"Cpl Trotter! If you do..." Lt. Goldman swung his fist in impotent rage and pressed his lips between his teeth to prevent hurtful words from getting out.
The new corporal cringed in terror as the officer came close to nearly knocking the boy out. Trotter sadly looked down by his muddy feet, at the cause of the LT's anger. The papers on which VC tricodes where written slid a little deeper into the mud. On their knees beside him, Sgt. Anderson and Spec4 Roo had managed to salvage a couple papers from the brown mire, but the rest heedlessly sank into the soft slush.
"Forget it, Trotter, just--"
Anderson stood up. "Go take perimeter, Trotter."
Myron glared up at Zeke through his eyebrows, still fuming. Anderson smiled fondly.
"S'hard not to get mad at a guy who's not as good as our usuals, huh?" Anderson prodded jovially. Roo grinned and, after handing the soggy papers to the Lt, he sauntered over to Percell and Johnson.
"Typical," Percell whispered, rather loudly, flipping his toothpick from one side of his mouth to the other.
Trotter sunk closer agaisnt the wet bushes.
~~~~~~Dirt. Sweat. Hot so hot smell burning smell fleshy Porky Pig. Oh god time to move no not again tired tried--no keep moving Remember what Denise--no, now Dahlia (hippiefreak) said: Concentrate turn your thoughts away China meditation chinses yoga stupid gooks all the same chinks all the same dinks all the same japs. Never forgive japs dad dead......what.....at the LZ already....?~~~~~~~~~
As the SOG team ran toward McKay's bird, bullets shot out from the bushes behind them. Taylor spun and, running crablike, sprayed bullets in return.
~~Nearly there,~~ he thought. ~~Keep running. Shoot to cover but don't get shot. Nearly there. Nearly-- ~~
Taylor suddenly tripped and crashed down onto the ground. Half-struggling to get up, half cursing his clumsiness, Taylor stopped short when he saw what--or, rather, who--he had tripped over. Cpl. Trotter. Cpl. Trotter, lying flat as a snake. Cpl. Trotter, face buried in the mud, trembling. Cpl. Trotter. Anger and disgust raged throught Taylor as he jumped up into a crouch and grabbed Cpl. Trotter by his webbing.
"Sarge!" he roared. Taylor started to drag the newbie as the Sergeant barreled over and, with one arm, swung the inane Trotter over his back.
"C'mon Taylor, good job now movemovemove!"
Taylor felt he never ran that fast in his life. What made him respond to Sgt. Anderson's orders so well? His Uncle Jamie was the same way, he remembered. Uncle Jamie used to give him a candy cigarette if little Marky did what he was told. Well, I'm getting a lot more than candy for doing what the Sarge tells me, that ain't no lie, Taylor thought as he leapt into the chopper. A strange, burning pain exploded on his leg, but he dismissed it as a jab from the chopper's jutting metal parts. He felt Sgt. Anderson collapse against his boot and the chopper got away. Taylor pressed his cheek against the helicopter's floor.
He got a lot more. He got his life.
"But is he okay?"
"Yeah, yeah Danny, he was chuckling all the way to the infirmary, he couldn't believe he got shot in the leg."
Johnson laughed in relief. "That's our Sarge."
"You said it." agreed Roo.
"He'll be in another week or so, so no worries, guys, no worries at all," Doc Hockenbury grinned as his pet monkey jittered up his arm.
"Yeah. No worries for Sarge, thank the Lord, but what about worrying for *us*," Taylor glared pointedly at Trotter lying on his bunk in a corner of the barracks. As if for empahsis, the Specialist rubbed his stitched up leg, which had been grazed by the bullet that passed through Anderson's leg.
Percell whapped Taylor on his slender chest. "C'mon *buddy*, let's go get a drink and take our mind offa things."
The others mumbled their agreement and the filed out. Hockenbury lingered behind and eyed Trotter consideringly. Taylor came back in to herd him out.
"C'Mon, Doc, you can even take your wife here along," Taylor scruffed the monkey's head and Hockenbury sighed and followed Taylor's lead.
Trotter sunk closer against his blanket.
