Under the Gun
By Doc
© December 2002

Chapter Fifteen

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

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

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

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


Cassidy paused as she stood on the top step of the chow hall, the door swinging slowly shut behind her, cutting off the noise of the breakfast crowd. She squinted in the brilliant early morning sun and pulled her sunglasses from her pocket, smiling as she remembered McKay presenting them to her that morning. Slipping them on, she quickly descended the stairs, enjoying the sharpness the polarized lenses added to her vision.

Angling across the parade ground, Caz felt the warmth of the new day seeping into her bones. And trickling down the back of my neck! She reached behind her head, grabbing her ponytail, and tucked it under her cap as she walked. Her gaze on the ground, she almost collided with the soldier who was standing in the shade of the CPT. Sidestepping him gracefully, she mumbled an apology and passed on by.

And stopped suddenly, realizing that the man was Lieutenant Goldman, one arm in a sling and the other awkwardly holding a file open as he tried to read it one handedly. He didnít look up, keeping his dark eyes resolutely on his paperwork although she knew he was no longer reading, felt his attention drawing to her as keenly as if she were caught in the crosshairs of a sniperscope. Cassidy turned, unable to resist, pulling the sunglasses from her face.

Goldman closed his eyes briefly, hidden under the brim of his hat. He stared at the file, not seeing it, not seeing anything. Suddenly, desperately wanting a cigarette, Myron forced himself to remain still, afraid to look at her, not wanting to look into her face and discover heíd made the wrong decision. Please, please just give me this one thing; Iím so tiredÖof trying not to care.

He hadnít seen Hockenbury since the two had arrived back in camp late the previous afternoon, but McKay had let it deliberately slip that Myronís medic and the company doctor were safely in their respective hootches. Both with big dopey grins on their faces, the young pilot had pointed out. If only Goldman hadnít been cleaning his AK-47, hadnít had it in pieces spread all over his rack, heíd have put McKay out of his misery once and for all. Without a second thought.

Myron sighed as the toes of her boots edged into his line of sight. He knew he couldnít ignore her, had to face whatever outcome was already determined. Itís done. I canít change it now. Fumbling the file, Goldman stuffed it into his sling, wincing as the cardboard edge poked into his bicep. He reached up, running a hand over the back of his cap, smoothing down his short hair and squeezing the tense muscles of his neck. At last he looked up, eyes narrowed against the dazzling sunlight.

Goldman saluted. "Captain."

Cassidy slowly returned his salute, watching him closely and wondering why he was so reluctant to meet her gaze. Whatever it was that had pulled her to him, pinned her to the ground and spun her around, whatever force it had been had vanished behind Goldmanís well-schooled walls. She sighed, wondering if it was worth it to push on.

The lieutenant felt her confusion, allowing it to build for a moment. He cleared his throat. "Is there something I can do for you, maíam?" He gripped his elbow within the sling with his good hand, messaging it subconsciously.

Caz caught the movement, recognizing it as the diversionary tactic it was. She shook her head slightly. "Ya need that arm looked at. Come by the clinic this morniní."

She was careful to keep her voice neutral, not wanting to trap him. Goldman blinked, sliding his gaze toward her and then away again. "Is that all, Captain?"

"IÖI was hopiní to talk to you about your medic." Pulling her hat from her head, Caz shoved a sleeve across her sweaty forehead, looking up at the tall lieutenant, her eyes dark with concern.

"Hockenbury?" It was almost difficult for Goldman to say Docís name. He couldnít tell at all where Cassidy was going with this, couldnít get a read on her. "He hasnít done anything regrettable, has he?" And wished he hadnít asked, had let Caz do the talking as her face lit up, a smile so wide faint dimples appeared low on her cheeks, revealing far more than he had wanted to know about yesterdayís pass.

She laughed softly. "Nothing like that at all, Lieutenant. I jusí got a couple a questions I was hopiní you could answer for me."

No, I canít do this. Goldman looked away, wishing for a glimpse of Anderson, Taylor, anybody, even Stringer. Now he pulled out his cigarettes, lighting up and inhaling deeply, taking his time about putting the pack and the lighter away. "Such as?" He blew a long stream of smoke out with the question, turning back to her as it dissipated in the slight breeze blowing off the jungle.

