The bar was dark. That was intentional, of course; dark and cool and cave-like, the bar was a place of refuge from the intensity outside. Nobody wanted it brighter, except the MPs: you couldn't make out any faces, not clearly anyway.
That didn't much matter. He'd seen the other man in bright light before: the brilliant sunlight of an Asian summer's day, the searing actinic lights of firebombs, the red of operational cockpit lighting, as well as the simple lights of offices and other buildings. He knew what what he couldn't see looked like.
Tall, lean, long legs and hands and face, lanky grace and - most important, and something he couldn't have seen no matter what the lighting was like - a quick and sympathetic mind.
The worst thing about this job, after all, was how isolating it was. Oh, not for everybody; most of the pilots and crews had no trouble with what they were doing. If you questioned it, they looked at you, puzzled, and said `don't you know who's giving the orders for the program?'
And you did, of course, but ... Well, nobody had ever quite gone so far as to say `if the president's doing it it can't be illegal' but that was what they meant. And by the time you realized that - or maybe just realized you didn't agree with it - you were in way too far. Too late to back out, a long row to hoe before you could leave, and way too late to blow any whistles without ending up in trouble yourself. So, there you were, and all you could do was your job and then whatever it took to forget it the rest of the time.
You could have sex with slants; you could call them slants; and you could wince when you heard yourself call them that, because you knew that no matter what you called them they were still people, and nothing could make you forget what you were doing to them and their country. And you couldn't talk to them, of course. At least not about this. And you couldn't talk to anyone else, because they didn't understand your problem. So you drank.
You couldn't really drink enough to make it okay - you couldn't even drink enough to not care, not and still be able to function. But if you drank enough, you could forget things for a while. And it was possible to drink enough to see things in a new way, a tolerable way - though you also could see things that maybe weren't really there. And he was drunk enough for that - drunk enough to think that maybe he was seeing things in those big brown eyes, even though he knew that maybe he was only seeing what he needed.
But maybe the other pilot needed them, too. Only one way to find out. And he was just drunk enough to take the chance.
At the other end of the bar Murdock was well aware of Blue's presence. After all, there was a war on. Keeping track of people was a good idea in general, and the other pilot was his best friend. Just about his only friend, but Murdock would have liked him anyway. He got along with his crew, of course - this one and the chopper crew he sometimes flew with - but the military frowned on officers socializing with enlisted, even this crappy kind of socializing. And most of his fellow pilots were, to be polite about it, not really his kind of guy. He'd had practice being alone, of course, but it was harder now than it had been in high school. Blue Streak was a sanity saver. He raised his beer in the other man's direction and watched him make up his mind to come over.
"Hey, you married to the idea of staying here and drinking?" the redhead said when he got there.
"That depends on which part of it you're thinking of dumping," Murdock answered.
Blue smiled. "We could kill a bottle at my hooch."
Murdock grinned back. "You're keeping my favorite part." He downed the rest of his beer and stood up.
They walked without talking through the alleyways shrouded in darkness and heat. Blue led the way, his lean form a darker shadow except when a stray bit of light sparked a glint from his captain's bars, or fire from his red hair. Once inside the hooch - a step better than Murdock's, but Blue had been here longer - he locked the door and lit the kerosene lamp hanging beside it. He then threw his forage cap and jacket onto a table in a corner, and followed them with his uniform shirt. His shoes he kicked off under it.
"You going out tomorrow?" Murdock asked, though it didn't look like it. It looked like Blue wasn't planning on going anywhere. Still, he thought he'd better ask.
"Nah. You?" Blue looked a bit apprehensive at the thought, and no wonder; getting smashed the night before a mission over Cambodia was not a particularly good idea. As they both knew from experience.
"Nah," Murdock shook his head. "Three days already."
"I hear you." Blue relaxed and pulled out a bottle.
"Jim? Nice." He pitched his own outer layer at the table, letting the undershirt loose around the khaki pants instead of tucked in, and after failing to see a chair took a seat on the foot of the bed.
Blue grinned. "Straight from Honolulu." He poured the whiskey into two water glasses, half filling them. "Been saving it."
"Yeah? For what?"
