Author: A. V. Meren

Title: My Name is Steve: Pursuit of Happiness

Author's Note: Steve's mine, all mine! Everything else isn't.

Series: Yes, this is second in the "Patriots" series.



My Name is Steve: Pursuit of Happiness



It's stupid.

So Father Mulcahy's a nice guy. So what? He's a priest; isn't it in the job description?

Isn't it?

Hell, I don't know.

No, not Hell. Hell is war and war is Hell, and only one of them gets to be capitalized in the history books.

And history doesn't believe in faith.

I do, though.

I shouldn't, I don't want to, but I do.

Father Mulcahy says that's faith.

Fuck faith.

***

Sometimes (all the time, every time) I get so--damned--frustrated. Not hot, burning frustration, full of rage against Heaven, Hell, and Earth. Just a slow, steady grinding down. Slow and slow and slow, constant helplessness and nothing (not a thing) that I can do.

I'm not a doctor. I'm not even a nurse. I'm not a soldier, I'm not Radar (who's different from company clerks, different from farmers) or, I guess, Klinger. Klinger. He's almost as bad as Muculahy. Once upon a time, that cross-dressing bastard was a grunt just like me, nothing all that special. Only reason people noticed him was because he wore women's clothes. *Radar* had to be the one to tell me that meant he was a cross-dresser-and I grew up in Chicago!

God, *Radar*! But I guess we always--not underestimated. No. Not exactly. Just--over-valued an innocence that was real, somewhere, but half-invented, too.

Funny, the things a war does. But I don't care. I don't care about Klinger and his craziness; in the States (sane, sane, sanity-land) I probably would, but here, it's a comfort. *He's* a comfort. He's someone to laugh at, to laugh with. He probably really *is* a little crazy, but aren't we all?

Aren't I?

***

This guy, I remember, was visiting--he was as green as Radar used to be. Green as grass on the other side (States--somewhere else--) that I wouldn't know anything about. City-boy Chicago, all grey streets and nasty smiles and "hey, didn't know that was yours!" God, I love Chicago. But I didn't know grey and nasty 'till I came over here, and I didn't know green either.

Well, I learned. And this boy was green. Some sort of Bible-thumping Baptist, I think. Doesn't matter. He just took a real strong dislike to our boy Klinger, so the 4077th took a real strong dislike to him.

Wasn't funny, either, after that first reaction. Oh, sure, not everyone who visits is going to see the funny side, but this was different. First time we saw this level of hate; not the last either, sorry to say.

Major Burns was still here then. *That* was funny; the guy was just so damn pathetic that you couldn't take him seriously. I mean, you could see how hard he was trying to be what he thought that he should be, and just--couldn't--reach. The line was just a few safe inches out of his hands, and after awhile all he had to do was *look* like he was making an effort. Quite a few people liked him for it, respected the effort where they couldn't respect the man. But we got to respect the man, too, after awhile. He never could manage the art of being nice, of not kissing ass, of being a decent human being. Still had his moments though.

Like with that Bible-thumping bastard.

Part of "being Major Burns" was disapproving of "perverts".

Damn, the tears he used to go on! Rip-roaring mad, shouting in that voice that always squeaked at the worst (best) possible time. And Klinger--hell. Always will think of that guy as a dignified man. Hell if I know how he did it, but he could pack some class into a lot of what he did, didn't matter what he wore or the crap he pulled.

Funny as all hell. And you know, Ferret Face meant what he said somewhere in him, meant all that bullshit about "perverts" and "communists" and what Hawkeye called "ilk". (He then made an elk joke then that made Ferret Face turn red and storm out of the Swamp. Damn if I can remember when that was, but I can remember the exact color Burns turned. Don't think I'll ever forget.)

All that stuff, he meant it somewhere. But it wasn't really nasty, not really mean. It was more like two brothers who couldn't stand each other, but...but. Family--is family.

Didn't have any real family, you know. My dad was a drunk, and my mom died a long time ago, which is why my dad was a drunk. Had one brother, but I'm kinda the black sheep, now, and he wasn't talking to me anymore.

This, though. This was family.

***

That kid cornering Klinger and making remarks, it should have been funny. The kind of teasing Klinger gets--free entertainment, believe you me, especially when he gets crazy back.

This wasn't funny.

The kid out-ranked me, though, was a wounded officer; out-ranked half the people there. It was still too early for Hawk and Trap to climb out of their hangovers, and Colonel Blake and Radar were with Major Houlihan in some meeting.

As you might imagine, nobody was too thrilled to see Ferret Face walk up; that is, nobody but the little bastard trying to intimidate Klinger.

Kid wasn't too thrilled later though. Not after Frank took the situation in, getting everything in at a glance. Sometimes I'm not too proud about how I underestimated that man. Was a lot smarter than we were ever willing to give him credit for. Maybe he wasn't brilliant like Hawkeye or Trapper or B.J., but then, how many were?

