Chapter Eight: Deadly Detour
"Don't worry, no one's in trouble. Remember Starks?"
"Who?" BJ asked.
"Yeah, I do," Hawkeye piped in. "Came in here half dead about two weeks ago. I pretty much had to put him back together."
"Well, the 121st was impressed. Impressed enough to ask for a demonstration of the surgical techniques used to save him. Since he was your patient, Pierce, I think you've just volunteered."
Hawkeye groaned good-naturedly. "I don't suppose I could volunteer someone else?"
"Nope. You'll need to take a nurse, too." BJ laughed when Hawkeye perked up noticeably at the Colonel's words. "Who assisted you?"
"There were three or four, I think. It was a pretty serious job."
"I'll ask. I'd like you to take one of them, someone who knows what you did."
A knock on the door pulled Hawkeye out of the book he was reading. "Come in?" He wasn't adverse to the idea of a visit, but most people just barged right into the Swamp without knocking.
Except for the blond Major who stepped through the door.
"Oh, it's you. What do you need?"
"I want you to know I volunteered to accompany you to the 121st."
"I was the main nurse on the job. Anyway, it'll be nice to get out of here for awhile. Too many reminders of you-know-who keep popping up in my tent."
"Okay, fine. You can come on one condition."
"I happen to know that four days from today is the anniversary of your divorce. We'll be at the 121st then, so I want you to join me in a celebratory drink."
She smiled. "I accept your condition."
"Why is it always us?" Hawkeye grumbled.
"What do you mean 'always'?" Margaret asked. "Everyone does these missions."
"First it was the Aid Station. Then it was the bug-out."
"We didn't go anywhere that time," she pointed out, completely straight-faced, but Hawkeye caught the glint in her eye.
"True. We stayed right where we were. It was the rest of the camp that went." He grinned, and she smiled back. "Then there was the 8063, and now this. And that doesn't even count last month's incident with the cave, which I left out because we volunteered. Not to mention I was the one who had to leave on that officer exchange program."
"You think that was bad? We had to put up with your replacement!"
"At least this time we're heading away from the fighting. And at least you volunteered yourself."
"Well, you are the best doctor in the unit."
"If you're trying to flatter me," his stern expression gave way to a grin, "you've succeeded."
"Just think of it! A real hospital to work in."
"Think of it? I've thought of nothing else since we left!"
"Hey yourself." The young doctor wouldn't have lasted a day at a MASH unit, but in the safe environment of the Evac hospital, he could safely like the man. "What's up?"
"I was wondering about your nurse."
"My nurse? Oh, you mean Margaret."
"Yeah. Is she, you know, single?"
"Single, yes. But you're really asking if she's available, aren't you?"
He scoffed. "What's the difference?"
"Well, she's recently divorced. I'm not sure she's, you know, up for it."
"Oh, come on."
"You must not get around much." He smirked.
"I resent that implication. My reputation as the ladies' man of the 4077th is well established."
"Seriously? You must be a slow learner, then. Let me tell you something. If she's divorced, she'll be lonelier than ever. She may be a major, but she'll be a whore underneath. They all are."
The next thing the doctor knew, he was up against the wall with the black-haired man's hand against his chest. "Let me tell you something. You may have been brought up to believe that women don't deserve respect, but that woman is one of the finest people I have ever met. And let me tell you something else. You may be able to get into a bed with that attitude, but that's the farthest you'll ever go." He finally released the man. "And keep your haughty attitude away from Margaret."
"What? What?" He woke blearily.
"What the hell is going on with you?"
"I don't know what you're talking about," he mumbled.
"Doctor Whitman claims you assaulted him!"
"What?" He sat up slowly. "That younger doctor who was hanging around?"
"Yes. And you'd better have a damn good reason for it too!"
"Believe me, I do."
"Please, Margaret. Becoming irate with me after I defended your honor?"
"What?" Some of her annoyance gave way to genuine curiosity. As Hawkeye detailed what had happened, she felt herself melting more and more.
"God, Hawkeye, I just can't stay mad at you."
"You know it." He grinned. "Now if you don't mind, I was in the middle of a great dream. Mind if I get back to it?"
"I'll see you later. And I'm sorry I woke you."
"To Margaret Houlihan, who is once again just plain Margaret Houlihan."
She raised her glass to meet his and took a sip. "And to Hawkeye Pierce, who's been the best friend anyone could have asked for through all this."
He raised his glass again and took another sip quickly, trying to hide how much her words had meant to him. "I was only returning the favor."
"The favor I did you by returning your favor? No, I owe you one."
"I say we're even. Anyway, what does it really matter?"
"What do you mean?"
"It doesn't matter who owes who what. You know as well as I do that I'll always be there when you need me, and you'll be there when I need you, regardless of what our score is."
She smiled. "I'll drink to that."
"Well, that demonstration went better than the last one."
"You mean the one where we were so angry at each other we were turning shop talk into one big argument?"
She couldn't help laughing. "Yeah, that one."
"I don't see how it could've been worse."
"No, I suppose not."
The jeep lurched and Hawkeye sighed, pulling over. "Stupid flat tire." He stepped out of the jeep
"Hawkeye, are you any better at flat tires than engine trouble?"
