by Jane Carnall
for Ann, with love, for a happy Winter Solstice and a merry new year
It was early spring in Korea, but the day wasn't much warmer than winter. There was a lull on: BJ was celebrating by sleeping in. Hawkeye went to breakfast alone. Mulcahy had sat down with his tray at an empty table: Hawkeye wandered across to join him.
Mulcahy ate faster: he'd finished before Hawkeye was halfway through. He didn't get up to leave, though. "Hawkeye, might I ask a favour?"
"Sure, Father, anything," Hawkeye said. "So long as it doesn't involve giving up drink or nurses."
"Well..." Mulcahy picked up his mug of coffee and drank from it. "Not exactly. It has nothing to do with drinking."
"You want to borrow a nurse? Which one?"
"I don't want you to think I'm prying into your personal affairs, but..."
"Pry away," Hawkeye said, and grinned. "My life's an open book. Of course, several of the chapters have sealed pages." He raised his eyebrows at Mulcahy.
"No, really," Mulcahy said. He looked visibly distressed. "I'm sorry, I don't mean -- I meant, I have noticed that you get regular deliveries of," he swallowed, "nudist magazines."
"Could I have them?"
Hawkeye blinked. He was genuinely taken aback. "You -- " He realised Mulcahy was making shushing noises, and toned down his voice a couple of levels. "You want one of my nudist magazines?" He leant forward, keeping his voice low.
"Not just one," Mulcahy said. He looked profoundly embarrassed. "I'd like all you can spare."
"I'd rather not discuss it."
Hawkeye looked at him.
Mulcahy stared back. Hawkeye thought he was going to win the staredown easily -- Mulcahy looked nervous, if determined -- but after a long minute, Hawkeye realised the embarrassment and distress had converted to mild and stubborn.
Hawkeye sighed. "I've got about half a dozen you can have," he said. "Want to come by the Swamp later on and collect them?"
"No problem," Hawkeye said.
"You won't discuss it with anyone?"
"Of course not."
"Especially not Colonel Potter," Mulcahy added, glancing up.
The Colonel sat down beside Hawkeye with a loaded tray. "Morning, Hawkeye. Morning, Padre."
"Good morning, Colonel." Mulcahy finished his coffee. "I should go. Excuse me." He left.
Hawkeye stirred his oatmeal. "Just when I think this place is about as strange as it can be, something happens to remind me that it's stranger than that."
"That happens to me every morning when I wake up," the Colonel said.
"Just about when I have my second cup of coffee."
Winchester was doing rounds and BJ was across at the showers when Mulcahy came by. Hawkeye wasn't altogether surprised.
"I've got what you wanted."
"Thank you," Mulcahy said politely, and then, as Hawkeye had hoped, "Thank you -- " in disconcerted tones.
The stack of shiny magazines was about a foot thick. It had surprised Hawkeye, too.
"Sit down, Father, let's have a talk."
"I don't think that's necessary," Mulcahy said.
"It is if you want to get your hands on these," Hawkeye said, putting the stack on his cot and sitting down beside them. "I figured out why you want them."
"Did you," Mulcahy said. He sounded doubtful, but he sat down.
"You're following the naked Olympics. Just as a hobby, right?"
Sometimes when Mulcahy laughed you could tell he was faking it. This was one of those times. "No, that's not it."
"Your sister the Sister joined a naked basketball team?" At the look on Mulcahy's face, Hawkeye added, hastily, "Sorry, Father." He paused. Mulcahy was looking exasperated, but forgiving: it was probably not worth the risk to push him any further. "I really did figure it out. The final clue was when you didn't want Colonel Potter to know why you wanted them." Hawkeye leaned forward, raised his eyebrows, and said suggestively, "It's your connections, isn't it?"
Mulcahy looked politely blank. "I don't know what you mean."
"You want these for the black market," Hawkeye said, exasperated and explicit.
"What makes you think that?"
"Logic," Hawkeye said. "Anyone else would want these for their own personal use, but you're just not that kind of Father. So if you don't want to read these -- though the crossword is pretty good in Nudist Monthly -- and you don't want to look at the pictures, you must want them to give to someone else. If it was for a patient, you'd ask me to give to him direct. If it was for almost anyone legit, you wouldn't care if Colonel Potter knew you were getting them, though you might not want him to know who you were passing them on to. But you don't want the Colonel to know when you do your black market deals, and you probably don't want anyone to know, but now I do. Am I right?"
Mulcahy didn't move a muscle in his face. "I can't confirm or deny that."
"Then I can't give you these magazines."
"Hawkeye," Mulcahy protested. After a moment, he added, "I can't possibly allow you to get yourself involved in this."
"I'll take that as an admission of guilt."
"Do you promise to keep this to yourself?" Mulcahy asked.
"Cross my heart and hope to die." Hawkeye grinned.
"I want to trade these magazines for rice for the orphanage," Mulcahy said finally. "Yes, the black market is involved, but it's a small deal -- I was told with half a dozen of these... these kind of American magazines, I could get enough rice to keep the children fed for a couple of weeks."
"What a country," Hawkeye said. "Six girlie magazines feed forty children who aren't even old enough to look at them." He tapped the stack. "I've got twenty here. Harvested from various sources around camp. Why do you need them, though? You won big at the last two poker games."
"It's a bad year," Mulcahy said. "There are more children at the orphanage than Sister Teresa counted on last autumn, and she never turns anyone away. The rice supply has been short -- the main supplies are on the black market. I can't get any more out of you fellows -- not enough to make a difference, anyway."
"So you went for the girlie magazines instead of the cash," Hawkeye said. He was amused. "Okay, you want these?"
"Yes," Mulcahy said.
"I'm coming with you."
"I can't allow you to be involved," Mulcahy said, emphatically.
"Do you really want Colonel Potter to find out?"
"Hawkeye, if he knew, he'd have to stop me."
"Exactly. And you wouldn't want that to happen, would you?"
"But why would you want to be involved?"
