Under the Gun
By Doc
© December 2002

Chapter Sixteen

 
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)


Hall jumped badly at the sharp crack of a weapon, badly enough to lose his grip on Jessup and send him tumbling to the dirt. Four more shots followed in rapid succession, ringing out from the screened windows of the dispensary as the big sergeant stood there for a moment, frozen in utter incomprehension. He looked down at his buddy, suddenly aware that the man was shouting at him, holding out his CAR-15 and gesturing at the building.

"Go, Royce, GO!" Jess managed to get to one knee, shoving the rifle into Hall’s hand and waved his arms wildly. "Move, move, move!"

Jacking a round into the chamber, Hall took off running, his long legs covering the distance to the dispensary in amazingly short time. He bypassed the steps entirely, leaping from the gravel walkway to the threshold in one long continuation of his stride, slamming the door back so hard it flew off its hinges.

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

Goldman shook his head, his ears ringing from the gunshots in such close proximity. He felt his pulse pounding in his temples as he threw himself over the broken remains of the gurney, his feet skidding on bits and pieces of medical supplies, grenades rolling across the floor like spilled fruit. Dropping to his knees at Hockenbury’s side, the young lieutenant cautiously reached out one shaking hand, unsure just what if anything he could do.

"Hockenbury!" The word came out as a strangled whisper as Goldman found himself suddenly breathless. He sucked in a lungful of air and tried again. "HOCKENBURY!"

The dark receded just a little, a shadow moving across a distant horizon. Doc fought for understanding, a sudden cacophony of tumbled images spinning across his conscious mind. The noise inside his head far exceeded that without and he found it easy to ignore the voice he could hear calling, a familiar voice. Calling a name. HIS name.

Hockenbury? L-T, give it a rest. Doc Hock has left the building.

"HOCKENBURY!"

Damn, that was loud. Not loud enough to wake the dead, L-T. I’m DEAD, Goldman, go away!

"Doc?"

Hockenbury cautiously opened one eye, squinting against the brightness of the overheads, his view limited to the cabinets lining the far wall of the dispensary. He swallowed hard, feeling pain under the angle of his jaw, the coppery taste of blood in the back of his throat. Opening the other eye, he tried to move his neck, Goldman’s worried face appearing in his line of vision.

"Doc, you okay?"

Doc blinked slowly, staring at Goldman. Okay? OKAY? I’m dead, I’m not breathing!!

Myron gingerly slid his fingers under the VC’s limp shoulder and hip and rolled him off Hockenbury, grimacing at the sick sucking sound of blood and tissue draining from the hole in the far side of the man’s head. He looked back at Doc, relieved to see his chest heave as the medic inhaled convulsively, shuddering with the heady infusion of oxygen.

Doc’s pupils grew wide at the sight of the dead VC and he flinched hard, turning his head away, looking past Goldman’s knee directly into the unfocused hazel eyes of Captain J. Cassidy, MD. And saw the .38 in her trembling hands, the barrel sending dazzling pinpoints of light dancing around the room.

Caz was stretched prone on the floor, her elbows pressed hard into the wood planks as she stared over the weapon, lips slightly parted. A lone tear traced its way down her cheek but she gave no notice of it, gave no notice of anything at all as she lay there, hands wrapped tightly around the wooden grips of the revolver.

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

Crashing into his own dispensary, Hall stood stock still for a moment, dark eyes taking in the chaotic scene. The acrid smell of gunpowder hung in the air, underscored by the sickly sweet scent of blood. The big sergeant took it all in at a glance, the three medics struggling with their patient at the far table and the tableau on the floor, Cassidy flat out on her belly, the dead prisoner, a growing pool of red surrounding his ruined head.

Goldman, his sling thrown aside, was using both hands to haul Hockenbury to a sitting position, oblivious to the pain in his arm. The lieutenant glanced up at Hall, reading the unspoken question on the man’s face. He looked back at Doc’s slack expression, then over his shoulder at Caz.

"I think he’s okay, Sergeant, but Dr. Cassidy…" Goldman stretched one hand slowly toward her, carefully removing the weapon from Caz’s unresisting fingers. She never blinked, wide eyes staring blankly past Hockenbury at the green-clad body on the floor.

Hall shoved his way past the upside down legs of the smashed gurney, studying Cassidy as he drew closer. He glanced up at Kaminski, still leaning on the wounded soldier and spoke to him, his voice low and calm. "Give that man some valium, son, we’ll be right there."

