Author: Jaz22 PM
My first-ever fanfic, way back from 2003! It still holds a special place in my heart. See inside for summary.Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Drama/Angst - Words: 11,841 - Reviews: 1 - Published: 12-02-09 - Status: Complete - id: 5552719
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Disclaimer: Tour of Duty and the characters herein are the property of Zev Braun Productions. No copyright infringement is intended, and no money is being made from this story.
Summary: A final attempt at reconciliation between Zeke and Myron in the wake of the events of the episode The Good, the Bad and the Dead. This story is a continuation of the Storm Cycle Trilogy originally written by DC.
A/N: It is with permission from DC that I use her premise. I recommend reading her trilogy first. You can find it at: /text/DC/stories/stormfrontsdothtm ('.' spelled dot to bypass the ff filters.)
Anderson was the first one off the chopper, jumping off the deck before the skids even came to rest on the soil of Ladybird. He walked away without a backwards glance, ignoring the dust that blew up into his face from the rotors winding down, driven by a need to be away from the men, a need to be alone with his thoughts.
Today's mission had not gone well.
Though it had not been the disaster the last one was, there was no doubt it was still a washout. At least today's mission hadn't resulted in any casualties. A vision of Horn reaching out his hand to him, covered in his own blood, flashed before Zeke's eyes, but he quickly pushed it away. He didn't want to go there again.
This mission should have been simple enough. Two days of humping the boonies. They were seeking out a ville that had been reported as a possible VC outpost. They had found the ville this morning, and there had been plenty of evidence of VC activity. But they had missed them—the VC were gone now, leaving behind the civilians of the village to tend to their meager lives. Uncertain as to whether they'd be back, the platoon had waited. And then the decision had come in to destroy the village. To align yourself with an enemy of Uncle Sam was to become an enemy of Uncle Sam. He himself had given the order to burn the hootches. Lord, but how he hated that. The sickly sweet smell of the straw and the mud going up in flames was something he would always remember. These people had so little as it was, and then the good ol' US army comes in to destroy what's left. Every time they set a village on fire, a small part of Zeke Anderson died. And after three tours, there wasn't too much of him left.
And then there was the way things were with the LT….
His tired mind didn't want to go there either. But it was a reality that something inside him said needed to be dealt with. Too much had been left hanging. And it was affecting the way they worked together. Even the men were able to sense that something was wrong. The lieutenant had second-guessed every recommendation that Zeke made. Maybe not in an obvious way, but enough so that even Zeke himself began to question his own judgment. Hell, he'd been questioning his judgment since he persuaded Goldman to make Decker a part of the platoon.
And as events would testify, with good reason.
So by the second day of the mission, Zeke had taken to keeping his mouth shut. Let the lieutenant make the calls. And Goldman had done fine, a testimony to the good officer he was well on his way to becoming. Zeke was proud of him, and of the part he'd played in bringing the younger man along.
But the trust was gone. And Zeke wasn't sure if he could deal with that.
Zeke was halfway to his own hootch when the voice finally reached his ears.
"Sarge? Hey, Sarge!"
Zeke turned to see young Daniel Percell jogging to catch up. He slowed his own pace to wait for the man. The sergeant's need to be alone still took second place to the needs of his men. It always would. "What's up, Percell?"
"Sarge, me and the guys, we were just wondering if you'd heard anything more on how Horn was doing…"
"Well, son, last I heard he was doin' fine, still mending himself down at Chu-lai. His wound ain't serious enough to earn him a ticket back to The World, so I imagine in a few weeks he'll be back here with the rest of your sorry butts." He paused to look more deeply at Percell, vaguely wondering if he was as badly in need of a shower as the man in front of him. A small smile crossed his tired face. "As you can see, I just got back to base here my own self. Relax, Percell…I'll be checkin' on Horn again first thing tomorrow. I'll let ya know what I find."
For a moment, the ever present mischief glimmered briefly behind Zeke's blue eyes before being chased away by the shadows. Percell was glad to see it, however fleeting it had been. The guys in the squad would have to be blind not to notice what was going on between Anderson and Goldman. Danny debated whether or not he should mention it now, and decided to risk it.
"Sarge, maybe this is none of my business. Maybe I shouldn't say nothin', but is everything okay between you and the LT?"
Zeke's gaze shifted out to the tree line just beyond the wire and he stared into the dimness beyond. The shadows were getting longer. Evening was making its rapid descent, and in less than an hour, Ladybird would be enveloped in the black of night. The air felt moist, thick, hot, and the threat of rain lingered. He left the question hanging in the air, unanswered.
Danny continued, undaunted. "I know things kinda blew up over Decker. I figure maybe that's what's goin' on. But I just want you to know, Sarge, that none of the guys blame you for what happened. That was Decker's fault. The guy never shoulda been drinkin' on duty."
Zeke's gaze returned to Percell's face. "Maybe not, Danny. But the fact is, he never woulda been on duty if I hadn't put him there. LT's got a right to be…"
"Anderson!" Lt. Goldman called from twenty feet away.
"Yes Sir!" Zeke turned back and answered with a twinge of the guilt he'd been dealing with still ringing in his voice.
"Capt. Wallace wants us in CP in ten minutes for a debriefing."
"On my way, Lieutenant." Turning to face Percell again, the sergeant suddenly felt bone-weary. "Look here, Percell. I do appreciate the concern, son. But I figure this is just somethin' that's gonna have to work itself out."
"Yeah." Danny responded. "But Sarge, maybe if you just talk things out with the LT…"
Anderson thought back to his unspoken promise of three mornings past, made standing near a wall of damp sandbags as the lieutenant mentally prepared himself to meet the day.
It won't happen again. I will never give you reason to think you have misplaced that trust of yours. I owe you my friendship. I owe you my loyalty. I will earn your trust. He had felt then that they could get past this, but now he wasn't so sure.
"Some things, Danny, are just better left unsaid."
The rain had just begun its steady dance on the roof of the Command Post bunker as Myron finished giving Captain Rusty Wallace his report. He watched the older man's face, the frustration that was becoming evident, and prepared himself for whatever outburst was headed his way. He felt his hackles rising, the anger that had become so much a part of him these past few years coming to the fore. He wore his defensiveness around him like a cloak.
Today's failure had nothing to do with him; it was just a result of bad timing and faulty information. He had been willing to accept the blame for the last mission. Though Zeke had urged him to take on Decker, it had been his call, and he had made it, despite feeling more than a little uncertain about Decker himself. And though Horn had paid the real price for his mistake, the lieutenant accepted responsibility, and he felt he'd stood up well to face the music. Resigned his features and took it on the chin, in his mind never allowing his emotions to show, giving away the turmoil he felt within. He'd had plenty of practice with the General in taking the blame without flinching. Maybe the General would even be proud of him for owning up.
