It's Father Mulcahy who writes him the most often, but that's kind of to be expected. The Father's letters are always cheerful, filled with little anecdotes about the children, and sometimes BJ wonders what is really happening there. But BJ doesn't read the letters very closely; in all honesty, he wants to forget that he left anything behind in Korea, that he has any ties to that country that -- well, what did it do?
Stole his memories of his daughter's first two years, stole his idealism, stole his youth.
But -- it gave him a sense of purpose. No, that's not true. Korea destroyed all that. Hawkeye gave him a sense of purpose. Hawkeye rescued him, kept him together. They kept each other together.
And now, now. Now Erin sleeps in a big girl bed, and he gets letters postmarked from Korea, and he thinks about a deaf priest and a horse named Sophie, living in an orphanage, trying to create something of a life. Now, he thinks, he doesn't know what stories to tell Erin at bedtime. He doesn't know what stories to tell Peg. He'd know what to tell Hawk -- but Korea is over, and BJ said goodbye the best way he knew how.
He doesn't even think to notice it, until it's too late. Erin comes tearing into the living room with the mail, her little five year old legs going as fast as they can.
"I have a letter, Daddy! I got mail!" She's so excited, so thrilled. He remembers what it was like being so excited about mail. But Erin thinks mail is exciting because it means she's growing up, and for BJ mail was a reason to stay alive. Mail meant everything, some days. He's kept every letter Peg wrote him while he was gone, though he hasn't told Peg that. He keeps them hidden in an old shoebox, shoved deep in the corner of the room he calls his office.
BJ almost burnt them, once, in Korea, because they didn't have enough wood and it was freezing. If Charles had been there, he wouldn't have even thought to, but Charles was on duty and it was just him and Hawk, shivering in front of the furnace. Hawk was worried about the still freezing over; BJ was worried he would lose dexterity in his fingers.
"Don't we have anything flammable in here?" Hawkeye asked. "Except for the gin, I mean. Not that it would help, since it's frozen solid." He rapped the side of the still and let out a big sigh before flopping on BJ's cot. "I'm going to freeze to death in Korea, and I can't even have a last drink."
BJ suddenly thought of the letters - there had to be at least a hundred by now - and pushed Hawk off the mattress.
"Hey!" he protested, but was too cold to put up much of a fight.
"Aha!" BJ exclaimed, pulling the stacks of letters out from under the mattress.
"What are you, the princess and the correspondence?"
"Fuel, my dear Watson. We'll live to see daybreak!"
Hawkeye let out a whoop, and began to dance around. "Give me some of those!" he shouted, and BJ happily handed over a stack of paper, Peggy's precise handwriting forgotten. Hawk jumped toward the furnace and was about to toss the first one in before he stopped.
"What are these?" he asked, an odd tone to his voice.
BJ shrugged. "Letters from Peg. I never knew what to do with them, so I just saved them."
Hawkeye fingered the edge of the envelope, which was quite difficult to do considering he had three pairs of socks on his hands for mittens.
"You can't do that, Beej," Hawk said quietly, and handed the letters back. He didn't look at BJ, just stared into the fire.
"Hawkeye, don't be stupid. They're just letters. Pieces of paper with words written on them. They could be anything."
"But they're not. Trust me on this, pal. You'll be glad you saved them one day." Hawkeye smiled, but BJ didn't believe him. "Now, if only those damn records of Charles' would burn!"
And so BJ had saved them, every one. Maybe one day he would give them to Erin, maybe it would help her understand.
It wasn't the whole story though. It never was. Just like the letter that Erin handed him that day - official Army stationary, postmarked Seoul.
BJ would never again get a letter from Korea. Father Mulcahy died three weeks ago, from complications due to malnutrition. BJ would bet everything he had that the Father had been giving everything he could to the orphans, those kids, God, those kids. He wondered briefly about Sophie. The letter went on to say that Mulcahy was being buried in Korea, as requested in his will.
BJ didn't read the rest. It was classic army, terse and to the point. He wondered who wrote those things. He wondered if Hawkeye got one.
Erin was trying to climb into his lap, "What does your letter say, Daddy? Did you get invited to a party?"
He tried to smile, and looked over the top of her head. "No, sweetie. Daddy didn't get invited to a party." He stood up and went into the kitchen where the nearest phone was. Peg was still out, she wouldn't be home for another two hours. It was three hours ahead in Maine. He should be home.
BJ picked up the phone and listened to the dial-tone. He tried to dial the numbers he had memorized by heart, the numbers he could recall faster than his wedding anniversary, but he couldn't bring himself to finish. The operator came on the line, asking if everything was all right, if she could be of service. Erin pulled at his pant leg, "Daddy, who are you calling?"
BJ hung up the phone. "No one, honey." She looked up at him with huge eyes, Peg's eyes. He hated staring into them, he felt like such a liar, such a cheat. There was no way to tell her everything she wanted to know. There was no way to tell her he should have known something was wrong, that he got a letter from Father like clockwork, that he didn't notice anything was missing. There was no way to -
"I think I feel someone a little ticklish on my leg," he said, reaching down to grab her.
"No, Daddy! No!" Erin squealed with delight. BJ tickled her tummy until she couldn't breathe, until he was laughing too, and they both collapsed on the kitchen floor, each lost in their own little worlds.
