I'm not going to lie to you. I did mention my tendency to get distracted, right? Well, my sudden obsession with MASH seems to have waned back to a less…overwhelming level, which means that ideas for writings unrelated to MASH have started popping into my head. And they're good ideas. Ideas I want to pursue.
I had planned for there to be three other chapters between this one and the previous one, but…I'm having enough trouble just writing this chapter. So, with all apologies, I'm going to end the fic slightly sooner than planned (though, if I'm being honest, it has gone on longer than I'd ever have imagined it could have when I started writing it). Don't worry, you're not losing anything by my sudden lack of interest in continuing this fanfic (and I may someday go back and write those chapters—I could probably easily rekindle the obsession if I put my mind to it)—the chapters that would have come before this one were really just fluffy fillers, to lead up to this chapter…so I'll fill you in to what would have happened had I not turned so flaky:
BJ returned to Mill Valley, worked things out with Peg in a fairly amicable fashion, and jumped on a plane for Maine. He and Hawkeye were happily reunited, and set up shop in the home of Hawkeye's childhood, while (an approving) Daniel Pierce moved into town to set up shop with the charismatic and (to you, unknowing reader) mysterious Sarah McAllister; Daniel and Sarah later got married. Hawkeye joins his father in working at the local clinic, where another position conveniently opens up for BJ; the three of them co-own and co-run the clinic, and are rather successful. The locals approve of BJ in general, and (though rumors about the two "army buddies" run through the town) Hawkeye and BJ quickly become two of the most respectable people in the area, and they are rarely insulted in front of their backs (behind, maybe, but if ever in front, the wrong-doer is quickly taken care of by an imposing BJ). The boys make no overt attempts to hide what they are—if people want to assume they're lovers, then more power to them—but they don't go out of their way to offend the morals of society—they're discrete. BJ and Peg both make efforts to keep Erin a part of BJ's life; frequent trips to the home of the other are made by both parties, and all four are relatively satisfied with the situation. This chapter takes place about twenty years after the last chapter.
Just for clarification: This is the final chapter. Yes, "In Love and War" is finally coming to an end, and I release this little lovechild of mine and send it out into the world to fend for itself.
All that said, I'd like to give a bighuge thanks to everyone who kept reading, and especially those of you who kept reviewing—this never would have happened without you. It also never would have happened if I weren't insane enough to take on something as huge as this turned out to be, but let's not focus on that, kay?
- In Love And War -
Chapter Thirty-Five: Not Forgotten
It was a cold day—strange, how the weather shifted so rapidly. 80 degrees yesterday, 40 today. Like always, I wasn't dressed for the weather—a light summer jacket, with very small pockets I could hardly fit my hands into. I did have the hat, but it did little in the way of covering my ears or any part of me that was cold—I'd decided long ago that it was a pointless (and ugly) thing, and one that I wore at every opportunity.
"I used to love this kind of weather," I mumbled. "The time right between fall and winter. Now it just makes my knees ache. Makes me think of frostbite, too, and then I start thinking about all the fingers and toes I had to cut off, which leads to me thinking about everything else, which leads to you. Funny, isn't it? Everything always leads back to you. I mean, I can start out thinking about tweezers, and I'll end up thinking about you. I suppose that really isn't funny… Where was I? Oh yeah. The shitty weather. I don't know how you can stand it. You never even saw snow until you came up here. But then again, you always use the cold as an excuse to cuddle…"
"You're talking too much, Ben."
"Am I? Is this supposed to be silent? No one told me… You'd think someone would've told me if I was supposed to be silent, wouldn't you? Then again, you'd think someone would've told me anything—I have no idea what the hell I'm doing. How the hell am I supposed to know what I'm doing? I mean…I've never had to do this before. It's not like this is something you're born knowing how to do… So am I allowed to talk?"
"Good, that's what I thought. Someone would've said something if I wasn't, right?" I shivered in a sudden gust of wind, and tried to pull as much of my neck as possible into the shelter of my collar, ducking my head to keep the wind out of my face. "This is a really stupid fucking hat, you know," I said, grabbing at said hat as it attempted to fly off my head.
"Then don't wear it."
"Yeah, that's gonna happen. You kidding me? Not wear this stupid, ugly piece of cow crap?"
"Then stop complaining. It's your choice to keep wearing it."
"Pah, like I have much of a choice it in. It wouldn't feel right if I didn't. It's like a compulsion, you know? I have to wear it, ugly as it may be. That sounds stupid."
