|Rating: PG-13 (for questionable language and adult situations)
Disclaimer: The Tour of Duty Characters do NOT belong to me and I am not
being compensated in any way for this work of fiction.
Placement: Around the time of The Road to Long Binh (3rd Season)
The medics slid the patient into the waiting bird, strapping him down onto the stretcher with his head just to the rear of the pilot and his feet behind the door gunner. Hall carefully wedged the suction apparatus on the floor beyond him, toward the center of the bay, and placed the oxygen bottle between the GI’s legs, secure beneath the canvas belts. Climbing in after his buddy, Kaminski turned and gave them a thumbs up, his pale face grim under his fading camo stripes.
Cassidy stood silently at the edge of the helipad; eyes squinted against the grit blown up by the departing chopper. Her arms were crossed tightly across her chest, hands in fists tucked into her armpits and shoulders hunched. She was aware of a dull ache in her lower back but had no memory of how it got there. No memory of anything at all of the events in the dispensary save one and that was an image she’d just as soon forget. But Caz knew she wouldn’t, that the noise and the smell and the sudden, blinding rush of fear would stay with her forever.
"Dr. Cassidy?" Hall loomed over the little Captain, bending awkwardly to speak directly into her ear.
Caz flinched, one hand coming up defensively as she turned, her gaze rising to meet his. As recognition dawned, the panic left her eyes and she let her arm slowly drift to her side, glancing back over her shoulder at the black speck in the sky, all that was visible of the helicopter as it raced away.
"Dr. Cassidy?" Taking her arm firmly, Hall forced her attention back to him. "Ma’am? Can you hear me?"
She stared back at him blankly, aware that her hearing was coming back, albeit slowly, but not wanting to admit to it. Shaking her head, Cassidy rubbed hard at one ear, looking away again only to find the blue sky empty now.
"I can hear you, Sergeant, but it’s awful fuzzy. Like bees or somethin’."
Hall felt a small wave of relief break over him. She’d not spoken at all since the shooting, not even during those frantic moments when they’d inserted the chest tube. Fortunately Kaminski had been incredibly focused, in the groove as Hall’s kids liked to say. The young medic had correctly interpreted each of Cassidy’s impatient waves and grunts and had handed her the appropriate instruments with the ease of an experienced OR tech. Even during those long moments while they’d huddled on the floor, Kaminski swearing at the tubing and Cassidy twisting and readjusting the valves, she’d said nothing.
The sergeant patted her shoulder awkwardly. "It’ll come back, ma’am, it just takes time." He glanced at his watch, only too aware of the slow passage of time. He’d sent Pugh and the other medic back to the clinic with instructions to remove the VC’s body to the morgue. The doctor was still teetering on the edge of shock and Hall would do anything he could to ease her anxiety.
"We need to take a look at your back, ma’am." Hall wandered slowly to the edge of the pad, looking furtively over his shoulder to see if she was following him.
Caz frowned, one hand reaching around to her flank, and then stared with puzzled hazel eyes at the faint red stains on her fingers. "I don’t remember what I did to it, Hall." Her voice rose in mild panic and she turned her hand over, displaying her shaking fingers to him. "I’m bleedin’."
Hall sighed, knowing there would be no easy answers today, no moments of revelation that would bring relief. The things that he had to tell her, that would fill in the holes in her own recollection, would surely make things worse, not better. "I know ya are, ma’am. I think you caught the corner of the trauma cart when you fell." He grabbed her elbow and steadied her as she jumped down from the helipad.
Cassidy considered that, walking slowly beside the sergeant, not realizing that he was deliberately delaying their return to buy time for Pugh and his assignment. "I guess so. I know I knocked it over, there was stuff all over the floor."
"That’s right, ma’am. Those metal doors are sharp, ya probably cut yourself." He craned his neck behind her, studying her back. "There’s a hole, more like a flap in your shirt, ma’am. Dried blood around it. I’ll take a look when we get to the dispensary." Hall shaded his eyes with one hand, scanning the alleyways for Pugh. There! The sergeant felt his muscles relax, knowing there was one less thing to spook the doctor when she returned to the clinic.
*** *** *** *** *** ***
Jessup lay facedown on the fourth gurney, arms clasped loosely around the pillow under his head. The lidocaine Hall had injected into his wound was kicking in and he was feeling no pain. "That’s good stuff, Royal, my man! Can you just inject that inta my whole body an’ make me forget I’m in the ‘Nam?" He shifted slightly on the bed.
"Hold still, Jess, I just ‘bout got hold of this piece of shrapnel." Hall picked up the silvery object and dropped it into a bowl already containing several other bits of metal. Returning his attention to the man’s posterior, he picked up a large syringe filled with sterile water and sluiced the area. "I think that’s it. Looks a bit like hamburger." Carefully drying the wound, Hall prepared to dress it.