"Protecting my investment," Hawkeye said promptly. "It was hard work getting all those magazines."
"How did you persuade people to part with them?" Mulcahy asked.
"It wasn't easy," Hawkeye said. "Mostly I waited until they'd gone out. Which is another reason why I'd like to be out of the camp this afternoon."
There was nothing out of the way in the chaplain heading off to the orphanage on a quiet afternoon. There was nothing much out of the way in one of the doctors going with him. Colonel Potter gave casual permission for a jeep, and Radar, as usual, produced a boxful of scavenged supplies.
Mulcahy looked as if he were regretting this already. "Do remember, just stay in the car," he said unhappily. "And don't say anything."
"Quiet as the grave," Hawkeye assured him. "So to speak. Where are we going?"
"I'll direct you."
The red dirt roads wound all over Korea: most of them were cart tracks, footpaths rather than roads: but a jeep would run on them, providing you took care not to fall into shell-holes. The roads they were taking plainly weren't often or recently used by motor vehicles. Mulcahy got out of the car at a spot marked by two old trees, a junction of roads. He went over to a place in the grass, stooped, and came back empty-handed. "Let's drive that way about a couple of miles, and wait there for an hour."
"And then what?"
"Well, then we come back, the magazines will have gone, and the rice should be there. I left a note promising more magazines for more rice, if they've got it."
"They read English?" Hawkeye was startled.
Mulcahy shrugged. "It's mostly pictures."
"It's a very trusting way of doing business."
"A priest can get away with a lot," Mulcahy said. "They're Buddhists, I think, but they have a lot of respect for any holy person -- and they know who I'm buying the rice for. We can wait here." This stretch of road was in a dip in the landscape, and a jeep parked here wouldn't be visible at a distance.
Hawkeye parked the jeep and cut the engine. The rumble of artillery was a persistent background noise anywhere near the front lines: at first you couldn't believe you'd ever get used to it, and then you could hardly hear it. But it felt different hearing it in the middle of the countryside.
"How near are we to the front?" Hawkeye asked.
Mulcahy glanced at him. "A couple of miles, I think."
"Well, it's not like anyone sends the black-marketeers a memo."
"Sure. Half the time no one sends us a memo." Hawkeye sat still. He wanted to fidget. He'd never been this far away from the camp and not been moving as fast as possible. "Do you always do it this way?"
"Yes." Mulcahy was sitting still.
Hawkeye tried to mimic him. The artillery sounds seemed to be getting louder, but that was probably just his imagination.
"Is the shelling getting louder, or is that just my imagination?"
Mulcahy didn't move. "I don't think your imagination's that good."
"I didn't think so. Should we move?"
The shelling was getting louder. And louder. Hawkeye was twitching. He rather thought the noise was coming from behind them and to the left. He was thinking about turning the jeep and driving down the road to the right.
A very loud noise erupted from the road in the exact place where the jeep would have been if Hawkeye had turned it two minutes ago. The jeep jerked into action.
"Hawkeye, this isn't a good idea -- why are you taking this road?"
"Because they're not shelling it," Hawkeye snapped. The noise was getting quieter.
"Where are we going?"
"Somewhere they're not shooting at us!"
"We're very near the front lines -- I don't think this is a good idea."
A series of very loud noises flashed and slammed their way from the far left of the road towards the road itself: Hawkeye slammed on the brakes. Ten yards ahead, not more, a final thud blew up half the road.
What followed was silence -- or what passed for silence: shelling in the distance felt a lot quieter now.
"Why are they shooting at us?" Hawkeye said to the comfortingly-distant noise.
"I don't think they realise we're here," Mulcahy said. "And I don't think we should be here. Hawkeye, would you just turn the jeep around? We're due back at the pickup place by now."
"Okay." Hawkeye glanced sideways at Mulcahy. There were times when calm courage in the face of danger gave him a real sense of what heroism was. There were other times, and this was one of them, when it just filled him with an overwhelming, passionate irritation. It wasn't natural. He put his foot down on the starter, and the engine gave an irritated grunt, turned over once, and died. Hawkeye sympathised.
Hawkeye shrugged. "Do I know?" Reluctantly, he got out of the jeep. He went round the front of it and kicked the radiator.
"What are you doing?" Mulcahy sounded as if he were drawing on reserves of unfailing patience.
Hawkeye shrugged again. "You have to know how to treat these brutes. I had a stubborn Studebaker once. The only thing they understand is a good swift kick in the radiator."
Mulcahy got out of the car. "It might help to open the hood," he said, very patiently, and did so.
The jeep engine looked like every other engine Hawkeye had ever looked at: a tangled, oily, inexplicable mess. Mulcahy looked it over, and bent to glance closer.
"It's all downhill from here on. It's probably something very simple, like a broken buckle on the fan belt. Maybe the muffler unravelled. Maybe the radiator cap has snapped its brim." When he was terrified, he talked too much.
Mulcahy glanced up. "I can't see anything wrong," he said.
"Face it," Hawkeye said, pushing his hands deep in his pockets, trying to keep them from trembling. "The patient is dead. We have to put a sheet over its headlights and move on." Walking from here back to the 4077th would take a few hours, but this close to the front lines, they might just find a battalion, or better, a battalion aid station, and get to call for a ride. He looked around. Down the road, visible through trees, was a small troop of soldiers.
The wrong sort of soldiers.
"Well, we can't just leave it here," Mulcahy said.
"I think we'd better," Hawkeye said, and grabbed his arm. "Come on -- "
The North Korean soldiers clearly didn't think they were in enemy territory. There were four of them, all armed, looking like any routine patrol, strolling along -- not expecting to see an American jeep, marked with a red cross, right in the middle of the road.
Hawkeye had never learned more that three words of Korean, but he could guess what they were saying to each other. "Look, that's a car!" -- "There's no one in it!" -- "Perhaps there are American soldiers nearby!" -- "Who cares: let's see if it starts!" -- "Woo, look at the magazines!"
He was fairly sure he could tell when they got to that bit. Some noises were unmistakable.
