|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.
Placement: Around the time of The Road to Long Binh (3rd Season)
Squinting in the bright midmorning sunlight, McKay stood on the pad, picking at his flying gloves with disgust. This pair, new only three weeks ago, was already falling apart. He tossed them up into the chopper with his helmet and turned to his crew chief. Pulling his sunglasses from his breast pocket, the pilot polished them meticulously on the front of his flight suit and slipped them on.
"We all set for this little ass and trash run?"
The chief nodded, shoving an oily rag into the back pocket of his fatigues. "Should be a nice little flight today, L-T. Weather’s good, and we’re staying out of the way of those pesky bullets." He glanced over at the gunner, securing his ’60 in its mount. Climbing up onto the deck, the chief ran his hands over his own gun, reassuring himself of its placement. He shoved an ammo can back behind the seat, snugging it into position.
"My kind of mission, McKay." The co-pilot smiled down from his seat where he was running through the preflight checklist.
Returning the grin, McKay turned away, jumping lightly from the platform. "I’ll go check on the status of our passenger."
*** *** *** *** *** ***
The dispensary was almost deserted, the sick call line already worked through and gone, the medics dispersed to their various chores around the camp. As McKay pulled open the screen door, he saw a young GI, his shoulder heavily bandaged, perched on the edge of one of the exam tables. Sergeant Hall stood facing the kid, his dark face scowling.
"Sarge, I can just take those pills Doc Cassidy got for me, I’ll be fine. I don’t hafta go to no hospital." The soldier hugged his wounded arm tightly with the other, the dark circles under his eyes evidence of sleepless, pain-filled nights.
Hall rolled his eyes, turning to Captain Cassidy as she emerged from her office holding a large envelope. Wrapping the string tightly around the fasteners, she handed the bundle to Pugh.
"All his records are in there, just make sure the admitting nurse gets it." She smiled at the young medic, amused at the color rising in his cheeks even after almost two weeks of working side by side with him.
"All ready to go?" Caz stepped closer to the wounded soldier, picking up his shirt from the table and helping him pull it around himself. She carefully slipped his injured arm into a sleeve and tugged the garment up and across his back.
As the kid protested, Hall spoke. "He says he doesn’t need to go, ma’am. Says he doesn’t need any hospital, just your pills. Ma’am." The big sergeant glared one more time at the GI then retreated to his desk, picking up his huge coffee mug and taking a swig.
Caz sighed, crossing her arms over her chest and moving directly in front of the young man. "Now listen up, Private Harmon. That shoulder is badly infected. You need to be on monitored IV antibiotics for a few days. We can’t do that here. Amputate the whole thing, sure, but not the drugs. So we have no choice. You’ll be back soon. I’m sure your team will keep your bunk warm for you."
Harmon snorted, blushing hotly. Ever since he’d gotten tangled in a snarl of barbwire working on the perimeter, he’d been continually embarrassed by the female doctor’s attention. At first he’d enjoyed it, despite the ribbing he received from his hootch-mates. But as he developed fevers and the wound turned septic, even the sight of a pretty, round-eyed woman held no special attraction for him.
McKay cleared his throat, watching Dr. Cassidy. He’d been keeping an eye on her for several days now, five, to be precise. Ever since Team Viking had departed on a mission, fully loaded anticipating at least a week without chance for resupply. McKay had flown half the team out including Doc Hockenbury. As they’d cleared the trees, the pilot had glanced over his shoulder. The lanky medic had been leaning out the door, one hand looped in a strap and the other resting over his breast pocket. Beyond him, Camp Barnett receded into the distance, the red cross painted on the top of the dispensary growing smaller and smaller.
"Captain? Might I suggest that you come with us to Tan Son Nhut? I can see that sick call is over. Besides, you look like you could use a little fun." Johnny smiled his patented, shark-tooth grin. No woman can resist this.
Caz narrowed her gaze as she looked up at the pilot. Raising an eyebrow, she glanced at Hall who shrugged, finally nodding his approval. "Hell, yes, McKay, let me grab my stuff. Sorry, Pugh, you are officially bumped from this flight." She ducked into her office, returning within seconds with her leather doctor’s bag swinging from one hand.
