Chapter Fifteen: Exhuming the Past
"How do you feel, Margaret?"
"Better, sir. Still tired."
"You had us worried for awhile there." He sat down next to her bed. "It's good to see you up again."
"Colonel, stop it."
"Hawkeye told me what he told you, and I know you're trying not to talk about it. It's all right, sir."
"How many people know?" he asked gently.
"It depends. Everyone on the base knew. I made the mistake of trying to report it to the MPs. By the end of the day everyone knew who I was and who I'd reported. That was all it accomplished."
"Margaret -" He took her hand. "Who was in command of the base?" She just looked at him. He sighed and shook his head. "I was afraid of that."
"He's apologized since."
"Did I ever tell you how I got sent out here?"
"No." She wasn't sure how that was relevant, but she had to admit she was curious now that he'd brought it up. "I know you'd been working as an administrator for awhile. I guess I figured you'd asked for this front line duty."
He shook his head. "Something similar happened in the hospital I was serving at. She was a young nurse, a Second Lieutenant, and she'd been assaulted by one of the doctors."
"A doctor?" she repeated, appalled.
Potter nodded sadly. "I called her into my office because her performance had slipped dramatically. Within a minute, I knew there was some sort of serious problem causing this change. In another two, I'd convinced her to tell me. She hadn't planned to say anything because she was afraid that what happened to you would happen to her. I set her straight. I told her to report it and I'd stand behind her. Unfortunately, the doctor was also the nephew of a general. The man tried to threaten her into dropping the charges, but as I said I stood up for her and called in a few favors of my own to make sure he was brought to trial. He was convicted, and I was able to get her transferred to another hospital before the General transferred me out here. There were all kinds of official reasons, but I know why he really did it. He was getting back at me."
"Do you ever regret what you did?"
"Not for a second. That poor girl deserved as much. Everyone who goes through something like that deserves as much." He stroked the hand he still held with his thumb. "It's a damn shame most of them don't get it."
She knew what he was really saying. "I try not to think about it most of the time. At least," she corrected herself, "that's how I used to do it."
"Now it doesn't hurt so much anymore. Maybe Hawkeye was right that I needed to feel the pain before I could let it go. Once in a while it gets really bad, and then I just wait until I can catch Hawkeye alone and ask him to meet me somewhere. He's really good about it, too. I happen to know he once stood up one of my nurses to comfort me." And I'd do the same for him, she added silently, aware that Hawkeye hadn't disclosed his own side of the story to the Colonel. "I can't really remember why I ever disliked him. No, that's not quite true. It's more like there are two of him."
"I hope not," Potter quipped. "We've got enough trouble with just one."
"Well, only one of them is the trouble. That's just it. There's the Hawkeye we all know, the one who chases nurses and gets drunk and pulls stupid pranks and steps over as many lines as he can. If you only knew him casually, you'd think that's all there is to him. But then there's the Hawkeye who would drop everything and come to the tent of a woman who claimed to hate him because something bad almost happened to her and he knows she's upset, who would hold her while she cried even though that same afternoon she'd been trying to get him in trouble."
"I was trying to figure out who he'd operated on so I could bust him for it," she admitted. "I figured it out a few days later, but by then I was grateful enough to him for taking care of me that I didn't tell anyone. Anyway, that's the same man who let me cry to him about Donald and everything else that was bothering me, who let himself be tortured almost to death to protect me, and who if I'm not mistaken sat here for three straight weeks while I was sick."
"I threw him out once," Potter admitted. "He needed to get some real sleep. Told him he wasn't allowed back in until he'd sacked out for six hours minimum."
"I heard him, you know. And you. Talking to me, telling me to hold on. Even when it hurt and I was scared, I kept hearing your voices and they wouldn't let me give up."
"I'm glad you didn't." His voice was thick with emotion. "You really had us scared."
"How sick was I?"
"Your fever got up to 103.5. You didn't ever wake up, just stayed in some kind of half sleep. Your breathing was getting labored too, on and off for pretty much the whole time. Pierce was seriously worried. I've never seen him cry before."
"He cried for me?" She knew he'd cried after seeing her awake, but to hear that he'd shown that level of despair while she was sick shocked her. Though, she thought, maybe it shouldn't have.
"Tried to hide it but I saw the tears. Right before I sent him to bed."
"Throw him out when he was that upset."
"He was dead on his feet."
"Colonel, can I get back at Hawkeye for telling you my personal business without consulting me?"
He grinned, understanding what she meant. "Why not?"
"Colonel, I don't think that was a good idea. Hawkeye clings very tightly to the people he's closest to, and he likes to know what's going on with them. I probably shouldn't exactly be telling you this, but his mother died from a sudden illness when he was a child. His father tried to shield him from the truth and didn't tell him how serious her condition was until she was dead."
