It was one of those other-world days. That was Hawkeye's excuse. Of course, every day in the pit of lousiness that was the camp was like that, compared to back home. But today was even more extreme than usual.
BJ was away to a nearby village, sitting up all night with a very pregnant local girl who had no family to look after her. Radar was down and out with food poisoning; Klinger was covering for him, but running back and forth to check on him every five minutes to Margaret's intense disapproval. A visiting surgeon had agreed to take the night shift. Finally, Colonel Potter had flown off two days before for some big meet-and-greet in Tokyo.
So what with everything happening at once, Hawkeye (who had struck out with the nurses for the night) had been reduced to attempting Charles to join him for drinks and cards in the Swamp. Upon this failing – Charles was taking advantage of the many absences to listen to opera extremely loudly – Hawkeye decided he didn't need anyone to get drunk with. He was perfectly capable of achieving that all by himself.
He started in the Officer's Mess at around 18:00. By 20:17, he was singing rude versions of 'Land of Hope and Glory' in Rosie's Bar and wondering why one of his feet was blurry when he looked at it. At 23:03 he was just standing by the road, staring into the distance.
It was past midnight when he managed to get back into the Swamp. The slamming door, the clatter as his boot caught the stove and the rattle as he leant against the chimney pipe were all due to him having decided to be decent for once and not wake Charles up.
Charles woke up.
"Pierce, you insufferable toad, it is nearly one a.m." Charles fumbled for the light. "Must you always –"
He stopped abruptly as Hawkeye looked at him.
"Nevermind," he muttered. "Get some sleep, you're on duty in the morning." He left the light on and watched Hawkeye fumble into bed.
"Goodnight," he said – mostly to himself, as Hawkeye was already unconscious. He switched the light off, but Hawkeye's expression seemed to be seared onto the inside of his eyelids.
Hawkeye could moan and complain and accuse and berate – but Charles had never seen him despair.
He was brought abruptly from his thoughts when he heard the choppers several minutes later. Habit pulled him out of bed and into his clothes and to the door without his brain saying much about it. But then the sight of Hawkeye, trying to pull his boots on with an air of desperation, stopped him.
"Pierce," he said quietly, half-hoping that he wouldn't be heard as people ran past their tent, calling instructions. Half-hoping that Hawkeye would just get up, suddenly sober and back to normal, and toss an insult at him as they raced to triage. But that didn't happen. Instead, Hawkeye looked up at him, his usually dexterous fingers fumbling over the laces. Charles did something unusual.
He took pity.
He stepped over and bent down, tying the laces swiftly. When he looked up, Hawkeye was looking down, and their faces were abruptly only an inch apart. Charles could see that look in Hawkeye's eyes again, that teetering-on-the-edge look, and all he wanted to do was to take it away. He leant forward an inch.
A minute later, Charles emerged from the tent supporting Hawkeye. He called one of the nurses over to take Hawkeye to the showers if need be to sober him up, and took over triage. There weren't many serious injuries; Hawkeye was, fortunately, not required. And despite himself, Charles was careful to make sure that not a word of Hawkeye's behaviour got back to the Colonel on his return.
Several days later, they were alone outside Colonel Potter's office. Hawkeye was looking for some medical file or other in the cabinet, and Charles had paused en route elsewhere for no particular reason.
The two men met eyes in silence, and then Hawkeye spoke.
Charles nodded, silent, and went on with his business.