To their chagrin, they were roused by a knock at the door of the Swamp. "Captain Pierce— Aaaiee!" Radar screamed and turned tail, leaving the door to bang shut behind him.
"Was it something I said?" Hawkeye yawned without poking his head out from under the blanket.
Trapper rubbed the sleep out of his eyes, stretched, fluffed his pillow and laid his head back down. "Maybe it was something you didn't say. Like, 'please pass the deodorant.'"
Hawkeye rolled off Trapper's arm and swung his legs over the side of the bunk. "No need; I'll get it myself. I know exactly where it is: in my bathroom cabinet in Maine. Be right back; hold the war for me; tell me if I miss any good parts."
The overweighted cot squeaked in protest as Trapper edged to the other side of it and sat. "Wait up; I'll help you carry it. And watch your elbows; that was my stomach there. Tea may be for two, but army bunks sure aren't."
all personnel: I deeply regret to inform you that breakfast is now
being served in the mess tent."
The door blew open. It must have been an ill wind indeed, for it bore Frank Burns with it.
"Good morning, Frank," they chimed in cheery harmony.
"Stick and stones!" Frank spat back. "So it's true! You two degenerates have truly degenerated to the lowest level."
"Not the lowest level," said Trapper, sticking his martini glass under the still. "We tried for it, but there was no room left. Or are you willing to move over?"
Hawkeye reached for his robe and shrugged it over his shorts and T. "Don't look at me. I tried to degenerate, but they said I had to A, B, and C generate first, and I couldn't take that much time off work."
"You two...sickos have finally gone and gone too far this time! I'm telling Colonel Blake!" Frank's nostrils flared with every stressed syllable.
"Well there's the biggest surprise I haven't had all morning," Hawkeye sampled Trap's drink. "Not bad. Tuesday was a very good year."
Trapper's eyes widened in faux alarm. "The biggest surprise?"
Hawkeye batted cow eyes and dropped his voice to a sultry contralto. "He may be the biggest, but, baby, you're still the best."
Trapper cooed back. "I bet you say that to all the guys." He passed Hawkeye a glass of breakfast martini.
"No, mostly just to Margaret."
Frank's eyes widened to a near pop. "Degenerate degenerates!" He squealed and ran out the door.
"De?" Hawkeye stuck out his non-drinking hand in greeting.
"In the flesh. Pleased to meet you, Gen." They shook briskly. "Phew, I'm glad we got that straight. That was a rough morning's work." They looked at each other, toasted glasses, took synchronized sips, and fell back down on the cot together.
Out in the compound, they ran into Frank and Margaret leaving her tent on the way to breakfast. Hawkeye jumped in front of her, barring her way. "Careful, Margaret! It's dangerous territory in there. There's an enemy substance camouflaged as food. It's armed with dysentery and considered extremely dangerous. Someone could get hurt." He stepped aside. "Better send Frank in first."
Frank blew a raspberry. "Oh, phooey on you-ey!"
Trapper looked Hawkeye up and down. "Is there still phooey on you-ey?"
"I don't see how there could be. Remember, we wiped it all off with Frank's shirt."
"See, Margaret! I told you!" Frank sounded like an unoiled hinge.
"Well, don't just stand there, Frank! You outrank them! i Do /I something!"
"I did. I told Colonel Blake, but I don't think he heard me. He was gargling and trimming his ear hair at the same time."
Over in the chow line, Hawkeye plopped his tray down for service. "I'll have the sausage—a nice big, thick, plump one." He made an unequivocal gesture with his hand. "Pink and tempting, ready to burst right out of its skin, with plenty of juice running down the side. And two boiled eggs: smooth and round; firm, yet soft and pliant in the mouth, the kind that you can roll over your tongue and savor that delicious saltiness as it drips down your throat."
"And I'll have a pig in a blanket." Trapper smiled. "Or maybe eggs in a basket. Toad in the hole? Make sure the hole is nice and big and stretchy and well-buttered. I wouldn't want my little toady getting...pinched."
"Oooch!" Hawkeye gave an exaggerated shiver.
"Ugh." Everyone at the table behind them took their trays and left.
Trays in hand, Trap and Hawk sat down. Requests aside, it was powdered eggs that had less flavor than did the box they were packaged in, hash that even the rats wouldn't eat for fear that it might contain family members, and toast—fresh baked for World War II. Again.
Hawkeye tried a piece of toast. It was black on one side, off-white on the other. With a couple suspicious looking gray spots.
"Honey?" Trap offered a jar.
Hawkeye darted his eyes around the tent. He forced a whisper, "Sweetcheeks, I'm nuts about you too, but I told you only to call me that in private."
To their right, a group of nurses rose up and left.
Hawkeye glanced over Trapper's tray. "Yours looks better than mine. Trade you bites."
"Okay, but only if you promise not to lick the fork."
"Why not? That's the goodness." Trapper tongued his fork sensuously, then scooped up bite of hash with it, offering it over to Hawk's mouth.
"Right." Much like the wedding cake tradition, they slipped bites between each other's lips.
Behind them, Radar—having mysteriously appeared—cleared his throat. "Captains Pierce, McIntyre: Colonel Blake wants to see you in his office." His voice still didn't sound all that clear. Maybe after it changed, it would do better.
