Eric n' Sooks - Summer of '69 One-shot Contest
Title: Hamburger Hill
Your Pen name:FarDareisMai2
Disclaimer: I do not own the Sookie Stackhouse books, Charlaine Harris does. I just like to play in her sandbox.
A/N: Yes it's official, I'm crazy. I am entering another fic in the contest because well, I can. Seriously though, I think the topic inspired me. So, after finishing Sunshine of Your Love, I found myself writing two more fics for the contest and made Galla decide which one to go with. She chose this one.
It's a departure in style for me (I think), so I hope you all like it. I have to thank Galla and mischeviousmaya for beta'ing for me, and putting up with multiple, repetitious emails from me. Any mistakes that are still in here are all mine. To my girls (and guys) at the wiki, keep up the Viking love! And to my girls at the Sookieverse, may your days be lemon filled.
Once again I'd like to thank the men and women of our armed forces for their service in Vietnam, and for their continued service today. I have friends that have served in all four branches of our military, and I am proud of each and every one of them. I'd also like to thank the civilian men and women who care for our wounded veterans. It is no easy task to heal bodies, hearts and minds, and you should have all of our thanks.
I'd been in country for eight months in May, 1969, when we got our new orders. Three battalions of the 101st Airborne Division were assigned to Operation Apache Snow, including ours: 3rd Battalion, 187th Infantry. Our objective was to capture and retain Hill 937, or as we called it, Hamburger Hill. By May 18, 1969, just one week after it all began, the 3/187 had suffered staggering losses, with 320 killed or injured, including eight of our twelve platoon leaders, and two of our four company commanders, myself included.
We had already been hit by friendly fire from the Cobra attack helicopters four times. We were engaged in close combat with PAVN forces, and air support had been called in. I realized what was about to happen, and tried to radio it in, but couldn't get through. I ran out to alert my men to take cover, and that's when the fifth incident of friendly fire occurred. I remember the noise, the searing pain, and then nothing. Those are the last things I remember from that day.
There's a sound. It's muffled, but I hear it. A faint beeping. I'm surrounded by black and the pain . . . the pain is unbearable. I want to scream, but I have no voice. Then there is a sting and nothing . . .
Voices. Quiet, whisper-like voices. The world is still black, and there is pain, but not like before. I try to talk to them, to call out to the voices, but I feel coldness and then nothing . . .
I'm floating and the voices are back. They whisper so I can't understand them. I want to wipe my nose. It itches, but I have no fingers to scratch with. Fuck! Where are my fingers? Then I feel something, a cool hand, a touch. "I'm here," I try to tell the hands, but they don't listen, and soon they're gone. And then nothing . . .
Pain! So much pain again, but it's in my fingers! And I want to laugh with joy. I still have my fingers. A part of me wonders where they went to and when they got back. The cool hands return, and they soothe me. I hear a whispered, "shh," and then nothing . . .
I hear voices again, but this time I can make out some of the words. Captain Northman. "Yes, that's me!" I want to yell, but there is something in my throat, and I can't find my voice. I know my fingers are there, but they won't move. Can I move my legs? I hear a gasp, and then the word "involuntary." "No!" I shout, but no one hears me. It's not involuntary. Is it? I feel the cold run up my arm and then nothing . . .
I'm awake. I know I'm awake, but I can't see and I can't speak. I can, however, feel. I think there is a tube in my throat. I don't know for how long my world has consisted of pain. A day? A week? A month? I have no one to ask, and no means to do so. The cool hands are back, and I feel them on my legs, washing them gently. I feel movement, and then the same sensations on my stomach. I realize that I'm being bathed, a sponge bath, and for some reason embarrassment floods me. I am naked, helpless, and blind. I feel myself being turned slightly, and the washcloth and soft hands stroke my back, and my buttocks. I long for the nothingness, and after a few minutes, I feel the cold and then nothing . . .
Time has ceased to exist. I float through consciousness and pain, although I can tell the pain is lessening every day. I wake. I feel. I sleep. I am mostly alone. My only reprieve from the pain and nothingness is from her; her hands. Every day I look forward to those hands. Along with the voices and hospital sounds, they are my only tether to the world. They are soft and gentle. They caress, and they care for me. At times, I feel like an infant. At other times, however, those hands remind me that I am very much a man. I dream about the face attached to those hands, but it is ever changing, shifting, and hidden behind a smoky haze.
