Under the Gun
By Doc
© December 2002

Chapter Ten

 
Rating: PG-13 (for questionable language and adult situations)

Disclaimer: The Tour of Duty Characters do NOT belong to me and I am not being compensated in any way for this work of fiction.

Summary: A new doctor reports to Camp Barnett and complicates Doc Hockenburyís life.

Placement: Around the time of The Road to Long Binh (3rd Season)


Whipping the jeep into a tight turn in front of the dispensary, McKay slammed on the brakes, grinning as Caz threw her arms out in sudden alarm. "Wake up, sleeping beauty! Weíre back at the castle." The pilot rested his arms on the steering wheel while Doc jumped from the back, hauling the box of unused supplies. He smiled as Caz yawned, stretching her arms wide, and ducked as she suddenly closed the fingers of the hand closest to him into a fist and took a half-hearted swing at him.

"You forget, Caz, Iíve got those sisters." His green eyes shone in the late afternoon light. His features were remarkably more relaxed than just a few hours earlier and he seemed years younger. He laughed at Cazís rueful expression as she climbed from the jeep, turning to retrieve her bag.

"Oh, I wonít forget your sisters, McKay. They got you well trained." She rested the bag briefly on the passenger seat of the jeep, fingers playing with the handles. After a moment, she looked up into the pilotís curious face. "Youíre doing a good thing out there, Johnny. Thanks for letting me tag along." She picked up the bag and stepped backwards, almost colliding with Hockenbury, who reached out a steadying hand.

McKay stared at them a moment, standing there together at the bottom of the dispensary steps. The shadows of the building slanted across them, obscuring their faces and he felt a fleeting disorientation, remembering not so long ago when he faced another young couple in a similar spot. Myron with his caneÖ Shaking his head, McKay raised a hand in farewell and sped off into the gathering evening.

*** *** *** *** *** ***

Myron Goldman paused, lighting up a cigarette. He inhaled deeply, pulling the rich smoke deep into his lungs, holding it for a long moment. Backhanding the sweat from his forehead with his free hand, he finally let the smoke escape in small wisps.

His companion watched with amusement, intimately familiar with the lieutenantís addiction to nicotine and the ritual with which Goldman fed his vice. Anderson looked up and down the darkening alleyway between the dispensary and the morgue, aware of a revving engine, but unsure of its direction. He shrugged, turning his attention back to Myron.

"Stringerís runner give any reason he wants to see us, L-T?"

Goldman shook his head as they resumed walking, dropping the lighter into his pants pocket. "No, he didnít. But Iíll bet Stringerís wondering if the VC have tumbled to that listening pod."

"We took two days cominí out, L-T. No way they knew what LZ weíd be usiní. No way." Anderson was adamant, his blue eyes intent on Myron.

The young lieutenant held one hand up, shielding himself from the sergeantís indignation. "I know, Zeke, I know. IÖ"

The jeep careened around the corner, horn blaring, McKayís wide grin visible in the failing light just before they threw themselves out of the vehicleís path. Anderson lifted his head from the dirt, rolling to his feet in one fluid moment.

Goldman slid down from the trashcan where heíd flung himself, angrily swearing at the departing taillights and the pilotís lazy wave. Dusting off the seat of his trousers, he looked over to Anderson, who was inspecting the palms of his hands with a wry grin.

"You okay? Weíre at the dispensary." Myron inclined his head toward the clinic as they resumed their journey, turning around the building in the direction from which McKay had appeared.

Anderson blew lightly on his hands, wincing slightly. "Naw, L-T, I thinkÖ" He collided with Goldmanís shoulder as the lieutenant slammed to a halt, his body rigid.

The sergeant looked up from his palms, blue eyes puzzled. "L-T?" He glanced at Goldman, dropping his abraded hands to his sides, forgotten. He turned his head, following the manís line of sight.

*** *** *** *** *** ***

Goldman stood in the shadow of the dispensary, immobile, every muscle he owned frozen in place. He swallowed hard against the sudden lump in his throat, trying to make sense of what he was seeing.

Hockenbury lurched up the wooden steps of the clinic, his arms wrapped around a cardboard box that he was making a show of pretending to drop. Making a show for Dr. Cassidy, who was darting from side to side behind the medic, her medical bag swinging from one hand, reaching with the other under Docís arms to help him steady the box.