Caz stared at him, wondering if he was being deliberately rude or just uneasy. Knowing what had happened to the young lieutenant didnít make this any easier, didnít offer her any insight as to how she should approach him. She gathered her courage.

"I know he doesnít carry a weapon. And why."

Do you?

"Lieutenant?" Caz had almost stepped back from the force of Goldmanís anger. The man hadnít said a word, but his jaw had tightened, the tendons standing out in his neck, his eyes almost black. She soldiered on. "I want to know why you support that, why you keep him on your team knowing he wonít kill."

Goldman dropped his cigarette to the dirt, grinding it out with the toe of his boot. "Heís a damn fine medic. I need those as well as killers." He almost snarled at her, just managing to control his voice at the last second.

You need HIM. Cassidy stood there, staring back at him, her eyes wide with sudden recognition. Youíre afraid, too. You wonít admit it, but you care for him! For ALL of them! And in that instant Caz had him, she knew his burden, how his grief had eaten him down until all that was left was raw fear. Fear that he might let one slip through his fingers, that he might have to send another one home in a body bag. Fear that he cared more than he could bear, his shoulders bending under the weight of the entire team. He couldnít save Alex, but heíd be DAMNED if heíd let another man die.

And more than that, Caz realized as Myron ran a hand down his face, a hand that was almost trembling. He was handing the responsibility of keeping Hockenbury safe over to her, hoping that she could keep him coming home, make the medic want to come home badly enough to quit taking those heart-stopping risks in the field. Caz shook under the awesome weight, struck dumb with the knowledge that Goldman had known Docís secret, and had kept on going into the jungle with him anyway.

"YouÖyou knew?" Her voice was a raw whisper, almost too soft to hear. She felt tears threatening behind her eyes and swallowed hard against them, forcing them down her throat instead. Reaching out, Caz gripped Goldman lightly by the good elbow, aware that she might spur the man into flight, but compelled to touch him all the same.

Goldman shuddered, looking down at her fingers, and took a deep breath. He wanted to deny it, deny all of it. But he needed her. For all that he could hardly stand to be around her, Captain Cassidy had become one of them. Please take Doc home with you! Goldman gently pulled his arm away, his dark eyes intent on hers. He nodded to her, not trusting his voice, and turned away, walking briskly as if he had any idea at all where he was headed.

At the corner, Goldman looked back at the little doctor, standing so still in the eaves of the CPT.

I always knew.

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

It was almost an hour later when Goldman mounted the steps to the dispensary, bypassing the line of enlisted men waiting to see the medic in the on-call window. He knew Hockenbury was on clinic duty this morning, but it hadnít been Doc sitting there handing out advice and medicine. Pulling open the screen door, Goldman slipped in quietly. This wasnít his world. If it werenít for the ache in his bicep and a personal summons from Captain Cassidy herself, he wouldnít have been here at all.

He paused on the threshold, the smell of antiseptic sharp in his nostrils, forcing himself not to turn around and leave. Hockenburyís presence alone made him uncomfortable. The very real likelihood of seeing his medic AND Dr. Cassidy set his teeth on edge.

"L-T!" Docís almost delight in greeting him confirmed his thoughts. Goldman had been tormenting himself with that pass heíd given the medic. Heíd known what it was for, known he was in some way giving his permission, approval almost. But would the relationship be enough to keep Hockenbury safe? He shook his head, fighting the sudden desire to walk away.

Looking up, he ran an uneasy glance around the big room. Four examining tables lined up parallel to each other filled the space in the middle. Two soldiers sat on them, legs dangling, patiently waiting their turn while playing cards on the empty gurney between them. Hockenbury was standing next to the fourth, elbows bent with his gloved hands suspended in front of his chest. He was holding something metal, something sharp from what Goldman could see. Caz stood across from the medic, her back to Goldman, intent on the young man lying on the gurney. Goldman tensed, ill at ease with Doc and Cazís proximity to each other. He could feel their connection, almost see it as a visible thing between them.

