently offered the food and water. Face took them and with a warning to not drink it all, he left them once again.

 

    Face grinned at him, scooting close. Murdock shied away from him again. He sighed. Looks like they were back to square one. Murdock didn't trust him. He held the food laden leaf out to him. The captain didn't move. He just looked at him with mistrust in his eye.

 

    "Come on. It's food. I know it's not the banquet I promised you, but it's still food. Come on, I know you're hungry. I'm hungry. Just take it. I know you want it. Just take it."

 

    Murdock wouldn't move. Ooohhh, no! He knew this game. As soon as he reached for it, he'll be grabbed and dragged back to interrogation. The guards never got tired of it. Pretty soon, he stopped reaching, stopped falling for the game. Sure he was hungry, starving actually, but he'd learned his lesson right quick. You could say anything you wanted about him, but he was no dummy. He wouldn't reach for it if his life depended on it. And not even then.

 

    Disappointed that he got no other reaction, Face laid the make-shift plate beside him and started on his own meal. He sensed a movement out the corner of his eye. It was Murdock, inching his right hand toward the food. Face turned towards him and he flinched and snatched his hand back. 'Oh, so that's how he wants to play it,' Face thinks. Grinning to himself, he moves a few inches away, making it easier for Murdock to 'steal' the food. He made a big deal of not paying attention to him. It worked like a charm.

 

    Murdock looked at him from the corner of his eye. Looked at the food on the ground. Looked at him again. Looked at the food again. 

 

    Him. 

 

    Food.

    

    Him.

 

    Food.

 

    One hand inched towards it, stopping to check where Face was, inched again.

 

    Stop.

 

    Check.

 

    Inch.

 

    Stop.

 

    Check.

 

    Inch. 

 

    It seemed to last forever but he finally reached the food. He slowly closed his hand around the leaf and dragged it towards himself. Still with his one eye on Face, he worked the leaf into his lap and finally started to eat. Face casually set the jug of water nearby and he didn't hesitate on drinking from it.

 

    Ray came toward them, just as they were finishing. Jerking a thumb over his shoulder, he announced, "Hannibal says it's time to go. Everybody else's finished up and covering up. He's afraid that a patrol might be close behind. I'll carry him this time and you clean up. We'll finish patching up later. Besides, I think we got the worst of it before."

 

    Ray bent down and he shrank away from him. He glanced at Face and the only thing he could do was shrug. He sighed deeply and picked him up anyway. Murdock just laid limply in his arms, eye glazed over. He was gone again. Face stopped him before he walked away with his fragile burden.

 

    "Why didn't you splint his arm before? We really need to do that before we leave."

 

    Ray looked at him sadly. "It's already started to knit, Face. It's been broken awhile. The Colonel thinks that it was starting to mend when Choa killed Jack. It was still broken when that motherfucker tied him to that table."

 

    Face watched them walk away and then cleared up any evidence that someone had been there. He then joined the rest of the men.

 

    They left much the same way as they had came. The only real difference was that Ray carried Murdock and B.A. took his turn at point with the rest of them. They moved on.

 

    And on.

 

    And on.

 

    When it started to get dark, Hannibal called for another halt. Trying to go on in the dark would be suicide. The night belonged to the V.C. It always had and always will. They knew the jungle better then anyone. They moved like ghosts in the night and no one with an ounce of sense moved during that danger time.

 

    With no tools to dig foxholes, they just cut some branches down to cover themselves and hunkered down to sleep. They slept in groups, taking turns at watch. Hannibal took first watch with his, leaving Ray, Face and B.A. to sleep with Murdock in between. Not that they could get too close to him. He became highly agitated when one of them tried to lay right next to him. He wouldn't even let anyone check his back for injuries, panicking at the thought of anyone behind him. Just to keep him calm, they slept at least an arms length away. Murdock would have preferred more space, but knew he wouldn't get it. He just laid there, curled up on the hard jungle floor, wide awake. It was much like still being in the cage, but without the bars. And just like in the cage, he was afraid to sleep. Afraid that the nightmares will come again. Afraid that crying out will bring the guards down on him again. Afraid to give their position away by falling asleep. So he just laid there, all night, wide awake though all the guard changes until the sun came up again. 

 

    The new day started out much the same as before. He was carried, because he still wasn't able to walk, the men changed positions throughout the day, and they stopped for breaks. He slept during the day and worried himself awake at night.

 

    It was in the middle of the third day that they ran into an enemy patrol. Ray came running back from scouting the front. Gasping for breath he told them, "V.C. patrol, two minutes away. I counted at least ten. What ya' wanna do, Hannibal?"

 

    The men awaited orders and Murdock woke up, sensing the tension. 

