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Salvation

Authors:  Quentillian & Nora

 

Chapter Seven

Murdock should have been sleeping. Between flight hours, fist fights, MP's, and his own CO's belief that mopping the monsoon rains up off the mud tarmac for twelve hours would "help wash the stupid off", Murdock had every right to be passed out cold. Where sleep could heal the sore muscles and cold aches. In fact, by the time he had stumbled back to his Marine approved bunk and changed into dry boxers, he'd done just that.

The sleep hadn't lasted long. It never did, not anymore. Ghost screams and nightmares had him bolting upright, fighting to breath and remember where and what he was. Sleep was effectively done. Jamming his pants and boots back on, Murdock slipped out into the night, taking advantage of a rare break in the rain, he found himself fighting the sudden overwhelming urge to run as fast as he could into the darkness and snakes and snipers and landmines. Where it was safer than all the shit he saw in his head.

Three cigarettes later and he'd found himself at the chopper line. The guards knew him well enough to simply nod as he went past them, instead of checking his security clearance. To them he was just another screwball pilot doing whatever ritual he needed to try and keep his flying hunk of metal from killing them all.

It was half true, not completely true this time. This time he was there because he needed something to keep his feet stuck in the mud and rooted on friendly soil. Rotors, thrust, torque, all those other little pieces that played in his head, making the screaming noises twist and fade until they finally morphed into a bitterly sweet siren's song. It pulled at what was left of him. Locking him in step and keeping him from running to the hidden dark places that tried to call him out.

Flying helped center him. It always had. He'd figured out a while back that there'd been some kind of cosmic mix up. The wings he should have been born with on the outside, had grown inwards, right into his soul.

It was nights like this - times when he couldn't make sense of the voices and memories - that being where the flying happened was the only thing that helped. No. That wasn't true. Not anymore. Face and the team. They helped now. They came with silent acceptance and Face's charm that reached right into Murdock's head and worked its magic on the voices, like he knew exactly what they were saying.

He did. Because Face could hear them too.

Finishing the inspection of his bird who knows how many hours later, Murdock felt the tug to go back home, to the team. His body knew on a visceral level he needed to go to his team. It was the only hope in hell he had of getting even a few hours of shut eye.

But they weren't his team. Fucknuts Mifflin was right, he was just an add on. Hannibal wasn't his commander, and he'd followed protocol by sending Murdock back to his CO for punishment. It was a protocol that Hannibal had never bother with before.

Shit was changing and there was no stopping it, no controlling it, and not a shitting thing he could do about it except turn back to the chopper and try to ignore the noise in his head and the way his hand shook. It was all just a trick of the night. He just had to focus on the solid things. The metal, the rivets, the blades… over and over again, touching them all, methodical. Everything fading back into the dark, where it belonged.

By the time he heard the footsteps thudding into the mud Murdock was down to one cigarette and no concept of the time. He was tensing, readying for a fight and looking for an edge even as logic tried to convince him it was a friendly. They'd got past the guards too, so they had to be on our side right? Yeah fuck logic, that shit went out the window the second he'd come to beautiful Southeast Asia, where babies can kill you and "our" side was an ever changing thing.

"Lieutenant!" Murdock was at attention so fast, mud slipped and slid under his boots. Hoorah mother fuckers, look at that Marine corp training in action. Hannibal was standing in front of him, steely blue eyes nailing Murdock down, hands behind his back in all shades of authority.

"You forget how the chain of command works?"

"No Sir!" Things like what the hell was Hannibal doing here, and what time was it, got pushed behind the sting. He'd dropped his last smoke in his haste, for what? Twelve hours of mopping up genuine Vietnamese rain had already fucking reiterated the fact the Murdock was a leatherneck, not a member of the A-Team.

"Good." Hannibal's entire demeanor relaxed inside a heartbeat. "At ease."

He dropped the parade pretty posture but 'ease' was out of the fucking question. What the hell did Hannibal want, other than reminding him who owned him and in what order?

"Next time Face starts running his mouth, remember that. Last thing I need is for his ego to get even more out of control because every time I go to dress him down you're jumping in to save his ass." Hannibal was pulling out a cigar, casual as ever and lighting it up.

"I wasn't saving Face's ass. I started the fight. Jarvis had it coming. I made sure he got it." Even after the rain clean up and the dress down and the rounds of punting the problem Murdock to every CO who wanted a piece of him, there wasn't an ounce of him that was sorry. BA deserved a hell of a lot better and Jarvis deserved a lot worse. He'd gotten off light.

"That fight, yes. But everything else, no. Face is taking stupid risks and they are affecting the team." He pointed the butt end of his cigar at Murdock and just as frankly laid out the facts. "Face can't figure out when to stop. You can and for some reason you're choosing not to. The fact that you knew I was going to chew his ass when he mouthed off and he was shocked as hell proves that. I dismissed you because no matter what Face does, you want to save him from the consequences and if that continues, he is never going to figure anything out and he's going to wind up crashing and burning.."

"You dismissed me cause I ain't your problem." Fuck him for trying to make this into some kind of of valiant effort on his part

"I dismissed you because you are all my problem." Hannibal didn't raise his voice, but there was a controlled pissed off in there that Hannibal hadn't directed at Murdock in years.

"Not if I follow the chain of command. Sir."

"You want off the team?"

"I ain't on your team!" He was moving into Hannibal's space, the noises getting louder. "Mifflin's told me, you've told me, my own fucking CO told me." Fuck Hannibal for pushing the problem off, fuck him for thinking Murdock would let Face crash and burn. He'd fucking killed for Face and he'd die for him too. For any of them. "And all the fucking blood in the world ain't gonna change it."

"You are either on my team. Or you're not. Just like everyone else. There's no exception to that and there never has been. You get that straight in your head or you tell me right now you can't."

Maybe it was the way Hannibal said it, with complete certainty and authority. Maybe it was the hard, steady look. Maybe it was the fact that over the din and confusion and fucking uncertainty, there was one fact that was true. Hannibal didn't lie to him. Ever. And because of that Murdock never lied to Hannibal, not about the real shit. Rooted to the spot Murdock looked Hannibal in the eye. "I ain't nothing without the team."

