Chapter Twelve: Back on Their Feet
"What's so awful about her?"
"Remember how incompetent Frank was? Picture that level of incompetence in a nurse."
"What's she done?"
"Mostly a little of this, a little of that, not paying attention to her patients in post-op. The big one was shooting up one of my patients with too much morphine."
"My god! Did he -"
"He made it, but it took Potter, Winchester, and me sitting around him all night. And then she sauntered in the next morning acting like she'd done nothing wrong. Potter told her she's not allowed to give medication anymore."
"What about the surgeon?"
"Riley? Not that bad, but way too green for a front line unit. Too worried about rules too. I can't wait to ship him out either, but Hawkeye needs at least a week's rest before I let him get back on his feet."
Margaret nodded. "Make sure he gets it, will you? If I know him, he'll be fighting to get out of bed as soon as he can stay awake long enough."
BJ laughed. "Don't worry, I've foreseen that possibility. He will be staying in bed until I say otherwise. And Margaret - if you get tired or whatever, tell the doctor on duty and we'll find someone to fill in for you. And that's an order."
"I outrank you," she replied playfully.
He grinned. "And I'm your doctor. Which means that whether or not you outrank me, I have the right to give you orders. So - take care of yourself. That's an order."
"Attention all personnel! Incoming wounded! This is going to be a big one, folks!"
Hawkeye sighed. He knew he wasn't allowed to get back to work yet, but he was too well-conditioned. The announcement had left him wide awake, and he'd been sleeping so much he wasn't particularly tired. He lay awake, anxious.
"Klinger!" He snagged the large-nosed man in the dress as he walked through. "What's going on?"
"Some kind of major engagement. There's a lot of wounded out there, we're running out of room in pre-op! Sorry, no time to chat!"
Klinger ran back out, and Hawkeye lay there, staring at the door he'd just walked through.
Running out of room in pre-op...
This is going to be a big one, folks...
I'd sure as hell want him around when that battle was over...
He sat up and threw back the blanket. He knew what he had to do.
He'd been allowed to get out of bed and walk around a bit for the last few days, a fact for which he was grateful now, remembering how shaky he'd been on his first walk. He was steady on his feet now. In the chaos, no one seemed to notice a patient walking towards the scrub room.
Autopilot took over as soon as he'd turned the sink on. He went through the rest of the procedure without really thinking about it. It was just as he was rinsing that he heard an unfamiliar voice behind him. "What are you doing?"
He knew from the scrubs who this had to be; Riley, the substitute doctor who'd been driving BJ crazy. "What's it look like? I'm scrubbing."
"Captain, please go back into post-op. We're very busy right now. Don't get in the way."
"I'm not getting in the way, I'm helping."
"What is going on out here?" Potter stepped into the scrub room. "Pierce?"
"Klinger said you're backed up."
"Pierce, are you strong enough to operate?"
"I'll be fine. I've operated in a worse condition."
"When?" Potter's question was rhetorical, but Hawkeye actually had an answer.
"You weren't here, but about a year and a half ago, almost the entire camp came down with the flu and I was left running the whole OR. And I managed to get sick just as we got a whole load of casualties in. Ran a twelve-hour OR session by myself with the flu. Margaret should remember."
"If you think you can do it, we can sure use your hands in there." He poked his head back into the OR. "If there's a free nurse, I need her out here!"
Kellye smiled at him as she tied his mask over his face. "It's good to have you back, Doctor."
"It's good to be back." He backed through the door, and everyone looked up. Even with their faces covered, he could see their reactions. He knew Margaret was smiling behind her mask, that Charles was trying to pretend he didn't care, that BJ was trying to decide if he was worried or grateful, and that Riley was still perplexed.
It was BJ who spoke first. "Hawk, I've got a chest case here. Can you -"
"How long were we at that one?" Hawkeye asked as he peeled off his scrubs.
"Forty-three hours," Potter replied tiredly. "Are you okay, Pierce? You didn't take a single break the whole time."
