|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)
Captain Cassidy wandered outside the dispensary, hands shoved into her pockets. The sun was climbing in the sky, promising a beautiful day. She squinted her eyes against the glare, dropping her body on the second to last step and stretching her legs out in front of her. The warmth of the day flooded through her and an uncommon feeling of contentment followed closely behind.
So far today, sick call had only garnered five patients, all easily taken care of by Hall and his crew of talented medics. It was a far cry from her busy and hectic internship year at Walter Reed. She leaned back, elbows resting two steps up, and allowed herself to daydream a little, remembering cherry blossoms in the spring, the petals slippery on the sidewalks beneath her feet.
The sound of running boots startled her and Caz sat up quickly. She brought one hand up, shading her eyes and saw a number of men racing toward the flight line. Their muscles were tight with nervous tension, faces filled with controlled anxiety. Four or five ran by before she suddenly stood, stepping down into the pathway of a young private who tried to dodge her.
"Hey! What’s going on?" Something nagged at the edges of Caz’s awareness, something she should have immediately caught on to, but didn’t. She grabbed the arm of the kid who was sidling away from her in his haste. "What’s going on, Private?"
"We gotta slick comin’ in shot up, ma’am, got wounded, I gotta go, ma’am!" As he tried to pull away from Caz, her fingers gripped him tighter as her mind began to pull the pieces together.
"Whose slick, soldier? McKay’s?" Her eyes were wide with sudden fright, her mouth dry. Please, anybody’s but McKay’s! He said it was gonna be an easy pickup!
"Yeah, I think so." The private yanked his arm from her grasp, angry at the delay. He took off at a dead run, his feet sending up small clouds of dust.
Caz watched him go, her gaze rising to the horizon, looking for a glimpse of McKay’s troubled bird. She felt a chill run through her despite the bright sunshine and wrapped her arms around herself, pulling her fatigue shirt tightly together, fear brushing against her heart.
The door behind her flew open; Pugh and Kaminsky clattering down the steps carrying a stretcher. They barely avoided crashing into her, brushing against her roughly as they ran off in the wake of the young private. Pugh’s polite apology floated back to her, but he didn’t turn around.
By the time Caz gave conscious thought towards going to the flight line herself, she found she was halfway there and flat out running.
*** *** *** *** *** **
McKay looked up, cocking his head to one side. The rough grind of the engine had fallen away, leaving only the heavy whoosh of the rotors as they continued to turn. The co-pilot pointed at the control panel, shouting over the headset at the pilot. "Needles’re splitting!" McKay dropped his gaze to the rotor tachometer, shook his head and quickly lowered the collective. The pitch angle of the huge blades altered, taking advantage of the up flow of air through them, supplying the lift the damaged engine could no longer provide.
Looking up from the gunner in the sudden near silence, Goldman glanced quickly out the open door and saw that they were coming in over the camp. "McKay?" His voice rose sharply over the two syllables, relief at being almost home supplanted immediately by the realization that they were still a hundred feet in the air. He felt the weight of his team’s concern at this new predicament, all save Hockenbury, still trying to start the IV. A second attempt had failed due to the slow collapse of the gunner’s veins as he bled out.
McKay looked over his shoulder. Myron saw his own reflection in the pilot’s sunglasses, wincing at the fear he saw there. "Gonna hafta autorotate the landing!" McKay’s voice sounded unnaturally loud in the chopper without the normal, comforting whine of the engine.
"What the hell does that mean?" Goldman demanded, one hand resting on Hockenbury’s back. He leaned towards the open door again, felt a shiver of fear pass through him at the sight of the rapidly approaching treetops. His eyes met Anderson’s over Lawson’s head, felt the sergeant’s anxiety for the team and a flickering of something else, a fleeting fear that he’d never see his daughter again.
"It means I’m doing the best I can here!" McKay’s voice was unnaturally high, his eyes bright behind the glasses. "Everyone hang on, this is gonna hurt!" He fought the collective, seeking the currents of air that could save them. The sweat ran down his neck from his helmet, soaking into the collar of his flight suit.