"What's it about, Radar?" Hawkeye tore off a corner of an abandoned Stars and Stripes and prepared to use it as a napkin as Trapper dabbed about Hawkeye's chin with his fingertip.
"I wouldn't know about things like that, sir." Radar kept his gaze trained firmly on his shoes. "And if I did know that I knew, I know I wouldn't want to know, you know?"
Pierce and McIntyre blinked at him. "No," they said in unison.
"Got it?" Hawkeye asked Trap as he pushed his tray away.
"Got what?" asked Trapper in the voice of innocence itself. Slowly, he ran his finger over Hawkeye's lips again.
"Don't get me all excited, big boy. We've got a date in the principal's office." Hawkeye made an exaggerated lip smack against Trapper's finger.
"Okay. Meet me after school behind the gym. Wear that aftershave I like so much."
"I thought you said it makes your mouth tingle."
"What do you think it is about it that I like it so much?"
As they tromped out to dump their trays, Hawkeye swiped at his behind and let his hand linger just a moment too long.
"It's not just Radar. I've had multiple complaints about that nauseating situation in the mess tent this morning." Henry stood with hands jammed in his pockets pushing up the edges of his fishing vest.
"Not to be confused with the nauseating situation in the mess tent any other day."
"Terrific! Then maybe you'll finally do something about it. Have the mess sergeant transferred to latrine duty, clearly an assignment to which he is especially well suited." Hawkeye flopped into a chair and propped his feet up on Henry's desk.
"Yeah." Trapper picked a ball of rubber bands off of Henry's desk and pitched it over his shoulder towards Hawkeye, who caught it easily. "Then bring in someone who knows what he's doing. Candlelit dinners, oysters, bananas flambé..."
"'A loaf of bread, a jug of wine and thou.'" Rolling the ball around in his palms, Hawkeye sighed a dreamy sigh, then tossed it back. "Nah, I need to keep my girlish figure; I'd better just stick with 'thou.'"
"Careful, I'm plenty sweet."
"We'll burn it off."
"That's what I mean!" Henry blustered. "Cut it out, you two! This sort of thing not only works against morale, but it also looks bad on my command." Now he was using his angry voice. Not that it was easy to tell.
"Your command, which you've taken such pride in up to now." Trapper took the other chair.
"Don't worry about your command, Henry. It's fresh as a daisy, seeing how's you've never even tried to exercise it so far." Hawk and Trap devoted the sum of their attention tossing the ball back and forth while seeing how far in another direction they could look.
"Aw, come on, guys." Henry slid in behind his desk and toyed with a pencil. "Don't make this war any harder on me than it is already. This comedy act of yours just isn't funny. And taking it public belittles kids here who may be having real struggles with feelings like those. Have you two clowns ever thought of that while you were having your fun?"
"Act? Now, Henry, how do you know it's not true?" Chucking the ball atop the file cabinet, Trapper grabbed Hawkeye's hand and pulled it into his lap.
"Yeah, Henry." Hawkeye fondled back. "They say that politics makes strange bedfellows. What politics could be stranger than this war? Or, don't tell me you haven't ever gone out at night in Old Milwaukee for the Miller High Life and woken up the next morning naked, beside a strange Busch."
"Maybe I have, but never a Beefeater!" Henry stammered as he blustered. It could have been his angry voice. Or his embarrassed one. Or his confused one. It really wasn't easy to tell.
"Well, you know we've always been gin men." Hawkeye smiled sweetly.
"You should try it; it's an acquired taste," Trapper agreed. He licked his lips.
"Yeah, it grows on you. The more you play around with it, the more it grows...and grows...and grows..." Hawk caressed Trapper's inner thigh.
"Knock it off! I mean it!" Henry thumped the desk. "I leave you two jokers alone to do whatever you want in private on the condition that you do good work and it doesn't interfere with how this unit runs, but if you insist on carrying on this little game, keep it to yourselves and away from kids who already have too much to deal with as it is! And you never know who that may be, do you?" Now Henry sounded mad for real. Sort of. Hawkeye bet that Lorraine was the one who had to discipline the kids. And the dog. And the goldfish. And the houseplants.
"Okay, Henry. I see your point. We'll behave." Hawkeye shrugged in a gesture of resignation that no one in the room believed. "I'm willing to kiss and make up if it makes you happy." He puckered up a wet one.
Trapper smooched back to him. "Oh, I couldn't stay mad at you, you big lug."
"I said quit it!" Henry tried again. "No more of this nonsense between the two of you."
"I meant you, Henry, not Trapper." Hawkeye sauntered toward Henry with a dangerous gleam in his eye. "That Adam's apple of yours is driving me wild with desire!"
"Colonel Blake!" Margaret Houlihan stormed in with Frank and Radar struggling to keep up in her wake.
"I'm sorry, Colonel. I know you told me you didn't want to be disturbed—"
"Radar, I thought I told you I didn't want to be disturbed!"
"—but, I couldn't stop them. She's bigger than me. And he is too!"
"Why didn't you stop them?" Henry mumbled just as Radar finished his sentence.
Above her uniform, Margaret wore That Look. Hawkeye grinned. This was going to be good.