Myron shut out thoughts of his father before they had a chance to take root and pulled his mind back to the task before him. He shifted his stance, unconsciously preparing himself for battle.
The captain noticed his posture and worked at hiding the smile that suddenly threatened to overtake him. He leaned back in his chair, once again amazed at how prickly the young lieutenant could be, and how poor a job he did of hiding it. Every emotion the young man ever had could be felt from miles away.
Rusty looked over to the still silent Sergeant Anderson and wondered what was happening between the two men. It didn't look as if this mission had done any wonders in repairing their splintered relationship. Time will tell…
"So you had no enemy contact whatsoever?" the captain asked, incorporating both men in his question.
It was Goldman who answered. "No, Sir. I don't think they could have been gone long—but all we found were several weapons and a store of ammo."
"Sergeant?" Capt. Wallace looked over to where Zeke was standing, his M-16 resting heel down on the boot of his right foot.
"I agree with what the lieutenant said, Sir. We didn't miss 'em by much. It don't seem likely they knew we was comin', but stranger things have happened." Zeke's eyes briefly caught and held the captain's glance, before he resumed staring at a point just beyond his shoulder.
"Alright, gentlemen," the captain paused, attempting to gather his thoughts. Without warning, he suddenly shifted gears and pulled out a map from the pile of papers carelessly tossed on the table in front of him.
"Goldman, you can give me a written report at your convenience. We're gonna put this one behind us. I've got new orders for you." He took the typewritten OP order in his left hand and glanced briefly at it, at the same time tossing the map in the direction of the lieutenant. "A simple one-day insertion. In and out. Our special forces captured an NVA colonel, who has rather reluctantly given us information on a reported NVA weapons cache. Lieutenant, I want you to take your men out and do a recon of CP Lima Foxtrot 0036 and see if there's anything there. If you find his information is correct and locate the weapons, call in an air strike and head for home. There is no reported NVA activity in the vicinity. Make radio contact every three hours. If you miss a contact or lose contact entirely, a chopper will be waiting for you at pickup zone Alpha at 1900 hours. Any questions?"
The lieutenant waited quietly beside Zeke, fully expecting the sergeant to balk at the change in orders for his men, knowing they would barely have time to get their gear repacked before heading out again. However, Zeke remained silent, a fact that was not lost on either Capt. Wallace or Lt. Goldman. As Myron risked a quick glimpse towards the sergeant, he wished again that things could be different between them. But that would require a break in his own defenses, a renewal of trust. And he wasn't sure he could trust anyone right now. Wasn't sure he wanted to.
"Alright, then. Dismissed."
Myron bent his elbow in a salute aimed toward the captain before stooping to gather up his gear. He looked directly at Sergeant Anderson as the older man mimicked the officer's movements. "Sergeant…" he began tentatively.
"Yessir?" Zeke returned the gaze of the young man standing before him, but his eyes were guarded, his stance somewhat defeated.
Myron thought better of what he'd been about to say. Maybe he wasn't ready yet after all. "I'll let the men in on the new orders—I'm heading that way in a few minutes anyway. Why don't you go get yourself cleaned up so you can head on back to quarters and catch some sleep?"
Zeke allowed a faint smile to cross his lips. "I never sleep, sir."
"All the same, Sergeant, I'll tell the squad. See you at first light." With that, Myron placed his helmet on to provide what little protection from the rain he could get and headed out into the darkness beyond the flap of the tent.
For the second time in nearly as many days, Zeke found himself alone with Captain Wallace. He half-turned back to face him and found the captain's questioning eyes staring back at him. He decided retreat was the better option and was about to exit the CP himself when the officer dragged him back with a single question.
"How's it goin', Zeke?"
Zeke considered pretending he didn't know what the "it" was the captain was referring to, but he knew the other man's concern was real and justified. As both a friend and as an officer. If the platoon leader and platoon sergeant couldn't work as a team, there was no telling what might happen. These men and the men serving under them depended on each other for their very lives. If their heads weren't squared away, people could end up dead. Boys could end up dead. For that reason, Rusty Wallace wasn't about to look the other way when it came to this now tangled relationship shared by Zeke and his LT.
Some of the weariness crept back into Zeke's voice. "It ain't goin' so hot, Captain. I don't know, but I been thinkin' that maybe time ain't gonna fix this thing after all." He stopped, hoping that would be enough, but Captain Wallace leaned back in his chair and waited patiently.
Zeke sighed and continued. "The lieutenant—he's got a lot of things on his mind, ya know? Trust ain't never been one of his strong points—we both know that. Maybe he did start to trust me there for a while, but that…well, it got screwed up. And I … hell, I don't know, maybe it's harder for a guy like him to trust someone that's already let him down. Maybe he's better off with someone new, a fresh start."
"Don't get me wrong, Captain. I think he's gonna be a fine officer someday. Hell, he's more than halfway there already. But maybe it's up to somebody else to take him the rest of the way."
Captain Wallace allowed some of the confusion he felt to show in his eyes as he looked at the tired man standing in front of him. He pushed the chair back out from under him and stood up, distractedly running a hand through his hair. He wasn't sure he liked what he was hearing. "What exactly are you getting at, Zeke?"
For a minute, the old Zeke, the one with no uncertainties who always spoke his mind without hesitation came to the surface. He saw no other way than to simply state the idea that had been running around in his head for the last two days. "Captain, a buddy of mine from the First Cav, where I served my first tour, has hooked up with Special Forces. He's been buggin' me for a while to come 'n join him, 'n I was thinkin' that maybe the time is right for me to move on." Hearing the words out loud for the first time, Anderson made an effort to push back the return of his uncertain emotions. Maybe it was the right time. He just wished he could be sure. It wasn't like him to be second-guessing himself. He hated that feeling.
The captain sat back down hard in his chair. Whatever he had been expecting the sergeant to say, it sure as hell hadn't been this. For the life of him, he couldn't seem to come up with anything intelligent to say. The words hung on the rain-dampened air as he worked to take in the possibility of losing the best platoon sergeant he'd ever worked with.
"Damn, Zeke." Wallace finally found his voice. "I know things are a little difficult with you and Myron right now, but... Damn."
Anderson shifted his weight to his other foot and absently lifted a hand to rub the knot forming in the back of his neck. This day just seemed to be getting longer every minute, and he was way past the point of being able to deal with any of this. Thoughts of a cold shower and a warm drink lingered in his mind. He briefly wondered how it was he could be in-country long enough to not even realize it should be the other way around.
