Under the Gun
By Doc
© December 2002

Chapter Four

 
Rating: PG-13 (for questionable language and adult situations)

Disclaimer: The Tour of Duty Characters do NOT belong to me and I am not being compensated in any way for this work of fiction.

Summary: A new doctor reports to Camp Barnett and complicates Doc Hockenbury’s life.

Placement: Around the time of The Road to Long Binh (3rd Season)


Caz and the men all looked up when the burly sergeant returned to their table.

"Everything okay with the L-Ts, Sarge?" Taylor’s eyes indicated Johnny’s now empty seat. Caz said nothing as she sized up the older man who just stood there, ignoring the implied invitation.

"Ya’ll know how it goes between the two of them." Anderson nodded to Doc. "Hockenbury, I trust you can escort the Captain here back to her quarters when she’s ready to leave?"

Hockenbury almost gagged on the swallow of beer in his mouth, his eyes growing round with surprise. Percell gave him a sound smack between the shoulder blades and the medic choked down the drink, coughing and sputtering.

"Me, Sarge?" Doc’s voice squeaked up several octaves.

"Yeah, unless we got another Hockenbury here I don’t know about." The sergeant’s customary sideways grin crept across his face. His gaze traveled around the table, checking out each of his men and finally the young captain.

"Damn, Sarge! I sure hope not!" Taylor grinned.

"Just see the Captain home, Doc." Anderson added. He nodded to Caz who had remained silent throughout the entire exchange. "Ma’am, enjoy the evening." He set his empty bottle on the table, turned and headed for the door. A moment later the sergeant had vanished into the night.

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

Conversation gradually returned to normal in the House, while silence settled over Team Viking’s table as the screen door swung shut behind Anderson. They all reached out, grabbing the beers McKay had delivered and exchanged them for their empties. Nobody said anything for several minutes, during which Hockenbury and Ruiz lit up new cigarettes and Percell appropriated the peanuts.

"I’m sorry." Caz’s voice was so soft the men froze, not sure if the young doctor had spoken or not. She lifted her bottle, then set it down on the table again, lowering her hands into her lap. Feeling the anxious gaze of Team Viking, she raised puzzled green eyes to meet theirs. "I’m not sure what just happened."

"Hey! The L-Ts, well, they just get on each other’s nerves once in awhile. Happens all the time. Not your fault, ma’am." Taylor looked anxiously around the table, imploring the other men to help.

"Yeah, roommates, you know." Ruiz hauled his cigarette out of his mouth long enough to chime in. He shrugged at Taylor’s exasperated look.

Percell nudged Hockenbury’s elbow, bright blue eyes staring at the medic. He growled under his breath at the man. "Come on, Doc, help us out here. Ya like the lady, don’tcha?"

Doc became aware that all eyes were aimed at him and took a deep breath, hoping the extra oxygen would calm the palpitations of his heart. He took a slow deliberate swig of beer, twirling the bottle between the fingers of one hand as he swallowed. Looking up, he caught Caz’s expectant gaze and returned it unflinchingly.

"It’s not ev’ry night we have a floor show."

Beer sprayed across the table as Percell found himself with a mouthful of alcohol and not enough air in his lungs. Ruiz fell over backwards, trying to avoid the deluge, and crashed to the floor, his boots making a brief appearance before he vanished from view. Laughing too hard to speak, Taylor could only hold his ribs with one arm and point at the place where Ruiz had been sitting.

Cassidy and Hockenbury continued to stare into each other’s eyes a moment longer, her lips curling up into a delighted grin. He blinked, dropping his gaze quickly to the table and picked up his beer again, pretending great interest in the label. A faint red blush rose in his cheeks and he ducked his head, wishing he were under the table instead of Ruiz.

"Madre Dios!" Ruiz climbed from the floor, hanging his head in embarrassment. His uniform was blotchy with stale beer and he grimaced as he surveyed his pants.

Danny took a deep breath, just barely controlling his mirth. "I’m sorry, Roo. It’s Doc’s fault!" He let the medic shove him sideways in mock rage, finally giving in and laughing along with Taylor.

Caz, meanwhile, had visibly relaxed. Smiling at the men’s antics, she reclaimed her beer and drained it, shoving the bottle to the center of the table to join the other empties.