"I - I didn't know."
"I'm probably the only one in this camp who knows. But I think shutting him out, even for his own health, may have just hurt him worse. If I had to name his worst fear, it's probably losing someone he cares about and not being able to do anything about it. He probably felt like you were leaving him out in the cold about my condition."
"I'll talk to him. Apologize if necessary. Thank you for telling me."
"Thank you for telling me about - how you got sent out here. I'm glad to know something more about you. And if it's possible, I respect you even more than I ever did."
He gently embraced her. "My dear Margaret. What else could I have done?"
She remembered being on the other side of this equation, and remembered what she'd been told. "Only a good, caring person would ask that question."
"Pierce, can I have a word with you?"
He gestured towards his office. "A private word?"
"Um, all right." He followed the Colonel into his office.
"I've been speaking with Margaret. She asked to - how did she put it? - get back at you for telling me her personal business without consulting her."
Hawkeye almost froze. "She did?" He hoped to God his distress didn't show on his face.
"Don't be upset with her, son. She was worried about you, worried that I'd inadvertently hurt you."
"What did she tell you?" He tried to force neutrality into his voice.
"She told me about your mother." Hawkeye relaxed instantly, but if the Colonel noticed he didn't comment. "She told me your father didn't tell you she was dying until she was gone."
His eyes were suspiciously bright when he replied. "He didn't."
"She thought you might have been upset when I threw you out. That you may have felt like I was trying to shut you out. I want you to understand that that wasn't what I meant to do. I was worried about you, and I think I may have hurt you while I was trying to help you in spite of yourself."
"I was worried," he admitted. "Charles had to talk to me for almost an hour before I could sleep."
He colored slightly when he realized he'd given away a small secret. "Charles knows about my mother."
"He does?" Potter looked absolutely shocked, and Hawkeye didn't blame him. Charles wasn't really the man anyone would expect to know people's private business.
"He overheard me talking on the phone about my dad needing an operation. He actually showed a little humanity and sat with me while I sat waiting for the phone to ring. I don't exactly remember why, but I ended up telling the whole story about my mom and how I was afraid my dad was doing the same thing all over again by not actually telling me what he needed surgery for. So he understood where some of my fears were coming from."
"I'm sorry I didn't. The last thing I wanted was to make things harder for you."
"You didn't know. I never said anything."
"There's a lot I don't know about you, isn't there?" He eyed Hawkeye critically. "You don't really say much."
Hawkeye raised an eyebrow. "Me?"
"Oh, don't get me wrong. Heaven knows you talk a lot. But you don't say anything. Sometimes I think I don't know much about you at all. I mean, I know the basics. I know where you're from and all. But anything personal I know about you I know from being around you. Don't you trust me, Hawkeye?"
"It's not about trust. I don't tell anyone these things."
"I - I don't know, exactly. I've never really talked about the things that happen to me. Maybe it's easier to pass everything off as a bunch of jokes than to talk about what actually happened in my life."
"If I can pretend to everyone else that nothing is wrong, maybe I can make myself believe it." He sank into a chair. "I want to help other people, not make people help me. I know I'm luckier than most."
"How do you figure that?"
"Talking to Margaret and Charles about their families, I realize that what I have with my dad and had with my mom is really rare, and very special. No one here talks as much about their parents as I do about my dad, except Radar did and Klinger used to pretend one or more of them had died recently." He couldn't suppress a laugh, and Potter chuckled with him. "I grew up in what I still think is the most beautiful place in the world. Other than losing my mother and that one incident with my cousin," he knew Potter knew what he meant, "nothing really bad ever happened to me."
"Until you came here."
"Hawkeye, you've been here longer than anyone. Granted, you only beat Margaret by a week, but still. She, Klinger, and Mulcahy are the only people who even come close. That has to take its toll on you."
"I didn't cry," he said softly.
"For the first five months, I didn't cry. Even with everything I saw."
"What changed?" That he knew the months meant he had cried, Potter knew.
"One of my best friends from childhood showed up in camp. Pulled this elaborate gag on me, too, and kissed your predecessor right on the mouth. You should've seen old Henry's face. Went off with his regiment and came back a few hours later. On a stretcher. They barely got him under before -" Hawkeye choked hard.
"I'm sorry, son. That must have been rough."
"First time I cried. I couldn't understand it. Not why I was crying. Why I was crying that one time, and I'd never cried for any of the other kids who died in there."
"Hawkeye, I know it's hard. But there are two rules in a war."
