Though We are Lonely,
Though we are Scared,
and Even When We Stumble,
Our Mission is to Continue,
Means Answering the Call

(Part A)

by Heather M.

ATF Universe

No infringement of any legal ownership rights, be they individual or corporation, is intended.

A very big thank you to Lex and Helen for their beta work.

This is the fourth in the series “Christmas for Some, Means Answering the Call”. JD Dunne is an Army reservist who has been called to active duty and sent to Iraq. I have built this story around real events. To keep this a work of fiction these events are not one hundred percent accurate. No disrespect of any kind is intended.

Sources: The Toronto Star, March 21, 2004.

And, if something strikes you as familiar... a nod to Heidi for permission to use Be Still My Heart

The Ram shuddered every time a transport rumbled by. The morning commuter traffic whizzed by the black truck parked on the side of the road. A colourful sun-dog indicated it was going to be a bright but cold winter’s day. Chris hardly noticed any of these things as he sat in his truck on the roadside.

He’d been driving in to work when the seven a.m. news report came on. The news report had said one American soldier was dead, three others wounded in a surprise attack on a U.S. military base situated near Al-Qa’im. It had taken Chris a second to recognize why the word Al-Qa’im was familiar. The next thing he knew angry car horns were blaring. In that split second that he was distracted, the Ram had drifted into oncoming traffic.

Shaken by his sudden lose of concentration, he’d pulled over to the side of the road and stopped.

A full twenty minutes later he was still parked on the side of the road, his thoughts running back and forth. JD had said there were thousands of men stationed at Tiger Base; the chances of it being him were small. The kid attracted trouble like a magnet. The news report said the attack was on the Base, stands to reason it would be the sentries who were in the primary line of fire. According to his e-mail, JD had night patrol in one of the local villages right now. Duty rosters change as required. The kid was smart; he'd keep his head down, but JD still let his idealism influence his decisions.

He didn’t know, he just didn’t know, and he would have to wait for word. “Sonofabitch!” he swore out loud pounding his fist on the dash. He hated this. He just never figured someone as young and as green as JD would get posted to Iraq.

He hadn’t realized until now just how much JD’s absence had affected him. He had turned into his father. He was acting exactly as his father had after his elder brother Connor had gone off to Vietnam. Brooding, distant, going for days with hardly a word to anyone, he snorted gently at the thought that many people in the office would say he hadn’t really changed much. If they only knew. Big, bad-ass Chris Larabee had let his emotional attachments to his youngest agent interfere with doing his job. He should have been kicking ass weeks ago after the sloppy work on that bust.

Sitting here now Chris couldn’t believe he was actually considering placing the team on Community Outreach for the next six months. Presentations to service groups; liquor licensing checks; stakeouts at convenience stores to watch for liquor and cigarettes being sold to minors. Jesus! What had he been thinking of? If he had proposed anything like that before JD had left , he’d have had a mutiny and six resignations on his desk before he could finish his first cup of coffee. What’s worse, there had been hardly a fuss over the proposed change of duties! It was obvious the rest of them weren’t functioning well either.

What they needed to keep them on track here, to help cope with JD’s absence, was purpose. That’s what their jobs gave them and for his team that sure as hell didn’t mean chats with boy scouts troops. Leadership 101, Larabee! It was up to him to provide that purpose. He knew better. The first thing that meant was turning down the Community Outreach. NO! The first thing was the long overdue ass kicking. The military would let them know soon enough. God help them all if they were meant to travel that road but in the meantime life would go on.

He suddenly realized how cold he was parked on the side of the road. He turned the key in the ignition and after checking first he pulled back out into traffic and continued on into work.

~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~

“Any word?” The question came from Ezra. It had been forty-eight hours since the news report and still no e-mail from JD.

“You’re in early,” commented Josiah checking his watch as he walked past Ezra on his way to his desk.

“Careful, Ez, you’re gonna ruin your reputation if you keep this up,” said Vin, his feet up on his desk as he was cradling a cup of coffee with both hands. “In by eight two mornin’s in a row.” Vin shook his head and t’sked before taking a long swallow from the steaming mug.

“I’d say there’s reason for concern,” said Josiah sipping the scalding liquid as he lowered himself carefully into his chair.

“You feel alright?” Their resident healer loomed over him, deep brown eyes under a knitted brow, peered down at him, mock concern swirled in their depths.

“I’h am fine!” The southern accent thickened with indignation as Ezra swatted away the hand that reached over to check for a fevered brow.

It was with some sense of relief that Chris smiled to himself. Seated at his desk in his office he had heard every word from the bullpen. After weeks of library like silence from the other room, his little “debriefing” of the sloppy bust the other morning had had the desired effect and things were getting back to some semblance of normal. He rose to join the men in the other room.

“Go ahead, gentlemen, use me as your target for jest if you must, but first let me enquire as to how early each of you were in to check the e-mail?” The cool green gaze panned the faces in the room. Their replies were obvious by their sheepish expressions. “I thought as much.” Even from his office Chris could hear the triumph in Ezra’s tone of voice.

“I don’t know about the rest of you but a word from JD would go along way to settling my mind,” said Nathan glumly.

“No news from the military though,” Chris reminded them.

“...and in this case no news is good news.” Vin finished the thought for him.

“Yeah, but someone’s been notified by now.” There was an edge to Buck’s tone, belying the undercurrent of anger Buck was harbouring. “Someone’s grieving for their father, son or brother.”

“Then say a prayer for them, Buck,” Josiah’s quiet baritone offered Buck some consolation for his feelings.

Buck turned in his chair to face Josiah, “and if I’m honest, Josiah, that little prayer should include the fact that I’m thankful it’s not JD.”

Chris watched as the shock wave of guilt went through the room. The unspoken feeling that they all had to deal with, “Thank you God, it wasn’t JD, it wasn’t the person I care about.” They all tried to avoid it now, looking down, looking out the window, shifting self-consciously in their chairs, that feeling of relief, that JD was okay, followed by the feeling of guilt, for being relieved it was someone else. Buck’s bitter comment had brought it out into the open and it was uncomfortable.

Chris ran his hand slowly through his hair, as he gave some thought as to how to deal with this. He walked over to look down at Buck seated at his desk. Buck didn’t to look up at him.

“Buck, it’s normal and natural to be thankful that JD is safe.” Chris was worried about his old friend. Most people would say Buck kept his feelings on his sleeve, his love of woman, his love a good time, his sense of right and wrong, his loyalty, but if you really knew him, the stuff that matter to him the most was kept hidden away from everyone. “But no one in this room would honestly want JD’s safety at the price of someone else’s life.”

Buck nodded absently not looking up. The dejected man in the chair was not the Buck Wilmington they all knew. The usual façade of high spirits was crumbling under the stress of not knowing if JD was safe or not. “I know that, Chris, I just wish...” the voice trailed off.

