Under the Gun
By Doc
© December 2002

Chapter Three

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)

The sticky afternoon heat found the men of Team Viking scattered across the beds of  their hootch. A couple of footlockers between two of the racks held an assortment of tools and a bottle of LSA. Ruiz sat on his own bed, Taylor next to him, with the pieces of their weapons disassembled on an old towel between them. Percell faced them, perched on Hockenbury’s cot, his face red and his hair standing on end, stiff with sweat where he had run his fingers through it. They worked quickly, efficiently, passing the cleaning patches through the barrels with the ease of long practice.

"Hmm, hmm," began Marcus Taylor, as he soaked another patch with LSA. "What you boys think of our new little nurse, huh? I think I feel a fever comin’ on." He fit the patch into the slotted tip of a bore brush and slid it into the barrel of his M-16. His t-shirt was soaked in sweat and he periodically wiped his forehead on his shoulder.

Danny smiled widely. "I hear ya on that, man!" He glanced up at Alberto who was nodding in agreement.

Taylor laughed. "I think it’s the LOVE bug!"

"She’s a doctor, a surgeon," volunteered Doc Hockenbury, the fourth man in the  hootch, although generally the fifth wheel. He sprawled on his rack, one hip against Danny’s back, hands behind his head. He was 180° reversed on the bed, one booted foot braced on the wall with the other leg bent and crossed over, resting on the opposite knee. An empty C-rat can was balanced on his chest, rising and falling with his breathing, the smoke from the cigarette swirling lazily upwards. Hockenbury’s half-lidded eyes stared at the ceiling, but his mind appeared to be elsewhere.

"How’d ya know that, Doc?" Danny glanced over his shoulder at Hockenbury, catching a note of something he couldn’t quite identify in the medic’s voice. Danny reached for the towel around his neck, wiping the sweat trickling down his face and dripping on his bare chest. The smell of cigarette smoke, cleaning oil and perspiration hung heavily in the hootch.

Doc didn’t move, but his eyebrows raised fractionally, his lips pursing. "Well, I asked Pugh from the dispensary…" his voice trailed off in the sudden silence. Without looking, Hockenbury could feel three sets of curious eyes staring at him, the small noises that accompanied weapon cleaning absent. Annoyed with himself, Doc sighed and closed his eyes. Realizing he had already said too much, he carefully picked up his makeshift ashtray before pulling himself upright and sitting on the edge of the cot, back to back with Danny. Taking a quick last drag on his cigarette, he stubbed it out and set the c-rat can on his locker. Hockenbury rested his elbows on his knees, chin cupped in his hands, grey-green eyes studying his boots

With a sly smile to the guys, Taylor glanced over to the medic. "So Doc? Ya got your eye on this lady doc or somethin’? She bein’ an officer ‘n’ all, you better know that ain’t nuthin’ but trouble." Taylor shook his head, rapidly reassembling his weapon.

The other two men glanced up at each other and then quickly back at their weapons. Taylor observed them in his peripheral vision and dropped the bottle of LSA back onto the footlocker with a thump. He backhanded the sweat off his forehead in annoyance, suddenly irritated at his teammates.

"You sorry buncha grunts got somethin’ to say?" Taylor’s eyes flashed as he scrutinized each of them in turn. He climbed to his feet, taking his weapon with him and strode the few feet to his locker. Pulling it open, he stowed the M-16 inside and slammed it shut again. He wiped the sweat and oil from his hands on his pants.

Percell and Ruiz exchanged wry glances. Ruiz shrugged, looking up at Taylor. "Nuthin’, brotha, nuthin’." He smiled at his teammate, hands busily pulling a cleaning patch through the bore of his machine gun. Studying the patch for debris, Roo looked down the barrel, squinting with one eye.

Percell dropped a cleaning rod on the floor, swearing as it rolled under the bed. "Dammit!" He leaned over, sweeping his hand back and forth, feeling for the rod. Hockenbury, finding it at his feet, picked it up and handed it over his shoulder to Percell. Danny sighted along its length to make sure it hadn’t been bent.

"Ya know, Marcus," Danny began, Ruiz trying to catch his attention and stop the words from spilling out. Danny frowned at him and continued. "You’re a fine one to hand out advice, Taylor. You being caught up with an officer once yourself."

Taylor straightened, whirling away from his footlocker, where he had been searching in vain for a clean pair of socks to replace the ones he had just removed. "I know I made a mistake PER-cell, that’s why I’m tellin’ Doc to stay away." He glared at Danny, throwing his soggy, dirty socks at him.

