Disclaimer: The Tour of Duty characters and situations do not belong to me. I simply love to play in their sandbox.
Summary: Missing scene from And Make Death Proud to Take Us as Doc waits with the L-T and Ruiz for the return of their friends.
As with all my stories, thanks are in order to my friends and betas. Doc, Mel, Snowy and witchbaby, who all tell me what works, and what doesnít. And hang in there with me no matter how frustrated I get. You guys are the best.
**Iíd like to offer this to Creed and TJ, my favorite pair of nuts. **
Almost only counts in horseshoes and hand grenadesÖ
I can feel Roo shift his weight next to me as we sit on the edge of the chopper pad. The midmorning heat is already more than unbearable, but neither of us can bring ourselves to leave. Weíve had more than enough time to shower and change and get some chow. But instead weíre sitting here, still in our gear. Waiting.
Someone has to keep an eye on Goldman.
We came so close to losing everything last night. I canít help but watch the painfully silent man as he stands apart from us, from everyone, chain-smoking as he watches the horizon. He needs this space. Needs this time.
Heís so determined. Determined to prove that he can survive her death and everything else that has been thrown at him. Determined to prove he doesnít need the friendships he let himself have before. Determined to prove heís just a soldier, and that nothing else matters anymore. That friends die and that is part of the war.
It donít mean nuthiní.
He almost succeeded. Then everything came crashing in around him last night. Heís still trying to shore up walls. Still trying to tell himself itís okay now. That he can calm down and get himself back under control.
The unthinkable almost happened, but in the end it didnít.
We came so close to losing them- Marcus and Danny. The Sarge. We almost lost the L-T too. We came so damn close. Too damn close.
Gather up the pieces, L-T and pretend you didnít almost die back there too.
You could have. Almost, but not today.
"Chopper." Ruiz glances at me with dark eyes before he climbs to his feet. I follow, snuffing out my cigarette on the edge of the platform before dropping it to the ground. Stepping cautiously up next to the L-T, I take a look around the camp for the first time and realize how many men are starting to gather.
They hang back a polite distance, the concerned and the curious. Itís clear to everyone that this is Goldmanís show- his men, his responsibility, his fears. No one is about to intrude on that.
I can hear that distinctive sound of the rotors before I finally see the Hueys slip low over the tree line, heading in on our position. The sunlight catches and spills off the Plexiglas windshields and I glance away. When I look up again, I find myself captured in L-Tís dark eyes. And trapped in his intensity.
This is one of those moments where my mind freezes- Iím never completely sure he understands what it is that he can do. Heís so afraid of himself, afraid to trust himself. Itís not like I can reach out and ask him, "Do you understand?" Heís afraid of me. Itís something that we leave unspoken between us.
Right now heís so wide open. Shattered walls are no longer enough to hold back the L-Tís raw emotions and his anxiety and shame spill over me. He can tell himself all he wants that he doesnít care, that heís the Lieutenant with a capital "L", but right now heís simply a frightened man who almost lost everything in the dark of the night.
Almost lost himself.
The choppers start to ease down, the hot wind and the smell of the fuel rushes by the three of us in a storm of dust and we duck away, covering our eyes. Lt. McKay is last, the pilot bringing his slick in on the pad itself and cutting the engine almost immediately.
We turn back as the other Hueysí engines are shut down, and I pull my glasses off so I can wipe the grit out of my eyes. The sudden silence that wraps around all of us is almost unreal in the wake of the Hueysí arrival, and we stand there, more than a little unsure and uncomfortable.
The rotors havenít even stopped turning and Lt. McKay is already stripping off his helmet and climbing down. Anderson is where he almost always is, right inside the open bay with one foot on the skid. He now steps down and hands out the two newbies who had survived- William Griner and young Eddie Bell.
Bell is grinning, almost foolishly. But his eyes are wide and bright and have a wild look about them. Griner, normally a laid back kinda kid, has that same look in his eyes. Both men are skirting the bare edges of exhaustion and shock. They stumble down the ramp past us, not even realizing weíre standing there.