Zeke’s eyes seemed to clear as he glanced up at Goldman, sharing the mutual thought that if anybody could get the wounded bird on the ground safely, it was Johnny McKay. He looked down at the gunner’s pale face; saw Marcus adding more bandages to the man’s shoulder and Doc readying himself for another attempt at getting a line in. He sighed, hoping all their hard work wasn’t for nothing. Hang in there, kid!
"Okay, now, help Doc out!" Anderson shouted, startling Taylor who covered his right ear in surprise. The men all looked up at him, focusing on his calm façade, not seeing the turmoil gurgling around in his guts. He swallowed hard. "Everyone get down and hang on!"
Taylor and Ruiz flung themselves over Lawson’s legs and lower torso, Taylor keeping the pressure on the man’s shoulder with his elbow. Anderson draped himself protectively over as much of the three men as he could cover, turning his head to one side and laying his cheek on somebody’s bloody fatigues.
Danny grabbed at Hockenbury’s arm, pulling him away from Lawson. Doc yanked free, picking up the tangled IV tubing and running his hands along it, working the bubbles up to the bag. Goldman caught hold of the medic, throwing him against the padded back wall as Danny shouldered up against him, pinning him there. Hockenbury struggled, desperate to return to his patient, his frustration at his inability to get blood expanders into the gunner making him blind to the impending crash.
"We’re comin’ in!" McKay yelled over his shoulder. Goldman marveled at how easy it was to hear him, how surreal the entire flight was becoming. Pressing his head against the wall, he gripped Doc harder, knowing he was leaving bruises and not caring.
Dropping into the tree line, the chopper clipped a few branches, the limbs snapping sharply and scraping along the skids with a metallic shriek. "Can’t make the camp, son of a bitch! Let’s put her down here!" McKay shouted at his copilot as they fought the controls. "Mayday, mayday, we’re goin’ down!" He screamed into his headset as he scanned the trees below, looking for the break he knew was there.
The men on the floor flinched at the sounds of the breaking tree limbs, throwing their hands over their heads. The crew chief ducked away from his gun and the clawing branches, throwing off his harness, stumbling backwards over the prone men. Zeke grabbed his arm, hauling him down flat beside him. Hockenbury made one last attempt to reach Lawson and Goldman slammed him hard against the wall, stunning him. The fight drained out of the medic and he slumped against Percell, his head lolling, eyes unfocused.
*** *** *** *** *** ***
The Huey appeared just over the trees and Caz skidded to a stop, her heart in her mouth. She frowned, momentarily puzzled by the silence of the approach, until she realized that the helicopter was no longer under powered flight and was essentially as aerodynamic as a cinderblock. Frozen to the spot, the young doctor winced as the skids repeatedly dipped into the treetops, branches and leaves flying out behind it.
"Oh my God, oh my God," Caz whispered as it became apparent that the bird was going down, would not make the camp and might not make it to the ground right-side up. The ground crew, coming to the same realization coupled with McKay’s frantic radio calls, mobilized instantly, commandeering a couple of jeeps. They pitched the stretcher along with the medics into one and piled themselves into the other. Within seconds, they were streaming out the gate.
As the bird dropped from her sight behind the trees, Caz forced her legs into motion. She joined the line of personnel racing through the gates toward the impending crash site, her white coat flying out behind her.
*** *** *** *** *** ***
The wounded Huey hit the ground with enough force to spread the skids almost completely out to each side, the main cabin not quite impacting with the ground. The collision flattened the men on the floor, driving the breath from their lungs and leaving them gasping for air. The forward momentum hurled Hockenbury to the deck, Percell on top of him, their limbs entangled. Goldman was catapulted over Anderson, piling up against McKay’s seat. His chin impacted with the hard metal frame, driving his teeth into his lower lip.
An eerie silence settled over the aircraft, no comforting ticking noises of a shut-down engine cooling, no gradual slowing of the rotors as inertia set in. The shock of the collision between helicopter and earth had brought all motion to an instant halt.
