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This page last viewed: 2017-06-22 and has been viewed 2721 times
Copyright: July 2001
Summary: Vietnam, 1970. B.A. breaks up a fight before it gets started, and finds out why Murdock is so bent out of shape.
Disclaimer: None of these characters belong to me, no matter how much I wish they did. SJC and Universal are the lucky owners. I only borrow the guys to play with, and I promise to have them home by dinner. I have made no profit from this story.
Warnings: reference to some rather icky stuff. Language. Can't think of anything else.
Authors Note: As always, a huge thank you goes to Cath, witchbaby, and Mel, for their invaluable help.
The Blue Dragon Club was a dark, run-down excuse for a club, but the establishment was packed. Grunts and pilots, officers and enlisted men, all jumbled together in the cacophony of voices and rough drunken laughter that mixed with the music and the girlish giggles of the half dozen working girls into a thick blanket of noise.
The popularity came natural; the Blue Dragon Club was the only place within a radius of 5 miles that sported a functioning A/C. It was cool, and that was what mattered when the outside temperatures at 9 p.m. still skirted the high 90's.
B.A. moved efficiently through the crowd. Smooth, soundless motions, unthinking memorization of every obstacle, analyzing the polished surface underfoot. It was difficult to leave that out there.
The bills in his hand were drooping depressingly, satiny soft after being stashed in the warm depth of his pocket the entire evening. Almost all of this month's payment. He didn't normally carry around that much cash, an invitation for trouble.
But today wasn't any normal day. He turned 22 today.
B.A. closed his hand around the money a little harder. It wasn't like the guys didn't have other things on their minds. Wasn't a big deal, anyway.
His stomach rumbled unhappily. After getting back from the bush he was never hungry; he never felt much of anything. It was like this bubble, where the war was inside, and the rest of life was outside. Getting in was never a problem, happened without even thinking about it, but it always took time to get back out through that invisible barrier. When he finally did get through, he was always starving.
Maybe he'd try to get some steak, real steak, not the water buffalo kind. It would cost him, he knew that, but it would be worth it. Didn't have much else to spend his money on anyway. Face could probably get it cheaply if he asked, but he didn't want to. Didn't want to become just another person in the long line of people who turned to Face for everything between heaven and earth, and never gave anything back.
Besides, he'd never been comfortable asking for favors. Especially not from an officer.
The girl behind the bar smoothly trapped B.A.'s large hand under hers as he sidled up to the counter. She showed a set of crooked teeth in a jaded smile, and B.A. was treated to a very revealing look down the low-cut turquoise dress as she swept her long black hair from her face, and leaned over the counter.
"3 beers, and a Coke, please." He withdrew his hand, letting his eyes wander the length of the mirror behind the bar. You used what was available to keep your back free.
She leaned even closer. Heavy, sweet perfume mixed with the smell of fish sauce on her breath as she whispered her well-rehearsed offer in his ear. He shook his head curtly, and her smile faded. She straightened up, and grabbed the money, her eyes already scouting for the next target as she placed the bottles on the stained counter with a slam.
Face's back was to the wall, arms lazily resting on the backrest of the rickety chair he was straddling, and the smile that greeted B.A. as he made his way back to the table was bright. Face was in a good mood tonight. They hadn't lost any men today.
Henderson was seated across from Face and Ray, leaning one elbow on the small table, while gesturing animatedly with the other hand. The man was a natural storyteller, and Ray and Face were obviously enjoying whatever half-fabricated story Henderson was telling.
B.A. pushed the empty beer bottles and the shot glasses that crowded the table to the side, and set the bottles down. He kept the Coke for himself, uncapping it using the edge of the table. Face leaned forwards and tilted one of the bottles to get a look at the label in the semi-darkness. He gave B.A. a suffering look.
"Sorry, man. Tiger Piss was what she had." B.A. shrugged.
"You wanna bet?"
Face got to his feet in one fluid motion, and B.A.'s eyes followed the lieutenant as he made his way through the crowd with determined steps.
It was over four months since they'd worn anything but their fatigues, and tonight Face was in his element. Light blue, short-sleeved shirt over a pair of sharp khaki pants made the blonde look like he'd been taken straight from some fancy liquor ad.
B.A. rolled his shoulders to try to ease some of the tension in his back, some of the discomfort. He missed his fatigues. B.A. quickly hid a smile behind the Coke bottle. Face would look at him like he'd grown a second head, if he'd heard that thought. Face had a thing for clothes, and B.A. knew Face would change into civilian clothes in a second if given the chance. For Face, fatigues were something that was worn because it was regulation.