Winters in Korea were nothing to write home about. That is, unless you were Charles, and liked to complain miserably about everything wrong with, well, everything. The temperature was just a minor inconvenience in BJ's opinion - the fact they were running low on B-neg blood again was really something to worry about. Being woken up at all hours of the day and night to choppers filled with young boys, boys with holes in their stomachs and bones protruding, boys he could heal medically (97.9% success rate), but boys that would never, ever be boys again - that was something to worry about. But that wasn't something to write home about either.
Sometimes he wondered how much he would be expected to leave behind in Korea. Sometimes he wondered how much he could.
So BJ wrote about how much he missed Peg, missed her warmth beside him, especially on nights like this, when the cold crept between his bones and settled in his pores. He wrote about how everyone thought Erin was adorable, and had his nose, which he conceded was rather unfortunate. He wrote to tell her he was growing a mustache. He wrote about playing jokes, tricks, he tried to make her laugh. He couldn't remember her laugh when he wanted to most, and that bothered him, irked him. He wrote about Hawkeye's latest crusade, and detailed Klinger's latest fashions, so that she could be sure fashion was alive and well, even in Korea.
It was after daybreak, the light in Korea slowly crawling across the 4077. Hawk and BJ were walking back to the Swamp after spending the whole night in the OR, arms covered in blood, voices hoarse from saying, "More suction." It was too cold to shower, and both knew that it wouldn't really matter - there was no way to erase the scent of death and surgery off them. It was part of what made Korea Korea, it was part of what made them who they were, it was what they shared, what they would always have. BJ knew he would never forget the smell, that he'd probably be on his death bed and still remember what Korea smelled like at dawn after a night of non-stop surgery, suction and sutures.
The sun wasn't doing anything to raise the temperature. BJ had written Peg, asking for more long underwear, but he had yet to receive a package, despite Hawk's hastily scribbled "P.S" telling her that if she didn't want her husband to come back missing crucial parts, she needed to do this immediately. And if she felt like sending him anything as well, well, he wouldn't begrudge her. He knew his charming manner was disarming. Many a brave woman had fallen before. Nothing to be ashamed of.
Hawk stumbled through the door of the Swamp and fell onto his cot, somehow both graceful and gangly, in the way only Hawkeye could be.
The new surgeon hadn't arrived yet, wasn't due for at least another day. BJ and Hawk had been relishing the fact that Frank was gone, though it did mean extra work in the OR. BJ just hoped the next surgeon had a sense of humor.
"You know," Hawk said, his voice muffled by the layers of random clothing he'd wrapped around his neck, "We could always burn the other guy's mattress. Tell him there was a shortage, and we're really sorry, but maybe he can talk to Radar."
BJ just grunted and fell into his own bed. He managed to kick off his boots, but left everything else on, and pulled the Army-issue blankets as close to his chin as they could get. He couldn't keep his teeth from chattering. His hands were freezing, and he wondered if he had any socks left to pull on. BJ thought about how warm his hands were when they were operating, the way the open abdomens steamed in the cold air, mingling with the nurses' and doctors' visible breath. He thought about all the starkness of Korea - how everything was supposed to be black and white (isn't that the way war's supposed to be?) but everything was really red and white. Blood and white doctor coats, blood and latex gloves, blood and snow. The clattering of stainless steel instruments, nurses going back and forth to the autoclave, sterility, safety, sanity.
It wasn't what he signed up for. Then again, he didn't sign up.
"Beej, could you keep the chattering to a minimum? It's starting to sound like the beginning of a horror movie, starring Dr. Forth, the evil dentist of my childhood."
"Have many cavities?"
"Nah. Just wanted to perfect my already perfect smile. These teeth are precious metal free."
BJ rolled onto his stomach, and breathed into his pillow, hoping that would help some.
"You'll suffocate, you idiot." BJ didn't stir. He heard movement, and then he felt Hawkeye's weight on his cot. "Move over, and don't you dare hog the covers. I know that's the type of guy you are, Hunnicut, but it won't work on me."
Hawkeye threw his own blankets over BJ's, and BJ rolled onto his side. He felt Hawk curl up next to him, his breath warm against BJ's neck.
"I should probably warn you, I have been known to kick in my sleep."
BJ smiled. "I'll take my chances."
The cot was tiny, but the extra warmth was welcome, and soon BJ was fast asleep, warm for possibly the first time since arriving in Korea.
When he woke up, he was alone. Hawk's bed was made - a rare sight - and the culprit himself was nowhere in sight.
BJ sighed, and fell back against his pillow, closing his eyes and wishing for something he couldn't quite define.
BJ doesn't know what to tell Erin, when she asks about the war. Things are beginning to happen in Vietnam - BJ knows he's safe, but the people Erin knows aren't.
He doesn't know how to tell her he celebrated her second birthday with a Korean orphan named Kim. That he tried to make it home, made it as far as Guam, but got turned around and sent back. He cut a cake for someone else, he blew out a candle with another child.
He remembers that day. They were all playing ball on a field amidst muck and bad conditions and tentative hopes for the end of war that seemed to last forever. He doesn't know how to tell Erin how it was almost perfect, except that he wasn't with her, he wasn't with Peg.
