|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)
McKay set the chopper down hard on the helipad at Camp Barnett, jarring everyone’s teeth. Leaving the engine shut down to his copilot, he rapidly unharnessed and jumped to the pad. He yanked his helmet from his head, pulled his gloves off and shoved his fingers through his sweaty hair.
"Look at those damn holes!" he hollered, examining the damage left by the machine gun fire. He stepped up on the edge of the doorframe to get a better look. Poking his fingers into each one, he checked for damage to the wiring. "Shit!"
The grunts of Team Viking slowly slithered to the ground, the adrenaline that had been circulating around their bloodstreams dissipating, leaving them tired and grouchy. Taylor stretched, working out the kinks, and then moved off for the hootch, feet dragging. Percell and Ruiz shuffled along behind him, weapons over their shoulders.
The door gunner and crew chief stepped down, both stretching simultaneously after their long stints bent over their guns. They gathered up their surplus ammo and pulled the M-60’s from their mounts. They paused to look up at McKay, who was still ranting over the damage to his chopper. The crew chief climbed up, too, examining the perfect line of bullet holes. The gunner walked away, carrying the guns and ammo cans.
Zeke helped Goldman to the door of the helicopter. The young lieutenant dangled his feet over the side as Doc moved up beside him, laying a hand on his shoulder.
Goldman moved slightly away from the medic’s touch, his eyes shifting away from him. He found his gaze on Zeke who raised an eyebrow, lifting his chin towards Hockenbury. Goldman sighed, sat up straighter, holding his injured limb out for inspection. He glanced over at his sergeant who was nodding his approval.
Doc checked reflexes, pulses, and muscle integrity. "Well, from what I see I think I can stitch you up just fine, L-T." He loosely retied the bandage. "Un, Captain Cassidy? Can you take a look at this?" Not hearing an answer, Hockenbury looked back inside the chopper.
Caz sat with her back to the wall, her arms resting on her knees and her head on her arms. She didn’t move, didn’t acknowledge the words, didn’t realize that the three men were now staring at her. McKay appeared in the opposite door, closing his mouth over whatever smart remark he had planned to deliver.
"Captain Cassidy?" At a nod from Goldman, Hockenbury climbed into the compartment, moved to Caz and, crouching in front of her, gently touched the top of her head, lightly stroking her hair. Slowly, infinitely slowly, she straightened her neck and brought her gaze to his. Anderson and Goldman watched from the door, absolutely still. McKay sighed, looking away.
Caz looked into Doc’s eyes for a long moment, then turned to regard the two men waiting in the door. She blinked a few times, shook her head. "What? What?" She seemed to shake the immobilizing force that held her.
Hockenbury cleared his throat, glancing over at the L-T and his sergeant. He swallowed his own fear for her, trying to keep his tone light. "Can you take a look at the L-T’s arm, Captain? I think I can handle it. Might save us all some time." He stepped back over to the door, jumping down to the ground.
Caz nodded, sliding herself over the floor to Goldman’s side. The lieutenant held his arm out to her, his eyes dark with concern. Caz reached out, trying to untie the knot on the bandage and couldn’t control the trembling in her hands. She fumbled for a few seconds then tucked her surgeon’s hands into her armpits, closing her eyes as she collected her thoughts. A fine tremor shook her entire body.
Zeke took control. "Doc, open that up, will ya?" He looked sharply at Hockenbury, nudging him with the butt of his shotgun. Hockenbury started, looking at Zeke, then at Caz, and finally at Goldman’s arm.
"Yeah, yeah, Sarge, I got it." He quickly opened the bandage as Caz looked at the wound carefully. She nodded, clenching her teeth to keep them from chattering together.
"Yeah, Doc, it looks okay, you close it, that’s fine. Take him on over to the clinic, I’ll, I’ll be there in a minute." She backed away, hugging herself tightly.
"Okay Doc, let’s get the L-T to the dispensary." Zeke helped the L-T to his feet, picking up both their weapons and indicated to Doc that he should maybe support Goldman’s other side. Doc looked back at Caz, who sat on the side of the aircraft, her head down.
McKay came around the chopper, walking over to Goldman. "You okay, Myron?" He wiped his hands on a rag.
Goldman walked right up into his face. "Nice move, McKay, bringing the Captain in like that!" he snarled, then turned and moved away with his sergeant and medic in attendance.
Doc looked at McKay, caught his eye. Raising his eyebrow, he indicated Caz, his mouth forming the word, "please?"
McKay sighed, nodded his head, waving them off. He threw the dirty rag at the refuse bin, swearing. "Damn it, damn it!"
Caz’s eyes were closed as McKay slowly approached her. He could see the trembling in her arms where she gripped the edges of the deck. Her knuckles were white with the effort. Opening her eyes, she raised them to his, nodding her head slightly. He stopped in front of her, looked away briefly, and then turned to sit next to her.
