Adventures in a Thing
It was just a thing.
Or rather, anywhere but at the four-oh-seven-seven, it would have been just a thing.
Nothing was ever just a thing at the four-oh-seven-seven. No one quite knew why. Could be it was Hawkeye's fault. Could be that the Majors were right, and Henry's discipline was too lax. Could be that all the enlisted men were so bored with having nothing to do except take the odd guard shift, or do kitchen duty, that they had nothing better to do than gossip, chase nurses, wear dresses and…
Ahem. Back to the story.
So, just a thing. A detail. A footnote, if you will.
It started with a package, a normal package, the kind mothers send their sons when they're away; at war, at college, at camp. A square package, wrapped in brown paper with postage stamps indicating that this was its fourth try at reaching the recipient, a return address written in now blurred, black marker.
The recipient of this package was one Walter 'Radar' O'Reilly, and it was his first wartime care-package. Or care-package at all, really, since he'd never been to college, or camp. He didn't want to leave his mother, bless him.
Sadly, that meant he wasn't smart enough to keep it hidden well out of the sight of everyone else. He didn't even think to check the contents before rushing over to the Swamp.
To think, the little things that determine the courses of our destiny. Or at least our near future.
So, Radar took his package to the Swamp, along with the rest of the mail. When he arrived, Hawkeye seemed asleep, and Trapper sat on his cot, glass of martini in his hand, seemingly contemplating his boots.
"Mail call," Radar called. Hawkeye almost jumped out of the cot, knocking over Trapper, who, almost miraculously, managed not to spill his martini. Both men received their mail, which was more or less the usual – long, descriptive letter from his father for Hawkeye, sent around three months earlier ("The amazing power of the US Army mail service." he commented), short cordial letter from Louise and a picture and note from the girls for Trapper– and almost a full minute passed in the Swamp before Hawkeye noticed what Radar was also holding.
"Hey, you got a package!" he said, grabbing at it.
"Let's see, Radar!" Trapper chimed in, having ascertained that he was not getting divorced this week either.
Hawkeye didn't manage to get the package, but he did manage to grab Radar and pulled him down onto the cot, that fortunately didn't have Trapper on it.
Army cots are only so strong as Trapper and Hawkeye could have told you, poker faces solemn.
So Radar sat down, more or less voluntary, and opened his package. As we've already established, this probably wasn't a good idea.
The package seemed innocent enough at first. There were chiclets, oreos and other packaged candies, among them a cake that Radar almost cracked a tooth on trying to eat. Things Radar would have liked to keep to himself, but now, undoubtedly, he would be forced to share with Trapper and Hawkeye. Under that, the package contained a knitted blanket which most likely had been intended to arrive before May. It was dark blue (Thankfully, Radar thought, cringing at the idea of a lavender one like the one at home.) and had Corporal Walter O'Reilly embroidered one the bottom corner.
And, of course, a little teddy bear.
"Two months ago, I would have given you anything for that." Trapper commented.
"I still want it. It can't be worse that my current covers." Hawkeye put in. Radar looked vaguely put out, but he kept unpacking. Under the blanket was a letter and a pamphlet.
And this was how it started.
Before Radar even knew what was happening, Hawkeye had the pamphlet in his hand.
Approximately ten seconds later, Hawkeye burst into laughter.
"What is it, Hawk?" Trapper asked, moving over towards the already crowded bunk. Radar, having read the title over Hawkeye's shoulder, blushed almost fluorescent and buried his head in his hands.
"Venereal diseases in the Army!" Hawkeye read, through laughter. Trapper howled.
"Anything you want to tell us, Radar?" Hawkeye asked, still laughing.
"Yeah," Trapper put in, "we're your friends Radar."
"Aw, cut it out, you guys."
Trapper had taken the pamphlet from Hawkeye, and was perusing it, eyebrows raised.
"Hey, Hawk, I swear this picture was in my college textbook"
"Really? Hm, I think I've treated this guy…"
Radar just hid his face in his hands.
Finally managing to escape from the Swamp, (Hawkeye said he had a date. Strangely, neither he nor Trapper had made any move to leave the tent) Radar sought shelter in his office. In there he finally opened the letter from his mother.
He had almost read the first line when something buzzed in his head. "Choppers!" he yelled over the PA system, and sure enough, the familiar sound of the helicopters was heard a few moments later, accompanied by the usual yells. Radar dropped his letter, and ran out into the compound.
You see where Radar made his error? Yes, he left his letter where anyone could find it.
This, of course, is just what happened.
Henry came into the office after a surprisingly short amount of time in surgery (surprisingly short being three hours instead of twelve, twenty-four, or thirty-six – got to love the Army), and almost slipped on the letter, lying on the floor.
He picked it up, and against his better judgement (which admittedly wasn't that good to begin with) read it.
For a few moments he just blinked at the paper. Then he let out a rather un-colonel like snicker. And then another one.
