The wind whips up, rustling the tent flaps and banging against the door.
Trapper sits on his bunk, curled around a martini and a letter from his wife. He traded his lamp for a candle when Frank complained about the light, but he doesn't really need either. The letter is standard issue -- Louise's neurosis makes him want to grab the first nurse he can find, he misses his girls in a way he can't put into words -- and the martini is terrible. Of course, it has every right to be; the stuff quietly bubbling in the still won't be gin for several more hours.
Across the Swamp, Frank murmurs under his breath, his cot creaking as he rolls onto his belly and burrows further under his pillow.
Trapper is tired. He should be asleep -- he wants to be asleep -- but he can't quite find that place where everything disappears. The war is quiet tonight, but Korea is not. The wind comes and goes, comes and goes. The rain is endless. It also has the subtlety of mortar fire. Fast, fat drops pelt the Swamp's canvas roof with a sound like baseballs being pitched into mud, and it pours inside through a hole near the stove-pipe, pattering wetly against a pile of stolen hospital towels.
"Hawkeye," Trapper whispers, because he hates to drink alone.
Attention, all personnel: incoming wounded. All hospital staff report to triage, on the double.
"I just got off the horn with HQ, and this is gonna be a big one," Henry says, stuffing his hands in his pockets. "A real big one." He circles the scrub room in short, tight steps, and really, he looks ridiculous when he paces, just ridiculous. Pacing is supposed to seem like it's accomplishing something, but Henry lacks the presence for it; with his slumped shoulders and shuffling feet, Henry looks like he can't find the door. "Huge."
There's a heavy, extended silence, and they make a strange still-life -- Hawkeye frozen at the scrub sink, a pair of hospital pants in his hand; Frank slouched on the bench, his elbows resting on his knees; Margaret at the laundry hamper, her knuckles quietly paling to the same white as the gowns.
"How huge?" Trapper asks, because somebody has to.
"Hill 403 hit an entire regiment below the belt," Henry says, pausing long enough to frown at the autoclave. "I don't have numbers yet, but whatever happened out there, we're all they got." He sighs and rubs at the bridge of his nose. "Kimpo was shelled last night, so the 8055th is laying room only, and the 8063rd has disappeared."
Margaret gasps, a mask clenched between her small hands. "Disappeared?"
"Bugged out three days ago," says Henry. "No one's heard a peep since."
"Well, that's the best news I received since my draft notice," Hawkeye says. Trapper joins him at the sink, leaning in until their shoulders bump, and Hawkeye's hand flutters up to rest on the small of his back.
"Oh, it gets better," Henry says.
And Henry stops -- completely stops -- freezing after a strange, abortive step toward Margaret only to fold in on himself, and right then, Trappers knows he doesn't want to hear the rest. Henry is a lot of things; he's sarcastic, moody, and terminally unfunny, but underneath all that, underneath the booze and fishing reels and dirty movies, he's Lieutenant Colonel Henry Braymore Blake, and Lieutenant Colonel Henry Braymore Blake is oddly optimistic for a man in charge of an olive drab butcher shop.
"Allied Forces lost ground tonight," Henry continues. "I'm sure I don't have to tell you that right now, a bunch of guys with enough brass on their shoulders to make a spittoon are really unhappy."
"They're planning a counter-strike," Margaret says, and Hawkeye's fingers twist in Trapper's shirt.
"You bet your patoot," replies Henry. "Sorry, Major," he adds stiffly. "HQ says for us to expect heavy casualties for the next forty-eight hours."
A sharp gust blows through the compound, its shrill whistle lost under the rusty wheeze of an ambulance rattling up to pre-op. Everything is covered in mud.
Hawkeye crouches over a patient, shouting for plasma as the wind tries to tear the blood-spattered battalion aid tag from his hand. In the pink and gray half-light he looks like a gargoyle, like a cemetery statue hidden in Halloween shadows. Trapper missed last Halloween; according to Louise, Cathy was a princess and Becky was a wicked witch.
It's not quite cold, but staring down at a kid with a smooth, pale face and a gaping hole in his gut, Trapper shivers. The sun's barely up, and he needs a drink. He hasn't had enough sleep for this. None of them have.
"Hey, Trap," Hawkeye says, as his hands disappear into his latest kid's chest. "North Korea has made me a better offer."
His voice has a dangerous lilt: the opening bars of one of his verbal song and dance numbers, but it's a tough room. He drops that bomb into silence peppered with the slow hiss of ventilation, and the noise Margaret makes suggests her girdle's too tight. There's already a river of blood on the floor, and it's mixed liberally with mud; the smart, familiar rap of Klinger's heels has been replaced with a sickly squelch.
"Oh?" Trapper asks finally. A chunk of shrapnel hits the tray with a sharp clink. "What kind of offer? Come out with your hands up?"
"No, no. Nothing like that. Metzenbaum scissors," Hawkeye says. "New boots, nights and weekends off, and all the kim-chi I can eat. Clamp. What'dya say we blow this compost and see how the other half lives?"
