Under the Gun
By Doc
© December 2002

Chapter Five

 
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)


Captain Cassidy sat at her desk behind a pile of charts, a frown drawing her eyebrows toward one another as she tried to decipher Monroe’s cramped handwriting. Part of the daily routine in the dispensary encompassed wound checks and suture removal. The ever-efficient Hall had left a list of the soldiers scheduled for that day along with their records stacked in Caz’s inbox and she was now trying to familiarize herself with their histories.

The sudden staccato clattering of a typewriter’s keys drowned out the low murmur of voices that had begun to fill the dispensary. Caz looked up, a faint smile crossing her lips. She wondered briefly how long a typewriter could stand up to Hall’s incessant pounding before falling apart in surrender. Picking up her coffee mug, Cassidy returned her attention to her patients’ histories.

A shadow passing the open door distracted Cassidy again, and she glanced up in time to catch Hockenbury’s surreptitious grin as he hurried by with an armload of clean linens. Finding herself smiling back at the empty doorway, Caz tucked her pen into the pocket of her white coat and closed the file. The young doctor shoved back her chair and stood, hands pressed against the small of her back as she stretched cramped muscles. Her t-shirt felt damp and sticky, even at this early hour, and she flapped her coat a few times in an effort to get the air circulating.

Picking up the files, Cassidy stepped through the door, realizing that Hockenbury had already brought in the first four patients and settled them on the gurneys. Pugh was seated on his stool in the window, his legs wrapped around the rungs, industriously writing down the complaint of a young black soldier who was holding the side of his face. Hall continued to assault his typewriter, the platen threatening to knock over his coffee mug on each carriage return.

Doc stepped up to her, an uncertain grin flitting about his face. "Ma’am, would you like me to take those charts?" His hands had been stuffed in his pockets and he hauled them out, shoving one through his overlong hair before reaching for the files. His eyes wouldn’t settle, his gaze darting from Hall to Pugh and back to Caz, pausing for only an instant.

Caz let him take them, not quite sure what to do with her own suddenly empty arms. She started to cross them over her chest, changing her mind and patted down her coat pockets, checking for her gear. Not since her first days as a medical student had she had empty pockets, slowly filling them with her "peripheral" brain, notes and lists and reminders.

Doc turned back to the row of gurneys, glancing at the labels, careful to drop the appropriate folder along with a blank chart page at the head of each bed. As Cassidy slowly followed, he ducked into the supply room, returning a few seconds later with several bottles of sterile water.

The first patient sat quietly on the edge of his gurney, head down, apparently studying his boots. Caz took the opportunity to size up the jagged laceration snaking across the man’s muscular bicep, matching it up mentally with the description from Monroe’s charting. O’Neal, hooked himself on a rusty nail. She stepped in front of him, clearing her throat.

"Specialist O’Neal?"

The young man looked up, a nervous grin finding its way across his homely face. A wide gap between his front teeth gave him the look of a wayward farm boy. His hands twisted his cap into a wad of olive drab material in his lap. "Yes, ma’am, I’m O’Neal."

Cassidy reached out, taking hold of his arm and rotated the man’s shoulder gently inward, studying the healing wound. The fingers of her right hand slid in between the fibers of the muscles just above his elbow, seeking the pulse. Satisfied, the doctor let her hand fall to his fingers, pressing each in turn and watching for the rapid return of color.

"Dr. Cassidy, ma’am?" Pugh’ voice rose as he turned on his stool, his head twisted almost backwards. He swallowed hard a few times as he waited for the young woman to acknowledge him.

Caz never looked up. "Yes, Pugh?" She waited a second, then went on with her exam.

"How’s the strength in this arm compared with the other? Any loss of sensation anywhere?"

O’Neal opened and closed his fist, bending his arm and flexing the bicep. He shook his head, shrugging wide shoulders. "No, ma’am, it feels fine."

"Pugh? You got a question?" Cassidy finally turned to him, eyebrows raised. "Pugh?"

