Title: Dogs of War
Date Posted: 5-25-04
Archive: FHSA, DIB, Rat B, WWOMB, FONXL
E-mail address for feedback: Fan4Richie or Ursula4X@aol.com
Classification: Slash Story
Series/Sequel: Is this story part of a series: Gone to the Dogs
Web Site: http://www.fhsarchive.com/ursula/
Main FHSA Site: http://www.fhsarchive.com/
Disclaimers: No X-Files characters died in the making of this story.
Notes: For Peach Thanks to Karen and Helen for beta work
Warnings: Graphic war scene, sad dog story
Time Frame: Before and after the X-Files
The cool, damp weather of fall always made Alex's arm ache. I worried about that. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Mulder wrap himself around our lover. That should warm Alex in the best way possible.
"Fucking early to be up on a Saturday," Mulder complained.
"Nothing special about Saturdays," Alex reminded.
"Yeah, but," Mulder said.
I scowled in their direction. I liked it quiet when I was testing a new pup. The dog in question was one of Gina's. She had been blessed with a series of outstanding litters, too good to place as pet quality dogs yet too many for her full time staff. Alex and I were both working dogs as a result. We owe Gina.
Flavia, the hound that I was working, was a promising nine-month-old, young for field trials, but old enough to settle down for serious scent work.
"Funny how good Walter is at this," Mulder said. "I never knew he had a dog in the past. He never mentioned being around them."
I wondered if I should tell him?
Now I was distracted. I had told Alex the story and I could see from his expression that he remembered. It had been when we first found each other. Alex had been dying of one of the alien's cancerous mutations. We made love more than was wise, but it wasn't all sex. We talked more than I think I had ever talked to anyone in my life during those few days. For some reason, I had never told Mulder about Tuyen.
Mulder was looking at Alex in his intense way. His quicksilver intelligence was gathering data from our lover's veiled expression. No doubt that Mulder sensed an unsaid truth. Mulder didn't like having information withheld and he was human enough to resent it if Alex knew something about me that I had not told him. Mulder is as exasperating as hell, but I love him anyway.
It was time to take a break and time to do some talking. My pain had finally faded. I squatted in front of my lovers, my new denim jeans straining across my ass. I used to always buy loose fitting jeans, but I liked the way my lovers watched me in these.
Alex had brought a thermos of coffee out. It was still steaming hot and tasted good in the chill of the morning. I gathered my thoughts, my eyes focused on my past and not on the beauty of the long stretch of yard in front of me.
It was a long time ago and it was yesterday. I still found it difficult to tell anyone about my experiences in Vietnam. I had shared more of my history with Mulder than I had with my wife. That should have been a clue.
Flavia, the new hound, flopped at my feet, tongue lolling as she panted. I rubbed her ears and took a deep breath.
"My dog in 'Nam was a bitch too," I said. "She was a coal black German Shepherd."
Mulder had that expression on his face. He hated it when people withheld information from him. "You always said you were a grunt in Vietnam. You never said you were a dog handler."
"I wasn't," I said. "Tuyen was a war dog, but I wasn't her handler. It was in the last days before the fall of Saigon. The dogs were considered equipment and the plan was to turn them over to Vietnamese handlers. Right. They could just barely feed themselves and the culture didn't regard dogs as much more than vermin."
"We had orders. Injured dogs were put down at the end. HQ planned to abandon them anyway," I said, grimacing at the memory. "It was one of the many things I tried not to think about. I always liked dogs and it was so fucking unfair that our dogs served as soldiers, but would die like garbage. Maybe I felt an affinity. There was so much shit going on, especially right before we bugged out of Vietnam."
I had to take a deep breath before going on. As my memories rose like so many ghosts, I could feel the heat of the jungle, smell the myriad foul odors of the camp.
I could see John.
The driving beat of the Doors filled the Quonset hut. I took a long slow tug on the reefer I was sharing with John.
"Fucking hot," John complained.
It didn't warrant a reply. It was always hot here - torrid, humid, bug ridden butt hole of creation.