The box. Probably bandages and stuff. But a cardboard box all the same, similar to the one heíd carefully sealed up and shipped off to the states. A box heíd gone through once, slowly and reverently, drunk with McKay.

Doc made it to the door, snugging his burden under one arm and pulling open the screen with the other. Goldman could see his broad smile as he looked back at Cassidy, who quickly ducked under his arm, turning around to place her back against the door and holding it open for the medic.

It was her smile that pierced the young lieutenantís heart. So open, trusting, so happy. Nothing is happy here, nobody can be happy. Just when you think you are, it gets snatched away. In one blinding second. Goldman squeezed his eyes shut for a brief moment, willing his mind to shut off the memories. Alex in that white dress.

He looked up as Hockenbury let go of the door, let it rest gently against the little Captainís shoulders. Goldman held his breath, felt his pulse pounding in his ears as Doc traced his fingers lightly across her cheek. She nuzzled her face into Hockenburyís palm, closing her eyes, her smile growing wider still.

It couldnít have lasted but a second or two, but Goldman felt breathless as he dragged air into his lungs in an audible gasp. He wanted to cough in the worst way, his face growing red with the effort of holding it in. The screen door swung slowly shut.

*** *** *** *** *** ***

"L-T, you still with me here?" Anderson nudged Goldman, casting an anxious glance at the now empty dispensary door. He turned back to Goldman, met his dark gaze. What he saw in his friend's eyes made him wish more than anything they had been just a few minutes later. That haunted look...

Goldman fought to catch his breath, finally drawing in a shuddering lungful. His eyes were nearly black with his pain and the growing anger. He ignored Anderson as he tried to push the pain down and let fury take its place.

"Damn you, McKay," he muttered under his breath. "You should've told me."

Zeke raised an eyebrow. "In all fairness, L-T, you don't know if Lieutenant McKay knew anything 'bout this."

Anderson shifted uneasily when Myron turned and pinned him with a cold glare. He could handle Goldman's temper about most things, but when it came to the reporter, Anderson found himself at a disadvantage. The topic had OFF LIMITS stamped all over it, Myron holding Zeke far more than an armís length away even before her death. And with what had happened outside of the Team House still fresh in his mind, Anderson was concerned what Goldman might do now.

"L-T, maybe-" He fell silent under the gathering rage of the younger man.

"Don't, Anderson," Myron snapped. "He knew exactly what was going on."

Myron finally switched that dark gaze back to the dispensary door. He was silent for a several long moments, muscles rigid and faintly trembling.

Anderson watched Goldmanís struggle. Watched him shore up against the pain, and wrap himself in anger.

"Enough of this," Myron finally muttered and started to storm off in the direction of his hootch.

"L-T!" Anderson's tone snapped Goldman around and the two men faced each other.

Nothing was said, but Myron's intensity and Zeke's understanding of it hung in the air between them.

"Ain't nuthin' you're gonna say now to McKay gonna change this." Anderson carefully nudged the younger man back from the edge. He nodded in the direction of the CPT. "Nuthin' that can't wait 'til you finish with Colonel Stringer."

Fighting his first impulse, Myron bit back the words that had sprung instantly to mind and glared at Zeke.

"Fine. Stringer first, McKay second." He fairly growled out the words and then shoved past the sergeant.

Anderson nodded his agreement and followed in Goldmanís wake. "Yessir, L-T, that's all I'm saying."

*** *** *** *** *** ***

Caz shifted her bag into the other hand, slapping more dust from her t-shirt as she entered the dispensary. Glancing at Hockenbury, she was surprised to see the uncertainty in his eyes, a lingering fear that had been hidden away all afternoon now resurfacing. She reached out and gently touched his arm, feeling him flinch.

"Doc, whatís wrong? Head hurtiní?" Caz kicked herself, realizing that she hadnít been paying any attention to the unequivocal fact that he had been grazed by a bullet just that morning and had now been out all afternoon in the hot sun. She swallowed hard, acknowledging her own denial, and blinked her eyes furiously against the sudden moisture gathering in them.

