Disclaimer: The Tour of Duty characters do not belong to me, I just enjoy playing in their sandbox.
Summary: This is the first in a series of moments as seen through Doc Hockenbury's point of view. This first one- The L-T. From the episode: Doc Hock
As always, I would be remiss if I didn't thank those people who put everything down and wade through my material. Thank you Doc, Mel and Snowy for your time, advice and encouragement. Most especially on this one.
***Happy Birthday to you Doc. This one is especially just for you on your special day.***
There had been something wrong all evening. Something Doc Hockenbury couldn't quite put a name to. It had started little more than an hour or so ago. He couldn't push the feeling away of something forever lost. Of something completely destroyed.
He lay on his rack while the rest of these guys he didn't know laughed and exchanged jokes. Lay on his back breathing the smoke from his cigarette up at the ceiling. He had an empty c-rat can resting on his chest for an ashtray. These men were a family; anyone could see that. He'd felt it at the Base Club after the mission. Saw how they were there together. How Anderson kept a quiet eye on them even though he was sitting with Hockenbury and asking about Dr. Seymour.
Doc swallowed as he stared at the ceiling. Alone. He could never hope to be part of that kind of friendship. And his mouth already assured him of that. What in hell had possessed him to all but come out and say they were baby killers? He crushed the cigarette out in the container, closing his eyes.
The feeling continued to nag at him, made him restless and edgy as he shifted his weight on the bunk. He thought it had to do with the mission earlier. His first out in the bush. Boys there one minute, dead or maimed in the next. That arrogant Lt. Miller gone. No one here seemed terribly broken up about that.
Anderson had assured him he had done good, that he had saved lives.
But it didn't change how he felt.
A wash of unmistakable sorrow spilled over him with the creak and slam of the screen door. It took Doc several long moments to get a grip and realize that all the other guys were gathered around Sgt. Anderson.
"Listen, there ain't no easy way to tell you guys this, so I'm just gonna give it to you straight up." Anderson looked tired, soul tired.
"Tell us what, Sarge?" Doc was still trying to sort them out, he was pretty sure that was Percell.
"There was another bicycle bomb in Saigon today." Anderson hesitated and that wash of sorrow intensified, and centered. Doc hadn't realized he had slipped off his bunk, was standing at the back of the group, unnoticed.
But noticing everything.
"Miss Devlin was there..." again it took Anderson a moment, a full pause in which you could hear a pin drop in that hootch full of men. "She didn't make it."
That unnamed feeling, that confusion that had been just at the edges of his awareness now focused and spilled over him.
It had a name. It had a face.
"He's alright," Anderson assured them, but his voice betrayed the lie of the words.
Miller's dead! Who is this? What L-T?
This man. Whoever this L-T was, whoever this man was, he was everything to these men.
There was an aching, tearing, destructive grief that sang across his confused thoughts. Raw and bleeding. Doc couldn't hide from it. It was like an abyss, a dark whirlpool of unending despair that pulled at his thoughts. Threatened to pull him in.
Doc found himself pressed into the far corner of the barracks.
"He's our family, Sarge, we can't walk away from him now!" Danny's voice cut across Doc's tumbling thoughts.
"It ain't right, he don't deserve this, man!" The Puerto Rican. Ruiz?
So many new faces, I can't sort them out!
"No, it's not, Roo. We ain't gonna leave him either, not now. But the best thing any of you men can do is to give him room." Anderson hesitated, sorrow plainly playing out across exhausted features. "You all know how he is. Let him work this out for himself."
They care so much! Who is he? What is he to them?
"Sarge," That one Doc did know, the quiet young black man who missed nothing. Johnson. "Sarge, tell him for us. Tell him we know there ain't nothin' we can do to make it better, but that we're sorry."
"Yeah, Sarge. Tell him for all of us. Tell him we're sorry. And that we're here for him." The other black, the one who tackled him and sent the both of them rolling and fighting into the dirt yesterday. Taylor.
Doc had his head down, shaking. He didn't hear Anderson leave. The shocked and whispered voices of the squad faded to the background in his racing mind. Nothing could compete with the destructive grief that burned in his thoughts.
He didn't realize he had left, had bolted from the hootch. Didn't know where he was going. Only that he was.
The camp was awash in the lengthening shadows of the oncoming night. When darkness came, it came in a rush, all at once. But in the moments before that, there was that quietness that hid in the shadows and whispered on the muggy still air.
Tonight it whispered of something lost.
Of something broken beyond repair.
Tonight it whispered of an aching sorrow.
Of something destroyed.
This whole place was filled with dreams and broken souls. Of men who simply died inside and of others who were afraid. Of those who dreamed and of those who struggled against the darkness of their nightmares. Those who believed, and those who did not know what to believe.
It tugged at Hockenbury with dark fingers, spilled around the confused young man and led him along to where he knew naught.
Why this man?
Why his pain?
He found himself pressed against the side of one of the camp's buildings. Drenched in sweat, he was peering around the corner, one hand gripping the sharp wooden edge so tightly it bit painfully in to his palm. He could see Anderson and another man.
He could hear Anderson's words spoken in the still air. Hear the ones unspoken...
The other soldier was sitting, silent. He wasn't looking at Anderson. He trembled instead with unshed tears. Trembled and gripped something long and thin in his hands. He didn't speak.
But he was bleeding. Inside. Utterly shattered. And shaking. There was nothing for him to grab a hold of. He was trapped in a prison of sorrow and despair.
Anderson walked away.
Although he wanted to run.
The loss of a lover. It tore this man's soul apart. He was fighting it, and losing to it. His dark eyes were filled with unshed tears. He was struggling to control the overwhelming grief, trembling with the effort.
And still pressed against the side of the building, Hockenbury trembled with the other man's struggle. Doc started to panic, so caught up was he in the wash of rage and bewildering despair. So lost. And Doc feared to be lost with him.
This handsome young man was nothing more than a mass of shattered dreams and emotions. All broken and sharp edges that when touched, sliced deeply and bled.
Night was coming in fast now, spreading her dark skirt around her as she began to settle down upon the camp. It wrapped around the two men without a sound.
This man was now looking at him, with eyes black with anguish and still filled with unshed tears. Dark eyes that held him trapped and left him unable to breathe in the face of the crushing grief. He could hear the blood singing in his ears, a roaring in the back of his mind.
For one fleeting moment, in the space it took to take a breath, Doc saw his own pale face looking back at him and flinched.
I don't understand who he is...
Why is he so important?
This man who is everything to those guys back in the barracks.
This man who is everything to Sergeant Anderson.
This man whose name he didn't even know.
But he know knew one thing beyond anything else.
And that sent Hockenbury running.