|Rating: PG 13
Disclaimer: The characters of Tour of Duty do not belong to me. I just love playing in their sandbox.
**As always, I want to thank Doc, Mel and Snowy who make it possible for me to do this. Your encouragement and honesty make all the difference.**
This one is for Snowy- the High Priestess of the Cult of Zeke. Thanks for being patient. We all knew he'd talk to me one day.
"What do you owe this man?"
Zeke stood alone in the moonlit meadow. The wind whispered around him, softly calling to him, speaking his name.
The tall grass rippled and swayed, silvered in the moonlight.
The sky was a black tapestry above him without a single star. There was only the moon as it hung heavy and large over the distant horizon.
Zeke looked around, confused. Something moved at the edges of his vision, but whenever he turned, he could see only the endless meadow and the rippling grass.
"What do you owe this man?"
Again, something or someone moved around behind him. He whirled, anger and confusion building. And met with Horn's green eyes.
Zeke froze, staring. Roger only looked at him. Zeke tried to find his voice, to speak Roger's name, but the words stuck in his throat. He reached out his hand, desperate to touch him, and realized he was holding a knife.
It was covered in blood.
"What do you owe this man?"
It was there again, the movement slipping at the edge of his vision and Zeke twisted around. Decker stood behind him, clearly drunk. Blood was splattered all over his uniform. When Zeke looked into his eyes- there was nothing there.
The blood dripped between his fingers that still held the blade. Zeke turned back; his voice still caught in his throat. Only Roger wasn’t there. The L-T was instead.
Goldman, holding an M-16 in both hands, raised his head slowly and met Anderson's bewildered gaze with midnight eyes.
"I owed the man friendship- I owed him loyalty!" Zeke's voice rushed from him, but the words were snatched by the wind and swept away.
The wind whispered around him, accusing him as he stared at the silent Goldman.
"What do you owe this man?"
Roger was on the ground, blood pooling around him. Zeke found himself kneeling next to Horn, the bloodied knife still in his hand. He looked up at Goldman who knelt across from him, a hand on Roger's chest.
Trapped in Goldman's dark eyes, Zeke realized he was trembling.
"What do you owe me?"
* * *
With false dawn chasing the shadows back, Zeke walked through the quiet camp, rifle in his hand. The rain had cleared off sometime during the night, leaving Ladybird mired in several inches of red mud and puddles the size of small lakes. Zeke nodded to Percell and Taylor who were coming off of sentry duty and heading straight for their racks. The two men only nodded in acknowledgement and kept right on walking.
This part of the day, before night completely relinquished over to morning, was when the camp was at its quietest. The sentries were changing, a few other men might be already on the move, but for the most part this was the time when Ladybird seemed to hold her breath and hang in the balance of night to day.
It was in this stolen moment that Anderson could find Goldman.
Zeke knew the L-T needed this time. Time to sort himself out from everything around him and to gather himself together to face the day's events. The younger man was almost always in the same spot; leaning against a wall of sandbags, smoking, and watching the colors chase themselves across the brightening sky.
No one would take that away from him, least of all Zeke.
Zeke walked around the corner of one of the tents, and stepped over a low wall of sandbags. He ignored the pool of rust colored water he walked through and looked up. He let out a breath that he did not realize he was holding when he spotted the younger man where he had hoped he would be.
It was a relief to know when so many other things had shifted out from under him in the space of a couple of days, that others could remain the same.
This little habit of the L-T's being one of them.
Zeke set his backside down on the sandbagged wall in the shadow of the tent and cradled his rifle across his chest and in the crook of one arm. Settled himself and watched.
About a month ago, Horn had wandered by, sleepily yawning from having just come off of sentry duty. Zeke had seen Roger the same time Horn registered the Sergeant in his drifting mind. With a casual glance over his shoulder, the younger man noted the L-T.
"It's the quietest part of the day for him." The RTO yawned hugely and nodded in Goldman's direction, much too tired to be tactful.
Zeke remembered staring at Horn, blinking.
Roger simply rubbed a grubby forearm across his gritty eyes and continued walking to Third Squad's bunker and his rack.
What the hell had he meant by that? Of course it's the quietest part of the damn day!
