Illusions in Green
Warnings: Some violence and questionable language.
Disclaimer: The Tour of Duty characters do not belong to me, I simply love to play in their sandbox.
Summary: A grieving Goldman becomes trapped in a series of frightening nightmares.
Author's appreciation to LT. Mac and Mel who put up with all my kvetching and threatened to shoot holes in my hootch floor if I didn't finish it! And to Cpl Kory for her translation used at the end of this story.
When did this all come apart?
Lt. Myron Goldman was on one knee, his weight balanced against the other leg, hands held up in the pouring rain. Anderson and the rest of Team Viking were behind him and Myron could feel their anguish and confusion. Doc Hock lay on the ground between Goldman and Sgt. Montrose.
"Let me help the Doc, Montrose, please," Myron spoke gently, his right leg throbbing in time with his pounding heart. He lowered his hands carefully, reaching slowly for the young medic, praying that Hockenbury was still alive.
The voice whispered against Myron's thoughts. He edged closer to the medic, reaching slowly for Hockenbury who lay on his side, back to Myron and the rest of the squad. Goldman could see the blood mixing with the rain and mud, pooling around the fallen man.
"Please let him be alive..." Goldman begged.
"Montrose, now you don't wanna do this..." Anderson took a cautious step forward. What was left of the squad kept their rifles trained on the trembling Montrose. "You made a mistake. Let the L-T help out the Doc."
"Your fault!" Montrose shouted at Goldman, ignoring Zeke.
"Shooting the L-T ain't gonna make it better now, Carl," Anderson edged one more step closer to Goldman and the wounded medic. He had one hand behind him silently warning the rest of the squad to stay put.
"Montrose, think about this..." Goldman met the younger man's wild eyes, trying to focus past the anguish and madness. He was close enough now to lay a gentle hand on Hockenbury's still arm. "Just lower the weapon. I promise no one will hurt you." Goldman slid his hand carefully up Hockenbury's arm to his shoulder. The medic twitched with his touch, sending relief rushing through Goldman. He was still alive, at least for the moment. "Let me help the Doc here," Myron coaxed.
"NO!" Montrose shouted and lunged forward, his rifle trained on Goldman. "It's your fault! All of it's your fault!"
Goldman tensed, raising his head and again meeting the other man's wild eyes without flinching. In that same maddening moment he heard the shift and click of Anderson's
weapon. The anguish of the rest of the squad rose to a new level of despair, washing over Myron.
He jumped with the crack of the rifle report.
* * *
He was surrounded by lush waist high grass silvered by the bright moonlight. The sky was clear with the stars, brilliant against the blackness. A light breeze moved the heavy air, softly rippling across the meadow.
Something or someone whispered across his thoughts and Myron raised his head into the gathering breeze, listening, trying to comprehend the words.
A movement from the corner of his eye and he dropped to one knee, scanning the tree line. Shadows shifted and drifted in the darkness, his eyes unable to settle on anything.
The voice whispered again as he sighted down the AK-47, trying to make out a target. He felt alone and vulnerable.
The whispering agreed.
Another movement to his left and Myron turned, aiming.
A woman stood, alone, not more than fifty feet from him. Something dark was spilling from her cupped hands. She was Vietnamese, beautiful with ebony hair that spilled around her like a cloak.
Myron could only stare, the voice going silent across his thoughts. She raised her head, dark eyes meeting his. He swallowed, captured in those eyes that were as black as the clear sky above. Eyes that weren't like his... eyes that were filled with stars.
He rose slowly to his feet, lowering the rifle. She raised the cupped hands, parted them, palms facing Myron. He blinked, gaping when he realized they were covered in blood. It dripped down her wrists.
He reached for her, confused, and saw blood all over his own hands, dripping to the silvered grass.
The voice whispered... you knew...
* * *
Myron erupted out of the nightmare with a cry, drenched in sweat. He scrambled free of the sheets to his feet, flipping on the light as quickly as he could get to it. He was unable to catch his breath, the walls of his hootch both confining and suffocating.
He shoved out the door, his mind reeling when he stumbled down the steps. Two officers were talking only a dozen yards or so away. Both were startled with the Lieutenant's abrupt emergence.
Myron pulled up, eyes bright, finally managing to suck in a lung full of air. The two men continued to stare. Myron stepped backwards till he found his back against the wall of his quarters.
"Myron, you okay?" That would be Wilson, one of the two officers still watching him.
"Yeah, fine Ted," Myron ran a hand through his shorn hair, "just fine,"
Myron laid his head back against the wood, swallowing, counting while he concentrated on getting his breathing under control. He didn't see Wilson say something to the fellow officer before both men parted, disappearing into the night.
* * *
By the time Zeke showed up, Myron had pulled on a pair of pants and a T-shirt. He had grabbed a bottle of whiskey and a pack of cigarettes, and was now sitting on the steps leading up to his hootch.
"You're up late," Myron said with little humor. The smoke from his cigarette rose lazily in the still and muggy air.
"Well, you know, L-T, it's a nice night for a stroll." He had that usual mischief dancing in his eyes. And barely concealed concern.
"Or to not sleep," Myron muttered and poured the glass full on the step beside him. He offered the bottle to his Sergeant. Zeke politely declined with nothing spoken, but continued to approach the young Lieutenant.
"Lots of that goiní round," Zeke placed one booted foot on the bottom step, resting his arms on his knee. Myron wasn't looking at him, but across the compound. The Sergeant studied his friend; body language telling him more than words ever would.
"I can't sleep," Myron reached for the glass.
"We all have bad nights, L-T."
"I keep having the same dream- this nightmare," Myron finally glanced up, and met Zeke's patient gaze.
Anderson noted how dark those eyes were, almost black with the younger man's bewilderment. "There's lots of death here, L-T. You losiní Miss Devlin-"
"No, it's not that..." Myron cut him off, pushing the pain back before he could think on it. He broke the eye contact, switching his gaze away. But not before his friend saw those walls come up in those dark eyes.
Myron did not want to remember. Not remember how she died, and he unable to do anything about it. It was still too fresh, too close. If he closed his eyes he could still remember it all, every last detail right down to the noise, the smells, the warmth and stickiness of her blood on his hands. The taste of his own tearsÖ
He drained the entire glass and started to pour another one. "It has nothing to do with that."
"If you say so," Zeke nodded.
Things had not been the same in the last several weeks since the reporter's death and Zeke regretted that. He couldn't quite reach past the Lieutenant's guarded pain to the man he had known before. Goldman had put up careful walls that the entire squad was instantly alerted to. Zeke had patiently been waiting for the right moment to bring those walls back down, to pull the younger man back from the edge he now walked on. He was getting closer, could almost reach past that coolness.
"It's alright, Anderson. It's like you said, we all have bad nights," Myron's voice had something in it that made Zeke look up. A distant sorrowÖ
"Yes, Sergeant?" The coolness was back; that same coolness that made the sensitive like Percell and Johnson pull back in confusion when it was directed at them. And made Hockenbury avoid the Lieutenant all together.
"Why don't I just keep you company here 'till you think you're ready to try it again."
Myron glanced back up at his friend, the sorrow mirrored in those dark eyes, "I'd like that, Sergeant."
* * *
Myron hated paper work, yet he could rarely escape it. So he was thankful that after an entire morning of filling out reports and what not, that he could retreat to the quiet of his own hootch. He knew he should go over to Andersonís as they had a mission tomorrow, and he wanted Zekeís take on the situation. He also wanted Zekeís opinion of the two newest members of Team Viking.
Myron found that he liked the two new guys, in a distant detached sort of way. When he had been a platoon leader, he had more than thirty men under his command. It was hard to really get to know any of them very well. There were always exceptions, and those men he had transferred over with from third squad to make team Viking had been that for Myron.
Buck Sgt. Carl Montrose had signed on for a second tour. Myron liked having a man with experience coming into the team. He had an easy and quiet manner about him and Myronís squad took him in smoothly as if he had always been apart of the team. It was Montrose who also took an instant shine to the other new guy; a sweet boy called PFC Jimmy Clark.
Jimmy Clark was painfully shy and would barely speak to anyone because he stuttered. This was especially true around the Lieutenant. Clark was unable to string more than two words together without tripping over them and Goldman could not help but take instant pity on the newest member of his team.
Afraid that Taylor might make sport of the kidís handicap, Goldman had asked Anderson to make it clear that anyone caught tormenting Clark would have to deal with the L-T personally. Myron tolerated what was done to Hockenbury, only because he knew the medic was capable of shoving it back in Taylor's face. A gentle and shy soul like Clark was a different matter all together.
Myron rounded the corner, stepping into the main compound. A burst of laughter brought his head up, Taylorís voice drifting over on the almost nonexistent breeze. It took him a moment before he spotted most of his squad on detail, filling sandbags.
In the heat of the late afternoon sun, they were either in T-shirts or stripped to the waist. The men were streaked in sweat and dirt, bragging and laughing as Taylor, Percell and Montrose shoveled. Ruiz and the new man, Clark, were holding the bags at the bottom of the funnels, before tying them off and stacking them.
Taylor, no matter what the detail entailed, was rarely at a loss for words.
Myron walked up, smiling indulgently as he reached for a cigarette. For a moment, he wanted to be included in the warmth and friendship these men shared, if only briefly.
Taylor was going on full tilt about the attributes of a particular stripper they had all seen the night before at some bar in town when Ruiz looked up and grinned at Goldman before stacking another finished bag on the pile. "Hey, L-T," Alberto greeted genuinely.
