(Author's Note: Fortunately I had this fic stashed on a flash drive, because a few weeks ago my laptop crashed and took my WIPs along with it... for good apparently. This piece was written some time ago, but I always felt like it needed another run through the typewriter, so to speak. Well, that's not gonna happen, so I'm just posting it as is, to commemorate this special day. Happy 40th to my favorite show of all time.)
"This was a great idea, Beej, if I do say so myself," Hawkeye bragged as he merged onto the highway. "Wasn't this a great idea?"
B.J. put his hand out, bracing himself against the dashboard, and instinctively thrust his right foot to the floor as though there were a brake pedal down there. He hated being in the passenger seat at the best of times, and he hated it even more when Hawkeye was the one behind the wheel. "Terrific idea, Hawk," he said, his voice laced with sarcasm. "Now why don't you slow down a little, huh? There's no need to be breaking the sound barrier."
Hawkeye laughed and glanced over at his anxious passenger. "Don't worry, you're in good hands. I'm a much better driver than you seem to think. It's just that driving those damned Army jeeps on those practically impassable Korean roads made me look like a bad driver."
B.J. laughed in spite of himself. "Yeah, I'm sure that's what it was."
"But come on, Beej… seriously… wasn't this a great idea? The two of us on a road trip together?"
"Yes, Hawk, we've already established that this was a damn brilliant idea. You get the grand prize for brilliant ideas. All right?"
Hawkeye's expression turned a little petulant. "I'm just saying… this way, we get to have a few hours alone together before we even get there. Time to talk and get caught up. This is gonna be a hell of a lot of fun."
"As long as you don't kill us along the way," B.J. said, his hand still tightly clutching the dashboard.
"Relax, relax. Here, if it makes you happy, I'll slow down a little."
B.J. watched as the speedometer dropped to 64 mph. It was better, but he wouldn't mind seeing it ease down a little further. Even so, he finally took his hand off the dashboard and sat back in his seat, trying not to seem like a nervous Nellie. They were going to be driving for hours and they'd really only just begun, and B.J. didn't want to start the trip on a tense note.
Before long, the lights of Chicago were in their rear-view mirror. Once they were out of the hustle and bustle of the big city, B.J. felt a lot calmer. His anxiety level dropped a few notches, and he found he could start to really appreciate, for the first time, his best friend's companionship. He looked over to his left just as Hawkeye looked to his right, and they smiled. "How the hell are ya, Hawk?" From the moment they'd met at O'Hare and rented this car together, they'd been in nonstop motion… too much to do and think about to actually have any kind of coherent conversation. Now that they were on the road and out of the city, B.J. felt like they could finally talk.
"Doing good, Beej. How about you? What's new out there in Mill Valley?"
"Nothing much new, but all is well. Keeping busy at the hospital. Keeping busy at home. Peg and I are talking about having another baby."
"It'll take more than talking to get one," Hawkeye teased. "I've read studies."
B.J. laughed. "And what about you? Still working with your dad, right?"
"You bet. We have a nice little small-town practice… treat all the usual maladies… kids with chicken pox or the mumps, folks with the flu, colds and strep throat and whatnot. It's utterly mundane, which is exactly what I needed after that… what was that thing? Police action?"
"Could've fooled me," B.J. said, unable to keep the bitterness out of his tone. "Sure seemed like a war while I was there."
"Yeah. All those bombs exploding… shoulda tipped us off," Hawkeye said as he rolled down his car window, settled a little more comfortably into his seat. There was a slight pause, then he asked, "You think about it a lot?"
"More than I had hoped to," B.J. replied in all honesty. "Dream about it sometimes. Mostly that I'm still back there, frantically operating, an endless parade of wounded laid out in front of me." He shuddered. "Pretty damn disturbing. How about you? Or should I even ask…?"
"Oh, you know me, Beej. Mr. Instability. Sure, I have the nightmares, the flashbacks. It does seem to be getting better, though, over time. I still go see Sidney's buddy Dr. Wethman in Portland once a month. He's been a big help."
"That's good, Hawk. Talking about it with a professional… that can only be a good thing, if you ask me." He remembered, all too well, how things had ended for Hawkeye in Korea. The institution, after that unspeakable experience on the bus… and the sessions with Sidney… until finally he was well enough to go back to work at the 4077th. A rocky road, there at the end. Surely there were still some repercussions from that trauma, but B.J. had no intention of asking. Best to leave it to the Dr. Wethmans of the world. Smoothly changing the subject, he said, "I'm looking forward to seeing everyone down there in St. Louis. Although… did I tell you? I ran into Charles about seven months ago, at a medical convention in Seattle." He let out a hearty laugh, remembering. "He was horrified at first, to see me there. But you know what? After a while, he let his hair down… as it were. We ended up having a good time."
"He's still working at Boston Mercy?" Hawkeye asked.
B.J. nodded. "Yep. Head of thoracic surgery, of course. Just as pompous as you remember, but you'll see that for yourself soon enough."
"Oh boy, seeing some of these folks again…" Hawkeye trailed off, as if overwhelmed by the idea. "But yeah, I'm looking forward to it, too. Hey, I think you're going to get to meet Trapper! Last I heard, he was planning to be there."