Kaminski nodded, reaching for the trauma cart before he realized it wasn’t there anymore, its contents strewn across the floor. He ducked down, grabbing at glass vials and syringes, swearing under his breath as he scanned the labels.

His steps deliberate, Hall dropped one especially heavy footfall right next to Cassidy’s shoulder, making the floor shake. He saw her jump, cringing away from his boot as she pulled her empty hands in to her chest, turning slightly on one side, her wide eyes traveling up his uniform to his face. "Dr. Cassidy?"

Caz frowned, his voice a faint buzz in her ears. Temporarily deafened by the gunshots, all she could hear was muffled, garbled noise, not words at all. She pawed at one ear, trying to clear it. "What?" Shaking her head, Caz looked up at Hall, confusion spreading across her face.

"We need a chest tube, here, Sarge." Almost cross-eyed with concentration, Kaminski jabbed a needle into the vial of muscle relaxant, drawing up a standard dose. He deftly switched needles, dropping the Valium in his pocket and disposing of the larger sharp by tossing it onto the counter five feet away. With all the debris on the floor, he didn’t want to add an opened needle to the numerous hazards already spread everywhere. Sliding the needle into the IV port, the medic added the drug to the steady flow of saline into the soldier’s vein.

Goldman knelt in front of Hockenbury, one hand resting on the man’s outstretched leg. He could feel tremors running through him, and also Doc’s absolute certainty that he himself had been killed, that it was not the VC prisoner’s brains spilling all over the dispensary floor but his own.

"Come on, Doc." The lieutenant grabbed Hockenbury’s wrist and almost dropped it again, shocked at the icy temperature of his skin. Dragging Doc’s long arm across his own shoulders, Goldman pulled him to his feet, swaying precariously under the medic’s weight, and hoped that Hockenbury would find his balance before he dragged them both back to the floor. Dead weight. Goldman shivered and tightened his grip on his teammate, steering him toward the door.

Hall bent down, subconsciously massaging one knee as it popped, and flipped up the tail of Cassidy’s shirt, assessing the source of the blood he’d noticed staining the back of her fatigues. This can wait. Dammit, what happened? The sergeant shook his head imperceptibly, dark eyes surveying Caz’s chalk white face, her gaze fixed on him, pleading with him to make some sense of it. The one thing he couldn’t do.

Gently as if she were one of his children, Hall picked her up, setting her carefully on her feet and peeled her bloody gloves from her hands.

"You gotta put in this chest tube, ma’am, we gotta get back to work. Kaminski?" The black sergeant looked over his shoulder at the medic who had scrounged all the appropriate equipment from the floor, piling it neatly on the top of the trauma cart, now sitting upright on its wheels again. "We need a new set of gloves for Dr. Cassidy here, please." He kept his voice calm, soft, aware that she probably couldn’t hear him well yet, but knowing that the routine of the trauma would help her find her way back much quicker than anything he could say.

Caz nodded, taking small shaky steps as she picked her way through the rubble, accidentally kicking a grenade and sending it skittering into a corner where it rolled around like a top. She froze briefly, ducking away from what she perceived to be an imminent explosion, her eyes squeezed tightly shut. When no new noise assaulted her ears, Caz glanced around in embarrassment and moved quickly behind the gurney. Holding her hands out, she allowed Kaminski to glove her, something she’d always refused in the past, commenting that people who can’t put their own damn gloves on must be rear echelon mother…surgeons.

Kaminski glanced up at Hall, wondering if the big sergeant had noticed, recognizing what had to be a mirror reflection of his own worry and shock on the man’s face. Peeling back the corners from the wrapping around the chest tube, the medic handed it to Caz, moving in closely to assist as they went back to work on the soldier.

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

Hockenbury yanked himself from Goldman’s grasp at the top of the staircase, slipping and stumbling down the steps. He tripped on the last one and would have fallen flat on his face had not a strong arm shot out, gripping his bicep with fierce protectiveness. Looking up in bewilderment, Doc almost didn’t recognize his benefactor who stared into his face with concerned bright blue eyes.

Anderson glanced over the medic’s shoulder at Goldman, one eyebrow cocked questioningly. "What’s goin’ on, L-T? We heard gunshots." He indicated the growing circle of men, each soldier armed and edgy, gathering around the clinic.

