Summary: post-Milk Run. Rico picks up the pieces.
Rico was still sitting next to his partner when he heard Castillo's low voice question one of the uniforms. He turned and the lieutenant caught his eye.
"I'll be right back," he said to the silent man beside him. Sonny didn't even look up.
Lt. Castillo waited by the door. He was studying Sonny's bowed back with that piercing look that meant he knew the score without being told. Rico bit down on a sudden surge of anger and waited for Castillo to acknowledge him.
"Make sure he gets home," Castillo said, eyes never leaving Sonny. "Don't leave him alone until your sure he's okay."
Castillo glanced at Rico sidelong. "There's a restroom across the hall. Get him cleaned up before you take him outside. Switek has a car waiting in the back."
Rico sighed. The man never gave an inch. "There press out front?"
Castillo nodded. "File your reports tomorrow. I don't want to see either of you before noon." He looked like he wanted to say more. Rico waited but nothing came until he started to go back to his partner.
"Rico," Castillo rubbed his eyes. "Call me if he gives you any trouble."
Now what the hell did that mean? Rico shook his head and picked his way through the broken glass to where Sonny sat. Rico crouched down, taking it slow, nervous without quite knowing why. What had rattled Sonny about this one? Things had gone bad before, and he hadn't blinked. Now, it was like he was drifting away inside himself. The anguish had left Sonny's face, leaving him washed out and blank in the flourescent light.
His partner just sat, staring into nothing. "Sonny, man. Let's get out of here."
When he still got no reaction, Rico nudged his shoulder. Sonny flinched, hard, and sucked in a breath. His head came up, eyes wide and startled.
"Let's go, partner." Rico repeated gently.
Sonny blinked, then looked down at his bloody hands.
"The choppers here?"
"No, Sonny. It's time to go home." Rico's throat clenched. Choppers? What the hell was he talking about?
Rico helped him stand. Castillo was watching them, watching Sonny, real close. Call me if he gives you any trouble. Yeah. Right.
In the men's room Rico had to lead him to the sink like he was a kid. Once there, Sonny seemed to get the idea. He washed up his hands, stripped off the stained jacket and dropped it to the floor. Braced both hands on the basin, head down, his face hidden.
"The kid get on the plane?"
Rico leaned against the wall next to the sink. Tried to remember which kid they were talking about. Right. The one who hadn't got blown away.
"Yeah. Back to Alphaville."
"Safe and sound," Sonny muttered. "Castillo got you on guard duty?"
Rico ignored the question and Sonny let it drop.
"Comeon. I'm beat." Rico pushed off from the wall. "Stan's got a car out back."
"Lucky me," Sonny straightened. When he turned his face was hard, his voice dripping with contempt. "Full service escort."
Rico kept his face impassive. He knew the signs. Sonny was trying to pick a fight. Another time, he might have obliged. But tonight there was a smear of dried blood on Sonny's neck and his hands were shaking ever so slightly. And he was so far gone he hadn't even noticed. He still had a grip on normal, but if he held on any tighter he'd strangle it dead.
Rico just nodded and left the room, knowing Sonny would follow.
"They were only kids."
Rico let out a breath he hadn't realized he was holding when Sonny finally decided to speak. The ride back to the marina had been one drawn-out, brittle silence.
He stretched out his legs, propped himself up against the side of the boat. Sonny was perched a few feet away, a half empty bottle of Jack sitting by his bare feet, Elvis muttering to himself at his back. Just how drunk should he let his partner get? Rico picked at the label on his own bottle of beer and waited. He wanted to say that the kids had known they were getting into a risky deal, but that wasn't something Sonny needed to hear. Not like he didn't know it already.
Sonny wasn't looking at him. Seemed to be having a hard time meeting his eyes.
"Sorry about losing it back at the airport."
Rico took a long swig of beer. "You didn't lose it, man. That kid got blasted away in front of you."
Another one of those long silences.
"You don't understand, Rico." Sonny's words were low and hoarse when they came.
"Maybe, maybe not."
Elvis rumbled and Sonny absently tossed a hunk of frozen fish from the cooler at him.
"For a few minutes..." Sonny shook his head. Started over. "In Nam I was the oldest guy in my platoon."
Rico gave him some time, but his partner didn't continue.
"How old were you - twenty two?" he prodded.
Sonny smirked, but his gaze was still far away.
"I was twenty-five when I was discharged."
"An old man," Rico laughed.
"Sure felt like it."
The St. Vitus' Dance rocked againstnthe light lap of the waves. For the first time Rico felt the place where the war had made a gap between them before they'd even met. He'd pulled a lucky number and never thought much about it. Sonny though - he carried the war with him, though like most vets Rico knew he didn't talk about it much.
Sonny downed more bourbon. The gator smacked away at his fish. And Rico waited.
