First Light

"It's cold out here," she says, pulling her sweater tight and wrapping her arms around herself.

They've been enjoying an Indian Summer in Maine for the last week, but that means nothing at this time of day. It's not quite dawn, the air's a little misty, and the breeze is brisk off the ocean. Yeah, it's on the chilly side, you sure can't argue that. Hawkeye rather likes it, though… it's what drew him out here in the first place. But now that he thinks about it, he really can't say why he dragged Lisa along with him.

He doesn't sleep much these days, and when he woke up suddenly a half hour ago, he felt an immediate urge to head outside. To feel the cool wind on his face. To sit on the rocks and look out at the ocean, despite the ungodly hour.

"I thought you wanted to talk," Lisa says now, since he hasn't responded to her. "I mean, that's why I came out here… I thought you wanted to talk."

Hawkeye finds this kind of thing happening to him all the time. He wants to be alone, he doesn't want to be alone. He wants to talk, he can't find the words to express himself. He's wrapped up in contradictions. His mind feels perpetually muddled.

"Hawkeye?" Lisa asks, moving closer to him. She waits until he looks into her face, and her eyes are clouded with concern. "What is it? What do you want?"

Now there's a loaded question. Maybe normalcy. Sanity. Slower thoughts. Fewer memories.

His old life back.

He's so wishy-washy now. A week ago, he thought he wanted Lisa, a woman he's known since high school but never thought about dating before. Suddenly he found himself pursuing her unabashedly, giving her a single rose one day, a dozen roses the next, until she finally relented and said yes, she'd go out with him.

Now, if she were to turn and walk away, not just off this beach but out of his life entirely, he's pretty sure he wouldn't care.

His silence is making her nervous, he can tell, so he forces a smile and says, "I'm sorry, Lisa. It is cold out here. Go on inside. I'm fine out here on my own. I just want to…" He trails off. There's that word again: want. For a second, his mind can't latch onto a coherent thought, but then he somehow manages to rally. "I just want to sit out here and think for a while."

She shrugs and, still holding herself in an attempt to keep warm, stands and begins to walk away. But after a few steps, she stops, and he turns to look at her expectantly. "You're different now," she says after a moment of studying his face. It's as if the thought is dawning on her for the first time. "Since the war, I mean."

For a split second, he thinks she's going to sit back down next to him and hold him and murmur sympathetic words into his ear. But instead she turns away and walks in the direction of the beach house they're renting for the weekend, her heels kicking up sand as she goes.

Hawkeye turns his attention back to the ocean and smiles wistfully. Different. Yeah. You could say that.

He watches the wild waves crashing against the rocks below and he tries to imagine the person that Lisa, his friends, his patients—hell, even his dad—see when they look at him. His trademark vivaciousness is harder to come by nowadays. Hawkeye the verbose has become Hawkeye the morose.

Well, he hopes it's not quite that bad. He thinks he puts up a pretty good front most of the time.

But his thoughts always seem scattered, his direction unclear. He tends to hear voices, fragments of conversations from long ago, unbidden and unwanted. B.J., as angry as Hawkeye'd ever seen him: "Dammit, why don't you just stab him? Cutting into a healthy body is mutilation!" Steve Newsome, crouching in a corner: "The blood won't come off." Col. Potter's voice breaking as he says in exasperation, "If they can invent better ways to kill each other, why can't they invent a way to end this stupid war?" Tommy Gillis, explaining the title of his never-to-be-written book, "I never heard no bullet."

Voices, people, situations. His jumbled brain can't keep up with it all.

At any given time, day or night, even when he's with a patient, stray thoughts threaten to derail his concentration. For no reason, he suddenly remembers the 15-year-old kid who'd used his brother Wendell's birth certificate to join the Marines… that is, until Hawkeye busted him. Did he get home safely? Is he all right? What's he doing now?

Or he sees a big brother caring for a younger one and he recalls Jerry Neilson, the take-charge, committed medic who'd suffered amnesia after failing to protect his own brother. And it stops Hawkeye cold, renders him nearly useless, as his heart aches for a man he'll probably never see again. He wishes he could pick up the phone and find out how he's coping. He knows he can't.

There's no closure. There sure as hell aren't happy endings.