The other men all paused, straightening up or leaning on shovels as Goldman closed the gap. "Sounds as if everyone had a nice time in town last night." He took the opportunity to light up the cigarette.
"Ya shoulda been there, L-T," Ruiz took the canteen from Percell.
"You think so?" Myron smiled carefully, but the coolness crept back into his voice before he realized it. Percell sensed it immediately and shifted uncomfortably.
Myron cursed silently to himself. This wasn't what he had wanted and yet there he was, already putting distance between himself and the men he had once allowed himself to be close to.
Montrose finished drinking from his canteen before handing it to the younger Clark. The shy young man was so busy watching his Lieutenant that he jumped when Carl tapped him. He turned, blushing and reached for the canteen.
"S-s-sorry," he stuttered, his cheeks reddening even more with the stammering.
Clarkís stuttering drew Myronís curious attention.
Despite the heat of the late afternoon sun, a sudden chill swept over him, leaving Myron awash in a feeling of dread.
Something was wrong...
Myron couldnít stop gaping at the two men.
What do you see? The voice whispered across the back of his mind.
Montrose caught his gaze, pinned him there under his control. Myron mentally struggled back from the flash of fury that rose in the man's green-brown eyes.
You know, donít you?
Myron seized control, breaking the contact, forcing his attention back.
The voice slipped away.
Now they were all staring at him.
Flushing, Myron hastily averted his eyes. "What is it Percell?" That coolness crept deeper into his voice. Confused and somewhat embarrassed, it was never his intention to snap at Danny.
Percell flinched, becoming more uncomfortable with every passing second. He switched his gaze away, but not before Myron caught the flash of hurt in those bright blue eyes.
"You alright, Sir?" Percell finally ventured.
Myron took a pull on his cigarette, stealing a final glance at Montrose and Clark before nodding to all of them. Carl had moved in front of the shyer Clark, tactfully blocking Myronís direct view of the boy.
"Yeah fine. Listen, I just remembered something," and with nothing further to say, Goldman turned and left the men, heading off in the direction of Anderson's hootch.
* * *
Myron rested his backside on the edge of Anderson's desk, hands fisted on his hips and legs crossed at the ankle. He watched Zeke field stripping his weapon with his usual zeal and efficiency while seated on his rack, preparing for tomorrowís mission.
When Zeke took a moment to look up, Myron found he couldn't meet the older man's eyes and switched his dark gaze to the compound framed by the door of Zeke's hootch.
Goldman had simply appeared at his door, all edges and angles and Zeke had gladly let his friend in. Yet once inside, Goldman seemed unable to find words and after pacing around the floor for several long moments, finally backed himself up against Zeke's desk.
He's spooked, but by what?
Zeke studied the Lieutenant with a certain measure of quiet concern. Often, body language was all he had to go on with the young man. Even now, with Myron backed up against his desk, Zeke saw so much more than Myron would ever had guessed at.
Last nightís nightmare had left Myron more open and vulnerable than at any point since Alexís death. Today the young man was struggling to reestablish walls but the raw edges that were so much a part of him now were threatening to undo him.
There was a time in the past, when Zeke could reach past Myronís defenses. In those times, Myron had hesitantly reached for the older manís friendship and strength. In return for that trust, Zeke had made damn sure that Myron never regretted the choice.
That was gone now. Her death had buried everything deeply. Goldman was simply a soldier now, placing as much distance between himself and anyone as he could emotionally, including Zeke.
Donít touch, don't be touched...no spark without flame in which to be burned...
But it wasn't quite as easy as all that. Zeke had come back, had extended his tour. If he had stayed in the States with Jennifer, Myron could have kept those walls intact, possibly till the end of his own tour.
He had only just returned from the real world ten days ago. In that short time, his simple friendship and loyalty were slowly eroding those carefully erected walls. Zeke had been prepared for Myron's moods, as he had dealt with them before when the young man first came to Firebase Ladybird. The Sergeant wasn't entirely sure there wasn't something going on with Percell on a completely unrelated topic, but trusted the guys to let him in on that as it unfolded. Hockenbury seem to be keeping a real close eye on Danny, so Zeke decided to concentrate on Goldman for the non.
Setting the unfinished rifle aside, he reached over and pulled a beer out of the nearby cooler. The movement brought Goldman's attention back to him, which is exactly what Zeke wanted.
He tossed the beer to the younger man who caught it smoothly.
Myron looked up, eyes dark when they met Zekeís curious gaze. "Iím sorry, I wasnít listening," he flushed with embarrassment. "Did you say something?"
"Whatís on your mind, L-T?"
Myron took a deep breath, then set the unopened beer aside. Pushing himself up off the desk, Myron wandered to the open door, staring for a long moment out the screen, hands buried in his pantsí pockets.
"Whatís your take on the two new guys?" Myron finally glanced back over this shoulder.
"Clark and Montrose?"
"Youíve been here, what- almost two weeks? Surely youíve got an opinion here, Sergeant," Myron leaned back into the doorjamb, digging out his cigarettes.
"First day I arrived, L-T. Iím figuriní you knew that, though." Zeke watched Myron light up.
Dark brown eyes, eyes that showed so many things if one knew how to read them, met Zekeís quieter blue.
"What are you seein', L-T?"
Myron hesitated; those endless eyes shading to almost black again.
"I donít know!" Myron shoved himself off the doorframe, spreading his arms wide in frustration. "Iím telling myself thereís nothing there, yetÖ" he trailed off, feeling incredibly ridiculous. "Itís probably that foolish nightmare, making me see things that arenít there," Myron turned away again, staring out across the compound. "But I canít seem to shake this feelingÖ"
"Of what, L-T?"
Myron shook his head as he placed his hands above the level of his head, gripping the doorframe to either side.
"Zeke, I canít seem to get it out of my head that somethingís going to happen, something horrible."
* * *
Zeke spotted Myron first, from across the compound.
The younger man was a million miles away in his own mind. He was still in his gear from the mission earlier that morning. Zeke waited, watching, knowing that Myronís bush sharpened senses would alert him to his presence, even from this distance.
Myron stopped mid stride. He hesitated, then turned slowly, searching.
Zeke raised his head, blue eyes meeting those deep brown eyes, eyes that immediately darkened when they filled with surprise and then sorrow at his return. It was there, clear as day in those bewildered depths: you shouldnít have come back- not because of me.
...In a moonlit meadow, a king stag stepped from the tree line, raising a proud and majestic head to the increasing breeze.
A younger stag, leaner, not as broad across the chest and shoulder cautiously joined the older one, stepping from the shadows, unsure...
A young Vietnamese woman stood across the meadow. Moonlight cascaded down raven hair that spilled over her shoulders like a midnight cloak. Something dark was spilling from her delicate hands.
The younger stag stumbled, going down on his front knees, tossing his beautiful head back in fright. The king stag stepped closer, his nostrils filling with the scent of blood and fear, and despair. The young stag struggled to reclaim his feet, the king stag moving to protect him. He tossed his head, snorting, pawing as he glared at the woman who still stood in the meadow.
She now held an M-16 in both hands, hands that were covered in blood. It was splattered across the front her dress. She raised her head and Zeke found himself staring into fathomless eyes that were filled with the night's stars...
* * *
Zeke sat up in his bed, gasping for breath. Balancing his weight on one hand, he raked the other through his shorn hair. Drenched in sweat, he couldnít understand the sudden chill that wrapped around him.
Where the hell had that come from?! Zeke tried to shake the images that remained crystal clear in his mind. He swung his legs over the edge of the cot before he pressed the heel of his hands into his gritty eyes.
Something whispered across the back of his thoughts, raising the hairs on the back of his neck. He couldnít make out the words as he found himself staring out the door of his hootch. Except for oneÖ
* * *
Myron didnít even know what time it was. Only that for some inexplicable reason, he had been drawn to the perimeter fence. He didnít even remember walking out here.
A voice whispered across his thoughts, the hair standing up on the back of his neck.
Myron dropped immediately to one knee, pistol in hand. He scanned the distant tree line shrouded in the darkness beyond the campís lights.
The voice slipped away, leaving him alone and cold.
Myron was up and around, weapon leveled on Anderson's chest. Zeke raised his hands up, freezing, eyes huge.
"Zeke!" Goldman immediately tipped the pistol up, drawing it to his chest. "For crying out loud-"
"L-T, what the hell's goiní on?" Anderson came forward, glancing past the younger man to the dark fields that surrounded the camp. Like Goldman, he had a keen sense that something wasnít quiet right.
"Nothing, I'm sorry..." Myron stumbled over the words, struggling to regain some composure. "I thought I heard something, that's all," he trailed off lamely.
"Let's get off the perimeter," Anderson couldnít explain why, but he had an urgent need to get the both of them away from the fence.
Myron started to holster his pistol when a hiss and flash made both men freeze.
A single trip flare rose lazily above the camp.
"Ah man," Myron followed the flare with huge eyes.
"Get to cover, now, L-T!"
* * *
Taylor, Hockenbury and Percell spilled out of their hootch with the second flare that rose lazily above the camp.
"Whatís goin' on, man?" Hockenbury saw several other soldiers all come rushing out of barracks and hootches, most with rifles and shotguns.
"Uninvited guests, thatís what," Taylor snapped, still standing on the steps, his upturned face was starkly illuminated by the descending flare. Turning, he threw the door open and jumped back inside the barracks.
