"I am the essence of overconfidence! I am speculation, adventure; the spirit of pursuit; the stag howling for its winsome yet anonymous mate. I am the love call of evolution; the perfume and color of the flowers as they offer their pollen to the gentle buzz of the bees. I am sex itself, gentlemen. I am life. I am appetite!"
Benjamin Franklin Pierce, aged seventy-seven years and getting no older, wearing an unkempt tuxedo and army regulation boots - one with a hole in the sole - stands on the bank of the river Imjin with a bemused expression etched into his features.
"I'm dead, then. Good."
Drums can be heard in the distance, and a moment later he almost expects the shrill voice of a comrade he had not seen or heard in many years to call out the one word that, after a lifetime, could still plunge him into nightmare.
While waiting for the inevitable, he loosens his bow tie and tosses it into the river where it is not swept up in a current. The river is perfectly unmoving, it's mirror surface unperturbed by the strip of black cloth he offers as a sacrifice.
There is suddenly a gust of wind at his back and he turns to face it. With one raised eyebrow, he comments,
"It figures," and walks calmly to the helicopter as if he has been preparing for this journey his entire life.
The pilot is dressed in army fatigues, but lacks any indication of rank. With a bitter laugh Benjamin Pierce says,
"You know, I always did tell them that khaki green really was the color of the devil."
"I'm no devil, sir. A mere ferryman to the underworld."
"I also always claimed that Korea was the underworld. I've been here, done the time, and promised that I wouldn't let anything draft me here again. Not even death. So, if you don't mind, I think I'll pass on this afterlife deal and just haunt Margaret's descendents for the rest of my un-existence. You must agree that I'd make an excellent ghoul."
"It doesn't work like that, sir. Now look alive and get in!"
"A comedian. Great. Death with a sense of humor." Benjamin climbs into the vehicle and it immediately leaves the ground. "So you've updated the old raft and pole shtick? You know, I always did wonder why you never just drafted a few poor souls into helping you build a bridge over the river. You could charge toll without having to make the effort to physically accompany the dead back and forth every single day. I'm sure you've got some decent engineers around here somewhere, just sitting around with nothing to do. Heck, you could probably have the best engineers. The guys who built the roman aqueducts or something. It'd last forever."
"Could you perhaps keep quiet for a bit, sir?"
"No. My life was marked by long and impassioned nonsense. I don't do silence well."
"Well, then, keep it down. I'm looking for someone else. I think he's late. I hope nothing has happened to him."
"Well in that case, you've already found him. He's me."
"You're he? My orders were to pick up a doctor and a drunk. I thought you were the drunk."
"Oh, then they're both me."
"Are you sure? It really did sound like two different people."
"Or two people who inhabit the same person."
The pilot eyes him suspiciously.
"A bridge, you say?"
"A bridge. You know, we used to ferry wounded over a bridge. A rainbow bridge. We'd trade a bleeding corpse of a man born in one hemisphere for one born in another. It was Trapper back in those days. Or was it BJ? It almost doesn't matter. "
There is a song on the wind. It is out of key and indistinct but it gains volume over the now soundless rotations of the propeller.
Oh the surgeons in the Army,
they say we're mighty bright,
we work on soldiers through the day
and nurses through the night!
"You're a doctor?"
"A surgeon, yes. Or I was. I don't suppose they have much need for my skills here. " Ben turns to his pilot-guide. "What do I do here, exactly?"
"You just are."
"I could get a more coherent explanation from Henry Blake. Or, on second thought, can I?"
"Everyone is here. And those who aren't, will be."
"Dad." The music changes to a haunting and inexplicably familiar melody.
The only way to win is cheat
And lay it down before I'm beat
and to another give my seat
for that's the only painless feat.
"Shouldn't there be a three-headed dog somewhere around here? Or bird, as the case might be."
A sideways glance.
"You put too much stock in myth, sir. Who's ever heard of a three-headed dog?"
They sit in a brief silence.
