Disclaimer: Not mine, but who cares. They amuse under my tutelage, ne?

Comments: Ok, so here is something a bit different from what I have been writing. This is my first AU. I fear a bit. but not much. It takes place during the Vietnam War. The places I mention, Pang Nuan base and Sang Cho- na, do not really exist. At least as far as I know they do not. They are constructed to suit my purposes and are just a general idea of what places like them might have been like. The 326th AHC, however, probably did exist. If you know anyone who was in the 326th AHC, don't yell at me, I just liked the number. Eventually this fic will end up being shonen-ai, I am assuming nobody has a problem with that. Anyway, please enjoy. And forgive my lack of historical knowledge.

Just a couple notes on terminology:

AHC stands for Assault Helicopter Company. These really existed; in fact they made up a large part of the war effort in Vietnam.

Bell UH-1: a type of helicopter used during the Vietnam War mostly for trasportation or troops and the evacuation of the wounded form the battle field. Large and open-sided. Occasionally used offensively, could be fitted with various devices and used in 'search and destroy' type missions. (Also called Iroquois)

Huey: an offensive type helicopter, seated two, a pilot and a gunner. (think 'Top Gun' in a helicopter).

A door gunner is the member of the UH-1 helicopter crew who sits behind the door mounted machine gun and it is his job to defend the rest of the crew and those in transport as the helicopter loads, unloads, and takes off. He sits in plain view of enemies from the ground and has one of the most hazardous jobs in the history of the war. The life expectancy for a door gunner was something like four months give or take.

I gave Schu a name. It's Max Wolff (and yes, that's a German 'W' so say it like a -V-). Max in this case is German and is pronounced more like 'Mux'. Just thought you'd like to know.

Also, some pretty harsh terms are thrown around in here (i.e. Gook, Jap, Nip). I used these terms not to be offensive, but because they were the terms used at the time and nobody cared if they were derogatory or not. Please bear that in mind.

Can't think of any more notes right now. If anything is confusing let me know, and I'll clear it up in the next chapter. R&R, or feel my wrath!!

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Every night the world ends and every morning I wake up screaming. The sound of gunfire, rounds popping off one after the other, the harsh cries of men in their death throes, chopper blades slicing the air in dull and unfeeling monotony all echo through the dark places of my soul as I sleep. Not once in three years have I slept without dreams. Not once since the war ended. No. before that. not once since I lost him.

Last night was no different. Nothing ever changes anymore.

The harsh, searing sound of my own cries jolts me from my anguished slumber, dull, hateful light oozes through the gaps in the curtains. My eyes ache. My head aches. Everything aches. I must have been fighting in my sleep again. I'm covered in sweat; a cold, clammy stickiness hangs about my skin.

My dog whines apologetically, resting his chin on the bed beside me. I look down at him, panting, and try to smile. He raises his eyebrows and whines again.

"It's alright, Banzai," I scratch his ears gently. The warmth of life comforts me and I smile a little better. "I'm fine. See. I'm fine."

He whines again as if asserting his doubt in my words.

I get out of bed, pulling off my sweat drenched pajama pants. I can't sleep naked anymore. Too many bugs. at least that's what I can't get out of my head. Old habits die hard. Banzai pads to the door and sits patiently, head cocked to one side. I wonder what he's listening for.

I should take a shower, but breakfast is more important. I put on a dirty pair of jeans and walk to the kitchen. There's a message on the phone. I glance at the clock. Who would have called earlier than eight? Sighing, I twist the knob and walk on to the sink as the tape whirrs, rewinding. I reach for one of the multitude of shiny, orange bottles that line the back splash. Just as I pop two small, pink and red pills into my mouth the message machine kicks in.

"Ken? Hi, this is Doctor Craig. I've been going over your files, and I think it's time to re-evaluate your medication dosage again. Give me a call. we'll set up an appointment." *Beep*

I sigh and hang my head, swallowing the pills in my mouth without the benefit of water. My insurance must be running out. Time to put in a phone call to the Veteran's Association. I can't afford to be taken off my meds. they keep my head quiet. Amazing what a few little pills can do to still the mind, if not the soul. I put the bottle back and walk past the end of the counter. The light is still blinking. there's another message.