The young medic gulped, finally finding his voice. "Oh, yeah, I mean, yes, ma’am. This private’s got a sore throat. Think I should put ‘im on penicillin?" His face slowly turned brick red, obscuring his freckles.

Hall paused in his typing, dark eyes rolling. He sat back in his chair, letting the doctor handle the rookie medic. He’d deal with him in his own way later. First late, now this nonsense.

Caz walked slowly over to the window, eyes narrowed and her expression disbelieving. She backhanded the sweat off her forehead and stood before Pugh with both hands on her hips. "Pugh? As I recollect, you saw at least five patients yesterday with sore throats. I think you gave ‘em antibiotics. Is there any reason why you’re askin’ me this now?" She shrugged, trying to smooth the edge from her words. She liked to think she was an understanding person, a reasonable person, nice even. But this is gonna chew up the whole morning if he keeps it up!

Pugh’s hands dropped to his lap, his fingers nervously lacing together. He saw Hockenbury from the corner of his eye, shaking his head, the light glinting off his glasses. The other patients had stopped their chatter and were watching him, too. Dammit! "Ah, well, no ma’am, except that he’s allergic to penicillin."

Hall sighed audibly, the air escaping his lungs in a long, drawn out whistle. Hockenbury ducked away, dropping to his knees in front of a cabinet, opening it and rummaging around inside. The patients all found other things to look at, suddenly interested in the ceiling, the floor, their fingernails.

Cassidy turned her head to one side, considering Pugh with a decidedly cold stare. "So, you’re askin’ me if you should put ‘im on penicillin?"

Pugh nodded.

"This soldier who’s allergic to penicillin?"

Pugh nodded again, squirming on the stool, knowing that his ploy to get Cassidy to talk to him was garnering him more attention than he’d ever wanted. And wishing fervently that the VC would launch a sapper attack right now!

Cassidy sighed, aware that the man was beyond embarrassment and that Hall would chew him out thoroughly later. "Just put him on EES." She spun on her heels, her coat billowing out behind her as she returned to O’Neal.

"EES, ma’am? What’s EES?" Pugh’s voice was oddly strangled.

Hockenbury, back at O’Neal’s bedside, cleared his throat. "Erythromycin, Pugh. It’s in the drawer."

Caz glanced sharply over at Doc, a hint of a smile tugging at the corners of her mouth. There’s more to him than meets the eye, she thought, allowing herself to really look at him for the first time that morning.

Hockenbury returned her stare for a few seconds, his eyes bright. He ignored Pugh fuming in the window as the man pawed through the drug drawer, didn’t see Hall’s long look from behind his typewriter. He finally dropped his gaze, reaching down to pick up an instrument and held it out to Caz, realizing belatedly that his hand wasn’t quite steady. "Pickups, ma’am?" His voice wasn’t quite steady either.

O’Neal shifted about on the gurney, clearly uncomfortable with Cassidy and the thought of having his sutures removed. He’d been glad for the delay caused by that idiot medic in the window, for God’s sake, even HE knew you couldn’t give penicillin to someone allergic to it, but now the doctor was back and about to mess with his arm.

Hockenbury closed his fingers around the pickups, laying his other hand softly on the nervous specialist’s shoulder, nodding to him as O’Neal met his eyes. "Jus’ relax. Won’t take but a couple a seconds. It’ll be jus’ fine."

Caz watched mesmerized for a moment, not quite able to hear Doc’s quiet murmurs. The GI’s anxious shifting and twitching gradually slowed and stopped and Caz blinked, looking across the table at Hockenbury who had already lifted his hand and was again holding the instrument out to her.

Cassidy shook her head once then nodded and let him slap the instrument into her palm. "Okay, how ‘bout some scissors?" With great effort, Caz managed to turn her focus to the job at hand, rapidly removing the sutures.

"Okay, O’Neal. It looks great. Healed nicely with no signs of infection. You can return to full duty…" Cassidy looked up at the GI as he hauled himself from the table. "…if you haven’t already."