"You know, the Swamp was never meant to contain four heads. That isn't why Spearchucker had to leave, of course. In fact, it was more that Trapper and I got along with him so well and formed a sort of trio. That just couldn't be. And then there were three, and only three at any given time for the rest of the war. I'll concede that at times Frank was our serpent-tail, though it was more often between his legs, and I'll concede that Charles was the part of us that was soothed by music, though he was more often bark than bite. We all were kidnapped, torn from our post guarding the living from the place of the dead. But who was it that the gods of the military were scared of? Not us. Oh sure, we won little battles, but they won the war of breaking our spirits. Divide and conquer, that must have been their tactic because they knew enough to make sure that the three of us never all existed at one time in Korea. Good things come in threes, I say. It is ironic, though, that this separation of potential kindred spirits is probably what allowed us to wallow in what they thought of as the basest of sins. It always HawkeyeandTrapper, or HawkeyeandBJ, but never HawkeyeandTrapperandBJ? Now that would have been a dangerous creature to..."
"...let run free like that!"
"But Major Burns, he wouldn't hurt anyone, honest!"
"Lay off of him Frank. How would you like it if every time you took your cousin for a walk around the camp we jumped on you?"
"Radar, why don't you take Mr. Raccoon back to his cage now. We know he doesn't have rabies, and I sure think we'd like to keep it that way. Oh and Radar, we need..."
"Yes sir. And I'll requisition those syringes and rubber gloves."
"...and rubber gloves."
"Will that be all, sir?"
"Yeah, yeah. Go on now! You too Frank, get out of my office."
"But sir it's against regulations to have a-"
"Can it Ferret Face! Dismissed!"
"Doth mine ears deceive me? Colonel Blake giving orders and making snap decisions? Who are you and what have you done with King Henry of the Indecision?"
"He's hung-over. Can I get you a drink? Now what was it you wanted, Hawk, before Frank here so kindly made our conversation of two one of four and five if you count the critter."
"Personally, I'd leave Radar out of the count."
"Sorry Henry. It is just that it has been really slow around here lately and-"
"Trapper and I were thinking that-"
"Uh-Uh. No way!"
"we could really use a couple of days of R-and-R."
"Hawkeye, every time I give you guys a three-day pass you manage to single-handedly lay to waste entire sections of cities."
"Flattery will get you everywhere."
"Well you can just forget about it."
"We're going to lose it. We're going nuts!"
"You are nuts. But...you know what? I'll make you a deal. I'll give one of you a three-day-pass. I don't care which one, but only one. We really don't want to be short staffed if this break in the wounded suddenly ends."
"Henry. You know as well as I do, that there is almost no chance of us having any large amounts of wounded in the next three days. Now what are you trying to pull?"
"I think I'm the one supposed to be asking that. I- Hawk, would you shut that door? Oh it's shut. I. Well. Now, I don't know how to say this, so I'll just say it outright and get over-with that which is difficult for me to say."
"You can say that again."
"I know about you and Trapper."
" --- I would hope that you know about the guys who consume half your liquor cabinet on a weekly basis."
"Daily is more like it. But that's besides the point. I'm serious. Do you have any idea what would happen if anyone- and I mean anyone- even thought about thinking about what you're doing?"
"What are we doing, Henry?"
"Now stop that! I'm not going to turn you in, but I'm not going to let you guys let yourselves get found out."
"We're big boys Henry. We can take care of ourselves."
"And you certainly are doing that, aren't you? You're putting your careers and lives on the line here. It's not worth that..."
When you're lovers in a dangerous time
Sometimes you're made to feel as if your love's a crime
Nothing worth having comes without some kind of fight
Got to kick at the darkness 'til it bleeds daylight
"Hey Trap?" The air was thick and moist, and the ground squelched under their feet.
"Yeah?" They looked at each other through the fog and foliage.
"Would it...would it be worth it?"
"Hawkeye, what the heck are you talking about? The pass? Sure it'd be worth leaving you behind. Just think of the three days with those geisha women from tea-houses of ill-repute." He held a straight face for a few seconds and then burst into laughter.
"It was. You should have seen the look on your face."
"Is Frank in post-op?"
"Yeah, he'll be gone for a couple of hours. Why? Do you want to-"
"No! Well, I mean yes, I do, but first I just wanted to talk to you about something."
"Now you sound like my wife." Hawkeye chucked his pillow at his unrepentant friend and then grabbed two martini glasses and proceeded to down the contents of each before blurting out,
"Henry knows." Trapper's face froze.