The truth was, he didn't know Erin any better than he knew Kim. Lives had happened, passed, ended, birthed. Klinger was about to get married and actually stay in Korea.
That was the thing about war. You never knew what was going to happen. There was no predictability, no sense. There was no order, nothing the Army loved and stressed. Which is why, BJ thought, Hawkeye managed to survive the war. He circumvented it all, he created his own rules, he did his best to make his way. It was a chicken, it was a child, it was time spent in a psych ward, it was a sense of humor he would never fully recover.
The war gave BJ a best friend, a new perspective, a glance at life outside of the safe confines of the Bay Area, residency in Sausalito, three generations of doctors he was following through.
He doesn't think about what he lost. He doesn't think about what could have happened, what could have been, where he would have been if he hadn't been drafted. What life would have been like without the army, without the emergency training. BJ knows he can handle anything now, anything medically anyway. He's comfortable in the hospital, he knows he's the best surgeon around.
It was fate, he thinks, when his Army issued hat blew off the first day, and he arrived at the 4077 drunk, calling Frank ferret face. It was the beginning of the beginning, the beginning of the end, the beginning of everything different. He wishes he could tell Peggy with honesty that he wishes he could erase it all, that he could forget Korea, forget the people there.
But how can he forget Father Mulcahy? How can he forget Colonel Potter, Margaret, Klinger, Radar, Charles, even Frank Burns? (He wishes he could forget Frank, most days.) Most important, how could he forget Hawkeye? Once Hawk joked that it was "love at first sight." It's true, he had never felt more comfortable with anyone so quickly.
Perhaps it was the sense of emergency. Perhaps war creates close friends when otherwise they would remain detached colleagues. All BJ really knows is that Hawkeye became part of him, and he became part of Hawk, and when they said good-bye, in their own special way, it hurt more than he could explain.
How do you tell that to your daughter? Why would you want to share the horrors of war with her? How can you explain the sense of camaraderie, the sense of family that develops? Especially since he ended up deserting his family, finding a new one in Korea.
BJ has left them all behind, but they linger. He hears their voices in the backyard, he sees their faces behind his eyelids when he closes his eyes to sleep. He watches Erin grow, he watches her become a woman. He wonders what she'll become, what she'll see, if she'll ever have the connections he had in Korea.
He remembers Colonel Potter's toast, "best of happiness and peace, for us all."
BJ watches his daughter grow. He trims the lemon tree. The seasons pass. He thinks about Hawk at the most random times, and wonders what he would think of this side of the Pacific. He wishes he could hear his voice, just once more.
September 12, 1968
Dear BJ -
How's San Francisco? It's nice here in Iowa. We have a whole rabbit hutch, and Mom just bought a new cow. We're calling her Spot, because she has lots of spots. It might be a little confusing because we have a dog named Spot too, but I reckon he's smart enough to figure it out.
I have bad news. Mildred Potter died a few days ago. The Colonel doesn't want to make a big deal about it, (Jeanette, his daughter - remember her pictures and how proud he was? - called me - yes, we finally got a phone on the farm!), but I was thinking it would be awful nice if we could all show up for the service. They're Methodist, remember? I remember that first day; I thought he would be so different. It's funny how we all changed, isn't it, BJ? I have to say, I don't miss Korea. Does that make me a bad person?
The service will be on Friday, at 3 in Hannibal, Missouri. The First Methodist Church. I hope to see you. It's been so long.
Oh, and bring Peg and Erin, if you want.
The first thing he did when he got home to Mill Valley was shave. Peg laughed at his mustache, and BJ just grinned. He wasn't sure why he started growing it in the first place, especially since most of the time it tickled and Hawk would try to get food stuck in it, but it was part of Korea, and Korea was over.
The brand new razor felt like silver against his skin. The water was warm, and drained in the sink without thought. He lathered up with the new cream Peg bought him, and relished in the smell. It smelled nothing like sterility, nothing like the army, nothing like Korea. There was a hint of trees, a hint of Northern California.
He was home.
BJ walked through the house, which hadn't changed much in his absence, but seemed like a ghost of the house he left behind, the tiny house on a small hill. He trailed his hand along the walls, stopped to looked at the framed pictures of Erin over the mantle. He had every one of them memorized, but it was somehow different.
He hadn't been there. He didn't see her first pull herself across the floor, then crawl, moving from a quadruped to a little human being. He didn't hear her first word (which wasn't "Daddy"). He didn't blow out the candles on her birthday cake the first year - or the second.
Of course, she didn't recognize him at first. Erin clung to Peg's leg, and shyly looked up at BJ. BJ smiled, but his heart was breaking. "Give it time," Peg whispered. She told him she showed Erin his picture every night before bed when they said their prayers (BJ doesn't say he no longer believes in God) but still, there's something different, and BJ knows it. He changed in Korea, he grew up, he faced the reality that the world was a dirty, ugly place. What were they thinking, bringing a child into this?
Colonel Potter once told him that family was what made it all worthwhile. BJ knows he's right, that there's no point in regrets, there's only moving forward.
But what about the family he left behind in Korea?
"Okay, BJ, I've got you this time." Margaret had a wicked grin on her face.
Hawkeye interjected. "How come you never think I have the winning hand, Margaret?"
"Terrible poker face, Pierce. At least," she smiled, "For a master like me."
