[ cut it out ]

by trooper macniven

The chopper settled itself smoothly, thanks to it's jock. Johnny McKay could massage a Huey better than anyone in-country. He hated supply runs, but when a new lieutenant as included in the supplies, he'd do whatever his MOS said he had to do. He stepped out of Blue Velvet, pulling off his pilots' shades.

"'Scuse me, I'm looking for Lt. Patterson," he said to one of the guys loading ammo into the belly of the chopper. The grunt jerked his head back to a group of buildings.

"There," he replied. "Third office. Can't miss it." Johnny nodded his thanks and went off to gather his cargo.
He tapped on the door, stepped in before he heard the customary call. Inside was a young black woman, nametape bearing the name Patterson, but McKay didn't believe his eyes for one second. She looked up, scowling.

"You always come in without waiting to be told to?" she asked.
Johnny was struck dumb for a moment, then found his voice.

"Sorry," he answered. "Too many late-night invitations, I guess." She nodded.

"You're my ride to Tan Son Nhut?" she asked. He bobbed his head in answer, then said,

"Well, unless you're not Lieutenant Patterson." The woman smiled.

"I am," she told him.
Johnny held the door open for her as she grabbed her duffel. He saw her glance at Blue Velvet, nod, and then leap into the chopper with the grace of a boonie rat. She probably was one at one time, he thought, but didn't ask.

Camille hopped off the chopper, nodded her thanks to the gunner handing her her bag, and gave the jock a smile of gratitude. No way had she been looking forward to a troop truck carrying her here! When the chance to get flown in had come up, she'd've been stupid not to take it. Now she found herself walking to the CO's office. A light tap on the door got her a raspy

"Come in!" She didn't like the sound of that voice. It reminded her of Jeff. Almost anything male did.

"Lieutenant Patterson, reporting for duty, SIR!" she barked. The major looked at her.

"At ease," was the response. She slipped into the semi-comfortable stance, relaxing a little.
Twenty minutes later, she was stepping into her new office. Drab, she thought. Like everything else in the Army. Drab.
Almost immediately, a tall GI came in.

"Excuse me! I been sent here to wet nurse some officer by the name of Patterson! You know where I can find him?" She like the voice instantly; friendly, warm. She turned to set the guy straight and felt an immediate attraction to him. Tall, good-looking, well-built, dreamy eyes. You're an officer! she reminded herself fiercely.

"I'm Lieutenant Patterson," Camille said calmly. He snapped to attention, saluting.

"Specialist Taylor reports, ma'am!" the grunt barked. "Sorry." Camille shrugged it off.

"Not the first time it's happened," she responded. This guy obviously humped the boonies. Well-conditioned muscles moved sleekly as he went into the at ease stance.

"Temporary office," she told him. "I need to change a few things around. This- this needs to go about four feet that way." She could tell he wasn't used to seeing women in uniform in the IG's office. "They sent you to watch?" she asked. He started to help her move the table. Everything was going fine until she knocked her grandmother's picture off the desk. She crouched to pick it up, cursing inwardly for her clumsiness. And you're how old, Camille? she asked herself. She wasn't a teenage girl anymore. Dreamy eyes and a warm voice threw her off-balance almost immediately. That wasn't the way things were supposed to go. She was supposed to throw the men off-balance, not the other way around! Taylor started picking the glass out of the picture, saying,

"You're gonna cut yourself on that glass, ma'am." She set the few pieces in her hand on the desk and felt a cool palm cover hers. "You know," the specialist said casually, "you're not going to be able to get this glass at the PX, but I know a place in Saigon where I can get it for you."

"It's not necessary." Patterson brushed the offer off.

"No, it's no problem," Taylor told her. "Besides, I want to." So the attraction was mutual. She didn't want him to go out of his way to help her out. She was an officer, and that meant no fraternization with enlisted men, no matter how bad she wanted to jump a GI's bones.
Morning saw her busily working. Guys had to salute, didn't they? Couldn't they just nod 'hi' or something? Give a girl a set of bars and they snapped as straight as they could, saluted so sharply the bones could be heard cracking. Lt. Patterson hated that sound. She juggled an armful of folders from her right arm to her left, returned the private's salute, and went back to her office. She wanted to get some coffee, but experience had taught her to go to the dispensary instead of the mess tent. Dispensary coffee was less likely to be moldy, and didn't taste as bad.
She went to the mess. Ugh! Never again, Camille told herself, taking a sip of the bitter black liquid. She'd conveniently forgotten to put in sugar, waiting for someone to fall for the joke.
It was one of her favorites. Switch a spoonful of sugar with some salt and watch what happened when some poor fool took a swig of his coffee. She wasn't expecting the poor fool to be none other than Specialist Fourth-class Taylor. She watched him pour in a spoonful of sugar, stir it into his coffee. He asked her how she'd slept, how her morning was going. Then he took a sip of the drink in his hands. Camille had to bite her tongue to keep from laughing as he spat onto the floor. His eyes were wide and furious as he searched the room, glaring at everyone laughing at him. Patterson kept her face straight as she looked at him.

"Danny, you got a minute?" Taylor asked.

"Taylor, it wasn't me!" Danny squawked indignantly. Camille was tempted to tell Taylor the truth, but she didn't dare. If he thought a buddy had done it, and looked this mad about it, she didn't want to think about what he might do to her.

"Then who was it?" Taylor demanded. Danny shrugged. He looked as if he knew, Camille realized. She glanced at his nametape. It said Percell. She'd get him if he finked on her. She'd get him anyway, it would just take a while to find out where his weak points were.

Percell was watching the new lieutenant carefully, but he barely saw her hand move. He knew what she'd done. Salt in the sugar was an old trick. He just wouldn't use any sugar in his coffee.

"I thought the cooks were on our side," he commented to Lieutenant Patterson. She nodded, smiling. Danny didn't want to be the idiot that put the sugar in his coffee. He hoped it wouldn't be anyone in his platoon.
Taylor played fall guy for the joke. He looked surprised and angry as he spat out the salty coffee in his mouth. Danny wasn't the only one laughing. He could see the lieutenant's shoulders shaking as she tried to suppress her laughter. She was biting her lip, doing her best to keep a straight face. Then Marcus whirled on him.

"Danny, you got a minute?" Taylor asked. Danny shot Lieutenant Patterson a glare, saying,

"Taylor, it wasn't me!" He hoped that his buddy would get the look. He didn't.

"Then who was it?" Taylor demanded, looking murderous. You didn't mess with the man's coffee. Even if it was mess tent coffee, you just didn't mess with Taylor when he hadn't had himself his morning cup of coffee. Of course, Lieutenant Patterson didn't know that.
Taylor looked at Danny.

