by brooklinegirl (witchbaby) 6/2001
A big thanks to SnowFlake and Mel for all of their help in this story!
Everything seemed to be getting to him tonight. All at once, grating on every single nerve that he possessed, and left him feeling wire-thin. Like he was about to break at any second. Just utterly snap, and he didn’t know what to do to avoid that straw that would break him.
Staying away from his men. . .and any superior officers. . .seemed to be a good idea though. He was on edge, danger close to that edge, and he knew he could get into some very serious trouble in this state. Knew he was overtired, and underfed, and out of sorts, and was pretty much an accident waiting to happen. He’d even gone looking for McKay, but he was offbase for the night; had gotten a pass into Saigon. McKay was always good for a fight, an easy one, letting off steam where it couldn’t do any harm. But, of course, he wasn’t here.
Myron was deliberately, studiously avoiding Zeke tonight. Too much built-up frustration and he didn’t want to end up taking it out on his sergeant. Where McKay was easy to fight with, Zeke was a tougher case. He wouldn’t fight back, not fairly anyway. Just shut his mouth and sit back, face passive except for that tiny hint of a smile that came close to driving Myron mad at the *best* of times.
Wasn’t like he was just sitting there, being the victim of whatever anger Myron happened to be harboring, either. Seemed like he was just waiting for Myron to get over it, grow up, let it go, *something*. Wasn’t what he was looking for here.
Didn’t know quite what it was that he needed tonight. Something, for sure. He paced around his quarters, quick, the air in there already thick with smoke from the too-many cigarettes he’d gone through. Fuck it. He slammed out the door, the air and space and everything, *everything*, suddenly too small to contain him, contain whatever it was inside him that was growling to escape.
He stormed across the base, looking for trouble, and sure to find it.
What’s that saying about being in the wrong place at the wrong time? Seemed to be true, and more than true, in Vietnam. Trouble found you, whether you went lookin’ for it or not. Thing was, you was usually under direct *orders* to go meet it halfway. Even Zeke himself, who was always careful, sometimes found trouble. Wasn’t sure how it happened, but he sure as hell ended up in the thick of it more often than he’d like.
Like tonight. It was hot. Sure, Vietnam was always hot, but tonight it was *damn* hot. Melt-your-clothes-to-your-skin kind of hot. The kind of hot that made your dogtags burn where they touched you in the afternoon sun. The kind of hot that hung around after dark and made you feel like you was wadin’ through it. That kind of hot.
He wasn’t doin’ anything but tryin’ to escape the heat, or at least find a breath of air. That was all. Nothin’ else, not lookin’ for anything much ‘cept air and a bit of alone time. Thinkin’ time. Not an easy order to fill on a base like this. The camp, as usual, anything but quiet, even at night. Couldn’t really escape all of the talk and barks of laughter floatin' through the air.
From where Zeke stood leaning back against a wall of sandbags, way behind the barracks where few ever came wandering, he could here the tinny radio strains of "Bad Moon Rising" come drifting back. He couldn’t help agreeing with the sentiment. Heat like this could only lead to trouble, for sure. Could almost feel it building.
He was just standin’ there, thinkin’ and sweatin’. No big thing, right? Just wanted a little bit of escape from bein’ the all-knowin’ sergeant for a time, not lookin’ to socialize with the guys at all. He liked talkin’ to the guys, usually. They needed him, respected him, and he could be there for them, and listen good if that’s what they needed, or shut them up if they were just mind-fucking themselves.
But tonight. . .well, tonight he had things of his own to think about. Wasn’t ever easy, was it? Nothin’ was easy, nothin’ at all. This whole thing, tryin’ to figure out if it was wrong or right. Not that it mattered, anymore. Was past the point of matterin’ a whole long time ago. First time he kissed the LT, or maybe even before that. Maybe the first time that he admitted he *wanted* to kiss him. Maybe the first time he’d felt that connection, almost electric, between them.
Aw, hell. Maybe the first time he’d seen him.
Maybe it was too late then. Wasn’t worth wonderin’ about, wasn’t nothin’ he could do about it. There was no goin’ back to change things, and he was pretty sure he wouldn’t, anyway, even if he could’ve. But that didn’t make the spot they were in just now any easier.
Together and not together.
Oh, my, but they were seriously fucked-up here. No tellin’, just no tellin’ *where* this all would lead. Gettin’ involved like this, havin’ to hide themselves like this, right in the middle of all of this fucked-up bullshit, with everythin’ else they had to deal with drivin’ them crazy as it was. . .well, maybe it was just a mite too much to carry, at times. Just maybe, is all he was sayin’.