The thought of the RTO suddenly chased in other thoughts. Thoughts that Zeke hadn't completely set aside thanks to the nightmare that had him waking and gasping little more than an hour ago. Roger was back at Chu-lai, wounded but now recovering. The kid almost got killed due to Decker's carelessness.
That had been Zeke's fault.
The L-T blamed himself, but Zeke knew where the real blame belonged.
He ducked his head and shifted restlessly on the damp sandbags, resettling the weight of the rifle to his other arm. The entire mission was like a bad movie that never ended. It kept circling around in his mind.
The single crack of the rifle shot. The frightened look on the L-T's face when Zeke announced it was the LP.
He would never forget how Goldman looked when he and Johnson brought Roger back to the relative safety of the rest of the squad. The color had drained right out of the young Lieutenant's face as he knelt by the panting and shivering RTO. How the L-T reached across Roger's chest and slipped a supportive hand under his head, looking up at Zeke with horrified eyes nearly black with fright and anguish.
The real blow, though, the one that left Zeke struggling with the entire mess was when he had tried to talk to the L-T later. Frightened, angry and betrayed, Goldman had lashed out at him with that temper of his barely in check.
Zeke flinched inwardly with the memory of the words and the look in the younger man's eyes. The angry words burned across his thoughts, vivid and unyielding.
"It's something like trust, isn't it? Like when I trusted you to take on Decker. And just like Horn trusts me and all these other men trust me to make decisions! Well I screwed up and made the wrong one and now Horn's gonna pay for it!"
It was his job to win Goldman's trust. His job to bring him along, show him how to be a good officer and to care for his men. The last thing he wanted to do in the middle of this sorry excuse they called a war was hurt that young man. Betray that shaky trust.
What was he thinking?
He'd seen the entire mess back at Chu-lai, Decker drunk and then being arrested. He wasn't responsible for that. He wasn't responsible for the turns that Decker's life had taken that had brought him to that sorry moment.
Decker had been responsible for him once, in years past. That had been his job.
Zeke was now responsible for the young men standing there with him- Taylor, Baker and Ruiz, for the rest of the men in his squad, and for that matter his platoon. He was certainly responsible for the L-T.
He was responsible to the L-T.
Why had he ignored that? "I owe the man friendship- I owe the man loyalty..."
Decker was his past, though. And the L-T was his present, and certainly his foreseeable future.
Zeke watched as the young Lieutenant shook out another cigarette and lit up. Watched the man shift his weight against the sandbagged wall and continue to think. Zeke shook his head, unable to look away from Goldman, unable to escape his own thoughts.
He had played on Goldman's shaky trust, convinced the young Lieutenant to take on Decker. It hadn't been hard. After all, the L-T trusted his judgement more and more with each mission. Zeke knew he had seen a chance to help a man he had considered a friend once. He convinced the young officer it had been the right thing to do.
But at what cost?
Closing his eyes briefly, Zeke drew in a deep breath of the damp air.
The L-T had every reason to be disappointed in him.
Angry frightened young man- afraid to trust in himself let alone anyone else. Wallace had seen that straight off. Had caught Goldman off guard with his ease and gentle humor. Had trusted in Anderson to get past all of that and make Goldman into a good officer. Believed now that Zeke could regain the young officer's trust and respect.
Zeke had screwed up. And the cost was still being counted.
He had few choices. He was going to have to prove himself to Goldman, prove to the young man he had not made a mistake in trusting him. Win his respect back. Regretfully, Zeke realized it wasn't going to happen overnight. The L-T wasn't going to pretend it didn't happen and put it behind the both of them. It could never be that simple for the young man.
Something prompted him to look up, and he realized that for the first time, the L-T was looking straight at him. Morning had finally arrived, chasing back the last of the night's shadows. Zeke let himself meet Goldman's dark eyes, ready to accept what he would see there. He flushed with shame when he realized it was simply bewilderment that reached out to him. Bewilderment and confusion.
Zeke swallowed hard, rising to his feet as Goldman pushed himself off the wall.
It hung unsaid between them, the understanding that one knew the other had betrayed more than just a trust, but a friendship. But that they could get past this.
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.