[ the discovery ]


by lt dawn chaser


Note: song quoted here- Lay Down (Candle in the Rain) as performed by Melanie with the Edwin Hawkins Singers. Written by Melanie Safka

Thank you, Doc, Mel, Snowy, and you too Mac. This was officially trashed. All of you- you didn't let me give up on it or myself. Encouragement and honesty is everything. You helped me to keep my candle high.


You're so close, there was no room
We bled inside each other's wounds
We had all caught the same disease
We all sang the songs of peace.

Goldman sat on the floor of the Huey behind the pilot's seat, knees drawn up to his chest. His M-16 was muzzle down, the stock resting on his right shoulder, loosely cradled by arms that were draped over his knees. He watched the lush vegetation stream by below him in a dizzying blur of greens as the rush of wind whipped past him, tousling his hair.

The bay of the chopper was full of the better part of Third Squad. They were all exhausted, wearing four days of jungle, mud and blood. Yet the mood was decidedly light, the guys nudging each other, smiling and laughing.

It was Christmas Eve.

Here, in a Huey filled with seven men, crew chief and door gunner, pilot and co-pilot. Here amidst the laughter and good-natured shoving. Here, not quite shouldered up to Horn who respected his space in the crowded slick. Here, with Anderson now on his fourth attempt at a Christmas carol on his harmonica.

Here, in Vietnam, it was Christmas Eve.

Lay down, lay down, lay it all down.

He rested his cheek against the stock of his weapon, eyes closed. The men's simple relief of surviving the bush and returning home on this day washed over him. Spilled over the raw edges of his loneliness and left in its wake a confused emptiness.

"L-T?"

Myron tilted his head and let dark eyes center on Percell. "What is it, Danny?" He pitched his voice to be just loud enough to carry over of the roar of the rotors.

"Sir, you think they got our mail straightened out?" Crystal blue eyes held that edge of hope. Myron glanced, just briefly at Anderson, before looking back at Percell. He realized the rest of the men were now looking at him with the same undisguised hope.

Of all the times for the platoon's mail to be misrouted, the Army decided it had to be at Christmas. My men's mail. Joy.

He had spent the better part of two weeks trying to track it down.

"I don't know, Percell. We'll see when we get back to base." Regretful, Myron just didn't want to raise false hopes. They all looked away from him, but not before he saw the disappointment in some eyes. It washed over him.

And there was just the barest edge of resentment.

It hurt.

Turning away, he focused his attention back outside the Huey. Myron closed his eyes and concentrated on shoring up his walls just a bit more. Tried to ignore the crush of emotions in the crowded slick.

Tried to ignore his own feelings.

He could sense Anderson watching him, curiosity edged with a touch of concern.

Myron shied back like a child burned. He didn't want Anderson's concern at this moment.

The jungle continued to slide by beneath them with the rush of the rotors. Myron could hear the pilot and co-pilot talking back and forth. Listened to the radio as it keyed in, the pilot's reply and the answering static. Horn shifted his weight next to him, bumping him as the young man shifted for a more comfortable position on the steel deck.

So raise the candles high
Oh you know we could stay black against the night
So raise them higher again
And if you do we could stay dry against the rain.

"I'm tellin' ya- it's ten lords jumpin!" Ruiz's exasperated voice cut across Myron's distant thoughts. Without moving a muscle, the Lieutenant switched his dark gaze back to the inside of the Huey.

"Ten lords jumpin'? Yah, I can see that!" Taylor snorted; waving a hand out that caused Johnson to duck. "Why the hell would lords jump anyway?"

"Like I would know that!" Ruiz shot back. "Listen, that's the way I remember hearin' it- that's the way the stupid song goes."

"It's lords a leaping." Horn's calm voice had an unrushed quality to it as he looked at the harmonica in his hands. "And it's suppose to be ten drummers, not lords. It's eleven lords, and twelve ladies."

"Guys, why would drummers be leapin'?" Baker peered over Ruiz's shoulder at Johnson and Taylor. The two young black men stared back at Baker with a slightly stunned expression.

Myron hid the sudden smile behind his arm.

"I think that would be drummers drumming, Baker." Horn added from beside Myron.

"Oh, like I'm suppose to know that?" Baker huffed, flushing and ducking his head.

"Man, you are dumb n' ugly, ya know that Baker?" Ruiz rolled to his knees and with no warning dumped the M-60 into the arms of a startled Percell. "Like what the hell else are drummers gonna do?" Ruiz twisted around and smacked Baker across the back of the head. "Besides, I keep tellin' ya bunch of sorry excuses that it's ten lords jumpin'!"