The whine of the approaching jeeps’ engines broke the spell and McKay tore frantically at his harness, throwing open his door and almost falling to the ground. His knees threatened to buckle and he grabbed at the side of the aircraft, hauling himself to the cabin door.
"Goldman! Anderson!" McKay’s voice died in his throat as he gaped at the men lying sprawled and motionless, covered in blood, the floor running with the sticky red fluid. In another heartbeat he vaulted into the chopper, his feet sliding, almost toppling him over Anderson who was slowly levering himself off Taylor. The sergeant dropped to his backside and leaned up in the space between the two pilots’ seats, head lowered to his bent knees, arms wrapped around his legs.
Goldman sat up, shaking his head to clear his vision, inadvertently swallowing a mouthful of blood. He grimaced, reaching up to run his fingers over his rapidly swelling lip. His eyes met McKay’s; saw the horror there, realizing that his hootchmate hadn’t known until this minute the trouble they were in back here. McKay extended a hand towards him, shaking with adrenaline, but Goldman waved him off, not really trusting himself to move just yet.
"Who’s hurt?" Kaminski appeared abruptly in the doorway, grabbing McKay’s shoulder and hauling him backwards out of the cabin and out of his way. He slid the stretcher onto the deck, leaning in towards the obviously injured gunner.
Goldman looked up, still holding his jaw. His gaze fell on Danny, who was on his hands and knees over Doc, pushing himself off the medic. "Percell! You okay?" Goldman’s words were fuzzy, felt fuzzy, as he avoided moving his lips too much. He ran his tongue over his teeth, relieved to find them where he left them.
"I’m okay, L-T." Mumbling, Percell shook his head, attempting to shake loose the mantle of unreality hanging over him. He looked down at Hockenbury, grabbing a handful of fatigues and turning him onto his side. Doc moaned, throwing one blood covered arm over his face.
Myron was instantly on his knees, regretting it within seconds as a wave of dizziness swept over him. Goldman closed his eyes for a second, the image of Hockenbury’s head impacting with the wall as he’d slammed him against it flickering behind his eyelids.
The medics each grabbed one of Lawson’s shoulders, hauling him onto the stretcher and out of the chopper. Ruiz and Taylor, holding onto each other as they sat up, watched him go, eyes wide. Anderson stretched one booted foot slowly across the floor, finally coming to rest against Taylor’s rear. Taylor started, looking back over his shoulder.
Zeke regarded him with eyes barely open. "You okay, Taylor, Roo?" He cut his gaze from one to the other. Took in their blood-streaked faces, soaked fatigues, slumped shoulders. Relief flooded through him as they looked at each other, shrugging and nodding their heads.
"We’re okay, Sarge, how ‘bout you?" Ruiz turned, laid a concerned hand on Anderson’s outstretched leg as he reached for his M-60 with the other. Anderson nodded and Ruiz smiled, his teeth unnaturally white against his red-smeared cheeks.
"Let’s go, man." Patting Taylor on the back, Ruiz scooted over the deck and dropped his feet to the ground. Taylor glanced around, looking for his weapon. Pulling it out from under the copilot’s seat, he followed Ruiz out the door. They stood there uncertainly, watching the medics strap the stretcher across the hood of the jeep.
Pugh curled a protective arm over the gunner, bracing himself against the front passenger seat. The jeep jerked into gear and roared off, circling around the downed Huey and racing back to camp. Kaminski never touched the brakes but made liberal use of the horn as he swerved to avoid the stream of personnel running towards the crash site.
Danny sat back on his heels, his worried blue eyes intent on Hockenbury, who still hadn’t moved from the floor. On his knees, Goldman slowly worked his way over, slinging his weapon across his back.
Doc shifted slightly, more a twitch than a conscious movement. "I think I’m gonna throw up." The medic’s voice was muffled under his arm. He took a deep breath, let it out slowly, raggedly.