"Like animals," Frank snaps, and it's too tense, too taut; that patented whine is at least three hours ahead of schedule, but they stitched through a late night before Hill 403 caused this early morning, and it sounds like Hot Lips woke up on the wrong side of the war. "Uncivilized, Communist animals."
"Are animals Communists?" asks Hawkeye. "Lions and tigers and bears, oh Marx? What about lobsters? Sea otters? Octopuses -- or is that octopi?" A streak of blood lurks near the bottom of his mask, and it twists strangely as he smiles. "Suction. I can be packed in five minutes."
"Five?" Trapper asks. "I think you underestimate the amount of garbage we've collected."
"The garbage you've collected," says Hawkeye. "All I need is the still and a pair of clean socks. If North Korea wants my business, they'll have to provide the rest. If you need anything else, you'll have to rent Cho Man Chin's cart and ox."
Trapper shakes his head and pokes Ginger with his elbow. "More suction, honey. I can't see what I'm fumbling with."
"Are you with me, Trap?"
"Yeah, yeah," says Trapper. "Just let me finish mending this fender."
The door creaks open, and Radar mumbles more ambulances from behind the clipboard he's using as a mask. He retreats as Margaret shouts for gloves and towels, and Henry's voice follows him out -- what's the word, what's the word? -- and then Henry drops a clamp, cursing I-Corps and Regimental and anyone else he can think of. They're low on everything: blood, bandages, plasma, penicillin, but Radar only shakes his head.
"No one can find the 8063," says Radar, and Trapper wonders at that, because if Radar can't find them, they didn't just bug out, they moved to Atlantis without a forwarding address. Radar looks uncomfortable; Henry rarely shoots the messenger, but Radar hates to be the bearer of bad news. "And the 8055 is real bad off. Their company clerk has wounded in his office."
Trapper stops listening, because he's heard it all before. The road to Seoul is washed out. The weather has the choppers grounded. Any day now, a shipment of horseshoes will arrive at San Juan Hill. The Army didn't order the rain, but other than the casualties, it's the only thing they've got.
A cramp is forming at the base of Trapper's neck. Last night's nightcap is now a dull ache behind his eyes, and the kid he's unwrapping appears to have no spleen. Trapper sighs, and rolls his shoulders as best he can with a lap sponge in one hand and about a yard of perforated intestines spilling through the other.
"Retraction," he says, but Ginger's already waving a Deaver under his nose. She's a good girl. A good nurse. "Thanks, honey. Now if you could just -- yeah. That's it. A little more suction." Of course, they all are, unless they're paired with Frank -- who at this very moment is berating Baker because his ten thumbs and two left hands have thrown another Kelly clamp on the floor.
"Nurse!" Frank snaps, and that whine is back, and it's grating; if Trapper wasn't busy crocheting this kid a new digestive tract he'd walk over and punch Frank in the throat. "You are utterly incompetent. You are--"
"--Baker!" Hawkeye shouts, and Baker hesitates, her outstretched arms frozen over Frank's patient, but she looks relieved. "Get over here. I need another pair of hands."
"What about me?" asks Frank.
"Clamp," Trapper says. "What about you?"
"I'm already assisting you, Captain Pierce," says Margaret sharply.
"And so is Baker," says Hawkeye. "I want another pair of hands. If they won't fit inside the patient, she's welcome to put them in my pockets."
Margaret makes that noise again, and stomps over to Frank's table. "Disgusting."
"I aim to please," says Hawkeye. "You aim too, please," he adds, as more metal hits the floor. "Is there a seamstress in the house? This man needs to be fitted for a new set of thumbs."
"Oh, shut up!"
"Colonel Blake! Major Burns is being abused!"
Henry sighs. "Pierce, McIntyre, put a lid on it. I'm trying to play hide-and-seek with what's left of this bladder."
The locals call this season jangma.
The rain marches on, drumming against the corrugated roof in a constant rhythm that's strangely lulling -- Trapper thinks he'd fall asleep where he stands if Corporal Richard Nathan Carter wasn't bleeding all over his gown. It also creeps inside, seeking out the holes that rusted through in the last deluge. One of the largest leaks is right next to Trapper's table; water drips steadily between his shoulder and Ginger's, and what doesn't catch him on the elbow plops into the bedpan wedged against his boot.
Mostly, Trapper is running Corporal Carter's bowel, but a small part of his brain is at Sears and Roebuck, ordering a set of bright yellow galoshes and several pairs of dry socks. And a smaller, extremely delirious part is reciting Henry's most recent lecture on trenchfoot.
Attention, all personnel: lunch is now being served in the mess tent. Everyone is advised to take the appropriate precautions.
The cramp in Trapper's neck is back and working double-time, and the patient he just closed looks exactly like the last. The guy is all buttoned up with nowhere to go, and Trapper is covered in blood, but Trapper doesn't quite remember how either of them got that way.
"Henry, I'm taking ten."
"You do that," says Henry, tossing a sponge aside. "Deaver. And get Pierce back in here. His ten minutes was over ten minutes ago."