More men spilled into the compound from various hootches and barracks, tossing weapons to each other and taking defensive positions. Percell spotted Goldman and Anderson sprinting in their direction. "Thereís L-T and Sarge!" Danny pointed across the compound. "Over here!" he shouted, waving the two men over.
Taylor slammed back through the screen door, a small arsenal of weapons in his hands that included an M-1 Carbine, a couple of AK-47's and a shotgun. He had a pouch of clips slung loosely over one shoulder along with the strap of another in his teeth. "Danny!" he tossed the shotgun and one of the 47's to his friend when Anderson and Goldman came sliding up, breathless from the sprint. Percell immediately handed off the shotgun to Anderson before Taylor flipped one of the ammo pouches their way. Taylor then tossed the remaining AK-47 he still held over to Goldman.
Myron caught the rifle smoothly and then the two clips that sailed his way.
Hockenbury pushed past Taylor and back into the barracks.
Myron slammed the clip home, took the safety off and pulled the action back. Taylor and Percell were doing the same. Anderson was loading shells neatly and as quickly as possible into the shotgun before he ran the action on the weapon.
Hockenbury shoved back out through the door, his med kit slung over his shoulder. Myron glanced up, meeting with medic's wide eyes. "Whereís the rest of the team?"
"Watching a movie in the Rec. Hall with McKay," Hockenbury looked up with everyone else when two more flares arced over the camp.
"Ya may wanna rethink that no guns policy of yours, Doc," Anderson suggested, shoving several shells into his pockets.
A distinctive whine of mortars cut through the heavy air, freezing everyone in place for one long moment, drawing all eyes skyward.
"GET TO COVER! GOGOGO! MOVE!" Anderson snatched Hockenbury off the barracks' steps, shoving him towards the nearest wall of sandbags. Goldman, Taylor and Percell ran the few steps before bailing over the wall behind the Sergeant and the medic. Everyone barely had time to shove up against the relative safety of the sandbags before the shell exploded in the compound. Grass, debris, and dirt showered down on all of them.
"Heads up!" Johnson came sailing over the bags, rolling onto his back as he hit the ground. Anderson grabbed a handful of fatigues and dragged the young Sergeant bodily between Goldman and himself. Streaked in sweat, Johnson was wide-eyed and panting.
"Where the hell did you come from?" Demanded Anderson, all of them ducking when more dirt and debris rained down on them from another shell that exploded bare yards away from their position. Barnett's guns roared in the distance.
"Didnít like the movie," Johnson gasped, still trying to catch is breath.
Goldman bit back his reply and instead shoved his rifle at the younger man. He then drew his pistol before pulling himself up along side Anderson and the others who were already on top off the sandbags, surveying the developing chaos. Johnson joined him.
"We canít stay here, L-T," Anderson noted when another mortar exploded across from them, sending men running for new positions of safety. Others went down, killed or injured, the latter crying out in fright and pain.
Myron felt Doc start to shake with his need to get at the wounded men. Another long moment and the medic couldnít stand it.
With the cries for a medic, Doc lunged forward, scrambling over the sandbags to get to the injured men, heedless of the danger that rained down around them.
"Doc, NO!" Goldman tried to grab him, pull him back. Doc turned, pulling free from Goldman's grasping fingers, going down on his knees when he lost his balance. Myron sprawled across the sandbags, still reaching. "Hockenbury, get back here!"
Another shell spiraled in, impacting into one of the nearby barracks. The resulting explosion threw everyone down. Doc went flat to the ground, curling around himself, hands over his head. Anderson had grabbed the shouting Goldman, pulling the younger man back behind the sandbags.
Barnett's howitzers punctuated the din, distant accompaniment to the steady rattle of gunfire. The screams of injured men calling for help mixed with the shouts of those soldiers calling out orders and directions.
Doc scrambled back to his feet, started racing for the nearest injured soldier. Smoke ghosted across the compound with the shouting, gunfire and screams. Anderson and Goldman, with the rest of the men had leaped back to their feet, searching for the medic, Danny shouting his name.
"Damn kid is going to get himself killed!" Anderson threw himself over the bags, gaining his feet with the shotgun in both hands.
Several figures emerged from the mortarís smoke, racing across the compound. They wore only black clothes wrapped around their hips; headbands tying midnight hair back from dark eyes, armed heavily with rifles and satchel charges. One slid to a halt, aiming his rifle at the medic.
Hockenbury slid to a stop, going down on his knees, hands up in the air, eyes enormous as he stared at the rifle barrel only yards from him. Everything stopped in that moment, even the noise of the attack muted for those agonizing seconds.
"Oh my God," Myron whispered hoarsely. He couldn't get his pistol up fast enough.
Anderson squeezed the trigger on the shotgun, the sapper thrown back by the force of the blast. Taylor, standing directly behind the kneeling Goldman, neatly dropped another sapper directly behind the one Anderson had just killed. The Sergeant ran the remaining yards to Hockenbury, grabbing the stunned and shocked young man by the shirt and dragging him to his feet. "No time to be a hero, Doc!" He shoved the medic back at Goldman and the other men.
"Zeke!" Goldman shouted when another sapper emerged from the smoke. The Sergeant spun around, running the action on the shotgun. This time Goldman aimed, leading his target for a few agonizing steps before pulling the trigger. The sapper went down in a heap before getting a shot off. Zeke turned back, eyes filled with gratitude. He dashed back to the safety of the sandbags behind Hockenbury. Both men bailed over the wall before the next mortar exploded.
The dirt hadnít even finished falling when everyone was at the top of the bags, shooting into the chaos. A satchel charge hit the ground yards in front of their position before Danny and Taylor could kill the sapper. Everyone dove back behind the wall of sandbags before it exploded, showering more debris over them, tumbling some of the bags down.
"Everyone, with me!" Anderson shouted, "Let's MOVE, now!"
Myron pulled Hockenbury to his feet, "Go, I'll cover you!" The medic scrambled over the bags, following Percell and Taylor. Myron, along with Johnson, squeezed off several more shots before both men leaped over the wall and joined Anderson. Myron went down on one knee beside the Sergeant, digging for a new clip as he cleared the empty one from his pistol. Johnson took up position next to the Lieutenant, firing into the smoke and chaos.
Halfway to the next bunker, Percell pushed Hockenbury past him. Taylor dropped down on one knee, taking position and Percell stood right behind him, both men laying down a covering spray across the square. "Let's GO!" Taylor shouted at the three men who had remained behind.
Anderson, Goldman and Johnson leaped to their feet and made a dash for the sandbags, all three firing as they ran. Hockenbury made it safely, diving headfirst into the bunker. Johnson slid up next, continuing to fire. He bailed over the bags when Anderson and Goldman joined him. All three men were immediately back on their knees, laying down a cover fire for Percell and Taylor who were still out in the compound.
Danny snatched Marcus to his feet. Both men sprinted, shooting as they ran, covering the rest of the distance before leaping over the wall. They shouldered up against Anderson and Goldman, panting and reloading.
The ground shook with the distant roar of the howitzers. A satchel charge exploded nearby, pushing everyone down with a shower of dirt and debris. Another volley of mortars arced over the camp, raining into the compound. Those soldiers not behind sandbags, vehicles or buildings, dove for whatever cover they could find.
A distinctive whine drew everyone's attention skyward from Goldman and Anderson's position.
Myron felt his blood run to ice.
"GOGOGO!" Anderson was shouting, shoving Johnson up and over the sandbags. Myron felt Percell and Hockenbury surge forward when Anderson and Taylor scrambled over the edge.
Myron couldn't move. It was as if he was mired in waist high mud. Everything seemed to slow down. He could see the mortar heading in on their position. He couldn't seem to breathe. He stood frozen in place, staring stupidly at the incoming missile.
Hockenbury was in his face. "L-T, NOW!" Grabbing handfuls of fatigues, Hockenbury hauled back with everything he had- somersaulting Myron over him. Anderson was shoving Taylor and Johnson to the ground, covering both of them with his own body.
Hockenbury and Goldman went sprawling next to Percell when the mortar hit the barracks directly behind the piled bags they had only moments ago been sheltering behind.
The building exploded outwards, debris soaring everywhere, raining down on the men.
Hockenbury scrambled, trying to cover Goldman who had rolled onto his back, eyes huge when the building went up.
Anderson was already grabbing Taylor by the scruff of his shirt, dragging him to his feet. "MOVEMOVEMOVE! GET TO COVER!"
The whine of more shells pieced the air. Myron's ears were ringing and sparks danced at the edges of his vision. There was the metallic taste of blood in his mouth.
Danny was dazed, tripping over his own feet and falling to his hands and knees. His bright blue eyes were glazed over, his nose bleeding. Myron scrambled to his feet, grabbing for Percell. Hockenbury was beside him, helping to pull his injured friend back to his feet.
Anderson shoved Taylor down behind the next bank of piled sandbags. He turned just as Goldman and Hockenbury ran up, supporting Danny between them. Another satchel charge sailed over their heads.
"GET DOWN!" Anderson leaped, shouldering into the three men, knocking them down when the bomb hit the ground behind them. Hockenbury rolled, instinctively covering Percell, arms over his own head as the dirt and debris exploded past them. Myron tried to shield both the medic and his wounded man with his own body. Anderson rolled back to his knees, shotgun to shoulder, taking the sapper down that had thrown the bomb.
"GOGOGOGO!" Anderson gained his feet, yanking at Hockenbury, shoving him past him to the banked bags that were mere feet away. Myron was dragging at Percell when Anderson pushed him aside. The Sergeant shouldered Percell up when another charge drove both he and Goldman down on their knees, sprawling Myron backwards across the sand bags.