"Let's talk about this outside," Marcus suggested. The two men went out quickly and quietly, showing the prowess that made them good soldiers. Taylor would probably pull rank to find out who had done it. Danny would let him know it was Lieutenant Patterson.
Of course, way Taylor felt about the new lieutenant, he probably wouldn't believe Percell for a minute. It was obvious he was in love with the woman to everyone but them. His defense of her the night before had only proved their suspicions. Would he listen to reason? Would he hear Percell saying that Lieutenant Patterson had a thing for practical jokes, just like Taylor? Danny wondered.
The two men talked as they headed for the barracks. Taylor seemed to believe him. That's something, at least, Danny thought. They both wondered what the lieutenant would do later, and who her next victim would be.

"One thing's for sure," Taylor said. "I won't be drinking any coffee till she's gone." Danny chuckled.

"I saw her do it," he said to his buddy, "and I hoped nobody in our platoon was stupid enough to use sugar in his coffee. But Marcus, you shoulda seen your face!! Your eyes just got huge, bigger than normal. Then you looked like you'd landed face first in a pile of horse shit. Your face started to get all wrinkled, and you started spitting on the floor and, aw man..." Percell trailed off as he dissolved into fits of strangled laughter. "I'm sorry," he apologized. "It was just-" more laughter "- just- the look on your face- too much," he gasped, falling onto his bunk laughing.

"I know," Taylor replied wryly. "I was the one that fell for it, remember?" Danny did remember. That was why he was laughing so hard it hurt. Everything hurt. His face hurt from smiling. His ribs were aching. If he didn't get some air within the next few seconds, he was gonna burst. That's what it felt like, anyway. The only thing that didn't hurt was Danny's pride. At least I wasn't Taylor, he thought. I didn't drink the coffee.
Lieutenant Goldman went into his hootch. After Taylor having salted coffee that morning, he was going to be careful. There was no bucket of water hanging above his door, nothing seemed rigged. One of his guys had probably gotten Taylor back for something and started an all-out joke war. He'd definitely be careful. There didn't seem to be anything on his bunk or his chair. Thinking everything was all right, he sat in his desk chair. Something wet seeped through his uniform shirt and pants. Immediately he rose, snarling.

"What the fuck?" he asked. There was water spilled all over the seat of the chair. That pissed him off. He let out a bellow for the one person he thought was responsible.

"Taylor!" he thundered. Everyone on the base heard it, recognizing Goldman's high octave scream.

Johnson, Taylor, Ruiz, and Percell trotted in, coming to attention.

"Were you all in on this, then?" LT asked, fighting to keep his voice from rising. None of them moved.

"Well?" he demanded. Johnson stepped forward.

"Sir. It wasn't Taylor, sir. It wasn't any of us. Sir." Marvin's voice was calm, soothing almost.

"Then who was it?" Goldman's voice was almost normal volume. The four men shrugged, indicating they didn't know.

"Would Sarge maybe do it?" Percell questioned. They all tried to picture Zeke pouring water on the LT's chair. None of them could see it.

"No," Goldman said. "I don't think Zeke would do something like this. Jokes don't seem to be his style." He noted the glance the men exchanged and sighed. "Not with officers, anyway," Myron added.

"I sure didn't do this, sir," Taylor said. "I'd do something worse, like sandbagging your hootch or starching your shorts." They all chuckled at the image.

"You'd better not," Goldman laughed. "I'd get a rash from the starch." They laughed harder. "So," Goldman added, a twinkle in his eye, "how was your coffee this morning, Taylor?" The glare Taylor shot him said enough, but he couldn't help laughing at the look on the specialist's face when he'd tasted the salted coffee. Apparently, neither could Taylor's buddies, because they collapsed in laughter.

"I meant to ask ya that, man," Roo said. "Yeah, Taylor," Johnson added, "how was it?" Growling, Marcus stalked out of the hootch.

"Did we ask the wrong thing?" Goldman asked. Percell nodded.

"Yessir, I think we did. Best to leave him for a while. He'll find out who did it and get back at them."

Cowboy logic, ! LT thought. It doesn't get much simpler than that. The three men trotted back out the door.

* * *

Lieutenant McKay grinned to himself. He sure did like milk runs. They gave him a chance to show the VC just what American tunes were. When Johnny Cash blared from his speakers, he nearly lost control of his bird. He thought he might just have a heart attack when his co-pilot started singing along. Samson grinned, saying, "Take it easy, lieutenant. Before you ask, no, it wasn't me. But you gotta admit, there's something that country music has that rock and roll doesn't."

"Yeah," McKay replied. "That twangy, strangling-a-cat sound." Samson laughed

Marcus kept his rifle in his hand as he walked Lieutenant Patterson to her hootch. She opened the door and invited him in.

"I'll go back to barracks, ma'am," he declined. "Still need to clean that rifle you've got." She chuckled and handed him the 16. He liked her laugh.

"Thanks for walking me back," she said. He nodded.

"If that's everything..." He didn't finish the sentence. She's an officer! his mind screamed at him. She's also close enough to kiss.

"Crash on the floor, if you like," the LT said. The floor isn't where I want to be, Marcus thought.

"I'm good," he replied. "After the boonies and my cot, I think think the floor would be too soft for me." Patterson looked at him and laughed.

As he left her hootch, a lingering scent reached his nose. She smelled good, she had a nice laugh, and she'd seemed to fit perfectly against him.

OFFICER! OFF-LIMITS! N-O! Think with your head, not what's in your pants! But... NO! Those bars scream "HANDS OFF!!" Taylor stumbled into the barracks, still fighting with himself.

She's beautiful. Smart. I DON'T CARE! She's an OFFICER! She fit against me. OFF-LIMITS! I never felt like this before. Giving up the argument, he dropped into an exhausted sleep.

She came into the club that night. Just to talk to him. It seemed the practical joker was gone, replaced by someone who really cared about him.

"I just wish I had something to share with you, like your songs," she commented quietly. Love me,,/I> he thought. Feel the same way I do. He was getting lost in those chocolate eyes.

"Just bein' my friend's the greatest thing you can do for me right now," Taylor replied. There's a lot more you could do for me, Lieutenant.

"Want to talk about it?" He nodded and they left for her hootch.

Darling didn't think the toothpaste tasted right. Then bubbles started coming out his nose. He yelled like mad, then sprinted out of his quarters. With a splash, he fell face-first into a shallow pit of water.

Taylor and Camille slapped hands as the major fell into their trap. They grinned at each other and slipped away.

"God, that was great!" Taylor laughed. Patterson nodded.

"Good job," she commented. "I doubt I would have come up with that one." They slid off to her office.

"You wanted to see me, ma'am?" he asked. He was suddenly nervous, she noted.

