Title: Two of a Kind
Summary: A vignette featuring Face, Murdock, and The Jacket. Short, sweet, and sappy. A reply to a challenge.
Disclaimer: I don't own them sob!, I wish I did sigh, and I'm not making any money rats!. I'm just one of those lunatic fans they always warned you about maniacal laugh.
TWO OF A KIND
Two weeks. Two weeks of sloshing around in a hot, sticky jungle that reminded me way too much of Vietnam, looking for guerillas that reminded me way too much of the Viet Cong. Two weeks of close quarters with BA, whose perpetual Bad Attitude had only gotten worse since the plane ride over. Two weeks of Hannibal on the Jazz. And two weeks of listening to Murdock's constant commentary on anything and everything and nothing.
I was sick and tired of it. As Sister Mary Esther used to say, I had only one nerve left.
Murdock was on it.
Today's particular lecture was on aerodynamics as applied to paper airplanes. As usual, none of it was making very much sense. Normally I'd just try and ignore him for a while, but it's hard to ignore someone for very long when you're stuck together on a boat. A very small boat.
I shouldn't have said it, but too little sleep and too many memories and way too much adrenaline had all taken their toll. Which is why I turned from where I was standing on the front of the boat.
"Murdock, don't you ever shut up?"
Actually, he does. Instantly his mouth snapped shut and he got that kicked-dog look on his face -- the one he usually reserves for BA. He looked like he was about to reply, but I never heard what he said.
I don't know how it happened. One minute I was on the boat, next minute I was in the river. The shock of hitting the water took my breath away, and I had to fight the urge to gasp. Churned-up bottom mud clouded my vision, made it hard to see which way was up. I felt as much as saw it when the shadow passed over me, churning the already-murky water into a black, cold void.
*The boat. Oh, no, I'm under the boat!* I thrashed around for a minute, trying to find the surface. *God, please don't let me die.*
Funny how the most sincere prayers I say are always uttered in life-threatening moments.
I heard the dull ka-ploosh of something heavy entering the river and dimly spotted a shadowy form approaching through the water. *Great. I'm either going to drown or be eaten by a crocodile. What a choice.*
Drowning, however, seemed like the winning option. Try as I might, I couldn't find which way was up. Just as darkness began to cloud the edges of my sight, I felt something -- an arm? -- encircle my chest and drag me upwards.
The surface and oxygen came as welcome surprises, and I gasped for air while trying to get away from whatever it was that held me. Then a voice broke into my struggle.
"Easy there, Muchacho! Just go limp and lemme get ya to shore, okay?"
We came to shore a few hundred yards downstream from where I'd fallen in. Murdock and I, both soaked and exhausted, sat panting on the ground as the boat pulled up, undependable diesel motor sputtering all the way. Hannibal leapt over the side and waded through the shallows, Murdock's jacket and two towels slung over one shoulder.
"You two all right?" He asked, tossing Murdock a towel and the jacket.
"Yeah, Colonel, we're fine." Murdock responded.
"Good." Hannibal turned to me with that crazy sparkle in his eyes. "You know I don't mind if you go swimming, Lieutenant, but tell us you're going next time!" He tossed the other towel into my lap.
Before I could come up with an appropriate retort, the motor sputtered, coughed, and died.
"HANNIBAL!" BA hollered. "This motor just bit the dust, man. Gonna take all night to fix it this time!"
Hannibal sighed. "Okay, looks like we're pitching camp here. We'll sleep on the boat. BA and I will see what we can do about the motor. You two relax."
"Right." Murdock nodded, toweling the last drops of moisture out of his hair. He glanced over at me. "You look like you're freezin'."
"I am. How can a river in the middle of the jungle be so cold?"
He shrugged. "One of them mysteries of life." He shook out his jacket, the only dry article of clothing between us, and slung it over my shoulders. Then he stood up. "Take it easy. I'm gonna go change."
It wasn't until I'd gotten over the shock of Murdock letting his jacket out of his sight that it really hit me.
Murdock had saved my life.
That's Murdock for you. I insult him and he saves my life. I sat by the water drying out while Murdock, having changed clothes, rooted noisily through his pack behind me. I turned around to watch him.
