Under the Gun
By Doc
© December 2002

Chapter Fourteen

 
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 Hockenbury’s life.

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


Myron felt tired and achy and bruised, both inside and out when he dumped the rest of his gear on his rack. The weather was changing, a storm front moving in on the horizon that mirrored his mood. It would likely rain all night. His arm throbbed as he went over to his desk and pulled the bottom drawer out with his good hand. He quietly pulled out a bottle of whiskey and a glass, setting them gently on the desk, before sitting down with a sigh.

He was still anxious and disturbed from everything that had happened. Pouring the glass half full, he set the bottle aside with a clink, not bothering to screw the cap back on. The ambush, his getting shot at the last minute, the extraction. Cassidy staring at him with eyes so enormous, filled with stark terror.

He found his cigarettes and lit up, holding the smoke for a long moment in his nicotine-starved lungs. He exhaled hard before taking another swallow of the bitter alcohol, grimacing as it burned its way down.

So many things had happened in that hour’s time. He still could see her, see her trembling and gripping the fatigues of the door gunner, her knuckles white with the effort. Her unblinking, frightened eyes completely dilated.

What the hell was she doing on that slick?!

He finished the glass off and poured it half full again.

Hockenbury had always made him uncomfortable on more levels than he cared to think about. He’d stopped trying to understand why, because he didn’t want to get to know the medic. Was afraid if he did, and something happened to the guy…

Myron shoved the thought away and took another drink. He couldn’t stop the images from the chopper playing out in his mind. He could clearly see Cassidy get her courage in hand and carefully crawl across the shuddering floor of the Huey, her hands and boots slipping on the steel floor, teeth tightly clenched together. Watched her as she looked at him with those enormous eyes and then reach out with the anticipation of calming him down. He’d been trapped between Hockenbury and Anderson, nowhere to go, no way to avoid that soft hand touching him.

The shock was immediate and in the space of a breath they both knew they’d trespassed inadvertently, leaving them reeling back from one another in bewilderment.

Not even Anderson knew just how deep his private pain went - or possibly didn’t want to know. Myron never wanted an almost stranger, certainly someone he hadn’t begun to trust yet, to know either. Yet there was Cassidy and in that blink of an eye she had him completely and he was defenseless.

What the hell was she doing on that damned slick?!

He realized his glass was already empty again and the bottle sat there, still open, inviting him to pour another. A moment of hesitation and then he did, cursing himself for his need to drown his pain in alcohol.

Alex was his to remember as he chose. Alone. Angry and hurt and abandoned. His to rail against. His alone. Not Anderson’s or even McKay’s. Just his. His memories. His demons. His private sorrow and grief. And now a stranger had stolen that, that part of him he was not prepared to give. Not just any stranger either. But a woman. Like Alex had been.

That wasn’t all of it though and Myron mentally flinched back from the memory. He crushed out the remains of his cigarette and lit up another. His mind would not let it go and he found himself again reliving that moment. It wasn’t enough that the doctor had come away with a piece of his soul. His wasn’t the only heart thrown into the wind. There had been a mutual exchange and even though Myron had wanted no part of it, he found himself knowing things he’d no right to know, things he’d deny if asked. Things that tore at him like knives.

She’s in love…

Myron quickly poured the glass full to the rim and tossed half of it down in an effort to escape that knowledge. He now knew that this wasn’t some illicit love affair, the medic and young captain slipping off to the rocket bunkers to play doctor. In that same instant that Caz had caught a quick view of Myron’s destructive grief, Myron had glimpsed the depth of a woman deeply in love.

And he bowed before it, as it seared his soul and left in its wake an unhappy realization. For as much as he’d loved Alex, as completely as he had loved her, in his heart he knew she had never loved him the same way. Unconditionally… the way Cassidy loves Hockenbury.

Oh God, now what do I do?

And as if on cue, John J. McKay came crashing into the hootch on the heels of the distantly growling thunder.

Goldman was immediately on his feet, tense and flushed, those dark eyes brilliant.