Taylor and Percell stepped out of the crowd, moving forward to flank their sergeant, M-16s held loosely at the ready in their arms. Ruiz followed closely behind, his beloved sixty cradled close to his chest. They all wore identical expressions of confusion and determination, ready to take on this attack inside their own camp, if they only knew what it was.

Percell squinted at Hockenbury, taking in the fine pattern of drying blood across his left cheek and shoulder, and the haunting emptiness of the medic’s eyes. He moved closer to Doc, near enough to see the trembling of his muscles and the tears only now overflowing and spilling slowly down his face.

Descending the steps, Goldman opened his mouth to address his sergeant and then shut it rapidly again as Colonel Stringer bulled his way through the crowd. He took a deep breath and then sighed it out heavily, hoping the colonel had been given a reasonable report of the incident before realizing that the man couldn’t have had ANY report at all. The only men present in the dispensary had been himself, the patients and the medics. And, of course, Dr. Cassidy. And they were all still here. Damn, I have to tell him. Myron sighed again.

"Lieutenant Goldman! Can you tell me what in tarnation is going on here in my  dispensary? How's my prisoner?" Stringer reached up to remove his ever-present cigar from between his teeth, flicking a stray piece of tobacco from his lip with his index finger. He marched directly up to Goldman, running a contemplative gaze over Hockenbury, now standing stock still between Percell and Anderson.

Goldman glanced at his men, noticing the medic’s complexion grow paler still with each of Stringer’s advancing steps. He turned quickly to Anderson, his back to the colonel.

"Get Doc the hell outta here now."

Anderson nodded, snaking out one arm to snag Taylor’s elbow. "Taylor, you an’ Percell take Doc back to the hootch now. Move." His voice was deceptively low, but his men responded instantly, Percell placing one firm hand in the middle of Hockenbury’s back and propelling him away from the approaching colonel. Taylor quickly followed, slinging his weapon over one shoulder as he fell in next to his teammates.

Ruiz stepped closer, essentially hiding himself behind Anderson’s broad back. Sparing a quick glance over his shoulder, he watched his buddies walk away, Doc stumbling every few steps but refusing the support of Percell or Taylor. Madre Dios, what happened here?

Stringer marched up to Goldman, bringing himself toe to toe with the younger man, staring into his dark eyes as if he could divine the entire story without asking. Yanking the cigar from his mouth, he handed it without looking to his aide who dropped it into a coffee can half-filled with sand and carefully extinguished the smoldering flame.

"Let’s go, Lieutenant, fill me in." The colonel turned, taking the steps into the dispensary two at a time, disappearing into the building without a backward glance.

Goldman shut his eyes briefly, forcibly resisting the urge to walk in the opposite direction for the second time that day. He about-faced and returned to the clinic, aware that Anderson was following closely, watching his back as usual. Pausing briefly in the screenless doorway, the young lieutenant swallowed hard against a wave of nausea as the shattered room came into view.

At the far end, the medical staff worked with quiet urgency on the wounded soldier, now sedated and intubated with Pugh squeezing the bag and oxygenating the man’s lungs. Kaminski knelt amidst the syringes, ammo clips and grenades, adjusting the suction on the chest tube. Hall stepped over him to the radio and calmly requested a med-evac flight, grimacing as he realized he’d smeared blood all over the handset.

Stringer took a deep breath and walked slowly past the first gurney where Jessup leaned on his elbows favoring his injured backside. He spared the black sergeant not a glance, his gaze totally locked on the pajama-clad figure on the floor and the pool of blood around the man’s head. And the spray of bone fragments and brain matter spattered across the wooden planks and up the wall beyond where four bullet holes neatly climbed in a straight column.

"Goldman?"

Myron jumped, dragging his gaze away from the bullet holes in the wall, only now realizing that he’d been standing there when the wounded men were brought in just ten minutes ago. "Sir? Oh, yes, sir." He made short work of explaining the situation, trying without much success to keep his gaze on his commanding officer.

Kneeling by the dead prisoner, Stringer slid his own index finger over the trigger of the pistol, gently removing the weapon from the man’s hands and securing it. He shook his head in amazement, carefully easing off the trigger and raised his gaze to Goldman’s.

"Just a hair more pressure, Lieutenant, just a hair." Placing his hands on his knees, he rose, stepping back out of the way of the medics as they picked up their patient and their gear, headed for the helipad.