"I'm told you know everything that happens around here." Very professional now, not some schoolgirl out for a few laughs.

"Everybody's gotta hustle, but except for guys trading greenbacks on the black market in Saigon, I don't anything that could help you." Camille smiled a little.

"Can I count on you to come see me if you hear anything? Can you handle that, Specialist?" She had no idea where that question would lead.

"Come see you? Yeah, I can handle that. I can get into that.

"See, I never felt like this before. No, just hear me out. I'm very attracted to you, and this might be out of line, you bein' an officer and all, but I gotta say it. I'd really like to see you."

"I think you'd better go now, Specialist," Camille said. It was hard to keep from tossing herself into his arms. Taylor scooted in a hurry.

Sergeant Major Boyd heard the exchange. That could get the bitch off my back, he thought. A grunt wants the lady to jump his bones. Ah, the possibilities.

>center>* * *

Zeke heard the exchange, too. He was gonna have to keep an eye on that boy, otherwise he would get himself into something. He caught up with the Spec 4 just as he was leaving.

"Taylor? You got a minute?" Sarge asked. The black man nodded, striding along so fast he was nearly marching. "What happened in there? You went in in a good mood."

"As if you don't know, Sarge," Taylor replied. "I know you were listening." Zeke flinched.

"So what did you and the LT do to Major Darling? He looked pretty steamed. And wet." Taylor laughed, short and humorless. "The guys said you left with her and didn't come back to barracks. Lucky we didn't have a mission or we'd have been searching for you."

"I went to Lieutenant Patterson's hootch. We talked. About Smitty, and stuff that had happened on our tours, and home. What our plans were and where we were from, that sort of stuff. I dug a pit and she filled it with water. We switched Darling's toothpaste for Lieutenant Goldman's shaving cream. It was worth it, at the time." Taylor's shoulders slumped a little. "Not that it matters now. I thought I saw a person in her, but now I know it was just an officer in disguise." He sounded disgusted. Just then Sarge tripped.

"Is this the pit you dug?" he asked, picking himself up out of the water. Taylor nodded. Zeke knew nothing he could say would get through to the soldier. So he just nodded at Taylor and left to get changed.

Three guys had fallen into the pit outside the Major's door. Johnson, Sarge, and Lieutenant Goldman. Shit, Taylor thought. I'm dead.

"Nice job, Taylor," Ruiz commented. "They look a little better than they did before they had those baths. Smell better, too." Percell was shaking with the effort of keeping his laughter back. LT looked like a drowned rat. His fatigues were clinging to him, his hair was plastered to his skull, and he was soaked. If he hadn't been so red-faced with anger, Taylor would have told him how he looked.

"What makes you think it was me?" he asked innocently.

"We watched you do it this morning, man," Ruiz replied.

"Yeah," Percell said between strangled chuckles. "You didn't come back last night after you left the club, so we figured we'd find you. You do nice work. So does Lieutenant Patterson."

"Wouldn't know about that," Taylor replied. "Are we going to Saigon or what?" As usual, Taylor and Johnson sat together on the serviceman's bus into Saigon. As usual, Zeke sat just head of them. It was common practice.

"So," Johnson said in a low voice. "What did that lieutenant and you talk about last night?" What did she say to piss you off like this?

"We talked about Smitty," Taylor replied. "Turns out she knew him and his wife back in the World." She turned you down, Johnson thought. You made an offer and she turned you down.

"How well?" he asked.

"Grew up with his wife. Her grandmother cleaned for Smitty's parents and baby-sat him." Now Marvin was laughing, just a little.

"Sounds to me like you talked about more than just Smitty, Marcus," he said.

"We did talk about home," Taylor replied wistfully. Ahead of them, Zeke shook his head.

Everyone on base knew that Lieutenant Patterson was behind the pit at Major Darling's door. Myron smiled a little as he listened to her tell the story to the officers in the mess.

"Seriously?" he asked her. "My shaving cream? In his toothpaste?" Patterson nodded, giving him an apologetic look.

"I owe you some," she said. Myron flashed that killer grin.

"Don't worry about it. If I didn't have to shave on base, I wouldn't. I like the look the weeds give me." Pattterson chuckled.

"I think Miss Devlin does, too," a captain said. Everybody but Goldman laughed at that. He was still a little wet, but he didn't mind. This time. If he ever fell into a pit again, he'd blame it on her and get mad. It didn't change the fact that he thought she was a woman and shouldn't be there. Even Alex shouldn't be there. Not risking her butt for a story out in the field, not using McKay... He started to bitch himself out, tuning out Patterson so he could concentrate on the lecture he was giving himself.

"Mmm-mmm," Taylor said emphatically. Johnson didn't need to turn his head to know who Taylor was looking at. Lieutenant Patterson was in Saigon. They'd seen her a few times. Marcus saw Marvin shake his head.

"Look at her," Taylor said. "I can't eat, I can't sleep. All I can think about is her." Marvin grinned.

"Next thing you'll be tellin' me you're in love," he joked. Marcus didn't even look at him as he replied, "I don't know. All I know is I feel funny inside." A local walked up to Patterson as Taylor watched her work. He grabbed her shoulder, spun her around, and flicked open a switchblade.

"What you doing?" he asked her. Taylor slapped Johnson on his arm and the two started to head over.

"Where did you get these goods?" Patterson demanded. "Who sold you them? Was it Sergeant Major Boyd?" The little Vietnamese man glared at her in anger, slowly advancing, pushing her farther back.

"NO! No buy from Boyd. You go now. DIDI!" Taylor grabbed hold of him by his wrists and pressed his fingers into the tendons of the man's knife hand.

"Drop it!" he growled, seeing Marvin put an arm around Lieutenant Patterson's shoulders, one hand resting on her chest as he lifted her a little and carried her a few steps away.

"I said 'Drop it'!" Taylor warned, pressing his fingers in harder. The guy dropped the knife and Marcus shifted to protect the woman as the white mice came over.

"These goods are stolen," Patterson said. The white mice were getting closer. Taylor and Johnson took the lieutenant with them as they left.

"Are you all right?" Taylor asked, concerned.

"I'm fine. Thanks, guys." She didn't miss Taylor trying to get rid of Johnson by patting him several times on his shoulder.

"Aw, man!" Johnson exclaimed. "I got to go- hook up with the guys!"

"All right, bro," Taylor replied. "I'll check in with you later." The two gave each other a one-potato, two-potato handshake and Johnson left. Now that Taylor had the lieutenant alone, he was going to talk to her.

"Are you sure you're all right?" he asked. She nodded.

"I'm fine. Just a little shaky, that's all," she replied. "This whole country's corrupt. I can't see anything good coming out of this war." Marcus had her right where he wanted her.

"Look at it this way. It got us together." He didn't expect her harsh reply.

