DYING IS NOT AN OPTION
Set fifteen years after the end of the Korean War.
Hawkeye has moved away from Crabapple Cove and is now Chief Surgeon in hospital. One morning he arrives at the hospital and is looking at the list of patients admitted overnight and he sees a name he recognizes.
A first time story.
Written: February 2013. Word count: 3,785.
"Good morning, Dr. Pierce," a young nurse said as she passed Hawkeye. He was on his way to work; she had clearly just come off duty.
"Good morning," he replied and gave her a smile in lieu of the fact he didn't know her name. How could he be expected to remember the names of all the nurses who worked in the hospital? He couldn't; it simply wasn't possible.
As he paused for a moment outside the large, imposing building he wondered, not for the first time, whether he had made the right decision to leave Crabapple Cove and accept the position of Chief Surgeon in the large hospital he now not only worked in he also, for the most part, ran.
When his dad had died a year and a half ago, it had seemed the right thing to do, the logical thing to do. There were far too many memories associated with the house, the town; the people and he'd wanted to get away. He wanted to escape from the people who knew him so well, the people who were so kind to him after his dad's death; the people who kept dropping hints about how much better it would be if he had a wife to share things with, to cook for him, to look after him. They didn't quite ask him outright when he was going to get married, but more than one of them had come close on more than one occasion.
Which is why he done what he had done; which is why he'd ended up here - but had it been the right thing to do? It was so impersonal; he wasn't operating as much as he'd expected to be doing; he spent more time pushing papers and going over budgets than he did operating - and that wasn't who he was.
He sighed; he'd made his decision, he couldn't go back now - well actually he could. Rather than sell the practice that had belonged to his dad and him, he'd offered a job to the son of one of his dad's old friends, who was recovering from a serious illness and needed something less stressful than working for a hospital. They signed a two year agreement which came to an end in six months - he could go back; he could go home; he could admit he wasn't cut out for working in an impersonal hospital. But he could admit defeat? Was it defeat?
"Good morning, Alison," he said, as he walked through his secretary's office into his office - and that was another thing; he hated having an office. In fact he spent very little time in it, preferring to be out in the hospital - much to the chagrin of the hard-worked Alison, who it was fair to say, had the patience of a saint where Hawkeye was concerned.
"Good morning, Dr. Pierce. The list of patients admitted overnight is on your desk."
Hawkeye smiled at her; she said the same thing every morning, just as she always had coffee waiting for him on his desk; it was part of their routine. "Thank you, Alison." She smiled and returned to a form she'd been filling out.
He went into his office, closed the door, pulled his coat off and hung it up before doing what he always did as soon as he got into his office; he walked over to the window and looked out. Except today he couldn't actually see anything as frost covered the windowpanes, blocking out the outside world. He hadn't realized quite how cold it had been and then as he frowned and turned to his desk as he remembered there had been frost on the windowpanes of his house, he just hadn't really registered it at the time as he'd been intent on getting showered and dressed; getting ready for work.
He went to his desk, picked the mug of coffee up with one hand and the Xeroxed copy of patients admitted over night with the other and began to cast his eyes over it. As always it was so faint, it was hard to make out the names. Alison had mentioned more than once they needed to replace the Xerox machine or at least have it properly serviced, but to Hawkeye's mind if was more important to spend money on medical equipment than on things that didn't actually help save lives.
He frowned as his eyes came to rest on one particular name; not only was the print faint, but there was also a smudge on the paper and the name was barely visible. He held it up to the light and stared at it, waiting for his eyes to focus. The next second he heard the sound of his mug shattering on the floor as he gripped his desk with the hand that had been holding the coffee and stared in horror at the name he finally had been able to make out: B. J. Hunnicutt.
"Alison!" he yelled, "get in here now." He moved from behind his desk, frowning as broken china crunched under his feet - he ignored it; it didn't matter.
Alison looking a little flustered hurried in. "Is something the matter, Dr. Pierce?" she said looking at him.