The skinny medic sighed in resignation, hauling his pouch over his shoulder and tossing it on a gurney. His disappointment was more comical than tragic. He sighed again, hugely. "No problem, ma’am, I’d probably spend all my MPCs on beer anyway."
Caz grinned. "Among other things."
McKay laughed out loud as Pugh’s jaw dropped open, his skin turning beet red from his neck to the tips of his ears. Johnny reached out, grabbing Cassidy’s bag. "On that note, let’s scram. Come on, Harmon, you got a bird to catch. Caz? Let’s go before Pugh stops breathing."
Hall extracted the patient’s file from Pugh’s nerveless fingers, handing it to the young doctor. "Ma’am? Might I suggest you grab a few supplies for us?" He picked up a form from his inbox and perused it briefly. "I’ll call ahead and have it waiting for you at the hospital, ma’am. That’s if Lieutenant McKay doesn’t mind?" The big sergeant inclined his head in Johnny’s direction, dark eyes not inviting dissent.
McKay glanced back from the door, where he was assisting Harmon down the steps. "No problem at all, Sergeant, be glad to. We got a few other things to pick up, too, but there’s room." He winked at Caz as she followed him out, excitement glinting in her eyes.
*** *** *** *** *** ***
Cassidy sat on the steel deck with her back to McKay’s seat, one hand looped securely in the cargo webbing. It felt strangely liberating to be floating above the war, passing with apparent immunity over areas considered safe but probably crawling with VC all the same. She watched the ground flying by beneath them, a monotonous stream of green trees interrupted occasionally by the sudden appearance of heavily fortified US firebases, their guns standing out against the surrounding brown earth. Just as quickly as they appeared, they were left behind, swallowed up by the deceptively beautiful jungle.
Fighting drowsiness brought on by the drone of the engine, Caz scooted across the floor to Harmon who sat against the padded wall. The young GI was himself asleep, his good arm wrapped securely around the wounded one, his chin resting on his chest. Caz smiled, knowing that the kid had experienced more than one night fighting the ache in his shoulder. A nap would do him good.
Caz knew she could use the rest, too, having found it hard to give in to the demands of sleep since Hockenbury’s departure some days before. She’d watched the medic climb aboard McKay’s chopper from the shadows of the dispensary, a heaviness filling her chest and some nameless, shifting emotion settling in her belly. Now, hurtling along in Johnny’s Huey, the young doctor felt closer to Doc somehow. Cassidy shifted her weight, bringing her legs up to her chest and resting her chin on her knees. Her eyes drifted shut, opened slowly, drifted again.
McKay muttered at his co-pilot, removing his hands from the controls at the man’s answering words and nod. He twisted in his seat, looking over his shoulder at his passengers. Sliding his sunglasses down his nose, the pilot studied Harmon, and then slid his gaze over to Caz, winking at her as her eyes suddenly opened, startled to find him looking at her.
"Having fun, yet, sleepyhead?" He pitched his voice just loud enough to reach her without disturbing the kid.
Caz nodded, grinning back at him.
He raised one hand, thumb extended upward, and turned back to his flying duties.
*** *** *** *** *** ***
Tan Son Nhut was bustling as usual, swarms of helicopters darting here and there, avoiding the F-4 Phantoms in the pattern like insects dodging starlings. McKay adeptly dropped the helicopter on the hospital landing pad, the tail boom precisely lined up with the huge red cross painted on the cement. The rotors slowed, their shadows gradually separating into individual blades stretching across the tarmac.
Caz scooted over to the edge of the cargo floor, dragging her doctor’s bag with her. For a moment she forgot Harmon behind her, struggling with his injured shoulder to get to his feet. She stared at the wide building that had been her home in Vietnam prior to her abrupt departure for Camp Barnett. The hospital hadn’t changed any, but it didn’t seem as familiar to her as it had only two weeks prior.
"Hey, Captain Cassidy? Ma’am? Can you give me a hand here?" Harmon’s plaintive voice cut through her reverie, cutting off her mental meanderings with a start. Both the gunner and the crew chief glanced back, too busy with their own ruminations to realize the man had needed help.
She looked over her shoulder at the young GI who was leaning one shoulder into the wall and trying to find some traction for his boots on the slick steel floor. "Wait a sec, Harmon. I’ll help ya." Caz leaned in, grabbing his feet, and tugged hard, sliding him to the door. She braced him as he lowered his feet gingerly to the ground, standing up carefully.