The hallways is dark, yellowed by a single, flickering bulb that has one filament in the grave. The floor is caked with mud. Hawkeye strides in from the compound; he waits to hold the door for Bigelow, who's two steps behind him with a bundle of towels. They pause, exchanging a smile. The kiss is brief. Bigelow seems to melt into it, but Hawkeye has a soft mouth when he wants to. Soft hands, too. At the moment, one of them is ghosting over Bigelow's face.
Trapper's stomach growls. His tongue tastes sour. He hasn't eaten anything but gin since last night's dinner, and last night's dinner is a mystery best left unsolved.
"Where's Pierce?" asks Henry, as Trapper bangs back into the operating room.
"Latrine," says Trapper shortly, and he offers his hands to Baker. "Gloves."
"Well, Radar?" Henry sounds tired, so very tired. "What's the word on the penicillin?"
Frank dozes in the corner, slouched partially upright on an abandoned gurney with his mouth open and his head braced against the wall. Margaret glances over each time he mumbles, and rain drips slowly into the helmet balanced in his lap.
"There really isn't any, sir," says Radar. He managed to find a mask, but he hasn't bothered to tie it on. "I can get the 8063 if I stand on my chair and point my wastebasket out the door, but they break up every other word. I don't know where they are. I don't think they know where they are, sir."
"Well," says Hawkeye, "as long as we know where we are."
"Can it, Pierce. What about the 8055?"
"They've got penicillin, sir, and they're willing to trade us some, for a half a case of light bulbs and a box of morphine," explains Radar, "but they can't spare a guy to make the trip."
"Clamp," growls Henry. "Neither can we."
"I know that, sir," says Radar. "And I said that, but Red didn't want to talk anymore. He's got a wounded guy on his desk, you know."
Attention, all personnel: incoming wounded arriving by ambulance. Any available hospital staff should report to the compound immediately.
Klinger's white knee-socks are now brown well past the ankle, and his red and blue cape flutters around a nursing habit fifteen years out of fashion.
"Oh, miss!" says Hawkeye. "Who's next on the waiting list? I have a lovely table for one with a clear view of Frank's behind."
"Careful, Frank," says Trapper. He can almost hear Hawkeye smiling. "Henry's asleep. There's no one here to defend your honor."
"Take your pick, sir," say Klinger. "I've got one busted gut, one leg with multiple fragments, and a lieutenant colonel who took one in the wallet."
Hawkeye pauses, forceps poised in his hand like a scepter. "Trap?"
"No guts, no glory," mutters Trapper. The kid quietly falling to pieces in front of him needs another ten minutes -- at least -- but Trapper nods to an empty table. "Put him down over there and give him a magazine."
"I see your belly wound, Sir Trapper, and raise you one leg a la shell fragments," says Hawkeye, affecting the worst British accent Trapper has ever heard, possibly the worst British accent anyone has ever heard. "Frank can take the one sitting pretty once he's finished sewing his glove into that patient."
Cutler tastes like the rain and exhaustion and mess tent coffee. The last is the strongest, thick and bitter on her tongue, and when he pulls back, she whispers against his mouth -- something about bandages and sutures and Major Houlihan, but he doesn't really care, and he stops just short of saying that Maragaret can blow it out her ear. He presses closer, until Cutler's shoulder and hip bump the door to Radar's office, and he kisses her again, but it fails to do the trick. He's still in Korea. He's still wet and bloody and tired. He can hear Radar shouting at someone on the phone, and an ambulance roaring into the compound, and Klinger complaining that he's overworked and underpaid as he clomps down the hallway to post-op.
"I've got to go," says Cutler quietly. She has one hand in Trapper's hair, but a stack of bandages and a box of sutures are nestled in the crook of her other arm. "If I'm much longer, Hot Lips will have my hide."
"Go on. Get out of here," replies Trapper, flashing her a half-smile. It's all he's got. "I think I've got a patient double-parked."
Father Mulcahy is assisting Henry, because Margaret decided Gage needed a nap, and because shortly after that, Baker became the latest victim of dysentery. Henry asks for his hardware slowly, in a voice that's both strained and patient. Mulcahy is nervous and careful in return -- almost apologetic -- but surprisingly adept for someone whose entire medical training amounts to taping skinned knees at the CYO. He doesn't know a Deaver from a Richardson, but he's trying. He cares.
"Suction," says Henry, and then "let's go, sweetheart, the meter's running," and then "sorry, Father," but Mulcahy barely even blinks.
And Trapper is a little angry, where he isn't wet and tired and numb, because war is no place for anyone, and certainly not a priest. Not this priest. Trapper has never really bothered with religion, but that doesn't make Mulcahy any less real, and while he's a calming presence for some and a comfort for others, he's too hopeful for all this blood and death, too quiet for the noise that keeps them up at night.
"Trap? Is that you?"
Sighing, Trapper leans up on his elbows and peeks out from under the lead smock covering his head. Hawkeye is gowned and gloved and masked, and for a strange, extended heartbeat, Trapper doesn't recognize him.
"Go away," he says finally. He chose the x-ray room because it was empty and quiet, because he didn't think anyone would bother him. "I know for a fact that I've got seven more minutes."
"I'm not looking for you," says Hawkeye simply.
"I think you're lying."
"I'm looking for an x-ray."
