Saturday, August 29, 2009

Holding On

Rating: PG-13
Disclaimer: These characters belong to 20th Century Fox, not me.
Sequel to Pulling Through.

There's a strange intimacy in living with someone. Living together in such close quarters is even more intimate. Showering with someone, working beside him for twelve-hour stretches, sleeping four feet from his cot--

He's only known B.J. Hunnicutt for a week, but already he's grown to know the other man's patterns. The way he works-- his methodical, steady calmness in OR, his rapid efficiency in triage. The way his eyes grow grave and sorrowful when he's thinking of the home he left so recently. The way he sleeps-- the short, choppy sound of his breathing when he's tossing and turning, the quiet, steady, strangely comforting rhythm of it when he finally falls asleep.

So even though they sacked out two hours ago, B.J.'s still awake, and so is Hawkeye, because already he's so tuned in to the other man that if B.J.'s awake, so is he.

Which is crazy. He lived with Trapper John for nine months, and was never this oddly attuned to him.

But he doesn't want to think about that. The thought of Trapper is still a raw, unstitched wound, gaping painfully inside him. He misses Trap like crazy, and yet he's strangely at ease in this new tentmate's presence, and that makes all sorts of conflicting emotions battle inside him.

It's easier to ignore his complicated tangle of feelings, and focus on whatever might be bothering B.J.

"Beej?" he says softly into the dark. "What's wrong?"

B.J. answers in the slow drawl that means he's half asleep. "Just thinking."

"About what, Beej?"

Already he's got a nickname for the guy, an affectionate shortening of his name. In return, Beej calls him Hawk. Lots of people call him Hawk, but coming from Beej it sounds...

He's back to the word intimate again, and that disturbs him. He abandons that train of thought, too.

"Home," B.J. says, not unexpectedly. "Just thinking about home."

Home is a lot closer to B.J. than it is to Hawkeye. Not just geographically, but timewise as well. B.J. stood on American soil just a week ago. He still remembers what it's like to be warm, well fed, and unconcerned about snipers' bullets or exploding shells. He still remembers the scents of newmown lawns and car exhaust, the dark coolness of movie theaters, the clean antiseptic smells of a real hospital.

It's been almost a year since Hawkeye's been home. He tries to remember Crabapple Cove, tries to call images of it to mind, but he can't. All he can see in his mind's eye is the endless gray-brown landscape of Korea, shell-torn, weedy, dusty. He tries to remember the house where he grew up, the sounds of smalltown life, and all he can envision is abandoned buildings and war-shattered bodies and the relentless thudding sound of choppers.

Somewhere in his memory, there's a green place full of trees and a stream teeming with fish and the small clapboard house he grew up in, the fragrance of the summer woods and the eerie call of loons and the taste of lobster. But somehow it's hidden behind a veil of dull gray fog, and he can't see it.

"I know you miss it a lot," he says, striving for a sympathetic tone. He remembers his first month here, when he'd been so homesick he could hardly keep from crying. He wonders if the veil went up then, a protective device to stop him from thinking of his home town quite so much.

"Yeah." B.J. sounds ineffably sad. "A lot."

"You have a kid, right? How old is she again?"

"Eight months," B.J. answers. "Peg and I, we've only been married for two years, and..."

His voice trails off, and Hawkeye thinks he hears a sniffle. His heart goes out to this poor guy, hardly more than a kid himself, suddenly ripped from everything he loves, everything he knows, and thrown into this gray hell.

"You'll see them again," he promises. "Soon."

"Not soon enough."

"No," Hawkeye admits. "Not soon enough."

He tries again to remember his home. He tries to remember his dad's face, tries to call to mind the bright grin that contrasted so sharply with the sorrow in his eyes. His dad had never quite gotten over the loss of Hawkeye's mom. Even so, he'd been a good dad, and Hawkeye misses him like hell.

He misses everything like hell.

Losses on top of losses, he thinks bitterly. Home, my dad... and now Henry... and Trapper...