McKay appeared around the nose of the chopper, peeling his flying gloves from his sweaty hands. "Everybody okay?" He removed his sunglasses and wiped his forehead with his sleeve, frowning at the damp stain on his shirt. "Hot here in the big city! Okay, Caz, I need you back in one hour or you miss your ride. No excuses. I’d hate to explain to Sergeant Hall how I lost his doctor." He grinned as he raised one hand in farewell then turned to confer with his crew chief.
Tucking Harmon’s records under one arm, Cassidy led the kid across the tarmac, wondering idly if she’d see anyone she knew.
*** *** *** *** *** ***
One long hot shower later, Dr. Cassidy was feeling decidedly more civilized. She sat on a wooden bench in the doctors’ lounge, enjoying the feel of clean clothes against her skin, even if they were jungle fatigues. She’d considered appropriating a set of scrubs, but in the end felt more at home in olive drab. When did THAT happen?
She looked down at her dusty boots, grimacing at their deplorable state. She truly hadn’t noticed how much she’d let things slide until she’d marched into Admitting with Harmon in tow. The nurse who’d taken the paperwork had wrinkled her nose in disapproval, glaring over the tops of her bifocals at the disheveled pair. It was only after Caz identified herself as a doctor that the woman had begrudgingly dropped her attitude and taken care of getting the wounded man a bed.
With a sigh, Caz reached into the bag containing her dirty uniform, and hauled out a sock, using it to buff the worst from her boots.
The lounge door squeaked open an inch or so, one bright blue eye peering through the narrow space. With a rush, the door flew open, slamming against the wall, as a tall woman burst into the room and stood hipshot, slowly shaking her head. "My, my, my, look what the cat dragged in. I heard you were here but didn’t believe it!"
"Sara!" Caz leaped to her feet and embraced her med school roommate. She caught a faint odor of a familiar perfume mixed with the standard antiseptic OR smells and laughed softly, four years worth of memories flooding into her mind in an instant. The two had been inseparable, the dynamic duo, and Cassidy shook her head guiltily, realizing she hadn’t given her old friend more than a passing thought since setting foot on Camp Barnett.
"How’s every little thing here in good ole Tan Son Nhut?" Caz sat back down on the bench, sliding down to make space for her old roomie, and knocked the laundry bag onto the floor with a muffled thump.
Sara gracefully took a seat, tucking her long legs under her. "SNAFU as usual. Where did you disappear to, Cassidy? Nobody knew anything. It was a few days before the brass would admit they’d sent you out somewhere, but they wouldn’t tell us where. No forwarding address!" She studied her friend, from her clean yet rumpled jungle fatigues to her filthy boots.
"You know, you wouldn’t believe me even if I could tell you." Caz glanced around the floor, locating her dirty clothes and the grimy sock. She looked down at her boots with a sigh, stuffing the sock back into the bag. "I’ve missed you somethin’ awful, I can tell you that!" With a start, Caz recognized that she HAD missed the young woman, even if she didn’t want to admit it to herself.
"Well, I should think so! Hey, I know something else you’ve missed." Sara stood, stepping over the bench and striding to the wall of lockers. She slipped a finger under the chain around her neck and pulled out her dog tags, along with a small key hanging with them. Fitting it into the lock on the flimsy metal door, Sara easily snapped it open. "Don’t know why we even HAVE locks, you can open these things with a can opener." She muttered under her breath as she knelt, rummaging with both hands.
Caz sighed, enjoying her old buddy’s tirade. She felt like she was back in med school, sprawled on her narrow dorm bed while Sara paced the room, bitching and moaning about exams, rotation schedules and the lack of worthwhile dating material.
"How’d ya know I was coming here? I didn’t know myself until a few hours ago."
The tall woman straightened up, a bag swinging from her fingers. "Nurse Wretched from Admitting. Passed her in the hall and she put out that big old hand of hers, sunk her claws in my arm. ‘That good-for-nothing worthless snake you used to call a roommate is here’ she said, and then slunk away. I’ve been prowling the hospital looking for you." She tossed the bag into Caz’s lap. "You been missing your mail by any chance?"
