Murdock opened his eyes. The hotel room was still dark; the red silk drapes blocked most of the early morning sunlight. For a moment, Murdock considered simply shutting his eyes and going back to sleep. His eyes felt heavy and his head was pounding. His tongue lay thick and furry in his mouth. It had been a long time since he’d had a full-blown hangover, but he certainly had one this morning.
Murdock stifled a yawn, forced his eyes open and rubbed at them tiredly. Absently, he noticed the bed across from his was bare, stripped of its sheets, pile of dirty linens crumpled on the floor. Murdock rolled onto his back, the sheets falling away from his naked torso. He looked down at his chest, suddenly aware of his nakedness underneath the sheets, and the fact that he wasn’t alone in the bed. He glanced over at the blonde head on the pillow next to his.
The events of the night before came flooding back in a rush of fragmented images. Blood and wine. Mouths, tongues, arms and legs, the tangled frenzy of hot flesh. Involuntarily, he felt himself stiffen beneath the sheets. Murdock sat up suddenly and ran his fingers through his hair, his heart racing. He looked down at his sleeping companion.
Shit, Murdock thought to himself as he watched Face’s chest rise and fall. Now what?
Face rolled over, pulling the blankets up around his shoulders and settled further down into his pillow. His head hurt and he was pretty sure that opening his eyes would be a bad idea. He thought he could hear the sound of water running. Face cautiously opened one eye, then the other.
It took him a moment to get his bearings in the strange room. He glanced at the clock beside the bed, saw that it read 8:37. With a yawn, he stretched his arms over his head, stopping when they connected with the wooden headboard. He briefly wondered who was in the shower, then remembered that he was sharing a hotel room in Saigon with Murdock.
Face sat up with a start as memories tumbled through his mind. Drinking with Murdock at The Jade Peony. A steady stream of cheap cigars and even cheaper scotch. Sweet-smelling Vietnamese girls sitting on his lap, blowing in his ear, whispering promises in broken English. Driving through the streets of Saigon in a borrowed jeep, he and Murdock singing at the top of their lungs, laughing themselves hoarse. Staggering back to the hotel, stumbling into the darkness, fumbling with a bottle of good red wine that Face had scammed.
8 Hours Earlier
Face wrestled with the key to the hotel room door.
“What’s ‘a matter, Facey? Forgot how to use a key?” Murdock laughed, leaning into the lieutenant’s back.
“Stop crowdin’ me, Murdock,” Face said with a drunken lilt, reinserting the key right-way-up into the lock and turning. The door swung open into the room. “See? Easy as…easy as pie.”
“You ever made a pie?”
“Well how do you know it’s easy?”
Face looked puzzled, shook his head, and continued on into the room, weaving his way towards the bathroom. Murdock flopped down on one of the beds and kicked his shoes off.
“You wan’ some wine?” Face asked, waving an unopened bottle in Murdock’s direction. “It’s a very good year.”
“Sure,” Murdock slurred. He watched as Face struggled with the corkscrew on his Swiss Army knife, then finally broke the top of the bottle off against the bathroom counter. He grabbed two plastic glasses from the bathroom and unsteadily poured a glass for each of them. He settled himself on the bed up against the wooden headboard, and handed a glass to Murdock. The glasses clinked with a dull plastic sound.
Face could hear Murdock’s deep voice singing something in the shower. The sound of the water running blocked the words, but he was pretty sure it was The Doors. Murdock’s voice floated in and out as he seemed to sporadically remember that Face was sleeping in the next room and made an effort to lower his voice.
Face heaved a sigh. It had all started with the wine bottle. A shattering of glass, drops of red spattering the carpet. Like blood. Memories rising in them like bile. Remembering what had driven them to the city. Hannibal arranging for R&R after what happened. Knew they needed to blow off steam. Get drunk. Get laid. Get rid of it all. And so that had been the plan, but somehow Face didn’t think this was exactly what Hannibal had in mind.
He leaned against the headboard and closed his eyes.
“All gone,” Face said wistfully turning the bottle upside-down. A few spatters of red slipped from the broken mouth of the bottle and fell onto the grey carpet. Murdock watched mesmorised as the drops soaked into the carpet and spread. Face stumbled to the bathroom to get rid of the broken bottle. When he came out, the room appeared to be empty.
“It won’t come out, Face,” a small voice said from the far edge of the bed.
Face moved closer and saw Murdock on his hands and knees beside the bed, rubbing at the spots of wine on the carpet with the t-shirt he’d taken off. Face knelt down beside Murdock and put a hand on his bare shoulder.