He was good enough, at least. Proved it that day, too. Walked right up to that little brat and whispered in his ear.

Little shit finally looked just as he should. Greener than any damn thing in the army that's green.

Believe me, I'm saying something. *Every* damn thing in the army is green. But that day, that kid...hell, I really thought that he was going to be sick.

Everybody there that day, and who heard the story later, would have and still would give any*damn*thing to know what Frank said. Klinger was close enough to hear, but, aside from a *really* strange smile, never told anyone that I know of.

And nobody ever talked about it in front of Frank. Not then, not ever. But we understood him a little better, I think. Had a little more patience for him. Nothing changed; we still mock him behind his back and in front of it too.

Just--we never said anything. Not about episodes like that. It was against the rules. Number 12: Thou Shalt Not Openly Approve of Frank Burns, Ferret Face.

Hawkeye always said that F. F. was more appropriate than M.D.

Heckuva guy, that Hawk.

***

Had a real hard time when I first came over. Didn't seem like it at first, but I did. Grew up on the West Side, and it wasn't all bad. Had some nice times, especially with Jenny (Jenny, my Jo). Was going to marry her, and have Peter be my best man. My best friend, my only brother, standing up for me when I married the girl I'd loved most of our lives.

Didn't work out that way, though. Too much like Dad, too much to drink, too bad of a temper.

Jenny never spoke to me before I left. Neither did Pete. I can't say as I blame them, just...I wish it could have been different. That I could have been different. I don't know why I--well, I don't know, is all.

Don't seem to know a lot of things.

But made for some hard times when I came over. Couldn't give up the drink, couldn't give up the temper, and got busted so many times and so hard that I was never gonna be anything more than a drunk grunt, just another body to order around. If it hadn't been wartime, they woulda kicked me out of the army so fast that Klinger would have envied me and then tried to emulate me.

But he wouldn't have known me, just whatever rumors got spread. A scary thought. War is scary, but never having come to the 4077th?

Yeah.

But I did get here. Nothing changed right off, though. Was just another transfer to me, just another way of staying one step ahead out of getting dishonorable discharge.

But, you know, when I got here--God *damn*.

This place--it's unimaginable, you know that? It's just--Winchester called it "surreal," once, and I asked Hawkeye what that meant. I think it fits.

When I got here it had been a long, long stretch of dullness with nothing to do. So a new arrival, even a grunt, was something. I came roaring in, drunker than God, at the wheel of a jeep full of supplies.

Now, that wasn't so much; the 4077th is the last place that would ever throw stones where drinking is concerned. Hell, Hawkeye's driven drunk more that once, although I think I'll always wonder if it's possible for that man to become *truly* drunk. He just gets too sober too fast...

I don't suppose it matters, though. What *does* matter is that I nearly hit Colonel Blake as I drove into the 4077th, and I *did* hit Ferret Face when he yanked open the door to haul me out of the jeep.

I regret that, by the way. Frank didn't deserve that, although he was bound to later, as I would come to learn. But at the time, it was uncalled for. And the look on his face-he was almost in tears, and everyone else there looked like they wanted to murder me. One guy, in particular, looked extremely P.O.'d, which I was later to learn was very unusual for him, as he was usually pretty easygoing. Not that day, though.

That guy walked up to me. Looked at me for a moment. Tried to speak, but couldn't. Turned around, looking at the others.

I made some remark, I don't remember what. Some drunken bullshit. Had a lot of profanity, I do remember that.

He turned around. Looked at me. Reached up and settled his hat on his head more firmly, then faster than my drunken mind could follow, he drew back his fist and punched me like a piledriver. Hit me square in the eye.

I stuttered drunkenly, shocked as hell and demanding to know who the hell he was and threatening to kick his tiny little ass.

He just looked at me again. Smiled. I held still, spooked; it was one hell of a creepy smile, but strangely attractive.

He held out his hand and said, "Hello. Welcome to MASH 4077th. My name is Father Francis Mulcahy."

It was right about then that I noticed the priest collar.

Somewhere from my sodden brain, the phrase "Oh, *sh...*" arose.

Right after that, I passed out.

***

I'm a Catholic from Chicago. Polish, not Irish, yeah, but still...

I don't remember where the Father's from, and never really thought to ask. What for? Anything before Korea...was a long, long time ago. And, well, I'm not the only one to be glad to be drafted out of bad situations back home. I tried to talk to the Father about that, but couldn't, quite.

Hawkeye got me drunk one night, though. Didn't tell him much, but told him some.

He told me about a few things himself. Sometimes it really amazes me, the things that we hold in ourselves, letting them eat at our souls.

Well, you know. I'm Catholic.

I wonder what Hawkeye's excuse is?