"Little problem with your roomie, there?" Caz asked, her voice deliberate and low.
He looked over at her, eyebrow raised. He could see her lips curled slightly, grinning at her boots. McKay blew out the breath he had been holding, smiling himself. He relaxed a little, crossing his arms across his chest, swinging his feet.
"Well, Goldman and I have our differences…" McKay stopped as Caz snorted, sitting up straighter and stretching her neck.
"McKay, you and Goldman have differences? From what I see, that’s all you got!" Caz started laughing. She released her death grip on the chopper and stretched her arms over her head, rotating each shoulder slowly.
McKay watched her out of the corner of his eye. Damn that Hockenbury, he thought, wondering how a flak jacket could look so good. He finally started chuckling himself, thinking about his and Myron’s relationship.
"Did I ever tell you about the time Goldman shot up the floor in our hootch?" McKay waved his fingers at her, indicating her jacket.
Caz scooted over and McKay began unbuckling the heavy garment. He slowly slid it from her shoulders thinking again, Damn that Hockenbury! Her shirt stuck to her body, the fabric dark with sweat.
She smiled her thanks, saying, "He did what?! No, tell me what happened." She unbuttoned her fatigue shirt, exposing the t-shirt underneath.
McKay swallowed hard, blinking rapidly. "Well, um, he, ahh, he’d just gotten back from a mission. He was tired. While he was gone, they moved me into his hootch due to an influx of new men with no place to put them. So they doubled us up. But he didn’t know that." McKay cleared his throat, standing up and stepping away from Caz, his back to her.
Caz peeled her fatigue shirt off, tossing it on the deck. She pinched her t-shirt between her thumb and index finger and pulled it away from her body, grimacing, as McKay turned back to face her.
"Well, uhhhhhhhhhhhhh," McKay’s voice trailed off as he studied her chest, the soaked t-shirt clinging to her. Damn that Hockenbury! Suddenly aware of her silence, he raised his eyes to find her watching him, an amused expression on her face.
"Well, damn it, Caz! A man’s gotta look somewhere!" The pilot grinned defiantly, a hint of color rising under his sunburn. "Sorry." Not really.
He didn’t look sorry, thought Caz as she watched his gaze sweep again from her head to her toes then back to her eyes. The doctor laughed easily. "Well, I guess that’s true. Continue your story." She deliberately picked up her damp fatigue shirt, pulling it back on and wrapping it around herself. "Go, on, McKay, the story!"
He slowly shook his head and sat down next to her again. "You’re something else, Captain Cassidy, something else. Anyway, Goldman threw open the door." McKay looked out over the camp as he spoke, studiously ignoring Caz, who laughed silently next to him.
"He saw me sitting there, apologized for coming into MY hootch, walked back out, and I just waited. Eventually he came back in, you should have seen the look on his face! I guess he was tired, he laid down on his rack so I turned up the music a little, you know, give him something to relax with." McKay’s face lit up with his memory of the occasion. Caz smiled.
"Next thing I knew, he’d pulled out that AK-47 of his and started firing into the floor. He divided the hootch in two with bullet holes!" Caz leaned out of the chopper and looked up at the neat line of holes over the pilot’s window. "Yeah, just like that! Then he dropped back into his rack and went to sleep. He’s crazy!"
Caz laughed, her tension drifting away, leaving aching muscles behind. "I guess you don’t mess with Goldman then." She slowly stood up.
McKay smirked, "Sure I do, every chance I get!" He tossed the flak jacket back under the pilot’s seat, ran his eyes over the Huey, satisfying himself that all was as it should be. He turned back to Caz with a serious expression.
"Caz, I’m sorry you had to go through that. If there had been any other way," he shrugged his shoulders, shaking his head.
Caz sighed, hugged her arms around herself. "It sorta gives me some perspective, McKay. When all you see is the end result, you don’t have to think about how frightening it is. Just fix ‘em up an’ send ‘em back out. That’s gonna be a little harder to do now." Her gaze fell to the peace sign painted on the pad and she sighed heavily again.
McKay reached out, gently squeezed her bicep. "You did good, Caz. You followed directions, you got small, you didn’t puke, and you didn’t fall out. All in all a successful mission." He smiled, dropped his arm and turned back to the helicopter.
"Thanks, McKay," Picking up her gear and the mail bag, Caz turned toward the dispensary. She looked back at the helipad as she rounded the corner and saw McKay still standing there, staring at the line of bullet holes.
*** *** *** *** ***
Goldman stalked up the stairs into the dispensary, refusing to meet Anderson’s eyes, annoyed at the sergeant’s solicitousness in holding the door open for him. He couldn’t quite understand why both Zeke and Doc had flanked him closely during the short walk from the landing pad, felt irritated and itchy at their obvious concern. I’m fine, dammit, just everyone leave me alone!
