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Night Won't Set Me Free
Title taken from the song "And I Love You So" by Don
Warning: M/M slash, violence, angst, swearing, war
Summary: When Murdock tries to help Face ward off his
nightmares, he is bombarded by memories of the time
when the two of them met in Vietnam. The past and the
present begin to interweave. . .
Note: This is set about six months before either of
my other stories. It's my first attempt at a longer
TAT piece. Plus, it's my first attempt at (partially)
setting a story in Vietnam, during the war. So any
constructive comments are very welcome! Thanks!
Night Won't Set Me Free
Part One: Night Maneuvers
The van drifted slowly to a halt three blocks from the VA and a figure moved through the darkness, out of the trees toward it.
Murdock climbed in beside BA, throwing a nervous glance at him, then pulling at his baseball cap and fiddling with the heater controls. BA slapped at his hand. "Lea'my van alone, foo'." Murdock sighed softly and sank back into the passenger seat as they moved smoothly along the quiet, LA city streets. His long, graceful fingers continued to worry the baseball cap. BA shot him a glance, looked at Murdock's face in the light of a passing car. "What you carryin' on about anyhow?" "He. . . I don't know BA. I don't know. I just don't think he better be alone tonight. The purple wobblies are migrating." "Say he goin' out wi' some girl." "Yeah." "You say he lyin'?" They were silent.
They'd both heard him cry out the last three nights. They'd been on a job, stuffed into a small, dank room like a couple of dry sardines for three nights running. And they'd woken up when the screaming meemies came for their friend, trying to drag him off into the darkness as he fought desperately against their cold and angry hands. They'd heard his gasps. Listened to his hoarse and labored breathing as he tried to slow his drumming heart and find his way back. They'd each gone to him in turn and been pushed away. "Ain' gonna like it." "I know. Will you stay awhile, just in case?" "Ain' no taxi."
But he would stay.
BA couldn't go to Face now. Or rather, he could go to him, knock him down, keep him still, hold him there. But what then? He didn't have the words to pierce through Face's carefully constructed layers of defense. BA had known him, had cared for him as friend and brother for more than fifteen years. They had been through more than BA ever wanted to remember. But Face had had a whole lifetime of hurt. And the way he dealt with all that hurt, when it reached up out of the dark places to choke him, was to keep silent, to push them away, not wanting to bother them with his pain, not feeling like he was worth their trouble, not trusting, somewhere deep in his heart, that they wouldn't turn him away when they knew the worst of his demons, the worst of his ėsins.'
"So you bring a crazy man to do what you cain't," BA thought savagely. He was a strong man. Nothing made him so angry as his own weakness.
If anyone could get through to Face tonight, though, it was Murdock. Crazyman you never know what Crazyman's gonna do. Harder to defend against what you can't see coming.
He'd bring Murdock. And he'd stand watch over them through the night, like he'd done so many nights before. It would have to be enough.
The purple wobblies are migrating tonight.
Murdock licked his lips, whistled soundlessly, turned in his seat to see if, by any chance, Billy had jumped into the van with him earlier. But he hadn't.
"Too bad," Murdock thought. "The purple wobblies are migrating and the screaming meemies are never far behind. We could use all the help we could get."
They were getting closer to the house. Part of Murdock wanted to open the door of the van right then, jump out into the night and start running in the opposite direction.
"I don' want to go back, Faceman," he thought. "If it was anybody but you. . ."
He began to hum loudly, to drown out the memories. He didn't have to go back yet. He needed to get ready, but he didn't have to go back yet. Murdock was halfway through the theme song to Bonanza when the image of him, BA and Face as the Cartwright brothers leapt into his head, complete with Stetsons, chaps and horses. "An' Hannibal could be Pa," Murdock thought. He began to giggle.
"You ėkay, foo'?"
Murdock caught his breath and steadied himself. "All present and accounted for, old Hoss! Have slinky, will travel." He took a silver slinky out of his jacket pocket, joggled it between his hands for a moment, then set it on the dashboard.
They pulled into the driveway of the beachfront Malibu home. BA turned off the motor, but neither of them moved.
"Faceman sure conned himself a good'n' this time," BA thought. The house perched on the rocks above a long, steep cliff that opened right onto ocean. A private, protected cove far beneath could be reached by stairs cut right into the rock face. The house was large and had everything from guest suites to a huge jacuzzi. Now, though, the house was dark.
BA looked at Murdock. The pilot's fingers moved restlessly in his lap. He kept looking up at the house, then down at his hands, then up at the house again.
"You wan' me to come in wit' ya?" BA asked.
Murdock looked up at him and smiled a little. He shook his head. Without warning, he lurched over and kissed BA on the cheek, then leapt out of the van. In a moment he was across the grass, then on the porch. He disappeared into the house.