Hockenbury smiled at the doctor as she looked up at him. He raised an eyebrow, flicking his gaze over her shoulder. She turned her head slightly, finding Goldman in her peripheral vision, her hands still on the patient.

"Lieutenant."

"Captain. You said I needed my arm checked?" He cleared his throat, automatically patting his breast pocket for his cigarettes even though he knew full well that smoking wasnít allowed in the dispensary. Nor were weapons, a fact heíd thankfully remembered before leaving his hootch, sparing him the embarrassment of having his .45 taken from him.

Cassidy nodded, a ghost of a smile crossing her lips. "Absolutely, Lieutenant. Weíll get to you just as soon as we can."

She transferred her weight from one foot to the other, returning her attention to her patient. Hockenbury handed her the instrument as she held out her hand, their fingers lightly brushing, lingering for a brief second. Goldman cleared his throat, feeling like an idiot standing there.

The GI jumped suddenly, groaning, and Hockenbury reached out, laying a gentle hand on the manís chest. He said something softly and the man relaxed.

"Thanks Doc." Cassidyís words were equally as soft, but Goldman heard them. He sighed, hearing what was unsaid. Hoping it would be enough. Scared to death heíd made the wrong decision in issuing that pass. He watched Hockenburyís eyes, watched the medic glance over at her and saw what was between them, realizing that the decision had never been his to make in the first place.

Goldman shifted his gaze beyond her, noticing Sergeant Hall sitting at his desk; pen poised over a form and a huge mug in his other hand. Hall regarded him thoughtfully, taking a slow sip of the coffee.

The sergeant stood, his huge frame seeming to fill the room. He carried his mug with him, crossing the room to Goldman.

"Can I get you some coffee while you wait, Lieutenant? Dr. Cassidy will be right with you."

The manís protective posture wasnít lost on Goldman. Myron shook his head, shifting his arm in its sling. "No, thanks, Sergeant, I just came from the mess hall."

Hall smiled. "Weíve got cinnamon buns." He let his voice rise enticingly, eliciting smothered laughter from Pugh at the window. The big sergeant glared at the kid, turning his back on him and rolling his eyes.

Hockenbury and Cassidy exchanged glances, the medicís grin growing at the expression on Cazís face. Goldman wished fleetingly he could see what she was doing, knowing it was for Doc anyway. He absently rubbed his free hand against his chest, trying to relieve some of the ache there, not fully realizing that the pain was somewhere deep and unreachable.

Goldman shook his head again. "No thanks, I think Iíll just come back later." He turned towards the door, dark eyes seeking out his escape.

The radio squawked to life and Hall quickly set his coffee down, moving with surprising speed to the instrument. He listened intently to the distorted voice, scribbling something down on one of his ever-present clipboards.

Hockenbury twisted away from his patient, head tipped in a vain attempt to catch what was happening. Pugh, in the window, swiveled around on his chair, waiting for Hall to fill them in. Pausing in their card game, the two GIs on the tables looked up, holding their cards against their chests without thinking. Only Caz, all competent hands and unswerving concentration, remained immune to the pull of the static.

Halfway to the door, Goldman stopped, ears straining to make sense of the distorted hum. He knew he should leave, knew heíd only be in the way if he stayed but something tugged at him, holding him there. Retreat forgotten, Myron stood against the wall, loosely hugging his injured arm to his chest, a faint unease building in him that he couldnít quite identify.

"Okay, weíve got an incoming chopper with wounded, one critical, another holding his own and a VC prisoner whoís been shot. Iíll call in the cavalry, Doc Cassidy, maíam." Hall efficiently shooed the men waiting on the tables out the door, looking over Hockenburyís shoulder at the infected wound Caz was debriding.

She never looked up. "Okay, let me just finish here, Sergeant." Her voice trailed off as she trimmed away the dead skin. She picked up 4x4ís from the tray next to her, staunching the blood flow as she worked.

"Pugh, close that window and run get whoeverís not out in the bush. We gonna need some help here."

"Yessir!" The young medic stuck his head out the window briefly, yelling at the men still in line. Hauling himself back inside, he stood and grabbed the wooden flap, letting it fall into place in the window frame. He slammed the latches home before racing out the door.