O’Neal displayed his gap-toothed grin again as he unrolled his hat. "Thank you, ma’am." He practically trotted out of the dispensary, pulling his shirt on as he went.

Caz turned back to the chart to find Hockenbury had inserted a new blank page into it, readying it for today’s note.

"Dr. Cassidy, ma’am? I can write the procedure notes for you, if you want, an’ you can sign them all at the end of Sick Call."

Hockenbury didn’t wait for Caz’s answer. He leaned toward her, closing the gap between them and reached out carefully, removing her pen from her breast pocket. Doc waited for her to look up at him with those hazel eyes, knowing she would and found himself holding his breath in anticipation.

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

The two rapidly worked their way through the list, splitting up the patients according to their complexity. Hockenbury removed sutures, administered injections and cleaned up wounds, while Cassidy yanked a toenail, lanced a few abscesses and repaired the lip of a young man who had come to blows the night before in the Team House and had only realized the extent of his injury that morning when he’d sobered up.

As Doc cleaned up the debris, Cassidy mopped her forehead with her sleeves, thinking longingly of Hall’s stash of Coca-Cola in the little frig. She walked over to the window, gently laying one hand on Pugh’s shoulder. "How’s it going here?" Setting one booted foot on the first rung of the medic’s stool, she leaned over the counter, sticking her head out the window.

The remaining two soldiers in line looked up in surprise, rapidly regaining their composure enough to salute her. A Huey coming in for a landing drowned out anything they might have said, dust billowing between the buildings with a rush of warm, humid air.

Pugh felt his cheeks growing hot, his gaze trailing down her back to her rear, right at eye level as she perched on the stool. Looking up slightly, he suddenly realized that both Hockenbury and Hall were glaring at him, the former with an odd, shuttered expression on his face, the sergeant with undisguised annoyance. He jumped to his feet, nearly knocking Cassidy to the floor.

"Oh, sorry, ma’am!" He grabbed her elbow, steadying her as she found her balance.

"It’s okay, Pugh, I’m okay." Caz pulled her arm from his grasp as she straightened up. "What’s going on with this guy?" She nodded her head towards the man waiting in the window.

Pugh blinked, totally forgetting what the GI had said. He looked at the man blankly, eyes growing wide.

Holding up his arm, the soldier pointed to the ugly red rash covering his skin, a grin plastered on his face at the medic’s flustered appearance. He mimed scratching at it and Pugh suddenly remembered.

"He’s got a rash ma’am, an itchy one!"

Caz sighed, hoping that the young man would get over his shyness around her and start using his brain again. "You know the universal protocol for rashes, don’t you, Pugh?"

Pugh flushed again, shaking his head. Hall dropped any pretense of working and stood, picking up his mug on his way to the coffee urn. Hockenbury leaned against a gurney, idly wondering just how much deeper Pugh could sink.

With a smile at Doc, Caz propped an elbow on the counter, sliding her other hand deeply into her pocket. "Okay, here it is. An’ maybe you should write this down, Pugh." She waited while he scrambled to find a blank piece of paper and a pen, drumming her fingers on the wooden desktop.

"Okay, ma’am, I’m ready." Pugh stared at his paper, pen poised.

Caz stifled a laugh. She dropped her voice to a conspiratorial whisper that was nonetheless audible to all the medics plus the patient. "The universal protocol for rashes is…" She paused, forcing a serious expression on her face. "…is…"

Pugh looked up, lower lip firmly caught between his teeth.

"…is this. Number one: if it’s wet, dry it. Number two: if it’s dry, wet it. And Pugh?" Caz waited until he finished scribbling. "Number three is: Don’t EVER, EVER touch it!"

Caz couldn’t stop the grin from spreading across her face. She turned away from the window, unable to control her laughter and found Hockenbury and Hall already snickering, not even trying to hide it. Behind her she could hear the patient slapping his knees as he doubled over chuckling.

