Disclaimer: The Tour of Duty characters and situations do not belong to me- I simply love to play in their sandbox.
A very special thank you to Mel, witchbaby and Snowy for the awesome beta job they did for me, and all at the last minute. Thanks so much ladies- you always make me look so good!
This was originally written as a birthday fic for Doc LaVigne. Happy Birthday Doc! This was also picked up for BASCon's 2003 conzine, where it appeared, regrettably, incomplete.
Lieutenant Goldman stood a little apart from the rest of the platoon, working on a final cigarette in the gathering early light of the morning. False dawn had long since tipped the quiet camp in lengthening shadows, bringing with it the promise of a mercilessly hot day. Sergeant Anderson was walking among all the newbies, checking gear, rattling dog-tags, handing out last minute advice. Goldman tried not to think how this reminded him of Firebase Ladybird.
God, this is getting old.
Ruiz walked past him with a quiet nod, joining Doc Hockenbury and Danny Percell. The medic was seated on the edge of the slick's platform; long legs folded up under him as he read a Newsweek that had come in the mail yesterday. Danny stood at his elbow, watching the platoon full of newbies, watching Anderson as the sergeant worked his way through them.
Goldman quietly considered the two men, not sure what he saw.
Danny was barely dried out. And he was never far from their odd medic. Hockenbury kept a quiet eye on Percell, and Danny was allowed to lean all he needed to on the medic in order to survive. No one pointed this out, it was implicitly understood. Like Hockenbury's not carrying a weapon, Myron simply chose to overlook it.
Goldman could hear the sound of the Hueys as the engines were kicked over. Morning was starting to rush in now, pushing the shadows back. The sun was barely up and already the heat was building. The pre-dawn breeze had died off, leaving the air thick and still.
A tall black kid walked beside Marcus Taylor, both coming to stand before Hockenbury, Percel,l and Ruiz. Myron crushed out his cigarette and watched with dark eyes. Like Marcus, this new kid was tall and very lean. And just like Marcus, he apparently came complete with a chip on his shoulder. With Johnson now gone home, Taylor was looking to fill a void. Myron wasn't sure this angry looking kid now standing by his side was such a good choice.
"Whatcha readin' there, Doc?" Taylor reshouldered his weapon.
"Same thing I was yesterday, Marcus." Doc didn't look up. Instead he flipped the magazine closed and started to roll it up.
"You the medic we all heard about?" The newbie beside Taylor had a sharp edge to his voice that had all of Goldman's attention. A visible change in the posture of Ruiz and Percell made it plain that the new guy had their complete attention as well.
"I'm just the medic." Hockenbury unfolded his legs and let them drape over the edge of the platform, still not looking at anyone. He tucked the magazine inside his shirt and started to snug down his web gear.
"Yeah, we all heard about you." The newbie smiled and nudged Taylor.
Anderson was walking up to Goldman now, M-16 in his hand and web gear slung over his shoulder. Behind him, the lieutenant could see the Hueys lift from the flight line and slowly start to slide over the compound to where they all stood. Zeke joined Myron there beside the platform, giving his lieutenant a curious look when Myron nodded toward the unfolding scene.
"Won't carry a weapon. Won't fight for your buddies." The new guy nudged Taylor again, grinning. He was enjoying this.
Doc didn't reply, but brushed the bangs of his too long hair out of his eyes. The sunlight caught and spilled off the rims of his glasses, flashing bright before he ducked his head, still silent.
"Hey man, it's bad news to mouth off to th' guy who might be savin' your stupid ass out there in the bush," Roo warned.
The new man ignored Ruiz, not even giving him a glance.
"So's it true, medic, what they say? You some kinda coward or something?" That edge was getting nastier by the minute. The black kid took another step closer, shifting his weapon in his hands.
Goldman watched Percell shift his weight forward, sliding the strap of his rifle up past his shoulder and lifting his chin. There was a dangerous look in the man's eyes.
"Taylor, man, you might think about tellin' this jackass to shut up."
"It's alright, Danny." Doc climbed to his feet. He glanced up and met with Goldman's dark eyes before looking away. He started to walk around the two men when the newbie grabbed him, fisting a handful of fatigues in his hand.
"You look like one of those pretty boys with your necklaces hanging all over ya. You some kinda hippy faggot, too?" His voice was low, but carried clearly to all of them.
"Leave off, man," Ruiz warned.