Hall threw clean sheets over the tables, rapidly tucking the corners in and moving on to the next, snapping out the starched white fabric with practiced ease.

Hockenbury peeled off his gloves, throwing them into the garbage. He moved swiftly to the wall near Goldman, grabbed a cabinet on wheels and shoved it ahead of himself to the furthest gurney.

Goldman watched them, forgetting his intention to leave and remained snug against the wall. The calm urgency of the preparations gripped him, held him rigid. He looked at each of them in turn, Hockenbury, his hair flying every which way as he moved around the room, grabbing supplies and putting them at the ready. Hall, on the radio again, his face blank, expressionless. And Caz, her back to him as she finished up the job at hand, her movements still measured, careful and deliberate.

"Doctor Caz, you got the keys to the drug box?" Hockenbury stopped for a moment, looking at her, eyes all black pupil.

She nodded, applying a bandage to the manís shoulder. "Right pocket." She kept right on taping as Doc walked up to her, slid his hand into her hip pocket and extracted the key ring.

Goldman flinched, shocked at the casual intimacy of the action. But he noticed Hall made no comment as the sergeant took the keys from Hockenbury, opening the little cabinet, and positioned it near the head of the first exam table.

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

Cassidy added a final layer of tape to the young soldierís bandage and reached out, grasping his forearm to help him sit up. He gingerly ran his fingers over the white gauze, wincing as he rolled the shoulder, trying to work the kinks out of it.

Caz held out his t-shirt, helping him slip it over his head. "Iím puttiní you on some penicillin, Private, aní you gotta keep it clean. Let an infection like that fester aní itís gonna eat into the muscles. Just a sec."

She walked over to the shuttered sick-call window. A wide counter held a variety of trays full of medicines that Pugh had yet to return to the drug inventory. Caz ran her fingers over a few vials, picking one out and closely scrutinizing its label. Nodding her head, she pulled her pen from her breast pocket and scribbled the soldierís name across the top.

"Now, you said youíre not allergic to any drugs that you know of?" She crossed back to the man, holding the small bottle loosely in her hand until he nodded. "Okay. Come back for a recheck in a couple a days." She handed the pills over and stood back as he lumbered to his feet and headed for the door.

Hockenbury and Hall were busily setting up the beds for the incoming trauma as the doctor joined them. Towel wrapped bundles, fresh from the autoclave at Tan Son Nhut, were neatly lined up across the second gurney. She ran her gaze over them, automatically calculating what they would need and silently agreeing with Hallís assessment. Or Hockenburyís, she hadnít seen who had hauled them from the cupboard.

Hall tossed a stack of clean white towels next to the sterile packs. "Dr. Cassidy, maíam? I figured weíd bring the critical man down here, to the first bed. Use the second for our equipment, the third for the VC and the fourth for the guy whoís stable. Kaminskiís on the chopper with them, itís his team."

Caz looked up sharply. She had worked with all the medics on base by this time, but the ones sheíd met that first morning seemed to have found their way under her skin. After all, theyíd been the ones to make her feel at home, despite their nervousness Ė and hers. Kaminski and Pugh belonged to HER team.

She nodded, realizing Hall was waiting for her answer. "Yeah, sergeant, that sounds good. Iím betting Kaminski will be off the chopper with his critical guy; letís let him stick with his teammate and Doc? You take the VC, figure out whatís the scoop on him. They sure didnít say much on the radio, did they, Hall?"

Hall shook his head as the windows started to shake from the vibrations of the approaching helicopter. Hall waved a hand at Hockenbury and the two raced from the dispensary, grabbing one of the stretchers leaning against the wall as they went. Pugh and another medic were right behind them with a stretcher of their own, all four of them running flat out.

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

The chopper settled gently onto the landing pad, see-sawing slightly on the skids as the pilot straightened out the nose. The four medics ducked under the whirling rotors, eyes squeezed almost shut against the dust storm, holding their breath to avoid inhaling the grit as they peered into the dim cargo bay. Hallís eyes widened as he suddenly recognized one of the wounded, handing the full weight of the empty stretcher over to Hockenbury as he walked up to the bird.

