|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)
Caz slouched in the front passenger seat of the jeep, her cap pulled low over her eyes. She had admired the countryside as they left Camp Barnett while well aware that its green beauty hid death and horror. She evidenced that herself every day in the operating theatre. It just seems so peaceful, so seductive. She thought of the undulating hills back home, running barefoot across the lush emerald fields, the grass cool beneath her feet. The memory vanished in an instant as they rolled past a boy leading a water buffalo. A boy with only one leg, leaning heavily on a crutch.
Traffic picked up quickly as they approached Saigon. The city itself seemed to have overflowed its boundaries, leaving a few quiet, rambling streets stretching away from the bustling crowds. McKay turned down one of them, quickly bringing the jeep to a halt in an area that seemed almost deserted.
St. Mary’s Orphanage, as the small sign proclaimed it, consisted of a long, low earthen building, with a courtyard on the street frontage bounded by a wall topped with wrought iron. A group of children sat on plain wooden benches facing a blackboard, their backs straight, hands held in their laps. They were paying close attention to a nun, dressed in full habit, who was tracing letters on the board and encouraging her students with wide sweeps of her heavy sleeves.
McKay cut the engine, and in the sudden silence Caz became aware that the children were singing, singing in French! The tune seemed familiar but she couldn’t place it, nor could she completely understand the words of the melody. Her own days of foreign language study now seemed a lifetime ago. The young doctor mentally resolved to renew her acquaintance with the language, at least enough to talk to these kids. Looking over at McKay, she realized that he had already vaulted from the jeep and was striding towards the wall.
The screeching of the iron gate caught the children’s attention and they leaped from their seats, running toward the pilot. A young girl, no more than seven or eight, led them, her shiny black hair flying out behind her. McKay knelt down, his arms outstretched to catch her up, rising as she flew into his embrace. The other children crowded around, busy fingers pulling at his pockets, shouts of laughter erupting as the candy was discovered and distributed. The girl in McKay’s arms pulled his hat from his head, placing it on her own. Her wide smile matched the one spreading across the young man’s face.
Caz watched in astonishment, her doctor’s bag hanging forgotten in her hand. Hockenbury nudged her gently with his elbow as he pulled several of the boxes from the back of the jeep.
"Happens ev’ry time!" Doc’s voice was amused and he raised an eyebrow at her when she turned to gape at him. He pulled his hat off, swiping his forearm across his sweaty brow as he grinned at her. He winced as he inadvertently touched the bandage over his left temple.
"Every time? How did he get into this?" Caz looked back at McKay, watching the nun approach him with a fond expression on her serene face. The woman gently rescued him from the crowd of kids, shooing them away with a smile.
Hockenbury thrust a box of vitamins into Caz’s arms, picking up two others himself. Leading the way, he spoke over his shoulder. "Well, he first met Swan, that lil’ girl he’s carryin’ around, when he ran her over with a jeep."
"WHAT?" Caz almost dropped the carton, juggling it with her leather bag, finally clutching them both against her chest. She followed him through the gate and into the dimness of the building. Setting the box down on a low table, Caz grabbed Doc by the sleeve. "He hit her with a jeep?"
Hockenbury looked down at her fingers on his arm, then back up into her hazel eyes. "Yeah, Caz, he hit her with a jeep." His voice was husky and he cleared his throat, suddenly aware they were alone and that he’d used her name without her rank.
Caz blushed, but didn’t drop her hand. "I’m assumin’ that she wasn’t badly injured?" She looked up, her eyes enormous in the dark interior of the orphanage. She relaxed her grip on his sleeve, leaving her fingers gently resting on his bicep.
"Hey! You got all the stuff from the jeep?" McKay’s voice startled them and they each took a step back, Caz’s hand falling to her side. Hockenbury recovered first, winking at her before he turned and stepped back out into the sunshine of the courtyard.
Caz closed her eyes briefly, taking a deep breath to steady her racing pulse. Caz, Caz, Caz, you’re playing with dynamite here, get a grip! With a shake of her head, she followed Doc toward the jeep for the rest of the supplies. She noticed McKay and the Sister moving the benches and low tables into a makeshift examining area. When the pilot looked up, she tossed her bag to him, smiling at him as he fumbled the catch.
Doc had placed the remaining two boxes on the hood of the jeep and was pulling a canvas bag from under the back seat. He removed a length of chain and a padlock and quickly locked the steering wheel to the driver’s seat. Pulling the key from the lock, he handed it to her.