"Are you sure?"
"He basically told me on no uncertain terms - well, more like several uncertain terms, but that's Henry for you - to cut it out because we're going to get caught."
"Oh. Are we?"
"Are we what?"
"Going to cut it out?" Hawkeye felt the ground slip away from under him at Trapper's question, the mud belching and boiling.
" I guess that's what we have to decide."
"What if... what if we're just more careful?"
"Trap, I think we have to go by the assumption that if Henry Blake figured it out, that there are others in this camp who have too, and are also covering for us. How much more luck are we going to have? If we get caught... is it worth it?"
"Hawk it's sounding like you're saying-"
"I'm not! I'm not saying that. I'm just pointing out the reality of the situation. I like what we have. I'm not sure what it is, but I like it."
"I do too. So where does that leave us?"
"It leaves us with the question of 'Would it be worth it if we got caught?'"
"We just won't let ourselves get caught. I mean, c'mon Hawkeye, between the two of us we can double-talk circles around most of the guys in this man's army."
"But even the insinuation that-"
"Damnit Hawk! Do you want me to change my mind?" The night sounds of nature could be heard perfectly for seconds after. And then softly,
"No. I don't, but I want you not to regret this." Hawkeye looked strangely vulnerable in the pale moonlight coming in through a crack in the door. Trapper considered this for a moment.
"Well I regret that you aren't in my cot right now." With a come-hither glance and a sparkle in his eyes that might have hid something newer and darker, Trapper McIntyre managed to distract Hawkeye Pierce from talking for the rest of the night.
Don't the hours grow shorter as the days go by
You never get to stop and open your eyes
One minute you're waiting for the sky to fall
The next you're dazzled by the beauty of it all.
"I really missed Trapper- both in the physical sense with his plane leaving ten minutes before I got there, and in the emotional sense. I never got a letter from him, and I never wrote. We saw each other at reunions and conferences, but I never really kept in touch with him because he didn't with me. It sounds awfully childish now, of course, but even back then I always knew that he never was quite at ease with the fact that I would have given myself up to him completely. It would have been worth it for me."
"He would not stay for me; and who can wonder?
He would not stay for me to stand and gaze.
I shook his hand and tore my heart in sunder
And went with half my life about my ways."
"A poet too?" The pilot's mouth quirks up in an almost-smile.
"Hardly. Though I was pretty nifty with a dirty limerick:
There once was a man from Kansas,
Who had two nuts made out of brass,
in stormy weather
he'd clack them together
and lightning shot out of his -"
"As a part of my job here, as a ferryman, I meet a lot of people. And so the fact that you are one of the chattiest people I have ever met is actually extremely impressive. You'd think the dead would have a little more respect for death."
"This may be my first time dying, but I've looked upon the face of death far more times than I'd care to remember. I respect death. It's been my chief adversary all these years. And, it always wins. Even when I scored a temporary victory, it would and will always undo my work in the end. I respect a formidable foe like that. It does not mean, however, that I don't have to continue to submit to it and accept the inevitable. Where would we be if people never challenged authority?"
The ferryman does not respond and they continue to cut through the air which has grown slowly darker as they drift around the eddies of time. There are no stars, and the ground is too dark to be distinguished. There is no up or down and yet they travel still forward past and through songs and speech that have taken on a sort of corporeality.
A brave man once requested me
To answer questions that are key
Is it to be, or not to be,
And I replied...
"Why are you asking me? A picnic was your idea, Hawk. Not mine."
"Since the picnic was my idea, Beej, you have to pick the site. Go on ahead, I'll catch up. Nature calls."
But Hawkeye Pierce did nothing once his friend was out of sight but stand and stare out across the mine field they were skirting the edges of. Suddenly, he saw a man, an older man wearing an equally aged tuxedo, walking across the field towards him.
"Hey! Hey you! Stop! Don't move! It's a mine field!" When the man did nothing but nod with a peculiar smile upon his lips, he leaped up and started moving towards him. They met up ten feet from where Hawkeye had been previously standing. "What the hell do you think you're doing? You could be killed!"
