November, 1983 Ramstein, West Germany
Mac Taylor stared at the half-drunk scotch in front of him and tried to make the images tramping through his head stop. Every time he closed his eyes, he could see his friends injured, crushed, some dying in his arms. Now that he was healing, the memories wouldn't leave him alone.
He turned toward the door, ignoring the flyboys and locals. They had been welcoming enough, but they weren't marines. And they didn't know what he had been through, what his friends had been through.
Over two hundred good men had died in a terrorist attack, many of them his friends and acquaintances. Some he was directly responsible for. All of them good men. All of them died way too young.
He tossed back the rest of his drink—was this his third? This off-base bar wasn't as an anonymous as he might have liked, but there weren't that many military types here. At least there was that.
Someone slid into the barstool beside him and Mac immediately edged away. Then something about the man seemed familiar and he turned. "Gibbs! What are you doing here? You okay?"
He'd gotten to know the Lance Corporal at Lejeune and they had kept in close contact once they shipped out for Beirut, but had lost touch with him in the wake of the explosion. He hadn't really thought about the other guy since he'd—he'd supposed they'd—arrived here in Germany.
"How bad?" Mac asked the other man softly. Jet wouldn't be here if he hadn't been injured.
"Not as bad as the doctors are making it out to be." Jethro had been looking for his friend since he'd been shipped out to Germany. Before leaving Beirut, he'd heard that Mac had been amongst one of the first groups sent out, but no one knew how badly he had been hurt. Most of the gate sentries had been killed, so he assumed it was bad. As soon as he had been able to get out of bed, he started asking around. Luckily, someone had seen Mac leave base, or else he'd still be searching.
Holding up the cast that covered his left hand and lower arm to show Mac, he flushed. He didn't think it was enough to be shipped out of country, not when he should still be there helping, but he had no choice in the matter. Shannon was relieved that he was safe, but it just didn't sit well with him. "The only good thing about being here instead of there is that I found you, Lieutenant. I was worried when I heard you were being shipped out."
"Can the titles, Gibbs. We're off base, call me Mac. You were worried?" Mac couldn't help smiling briefly. "I took a lot of shrapnel, some in my chest. Lodged in my clavicle, bled like you wouldn't believe, they panicked and shipped me out. I should have stayed and helped." He shook his head and absently rubbed his chest. He had a bunch of stitches and a chunk had been taken out of one of his bones, but he'd be okay. It didn't even hurt that much Even the scrapes and bruises on his face were healing well. He'd been lucky and he knew it. Kevin, Stan, Munroe, Peters ... gone.
"How bad is it?" Mac asked. "You have Nurse Ratchett helping you out?" The nurses at the military hospital were overwhelmed and, as a result, the bedside manner was nonexistent. "You're not still holed up or you wouldn't be here. Where do they have ya bunking? I'm in overflow housing near the PX until they send me back. Good group of guys. You should come by sometime or ... uh, I mean, if you want."
He gave Jet a long look. His friend's words were stronger than he would have thought and something occurred to him. "Look, Jet. Don't take this the wrong way, but do you want to ditch all of this," he asked, gesturing to their fatigues. "And just go out and be two guys in Germany having fun. No rules, no ranks, no hierarchy. I've got the cash for a hotel, and who knows, we might get lucky. Those West German girls are pretty wild."
Jethro's eyebrows rose and Mac had the uncomfortable feeling that his friend knew some of his closely guarded secrets, the largest one that he wasn't interested in the West German girls at all. He had been harboring lust of a more forbidden nature.
"Getting out of here would be good, although I don't know that I'm up for much fun. I don't want to go back to the base either. I'm not much up for drinking, they pumped me full of pain meds before they turned me loose. I got caught unawares once, I'm not interested in getting so bleary eyed that someone could get the jump on me again." A hotel room, anything other then the depressing barracks back at base sounded like paradise. Jethro hadn't bothered to stick around long enough to get assigned a bunk, but he figured he could get one if he went back.
