Under the Gun
By Doc
© December 2002

Chapter Eight

 
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)


"Doc?" The word was barely more than a puff of air but Hockenbury heard it. His body stilled again, his breathing so shallow that Caz could barely detect the rise and fall of his chest. His head hung straight down, his filthy hair plastered to his skull. Caz had to duck to see into his face.

"Doc!" Her voice was more urgent, sharper. "I need to see your head, Doc, ya got blood drippin’ from somewhere." She reached her arm out slowly, fingers sliding gently along his jaw line, tipping his head back.

He sucked in a huge breath at her touch, the tension in his muscles draining rapidly away. "I couldn’t start the IV, I tried, I tried, the chopper was all over the place, I just, I just…" Hockenbury’s eyes were wide, unseeing. He pulled his head away from Caz as she attempted to brush his hair back away from his brow.

"Doc, it's okay. We got him stabilized an’ on the med evac chopper. Ya got him HERE, that's what matters." Caz locked both hands on either side of his face, forcing him to look at her. For a time she stared into his grey-green eyes, sensing his despair, feeling the anxiety of those long moments.

"God, Caz, he needed fluids, I couldn’t get the line in!" Hockenbury’s voice rose unsteadily, his eyes pleading with her, tears welling up unbidden, obscuring his vision. The color rose in his cheeks as shame overtook him. He trembled beneath her hands, struggling against the sympathy and understanding in her eyes. Blinking, he finally broke the contact, ducking his head. Closing his eyes, Doc withdrew into himself, pulling his misery tightly around him, as tightly as his arms had been a moment before.

Caz stared at him, feeling his retreat from her, and from what happened in the Huey. "Doc." Her voice was husky, thick with unshed tears of her own. She gripped his jaw, turning his head slightly so she could examine the wound on his temple. The furrow was approximately three inches long, still slowly oozing blood. Another half inch lower and he’d have been missing his eyebrow. Another half inch deeper and she wouldn’t have been talking to him at all. Despite her years of medical training, Caz shivered, all the could-haves and might-have-beens running riot in her mind.

"Doc, what the hell happened?"

Encircling his shoulders with her arms, she pulled his head to her chest, resting her cheek on the top of his head. Ignoring the blood in his hair, Caz held him tightly, rocking slightly on the balls of her feet, her fingers lightly stroking the back of his neck.

Hockenbury’s reserve came tumbling down in a series of shuddering breaths. "Everything was fine, it was fine." He shook his head against her, smearing blood across the front of her scrub shirt and the lapels of her white coat. "There was a shot – shots - blood was ev’rywhere. The chopper started spinnin’." His shoulders hitched as he caught his breath.

Caz closed her eyes, still rocking, as she drew in a quick breath of her own.

"I thought Danny was hit, I kept lookin’ for a wound, he was covered," Doc’s voice shook and his muscles tensed under Caz’s fingers. "He was covered in blood - it was the gunner’s." The medic’s words trailed off. He reached out blindly, his trembling hands grabbing the front of her coat, pulling her against him.

"I just couldn’t get it an’ he kep’ bleedin’, he kep’ bleedin’." Hockenbury’s voice was almost a whisper. "The guys, L-T, Sarge, they were all right there, right there, wantin’ me to get it." He paused, breathed hoarsely in and out a few times. "And I couldn’t do it." His despair hung over him, his defeat in the collective faces of his teammates too much for him to bear.

Tears running down her own face, Caz bit down on her lip. She leaned back a little, peering down at the top of his head, willing him to raise his eyes to hers. After a long moment, Hockenbury took a deep breath and looked up.

What he saw in those grey-green eyes wasn’t pity or contempt, or even sympathy. What he found was acceptance and a strength that flooded over him like a tidal wave. Doc blinked, clearing his vision. He took in the blood on her face and clothes, realizing finally that some of it was his. He reached up to his head, but Caz grabbed his wrist before he could reach the gash.

"Don’t touch it, Doc, you’ll start it bleedin’ again. I think it’s pretty much stopped." Caz squinted at him, nodding to herself at her assessment. She shook her head, tossing her hair out of her eyes.