The patient rolled slightly sideways onto his good hip, looking back at his long-time buddy, his face solemn with regret. "I’m sorry for what I said to the lady, Royal, I really am."
Hall stared at Jessup, eyes impassionate. "I know, man. What’s done is done." He’d been angry, though, aware as he was that the man couldn’t have known, couldn’t have predicted Cassidy’s response to his well-meaning comment.
"Nice shot, Doc!" Jess had still been leaning on the gurney, patiently waiting for treatment when Hall and Cassidy had returned to the clinic. He’d welcomed her with a big smile, assuming she’d have been pleased with herself. His surprise when she’d turned green and headed for the tiny bathroom with her hands over her mouth had been genuine.
Hall sighed, looking toward the still-closed bathroom door, apprehension filling his dark eyes. "You didn’t know, Jess, nobody did." He finished up the dressing, taping the edges down securely and discharged his friend from the dispensary, standing at the screenless door and wishing he, too, could just walk away.
*** *** *** *** *** ***
Hall picked up the remaining broken boards from the floor, stacking them neatly by the door with the others. Returning to his desk, he picked up his mug and headed for the coffee urn, wondering idly how bad the brew would be after sitting for nearly three hours. He neatly sidestepped Pugh, who was sweeping up the discarded paper wrappers littering the floor.
Pugh and the other medic had made quick work of cleaning the blood from the floor after they’d removed the body, spilling bucketfuls of water across the warm wooden planks and soaking it up with towels. The linen cart was bulging, but the bloodstain was gone, replaced with a much larger wet area. Pugh didn’t notice the bullet holes in the wall, not that he could have done anything if he had.
The door to the washroom opened and Dr. Cassidy stepped carefully out, moving as deliberately as if she’d been on a three-day bender. Her face was freshly scrubbed but still pale as milk, dark circles ringing her eyes and accentuating her lack of color. She had re-combed her hair, capturing all the tendrils that had escaped, and smoothed them back into a ponytail. She held her fatigue shirt in her hands, twisting it into a rope, first one way and then the other. Looking up at Hall, Caz raised an eyebrow; pleading with him to take charge, tell her what to do.
Hall took a sip of his coffee and grimaced, dumping it out into the sink and setting the mug down with a thump on the counter. He waved Cassidy over to the fourth gurney, most recently occupied by Jessup and furthest from the scene of the earlier disaster. He watched her make her way slowly across the dispensary, averting her eyes from the space where the second table used to be and the floor where she’d lain, smoking gun in her hands.
"Lie here on your belly, ma’am, I’ll take a look at that back." The sergeant reached for her torn shirt, but Caz pulled it away, balling it up and putting it under her cheek as she stretched out prone on the table.
Pulling the t-shirt halfway up her torso, Hall took a good look at the wound, probing it with gentle fingers. Resembling a puncture more than a laceration, the injury was deeper than he expected, with a roughly circular bruise spreading outwards, but thankfully not serious. He let out the breath he’d been holding and reached for a bottle of saline, preparing to clean the area.
"Ya gotta chunk of skin missing, ma’am, it’s probably still on the trauma cart door somewheres. I don’t have anything I can sew, but I’ll clean it good. It’s right over your kidney. You’ll have to watch your water for blood but you know that already." Hall reached for the lidocaine, preparing to draw up a few cc’s.
Cassidy cleared her throat, red-rimmed eyes watching the sergeant closely. "Don’t bother, Hall, just scrub it. It’s okay." She tucked her face behind the circle of her arms, her hands still clutching the olive-drab shirt. Her ribcage expanded as she drew in a deep breath and held it for a moment, blowing it out explosively.
Hall stood there a moment, watching her gather her nerves together. He bit his lip as he soaked some 4x4’s in saline and reached for the bottle of betadine, knowing the process was going to hurt the little Captain. But maybe this kind of pain is easier than what she’s already going through. Maybe it will take her mind from it. With a sigh, Hall started swabbing.
*** *** *** *** *** ***
Caz sighed heavily, shivering under the ice bag Hall had insisted on placing over the neatly bandaged wound. She’d made not a sound as he’d scrubbed the torn skin, biting down hard on the sleeve of her wadded-up shirt, her knuckles white where she gripped her elbows. Despite the sergeant’s efforts, the pain had been considerable, but Caz had welcomed it, wishing it would render her unconscious but knowing it wouldn’t be enough to numb her racing brain.
Just walking back into the dispensary had ignited a wave of anxiety that Caz couldn’t control. Her knees had almost walked out from under her as she’d mounted the stairs, and the comment from the injured black sergeant leaning on the gurney had turned her guts upside down. She’d barely made it to the little water closet before heaving everything she’d eaten or even thought about eating that day. Now she just felt completely empty, body and soul.
