Summary: In the days after the war, Hawkeye stands still and the world turns around him.
Character: Hawkeye Pierce
Spoilers and/or Warnings: Spoilers up to and including "Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen".
Original Story: Missing Hawk by loneraven
Author's Note: Many thanks to the incomparable tigerkat24 for the last-minute beta.
When Hawkeye steps off his fifth plane in twenty-four hours, blinking into the brilliant Maine sun, he nearly walks right past his dad.
The man in front of him is familiar, sure, but he’s familiar the way med school’s familiar – here is your father, Figure 19b; observe the hunch of the shoulders, the twist of the lips, the quickness of the hand to reach out and touch, drawing and giving comfort in one economical movement. It’s theory, a diagram on a page that he’s since seen in practice, with a Figure 19b that was someone shorter, someone stronger, someone walking with a permanent saddle-sore.
His dad’s all gruffness, but Hawkeye catches a glint of tears in his eyes before the man reaches to help him with his bags. “You’ve changed, son,” he says.
Hawkeye grins. “Not a chance, Dad. I stand still and the rest of the world turns around me.”
When they turn an awkward handshake into a hug, Hawkeye notes, critically, that his dad’s shoulders are thinner, bonier, frailer. “I missed you, Ben. Hawkeye.”
Hawkeye swallows hard; lately, it seems like he’s always been crying. “Yeah. I think I missed me too.”
On the way home, his dad hesitates at a crossroads, clears his throat, and starts heading the wrong way. “Thought you might like to see a bit more of the coast,” he says.
“I would, thanks.” After a full day of traveling, after everything that came before, the landscape seems a little fuzzy, a little distant. Even the car feels strange; Hawkeye shifts in his seat, fidgets until he realizes he’s waiting for the potholes, the scars left in the landscape by years of mortar fire. Years. “Korea had its charms, but I don’t think it’ll be a tourist destination anytime soon. Besides, the lobsters have all headed for their bunkers.”
His dad casts him a sidelong glance, and the old smile twitches at his lips again. “You look like you’ve misplaced your ticker-tape parade, you know.”
Hawkeye groans, picking at the buttons on his dress jacket. “Don’t remind me. Some joker crammed me into this while I was stuck in Guam. I asked if he had it in red, or maybe a nice shade of magenta, but wouldn’t you know it, there’s a war on, and-“
The vehemence of his dad’s tone is more than enough to derail Hawkeye’s train of thought. “What?”
“Was. There was a war on. It’s finished now.”
Hawkeye leans back in his seat, thinking of two million civilians, and Father Mulcahy’s orphans, and Klinger and Soon Lee, who stayed. “Yeah,” he says. “Yeah, it’s done now.” He reaches over, fumbling to roll down the window.
His dad slows down. “What are you doing?”
“Just keep driving, Dad,” Hawkeye says, and waits for the car to speed up again, waits for the wind in his face to feel a little different, a little free, and takes off his hat, captain’s bars and all, and lets it go, lets it fly back into their wake, spinning crazily until they turn the bend and it’s gone.
“Guess you needed to do that,” says his dad.
“Yeah.” Hawkeye leans back, watching the ocean pass by the open window, and thinks of a little stretch of road half a world away. “Guess I did.”
Hawkeye dreams of somewhere cold and burning, and Hawkeye dreams a landscape of craggy shrubs and dusty ground, and Hawkeye dreams of stepping out into the sunlight and thinking, Maybe, just for today, it’ll stop.
“Hawkeye? Come on, son, we’re home.”
He shifts in his seat, fighting off a pleasant grogginess, the kind of disorientation he used to get when he was eight, nodding off in the back of his parents’ Chevy, waking to find home right there in front of him, a faint, twilit outline. For a second, he can smell his mother’s perfume.
Yawning hugely, he accepts his dad’s hand and hauls himself to his feet, taking in the old house, the overgrown patches of grass, the tree he’d fallen out of when he was six-
Some part of him thinks he might’ve been dreaming, in the car. Some other part thinks he might be dreaming now.
His dad clears his throat as they walk up the old sidewalk. “Look, Hawk, we were planning on a bit of a shindig, but I told everyone you’d probably be too tired when you got back.”
“Oh,” says Hawkeye, and reaches for the door. “That’s okay, Dad, don’t-“
“Hawk? Is that Hawk?”
The door swings open onto light and music, onto chattering voices gone suddenly silent, onto a dozen people crammed into the living room, onto Toby Wilder and Dickie Barber and Francine Marshall – Francine, he hasn’t seen Francine in years – and Hawkeye staggers back a step, frozen mid-yawn.
