AUTHOR: Nikki Harrington
PAIRING: Benjamin Franklin 'Hawkeye' Pierce/BJ Hunnicutt
SUB-GENRE: Established Relationship
SUMMARY: Hawkeye is sent to an aide station near to the front. Before he goes BJ makes him promise him something.
WORD COUNT: 3,185
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Written for ashley_pitt: R - Return to me (14/26)
DISCLAIMER: I don't own these characters, nor am I making any money from them. I merely borrow them from time to time.
"I'm sorry, Hawkeye. You do understand why it has to be you, don't you?" Colonel Potter leaned forward and stared at Hawkeye; a look of concern was on his face and in the steady gaze.
Hawkeye nodded. "Yes, sir," he said, and he did understand; he understood only too well. It had to be him. "When do I leave?"
"Tomorrow. At first light. I've changed the duty roster and Winchester will cover your shift tonight. You get a good night's sleep." The Colonel nodded and gave him a half smile.
"Thank you, Colonel." Hawkeye stood up and pushed his hands into his pockets. He nodded to Colonel Potter and turned to go.
"Hawkeye?" The voice was quiet, low and contained more than a hint of compassion.
Hawkeye stopped and turned back around. "Yes, sir?"
"Take care, son. And thank you."
Hawkeye just held the kindly gaze for a moment before nodding again, squaring his shoulders and leaving the Colonel's office.
Once he was outside in the compound, he paused and slowly looked around him, taking in the tents, the dirt, the sign-post, the big red crosses on the tops of some of the tents meant to stop enemy fire. It wasn't the first time he had been sent so near to the front, but for some reason he felt bad about this one - and it hadn't helped when the Colonel had told him quite how heavy and nearby the shelling was.
For a moment he felt like going back into the Colonel's office and demanding he send someone else. Going back in and reminding him that technically it wasn't his turn; that he had done his duty more than once. Tell him hat he might not have a wife and child at home, but he did have a dad who loved him very much and who would mourn him if he died.
He didn't go back in.
Instead he went back to the swamp, pulled out his notepad and wrote a short letter to his dad. He would leave the letter with BJ and make him promise to post it if he didn't come back. He deliberately kept the letter short as when it came down to it, there wasn't anything he could say other than 'I love you, Dad', and his dad knew that. And 'look after yourself' and other such basic things.
His dad didn't need to know that he was scared; that he was really scared; the he felt like a coward because he didn't want to go. His dad didn't need to know that if he didn't come back, there would be someone else who would miss him, almost as much as his dad would. His dad didn't need to know his son, his only child, was not only sleeping with another man, but that other man was married. His dad didn't need to know he wasn't only sleeping with a married man, but he was in love with him. His dad didn't need to know; so he didn't tell him.
SOME TIME LATER
"Why you, Hawk?" BJ asked, as they sat side by side on Hawkeye's bunk, each of them had a glass of gin in their hands.
"Because I'm the best surgeon," Hawkeye quipped.
BJ didn't join in Hawkeye's attempt to lighten the mood. "But you went last time."
Hawkeye shrugged. "I don't think Colonel Potter keeps a list; he just sends the best person at the time. And this time it's me. Come on, Beej, you know Charles's meatball surgery still isn't up to scratch. He'd be totally out of his depth and they need someone who can work quickly and doesn't actually care what the wound looks like as long as it's fixed."
"Okay, that explains Charles. But what about me? Why isn't Potter sending me? Why, Hawkeye? You know, don't you?" BJ stared at him, his gaze penetrating Hawkeye. He seemed to be trying to see inside Hawkeye's head.
Hawkeye emptied his glass and got up from his bunk to pour himself another one. He took his time, fiddling with the still before he released some of the liquid, checking the level carefully. He picked up a book he'd been reading and did half a dozen other things before BJ stood up and took his glass from his hand, put it down and put his hands on Hawkeye's shoulders.
"Why aren't I going, Hawkeye?" Once again BJ stared directly into Hawkeye's eyes; once again he seemed to be trying to get inside Hawkeye and find the truth.
Hawkeye gazed over BJ's shoulder as he tried to think of something (other than the truth) which would satisfy BJ, which would appease his sudden fear that he wasn't a good enough surgeon - because Hawkeye knew that was what BJ was thinking.
However, he couldn't think of anything; nothing at least he could stand in front of his best friend, in front of the man he loved and say. Lying wasn't easy when you were fact to face with the person you were lying to - not if you actually cared about that person it wasn't.
He sighed, shrugged off BJ's hands, grabbed his drink and said, "Because I don't have a wife and a daughter waiting for him at home." He drained his glass and went to pour another one, before BJ grabbed his hand.
"So it's dangerous?"
Hawkeye shrugged and again looked away from BJ. "It always is," he said. "Aide stations are always more dangerous than M*A*S*H units. There's always a bigger risk of . . . You know that, BJ."
Once more BJ stared at him unblinkingly; once more he seemed to be trying to see right inside of Hawkeye. It was, Hawkeye realized, more than a little disconcerting. "But it's more so this time? Isn't it? Well, isn't it? Why aren't you answering me, Hawkeye?"