Lt. McKay and Anderson are sliding a body out on a poncho. Anderson has his rifle slung over his shoulder as he grips the edges of the plastic and helps the pilot. They come down the ramp and lay the body at Goldmanís feet, McKay glancing at me with a worried and exhausted look.
Anderson seems to almost flinch, but doesnít look up at Goldman. Ruiz pushes past us to get at Marcus and Danny who are unloading a second poncho-covered body off of McKayís slick.
Anderson looks so tired.
Soul-weary and heart-heavy.
The other slicks are now being silently unloaded; the bodies of those boys being carefully laid down nearby.
"Anderson?" Goldman reaches out hesitantly to touch his friendís shoulder. Anderson still wonít look up. He canít look up. I can feel him pull a bit further into himself, unable to face the L-T.
In the past Iíve always been struck with the sheer presence of this man, the unspoken power and simple confidence that is Sgt. Zeke Anderson. No matter what happens around us in the madness they dare to call a war, Anderson has always stood solid and unchanged. We all count on that. And no one more than Goldman.
Now there is a shocked sorrow about him. Itís as if something has been broken inside and he has nothing left to offer. Certainly not to his bewildered friend who needs reassurances that his sergeant is all right.
"Zeke?" This almost a plea.
Iím shaking with Andersonís withdrawal and exhaustion. Nothing is spoken aloud, yet the sergeantís words cut achingly across my panicked thoughts.
Please donít ask this of me, not now. I canít save you from yourself, today.
"This oneís Clark, sir." Andersonís voice is flat, emotionless. He lets the rifle slide off his shoulder to hang from numb fingers. I can feel him, his struggle to keep what control he can. He is trying so hard not to shake with that inner struggle.
"Almost didnít make it, L-T."
"Itís alright now, Sergeant." Goldman still has his hand on his friendís shoulder. "It wasnít your time."
I couldnít save those boys last night!
I flinch back from the unspoken anguish as the L-T does. Anderson swallows and finally looks up with eyes dark and shadowed.
"None of this is your fault, Sergeant." Goldman finds his voice again. "You did the best you could. You brought back Percell and Taylor."
Anderson is losing his tenuous grip on himself, his pain now raw and spilling over the L-T and me. He is still staring at Goldman.
Is that enough?
Shouldnít it be?
Anderson shakes his head before he looks past all of us to the bodies of the boys who are being carefully unloaded and set down.
I canít be strong for you today. Please donít ask this of me. Not now, not today. I just canít be this for you.
* * *
I find him when I come out to have a cigarette. The L-T is leaning against the wall of the building, silent and watching the darkness wrap in around the camp as he smokes. This is his quiet time, time away from everyone around him, including his new roommate, McKay. Time to try and quiet the things that keep haunting him. That whisper to him on the breeze that comes up with the lengthening shadows.
I decide to give him that peace and space, but canít find it in me to simply walk away either. So I make myself comfortable on a wall of sandbags, light up and consider Lt. Myron Goldman.
There is so much about himself heís afraid to understand. So much of himself heís simply afraid to look at. I wish I had known him before everything changedÖ before she died and took him with her.
The friendship with the Sarge is everything to him. He puts everything of himself into that friendship, including the one thing that comes so hard for him- his trust. He trusts so completely in Anderson. Trusts that Anderson will see him through this, because he canít do it on his own anymore.
So close to losing all of that. AlmostÖ
They were both so unprepared for what happened back there at that pad. The L-T just so shaken to the core that he almost lost the Sarge. Anderson, in one of those rare moments, simply unable to deal with the awesome responsibility he has taken on of keeping the L-T sane.
Anderson never meant to push the L-T away.
What is the cost of such a friendship?
I sit here and wonder as I watch the L-T crush out the remains of the cigarette he has and then reach for another. Heís mostly in shadow now, his face illuminated for a moment by the flame of his lighter. He glances up, eyes narrowing and I realize Anderson is there.
There is between these two men so much unsaid and yet understood. They stand in the lengthening shadows, the silence stretching out between them for several long moments. It is the rarest of friendships that can offer up an apology and have it accepted, without a single word spoken aloud between them.
And the realization that sometimes even the strongest falter and stumble.
Sgt. Anderson isnít any different than the rest of us.
Sometimes I think we forget heís just a man.