"Shouldn't I have been worried about you? We were told the worst injuries went in the first day and you were with them. I lost enough friends to not want to lose another, Mac. The only thing that knowing you were already on your way here was that I knew I wouldn't be digging you out from under the rubble."
Mac nodded, understanding what Jet was saying. "I know ... I know." His voice went soft and a little blurry and he swallowed down the rest of his drink in a single burning gulp. There was a certain comfort in knowing what the other man was feeling.
"I'll be okay, Jet. It looks worse than it is. Mac opened his shirt and motioned to the bandage over his chest. "Deep, but not really bad ... all things considered." Bullshit, he'd almost died, but almost didn't mean shit when he'd been surrounded by guys who had. He stood and motioned to the door. "Let's get out of here, Jet. We'll figure out what to do when we get there. Maybe just ... sleep. Get some food or room service. It's too damn depressing this close to the base. I think we both need to forget, even for just one night."
Again, that sounded worse than it was, but Mac just looked away and composed himself.
Pushing away from the bar with his good hand, Jethro followed Mac out onto the street. He quickly checked around them to make sure that they weren't being followed or that there wasn't a hidden danger that he could possibly prevent. Before the bombings, he'd gotten used to the constant vigilance of being a Marine, but now it was a million times worse, bordering on paranoia. "Let's find a room, someplace safe if it's possible, and get room service. The less I'm around people I don't trust, the better. Maybe I'll have one drink, just to take the edge off. Even with the pain meds, I don't see me sleeping well tonight without some help."
Mac nodded. He understood. He hadn't slept without drugs either. They called a cab, going to the nearby city. While Jet skulked around the lobby, Mac got the room and motioned his friend upstairs.
"Brats and beer will be up in a couple hours," he said as he opened the door and tossed the key on the end table. "No television, but I don't think we need that." He motioned to the bed, the queen-sized bed. "They didn't have two. We can use it in shifts. You tired now or..."
It was stupid to ask if the macho marine wanted to talk. It sounded so ... girly. And stupid given what they'd gone through. Neither of them were the types of guys who wanted their heads shrunk. But Jet looked so fucking haunted.
"What do you need?" It was weak and stupid, but it was all Mac had.
"That's a loaded question if I ever heard one, what I need and what I'm going to get are completely different things right now." The room wasn't fancy, but it was better than some of the places he'd slept since he'd enlisted. "And don't worry about the bed, when you're stuck in a foxhole with three guys twice your size for a week at a time, two people in a queen-size bed is a luxury."
While it was the truth, he hoped that Mac didn't question it any further. Jethro wanted sleep and a little human contact, something to remind him that he had managed to survive, against the odds. "I don't know what I want or what I need right now, Mac, I just want the rest of the world to go away for a little while, maybe for things to settle back down again before I have to face it again."
"Me too," Mac replied quietly. He knew what Jet was feeling, probably more than anyone else. They understood each other. He wasn't going to ask any more questions. He'd just accept whatever the other man was able to give.
He unbuttoned his shirt and pulled it off, then yanked off his boots and pants. Stretching out fully on the bed, he laid on Jet's right side, almost but not quite touching. "You need help getting your clothes off, Jet?"
Jethro had been cursing the cast on his arm that was making it difficult to unbutton his own shirt. He wouldn't have asked for help, but if Mac was offering, he wasn't going to turn him down. "I haven't mastered the art of one-armed buttoning yet. If you wouldn't mind helping a friend out, I'd really appreciate it. I wasn't able to find a change of clothes when I got here, so I'm ready to burn these about now."
They did reek, of blood and ... death and he suddenly couldn't wait to get them off his friend. He pulled the shirt off, maneuvering it around the cast and took the boots and pants off too. Even the underwear went. As soon as Jet's clothes were tossed in the far corner of the room, Mac peeled down the sheet and Jet obediently slid underneath it. Mac collapsed back on top of it, lying on his side, facing Jet.
It was a bit awkward, him only in his boxers and Jet in nothing, but he was too tired to think about anything serious right now. He grabbed the phone and cancelled the room service order. He could place one later.
"That better?" Mac asked, fighting to keep his eyes open.
.... There is more of this story ...