It was enough for Hannibal to take his word for it. "Good." That hard line softened and Hannibal took a step over to the side of the chopper and sat in the open door. "Look Murdock, Face is short. I get it. I really do." Something about the way Hannibal was talking so genuinely had Murdock listening. "Whether he decides to stay or not is his choice, but whatever he does, if he doesn't figure a few things out quick, he's never going to make it." Raising his brow, that stupid cigar was pointing at him again. "You know that more than anyone. Trying to protect him and save him from himself isn't doing him any favors."

"Save him? Hell, I can't even save myself." Everything was unsure, who would be where and when, nothing made sense, nothing was a given, except for one thing; he wasn't getting out of Vietnam alive.

"And therein lies the problem, Murdock." Hannibal took a deep breath, letting Murdock have a moment to sift through that. "If he leaves you'll be left with no one who understands whatever knocked you off your kilter again. But throwing yourself in front of the bus he's got headed for him to make sure he stays, isn't the answer."

Murdock shook his head slowly. Hannibal, for once, had gotten it wrong. Murdock didn't want Face to stay, he understood that Face had to. Face's demons may be dressed up nicer, but they were just as destructive his. Neither one of them was real without the team. Templeton Peck and HM Murdock both died months ago, in a forgotten village on a piece of mud that no one wanted in the first place. Sometimes he wasn't even sure either one of them had ever really existed.

"If Face getting drummed out was the answer, I'd be the first one to help him over the wall." But Face didn't need the world. He needed his home.

"So he can be AWOL. He tried that before Murdock, remember?" Hannibal shifted, standing up again. "You're a good friend Murdock and a great pilot, but something's got you blinded when it comes to Face. That clarity you've got in the sky, it needs to be everywhere and you need to know that the whole team's got your back. Don't lose sight of that."

"Face is the only thing I can see clearly at ground level. Better then I see me."

"I know. And that's what concerns me." He didn't elaborate on that. He just let it hang in the air over the two of them.

"We lost some pieces." Murdock tapped his hand to his chest, where his heart used to be. "This is all I've got left. Everything. I'm just trying to keep us all together." Face and Murdock were both broken long before they'd met and what had happened in country had left them with just enough parts to limp along. Murdock once again found himself looking in Hannibal's eyes and letting the truth out. "I don't know what else to do."

"You take it a day at a time, Murdock." Hannibal's voice was almost quiet. Pensive even. "You ask for the help you need. You keep in mind that actions have consequences. And most importantly, you trust your team when you can't trust yourself."

He got the implication, and the unspoken words that would have ended his career if they were said out loud. "No matter what, sir, the team's safety always comes first." Face, him, his wings, meant nothing without the team.

Hannibal just nodded, a comforting hand on his shoulder and the conversation was over. They'd said all they could.

XXXXX

Cruiser leaned his forearms against the rickety table in the back of what was left of Face's club and ignored the chatter between Ray and BA. He knew enough about BA's mamma and Ray's girl to last a lifetime. Fortunately, for all the talk the club had been getting since the fight over the last week, every GI on the base seemed to have the sense enough to stay away from it.

The current lack of tables and chairs may have had something to do with that, but that wasn't Cruiser's concern. The absence of any business potential made it the perfect place to sit back and take a time out from the war. He pulled the package that his sister had sent him closer and began opening it. A bland cardboard box filled with trinkets to let him know she cared and missed him and was still thinking about him. They were little reminders that there was a world outside of Vietnam. One that wasn't completely filled with assholes, violence, waste, and fish-eyed fuckers trying to kill him.

Cruiser pulled out an envelope from the box and set it aside. Unless the letter inside it was stained with tears and prattled on about how much Katie's heart was broken because whatshisname had turned out to be a giant douchebag, he didn't much care to read it right now. No doubt instead it was an update about how perfect her boyfriend was. Loving, doting, and just as sweet as a fucking lollypop. It made his skin crawl thinking about that lowlife sweet talking his Katie-bear like that. Saying all the right things until he got what he wanted from her. Katie was the sweetest person in the world and she deserved to be treated as such. None of the general bullshit guys played. But she was too innocent and trusting and it made his blood fucking boil with the want to cave the back of the guys head in.

Cruiser let those feelings go though. They'd gotten him nowhere in the past and now he was a world away. He set the tupperware container full of cookies on the table too, and continued to pilfer through the box. Katie-bear was a lot of things; cute, adorable, innocent beyond all measure, and the one person who could cut through the worst of his moods with a simple "Dannyboy" and a sharp look. Magically his world wound up back on kilter. However, she was not a cook. Every package, without fail, included the new kitchen experiment. And every time he sent her a quick postcard or simple note letting her know he was still alive, and he'd wind up telling her how good they were.

Every. Damned. Time.

Flipping through the rest of the box, he didn't bother to pull everything out. The pack of smokes went into his pocket, there was some coca cola, couple of books for the down time, some real honest to God coffee, gum, a few pieces of loose leaf paper he flipped open. He couldn't help but smile, a sketch that he recognized in a heartbeat. A young boy with a towel knotted around his shoulders like a cape holding a scraggly cat. The eyes caught him for a moment though. Determined and almost dark. Cruiser folded it back up quickly, dropping it into the box. Later on he'd have a chance to go through everything with more attention to the details.

The last two items though couldn't wait. A long chain with a pendant attached. Four hearts interwoven into one. It was the Celtic symbol for eternal love. He'd seen it before. Hell, Katie and him had talked about getting tattoos of it a long time ago. He needed another one that stood for forbidden and then everything would line up. Fingers wrapping around it, his thumb smoothed over the metal as he shoved those feelings down. Douche-bag Magee was standing in his place now. Filling the void he'd left when he'd signed the dotted line for Uncle Sam.

The last item was a picture, creased down the middle, edges worn. It was Katie in his 1963 Ford side step piece of shit pickup truck. The door was open and she was sitting sideways in the driver's seat looking at the camera. A well worn sundress and a light sweater. Innocent and beautiful and serene. Even in this moment in time, taken God only knew how long ago, he could see that twinkle in her eyes. Like that of an angel. Watching and listening and waiting in that nonjudgmental yet expectant way held such high standards. It was captivating and it made him want to be a better man.

And she was waiting just for him. At least in that moment in time. Like she should have been now. Cruiser slipped the photo into his shirt pocket, putting an end to that internal mantra. As soon as he could he'd put it in an old copy of All Quiet on the Western Front that made for a great photo holder, ensuring that they stayed nice and flat and wrinkle free. And as safe as anything in this fucked up place.