I am awake, and today I most definitely do not feel like an infant. She hums a melody as she bathes me, changes my gown and my sheets. My body stirs in reaction to her, to her hands, to her feather light touches as she brushes the gown down and over my legs. I blush internally, mortified and desperate at the same time. My leg twitches. And I hear a voice. Angelic and ethereal, "Doctor, I think he's awake." I have only a moment to be embarrassed before the world around me explodes in sound and touch, pain and discomfort.
"Captain Northman," says the disembodied voice, but it isn't hers. Not the angel's voice. It is distinctly male. "Captain Northman. My name is Dr. Ludwig. If you can hear me, nod your head."
My head. He wants me to nod my head. Can I do that? I nod, although it feels more like a flop, and I hear a sigh of relief.
"Captain Northman, there is a tube down your throat, and we're going to take it out now. It's going to be very uncomfortable, but if you can try to cough while we pull it out, that might help. Okay? Nod if you can understand me."
"Okay Sir, now on three. One, two, and three," he calls out.
I think I'm going to vomit. I try to cough, but it is a pathetic effort. My throat is on fire.
"Good, good. You're doing great." Dr. Ludwig praises, but I have no idea what it is I'm supposedly doing.
After the tube down my throat is removed, another tube is yanked out of my nose. And then he explains it all to me: the head injuries, the injuries to my eyes, to my arms and hands, and to my left leg. What he can't tell me is what's next. Will I be able to use my hands? Will I be able to walk? Will I be able to see? There are no answers, and I am unable to ask the questions. There are only vague guesses and maybes. Everything is maybe. If the bones in my hands heal properly; they are currently immobilized. If the pins in my leg do their job. If, if, if . . . My eyes? They won't know anything until the bandages come off. My voice? Finally, at least one real piece of information. It'll come back soon, in a day or two. My throat is just sore from the intubation. But there will be no more intravenous pain killers. I can't decide if I'm grateful for that or not. Not because of the pain, but because of the awareness . . .
I'm left alone again. I want to ask about my men, but I can't. I remember the helicopters. I remember the screaming and the pain, but my men . . . I have no idea what happened to my men.
I'm left alone to wonder. Will this be my life? Will I be a blind, bed-ridden, useless lump of flesh?
Suddenly, the flush of cold up my arm and the heavy blackness of narcotics seem like a welcome respite, and I long for the sting of the injection.
"Good morning, Captain," the angel's voice says softly. "I hope you're hungry. We're not going to try too much, but I have some Jell-O here, and some broth and juice. I'm afraid you can't jump right back into solid food just yet. Okay? I'll tell you when to open."
I hear a scraping sound and then . . . "Alright sweetie, now open."
The cold touches my tongue, and sweetness melts across its surface. In my head I know it's only Jell-O, but my body is reacting like it's manna from heaven. Has it been so long? The voice coaxes me once again, and slowly but surely those tender, certain hands feed me, until I'm turning away, unable to take another bite.
"Okay. You did good. You did really good." The angel says.
I want to open my eyes and see the mouth and lips that produce that voice. I want to see the face that goes with those hands. But maybe it's better this way. Maybe she's old, like my grandmother was before she died. And yet, the hands feel smooth and soft, without the parchment feel of age. Maybe she's ugly. But no, I'm sure she isn't. And once again, she is humming a wordless tune. It tickles the back of my mind, as if I should know it, but then she stops, and the imperfect memory dissolves in the recesses of my brain.
There is rustling, and she tells me she is going to clean me up. I hear the sound of water sloshing, and then the sensation of a washcloth gently cleaning my face, or the part of it that is exposed, as my bandages cover me all the way to the tip of my nose. When she pulls away, I nearly whimper at the loss of her touch. She leans over me to begin wiping my neck and I can smell her, and feel the heat of her body. She smells like sunlight and citrus. I feel myself begin to stir in response to her proximity, and try to make my throat work, to tell her this isn't necessary, because I'm ashamed, not of my arousal, but of my helplessness. Her fingers find the ties to the hospital gown, and she eases it down my chest. Once more, she moves away to moisten the cloth, and again her hands are ghosting over me; her touch is delicate but assured, with practiced movements that are nevertheless tender, soft, and alluring. The rough fabric of the washcloth grazes over my nipples, and I can feel them harden in response. Then she helps me to sit forward, and we are touching as she repeats her motions along my back, and the scent of her envelops me completely. I want to bury my face in her neck and just smell her.