"Well, boys, this has been fun but I’m afraid I’m gonna have to call it a night. I got up awful early this morning." She shook her head, realizing with a start that it had only been that morning that she’d been in surgery in Tan Son Nhut. And she’d been at Camp Barnett for exactly one day. Time sure flies!

Taylor and Ruiz immediately protested. "Captain, it’s early! We’ll liven things up for ya!"

Holding her hands up, Cassidy shook her head with a disarming smile. "Sorry. Sick call is gonna come ‘round all too early tomorrow. I gotta catch up on my sleep." She looked around the table, thinking that McKay was right, Goldman’s men ARE nice. "Thanks very much for the company tonight."

They all stood with her, Taylor helpfully pulling her chair back. Hockenbury hurriedly scooped up his smokes and his lighter and ducked behind Ruiz, awkwardly moving into place at Caz’s side. He glanced across the table at Percell, whose hundred-watt grin threatened to toast the medic.

As the young doctor was speaking with Marcus, Doc leaned across the table, glaring at his buddy. "Danny! Cut it out!"

Percell leaned in, too, his voice pitched low. "Hey, you’re just followin’ orders, Doc. Sarge wants you to deliver the lady to her quarters, guess you’ll just have to do it." He reached over and punched Hockenbury lightly on the arm. "Tough as that order might be."

Hockenbury turned away from his teammate, his cheeks flaming. Captain Cassidy was waiting and let him precede her to clear a path to the door. The trip, all of fifteen feet, took several minutes as the men refused to part for the medic, hoping for a chance to say Hi to the lady doc. Finally they arrived at the door.

A chorus of voices from the bar sang out. "Good night, Captain Cassidy!" Gales of laughter followed the words. One brave voice ventured a solo. "Good night, ma’am!"

Caz stopped, looking over her shoulder with a grin. "Good night, New Bern." She waved and slipped past the screen as Hockenbury held it for her.

Behind her she could hear Harmon’s buddies crowding around him, slapping his back and giving him the business about his success with the "lady doc." She smiled to herself, pleased to have made the young private’s night.

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

Hockenbury and the doctor clattered down the steps, pausing at the bottom to allow Cassidy to get her bearings. She studied the layout of the surrounding buildings and ventured a guess.

"That way?" She pointed to the left, looking up at the tall medic with one eyebrow raised.

Doc smiled, shaking his head. "Nope, it’s this way ma’am." He took a step to the right, turning to see if she was coming. And nearly jumped out of his boots as she gently took hold of his arm.

"I’ll let you lead the way, then, Specialist, if that’s okay. I’m not very good at directions, I guess." Cassidy looked up at him, her face solemn, green-grey eyes huge in the darkness.

Bending his arm and tucking her hand into the crook of his elbow, Hockenbury gazed down at her for a long moment, swallowing hard. His voice, when he finally found it, was raw, husky. "That’s fine, Captain, ma’am, um, fine."

They started to walk, the medic slowing his long strides so she could keep up. And to prolong the trip, he thought, wishing they had miles to go. Her hand feels so warm. The night air, which moments before had seemed almost cool, now felt tropical on his hot skin.

"So you’re from Memphis?" Caz kicked herself mentally, biting her lower lip in annoyance with herself. Is that all you can think to say to him?

Hockenbury raised his eyebrow, suddenly understanding that she was just as nervous as he was himself. He smiled in the darkness. "Yes, ma’am, Memphis. Seems a long way from here, though."

"Yeah, I reckon it does." She held his arm tightly, feeling the heat from him roll over her like a tidal wave.

"How ‘bout you, Captain? Where in North Carolina?" The young medic hated the rank, hated that wall the army put between them.

"Oh, some little hick town. Between nowhere and not quite somewhere." She smiled up at him, a lopsided grin that seemed to cover half her face.

Doc’s heart seemed to squeeze in his chest. He kept his hand over Caz’s where it rested on his arm, not daring to move his fingers, and yet unable to relinquish the chance to touch her. Before he knew it, they were standing outside the dispensary. A dim light burned within, indicating the presence of the on-call medic.

