Set in Darkness
Pairing: Hawkeye/BJ – this means slash.
Rating: PG-13 or equivalent.
Please comment/review with any thoughts.
BJ knows how it goes, how it has always gone: first the temptation, then the pride, then the fall. The temptation is where it begins, and where it must end if end it will, and temptation comes in many forms. Not all of them are entirely expected.
Temptation sits across the tent from him, glass in one hand, the other gesticulating as some story unfolds. Hawkeye Pierce, master of the spoken language, has more than a way with words, but BJ finds it difficult to concentrate on them. He is tired, more than a little inebriated, and something inside him hurts. He's a doctor, but he doesn't know what it is. When he tries to centre on it, the pain shifts, always moving, always increasing. When he first arrived in camp, it was little more than a nagging irritation, but now … the pain is all he can think of. His marinated mind is slow, difficult to steer, but he has figured one thing out. The pain is so much worse when Hawkeye is near, and increases tenfold when they are alone.
It is lessened by thoughts of home, but they're difficult to entertain with Hawkeye there. He has a way of taking up much more of the world than his slim physique would suggest. His personality is ten sizes too big for his body, and BJ finds himself caught up in it, unable to concentrate on anything else. Today, he came within a millimetre of a fatal mistake in surgery when Hawkeye spoke and distracted him. After that, it was difficult to look his bunkmate in the eye, but the pain just got worse.
When he reads letters from Peg, it almost goes away. He can remember how her voice sounds, how crisply she pronounces every consonant, the round, comfortable sound of her vowels, and in his mind he imagines her speaking the words she has written. Each letter is full of news about Erin. With such young children, every day there is something new to tell, some personal, intimate story of a first laugh, a first word, a first step … even news of the first time Erin got peas on the spoon herself is worth celebrating to BJ. And paragraphs not about Erin are filled with local news, family events, and, finally, that last personal paragraph, the one BJ knows Peg cries as she writes. The paragraph where nothing is important except the conveyance of an emotion so deep and agonising that BJ saves it until Charles and Hawkeye are asleep before he reads it. The paragraph where Peg would rather die than have BJ stay away another day. The paragraph about their love, their friendship, their desperate need to be together again. The paragraph to dispel that nagging, invasive pain for a few blessed minutes.
Hawkeye is staring at him, waiting for something. BJ wishes he would go away, find someone else to bother with his inane stories, someone else to tempt with those deep eyes. Hawkeye knows pain and suffering, so it is towards him that BJ projects his own. It is Hawkeye who is the portrait sketched in charcoal, whose eyes convey such warmth and such pain in a single glance. It is Hawkeye who never hesitates to offer a smile or a hand or a hug. It is Hawkeye who must be to blame for this pain which BJ cannot – will not – identify.
"Beej, are you okay?" Hawkeye's voice never lies, no matter how hard he tries. His concern for a friend is tangible, but BJ resents that too. He does not need pity, he needs a cure.
"But you weren't listening." A tinge of sarcasm, a little annoyance. If Peg had said those words, the concern would still be there. BJ wants her more than anything, wants to be able to reach out and hold her, to hear her voice for real. He wishes she were the only thing he wants.
"Sorry, Hawk … My mind wandered."
"Well call it to heel."
BJ forces himself to smile. The pain inside him is worse than ever. Hawkeye's face is a portrait of concern again, and he manages to feel a little guilty for blaming him.
"I'm fine. Honest. Just tired."
"If I had a dollar for every time I've heard that …"
"Just drop it, will you?"
Voices, sounds, convey more meaning than they ever intend to. Almost as much as movements and expressions do, BJ knows. And Hawkeye shakes his head.
"No. No, I won't drop it. You're my best friend and I'm worried about you. You've been quiet for weeks now."