"That's enough now, Williams. You go on back over to your squad now, you hear me?" Anderson kept his voice level.
"Sure 'nough, Sarge." Williams released Hockenbury's shirt with a light shove before flashing Taylor a cocky smile. He swung his rifle up over his shoulders and behind his neck, draping his long arms over stock and barrel before walking back to his squad.
The noise from the rotors of the first slick enveloped them and Myron was unable to hear what Percell said to Hockenbury. The medic just shook his head and the two moved off as the chopper eased toward the landing pad they were standing next to. The wind from the rotors kicked up, making everyone duck and look away for a moment before the slick settled lightly on the platform. Taylor started to brush by Anderson and Goldman to join his squad when the sergeant snagged his arm.
"New friend there, Taylor?"
"What's it to you, Sarge?" Taylor's reply had a sharp edge and it occurred to Myron that lately he always sounded angry.
"You can do better than that, Marcus."
Taylor pulled free with a glare, but said nothing. Ruiz followed in his wake, rolling his eyes and shouldering his M-60. The unspoken comment was nonetheless understood. It's gonna be a long damn day in the bush.
* * *
Goldman balanced back against the frayed padding, down on one knee, holding his rifle muzzle down. Peering over Anderson's shoulder, he watched the landscape rush by beneath the skids of the slick, the wind whipping his shorn hair. Anderson sat on the edge of the deck as he always did, fearlessly, with a foot on the skid.
The chopper was crowded with most of First Squad, including Hockenbury. Myron glanced back inside, studying the faces but not making eye contact with anyone. The rotor wash whipped around them, the smell of the fuel oil thick in his nose.
Several FNGs, including Goldman's latest RTO, were crammed into the middle, eyes wide and sweaty hands gripping rifles. Myron could see one of the kids silently muttering to himself; probably saying a prayer.
Doc and Danny were across the cargo hold, tucked up behind the pilot's seat. Doc was shouldered up next to Danny, who, like Anderson, was sitting on the edge of the deck. Myron saw Danny glance back in over his shoulder to the medic. Goldman once again considered what a study in contrasts the two men were.
Fortunately, Williams, the kid who had mouthed off to Doc, was not on this ship. It was bad enough being crowded with no room to even think; Williams' unfounded hatred would have made it feel even closer. Myron was still watching the two men when the crew chief leaned over and tapped his shoulder, gesturing toward the pilot. McKay glanced back at Goldman, eyes hidden behind his sunglasses. The pilot held up five gloved fingers and Myron nodded his understanding.
Myron nudged Zeke before he shifted his weight and put his helmet on. Goldman saw Danny lean over and shout something in Doc's ear and the medic nod his agreement before putting on his own helmet. The shift of mood was immediate and almost tangible. The newbies started to fidget when Zeke told them to get ready- they were coming in. Myron checked the safety on his rifle as the Hueys slipped in over the treetops and headed for the LZ.
Everyone ducked and someone yelped when gunfire traced across Goldman's side of the slick. McKay shouted for the gunners to start covering the LZ and the sound of the sixties competed with the roar of the Huey's engine as McKay jockeyed for a better position.
"We're going in hot!" Anderson shouted, mostly for the newbies.
Anderson and Goldman could see two of the Hueys slide in under fire as the men jumped clear. McKay and the other chopper stayed in the air, offering as much cover fire as they could until the first two slicks got clear. Then they were sweeping in, the tall grass swaying and flattening under the wash of the rotors.
"MOVE, MOVE, MOVE!" Anderson shouted. everyone slid for the cargo doors as the gunners continued to hose down the tree line.
"LET'S GO, MOVE IT OUT!" McKay shouted over his shoulder as he kept the chopper balanced neatly a couple of feet above the sweeping grass. He caught Myron's eye briefly before Goldman jumped clear with the rest of his men.
Goldman hit the ground and rolled, looking back for his new RTO. The man was hit as he jumped off, immediately going down, blood splattering across Myron before he could realize what had happened. He threw himself down flat as McKay danced the slick nimbly away before pulling pitch and lifting out. Myron allowed himself a glance over his shoulder in time to see the Huey pull clear. He fired into the tree line before reaching over to the RTO, only to find he was already dead.
Goldman could hear Anderson shouting instructions just ahead of him. Danny came up on the other side of the dead kid, covering Myron who had to push the body over so he could get at the radio. Anderson was still shouting, telling everyone to stay down and aim for the tree line when Myron finally got the handset free.
