Chapter Two: Home Again
But his exhaustion, panic, and hunger were, at the moment, overwhelmed by a rush of exhilaration. Just moments earlier, the loudspeaker had announced their descent towards Portland. Portland. Maine. Home.
The plane touched down within a few minutes, though to Hawkeye it felt like hours. People began to pile off the plane, though a few looked at him and stepped back. He realized with a start that he was still in uniform, but for once it didn't bother him. Soon it would be off for good, and in the meantime if it gave him a little bit of priority access, he wasn't complaining.
The flight hadn't been full, so chaos at the gate wasn't as bad as it had been in New York or San Francisco or Tokyo. Hawkeye anxiously scanned the crowd. He wouldn't miss this, would he?
Hawkeye turned and found himself face-to-face with the person he most wanted to see. "Dad!"
"Oh, Hawk." Daniel Pierce pulled his son into a tight embrace. "I've missed you so much - I've been so worried. Are you all right?"
Daniel would never forget that awful call he had recieved from Sherman Potter, telling him that his son had been raped. He clung to Hawkeye, holding him close as he'd longed to do ever since then, trying to ease any pain he still felt, trying to keep his boy safe.
Hawkeye leaned into his father's warm hug, feeling a knot of tension he hadn't even been aware of melting away. He closed his eyes against the tears of relief that threatened to spill from his eyes. "I missed you too, Dad."
"Are you all right?" he pressed. He couldn't imagine the hell Hawkeye had been through.
"I'm okay," Hawkeye whispered against his father's neck, but Daniel felt the few tears his son hadn't been able to corral on his skin.
"It's all right, son. Just let go."
That was all it took. Hawkeye wasn't entirely sure if it was pain or relief that caused it, but he started to sob right there in the airport. Daniel just kept holding him close, rubbing his back, shedding a few tears of his own. "I'm here, son. I'm here."
Hawkeye composed himself after a few minutes, wiping his eyes. "I'm sorry."
"No, Hawk." He still hadn't let up the embrace. "You needed that. Don't be sorry. I'm not. Come on, let's go get your bag so we can go home.
He started awake. "What? What is it?"
"Look out the window."
Hawkeye did and drew an awed breath. He knew this scenery like the back of his hand. They had just crossed the border into Crabapple Cove, and the already pretty town seemed nothing short of stunning to his war-weary eyes.
"I know you're exhausted. You fell asleep the second you sat down. But I didn't think you'd want to miss this."
Hawkeye wasn't sure he remembered how to make his voice work. He just stared, trying to take it all in. Part of him hadn't thought it was possible for his hometown to be as beautiful as he remembered. It wasn't. It was even better.
A very familiar house came into view, and Hawkeye's eyes were glued to it. The old house was far too big for two people, but it had been in the family for more than a century and Daniel wasn't about to get rid of it. It had been Hawkeye's childhood home, and the very sight of it seemed to ignite a part of him that had been still too long.
Daniel pulled up to the house and got Hawkeye's bags out of the trunk, and then stepped around his son to open the door. The younger man stepped into the entryway.
"Welcome home, son."
Hawkeye wasn't sure what it was about those three words that did it, but all at once every bit of pain and longing he had felt bubbled to the surface, and for the second time in as many hours he began to cry.
Daniel dropped Hawkeye's bags to pull his son close. Hawkeye was sobbing even harder than he had in the airport, and the older man just let him cry. The war would have been bad enough, but to put up with two violent assaults, not to mention his brief capture, on top of it must have been pure torment. It hadn't surprised Daniel a bit to hear that Hawkeye had temporarily lost it. A person could only take so much.
Daniel guided his son to the couch so the exhausted young man could sit, never letting up his embrace. He held Hawkeye like a child as he cried, and again he too could no longer hold back his tears. Hawkeye was crying too hard to notice.
"It's all right now, son, it's all right," he whispered. "I'm here. I'm here."
Hawkeye buried his face in his father's chest, breathing in his familiar scent, hearing the soft words he'd wanted to hear in this voice for so long. This brought on more tears, but for once he was absolutely sure they were tears of relief. He had wanted so badly to be in his dad's arms ever since he had first been hurt.
"Is there anything I can do?" Daniel asked when his son's tears had finally run out.
"Just being here is doing a lot," Hawkeye replied honestly, just as his stomach gave a loud growl, and he smiled a little, ruefully. "But if you really want to do something, I'm starving."
Daniel gave his son a watery smile. "I'll see what I can whip up."
Daniel stood in his son's doorway, reluctant to leave lest he wake up and realize the last few days had been just a dream.
Hawkeye lay sprawled on his bed, clad only in his shorts. He had wolfed down enough food for three people, which didn't surprise Daniel once he remembered that his son never ate before flying. As soon as he'd packed it all away, he'd started to fall asleep at the table and Daniel had herded him upstairs against his not-terribly-convincing protests. He had barely had the energy to get out of the despised uniform before he crashed.
Daniel stepped back inside Hawkeye's room and gently ran his hand through the younger man's gray-flecked black hair. His son's tears had been very hard for him to handle. Just thinking about how much pain Hawkeye must have been in was painful to him. What gave that awful woman Sherman Potter had told him about the right to hurt his only child?
"Goodnight, Ben," he whispered. It wasn't often that he used his son's real name. Only his beloved late wife had done that on a regular basis. He had given his son the nickname that had stuck with him when he was two years old, and he had used that ever since. But once in a while it just felt right, and this was one of those times.
"No! Please, God, no!"
Daniel was instantly awake when he heard the screams. Hawkeye. He raced down the hall to his son's bedroom.