She moves away, retying the gown, and I feel her shift the blanket, and begin again at my feet, working her way up and around my cast. She reaches mid-thigh and I tense. I feel her pause, and she switches to the other leg, going no higher. Then she is done, and she adjusts the blankets over me once more. My eyes are covered, but still I turn my head in shame. What must I look like to one such as her? I feel her cool fingers stroke my arm.
"I'll see you tomorrow morning, Captain."
And she is gone. I am alone once more. Lunch and dinner are miserable affairs. Large, uncaring hands shovel the food into my mouth. Cold discomfort is now my friend, as I'm methodically assisted to relieve myself, unable to get out of bed, or hold my own dick to pee. I cry myself to sleep. I think. I don't know if there were any tears.
I dream. I'm in a meadow, and the sun shines above. A slight breeze stirs the taller grasses, causing them to dance and ripple. I hear laughter, an angel's laughter. She is hiding, my angel. I hear her voice calling to me, daring me to find her, to catch her. She taunts me with promises of pleasures to come, but she eludes me. All I hear is the sound of her voice calling my name.
I awake with a start to my name being called.
"Good morning, Eric." Eric. Not Captain, but Eric. I am me again.
"I hope you're hungry," she says.
I can hear the smile that graces those lips. Once more she tenderly feeds me, gently wiping my mouth with a napkin after each bite. Today it's pancakes and bacon, and it is divine. Whoever said hospital food is terrible, never had to eat c-rations for a week.
The food is done, and she praises me for the return of my appetite, and like a child I'm excited that I've pleased her. Then my torment begins, as she once more begins my daily bath. She is humming that nameless, wordless tune again, and the smell of oranges assails me. I...
SORRY FOLKS, A VERY SAD, SMALL MINDED PERSON WITH WHAT APPEARS TO BE A VERY EMPTY AND BORING LIFE, HAS TAKEN IT UPON THEMSELVES TO GO AFTER ALL STORIES THEY BELIEVE ARE INAPPROPRIATE FOR THIS SITE AND REPORT, SO THE STORIES WILL BE TAKEN DOWN.
HAMBURGER HILL WILL REMAIN HERE ON FFN. I WILL BE EDITING THE CHAPTERS, SO AS NOT TO OFFEND THE THOUGHT POLICE, AND BECAUSE I DO NOT WISH FOR ALL THE LOVELY WORDS OF ENCOURAGEMENT THAT HAVE BEEN OFFERED HERE OVER THE YEARS TO BE DELETED, BECAUSE THE OWNERS OF THIS SITE REMOVE EVERYTHING WHOLESALE, WITHOUT CHECKING ANYTHING OR WARNING TO THE AUTHORS. AFTER THE CUT THERE WILL BE ELLIPSES ... WHICH WILL INDICATE THAT THE REST OF THE CHAPTER HAS BEEN [EDITED] OUT, BECAUSE I AM NOT GOING TO SECOND GUESS WHAT WILL OFFEND THESE NINNIES ON ANY GIVEN DAY.
HOWEVER, ALL MY STORIES WILL REMAIN IN THEIR FULL, UNCENSORED FORMS ON ARCHIVE OF OUR OWN. SEE MY PROFILE FOR MORE INFORMATION.
...and praying that she won't completely undress me today.
Once again, she begins at my feet. She starts with the left, carefully rubbing small circles with the washcloth and moving around my cast. I even think I feel the fingers of her other hand trail behind, but I know it's just my inflamed and desperate imagination. Why would an angel want to touch someone as broken as me, except for duty? And yet, I pray for just that.
She moves to my right leg, and once more I feel the touch of her skin on mine, her fingers clearly trailing behind the washcloth. By...[EDITED] SEE NOTE ABOVE.
...footsteps quickly moving to the door. In a moment of clarity I croak out, "Name?" I hear her stop. "Sookie," she whispers. The door opens and I hear her footsteps fade away.
"Sookie," I whisper to myself, and I immediately fall asleep.
I stand panting against the door of the women's room. I can't believe I just did that! I put my hands in my face and slide down the door, until I'm sitting on the hard, cold tiles. I bang my head against the door in anger, anger at myself. What was I thinking? But I wasn't. I wasn't thinking. I just . . . acted.