The big room was empty save for Hall, ensconced behind his desk tackling a mound of paperwork with apparent enjoyment. The big man froze at the sight of the three, his enormous coffee mug halfway to his lips. Setting it down quickly, he rose to his feet, eyes wide with undisguised surprise.
"Lieutenant Goldman, I hadn’t heard there were any injuries during the extraction." He walked around the desk, moving rapidly toward the lieutenant and his hovering, unwanted entourage.
Goldman took an involuntary step back, momentarily confused by the undercurrent of fear he could sense under Hall’s calm words. I’m fine dammit, why can’t everyone see I’m just fine!
"Lt. McKay had his hands full, Royce, yanking us out. I don’t think he even realized the L-T here got himself winged." Anderson was careful to keep himself bodily between his lieutenant and the door. He’d been with Goldman long enough to catch that the younger man was doing his level best not to unleash that temper of his and storm out of the dispensary.
Hall stopped just short of Hockenbury, staring hard into the medic’s eyes before turning to Myron. "You mean to tell me that McKay hauled y’all in?" An expression of disbelief flickered across his face, quickly replaced by a worried frown. "Don’t tell me Captain Cassidy was on that bird." He stepped right up to the men, daring them to confirm his words.
Anderson cleared his throat. "Yeah, Royce, the Cap’n was on board." He reached out and before Goldman could flinch back from his hand, grasped his elbow and turned the arm toward the other sergeant. "The L-T here managed to catch a bullet. She did a fine job helpin’ out Hockenbury here with gettin’ ‘im patched up."
Goldman finally managed to yank his arm free, his anger and confusion mounting. He turned glittering dark eyes on Anderson who did not back away from him, even as Hall and Hockenbury retreated a pace.
"She alright, Zeke?" Hall always marveled at Anderson’s ability to stand in the face of the young officer’s mounting temper.
"Shook up a bit, I think, but yeah, she’s fine. McKay’s still with her." Anderson never took his eyes off Goldman, standing solid. He watched his friend continue to fight for control, but if the L-T was going to lose his slim hold on his anger, Zeke wanted it thrown at him.
"The hell she’s fine!" Myron finally snapped. "She’s back on the pad shaking so hard her teeth are rattling! I wouldn’t be surprised if she was on her hands and knees by now, tossing her last two meals!" From the corner of his eye he saw Hockenbury take another careful step back. He turned and pinned Hall with his dark glare and the sergeant stood there, captured by Goldman’s fury. "What the HELL was she doing on a slick in the first place? And with McKay no less! Do you mind telling me what that was all about?!"
He finally stalked away, trying to put distance between himself and everyone else in the room. He missed Anderson and Hall exchange quick looks - Anderson’s apologetic, Hall’s understanding. Yanking the rag from his hair, Myron threw his rifle on the gurney and ran the back of his grimy hand across his mouth.
Anderson slid Hall another quick glance. "Well, L-T, lemmee just take that weapon outside, I know they don’t like ‘em in here." He stepped up next to Myron who now leaned with his good hand on the gurney. Zeke picked the rifle up smoothly. "I’ll take your pistol too, L-T, and drop them off at your hootch for ya." Slinging the strap of the rifle over his shoulder, he then held out his hand, waiting for the rest of Goldman’s gear.
Goldman wouldn’t look at him, his dark eyes black with anger and fear and pain. Ignoring just how much it hurt him, he angrily stripped off his webbing, grenades, pistol and all, and handed it to the patiently waiting sergeant. Now just leave me alone! Myron felt Anderson’s questions, the underlying anxiety that seemed to permeate every conversation he’d had with his sergeant of late. And let some of the anger slip away from him. Just go, Zeke, please, just go. Sighing, he finally raised his head, met the man’s gaze.
"I’m fine, Zeke. Why don’t you go get cleaned up, grab some chow or something."
Anderson paused, hearing things in the young man’s voice he didn’t quite want to know. "Yessir, I’ll do that. Doc? You fix him up, now, son, make it pretty."
Hockenbury looked up,
startled. His thoughts were racing away from him, darting here and
there, but always ending up in McKay’s Huey, Caz tucked behind the
gunner, her eyes wide open and unseeing, blood running down her face…
"What, Sarge?" He wiped a trickle of sweat from his forehead.
And felt Goldman’s dark stare on him,
And became captured for a long moment in the L-T’s nightmare- as Goldman saw Alex. Not CASSIDY in that Huey-but ALEX!
Myron saw Doc’s madness like a movie running in a continuous loop. Knew the young medic had been horrified to find the doctor on board and now couldn’t keep his mind from showing him how it could have ended, how it did end for Alex. Funny, when I see that explosion in Saigon, I see her get back up, alive. But it wasn’t funny, and the vibrant journalist wasn’t alive. Goldman scrubbed his face with his good hand, pressing his knuckles into his eyes, and sighed heavily.