Hockenbury watched the sleek cap of hair slowly swing back into place, framing her face. He turned his arm in her grasp, interlacing his fingers with hers, gently squeezing. "Jesus, Caz." He turned his head away from her, gazing sightlessly out the window.

"I remember the first time it happened to me." Caz’s voice was husky. She dropped her other hand to Doc’s, running her fingers lightly over his. "I was a third year student an’ I was tryin’ to intubate a guy an’ I just couldn’t see the vocal cords. Ya know, they say ‘visualize the cords, visualize the cords.’ Well, I couldn’t see ‘em. The resident was screamin’ at me an’ he finally grabbed the tube outta my hands an’ did it himself. I thought I should just quit. Walk away, run away really. But I didn’t. An’ you won’t either, Doc. He’s alive an’ probably already in surgery. That’s all you can ask for."

Caz pressed lightly on his shoulder, turning him on the gurney. "Lie down, Doc, I gotta check out your head. Jus’ close your eyes for a few minutes." She settled him on the starched white sheet, adjusting the pillow under his head. The fingers of her right hand, still entwined with his, closed tightly for an instant, warm pressure against his palm. She felt his answering squeeze and gently disengaged her hand, smiling faintly.

Eyelids drooping, Hockenbury watched her gather the things she needed, placing them on the silver Mayo stand next to his head. Her movements were quick and neat, economical. In her short time at Camp Barnett, she’d learned her way around the dispensary pretty well. Doc sighed and closed his eyes, giving in to the crushing fatigue.

Caz looked down at her coat, grimacing, and pulled it off, tossing it in the laundry bin. Her scrub shirt was hardly cleaner and she picked up another one from the linen cupboard, yanking it on over the one she was already wearing. At least it would be less cross-contamination, she reasoned. Looking at all the blood on Hockenbury’s fatigues and skin, the doctor suddenly wondered why she had bothered. Most of this must have been Lawson’s anyway. She shook her head, sliding a stool over to the bed and hiking herself up on it.

"Doc?" She almost whispered, wondering if he had dozed off, reluctant to draw him back into a world where so much had gone so wrong in such a short space of time. Pulling on her gloves, she brushed his hair gently back from the wound, noting the bruising already spreading around his eye socket. He’d have one helluva shiner by nightfall, she predicted, probing the area with gentle fingers.

He groaned, automatically raising his hands to his face before he could stop them. "Sorry, it’s okay. I’m sorry." He opened his eyes slightly, gazing up at her. He could see her concentration in the set of her shoulders, the angle of her neck. Her eyes followed the movements of her fingers, precisely, methodically, as she irrigated the wound, sluicing out the dirt and dried blood. He winced, forcing himself to remain still.

"No, Doc, I’m the one who’s sorry. Do you want some lidocaine in this? There’s nothin’ to stitch, it’s a graze. Took all the skin with it. I could suture it, but you’d have a permanently raised eyebrow." Her own eyebrows waggled up and down comically and she grinned at him, leaning an elbow on the exam table.

Hockenbury smiled back at her, raising his hand to brush her shoulder lightly with the backs of his fingers. He felt his despair lifting, floating away in the face of his growing feelings for this woman. He swallowed hard. "It’s okay, just clean it as is. I’ll be okay."

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

McKay stood balanced on one foot, his hand hooked through the screen door’s metal handle. He’d been about to open it when he’d heard the soft murmur of voices, Caz and Doc’s. He paused, remembering Caz’s innocent questions of that morning, had it only been that morning? He squinted through the screen, catching sight of Doc lying on the exam table, his head turned to Caz as she perched on a stool next to him.

Her boots were hooked in the rungs of the seat, laces dangling loosely. The second scrub shirt was several sizes too large and she sat on the tail of it, the front of the garment already soaking up the fluids from the shirt underneath. One of her gloved hands rested on the Mayo stand, idly playing with some medical instrument lying there. The overhead lights glittered from the metallic surface as she turned it in her fingers, and McKay blinked suddenly when a flash of light caught him in the eye.

Her other hand rested on Hockenbury’s shoulder, rubbing lightly over the rough fabric of his fatigue shirt. The medic was smiling up at her, the fear and defeat McKay had seen earlier etched into his face gone, at least for the moment.