 

    Unslinging his weapon, he ordered, "Everyone hide. The order stands. Nobody fires unless there's no choice. We can't take a chance that more patrols hear the firefight. If we're lucky, they'll pass by and run into anybody following us. That'll throw them off our tails even more. They won't be able to figure out how they missed us and that'll give us a better edge."

 

    The scouts were sent for and they all quickly melted into the thick jungle undergrowth. The thick leaves and vines were good camouflage for the thinly spread men. They didn't want to bunch up, therefore cutting the chances for discovery.

 

    They didn't have to wait long for the patrol to come through. Ray had miscounted. There were twelve of them. Twelve short brown men in black clothes with AK-47's slung over their shoulders. They were spread out, at least a few feet apart, peering into the thick jungle, looking for American troops. One of them said something and line suddenly stopped.

 

    The hidden men tighten their grips on their own weapons, wanting badly to open fire, but holding back. They waited and watched the patrol. They all held their breaths as one of them stepped out of the line and walking into the jungle. There was silence and then a sudden burst of gunfire. The hidden men clamped down on their nerves and forced themselves to stay still. It would be suicide to fire now. After all, the remaining patrol showed no signs of distress.

 

    Face worried about Murdock. He couldn't see them from where he was and he worried about how he was doing. It couldn't be easy for him, pinned down with people that hurt him so badly just inches away. He sent a prayer to God, silently pleading with Him to calm Murdock down, to keep him quiet so that he wouldn't give everybody away.   

   

    B.A. had sent the same prayer that Face did, although he didn't know it at the time. He was with Murdock, hidden in the undergrowth near a large tree. He was practically on top of the man, one hand over his mouth, hoping to keep him from making a sound. At first, when he crawled on top of him, crazy man struggled. He clamped his hand over his mouth and hissed at him to shut up and not give them away. Murdock froze in fear when one of the V.C. stopped right in front of them. They both stared up at the gook standing just inches away. They watched as he looked up into the branches of the tree that they were hiding next to. He seemed to study it closely. Taking the gun off his shoulder, he pointed upwards. The two men on the ground had stiffened when the gun came off, but relaxed a little when it was pointed in any other direction but down. Taking careful aim, the gook squeezed off a couple of rounds and a dark furry body landed less then a foot from the two huddled men. They held their breath as he reached over and picked up the body, holding it in triumph. It was a monkey. A delicacy for them. He was just after a meal, that was all. Just a meal. He walked off, swinging lunch, and B.A. and Murdock both started to breath again.

 

    The hidden grunts watched in tense silence until the missing gook came back, holding a monkey in his raised fist. He chattered something and the group went on. They waited until the last man went down the trail, and give the all clear. Grouping together again, they pushed on. They didn't talk about their luck, grateful for following the Colonel's orders. No telling what would have happened if someone would have jumped the gun, literally.

 

    They pushed on. Following the same routine as before. They lost one wounded man due to a fever that came on two days into the journey. Face did everything he could, but they still lost him. They managed to dig a shallow grave using branches that Ray and B.A. pulled off the trees. Hannibal kept the dog tags and Face recited a pray that he remembered the priests said for the dead. They couldn't stay long, so it was with great sadness and regret that they pushed on, leaving one of them behind forever.

 

    Murdock developed a fever around the same time. As before, Face did everything he could, hoping that they'll reach help before it was too late. At least, he ruefully noted, Murdock's swollen eye began to open up a little. They ran into their second enemy patrol, two days later. Just like before, they hid. Unlike before, something gave them away. They weren't sure what, thinking about it later, but the small patrol began to open fire. They fired back.

 

    It was a bad position and the enemy had many advantages. There were cries of pain as both sides were hit. Face grunted in pain when he felt the bullet slam into his side. The pain was excruciating but he kept firing. He didn't stop until he ran out of ammo. He briefly flirted with the idea of just running at them with nothing but an empty rifle. He knew that he would get killed, but he thought that he just might buy some time for the rest of them.

 

    Suddenly, there was gunfire behind the enemy patrol, cutting rest down quickly. Then, all at once, there was silence. Nothing moved. No one so much as breathed when they heard footsteps approach them. They laid there in tensed silence, breathing though their pain, wondering what fresh hell was coming at them.

 

    They still hadn't moved when the steps came closer and closer. They all blinked in surprise when they saw the familiar green uniform of an American soldier. Grinning, Hannibal went to stand up from his hiding place. Startled, the grunt fired off a round in his direction. Hitting the dirt, he swore at himself, calling himself a dozen kinds of fool for at least not identifying himself. He would have done the same thing.

 

    Calling out as soon as the gunfire died down, he shouted "Hey! We're Americans here! We're on your side! Don't shoot!"