"Well, here ya are, ma’am, the, um, dispensary." Hockenbury’s cheeks burned yet again and he ducked his head, allowing his sandy hair to fall into his eyes. "Ya gonna be okay?"

Caz reluctantly released his arm. "Yeah, thank you, Specialist. I appreciate you walking me back. I had been feeling pretty lonely. Not so much, now." Her eyes reflected the moonlight as she tilted her head up at him.

Hockenbury was speechless. He looked at her a long time in the dim light spilling from the building, noting her high cheekbones, her full mouth. Finally regaining his voice, he cleared his throat. "Well, guess I’ll see you in the morning, ma’am. I’m on dispensary duty tomorrow."

Caz grinned suddenly, her fatigue dropping away in an instant. "That’s great! I’ll see ya then." She reached out, touched his arm briefly, applying a feather’s worth of pressure, then turned and ran lightly up the dispensary steps, disappearing through the door.

Hockenbury stood for a moment, gazing up at the moon. Then, sticking his hands in his pockets, he continued on his way to Team Viking’s hootch, lightheartedly kicking stones from his path. He glanced back; saw the light in the window at the far end of the clinic come on, flickering as a shadow crossed it once, twice. The young medic grinned, feeling the warmth in his heart, not from the lamp, but from the shadow. The night closed over him as he walked away.

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

Doc Hockenbury frowned at himself in the small mirror hung between his bunk and Percell’s, leaning in closely to inspect the tiny shaving nick just under his lip. He carefully peeled off the scrap of toilet paper he’d glued there and ran one long finger over the smooth skin, making sure it was no longer bleeding. Twisting his mouth to one side, Doc turned his head, gaze still intent on the miniscule wound.

"Whatcha doin’, Doc?"

Taylor spoke directly in the medic’s ear, his breath warm on the other’s cheek. He laughed as the man ducked away, tripping over his cot and crashing down on it in a tangle of awkward arms and legs.

Marcus’ eyes grew big as he continued laughing, his hands propped on his hips. "A little nervous today, Doc?" He glanced over at the other members of the team, catching Ruiz’s amused grin. "You see that, Roo? He musta jumped a mile!"

Alberto nodded, replacing his shaving kit and towel in his locker and slamming it shut. "He’s got dispensary duty today, man." At Taylor’s uncomprehending stare, he went on. "That new lady doc?" Raising one eyebrow, he cut his gaze over to the medic, a knowing smile spreading across his face.

Hockenbury sat on the edge of his bunk, head down and eyes tightly shut. This is NOT happening! He was aware of Percell, standing now at the mirror and shoving a comb through his short blonde hair. Too aware of the sympathetic glances the blue-eyed specialist was casting his way if Doc would just raise his head and look. Not now, Danny.

With one fluid movement, the medic grabbed his hat from his locker, stood and strode for the door. In an instant, he was gone, the screen slamming shut behind him, leaving three startled GIs staring at one another.

Taylor recovered first. He winked at Ruiz and picked up his cap. "I don’t feel so good all of a sudden, boys. I’ll be at sick call if anybody needs me!" Saluting with his left hand, the black sergeant spun on his heel and followed Hockenbury out the door, calling to the medic as he went.

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

"Doc!" Taylor stumbled down the last step and almost measured his length on the dusty pathway. "Doc, wait!" He gathered his legs underneath him as Hockenbury glanced back, and jogged to catch up with the man.

The tall medic sighed as he slowly shook his head. He glanced upward at the gradually lightening sky, a faint pink blush washing over the trees and chasing away the shadows. Lord, why today? Shoving his hands deeply in his pockets, Doc continued walking, ignoring Taylor’s grinning face as the man drew level with him.

"Hey, Doc, mind if I walk over wit’ ya to Sick Call?"

Hockenbury stopped short, staring at the back of Marcus’ head. "Are you sick?" He took a step closer as Taylor turned back to him, concern tempering the irritation that had been building in him. It was one thing to ignore his buddy’s annoyingly childish razzing but another thing entirely to shrug off an illness. Especially when one is the team medic. "What’s wrong, Marcus?"

