|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)
An hour later found Hockenbury standing at the foot of the clinic steps, hands jammed deeply in his pockets, brow furrowed. He had every legitimate reason in the world to be here. After all, wasnít the dispensary open in the evenings, manned by each of the medics and the base doctor in rotation? If he had some question on field medicine, this would be the place to ask it. Especially when the MD was on call. Especially when the MD made his heart race and his knees feel weak. Doc quickly ascended the steps, before his courage deserted him.
The main dispensary was empty, the four examining tables neatly rowed up, covered in starched white sheets. Hockenbury brushed his fingertips over the rough fabric as he passed, booted steps light as he maintained noise discipline without even realizing it. The electric lanterns in the room were dim, just enough illumination to allow the on-call medic to perform routine exams without making the little building stand out like Christmas in Times Square. On night duty, Hockenbury tended to gravitate toward the tiny windowless inner office of the base surgeon where he could read under the high-wattage desk lamp. He assumed thatís where he would find Captain Cassidy. As he approached the door, he could hear the soft music squeaking from the radio.
Hockenbury leaned his head to the side, trying to see into the room before he got to it. Maybe if he changed his mind and she didnít see him, he could retreat in dignity. As the desk came into view, the medic saw Captain Cassidy; head pillowed on her arm, piles of books and charts around her. He stopped, studying her. One of her arms was outstretched, the slender fingers with the nails cut short resting across a chart. The pen he had borrowed that morning was underneath her palm. He smiled, remembering the electricity he had felt as he slid the pen from her pocket, feeling the resistance against her body.
Doc moved quietly into the office, subconsciously muting his movements so as not to disturb the air currents, and sat gingerly down on the old rickety office chair across the desk from her. He cleared his throat softly, and then shuffled his feet. Caz mumbled something he didnít catch, shifting her head from side to side briefly before settling her cheek back into the crook of her elbow. Hockenbury studied her books for a moment, wondering how to proceed.
"Captain? Oh, Captain?" Hockenburyís voice was scarcely above a whisper. Dr. Cassidy shifted in her chair, stretching her arm out and knocking the pen to the floor. He bent to retrieve it as she sat up, yawning, running her fingers through her hair.
"Who? Oh, Hockenbury, itís you." Caz jumped, startled, eyes wide with surprise, as his head came back into view. He held up the pen, rolled it over the desk to her. She stopped it with one hand, while she covered a yawn with the other. "Sorry, I guess I was more tired than I thought."
"Oh, itís okay." Hockenbury mentally kicked himself around the camp. He wished he had planned some witty conversation but the truth be told, he just knew he had to see her and hadnít given a thought as to what he would say. Shifting uncomfortably in his seat, Doc tried to assume a casual yet professional posture. He failed miserably, finally giving up and resting one booted foot on the opposite knee.
Caz was stunned to see the medic before her. In fact, she had been dreaming about him and to see the actual man sitting across the desk had taken away all conscious thought. She fidgeted with the pen, finally dropping it. She opened and closed one of the charts, smoothing its cover with the side of her hand.
A few moments passed. The two just stared at each other. They each noted the otherís weird hazel eyes, his more grey than green, hers more green then grey. Caz studied his mouth as it twitched into a smile. Doc watched Cazís full lips turn into a lop-sided little grin. The silence stretched on, but neither seemed too anxious to end it.
Finally Hockenbury glanced down at the blotter, taking in all the paperwork strewn about. "Busy?"
The radio played on. Eventually Hockenbury felt his heart and respiratory rates fall into the normal range and relaxed into his chair. He uncrossed his legs, leaning forward to rest his arms on the desk. "So how come youíre so comfortable around medics?"
Caz let out her own breath. "Well, Specialist Hockenbury, how Ďbout Ďcause I trained Ďem during my internship? The Army required us to not have any free time whatsoever." She smiled mischievously at him.
Doc smiled back, considering what sorts of things she might do in her free time. If she had any, that is. And was willing to spend it with him. "Howíd ya end up in the Army?" Reaching out, he picked up the pen.
Caz watched her pen as it spun between his fingers. "Well, Ďbout five years ago I had a diploma with the ink barely dry aní a headache Ďbout how to pay for med school. I was lucky enough to get selected for the military medical school. I graduated a year ago aní did a trauma surgery internship at Walter Reed. Now theyíre having a shortage of doctors, both in the military aní back home. So docs with experience are being sent all over the world. I got lucky enough to come here." She gestured grandly around the room, a wry grin tugging at the corners of her mouth.