“I told them you’d be too tired,” his dad says. “But since when have you kids ever listened to me?”
“Jeez, you look different, Hawk,” says Dickie, and, with a wicked grin, pulls him into a bear hug. “Would hardly have recognized you with all that gray in your hair. You look downright dignified.“
Hawkeye pulls away, and straightens, brushing off his lapels with an affronted air that would put even Charles to shame. He’s a little disconcerted to see everyone holding their breath, watching him, waiting on tenterhooks to see how he’ll react. “Dignified? I won’t dignify that with an answer. And this coming from someone who once had a flock of bowling balls following him around and calling him Daddy.”
He reaches out to polish Dickie’s bald pate with his sleeve, and, with a collectively startled laugh, the kisses and backslaps and handshakes start up in earnest.
“How’re you doing, Hawk?”
He and Trapper are crouched over Frank Burns’ bunk in the Swamp, meticulously covering every inch of the inside of his blankets with glue. Hawkeye leans back to massage the kink in his neck with sticky fingers, grinning at their handiwork. He holds out a hand.
“Fetch me a martini, waiter, and make it so dry the Sahara will get jealous.”
Trapper stands up. “I mean it, Hawk. How’re you doing?”
Hawkeye pats the bed. “Better than Frank when he gets back from helping Hot Lips with all that entirely vital paperwork, clothing optional.” He lifts his hand and the blanket comes with it. “Huh. Well, I guess gluing ourselves to Frank’s bed will have much the same effect.”
Trapper hasn’t moved; he’s standing by the still. “How are you, Hawk?”
Hawkeye tries to turn, nearly upsets the jar of glue, and settles for glaring at Trapper’s reflection in Frank’s shaving mirror. “What’s with you today? Why the sudden concern for my well-being? And if this extends to keeping the finest vintage of the afternoon out of reach any longer, I’ll glue you and Frank together.”
Trapper’s expression in the mirror hasn’t shifted. “You’ve just come home, Hawkeye. Everyone’s worried about you. So am I.”
Hawkeye feels a chill. “Is this conversation taken, or can anyone join in? I don’t know what-“
“You left,” Hawkeye says, but the old anger isn’t there, and he’s looking for it, he’s looking- “You left, and you didn’t even say goodbye to the one person who mattered to you out here.”
“Yeah,” says Trapper, just like that. “I left.”
“I wanted to hate you for that, you know,” Hawkeye says. He means it, too, but it comes out calmer than he expected, like maybe the years have dulled the anger, like maybe the anger’s been pushed aside by something else.
Trapper shrugs, slipping briefly out of view in the mirror’s frame. “I don’t think you did.”
Hawkeye heaves a sigh. “You know what? I don’t think I did, either. Look, just answer me one thing, though.” He shifts, craning his neck to look Trapper right in the eyes. “What would you have said?”
For the first time, Trapper breaks into a familiar grin. “I think I hear Frank.”
“What? Hang on.” Hawkeye fumbles with the blanket, and only succeeds in getting his second hand stuck to the first. “Trapper, come on, give me a break, here.”
“Shhh,” Trapper says. “It’ll be okay. Just wait for it.”
Hawkeye turns to see Frank squinting at him through the netting of the wall. “Oh, hi, Frank.”
“Yeah? Well so’s your old man,” Frank says, and moves closer, eyes narrowing. “What are you doing to my bunk in there?”
Hawkeye casts a killer glare at Trapper, who beams back, unconcerned. “Uh, just fluffing your pillows.”
“Is that glue?” Frank blinks a couple times, and then the penny drops. “You were trying to glue my blankets! Bet you got stuck red-handed, too.” He giggles – the man giggles – and moves for the door.
‘Thanks for your help, Trap,” Hawkeye mutters. “Nice to know I can count on you to send me up the creek without a boat.”
“Better hope Father Mulcahy never finds out about this lack of faith,” Trapper whispers back. “Watch.”
Frank opens the door, and a bucket, teetering precariously above him, comes crashing down in a torrent of water and something that smells alarmingly like yesterday’s Cream of Mold soup.
In between Frank’s shrieks and his own howling laughter, Hawkeye turns and sees Trapper heading for the door. Trapper’s never looked like anything but a big, overgrown kid, but now he seems older, somehow, different – he turns, and his eyes are still crinkled with laughing.
“Goodbye,” he mouths, and then he’s gone.