"It's no wonder you have trouble with the men," Hawk grumbled.
"Oh, hush. Jealousy doesn't become you, Hawkeye."
Hawkeye groaned. "Fold."
Klinger, BJ and Margaret were still in the game. Charles protested intermittently about the horrors of gambling, that Winchesters never reduced themselves to such low-brow crassness. His sister, Honoria, would never be caught dead playing poker. BJ bet it would be under three weeks before he joined them at the table. Staring at morose, traditional poetry could only be comforting for so long.
Klinger was humming to himself. BJ focused on his cards. Margaret probably had a pair of queens - she always got cocky when she had face cards. He was looking at a straight - just needed a deuce or a six. The odds were good.
"Two crisp buckaroos," he said, throwing the money on the table.
"Feeling confident, Beej?" Now that Hawkeye was out of the game, the real fun began. He might have a terrible poker face, but he was quite possibly the world's greatest heckler. Hawk leaned back in his chair. "How about finally telling us what the name stands for, if you lose?"
"When are you going to let up on that, Pierce?" Margaret threw her money on the table impatiently.
"When I get my answer, oh wise one." Hawk clapped his hands together. "I've got it! Brainwashed Jesus!"
Klinger groaned. "Sorry sir, but even I have to say, that was terrible."
"Awww, Klinger, and I had such a soft spot for you."
"It's actually Bemused Jesuit, if you want to know. Call or fold, Klinger?" BJ didn't know why he refused to share his name - hell, Hawk admitted he was Benjamin Franklin - but something made him keep it close. There were some things he didn't want Korea to own. It was as if he kept his name a secret, they couldn't get at his soul. Or something.
"I'll see that two dollars, and raise you one, Captain."
"Oooh, someone's feeling punchy with their money tonight."
"Someone needs some new silk stockings and a new dress. It's amazing how high the price of silk has gotten. Those damn Chinese, depriving women everywhere of the comfort they deserve!"
BJ laughed dryly. "Klinger, it's a wonder you don't get along with the nurses better."
"I get along with everyone just fine, sir. Now, I think it's your turn?"
BJ dealt out the last cards. He got the deuce of hearts, and hid a smile.
Hawkeye leaned forward. "Show and tell time, kiddie-winks."
Margaret laid down her cards. "Three queens." She smiled triumphantly.
"Five-high straight," BJ retorted, reaching for the money.
"Ah-ah, there Captain. Not so fast." Klinger displayed his cards. "Full house!"
Hawkeye laughed gleefully. "And the big nose wins it all!"
"Thank you for playing, ladies and gentlemen, You wouldn't want a lady to be wandering around with holes in her stockings, now would you?"
"No, you certainly wouldn't," Margaret grumbled. "I'll see you boys tomorrow."
Charles looked up from his book. "Perhaps that will teach you the perils of gambling, Margaret."
"Oh, shove it, Winchester." The door to the Swamp banged shut.
Klinger was stuffing his winnings into his pockets. "Well, thanks for the party, fellas. I'll be seeing you later."
Then he was gone, and BJ and Hawkeye were alone at the table.
"Why the hell not."
WESTERN UNION OFFICIAL TELEGRAM
June 20, 1963
Dad died. No need to come, service planned tomorrow. I'll deliver the eulogy, you know how clever I am with words. Apparently, I have quite the inheritance - three pet lobsters, an old building in Crabapple Cove with some really old medical equipment, and $100,000. Thinking of traveling the world. Wait - swore I would never leave Maine again. Best to Peg and the little one, though she's not so little I suppose. Thinking of asking Klinger for an appropriate dress - or at least fashion advice.
Your friend forever,
Benjamin Franklin Pierce.
BJ got a job at UCSF, close to him and worthwhile. He taught a class on triage and trauma, and had a small clinic of his own. His class was immensely popular, and not just because he was rated the most attractive professor in the medical school. BJ was engaging, brilliant, confident. He learned a lot from Hawkeye.
Sometimes he would tell stories of his time in Korea, of the surgeries they performed, of the conditions they endured. He usually started off the year with the story of his first day in Korea which had a moral - as a doctor, you must always be prepared for anything.
He didn't tell them about the kids they lost, the legs they had to amputate weeks after surgery because they were sent back to the field too soon. He doesn't tell them about how Hawkeye broke that one time, well, any of the times, how he himself contemplating suicide, how he cheated on his wife. He doesn't tell them about war, because he doesn't have anything to say. War was war, messy and insensible. He'd leave that lecture to the philosophy department.
BJ and Peg tried to have a normal married life. They scheduled dates with each other, calling up the babysitter and explaining to Erin that they needed some "Mommy-and-Daddy" time. By the time she was six, she stopped asking where and why they were going, and instead, what she could have for dessert.
It happened one random night, one ordinary night, as these things do. BJ took Peg to the Top of the Mark for a night of dinner and dancing with the city's skyline bright below them. Dinner is exquisite, the wine perfect. BJ was in a tux, still tall and lean and trim. Peg had tied her hair up in a loose bun, tendrils of brown hair framing her beautiful face. BJ couldn't remember looking at anything so beautiful before.
They got up and went to dance. One by one, the other couples stepped off the dance floor as the night wore on into morning. Eventually, they were alone; even the band had packed up. BJ twirled Peg around and asked, "Do you always stay up so late, Mrs. Hunnicut?"