Hall continued to move about the dispensary, quietly restocking cabinets and cleaning up dirty instruments, stacking them in towel wrapped packages ready for the autoclave at Tan Son Nhut. He hummed under his breath as he worked, an eclectic mixture of Motown and spirituals, casting an occasional glance at Cassidy as she lay on the gurney.
Caz found herself drifting, the adrenaline overload in her bloodstream slowly dissipating, leaving her tired and achy. She wanted nothing more than to sleep, sleep and not wake up. She’d never experienced such chaos in her career; no trauma had ever fallen so completely apart. The wounded GI’s rapid return to consciousness had taken Cassidy totally by surprise and he’d caught her standing flatfooted, stupidly protecting her sterile gloves instead of defending herself. As she catapulted backwards, Caz hadn’t even had time to wonder what happened, just the odd sensation of flying followed by the brutal collision with the trauma cart.
The drawers had slid open, spilling their contents over the prone doctor as she struggled to her hands and knees, slipping in the sea of medical debris. Her fingers had closed over something leather, her foggy brain registering a vague familiarity but before she’d had a chance to find the proper mental connection, she’d become aware of a voice screaming. Screaming Doc’s name.
Her body jerking slightly, Caz raised her head, searching for Hall, relaxing back down inside the safety of her arms when she glimpsed him snapping a fresh sheet over the far gurney. She didn’t want to think these things, didn’t want to confront herself with the reality of what happened. The minute she closed her eyes, the nightmare continued on, despite her efforts to clear her mind.
She’d looked up, not understanding what she was seeing. A pair of fatigue-clad legs launched themselves away from her, over the next gurney, crashing down on it and smashing it in two. Doc! Her breath had caught in her throat as Doc and the prisoner fell to the floor, struggling with each other, the medic flailing away with only one arm, the other trapped beneath the demolished table. The gun appeared. It must have been in the VC’s hand all along, but Caz hadn’t seen it, hadn’t recognized the danger until that moment as the man snugged it up under Hockenbury’s chin.
Her fingers had gripped the leather object, holster!, her other hand clawing the weapon loose, the .38 she'd stashed in the trauma cart less than an hour after learning to shoot it. Hurling herself prone across the floor, desperate to close the distance between herself and her target, Caz had braced her elbows on the floor, sighting carefully along the barrel, so afraid of pulling the trigger and even more afraid of not pulling it. She’d taken a quick breath and squeezed, the bullet leaving the gun with enough velocity to kill the man instantly but she’d taken McKay’s lessons to heart. She emptied the gun, her later shots traveling upwards with the kick of the weapon, lodging in the dispensary wall.
The noise had been deafening, each shot adding further insult to her eardrums until they refused to process sound at all. Caz lay on the floor in an insulated bubble of silence, oblivious to Goldman’s shouts as he climbed over the broken gurney to get to Hockenbury, and the excited yelling of the other medics. She’d not felt the hardness of the boards under her body, her elbows bruised where she’d slammed them down to steady her aim. Nor the throbbing, oozing abrasion on her back from the impact with the cart. The single object of her conscious thought had been Doc, lying unmoving beneath the VC prisoner, the gun still held against his throat.
Caz was sure she’d killed him. Hockenbury. With a courage she hadn’t known she possessed, she’d tried to save his life, ignoring the fear rising up like a hot blade in her belly. She still wasn’t sure he wasn’t dead.
Lifting her head again, she looked for Hall and caught sight of him just as he passed into the supply room. With a sigh, Caz rested her chin on the backs of her hands, her fingers flat on the rough sheet. Her eyes slid halfway shut as she fought the fatigue that threatened to overwhelm her.
The screen door, newly re-hung on its hinges, squeaked open, followed by the sound of tentative footsteps crossing the floor. Caz turned her head, her breath catching, hitching in her chest at the sight of Hockenbury, his eyes red-rimmed and wild, hair standing up where he’d obviously just shoved his fingers through it.
"Doc?" Her voice was a husky whisper, her larynx suddenly swollen with tears. Confronted with the proof, the living proof that she’d saved him was almost too much to take. Cassidy sat up abruptly, grabbing at her flank as the ice pack fell to the floor, grimacing at the sudden pain. "Doc?" She held out her hand to him, her fingers aching to touch him and know that he was whole.
Doc stood there, every inch of him trembling and shaking with agitation, his hands in fists stuffed deeply into his pockets. He didn’t move toward her, just stared, the expression on his face an odd mixture of concern and fear and anger. Swallowing hard, Doc found himself trapped in her gaze, unable to speak. Trapped in the misery that cloaked her like a blanket.
It took him by surprise, so deep was he in his own pain. It never occurred to him that Caz might have felt anything other than celebratory, a hero vanquishing evil. Her obvious distress stopped him cold and he felt another emotion tickling the back of his mind. Shame.