“You can’t go there, Buck.” Chris could only sympathize with him, “It’ll drive you crazy if you do.”

~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~

It was nearly noon when six beeps signaling new e-mail echoed in quick succession through the office. Six men leaned toward their screens anxious to read the message.

Hi guys,

I’ve only got a minute. We’re swamped with messages here, so I guess you’ve heard.

I’m okay.

It was Jeff Doogan. It was at the end of his duty shift, three guys drove up with a wounded man asking for medical aid and then they just opened fire. He never had a chance. Jeff was the nicest guy you’d ever want to meet. Third generation military, his dad’s a major. Jeff had decided to do a stint in the military before going to college. It doesn’t seem fair, he was almost done, he was going home in three days.

After it happened they put a communications lockout in place. We had no phone or internet, I had to wait to contact you guys. It must have been hard on you. They don’t give many details to the news until the family’s notified. In the meantime the mood around here is pretty grim.

I think I finally get what the sarge has been trying to drill into my head about not getting complacent, you can never let your guard down around here.


~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~

JD lay on his side, his arms wrapped tightly around himself, his body rigid.

He couldn’t believe Jeff was gone.

He had been sitting in the mess, reading a motorcycle magazine three nights ago, when Jeff just came up to him and asked him if he owned a bike. The conversation had taken off from there. They talked about bikes, sports, family and girlfriends. They had a lot in common. Then Jeff had to leave to go on duty. They planned to meet again the next night. But it had happened at the end of Jeff’s duty shift. Now Jeff was dead, gone, just like that. JD couldn’t believe it.

He’d stood at attention as the honour guard lifted Jeff’s coffin, he couldn’t call it a transfer tube, Jeff hadn’t been transferred anywhere. He stood as Jeff’s coffin had been escorted up the ramp into the plane to take his body home and still JD couldn’t believe it.

He hoped he sounded alright in his e-mail home to the guys. He didn’t want them to worry about him. He had to learn to deal with this.

~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~

The six sat back in their chairs, expressions grim; their youngest was hurting.

JD knew a lot about this Jeff Doogan, which meant he and Jeff Doogan had been friends. They were too far away to read JD’s body language, to read his tone of voice, to see the loss in his eyes, too far away to help him. What a frustratingly helpless feeling!

One by one they leaned over their respective keyboards. The only thing they could do was let him know that they were thinking of him.

~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~

Lennie Krakower caught Sergeant Ingram’s eye and then nodded to the prone figure on his bunk. The seasoned veteran had trained a hundred newbies, The rigid spine told him all he needed to know. He’d seen it a hundred times before.

“Up, Dunne! You too, Randall, Alvarez, Tinley, on your feet! Let’s go, you assholes, I figured you ladies could use an extra patrol. You got twenty minutes.”

JD shut his eyes against the bellowing words. “Not now,” he pleaded in his thoughts, “Not now.”

“Dunne, did you hear me? On your feet!”

JD rolled stiffly off his bunk reaching for his body armour as he got slowly to his feet. Donning his helmet and shouldering his rifle JD followed the rest as they poured out of the tent jogging toward the waiting humvee.

“So good of you to join us, Dunne,” Ingram dropped the heavy sarcasm as he issued orders to the squad, each member acknowledging the order by repeating back to the sergeant. “Dunne, you’ve got point!”

“I got point, Sarge,” confirmed JD. His gazed wandered out the window and the humvee bumped along the road. JD didn’t see the look of concern that passed between Krakower and Ingram.

~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~

He was cold and he was tired but somehow he felt better.

JD sat on the edge of his bunk. He pulled tiredly at the laces of his boots, his body armour sat on the floor where he dropped it. He would put his stuff away before crawling into the sack.

Working point had taken a lot out of him. Usually Sarge would rotate the point man half way through shift. For some reason he didn’t this time.

The shift had been long and it had been hard to stay alert. By the end of it JD knew it would take time but he would learn to live with Jeff’s death… it was, their mission to continue.

~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~

Feb. 1

How was that for a Super Bowl! What a finish! Ezra I can’t believe you bet on the Panthers. I have to wonder you were doing it on purpose so I’d win, because I know you’d never let your allegiance to the south influence a bet.

They broadcast it live to us over the American Forces Radio and Television Service. They’d set up a wide screen TV to watch it. The mess tent staff stacked all the tables at the back. There must have been hundreds of us. There weren’t enough chairs for everyone, some stood, most of us sat on the ground. There was even pizza. A cold beer and it would have been perfect!

We were really late getting back from patrol - it was nearly one a.m. when we got in. It had rained all day and into the night, all the mud made walking slow but we made it in time for the kick off. One of the units came in straight from patrol, soaking wet, mud to their knees. Didn’t matter we just made room for them so they sit and put their M-16’s at their feet.

You should have heard the hoots and hollers when Justin Timberlake ripped open Janet’s Jackson’s top. Lennie Krakower, our corporal, he’s a real joker, he jumps up and yells, “Salute, you assholes ‘cause THAT is what we’re fighting for!” The roar he got just about knocked him over, then he got pelted with pizza crusts and pop cans. It was so funny!

I can’t tell you how good it felt to forget where we were for a little while and do something normal for a change.


~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~

There was some satisfaction, a sense of comradeship, in knowing JD had watched the game at the same time they had. In fact it sounded like he’d had more fun than they did.

Super Bowl 2004, for them was the usual party at the Ranch. Preparations included beer, suicide chili, chips and a huge black-forest cake, courtesy of Rain. Rain had planned to watch a “chick flick” with a couple of girlfriends, only to discover a surprise baby shower had been arranged instead.

There seemed to be an unspoken agreement beforehand, no one was going to comment on what JD would have thought about this or that during the game.

Then Toby Keith sang American Soldier and that was it. It brought them all down.

“It’s not like he’s dead or anywhere near it you know.” Nathan made an attempt to put things in perspective.

“The game is dedicated to him, kinda,” reasoned Vin.

“Look at it another way,” suggested Josiah, “he’s doing what he wants to be doing. It’s not so different than if he was working stakeout today.”

“If you looking at it from Mr. Sanchez’s point of view, gentleman, the worst thing about this situation is that he chose to wager on the wrong team.” Chris had to wonder if anyone else had caught the mischievous glint in Ezra’s eye.

“Whatta you mean WRONG TEAM,” bellowed Buck.

That’s all it took. Ezra had laid down the gauntlet and they were at it again.

There was the appropriate amount of cheering at yardage gains, touchdowns and turnovers. There was the appropriate amount of swearing at yardage losses, failure to “hold the line”, fumbles and interceptions. Too many times, chips were thrown at the TV and Chris roared his disapproval as a beer can went sailing across the room, just missing the wide-screen by a hair, when at last it was clear the Panthers had no chance to save the game.