I turn the dial again and wait as the tape rewinds some more. "Ken-kun. Daijoubu ka?" It's in Japanese. It's my mother. "Where are you sweetie, why don't you come home? You know that it was all a misunderstanding; please we're all so sorry. It isn't good for you to be on your own right now. Come home, Ken-kun. Let your family take care of you. It's been three years since the war ended. More since you left us. I call you almost everyday. Why don't you call back? I love you, my son. I'm so sorry. Please call home. You don't have to talk to Daddy if you don't want to. .. He never meant to hurt you, darling. Please. call Mommy. Sayonara." *beep*

Taking a deep breath I turn from the machine and put my head in my hands. Never meant to hurt me? What a joke. He's the one that started the snowball of pain. and now look where I am. I can't talk to those people. I need some food in my stomach before my pills make me wretch. Or maybe that's just my mother's voice..

I fry two eggs and three pieces of sausage. I feed one of them to Banzai. The Cat starts prancing on the table, shedding on my eggs, but I don't really mind. If cat hair were the worst thing I'd ever found in my food I'd be a lucky man.

Breakfast is followed by a shower. The shower by some clean clothes. I have to get down to the store. Mary will need help today. The freight is coming in. I pull on my old army jacket, the one that has my last name on the left breast. -Hidaka- I touch it slowly and then reach into my back pocket, pulling out my wallet. I repeat this ceremony every time I leave my house. I have to. I have to remember. always remember.

Flipping the leather open I reach behind the crumpled bills and produce my talisman. It's just a faded, black and white photograph. It's been folded and re-folded so many times that it's practically falling apart. The crease lines are so worn that some of the faces can't even be made out any more, but that's ok. They are all burned into my mind's eyes. I can see them. I still do. everywhere I go.

Seven men, well, boys some of them, smile back at me. The two pilots, the two door gunners, the Crew Chief, the Lieutenant Commander, and the kid. Cocky grins all around. except for maybe him. He didn't like to smile in pictures. He didn't really like to smile at all. I run my finger over his face. And then run my thumb over the kid's face. I touch each smiling face in turn, whispering their names and ranks under my breath, a mantra that keeps them alive in me.

Distantly I can hear the crack of gunfire again, helicopters taking off, the whine of a dying engine, shouts, screams, and even laughter. Snapping myself out of the past I shake my head, quickly fold the photograph up and hide it away in my wallet again. I wonder if I should take another pill. Naw. save it for another day.

I call Banzai to my side and step out the front door, closing it soundly behind me. I think of the kid's face. covered in blood, crying in my arms, covered in his blood. -I wanna go home. Ken. please. I just wanna go home.. Take me home. momma where are you?-

But wait, I'm getting ahead of myself. Let me start at the beginning.

* * * * * *

I arrived on the banks of the river late in the day. I'd been driven all the way up the river in a transport convoy along with a handful of other new recruits. We were all silent. No reason to talk. The roar of the boat engine drowned out everything else anyway. Besides that it was too damn hot to talk. Sweat beads rolled down my forehead and were wiped away hastily, only to be replaced in a few moments by a new drip. In the time to come it would be the heat that I came to hate the most.

The boat pulled up to a makeshift dock and we were ushered off unceremoniously, our canvas army bags thrown over the side into a heap. For some reason it was necessary to make us feel as little like human beings as possible. There was nothing to do but grab my bag and follow the others down the dock. The air smelled strange. Acrid and burning. I would learn that this smell was caused by the systematic burning of the jungle mixed with the lingering scent of napalm, and that there was no escaping it. At the end of the dock several soldiers were milling around. My attention was immediately caught by a lean, long haired red-head leaning against a post. He ginned wolfishly at every newbie that passed him by.