"Leaping." Horn amended patiently as Ruiz grabbed the machine gun back from Percell.

"Whatever!" Ruiz sat back on the deck with a disgusted snort.

Myron listened half heartedly to the lively argument. He switched his dark gaze once again to Anderson. The Sergeant sat across from him on the crowded floor, shoved up against the frayed padding that draped the back wall of the shuddering Huey. Like Myron, he sat on his backside, legs drawn up. Percell was shouldered up against him.

Anderson had his usual mischief dancing in his blue eyes and his gentle smile as he watched his men. He turned, looking directly at Myron and for a moment, the mischief slipped a little. Anderson allowed the shadow of concern to darken his eyes when Myron met his gaze. The younger man allowed himself to be captured in that concern, but only for a moment before he took control and broke the eye contact.

You're so close there was no room
We bled inside each other's wounds.

Horn jostled him again, bumping into his elbow and this time Myron looked around at the RTO, trying to curb his annoyance.

"L-T! Pilot needs ya!"

Myron stared at him for a long moment.

"Sir?" Horn prompted him, a puzzled look clouding his eyes.

Myron blinked, then nodded. He slipped the strap of his rifle over his shoulder and pushed past Horn on his hands and knees. Roger tried to move as much out of the way as he could, but the slick was crowded, and Myron practically had to crawl over the other man to get to the pilot.

Baker glanced uneasily at him as he made room. Myron got his knees under him and wedged up between the seats of the pilot and co-pilot.

"What's going on?" Myron nudged the pilot's arm and watched the man swing that faceless visor his way.

"Goldman?" The pilot spoke just loud enough to be heard above the roaring engine.

"Yeah, so what!" He was beyond trying to keep the irritation out of his voice.

"Base called ahead. Said you'd want to know- hold on-" The pilot turned away from him, speaking into his mic. Myron, uncomfortable on his knees on the hard deck shifted his weight and looked back behind him. Anderson was watching him with that curious smile of his, but the rest of the guys continued to argue over the words of the same carol.

A hand gripped his shoulder and Myron looked back at the faceless visor; his own exhausted features reflected for a moment, his own dark eyes briefly mirrored there. The sunlight of the late afternoon caught and spilled suddenly, blinding him, causing him to look away. "Base called- said you'd want to know this! They got your mail!"

It took a full moment to realize he was staring at the man. Myron swallowed and rubbed the back of his hand across his mouth. "Say again?" He did not want to misunderstand this.

"They got your mail! Make sense?"

"Damn yes!" Myron realized he was smiling, an honest to God real smile. He squeezed the man's arm in thanks. The pilot shrugged and nodded before turning back to the job at hand.

Myron, back on hands and knees again, shoved between Baker and Horn to get back to where he was, and settled with a grunt back against the pilot's seat. He pulled his rifle back off his shoulder and resettled the weapon, muzzle down, against his shoulder once again. He wrapped one arm around his knees and relaxed a bit, watching the landscape slip by below him.

Some came to sing.

The guys seemed to reach a consensus finally and started to sing the Twelve Days of Christmas badly phrased and all with Horn playing along on harmonica. Myron tried not to wince when Percell belted out his phrase. Danny apparently couldn't carry a tune, even if he had the help of a bucket. Neither could Baker who had problems simply remembering the words to begin with.

Anderson sang out the "four calling birds" relatively in tune, still smiling.

Myron winced and ducked his head, having to cover his startled smile when Taylor responded with "three French whores."

"Ah man, Taylor!"

"Give it a break, will ya Marcus?"

"For cryin' out loud! Like your grandmother would approve of that!"

The pitch of the engine changed and Myron glanced back outside when the chopper shifted and started to bank to the left. The sniping at Taylor ceased immediately and everyone looked out through the open doors and past the gunners. Myron could hear the pilot speaking into his headset, the words unclear above the rush of the rotors and wind.

Ladybird sprawled out below them, colorless and bleak.

Home.

Such as it was.

Some came to pray.

They were never happier to see it. Taylor nudged Johnson and the two men exchanged brief smiles. Horn was already slipping his harmonica into the band on his helmet as Percell gathered his rifle closer to him. Baker leaned in closer to Ruiz, looking over his friend's shoulder at the base.

And some came to keep the dark away.

As the Huey started to settle toward the ground, Myron sensed Anderson watching him again. The chopper finally landed, the rotor wash kicking up a cloud of red dust. The Huey was barely settled when the men started to scoot across the deck and climb out.