"You’re ranking officer, Dr. Cassidy. You get the key." He grinned at her, picking up the remaining boxes. "Oh, an’ no, Swan wasn’t hurt bad. At least, not by McKay." With that cryptic remark, he walked away, leaving Caz to stare after him.
*** *** *** *** *** ***
As Hockenbury carried the last of the boxes into the building, Caz wandered slowly toward McKay and the nun, her footsteps dragging. She watched the children swarming around the pilot and observed his easy manner with them, how he teased this one or hugged that one. She stopped a few feet away and shoved her hands into her pockets, biting her lower lip. The confident surgeon, Captain J. Cassidy M.D., found herself totally intimidated by a kindly nun and a pack of kids.
McKay caught sight of her in the periphery of his vision, and waved her over. "Caz, come meet Sister Bernadette!" He fended off a fresh assault by the children, tucking the smallest of them under his arm like a football, as he pushed his way through to Caz. "Come on!"
Caz reluctantly allowed herself to be surrounded by the laughing children, small sticky hands pressing into hers and encircling her fingers. A small grin appeared on her lips as the kids gently led her over to the nun, whose smiling face held no trace of reserve. Caz looked into Sister Bernadette’s clear blue eyes and saw nothing but interest and curiosity.
McKay patted Caz’s shoulder. "Sister Bernadette, this is Captain Cassidy. She’s a doctor - a surgeon. Caz, this is Sister Bernadette. She runs this place, keeps these kids safe."
"A doctor? This is a pleasant surprise for us. Tell me, Captain Cassidy, what is your given name?" The nun inclined her head slightly to one side, her hands held loosely clasped in front of her as she smiled gently at the young woman.
Caz cleared her throat nervously, wiping her now grubby hands on the sides of her fatigues. She glanced at McKay, then back at the nun. "Well, ma’am, um, Sister, well. Ev’ryone calls me Caz. Ma’am."
"We’re startin’ to think it’s some kinda mystery, Sister Bernadette." Doc brushed past Caz, gently jostling her, as he carried the open box of medical supplies to the table. He carefully set it down, making sure the bag of candy was securely closed and out of sight. Turning to Sister Bernadette, he smiled, taking her hand in his. "Good day, Sister Bernadette, how are you?"
The nun beamed at the medic, her quick glance taking in the bandage over his eye, the stiffness in his movements and the fatigue evident in his face. "I am well, Francis, but what has happened to you?" She reached gentle fingers towards his temple, stopping just short of touching him.
Hockenbury looked up at McKay, attempting to raise his left eyebrow and failing miserably. "Oh, nothin’ much, just a little accident playin’ in the jungle. Thanks for askin’, Sister." He turned his attention back to the supplies, pulling out his stethoscope, blood pressure cuff, and a pile of tongue depressors.
Caz nodded at the nun and McKay and moved to join the medic. She opened her black bag, hauling out her own stethoscope and looping it around her neck. Setting down her otoscope, she dug around in the bag for batteries, eventually dumping it upside down and emptying the contents on the table. Among the medical tools, pens and packs of Wild Cherry Lifesavers, several batteries rolled away, picking up speed on the uneven tabletop.
Cupping his hand at the edge of the table, Doc scooped them up as they fell, handing them back to Caz who carefully fitted them into the handle of the otoscope. He watched her test the instrument, narrowing the beam of light and shining it on the palm of her hand. She nodded in satisfaction, the end of her ponytail gently brushing her collar. Swallowing against the sudden dryness in his mouth, Hockenbury slid his gaze away from the small drop of perspiration trailing down her slender neck. He moved around the table opposite her, picking up the bag of candy from the box and opening it.
"Here’s our secret weapon, Caz. The only thing known to keep a squirmy kid still long enough to look in their ears." He held out the bag, tilting its open top toward the young doctor.
Caz stood on tiptoe to peer in, a grin tugging at the corners of her mouth. Stretching out her arm, she tried to reach into the bag only to have it snatched away from her.
"Now, now, have you had your ears examined? You only get candy if you’re a good little girl." Doc blushed, closing his eyes briefly as he realized what he’d said. He glanced quickly over his shoulder, searching for McKay and the nun. Fortunately, they appeared engrossed in getting the kids ready, seating them in rows on the benches.
"Well, Hockenbury." Caz’s voice was low, husky. Her green-grey eyes looked directly into his as she slid her long surgeon’s fingers into the bag, delicately removing a candy and palming it. "How about if I promise to be good?" She turned her hand over – empty!