Caz ran with them, carrying the canister of oxygen and the bottles that made up the suction device, holding them awkwardly away from her body.

Stringer shook his head again, dropping his gaze from the departing medicos to the dead man on the floor. "I guess I got my green beret after all."

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

Percell stood in the middle of the hootch, arms folded pensively across his broad chest as he stared at Hockenbury’s back. He and Taylor had managed to herd the dazed medic across the camp and into their quarters, but hadn’t been able to get a word out of him. In fact, Doc had refused all suggestions of cleaning up and had collapsed onto his bunk, curling into a ball with one arm wrapped around his head.

The screen door squeaked open slightly and Ruiz’s dark head peeped around the frame. He looked across the room, taking in the huddled lump in Doc’s rack and Percell and Taylor’s anxious confusion. With a wave, he beckoned his two teammates outside.

With a quick glance at Hockenbury, Percell followed Taylor out the door and down the steps, reaching back to catch the screen before it slammed.

"Man, you won’t believe it! That lady doc? She shot a prisoner dead! Left his brains all over the dispensary wall!" Ruiz hugged his weapon to his chest, dark eyes shining with excitement.

Taylor and Percell exchanged skeptical glances, Taylor’s eyebrows rising almost to his hairline. He shook his head, rolling his eyes. "Roo, what the hell ya talkin’ ‘bout?"

Ruiz blew his breath out in exasperation. "They had a prisoner, in the clinic! He got a gun, was gonna blow Doc’s head off an’ the lady shot him!"

This time his teammates stared at him, mouths hanging open. Percell recovered first, a slow grin working its way across his face. "So she’s a hero, huh? Tha’s great!" He spun around, taking the steps into the hootch two at a time, followed closely by Taylor and Ruiz.

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

Doc Hockenbury lay on his rack, eyes squeezed tightly shut, one ear pressed snugly into the pillow and the other muffled by his sleeve. He tried to clear his mind, tried to rid his head of the terrible ache and the unforgivable image that scalded his heart – Caz, holding a smoking gun while he lay there beneath a dead man. Groaning softly, Doc didn’t hear his teammates return to the room.

Throwing himself down on the end of the medic’s cot, Percell slapped him on the shoulder, smiling up at Taylor and Ruiz as he addressed the man.

"Congratulations, Doc! I hear your girlfriend’s a hero!"

Hockenbury’s chest hitched, his breath catching raggedly in his bruised throat. A visible tremor ran down his body and he squeezed his arms tighter around his head, desperately trying to ignore Danny. He could feel Taylor’s puzzled gaze, saw, in his mind’s eye, Ruiz shifting from one foot to the other in confused agitation.

Percell’s grin slowly faded, an unaccustomed frown crossing his face. He glanced briefly at his teammates, shrugging broad shoulders and reached for the medic, grabbing his arm and forcibly rolling him onto his back.

"Doc! I said, congratulations!"

Doc slowly lowered his arms, revealing empty eyes that held nothing but misery and complete and utter loss. The healing scar arcing above his brow stood out bright red against his pale skin, the new, round bruise under his jaw spreading in bands of purple and blue. He scooted backwards on the bed, scrambling away from Danny, stopping only when he hit the wall behind the headboard.

His mouth opened and closed, soundless, and he cleared his throat, one trembling hand rising to massage his neck, wincing at the knot he found there. His head rolled on his shoulders and for a moment Doc thought he was about to black out and welcomed the sensation, hoping he’d go down that endless tunnel and never come up again. But his vision cleared and Hockenbury stared at Percell, Ruiz and Taylor in turn, his unfocused gaze resting on each for no more than a second.

"She’s no hero." Doc’s voice was hoarse, barely audible, but in the thick silence of the hootch he might as well have shouted.

Percell flinched, his open farm boy’s face flushing red and he felt his fists clenching involuntarily in response. "Whatcha sayin', Doc?! She just saved your life, man! Now if that don't make her a hero, I sure as hell don't know what does!" He stared at Hockenbury, totally bewildered.

Ruiz stood absolutely still, his hands stuffed into his pockets. He’d seen the dispensary, the body on the floor, the equipment strewn about the place. And Captain Cassidy’s face as she worked on the wounded GI, there in body but her mind gone, an expression not unlike the one on Doc’s face now.

Doc pulled his knees to his chest, arms looped around them, aware of the black anger rising in him and knew that there was no stopping it now. He rocked back and forth, the movement seeming to fuel his rage instead of calming it.

