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Disclaimer: The A-Team characters belong to Stephen J. Cannell and
Warning: Slash, sex, violence, angst, swearing, h/c, war memories
and war death (not of main character), severe mental distress.
[Mentions some events that might spoil parts of “Mind
Games” and “Beneath the Surface.”] Also, there
are a lot of terms used that are not politically correct, but which
are intended to reflect the attitude of the characters in the past
and do not reflect the beliefs of the author.
Comments: Please. ABUSE WELCOMED. [Special thanks to Fingers,
and Merry for their comments, and Elizabeth Kent for the
Summary: Face’s thoughts during the night at the Hanoi Sheraton in
“Sound of Thunder” as he recalls the dead soldier from his
flashback. Story depicts war death.
Since a lot of readers have never seen this flashback (because it’s deleted from the TV Land edition of Sound of Thunder), I thought I'd give a quick description. When the team first arrives in Vietnam and gets off the plane, Face looks around the jungle. The background then changes to a rice paddy, but Face in the present remains visible, superimposed over the image. Then the camera in the rice paddy slowly pulls back to reveal the arm and then the body of a dead soldier lying on top of a rock or piece of equipment. During this sequence, the sounds of machine gun fire and the drone of chopper rotors echo, but as the camera begins to pull back, the machine gun stops firing. The drone of the helicopter rotors continues into the following scene -- the team's hike to Hanoi -- and returns throughout the episode.
I hate it here. In the dark and the heat and that damn stench that wafts in from the jungle. Even here in the city, I can’t get rid of that smell.
And the noise.
It started the minute I got off the plane. A low drone. The “whump, whump” sound of beating chopper rotors. It wasn’t an overwhelming noise. More like fitting background music for a descent into hell.
The noise is still here, a low, steady beat in the back of my head. A perfect accompaniment to the images that flash in my mind.
What’s that? Is it you? No. Nothing. Just my mind playing tricks on me, but I know you’ll be here soon. Until you come, there will be no sleep. I guess there’s nothing to do but sit on the edge of the bed, stare into the darkness and remember.
I remember the heat of the jungle when I arrived. Not when I arrived this time. When I arrived so many years ago. In my mind, I can see myself. God I was such a bastard, an angry, smart-ass kid who pretended he knew a lot more than he did. Hannibal saw through me right away, but I didn’t know it then. BA, Ray and Murdock wouldn’t speak to me. Actually, that’s an overstatement. They wouldn’t even acknowledge my existence. I was the FNG, the fucking new guy destined to die in the field, so there was no point even learning my name. No, that task fell to you, Jax. I remember when Hannibal introduced us.
“Peck, let me introduce you to Sergeant Robert Jackson. That’s ‘Jax’ to you and me. Jax is going to show you the ropes.”
I remember how you looked at me with your brown eyes and said a brusque “Hi” in your southern drawl. You clearly were annoyed at having to babysit some asshole kid lieutenant who was so cherry he should have still been part of the tree. You did your job, though, forcing me to follow you around like some damn puppy for the first few days until we went out into the field. You probably wanted to kill me when I mouthed off or said I didn’t give a shit whether I lived or died. You even tolerated me when BA and Murdock secretly kidded you about how you had the FNG on a leash.
What must you have made of me? Did you think I was an obnoxious punk or some scared little kid? Did you realize the truth even when I tried to hide it? Or did you just assume it didn’t matter because I was the FNG and probably already had punched a ticket to go home in a plastic bag? I know I surprised you during that first firefight, but I never knew if it was because I survived or because I handled myself well. I like to think it was the latter, but I never knew. I’ll never know.
Where are you? I know you’re close. You’ve been close ever since I got off the plane and saw the image in my mind. Maybe it’s this damn country, but I suddenly feel like a stupid, fucked-up kid again. Something doesn’t feel right about being here; it’s like I’m that dog on the leash again and need to learn the ropes all over.
I remember how we arrived back at the camp, the adrenaline and excitement still flowing. Basking in the success of the mission, you caught me making moves on that redheaded captain and tried to warn me away. But I knew better, didn’t I? I shoved you aside, telling you to “mind your own damn business” and said you had no idea what you were talking about. Damn near ended everything before it started.