Shifting from one leg to the other, Taylor looked away, thinking fast. "I twisted my ankle, on the stairs there." He waved one hand in the general direction of Team Viking’s hootch. Taking all his weight on one foot, he lifted the other an inch or so off the ground. "It hurts somethin’ awful, Doc!"

Crossing his arms over his chest, the medic took a deep breath, holding it briefly while he regarded Taylor with growing hostility. "So you came runnin’ out the door to go with me to Sick Call, knowin’ that you were goin’ to twist your ankle on the steps?" Doc waited all of a heartbeat for the man to answer and then shoved past him, boots sending up small clouds of dust behind him.

Taylor rubbed one hand over his face, a sheepish grin stretching his lips. He ran a few steps to catch up to Doc, remembering to limp as he came into the medic’s peripheral vision. "Hey." He waited for Hockenbury’s curiosity to get the better of him, matching him stride for purposeful stride. It took all of ten seconds.

"What?" Doc tossed his hair out of his eyes as he glanced quickly over at the sergeant. He couldn’t be sure, but it appeared that Taylor’s limp switched from one leg to the other every few steps. Shaking his head, Hockenbury cursed himself for getting suckered into a conversation with the man. Again.

"You really like her, don’tcha?"

Doc’s breath caught in his throat and he faltered, almost tripping over a guy wire he’d successfully navigated a hundred times on his way to the dispensary. Maybe several hundred times. He felt the heat rise in his cheeks and his hands balled into fists in his pockets. Swallowing hard, he fought to keep his voice neutral.

"Who?"

Taylor’s eyes were almost perfectly round with amazement. "You have got to be shittin’ me, Doc! Captain Cassidy, that’s who! I saw you lookin’ at her last night. Like a love-sick pup." He caught himself walking normally and resumed favoring his right ankle. Or was it the left??

Hockenbury forced himself to breathe normally, calming his racing pulse. He liked Taylor, jokes and jabs aside. Sighing heavily, he pulled his hands from his pockets, hauling off his hat and dragging his fingers through his hair. Removing his glasses from the neck of his t-shirt, the medic slowly put them on, messing with the spectacles to avoid looking at Marcus. At last he looked up, careful not to meet the other man’s gaze.

"I dunno. I guess, yeah." Doc took a deep breath, went on. "But it don’t make no never mind, she’s an officer. End of story."

Taylor nodded, forgetting his presumably injured ankle. "A man’s gotta dream, Doc. A man’s gotta dream."

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

Captain Cassidy stood on tiptoe, arms wrapped tightly around the huge bottle of water as she attempted to pour it into the coffee urn. Hall had made it look so easy the day before, with his extra twelve inches of height and massive biceps. Leaning her belly against the counter, Caz managed to balance the bottle on one shoulder and slosh most of the liquid where it was supposed to go. The rest spilled across the flat surface and down onto the floor where it collected in a widening puddle.

Quickly setting the nearly empty bottle down, Caz grabbed a white towel from the neat stack at the end of the nearest gurney. She tossed it on the floor with practiced ease, noting with mild interest that the fabric didn’t immediately turn red. Water, Caz, not blood.

Looking down, the young doctor surveyed the dark blotchy wet stain across the front of her shirt and pants. She shook her head ruefully, her ponytail lightly brushing her collar. Rapidly finishing up the coffee preparations, Caz switched the machine on and headed back to her quarters for a quick change of uniform.

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

The coffee was already beginning to perk as Cassidy returned to the main room of the dispensary, tucking her dry scrub shirt hard into her fatigue pants. Most of the medical staff she’d known in Tan Son Nhut had left their shirts untucked, ostensibly to make it easier to change them, an event which generally happened several times a shift.

Caz had never felt comfortable with it, the years of surgical training exerting their discipline over her without conscious thought. No scrub shirt shall be worn outside the pants where it could billow out and brush against the table or patient and pick up contamination. Ever.

She stood in the middle of the small dispensary, knowing now that the closed doors led to, respectively, her hootch and a treatment room. Another small door led to a bathroom, complete with shower that boasted "running" water from the tank on the roof. Pugh had been moaning the day before about the need to top it off, once the water buffalo had been filled from the camp well. Caz had thought privately that such an operation would be worth watching if only for the entertainment value.