Ruiz lit up a cigarette, his "sixty" clean and lying on the locker next to him. He took a long drag and blew the smoke slowly out, savoring the effects of the nicotine. "Suzanna’s an officer. Maybe it’s easier wit’ nurses, kinda outta the chain of command." Roo leaned back on his elbows, cigarette hanging from his lips. His dark gaze flicked from Doc to Taylor and back again. "L-T knows about her. He's been quiet about it, too."

Taylor was pacing down the center aisle. He stopped at the far end, hands on hips. After a long moment, he turned back to face Hockenbury. "Look, ya just gotta watch it. Just watch it, Doc." Crossing the floor to his bed, he dropped bonelessly onto his back, throwing an arm across his eyes.

Ruiz took a final drag on his cigarette, reaching to the floor for his own c-rat can. He placed the butt into it. "Yeah, like ya really care about the Doc all of a sudden." He eased back on the pillow, carefully arranging it under his head. Stretching his legs out, he yawned hugely.

Taylor never moved. "I don’t. I just don’ wanna see the rest of us hafta suffer when he gets burned." One foot twitched, then was still.

Hockenbury who had been silent throughout this exchange, looked at the ceiling, wishing desperately that he could have the last few minutes back. Why couldn’t I just keep my big trap shut?

Ruiz leveled his gaze at the medic. "What’s she like, this lady doc of yours?" A lazy smile curled across his lips.

Doc rolled his eyes. "She’s not MY lady doc, I just said." He stood, shoving his hands into his pockets and turning to face his teammates. "I’m just saying she’s not a nurse, she’s a doctor, that’s all."

Danny glanced up in puzzlement. "Now Doc, seems to me you went askin’ ‘bout her." He caught Doc’s weary glance, and winked at him.

Doc sighed and wandered over to the door. Leaning on the frame, he rested his head on his forearm as he scanned the world outside. His long fingers ran softly over the screening, the quiet scratching noise reminding him of hot summer days back in Memphis. A trickle of sweat ran down the back of his neck.

Plumping up his pillow, Ruiz took a deep drag on his cigarette, eyelids drooping sleepily. "She’s got a helluva arm. She could be pitchin’ for the Yanks."

Taylor mumbled his agreement, arm still draped over his eyes.

Percell, picking up the last of the cleaning patches and the bottle of LSA, crossed to his locker and placed his weapon and the supplies all inside before locking it carefully. He glanced at Doc, then at the rest of the team. "How ‘bout we hit the Team House tonight?"

Taylor dropped his arms from his face, smiling widely, finally finding something worth sitting up for. "I heard a certain chopper jock askin’ a certain lady doc to the House. I say we check it out for ourselves! How ‘bout a few beers?" Taylor nodded to Doc.

The medic snorted in disgust before he shoved through the door, letting it slam behind him.

Taylor looked up, eyes wide and face innocent. "Was it somethin’ I said?" He laughed as Danny tackled him, knocking him to the floor.

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

Lieutenant Goldman and Sergeant Anderson slowly walked towards Zeke’s hootch, where they were hoping to find a form without which the Army would apparently cease to function. They were in no particular hurry, not giving the matter at hand quite the importance Colonel Stringer had intended.

Zeke chuckled to himself, shaking his shaggy head. He thought back to those moments in the CPT.

After a ten-minute harangue from Colonel Stringer, during which they had each denied responsibility for the missing paperwork, Anderson had allowed that maybe he did have it. Stringer dismissed them gruffly, turning his back on them.

Once outside, Goldman turned to his sergeant, lighting up a cigarette and inhaling deeply. "You don’t have it, do you?"

"Nossir, I surely do not." Zeke grinned quickly at his L-T, blue eyes all beguiling innocence.

Goldman snorted, coughing on his cigarette smoke. He waved Zeke off as the sergeant moved to pat him on the back. "I’m okay, I’m okay," he managed to sputter, trying desperately to stop laughing long enough to breathe.

Zeke laughed openly himself. He hadn’t seen Goldman so much as crack a smile in weeks. Maybe the lieutenant was finally starting to find his way out from under his grief. He decided to push his luck. "L-T?"

Goldman, carefully breathing through his nose, swallowed convulsively. "Yeah, Zeke?" One hand on his chest, he tentatively drew in a deep breath, let it out with a sigh when he didn’t cough. He glanced at Anderson; saw the question in his face. "What?"