McKay stood immobilized, just inside the door. He finally dragged his cap off and walked over to his side of the room, turning his back to the man. He stripped his own revolver off and tossed it carefully on the bed, very aware that Goldman was still standing there, still glaring at him.

Leaning over, he opened the door of his cooler and pulled out a beer, finally glancing back at Goldman. "You want one?" His voice was level as he popped the cap off the bottle, slowly turning around and bringing it to his lips.

"What the hell were you doing out there today, McKay?" Myron had been itching to unleash that legendary temper for hours, and the pilot was exactly the target he was looking for.

"Ah, I see you’ve already got a head start on me." Johnny nodded at the whiskey bottle. He could feel Goldman’s mounting anger, see it in the way the other man stood, tight and edgy and ramrod stiff. Perfect. First Stringer, now Goldman. Well, he couldn’t very well run from his pissed-off hootchmate. Might as well stand here and take it like a man.

"I asked you a question, McKay."

Johnny sighed and ran a hand through his dark hair. "I thought I was doing my job. Which by the way, was saving your ass today!"

"It’s so like you, you don’t even THINK before you do something - you just leap in!" Myron dropped his glass with a clatter on his desk. "What the hell was she doing on your slick to begin with? Did it ever even occur to you what could have happened back there?"

"Yeah, I did think, Goldman! And I was the closest thing to you and your men! I had a choice, and I made it!" Johnny never intended to shove back at Myron, but the guy was just so damned infuriating. "If I’d gone back to base, dropped off Dr. Cassidy AND re-fueled, you or some of your men might not be here right now! If I had it to do again, I’d make the same decision!" Yeah, he had said that to Stringer, too.

"You could have got her killed!"

"BUT I DIDN’T!" Johnny slammed the bottle down. "And you could be just a damn bit more grateful for once!"

"You’re careless and reckless!" Myron stalked across the floor, his temper completely out of control. "You didn’t learn anything from when you almost got Alex killed! You weren’t thinking then, and you weren’t thinking today!"

The words were out and hung between the two men, Myron vibrating with anger, Johnny suddenly shocked beyond words. The pilot just stared for several long moments, his fingers curling into fists at his sides, tightening and loosening, over and over.

"That’s not true, Myron." He finally found his voice, his throat feeling like it was full of shards of glass. The anger and frustration slipped away and he turned his back to Goldman, squeezing his eyes tightly shut.

"Isn’t it?" Myron wasn’t through yet. Wasn’t through trying to make someone, just for once, hurt almost as much as he did. It was selfish, and he knew it, but it didn’t stop him. "You were showing off then, just to get at me and to impress Alex. You were showing off today, John J. McKay, hot shot chopper jock!"

"This isn’t about Alex, Myron. It never was." Johnny reached for his cap, needing to be anywhere but around Goldman. He hesitated and finally looked back. "I didn’t kill Alex, Myron. Stop punishing me for her death. And Cassidy isn’t Alex. Stop punishing her, too." Johnny then shoved out the screen door, nearly slamming into Anderson who was just coming up to the hootch.

The two men stood facing each other, Johnny immediately wondering how long Anderson had been standing out there, and just what he had heard. Anderson, for his part, stood quietly, a wealth of understanding in his eyes.

"He’ll cool down, L-T."

"Yeah. What a relief to all of us," McKay finally replied and stepped around the sergeant, deciding to tie one on at the Team House.

Zeke watched the pilot disappear into the rapidly gathering shadows. The first raindrops began to splatter down and the sergeant hurriedly climbed the steps of his L-T’s hootch and stuck his head in the door. "Knock, knock."

He was instantly rewarded with a flash of anger from Goldman’s dark eyes as he looked up from pouring himself another drink. The young lieutenant rolled his eyes, gesturing towards the door with his glass.

"Sell it somewhere else, Anderson."