I squeeze my eyes shut, trying to will my heart to slow down. I just risked my job. A job I can't afford to lose. But more than that, I love being a nurse. It makes me feel useful. It makes me feel human again. It makes me feel like I have a purpose, an important purpose. These men risk their lives in this thankless war, and they come home to taunts, and anger, and protests. They deserve better. They are broken, and they need help and support. They need to know that someone believes in them. That, at least, is something I can give them.
I hadn't worked in a year when the letter came. Bill, my high school sweetheart and husband, had been drafted and was sent to Vietnam. During the first two months I thought I was going to go mad just sitting around the house, so I began to work at the local hospital again. I'd gone to nursing school right out of high school, but when we got married, I stopped working to keep house.
When two Marines showed up at my door about six months after Bill had been sent to Vietnam, I knew why they were there, and my knees gave out on me. I vaguely recall one of them picking me up and setting me on the couch. I pulled myself together. I had to remain stoic. Bill would have been disappointed otherwise. I asked how he died and they told me that they could not give me the details, but he was killed in action and died a hero. They left shortly thereafter, clearly uncomfortable with the duty they were forced to perform.
I spent two weeks after the funeral wallowing in my misery. I had spent a third of my life with Bill. My entire adult existence was wrapped up with him. I didn't know how to exist in this world without him. It was new territory, and I was terrified. Finally, one morning, I was listening to the radio, and I heard a story about a wounded veteran who had come home, and about the difficulties he faced adjusting to life back in the States. I knew then what I had to do. I went to the VA hospital in Shreveport the next day and applied for a job.
I've spent the last year working here as a nurse. I love what I do, and helping these men, seeing the looks on the faces of their loved ones when they are reunited, gives me a measure of solace. In the beginning, I sought comfort in the arms of one of the doctors, John Quinn, but he wanted more than I was ready to give. My heart was still bleeding somewhere in the rice paddies of Southeast Asia.
When Captain Northman was brought in, I felt so sorry for him. There was no one there. No family. No girlfriend. No wife. He was terribly injured, and by all accounts he was a hero who had saved the lives of several of his men at the cost of those injuries, but he was alone. At first the doctors weren't sure if he would ever wake up. In addition to a broken arm, two broken hands, and a shattered leg, he had suffered injuries to his head, including his eyes. If he did wake up, it was very possible that he would be blind. They believed his retinas may have been knocked loose by the explosions, but they had no idea of the extent of the damage yet.
He was a mountain of a man. At least six foot four, and all muscle. He wasn't overly muscled, like a football player, but his body was, in a word, beautiful. Even with the casts on his hands and arm, and on his left leg, I could appreciate the perfection of his form. Long lean muscles, and a perfectly sculpted chest. I had no real idea of what his face looked like, but his chin was chiseled and strong, and his lips were full and just this side shy of being effeminate. They looked soft, like they were made for kissing.
The doctors kept him sedated at first, under heavy pain killers. They said that if he was to regain consciousness, at that point, he would be in excruciating pain and that his body needed some time to heal, and then, then they would dial back the medications and see if he woke up. There was one day when I was sure he was moving his leg, but the doctors insisted it was an involuntary muscle movement. I disagreed, but what do I know, right?
I do know that as the days passed, and I realized no one was coming to him, I felt my heart go out to him. I felt like he needed me just a little bit more than the others did—the ones with sweethearts and family by their sides. It is a terrible thing to be alone. I know firsthand.
And then one day, as I was bathing him, I realized he was reacting to my touch, and it was most definitely not merely an involuntary muscle spasm. I immediately alerted the doctor, and then everything happened quickly. Captain Northman was longer unconscious and sedated, and the doctors wanted to remove his breathing tube. It was clear they were all amazed that he understood them and was able to respond at all. It was an excellent sign. Still, even without seeing his eyes, or most of his face, I could tell he was scared. Hell, wouldn't you be? I couldn't imagine being trapped like that, immobile, unable to see, unable to speak, although, his voice should be back in a day or so. His throat was pretty inflamed from being intubated.
