Chapter 3:

Nightmares

In which nightmares are not exclusively for the night.

Though it was technically morning, about 4 am, Cassie wasn't too keen to head to the Swamp for poker. Or back to her tent. It smelled like vomit and the recent outbreak had thoroughly awakened her mind even if her body was very tired. She sighed through her nose and headed for the mess tent.

Jay had wandered off to the bathroom before the game. Cassie had excused herself to do the same, but really she just wanted an excuse to be alone. Hannah and Russ were in post-op. She really wanted to visit with them, but as a precaution in case it wasn't food poisoning, non-essential personnel weren't currently allowed inside.

Instead of heading for the bathroom, she slipped into the mess tent. She grabbed a warm cup of bitter, black coffee and a rock hard roll and sat down heavily at the table. As she sipped her drink, alone except for a few other early risers, her mind began to wander. She began to sweat a bit. It was warm. In June in Korea, it was always warm.

June. Her thoughts abruptly hit a wall of sadness. Soon it will be two years to the day. Hard to believe that it's been that long. She tried to will her thoughts away. No. I don't want to think about that. Stop it. Stop it. STOP IT! And yet, once the thought had come, unbidden, to her mind, she couldn't shake it. It kept sitting there; just at the edge of her consciousness, waiting.

She gripped the coffee mug hard, willing its physical permanence to become an anchor to her wandering mind. She stared blankly at the coffee, trying not to think of anything. If I wasn't so tired, this wouldn't be happening. I wouldn't have this problem. I could just stop thinking about it.

Suddenly, all she could feel was pain. In the darkness around her, she heard a scream and knew whose it was. She was powerless to stop it, her limbs leaden and uncooperative. Hands tied behind her back. Struggling to get to the source of the screams until her wrists were rubbed raw by the rope. No. Not now. Not now. Not now. Not now. She was almost chanting to herself, willing the images away.

The clunk of a mug on the table abruptly struck her from her own memories and back into the present. She jolted. "Mind if we join you?" Hawkeye was asking, in an overly loud, exaggerated tone. This was clearly not the first time he had asked this question.

Still startled by the interruption, she just blinked at him and said stupidly, "What?"

"If my smell offends, you could just tell me," Hawkeye said lightly, though he could tell something wasn't right.

Cassie suddenly realized that Hawkeye, BJ, and Sidney were all standing in front of her, mugs in hand, waiting for her approval to sit. "Oh, of course," she said, quickly composing herself and making a conscious effort to relax her white knuckled grip on the coffee mug - a fact which had not escaped any of the men.

"Whatcha thinking so hard about? Perhaps a certain raven-haired doctor?" He waggled his eyebrows suggestively and nudged her shoulder with his own. Sidney sighed inwardly at the lost opportunity to informally gain some information about what was going on.

Cassie appreciatively grabbed for his opening like a drowning man grabs for a life ring and redirected the conversation elsewhere. "I was just thinking about what it must be like to be a doctor in Korea! Glad it's not me!"

"While the allure of meatball surgery is tempting, I could do without being a doctor here too," he half-joked. Cassie smiled sympathetically.

"So, how about our game of poker?" BJ asked.

"I'm ready," Cassie said. "Sorry I didn't come right away. It's been a long couple of days." She lifted the mug and said, "I needed some coffee." BJ nodded. She downed her mug with a grimace at its metallic taste.

The four headed back to the Swamp to find Jay standing outside. "Where'd you go? That was an awful long bathroom break," Cassie teased.

"Har-har-har," Jay fake laughed.

Cassie squinted at him, "Ah-ha! I spy lipstick on your collar. Interesting bathroom trip," She winked at him. He flushed red, but couldn't stop himself from grinning. "You dog, you!"

The five settled into the Swamp. Quickly, Hawkeye was beginning to regret suggesting poker because Cassie was an extraordinarily good poker player. Jay knew better than to bet much against her, so he fared best. But Hawkeye, BJ, and Sidney didn't come out so well. After whittling away a good portion of their money, she stretched and sighed. "Right, well, I'm out. I need to sleep."

Looking dejected, BJ muttered, "I hate people who know how to quit when they're ahead," Cassie smirked cheekily at him and left.

By the time she got back to her tent, around 6 am, Cassie didn't care that the tent smelled like vomit. She was bone tired exhausted. As soon as her butt hit the cot, she was out like a light, without even time to take off her shoes. She fell asleep, leaning backwards on the bed, her legs still slung over the side.