Hockenbury chuckled. "Well, I guess all that teachiní aní traininí would make you real familiar with my equipment." He blushed to the roots of his hair as he realized what heíd said, his hands coming up to cover his face. "My medical kit, I mean, my, ah hell!" He took a deep breath and chanced a look at Caz.
She had her head down and her shoulders were heaving. What he could see of her face was bright red with the effort of keeping her composure. Hockenbury reached out and gently touched her hand, causing her to explode with laughter.
"Iím sorry, Doc, really I am! But thatís exactly the sort of thing I would say!" She pushed back from the table, holding her ribs, tears rolling down her cheeks.
Doc had no choice but to join in and they laughed together for several minutes. Finally, breathless, Caz stood and stretched, reminding Hockenbury of that moment on the steps. His chuckles died in his throat and he looked wildly around the room, anywhere but Cazís body. The captain didnít notice his discomfiture and sighed in contentment.
"Hey, Hockenbury, Iíve got a good book here for you. Itís the latest thing on field medicine, let me see." Cazís voice trailed off as she pulled a battered canvas briefcase from the bottom shelf of the bookcase. She flipped it open, pawing through the contents. Pulling out small items, she tossed them on the desk. A pair of dice followed a tiny stuffed bear. A pack of gum and a battered reflex hammer joined the debris.
Doc watched with fascination, his eyes intent on the growing pile of junk.
"Here it is!" Caz held aloft a small, pocket-sized book and handed it to him. Holding the open briefcase up to the edge of the desk, she swept the trinkets inside and dropped the case unceremoniously on the floor with a thud. The contents shifted and it fell on its side emitting a loud squeak from somewhere within.
The book was about the size of two decks of cards laid side-by-side and fit comfortably in the palm of Hockenburyís hand. He rubbed its soft leather cover and opened it. Across the inside flyleaf was written J. Cassidy.
"Whatís the J for?" he asked, sliding long gentle fingers over the writing. When she didnít answer he glanced up at her.
Caz was watching his hands as he turned the book over. Feeling his gaze on her, she looked up guiltily.
"Whatís the J for?" Hockenbury held up the book, pointing. He was amused to have caught her looking at him and didnít feel quite so guilty about his covert glances at her chest.
"Oh, thatís for my first name," she said dismissively and Doc knew he wasnít getting it out of her.
"Oh really? Your first name?" He raised an eyebrow at her, smiled and checked out the table of contents.
"Looks useful." He started to hand it back to her, but Caz reached out and pushed it back at him. Her fingers lingered on the smooth leather, and then abruptly the young doctor pulled her hand back.
"No, keep it and take a look at it. Tell me if you think itís helpful in the field. I loved it in the ER, but that doesnít mean it will be of much use to medics. Consider it a little research project for me." She raised her gaze from the book to his eyes, shrugging lightly.
"Okay, Captain." He slid it into his breast pocket. And blushed again, thinking about that damn pen and Cazís pocket. The weight of the book against his chest was comforting, steadying his racing pulse. Doc patted his hand over it.
Caz was sitting back in her seat, studying him, her face serious. Doc suddenly felt heíd done something wrong and his heart sank.
"Anything wrong, maí, ah, Captain?" He mentally kicked himself to Saigon and back.
"Yeah." She paused. "I donít like you calliní me Captain. I wish you could call me Caz. But I know thatís just not gonna fly around here. And I dunno what to think about that." She swallowed, looking away from him.
Hockenbury thought he detected a very fine tremor in her facial muscles, in her hands. Now whoís more nervous? He absently patted the book in his pocket.
"Well, how about Captain Caz? If truth be told, Iím not really much for military rules, myself. But Iíll follow Ďem for you, CAZ." Hockenbury stood, stretched and finally saluted elaborately.
"I gotta mission in the mornin' aní I gotta get to bed before Iím AWOL. But, Caz, MAíAM, may I have your permission to come by an' discuss medicine with ya again sometime?" He held the salute.
Caz looked at him, shaking her head. The corners of her mouth turned up and she smiled. "You may come by anytime to discuss anything, Specialist. Maybe weíll talk about comparative anatomy sometime." Caz boldly held his gaze, refusing to acknowledge the blush she knew was spreading across her cheeks. She returned his salute and they dropped their arms.
Hockenbury grinned back. "Yes, maíam!" He leaned across the desk, eyes locked on hers. Reaching carefully, he slid the pen back into her pocket. He spun on his heels and vanished silently down the hall. Caz collapsed into her chair, her head in her hands.