And then yesterday, I came in and fed him breakfast. I knew he couldn't talk yet, so I didn't want to overwhelm him. I tried not to say too much, but I was so ridiculously happy that he was awake. I found myself humming a little. I don't sing. My voice is pretty awful, but I can hum a tune, and I do love music. He was a real trooper, and ate almost everything. It wasn't like it was some grand breakfast. They needed to make sure he could keep food down before they allowed him to eat solids, so it was just some Jell-O and broth. Afterwards, I began to clean him up, as I always did. I started with his upper body, which was so much easier now that he could sit up and lean forward on his own, and I found myself leaning in to him a little more than necessary. There was a heat coming off his body and it just drew me in. I finished quickly, and moved to his legs. As I worked my way up, I sensed him tensing. I could see the growing evidence of his arousal, and I felt my face flush. I moved to the other leg, stopping before reaching his groin. I knew eventually all of him would have to be washed, but yesterday I decided to give him his privacy and his dignity.
This morning, however, was a different story. For some reason I called him by his given name. I don't know what possessed me to do it, other than the feeling that he needed something more personal to be addressed by other than his rank. He isn't just a soldier, he's a man. He seemed to respond to my presence. I don't know how to explain it, but he seemed, somehow, more alert and less despondent. He ate well, and everything was fine, until I began to bathe him again. I felt his pulse and his breathing begin to speed up, and I don't know why...
[EDITED] SEE NOTE ABOVE
...am here, on the floor in a cold, sterile bathroom, with a pounding heart and an ache between my legs. I stand up, go to the sink, and splash water on my face. I resolve not to worry about it. I made him feel better, and isn't that what I'm supposed to do? Even to my own desperate mind, I can hear how pathetic my rationalization is, but I go with it, because I have nothing else. I go to the break room and I eat my lunch, and I talk to the other nurses. I laugh when I'm supposed to, but I don't really hear what any of them are saying. All I can think about is him.
I finish my shift and go home, after fighting every urge to go and just look in on him. I walk in the door and I'm greeted by silence. I skip dinner and go to bed, but sleep does not come easily. All I can think about is him.
I...[EDITED] SEE NOTE ABOVE
I wake up the next morning and call in sick.
I can't see it, but I can feel the morning sun on my body. I hear footsteps, and I find myself giddy with anticipation, but then I don't smell sunlight and oranges. I smell musk and cinnamon. I don't hear my angel's voice, but instead a man's gruff baritones. I die a little inside. She's not coming back. My one bright spot is gone. I recognize the voice. He's an orderly by the name of Hoyt, and of all of them, he's the nicest, but he isn't my angel.
Fuck. I suddenly think. He isn't going to be bathing me is he? Thankfully, he doesn't. He feeds me, helps me with my bedpan, and then he's gone, and I'm alone. After a while, I can't take it and call out. Footsteps once more, but this time a floral scent comes with them. It is cloying and thick and I don't like it.
"I'm in pain," I tell her. I'm dying inside, I think, but I can't tell her that. "I need something for the pain."
"I'll have to check with the doctor," she replies. After what seems like an interminable length of time she returns, smothering me with sickly sweet roses and jasmine until I can't breathe and I want to vomit, but she helps me swallow some pills and soon I allow myself to sink into the blissful arms of sleep, as the narcotics work their way through my system.
I'm awakened at night, and hard, uncaring hands shovel food into my mouth and try to bathe me. I yell at them to get the fuck off me. I want angel hands. I want sunlight and oranges. I want humming and touching and stroking. I want . . . I want . . . I want . . .
They send in a doctor to try and shrink my head, and I tell him to fuck off, too. I don't need therapy, at least not his kind. He asks if I'm mad, and I ask if he's stupid. Of course I'm fucking mad. Did this guy get his degree with a decoder ring at the bottom of a cereal box? And because I'm fucking mad I move too much, and then I'm in pain and I'm screaming, because someone must be shoving a hot poker up my leg, and still I think it's all better than the emptiness I felt in the morning.
And then there is a sting, and coldness and nothing . . .
I dream. I dream of her, and oranges and sunlight dappling across a field. I dream of laughter and humming. I dream of hands, and a smile I can't quite see. I dream of a quiet voice and soft caresses across my cheek and jaw. I dream of whisper light kisses and a sugar sweet tongue. Touching, touching, touching . . .
"Eric," my angel says. "Eric, wake up." I wake up, and the heat I feel is not from the sunlight streaming through the windows, and I'm not dreaming her voice.
"You left me," I respond quietly, and turn my head.
At first there is nothing and then she's touching me and whispering sorry, and I'm overwhelmed by the smell of her, the feel of her, the heat of her, and then her lips are on mine, but she's still whispering "sorry, sorry, sorry," and I feel her tears, and my tongue darts out to catch one. And now I'm whispering comforting words, and wishing I could touch her and make her feel good.