By the looks of him he'd been here awhile. His hair was long and unkempt, falling almost to his waist. A flashy yellow bandana kept it tied back out of his face. His eyes were shrewd and calculating, his skin tanned and tight. There was something about him that was both intriguing and frightening. He seemed a man who had lost his fear of death. and thus his fear of life, which is infinitely more terrifying.

As I made my way slowly down the dock, rolling up my sleeves, trying to force myself to adjust to the heat, his eyes, sharp blue, fixed on me and his wolfish grin spread. He straightened and stepped into my path, angling his head haughtily.

"You must be Hidaka," he'd said assuredly.

I paused, looking him over once again, and shifted my bag. "That's right."

He held out his hand. "Max Wolff, pilot in the 326th AHC, but around here I'm called Schuldich. I'm here to take you to the base."

I wondered momentarily about the origin of his strange nickname. "This isn't the base?"

He laughed harshly and motioned around. "This shit-hole? Hell no. This is a transport stop, a way station if you will. Sure there are a few units stationed here, but most of these unlucky bastards are just passing through on their way to bigger and better things," he grinned that sly grin again and winked. "Or not so much better things if you catch my drift."

With nothing else to say I'd only nodded and let him lead me away from the docks. After a few moments I began to speak up. "How did you know who I was? I mean that I was who you were looking for?"

He glanced back at me over his shoulder and smirked. "Well, first of all your hair is too long for you to be just out of basic. A pilot has to go through training, so time enough for you hair to grow out a bit. Then of course I knew I was looking for an oriental with a name like Hidaka."

"Asian," I cut in sharply.

"Pardon?"

"The correct term is Asian. Oriental refers to an object, not a person. A rug can be oriental. I cannot."

His smile had wavered a bit and his eyebrows twitched. "Hey, didn't mean to offend, buddy. But around here, you'll be lucky if you aren't called a Jap or a Gook. We're in a war against -Asians-, so don't be surprised if you get shit, kid."

"I won't be. Don't worry I've been getting shit my entire life. It's nothing new to me. But then again, I thought we were also fighting this war -for- Asians."

Schuldich gave me an odd look and then shook his head. "Yeah well, believe whatever you want. All that aside, like I said I'll be taking you to the Pang Nuan base. It's a little over one hundred kliks from here. Our ride's on the other side of that hangar." He pointed vaguely and my eyes followed to set on a metal-sided box. Some hangar.

"So you're in the 326th? That's my assignment as well. You fly Hueys and UH-1s?"

The redhead had grinned at me over his shoulder, running his hand through a piece of his shocking hair. "I can fly the crates they come in."

There was nothing to do but smile back so I did. But inside I was scared shitless. It must have showed because Schuldich paused and put a hand on my shoulder. "Don't worry, Hidaka, flying with 326th will be one of the best things you'll ever do. Nothing can beat the feeling of being in control on an expensive piece of equipment. And what could be better than getting to shoot Gooks?"

I hadn't been able think of anything tasteful to say off the top of my head, so I didn't. I just smiled and nodded.

Little did I know just exactly how much of my life would be built around flying with Schuldich and shooting Gooks.

In a matter of moments we arrived at the helicopter, a long, low slung Bell UH-1, a transport aircraft. "Well here she is. My baby. Hop in, Hidaka and enjoy the ride. We'll be home by sundown."

"If we're lucky," a harsh voice said from behind us. Schuldich whirled around and I did the same.

A man with short, cropped, white hair stood with his arms crossed over his chest. The shirtsleeves of his army jacket had been cut off, exposing unexpectedly pale arms. He grinned slowly, a strange light playing behind his oddly yellow eyes. He looked like a man who had seen things I could only imagine.

"Jesus, Jei!" Schuldich snapped. "You sneaky bastard, don't do that. You were supposed to wait inside the chopper."

The other man rolled his eyes and smirked. "I wanted to look at the new shipment of weapons. If we're lucky some of that will come our way. A few new pretty grenade models. Felt smoother than silk in my hand," he said harshly.