The already broken table shook, but managed not to collapse as BA shifted, going through his own box of goodies. He snarled over a shoebox that his Mom had sent. It was guaranteed to be full of some of the best cookies known to the GI world. Unlike Katie's.

"Have some." BA growled. It was somewhere between an order and a threat, and as nonthreatening as BA ever got.

Ray didn't need permission or an order. He was already leaning over the table and grabbing a couple of the somehow still moist wonders. "Damn BA," Ray said through a cookie. "Your Momma sends the best shit."

It took Cruiser a moment to filter through all of it. But BA's Momma's cookies held an infinite appeal over his other thoughts. Despite all of it, he was left with a smile. No matter what happened with Katie, she was there. A constant in his life and an anchor that surpassed Vietnam. Something to go home to. He grabbed a cookie, raising his brow as he took one of the Cola's and inched the rest towards his teammates. Leaning back on the chair, he relaxed. "Think we can fly your Mom out to give some cooking lessons to my sister?"

Ray picked up one of Katie's supposed brownies and tapped it against the corner of the table. It made the same hollow sound a tank did. "She needs more than a few lessons. It's a good thing she's cute, 'cause she's not getting any guys based on cooking skills."

It was BA who snarled an answer. "Little Momma don't need no man, and she cooks fine."

Cruiser just sat there and cracked open the soda can, taking a sip. "If that's the prereq for dating her, I'm fine with mail order chocolate bricks then."

"As always you make an excellent point, Cruiser." Ray grinned. For all his talk, Ray was one of a very few who could be trusted with a man's sister. "She's a Jim Dandy of a girl."

"She an angel." Hard to say what was more shocking, BA talking or BA talking low and reverent, like he was in church. It had Cruiser's eyes narrowing on the bigger man. What the hell was that all about? He could feel his protective hackles going up. But there was no threat. No reason for it at all.

"Yeah," he agreed after a moment. "She is."

It was Ray who broke the sudden tension. "Trish is going to be there, waiting in Hawaii for me. Face said he can get me the best suite in the hotel." The look of pure happiness on his face was almost sickening. "Man I can't wait." Captain obvious frowned a little. "Do you think I should get her something at our stop in Japan first?"

Oh good. Relationship talk. "She going to be at the airport?"

"Face said she would be waiting for us with a car." He looked happy as a puppy with a new stick just waiting for someone to throw it.

"We've got a four hour layover in Japan." Cruiser shrugged a bit. "Unless you want to grab something in the airport, Japan's gonna be the place to do it."

"I'm gonna get Momma something in Hawaii. Hear they got nice pearls."

"Well she's not meeting you at the airport, so that works for you, BA." Ray threw back.

They had a point. Cruiser really did need to find something nice for Katie-bear. But shopping had never been his specialty. And if he tasked it out to Face it would be all sorts of wrong. "Yeah…" Cruiser didn't finish the thought. Mostly because he couldn't. He didn't have an answer and now he had more questions. What the hell did you get for the sweetest girl in the world? One who didn't like fashion or expensive trinkets or ever ask for anything except love and acceptance?

It was a good thing he didn't need to figure it out right this moment.

XXXXX

Ray shoved the last of his clothes into his dufflebag. He didn't have much here and what he did have wasn't impressive. Trish didn't care. And in less than a day, he would be learning the curves of her body all over again. That thought had a smile pulling at the corner of his mouth, and his hand tapping his shirt pocket. Right where her letter to him was. He'd read it twenty times already and he would read it a hundred more before he faded off to sleep.

Her letter, and the promise of holding her had him in too good of a mood to be pissed at anything. Even the fact the he was one hundred percent sure Hannibal was coming up with some sort of hellish learning lesson for when the team got back from R and R. Ray was sure he was going to hate the teaching method, but he understood why it had to be done. Trace and Jarvis may be a bunch of assholes, but they were assholes who could one day be the only thing between the team and death. And one day the team could be the only people able to pull the SEALs out of the fire. You may not like the person in the foxhole next to you, but you damn well had to know how to work with them, and to trust them to do their jobs. If not, every damn one of them could be dead.

Too bad getting that lesson across would most likely required fourteen hours of back breaking, mud covered, bone weary drills. Ray sighed to himself. Damn he was getting too old for this shit. He need a hot shower, a real bed, and Trish's warm soft body laying next to him in a dark cool, air conditioned hotel room. Making love for hours on end, exploring each others bodies, learning the feel of each other all over again...

"Forget it, Face. I ain't playing cards with you." Murdock's way too energetic voice dragged Ray out of Trish's arms and back to the team room. "I'm gonna need all my money for learning about the Hawaiian people and culture." Face laughed outright at that. Maybe by culture Murdock meant booze, beaches, and broads..

Relaxing back onto his bunk, Ray tapped out a cigarette as he watched the Face-Murdock Comedy hour.

Face didn't bother stopping laughing as he shouldered Murdock out of his way. "I'd spot you.

"And what about the ace up your sleeve and its friend's in your cigarette pack?" Grinning, Murdock gabbed Face's smokes out of his pocket and pulled out not one, not two, but three aces. "Or the shiny lighter that reflects pretty cards?" No wonder the kid was so damned "lucky" at cards.

Which of course meant that the Squids had been right. Face cheated them. And Murdock knew the whole time. Rubbing his hand across his forehead Ray didn't bother to try to figure that out. It was pointless. There was something about those two that reminded Ray of the stories he had heard about twins knowing and feeling what the other was thinking.

Ray took a deep drag of his smoke, and let it out slowly. He was too tired to do much else, but watch and think. Not too long ago, Ray would have voted those two most likely to kill each other. Face couldn't go ten minutes without doing or saying something stupid that had Murdock pissed.

That alone was bizarre. Murdock was goofy, but he was rock steady. Nothing ever got that grin to move an inch. But one typical brash, untouchable, teenage comment or action from Face and the man would go off. It was a shock to see Murdock get angry. There was something cold and dead that came into his eyes. Something, that if Ray was honest, scared the shit out of him.

That kinda look was what you saw in the guys who had been out too long, spent too much time with death and killing. The guy who had turned feral, but kept it contained, just under their skin. Those guys snapped and went out in big, bloody ways. It wasn't a look that belonged on a man who had once painted a chopper two different shades of pink, making it look like had giant tits. Murdock's rational had his typical unique logic. "Come on, Ray? What man's gonna shoot a rack like that?"

