This isn't my first fanfic, but it is my first MASH fanfic and the first one I've ever shared online. Reviews are welcome; the rest of the story is finished, but I'd like to see how the first chapter is received before continuing.
Note: the title has nothing to do with the Les Miserables song of the same name.
Rain pelted the soft earth of Korea, washing away layers of blood, filth and grime. The sound of rats and people alike, scurrying between the drops, filled the camp as night cooled the air.
A small pool of water gathered on the roof of a tent, streaming down the side and and plopping onto the ground in a gentle, steady rhythm. It seemed almost peaceful. Almost.
Inside the tent a solitary figure sat on his cot, absently swirling a colorless, pungent liquid around in a dirty glass. His arm didn't feel the motion, nor could he smell the metallic odor of blood drying on his boots. Long ago his mind had learned to block out these disturbing, unwelcome constants in his life.
In one swift motion he drained the contents of the glass, and the burning elixir snaked its way into his stomach. He didn't feel that anymore, either.
His mind was far from the tent, drifting back into the O.R. Back to a white sheet being drawn over the body he had been trying to save—or rather, save again. Memories mingled with the gin as he remembered patching up the baby-faced private once before, picking shrapnel out of his leg like splinters and warning him to pick a friendlier playground next time.
The slam of a tent door indicated the arrival of one of his bunkmates, but he was too numb to look up and see who it was. A barrage of words assaulted his ears—the only ones that penetrated his consciousness being "ubiquitous" and "miscreant"—leaving him to believe it was Charles. Somewhere in the corners of his mind a snappy comeback lingered, but it died before it could make the journey to his lips. Without realizing it, he automatically reached for the still, poured another glass and swallowed the shot. He shut his eyes tightly against the flood of memories washing over him, matching the rhythm of the rainfall outside.
The same private he had just sent back to the front a month before returned in more pieces than a jigsaw puzzle and needed a hell of a lot more help than simple shrapnel removal—help that came too late. The jovial youth who had kept post-op a lively place with his colorful stories and infectious laugh slipped away in front of him, leaving the scalpel that had saved so many lives uselessly dangling from his equally useless hand. He swallowed the bile rising in his throat; "useless" was a word that could describe everything in the war.
Another shot disappeared from the still. A laugh drifted through the camp, ringing hollow in his ears.
The door slammed again, revealing his other tentmate. He could hear the man talking, but nothing registered above the dull roar in his head. He felt the presence of his friend draw nearer and settle into the opposite bunk, but couldn't seem to look up from the floor. He heard movement at the still, then a glass being picked up and the soft creaking of a cot. Everything sounded like it was coming from another tent.
Finally, a single word cut through the fog. "Hawk?"
Hawkeye Pierce slowly, almost painfully raised his head to meet his friend's gaze. "Hmm?" he responded hazily.
"Ah, so he does live," Charles' disdainful voice chimed in from the opposite end of the tent. "I thought he'd merely died with his eyes open." B.J. Hunnicut shot the major a dirty look before turning his attention back to Pierce, who appeared to be watching him without actually seeing him. It was unsettling, if not downright creepy. "You okay?" he asked cautiously.
"Yeah, sure," came the subdued reply. It was too fast, too automatic, and B.J. didn't believe a word of it.
"So you're just doing your best impression of a mannequin to impress us?" he chided gently, making a concentrated effort to keep the worry out of his voice. Pierce shrugged almost subliminally and averted his gaze.
B.J.'s mind rapidly ran through the possibilities that could cause this sudden, drastic change. Trying not to think of the more obvious (and frightening) choices, he went for the least concerning option first. "Is it the rain? That can depress anyone."
"Of course it's the rain, my sun-loving Californian," Winchester interrupted with the haughty air of a parent correcting a child. "It's making everyone even loonier in this dust-laden rubber ward. I am forced to protect my dear records from this vinyl-ravishing moisture and content myself with the witty yet redundant writings of Chaucer, whom—thanks to this sparkling gem in the crown of Asia—I have come to know on a more familiar level than even my own beloved sister," he ended with irritation.
He gave Pierce a cursory glance before continuing. "Your drinking companion has evidently taken his cue from the rain and drowned himself in that swill you ironically label 'the nectar of life'. Perhaps he drank so much he's actually embalmed himself."
"Charles, if you don't shut up I'm going to suture a cockroach to your lips when you're asleep," B.J. retorted, a hint of warning behind his placid expression. A derisive snort was Winchester's only response—a sound that stopped abruptly when Pierce turned to look at him. Or rather, through him. The empty, dark look in the man's eyes held his gaze for a long minute, before the captain turned his attention back to the floor.
The strange moment left Winchester chilled to the bone. He wrapped his blanket tighter around himself and glanced at B.J., who could tell that for the first time since the conversation started, he was worried too.
B.J. was still wracking his brain trying to figure out what was wrong when he caught sight of the blood covering Pierce's boots and pant legs, absently noting he hadn't changed since leaving surgery. Suddenly, a thought struck him: "It's that kid, isn't it? The one you worked on today—Harrison?" At the mention of Harrison's name Hawkeye's gaze automatically shifted towards the direction of the O.R., and B.J. knew he hit the nail on the head. "Look, Hawk, there was nothing you could do. Harrison was on borrowed time when he got here. We all get cases like that. You do the best you can, and that's all anyone can ask of you."
Pierce could tell his friend was talking, but other than the name "Harrison", he couldn't make out the words over the rush of gin-soaked blood in his ears. That, and the constant pounding of the rain outside his tent. In reality he figured the sound wasn't that loud, but to his ears every drop that hit the ground could have started an earthquake. He assumed B.J. was trying to console him, and somewhere in the darkest part of his soul he was grateful.
But it didn't change the fact that he saw Harrison's bleeding, shattered body every time he closed his eyes, even for a second. And for what? He had saved the private's leg, only to send him back to the front lines and have him die in a bloody mess. What good were any of them if even their successes went horribly wrong? What was the use?
"Thanks, Beej," he heard himself say, his voice flat and lifeless. The alcohol began to tug at his eyelids, so he lay down on his cot—blood-encrusted boots and all—and faced away from his friend. Right now, just for this moment, there was nothing he wanted to do more than sleep. He shut his eyes and tried to block out the relentless pounding of the rain outside. "G'night," he mumbled into his pillow.
B.J. stared at the figure laying before him, stunned. He glanced at Charles, who shrugged helplessly. They had both seen him depressed before, but nowhere near this degree. A rant normally accompanied these periods, and no matter how illogical or off-base it sounded at the time, B.J. knew he would come out of it. This time there was no rant—hell, there wasn't even a whisper. Just a silent, almost ghostly figure in the corner of the tent. In some ways, a quiet Hawkeye was more disturbing than a ranting Hawkeye.
Standing slowly from his bunk, B.J. walked over and covered Pierce with a blanket. After a moment's thought, he reached down and removed the doctor's bloodied shoes as well. Climbing into his own cot, he gave Pierce one last quizzical look before lying down and turning away to face the tent wall. "'Night, Hawk," he said quietly, knowing his friend was already asleep. Gone was the lighthearted attitude he had entered the tent with, replaced instead by a sense of uneasiness and trepidation. He closed his eyes and prayed that Pierce would somehow be his old self in the morning.
B.J. listened to the rain falling steadily outside and pulled his blanket tighter. Suddenly, he felt very cold.