"Well, won’t be the first time, now will it, Doc?" Taylor, standing at the doorway with Ruiz, grinned, looking around at his teammates to make sure they were appreciating his humor. Ruiz turned away, shaking his head. Goldman’s eyes flashed darkly, forcing Taylor back from the door in confusion, his weapon hanging loosely in his hands.
Percell pushed himself back onto his tailbone, wrapping his arms around his knees to control the shaking. "Man, I can’t seem to find my legs!" He glanced quickly around the cabin, cheeks suddenly flushed, and ducked his head. Anderson nodded in understanding and glanced at McKay.
The pilot was climbing back into the ruined airframe after checking out his co-pilot and crew chief. He ran his gaze over Anderson and Goldman, satisfying himself they were okay for the time being. Edging his boots across the slick floor, McKay turned his attention to Danny whose wide blue eyes followed the pilot’s careful movements.
"Where’s your weapon, Percell?" McKay dropped a cautious hand on the specialist’s shoulder. Danny frowned, looking around his immediate vicinity, then remembered he had been sitting against the back wall when the shooting started. McKay followed his line of sight, stepping cautiously over the prone medic. He picked up the M-16, handing it carefully to Percell.
"Thanks, L-T." Danny cradled the weapon against his chest. His gaze lifted briefly to the pilot’s face, then returned to Doc who was beginning to tremble. "Doc?" He reached out a hand but before he could make contact, Goldman’s fingers closed over Percell’s wrist.
Hockenbury’s anguish rolled over Goldman, despair mixed with the desperate need to be alone. He felt the medic’s need for isolation, his desire to pull himself together away from prying eyes.
The lieutenant shook his head, indicating with a slight nod that Percell should join his teammates and go on into camp. Danny slowly edged over to the doorway, worried eyes watching the medic. Taylor and Ruiz each grabbed an arm, pulling him to the ground, supporting him as he stumbled a step.
Danny hesitated, clearly not wanting to leave Hockenbury behind.
"It's alright, Percell. We got it from here. Go on now." Anderson nodded to Taylor and Ruiz who turned, drawing Danny with them, and slowly moved off.
Anderson finally managed to move himself out from between the front seats. He laid a calloused hand on Hockenbury’s shoulder, feeling a tremor run through the young man. "Doc? You okay?" Zeke raised his eyes to Goldman’s, lifting his eyebrows questioningly.
Goldman shook his head slightly, leaning over the medic.
"Go away." Hockenbury became, if possible, even more still. The visible trembling of his muscles slowed, died away.
Anderson cleared his throat. "Ya done good, Doc. Ya got that kid here still breathin’." He glanced up at McKay, shrugging his broad shoulders.
"Please." Doc finally shoved an elbow under himself, levering himself up from the sticky deck. "Please, jus’ ev’ryone leave me alone." He sat up, pulling his knees to his chest and rested his arms across them, burying his face behind his bloodied forearms.
Goldman nodded at McKay and Anderson and they began to work their way toward the doors. Anderson simply scooted on his butt, sliding on the blood-spattered floor. Dropping his feet over the side, he stood, taking a few steps away before turning back. McKay grasped Goldman’s forearm and pulled him to his feet. They jumped to the ground, joining Anderson a short distance from the helicopter.
"Helluva job, McKay – gettin’ us here. You okay?" Goldman's eyes darkened a shade as he took in the pilot's bloodied flight suit. He looked down at his own uniform, shivering despite the heat. He swallowed hard against the bile rising in his throat.
"Hell, we’re alive, I suppose that should count for something." McKay took a deep breath, letting it out in disgust as he ran his gaze over the damaged slick. He shoved his hands through his hair, shaking his head.
Anderson shifted from one foot to the other. "I hear that." He crossed his arms over his broad chest, rifle resting on his forearms. He absently rubbed his chin on his shoulder, smearing blood across his cheek.
The three stood there next to the ruined Huey, the sunshine blazing down across their shoulders. They watched the crew chief pull a 60 from its mount, cradling it in his arms, his eyes on the tree line, as they waited for Hockenbury to gain his bearings.