"Chance meeting, Specialist." "The only chance I want is with you," Taylor replied.

"The UCMJ strictly forbids fraternization between officers and enlisted personnel. We shouldn't even be walking around like this." Taylor sighed in frustration.

"That's damn rank discrimination," he shot back. He twisted so she had to put her back to the wall of a building. "I'm gonna be at the Paradise Hotel tomorrow afternoon. Meet me there." She bit her lip.

"I like you, Marcus, but I'm not-" Patterson started to say.

"Room service could bring up lunch. We don't have to do anything. I just want to talk, that's all."She was on the borderline of indecision. "It may be weeks before we get another chance like this," he said persuasively. "I can be called back into the field at any time." Saluting, he smiled. "Be there." Then he left the lieutenant to think.

Boyd and his crony, Hart, heard the specialist's talk. Staying out of sight, they followed Lieutenant Patterson as she walked to a restaurant. When she sat down and ordered lunch, they left.

"What do you think?" Hart asked.

"She's getting close," Boyd replied. "We can't risk her finding out."

"I know. If we could find out what she plans on doing tomorrow,we might be able to use it against her." Hart's plan was cruel and simple.

"I like it," Boyd said. "We follow her, find out what she plans on doing with t hat specialist. If it's worth it, we can catch her in something she shouldn't be doing, and she'll drop her investigation of us." The two men laughed.

Camille barely noticed as she ordered her food in Vietnamese. The bowl of pho was brought to her. The soup was thick and normally Patterson would have been glad to have it, but today she didn't even taste it. All her thoughts were on Specialist Taylor. The black man hung heavy on her mind. She had allowed him an unusual measure of trust, getting closer to him in the last few days than she'd been with her brothers. The late night talking in her hootch about anything and everything had brought them even closer. Then there had been the joke on Major Darling. He's handsome, she thought, tracing his face in her mind. Automatically, she corrected herself. Handsome is Percell or Johnson.

He's gorgeous. Those eyes. You can drown in them. They're full of life, sparkling, overflowing with laughter. I'd love to get my hands on that butt of his. The thought startled her. She wiped some soup off her chin, hating the way the broth didn't get scooped up with the chopsticks. Pho was good, but if you weren't careful, you got soup on you. She smiled a little as she thought about Taylor coming and joining her. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Sergeant Major Boyd. She'd thought he was working on those load slips for her. Before she could decide whether to get up and ask him if he was in need of something, he was gone.

Specialists Taylor and Johnson walked by calmly, nodding to her. She returned the nod with a smile meant specifically for Marcus Taylor. Not that he'd ever know that. She couldn't go to that hotel room. Camille wondered why as she returned to her lunch. She was afraid of falling for him. That was wrong. She had fallen for him. She was afraid for him. The last boonie rat she'd loved had gotten killed.

Myron chuckled to himself as he slipped into his hootch. His towel was sitting on his chair, where he had left it. Grabbing his shower kit, he stripped. Then he grabbed the towel and wrapped it around his flat waist. Stepping into the sunlight, Goldman could feel a slight draft. There was a breeze blowing. He took a few more steps. All around him, GI's started laughing. Myron felt himself blush. He didn't know why they were laughing or what they were laughing at. Percell grinned a little as he came up.

"Warm enough for you, LT?" he asked casually.

"Huh?" Myron replied blankly. Something wasn't right. Percell was holding back his laughter. His blue eyes were sparkling with mirth. Now that he mentioned it, one part of Myron seemed to be feeling the breeze more than the rest of his body. He shouldn't be able to feel the breeze there! Blushing, feeling like he was blushing all over, he stalked back to his hootch. Grabbing another towel, he shed the one he was wearing. Swiftly he wrapped his new towel around his waist, holding up this one. A large circle was cut from the material.

"Patterson," he growled under his breath. "I'll get you for this." But he did have to admit that the joke was a good one. She'd caught him off-guard. He headed off to enjoy his shower in peace, knowing she was in Saigon. Hopefully, there was no one around to cut his towel. McKay came in, turned the water on, and stood in the spray.

"Having a good day, Myron?" he asked pleasantly, although Myron could detect a tremor in his voice.

"It was." There was some guessing as to who that was aimed at. Fighting McKay always left him relaxed, like the fight was an outlet for his tension. When Zeke wasn't keeping an eye on Taylor, he was there for Myron. Alex provided the physical relief he needed.

"You know," McKay started, "it would be a hell of a lot easier on all of us if you would just get a desk job." Wrong thing to say, McKay, Myron thought. He had to remind himself that it wasn't McKay's fault he was so damned annoying.

"Did Alex put you up to this, McKay?"

"No. She goes through the wringer every time you go out there, Goldman."

Myron decided to stew about this in privacy, and grabbed his towel. Storming out of the shower, he could hear several whistles.

"Is it the same towel, LT?" some anonymous GI called. Myron glared fiercely about.

"Wouldn't you like to know!" he replied.

Johnson shook his head. Taylor had just finished telling him about why he was so mad.

"It's not the end of the world if she feels the same way but won't go to you because she don't wanna ruin her career, man," he stated.

"Marvin..." Taylor said warningly.

"Look. Maybe she likes you more than she lets on. You're the one she asked for, and she's met all of us. Doesn't that say something? Maybe she just doesn't want to take a chance and fall for a soldier, y'know? We are a bad risk, Taylor." Damn brother was head over heels in love with an officer and wouldn't listen to one bit of reason.

"Maybe," Taylor replied, "but then why wouldn't she say so?"

"She's a woman, ain't she?" That settled it. Johnson made it clear that he didn't want to hear any more about it.

Zeke swallowed. This was never gonna be easy.

"Afternoon, ma'am. Mind if I join you?" he asked. He wanted to know just what was bothering his Sp/ 4, and Lt. Patterson was the only person that knew other than Taylor.

"Free country, isn't it?" Zeke laughed in spite of himself. Okay, she had a sense of humor. He inspected her as a waiter came over to see if there was anything Sarge would like.

"Beer," Zeke replied.

"Anything to eat?"

"No, I'm good."

"Put the Sergeant's beer on my bill," Lt. Patterson added. Zeke grunted in surprise. When the waiter had left, she looked at him.

"Now, Sarge, what's on your mind?"

"Well, ma'am," Zeke started, "I was wondering if you knew what was bothering Taylor? Did he tell you anything that might help me out?"

"Why, is it important?" she replied.

"We've got a mission day after tomorrow, and if his head ain't on straight, he's likely to get hisself wounded, ma'am," Zeke answered. This woman was intuitive, guessing at the reason why he was there with her.

"I'm what's got him on cloud nine, Anderson," the officer replied. "And do me a favor? Don't call me ma'am? It really bothers me." Sarge laughed.