Anderson ducked his head, looking away for a moment, uncharacteristically thoughtful. "L-T? How’s about you and I kick back a few beers at the Team House tonight? The guys’ll be there, I know they’d appreciate ya comin’." He didn’t meet Goldman’s eyes, couldn’t bring himself to do so.

Zeke saw the younger man stiffen. Glancing up, he saw that sorrow mirrored briefly in those dark eyes before Myron looked away.

Cursing silently to himself, Zeke instantly regretted the invitation. "Never mind, L-T, just a thought." He took a few steps along the path, not looking back to see if Goldman was following. He heard the younger man sigh, and then light footsteps as he caught up to the sergeant.

"Sure, Anderson. Why not?" Goldman nodded, convincing himself as well as Zeke. The nods grew bigger. "Why not?"

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

Hockenbury jumped down the stairs, ignoring the commotion he could hear breaking out in the hootch behind him. He took a sharp right when his boots hit the gravel. He really had no idea where he was headed, but anywhere had to better than where he was. The mess hall wouldn’t be open for dinner yet, but with a little judicious hanging around, he could be first in line for chow.

The heat of the afternoon was starting to dissipate as a breeze blew across the camp. Hockenbury could feel the fading burn on his cheeks as the air moved across his face. He hated the betrayal of his skin, the transparency of his emotions evident even when he wanted to hide them.

Hands shoved deep in his pockets and his gaze on the ground, Doc would have plowed straight into Lieutenant Goldman and Zeke Anderson had not the sergeant loudly cleared his throat in warning. His grey-green eyes grew wide with dismay and he backed up a step, hands held up before him protectively.

"Aw man, sorry about that, L-T, Sarge!" Hockenbury’s too long hair fell into his eyes as he glanced away in embarrassment. He could feel both men watching him as he stood and fidgeted uncomfortably before them.

Zeke nodded. "Where ya goin’ in such an all-fired hurry?" He was bothered to see the medic roaming around on his own, knowing beyond all doubt that the lanky young man was running from something or somebody in his own hootch. The sergeant squared his shoulders, preparing to sort out whatever was going on. He glanced around, expecting to see Percell nearby.

Awash momentarily in Hockenbury's embarrassment, Goldman found himself watching the uneasy young man. He's looking for something, but what? He glanced briefly at Zeke, lightly shrugging his shoulders.

Hockenbury lowered his hands, running his fingers along the lanyard holding his peace sign. "Chow. I’m, ah, hungry." He sidled around the burly sergeant, not quite turning his back to him, but skirting the edge of politeness.

"Chow hall ain’t open yet," Zeke countered, blue eyes staring.

The young medic drew in a quick breath, looking over Anderson’s shoulder. Blowing it out again, he nodded. "I’ll wait." He stepped backwards, then spun on his heel and strode away.

"Now what was that all about?" Zeke wondered aloud. He and Goldman watched Hockenbury’s retreat until he disappeared around a corner.

Goldman shrugged. "Dunno, Sergeant." He glanced in the direction of his team’s hootch. "Percell still looking to Doc?"

Zeke raised an eyebrow, nodding slightly. "Is that such a bad thing, L-T?" The two men resumed their amble towards Anderson’s hootch.

"No, Doc’s been doing a good job of keeping him calmed down." Goldman took a long drag on his cigarette, held the smoke deep in his lungs.

Anderson shrugged. "Well, Doc sorta needed someone in his corner anyways, so it works both ways, L-T."

They continued on their way.

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

Sergeant Hall met him on the threshold of the dispensary, for all the world a father fulfilling the duties of fathers everywhere. His face was unreadable as McKay returned the sergeant’s salute, nodding in respect to the older man. He watched the young pilot haul off his cap, shoving his fingers unhurriedly through his hair and sliding a confident smile into place.

"Evening, Lieutenant. I assume you are here to see our new camp surgeon and are not in need of medical assistance?" He loomed several inches over the pilot, standing toe to toe with him for a long second before turning and walking back to his desk. Picking up his immense coffee mug, Hall took a long swig before lowering his bulk into the chair. The upholstery protested briefly and then fell silent.

McKay blinked slowly, suddenly feeling sixteen again. He almost expected his old red Mustang to be parked outside, engine idling noisily. He’d always been afraid to turn off the ignition when he picked up his young ladies, afraid the damn thing would quit and never start up again. He smiled, remembering the times he’d been stuck staring at the girl’s father, much as Hall was regarding him now.