He strode over to her and pushed the list into her hands. "The fourth one down, what does it say?"
She stared at it, frowned a little, hastily pulled her glasses out of her jacket
pocket and put them on and looked again. "I believe it says B. J. Hunnicutt, Dr.
Pierce. However, the print is very faint; it is difficult to be completely sure.
If you don't mind me saying so, Doctor, I do -
"Later!" Hawkeye snapped, as he turned from her, strode back to his desk chair, grabbed his white coat and pulled it on. "I'll be in ICU," he said.
"But Dr. Pierce, you have a meeting with the Board in twenty minutes. And you did cancel the last one; they won't be -"
"I don't care. Cancel it. Tell them - tell them anything you like." And with that, the list still in his hand he strode out of his office, along the corridor towards the elevators. He pushed one of the buttons and waited. "Come on, come on," he muttered and then after waiting for another second, he turned and headed for the stairs, taking them two at time, going up three flights until he came to ICU.
He stopped for a second and swallowed hard, making himself breathe deeply and telling himself not to panic. It might not even be his B. J. Hunnicutt; surely there was likely to be more than one person with the same name in America? And the B. J. on the crumpled list he held was probably just initials, unlike his BJ - they were, after all, written as if they were initials.
Besides, what would the man he'd known well, the man who had been his best friend, the man who had been his partner in playing pranks, the man who had helped him get through the hell that had been Korea, the man he'd worked with, lived with, laughed with, cried with, the man he'd fallen in love with and never told, the man who fifteen years ago he'd said goodbye to, the man he'd let go back to his wife and daughter, what would he be doing here when he lived in Maine. It wasn't possible; he was getting himself worked up over a stranger. He should just go back to his office, apologize to Alison and meet with the Board where he'd sit and stare out of the window while they talked - except he couldn't even do that, as they were all covered with frost.
Without consciously intending to do so, he pushed open the door and walked into ICU. It was quiet, well apart from nurses talking in hushed voices and machines beeping. "Dr. Pierce," Janet Frobisher, the head nurse, looked up from a report she'd been writing. "Can I help you, sir?"
"You had a patient admitted last night, a BJ Hunnicutt," Hawkeye said.
Janet looked at a list. "Yes, sir. He's in pretty bad condition. Dr. Jackson decided to wait until today before he operated, to see if Mr. Hunnicutt was a little stronger."
Hawkeye forced himself not to react; he still didn't know if it was the man he knew. "Why was he admitted?"
Janet glanced at the list again. "Hit and run and it seems as if someone robbed him as well. He didn't have a wallet; his pockets were almost completely empty."
"How did you identify him then? Did someone know him?"
"No, sir. It's a little strange but the one thing he did have in his jacket pocket was a set of dog tags with the name Captain B. J. Hunnicutt on them." Hawkeye forced himself not to react. "We are in the process of contacting the military to see if they can tell us anything else about him."
"You don't need to," Hawkeye said.
"I know him. We served together in Korea. I just don't know what he was doing here, he lives in Maine."
"Maybe he was coming to see you, Doctor?" Hawkeye just stared at her. "Or maybe," she said slowly, "it's just a coincidence; two different men with the same name."
Hawkeye shrugged; he dearly wanted to think that, but he was certain it wasn't the case. "Blond, a few inches taller than me, blue eyes . . . Where is he?"
"I'll take you to him." She led him to a room with three beds in it; only one was occupied.
It took Hawkeye one look to know the truth. "That's him," he said, moving slowly towards the bed. "That's BJ."
"What does B. J. stand for, Doctor?"
Hawkeye tore his gaze away from the battered, far too still body of the man he still loved and looked at Janet as his mind went back over fifteen years, to the day he'd been determined to find out what B. J. stood for and how it had nearly driven him mad as he'd tried name after name and trick after trick to get BJ to tell him, only to finally learn that BJ was in fact his name. "Nothing," he said, moving to the end of the bed and picking up BJ's chart. "He's just BJ." He stared down at the chart and fought to stop himself from shaking visibly as he read it.