Zeke smiled and took that as his invitation in, and stepped out of the increasing rain. "I just saw Lt. McKay on his way out." Anderson stripped his cap off, ignoring his L-T’s warning look. "I see ya got a ‘no prisoners’ attitude goin’ here, L-T."

"Don’t start with me, Anderson." Goldman glared at the sergeant a moment longer, then sighed, realizing that the man wasn’t going to be intimidated into leaving. He dropped into his desk chair, picking up his pack of cigarettes and tapping one into his palm.

"Wouldn’t dream of it, sir."

The sergeant smiled indulgently and leaned back into the doorframe, arms crossed. Long experience had taught Zeke one thing about Lt. Myron Goldman. There was no talking the L-T down when the younger man was like this - he had the bit between his teeth. If Zeke had learned nothing else when dealing with Myron, it was to let him run that temper out on his terms.

Myron opened his mouth to really give it to Anderson, meeting with those big blue eyes. Eyes filled with understanding and mischief all at the same time. And it just sucked the wind right out of his sails. The fury, hurt and confusion all spilled away like the rain that sluiced off the metal roof of his hootch, leaving behind only his bewilderment.

"I’m sorry, Zeke. You didn’t deserve that."

"This is more than you gettin' winged, isn’t it, L-T?" Anderson pulled himself away from the door, grabbing McKay’s desk chair and turning it backwards, straddling it. He rested his arms across the back, resisting the impulse to pillow his head on them, just close his eyes for ONE minute, please! This constant balancing act he practiced with Goldman was exhausting and he wished suddenly, wistfully, that the lieutenant had never met Alex Devlin.

Myron slid that dark gaze away from Zeke, looking down at the glass of liquor, swirling it between his fingers.

Don’t go there, please, for both of us - don’t go there!

"You want a drink?" He finally found his voice. He didn’t wait for Anderson’s reply, but put the cigarette in his mouth and bent down, opening his bottom desk drawer and pulling out another glass.

"Sure thing, L-T. That’ll be fine." Anderson watched his friend, weighing and measuring. Admittedly, nothing had been the same for Goldman since his lover’s death. But the arrival of Captain Cassidy at Camp Barnett was playing havoc with the L-T’s emotions. Okay, so he wasn’t about to talk about it. Time to switch the topic, not back the younger man in a corner. "How’s the arm? Doc Hock fix you up alright?"

The glass poured, Myron was just extending it to his sergeant when he paused at the mention of the medic. A pause long enough for Zeke to pick up on and wonder about.

"L-T?" Anderson took the glass from him, tipping it slightly back at Goldman in a salute before taking a swallow.

Myron blinked and then nodded, still not quite able to look at his friend. "Yeah, it’s fine. A few stitches, check back in a few days. No problems." He leaned back to his desk, crushing out the cigarette. "You post the duty roster for tomorrow yet?"

Anderson shook his head. "No, sir. Fixin’ to do that after I got done checking on you."

"I don’t need a mother, Sergeant."

"No, sir. But you’ve been my responsibility since you stepped off that truck at Ladybird. Nothing’s changed since then." Zeke instantly regretted the words the moment they were out of his mouth. The stunned, wide-eyed look that was turned on him made him actually flush and glance uneasily away, shifting his weight in the chair.

Outside the rain picked up, the noise on the metal roof filling the now awkward silence. Myron finally swiveled back around to his desk, digging for a blank pass and quickly filling it out, signing it before returning to face Anderson.

"Don’t put Hockenbury on the duty roster. He’s had a rough several days." Myron handed Anderson the pass.

"Sir, you sure about this?" Anderson was stunned and still a bit off center from his careless remark. Goldman was refusing to meet his eyes again and Zeke didn’t know what to think.

"It’s fine, Zeke, really."

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

Hockenbury stood in the middle of the drab room, studying the shabby mat on the floor that served as a carpet, his lower lip caught in his teeth. He sighed, the breath rushing out of him along with the giddy intentions of a short while ago. Expecting Caz at any moment, the medic grabbed one of the worn, thin towels from the top of the dresser and dusted everything he could reach, coughing in the little clouds that puffed up in his face as he worked. He yanked the grimy window open, hoping for a little breeze to relieve the stale air only to slam it closed again as the clamorous noise from the street arose along with the odor of the marketplace.

