watch "Doc Hock" and "The Ties that Blind", and you'll see exactly why i wrote this.
So. This was Tan Son Nhut. This was being in the Army and doing your job for Uncle Sam. This was Vietnam.
From where Francis Thurmond Hockenbury was sitting, this was hell.
It wasn't like he was unaccustomed to being alone. He'd never had many friends back home in Memphis, where his anti-war sentiments had caused nothing but trouble and arguments. Hell, he hadn't even had many friends in grade school; came with wearing glasses and being smart, he supposed. There was a brief interlude in college where he'd had friends, sort of the same kind of smart-alec kids who opposed the war but didn't care for jail or Canada.
But still, that was back home, safe in the U.S. of A, where you could walk down the street and buy a Coke and not have to worry about Charlie blowing you sky-high. It was different being so utterly alone here, deep in the jungle of a country that ate its children alive.
Idly, he plucked at his peace sign, looping its leather strap up over his chin and sliding the insignia back and forth. Repetitive motions usually calmed him, but, like the untouched cigarette in his right hand, they weren't working tonight. The only thing he succeeded in doing was ignoring the displays of fraternal buddy-buddyness all around him in the bar, as his mind shivered back to that river. Men standing there one minute who were nothing but torn, bloody meat the next. Screams of pain that mugged the hot, heavy air and wrapped themselves around your head. Insects buzzing delightedly as soldier after soldier fell, stockpiling a banquet for their sticky little paws and corrosive digestive juices.
What the hell was he doing here?
The clatter of a brown beer bottle against his table jolted him back to the here-and-now, and Hockenbury looked dazedly up to see Johnson smiling kindly at him.
"On us, Doc," he said in that gentle voice of his. And, in an eerie echo of Anderson's words by the helicopter earlier, "You did good out there."
Hockenbury blinked at him for a moment, then gave a short, painful bark of laughter that Johnson was too smart to recognize for anything other than what it was. He gave the medic a half-stern, older-brother look before loping back to the other guys. Taking off his glasses and folding each arm down with a snap, Hockenbury forced himself to look over and meet their eyes instead of meekly sucking on his bottle.
Ruiz raised his bottle somewhat furtively, obviously not wanting to make a concession in front of the others; Taylor insouciantly rolled his head around for a cocky stare, and Percell hardly even gave him a cursory glance.
Defeated, the medic touched his folded-up glasses to his forehead in a wry salute. It was too much to hope for, that they would've miraculously changed their minds about him just because he saved a couple of guys. Not after the welcome they'd given him--
"I get the idea the dress is the one thing he left at home...."
"Everyone wearing those, or you just a sissy-boy?..."
"Hippie commie faggot...."
Yeah, sure, they'd've forgotten all about that. Right.
He'd already drunk too much if he was getting this maudlin. Maybe he'd just finish up his cigarette and go to bed
"So, Hockenbury drinkin' alone these days, or what?"
Sergeant Anderson, looking completely at home. And why shouldn't he? Everyone here loved him. The gruff ol', wise ol', good ol' Sarge, huh? Betcha he was a family man, too. Betcha he had a little wifey maybe his cousin and he'd had a beautiful, old-fashioned shotgun wedding.
Stifling another edgy chortle, Hockenbury twirled his fingers elaborately towards the empty chair that sat across from him. Anderson thumped down in it, a smile twitching uncertainly at the corners of his thin mouth as the medic leaned forward, curious to hear what he possibly had to say to the most hated man on the team.
Clearing his throat, Anderson said, "Thought we could have a talk...."
Hockenbury widened his eyes marginally, then gave his sergeant a mock-scolding look. "Saaarge," he drawled, "what do we have to talk about?" A beat of silence passed between them and, suddenly worried that Anderson would get up and leave him alone again, Hockenbury hurried to fill it. "Ummmm...the immorality of the war? Man's inhumanity to man?"
Looking intensely relieved, Anderson chuckled. "No, hell no. That's much too deep and complicated for me. I leave that stuff for you college boys."
