Author: A. V. Meren

Title: Rawhide and Bloody Hawk

Feedback: Yes.

Rating: R. Definitely. Very much R.

Warning: Ow. I have no idea what just happened. I think a muse just hit me over the head. Serious Darkfic warning here people! I am *not* kidding. You remember the kids' story 'Rawhide and Bloody Bones'? Yeah, I *thought* you did...But if you've never heard it, don't worry. I think you'll get the gist of it here. Hell, you probably get the gist just from the *name*...

Author's Note: I can't remember how old Hawk was when his mom died, so I'm assuming here that it was eight or nine.

I want to take this moment to say, yet again, that this is not a nice story. I won't go so far as to say scary, but...*shrugs* Read at your own risk.

Rawhide and Bloody Hawk

The monster is never just there where we think he is. -Henry David Thoreau

Hawkeye wants his mother. He doesn't even remember her all that well, but he wants her. He wants to be wrapped up in warm arms, held on a warm lap, to breathe in the perfume that nobody else in his life ever wore. He wants to be a kid again, lifted up in his mother's lap, and safe.

His mother used to hold him, before she died, and tell him stories. She was a big story-teller, or maybe it was because he was a kid and that's what you do with kids, tell them stories. It's too long ago now for him to remember how it was, but he likes to think that it was both, that it was because she liked stories as much as he liked hearing them.

Kids love stories. Hawkeye did, anyway. He was even named for one, about a man who flew a kite and caught lighting, Prometheus bringing down fire from the gods.

Hawkeye loved that story when he was a kid. He loved all kinds of stories, begging his mother for this one or that one, sitting safe and warm in her lap while she told all the stories that she knew and collected, like all the old fairy-tales in what she called the 'Grimm book', laughing. He didn't get the joke, not then, but he always laughed too.

He was a bloody-minded little kid. Most kids were. They liked slimy things, and bugs, and mud. Well, boys did, anyway. The girls he knew never shared his enthusiasm, not like his buddies did. They didn't like the stories that *he* liked, with wars and fighting and knights in shining armor, slaying the monster.

He was a brave kid, too, he realizes now, from a distance of many, many years. He loved scary things and scary stories, like camping in the backyard near his house at night, or hunting fireflies in the woods nearby. Like the shadows that would appear in his room at night, or the dark places under the bridge by that bend in the river.

He'd shiver in fearful delight as his mother told him about the Thing on the Stairs, about the Lianhan Sidhe, about the House of Usher.

About Rawhide and Bloody Bones.

He loved that story best of all, because he was a brave, dumb kid who proved that he deserved both labels many times over. He did things that made his mother shade his head and his father tan his backside. The craziest pranks, the most amazing tricks. His mother said it was a good thing that his father was a doctor, because otherwise their medical bill would have been historic, just like his name. She'd smile, half-serious, watching him scratch whatever bandage he had on, and say that every time, like a warning, almost. And he knew that she'd be telling him his favorite story that night, just to make sure he knew. Being brave was good, but being stupid brave--being bad--was not. Pranks and tricks and rigging the schoolteacher's desk to fall apart was not.

And Rawhide and Bloody Bones would get him for it.

Hawkeye Pierce, though--Benjamin Franklin Pierce--was brave enough to take delight in it. In Rawhide and Bloody Bones, who could look like anything, who could *be* anything...until he let you see that he was exactly what his name said he was. Rawhide and Bloody Bones, who came for bad children, and what god knew what became of them or what the monster did to them to make them into himself? Rawhide and Bloody Bones, who didn't scare Hawkeye Pierce, because Hawkeye Pierce was a brave kid, and not afraid of anything.

But Hawkeye knows now that he wasn't really brave at all, because he was never really scared. Not like he is now, stuck in the middle of a murderously bloody war, full of mud and blood and bugs, and counting Frank and the Mess, slimy things. It was different, when he had a choice, when he could go home to his mother and have a bath and aloe and good food. And a story was only a story.

When he didn't have a constant low-grade case of horror that spiked sometimes, spiked into terrible heights of fear...

The children are always the worst. Hawkeye never has nightmares during the times when the children came. He has what his mother had called 'night terrors', the frozen horror of being too frightened to breathe, of screaming and screaming and screaming and never making a sound, the screams echoing in his head. Never moving, never breathing...and nothing else in the world but shadows.