Murdock hadn't been quite the same since him and Hannibal disappeared a while back. Guys in suits had them off on "official business". Fucking spooks. But the real changes came after they'd pulled him and Face out of that fucking mess in that village. Hell both him and Face had changed after that.

Nightmares that had them both waking up. Murdock screaming in Vietnamese, and Face sitting bolt upright, eerily silent, but wild eyed, looking like he was seeing a demon straight from hell. Then there were the looks, far away and haunted, that ended when he looked at Face. It was one of the damnedest things he had ever seen, the two of them talking to each other, but neither one saying a word. Made the hair on the back of Ray's neck stand up.

Just like the way Murdock would jump and swing if he didn't see you coming. And the too calm way Face watched him, like he was looking for signs of Murdock getting too lost in something in his head. Like it was Face's self appointed duty. And the way Face would calmly talk to him, anchoring him, but somehow steadying himself too. Both of those kids suddenly looking older than time as they huddled together, deep in hushed conversation and memories.

A thud and laughing had Ray's attention. Face had decided to recoup his aces by the tried and true method of a low tackle. The two of them were wrestling and tumbling over each other like two overactive puppies. At least they weren't out looking for trouble. Or letting trouble find them.

Ray shook his head. Way more energy than brains. He didn't want to think about what would happen if one of them got hurt or killed. No matter what, they would end up with two men lost. And nothing he could do to fix either one.

Taking one last drag, Ray crushed out his smoke, and then leaned his head back, closing his eyes. No sense worrying and thinking about things he had no control over. Not when he was so close to being with Trish. Smiling slightly, Ray drifted off to a semi awake world that centered around the woman he had loved since he was ten.

 

Chapter Eight

BA sighed to himself and took up sentry in the corner of the jewelry shop. Japan was safe but BA knew that no place was ever that safe. Face had sang some jive song about how "he knows some guy who could get the best diamonds in all of Asia" and make sure that Ray got the ring Trish deserved. Not ten minutes after they'd arrived at the jewelry store a few miles from the base, Ray was neck deep in diamonds and Face was gone. Turns out Face's man in the jewel trade had a daughter that kept smiling at Face. Big shock. Face had been on the down low bout it, but BA saw how fast Face had done the intros and got the jeweler focused on a sale, and not his pretty daughter who was slipping into the back room with a good lucking GI, both of them with stupid grins and glazed over eyes. That had been twenty minutes ago.

At least Face was keeping it quiet. Last thing they needed was to have ta' deal with an angry Father. BA had been in enough stockades and jails, he didn't need to add Japan to his growing collections of countries that'd locked him up. He didn't wanna have to write another letter to Momma from a prison cell.

Cruiser was looking at random displays, Ray was neck deep in rings, Face was neck deep in the daughter, and BA was left in the small shop with several of the local woman staring at him with open curiosity. Folding his arms across his chest, BA ignored the giggles hidden behind tiny hands. He was used ta people staring at him. Least here they just looked at him like he was a sideshow freak and not with the hate and fear that he got back home.

A small man in a business suit scowled and barked something to the girls. Just like that they ducked their heads and scurried away. Japan was different than Vietnam. Here it was rude to stare and laugh. In Vietnam it was pretty much expected, especially from the kids. Kids had no fear of dark American GI's. They was too busy tryin' to hustle as many goods as they could in broken English and slang. They didn't have time for shame or worry. They didn't know black men was supposed to be bad. That was one way kids beat adults, kids didn't know what they was supposed to hate, yet.

Cruiser looked up from the display case just long enough to watch the girls scurry away. They weren't hookers and didn't hold his interest for long. A moment later his attention was right back on the rows and velvet trays of shiny gold and sparkling gems. BA didn't know why Cruiser had come along instead of stayin' on base with Hannibal and Murdock. It was odd and that had BA curious. Come to think of it, Cruiser never talked about a girlfriend. He only slept with women he paid for. And the only girl he ever talked about was his sister. Cruiser didn't even talk about his own Momma.

"Hey, whatcha lookin for?" BA was just bored enough to question the surly medic.

"Fuck if I know."

Cruiser was still looking at the trinkets in the cases, studying them hard, brow furrowed in a world of indecision. That wasn't nothin' like the man BA had grown to know. Cruiser usually saved that intensity for saving some grunts life. Maybe that's why BA found himself stepping closer and looking at the blinding array.

"Who it for?"

"My sister." Cruiser took a break from shopping. Looking at BA, Cruiser rested his hip against the display. "I don't know what the hell to get her. She doesn't ever want anything."

"You can get her and your Momma something that matches." BA had seen some of the girls back home do that.

Cruiser's brow just creased in deeper. Not Cruiser's usual mix of anger, confusion and pissed off either. It was more like Cruiser had reached his limit of choices and decisions about crap he didn't care about. That seemed to push Cruiser over the edge and straight into pulling out his pack of smokes.

"Maybe get 'em something with their birthstones." BA looked over the trinkets. None of it was right for Cruiser's sister. Putting expensive jewelry on something that perfect just made gold and gems look cheap.

"Yeah, maybe." He flicked his lighter shut, sliding it back into his pocket as he pulled in the smoke. But he didn't look back at the cases. "See if I can find something stateside."

"I gotta find Momma's gift. Face say he know a guy in Hawaii too. Maybe they can help you." BA knew exactly what he wanted to get Momma, he just had to track it down.

"I'll figure something out for her." He glanced over at Ray who was comparing yet another stone matched with yet another ring. "What are you getting your momma?"

"The fanciest red coat and hat anyone in her church ever seen." BA remembered it as clear as the day he'd seen it. There had been a display at one of the fancy department stores Momma used to clean. the way Momma used to look at that coat, BA never forgot. For just a few seconds her eyes would lose all the worry and steel and she'd look full of wonder, like a kid at Christmas. She never said a word, but he knew, even back then, that Momma loved that coat and hat. And he knew she'd never buy it, even if they had the money. Momma didn't do that. Momma put everything she had into raising him and keeping him fed and clothed and out of trouble. Eleven year old Bosco Baracus had made a promise that one day he would grow up and get his Momma that one thing that made her look all young and happy. Now, BA the man, actually had the money, and thanks to Face, the means to do just that.