So was the noise of a jeep starting up. Whatever had been wrong had obviously been fixable.
There was laughter: there were cheerful comments: there was the sound of a jeep, in perfect working order, disappearing down the road.
"I hope you're not blaming me for that," Hawkeye said.
Mulcahy stood up and peered down the road. He didn't say anything, or look at Hawkeye.
Hawkeye put on a grin. "Boy, I wouldn't want to be those guys when Sergeant Zale finds out his back copies of Love Among the Nurses are missing."
"I think we're behind enemy lines," Mulcahy said. He pointed in the opposite direction to the one their jeep had gone in. "Let's start walking."
It was going to be dark in a couple of hours, and the Korean dusk was vanishingly short. The noise of shelling was not far enough away to be reassuring. Further, Hawkeye wasn't sure they were even heading in the right direction. The lines shifted back and forth, hills taken by one side retaken by another. They were probably in North Korean territory right now, but being in South Korean territory wouldn't help unless they could find someone. Anyone. Someone who wasn't going to shoot them.
It didn't help that Mulcahy was walking along in silence, without a word of reproach or anger. Then again, probably nothing would have helped from that direction.
They missed two more North Korean patrols by ducking into the undergrowth at the side of the road and waiting there until they'd gone by. Then there was a long stretch of time when they saw no one. Whoever was shelling the countryside had stopped shelling the exact bit they were in, but there were uncomfortable noises just ahead. And too close behind. And to either side.
"It's going to be dark soon."
Mulcahy nodded. He didn't say anything.
Not far down the road there was a dilapidated hut -- someone's deserted home. Hawkeye pointed at it. "There's a YMCA over there. Let's see if we can check in for the night."
"I think we should keep going -- " Mulcahy said, but when Hawkeye kept going towards the hut, he heard the other man's quiet footsteps following him.
The hut couldn't have been deserted long: the roof was still whole. It had been looted, but not wrecked. "This place is a handyman's delight. A real fixer-upper."
Mulcahy looked around. "Should we stay in here? It's a perfect target."
"Some forward observer's probably using this hut as a registration point. He's not going to destroy his own benchmark."
Mulcahy gave him a peculiar look. "I didn't know you knew anything military."
"I learned it at the movies. Abbot and Costello meet Hitler."
Mulcahy was still looking oppressively, politely, disbelieving.
Hawkeye shrugged. "I just don't want to walk around out there while it's raining artillery shells." There was still a table and a couple of chairs in the main room. It was summer, or they'd have been taken for fuel. No food, of course -- that would have been the first thing to go. He walked across to look out the other window, and saw an odd patch of green that wasn't a bush or a patch of grass.
It moved. Hawkeye went on looking at it for another few seconds while it closed in on him what that was. There had been shooting here not long ago.
"Stay where you are. I'll be back in a minute." The man out there was still alive. He ran, bent almost double to avoid being seen. A few minutes in shelter had made him all the more conscious of the dangers in the open.
The man was North Korean. He was curled around his belly-wound. He was dead -- the movement Hawkeye had seen must have been his last. His body was still warm: it took Hawkeye a minute to be certain that his heart wasn't beating. Under his body was a puddled, half-dried mess of blood and shit and mud. He had lain there a long time, in the dusty grass, bleeding to death, unable to move for the agony in his guts.
There was nothing Hawkeye could have done for him with only his medical bag, beyond give him a lot of morphine and a fractionally easier death.
He looked up: Mulcahy was crouching near him. "Is there anything I can do?"
"What are you doing out here? Let's get back -- " He grabbed Mulcahy's arm and ran, keeping low, towards the hut. He dragged Mulcahy, unwilling, with him. The sound of shelling was coming closer again.
Mulcahy wrenched his arm free and glared at Hawkeye. "What's the matter with you, you run out there and risk your life and then you come back without him!"
Mulcahy stared. "Are you sure?"
"Yes! I learned how to tell dead in my first year at medical school, it's not difficult. You stop breathing, your heart stops beating, and you stop spilling your guts." He slowed down. Mulcahy looked shocked. "There was nothing you could have done for him either, Father -- I doubt if he was Catholic."
There was a horrible thump far too close, followed by another far too closer, followed by another -- Hawkeye flung himself at Mulcahy and threw them both to the floor. The fourth shell slammed so close to the hut that it shook the building. Hawkeye, uncomfortably on top of Mulcahy, hunched down over him, burying his face against the other man's hair and covering his shoulders with his hands. Large bits of roof were falling around them.
The horrible crumping noises moved further away. Hawkeye didn't move. There were still bits of roof falling. He had been scared rigid too many times in the past two years, but he'd never been this sure he was going to die. It was definitely comforting to feel Mulcahy solid, alive, unhurt, still breathing --
"All right," Mulcahy said, sounding squashed, "can you get off me now?"
Hawkeye slid his hands off Mulcahy's shoulders and lifted his head. There was a jagged pain in his upper thigh. "Yeah, well, uh -- "
"Hawkeye, I'd appreciate it if you got off me now," Mulcahy said. He sounded both squashed and irritated.
"I think I got something stuck in my leg," Hawkeye said. He was trying not to sound as if he were about to panic.
"Oh, dear Lord," Mulcahy said. "Wait a minute." He eased himself out from under Hawkeye. He went carefully, but it hurt. Hawkeye opened his mouth and managed not to curse him. He turned his head away so that Mulcahy couldn't see his face.
He felt Mulcahy's hands on his butt. Gentle and exploratory. Hawkeye twitched. "Father, there's no time for that now, look at my wound."
"I don't think this is the time for jokes like that," Mulcahy said brusquely. "You're hurt. You have morphine in your medical bag? Should I give you some?"
"How bad is it?" Hawkeye asked. It was both terrifying and frustrating not to be able to see it for himself, but he couldn't twist round far enough to be able to see the back of his own thigh. "I can hardly feel it." As far as he could tell, the splinter had gone in well up on his thigh, just below his gluteous maximus. If he could see it he could tell how bad the risk of arterial involvement was, but he couldn't.