The pilot cut the engine and the roar died away. Myron could hear the other three Hueys shut down their engines as well. For a moment, the welcoming silence was almost surreal. The laughter and shouting of the men as they walked away and towards the camp seemed unnaturally loud in the sudden aftermath of the quiet left in the wake of the cooling engines.

Relief at surviving the jungle. Relief at being back to base in one whole piece. Relief in just having the foolish mail found. It washed over him and through him in a rush of confused emotions that he was ill equipped to handle.

Lay down, lay down, lay it all down.

There was nothing left to give and it all simply spilled away from him. And he was too tired to try and retrieve it. To understand it.

Myron drew his knees closer to his chest, draped his arms over them and rested his forehead there, eyes closed. He made no other move, but just sat, almost huddled in the middle of the chopper's deck.

The gunner and crew chief were already unharnessed and pulling the M-60's from their mounts. The pilot and copilot laughed at a joke that Myron didn't quite hear before their voices faded completely out his hearing. The crew chief, whose name eluded Myron at that moment, leaned in and with a curious glance at the Lieutenant, grabbed the ammo cans, and with a puzzled shrug to his fellow door gunner, walked towards the camp.

The young Lieutenant took a long shuddering breath and slowly released it. The last of the voices of the crew and men finally faded into the distance. The only sounds left now were the comfortable ticking sounds of the cooling engine and his own harsh breathing.

The crush and press of emotions not entirely his own slowly started to ease in his mind.

You're so close there was no room.
We bled in each other's wounds.

He just wanted a few minutes here, to himself. To just not think. To simply close his eyes and not have to think about anything. Not think about life or death or Vietnam or Christmas Eve in Vietnam. Just to simply sit and listen to the cooling engine and his own breathing.

I'll be the Lieutenant in a few minutes. Right now, I don't want to be anyone. I can survive all of this if I can just not be anyone for a few minutes.

"L-T?"

Myron knew Anderson had been waiting. The Sergeant hadn't said a single word, had just stood leaning against the side of the slick, patiently waiting for Myron to gather himself back together.

Some came to keep the dark away.

"I'm alright."

The Sergeant carefully sat down on the edge of the deck, his weight balanced on one foot as he let the other dangle. "You know L-T, I'd be the first to say that just survivin' this is all anyone can ask of themselves."

Lay down, lay down, lay it all down.

The younger man finally looked up, dark eyes meeting the Sergeant's. Nothing was said. Nothing needed to be said. Myron finally broke the eye contact, glancing away. He pushed himself backwards a few feet till he was shoved up against the frayed padding of the chopper's back wall. He draped his arms over his knees once again.

Anderson was looking away and at Ladybird. "Real nice thing ya did for the guys, L-T, finding the mail 'n' all."

Myron closed his eyes and pushed against the fatigue.

So raise the candles high
Oh you know we could stay black against the night!

"I just wanted them to have something." His voice sounded thick in his ears. Heavy with the weight of the war. "In this goddamned mess, I wanted them to have at least a little bit of Christmas." His rested his head back against the frayed padding, swallowing and finally looking at Anderson. They should have something... it's not enough to survive sometimes, is it? So what if it's cards and letters and homemade cookies?

"You gave them that, L-T. You managed to give them a bit of Christmas in the middle of all of this."

Oh raise them higher again!
And if you do we could stay dry against the rain!

"They don't know-" Myron hesitated, "I mean, Anderson- don't tell them. It's my gift to them, little as it is. But I don't want them knowing it." He flushed, confused as to why it was important to him that they not find out. "Let them think you found it." He lowered his gaze, found himself staring at the deck of the slick.

"This time of year sometimes makes it hard to sort the officer from the man."

Myron found himself captured in those dark eyes, and completely unable to back away. Defenses already shaky with exhaustion were easily breached.

Lay down, lay down, lay it all down.

"They know you're their officer." Anderson shifted his rifle from his shoulder to across his lap. "They're damn proud of it too. Maybe it's time you discovered that for yourself." Zeke finally released him, let him look away. Looked away himself.

"I know this ain't your holiday, L-T, being Jewish 'n' all. But it would mean a lot to the men if you'd come share with us."

Some came to keep the dark away.

Myron looked up to see Zeke extending his hand. He found himself reaching back, clasping the arm, fingers wrapping around corded muscle. Could feel Zeke's hand grip his in return.

He nodded and smiled softly, letting Zeke pull him across the deck and to his feet.

Lay down, lay down, lay it all down.

"I'd like that, Sergeant."

So raise the candles high!
Oh you know we could stay black against the night
Oh raise them higher again!
And if you do we could stay dry against the rain.


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