"Only when the situation warrants it," she smiled back, and leaned her head against his chest. BJ knew the sun would break soon, that dawn was coming. Luckily the babysitter would be thrilled for all the extra money - besides, she said she would be pulling an all-nighter for an exam anyway.
He rested his chin on the top of Peg's head. "I'm a lucky, lucky man," he whispered.
A man came in. "Crap," he mumbled, pushing Peg away.
"What is it, sweetheart?"
The waiter approached. "Mr. Hunnicut? UCSF has requested that we page you," but BJ couldn't hear him, BJ already knew.
"I - I," and BJ couldn't answer, couldn't breathe, could only see Peg dancing in the arms of another soldier because he had to go operate. There was no music, there was no music. He shook his head. This was San Francisco, not Korea. San Francisco. This was - there was no music, and he needed to get to the OR.
"I have to go," BJ blurted out, leaving Peg alone on the deserted dance floor. He ran through the restaurant, punched frantically at the elevator doors. "Screw it," he said, earning him strange looks from the people next to him, and ran to the stairs. Seventeen flights, and he was sweating through his only tux shirt, but he didn't even notice, couldn't even notice.
He needed to breathe. He needed air. He needed -
He pushed through the doors of the hotel and found himself on top of the hill. The Mark Thomas was lit up across the way, and he found himself stumbling there without knowing where he was actually going. He entered the lobby, asked for a room, paid with cash he was surprised he had.
BJ found his way to the bar and ordered a gin martini, extra dry, straight up, no olives. The bartender eyed him, but BJ wasn't focusing. He was staring at himself in the bar mirror.
Who was that man in the tux? He didn't have a tux, Hawkeye did. Only Hawkeye would think to bring a tux to Korea. Where was he? This wasn't Rosie's, this was far too nice. Was he in Seoul? Tokyo? Why would he be in Tokyo? Where was Hawkeye, anyway?
The bartender brought BJ his drink. BJ reached for it like it was water in the desert, manna from heaven. He lifted the drink to his lips, and stopped cold at the smell.
He hadn't had gin since Korea, swore off the stuff, after all those horrible hangovers, after all those drinks - drink after drink after drink. He preferred vodka. Vodka didn't make him think, vodka didn't make him think of -
BJ suddenly needed to throw up. He shoved some money at the bartender, and went for the elevators. The doors closed, but it didn't move. The button, he needed to press a button. But what floor? Oh God, he was going to lose it, right here in the elevator, no, no, no, keep it together, look at your key. 214. Second floor. BJ stabbed at the button for 2 with a violence he didn't think he had.
He stumbled down the hall, found his room, fumbled with the key. Now he was sweating, heart palpitations, slick hands, shallow breaths. He was beginning to see stars. Maybe he was having a heart attack? Maybe he was dying? That would be ironic, dying now, after all he'd been through - wait, what had he been through? Where was he?
He lay on the bed, and tried to force himself to calm his breathing. Hands on his belly, he tried to feel it rise and fall, slow, slower.
BJ wanted to die, right then, he was alone and dying and he didn't know where he was, who he was, and he needed - he needed Hawkeye, and Hawkeye wasn't here.
He reached for the phone, and asked for the operator. "I need to place a long distance call." He tried to calm his voice.
BJ listened to phone ring, and ring, and ring. An answering machine picked up. "You've reached you know who. If I like you, leave a message. If I don't, please hang up. If you aren't sure, assume the worst." It was Hawk's voice, Hawk's voice 3,000 miles away and recorded, but Hawk's nonetheless and he almost cried at the familiarity of it, the comfort.
The machine beeped at him. BJ startled.
"Hawk, it's me. BJ. Listen, I need -" and here he stopped because what was it he needed? He needed Hawkeye, he needed him close, he needed to hear his laugh, he needed to buy him a drink like that first day at Rosie's.
"Remember Sophie? Remember how you tried to bribe Margaret to steal her and go riding through camp as Lady Godiva? It would boost camp morale, you said. Do you remember -" and he had to stop again, because this wasn't what he wanted to say either.
He suddenly got angry. Furious. He had written Hawk after the war, he called, he tried to keep in touch. But how to do you plan a trip to Crabapple Cove, Maine, when the person you are going to visit won't even tell you they're alive? So he didn't talk about Hawkeye much, he tried to push Hawkeye away.
But now - "Hell, Hawkeye. Did you ever think that I needed you? Did you ever stop to think about anyone but your stupid selfish self? Would it have killed you to write a letter back? Tell me how things were doing? You could have called collect, Hawk, you know that. What - I don't know -" and here BJ started crying, "Damn you. I needed you. I need you." BJ feels pathetic and hates himself, but he hates Hawk more for making it this way. "You might as well be dead. But at least then, then, I would have been able to mourn you properly. Now you're just a ghost, a ghost that haunts me and makes my life miserable, and I hope you're miserable too, Hawkeye, I hope you're just where you always thought you would be."
BJ slammed the phone down, and wept, head in his hands. He turned on his side and curled into a ball, hugging his knees. Eventually, he stopped crying, though he doesn't remember it. Eventually, he fell asleep, though he doesn't remember it.