Doc shook his head, shifting the box slightly in his lanky arms. He looked back out the screen door of the dispensary for a few long moments, his lower lip caught in his teeth. "No, Caz, CAPTAIN Cassidy, I mean. My headís okay. I just, I just doní wanna find out that gunnerís dead." He laughed softly, unconvincingly, his grey-green eyes glancing at her for the merest of seconds and then skating away again.

"Oh, Doc!" Caz felt his anguish boil up again, the emotions heíd kept shoved down inside all afternoon climbing out and spilling over her. She felt a flicker of shame as she realized that she almost EXPECTED to hear the young man had died, knowing how badly he had been injured. Mentally calculating a patientís odds of recovery had become second nature to her and she knew enough to never bet against those odds. Apparently Doc had been running ahead of the game up Ďtil now, and he was afraid his luck had changed.

They stood there briefly, each lost in thought. Sergeant Hall finally broke the spell, shoving his way out of the supply closet. He held a clipboard in one huge fist, a tiny sliver of a pencil in the other. He raised an eyebrow at the sight of them and cleared his throat loudly.

"Welcome home, Captain Cassidy." Hall smiled warmly at Caz, before bestowing a cursory nod in Hockenburyís direction. "Just heard from Tan Son Nhut. The man we sent over earlier is out of surgery and expected to make a complete recovery.

Abruptly, Doc excused himself and headed for the supply closet, boots light on the wooden floor. He vanished through the door, the box tucked under one arm.

Caz watched him go, a frown superimposed over the relief she felt at the sergeantís words. Shaking off her confusion, she turned back to Hall. "Thatís great, really great." She set her bag down on a gurney as she pulled her hat from her head. Distracted, her worried gaze slid toward the supply room.

Hall walked back to his desk, pulling the top form from the clipboard and laying it carefully in his IN box. "Iíll be going to dinner, now, maíam, if that suits you. Gettiní late for chow." He set the pencil with the others in his top drawer. The clipboard he hung carefully from a hook on the wall behind his chair, steadying its swing with one thick finger.

Dragging her attention back to the big sergeant, Cassidy vigorously nodded her head. "Oh sure, Sergeant, go on and eat. I gotta rebandage Specialist Hockenburyís wound, maybe find him an aspirin or two." She shrugged, embarrassed to be caught so openly concerned about the skinny medic. Her cheeks flushed and she turned away from Hall, grabbing her bag and hat from the gurney and taking them into her tiny office.

"I can do that for you, maíam." Hallís voice was neutral and he stepped over to the coffee urn, checking to make sure it was clean and ready for a fresh pot. He knew it was, having scrubbed it himself not an hour earlier.

Cassidy came to the door of the office, leaning one slender shoulder on the frame. "Nah, I got it, Sergeant. Youíve had to hold down the fort all afternoon, itís the least I can do. In fact, just call it a night. Iím not going anywhere. Iíll pull the rest of call."

Hall turned, met her gaze with his own dark eyes. He was silent for a moment, noting her carefully casual posture, the dusty uniform and the splash of color across her cheekbones. With a glance toward the supply room, the big man finally nodded his head. "Yes, maíam, I appreciate that. How about I bring you back some chow before they shut down?"

"Thanks, Hall, Iíd be grateful." She crossed her arms over her chest, her lips turning up in a ghost of a smile that didnít quite reach her eyes. Resolutely not looking at the door through which Hockenbury had vanished, Cassidy met Hallís gaze, then lowered her head, her unruly, dusty hair swinging forward to hide her face.

Hall scooped his hat from his desk and strode to the door, carefully not looking back. "Back in awhile, maíam." The door swung slowly closed behind him, the steps creaking under his weight as he clattered down them.

*** *** *** *** *** ***

The door to the supply room was open, a pale wash of light spilling across the floor. Caz slowed her steps as she approached, knowing it couldnít possibly have taken Doc this long to put up the few supplies they had brought back with them. She ran her hand across her mouth, taking a deep breath.

Hockenbury had his back to the door, one arm resting on a shelf approximately shoulder high and his head resting against his forearm. Caz saw a roll of gauze clenched in his other hand and the paper wrapper crinkled in the quiet of the room. She could hear his breathing, a little fast and through his mouth. She took a step into the room.