Cassidy faltered, hand frozen in midair and cheeks flushed flame red, her teeth clenched tightly together. "I thought…I thought you were okay. They told me you were okay." Whispering hoarsely, Caz fought to keep calm, lowering her arm and interlacing her fingers in her lap.
The anger won out. Hockenbury stood before her, the rage rising in him almost visibly as he nearly hyperventilated, his chest filling with air. He felt dizzy and nauseous…and hopeless. Doc walked right up to her, glaring directly into her upturned face. "How could you do it? You…killed that man!"
Astonishment filled her eyes as Cassidy swayed under his scrutiny, flinching from his words. She gripped the edge of the gurney, frantically trying to make sense of what she’d just heard. "What? I had to, Doc, he was gonna kill you!"
"You killed him, pulled that trigger an’ blew his brains out!" Doc practically spat the words at her as she turned away in tears.
Caz swiped one sleeve across her eyes, blurring her vision. She glanced back at him, blinking away the multiple images until only one remained: one furious, shaking, HURTING medic. The doctor shook her head, attempting to force order among her thoughts. "I had to, Doc, I had no choice, he was gonna kill you!"
Hockenbury suddenly threw his arms wide, totally out of control. He paced the length of the counter, blindly knocking things over as he dragged his fingers over the rough wooden surface. The tower of mugs toppled and crashed to the floor, scattering plastic cups everywhere. Doc kicked them irritably out of his way, turning back to Caz with eyes so lost that she almost cried aloud, covering her mouth with one slender hand.
"You had a choice. You picked up that…gun an’ shot him in the head with it, you killed him!" Doc squeezed his eyes shut, knuckling his fists into the sockets. He couldn’t look at her without seeing her outstretched arms, the .38 snug between her hands. Her hands, so soft against his skin, was that only yesterday?
Caz sucked in a ragged breath, struggling to find the right words, ANY words in her rattled brain. "I couldn’t let him kill you…couldn’t let him…TAKE…you away from me." The tears were flowing in rivers, pausing on the edge of her cheekbones and then rolling down her face, dripping heedlessly to the floor.
"Doc, I had to, I had…no choice. I love you."
Hockenbury froze, his heart suspended motionless in his chest. For a moment, he heard nothing, the sounds of the camp fading behind the curtain of his astonishment. She loves me. Words he’d have given anything to hear yesterday, words he’d wanted to say to her himself, words that now felt like a knife, cutting him and leaving him bleeding.
"Caz." He forced her name from his throat, wincing at the sound of it, so different than when he had whispered it in her ear. Oh God, was it really ONLY yesterday? "It wasn’t your choice to make, Caz. I don’t want anybody to die, not for me." He lowered his hands from his face, shoving them deeply into his pockets. His cheeks were flushed red, dark under the pale fringe of his hair. "You killed him because of me, I can’t handle that kind of responsibility."
Caz felt a rush of anger. "YOUR responsibility? Yours? I killed him, Doc, not you." She crossed her arms tightly across her chest, shivering in her thin t-shirt. Glancing down, she caught sight of her bloody fatigue blouse, balled up on the end of the gurney and her tremors increased.
Hockenbury followed her gaze, his eyes widening at the torn flap of fabric and the stain surrounding it. He grabbed the clothing, staring at the hole with growing dismay, sliding two fingers through it. With quick steps, the medic was around the table and carefully peeling the tape back from the bandage, accessing the wound with gentle tenderness.
Dropping her chin to her chest at his touch, Caz felt fresh tears welling in her eyes, spilling into her lap. She thought she could hold it together, but not now. Not with his hands warm against her skin.
Doc smoothed the tape back down and stood behind her, away from her bewildered expression. He shoved his hands through his hair, over and over again and then slowly skirted the table to face her once more.
"I…I love you, too, Caz." Hockenbury watched her eyes grow wide with shock, felt her growing confusion brush against his jangled nerves. "But I won’t kill anybody. An’ I can’t accept that you did…that you’d do it again."
"Doc, what about Danny an’ Roo an’ Taylor? They all killed for you, you told me they’ve all saved your life. How come they can save you an’ not me?" Cassidy’s hands curled into fists in her lap, unclenching only to twist back together, her fingers dead white against the olive drab of her pants.
Hockenbury’s shoulders slumped as a crushing fatigue fell over him. It was so obvious to him. Why can’t she understand this?
"They’re soldiers, Caz."
Caz jumped to the floor, grimacing at the sharp twinge in her back, and forced herself to stand upright, angry red splashed across her cheeks. "What the hell do ya think this uniform means, Doc?" She reached out and grabbed the dangling sleeve of her fatigue shirt where it spilled from the medic’s hands, shaking it at him. "You’re wearin’ it, too, in case ya didn’t notice."
Hockenbury stared down at the garment, running his thumbs over the letters of her name above the breast pocket. Abruptly he balled it up, tossing the shirt on the gurney and shoved his hands once again into the safety of his own pockets.
