MAR 09
A Dagger of the Mind
Holiday: Panic Day

The firing had stopped. Momentarily, at least. In another minute, maybe more, maybe less, it would start up again. The very second anyone in his group made a move the VC would open up, pinning them down, picking them off one by one, until he was the only one left. And then they would come for him. He would see the others all die before it was his turn. And it would be his fault. His fault because he couldn't pull the damn trigger. He would die and his only legacy would be that he was the coward that failed his team.

It had been quiet too long. Way too long. Were the others already dead? Had he spaced out completely? He hadn't heard any firing, he knew he hadn't. What were they waiting for? Why wouldn't they show themselves? If they would just stand up, move into view, the others would start shooting then. He wouldn't have to. No one would have to know.

Why weren't they shooting?

They'd been in this same spot for hours. Days, maybe. Unable to move forward, unable to retreat. Even Murdock couldn't get in to bring them home. There was only one way out. One way to end this.

He had to end it.

It was his job. He was the one. To take out the one. Cut the head off the snake. His job. Only his.

And he'd failed.

He'd had that VC captain in his sights over and over again. Each time he'd settle the rifle against his shoulder. Each time he'd taken a breath and slowly exhaled. Each time his finger had tightened on the trigger.

And each time he'd let the man disappear into the jungle. Let him go to kill more and more Americans. So the VC captain could go home a hero.

And he would go home a coward. Or not at all.

No, he wouldn't go home. Even if the VC left him alive, he wouldn't go home. It may be a sin, but what was that compared to letting your company, your team, your family die because of your own cowardice? He was bound for hell anyway.

Why the hell didn't they start shooting? Maybe this time he could do it. Maybe this time. He could feel himself shaking. He had to stop that. He had to, or he couldn't shoot that damn VC captain. That damn VC captain that stood up, mocking him, daring him to shoot, knowing he couldn't, knowing he was a coward, showing the world what a coward he was...Why didn't that captain stand up, just one more time, just one more, he'd shoot him this time, prove he wasn't a coward, just stand up, stand up, stand up!

"Face."

He practically fell out of the tree at the voice. The jungle around him suddenly came into sharp focus, and he looked down. Hannibal was looking back up at him, and his voice was calm, quiet.

"Face?"

He looked around in confusion. The men, his men, his team...they were standing now, talking quietly. A couple glanced up at him and away again. A couple more looked over at Hannibal.

But they were...dead. They were dead because of him. Because he hadn't...

"Face, can you make it down? Do you need some help?"

No, no, he didn't need help. God, I got them killed, Hannibal, I can't ask for help now. I got them...

He looked once more at his team down below. None of them were on the ground, still, lifeless.

None of them.

He slowly climbed down from his high perch and stood, barely controlling the tremors. He couldn't look Hannibal in the eye.

"I...I'm sorry, Colonel, I..."

"It's okay, kid. You had me worried for a bit there, I'll admit. As long as you're okay now."

He looked away, ashamed, staring at the men as they checked the bodies of the enemy.

The body of the VC captain.

He felt Hannibal's arm go around his shoulder.

"Your first kill is always hard."

FINI