"What do I call you then, sir?" he replied.

"LT will do."

"Fair enough. Now what do you mean, you're what Taylor's got on his mind?" he probed.

"Take a good look at me, Sergeant Anderson. I'm a woman, I'm soft and comfortable, I'm an American woman. I'm vulnerable. As some private put it the other night, I'm a 'frill'. I'm an officer and that makes me off-limits. Didn't you ever want something you couldn't have?"

"You're like an old shoe, huh?" He was surprised to find he was flirting with this officer. That wasn't right!

"See what I mean?" she laughed. "You can't have me, and that's making you attracted to me. Or maybe it's the fact that you don't have a special little lady in one of the boom-boom bars?" Damn, this woman was also perceptive!

"This isn't the place for you to know what Taylor said to me, but stop by my hootch and I'll fill you in, okay, Sarge?" she asked. He nodded. No way was he gonna leave Taylor be.

"For what it's worth, LT, he already told me some. Said he is attracted to you, thought he saw a person in you, and realized it was just an illusion. What do you think he meant by that?" She tossed some MPCs on the table and turned.

"I heard the speech he made in your office this morning, Lieutenant," Zeke added. She gave no sign of hearing him, just kept on walking. She was heading in the general direction of Cho Lon. Sarge decided to follow her, keep her safe. Somehow, he knew it was what Taylor would ask him to do.

Alex sighed. She was really worried about Myron. If he would just get out of the field, she would take him back. She really did love him, but it hurt her to think of him dying in the field. There was only one other person on this base she could talk to. McKay hadn't helped her, just gotten Myron pissed. She went to Lt. Patterson's office. The woman was out. She grumbled as she went back to her own office.

Camille knew the sergeant was following her. She was looking for anything to help her pin SM Boyd or Sgt. Hart. Zeke was on her tail. At least she had someone at her back. She ducked between two houses, flattened herself to the wall of one, and slid along. The IG's happy hunting ground was the merchant district near Cho Lon. She checked to make sure that the throwing knife she usually wore in a hip sheath was tucked against her back. She was never sure if she liked the ten inches of steel on her or not. It was the only proof she had that her husband was dead.

Zeke went walking by. She let him pass, then slid out and followed him for a while. She saw a frequent contact she knew. Quang. VC, sure, but you couldn't pick your contacts, just protect them. The fact that Quang's sister was married to her brother Jake didn't help one bit. Quang was a frequent contact because he looked after her and she looked out for him.

Camille slid along, catching her brother-in-law's eye. She barely tipped her head, indicating that they go in his "store." Automatically, she was more aware of her surroundings. Her senses were heightened, her footfalls silent. Quang took her to the back room. Here was his real business. Grenades, AK-47s, all manner of weapons. It was Quang who had given her Dave's knife, having pulled it off his body. She was well aware of the fact that her brother-in-law was not the only man in the room. Everyone here spoke English. There wasn't a language she was safe to speak in.

"Quang," she said. He took her hand, turned it palm up, and kissed the lines there.

"Camille." He spoke perfect English.

"I need a favor." Better get to the rat killing now instead of prolonging the agony.

"And that would be?" he prompted.

"What can you tell me about a Sergeant Major Boyd or a Sergeant Hart? Dealing with supplies, PX goods, that sort of stuff, Quang." He looked at her.

"Big favor. Come back in two days. Have news then. Money now." She shook her head. He drove a hard bargain, but hers was harder. She pulled out Dave's knife.

"If the information's worth it, I'll see to it that you get payed, Quang. That was the deal we worked out. Just because we're in-laws doesn't mean we have to be enemies."

"You don't scare me, Camille. You know that." She gritted her teeth against his damned annoying attitude.

"I'll be back tomorrow," she said. "Gentlemen." She spun on her heel and left, the knife dropping neatly into its sheath. Zeke was waiting for her outside.

"This ain't the kind of place you want to be caught in alone, LT," he said softly.

"I'll explain, you drive," she responded. They hopped in a jeep and Zeke took off at nearly top speed. He slowed for the curve on the An Loc Highway, then pulled over.

"Start talkin', ma'am," he said. Camille knew he was doing it just to irritate her.

"Quang's sister is married to my brother. Jake got married when he was still serving, and when he was discharged, he stayed behind. Quang doesn't like him or me, says it's his job to kill Americans. He's one of my sources, gives me the information I need, when I need it, and I protect him when the guys in S2 would like to get their hands on him. I can't choose my family but I can choose my enemies. Quang's not an enemy, he's my family. He's an in-law, sure, but he's really an all right guy."

"If you ignore the fact that he nearly killed Taylor a few months back," Zeke interrupted quietly.

"That's beside the point. Like I said, he sees his job as killing Americans. Your job is to kill Vietnamese, isn't it?" She had hit a sore spot and she knew it.

"What about him being one of your sources?" He was tap-dancing around the subject.

"He supplies me with information on troop movements, anybody I ask about, anything I need. In return, I keep him alive. He's an informant, Anderson. I know he works for the VC. He supplies them with captured American weapons, intelligence, and food. He does the same for Americans. He gives me some of the most incriminating evidence about some of the people I investigate, gives me troop movements, lets me know what upcoming plans are. He's an American sympathizer. Just on the wrong side of the war."

"Why?" She knew what he meant. Why was he VC.

"When the war broke out, his father sent one son to each side, NVA, VC, and ARVN. Just so he'd have a son on the winning side. Quang was unlucky enough to end up on the Viet Cong side. That's all."

"But, LT, there's something I don't understand. Why...?" He was questioning her judgement, not her explanation.

"I said that's all, Sergeant. Leave it at that." She had the authoritative tone in her voice, the one that said no questions asked.

"LT, why does Taylor have you on his mind? Did he say why he was attracted to you?" It was the wrong thing to say.

"Since when is what goes on between me and one of the men on the base your business, Sergeant Anderson? Maybe you should..." Patterson broke off, embarrassed by her small tantrum. She was nearly yelling at him and he didn't deserve it.

"Since he's in my platoon and he's not my officer. Since I depend on him and his friends depend on him to save their lives and do his job right. I can't have him so over you he can't do his job, ma'am. He does that and he'll get a lot of good people killed and he'll have to live with that. That's when. If Taylor was an officer, I wouldn't question his behaviour. Since he's not, I've got to know if something's bothering him so I know what to expect when he goes into the bush. See where I'm coming from, ma'am?" She was taken aback by the force of his words. They seemed so strong coming from him.

"I see," she responded. "And what he said to me was that I was one of the most intelligent and attractive people he'd ever met. I don't know why he's attracted to me. You know the heart, Sarge. It doesn't care if you're in a war zone or in a restaurant. You fall in love and you're gone. Nothing can bring you back when you've gone over the edge. That's how Taylor feels about me." Camille swallowed. She knew what Zeke was going to ask her in a moment or two.