"Well that'll be interesting. Finally getting to meet the man, the legend." Then a thought occurred to him. "I guess Frank won't be there, huh?" he smirked, barely containing his laughter.
Hawkeye didn't even bother trying to control his reaction. He let out a typical Hawkeye guffaw, and when he could talk, he said, "I'm quite sure he won't be… no."
They fell into a brief silence, contemplating the hilarity of that idea, and B.J. found himself almost wishing it would happen, just for the sheer absurdity of it. Frank at Margaret's wedding? Well, why the hell not. He'd been the best man at her first wedding, after all. And that thought made him giggle again. "You remember," he said as he reminisced, "putting Penobscot into that body cast?"
"Uh, excuse me, mister, but that was your idea!" Hawkeye said accurately, but he looked over at B.J. with a glint in his eye. "And damn, that was one of your funnier ones, I gotta say."
"Oh, I had a lot of funny ones. You just don't like to admit it."
"Putting eggs into Burns's helmet? Come on, Beej… very amateurish." Hawkeye snorted.
"Filling the foxhole with water and yelling 'air raid?' Now come on, that was sheer genius."
Hawkeye conceded, "OK, that one was pretty good… agreed."
"Oh…" B.J. said with an accompanying sigh as he became more and more nostalgic, "we had some good times, you know? It was war and it was hell… and yet somehow we managed to make some special memories."
"You bet, Beej. That was a great bunch of folks. For the most part."
B.J. was enjoying the reminiscing too much to stop. He leaned back in his seat and shut his eyes, images playing out behind his lids. "I've seen that movie, 'My Darling Clementine,' on television a couple times, and I actually remembered that song we sang, when the projector kept breaking down? The one that went 'Gee Ma, I Wanna Go Home.' You remember that?"
"And the Father Mulcahy sound-alike contest. Radar was really good at that."
"Radar had a knack for impersonations."
"He sure did."
"And Klinger had a knack for mixing and matching his wardrobe."
B.J. laughed. "Also true."
"I wonder what he's going to be wearing to the wedding?"
They both pondered that, tittering a little, though of course they knew perfectly well that his cross-dressing had only been a ruse to try to get out of the Army, and surely he didn't even own that crazy women's wardrobe anymore… did he? Well of course not… it was silly to think otherwise. But even so, B.J. giggled at the mental picture of Klinger showing up in a dress prettier than the bride's.
"I'm happy for Margaret," B.J. broke the silence, opening his eyes once again and noticing that they were driving through farm country now. "Marriage number two will be the one that takes… don't you think?"
Hawkeye nodded. "I do. No pun intended. She seems happy and very much in love."
"Good. After everything she went through, looking for her Mr. Right, it's about time she found him."
Hawkeye slowed the car all of a sudden, and B.J.'s eyes darted around. Before he had a chance to ask, Hawkeye pointed to the gas station at the side of the road. "Rest stop. I need a pee break and something to drink. You?"
"Good idea. You go pee, and I'll get us a couple sodas."
A short while later, they were both back in the car, drinking soft drinks from bottles and consulting the map, making sure they knew exactly where they were going and how much longer it might take. "I think," B.J. noted, "that we might be cutting it close. The wedding starts at 2 o'clock."
"Yeah, it'll be close, but we're making good time. Don't worry about it."
"Oh that's right, I forgot Speedy Gonzales is at the wheel," B.J. teased as Hawkeye maneuvered the car back onto the highway.
Hawkeye laughed. "I love Speedy. Andale! Andale! I'm tellin' ya, sometimes I only go to the movies for the cartoon shorts beforehand."
"Hey, that reminds me," B.J. said after draining the last of his soda, "Peg and I went to see Anastasia the other night. I thought of you, since it was Ingrid Bergman. You see it yet?"
"No—was it good?"
"Yeah, it was." Despite the caffeine fix from the soda, B.J. was starting to feel the lull of the road. He leaned back, sighed, tried not to let his eyes flutter shut.
"I saw the previews a couple weeks back," Hawkeye was saying. "It did catch my eye. Starring not just the stunning Ingrid, but Yul Brynner too. I saw The King and I on Broadway—it was one of the first plays I went to see once I got back from Korea. He was great in that."
"Well then you definitely need to see this movie."
"I'll take Dad and we'll go soon," Hawkeye promised.
"You know," B.J. mused, "after all those terrible movies we were subjected to in Korea, the excitement of being able to see great films whenever you want never really wears off."
"Very true," Hawkeye agreed, finishing his own soda and letting the bottle fall to the floor of the rental car. B.J. could hear it rolling around down there. He smiled, remembering a filthy tent called the Swamp, where bottles, clothing, and all kinds of other debris routinely littered the floor. "I have cancer." Hawkeye spoke so calmly that B.J. at first thought they were still discussing movies. But then it sank in, what he had just heard, and his head turned sharply to the left, his mouth dropping open.
"No. No, that's not right," Hawkeye quickly added with a frustrated wave of his hand. "I had cancer. Past tense. Geez, I have to get used to talking about it as something that's over."