Taylor shifted his weapon from one hand to the other as he trudged through the long grass. He couldn’t seem to just carry the damn thing, it felt jumpy in his grip. Flexing his fingers, he reconsidered; he felt jumpy. He reached up and massaged the side of his neck, stretching his shoulder with a grimace. "Man, I feel like I just went three rounds with Muhammed Ali!" Glancing over at Percell and Ruiz, he shook his head.
Ruiz fumbled his emergency cigarette from his pocket, digging for his Zippo. Flicking it, he tried to light up, the cigarette bobbing between his trembling lips. He chased the bobbing flame, finally clasping his hands together and cupping them around the flame. The end of the cigarette flared up briefly, then began to burn. He sucked the smoke deep into his lungs with a satisfied smile, closing his eyes briefly. "Really thought we bought it this time. Too close." He shifted the machine gun into a more comfortable carrying position, lightly bumping hips with Percell.
Percell looked up from the grass, stopping in his tracks at the sight of Caz running from the camp. "Oh man." His words were scarcely above a whisper. He looked over his shoulder at the helicopter where Doc was still hidden inside the cabin. She’s gonna think he’s dead! Danny glanced back at the doctor just as the medics and their cargo approached her, wishing there was something he could do to set her mind at ease.
*** *** *** *** *** ***
Caz was only halfway to the landing site when the jeep carrying the medical team made a quick circuit around the chopper and careened across the field towards her. It zigzagged in and out of the ground pounders hurrying to their once finely tuned flying machine, now squatting on the grass like an injured duck. She slowed her pace and moved to intercept the vehicle, waving her arms wildly. Her white coat flapped in the breeze, briefly blowing across her face. Angrily tossing her head to dislodge it, Caz leaped on the passenger side running board to assess the patient as the jeep slowed next to her.
Pugh, until that moment almost completely covering the wounded man’s upper body with his own, leaned back to give the doctor room. Lawson’s sweaty dark hair accentuated his pale face as Caz grabbed the stretcher with both hands, her knees suddenly threatening to dump her on her rear.
Relief flooded through her as the jeep lurched forward, almost pitching her into the back. Kaminski gripped her arm, steadying her as she jammed a booted foot against the seat, pressing her other knee to the dashboard as she wrapped slender fingers around the patient’s wrist.
Too fast, too fast, he’s bleeding out!
As the jeep approached the gate, Caz shouted in Pugh’s ear, an alarm ringing somewhere in her tangled thoughts. "Hey! Was anybody else hurt?"
Slowing the vehicle to make the turn, the young private glanced over at her. "This guy was the only critical! I dunno…." His voice trailed off sheepishly, knowing he was in for the dressing down of a lifetime if he’d left another patient in the chopper.
Caz stared at him, considering leaping from the jeep and running to the helicopter herself before reason won out. She knew she’d never abandon the kid stretched over the hood of the jeep, whose blood still seeped from under the pressure of her hands. Leaning all her weight on the wound, she twisted around, looking back over her shoulder at the crash site.
She squinted her eyes tightly against the dust kicked up by the jeep’s spinning tires, willing the blurry objects in the distance to coalesce into something meaningful. Three soldiers came into focus, walking away from the slick, weapons held loosely, their movements stilted and awkward. One lit a cigarette. It took a moment for her frenzied mind to process what she was seeing – two of them were too short, the other tall and skinny, but no mop of blond hair. Blinking, Caz realized also that the tall soldier was black – not Hockenbury! Caz’s heart rate ratcheted up a notch, her throat suddenly dry, palms sweaty.
The jeep swerved wildly as Kaminski took the turn through the gate on two wheels, both Pugh and Cassidy swearing loudly at him, grabbing at the stretcher as it threatened to slide to the ground.
*** *** *** *** *** ***
The ground crew swarmed over the chopper, fire extinguishers at the ready, prepared to eliminate any danger from the aircraft. They found no immediate threats and stepped away, shaking their heads and slapping McKay on the back. "Nice job, L-T!"