*** *** *** *** *** ***
Caz wandered out of the mess tent, blowing gently across the steaming surface of her coffee. She held the mug gingerly between her palms, trying not to burn her fingers, knowing a doctor without the use of her hands wouldnít be very useful to anyone. And she wasnít about to let Hall know that she hated his coffee. The early morning chill was rapidly dissipating, the rising sun burning off the fog.
Meandering slowly across the camp to the dispensary, Dr. Cassidy rounded a corner and almost ran smack into Lieutenant McKay, flight helmet under one arm, gloves dangling from the other hand. She quickly held the coffee mug away from her body, narrowly avoiding spilling it over her white lab coat. Laughing, she looked up into his face.
McKay smiled down at her. "Caz, good morning! Thanks for the joe!" He stuffed his gloves into his helmet and took the mug from her. Taking a huge swallow, he grimaced as it went down. "Oh man, no sugar?"
Caz crossed her arms over her chest, finding herself grinning back at him. He reminded her of her second oldest brother, the one she was closest to. "Whatcha up to so early in the morniní, Johnny?" She shook her head when he attempted to hand the mug back, finally sticking her hands in her pockets to avoid taking it.
He grinned, took another swallow. "Gotta pick up a SOG team. They been out for two days, figure itís time to come home." He watched her carefully, knowing what her next question would be.
Caz glanced away, apparently deciding whether to ask it or not. Her gaze slid back to his. "Whose team?" She ducked her head, locking her elbows against her body.
McKay covered his smile with another sip of coffee. "Goldmanís." He detected a hint of interest in her carefully composed posture.
She blinked a few times, looking over his shoulder. "Ya hear anything? That medic, Hockenbury? Heís on Goldmanís team, isnít he?" Caz refused to meet his eyes, a quick flare of color washing across her cheeks. She shifted her weight from one foot to the other.
Ah, lucky Hockenbury! McKay grabbed one of her arms, hauling her hand out of her pocket and pressing the coffee mug into it. "Goldman and Anderson look after their men. From what I hear, theyíve had a quiet mission, no contact. Should be an easy pickup." He patted her shoulder and continued on his way, calling back to her, "Thanks for the coffee!"
Caz watched him go, absently bringing the mug to her lips and taking a sip.
*** *** *** *** *** ***
The Huey came roaring into the LZ, rotor wash flattening the vegetation for 50 yards in all directions. The mid-morning sun streamed down, washing out the landing zone itself while leaving the surrounding jungle in darkness. The gunner swept his gaze uneasily back and forth, squinting at the sudden appearance of men from the shadowy trees. Americans. Americans trotting easily, not running flat out in a panic. The left-side gunner, nineteen-year-old Lawson, relaxed a hair, but kept his attention beyond the returning team. He dipped his chin down, peering over the top of his sunglasses.
Taylor and Ruiz jumped lightly into the bird, knees compensating automatically for the slight sway caused by their weight. The two moved to the opposite door, Taylor plopping down next to the crew chiefís machine gun, his legs hanging over the right-side skid. Ruiz sank to the floor behind the co-pilot, pulling his M-60 close to his chest as the others boarded. Hockenbury and Percell followed, Percell reaching back and hauling on the medicís webbing as he scrambled in. They settled themselves against the padded back wall of the chopper, between the door gunner and the crew chief, breathing out twin sighs of relief at the end of another mission with nobody in a body bag.
Head twisted over his shoulder, McKay watched Goldman and Anderson clamber in, saw the lieutenantís thumbs up and lifted the bird from the ground.
Goldman slipped bonelessly to the floor, his back against McKayís seat and his legs drawn up to his chest. Resting his AK-47 muzzle down, he leaned his cheek on the stock, closing his eyes. Anderson lounged against the right-side doorframe, rifle cradled in his arms, blue eyes on the tree line as they slowly gained altitude.
Just as the bird cleared the trees, a shot from the jungle caught Lawson in the shoulder, exiting out his back and spraying blood across Hockenbury and Percell. The round passed out the opposite door before anyone realized what had happened.
Doc heard the whine of the bullet and felt the splash of warm blood across his face. He threw his arms up in defense, too late to protect himself. The men yelped and swore as they hit the deck, weapons clinking on the metal floor, boots scrabbling on the slick surface.
"Weíre takiní fire!" Anderson shouted as another shot pinged off the tail rotor. He snapped off a couple of rounds in the direction of the muzzle flash, leaning precariously out the door. He ducked instinctively as a few more shots slammed into the airframe somewhere over his head.