Anderson dumped Percell over the edge like a rag doll, then grabbed Goldman by the arm, pulling him up to his feet. Hockenbury and Johnson bailed to either side of the bunker when the Sergeant and the Lieutenant leaped over the sandbags.
"Johnson, help Doc shove Danny up against the bags!" Goldman ordered.
Another mortar went off, the dirt and debris raining down on them, shoving them back down as they covered their heads.
"ENOUGH ALREADY!" Myron shouted in fury and frustration.
The howitzers stopped their distant booming. A final mortar exploded near the motor pool.
"CEASE FIRE! CEASE FIRE!" Echoed across the camp. That was Brewster's booming voice, carrying across the compound. A chorus of the same order filtered through the air, the remaining rattle of gunfire ending as suddenly as it had begun.
Goldman and Anderson, along with the rest of their men, lay panting and shaking, listening.
An unqualified silence filled the air, smoke drifting on the breeze across the compound. Everyone just remained frozen, listening, hearts pounding.
"It's over, L-T," Anderson finally dragged himself up to his knees, bracing himself against the top of the sandbags. Myron joined him, the two men slowly climbing to their feet, rifles dangling from numbed hands as they surveyed the damage. Two barracks smoldered and burned, the thick black smoke filling the dense air. Those injured cried out for help. Those not, slowly emerged from their positions, bloodied, smeared in dirt and ashes, exhausted.
Goldman swallowed a mouthful of blood, and knelt by Percell who was starting to struggle to his knees despite Hockenburyís efforts to keep him still. "Easy," Myron coaxed, steadying the young man as he stumbled to his feet with the help of both men. Danny's eyes were still clouded and glazed and he leaned heavily on the medic.
Taylor stumbled to his feet, holding onto Johnson. He nodded to Anderson who then turned, and met Goldman's troubled eyes.
"I sure as hell hope this is what you meant, L-T, when you said somethin' was gonna happen." He ran his free hand through his hair, shaking out dirt and ashes, the other laying the shotgun back against his right shoulder.
Myron desperately wished he could assure Zeke that this was what he must have been sensing. The two men stood facing each other for a long moment, Myron's eyes nearly black when Anderson's widened in realization. The younger man swallowed, dropping his gaze away from Zeke's. Before Zeke could ask, both men turned at the sound of their names being called.
McKay, his pistol in one hand, led Ruiz, Montrose and Clark toward them. With the sight of the men, Myron was again awash in that cold feeling of dread.
"This ain't over yet, is it L-T?" Anderson wasn't looking at him.
Myron watched as Montrose steadied Clark who stumbled on wobbly knees. Montrose then looked up meeting Myron's troubled eyes.
The voice whispered across his thoughts, making him flinch.
Anderson reached a cautious hand out, putting it on his shoulder. Starting to tremble, Myron couldn't answer his friend. He only stood, trembling in the aftermath of all the adrenaline, shaking his head.
* * *
The rain poured down, soaking everyone. The men huddled under the jungle fronds and their ponchos, silent in their misery.
Goldman shifted his weight, the damp aggravating a pulled muscle in his right leg. He could see Percell shouldered up against Taylor, the two sharing their c-rats in silence. Ruiz dozed in the gathering twilight, his back against Hockenbury. The rest of the squad, including those watching the perimeter, were pretty much in the same shape- soaking wet and settled in for the evening.
Anderson stepped into the clearing and silently tapped Ruiz on the boot with his rifle muzzle. Goldman watched as Alberto woke instantly, glancing up at Anderson. The young man then climbed to his feet with a huge yawn and shook out his poncho, showering Doc Hock before setting off to take his turn on watch.
Anderson said something to Hockenbury who shook his head in reply. The medic then gathered himself and quietly moved over to Percell and Taylor. Both men looked up and without comment, moved enough to let Hockenbury share their spot.
Goldman, always watching how the men were with each other, saw Percell offer Hockenbury whatever was left in the can he had been eating out of. The medic shook his head, shouldered his back up against both men and settled into his poncho. He raised gray-green eyes to Myron. Both men considered each other for a long moment before Myron switched his attention to Anderson.
Myron always felt there was more to Hockenbury than a smart mouth. Sensing that though and pursuing it were two different things. He knew all about walls and a smart mouth was Hockenburyís defense against many things. Myron had not missed the fact that the young medic very much wanted to be a part of this team, yet was still very much on the outside looking in. He had seen this young man in action, seen him take extraordinary risks to save his teammates. Myron sensed there was a great deal more to the medic than any of his men realized. And he wasnít sure what to do about that.
Zeke settled down behind Myron. The thunder rolled in the distance and lightning flashed across the sky. Both men silently tracked Johnson with dark eyes when he passed quietly by them, checking the perimeter. Goldman shifted his weight again and settled his gaze back on Hockenbury. The medic was already starting to doze off despite the steady rain that continued to pour down.
"How's the leg, L-T?" Anderson started pulling out cans from his pockets, deciding on dinner. Myron glanced over his shoulder at his friend.
"Nothing to worry about. Doc said I pulled a muscle was all." He pulled a can of c-rats out too, considering it, trying to decide if he was hungry.
Not long after the rain had started earlier that day, the team had been negotiating a trail with a drop off into tangles of vines and other not so obvious delights. Clark, ahead of Goldman, lost his footing quite suddenly. Myron, being closest, had lunged for the young man, grabbing him and pulling him bodily back before he fell off the trail. In doing so, though, Myron slid in the mud, his right leg going one way, the rest of him in quite a different direction. He lost his footing completely and went down hard, taking Clark with him. The poor kid came down right on top of Goldman, hard.
It had knocked the wind out of Myron and caused sparks to dance before his eyes momentarily. His leg hurt like hell.
It had taken Anderson and Doc Hock a few minutes to sort the two men out and to get Clark off of Goldman.
Doc had assured him that the boy was just fine. Poor kid was more embarrassed by the fact that he ended up on top of his lieutenant than anything else. Then Doc Hock informed Myron that he hadn't done anything more than badly strain a few muscles and that once out of the damp and rain, and with a good hot shower, the worst of it would go away. Unfortunately, they still had two days left on this recon.
"Why don't you get some rest, L-T, I'll wake ya if you wanna take a watch." Anderson finished whatever was in the can.
"You do that, Anderson,"
* * *
The wind had picked up, the silvered grass waving and rippling, surrounding her. The moonlight colored everything the same, bleeding the colors away and leaving everything in stark detail.
Except for the blood. It was a crimson splash across her dress. It dripped from her hands that she held cupped in front of her. Eyes that had no whites- eyes that were black and filled with stars met his.
The voice whispered across the back of his thoughts.
"You know, donít you?"
There was blood all over his hands. It was pooled at his feet, seeping into the ground around him.
"The choice is yours," whispered across his mind.
Myron looked up, and met Hockenburyís sad eyes. The young man raised his head, the moonlight spilling off the rims of his glasses. He was trembling, and a single tear slipped down his cheek. He held a pistol in hands that were covered in blood.
A young stag stood several yards behind the medic, dark eyes watching both men.
The cold washed over him. Myron started to tremble when Hockenbury raised the pistol and put the barrel beneath his chin. Myron remained frozen, he couldnít move. Hockenbury held his eyes, his pleading for forgiveness, for understanding.
The woman was standing beside Myron, the blood spilling from cupped hands.
The young stag tossed his head back and bellowed in anguish.
Hockenbury squeezed the triggerÖ
* * *
Myron sat up instantly, his breath catching in his throat.
"L-T, you alright?"
He jumped when Anderson laid a gentle hand on his shoulder from behind.
It was dark, the rain still pouring down. Myron swallowed, remembering where they were. He shivered with cold, despite the stickiness of the dripping jungle around him.
"Iím fine, Zeke," he finally managed to find his voice.
The Sergeant hunkered down next to him, catching the younger manís gaze and holding it. He nodded after a long moment. "Your turn at a watch, if you want to, L-T."
* * *
The rain had cleared off with the early morning sunrise, leaving the surrounding jungle wrapped in mists that hung like gray curtains amongst the trees and vegetation. The air was thick with the humidity.
The entire team was silently edging their way down a shrouded trail, the mists ghosting and swirling around the men with every cautious step.
Despite the mugginess, Myron was drenched in a cold sweat, still gripped with the uneasy feeling that something was going to happen. He had never before had reason to believe in premonitions or superstitions. The ability to read past surface emotions in another person's eyes, such as what he and Anderson did on a daily basis, was something he had always been comfortable with. Whispered words that slipped unbidden across his mind and chillingly vivid nightmares that made absolutely no sense to him, now that was a completely different matter.
Then there was Doc Hockenbury, who Myron finally concluded, had a sensitivity to people's emotions that bordered on being a gift.
Taylor went down on one knee; his fist raised high in warning to everyone on down the line. The entire team followed suit, crouching silent and waiting. The misty jungle closed in around them.
Zeke moved up, brushing quietly past Myron as he slipped up next to Taylor and Montrose and knelt down between the two lead men.
Myron studied the jungle past Anderson and Taylor. The mists were still thick and ghosting, his eyes unable to settle on anything distinct. The uneasiness that haunted him ratcheted up another notch and he double-checked that the safety was off on his rifle.
Glancing behind him, Myron made eye contact with each of his men, making sure they were alert. Hockenbury was only an arm's length behind him, and Clark not that much further away. The others were spread out from there, silent and waiting.