Ezra may have bet JD the Panthers would win and then used the Panthers to bring up the spirits of his comrades but he would clean up at the office with the Patriots.

“It was sobering to think though,” mused Chris grimly to himself after reading the e-mail, “how much it had meant to the kid to do something “normal” for a change.”

~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~

God, he wished he could get some privacy.

He lay on his back with his arm draped over his eyes. He’d hardly slept last night. Yesterday’s patrol kept playing through his head. They’d come across a farmhouse that had been mortared.

They had passed this farmhouse many times before. Yesterday they could smell burning shell residue for some distance before they came upon it. There were holes in the roof and the one side of the house. Standing orders were they investigate.

The smell as they approached the dwelling turned his stomach; the sight was even worse. Randy had bolted out of the modest house ahead of him. JD fell heavily to his knees beside him and heaved into the dirt.

JD had seen death before but not like this. The shattered little bodies of the children, adults with limbs missing, insects had already begun the job of nature’s way of cleaning up…. Oh God, he wished he could get the images out of his head.

He sat up suddenly swinging his feet over the side of his bunk. He sat, elbows on his knees, hands over his eyes trying to rub the images out with his palms.

“Hey, Dunne!”


“Ya got mail!”


“Mail! You know, letters.” The corporal held up a large envelope and shook it. “Sounds like a whole bunch here for ya.”

JD took the envelope from the clerk’s outstretched hand.

“Whoever sent ‘em screwed up on the address, this shoulda been here weeks ago.”

JD sat and stared at the envelope. It was in Ezra’s handwriting. It had him worried for a minute that something was wrong at home and he quickly slit the envelope open and poured the contents onto his bunk. He pushed the smaller individual envelopes around on the blanket, recognizing the handwriting on each.

He picked up the one from Vin. He didn’t have to worry about privacy now, everyone with mail would be spending the next few minutes home with family and friends.

~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~

Hey there JD,

Things are back to normal around here, sort of. Chris has given up on the Community Outreach projects I was telling you about in the e-mail. We’re all pretty happy about that let me tell you. Just the thought of public speaking scares the crap out of me, give me an army of gunrunners any day compared to that. Ezra figured with our luck we’d end up doing liquor license checks in the back of nowhere. Wouldn’t that be asking for trouble? I could just see one of us taking a load of buckshot in the butt from a bunch of moon-shiners.

Chris had been pretty quiet since you left, too quiet. Buck noticed and it had him worried Chris was taking to some of his “old” ways, if you get my drift. Mary phoned me, she was real worried cause Chris was pushing her away. Then I don’t know what happened but the other morning he comes roaring in here meaner than sin. Hauls us all into his office and chews us out royally over a sloppy bust a couple of weeks back. It was about damn time. We were all working hard not to grin like fools by the time he threw us out of his office.

Buck seems to be pretty much himself. Well, most of the time. Every now and again I catch him sitting real quiet starring at your desk. I know that encyclopedia of a little black book of his has been getting a real work out since you left. I guess he’s finding the CDC pretty lonely these days so he’s keeping busy the only way he knows how.

Nate’s put on a few pounds. Rain’s been cooking steady since you left. Since your first email I figure the army has transported close to a ton of her fudge to you by now. Nate says it’s her way of dealing with things. It’s not about the baby she worried about. It’s you. Now Nate’s all worried she’s going to stress herself out and bring the baby on sooner than she should. I was over the other night helping Nate put the new crib together and I got a chance to talk with Rain. She was saying their (is it they’re, I know it’s not there, damn I can never keep those 3 strait) anyway their going to the doctor every two weeks now and her blood pressure is still real good. I think she just needs to keep busy and getting as big as she is, cooking is one of the few things she can still do. Rain looks great by the way, all pregnant lady sparkly you know.

Ez was being more Ez than usual for a while there, coming in later than usual, mouthyer than usual. I think he was trying to purposely piss Chris off to get a rise out of him. Now that Chris is back to normal, so is Ez, mostly anyway. I don’t think Ez is doing as well as he wants us to believe. We got Brad Stenning to man the communications van short term while your (or is that you’re, not sure) gone. First bust he didn’t do so well, (lets face it, whose as good as you?) Ez got really pissed at him for failing to record the first part of the bust and when Ez found out Stenning didn’t have it on the back up recording either Ez nearly reamed the guy a new one. Yeah Ezra P. Standish, angry as all get out! Never seen him like that before. If Josiah and Buck hadant dragged him off so he could cool off, I think Ez’d be up on assault charges right now. Stenning requested an immediate transfer. You’ll get a kick out of this, Stenning’s replacement’s name is Putz, no kidding, Otto Putz.

Josiah’s still the same, reliable and steady as always. He’s coping in his own way with you being gone. You know how cause of his upbringing he’s not really into regular church religion but he’s just sort of spiritual on his own? I know he’s taken to going to Mass regularly lately. Sometimes even over the lunch hour, he’ll catch the noon Mass at St. Stephen’s. I know cause I went with him once, now don’t get any ideas, I was just interested is all.

I talk to Casey once a week or so to see how she’s doing. She says she’s pretty busy with school and work and all but I think she misses you pretty bad. Even though she graduates at the end of this term, she hardly mentions that and talks mostly about what the two of you’ll do when you get home. I know Buck’s keeping a pretty close eye on her too. They get together every couple/3 weeks or so to have supper. They both miss you and worry about you a lot.

I’m fine except I’m finding the days are long around the office.

I’m beginning to see what Josiah means about a letter being more private. There’s stuff I can tell you in a letter that I know only your eyes will see, that I wouldn’t want to risk putting in an e-mail and I figure you should know what’s going on around here without the sugar coating.

Don’t worry about us, we’ll manage here we still got each other to watch our backs. In the meantime you stick to your training, listen to your Sarge, no matter how big a prick you think he is and keep your head down and you’ll make it though this just fine.


The images of the day before were gone for the moment as JD stretched out on his back to read the rest of the letters. He curled one arm up and around beneath his head. He held the pages in the other hand. He was confused as to why they would send letters rather than just e-mailing. The idea struck him as sort of quaint. Then Vin mentioned in his letter about it being more private. That was true. The e-mail wasn’t really secure. It had him wondering just who all might be reading what he was writing to Casey and, oh God, who was reading what she was writing back! Just thinking about what she had written in the last e-mail had his body stirring uncomfortably in his fatigues. After the last one, maybe he better ask her to put that stuff in a letter from now on.


I hope this letter finds you well and in good spirits. It is in response to Mr. Sanchez’s suggestion that I now pen this missive to you. I can state in the affirmative as to the health and well being of those of us here at home. Though, in truth, your absence is keenly felt.