Anderson shook his shaggy head, wondering just what in the hell he was gonna do with these two. They were never comfortable around each other, but Zeke knew there was NO one else likely to get close enough to the L-T in this situation to stitch up that arm. "Just take care of him, Hockenbury." He nodded at Hall before turning and disappearing out the dispensary door.
Hockenbury took a deep breath, blew it out again. He glanced briefly at Goldman, then at Hall. "Gotta get a suture kit, L-T, be just a second." He hauled open the heavy metal doors of a supply cabinet and ran his fingers over the labels of the stacked instrument trays, lips moving silently. "Got it." He pulled the packet out and tossed it on a mayo stand with a muffled thump.
Myron flinched away from the sound, skittish and uneasy. He watched his medic with jittery eyes, not wanting the man’s attention, not wanting to admit that the wound hurt more than he thought it should. Not wanting to admit that the pain wasn’t coming just from his arm.
The screen swung open again, its hinges protesting. Goldman, his back to the door, refused to look, sensing it had to be Cassidy. The expression on Doc’s face confirmed it. The lieutenant leaned on the gurney with a sigh, watching Hockenbury wrestle with his emotions.
Doc finally found his voice. "I see you got your mail, ma’am." He swallowed hard, wanting to enfold her in his arms, feel her alive and whole against him. His muscles trembled with the effort to appear nonchalant.
Caz held up the bag, trying to smile but failing miserably. "I did, Hockenbury. Nothing like a letter to brighten up the day." She patted her jacket pocket, her eyes rising to meet his. She passed the bag from one hand to the other, unable to stop herself, long fingers sliding on the string and tangling in the knot. Her cheeks were unnaturally pale, the skin drawn tight across the bone, her lips set in a thin line.
She found she couldn’t hold Doc’s gaze, looking from one thing to another in the dim room. Cassidy hoped no one noticed that her hands were trembling. At least Goldman wasn’t looking at her, his back to the room still.
Hockenbury felt his face grow warm, suddenly aware of the weight of her little book in his own pocket. He looked down, concentrating on setting up his suture tray.
The squawk of the radio made them all jump and Hall reached for the handset as Cassidy pushed open the door to her hootch and walked in, clutching the mailbag tightly to her body with both arms.
Goldman recognized Stringer’s aide, his nasal twang more pronounced than ever over the radio. He waited, expecting to be invited to a lynching party at the colonel’s office. A roast, perhaps McKay on a spit over an open fire!
But it wasn’t Goldman whose presence was requested. As Caz reappeared from her quarters, Hall straightened up, tossing the handset back on the radio.
"Ma’am? Colonel Stringer wants to see you in his office ASAP." He raised one dark eyebrow, watching her carefully.
"What? Oh shit." Caz bit down on her lower lip, staring absently at the radio. "Damn it. Okay, okay."
She walked rapidly across the wooden floor, pausing next to Goldman, and looked across the lieutenant at Hockenbury. "You got this under control?" She stretched out a hand to pull the bandage aside and stopped herself just in time. Goldman looked up sharply at her, eyes nearly black. That moment in the helicopter. She never wanted to repeat that, never wanted to experience the hurt and anguish that rioted behind those eyes.
Carefully avoiding the sterile kit on the mayo stand, Caz moved slowly behind Doc, gently resting one tremulous hand in the middle of his back for an instant, then stepped past.
Goldman closed his eyes, aware of the momentary contact between them. Cassidy’s presence in the room had been tearing at him, her anxiety feeding his own. Hockenbury was hard enough to take; the two of them together practically drove him mad. He heard her sigh as she walked behind him and felt the loosening of her frazzled nerves. And paradoxically the tightening of his own.
The door opened and closed again as Caz left.
Hall looked at the two remaining men, weighing his options carefully. He knew the young officer was still very much wired from the entire incident back at the extraction. Common sense told Hall that if you crowded Goldman, he was going to get more angry and hard to handle. On the other hand, the fewer eyes and hands on him, the better chance there was that Hockenbury could stitch up that graze. The medic, as uneasy as he appeared to be, did seem to have a careful hand with his lieutenant, Hall noted. And not everyone could claim that around Goldman.
Decision made, Hall picked up his hat, nodding politely to Goldman and Hockenbury. "I believe I’ll head over to the chow hall, see if there’s anything worth eating." He glanced over Doc’s setup and peered briefly at Myron’s wound before walking crisply out.
*** *** *** *** *** ***
"Okay, L-T, I got this ready. If you could just lie..." Hockenbury’s words trailed off as Goldman abruptly straightened, stepping away from the table. Doc set down the hypodermic needle and crossed his arms over his chest, fighting the urge to just throw a bandage at his lieutenant and flee the dispensary.
"L-T, I gotta suture that up, it’ll go septic otherwise." The medic’s voice was low, intended to be soothing, but he didn’t quite succeed, sounding more frustrated and exhausted than anything.