Zeke grinned and nuzzled contentedly into the pillows. The five of his boys had just come by to spend some--drunken--time with him. Amidst the hiccups, giggles and nonsensical uproars, one of them (Johnson, he thought. The responsible one, naturally) managed to slur out a "Glad to see you doing well Sarge hope you get better soon we miss you." And then they all tumbled off in an affectionate bundle of inebriation. His soldiers. His men. Anderson placed a hand on his forehead and closed his eyes. Who was he kidding? They were his kids. And he loved 'em all.
Speaking of love...Zeke opened his eyes and looked at his watch on the bedside table. Where was--?
"Is it really *that* boring in here, Sergeant?" McKay sauntered into the room, with Goldman straggling behind. "I'll bet this is the thirtieth time you've looked at your watch this evening."
"Thirty-first," Zeke retorted lamely. He anxiously eyed Myron who was smiling, but not looking at him. McKay threww himself into a chair--pulled backwards--and extracted a foil-covered container from his rain poncho.
"Thought you might want some of this," McKay peeled back the foil revealing some roast beef, mashed pototoes and carrots. "It's only mess food, but it is *officer's* mess food. Better than hospital food, I'm guessing."
"Fish broth," Zeke gasped, wrestling himself into a sitting position and grabbing the container. "All I've been getting is fish-broth and rice!" He paused between gulps of potato. "I says to the nurse: 'Ma'am, this done be blatant propaganda, ma'am. Only the injured in the war eat fish-broth an' rice!"
McKay laughed out loud but Myron just huffed a bit. Sometimes Zeke's sense of humor could be a little off-kilter. Johnny leaned over Zeke and looked at his watch.
"Geez, I gotta go. I just came to check up on you and give you this--"
"For which I'm thankful," Zeke said cheerily. "Where you heading?"
"Got a date with a beautiful blonde. Wants me to take her shopping. Again." McKay flashed as superstar grin and rose form his chair. "Get better soon, Zeke."
"An' you have a good time for the both of us, sir. Thanks for the grub," said Zeke. McKay whisked his fore-finger to his eyebrow and wandered away.
They were silent for a while. Then:
Goldman floundered. "I really...I should go do--"
Myron bent halfway on the backwards chair, grimaced and twirled the chair facefront. He slumped down on it and stared glumly at Anderson.
"Glad you're okay, Zeke."
Anderson chewed and eyed him up and down. "Yeah. I can see the party goin' on in *your* eyes."
Goldman frowned. "Hey, I'm old enough to remember that stupid commercial slogan. Stupid Kahlua. Don't patronize me, Sergeant." He slid down lower into his chair. "Tch--oh, god, it's not you, I'm just generally pissed off. " Anderson started to speak but Goldman cut him off, lurching forward. "Jesus Christ, Zeke, you wouldn't even be in here if it wasn't for that stupid little new--"
"LT," Zeke cut in warningly. Myron was on the border of brooding, so Zeke smirked and said, "Thought you guys din't believe in Jesus Christ." He placed the empty container on the side table.
Myron flipped his hands upwards. "Then it's not blasphemy, *is it*," he said peevishly. Zeke stared at him for a while, then patted Myron's forearm.
"Even if Trotter's a little...slow, LT, there ain't nothing we can do 'cept try and make him a better soldier."
"I guess. He just better not get any of my men killed. He's come close enough," Myron's eyes drifted to Zeke's wounded leg.
Zeke tipped his head and smiled. "Y'gotta have more confidence in our capabilities, LT! We've handled numpties like him before. It anything, he'll just get himself--"
"Killed?" Myron looked at Zeke, suddenly uncomfortable.
Anderson sighed. "Not many people I don't like, LT, but, damn, some of the kids they send out to us...." Zeke's voice trailed off. Cold-hearted? Was there such a thing in Vietnam?
"Total incompetants," Myron's dark eyes began to twinkle. No more depressing thoughts. No more morbidity. It was too much.
"And I thought I was dumb," Zeke reflected.
Myron nodded. "So did I." It took him a while to get it but once he did, Myron laughed more at Zeke than he did at his jibe. Goldman propped his elbows up on the bed and rested his head in his hands.
"God, it feels good to kvetch."
"Yeah," Zeke agreed. "I don't do it much, but sometimes the 'bend over and take it' rule of the army can sure grate on my nerves."