"You seem to have a piece of wood in there," Mulcahy said. He sounded nervous. "Quite a big splinter. Do you want me to take it out?"
"Of course I do," Hawkeye snapped. "If I want a souvenir, I'll go to a gift shop!"
Silence from Mulcahy. Hawkeye heard him open the medical bag and look through it. "Do I -- "
"You need to pour some alcohol on it. The medical alcohol." There was a bottle of homemade gin at the bottom of his medical bag, but that was strictly for emergencies. "If it's a bad splinter, you're going to need to disinfect my scalpel, too. Use plenty of alcohol."
"How do I tell if it's a bad splinter?" Mulcahy asked.
"Can you see wood under my skin?"
"I think so -- "
"Right, well, either I'm a tree or you're going to have to cut my skin where you see the wood to get the splinter out -- and don't give me any static about how you can't do it, because I'm not a tree -- " He screamed and jerked up. Alcohol on an open wound stung like hell.
"Hawkeye, am I doing this right -- "
"Yes," Hawkeye said, on an agonised outbreath.
Another wash of alcohol. Hawkeye howled again, jerking up. "Stop -- "
"You're making this very difficult," Mulcahy said, sounding as if he were gritting his teeth. "I have to cut -- "
Hawkeye squirmed. Even a nurse would have gone faster. This was slow torture. Mulcahy seemed to be slicing through his skin in tiny, careful cuts, over and over and over again. He gripped the side of his head with his right hand, and tapped the floor with his left, fiercely trying not to reach back and grab that stupid hand moving the scalpel with such lack of skill. Even an amateur could remove a wood splinter, and even with two years working as one of the orderlies, Mulcahy was an amateur. He didn't like cutting people. Hawkeye tried to keep his left leg still, and succeeded until one last long slow cut triggered a reflex and he kicked. Mulcahy had pulled the scalpel back in time.
"Forget it," Hawkeye said on an outbreath. "Leave it in."
"Just hold still," Mulcahy said. He cut once more.
Hawkeye howled. It was that or curse Mulcahy to hell and back.
"Please, Hawkeye," Mulcahy said. He sounded irritated. "Can you be quiet, and hold still. I need to get a firm hold of it. I don't want to make things worse."
"No, me neither, no," Hawkeye agreed. He felt Mulcahy's hands exactly where it hurt worst, and whimpered out loud.
"There," Mulcahy said. He sounded enormously relieved. "You want to look at it?"
"Don't be morbid," Hawkeye snapped. "Just clean it off and put a dressing on it. You can do that, can't you?"
Mulcahy sighed sharply. "Let me give you a shot of morphine."
"Will you stop pushing the morphine?" There were few things Hawkeye would have liked better right now, but he didn't think they could afford for either of them to be logy.
"I think this is going to hurt."
"That's all right, I'm tough."
Hawkeye heard Mulcahy pick up the alcohol bottle. He howled, rather than curse.
"I haven't even started yet," Mulcahy protested.
"I'm just practicing," Hawkeye said.
"Really, Doctor Pierce," Mulcahy said. "I'm doing the best I can."
Hawkeye dropped his head to his arms and clenched his teeth. When Mulcahy went formal, he'd been pushed too far. One last wash of alcohol. Sulfa powder. Mulcahy knew how to dress a wound: Hawkeye had seen him do it, with simple cuts. The materials were all in his medical bag. He had to assume Mulcahy was doing it right, because there was no good way to check up on him.
"I'm done," Mulcahy said.
Hawkeye pushed himself up. His leg felt stiff and painful. It would likely be okay. At least until they got somewhere where someone medically qualified could look at it.
Mulcahy was looking at him warily. Hawkeye grimaced at him. "Thank you, Father." As far as he could tell, Mulcahy had done a workmanlike job of bandaging up his leg.
It must be nearly sunset. It would be dark soon. They'd have to stay here now. Hawkeye didn't like the look of this hut nearly as much as he had when they'd first walked into it, but he liked the idea of walking down the road after dark even less. He walked round the hut, pretending he was looking out of the windows, testing the feel of the muscles in his left leg. He'd need to be able to walk on this leg tomorrow.
Mulcahy got up, picked up Hawkeye's medical bag and his own satchel, and put them both down on the table. He sat down in front of them. His face was expressionless. Outside the shelling was almost-comfortably distant: if they'd been safe in the 4077th base, Hawkeye could have slept through it.
"I'm sorry I got you into this," Mulcahy said after a while.
"What?" Hawkeye turned round.
Mulcahy was looking at him. "I'm sorry."
"What?" Hawkeye stood and stared at him.
"Bad enough I buy on the black market. I certainly shouldn't have involved you. And I'm very sorry about your leg."
"Oh." Hawkeye stuck his hands into his pockets.
"And I've lost an army jeep."
"Oh, well, Radar can make that right. You know he posted a whole jeep home in 1950?"
"He did?" Mulcahy looked startled.
"I think the chassis went in 1951. Second-class mail. Anyway, he can make it didn't happen."
"But what I was doing was illegal."
"No," Hawkeye said. He swallowed. "What I was doing was stupid."
Mulcahy glanced up. He pressed his hands together in front of his mouth.
"If I'd let you go out on your own, you'd be safe back in the 4077th right now. With enough rice to make weeks of rice pudding."
"Well, I did wonder why -- "
Hawkeye grimaced. "Look, just call me an idiot and have done with it."
"I don't think I could do that," Mulcahy said.
"You're already doing it," Mulcahy said. Hawkeye realised his hands were covering a wide smile. "Why should I?"
"Oh." Hawkeye managed a grin. "Well, so long as I'm entertaining you." He swallowed. Not far enough away, artillery was thumping.
"I really am very sorry," Mulcahy said. His smile had gone away. Hawkeye walked around the room again. At the back of one of the shelves, there were two small clay cups, varnished smooth and brown on the outside. A third one lay on its side, cracked.
"Hey, want a drink?"