“It’s just wine. It’s okay,” Face said. “The hotel staff’ll get it out in the morning.”
Murdock’s dark eyes looked into his and Face saw shadows there that he didn’t want to see. He suddenly felt more sober than he wanted to be.
“Don’t you see it?” Murdock whispered. “Their blood everywhere?” He kept rubbing at the spots on the carpet. “It won’t come out, Face. I can still see it.”
Face grabbed Murdock by both shoulders and shook him gently.
“Murdock, it’s not blood. It’s just wine. We were drinking red wine, remember?” His voice sounded harsher than he’d intended. He shook Murdock again. Not so gently. Wanting him to shut up. He didn’t want to remember.
“There was blood everywhere. Their faces covered with blood. We were covered with blood.”
Face closed his eyes, yesterday flooding back into his mind. They’d taken a platoon of grunts into a small village north of Da Nang. It was supposed to be a routine sweep, that’s why Hannibal had brought Murdock along with the newbies. It was an in and out job. Mostly recon. No VC reported in the area. Just a chance to get a taste of being on the ground. A look around without much risk. But it hadn’t turned out that way.
The village had appeared deserted. A few scrawny goats tied in a makeshift pen seemed to be the only sign of life. Hannibal had split the men up into two man teams to check out the buildings. The mood was fairly light, the newbies running on adrenaline and youth, their cockiness hiding their fear. Until the booby traps started going off.
Hammond was the first to go. Foot catching on a hidden tripwire tied to a grenade that took most of his leg with it. The torn pieces of his body lay a few feet from him as he watched the blood pouring from his wounds, hands uselessly clawing the dirt as he tried to reach his shattered leg. Peterson, running from the sight of Hammond’s broken body, dislodged the trigger for a rack of sharpened bamboo stakes. They skittered across the ground and pinned him to the outside wall of a hut, body punctured in more than a dozen places. His eyes were open and glassy, blood pooling in the dirt beneath him.
Face and Murdock had been at the far end of the village when everything went to hell. They’d scouted a large hut that stank with the smell of rotting flesh. They pulled back the tattered mat, the trapdoor in the floor, Face ready with his M-16 in case the VC were waiting below, although they both knew that nothing but death was left in this village. Murdock pulled back the door to find the villagers. Thirty or forty of them heaped in the dirty hole, riddled with bullet holes, dried blood, buzzing with flies. Women, children, men, tumbled together in a writhing mass of death and decay. Murdock let the door fall back with a crash, dirt and flies filling the air. Face grabbed Murdock by the back of his shirt, pushed him outside into the fresh air, both of them gulping for breath, trying to keep down what quivered in their stomachs.
Face remembered Hannibal yelling, trying to get the new guys to stop moving, stop panicking. The sound of men retching, the air full of smoke and death, the helpless sounds of trapped animals. Grunts looking for some kind of enemy to kill. Shooting at anything that moved. The pitiful bleating of the goats, gun fire, a bloody maddening silence.
“They killed them all, Face,” Murdock said, and Face was back in the hotel in Saigon, kneeling on a wine-soaked floor, Murdock’s eyes dark and haunted. “I didn’t see them coming from the trees, the bullets falling around us, and then the screaming.”
“I can see them all, Face. Blood, so much blood.” Murdock’s eyes were wide, his skin pale in the lamplight.
The VC had spilled from the trees like small black snakes, cutting down everything that moved. Hannibal barked orders, laid down protective fire, pulled back as many men as he could reach, but it was too late. Face had pulled Murdock along the street with him, falling back to Hannibal’s position, firing indiscriminately at the VC, watching the black-clad bodies jerk with the impact of bullets, blood spraying the jungle red. Face remembered screaming in Vietnamese, Murdock screaming beside him, pumping every ounce of lead into the enemy while the young men fell around them.
When the smoke had cleared, they collected dog tags from the eight men they’d lost. Called for a chopper to collect them, afraid of what would happen to the bodies if they left them in the village. Sat wordlessly in the shadow of a small building, passing around a bottle of whiskey after gathering the dead, the wounded. Murdock holding Hammond’s crippled torso as he bled to death; Doc, the medic, shaking his head, tears in his eyes. Face cutting down Peterson, needing B.A.’s help to pull him off the bamboo stakes. Face wanted to close his eyes against the memories.
