SUMMARY: One of the army's little traditions is brought to light.
DISCLAIMER: I own nothing, so there's nothing worth suing me for.
DEDICATION: For the very lovely Raven, to whom I owe my involvement with this fandom. She likes Hawkeye/Trapper and dogtags, so here's a story with both. Happy Birthday!
The nurse was young. Early twenties at most. Pretty, too, or she would have been if her face wasn't so pale. She should have been out with a boyfriend, starting a job, going shopping.... and there she was, lying on the operating table, while I felt around under her ribs for stray shrapnel. It's a hell of a life out here.
Sudden pressure on my shoulder, gentle enough to be reassuring rather than startling. Hawk.
"You nearly done?"
"Almost. Just making sure she's clean, then I can put her back together. You're finished?"
"For now, yeah. Most of them will need checking on fairly soon. Do we know who she is yet?"
"Radar's making some calls. If we can track the sweetheart, he'll know, but presumably he's on the front, or else why would she have been out there? She can't be from too far away, in any case."
It ought to have been simple, finding out who she was. Not like trying to trace one of the Koreans back to their families, which can take weeks if they don't recover properly or we can't get a decent interpreter. Only when we went to check her dogtags, they belonged to one Stanley Brown, Private.
I don't know when it started. Maybe it was an accident. It can happen, if you're sleeping in the same quarters; picking up each others' clothes isn't too difficult, especially something little like a set of tags. However it began, it's quite a fad now. Couples only swap tags if they're committed, if they've been together a while. I'd say it's like a wedding ring, but it's not, not really; it's more like kids swapping class rings in high school. Something about this place turns people into teenagers again, I guess; scared and cagey and horny, prone to showing off, prone to getting drunk, and not really understanding what's happening to us. Those who aren't teenagers already, that is. More and more of them seem to be.
Hawk gave my shoulder a brief squeeze, and went to clean up. I sighed and got back to work. It was going to be a long day.
**********The one thing I hadn't expected was the call to Henry's office. Hawk, showing unexpected punctuality, was already there when I arrived. Frank had not been invited.
"Now, boys," began Henry, trying his best to be authoritative. "I've heard about this nurse who came in with the last lot, the one wearing a man's dogtags. I assume she is actually a nurse, and we don't have another, more convincing Corporal Klinger on our hands?"
I bit back a laugh. Hawk replied in his best military deadpan.
"Nossir. Patient is definitely female, sir." He winked. "We checked."
Henry harrumphed, trying to ignore the innuendo. "Good, good. Which brings me to the question: why was she wearing those tags?"
Ah. That was the reason we were here. Henry wanted in on the secret.
As we stayed silent, he changed tack, a pleading note in his voice. "C'mon guys. Radar only stammered at me, everyone else started snickering. Frank said 'Huh!' in a high pitched voice, and that's no use. What does it mean?"
What does it mean? It means you belong to someone, that someone belongs to you. It means there's someone you can touch without asking permission, someone who doesn't ask why when you just need to hold them. It means you have a secret, something little and precious that no-one need know about but the two of you. It means you're so close you might as well wear each other's things, because you're only two sides of the same coin. It means that there's something in this godforsaken place you still care about. How the hell were we supposed to tell Henry that?
I didn't trust myself to meet Hawk's eyes as he answered for us.
"Sorry Henry, we don't know anything about it."
Clearly he wasn't convinced, but there was nothing he could do about it. He sighed disappointedly.
"Alright. If you hear of anything else like this, you'll let me know, won't you?"
I fingered the markings on my own dogtags. I couldn't read them just through touch, but I liked to imagine I could, they were so familiar by now. Benjamin Franklin Pierce - him lying back on my bed, stripped to the waist, hands behind his head, grinning insolently and practically daring me to touch him. Rank - his kisses, rough and demanding and tasting of cheap spirits, the scratch of his stubble and the coaxings of his tongue, all intoxicating; Blood Group - the feel of him pressed against me, the near desperation in it, swearing that we should do this every night, Frank or no Frank, the *heat* of him, whether I was inside him or he inside me, the dangerous addicitiveness of it all; Number - that weekend in Tokyo, those blessed two days with just us and no intruders, the moment in the jeep just before we got back to camp when he took my tags off me and slipped his own over my head instead. The cool metal whispered what he'd said into my hand: 'There, you're *mine* now.'
"Of course, Henry. If we find out anything, we'll let you know at once."