At that moment, the door to Caz’s room swung open and she appeared, resigned gaze fixed on her dusty boots. She’d exchanged her OD t-shirt for blue scrubs with the logo of Johns Hopkins Medical Center on the breast pocket. At the firing range she’d explained to McKay that her assignment had taken her by surprise, literally. Walking out of the OR in Tan Son Nhut early that morning, she’d met her CO who’d informed her that her bags were packed and ready to go to Camp Barnett. Caz had grabbed some old scrubs from her locker on her way out to the helipad, but that was it as far as change of clothes went. It was OD, jungle utilities, or scrubs. No civvies.

"Sergeant, did you find that boot polish?" Cassidy stood on one leg, rubbing the toe of the boot on her opposite foot up and down the back of her calf.

In the silence that followed, McKay grinned in delight. In the pilot’s peripheral vision, Hall closed his eyes briefly, shaking his head.

Cassidy looked up, glancing at Hall before she realized that McKay was standing there. Her cheeks flushed red and she raised one wrist, twisting it to look at her watch.

"Early, ain’tcha?" One eyebrow inched up and she grinned suddenly, breaking the tension in the room. She took the proffered tin of polish and rag from Hall and dropped into the sergeant’s visitor’s chair. With no further hint of embarrassment, she quickly dusted off first one boot and then the other and applied a thin layer of black paste. Replacing the tin on the desk, she stretched her legs out in front of her and gazed at her footwear, waiting for it to dry enough to shine.

McKay relaxed, hitching his hip onto one of the examining tables before a warning glance from Hall had him moving to the counter instead. He flashed a quick grin in Hall’s direction. "Nobody cares if your boots are polished, Caz." He crossed his arms over his chest, watching her test the paste with the tip of her little finger.

"Well, flyboy, I care." Apparently satisfied with the set of the polish, she set about whipping the cloth over and around each boot, finishing up with the toes. With a contented sigh, she folded the rag carefully and set it on top of the tin.

Hall swept the paste and rag into his desk, slamming his drawer shut. He raised his dark gaze to the charismatic chopper jock, waiting for him to remark further. His eyes suggested that it might not be a good idea.

The young Lieutenant blinked again, still caught in the feeling that he was an adolescent, trying desperately to impress some girl’s dad. And failing miserably. Caz’s voice snapped him out of his reverie.

"So, Lieutenant John J. McKay, you ready?" She stood up, smoothing down the front of her pants with her palms. Her hair swung enticingly as she looked up at him and he swallowed hard, remembering another woman who used to smile up at him. A woman who had never been his despite his longing. Maybe his luck was changing.

"Yeah, Caz, yeah. Let’s go." He winked at Hall, resisting the urge to tell the man he’d have Caz home by curfew.

They stepped out into the half-light of dusk.

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

Caz stood at the base of the Team House steps, arms crossed over her chest and hands gripping her elbows in trepidation. Truth be told, she’d rather be facing a ruptured aortic aneurysm in the OR than a dusty thrown-together building in the middle of nowhere in which she’d be the only female. It seemed a little intimidating to be walking into a room full of young men, most of whom hadn’t seen a woman in months. Especially an American woman. Holy cow. Caz took a deep breath, swallowing hard, and looked up at the chopper jock, her features set in grim determination.

"Okay, Johnny, let’s do it."

"Jeez, Caz, you look like you’re about to face a firing squad!" McKay took one step up the stairs, stretching for the door handle and then moved back as he pulled the screen open, allowing her to precede him into the Team House. The young lieutenant let one hand rest gently between her shoulder blades, the worn, faded blue fabric of her scrub shirt smooth under his fingers. He’d been pleased to see she’d brushed out her ponytail into a smooth cap of dark, gold-shot hair that swung with every movement of her head. He watched it now as she walked ahead of him, her shoulders squarely resolute.

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

A haze of smoke hung in the room, further dimming the weak puddles of light cast by bare bulbs dangling from wires in the ceiling. A jukebox in the corner was pounding out a selection of rock and roll, although Caz would have been hard pressed to name the tune over the raucous din of the crowd. She hadn’t been noticed yet, probably because she was just too short to see. McKay guided her with a hand on her back, snaking her through the scattered tables and the milling men over to the bar.