The man laughed a bit and said,
"Oh, that's not really important to me now. The question is, young man, why you just risked your hide to yell at me."
"Well, I'm sure it was because I didn't realize you were suicidal. Because I most certainly am not."
"You fresh-faced guys are all the same. You think you're invincible. That somehow, everyone in the world is going to die, but you are the exception to that rule!"
"Hey! I resent that. I see more death in a week than you've ever seen in your lifetime. I know mortality intimately." The man seemed to suddenly begin to see him.
"Somehow I doubt that. But... what did you say your name was?"
"I didn't. It's Hawkeye. I'm a surgeon down at the 4077th a ways back in that direction." The old man's eyes flashed with a keen light that seemed unusual for someone who looked as old and out of place as he did.
"Ah. Of course. The last dead person on my list of people to look up. I'm Ben, by the way. And don't look at me like I'm a senile senior. I'm not, though, quite as young as I used to be. While you, of course, are. So I'll sit, while you stand." The old man sat down on a lump of earth, his knees near his chin much like a small boy.
"You look familiar. Why are you here?"
"When I figure out that answer, I'll let you know. We are but chess pieces for those higher up- or perhaps checker pieces for those lower-down - the chain of command. That sounded profound, didn't it? When I was young, during the war, my buddy and I would play checkers with shot glasses. Full of course, until we began jumping pieces. I would speak profoundly then too. Which is why I never trust anyone who makes those all encompassing statements of life, death and morality. As if they had anything to do with each other. Are you a good surgeon?"
"I like to think that I am."
"I was a good surgeon in my day. A bad soldier, an abysmal Christian, a rotten influence, a brilliant liar, and a raving lunatic, but I could save a life with the best of them. Which is to say, often but never always. Where'd your friend go?"
"Up ahead a little ways. I suppose if I don't show up in a few minutes he might come back here. And then proceed to have a heart attack when he sees me standing in a mine field."
"It's a good thing we're both doctors, then."
"Yeah. Say, speaking of standing in minefields, why don't we not? It's much safer there on the road." Ben ignored this statement.
"What's his name?"
"Whose name? BJ's?" A smile.
"Yes, BJ's name."
"Oh. What was your friend's name? The checkers guy."
"John. We were quite a duo, for a while, but then... well, that was then. Does BJ know about the guy who came before him?"
"What? How did you...?"
"You had to ask who I meant. No, don't look at me like that. You're a lot like me when I was younger. You can take that as a complement, by the way. I was a pretty terrific guy!"
"Beej knows that there was a guy here named Trapper before him, and that he and I were good friends. And that between the two of us we corrupted an entire army of nurses."
"Does he know that, now? Hmm. Does he know what else was between you? Does he know that you're sweet on him?"
"Although, I suppose 'bittersweet' is the more apropriate term. Nothing born of war can be entirely free of it. Oh, look, I'm off and doing it again."
"Sir, I don't know who you are, why you're here, where you're going, or how you think you know what you do, but ..." Ben abruptly stood up, unfettered by age.
"Look kid, I've been around too long to be lectured by anyone, let alone the likes of you. I'd forgotten how much you liked to preach. You'd really have given Francis a good run for his money had your talents lay elsewhere. Of course, then this would be an entirely different landscape. In any case, take the advice of this wise old man or doddering fool- which ever you'd prefer: You think you've been dealt a bad hand. Sure, you'll have nightmares of blood and bodies for the rest of your life, and you'll never be able to be around small children with out even the smallest urge to break down and fall into yourself, but that's just a part of the legacy this hell hole will leave you and everyone else in it. You'll still have your friends- those alive and those not- and the memories of them. And don't try to tell me that the memory of a prank with BJ or Trapper isn't more powerful than the worst nightmare. I'm not saying that what you got out of it was worth the cost of the war and was for the best, but what if what you got out of it was almost worth what you had to put down for it? You had no choice about going to war, where you ended up, and with whom, but aren't you glad you ended up here, and with them? In the end, you have to ask yourself 'Was it worth it?'"
A voice from the distance called out,
"Hawk! Are you coming?" Hawkeye stared at the old man suspiciously.
"And even if it wasn't, remember, you're a gifted surgeon..."