Doc pulled his cigarettes from his pocket along with his lighter, tossing them onto the bedside table. He wanted one desperately, craving the calming hit of nicotine but he didn’t wish to add to the already hazy atmosphere of the room. His fingers brushed lightly over his breast pocket where Caz’s little leather book lay against his chest. Closing his eyes, he saw her crouching on the floor of the chopper, pupils dilated with anxiety, and felt his heart lurch, thudding painfully against his ribcage. It was at that instant that he’d known he loved her. And realized he always had, from the minute he’d first seen her in the mess hall, knew he always would.

A soft knock at the door pulled him back into the reality of the dreary little room. Rubbing suddenly slick palms down the sides of his pants, he walked quickly to the door, opening it just wide enough for Caz to slip through, her cap with its tell-tale captain’s bars rolled in her hands.

She smiled tentatively up at him, raising an eyebrow in question at the unreadable expression on his face. "Doc, what’s wrong?" Her voice was low, hesitant. She reached out one arm, running her fingers slowly down his sleeve, gently caressing his wrist and the back of his hand before interlacing them with his, squeezing lightly.

Hockenbury looked up, meeting her gaze with his own. "I just wish it could be different somehow. Not here." He glanced around the room, shaking his head, his dark blonde hair falling into his face. "Jus’ not here." He turned back to her, expression dark with regret.

"Listen, Doc. It doesn’t matter. We’re here, it’s the best we can do. At least we’re here together, yeah?" She nodded, swallowing hard, trying to convince herself as much as the medic. "Hey, try somethin’ for me, okay?"

He smiled at her, willing to do anything to recapture the anticipation they’d shared in the jeep on the way in. "Sure, Caz, whatever you want."

She waved her palm over his face. "Close your eyes." She spoke softly, hypnotically as Hockenbury reluctantly let his lids slide closed, taking a deep breath and letting it out with a sigh. "Breathe in an’ out, slowly. Clear your mind, jus’ relax. Now, I want you to think of the perfect place you’d like to be right now." The young woman walked around him, her fingers trailing lightly across his shoulders and over his back. As she came around to face him, she let her arms encircle him, hands sliding under his jacket and slipping it off. "Okay, where are you?"

The corners of Hockenbury’s lips turned up as he smiled. "I’m on a riverbank in Memphis, well, more like a crick. It’s kinda muddy, but not sticky muddy, jus’ soft. I gotta blanket spread out an’ a picnic for two. Well, more like a couple a’ beers an’ some moon pies." He laughed, reaching out for Caz and looped his arms around her neck, pulling her against him. He rested his chin on the top of her head as he felt the tension drain from him, felt his heart rising, threatening to burst from his chest.

Caz relaxed into the safety of his embrace, her cheek flat against his chest and her arms tightly wrapped around his narrow waist. She could feel his heart accelerate and felt the answering surge of her own pulse. In the day since she’d climbed out of McKay’s chopper, knees wobbling and muscles trembling, Caz had been unable to stop rerunning the incident in her mind. That long moment before Doc finally appeared in the doorway, Goldman stumbling in, clutching his arm, the roar of the machine gun just behind her, over and over. Her ears were still ringing, her nose still full of the stench of the flack jacket, the smell of blood and death, both things with which she was intimately acquainted but not in such a stark arena.

Hockenbury felt her shiver and brought one hand gently under her chin. He saw the glistening tears, as yet unshed, and caressed her face, the rough skin of his fingers trailing across her cheekbones.

"It’s okay, Caz, you’re safe now. We’re safe now." His voice was scarcely above a whisper as he kissed her forehead, his breath catching in his throat as Caz suddenly stood on tiptoe, meeting his lips with hers.