"Johnny Boy!" A fireplug of a soldier practically tackled the pilot, knocking him sideways into Caz. "Oh, sorry, didn’t see the little lady there! Hi little lady!" He waggled nicotine-stained fingers in Caz’s face, leaning across his buddy in the process. Caz recoiled from the stale smell of beer, sweat and cigarettes wafting from the man’s stained and filthy uniform, suppressing the urge to cover her mouth and nose.

"That’s enough, Jonsey. Aren’t you flying in the morning?" Rolling his eyes for Caz’s benefit, Johnny turned his back to the man, effectively cutting him off at the pass. He tilted his head toward Caz’s ear, lowering the volume of his voice. "Gunship pilot. He’s supposed to be back at the base in Tan Son Nhut. Somehow he seems to get stuck here overnight at least once a week. Usually when he knows we’ve had a new beer delivery."

Caz nodded slowly, carefully keeping the young lieutenant between the drunken pilot and herself. She watched McKay order them a couple of beers, two fingers raised confidently to the E-3 tending bar that evening. His smile, engaging enough in the bright sunlight beating down on the firing range, was broad and relaxed, happy. She forced herself to follow his lead. After all, this was gonna be home for at least a short time.

"Um, ma’am? Excuse me, ma’am?"

The doctor turned to find a wall of earnest young men crowded around her in a semicircle, effectively trapping her at the bar. She backed up as far as she could, the edge of the wooden counter pressing against her uncomfortably. "Hi, um, guys. I’m Captain Cassidy, the new base surgeon?" Her voice squeaked awkwardly upward and she winced, greenish eyes closing briefly. The men laughed and pressed forward, the ice broken.

"I’m Charlie Meadows, Portland, Oregon." The skinny redheaded kid with the freckles.

"Sean O’Malley. Boston, Mass." Tall, pale skin with dark hair and bright blue eyes.

"Luke Harmon, New Bern, NC." Small kid, wiry.

Caz smiled. "New Bern? I drove through there once on the way to the Outer Banks." Her newest admirer blushed bright red as his buddies all elbowed him.

"Really, ma’am? Did you like it?" His face was bright, hopeful. Caz suddenly felt like a den mother to a group of unruly cub scouts. All those fragile young egos.

Caz looked him straight in the eye. "Dunno, it was dark. I was on a beer run. All I can remember is there were only two traffic lights." She took a step nearer to the chopper jock as the throng pushed closer, all wanting to tell her who they were, wanting her to make a connection with them. She dropped her voice to a whisper. "Johnny? Is there someplace we can go other than right here? Please?"

The bartender set down two beers and flipped off the tops with practiced snaps of his wrist. The caps went flying, skidding off the edge of the bar, and landed in a growing pile on the floor. The private tossed a bar towel at a spreading lake of beer on the uneven surface. A few men lifted their elbows as he mopped up the sticky fluid, then replaced them again on the bar. Caz grinned, despite her claustrophobia. This feels like college all over again!

McKay glanced down at her, then at the ring of flushed faces. "Okay, boys, let’s give the lady some breathing room." He narrowed his eyes meaningfully at the men, none of whom moved an inch. Quickly glancing around the room, the pilot spied Team Viking ensconced at a table in the far corner, Taylor holding court as usual.

Looping a protective arm around Caz’s shoulder, he drew her away from the bar, forcing his way through the crowd. "Come on, Caz, let’s go sit with Goldman’s men. I’ll tuck you in the corner and keep the hounds at bay." Threading between the tables, he approached the grunts of Team Viking with a high-wattage smile firmly in place.

"Who's Goldman?" Caz wasn't sure she could handle meeting any more men as Johnny continued to push his way through the throng, leading her with a hand on her wrist. She felt like a fish on a hook, trailing along behind the dark-haired lieutenant.

"Goldman?" Johnny paused, eyes darkening imperceptibly, and Caz swore that dazzling smile slipped for just a moment. "Lieutenant Myron Goldman, my hootchmate." He nodded in the direction of the table for which they were obviously aiming.

"Those are his guys, Team Viking. It will be a lot nicer over with them, honest."

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

Danny Percell glanced toward the bar just in time to see McKay’s rescue of the overwhelmed young captain. He felt Hockenbury’s elbow jostle him as the medic pulled out a pack of cigarettes and tossed them on the table.