"Doc?" Her voice was soft and gentle.

He started a little, taking a deep breath and pushing himself slightly away from the shelves. Tossing the gauze into a bin, he rubbed his hand over his eyes, scrubbing at them furiously, before he turned to face her. His eyes were red, damp and a few stray tears remained on his cheeks. He wiped them absently away with the back of his hand.

"So, heís really doiní okay?" Docís throat felt raw and he cleared it a few times, self-consciously. He met her eyes, held her gaze briefly, his pain stabbing straight into her heart. Blinking, Hockenbury looked away again, shrugging his shoulders, his hands hanging loosely before he shoved them into his pockets.

Caz sighed. "Yeah, heís okay. Now letís go look at that head of yours." She stepped back, allowing him to follow her, reaching past him to turn off the light.

*** *** *** *** *** ***

Opening the door to the treatment room, Caz snapped on the fluorescent light, blinking in the sudden brightness. Out of the corner of her vision, she saw Doc throw up an arm, shielding his eyes. She noticed a tremor in his upraised hand and sighed, knowing he was still fighting both the emotional and physical overload from the incident in the Huey. As the doctor rummaged through the suture cart for gauze and tape, she wished she could help him find some peace in himself. Some way to just let go of it. She dumped the supplies on the cot.

"Doc, why donít you perch on the stool? If you sit on the table, Iíll have to stand on tiptoe to reach your head." Cassidy watched as the medic rolled the stool over, carefully seating himself on the cushion and resting one arm on the gurney. His long fingers reached out, snagging the roll of tape, idly playing with it.

Doc glanced up as Caz caught the edge of the door with her hip, slowly pushing it closed until the latch slid home with an audible click. Carefully replacing the tape with the other supplies, Doc sighed, crossing his arms over his chest and closing his eyes briefly. "Iím okay, Caz. Really." He shook his head slightly and then grimaced, raising his hand involuntarily to his temple.

Caz took two careful steps around the gurney and stood directly in front of him. "Doc, youíre hurtiní, I can see that." She leaned back on the edge of the table, hands resting palm down on her thighs, chewing thoughtfully on her lower lip. Watching him for a long moment, she thought she detected a fine tremor traveling through him, his hands shaking slightly as he balled them into fists and tucked them hard under his arms.

Caz cautiously reached out, her long fingers just grazing his cheek as she lightly touched the bandage. She felt him shudder under her touch, his gaze flicking towards her and just as quickly away again. She could sense the tight control he was exerting over his emotions slipping away and quickly focused her attention on the task at hand. Cautiously pulling up one edge of the tape, she swiped a cotton ball soaked in rubbing alcohol under its sticky surface, dissolving the adhesive, and peeled the bandage off in one piece.

Hockenbury sucked in his breath as the tape caught briefly in his eyebrow, bringing his hand up instinctively to stop her.

Grabbing his hand in hers, Caz softly brushed her thumb across the back of it, his growing guilt and anxiety washing over her in a sudden deluge. "Donít touch, Doc, I gotta clean it and re-dress it." Her voice was scarcely above a whisper as she turned to the table, picking up gauze pads and saline solution.

Hockenburyís gaze followed her, watching her neat, workman-like movements as she prepared to clean the injury. He imagined her in the OR, back in Tan Son Nhut, bellied up to the table and saving Lawsonís life with decisive ease, reaching those sure hands into the manís body. Saving Lawsonís life.

He closed his eyes, letting his head loll back as the anxiety of those long moments in the chopper came rushing back. Eyes, eyes all watching him, watching him screw up. L-T, over his left shoulder, Anderson across the boyís body from him, Taylor and Ruiz, and Percell to his right. And McKay screaming into the radio.

He shook his head. He hadnít heard ANYTHING, certainly not the pilot. And he couldnít have said where any of the guys were in the helicopter. Except for L-T, who was right in his face just when he was about to start the IV in the first place. L-T, who must have been right there watching him let the gunner bleed all over the floor. He moaned softly in despair, attempting to throw his arm over his eyes when Caz stopped him, gently taking hold of his elbow.