Satisfied he knew where everyone was and focused, Myron cautiously shifted his weight off the sore leg that still bothered him and turned his attention back up the trail to his point man and Anderson.
Zeke turned back from Taylor, raising his head, and met with Myron's dark eyes, holding his gaze until he was sure the young Lieutenant understood what he wanted him to.
There were at least five NVA ahead of them, moving as silently as they had been. And completely unaware, for the moment, that Team Viking had spotted them first.
Myron nodded carefully; understanding exactly what Anderson was proposing and agreeing with him. He started to turn back around and motion Hockenbury and Clark up next to him and to hand signal the rest of the men behind him to new positions when the last thing any of them expected to happen, did.
An NVA soldier, not part of the main group Taylor had originally spotted, stepped unwittingly out onto the trail in the space directly between Anderson and the Lieutenant.
Stunned, Hockenbury and Clark were the first ones to see the man step out from the dripping vegetation. Myron saw Hockenbury's eyes go enormous and the color drain out of Clark's face. He spun back around, sighting down the barrel of his rifle and met with the shocked eyes of the NVA soldier.
The crack of the rifle report split the heavy air.
A second shot slammed into the Vietnamese soldier and sent him spinning and falling.
There was a splash of blood on the trail... and the jungle exploded around them with gunfire.
Everyone dove for cover in the surrounding grass or behind nearby trees. Goldman grabbed at Hockenbury, pushing him behind a fallen tree at the edge of the trail. He rolled over the log himself, firing up the path as he tumbled and rolled before he shoved up against the medic. Myron fired again into the mists, noting in the back of his mind Percell and Ruiz's position in the tall grass across the path. Another moment and he spotted Johnson.
Oh my God, where's Clark?!
Anderson, Taylor and Montrose had been cut off from the rest of the team at the head of the trail. Myron could hear Anderson shouting orders and the other two men's answering shouts.
Hockenbury scrambled over the log, scuttling on hands and knees back to the trail before Myron realized what he was doing. There was someone sprawled on his back on the ground where only moments ago they had all been kneeling.
Myron reared up on his knees, laying down a covering fire over the young medic's head.
"Percell, Ruiz! Cover Doc!" Goldman shouted over the gunfire. There was an explosion at the head of the trail, the ground shaking under Myron's knees. The nearby trees trembled, rainwater showering down that had been clinging to the broad leaves.
Hockenbury made it to the fallen man, ducking and covering the body when several bullets tore up the ground only feet from him. Myron spotted the NVA responsible and sighted down the barrel of his AK-47. He squeezed off the shot, dropping the gook before the man could take another shot at the medic and wounded man. Hockenbury hunched over the figure, protecting him with his body as he emptied out his med kit with one hand onto the ground in an effort to get at what he needed.
"Doc! Pull him to cover!" Danny was shouting.
"Hockenbury!" Myron squeezed off several more rounds, "Come on! Pull him back!" Myron stripped the empty clip free from his weapon before slamming a fresh one in and resetting the action, all in one smooth motion. An NVA soldier jumped clear of the foliage in front of Hockenbury and the wounded man, pulling the pin on his grenade. Myron and Percell both sighted and shot simultaneously, the force of their attack sending the man tumbling backwards into the vegetation while still gripping the grenade. It went off, showering Hockenbury with dirt and leaves as he covered the boy.
Another explosion at the head of the trail made the ground tremble and the nearby trees shake. Leaves rained down from above, a small tree toppling. Myron could hear the screams of dying men. There was an angry shout from Marcus and another explosion. Myron heard Anderson call to Montrose and Taylor, ordering the two men to follow him and chase down the remaining enemy that were now making a run for it.
"CEASE FIRE!" Goldman shouted to the rest of the team, "HOLD YOUR FIRE!"
Percell and Ruiz both tipped the barrels of their rifles up, listening. Johnson pushed himself back up to his knees from the prone position he had been in earlier, studying the trail ahead of them. There was a distant rattle of gunfire; Myron recognizing the carbine that Taylor was fond of. Anderson's muffled voice, indistinct, came drifting back on the swirling gray mists.
"L-T!" The urgency in Hockenbury's voice drove out all other thoughts.
Myron struggled to his feet, stumbling over to Hockenbury. The medic was kneeling in a frighteningly large pool of blood, frantically trying to staunch the flow. He was holding a pressure bandage to the wound in what was left of Jimmy Clark's throat.
The boy lay twitching beneath the medic's hands. Myron knelt quickly in the widening pool of blood, placing one hand on the boy's heaving chest as he set his rifle aside. He met those terrified green-brown eyes, frightened eyes that begged Myron to not let him die.
"L-T, he's bleeding out! I can't stop it!" The bullet had torn half his throat out; Myron realizing Doc could do nothing to save him. The Lieutenant looked up, met with Hockenbury's anguished eyes over the boy who lay dying between them. The medic was trembling, tears welling up in his eyes and there was blood smeared across one cheek from where he must have rubbed his hand.
Myron laid a gentle hand against Clark's cheek, capturing the frightened gaze of the dying boy. Jimmy struggled to speak, the blood welling up in his mouth, bubbling at the corners and spilling down. He was going into shock, and Myron could do nothing more than whisper reassurances that everything was going to be all right.
A tear slipped down the side of Jimmy's face and spilled over Myron's fingers as the boy's eyes started to glaze over. Myron held Jimmy's face in both his hands now, and watched the boy's life slowly slip away.
* * *
Darkness had settled over the camp hours ago, but Myron was not the least bit interested in sleep. Instead, he left his hootch dark except for the lamp on the bedside table that shown dimly over his shoulder, staring blankly at the open book in his lap. The smoke from the cigarette he held rose lazily into the humid night air.
"I could have prevented this."
"It's your fault! You knew..."
He shifted his balance enough to set the empty glass back on the nightstand before he tapped off the ashes and resettled his weight back onto his cot. It creaked with his movement, the only sound in the otherwise silent hootch. It occurred to him, in a distant detached part of his mind, that he didn't even know what book this was. And that he had been reading and re-reading the same two pages for four nights now. But the thought of more of those nightmares was all the incentive he needed to stay awake.
"You knew! The choice was yours..."
"Please... I don't want to feel this way anymore! I didn't mean for him to die!"
His reports were done. In fact, Brewster told him to lay off the paperwork for a few days and catch his breath. Maybe enjoy some personal time with his men, or at least for himself. Myron had thanked him politely, and distantly.
Brewster didn't miss much, and the grieving that the young Lieutenant had been struggling with since his arrival at Camp Barnett was no exception. That same anguish, it appeared, had ratcheted up another painful notch with the death of Jimmy Clark. Brewster made a tentative gesture to Myron, letting his concern show in his dark eyes, offering the young man an unspoken invitation to reach back. That he would understand...
Myron flinched from the sympathy, building those walls another layer deep. He was, after all, a soldier. Men die. Men under his command had died before, and would more than likely die again. He wrote the letter home to Jimmy Clark's parents- end of story.
There was a polite tap at his door, cutting across his thoughts, pulling him back to the present and the confining walls of the darkened hootch and the unread book. He took a long pull on the cigarette still in his hand, pretending he didn't hear the knock, hoping that whoever it was would take the hint and leave.
Another, hesitant and polite tap.
"What is it?" Myron made no effort to hide the irritation in his voice. He heard the squeak of the screen door and the cautious step just inside.
"I don't remember saying you could come in."
Doc Hock paused just inside the door, letting his eyes adjust to the gloom of Goldman's hootch. The Lieutenant was leaning forward on the cot, refusing to look up from what appeared to be a book in his lap. He was still dressed, dog tags dangling over the green T-shirt. He was barefoot though, with one leg tucked under him and the other draped over the edge of the neatly made cot.
"What is it Hockenbury?"
"Sir, I um-" Doc trailed off, clearly now at a loss for words and starting to regret his decision to come in the first place. He knew the L-T was hurting. Hell, he could sense it clear across the camp, drawing him like a moth to the flame. He just hadn't bargained on this much grief and anger.
"Hockenbury, say what you came to say, and leave." There was a cold, detached edge to the words. The L-T, still not looking up, flipped the page of the book.
Hockenbury flinched, but refuse to back down. He swallowed, gathering whatever courage he had left and moved another careful step into the darkened hootch. "Sir, about Montrose,"
An uncomfortable silence stretched out between them, hanging in the humid air.
"In for a penny..." Hockenbury told himself.
"Sir, there's something you should know," Hockenbury paused again, carefully choosing his words. "He's not sleeping, Sir, not at all. He just sits and stares out the hootch door. He's not eating either. Not since-"
"How's this my problem, Hockenbury?" Goldman cut him off icily.
"You used to care! I know you still do!"
Myron looked up slowly, those dark eyes black in the dim lighting, and Hockenbury took an involuntary step backwards, awash and pinned under the crushing guilt and fury.
"Not any more... I won't anymore!"
This man was walking dangerously close to that edge again, that same edge he nearly crossed when he killed the two bodyguards with that tax collector. Hockenbury, with that rare sensitivity he had, realized that Montrose wasn't the only one who was not sleeping or eating since their return with Clark's body. His eyes found the whiskey bottle and glass on the nightstand beside the L-T's bed.
"You knew..." the other voice whispered between the both of them.
"Youíre the medic, Hockenbury. If Montrose needs something, then give it to him. Otherwise, I recommend you speak to Sgt. Anderson about it." Goldman returned to the book, taking another pull on the cigarette.