I drew the smoke deep into my lungs, feeling the warm haze seep into me. Hot, scared shitless, miserable with homesickness, if you got high enough you didn't care. I passed the reefer to John, grinning lazily at him.
John was our medic, a good one, who planned to use his military scholarship to finish med school. He was a healer in every sense of the word. I watched him get up, watched his tight round ass move across the floor. A hell of a lot more sexy than the skinny ho I had fucked a few months ago. My family would have been horrified, but they weren't here. They weren't me.
Being here was the worst experience of my life, a hell of a lot worse than breaking my arm, falling out of a tree or getting tackled a foot from the goal and losing the big game. It wasn't what it was supposed to be like. I didn't feel like a patriot. I felt like a scared, dirty kid.
Yet, I was free. Free to do and feel things I had not known were possible. Vietnam was a mind blowing experience.
John was one of the good things, the only good thing that happened to me. I was scared. Scared the guys would find out. Scared my family would know. Scared because I was falling in love with him the way I thought I had with the prom queen in the back of my old Rambler.
I stood up too and said, "I've got to find something to eat. You want anything?"
"A nice fresh lobster bake would be good," John said.
"Yeah, right, and a twenty ounce Porterhouse steak for me," I replied. "I'm going to get some Canh Choa Ca."
"Make sure it's not from old Hang. I don't want to nurse your ass through another night of diarrhea," John lectured, as he rolled another doobie.
I laughed and said, "Gotcha."
The soup vendors came pretty close to camp these days. Things were falling apart here pretty quick. The guys said we we're going home soon, one way or another. They said we were losing the war.
I winced at the thought. Dad hadn't lost his war. He might hold me personally accountable for not winning this one.
Tranh was a living relic, but he was clean. His soup didn't make you sick. I waved to the guards as I stepped out of camp. One of them looked as if he was as high as I was. I think he might have been doing China. Man, that was sick. Weed was one thing, but heroin? Heroin was deadly shit.
Hang waved and jabbered at me, but I ignored her. One experience was enough. I still bought tea from her, but no more of her soup. That night I ate the bad batch, I was sick enough to feel like I was dying and miserable enough to wish it would be soon.
Tranh grinned. He had most of his teeth, amazing for a poor Vietnamese. His wrinkles rayed out from his wide toothed smile. "Hey, skinny boy, you want some of my good soup?"
"Yeah," I said, plunking myself down on the rickety stool that Tranh provided for his customers.
The fish soup reeked, but I craved the stuff. I even added more of the infamous hot sauce to my bowl. I heard and almost felt a growl. I looked under the cart and saw red glowing eyes.
"You find yourself a wolf, Tranh?" I asked. I squatted down to see the dog. At least, I hoped it was a dog. I would hate to see a rat that big.
"Dog. American dog. I find her hurt near dump. Make her good again. Maybe you take her back with you?" Tranh asked.
"A war dog?" I asked. "Ah shit."
Tranh whistled and the dog emerged. It was thin and there was a patch of shaved fur on her side, but she was a beauty at one time, a black German Shepherd bitch.
"I name her Tuyen," Tranh said. "I sew up her wound; give her good soup to make her well. Now, she need good American food to make her fat and strong."
The dog had circled in front of Tranh and growled at me, trying to protect her friend. I had heard that American war dogs hated the Vietnamese. This one wasn't listening to the same people. She knew Tranh was her savior and she meant to protect him.
Tranh knelt down, took the huge head in his arms and said, "No, Tuyen, you go with skinny soldier boy. You two got a thread that ties you together. You go. You go with him, beautiful lady."
Tuyen hung her head, but she was a good dog. She came to my side, looked up at me, and her head went even lower. She didn't think much of me.
John roared when I went back to camp. He said, "Walt, that's not food. At least, not where we come from."
I pretended indifference and said loftily. "Tranh says we had entwined destinies."
"What a lot of crap!" John said.
But it wasn't what he said before when Tranh told him that his lifeline was short the last time we went to drink tea and eat soup at his cart. John had gone pale and he was very quiet for two days. I had to let him fuck me twice in one day before my moody lover started to be himself again.