I tried not to look too taken aback and turned to dump my bag in the UH-1.

"You're a strange one, Jei, that you are," Schuldich said under his breath. Inward I silently agreed. I felt a hand on my shoulder and turned around again. "This is my door gunner, Jei Farfarello. He smells a bit, but he's really quite sweet."

The two chuckled to themselves. Farfarello made a show of raising an arm and smelling himself. "I think it's safe to say we all smell a bit. The jungle does not induce hygiene. You got extra pairs of socks, Hidaka?"

Caught off guard by the question I simply stared at him blankly. "Huh?"

"I asked if you brought extra pairs of socks."

I nodded and glanced around.

"Good. Remember one thing above all else. Keep your feet dry. Thing grow in the jungle. if you catch my meaning."

I did and didn't want to think about it, but I would always remember to keep my feet dry. It would be one of the single most important lessons I'd learn.

The trip to the base was uneventful. I could look on the lush green carpet of jungle with eyes as of yet unclouded by the hatred that would later dwell in my heart at the very sight of the hateful green expanses. To new eyes it seemed beautiful, the river twisting below us like a blue snake. The low sitting sun cast the most beautiful light I'd ever seen. I tried to listen as Farfarello and Schuldich went on about the different landmarks we passed over in the Huey, but found my thoughts drifting. At one point Schuldich told me to pilot. I did so gladly. It was one thing I was good at. It gave me self worth, something I had been short on for a long time. Ever since the day I left home. It was why I was there, in Nam. I had nothing else, so it didn't matter.

Pang Nuan was a newly erected base and was the hub of operations for not only the 326th AHC, but the 194th and several infantry units as well. A group of green berets would come through every once in a while, but for the majority of time I spent there it was just us. The 326th had in fact been created with the soul intent of being stationed at Pang Nuan. That's why they were filling in the gaps with newbies such as myself. According to my superiors my arrival would mark the completion of the 326th and trigger the official entering of Pang Nuan into service. I should have felt a lot more special than I did. There was a city called Sang Cho-na about twenty klicks outside of the base. It would eventually serve as a place of both respite and sorrow. We buzzed the streets on our way past, and peering from my vantage point above the throngs of slow moving farmers, women, their wide brimmed hats bobbing in the fading light, and the ever present herds of water buffalo I could not even begin to know how much the filthy streets of that city would come to mean to me.

"That's Sang Cho-na. We're to be allowed to take leave there if we want. I've been here for over a month so I've had time to scope it out. Come next leave time, I'll take you around, Hidaka," Schuldich had yelled over the dull whacking of the chopper blades.

"Sounds good to me," I said in response, leaning farther out the side door to get a better look.

The base came into view next. It was larger than I thought it would be. Schuldich leaned closer to me. "We'll swing over the base. I'll give you a little aerial tour."

I'd simply nodded.

Schuldich pointed towards an organized cluster of long, slat wood buildings with dull tin roofs. "Those are the barracks, sleeping quarters. The 326th is housed in that last one. Those huge metal structures are the chopper hangars, of course there's the landing field, the tower, and the radio room. In the center there. yeah the cement structures those are the infirmary, the officers' quarters and the mess hall. And far off to the left are the drill field, the weapons barracks, and the rec hall. Not bad, considering some of the places I've been stationed. Just be glad you ended up in an American run base instead of a Vietnamese run one. Welcome to Pang Nuan, Hidaka. Hope it suits ya," he said grinning wolfishly.

I smiled back weakly, feeling my face pale as I realized that this was my new home.

We landed, grass whipping madly as the chopper blades kicked up a wind of what seemed like hurricane force. I jumped through the open-sided door, shouldering my bag and hurrying from the landing site. I was just wondering if I should wait for Schuldich and Jei when I noticed a tall, lanky man wearing an army cap waving to me. Glancing once over my shoulder I hurried towards him. As I came up to him, he put his arm around my shoulder and drew me away, holding his cap down with his other hand.