"Hey, Doc! Looks like your girlfriend just arrived. An’ it looks like the L-T thinks maybe she’s HIS girlfriend." Percell shoved his teammate, knocking the lighter out of the man’s hands.

All the men of Team Viking turned to watch the pilot and Caz approach the table. All save one, Doc, who busied himself lighting his cigarette, ducking his head as if there were a stiff breeze blowing through the building. He glanced up from under the fringe of his hair and hissed at Danny.

"She’s NOT my girlfriend, for God’s sake!"

"Right, Doc, whatever you say." Percell stood with the rest of the men as McKay arrived at the table, stepping to one side and pulling Caz out from behind him as if he were a magician.

Hockenbury fumbled his lighter as he awkwardly climbed to his feet, dropping it to the floor. He quickly crouched down, retrieving it, and bumped the table as he stood up, knocking half the bottles over.

The men grabbed at their drinks, cursing and snarling at the hapless medic. He briefly considered making a run for the door when Cassidy spoke, her amused tone cutting through the voices.

"Hey, ya’ll, I’m Doctor Cassidy. Please don’t get up, see what happens when you try an’ be polite?" She looked directly at the lanky GI, recognizing him from that morning in the mess hall. She also remembered the coffee spilled all over the floor and was astute enough not to mention it.

Doc froze at her words, recognizing something he hadn’t caught this morning. A Southern accent. One of the Carolinas if he wasn’t mistaken. He smiled to himself, his eyes rising to meet hers, suddenly realizing that her smile was for him and not for the spilled beer all over the table. He looked quickly away, bringing his cigarette to his lips and taking a deep drag, his fingers not quite steady.

Taylor grabbed her hand, shaking it with enough gusto that Caz feared for her surgical career.

"Marcus Taylor, ma’am. At your service!" He pulled out the empty chair next to him, reaching for her elbow and seating her as if she were made of glass. She raised an eyebrow at him, obviously not expecting such treatment.

McKay rolled his eyes behind her head, wondering when he’d lost control of the situation. And the pretty little doctor. One minute he’d held her warm hand in his, the next she was seated next to Marcus Taylor. He grabbed a chair from a nearby table and quickly claimed the space to the captain’s left.

Caz took her beer from McKay, smiling her thanks at him. She took a long swallow, aware that the guys were watching her every move. "Ahhh, that’s, well, that’s just terrible! What is this stuff?" Turning the bottle in her hand, she peered at the label in the dimness.

The men laughed, relaxing back in their chairs, basking in the obvious envy of every other GI in the room. Shocked as they had been to see the pilot leading the pretty young doctor over to their table, they were even more amazed at the ease with which she had settled among them.

Grinning, Caz took another swig, holding the beer in her mouth and swishing it from cheek to cheek. She assumed a thoughtful expression, one eyebrow raised appraisingly. "I’m wonderin’ about the vintage of this particular swill, Tuesday, perhaps?" She swallowed, grimacing, and shivered elaborately.

Ruiz nodded his head approvingly. "Ma’am? I’m Alberto Ruiz, New York. The Bronx." He tapped the ashes from his cigarette, gesturing around the table with his free hand. "These are the other guys, you don’t need to know their names." He laughed as Percell kicked him under the table, turning sideways in his chair and crossing his legs. Taking a puff from the cigarette, he grinned at his buddies.

Percell shook his head. "I guess I gotta apologize for Roo’s manners, ma’am. I’m Danny Percell. I’m from Montana. And this is Doc Hockenbury." He threw an arm around the medic’s shoulders, almost hauling him from the chair.

Hockenbury yanked himself from Danny’s grasp, straightening his glasses and reclaiming his beer. He glanced up at Cassidy, looking quickly away again when he found her steady gaze on him.

She leaned her elbows on the table. "An’ where you from, Doc?"

He swallowed hastily, settling the beer on the table with a thump and picked up his cigarette. "Memphis, ma’am." His fingers played nervously with the c-rat can in front of him, spinning it slowly on the flat surface of the table.

Caz smiled. "Another Southerner! I’m from North Carolina, myself."

McKay watched the exchange with growing disbelief. "Hey, guys? What about that extraction last week, when you were pinned down by the river? Pretty hairy stuff."

He might as well have saved his breath. Taylor took over the table again, recounting a hilarious story involving Danny and Roo. McKay sighed heavily, picking up his beer and taking a large swallow. Glancing sideways at the young doctor, he sighed again, knowing it’d be a fight to get her attention back to him.