Mr. Larabee, up until recently, had all but withdrawn from our group. He was considering a change of duty for our little group, a nightmarish change of responsibilities too gruesome to go into here. It would seem he simply needed some time to adjust to your absence. I can assure you he is once again his usual disagreeable self.

Mr. Jackson is somewhat preoccupied with Mrs. Jackson and the impending birth of their first child. He is as conscientious as always when it comes to his work but otherwise he seems some what unfocused. As well it would seem he is becoming rather plump, no doubt because of Rain’s sudden increased interested in culinary endeavors. Certainly I must say Rain is looking particularly lovely these days.

Mr. Tanner misses his partner in crime as it were when it comes to practical jokes. I think too, he misses someone closer to his own age to share his interests in music and electronic games with. He adamantly denies it but I’m sure he mumbled something about “old fogeys” the other day.

Mr. Sanchez took great exception to the remark.

I fear Mr. Wilmington misses you most of all. He tries hard to hide it, but I cannot remember when the last time was that I heard his laughter booming through this office.

JD, we are as mismatched a group of individuals as one would ever find. Yet, under Mr. Larabee’s leadership, we have learned to accept each other for our respective selves, gifts and faults included. As such we have became much more than co-workers, even more than friends. Until recently I did not truly realize how close we had become. We are very much like what I had often envisioned a family was. Our group has not been whole since you left and will not be until you return. In the meantime we draw on each other’s strength when our own flags. Do not worry about us, for we still have each other. You concern yourself only with the challenges you now face. Please give my regards to Randy, Lennie, and the rest of your comrades in arms, even your Sergeant Ingram.

E.P. Standish Esq.

Dear JD,

It’s the middle of the afternoon on Sunday. I’m trying to be quiet so Rain can sleep. She’s getting really big now and she’s pretty tired by the end of the week and sleeps a lot on the weekends.

I was having trouble thinking of something to write until now. I’ve been sitting here watching the goings-on on our street. There’s a bunch of boys playing street hockey in front of the Bennett’s. Ed & Karen Rowley, three doors down, have just pulled into their driveway, the kids pile out of the van, they’ve just returned from Church. I watch as young Stuart Epstein walks up their driveway and hands them the Sunday paper and they stop and talk with him for a minute.

Raj Chohan waves to them before he drives off, his van is loaded with kids. He was joking with me the other day that he must have done something wrong, because his girls play hockey and his son figure skates. “But it’s a free country,” he says shrugging and laughing, “if my son wants to figure skate, who am I to say he can’t?”

I wave and smile out the window to Chico and Miriam Martinez, as they walk by pulling So-Ra on a sled. It’s hard to believe the daughter they adopted from Korea is now two years old.

I’ve been where you are JD. I was 22 when I went to the Gulf. For me it was a way to get a college education. But after I got home I realized there was more to it.

JD, sometimes it’s going to be hard to remember why you’re there. But I can tell you it’s about the street I live on. People from every background, live here and live free to practice their religion, marry, raise a family and live in a land with laws to help protect them. Whatever the people of Iraq decide to do after this war, they will be free to choose and freedom of choice is what it’s all about.

Keep your mind on the job, JD. Rain and I are both very proud of you and send our love,



When you left I was reminded of my tours in Vietnam. I remembered how much letters meant to us. I remember the feeling of comfort to have something tangible from home that I could hold in my hand. I thought you might find the same comfort.

In Nam I was younger than you are now. I joined up because I needed a job and a place to call home but part of me was looking for adventure.

I’m guessing you learned about the Vietnam War in school. What the books may not tell you is that a lot of those experiences were deeply troubling to many of us who went. Many of those experiences are with me still. Good or bad those experiences have helped shape the man I am. Your tour in Iraq will do the same for you.

You’re going to have to deal with some tough things while you’re there; a soldier always does in a time of war. As a Catholic you’re going to question how God could let such things happen. I wish I could provide you with more than platitudes except to say, God doesn’t choose to do evil, men do.

No God, not Allah, not Budda, not Jehovah would ever choose war. Yet it still happens.

In that place where you are now there will be times when it seems the world is devoid of a God of any kind. Hold on to your faith. Remember to go to Mass and remember your prayers. Remember there are people back here at home who love you and we’ll be here waiting for you when you get home.



When Josiah explained why we were writing letters to you I didn’t know what to put in mine. I write reports. Writing to me is the communication of facts, figure, stats and information. I never even wrote a letter to Sarah, just scribbled my name in a card on anniversaries and birthdays.

So here’s what I want to communicate to you. I think I was a good father to Adam and if Adam had turned out to be half the man you are, I’d have thought that I had done a good job.

JD, you do the ATF proud, the team proud, I know your mother would be proud and not that it should matter after your mother but I’m proud of you too.

Concentrate on doing your job and we’ll see you in July.


The last envelope had Buck’s great looping scrawl on the front. How could someone write that big and still be nearly illegible?

Hey Kid,

When the others told me about writing these letters I didn’t know what I should write about. Josiah said this was one of those times to say things that usually go unsaid and I got to thinking.

You know the only family I ever had was Ma. I’m not sure if she knew who my pa was but that didn’t matter. She was a kind and honest person and a damn good mother. Strict with me but then that’s what I needed. Then came Chris and with him Sarah and Adam and I got a real understanding about family. When Sarah and Adam died I stood by Chris because that’s what family does.

What you may not know is that when I call you kid, it doesn’t mean I think of you as young or inexperienced. You are but I know you can take care of yourself. You were doing that long before I came along. It’s because somehow, somewhere along the way I got to thinking of you as family and kid is just short for kid-brother. I’m going to worry, that’s a given; that’s what family does.

Keep your head down, kid.


He was seated now on the side of his bunk, fighting hard to hold back the tears… and failing. “What the hell are they trying to do to me? How am I supposed to keep from bawling after this? Chris never talked to me personally about Adam before and now he tells me he’d have been proud if Adam had turned out like me. Vin, I’ve never known him to be so long winded just to let me know that everyone was missing me, and Ezra, of all people, Ezra talking about family. Rain and Nathan proud- Josiah, even from this distance looking to provide me something to hang on to when the going gets tough- and Buck that big goof! Kid brother jeez!”

“Hey, Denver!”

Tinley! Damn Tank anyway, the big guy always shows up when you don’t want him to! “Yeah!”

“Where the hell are ya? Sarge wants us, we gotta go. Now!’

JD could feel Tank’s eyes on him as he turned away from the big man hastily stuffing the letters back into their envelopes. Hoping Tank hadn’t got a look at the tears that had tracked down his cheeks.

“Letters from home?”

“Yeah.” To JD’s horror, he choked on pent up tears. He waited for the merciless razzing he was sure would follow.

“They’ll do it to a guy every time.”