Mulcahy glanced at Hawkeye's bag. "Medical alcohol?"
"No." Hawkeye picked up the cups. "A bottle of the Swamp's best liquid rat poison."
Hawkeye put the cups down on the table and dug out the bottle. "Now, I know what you're asking yourself. How good can this be?"
"Is that what I'm asking myself?"
"Yes." Hawkeye sat down, cautiously. "And the answer is, how good does it have to be?" He poured them each a shot, and pushed one cup across the table to Mulcahy.
They both drank. Mulcahy shuddered a little: he wasn't seasoned in Swamp gin. "You think we'll ever get out of here?" he asked.
"I was just going to ask you the same question." Hawkeye poured them each another shot. "Any word from above?"
Mulcahy glanced up. He was half-smiling. "He hasn't told me we won't."
"Well, feel free to ask for a definite message. And a map, showing the nearest battalion aid station and location of the nearest fighting so we can stay away from it. And Marilee's phone number."
"This girl I loved in San Francisco. Twice. She was pure heaven."
Mulcahy gave him a polite, blank look. Hawkeye returned a devilish grin. "Come on, you weren't born a priest." He was treading on dangerous ground, but it was better than sitting feeling scared. Or walking round the hut feeling scared. "There must have been someone who was heaven for you. You can tell me. I'm not going anywhere."
"Perhaps we could talk about something else?"
"All right," Hawkeye said. "How do you do it?"
"Why aren't you scared? It's insane not to be scared. You could get Klinger's Section 8."
Mulcahy looked down at the cup on the table. He hadn't finished his second shot, and the surface of the liquid was trembling slightly.
"I'm terrified," he said. He looked up again. "But I'm not like you -- I can't -- I'm not brave enough to make jokes about it. I'm trying not to think about it."
"Okay," Hawkeye said. "Sex, death -- what about taxes?"
Mulcahy shrugged. He still looked calm and unafraid.
"Terrified?" Hawkeye was disbelieving.
"Is that so hard to believe?"
Hawkeye looked him over. "Yes," he said.
Mulcahy half-laughed. "What would I have to do to convince you?"
"Tell me about the first time you fell in love."
Mulcahy jerked his head up. "What?"
"You tell me about yours, I'll tell you about mine."
"How will that convince you I'm scared?"
"Because when people are terrified, they do stupid things," Hawkeye said.
Mulcahy really did laugh. He looked down at the cup. "Think of something else stupid for me to do."
Hawkeye grinned. "I am."
Mulcahy looked up. He caught Hawkeye's eye. Hawkeye had the abrupt feeling that a joke he'd thought was going just over Mulcahy's head had caught him right in the gut.
Neither of them said anything for a moment. Then Mulcahy stood up. "I suppose we should just try to sleep. We can move on when it gets light." He backed away from the table, pulling off his jacket. "I'll sleep over here."
It would have made sense for them to lie down and sleep together. But it was too late to suggest that now with any appearance of innocence. Hawkeye got up, carefully, and picked a stretch of floor fairly clear of debris from the roof. Across the room, Mulcahy had pillowed his head on his folded jacket. Hawkeye lay down. "Good night."
"Good night," Mulcahy said.
The floor was very hard. Worse than an army cot. If not for letting his mouth run off, he could have been snuggled up next to a nice warm Francis Mulcahy right now. A nice, warm, cuddly... priest.
Hawkeye buried his face against the crook of his elbow. It could be worse. He could be trapped in this hut with Frank Burns. Or Charles Winchester. Or Radar, who was capable of getting a lot more spooked than Father Mulcahy when he picked up on what Hawkeye was feeling about him. Cute little guy, but too good at reading other people's minds for comfort. If it were BJ, at least they could have shared a fantasy. Or two. If it were Trapper --
No, better not go there.
Colonel Potter. Potter would be perfect. He wouldn't complain and there'd be no temptation and the worst he'd do would be tell some repetitive stories about being in a hut like this in WWI. With a horse.
Right. Except... he'd never have insisted on going along on a black market deal to protect Colonel Potter.
I'm an idiot.
Hawkeye jerked up with a yell. Across the room he heard a hasty, rather high voice muttering in Latin. The hut was still shaking. Too close.
A crumpling thump so close it was too loud to hear, not sound but shock, blue light exploding the room with lethal illumination --
Hawkeye had made it halfway across the room without even thinking about it. He flung himself down beside Mulcahy and grabbed hold of him.
Another thud too close for comfort. Hawkeye clutched Mulcahy closer, hand on his head, and yelled at the unknown, "Will you cut it out, you want to kill us? Just cut it out -- "
The hut was shaking. The blue light illuminating it in flashes showed Mulcahy's face, close to his own, terrified. Hawkeye was trying to pull him closer, wanting him inside somewhere safe. Mulcahy's mouth was open, saying something.
Hawkeye kissed him. Mulcahy's hand came up to grip at the back of his neck and his mouth was devouring Hawkeye's like he was starving. He was solid and real under Hawkeye's hands, his own hands strong and firm. He even smelt good. He was eating Hawkeye alive and Hawkeye was loving every mouthful. It was like being in bed with a starved octopus. Or maybe it was like being in the middle of a war zone trying to forget the shelling with a priest who was high on a double-dose of need.
It was like being made love to by someone Hawkeye had always taken for granted he couldn't have.
Mulcahy got him to come first: it was impossible to distract him for long enough until he'd accomplished that. He seemed to relax a little, as if Hawkeye's coming had eased the tension for him too, and he let Hawkeye open him up with a finger and go down on him with an expert mouth. Giving a blow-job was a fantastic distraction: in the middle of it the roof of the hut could have blown off and Hawkeye would never have noticed.
It was too cold to lie around unbuttoned: Hawkeye pulled them both back together again. Mulcahy seemed dazed and half-asleep already.
The floor was no softer, but it felt good to lie back with Mulcahy's head pillowed on his shoulder and his arms wrapped round Mulcahy, holding him against his chest.
Still an idiot.