Watching the way this man's quirky, strong mouth moved when he talked and the intelligence in his clear blue eyes from across the table, Hockenbury thought drunkenly, I doubt there's much in this world that's too deep for you, Sergeant Anderson.
But Anderson was still talking, and his voice had gotten serious and low now, and those piercing eyes were roaming across the tabletop, the beer bottles, the ashcan. "No, uh..." he gathered courage and plunged ahead. "I was wondering...you remember before when I asked you about Major Seymour?"
Head propped up against one hand, Hockenbury nodded almost imperceptably, never taking his gaze from the sergeant's face as he twitched and jerked around in his seat, writhing with indecision.
Jeez, you're really not good with spilling your guts, are you, Sarge? Don't worry. I won't tell anyone your deep dark secret, whatever it is. Patient-medic confidentiality, or some jive like that....
Anderson was spinning his bottle on the table, rolling it along on the round-edged bottom while he worked up the nerve to ask his question.
"Well how's she doing? I mean, how'd she look?" He glanced up at Hockenbury, pained and eager in the same breath, and the naked longing in those amazing eyes made a giggle bubble up in the medic's throat. Sergeant Anderson? And Major Seymour?!? There must be some mistake. What would a smart, classy woman like Jennifer Seymour want with some hillbilly staff sergeant? What would they talk about? She'd mention the cost of the latest psychotropic drugs and he'd bring up the cost of a fifteen-minute quick trick?
Then again, he mused, as Sergeant Anderson rested his forearms on the table and clenched his bottle in flat, hard, calloused hands maybe they didn't waste time talking.
Catching his breath, Hockenbury smiled brightly at Anderson and wriggled slightly in his seat before answering. "She looked great, Sarge. Teaching head-shrinkers really agrees with her." He took a pull of beer and the sergeant leaned closer, intent on hearing every little detail.
"She's enjoying her job, then?" He sounded like he didn't know whether to be happy or upset. Hockenbury nodded, removing his lips from the mouth of the bottle. He still wasn't quite used to manouvering around this mustache yet the dang thing was a pain in the ass, but it sure did annoy the higher-ups. And hell, it made him look like more of a Confederate, just what his parents had always wanted.
"She seems very happy," the medic reported, tipping his head to one side. "Her career is very fulfilling to her. You miss her, Sarge?"
Anderson raised his eyebrows, dropping his head forward in surprise. "That obvious?" he said ruefully, torturing his already spiky hair with one blunt hand. "Yeah...yeah, hell, Hockenbury, it ain't so often I get to be with a beautiful woman that I can afford to forget about this one, y'know?" He rested his elbows on the table and Hockenbury took a long, slow drag on his smoldering cigarette, warmth uncoiling in his stomach as he watched the give-and-pull of biceps and triceps as Anderson turned both his hands loose on his hair.
Suddenly, Anderson seemed to snap back from whatever turmoil he was churning in, and he stood up, bumping one hip clumsily against the edge of the table. Hockenbury winced in sympathy but the big sergeant didn't even seem to notice; he was too busy explaining that he should get back to his hootch, it was late, and he was drunker than he thought he was.
Nodding hazily, Hockenbury was startled to hear his own voice answering the Sarge, saying he was gonna turn in too. Saying he'd take a walk with the Sarge. He got to his feet, seeming to shoot up faster than he intended to, like Alice after eating the mushroom. That made him giggle, covering up his mouth with both hands as Anderson grabbed his elbow and steered him outside, into the marginally clearer and cooler night air.
"Somethin' tickle your funny bone, Doc?" Anderson asked, his voice gliding easily and casually now that they weren't in front of everybody and the whole Major Seymour thing was in the background.
"I feel like Alice," he babbled happily. "I feel...tall. And I haven't even eaten any shrooms!"
Anderson squinted at him sideways, disapproving but not entirely surprised. "You a daytripper, Hockenbury?"
"Not anymore, no sir." Hockenbury took a few deep breaths to steady himself and gave the Sarge an engaging grin. "But I was a hell of a pothead in my day. Weed, mushrooms, acid you name it, I took it."