This morning she’d been grateful for the little luxury and grinned at her own rapid adjustment to her new home. On the chopper ride in yesterday morning, caught in her own thoughts as the dark countryside raced by under the skids, Cassidy had pictured herself having to bathe in a helmet. What a difference 24 hours makes! Now she felt clean and refreshed after a 30 second shower under tepid water draining off a roof.

The coffee urn gurgled and burped as the camp came to life around the dispensary. Cassidy became aware of the low murmurings of men lining up for Sick Call, presumably taking their places on the few low benches and the line of sandbagged walls outside the front door. Laughter rose and fell in a comforting rhythm, bringing the easy camaraderie of the night before in the Team House into Caz’s mind.

She smiled, thinking about Team Viking and its oddball assortment of men, the gregarious and outspoken Taylor and bashful Percell. Ruiz and his macho confidence, and sensitive, quiet Doc Hockenbury. She’d felt the connection between herself and the medic, sensed his silence for something more than a lack of anything to say. His loneliness was a palpable thing, thrust out there like a shield. Cassidy recognized it instantly, knew it intimately as a weapon in her own arsenal against the world.

And McKay, happy-go-lucky chopper jock. His delight in squiring her into the House was intoxicating and contagious, lending her an air of self-assurance she most certainly did not feel as she walked into the room, a lone female surrounded by rowdy, hormonally-driven young men. Cassidy had sensed an underlying sadness to him, though, especially when he’d turned his green eyes toward the bar, toward the dark-haired young lieutenant he’d acknowledged as his roommate.

Goldman had shocked her, the coldness of those black eyes as his gaze had met hers chilling her to the bone. His infinite sorrow had swept over her in a wave of misery and yet his expression gave away nothing. The doctor leaned her hip on the edge of Sergeant Hall’s desk, careful not to dislodge his nameplate. She shook her head, as if the physical movement could remove the image of the despondent young man.

The screen door to the dispensary swung open, the early morning sun making a silhouette of the man entering the room, but Caz knew who he was. Had committed the loose-limbed lanky walk to her heart’s memory if not her brain’s. An involuntary smile tugged at the corners of her mouth as she hauled herself upright, reaching behind her to straighten the file folder on which she’d been perched.

Hockenbury slowly removed his hat, an answering grin on his own lips. A faint wash of color spread across his cheekbones and he swallowed hard, suddenly deciding to salute. He tried to remember all the little nuances of hand and elbow position he’d worked hard to forget with every other officer he’d met. It had never occurred to him that he might someday WANT to salute somebody snappily.

"Good morning, ma’am."

Both Hockenbury and Cassidy jumped, blushing furiously as Sergeant Hall pushed past the tall medic. Neither had heard him follow Doc into the room, or noticed that the door hadn’t immediately swung shut. Doc dropped his salute as the doctor aborted hers, both of them shoving their hands into their pockets. Caz immediately pulled hers out again and crossed her arms across her chest instead.

The big sergeant headed for the coffee urn, nodding his approval as he loudly sniffed the fragrant odor rising from it. He noted the damp towel on the floor with a brief smile as he turned to the counter, dumping his armload of cinnamon buns and toast into a neat pile.

The door slammed again as Pugh came rushing into the room, all apology and noisy chatter. He didn’t notice Caz and Hockenbury, still trapped in their embarrassment, eyes studying their boots. He immediately went to the window, preparing to open it and begin triaging patients.

Hall looked up from filling his immense coffee mug and frowned at the tardy medic. "Pugh, I’ll talk to you later. Let’s get going, folks!" He ambled to his desk and sat down, beginning his morning ritual of setting out his pens and forms. The big man never looked up, didn’t see the sidelong glances exchanged between Doc and Cassidy as they poured themselves coffee and moved to their work.

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

Without so much as a preceding knock, Sergeant Zeke Anderson barged into Team  Viking’s hootch, letting the screen door bang against the wall. "Good morning, ladies! How are we this fine day?" He laughed, noting Percell’s slow, careful movements as the specialist dug mud out of his boots with his k-bar. "Did we perhaps have a few too many at the Team House last night?" His eyes brimming with devilment, he glanced from one bunk to the next, an eyebrow slowly rising in puzzlement as he realized he had an audience of two.