McKay backed slowly down the steps, trying to avoid the creaky third tread. He let out the breath he’d been holding and looked up and down the alleyway, looking for witnesses to his little change of plans routine. The area was empty. McKay backed away from the dispensary a few steps, settling his cap firmly on his head. With a sharp about-face, he walked briskly away without looking back.

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

Percell squinted into the tiny mirror, carefully navigating the razor along his jaw. He and his fellow Team Viking grunts, minus Doc Hockenbury, had headed straight for the showers following their hike from the downed Huey.

Ruiz looked over Danny’s shoulder, grinning at himself in the mirror, then poked his friend in the ribs. "Hey, you gonna be done anytime this year?" He ran a small comb thru his unruly hair.

Scowling, Percell inspected the latest tiny nick in his chin. "Do ya have to do that while I have a razor in my hand, Roo?" He wiped the remaining shaving cream off his face with a towel and threw his things into his kit. Although a shower and the anticipation of clean clothes had considerably raised his spirits, Danny was still feeling the after effects of an adrenaline overload. His muscles felt jumpy and he couldn’t shake the image of Doc’s face when the medic thought he’d been injured.

"Percell?" Taylor’s voice dragged him back to the present. He glanced over at his friend, following Marcus’ line of sight.

Gaze on his boots, shoulders slumped and every angle of his skinny body turned into a down sloping curve, Hockenbury stumbled towards them. Bone-weary fatigue wrapped around the medic, making him unaware and unseeing. The bandage above his eyebrow seemed overly white against the grime and gore on the rest of him. He shoved past his teammates, dropping his fatigue shirt to the floor and stepping under one of the showerheads.

Reaching up, he twisted the spigot and stuck his head directly under the spray. The water ran over his hair and down his back, instantly turning red. Doc sucked in a shuddering chest full of air, held it for a moment then let it out explosively.

Taylor and Ruiz exchanged puzzled glances. Percell picked up Doc’s shirt, about to toss it in the corner when he realized there was something in the pocket. He draped it carefully over the wall before he turned to face the medic.

"Doc?"

Hockenbury raised his arms over his head, grabbing onto the spigot. Eyes closed, he let the water sluice over him.

"Doc, I’m gonna go get your towel and kit, okay?" Danny backed slowly away, shaking his head. He shrugged at Ruiz and Taylor, who stood watching, their mouths hanging open. Seizing his own kit, he took off for the hootch.

Taylor circled Hockenbury. "What’d the doc say about your head, Doc?" His voice was low and guarded.

The medic sighed, opening one eye, and regarded Taylor balefully. The water poured over his face, running rivulets down his nose and across his cheekbones. "She said, keep the bandage dry." The eye closed and Doc ducked his head, his hair hanging straight down in the deluge.

Marcus frowned. "Ya gonna take them clothes off?" He glanced over at Ruiz, who raised one eyebrow, crossing his arms over his bare chest. Taylor gestured at Hockenbury questioningly.

"No way, man, he’s on his own there." Ruiz backed away a step, tightening the towel around his waist, and picked up his dop kit. "Come on, Taylor, he probably wants to be alone anyhow." He stepped into his boots and tramped away.

Resting his fists on his hips, Taylor looked away for a moment, shaking his head, wishing he knew just exactly what it was he should be doing. Hockenbury was starting to calm down, he could see that. And it’s not like he was really worried or anything. Marcus took a deep breath.

"Gotta go, Doc. Ya might wanna consider stripping outta that gear!" He patted him awkwardly on the shoulder as he passed. He absently wiped his hand on his towel, never noticing the smear of red at his hip.

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

Caz stared into the basin, idly watching the tepid water fill from the tank on the roof of the dispensary. Her reflection wavered in front of her and she closed her eyes, not wanting to see the bloody smears on her face, however distorted by the water’s rippling surface.