Doc appeared as if out of nowhere. "Need help, L-T?"
"No good, Doc- this one's gone!"
"You hit, L-T?" Doc must have seen the blood splashed all over Goldman's uniform.
"I'm alright, Doc!" That was all the medic needed to hear as he got up on his knees and made ready to make a dash to someone else shouting for a medic. "Keep your head down, Doc!"
Realizing they needed help, Myron called for gunships to come in and clear the tree line. Although there wasn't much they could do, McKay and the other pilots still circled the LZ. Low on fuel, they made a final pass, the gunners on the slicks tearing up the tree line before heading back to base.
"Percell- take the radio!" Goldman ordered, starting to pull the straps free from the arms of the dead kid.
"I got it, L-T! I'll be right behind you!" Danny sighted and pulled off several shots before helping Goldman free the radio. Myron got to his knees and then crawled across the torn up ground to Anderson's side, Danny following him.
"Gunships are on the way!"
Anderson rolled onto his back, fishing out a fresh clip and slamming it in. "Hope to hell they get here soon!" He was back on his elbows, firing into the tree line. "Keep your heads down!" he shouted at the newbies.
"We lost the RTO!" Myron looked over Anderson's back, taking a quick look at his men all scattered in the grass. He could see Doc working on another new kid; quickly wrapping a pressure bandage around an upper arm as gunfire kept them pinned down. "What do you figure we got in the trees?"
"Could be five guys, could be a damned division- I can't tell for sure 'n' they sure as hell have us where they want us!" Anderson shook his head.
Another kid to Myron's left caught a bullet in the shoulder and started screaming. Anderson shouted for Doc as Myron rolled and then crawled the few yards over to the wounded man and pushed him down before he could take another bullet. Doc jumped in next to him, quickly climbing over the frightened man and telling him to calm down. Anderson shouted again, telling everyone to hold fast and to keep firing into the tree line.
Myron pulled the empty clip from his rifle and dug out a new one. He spared a glance to Doc, who was focused only on the wounded man, not paying any heed to the gunfire tearing into the ground around them. The medic had already given the frightened kid some morphine and was now applying pressure bandages to the bleeding shoulder. He never stopped talking, reassuring the wounded man that things were gonna be fine and to just hang in there. Myron stayed close, keeping the two men covered as best he could.
Smoke drifted across the field, mixed with shouting and cries for help. Ruiz was already forced to change the overheated barrel on the sixty. Goldman wasn't sure, but it looked as if the kid who'd been feeding ammo for Ruiz was dead. Goldman paused, wiping the sweat out his eyes before he resettled on his elbows and resumed firing into the tree line.
"Williams! Get your damned head DOWN!" Goldman looked up at Anderson's shout in time to see the mouthy black kid get up and start to run at the tree line, shouting and shooting. Williams bolted by Taylor who tried to catch him, but he slipped by and kept going.
"What the hell?!" Goldman found himself saying when a fresh round of gunfire opened up and sprayed across the field. Williams was caught instantly and thrown back with a strangled cry as he hit the ground hard.
Where the hell are the damned gunships?
Williams was still alive, they could see him moving. He was crying for help, screaming for a medic. But now he was several yards out in front of the entire platoon, effectively cut off. They could do nothing but watch him die unless the gunships got there first.
"Sarge!" Taylor shouted from his position, "I'm gonna drag him back!"
From the corner of his eye, Goldman saw Doc gathering himself to make a dash for Williams. He could see Anderson and Taylor getting ready to try and get to the man too, but everyone got pushed back down with another volley of gunfire. "Son of a..." Myron heard Anderson's muttered curse.
Williams, still out in front of everyone and cut off, continued to thrash helplessly and cry out for help. Doc climbed back over Goldman and the kid he'd been treating. Myron grabbed the medic's arm, getting a fist full of uniform. "Doc- you can't get to him!" Several shots tore up the ground around them and they both ducked, the dirt raining down on them.
"Damn, L-T, I gotta try!" Doc wasn't even looking at him. He had eyes only for Williams. Myron could feel the other man shake with his need to get to the wounded soldier.
Taylor made another attempt and almost got his head taken off for the effort. He dove for the ground hard, but still was short of getting to Williams.
"Hockenbury! I don't want a dead medic! Wait for the gunships!"