 

    Still edgy, the grunt shouted back, "Oh, yeah? Prove it! Who's the best baseball player that ever lived?"

 

    Thinking fast, he shot out, "Babe Ruth. Believe me now?"

 

    There was another voice that called out, "Babe Ruth? Best ball player's Ty Cobb!"

 

    "Ty Cobb my ass! It's Micky Mantel!"

 

    "Naw, man! Jackie Robinson!"

 

    By that time, the soldier was convinced that they were who they said they were. No gook, in his opinion, would've known even half those names. Besides, one of those voices had a Brooklyn accent.

 

    "Shit! Sorry about that, man. Can't be too careful, ya' know. Safe ta' come out. We didn't know that another patrol was out here. Damn intel. Those jackasses don't know nothing."

 

    "Don't worry about it, kid. Nobody knows we're out here anyway."

 

    The grunt's mouth hung open as at least a dozen or more guys stood up in the middle of the jungle, all wearing the black pajamas that the Cong wore. They looked rough, long hair and beards, thin and worn out. Several of them where wounded, some of sporting fresh blood on parts of their bodies. The white hair guy seemed to be the leader. He said the only thing that came to his mind.

 

    "What the fuck is going on?!"

 

    Hannibal grinned. He liked this kid. Kept his cool, for the most part, and didn't mince words. Looking around and counting his men, he notice that a few were missing. Shit, musta got hit. Face was being supported by Chris, his side soaked in blood. A few more were bleeding. B.A. was holding Murdock again, his head rolled back, sweating heavily. Fever must be worst.

 

    "Whose missing?"

 

    Reports came from a few men.

 

    "Jason bought it."

 

    "So did, Kevin."

 

    "Wally didn't make it, either."

 

    "Think that's all, sir."

 

    Hannibal grieved over the men who died and was grateful that more didn't. The lone soldier gaped again as the biggest black man that he'd ever saw, although almost as thin as the others, stood up holding a corpse in his arm. Wait, the dead body move a little and let out a moan. Two other men, one supporting the other, went toward them, concern written on their faces. The white hair man came at him while the others gathered near the black man. The man addressed him first.

 

    "Where's the rest of your patrol? You're not out here alone, are you?"

 

    "Front scout, sir. Heard the gunfire and came running. The others are behind me. Be here in a few minutes as soon as I give the all clear or they send somebody after me. Now tell me something, sir. What the fuck is going on?"

 

    Hannibal grinned at him again. Kid's got spunk. "Lieutenant Colonel John Smith at your service. Everybody calls me Hannibal. And you?"

 

    For a long few minutes, the kid just gaped at him. His mouth just opened and closed a few times. He looked like a fish that'd just been landed. His grin got wider.

 

    "You're shitting me?! Hannibal and his team's M.I.A., presumed dead. D.E.A.D. Where the fuck you guys been for the last seven months?! Uhh, sir."

 

    "Dead, huh? Funny, don't feel dead. Been close though. Seven months? We just escaped from a P.O.W. camp about a week ago, give or take a few days. Now, why don't you go and get your company. Tell 'em we need help, transport outta here."

 

    The guy still stared at him.

 

    "Move it solider! Take one of my men with you."

 

    Dumbly nodding the guy finally moved and left, taking Big Mic with him. He finally turned to the rest of his men. Ray was fussing over Face, trying to get him to stay still while he tried to patch him up. Face was trying to get to Murdock.

 

    "Face! Stand still. Gotta stop the bleedin'. Murdock's fine, B.A.'s got 'em, so just hold still, damn it!"

 

    Impatient, he held still long enough to be patched up, and then made his way towards his goal. O.k. they made their way, he was still being held up by Danny.

 

    "He alright, B.A.?" Face was frantic with worry.

 

    They'd all been upset when Murdock came down with the fever. The same type of fever that took Alan away from them.

 

    "He be doin' better, ya'll stop crowdin' us! Back off!"

 

    Ray and Face stayed with them as the other's backed off at the growl. He was now leaning on Ray and they both gathered around the two men. B.A. laid his charge back on the ground. Murdock had gotten worse. It was a miracle that they'd got though the firefight unhurt.

 

    Face knelt down beside him, not caring who saw him, he tenderly wiped the feverish brow. His eyes opened. Stared up at him with a dull and glazed look. His eyes closed again. He looked up with despair at B.A. and Ray. They felt helpless as well.

 

    They left the two men and drifted over to Hannibal. Blue eyes looked over to them and he asked, "How are they?"

 

    Ray answered, "Murdock's not good. Fever's getting higher. Face just has a flesh wound. Not too bad, though. He'll make it. What's next?"

 

    "Big Mic went with that guy, gonna bring back help. We're all gonna be o.k."