B.A. liked the fatigues. As long as they were clean and whole. Felt like a second skin these days. So much simpler than civvies. No fuss. Didn't make him feel so desperately out of place.
Henderson pulled a sad-looking cigarette from behind his ear, and started patting down his pockets in search of a lighter. Unsuccessful, he finally tucked the cigarette back behind his ear.
"I'm gonna turn in; it's been a long day." He pulled the brightly colored Hawaiian shirt from the back of his chair where it had been hanging. "Might wanna keep an eye on Murdock tonight." The New Yorker finished the shot in front of him before getting up.
Ray and B.A. both looked up.
"He's a bit... on edge tonight." The energetic storyteller voice faded, fatigue coming to the forefront as he threw a couple of crumpled bills on the table.
As if on cue, a taunting voice cut through the noise.
"You look after him." Henderson glanced towards the corner where a small crowd already had gathered, and then back to B.A. "He won't let me."
B.A. wondered if he imagined the undertone of jealousy in the voice of Murdock's door gunner.
B.A. got up from the table, chair scraping against the rough floor and coming to rest on two legs against the stained, wooden panel that covered the wall. He spotted the lieutenant's head come up, as Face too heard the singsong voice.
What was that fool pilot up to?
As B.A. broke through the last barrier of people, Murdock's arm was draped casually around the petite hooker in his lap. His teeth were white in the darkness, grinning evilly at the two Marines in front of him.
"I'm sorry, boys. Lil' Ling's a wee bit busy righ' now."
His voice was slightly slurred. The gin bottle on the table next to him was three quarters empty. He twirled the long black hair of the hooker slowly around his fingers, his eyes a little unfocused, a little glossy.
And not just a little dangerous.
The hooker laughed nervously, trying to wiggle of Murdock's embrace, but the pilot just shifted his grip around her waist. Ling was experienced enough to see that the chances for business in this corner of the club was gone. The dinky dau pilot was in for some serious pain, and she wanted to be far away when it came.
"'Sides," Murdock held up his hand, and wiggled his little finger, not taking his mocking eyes from the flushed Marines. "She doesn't do these."
The reply was a mix of enraged roars from the Marines and a terrified squeak from Ling, as Murdock got to his feet, disposing of her in a heap on the dirty floor. She fled out of the clearing that magically appeared around the three men in an awkward scramble on hands and knees.
The pilot's dog tags clinked as B.A. grabbed him by the front of his fatigues shirt, and jerked him out of range of the charging Marines. B.A. stepped forward, and placed himself between them, one hand still keeping a tight grip of the pilot.
"Get out of the way, boy. This ain't no business of yours."
B.A. could feel presence of Ray and Face behind the him, stepping up, casually flanking him. Calm, almost indifferent smiles would be on their faces if he turned to look. But the menacing waves of energy coming off the two spoke of something else entirely.
He risked a quick glance to his left, and smiling blueness met him. Combat-hard blueness.
Careful, Faceman. Ain't the jungle, here. Don't go doin' anything stupid.
"No no no no. You go now. Go now!" The fat proprietor was waving his hands desperately in the air, motioning for the exit, his puffy face red with anxiety. "No fight here, GI. Go out. Or I call MPs."
The mentioning of the military police produced the desired result, and the group of onlookers dispersed, leaving the five men in the corner.
"I'm not done with you, flyboy." The Marine almost spat the words at Murdock. "You just make sure you don't go anywhere without your babysitters." The Marine then turned and narrowed his eyes, stabbing a finger at B.A. "And I'll remember you, boy!"
"I'm sure you will." Face stepped up and placed his hand on B.A.'s shoulder before he could take the bait. "The sergeant here is a memorable person." The wolf grin was half light, half dark. Still carrying the threat of violence.
"Aww... you leavin' already?" Murdock's voice cut between the two men, as the Marines walked away.
"Shut up." The reply from Face and B.A. came in stereo.
"You shouda' let me handle 'em. I'd have nailed their asses to th' floor." Murdock's eyes were skittering all over the place, his smile a manic display of teeth, aimed at no one and everyone.
"I said shut yo mouth!" B.A. tightened the grip of Murdock's jacket as he towed the pilot out the door.
Face raised his beer bottle towards B.A. as he and Ray ambled over to the dartboard in the corner. They were staying behind, reluctant to return to base anytime sooner than they had to.
The humid night air outside was heavy and dank, filled with the smell of greasy food, exhausts, and an indistinguishable mix of manure and human waste. B.A. was walking quickly; short, angry steps, still dragging Murdock with him.