“Hawk? Hey, some life of the party you’re turning out to be.”
“I told you all this was a bad idea. Probably hasn’t slept in ages. Hawkeye?”
“Aw, just five more hours,” Hawkeye mumbles, and places his elbow firmly in something that squishes. Wincing, he opens one eye. “That was the butter, wasn’t it?”
Dead silence meets his words, so, with a Herculean effort, he opens the other eye. They’re all sitting around the table, all leaning forward in their seats, all watching him like he’s about to keel over. Which, judging by the state of his elbow, he’s just done.
“I fell asleep at my own welcome home party, didn’t I?” He grins. “Now, if I were in a room full of brilliant conversationalists, this sort of thing wouldn’t happen.”
‘Try this on for size,” Toby says, into the awkward silence that follows, and flicks a spoonful of corn at him; Hawkeye finds himself staring, flabbergasted. Toby shrugs. “To go with your elbow.”
After the food fight, his dad’s quick to send everyone on their way, and for once, Hawkeye’s happy enough to be mollycoddled; his eyelids feel like they’ve picked up dust from everywhere he’s been in the last twenty-four hours, and the rest of him’s not much better off.
“You looked like you were dreaming,” his dad says, as they make their way back to Hawkeye’s old room, to the quiet and the warmth and the horrible, wonderful flower-patterned wallpaper he’d always hated as a teenager.
“Yeah?” Hawkeye combs a chunk of mashed potato out of his hair. His hands are shaking. “I don’t even remember nodding off. Probably another damn nightmare.”
“You were smiling,” his dad says, and his hand lingers on Hawkeye’s arm. “Anyway, I, uh.” He’s more nervous than Hawkeye’s ever seen him; he fidgets, lowers his hand and goes to stare out the window. “Look, if you want to talk about anything-“
“Sure, Dad,” Hawkeye says, already shrugging out of the jacket – he wonders whether burning it or burying it would be more satisfying. “We’ll talk. I’ll talk your ear off. But only after I break the world record for most consecutive hours of sleep.”
“When you’re ready, I’ll be ready,” his dad says, and pauses at the door. “Oh, and Hawkeye?”
Hawkeye belly-flops onto his bed and buries his face in his pillow. “Mmrph,” he says.
“You had a phone call a few hours before your plane came in. BJ wanted me to tell you he’d made it back to California okay.”
Hawkeye shivers, despite the warm breeze blowing in through the window, and toes off his socks, burying his feet under the blankets. “Kill the lights, would you, Dad?”
In the dark, the quiet seems even stranger – he’s used to raucous laughter in the Tokyo hotels, passing Jeeps and airplanes in the camp, the footsteps of the night watch, the whistle of the wind in the canvas.
He remembers the rhythm of the breathing in the bunk next to his, and the quiet seems a little less deafening.
Even in the darkness behind the bandages over his eyes, he turns towards the voice, instinctively. “That you, Sidney?”
“Last I checked, though I hear you can never be too sure these days.” The bed creaks next to him, and a hand touches his shoulder. “How are you feeling?”
Hawkeye sighs. “You know, people keep asking me that. If you’ve taught me anything, it’s that I’m probably the least qualified person to answer that question.”
Sidney’s laugh is a welcome relief from the self-conscious titters Hawkeye’s been subjected to all day. “Just stopped by to check on you. BJ told me what happened, with the nurses’ stove and the flash burns on your face.”
“Right,” says Hawkeye, and pauses. “Except you weren’t here when it happened the first time. Look, Sidney, I don’t mean to be rude, but the fact that I’m dreaming about a psychiatrist is a little bit troubling to me.”
Wryness translates wonderfully in the darkness. “You want to know what it means?”
Hawkeye smiles in spite of himself. “Maybe not.”
“You told BJ this was the most conscious day you ever spent in your life,” Sidney says, and Hawkeye listens past him to hear the rain falling outside, exactly – exactly – the same sound as steaks make on a grill. “You don’t find that interesting?”
“Obviously I do, or I wouldn’t be dreaming about it,” Hawkeye says. Funny – he can almost hear the corner of Sidney’s mouth turning up in a smile.
“You’re paying attention to the details,” Sidney notes. “That’s good. That’s important.”
“Well, when everything else is made of all things khaki and grey, it’s a pretty nice alternative.” The rain is falling harder outside, and Hawkeye listens for a long moment. “I mean, it’s strange, isn’t it? Losing a big part of who I am made me so much more aware of- well, of everything.”