Hannibal was so pissed when he tossed me into the hooch. He was angry at me, but sometimes I think he blamed you even more than me as he roared.
“For chrissakes, Jax, I told you to teach the kid the way things are out here.”
“What the fuck did ya do, Peck?”
The glare in your eyes as you spoke said everything, but I couldn’t answer, could I? Hell, I barely remembered what happened. It was just me and the redhead in the supply shed. She was ready and willing, but I guess when things got hot and heavy, I got a little too out of control. She never told me to stop, but I must have hurt her a little when I got too forceful. I’m not really sure what happened. Next thing I knew the MPs had shown up and Hannibal had me by the scruff of the neck and was throwing me to the ground in our hooch.
“Stirred up a hornet’s nest, Jax.” Hannibal said. “Peck’s fucking lucky he’s not going to Leavenworth for the rest of his life. You’d better explain things right to him, because next time, I’m not saving his sorry ass from rape and assault charges.”
That was almost twenty years ago and I still remember Hannibal’s words and your silent anger. You just stared at me, running your hands through your dark hair, glaring at me with those penetrating eyes while I crouched on the floor of the hooch trying to figure out what I’d done wrong and how to get out of it. Then you spoke, but you didn’t sound angry, just disappointed. That was even harder to take. If you’d been angry, I could have fought back.
“Ya fucked up big time, Peck. The rest o’ the team ain’t gonna understand. BA, Murdock . . . they don’t like guys who mess with the ladies. Man, I tried to warn ya. When ya come in from the field, you jes gotta stay away . . .”
What was that noise? Oh, just a clock. Eleven. Or should I say 23:00? How can this place be so hot in the middle of the night? How can the others sleep? Don’t they have their own ghosts to face in this place?
What? I can hear your voice. Are you here yet? No, it’s just your voice in my head repeating what you said to me as I huddled on the ground of the hooch in embarrassment and shame.
“Y’all understand later, kid, but I know your type. After a few missions, y’all realize this, but when ya come back in from the field, part of ya is still out there. Ya come back and all you want to do is fuck somethin’ to prove yo’re still alive, but yo’re so amped up on adrenaline, ya can’t control it. That’s why ya’ve got to stay away from the fillies. A quick fuck ain’t worth life in prison.”
It made sense in the same twisted way that a lot of things about Vietnam made sense. And you said it so straightforward, like it was a fact.
“If yo’re that desperate, Peck, find a whore. Nobody gives a shit if they get hurt.”
And then you added the words that still shock me.
“An’ if that don’t work, find another guy.”
God, I got so mad at that. I was so damn naive back then. If the bible and the army said something was wrong, it was wrong. The world to me was just black and white; what did an eighteen-year-old kid know about shades of gray? There was no damn way I was queer.
You laughed at me when I said that.
“That ain’t what I mean. It don’t mean a thang about a guy bein’ a fag. Ya jes need to get it outta your system without hurtin’ anyone that matters. It’s only on the first night in. The other nights you’ll be in control and can do what you want with the ladies.”
I know I must have still been in shock, because you just sat on your bunk shaking your head like I was the biggest fool in the world.
“Y’all learn, kid.”
Did I learn? Have I learned anything since then? It’s hard to tell. I still get angry, still do stupid things and hurt people. I tried to walk out on the team a few months back. It had to hurt them the way I turned my back on them when I got that fake pardon, but they came after me. They did it again when I insisted on going to that orphanage reunion a few weeks ago. Once again, they had to protect me from myself. I really am my own worst enemy. I probably always have been. Guess you were the first one to see that, to try to protect me.
I was smart enough to follow your advice for the next few weeks. Not on the guy thing -- that was too much to deal with. But the nights we came in from the field, I stuck to the prostitutes that hung around the base. The other nights, I played nice with the supply clerks and nurses; I even made up with the redheaded captain.
Away from the ladies, though, I was a ghost. I slipped silently around the place, trying to do my job and keeping away from BA, Ray and Murdock. They still didn’t talk to me and, if they did look my way, it was only to send heated glares in my direction. For the most part, I just glared back and kept my distance.