He knew it would be tough at first, coming home and trying to shake off the past three years, but it's been months now since he left Korea, and it's not getting any easier. He feels behind the curve; his 4077th colleagues are back into their routines, thriving. Klinger's bride is already pregnant. Radar has gotten engaged; the wedding's next summer. B.J.'s a surgeon at the most prestigious hospital in San Francisco. Col. Potter has settled happily into retirement and plans to take his wife on long trips to Europe, the Caribbean, Alaska.

And here Hawkeye sits, on the rocks at the Maine shoreline in late October, awaiting sunrise, feeling lost and alienated and confused. A different man than the one who'd left Crabapple Cove in July 1950 to patch together kids fighting a war half a world away.

He wants to find that old Hawkeye. He wants to believe that person still exists.

A dog barks somewhere nearby, and Hawkeye whirls around to see another early-early riser, jogging along the beach with his Golden Retriever. The young man sees him, waves. Hawkeye waves back, watching the dog running with wild abandon ahead of his master, then back to him as if to say, Speed it up, human, you're way too slow.

The sun is starting to rise now, and Hawkeye turns to his ocean view, leaning back on his elbows to watch the start of a new day. He's not even aware of the jogger and his dog's approach until the Golden practically bounds into his lap, startling him.

"Jasper!" the panting jogger scolds the dog. "Back off already! I'm sorry," he says to Hawkeye, "he's got way too much energy. And he thinks everybody loves him."

Hawkeye pets the dog and smiles up at the man. "It's OK. Goldens are lovable dogs, he can be forgiven his assumption."

The man extends his hand and says, "You're Dr. Pierce, aren't you?"

Even more startled, Hawkeye shakes the offered hand absently. "How the hell'd you know that?"

The man gestures down the beach, in the direction he came from. "My wife spotted you the other day… she said you're the doctor—or one of the doctors—in Crabapple Cove. She knows you. Rita Reininger?"

Hawkeye thinks for a moment, then nods slowly as he recalls a pretty brunette who used to waitress at the Cove's most popular diner. "Yeah. I know Rita. How's she doing?"

The man smiles broadly. "She's great. We got married six months ago—she's Rita Hartman now. We're still in the honeymoon phase."

Hawkeye grins back. "Congratulations."

"Thanks. Listen," the young man says as he reaches to pull Jasper off Hawkeye, "I don't want to intrude. I can see you want to be alone. But Rita told me that you… you know… that you'd served in Korea. I just want to say thank you. My cousin David fought in the war, got wounded pretty bad, but he got fixed up at a M*A*S*H, and he's doing great now. He talks about it a lot, about how he was sure he was gonna die, but the doctors… they fixed him up almost better than new. He couldn't believe it. Whether that was your M*A*S*H or not, doesn't matter. I just wanted to thank you anyway, for all the guys like David… you know?"

Hawkeye swallows, feels tears sting his eyes. "Thanks… uh…"

"Sam," the man supplies.

"Thank you, Sam. I'm glad your cousin's doing well." Suddenly out of words, Hawkeye extends his hand and they shake again. Then Sam beckons Jasper to come along as he turns to continue his run.

"Take care, Doctor," he says over his shoulder. "Nice meeting you."

"Thanks, Sam," Hawkeye repeats, but his voice is little more than a whisper and Sam's already gone, jogging back up the beach, his dog bouncing alongside.

Hawkeye lets his eyes fall shut for a moment. OK, he thinks… OK. Chalk up one happy ending.

When he opens his eyes, he focuses on the sun rising gently over the ocean, turning the sky orange-yellow and bringing a whole new cast to the day. The earlier mist is gone.

For the first time in a long time, Hawkeye manages to turn off the racing thoughts, the fears, the uncertainty, the voices. He just watches the sun and marvels at how beautiful it looks.

A half hour later, he stands, wipes the dirt off his backside, and starts to head back to the beach house. He'll make breakfast, sit on the porch to drink his coffee, call his dad, see what Lisa wants to do today.

He's humming Gershwin—"Someone to Watch Over Me"—as he walks, hands in his pockets, up the beach. The sun's warm on his face. He realizes he's looking forward to the day ahead.

It occurs to him that finding your way back from somewhere starts with the belief that you can.