A dirty and bedraggled lieutenant jumped to the ground, gesturing wildly into the chopper. "One a my guys, hit in the chest!" He looked back, saw Kaminski crouching in the doorway, an IV bag clenched in his teeth as he waved the medical team closer.

Pugh roughly slid one end of the litter under the substantial shoulders of the critically wounded soldier. Hockenbury and the other medic brushed past him on either side and gripped the manís tattered uniform shirt, sliding him entirely onto the canvas as Kaminski followed along, teeth gleaming whitely against the camo paint and dirt smudged on his face.

"I got it." The words were muffled around the bag in his mouth. Kaminski grabbed the ends of the stretcher poles resting on the steel floor of the helicopter and hefted them, grunting once as he adjusted his grip. "Letís go, Pugh!"

The two moved off quickly, considering their burden, leaving the VC to Hockenbury. The lanky medic performed a rapid assessment, finding no visible wounds, although it was difficult to completely check the small man out as his hands were securely tied behind his back. He shrugged, nodding at the other medic, and they hauled the prisoner onto the other stretcher, facedown, his head carefully turned to one side.

Doc glanced at Hall who was still standing in the doorway and called to him. "Sergeant Hall? We got the other two, you got him?" He pointed with his chin at the remaining man lying on the floor.

Hall merely raised one large hand, waving him off. Doc nodded at the other medic and they carried their patient off the pad, heading for the dispensary.

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

Caz slowly pulled gloves on, mentally preparing herself for what lay ahead. She untangled the tubing hanging underneath the bottles of normal saline and tugged the pole assembly over to the first bed. Crouching down, she opened one of the refrigerators, running her fingers over the units of O Neg sitting there, stacked in the front, ready to go.

As she stood, a slight movement across the room caught her attention and she looked up into Goldmanís dark eyes. Cassidy had forgotten the man was still there in all the rush of the trauma alert, holding his arm tightly against his chest as he stood against the wall.

"Lieutenant?"

Sheíd taken one step toward him when the screen door suddenly opened, its wooden frame slammed flat against the wall by Kaminskiís hip as he charged backward into the room. He held one end of a stretcher; Pugh held the other, clearly struggling with the heavy load. The injured soldierís arms hung loosely, muscles slack. His eyes were closed and a thin trickle of blood ran from his mouth.

Cassidy stepped nimbly to the side as they advanced, letting Kaminski pass her and moving in to begin her assessment even as they lifted the man onto the table. Blood saturated the right side of his shirt, dripping almost immediately out from under a pressure dressing and spilling onto the floor. Caz tossed a towel over the puddle and moved to the manís head, looking down the length of his body to Pugh, standing there with wide eyes.

"Pugh? Cut his clothes off, NOW!" She glanced up at Kaminski, taking in the stubborn set of his jaw and the smears of blood on his cheeks. "I need a story, Kaminski, whadda we got here?"

Kaminski slit the GIís sleeve with his k-bar, already looking for another good IV site. "Two rounds to the right chest approximately half an hour ago. Pressure dressings, plural, applied and also manual pressure. Got a line in the left AC and have been running expanders wide open since, 2 bags down. Pulse rapid and thready, respirations increasingly labored with froth for the last few minutes. I think heís got a tracheal shift to the right, maíam." He looked up at Cassidy, his wide blue eyes in stark contrast to his camouflage stripes.

Caz listened to the manís chest, stethoscope moving quickly over the lung fields. She nodded approvingly at Kaminski. "Diminished breath sounds on the right." She reached for the chest tube tray while the medic deftly started another line in the soldierís right hand, shoving an IV board under the manís shoulder and securing the arm at a right angle to the table. Swabbing a wide swath of betadine on the patientís right side, Caz jumped at a hissing sound over her left shoulder and glanced down to see Pugh opening an oxygen bottle.

"Good job, Pugh, get a face mask on him aní then get me some suction for this chest tube here." She turned back to her work.