They stood there in the middle of the dim room, clinging to each other for several long moments, lost to everything but each other. At last Caz leaned her head back slightly, looking up at him with a curious mixture of desire and fear, the few stray tears forgotten and dried on her cheeks. She shook her head, her ponytail brushing the back of the medic’s hand where it rested on her neck.

"I was so scared, Doc!" Whispering hoarsely, she resisted the impulse to squeeze her eyelids shut, knowing that to do so would only provide an opportunity for the nightmare to play across her mind. Instead, she gazed steadily into Doc’s grey-green eyes, finding comfort there, and something else, something that neither was ready to admit out loud.

Doc cleared his throat. "I know you were, Caz." He stroked her hair, suddenly realizing that he could now do something he’d only dreamed about, something that often taunted him as he watched the doctor moving about the dispensary. He slipped his index finger under the band holding her ponytail together and slid it quickly from her hair, allowing the tresses to fall to her shoulders.

Caz grinned, watching the medic play with her hair, his hands running through it and letting it settle back. She let her own fingers caress his back, finding part of his t-shirt untucked and slipping one warm hand under it, coming to rest on his bare skin. She felt him jump at the contact and tightened her arms around him, holding him firmly to her.

"Oh God, Caz, I can’t believe we’re alone." His hands traced along her jaw, his thumbs barely grazing her skin as he lowered his head, his lips finding hers. Doc felt the world fall away from him, felt the loneliness that was so much a part of him shift enough to allow this woman inside his armor and inside his heart.

As they kissed, Cassidy felt an infusion of courage, like cool, clear spring water diverted from a brook and filling her soul, soothing her jangled nerves. She could only assume it came from him, a comforting balm that held her spirit much as his arms embraced her body. Relaxing into his lanky frame, Caz let her fingers slide under his shirt, traveling up his spine and over the ropy muscles of his shoulders, feeling them shift under her touch.

Doc suddenly opened his eyes, gripping her biceps lightly as she looked up at him, one eyebrow cocked questioningly. "I almost forgot!" He kissed her again gently then bounded over to the dresser, picking up the battered paper bag he’d deposited there earlier. He rummaged around in it, humming just under his breath.

Cassidy watched him with amusement, moving lazily to the bed and seating herself on the faded bedspread. Propping one foot on the opposite knee, she unlaced her boot, letting it fall to the floor with a surprisingly loud thump. She grinned at Hockenbury, his startled face looking back over his shoulder, and yanked her sock off by the toe, tossing it carelessly across the room. She waggled her toes at him. "I figured I might want to wade, what with the crick being right here an’ all."

Doc couldn’t move, his arms still inside the paper bag although for the life of him he couldn’t remember why. He stared at her as she removed the second boot, the second sock, and found he was holding his breath. "Damn, Caz!" His voice was a ragged whisper and he shook his head, hurriedly pulling some items from the bag, almost tearing it in his rush.

She sat cross-legged and barefoot on the bed in t-shirt and fatigue pants, having draped her jacket on the bedpost after removing her boots. As he approached, a bottle of some kind in one hand and two plastic brown mess cups in the other, she pulled her knees up, resting her chin on top of them, the corners of her mouth drawing up in a smile. "Whatcha got there?"

"Oh, just a little somethin’. I asked Lieutenant McKay if I could borrow a few beers from his private stash but he gave me this instead. He said with his compliments." Doc turned the bottle to reveal its label to Caz, happy he’d managed to pull off this little surprise and amazed at the warmth spreading through him as her eyes lit up.

"Champagne? Where’d he get champagne?" She took the cups as the medic fumbled with the bottle, finally popping the cork. They laughed, Caz trying to catch the overflowing foam in the mugs and failing miserably as it spilled down her pant legs, over the edge of the bed and onto the floor.

"Oops." Doc grabbed the towel he’d been dusting with and mopped up the worst of the spill, tossing the towel on the floor just as he would in the dispensary. Placing one boot on top of it, he scooted it around, grimacing at the dirt coming off the worn floorboards. He kicked the towel away, holding out the bottle again, and proffered it to Cassidy.