John was one of those golden boys, all dark honey hair, amber eyes, and perpetual sun kissed skin. He was a beach boy from sunny California, even knew how to sing all those Beach Boy songs. He had brought his old guitar with him to `nam and he taught me how to play. I was a fast learner, always had been good at anything I set my mind to do. I was already a better player than my teacher, but I still loved to hear him sing. Better yet, I loved it when he hummed 'California Girls' when he sucked my cock. Maybe I just loved John.
I didn't believe in Tranh's destiny either. No, I wasn't sure how John and I would handle returning to the States together, but I wanted us to be together. John had once told me that men don't fall in love with other men. I didn't believe it and I don't think he did either.
John smirked at my new dog and said, "Well, come on. We're going to need food for this girl. What's her name?"
"Tuyen," I said, "It means Angel."
"She doesn't look like an angel, the way she's lifting her lip at me," John said. "But she's hungry. I'll call in some favors."
John was a soft touch despite being almost done with his tour of duty. He was always feeding beggars, had pockets full of candy for kids, and he'd give you the shirt off his back if you needed it.
Tuyen grieved a week before she decided she was my dog. She followed me everywhere except when an officer was around.
I remember feeling her nose touch my hand, a tentative connection that stopped when I stirred. That was two days after I brought her back to the hut. The next day I managed to pet her a minute before she moved away to the corner.
Even when she ate, Tuyen watched me with her wise eyes. I talked to her, sang to her, and tried to keep my voice calm and my movements slow. I walked her as much as I could and we went back and saw Tranh a couple of times.
Tuyen started to follow me from a distance. Sitting down a few feet away when I stopped, but never letting me out of her sight.
By the end of the week, she slept with her nose nestled on my leg. If I lay close enough to the end of the cot, she slept, leaning into me, her head on my leg. I got her on the cot with me a time or two when it wasn't unbearably hot.
Since I couldn't usually sleep with John, it was nice to have something to touch late at night when I would hear the sounds from the jungle and fear made my heart hammer. You hear those bombs shrieking in the distance and you wonder when one was going to have your name on it.
It didn't take long before I started to scheme on how to sneak Tuyen back to the States. I knew they didn't want you to do it, but I found out that a couple of the dog handlers had managed to get their dogs back with them. It wouldn't be easy, but when you're eighteen, you think you can do anything. I was still a kid even with all the shit I had experienced in `nam.
Our old officer was killed. He was a battle scarred veteran, good at keeping his men alive. I didn't like my new lieutenant. He was an asshole, straight out of training, who thought he knew it all and he wouldn't listen to Sergeant Sumner, who was on his third tour of duty here.
Davy Sumner looked a bit like the local people, but he said he was an Alaskan Native. That's not an Eskimo as he was always quick to say. I guess there's a big difference. Davy kept me alive in 'Nam. He, his friend, Billy, who WAS an Eskimo, and John got me high and kept me that way the day I shot the twelve-year-old kid that walked toward the camp, wired up with bombs. I don't think I could have made it otherwise. I still have nightmares.
Davy loved dogs and Tuyen decided she liked him too. Between John, Davy, Billie, and myself we kept the dog away from Lieutenant Ames until we went on patrol.
Ames had a fit about it when the dog turned in beside me, but Davy persuaded him that I was the dog's handler and that Tuyen was assigned to the unit. Away from base camp, there was no way that Lieutenant Ames could check to see if he was being bullshitted or not.
It was one last patrol for John. One damn last journey into hell. He was being called to base camp to spend a few days before shipping home. We made some more plans. I only had a few more weeks to serve too.
John was going to wheel and deal to get Tuyen State side. I knew if anyone could do it, he could. That John could charm the birds out of the sky.
The two of us checked and double checked our equipment. It was bad enough to have to go on a LURP. Twice as bad if you weren't prepared.
