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No Man Left Behind

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It doesn’t take long after Mexico for them to figure out exactly why the pilot was in the mental ward. Sure, to the casual observer he was nuts, crazed and likely to do any number of insane things at any moment. But they were always designed to be funny, to fill the blank spots between missions, it was only with prolonged inactivity he got truly deeply insane.

He’d been like that in the hospital – eyes extra wide and spaced, until he’d touched the controls on the chopper and then he’d been back, in the zone, on the jazz, THERE. It lasted through a few briefings, Hannibal pulling in favors and getting BA reinstated and Murdock de-certified. But when they were given two weeks leave before a new assignment that’s when it struck.

Murdock could not handle not being in danger. The longer he went without being shot at the less sanity there was in his eyes. It was like the stress was needed to ground him and focus him. Without it he started to slip away. At first it was the hyperactive mania they’d seen in Mexico. But then the night terrors started, and the bouts of catatonia, and Face was incredibly glad they’d decided on some off the books team bonding because if they hadn’t been there to see it, they might not have been able to hide it from the military.

Murdock was a mess.

It took a lot of string pulling for Hannibal to get his full unredacted file and when they did, dear God it was no wonder the man was 10 lbs of crazy in a 2 lb bag. He’d flown three times more missions than anyone else, with next to no rest. He’d been shot down in enemy territory three times. Twice he’d been captured, tortured, and escaped. His being alive was a miracle, his being sane at all was beyond possible. And that was only after he joined the army. His childhood had been worse than Face’s, and Face almost always won that shitty ass contest. But at least the group home hadn’t starved him, or locked him in a basement, or killed his dog in front of him and left him chained to the corpse for weeks. Most of the abuse was listed as “suspected”, suspected sexual abuse, suspected trafficking, suspected drug abuse… How Murdock ever even passed the psych eval to get into the army was a mystery.

The night terrors were horrific. During the day they had to worry he’d slip off into a cationic state, or do something to harm himself in a bout of mania, but at night he couldn’t sleep without waking up screaming, and waking up somewhere else. The only thing that seemed to help at all was having the team there, physical contact, and Face had no problems at all climbing into bed with the pilot, of holding him all night every night, if it meant he never had to hear another one of those screams. Of course, even having secure safe arms around him didn’t stop them all but it helped, and damn it he’d take it.

In the daylight Murdock pretended like nothing was going on. But after a few days he crawled into bed with Face instead of trying to go to his own, an apologetic turn down to his mouth, and then, after another couple nights the coronel joined to sandwich the pilot between them. Eventually even BA joined the dog pile on the king sized bed.

Going back to duty was going to make it harder to do this, but it clearly helped the pilot and it wasn’t like it was violating don’t ask don’t tell – they were SLEEPING. And as far as bonding exercises went, it wasn’t half bad at cementing them into one hell of a unit. When asked, later, what made them the unshakeable team they were, Hannibal would only smile and make a quip, but the truth was in the pile of them, all curled around their whimpering pilot, trying to help piece the kid back together.

They made sure to always bunk together, in their own tent, and they’d done a fantastic job of booby trapping the walls and doors to the point that nobody even tried to enter their quarters anymore. So nobody knew that they created a giant pallet all tucked into the back corner, that the cots were just there for set decoration, that the real bed was behind a bunch of supply boxes, cramped but they liked it that way. Murdock called it Billy’s kennel, and that was cute until Face got a look at the records again and saw that Billy had been the dog from his youth, the one that… yeah. That was just heart breaking.

They’d retire someday, and Face vowed he’d find a nice little place in the country, and he’d get Murdock a dog, two dogs. Maybe a pony. The fact that he was making retirement plans that involved his fellow teammate was not lost on him, or anybody really, and when BA made a comment about wanting a workshop in the barn, and Hannibal said something about a wraparound porch, it seemed like he wasn’t the only one. The team slept together, and dreamed together, and it wasn’t orthodox, that was for sure, but hell what did it matter?