Cruiser didn't push the issue. He didn't even growl or say anything stupid. Whatever he was thinking as he stood there had the man was as reserved now as he had been since they'd gotten there. "That's nice BA." BA couldn't help but watch Cruiser a bit more closely. Trying to pinpoint what wasn't adding up. Reading people was Face's deal, not BA's. If he didn't know better he would of though Cruiser was being a smart ass, but he wasn't. It was just the opposite. Cruiser was serious. It was the most personal he'd ever seen Cruiser and it had BA looking down at his boots and talking. "Your sister send you all sorts of pictures. Maybe you can send her something for drawing. Like some pastels." BA knew better than to talk, especially when it came to stuff big black dudes from the city weren't supposed to know about. Like drawing. No one, not even the people who knew he could build anything, ever stopped to think he had to be able to draw a design.

"You know, BA, you might might be on to something with that." Cruiser gave him a half smirk, his voice a bit lighter, like BA would have expected from a guy that was shopping for a gift for his loved ones.

XXXXX

A thirteen hour flight had never felt so damn good. Face had let himself sink into the seat of the plane. This time was different than the last. His own clothes, own choice of haircuts, and the best part? Instead of flying into Vietnam a half step outside of jail stateside, he was flying to American soil surrounded not only by friends, but beautiful women. And if the lingering looks and Cheshire smile the petite flight stewardess was giving him had left any questions as to her interest, the fact that she'd somehow managed to lose her top button, let him know the blond was just one more of his options.

It felt good. Like he was able to relax for the first time in longer than he could remember. Hannibal hadn't even said anything when he'd traded in his uniform in favor of jeans and button up shirt. Or when Cruiser had traded in his coffee for a few of those tiny bottles of booze. The selection was minimal, but the sergeant had a knack for making due. And by the time they'd touched down in Hawaii, Murdock had exhausted every bit of trivial information he could manage about planes.

Now, in the terminal, bags in hand - or over the shoulder - as the case may be, Face's attention was pulled towards the sound of several women laughing and talking louder than they should have been. Breaking away from the pack, he strolled over to the group of women in very, very short skirts. Flashing his best, most brilliant smile, Face slipped his hand into the small of a very attractive raven haired beauty's back. "Hey there, gorgeous, you live on the island?"

She smiled back at him in a dazed sort of way. "I'm a citizen of the universe man." Up close he could see the huge pupils and smell the lingering sweet scent of hash. She had no issues with his hand, nope, before he even had her name she had her hand on his ass. "Hi, I'm Star. And you're pretty."

No doubt about it, Face liked Hawaii.

"Oh, Star," her friend interjected, "his smile is like sunshine." She was taller, with blonde hair and blue eyes. How long had it been since he'd seen a blue eyed woman? For a moment it didn't matter that her eyes were just as shot as Star's. "I'm Summer and you are too perfect to be lonely."

Face chuckled a bit at the two of them. The attention was nice. And a sure roll around the hay was always fun. But if he wanted dead eyes and rose colored glasses he would have stayed in Vietnam. R and R was all about carefree and feeling alive.

He was out, but since he'd done the work of laying ground, he might as well see if his good fortune could be someone else's. Hand automatically circling Summer's waist, a beautiful girl on either arm inside of five minutes on American soil - yes he really was that good. He ignored the dilated pupils and the far off gazes as he turned them towards Cruiser and Murdock.

Murdock was trotting over. With his bag over his shoulder and aviators on he looked like a recruiting post for the Marines. Except his goofy grin said anything but the meathead "pain is weakness leaving the body" slogan they liked to tote. "Face, two minutes in paradise and you managed to find some angels. Nice work. So how's about you introduce us?"

"Right." Murdock wasn't going to want anything to do with them. "Murdock, meet Summer and Star." His smile turned up in amusement at the pilot as he explained, "They are citizens of the universe. I'm not sure I got the right stamps on my passport."

"What a coincidence. I'm a citizen of the same place. Small world, huh?"

"Is that a friend of yours?"

"Murdock?" Something about the edge in Summer's voice had his look shifting to her. Oh good, Mother Nature's star children were apparently not so at ease with everything the universe had to offer after all. "No, I just made that name up. I've never actually met him before." Was she serious? She was high, but she should be able to track this sequence of events.

Murdock played along, not missing a beat. "Never meet him before in my life."

Summer was quick, reeling back and spitting in Murdock's face with all the venom and hate of a pissed off Cobra. "Baby killer!"

Neither one of them were expecting it and it took a second before the crooked turn that reality had taken hit home. Face was moved, untangling himself from the bong hitting hypocrites and getting between Murdock and the women. If one of them was that vile, they both were.

"What the fuck is your problem?" Face demanded.

"Like, god, a killer. What a downer." Too high to work up as much hate as her friend, Star was still able to manage disgusted.

"Yeah, how many women and children have you killed?" Summer continued. "Huh? You feel proud about being a murderer? They give you a medal for it?"

Face was pissed. Astounded and pissed. In a heartbeat everything had changed. Murdock was snapping to attention, smile gone. And Face had no doubt that behind the sunglasses, his eyes had lost all expression. Murdock may be fine hiding behind his soldier act but Face wasn't. Somehow on American soil, where he was one of the good guys and not a threat, Face found himself right back in the heat of conflict.

"How many babies you have to kill for your medal, soldier boy?"

Face's eyes narrowed in on Summer as she came closer to them with each vile word of her diatribe. Face's hand came up, catching her on the collar bone and shoving her back. "Back off. You can go find your poppy seeds or something. Get the hell out of here."

Murdock grabbed his hand, A tight grip around his wrist. "Ain't worth it, Face." Murdock's drawl was thick, but it did little to hide the hard tone.

"Hey man!" BA was there suddenly between Face and the harpie. "Cool it." There was just enough concern in the big man's voice to make it not sound like a threat.

"You're all a bunch of no good, murdering, cowards."

People were starting to stop, watching the spectacle, but not stopping it. And suddenly Cruiser was there in the mix too. Getting between them, right next to BA, and not giving Face a chance to say or do anything else.

"I wouldn't say that." Cruiser took a step closer to the hippies, getting them even further away from Face and Murdock. "We're great at murdering. But children have gotten boring." His hand reached up to Summer's cheek. "Women on the other hand, they still get my blood boiling."