But Goldman wasn’t listening. He’d moved to the screen and was staring out, apparently intent on the passing men. His body was taut with tension, shoulders hunched forward with his injured arm held tightly against his chest.
"L-T, you’re just gonna have to trust me on this."
Myron stiffened. Trust? Me trust you? He didn’t trust anybody at the moment, any THING. Everything he’d put his heart into blew up around him, ended up dead or dying or damaged beyond repair. Trust was something outside his comprehension right now, possibly out of his grasp forever.
Myron turned from the door and slowly walked back to the table, hiking himself up on it, all the while avoiding Hockenbury’s questioning eyes. He didn’t want the medic to touch him, afraid of losing the distance he’d worked so hard to maintain. He’d breathed a sigh of relief when Cassidy had left but there was no getting away from Doc’s presence, both physical and mental.
Hockenbury picked up his needle again, squirting a little of the drug into the air as he tapped an air bubble from the syringe. "This is gonna burn a little, L-T, I’m sorry." He loosened the bandage, let it fall onto the table, entirely absorbed in the task. He never once looked at Goldman’s face, didn’t take the chance on meeting the man’s gaze.
Goldman tensed, the muscles tightening under Doc’s fingers. He felt the needle slide under his skin and clenched his teeth together, forcing himself to be still. Myron was aware of Hockenbury murmuring something about the medicine stinging and glanced sideways, not moving his head.
The healing scar stood out vividly on Hockenbury’s temple, even under the camo paint he’d applied several days ago, the wide gash slowly filling in with granulating tissue. Goldman knew it should be better than it was by now, knew Doc had re-opened it a few times in the bush, shoving the back of his hand across it to stop the sweat running into his eyes while he worked on wounded soldiers. Turning his head slightly for a better view, aware of the medic’s complete attention on his arm, Goldman looked closely at the man’s face.
The bruising had been extensive, falling from just under the bullet graze in a colorful wave, surrounding Hockenbury’s entire eye socket, and slipping down to just above the corner of his lip. The first few days had brought a rainbow of colors, deep reds and purples to dark blue and almost black. Now, not quite two weeks later, most of it had faded, leaving a yellowish-green crescent under Doc’s left eye, the swelling almost gone entirely.
Sighing, Goldman let his chin fall to his chest, his eyes closing slowly as the anesthetic took effect and the pain in his arm faded away. He fought his flailing thoughts, trying desperately to think of nothing at all, wishing the lidocaine would leave his mind as numb as his arm.
Hockenbury dropped the syringe on the stand, satisfied that the area was deadened enough to allow him to suture the wound. He glanced up from under his sandy fringe of hair and regarded Goldman, noting the dark circles under his eyes that the camouflage paint couldn’t conceal. The medic was well aware of the lieutenant’s reluctance to let him touch him, had sensed the frantic anxiety rising in the man as Caz had approached him a few moments ago. He’d also noted the miniscule easing of that anxiety as the doctor had veered away from the wounded officer, placing her warm hand on Hockenbury’s own back instead.
Doc picked up the needle driver and suture material, carefully positioning the curved hook-like needle in the tiny jaws. Caz. He’d about lost it right there in the chopper, his entire world suddenly narrowing to that pale face half hidden behind the gunner. Caz. Right there, bullets flying, blood spilling, CAZ in a helicopter that could be blown out of the sky at any moment. All conscious thought obliterated for that instant. It was only when she’d managed to haul her own wits about her and crawled out of her hiding place that he’d felt his mind lurch back into motion. And even then, had Anderson not been there to hold him back…
Hockenbury stared at his hands, momentarily mesmerized by their shaking. He quickly glanced up at Goldman and saw that the man hadn’t moved, seemingly lost in his own dark thoughts. "Um, okay, L-T, I’m gonna start now. You shouldn’t feel a thing."
Goldman didn’t open his eyes, barely nodding his head. He held his bandana in his hands, looped tightly around the left, the ends caught up in the fingers of his right.
Doc pinched up the edges of the graze with pick-ups, oversized medical tweezers. Holding the skin securely, he deftly shoved the needle through and repeated the procedure with the other side, rapidly securing the suture with an instrument tie. Cassidy would have used a surgical method, her nimble fingers producing perfect, even knots with the ease of a magician. Hockenbury had been watching her closely and had tried to replicate her technique back in the hootch, using shoelaces for gut, but didn’t dare try it out on a living patient. Especially not Lt. Goldman. Especially not now.
He sensed Goldman’s efforts to control his anger at finding Dr. Cassidy on the Huey. The lieutenant’s outrage had been way over the top considering he barely knew the woman, had in fact gone deliberately out of his way to NOT know her. Doc knew it wasn’t Caz herself, but the fact that she was a woman. A woman in harm’s way on McKay’s chopper.