She starts laughing and apologizing, and I tell her to stop, because I'm not sorry about anything except making her cry. She feeds me breakfast, and it's gentle and good. She removes the tray, and I hear...[EDITED] SEE NOTE ABOVE...already has it all figured out. She washes me slowly, reverently, and each touch leaves a trail of fire in its wake. And this time, she doesn't close the door, and we both know the risk, and it makes it that much sweeter, and I want to scream my pleasure out to the world, because this woman is making me feel things I've never felt before, but I can't and I don't. I just feel and feel and feel.
And then she's done, and she leans over me, and I can feel...[EDITED] SEE NOTE ABOVE...She brushes my lips with hers, and they are candy sweet.
"Stay," I beg.
Then the doctors come, and they take me to x-ray and one of my arms gets a new cast, a smaller one, and I can feel my finger tips again, and I can move my arm, and it's heaven. They tell me not to do too much, not to overexert myself, but I can't stop touching things. I touch my face and my chest. I touch the rails on the bed and each sheet and blanket. I touch the cast on my leg. Then I repeat it all again. They don't know what it's like not to see and not to touch. So I touch, and touch, and touch, until my arm throbs from the pain, but it's a good pain and I smile, and I fall asleep for a little while.
I wake up and it's dark outside. I've slept through dinner, but that's okay, because I got what I needed. I got my bright spot, and I got my hand back, and the world is a little less dark. I have no idea what time it is, but it is very quiet, so I figure it's the middle of the night and everyone is sleeping.
Then I hear the door open and close, and footsteps, and oh shit yes, oranges and sunlight, and I smile.
"You came back."
"I can't stay away."
Those words say more than any others. She's as drawn to this as I am, and my stomach clenches with happiness. My smile gets impossibly bigger.
And she comes and sits on the bed, and I raise my hand, and she takes it and guides it to her mouth, and kisses my finger tips. I trace the contours of her mouth and then make my way around her face, and I can feel that she is beautiful, and I tell her. Then my fingers make their way into her hair, and it's softer than silk, and even though it's awkward and the cast gets in the way, I grab some in my hand and pull her to my mouth. I kiss her gently, enjoying the feel of her lips on mine, soft and full, and then I swipe my tongue against her lips, and we both groan because we just know that this is so right. Her lips part and I slide my tongue in, tasting her, and then...
[EDITE] SEE NOTE ABOVE
...and the sunlight is warming my face, and I can still smell oranges on my pillow, and I smile.
"I hope that smile is for me," she says from the other side of the room, and I can feel my smile widen more.
"Good morning, angel," I say, and I hear her chuckle. Then she asks, "Why do you call me that?"
How do I answer her? How can I explain? How do I tell her about her hands, and her smell, and her tenderness? I open my mouth to explain, but my words don't come out and I lamely reply, "Because that's what you are." She laughs again, and I know she's laughing at me, but it's okay because it's a beautiful sound, and I wish I could see her face when she's laughing. I feel the bed shift, and I can smell the bacon. My body stirs slightly from her proximity, and I think, I've just become a morning person.
She finishes feeding me, and I feel her arranging my gown and my sheets, and she whispers, "I'll be right back." The orderly comes in and helps me relieve myself, and then she returns, and I jokingly ask, "What? No bath today?"
"Nope," she replies, and I can hear the nervous smile in her voice. "The doctor is coming up in a few minutes. They're going to remove the bandages on your eyes."
Ah. So in a few minutes I'm going to know if I'm blind or not. I'm excited and terrified all at once. Excited at the prospect of seeing her, and terrified that I might never get to. I suddenly feel incredibly needy, and I say to her, "Stay with me."
Her reply sends warm tendrils through my body. "Why would I ever leave?"
A minute later Dr. Ludwig arrives, and explains a few things. Now they're slowly unwinding the bandages from my head. I feel her little hand slip into mine, grasping my fingers around the plaster of my cast. I squeeze as best as I can, grateful for her presence.
Finally the doctor finishes and they slide the last two pads off my eyes. I take a deep breath, and open my eyes.