" I used to ask Dad if I was gifted. He said he certainly wouldn't have paid for me."
"...as well as a bad soldier, an abysmal Christian, a rotten influence, a brilliant liar, and a raving lunatic. So maybe you made it worth it for someone else."
Ladies and Gentlemen, take my advice:
Pull down your pants, and slide on the ice.
"Who do you think you are? I don't need-"
A figure appeared on the road.
"Hawkeye? Who are you t- Hawk! Get out of that field!" Hawkeye Pierce glanced at the empty air beside him, and proceeded to calmly walk the ten feet back to the road where his screaming best friend yanked him into a desperate hug for a moment, and then whacked him on the shoulder.
"What the hell were you doing? Are you trying to get killed or something? I think you just scared ten years off my life!" Hawkeye had the strange urge to laugh.
"Sorry Beej. I thought I saw someone. I guess it must have been the wind."
Suicide is painless.
It brings on many changes.
And I can take or leave it, if I please.
"I wasn't suicidal, you know. Reckless, definitely. Depressed, for sure. But living is an addictive habit that I'm not sure that I am prepared to break even now."
A dry response:
"I've noticed. We're almost there, sir. Do you think you can give me a few moments of peace?" Ben rolls his eyes.
"I doubt it. The majority of people who aren't really involved in war rather like it. It boosts the economy, encourages nationalism and all that baloney. I would have liked a few moments of peace, maybe. No civil wars, no cold wars, no oil wars - they wouldn't have been able to stand it. Maybe it's human beings as a race who are suicidal. How else can you explain it?"
The surgeons in the Army,
they're bright, they are profound,
but we'll take chopper pilots
they'll get you off the ground.
Benjamin sees the pilot barely suppressing a snort of laughter.
"Oh fine, change the subject on me. And here I thought that the afterlife was a time when you reflected on the condition of your soul..."
The sword of time will pierce our skins
It doesn't hurt when it begins
But as it works its way on in
The pain grows stronger, watch it grin.
"...and so it is needless to say that my condition in Seoul later that day was that of the less than sober." The older man slapped his knee laughing.
"That's my boy! Why do I get the feeling that there wasn't an upright barstool in all the city?"
"That's because you know me too well, Dad." Hawkeye, though he had been home for three weeks already, felt the tears that had emerged when he had stepped off of the plane threaten to return. A matching glaze covered his father's eyes.
"Oh, Ben. I just- I'm so thankful that you're here, and in one piece." Hawkeye lowered his gaze for a moment.
"Dad. You know, you've got to know, that I'm not. I'm not all here, and I'm not in one piece. As much as most of my vital organs sans liver are here and intact, and as much as both my feet are planted in the good old Maine soil, that place still has me. The first few days that I was home I thought that the funny feeling that wasn't in the pit of my stomach was the bit of Korea that I had brought home under my fingernails. It isn't. It couldn't be. I didn't bring Korea home with me in my nightmares." His voice cracked. "The nightmares are caused by what I left behind back in that god forsaken bloodbath! And I'm not going to get that back!"
Daniel Pierce's tears spilled over in grief and realization and he reached out to grasp his son's hand in his. After a moment he stood up and motioned for Hawkeye to follow him. The two men with silver-flecked hair and aged eyes meandered down a path that led through some woods near their house, side by side. After a few moments, Hawkeye spoke again.
"I don't just have parts of me in Korea, either. I'm scattered around the world as well. There's parts of me in Boston, part of me in Ottumwa, part of me at the bottom of the Sea of Japan, in Toledo and in Mill Valley. Other places too. These people were like my family. You know that." Daniel nodded.
"I do indeed, but I wonder then, if you leave piece of yourself with family when you part... what part did you leave with me?"
"Dad, you are the part I left behind." And because the Pierce men could only take so much tears, they both fell into an amicable silence as they meandered through the trees. Hawkeye began to whistle a slow melancholy song, and neither doctor took notice when Daniel began rubbing his right arm which had been bothering him all day. Soon the whistle was replaced by the voice most often heard making mockeries of operatic ditties, singing very softly,
"I left my heart in San Francisco
High on a hill, it calls to me.
To be where little cable cars
climb halfway to the stars..."