Hockenbury leaned back in his chair, his beer bottle held loosely in one hand and resting on his belly. He carefully positioned himself so that Danny was between himself and the captain. There was something about her, something that tugged at him, sent his pulse racing. He sighed, tipping his head back so the stream of cigarette smoke spiraled upward to the ceiling. Glancing back over Percell’s shoulder at Cassidy, the medic was shocked to find her watching him, and even more surprised to see the quick rise of color in her cheeks as she looked away.

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

Sergeant Anderson sat at the corner of the bar, shifting his weight to a more comfortable position on the stool. He idly wished for the hundredth time that the stools had cushions, knowing full well that any fabric would have rotted to threads fast in the jungle humidity. Picking up his beer, he gazed around the House, subconsciously keeping track of his men just as he would in the bush.

"Well now. L-T, looks like McKay’s found himself a new friend." Zeke gestured with his beer bottle before bringing it up to his mouth and tossing back half the contents.

Myron Goldman took another long drag of his cigarette, letting the smoke drift slowly from between his lips before he turned in the direction his sergeant had indicated. His dark eyes narrowed as a roar of laughter rose from Team Viking’s table and he found himself staring at the young woman. She was laughing too, apparently at ease in his squad’s company. Goldman winced, suddenly seeing not the doctor before him but Alex, Alex bantering with the guys. He turned abruptly away.

"L-T?" Concerned, Zeke nudged the lieutenant with his elbow. It had been Zeke's idea to bring Goldman to the Team House. Now he wasn't sure it was such a good one. "L-T?" he prompted again.

Goldman’s eyes cleared as he blinked a few times. Tapping an inch of ash off the end of his cigarette, Myron glanced briefly at his friend before reaching for his beer. "It's alright, Zeke."

Neither man saw Cassidy’s quizzical expression as she watched the two men at the bar. Nor did they see McKay’s worried eyes.

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

Caz dragged her attention back to the young men at the table. She’d looked away just for a moment, letting her gaze roam around the room, the tension she’d felt earlier lifting in the easy company of Team Viking. A set of eyes captured hers, eyes so dark the young captain shivered, suddenly cold in the warm muggy evening.

The young man seated at the bar had stared a moment longer, finally shaking his head and breaking the contact.

The surgeon dropped her gaze to the table, picking up her beer in confusion. She’d glimpsed an overwhelming sense of loss, sorrow and black hours of grinding pain. Glancing to her left, she caught McKay’s troubled expression, the broad smile conspicuously absent.

Pushing his chair back, the pilot reaching out and laid a hand gently on Caz’s shoulder. When she turned to him, he managed a grin, winking at her as he stood.

"I’ll be right back, Caz. Don’t you go anywhere." Turning abruptly, McKay weaved his way through the tables on his way to the bar, ignoring the greetings from various men scattered throughout the room. He never hesitated, walking straight up to the rail and pushing his way in next to Goldman.

Myron looked up at him, annoyed, yanking his arm out of the pool of beer spilled when Johnny had jostled his elbow. "Watch it, McKay." He flicked his wrist, sending sticky droplets flying from his fingers. A bar towel appeared in front of him and the lieutenant turned to see Anderson nodding, inclining his shaggy head toward the irrepressible pilot.

"They’ll let anybody in here, nowadays, L-T."

Goldman nodded, grimacing, and lit another cigarette. He dropped the lighter into his shirt pocket, carefully smoothing the flap closed.

Catching the bartender’s eye, McKay held up six fingers to order the next round for Team Viking’s table. He glanced over at Caz in the corner, imagining that he could almost make out her laughter in the overall noise of the place. Shaking his head, the chopper jock almost wished he hadn’t invited her to the House. Too many people, too much racket. With a sigh, McKay turned his attention to Goldman.

"Hey Myron, you and Anderson wanna come meet the new camp doc? She’s over there with your guys." McKay waved his hand toward the corner table, an indulgent smile sliding across his lips. When Goldman didn’t answer, he turned back to the man with a frown. "Myron?"

Goldman shook his head slightly, his gaze intent on the beer bottle in front of him as he carefully peeled the label off. "No thanks, McKay." His voice was low, with a light touch of warning in it.

The pilot plowed right ahead, ignoring his roommate’s implied signal. "Come on, she’d love to meet ya." He glanced over Goldman’s shoulder at Anderson, raising an eyebrow and gesturing toward the corner.