Goldman idly played with the bed sheets. "Mmm-hmmm. Remember Darling?"
Goldman jumped in his chair. Zeke nervously looked from the sheets to Myron and back.
"You...uh...you didn't like Nikki?"
"Nossir. In fact. I found she downright ticked me off."
Myron looked at Zeke for a few seconds. Then he slowly grinned slowly and, eyes hooded, he leaned forward.
Zeke blustered. "Well, now, LT, I don't think that was--"
Myron stopped him with a kiss.
Shocked by the open publicity of his lieutenant's affection, Zeke kept his eyes open, nervously scanning the room for fear of nurses wandering in. But Zeke did not push Myron away.
Myron pulled away from the kiss after a while, but he wasn't finished. He grazed his sensitive lips against he sergeant's cheekbone, breathing in the clean, warm sterile smell of Zeke's skin. It felt good to be this close to the older man again. He felt reassured, safe, protected. Zeke was not doing much reciprocation at the moment, but Myron didn't care. He moved to the side and buried his pointed nose into Zeke's scrubby hair as he nibbled on the sergeant's small ear.
Anderson felt Myron smile, almost triumphantly, as Zeke reflexively moaned quietly at the tingly sensation of his lieutenant's soft breath against his ear lobe. Zeke finally closed his eyes and he tilted his head up.
Life was good.
Nurse Chapel glided through the infirmary rooms, doing her early morning check-ups on the patients. There was, surprisingly enough, a large number of empty beds. The few patients admitted into the infirmary during the past week had been unsettlingly low. Nurse Chapel was not happy about this. She didn't consider herself a psychic or anything, but she had a guarded feeling the storm will soon follow the calm.
Looking at her clipboard, she bustled over to a Sgt. Anderson's bedspace and drew back the curtains. The Sergeant was snoozing peacefully. However, slumped in a chair, head buried in his arms which rested on the bed was a slumbering second Lieutenant. Nurse Chapel overcame her initial shock and quickly replaced it with a warm, almost maternal feeling of affection for the two soldiers. It was refreshing to see that the aura of comeraderie was still vibrant in such a deathly environment.
The nurse gently leaned over the lieutenant, then hesitated, unwilling to wake him up. But, she realized, it would hardly be appropriate for the doctor to find two soldiers--and officer and an NCO, to boot--in such a...domestic scenario. The two soldiers will probably be grateful too, she rationalized. She leaned towards the lieutenant's ear.
Goldman heard a light, gentle voice slowly drawing him out of sleep. It was a pleasant wake-up; a slow, sweet, lazy doorway to awareness. He blinked rapidly and rubbed his face in his arms.
Maybe it was that time of the month or something, but the strikingly vulnerable--hopeful--timbre of the lieutenant's voice spontaneously blurred Nurse Chapel's eyes and put a lump in her throat. She quickly coughed her way back to professionalism.
"Sorry, lieutenant, you fell asleep. It's oh-five-thirty right now. I'm Nurse Chapel, I do my check-ups on the patients right now...." Keep talking, she thought. Give the poor lad some time to gather his dignity.
Sleepy Myron did take full advantage of her stalling monologue. He sat up briskly, wiped his face on his sleeve, then stood up and straightened his combat shirt.
"Yes, thank you nurse," he cut her off curtly. His previous helpless demeanour was immediately replaced by a rigid determination. His eyes, though, betrayed a anxious gratefulness that made Nurse Chapel smile.
"Have a good day, lieutenant."
Myron bounced out of the infirmary. Once outside, he hunched over in pain. An entire night of sleeping in a chair could do that. Concentraing on stretching out the cricks in his back, Myron forgot that morning's infirmary episode as soon as he could.
One week later
~~Goldman. Screaming about WHAT this time? Weapon filthy forgot to clean it lastnight (beer drink--alone no boomboom) rifle didn't fire nearly got Alberto Mexican Latino PeurtoRican--WHATEVER) shot my fault my fault my fault-- Mr. Goldman didn't shave (deportment bad Basic ) my fault my fault my fault miss Dahlia hate Goldman what a little bitch (Dahlia or Goldman?) Sgt Anderson disappointed just like dad just likeDAD--~~
Myron stopped screaming suddenly and stumbled back from Trotter, looking horrified. A single tear was streaming down the Corporal's thin face. He showed no other emotion, but that tear. A chill slivered down Goldman's spine and he turned away and glared at Anderson.