Danny waved him off, dropping his boots to the floor with a thump and falling back onto his rack. "No, Sarge. Actually, we spent the evening here playing canasta." He pulled his pillow over his eyes, groaning.

"Well good, ‘cause we’re gonna have some fun today. We got a mission tomorrow so this morning L-T wants ya’ll to take it easy, just fill a few hundred sandbags over on the north perimeter. Just to keep ya busy, understan’." Anderson slowly walked the length of the hootch, his gaze traveling over Percell and Ruiz and coming to rest on Taylor’s empty rack.

A small chorus of groans met his words. Ruiz shook his head slowly, slipping a final round into a magazine and dropping it with several others into his ammo pouch. Zeke’s smile spread a little wider. "Ain’t I missin’ somebody? Doc’s at the clinic but where’s my man Taylor?"

Glancing over at Percell with a wry grin, Ruiz hauled himself to his feet, smoothing down the front of his shirt with one hand and wiping at his nose with the other. "Oh, Taylor went on sick call. He’s got it real bad."

Dumbfounded, Zeke stood in the middle of the hootch, hands hanging loosely by his sides. "Sick? Hung over more ‘n likely. He was fine last night." He turned to the door, then paused, looking back at Ruiz.

"Is he really sick?" His voice was concerned and a few creases worked their way across his weathered brow.

Ruiz took pity on him and hung Taylor out to dry. "Naw, lovesick maybe. He wants to see the new doc up close an’ personal."

Danny smirked, looking up at Anderson and quickly found something else to do, swinging his feet to the floor and rummaging through his gear. He hoped never to see that expression aimed at him, wondering fleetingly if he had any chance at all of getting to Taylor before the burly sergeant did.

The door slammed behind Zeke as he stormed away, putting the kibosh on that idea. Percell glanced over at Ruiz who was barely holding onto his composure. The two men lost it completely, falling backwards onto their bunks with laughter.

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

Hall took a long sip from his immense mug, his dark eyes closing in pleasure. He savored the aroma and the moment, the smell of the coffee reminding him of mornings spent in other places, places more…pleasant. But still, someone else had brewed this pot, and that, in and of itself, was enough for the huge sergeant right now.

The sun was now pouring through the big open window of the dispensary, the early morning glare slipping easily underneath the overhang of the building. Turning slightly in his chair to take advantage of Pugh’s long shadow as the medic sat at the counter, Hall picked up a folder, cracking it open and thumbing through the papers inside. It crossed his mind for not the first time that whoever had sited this building had to have been an idiot. Or perhaps it was built in the dark.

The sergeant sighed, picking up his coffee again. In ten minutes, the sun would be high enough in the sky that the roof would block its rays and Hall would have to turn on the overheads. Plucking a sheet out of the folder, he cleared his throat, settling into his morning paperwork.

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

Marcus Taylor stood in a line of men, about fifteen in all, most of whom were coughing, scratching, clutching an injured limb or some combination of all three. He heaved an elaborate sigh, propping one foot on the low sandbag wall that led along the dirt pathway to the dispensary. The man directly ahead of him in the queue, seated on the wall as he nursed his sprained ankle, looked down with barely disguised disdain at the muck covering Taylor’s boot.

Taylor glanced down. "Sorry, man." He dropped his foot to the ground and glanced at the man’s ankle, realizing that the young private was using his scam. "Whatcha do?" Nodding at the GI’s leg, Marcus mentally revamped his own story.

The man grimaced, hauling up his pants leg and displaying a hideously swollen and discolored right ankle. The soldier was wearing his shower shoes and his feet were dirty and grimy. "Tripped over the steps into my hootch."

Blinking, Taylor swore lightly under his breath. "Too bad, man, that’s too bad." He dropped onto the wall, stretching his long legs before him, crossing them at the ankle. He listened to the voices around him, catching small snippets of conversations here and there.

"…think I caught a case a …"

"…slap down on the floor, landed right on my…"

"…ask you this, is it normal for it to burn when I …"

"…pee. Can you hold my place in line?"

Taylor looked up, startled. The guy behind him was staring at him with pleading eyes.

"What?"