I’ve never told them how much that hurt me. Even growing up without parents, I don’t think I ever felt more alone than I during that time. You were the saving grace, the only thing that helped me keep my sanity amidst the silence. When I picked a fight, you usually showed up to bail me out and, in the field, you watched my back. It’s the same way things are with Murdock now. You’d be proud of him. He’s got his problems, but he takes care of me. He’s the best friend anyone could have.
Why haven’t you come yet? The clock says it’s nearly midnight. Is that it? Are you waiting until the witching hour to come and demand retribution? Is that what you want? Is that why you’re circling around me, yet staying just out of reach while I suffer here in the heat and the stench.
I know you have every right to hate me. You have every reason to want revenge for what I did.
When did it first happen? I guess it was a little over a month after I arrived. We’d been out in the field and Hannibal’s plan went bad. We’d barely made it out of the A’Shau Valley alive and Ray had taken a bullet in the shoulder. Murdock and BA were furious at me. It wasn’t that they blamed me for Ray getting shot. I was nowhere near his position. They just blamed me because Ray was wounded and I wasn’t. So the entire ride in, I suffered BA’s harsh stare and Murdock’s periodic dagger-like glances back from the front of the bird. I was tempted to tell them all to go to hell, but you stopped me.
When we landed, all I wanted was to be away from their accusing eyes and to get a girl, a shower and some food, though not necessarily in that order. Then Hannibal dropped the bad news. We were confined to the base. The whorehouses were off-limits because some psycho grunt had carved up a local girl. I didn’t take the news well; I was so hopped up on dexies, adrenaline and anger, I needed the release and I was going to find it wherever I could. By the time I reached the shower, I already had run through a long list of potential partners.
“Don’t do it, Peck.”
“What are you talking about, Jax?”
“What yo’re thinkin’ of doin’. Y’all gonna go out there and hurt someone the way you are right now.”
I don’t remember what I said that pissed you off. As best I can recall, I used the words “redneck” and “queer” and you didn’t take too kindly to it. I do remember the force and the sound of my head slamming against the wall of the shower room, sending the world spinning.
That was why I didn’t deck you when you kissed me.
I remember how I froze. You pressed your lips against mine and forced your tongue inside, while I stood in shock. Then your hands were running down my naked body and stroking me. It was only then that I responded. I couldn’t resist.
The next thing I remembered was the fury. I was angry at you for starting things. I was angry at myself for liking how it made me feel.
God, my heart is pounding in my head, just like that day. The loud pounding mixes with the low drone of the chopper rotors, assaulting me. And I can hear your voice. Not in the present. I just hear you talking in my head. Your low, husky drawl whispering harshly in my ear as you pull out of our kiss:
“You want to fuck something, Peck? Fuck me.”
I was not the most polite invitation I’ve ever received, but it wasn’t exactly an invitation, was it? No. You were issuing a challenge and, in my anger, I accepted.
Christ, what was I thinking as we fell to the ground? You turned and I forced my way inside, didn’t I? In a frenzy, still high on anger, speed and adrenaline, I slammed into you over and over until I came . . . I never even thought how it must have hurt you. But you never yelled out, did you? You just accepted me, without any preparation or anything, and, in your response, I could feel you moving with the same desperation that drove my frenzy. That more than anything pushed me over the edge.
I can still remember the feeling. It was nothing like being with a whore. The prostitutes didn’t understand that desperation. They hadn’t just survived days in which every moment, every breath, could be your last. You understood though; you were able to share that desperation, take it from me, reflect it, release it. Even in my harsh frenzied thrusts, I felt you moving with me as together we fought to remind ourselves that we were alive.
When I collapsed against your back, all I could feel was your skin soaked with sweat and water from the still-running shower. My heart still pounded and I could barely breathe as we slumped to the floor. I’m not sure what I expected then, but I was not prepared for the look in your eyes when you turned and brushed aside some of my hair.
“Ya have the most beautiful face, kid.”
That was probably the kindest, most loving thing anyone had ever said to me.