Happy birthday. Sure. He was thousands of miles from home, in the middle of a war, and one of his few friends seemed hell-bent on getting himself pounded to the ground. Happy. Right.
"Wha's your problem?" Murdock started straining against B.A.'s grip, and his expression grew mean.
B.A. let out a growl, and swung around, grabbing Murdock's jacket with both hands, slamming him into the stone wall. Their difference in rank wasn't enough to keep him at bay any longer.
The small, noisy group of grunts outside the Blue Dragon Club turned their heads in unison, sensing the potential for a fight.
"You mah problem! 'M tired of---"
Whiteness exploded in his head, and the ground was painfully hard as he landed heavily on his left side. Silvery fireflies danced in front of his uncooperative eyes. Crystal walls were around him once again. Impressions distorted, stretched in time, slow motion fear in conspiracy with fast-running rage.
He struck out blindly, instinctly. The growl of pain was immediately followed by a stab of pain shooting up his side, and B.A. awkwardly rolled away, his breath painfully forced out of his lungs. His hands were reaching for the handle of the K-bar even as he moved.
He grabbed for the trusted blade. Dull black to avoid any unwanted reflections in the darkness of night. Handle bound with rough, black canvas, to keep sweaty (nervous) fingers from slipping. Sharp enough to get a pretty clean shave with. Sharp enough to cut a man's throat with. He could find it in total darkness, in the impenetrable ink of highland nights. His fingers would instinctually be guided to it without conscious thought. Slipping it silently from the sheath, gripping the handle tight, angling the wrist to let the blade run parallel with the underarm. Ready for anything.
Bring 'em on.
This time, fumbling fingers found only the soft fabric of his cotton shirt.
His vision cleared just in time to see Murdock charge him again, and the bubble shattered in a thousand invisible fragments. Muddy pain mixed with derailed rage, and B.A. was suddenly grateful for being in civilian clothes.
He couldn't let his training take over. He didn't know if he'd be able to stop in time if he did, so he froze in place and hunkered down, covering his head as best as he could as fists and boots delivered stinging pain. Glowing epicenters of aching heat mixed with the anger in the pit of his stomach. The pilot knew how to inflict damage on a human being, and with frightening effectiveness at that. But tonight, half the blows more or less grazed B.A., and Murdock was too unstable on his feet to be able to put much strength behind the kicks.
Stay down. Think of something else. The latest issue of Popular Mechanics. Baiting the rat trap under the cot. Loading bullets into the clip, one by single one (Fuck. Wrong direction, very wrong direction). Playing with Netty's 5 year-old, walking old Mr. Holson's mean Airedale. Mama's gingerbread cookies.
He was staggering through one of the Bible verses Miss Nickerson, gray-haired, soft-eyed Sunday school teacher, had made them recite in imperfect unison every week, when his mind finally registered that Murdock had stumbled away.
B.A. peered out from under his aching arms, and lowered them slowly. His mouth tasted like blood.
Murdock was leaning against the wall, eyes closed. His knees buckled and the pilot slowly slid down along the wall and came to rest on the ground. He folded the arms over his knees and lowered his forehead to rest on them.
B.A. didn't move. Breathing was getting easier, like he was finally remembering how to inhale and exhale again, and his heartbeat was slowing down. The soggy ground had long ago thoroughly soaked his pants, and his hands, on which he was leaning, were crusted with sand and mud.
"Had to leave two guys today." The voice was almost inaudible.
B.A. didn't look up, willing Murdock into silence. Dangerous heat was seeping through again at the sound of his voice.
He stiffly pushed himself up from the ground, and brushed his hands off on the front of his thighs. He stopped, stinging palms pressed hard against the fabric of the pants. Murdock looked strange. Wilted.
"They were runnin' towards the LZ." Murdock showed no signs of the intoxication that had been so evident only a couple of minutes ago. "But that fuckin' machine gun was taking chunks out of us."
A dog barked twice, the sound echoed down the narrow street, mixing with the noise of the traffic and the music that bled into the street from the Blue Dragon Club.
"So we got the hell out. Left them." Murdock's looked up at him, his eyes were pleading for understanding. "I had to, you know."
B.A. sat down heavily next to Murdock on the hard-trodden dirt. Fatigue was catching up now. He bit off the groan that rose in his throat as his bruised back slid down along the still warm wall. As the pain eased up, he gingerly pulled his feet up close to his body, mirroring the position of the man to his right.