Trapper snorts. "Now I know you're lying. Klinger's the resident x-ray gal."
"Klinger?" asks Hawkeye. Pulling down his mask, he sits on the edge of the x-ray table, twisting so his hip bumps Trapper's outstretched leg. "We've got two nurses down, and Radar's eloped with the telephone. Margaret's running Klinger so ragged he doesn't have time to straighten his seams."
"Fine. I believe you. Now, take your imaginary x-ray and go," says Trapper, pulling the smock back over his face. "I still have five minutes."
Hawkeye makes a noise, and the smock scrapes across Trapper's nose and chin. Smiling, Hawkeye leans over him. The kiss is rough and quick -- too much tongue, Hawkeye needs a shave -- and Hawkeye's fingers dig into Trapper's arm hard enough to bruise.
"Three minutes," says Trapper quietly. "Please go away."
"You can't have three minutes. It took me eight to find you."
"Find me? Do I look like an x-ray?"
Hawkeye sighs dramatically. "Henry says we're getting another shipment from the aid station, and one of them" -- he presses a horribly wet kiss on Trapper's forehead -- "is a belly wound made especially for you."
Trapper always expects the worst.
With each kid that's placed in front of him, Trapper holds a mental moment of silence as he pulls back the sheet, and in that moment, he imagines what he's going to see before he's actually forced to look at it. Hawkeye calls it pessimism, but Trapper insists it's self-defense. It's supposed to make things easier. Only in this place -- this war -- his most disturbing ideas are nothing compared to reality.
The dogtags read PFC Scott McPherson, but this kid isn't a soldier, anymore.
"Jesus," mutters Trapper. "This kid's gut looks like yesterday's hash."
"Hey," says Hawkeye quietly. They're back to back, like the final scene from one of those stupid westerns, where two guys try to hold off fifty with a pair of six-shooters and a handful of hopes and dreams. Hawkeye's elbow brushes Trapper's side, and then he leans back a little, turning his head as he tilts it over Trapper's shoulder. "You need a hand?"
And Trapper wants to say yes, because this kid is a mess, and he could very well be the first one they lose today, but the guy Hawkeye just cut into isn't any better off, and Frank can't be trusted around a chest that doesn't come with drawers.
And just like that, the operating room disappears.
Trapper's vaguely aware of the white noise --
(Hawkeye talking about some crab shack in his home town; Frank informing Margaret that he's ready to close; Henry telling Radar that no he can't come to the phone right now, he's got his hands full of someone's spleen and yes, he understands it's important, but business is really booming today, pun totally intended, and General Mitchell will just have to wait until the war takes a coffee break.)
-- but he doesn't really hear it. He's not even part of it. His world narrows to PFC McPherson and the hole in his gut that's more hole than guts, and Ginger, who's slapping hardware into his hand so fast she's an inch away from reading his mind, and Cutler, whose soft voice catches each time she murmurs McPherson’s pressure and pulse.
And then just like that, McPherson disappears. He's still a person under the blood and missing parts, but he's also a puzzle. He's the liver Trapper is piecing together, and the gallbladder Trapper can't find, and the intestines that could pass for a lace curtain, and a resection that can't possibly work -- there's no way in Hell this is going to work -- because nothing seems to lead to anything else and the loose ends refuse to match.
He doesn't try to rationalize things the way Hawkeye does; he doesn't need an explanation for all of life's occurrences, and he never has. But maybe Hawkeye's right, maybe God does heal the patients while the doctor takes the fee. That's a dangerous thought in a place like this, it's practically insanity in a place like this, but Trapper will never forget that one kid he swore he was going to lose, and how he opened his eyes the moment Mulcahy reached for his hand.
Trapper blinks. Ginger's fingers twist in his sleeve.
"Hey, Hawk. Come look at this," he says. "I just knitted myself a soldier."
"Sir? Colonel, sir?"
"Radar, if you're not going to tell me there's a truckload of penicillin in the compound--"
"--yes, sir, you don't want to hear it, I know, sir--"
"--I don't want to hear it," says Henry, then: "Clamp! Clamp!" as blood spurts out of his patient like a fountain.
"Well, I just got off the horn with the aid station," says Radar. No mask, again. From behind his clipboard, he sounds like he's talking through a mouthful of cotton. "For a box of morphine and a case of Spam, they'll give us penicillin and gloves."
"They want our Spam?" asks Hawkeye. "Must be really rough at the front, tonight."
Henry sighs, and tosses a chunk of shrapnel aside. Clink. "Do we need gloves?"
Radar give the room a quick once-over -- four occupied operating tables; a guy with a fractured leg waiting on the extra gurney; Klinger loitering impatiently in the wings. "Probably wouldn't hurt, sir."
"Fine," says Henry shortly. "Do it."
"But there's a problem, sir. They don't deliver."
"No," says Henry. "Not on your life. I'm not sending you halfway to the front in the middle of the night when there's a push on. We'll--"
"--yes, sir. We'll make do with what we have--"
"--make do with what we have."