Mouth hanging open, Doc blinked. How’d she do that? He shook his head, for once without words. One corner of his mouth turned up in a wry smile as he looked at her, noting the mischief in her eyes and the amusement in her expression. "I’m gonna hold you to that, Caz. Now, how ‘bout we start checkin’ out these kids?"
Caz nodded, attempting to get her pulse under control. At the rate it was hammering, she doubted she could hear anything through her stethoscope. She caught McKay’s attention, waving the first two children over.
*** *** *** *** *** ***
Doc picked up Swan, eagerly smiling, her hands and face liberally smeared with chocolate. He set her gently on the table and placed the earpieces of his stethoscope carefully in his ears, preparing to listen to her heart and lungs. Swan patted down the pockets of his jacket for candy, then pulled on the tubing of the ‘scope, eliciting a sharp "Ow!" from the medic. He untangled it from her hands, waggling his index finger at her, knowing that she couldn’t hear him.
Caz turned to the tiny toddler Sister Bernadette had guided over to her. The child, a little boy, couldn’t have been more than three. He hid behind the nun’s voluminous skirts, his face buried in the folds. Moving around to head him off, Caz managed to spook the child into diving under the table. The doctor stopped, frustrated, her hands on her slim hips.
Pausing in his own exam, Hockenbury leaned over and peered under the table. Big brown eyes stared back at him from a face so solemn he had to laugh. "Caz? Did you lose something?" He reached for the bag, pulling a lollipop from it.
The young doctor knelt in the dirt, watching Doc and the boy. She marveled at his ease with these kids, wishing she possessed just a little of that gift. "You know, I haven’t looked at a kid since I was in med school, Doc. I think I’ve forgotten how!" She pushed herself to her feet as the boy slithered out, grasping the lollipop.
Hockenbury set him on the table. Pointing at Caz, he addressed the boy. "Bac si! Captain Cassidy is a bac si."
The boy stuck the candy into his mouth, his eyes wide but not frightened. He studied Caz while she studied him, looking into his ears and his mouth, listening to his chest. The anxious set of his muscles slowly relaxed and he perked up enough to try and appropriate the candy bag.
Laughing, Doc grabbed it away just in time. "I think ya got it there, Caz. Think ya can handle the next one on your own?" He swung the boy to the ground, patting him on the head as he scurried off to play. He turned to find Caz watching him, a faint smile on her face. "What?"
Caz grinned. "Very impressive." She pulled off her fatigue jacket, tossing it on a bench, all the while watching him watch her.
Doc grinned back as he brushed past her, whispering in her ear. "You just wait, Caz, I’ll show you impressive."
They smiled at each other for a moment, before calling up the next two children and continuing the exams.
*** *** *** *** *** ***
They were down to the last two kids. McKay and Sister Bernadette had taken the others into the orphanage, but the sounds of children playing could be heard faintly. Although he couldn’t be sure, Doc thought he heard McKay’s laughter, too, and the idea of the pilot romping with the kids brought a grin to his face. Finished with his patient, he sent her on her way with a treat from the candy bag and a pat on the back.
Caz gazed thoughtfully through her otoscope, pulling her patient’s ear backwards to straighten out the canal, improving her line of sight to the eardrum. Frowning, she removed the instrument and swung herself up on the table next to the boy, staring quizzically at him. He was about four years old, possessed of that amazing directness only small children seem to have. He looked up at her for a moment, then crawled into her lap, his thin arms wrapped around her neck.
Caz’s eyes grew wide for a moment, as much with surprise as with a sudden, overwhelming sense of protectiveness. She gathered her arms around him, hugging him tightly, her eyes closed.
Rounding the table, Hockenbury felt a tightness in his chest at the sight of Caz and the child. Her initial awkwardness with the kids had gradually faded away and he knew that she was enjoying herself from the comments she directed at her tiny, uncomprehending patients. Even with the language barrier she had joked with them anyway and they had all smiled, realizing on some level how much their needs had fulfilled a need in her. This little guy, though, he was enjoying a rare treat. A long hug, all for him alone.
Caz felt his gaze on her and opened her eyes, looking at him over the boy’s dark head. "I need your help on this one, Doc. He’s stuffed a bean or somethin’ in his left ear." She smiled as Doc grinned, shaking his head slowly.
"No kiddin’. I got some alligator forceps in my bag if you wanna give it a try." Caz shifted the boy into a more comfortable position on her lap as Hockenbury dug in her black bag.