Women came and went, for all of them, even Murdock (at least there were women interested – nobody ever saw him actually take anyone up on it), but nobody spent more than two nights away from the others, and never more than one at a time, and pretty soon the entire Army knew that the team came first, would always come first, and it might be weird or unusual but it became their normal, and nobody questioned it.

So after a couple of years, when it did start to change, it didn’t feel like change, not really. Face had always wondered, if after everything he’d been through, if Murdock might be asexual. He got dirty jokes okay, if he was paying attention, he’d even occasionally make one for the right audience. But he never looked at dirty magazines, he never commented on the women, or the men, on base, and he just generally acted like a big, dangerous, kid. So when Face woke up to find a new hardness pressed into him from behind, and the soft whimpers of Murdock in distress he didn’t say anything, just opened his eyes to catch the look of understanding on Hannibal’s face, and then reached back one arm to pull the pilot closer and let him rub it out. Hannibal was in the position to realize that his LT wasn’t unaffected, but he didn’t comment, didn’t offer to help either, and Face rather thought he’d just taken one for the team. But then BA’s arm had reached up and over Murdock, and well… that was somewhat unexpected.

They didn’t talk about it. Murdock looked embarrassed the next morning, but then settled down again after their next mission finished, the jazz of the flight keying him up to his normal manic joy. Hannibal seemed to be the only one that felt terribly introspective over it, as if he hadn’t actually planned for this contingency and that bothered him more than the actual event. But then, a few days later, when it happened again Hannibal was the one getting sleep mounted and he didn’t complain or push the Captain off. His quiet, unaided wanking also went unmentioned.

Then everything went to hell.

There wasn’t time between flying a tank and kidnapping the Arab, the frantic planning and the explosions on the dock – no time at all to really address what there had been between them. No conversation about it at all but then there never had been really. They just fell into it and never fell out, so without really needing to consider it they just resumed old habits. The dog pile the first night was tense, not because of each other, but because they were all escaped convicts, and Murdock was somehow worse than Mexico. He was oddly focused, oddly attuned to them, but still frantic and explosive in a way that he shouldn’t be after a mission. When they finally stopped running from L.A., safe, or about as safe as they could be, in a little cabin Face had managed to borrow from a widow he’d charmed out in San Diego, it was B.A. that made the first concrete move.

He pushed the two double beds together. They had been spread apart in the ‘bedroom’ part of the one room cabin. He just without a word moved the nightstand between them out of the way and with a screech of somewhat rusted metal legs on old wood he’d shoved them together. Hannibal watched and then, without adding any commentary at all, started taking off his clothes. It was chilly in the cabin, up in the mountains as it was, and the fire in the little pot belly stove hadn’t had time to warm much of the air yet. Naked, he slipped under the covers and B.A. joined him.

Face looked over at Murdock. The pilot wasn’t watching them, rather staring with jittery eyes at the movement of trees outside the window. There was a big pine out there and it was swaying gently in the breeze. “Murdock, buddy?” Face walked over and put a hand slowly on his shoulder. “You want to come to bed?”

Murdock jerked, nearly falling off his chair and looked up, something like fear in his eyes for just a second before it settled down into the familiar hopeful expression that broke Face’s heart every time he saw it. “What about diablo esta nina?”

Face smiled softly and then started peeling off his own clothes. “She’s not here and I don’t want her here. Just us. I missed us.”

Murdock somehow managed to be naked and on the bed, tucked up into Hannibal before Face got there himself and he slid in. B.A., Hannibal, Murdock, and Face, all crammed into two double beds. The divide between Hannibal and Murdock made it a little awkward, but they managed. They always manage.

Murdock twitched in his sleep, hard full body twitches, and Face couldn’t do anything other than hold him. B.A. traded places with Hannibal at some point, his voice rumbling out a lullaby of all things and slowly, slowly their pilot relaxed into much needed sleep.

“He ain’t right.” B.A. observed softly, after the twitching stopped. “They done something to him.”

“We’ve got him now.” Hannibal offered, resignation and determination equal in his tone. “No man gets left behind.”

Face tightened his hold on the crazy son of bitch. “Never.”