Trapper wakes with a start, with bleary, clouded eyes and the lethargic tingle of exhaustion. For a split-second he's back in his house in Boston; he doesn't understand why his bedroom looks like the inside of a shed, why the air is thicker than last night's stew, why his wife looks like Hawkeye Pierce.
"C'mon," says Hawkeye softly. He grabs Trapper by the arm, but Trapper shrugs him off and rubs at his face.
He hadn't planned on falling asleep, but lying down will cause that, sometimes. The hallway is dark and empty. Rain sheets heavily against the door to the compound, and the litter Trapper's sprawled on creaks as he sits up. He starts to ask Hawkeye a question -- What do you want? Why are you bothering the dead? -- but the words split around a yawn, and it's such a sudden, explosive release that a sharp pain shoots through his jaw.
"The hit parade's finally winding down," says Hawkeye, and he tugs on Trapper's sleeve like a child. "Pre-op's thinned out to fractures and lacerations and the odd but whimsical shell fragment. Henry wants us to get some sack time before the next wave."
"Sounds good," says Trapper, sinking back down on the litter.
"No, no. We're going to the Swamp," Hawkeye says. "I can't leave you here; you've got a face only the meatwagon could love."
"All right. All right," Trapper mutters. He's too tired for this, too tired for anything, but he allows Hawkeye to pull him to his feet. "I'm up. I'm up."
"That's more information than I needed," says Hawkeye lightly. "Are you hungry? We can stop by the mess tent."
"No, thanks," says Trapper. Radar threatened him with a sandwich earlier -- cold Spam on surplus bread with lettuce that looked like it arrived on a boat that took the long way around -- Trapper didn't want it then, and he doesn't want it, now. "All I need is gin. I'll send out for Chinese after the war."
"Well," says Hawkeye slowly, tipping his glass in salute. There's a slump to his shoulders, and he sounds as tired as Trapper feels. "Here's mud in your eye."
"Here's mud in your everything," Trapper replies sourly. The rain has turned the compound into a bog; a thick, brown lake is quickly forming at the Swamp's front door, and Trapper thinks half the sludge in Korea is stuck to the bottom of his boots. "Cheers." The martini feels good going down, but it tastes as terrible as the one he had for breakfast. "Oh, that's bad."
"You're telling me?" asks Hawkeye, pulling a face as he sinks down on the edge of his cot. "You're responsible for this... this... this whatever this is."
"It's your chemistry set, Mister Wizard," says Trapper. He frowns at the still and gives the coil a tap. "And I fed it hours ago -- right before we almost went to sleep. It had plenty of time to make that stuff into gin."
Hawkeye sighs and reaches for the beaker. The gin tinkles into his glass, a sound that's softer and lighter than the rain.
"To the little engine that didn't," says Hawkeye, nodding to the still. "To mud pies, mud slides, mud baths, mud wrestling, mud slinging, muddy waters, Mississippi mud, mess tent mud, Klinger's Mud Hens, and our newest bunkmate, Mud in Your Everything."
Sweat prickles Trapper's skin, crawling over his shoulders and back before seeping into his clothes. The wind has chased away the heat, but the rain has brought humidity in its place. The air is a creeping, living thing that simply hangs there, draped across the compound like a wet woolen blanket, and with its flaps down, the Swamp is worse than an oven. Trapper is exhausted. His head hurts and his bones ache and a dull throb is building behind his eyes, but sleep lingers in the corner, hidden in the shadows and just out of reach. A drink might help, but when he finally hauls himself out of his cot he shuffles past the still.
Hawkeye's blanket is twisted around his legs. He looks asleep, but after Trapper hovers over him for nearly a full minute, he shifts and offers up a lazy smile. Neither speak. Their silence is peppered with the camp's morning absolutions -- a jeep roars to life; the shower door creaks open; a gaggle of enlisted mutter as they head for the mess tent.
"You got room for one more?" Trapper asks finally.
"That depends on who's asking," Hawkeye replies, tucking his arm behind his head. "Do you have a reservation?"
"Not as such," Trapper replies, as a gust of wind howls through the compound. The Swamp groans in complaint, and Trapper shoves at Hawkeye's shoulder. "I'm friends with the owner, and he told me I could stop by at any time."
Hawkeye kicks his blanket to the ground. "Well, come on in. I'm sure a table will open up momentarily."
It's a tight squeeze -- two grown men in a cot scarcely built for one -- but they make it work. They push and pull and press until they fit, with their arms and legs tangled and Trapper wedged neatly between Hawkeye's body and the splintered crate Hawkeye uses as a nightstand. The cot shrieks. Hawkeye palms Trapper's hip, and Trapper breathes, smells sweat, salt, surgical soap, skin.
"You think Frank's gone for the night?" Trapper asks. A finger of sunlight peeks through a crack in the flaps, striping Hawkeye's pillow. "Morning. Whatever."
"Is Frank every really here?" Hawkeye replies, hooking his thumb in the waistband of Trapper's shorts. His lips skate over Trapper's jaw. "He's curled around Hot Lips, and dreaming of the Bible."
Trapper shifts closer and curls his hand around the back of Hawkeye's neck. "That's an interesting combination."
"Well, Frank's an interesting guy."