Captain Wallace once again managed to put his mind back in gear, and schooled his features back into place. "Alright, Sergeant. I hear you. I know what you're saying about Lt. Goldman, but I'm not sure I agree with you. I still believe you two could have one of the best damn working relationships this Army has seen in a long time. I also suspect you had been working on a good friendship as well. And while you might believe that's gone for good, I think it's salvageable. Again, with time. It's only been a few days…" The captain paused to gather his thoughts. "Tell you what. You've got a mission at first light. You and I both know you need to get your head together before you go out there. So let's table this discussion for now. If, when you return tomorrow, you still feel it's best to transfer out, we'll begin to look into it. Or at least I'll consider it. But for now, consider yourself a permanent member of Bravo Company. Understood?"
"Yessir. Will that be all, Sir?" Zeke stood before the captain he respected and thought again longingly of his rack.
"Yeah, Zeke, that's all." He hesitated briefly. "I'll let you go if I have to, Sergeant. But I hope like hell you'll change your mind. Dismissed."
Zeke grabbed his gear and walked out into the rain, never even noticing Ruiz as he stood in the shadows behind the tent.
"Look, man, I'm just tellin' ya what I heard!" Alberto Ruiz defended himself back in the tent he shared with the rest of third squad.
"You're lyin, sucker. Sarge ain't never gonna take off on us. He can't!" Taylor sat up from his rack and looked over to Marvin Johnson, as if for affirmation. "Hell, ya think he wants to have to break in some new batch of FNGs when he's already got us all squared away?"
"I don't know nothin' about that, Taylor. Maybe he just got fed up with seeing your ugly face every morning," Ruiz answered.
Taylor let the remark slide and fell back against his pillow. "Yeah, well, I ain't gonna believe it even if I hear it comin' from Sarge's own mouth. It don't make no sense."
"When has anything in this war ever made sense?" Johnson asked no one in particular.
"I heard that," Percell answered. "But I'm telling ya, if there's one thing I knew I could always count on, it's Sarge." His deep blue eyes mirrored the confusion he felt. "The idea of headin' out into the bush without him along scares me to death." He turned to face Ruiz on the rack next to him. " You sure you heard right?"
"I'm sure, Danny, I'm sure." Ruiz regretted that he'd been anywhere near the CP tent.
"Well, geez, Roo, what were you doin' over there anyway?" Danny's question echoed Ruiz's thoughts.
"I didn't mean to be, man!" Ruiz sulked, "I was on my way back from the mess tent-taking a letter to Marlaina over to the post. It starts to rain, so I just take a short cut past the CP. I wasn't hanging out or nothing! But just as I was walking past, I heard the Sarge 'n Cap'n Wallace talking about the Sarge transferring out!"
Lt. Goldman chose this particular moment to enter the men's quarters with the news of their new orders. As usual, all conversation stopped when he entered. He tried not to let it get to him. But it still hurt.
He was the leader—he'd always be on the other side of the fence from these guys. That was the way he wanted it, right? But sometimes, sometimes he felt like just being one of the guys. To feel the friendship and the camaraderie that these men knew with each other. A closeness he'd never allowed with anyone—not since his mother's death.
Anderson had started to lead him down that path. He'd let himself lower his defenses. Anderson's warm, easy manner and gentle guiding had caught Myron off-guard, so that he'd never even realized he was becoming just what he needed—to be one of the men. Then Horn got hurt, and Myron still felt the pain of it now. The pain of letting Horn down. The pain of losing the men's trust. The pain of having to return to being the leader, the bad guy.
But none of that pain equaled what he felt at the thought of Anderson's leaving, and he wasn't sure he wanted to examine that too closely.
He'd heard Ruiz' comment. And all the men knew it. They watched him as the emotions passed fleetingly over his features, watched as his eyes became dark as midnight. He was silent for the briefest of moments, digesting what had been said. And then, the officer in him took over as the walls within were fortified. He cleared his throat and spoke.
"I know you guys were looking forward to a little light duty tomorrow, but our orders have been changed. We're heading back out. Skids up at Zero-600." A few of the men responded with something that sounded like Yessir. Though several of them thought about groaning over the change in orders, no one was willing to risk it in front of the lieutenant who was known for his unpredictable mood swings.
"LT?" Baker ventured. "How come you're giving us our orders? Where's Sarge? I thought that was his job." The big blonde Californian's mouth started working before his brain could follow.
"I'm just helping out, Baker. The last I saw of Anderson, he was in the CP talking with Captain Wallace." The look the lieutenant pointed in Ruiz' direction nearly bore into the other man's soul, and the tone of his voice ensured that no one else was interested in asking any more questions.
"Zero-600, gentlemen." With that, the lieutenant turned and pushed through the tent flap, headed for his own hootch and the bottle of whiskey he knew would be waiting in his foot locker.
Anderson lay on his cot, doing his best to get comfortable on the paper-thin mattress. The mosquito netting dangled over him, brushing against his legs with a tickling feeling, leaving him wondering if he'd almost be better off facing the bugs themselves. He stared blankly at the roof of the tent above him, listening to the rain as it ran down in hundreds of tiny rivers. Never one to sleep well, he had been sure that tonight would be different, despite the quiet conversations of the squad around him, as his tired body would finally defeat his overworked mind. But it was not to be.
His conversation with Captain Wallace played again in his head. He could see it happening, almost as if he were a casual observer, leaning against the tent post. He saw the look on the captain's face as he made his request. Saw the surprise there. But what caught him off guard was the look the casual observer in him saw on his own face. For surprise registered there too, and all at once, Anderson knew why.
Asking for a transfer was taking the easy way out. And he'd never been one to take the easy way out.
And he sure wasn't about to start now.
He allowed his mind to drift toward the work he'd have ahead of him to regain the lieutenant's trust. Maybe the captain was right. More time. Give it more time.
He remembered the first time he'd laid eyes on Goldman a few months back, standing beside the truck, looking as if he couldn't have been more than 16 years old. He'd been all spit and polish, out to prove to the world that the only son of Major General Martin Goldman could make it without riding on his father's laurels. Anderson's first impression was that this boy wouldn't last a week out in the bush, and the sergeant would find himself right back at square one in a matter of days with some other know-it-all lieutenant fresh from OCS.
But Goldman had surprised him. And not much surprised Zeke Anderson these days. Maybe that was what intrigued him so much about his new lieutenant. What caused him to stop and look a bit deeper, behind the rough surface to the scared young man inside. That scared young man who reached out unknowingly to Zeke's fiercely protective nature. Though the lieutenant was starting to learn to deal with those fears, to rise above them, the scared young man still lurked within. And Zeke was not about to leave him hanging. After all, that was what he was here in the Nam for. Not because he believed in the war. But because he could do something for the men who fought it. Men like Myron Goldman and the rest of the platoon.