The sun woke Hawkeye. And the silence. There was no artillery firing. There were birds singing. It was a beautiful morning.
There was a priest sleeping mostly on top of him. Mulcahy's head was resting on his shoulder. He snored. Hawkeye had never noticed that before. He was deep asleep, his hand fallen on Hawkeye's other shoulder in a relaxed grip.
I had sex with a priest last night.
"Oh, yeah..." Hawkeye said out loud.
Mulcahy stirred. He stopped snoring. After a minute, he twitched and lifted his head.
"Sleep well?" he asked. He sounded sleepily content himself.
"Gee, I dunno, I was unconscious most of the time."
Mulcahy lifted his head and looked Hawkeye in the face. Hawkeye watched him wake up. After a moment, Mulcahy shook his head, slid off Hawkeye, and sat up. "Why don't we have breakfast and get moving?" he said, sounding as if he were forcing himself to be calm and matter-of-fact.
"Breakfast? Great. What'll we do, call room service or go down to the coffee shop?"
Mulcahy got up. "I've got some crackers in my bag."
"They're wheat. In an emergency, I can bless them for communion wafers." Mulcahy was smiling. "I think I've got some jam, too."
"Is that for communion emergencies?"
Mulcahy peered at the label. "No, it's not grape jam." He smiled again, brightly. "Strawberry."
Hawkeye pushed himself to his feet. His leg had stiffened up overnight. The smile on Mulcahy's face vanished. "Are you all right?"
"I was sleeping on my leg all night. Or someone was sleeping on it. I'm not sure it was me."
"Oh, dear." Mulcahy had gone white. "I'm sorry, I -- "
Hawkeye felt a flash of compunction. "It'll be fine," he said shortly. "I just need to stretch my legs." He grinned. "You got a rack?" He turned to walk round the hut, keeping his hand on the wall for balance. He was limping, but he was fairly hopeful it was just stiffness that would wear off with exercise. I'm an idiot.
Mulcahy appeared at his side. He gave him a kind smile, the kind that burns, and a kind of sandwich, two crackers with an awkward dollop of army-issue pink jam. Hawkeye ate it quickly. Mulcahy was sitting at the table, eating a cracker with jam: he got up and handed Hawkeye a second sandwich.
Hawkeye tried to eat the second sandwich more slowly. He peered out of the window. They would move on before the North Korean who had died there yesterday began to stink, but he could see the man, green-uniformed and still.
He froze. There was movement out there.
Very quietly, he said, "There's a man in uniform out there, and he's not here to read the meter."
Mulcahy stood up and came over to the window. He looked unnaturally calm. Hawkeye was conscious again of a flood of irritation. He was terrified. Mulcahy should be.
"We have to get out of here," he said, trying to sound as calm as Mulcahy looked. "He's scavenging -- he's filled his pockets and now he's looking for more -- "
Mulcahy stepped back to the table. He picked up his bag, closing the buckles, and then Hawkeye's. Hawkeye stepped away from the wall and felt his leg go. He landed hard. "Oh, this isn't good -- "
Mulcahy looked round hastily. Hawkeye was picking himself up: to his surprise, Mulcahy was making no effort to help. He went over to one of the big pieces of ceiling that had fallen and tilted it up. He still looked horribly calm. "Come here," he said. "Get down."
Hawkeye made it over to the piece of ceiling. He landed next to Mulcahy. Mulcahy put an arm over him, pulling him closer. They were huddled as close together as they had been last night, and Mulcahy's heart was pounding as hard as Hawkeye's. "You really are scared," Hawkeye whispered. He was conscious of a sudden warmth: he wanted to pull Mulcahy into his arms, inside somewhere safe. There was nowhere safe.
He felt Mulcahy's head move, as if the other man were about to comment, but the door of the hut shoved open. A voice -- male, tense -- said something in Korean. The tone said that he didn't expect a reply.
Footsteps on the dirt floor. The man was walking unsteadily. He was still talking, but it didn't seem that he was speaking to anyone: his voice wandered up and down as he went across the room, to the table where Mulcahy had left the crackers and jam. They both heard the cellophane rustle: the man was helping himself to a cracker.
The man said something -- it sounded like a protesting grunt, barely verbal -- and Hawkeye shoved the fallen ceiling off them both as he heard the thump and clatter of a fully-armed man falling to the floor. He grabbed his medical bag from Mulcahy and crawled across the floor, not trusting his weight to his leg. This one he might be able to save.
It was another belly wound, but not as bad as the man outside. The cracker couldn't have helped: if he'd come in to the 4077th, Hawkeye would have had him on IV until the holes in his gut were healed up. The man was groaning and feebly trying to push Hawkeye away, but he was all but out of it.
"How is he?" Mulcahy asked.
"Got a bullet in his guts." Hawkeye let go of him, cautiously. The man was twitching, but not fighting. He picked up the medical alcohol, realised there was hardly any left, and scrabbled out the Swamp gin bottle. It would do to wash his hands in. "God, this man was out there stealing pennies from a dead man, and he's only got a couple of hours left himself. Crazy place this is. How hungry can they be?"
Mulcahy knelt down on the other side. "They're starving, mostly," he said, and crossed himself. "Is there anything I can do?"
"You could have offered him breakfast." Hawkeye looked up. "Find me that morphine you were pushing last night, and then hold him down for me."
It didn't take Mulcahy long. "Can I -- "
Hawkeye took the hypo out of Mulcahy's hand. "Just hold him down, Father."
The morphine took effect almost immediately. Hawkeye was cleaning and dressing the wound: the man was all but unconscious. Mulcahy was staring down at his face.
They both heard the chopper overhead. "That sounds like one of ours," Mulcahy said after a moment, and leapt up. He ran out of the hut.
"Where's the sulfa?" Hawkeye said to himself, lacking any other audience. He looked in his bag. The tin wasn't there. He searched, increasingly worried: Mulcahy hadn't come back. "My kingdom for a nurse."
The door shoved open. Hawkeye flinched.