The song broke off abruptly.
"So I think I'm ready to go back to work. Join your practice and all that."
"Hawkeye, you've only been home for a few weeks. You don't have to rush into anything. Let yourself get used to being home."
"I'm going stir-crazy! If anything, putting myself back to work, even if it's not surgery, will make my adjustment easier. I've been working at a breakneck pace for two and a half years. You can't expect me to just quit cold turkey."
"I'm just saying that if you did want to take more time, maybe visit some of your friends, it would be all right with me. I've run this practice by myself for longer than you've been alive. Another few months won't make any difference."
"Ah ha! I knew it. Small town medicine is a gold mine, isn't it? You sly dog. Trying to keep all those free smiles and excess tongue depressors to yourself, aren't you? Well I'm onto your game, and I won't stand for it! Deal me in!" Daniel laughed and patted his son on the back.
"You've caught me. Well, come by the office on Monday, and we'll see if we've got any openings for an overly qualified backwater doctor."
"No kids. I don't think I can do that yet." Daniel nodded without comment. He began to slow their already light pace, as he was beginning to feel a little breathless. After a few moments of watching Hawkeye's eyes drift somewhere unseeing, Daniel decided to distract them both from the horrors that his son had been witness to.
"So what did that letter from BJ say? Is he settling in all right?" Hawkeye's face instantly reanimated.
"Yeah, it sounds like it. He says that he is considering surgically attaching himself to Erin and Peg. Every other word in the letter was 'Erin did this' and 'Peg says that'. I can read the smile on his face." Daniel watched matching smile began to grow on his. "He's not back to work either, but he's got the starting day all planned out. He's going to take another month to get reacquainted with his family. They're also going to try for another kid. Beej'll love that. His kids are going to be so spoiled. He's already sworn a solemn oath that I can be 'Uncle Hawkeye.' Dad, I think that-" Suddenly, Daniel Pierce fell onto his knees gasping for air and clutching his chest.
"Dad! What's wro- Your heart!"
"Hawkeye," Daniel breathed faintly.
"Oh No, nononono! You don't get to bow out like this. I still need you!" Automatically, the doctor in Hawkeye was checking his father's pulse and laying him into a semi-prone position, while the son in him screamed silently and began choking on air. The dusk filtered through the trees in beams, illuminating Daniel's face, which had abruptly fallen still, along with his body. Hawkeye's lack of field-bag which he had not been without for such a long time, weighed heavily at his side. Almost inaudibly the lips, starting to take on a bluish tinge, moved and words seeped out.
"Hawk. I love you and- so help me god- if you blame yourself for this, I'll come back and haunt you."
Hawkeye's tears mingled with the laughter in a harsh grating noise.
And Benjamin Pierce was alone.
Daniel my brother you are older than me
Do you still feel the pain of the scars that won't heal?
Your eyes have died but you see more than I
Daniel you're a star in the face of the sky.
"BJ!" Hawkeye ran out of the front door of his father's house and tackled the man who was stepping out of a yellow cab.
"I missed you too, Hawk. How are you doing?" Hawkeye had not let go yet and BJ took that as his answer.
"I'm, well, it's been hectic with the practice and the arrangements and accepting the condolences of every single member of this whole goddamn town!" He pushed his friend away almost violently. BJ took this calmly and Hawkeye almost immediately looked apologetic. He took one of the bags and began walking back to the house.
"How the hell did you get here to so quickly?" Hawkeye asked suddenly, turning to his right. A smile.
"I slept with an army pilot."
"It was. You should have seen the look on your face." A pause.
"Oh god BJ. I can't thank you enough for coming. Remind me to thank Peg for letting you out of her sight. I just... I just can't deal with this by myself."
"You shouldn't have to. I told you that on the phone already." They entered the house and BJ closed the door behind him as Hawkeye immediately melted onto the couch in a shape vaguely reminiscent of the fetal position. BJ put his other bag down, spotted the liquor cabinet in this house in which he had never laid a foot, and poured his friend a drink.
Hawkeye sat up, and knocked it back, placing the empty cup on a coaster on the coffee table, and then laughed at the absurdity of the situation. BJ just waited. After a few moments, Hawkeye's laughs died out.