"I can’t kill anyone, Caz, not for Danny, Taylor…not for you. I couldn’t live with myself if I did."
Caz felt her muscles turn to stone, frozen in the sweltering heat of the dispensary, the sweat running down her back.
"You’d just let me die?"
Her anguish rolled over him like breaking waves, flooding him with fear and sorrow, anger and blinding pain. Doc couldn’t face her and turned away, the shame resurfacing in him again, tearing at his resolve. He didn’t want her to die. He’d rather die himself than be responsible for her death. But he just couldn’t make himself accept the idea of taking a life to save one, not even hers. I can’t do it.
Caz shook her head at his silence, so wrapped in her own conflicting emotions that she couldn’t see the doubt slipping behind his walls, couldn’t see him steeling himself against it despite his own misgivings.
"How could you live with that, Doc? If you let me die? I know I couldn’t. I couldn’t an’ I didn’t. You don’t know, Doc, you don’t know how it feels to know ya have one second to do somethin’ an’ no matter what ya do, that’s the decision ya gotta live with. I saved you. I can live with that, even if you can’t. Do ya think it felt good? Ask Hall, I’ve been pukin’ my guts out. But I did the only thing I could." She took a deep breath, digging deep for the strength to continue. "Doc? I love you an’ I’d save you at all costs. Even if it means losin’ you." She raised her hazel eyes to his, defiant and terrified, all at the same time.
Hockenbury swallowed hard, desperate to hold her gaze and knew he couldn’t. He looked away, aware of her disappointment, feeling it deep within himself.
"I can’t kill anyone. I can’t. I’d lose myself, Caz." He heard the pleading in his voice and cringed, unable to relinquish his death-grip on his beliefs, unable to give up what he’d come to depend on to keep him safe. I promised I wouldn’t kill anyone, and if I don’t kill anyone, maybe, just maybe I’ll make it out of here alive. Doc sighed, feeling his life run from his body along with the breath. Jesus, who am I kiddin’?
Caz tore into him, eyes blazing. "You’d lose yourself? Well, guess what? You lose either way, Doc. Wouldn’t you rather pick the option that lets me live?" Caz threw up a hand, stopping him as he opened his mouth to reply. "Please don’t answer that. I know what you’re gonna say an’ I can’t bear to hear it. Look, I can’t handle this right now. I think you’d better go." She knuckled another tear from her red-rimmed eyes, wiping her damp fingers down the sides of her pants.
Doc held his hands out, palms facing up, shrugging his skinny shoulders. "I can’t kill, Caz, I just can’t."
"If that had been me on the floor an’ you had let that guy kill me? It would have been just like you’d pulled the trigger yourself. You’re still decidin’ who lives or dies. An’ it would have been me bleedin’ all over the floor."
The medic dropped his gaze to the floor, eyes slowly closing. One hand came up to message his scar, rubbing it over and over. "Jesus, Caz, I love you but I can’t forget seein’ you holdin’ that gun."
Caz couldn’t let go now, her anger spilling out with her words and filling the room. "I guess you’d rather see me dead on the floor, my brains on the wall? Oh yeah, you wouldn’t have seen that, because you’d have been dead by then, too. As well as everyone else in the room." Panting heavily, her breath catching in her throat, she turned away from him, laying her hands flat on the gurney and leaning her weight on her arms. "Please go, Doc. I can’t talk to you right now. Please…please just go."
Hockenbury stood there a moment longer, heart heavy. He couldn’t comprehend that words would not fix this, that there even WAS a situation that couldn’t be repaired with words. He took two faltering steps toward the door and looked back at the doctor, her shoulders hunched and trembling. A second later he was gone, the door slamming shut behind him.
Cassidy slowly straightened up, the weight of her grief pressing heavily on her body. She reached back, pressing light fingers over the bandage.
"Hall? Ya got anythin’ medicinal in that bottom drawer of yours?"
The big sergeant walked slowly out of the supply room where he had been trapped by Hockenbury’s entrance. Without a word he went to his desk, kneeling quickly and pulling out the drawer, rummaging around until he came up with a flask of Jack Daniels and a shot glass. He walked briskly to Cassidy’s side, taking her hand and pressing the little glass into it. Pouring a generous slug of the liquor, Hall held up the flask, saluting her with it.
"I’m sorry, ma’am. You didn’t deserve that."
Caz glanced at him, tossing the alcohol back with a quick jerk of her neck. As she held out the glass for more, she let her gaze travel around the room, lingering over the gap where the second table used to be. Where she’d made her stand and won. And lost, unknowingly.
Her eyes filling with sorrow and unshed tears, Cassidy looked up at Hall and was completely undone by the compassion she saw there. The muscles in her jaw bunched and relaxed several times while she struggled to control herself. Finally she found herself able to speak.
"He didn’t deserve it either, Sergeant."