It was Mulcahy. He looked discouraged. "It was one of ours," he said. "But I don't think the pilot saw me."
The tin of sulfa had been right under his nose all the time. Hawkeye picked it up. "Here it is." He shook it over the wound, and covered it with a light dressing, taped down. Good as the man would have got at a battalion aid station. Lucky he was still unconscious.
"I think there's a patrol nearby," Mulcahy said. "We should move out of here."
Hawkeye stood up. His leg buckled again. "My leg is coming along really well," he told Mulcahy, from the floor.
Mulcahy pushed Hawkeye's materials back into his bag. He grabbed the crackers from the table and shoved them into his own bag. Somehow he got both bags over one shoulder, and pulled Hawkeye to his feet, wrapping an arm firmly round him.
"Will they find him?" Hawkeye said, limping with Mulcahy to the door. "Maybe we should take him outside -- "
Mulcahy half-laughed. "Everyone comes in here, Hawkeye. We did, he did, they will. It's the busiest YMCA in Korea."
Plodding along the road had been nerve-wracking enough yesterday, when Hawkeye had felt able to run. Leaning on Mulcahy, it was terrifying. Even though it seemed to be a quiet, sunny day, with just a few clouds in the sky. No one was aiming artillery anywhere near them.
Of course, that might just mean that the front lines had moved. Maybe they had miles and miles more to walk. Which, given the speed Hawkeye was moving at, meant they'd probably be captured before they got there.
A hero would suggest Mulcahy leave him behind. Hawkeye didn't feel like a hero.
"Do you think they'll find us?" he asked.
Mulcahy shrugged a little. He looked tired. "I've said a whole Novena about it." It sounded as if he were trying to make a joke. Hawkeye didn't get it.
"They're got to have noticed we're missing since last night."
"Yes," Mulcahy agreed shortly.
"Of course, we were supposed to be going over to the orphanage, and instead we went in the exact opposite direction."
"Yes," Mulcahy said, even more shortly.
They stopped to rest every hour for ten minutes. After the first rest period, Hawkeye stopped trying to talk. He was certain he ought to suggest Mulcahy go on without him. But the idea of being left behind terrified him: he didn't think he could talk Mulcahy into it convincingly. So long as he could get up and keep going after each time they rested, he wasn't going to say anything.
It was around the middle of the afternoon when it started to rain. They had been resting under a tree, and they stayed there, huddled in what shelter it could provide. The annoying thing was that Hawkeye was sure -- had been sure for the last two or three miles -- that they were either close to the front line or they'd passed it. Mulcahy disagreed. Arguing about this provided something to talk about until it got too dark to see, and it was still raining. They were stuck there for the night.
Mulcahy produced the crackers from his bag. They shared them without talking about it.
Just as a matter of common sense, they were sitting close together: Mulcahy felt very solid and warm and comforting in the rainy night.
It was kind of silly, Hawkeye decided, to pretend last night hadn't happened. He put his arm round Mulcahy and hugged him closer.
"Hawkeye?" Mulcahy said.
"I'm very sorry."
"We were both very ...distressed... last night. It obviously can't -- wouldn't -- happen again." His voice trailed off. "Not that you would want it to."
"What makes you think I wouldn't?" Hawkeye whispered.
Mulcahy turned his head away. "It's not as if... if not for the circumstances -- "
Hawkeye's arm was still around Mulcahy, close and warm. Mulcahy's voice in the darkness was light and uneven. "It was just one of those things, Hawkeye. Please don't try to make it more than that."
"Just one of those things?"
"We were both... upset."
"Is that what you call it?" The rain felt even wetter than before. "You were all over me."
"Yes," Mulcahy said. "I'm very sorry." He seemed to have withdrawn into himself.
A drip started down the back of Hawkeye's neck. It was maddening. Moving would make it worse, but Hawkeye knew well enough that he'd never be able to stand not moving, not for long. "So," he said. "Just one of those things. You often have 'just one of those things'? Or just two of those things? How do I rate as one of those things?"
Mulcahy said nothing.
"You know, on a scale of one to ten?"
Mulcahy said nothing.
"Or however you rate those things? Go on, I'd like to know." The drip down the back of his neck got too maddening to ignore: Hawkeye shifted, getting two more drips for his trouble, leaning into Mulcahy and tightening his grip on him for balance.
"Please don't," Mulcahy said. His voice, already uneven, actually wobbled. "Please, Hawkeye. We don't have time> for this right now -- I can't think about it while we're in such trouble -- " He stopped talking. Glancing sideways, Hawkeye saw his face change from distress to calm -- a willed change. Mulcahy's kind of courage. Hawkeye had seen him talk a hysterical soldier into giving him a live hand grenade with the same willed calm.
Hawkeye was trying to think up some kind of apology for pushing a live grenade at him right now, without actually saying he was sorry they'd made love last night, because he wasn't. "Francis -- " he started, and then stopped, wondering if it would be better to make it "Father".
"Shush," Mulcahy said, suddenly. He leaned forward.
"What?" Hawkeye was startled, and a little annoyed.
"There's someone on the road," Mulcahy whispered.
Hawkeye shut up. They sat hunched together, in silence, trying to be invisible. There were several people, walking along, talking in Korean -- all men, and all, from their shape in the wet dark, armed. And there was an ox cart.
One of the men left the road and walked over towards their tree. Hawkeye froze, praying he was just looking for a convenient bush. The man said something in Korean.
Mulcahy lifted his head. He said something back.
After a short exchange, Mulcahy turned to Hawkeye. "They'll take us to the orphanage," he said. "We'll have to stay in the cart and stay down, so nobody sees us. And... they want us not to have seen them, if anyone asks."
"You got all that?" Hawkeye stared at Mulcahy incredulously. He hadn't known Mulcahy knew that much Korean.
"No," Mulcahy said. "But I know what they want." Mulcahy was pulling him to his feet. Hawkeye stumbled with him to the road: at the moment, he felt like he would promise anything if it meant no more walking.