He looked up with a tiny glint of amusement in his eye. "Henry told me the same thing. Rule number one is young men die."
"And rule number two," Potter finished, "is that doctors can't change rule number one."
"That really is something they teach you COs. Ironic, isn't it?"
"He wasn't even 45 years old himself."
"That must have been difficult for all of you." He still wanted to convince Hawkeye to talk to him.
"It was hardest on Radar. He really loved Henry like his own father."
"What did you do, Hawkeye?"
This was well out of the realm of his expertise, but in for a penny, as the saying went. "That first day. What did you do?"
It was a still shell-shocked group that stumbled out of the OR. Tears flowed down more than a few faces. Radar's awful words ran through all their minds.
Lieutenant Colonel Henry Blake's plane was shot down over the sea of Japan. It spun in. There were no survivors.
There were no survivors.
There were no survivors.
His friend's face was streaked with tears, and his brown eyes were bloodshot. "Yeah?"
"Don't know." He sounded too miserable to care.
He laid his hand on the other doctor's shoulder. "Go on back to the Swamp. You look like you need a drink."
"Or five. You coming, Hawk?"
"Not yet. I have to check on him. Save me some, won't you?"
He walked into the outer office. Radar was sitting on his bunk, clinging to his teddy bear. He didn't even look up when the door opened.
The young corporal lifted tear-filled eyes, noticing Hawkeye for the first time. "I can't believe he's gone."
He sat down next to his friend. "Come here."
Radar fell into his side, sobbing. One hand clung stubbornly to his teddy bear. The other grabbed hold of the white shirt Hawkeye still wore. The doctor wrapped his arms around Radar, holding him close.
"I know it hurts, Radar. I know, I know." He rocked his friend gently. The young man was still shaking with tears.
"Henry - Henry." He couldn't say more than that one word, whispered brokenheartedly over and over again. Loud sobs tore through from his throat as Hawkeye held him and rubbed his back.
After a few minutes, Hawkeye noticed that Radar had gone silent. The young man was breathing deeply, having cried himself to sleep. Hawkeye laid him in his bed, drawing the blankets up over him.
He stepped out of the office. The camp was eerily silent. No one, it seemed, felt like doing much of anything tonight.
He rapped on the door to the nurses' tent. A faint "come in" answered him and he stepped in.
"What do you want, Hawkeye?" one asked tiredly.
"Is everyone okay in here?" His voice held no trace of the flirtatious tone he usually used when speaking to them. He could see that Ginger Bayliss was being held up by an uncomfortable-looking Mary Larson and that Helen Able was sobbing loudly. Susan Baker was staring into space, not even noticing them. Kellye Nakahara, who had spoken, was watching him with silent tears running down her face.
Without needing an answer to his question, he stepped into action. He relieved Mary of a shaking Ginger, easing the woman down onto her cot and whispering what comfort he could manage. He rubbed Helen's back until she calmed down. He held Susan's hand as she came back from wherever she'd been. He gave Kellye a gentle pat on the shoulder and offered her a handkerchief.
"You girls need anything, come find me." He stepped out of the tent and continued making his self-appointed rounds.
Klinger was passed out on his cot, wearing the same black dress and veil that Hawkeye remembered him using in one of his many Section 8 dodges. Some member or other of his family dying. If only this were nothing more than a dodge, a joke, a lie.
He wasn't sure where Klinger had gotten the wine, but a bottle he suspected had been full was now all but empty. The cross-dressing corporal would have one hell of a hangover tomorrow. Then again, so would half the camp.
He peeked into Father Mulcahy's tent, but seeing the man kneeling in silent prayer decided against bothering him. He had started walking back to the Swamp when a shout broke the silence.
"What the hell are you doing?"
He couldn't hear the response, but he figured there had been one because he heard the same voice about a minute later. "You insensitive jerk!"
"Margaret." It hadn't even occurred to him to check on her. He'd figured she'd go to a certain someone else for comfort. However, he doubted he'd need three guesses to figure out the identity of the insensitive jerk in question.
He doubled back, arriving in front of her tent just as she stormed up and stopped short. "What are you doing here?"
He nodded towards the inside of her tent, and she nodded. They stepped in, and she looked at him sharply. "So?"
"I could hear you yelling at Frank across the compound. What was he doing this time?"
"Moving his things into H-Henry's tent." He could see the tears on her face in the dim light.
"He j-just wants to take command. He d-doesn't care about Henry or any of it." With those words, she doubled over, sobbing.
Hawkeye took her firmly by the shoulders and steered her to her cot. He sat her down and joined her, wrapping his arms tight around her shoulders. "Forget Frank."