~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~

March 1

Hi Guys,

Another fun-filled week at Tiger Base, at least the nights are warming up a little but that means more mud to tramp through on patrol. As if this place wasn’t already choking on mud.

The Sarge and Lennie Krakower were on some sort of Intel briefing today. They needed a computer geek so I was fingered to help a Captain Dale hand out something called sympathy payments. Captain Dale has one of the worst jobs in this war.

He processes claims under the Foreign Claims Act. It covers damages and wrongful deaths amongst the civilian population. He checks each person’s claim against a database of military incident reports. If they match the military pays the civilian claimant. It’s not much - one man lost his wife and 6 kids and a brother and a sister when an American missile destroyed his home. Captain Dale could only pay him the maximum, $6,000. I know no amount of money is going to replace his family but 6,000 bucks?

Then there was this boy Ayad, he’s about 12 I guess. He was tending cows near his home when unexploded cluster munitions went off. It embedded bits of metal and dark blue gunpowder dots all over his face. One cornea was scorched leaving him blind in that eye. You can tell he used to be a really good-looking kid. He came with his father, to make a claim, for money to pay for eye surgery.

These are just two people Captain Dale talked with today. He’s really amazing. You can’t imagine all the grief and heartache he’s had to deal with when interviewing claimants just today alone. All he could do to help was say I’m sorry and process the claim. I still feel numb from today and he’s been doing this twice a week for months and still somehow he manages to deal with each claimant professionally and compassionately. He’s twenty-seven, you’d think he was forty-seven, he looks burnt right out. And I thought searching people’s homes as part of Rifle Blitz was bad.

I was angry with these people. They made me feel guilty for I don’t know what exactly. Then I was angry at myself for feeling sympathy for them. I tried thinking about Jeff Doogan but it didn’t help. Neither Jeff, that kid Ayad or the man who lost his whole family deserved what happened to them. After today I wish I knew that what I was doing here was making a difference.

Back to my real life for a minute, would one of you guys do me a really big favour? The formal at Denver U is sometime in the middle of March. It’s a really big deal and I’d like Casey to go. She wanted to last year but we’d just met, I was thinking of taking her and then the Pirelli bust went sour and I spent the rest of March with my leg in a cast. Could one of you take her? You’ll probably have to talk her into going but she’s graduates this year so it’s her last chance to go. I don’t want her to miss out just because I’m here. Just so you know what you’re getting into, it’s black tie, tuxedos, corsages, the whole nine yards.


Nathan disqualified himself on the grounds that the baby was due at the end of March and he didn’t want to commit to something this important only to have to pull out at the last minute if Rain went into labour. Vin said he’d do it if no one else was willing or able but this type of fancy dress affair just wasn’t his thing. At that point both Buck and Ezra volunteered, leaving both Josiah couldn’t help but feel relieved. He was more than willing to take Casey so she wouldn’t miss such an important event but by virtue of the time it was in his life he realized that an older male friend wasn’t the most appropriate companion for such a function. He imagined Chris felt the same way. Buck wasn’t really much younger than Chris but with Buck it was more an attitude than chronological age.

What was surprising was the argument that ensued as to who would take Casey. Ezra made the case that he was very familiar with the protocol of such functions and was well aware as to what was expected of an escort, as well as being able to take Casey in style in the jag and he did in fact own a tux. Buck argued that he was JD’s partner and as such this was an obligation that naturally fell to him.

Nathan settled it by suggesting they draw straws for the honour.

Buck lost.

Josiah caught a brief flicker of disappointment in Buck’s eyes. Interpreting this look as Buck feeling as if he was letting JD down in some way he suggested that just to be on the safe side should anything unexpected happen that Ezra couldn’t go that Buck would be available to step in.

So it was decided, Ezra would take Casey and Buck would be his backup.

~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~

Nathan sat and rocked slowly back and forth, controlling the gentle swaying with his feet. He watched Alicia Jade Jackson as she slept. She was so perfect, he thought to himself. A perfect little bow shaped mouth, perfect little eyelashes rested on smooth and incredibly soft cheeks. One perfect little fist had managed to escape from the blanket. Every so often the fingers would spread like a starfish showing off her perfect little fingernails and a row of dimples at the base of each finger on the back of her hand. He watched now as those fingers slowly curled up again.

Nathan had been worried. Labour had begun late Wednesday evening the 10th. Rain’s water had broken in the small hours of Thursday morning, dashing Nathan’s hopes that it might have been false labour. It was too soon. Rain’s due date was the 30th of March. The doctor had dismissed his concerns by telling him, “Nature keeps its own schedule.” In the end everything went well and Alicia Jade Jackson graced the world at seven minutes after seven Friday morning.

Nathan smiled down at his daughter and decided she took after her mother. Rain slept soundly in the bed beside them; after thirty-five hours of labour she was exhausted.

“Your uncles will be here to meet you soon,” he said to her. “All but one that is. He’s far away and doesn’t even know he’s a “niece” Uncle yet.” Nathan smiled at JD’s term for “boy or girl” when he’d said good-bye to them at Christmas. “JD very much wanted to be here when you were born but he is answering his country’s call to duty just now.”

He raised her gently to plant a kiss lightly on her forehead. “Alicia, your name means “noble and truthful”, he whispered, “and Jade is the closest girl-name to “JD” your Mama could think of.” It had already been decided that Alicia Jade Jackson’s christening would wait until her namesake uncle’s return.

He watched as she slept and as new fathers do, his mind wandered with dreams of her future, skinned knees, long division, sports, make-up, boys… he knew about girls, he had two older sisters, strong intelligent, determined women. Then out of no where, the pictures of the young women he had seen on the CNN website sprang to mind. The pictures were of beautiful, young women of all ages and races, a pilot, nurses, clerks. They all wore wide confident smiles in their pictures. All of them had fallen during this conflict.

A great weight suddenly descended on his chest. The thought of his baby daughter going off to war struck him hard. Tears sprang to his eyes. He now understood a memory that had haunted him for more than dozen years now. That memory was the look in his father’s eyes when he had left for the Gulf. Spending a lifetime raising your child, only to have them die in a land far away from home. A single tear escaped and travel slowly down his cheek, “God help me, I don’t think I could survive that,” he thought to himself.

~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~

JD sat up suddenly on his bunk. He threw his feet over and side and sat with his head in his hands and his elbows on his knees. He was frustrated at not being able to fall sleep. Today’s patrol had ended with their third fire fight in a week

The anniversary of President Bush declaring war on Iraq was close and as expected the insurgent activity was heating up. He had to admit he was damn glad he wasn’t stationed in Fallujah or Baghdad right now. Those poor bastards sure had a lot on their plate.

No one had been hurt today but it always left him feeling a little shaky and uptight for hours afterwards. He was always afraid of making a mistake that would get one of the others or all of them killed. He pulled on his pants and a jacket and quietly crept out of his tent.