"No it doesn't."
I kicked at a rock, which bounced down the manicured path before rolling off into the well-maintained grass. It was a pretty place, there was no denying that, but on a cold, overcast day like this, it was…gloomy, to say the least. That was probably how graveyards were supposed to feel.
"It doesn't feel right."
"This. Me. Being…here. I don't want to be here. I don't like it here."
"You don't have to be here."
"Of course I do. It's even more of an obligation than this hat. I mean…I can't not be here. This is…big. One of those things you're supposed to remember forever, you know? Not like I'll ever forget, but it's one of those things you can't miss. Not being here would be like forgetting an anniversary, but…a hundred times worse."
"You never remembered our anniversaries."
"That's not fair!" I argued, slightly hurt. "I remembered the last few."
"Yeah. You did."
I'd circled the graveyard twice now, and if I kept going, I'd probably start treading on maudlin territory; while I didn't want to be happy, I didn't want to depress myself either. I headed back to the point I'd started at, but slowed as I saw the tall figure standing there, far enough off that she probably couldn't see me yet, but close enough that I could clearly see the bundle of white roses she laid down next to my own bundle of forget-me-nots. I approached slowly, and she turned to meet me with a teary smile. "Hey, Uncle Hawky."
I put my arm around her shoulders, and she leaned against me; we stood there together, looking down at the headstone:
A good man, loved and missed by all
February 6, 1923-October 7, 1976
"How you doing, kiddo?" I asked after a little while.
"I'm fine," she said dismissively. "How are you?"
"A little lonely," I said truthfully—I could lie to Erin Hunnicutt just as well as I'd been able to lie to her father, which was to say not at all.
"I don't know how you do it," she said almost to herself. "If I lost Michael…"
"I try to find ways to forget," I murmured. "Sometimes, I…I pretend he's here with me, standing next to me. Sometimes I have whole conversations with him. It helps me feel…less alone. Like he's still here."
She nodded, and politely refrained from calling me a crazy old fool. "I don't think I could pretend he's not gone. It…wouldn't feel right."
"Well, that's just what works for me. You'll have to find your own way of coping."
A little ashamedly, she admitted, "I've been…having a lot of sex lately."
That startled a laugh from me. "With Michael, I hope!"
"Of course with Michael!"
"Well, we each have our own way of coping, and if screwing that lovely boy of yours until his brain explodes is what helps you…"
She slapped at my arm, and then leaned back against me, resting her head on my shoulder and twining her fingers through mine, seeking the comfort of human contact in much the same way her father always had.
A month. A month since I'd last held his hand. Last felt the brush of his fingers on my cheek, the press of his lips against mine; his breath against my hair, his tears soaking into my shirt; a month since I'd last met those piercing blue eyes, so full of life up until the very end.
Cirrhosis, caused by alcoholic liver disease—ironic, since I'd always drank more than him, and never would have considered BJ an alcoholic. We'd always said our drinking would catch up with us and bite us in the ass someday, and boy, had it ever. I hadn't had alcohol of any variety for months, and I doubted if I ever would again.
"I thought you were supposed to be back at school."
"Yeah, well, I decided to take a few days off. I never really got to…pay my final respects, with all the people around…"
I nodded in complete understanding and total agreement. I'd wanted the funeral to be a small, intimate service, family and closest friends only; but the townsfolk had kept showing up, in droves and flocks—which was, I suppose, a testament to BJ's being "a good man," but I was in no mood to appreciate the mass intrusion. It meant I had to keep my composure, stand tall and proud when all I wanted to do was collapse sobbing over the casket; I had to put on the front of being nothing more than a friend—best friend, but only a friend; couldn't use tender terms of endearment, or ask him to wait for me Up There—had to settle for calling him "my closest friend" and "the person who knew me best in this world"; and I had to play Hawkeye the mood-lightener and entreat him to "put in a good word for me with the Big Guy." I had to be Hawkeye, when the person I wanted to be was Ben.
"Are you gonna be fine, Hawkeye? I can stay a few days, if you want company…"
"Are you kidding? After all the cash we dished out—and not to mention all the people we had to sleep with—to get you into Harvard? Nah-uh, you're going back to school first thing tomorrow morning, because I fully intend to uphold your father's promise of disowning you if you don't become a doctor."
"Thanks, Hawkeye," she said, rolling her eyes.