"What?!" B.J. sputtered, thunderstruck, still focused on the word cancer as opposed to the use of had versus have.
Hawkeye chuckled a little, as if such a subject could actually be even remotely funny. "I debated how to tell you. I guess blurting it out like that wasn't the best course of action." He glanced over, a contrite expression on his face. "Sorry about that."
"What…" B.J. was still stammering, trying to wrap his brain around what he was being told. "You had cancer?"
"That's right. Colon cancer. I had surgery and the tumor was successfully removed… didn't even need any chemo." He sounded matter-of-fact, almost bored, as though he were talking about a car being repaired after engine trouble. "Like I said, it's in the past now, thank God—if in fact I believe in God. Jury's still out on that."
"Wait, wait a minute, Hawk." B.J. took a breath, tried to form complete sentences that actually made sense. "You were diagnosed…"
"And admitted to the hospital for surgery…"
"And underwent surgery, followed by recovery…"
"Yes and yes."
"And at no time did you call me, your best friend, and tell me what you were going through? Are you sensing that I'm pissed? Because you would be correct in that assumption—"
Hawkeye held up a hand, stopping him. "Beej, don't be mad. I'm sorry, I really am. Aside from my father and my doctors, nobody knew. I was diagnosed and then scheduled for surgery in short order, there wasn't much time to brood about it or wonder about who to tell. And anyway, what was there to tell? If the surgery was successful, then I wouldn't be sick and nobody would have to worry their cute little heads about me, my best friend included."
"But I could have come out to Maine, to be with you—"
"And see? That's exactly what I mean. Why worry you, why bother you, if it wasn't necessary?"
"Bother me?" B.J nearly yelled. He turned his whole body toward Hawkeye, as if by facing him head-on he could get a better understanding of how the man's mind worked. "Are you aware of what it means to be a best friend?" He couldn't help the sarcasm in his voice.
Hawkeye was getting it, finally. Instead of answering with a glib or off-hand remark, he nodded and appeared to be weighing his response. "All right, Beej. Point taken, and I am sorry. But can we move past the indignation and get to the heart of the matter? Which is: the whole thing's over now."
"No more cancer," B.J. repeated, just to be absolutely sure. He realized he was gesturing like an umpire calling a baseball player safe at home.
"Nope," Hawkeye grinned, and his whole face lit up. "I'm tellin' ya, Beej, after you go through something like that and come out the other end not only alive but completely cured… well, everything's better. Food tastes better, sex feels better, sunshine is warmer, the whole schmear." He chuckled again, almost giddy. "How sappy am I sounding right now?"
B.J. returned the smile. Hawk's high spirits were contagious. "I'd say you're entitled to sound sappy." He impulsively leaned over and gave Hawkeye a sloppy, one-sided hug, as well as he could considering the recipient of the hug was driving a car at 60 miles an hour. "I'm so glad everything worked out. I'm happy you're here."
"Me too, Beej. You have no idea."
They fell into a long silence then, B.J. contemplating the conversation they'd just had, the enormity of it. He didn't know if he'd taken his best friend for granted before, but if so, now he was positive he never would again. The man could just as easily be gone from his life as sitting here right next to him.
Miles rolled by, and eventually the conversation picked up again, but it was lazier now… short sentences about mostly trivial subjects, not a lot of substance. The important talk had already taken place, and what was left was only the patter of two men who knew everything about one another, and often read each other's minds. It was comfortable and it was relaxing, and the long drive passed as pleasantly as a warm summer day.
They did indeed cut it close, pulling into the parking lot of the church in St. Louis at 1:47 p.m., just 13 minutes before the start of the ceremony. They unfolded themselves from the cramped quarters of the rental car, stretching, straightening their clothes, and brushing wrinkles out of jackets before putting them on.
The day was beautiful, sunny and breezy, and the church was a stately old building that looked elegant and welcoming. After one last check of his necktie, B.J. was about to head to the church steps when Hawkeye reached out and took his arm, stopping him. "Beej?"
Hawkeye hesitated, seemed to consider what he wanted to say. B.J. waited, tilting his head. Was another shocking revelation about to come out of the man's mouth? He hoped not; he'd had enough for one day. And anyway, a wedding was about to begin.
"What I said before?" Hawkeye finally continued. "About how everything seems better now?"
B.J. nodded. "Yeah?"
"Well, there's one other thing." Hawkeye smiled even as tears formed in his eyes. "Friendships matter more." He nodded as if agreeing with himself. Touched, B.J. pulled Hawkeye into his arms, wrapping him up in a warm embrace.
"Right back at ya, Hawk," he said into his friend's ear. They held on for a while, then clapped one another on the back and drew apart. "Come on. We have a wedding to attend."
They walked up the church steps side by side and pulled open the double doors simultaneously, their eyes scanning, taking in the other guests already seated… Radar, Klinger (no, not wearing a dress, but looking terrific in a dapper gray suit), Sherman Potter, Trapper, Father Mulcahy, Charles.
B.J. and Hawkeye looked at each other and exchanged smiles, then stepped inside and went to join the rest of the family.