Picking up on that look immediately, Zeke lurched over to Trotter and gave a quick decisive nod towards the showers.
"G'wan. Get yourself cleaned up, get some hot food in you, clean your weapon and get some sleep. Go on now."
Trotter made a half-way attempt to salute, but he could see the Sergeant already shaking his head warningly. One look at Lt. Goldman's face and Trotter saw why. The Corporal slunk away.
Myron threw his incredulous stare at Anderson.
"I saw it, sir."
Goldman's eyes rolled expansively. "I've never made any one of my men...cry before!" Goldman tugged a cigarette from his pocket and lit it up.
Anderson smiled nostalgically. "That reminds me of the time I was--"
"Save it, Sergeant." The irritated lieutenant then saw a flash of hurt pass over his friend's face. He fretted. "I need a drink." Myron turned and scuttled off.
"Hey! Sergeant Anderson!" Lt. McKay sauntered over from the O Group Headquarters and clapped Zeke on the back. "Whaddya say we celebrate living for one more day with a couple of '33's?" McKay leaned closer, in a conspiratorial manner. "I wasn't gonna tell anyone this, cause I don't wanna make a big fuss about it or nothing, but it's my bir--"
"Hrm--wha?" Zeke shook his head and looked up at Johnny, as is he'd just seen him for the first time. "Sorry, sir, I--I think I'll call it a night. Um, really long day an' all...."
"No worries, my man, no worries at all," McKay smiled.
"Some other time."
"Well damn straight some other time, sir. I tell you what, you can call that a raincheck." Anderson tipped his head curtly and wandered back to his hootch.
"Hey Trotter, wish you were in my squadron."
"Cpl Trotter! I hear you're a real favourite on your team. Fitting in well?"
"Yo, Trotter, better sleep with your eyes open, buddy. I been hearing rumors...."
"...Trotter, plus a sock, plus soap, equals...? Hah ha ha!"
"Trotter don't got no friends."
"Not even his team likes him."
"...one more time...."
"I've been hearing...."
Trotter jolted out of his seat, and, movements jerky, ran out of the bar.
Sgt Anderson joined Lt Goldman for a drink, at the Lieutenant's request. He arrived sopping wet from the rain. Zeke stood in the doorway shaking the wet from him like a dog.
"What's it like out there?" Goldman asked flippantly, smirking.
Zeke grinned, shrugging off his poncho. "Don' mind me, LT. I fell into a pond on the way over here." The Sergeant remained hunched by the entrance, clutching the dripping plastic.
Again, Goldman wondered at Zeke's odd sense of humor. Three tours in a strange country could warp anyone, he figured. Mildly annoyed at Zeke shyly waiting for an invite, Myron expansively waved his arm, motioning to his sergeant to sit down. Bobbing his head, Zeke lurched over and sprawled into a chair.
"Where's Lt. McKay?"
Goldman grimaced. He poured himself his eighth glass of whiskey and one for Zeke. "Ahhhhhh probably finding some round-eye to spend his night with. He was yapping senselessly about some celebration today or something or the other. I don't know. I wasn't listening."
"Well. Glad he ain't here."
Goldman gave Anderson a pointed stare. "Really. I'm kind of upset. I was hoping he'd be here to provide us with some make out music. Maybe lend us his only idiotic porno mag to get us in the mood."
Zeke's face burned; the man was glad he was drinking. What was it with the young lieutenant? Zeke was used to handling Myron's snide remarks, but.... Despite everybody's belief that they got along perfectly together (after the initial clash when the first met), Zeke sometimes had trouble being patient with all of his LT's tantrums, drunk or no. This was one of those times. Zeke drained his glass, and ignoring the burn trailing from his face to his gut, rose and quickly nodded to Goldman.
"Hey, I didn't ask you here for nothing, *Sergeant*."
Anderson scrambled into his poncho and glared at Goldman. "Yessir?"
"Mission tomorrow. Oh-nine hundred. Thought I could give you a briefing tonight...." Myron gripped the side of his desk and tried to stand up. Naturally, this sort of task was too difficult for one so inebriated, and Myron suceeded only in knocking down various half-done reports and his glass of whiskey. Losing balance, he nearly toppled into the corner of the desk, but Zeke quickly caught him.