Hawkeye was twisting and turning in his bed, his entire frame shaking like a leaf. Daniel reached out and touched his shoulder gently. Hawkeye pulled away harshly.
"Hawk? Hawkeye, it's Dad. Wake up. Come on, wake up."
He shook Hawkeye gently and was gratified when his son didn't pull away. The young man's eyes opened suddenly, and he took in his father standing over him.
"What is it? Nightmare?"
He nodded. "For awhile, I was getting them every night. Now it's once in a while."
"Oh, Hawk." Daniel sat on the edge of the bed to pull his son into a hug. "Hawkeye, Hawkeye."
"It's all right, Dad. I'm getting better."
He meant it to be reassuring, but his frank statement sent a pang through Daniel's heart. He didn't doubt it, and that was the problem. If this was better, how bad had he been at first?
"I wish I'd been there for you," he whispered.
"Me too," Hawkeye answered, his voice muffled by his father's robe. "I'm sorry, Dad. I know this is hard."
"Don't be sorry, this isn't your fault. It's just hard to think that you were going through that alone."
Hawkeye pulled back a fraction and shook his head. "I wasn't alone. I don't know what I would have done if I was, but I wasn't. Margaret and BJ and the others -" he swallowed the lump in his throat. "They were amazing."
Daniel patted his son's back again. "I don't doubt it." He made a mental note to thank these people the first chance he got. "Can you sleep, son?"
"I think so."
Daniel helped him lie back down. "Goodnight."
"How you feeling?"
"Better than I have in years," Hawkeye answered his father honestly.
"About last night -"
"Look, I know it seems bad, but believe it or not that's not the norm. I guess all the emotions running high yesterday brought it all to the surface. I probably won't have another nightmare for weeks."
"I hope not."
Hawkeye poured himself a cup of coffee and took a long drink, closing his eyes in satisfaction. "God, that's good." He opened his eyes again and grinned at his father. "That stuff they had at MASH tasted like tar."
"And just how do you know what tar tastes like?" The tease was out of Daniel's mouth before he could stop himself.
But Hawkeye laughed, and Daniel felt the distance caused by three years' separation melt away instantly. "Do you really want to know?" the younger man asked slyly.
That got Daniel laughing too, and they sat together in comfortable silence until a ring on the doorbell made them both jump. "That's probably for you, Hawk."
Hawkeye got to his feet and opened the door. "Toby!"
"Hey, Hawkeye." Toby Wilder stood on the other side of the door, grinning his head off.
Hawkeye took a step forward to hug his old friend. Instantly, Toby took a step back to match, a frown momentarily replacing his smile. "Hawkeye?"
"Sorry." Hawkeye took his own step back, sighing inwardly. He would have to remember that their definition of friendship was very different from what he had had the past three years.
The ring of the phone was a relief to Hawkeye. Dickie Barber had dropped by about ten minutes after Toby, and the three of them - the Three Musketeers, he'd once called them - were sitting in his living room. Toby and Dickie were busily catching him up on Crabapple Cove, ribbing him, asking questions they wouldn't want the answers to if they really knew, and completely failing to notice the distance that had sprung up between them.
Once upon a time, he had thought those two were among the best friends he would ever have. The last three years had proved him so incredibly wrong. He would never have the bond with them that he had had even with someone like Charles, who pretended to despise him but was always there when he needed a shoulder to lean on, let alone the kind of friendship he had had with BJ and Margaret and yes, Trapper.
He hadn't even tried to embrace Dickie when the man had stepped through the door, and it saddened him a little. He had never really noticed before that he didn't hug any of his old friends except Tommy, but now, after those friends he had had in Korea who he had shared more than a few embraces with, it was thrown into sharp contrast. They had never been his friends, not really, not like the people he had said a very reluctant goodbye to just a few days earlier. They were his pals, people he could hang out with, but they wouldn't be there when push came to shove. Not like the friends he had had in Korea.
"I got it!" he yelled to his father as he sprinted into the study. "Hello?"
He felt like he had forgotten how to breathe for a moment there. "BJ?"
"Direct from Mill Valley! How ya doing, Hawk?"
"It's good to be home," he answered honestly. "Clean sheets."
"Food intended to be taken internally." He grinned widely even though he knew BJ couldn't see it. "How's the rest of the Hunnicutt clan?"
"Peg made me shave off my mustache."
"Obviously a woman of excellent taste."
The joking tone dropped from BJ's voice as he spoke the next words. "Erin called me daddy."
"I'm sure she did." Hawkeye knew well how much that meant to his friend.
"Will you think I'm crazy if I say I miss you already?"
"If you're crazy, so am I."
"You're crazy anyway."
Hawkeye laughed, but the laughter died quickly. "I miss you too."
"Yeah. But hey, it's not gonna be forever. It doesn't have to be."
"You really think we'll see each other again?"
"If I have anything to say about it. In the meantime, call me a couple hundred times, would you?"
"You bet. How's it been for you, being home?"
Hawkeye was fully aware that he was leaving his childhood friends alone in the living room as he talked to BJ, but he didn't care. Compared to him, they were no friends at all.
"Major Margaret Houlihan?"
She didn't know why she was so apprehensive to walk into this hospital. This was what she had wanted, wasn't it? A post in a stateside hospital as a head nurse?
Saying goodbye to Charles and Father Mulcahy at the 8063 had been a wrench. They had been her last ties to the closest group of friends she would ever have. But they were going back to their civilian lives, and she was going on to her next post. It was just like she had once told Frank. Married to the army.
But for a little while, she had seen the alternative, and it was hard to resist. As strange as it was, she missed Korea.