Everyone "cracks" under pressure, but Hawkeye is a decomposing angel in a field of olive and taupe and endless dusty wasteland. The carousel of the operating room is oiled with blood, spinning in a funeral-march cycle, resting with a shuddering creak at Hawkeye's feet and depositing impossible save after impossible save in his lap. He is a baseball player with a .999 batting average, cracking off these impossible operations whip smart and home run fast, but not without splinters of panic embedding themselves beneath his rubber gloves. They are made of fiberglass, working their way into his pale, taut skin and feeding off his veins. And when he loses a young pebble of a boy into the ocean of casualties of war, he can't afford tears, he can only afford a mechanical, chilling precision as he pulls the sheet over the young, frightened deer's glassy eyes. The conveyor belt of combat brings another jagged, vicious chest wound into this little corner of hell.
"I'll take it." Hawkeye's voice is ragged. Skinny, pale, frayed, brave Hawkeye. How could someone so molten, so fluidly imbued with life's cruel, scorching ironies and an unwavering sense of furious compassion have coalesced into someone so utterly ungainly, so… stiff and aching? BJ shakes his head harshly. Hawkeye's futile chivalry brings a welling of tears to his eyes at the most inopportune moments when precise operating on a delicate area is required.
It's a simple question, really, one that echoes in its plaintiveness and its inability to be asked or answered – how does he keep going like this? The logical, inferred answer tumbles vacantly somewhere between sheer, vast autonomy and chilling detachment.
When do sutures transform into mere embroidery?
When Hawkeye wakes, gaunt and screaming in the middle of the night, BJ knows.
When Hawkeye rests his head on BJ's shoulder for a gasping, dizzy moment between 12-hour OR shifts, BJ knows.
When Hawkeye stumbles out of the nurses' tent, hands clapped over his eyes in stark, sharp agony, BJ knows.
Hawkeye, the man sewn from sharp angles, is wracked with tremors. His hands shake when he reaches for BJ in the middle of the bright afternoon because everything is blackness and nothing is coherent, nothing is solid until he can feel it under his shaking fingertips.
BJ is not solid until Hawkeye's hands bracket his face. BJ halfheartedly wills the extra warmth brought on by this onslaught of contact away, but he knows that Hawkeye will inadvertently do something to chase it back again.
It isn't a question.
As it turns out, Frank Burns has some vague sense of morality in the almost microscopic heart he claims to possess. He takes BJ's shift with hardly a word of complaint. If BJ didn't know better, he would almost say the word "kind."
And BJ stays. The afternoon is full of the familiar bleak sun and the sounds of compound life, and Hawkeye becomes a motorboat. He chugs away at full speed, running his mouth about everything from fishing to the nuances in color of the flowers in Crabapple Cove.
And BJ's eyes well. His mouth waters. He knits a sock knits a potholder knits half a blanket listening to Hawkeye's soliloquy.
And it's half-lit and it's raspy and it's rambling and it's full of raw, half-buried metaphors and steeped in wistfulness and it's beautiful.
When the gauze is peeled back from Hawkeye's raw, boiled eyelids, Hawkeye blinks, identifies. The world comes back into glorious relief; he exhales.
BJ holds his hand.
When the crowd disperses, BJ takes Hawkeye to the window. The compound is normal, muddy, olive-drab, breathtaking, dazzling.
The baby steps to the Swamp are all craned neck and slitted eyes welling with tears because the sky is just. Blue.
When the door slaps against its weak frame, Hawkeye says "I," says "Thank you," says "Uh."
BJ shakes his head. Looks at the soft, scuffed ground.
When he raises his timid gaze, Hawkeye is there, he is too close, he is vivid, he is melding his lips to BJ's, he is raw, he is alive, he is burning.
His eyes are wide open.