They kiss then, a hurried motion that's tinged with exhaustion and desperation. They both taste of a twenty-some-odd-hour shift, and Hawkeye still needs a shave. Trapper thinks fleetingly of Cutler and Bigelow, but this is different. This is the kind of anesthesia homemade gin can't provide. This is as close to comfortable as he ever going to get. This is Hawkeye, and that's the only real defense Trapper has against the war.
The air is thick. A gust of wind whips through the compound, rattling the Swamp's door, and Hawkeye's tongue drags across Trapper's lips. He's on top of Trapper now, with his knee caught between Trapper's thighs, with one hand fisted in his pillow and the other wrapped around Trapper's cock. Trapper snaps his hips, pushing into that tight heat. He can't breathe. Hawkeye's hair is in his mouth. The Swamp shudders in a jeep's wake, and Trapper's sweaty fingers slip over Hawkeye's skin.
Hawkeye twists his wrist and strokes Trapper hard, flicking his thumb over the head, and everything stops. There is silence, then nothing.
Not even Korea.
Attention, all personnel: incoming wounded. All hospital staff report to triage, on the double. And bring a friend. The wounded sure did.
"Yo, I got a table for one," says Henry.
Trapper doesn't bother to look; he knows that sound all too well. "Poor Frank," he says, before Frank finds a way to blame it on Gage. "The one that got away."
"Waitress," says Hawkeye, as Klinger bangs through the door. He doesn't look, either; his eyes are trained on the line of silk stretching away from his patient. "A pound of butter for the man with no chin."
Frank huffs. "You mind your own business, you wiseapple."
"Go ahead, miss," insists Hawkeye. "Make it two pounds, and you can put it on my tab."
"Sorry, sir," replies Klinger, as he and Igor heft Henry's next patient onto the assembly line. "Your tab is over-extended."
"I'm good for it," says Hawkeye, with mock indignation. "You even know where I live."
Klinger shakes his head and points to Hawkeye with the IV bottle in his hand. "Sorry, sir. I'll need cash up front."
"Henry, I demand that you transfer me to another war," says Hawkeye. "The help here is impossible."
"Done," says Trapper, pulling his final stitch. "Take this one with you, Klinger. Another unit of whole blood and he'll be ready to re-enlist."
Trapper sighs. "Jesus, Frank. Maybe if you sewed your hardware to your gloves."
"I thought I told you to mind your own business."
"You told Hawkeye to mind his own business," says Trapper easily. "And you've got enough tools on the floor there to rent your table to the motor pool."
Margaret hisses, and she sounds like a faulty teakettle. Or a menopausal cat. "Colonel Blake!"
"All right, that's enough, from all of you. Can't you see I'm trying to get some sleep, here?"
"Gloves," says Trapper, offering his hands to Cutler. "Next! I've got immediate seating in the balcony. No necktie required."
"Sir? Colonel, sir?"
Henry glances up for a split-second, and a bloody sponge whizzes past Radar's face. "Mmmm?"
"Are you busy, sir?" asks Radar, shifting from foot to foot.
"Not at all. Metzenbaum scissors. I'm just taking this kidney for a walk."
Radar opens his mouth, closes it, and opens it again. "Remember that penicillin you wanted, and battalion aid had some, but they couldn't drive it down and you didn't want me to go get it?" he asks, and Henry nods; Trapper wonders if that was actually in English, or if Henry's finally learned to speak Radar. "Well, they sent a box down with the last load of wounded, so I gave them the morphine."
"Retraction. What about the gloves?" asks Henry.
"The gloves you didn't think we needed, sir?"
"Yes, Radar. Those gloves."
"They forgot them, sir," says Radar. "So I forgot to give them the Spam."
Attention, all personnel: for your lunchtime pleasure, the mess tent proudly presents something and potatoes. Anyone able to guess the something will receive a second helping, with the cook's compliments.
"Do we have x-rays for this?" asks Frank.
"I believe we do, sir," says Klinger, with a sweeping bow that leaves his pointed nursing hat askew. "Allow me to confer with my assistant," he adds, as Mulcahy bustles in, the yellowish surgical lights glinting off the glasses perched above his mask.
"Here you are, Major, for Sergeant Johnson," says Mulcahy. "It's a bit off center, I'm afraid, but I believe I captured the necessary parts."
"Amateurs," mutters Frank, and then, "nerts," and after a quick glance at the patient, "cheese and crackers."
"If you're offering," says Hawkeye flatly, "but only if it's gouda. I do hate brie. It's far too soft. Sticks to the roof of my mouth."
"I can't... there isn't... I don't see how I can... where are his kidneys?" asks Frank, but it's not really a question, and that whine isn't his usual whine; this isn't his normal and almost constant state of mild panic, this is the serious, deadly kind of panic he saves for special occasions.
Hawkeye looks up at Trapper, and Trapper nods.
"Well, what do we have here?" asks Trapper, peering at the patient over Frank's shoulder.
"None of your business," snaps Frank. His voice is high and thready.
"I'll trade you," offers Trapper, as he scans the x-ray. From what he can see, the guy's kidney's are present, accounted for, and mostly intact, they're just hidden under a mire of perforated intestines and blood. "I do this guy, and you do mine."