Looking up at the clear night sky he drew a deep slow breath and thought of home.

Back home, it would be late Friday afternoon and Casey would be getting ready for the formal. When Ezra had asked her, she had said she didn’t want to go. Ezra had appealed for his help in convincing her and JD had e-mailed her that he wanted to her to go and it would make him unhappy if she missed it because he was here. Wasn’t that the whole reason he was here in the first place, to protect their way of life? Only then did she agree.

He smiled to himself. He knew Casey would enjoy being driven in the Jag and Ezra’s would dazzle everyone with his fine manners without overdoing it.

He hunched his shoulders against the cold and walked toward the mess tent in search of a cup of coffee. The end of March was approaching; he was almost halfway home.

~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~

Bent over his desk Buck looked for all intents and purposes as if he were focused on the work in front of him. In fact he had his full attention on the man across the room. Buck looked over at Ezra; the man’s shoulders shook with the effort of containing yet another coughing fit.

“Ezra, you look awful.”

“I fear, Mr. Jackson, that I have finally succumbed to the malady which has plagued this office for the last two weeks.”

“You mean you caught that flu that’s been going around?”


“It’s a tough one alright,” replied Buck sympathetically but inside he was leaping with glee.

Buck had brought this particular flu bug back from a three day trip to Washington. After two weeks he was looking himself again. Chris had spent two days in bed with it. Buck couldn’t remember that last time Chris took a day off sick, not even when he was drinking. It was Vin’s second day back at work and he still looked pale and drawn. Lacking in energy, he sat now holding his head in his hands. Josiah was the only one presently home in bed with it.

Nathan sat across the room eyeing them warily. He wore a surgical mask over his nose and mouth; he was hoping desperately he wouldn’t get it. One, because he didn’t want to take it home to Rain and Alicia and two, because quite frankly, he was getting more rest in the office than at home these days. No one had warned him of the nocturnal tendencies of newborns.

Ezra now held out the keys to the jag. “I fear by this time tomorrow, Mr. Wilmington, I will look closer to death then to life and I do not want to disappoint Miss Wells. Take the Jag as my way of an apology to Casey for having to renege on my previous promise. I ordered her a corsage. It’s at the Rose Bowl Florists on Waverly. It is only 10:30, you still have time to rent a tux at Sergio’s for tomorrow night.

Buck smiled and took the keys. “Ya want me to drive you home now, Ezra?”


~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~

“Hey, guys, look I’m an uncle!”

JD held up the photograph of Alicia Jade Jackson resting in her mother’s arms for the rest to see.

Randy took the photo, and smiled. “She’s a beauty, JD. I’m guessing that’s her momma?”

“Yeah, that’s Rain, she sends the fudge. Says here she weighed 6 lbs, 9 ounces, born March 12. She was nearly 3 weeks early but she’s healthy, especially her lungs according to Nathan.”

Lennie, TJ Alvarez and the rest in the tent within earshot wandered over to take a look at the picture. Letters and pictures from home were special, a welcome break from the monotony and insanity they were living, a taste of what they were here to preserve. They each complimented JD on his niece and passed the photo and their own quizzical expressions on to the next man.

Tank Tinley, a “Diplomatic Corps” drop-out, finally asked, “Hey, Denver, just exactly who are you related to that makes this little lady your niece?”

JD looked up from the letter, mystified as to what Tank was asking him. “Whattaya mean?”

Tank rolled his eyes before asking, “Like, is her Daddy your brother?”

“No! Oh! Hey! “Uncle” it’s an honorary title I guess you could say. I work with Nathan.”

“Nathan?” Lennie asked, “Nathan Jackson, really tall black guy, hands the size of baseball gloves?”

“Yeah, I guess so, I never really checked out his hands.”

“You said he was trained as an EMT. Did he serve?”

“Yeah, he was a medic in the Gulf war.”

“Jeez, you’re kidding! He did this!” Lennie drew up one leg of his skivvies, despite the cold Lennie always seemed to be in his shorts when he was off duty, revealing more than JD wanted to know about and showing off a jagged red scar that ran up the inside of his leg disappearing up into his crotch.

“He did that?”

“Yeah, he saved my life.”

Many of the soldiers wandered back to what they had been doing, most of them had heard Lennie Krakower’s stories before.

Lennie sat down beside JD and launched into this story. “I was ten weeks out of basic, green as grass, when I was sent over to the Gulf. We were walking between tanks when the vibration set off a mine, I caught a piece of shrapnel, it nicked the… whatta call it… ahh the female artery.”

“I think you mean “femoral” artery.”

“Yeah but “female” sounds better,” replied Lennie with a leering grin. “Anyway I figure I‘m done for when this black guy shows up outta nowhere. He’s telling me everything is going to be okay. Man, it’s funny the things you remember, his voice was deep and calm but I could tell he’s working like a bastard to stop the bleeding. I wake up two days and find out our unit had gotten too far ahead in the push. We’d been cut-off for 36 hours. The only way to save my life was field surgery. Jackson’d never done anything like that before but they got a doc on the field line to talk him through it. He saved my life,” Lennie gave JD a sly wink, “and he made sure I could still please the ladies.”

Turning away from Lennie JD shook his head. He wasn’t sure what to think, all this was news to him. Nathan hadn’t ever said much about the Gulf War.

“Jackson never talked about it I guess?” asked Lennie.

“No, never, like I knew he was a medic, but he’s never said much about what happened in the Gulf.”

“Yeah, that’s sorta usual, ya know. It’s not like it just happens to come up in passing or something. Most guys don’t like to talk about what they did in any conflict. It brings out stuff they would rather forget, ya know? They don’t want to deal with it every day so it’s like they keep it back there when it happened.”

“Makes sense.”

“Look, Dunne, I’ve known the Sarge a long time. I know he’s been leaning on you and Randy pretty hard but he isn’t such a bad guy. It’s his job to make sure everyone else does their job and stay’s in one piece ya know. This war was s’pose to be quick, instead it’s gone on longer than anyone woulda thought. He’s tired of sending men home hurt or worse, ya know?”

“I guess.”

“Spit it out, Dunne.”

“He seems to enjoy kicking ass a little too much if you ask me.”

Lennie scowled. “No one’s askin’ you. It’s his job and be damn glad he’s good at it. You’re more likely to get outta here in one piece, you ungrateful snot. The honour of kickin’ your ass has cost him a lot. He’s got a couple of sweet daughters that he doesn’t get to see much since his divorce.”

“So why didn’t he quit instead of getting divorced?”

“Being a civy in real life you wouldn’t understand,” said Lennie shaking his head. “Sarge committed to the military long before he met Carleen. Military life is hard on family, especially the wives. The service always comes first, family second. The best thing in his life is Carleen and those two girls. At least now when he goes to visit them, he’s one hundred percent theirs, the whole time he’s with them.”