It had been a beautiful day outside. Still was. All Caz could think was that it was supposed to have been an easy pickup. They’ve had a quiet mission, no contact. Her eyes stung with sudden tears, realizing perhaps for the first time what was going on here, what was at risk. Back at Tan Son Nhut, the patients came into the hospital in a steady stream and Caz had never had time to really wonder what hell they’d been through prior to arrival. She shivered despite the early afternoon heat, her mind’s eye picturing Doc on an OR table, Doc’s blood running on the floor as some surgeon calmly repaired an artery, a nurse frantically squeezing plasma bags dry and hanging more.

Angrily knuckling the moisture from her eyes, she picked up a towel and dunked it in the water. Squeezing out the excess fluid, she leaned her face into it, scrubbing her skin harshly. This IS what you came for, DOCTOR Cassidy, to fix guys and send them back out there. ALL of them, not just the ones you don’t know, never met, the ones you can pretend you don’t care about. Water dribbled down her neck, soaking into the collars of her scrub shirts. She leaned on the counter, face still pressed into the towel and let the hot tears fall.

Cassidy knew he was there before his fingers touched the back of her neck. She simply relaxed her muscles, keeping her eyes hidden behind her hands as he messaged her shoulders.

"Oh boy, does that feel good. I’ll give ya ‘til the end of my tour to stop that, Johnny McKay!"

The pilot laughed softly, moving around to lean on the counter, crossing his arms across his chest. He watched the soft swing of her hair as she turned her back to him, wiping her face with the damp white towel. "How’d ya know it was me?"

Caz shrugged. "Dunno. How’d ya know I wouldn’t slug ya?" Tossing the towel in the linen bin, she looked away from him, aware of her red-rimmed eyes, and walked slowly across the room.

McKay cleared his throat, glancing briefly around. He’d known from early that morning that something was going on with Caz and Doc. But he hadn’t realized until just a little while ago that it was reciprocated. And that it was real. And probably wasn’t going to go away with a little friendly advice, not matter how well intentioned. Besides, she out-ranked him. He sighed, Bridesmaid once again, McKay.

Caz looked expectantly up at him, holding his gaze for a moment before her expression faltered and she bit down on her lower lip, eyes welling up again. "McKay, thank you for gettin’ that bird on the ground." Her voice was a husky whisper and she swallowed hard, trying to keep control of her emotions. Just one more minute, please, I can’t fall apart here.

He looked away. "And thank you, Dr. Cassidy, for saving Lawson. I just spoke with the pilot who flew him to Tan Son Nhut. He was alive when they got there." He straightened up, subconsciously tugging on the front of his jacket, pulling the seams even with one another. "Caz, I need some help this afternoon. You busy?" Returning his gaze to her, he watched her eyes darken with confusion, one brow rising in suspicion.

"Gee, Johnny, just what kind of help do ya need?" She crossed her arms, leaning back on Hall’s desk, dislodging his wooden sign with her hip. Without looking down, she picked it up, weighing it in her hands, tossing it back and forth from one to the other.

"Caz, I was just gonna ask if you’d come to the orphanage with me an’ check out the kids. You don’t have to threaten me with a hunk of wood. A simple no would have sufficed." McKay held his hands up, palms out. He grinned at her, his eyes very green.

The young doctor gaped at him, almost dropping the nameplate on the floor. "God, McKay, I’d love to! An orphanage? With real kids?" Pushing herself upright, she carefully set Hall’s property back in its place, nudging it gently into position. Looking up at McKay, she was surprised at the warmth in his smile.

He shrugged, slipping his hands into his pockets. "So you wanna come?"

"Hell, yes! Lemme get cleaned up! I’ll be right with ya!" She grabbed another towel as she turned away from him, already on her way to her room for a fresh uniform. Finally, something to pull her from the shadowy recesses of her imagination, keep her from mulling over the darkness and what might have been.

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

Lieutenant John J. McKay reached the foot of the steps just as the door of team Viking’s hootch flew open, almost striking him in the face. He quickly stepped back, narrowly avoiding Percell, who jumped down the steps, not realizing the officer was there.

McKay took in the man’s obviously clean uniform and wet hair and raised an eyebrow at the bundle in his arms. "Where ya going with a towel and kit, Percell? Need ANOTHER shower?"