He'd lie there on the cot, not able to hear anything but silence, not able to move or breathe and feeling his eyes dry out as they stared in frozen terror up at the gunmetal-grey sky that the tent blocked from view. There was only a thin layer of canvas between him and the rest of the camp, but those nights, he couldn't hear anything. There was nothing to hear; only silence and shadows. And footsteps. Heavy footsteps...always *almost* too close to bear. Just one step closer and they'd be through the tent. Just one step.

Or three steps. He could get up. He could go out. He could meet him. If he could move.

He could go see Rawhide and Bloody Bones.

Somehow, the children were always the worst. They came in with their legs gone, their eyes missing, and hope dead in the eyes of their would-be rescuers...only not quite. Not until he looked at them and saw how much was missing, how much blood was gone, and shook his head.

Sometimes they wouldn't accept it, shoving the small, pitiful, bloody pile of meat at him, tissue and bone and raw-edge muscle staining his whites as wild-eyed men screamed, seeing their own children, perhaps, in the sad mess that they held in their arms. MASH 4077 saw a lot of men break that way, holding mutilated children in their arms and crying names that were too Anglicized to fit the poor dead babies who were born and murdered in Korea.

Though, sometimes, if a kid hung around long enough, or if his mama and some G.I. took a liking to each other, they'd get made pets. Mascots, kind of. Lucky charms.

Like that Lucky Luke (and somehow, over here everybody whose name started with L was 'lucky') who always gave that kid of his regiment's a noogie right before he went out to almost get killed. (Although, in Korea, just walking down the road was a good way to almost get killed.)

It was like a rabbit's foot. Kids were lucky. They were as good as a letter from home, and they knew it. And the Hawkeye knew they knew it. It was a good deal all around--the kids got pampered as much as was possible, given the fact that everybody was in the middle of a war, and everyone else...they got a little hope, maybe. A little light in way too much darkness...but kids in Korea were a hell of a lot more lucky than the adults stuck in the same situation right alongside them.

Sure, they had a hard life, but everybody on every side wanted them to live. Went out of their way to see to it. Kids got away with stuff in Korea that would've gotten their butts tanned if they'd pulled it in the States.

Here, you had to steal to live. Here, you had to beg to eat. Here, getting on the right side of a bunch of G.I.s meant decent living, and not only just for you, but for whatever family you had left.

Here, you could step on a landmine and not even know it until your ears stopped ringing and you noticed that bits were missing.

That is, if you were unlucky enough to still be alive. Most kids weren't.

After a few years, the dumb and inexperienced had been weeded out, but the 4077th still got some, every year. They were almost always dead by the time Hawkeye or another doctor saw them, or nearly so.

They'd be working in the fields, or playing, or god-knows-what and then...a landmine, maybe, or a mortar shell. Nobody could duck-and-cover like a kid born into the middle of a war, but all the same...they got a few every year.

It was always the worst when they came. Worn-out men in stained and wrinkled khaki would come in screaming for someone to help, for someone to please help...and they wouldn't be able to. All they could do is take the bloody mess gently, with respect, and shake their heads...and watch the light in some stranger's eyes die.

It was worse when they could do something. When mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers, usually dressed in rags, stood around watching you with that light in their eyes, the light you carried with you as you rushed what was probably the last of their family to the O.R. The light that you had to watch die when you told them that the chance--however small--had come to nothing.

Or that some part of their family lived still, but never the same. Not ever again the same.

And worst of all was when the light in their eyes was gone before Hawkeye could even take the child from their arms, because it meant that they were hoping for a burial. For closure, as Sidney would say. Who could feed a cripple? Life meant work, and begging couldn't replace a healthy worker.

G.I. mascots fared better. Cripple or no, a mascot was a mascot. Others, though, who did fieldwork or cooked or sewed...if the damage wasn't too bad...the loss of a foot was eventually gotten by. Or the loss of a hand. But more meant death, and not the sudden death of the landmine. Landmines killed two ways, and if you were lucky, you went by the quicker one, instead of slowly starving to death as a begger.

They got a few every year...and Hawkeye watched the light die in the eyes of children too young to be in kindergarten yet, for dear Christ's sake, in the eyes of men sent into the middle of a bewildering, uncomprehensible hell where babies who could have been their own children died, into the eyes of women who saw yet another child who called them 'mama' blown to pieces.

They got a few every year...and a few times every year Hawkeye lay in the night, terror deep in his heart, freezing him as he listened to heavy footsteps in the silence and thought of children. Of children, and mothers, and fear. Of black and white, of good and bad. Of Rawhide and Bloody Bones.