Maybe it was makin’ him just a little bit crazy, tryin’ so hard to stay away from the boy. Just maybe.
All of these thoughts passed through his head with nary an expression crossing his face. Just staring stolidly off into the darkness, hands in his pockets, and thinking to himself. So self-contained, as ever. Not looking for trouble, but it found him, all on its own.
Distracted by his thoughts, sure, but Zeke was still aware as ever of his surroundings. Which is why he was able to turn just as Myron came barreling around the corner of the wall of sandbags, not watching where he was going at all (not smart, LT, not smart at all, where is your brain, boy? Even the base ain’t safe and you damn well know it). Zeke turned quick and managed to catch hold of the obviously enraged lieutenant, instead of the two of them falling into a tangle. Caught hold, and Myron pulled back, pissed-off look on his face, ready to ream Zeke out for daring to be in his way.
Myron had that angry, angry expression on his face, the one he got when there was *no* dealing with him, when there was only one true way and it was *his* way. Only way to deal with that was to ignore the attitude till he got knocked down a few pegs. Pulled himself together a bit.
But. But he had hold of Myron and wasn’t letting go, and they were here, right on the edge of a US Army compound and there could be eyes anywhere, and Myron was glaring at him and breathing heavy and he was just gonna *have* to kiss him if he didn’t . . .okay, he was lettin’ go, right fucking *now*.
Dropped his hold, the one that had held Myron still (frozen even in his anger), and Myron, coming to himself, jerked angrily away just as Zeke released him.
"Sergeant, if you don’t mind getting out of my way, you *really* don’t want to talk to me right now." Myron was actually shaking, and was gonna find himself in a whole mess of trouble if Zeke let him go on his merry way.
He knew how to deal with this attitude, and his voice was filled with amusement as he asked, "LT, just what is goin’ on to make you so damn mad tonight?"
Myron spun, pacing away, literally throwing his hands up in the air. "Everything! All of this. I can’t get anything done, anything at all, without command throwing things in my way, just for the fun of it I guess, because I sure as hell can’t find any other earthly reason for it!"
"Now, how is that any different from the way it was yesterday?" Zeke kept that smile on his face as he watched his LT dig out his cigarettes, pull one out, and light it, still with that angry posture and jerky movements.
"It just is! It isn’t any different, that’s just it! I mean. . ." He growled. "Oh, hell, you *know* what I mean!"
"Yes, LT, I surely do, but stormin’ all over base and pickin’ fights ain’t gonna solve anything and you know that, you do." His voice still carried that soft tone of amusement and he guessed it got through a bit to the LT, because Myron stood there, near trembling for a moment, before he gave a nod and a twisted smile, eyes glinting in the dark. Then he took a sharp drag on the cigarette and blew out the smoke with a puff of frustration
"Nope, not gonna solve anything." He took another drag, no longer looking at Zeke, but instead into the jungle waiting off there in the darkness. "And I know it," he added softly.
Zeke stood there, hands still in pockets, rocking back on his heels, waiting till Myron looked at him again, as he’d known he would. "Yes, sir, you sure do. Now, why don’t you stop wastin’ all this energy chargin’ around and searchin’ for trouble and come and have a drink with me?" Can’t hurt and might calm my. . .your. . .nerves a bit.
Myron took another angry drag and crushed the half-finished butt out under his boot. He shook his head, laughing a little, looking at the ground, before he tilted his head to look sideways over at Zeke. "I have a better idea."
Uh-oh, this was trouble in the makin’, Zeke could just tell. Taggin’ after the tightly wound LT was just beggin’ for the stockade. Uh-uh. Back away quick, that should be the plan.
Myron stood for a second, still sending Zeke that hot look through his eyelashes. Stood in silence a moment too long, a moment that brought Zeke forward a step closer to him. Did so, even knowing for sure, that there were eyes on them, as always. He didn’t dare lay hands on the boy, not at camp, not out here.
Then Myron spun on his heel, stalking off through camp, clearly expecting Zeke to follow at his heels.
Zeke looked out at the jungle, then up at the stars, taking a deep breath of the sticky night air. Then he ambled off after the lieutenant.
Yes, sir, he surely did.
The cool air blasting over them was like a blessing from heaven. The noise from the air-conditioner dimmed the camp noises from outside. The radio on, playing "A Whiter Shade of Pale", completed the feeling that they’d stepped out of the swampy air of Camp Barnett and into another world entirely.