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

Hockenbury held the foot end of the stretcher carrying the VC prisoner, amazed at how light he seemed. The medic could see no obvious injury but the man appeared to be out cold, not even moving when the young private at the other end of the stretcher almost dumped him on the ground as he awkwardly negotiated the steps into the dispensary. Doc paused, waiting while the kid kicked the screen door open, taking a deep breath to combat the adrenaline rush flowing through his body. As the door opened he rushed up the steps, following the other medic into the clinic.

They set the patient down on the third table, lining him up neatly and dropping the carrying poles to the sides of the gurney. Hockenbury heard the end of Kaminskiís report, looking up as Caz picked up the chest tube tray, her eyes meeting his. He enjoyed seeing this side of her, this coolly efficient doctor, in such sharp contrast to the playful, enthusiastic lover of the day before. She winked at him before turning back to her patient.

Doc dropped his gaze, the heat rising in his cheeks, and found himself looking at a stack of weapons. As Pugh cut off the Americanís uniform, he had encountered a variety of dangerous items, all of which heíd stacked on the end of the second gurney. Hockenbury saw at least two pistols, a small pile of grenades, a couple of knives and some spare ammo clips.

Goldman watched from the wall, still clutching his arm tightly, eyes wide with a fear he didnít quite understand. He found he was panting, sweat breaking out on his forehead. Something was wrong, desperately wrong. He fought an insane desire to grab Hockenbury, Cassidy, ALL of them and shove them out the door into the bright morning sunshine. It felt COLD in the dispensary, an icy chill creeping down his neck. Not knowing what else to do, the young lieutenant just stood there, trying to stay out of the way.

Pugh and Kaminski danced around each other, Pugh attempting to take a set of vitals, wrapping the blood pressure cuff around the unconscious soldierís left arm and pumping it up rapidly. At the last minute he remembered to shove the earpieces to the stethoscope in his ears, blushing madly and staring at the pressure gauge to avoid meeting Kaminskiís no doubt reproachful gaze.

Kaminski never noticed his teammateís gaffe as he draped sterile towels over the right side of the patientís chest. Checking the IV line, he reached up and adjusted the flow rate, dark eyes intent on the drip rate in the chamber. Satisfied at last, he ducked under the tubing, passing around the head of the bed and behind Caz as she donned her sterile gloves, picking up a set for himself from the top of the drug cabinet serving as a table.

"We need more room, Doctor Cassidy, maíam." He voiced his concern as he glanced across the patient and at the next gurney, loaded down with medical equipment and the remnants of the GIís bloody uniform piled next to his weapons. Kaminski tore the paper envelope, laying the gloves out flat in preparation to putting them on.

Caz snapped her glove fingers, pulling them tightly over her own. "No kidding, but we ainít got the time to worry Ďbout it now. Wait." She nudged him with one elbow, stopping him from gloving. "Help me draw up some lidocaine before you put those on." Holding up the syringe, she nodded at the bottle sitting on the patientís belly.

The medic grabbed the bottle, turning it upside down as the doctor stabbed the needle into it. "Think youíll need it, maíam? Heís out cold." Tossing the bottle to Pugh who set it back on the top of the little cabinet, Kaminski then finished pulling on the sterile gloves.

Caz shook her head. "I always numb Ďem up, Specialist. Ya jusí never know. Iíd hate to hurt somebody on an assumption." She slid the needle under the manís skin, injecting the anesthetic liberally around the area where she planned to place the chest tube. The patient never moved and Cassidy shrugged, grinning at Kaminski. "Guess we didnít need it this time."

Glancing up at Pugh, she raised an eyebrow. "Vitals?" She carefully set the empty syringe back on the tray, deftly recapping it without touching the needle or its cover.

Pugh held up his arm, staring at the numbers inked there between his freckles. "BPís 85/65 now, was 100/50 when he got here." He looked up, brow furrowed in concentration. "Thatís a narrowing pulse pressure, right, Doctor Cassidy?"

Caz smiled as she picked up her scalpel. "You got it, Pugh, tension pneumo. We gotta relieve the pressure."

The young medic grinned, happy to finally be right about something. He dropped his gaze back to his arm. "Pulse 135 and thready, respirations 30 and labored, skin cool and clammy." Taking a couple of steps toward the patientís feet, Pugh leaned over the gurney and watched with rapt attention as Cassidy prepared to shove the chest tube between the manís ribs.