Pugh stood, rooted to the floor, his face and neck beet red. After a long moment, he finally decided to join in, figuring if nothing else, he wasn’t a bad sport.

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

Pugh closed his window, sliding the bolts home with a sharp snap. He surveyed his counter in dismay; his paperwork was a mess, the medications in their trays were all mixed up, and somehow a tube of some gooey ointment was spilling its contents in a gelatinous mass that appeared to be moving on its own. He wiped his forehead with his sleeve, his blotchy freckles standing out against his pale skin.

The big sergeant was back behind his typewriter, fairly humming along with his own industriousness. He liked his clinic run efficiently, not to mention neatly. He glanced up at Pugh, shaking his head sadly. That boy and I are gonna have us a talk.

Hockenbury slid the last of the procedure notes in front of Cassidy, watching her scratch an illegible signature across the bottom. As she dropped the pen on the exam table with a sigh, he slipped the note into its chart, checking the name one last time before he closed the cover. "That’s it, ma’am, the last one." Doc stacked the charts and tossed them into Hall’s inbox, earning himself a glare from the sergeant.

"Hey, Hockenbury. Nice work this morning. I think we made quite a team." Caz had sauntered over to the frig, pulling out two Cokes. She held a can to each temple, closing her eyes in mock relief. "Damn, that feels good." Opening one eye, Caz watched Doc approach, his hands stuffed in his pockets and a silly grin on his face. She offered him a can, wiping the condensation from her face on the shoulder of her coat.

Doc took it, pulling a church key from one pocket. "Thanks very much, ma’am." He opened both sodas and held out his can, clinking it on hers, before tossing back a long swallow.

Caz raised her own icy beverage slowly to her lips, watching him from the corner of her eye. Man, it’s hot in here!

Shouts could be heard faintly in the distance, growing louder with each passing second. Suddenly the screen door flew open and a young GI ran in, his eyes wide, face pale.

"Jenkins got stung! He says he’s allergic! I think he’s gonna die!" The kid ran out again, returning rapidly with three other men, two of whom were supporting the third between them. The third man was gasping for air, each inhalation a whistling, ineffective effort, despite his heaving chest. His eyes were rolling up in his head, appearing almost entirely white.

Cassidy and Hockenbury instantly dropped their Cokes in the trash, running to grab the man, hauling him across the nearest gurney.

"Pugh, I need an amp of Epi now!" Caz leaned all her weight on one of the man’s flailing arms, pinning it to the table while she unlooped her stethoscope from her neck, jamming the earpieces in her ears and trying desperately to listen to the man’s lungs.

Pugh stood dumbly at the counter, frozen in place, his mouth hanging open and eyes wide. He couldn’t seem to find his feet, let alone make them move. He knew Dr. Cassidy was shouting at him, but he’d be damned if he knew what it was she wanted.

"PUGH! EPI! NOW!" Caz’s voice cut through his stupor, galvanizing him into action. Spinning back to the counter, he dumped out tray after tray of medications, looking for epinephrine.

Doc glanced at Pugh, cursed and threw himself across the room for the crash cart. "Sit on him!" He shouted at the man’s buddies, hoping they were helping Caz keep the man from thrashing off the table.

Hauling open the top drawer, Doc quickly located the epinephrine and grabbed a pre-loaded syringe, shoving the entire cart towards the gurney, almost colliding with Hall. He tossed the drug to the big sergeant, steering around him to the head of the bed.

Hall slammed the syringe into Jenkin’s bicep, not taking the time to clean the site or even warn the man. It seemed he was almost beyond caring anyway, his struggles gradually growing more ineffectual, his breathing shallow and stridorous. Hall looked across the table at Cassidy as she moved to intercept Hockenbury.

Doc knelt, cranking open the valve on the oxygen bottle and adjusting the flow. Pulling a mask out of the cart, he carefully fitted it over the man’s face, and looked up as Cassidy leaned over to speak directly into his ear.