"You're all wet," Goldman complained into Anderson's poncho.
"Upsidaisy." Zeke heaved Myron uncerimoniously onto his cot, and, tightening his lips in annoyance, removed his poncho again. The sergeant then sat down on the bed beside Myron. Looking down on the floor, Zeke noticed a photograph lying between the reports. A photograph of Alex Devlin. He bent down and picked it up. She was, typical of Alex, smiling toothily, her hip jutting out in a "take a picture of me" pose. Anderson looked from the drunken Myron to the picture. Ah. Myron blearily stared at the photo Zeke held in his hand.
"I still can't remember if I hated her or if I loved her."
Zeke smiled. "You did both, LT. An' I think she was the same way. I think that's the way it's gotta be for you. You can't just like someone, you gotta hate ' em too. Only then...only then do you truly love them."
"You quit your preaching, Sergeant. I honestly don't understand a damn word you say when you preach. It's like McKay, whenever he talks. I don't listen to a word."
Zeke leaned in closer to Myron, grinning. "You listened real good when he was telling you how to save your life in that chopper you hadda fly."
Myron grinned crookedly and sat up a bit. "Okay, okay, I'll give him that." He sighed and pulled his lips back from his teeth. "God. That was hell."
"Yeah, it was," Zeke said, looking back down at the photo. "And she din't tell me a word of it. Not a word."
"Well, she knew you'd be worried, and you were so busy solving crimes with that Lieutenant that Taylor followed around...."
"That's no excuse," Zeke said rather harshly, speaking to the photograph. "That wasn't no excuse."
"She knew, Zeke." Myron gently laid a hand on Zeke's tense arm. "I think she knew. About how we...feel about each other, I think she could sense it. Women's intuition...stuff...you know. She didn't want to worry you, like she was...."
"Hrm." Zeke mumbled.
"To think," Goldman smiled sadly. "To think I invested so much time in her, thinking I was safe with her, nothing would happen to her, she was a reporter, not a field sergeant...and she's the one who died. And you're still here."
Zeke, slightly cheered up, eyed Myron. "Like vermin. I'll never go away. Heh."
"My very own vermin. How charming." Myron rubbed Zeke's arm and tried to pull him closer. Zeke plopped the photo onto the floor and took hold of Myron's face, delivering a series of small, pressing kisses. Goldman was pliant and kissed back, laying down on against the pillows.
"I feel warm," Anderson mumbled.
"It's the whiskey." The lieutenant's thin hands spidered across his sergeant's back, across the scars, underneath the combat belt.
"Nossir. It's you," Zeke teased, lifting Myron's t-shirt up from his taut tummy. He bent lower to kiss his way down and he fumbled with Myron's combat pants.
"But I feel cold!" Myron whined, then gasped as Zeke finally managed to undo his pants. Ah the joyful pain of freedom.
Zeke looked up, eyes wild and anticipating. "Guess I'm gonna have to do something 'bout that, now won't I."
"You'd better sergeant, or I'm gonna make sure you never work on this base again, do you get me?!" Myron collapsed in giggles.
Zeke laughed too. He loved it when they shared a laugh, it made him feel human again. Whenever the lieutenant laughed first, Zeke always made sure to prolong the joy for as long as possible. Zeke pulled the covers over his head and prolonged the joy for a very long time.
Myron's eyes flew open, and he stared into the ice-blue eyes of Zeke. He started instinctively, the sheets falling lightly off his smooth bare back.
"Seven minutes, thirteen seconds," Zeke's smirk was smug and predatory. The sergeant was dressed in his pants and t-shirt and he clutched his combat shirt in his hands. He was hunched down beside Myron's cot.
"Gaddamit, Sergeant! You and your stupid games." Myron fully sat up and attempted to wake up.
Zeke watched as Myron screwed his fists against his eyes and yawned expansively. God, the man was adorable. Only once before had Zeke felt like this for another man. His first tour had traumatized him in more ways than people perceived; it wasn't easy seeing the first man you ever fell in love with riddled with bullets. The sergeant shut his eyes and tried to blank out that gory, painful scene.