"You know what's funny? The last- the last few sentences I ever said to him were about you. He had asked me about the letter and I was telling him about your life and how you wanted another child."
"I wish I could have met him."
"Yeah. He would have liked you." At this, Hawkeye fell silent once more. BJ waited still. Hawkeye got up and poured himself another drink. "Do you want something, Beej?"
"No thanks. Lack of sleep from the trip over will be enough to put me in a state of inebriation. Hawk... tell me what I can do."
"Nothing. There's nothing left to do. I've barely slept over the past couple of days, but I've got someone on call at the office, the funeral is arranged, and the neighbors have cooked me enough casserole to feed the entire army. It's all been done. I just haven't-" A sob escaped. "I don't want to-" BJ crossed the feet between them and sat down next to his best friend, one arm around his back, his hand making the same circular motions that it did when trying to calm Erin.
"It's okay, Hawk. It'll be okay," BJ murmured as sobs that had been suppressed for days wracked Hawkeye's body.
The two men sat there, side by side as the sun slowly sank behind the forest outside the window, until the room was dark and full of shadow. Hawkeye sat up eventually and gathered himself, knuckling his eyes like a small boy. He turned to his comrade-in-arms abruptly and almost laughed again.
"You shaved off your mustache!" BJ smiled wanly.
"Peg made me. She said it made me look like her father." BJ cringed as the dreaded 'f' word fell out of his mouth. Hawkeye saw this and waved off any upcoming apologies.
"C'mon Beej. You don't have to treat me like glass. I mean, yes, I have lost a few marbles in my day, and yes, I am not best known for my ability to deal with emotions, and yes, that was just me bawling like a child and..." He trailed off as an amused expression began to form on his friend's countenance. "Okay, fine. Have it your way. Glass it is." This pronouncement was punctuated with his reaching to the remainder of his drink and downing the rest. "I would like to propose a toast."
"I don't have a drink."
"Well then, let's get you one. Time difference or no time difference, this is to be a proper toast." BJ watched suspiciously as Hawkeye sprang to life, producing a second glass and filling it with brandy.
"What is this a toast to?"
"A toast to life:
'Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old time is still a flying,
And this same flower that smiles today,
Tomorrow will be dying.'
And all that."
BJ's face softened.
"Hawkeye, you don't have to-"
"Yes, BJ, I do. There's a lot of things I regret not saying to my dad. Things I regret never getting around to. But those weren't my fault. It was the fault of that hellish war for ripping me from him, and it was the fault of nature that his heart wasn't strong enough to last until after we had a chance to work together. You know, we were going to be partners. I had never had the chance to know him on the professional level, and now I never will. And still, that isn't my fault. It would be, however, my fault and my regret if I never got the chance to do this." And Hawkeye Pierce leaned forward to capture his friend's lips with his.
It was a small kiss, practically chaste by his standards. When Hawkeye opened his eyes, which he had not realized had closed, he did not see the disgust, fear, or even the surprise he had expected. Something unidentifiable resided in BJ's eyes and so Hawkeye remained frozen, not in terror, but in curiosity.
Slowly, bordering on lazily, BJ took Hawkeye's glass from him, and placed it with his own on the coffee table. Hawkeye raised his eyebrow in question and his response was one hand placed firmly on his chest and an other behind his neck. He could not help but feel that, as they dissolved into one another, that though they had never been in this situation before, it did not feel new. It was reminiscent of the fluidity with which they would fall asleep against one another after a hard day or three in the OR and of the rightness they would feel once awoken in a pile of limbs and blankets.
It occurred to Hawkeye, right then, as they somehow made the transition from living room to bedroom, that BJ must have known about Trapper and the nature of Hawkeye's relationship with him. Practically everyone in the camp had known, he had found out soon after his friend's departure, and after BJ had proven himself trustworthy, someone - Radar or Margaret - probably had told him. It would explain why BJ had never broached the subject of his predecessor other than in very tangent-like ways and it would explain why he was not surprised that his best friend was rapidly becoming hard under his touch. It did not, however, explain his own response to Hawkeye.
These fragile bodies of touch and taste
This fragrant skin, this hair like lace
Spirits open to the thrust of grace
Never a breath you can afford to waste.
