[ pieces ]

by lt dawn chaser

Thanks to Doc, Mel and witchbaby for letting me know this story worked and for encouraging me to keep on writing. And to Mel for the wonderful beta job she always does for me. This is written as my Christmas gift to Mel and witchbaby. Merry Christmas to the both of you.'

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

'Myron rode in the back of the deuce and a half with the rest of his men as they returned to Camp Barnett. McKay was driving with Percell riding up front with him. And on the floor at their feet, wrapped in a poncho, was PFC Wills, the kid who got killed yesterday because he was picking flowers for Lieutenant Susanna Lozada.'

'Yesterday, they had all been laughing, playfully nudging each other and singing songs. They were looking forward to sharing dinner at the orphanage. They had candy stuffed in their pockets and gaily wrapped packages to give to the kids. Instead, they arrived with the gift of gunfire and fear, and a dead soldier who would never see another Christmas again.'

'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.''

'Myron watched the scenery slip by as the truck rattled and bumped down the road on the way back to Barnett. It was Christmas Day in Vietnam, and no one was celebrating, not even the children.'

'No one was laughing now. Instead they all sat on alert, swaying to the motion of the truck, rifles ready. The good-natured teasing and story telling was now replaced with a stony silence. As Myron glanced back into the truck, he met with Hockenbury's haunted eyes.'

'Myron had no answers for the medic. Or for Ruiz's friend, Susanna. A piece of all of them had been taken away yesterday. Another piece that Vietnam took with selfish bloody hands and made no apologies for.'

'Lay down, lay down, lay it all down. '

'Christmas was supposed to be a time of gentleness and wonder. Of childlike innocence for one and all.'

'There was no gentleness yesterday. Or wonder. The children of St. Mary's Orphanage were denied even the briefest moments of innocence in the face of the war. The parents of the young man at Myron's feet would have it stripped away from them forever. And as soldiers, maybe they were never meant to have it to begin with.'

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

'There was a numbness that touched at the edges of his thoughts. A bleakness he was finding harder to defend himself against, the reasons why becoming more obscure.'

'Every day another piece of himself was lost or destroyed. He lost a piece with each kid who died under his command. With each letter he wrote home to the parents. A piece was destroyed with the abortion of a child he should have shared with Nikki; another ripped from him when Nikki walked away without looking back. There was Bellar, Phu-an and his father's news. And Alex's death...'

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

'They all had lost pieces of themselves. Yesterday was no exception. Myron could see it in the emptiness of Hockenbury's and Susanna's eyes. He could hear it in McKay's words to Sister Bernadette before they left. He could feel it with Ruiz in the set of the other man's shoulders as he watched the jungle slip past them along the road.'

'Lay down, lay down, lay it all down.'

'Without looking, Myron knew Anderson was watching him. He could feel the sergeant's concern all the way across the truck and he knew what he would see if he were to return Anderson's look.'

'But he wasn't sure he was ready for Anderson's sympathy or understanding. In truth, he wasn't sure he could ever be. There had been another piece of himself lost when he looked up a few months ago to find Anderson staring at him from across the compound when the other man should have remained home, safe in the States.'

'All of Zeke's understanding and sympathy could not change what had happened yesterday. Nor take the responsibility away that was Myron's. Anderson did his best to help shoulder what he could, but in the end, Myron knew he had to stand on his own two feet. Some days it was just harder than others.'

'Some days, the missing pieces threatened to overwhelm him and he found himself staring at an empty scotch bottle, the taste old and bitter in his mouth. And the war was still there on the other side of the screen door of his hootch. He tried not to be afraid of what he was becoming as more pieces were taken away.'

'He was afraid of what would happen when there were no more pieces left to take. Would he go home then? Would there be enough of himself to take home, or would he find himself one day wandering the city streets, a shell of someone people once knew?'

'The pieces were scattered, sharp and broken. Like the empty scotch bottle dropped carelessly on the floor.'

'Some came to sing.
Some came to pray.

'The truck had made it to the camp without further incident. Myron could hear McKay talking to someone and the answering reply. He didn't pay attention to the words, just let the voices drift by him unheeded. The truck then lurched forward with a noisy grinding of gears, McKay swearing loud enough for everyone to hear in the back. Christmas music blared over the loud speakers. "I'll Be Home for Christmas," a thick irony over the roar of the truck's engine. The truck rolled through the gate and across the compound.'

'Some came to keep the dark away.'

'Myron finally looked up and met with Anderson's gaze. Met with the concern and the understanding. And the sorrow of what had happened the day before. Anderson looked tired. There was no mischief dancing in those blue eyes. There was instead an emptiness that Myron couldn't answer. Only understand. Understand that Zeke was also losing pieces of himself.'

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

'Myron would give everything he had, everything that was left of himself if he could give the pieces back to this man. If only he could do this. If he could have one Christmas wish in the middle of this entire mess, it would be to give Anderson back the impossible.'

'We had all caught the same disease.
We all sang the songs of peace.

'But it wasn't his to give. No more than it was Zeke's to give Myron back the parts of himself he had lost along the way.'

'The truck halted at last in front of Graves Registration. Taylor unlatched the tailgate before jumping down, followed by Ruiz. Hockenbury then handed the silent Susanna down as McKay and Percell came back to help with the body that still lay on the floor. Myron helped Zeke slide the dead boy across the truck bed to the waiting hands that then took him.'

'Anderson jumped down before reaching back and grabbing his web gear and rifle. Weary beyond words, Myron simply sat down on the edge of the open tailgate, rifle across his lap. He wasn't ready to go back to his hootch. He wasn't ready to write Wills' parents. To explain that they had lost their son in a Godforsaken country, fighting in a thankless war on Christmas Eve day.'

'He was afraid there wasn't enough of him left to write the letter. "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" drifted over the thick air.'

'Lay down, lay down, lay it all down.'

'"It's not your fault, L-T."'

'"I know, Sergeant. It wasn't Wills' fault, or McKay's or Sister Bernadette's, either." Myron shook his head. "But it's Christmas and Wills is dead."'

'"It ain't right, I know."'

'No, it wasn't. But what was in this war?'

'"I'm sorry." It was all Myron had to offer. There wasn't anything else left.'

'We bled inside each other's wounds.'

'"Don't get lost in this, L-T. I know Wills died, but ya can't get lost in it." Zeke placed a warm hand on Myron's shoulder. "There're still things that matter, that are worth believin' in." Myron glanced up and let himself get captured in Zeke's concern. "Don't lose sight of what's still important."'

'"It's not always easy, Sergeant."'

'"I know that, sir. 'N' especially today, with what happened. But ya haveta set it aside, L-T. Ya just gotta let it go."'

'Myron had no defenses against this man who offered his friendship and respect without reservation. As much as he believed he had to stand on his own two feet, Anderson was always there to help him get back up when he stumbled.'

'Some came to keep the dark away.'

'Every day, Myron lost a little bit more of himself. But in exchange, he had friendship. Zeke's friendship. And it was a piece he would never lose, just as Zeke would never lose his. It was something to believe in, something to hold onto when nothing else could possibly make sense.'

'Lay down, lay down, lay it all down. '

'Zeke extended his hand, in support, respect and friendship and Myron reached back, gripping it with the same strength as he jumped down from the truck and stood before the other man.'

'Myron once heard his father say that the measure of a man is found in the quality of the friends he keeps. In this moment, Myron could think of no higher praise or greater gift to receive at Christmas than the gift of Zeke's friendship.'

'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!

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