The medic held up what looked like a very skinny pair of scissors, with a right angle bend at the hinge. He opened and closed them a couple of times, testing how the teeth came together. "These could come in handy for lots of stuff, I’d imagine." He grinned at Caz, coming around to sit on the table next to her. Picking up the otoscope, he took a quick look in the ear as Caz held the boy’s head against her cheek.
"I think it IS a bean, Caz! Lemme see if I can grab it." He moved in closely, watching the ends of the forceps thru the magnifying lens of the ‘scope. "Almost got it." He bit down on his lower lip in concentration, bracing his elbow against Caz’s shoulder as he juggled the instruments.
Caz took a deep breath, taking in the clean smell of him, such a contrast to the coppery smell of blood that had flooded her nostrils earlier. It seemed so long ago, yet was only a few hours. She sighed with contentment to be here in this sunny courtyard, her breath stirring the child’s hair and earning her a quick glance from Hockenbury.
"You okay there? I almost got this thing." Doc took a deep breath, steadied his hand and inserted the forceps. The boy jumped against Caz and she tightened her grip on him, holding him snugly against her. A second later, a triumphant Hockenbury held up the forceps, a grayish bean caught securely in the teeth. He waved it under the boy’s nose, a stern look on his face.
"Do not, I repeat, do not, put this in your ear again!" He laughed, watching the boy spring from Caz’s lap, apparently suspicious that something else unpleasant might happen to him.
Caz removed a candy from the bag, holding it out to the child. He looked from the medic to the doctor and back again, before snatching the sweet and running into the orphanage as fast as his legs could carry him. Caz held out her hand for the forceps, studying the bean caught in the end, as she hitched one hip on the edge of the table.
"That’s a pretty big one! We better get Sister Bernadette to put him on the antibiotics as well." Caz looked at her notes. "So that’s five total for ear infections? No, wait, four ears and one impetigo." She nodded, checking off the names. "So she has what she needs for this? Did we bring it out here today?" She squinted at Doc in the bright afternoon sun.
He nodded, amused by her efficiency. The children received as good a care as he could provide, but he’d never thought to start keeping records on them. Doc watched her toss the bean out into the street. "Better watch that, Caz, might be a beanstalk there next time we come through."
Caz grinned, standing up and stretching. "I guess we’ll just have to climb it, then. Take all these kids on a field trip!" She turned to the tabletop, quickly organizing the mess of medical supplies into categories. All the instruments she carefully wrapped in a cloth, ready to be cleaned back at the hospital. Opening the bottle of alcohol, Caz wiped down her stethoscope, stowing it back in her bag. She picked up Doc’s ‘scope, too, making quick work of cleaning it, and threw it in the open box.
Hockenbury scooped up the discarded syringes, placing the needles in an orange container for disposal. He counted all the vials of penicillin they had used and packed away the remainder for the trip back to camp. Looking in the box, he rummaged around, making sure that everything was accounted for. He frowned, turning to look at Caz, who was finishing up her notes on the children.
"Are the scissors over there, Caz, those bandage shears? I can’t believe I lost ‘em again." The medic peered in the box, scowling.
Caz patted the papers strewn over the table, smiling as she slid her hand under them, coming up triumphantly with the instrument. "These scissors, Doc?" She held them out to him, handles first, the blades lying flat against the palm of her hand.
"Yeah, those scissors!" He reached for them just as Caz pulled her hand away, putting her arms behind her back.
"Hey!" Laughing, he grabbed her elbow, hauling her off the table as she tried to keep him from retrieving the shears.
"C’mon Caz, give ‘em up!" Doc succeeded in gently twisting her arm around, but the scissors were no longer there. He blinked, taking hold of the other arm as Caz laughed, her ponytail dancing around her shoulders. "C’mon Caz, I’m warning you!"
She suddenly held out the other hand, empty as well. Doc stared at her hands, then looked into her green-grey eyes, shining with mischief. Neither moved for a moment, their quick breathing marking the passage of time. Before Caz realized what he was up to, Hockenbury slid both hands around her waist, reaching for the scissors he knew had to be stuffed into the small of her back.
Caz shoved against him, her head tucked down against his chest and her hands on his biceps. She was laughing uncontrollably and her efforts to escape dwindled rapidly.
"Aha!" Doc held the blades up in one hand, his other still around Caz’s waist. He felt her relax against him for a second, her face turning up to his, cheeks flushed red. Her long capable surgeon’s fingers brushed against his chest as she regained her balance and he shivered, his grey-green eyes darkening.