"My god, he's completely shutting down!" Hockenbury thought. "Anderson was so close; now the L-T's gone back behind those walls!"
"Sir-" he wanted to reach out, to try and touch this man and reach what he knew was deeply buried under all the anguish. He had only seen glimpses of it till now, but he knew underneath all that hurt, that crushing guilt, there was the man that Taylor, and the guys spoke of. A man that Hockenbury had only sensed at.
"Is there anything else, Hockenbury?" The neutrality in his voice was clearly a dismissal, not a question. All Lieutenant, with a capital "L".
And a statement to leave him the hell alone.
A long hesitation and Myron looked up coolly, the cigarette smoke hanging in the still air between them. This time the medic caved under the force of that angry dark gaze. "No, Sir,"
Turning, Doc stepped quickly to the door, starting to push it open, but for whatever reason, paused. He glanced back, the camp lights catching on the rims of his glasses and spilling off. The L-T had already returned once again to the book, and in that moment Doc decided he had absolutely nothing to lose at this stage of the game.
"Her death was not your fault, Sir. Nor was Clark's."
And before Goldman could respond, Hockenbury shoved out the screen door, letting it slam shut behind him as he jumped down the steps.
* * *
Hockenbury, his hands shoved in his pockets and head lowered, started to make for the barracks and away from the L-T. He did not see Anderson in his path and the two would have collided if Anderson had not been paying attention. The Sergeant stepped easily aside, placing a hand against Hockenbury's chest.
Startled, the medic looked up, clearly out of sorts. He sidestepped around Anderson, pulling away from his touch; a flash of fear slipping across those expressive green eyes before he could hide it.
"Hey there, Hockenbury," Anderson didn't like what he saw in the young man's eyes. "What's goin' on?"
"Nothin'," the medic ducked his head, running one hand through that too long hair, the other still jammed into a hip pocket. "Everything's just fine, Sarge," he couldn't bring himself to look at Anderson.
"Seein' the way you just rushed out of the L-T's hootch the way ya did, I'm thinkin' differently here, Doc." Anderson paused, considering. "What were you doin' in the L-T's hootch anyway?" Under normal circumstances, Anderson knew the medic wouldn't have gone near Goldman's quarters. So why was he here now?
"Nothin' special, Sarge." Hockenbury, still not looking directly at him, started to edge away. Anderson reached out, snagged an arm, refusing to let the young man get away so easily.
"Now I know better than that, Hockenbury. You go outta your way to stay clear of the L-T here at the base. So why don't you tell me what's really goin' on," Anderson still held the medic's arm. Hockenbury looked up, those odd gray-green eyes confused and filled with hurt. "Hockenbury, what happened back there?" Anderson knew Goldman could be hard-edged, but never deliberately cruel. "Doc?"
If the medic thought he could bolt and get away cleanly, he would have. Hockenbury swallowed, wanting to trust that he could say what he needed to say to Zeke, but so afraid that Anderson would burn him to the ground for it. The boy was dead anyway, what difference would it make if he told Anderson what he knew? But Goldman...
"I'm worried, Sarge, worried about the L-T."
"Well now," Anderson finally released the medic's arm, but not his gaze.
"I didn't know him, Sarge, not before she died. But I've heard the guys talking." His voice was soft, unsure and there was that hint of loneliness and quiet sorrow. He was still odd man out, always at the edge of things, Anderson realized. Hockenbury raised his head, the camp lights reflecting off his glasses. "I wish I had known him before all this. I wish..." Hockenbury stumbled, the words slipping away from him. He ducked his head, letting that too long hair fall across his eyes. "He's bleeding out, Sarge."
"I know he is, Doc," Anderson turned, shaking his head slowly. "I know he is."
* * *
Bathed in the moonlight, he stood alone in the meadow again. He was trembling, unable to stop the shaking. He wrapped his arms around himself, feeling cold and empty.
"Your fault!" the voice was whispering on the wind, slipping over his thoughts.
"Oh God! I didn't know! Oh please..."
"Your choice! You knew... your choice..."
Myron realized he was holding an M-16 again, his hands covered in blood. She was watching him with those star-filled eyes. She raised cupped hands, blood spilling from between her fingers.
"Please no!" he begged. The trembling gripped him tighter. He was so alone, so horribly alone. Tears slipped down his cheeks, chilled by the breeze that rippled the tall grass.
She was looking at him, sighting down the barrel of the M-16 she now held in bloodied hands.
The voice was angry, accusing, "Your fault! You could have prevented it! All your fault!"
"NO! Please, I don't want to feel this way anymore!"
He was kneeling in blood. It was everywhere, he could taste it in his mouth, and the scent of it filled his nose. Everything was hazed in red, his breath ragged, sobbing in his lungs, his heart laboring.
He threw his head back, trying to breathe, struggling to gain his feet.
"You knew! Your fault!" echoed across his thoughts over and over...
* * *
Myron jerked awake, shaking. His mouth was dry, and he was covered in sweat. Sitting up, he started to shake uncontrollably, trembling in the aftermath of the vivid nightmare.
He hadn't meant to drift off. He was just so exhausted...tired of his mind chasing itself in endless useless circles. He had set the book aside, allowing himself to finally lie back on his cot and close his eyes...
She watched him from across the meadow with those endless star filled eyes, blood spilling from her cupped hands...
"NO!" He threw himself off the bed. "Oh god, I think I'm losing my mind!" He spun himself in a complete circle in the middle of the floor, panting, the breath burning in his lungs.
"L-T?" There was a quick knock, then the squeak of the screen door on its hinges, "L-T, you alright, Sir?"
Still dressed, Myron stood barefoot in the middle of the darkened hootch. Zeke watched his friend run trembling fingers through sweat soaked hair. Myron rolled his head back on his shoulders with one arm still behind his head, eyes huge and all pupil in the gloom when he met Anderson's concerned gaze.
Everything was too close to the surface, was all raw edges and angles again. Myron couldn't hide it from Zeke, not all of this. The despair and grief flashed across those dark eyes. Ashamed, Myron twisted away; afraid his knees would give out. He managed to get to his desk and placed both hands on the edge, leaning heavily onto them in an effort to control the trembling that still held him.
"For crying out loud, Anderson, what were you doing? Sitting outside on the damned steps?"
"Outstanding," Myron muttered, again running a hand through his shorn hair. He started looking for a pack of cigarettes he knew he had left on the desk somewhere. He thought he had the trembling under control...mostly, until he almost knocked the lamp over when he went to switch it on. "Hockenbury stops by, and now you," there was that edge of annoyance. And Myron knew Zeke was the last person in Camp Barnett who was going to run from it.
Instead, Zeke took another step closer to his friend, knowing he finally had the opportunity he had been patiently waiting for to pull down Myron's defenses. "L-T, ain't nothin' changed. Not between you an' me,"
Myron stopped tearing his desk apart and slowly turned back around. Still shaking, he raised his head, dark brown eyes meeting those intense blue eyes of the Sergeant's, eyes that shaded to almost sapphire with his genuine concern and care. Stumbling back a step, Myron came up against the edge of the desk.
The silence hung between them, Myron struggling with the emotional storm that threatened to undo him. Zeke continued to reach out in hopes of being an anchor for the boy to latch onto, knowing he could be the one solid thing in this damned war if Myron would only allow himself to trust again. To feel again...
"I'm not gonna let her death destroy the man I know you are..." Zeke's voice was soft and steady.
All of it, the tears and the still vivid memories welled up into those dark eyes. The desperation and despair as she slipped away from him... the blood all over her and dripping from his own hands. The taste of his own tears...the crushing anguish...
"Oh god, Zeke, I can't-" Myron stumbled over the words, his voice catching, still caught up in Zeke's steady gaze. "Oh please, I don't want to feel this way anymore!" He was shaking so hard now, Myron thought he would come apart.
And Zeke moved another step closer, refusing to let go of his gaze. He was close enough now to reach out and touch Myron. "There's people who care about ya, L-T, right here, an' right now."
Too close! Zeke almost had his defenses down. Myron started to shake his head, finally breaking the eye contact. He so wanted to reach for the comfort of that friendship, but if something were to happen to Zeke... he pushed away from the desk, desperate to put distance between himself and the Sergeant. He needed to put that distance between them.
He was still a little shaky when he made it across the floor and to the other side of the cot. "No, don't ask this, Zeke, not now." Myron found his cigarettes on his nightstand. He shook one out, searching for his lighter. Anything to not look into those eyes that held a world of compassion for him if he would only give in and let himself trust.
"L-T," so damn close...
"Zeke, I can't, not now." Myron found the lighter, and somehow managed to light the cigarette, relieved to see that his hands shook only a little now. He took a long pull, letting his lungs fill with the smoke, concentrating on the simple act for a moment in order to get himself back under control, to re-establish the distance and the walls. He blew the smoke out, and raised his head, finally looking at Anderson. "I need this distance, Zeke, I'm sorry..." he hesitated when he saw the disappointment slip across his friend's eyes. Hurt, Myron withdrew that much further, whispering, "I don't know any other way."
* * *
Leaning back into the doorjamb, hands shoved in his pockets, Myron watched the distant thunderstorm start to roll in across the valley. The wind picked up, stirring the heavy humid air. There was a scent of rain on the breeze, and just the hint of coolness. Myron leaned his head back, resting against the wood and closed his eyes.
"You should be seein' Doc about somethin' for that headache ya got." Zeke watched the younger man from where he sat on the edge of his desk with one booted foot on the chair.