He knows that. But speaking to Hawkeye has become difficult. That's when the pain is at its worst. When they communicate, the need to tell Hawkeye is too strong. To tell him something, anything, that might help make the pain stop. To admit to the lie BJ tells himself and Hawkeye every day by saying nothing at all. He cannot do it. Cannot say it even to himself.
"Is it Peg? You can tell me. Whatever it is." An apparently casual shrug. "I won't judge you, however petty a thing you're worked up over this time."
He shouldn't have to accept that, but it's the price of being the best friend. A lover would not be spoken to like that, and a less intimate friend would be shown more respect. Only the best friend and the worst enemy are expected to take casual insults as part of the package, and only the best friend is expected to put up with it. BJ is too tired to counter-quip, too weary to protest. Too proud to let it pass.
He rolls onto his back, stares at the canvas roof. Hawkeye frowns, but knows when to say nothing.
"You want to know what's wrong?"
"Of course. That's what I've just been saying, haven't I?"
BJ shuts his eyes. "I'm breaking, Hawk. The fight is tearing me apart."
"You mean the war?"
"That? No. That's merely killing me. I need her. Peg. My … soul, heart, mind, whatever … it needs her or it'll give up. It pulls me towards her all the time. If I let it win, it'll drag me out of this tent and in the direction of California and I won't have to ask for directions. At least … a few months ago it would."
He pauses, and Hawkeye nearly speaks, but he knows BJ is scarcely here. He's lost in his own mind. He won't be gone long, but while he is Hawkeye must stay silent.
"But something's breaking me. Pulling me in a different direction. Something I don't necessarily like, a … a temptation. A need. It hurts, Hawk, hurts like hell, but I don't know how to get rid of temptations. You can move the object of desire away, but that doesn't lessen the need. Sometimes it makes it worse. I don't know how to fix this break or heal this pain, and it's destroying me…"
Hawkeye is silent for several minutes. BJ doesn't look at him, doesn't need to. He knows intimately what Hawkeye looks like, can predict from the feel of the air in the tent exactly what expression sits on his face. Hawkeye's brows are knitted together in thought. He is gambling with himself in his head. He is deciding whether something is worth saying, whether it should be said, and he is about to come to a decision. The suspense is almost as bad as BJ's pain.
"The only way to get rid of a temptation," says Hawkeye at last, "is to give in to it. Sometimes you have to sit in the darkness for a while before you realise how happy you were in the light."
"I'm worried, Hawk." He scratches his eyebrows, rubs his forehead. The air is heavy and still, filled with thoughts and desires unspoken. "I'm worried that I'll prefer the dark. It's not natural. What if –"
Temptation unfolds from his cot and stands up. First he locks the door, and then, without breaking eye contact with BJ, turns out the light. He tries to explain, but BJ cannot hear the words over the pounding of his heart and the ripping of his soul. He tries to explain how it is the most natural thing in the world. He tries to explain how many thousand miles are between them and Peg, and he tries to explain how much he has wanted this and for how long. To BJ it makes no difference. He has fallen the moment Hawkeye sits beside him on the cot and touches his chest, but he wonders if he fell long before that. Did he fall the day he married Peg? The day he first laid eyes on Hawkeye? It doesn't matter.
Pride keeps BJ from admitting this is a mistake; pride and lust and closeness, and he can no longer remember which of those are sins. He needs Hawkeye, and Hawkeye, instantly, is there. It hurts, and it's too quick, and it betrays everything BJ believes in, but he needs this. Sometimes you have to break a thing even more before you can properly fix it.
It will take many months more, but BJ knows the pain is leaving him. It feels duller already, a little more distant, as if Hawkeye has taken some of it from him. If Hawkeye asks, BJ will let him take a little more. If he doesn't, BJ will not broach the topic. He lies in his cot, enjoying the pain of Hawkeye's nails in his shoulder, his teeth on his lip. This pain is right, and so is the pleasure it brings with it. And afterwards it is okay not to think of Peg at times, and it's okay to be tempted. Sometimes it's even okay to fall, so long as it hurts enough.