Neither of us like long range patrol, but then you had to be nuts to enjoy a long distance patrol. Units hardly ever made it back whole. There were snipers, tiger traps, mines, and even poisonous snakes. As a marine, I should have been hitting beach heads or something like that. However, my Sergeant thought I had potential. He saw the killer in the small town boy and recommended me for this experimental unit. We had more training than most to prepare us to go deep into enemy territory to scout for the enemy. Our job was to make it safer for the regular troops to follow. Yeah, right! As if there was any safety in this place of booby traps, snipers, and death.
One guy I knew was even trampled to death by an ox! All the way to Vietnam to have a farm animal kill him.
When you were out on LURP, an extra pair of socks was gold. A salt tablet, a supply of uncontaminated water could be the difference between life and death. Davy was the one who taught me how to survive, check all equipment twice and then have your buddy double check. I naturally turned around and trained the new men to do it Davy's way instead of the way they might have been trained State side.
Our unit broke into two LURP patrols of seven men apiece. I had the bad luck to get the Lieutenant as the `leader' of my team. Like everybody else, I wanted to go with Davy, but the Lieutenant wanted John with him. I wanted to be with John. I was pissed at that selfish son of a bitch of an officer. He wanted the best trained medic with him. Larry, the other medic, was just a grunt with advanced first aid training, not a med student like John.
Davy checked me over one more time before I left, taking a few things out of my pack and adding a roll of toilet paper and one more pair of socks. He reminded me to keep my feet clean and I swear to God that he wanted to kiss me on the forehead like a kid.
Two days out, we came under heavy fire. Sam, the extra radioman, had moved to the side to take a shit. Tuyen went on silent alert. War dogs don't sound when they are trying to warn you. That would give you away to the enemy. They all had signals. Tuyen would paw my leg or take my hand in her mouth. She did both rapid fire and I signaled to the rest of the unit to get down.
Sam was too far away to take heed. I saw him go down as I lay in the mud, my hand clenching Tuyen's fur.
Oh, shit, oh shit, John was going to him. I wanted to stop him, my heart was screaming for me to tackle him, but it was his job. It was his fucking job and he would have knocked the shit out of me if I tried to stop him.
I could hear Tranh saying in his shaky old man voice that John was a short timer. I hoped it meant he was going home early, but . . .
There was mortar fire raining down. It's a terrible sound, freezes your bones and turns your guts to liquid.
I could see John running and my beautiful lover made it through to Sam. He hunkered down. Sam must have been alive because John was doing a rough patch up job out there.
The Lieutenant had the other radioman call for air power. We were pinned down and we had wounded already. I listened for the sound that meant we would live to fight again, the heavy beat of evac copters.
"Fucking radio isn't working," the Lieutenant yelled over the mortar barrage.
I started crawling toward John. Sam had put his radio down before he dropped his pants.
John saw me and waved me back. I shook my head and pointed at the radio.
"I'll do it," John mouthed, picking up the radio.
He made the call, crouched over Sam. Radio operators are favorite targets. I was about ten feet from John when it blew.
Blood fell like rain. I remembered wiping my face, wiping my glasses. It was all over me. I wanted to scream, to run, to puke my guts out.
It was John. I was covered with my lover's flesh and blood.
Evac came moments later.
There was barely enough left of Sam or John to scrape into bags.
The medic in the unit kept looking for a wound on me. I finally pushed him away and stripped off my uniform, not caring if there was anything else to wear.
Pointing back at the body bags, I said, "It's his blood. It's John's blood. It's my . . . it's my friend's blood."
I remembered how it hurt to say it like that. There should have been different words. Well, there are now. My husbands, my beloveds, my family once and always. Thank God.
The only thing that kept me alive was Tuyen. She needed me.
Davy and Billy shoved food into my hands. Tuyen would not leave my side. We slept together outside the huts in a small tent. I wouldn't go back in the hut. Tuyen's head stayed on my leg. Every move I made, she was my shadow. I think she knew what I was thinking. She wouldn't let me kill myself.
Funny thing about Tuyen. From the day I got her, she had a fit every time I lit up. She hated dope. Maybe she started training as a drug dog before she got drafted? After John died, she let me smoke, but there wasn't enough weed in the world to drown out my feelings.