"Major Burns and I protest in the strongest possible terms the moral depravity permitted in this outfit—"
Hawkeye surveyed Henry's liquor cabinet, sparing only half an ogle for Margaret's breasts. "That's funny, Margaret. Frank tells us that most of the moral depravity occurs when you're out of your outfit."
"Unless Frank is the one wearing it."
"Especially if Frank is the one wearing it."
"I always thought underwires made his chest look bigger."
"Colonel! Are you going to put a stop to this, or do we have to report you for failure to report this conduct unbecoming officers?"
"Hey, I never wanted to become an officer in the first place," said Hawkeye.
"Yeah, Hawk, what's with this love business? Can't we just go out and shoot a few people like all the good officers do?"
"Oh, no; to be a good officer, you have to shoot many, many people."
"Colonel, do you hear that?" Margaret stomped her foot. "They are a disgrace to the army and to every red blooded American who serves in it."
"But, fortunately, not to the green blooded Americans."
"Ah! Those would be the ones from Roswell."
"Yeah, Henry, we're a disgrace. Throw us out, please!" Trapper begged.
"Right into the briar patch."
Frank's brow furrowed with the unaccustomed effort of trying to form a thought. "Now wait a minute. You're not getting out of Korea just by acting like disgusting degenerates—"
"Obviously, Frank; if that worked, you would have been gone long ago."
"Do you want vodka, rum, vodka, bourbon, vodka, or vodka?"
"If you don't do something right now, I'm going over top of you!"
"That's the same thing she said to Frank last night."
"I have a headache." Henry sank back and closed his eyes. Not that anyone was paying any attention to him anyway.
"That's the same thing Frank said to Margaret last night."
"Why do you think she had to take the top?"
"Choppers!" Radar cocked his head and rolled his eyes above the hubbub.
"Great. And the OR floor is still being used for the model car drag strip. Radar—"
"I'll have Zale shut down the race and tell them all bets are postponed."
"—have Zale shut down the race and tell them all bets are off."
"And I'll get some corpsmen to replace the tables."
"And get some corpsmen to replace the tables!" Henry shouted after Radar's retreating figure, but the office doors were already swinging together.
In the OR, instruments clanked against basins and trays with disquieting frequency. Also, personnel clashed with each other with disquieting frequency. All in all, it was a typical surgery session.
"Attention, all personnel: lunch is now being served in the mess tent. Heavy casualties are anticipated."
Trapper drew in a breath. "Oh geez!"
"I'm hungry too," said Henry. "Almost hungry enough to want to eat whatever it is the kitchen has served up. Radar—!" Henry turned sideways to call out, almost bumping into Radar behind his elbow as he did.
"Yes, sir; I'll have the cook send cold trays." Radar scurried out the door.
"—have the cook send some cold lunch trays over."
On alert from Trapper's tone, Hawkeye ignored them. Over his mask, he shot a glance. It had been a different disturbing than the usual disturbing that went with the thought of eating mess, however bad that was.
"Whatcha got, Trap?"
"What's this kid's not got, is the $64 question. The $64 answer is 'a pancreas.' Unless you want to count the some-assembly-required version."
Hawkeye dropped the needle driver he was holding and came over to look. "O and Gs don't begin to cover it. That's Os, Gs, and all the other letters of the alphabet combined."
"This war is like magic. He went under the sheet a healthy kid and is going to come out an unhealthy diabetic with a life expectancy of maybe twenty or thirty more years."
"If he doesn't die first from the rip-roaring bout of pancreatitis he's going to have if you don't clean it up good."
Henry looked up from his below-knee amputation. "Which is twenty or thirty more years than he'll have if you don't stop jabbering and get to work. Take it out and move on, McIntyre. This isn't like auto shop where you have to put back in all the parts they came with."
"Wait! Angle that light for me." Hawkeye peered into the incision. "Trap, the tail and perforating arteries are gone, but it looks like the arterial supply to the rest is still intact. If we can anastomose the ends of the ducts, we might be able to save the head and body."
"Ooh! You're asking for big trouble." Frank sounded more cheerful than he had in days. Outside of Margaret's tent, that is. "Any medical student knows that the first rule of surgery is 'don't muck with the pancreas.'"
"Well, I'll be! That's the first thing Frank's said that made me think he really did go to medical school."
"Don't worry, Frank. It hardly ever shows. In fact, watching you I would have guessed that the first rule was, 'Do unto others...while they are unconscious and helpless to stop you.'"
"Oh, blow it out your bupcas!" Frank whined.
"I tried to blow it out Trap's bupcas last night, but just got hair in my mouth for my trouble."
Trapper shrugged. "It tickled."
"Yeah Hawk, watch it. There are ladies present. And Margaret's here too."
"As much as it burns my bottom to agree with Burns, he's got a point about not mucking with the pancreas." Like always, Henry's firmly stated opinion sounded like anyone else's question would.
"We're not the one's mucking with it; the Chinese did that. We're the ones trying to unmuck it."
"It's too bad the Chinese didn't go to Frank's medical school and learn that pancreas rule, then this never would have happened."
"Too bad the Chinese didn't take Frank's place in medical school; think of all the lives that could have been saved. And not just in China— Frank's patients too. Especially Frank's patients!"
"Oh, bardy har har!"