And I couldn't handle it. I lashed out. I jerked back against the wall, away from your touch, and kicked out to make sure you kept your distance. I remember how the anger flooded me as I shouted at you.
“I’m not queer, Jax. Do you hear me? I’m not a fucking faggot.”
You just looked at me and spoke in that calm drawl.
“Hey, Peck, I never said ya were. I tole you before, some guys just need the release when they come in from the field. If that’s how ya want it, that’s cool. I’m here.”
The clock chimes again and I look around the dark room. It’s midnight. Isn’t that the time that ghosts come to punish us mere mortals? Why don’t you come, ghost, and take your revenge for my cowardice? After all, that’s what it was. You should have confronted me then, told me I was lying, that I was just too scared to face the truth. But you never did, did you?
You just let me pretend that everything was just the way it should be and it became our routine. After a mission, we’d find some private part of the base, if one existed, and a semi-private part if one didn’t -- the shower, a supply closet, even the team hooch if it was empty. I always took, didn’t I? It was always hard and fast, with me giving nothing back. You gave yourself to me, but I never understood what that meant. To me, it was just sex. To me, it meant nothing.
On the other nights between missions, I was Templeton Peck, the “Faceman” that you so rightly named me, the liar, the sly ladies man who bedded anything in a skirt. Oh, I saw your eyes when I found a willing partner for the night. You watched, with a pained expression full of longing, but said nothing. I just pretended I didn’t see.
The others saw, but said nothing. To me, it just continued the pattern we’d established since I’d arrived. I was the angry, arrogant son of a bitch and they couldn’t care less if I lived or died. Nothing changed, even though by then I’d pretty much made it clear that I was sticking around. When I walked by BA or Ray or Murdock, they just gave me those same venomous looks. They still hated me, but it was almost a relief to know I’d finally given them a good reason.
But you still stood by me. On the base, you were my friend, trying to push through my arrogance and anger. In the field, you watched my back and saved my life. I remember you pulling me out of the path of VC fire when I didn’t hear an oncoming patrol. Then there was the other time that you stopped me right before I triggered a trap that would have impaled me on a two-foot spike. I remember how you grinned as you pulled me away from the tripwire that would have spelled a painful death, but your eyes still housed the pain that I refused to acknowledge.
You, of all people, should have hated me. You could have . . . should have let me die. At least you should have said something. You should have confronted me and accused me of being the shallow coward that I was.
The coward that I am.
“Why didn’t you say anything?” These are the first words I speak aloud into the darkness. I wait for an answer, but there is only silence. Why aren’t you here? Why do I feel so alone in the dark room, feeling the rivulets of sweat run down my forehead.
Have I learned anything in those twenty years? When I ran away from the team, I never said what I felt. Just a quick “goodbye, have a good life” as I turned my back. They let me back in without recrimination. “Water under the bridge” was pretty much how Hannibal summed it up, BA never said anything and Murdock . . . Well, I hurt Murdock more than anyone, but he said nothing. Everything just went back to how it had always been.
What is that line about he who forgets the past is condemned to repeat it?
I knew what you wanted. You wanted me to me to come to you willingly and make love tenderly, but I couldn’t do that. No, Templeton Peck wasn’t a fag. The Faceman wasn’t queer. He could only do those *things* when there was no other option. He couldn’t possibly *love* another man.
He was such a coward.
I couldn’t find the courage to admit what obvious. Instead, I let you stand by me, taking what you gave and giving nothing in return. You just suffered in silence.
Are you glad I’m suffering now?
I remember your dark eyes watching me on that last mission. Another one of Hannibal’s plans had gone bad and we’d spent nearly two days on E&E trying to reach a landing zone for an exfil. Half the NVA was on our tail and Hannibal was on the jazz, setting ambushes along the way and then taking off in a twisted path through the jungle. Do you remember how he called it “fun” as we finally neared the landing zone and hunkered down to wait for Murdock’s Huey.
None of the rest of the guys seemed concerned about dying. BA and Ray tallied the number of gooks they’d killed with their M-60s, while Hannibal chomped on an unlit cigar and grinned broadly at the chaos we’d wrought.