The young doctor shook her head, amazed. She’d wondered when her mail would catch up to her, but had been too busy at Barnett to dwell on it. Suddenly the World called to her in distant words, words contained in the letters she clutched to her, letters from HOME. "Thanks, I’d figured it’d be lost forever, stored in some Quonset hut gathering dust." Cassidy tried to be nonchalant about it, but failed miserably. Her eyes glistened as she looked up at Sara and she shoved a quick sleeve across them.
The young woman smiled. "I know you miss your family. I bet they’ve been puzzled about what happened to you, too! So are you back? What kind of God forsaken place have they been holding you at?" She sat back down on the bench, absently rubbing the small of her back.
Caz looked down, turning the bag over in her hands. "I can’t tell ya, Sara. An’ I’m headin’ back in about ten minutes. I came in with a patient this morning, just sorta lucked into a chopper ride." She glanced back up at her classmate, changing the subject before the tall woman attempted to drag any information from her. "So who’s with who this week, huh?"
Sara rolled her eyes elegantly, crossing her scrubs-clad legs demurely at the ankle. "Well, let me tell you. Andy, that ortho doc from California? He’s been sneaking around with that married nurse from the burn unit, you remember, the brunette with the one eye that seems to follow you around? Oh, and Jerry, he’s…" She rambled on, her voice having a hypnotic effect on Caz.
Cassidy tried to take an interest in Sara’s narrative, but somehow felt further detached from her fellow medicos than just a helicopter ride. Days at Tan Son Nhut had consisted of long hours of surgery followed by long hours of goofing off. Much like med school. Barnett was about as far removed from that as one could get.
Caz had enjoyed the easy camaraderie among the large medical staff, but had resisted the casual relationships that had formed and reformed dozens of times. Not for this Tarheel cop’s daughter! She smiled, thinking suddenly about Hockenbury and speculating if he’d be back in camp by the time she was. Her long surgeon’s fingers played with the top of the mail bag, worrying at the string, untying it and retying it in precise surgical knots.
"Cassidy! Where are you, girl?" Sara leaned forward, forcing Caz to meet her eyes. "You found somebody, didn’t you?" It wasn’t a question. The woman knew from the slight pause of Caz’s fingers on the twine that she was right.
"Oh, I meet lots of somebodies. There’s two thousand guys in the camp, ya know!" Cassidy laughed, not even convincing herself. "Probably shouldn’t have said that." Her voice dropped, scarcely above a whisper. "Yeah, I found somebody. He just, he just found a home in my heart and moved right in." Smiling at her hands, Caz finally looked up, eyes shining. "Do you believe in love at first sight? I never did, Sara, never. It’s just, things never seemed so REAL, so, I dunno, immediate. Like, if I don’t take that chance RIGHT NOW, I’ll miss it forever and spend the rest of my life regretting it."
The tall woman stared straight ahead, a small smile on her face. "Never thought I’d see the day, Caz, when you’d finally let somebody behind those walls. He must be somebody special."
The little doctor nodded, gathering the mail bag to her chest, hugging it. "He is, I wish you could meet him. Wish I could tell you more, but you know how it is." Caz turned her arm slightly, squinting at her watch.
"I know you have to go, ole pal. You gotta meet back up with that handsome chopper jock I saw out on the pad when I was looking for you, huh? That wouldn’t be Mr. Right would it?" Sara raised a quizzical eyebrow, slowly unfolding herself to stand beside the bench with a yawn.
Caz laughed in surprise, grabbing the bag containing her dirty uniform and standing up herself. "Nope, that’s not him. But you know…that flyboy might be perfect for YOU!"
Sara grinned, her blue eyes narrowing as she gave the matter some thought. "Well, if only I had the time. I have to get back to surgery, unfortunately, he’ll just have to wait for me!" She hugged Caz fiercely, releasing her abruptly as she turned to the door.
"I miss ya, Caz. Tell that man to take good care of you or he’s gonna have to answer to me!" Sara saluted lazily with her left hand and vanished out the door, leaving Cassidy standing alone in the middle of the lounge.
*** *** *** *** *** ***
The Huey stood silent on the pad, even though by Caz’s watch McKay’s hour was up. She tossed Hall’s boxes into the cargo bay, shoving them against the wall, along with her doctor’s bag. Sitting in the open door, Cassidy swung her feet over the skid, happily sorting her wayward mail.