"No, thanks, hot shot," replies Frank. "I'm perfectly capable of--"
"--c'mon, Frank," says Trapper. "I haven't glued a kidney together in hours."
Frank hesitates, and the hand holding the x-ray sinks to his side. "What've you got?"
"Just some shell fragments. Foot and lower leg. You won't ever get your gown dirty."
"All right. Deal," says Frank. "But don't think you're doing me any favors."
"I've got sandwiches!" says Radar, as he bursts into the operating room.
Everyone greets that with silence, except Henry, who replies with a noncommittal grunt. Radar lingers in the doorway for a moment, his face hidden by a stack of bundles wrapped in what looks suspiciously like toilet paper. When the silence continues, he clears his throat and tries again.
"Anyone hungry?" he asks.
"That depends on what you're trying to kill us with," says Hawkeye.
Turning the plate around, Radar peers at the sandwiches. He looks worried. "I've got Spam, sir," he says finally. "And something khaki. Probably chicken."
"No thanks," says Hawkeye. "I draw the line at eating anything in a Class A uniform. That chicken should be arrested for impersonating an officer. Besides, I had my heart set on allegedly beef."
"Sir?" asks Radar, moving to hover at Trapper's elbow. "Trapper, sir?"
He offers up the first sandwich on the pile, and Trapper stops darning the hole in his guy's bowel long enough to frown at it. "Isn't that the same Spam I didn't want yesterday?"
"You never know, sir," replies Radar. "It might be different Spam."
"Maybe they flipped it over," says Hawkeye.
"Clamp," says Trapper. This kid's wounds aren't too bad, but he's a bleeder. "I don't care if they gave it a shower and changed its socks. It's the same Spam, and I'll bet you that's surplus bread."
Hawkeye laughs. "The best worm-food the Eighth Army can buy, and baked fresh for World War Two."
"Yeah, and no dice," says Trapper. "Radar, do you take requests?"
"Bring me a coffee," says Trapper. "And do the UN a favor. Send those sandwiches to the Chinese."
The doors don't open, they explode, swinging apart so hard and fast they rebound off the walls. There's a strange pause, and then Klinger starts to shout -- Next! Next! This one's got to be next! -- his elbows and shoulders sagging under the weight of a litter. A jeep just pulled in, and it came with a guy that should've been here hours ago. And he was shipped here hours ago, but the driver was shelled into a detour, and the kid's head and chest percolated into a mess while the driver bounced down miles of unfamiliar roads in the dark.
And Henry says Hawkeye, in a tone that's clipped and tired and very, very final.
"Clamp," says Trapper. He barely recognizes his own voice; it's thin and strangely flat. "Sponge."
Something's wrong. The air is heavy and thick, weighted in a way that has nothing to do with the humidity. And it's quiet -- too quiet -- except for the rain, which batters into the building so loudly Trapper half-expects to find the Chinese knocking at the door. He shifts, trying to loosen the knots in his shoulders. A puddle of water eddies around his heels, and he studies the spray of holes dotting his patient's stomach.
"Dammit," mutters Hawkeye. It's the first thing he's said in fifteen minutes, and it's strained, tight.
"Hawk?" asks Trapper.
"Yeah," says Hawkeye. Still strained, still tight. You can set the war by Hawkeye's mouth; it runs when things are bad, and it runs over when things are worse, but it rarely runs out. It's been over a year -- thirteen months, three weeks, and four days -- but Trapper can remember every single time a patient has slapped Hawkeye into silence. "Yeah."
Trapper gives Ginger a nudge. "I need a minute. Pack this open so I don't lose my place."
Above her mask, Gage's eyes are very green and very wide.
Trapper wants to say the kid's not as bad as he looks. He really wants to -- for his own sake, if not for Hawkeye's -- and maybe be can. Maybe it's the truth. The kid's got a chest full of hash, but his lungs are mostly intact, and underneath the blood pooling around Hawkeye's hands, his heart is beating. It's weak, but it's beating.
"Henry," says Trapper, nodding to his own patient. "When you're done there, can you finish up that lube and oil?"
Hawkeye's shoulders are stiff, and his elbows are hard, sharp angles. He looks like he could be carved from stone.
"Fools rush in, where angels fear to tread," sings Trapper quietly, clamping what he hopes is the artery responsible for all this blood. "And so I come to you my love, my heart above my head."
Hawkeye's eyes never leave the kid's chest, and he doesn't quite relax, but he almost breathes.
"Though I see the danger there, if there's a chance for me, then I don't care."
"Clamp," says Hawkeye, and it's still strained, still tight, but it's better.
"Fools rush in, where wise men never go." Louder, and Trapper retracts a nerve so Hawkeye can tie off a vessel. "But wise men never fall in love, so how are they do know?"
"When we met, I felt my life begin, so open up you heart and let this fool rush in."
"Well, what if we--"
"--yeah. And then we could--"
"--there. Like that."
"You read minds beautifully."
"Clamp. So I've been told. Retraction."
"Could be a promising future in it. After the war, we could blow off our private practices and join up with a tribe of Gypsies."