"Do you have contact details for Mr. Hunnicutt, sir?" Janet's voice seemed to come from a long way away.
"What?" Hawkeye looked up, staring for the moment at the frost covered windowpanes before letting his gaze move to Janet. "Oh, yes. Alison will let you have them; she'll find them in my personal address book - under H," he added, realizing as he said it how foolish it sounded.
"I'll go and call Alison," Janet said, hesitating for a moment. "Dr. Pierce, is there anything I can do for you?"
"No, thank you, Janet. Wait, yes, tell Dr. Jackson I want to see him immediately."
She paused for a moment before saying softly, "Yes, Doctor." Then she left the room.
Hawkeye read the chart one more time, before putting it back at the bottom of the bed and moving to stand next to BJ. He gazed down at the still, almost lifeless body and fought the tears that raged behind his eyes. Now wasn't the time for tears; now was the time for - He wasn't entirely sure. He gently put one hand on BJ's shoulder, letting it rest for a moment or two as he just went on staring at the man whose life hung by a thread.
"Hey, Beej," he said softly. "What are you doing here, buddy? Why aren't you back in Maine with your wife and daughter?" BJ didn't answer him, but then Hawkeye hadn't expected him to do so. Carefully he picked up one of BJ's hands and held it as he stood in silence staring down at the man he now wished he'd confessed his love to. For the first time ever he didn't know what to say to him. So he just stood still and silent; almost as still and silent as BJ was.
Ten minutes went by and he just carried on standing still and silent, holding BJ's hand, counting his heartbeats, wishing for a moment they were back in the hell that was Korea with the sun beating down on them, enemy fire too close for comfort, operating in one room, blood on the floors, moving from one far too young kid to another, merely changing gloves.
"I'm sorry, Dr. Pierce, I was - I'm sorry," Dr. Jackson rushed into the room, still knotting his tie. The way his hair was sticking up told Hawkeye he'd been sleeping. "Nurse Frobisher said you wanted to see me? She said you know Mr. Hunnicutt?"
Hawkeye looked up. "Yes, Gerald, I did and I do and you don't need to apologize." He looked away from Gerald; he let his gaze linger on the frost covered windows before looking at BJ for a moment or two and finally looking back at Gerald. "I'm going to operate," he said, making the decision in that split second. "You can assist me. I want to operate as soon as possible, arrange or get someone to arrange an operating theater."
"Er, Dr. Pierce, with the greatest respect, sir, I'm really not confident that Mr. Hunnicutt will survive surgery."
Hawkeye once more looked at the window and BJ before looking back at Gerald. "He may not. But he certainly won't survive without it."
"But, Doctor, if he's your - I'll arrange an operating theater." He headed towards the door, stopped and looked back at Hawkeye who stared unseeingly at him.
SEVERAL HOURS LATER
White coat over his bloodied theater greens, Hawkeye now sat by the side of BJ's bed, watching him, checking his vital signs every ten minutes. He'd been appalled at the extent of the injuries inside once they'd opened BJ up and just for a second he'd hesitated, wondering if it was right to subject BJ to such intrusive, extensive surgery when the chances of him surviving were incredibly low.
But his mind had once again returned to Korea and to the kids he'd operated on there; the kids who hadn't had a chance of surviving, who shouldn't have had a chance of surviving, but he'd never admit that; he never gave up. And that had been fifteen years ago, in poor conditions, with a shortage of blood and other medical supplies, with people assisting at times who weren't even nurses, let alone doctors - and against all the odds most of the kids he'd worked on had lived.
And BJ was going to live. As he started to try to repair the damage he told himself that one thing: BJ was going to live; dying was not an option.
He kept telling himself that as he and Gerald worked; he told himself it each time BJ's heart stopped beating; he told himself it when sutures had failed to hold; he told himself it when BJ's blood pressure dropped so low it wasn't even registering; he told himself it when he caught sight of the looks Gerald, the anesthesiologist and the theater nurses were giving him, and the way they were looking at one another. They all thought he was wasting hours and dollars operating on a man who was already dead.