"How do you know?" Not the question she had expected.

"I'm not a Patterson by blood, you know. I was married to a good man, but he died in-country. It hurt like hell to lose him." She looked away, finding the tree line more interesting than the conversation.

"And how do you feel about Taylor?" There it was. She took a deep breath.

"I feel like he's a good man, Anderson. Maybe if he weren't a soldier, I'd let myself fall for him. But he's chosen this life and it's the one he'll live or die."

"You're avoiding the question, ma'am." He stated it.

"I know. I care about him, sergeant. I really do. I've already fallen for him, but he won't ever hear that from me, because I don't want to lose someone else. I lost my husband because he was a soldier, and I don't want to lose Taylor because he's a soldier. I guess the only way to do that is to just stop feeling. Stop feeling anything. Last night was the most alive I'd felt in years. I nearly took my ring off. How can just talking to a person make you feel alive? How?" She wasn't used to making speeches. They weren't something she liked doing, either.

"LT? How long have you worn that ring?" She knew she was talking to a lifer, and a former married man. ?

"Six years. I got married when I was sixteen. And my husband died in this God forsaken hell hole. Damn this country."

"Zeke, don't you see? I can't even care about another soldier! It hurts too much to know they're out there, getting shot at, maybe wounded, maybe he's out there, screaming your name as he dies. I can't like an officer as a friend. You and Taylor are the only people I've let get close to me, and even that's too much. I know that this doesn't seem like close, but that's what it is. For me, anyway. Can we go now?" He chuckled.

"No, it don't seem like close, but it is!" he laughed. The engine roared to life and they were moving again.

Darling growled. He just knew the bitch was behind the shaving cream in his toothpaste this morning.

He'd transferred her to his base because of the fact that he had met her in Tokyo before and had liked her. He'd wanted her. Her record had nothing to do with why she was here, but he hadn't liked the PX fraud going on under his nose without him being part of it. So far she seemed to be doing her job, but she was spending too much time around those damn grunts of Goldman's. He had wanted her in his bed since the first time he laid eyes on her in Japan. The memory of the dress she'd been wearing and the way it clung to every curve on her body was still fresh in his mind. So was the full-bird Colonel who had reluctantly kissed cheek as he took her to the hotel where she was staying. That same full-bird had just as reluctantly let her come to his base. Temporary duty. He wanted her transfer permanent. He'd transferred her in just so she could get into his pants. That wasn't working, so he was giving her a short time for her to complete her investigation. He had already told her that if she were to stay there with him, she would be allowed to do whatever she wanted on the base, go into town whenever she wanted to, and everything like that.

She'd like to be in combat. Nearly a year in-country and she hadn't seen more VC than the ones that attacked the bases every now and then. She'd like a transfer to a combat position. She had stated it. Combat. That was one place he didn't want her to be. He'd denied it, she'd told him that it would be a cold day in hell before she was in his arms, then walked out without saluting or waiting to be dismissed. Now Sergeant Major Boyd had told him what he had heard in the office next to Patterson's. That wasn't right.

"God damn!" Darling growled. "She's not supposed to be with him. She's supposed to be mine! The whore!" His clerk stuck his head in the office door.

"Sir?" the boy asked.

"What?" Darling snapped.

"Are you feeling well, sir?" The hurt look said the kid was wondering why he'd been snarled at.

"I'm fine." Growling, the Major got out of his chair to get a cup of coffee. He didn't like the way the boy fixed it. It was the only thing he did for himself when it came to what he wanted, when he wanted it. And Patterson's transfer. The bitch! he thought again. What the hell gave her the right to tell him off like that? She was only a lieutenant! She could be a Major in a few months, a year at the outside, if she were with him. Maybe he'd tell her that. Yeah, she could use some help getting her Captain's bars. Even her oak leaf clusters. Not many men were willing to promote women unless they had excellent records in their beds. His bed. Just where Lt. Patterson needed to be to take her mind off the soldier that would probably die in a few months anyway.

mille sighed. She'd come to the O Club in her best civvie dress, hoping to dance for a little while and maybe knock back a few in memory of Dave. It would have been their sixth wedding anniversary at the beginning of the week. Instead, today marked six years since he had died. One day before her twenty-second birthday. Why not celebrate? He'd been dead for six years and she'd gotten this far without him. There was a thump in the seat across from her. She looked away from her beer to see her CO. Great. All she needed.

"Lieutenant," he said. "I've been thinking about what a jerk I've been. I shouldn't have said that I transferred you here just because I'm attracted to you. I need you here. I want this PX fraud stopped, and I know you can do it."

"Spit it out, sir," she snorted.

"Spit what out?" he asked innocently.

"Why you're here."

"I just said it." He had to be lying. He was lying, the bastard.

"That's not all," she said. "There's more. Isn't there?" In another second she would hear it. In a minute she'd be gone. She knew it.

"Well, you have a very excellent record, but in the last two years, you haven't been promoted above the rank of Second Lieutenant. I can get you a Captaincy, maybe even a Majority if you stay here and continue the excellent work you've been doing." She sucked air between her clenched teeth. The SONUVABITCH! He had told her he had no right to tell her that he'd transferred her to his base just because he was attracted to her, then said that he could get her promoted if she fell between the sheets with him.

"Sir," she said angrily, "if I am going to be promoted, I would rather that I had earned it by doing my job, not by crawling over you and under you as you want it." She stalked angrily out of the O Club. The EM club was just across the base. She went there, stepped in. Everything went silent.

"What?" she asked. "Haven't you guys ever seen a woman before?" It was small joke that got a few noises made, nothing more.

"Tequila," she said to the bartender. "And in a bottle, not a glass." She really needed to wake up with one hell of a hangover tomorrow. Maybe she could drink Dave off her mind, forget about Darling, and just get good and proper drunk.

"What brings you here, LT?" someone asked.

"The O Club doesn't have anything to offer," she replied.

"Like here does?" Percell asked.

"Yeah. You guys. Besides which, I don't want to deal with Darling right now." Everyone laughed.

"Ma'am," the private she'd chewed out two nights earlier spoke up, "Major Darling is so hated around here, you have to take a number and wait in line." She chuckled.

"Does he want you to jump his bones?" she asked. "That's the reason he transferred me here. Right now I don't want to deal with that... that..."

"That?" Taylor asked. Oh, God, of course he would be here. He was on downtime.

"Whatever it is," she replied. "Calling it a person is insulting everyone here." The room broke into laughter. Several guys came up to her and asked her to dance. She was surprised to find that she was having a good time, despite how angry she still was. Maybe the tequila wasn't kicking in. Yet.