The wood of the cart felt rough against Hawkeye's hands as he half-fell, half-scrambled into it. He ended up on his stomach, straining to keep his face from the splintery wood, when he felt Mulcahy's jacket being tucked around his shoulders, with the sleeves of it brought under his face.
"You can't give me that," he protested. "It's raining -- it's cold. You'll get hypothermia -- "
Mulcahy lay down beside him on his back. "They lent me a blanket," he said, "but from the smell you wouldn't want it in your face."
Hawkeye squinted sideways. "Okay," he said. He let his neck muscles relax.
"Be quiet now," Mulcahy said.
The cart rocked off through the rainy night. Hawkeye's leg was still hurting, but it was a dull ache, ignorable. He was almost comfortable enough to go to sleep. His face was pillowed against Mulcahy's jacket, and it smelt of Mulcahy.
The cart came to a halt, and that woke Hawkeye up from his half-doze. It had stopped raining. The men were unloading the sacks that had been sharing the cart with them; Hawkeye pushed himself up and Mulcahy helped him down. They were outside the orphanage.
Sister Teresa was there, her cowl on crooked, and a handful of the older children. Hawkeye found himself being helped inside as if he were an ambulant sack, and laid down on two child-size mattresses pushed together. They smelt, faintly, of urine: but he was in no mood to complain. He went to sleep.
"Hawkeye?" Someone was shaking his shoulder.
BJ had told him that he whimpered when he was woken unexpectedly. Hawkeye had no idea if it was true -- he was never awake enough at the time to notice.
"Hawkeye? Are you awake?"
"What?" Hawkeye tried to turn over and groaned. His leg had stiffened up again.
"Sister Teresa sent a runner to the 4077th at dawn," Mulcahy said. "They'll be back with a jeep in half an hour or so."
"Oh." Hawkeye lifted himself and tried to squint back at his leg. It felt like Mulcahy hadn't managed to get all the splinters out. There was no point in saying so. "I don't suppose there's any coffee?"
"I'm afraid not. There is some rice and kimchee, if you'd like."
"I woke you, because..." Mulcahy hesitated and glanced round. They weren't alone, but no one was paying any attention to them. The children were eating breakfast, and the nuns were supervising. "Do you remember how we got here?"
"Yes," Hawkeye said.
"Do you think you could forget?"
"What?" Hawkeye propped his head up on one fist and looked at Mulcahy.
"Just not remember?"
"Were they...?" Hawkeye grinned. Mulcahy looked embarrassed. "We got rescued by rice pirates!"
"I think so," Mulcahy said. "But do you think we could just... forget?"
"I have a very flexible memory," Hawkeye assured him. "We walked here, right? All the way?"
Hawkeye knocked on the door. After a minute, Mulcahy opened it. "Oh. Hello, Hawkeye." He stood there looking uncertain.
"Can I come in?"
"I suppose so," Mulcahy said, after a moment, and stood aside, letting Hawkeye in. His Bible lay face down on the bed. "Are you all right?"
"Cleared for independent action."
"I'm very sorry."
"Listen, getting all the splinters out of a wound is difficult under the best conditions. You didn't have proper lighting, you didn't have proper instruments, you're not a surgeon, and you had a neurotic doctor yelling at you every time you moved. I'm sorry I gave you a hard time."
"Oh." Mulcahy looked a little relieved. "So you're really going to be all right?"
"The most bizarre part of the experience was the Colonel telling me that he was sorry he couldn't recommend me for a Purple Heart, because officially I was tucked up in bed at the 4077th, not out chasing black marketeers with a priest." Hawkeye grinned, ignoring Mulcahy's disturbed look. "But according to the Colonel and BJ and Margaret and Charles, all of whom insisted on checking out my leg, I'm going to be just fine. I probably won't even be limping in another week. I never knew the Colonel was a leg man."
"The Colonel knows...?"
"He figured it out."
"He told me to leave you alone next time -- you're a better criminal mastermind than me."
Mulcahy managed a small smile. He went back to his cot and sat down. "Thank you, Hawkeye."
Hawkeye pulled up the chair and sat down. "Francis?"
Mulcahy looked up sharply. "What is it?"
"I noticed you've been steering clear of me."
"Oh..." Mulcahy picked up the Bible and closed it, his finger marking the place. "I've been... been a little busy since we got back..."
"Listen, you were right. What you said to me. We were together, in a life-threatening situation, and we turned to each other. I'm sorry for what I said afterwards. It's just... you turned away first. And I'm not used to that."
Mulcahy swallowed, visibly. "I'm not used... to being in this situation."
"So, I was thinking... why don't we just exercise a bit of flexible memory?"
Mulcahy looked at him.
"Forget it happened," Hawkeye said. It wasn't like he could forget it: but he was fairly sure he could fake it.
After a long moment, Mulcahy nodded. "All right."
"Good." Hawkeye grinned. "By the way, I've started a new collection of girlie magazines for you, Father."
Mulcahy took a breath, and nodded again. "Thank heaven. The people we don't remember meeting told me they might be able to trade us a goat if they got more American magazines, and the orphanage really needs a goat..." His voice trailed off. He was looking at Hawkeye, sober and unreadable.
"Here's looking at you, kid."
"Comrades" was written for my friend and co-conspirator Ann, at her request, after we'd both watched "Comrades in Arms". She wanted a story based on "CiA" but with Mulcahy stuck in the hut with Hawkeye: so I wrote it, with great pleasure. (Borrowing dialogue and situations at will, thank you.) It's impolite, I know, to specify what kind of feedback you do and don't like: but if you want to send me feedback that consists of slagging off Margaret Houlihan, don't. I like "Comrades in Arms": I think it's a terrific episode. I like Margaret Houlihan. I like the way Hawkeye and Margaret's relationship changed after "CiA" -- not as lovers, but as more comfortable friends. You won't make me feel any better about writing this if you make me feel you enjoyed it most because you detest Margaret Houlihan and don't like to see her snogging Hawkeye.
Feedback: e-mail me (or comment me if you have a livejournal).