 

    The scout sent a look at the big man walking beside him. He felt a little bit intimidated by him. He'd introduced himself and tried to make some kind of conversation. After only getting a grunt and a name, 'Big Mic', the guy didn't say anything else. He didn't take offense at that. By the looks of the rest of the guys that escaped, they didn't have an easy time of it. He supposed that if he'd been one of them, he wouldn't feel like chatting either. He gave the signal when they came close to where his patrol was.

 

    A helmeted head popped up.

 

    "What the fuck took you so long, Joey? What was that gunfire about? And who the fuck is that with ya'?"

 

    Joey stepped up to his captain and jerked his head toward Big Mic and proceeded to tell the most astounding story the other men had ever heard.

 

    "This is Big Mic. Came up on some gooks firing into the jungle. Cut them down and suddenly this dude popped up. Not this one, another guy. Almost got him too, before he convinced me that they were ours. Long story short, these guys broke outta p.o.w. camp and I just happened to stumble over them after those gooks opened fire on 'em. You'll never guess who the leader is. Lieutenant Colonel Hannibal, that's who. Swear to God, I'm tellin' the truth. Those guys need help and they need it bad. Some of 'em are in a real bad way." 

 

    After calling in reinforcements, they followed the two men back to the former p.o.w.'s. The men began to get together at the sight of the troops heading their way. The captain walked up to Hannibal and introduced himself.

 

    "Captain Mike Cooper, sir. Good to see you guys. Man, I'll tell you one thing, we never expected to see any one of you alive ever again. Can we be any help to you until the cavalry arrives?" 

 

    "Sure Cap. Make yourselves useful. We could use it."

 

    The men spread out, trying to help men who clearly mistrusted them. They knew it wasn't their fault. The men had been together though so much, that it was hard to trust someone who hadn't been through the fire with them.

 

    One of them walked up to the big black guy holding the dead body. No way was that poor sonofabitch was still in the land of the living. He tried to take it from him, but the guy growled at him. One of Hannibal's guys took pity on him and pulled him away.

 

    "What's wrong with that guy? Just wanted to take that dead body from him..." That was as far as he got before a fist slammed into his face.

 

    "What the fuck was that for?" He stared in shock at the furious man standing over him. He reached down and grabbed him by the collar, picked him up and shook him.

 

    Pointing at Murdock, he grounded out, "That 'dead body' is still alive you fucker! That 'dead body' is Captain H.M. Murdock, better known as Howling Mad! That 'dead body' is the only pilot left alive after General Choa got through with them! That 'dead body' deserves some respect you asshole!"

 

    Dropping the guy, he joined the rest of the guys who had lined up in front of B.A. and Murdock, protecting them from others. It was an old fashioned Mexican Stand-off.

 

    Captain Cooper shot an apologetic look at Hannibal.

 

    "Sorry about that, sir. Some of us must've left our manners back on the farm. You guys really escape from Choa's camp? What the fuck did that bastard do to him?" 

 

    "Yeah, we really did escape from Choa. We're not entirely sure what he did to the Captain, but he was the only pilot to survive."

 

    He would have gone on, but the radio man came up with news.

 

    "Sirs, just got off the horn with H.Q. It took a bit of convincing about who we got, but they're sending a chopper. The L.Z. is about half a klick from here. Shouldn't take us long to get there, if we hump it."

 

    Nodding he began to gather everyone around. Giving the orders, everybody moved out as fast as they could. It wasn't long before they got to the clearing, huddling around the tall grass and waiting for the chopper to freedom. They were all on the look out for V.C. All tensed until the sound of the chopper came though the air. As soon as it landed, they all ran as fast as they could. Most of the wounded were carried, not because they couldn't run on their own, but because it was faster this way. Captain Cooper and his men melted back into the jungle after the last man, alive and dead, were on. It wasn't their ride and they felt it wasn't their right to intrude. They were safe for now and that was good enough for them. Besides, if they made it back alive, they'll get a lot of free drinks, telling others how they rescued John 'Hannibal' Smith and his men. 

 

    As soon as Face was loaded on, he made his way to B.A. and Murdock's side.

 

    "How is he?"

 

    "Fool still out. Ain't woke up for hours. He gonna be alright though."

 

    Face stared down at him. His complexion was gray and ashy. He didn't sound good at all. His breath was shallow and had a bad rattle that he could hear over the noise of the turning blades. But, he felt that if he believed strongly enough, prayed hard enough, then he'll be alright. He had to be alright.

 

    The chopper crew didn't know what to make of them. Most of them were huddled around an impossibly thin man. They weren't sure that the poor devil was still alive, but they knew better then to ask. It wasn't the first time that they picked up guys in similar condition, although, not as bad as these guys. All they had to hear was 'General Choa' and they understood perfectly. There was no need for any explanation.