Myron took a deep breath, carefully tapping the ashes off the end of his cigarette. "I’m not interested, McKay." Tipping up his beer, he took a long swallow, setting the bottle back on the bar with a thump.

Anderson sighed, his eyes bright in the dim light of the bar. He looked across Goldman’s shoulders at the pilot, waiting for the reaction he knew was forthcoming. Knowing there was nothing on this earth that could stop it.

"You weren’t supposed to die with her, Myron."

Goldman glanced up, pinning McKay with a look of pure fury. Deliberately, he crushed out his cigarette and shoved himself off his seat. With one last icy glare, Myron pushed his way through the crowded room to get to the door, ignoring the annoyed looks from GI’s whose drinks he’d knocked from their hands.

"Christ," McKay flushed, looking at Anderson who said nothing, gazing at the bar, his blue eyes thoughtful. The bartender placed the round of beers on the counter with a clink. McKay stared at them for a long moment before finally making a decision. "Damn him," he muttered, gathering the beers in both arms.

Dodging a couple of guys who couldn’t get out of his way fast enough, Johnny finally pushed past and dropped the double handful of beer bottles on the table with a clatter. "Captain, if you’ll please excuse me for just a minute, there’s something I have to take care of right away."

"McKay? Everything okay?" Caz looked up at him, brushing the hair from her eyes and slipping it smoothly behind her ears.

"It will be, I hope." Johnny hesitated, clearly torn between saying the hell with Goldman and staying, and chasing after his angry hootchmate. He shoved a hand through his hair. "Guys, keep an eye on the lady here, okay? I’ll be right back!" And before anyone could say anything, Johnny was already threading his way through the crowd to the door.

The men of Team Viking stared at each other and then at Caz. They all turned startled looks to Anderson who was watching everything from his seat, still at the corner of the bar. He shifted his gaze from the door to his men and their guest. "Do as the L-T said, take care of the lady." He rose, taking his beer in one meaty fist and ambled to the door.

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

Johnny didn’t mean to slam the door back on the hinges as hard as he did, listening to the screen rebound against the side of the building. "Goldman, dammit, hold up, will ya?" He shouted at the other man’s retreating back.

Myron had paused long enough outside the Team House to light up another cigarette. He glanced up at McKay’s abrupt appearance, raising his head and narrowing his eyes. He simply wasn’t in the mood for McKay’s antics tonight. He wasn’t sure he would ever be in the mood for that matter. He waited until Johnny finally caught up to him and gave him an annoyed glare. "What is it, McKay?"

"Will you just ease up for a minute, Myron?" Johnny drew himself up in front of the other man. Myron was all rigid muscle, standing stiffly as he held the cigarette by his side. His eyes were dark and Johnny could clearly see the warning in them. McKay’d ignored it before; now he knew he’d better tread lightly.

Neither man saw Anderson standing in the door of the Team House, quietly watching.

"Myron, listen, I was outta line back there. I just wanted to say I’m sorry."

"Do us both a favor, will you McKay, and drop it?" Goldman held the cigarette to his lips, his fingers trembling with anger.

"Myron…" Hands held out from his sides, palm up.

"Listen, you want to make time with little miss who-ever-she-is back inside, you don’t need my permission or approval, McKay. Just don’t expect me to participate." Myron threw the rest of the cigarette on the ground and angrily crushed it out with the heel of his boot. "Just leave me alone, will you, for once?" Myron turned to leave.

"Look at you!" Johnny reached out and grabbed for Myron’s arm to keep him from going. "This isn’t what she would have wanted, for you to stop living!"

Goldman’s fury surged and he spun, ripping his arm from McKay’s grasp. "Alex is DEAD, McKay, and nothing you say is gonna change that."

"But you aren’t! Myron, for God sakes man!" McKay never knew when to let anything go, and he was in this all the way. "There are people here who care about you if you would just let them!"

"Enough, McKay, I’m not gonna listen to this! Do us both a favor and back off!" Myron glanced past Johnny and found Anderson watching the two of them. His eyes darkened to near black before he shook his head and turned away, heading for his quarters and away from the Team House. Away from his memories.

Johnny found himself simply standing there, at a complete loss. He looked up at Anderson who still stood watching from the doorway. The older man simply nodded his head, making it clear what he thought without a single word spoken.

You started this. Now go and finish it.

McKay stared at him for several long moments, bewildered. Finally making his decision, he nodded to the sergeant and set off after Goldman without another word.

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