"Some champagne for the lady?" He bowed his head, peering out at her from behind the fringe of hair hanging in his eyes.

Caz smiled, holding out the mugs, one in each hand. "Why thank you, sir, an’ could you pour some for the gentleman also?" She felt the color rise in her cheeks and her hands shook slightly. Unable to still them, she swallowed hard, hoping the medic wouldn’t notice.

The champagne fizzed as it filled the cups, bubbles popping audibly in the stillness of the room. Doc carefully set the bottle on the bedside table. "And what gentleman would that be?" He stood there awkwardly, suddenly shy, exerting just enough self control to keep himself from shoving his own trembling hands deeply into his pockets.

Caz brought her mug to her lips, taking a sip and nodding approvingly. She glanced up at the medic, her gaze traveling from his ankles to his eyes, wide behind the lenses of his glasses. "Why, the gentleman who will be joining me as soon as he gets rid of those boots." She scooted over on the bed, holding the two cups slightly away from her as she tried to avoid slopping the champagne everywhere.

Hockenbury hesitated only a second, taking two quick steps to the bed and sitting down, bending one knee up to remove the boot.

"Hey, here. Take this." Cassidy took another quick swallow and then handed him the mugs, leaning forward to grab his foot and pull it into her lap. She grinned at him, feeling herself relax a little as he took a huge swallow and coughed, nearly spraying the mouthful right back at her.

"I love a man who can hold his liquor, Doc." Caz laughed softly, rapidly unlacing his boot with her nimble surgeon’s fingers and gripped the heel with both hands, yanking hard and sliding it easily off. Slipping her thumbs into the top of his sock, she rolled it down and over his toes, letting her index finger trace lightly across the sole of his foot.

The medic jumped and tried to rescue his ticklish extremity, scooting backwards on the bed until his shoulders hit the headboard, heedless of the champagne dripping from the mugs. He couldn’t stop the laughter bubbling up from his belly in a wave that took him by complete surprise. He had no memory of the last time he’d laughed so fully, with such abandon. Maybe when he was a kid. Maybe on the bank of some slow-moving muddy river, shimmering under the summer sun.

Caz’s wide smile threatened to split her face, faint dimples appearing low on her cheeks. She knelt on the bed, inching toward Hockenbury’s other foot as he tried to keep it out of range, finally giving up any pretense of sneaking and dove outright, tackling his leg and pinning it to the mattress.

Doc leaned as far as he could, tossing the now empty mugs onto the nightstand, and turned back to the little doctor as she industriously removed his boot and sock. He grabbed her around the waist, attempting to wrest her from his now naked and defenseless foot.

Cassidy froze, one finger poised over his toes, and looked back over her shoulder, hazel eyes dancing with mischief. "Don’t even think of ticklin’ me, Hockenbury, I’ve got ya over a barrel here an’ ya know it."

They stared at one another for a long moment, his hands around her middle, fingertips almost touching across her flat stomach and her forearms almost shaking with the effort to keep him from pulling his ankle out of her grasp. Finally, they both took a breath, and she let go of his foot, turning in his embrace to come face to face with him, a knee on either side of his hips.

"Okay, I give up." Caz’s words were almost whispered and she reached out one hand, removing his glasses and tenderly trailing her fingers over his left temple, lightly tracing the healing scar. She leaned into him as he tightened his arms around her, drawing her against him as they lightly kissed with smiling lips, eyes open and watching each other.

"I think we need more champagne, maybe for drinkin’ this time, not wallowin’ in." Caz stretched her arms out, setting his glasses on the table. She snagged the bottle and the mugs as Doc kept a firm hold on her hips, leaning comfortably back against the headboard. Cassidy gently laid a hand over one of his, peeling it from her with reluctance, and pressed one of the plastic cups into it. She poured the alcohol and set the bottle back on the little table.