Several magazines rolled out, each tightly tied with string. She sighted down the inside of each, trying to catch the date from the cover. "Three issues of JAMA, a little bedtime reading." She chuckled, setting them aside as she rifled through a stack of envelopes.
Her lips moved slightly as she checked out each return address. "Dad, Mike, Dad, Dad, Dave, Alumni Association, AMA, probably want my dues." She stopped short, one small, scuffed envelope in her trembling hand. She knew the handwriting, had seen it on numerous charts in the dispensary. Hockenbury.
With careful, mechanical movements, Cassidy stacked the rest of the mail, setting it under the rolled magazines, making sure nothing could be blown away. And then stared at the envelope. It had been mailed six days before. The day before he’d left on this latest mission. She tore it open.
I know you’ve been missing your mail, so I thought I’d send you some. Maybe shake loose the system! We’re leaving tomorrow for a week or so, I hope you get this while I’m gone and know I was thinking of you.
I’m always thinking of you,
And I can’t wait to come back to you.
Caz swallowed hard, the bands that had been squeezing her heart suddenly released, warmth surging through her with the pounding of her pulse in her ears. She pictured him in the chopper that morning as it left the ground, his eyes searching for her, finding her in the shadows. His gaze had locked with hers, his face solemn as the Huey rose in the air until she could no longer see him. Cassidy felt tears threatening at the memory and blinked rapidly.
"You got everything you needed, Caz?" McKay materialized in front of her, his irrepressible grin firmly in place. His crew fanned out from behind him, passing the pilot as they began readying the bird for flight. His gaze dropped to the pile of mail next to her and the letter in her hand.
"Ah, your letters and stuff finally found you, huh?"
Her throat too full to speak, Cassidy nodded and began gathering her things together, stuffing them back in the bag, save for the one small envelope, which she slid into her jacket pocket, taking care to button it closed. She climbed into the cargo bay and began rearranging the boxes, making a space to sit in.
"Nope, Caz, I got a special treat for you, since you’ve been so good on this trip." McKay stretched into the bay, taking her hand, and tugged her to the edge, helping her to her feet. He pulled his sunglasses from his face and gently set them on her nose, smoothing the few ever-present stray hairs back behind her ears as he settled the glasses in place.
"There you go, you look just like a pilot. Now, climb on up into the left seat there, we’re gonna go for a ride!"
Caz stared at him for only a second then clambered up into the chopper with frantic speed before McKay could change his mind. As she settled into the seat, pulling the harness around her, Cassidy glanced over at him as he climbed in from the right, his helmet and gloves in his hands.
"McKay?" She reached out, laying a soft hand on his forearm. As the pilot glanced up, Caz was suddenly glad for the sunglasses, their dark lenses hiding the almost overwhelming emotions clouding her eyes.
*** *** *** *** *** ***
Cassidy grinned widely, her eyes delighted behind McKay’s too-large sunglasses. She kept her hands rigidly in her lap, afraid of bumping the cyclic, fingers laced together so tightly that her nails were bled white. Leaning to her left, she peered down at the river, its surface dappled by the rotor wash of the Huey hanging barely 20 feet above it.
"Wanna go for a swim, Caz?" The pilot banked the bird hard to the left, chuckling as Caz grabbed at her harness, the color draining from her face.
The young doctor held her breath as she watched the broad sweep of the disk, the furiously spinning blades almost chopping into the water. She found herself unable to tear her gaze away, fascinated with the rainbows thrown up by the spray as McKay poured on the power and popped the chopper back up into the sky.
"Jesus, Johnny!" Caz muttered, not bothering to depress the intercom "talk" switch.
McKay punched his own button. "Not fair, Caz, you gotta let me hear you."
Raising her hands to the headphones contained within the co-pilot’s borrowed helmet, Cassidy glanced over at him, shrugging her shoulders. She looked down past her feet, through the transparent chin bubble of the Huey. McKay had insisted she ride the left seat so she could see the ground racing under them, wanting her to get the full effect of the flight.