They both suddenly realized they were being watched. They turned together, not thinking enough to step apart. A beautiful young Vietnamese woman in traditional dress stood there in the orphanage door, her face white with shock. Caz quickly saw that she was watching Doc, dark eyes full of regret. The woman turned, her ebony hair swinging in a curtain, hiding her features as she moved to the gate and disappeared into the street.
Caz frowned, shaking her head slightly in confusion. She glanced at Doc briefly, then found her attention yanked back to him forcefully at the sight of his pale face. "Doc? Who was that?" Her voice was soft, uncertain.
The medic flushed as he dropped his gaze to the ground, tapping the scissors against the heel of his hand. "She’s Tien Ly, the daughter of the man who owns the building." Abruptly he returned to the box of supplies, dropping the shears into it and rummaging around aimlessly. After a moment, Hockenbury withdrew his hand, shoving it into his pocket.
Caz watched him, aware of his embarrassment and unsure how to relieve it. She sighed, realizing that the power to retrieve this moment rested on her handling of it. "So, you went out?" Shuffling her papers together, she straightened the edges against her palm and slid them into a file folder.
"Well, sorta. I asked her out and she invited me to dinner at her family’s house. They gave me a duck head to eat." Hockenbury shuddered involuntarily at the memory. His lips twitched upward in a small grin and his shoulders relaxed. He pulled a pack of cigarettes from his pocket, lighting one up and taking a deep drag. He wandered over to the building, peering in the windows as he smoked.
"And then what?" Caz placed the folder in the box, her back to him.
Doc blew out a stream of smoke. "An’ then nothin’. It didn’t work out." He raised a hand to his temple, gently palpating around the bandage.
Caz shrugged, reaching into the box and pulling out a roll of gauze. Taking aim, she put ten years experience as her softball team’s shortstop into practice and beaned him with it. She laughed as it bounced off his head and rolled in the dirt.
Hockenbury whipped around, almost dropping the cigarette. Caz’s gaze met his and he smiled, then chuckled as he walked over, picking up the box. He retrieved the gauze and tossed it in, carrying the carton to the jeep. As he dumped it in the back, he heard Caz’s distracted musing.
"Duck head? Is that supposed to be a good thing?"
*** *** *** *** *** ***
While Caz and Doc Hock treated some of the little ones, McKay found himself walking in the shade of the building with Sister Bernadette. Young Swan, still so shy, was asleep in the secure circle of his strong arms, her sweet face buried where his shoulder and neck joined. She had one small hand gripped securely in the folds of his jacket, dog tags wrapped around her fingers. The other she had draped over his back with the stuffed toy he had given her months ago dangling.
Swan could always bring a peace to the edges of Johnny's confusion and anger. Her trust, not given to just anyone, was endearing and she clearly adored the man. He played absently with a few silky strands of the child's hair as she slept peacefully against him. Sister Bernadette let him have these moments, realizing it had not been a good day for any of the soldiers who were now here at her orphanage.
They were in the courtyard behind the building, and the four or five children not being looked at by the two medics were playing with a large ball that the young Lieutenant had brought a few months back. Their laughter and occasional shrill shrieks filled the courtyard as surely as the late afternoon sunshine that spilled down on the dusty ground.
"Are things okay here, Sister?" Johnny finally found his voice. "Do you have enough for the kids?" He wasn't looking at her, but watching the children instead as he continued to stroke Swan's soft hair.
"Johnny, you have done more than enough." The Sister reached out and placed a delicate hand on his arm. She felt the muscles tense; saw him visibly steel himself to not pull away from her touch.
"I've got some money, I can pick up some more stuff if you let me know what you need." He wouldn't look at her. She watched him as he struggled with a silent battle to keep himself together. He swallowed hard and glanced back at the building. "Goldman's guys, they don't mind chipping in what they can. I'm sure we can get you more medical supplies..." His voice trailed off when she squeezed his arm gently.
"Lieutenant McKay, look at me." Sister Bernadette spoke softly, but her voice brooked no argument from the younger man. He hesitated, hitching Swan up a few inches and resettling her against his chest before he could finally raise his head and she found herself meeting with haunted eyes.
"What happened today, what has you frightened, and Francis hurting?" Her mind jumped ahead to the other men who often came with Johnny to help. "Lieutenant Goldman, your other friends, they are alright, yes?"