*** *** *** *** *** ***
Hall hadn’t been able to get Cassidy out of the dispensary for lunch. She’d hidden in her office, the IN-box piled high with a stack of charts that she was apparently digging diligently through, although he could see she was pretty much flipping the pages aimlessly. He’d finally gone over to the mess hall and brought back a plate that she had subsequently left sitting untouched on the corner of her desk.
Evening had settled over the camp and time was running out for the evening meal. Hall meant to get Cassidy over there if he had to drag her kicking and screaming. He stepped into the doorway of the little office, blocking what little light had been filtering through from the overheads.
Caz continued writing for a moment, finally looking up when she could no longer politely ignore him. "Yes, Hall?" She squinted against the sudden glare from the desk lamp as the sergeant leaned over, snapping it on.
Hall sighed. "Gettin’ dark, ma’am. ‘Bout time we went for some chow." He hastily went on as she opened her mouth to protest. "You have to eat, Captain, you know you do. It’s what you’d tell the rest of us."
Cassidy shook her head, a flutter of anxiety rising in her belly, cheeks flushing a dull red. She pulled her white coat tighter around her shoulders, her fingers tucked hard under her arms. "I don’t think I can, Sergeant. I appreciate your concern. But I just can’t."
Hall shifted his feet, his hands clasped loosely behind his back. "Can’t or won’t, ma’am?" He refused to look away, his dark eyes calmly regarding her.
"Damn you, Hall. How much longer ‘til they shut the servin’ line down?" Closing the chart, Caz tossed her pen on the desk, and then reconsidered, picking it up and sliding it into her breast pocket.
"’Bout five minutes." He still didn’t budge, apparently willing to wait forever.
Caz slowly stood, bracing her flank with one hand, surprised that Hall made no move to help her. She didn’t look at him, didn’t see the small smile the sergeant allowed to flicker across his face as he followed her out the door.
*** *** *** *** *** ***
The camp was fairly deserted as Cassidy and Hall trudged across the dusty walkways to the mess hall, what few soldiers they saw intent on their own business. Hall found himself practically leading the young captain as she refused to raise her gaze from the ground, tripping over even small stones.
Caz paused on the threshold, only stepping through the doorway when Hall gently shoved her from behind. Stumbling slightly, she glared over her shoulder at the sergeant who ignored her, whistling under his breath as he steered her toward the serving line.
With only ten or twelve men scattered throughout, the chow hall itself seemed practically empty, most of the tables bussed and clean. A few soldiers ate in twos and threes, the low murmurs of their conversation practically inaudible.
Hall picked up two trays, handing one to Caz and scooped up enough silverware for them both, distributing it deftly as if the knives and forks were surgical instruments. He stood behind her, looking over her head at the meager offerings, neatly blocking her escape.
"Hey, it’s Annie Oakley! Nice shootin’, Doc!" The voice came from the far corner, young and full of enthusiasm.
The other men looked up, realizing that the hero of the afternoon was in the chow hall and quickly picked up the cheers. Applause broke out at several tables.
Cassidy froze, eyes huge and frightened, her face unnaturally pale under the yellow incandescent bulbs. She leaned on the counter, breathing heavily, feeling her pulse race in her ears and damp sweat trickling down her neck.
Hall swung around, his icy glare enough to silence the GIs almost instantly but it was too late. When he turned back, Caz was gone, her empty tray sitting abandoned. The screen door was just settling back into its frame as he threw his own tray back in the rack with annoyed disgust.
*** *** *** *** *** ***
Caz found herself hesitating, lingering in the lengthening shadows of the encroaching dusk that wrapped itself around the camp. She stood alone, barely holding herself together, sunk in bewilderment, not knowing why she was here in the first place. She’d fled the mess hall, completely unnerved by the show of support for the act that had broken her heart. She’d run blindly in the growing darkness and ended up here, as if by deliberate design.
Doc's words had cut her deeply. Already confused and desperate for his understanding and approval, his reaction to the entire incident had left her floundering and adrift. She knew and accepted that he wouldn’t carry a weapon, wouldn’t deliberately kill someone. Even knowing that, though, had not prepared her for the betrayal in his words.
"I can’t kill anyone, Caz, not for Danny, Taylor…not for you."
"You’d just let me die?"
She jumped, wrapping her arms around herself and stepped back, confused, her breath hitching in her throat.
Johnny had started to reach for her, to touch her lightly on the arm, but now held his hand still between them. His eyes darkened in the gathering twilight. "Caz, what’s wrong? What are you doing here in the shadows?"
She was trying not to shake. To not break down like some 12-year-old schoolgirl that had been dumped by her first boy friend. She looked up miserably at Johnny, suddenly feeling lost and alone.
"I wanted…I thought I could speak…" She broke off and ducked her head, flushing in shame when her voice broke and betrayed her weakness. She hugged herself tighter, as if trying to keep herself from flying apart right there in front of the pilot.