Blue shrugged and handed Murdock his glass. "For you, I guess, Howlin'." Like he was Blue Streak, Murdock was Howling Mad, but the shortened form of the radio call-name always sounded Chinese when Blue said it: Hao Lin. Odd, but Murdock liked it. Good forest, it meant, which was pretty far from Muireadhach, meaning chieftain, as you could get. Hao Lin wasn't a man in charge of anything, let alone a man with the power of life and death... He took a deep drink of the bourbon, feeling the fiery liquid warm his gullet.
Blue sat down on the bed, resting the bottle on the floor between their sock-clad feet. He too took a deep swallow, shaking his head slightly from the kick. He sighed and relaxed visibly. Murdock was glad to see that, because a tense Blue was a bit of a loose cannon.
"For me? I do appreciate it, and I'll see if I can find somethin' to reciprocate with," he said lightly. "Don't know when I'll get the chance to go to Seoul, but maybe if we get bad weather for a while I can run over to Saigon next time I'm at Tan Son Nhut."
Blue snorted. "They'll have us flying in the monsoons when they come."
"Well, Breakfast is a bit of a hit back home," Murdock said. "For the cognoscenti, anyway."
"Breakfast can go to hell. And the cognoscenti with it." Blue was bitter, and no wonder, but Murdock felt unreasonably pleased that the other pilot felt safe saying that to him. Their squadron-mates would have reacted as though he'd suggested bombing Washington, the ones who couldn't read maps and figure out where they were actually dropping their ordnance, that is. The ones who could and had, well, they were a bit worse...
"Breakfast." Murdock shook his head and emptied his glass. "And Lunch. At least they're about to run out of names."
"You think they'll stop at Supper?" Blue shook his head and picked up the bottle, filling both glasses. When he put the cap back on, he shifted his seat on the bed, ending up right next to Murdock. "Hell, I look forward to Midnight Snack over Angkor Wat."
Murdock laughed, though it was only funny in a certain light. "They would." After a moment he looked sideways at Blue. "Would you?"
"I would not."
And that was the kind of thing they could only say to each other, Murdock reflected. "Me, either," he said, reaching for the bottle. He topped off their glasses in the comfortable silence and felt the warmth of the other man's body along his. They drank wordlessly, and the silence grew thicker and a little strange, which Murdock chalked up to the Jim Beam.
"Hao Lin," Blue said abruptly but didn't add anything to it.
Murdock looked at him and raised an eyebrow. "Hmmm?"
Blue studied the amber liquid in his glass for a moment and Murdock had shrugged it away when the redhead spoke again. "You ever want something and not know exactly what it is?"
That startled a bark of laughter out of Murdock. "Story of my life," he said, and damn' near went on especially if you add `get something and it turn out not what you thought'. He didn't say that, though he wasn't sure why. He hadn't had so much to drink that he couldn't think, but he was a bit hazed. Something was going on, something too many words could spoil.
"Yeah." Blue turned slightly to look at him, and then reached out and pushed Murdock lightly in the chest. He flopped back onto the bed and found himself looking up into gray eyes very close, unblinking. Like a fogbank, easy to get lost in. Unsafe, he thought, and hazardous for navigation. They stared at each other for a long moment, and then Blue took Murdock's glass and set it on the floor along with his before leaning back in, the heat of his body through the two thin layers of cotton jersey warming Murdock more than the whiskey had. "Yeah," he said again.
Murdock swallowed but didn't move otherwise. Blue leaned on one arm, looking down, his free hand touching Murdock's cheek. "Are we going to do this?"
Murdock stared at him for another long moment, then found his voice. "I think we already are." He reached up and grabbed Blue by the nape of his neck. Having found his voice, he abandoned it, not speaking again. Blue didn't either, except a word or two of instruction much later. Words weren't needed, and mouths had other things to do. Blue made him forget about Menu, and Cambodia, and Viet Nam, and anger and isolation. Especially isolation...
And if there wasn't any future in what they did, well, Murdock wasn't sure any more that anything had a future. But there was a now, and this now was the best he'd known in years. This now was something he wanted.
This now was something he'd keep.
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