Sidney’s quiet for a while; maybe he’s listening to the rain, too. “You’re not just talking about losing your sight, Hawkeye.”
“I know.” Thunder rumbles, somewhere in the distance, above and behind and around him. “Sidney?”
“Would you mind sitting with me a while?” The silence goes on forever; it almost hurts to break it. “Just until the sun comes up.”
“Sure, Hawkeye,” Sidney says. “I think we could both use the company.”
He comes down the stairs, late that first afternoon, clad in his old dressing-gown, and he booms, “Hawkeye Pierce, this is your life! Take two, folks, we’ll get it right this time.”
It’s true enough; he feels a bit like he’s guest-starring in his own childhood. Appearing for one night only, by special request, a cameo performance by that loquacious lover, that sassy sawbones, that wordy wisecracker, Hawkeye Pierce! Autographs will be a quarter a head, and remember, kids, nostalgia will cost you extra.
After a week of hellos and how-dos, and one particularly memorable conversation with someone who was convinced Hawkeye’d never left, he goes out for dinner with Francine, for old time’s sake. She’s a schoolteacher, now, with a fiancé, and the old, cocksure side of him wonders if maybe she isn’t trying to tempt herself, a little.
At the start of the evening, she leans forward, radiant in the candlelight, looks deep into his eyes, and says, “My Oswald could snap you like a twig, buster.”
It’s the only time she mentions him, but, as throwaway references go, it’s pretty effective.
In spite of that – or, more likely, because of it - they have a great time; they talk about old friends, and old places, and old dreams they had, once upon a time. Dinner turns into a walk on the beach, which turns into watching the sun set over the water, which turns into watching the stars come out, in companionable silence.
“I couldn’t believe it when they said you’d been drafted,” Francine says, softly, the first hesitation he’s heard in her voice.
Hawkeye shrugs. “You and me both.”
“Can’t imagine you made it easy on them,” she says, and grins.
“Oh, I did my part for Uncle Sam,” Hawkeye says, leaning back. “Only difference is, I did it with pizzazz. Don’t laugh! Do you have any idea how much the army hates pizzazz?”
She covers her mouth, still giggling. “I can’t even imagine. Did they ever get you to salute?”
His smile fades. “Yeah,” he says. “Yeah, a couple times.”
She goes quiet for a while, and that’s fine by him, because he’s listening to the water, to the waves crashing, and he’s thinking that maybe sometime he’ll spend a whole weekend here, just listening, soaking it in.
“You met some good people over there, didn’t you?”
And lost some. “They’re all good people, over there,” he says. “Some of them just do stupid things.”
“It’s like I’m a bit numb,” he says, later that night, when he’s dreaming. “Like I went on a bender and woke up in a hotel room in Tokyo with my pants on my head, or something, you know?” He pauses. “Uh. Maybe not. Sorry, Father.”
Father Mulcahy smiles and shrugs, takes another swipe at his punching bag. “I’m sure it’s happened to most of us at one time or another, my son.”
Hawkeye paces, scrubbing a hand back through his hair. “What I’m saying is that I think I might be cracking up. Again. I should be having nightmares. I should be waking up screaming all over again. I was just in a war, you know.”
Mulcahy stops the bag’s swinging and looks at him appraisingly. “Not that I’m not grateful for the opportunity to offer some spiritual advice, but why are you telling me this, Hawkeye?”
“You tell me,” he says, leaning against one of the tent posts. “I just feel like someone’s stuck a muffler on me, you know? Like there’s some part of me walking and talking out there, but there’s a bigger part of me walking and talking in here.”
Father Mulcahy looks up, as though for divine inspiration, then sighs and takes off his glasses, polishing them on his shirt. “Why are you cast down, O my inner self? And why should you moan over me and be disquieted within me?” He meets Hawkeye’s gaze with a small, self-deprecating smile. “I think you know what the Bible would tell you to do in this case, Hawkeye. Hope in God.” He pushes his glasses back onto his nose and turns back to the punching bag. “Failing that, hope in yourself a little. It can’t hurt.”
One morning, a helicopter passes overhead, and Hawkeye drops his fork and knife, stands outside, watches it go by. He knows full well it’s not bringing casualties, and he knows full well the guns have stopped half a world away, and he knows full well the speakers won’t blare to life, Radar won’t come running, the blood won’t start flowing, but he watches it all the same.
His dad stands with him, in respectful silence, sipping at his coffee, until the sound of spinning blades melts away.