"Hey, it's okay, Caz." Johnny reached out again, slipping firm but soft fingers under her chin and forced her to look up. He could see she was on the edge of the abyss, staring down into the never-ending depth, just one breath away from overbalancing and falling in. Her eyes glistened with unshed tears and she couldn't quite seem to meet his gaze. "Can I help you?"
"NO!" The word was out before she could take it back. She flushed a deeper red and pulled away from Johnny. "I'm sorry…it's not that." She finally unwrapped an arm from around herself and dragged a hand through her dark hair. "Please…I was hoping…I need…" She finally managed to look up at him. "Do ya think Goldman would speak to me?" Her voice fell to a hoarse whisper.
"Myron?" Johnny's voice was puzzled as he glanced over his shoulder at the square of light spilling from the door. "Sure, but why?"
"I just need to is all, Johnny. Please, can we leave it at that?" She didn't want to sound like she was begging. Like she was falling apart in little pieces right there in front of him. Like she so obviously was.
"He's inside." Johnny nodded, inclining his head back toward the hootch. "Caz…"
"Please, Johnny, really. I need to speak to him."
McKay realized she was close to bolting. Twenty-four hours ago this was a lovely young woman, confident, laughing…in love. Now she stood before him, hanging on by absolute sheer determination, but even he could see she was at her rope's end.
"He'll speak to you." Johnny hesitated. "Caz…sometimes he can be a bit hard-edged." With a sigh, McKay went on. "Just push back. He doesn’t mean to be, he just gets caught up in his own problems, you know what I mean? Myron's good people though, I think you know that or you wouldn't be here now."
"Thank you Johnny." She managed a smile, but it held nothing behind it, her eyes filled with confusion and pain.
"Caz, if you need to talk later, I'll listen." Johnny grinned a little, his teeth a flash of white in the dark. He patted her gently on the back as she stepped past him, sorrow passing through him like a knife as she flinched at his touch.
*** *** *** *** *** ***
Tired of sitting at his desk, Myron had instead dragged his stack of paperwork over to his rack and spread it out there. He sat on the bunk, one leg tucked under him, the other draped over the edge. He had an ashtray in the middle of it all where he idly tapped off the ashes of his cigarette. On his way out the door, Johnny had shoved a beer in his hand and told him to loosen up.
Myron had simply waved him out the door, not even bothering to try and act annoyed. The beer was nice though, he admitted to himself as he took a sip and set it back on his nightstand.
A polite tap on the hootch door cut across his thoughts and he found himself glancing up.
The last person in the entire camp he expected to see was Caz, looking at him through the screen in the growing dusk of the oncoming night.
"Lieutenant Goldman? Please, I need to speak with you."
Her voice broke, and Myron found himself momentarily awash in a backlash of crushing despair and confusion. He was off the bed and pushing the door open before he even realized what he was doing.
Caz stood on the bottom step. Myron sensed she was going to bolt, and stood back from the entrance, still holding the door open. "It's alright, Captain. Come in."
Caz bit her lower lip, rubbing her hands over her biceps and shifting from one foot to the other. She finally looked up, and found herself trapped in Myron's dark eyes. Swallowing, she gathered her resolve around her and stepped up into the hootch and past the younger man.
She watched Myron, unsure as he went over to the cabinet at the far side of the hootch and pulled out a bottle of whiskey and a couple of glasses. He said nothing as he set them on the nearby desk and unscrewed the cap off the bottle.
There was no doubt in her mind that this handsome and quiet young man was an enigma to her. Wrapped so tightly around his grief with carefully tended defenses and trying to convince himself that he could get by without the emotional commitment he once had with his men. But Caz knew Myron cared. Cared deeply about his men, and about his peace-monger medic. About Doc.
Why? Why did he say those things?
She blinked, catching her breath when Myron pressed the glass into her slender fingers. She looked up at those endless eyes, blushing, and then glanced hastily away. She couldn't get her mind to stop racing, to slow down enough for her to grab hold of any one single thought. She found herself staring at the glass in her hands, starting to tremble.
"I’m sorry, I shouldn't have come." Her words tumbled out and she looked wildly around the hootch. "I don't know what I'm doing here." Caz nearly dropped the glass on the sideboard of the sink area, her voice catching. She was backing up, her mind reeling and sliding.
"Yes you do." Myron didn't approach her. Didn't want to crowd her. "What did Hockenbury say to you, Captain?"
Cassidy felt her mind slam into neutral at the mention of the medic’s name, her thoughts skidding without purchase like a deer caught on a frozen pond. The shaking of her hands increased until she could no longer hold the tumbler and it slipped from her fingers with a clash of broken glass into the metal sink. "Dammit!" She backed away, horrified, trying desperately to grab onto her splintered dignity.
Something slipped across those reeling emotions, touched against her jangled thoughts. A cautious hand, a careful feeling of concern...