At the first shot, Taylor had turned from his perch on the door, confused. Now Ruiz grabbed his buddy by the webbing and hauled him back from the door as the ship lurched into a shuddering spin, Goldman colliding with them as he slid across the floor. Myron quickly regained his balance and crawled over to the left side door next to Anderson.
"Son of a bitch!" McKay shouted, trying to regain control. "Hose it down, boys!!!!" He threw the aircraft into a tight, spiraling turn, working with the rotation, climbing away from the ground.
Anderson and Goldman were already firing into the tree line, hoping to discourage further shots if not actually connecting with the enemy. Goldman leaned his elbow against Andersonís hip, steadying his aim.
The bird pitched and bucked, tossing the men around in knots of weapons, webbing and limbs. Danny and Doc tangled up in each other as the Huey swung violently around, the two men spilling across the deck.
"Dammit, Lawson! I said, spray that tree line!" McKayís voice was frantic as he struggled with the collective. The co-pilot craned his neck out his window, trying to see any damage to the tail rotor.
Doc ended up sprawled on top of Danny, nose to nose. Dannyís face was splattered with blood and Doc found himself panicking. "Jesus, Danny! Are you hit?" He pulled himself up, straddling the man, running his hands over Percellís head, peering closely at him.
Goldman, flat on the deck between Lawson and Anderson, rose to his knees and turned to see the kid slumped forward over his weapon.
"McKay! The gunnerís hit!" Myron was already tugging at the harness, trying to pull the kid loose. Zeke grabbed the gun mount, pulling himself up next to the lieutenant, shoving him out of the way as he unsheathed his k-bar and cut the straps.
Taylor and Ruiz struggled on the floor, untangling themselves and their weapons as McKay keyed his mike. "Base, this is Goldilocks! Iím takiní fire! I got at least one wounded! Iím cominí in hot!"
Hockenbury had pinned Dannyís shoulder to the floundering deck, eyes intent on the man. The smell of aviation fuel filled his nostrils when a crosswind exploded through the open doors, dragging oily smoke with it. Behind the medic, Anderson and Goldman were trying to lay down the unconscious door gunner, but Doc never noticed, his attention glued to Percell.
"Dammit, Danny, whereíre you hit?" Doc demanded. Goldman shoved into him, knocking him sideways as the lieutenant tried to find room for Lawson on the floor.
The chopperís engine whined, the frame shaking under the stress as McKay continued to shout over his headset, requesting a medical team to be waiting.
"Iím not hit!" Danny finally found his voice, pushing Doc away as he was frantically patting him down.
Relief washed over Hockenbury for a second, long enough for him to realize Anderson was calling for him.
"Doc, help us here!" Andersonís voice was calm, flat, just loud enough to get the medicís attention over the roar of the chopperís laboring engines.
"Anyone else hit?" demanded Myron, his voice tight with controlled anxiety, as he and the sergeant finished laying Lawson across the deck. Doc shoved him aside, against the back wall, on his way to get at the kid. Goldman regained his balance, skirted around him, and knelt at the gunnerís head.
"Haul his helmet off, willya?" Doc never glanced up as he slit Lawsonís shirt off, exposing the wound. He wondered briefly why the man wasnít wearing a flak jacket.
Anderson and Goldman both reached for the gunnerís helmet, Zeke yanking the comlink cord out of the wall. The sergeantís gaze met Goldmanís and saw his thoughts mirrored there Ė relief it wasnít one of their men. And shame for thinking it.
McKay twisted his head back. "How is he?" he shouted, the edge of panic in his voice not lost on Goldman.
"Heís still alive!" Myron answered, looking at Lawsonís sweaty and contorted face. The boyís gaze skittered around the cabin, not seeing any of the men gathered around him.
Lawson started to thrash around in pain and confusion. "Pin him down!" Doc shouted at Ruiz and Taylor, staring from where they were piled up against the co-pilotís seat. "Help me out here!" Percell moved up alongside Doc from the back wall.
The gunner tried to rear up, frightened. Zeke and Myron immediately pushed him bodily back down by the shoulders, L-T bumping into the medic as Doc dumped pressure bandages from his pouch.
Ruiz and Percell threw themselves across the kidís legs, Taylor scooting up across from Doc and next to Anderson. He grabbed some of the bandages, handing them to Doc who stuffed them against Lawsonís shoulder.