One of them, standing next to the open door, reached in and nudged Hockenbury’s shoulder. "Ya’ll shoulda been toast!"
The medic flinched away, keeping his head behind his arms, shrinking into himself even more. A faint tremor danced along the visible skin of his forearms, spreading down his neck and across his shoulders until his entire body shivered. He took a deep breath, letting it out slowly in an effort to calm his screaming nerves.
The crewman frowned, his bushy eyebrows drawing together. He poked at Hockenbury again, nudging him hard. "Come on medic, git your skinny ass outta there!"
The man found himself roughly grabbed by the shoulder and yanked around. McKay towered over him, green eyes darkening in fury.
"Back off. Now."
The crewman held his hands up in front of him, noticing for the first time that the palm with which he’d touched Hockenbury was coated with blood. "Sorry, L-T, sorry." He wiped his hand on his pants, shaking his head in disgust.
The ground crew withdrew silently, their relief over the relative intactness of the Huey tempered with the pilot’s outburst.
Anderson shifted his rifle from one shoulder to the other, stretching his muscles. He watched the subdued crew creep over their charge as they waited for the arrival of the big Chinook to sling it away for repair.
Goldman stood a few feet removed from Anderson and McKay, running his tongue over his rapidly swelling lip. The coppery taste of blood lingered and he spat on the ground, swiping his sleeve gently across his mouth. He regarded the faint smear of red with mild disinterest, his dark eyes sweeping instead over the medic.
Hockenbury sat huddled on the deck, his face still hidden behind his arms. He fought to control his breathing, his chest heaving. He swallowed against the acid taste in his mouth, wrapping his arms that much more tightly around himself, continuing to struggle in the wake of the events and his emotions.
*** *** *** *** *** ***
The crew chief slid ungracefully to the ground, having secured the huge rotor blades for their trip to Tan Son Nhut. The radio squawked from the crash team’s jeep, startling the skinny soldier who was placing ammo cans in the back. He reached into the front seat and hauled out the handset, handing it over to the chief without comment. Listening for a moment, the man nodded, spoke a few words into the instrument and tossed it back to his crewman.
Both McKay and Goldman looked up, the latter glancing away again as he realized the chief wanted the pilot. Johnny didn’t speak, too tired and numb to even find a few words in reply, his face devoid of expression behind his sunglasses.
"Skyhook’ll be here in a few minutes." Retrieving his blood-stained shirt and his helmet from the copilot’s seat where he’d dumped them, the crew chief eyed Hockenbury uneasily, looking back at Zeke with a raised eyebrow.
Anderson understood immediately. "I’ll see to him. L-T, why don’t you an’ Lieutenant McKay go on back to camp?" He stepped between the two officers and the helicopter, cutting off Goldman’s view of his troubled medic.
The sergeant studied his superior officer, taking note of the dirt and blood smeared across the young man’s face and the sheer fatigue in those dark eyes. For a moment, Zeke wasn’t sure that Goldman wouldn’t need his help to cover the few hundred yards to the gate.
Myron took a deep breath, holding it briefly before letting it out in a heavy sigh. He straightened up, nodding slightly to Anderson and turned to McKay. "I think we’ve done enough damage here for one day. Let’s go." He put one foot in front of the other, threading his way drunkenly on wobbly knees through the tall clumps of grass.
Johnny followed, flight helmet hanging loosely from one hand, his bloody gloves dangling from the other.
*** *** *** *** *** ***
"Doc?" Anderson’s voice was low and quiet. He stood next to the gun mount on the left side of the chopper, leaning his shoulder against it as he studied the cramped interior. Not fifteen minutes ago, they’d all been crammed in there, kneeling in the blood that was now attracting flies by the thousands. He waved a hand across his face, scattering a cloud of buzzing insects.
Hockenbury flinched at the sound of his name, his arms tightening for a short moment around his ears. He swallowed hard, coughing against the grit in his throat, chin tucked hard against his chest.