"Look, Trap, I think we can do this." Hawkeye had changed his gloves and was poking around with the suction and a sponge stick. "If you work from one end and I work from the other—"
"Oh no! Ixnay, guys!" Henry called out. "Only one to a customer! It's lying room only out in pre-op and triage."
"It won't take long, Henry. It's just a little pancreas."
"Practically a baby. It's barely even in short pants." Hawkeye cocked his head. "Listen, I think I hear it calling for its mother."
"We don't have the time." A spurt of arterial blood from the leg stump shot up to cover the front of Henry's gown. "Damn it!" He caught a sharp stare from Mulcahy, who paused from distributing towels.
Mulcahy glanced down at the foot and shin discarded in the basin. His tone was more wistful than reassuring. "It's quite all right, Colonel. I think that even He might agree with that assessment."
"Time?" Hawkeye spoke brusquely enough to regain Henry's attention. "Henry, we're talking about this kid's life. If we do it your way, we're consigning him to a bellyful of misery for the duration of his abbreviated life: constant nausea, continual vomiting, bowels that move whenever the spirits move them and oh yes, a full time career as a three times a day pincushion for the insulin du jour. What kind of time do you call that? Certainly not a good time. Doing time maybe."
Some days Henry didn't know why he even bothered. But most days he knew perfectly well why he needn't; he just kept his mouth shut and got on with the business of saving lives. He shrugged in wordless defeat.
Hawkeye let out a breath. "Over here, Margaret; I'll need you."
"Yes, Doctor." Margaret changed gloves, left her patient to Lt. Butler, and took her position at the abdomen beside Pierce.
"Frank only wishes she moved as fast when he said that."
"I heard that," Frank muttered into his jejunum.
"Here, Margaret, retract the liver." Hawkeye placed her left hand inside the abdomen just where he wanted it to expose what was left of the pancreas.
"But careful! I spent the last forty minutes fixing that liver up all pretty. I don't want your grubby fingerprints all over it." Trapper reached in with forceps and delicately began to search for the duct.
"I see it; I see it! Another Kelly! Move it, honey!"
"Curved Kelly, then a mosquito." Hawkeye didn't look up. His entire attention was fixed inside the cavity.
Margaret slapped the clamp into Hawkeye's palm, and then reached for the suction. She marveled as the two men worked bringing the tiny ends together. "You have amazing hands," she murmured, too enrapt to even append her customary snap.
"Trapper said the same thing to me last night. About my hands as well as other body parts. Of course the circumstances were different."
"Not so much; we were doing body work then too. And I meant every word. More suction."
"You said that last night, too."
Margaret jabbed the suction in a little too hard. "Oh, for Pete's sake! You're saving a young man's life, his future, his everything. Why do you have to ruin a special moment with your offensive, disgusting sense of so-called humor?"
"He can't help it; he left his non-disgusting so-called sense of humor in his other pants. Sponge."
"No, I think I feel it in my front pocket. Reach in and get it for me, Trap."
"It's not my choice, Margaret! I wanted to ruin this moment with an excess of cheap booze instead, but operating under the influence could get messy."
"Doing anything under the influence could get messy," said Trapper.
"Mmm. Messy. What a lovely idea." Hawkeye paused his work and let his eyes roll back in mimed luxury. "My place at nine: bring two glasses, one big soft towel and that certain smile of yours that always bowls me over."
"Now, Hawk, you know by now that you don't have to get me drunk."
"Okay. Then we'll say both glasses are for me. Two hands: no waiting."
"Colonel! Could we please have a professional environment in here?" You knew it was bad when Margaret's voice reached that shatter-glass range. It was almost as bad as when Frank's did, but unfortunately hers lacked the humor factor.
"Professional! To match the instruments that were hand-tooled by the finest craftsmen of the Bronze Age? Or the jury-rigged wiring and the generator that's being held together with chewing gum, duct tape and one of Klinger's garters. Or the drugs that are in such short supply that the patients are licking the last bits out of the streptomycin bottles. Or perhaps to match the wormwood floor which—in addition to being a US government housing development for every insect known to Korea—has more blood products trapped within it than the supply room ever has.
"Yes, I second the motion! I want a professional environment around here right now! Henry, I demand it! In fact, that's it! If I don't get it right this second, I'm going home!"
"Hawk—" The tension in Trapper's voice called him back.
"I got it." With lightning speed, Hawkeye's mind and fingers turned back to the patient. "Give me another mosquito and hang another bottle of blood. This kid's not donating his pancreas to charity on my watch. Suction, and 5-0 chromic. Hurry it up! I got it, Trap. Grab your end. Let's go."
Showered and changed into evening bathrobes, Trapper and Hawkeye strolled towards the Officer's Club. Across the compound Frank and Margaret spied them and hurried over.
"Hi, Frank," said Trapper nonchalantly.
Frank narrowed his little eyes even further. "Don't you wish!"
"Whoa, Frank! Ladies first," said Hawkeye as the four of them converged on the entrance.
"Why, thank you, Captain," said Margaret. She beamed and brushed a strand of hair behind her ear.
Trapper pushed by her into the club as Hawkeye held the door for him.
"Hey, I thought I was the lady today," Hawkeye grumbled.
"Is it Thursday?"