"It's not that bad." Myron shrugged; his eyes still closed, and drew a deep breath. The breeze whispered through the screen door and gently teased the papers on Anderson's desk.
"What's on your mind, L-T?" Zeke finally rose and went over to his cabinet, pulling out a bottle of whiskey and two glasses.
His movement drew Myron's attention, dark eyes following the Sergeant across the hootch. "We have a mission prep in an hour," the lightening flashed in the distance, "we'll be out at first light."
Anderson was back at his desk, unscrewing the cap. He glanced at Myron, still holding the bottle and Myron wordlessly nodded yes. Pouring both glasses full, Zeke then set the bottle aside. The thunder growled distantly. Zeke waited for Myron to push himself off of the doorjamb and come to him before extending the glass.
The two had been a little uncomfortable around each other, neither sure what to say after last night. Zeke was still hurt with Myron's withdrawal. But the friendship was such that Zeke knew he simply had to be more patient. Pushing this young man now, reminding him of what had happened the night before would only put more distance between them, and send Myron further behind those walls.
Last night, Myron had been all raw edges and contained grief. Now, here in Zeke's hootch, the kid was strung together with nothing more than sheer will and determination. Exhaustion and grief were taking its toll on the younger man, evident in the shadows under his eyes and the crease of pain across his forehead. When Zeke had switched his lamp on earlier, Myron had winced back from the light. Even now, the L-T ground the heel of his hand into one eye as he reached for the glass distractedly. The kid shouldn't be going out into the bush in this shape, Zeke reasoned.
"L-T," Zeke hesitated, still watching the younger man. Outside, the rain started to come down, hissing against the walls of the hootch and on the dusty path in front. The lightning flashed. "L-T, ya look like hell."
Myron looked up, those dark eyes narrowing. He knew instantly what that look on Anderson's face was and it was just enough to annoy him. "Don't start with me, Zeke," he warned. He finished the whiskey and dropped the glass on the desk with a clatter.
Zeke's eyes darkened a shade and he leaned his backside up against the edge of his desk, crossing his arms across his chest. "Alright then, what about Montrose?" The L-T's sudden flashes of irritation and temper had never cowed him in the past, and it wasn't about to now.
Another flash of lightening and the thunder rolled closer. The main storm front was moving in quickly now.
"What about him, Anderson?" Myron stepped toward the door before turning back, hands on his hips.
"I'm thinkin' we should leave him out of this one, L-T,"
"I don't agree, Sergeant," Myron shook his head in frustration. "We're going in short as it is. Montrose can't be spared on this one."
"I hear ya, but Doc says Carl's a mess. Now L-T, short or not, taking a man out like that is bad for everyone."
Myron pushed a hand through his hair, clearly annoyed. Zeke could sense Goldman's headache was starting to reach monumental proportions. "Listen, Anderson- it's not as if I don't sympathize with what happened. Clark was a sweet kid and I liked him too, but he's dead and we have a job to do! That includes Montrose." Myron shook his head again, walking back to the door. "Do we understand each other, Sergeant?"
"Have it your way, L-T," Zeke made no effort to hide his disapproval.
Myron pushed the door open, standing in the threshold. He glanced back over his shoulder, eyes nearly black when he met with Andersonís gaze. "Just tell the men to be on the pad at first light, Anderson."
McKay had the chopper on the pad, running a last flight check. False dawn was coloring the eastern skies, creating long shadows and softening the edges of Camp Barnett.
The early light found Team Viking sitting on the edge of the platform in tiger stripes and making a final check on their gear and rifles. Taylor helped Ruiz harness down the last of his ammo for the M-60. Johnson was reading a letter from home and Percell paced restlessly in front of him.
Anderson was up on the pad itself, M-16 across his chest and resting in the fold of his bare arm.
Silent, Montrose sat slightly apart from the rest of the team, eyes dark.
Goldman came walking up to the platform with his AK-47 in one hand, hair tied under a head rag and black smeared across his cheeks. To Anderson's trained eye, the L-T looked tired and harried.
"Where the hell's Hockenbury?" Goldman stopped at the bottom of the ramp, making no effort to hide his annoyance. The men shifted restlessly, with the exception of Montrose.
"He's comin' up behind ya, L-T." Anderson nodded in the direction Goldman had just come from, not the least bit daunted by the Lieutenant's mood.
The medic, with his head down, was pulling the last of his gear on, snugging the straps of his webbing as he approached the pad. "I'm right here, don't go an' get your tiger stripes in a knot now," he muttered distractedly, truly not realizing who he was talking back to.
The men froze, shocked and waiting. Startled, Anderson couldn't help but grin.
Hockenbury stopped within a few feet of the L-T, and slowly raised his head, peering at the Lieutenant from behind the hair that hung in his eyes. Goldman pinned him with an icy glare and the color drained right out of the medic's face. "Sir!" he amended quickly.
"Lord," Taylor leaned in close between Johnson and Ruiz, "I just felt Hell freeze over, right here in the Nam!"
"Put a lid on it, Taylor," Goldman snapped, turning away from the panicked medic and glaring at Marcus. He switched his gaze up to Anderson who kept right on quietly grinning. Too tired to sustain the sudden flash of anger, Myron simply shook his head in resignation, climbing the ramp. "I should toss him out at 2000 feet, " he muttered with ill humor.
"Well, ya could do that, L-T, but itíd be a waste of a good medic." Anderson shifted the rifle to rest on his right shoulder.
The conversation between the two men carried on the still air back to Hockenbury, who couldn't look any more horrified if he tried.
"Let's get this over with, shall we Sergeant?" Goldman pushed past him and climbed into the chopper, nodding to McKay.
"Alright now, ladies, you heard the L-T! Let's get movin'!" Anderson waved at the men, "And Hockenbury, if you're done fixing your skirt, you can haul your ass on up here too!"
* * *
In the misting rains of the gathering twilight, Goldman found himself with his back shoved up against a tree, his rifle gripped in both hands. Hockenbury was on the ground beside him, partially hidden in the tall grass. From the corner of his eye and to his left, Myron could see Zeke shouldered up against the next tree with Percell pressed against the Sergeant's side.
Myron swallowed and turned his head just enough to meet Taylor's wide eyes. Both he and Johnson were on their backs behind a fallen tree and a screen of tall grass, rifles held in both hands across their chests.
Goldman silently signaled to maintain position. He waited till he saw Johnson repeat the signal to Ruiz and Montrose who were a few yards further away and out of Myron's direct line of sight.
The Lieutenant reached down and placed a firm hand on Hockenbury's damp shoulder, the medic flinching from his touch. Doc glanced up, eyes all pupil in the dusk, his face pale against the lengthening shadows. Myron squeezed his arm just enough to reassure him.
The voices drifted closer, the grass rustling on the other side of the tree line they had all hidden in. Myron could hear the shift and click of a rifle being moved from one hand to another. He saw Anderson silently shift his weight.
Myron met Zeke's eyes, and Anderson softly nodded. Another beat...
"NOW!" Myron shouted, rolling from behind the tree, away from Hockenbury and onto one knee, firing. Anderson and Percell did the same, both going to either side of the tree they had been hiding behind. The rest of the team joined in, surprising the unsuspecting squad of VC with the carefully laid out ambush.
Several of the stunned VC went down under the assault of gunfire before their comrades realized what was happening. Panicking, the remaining soldiers bolted back for the tree line they had only just emerged from, firing back across the meadow at Myron's team as they fled.
Percell sighted down his rifle, choosing his target with care before he squeezed the trigger. Another VC went down in a heap with strangled cry, shot neatly between the shoulder blades. Two more disappeared into the dark shadows before Percell or anyone else could get a clear shot.
"Montrose, stay back with the L-T!" Anderson ordered when everyone spilled into the meadow, setting chase for those soldiers that had gotten away.
Both Myron and Carl tipped their rifles up, Myron watching his men disappear into the shrouded tree line. Doc Hock emerged cautiously from where the Lieutenant had left him, looking pale in the remaining twilight.
"Carl, Doc, check the bodies," Myron ordered. He then rolled one of the VC over with his foot before moving on to the next one. He glanced back to see Doc kneeling beside one of the other bodies. Montrose shoved one onto his back with the muzzle of his weapon.
All of them glanced up with the distant rattle of gunfire and muffled shouts that drifted back through the woods. They could hear Anderson's voice along with Taylor and Percell's answering shouts.
Myron returned his attention to the task at hand and went down on one knee by the uniformed body of the one NVA regular with the VC. He started to go through the man's pockets and uniform as he balanced his rifle on one hip. Montrose was already doing the same, silent and methodical.
Hockenbury moved to another body, kneeling and checking for a pulse. He knew the L-T would want any papers found on the man, and so like Goldman and Montrose, began checking the pockets. He tried to ignore the feeling he always got when he ransacked the dead bodies, telling himself that it was necessary in order to help possibly save American lives, but it didn't make him feel any less a ghoul for doing it.
There was a movement out the corner of his eye and Hockenbury glanced up, startled. It took him several long moments to realize what it was he was looking at before he finally saw what had drawn his attention. Curious but cautious, he rose and went over to the VC that Percell had shot in the back.
"L-T." Doc knelt by the enemy soldier who was still barely alive and somehow trying to crawl off into the tall grass.
Myron was by his side in a moment, "What ya got, Hockenbury?" He knelt beside the medic and helped him to roll the dying man over.
"Ah man," Doc whispered, horrified by the young face of the VC, "he can't be more than fifteen, L-T."