BA had lifted his hand to his cheek immediately to brush the kiss away. But as Murdock moved out of sight, he just rested his cheek on his hand and sighed. It was going to be a long night.
Night Won't Set Me Free
Part Two: Brandy
Murdock walked through the dark house, looking for Face. But he stopped when he smelled brandy. And remembered. . .
Murdock sat on his bunk, breathing. Concentrating on breathing.
Since he'd joined the Colonel's "A-Team," the pilot had been going in-country more and more. As a chopper pilot, he was used to dicey situations. Flying under fire, transporting bleeding, screaming boys back from missions that had gone south on them, making life or death decisions and sticking by them, even with the brass chewing him out in one ear and adrenaline junky marines firing M-16's in the other. But when you were on the ground, when you were in the jungle, not over it, everything was more personal. Everything was a fuckin' lot more personal.
The job had been a "hit and run" on a moving target not far from the base camp. Two hour hump, take out a supply shipment that would be running through the pipeline at 0900, and be home in time for mid-day dinner. It was also a chance for Colonel John "Hannibal" Smith to try out his new team.
He'd gathered his heavy muscle first. BA Baracus, black, heavily built and mean-tempered had come from the motor pool, where he had a reputation for fixing anything that moved and beating up anyone who got in his way. Ray Brenner could have been his brother if they'd looked anything alike. The tall, broad-shouldered soldier could hump more gear than God, according to he himself, but had a hellish temper once you got him going. They were both on their second tours and had been hand-picked by the Colonel six months before for his very own "special" force.
"Howlin' Mad" Murdock had pulled them out of some dicey shit a couple months before. The team had run out of the dodge flat out toward his pick-up position, followed by what looked to be the entire complement of the North Vietnamese Army. He'd taken them out with a burning chopper that kept lunging toward the trees unexpectedly, and given them a landing that, while not precisely graceful, was at least more landing than crashing. The Colonel, for better or for worse, had asked him then to be on his team.
Murdock was still pretty green, at least on the ground. But the Colonel's latest acquisition didn't look like he could be out of the Boy Scouts yet, much less a member of the Special Forces.
The Colonel had brought him into the team's tent about an hour before they were supposed to leave on the hit-and-run.
"Gentlemen, I'd like to introduce the final member of our team, Lieutenant Templeton Peck. He'll be in charge of. . . requisitions."
BA and Ray exchanged incredulous glances. Murdock wondered what Hannibal could possibly be thinking. This kid looked like he belonged behind the bleachers, boffing the head cheerleader, not in Vietnam. Definitely not watching their backs.
"Ain' lookin' after some pretty boy out dere, Hannibal," BA growled.
"Yeah," Ray said. "What you thinkin', Colonel?"
Hannibal looked around the room appraisingly. He pulled a cigar from his pocket and the kid, who'd been standing quietly, seemingly unaffected by the other men's comments, pulled out a silver lighter and offered him a flame.
Hannibal smiled broadly and lit the cigar. "Murdock?" He looked in the pilot's direction.
"Don' look like nothin' but a pretty face to me, Colonel. Good if it's your girlfriend back home, but not worth much when it counts."
BA and Ray chuckled.
The kid never stopped smiling genially at the men in the tent, a sweet, back home sort of smile with a hint of trouble around the edges. But Murdock thought he'd seen a glimmer of emotion pass through the kid's eyes as he'd spoken. Pain? Anger? Shame? But then he thought he'd imagined it. Just another too-young kid, cannon fodder for the blood-hungry enemy guns. Just a pretty face. He turned back to the comic book he was reading. The good guys were actually winning in the Marvel universe.
"Well, gentlemen, we soon shall see. In the dodge in one hour for a nice little hit and run maneuver on the VC supply line. Rumor is they're running rifles through today, and I want to make sure they never get where they're going. Be ready to ride in forty-five."
The men groaned. In-country. But they started packing up.
Hannibal left the new kid in the tent. The kid walked over and set his duffle on the empty bunk beneath Murdock's. Quietly, efficiently, he began to unpack his belongings.
"Hey, kid," Ray said.
"The name's Peck."
BA grunted. "Don' issue names aroun' heah ėtil we decide you worth keepin'."
The kid's smile broadened. He glanced at Murdock, and again Murdock thought he saw something (what was it?) behind those clear blue eyes. "Then why don't you call me Face?"
BA and Ray laughed. Ray stood and punched him, not gently, in the shoulder. "Okay, Faceman. You got twenty minutes to round me up an extra M-16, seven hand grenades and a toothbrush."
"Defin'ly a toothbrush," BA growled.
"Soft or firm bristles, sir?"
Ray stared down at the kid with hard eyes, not sure if he was being made fun of. "Soft."
"Yessir!" The kid, Face, walked briskly from the tent.
"The's a mouth on thet face," BA said.
"Yeah," Ray answered, watching the kid go.
