Brothers in Arms
Author's Note: I don't own the lyrics to the Annie Get Your Gun soundtrack; they belong to the incomparable Irving Berlin.
B.J. stumbled, somehow managed to regain his footing, then stumbled again.
"Shit, Hawk," he muttered, breathless, a bead of sweat sliding into and stinging his left eye. He blinked it away. He was exhausted and his legs were on the verge of giving out. Grunting, he took a knee. "Gotta stop again," he said, lowering to the ground gently, mindful of his passenger. "Sorry."
He carefully set Hawkeye down on the ground, taking a moment to catch his breath. His hands on his thighs, he gulped some air, looking around as he did, making sure they were truly alone on this dirt road that he was certain would eventually deliver them back to camp.
Certain? Or just desperate hope? He truly didn't know. He was disoriented and flustered, putting trust in his instincts to get him home. But if he were honest with himself, he'd admit that these woods didn't seem any different from any other woods in Korea.
He could very well be headed further away from the 4077th. And that… that would be a fatal mistake.
B.J. jumped as something snapped nearby—maybe a twig. Maybe some enemy soldier was lurking in the shadows, waiting for the right moment to come charging out of the woods and point yet another gun in their faces. B.J.'s eyes darted right and left and right again, but he saw nothing. His heart thundered in his ears, but apart from that, there was no sound…
Calm down, he told himself. Keep your wits about you. Be smart. Think.
A squirrel ran past them then, and B.J. jumped again, letting out an involuntary yelp. The animal scampered off, on his endless quest for nuts, and B.J. put a hand on his chest, waiting for his heartbeat to slow.
Hawkeye, of course, didn't stir. B.J. knelt down next to him, put his fingers to Hawk's neck and checked his carotid for a pulse. It was there, but weak. The blood was soaking the bandage that B.J. had hurriedly fastened around the wound in Hawkeye's chest. He tightened it now, but no amount of adjusting was going to stop the flow of blood. The chest wound was bad—definitely the worst of their problems—but it wasn't the only injury Hawkeye had sustained. Another bullet to the right leg… another bandage hastily placed to try to staunch the bleeding.
Too damn much blood. There wasn't enough equipment in their medical bag to deal with the assault Hawkeye's body had taken, and the only solution—the only possible way to ensure his survival—was to get him back to the 4077th.
Hawkeye'd been unconscious for… how long now? Half hour? Longer? The concept of time was lost on B.J., except for the painful knowledge that he was running out of it.
He stared down the road, wishing fervently for a jeep or bus or hell, even an ox—any kind of transportation. How close were they to camp? Still another few miles, he thought. That was assuming he was headed in the right direction, of course. He had no idea if he could make it. He had almost no strength left… his mouth was desert dry and his breathing was ragged… he was operating on adrenaline and little else.
But as weak and drained as he was, he had no choice… he needed to push on. Hawkeye wasn't going to make it without medical help.
Just need to get him back home… we can take care of him there…
With another grunt, B.J. got onto his knees and once again labored to pull Hawkeye onto his back in the fireman's carry he'd been using since they'd been plunged into their own personal hell.
It was mind-boggling how quickly their day had turned from happy-go-lucky into black nightmare. Only a couple hours ago, they'd set out from the 8063rd in their jeep, heading back to the 4077th after a surgical demonstration, laughing and singing the soundtrack to Annie Get Your Gun. Hawkeye had the Broadway cast recording back at the Swamp, and they'd listened to it again and again the weekend before, on Charles's record player, since he'd been in Tokyo on R&R and therefore in no position to object. They had all the songs memorized now, and it showed. A rousing rendition of "I Got the Sun in the Morning" gave way to "There's No Business Like Show Business." That's when Hawkeye pointed out they weren't singing the songs in order, and as a musical purist, he preferred to sing them in order. Shooting him a look, B.J. had rebelliously launched into "Doing What Comes Naturally," which eventually led to "Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better." Both of them singing loud, each trying to outdo the other, just like the song said.
Anything you can be I can be greater.
Sooner or later, I'm greater than you.
No you're not.
Yes I am.
No you're not.
Yes I am.
No you're not!
Yes I am. Yes I am!
They were playful, animated, in high spirits. Not a care in the world… well, other than being in a war zone, but that was just a reality they lived with every day. Reckless or not, they didn't consider the possibility of danger as they drove along, singing. There was no hint of trouble, no forewarning of the crisis to come.
Anything you say I can say faster.
I can say anything faster than you.
No you can't.
Yes I can…
Bang bang bang!