Life or what passes for it when you're a soldier doesn't stop when another soldier dies. We had a new medic and a replacement radioman. Seven man unit, just like new, Lieutenant said.
I really thought about fragging him for saying that. Only the idea that somehow John would know and be disgusted stopped me.
The first time the ghost showed was after John died. It looked like old Hang. Someone had slit her throat a few days before we went out on the patrol where John had been killed.
John and I paid for her funeral. Poor old lady had no one left, but one skinny grandson. Funny, Hang used to flirt with John and me every time we bought some tea out of pity for her poverty. She had been a beauty, Tranh said, when she was young. Men courted her. The war took everything from her, including her looks.
I wondered what had made someone target her. A few sacks of rice? Some vegetables? A handful of coins?
Hang's ghost, if it was her, wouldn't tell me a thing.
I would have thought it was too much ganja when I saw her floating there in the darkness outside my tent, but Tuyen stood up, every hair bristling and growled.
Almost scared enough to crawl back in the hut; I stayed up the rest of the night with my lantern turned up.
I don't know what I would have done if I'd had any idea how long I would be haunted by my avatar.
My time was down to a week or so before I would be pulled back behind the lines to stay semi buzzed or drunk until I climbed in the plane to go home.
A lot of officers would have made some excuse to leave me behind with my time so short, but not Lieutenant Ames. He wasn't going out a man and a dog short.
Ames had come to depend on Tuyen. He wanted that dog out there just like he had wanted John at his side.
Other than going AWOL in the bush, what could I do? I had to go. Besides, I always had a sense of duty. I knew I had a job to do just as John had.
I marched out with Tuyen at my side. I suppose my avatar was with us too.
Two days later, I sat, letting Tuyen drink out of her nylon water dish. John had seen one of those with a real K 9 handler and managed to get one for Tuyen. John had always thought of everyone, everything, but himself.
We had touched base with Davy, who warned the Lieutenant that there was a lot of Cong in the area.
Lieutenant said, "I think that's why we're out here, Sergeant. We're to assess enemy resources to prevent American troops from walking into ambush."
I could see the anger in Davy's eyes, but he didn't say anything. He looked past Ames and said, "You take good care of that dog, Walt. I'm fond of that dog."
Message received clearly. I found a smile and nodded goodbye to Billy and Davy. It was the last time I saw them. I always wondered if they made it out. Their names aren't on the Vietnam War memorial.
I always listened to Tuyen. All the guys relied on us to warn them if there were snipers in the area.
Despite my heartbreak, I was still young enough to be proud that the unit relied on me. I kept my hand near my dog and I looked at her often, anticipating a signal. I had just turned nineteen, a birthday Davy and Billy tried to help me celebrate, but grief had too much of a hold on me. The only things that kept me going were Tuyen and the way some of the guys looked up to me. The two new kids started calling me `Pops' and it had spread to the entire unit. Hell, I was just a few months older than them, but my serious attitude earned me the nickname. I was almost proud of it too.
It was the third mission for the unit since John died. We were going through an area with a trail that I wasn't sure was even frequented by humans. It could have been made by wild pigs. It was overgrown and I was nervous of tiger traps or mines.
Tuyen alerted twice. We all huddled and waited both times, but nothing happened.
Lieutenant Ames had a heat rash and he was in a hurry to finish the patrol and get to where he could get some Benadryl and ointment for it. He was pissed off the second time we hit the ground and nothing happened.
I felt Tuyen's nudge me and I went down again, motioning for everyone to follow. Lieutenant Ames just stood there and yelled at me to get the fuck up.
He was still yelling when the mortar hit. Took his fucking head off.
Tuyen slammed into me and I hit the ground. She was the reason I lived. As I spun down, bullets burning into me, I heard Tuyen yelp, a high pitched sound. The crazy thing was I didn't even realize I was hit myself.
I heard the radioman put in a Mayday call before a rain of fire took him out. Tuyen had spun away from me when the bullets hit me.