"He'll die if I don't get to him!" Doc twisted and got free of Goldman, who made another lunge in an effort to tackle his reckless medic.
"Cover fire! Cover Doc!" Hockenbury threw off the L-T and then made a break for Williams. The boy was either fearless or foolish, Goldman was not sure which. Right now Myron had to believe it was a combination of both because nothing was going to stop Doc from getting to Williams.
Doc could only get so far before the gunfire from the tree line forced him down, pinned now between Goldman and his men, and the still helpless Williams. They watched as Hockenbury crawled carefully over to Taylor, who was the next furthest out from all of them.
"Doc- stay down!" Danny was shouting.
Myron stripped another empty clip from his rifle and slammed in a new one.
Hockenbury wouldn't listen to anyone. He spared Marcus a look when Taylor put a hand on his shoulder, but shook it off and started to crawl forward on his elbows, slow inches at a time. "Williams- I'm coming! Just hang in there!"
The ground exploded around Hockenbury who covered his head uselessly as the bullets ripped around him. "Keep the damn fire off Hockenbury!" Anderson ordered.
Goldman rolled back over to the sergeant, who was swearing a blue streak and muttering under his breath about being a hero and medics who would be the death of him.
"Percell! Find out where the hell those gunships are!" Goldman ducked when several rounds sprayed dirt over himself and Anderson. Both men looked up and returned fire over the medic just as Hockenbury finally made it to Williams' side. "I swear if Hockenbury doesn't get himself killed this time- I'm gonna shoot him myself!"
"Now L-T, give the boy credit, it's not for lack of trying!" Both men could see Doc push Williams onto his back and then pull him in close, covering him with his own body as the fire-fight continued over and around them. Even from here, Myron could see Doc speaking to Williams, calming and gentling the wounded man. Although Myron couldn't hear the medic's words, he knew Doc was promising things were gonna be just fine, that help was on the way.
"Gunships coming in!"
Everyone, except for Doc, looked up just as the gunships rushed in over the trees behind them and streaked across the LZ. The gunfire that had kept them all pinned down was now redirected at the gunships as they started to rip into the tree line.
Covered in blood, sweat, and dirt, Goldman breathed a shaky sigh of relief. He pushed himself up off his elbows and waved the others forward as Anderson yelled at the men to get moving.
* * *
Two of the gunships circled overhead, providing protection as the medevac choppers settled into the now secured LZ. Goldman glanced at Anderson, who looked as exhausted as Myron felt. He wiped the sweat from his face with the towel he kept around his neck. Zeke tapped his shoulder lightly, then nodded in the direction of Hockenbury and Williams.
Taylor stood beside the medic, looking for the most part confused. Doc had Williams in his arms and across his lap, but the mouthy kid was dead. He never really had a chance with his chest torn open. Hockenbury was covered with blood. It was soaked into his shirt, all over his hands and arms and smeared across his face.
When Goldman and Anderson approached, Doc shakily climbed out from under the body and clumsily got to his feet. When he stumbled, Myron reached out and caught an elbow, helping to steady him.
"You okay, Doc?"
The medic shivered despite the late morning heat and shook his head. He tried to meet Goldman's eyes, but his gaze slid away instead and he hung his head.
"You did a good thing, Doc." Anderson lightly touched his shoulder. "You gotta know that, son." Hockenbury continued to stand between them, unsteady.
"He never had a chance." Taylor looked up from Williams' body and stared at the medic. "You almost died to get to him- and for what?!"
Pulling his helmet off and shoving a hand through his sweaty hair, Hockenbury finally looked up, staring at Taylor for several long moments. Then, with a silent glance to Goldman, he pulled free and stumbled toward the waiting slicks.
"Why'd he do it, Sarge? I don't understand- the guy had no respect for him!" Taylor's voice carried across the field, several men starting to look in their direction. "Damn- you saw what happened back at camp!"
"Let's get this kid on a poncho," was Anderson's only reply, pushing past Taylor and waving Ruiz and Percell over to help him.
Myron didn't answer, instead stripping his helmet off. The wind from the rotors of a slick that was settling into the field swept around them, flattening the grass. Goldman watched as Hockenbury helped one of the limping newbies toward the medevac. He knew Taylor was still staring at him. It took him another moment to find his voice as he stepped aside and let Anderson, Ruiz and Percell push by with Williams' body.
"Taylor, if you have to ask, then you will never understand the answer."