The gunshots had come out of nowhere. They were sudden, deafening, nonstop. A barrage. Instinctively B.J. pulled the jeep over to the side of the road even as Hawkeye yelled, "Just keep driving! Just drive!"
B.J. would later wonder if things would've turned out differently if he'd listened to Hawkeye and kept on driving.
But once he was over to the side of the road, ending up partially in a ditch, he couldn't react quickly enough to get the jeep back on track. He was shaking and frantic, and the two of them were yelling over each other…
"Hang on a second…"
"Can't get the jeep…"
They both shut up the instant the North Korean emerged from behind a tree, his rifle pointed at them, his expression fierce. The soldier screamed at them in Korean. They only sat there in the jeep, frozen in fear. The Korean yelled again, gesturing at them to get out of the vehicle. They obeyed, their hands automatically going up in the air to show surrender.
B.J. couldn't be sure, but it seemed like the soldier only wanted their jeep and maybe if they relinquished it without a fight, he'd simply let them go. He grabbed hold of Hawkeye's hand and pulled him a few steps away from the jeep… gestured to the North Korean that it was all his.
The soldier only stared at them.
Frightened and confused, B.J. tried to make sense of a senseless situation. "You want the jeep? Take it!" Once again he gestured toward it, but his sudden arm movement must've alarmed the soldier—and the gun swung up to aim directly between B.J.'s eyes.
There was a scream in Korean and a nearly simultaneous scream from Hawkeye of "No! God, no!"
B.J.'s eyes shut tight and he thought about his wife, about his baby daughter, and how they were going to have to live with the knowledge that he died in the Korean War… and he wasn't even a soldier… he was a doctor… called to duty to fix up the soldiers… not to be one… not to be killed by one…
With his eyes shut, he didn't see what happened next, but he certainly felt it. Hawkeye dove into him, knocking him to the ground, just as the gun went off. B.J.'s eyes flew open then and he steeled himself for the pain. Crazily he thought, I need to see where the bullet goes so I know what to fix…
But the bullet didn't hit him—it hit Hawkeye, who was now on top of him and shielding him. Hawkeye let out a howl of pain. B.J. felt his own body vibrate with the shudder that went through his best friend.
That was the leg wound.
The North Korean got off one more shot, at very close range, and that was the bullet that ripped into Hawkeye's chest.
B.J. instantly shut out the Korean, the jeep, the woods, every single thing in his world except for one: Hawkeye, who had just been shot in the chest and was bleeding, wailing, and maybe even dying.
"Hang in there, Hawk," B.J. said, gently rolling out from underneath him, taking a look at the chest wound and trying not to wince. Pray it didn't nick the pericardium, he thought as he applied pressure. "Don't worry, I've got you."
Hawkeye blinked up at him. His eyes were glazing. Something crossed his face, a kind of acceptance that this was the end for him, perhaps. But B.J. shook his head and said, "You stay with me, dammit."
Hawkeye coughed. His voice was strained, but he managed to say, "It's bad, isn't it, Beej."
"Not too bad," B.J. lied. "You'll be fine once we get back to camp—back to the hospital. We'll fix you up good as new."
B.J. cupped the side of Hawkeye's face, saying firmly, "You're not going anywhere, you hear me?"
A thin line of blood trickled from the corner of Hawkeye's mouth. "Give that little girl of yours a hug for me, OK?"
B.J. blinked at him, thrown by the words and the implication. "You'll do that yourself when you meet her," he choked out.
Then Hawkeye went quiet and still, his eyes fluttering shut.
When he'd gotten out of the jeep, B.J. had subconsciously grabbed their medical bag and had slung it around his shoulder. He dug into it now, panicked and panting, thinking insane thoughts like how on earth was he supposed to live without Hawkeye…
Then his medical training kicked in, and he became efficiency in action, using the scarce materials he had on hand to do what he could with Hawkeye's injuries. It wasn't nearly enough, but it would have to suffice.
At one point, he glanced up to discover that the Korean and the jeep were gone. He didn't have any recollection of hearing the man leave.
The woods went quiet again. It didn't seem possible that the crazy incident had even happened, except for the fact of Hawkeye lying in the road, motionless and bleeding.
He didn't make the decision consciously, but as he worked on Hawk's wounds, B.J. began to sing another song from Annie Get Your Gun, "Moonshine Lullaby."
"Behind the hill there's a busy little still, where your Pappy's workin' in the moonlight. Your lovin' pa isn't quite within the law, so he's hidin' there behind the hill."