He wasn't about to desert them. They needed him. And he needed them. They were his family. It didn't matter how long it took to regain the lieutenant's trust. He would do it.
Thinking back to what he'd told Percell about leaving some things unsaid, he wondered if maybe he was wrong. Maybe repairing this relationship with his platoon leader would require him to say what was on his mind, to tell the lieutenant he was sorry for what had happened. He'd never been good with words, but maybe it was worth a try.
His new resolve left him feeling better than if he'd had a full night's sleep. Pushing the mosquito netting aside, he rolled over and dropped his feet to the floor, reaching for the pants he'd just discarded. He quickly shoved his legs into them and threw on his boots, not bothering to tie the laces. There was a spring in his step and a whistle on his lips as he left the hootch and went to tell Captain Wallace he wouldn't be needing a transfer after all.
The old Zeke Anderson was back.
"Alright, Ladies! Let's MOVEIT! This ain't no slumber party! See if y'all can drag your ugly butts out of bed 'n make yourselves pretty. This war ain't gonna be waitin' on ya!"
Taylor cracked an eye and released his grip slightly on the pillow he'd been clinging to. His NCO's exuberance never did much for his early morning attitude. Only Sergeant Anderson could be this damn cheerful at this hour. He looked at the watch he still wore and saw that it was just past Zero-500. "C'mon, Sarge, lay off already. We don't have to be on that chopper for more than half-an-hour yet. This brother needs a little more shut-eye." He rolled back over on his stomach and resettled himself.
"True, Taylor, true. But I want you boys at your best this mornin'. Come on out 'n show the world the fine soldiers y'all are. Get your rifles packed, 300 rounds, plus three frags and a smoke. Rations for one day. Then get some chow, ladies, cuz we're on the choppers at zero-600. Let's rock 'n roll!"
Anderson used his combat boot to shake the nearest cot, where Ruiz still lay in the world halfway between slumber and waking. "You gonna be able to join us there, Ruiz?"
"Can I say no?" the young man grumbled.
"Now, what do you think, son?" Sarge answered, giving the private a gentle shove, all the while trying and failing to hide the smirk that wouldn't stay away. Lord, but he was in a good mood this morning.
Ruiz opted to speak his thoughts in Spanish, but the older man understood what he was getting at anyway.
"See y'all at the choppers at Zero-600. Look sharp, boys!" Zeke shifted his M-16 to his other shoulder and ducked down to exit the tent. The men of Third Squad felt a bit like they'd been run down by a truck. Percell looked over to Ruiz lying next to him and eyed him carefully. "Does Sarge seem a little happier to you than he's been the last few days, or is it just my imagination?"
"It ain't your imagination, Danny." Alberto sat up and swung his legs down to the floor, leaning over and resting his face in his hands. His frustration was evident to his hootchmate, even at this hour of the morning. He reached for his pack of cigarettes and the lighter that was never far away, pulling one out and placing it between his lips.
"What's up, Roo? You feelin' okay?" Danny asked from within his own rack while trying to kick his tired mind into gear.
"Yeah, I'm okay. Just thinking." He paused briefly before continuing. "You know why Sarge is so pumped up, don't you? He knows he's getting outta here. I'm tellin' ya, man, he's taking that transfer."
"Aw, c'mon, Roo, ya don't know that. I mean, I know what ya thought ya heard. But I'm still not buyin' it. Hell, if you're all that worked up over it, why don't ya ask Sarge yourself? Maybe we'd all feel a little better knowin' the answer." Percell couldn't imagine Bravo Company without Staff Sergeant Clayton Ezekial Anderson. It would be like removing its very heart and expecting it to continue to function normally.
"Forget it, man. I ain't asking him nothing. The way I figure it, we'll all know soon enough anyway." He lit the cigarette, savoring the way the smoke felt as it made its way to his lungs.
Percell shook his head at him and dragged himself off the bunk to begin the task of packing his rucksack, all the while wondering what the future would hold.
The noise of the rotors as the Huey lifted the squad into the air barely even registered in Lt. Goldman's mind. It wasn't loud enough to completely quiet his thoughts, though he tried to keep them at bay. He sat next to Baker on the deck, leaning back against the pilot's seat, directly across from the gunner in the open doorway. His legs were drawn up out of the way, arms draped across the knees and cradling the M-16 loosely within. He aimlessly looked out over the terrain below, shade after shade of green, running together in an endless blur.
Baker shifted slightly next to him, in an effort to adjust the radio that had become his responsibility since Roger Horn had been wounded and sent to recover in Chu-lai. The movement caused the lieutenant to shift as well, and he allowed himself a long look at the men who rode with him. Marvin Johnson, who sat listening to Marcus Taylor brag about some girl he knew back home. Danny Percell, just sitting quietly next to Alberto Ruiz, whose eyes were closed, head leaning back against the chopper's padded wall. "Doc" Randy Matsuda, looking through his bag of medical supplies, making sure everything was right where it should be. And Baker, good ol' Scott Baker, without a clue.
They were all his men. They looked to him for leadership. And he wasn't about to let them know he wasn't sure he could do it alone.
Finally, his gaze drifted over to where Anderson sat on the other side of the slick. His features held a certain light as he listened in on the conversation between Taylor and Johnson. The ends of his headband were being tossed about by the wind and there was a slight smile on his face. As if he somehow sensed the lieutenant was watching him, he turned until his blue eyes captured Myron's darker ones.
And then he smiled in earnest, the mischief dancing in his eyes.
Goldman wasn't entirely sure what to make of that smile. His first thought was the same one that Ruiz had imagined earlier that morning—that the sergeant was indeed transferring, and looking forward to it as well. But something in Anderson's look gave Goldman pause, and he wondered if there wasn't another cause for the sergeant's change in mood.
Anderson broke the contact, releasing the other man from his gaze, the smile lingering on his face.
Goldman stared at his sergeant for a moment longer, bewilderment clouding his features. The change in the pitch of the engine's whine caused him to look out at the approaching LZ. He swung his rifle around and pulled back on the bar even as Anderson shouted out the command to lock and load. As he did every time they reached an insertion point, he wiped his mind of everything but the mission ahead of them and allowed himself to give in to the rush of adrenaline that swelled within him as he watched the ground rise up to meet them.
Sp/4 Johnson's hand closed into a fist and rose silently in the air at the same moment that he lowered his body into a crouching position, his eyes on the terrain in front of him. Each man in the squad immediately followed suit, save for the sergeant who began to move up from his position in the front third of the line. Lt. Goldman, who was further back, waited half a minute before he also began to make his way to the front of the line, followed closely by Baker as the RTO.