She whimpered and buried her face more deeply in his shoulder. "Hawkeye -"
She barely ever called him that. That she used it now meant she wanted to talk to him as a friend, he knew. But she barely seemed able to talk at all. "Just cry it out, Margaret."
"I never told him," she whimpered.
"Never told him what?"
"Anything!" she sobbed. "I only told him when I was mad at him. I thought he was an awful administrator."
"He was," Hawkeye quipped softly.
"B-but he was a good doctor. I never told him any of the things I thought were good about him, only the things I didn't like."
"I'm sure he understood." He wasn't just saying that either. Henry was bumbling and often caught out of his element, but Hawkeye knew he'd often seen more than he acted like he did. Frank he might have genuinely disliked, but there was a reason he'd repeatedly talked Margaret out of leaving the 4077. In all likelihood, Henry had understood. At the very least, he'd appreciated her.
It was a mark of how upset she was that she let him comfort her for several minutes before pulling away. "This is embarrassing."
He'd heard enough about the time she and Trapper had been stuck in the supply tent to know what she meant. "This once, don't think of me as a Captain. Think of me as a friend. You gonna be all right?"
She nodded, still red-eyed. "Would you leave me alone for awhile?"
"All right, but you know where to find me."
He headed back for the Swamp. Frank's area was slightly trashed, and he suspected Trapper had had his own version of Margaret's fight with Frank. The older doctor sat on his cot, staring into a glass.
"I think it's aged enough, Trap." He wasn't sure what had made him say that except that he had to break the silence somehow.
The man raised a tearstained face. "He was going home, Hawk."
"He'll never see his wife or kids again - they're gonna get that telegram -"
"Yeah." Hawkeye had been so worried about the camp he realized he hadn't even thought about Henry's family back in Bloomington.
"His girls are the same age as mine, you know? Six and eight. Becky's gonna be nine next week, though."
He had been aware of that. Henry's sons were younger, though, four and an infant. He wondered where the man's rambling was going.
"What if it's them next? My wife, getting that damn telegram saying - saying -" He choked and began to cry.
"Oh, Trap." He sat down on his bunkmate's cot and let his friend cry on his shoulder. He should have realized. Trapper for all his womanizing ways loved his wife and was absolutely devoted to his two daughters. He wished he could give the man some reassurance, but he'd given Henry a hundred reassurances like that, and it hadn't changed anything.
"He fell asleep, I drank until I passed out. Trapper and I organized a memorial the next day, and then we started trying to get back to normal, even though everyone was still down in the dumps. I kept trying to help everyone. Margaret was thankful enough that she somehow persuaded Frank to sign on for some R&R for me."
"But you never really grieved for him, did you son?" Potter didn't begrudge his unit their former CO. He knew that as much as they all loved him, Henry held a special place in the hearts of everyone who had served with him.
"Someone had to be strong for the camp," he said softly. "Trapper was a lot worse off than I was, and Frank sure wasn't going to reach out to anyone."
"So you helped everyone. And you didn't let anyone help you."
"Can I ask you something?"
"You just did." He grinned. "Yeah, go ahead."
"What exactly did happen with your friend and Margaret in the supply tent?"
"We were getting shelled and the door jammed shut. Trapper went to help her get it open, but once they were inside, it shut and jammed again. They were in there for maybe an hour before anyone realized they were missing; it was kind of chaotic. Shelling will do that, you know. From what Trapper told me, she panicked and started crying, and then was embarrassed because she outranked him. Of course, that's nothing compared to what happened when Frank and I went in there to get them out."
"Oh? What happened?"
"Well, they'd managed to fall asleep together, kind of cuddled up. It was actually pretty cute. Unfortunately, Frank got the wrong idea, and she was so flustered she barely got out a sentence that didn't make sense anyway." He was laughing his head off just remembering. "Something about 196 degrees. I think it had to do with sharing body heat - though it wasn't really that cold. Trapper never needed a reason."
He wasn't sure when it happened exactly, but his laughter turned to tears, and suddenly he was sobbing. Potter stood in front of him, watching in concern. "What is it, Hawkeye?"
"Henry." The one strained word tore free from his throat as he wept. The old Colonel came out from behind his desk, laying a hand on Hawkeye's back.
"Let it out, son."
He didn't know how long they stayed there, Hawkeye crying into his hands while Potter rubbed his back in an attempt to comfort him as he finally grieved for his friend's death more than a year later. Finally, he sat up and wiped his face.
"Sorry about that," he said sheepishly.
"Don't be." He sat down across from his Chief Surgeon so they were closer to eye level. "I know it's in your nature to help people. But there's nothing wrong with letting yourself hurt too."
"Thanks, Colonel. I appreciate that."