"But since you're here now…how about a nice lobster dinner at Jesse's? Word is, they've got enough crab meat to feed a whale…"
Laughing softly, she squeezed my hand and said, "I don't know about the crab, but you know I'll never turn down lobster." She glanced at me, glanced at the grave, and cleared her throat. "Why don't we meet at the house in…half an hour? I'll drop all my stuff off—"
"You're not staying."
"Sure, Uncle Hawky. Whatever you say." She kissed me on the cheek and headed for the parking lot, leaving me alone with the headstone, the grave, and the imagined BJ hovering behind and to my left.
"She's a good kid, Beej," I said softly. "She knows how to take care of herself, and still take care of everyone else, too. You should be real proud of her." I rubbed at my face, pulled his ugly fishing hat down a little lower over my eyes. "My therapist would probably say this is unhealthy. I'm still holding on to you—clinging. He'd probably say something like, 'It's time to let go.' What's he know? I'll let go when I'm good and ready, and not a second sooner. That's probably not healthy either—I should be moving on, moving forward with my life, but…I don't think I can. I don't think I want to, because moving forward means leaving you behind. I mean…everyone tells me to 'remember the good things,' and then they say to put the past behind me—'the past is past, and the future's about to pass you by.' I can't remember you and forget you, can I? I mean, I know I'm a master of contradictions, but I don't think even I can get my brain around that." I rubbed the bridge of my nose, flicked away a few tears with my thumb. "I won't forget you, Beej, I promise you that. I won't forget you, even if it means living in the past forever. I don't think I ever could forget you, even if I wanted to. You'll always be a part of me."
"She'll always be a part of you, Son," Dad had said as we'd stood a few feet to the left, roughly forty years ago, on a similar occasion—a month after Mom had died. A month after her death, and a few weeks before my eleventh birthday. I was feeling betrayed and abandoned, angry at her for leaving me and angry at myself for being angry with her, and so twisted up inside that I was trying to breathe through my toes—looking for any kind of comfort, which Dad had done his best to provide. "As long as you remember her, and as long as you keep loving her, a piece of her will always be with you, here—" A gentle rap against my ribs, above my heart. "She didn't leave you, Hawkeye. She just…went a little farther away. She's not gone—as long as you remember her, she won't be gone."
If you took out the 's' in all the 'she's and replaced the 'her's with 'him's, Dad's words were easily recyclable and applicable to the present situation. "…a piece of him will always be with you… He didn't leave you…he just went a little farther away. …as long as you remember him he won't be gone." As comforting now as it had been then. Made my clinginess feel a little more sane.
I sighed, smiled tiredly to the left at the three graves: Maria, Daniel, and Sarah Pierce. Mom, Dad, and Step-mom. But those were old hurts, reconciled to that painful corner of my mind where I didn't have to look at them constantly; BJ was still a fresh hurt, an open wound, a scab I kept picking at. Eventually, maybe, I could put him to rest back in that corner—a part of him, not all of him; there were some hurts you could never forget, hurts you didn't ever want to forget, because the hurt reminded you of the good times, and if you forgot the pain, you'd forget the pleasure, too. And knowing that…I'd take all the pain, the hurt, and the grief in the world, if it meant keeping my memories of the good times, the best times—the smiles, the laughter, the sex, the connection, and yes, the alcohol, too, because you couldn't have the good without the bad, and even the bad wasn't really all that bad anyway, because it'd been with him. I had my memories, and if they were all I had left of him, well…then I'd hold on to them forever, the good and the bad, and cherish both.
I reached out, rested my hand on the headstone, pressed my thumb against the carved BJ, and closed my eyes against the new rainstorm brewing behind my eyelids. "Miss you, Beej," I said thickly, rubbing my thumb over the two simple letters, overwhelmed by sudden longing—to see his face, to hear his voice, to feel his hands, to bring him back, to anything. Familiar emotions, familiar ground I was treading on, and familiar determination to overcome it, or at least outlast it. "I'll always miss you." I pulled my hand back slowly, took a deep breath, and turned away. Down the path, moving towards the parking lot, glancing back once—only once—to whisper, "I promise."
Sorry about not mentioning the character death, but I wanted it to be a surprise. And I, personally, think it's a pretty suitable ending. But if you're dissatisfied with it, contact me and we can argue it out. I love arguing.
Thanks again to all of you who stuck with me.