When he woke up, he didn't know where he was. His tuxedo was a mess, hell, he was a mess. He called a taxi and paid the enormous fare to his house in Mill Valley. The driver wisely kept his mouth shut.
Peg was at the door when he arrived, rushing out.
"Are you okay? Honey, what happened? I called the hospital and they said you never got there. Where did you go? Are you okay? You look horrible!" Her hands were running swiftly over his body in the quick check of a mother for large bruises, bleeding or bones.
"I'm fine, Peg. Just a long night." He smiled at her tiredly, knowing she deserved a better answer, knowing he couldn't give it to her.
He walked inside the house, his house, and went upstairs. BJ dropped his clothes on the floor and climbed in the shower. He turned the water on as hot as it would go, and sat down, scrubbing at his arms and chest. He began to cry, didn't even notice. He continued to scrub.
Eventually Peg came in and pulled back the curtain. She saw him curled on the tile, shivering despite the steaming water. "Oh, BJ," she breathed. Peg grabbed a towel, and wrapped it around him. She held him tight, the water spilling on both of them, as he cried into her shoulder.
The day was bright and blue, the air smelling cleaner than possible, everything about Hannibal, Missouri exactly as he expected - except for the circumstances requesting his presence.
BJ pulled on his black suit, checked his tie in the mirror. His hair was graying, his mustache long gone. He was older, yes. He was different, yes. But somehow, he knew, this was where he was supposed to be.
BJ walked slowly down Main Street. He rented a car at the Kansas City airport, but there was no point in driving from the hotel to the church. Besides it was a beautiful day, and he wanted to enjoy it.
His heart was in his throat, despite his calm exterior. Peggy wanted to come, so did Erin, but BJ said this was something he needed to do alone. Peg was disappointed, but she tried not to show it. He didn't want to tell her it was for her own good, because he wasn't sure if it was. It was just that meeting all these people - his other family, his other life - would raise a million questions that he didn't want to answer, didn't know how to answer. So he came alone, hoping to find some sort of understanding.
The First Methodist Church was on the corner of Main and Birch, a small, white, clapboard building that seemed to exude a sense of humbleness. It fit the Colonel, BJ thought, and made his way toward the small party standing outside.
At first he was afraid. How to react? It was a funeral, but also a reunion - there had been a death, but the others were all still alive. So he went first toward Potter, tapped the old man on his shoulder.
Potter spun around, eyes wide open with surprise. "Hunnicut! Man, Radar really did pull out all the stops. You came all the way from San Francisco?"
"Yes, sir, I did. Wouldn't have missed it for the world."
Potter clasped BJ's forearm. "Thank you, son," he said gruffly, and somehow it's the nicest thing anyone said to him since he returned to the States. "Now, tell me. How's the wife and child?"
He told Potter about Peg and Erin, pulled out the pictures he brought just for this purpose. "Delightful little family you have there, BJ. You done me proud." The Colonel's eyes watered again for a moment, but then they refocused. "This here is my daughter, Jeanette, who has been kind enough to provide me with enough family to keep me busy. And now if you'll excuse me, I think I should go talk to the minister."
BJ talked with Jeanette for a few moments, expressing his regrets at her mother's passing. Jeanette had the same sense of humor as her father, the same smile and laugh, but BJ could see that her eyes were all Mildred. She excused herself, and BJ shoved his hands in his pockets, studying his shoes.
"Why, Margaret! I didn't know you were going to be here!" BJ's face was a wide smile, so wide he was afraid it might break. But this wasn't fake, it was real, this was Margaret, alive and in the flesh, smiling that smile he remembered so dearly.
"How are you doing? I want to hear everything!" She grabbed his arm.
He laughed. "Well, there's not much to tell. You know about where I am," she nodded - Radar was still keeping everyone in the loop, as always, "and Peg and Erin are doing really well. It's nice being home," he said, leaving the unspoken question unanswered. "And you? Where did you end up?"
Margaret lifted her left hand, and waved her fingers. "I got married!" She broke out into laughter, and he was so glad he was here. "His name is Bob, and he has nothing to do with the army. He works on Wall Street!"
"Does that mean you're in New York?"
"It does. I'm head nurse of the ER at Columbia-Pres."
BJ whistled. "Margaret, I'm impressed."
"Well, what did you expect from me?"
He smiled. "Nothing less."
"New York is different, and so is civilian life, but I like that I have regular hours and a real place to go home to, that is mine. There's a stability in it, and I didn't realize how important that was until I finally had it. I thought I was so content to live the military life, shuffle around, scoot from war to war, always on the front lines, always doing the hard work." She looked away for a moment. "But that gets old, doesn't it? Or at least, we get old."
BJ took her hands in his. "Margaret, if I didn't know better, I would you say you hadn't aged a day since the last time I saw you."
She laughed gently, hitting his shoulder. "You can't pull it off the way Hawkeye can." She stopped suddenly, looking him in the eye, almost afraid. "I mean - "
"It's okay, Margaret. Really. I know how to take a hit to my ego like a man."
"Do you know if-"
"No." BJ didn't really want to talk about this, though of course he did, of course he came because he hoped Hawkeye would be here, of course it isn't right without Hawk. But he couldn't say any of that, so he waved at Klinger, encouraging him to come over.
"Max!" BJ exclaimed, trying to regain his former sense of peace. "Look at you!"