“The light! They’ll see us, they’ll find us,” Murdock cried suddenly, and flung himself across the bed, knocking the lamp from its perch. It tumbled to the floor, paper shade bending like a broken wing, the light going out with a small pop. Face followed Murdock onto the bed, trying to keep him from breaking anything, from hurting himself.
“Murdock,” Face said, grabbing at his friend’s shoulders. Murdock rolled onto his back and struggled against Face’s hands. “It’s me. It’s Face.” Face pressed down with all of his weight, pinning Murdock’s long legs against the bed, arms holding Murdock’s hands over his head, firm against the mattress. The pilot continued to struggle, pushing up with his groin, trying to buck the younger man from him, but Face held fast.
“Murdock, I’m not letting you go. Stop fighting,” Face said, searching for Murdock’s eyes in the dark. “It’s over.” Face leaned his forehead against Murdock’s shoulder.
“I can’t remember what it feels like to be alive,” Murdock whispered against Face’s ear, and the hot breath caused the hairs to raise on the back of Face’s neck. He knew what that felt like. That hollowness, emptiness, days when blood and flesh and bodies were all you knew, when people were just a collection of parts scattered across a blood-soaked field, and you couldn’t remember what strawberries tasted like, or what it meant to hold a woman’s hand, or how a flower smelled. He knew what it was like to have everything smell like rain and ash and whiskey, to never feel clean or dry, to want someone to hold when the darkness crawled inside.
The room was pitch dark with the shades drawn. Face could feel Murdock’s heartbeat pounding underneath him, could feel the rise and fall of his chest, the warmth emanating from his bare skin. Face released Murdock’s hands, raised himself up on his palms so his weight wasn’t pressing down so hard. Started to roll away when Murdock’s arms wrapped around his back.
“Don’t leave me here.” A moment frozen in time. Face feeling every muscle in his body straining at the nearness of another warm body, arms holding him. He didn’t move. He could feel need growing in him, felt Murdock’s body responding, and didn’t know what to feel, what to do. And then there was nothing to decide.
Mouths meeting in the dark, clumsily, hungrily, searching for each other. Tongues sliding into one another, crashing together, mouths sucking tongues in and out, biting at each other, pulling at lips hungrily, wanting to get inside each other. Hands pulling away cloth, fumbling with pants and belts. The hard warmth of flesh against flesh.
The thought that this was no woman’s body fluttered across Face’s mind. Face felt Murdock’s bare chest against his, the warm tanned skin, the solid abs and curling brown hair. Nipples stiff as soda straws, brushing against his own bare chest. No softness. Only muscle and bone and hard male flesh.
Then Face was tumbling onto his back, Murdock rolling him over, taking the upper hand. Mouth greedily exploring his neck, the muscled flesh of his chest and stomach, his own nipples, erect and wanting.
Somewhere in their frantic rolling, the covers were thrown off along with the last vestiges of clothing. They slid naked beneath sheets that smelled faintly of soap and perfume, moaning as their bodies wrapped around each other’s nakedness. Hands running over backs and buttocks, feeling the hard round curve of ass, the rough warm hair like a nest, dripping shafts rubbing against each other, legs wrapping and unwrapping as they fought against each other in the darkness, pushed and pulled, half-struggling to get away, to get closer, wanting nothing except release. The heads of their shafts were pushing together, Face rolling back on top, holding himself on his hands, Murdock’s hands tight and hot on his ass, pulling him against his body, the hardness of flesh pounding against flesh, rubbing up and down, again, and again, until they were both rock hard and aching, rubbing raw against each other, moaning into each other’s mouths, licking and sucking their tongues as they writhed in the darkness, pushing, pushing, until they both exploded in a wave of stars, semen spilling over their stomachs, groins still pressed tight against one another, as Face flopped heavily onto Murdock’s shoulder, and the other man’s arms snaked around him, holding them both together in the trembling darkness.
They’d cleaned up in silence. Taking turns in the bathroom, washing away the stickiness, the sweat. The mingled burst of their sperm had pooled in the bed. Face stripped the sheets, rolled them into a ball, and tossed them in the corner. He secretly hoped that no one could tell what had happened. What they’d done.
Face neatly pulled back the covers on the second bed, slipped on a pair of shorts and climbed in. Murdock emerged from the bathroom, light framing his body in the doorway, looking to see what Face had done.
Face shrugged. “The sheets were wet. We’ll have to share.”
“No problem,” Murdock said, still naked, climbing into bed beside his friend. He felt safe and warm and needed. He tumbled into sleep as soon as his head hit the pillow.