Johnson waited for all three men to join him before pointing through the thinning trees to where they could see water flowing, lazily creating a path through the jungle. "We've made the river, LT."
"So I see." Myron said dryly. "Baker, get over here with that radio." He lifted the antenna and picked up the receiver from Baker's shoulder. "Red Dog six, this is Bravo two-six."
"Go ahead, two-six."
"We have reached checkpoint Delta. No sign of NVA target. We are awaiting rendezvous with First Squad.
"Roger, two-six. Their current position puts them about one klick to your Sierra Echo. Sit tight."
"Roger. Out." Goldman handed the receiver back to Baker and looked back over the men, who still sat crouched and ready. They had been patrolling for nearly seven hours with only a few short breaks, and nothing to show for it. It was now well past lunch, and he knew the men were tired and hungry.
"Alright, sergeant. Have the men break for chow."
"Yessir, LT. Alright, listen up, boys! Third Squad, I want you to set up security--15 yards out. The rest of y'all break out your c-rats, but keep your eyes 'n ears open. We're in Charlie's country here, so let's keep it quiet 'n maybe he'll stay home where he belongs." Though Anderson didn't speak much above a whisper, his voice carried down the line.
"Percell, Taylor." Both men turned and looked at the sergeant.
"You boys remember—First Squad'll be comin' in. Let's not shoot 'em up when they get here." He smiled and nodded for them to carry on.
Percell nodded in return and moved to set up a perimeter about 10 meters to the right of Taylor. His disappointment over not eating right now was minimal—though he was hungry, he was in no rush to get to his C-rats.
Barely 15 minutes had gone by before he saw a movement in the bushes on the other side of the river. He raised his M-16 and set his line of fire, all the while praying it was just the remainder of his platoon. When the first American soldier cautiously stepped out from the bush, he lowered his rifle and released the breath he'd unconsciously been holding. After waiting a moment to visually confirm that it was First Squad, he turned and motioned to Taylor, who made his way back to the LT with the report.
The news that First Squad had confirmed the location of the weapons cache came as a pleasant surprise to Myron. He grabbed the radio and called in the coordinates for an air strike. There was nothing left for Goldman's men to do but pack up and head to the pickup zone. After confirming this with Red Dog Six, he handed the radio back to Baker and gave Anderson the order to move out.
"Alright, boys, let's rock and roll! Taylor, I want you on point; Johnson, you got slack. Watch your intervals…this ain't no stroll in the country."
They had been walking for close to 15 minutes when Anderson's sixth sense began to make him decidedly uncomfortable. He stepped to the side of the path the platoon was walking on, his eyes searching the surrounding vegetation for any signs of activity. He allowed the men to pass him by and took a place at the end of the line. He had only moved a few more paces when the growth behind and to the left of him erupted in a series of muzzle flashes.
Moving on instinct, he threw himself to the ground and rolled behind a fallen log for cover, at the same time switching his M-16 to semi and firing at the unseen enemy. He heard rather than saw the men in his platoon take their positions behind him, and looked around briefly for the lieutenant. Spotting him about eight yards to his right, he yelled for cover fire and made a loping dash to where Goldman lay behind a group of rocks.
"What's it look like, Anderson?" Lt. Goldman yelled as Zeke came to a stop nearby.
"Not sure, Sir. Twelve, maybe fifteen VC, comin' from the left of our last position. Gonna be tough to flank 'em between the river 'n the air strike on the weapons, but we can give it a shot."
Goldman barely hesitated before giving the order. "Not today, Sergeant. Let's get the men the hell out of here. We got choppers waiting."
"I heard that, Sir." Anderson rolled away slightly to get a better view of the area where the shooting was coming from. The number of muzzle flashes confirmed his feeling that it was more than a single squad of VC that they were dealing with.
"LT, me 'n the kid with the 79 will hang here 'n give y'all cover while you make a break for it. If I lay down enough smoke, we'll at least make it harder for 'em to hit us on the way out."
Goldman raised the tip of his M-16 and stopped firing as he glanced over at Anderson. He bit down on his lower lip and nodded to give Zeke the okay, then returned to the firing position.
"Alright, y'all, listen up!" Anderson raised his voice to a yell to be heard over the sound of the weapons fire. "I want you men to wait for my smoke, and then run like hell for the PZ! DelVecchio!"
"Yeah, Sarge?" A young man with pale green eyes answered from his position five yards away.
"Get that 79 up here—you're with me!" Anderson could hear in the distance the sound of the jets as they approached the NVA target First Squad had located, and hoped the ensuing blast might aid in scaring off the VC they now faced.
PFC DelVecchio waited for cover fire before crawling from his position and dropping down next to Anderson. As he waited for orders from the sergeant, he could hear someone behind him screaming for the medic, and felt his nerves standing on end. He'd only been in-country about a month, and had not even begun to get used to the screams of pain the wounded made.
"Okay, DelVecchio—you 'n me, we're gonna advance 'til that blooper's in range. See that rise in the ground up there next to the dead tree? That should be close enough. Once we both get there, you start layin' 'em down as many 'n as fast as ya can while I'm poppin' smoke for cover. Ya got that?"
"Yeah. Yeah, Sarge, I got it." DelVecchio replied, focusing on what the sergeant was saying.
Anderson looked at the boy in front of him, nodding in reassurance. "Ready? Alright… GO!"
The two men clambered over the group of rocks and scurried to their next position. Once there, DelVecchio began his grenade assault as Anderson tossed several smoke canisters.
When Goldman caught sight of the smoke, he yelled out the order to fall back and head for the PZ. He continued to lay down cover fire as the men began their retreat. With a final glance at Anderson's position, he hauled himself off the damp ground and sprinted after the men, with Baker just ahead of him. The noise of the enemy fire was beginning to fade in the distance, and he felt himself breathing easier. He was nearly in sight of the PZ. Still running, he looked over his shoulder for signs of Anderson and DelVecchio, when his foot caught a tree root. The rifle flew from his hands as he found himself falling headlong into the mud and grass.
Myron shook his head to clear it before searching for his rifle and trying to push himself off the ground. His attempt failed, however, and he looked down to discover his right foot firmly wedged between the roots covering the jungle floor.
"Hang on, Sir, I got you." Baker had noticed the lieutenant's fall, and he turned back to lend a hand. He took hold of the LT's leg and gave a good hard pull.
"Ow!" Myron yelled. "Jeez, Baker, take it easy!"