"Might be fun. We could see the world. Meet new people."
"No, thanks. I'd look ridiculous in a veil. Besides, the Army's already shown me more of the world than I ever wanted to see."
"You think that'll hold?" asks Trapper, pointing to Hawkeye's embroidery with the tip of his clamp.
Hawkeye looks up at Trapper, then down at his kid, then back up at Trapper. Behind his mask, his lip twitches. "I do believe it will, kind sir."
"Spiffing," says Trapper, but no; blood is slowly seeping back into the wound. "Christ, I guess not. Your stitches are unraveling."
"No, no, no," replies Hawkeye, giving several vessels a poke. "I think he sprang a new leak. Down this way, a bit."
Trapper sighs and gestures to Gage. "Let's get a little suction in here, honey. We're bobbing for apples in the dark."
And the kid's heart is still beating.
"Nurse, I think we're ready to close."
Trapper went to Boston and became a doctor. He came to Korea, and became a butcher.
The leg comes off easily. And it shouldn't; a leg is skin and muscles and vessels and bone, but this one's in pieces. A landmine did most of the work, and Trapper just tied up a few loose ends. He stitches the site slowly -- like he's getting paid by the hour -- which is ridiculous, really, and Trapper would laugh if he wasn't so cold, because he's barely getting paid at all, and the kid's leg is gone, and Trapper's worried about leaving him a stump with no scar.
An orderly wraps the leg in a sheet, and as he carts it away, Trapper watches the kid's future go with it. He's very young -- could be eighteen, might be nineteen -- with bright red hair and the round, freckled face of someone from a small town. He probably has a girl back home and a shitty part-time job, and a clunker in his parents' driveway that needs both a transmission and a miracle.
Tomorrow will be the worst. Tomorrow, the kid will wake up with hope in his eyes and a slightly pained smile on his lips, and Trapper will have to tell him he's going home with only some of what he came with.
And just like that, it's business as usual.
Here, Trapper is composing a war ditty to the tune of Chattanooga Choo-Choo. There, Hawkeye is telling Ginger about the Gene Tierney picture they've now missed two nights running. Behind Hawkeye, Henry is dictating a list of things Radar needs to requisition from Regimental. At Henry's left, Margaret is tanning Klinger's hide with the rough side of her tongue, and across the room, Frank is complaining about the noise.
The storm is finally starting to lighten. The leak at Trapper's shoulder has dropped off to a slow drip, and the wind has turned into something vague that lacks conviction. Rain still patters against the roof, but it's a soft sound, and it mingles eagerly with the chatter, and the dull hum of the surgical lights. Sweat prickles at Trapper's forehead. The humidity seems to be holding, but it's no longer oppressive; it's simply a nuisance.
Suddenly, everything is strangely and almost frighteningly normal.
"Radar tells me we're getting a new nurse tomorrow," says Hawkeye.
And it's quiet; Frank gave himself the rest of the night off once pre-op started to dry up, and Hawkeye sent Henry to bed after he asked the gas machine for a scalpel. It's just the two of them now. They're splitting the second-to-last patient, a kid with multiple fragment wounds applied liberally to both legs.
"A fresh one, I hope," replies Trapper, as he probes at a hole in the kid's thigh. "Just our luck, she'll be an army mule. Well over forty and built like the back-up generator."
"Have faith, my friend. Have faith," says Hawkeye, dropping a piece of shrapnel in the tray. "The last two days have been very long. There has to be a light at the end of this dreary and war-torn tunnel."
Trapper shakes his head. "The light went out when I heard our Spam hadn't been shipped to the front."
"There's an empty crate in the supply room," says Hawkeye. "I was saving it for Frank, but I think it's too small. Maybe we should send the Spam to Regimental."
"Postage due, of course."
"Of course," says Hawkeye. "I didn't pay when it arrived, I wouldn't pay to eat it, and I'm certainly not paying to get rid of it."
The Swamp is a constant, and Trapper sighs as he and Hawkeye elbow through the door; it's stuffy and overly-warm and smells strongly of socks. The wind makes a tired and half-hearted last stand, and the tent creaks. Hawkeye heads straight for the gin and, shifting in his sleep, Frank snores in disapproval. A trail of muddy footprints mark the path Frank took to his bed, ending where his boots were tossed next to his locker without ceremony.
The still bubbles quietly. Trapper sinks into his bunk as Hawkeye tinkers with the glasses, and it welcomes him with a groan. He wants a drink. He also wants to sleep. It feels like he's glued to his mattress, and as sweaty as he is, that's probably the case. Stretching, he rolls to face the tent wall and kicks his blankets away from his feet. Hawkeye is talking, but Trapper doesn't really hear the words.
"Trapper? Trap, are you awake?"
Trapper blinks, and his dream -- he's at the beach with his girls; Becky's afraid of the waves and clings to Trapper's leg, while closer to the water, Cathy's digging holes in the sand -- fades into the canvas ceiling. "I am now. What's up? More wounded?"
"Nah," says Hawkeye. His voice is soft and careful, and Trapper hears the shuffling of feet. "I just hate to drink alone."