"Huh," Anderson snorted, shoving his hands in his pockets. "That's what you college kids spend your time doing. Drugs and rock and roll and "
" sex." Hockenbury stopped at a pile of sandbags, backing up so he could lean against it. He tilted his nose up and regarded the sergeant from dilated grey-green eyes, a smile pulling at one side of his mouth. "Is that really such a bad thing, Sarge?"
Anderson paused, looking quickly around before turning back to the medic. "Now, son "
"I'm not'cher son."
"No, that's true enough." Anderson's jaw worked for a few minutes as he tried to sort through where this particular topic should go, then gave up on it and abandoned it for a more harmless tack. "Why did you do drugs?"
"Why not?" Hockenbury laughed, sliding down to land on his thin backside with a thump. "I wanted to experience the beyond. See if maybe when time becomes meaningless and inanimate objects start talking to you..." he waved one hand around, starting to come down with a vengeance, "...the meaning of life and war and love and death comes with it."
Anderson crouched down next to the skinny medic, resting his wrists comfortably on his knees. "A headful of hallucinations ain't gonna give you those answers, Doc," he said softly. To his chagrin, the kid blinked at him with big, glossy, puppy-hit-by-a-car eyes and reached out those long-fingered hands to clutch at his shoulders.
"Where am I gonna find them then, Sarge?" Hockenbury pleaded, cold fingertips pressing urgently into Zeke's flesh. "Cause they sure as hell ain't in Vietnam!..."
He didn't know what to say. He didn't have any war stories convenient; he didn't know how to deal with this weird stoner hippie kid who had just had his first bloody, beating taste of the war.
So Sergeant Zeke Anderson wrapped his strong arms around Hockenbury, dragging him forward and up, and firmly pressed his mouth down on the medic's.
Hockenbury gasped a few times against Anderson's mouth, then relaxed into his arms, kissing back with small desperate noises that tugged the sergeant's ever-suceptible heartstrings and aroused a stirring of lust in him as well.
Roughly, he lunged to his feet, hauling Hockenbury along with him, and pressed the medic against the sandbags, lowering his mouth to taste the skin at his neck, disregarding the peace sign that lay flat against Hockenbury's hitching chest. Those spidery fingers slid into his hair, slipping against his scalp as Zeke curled his fingers into the waistband of the medic's fatigues, wrenching them down easily with no protest from their owner, just a long, throaty moan.
His fingers leaving Anderson's head to sprawl against the sandbags, Hockenbury leaned his head back, squeezing his eyes shut as the sergeant's tongue did incredible things to him. This was too strange, this was totally bizarre, but he didn't want it to end and he wanted even less to wake up or come to and find out that it wasn't happening, so he just bit down on his bottom lip, straining against Zeke's hands pinning his hips and Zeke's mouth enveloping him.
And then it was a mind-whirling burst of sensation, forcing a muffled series of yelps out of him, and Hockenbury slumped against the sandbags, blinking nineteen times to the dozen, snatching in deep whoops of air in a vain effort to clear his head of the spinning sensation that was dominating it.
"You okay, Doc?" Anderson asked, his voice sounding oh-so-deep and unspeakably arousing. The medic managed to nod, twice, and then everything went loopy again as the Sarge pulled him to his feet, dusting him off and refastening his pants. Hockenbury stood there like a large and particularly witless doll, slowly processing what was going on.
"Uh-huh," he gulped, somewhat belatedly. "I'm okay. I'm fine." Timidly, he leaned over and managed to claim a kiss before Anderson jerked away, eyes darting nervously around.
"G'night, then," Anderson said, rearranging himself.
That was it? After what had just happened? Just pretend like nothing had happened and go off to his bunk and put up with the other guys' hatred and his own growing depression?
For a split second, Francis Hockenbury hated Sergeant Anderson with every cell in his body. How could the man be so cold?
But then, he realized, if there was anything Anderson was, it was...practical. And God knew, it was most definitely not practical to be caught canoodling with the new medic in the middle of the base.
So it wasn't too hard for Hockenbury to smile at Anderson's retreating back and reply, "...Good night, Sarge."