"Intubation kit, please. Just have it ready." She patted Doc’s arm as she turned back to the patient, peeling back each eyelid in turn and shining a penlight into his pupils. "Sergeant, start an IV and hang a liter of normal saline. Wide open to start with."

Hall nodded and hurried off to collect what he needed, glaring at Pugh who was still glued to the floor by the window. "Pugh, get your sorry butt over there and learn something, why don’t you?" He nudged the man in the shoulder, none too gently, and walked away.

Pugh slowly unwrapped his arms from around his chest. He hadn’t realized how tightly he’d knotted himself up until he felt the ache in his muscles. Taking a deep breath, Pugh haltingly walked to the head of the gurney, forcing himself to watch Hockenbury wrapping the blood pressure cuff around the man’s arm as he took his vital signs. Forced himself to watch Hall start the IV on the first try and set up the bag of saline on a pole, tearing off strips of tape with his teeth to secure the tubing.

"Pugh?" Cassidy’s voice made him jump and she reached out, catching him by the elbow. "Pugh? Ya notice how he’s calmed down? How his breathing is slower an’ not so noisy? Now’s the time to take your own pulse an’ think a little. Can you get me some diphenhydramine, 50mg IV, an’ some prednisone? I need it piggybacked onto the IV. Can you get that, please? It’s all in the drug cabinet, alphabetically."

Hockenbury watched her handle the kid, felt her sympathy for Pugh’s case of nerves tempered by the edge of irritation that he’d let them down when they needed him. He knew Pugh would never realize that she’d been angry, only remember how nice she’d been to involve him at all, if only after the crisis had been averted. Hall was another matter. Hall would rip him a new one.

Cassidy straightened up, looping her ‘scope around her neck. Taking one of the soldier’s hands into her own, she squeezed the nail beds hard, watching the rapid return of color. She let her breath out slowly, not wanting Jenkins to see her sigh with relief, knowing a confident attitude went a long ways towards keeping everyone calm. Everyone including the medical personnel.

Anaphylactic shock, the granddaddy of allergic reactions, was always frightening and even though Caz had seen it dozens of times, the speed with which it took down its victim was impressive. She looked up as Pugh hung two small bags onto the IV pole, carefully setting them up to run into the saline. He’ll be okay if he doesn’t kill anybody. She shivered and shoved her hands into her pockets, turning to address the patient’s buddies who still hovered over the bed, ready to spring into action.

"Come on over here, guys, he’s gonna be okay." She motioned them away from the gurney, the three reluctantly leaving their friend. "What was it, did ya’ll see?"

"Oh, it was a bee or somethin’ like that, somethin’ flyin’."

"There was a nest of ‘em, in the ground, he hit it with a shovel."

"They swarmed over his arm, he couldn’t shake ‘em loose."

The three men huddled together, looking over Cassidy’s shoulder at the man on the gurney, not quite believing her that he would be okay. They’d seen him practically stop breathing, his lips turning blue, his arms wind-milling in his anxious efforts to haul air into his lungs.

Caz smiled, herding them before her towards the door. "Well, he’s gonna be just fine. Why don’t ya’ll tell your sergeant what happened before he comes lookin’ for ya? REALLY, he’s fine." She held the screen, shooing them out and down the steps.

Turning back to the room, Cassidy sized up the situation. Hall was back at his desk, staring at the stack of charts in his in-box but making no effort to pick them up, his jaw clenched tightly. Pugh stood at the bedside, hands still shaking, messing with the IV line. At a soft word from Doc, he froze, his arms falling to his sides.

Hockenbury had one hand on the patient’s shoulder, talking easily to him, conversationally. Caz moved closer, hitching herself up on the next gurney over, her hands resting loosely in her lap.