Star gasped in horror. "Oh my god! You're all fucking psychos"

"Enough." Hannibal's voice wasn't loud but there was no room or mercy in his tone and it cut through to everyone. "Move out. Now." Hannibal put a hand on Murdock's shoulder and turned him around, away from the girls and towards the sunlight outside the doors. As if on cue, BA's heavy hand landed on Face's shoulder and suddenly he was being marched out of the airport too.

"Be okay brother."

Be okay, Face echoed in his head. How the fuck was this okay? And how the hell was Cruiser chuckling about the whole thing as he passed them. How the hell was he unscathed by that? He made a joke out of a threat and Face still had no fucking idea what had happened back there. And there Face was with his own personal escort out of the first American building he'd been in in almost a year. BA was talking to him. Face could hear the words, but damn it all if he could string their meaning together or think of something to say. Part of him wanted to shove BA's hand off of him and get away from the lot of them. But then where was he going to go? The airport bathroom and do what? No, he was stuck trying to sort out what had happened and how to deal with it right here in front of God and everyone.

So much for fun under the sun with a pocket full of cash and flask of booze. Welcome home. Oh wait. He'd never had one.

 

Chapter Nine

Cruiser had to admit it; Face could work an angle like nobody's business. The Ala Moana Hotel was five stars all the way. Vaulted ceilings, crown molding, full length drapes, and that lovely ever so white it made your fucking eyes hurt everywhere you looked… it made the swank of his Pittsford New York upbringing look docile and mundane in comparison. The difference between a luxurious escape and the everyday glad handing that came with living in yuppy-ville. Cruiser dumped his bag onto the bed. The weight of it sinking into the cushy mattress and over stuffed comforter until half the duffel had been swallowed thousand count Egyptian cotton.

It had been six years since he'd taken that last step out of mainstream life on the fast road to U Penn Medical School and onto a plane to basic. He'd said adios to all the facades and the social graces, and use this fork not that one, and wear a tie, don't unbutton your shirt and all of that phony crap that had been shoved down his throat to make him upper crust and never looked back.

However, three connecting suites with jacuzzi tubs, chandeliers, and balconies were a welcome change from rain, mud, and worn out cots. And those beaches. Deep blue ocean water peppered with very little clothing and so very much skin instead of floating bodies and crimson blood. It made Cruiser want to jump straight from the balcony onto the beach and grab a few of those beauties to tote back to the room and have his way with until the sun came back up - in a weeks time.

Opening the door that connected his and BA's suite to Face and Murdock's, he could hear the shower running. Face tossed a bottle at him from the wet bar before he'd made it three steps in. "Jose, my long lost friend," He smiled at the bottle fondly, "it's been too long." He cracked the seal of the lid and tossed it in the general direction of the garbage, and tipping the bottle towards Face. "If you insist."

From under the bar of wonders Face pulled out his own bottle . Brandy for him. He was still scowling, hanging on to the pissed off from the airport. "Who in the hell do they think they are?" The only thing that stopped his talking was a long pull from the bottle. "I've heard about people doing shit like that, but spitting on us? What the fuck?"

Righteous indignation. Cruiser leaned his shoulder on the wall, eyes on Face as he took a long welcoming pull from the tequila and let it roll around his mouth, savoring the burn before swallowing it it down. "Don't get your panties in bunch, man. Who cares?" He shrugged the whole thing off, letting it go for the both of them. "Whores want to cut your dick off, the VC want to kill you. Uncle Sam wants to give you a medal, and hippy fucks hate our guts. Welcome home."

"They're not the VC. That's the whole point. They're Americans, they're not supposed to fucking hate us."

"Fine, maybe men in uniform just aren't their type. We can always go back and ask them if you want."

"They spit on us! How the hell do you just let that go?"

"I didn't. Hannibal put a stop to it." Cruiser reminded the younger man and pushed himself off the wall. "Besides, why should I care what they think? Hell, if they knew what I thought of them they'd really spit in my face." Hawaii was not about some philosophical debate he couldn't anything about. "You gotta loosen up, man." Hand dropping on Face's shoulder, he moved them towards the door. "It's R and R. Sand and relaxation. There's a beach full of scantily clad women, empty beds, and full bottles of booze. Forget the fucks. There's a whole island to tear up."

"Forget them, huh?" Face was giving him that bullshit smile the whole world seemed to buy into. "Right, well that's where the brandy comes in." Face took a second, longer swig. Looked like he was ready to have some good old Remy Martin help him with some short term memory loss.

Smiling, Cruiser let himself plop down in one of the lounge chairs. It was not a used tire, covered in mud, or on foreign soil. It felt odd. Tipping his own bottle towards Face he called bullshit on the younger man. "Few more of those and you might start believing that shit."

Face tipped the bottle at him in a little mock salute. "If you find something more effective than tequila for forgetting let me know." Face fumbled around the precision work it took to light his smoke and dropped into the chair next to Cruiser. It wasn't until after he managed to lite a smoke that his smile dropped.

"There's always narcs to get that job done."

"Did you see the look on his face?" Face shook his head, "I've come to expect fucked up shit over there. But this..." Who was he kidding, there was nothing he could do anyway. "Like you said Cruiser. Fuck 'em. They don't matter."

XXXXX

Hannibal's hotel was very nice. Clean, well maintained, and full of bustling tourists and staff. And Hannibal would bet every dime he had to his name that it was no where near as opulent as the rooms Face had managed to scam for the rest of the team. There was no doubt in Hannibal's mind that the kid had gone all out. Part of Hannibal wished he could see exactly what Face could do when turned loose in a playground of luxury. But the rules were clear. Officers and enlisted were not to fraternize. And while Hannibal was willing to overlook that in a war zone, here on base was a different story. There was no war here taking the attention of the upper brass like there was in Vietnam. Given the crap his team was supposed to do over there, they simply didn't have time to worry about whether or not Hannibal could have a drink with them.

What he and the the rest of his A-team were doing and how they were doing it was so far out of the normal military box of thinking that the rules had to bend. And since there was so much unknown, classified, and frankly out right lied about over there, most of the higher ups were more than willing to turn a blind eye to just about anything. And when they weren't, most of the time as long as you had a half way decent argument, you could get some slack. Back in the real world though, where the paper pushers ruled, it was a different matter.