I spend my sick day doing household chores, including a few things I've put off for a while, like weeding my garden. I try to immerse myself in physical labor, so that my mind doesn't have time to wander and think about him, about Captain Northman, Eric. Except that late at night, when I lie here alone in my bed, I don't have anything to distract me from my thoughts. I'm conflicted, and guilty, and whenever I think of him, I feel an ache begin between my legs.
I cry myself to sleep once more. I dream of Bill, and I cringe with shame when I see him, but Bill doesn't condemn me. He smiles and tells me he loves me. He tells me he wants me to be happy. He tells me he wants me to live my life. He kisses me goodbye one last time, and when I wake up, I feel lighter than I have in two years.
I say good morning when Eric wakes up, but he turns from me and says, "You left me." I stop breathing and guilt consumes me, because he's right. He needed me and I left him. And before I can even think about it, I'm next to him and I'm apologizing and kissing him and crying, because I know I never want him to feel that again. And his lips are soft and yielding, and they meet mine with abandon. Then he licks my tears, and I know he is forgiving me. I start to laugh, and I apologize for falling apart on him. I'm the caregiver here, right? But he tells me to stop, because the only thing he's sorry for is making me cry. He eats breakfast and I bathe him, and...
[EDIT] SEE NOTE ABOVE
...and there. He begs me to stay, but I can't, and I promise to return. I already know that I always will.
I flit through my day, distracted but happy. I check on him later, and I see that they've changed one of his casts, but he's sleeping. I decide to go home and shower, and get some dinner, before coming back later. I need to come back when there aren't so many people around to ask questions, although when I do return it is with a book, because reading to an injured soldier is always a noble thing to do.
He is still sleeping, so I sit in the room and read for a while. I go to the bathroom, and when I return I see that he is awake, and I find myself smiling. I can see by the moonlight streaming through the windows that he is smiling, and he says, "You came back." I tell him that I can't stay away, and his smile gets even bigger. "Come here," he says, and there is nowhere else I want to be.
He touches my face and my lips, and I kiss his fingertips. He runs his hand through my hair, and I don't even mind when a few stray wisps get pulled by the cast, because this is him, and he's touching me finally. He pulls me to him and our lips meet, and forget all the old adages about boys and girls, because he's sugar and spice, soft lips and hot tongue, and I melt into him. I've...
[EDITED] SEE NOTE ABOVE
...time. I feel wanton, and sexy, and freer than I have a million years. A waitress named Arlene refills my coffee and gives me a knowing smile. I blush and look down, and she just laughs and walks away, but I know she knows what I'm feeling, and it's a sisterhood of sorts.
I go back to work at the start of my shift, and I should be tired, but I'm not. I'm eager. I watch him sleep for a few minutes, and then I see that he is waking up, and I start walking to him. The most glorious smile graces his face, and I ask if it's for me.
"Good morning, my angel," he says, and I laugh and ask him why he calls me that. He pauses, like he's trying to come up with a reason, and in the intervening time I've reached the bedside. He responds, "Because that's what you are," and I laugh at the simplicity of his answer, but he smiles with me, in on the joke, because we both know that there's no explaining something like this. I feed him, and I can tell he is responding to me, and once again, it makes me feel powerful, sexy. When he's done, I carefully wipe his face and ghost a kiss across his lips, whispering, "I'll be right back." I send in the orderly to help him relieve himself, because I know he won't want me to do that for him. While I wait, Dr. Ludwig approaches and tells me that he's going to remove the bandages from Eric's eyes. I feel my heart stutter with fear and anticipation. What if he can't see? And what if he can? Will I disappoint him? Has he imagined me as a petite brunette? Am I the redhead of his dreams? Will the sight of my ordinary blond hair and curvy hips be all that he expected?
I go back to him, and he asks about his bath, and I can hear the happiness in his voice. I try to smile and I tell him that no, they are coming to remove the bandages from his eyes. I can tell by the set of his jaw that he's worried. He turns to me and pleads, "Stay with me."
I smile and tell him the truth, as I also make it a promise, "Why would I ever leave?"
Dr. Ludwig comes in and begins explaining things to him. I close the blinds, dimming the light in the room. I can tell he's nervous, so I reach for his hand, and I don't care that I'm mostly holding on to the plaster cast; I tangle my fingers with his, and he squeezes.
Dr. Ludwig finally removes the final bandages and pads from Eric's eyes. He opens them, and blinks as if in pain. What little light is in the room still feels bright to him, and I feel hope flutter in my chest. He blinks several times, and I see him search the room. His eyes land on me and he whispers, "Beautiful."