"I wish Schuldich would just -shut that damn thing off-!" he shouted over his shoulder. "He lets it run just because he knows it pissed me off." He turned his head and grinned at me broadly, continuing to pull me farther and farther from the metal hangars.

When he felt that we had gone the appropriate distance, whatever that might be, he paused and turned to me, offering his hand. "Lieutenant Youji Kudou," he said between grinning teeth.

Still somewhat stunned I began to reach for his hand before realizing my mistake. I hastily retrieved my hand and brought it to my forehead in a salute. "Sir. Sorry sir, I didn't realize.."

He rolled his eyes and smacked my hand down. "Cut that shit out. When I offer my hand, you'd better take it, kid. So take it."

Unable to do anything else I complied, taking his hand in mine. His handshake was firm. My recollection of Youji Kudou comes out something like this. He was a young man in his early twenties, but to the rest of us, the majority of which were 21 or under he was practically an old timer. He kept his shoulder length hair tucked up under his cap most of the time except for when he swore it was too hot even for sex, which I would learn was quite something coming from Lieutenant Kudou. His eyes were a deep green and danced with a childlike playfulness. Of course those eyes hid many secrets. Some of which I would learn and some of which I can only guess at even now.

His smile was always quick and ready. "So you must be the new pilot for the 326th. Ken Hidaka, correct?"

"Er. correct, sir."

"Well, there you go. Welcome to hell, soldier. I'm the Crew Chief of the 326th, you'll be taking orders from me for as long as you're stationed here. Hope you find that satisfactory."

"I'm sure I will. As long as your orders don't get me killed, sir," I said without really thinking.

His face paled a bit, his smile fading. He lowered his eyes and adjusted his cap. "Well, that's the trick now, isn't it?"

For a moment I couldn't believe that I had said what I did. I could think of no way to cover my faux pas. Of course he had had soldiers dies under his leadership, he was in essence responsible for the lives of every crewman in the 326th AHC. Reminding him of that fact was both cruel and pointless.

"I. I'm sorry, sir. I didn't mean.," I stuttered, looking away.

He only shrugged, his smile snapping back into place. "Don't worry about it, Hidaka," he said lightly, slapping me on the back. "I'll show to your barracks and you can stash your crap before assembly tonight."

"Assembly, sir?"

"Ah, yes. The first official assembly of the base. All personnel are to report to the training field. The Lieutenant Commander wants to give all the newly stationed here a pep talk or something. And then," he's said looking around conspiratorially, "we're going to play football. A real treat. Be excited."

"Oh, I am sir. I am."

We both chuckled. I had a feeling even then that I was going to like the Crew Chief of the 326th AHC.

He patted my back once again as we came upon the barracks building. "Well, here you go, Hidaka. Home sweet home. There should only be one bunk left open, so you shouldn't have any trouble finding which one is yours. You'll be sharing the bunk with your door gunner, so you can argue with him over who gets top and bottom."

At this I'd nearly burst out laughing, but managed to stifle it down to a strangled chuckling. The Lieutenant commander eyed me warily and then slapped me on the back again. "Well at least I know you have not only a sense of humor but a dirty mind as well. I think I'm going to like you, Ken Hidaka. See you at assembly, soldier."

"Thank you, Lieutenant Kudou."

He turned and waved, heading off towards the officer's quarters. I watched his back until he disappeared around another barracks building and then turned to enter the low slung building before me.

The smell of many unwashed, sweating men assailed me as I entered the long building, walking purposefully down the center isle way flanked on either side by military issue bunk beds. The eyes of the men already within followed me with slow, determined curiosity. I could feel them measuring me, wondering how worthy I was to be a member of their company. I kept my head low, my eyes strait ahead.

"Yo, Hidaka, there you are. I didn't think we'd beat you back here, but here we are just he same," I heard the now familiar voice of Max Wolff call out to me. I raised my eyes to seek him out; it wasn't hard, his bright hair hailing me from afar. "Your bunk's over here, kid." I doubled my pace.