Damn door even had a lock on it, and it was securely fastened. Just what *didn’t* Lieutenant McKay get away with, here in the quarters he shared with Myron?
Zeke glanced around, slightly uneasy, even though his features didn’t register it. "Just where is McKay tonight, LT?"
Myron, cigarette clamped between his lips, busily pulling cold beers out of Johnny’s fridge, just gave a shrug. "Not here."
He turned and walked over to where Zeke sat with arms crossed over the back of the desk chair. Handed him a beer, the bottle sweating a bit in the still-overly warm air of the room, the air-conditioner no real match for the heat outside. Zeke took the offered beer, feeling Myron’s fingers linger just a little against his as they grasped the cool bottle. A shiver went through him, right up his spine. Myron released the bottle, pulled the cigarette out of his mouth after taking in a lungful of smoke. Raised his chin a bit, gesturing at Zeke’s telling shiver.
"Not that cold in here, Sergeant," he said in that throaty voice before releasing the smoke.
Still had that hard edge to his voice. The one that told Zeke, clear as words, that he was so *not* okay, it wasn’t even funny. Needed to take the edge off, big time. So why the hell were they in here (*locked* in here), together, here together, alone together, in the LT’s hooch? Zeke wondered just what danger they were courting now.
Not that he was going anywhere. He just liked to know what was coming.
For someone he knew so damn well (too damn well), the boy threw him off-balance better’n anybody. A dangerous game was in the works tonight.
Myron wouldn’t (couldn’t?) settle down. Was hiding the pacing by performing little tasks. Moving the ashtray from the desk to the bedside table. Picking up a book from where it lay open on his bed. Myron’s bedside reading consisted of The Grapes of Wrath, Zeke could see, as he tilted his head to look at the title. Myron caught him craning to look, and smiled at him as he carefully marked his place with a bit of paper. Zeke refused to drop his gaze, though he jumped a bit when he felt caught by Myron. Gave him a smile. Wasn’t no English lit major like the boy here, but he could be interested in books, too.
The LT would know that if he hadn’t pulled back so sudden from their closeness when they’d come to Tan San Nhut. For a period of months, it was like they was nothin’ but passin’ acquaintances, and that hurt, for a time, it really did. The LT being distracted like that. The loss of Nikki, someone who, for some unknown reason, he thought he could trust, making him flinch away from Zeke like he was fire itself. Not wanting to trust again, get burned again, no way.
That worked out real well for you, didn’t it?
Myron turned, leaned against the bedside table. "Johnny," he said, taking a last drag and carefully crushing out the cigarette, "is in Saigon for the night." He picked up his beer from where it rested next to his book and his glasses. "You," he said, gesturing at Zeke with the long-necked bottle, "are right here." He took a long pull of the beer. "And we," and this time the grin Zeke got was edging towards somewhat normal, "are going to get drunk on Johnny’s beer tonight, and pretend we are anywhere else but Vietnam."
Zeke turned his head slightly to one side, giving Myron a look, raised eyebrow and all. Is that such a good idea, LT? Again, no words needed.
Myron lowered his head, mock-glared at him. "That’s an order, Sergeant."
Zeke nodded carefully, took a swig of cold beer. "Whatever you say, LT. You’re in charge of this particular mission."
"Guess I am." Myron laughed grimly, taking another long drink, finishing the beer quick. Too quick. Careful, LT. "In charge." Myron shook his head, hard, like trying to clear an image from his mind. "That’s me." He held up the bottle, looking to see if it was empty. Headed to the fridge and dug out two more. Walked over to hand one to Zeke.
"LT." Zeke’s voice was firm, attention-getting. Refused to reach out to take the fresh beer till Myron raised his eyes, looked at him. The LT couldn’t quite meet his eyes. "You gonna tell me what in particular has got you so worked up tonight?" His voice was slightly incredulous, trying to draw Myron out, get it explained before it ate the young lieutenant up inside.
Myron’s mouth twisted into that sideways smile once more. "Me? Nothing at all. I’m fine, just fine. Everybody’s in my face over every little goddamn thing, but I’m fine." His voice was rising steadily and he paced away from Zeke, taking a drink. "I’m in charge, sure I’m in charge, but they give me no power to control anything. So, really, what I’m in charge of, what I’m *really* in charge of, is taking kids out," Here his voice broke, and he attempted to cover it with a laugh. "Taking kids out, and keeping them there till they die." He laughed again, pacing away and then back, finally meeting Zeke’s eyes. Myron’s own eyes were fucked-up, barren and swimming all at once. "That’s," he said firmly, gesturing once more towards Zeke with the neck of his bottle. "*That’s* what I’m in charge of." Another swig. "And *that’s* what has me all – worked – up – tonight."