Slinging his duffel bag over his shoulder Hannibal frowned to himself. If the little scene at the airport proved anything, it was that navigating the political bullshit state side required a lot more restraint than it did in Southeast Asia. It was complete bullshit. A bunch of crap spewed by an elite and spoiled few who had no idea what it was like to fight for your life and the lives of your friends, or of the horrors of just what humans could become. It was a cold, hard reminder that there were different rules to follow back in the good ole US of A. And they were rules that already had him wanting a scotch and a shower.

Stopping in front of a very tan man behind the front desk, Hannibal reached in his breast pocket for a cigar. "Lt. Col. John Smith. I have a reservation." Cigar in hand he waited for the usual smiles and comments about checking in as "Mr. Smith".

"Oh yes, Lieutenant Colonel Smith. Mrs. Smith arrived a few hours ago and straightened out the mistake in the booking. Your reservation was changed to the honeymoon suit."

"Oh really?" Mrs. Smith. That was new. There was only one person he could think of that would be that presumptuous, and he hadn't told her about his upcoming R and R. But before he could ask any questions, a familiar voice had him turning and looking over his shoulder.

"Jonathan!" The voice was as excited and proper as he'd ever heard Bunny Schrowder. Walking over to him, dressed like she was going to an afternoon tea, elbow length white gloves, pill box hat and all, he couldn't help but cock his head just a bit. The woman had… he wouldn't call it style, but it was something alright. Moxie? No that wasn't it either.

"Bunny." He took a few steps away from the desk as she clicked towards him on very classic and sensible pumps. What ever "Mrs. Smith" had in mind was best discussed away from others. "Well now isn't this a surprise."

"Is it?" It wasn't a question. He should have expected her to show up. It's what long time couples did and Bunny would not lose face on his behalf. In her mind he should have invited her, and inviting herself in place of that was nothing but an act of love. Arms open, she leaned in for a very appropriate hug and a kiss. Not on the lips. No, people might stop and stare at that. On the corner of his mouth for the allotted amount of time.

It was all very prim and proper and for some reason it made his skin itch, and not in the way it should when a beautiful young woman was in his arms. "Yes, it is." Giving up on his cigar for the moment, Hannibal dropped it back into his pocket and slipped his arm through her waiting one. All the rules of etiquette must be practiced. Even when one was checking into a hotel room under an assumed name to have premarital sex.

The rules were different for some. "Why don't you show me the way to the room and we can discuss things in private, over a drink."

"Darling, such a wonderful idea." Shoulders back and head held high, she let Hannibal take the lead on the way to the elevator. "I had champagne sent to the room. To celebrate your return to the civilized world."

"Champagne." Hannibal hit the button for up and managed a smile. "You've thought of everything, haven't you?" Right now civilization had him yearning for a shower even more than a five click march in the mud.

Waiting for the elevator he looked over at Bunny. Petite, perfectly groomed and dressed, she was attractive and intelligent. Her father was a retired general and her mother came from a fine old family in Massachusetts that could trace its roots back to the Mayflower. She was, in short, the perfect companion for a quickly rising Army officer like him.

He'd met her at a dinner party in Washington two years ago. Bunny was a charming, and yes, perfect date. They'd hit it off and it hadn't taken long for Hannibal to end up at family gatherings and in her bed. Her pink, lacy, frilly bed. It was a little like having sex in a doll factory. But it was good and it worked for them. And it was natural to keep in contact when he went back to South East Asia. The letters from her were lilac scented reminders of a world where everything wasn't trying to kill him. Lately though, the letters had spent more time on future houses and political ambitions then memories of caresses and smiles. He'd figured she was impatient and looking for more, but he'd made it very clear that his focus now was on his unit and survival. He wasn't about to promise himself to a wife and family when his everyday included the very real possibility of death. The only question left was had Bunny listened?

"I've had a few hours to get things ready for your arrival, Darling." And boy had she, the honeymoon suite had started out over the top, but now it had an addition of what had to be her best dresses hanging in the closet, candles all nice and lit, and even the elegance of Mozart playing on the record player. "I thought you'd like to relax while I fill you in on everything."

"Correct you were." Hannibal pulled the bottle of champagne out of the ice bucket. Ice? What they wouldn't have given for just a few of those wonderful frozen cubes in the middle of the jungle heat? He ignored the urge to dip his hand in the bucket just to feel the bite of the cold as the ice melted around his fingers. Right now he had more pressing issues.

"How about you start explaining while I pour?" Hannibal followed that up with the pop of the cork and some ever careful and expert pouring. Funny the things you learned at West Point. Like how to open and pour champagne balanced out with how to kill with your bare hands.

Bunny was off and running, walking around the room like she owned the place and was showing it to some friends who happened to drop by. "Well, like I had mentioned in my letters, there has just been so much going on. Kristen O'Hatfield's father passed away a few months ago, left her the whole estate. Course first thing she did was fire the help. She had a whole new staff brought in. Said her father had gotten lax in his old age. The estate is looking wonderful now. Made me start thinking about what we are going to do. You know, after your done with this military thing." It was nice the way she waved her hand at his "military thing".

During her little speech, Hannibal handed her a full glass, all too aware of a dull ache behind his eyes the had him fighting to keep his teeth from grinding.

Hannibal tilted his glass and gave hers a gentle clink. "Here's to thinking." He took a large sip, doubting that the irony had any effect on Bunny. He was correct. She smiled, pausing long enough to take a breath, giggle just ever so properly, and take a dainty sip of her drink.

"Now Bunny, assuming that this "military thing" doesn't get me blown into a few thousand bloody pieces and sprinkled all over Vietnam, just what plans did you make for me?"

"Oh that's the best part of it all, Jonathan. My Father has it all set up for us. There's a modest estate not too far outside of Washington. It's perfect. Great neighborhood and the schools are wonderful for when we have children. Daddy said that he would buy the estate and once you were back home, you could finance it through his bank. Which won't be a problem at all once you get appointed or elected into political office."

"An estate and children, how charming. And I'm assuming your Father and you have planned for a wedding before hand, just to prevent the unseemly bastard stigma for the children?" Hannibal had learned the art of holding anger in, well below the surface. It was a tool for life and leadership, it was only to be seen when someone needed to learn. But Bunny was challenging all of his well honed skills. She clearly had no idea just how much he hated the idea of his life being planned, without consulting him, without listening to him. Without any Goddamned clue of just how much he and his men were risking every damn day.