At first everything is way too bright, like when you walk outside on a summer day after being in a dark movie theater. But the brightness starts to fade, and I can see blurry shapes. I blink and blink, trying to focus my eyes. I realize I can see the window clearly, and I bring my focus back to my side. I see her, and she looks so worried and hopeful all at the same time, and oh fuck, she's so, so beautiful. Her blond hair is like a halo, and she truly looks like an angel. Her blue eyes look at me, trying to discern what is happening, and I smile and whisper, "Beautiful."
I see a silent tear slide down her face, but before I can say anything else to her, Dr. Ludwig is in front of me, flashing his penlight in my eyes and asking a million questions. I hold her hand tight, because even though she promised, a little part of me is afraid that the angel is just going to disappear. Dr. Ludwig finishes his questions and my eyes shoot back to her, and I squeeze her fingers tighter. She's looking at me like I'm some sort of miracle, when the only miraculous thing in the room is her presence. Everything is real quiet for a minute, and then Dr. Ludwig clears his throat. Her eyes shoot to him all scared, and I'm thinking shit, but I don't take my eyes off her face, not after all this time, and he just smiles and says, "I'll check in on you later," and leaves with that all-knowing smile on his face, like he's just figured out the riddle of the Sphinx.
"Come here," I say, and I pull her to me, and her lips find mine, and I whisper, "I love you." Her tears fall, salty and hot, but she's kissing me back, all sugar sweet with hints of salt, and tells me she loves me, too.
And now I'm ready to leave the hospital, and they're making me ride in this fucking wheelchair, and she's laughing at me because I'm pouting, but damn it, it's emasculating, you know? Still, when we get out to the sidewalk, I'll be walking to the car, and I know I'm just fucking lucky that I can. I nod to another officer on my way out. I'm in uniform again, but not for long, I think. I'm going to marry her. I'm going to ask her when we get home, because I have to make sure my angel isn't going anywhere. She's my angel, and I know she's going to keep helping other soldiers, and I'm so proud of her for that, but I want my ring on her finger, and I want them to know she's mine.
So she takes me home, and I can tell for a minute that it's awkward for her. We've talked about her husband, and about her life before me, just like I told her about my life. We've both lost everyone, and maybe that's our connection. I don't know. All I know is that we've got each other now, and it's a precious gift. She makes me dinner, while humming that tune again and suddenly it hits me, the name of that song, and I smile because it's "Angel of the Morning," and how fucking appropriate is that? The dinner she makes is the best thing I've ever eaten, and while we eat it I find out that almost all my breakfasts didn't come from the hospital kitchen, but from hers. For the first time since all this crazy shit started, tears form in my eyes, but I shake them off. I walk to her in the middle of the kitchen, and even though it's awkward, with the cast still on my leg, I get down on my knees and beg her to spend the rest of her life with me, because somewhere out there in the rice paddies and hills of Vietnam, God, Christ, Yahweh, or the goddess Hlin, you pick, took pity on us two mortals and threw our paths together, and nothing in my life has ever been more right. Dr. Ludwig, of all people, helped me pick the engagement ring. Turns out he's quite the romantic, and when I open the box she gasps, throws her arms around me, and says yes.
I pick her up and carry her to the couch, because I may be better, but even I know I'm not getting up the stairs carrying her with my cast on. I...
[EDITED] SEE NOTE ABOVE
...in the hospital, I was finally told about what happened to the men under my command. I was given a bronze star for valor, but it did not assuage my anger at the deaths of so many. During my recuperation, Hamburger Hill became a beacon for the anti-war movement, but Sookie and I said nothing. I was, and still am, angry about the wasted lives, but it brought us together, and for that, I will be forever grateful. So we stay silent, and we love each other, and we make love like the world is ending, because we've both learned that you never know when it will.
A/N: The statistics I used at the top of the story are, as far as I can tell, accurate. The injuries and loss of life in the taking of Hamburger Hill were staggering. There were five incidents of friendly fire from helicopters, although I do not know the dates they occurred, so please forgive me any dramatic license. Likewise, all of those officers were injured or killed, so once again please forgive me the dramatic license of inserting Eric Northman into that history. No disrespect to those who actually served and sacrificed is intended.
Also, for those who only recall Juice Newton's version, Angel of the Morning was released in 1968 by Merrilee Ruch & the Turnabouts.