Hours later, around lunchtime, Hawkeye knocked on the door, intending to invite her to lunch. When there was no answer, he inched open the door and peeked in. Cassie was still in the same spot, unmoved.

Even in sleep, he thought she still looked tired. He turned her, put the pillow under her head, took off her shoes, put her legs up on the bed, and covered her with a very light blanket. She barely stirred. It was the deep, boneless sleep of someone exhausted.

Hawkeye sat on the edge of the bed for a moment, eyeing her professionally. She was frowning in her sleep. He stood up to leave.

He was at the door when she mumbled something mostly incoherent. But he definitely caught, "Stop it! No!"

He turned to look at her. She started to thrash on the bed, arms and legs tangling in the blanket. The captivity only increased her struggling. He strode toward her and realized that tears were running down her face as she cried in her sleep.

She yelled, "Leave her alone! STOP!" Then thrashed so hard on the bed that she fell off and onto the floor, where the impact awakened her. She screamed in surprise. The sound so jarring it was like it had been physically ripped from her throat.

Hawkeye was at her side in an instant. Her bewildered eyes darted all over the tent. She was still crying. He gathered her in his arms. He could feel her body shaking. She drew in gasping, ragged breaths.

"It's okay," he soothed, rubbing his hands in circles on her back. "I'm here. I'm here. I'm here." He could feel her heartbeat - too fast - hammering against his chest. Her hands balled themselves in his jacket. She sobbed.

"It was so real," she whispered into his ear, struggling for breath.

"I know," he said. "I know." They all had nightmares. War did that to a person. Sometimes you knew as soon as you woke that it had been literally that - a bad dream. But sometimes, the dreams clung to you, exerting their power and confusion after you were awake. She sobbed and took a deep, shuddering breath.

"Easy," Hawkeye said quietly, "Easy." He stroked her hair. "Do you feel me breathing?" He felt her nod against his chest. "Try to breathe with me. Match my breathing. Deep breath in. Hold it. Deep breath out. That's right. Good. Keep going."

Her breathing was ragged, but slowly matched his own, measured breaths. Inhaling for a count of four. Holding for a count of seven. Exhaling for a count of eight. "Deep breath in. Hold it. Deep breath out," he coached. He felt her hands relaxing in his jacket and the muscles in her tensed back releasing a little.

She pulled away from him, leaning back but not completely separating from him. Her face was red from upset and adrenaline. Her expression was embarrassed. She looked down at the floor and murmured, "Hawkeye. I'm sorry. I...didn't mean to interrupt you and whatever you were doing."

"Actually, I had just come to invite you to lunch," he said. He pulled her back towards him and she didn't resist his embrace. He felt her still trembling.

"It was just a bad dream," she said, almost more to herself than to him.

"What were you dreaming about?" She stilled for a moment. He could tell she was mentally deciding how much to share. "We all have nightmares like that sometimes," he offered.

She nuzzled her head into his neck, appreciating the feeling of another human, warm and real. The rich, spicy smell of his aftershave anchoring her in the present. "Really?"

He nodded. "It happens." He paused and then asked again, "What were you dreaming about?"

She pulled back, avoided his gaze by looking at the floor, and said, "It was nothing." She met his eyes and repeated what she had said before, "It was just a bad dream." She wiped the tear streaks off her face with her hands and smiled tremulously. "Really, I am sorry." She stood, picking up the blanket and dropping it on the bed.

"Don't be," he said, also standing up. "It happens to all of us."

"He's right," said a voice from outside the tent. They both jumped. Sidney, drawn from nearby by Cassie's scream had been watching the whole thing through the side screen of the tent. Cassie's mouth dropped open, surprised at having been watched.

She strode to the door, opened it, and scowled at Sidney. "Why are you watching me?" She demanded. "That's really creepy!"

Unperturbed, he said, "I heard you screaming and wanted to make sure you were okay. And like I was saying, Hawkeye is right. Night terrors happen to all of us. It's nothing to be ashamed of."

Hawkeye said nothing. He knew something was wrong for Cassie. He knew Sidney was right. But would she admit it?

Apparently not. She huffed out a short, annoyed breath. "It was just a nightmare," she ground out. "Leave. Me. Alone." She stalked off towards the mess tent, without shoes, leaving Hawkeye and Sidney, looking confused, behind her.