"Well, wanted to do it right by the Colonel's wife, and all." Klinger was dressed in a tasteful black dress, with black hoop earrings, and a string of pearls.
Margaret laughed. "I do hope those stockings are silk, Klinger."
"But of course, madam! Nothing but the best!"
They both knew that Klinger wore the dress for Potter, wore it to try and take some of severity out of the situation. That was Klinger, and that was why they loved him.
"How are things back in Toledo?"
"Aww, man, you wouldn't believe it. We finally got all of Soon-Lee's family over, and boy, my family just loves them to death. They'd never had a dog with kraut before! Can you imagine?"
"I don't know how the Korean civilization has survived for so long."
"Tell me about it. Anyway, Soon-Lee really wanted to come, but she couldn't, on account of the fact that she's pregnant with Maxwell Jr. right now!"
"Congratulations, Klinger!" Margaret and BJ exclaimed at the same time.
"Thank you, thank you so much." He reaches into his purse, and pulls out two cigars.
BJ took his, and stuck it promptly in his mouth. He never was one for smoking, but there was something comforting about the taste in his mouth, something that didn't remind him of Korea, or San Francisco, or anything really.
"Oh!" Margaret exclaimed. "Charles couldn't get away from Boston, though he tried. And I know he tried, because I checked with everyone in that hospital." BJ liked hearing Margaret's no-nonsense tone. "Anyway, he sends his best, told me to tell everyone that Boston is where everyone should be, and if we want to see how the cultured world lives, we should go visit him."
They all laughed. BJ played with his cigar.
After a moment of awkward silence, Margaret took Klinger by the arm to go see Colonel Potter. BJ started walking toward the church entrance when he saw Radar standing off to the side.
"Radar!" He called out, hearing the joy in his own voice, unable to remember the last time he sounded this way.
"Cap'n Hunnicut, sir!" Radar rushed forward to greet him. "I'm so glad you made it out! I really hoped we could get the whole crew together, and well, golly gee, I just have missed you all so much. Too bad the circumstances are so, well," he dropped his voice down to a whisper, "The Colonel really hasn't been doing too well. He tries, you know, but he's older, and -"
BJ put his hand on Radar's shoulder. "Thanks for letting me know." Radar blushed, and BJ was transported back to Korea, back to the day when they operated on Radar's rabbit to save a life. That day, Radar seemed twelve years old, a good kid, innocent. It was a wonder the war didn't break him into jagged pieces, didn't change him into someone his mother wouldn't recognize.
He looked hard at Radar, and saw a slight hardness around his edges, saw thicker lens for his glasses, saw worry lines around Radar's eyes. BJ looked around at the crowd gathered there for Mildred Potter's funeral, how many of them were there for Sherman T. Potter, how many of them were there for each other.
"We should head in," BJ said, and put his arm around Radar's shoulders. Radar looked up at him hopefully. "BJ, do you think Hawk-"
BJ cut him off. "Don't know." He took a deep breath. "But I hope so."
On the plane home, he realized he knew all along that Hawkeye wouldn't show up. But somehow, he still hoped.
Once, the army screwed up and declared Benjamin Franklin Pierce dead. Hawkeye tried to make the best of it. BJ even threw him a wake. But being dead proved to be no fun, and he was ready to be dead, he was ready to go home anyway possible.
He told BJ, "The wounded never stop coming. Trapper left, and they kept coming. Henry died, and they kept coming. They aren't going to stop, Beej. They aren't going to stop."
BJ thought of that as he waded through the bodies at triage - the third group of wounded to come through the 4077 that night. The bombing was fierce - they could hear it, three miles away and counting, and the OR was stacked with sandbags just in case. And the boys, the boys kept getting injured, just like Hawk said they would, years after he said it.
BJ worked quickly with the nurses to prioritize the surgeries, and then ran back to the OR. The body that waited for him was a screaming child, bones protruding out of his chest. BJ doesn't even want to ask how it was possible, how this happened. BJ tried to think of him as a boy, a boy that got hurt, but it was hard to see more than bones and tendons, blood and muscle.
Kelli reached out and touched his arm. "Doctor?"
"Right, right." BJ tried to breathe. He had been doing thing for a long time, forever it seemed, but somehow new things were always possible, somehow, you could always be caught off guard.
"Okay, is he under?"
"Just a minute, doctor."
"I don't -" BJ stared at the mess in front of him. He wasn't sure where to start. He had to stop the bleeding. That's always first. Repair any other damage, then deal with bones. Bones came last.
Hawkeye was working at the table behind him. He heard him, calm, in control. "Scalpel."
Margaret answered, "Scalpel."
BJ wanted to ask Hawk for help, he wanted advice - "Hey, Beej," Hawk called, without turning around. "Plug the hole, pal."
He didn't know why he needed assurance from Hawkeye that night, or how Hawkeye knew. Maybe it was the combination of sleep deprivation and Charles reciting the Iliad, the still being broken and Hawkeye's bad mood after he was rejected by a visiting nurse, but for some reason BJ froze, and Hawkeye was there when he needed him.
So BJ bought the drinks that night, after he stopped the bleeding and taped the ribs, and performed five other operations that at this point seemed routine. Hawkeye and BJ toasted to something different every round, and it was relaxed and friendly, it was comfortable, it wasn't the OR, it was just friends drinking together in a war zone thousands of miles away from home.
