Disclaimer: These characters belong to 20th Century Fox, not me.
B.J. Hunnicutt grins, albeit without much humor, as his tentmate Hawkeye Pierce picks up a spoonful of some unidentifiable substance and lets it dribble back onto the metal tray with a wet splot.
"Mashed potatoes," B.J. suggests.
"No. Definitely not mashed potatoes."
"Cream of wheat?"
"No. I think not."
"No." Hawkeye shakes his head, very sorrowfully. "What we have here, my friend, is a substance that can only be described as slop."
At the affectedly grieved expression on Hawk's face, B.J. laughs out loud. He likes Hawkeye. He's only known the other man for a week, but already the two of them are fast friends. Their friendship was forged in a crucible of sniper bullets and terror and gut-splattering violence, and already B.J. admires Hawk more than he's ever admired anyone.
Hawkeye's the only person he's ever met who can crack jokes while buried up to the elbows in an open abdomen. The man possesses a wild cackle and an off-the-wall sense of humor, and yet paradoxically takes life very seriously indeed.
Hawkeye (whose real name is Benjamin Franklin Pierce, a stately, dignified moniker that doesn't fit him in the least) quits playing with his food, and starts eating it, or rather gobbling it. Hawkeye isn't exactly a model of proper table manners, and after twelve hours in the O.R., he's apparently pretty damn hungry. B.J. figures that no matter how disgusting the food here is, everyone learns to eat it eventually. It's either that, or starve.
But B.J. isn't at that point yet. He's only been here a week, and he'd still rather starve. He sighs, twirling his spoon absently through the slop-- potatoes or cream of wheat or oatmeal or whatever the hell it is-- thinking longingly about real mashed potatoes and turkey and gravy. Real, honest to God food.
He glances around the dark, low-ceilinged tent and grimaces. He hates this place already. Not the mess tent, but the whole camp. Half an hour ago, he was rooting around in blood and guts, trying to find a tiny piece of shrapnel, and now he's looking at something almost as disgusting on his tray.
Revolting food, bodies torn apart in impossible, appalling ways, horrifically bad living conditions-- if there's a hell, he thinks it probably looks a lot like this camp.
And yet there's one redeeming aspect of the place. There's Hawkeye.
He slides a shy glance toward the tall, too-thin man beside him. Hawkeye has black hair shot through with silver ("black as sin when I came to Korea," he told B.J. wryly the day they met, "but the minute people started shooting at me, I went gray"), a ridiculously wide grin, and gray-blue eyes that sparkle with humor one moment and righteous anger the next. Hawkeye is the only bright spot in B.J.'s current existence, the only thing that saves this place from being truly unbearable.
B.J. stirs the slop, remembering his first day in Korea. He'd turned over a wounded soldier and seen-- well, what he'd seen is something he'd rather not think about, ever again. But the sight had sent him reeling away, dropping to his hands and knees, and vomiting into the tall weeds.
Hawkeye had noticed. He'd come over to B.J. and held his head while he threw up, patting his back in quiet sympathy. And afterward, he'd offered B.J. his hand.
B.J. had taken it in his, and the strength and warmth of it had helped him keep going through the awfulness of that first day.
He wishes he could reach over and take Hawkeye's hand now. But that would be... strange. Inappropriate.
He can't hang onto Hawkeye physically. So he'll just have to continue to draw strength from Hawk's goofy grin and ridiculous jokes and grim, unrelenting determination.
Thank God, he thinks, making a little mountain of the slop on his tray. Thank God he wound up here, with Hawkeye Pierce as his tentmate. He's only been here a week, but if it weren't for Hawkeye, he thinks he never would have made it this far. He wouldn't be slowly settling in, learning to cope with the horrific physical injuries he has to repair every day, learning to deal with sharing his living space with rats, learning to cope with appallingly inedible food.
If it weren't for Hawkeye, he'd still be out there in a field somewhere, puking his guts out.
"Not bad," Hawkeye says, finishing his last bite. "At least marginally edible. Are you going to eat that, or just stare at it for the rest of the day?"
"Where I come from," B.J. says, "we use this stuff to hold bricks together."
Hawkeye laughs. "Well, here it's going to hold you together. Eat, Beej. You have to eat sometime, or you'll pass out on a patient."
B.J. feels his cheeks flush, and realizes Hawkeye's noticed he hasn't been eating much. But how the hell is a man supposed to eat this?
"Go on," Hawk says. "Eat."
B.J. grins at him. "Promise to hold my head if I get sick again?"
"You won't. Food is what you need. Trust me."
B.J. knows he's right. A man can't subsist on memories of turkey and gravy. He sighs, and takes a reluctant bite of the substance.
It isn't quite as disgusting as he thought it might be. It's watery and thin and devoid of texture, but it doesn't make him want to vomit. It does make him realize he's hungry. He eats another spoonful, and then another.
"Attaboy," Hawkeye says, patting his shoulder. "You're learning to cope."
He is learning to cope, with circumstances so terrible he couldn't have imagined coping with them a week ago. And it's all thanks to Hawkeye. The memory of Hawkeye's hand holding his keeps popping into his head at odd moments, giving him strength, just as it did that first day. The sight of Hawkeye's broad grin warms him, even when things are at their bleakest. And the sound of Hawkeye's cackling laughter makes him smile despite himself.
He's only been here a week.
But already he knows it's Hawkeye who's going to pull him through.