Not for the first time, Hockenbury wished he’d known Alex Devlin. And the Myron Goldman everyone else seemed to remember. The L-T he knew had walled off his emotions, desperately trying NOT to care in order to kill the pain, not consciously realizing that his self-imposed isolation caused more agony than it spared. But Goldman was in WAY too deep to reach with mere rationalization.
The medic sighed, his own head achy from wrestling with everyone else’s feelings, their anger, anxiety and fear all balled together in a seething mess in his mind. His heightened sense of awareness was working overtime and he’d pretty much shuttered his own thoughts entirely. Except from Caz, with whom he’d found a level of acceptance and understanding he’d not believed possible.
Doc had sensed her terror in the helicopter as McKay had poured on the power, the bird shuddering with the effort of gaining altitude. He’d been trying to grab hold of Goldman’s arm, not understanding why the man was fighting him so hard. Panic had risen in Hockenbury’s own belly, afraid of what he might find when he got a look at the injury, his memory yanking him back to Lawson and the nightmare he’d experienced that day.
When he’d finally caught a glimpse of Caz, stuffed so tightly behind the gunner, Doc would have sworn that it wasn’t her, that it was a dark-haired woman, that it was ALEX! The muscles of Goldman’s arm tensed against his ribs and Doc had tightened his hold instinctively, comprehending suddenly that it was the young lieutenant whose anxiety-suffused delusion was obscuring his own vision. He’d blinked hard, just as Caz crawled gracelessly across the floor toward him. Caz, whose fear had threatened to overwhelm her, Caz who had owned him from the day he first saw her. Caz, not Alex, shoving her fear behind her and taking her place with him to help bandage Goldman’s wound.
The lieutenant moaned and Hockenbury froze, the hooked needle halfway through another suture. "L-T? That hurt? Can you feel that?" The medic looked down at his work, realizing he’d already tied eight stitches and the graze was halfway closed. He’d been totally unaware of what he’d been doing, at least on a conscious level. Doc glanced guiltily up at Goldman.
A trickle of sweat traced its way across Myron’s face, pausing at the angle of his jaw before running down his neck. His dark eyes were open, unfocused, staring at the floor unblinkingly. Reaching up with his good hand, Goldman massaged his temple hard, rubbing the heel of his hand roughly over his skin. Dammit McKay!
"L-T?" Doc’s voice was gentle, questioning.
"Huh?" Goldman raised his head, his hand slowly returning to grip the edge of the gurney. He gave every appearance of a man awakening, slowly becoming aware of his surroundings. Slowly realizing that all the pain he’d felt in his wandering thoughts was real, that this was one dream he’d never fully leave behind in sleep. He felt Hockenbury’s gaze on him and looked up.
Doc forced himself to control his shock as Goldman’s black, empty eyes met his. The lieutenant couldn’t hide from Doc’s perception, couldn’t pretend this was just another in a long line of events in the monotonous carnage that was Vietnam. Everything went back to Alex and her violent death. Everything that was Goldman, right down to the haphazardly shined boots, was reborn in that instant and became this soldier with eyes that reflected nothing.
Hockenbury dropped his gaze, fighting the despair he felt drifting from Goldman’s thoughts to his own. "Sorry, L-T. I thought I’d hurt you. I’m almost done here." He quickly finished the remaining sutures, tying neat little knots and cutting the ends short. He applied a bandage, tearing the strips of tape with his teeth, and sealed the edges carefully.
Goldman gently felt the area, twisting his neck around so he could see. "Nice job, Hockenbury, thanks." He gingerly pulled his fatigue shirt back on, grimacing at the hole in his sleeve the bullet had started and Doc had expanded with his k-bar.
Doc fidgeted with the needle driver, slapping it carefully into his palm, hair hanging over his eyes. He hauled his courage around him like a cloak and glanced quickly at Myron, then just as quickly away. "L-T?"
Goldman slid to the floor, rolling his shoulders slowly to relax the tense muscles. Something in Doc’s voice grabbed at him and he turned to his medic as he buttoned his shirt and smoothed it carefully down. "What is it, Doc?"
Hockenbury dropped the instrument on the tray, crossing his arms over his chest. "L-T? Can I…can I have a pass for tomorrow?" His cheeks instantly flushed red, the bruised area under his left eye turning almost purple as the heat rose in him. Trying to deny his embarrassment, Doc looked up, meeting Goldman’s puzzled eyes and repeated his request in a firmer voice. "May I have a pass for tomorrow?"
Goldman stood there for a long moment, wondering what could be so difficult about requesting a few hours away from the camp. Then suddenly it hit him. Hockenbury wouldn’t be going to Saigon alone, he’d have Cassidy with him. Captain Cassidy, an officer. Trust me. And they wouldn’t be going for a few drinks in some dive, either. Trust me.
