A Friend in Need
Hawkeye was lying face up on his cot, staring at the ceiling, when B.J. walked in. The creak of the door as it closed, then dead silence. As he headed to his own cot, B.J. tried to form a sentence in his head that would somehow be adequate, but it was useless.
As it turned out, Hawkeye beat him to the punch. "I don't want to talk about it," he said, "and I'd like to be left alone."
B.J. sat, looking at his tentmate, who refused to look back. "If that means you want me to leave, then too bad. This is where I live." There was no harshness to his voice; just a gentle nudge to let Hawkeye know that he refused to be sent away.
Hawkeye sort of shrugged, still staring straight up. "Suit yourself. But I'm not in a talking mood."
B.J. stretched out on his cot, figuring the ceiling must be particularly fascinating tonight, the way Hawkeye was studying it, so he did the same. "Just gonna lie here and brood, huh?" he asked.
"Why the hell not."
"Feel sorry for yourself."
"No. Not for myself. For Zimmerman, for his family, for his girl back home, for everyone who loved him."
"You did everything you could, Hawk."
Bitter laughter. "You're a hell of a cliché machine, B.J. Hunnicutt. Do you write for Hallmark on the side?"
"Often a cliché is a cliché because it's true. You're human, and as a human doctor, you did everything you could've done to save him."
"Nah," said Hawkeye in an oddly small voice.
"What do you mean, nah? Of course you did."
"Didn't get to him fast enough."
"Hawk, we had other priority-one cases, he wasn't the only one. Triage is about choosing who goes first. Nobody screwed up. You got to him when you could."
"When they're all in bad shape, when they all need attention first, it's like musical chairs," Hawkeye said, sounding a little distant, as if talking to himself. "The music stops and the person who's stuck standing… well, he's shit out of luck, isn't he?"
"Doesn't make us the bad guys. We do what we can."
"And sometimes a soldier dies."
B.J. turned to face him then, but still got no eye contact from his friend. "Sometimes a soldier dies, yes. That is the way of war."
Hawkeye placed an arm over his face, covering his eyes. "Make it stop."
With sadness in his voice: "I wish I could. I can't. But I will remind you of one very important thing: in this whole crazy scenario, you're the healer, you're not the killer."
"Except for when I don't heal."
"Even then, Hawk, you're still the healer. Sometimes the killer wins, that's all."
"I don't wanna talk about it," Hawkeye repeated his earlier declaration, and B.J. managed to refrain from telling him that he already was.
B.J. went back to staring at the ceiling, letting the silence stretch out for a few minutes. Then he asked, casually, "When did you know? That you wanted to be a doctor."
A soft chuckle from Hawkeye's cot. B.J. could tell he was drifting back in time, to his childhood, to his innocence. "I think it was a gradual realization, each time I watched my dad with a patient. But I remember when I told him that I was gonna be a doctor. I was 10 and Mom had died only a couple months earlier. I told him I was gonna be a doctor and find a cure for cancer. He was still grieving at the time, there were still times he'd get caught off guard by a memory of Mom or he'd see something of hers, and he'd cry. And when I said that, he started to cry, right there at the dinner table. I told him I would make him proud, and he said he was always proud of me, and that I could be a garbage collector and he'd still be proud of me. But no, I wasn't gonna be a garbage collector or an accountant or a lawyer. I was gonna be a doctor like my old man."
"You adore him," B.J. said, stating the obvious.
"He's the best person I know, Beej. I idolize him."
"If he were here now, would he let you feel this way? Would he let you think you failed because a patient died?"
There was only a world-weary sigh in response.
"No," B.J. continued. "He would tell you what I'm telling you now. It wasn't your fault. It was out of your hands."
"I don't wanna…"
"I know. You don't wanna talk about it."
And so for a couple minutes, B.J. allowed the silence to blanket them again. He was still considering what to say next, if he should in fact say anything at all, when Hawkeye surprised him by speaking first. "Do you think, in the afterlife, people are just wandering around mingling, as if they were at a party? Do you think Zimmerman meets Henry Blake? Do you think he meets my mom?"
B.J. gave it some thought. He believed in an afterlife, but he wasn't sure it was a catered affair, with hors d'oeuvres and drinks and soft music playing in the background. He wasn't sure, actually, how he pictured it, now that he thought about it.