And you watched me as we waited, lying flat in the marshy rice paddy for Murdock to show up with our ride home. The entire time, as the water soaked through my fatigues, all I could think was that the enemy had us completely encircled and was just waiting for us to move. I wonder if I looked as terrified as I felt.
“Were you terrified, too?” I whisper to the darkness. I don’t feel the heat anymore and the smell is different. I feel the water and mud of the rice paddy and the smell is not of the tropical jungle, but of the stagnant water that I’m lying in.
The droning rotors in my head suddenly grow more quiet, more distant. I realize the reason. The chopper is still far away when we first hear it.
I spot Hannibal giving hand signals. Hannibal will pop the smoke and clear a path to the chopper, while BA and Ray cover him. Jax, you and I are to keep the rear guard; there’s a broken-down jeep in the paddy that will serve as good cover and I motion to you to move over to it. All we have to do is keep the gooks at bay long enough to get the team on board. As Hannibal would say, “a piece of cake.”
Checking my ammo, I realize that I’m running low. We all are by this point, but I check with you anyway. I watch you shake your head and then your eyes lock on mine.
For the first time, nearly twenty years later, I understand the look in your eyes. “You knew, didn’t you?” I ask out loud. “You knew you weren’t going to make it.” Oh, god, how did I miss that look? Why do I only see it now? If I’d seen it then, I could have traded places with you.
The sound of the chopper grows louder. Louder in my ears then, louder in my head now. The smoke pops and I can tell Hannibal is making his way to the Huey behind me. The world erupts around us in a roar of enemy gunfire. Our CAR-15s blaze and we begin to back away toward the waiting chopper even as the bullets whip around us. Then I hear a cry from behind us. My first thought is that BA or Ray has gone down, but then I hear the sound of someone running toward our position.
I must have known then, because I felt the tightness in my chest and screamed. Still, I tried to convince myself it was for some other reason. I never turned, never looked at you. I just kept firing my CAR-15, even as I ran out of ammo and strong arms locked around my waist and pulled me back.
That’s what I saw first. Just an arm lying sprawled across the rusted-out piece of metal. As BA dragged me toward the Huey, the rest of your body came into view, almost as if a TV camera had panned back to slowly bring an entire image into the picture. Your arm gave way to a shoulder and then a face resting sideways on the jeep. Your face showed only the pain of death, but I saw something else.
Your brown eyes stared lifelessly at the spot where I had just been standing.
Did you die looking at me, Jax? Were you praying that I would turn and look at you? Did you want a glance or a smile. Something, anything, to comfort you in your passing.
I denied you that too, didn’t I?
I was such a coward.
And until that moment, I didn’t understand. At that moment, I realized what I’d lost and all I wanted to do was die with you. As BA lifted me forcefully into the chopper, I struggled to escape his grasp. Ray was carrying your body toward the chopper, but I wanted to be the one to do that. I wanted the gooks to shoot me so I could die clutching your body.
As Ray set your corpse inside the chopper, I broke away from BA and pulled you close. I felt the blood soaking through my fatigues, but ignored it as I ran my hands through your hair and clutched you in the tender embrace I knew you had always wanted. I called your name, doing nothing to hide the love that I felt. In that moment, I admitted everything you wanted me to admit, but that I had always denied.
I wonder if your ghost was there at the time? Did you see me do that? Did you realize how much of a coward I had been while you were alive?
I remember how I raised my head to look around the cabin of the chopper expecting to see the accusing stares of BA, Ray and even Murdock in the pilot’s seat. Even before I looked up, I lashed out at them, screaming over the din of the chopper’s rotors:
“I know you wish it was me, not Jax. You’re right. It should have been me, so your team would still be here.”
I never expected BA and Ray to reach out and touch my shoulder. Or Murdock turn and fix me with sad, but sympathetic eyes. BA spoke first.
“No, Faceman, we don’t wish it was you. It ain’t your fault, Face. You’re part of the team and it would’ve hurt as much if it had been you. It’s just the way things go. We don’t wish you was dead.