 

    One of the door gunners took a long look at them. At the man they were huddled around. Took another long look at the feverish man. He suddenly knew who it was!

 

    "Sonofabitch!! Howlin' Mad? Jesus Christ, what happened to you?"

 

    Face answered for him, "General Choa happened to him. Now why don't you all just leave us the fuck alone?"

 

    No one took offense to the outburst. The rest of the ride was made in silence. So was the ride to the medic tent where they were looked over, patched up and sent to a hospital more suited for their injuries. Murdock never woke up from the poking and prodding. Face worried about that. It seemed to Ray that he worried more about Murdock then he did about himself. But, then, they were all worried about their friend.

 

    Hannibal made sure that they all had a room together, moving in an extra bed. The hospital staff protested at first, until Hannibal pulled strings. Except for the doctors and nurses, they were pretty much left alone. Ray and B.A. were discharged first, but they stayed in the room. Hannibal and Face had more serious complications, but they getting better. Murdock's arm had been re-broken and set, all his wounds cleaned up and taken care of. His fever had finally broken, but he still hadn't woke up. The staff pretty much left them alone. They took care of each other and they preferred it that way. They had been debriefed days ago and they were just waiting for Murdock to wake up.

 

    Murdock slowly opened his eyes. He stared unfocused straight up. It took him a minute to figure out that it wasn't bamboo bars above him, but a ceiling. A solid white ceiling. A solid white ceiling with a big crack in it. His head was a little fuzzy, but he could make out that both eyes worked. One of his arms felt heavy, and he felt something sticky on parts of his body, but the sensations didn't really register with him. All he could think about was that crack right above him. It looked like something. Something that he knew. It took him awhile, but it finally came to him. Bunny ears! That crack looked just like bunny ears! He had to tell Face about the bunny ears.

 

    He sat up, intending to find his friend, but he was suddenly stopped. He tried again, but he couldn't go anywhere. He looked down in horror at the sight of his hands and feet tied down. Oh, God no!!! No! No! His mind flashed from the white walled room to another one. One that wasn't as clean. One that had his blood and countless others painting the wall. He wasn't in a safe place, he was back in hell. Everything, everything was a dream. Face coming for him, them on the run, getting rescued. It was all a cruel dream. He was back in the hut and Choa and his goons were coming for him to finish him off. He suddenly let out a ear-splitting howl. He bucked and tried to get out of the restraints. He had to get away. He screamed again.

 

    The rest of the team were two halls down, but even they heard the inhuman screams. They all had one thought. Murdock's awake. They all made their way back and found a bucking and screaming Murdock fighting off the orderlies as best he could. There was another fight as B.A., Ray, and Face dragged them off the panicking man. Hannibal shoved them out the door and yelled at the doctors who were yelling at him. One of them held a needle in his hand, intending to sedate the patient. Hannibal knocked it out of his hand, still yelling. B.A. left Ray and Face to handle Murdock and backed him up.

 

    "That man needs to be sedated. Let us handle him, Colonel."

 

    "You handle him? I've seen how you've 'handled' him. We told you not to sedate him. We warned you not to tie him down. He's been though enough hell already without you tying him down and knocking him out. Let us get though to him. You've done enough! Now back the fuck off!!" 

       

    With B.A. and Hannibal keeping everybody else out, Ray and Face concentrated on calming the hysterical man. Face tried to hold Murdock's head still, trying to get him to focus on him. Impossibly large brown eyes stared at up at him. There was no sign of recognition in those deep brown eyes. Ray tried to keep his legs still, having no luck whatsoever. For someone so sick, he sure was putting up a good fight. He'd finally stopped screaming, but was letting out heart breaking whimpers. He was afraid and they couldn't seem to bring any sort of comfort to him.

 

    Trying to keep from getting tangled up in the tubes and needles sticking out of various parts of Murdock's body, Face tried talking to him. He wasn't having much luck in getting though.

 

    "Come on, man. Calm down. It's Face. Try to focus on me. You're safe. I promise you. You're safe! You're in a hospital and you're safe! Calm down! You're gonna hurt yourself if you keep this up!"

 

    Still nothing.

 

    "What now, man? Let 'em wear himself out?"

 

    "No. That'll just make it worse later on. Let's get these restraints off. Maybe he'll calm down once he's not tied down."

 

    "You sure that's wise?"

 

    "Got a better idea?"