Danny winced, closing his blue eyes briefly before turning to face the pilot. "Oh, sorry, L-T, no. They’re for, um, somebody else. In the shower. Sir." Percell fumbled Hockenbury’s gear, almost dropping the towel in the dirt. He didn’t want to mention that the team medic, already considered by some to be just a little eccentric, was at that moment showering totally clothed including his boots.

McKay shook his head, not really wanting to know what sort of mischief the grunts might be cooking up. "Hockenbury inside? I need to see him." He pulled the screen door open, his booted foot already on the first step.

Percell made a quick decision, shoving the towel and kit into the surprised pilot’s arms. "He’s in the shower, L-T. If you could take these to him?" Percell took advantage of the open door and leaped up into the hootch. His voice floated back to the bemused lieutenant. "Thank you sir!"

McKay opened his fingers, letting the screen door slam. Staring at Hockenbury’s stuff, he wondered what was going on. Finally, he shrugged, tucked the towel and kit under his arm and set off for the showers, still puzzling over the blue-eyed specialist’s behavior.

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

Hockenbury stood naked under the tepid stream of water, his clothes finally discarded and kicked into the corner. Try as he might, he just couldn’t make his mind stay still. Images flickered behind his closed eyelids, all of them covered in a red haze of blood. Danny dazed on the lurching floor of the helicopter, unsure himself if he was injured. The gunner, eyes wide with panic, and blood pumping from a ruined artery somewhere in his shoulder, thrashing around in pain and confusion. And the IV tubing tangled on the deck, tangled in his thoughts.

And Caz, her fingers lightly messaging his shoulder as he lay on the table, providing him with the strength pull his head out of the ruined Huey and to face his fears, face himself. He sighed, watching her in his mind’s eye, as she concentrated on cleaning his wound, her face only inches from his, her gaze warm and steady.

"Hockenbury?" McKay’s voice broke through his reverie, startling him. "I got your towel and your kit here, Doc."

The medic squinted through the water droplets spilling over his eyelashes. He reached out, retrieving his gear. Nodding at the pilot, he pulled soap and shampoo from the bag, hanging his towel on a nail. "Thanks, L-T." He stepped back under the water.

McKay turned away, stretching his arms along the tops of the rough wooden wall as he leaned his back against it. "Doc, if you don’t have anything planned for the afternoon, I could use your help." The pilot continued to gaze across the compound, giving Doc the illusion of privacy. Behind him, Hockenbury had turned off the shower and was toweling off.

The medic glanced up at the back of McKay’s head, trying to read him before replying. "Whatcha got in mind, L-T?" He pulled the sodden bandage off his forehead, noting with mild interest that the wound was still oozing slightly. Pulling some 4x4’s from his shaving kit, he quickly re-bandaged it, awkwardly working backward in the mirror.

McKay turned back around, draping his elbows over the wall. "I’m going out to the orphanage. Could use your help. Sister Bernadette says some of the smaller kids are pulling at their ears." His voice trailed off as a Huey flew over the camp, lining up its approach. His gaze followed the bird all the way to a safe landing on the pad. He exhaled, letting out the breath he had been holding subconsciously.

Watching McKay in the mirror out of the corner of his eye, Hockenbury carefully applied a final strip of tape to his temple. He shook his head slowly, his over long hair falling into his eyes as he turned to face the pilot, tightening the towel around his waist.

"I don’t think I’m quite up to it today, L-T." He cleared his throat, rubbing one hand over his upper arm, wincing suddenly. Rotating his shoulder in, he studied the four purple oval contusions, already darkening against his pale skin. He glanced up to see McKay frowning, questions rising in the man’s green eyes.

"Compliments of the L-T. As well as a knot on the back ‘a my head." Hockenbury crossed his arms over his chest, massaging his biceps lightly. Glancing down at his sodden boots, he tipped one over with his toe and watched the water run from it. At least it’s not blood anymore.

McKay blinked, realizing just how harrowing those long minutes in the back of the chopper must have been for the medic. And thinking that an afternoon at the orphanage would be just as beneficial for Hockenbury, maybe even more so than for himself. He laced his fingers together.

"Doc, those kids need you." McKay paused, causing Doc to look up at him. "And I think you need them."