Doc went on. "So the oxygen will just keep ev’rythin’ flushed out in your lungs, so ya won’t feel like you’re drownin’. Breathin’ easier now?" At the man’s nod he went on, carefully adjusting the mask and running a quick glance down the IV tubing. "Ya just need to rest now, let the meds take effect. The lady doc knows what she’s doin’, man, she’s the best. Just take a nap. I’ll let ya know if the war ends or anythin’." He smiled and looked up, straight into Caz’s hazel eyes.

Caz sat there, letting Hockenbury’s soothing words flow over her like cool rain on a hot day. Wouldn’t it be nice to have that voice be the last thing you hear every night before you fall asleep? Her eyes snapped open wide when she realized the medic was studying her, his lips twitching into a half smile. She cleared her throat noisily and jumped to the floor, her face growing hot.

"Listen, Pugh. We gotta talk about this a bit. You know what anaphylaxis is?" Cassidy turned her attention to the hapless newbie, shying away from her tangled thoughts concerning Hockenbury.

Pugh squirmed, his gaze on the floor. "I know we went over it in school, but I’m sorry, I can’t remember." He seemed to find his boots fascinating.

Caz sighed. "Okay. When somebody gets bit by somethin’ they’re allergic to, their body starts off an immune response. It sends cells to do stuff, like, well, repair damage to the skin, or attack the toxin from the bite. If you’re allergic, it goes crazy, sending WAY too many cells. An’ all those cells cause swelling. In this gentleman’s case, it ‘bout closed off his trachea. So the first thing we take care of is A. Airway. Always." She glanced at Hockenbury, his lanky frame draped over the crash cart.

"So we did a few things for airway. One, oxygen. Two, got an intubation set ready in case he lost that airway. And three, we gave him epinephrine, which relaxes smooth muscles among other things, especially in the lungs an’ opens up the ole breathin’ tubes."

Hall filled his coffee mug, watching Pugh out of the corner of his eye and hoping that the young man was listening. He added cream and sugar, stirring it as he joined his staff.

"Okay, A is for airway, B is for breathing, we did those things. C is for circulation. Why is that important here, Pugh?" Caz waited, hoping the kid would start thinking again.

Pugh shook his head, chewing on his lip. He crossed his arms tightly across his chest, refusing to look at Hall or Hockenbury.

"Well, all those cells the body is throwing at the bee sting have to come from somewhere. They come from inside cells an’ from the blood supply. So now you’re suckin’ ev’rythin’ dry."

Hockenbury cleared his throat. "Third spacing."

Caz raised an eyebrow, startled, and grinned at him, amused by the color flooding his cheeks. "Absolutely. Ya got three spaces. Inside your cells, inside your arteries and veins, and the third space is where those things ain’t. So if ya lose fluid from your blood, what’s gonna happen?"

Pugh thought for a long moment and finally got his brain in gear. "You lose blood pressure?"

"Bingo! So we start an IV an’ hang fluids to replace that fluid an’ bring the BP back up. Then it’s just a matter of stopping the immune system from goin’ crazy. Antihistamines to block, well, histamine formation, an’ prednisone to calm ev’rythin’ down. That’s it, Pugh, if ya just think about it, it all makes sense. But even if ya can’t think, ya still need to know what to do. You’ll do fine next time, I bet."

Pugh nodded, the bright flush he’d worn for the last twenty minutes fading slowly away. He turned back to his counter, surveying the mess he still needed to clean up.

Hall walked up to Cassidy, leaning down from his vast height to whisper in her ear. "Nice lecture, ma’am. Probably a little more effective than what I have planned for him." He glanced over at Hockenbury who was talking in a low voice to the patient as he adjusted the IV flow and allowed a small smile of satisfaction slip onto his face. "Now that one, he’s special, one of a kind. Out in the bush? There’s none better. I hear it all the time from the men he’s patched up. He’s got no fear." He fell silent, then wandered away, leaving her standing there, hands shoved into her coat pockets, eyes narrowed thoughtfully.

"Dr. Cassidy?"

Caz jumped, startled to find Hockenbury right behind her, his breath warm on the back of her neck. She turned, stepping back half a pace so she could look up at him without getting a crick in her neck. "Yes, Doc?"