Stretching her leg out gingerly, Cassidy pushed the microphone foot switch. "I said, Holy shit, McKay! You tryin’ to kill me?" She laughed, turning to smile at the pilot, rewarded with a flash of white teeth.
"Oh, now you’ve hurt my feelings, ma’am. Just remember you’ve got the best chopper jock in-country right here sitting next to you. You’re as safe as a baby in a cradle so just sit back and enjoy the view!" He grinned as he rocked the Huey back and forth, following the river as it meandered through the carpet of variegated green foliage.
Behind him, the gunner and the crew chief shook their heads as they kept watch out their respective sides of the aircraft, the jungle racing by in a blur. The co-pilot sat on the floor between their seats, oblivious to the slur on his flying ability, the smoke from his cigarette trailing out the door in the slipstream.
Caz found herself finally relaxing, hopeful that McKay was planning on keeping the bird reasonably level for a little while. The tension that had been building over the last few days, tension she’d been denying, slowly drained away in the brilliant sunshine. Glancing over at the pilot, she caught him smirking at her, shaking his head slowly.
He keyed his mike. "That’s more like it, Caz, you wanna fly for a little?" Johnny nodded at the controls and snickered as she cowered back in the seat, as far as possible from the cyclic, and sat on her hands.
*** *** *** *** *** ***
Caz was woolgathering, her thoughts slipping idly by along with the scenery, when a sudden crackle in her headphones startled her, putting her instantly on alert. She turned her head to McKay, about to ask him what the burst of sound was when she realized there were words underneath the static. And understood that the noise wasn’t all static, much of it was gunfire.
McKay shook his head, looking back over his shoulder. He keyed his mic. "Caz, I need you outta that seat now! We’re too close to ignore this, we gotta go."
Cassidy stared at him blankly, her hands moving slowly toward the harness latches, so slowly she felt like she was deeply underwater. Opening her mouth to speak, she remembered just in time to toggle the switch with her foot. "What’s going on, Johnny?" Her voice squeaked up an octave and she winced in embarrassment.
The copilot appeared between the seats, his gloved hands roughly snapping open the latches and hauling the straps from her shoulders. He waved her closer to him and slid the helmet from her head, whatever McKay was saying lost as the headphones slipped from her ears. He tossed it aside as he looped one arm around her waist and swung her out of the seat.
"Watch your feet, ma'am!"
The man hurriedly buckled up, cramming
his helmet over his head to hear McKay snarling at him to take the
controls. He slipped his hands smoothly into place and nodded at the
pilot. "I got it."
"We gotta go, but my ass is grass if they find out I got you on board," he yelled over the whine of the rotors. He let go of her jacket, feeling frantically around under the seat. He paused, speaking into his mic. "Okay, we’re two mikes out, hang on, Baby Bear, hang on!"
Finally finding what he was looking for, McKay produced a flak jacket. He threw it at Caz. "Put that on! You gotta be small, Caz, as small as you can be! Get right against the gunner next to the wall! Stay DOWN! This ain’t gonna be pretty!" He turned back towards the nose of the chopper and spoke to his co-pilot over the intercom. They shouted back and forth about something the doc couldn’t hear, both shaking their heads and pointing ahead of them.
Caz found her feet then overbalanced, falling forward onto her hands and knees. She crawled the rest of the way to the back of the cargo bay, scrabbling on the floor for handholds with palms suddenly slick with sweat. Fear crept in as she fought to understand what was going on, no longer having the benefit of the radio. Not that it had helped anyway, all she’d heard was a voice, screaming over the clamor of small-arms fire. She froze. That voice, not one she’d heard very often, just a time or two in passing. Caz almost moaned aloud as comprehension slammed home. Goldman’s voice. Goldman’s team. Hockenbury’s team.
McKay strained to hear Goldman’s clipped words through his headphones.
"Goldilocks, Goldilocks, I’m popping red smoke to our November Echo, repeat, red smoke to our November Echo! Direct your fire fifty yards east of the river!"
McKay could hardly understand his friend over the gunfire, using one hand to seal the earphone against his head. Come on, come on, he urged the chopper, staring out the window at the jungle.
Caz, her eyes wide, struggled to get into the vest. Her hands, smoothly proficient in surgery, were now shaking so badly she could hardly thread her arms through the armholes.