Zeke laid one hand gently on the medic’s shoulder, feeling the man’s shuddering muscles under his fingers. "We gotta go." He patted Doc awkwardly, hoping he wasn’t sending him spiraling right back into whatever darkness had claimed him. The contents of the medic’s pouch were scattered across the deck, coated in the same slime as his uniform, as ALL of their uniforms. Anderson sighed and began to collect the IV bags, scissors and rolls of gauze.
Slowly lowering one arm, Hockenbury turned his head just enough to realize what the sergeant was doing. He levered himself to his knees, his aching body swaying and he threw out a hand to keep from falling on his face.
Zeke caught him roughly, one large fist easily encircling the skinny specialist’s bicep. "Take it easy, there, son. It’s slick."
The two men gathered the rest of the equipment and dumped it in the ruined pouch, wiping off the worst of the muck on their pants. They both paused, hearing the heavy whomp whomp of the Chinook’s approach, so different from their own near silent descent into the meadow.
Anderson caught Doc’s eye, motioning him out of the bird as he carefully jumped out himself.
Hockenbury slithered to the ground, slinging the pouch over his shoulder as he unsteadily stepped away from the damaged Huey.
*** *** *** *** *** ***
Lawson was still alive, hanging on by the slenderest of threads. Dr. Cassidy and the dispensary medics worked frantically, pumping in precious units of O neg blood through two wide bore lines, along with several liters of crystalloid. Hall managed to establish the IV’s where Hockenbury had not, due principally to the fact that the clinic was not hurtling through the air at the time, and certainly not under fire.
As Pugh and Kaminski flooded the injury with sterile fluids, Cassidy rapidly applied several vascular clamps to the ruined vessels in Lawson’s shoulder, closing off the avenue by which his life’s blood had been draining. By the time the medical team stabilized the young gunner, the med evac helicopter was on the pad and ready to go.
*** *** *** *** *** ***
The bird lifted ponderously into the air and suddenly acquired grace as it gained altitude, banking toward the hospital and surgical theatres of Tan Son Nhut.
Cassidy’s white coat billowed around her in the dust cloud kicked up by the rotor wash. She ducked her head away, one arm thrown across her eyes, the sleeve still damp with dark blood. Her blue scrub shirt clung to her, the front soaked with the red-tinged saline that had drained from the table as the young medics irrigated Lawson’s wound.
She discovered her pants were saturated too as she shoved her hands into her pockets, her fingers encountering another clamp. She absently pulled it out, squeezing its teeth onto the lapel of her coat where it dangled like an odd piece of jewelry. The swirling vortex of dirt began to abate and the doctor turned to head back to the dispensary.
She’d taken but two steps when her mind finally allowed her to process what she was seeing: a blood-covered Doc Hockenbury, his eyes almost closed in weariness, walking with unsteady gait toward her. Sergeant Anderson followed closely behind, his ever-present M-16 slung over his broad shoulder.
The sergeant lifted an eyebrow at Cassidy, catching her attention. "Cap’n? Ma’am? McKay’s gunner pull through okay?" He reached out a hand and caught the medic’s elbow, steadying Hockenbury as he stumbled to a halt in front of the doctor.
Caz blinked, swallowing hard. She had difficulty finding her voice, staring numbly at Doc’s face, her gaze following the slow trail of blood down his left check. "Ahhhh, yes, Sergeant, the kid, yeah, he’s stable, holdin’ his own, on his way to surgery in Tan Son Nhut." Her words tumbled over each other and ran together as she desperately tried to concentrate on what Anderson was saying to her. She felt her focus narrowing, everything fading away but the wounded medic before her.
"Ma’am? He took a round across his head, there, over his eye. I think that’s all, but he’s gone real quiet since we got in." Anderson looked from Doc to Caz and saw the compassion in her eyes, and something else. Fear? He shook his head.