Doc stared at him a moment longer, then shoved his feet into his wet boots. He opened his mouth to decline then shut it again. He was too tired to argue with McKay. He sighed. "Okay. I’ll go."

The pilot broke into a sudden grin and smacked the top of the wall with his open hand. "Thanks, Doc! Go get something to eat. I’ll have a jeep at the hospital to load up the supplies." McKay nodded once more at the medic then strode briskly away, small clouds of dust billowing around his ankles.

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

Hockenbury watched McKay’s retreating back with listless eyes. Taking a deep breath, he closed them, feeling his knees shake beneath him, threatening to dump him on his rear. He reached a hand out to the wall, grabbing at the rough boards.

The unexpected smoothness of fabric under his fingers took him by surprise and he looked down at his bloodied fatigue jacket draped over the shower partition. He stared uncomprehendingly at it, unsure what to do. Covered in blood, it was more than likely ruined, gonna have to DX ‘em.

Lawson’s blood.

Hockenbury jerked his gaze away, swallowing hard, as vivid memories of the entire incident rushed back into his head. He ground the heel of his free hand into one eye, trembling, and sucked in a shuddering breath.

Danny under his hands, blood everywhere, Goldman suddenly grabbing him in his fear that Doc was wounded. Johnny's controlled but frantic voice over the mic, Lawson thrashing around...

The heaving deck of the crippled slick, the emotions of the team crowding in around him...

Doc shoved the memories away from his conscious thoughts, attempting to bury them where he didn’t have to face them. Where they couldn’t touch him. He could feel his heart pounding, his breath ragged in his ears. Blinking away stray tears from his eyes, he swallowed hard against the dryness in his mouth and throat, gathering up the ruined uniform in his hand.

He paused in bewilderment at an unexpected and forgotten heft of the jacket. Running his fingers down the material, he suddenly remembered the reason why. Unflapping the left breast pocket, Hockenbury tenderly withdrew the slim leather volume that Caz had given him the night before the mission.

"Aw man…" he whispered, realizing it was covered in Lawson’s blood. He gently began blotting the blood from the leather with a corner of his shirt that wasn’t completely saturated, praying silently that the book wasn’t totally ruined. Finished, he dropped the jacket forgotten to the floor and flipped carefully through the pages.

The slender little book had been a reminder of Caz for him out in the bush, the weight in his left pocket a comfort. It gave him an honest reminder that someone was back at Barnett, someone he wanted to come back to. Her smile, her odd green eyes, the chestnut hair skimming slender shoulders, all there in the weight of the slim little book in his pocket, safely buttoned away.

He sighed in relief when he realized the book had survived relatively unharmed. He tucked it carefully into his kit before gathering his sodden clothes together for the trip back to the hootch. If he didn't get moving, Danny was gonna come looking for him.

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

Myron Goldman leaned back in his desk chair, staring idly into space as he mentally composed the AAR for this morning’s fiasco. The mission itself had been dead calm and he wondered if he could get away with only chronicling up to the point that they all climbed aboard the helicopter. Without Hockenbury’s injury, maybe so, but with it? No way. He dropped the pencil on the desk, picking up a sweating bottle of beer he had filched from McKay’s refrigerator. Bringing it to his lips, he tipped his head back, downing half in one long swallow.

A muffled curse at the door caught him in the middle of another mouthful of beer and he hastily stashed the bottle behind his typewriter, gulping down what was in his mouth and dragging the back of his hand across his lips. Myron turned, sliding his chair back from the desk and watched his hootchmate carefully push the screen open with one shoulder.

McKay’s arms were full of small bags from the tiny PX and he juggled them successfully to his bunk, spilling them across the taut blanket. The brightly colored candy wrappers glittered like gems in a stray shaft of sunlight peeking through the blinds. He pulled a few personal items from the front pockets of his pants, dropping them into the securely flapped breast pocket of his jacket. Glancing up at Goldman with a grin, he shrugged, picking up handfuls of the sweets and filling the lower pockets of his uniform, leaving odd bulges.

Goldman smiled for what felt like the first time that day, his tension easing off a notch. "Going to the orphanage?" He slid his hands behind his neck, stretching, his back popping cooperatively. He sighed with relief and reached for the beer, catching himself just short of picking it up and hastily dropping his hand into his lap.