He laughed. "Haven't I ever told you about BJ's first day in Korea?"
"No." She climbed out to help him. "All I know is we had high hopes for him. A brand-new doctor fresh out of residency, we thought we could mold him in our image." She laughed. "I'm glad now that we didn't. But he showed up covered in mud and completely blasted, called Frank "Ferret Face" and passed out in my arms. Not to mention the jeep incident. Tell me, what exactly happened?"
"Well, I suppose I can start at the beginning." He got the jack under the front of the olive drab vehicle. "Well, after I left the office, I talked Radar into bringing me to Kimpo with him so I could say goodbye to Trapper. Got there ten minutes too late."
"I'm sorry. I know you two were close."
"Thanks." He smiled at her. "Well, Radar shows up with a twenty-eight year old naive doctor. That was about when we realized our jeep was gone. So we decided to go into the officers' club for a drink."
"You just left Radar outside?"
"Of course not. I borrowed one of BJ's rank pins and put it on his hat. Fed anyone who asked a ridiculous story about a 'Corporal Captain'. New rank in trial stages, I think it was. Anyway, just as we were leaving this general pulls up in a jeep of his own. I'll admit it wasn't the smartest thing I've ever done, but Radar was a mess about running late and losing the jeep. We came across a Korean family, two girls checking for land mines. As I recall, I mixed up my Korean and called someone an umbrella."
"Yeah, well what can you do? Right about then a mine blew up, and Radar ran into the minefield to rescue the girl. We got her to a hospital, then headed back for camp. On our way there, we blew a tire. Margaret, can you try to take off the spare? As we were fixing it, we came under sniper fire. And once we were clear of that, we joined up with a group of infantrymen and ended up in the firing range for some mortars. A couple people seriously hurt. We only had one medical bag, so we were running it back and forth - that's how BJ got covered in mud, trying to run the bag over to me. Get me the spare, would you? Well, there was one guy dead, beyond saving. I tried to warn him but he insisted on looking for himself. Then he got sick."
"I can imagine. Rough first day."
"Well, that's why we stopped at Rosie's on the way back."
"And that's why he was so drunk he couldn't stand up?"
"Yep, pretty much. Okay, that should do it." He stood back up and froze.
He nudged Margaret's arm and pointed to the thing he hadn't been able to see while down on his knees.
"Oh, my God," she whispered.
About ten North Korean soldiers had spotted them. And they were headed right that way.
"I'm calling the 121st to check up on Hawkeye and Margaret."
"Call the -" He sighed. "Thank you, Radar."
"Got them, sir."
Potter put the phone to his ear. "Hello? This is Colonel Sherman Potter. I sent two of my surgeons your way. They did? That's wonderful. He did? Well, don't worry, I'll look into it. Listen, are they still there? Uh-huh. When did they leave? I see. Yes, I know that. Thank you. Goodbye."
"Ra-" His clerk was already walking through the door. "According to the 121st, Pierce and Houlihan left four hours ago."
"They should've been back a long time ago!"
"I know that. Radar, get on the horn, tell the MPs to keep an eye out for them."
"I'll get on the horn and tell the MPs to keep an eye out for Captain Pierce and Major Houlihan," the younger man said at almost the same moment.
Margaret woke groggily, trying to figure out where she was. Basic survival had taught her that if she found herself in an unfamiliar situation, she should think back to the last thing she could remember. She remembered the flat tire on the jeep, pulling over to fix it, talking and laughing with Hawkeye, then him standing up. The North Koreans!
Memory flooded back. They'd been surrounded as soon as the soldiers realized they'd been seen. She'd tried to take cover in case they fired and managed to knock herself out on the corner of the jeep for her trouble. Nice one, Houlihan.
"Hawkeye? What happened?"
"Are you okay?"
"I'm fine, and you're avoiding the question." She looked around, taking stock of her settings. A dark room, no windows - "They captured us, didn't they?"
"Yeah." Hawkeye's soft answer seemed to echo through the empty room. Squinting, she could barely make him out as her eyes adjusted to the dim light.
"I don't know. I was blindfolded. Margaret, are you hurt? You were unconscious."
"I - uh, knocked myself out on the jeep trying to get down."
"Come here, I want to have a look at it, so to speak."
She crawled towards him and he scooted towards her until they met somewhere in the middle. "Where did you hit your head?"
She took his and and guided it to the spot. "Well, there's no exterior swelling and I can't feel a skull fracture. You may have a minor concussion, but if you can remember how you hit your head it can't be that serious."
As he pulled his hand back, she realized it was shaking slightly. "Hawkeye, are you okay? Your hands are shaking."
She could just see well enough to notice him turning his head to look at the door. "Locked. No windows. Want to know how big this cell is? About eight steps by ten."
He was ranting, but she understood. "Oh, God. I forgot." She knew from the incident in the cave that he was severely claustrophobic, but it had slipped her mind. "Come here. Just hang onto me."
Shaking arms wrapped around her waist. "See what I mean?"
"We'll always be here for each other. No matter who owes who what."
She pulled him tight, almost as grateful to be close to him as he was to be close to her. She knew that she and Hawkeye would always be there for each other, but she also knew that that was no defense against a hostile enemy that held them helpless.