"Captain, you might as well turn in for the night. Your friend isn't going anywhere."
"I know. But I don't have to fly tomorrow, and I'd kinda like to stick around, in case he wakes up, or..."
"He won't be waking up, believe me. We pumped him full of sedatives. He's going to be fine, you know. In fact, he'll be spending the next couple of weeks sunning himself at China Beach, so I don't think you need to feel too badly for him." The nurse sat down on the wooden bench next to him, pulled a pack of cigarettes and offered him one before lighting her own. "It's not a serious injury, as long he rests up and does the exercises."
Murdock sighed and took a long drag on the cigarette. He hated the things, but everyone either smoked or drank after being here long enough. Had to do something...
"Oh, he said to tell you 'thanks', by the way."
"Thanks? For putting him in the hospital? For..." Murdock threw the butt to the ground, staring at her.
"For not leaving him. He thought you'd have to, but you didn't."
"But I was going to!" Murdock bolted off the bench, nearly toppling both the bench and the nurse. "That's the whole problem! I was going to leave him!" He flopped back down beside her, pressing his hands to his forehead. "I was going to leave my best buddy out there..."
The nurse, Carter, stared at him in turn. "That's not what everyone else said. Everyone on that chopper said you waited until the very last second. Longer than you probably should have. And that if he hadn't slipped, there would've been no problem."
"No. No, he was too far away. We were getting shot up, bad. I did wait, but I was lifting off when it happened. It was BA grabbing him, pulling him up, that pulled his shoulder all to hell. BA's the one who wouldn't leave him."
"BA? That's the sergeant, right?"
"Yeah. When we landed, and I found out Face was hurt, BA told me what happened. Face was running for the bird and I was lifting off, and BA got down on the skid and grabbed his arm and yanked him up. If the other fellas hadn't pulled the two of them up, they'd've both gone down. And I just kept going up."
Carter looked at the dejected man for a moment, then stood and took his hand. "Captain, I want you to come with me."
He started to protest but something about the look on her face, a combination of sympathy and anger, made him stand and allow her to lead him away. They moved down the muddy track, past two or three other large tents, before stopping before a still, dark Quonset. She took out a key, unlocked the door and pulled him gently but firmly inside. She closed the door before turning and switching on the lights.
Murdock looked around, stunned. Four rows of dark plastic forms. Body bags. Filled body bags.
"This row, Captain, is from one helicopter crash. The pilot waited too long. Had a rep, like you do, for not leaving anyone behind if he could possibly help it. The two on the end - those are the two he was waiting for. The rest were already on board."
She turned and looked fiercely at him. "You tell me, Captain. Cold and harsh as it may seem - were those two on the end worth all the rest of them?"
Murdock couldn't say anything. He just looked at the black bags, one after another after another. He hardly noticed when she once again took his hand and led him out of the morgue.
"You think about this, Captain. Your friend was close enough to your chopper for the sergeant to reach down and grab him. Yes, you were lifting off - but you waited long enough for him to have a chance. If you had waited any longer, that could be your people in there. Everyone else knows that, including the lieutenant. So quit playing the martyr, and accept that you did what you had to. Don't blame yourself when no one else does."
Carter allowed Murdock to go and sit by Face's cot, and moved into the office to fill out reports. She sat at the desk, staring into space, thinking about the pilot. Another pilot, another close call. Another holding a hand and giving comfort when there really was none. No way to get rid of feelings that no one so young should have.
The other nurse looked up at her from her own work, smiling softly.
"Careful there, Carter. You know what they say about those pilots."
"No worries there. Just...being a nurse." She smiled, tired, and started working on her reports.