"I'm sorry, LT, but it's stuck! I can't even budge it!" Baker went to get a better grip on his leg.
"Well, try grabbing the roots, not my leg!" The lieutenant's frustration was clear in his voice. He hated to be caught in such a position in front of one of his men, and his pride made the words harsher than necessary.
Sergeant Anderson appeared from the direction of the firefight they had just left. He was half carrying, half dragging DelVecchio. The boy had taken a bullet wound to the thigh, and it was bleeding profusely.
"Baker, forget about it!" Anderson yelled as he saw Baker trying in vain to pull the roots aside to free the lieutenant… "Take DelVecchio and head for the chopper, son, and make sure they wait for us. I'll get the LT."
Baker looked with uncertainty first at the sergeant, and then his platoon leader. Seeing that Goldman was in agreement, he lifted DelVecchio onto his shoulders with little effort and ran for the chopper that was waiting just beyond the edge of the bushes ahead.
Anderson sized up the situation in an instant, knowing there was no way he could pull Goldman's leg free. "Duck 'n cover, LT…Charlie's probably right behind us, and we ain't got time for this." He set his M-16 to automatic and raised the barrel.
Seeing his intent, the horrified lieutenant threw his arms over his head and rolled as much to his side as his captured leg would allow. Anderson's weapon let out a short burst of fire, effectively severing the offending root only eight inches from the lieutenant's boot.
Myron lowered his arms slowly and stared at his newly freed right foot.
"Hell, you didn't think I was gonna shoot you, did you Sir?" Anderson grinned as he extended his hand to the startled young man in front of him. Goldman looked at him in disbelief as he allowed himself to be helped to his feet.
"Damn, Sergeant." Goldman shook his head and reached down for his rifle which lay where it had fallen from his grasp. Without another word between them, the two men began to run for the helicopter.
They could hear that the chopper was under fire even before they pushed their way though the foliage that had obscured it from their view. Remaining hidden in the bush, they watched as the bird lifted quickly into the air and saw the smoke coming from near its tail section. The muzzle flashes were coming from the tree line on the other side of the clearing. They pulled farther back into the bushes to avoid revealing their position to the enemy.
Anderson could see the other three Hueys well in the distance on their way back to base, and knew they'd just lost their last chance at catching a ride back from this PZ. The lieutenant recognized this fact as well and glanced over at his comrade.
"Damn. So much for Wallace's report that there's no NVA activity in the area. How's your escape and evasion, Sergeant?" he asked.
"I reckon we'd better find out, LT, cuz I'd just as soon not go after those gooks over there with only the two clips I got left."
"I hear you." Goldman glanced at the watch on his arm. "We got over four hours to get to the secondary pickup zone. That should give us plenty of time. Let's get moving."
Baker pounded his fist against the padded wall behind the pilot. He was raised on one knee, leaning over Taylor and looking into the cockpit. "Sir! Sir, you gotta go back! Sarge 'n LT are still down there! You can't just leave 'em!"
"Private, I'm sorry, but I've got enough problems right now just trying to get this bird back to base!" The boyish looking lieutenant in the pilot's seat was working the pedals double time to compensate for the hit to the tail section. He kept his eyes focused on his instruments.
"But sir, they said to wait! I thought I saw 'em in the bush as we lifted off. C'mon, man—you gotta go get 'em!" Baker's desperate plea fell on the deaf ears of the pilot, but the co-pilot glanced quickly back at him.
"Settle down, Private. I've already radioed their position back to base. "There's nothing else we can do."
Baker rolled his eyes in defeat and slid down the wall to a sitting position. Taylor shifted over to make room for the big man, his concern for Sarge and the LT showing on his own face. Percell reached up and laid his hand on Baker's shoulder.
"Hey, Baker, it wasn't your fault—Sarge sent ya on. You had to go… Besides, they'll make it back—just you wait."
Baker looked directly into Percell's intense blue eyes and raised a hand to rub over his hair. "Yeah, but Danny, they don't even have the radio."
Baker's words settled over the men, as they each tried not to imagine what that would mean.
"I'm tellin' ya, LT, we missed the clearing by about half a klick." The sergeant's frustration was growing steadily, and he attempted to keep his voice down.
"Look, Sergeant, I've got the map and coordinates right here." He pulled the map out from where it had been safely tucked inside his shirt, and opened it partway to prove his point. The two men had been walking steadily for over two hours, and should have already been at the secondary pickup zone. "There is no way we could have overshot the clearing."
The sergeant continued walking as he slung the strap of his weapon over his shoulder and reached for the map that the LT was holding. Though the lieutenant maintained his grip on the map, he allowed Zeke to look at it with him. His eyes scanned it for a moment before picking out their position. "See this ridge here?" He pointed to a section just above Myron's thumb. "We passed it about half an hour ago. Which puts us right about here, when we should be up closer to the river. I think when we doubled back before, we lost track of our original position."
"I understand what you're saying, Sergeant, but I still think the clearing is ahead of us. I say we continue on for another 15 minutes, and we should hit it by then."
"No disrespect, Sir, but I say you're wrong." He stopped walking and slipped the M-16 off his shoulder and held it loosely across his chest. The fire in his eyes continued to burn as he looked at his commanding officer.
Myron felt his own temper rising without much prodding. "Well, we both know I've been wrong before, don't we, Sergeant? Like the last time I took your word for something?" His own eyes darkened, and he stared at Anderson in an unspoken challenge.
Anderson's anger flashed briefly before dying out. He felt anew the remorse over recommending Decker and the outcome of events. Lowering his gaze slightly, he considered if now might be the time to get things out in the open.
"Yeah. LT, about that whole thing…" he began.
But the lieutenant cut him off with a wave of his arm. "Forget it, Sergeant," he said, his tone harsh even to his own ears. "Let's just get to the PZ, alright?" He stuffed the map back into his shirt and slung his own M-16 into position before leading off in the direction he had decided upon.
Anderson shook his head slowly before following the younger man. He stared absently at Goldman's back, defeated but still determined to make things right between them, when they heard the click. The noise of it in the relative silence of the jungle was deafening. Both men immediately froze, and Myron felt as if the blood drained from his body.
"Oh, Lord," he heard Zeke say quietly from a few steps behind him.
"What?" he whispered anxiously. "What is it? Oh, damn." The certainty that he had tripped a wire grew as his platoon sergeant made no move to approach him. He tried to lower his gaze to his feet without too much movement, but was unable to see clearly.
"Is it a wire?" he asked Zeke, dreading the answer.
Zeke's voice was strangely calm, though his emotions were anything but. "No Sir, no wire. I figure it's a pressure plate."