Suddenly Hawkeye was drained. He also really didn't want to spend anymore time talking to BJ. If this was the last night they were going to have together, he didn't want to spend it talking. "Yes," he said. "It is. Now come on; the Colonel's got Charles to cover my shift tonight. Let's go and -"
But BJ interrupted him. "I'm going to go and tell Colonel Potter I want to go." He had his determined look on his face.
Hawkeye sighed silently. "He won't let you," he said, keeping his tone reasonable.
"I'll insist." BJ stared at him. His determined look had now become mutinous as well as determined. It was a look Hawkeye knew well.
Hawkeye actually smiled. "I'd bet against you, Beej," he said softly. "The Colonel's made up his mind and," he said, taking BJ's hand and holding it between both of his. "So have I." He glanced outside but there was no one around, so he leaned forward and brushed his lips over BJ's. "Let's go somewhere less exposed," he said. "Please, Beej. Don't let's argue; not tonight. I," he paused, swallowed and said quietly, "I need you."
For a moment he thought BJ was going to argue; was still going to insist on going to talk to Colonel Potter. However, after a moment the mutinous and determined stare faded and he nodded. "Okay. But, Hawk?"
"I need you to promise me something." BJ now gripped his arms and stared deeply into his eyes. His look told Hawkeye things he had never said, apart from once when he had been so drunk he couldn't even stand up.
Mentally Hawkeye crossed his fingers and said quietly, "If I can."
Just for a moment BJ hesitated; Hawkeye found himself holding his breath as he wished BJ would stay silent and instead they could go and be alone somewhere. However, after a moment BJ spoke. His tone was low, intense and tinged with just a hint of fear. "Promise me you'll return to me, Hawkeye. Promise me you'll come back. Promise me." His voice got a little louder as he said the final two words.
Hawkeye swallowed. "Beej. I -"
"Promise me!" BJ growled the words and tightened the grip he had on Hawkeye's arms. His fingers were cutting into Hawkeye's flesh and Hawkeye was certain he would have bruises if not welts on them the next day.
He briefly closed his eyes to cut off the look of pain and fear in BJ's, before he opened them again. What did it matter? And if it helped BJ then . . . What did it matter? "I promise you, BJ."
"Say it." Once more BJ growled the words and gripped Hawkeye's arms even more tightly.
Hawkeye made one last attempt. "Beej?"
Speaking very slowly, as if talking to a dim five year told, BJ said, "Say you promise you'll return to me. Say it, Hawk, or I swear I'll go over to Colonel Potter's tent and -"
"I promise you I'll return to you, BJ. All right? Happy now?"
"No. But it'll do. Where do you want to go?"
TWO DAYS LATER
Hawkeye had never seen such carnage; had never been this far into hell; had never, not even in the endless hours he spent operating as young man after young man after young man was brought in, worked on so many people in succession. And it wasn't just in succession he was working on them; he was moving from patient to patient.
After the first few hours he had given up changing his gloves when he moved between patients. The station were running out of them anyway and given the state of the men he was working on, the risk of infection was the last thing they needed to worry about.
So far Hawkeye was fairly sure that at least fifty percent of the men, or in most cases, boys, he had worked on wouldn't survive. The only thing that kept him going, that gave him something to hold on to, was the fact that he knew if he hadn't been there, that percentage would be so very much higher.
He had worked at aide stations before, so was used to operating under gun and shell fire; used to throwing himself over patients whose bellies or chests were open to prevent stuff from falling into the cavities as the shells blazed around him. But this experience went way beyond previous visits. The station shook pretty much continuously. In fact Hawkeye no longer consciously noticed it shaking, nor did he notice things falling around him. He barely even noticed the shells and gunfire nor the screams of agony and fear nor the sobbing and wailing. All he could focus on was the endless, bloody, damaged, torn apart bodies that kept appearing in front of him. There was a relentless stream of them. No matter how hard and how quickly he worked, there were always more, always several waiting for him.
He had barely had anything to eat or drink in the two days he had been there, merely enough to keep him on his feet and to stop him from collapsing from dehydration. As for sleep? He'd already forgotten what that was like. Once or twice, he had been forced to close his eyes for five minutes while still on his feet, his back braced against a wall - but beyond that he'd forgotten what being off his feet was like. As for going to the latrine: that happened where you could, when you could.
And still the bodies kept coming in an impossible unremitting wave. And they weren't just men and boys from his side; the enemy poured in too. Not that for Hawkeye that mattered, a torn apart, bleeding body was a torn apart bleeding body to him. Race, color, creed none of it matter to him. He just got his hands in and did what he could. Patched them up, sewed them up; moved onto the next one.
By the end of the first day he'd had to start making tough decisions; the hardest any dedicated doctor had to make. Even he couldn't operate on everyone; even he couldn't attempt to save everyone; there were some that were just too damaged, too broken, too bloody to have any kind of chance. Those he had to turn his back on; he had to walk away from; he had to turn to the kid he could possibly save. He had to choose. God he wasn't, but from that moment it seemed to him that's what he was doing: playing God. Playing with people's lives and making choices no one should have to make.