Probably not something any better than mine.

But you know, I always went to church. My dad always dragged us out of bed Sunday mornings, groaning at the pain his hangover hit him with. Me and Peter, scrubbed pink, with neat-as-possible black hair flying up from under the comb and scrambling into our one good suits, hand-me-downs from rich Uncle Gus and his five rich sons.

The whole family, cousins laughing at us behind their parents' backs, Dad stiff and red and hungover, Uncle Gus and Aunt Irene just stiff.

But the music--and the church--and the prayers and the belief--

Just a little dinky church, stone and glass and candles and statues. Great, tall windows, huge to a child of six, 12, 16, 19. The light, holiest of holies, streaming in through the windows, shimmering into shattered gems upon the floor. The old, worn floor, ground-down stone trod upon by generations of feet, an old, worn church built of that same stone. The murmur of prayer, old women whispering as they fumbled with their rosaries. The sour taste of the Host, the bitter taste of the Wine, priests signing the Cross above as the people sing "Alleialuia!"

The whispering tears of true Confession and Penance.

***

*Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art Thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of Thy Womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now, and at the hour of our death. Amen.*

I can't count how many times I said "Ave Marias." It's my favorite prayer. The priests used to assign it as penance for all my sins, and I would kneel in front of the old altar and stare down at my hands, not really seeing them.

All I saw was the great, tall statues of the Virgin and the Christ, one bent down with piety, the other bent down with pain, the choir singing "Ave Maria." *Ave Maria, Ave! Gratia plentia...*

World without end.

Amen.

***

I don't know if I believe in God. I think that I hope I do.

But I'm a Catholic. And so is Father Mulcahy, a priest, a man of God.

What does that mean, to be a man of God?

Father Ciak, back home, always said that it meant to be a man of love, for everyone and everything. Of course, he was always leering at Minnie Dinks, who was 23 if a day and married to Henst Dinks.

Still, Father Mulcahy...he's a good man. A man of God. A man you could love.

Ah, well. Trapper and Hawk and Francis, they were good for each other. I don't know the real story behind that, and I don't want to. But they were good for each other while it lasted. Maybe it was just the one night.

That's none of my business anyway. He wasn't free, then, and I was just--too green. Too new to Korea, too--something. And I don't think that I could ever have worked up the nerve to tell him, though it wouldn't surprise me, now, to learn that he always knew.

I think he's free, now. But I'm not.

I still love him, though. But I finally think I understand what Jenny meant, when she said that she loved me but was *in* love with Peter. My brother...

That one still hurts.

I wonder if it always will. It does for Hawkeye; I was here for that whole thing with that woman...

But that doesn't really touch Hawkeye anymore. Not immediately. No.

Hawkeye loves B.J. more than anything.

As much as Trapper, even.

I know, because I listen.

***

The first time Flagg showed up, I didn't know what to think. On one hand, the guy seemed and still seems *way* too whacked to be any kind of spy. On the other hand...CIA?

I get into enough trouble without attracting it.

So I avoided him.

Not to much effect, though. I noticed him watching me, once or twice. We've talked a few times, never about anything important. In the general scheme of things I hardly know the guy.

Funny how appearances are.

***

I'm a Catholic from Chicago. I know priests. I *know* them. I understand them, they understand me.

When I first came here, Father Mulcahy was the first sight of home that I had seen in a long time.

Oh, there were other army chaplains. But they weren't real priests, not like Father Mulcahy is.

After our eventful first introduction, the Father, Colonel Blake, Hawkeye, Trapper, and Radar put themselves in charge of getting me off the drink.

I don't want to talk about that. Suffice to say, they did it, and did it well. I still drink, but not like I did. I'm not an alcoholic, though for awhile I did wonder. I mean, my dad...

But it turns out not. Just, I wasn't dealing with things all that well. Korea was actually a relief, can you believe it?

The look on Hawkeye's face when I said that is something I still treasure.

I told Hawkeye some. I told him a lot, really. Everybody talks to Hawkeye; the things that no-one can imagine *ever* saying to Father Mulcahy, Hawkeye hears.

I don't know why, really. Maybe it's because he's always been here. I can't imagine Korea without Hawkeye, or Hawkeye without Korea.

But I told Father Mulcahy everything.

I don't know why, really. Maybe it's because he's always been here, in me. Part of me. He's a priest, a holy man, someone who can speak to God for me when I can't bear to, when I couldn't bear to.

So I told him about Jenny. And Pete. And how I loved them both, and how it hurt, it *hurt* to have them reject me like that. I know, now, that they weren't rejecting me, but then...

I got drunk. Years upon years of seeing what happened to my father and I still...I got really drunk.

And I beat the crap out of my little brother while his fiancee watched.

And Father Mulcahy still forgave me.