"If it's Thursday, then it's my turn to be the girl."
"You just make sure you remember that tonight, pumpkin." Hawkeye blew little kissy noises at him under the curious gazes of nurses Preston and Able. The only thing under Henry's curious gaze was the sadly dry bottom of a glass of Scotch that had just been declared the most recent casualty of war. He appeared to be trying to figure out where the contents had gone.
Margaret drew herself up to her full height. "Captains, I would hope that this morning's little talk has been productive. I will trust and remind you to comport yourselves as a good example to the lower ranks."
"I'm no good at being an example; would you settle for a terrible warning?" asked Trapper as he sidled up to the bar.
"Margaret, I don't know what you're talking about. Haven't we been paragons of gentlemanhood? Didn't I hold the door? Emily Post would be proud. Just watch." Hawkeye strolled over behind Trapper and bowed deeply. In a polished baritone he asked, "Captain McIntyre, would you kindly allow me to push your stool in?"
Helpless with spasms of wracking laughter, Trapper collapsed against the bar.
"Oh for—!" Margaret stormed out the door.
"Perverts!" Frank managed to scream, before following Margaret's lead.
"Oh look! Free drinks!" From the bartender, Hawkeye picked up Frank and Margaret's yet untouched glasses and passed one to Trapper. He pulled the paper umbrella out of Frank's and tossed it aside.
Henry slid his empty across the bar. "Mr. Kwang, fill her up and make it a doozy."
"What's wrong with the majors?" asked Kwang, as he poured the refill.
"I've been wondering that since I arrived," Henry mumbled to no one in particular.
"Don't worry, Mr. Kwang. When you get to English 103, you'll figure it out."
"Attention, all personnel: dinner is now being served in the mess tent. All personnel are advised to take appropriate safety precautions."
Trapper munched a handful of peanuts.
Outside the mess tent, the sun was setting. "Well the cook outdid himself tonight."
"Indeed he did; that was his worst ever, bar none!"
Trapper made a twisted face as his stomach made an even more twisted sound. "If I paid you, would you tube feed me for the rest of the war? My mouth would be forever in your debt."
"Mm. Not my first choice for the part of me I'd want your mouth in, but I'll take it. We all have to make sacrifices in times of war. Oh wait; this isn't a war. I keep forgetting. All the death, shooting and shelling confuses me sometimes.
"There's only one problem. To do a tube feeding, you need actual food."
"Nah, too risky. My stomach would faint from the sudden change. I think we should stick with the stuff that comes out of the mess."
"Okay. As long as it takes the bypass around my taste buds, I don't care. I'll do you if you do me."
Trapper gave him a leer and slapped him on the rear. "You've got a deal there, pardner!"
High-heels digging into the dirt, Klinger sprinted up and accosted them in a subdued blue wool number accessorized with a rather nice Dior knock-off beret with a demi-veil. "Okay, how much?" he demanded.
"How much for what?" With his tongue, Trapper dug a piece of mystery meal out from between his teeth and spat it out.
"To get in on it with you. I've got to tell you guys, this scam is brilliant! I don't know why I didn't think of it myself."
"Probably because Trapper wouldn't sleep with you. Not with that five o'clock shadow. He has very sensitive skin."
"Hey, what do you want me to do about it? I've shaved twice today already. We Lebanese are naturally hairy. Our five o'clock shadows are full grown by noon. And that's the women!"
Trapper looked Klinger up and down, and did a double-take. "Eww! Yuck! A Girl!" He shimmied his wrists in a timorous flutter.
Klinger raised his finger and jabbed Hawkeye in the chest. "See! That's my point! This plan is almost perfect, but it can never work for you two, 'cause no one takes you guys seriously anymore."
"As opposed to you? Nice handkerchief, by the way," said Hawkeye with a nod to Klinger's left sleeve.
"Thanks! It's real Irish lace. I paid extra for the monogramming." Klinger beamed happily. He shook it out to display pale pink embroidered initials spelling out "mAx."
Trapper turned the conversation back. "Frank takes us seriously."
"Frank takes crayons seriously," said Hawkeye with a dismissive wave.
"Of course he does; it's the last thing in life that he really understood. Except for the difference between red-orange and orange-red. He never was quite clear on that."
"Klinger, don't you think that two highly educated individuals such as ourselves—"
"I'm Highly; he's Educated."
"—would've thought this whole thing through, including that aspect? Maybe knowing that we're always expected to never be serious, we decided we're only taken seriously when we aren't being serious."
"Seriously." Trapper confirmed with a nod.
"Huh?" Klinger raised his eyebrows into his veil.
"Come, darling," said Hawkeye, "your chariot awaits." Hawkeye gestured to an empty wheelchair parked against a wall.
Trapper hopped in. "Good idea keeping a wheelchair outside the mess tent. Saves time and trouble when they keel over on the way out."
Hawkeye began wheeling towards the Swamp. "I thought about starting a pushcart business, but the line for permits was too long. So I decided just to go to medical school instead."
"Bet you hated to pass up all that free ice cream."
"I got it anyway. I had a buddy take out my tonsils forty-seven times."
"I went for the lifestyle, benefits and luxurious accommodations."
"You got ripped."
"I know. I was going to ask for my money back, but they said I'd have to turn in my brain."