"Doc, hold still a minute, shhh." She tenderly lowered his arm, her fingers releasing their grip slowly. Picking up the gauze, she finished cleaning the wound, her worried eyes watching him closely. She felt his jagged emotions running rampant in him, his certainty that heíd let the gunner down, let his friends down. And his overwhelming loneliness.

He winced away from her as she reapplied the bandage, trimming the tape meticulously so that it didnít stick to his eyebrow again. "I thought I killed him, Caz. I thought I let him die." He sighed, his hands trembling in his lap. He looked down at them, curiously, as if they didnít belong to him before lacing his fingers together and squeezing them tightly, the nail beds blanching white. Swallowing hard, he glanced up at the doctor, now sitting on the gurney, her booted feet gently swinging. He couldnít see her face in the glare from the overheads, couldnít make out her expression.

Hockenbury took another deep breath. "All the guys were there, L-T, Sergeant Anderson, Danny. They were all there watching me let that guy die." Doc crossed his arms over his chest, tucking his hands under his armpits as if he were cold. Damn it IS cold! He shivered, clenching his teeth together.

Caz watched the muscles in his jaw work, his struggle to find the words that would free him, allow him to just be himself again, not a failure. She sensed his ongoing balancing act, teetering over the abyss between accepted member of the team and total outcast. She also perceived it was his own choice to be forever walking that line, incapable of trusting what was right in front of his eyes.

She dropped her feet to the floor, light as a cat, and leaned over him, one hand reaching out to trace the growing outline of the bruise that was rapidly turning his eye socket and cheek purple.

Hockenbury looked up as she drew closer, his grey-green eyes growing wide with astonishment as she kissed him, her lips lightly meeting his and one supple surgeonís hand caressing the back of his neck. He felt a loosening within himself, a release of the walls that held him distant as Cazís warm acceptance spilled over him, enveloping him. Reaching around her slender waist, he gathered her into his lap, his eyes slowly closing as he returned her kiss.

*** *** *** *** *** ***

McKay relaxed in his recliner in boxers and t-shirt, a beer in one hand, the other tamping his cigar ashes carefully into a strategically placed c-rat can. His favorite issue of Playboy was draped across his chest, the glossy pictures wilted from constant perusal. Music flowed from the speakers on the floor, not as loud as he liked, but at a reasonable volume out of respect for his roommate, who was at this moment in residence. He closed his eyes, appreciating a particularly intricate guitar riff, avoiding the occasional questioning glances thrown his way.

Goldman pulled deeply on his cigarette, his dark eyes almost black as he squinted over the top of his book at the pilot again. Heíd been trying to get through the same damn paragraph for the last hour but had only succeeded in chain-smoking half a pack of cigs. I hate that music. His thoughts were irritated, itchy. He wanted to confront McKay about what he had seen earlier that evening but at the same time wanted the situation to just be gone. Still shook from the near-brush with the afterlife, knowing that McKay had saved them all, Myron wanted to both buy him a beer and shake him until his teeth rattled. You knew, you knew and didnít tell me. Dammit.

He dropped his book on the end of his cot. "McKay, just how long have you known?" Goldman sat up, swinging his bare feet onto the floor, brushing a few stray ashes from his pants. He took another long drag, holding the smoke deep in his lungs as he glanced over at the pilot.

McKay opened his eyes a fraction, raising one eyebrow as he shifted into a more comfortable position in the chair, considering how best to answer the question. No option really. "Known about what?" He picked up his magazine, thumbing quickly to the centerfold and turning it sideways. Holding it up in the light spilling over his shoulder, he managed to screen himself from Goldmanís icy gaze.

Rolling his eyes, Goldman stubbed out his cigarette, rubbing his hands hard over his face. His voice low and deliberate, he drew out his words slowly. "How long have you known about my medic and Captain Cassidy?" He stood up, walking over to the little refrigerator and pulled out a couple of beers, popping the caps with McKayís church key. Handing one to the pilot as he headed back to his side of the hootch, he pulled out his desk chair, swiveled it around and sat down, the springs creaking in protest. Myron took a quick swallow as he waited for McKayís reply.