"She…killed a man. Took a GUN an’ killed him." His words tumbled out explosively, and he closed his eyes against the pain they caused him. A sob tore loose from his injured throat and he convulsively swallowed it down, hanging onto the last shred of dignity he possessed.

Dumbfounded, Percell pressed on, oblivious to Taylor’s warning glare. "She saved your life, Doc, she killed him to save you!"

Hockenbury shook his head violently, dislodging his glasses. He yanked them angrily from his face, closing the fingers of one hand around them into a fist. "I never asked her to, never asked anybody to kill for me, I don’t want anybody to kill for me, I can’t…STAND that somebody killed for me!" He pressed his forehead into his knees, hiding the hot tears that finally slid down his cheeks uncontrollably.

Behind Percell, Taylor shook his head slowly, finally realizing what was going on. He glanced at Ruiz, cocking an eyebrow toward the door and turned back to Percell and Doc as the Hispanic soldier slipped silently from the hootch.

Percell had no such revelation. "Doc, I killed to save your life, more than once I’m pretty sure." He held his hands out, palms up in supplication.

Cuffing angrily at his eyes, Doc glared at his teammate. "YOU are a soldier, Danny, she’s a doctor. She’s not supposed to kill people. She’s supposed to save ‘em. Not kill ‘em."

"She’s a soldier, too, Doc, or did ya forget?"

Hockenbury’s booted foot shot out and caught Percell square in the chest, knocking him to the floor. The medic leapt to his feet, straddling his buddy and reached down, grabbing fistfuls of Danny’s fatigue shirt and hauling the man up in his face. Doc’s voice was strangled and each word was spat out with a vehemence that took them both by surprise. "She…is…NOT…a…soldier. She…is a doctor…SAVES lives."

Doc took a deep breath and shook Danny hard, causing the specialist to throw his arms out, wildly seeking handholds. He pulled him close again, snarling inches away. "I won’t kill for ANYONE, don’t want anyone killin’ for ME!"

Slamming Danny to the floor, Hockenbury fell to one knee, blinded by the torrent of tears in his eyes and raggedly panting.

Percell felt the wind rush out of him and gasped for air, finally catching his breath and coughing weakly. He looked up at Doc as the medic released him to press the knuckles of one hand against his forehead. Danny saw the broken frames of Hockenbury’s glasses still clenched in the other fist, a small trickle of blood threading its way down the man’s wrist.

"Doc, she did it because she loves you. She loves you."

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

Goldman and Anderson, followed closely by Ruiz, ran up the steps, shoving through the door and into the hootch. They arrived in time to see Hockenbury throwing Percell to the floor, a feat that would have previously been inconceivable, but now, now everything was turned upside down.

Anderson threw an arm out, holding Goldman back as the lieutenant surged forward to break up the incident. "Percell’s got this covered, L-T, he can take care of his own self." Moving around for a better view, Zeke stepped back into the shadows and just waited.

Goldman shot an anxious glance at the Sergeant, knowing he could trust Zeke’s instincts, but feeling impotent all the same. It had been a long time since Myron had doubted the man, doubted what he knew to be true. That when it came to these guys, Zeke Anderson understood them better than they did themselves. And as out of control as the medic was in this moment, Goldman still had to trust Zeke’s judgment that the situation wasn’t out of hand. Yet.

"She loves you, Doc."

All the fight drained out of Hockenbury, his shoulders slumping as he rolled completely off Percell, sagging to the floor on his backside, his arms wrapping around his chest as he moaned in misery. He felt the familiar weight in his breast pocket, his fingers lightly settling over it as they had many times before. Out in the jungle, when he’d needed to feel her near. His heart filled with an unspeakable ache as he realized Danny’s words were true. She loved him. She loved him enough to kill for him. He thought his head would explode with the realization that he wouldn’t do the same, couldn’t do it. Couldn’t kill for her, even though he loved her.

Doc slowly climbed to his feet, sliding the slender book from his pocket and holding it in the palm of his hand. Pulse pounding in his ears, he stared at the stained cover, his fingers caressing the smooth leather. Lawson, Lawson bleeding out, bleeding all over me! With a start, Doc saw fresh blood spotting the book and turned his hand over, only now realizing that he’d crushed his glasses.