~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~


Nettie made to move to invite him in as he stood on her doorstep as flakes of freshly fallen snow gathered in his hair.


Buck knew he was not one of Nettie’s favorite people; nonetheless he was a little taken aback by the chill in her voice at his spoken name.

“I’m here to take Casey to the formal.”

“I know you are,” she replied brusquely, making no move to invite him in.

“Can I come in?”

Nettie pursed her lips before taking a single step to the side.

It wasn’t exactly an invitation but it was all Buck figured he was going to get. He stepped past Nettie, who had left just enough to allow the big man to squeeze by her, to stand in her front hallway.

She made no move to invite him in any further and he stood for a long minute as the snow on his hair melted and began to trickle through his hair inching slowly down the back of his neck. Nettie didn’t move, she stood staring up at him making him feel ill at ease. Buck smiled weakly down at Nettie. The old woman responded by glaring back at him. Buck quickly lost the smile; for the life of him he couldn’t figure out what he’d done to deserve this cool reception.

“Do you know what you’re doing, Buck Wilmington?”

“I’m taking Casey to the University Formal, ma’am.”

Buck was confused as he watched Nettie’s annoyed expression deepen into anger, “Is that what you think you’re doing! I’m no fool, young man!”


“Just because you both miss that young man doesn’t mean you’re going to find what you’re looking for in each other. I won’t have my niece hurt.”

It took Buck a second to realize what Nettie was talking about. “Now hold on! I…”


He looked up suddenly and was taken by the vision at the top of the stairs.

Her dress was turquoise. The material had a reflective quality that shimmered as she moved. The light in the hallway danced and glistened off the dress. In a lit ballroom she would absolutely glow. The neckline was scooped to reveal flawless milky white cleavage. All winter Casey had worn turtlenecks and sweaters against the cold, Buck had never thought of Casey as having cleavage.

He stood mesmerized as she slowly made her way down the stairs toward them.

“Well, what do you think?” she asked smiling, as she stretched her arms out and turned slowly for his inspection.

Casey wore her hair up. A few loose wisps of curl had escaped lending an element of softness to her face. She wore daisy shaped diamond earrings and a matching diamond pendant on a delicate silver chain graced her neck. JD had wanted to give her a birthstone gift for Christmas only to discover that April’s birthstone was a diamond. She suspected the set had been more than he had budgeted for but he had bought it for her anyway. The jewelry was in fact too small to truly complement the dress but they had been JD’s Christmas gift to her this year and she wanted to wear them.

“Well uh,” Buck tugged briefly at his collar before clearing his throat. “Casey, darlin’, I’m speechless.”

“Aunt Nettie?”

“You look beautiful, honey.”

“Beautiful! You’re down right gorgeous! Have you got a big stick hidden in that little purse of yours? You’re gonna need to fend ‘em off with ‘cause the way you look they’ll be way too many of ‘em for me to handle alone.”

Casey laughed. “Buck, that is so lame.”

“It’s the truth, darlin’,” exclaimed Buck.

“You don’t look so bad yourself.”

He’d left his overcoat unbuttoned revealing the tuxedo he wore underneath it. The dress suit fit like a glove accenting how trim he was. He was proud of the fact there was no middle age spread here.

“Why thank you Casey, I guess we just might have to share that big stick.”

~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~

He was sure he heard it before he felt it.

The humvee seemed to lurch beneath them. For a split second, JD wondered if they had rolled over a mine. Then he was aware of the Ingram yelling out them to get out and get out fast.

They ran full tilt following Ingram back the way they had just come. JD could make out the black smoke and the humvee they had passed traveling the other way. It was now on its side. JD’s only thought was that it must have been one hell of a blast to roll the mighty vehicle.

Then JD heard the god-awful shrieking. Men were either heaving themselves or helping their buddies out of the side that was now up in the air. None of these men were doing anything more than moaning. The shrieking was terrifying him. Following the sarge around the side of the hummer he discovered the shrieking was coming from a soldier lying on the ground beside it. It took a moment for JD to realize what had happened. The man writhed on the ground, his arm extended underneath the humvee, pinning him. There wasn’t any space between the heavy vehicle and the ground. His arm had been crushed. A medic traveling in the medical transport behind them was already on his knees beside the soldier. Working fast he applied a tourniquet to the soldier’s upper arm. A sergeant with blood running down his face screamed at the medic to hurry. The soldier on the ground was silent now and had stopped moving.

Ingram’s voice came to JD’s ears. “Shoulders into it.” Automatically JD moved quickly to brace himself against the humvee along side the others.

Then JD started to push. The bloody faced sergeant yelled “Not yet” at them. JD went still.

“Now!” bellowed the medic.

Push he did with all the adrenaline fed strength he had.

He could hear Lennie but he couldn’t see him. Lennie was somewhere calling them bastards and yelling at them to pull.

The humongous vehicle began to lift slowly.

“More,” yelled the medic.

JD leaned into the hummer with more strength than he ever thought he possessed. With a groan the vehicle suddenly went over, crashing down onto all four wheels.

JD watched as the medic prepared an I.V. The medic’s unit comrades set a stretcher down beside the prone man. At the word of the medic they quickly but gently lifted the now one-armed soldier onto the litter. The medic trotted along beside holding the I.V. bag in the air as the stretcher bearers, using quick sure footed steps, ran over to their transport and loaded the solder in and sped off. It was less than eight minutes since the land mine went off.

“Randall, Dunne, Alvarez, perimeter,” bellowed Sergeant Ingram.

JD immediately spied Brain Randall and T.J. Alvarez. Without words they moved to establish a perimeter around the accident.

“Tank, get the hummer.”

“On it, Sarge!” acknowledged Tank Tinley. He had been standing on the other side of the humvee they had just righted. He dropped the rope he and Lennie had been heaving on to help right the vehicle and ran back up the road toward their transport.

“Lennie, help me with these men,” ordered Ingram.

One by one Ingram, Lennie and Tank helped the rest of the soldiers from the blasted hummer into their vehicle. None of the others looked any worse than shaken-up with cuts, scraps and bruises. The sturdy humvee had saved the rest of them from any serious injury. Then Lennie climbed in behind the wheel and sped off towards camp.

The whole time, JD couldn’t help but glance back again and again at the bloody spot where the remains of the soldier’s arm lay. The blood turned black as it slowly seeped into the cracked and frozen earth. Soon only a gelatinous material composed mostly of skin, veins and pulverized bone was all that remained.

JD’s unit stood watch until they were relieved by an investigations unit.

Despite every effort Corporal Terrence Briggs died of shock before he reached Tiger Base.