Hawkeye's face was ashen and his eyes were shut and he wouldn't respond when B.J. said his name. He kept checking the carotid, kept thanking Jesus whenever he felt the thump-thump of Hawk's pulse… but it was not strong, and it was getting fainter by the minute.
"Bye bye baby, stop your yawnin'. Don't cry baby, day will be dawning. And when it does, from the mountain where he was… he'll be coming with a jug of moonshine." B.J. finished his first aid by securing the bandage on Hawkeye's leg, then leaned back, staring down at the man's badly injured body. "So count your sheep, Mama's singing you to sleep, with the Moonshine Lullaby."
He looked down the road, in the direction they came from, and then up the road, where they'd been headed. Not a soul anywhere. What the hell was he supposed to do now? He'd never felt so helpless in his life.
For a dark, hellish moment, he actually considered leaving Hawkeye here and running back to camp to get help… get the ambulance. But he shook his head violently… no way could he leave Hawkeye, not in his fragile state, not out here where more North Koreans could come along at any moment. No, he was going to have to take Hawkeye along with him.
B.J. leaned over his fallen friend, trying to figure out how to carry him, actually attempting to cradle him before realizing there was no way that was going to work.
How the hell…?, he thought wildly, panic rising within him. How can I…? I can't… oh God, I can't do this…
Impatient, he scolded himself: Stop. Just stop and think… concentrate… get a hold of yourself.
He forced himself to look away from Hawkeye, to stamp down the growing terror that was threatening to derail his train of thought. He stared up at the sky and took a breath and said a prayer that consisted of three words: "Help me God."
It came to him then. Fireman's carry. Yes, of course… that was straight out of basic training. He'd probably have to stop and rest often, but the fireman's carry was the way to go.
And so he'd hoisted Hawkeye's unconscious form onto his back and he'd started staggering along at a snail's pace, hunched over like some olive drab Quasimodo… making his way down the dirt road toward home. He stopped to rest when his legs cramped up or threatened to give out. Blood from Hawkeye's injuries seeped into his own clothing, trickling down his neck and back. Mosquitoes constantly bit at his exposed flesh. He just kept walking, and never once did he see any vehicles or other people, American or Korean.
"We're gonna be back home soon, Hawk. Hang in there. We'll get there soon," he promised. And he wearily walked on.
Some nearby bird let out a shrill caw!, pulling B.J. out of a daze. He glanced skyward but didn't see the bird in question. It had sounded like a big one, and he wondered fleetingly if it was a hawk.
Wait… were there even hawks in Korea?
Well, he thought, there's at least one.
Benjamin Franklin "Hawkeye" Pierce. An unusual name for an unusual man. B.J. could remember verbatim the words he'd written to Peg on his second day in Korea.
The company clerk came and picked me up at the airfield, but he had one of the surgeons along with him. Guy's name is Hawkeye, if you can believe that. We hit it off right away, Peg, which is great because to tell you the truth, I'm terrified out of my mind here. But this Hawkeye, he's seasoned and he's smart and he's funny as hell, and I already know I can lean on him. I'll have to. Everything about this experience is intimidating and frightening, and I can't imagine how much harder it would be if I didn't have somebody like Hawkeye to show me the ropes.
"That's the deal," B.J. said now, staggering under the weight of his friend. "You saved me, I save you. That's the way this works. You goddamn are not going out this way, Hawk… you hear me?"
No response, of course. What did he expect?
He trudged on.
B.J. was thirsty, his mouth beyond dry. His back was screaming. He was growing weak and his mind stubbornly refused to focus… his thoughts bouncing from one thing to another randomly, crazily… finally coming to land on his basic training at Fort Sam Houston. Or more specifically, his commander in basic training, the sadistic Sgt. Conklin, who'd been prone to war horror stories and hyperbole. But one of his speeches had actually resonated with B.J., with probably all of his charges, because of his obvious sincerity as he'd delivered it. "Let me tell you something, men, about your fellow soldiers," he had said, pacing in front of them, his voice uncharacteristically soft. "Your colleagues. Your brothers in arms. You will find that you'll do anything for them. You don't even know them now, you haven't met them yet, but in short order, you will know them, you will learn about them, and you will quickly come to love them. And trust me, you will lay down your life for them if it comes to that… without question. That's what it means to be in a war alongside other men."
He'd been right, of course. Sgt. Conklin, the master of exaggeration, hadn't been exaggerating that time. The phrase "brothers in arms" had occurred to B.J. many times since then, since his arrival at the 4077th. Even though he wasn't an actual soldier on the front lines, he still understood the concept… he still felt the intense bond that he'd formed with the people in his unit. With Hawkeye especially—the man he lived with, laughed with, learned from, and relied on like no other.