Caz gently took Doc’s hand, drawing his arm up and over her shoulder. Sliding her other arm around his waist, she grabbed his belt firmly and braced herself to support him. She could feel the warm dampness of his fatigues seeping into her own uniform, already spattered with the gunner’s blood.
Hockenbury allowed her to take his weight, leaning on her in apparent relief. He pulled his elbow from Anderson’s grasp, not looking back at the sergeant.
"Doc, ya feel like you’re gonna vomit? Or did ya?" Cassidy glanced up at his eyes, trying to assess his pupils as she led him toward the dispensary. Worried by the medic’s silence, she twisted her head back to look at Zeke who was trailing along behind them, and raised a questioning eyebrow.
Anderson sighed. "He said he felt like he was gonna puke after we landed but he didn’t." He walked slowly, keeping pace with the doctor and her patient. "After that landing, we all felt like losing it." He stopped at the foot of the dispensary steps, hesitating, not sure if he should stay or go. Stepping back, he allowed Cassidy and the medic to move past him.
"Thank you, Sergeant, for gettin’ him here. We’ll take good care of him." Cassidy tried to smile at Anderson, the tenseness in her facial muscles belying the calming words. She met his gaze briefly, unblinking, then turned her attention back to Hockenbury.
"Yes’m, I’ll check back later." The burly sergeant ducked his head, not quite saluting the young captain. He reached out one calloused hand, hauling open the dispensary door as Cassidy pulled Hockenbury up the steps. He roughly patted the medic’s back as he passed.
"Ya done good, Doc, now let the Captain fix ya up." He waited a moment and then turned away with a sigh, shifting his weapon from his back and cradling it in his arms.
Cassidy waved her free hand half-heartedly as the door closed behind her and the injured medic.
*** *** *** *** *** ***
Hall and the dispensary medics looked up as the door creaked open, jaws dropping at the appearance of their bloody colleague. Pugh felt a momentary stab of guilt. He HADN’T properly assessed the situation in the downed chopper and had left a patient behind. And that patient was another medic, tantamount to abandoning a brother. He swallowed his emotions down and moved with Kaminski to aid Cassidy in placing Hockenbury on a gurney.
Caz shuffled slowly forward, arm still tightly wrapped around Hockenbury’s waist. The medic was leaning more and more of his weight on her; she could feel him weaving, his boots crossing each other with almost every step. She just wanted to get him on a bed before he collapsed.
Kaminski rushed up, his arms outstretched to relieve Cassidy of her burden, but before he could touch Hockenbury the bloodied man yanked himself violently away, almost knocking Caz to the floor.
The anguish in his words froze Kaminski to the spot. His eyes grew wide and he shot a glance over his shoulder at Hall, who shook his head slowly.
Hockenbury’s eyes were squeezed tightly shut, his muscles trembling with the effort of his hard-fought control. Under his arm, Cassidy’s puzzled face peered out, her cheeks pale beneath the streaks of Lawson’s blood. He shifted his weight again, the arm draped over the doctor’s shoulder curling around her neck and pulling her against him.
Cassidy managed to steer him toward an exam table, sighing with relief as he hauled himself onto it, legs dangling over the side. He wrapped his arms around himself, shivering. She glanced quickly up at Hall as he approached, his dark face empty of expression.
"Hockenbury?" Hall only said the name, and softly at that, but he might as well have been shouting by the reaction from Doc.
The medic brought his hands to his face as though fending off a blow. He turned away from Hall and the other two men, mouth working soundlessly. At last he managed to find the words. "I just want to be left alone. Please."
Cassidy stared at him, her green-grey eyes dark with anxiety. Without looking away, she addressed Hall and his men. "I’ve got this, Sergeant. Why don’t ya’ll go have some chow or somethin’?" She inclined her head toward the door, her concerned gaze never leaving Hockenbury.
Hall nodded, gathering Pugh and Kaminski with a quick look and herding them outside. He paused on the threshold, dark eyes watching the young captain and the wounded medic, before shoving through the screen door, catching it in one meaty fist and closing it gently.