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

Hall stood on the pad, huge fists on his hips, staring at Sergeant Jessup who was still sprawled on his side in the cargo bay of the Huey. He shook his big head, trying not to laugh at his fellow sergeant and friend as he stepped closer and put one booted foot up on the doorframe.

"Jess, how you gonna explain this to your wife?"

The black sergeant pushed himself up on one elbow, grimacing as he reached down to gingerly grab just behind his hip. "What, gettiní shot in tha ass? Man, she gonna eat me alive for this! She always say my ass is my good side! Man!" He slid over to the side, accepting Hallís help to slither to his feet on the pad, groaning as he favored his injured flank.

Hall laughed, gripping the manís webbing to steady him. "Well, I suppose youíre gonna find out just how much she loves you."

Jessup limped cautiously over to the edge of the pad, leaning on Hall as they negotiated the ramp. The wound was beginning to hurt him now that he was moving around and he tried and failed to suppress a quick intake of breath. Glancing up at the taller man, he found Hallís concerned eyes watching him.

"What happened, Jess? Howídya end up with a prisoner?" Hall hauled the manís arm over his broad shoulders, stooping to accommodate their vast difference in height. Grabbing his buddy by the belt, he shook off Jessupís token protests that he was fine. "Jusí let me do my job, man."

Jessup sighed, dragging his foot slightly as they made their way to the dispensary. "We was jus' humpin' along, came across this gook diddley-boppin' along on a cross trail, like he was back on Main Street in Hanoi. They scattered, we chased Ďem aní caught this one as he was jumpiní in a tunnel. One oí them kids laid upside his head with the butt oí his rifle. I guess he hit Ďim a little too hard." He grunted as he stumbled, letting Hall help him straighten up. "L-T says the guyís a officer, says we gotta keep him alive. Shudda said that afore that kid hit Ďim." He laughed humorlessly, looking up as they approached the dispensary.

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

After yelling in his patientís ear with no response, Hockenbury rubbed his knuckles hard over the manís sternum, watching carefully for any tell-tale signs of returning consciousness. He thought he saw a slight twitch in the VCís facial muscles, but it wasnít repeated when he squeezed the patientís triceps in what should have been a painful maneuver. Doc sighed, letting the man roll back onto his belly.

Pulling his bandage shears from his pocket, the medic quickly sliced through the twine binding the small manís wrists, inspecting the skin for any abrasions. He didnít find any and rapidly turned the patient to his back. Grabbing a roll of adhesive tape, Doc rebound the manís hands in front, taking care not to cut off his circulation.

"You got this guy?"

Hockenbury looked up from slipping a blood pressure cuff around his patientís slender arm, faint surprise washing across his face. He looked directly into the mud-brown eyes of the medic Pugh had rounded up earlier, the medic who should have been assisting Doc in working up the VC.

"Uh, sure, I guess." Doc shook his head, a frown drawing his eyebrows together in his confusion. "Ya got a hot date or somethiní?"

"Nah, I just wanna see the chest tube put in. Ainít never seen that." The young medic blushed, knowing he was turfing his responsibility onto Hockenbury, but unable to control his curiosity. He edged around the end of the second gurney, scooting up right behind Kaminski who now stood at his teammateís head, ready to hand instruments to Cassidy, his gloved hands held stiffly in the air.

Hockenbury snorted in disgust, turning his attention back to his own patient, pumping up the cuff and plugging his stethoscope into his ears.

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

Goldman remained against the wall, his muscles rigid with anxiety. He found himself clenching his fists, one curled up inside the sling and the other held hard against his thigh. His dark eyes were drawn to the young doctor as she prepared to make an incision in the young GIís chest and he jumped as Kaminski slapped a glittering scalpel into her palm. He sucked in a deep breath, holding it subconsciously.

The sharp instrument hung for a brief instant over the soldierís betadine-stained skin before Cassidy plunged it into his flesh, opening up a one-inch long incision from which blood immediately welled.