He'd learned almost as much from Hawk in their short time together as he'd learned in all his years in the classroom. OK, he supposed that was an exaggeration worthy of Sgt. Conklin, but there was a kernel of truth in it. Watching Hawkeye, the best surgeon he'd ever known… watching him in the OR and in post-op… his methods and manner… his skill and compassion. B.J. took it all in, knowing it was an invaluable education.
Not that there'd been anything shabby about Stanford. He vividly recalled his first semester of med school… how he'd felt kind of like a superhero at the time, confident and cocky. I'm learning how to save lives, I'm learning how to heal people. It was so easy to fall into that mindset. Everything was theory, there were no injured, maimed bodies laid out in front of him, demanding immediate attention and extraordinary skill. He was young and he felt invincible. He couldn't have imagined being thrust into a war, where he'd have to perform all kinds of surgical miracles or else watch people die. He longed for those days of ignorance… of not knowing what mortar did to a body, or what the screams of a dying man sounded like. Or what it felt like to carry your mortally wounded best friend for miles.
B.J. stopped abruptly and tilted his head. He was hearing little moans of distress and it took him a few seconds to realize they were coming from him. Stop it, he told himself. Jesus, don't be so damn pathetic. Stay strong. Be strong for Hawk.
And so, rather than subject himself to the sounds of his own misery, he began to sing again, his voice shaky, breathy, and a little off-key.
There's no people like show people,
They smile when they are low.
Yesterday they told you you would not go far,
That night you opened and there you are.
Next day on your dressing room they've hung a star,
Let's go on with the show...
But when he finished that song, he fell silent again; all of a sudden he couldn't seem to remember any of the others. What the hell time was it by now? He was a little astonished that he was still moving. It wasn't fast and it wasn't pretty, but he was going forward. He was completely spent now, nearly sick with fatigue. He couldn't actually pick his feet up anymore; they were merely shuffling along. He was wheezing. Every muscle in his body ached. A thought came to him, then… the thought of just lying down in the road and giving up. Giving in.
For the hundredth time he stumbled, letting out an "Oof!" And then as he righted himself, careful to balance his passenger, something caught his eye. "Holy shit, Hawk! Look! Look up ahead—do you see that?"
Thank Christ, he finally recognized something. Ahead and off to the right was the makeshift golf course that he and Hawkeye occasionally played. B.J. could see the first tee in the distance. He shut his eyes and uttered a prayer of undying thanks, because for the first time since he started this trek, he was absolutely certain he was going the right way. And he was getting close to camp.
Very close now.
Encouraged, he started to plan Hawkeye's surgery in his mind. He'd attack the chest wound first, obviously. If Winchester was available, maybe he could work on the leg wound at the same time B.J. was taking care of the chest. Keep Hawk's time in the OR at a minimum, get him fixed up fast and into post-op. Recovery would be slow, for sure, but Hawk was young… he was strong. Then, after he started to feel better, B.J. would bring him a little gin from the still. B.J. would make sure he got his red bathrobe to wear. They'd play chess while Hawk mended… B.J. would sit with him and read him the Crabapple Cove Courier. They'd laugh.
It would take time, but he would heal.
He heard something then that tore the breath out of his lungs. The unmistakable sound of the 4077th P.A. system. "Attention all personnel. Tonight's movie, Fort Apache, will be starting in the mess tent in five minutes. Grab your date and your popcorn—not necessarily in that order—and come on out!"
A single tear slid down B.J.'s cheek. He was so close now that he could hear the sounds of the camp! His legs didn't want to cooperate, but he made them speed up. He shifted Hawkeye on his back, trying to make the load a little more manageable. "We're almost home, Hawk. Do you hear that? The P.A.? We're just about home."
After a few more steps, he saw Rosie's up ahead… the "Best Care Anywhere" banner up ahead of that. He started to yell, hoping he was close enough that somebody would hear and race out to help him.
"Help! Medic! Somebody come help!"
Nothing. He kept shouting, all the while keeping his feet moving forward, occasionally breaking into a limping trot whenever he got a spurt of new energy. "Medic! Colonel Potter? Radar? Anyone?"
Then… very faint… a reply: "…out there?"
He gasped, his pulse racing. He lurched, almost tripped, but held tight onto Hawkeye's limp body. "It's B.J.!" he hollered back. "Out on the road! Help!"
In seconds a jeep was barreling toward him, Radar behind the wheel, and B.J. nearly fell to the ground and cried out of sheer relief. But his work wasn't done… oh no, nowhere near. Radar brought the jeep to a screeching halt alongside him, looking horrified and beside himself with worry.