Margaret had noticed that too. She'd been working with her nurses to make sure he had food and something to drink whenever he needed it, and usually before he said he did, but she hadn't been able to convince him to take a nap. She and the Colonel had considered making it an order but scrapped that idea when they'd realized he'd probably ignore it anyway.
"I don't think I've ever wanted to sleep so badly in my entire life." He was dying to get into bed.
"You'll have to come back to the Swamp." BJ was glad he'd insisted Riley take the spare bunk - they'd given up on acting like it was ever going to be taken out - instead of Hawkeye's. "We turned your bed over to a patient, remember?"
"Yeah." He did vaguely remember Klinger saying that post-op was filling up fast and asking if they could put someone in his bed, and him agreeing. "All right, then. Let's see if I can get there while I can still walk."
"I'll go with you," BJ added. It turned out to be a good thing he had. Hawkeye had made it about a third of the way across the compound when his exhausted, overtaxed body simply refused to carry him any further and his knees buckled, plunging him towards the dirt. He would have fallen on his face if BJ hadn't caught him.
"Hawkeye!" His friend's voice was tight with panic.
"Don't yell, my head already hurts."
"Are you all right?"
"Just tired. Help me, would you?" He didn't want to stand there talking about it. He just wanted to get to bed.
BJ wrapped his arm around his friend's waist and slid Hawkeye's arm over his shoulders, supporting the bulk of his friend's weight as Hawkeye stumbled beside him.
The walk to the Swamp seemed to take forever to Hawkeye, who was thinking with every step that maybe he shouldn't have given up his bed in post-op so soon or he'd be asleep already. But finally, he saw the door to the Swamp, and then a few steps later his cot. It had never looked so wonderful to him.
"Just lie down and get some sleep. You're not officially back on the active list, so you're not on the duty roster for tomorrow. You can sleep as long as you want."
Hawkeye sat down, then simply tipped over, landing on his side, out before he made contact. BJ pulled off his shoes, swung his legs onto the bed, and covered him with the blanket.
"Welcome home, Hawk."
It was still light when he woke - or, he suspected, light again. He rolled over, debating whether to try getting up or just go back to sleep.
He smiled at his friend. "How long was I asleep?"
"Almost fifteen hours. How do you feel?"
"Like I can walk under my own power."
"That's an improvement."
Hawkeye laughed. "Is it worth getting out of bed for - uh, whatever meal we're up to?"
"It's lunch, and I wouldn't."
"How's the bar?"
"In prime condition," he poured Hawkeye a drink, "if a little underused."
"I hope that doesn't mean what I think it means."
"I told you, Hawk, it was hard for me to do things that reminded me of you. Don't worry, I drank plenty. Just not from the still."
Hawkeye laughed. "I knew I could count on you." His face grew serious. "You really missed me, huh?"
"Here." He handed Hawkeye a plain envelope.
"What is it?"
"While you were gone, I wrote you a letter with all the things I could never say. I think I'll probably chicken out if I try to say them, so - just read it, would you?"
I look over at your cot and still expect to see you there. It's hard for me to think that I'll probably never see you again. I can't imagine this place without you.
There are a lot of things I never told you, Hawk. Things I think you should know. Let me start by saying that I have never had a friend as close as you, and I never expect to. I don't know what I would have done without you, or what this place would have done to me.
I remember the day we met. You were so agitated over missing Trapper that I barely even registered to you, and yet you took the time out to, in your own way, make me feel a little less out of place. Every joke you made took away a tiny bit of the fear I was feeling. At the time, I thought you somehow weren't afraid. I realize now that you were every bit as scared as I was. You'd just learned not to let it get to you.
I was sure in particular that you'd be disgusted after I got sick. After all, what kind of doctor can't hold down his lunch when he sees a dead man? But I felt you holding me up, and I looked up into your eyes and saw more compassion than I have ever seen from anyone, and I realized that you knew exactly how I was feeling, and that as long as you were there, I'd be okay. And now you're gone, and I know I may never see you again, and I don't know what I'm going to do without you.