“BJ called again,” his dad says, into the silence that follows. “You ever going to talk to him?”
Hawkeye shrugs, watching the place where the helicopter was, and, after a long moment, he turns to his father. “I think I’m ready to go back, Dad.”
“Figured you might be,” his dad says, and smiles. “We’ll put your shingle out later today.”
His first patient – one of his dad’s regulars – is a kid, maybe sixteen or seventeen, who comes in with his mother, cradling his bloody hand. It takes Hawkeye a second to realize his eyes have gone straight from the blood to the kid’s face, looking for something familiar there, something scared, and not finding it.
“Well,” Mrs. Lewis says, “tell Dr. Pierce what happened, Tim.”
“Caught my hand on a fish hook,” Tim says, sheepishly, and holds out the bleeding appendage. “Guess I can tell all my friends about the one that got away.” His voice is firm, but he swipes tears from his eyes with his undamaged hand, and his mother pulls him into a brief, one-armed hug.
Hawkeye’s been rehearsing all morning, but the Groucho Marx routine has gone clear out of his head in the face of this – simple, treatable pain. He takes the kid’s hand, looking at it quickly, appraisingly, and some traitorous part of his mind is asking whether the kid’s bad enough for discharge papers, whether he can wait for the guy with the belly wound outside-
He clears his throat, aware that mother and son are looking at him strangely, and drops his voice into something deep and ominous. “Well, my boy, can you play the piano?”
“Um,” says Tim. “I never learned how, no.”
Hawkeye grins. “You’ll be happy to know that’s the only thing that’s stopping you. Your hand’s going to be fine - you just caught a bit of the skin with the hook, nothing more. I’ll cut the thing out, get you a couple stitches, and you’ll be good as new.”
Tim laughs. “Bet the scar will look impressive.”
“Oh, don’t be morbid, Tim,” his mother says, but there’s such simple joy and gratitude in her eyes that Hawkeye decides to remember that expression, in case the nightmares ever do come, in case he needs it. “But all that blood-“
“Yeah, I noticed that,” Hawkeye says, fumbling in a drawer for a local anesthetic. “You did break the skin, though, and you’ve probably been flexing your hand, so-“
Just as he’s straightening up, Hawkeye catches Tim’s terrified, guilty expression, and a thousand terrible thoughts flood in on him, all at once. Oh, God.
“Could I speak to Tim alone for a second, Mrs. Lewis?” He waggles his eyebrows. “Man to man, you understand.”
She smiles, rolling her eyes. “Okay, Doc. I’ll be right outside. Call me if you need anything, Tim.”
“Yeah, sure, Mom,” he says, plastering on a smile, and Hawkeye wonders how many of those smiles the kid plasters on every day.
As soon as the door closes, Hawkeye sighs and sinks back onto his stool, feeling about a hundred years old as he pulls on his gloves. “How long have you noticed that you’ve been bleeding more than you usually do?”
Tim straightens, still smiling. “Doctor?”
“Your hand,” Hawkeye says, wheeling a tray over. “When your mom mentioned the blood, you looked scared. You looked a bit guilty.” He glances up; Tim is looking at the floor, lips pursed into a line. “It’ll pinch when I put the needle in, but it’s just the anesthetic. There. Give it a second to work. You probably got a paper cut, right, and it took a long time to heal, and you thought it was maybe a little strange and left it at that, but now you’re getting bruises that don’t go away, and you’re feeling tired all the time. Getting warm?”
Tim looks up, meets his eyes. “My hand feels fine.”
“I know you don’t want to worry your mom, Tim, but this is important, too.” Hawkeye touches the skin next to the hook with his scalpel, gently. “Can you feel that?”
“No,” Tim says. “Look, I don’t-“ He swallows. “My dad died two years ago. Mom’s great at taking care of things, but I don’t want her to have to take care of me, too.”
“All sorts of things can cause problems with clotting,” Hawkeye says. “There, that’s the hook gone. What makes you think she’ll have to take care of you?”
Tim is watching the procedure, eyes wide. “I read books about medicine,” he says. “Journals and stuff. In the library, after school. I want to be a doctor like Dr. Pierce.” He looks up. “The other Dr. Pierce. Your dad, I mean. I want to help people. I can’t do that with leukemia, or-or sickle cell anemia, or-“
“Whoa, whoa, hang on, there. You’ll put me out of work if you keep talking like that.” Hawkeye ties off the third stitch, taking his time, working better, not faster. “All done. Don’t jump to conclusions. You talk to your mom, and I’ll take a bit of blood and send out for some labwork, and we’ll go from there, okay?”