A surge of pure despair welled up in him and before he could think what he was doing, Hockenbury had flung the book across the room, where it hit the wall behind Goldman with a dull thud. Trembling in the wash of emotions, he felt an overwhelming need to flee, from the hootch, from the shocked expressions on his buddies’ faces, and the pity in Anderson’s eyes. And from Goldman’s crushing sorrow and understanding, a thing that horrified Doc, that he now shared a kinship with this lost and broken man. The L-T’s presence more than anyone else’s was like a hot knife in his guts. He turned and quickly covered the distance to the far end of the hootch, stumbling as he ran, and vanished out the door.

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

Hockenbury huddled in the scant shade of the bunker, his back jammed against the wall of sandbags. He was on the wrong side of the wall, the OUTside, but as far as he was concerned, that’s where he’d always been anyway. An opportunistic sniper would have an easy shot, not that the medic much cared.

He felt so betrayed, so…lost. He’d come to Vietnam knowing one thing, and was pretty sure of another. The first, that he wouldn’t kill anyone. And the other, he wouldn’t be going home. Of course, he’d also come to Vietnam with a girl back home and she’d dumped him like yesterday’s news. But she wasn’t Caz, either. Doc had never met anyone like her, hadn’t dreamed that such a woman existed, let alone that she’d want him as much as he wanted her.

A shadow fell across his boots, paused, and moved closer.

"Hockenbury?"

Doc sighed, refusing to look up at the one person he least wanted to see. Well, second least, at any rate. Rubbing his hands over his face, he proceeded to pat down his pockets, looking for his cigarettes and lighter. The smokes he found easily enough, placing one between his lips. As he continued searching for the lighter, a flame appeared in front of his nose, courtesy of Lieutenant Goldman.

Hockenbury stared at it a moment, then lit his cigarette, inhaling the nicotine deeply into his lungs and holding it there. Keeping his eyes on the dirt, he tried not to flinch as Goldman crouched next to him, lighting a cigarette of his own.

"Not too safe here, Doc."

The medic snorted, scuffing the toe of his boot through the piles of butts scattered all over the ground. "Is that why you’re out here ev’ry mornin’, L-T?" He took another drag, holding onto the smoke as long as he could. "’Course, it ain’t too safe in the dispensary either." Pulling a knee to his chest, Doc draped his lanky arm over it, the cigarette dangling from his fingers, his posture attempting to express a nonchalance he didn’t feel.

Goldman sighed, wondering just why he’d come looking for the medic. He had no magic words for the man, no easy solution. Hell, if I did, I’d use it myself. The guilt hung heavily on him. Plain and simple, that’s why he was here. Glancing out at the wire, the lieutenant pulled the brim of his hat lower over his eyes, shading them from the blazing noon sun.

Hockenbury silently smoked, studying the small gash in the palm of his free hand idly, opening and closing his fingers. It had stopped bleeding, but was sharply painful. He wondered distractedly if he’d nicked a cutaneous nerve, wondered if it would always hurt even after the wound healed.

"Doc, I’m…sorry for what happened today." The words sounded lame in his own ears and Goldman winced, closing his eyes and shaking his head. "I know you think that it’s over between you and Captain Cassidy." He hated saying the words, hated admitting aloud that the relationship existed and that he’d done nothing to prevent it, had, in fact, encouraged it. I just wanted him safe, is it too much to ask?

Hockenbury’s eyes grew wide with astonishment as he turned his head, staring directly at Goldman’s downcast profile. "You’re SORRY? I think it’s OVER? What the hell else am I supposed to think, L-T, she killed that man! She shot him. He’s dead. For me. How is that supposed to make me feel?" Doc started to climb to his feet and Myron reached out quickly, grabbing his elbow and forcing him back against the sandbags.

"I know how you feel about killing, Doc. I know that you think you wouldn’t do the same." Goldman took a breath, about to go on.

"I THINK I wouldn’t do the same? I KNOW it, L-T, I know it, I can’t do it, I won’t do it. She just pulled that trigger, easy as can be. Didn’t think twice." Hockenbury buried his head in the circle of his arms as he gulped for air. A fresh round of tears threatened and he felt humiliated, ashamed in front of his lieutenant. And puzzled. Why was Goldman here? He’d barely spoken ten words to him, ever. Why was he here?

Goldman sighed, blowing out a long stream of smoke that slowly dissipated in the slight breeze. "It wasn’t easy for her, Doc. I saw her, afterwards. She’s just as destroyed as you are. She’s… horrified." He glanced at his cigarette, tamped the ashes off into the dirt.