Myron stood stock still, aware that the slightest movement could end in the death of both men. He mentally worked at staying focused. "Well, Sergeant, what do you think? Can you get me off it?" he asked tentatively.
"Well, LT, you ain't the one on it." A small, almost choked sound that might have been a laugh escaped his lips. "I am."
Myron's emotions ran the gauntlet at hearing his platoon sergeant's simple statement, but he didn't question for a moment the truth of what Zeke was saying. He glanced briefly at his own feet to make sure he was clear before turning terrified eyes on the man standing directly behind him.
"Oh, God, Zeke. Damn. What the hell are we supposed to do now? I can't get you off that thing! I'll blow us both to hell!" That his own nervousness was doing nothing to help the sergeant didn't enter into Goldman's mind. He was simply reacting to the unbelievable reality of the situation.
Zeke hadn't moved a muscle since they heard the click. He could feel the sweat on his forehead escape his headband and begin tracing a path down his face, but he was powerless to wipe it away. A sense of unreality began creeping in as he tried to take stock of his situation. Well into his third full combat tour, he couldn't believe he'd been stupid enough not to notice where he planted his foot. That was a cherry mistake. And it could very well end up being his last.
He watched by moving only his eyes as Goldman crouched near his feet in an attempt to get a better look at the NVA land mine. He was afraid to even breathe, though he gave no outward sign of fear. When Goldman looked up at him, Zeke saw the unreality he felt mirrored in the lieutenant's eyes. In that split second, he made his decision.
"Look, LT, the way I see it, we don't have much choice here. You're gonna have to head on alone to the PZ. When the chopper gets there, you radio in for some help. I'll wait here 'til ya get back." He smiled a lopsided grin. "It's not like I got someplace else to be right now anyway."
For a moment, the lieutenant almost agreed with him. He could feel himself being taken in by the suggestion, could feel a sense of relief that maybe this would work and they would both live to fight another day. As he looked at the composed features of the man he was facing, another thought broke through. There was still more than an hour before their secondary pick-up. Add to that the time it would take to radio for help and get someone back here, and he realized that it could be close to three hours before help came to Zeke. Three hours during which the sergeant would have to stand perfectly still, like a sitting duck in the jungle. Even if he managed to have no enemy contact whatsoever, the physical and emotional strain of standing on a bomb for that long would be more than any man could endure.
Even Zeke Anderson. And he suddenly realized that Zeke knew that as well, that he had no intention of waiting it out. He was simply sending Myron away to spare him.
Goldman rose to his feet and leveled his gaze to meet the older man's eyes. Zeke returned the look, and knew then that the LT wasn't falling for his suggestion. He decided that being blunt was his only hope.
"LT, you gotta go. Ain't no point in your bein' here. Just head on back to the chopper," he said persuasively, his eyes pleading with Goldman to understand.
Goldman took off his rifle and laid it carefully on the ground. "Forget it, Zeke. I'm not goin' anywhere."
Zeke could feel his voice rising, even as he struggled to keep from shifting his weight the slightest bit. "LT, you said yourself ya can't get me off of this thing. We both know that's true. Now, if it's my time to go, son, it's my time to go. But I am sure as HELL not gonna take you with me." He stared at the other man with a fierce determination to see him to safety.
Myron stepped back slightly and almost smiled at Zeke's use of the name "son." He often heard him refer to one of the squad in that manner, but had never been on the receiving end of it himself. He thought absently that Zeke was probably not even aware of his change in attitude toward the chain of command, but was simply reacting instinctively to his desire to see the young officer safe.
"I already told you, I'm not leaving. Maybe I don't know how to get you off this mine. But I've watched you do it. You're just gonna have to tell me what to do. And don't bother protesting, Sergeant, because if you don't tell me, I'll just try it my own way and we'll both end up getting fragged." The challenge in his eyes matched the frustration in Zeke's.
Time seemingly stopped as both men stood their ground, neither one wanting to give in.
Seeing that his platoon sergeant would not be forthcoming about giving him direction, Myron again knelt down and pulled his knife from the sheath on his upper leg. He had the tip nearly touching the ground when he heard Zeke's voice break the silence.
Myron's hand immediately stayed, and he looked up expectantly at Anderson.
"Use the blade of the knife, not just the tip." Anderson felt somewhat defeated that he had been unable to chase Goldman away. But this emotion conflicted with a feeling a gratitude that he would not be left to die alone in this forsaken jungle. Nobody wants to die alone.
"Gently scrape away the dirt until you can find all four edges of the plate. Then, run your tip along the edge 'til you find an opening. You'll have to wedge your knife in so it stops the plate from springing back when I lift my weight off it. Think ya got that?" The sweat was running down his face in earnest now, and his muscles were starting to cramp from holding his weapon in the same position. He knew it wouldn't be long before his arms started to twitch, and that was something he didn't want to contemplate.
Though Zeke's directions were far from detailed, Myron returned his attention to the land mine his friend was standing upon. With the gentlest of movements, he began to scrape away the soil near Zeke's boot, praying that nerves would not cause his hand to shake. He had cleared two edges and was working on the third when Zeke spoke again.
"LT, about Decker 'n what happened with Horn…"
"Save it, Sergeant. I don't want to hear about it. Especially not right now." The tension he was feeling crept into his voice, and he worked at controlling his emotions.
"Yeah, well, LT, I may not get another chance." He waited a few seconds to see if Goldman would object again, and then continued. "LT, I'm sorry. Sorry about Decker. More'n you'll ever know. I believed in him once. But I shoulda known better after seein' him arrested for drunk and disorderly. I never shoulda told ya to take him on. He screwed up. I screwed up. And I'm sorry about that. And I'm sorry about Horn's gettin' shot." He took a breath and wondered if he should leave it at that, but decided to lay it all on the line. "But most of all, I'm sorry that I lost your trust."
Myron paused then, and with some confusion showing on his face, he looked up at his sergeant.
"I never stopped trusting you, Zeke."
He held Zeke's gaze for a moment before returning to the task in front of him. He finished clearing the plate and managed to wedge his knife between what he believed was the mechanism set to detonate the mine. He carefully pulled his hand away from the handle of the knife and sat back on his heels.
Zeke had never taken his eyes from Goldman as he worked. He knew the precise moment he finished, and he waited for the lieutenant to step fully back before he began his own movement. Gently, with infinite care, he started to shift his weight from his left foot to his right. When his right leg supported most of his body, he slowly lifted his boot off of the pressure plate, expecting it to go off any second. With his left foot in the air, he stepped back and placed it firmly behind him, not fully realizing that he was indeed off the mine. He backtracked a few paces in the opposite direction before he bent nearly double, placing his M-16 on the ground in front of him and his hands on his knees. His breathing became slightly shaky as the full impact of what just occurred started to hit him.