"Well, of course. That's why I'm here."

"To fill me in on your plans?"

"For you to propose." She had the decency to leave off the "Silly" at the end of it. "And of course, I say yes!"

"And you decided this after I told you point blank, no marriage until after the war? Until after I'm done killing and trying to keep my men alive and whole?"

"Darling," the sweetness in it was dripping, "that's why I took care of everything."

Hannibal had finished the last of his champagne as she spoke, still looking at her, he hurled the glass into the far wall. The resounding explosion of glass was nothing compared to a good old Vietnam shelling, but it still had her jumping.

"Oh!" A startled little gasp and her gloved hand coming up to her mouth.

"You forgot a few things sweetheart." He let the anger surface. He didn't care. He'd had enough of this. This was no longer a game.

She took a step back, eyes large, running up and down him like she was trying to figure out what was going on. He didn't let her get any further away. Hands on her upper arms he held her still, forcing her to look at him, right in his eyes. Letting her see all of the demons he'd collected – everything she had no fucking clue about – everything that had afforded him the ability to kill more than his fare share of men.

"John!" It was the only real thing she had said the whole time he'd been here, and the reason why he didn't shake her, why he didn't close his hands tighter and force her to finally see.

"No one tells me what my life will be. That's my call." No one. Not her, not her father, not even Hannibal's father had the Goddamned right to tell him what he was. "My team lives in a world where people rig Goddamned two year olds with bombs, just in the hope that the exploding bones of a child might kill one of us." He held his gaze, cold and steady, on her. "I don't give a damn about the estate help or what the neighbors think. I care about one thing right now and one thing only. Keeping my men safe."

It was as basic as breathing. Simple and clear, and something he'd said more than once. And something she would never understand. She'd never know what it was like, how much it took to stay in control, to live with the fallout, to have to write a letter home to grieving parents and send someone who was yours to lead home in a bag.

Bunny had been pampered and loved and indulged her whole life. War would never be her reality, and she was too full of her own ambition and plans to find room for empathy or support. And it was written all over her face, in a tight frown of confusion.

"But, John… Daddy said you have a black man on your team. And the rest of them are… are in and out of jail and crazy." She was shaking her head, still pulled back a bit further than she should have been from him. "They can't mean more to you than your life back home. With me. When all of this nonsense is over with."

His grip did tighten on her arms with that. Forcing her to realize how serious he was when he spoke. "Every last one of them; the black man, the criminal, the crook, the crazy man, each of them means more to me then you will ever mean to anyone besides yourself." He let go of her, stepping back, no longer trusting or wanting to be too close. He picked his duffel bag up and head towards the door, not bothering to look back. He was done. In that moment, their worlds were irreconcilable. And he wasn't willing to play the game for another second longer.

"The room's yours, I'll take care of the bill. I hope to God I never see you again."

"You can't be serious, this is absurd!" She hadn't moved, standing there like a shocked little proper figurine. "You have everything waiting for you back home, why can't you see that!"

Hannibal pause at the door, shaking his head at her inability to understand this turn of events. She was everything he should have wanted, and not one damn thing that he needed. The rules, the promotions the absurdity of fighting for body counts and walking away from grounds littered with bodies, it was all just useless. Lighting his cigar, he let the deep satisfying rush of smoke hit his lungs. And in that moment he saw the reality of the situation of his life. He wasn't born to be a General or President. He was born to lead. To do that his men had to matter more than anything. More than a wife and family, more than rank and privilege, more than career. Once upon a time he'd lost a team. He would never do that again. Clamping the cigar in his teeth Hannibal embraced the truth of who he was and what his life was about. Not medals or rules or glory, just his men.

"I'm dead serious, sweetheart." He grinned and matter of factly pointed at her with his cigar "Oh and by the way Bunny, you're a spoiled, self centered, manipulative, prejudiced, ignorant elitist with not a care or clue about anything of real value. But don't take it so bad, you'll bounce right back. In fact, I'll tell you what, look up Commander Mifflin You two truly deserve each other." He had the door open and was halfway through it. "Goodbye, darling."

Rules be damned.

XXXX

A wistful sigh to himself, Ray watched the sunlight filter in through the curtains. He wouldn't have minded keeping the blinds open and watching his first peaceful sunrise in more than a year, but Trish was modest and had blushed at the thought of someone being able to see into the room, and he respected that. She was absolutely perfect in every way that he remembered. From her adorable smile to the freckles that spilled down her shoulders, to the way she managed to get shy even when it was just the two of them behind closed doors. He loved it all.

It had felt so good to hold her in his arms again. That first embrace, like they were school kids again, too many nerves and not enough coordination. Only this time Trish had silently wept, her head pressed tightly into his chest as he held her, making sure he was real and it wasn't one of the dreams that she had written him about. It was too good to be true, as though one wrong move and the entire experience would burst into the neverland. It was timid touches and breathless moments lost to too much time away and heated passion.

He'd spent every spare second he had picturing this moment. Every remembered caress and curve of her body - the mole at the top of her butt cheek, a light scar she'd gotten on her thigh from riding her bike when she was eight, the way her hips turned into him and spoke to his body. He needed to remember them all again. Refresh the imagery he had of her. Those trusting and faithful blue eyes, waiting for him, just like she would be in another few weeks when he landed at the airport in the states for good. He wouldn't be going back to Vietnam. As much as he loved the guys and had prepared and accepted dying for any one of them in a heartbeat, he had too much to lose with Trish.

They were going to start a family, buy some property, and just be together. Now, still sleeping against him, after a night of getting to know each other again, the softness of her skin and the heat coming off of her was all he needed. Ray pulled her in a bit tighter to him, letting his eyes slip closed and enjoying the first moments of absolute and true peace that he had experienced his whole life.

 

TBC

 


Salvation by Quentillian & Nora
Salvation 1 by Quentillian & Nora
Salvation 2 by Quentillian & Nora
Salvation 3 by Quentillian & Nora
Salvation 4 by Quentillian & Nora
Salvation 5 by Quentillian & Nora
Salvation 6 by Quentillian & Nora
Salvation 7 by Quentillian & Nora
Salvation 8 by Quentillian & Nora
Salvation 9 by Quentillian & Nora
Salvation 10 by Quentillian & Nora

 

 


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