I'd like to thank everyone who has read this story all the way through, and to those who reviewed the story and encouraged me. I can't say when my next fanfic will be (it depends on what inspires me) but I've appreciated the opportunity to share this one with you.
The two doctors arrived at post-op, drenched from being stopped several times by well-wishers giving B.J. encouragement. Inside, a nurse was busy monitoring the injured soldiers. Two of the patients were absorbed in a card game, while a third seemed to be scribbling furiously in a notebook. The muted sound of rain outside accompanied their actions, providing a blanket of white noise throughout the area.
"Weren't you just here, Doctor Pierce?" the nurse asked, confused.
"That's what I thought too," Hawkeye responded, trying to hide his exasperation. "Turns out B.J. missed this place so much he wanted to visit for old times' sake." B.J. ignored the comment, searching the room for a particular face. After a few seconds, he spotted him: a young kid with short-cropped, raven black hair and a touch of humor in his brown eyes. His left arm was immobilized to the shoulder, his right arm holding a book.
B.J. pointed in the boy's direction. "Over there, Hawk. Private Nathan Rhodes." Hearing his name, the boy looked up and saw Pierce wheeling B.J. over to him. "Hi there, doc," he said cheerfully. "Looks like you're coming along just fine. I heard they got the sniper, too."
"Yep, he'll have a window seat in the nearest POW camp for the rest of the war," B.J. replied, and gestured to Pierce. "In fact, you're looking at the man who helped stitch me up. Private Rhodes, meet Hawkeye Pierce. "
"That so?" Rhodes glanced up at Hawkeye. "I saw you earlier but didn't know who you were. Doctor Hunnicut told me a lot about you, sir."
"Don't believe everything you hear," Pierce responded distantly. B.J. could tell his friend really didn't want to be there. As he felt a sharp twinge of pain in his side, he realized he really shouldn't be up and about, either. Still, this was more important. Studying Hawkeye cautiously, he said, "Private Rhodes and I were talking about his unit." Then, after a pause, "And Harrison."
Rhodes nodded, his face turning somber. "Harrison—Leo—was my friend. He...could always make us laugh, no matter what was going on around us." Gazing at Pierce thoughtfully, he added, "I hear you worked on him before, and when we came in."
Pierce stared at Rhodes, frozen. B.J. tensed as he gaged the man's expression. Had he made a mistake?
Before he could say anything, the boy continued. "He was right next to me when we came under attack. We both saw the grenade at the same time, but he pushed me as far away from the danger as he could. He—saved my life, sir. I want you to know that."
B.J. carefully watched Pierce, who was still staring—unblinking—right through the private. His heart sank.
"Leo told me how badly his leg had been shredded last time, and how he was scared he was gonna lose it, but said a surgeon at the 4077th made it good as new. The truth is, I wouldn't be here today if he hadn't been there to throw me clear of the blast. If you're the one that fixed his shrapnel wound before, I guess I should thank you too, doc. In a way, you saved my life right along with him." Rhodes glanced away, the tips of his ears turning pink with embarrassment.
Hawkeye blinked rapidly, as though waking from a stupor. The boy's words rang clear as a bell, echoing in the recesses of his mind. With the skill of a scalpel they penetrated the darkness that had been tenaciously clinging to him. You saved my life...
There was a small, almost imperceptible change in the doctor's eyes, but B.J. caught it and grinned. For once, he knew he was right on the mark.
"Well...um..." Hawkeye searched for the right words. "Look, uh, you—you just work on getting better. The, uh, hotel here is first rate, if you ignore the risk of food poisoning. And I'm sure Doctor Hunnicut here will come and visit you."
"Yeah, sure," B.J. agreed. "And when you're feeling better, you can sample some of the finest gin in Korea—as long as you don't mind second-degree esophageal burns." He suddenly cringed and gripped the arms of the wheelchair as a wave of pain forced a gasp from his lungs. Pierce glanced at him sharply, his eyes now bright and clear. "All right, time to head back," he announced, taking hold of the wheelchair. Rhodes nodded and said, "Thanks for stopping by, sir. And, Doctor Pierce—thank you. For Leo...and me."
Pierce watched him silently for a long moment, then responded quietly, "Get some rest, Rhodes." He moved the wheelchair back into the main aisle and started to head out of post-op. At the door he stopped, and in a voice only B.J. could hear he murmured, "Thanks, Beej."
"It's what I'm here for," he responded glibly, but they both could sense the unspoken meaning behind his words: you're welcome.
Heading through the doors into the compound, B.J. glanced up at the sky. A few rays of late afternoon sun had finally managed to slice their way through the gloom, dodging the clouds on their journey to the earth below. He closed his eyes, drinking in their warmth; he'd been cold for far too long. After a moment, he noticed something else.
Hawkeye noticed it too. "Hey...the rain stopped." He pushed the wheelchair through the mud, his eyes trained on the sky above.
"Yeah. Just in time, too—I don't think we could've handled all the animals coming two by two."
"I bet Radar would've been just fine with that." Hawkeye chuckled. Not just a hollow imitation of one, but an actual chuckle. The sound was music to B.J.'s ears.
As they headed back to the tent, Pierce asked, "When you get back to bed, did you want me to bring you something from the mess tent? I can't guarantee it'll be edible, but there's always a fifty percent chance. The other fifty being in the 'tolerable if you've ever eaten a tennis ball' category."
"Sounds fine, Hawk." Inwardly, B.J. breathed a sigh of relief. Hawkeye—the one he knew—was back.
And, for now, that's all that mattered.