I saw Jei Farfarello, who I was beginning to think of as Schuldich's sidekick, jump up onto one of the bunks and start to poke at something.

"Eh, Randy-boy, aren't you gonna get up to greet your latest pilot?"

"Hn."

"Come on, Randy-boy. You can't just lie here reading. Your latest victim has arrived!" Jei cried a bit maniacally.

Schuldich turned and grabbed the back of Farfarello's vestified army coat, hauling him down from the bunk. "Shut your yap, you idiot. Jesus, Jei. Where's all your tact gone, man? Get back, you lazy eyed psycho."

Farfarello had simply grinned and licked his lip going to swing himself up into the bunk across from what I now assumed to be mine. Schuldich went to poke the bottom of the top bunk. "Come on, Fujimiya, don't you want to meet the newest and latest member of the 326th? Get your ass up and at least look, you grumpy ass-hole," he grumbled, punching the underside of the mattress.

"Fuck off, Max," the man who was lying in the top bunk growled.

"It's alright," I said, dropping my bag at the end of the bunk. I let my fingers trail over the metal bedpost, sighing softly.

Suddenly the young man sat up abruptly, letting the book he had been reading fall shut. He leaned forward and locked his eyes with mine over the end of the bed. The endless intensity I found there nearly knocked me over. He was like no one I'd ever seen before, tense and vivid. His hair was a deep red color; his eyes seemed impossibly dark blue, contrasting with the pale fineness of his skin. He had removed his army jacket, sitting in nothing but a plain white cotton t-shirt, his dog tags resting against his outlined chest. I felt naked under his scrutiny, but was unable to tear myself away or move beyond his sight. Eventually he held out his hand slowly.

"Ran Fujimaya, I'm your door gunner." His voice was deep and flat. I made me think of a windless ocean.

I held out my hand in response, taking his in mine. I was surprised at how cold his fingers felt. It would not be the last time.

"Ken Hidaka, I guess that means that I'm your new pilot," I said trying to keep my voice strong. I swallowed against the strange coldness I felt coming from the young man.

"Yes. I guess it does. Now if you don't mind. I'm going back to reading. Feel free to take over the bottom bunk. I prefer being on top."

Shculdich and I had the frame of mind to exchange a hasty glance. He covered his mouth, and suddenly began to cough violently.

"Say, Max, how long do you give him? The newbie that is?" Farfarello broke in in his strangely soft voice.

Schuldich had shot him a long, dirty glance. "Shut up, Jei."

"Just curious. Being with Randy-boy. I'll give him. eh. two months. Tops," Farfarello drawled slowly, his eyes shifting from me to Fujimiya.

"I told you to shut your Irish pie hole, Farf!" Schuldich snapped angrily.

Farfarello pouted. "No. I want to ask Ranny what he thinks. So, Ran, what do you think? Eh, Randy-boy. What's your vote? How long do you think he'll survive you?" The white haired man had begun to toss small pieces of what looked like wood bark across the gap between the bunks.

I watched as several pieces bounced off the quiet body of my door gunner. He made no sound, save that of the turning of a page.

"C'mon, Nippy, just hazard a guess. What's the average one of your pilot's has lasted? How long will the newbie survive your little jinx?"

Before I knew what was happening Fujimiya sat bolt upright, swung down from the bunk, and pulled Jei from his, punching him in the face. The single, graceful movement was nothing more that a blur before my eyes. The white haired door gunner's head whipped back, a small spray of blood erupting from his nose. Fujimiya released him with a shove and then turned, pushing past me, and walked without a word from the barracks.

"Shit, Jei, I told you to shut-up," Schuldich snapped, kicking his partner lightly in the leg.

But Farfarello had only swayed slightly, and clutching his nose chuckled perversely to himself.

The sight sent shivers up my spine and I was beginning to wonder just where this war was being fought.