"Oh God yes!" Johnny quickly reassured her, then ducked his head and blushed. "It almost didn't end up that way. It should have been such an easy pick up." He hugged Swan a little closer. "It turned into such a nightmare."
She didn't say anything, just kept her hand reassuringly on his arm and let him find himself. Find his own words and resolve.
"We took some hits, my gunner- Lawson- dear God!" Johnny closed his eyes and nuzzled Swan for several moments. "It was Myron's guys in the back, Doc Hock with them. Lawson would have died if it hadn't been for that guy. We got shot up so badly I wasn't sure I could get the damn slick back to the base." He flushed again when he realized he had cussed. "Somehow, I don't know how - but somehow I managed to get us to the fields just outside of Barnett." He was looking at her again, confusion mixed with some relief showing in his eyes. "Caz, Dr. Cassidy, she patched Lawson up, got him on the med evac bird. Saved his life..." He trailed off, embarrassed that he suddenly seemed to be almost babbling. "I shouldn’t have said any of that, Sister."
Sister Bernadette now placed both hands on his arms, smiling reassuringly. "It is God's will that you all made it safely back, Lieutenant John J McKay. He has plans for you, surely you must know this." She watched him a moment. "And I am a nun, consider this a…confessional."
Johnny shook his head, his eyes darkening. "I don't know what to believe sometimes. I wish I knew. I used to think I didn't care – that one day I would fork my chopper into the jungle and that would be the end of it. Somewhere, somehow, that changed."
"You changed, Johnny, although it was always there for you to find within yourself." She continued to hold his gaze; he was unable to look away from her understanding and sympathy. It was unspoken between them, that which changed everything for Johnny. It wasn't just the loss of Alex any more, or Goldman's distance and walls. That he dealt with. The friendly fire incident was still too fresh, too raw and open a wound for him to deal with. He hid behind his smile and easy nature. Hid from himself until something like today's near tragedy reminded him of other things he couldn't change.
He was so shattered by that incident, and still unable to accept any absolution for it. The Sister worried that he might seek atonement in something reckless. Yet he kept coming back to her children, and to Swan. He kept flying. But she could see the once pure joy it held for him was now tarnished. And there was an edge of almost desperation that surrounded him when he now came to visit and bring supplies.
Sister Bernadette finally let him look away just as Caz and Hockenbury emerged into the courtyard to see the children playing. "You two finally done?" The pilot called, catching their attention. He was easily back behind his walls, smiling a welcome to his two friends. Swan awoke and slipped from his arms, running to join the other kids.
Following the sound of children’s laughter, Doc and Caz had threaded their way through the dim rooms of the orphanage, ultimately passing through a doorway which led to the back of the building. They blinked for a moment in the strong afternoon sunlight, allowing their eyes to adjust.
Sister Bernadette walked over to them in her slow, deliberate manner. Her face was lit by a gentle smile as she inquired after the children in her softly accented voice. "How many must I be giving medicine to this time, Francis?" She laughed lightly as she turned to stand beside Caz and the medic, joining them in watching McKay gather the children in the yard.
"Just five, Sister. I brought the penicillin; it’s with the other stuff. Dr. Cassidy here wrote up how much each kid gets. An’ make sure they get it for ten days now, we don’ want any flareups." Hockenbury smiled at the nun as she nodded her understanding.
Caz found herself grinning despite her intimidation. The nun was taller than the young doctor and in her habit, just generally more imposing. Shaking her head, Caz turned her gaze to McKay just as he fired a bright red ball directly at her. Throwing up her hands, she grabbed it out of the air just before it bounced off her face.
"Hey, McKay! Just what do ya think you’re doin’?" She tucked the big rubbery ball under her arm and marched out into the sunshine. The children flocked around her, small hands grabbing at her pants, their laughter floating up to fill the courtyard. She held the ball over their heads, chuckling at their attempts to knock it from her grasp.
McKay watched her approach, smiling. He hadn’t been sure how successful this trip was going to be, knowing only that he always felt better after a visit to the orphanage. Hockenbury certainly seemed more relaxed, although it would have been harder to be LESS relaxed than he was sitting there in the downed chopper, surrounded by what seemed to be an ocean of blood. McKay hadn’t known the medic was hurt until Anderson had hauled him out of the Huey, the bandage on his head reminding the pilot how close they came on a daily basis to buying the farm.