"We went back, an hour later." Murdock's voice had turned flat. "Charlie had di di'd out of there, so a squad went in to look for the two guys we left. And they found them. What was left of them. Hanging upside down, tied up by their feet. And the bastards had..."
Murdock rubbed his closed eyes viciously with the heels of his palms. As if trying to erase the sight from his memory.
B.A. hesitated, then placed a hand on Murdock's arm. The hand was still trembling, he noted. Residual adrenaline. Took a while to wear off.
Murdock's head came up at the touch, eyes wide and startled. And bottomless. For the first time in a long time, B.A. saw them unguarded, naked. Windows to the soul, that's what the eyes were supposed to be. He suddenly hoped with all his might it wasn't so.
Murdock bowed his head again, slowly inching it towards the hand resting on his upper arm, as if moving to lean against it. But he stopped an inch away from B.A.'s hand. The eyes closed.
"They'd skinned them."
With their shoulders touching, B.A. felt it like it was himself who was shaking.
"Oh, man. It was bad; it was real bad. The smell was... And he was making this sound, like he was trying to scream, but his voice was all gone and all that came out was this... Like a... Oh, Jesus, he was still alive."
The cheek moved a fraction closer to B.A.'s hand.
B.A. swallowed. He clenched his free hand to resist the urge to swat at the flies that were there only in his head. Big lazy flies, shimmering metallic bluish-black. Crawling everywhere, masses of whitish little larvae in sharp contrast to angrily red flesh.
He'd managed to stumble away a few feet, then his knees had given away and he'd thrown up violently. Big, bad Special Forces guy, acting like a FNG. He still woke at night, swatting at those damn flies.
Murdock's voice brought him back to the dark, muggy street outside the Blue Dragon Club.
The warmth of Murdock's cheek against his hand was so fleeting B.A. wasn't sure it was real or just his imagination.
What for? For not being able to keep it together after seeing things no one should ever have to see? For being so fucked up he went looking for ways to self-destruct, with minimum effort from his side? For going after the ones looking out for him?
B.A. couldn't tell.
"What?" Without meaning to, the question came out sounding hard.
Murdock sighed a jagged, tired sigh. "Happy birthday."
B.A.'s head came down in shame, and he nodded, letting his fingers trace the frayed laces of his muddy shoes (a hard, tight knot where they'd broken when he was tying them this afternoon). His birthday was the last thing Murdock should have to have on his mind right now.
They sat unspeaking on the ground, backs against the wall, until the crowd outside the club was thinning. It was getting late. Face and Ray had left about 20 minutes ago, passing them on their way to the transport back to base. A raised eyebrows from Face and a reassuring nod from BA had constituted their silent communication.
B.A. clasped the roll cage of the battered army jeep parked in front of them for support, as he struggled to his feet.
"Better get back."
B.A. watched Murdock give his head a small shake, like trying to shake things into focus again.
"Yeah, guess so."
Murdock suddenly stopped in mid-motion.
"Fuck!" He laughed, a hard and brittle sound. He held the crumbled remains of what used to be a pair of sunglasses towards BA. "They're takin' more casualties than the VC these days."
Murdock's voice was almost cheerful, and he sent the shades flying through the air with a quick flick of the wrist. His eyes, all surface and no depth now, were zigzagging again.
"Second pair this week. Turnin' into an expensive little habit."
The ground vibrated slightly, and the deep rumble of a passing army truck invaded the silence around them. For a short moment, B.A. thought it was the echo of the steel curtain that had dropped between Murdock's soul and his eyes.
"You gonna be all right, man?"
A cigarette had magically appeared between Murdock's fingers. The click of the lighter carried down the now-deserted street, and Murdock took a long drag, watched the smoke rise lazily towards the sky before answering.
"Yeah. Don't worry." The grin was only slightly more misplaced than the tone of the voice.
BA sighed. Recent months had seen Murodkc in a string of constant fights, the next always with worse odds than the previous. Murdock seemed to go for the angriest ones, picking the fights he couldn't possibly win.Maybe that was the point? Trying to find some source of external pain, just to be able to pretend that the hurt from inside wasn't so bad. BA was familiar with the logic. Too bad it never worked in the long run.
Murdock was already striding down the narrow street, navigating between the puddles of filthy water. As he stepped into the circle of dim light outside the club, B.A. almost expected the light to refract around him, shatter in broken, asymmetric reflections, like it had the broken glass of the shades. But the yellowish light flowed as smoothly around the man as it always had.
B.A. picked up the remains of the shades, tucked them into the chest pocket of his shirt, and followed his friend.
Curfew was getting close.
~ The End ~
(c) SnowFlake 2001
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