They'd moved forty-five minutes later (with the extra M-16 and the seven hand grenades and the soft bristled tooth brush). The kid had only been on base for an hour, Murdock thought. How. . .? But he let it go. It was time to earn his C-rations.
BA had point. Hannibal and Ray followed. Although Ray could carry more gear than God, this was a short mission. The extra M-16 dangled from his shoulder and he had maybe fifty pounds of ammunition hanging off him just in case, but for him, he was traveling light. Murdock came next, and the kid brought up the rear.
They were hyper-alert as they approached the supply line coordinates. But the jungle was made to confuse the senses. Water dripped off leaves. The humidity, already high at eight in the morning, brought out a heavy mist that swirled slowly around the base of the trees. Sweat ran down their faces and down the backs of their necks. The standard issue steel-centered flak jackets hung heavily on their shoulders. Bugs hummed and chirruped and bit at their naked hands and faces. A loaded M-16 weighs almost ten pounds, and that was only the beginning of the gear they were humping. It was hot. They were in-country.
Hannibal had called a halt and gone forward to confer with BA when the kid suddenly screamed out, "Incoming!"
Murdock whirled and the kid grabbed his jacket and hauled back on it with everything he had. The two of them rolled as one down a steep embankment and when they were halfway down, the world exploded around them.
Heat. Hurt. Gunfire. Have to get up. Have to move. Blood. Jungle. Colonel? Have to get up. Where's the guys? Gunfire close. Too close.
Murdock opened his eyes.
The kid knelt over him and fired into the jungle in quick three-round bursts. Murdock saw a flash of skin as a VC soldier fell, then another.
The kid stopped firing. He looked around him carefully, gaze trained on the green. A twig snapped above them and he lifted the M-16 to his shoulder and pointed it there. But he pulled it down when he saw it was Ray. He was breathing hard.
"You all together?"
"Yessir." The kid looked down at Murdock.
Murdock looked down at himself. His head seemed to be bleeding a little, maybe from a piece of shrapnel or hitting it on a rock on his way down, but he seemed to be in one piece. "Yeah, Ray. Jes' rearranged the old marbles a little more."
A grenade exploded somewhere back behind Ray's position and he turned and disappeared. The kid gave Murdock a hand and they started up the embankment.
The Colonel and BA took out the rifle shipment with a few carefully thrown grenades, the "shipment" being one box of 25 rifles hauled between four VC soldiers. But that was 25 rifles that wouldn't kill American soldiers that summer. They walked silently back to base.
Ray and BA disappeared almost immediately when they'd gotten back, aimed for the base cantina. It wouldn't be open yet, but that probably wouldn't stop them. The Colonel went to make his report. Murdock found himself sitting on the new kid's bunk (unable to climb up to his own), alone and trembling, his back pressed against the wall.
Suddenly, a glass was pressed into his hands.
He almost dropped it. He wasn't doing too well in the coordination department.
Warm, gentle hands wrapped themselves around his own. Those hands helped him lift the glass to his lips and he smelled the harsh scent of brandy as the liquid traced hot fire down his throat and landed heavily in his stomach. It focused him, somehow. He took a breath and looked up.
The kid was sitting beside him. Their hands still touched.
When Murdock looked up, the kid jerked his hands away, rose, and moved toward the door.
"Hey!" Murdock tried to remember the kid's name, but his head still felt like someone had banged it a few too many times against the barn door. "Hey! Face!"
The kid turned in the doorway, half way in and half way out.
Murdock took a deep breath. "Thank you."
The kid, Face, nodded and disappeared.
Murdock took another sip of brandy and stared at the door to their hooch for a long moment. Then he looked down and saw that a first aid kit had been spread out beside him, the aspirin and bandages and tape on top. He sighed. He was twenty three years old. He was in the army. He was in Vietnam. He was in the middle of a frickin' war. Why did he suddenly feel like his life had gotten complicated?
"Ain' it the truth," Murdock murmured to himself. "Ain' it the truth."
The scent of brandy lingered in the air and he followed it through the dark rooms of the large house, humming to himself.
That had been an easy memory. Meeting Face. Awkward to remember some parts his young self seemed so thoughtless. Naming Face that way, judging books by covers and all that. Discounting people out of hand. But Vietnam had been a cruel place. People came there to die. People came there to kill people. You didn't even want to become attached to your socks. "I managed to say all the wrong things to him, all the most hurtful things," Murdock thought.
But his chest still remembered the impact of the kid's body as they'd hurtled down that hill. And his fingers still remembered the warm comfort of those hands.
Murdock smiled. Not a bad beginning. He was still friends with the "face" today.
But it was other fires that had forged their friendship. That forged everything they'd had.
He had a feeling those memories were lurking in the shadows, waiting till his guard was down to strike, and unconsciously pulled his flight jacket closer around his shoulders.
He walked into the front room.
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