And the man sat up, screaming, tearing the oxygen mask from his face with one hand and yanking the IV splint loose from under his shoulder, pulling his arm across his chest and then viciously backhanding Caz away. The force of the blow propelled her bodily through the air to crash into the trauma cart, knocking it sideways, spilling its contents over the floor and the prone Dr. Cassidy. The scalpel skittered harmlessly away across the floor, leaving a thin bloody trail.

Kaminski and Pugh, initially stunned into immobility, threw themselves over their patient, Pugh attempting to pin the manís flailing legs to the gurney while Kaminski practically climbed on his chest, one hand placed without thinking over the incision, as if he could staunch the flow of blood. The other medic, standing with his mouth hanging open, eventually regained enough of his wits to hear Kaminski screaming at him, begging him to help. He rushed to the table, adding his slight weight to Pughís across the manís legs.

The soldierís scream ringing in his ears, Hockenbury turned in time to see Caz fly backwards, her eyes wide with shock. He felt the blood drain from his face, his pulse bounding wildly as he tried to make sense of the chaos in front of him. Caz! He glanced back at his unconscious patient, knowing the man was stable and out like a light, but stillÖ Dammit! Grasping the man by the shoulders, Doc shook him hard, harder than necessary considering the manís probable head injury. No response.

Hockenbury whirled away, moving quickly between the second and third gurneys, bending at the waist to look under the gurneys as he tried to find Cassidy. A swath of medical debris littered the floor under Kaminskiís boots and he saw her lying on the floor next to the overturned trauma cart, moaning as she struggled to her hands and knees. Doc froze, torn between relief that she was conscious and dread that she was injured.

Goldman stood bolt upright, the pain in his arm forgotten as the calm, orderly business of medicine disintegrated into pandemonium before his disbelieving eyes. The soldierís rapid return to consciousness had unnerved him, almost like seeing a corpse come to life, and Cassidyís abrupt disappearance below the table had him scrambling along the wall, around the end of the last exam table, his boots skidding on the worn wooden floor.

The lieutenant felt Hockenburyís fear, could almost SEE it rolling from the medicís body as Doc ducked between the first and second beds, crouching down in an effort to get to Caz. Goldman thought he could hear her faint groans even as he realized that the shouts of the three medics attempting to hold down the wounded soldier were drowning out everything, numbing his ears and crashing around in his head, driving away all conscious thought. He slipped, his bad arm banging against the counter, the sudden blinding pain driving him to his knees.

Dragging himself back to his feet and clutching his arm tightly, Goldman caught movement in his peripheral vision and swung toward it, puzzled and unbalanced. With rising horror, he watched the VC prisoner glide silently from the gurney, grabbing a pistol between his bound hands from the injured GIís arsenal despite the bonds. Finding his voice, forcing everything he had into the word, Goldman screamed, knowing he could never get there in time.

"DOC!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

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

His arm outstretched, reaching for Caz, Hockenbury whirled around at the desperation he heard in his lieutenantís voice, not understanding the reason behind it but responding automatically, just as he would in the bush. He immediately saw the danger, saw the glint of the overhead lights off the barrel of the pistol as the VC swung it around, looking for a target. Without a thought, Doc dove across the table between them, his hip colliding with the edge of the gurney and overturning it as he slammed into the prisoner. As they hit the floor in a tangled knot of arms and legs, grenades and knives and ammo, the table split, pinning the left side of the medicís body under both a splintered board and the VCís weight.

Hockenbury frantically grabbed at the pistol with his right hand but the smaller man managed to shove the weapon under his chin, making him cough at the sudden pressure on his windpipe. The medic felt a warm flush of fear run through his body, sweat suddenly coating his grasping fingers as he tried to shove the manís hands away, aware that the VC was already pulling the trigger and nothing he could do would stop it now.

CAZ!!!!! Iím so sorry, I never got to tell you I love you! OH GOD, please donít let him kill Caz, too, please, I didnít think it would be this way, pleaseÖ.

The roar of the gun was louder than Doc had thought it would be and it seemed to echo several times in his head before the darkness rushed in to claim him, a denseness in his chest making it difficult to draw one last breath, the smell of new pennies heavy in his nostrilsÖ

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