He ducked his head, his hair falling in his eyes, appreciating that she had called him by what he’d come to look on as his first name. "Are we gonna ship ‘im out?" He crooked his thumb at Jenkins, who had gotten relaxed enough to ask for a pillow.

"Nah, we’ll just keep him here for a few more hours, make sure his vitals are steady. What was his last BP?"

Doc glanced down at his forearm where he’d written each set of numbers. "120/70. Can’t complain ‘bout that."

Cassidy nodded, reaching up to grab the ends of her stethoscope, sliding the tubing back and forth across the back of her neck. "Listen, Doc? Nice job. You and Hall, well, that’s the way it’s supposed to work." She glanced at Pugh, shrugging her slim shoulders. "He’ll learn, I reckon."

"Hockenbury? Chow time for you. You, too, if you want, Dr. Cassidy. I’ll take first watch with Jenkins, here." Hall walked slowly around the dispensary, taking his time as he eyed Pugh still trying to make sense of his counter, checking on the patient. Coming to a stop in front of Caz and Doc, he rested huge fists on his hips, looking down at them.

Cassidy shook her head. On the one hand she’d love nothing better than to head out to lunch with the lanky medic. On the other, she knew she’d do no such thing. "I think I’ll keep an eye on him, myself, Hall, but I appreciate the offer. You go on." She scooped up the unused intubation tray and dumped it on an empty gurney, sorting out its contents, trying to look totally engrossed.

Hall shrugged, reaching for his hat on the peg by the door. "Thank you, ma’am. Pugh? Won’t you join me?" He waited pointedly, holding the screen for the kid as he scooted down the steps.

Hockenbury stood there a moment longer, wanting to stay, knowing he had to go. He shoved one hand in his pocket. "Dr. Cassidy?"

Caz looked over her shoulder at him, saw in his face that he was just as flustered as she was.

He walked slowly toward her, holding something in his outstretched hand. "Your pen, ma’am?" His voice was oddly husky and he cleared his throat, feeling about fifteen again. Before she could take it from him, he leaned close, reaching out smoothly and slipped it into her pocket. Grinning suddenly, he tossed off a half-salute/half-wave and practically ran to the door, shoving through it and jumping down the steps.

Her fingers slowly rising to touch the pen, Cassidy felt an answering smile pulling at her cheeks. A smile that grew until she found herself laughing, alone in the dispensary with the sleeping patient.

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

As the sky slowly darkened, Caz wandered back to the hospital, her shadow stretching before her across the compound. Dinner had been uninspiring and she found herself dragging her feet at the thought of an evening spent alone in her tiny cell of a room. Nights at Walter Reed Army Hospital tended to be rowdy affairs, with young doctors prowling the halls in search of fun at the expense of their fellow interns. Once that internship year was over, though, responsibility descended like a ton of bricks. Caz sighed, wishing she had somebody to talk to.

Climbing the stairs to the dispensary, she paused on the top step, turning to watch the camp change from day duty to evening diversions. Several knots of soldiers passed by on their way to the Team House, laughing and knocking into each other like litters of puppies. A few threw salutes her way, most did not. Caz returned the few, ignored the rest. She sighed, stretching her arms out wide as she yawned, then turned and entered the hospital. She didn’t see Team Viking on their way back to their hootch from chow, nor Hockenbury’s sidelong glances.

Walking into her tiny glass-walled office, she flopped into the aging swivel chair, turning it around to face the sagging bookshelf. Arms folded across her chest, she checked out Monroe’s selection of books. Most of the more current texts on trauma and combat medicine were placed neatly next to old issues of Playboy. She snorted, pulling out the latest issue of New England Journal of Medicine (only three months out of date) and leaned back in her chair, placing her booted feet on the desk.