Zeke sat real still, just nodding slowly, his eyes never leaving Myron’s face. His voice, when he finally spoke, was soft and slow, accent heavy. "LT." Once again he waited, as Myron paced the room and back, then finally stopped, raising his eyes to Zeke’s face again. "*You*," Zeke said with finality. "you are in charge of keeping those kids as safe as you can, for as long as you can." Myron shook his head hard, and Zeke rose abruptly, pushing the chair out of his way. "You are in charge of doing the very best you can, given what we’ve got. Doing the best possible job you can."
Myron was just standing there, his face a mask of frustrated anger. Lost. Just staring at Zeke. Not believing him by half.
"You, LT, you’re in command." Zeke walked a few steps forward, more sure now of what Myron needed. What he needed to hear. What he needed from Zeke. What Zeke needed, too, needed in return. "You fight with command, you fight with the desk jockeys who don’t know nothin’, *nothin’*, ‘bout what it is we’re goin’ through."
Zeke had gotten right up close to Myron now, and Myron had dropped his eyes to the floor, hands hanging down, beer held loosely, forgotten, in his right hand.
"That’s what you do, LT." Zeke took Myron’s face in his hands, made him raise his head, made him look into his eyes. "You keep ‘em alive, LT, and you’re better at it than any officer I know. Hey," he said, as Myron attempted to shake his head, "better than *any* officer I know. You got that?"
Myron was just looking at him with that desolate gaze. No tears, just lost. Lost. And Zeke did the only thing he could think of to help him hold on. Kissed him, hard, with as much love as he could muster. First his hands held Myron’s face still, then he dropped them to hold the LT’s hips, pulled him close, and Myron stepped forward, unresisting. Let himself get pulled into the kiss.
Wanted to get pulled into that kiss. Wanted to never come back from it. It was good, so good. This was what Myron wanted, what he needed, what he’d been missing. Knew he shouldn’t be doing this here, doing this now, knew it was dangerous, and he didn’t care. He needed this, needed it badly, was going to break, was right on the very edge of breaking.
Felt that edge close, so close, and knew he couldn’t give into it. Knew that his sergeant was right, that he was right at the front lines between those kids and death, and that if he fell, if he fucked up, if he let himself fall over that edge, he’d be replaced by someone much, much more likely to get them killed.
He wasn’t the best, but he was the closest thing to it that these kids were going to get.
So, if getting lost in a kiss was the thing that kept him from flying into a million pieces, wasn’t that a small price to pay?
He thought maybe it was.
Myron held back at first. Nothing like how soft and close he’d been, when Zeke’d stayed awake holding him till the wee hours of the morning a few weeks back. Myron was returning the kiss, but it was harsh, desperate, and his body withheld, stiff with tension, unable to give in. Zeke pulled back just a tiny bit, just enough to get Myron’s eyes to open, let him see the small smile on Zeke’s face.
The smile that said, I know. That said, oh yes, everyday is a useless battle. Useless, ‘less you’re here. Here to protect them. Hell, here to protect *me*, LT. Need you here. Need you whole.
Stay together, LT.
Then, slow, slow, keeping his eyes on those (enormous) brown ones staring back at him, Zeke came closer. . .closer. . .finally closed his eyes and kissed Myron, giving his all. Resistance for just a second, then Myron melted against him. Dropped that hard-edged front and just gave in.
Not a pushover, not hardly.
Hard as ice. Hard as rock. Wanting, needing, but never giving an inch till he was ready to break. Never giving at all, if it would hurt one of his men. It was what he was, what kept him going. What kept him whole.
And sometimes. . .sometimes, he needed to lean. Needed to lean, and just couldn’t, couldn’t let himself. Had to be led there, had to be pushed there. So much the LT, couldn’t ever be just Myron.
Zeke tried not to let it break his heart. Sometimes it felt like Myron was holding himself together though sheer will alone. Zeke couldn’t let it break his heart. But he could hold Myron, hold him close, feel him tremble, whole-body trembles as he released that tightly-held core of himself, that part that was always held in check. That young part, the part that he kept hidden.
Zeke wanted, ever and always, to protect this kid.
The LT melted and Zeke held on, and they held each other together, there in the heat of a Vietnam summer. Wasn’t always easy, that. But all you can do is try to hold the pieces together.
All you can do is try.
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