Caz realized she was staring at Myron, her hands clutching her white coat tightly around her.
"Why?" She paced to McKay’s desk and back again. "Why is he here? Why is he here in your unit? Dammit WHY?!"
"He's a good medic. He's a very good medic." Myron allowed himself to sit down on the edge of his bunk, setting down the whiskey and picking up his beer instead.
"He doesn't belong here! He's not a soldier!" Caz realized she was shouting at Goldman, but couldn't stop herself. It was like she was in another corner of the hootch, watching herself shout at the young man who simply watched her. "He's a liability to you and your men!"
Something flickered across those dark eyes. Too quickly, she couldn't identify it.
"It was my decision to keep him."
"He won't kill for you! He won't kill for Percell, or Sgt Anderson or for you! HE WON'T KILL FOR ANYONE!" She twisted away, shaking so hard now she thought she would come apart in pieces all over the floor.
"He really doesn't know that." Myron set his beer aside, leaning his elbows on his knees and studied the floor between his feet.
"Oh, but he does!" Her voice was muffled, anguished as she wrapped one arm across her face, blocking out what dim light there was in the room, hiding the tears that leaked from her eyes despite her determination not to cry.
"He won't kill for you." He looked up, knowing the words spoken aloud would wound, knowing that she was thinking them anyway.
The color drained from her face. She slowly turned, staring at Myron, her world splintering around her. She felt she was looking through a kaleidoscope, her emotions fragmenting into a thousand shifting pieces, spilling like blood between the broken images.
"Not for me." Her voice hitched, whispering. "I did for him. But he can't for me." She sank to the end of McKay’s rack, her knees no longer capable of supporting her.
"Are you so sure?" Myron recognized hopelessness and wanted to retreat from it, turn his back and tell himself he never saw it. And realized that if he did, she could be forever lost, just as he…Myron refused to let himself finish the thought, grabbing his beer and taking a huge swallow.
Caz shook her head, hands over her face. How could she retrieve any of it? Even if he said he was sorry, said he was wrong, could she hope to piece this together?
Abandoned ship adrift without a port of call...
I feel so betrayed, I don't know what to do anymore! I can't face him, his disappointment...
He's not trying to betray you.
Then what is it?!
Goldman finished the beer, tossing the empty bottle into the wastebasket with a clatter that made Caz jump. But she didn’t look up and he sighed, wishing for the second time that day that he had an answer, words that could heal or at the very least soothe. He sighed again, picking up the whiskey and stood, stretching his back briefly before moving quietly over to the doctor.
He reached down, gently pulling her hand away from her face and placed the glass into it. Giving her a few feet, Myron sat on McKay’s perfectly arranged blanket, watching her stare disconsolately into the alcohol, swirling it absently. He looked away again, his eyes suddenly damp.
Caz took a sip, grimacing as the warm liquor burned its way down her throat. She ran her thumbs over the edge of the glass, waiting for the warmth to spread in her belly, while her hands, cupped around the tumbler, remained ice cold. She shifted slightly, turning so she could see Goldman’s profile, saw him run one not quite steady hand over his chin.
She cleared her throat, glancing back into the amber depths of the whiskey. "What was her name?"
Her voice was so hoarse Myron wasn’t sure he’d heard her correctly. Or maybe he didn’t want to hear. He closed his eyes, willing himself to be still and not explode all over this woman who couldn’t take one more thing. Myron took a deep breath and let it out slowly.
"Her name was Alex."
Caz heard the catch in his voice as he said his lover’s name, his aching pain, and felt her anger draining away like water, leaving her numb and exhausted. She thought she’d had no tears left and was surprised to find her eyes filling yet again, but not for her own loss this time.
"I’m sorry." The words were barely above a whisper, full of sorrow and regret.
Goldman nodded, turning so he leaned up against the wall at the head of McKay’s rack. He rested his dark gaze on her as she leaned over, setting the glass on the floor, and then sat up again, scrubbing her eyes with her fists. For once he didn’t feel the urge to look away, to hide the hurt that gnawed at him always.
Their eyes met as she straightened up, running her sleeve across her damp cheeks one more time.
"I’m so sorry."
Goldman stood abruptly, unable to stand being so close to her, to her raw and bleeding emotions. But he held her gaze, his eyes dark.
"I’m sorry, too, Caz."
Cassidy sighed, climbing shakily to her feet. She shoved her trembling hands into her pockets, trying desperately to look as if she’d pulled herself together, knowing there wasn’t a snowball’s chance in hell that she’d fooled Goldman. Shrugging, she took two steps toward the door; glancing back over her shoulder at him as she paused, hand on the frame.
"I just don’t know how I can trust him again." Trust him with my heart, with my life!
Goldman didn’t blink, didn’t move, just stood there watching her as she walked into the shadows.
Trust yourself first.