And yet, as things are taken away from him, other things, just as precious, make their way into his heart. He no longer has his childhood home, but he has this camp, these people, who have so strangely become so important to him. Trapper is gone, but he has this new friend in his life, a man he recognized as a kindred spirit the first second he looked into the gentle blue eyes. A man he could instantly call friend.

A man who might even be more than a friend.

He pushes that thought away too, because it makes him nervous. He doesn't know what to make of his feelings for B.J., or why they're already so intense. And what he does know is that B.J. is married, happily so, and utterly devoted to his wife.

For now, he thinks, it's safer to just call B.J. friend.

And right now, his friend is grieving.

"I want to go home," B.J. whispers into the dark. Hawkeye can hear the catch in his voice, and once again he remembers his own early days in Korea, the way he'd grieved for his old life, until at last he'd just built a shell around himself, putting his grief away behind a wall of brittle humor.

"I know," he says. "But you can't. Not yet."

"I know that. I just..."

Another catch in his voice, this one perilously close to a sob. Hawkeye hesitates, then gets up and makes his way through the darkness, navigating the four feet between their cots without incident. He sits down on the cot's edge.

"Hey," he says, reaching out a hand and patting B.J.'s shoulder awkwardly. "It'll be okay."

"I'm sorry." B.J. is crying openly now, and Hawkeye is grateful that their tentmake Frank Burns is on duty, because he'd never let B.J. hear the end of this. Frank is an idiot who believes men should never weep, and that expressing normal human emotions makes you weak.

But Hawkeye has to admit that maybe Burns is right, here. In the midst of a war, you have to learn to carry on through your grief, to put it aside. You have to do what Hawkeye has done, to grow a hard shell, a carapace that lets you go on despite everything you've lost.

But B.J. hasn't had time to grow that shell yet. And it's possible he never will. B.J. isn't like Hawkeye.

Hawk thinks maybe that's a good thing.

"Don't be sorry," he says, patting B.J.'s shoulder. The patting is really more like stroking, and he's vaguely aware that stroking another man that way is a little strange, but he can't help it. He can't turn his back on the guy.

"I just... I just..." B.J. struggles to a sitting position, and Hawkeye can hear his throat working noisily as he fights not to sob.

"I know," he says softly, and puts his arms around B.J. "Believe me, I know."

B.J. drops his face against Hawk's shoulder, and cries.

Hawkeye runs his fingers comfortingly through Beej's hair. It's soft and wavy, and feels better against his fingers than he wants to admit to himself. Everything about B.J. is soft, he thinks. No hard shell here, just a nice, gentle guy who doesn't have a clue how to cope with what he's been thrust into.

He turns his head a little, drawing in the scent of B.J.'s skin. The scent of harsh Army issue soap, and the scent of B.J. himself. A good smell, masculine and warm. He wants to brush a kiss over the other man's cheek, and stops himself barely in time.

"It's okay," he whispers. "It's okay to miss home. We all miss it."

B.J. clings to him, his arms tight around Hawkeye's waist, his sounds of grief smothered against his shoulder, and Hawkeye blinks hard, because he feels his own shell cracking open in the face of B.J.'s unconcealed sorrow. The hazy veil drops away, and suddenly he can see his home, leafy oaks and tall pines and rippling water edged by marsh. The laughter of children echoing in the woods, the sound of dogs barking, the crack of baseballs being struck by wooden bats, the slow drawl of old men talking at the general store.

Something soft and tender and fragile has been exposed inside him by the other man's sorrow, and he wants to pull the ragged edges of his shell back together, but he can't. For a few moments, here in the darkness, he's every bit as homesick as he was the day he arrived in Korea.

B.J. clings to him, and he holds the younger man, both of them grieving for what's lost to them, both of them holding onto each other. Their hands are buried in each other's hair, their cheeks pressed together, and the word intimate comes to Hawkeye's mind again.

This time he doesn't push it away, or deny it. He can't.

It's the only word that can describe this moment.

-The End-

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