"It worked for Frank."
Trapper struck a pose as three nurses strolled by. "Coffee, tea, or me?"
"Caffeine makes me nervous." Hawkeye veered toward their tent, and the wheelchair bumped over the dirt.
"Then I guess this is my lucky night." Trapper's face took on a dreamy quality. "I wonder if I'm fertile."
"We really got them," said Hawkeye as he opened the tap on the still of swill to fill the carafe.
"Them? After today, even I'm not even sure whether I'm sleeping with you or not!" Trapper flopped onto Hawkeye's cot backwards with his feet propped up on the pillow.
"If you don't remember, then you must not be; I've been told I'm unforgettable."
"Told by who?" Trapper took the carafe of gin from Hawk's hand and took a swig.
"By me, of course. You don't think I'd trust just anyone with something that important." Hawkeye reached down for the drink, but Trapper stuck his foot up instead. Hawkeye pulled off one boot and then the other.
"Socks too." Trapper wiggled his toes.
"You know, you have very sexy feet."
"Thanks. I'm told they come from my mother. Dad said from the ankles down, he couldn't ever tell us apart. I always found that vaguely disturbing."
"I'll give you a pedicure—paint 'em hot fuchsia. I'll bet he won't confuse you with her then."
"Nah. Then he'd confuse me for my Uncle Pat. Or is that my Aunt Pat? I was never sure."
There was a hesitant knock on the door. "It's Radar."
"Come in, Radar."
There was an uncomfortable scuffing noise. "I'd rather not. Can you sirs come out here?"
"Radar, come in. We're respectable."
"Well, we're not respectable, but we are fully dressed."
"But hurry. We won't be for long if he keeps looking at me that way."
There was an odd pause. "Okay, but I'm not opening my eyes." Radar shuffled in with a sheaf of papers in one hand and his eyes squeezed tightly shut. "You're way behind on your charts again. Colonel Blake wants them done yesterday."
"So do we. Can you arrange that?"
"Radar, you can't walk around with your eyes closed. You'll bang into something. Bruise your legs. Stunt your growth."
"Can you re-stunt the pre-stunted?" Trapper asked, offering the gin to Hawkeye.
"I don't know, but if he takes two more steps in that direction, we're going to find out."
"I'm all right, sirs. I used to do this for my second cousin Wanda. My brother and I used to go over to help out after her husband Buster died. She was born blind, so after Buster was dead, she wouldn't turn on any lights."
Hawk and Trap looked at each other. "Radar, what does her being blind have to do with i you /i turning on lights?"
Puzzlement ran neck and neck with Confusion on Radar's face, then finally Dawning Realization came up from the rear to take the lead. His eyes flew open. "Oh!" he said. He dropped the sheaf on Trapper's cot and bolted.
"So, which'll it be? Charts or martinis?" Trapper refreshed their joint drink.
"I think I'll chart the martinis," said Hawkeye, picking up a martini glass and filling it to the rim. "Right now my chart goes up to here." He gestured with the side of his hand against his breastbone and downed the drink in one long glug.
"Easy there, Hawk."
"I need the alcohol to kill whatever they called dinner. That stuff could make someone sick! Do you think it's the army's idea of job security for doctors?"
"They had me sold at the pension plan." Careful not to spill the gin, Trapper flopped back down on the cot.
There was another knock at the door.
"Did you slip some wood alcohol in this batch, or am I having deja hear here?" Hawkeye asked.
A voice came from outside. "It's Henry."
"Henry, you've caught us at an awkward time."
"Hawkeye, don't touch me there!" Trapper could do a pretty good falsetto when he had to.
Henry came in. He wasn't laughing.
"Why so grim, Henry?" asked Hawkeye, digging out a fresh grimy glass for their visitor. He wiped it off on his none too clean bathrobe, then filled his own glass up again as well. "We're doing exactly what you asked us to. Perfect gentlemen in public and saving anything else for behind closed doors."
"Which when you think about it, is a pretty odd request." Trapper toasted them in the air and took a swallow.
"To make it an even request, he'd have to have at least two, and I'm not in the mood for more negotiation. Henry, I don't know what Radar said, but we were just playing checkers." Hawkeye waved a hand to the board interrupted mid-game by ambulances the day before.
"And Hawkeye jumped me."
"Ah, but only because you jumped me first! Where do you get all that energy, you great, manly brute?"
"Protein. Plenty of it."
Hawkeye tossed his head towards Trapper and rolled his eyelashes. "King me," he growled. "Top me; king me. Make me yours forever."
"Oh lighten up, Henry." Hawkeye draped one arm over Henry's shoulders. "We're alone, and this is no time for jealousy. I still love you, but don't you see it's impossible? You're a colonel; I'm a mere captain. We're like Romeo and Juliet—star-crossed lovers who can never be. At least I still have my Mercutio." Leaving Henry, he grabbed Trapper's foot and hugged it to his chest. He kissed a toe.
"'If love be rough with you, be rough with love. Prick love for pricking, and you beat love down.' Or beat something down, at least," quoted Trapper with a smirk.
"Stop it," said Henry in an ominously unirritated tone. "I have news. Bad news. The boy with the pancreas: he didn't make it."