"Yeah. I haven’t been there much since we moved it into town." McKay gathered up the remaining candy, stuffing it into a single bag that he tucked under his arm. "Oh, and I’m taking your medic to check out the kids." He picked up a stray peppermint and tossed it in Myron’s direction.

Catching the mint, Goldman glanced at the pilot with a frown. "Hockenbury feeling up to that?" He peeled the wrapping slowly before popping the red and white striped candy in his mouth, wincing as the sugar irritated his split lip. Tucking it into his cheek, he raised a questioning eyebrow at McKay, his fingers busily crumpling the crinkly paper into a tiny ball.

McKay brushed a few pieces of lint from his blanket, smoothing the surface with the side of his hand. Satisfied, he turned to Goldman. "Just saw him in the showers. He says he’s fine. Okay if I borrow him, Dad?" He passed the bag of extra candy from one hand to the other as he headed for the door.

Myron watched him thoughtfully, hoping that Doc was in fact okay and not just bowing to the young pilot’s exuberance. He pushed the candy into his other cheek with his tongue. "Just have him home before dark or you’re grounded." Turning back to his desk, Goldman shook a cigarette from a pack, placing it between his lips. He lit up, taking a deep drag and wearily picked up his pencil.

McKay smiled at the back of his friend’s head. "Thanks, Goldman. Enjoy the beer!" He shoved open the screen door and was gone.

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

Hockenbury carefully negotiated the steps of the dispensary, his arms full of medical supplies. McKay had managed to snag a little of everything, the medic noticed, hooking his chin over the top edge of the box to keep from dropping it. Antibiotics, gauze, tape, oral rehydration solutions as well as c-rats rattled around as he dumped the load into the back of the jeep. He had hoped to run into Captain Cassidy, had, in fact, walked as slowly as possible from the supply room to the screen door, but there was no sign of her.

McKay rounded the corner of the building. "We about ready, Doc? I got some extra stuff." He held up the bag of candy before tossing it in the top of the box. Climbing into the driver’s seat, he turned the key in the ignition, revving the engine for a moment until it settled into a steady rhythm.

The medic moved toward the passenger seat but McKay held up his hand, waving him off. "Dr. Cassidy is going with us."

Hockenbury stared at him, grey-green eyes wide with surprise. He turned around, stopping dead in his tracks at the sight of Caz standing on the steps.

She was dressed totally GI, from her hat to her dusty boots. Doc couldn’t recall if he’d ever seen her that way. Other than the chestnut hair neatly pulled back into a ponytail, she could have been a tunnel rat. A really beautiful tunnel rat.

She was rolling her shirtsleeves, her attention completely absorbed in the task. A black leather doctor’s bag sat at her feet. Sleeves done, she reached down and picked up her things, starting down the steps as she straightened.

McKay reached across the seat, poking Hockenbury between the shoulder blades. "Doc, now would be a good time to breathe." His low voice carried just as far as the medic’s ears.

Doc’s face turned bright red and he glanced back at McKay, ducking his head. The pilot grinned wickedly, pointing back at the stairs with his chin. As the medic looked away, McKay rolled his eyes. Man, he’s got it real bad!

Caz had finally looked up, her eyes meeting Doc’s as she stood on the bottom step. A slow smile spread across her face as she realized he was a part of the outing. She stepped down to the ground, swinging her bag, gaze never leaving his as she circled around him and climbed in the jeep. She turned to face McKay as Hockenbury swung into the seat behind her.

McKay grinned at her like the Cheshire Cat, right hand resting on the gear shift. And she’s got it just as bad!

Without a second thought, Caz slugged him in the shoulder.

Startled, McKay grabbed his arm. "Ow, what the hell was that for?" He rubbed his bicep, grimacing.

Caz shrugged, looking forward, her foot propped on the doorframe. "You know why. I’ve got brothers." A smirk came and went across her lips, then she composed her features into an expression of innocence.

McKay snorted. "I’ve got sisters! Ready Doc? Let’s roll!" He slammed the jeep into gear.


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