She listlessly turned the pages, unable to find an article that could hold her wandering attention. The gooseneck lamp seemed overly bright against the slick white pages and she found herself squinting at the small type. The warmth of the evening didn’t make it any easier to concentrate and her head nodded on more than one occasion. And every time she closed her eyes, Cassidy saw Team Viking’s medic, smiling eyes behind gold-rimmed glasses.

After a few moments, Caz got up to turn on the radio. Sitting back at the desk, charts spread out around her, Caz positioned herself so that she could see out the open door. The shadowy movements of men passing by outside were projected on the clinic walls. Within minutes, head pillowed on her arms, Captain Cassidy was sound asleep.

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

Spec 4 Hockenbury, after trying to get interested in the card game going on in Team Viking’s hootch, instead found himself wandering the compound. If anything, he was feeling even more alienated than the night before. The guys had quit heckling him about the new captain, but he wasn’t sure if it was because they were too tired after filling sandbags all day or because he refused to rise to the bait. He himself felt strange that he wasn’t talking trash with them. After all, that was about the only social interaction he got these days.

He lit a cigarette and dropped his butt on a wall of sandbags near the showers. The night was cool and clear, the breeze lifting his spirits to some extent. Hockenbury had enjoyed his stint in the dispensary during Sick Call this morning. Captain Cassidy touched some part of him that he’d buried since his long-time girlfriend back home had dumped him over the phone on Thanksgiving. That day he’d tried to find solace among the prostitutes in town, but found he was too old-fashioned to walk the walk. So the young medic had plowed under his loneliness and tried to find acceptance with Team Viking, knowing that they would never embrace him one hundred percent.

Hockenbury took a deep drag on his cigarette. He thought about the young doctor, and the glimpse of her he’d caught on the way back from chow. She’d been standing on the steps of the hospital, stretching. Her long white coat had chosen that moment to billow around her, revealing a tight green t-shirt-clad chest that had taken his breath away. He sighed, blowing the smoke from his lungs out in a long plume that rose thinly, dissipating rapidly in the night air.

"Hockenbury?"

Doc looked up in the twilight. Lieutenant Goldman stood before him, features hidden in the shadows. Hockenbury’s spirits wobbled. Just his luck, his prickly L-T had ferreted him out.

"L-T." The young medic dropped his gaze to the ground and kept it there. He stubbed out the cigarette quickly.

Goldman looked carefully at his medic. He often found himself watching him. In many ways, Hockenbury was like so many other English majors he had known in college. But here in Vietnam, that didn’t seem to count for much. Goldman sighed, considering the fact that he had run into his medic two days in a row, alone and thoughtful. Myron himself avoided inward introspection these days and didn’t want to see it in anyone else. "Is there a problem? Guys giving you a hard time?"

"Well, L-T, guess I just got a little tired of cards an’ guys cleanin’ weapons. Wanted a little fresh air. Sir." Hockenbury looked at him from under the cover of his too-long hair. He watched the other man’s eyes darken in the gathering night. Watched the carefully guarded emotions warring in those eyes, something Goldman never intentionally allowed anyone to see. Doc wondered fleetingly if the lieutenant was even aware of it.

Hockenbury had not known him before Alex Devlin’s death. But Myron’s pain sang across the back of Doc’s thoughts almost constantly. Doc felt the man’s refusal to acknowledge her loss, felt his efforts to block feeling anything at all. The medic knew that he made Goldman uneasy, that somehow the man was aware of the glimpses and flashes of insight he inadvertently offered up to Hockenbury.

Doc was at a loss as to how to reach him, and the medic in him struggled to keep trying to connect. Maybe it was nothing more than wishful thinking, but Doc wanted to believe that he could one day get past Goldman’s defenses.

But it wasn’t going to be tonight.

Goldman drew in a deep breath, slowly blowing it back out. He caught the frustration and the regret in those odd gray-green eyes before the medic finally glanced away. "Make sure you get enough sleep tonight." Myron then walked off, fatigue washing over him suddenly.

"You too, L-T," the medic’s voice replied softly behind him.

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