"Damn." Hawkeye said it almost too quietly to be heard. Dropping Trapper's foot, he sank down on the edge of the cot, temples pressed into his hands.
"Fulminant acute pancreatitis. He went into an arrhythmia—probably from potassium or calcium—and we couldn't get him back. I'm sorry."
Hawkeye didn't look up.
"Thanks, Henry." Trapper spoke quietly. Brushing an empathetic hand along Hawk's back as he arose from the bed, he stood and steered Henry toward the door.
Henry hesitated. "Can I—?"
"No. You can't." Hawkeye spoke into his hands.
"No." Henry shook his head. "No, I can't. I don't suppose any of us can." He patted Trapper's arm and turned for the door, but Hawkeye's voice stopped him.
"Henry, there is one thing you can do. Can you barricade Ferret Face in with Hot Lips for the night? If I hear one single 'I told you so' out of him—"
"I can see that would be hard for you to take."
"Not for me. I'm thinking of you. I'd hate to have to kill Frank and leave you with all that paperwork. Though your recovery statistics would go up. Maybe they'd give me a medal."
Henry managed a tiny smile. "I'll take care of it. And for what it's worth, you were both amazing. In a perfect world, it should have worked."
"Shoulda, woulda, coulda." Hawkeye picked up his glass again and swirled the poison around. "In a perfect world, we wouldn't be in this hell-hole patching kids back together in the first place."
Henry opened his mouth as if to say something, then closed it again. He started over. "Right. Goodnight, fellas."
Hawkeye set the untasted glass down, threw back his head, and closed his eyes.
"Hawk?" Trapper looked over with concern too strong to transpose into humor.
"This place rots! It rots so bad that even the rot rots! It stinks so bad that even the stink stinks! If we'd been back home with an ICU and proper equipment, that kid would be alive planning on how to get his next venereal disease, not...not dead and stinking and rotting." The gin splashed his slippers, and the glass shattered against the floor where Hawkeye swept it with his arm.
"If I hadn't been so cocky; if I'd just stuck to the standard pancreatectomy..."
"You gave him the best chance he had."
"You don't know that!" The bitterness hung heavy in the air between them.
"Maybe I don't, but I know that if tomorrow I get a kid in the same condition, I'm going to call you over so we can try the same thing again. And you'll do it because you're too good a doctor to let your guilt and pride get in the way of trying to give a kid a shot at a decent life."
Hawkeye stood and paced the boards. He ran his fingers through his hair, and addressed the stovepipe as he spoke. "I hate this place so much. I hate everything about it. I hate the evil. I hate the death. I hate the destruction, the cold, the heat, the loss, the deprivation, the fear, the sweat, the pointlessness. And most of all, I hate myself for not hating it more, because despite all the horror and grotesqueness, it brought me you, and damn me if I can't help but be grateful for that." He turned, swallowed hard, and then was silent.
Trapper took step towards him, then another and another until there was no distance between them at all. "Hawk—" He swallowed hard and took Hawkeye's face in his hands. For an impossible moment, time stood still but for the beating of their hearts.
Hawkeye leaned his face in until they nuzzled bristled cheek to cheek, the corners of their lips so carefully veering around the minefield of danger zones. "Are we really going to do this?" he whispered, as much to himself as to anyone else.
"Unless you punch me in the jaw first." Trapper's lips made feather-light motions beside Hawk's nose.
"I can't," Hawkeye breathed against Trapper's skin. "I gave up jaw punching for Lent."
"You're not Catholic." Trapper dotted tentative kisses through stubble of Hawk's beard.
"Too late; you should have reminded me sooner." Hawkeye grabbed him by the chin and kissed him full on the mouth, his tongue exploring every nook and cranny. Hands under robes and gin forgotten, they fell blindly to Trap's bunk.
"Take off your dog tags," Hawkeye murmured into Trap's chest.
"What?" Trapper panted for breath, pinned beneath Hawk's weight.
"I said, 'take them off!'" In one angry move, Hawkeye ripped them over Trapper's neck and hurled them across the tent, his own following shortly behind. "Just for an hour or so, I want to forget." Hawkeye buried his face in Trap's chest and began to lick, their lower bodies grinding together as if out of reflex. He concentrated on the taste, the rough of the hair, the fragility of the pulse, the cloying heaviness of the smell, the stickiness of the heat of their bodies where they moved pressed together until everything that was sad or terrible simply faded away into nothing.
Trapper wrapped his arms tight around Hawk's body. It was not a manner in which one man could shelter another from all the world's evils, but Trapper seemed willing to try.
Hawkeye came crying out into the crook of Trap's neck despite his best attempts to stifle the noise.
Doctors know that it is not physically possible for a heart to beat right out of a body, but at times like this, it was easy to forget.
"Now you," said Hawkeye, as he settled them into a semi-comfortable position on the inadequate bunk.
"Now me, what?" asked Trap. He stopped Hawkeye's wrist and moved up to the safer zone of his chest.
"Well you know what they say, there are some things that it's wrong to do alone. This, swim, drink, dance the tango, play bocce ball..."
Trapper chuckled softly. "Aren't you ever serious?"
There was a long pause as Hawkeye waited for him to open his eyes.
"Yes, I am," he said finally, staring into Trapper's eyes from mere inches away.