Radar came in and immediately walked into Colonel Blake's office, holding several papers to be signed.
"Radar!" Colonel Blake yelled, just as he came through the door.
"Here, sir!" Radar said, as he usually did.
And Colonel Blake promptly started snickering.
Radar blushed a bright shade of pink.
"Aw, they told you," he said, sounding desolate. Henry stopped laughing long enough to look confused.
"Who told me? Told me what?" He asked, head tilted slightly. Radar blushed even redder.
"Uh, no one, sir." He stuttered, before changing shades again, this time bordering on purple. "Uh, sir, what were you laughing at?"
"I found your letter." Henry said, and started giggling.
"Aw, geez." Radar said.
The four-oh-seven-seven's (in)famous mess tent was crowded a few hours later, when Radar finally decided that humiliation was bad, but being hungry was even worse. He tiptoed into the tent and even managed to get in line before anything happened.
In the four-oh-seven-seven, you learned to be grateful for little things like that.
So, he was standing in line, stomach growling, when a tall figure came up next to him.
"Colonel Blake, sir!" He said, saluting while still balancing a tray in one hand. It was an impressive sight. Henry smiled benignly at him, though he looked a little flustered.
"At ease, Radar." Henry stood, one hand in his pocket. "Radar…"
"Oh please sir, at least let me get my food first!" Henry looked at him strangely.
"I was going to say, come to my office later. But yes, please get your food first." And with that Henry walked off, leaving a confused and slightly intrigued Radar in his wake.
Radar had all of five seconds to consider before his thoughts were interrupted by a rather loud presence. Hawkeye, and by extension, Trapper.
"Don't panic. We're actually here for food. Seriously." Hawkeye sounded sincere. Radar panicked.
"Hawkeye…" he warned.
"Hey, Hawk, I think this can actually pass for food!" Trapper commented gleefully, holding up the sandwiches.
"Is that…?" Hawkeye asked, distracted by what looked to be a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
Radar may not have been particularly smart, but he knew an opportunity when he saw one. He grabbed two sandwiches from his tray and fled.
Hawkeye and Trapper hardly noticed, but Majors Burns and Houlihan did.
"Corporal, food is to be eaten in the mess tent." Major Burns said, his chin disappearing almost completely.
"Yes sir, of course sir." Radar agreed, saluting both with one of his sandwiches before stumbling out of the mess tent door.
"That's insubordination!" Major Houlihan cried, as the door swung shut. Major Burns indignantly harrumphed his agreement.
Radar wanted to go back to his office, really, but he knew Henry would be there and, he had a feeling, waiting to give him a lecture on sex and he hadn't even had sex yet, which really didn't seem fair.
Not to mention, Henry Blake and talking about sex just went together horribly. Like…well, two thinks that went really badly together.
Like Radar and sex really, but probably not the most helpful simile right at that moment.
So Radar took his sandwiches, which really did seem surprisingly good and actually smelled of something that wouldn't be found dead in the Swamp, to his animal cages where there'd be peace, quiet and sun at this time of day.
The added bonus was no one would come looking for him.
Of course, the bonus really wasn't worth much when someone else was already there.
Father Mulchahy stood at the possum cage, intently poking grass into the cage. He seemed not to notice Radar at first, giving Radar a vague hope the maybe, maybe…
Of course, fate didn't seem all too fond of Radar at the moment.
The moment he turned his back, he felt a small niggle at the back of his mind, and sure enough, he heard Father Mulchahy say his name a moment later.
As if Henry and sex in the same sentence wasn't bad enough.
"Radar," Father Mulchahy began, and Radar sighed hopelessly, "Henry told me to talk to you."
Bonus of being commanding officer – sometimes, you get to delegate work.
"Aw, geez, Father, I've never even i had /i sex…" Radar stopped and blushed pink, because really, sex and catholic priests brings us right back to the simile about two things that go really badly together.
These days couldn't possibly get more awkward, could they?
What, is this your first time here?
"Radar," Father Mulchahy tried to sound calming, though he, too, was colouring slightly, "that's not…well, it sort of is, but I think Henry knows that."
Radar blushed even more furiously. Amazing the amount of blood that can suddenly surge upward to your face, isn't it?
"Henry's worried – well, maybe that's the wrong word. But he wanted me to talk to you, in case there was some reason for the pamphlet…?"
Radar just stood, blinking for a few moments. Then he rallied himself, pulled all 5 foot 3 inches of himself together.
"Uh, no, Father." he answered somewhat dutifully.
Father Mulchahy looked positively relieved.
"Anything else bothering you, my son? Henry noticed that Hawkeye and Trapper also seem to have heard…" No need to finish that sentence, so the priest trailed off and looked encouragingly at Radar.
Radar just smiled a panicky sort of smile and shook his head no. Father Mulchahy, however, was persistent.