"Jesus, McKay! This thing smells like somebody died in it!" she screamed at the pilot. McKay turned back for an instant, his eyes shadowed. He returned to his controls, rapping his knuckles on a dial, shaking his head. Caz froze, the blood draining from her face, one hand reaching up to remove the sunglasses in apparent slow motion.
The door gunner reached out, yanked the vest down and pointed out the fasteners. Caz nodded her thanks, her head bobbing on her wobbly neck, securing the vest around herself. Her heart was racing, pounding in her ears. She could feel the chopper descending, leaving her stomach somewhere in the clouds. Frantically, she shoved McKay’s glasses into the mail bag, pushing both it and the boxes next to the right leg of the crew chief, who leaned down, pulling them out of the way.
"Baby Bear, I’m comin’ in, you look for me!" McKay keyed his mike, watching frantically for the red smoke. His eyes swept the canopy of trees, looking for muzzle flashes. "Hose it down east of the river, boys, we’re goin’ in!"
McKay threw a quick look over his shoulder. His lips were drawn in a straight line across his face, the lower caught in his teeth. Caz could see herself in his sunglasses. Now I know what scared shitless looks like, she thought, hugging the back wall and leaning against the gunner’s spine. The gunner swept his arm around her feet, tucking them behind him. He leaned his head back, right into her face, shouting over the increasing shriek of the engine, "Stay small, stay small!" Caz nodded, pulling her knees to her chest, wrapping her shaking arms around them. Tucking her chin into the vest, Caz fought the bile rising in her throat. She reached out with her left hand, grabbing a fistful of the gunner’s baggy fatigue pants, pulling herself ever closer to him. Lowering one hand from his gun, he tucked her neatly alongside his thigh.
The chopper swooped down and the noise rose to meet it. Caz cringed involuntarily, squeezing her eyes shut. She could hear the rattle of machine guns, the crisp single shots of rifles, the booming of grenades. The racket grew louder, until Caz could no longer distinguish one gun from another. Wanting to put her hands over her ears, she opened her eyes in time to see the treetops rushing to meet them. The gunner opened fire, his elbow jerking just above her head. Caz ducked, taking a quick look at McKay, saw him screaming but oddly couldn’t hear him. Ejected shells from the gunner’s ’60 rained down, most of them caught in the slipstream but a few bounced off her shoulders, hot enough to make her flinch, the taste of old pennies in the back of her throat.
"MOVE MOVE MOVE!!!!!!" McKay stared anxiously out the window, willing the men to run faster.
The chopper tilted crazily from side to side, touching first one skid, then the other. Caz added her right hand to her left in a death grip on the gunner’s pants. She desperately wanted to know what was going on, wanted to see that Goldman’s team was on the way. She tried to turn her head, but found that she was paralyzed by her fear, breathing in the stale smell of sweat, her own and the gunner’s, and the unmentionable stench of the flak jacket. Wrenching her mind away from that thought, Caz felt the chopper dip slightly and a green-clad figure flew across her line of sight and slid to a stop against the right-side door gunner’s back.
Caz found she could raise her eyes if not her head and recognized the blonde brush-cut kid Percell, whose ice blue eyes grew wide at the sight of her. He frowned, tucking his M-16 against his body. Looking quickly away he reached his arms out, grabbing the outstretched hands of Taylor, who dove into the chopper without regard for style, his limbs making swimming motions and his eyes shut as Percell reeled him in. Taylor quickly sat up to make room for the rest of the team, pointing his weapon at the floor. He turned to tuck in behind the pilot’s side door gunner, stopping just before he squashed Caz like a bug. His surprise froze him and Ruiz cannoned into him. They both fell to the floor in a heap, their arms, legs and weapons tangled together. Ruiz found his arms trapped by the ammo belts criss-crossing his chest, swearing in Spanish as he struggled to free himself. Percell grabbed an arm from each of his teammates and quickly sorted them out.
Caz’s heart seemed to stop. She found she could turn her head enough to see the empty door. Her mind reeled, Where was Doc? Please let Doc be okay, please let him get here, please, oh please, God, oh please! Caz’s eyes squeezed shut, a single tear trailing down her cheek. She could feel the fine tremors shaking her body, but couldn’t tell if it was the vibrations from the helicopter or her own adrenaline pumping through her arteries. Doc, come on come on come on come on, Caz repeated over and over inside her head like a mantra.