It was just war. It was just death. It was just Korea.
BJ checked out how many vacation days he had accumulated. A thousand, it seemed, plus sick days.
He owed Peg a vacation, he knew. He felt slightly guilty, but this was something he needed to do. This was something -
He booked the flight without thinking. He didn't think about a return ticket, he didn't want to think about when it would be - would he even be there? Would it be awkward and uncomfortable, completely wrong? Would he want it to last forever?
He had a cover story for Peg - a medical conference in Portland, Maine. He knew, it was a hassle, being so far away and all, but they wanted him to go to interview this doctor for a possible position on the staff.
This was also the cover story he would use with Hawkeye, if needed.
So he kissed Peg goodbye, he swung Erin around in circles, told her to do her homework and listen to her mother.
And he got on a plane to Maine.
He sat in the rental car, maps of the state spread out on the passenger seat, his route to Crabapple Cove thoughtfully highlighted by the woman behind the counter at the rental agency. Forty-five minutes, she said, and BJ sat with the engine idling. Forty-five minutes until he possibly saw Hawk. Forty-five minutes until -
He put the car in drive before he could put it in reverse.
Hawkeye was right. Maine was a beautiful state. The trees were just beginning to change color, the temperature perfectly suited for what he imagined a New England autumn would be. His drive took him along the waterfront, and BJ got his first view of the Atlantic. It was so different from the beaches at home, so different form Half Moon Bay and the Presidio. The Maine coastline was rocky and jagged. It gave off an aura of impermeability, which seemed a bit ominous. But then BJ saw the birds in the sky, just like they were back home, and he rolled down the window to listen to the waves, which rolled in against the shore just as they did in San Francisco. The wind blew the carefully highlighted maps into the backseat, but it didn't matter. BJ had the route memorized long ago. The map was just a formality - something for Hawk to laugh at.
And then the road curved away from the ocean, and then he knew he was getting close. And then he was in Crabapple Cove, and then he was turning down Hawkeye's street, and then he had spotted his house.
It was a plain house, as BJ expected, classic New England, like all those movies portrayed. He could just see snow on the roof and in the driveway. Bricks and white wood, lots of trees. BJ wondered how many girls Hawk had kissed under those trees. He drove closer, trying to decide where to park.
As he pulled closer, he stared hard at the porch. There seemed to be some sort of statue, or something. What the dickens had Hawk come up with now? BJ pulled even closer until he was right in front of the house, and then gave a shout.
It was Hawkeye, in the flesh, sitting on the porch with his head in his hand, reading.
BJ paused for a moment, committing that image to memory, so he would always have it, so he would have something more than everything he left behind in Korea. BJ smiled. He had more than Korea.
He laid on the horn.
Hawkeye looked up, yelling, "Hey, what the devil to you think you're doing? Disturbing the peace! This a quiet neighborhood! This isn't New York!" He charged toward the car, his body still the same as BJ remembered, tall and lean with a sense of frantic energy.
BJ rolled down the window and stuck his arm out. "You mean this isn't New York City? Well I'll be damned, I thought I missed an exit back there somewhere!"
Hawkeye stopped dead. His eyes widened and his body went stiff, and BJ was reminded of an animal caught in headlights, or Frank coming out of Margaret's tent.
"BJ?" Hawk's voice was low and BJ couldn't interpret it.
"In the flesh," he replied, trying to be cheery.
BJ was about to throw out the line about how he came to Portland for a convention, when Hawkeye started to talk.
"You came. You came all the way to Crabapple Cove. After everything. After -" He gestured randomly in the air with his book.
"I came," BJ replied, looking him directly in the eye.
For a moment, BJ could have sworn everything stopped - everything except his heart, which was beating so fast he was reminded of those panic attacks, but he forced himself to breathe. He forced himself to look at Hawkeye. Hawkeye, standing outside his car door.
"Well, what are you waiting for, Hunnicut? An engraved invitation? Possibly with gilded ink and a gold-leaf envelope? I don't know what you're used to back in San Francisco, but here in Crabapple Cove, we like to keep things simple, so I suggest you don't waste your time waiting for one."
He looked at BJ and smiled.
"You gotta see what I cooked up in the backyard. It's just like our still, except bigger and better and more resistant to the elements. Plus the stuff that comes out won't actually kill you. I'm thinking of selling it to the army to pad my nest . . . but then I thought, why would I do anything to help the army?"
BJ just smiled. He imagined a goofy grin on his face, but he couldn't stop it. Hawkeye turned and started to walk back toward the house. When he reached the porch, and BJ still hadn't moved, he called out, "Well? Are you coming? Or did someone superglue you to your seat?"
BJ laughed, the kind of laugh that tickled his diaphragm and made him want to double over. He put the car in park, despite the fact in was in the middle of the street, and got out.
"Yeah, Hawk. I'm on my way." And then he was walking across the front lawn, and then he broke out into a jog, and then he was standing right next to Hawk. "Where you been?" BJ asked.
"I once was lost, but now am found."
"Always knew you were a smart one."
Hawkeye reached out and hugged him, and BJ hugged him right back.
This wasn't war. This wasn't death.
This wasn't Korea.