Camp Barnett wasn't too bad. At least the move had made it easier for the other guys to start accepting him; it was like, at Tan Son Nhut, they were too accustomed to things the way they were to tolerate some non-gun-toting cherry. The new quarters at Barnett felt strange to all of them, so new things and new people didn't seem so glaringly out of place.
Their acceptance of him was due to much more than that, though. Sergeant Anderson must have given the guys a good talking-to or something, because Hockenbury hadn't gotten any more hazing about either his politics or his sexual orientation. Kind of ironic, that.
But he wasn't one to kick a gift horse in the mouth.
He trotted across the Camp, looking for the Sergeants' Quarters and, more specifically, Sergeant Anderson's hootch. The Sarge had sent for him. Hockenbury knew that the chances of Anderson pressing him against the wall and having sex with him were slim to nil, but that didn't stop his heart from skipping double-dutch when he hopped up the few steps and rapped on the Sarge's door.
Swinging the light wooden door open, Hockenbury smiled at Anderson, who set a framed photograph down on his dresser before guardedly saying, "Private Hockenbury."
Blinking a few times in puzzled amusement, the medic replied, "Sergeant Anderson!" He craned his neck looking around at the place, briefly taking in the amount of room and the sparseness of personal belongings. "So...this is how you sergeants live, huh?" Halting at the door, he ran his fingers along the blinds and held them up, showing Zeke the dirt he'd collected. "Look at this, man--you could grow psilocybin in here!"
Far from sharing the joke, Anderson looked distinctly uncomfortable. His next words explained why.
"Hockenbury, Colonel Brewster needs a medic for a special assignment."
"Awww, come on!" Hockenbury wheedled. He didn't want Anderson feeling bad about this it was shit handed down from the officers, after all so he deliberately kept his tone light, joking, hoping they could recapture some closeness, some cameraderie. "I hear that guy's crazy, man! Uh, like, he flies his chopper into hot LZ's for fun, on his days off!"
The faintest of smiles flitted across Anderson's face; his eyes were doing that tango again, with the doorframe and the floor and the blinds. A small and very horrible feeling was starting to spread through Hockenbury as those honest blue eyes scanned over him and...avoided him.
Anderson gave a nervous chuckle. "From what the LT tells me, you're not gonna be doin' anything hazardous to your health as long as you keep your pants on."
Then Anderson's eyes met his, and in their brutally plain clarity Hockenbury read the end to...to whatever it was that had happened. It wasn't going to happen again, and it sure as hell wasn't going to develop into anything deeper. The sergeant's mouth twitched to one side--regret? Consolation? and Hockenbury couldn't look anymore.
"Hmmm," was all he could manage.
Zeke stared at the wall opposite him, trying not to be engulfed by the enormous and overwhelming waves of self-pity coming from Lieutenant Goldman next to him. Grieving for that bi for Devlin. No, he had a right to think what he wanted for that bitch. Wasn't it bad enough that she'd obsessed his LT to the point where his men hardly knew who he was anymore now she had to go and lay her death on him?
Lord Almighty, he was starting to think he couldn't deal with this for much longer. He'd do it. He'd do it, and then maybe when he came back, Myron would be himself again and things would go blissfully back to the way they were.
Clearing his throat, Anderson said, "Lt I been thinkin'...maybe...uh...." This was harder than he thought it would be. "Maybe I oughtta take those three-weeks' leave I got saved up...."
Hockenbury lay on his bunk, staring at the ceiling morosely. Just when he thought things were getting better, too. Why was it he never got a break?
The radio cut into his wallowing, and the medic sat up as he recognized the thrumming opening of "Purple Haze".
"Hendrix!" he yelped. Johnson looked up mildly from his footlocker, where he was cleaning his boots.
Johnson snorted and rolled his eyes simultaneously. "They were just hasseling you, Doc. Besides, when I put Hendrix on, don't nobody say nothin." Another of those brilliant grins, and Johnson went back to his boots.
Lying back down on his bunk, Hockenbury smiled.