By now he'd dug out his grubby pack of "lucky" cards and was shuffling them rapidly, long fingers flying. He sidled over to where BA was sitting, hunched over a component of our uncooperative engine.
"Hey, BA, wanna see a card trick?"
BA grunted. "No, fool. Ain't got time for no stupid card tricks."
"C'mon, BA, lighten up. Watch. First the queen is here, then she's here, then she disappears!" He flicked his wrist and the card vanished. "Pretty neat, huh? Guy across the hall taught it to me. Nice guy, except he thinks he's Houdini."
"Shut up, fool, before I make you disappear!"
Murdock stuck out his tongue. "Spoilsport."
"Are too. Now for this next trick you'll have to pick a card . . . ."
Murdock and those lucky cards. I laughed to myself, remembering the first time I'd ever seen that deck of cards. It couldn't have been too long after I'd joined the unit that Murdock and I got into a poker game together . . . .
*"Whatcha got?" Same long fingers and crazy grin, but the cards were new then.
"Full house. Read 'em and weep!" I fanned my cards out with a satisfied expression on my face.
"Two kings. I win!" Murdock grinned crazily.
"Huh?" I looked at his cards in disbelief. "You do not!"
"Do not! Murdock, two of a kind doesn't beat anything!"
"Sure it does, Faceman. Just look at us!"
"Huh?" Then, as usual, I didn't have any idea what he was talking about.
"We're two of a kind, you and me, and there ain't nothin' in the world that can beat us!"*
Two of a kind . . . .
The Air Force pilot and the Army Ranger. Brown eyes and blue. Crazy and sane. The opposites that attracted, like the two poles of a magnet -- or the two sides of a coin. Two brothers, as different as night and day.
But brothers just the same.
Murdock caught me watching him over my shoulder and sauntered over. He was barefoot, his treasured high-tops hanging from a tree limb to dry. His hair stuck out crazily from under his still-drying ball cap, and his nimble fingers shuffled the cards with practiced ease. HAVE YOU SEEN MY MIND? His light-blue T-shirt enquired. IT SEEMS I'VE lOST IT.
The man who proved the T-shirt's point grinned. "Heya, Faceyman. Looks like you're dryin' out."
"I suppose now my hair is all poufy?"
"My hairdresser is never going to forgive me, do you know that?"
My best friend laughed. "Ah, I'm sure you can get her to understand." He flopped down next to me. "Wanna play cards?"
"Sure." I watched him shuffle the deck, trying to think of a way to frame my apology. Finally, I settled for the direct approach. "Hey, Murdock? I'm sorry."
"For what, Face?" He never even looked up.
"What I said before."
"S'okay, Face." He said quietly. "Don't worry 'bout it."
"No, it's not okay. I shouldn't have said that. I just . . . I was . . . ." That's another thing about Murdock. Excuses just don't seem to make sense around him. "I didn't mean it."
"I know." He said, then paused to deal a hand of poker. "I was rememberin', too." He scooped up his cards. "So are we talkin', or are we playin' cards?"
Forgiven and forgotten in the blink of an eye. That's how it's always been when Murdock and I argue or say something we don't mean. One apology, one acceptance and it's forgotten for good.
I shrugged Murdock's jacket off and ran my thumb over the tiger's fading snarl. The jacket was well-worn, comfortable, slightly eccentric -- something you wouldn't see every day. Like Murdock, in a way.
I've know Murdock for a long time. He's been my best friend since I was eighteen. Truth is, even I don't understand him all the time, and I probably never will. Murdock's a man of many faces, many moods, many feelings -- and many personalities. Sometime those multiple personalities can really grate on everyone else's nerves. And sometimes it can seem like Murdock is never the same person twice.
Kinda like someone else I know.
I held the jacket out. "Thanks for the loan."
"Don't mention it." He pushed my cards towards me and I picked them up, almost smiling at my hand. Two kings. After all, nothing beats two of a kind.
Murdock pulled his jacket back on and grinned. "Loser gets guard duty tonight."
I grinned back. "Deal." Losing would be my way of making it up to him.
Murdock cast some cards down. "Dealer takes two."
"I'll take three."
We're two of a kind, Murdock and I.
I wouldn't have it any other way.
"You think you could teach me to make a paper airplane?"