 

    Not bothering to answer that redundant question, they set about getting the suddenly rigid man free. The only thing they could hear was his harsh breathing. As soon as the last tie was undone they backed off. It only took a minute for him to figure out that he was free. When he realized that, he scrambled off the bed, pulling out needles and tubes in his haste to reach a safe corner. He sat there, huddled up just like he was back in the cage. Trails of blood from the ripped out needles and piss from a ripped out catheter led from the bed to the corner. Murdock was shaking from fear and pain. He didn't understand where he was or what was happening to him. All he wanted was to be left alone.

 

    Face and Ray just kept back, giving him room. There was still no sign of recognition. He tried to get though again.

 

    "Take it easy, now. It's me, Face. Ray's here too. Everything's gonna be alright."

 

    He looked from one man to the next. They seemed familiar. But different somehow. He squinted his eyes at them, looking hard. He frowned and looked harder. Almost as if he knew what he was thinking, Face chuckled. He realized what the problem was.

 

    Running his hand over his nearly bald head, he laughed. "Yeah, all my crowning glory's gone. All of our heads were shaved when we got here. Lice. Can you believe it? All that shit we went though and they were shocked that we had lice. Even your head was shaved."

 

    At that, he reached up and rubbed his own fuzz covered head. It felt a little like a peach. He smiled a little, but lost it as soon as Ray made a move toward him. He shrunk back again.

 

    "Just gonna put ya' back in bed, buddy. Gotta getcha' off this cold floor."

 

    Murdock shot a horrified look at the bed he was just in. Face followed his line of vision.

 

    "No, no. You don't have to use that bed. There's four others. Just pick one. Any one you want."

 

    Standing up on shaky legs, keeping his back to the wall and as far away as he could from the other two men, Murdock made his way to the opposite side of the room where the last bed was. Still keeping his distance, he crawled in, pulled up the covers and curled up against the headboard, still in the corner. Still not saying a word, he went to sleep.

 

    Meanwhile, Hannibal had finally gotten though the doctor's thick skull. Except for any necessary medical attention, they were to leave them completely alone. The doctors didn't like it, but after a few threatening looks from B.A., they backed off, for now. Ray pushed the offending bed out into the hallway, telling them to get rid of the fucking thing. 

 

    It went on like that for two weeks. Hannibal and Face were discharged but still stayed at the hospital, taking turns sitting with Murdock. No one wanted to leave him alone. It was against the rules, but they had enough leverage to get away with it. With the information they gave at their debriefing, they could've dressed in chicken suits and nobody would've said anything. The only hitch  there seemed to be was Murdock.

 

    He didn't exactly fight them. He just didn't do anything. Anything at all. He refused to talk. Refused to eat. The docs had been making noises about putting in a feeding tube. It was with that threat, that he ate a little. Just a few bites here and there, nothing much, but it satisfied the docs. Especially after Face promised to get more down him. It wasn't exactly a lie, but it wasn't the exactly truth either. Murdock did eat a little more, but only a little. He refused to participate in physical therapy. He didn't like to be touched at all. By anyone. He flinched if it looked like someone was getting too close to him. He refused to sleep. Fighting it with everything he had. They understood that. The nightmares were horrible. One second he was fast asleep, exhausted from stress, and the next he was wide eyed and screaming. It took hours to calm him down.

 

 

    Hannibal walked into the room. He'd just come from a meeting with the head docs. The news he received was bad and he wasn't sure how the others would take it. Especially Face. He looked over in the corner where two of his team mates were. Face was sitting in a chair, reading a book. Murdock was in his customary position in bed. Huddled and curled up against the headboard on his side, in the corner where the bed rail met at the top, covers completely over him. Motionless. Face looked up when the colonel came into the room. He didn't like the look on his face. It looked like he'd just swallowed a jar of pickle juice. He got a funny sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. Whatever he had to say, he knew he wouldn't like it.

 

    "Can you step outside for a minute? We got something to discuss."

 

    "I don't want to leave him alone, Hannibal. Whatever you got to say, say it here. Besides, he's asleep. I put his sleeping pills in his applesauce and made sure that he ate all of it. He won't wake up for hours. So, whatever you have to say, say it now."

 

    To prove his point, he laid a hand on Murdock's leg. Not so much as a twitch. Nodding at the younger man, he pulled up a chair and sat down beside him.

 

    "I just talked to the docs. If Murdock doesn't start talking and eating soon, they're gonna transfer him to a V.A. hospital in the states. He'll get a section eight discharge and be admitted into a psychiatric wing until he gets better."

 

    "You agreed to this? I don't believe this shit! How could you?"

 

    "I didn't agree, Face. I don't want him committed any more then you do. But maybe it's for the best. He's not getting any better. He keeps on this way, he'll die! Do you want that? Huh? They're gonna give him another week before they make their final decision. So that gives us a week to get though to him. You up for the challenge?"