Hockenbury brought his mug to hers, touching them together as his eyes searched her face, looking for any trace of hesitation and found none. He cleared his throat, hoping he could find the words that filled his heart. "I was scared, too, Caz, yesterday. Made me realize how much I could lose now." He looked away briefly, blinking rapidly. "That I could lose you."

Caz leaned forward, one hand on his chest, the other palming her champagne, bringing herself nose to nose with him. "I’m right here, Doc, not lost. You keep comin’ back to me, I’ll always be waitin’." She took his mug, placing it with hers on the nightstand. "I promise." She shifted her weight on him, moving slowly up from where she’d been sitting on his thighs.

Doc found he’d been holding his breath and let it out in a whistling sigh, bringing his hands up to brush along her cheekbones, his fingers lightly tracing the blush that rose in her face. "Are you sure, Caz?" He wasn’t asking about any promises, knowing that she meant the words. He referred, instead, to the intimate purpose they’d not mentioned but both felt deeply, a fire between them.

She nuzzled into his hands, kissing his palms and looked down at him, nodding her head. "Never more sure ‘n my life." Reaching back over her head, she grabbed hold of her t-shirt, pulling it off in one smooth movement, dog tags jingling against her chest.

With a groan, the medic slid down the bed, pulling her with him so that she lay on top of him, her legs stretching out to entangle with his. "I don’ think this is government issue, Caz." He whispered hoarsely in her ear as he kissed her neck, his fingers running lightly over the lacy undergarment she had revealed.

Shivering under his touch, Caz rose up on her elbows and looked down at him, her hair tumbling over her shoulders. Her own voice was husky and she swallowed hard a couple of times. "I think you’re a might overdressed, soldier." She shifted to one side, helping him with clumsy hands to pull his t-shirt off, throwing it aside without a glance. She lay back down on his bare chest, her eyes closing slowly as their warm skin pressed together.

Hockenbury sighed, his arms looped loosely around her and he caressed her smooth back, feeling his heartbeat accelerate with the heat he felt between them. Her dog tags pressed into him, cold and hard and he picked them up, holding them loosely in his hand.

Caz glanced up, realizing what he held and ducked her head, pulling the chain from her neck and letting it spill into his open palm with the tags. "I don’t belong to the Army right now." She placed her hand over his, closing his fingers into a fist.

"I never did." Doc removed his own tags and love beads in one movement, adding them to Caz’s and dropped them to the floor where they tangled together, the chains knotting as they fell.

Facing each other on their sides now, Doc and Caz kissed urgently, their desire running wild, all shyness fading away in the face of such overpowering need. Doc felt her hand, flat on his abdomen and found he couldn’t catch his breath, finally drawing in a shuddering lungful of air as her fingers closed around his belt buckle, tugging it gently open.

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

Hockenbury lay flat on his back, his head propped on the lumpy hotel pillows, feeling more peace than he’d known since he was a barefoot boy. Barefoot. He wriggled his toes, smiling as Caz’s foot roughly nudged his ankle. His fingers gently caressed her bare skin and he leaned his cheek against the top of her head, breathing in the clean scent of her hair.

She was nestled against him, her head resting on his shoulder, fingers lazily tracing patterns on his chest. For the first time since her arrival at Camp Barnett, Caz found her mind stilled, calmed by the thought of a lazy, languid Southern river, the water lapping warmly about her calves and minnows flashing their silver bodies under a hot sun. Not like any river she’d ever played in, she realized with a start. She’d about got frostbite every time she went fishing as a kid, standing in icy mountain streams. Rising up on her elbow, Caz looked at Doc with questioning eyes as he brushed her lips with his fingertips.

"Used to spend a lot of time with my granpa. My folks, they were busy with my li’l sister, didn’t have time to mess with me." Doc cleared his throat, reaching out one long arm to snag his smokes and lighter off the bedside table. He managed to shake a cigarette out and placed it between his lips, lighting it with one hand. With the other he continued to hold Caz tightly against the length of his body, shifting his hip slightly against hers. He blew a smoke ring, watching it slowly rise toward the ceiling.

