Hawkeye was standing on the front porch, a little bewildered and disoriented, but unquestionably thrilled to be home, when the phone started ringing.
He darted in the door and then into the kitchen, picking it up on its fourth ring. As he did, he was dimly aware that it was his first time using this phone in three years. It was funny… everything in the house felt old and new at the same time. "Hello, Pierce residence."
He nearly laughed. He'd come awfully close to saying, "Hello, 4077th."
"So you got home OK?" came the question from clear across the country.
"Yes, Mom." Hawkeye rolled his eyes, though his smile couldn't have been any wider. The thought of not hearing B.J. Hunnicutt's voice all day every day was kind of disconcerting to him, now that he thought about it, but thank God for the telephone. Thank God for Alexander Graham Bell.
"OK, good." An audible exhale on the other end of the line. "I don't know why I was worried."
"Because you're a worrywart, that's why," Hawkeye said, still grinning. "But that's one of the reasons I love you. So when did you get in?"
"I landed at San Francisco International about eight hours ago," B.J. told him. "The flight was grueling and endless, but I know you had it much worse. I kept trying to figure out when I could call you… how much longer it was going to take you to get in."
"Yeah, I've only been home a little over an hour. But everything looks so good. The town, the house, my room… even Dad looks pretty good." As he said it, he glanced out the kitchen window, watching as his dad mowed the back yard. It was a reassuring, utterly soothing sight, the epitome of what it meant to be back home. "So how's your little girl? And your big one, for that matter?"
"Beautiful. Both of them… just beautiful." Hawkeye heard B.J.'s breath hitch with the emotion. There was a pause as they both seemed to need to absorb the fact that they were safe and sound, finally back on U.S. soil, finally back with their loved ones. Well, the loved ones they had outside of the mighty 4077th, anyway.
Eventually B.J. said, with something like wonder in his voice, "Is it really over, Hawk?"
Hawkeye nodded as if his friend could see him from 3000 miles away. "It really is."
"Just like that?"
"Just like that."
The sound B.J. made seemed like a half-laugh, half-sigh. "Well hell. Now what?"
Hawkeye understood the reason for the question. It was an odd feeling. Suddenly being home, where the living was easy and things could get back to normal, where everything looked familiar and comforting, where "going to work" meant having a perfectly mundane day of treating sick kids and overly worried senior citizens.
He knew he'd never take it for granted again… his routine, his daily existence.
"I think, Beej," he said slowly, "that we pick up our lives where we left off when Korea came calling. We make the most of every day. We enjoy our families and friends. And we put all the bad shit that happened behind us, but we hold on to the good memories, the ones that made us better doctors and people."
After a short pause: "And we talk to our best friend across the country often?"
Hawkeye laughed. "We do indeed." He could picture a big toothy smile underneath a cheesy moustache. Right on the heels of that image came a very recent memory of rocks forming a word on the ground as he rode away in a chopper.
"So you see?" he added softly. "It wasn't really goodbye after all."
B.J., sounding more than a little exasperated, protested, "You were the one who kept insisting it was!"
Hawkeye shrugged. "I was wrong. There's no tearing us apart, Hunnicutt. Not even 3000 miles can do that. You're stuck with me for life."
He was startled to hear what sounded like a muffled sob on the other end. Then B.J. said, not quite successfully disguising the emotion in his voice, "I'm glad to hear it, Hawk. I wouldn't want it any other way."
Hawkeye gripped the receiver tightly, tears coming to his own eyes. "Neither would I, Beej."
When he hung up the phone with a contented sigh 40 minutes later, Hawkeye realized that saying goodbye didn't have to mean "The End." Sometimes it just meant finding a different way of saying hello.