 

    Face didn't say anything. He just nodded and Hannibal left him there, thinking over battle plans. Unbeknownst to the others, Murdock was awake. He'd found the pills in the applesauce and hid them in his cheek until he could get rid of them. He just wanted to be alone for awhile, but someone was always with him. The only time he got to himself was when he pretended to sleep. With the covers over his head, he could block out the others. Make them go away. For just a little while, he found peace.

 

    Until he heard the conversation going on around him. No! He couldn't be separated from them. Especially not Face! He had to stay with them. Had to! They want him to eat, he'll eat. He'll eat so much he'll be the only three hundred pound pilot in the service. They want him to talk, he'll talk. He'll talk their ears off. They'll beg him to shut up. He'll do anything to stay with his unit. He drifted off to sleep with his own battle plans in motion.

 

    The next day showed Murdock doing a complete one-eighty. He greeted everyone with a smile and a good morning. He ate all of his breakfast without being coaxed into it. He treated lunch and supper the same way, even asking for seconds. Worked hard at therapy, better then anyone would of have thought with his injuries. He sailed though his debriefing with barely a hitch. The only problem was that he couldn't remember some parts of his captivity. It was understandable the head shrinks said. Nothing to worry about. The others had trouble with their memories too. So he still had nightmares. So did the others. Completely normal. They would've been worried if he didn't. He still flinched when he was touched, but he was getting better. Not as much and not as often. The docs said he was getting back to normal. Everything was going fine.

 

    The team was not fooled one little bit. He talked, but nothing that was important or personal. Some of the conversations took off on weird tangents. Worse then before the camps. They saw his eyes when he wasn't aware that he was being watched. They were still haunted by memories. He wasn't fine and they were beginning to get fed up with it. Hannibal had another meeting at the end of the critical week. He searched out and found Face. He was watching Murdock from the big window in their room. He was outside, sitting on a bench and getting some sun. He wanted to be by himself for awhile and Face gave him his space. For now. He turned when Hannibal came into the room, saw the look on his face, and sat down. Whatever he had to say, he had a feeling that he needed be sitting.

 

    Grinning a little at the resigned look on the younger man's face, he sat down beside him. Taking a deep breath, he began talking.

 

    "The docs are happy. They're satisfied that he's getting better. They're gonna discharge him from here as soon as he gains another twenty pounds. At the rate that he's eating, that won't take long. They'll wait until the cast's off before releasing him for duty. The boys in charge gave me a choice. Either keep him with us as our pilot or transfer him to another unit."

 

    "I hope that you chose to keep him with us. They'll kill him by transferring him. Nobody else'll keep him in line and alive. They'll start sending him on those suicide missions again. One day he'll run shit out of luck and won't make it back. What I wanna know is, how the hell did he get around the psychiatrists? Just talking to him for an hour'll show 'em he's not playin' with a full deck. He must've lied his ass off. Maybe we could talk to them. Get them to see reason."

 

    "Face. You know that he can't lie worth a damn. He just talked them around in circles until whatever he was saying made sense. You may be the King of Cons, but Murdock is a god of Double Talk. Maybe you can talk some sense into him. Make him see reason. Good luck."

 

    And with that, Hannibal left. Standing up, he left himself, going to confront his best friend and lover. Thinking about what his colonel said, he couldn't help but agree. Murdock couldn't lie. It showed on his face whenever he tried. After the team had known him for a few months, they had laughed themselves silly after they found out the he'd worked with the Company. Murdock? Working for the C.I.A.? That was the funniest thing they'd ever heard! Until they figured out that Murdock could lie under orders. And do it so convincingly that he could've had God himself believe that he was Noah and just where the heck was the flood? And double talk. No one could get from one unwanted subject to another better then him. If he didn't want to talk about something, he could misdirect with words so cleverly, that by the end of the conversation, you weren't sure what you were originally talking about. He'd seen it before. Hell, he'd gone though it often enough that he still wasn't sure what initials H.M. stood for.

 

    Reaching the still figure on the bench, he sat beside him. Murdock couldn't hide his flinch, but he didn't immediately move away. Face hoped that that was a good sign. He hoped, but he wasn't going to be disappointed if it wasn't. The two men just sat there for awhile in silence. Face spoke first.

 

    "What the hell are you doing, Murdock?"

 

    "I'm dancing the dance of the Suger Plum Fairies. Whatcha' think I'm doin'?"

 

    "I mean with the docs. I mean, what are you trying to pull here? You've got them convinced that you're fine. You're normal and sane. We all know that that's not true. You maybe able to lie to them, but you can't lie to us. They're gonna discharge you soon. You're gonna get to go back to that hell out there. What's going on?"

 

    "I'm fine, man. That's all. I've gotten better. It's what ya'll wanted, isn't it? For me to get better?"