"Anyhow, he used ta take me to this crick. He had an ole red pickup truck, had terrible shocks." Doc laughed, remembering his six-year-old self. "I loved it, bouncin’ all over the place. He wanted me to fish with him, he made me a little pole an’ all." Doc’s eyes grew cloudy as he took a deep drag on the cigarette, holding it in his lungs for a long moment.

"We sat on the bank, on this ole Indian blanket. ‘Injun’ he used to say. We had our feet in the water; it was blood-warm, hot almost. I felt this…ticklin’ an’ looked down to see these tiny fishes suckin’ on my toes!"

"Minnows." Cassidy breathed the word out on a sigh, dropping her head back to his shoulder. "Silver minnows."

Doc kissed the top of her head. "Tha’s right, minnows, millions of ‘em. I spent the rest of the day catchin’ ‘em in a bucket an’ lettin’ ‘em go again. After awhile, my granpa gave up on the fishin’ an’ joined me. I can still see him splashin’ in the water, his pants legs rolled up to his knees." He smoked a little, letting the silence spin out in the dim room. He felt Caz settle her weight against him, her hand sliding around his waist.

"He died when I was eight. I never did learn to fish. Never wanted to, really."

Caz hugged him, her fingers slipping into the hollows between his ribs. She finally looked up as he blew another smoke ring, watching it drift perfectly round in the still air, eventually elongating and breaking apart, vanishing. She shivered, rising up on one elbow to bring them nose to nose, her gaze warm and steady.

"Those things’ll kill ya." Caz felt a sudden stab of fear in her heart, knowing what he was going to say before he spoke, feeling his helpless resignation.

He sighed, stubbing out the butt in the ashtray. "No they won’t." Doc turned his head slowly, his eyes meeting hers, eyes filled with sorrow and pain and fear, and something else.

Caz almost gasped aloud, her pulse racing as she finally saw with frightening clarity the darkness that Hockenbury lived with every day. The overwhelming fear that he would die in this place, in Vietnam. But it was more than that and Caz trembled with the knowledge, the sweat drying on her body suddenly making her cold despite the heat in the room.

Doc reached out, brushing the damp hair back from her eyes, his fingers tenderly tracing her ear. I wasn’t afraid! Until now. Until you.

Closing her eyes, the young doctor clung to that, clung to the love she’d glimpsed amongst all the dark things in him. Caz pressed her face to his chest, a few tears falling to his skin before she could knuckle them angrily away. She felt Doc’s fingers tangle in her hair and drew strength from his touch.

She sat up suddenly, leaning over Hockenbury and staring straight into his grey-green eyes with a ferocity that took them both by surprise. "You are NOT dyin’ here, Francis Thurmond Hockenbury!" She shook with the flow of adrenaline coursing through her blood, with the sick dread that came with knowing his innermost fear.

Not afraid! Not ‘til now!

She flinched briefly and then pulled her steely resolve even further around herself, around him. "Listen up, soldier, you are NOT dyin’ here, you are comin’ home to me. Ya got that?" The fire in her wavered and she blinked, trying desperately not to look away from him.

Doc swallowed, stunned by her words, by her perceptiveness. And wondered if anybody, even Caz, could change that which he had foreseen, had known before he ever stepped on a plane to this God-forsaken place. That he would die in Vietnam. He wanted badly to believe her, wanted nothing more than to come home to her and spend the rest of his life with her. Staring into Caz’s tear-filled eyes, he wondered if it were possible to cheat death.

Caz leaned down, her lips grazing his temple just above the scar. She whispered to him as she kissed her way to his ear, laying her cheek against his. "Just say yes. Say yes."

Closing his eyes, Caz’s warm breath on his neck, Hockenbury felt his world narrow to this one moment. He quickly rolled her onto her back, pinning her to the bed with his body and smiling down at her. "Yes, Caz. Yes."

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