Oblivious to his lover's internal distress, Myron swung his skinny legs over the end of the cot and padded over to the whiskey bottle on the work desk. He poured a generous amount into an already used tumbler and drank deeply.
"What time is it?" he asked, wiping his mouth.
Myron nearly spat out his second gulp. "*What*?!?! What the hell am I doing up? I thought it was morning. Why'd you wake me up now? I was--"
The front door opened and McKay stepped in. He looked up at the two men already in the room and stared like a gaping guppy. Zeke was the first to recover from the surprise.
"Well, sir, if'n that's all you'll be needin' me for for your report, I'll be on your way." He passed a smile to McKay. "Now that your roomie's here, I don't wanna be bothering him with our yapping!"
"Yes. Yes...." Myron twisted behind him and haphazardly shuffled some papers that lay on the work desk. "I think that's enough for tonight." He stared pointedly at his watch. "Christ, where does the time go...when you're having fun...huh, sarge?" Myron tried to make that sound as sarcastic as possible, and he hoped he was the only one who heard his voice crack slightly.
"I heard that, LT," Zeke said emphatically. By now McKay was shuffling around his 'side' of the room, searching for his sleeping boxers.
"G'night Lt--er, Ltees." He quietly shut the door behind him.
Myron turned and stared at McKay, but the pilot was embroiled in brushing--no, scrubbing his teeth. McKay was looking tired, Myron noticed, surprised. He reshuffled the papers in a guise of putting his report away and sidled over to his cot.
"How was the date, Johnny." Myron tried not to sound too interested.
McKay spun around, looking like a frothing animal. "Go to hell, Myron!" Spitefully, Johnny spat his toothpaste on Myron's side. He washed his mouth hurridly and jumped into bed.
"Fucking Christ!" Myron exclaimed, staring in horror and disgust at the used toothpaste bubbling on the ground. "What the hell's wrong with you, you--"
"It was my birthday today," McKay mumbled into his pillow. "I told you this already five times tonight. It was my birthday today."
"You mean...yesterday," Myron joked weakly.
Johnny flipped over and sat up, stretching out his perfectly-formed legs across the cot.
"It was my birthday yesterday. I asked you if you wanted to come for a drink with me and you said you were too busy. I asked Sergeant Anderson if he wanted to come out for a drink with me and he said he was too tired. I asked--you guys---you didn't----he was actually---oh fuck it. Night, *Myron*." Johnny, now thoroughly embarrased by his small tantrum, flung himself back down into the cot and faced the wall.
Myron quickly turned off the light.
The mission was a simple one, for an SOG Team: locate an old French armeť bunker at these given coordinates. Use frags to block up any tunnels in the bunker area. March to the LZ and get a free ride back.
Percell, as usual, was excited about going. For his efforts, he was rewarded with the point. Taylor was secretly surprised and during the march to the bunker he shared his sentiments with Johnson.
"I thought, being the only black man here with*out* the sergeant stripes, I would be--"
"Oh come off it, *please* Taylor. And keep your intervals." Johnson, for the third time that day, rolled his eyes.
Ruiz, who overheard, grinned to himself.
Half-way there, the Lieutenant called a ten-minute break and they all settled quietly in the bush. Ruiz drank deeply from his canteen, then passed it over to Taylor and smiled.
"Drink up Marcus. I think my mama told me it was okay to share water with black people." Ruiz laughed out loud as Taylor tried to glare at him.
Johnson grinned and shook his head.
"Yeah, yeah, yeah, you all laugh now, but you wait and see when we get back, *Roo*. Them crackers will be treating you the same was they treat us brothers. Like slaves. Like inferiors," Taylor emphasized.
"Hey," Percell protested, his eyes brimming with hurt. "I would never treat any of you with disrespect."
Taylor had nothing to say. He wanted to lash back, but his conscience always made him believe Percell's defensive protests. Sometimes Taylor wished Percell wasn't as good a friend as he was. It would be easier to be empowered about civil rights without a loving, trusting cowpoke always around to disprove his point.
"Hey Percell, I see you actually got a brand newtoothpick to chew on, huh," Trotter wavered, dragging out the following pause into a very uncomfortable silence.
"You know," Trotter persisted desperately, "Instead of the one you had before."