Murdock stepped from the steamy bathroom, a towel wrapped loosely around his waist, another slung casually around his neck. He leaned against the door frame for a minute, taking in the tousle-headed Face peering sleepily from the bed. Face looked so damn young sometimes.
“Shower’s all yours,” Murdock said.
“‘Kay,” Face said, not meeting Murdock’s eyes. Murdock sighed. He’d had time to think things through in the shower, and he’d been afraid of this. Murdock crossed to the other side of the room and grabbed his clothes out of his duffel. He let the towel fall away from his hips.
“What are you doing?” Face asked with a note of uncertainty in his voice. Murdock turned around and flashed Face a grin as he pulled on a pair of shorts.
“I’m gettin’ dressed.” Murdock’s grin spread as Face averted his eyes awkwardly. Murdock sat on the edge of the bed, almost giggled when Face pulled the blankets up around his shoulders.
“Come on, Face, it’s not like you’ve never seen me naked before.” Face turned and glared at the pilot. “Even before last night, I mean.” Face’s cheeks flared bright red.
“That’s cute – you match the drapes,” Murdock said with a nod.
“You think this is funny,” Face said, aware that he was acting foolishly. Murdock was right. When you lived with a bunch of guys, modesty was one of the first things to go out the window. He’d seen Murdock naked a hundred times and never thought anything of it until this morning.
“No, I don’t think it’s…well, yeah, I guess I do think it’s funny. If you look like that every time you see me naked, somebody’s gonna figure that somethin’s up, no pun intended,” Murdock said with a sideways glance at Face’s groin area. He looked up and was delighted to see that the redness now went all the way to Face’s ears.
“Face,” Murdock said, reaching over and putting his hands on Face’s shoulders. “What do you expect from me? Are you angry that I didn’t kiss you good morning?”
Face pushed Murdock away and glared at him.
“No! I just don’t know what this is. I thought we were friends, and now…”
“Now you don’t know,” Murdock finished for him.
“Do you know?” Face asked, his voice still edged with anger and frustration at the pilot’s cavalier attitude.
Murdock shrugged and leaned back on his elbows. “I know you’re my best friend in this place. Probably in the world. And I love you,” Murdock said honestly, “just like I love Hannibal or B.A. or Ray. I know I’d do anything for you, but no, I don’t know what this is.”
“Do you think we’re…”
“No, the other thing…”
Face nodded. Murdock laughed.
“You know, you shouldn’t be doin’ anything you can’t say,” Murdock said. “I don’t know, Face. What makes you think I’ve got all the answers?”
“I don’t know. You’re older.”
Murdock’s laughter erupted. “Everyone here’s older than you, kid. That never stopped you from havin’ all the answers before.” Murdock sat up so he was sitting across from Face. “Listen, you still like girls?”
“Well, so do I, so I don’t think we’re fags. And we’re not fuck-buddies ’cause, well, we’re just not.”
“So what are we, Murdock?” Face said meeting Murdock’s eyes.
“How ’bout best friends? Some things just are the way they are. There’s no explainin’ them. We both needed somethin’ last night and we had each other. We didn’t plan it, it just happened. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with helpin’ each other get by, do you?”
“I ‘spose not,” Face said, still not convinced. “I just…I just don’t know how to feel about it.”
“What’s your heart tell ya?”
“That it was okay.”
“Just okay?” Murdock asked wickedly. Face grabbed the pillow and swung it at his head.
“But it’s so hard, Face!” Murdock moaned, and burst into laughter as Face swung the pillow at him again.
“I mean it,” Face said. “You’re not helping! If you don’t stop, I’ll…”
“What?” Murdock said, still laughing.
Face rolled out of the bed and held up the pillow as if it were a weapon. “I’m a trained Green Beret, remember? I can kill you with this pillow in less than ten seconds,” he said grinning.
Murdock laid back on the bed and raised his hands in the air. “I give up, Lieutenant. There’s nothing more frightening than a Green Beret with a pillow in his hands.” He ducked as Face threw the pillow at him and headed for the bathroom.
Face turned around. “Yeah, Murdock?”
“Are we okay?”
“Right as rain,” Face said.
“You know, I never understood that expression. How can rain be right? I mean, I know it makes flowers grow and all that, but there’s nothing really right about rain.”
Murdock looked up as the bathroom door closed. He heard the squeak of the taps as Face turned the shower on.
“Right as rain – whatever that means,” Murdock whispered to the empty room as he rolled off the bed and reached for his pants.