Tim breathes out, slowly, then nods. “Okay,” he says. “But Doctor?”
Hawkeye looks up, and there’s something familiar in the boy’s face after all, something older. “Yeah?”
Tim takes a step back, lingers in the doorway. “When you looked up and saw me looking scared, I saw you. You were looking scared, too.”
One night, Hawkeye sits on his bunk in the Swamp and waits, listening to the burbling of the still, Charles’s muffled snores, Klinger in whispered conversation with somebody outside.
“I sometimes get this strange feeling you’ve been avoiding me, Hawk,” says BJ, and sits down next to him.
Hawkeye shrugs, pulls his knees up to his chest. “It’s nothing personal. You’re just the only one who made my life bearable here, and you would have left without saying goodbye, without saying anything. You would have just left me there, in that room. You would have left, Beej.”
“Gee,” says BJ. “Can’t imagine why I’d think it’s something personal.”
And, just like that, there’s a fistful of BJ’s shirt in his hand, and Hawkeye’s shoving him back against the wall, voice shaking. “Damn it, BJ. Did I ever get through to you at all?”
“Look around you, Hawk,” BJ says.
And he does, and it’s not the Swamp anymore, it’s not home anymore, and it’s a dark room, a dark room with the walls coming in, and someone’s crying outside, and something’s breaking inside him, piece by piece by piece, crumbling away. “Oh, God,” Hawkeye says. “I know this place.”
BJ touches his hand, still poised to strike. “Can I have my shirt back?”
Hawkeye lets him go, slumps against the wall. “They could have let me out of here. I wasn’t crazy, you know.”
“Maybe just a little bit,” says BJ, and holds up his hands when Hawkeye turns on him again. “Is it really going to help if you hit me?”
Hawkeye sighs, scrubs at his eyes with the palms of his hands. “Of course not,” he says.
“Just a little bit crazy, and just for a little while,” BJ continues. “But I was here with you, remember? You didn’t know what I was saying. I don’t think you knew what you were saying.”
Hawkeye jumps up to stand on the cot, balancing on the wavering springs, and spreads his arms to encompass the room. “I am but mad north-northwest. When the wind is southerly, I know a hawk from a handsaw.” BJ applauds, politely, and Hawkeye bows and plunks back down beside him. “I never felt more alone than I did here, Beej. Not when Trapper left. Not when my mom died. Not when I got on that plane for the first time and the captain told us we were arriving in Korea. This, right here, was the pinnacle of misery. I lost every part of me, all at once.”
BJ looks away, jaw tightening, and Hawkeye wonders if he’s thinking about losing Peg for two years, about losing Erin, about losing the beginnings and endings that mattered most. “We were all there, Hawk. We were with you the whole time, on the bus. We wanted to help you.”
“The bus stops here,” Hawkeye says, and laughs until he’s out of breath, until he’s laughing and crying and shaking and BJ’s hand is rubbing small circles on his back, like he’s a little kid again. “He’s sick, Beej. Timothy Lewis. Tests came back. It’s leukemia.”
“Yeah,” says BJ.
“He’s just a kid. He’s sixteen years old, and he’s dying, and there’s no war machine shredding him in its cogs, no dispassionate general to yell at, no terrified soldier to forgive. There’s nothing I can do. There’s nothing I can get mad at. There’s nothing I can try to change. He’s dying, and he’ll be dead, and I’ll keep living, and it’s all emptiness. It means nothing.”
“People die, Hawk,” says BJ. “You know that, or you wouldn’t have gone into medicine. It means whatever you need it to mean, and when bad things happen to good people, you keep going, you keep doing your best to make the world a better place, one sick kid at a time.”
“He wants to be a doctor,” Hawkeye says, running a hand back through his hair once, twice, three times. “He wants to cut people open, and save their lives, and go home at the end of the day a little different from when he woke up. He likes Tommy Dorsey and baseball and a girl named Mary who sits two rows up from him in history class and kissed him under the mistletoe last Christmas. He can’t point to Korea on a map, Beej. He’s lived in Crabapple Cove all his life.” Hawkeye scrubs a hand across his eyes. “God, I wish I didn’t know any of that.”
“Is it better when they’re just the chest case, or the bowel resection, or the kid with flash burns?” BJ leans forward. “You said you wanted to get to know your patients.”
“I thought I did,” Hawkeye says, and sighs. “I- no, I know I do. I want to know them. I never want to treat kids like pieces of meat. I never want that again, Beej.”