The others covertly glanced at each other, but mostly kept their eyes focused on the grass they nestled in.
Doc shook his head. "Trotter, you notice the strangest things, man." Hockenbury smiled and playfully flicked a small leaf at Trotter. The thin corporal flinched.
"Pack your trash!" yelped Sergeant Anderson. "Lets get a move-on."
"Like a hard--"
Anderson stopped Goldman short with a brief whap to the chest. Goldman sniggered and moved on.
The bunker was very old and almost completely washed away. The hill it had been constructed on was barely stable, and after the heavy downpour from the previous night, Team Viking was guaranteed to be covered in mud by the time they reached the top. Almost like they knew the order before it came, Ruiz and Taylor fluidly disappeared in the perimeter around the bunker and kept a vigilant watch. Percell, Trotter, Johnson and Hockenbury worked in teams to try and locate the five tunnel entrances located around the bunker.
"God, it'll be impossible to try and find anything in this mud!" Percell exclaimed, kicking a rock aside.
The rock splashed into a mud puddle which splattered onto Hockenbury's pants. He gave Percell a dry stare and Percell guffawed.
"Nice fashion statement, buddy. It really goes with your eyes."
"Ha ha, Percell made a funny." Good-naturedly, Hockenbury continued the search for tunnels.
In mild dispair, Trotter approached Johnson. "What do I look for, sarge?" the corporal quavered.
"Well," Johnson began patiently, "try and find remains of anything matted, like grass or reeds. Or small, round pieces of wood. Also, any place that is bubbling--because mud going into holes would create bubbles."
"Is this matted?"
Sergeant Anderson squelched his way over to the lieutenant, who was crouched under a tree with the radio operator. Goldman finished giving his locstat and squinted up at Anderson.
"LT, they picked the wrong time to go searching for tunnels. This mud woulda closed up any holes around here anyways."
"Yeah, I was thinking the same thing." Goldman pressed his lips together and looked around. "I informed the Co about our position. I got a wait out. My guess: they're probably gonna abort this little trip."
"Y'know what's really odd. I din't see any trace of VC booby traps, and we haven't got a VC encounter yet."
Goldman eyed Anderson wryly. "And you're complaining? Maybe they all cleared out of here already."
"But why didn't they trick the place up? I was expecting at least on or two, especially on this hill."
"Well, perhaps--" A bullet whizzed by Goldman's ear and thudded into the radio operator's chest.
Immediately, everyone fell to the ground, trying to locate where the shooting was coming from. To Anderson's trained eye, it didn't seem as if there was too much enemy fire to call a withdraw, and the men were in quite comfortable firing positions. Seeing the radio operator slump over, Hockenbury was about to crawl across the bunker but Goldman shook his head wildly. It would be a wasted trip.
As the fire exchange began to lessen, a Vietnamese man pelted himself out of the bushes, unclothed but for a small sack he wore over his shoulder.
"It's a bomb!" Percell yelled and he cursed his muddy, malfunctioning weapon.
The man was catapulting towards Johnson and Trotter at an alarming speed. Trotter knew he had to react quickly so he grabbed a surprised and yelping Johnson out from their scrape and rolled them away. The Vietnamese man screamed something before detonating his bomb and exploding, and flesh and mud splattered all over Johnson and Trotter. That was the end.
Johnson scrambled up, flinging Trotter's arm off of him. "What did you think you were doing, corporal?!" Johnson demanded.
"What happened, what do you mean?" Percell said, jogging over.
"Yeah, I thought he saved your life," Doc checked Johnson over for any wounds.
"I had the perfect sight on the guy, I coulda gotten him from far enough that he didn't have to blow himself up!"
"Well, son, it all turned alright in the end." Anderson come over and patted Johnson on the back. He looked down at Trotter. "You done good too, Trotter. Get up now."
Trotter didn't move.
Hock bent down and his hands moved over Trotter's torso; his extremeties were covered in mud. The medic grabbed hold of Trotter's pants and pulled.
"~ergh~~ I think he's stuck in the mud, Sarge." Doc repositioned himself before trying to pull again. "~ugh~ I think I need some help here."
Percell gently nudged Hockenbury aside and together he and Anderson heaved Trotter out of the suctioning mud. Trotter mumbled incoherently and inhaled deeply. His entire face was caked with guck.