Lying there, I knew I was dying and I saw the ghost, Hang, over me.
The last thing I saw before I blacked out was Tuyen crawling toward me. I knew she was hurt bad. I thought we were both dying. She made it all the way to me and she licked my hand. I could barely move my arm. My voice was a mere whisper, but I petted her. Her big head rested on my leg once last time as I said, "You go ahead, my lady, my Tuyen. Release, you good girl. See you soon."
I saw her eyes fade, the dark intelligence cloud over. I remember saying, "John, Johnny, here she comes. You take her. See you, babe. See you."
Tuyen would have chased off the hag that kept me company from that time to when I finally found my loves. She appeared to me as I stood looking at my dying body. She kept her icy grip on me as they slid me into a body bag, my Tuyen discarded on the ground, pushed to one side like she was nothing.
The hag laughed at me when my gasping breath told the medics they were wrong. She kept me company those long weeks when I had to decide whether to live or die.
My family tried to comfort me. They respected my silence when I sat for long hours, staring out from the porch, seeing nothing except the nightmares in my head.
Time heals all, they say.
I suppose I healed or maybe the wounds on my heart formed a scar, so thick a scar, I thought I never could let anyone all the way in. That's what my ex-wife said anyway.
I felt a hand on my knee and opened my eyes to meet Mulder's hazel ones.
"Hey," Mulder said in that soft, affectionate voice he used at times.
"Hey back," I replied. "I'm okay."
"You were back there," Alex said.
"Yeah, back with my ghosts," I said.
All three of us had more than our share of haunting memories.
Gina honked once as her truck pulled up to the gate. She had a remote, one of the few people we all trusted to have free access to our home.
Flavia bent herself double as she wagged her tail. Her pendulous ears stirred the breeze as she greeted her breeder.
"How did it go?" Gina asked.
"Great, she's a good dog, a great dog," Walter said. "I was just going to let the pack out to play with her."
"You should think about keeping her," Gina said. "Not one bitch in that pack of dogs you have."
"I think four is enough for three guys," I said.
Alex opened the door. Our dogs were well trained enough not to scratch at the door, but four sad faces had been pressed to the glass. They came out in pack order. Pluto stalked out first, still alpha to the pack. Mulder said that he even had my expression when Belun or Spooky did something stupid.
Mars was always at his brother's shoulder. They were a wonderful illustration of fraternal love. Semper fi, my dogs . . .
Belun burst forward. Now two years old, he had matured into a surprisingly beautiful dog. One ear still flopped, but they both framed a handsome dog face. He was huge, as big as his two massive bloodhound brothers. His chest had deepened as he matured and his body evened out to make his legs no longer moose like in proportion. He had developed an even, very thick coat. The brown of his coat had taken on a mottled pattern. He had something in his heritage with spots, an Australian Shepherd, an English Setter? Perhaps both dogs were in his heritage.
Alex's pound dog was a true all purpose dog. I had taken him hunting and he pointed and retrieved. Alex had been taken with Ellen Samuel's Australian Shepherds. He had proposed training Belun to herd on top of his other talents and, damn, if Belun had not shown both instincts and the ability to instantly learn hand signals. Belun was a jewel snatched from the muck just like his master.
Spooky still didn't have his manners proofed. He leaped toward Gina until her stern `off' made him drop. He went into a down and lay there, wagging his plumed tail until she allowed him up to greet her in a civilized fashion.
Flavia merged into the pack nicely, looking small next to the two huge male bloodhounds and giant Belun. The dogs swirled onto the grassy front lawn, baying and barking with joy as they played.
Alex nestled into one side and Mulder the other, his arm around my back.
In Vietnam, I wondered why I survived. I wondered what I had done to deserve a life so terrible when I lost John. I would have gone with my Tuyen gladly when my spirit hovered above the wreck of my body and later, I wondered what drew me back.
It was this. I had lived through such pain, such loss, but now, now I had everything.
We three, scarred of body, scarred of soul, we three dogs of war had come home to each other.
And surprisingly, life was good, very good.
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