He suddenly remembered meeting Alex, recalling the first time they’d been…together. She’d scammed some hotel room from an unsuspecting kid who’d thought she was writing an article about his shabby establishment for the big American newspapers.
Goldman sighed, looking up to find Hockenbury’s anxious grey-green eyes watching him.
You trusted me. Let me trust you.
The lieutenant looked away, his good hand cupping the elbow of his injured arm, fingers restlessly rubbing away at the growing ache left behind by the dissipating lidocaine.
"Yeah, Doc, yeah. I’ll get Anderson to bring it to you later." Goldman looked back, pinning Hockenbury with as direct a glance as he’d ever given the medic. Trust is a two-way street. Don’t let me down. Don’t let yourself down. He moved slowly towards the door, hoping that he hadn’t just made the biggest mistake of his career. He reached for the door, pushing the screen halfway open.
Hockenbury looked up from his tray of instruments, his eyes shining, the hint of a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. His cheeks were flushed again, but not from embarrassment. He swallowed hard, clearing his throat. "Yes, L-T?"
Anything else Goldman might have said vanished at the sight of the young man’s overjoyed face. "Just…good luck." He shoved through the door and jogged lightly down the steps.
*** *** *** *** ***
Caz walked slowly toward the dispensary, hands shoved deep into her pockets. She’d been watching her boots, idly considering the need for a shine, when she heard the creak of the door. She glanced up just in time to see Myron Goldman standing at the base of the stairs, his back to her. His shoulders were rounded, head tucked down and Caz frowned, about to rush to his aid when he straightened up, blowing a stream of smoke into the air. Ah, just lightin’ up!
Cassidy slowed even further, not wanting to exchange so much as one word with the man right now. Even though her heart bled for the young lieutenant, Caz just didn’t think she could handle it. All but stopped in her tracks, she breathed a sigh of relief as Goldman glanced once more back at the clinic and then hurried off the opposite direction, his injured arm held closely to his side.
*** *** *** *** ***
"Dr. Hockenbury, I presume?"
Doc looked up, startled, the grin that had been pasted on his face since Goldman had authorized the pass widening into a huge smile. "Captain Caz! C’mon in, c’mon in. Jus’ cleanin’ up my stuff." He tossed the last of the garbage into the trashcan, peeling the gloves from his hands and throwing them in, too.
Caz leaned on the doorframe, letting her slender hands slip into her pockets. She smiled back at the lanky medic, understanding immediately from the way he’d addressed her that they were alone and for that she was grateful. If only we were REALLY alone…
Hockenbury’s head snapped up, one eyebrow raised, wickedly grinning. He desperately wanted to take her in his arms. He knew she was still shook from the way she stood, so deliberately casual. I’ll bet those fingers are curled into fists in her pockets. "What happened with Colonel Stringer? He restrict you to base or anythin’?"
Caz shoved herself upright and walked slowly across the floor towards him, eyeing the scar on his temple. "Believe it or not, I got off scot-free. Never happened. I was never in a helicopter this morning; never saw a landing zone full of flying bullets. If anyone asks, I know nothing. Now McKay, he’s swinging from the highest yardarm already, or whatever the Army equivalent is." She took her hands from her pockets, reaching up to his face and gently placing one on each side, turning his head so she could look at his old wound.
She patted the gurney behind him. "Sit up here, I wanna clean that out."
Doc obediently sat on the gurney, his back to the door. He’d felt the fine tremor in her hands and knew that she hadn’t gotten off scot-free at all, would probably have trouble sleeping that night and more to come.
Setting a basin of clean water on the stand, Cassidy opened a pack of 4x4s, stacking them so she could grab them easily. She glanced up at Doc, shrugged and crossed her arms over her chest.
"I guess you’d kinda like to know why I was on that chopper, too, huh?" She dropped her gaze to the ground, shifting her weight from one foot to the other uneasily.
Doc shook his head. "It doesn’t matter, Caz. Just as long as you’re safe now." He held out his hand to her, knowing his body would shield any contact between them from anyone entering the clinic. "Figured you must have been at the hospital at Tan Son Nhut, since ya had your mail." She’d placed her hand in his and he brought it briefly to his cheek, nuzzling into her palm and making her smile.
"Kid named Harmon gouged himself on barbed wire the day you guys left. I cleaned that wound ‘til he was beggin’ for mercy, but it still went sour." Cassidy reclaimed her hand, holding it up to her own cheek and closing her eyes, gently smiling.
Hockenbury grinned at her. "I hope that beggin’ for mercy thing doesn’t apply right now!"
Tossing some 4x4s into the basin, Caz dunked them under the water with one finger and glanced up at the medic, one eyebrow raised. "Well, now, depends on how good you are at holding still. Speaking of which, how’d Goldman do?"
With a laugh, Hockenbury shrugged lightly. "He’s wound tighter than a tick, but the arm looks good. It closed well." He saw the shadow cross her eyes, a flicker and then it was gone. "You think he needs penicillin or something?"