He hated himself, he despised himself each time he looked at a solider and knew he hadn't the faintest, not even the faintest of faintest chances of survival. He loathed the man he had become. The man who could turn his back on the kid and walk away to instead work on someone other kid - just because that kid might, just might have a chance of surviving.
Everything and everyone else was forgotten as he worked. His world had become restricted to that one place; that one station; that one small room. The only people who mattered were the handful of woefully undertrained medical aides who did the best they could; who did far more than they should. Who did more than Hawkeye had done even after he had qualified as a surgeon. He pressed them into action, he bullied them, he berated them at times and he did it for one reason and one reason only: to save as many as he could.
And still it went on. It went on beyond the time that Hawkeye believed he could remain on his feet, could move his fingers, could push intestines back into place, could crack chests, could scoop out blood. He'd gone beyond tiredness, gone beyond consciously knowing what he was doing; now he just operated on automatic pilot. He sweated, he peed, he ached, he drank enough to keep him sane but he wasn't human any longer. He couldn't be. No human being could do what he'd been doing.
What he went on doing for another forty-eight hours until finally the deafening, frightening, devastating sound of silence penetrated his ears and brain and he looked up to see . . . To see an empty tent; there were no more bodies waiting. All around him people were slumped on the floor sitting in God only knew what, leaning against one another; some were crying from sheer relief or weariness - Hawkeye didn't know which. It was only when he felt his cheeks were wet that he realized he was one of the some.
Finally, he put his last stitch in and sank down to the ground where he stood. Sank into the blood, the mud, the guts and other things he didn't even want to think about, couldn't think about. Sank down, put his head onto his knees and fell asleep.
A FEW HOURS LATER
As Hawkeye crawled out of the jeep which had taken him back to his M*A*S*H unit, he saw the lights blazed in the OR. He groaned and briefly closed his eyes; it wasn't over. Of course it wasn't over; the kids he'd saved, patched up, held together more by hope than anything else had to have been taken somewhere, and most of them would have been taken here.
He gritted his teeth, dropped his bag and began to move towards the operating room. However, a hand caught his arm. He stopped and turned around to stare at Colonel Potter. "Go to the swamp, Hawkeye," he said firmly. "You've done enough. You've done your bit. Now it's up to us."
"But I can . . ." Even as he started to object, started to say he could help, Hawkeye knew he couldn't. For the first time ever in his life as a surgeon he knew he had nothing more to give. He wasn't even certain he knew how to cut into someone, let along how to sew them back together.
"No, son. This is ours. It's up to us now. You've done your bit. Go to bed, Hawkeye." The Colonel patted his arm and then called, "Klinger?"
"Take Hawkeye to the swamp and put him to bed."
"Yes, sir." Hawkeye felt his arm taken and eyes closed, shuffling his feet, he let Klinger lead him across the compound, into the swamp, guide him down onto his bunk and let him cover him with a blanket. "Captain Hunnicutt will be pleased to see you back," Klinger said, as he gently tucked the blanket around Hawkeye and left him.
BJ. He had kept his promise. He had returned. He had returned to BJ. As he slipped deeper into the sleep he'd been in since the moment he'd finished operating at the aide station, Hawkeye let the thought of how pleased BJ would be, warm him.
TWENTY-FOUR HOURS LATER
Hawkeye, finally clean again, fed, watered and caught up on some sleep, lay in BJ's arms. "I though you were on duty tonight," he said.
"Charles said he'd cover for me."
"Charles?" Hawkeye looked surprised. Then something occurred to him. "You don't think he knows, do you?"
BJ shrugged. "I don't know. Maybe."
"Does it bother you?" Hawkeye asked softly.
BJ shook his head. "No." And before Hawkeye could ask him anything else, he put his mouth on Hawkeye's and kissed him.
"You returned to me," he said softly, after a very pleasant period of time had gone by.
Hawkeye swallowed hard. He didn't intend to tell BJ how many times he had thought his promise would be broken. Or quite how close the shelling had got. Or how awful it had been up there, right by the front. Or about having to decide which wounded men to treat and which to just let die. BJ didn't need to know and even if Hawkeye told him he wouldn't really understand; not truly. How could he? He hadn't been there.
So instead he grinned and said, "I promised you I would, Beej."
Hawkeye silenced BJ by kissing him. He had read something in BJ's gaze as he'd spoken his name; something he didn't want to hear or think about. He didn't want to think about the end of the war, no matter how desperately he wanted it to arrive. He didn't want to think about what would happen when BJ said goodbye and went back to Peg and Erin. He didn't want to think about anything like that. So he wouldn't.
All that mattered was the here and now. All that mattered was getting up each day, saving lives, the time they were able to spend together away from prying eyes, and what they felt. It wasn't real, but for now it was all they had. All they could have.
"I'll always keep my promises to you, BJ," he said, when he finally took his mouth from BJ's. "Always." He kissed BJ again to hide the tears that had sprung to his eyes.
Here and now. That was all that mattered.
Here and now.