They explored each other's bodies with a wonder that should not have existed, for they had often had been recipient of check-ups from the other, for legitimate medical purposes. Hawkeye discovered a place on BJ's neck that made him moan in a way that he likely never had for his wife, and at the same time found himself helpless and writhing under BJ's supple surgeon's fingers.
When later that night, they disentangled themselves breathlessly, Hawkeye noticed that the hollowness that had taken residence in his chest for the past several weeks, had abated to an extent. He turned to BJ and smiled in a way that he knew had not for some time. BJ smiled back, and with mischief in his eyes said, "Now I understand how you got so many of those nurses to sleep with you, despite your lecherous ways."
In mock outrage Hawkeye lightly punched his shoulder retorting teasingly, "And I'm sure my lecherous ways were the subjects of your thoughts and dreams."
"No, not really," BJ coolly responded, and then added slyly "But they may have crossed my mind once or twice." This piqued Hawkeye's curiosity.
"Really? So if I had done this months ago, back there, would we have ended up like this? You've got to know that I wanted to."
"I did know," Hawkeye widened his eyes in surprise at this. "But I'm not sure that it would have ended up like this, or that I would have let it. Then...we didn't know, really, if we would ever make it back home. It would have meant something different, at least to me."
"Beej, you know that I didn't mean this to happen exactly like this."
"I know, Hawkeye. I think you still don't understand how completely I know you. And before you say it, I know that this wasn't just sex and it didn't happen just because you have to attend your father's funeral tomorrow." BJ said these words slowly and carefully, measuring their impact on his friend, and seemed satisfied when his final phrase didn't elicit more than a flash of remembrance behind Hawkeye's too-bright eyes.
"And I know, " Hawkeye continued for him in a similar tone, "that this doesn't mean that you don't love Peg, and it doesn't mean that you're going to stay here with me until I'm an old man."
"We should probably get some sleep. I'm going to go through the emotional wringer again tomorrow."
"Are you going to be okay, Hawk?"
"I think, maybe, I will be."
"Meet you in the living room for a drink when we wake up three hours from now from blood-filled nightmares?"
"It's a date."
You dream to escape, but the war invades your dream and you wake up screaming.
The dream is peaceful. Reality is the nightmare.
"Today we lay to rest, Daniel Pierce."
We can all be comforted by the thought that he's not really gone - that there's a little Tuttle left in all of us. In fact, you might say that all of us made up Tuttle.
"Today we lay to rest, Hawkeye Pierce."
"Oh no! Not this one again! I already had to sit through this one once!" Hawkeye slumps down in the uncomfortable helicopter seat, and wonders that he can actually feel discomfort despite his lack of a mortal body. The sounds of his funeral fade into the aether.
"So your friends and family gave you a proper burial?" The pilot actually sounds concerned about this.
"Cremation, yeah. My wake was amazing and I wish I had been alive to die of alcohol poisoning at it. The funeral was terrible, though. Everyone cried. Francis officiated, even though he could barely stand up, the dear man. Erin and Danny were among the pallbearers- symbolic of course, as by that time my earthly envelope had already done the ashes to ashes bit. They were going to bury me next to mom and dad, but I specified in my will that I wanted some of my ashes spread over Korea, part over the Sea of Japan and the rest of dispersed throughout the US- California, Massachusetts, Iowa, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Missouri, and Maine. BJ will take care of that, I'm sure. I think Dad will like that. In that little time we had after the war he always was encouraging me to make sure that I didn't sever my ties with my adopted family."
The chopper begins to descend through the clouds, and a new day breaks. Though they have traveled far, they touch down on the opposite side of the same still river. Hawkeye climbs out, and with a half-hearted causal salute, he turns his back on Charon and walks towards the eastern horizon.
Charon waits a moment, and then he too gets out of the helicopter. He walks a few feet to a jeep which is parked nearby. He climbs over the door into the driver's seat. Pulling out a clip-board he checks off a name, and then reads the next. He then turns the key and puts the vehicle in gear. It coughs and splutters for a moment, and then dies. He sighs, and mutters to the empty air,
"God damn army! God damn army jeep!"