"Most of the guys were eighteen or nineteen. Farm kids, or punks from the inner city. Barely outta high school. They needed somebody to look up to. That ended up bein me."
And knowing Sonny, he'd taken that to heart.
"Anyway. We got pinned down, out in the jungle. It was a bad situation and I made a bad call. Wasn't nothin I could do, we were gettin picked off."
"They were so scared. The brass said it was too hot to get medics to us." Sonny closed his eyes, the words coming out in hard bursts. "So we had to hunker down there in the rain, while my men died."
"What did you do?"
"Told them it would be okay, that we'd all get outta there somehow. I knew it was a lie."
Yeah, they both knew too much about hard truths. Sonny had just learned a little earlier than most. Rico drained his beer and set the empty aside.
"Eventually the choppers came. Seven guys were dead, most of the rest were pretty beat up." He covered his eyes with one hand. "I led those kids to their graves and the army gave me a medal for it. My reward. For a job well done."
Rico didn't ask if he'd been wounded. Didn't need to.
"They send you home after that?"
"They'd invested too much time in me. On my second tour I went to sniper school."
"They have a school for that?"
"What, you think people are born knowing how? Yeah, there's a school."
And didn't that explain a lot. Rico tipped his head back, trying to remember what he'd been doing in his early twenties. Partying hard, probably. It seemed like a long time ago.
"And tonight - at the airport?"
Sonny dropped his hand from his face and turned away, avoiding the question. He rummaged in the cooler and came up with two beers. Tossed one at Rico without bothering to make sure he'd catch it and cracked the cap off of the other.
"Eddie remind you of one of your guys?" Rico knew he was pushing his partner, but Sonny needed to get this out before he got too wasted to remember what they were talking about. Which was exactly what he was aiming for, from the way he was drinking.
"Not - not exactly." Sonny swallowed half the beer, then shot a narrow glance at Rico. Like he wasn't sure he could trust him.
"Sonny," Rico sighed. "Whatever it is probably sounds worse in your head than it will out loud."
Elvis chose that moment to let out a funny little whine, if alligators were capable of whining. Sonny seemed to relax a bit, like the familiar sound had given him permission.
"Yeah. Okay. What I'm tryin to say is - at the airport, after Eddie died, there were a few minutes when I heard the choppers comin in again. That's all."
"You said something about a chopper, when Castillo sent me to get you outta there." Rico hid his frown behind the beer bottle.
"Shit. I did?" He didn't remember. Great.
"You're telling me what - you were back in the war? That you had a hallucination?"
"They're called flashbacks, pal. Get your terminology straight." There was a defensive edge to Sonny's voice now. And Rico remembered the look on Castillo's face. He'd known. The lieutenant had taken one glance at Sonny and figured out what was going down. Don't leave until you make sure he's okay. Yeah. Thanks for the heads up, buddy.
"This ever happen before?" he asked finally.
Sonny flashed him that annoying expression, the one that meant what do you think, sucker? Then he relented.
"A coupla times, right after I got back. Been eight years or so."
Rico let that sink in. Lots of vets had problems once they got home. Some of them never made it back, still stuck in the war in their heads years later. Hell, he'd heard of cops who had the same problem.
"This gonna be an issue, Tubbs?"
"It gonna happen while we're under?" He felt like he was betraying their friendship a little for asking, but he had to know.
Sonny's flinty mask dropped, leaving him raw and exposed.
"It hasn't so far," he said.
Great. Thanks for the reassurance. But he'd been the one to start with the blunt honesty, so he couldn't complain when Sonny gave him the truth.
"If Castillo knew, he'd stick me at a desk." Sonny turned away, toward the dark water and the lights that edged the marina. He wouldn't ask, Rico realized. Didn't know it didn't matter.
"I'm not gonna say anything," he said, "But I think he figured it out."
Sonny shot to his feet, didn't bother to hide the wobble. Stalked to the front of the boat and hurled his beer bottle out into the black. Rico didn't move.
"That's just beautiful," Sonny growled. "He tell you to take me to the shrink?"
"What do you think?" Rico crossed his arms over his chest. "Castillo can be a real bastard, but he knows the game. He sends you to the shrink and they'll use it as an excuse. No, man. I doubt anyone else even noticed. It's gonna take more than you spacing out for a few minutes after what went down tonight for him to sideline you. He just said we should come in tomorrow afternoon and file our reports."
Sonny deflated, curled in on himself. He clung to the railing and watched the lights on the water for a long time. Rico left him alone. He remembered what it felt like to have blood on his hands, long after he'd scrubbed them clean.
"Yeah?" He rubbed at his eyes, his limbs suddenly heavy. What a lightweight. He'd had two beers and he was melting into the deck.
"No problem, mon," he said, pulling out his worst rastafarian accent.
"Rico?" Sonny turned back to him, leaning against the rail. He was wearing a tired grin. "Shut the hell up."