“I know, Hawk.”
Hawkeye sniffs, loudly, and straightens, breathing hard. BJ sits beside him, waiting, riding out the storm. “You know, you’re a good listener, Beej. I don’t think I ever got around to telling you that.”
“I’m all ears.” BJ grins. “At least, that’s what people always tell me. I’ve got my grandma’s ears. And my uncle’s. And my cousin’s.”
Hawkeye finds himself smiling. “You ghoul, you. Saving up for your very own Frankenstein?”
“He can hear a pin drop.”
Hawkeye rolls his eyes, laughing, and rests his head back against the wall, taking in the water-stained ceiling. “I’ll be looking at the moon,” he warbles, “but I’ll be seeing you. Can’t say much for all the old, familiar places, though.”
“Oh, I don’t know.” BJ stands up, squints through a frame he makes with his hands. “Little paint, little less weeping and moaning in the background, and it’ll do just fine.”
“I miss you, you know,” Hawkeye says. “You wouldn’t know it from the way I’ve been ignoring your calls, but it hurts like hell, sometimes. I see a guy with a cheesy moustache and my heart does a little loop-de-loop.”
“Yeah,” says BJ. “I have that effect on people.”
Hawkeye’s voice drops to a whisper. “I think I’m really losing it this time, Beej.”
“Unfortunately, I seem to have that effect on people as well,” says BJ, and sits down again. “What’s the problem, Hawk?”
“I just got home from a war,” Hawkeye says. “I just got home from stitching up kids, from getting shelled, from watching people die, from watching-“ His breath catches in his throat, but he forces the words through. “-from watching a mother smother her own baby because I told her we needed to be quiet. I just got home, and I should be waking up screaming. I should be having the kinds of nightmares they lock you up for. I should be the one they tut-tut at when they pass me on the street – poor Dr. Pierce, he’s been howling at the moon every night for weeks. But here I am. I’m sleeping like a baby. When I dream of this hellhole, I wake up smiling. What the hell is the matter with me, Beej?”
BJ sighs, rubs his moustache thoughtfully. “Hawk, I’m afraid the diagnosis is simple. It can only be one thing. You, my friend, have got a bad case of sanity.”
“Beej, I don’t want to-“
BJ grabs his arm. “No, I’m serious, Hawk. Just listen to me for a second, will you? You’re healing. It’s a slow process, and it’s going to hurt all the way, but you’re healing. You can’t keep beating yourself up for feeling better, for doing something for yourself, for starting to feel happy again. You said this place took you apart, piece by piece by piece. Well, now you’re putting yourself back together, right here, right now. And if you need to have sweet dreams instead of nightmares to do it, if you need to avoid talking to me out there, if you need to disappear, Hawk, then that’s what you need to do.”
Hawkeye listens to their breathing for a while, and he thinks he can even hear the rain on the roof. “The kid’s going to die,” he says.
“He might not,” says BJ.
“Yeah,” says Hawkeye, and rubs at his eyes. “Yeah, he might not.”
They’re quiet again, and Hawkeye lets himself go for a few minutes, lets himself disappear into something that’s a bit like music, a bit like perfectly neat stitching, a bit like climbing the old maple in front of his house, going one branch higher every day, getting less and less scared the closer he got to the sky.
He opens his eyes, and the room’s still there, and BJ’s leaning over him, waiting. “So what happens now, Hawk?”
“Now,” says Hawkeye, and laughs. “Now, we share a farewell toast, Beej, and the world keeps turning, and I maybe try turning with it for a while.”
“There you go,” says BJ, and hauls him to his feet. “I knew I’d get a free drink out of you, yet.”
Hawkeye leans on the door, and isn’t at all surprised when it swings open. “I don’t mean to presume, but I know of a fine establishment that produces the kind of beverage that’ll put hair under your nose.”
“Lead on,” says BJ, and, together, they walk through the door, to Korea, to Maine, to whatever lies beyond.
“Paging Dr. Lewis,” says Hawkeye, and pokes his head into the hospital room. “I say again, is there a Dr. Lewis in the house?”
Tim looks pale, even against the white bedsheets, but he breaks into a grin. “Hey, Hawk.”
“That’s Doctor Hawk to you,” he says, and dons a thoroughly dignified pair of glasses, which just happen to come complete with an oversized nose. “I’m nothing if not professional, remember?”
Tim laughs. “How could I forget? What’s cooking, Doc?”