"Hang on kid!" Hockenbury soothed, digging for the morphine. Lawson was screaming, Zeke and Myron still leaning on his shoulders, keeping him pinned down. The smoke and nauseating smell of the fuel whipped thru the open bay again, blinding them all for a moment and bringing tears to their eyes.
Coughing deeply, Doc shoved Goldman back roughly to grab the gunnerís bicep and slam an amp of morphine into it. He threw the empty serette with an angry flick of his wrist past Zekeís shoulder without a glance, already back at applying more pressure bandages to the gaping wound.
There was blood everywhere. Doc rubbed the back of his hand across his dry lips, the coppery taste of it in his mouth. "Roll him toward me!" he ordered, needing to pack off the exit wound.
Goldman reached across the kidís chest, stretching for his other arm as Zeke eased off the shoulder he was leaning on. Ruiz and Danny scrambled back off the boyís legs, allowing Taylor to get his hands under him, rolling him up on his side.
"Whatís going on back there?" McKay shouted over his shoulder. He had regained some control of the damaged aircraft, but it was requiring all his skills and know-how to keep them in the air.
"Working on it!" Goldman was horrified with the amount of blood that was rapidly pooling on the heaving deck. He realized that they were all kneeling in it as it soaked into their uniforms.
Doc finished packing off the exit wound and they rolled the kid back flat. He pressed more bandages over Lawsonís shoulder and grabbed Marcusí hand.
Danny and Ruiz, no longer needed to hold the gunner now that the morphine and blood loss were having their effects, pushed back as far as the limited space would permit.
"Marcus, lean on those bandages, ya hear me? Donít let up!"
"Ya got it, Doc!" Taylorís wide eyes surveyed the floor of the chopper, so much blood, so much blood. Glancing up at Hockenbury, he felt sure the medic must have been grazed somewhere; his shirt was stiff with drying blood, his glasses stippled with red flecks.
Doc rubbed the back of his hand across his throbbing temple before he dug out an IV setup. He pushed the bag into Goldmanís hands without a second thought, getting the tubing untangled and the needle ready. "Hold that!" he ordered. Doc knelt on the kidís palm, extending the arm as best he could in the cramped quarters.
He bumped into Danny, who scrambled desperately back as far as he could to give the medic the room he needed.
The ship bucked and hitched, McKay swearing a blue streak. The Huey continued to crab sideways, suffering from the lack of horizontal stabilization. It rocked from side to side as the pitch of the engine whine increased. Everyone jostled for a moment, bumping shoulders and hips until they regained their balance.
Myron found himself watching Doc in fascination. He knew the kid was good under fire. Observing him like this, completely focused on what was going on held Myron captivated. Then he realized with a start that blood was dripping down the medicís face from a head wound he hadnít noticed until that moment.
Doc was just about to advance the needle when Goldman suddenly gripped his shoulder and shoved him back. Dark eyes, startled and filled with a flash of fear caught Doc unprepared and the medic blinked in momentary confusion. "Youíre wounded!" The lieutenant was shouting at him.
Doc hesitated all of a heartbeat, then shoved Goldman back off. "Iím fine, HEíS NOT!" Doc snapped. Whatís wrong with you? Donít do that again! Doc bent to his work with renewed concentration. He didnít notice the droplets of blood slowly sliding down his own face, accumulating on the floor, mixing with Lawsonís.
Anderson watched the exchange between Goldman and Hockenbury. Saw Goldman sink to the floor against the back wall, face drained of expression. "L-T?" The lieutenant raised one hand to his face, scrubbing it over his eyes. "L-T?"
Goldman glanced at Anderson, indicating Doc with his chin. He traced his index finger across one brow. The sergeant nodded. He figured if it didnít bother Doc heíd worry about it later. Goldmanís obvious anxiety over the medic was another matter entirely.
Taylor added another bandage to the wound, trying not to think too much about the blood seeping through. He turned his head, caught Ruizís worried look. Doc can do it. Roo nodded, moving forward again to grab Lawsonís leg in case the gunner jumped at the needle stick.
Hockenbury held the IV needle poised over Lawsonís skin, sucked in his breath and held it. And so did every other man on Team Viking. They all prayed for a little cooperation from the chopper. Hockenbury advanced the needle; saw the flash of blood in the hub indicating a good stick. Just then the bottom dropped out. For several seconds they were all in free-fall, grabbing at each other in their fear. Doc, literally hanging in midair, tried desperately to keep the needle in the vein, only to yank the tubing out when he hit the floor. "Dammit, dammit!" He scrambled back to his knees to try again.