The misting rain started to come down in a steady pour.
"I know." Myron shook his head in sympathy. The boy shuddered beneath his hands, blood spilling from his mouth and nose. "Can you do anything, Doc?"
"He's already gone, L-T, he just don't know it yet," Hockenbury placed his hand on the boy's forehead and pushed the midnight hair back out of sightless eyes. The boy took a last shuddering breath, his head lolling to the side.
Something whispered against the medic's thoughts.
There was a rush of fury and despair, Goldman snapping his head up in confusion.
"Your fault! You knew!"
Montrose stood about twenty yards away from the two men. He was staring at the dead boy, trembling like a leaf in the wind. "Your fault," he whispered, his handsome green- brown eyes filled with anguish.
There was a roaring sound in Myron's head, the crush of anguish and despair pushing all other thoughts out of his mind, making him almost dizzy with the weight of it.
"Your fault! You knew! All of it- your fault!"
She was standing at the edge of the clearing, her hands cupped before her... there was blood spilling from her fingers... it was splashed across the front of her dress...
"He wasn't suppose to die!" Montrose took a step closer to Hockenbury and Goldman, "Your fault, L-T! He's dead! You knew!"
"Carl, I don't understand! Who wasn't supposed to die?" Myron started to rise to his feet. Montrose raised the rifle and sighted down the barrel with shaking hands.
"You knew!" The voice wailed across Myron's thoughts, "You could have stopped it! Your fault!"
"Carl, come on, lower your rifle and we can talk about this." Myron kept his voice even as he extended his hand, taking a cautious step forward.
There was a sudden rush of rage that nearly blinded Hockenbury. "Oh my god, NO!" He lunged to his feet, throwing himself at Goldman, "L-T- NO!"
* * *
With the crack of the rifle report, Zeke and the rest of Team Viking looked up. There was a second shot echoing in through the trees.
"Sarge, that was a M-16." Percell stood, wrapping the strap of his own weapon around his forearm.
"Oh Lord!" Zeke's mind started to race in fear. He thought he saw something drifting between the trees, his blood running cold as he stared.
She stood, blood splattered across her dress, the rifle in her hands and her endless eyes were filled with stars...
"Get back to the L-T, NOW!"
* * *
It was like stumbling into a nightmare, and in the center of it all was the L-T and a trembling Montrose, the rain pouring down around all of them. Everyone pulled up at the edge of the clearing, stunned and shocked.
"What the hell-" Taylor whispered. Confused, they raised their rifles, sighting down on Montrose.
"Stay where you are!" Montrose shouted, his aim on Goldman never faltering, his eyes wild with grief and madness.
Myron was on one knee in the mud, his weight balanced against the other leg, hands held up in gathering twilight. He could feel the team's anguish and confusion. Doc Hock lay wounded on the ground between him and Montrose, the blood starting to pool around him.
Montrose's second shot had grazed Myron's right leg.
"Let me help the Doc, Montrose, please." Myron spoke gently, his leg throbbing in time with his pounding heart. He lowered his hands carefully, slowly reaching for the young medic, praying that Hockenbury was still alive.
The cold washed over him. Myron started to tremble when Hockenbury raised the pistol and put the barrel beneath his chin. The medic held his eyes, his pleading for forgiveness, for understanding... he pulled the trigger...
The voice whispered against his thoughts. Myron edged closer to the medic, reaching slowly for Hockenbury who lay on his side, back to Myron and the rest of the squad. He could sense Anderson's solid presence just behind him, knew without needing to see just where the rest of the team was positioned behind the Sergeant. Myron could see the blood mixing with the rain and mud, pooling around the fallen man.
"Oh God, please, not Hockenbury!" Myron begged silently, "Please let him be alive!"
The rain splashed into the pool of blood.
"Carl, now you don't wanna do this..." Anderson's voice was even and calm as he took a cautious step closer to Goldman and the wounded medic. The team kept their rifles trained on the trembling Montrose. "You made a mistake. Let the L-T help out the Doc."
"Your fault!" Montrose shouted at Goldman, ignoring Zeke.
"You knew! You knew! You knew!"
"Shooting the L-T ain't gonna to make it better now, Carl." Anderson edged another cautious step toward the Lieutenant and Hockenbury. Realizing this could go from bad to worse, Zeke raised one hand behind him without looking back, silently warning the rest of the squad to stay cool.
"Montrose, please- think about this..." Goldman met the younger man's wild eyes, eyes that were filled with a crushing guilt. Myron tried to focus past the anguish and madness, trying to understand the connection between Carl and the sweet kid, Jimmy Clark.
Myron was close enough now to lay a gentle hand on Hockenbury's still arm. "Just lower the weapon. I promise no one will hurt you." He slid his hand carefully up Hockenbury's arm to his shoulder. The medic twitched with his touch, sending a rush of relief through Myron. "He's still alive, oh God!"
"Let me help the Doc here," Myron coaxed gently.
"NO!" Montrose shouted and lunged forward; his rifle still trained on Goldman. "He knew! You both knew! It's your fault! All of it's your fault!"
The two stags stood at the edge of the clearing, and she beside them. She raised one hand, blood spilling through her delicate fingers...
Goldman tensed, raising his head, meeting with the other man's wild eyes without flinching. And he knew. It suddenly all clicked into place and he finally knew who Jimmy Clark and Carl Montrose really were...
Too late! Your fault! You can't change it, you can't bring him back!"
In that same maddening moment he heard the shift and click of Anderson's weapon. The anguish of the rest of the squad rose to a new level of despair, washing over Myron like a wave. The rain pouring down, Montrose, drowning in despair and crushing guilt, too far gone to pull back... turning the rifle on himself...
"NO!" Myron jumped with the crack of the rifle report.
* * *
Climbing the steps to Team Viking's barracks, Myron could hear Taylor's laughter as he teased Hockenbury about nursing his wounded shoulder and getting as much sympathy as he could from the nurses over at the dispensary. Myron pulled the screen door open, grabbing his cap off at the same time and stepped inside.
Everyone was gathered around Hockenbury's cot, playing cards. The medic, still looking pale, was sitting up with his back against the rail at the top of his rack and his arm in a sling across his chest.
The laughter stopped when everyone looked up at Goldman's entrance.
"Out," he said, nodding in the direction of the screened door at the other end of the room.
The guys scrambled over cots and each other to get to the door with a chorus of "Yes, Sir!" "Sure thing, L-T," and "Whatever ya say, L-T," The door slammed shut with a bang, leaving only Hockenbury and Goldman behind in the sudden silence.
"You have an amazin' effect on a room, Sir."
Myron allowed himself a quiet smile and walked over to the medic's rack. Reaching over, he pulled one of the abandoned chairs around and straddled it, much as Zeke would have done. Myron studied the medic who had his head down, too long hair across his eyes.
Hockenbury played nervously with some of the chips and discarded cards piled on the blanket.
"How long did you know about Carl and Jimmy?" Myron pulled his cigarettes out of his pocket and shook one out. He lit up, then extended the pack to Hockenbury who shook his head.
"Not long after Jimmy got here." Hockenbury swallowed nervously before finally glancing up at Myron. "I know I shoulda said somethin', but..." he faltered and looked away again, feeling trapped.
"You were grieving so much, I didn't know what to do..."
"Well, maybe if I had been paying more attention myself," Myron took a long pull on the cigarette, "if I hadn't been so damn wrapped up in my own problems, I might have seen that the two looked too much alike." Myron hesitated, "That they were brothers never occurred to me."
It had been Anderson who had brought the files over to him, pointing out what Myron had already figured out that tragic evening a few days ago.
That Carl Montrose and Jimmy Clark had been half brothers, both sharing the same mother who had remarried when Carl was quite young.
Hockenbury looked up, green eyes filled with guilt. "His mom wrote him, made him promise to take care of Jimmy." His voice caught in his throat and he swallowed, dropping his gaze back to the blanket. "And when that poor kid got killed, Carl blamed you, L-T. He couldn't come to terms with what happened, and he blamed you."
Myron reached across and put a gentle hand on Hockenbury's knee, startling the young medic into glancing back up at him. "Don't let this eat you up, Doc. It wasn't your fault." Myron's voice was gentle, not accusing. He then rose to his feet, pushing the chair aside, "Try to get some sleep," he added with a nod. He walked across the barracks to the screen door, starting to push it open.
"L-T," Doc hesitated.
Myron paused, his hand still on the door, glancing back. Hockenbury had his head down again.
Hockenbury gathered the tattered edges of his courage together. "Her name is Danh tű," his voice was barely above a whisper. "She's the reason I decided to come here, L-T, to Vietnam."
She stood alone in the meadow, the wind whispering around her...
Myron looked up, and met Hockenbury's sad eyes. The young man raised his head, the moonlight spilling off the rims of his glasses. He was trembling, and a single tear slipped down his cheek. He held a pistol in hands that were covered in blood...
Stunned, Myron felt a chill wrap around him. "The woman in the nightmares? The one-" he faltered, his mouth going dry, gaping at the medic, horrified with the realization that the young man knew about the nightmare. He knew and came anyway...
The cold washed over him, Myron started to tremble when Hockenbury raised the pistol and put the barrel beneath his chin. Myron remained frozen, he couldn't move. Hockenbury held his eyes, his pleading for forgiveness, for understanding.
She stood beside Myron; the blood spilling from cupped hands... Hockenbury squeezed the trigger...
The medic finally raised his head and met with Myron's horrified eyes. "Her name means destiny, L-T."