No Colors Anymore
Light bled through the canvas roof, casting quasi-dusk at once comforting and disconcerting. The tent belied the idea that it was roomy, despite its size; belied air circulated. Of the eight cots lining its walls, six were filled, grunts grabbing what sleep and rest they could before the next patrol.
Noises were slight and varied but present. Duo stared at the ceiling, identifying the blobs of light back to their source. The floodlight two hundred yards to the right; the floodlight five hundred yards to the north. Two beds over, Williams let off a soft sigh, his version of a private moan. A quick rustle and a squeak of the cot frame, Williams was done for the night, dreams of his girlfriend to follow.
Coatcheck was snoring in his sawing way he did only when back at camp. Quatre used to tell Duo the man must not sleep out on patrol, he never snored then. The noises were familiar enough, reminding him of basic and when everything kept him awake. But since coming in-country, he'd been able to sleep through worse.
His eyes slid from watching the ceiling to a darting look at the cot next to his. It was still empty, and his glance jumped away. Duo rolled to face the back wall. It'd been nearly a week - no word, no body. No Quatre.
A loud snort pierced the tent, another occupant voiced a blurry complaint.
Duo sat up and shoved his feet into his boots. Without tying them, he rose, picked up his discarded shirt and headed for the tent's door. Outside the tent, he slipped his shirt on over his tee shirt, his hand reaching for the braid that was no longer there. He let out a silent oath, and set off toward the mess.
Only two sips of coffee and his stomach was churning. He wasn't even there fifteen minutes and Duo was shoving himself off the bench. The captain sitting closest to the door looked up from a letter he'd been writing, and Duo nodded in passing.
The camp was dark after the light of the mess tent. Duo stepped away from its doorway, letting his feet carrying him where they would, but he found his eyes drifting to the barrier fence and the run of trees off in the distance. It wasn't a surprise that he was threading his fingers through the mesh wire while his eyes scanned the tree line.
"Maxwell?" a voice in the dark called out to him.
Duo turned his head, identified the lighter shadow as a fellow squad member. "You're on duty too?" A friendly face came into view, weapon carried casually in one hand.
"Yeah, it's too quiet out here." The soldier came to stand by Duo and looked to the trees himself.
Nodding, Duo said nothing. Bailey was a grunt, like him. Only he'd been in ‘Nam longer and was short time. Duo shot a glance at him and back to the tree line.
Bailey shifted, looked back over his shoulder, and moved closer to Duo. "Walk the perimeter with me," he said. "I got a joint I can share."
Duo hesitated. A joint wasn't what he wanted, but Bailey was one of the good guys. "Sure."
"Great!" Bailey turned and set the pace, Duo two steps to his left. "I heard about Winner," he said. "It's a bitch, man."
"Yeah." He clipped the word short.
"You two were like brothers, weren't you?"
Duo closed his eyes and swallowed. "He's not dead."
Bailey was halting, looking at Duo. "But I heard the Huey he was in..."
"He's not dead!" Duo ground out. "His body wasn't there." In a moment, that endless night washed over him and he stifled the shudder. "Sergeant Yuy is out there looking for him."
"Oh." Bailey continued to walk. "Sorry. Didn't mean anything by it." Duo only nodded and scanned the perimeter fence. "Hell, no one's going to say anything." Bailey stopped again, his rifle leaning against his thigh as he dug in his fatigue shirt. "Got a letter from my girl today," he was saying, the joint in his fingers now. "We're getting married as soon as I get home."
Duo pushed his hands in his pockets and gave Bailey a quick nod. "Condolences," he said with a smile.
"Hey now!" But Bailey was laughing, the joint at his lips; fingers were digging out a box of matches from his pants pocket. "She's better than what you've got, I'll bet." His smile was infectious, and Duo was smiling back at him.
"Since I've got nothing, she would be."
"A regular beaut..." he paused to strike the match. It flared to life, a brilliant spark in the night. "Won a contest eve..." and he was crumpling to the ground, the echoing rifle shot delayed.
Duo was on his chest immediately, levering his helmet to cover his head and reaching for Bailey's dropped rifle. His eyes searched the trees wildly, hearing from a distance the shouts from others on duty, from soldiers tumbling from their tents. Floodlights were being flipped on, all pointing to the expanse before the trees, searchlights dot the edges, and a shot is fired.
"Are you shot?" an urgent voice demands, and Duo rolls to stare up at the corpsman crouched over Bailey.
He shook his head, watching the blood flow in a sluggish line from the perfect hole in Bailey's forehead. The "all-clear" was sounded, GIs were returning to their cots, the mess tent or back to duties abandoned. Duo still sat where he'd dropped, watching the spot Bailey had been.
A hand was on his shoulder, squeezing it and Duo raised his face to see the captain from the mess squatting down beside him. The captain handed him a handkerchief without a word. Duo took it and gave the captain a puzzled look.
"Wipe your face and get some sleep, soldier." The man's voice was calming, gruff but with a care.
Duo nodded and did as directed, surprised when the near white linen was streaked red. The captain stood and offered a hand. Duo inhaled loudly, looked away from where Bailey had been only moments before and looked to the trees.
The night was black, and sleep wasn't going to come.