They kissed again. Hawkeye's palm picked up Trapper's. Together, he slid them gently down between Trap's legs.
On the tiny cot Trapper squirmed with an uncomfortable sound, his erection now digging into Hawk's thigh. Trapper pulled their hands to his mouth and kissed Hawk's thumb. "Maybe I'll take a rain check," he said and closed his eyes again. "My hand has a headache."
"Just relax. My hand doesn't. And neither does my mouth." Hawkeye began to nuzzle his way down to ground zero.
"Hey, Hawk." Trapper caught him in mid-nuzzle.
"What?" asked Hawkeye, dark eyes narrowing in confusion. "I promise; I won't get you pregnant. I'm a doctor; I know ways around it."
Seeing the conflict so evident on Trapper's face, he swallowed. "Trap, you're not—?"
"No, no, of course not." Trapper stroked reassuring palms through Hawkeye's hair and pulled his head tightly against his chest. "Of course not. Never. It's just that...It's just that I'm a married man."
Hawkeye rolled his eyes. "I know that. And if I ever forget, the two thousand or so pairs of lipstick prints in various shades of nurse that can still be imagined on the skin where my lips are itching to go can speak up and remind me. So what's the big deal all of the sudden?"
Trapper's focus grew distant. "The big deal is that before tonight, I could go home, look Louise in the eyes, tell her I'd been faithful, and mean it in any way that mattered to me. But if I do this... If I let you do this..." Trapper's voice trailed off.
"Hawk, I don't want to lie to my wife."
They held each other in silence for a long time.
"Do you know what I want?" asked Hawkeye finally.
"From the way things went, I thought I'd guessed pretty well. Was I wrong?"
"That was ten minutes ago; I mean now."
"Do tell." Trapper slipped one hand between Hawk's thighs. "I aim to please."
It was a credit to the strength of the moment that Hawkeye let the obvious joke go by. "What I want is to be heading back to my house in Crab Apple Cove on a Friday afternoon after a morning of gloriously dull appendectomies and gallbladders and think, 'Hey, maybe I should take a long weekend and fly out to see my good friend Trapper John and his family.' Then to hop a plane and have you, Louise and the girls meet me at the airport. After giving you a great big hug, I'd like to grab Louise and give her one too—and a big smackaroo on the lips, if you weren't watching—then I would thank her from the bottom of my toes.
"When she asked me what for, I would tell her it was for taking care of you, the person who got me through the worst time in my entire life with my sanity and my humanity intact. I would tell her that if it hadn't been for her taking such good care of you, I wouldn't be here at all. I'd be in some funny farm, or dead, or worse—much worse—and I'd give her a big smackaroo again, this time even if you were watching. Then she would look at me and thank me from the bottom of her heart for making it possible for her husband to come back to her and their kids with his sanity and his humanity, and his heart intact.
"If I were very lucky, she'd give me a big smackaroo too, but I'm negotiable on that part."
Trapper chuckled. "Good."
"Then we would all jump in the car to go to A&W with you and Louise in the front seats and me in the back with the girls so I could throw French fries at your head and blame it on them.
"That's what I wish for, but until then, I'll settle for second best, or whatever you feel you can give. One thing I've learned here in this cesspool is how to make do with the few things around that are good. And this is very, very good." Hawkeye pulled Trapper's body tight against his skin and worked to massage the tension out of those shoulders. It was so much less than he wanted to give. Still, every little stroke drew a portion of the horrors they lived through out of their bodies and brushed it straight away until it seemed bearable after all.
"Okay," said Trap. Eyes closed, he exhaled a great sigh and with it clearly blew away a great deal more than just the air in his lungs. Stronger now, he repeated, "okay," as if to any of it, or to all of it. With one hand he grabbed Hawkeye's fist and gripped it convulsively against his chest. With the other hand he let go of everything else giving tacit permission for any of it. Or all of it. Rocking gently into Hawkeye's touch, he gave himself permission to feel good again, surprised at how difficult granting the permission was. When he came, every twisted, inexpressible, pent-up emotion he had been storing since he arrived in Korea shot out of him, but silently, for there was really nothing else to say.
Once in the heat of it he did let slip those three little words that have ruined so many promising bed sessions: where's my drink? But Hawkeye just shifted his weight and let him find it, as that's what best friends do.
Through it all, he never let go of Hawk's hand. And if somewhere in the midst of it, three more little words were said, the other chose not to mention it later, for that, too, is what best friends do.
Reveille was just as early, just as loud, just as badly off key, but this time the beginning of another day was not nearly so unwelcome.
"Is that your knee in my thigh?"
"No; that's your thigh in my knee! Is that your elbow in my stomach?"
"No, I'm just very glad to see you."
"That's nice; the feeling is mutual." They kissed for a surprisingly long time.
Trapper moaned as Hawk nuzzled his chest with increasing intensity.
Hawkeye's voice rose rough and, for once, entirely serious. "Do you think we have time for—?"
To their chagrin, they were roused by a knock. "Aaaiee!" Radar screamed and turned tail, leaving the door to bang shut behind him.
"Was it something I said?" Hawkeye yawned without poking his head out from under the blanket.
Shaking with gales of laughter, they fell together in a jumble of limbs.