He meant what he said. They all meant it. They all looked at me as if for the first time, calling me by the name you’d given me. Ray gave me a pat on the shoulder and Murdock . . . Murdock fixed me with those dark eyes and told me he was “sorry.” I’m not sure if Hannibal said anything; I really don’t remember much of the rest of the chopper ride. Mostly, I remember cradling your body and crying, knowing that I’d lost so much more than I’d been willing to admit.
Can I even admit it now? I look around the room. The heat and the stench have returned, assaulting my senses and threatening to drive me over the edge.
“Please come?” I beg. Let me admit what I couldn’t back then.
Then I feel your ghostly arm wrap around my sweat-drenched chest.
“Jax,” I breathe hopefully.
The arm jerks away and I spin around.
Betrayed. He looks so betrayed. His brown eyes are filled with hurt.
“I . . . I . . .”
His eyes lock on mine, but the pain and confusion never dim.
“Face . . .” An anguished voice cuts through the darkness. I nearly double over from the pain in my chest. I don’t want him to hurt.
“I’m sorry, Murdock,” is all I can whisper.
I know he’s not mollified. The pain is too apparent. His brown eyes stay locked on mine for a moment longer, but then they drop down and he pretends to study the bedspread.
I am such a coward.
“I can’t compete with a ghost, Face.” There is no anger or recrimination in his voice. Just a profound sorrow.
I reach out for his hand and clasp it tight. “I’m not asking you to. It’s just this place; it’s stirring up memories.”
“I know, Face, but it’s hard to know that you’re thinking about him.”
“Murdock . . .” How do I explain without hurting him more? I look into his anguished eyes and decide that he needs to know the truth. “I . . . I never got to tell Jax what he meant to me . . . I loved him and I never got to tell him . . . I needed to tell him. I know that’s got to hurt you, Murdock . . . but I need to be honest . . . I need to tell him . . . tell you . . . God . . . I’m so sorry . . .” The words are flowing uncontrollably and I can’t stop.
“Shhh, Facey,” he wraps his arms around me and clutches me tight. “It’s okay. You don’t have to apologize for how you feel.”
“No . . . Murdock . . . No apologies . . . Just . . . It’s just I take everything for granted. I did that with Jax and now with you . . . I loved him once, but refused to admit it. I can’t-won’t make that mistake again. I love you, Murdock, and I won’t deny it.”
He’s holding me so close and tenderly rocking me back and forth. His scent is so strong, it overwhelms the jungle stench. The soothing sound of his voice, mostly not even words, replaces the drone of the chopper rotors. Then I say the words I never could say to you.
“Murdock, love me please.”
Does that hurt you to know I can ask now? That I can give myself up to him so freely as I do now, allowing him to gingerly pull me to the bed. I surrender willingly to his touch, allowing him to caress me and prepare me. As he eases gently inside, there is no anger, no harsh thrusts, no pain. Just the tenderness and love that I refused to let you give. His movements continue slowly and easily, and he continues to whisper softly in my ear. Each motion, sound and touch steadily brings me closer to the precipice, to that point where the body and mind teeters on the edge of ecstacy.
It’s fast approaching and all I can think is that you must hate me. I’ve betrayed you by letting him love me like this. Like you wanted. Like I refused.
I’m nearly there. I can feel it as his lips gently press against my shoulders, his hands continue their soft caresses and he fills me over and over. Everything -- mind, body, soul -- now reaches the brink as the searing pleasure overwhelms me.
That’s when I see you.
You stand in the mist over the bed. You’re dark hair and dark eyes are just like I remember them.
For a moment, as I teeter at the brink of ecstacy, I can’t tell what you are thinking as you see us entwined. I expect to see anger or pain in your eyes, but it’s not there. Are you really here or are you just a vision in my mind? I don’t know the answer, but as I finally plunge over the edge, I extend my arm to you, desperate for your touch, for your love.
And you smile.
Murdock collapses against me as I watch you fade away, my former lover retreating into the darkness to leave me in the arms of my current lover. But I hear your soft drawl in my head as you leave.
“You’ve learned, kid.”
Your words drift away and are replaced with Murdock’s soft breathing. His arms are wrapped around me and I know you understand. I won’t betray Murdock again. I won’t deny what I feel, what I love.
I won’t be a coward anymore.
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