 

    Face grabbed his hand. He flinched, stiffened and tried to pull away. Face wouldn't let him and the struggle intensified. Finally he let go and Murdock scooted towards the end of the bench.

 

    "Better, huh? You can't even stand to hold my hand. You haven't even been able to let me kiss you on the cheek when we're alone. You won't let me or anyone else touch you. You're not fine. So talk to me."

 

    There was silence for a long time. Not looking at him, he finally started to talk.

 

    "I heard you that day. The day ya'll thought I was passed out from those pills you hid in my applesauce. That was a dirty trick by the way. I can't get a section eight. I just can't."

 

    "You go back, you just might not make it back."

 

    "Better a quick death then a slow one by being labeled a nutso."

 

    "You won't die by being declared insane. That's ... that's crazy."

 

    "You know what happens when you get a section eight?"

 

    "Yeah, I know what happens. You go to a hospital and you get better. That's what hospitals are for. To get better."

 

    A deep sigh.

 

    "No Face. When you're committed, they take away your pilot's license. For good. With my past record, they wouldn't even let me ride on a plane, much less fly one. That's death for a pilot. A slow death, but one nonetheless. You do that and you might as well have left me back in the cage. Don't do that to me. Please."

 

    "You go back there, you just might die anyway." 

 

    "That's my choice."

 

    "The hell it is! What about us, huh? I'd rather you be safe state-side then risking your life out there!"

 

    "You going back? You got a choice too, you know."

 

    "That's not the point! I've got ..."

 

    "A job to do." Murdock finished the sentence. "I know. I got a job to do, too. What do you expect me to do back in the World while you're out here? Just twiddle my thumbs in a nut house, worrying about you? What do you expect me to do when I'm 'cured'? Won't be able to fly. What do you want me to do? Tell me now."

 

    "You can do lots of things. Anything you want. You don't have to fly. It's just a job. It's not the end of the world if you can't fly again."

 

    Murdock whirled around on him, anger clearly on his face.

 

    "Just a job?! Just a job?! It's not just a job! It's my life! It's me! My heart! My soul! My blood! Without it, I'm nothing! Nothing at all! Without flying, I might as well put a bullet in my brain right now. Because without it, I'll die. Plain and simple. That getting' though to ya' yet?!"

 

    "I thought that we were each other's heart and soul. What about us? You won't even let me near you. Are we ever gonna make love again? I know that you're not up for anything right now. I'm not sure what happened to you in that hut, but you won't even let me kiss you on the cheek. What's gonna happen to us?"

 

    Murdock wouldn't look at him. Studying the ground he thought it over. The longer he was silent, the less Face liked it.

 

    "I don't know about us, Face. I can't think about that now. They ... they hurt me real bad. I'm not sure I'll ever be able to be ... with someone ... in any way ever again. Not sure I'll want to be with someone in that way. Maybe some day, maybe not. I don't know Face. Can you handle that? If not, I can transfer to another unit. But I'm going to go back. I have to. I can't stop flying now. Not now. They took so much from me already. I can't let them take that away from me. I'll really and truly break then. And I don't think that I'll be able to pick up the pieces this time. There won't be anything left. Please."

 

    Face wanted to reach out to him, to reassure him, to tell him that he could get along without flying. But then he remembered the look in his eyes every time he lifted off. The look of unboundless joy in them when he was in the air. Even being under fire didn't diminish the look of pure love for flying. He wanted to rant and rave at him. To throw an old fashioned feet stomping tantrum. To ask him, no demand him, to make a choice. Him or flying. His lover or the air. And he couldn't do it. He couldn't take that away from him. Because he knew that it would be no contest. Murdock would follow his heart. He always did. And he would lose him forever. So he did the only thing he could. Said the only thing he could.

 

    Moving next to him, placing his hand close, but not quite touching the one resting on the bench, he spoke from his heart.

    

    "I can wait for you, H.M. Forever if I have to. I'll take anything that you can give me. Love isn't just about fucking. You know that. It's how you feel about someone, deep down inside. It's letting someone you love do something that you know is wrong for them, just because it's something they need to do. You won't have to transfer. We want you with us. I want you with me, in anyway you can be. Anyway you'll let me be, I'll be there for you. Besides, do you think we'll trust another pilot to get us outta there when Hannibal's plan goes wrong? There's not another pilot out there with even half your talents. So, I guess you're stuck with us."

 

    "No, Face. We're stuck with each other."

 

    The two men smile shyly at each other and watched the sun sink into the horizon. As the sun painted the sky with the soft blues and sharp pinks of twilight, one long fingered brown hand inched just a little closer to a long fingered pale hand.

 

 

The End.

 


Stuck With Each Other by Soulseeker

 

 


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