McKay winced, face still hidden behind the magazine. He thought back to his chance meeting with Caz that morning when he had stolen her coffee and she had asked about Goldmanís team. Was it only this morning? He shook his head, images of the young doctor running through his mind. Her almost adolescent fumbling in the early morning when heíd swiped her coffee. Her hand resting on Hockenburyís shoulder as he lay on the exam table. And the joking, relaxed Caz at the orphanage, playing innocently with the children. Playing with Doc, maybe not so innocently.

Lowering the magazine, McKay looked Myron straight in the eye. And lied to him. "I donít know what youíre talking about." He tipped up his beer, finishing half of it easily. Resting the bottle on the arm of his chair, he again met Myronís silent stare. "And besides, itís none of my damn business what your medicís doing and who heís doing it with."

Myron blew out his breath explosively, his eyes dark with irritation. "Then you knew nothing about this until today?" He opened another pack of cigarettes, shaking one out and lighting up with quick, economical movements of his fingers. Tossing the pack on his desk, he leveled his gaze back at McKay.

Johnny looked away, considering his answer. He didnít want to annoy Goldman, but he found himself feeling suddenly protective toward Caz and Hockenbury. McKay didnít have many friends, okay, any friends, he felt close to. Caz seemed to like him for him, not because he was some chopper jock or athlete. And Doc reminded him so much of himself, a loner, smart-mouthed. Not just a loner Ė alone. Simply put, he liked the medic and wished him well. He sighed, glad it wasnít a decision he had to make.

"Thatís what I keep telling you, Goldman." McKay set his magazine aside, sitting up straighter. "What are you gonna do about it?"

Myron glanced away, apparently captivated by something or someone outside the screen door of the hootch. He shifted in his chair, his face passing into shadow, but not before McKay caught a glimpse of Goldmanís grief and sorrow settling over him like a shroud. The end of the cigarette glowed in the darkness, smoke drifting slowly upwards in a lazy spiral.

"Myron?" McKay drummed his fingers on the arms of his recliner, blinking at the haze of smoke wafted by the gentle breeze blowing in the screens.

A moment passed while Goldman silently smoked. "I havenít decided yet." His voice was distant as he remained in the dimness of his corner, his eyes hidden from McKay. The chair squeaked as Myron repositioned himself, settling back into the ruined upholstery.

McKay leaned forward, his green eyes flaring with sudden anger and misery. "Donít make this about you and Alex, Myron. Neither of them deserves that."

Goldman flinched as if Johnny had hit him, moving slightly out of the shadowís safety. He turned those black eyes to the pilot, pinning McKay in a flash of fury and despair. "What do you know about it, McKay?" He shook with barely contained rage, the cigarette in his hand burning to ashes, forgotten.

"I loved her too, remember?" A muscle jumped in McKayís jaw as he clenched his teeth together. Lowering his head to his hands, he shoved his fingers through his hair, over and over. He wished he had his pants on, seized by an overwhelming desire to rush out the door. Dammit! Damn YOU, Myron Goldman!

In a brief second, it all washed over Goldman. The pickup this morning, Lawson lying on the blood-covered floor, Docís own blood dripping. The other-worldly sound of the chopper blades cutting through the air driven only by the currents themselves. The hot waves of fear rolling off the men. Docís anguish. And Myronís own private world of never-ending pain. Alex. Alex!

He didnít want this. Not now. He still couldnít talk to McKay about her and he wasnít sure he ever would. Both of them were too raw still, too caught up in all that had been Alex to try and understand something as simple and as complicated as their love for her had been. Todayís close call intensified the emotions, focused them. They had all come too close to dying, saved only by McKayís consummate skills as a pilot.

Myron let go of the fury and shoved the grief and sorrow back behind his walls, the walls he had built as she died in his arms. He looked down at his hands, clenched tightly in his lap. All the while, he knew Johnny was watching him, waiting for his next move. Waiting for him to either slap him down or push him away Ė just like he always did.

Dropping the cigarette into his ashtray, he stepped back over to his cot, lying carefully down on it as if his entire body ached. He put his arms behind his head, his dark gaze on the ceiling. "This thing with Hockenbury and Cassidy is complicated, McKay. Iím not sure what Iíll do about it."

McKayís mouth fell open. "Why? Because sheís an officer?" He stared at his hootchmate, his beer clutched forgotten in his hand, his magazine on the floor.

Myron sighed and closed his eyes. If only it could be just that simple.

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