"Maybe," he replied in a soft voice. "I think you will see your mom and Henry Blake when you get there. That much I believe."
Hawkeye finally, for the first time since B.J. came into the Swamp, looked at him. He turned onto his side to face B.J.'s cot. "You think I'm going to the same place my mom's at?"
B.J. rolled onto his side, mirroring Hawkeye. "Are you saying you don't deserve an afterlife where you get to be with your mom?"
Hawkeye shrugged. "People—a lot of people—seem to believe in heaven and hell. I don't know what I believe, but I'll tell you one thing: I haven't been a choirboy, Beej. I always figured, if those places existed, that heaven wasn't going to want me."
B.J. chose his words carefully before he spoke. "The heaven I believe in is definitely going to want you. You're a good man with a good heart." He paused, letting that sink in. "I'm not sure if I believe in hell, the idea that people suffer and burn for all eternity. But if it does exist, it's not a place for the likes of you. It's reserved for murderers, rapists… horrible, unrepentant people. You're one of the good guys, Hawkeye… don't ever doubt that."
Perhaps reassured, Hawkeye rolled onto his back again, closing his eyes. "If you like me," he said, "then I guess I can't be all bad."
"You know I love you. And what's more, everyone in this camp loves you."
A brief chuckle. "Everyone? Even Charles?"
B.J. smiled broadly, though Hawkeye still had his eyes closed and couldn't see. "Yes, even Charles, although I suspect he would never admit it."
More laughter from Hawkeye, growing in volume, and that made B.J. immeasurably happy. A few minutes ago, he would've almost guaranteed that Hawkeye would not be in a laughing mood any time soon.
"You know what we should do?" Hawkeye said as the laughter faded.
"What's that, Hawk?" A lighter tone to his voice now, because Hawkeye seemed to be coming out of his funk.
"We should take that fancy, expensive cognac he's got stashed in his footlocker, drink it, and then fill the bottle with gin from the still." He guffawed now at the thought. "Do you think he'd love me even then?"
B.J. laughed too, filing that idea away for future reference. "Probably shouldn't push our luck, so soon after the record player fiasco."
"True," Hawkeye agreed.
"Gotta say, though… he's more of a challenge than Burns ever was."
"Oh Lord, who wouldn't be?"
"I rather like the fact that you never know what Winchester has up his sleeve. Keeps us on our toes."
But Hawkeye was apparently still reflecting on Frank, because he said, his voice turning somber, "Burns never cared… you know? If he lost a patient, he barely batted an eye. How does that kind of man become a doctor? How can you not care?"
B.J. sighed. "Frank was not a good doctor, and he wasn't a very good man, either, from what I could tell. I hope… oh, I don't know, do people change once they're that old? I was going to say that I hope he changes someday… that he becomes more mature and compassionate and concerned about others, but maybe I'm fooling myself. Maybe Frank Burns will always be exactly the way we knew him."
"Yeah," Hawkeye murmured, "I think you may be right."
They both went quiet again for a while, and B.J. wondered if Hawkeye was drifting off to sleep. That would be all right, if he was. At least he was in slightly better spirits now than when B.J. had first come in, and that was probably the most he could've asked for. You don't pull Hawkeye out of the depths of despair all at once… you do it gradually and carefully, so that he doesn't realize he's being pulled. That was the best way to deal with his downward spirals, B.J. had learned.
Slow and steady.
B.J. himself was starting to nod off when Hawkeye's voice startled him. "Zimmerman was only 20, Beej," he said. "Did I tell you that?"
Opening his eyes again to look over at Hawkeye's form, B.J. replied, "No. You didn't."
"His buddy… DiMarco? Told me that he'd just gotten engaged to his girl back home, before he came to Korea."
"Shit," was all B.J. could think to say to that.
B.J. struggled to find something, anything that might help, in some small way. "We saved 31 soldiers today, Hawk."
"That's something, huh?"
"Yeah. I guess." A heavy sigh, then: "I don't want to talk about it."
B.J. nodded. "OK, Hawk. I understand."
He turned onto his back and contemplated the ceiling again. After a long moment, Hawkeye's voice, soft and a little tentative, broke the silence. "I remember the first time I ever cut into a patient. I was so scared…"
B.J. smiled, shut his eyes, and just listened.