***

I'm still a church-going boy. I go to every Mass that the Father manages to put together, and he does fairly well, so there's usually one at least once a week.

It's different, a world and thousands of miles away from the stone church of my childhood. There aren't any stained-glass windows, or votive candles, or statues as big as a man.

Church is a big grey-green tent without any permanence, history, tradition. The congregation is made up of an odd mix of complete strangers, good friends, and visitors. Instead of collection, the Father collects for his orphange.

But I still take the Host, and I still say "Ave Maria," and the MASH 4077th choir is something to hear.

***

"Have faith," Father Mulcahy told me. "Trust in God, and pray. And write to your brother and his wife."

I did. There was no answer. I didn't expect one.

There was no excuse for what I did. And I'm not only talking about beating Pete up, though I regret that beyond words. But I had a scholarship. To John Hopkins, if you can believe it. Was a third-year medical resident when...that night.

Lost the scholarship, after. The one that my brother--my baby brother--had dropped out of school to support me for. Everything it didn't cover, Pete covered, and never complained.

I was going to be something. I was going to be able to do something with my life.

And I threw that away.

Well, I've got a new life now. But when I first heard that I was going to a MASH unit, and still too many times when the docs are overwhelmed, and I think, "What I could *do* here!," I just-I know how Pete felt, opening his door to his drunken older brother. How he must still feel.

There was no excuse.

***

He still forgave me anyway.

I got a letter, one day not too long ago. It said that Pete still loved me. Always would. That he couldn't forget, but he could forgive. That Jenny felt the same. That they were sorry for hurting me like that. That they worried about me, over here in Korea. Why didn't I tell them before that I had been drafted?

Things like that. News of home, a home that I would always have.

And in my little brother's careful, curling script:

*Look, big bro, when your letter came, I didn't read it. Couldn't, you know me. So I put it away and tried to forget about it and you. But a man came to the door, the other day. He said that he was a friend of yours, over in the States on business. I didn't ask him what business. But he said a lot of things about, you, buddy. Things that made me think. Jenny forgave you a long time ago, and so did I, but we didn't realize it until your friend said some things. I'm not telling you what; that's between the three of us. But you should be grateful to your friend, Colonel Flagg.*

I was grateful. I still am.

And I write to my brother and his wife and their three-year-old son every week.

They always write back.

***

So I listen.

When the two of them sneak out, I always watch them go, then follow them out into Korea.

They don't know I'm there. But I am. And I'm so angry...but I control myself. I've learned my lesson. Two people I love, one that I'm in love with...God loves irony.

But what do I care what God loves? I crouch near the huddle of rocks where they always creep off too, listening to hissing pants, slow moans, the slide of skin on skin.

Other noises.

I know that Hawkeye loves B.J., because he always calls out his name.

I know that Flagg loves me, because he always calls out my name.

And I hate them both for using each other like this.

***

Every time we go out, I rush back before they do. I'm always upset, I'm always aroused. I'm--

I don't know. Helpless, I suppose. Frustrated. I'm useless, here. All I do is move bodies so that the docs can operate, or stack inventory, or do KP. And the rest of my life-my friend, my good friend, who got me drunk and let me talk about my *best* friend-he's fucking the man I'm in love with! And they're hurting each other. Not physically, but still...

Father Mulcahy was curious, I could tell, and getting more so every day. Man had to know everything. He's like a lot of people that way, including me.

So one day in Confession he asks me, point blank. I never could lie to a priest, much less Father Mulcahy.

So I told him. Everything. Not that I needed to bother.

Camp rumor mill. He didn't even have the decency to pretend to be surprised. Just looked satisfied to have his suspicions confirmed.

And you know what he told me then?

To have faith.

Faith! The priest's answer to everything!

Pray, and have faith, and the Lord forgives.

Pray, and have faith, and Father Mulcahy forgives.

Pray, and have faith, and Pete forgives.

Pray, and have faith, and Jenny forgives.

Pray, and have faith, and I forgive.

I forgave myself, he said. Why couldn't I forgive them?

Damn if he wasn't right.

Doesn't mean I have to like it, though.

Fuck faith.

***

I'm just an army grunt serving in a place where I'm proud to serve, with people that I'm proud to serve with, but I'm not serving. Not really. Not how I'd like to serve, not how I dreamed, once, of serving. A Chicago Polish-Catholic wannabe doctor, who lusts after a CIA spy, spending the Korean War digging latrines.

Well, it may not be glorious, but it's life. And I have family and friends, and somebody to love. A long time ago a bunch of guys got together and gave the American people the right to pursue happiness. They didn't guarantee it, which shows you how smart they were.

But I have a right to pursue happiness. I did that, with help. I made myself better than I was.

Now, I think that it's time to improve even on that.

Next time, I think I'll surprise Hawkeye and Flagg.

I wonder if I should ask B.J. to come along?

*End*