The private shook his head. "I just gotta pee, can you hold my place?"

Taylor waved him off, suddenly comprehending. "Sure, sure, man, go." He watched the kid scurry away and tried not to laugh. Save his place in line? Does this place LOOK like kindergarten? He was considering the merits of a sprained knee versus a stomach bug when a large hand came down on his shoulder, jolting him back to the here and now.

"Well, now, Taylor, I heard you was on Sick Call an’ here you are. You okay, son?" Anderson’s blue eyes studied him intently, although Taylor couldn’t tell if the man was concerned or furious.

Taylor decided to run with concerned until proven otherwise. "Hey, Sarge, yeah, I gotta bad knee. This one, the right one." The black sergeant turned his back on the man with the swollen ankle, knowing the guy was staring at him in disbelief. Rubbing the leg vigorously, Taylor assumed an expression of long-suffering pain.

Anderson nodded slightly, dropping to a crouch in front of his long-time teammate. He took hold of Taylor’s knee with calloused hands, gently exploring the joint lines on either side and pressing around the kneecap. "Hurt when I mash here?"

Taylor watched the top of Zeke’s head with a sinking heart. Anderson knew, Taylor wasn’t sure how, but the man knew. He pushed the big sergeant’s hands away and stood, flexing his leg and making small, experimental hops. "Damn you’re good, Sarge! Maybe you should be a doc!" Walking a few steps, he looked back over his shoulder, smiling hugely as he tried to put as much ground as he could between his sergeant and himself. "Well, gotta go!"

Zeke slowly stood, the concerned, almost fatherly look completely gone, in its place a warning, semi-serious glare. "Taylor? I think I hear sandbags callin’ your name. Ruiz has a shovel for ya. Now, go!" He smiled at Taylor’s rapidly departing back, stepping away from the men in line.

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

Goldman cupped his hands around the lighter, bringing it up to the cigarette he held loosely between his lips. He stood in the shadows beyond the far end of the dispensary, watching Anderson apparently having a little discussion of sorts with the newly minted Sergeant Taylor. Even from a distance, Myron knew by the set of Zeke’s shoulders that Taylor should consider himself lucky. Whatever it was could have gone either way. Goldman took a deep drag on the cigarette and walked over to the Sick Call line.

"Sergeant?"

Anderson looked back over his shoulder, turning to face his team leader. He watched Goldman palm his cigarette, the lieutenant’s other hand deftly slipping his lighter back into his pocket.

Myron squinted against the cloud of smoke, blinking as it dispersed in the sluggish, humid breeze. He took another deep drag, holding it deep in his lungs while he regarded Anderson, wondering what had brought the sergeant and Taylor to the dispensary. Clearing his throat, Goldman waved the big man further away from the curious eyes of the Sick Call line.

"You sick, Zeke?" Goldman’s dark eyes gave nothing away, not concern nor incredulity. He’d witnessed Taylor’s speedy retreat but wasn’t looking to admit it. He figured given enough time, Anderson would tell him what he needed to know. And not one thing more.

Anderson shook his head, glancing down the pathway Taylor had taken and hoping the man was long gone.

"We got a mission, Sergeant. Stringer wants to see us in the CPT." Goldman walked away, head down and cigarette clenched tightly in his fingers.

Zeke sighed, falling into step with the young lieutenant. "What we got this time, L-T?"

Turning his head slightly, Myron studied his sergeant’s expression as he broke the news to him. "Tap another commo line."

Anderson stopped dead in his tracks, mouth hanging open. "You have got to be kiddin’ me, L-T! Don’t they remember last time? Damn near got our asses blown off on the pickup. VC knew we were coming back for the pod, all they had to do was wait. An’ we come waltzin’ in, just like they knew we would!" The big sergeant shook his head, reaching one hand up to shove his fingers through his close-cropped dark hair.

Goldman laughed softly, humorlessly, turning to face Zeke. He looked around them, dark gaze not settling anywhere. "You know what else? The recorder didn’t work. Intel got nothin’."

The two men stood there a moment longer, frustration evident in their silence. Goldman took a final drag on his cigarette, tossing it to the dirt and grinding it out swiftly.

"Let’s go, Zeke, might as well get it over with."

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