"COME ON COME ON COME ON!" McKay’s voice shouted over and over. Caz became aware that she could hear again, could hear the pilot’s frantic calls and the yelling of the team as they waited for their remaining buddies. The smell of gunpowder permeated the air as smoke drifted into the doors and filled the chopper.
The Huey dipped again and her eyes flew open. Doc sprawled on the deck where Anderson had deposited him after he had hooked his webbing and heaved. The medic rolled to his knees, dragging his pouch with him, scooting across the floor to leave room for the sergeant and Lieutenant Goldman. His eyes never left the men still on the ground, adding his voice to the shouting.
"COME ON COME ON COME ON!" McKay ducked involuntarily as machine-gun fire traced a line of holes in the fuselage above his head. "JESUS FUCKING CHRIST! And I just had this thing washed, too!" McKay reached down to his right, coming up with a shotgun, which he pumped once, before leveling it out the window and firing into the jungle.
Anderson rolled into the bird, with Goldman right behind, the young lieutenant clutching one arm with the other. Dark blood stained his uniform sleeve under his fingers and trickled down his bare forearm. Caz watched stunned, her mouth hanging open, as the big sergeant caught Goldman’s webbing, heaving him further into the aircraft.
Anderson shouted at McKay, "GO GO GO GO!" The sweat was running down his face and his eyes glittered nervously.
McKay, throwing a worried glance over his shoulder, jacked the bird up into the air, leaving the enemy behind. His gunners continued to rake the ground with machine-gun fire until they were out of range.
Anderson turned to Goldman, moving over to make room for Doc who was already running a k-bar up the young lieutenant’s shirt sleeve, slitting the fabric wide open before applying a pressure bandage to the wound. Goldman yanked his arm away, scrambling backwards until he hit the back of McKay’s seat, Doc following right along. L-T hitched himself alongside it, closing his eyes against the pain.
Goldman, relaxing a little after the initial shock, opened his eyes to find himself looking directly at Caz’s chalk-white face. Her eyes, completely round with tension, stared back at him without blinking. How the hell is she stuffed into that tiny space? He wondered, his mind’s eye seeing not Caz, but Alex.
"McKay!" he yelled over the motor’s roar. "What the hell were you thinking?" Goldman snatched his arm out of Doc’s hands again, struggling between the seats to address McKay more directly.
Doc immediately grabbed the lieutenant’s wrist, forcing him to turn his bicep back to the medic’s attention. Hockenbury locked Goldman’s arm between his own body and elbow as he worked.
Goldman stared at Caz, not grasping how or why she came to be sitting there.
McKay looked back, shouting over his shoulder, "You weren’t so huffy when I was saving your ass back there, Goldman! I didn’t have any choice, we were already in the air when we got your call." He shook his head, annoyed, and turned back to his flying.
Doc, following Goldman’s line of sight, looked up and turned slightly, finally noticing Caz, who had found herself capable of moving again and had pulled herself out of her hidey-hole. The blood drained from his face. She scooted over between Goldman and Anderson, reaching over to the pressure bandage, checking it.
"McKay? Are you out of your freakin’ mind?" Goldman’s face was dark red with anger, and his eyes glared hotly at the back of McKay’s head.
Caz reached down, laying her hand on the young lieutenant’s chest and looked him in the eye. Goldman flinched back, feeling the raw emotion running through her, and reflexively shut his mouth. Instantly her gaze softened, and he relaxed, his rage dying away as quickly as it came.
Doc, on the other hand, had finally gotten enough breath to explode. "What the fuck are you doing here? You could’ve been killed!" Fear was heavy in his voice and he swiped a nervous hand across his mouth.
Anderson leaned around Caz, taking a hold of his medic’s arm, gripping it gently. "Behave yourself, son." The sergeant then sat back, looking as if nothing had happened, his eyes on his lieutenant.
Hockenbury nodded. Reaching out to check Goldman’s wound, he looked up, glancing over the lieutenant at Caz. He could see tears brimming in her eyes, the anxiety just short of madness still there. Reaching across Goldman, he took her hand, squeezed it and placed another bandage in her fingers. Together, they applied it to the bullet graze.