Goldman watched him silently for a moment, giving him time to collect himself. Then he laid a hand on his shoulder and gave it a gentle squeeze. "I don't know if that wedge is going to hold forever, Zeke, and I want to get out of here before it goes off and Charlie knows exactly where we are. What do you say we head back and see if we can't find that pickup zone?"
Anderson picked up his weapon and stood to full height, visibly working to shake off the tension of the event. "I heard that," he said, as he checked his weapon out of habit. The two men headed off the way they had come, Zeke more aware than usual of the ground he was walking on, determined not to make such a stupid mistake again.
"Hey, LT?" Zeke called quietly.
"Yeah?" Goldman looked at him over his shoulder, absently pushing back a branch that threatened to hit him in the face.
"Glad I could help, Sergeant," the lieutenant smiled. He was very glad he could help indeed.
Anderson was putting away his shower kit, having just returned from cleaning off the jungle. His mind was on the debriefing he and Lt. Goldman had gone through one hour before in the CP tent. It had not escaped his attention that Goldman had not made any mention of the land mine incident. Which was fine with him. The fewer people who knew he'd made a mistake like that, the better.
"Knock-knock," he heard from just outside his tent flap.
"Come on in," Zeke called, turning towards the opening and watching Lt. Goldman as he pushed aside the canvas and walked in.
"You clean up well," the lieutenant said and smiled as he lightly rapped his army-issued hat against his platoon sergeant's chest. He weaved his way over to a cot. The tent, though empty of people, was cluttered with the racks and belongings of the men with whom Anderson shared quarters.
Anderson himself was dressed only in his pants and a t-shirt with the sleeves ripped out, his feet bare. His eyes followed the movements of the man who had saved his life without thought of the risk only hours earlier. It was weird, being on the receiving end of such an action. He definitely preferred it the other way around. He'd been around too long to doubt that it wouldn't happen again before either of them finished their tours.
"You want somethin' to drink, LT?" Zeke offered, already pulling open his footlocker.
"Yeah," Goldman replied. "Today, I'll even settle for some of that nasty stuff you drink."
Zeke hid a small smile and busied himself with the task of getting them each a little something to take the edge off. He handed a plastic cup to the lieutenant and leaned casually against a nearby rack, waiting expectantly, knowing it wouldn't be long before Goldman said what he'd come to say.
Goldman took a full swallow from his cup before lowering it, slowly swirling the liquid in an absent manner. He looked up to find the sergeant's gaze still on him.
"Sergeant, rumor has it that you're transferring out of Bravo Company. I wanted to come directly to you to find out if there's any truth to that statement."
"Come again, Sir?" Zeke allowed some of the surprise he felt over the lieutenant's question to show in his eyes.
Goldman shifted his position so that one leg rested in a bent position on top of the cot while the other remained on the floor. With nothing to lean against, he held his back straight in an awkward stance and worked at getting a little more comfortable.
"It seems one of the men overheard a conversation you were having with Capt. Wallace. It didn't take long for the rumor to make its way through the whole firebase. Last I heard, you'd be shipping out before nightfall." A wry smile crossed his lips as he thought about the absurdity of such a proposal. The Army never managed to make things happen that fast.
Zeke looked down at the drink he was holding, and as usual, decided the lieutenant deserved the straight story. "LT, I did talk with the Cap'n about a transfer. Right after our debriefing yesterday. I reckon that's when someone overheard it." He looked squarely into Lt. Goldman's eyes as he continued speaking. "About an hour later, I went back to the Cap'n 'n told him to forget about it. I got way too much invested in this here platoon to give 'em up now. Besides," he added quietly, "this is home. Ain't no place like it." He took another sip from his cup.
Goldman smiled, not fully able to hide the relief he felt over Anderson's answer. "Well, Sergeant, you sure as hell got a weird definition of home."
Anderson let out a chuckle, knowing the lieutenant wasn't far off the mark. "Ya got that right," he replied, returning the smile.
Myron finished the remainder of his drink and handed the cup to Zeke before pulling himself up to a standing position. He ran his hand through his still damp hair and pulled the cap onto his head, adjusting it to just the right position and bending the brim in a movement so familiar he wasn't even aware of doing it.
"If I were you, Zeke, I'd head on over to the mess tent and tell the guys you're sticking around. Something tells me it would put their minds to rest," he said wryly.
"Yessir," Zeke answered, but made no move to rise yet. His mind drifted back over the recent reunion with Third Squad as the men made no effort to hide their relief at the safe return of both their platoon leaders. Baker had been especially exuberant, and nearly tackled the sergeant in a bear hug upon seeing him step off the chopper.
Myron started to head over to the tent flap, intent on exiting and leaving the sergeant to return to what he'd been doing. He stopped after passing Zeke, however, and turned back to face him again.
"I meant what I said earlier, Zeke. I never stopped trusting you." He picked up the conversation they had left unfinished in the jungle, knowing, as he believed Zeke did, that they needed to finish this once and for all and put it behind them.
Zeke was uncertain exactly how to respond. He glanced down at his own bare feet, hardly noticing the dirt floor underneath. He cleared his throat and answered Goldman, looking up and noticing that the lieutenant was somewhat uncomfortable as well.
"I appreciate that, Sir,"
Goldman hesitated. There was more to be said, but it could cost him. He carefully weighed the risks in his mind, trying to decide if he could open up to this man in front of him. Searching Anderson's face, he found only acceptance. Acceptance of who he was. As an officer, as a man…as a friend.
"I don't understand this whole thing between you and Decker, Zeke. I probably never will. But I hope that maybe someday, you'll feel the same friendship and loyalty toward me that you felt towards him." He held his breath, aware that he'd laid more of his emotions out on the table than he'd ever had the courage to do before.
Zeke raised his cup in a silent toast to his platoon leader. His gaze held Myron's intently, warmly.
"I already do."
Myron couldn't stop the smile that transformed his face, making him look more like a boy than a man capable of leading a platoon. It reached all the way into his eyes, turning them a shade of amber brown. He shook his head slightly at Zeke and pushed his way out of the tent, still grinning.
So this is what it felt like. Opening up. Letting someone behind the walls he'd so carefully put in place. He'd always dreaded it, fought fiercely to keep it from happening. But maybe it wasn't so bad. This feeling of warmth he felt within—it didn't feel bad. In fact, the more he thought about it as he walked across the firebase toward his own quarters, the more he liked the idea. Maybe this was the way it was supposed to be. Maybe it was worth the risk of hurting someday in the future…
Because for right now, it felt good.