"Oh wow, oh jeez," Radar was babbling, jumping out and scrambling around to lend a hand. "Oh wow, let's get him into the jeep, Sir. Let's get him to the hospital stat. Are you OK, Cap'n? What am I saying, of course you're not… you look awful. What happened? He's still alive, isn't he?"
With Radar's help, B.J. gently placed Hawkeye in the back seat of the jeep and then he fell into the front passenger seat, tuning out Radar, unable to answer his questions or communicate in any way. He was in complete shock, only now starting to comprehend exactly what had happened. His brain wanted to shut down, his body needed to rest. But he smiled faintly with the knowledge that he'd done it: he'd gotten Hawkeye home, and everything was going to be all right now.
It was only a 20-second ride from where Radar had picked them up to the hospital, but he must have fallen asleep anyway, because his eyes snapped open and he was still in the jeep, and both Radar and Hawkeye were gone. He blinked rapidly a few times, trying to get his bearings. He couldn't have been out for long. The jeep was still running, for God's sake. Around him, nurses and enlisted men were running frantically into the hospital, calling to each other, chattering, banging the door open and closed.
"Have they taken Hawkeye in?" he called out to anyone within earshot. "I want to operate. I have to be the one who operates…"
Either nobody heard or could be bothered to answer. B.J. struggled to lift himself out of the jeep, but at first he fell back down again. He had no strength. But he persisted, intent on getting to the hospital and to Hawkeye. As he finally tumbled out of the jeep and planted himself on his weary, aching, probably bleeding feet, the hospital door banged open and Potter came out, walking briskly toward him.
"Colonel?" he started to say, then realized he had no volume. He cleared his throat and tried again. "Colonel, is Hawkeye on the table yet? Give me a second to scrub up, OK? I want to be the one to op—"
The look on Potter's face stopped him in mid-word. A chill swept through him and for a few seconds he forgot how to breathe. His vision went black, and he reached out a hand, steadying himself against the jeep. He blinked and Potter slowly swam back into focus. "No," B.J. moaned, suddenly certain.
The Colonel reached him, put a gentle hand on his shoulder, looked directly into his eyes. His expression was one of pure, infinite sympathy. "I'm sorry, son," he said. There were tears in Potter's eyes and his mouth contorted; he was very close to breaking down himself. "There wasn't anything we could do. The damage was too extensive. I'm sorry."
No, no, no, no…
"…not your fault," Potter was saying. "…nothing anyone could've done…"
Oh God, oh God…
Even though he was holding onto the jeep for support, B.J. felt the ground beneath his feet shifting. The world tilted at a 45-degree angle and he felt both nauseous and weightless. He fell to his knees suddenly, letting out a sound that was part sob, part howl. Potter knelt down next to him, saying things B.J. couldn't hear, rubbing his shoulder in an attempt to comfort.
No, no, no… I brought him back… We made it home…
He whimpered, prayed that it was just some horrible mistake. No way did he go through that hell for Hawkeye to end up dead. That was not how this was supposed to work.
But Potter's concerned, grave expression drove home the reality. It was over.
B.J. curled up on the ground, hugging his knees to his chest and sobbing convulsively. He'd failed… his best friend's life had been in his hands, and he'd let it slip away.
Like scenes from a movie in fast-forward, fragments of memories ricocheted in his head…
Rudyard Kipling and Corporal-Captain and "Ours not to reason why, ours not to let 'em die."
A dark red bathrobe, hanging on a hook in the shower… "Row row row your boat, gently down the stream…"
Thirty-eight across, what's a five-letter Yiddish word for "bedbug"…?
A rubber ducky in a canvas bathtub from Abercrombie and Fitch.
"Oh the surgeons in the Army, they say we're mighty bright. We work on soldiers through the day and nurses through the night."
B.J. closed his eyes, wanting to shut out everything… every last little thing… his utter failure as a doctor and Potter's incessant condolences and this loathsome place he was forced to call home. His heart had never felt so empty. He cried tears of anger, of horror, of staggering loss.
But even over the sounds of his own weeping, he could hear it… the distinct fwoop-fwoop-fwoop of chopper blades off in the distance. Seconds later, the P.A. blared its shrill call to action, "Attention, attention: incoming wounded! Everybody to the OR on the double!" Through slitted eyes he saw a blur of legs run past him as medical personnel mobilized.
It was obscene and it was vile. B.J.'s world had come to a screeching halt, but there was no respectful mourning period, no break in the action, not even a goddamn moment of silence.
The war just kept right on going.