Hockenbury refused to look up, so caught in his own misery. But he was listening, Goldman knew, and he went on, knowing he had nothing to lose but maybe something to regain of himself.

"And she didn’t have time to think twice. Nobody does in that situation, Doc. It’s pure reaction."

The two smoked awhile, lieutenant and medic, silent.

Goldman cleared his throat. "She got hurt, you know. Hall was looking at her back." He glanced sideways at Hockenbury, not moving his head at all.

Doc froze, the cigarette not quite to his lips. He stared across the barbed wire at the jungle, the grass shimmering in the brutal heat, blades blurring into a green sea. Stomach clenching, Hockenbury swallowed hard, shoving one hand through his sweaty hair. He couldn’t look at Goldman, couldn’t bear to know what the man was thinking but felt it anyway. Grief. Pity. And anger, raw and bleeding.

"Is…is she okay?" Dammit! Doc didn’t want to care, didn’t want to feel the quicksilver shiver of fear in his heart.

Goldman waited a moment, letting smoke escape from his lips in wispy streams. He reached down, stubbing out the butt in the dirt. "I don’t know, Doc." He reached into his pocket, pulling out a small object, and held it between the palms of his hands. Myron hadn’t been sure he’d done the right thing bringing it out here but now he knew his instincts had been true. Hockenbury may deny it, but he did still care, still loved Cassidy deeply beneath the rage at what he perceived as her betrayal.

"Doc, I brought you this. I think maybe you need it now more than ever." Goldman held the book out, the wind ruffling the pages as Hockenbury slowly turned his head.

Doc felt his heart lurch in his chest, skipping a beat, before settling into an accelerated rhythm. Shaking his head, he closed his eyes, flicking the remains of his cigarette blindly towards the wire and covered his face with his hands. His shoulders shook and he drew his knees up, leaning into them, folding his long frame into as small a space as possible.

"Listen, Doc, I don’t want you to make the same mistake I did." Goldman stopped, tapping the book gently against his own knee as he wondered how he could take back the words. He’d never spoken of Alex to anybody outside of Zeke Anderson, and once to McKay on the night they’d boxed up her things. He didn’t want to talk about her now. But the responsibility he felt for the medic, AND for the young doctor weighed heavily on him. Myron’s sense of duty, drilled into him from a very young age by his father, and his compassion, a gift from his mother, conspired against him.

He nudged Hockenbury with his elbow. "Doc, you have a chance to fix this, you and Cassidy." Grabbing the medic’s wrist, Goldman shoved the book into his hand, ignoring Doc’s gasp of pain as the leather binding rubbed across the raw skin. "You can’t…just…HIDE from it."

"Oh, comin’ from you that means a lot, L-T. You know all about hidin’, don’tcha? Just stay sittin’ behind those walls of yours, can’t touch anythin’, can’t BE touched by anythin’." Hockenbury closed his fingers around the book, pulling it to his chest with his wounded hand, his thumb rubbing compulsively over the soft cover. His grey-green eyes flashed with anger, his gaze jumping from the young lieutenant to the jungle and back again.

Goldman jerked to one knee, turning to face Doc directly, a hectic splash of color across each of his pale cheeks. "That’s precisely why, Hockenbury, I’m telling you this now. Alex is DEAD. I cannot…FIX that." The muscles in his neck stood out, his pulse pounding in his temple. "Cassidy is very much alive." Goldman’s breath caught in his throat and he paused, swallowing against the lump he felt there.

"Doc, Caz saved your life today, whether you wanted her to or not. I think she can do it again, if you only let her." Myron abruptly stood, straightening his cap and brushing the dust from his pants.

"Don’t waste this chance, Doc. She’s a good woman. She…she loves you, maybe more than you know. Don’t turn your back on that." Goldman spun on his heels, walking rapidly away, his boot steps lightly kicking up dirt in small clouds behind him.

Hockenbury let his head fall back against the sandbags, the sweat running down him in sheets. Resting his elbows on his knees, he forced himself to look at the book, remembering the night Caz had given it to him and the unbelievable joy he’d felt. The tears began anew, tracking through the dirt on his face. Bowing his head, he clutched the slim volume, resting it against his cheek as he sought desperately for solace, knowing it would not be there now. And found it hard to hope that it would be there tomorrow. Or ever.

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