And Caz – McKay had been shocked at the red-rimmed eyes and vaguely trembling hands, having heard from the med evac pilots from Tan Son Nhut how calm she was in the OR, apparently almost legendary for her ability to keep her head when things got hairy. But this morning, she’d about lost it. Looking at her now, McKay felt he’d made the right decision asking her along.
Caz walked straight up to McKay, bouncing the ball off his chest and catching it again before he realized what she was going to do. "So, what’s the game here anyway?" She let Swan pull the ball from her arms, smiling at the little girl as she shyly looked up at the lady in the GI uniform. The other children immediately jostled closer, trying to knock the ball from Swan’s arms.
"Well." McKay cleared his throat, turning to look at the shape of the yard. "We’ve got one goal over there, near that pile of, well, whatever that stuff is. And another goal by that door. Object of the game? Get the ball to the goal. No other rules." He grinned at Caz, and then yelled to the medic. "Hockenbury, you’re a team captain, get over here!"
Doc blinked, then ambled over to the knot of kids, pushing his way carefully through. "Um, you know, L-T, sports ain’t my thing, really an’ I…"
McKay cut him off. "Fine, now your goal is over there and Caz? Yours is the other one. Now, let me divvy up the kids." He pushed through the children, alternately placing them with Doc or Caz, until the little courtyard was divided into two groups. Turning to face them, he retrieved the ball and stood in the middle, holding it over his head. "So, you ready? GO!" With that, the pilot threw the ball high into the air and rapidly backed away, laughing as he removed himself from the field.
The first few minutes of play were chaotic, as the children scrambled to get the ball, shrieking and giggling. As soon as one child picked it up, another would knock it free with a triumphant shout. Doc circled his team, calling encouragement and helpfully pointing at the ball whenever it bounced loose. The dust rose in clouds around them, at times totally obscuring the smaller children. Caz finally picked up one of her players as he clutched the ball and dashed with him for the goal.
Astonished, Hockenbury blinked and found his voice. "You’re cheating!" Laughing, he waded through the children to Caz, who was celebrating with her team, swinging the tiny boy who had carried the ball around and around. The other kids crowded up to her in their excitement, chattering in both French and Vietnamese, huge grins stretching across their faces.
"Nope, the only rule was get the ball to the goal I believe, Doc Hockenbury!" She set the boy down on his feet and walked right up to Doc, hands on her hips and looked into his face. She pitched her voice low and husky, just loud enough for him to hear. "We’re gonna kick your ass, Specialist." Caz handed him the ball, pivoting on one foot and walked slowly away, looking over her shoulder at him and fluttering her eyelashes.
Doc stood there, grey-green eyes wide as he watched her slink away, hips twitching invitingly. Realizing that his mouth was hanging open and the children were staring at him in curiosity, he then quickly knelt down on the dirt floor of the courtyard and huddled up his team. Drawing a diagram in the dust that Goldman would have been proud of, the medic managed to convey his plan of attack to his kids.
Play resumed with a great deal of shouting. Half of Doc’s team managed to tackle Caz, wrestling her to the ground and then pouncing on her. Caz’s muffled laughter rose from beneath the pile of kids, punctuated with an occasional "ouch!" The rest of Doc’s players were slowly moving the ball towards the goal, calling to each other in excitement, their progress suddenly impeded by Caz’s team abandoning her to her fate and rushing off to intercept the ball.
Sister Bernadette smiled and laughed softly, her eyes sparkling as she covered her mouth with a slender hand. She glanced at McKay and found him smiling, too, his weary expression supplanted entirely with delight. He laughed as Caz made it to her feet only to be brought down by the Lilliputian opposition.
While Caz struggled under the blanket of children, Hockenbury spurred his team on to score, his arms spinning like a traffic cop. The children cheered madly, waving their thin arms. Hugging them all, Doc lifted the smaller ones into the air and spun with them, his laughter joining theirs.
"Help me!" A muffled voice came from the pile of children in the middle of the yard. Caz’s own team had joined Doc’s in pinning the doctor to the ground. All that could be seen of her were her boots and one hand waving feebly. She must have been laughing, though, as some unseen force in the middle of the heap was tossing the children up and down.
Doc slowly walked over, the grin on his face increasing with each step. He stopped at Caz’s boots, studying the situation. "Caz? Are ya in there?"
"Yeah!!!!!!! But I gotta tell ya, the oxygen level is gettin’ low!" The boots twitched a few times.