"Care to dance, Lieutenant?" Taylor asked her.

"I'd love to," she replied. The song was slow, easy, and one of her favorites. She could hear Taylor singing along in her ear as she rested her head against his shoulder. Were they really snuggling like this? Could he feel her heart racing as she cuddled closer to him with every word? She hoped not, just let herself sway with him and listened as he crooned the words softly.

"I've been loving you Too long to stop now..." God, this couldn't feel more right! She got up to dance a couple more times, but the arms around her weren't Taylor's. Goldman's squad, slightly less drunk than her, walked her back to her hootch. She waved a wobbly good-night to them, slurred the words out, and staggered into her hootch. Her mind was still good enough to tell her that reveille was in five and a half hours. Well, it was her twenty-second birthday, and she knew just how to celebrate. The last thing she knew was who she should celebrate with. Taylor.

Reveille woke her at 0600h. She groaned, found her cleanest uniform, and fell out for morning roll call. It seemed to take forever, but the private calling the roll finally got to her name.

"Lieutenant Patterson, C.!" he shouted. She flinched.

"Here!" she responded, seeing others around her wince. "Always here," Camille muttered under her breath. Her head ached. If she didn't go and sleep it off, she'd probably die. How in the hell was it possible for one little hangover to hurt so much? She felt like someone was beating on her skull with a sledgehammer wrapped in a sock. Her tongue felt like it was covered with the other sock. The heat didn't help either. An FNG passed out nearby, the drinks he'd had the night before combining with the heat and his uniform to make him take a fall and kiss the dirt.

She staggered back to her hootch, comfortably tossing the blankets one way and settling herself so her stomach was lying on them, giving her back a slight arch. No matter how hard she tried, sleep wouldn't come. All she could think about was the fact that she wasn't out celebrating her birthday with a man she liked. He had offered her a hotel room, a few hours away from the war. If she went there, would she put Dave Patterson behind her and get to know Marcus Taylor? Or would she merely compare him to Dave and decide she couldn't be there? She was confused. She decided to get up and take a shower. It wouldn't help her sober up, but it would help her think straight.

Lt. McKay smiled to himself. He had Alex for the day, and he planned on letting her know just how much she had meant to him since day one. A trip to her favorite restaurant, then maybe buying some souveniers, topping off the day (and night) at his penthouse. She was a very special lady, and he wanted her to know that.

Taylor answered the knock on the door. It was just room service, bringing up the champagne he'd ordered. He hoped his nervousness didn't show. The lieutenant had apparently decided not to come, but he still held on to the hope that she would. Butterflies danced and flew in his stomach more and more with each smoke and each sip of champagne.

Another knock. Please, Lord, let it be her, he thought. Last night had felt so right, having her in his arms. She'd snuggled against him, cuddled close. Her heart had been pounding nearly as fast as his. It was Lt. Patterson. She was there to see him. He let her in.

"Would you like something to drink?" he asked. "I already started without you..." She followed his outstretched hand with her eyes, looking at the bottle.

"I didn't come here to drink, Marcus," she said. Her head turned to him, she looked him in the eye, spoke softly. "Kiss me." The words of his dreams! Coming from her sweet lips. He was nervous, hoping she couldn't tell.

"Yes, ma'am," he said quietly. Taylor leaned in, she leaned up, and their lips met. It was just a tentative kiss, but he knew he wanted to be with this woman.

They drew apart slowly, eyes opening just as slowly. Then their lips met again, his arms sliding around her. She was holding him just as tightly, trying to get close to him. They let their hands roam over each other's bodies, sliding off uniforms in the process. He tried to pull off a jungle boot with one hand while he slid her T-shirt off at the same time. She pulled away, gasping for breath, face breaking into laughter as she looked at him.

"What?" he asked. It had been a long time. Real long. He was out of practice.

"I've never kissed a flamingo before," she replied. Taylor looked down and took stock on himself. One leg raised, arms sticking out at his sides, one foot at knee height. He grinned a little, tucked himself up, moved the leg back, pulled his arms up. She was watching him with interest, obviously curious to see what he was doing. He hunched his back, stuck out his neck as far as he could.

"Squawk?" he asked. When she laughed again, falling backwards onto the bed, he pounced on her.

"I have no idea what kind of sound a flamingo makes," he murmured between kisses.

"Neither do I," she giggled. They lay there and laughed for a few minutes, then Marcus gently drew her into his arms again.

"I love you," he whispered, and kissed the young woman softly.

"I know," she replied. "I've known that for a long time, Marcus. I just don't know if I can say that I love you because I'm not sure if I do." He slid her pants over her hips, smiling down at her.

"That's okay," he told her. "I didn't think I'd ever say those words to another woman ever again." She looked at him curiously, tugging his belt loose.

"How so?" the Lt. asked.

"My last girl left me when I was on my first tour. I found out about it on my birthday. Hell of a way to celebrate. I'd been flat on my ass in-country to find out that she'd left me a few months after I shipped out."

"Really?" She was drawing away, sliding under the blanket. She looked so inviting there, her loosened hair forming a fan on the pillow.

"Really," he replied, sliding into bed next to her.

"Bitch," she said in response.

Zeke grinned. He'd shadowed the young LT to the hotel, had slipped up the stairs and watched discreetly as Taylor let her in. He didn't approve of the match, only heartache could come from it, but he was glad the boy had found someone. Taylor had been practically celibate in-country during his first tour, never doing more than kissing a boom-boom girl. When he'd re-upped, he'd confessed to his Sarge the real reason why. His girl had gone off and shacked up with some Jody back in the World. Only Zeke knew how much that had hurt him, how long he'd absolutely refused to touch anything female. Oh, sure, he'd been starting to get back on solid ground for a while, but that was only because of that little nurse he'd been chasing after. Lt. Patterson, though. She could definitely be good for the boy. He needed this afternoon. Sarge smiled to himself and slid away, grinning and hoping the couple wouldn't be disturbed. He was still smiling when he caught up with Lt Goldman.

"Zeke." The tone suggested the man was pissed off.

"You wanna go into Sin City, grab a couple of cold ones?" Zeke asked. He knew the officer had a lot on his mind and needed to talk about it.

"Let's go," Myron replied.

Alex smiled. Lt Patterson was well prepared. She'd left jokes set all over the base. One of them had been to swap Johnny's cologne with something that stank like garbage. The hole in Myron's towel had been most pleasing. SM Boyd had found a tack on his chair that morning, too dull to do any damage. That didn't stop his voice from going through the roof. The salt in Taylor's coffee was probably the worst one of the bunch. She'd heard about the shaving cream in Mjr Darling's toothpaste, and had seen three guys fall into the pit, now covered and filled in. Alex was wondering what else had gone on. She was still trying to find out what the woman's next joke would be.