"Are you sure? Henry seemed worried." Mulchahy sighed when Radar shook his head again. "Well, if you're sure. I hope you know if you need someone to talk to, you can always trust me."
"Yes, Father, sir." Radar blurted, blush returning. He saluted; noticed that he'd dropped one of his sandwiches in his embarrassment.
Harassment, embarrassment and now dropped food. Radar sighed, and ate his other sandwich, not really enjoying it as much as he'd hoped to. He was starting to figure that maybe he should just go talk to Colonel Blake, so scenes like the preceding wouldn't happen again. Even if it did mean listening to a Henry Blake lecture on sex.
On the other hand, no need to do it right now. There seemed to be a brief deluge, not too much paper work, and Radar couldn't feel anyone needing him at the moment. No need to go anywhere, when he could sit here enjoying the May sun and re-reading the letter from his mother.
Wait, scratch that.
It really had been a rather embarrassing letter, full of sentences like 'I've heard rumours of what goes on in war, and I don't think it's proper, but I understand sometimes a boy has his needs' and 'I trust you, but you need to take care of yourself' and perhaps worst of all, 'I'm sorry, I'm just so worried, a baby like you in war, surrounded by bad people, men of no faith and temptresses.' He had no doubt that the last line was the one Henry had been most amused by. He usually loved hearing from Ma; she made him miss home, but she always wrote such comforting, simple things. He had a suspicion that it was their town doctor who'd given her those ideas of war…and he had to admit, they weren't far off, really.
And his head hurt from considering it. In the end, nice people were nice people, no matter what they did in bed-like. Colonel Blake, for example, was the nicest, most decent man Radar knew, even if he did drink and sleep with women outside of his marriage. There was no one Radar'd rather trust, and that was saying something.
Wait, trust? Hm.
Twenty minutes later, Radar returned to his desk. He'd barely sat down before he could hear Colonel Blake in his mind, and he swung into the office just as Colonel Blake called his name, as usual.
"Radar, don't do that!" Henry sighed. "I'm glad to see you're back at your desk." Radar nodded; noticed that there was an empty glass on the desk. Henry stood up and started to pace, swaying slightly; Radar counted the thumps, which hit the floor with a regular two-second beat.
Time stretched out, as it is wont to do when no one fills it.
Thump. Thump. Thump.
"Sir?" Radar tried, hoping to hear a dismissed, but pretty sure he was going to be told to sit down.
"Sit down, Radar." Radar sat down obediently, trying to sigh or panic.
"I'm sorry for laughing at you yesterday." Henry drew a deep breath, pausing, giving Radar a chance to respond.
"It's okay, sir." Radar said, carefully, hoping he could leave now, knowing that he just wasn't that lucky.
Thump. Thump, thump, thump. One-second beat, Radar noted.
"Radar, you do understand about…sex, right?" Henry was rapidly turning pink. Radar had already overtaken him and turned red.
"Yes, sir." And even if he didn't completely understand, he wasn't about to ask Henry.
"And you know you can always, um, ah, ask me, right?" Henry persisted, pink shading to mauve.
Radar just nodded. It felt as if all the blood in his face was dancing and he was sure he must be purple by now.
"And you understand, like your mother said, the importance of trusting your partner and ah, um, you know, protection." Henry was staring at a point behind Radar's head.
Hey! There's that word again. Trust. Hm.
"Yes, sir, of course." Radar nodded vigorously.
Henry stopped pacing and poured himself another drink. He looked at Radar, an almost pained expression on his face.
"You know you can trust me, Radar?"
There was something in his voice that made Radar want to smile, which was strange.
"Of course, Colonel Blake, sir." He said, looking at Henry. Henry looked a little lost.
"Well, then that…that's all right then. Yes. Dismissed, Radar."
Radar stood and turned towards the door, then turned back towards Colonel Blake, something tugging at the back of his mind. Radar walked over to the liquor cabinet, three steps.
"I do trust you, sir." He said, trying to stop his heart from doing the cha-cha in his chest. He leaned up and kissed Colonel Blake briefly.
"Oh." Colonel Blake said, intelligently. Radar tried not to run. "Um." Radar kissed him again. This time Colonel Blake held him there.
Heh, trust is a nice thing, isn't it?
Radar was pretty distracted. He was kinda sure that he wouldn't even have known if the choppers were coming at that moment. Or which way was up, really.
Apparently, Henry was pretty distracted too. Distracted enough not to notice Father Mulchahy entering his office, anyway.
"Oh my." The Father said to himself, door half open. He quickly made himself scarce, smiling slightly to himself.
What? It seems strange to you that a priest would react that way?
Well it was war.
And it was hell.
And it was the four-oh-double-seven, home to Hawkeye, Trapper, Majors Burns and Houlihan, all of whom were stranger than homosexuality on an average day,
Compared to all that, well, it was just a thing.