Doc leaned over and began moving the giggling children. One by one he scooped them up and set them on their feet, dusting them off as he went. Finally he uncovered the young doctor and picked up the last child, the young boy who had stuck the bean in his ear. "Oh, it would be you, wouldn’t it?" Doc smiled at him, tweaking his nose.
"Children!" Sister Bernadette called to the kids in French, her normally soft-spoken voice carrying easily across the courtyard. The children all ran quickly into the orphanage, their excited voices trailing behind them, their feet kicking up clouds of dust.
Doc looked down at Caz, whose left arm was thrown across her eyes. She was covered in tan-colored grime from head to toe and somewhere along the line she had lost her hat. Her ponytail had migrated to one side and trailed in the dirt. Doc raised an eyebrow, leaning over to peer at her.
"I feel like a deuce-and-a-half just squished me!" She smiled up at Doc, raising her arms toward him. "Can you give me a hand or two, please?"
He reached down without hesitation, grasping her wrists, and hauled her to her feet. The dust billowed around her in a cloud and Hockenbury immediately began brushing her down, just as he had the kids. After a few moments, he realized that he was dusting off her fanny, and that both McKay and Sister Bernadette were still there, watching from the shadows of the building.
Caz stepped quickly back, her cheeks flushing bright red. "I think I got that covered, Doc, thanks." She began patting the dust from her fatigues, turning her back to everyone in embarrassment.
Doc’s face flooded with color, also, and he shoved his hands deeply into his pockets. After a moment, he wandered back over to McKay and the nun, carefully avoiding meeting their eyes. He looked down at his own uniform, realizing for the first time that he, too, was coated in dust.
McKay and Sister Bernadette exchanged amused glances. Picking up the ball, McKay began dribbling it like a basketball, faking shots at an imaginary basket. He dribbled a circle around Caz as she joined the group, still flapping dust.
"Jeepers, McKay! Why is it that when a guy has a ball, any kind, soccer, football, tennis – whatever! – he has to shoot it like a basketball? What is it with guys and balls?" Caz shook her head in wonder until she realized what she had said. And then immediately turned purple, as she was already as red as humanly possible.
"Umm, I gotta go, uh, the jeep, uh, out front." She bolted for the door, ponytail bobbing behind her.
"Jesus Christ, Caz! There’s a nun present!" McKay froze, suddenly realizing what HE had said. He mumbled an apology and took off after Caz, reaching her as she got to the building. He bounced the ball off her head and she shoved him into the doorframe as they hurried through it. Their explosive laughter followed them into the interior of the orphanage.
Doc and Sister Bernadette stood in the yard, the sudden silence crowding around them. Hockenbury kept his gaze on the ground as he opened and closed his mouth, trying to come up with the perfect comment, but failing entirely. He finally looked up, raising his grey-green eyes to hers. "Um. I guess it’s time to go." He nodded once, twice, then slipped quietly away, shaking his shaggy head.
Sister Bernadette finally allowed herself to smile, her blue eyes merry.
*** *** *** *** *** ***
McKay climbed into the driver’s seat of the jeep, Swan clinging around his neck like a little monkey. He leaned his head back far enough to look into her dark eyes, overwhelmed as always by the trust he saw there. These kids shouldn’t trust anybody. As he hugged her to him, his gaze met with Sister Bernadette’s, calm and steady. Well, maybe a few people. He whispered a few endearments into the child’s ear, knowing that she couldn’t hear him, and kissed the top of her head.
Sister Bernadette took Swan from him as he started the jeep, calling the children to her. They crowded around like a flock of unruly ducklings, all calling out their good-byes to the pilot and the medics. Their smiles and clean, shining faces belied the poverty in which they lived, denying a poverty of spirit if nothing else. The jeep pulled away amid enough noise for a New York City parade.
Caz pulled off her cap, shoving it into her bag, and reached her arms behind her head to pull out the band holding her ponytail. Her chestnut hair fell to her shoulders in a tangled wave and she ran her fingers through it several times, the strands finally falling into place, smooth and orderly against her collar. She sighed in contentment as the breeze brushed by her, ignoring the puffs of dust that still emanated from her uniform. Leaning her head back against the seat, Caz closed her eyes against the last of the afternoon sun, slouching down on her tailbone, boots on the dash.
Sitting directly behind the young captain, Doc watched her slender fingers dexterously remove the hair band. His breath caught in his throat as the sun made highlights of gold in her thick tresses, the light dancing as she moved her head against the seat back. While Caz dozed, Doc watched the slight movements of her hair, mesmerized.