"Hey, beautiful," Johnny said. She looked up.

"I'm starving. Let's go get lunch," Alex replied. She couldn't wonder on an empty stomach.

They settled themselves in the mess, and ate in silence for a few minutes.

Cassidy came in, looking as mad as always. He loaded a tray with food, set it at a table. When he sat down, the bench came flying up. A young, thin man went up with it. Cassidy sat on the floor with a shocked expression on his face. The young man turned out to be an officer. Poor Cassidy, Alex thought. He didn't know that bench would come up. She laughed anyway.

"Johnny," she said when she had herself under control, "why are the men eating here instead of their own mess?"

"Their mess was hit a few nights ago during the attack on the base. They cheered, then realized they had to eat this stuff," Johnny replied, stabbing at the mystery meat. Alex giggled.

"Where's Taylor?" Roo asked, coming to sit down by Danny as they got ready for the mission. Sweet joined them.

"Probably off with that Lieutenant," Danny replied. "None of my business, Roo. I'm gonna keep it that way."

"Maybe you shouldn't," Sweet spoke up. "Could mean your life." Percell glared at him.

"I'll leave it anyway," Danny replied. There was silence for a few minutes, then Roo glanced up.

"Don't tape it too tight, Sweet," he said. "You might never get it off!"

Sweet smiled in appreciation of the joke.

Their legs were in a tangle. The rumpled sheets were soaked with sweat. Her face had a satisfied smile plastered on it. He had his arms around her slim waist.

"Wow," she said when she could find the breath to speak.

"Wow," he agreed. He looked at her, at the chocolate skin, smooth and even. At the velvet brown eyes, filled with lust, satisfaction, and love. She smiled up at him.

"Fantastic," she murmured, leaning up to kiss him.

"Want to go again?" he asked.

Somebody stalked into the mess. It was the chaplain, Father Young. He was wearing an old-fashioned flowered dress, loose and sack style.

"Major Darling," he said, every word dropping like ice, "you need to do something about this joke epidemic. This was in place of my towel. Sir!" He left. Alex giggled. Johnny smiled. Patterson had outdone herself.

He was nuzzling her neck when someone knocked on the door. She drew the blankets up to her neck, calling softly,

"Who is it?"

"It's Quang," came the reply. Silence. "I have to talk to you, Camille." Marcus looked at her.

"Come in," she called, just as softly. "And close the door." He stepped in. Taylor tensed.

"You!" he snarled. "You damn near killed me!"

"You did just as good," Quang replied.

"Enough, both of you," Camille said sternly. "What do you want, Quang?" He looked at her.

"The information you asked for. It's here," he said curtly, handing her a folder.

"Keep it until tomorrow," she replied. "I'll be back in town then."

"You said today," Quang protested.

"Then put it in my shirt," she replied, "and get the hell out of here." Quang looked at Marcus as he was leaving.

"Treat her right," he said.

"Well?" Marcus asked.

"My brother married his sister, and he's my best contact. Good enough?"

"For now. Want to go again?"

Boyd grinned. He could hear them talking just beyond the door.

"I never met anyone like you before, Camille. I swear it," the specialist was saying.

"I've always been attracted to men like you, Marcus," she replied. "You're not afraid, and you go after what you want..." Well, that would explain why she didn't want Darling.

"I'm gonna find a way to make it work." He shared a glance with Hart.

"Let's not worry about that now. Let's just enjoy this afternoon." Not likely.

They burst in the door, Hart snapping a photo as Patterson sat up, Taylor holding the blanket at her ribs.

"What do you want, Sergeant Major?" she demanded hotly. Ooh, he was in trouble now.

"You been sticking your nose in a lot of places it doesn't belong. You don't find out anything about us, Major Darling and the rest of High Command don't have to see these photographs."

"You low-life p" Taylor started.

"You'll be court-martialed before you can get your pants on," Boyd replied.

"You'll be a private in Long Binh Jail!" Hart crowed. He snapped another photo.

"Next time you oughta pick someone with some class," SM Boyd said to Taylor.

"I did!" came the heated reply.They closed the door on the way out, slamming it shut.

How could they be so stupid? Zeke wondered. How could they get caught? There were 8x10's posted on the bulletin board. He wouldn't bother Taylor about it, just keep quiet. The boy needed some time to himself. Anderson considered telling Goldman about the pictures, but, judging from the furious look on his superior's face, the LT already knew. And wasn't pleased about it.

"How could he be so stupid, Anderson?" Goldman asked.

"Maybe he's in love, LT," Zeke replied calmly. Goldman snorted.

Danny heard the soft conversation between Johnson and Taylor.

"Stupid, brother" Johnson said.

"I know. Don't stop me from lovin' her."

"Didn't think it would."

"No. I mean, don't try to stop me from loving Camille." Oooh. That had to hurt. Just the tone the words were whispered in had to sting.

"I'm not going to."

"Somehow, I don't doubt that." A pause, then,

"Marcus? Do you really love her, or is it just attraction?"

"I love her, Marvin. I mean really love her."

"Heart and soul, huh?"

"Yes. Can we leave it now?"

"Tired?" A dry tone. From the pictures on the board, it was easy to guess why.

"Very." Matching Johnson tone for tone, and easily.

"Don't let Boyd and Hart get to you." That was from Sweet.

"Go to sleep," Taylor replied.

"If you're supposed to be with her, it'll happen. That's what my mother always used to say." Didn't Sweet know when to keep his mouth shut?

"My grandma used to say the same thing," Taylor said.

"Somehow, I don't think that will help you sleep," came a soft female voice from the door.


"Yeah. I just came to say good-bye. I'll probably be gone when you get back." By now everyone was awake, listening to the conversation.

"You promised."

"Don't mean nothin'. I'll keep my promise, but I can't guarantee what Boyd or Hart will do."

"Git," Taylor said.

"Don't I even get a kiss?"

"Not tonight. Go."

"If that's the way you want it." A long pause. Nobody moved, hardly dared to breathe.


"Yes?" So she hadn't moved.

"I love you."

"I know. I love you too." The tension seemed to ease from the air.

Camille stepped off the chopper. The last two days had gone by quickly. Making the dumbest mistake of her life by going to Mjr. Darling, then CID.

Saying good-bye to the second man she had ever loved. Maybe he was really the first. She had thought about that when she got on the chopper that morning.

"I love you," Marcus had said.

"I don't even know you," the door gunner had replied. On impulse, Camille had leaped off the chopper, pulled Taylor's head down, and kissed him thoroughly. She pressed a slip of paper into his hand, her new address.

"Love you too," she said, and released him.

She looked around. So this was Da Nang.

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