"What's that, son?" Anderson leaned in closer as Hock checked Trotter over.
"I...f-found a t-t-tunnel...."
They looked down and saw, where Trotter had lain, a small hole that quickly closed in with mud. Johnson started to chuckle a bit. Taylor and Roo looked at each other and grinned.
"Hey, Trotter, you look good being brown, man!" Taylor poked him jovially.
"Yeah, now you actually got some color to that pale white skin of yours," Ruiz added.
Ruiz and Taylor sauntered back to the treeline while Ruiz lit up a cigarette.
"Heh...erm...good job, Trotter, you found a tunnel. Good job." Anderson patted Trotter and the back and, with Johnson in tow, wandered back the the lieutenant.
"I wish I thought of finding the tunnels like you, Trotter!" Percell joked.
He and Hockenbury went around to check on the VC bodies, to ensure none were still alive.
Trotter suddenly screamed and flung his M-16 to the ground. "Fine! Who wants some of me? C'mon, I can take any of you! I'm not gonna have a blanket party! I'm not! None of you are gonna give me one! I can't take this crap anymore! All the looks and the jokes and the meanness, I'll beat you all! Why do you all hate me so much? I hate you too! You're such a fucking whining coward, Goldman, you remind me *so * much of Dahlia! And Sergeant, you sound so much like my dad I wanna--I just wanna--Aaaaaah!" Trotter kicked mud around in every direction until he slipped and fell, his leg getting sucked back into the decrepit tunnel.
Ruiz swallowed the scalloped potatoes and then viciously stabbed the mystery chop the mess called "boiled meat".
"He's got five weeks in there, I think," Roo garbled between bites.
"Well, I think he needs to be in there. Probably even more'n I did," Percell murmured quietly as he toyed with the green beans.
"Nooooo, I think you had a good and steady reason to be in there too, Danny," Hock replied. "But it is good Trotter's in the psych ward. You think we should visit him or something?"
Taylor stopped stuffing his face and looked at the Doc as if he just asked if they wanted to eat a leech.
"Hell no! Didn't you hear what he said to us at that bunker? We shouldn't even look at him!"
"What *I* don't understand is why he thought we were going to give him a blanket party. Or why he called the LT 'Dahlia'."
Humor danced in Percell's baby blues. "Well ya gotta admit, Johnson, Dahlia *does* kinda suit Lt. Goldman."
They all had a good chuckle, and the conversation eased off of the Trotter topic and onto the prospect of some R&R that weekend.
Myron nuzzled the softer underside of Zeke's muscled arm and gently kissed his way up to his sergeant's neck. They lay in Zeke's cot, comfortable and feeling, if only for that brief moment, serene and relaxed. Myron almost lay on top of Zeke, because the bed was so thin and Zeke just took up so much room. But Myron wasn't arguing. This was the way he liked it. This was the way it should be.
"Poor ol' Trotter."
"Ohhh, not *this* again." Exasperated, Myron flopped down onto his back and stared at the ceiling. "I know he's one of our men, but he's gonna be fine. The doctor said he just needed some rest. I'm not charging him for insubordination. He's getting the help he needs. If you ask me, he's getting it better than the rest of us."
Zeke looked down at Myron, amused. "Is he really? From where I'm looking, LT, I figure I'm getting it pretty good." Unable to resist, the sergeant brushed his rough hand against his lieutenant's silk brown hair.
"It was McKay's birthday a couple nights ago. And he *did* try to tell us," Myron said, cutting Zeke's question off. "We just weren't listening. I feel kinda...I don't know...."
"Yeah, I guess. I mean it *was* his birthday. Although my birthday passed totally uneventfully."
"So did mine. I had forgotten."
"Well, this was Johnny. You know McKay."
"No sir, actually I--"
"We all know McKay, what he's like. Ah well. It'll bring him down a peg or two to have had to celebrate alone." Myron paused, then looked up at Zeke. "I just can't help having this sinking feeling about it, you know? Like I kicked a goddamn dog or something."
"In a way I guess you did, LT. You kicked a *hot* dawg."
Myron laughed lightly, appreciating the silly pun.
Zeke laughed as well, quietly, almost breathelssly.
It felt good to laugh.