I've been away from my family for a year now, and you've been around me enough to know that it hurts me like hell every second. But I've found a family here too, and that family starts with you. I'd say you're my brother, but that's inadequate to describe how close I feel to you. I've only known you a year and yet I feel like you've been there forever. Except now you're not, and my heart feels like it's shattered into more tiny pieces than everything I smashed when we found out you were missing. Not even being away from my wife and daughter hurts this much.
In this hellhole, you've been my lifeline and my angel of mercy. I've said this more than once already, but I have to say it again. I don't know what I'd have done without you, and I don't know what I'm going to do without you now. I pray you apply your poker skills in this mess of a situation and find a way to beat the odds.
Hawkeye set down the letter and looked up. BJ was watching him anxiously. "Well?"
"I never realized you felt this way."
"I wanted it that way."
"Beej? Can I ask you something?"
"Do you have a pen?"
BJ looked perplexed for a minute, then a huge grin emerged from beneath his cheesy mustache. "Of course I do."
"Attention! Would Captain Pierce please report to Colonel Potter's office?"
He smiled at BJ. "I'll write it later."
Hawkeye paused when he saw that both Potter and Margaret were standing behind the desk. "Uh-oh. What did we do this time?"
A look passed between the two of them, and they seemed to be having a silent conversation. Finally, Potter spoke. "Okay, but just remember this was Major Houlihan's idea."
"If you say so." A now thoroughly perplexed Hawkeye was looking between the two of them. "What's this all about?"
Potter slid a box off his desk. "Captain Pierce -"
"Oh, now I know it's serious," he joked.
"Would you let me finish?"
"Captain Pierce, in recognition of injuries sustained in the line of duty, you have been awarded the Order of Purple Heart. Congratulations, Captain." He removed the medal from the box and pinned it to Hawkeye's uniform. "In addition -"
"Believe it or not, there is. In recognition of your multiple acts of bravery in the face of danger on your recent mission, with special note given to your heroism in protecting the senior officer on the mission," he nodded towards Margaret, "the United States Army has seen fit to award you the Silver Star." He lifted another box from the desk and handed this one to Margaret. "Major, would you do the honors?"
Margaret removed the medal from the box, stepped forward, and pinned it on him. She took a few steps back, then lifted her hand and saluted him.
If it had been anyone else, Hawkeye would have probably dismissed the medal and whatever it was supposed to represent without a second thought. But he knew how seriously Margaret took all this, and knew she never would have recommended a commendation unless she really thought he deserved one. And her approval and respect meant more to him than the symbolism of any piece of costume jewelry.
"For the first time in my life, I don't know what to say."
"You don't have to say anything. And Hawkeye - thank you. For everything."
His eyes met hers, and a thousand words passed between them in addition to the two he said. "Thank you."
There are a lot of things I never told you either. I've always had a hard time expressing my feelings, and when it comes to you feelings are what it's all about. While not seeing you again may not have been my biggest concern for the last few weeks, I wasn't exaggerating when I said you were a beautiful sight. I don't think I'd even realized how much I missed you until I saw you standing there.
Like you, I don't know how to describe what you mean to me. I agree that brother seems inadequate somehow. I don't think I'll ever have a friend like you either.
You said I helped you, but really, helping you helped me. While I was trying to help you stop being so afraid, I could stop thinking about how afraid and how angry I was. I was hurting a lot that first day, but being with you took a little of that away.
I knew that you were embarrassed about being sick, which is why I tried to play it off so much. Everyone gets sick at first, believe it or not. I think I threw up everything I'd eaten for a week after my first OR session. I knew how upset you were, and I wanted to help.
Let me tell you something, BJ. As much as I'm your lifeline, you're mine. You're the thing that keeps me sane in this awful place. I've been away from my family even longer than you've been away from yours, and when I first met you I felt like I'd just lost the closest thing I'd had to family here with Trapper leaving and Henry dying. But like you, I found a family, and it starts with you.
PS: Don't ask for a repeat performance. I only intend to get this gushy once.
BJ read the letter and then looked up. Tears glistened in his eyes.
Without a word, Hawkeye pulled him into a hug and they clung to each other. BJ broke the silence first. "I love you, Hawk."
And Hawkeye, for maybe the first time, went back on his word. "I love you too."