“Brought you some reading material,” Hawkeye says, and dumps a handful of medical journals onto the boy’s bed. “Some good stuff about experimental chemotherapy. Real-live treatments for leukemia. Couple stories about spontaneous remission.” He perches on the end of the bed. “Tim, I’d like to talk with you and your mom about putting your name in for a few experimental trials. I’ve talked to your oncologist, and he agrees that you’d be an ideal candidate.”
Tim looks at the journals, then back up at Hawkeye. “Thanks,” he says. “I mean it, Hawkeye. Thanks.”
Hawkeye shrugs, stands up, clears his throat, fiddles with the trinkets on the bedside table. “Nice flowers,” he says. “Mary send them?”
“No,” says Tim, and grins. “She brought them here herself. She comes to talk with me for hours, sometimes.”
“Oh, the ladies love a physician,” Hawkeye says, and Tim blushes. “There you go. Get some color back in those cheeks.”
“Oh, shut up,” Tim says, but his smile widens. “You just come here to make fun of me?”
“Nah, I could do that any day.” Hawkeye settles into a chair beside Tim’s bed. “It’s all miserable and rainy out there, so I thought we could just hang around here for a while. Shoot the breeze. Chew the fat. Verb the noun. That kind of thing.”
‘There’s something I wanted to ask you, actually,” says Tim, and takes a deep breath, like he’s preparing himself for something. “Mom said you were in Korea. In the war, or the police action, or whatever it was.”
Hawkeye waits for some twitch to give him away, some nervous tic, some abrupt change of subject, some surge of anger or terror or hatred. It never comes. “Yeah, I was there. It says ‘Hawkeye was here’ clear along the 38th parallel.”
“She said you were an army doctor. You saved hundreds of lives over there, and risked your own, and you didn’t even want to go. You were drafted.”
“Substitute ‘dragged kicking and screaming’ for ‘drafted’, and you’re nearer the mark,” Hawkeye says.
Tim looks him straight in the eye. “When did you stop being scared, Hawk? What did it take?”
It takes Hawkeye a second to remember to breathe. “God, you think I ever stopped being scared? I’m terrified. I’m scared I’ll wake up and find out they made a mistake. I’m scared they’ll send me back there. I’m scared they’ll send me somewhere else. I’m scared the guns and the bleeding will start over here. I’m scared my dad will get sick again, or get hurt, or stop understanding who I am. I’m scared I might lose all my marbles. I’m scared someone’s dying right now because I did something wrong in that godforsaken operating room. I’m scared someone will find out how much I’m scared, and I’m scared at how much it might scare them. I’m scared of heights, I’m scared of the dark, and I’m scared of enclosed spaces. And you know what scares me most right now? That you might not get better.”
“Great bedside manner, Doc,” Tim says, in a shaky voice.
“Don’t kid yourself,” Hawkeye says. “We’re all scared. Some of us have darker fears than others, but they’re always there. And you know what? That’s okay. We learn to live with them or we can’t get up in the morning.”
“You done?” says Tim, in the same strange, quavering tone.
“Yeah,” says Hawkeye.
“Good,” says Tim, and the smile finally breaks onto his face. “Because it was getting hard to take you seriously with the Groucho glasses.”
Hawkeye can’t help it; he waggles his eyebrows, and Tim dissolves into laughter, and then he’s laughing, too, swiping at the tears in his eyes, and some part of him is listening to the rain thrum against the window, and some part of him is sharing a drink with an old friend, and some part of him is watching a captain’s hat spiral away along an endless, dusty road.
“You’re a weird guy, Hawkeye, but you make a lot of sense,” Tim says. “Thanks.”
“From one guy who makes a lot of sense to another, thank you,” Hawkeye says, and raises an imaginary glass in a toast. “To the future,” he says.
Solemnly, Tim raises his own hand. “The future.”
“Speaking of the past,” says Hawkeye, and transforms his imaginary glass into an imaginary microphone. “And now, coming to you from Maine, the Johnson’s Wax program, featuring your host, Hawkeye Pierce, waxing nostalgic!” Tim applauds, and Hawkeye grins, settling back into his chair. “Once upon a time, there were these people I knew. Finest kind…”
The day meanders its way to an end, and Hawkeye drives home, and Hawkeye stays up half the night talking with his dad about nothing in particular, about the lobster fishing and the latest rash of hypochondria and the high school baseball team’s prospects for the year, and Hawkeye goes to bed, and Hawkeye doesn’t dream at all.
Some mornings, Hawkeye wakes up smiling.