Caz picked up a towel and draped it over Doc’s shoulder, tucking it under his chin. "Hell, after Harmon I’m puttin’ the entire camp on antibiotics! It wouldn’t hurt, though." Scooping up several of the cotton squares, she stepped in front of him, holding the towel up close to his face to catch the excess water and began scrubbing the remains of faded green and black stripes from his skin.
Hockenbury took full advantage of her proximity and placed a hand on either side of her waist, his fingers lightly caressing the small of her back. He smiled, increasing the pressure as her hand faltered, water dribbling into his eyes. "You beggin’ for mercy, yet, Caz?" His voice was a gruff whisper almost directly in her ear.
She didn’t answer right away, letting the hand holding the towel drop to his chest, her fingers sliding under the tangle of love beads and coming to rest over his pounding heart. It was Caz’s turn to smile as his eyelids slid half-closed and his hands tightened around her. "Beggin’ for something, Doc Hockenbury, but it surely ain’t mercy." She laughed and reached for more 4x4s, continuing with her task.
*** *** *** *** ***
The camouflage paint dripped slowly down into the white towel, staining it and Cassidy’s hands a dark, disgusting green. She’d finally gotten most of his face clear, the healing bullet graze standing out in sharp relief against his matted hair and pale skin. Stepping back, the doctor picked up another towel and scrubbed at her arms.
Cassidy picked up a tube of ointment and checked its expiration date. "Yeah?" She was distracted, annoyed to find several out-of-date drugs on the cart.
"Caz, come here." Hockenbury gently took her elbow, pulled her in front of him, screening her from the door. He glanced over his shoulder, making sure nobody was lurking on the steps.
Puzzled, Caz looked up at him, smoothing a few stray hairs back over her ears. "What is it?"
"Goldman gave me a pass for tomorrow, a pass into Saigon." His eyes held hers, riveting her to the spot. "I’d like you…would you want…" Swallowing hard he soldiered on. "Would you do me the honor of comin’ with me, Caz?"
Cassidy continued to stare at him, her eyes suddenly damp and she blinked rapidly. Her hands rested on his knees and she felt his calloused fingers settle over them, curling around until he held them entirely within his own.
"I’d love to." She had to clear her throat, her voice suddenly hoarse. The joy that rose in her was almost overwhelming and she lowered her head quickly, afraid that the emotional overload of the day might manifest itself in tears.
Hockenbury brought a gentle hand under her chin, lifting it, and gazed into her eyes for a long time, silent and awestruck. He was still amazed that she wanted him, that her desire for him matched his own for her. He’d thought it impossible to find someone so accepting of him, so open to all his hopes and dreams and fears. And yet here she was.
The screen swung open and Caz moved smoothly back half a step, continuing to look at Doc’s face. She glanced over his shoulder, smiling, and reached for the ointment, looking down to open the tube. "Hey, Sergeant Hall, what’s for lunch?" Squeezing an inch of the oily paste on her finger, she stood on tiptoe and smeared it over Hockenbury’s scar.
Hall snorted and continued around the gurney, inspecting Doc’s temple. "Something that might have been meat in a former life. I recommend the soup. Hockenbury, why do you keep pulling the scab off this thing?" The big man glared at the skinny medic, shaking his head, and then stalked off to the coffee pot, scowling as he realized that it was empty.
Caz winked at Hockenbury, squeezing his forearm quickly and then stepped away to clean up the mess.
The medic jumped from the table, straightening his shirt and rearranging his love beads. He picked up his pouch from the floor where he’d flung it when he and Anderson had brought Goldman in, slinging it over his shoulder.
"Maybe you should go cut McKay down from that yardarm thing, take him over to the Team House tonight. I’d imagine he might need a drink or two." Hockenbury looked over at Hall who was banging things around as he started up the coffee. Glancing back to Caz, he shrugged, grinning.
Since that day at the orphanage, McKay had often squired Cassidy to the Team House. And just as often seated her at Team Viking’s table, making sure that he reappeared at the end of the evening to escort her safely (and properly) back to the dispensary. He’d never said a word and neither had Doc or Caz, the three apparently coming to a mutual decision to not mention in words those things that could bring trouble to them all.
Caz laughed. "Oh, McKay is probably already there, working on the mother of all hangovers. I just might drop over and join him, although I’m probably the LAST person he wants to see."
Doc wandered slowly to the door, listening to the distant roll of thunder. "Oh, I doubt you’re the last person, Dr. Cassidy, maybe the second to last…" He ducked as Caz threw a wadded up towel at him, slipping out the door and clattering down the steps.
Cassidy sighed, picking up the towel and tossing it in the dirty laundry. Turning, she found herself face to face with Sergeant Hall. An angry Sergeant Hall.
"Now, Dr. Cassidy, would you mind telling ME what happened in that helicopter?"