~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~

The ballroom at Clark Hall had been transformed into a Hawaiian Paradise, the theme for this year’s formal. The engineering class had outdone themselves with light emitting diodes used as starlight accurate to the night sky seen from Hawaii, a waterfall and even a working volcano. The decorating committee had decorated the waterfall and tables with synthetic orchids and surrounded the dance floor with a Hawaiian jungle. The background music was Hawaiian tunes interspersed with the sounds of water falls and bird song indigenous to Hawaiian Islands.

Buck entered the hall with and Casey on his arm. They paused a moment in the doorway while Casey searched the room for her friends. Maybe it was the years of training but Buck couldn’t help but be aware of the looks they were drawing. Correction, the looks Casey was drawing. She certainly looked particularly lovely tonight.

“There they are,” said Casey nodding in the direction of her friends.

They made their way over to the table where her friends had saved seats for them.

He had met a few of her girlfriends before but none of their dates. After introductions he took orders for a round of drinks and went to the bar. He returned a short time later with a tray full of brightly coloured drinks decorated with plastic flowers and bird figures and a couple of beers.

It was then the tinkling of spoon against a wine glass could be heard as the Master of Ceremonies called them to order.

“I want to take this opportunity to welcome Mr. Daly, President of this University, our honoured guests, Undergraduates and their guests to the 2004 Hawaiian Nights Formal. In consideration of the challenges we now face as a nation and in recognition of classmates, friends and family now serving in the conflict in Iraq, I would like to deviate from the usual protocol and call on everyone here to stand and sing our National Anthem followed by “God Bless America”.”

The gathering rose and sang. Though their expressions were somber, their voices rose in song.

The MC spoke again. “While we are still standing I’d like to call on Padre Lassiter to lead us in saying Grace.”

When the Padre asked God to protect and keep our soldiers from harm, Buck felt Casey’s hand creep into his own. He turned his bowed head, gave her a quick little smile and a comforting squeeze of her hand.

After which they sat down and listened to the usual speech of welcome from President Daly and then a more humourous speech from the MC to lighten the mood before the meal.

The evening was underway, they talked, they ate, and they joked.

Tangee found a volunteer from another table and had them all gather together to take a group picture of everyone at the table.

Then they danced. Casey had danced with Buck and then with a number of classmates, while Buck sat and flirted with Tangee and Chloe, all the while his eyes never strayed far from Casey. She was a beautiful young woman. She was smart too, he watched as she laughed and talked with her dance partners. They all seemed to have a good time dancing with her.

A slow dance came and Casey returned to the table, while her dance partner went in search of his date.

“C’mon, darlin’ this one is more my speed,” joked Buck as he escorted her back out to the dance floor. Casey laid her head on his shoulder as they made their way around the floor.

Buck had noticed that Casey’s friends and their dates were taking turns having their pictures taken under the waterfall.

“Hey, darlin’, you want to a picture taken under the waterfall?”

Casey’s smile disappeared as she lifted her head from his shoulder to look him in the eye. “I’d rather not, Buck. It’s just that, well don’t misunderstand, you’re really wonderful, but-”

He looked down into her eyes and understood immediately. For her the Formal picture was to be taken with someone special and he wasn’t the special “one” to her. “I understand,” he said smiling, “we’ll have to find you two a waterfall when JD gets home.”

Casey smiled broadly in reply.

The song ended and the DJ announced a change of pace and put on a polka. That cleared the dance floor of all but those few willing to chance the fast paced whirling.

Darla returned with Chad from having their picture taken. Darla’s eyes were bright with tears, her face was glowing. Chloe was the first one to see the sparkling diamond ring on Darla’s left a hand.

“You’re engaged!” shrieked Chloe excitedly.

Chloe, Casey and Tangee were immediately on their feet hugging Darla. The commotion attracted the attention from other tables and soon a number of people were hugging Darla and congratulation both her and Chad.

Buck sat outside it all. He wondered, knowing how JD and Casey felt about each other, remembering how he thought JD’s announcement at Christmas was their engagement, if it hadn’t been for this war, would JD and Casey have gotten engaged tonight?

~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~

JD knelt in the makeshift chapel. He finished his prayers. He’d prayed for Corporal Briggs’ soul. He’d pray that God would help comfort his family in their time of loss. And he’d prayed for understanding.

They had been right there to help. The medic had been right there to help. Yet Briggs had died. Why, with all the help right there, had Briggs still died?

They would have passed by on that side of the road when they returned from patrol a few hours later. Why hadn’t it been them?

~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~

A few wet snow flakes fell heavily down around the Jag as Buck pulled into Nettie’s driveway and drew the car gently to a stop.

After he turned off the ignition he looked over at Casey; she was asleep.

At 12:30 they had said their goodnights. Casey turned down their invitations to after Formal parties claiming she was tired.

Buck noted Casey had been quiet after the wedding engagement had been announced. They danced a few more times and she had visited a few of the other tables but she had never really gotten back into the party spirit again.

He watched her as she slept, she looked so beautiful. She had grown into a lovely young woman. He had grown appreciate how special she was that past three months and he knew how hard these months had been for her. Missing JD, praying every day that he would come home safe, it didn’t seem fair that a burden so heavy had to be borne by someone so young.

He wished he could make it easier for her somehow. He leaned forward and planted a light kiss on her lips. Suddenly the urge to take her in his arms and kiss her deeply overwhelmed him and as he reached over to do just that, she stirred and opened her eyes.

She looked drowsily up at him with trusting innocence.

The realization of what he had been about to do hit him hard.

He pulled back suddenly and turned to face forward, gripping the stirring wheel with both hands so hard his knuckles turned white.

“Thank you, Buck, I had a nice time.”

“You’re welcome.”

“I really mean it, Buck.”

He could hear the confusion in her voice at his terse reply.

“I’m glad you had a good time,” he replied shortly.

“You know, Buck, don’t you? How special you are. I don’t know how I would have managed these last few months without you.” The distress was clear in her voice

“Casey just… just…” he was stumbling, he just wanted to get away from her. “You’re home now. Just get out of the car and in that front door, will ya?”

“Sure, Buck, ahm, G’night.”

He waited as she ran up the steps to her home and then let herself safely inside. The eyes that looked back at him just before she closed the door, reminded him of a bewildered deer.

He drove now, remembering the tremble in her voice as she wished him good night as she scrambled to get out of the car. He had made no move to get out and open her door or escort her up the steps to her front door as he done all evening.

He spied O’Regan’s Bar and pulled swiftly into the parking lot and turned the car off.

He closed his eyes as he remembered the distress in her tone when she had said he was special.

He was special alright. He’d been on the verge of making a pass at his roommate’s girl. Moving in on his best friend’s girl while he was away serving his country, a man he considered a brother in every sense of the word.

“Yeah I’m special alright,” Buck thought darkly as he got out of the car and went into the bar.


Part B