But he went on suturing, repairing, working; he went on telling himself that BJ was going to live; dying was not an option. He went on believing and when belief had failed him, he'd even remembered Father Mulcahy and he tried prayer.
Well BJ was still alive - despite everything, he was still alive. It was true he was as close to death as a person could be and still be alive, but for now he was still alive and that was how he was going to stay, because Hawkeye refused to accept that death was an option.
"Come on, Beej," he said, half an hour later after they'd been another frantic race to get BJ's heart beating again. "Try, damn you. Try. You are not going to die. Not today. Not here. Not in my hospital. Not on my watch. You are not going to die. Do you hear me? If those kids we operated on could survive, so can you. You have to wake up and tell me what you are doing here and why you didn't tell me you and Peg had divorced two years ago."
FIVE DAYS LATER
Hawkeye was becoming very tired of sitting in the same room, staring at the same frost covered windows, talking to a man who while he wasn't getting any worse, wasn't getting any better either. The Board had been understanding - at least they had to a point - but it had also been pointed out to him that he was the Chief Surgeon, he did have responsibilities; responsibilities that didn't involve sitting by a single patient's bed.
And they were right; he did have other things he should be doing; he did have other responsibilities; but they meant nothing. All that mattered was the man lying in the bed; the man who had to wake up, because dying was not an option.
He'd given consideration to resigning, to stepping down as Chief Surgeon, but if he did that then he'd have no right to sit by BJ's bed, no right to read the reports, no right to demand things - so he didn't resign. But he was going to; once BJ woke up and had recovered enough for Hawkeye to take him home, he was going to resign and go back to Crabapple Cove. And BJ was going to wake up; he was going to live because death was not an option.
TWO DAYS LATER
Hawkeye stared at the frost covered windows, idly wondering if the frost was somehow linked with BJ and if that meant when the frost vanished did BJ live or did he die? He shook his head, aware that he was beyond being tired; he was close to being beyond being rationale - if he hadn't already gone beyond that.
"Hawk?" The voice was low, gravelly, the voice of someone who hadn't spoken for a week. But it was a voice he knew; a voice he loved; a voice despite the countless times he'd told himself death wasn't an option, he had thought he'd never hear again.
Hawkeye looked down at the bed, looked down into the face of the man he loved, looked down into BJ's eyes. "Hey, Beej," he said, not even trying to stop his voice from trembling. And that was all he could say; there was so much he wanted to say, but he couldn't speak, all he could do was go on staring down at BJ.
BJ swallowed. "What happened?" he managed.
"You had an argument with a car - it won."
It was surreal; here they were some fifteen years after they'd said goodbye and it was as if the fifteen years hadn't happened. "What are you doing here, BJ?"
BJ frowned. "I came to see you."
"Yeah, I came to tell you -"
At that moment the door opened and Janet hurried in. She came to an abrupt stop as she stared firstly at BJ and then at Hawkeye and she frowned. "Dr. Pierce, you promised you would call us the moment there was any change in Mr. Hunnicutt," she said, her tone was clipped and she was clearly displeased and wasn't trying to hide the fact, even though she was addressing the Chief Surgeon.
"I'm sorry, Janet," Hawkeye said, his tone soft as he looked at Janet.
She held his gaze for a moment and then her eyes flickered to BJ before returning to Hawkeye and finally the hardness faded and she gave Hawkeye a small smile. "Very well, Dr. Pierce," she said. "But now that Mr. Hunnicutt is awake . . ."
Hawkeye sighed. "I know; I know. I have to go so that you can do whatever it is nurses do when patients wake up." He stood up, realizing he was still holding BJ's hand. He squeezed it and carefully put it down on the bed. "I'll be back later, Beej," he said.
"Hawk -" BJ caught his hand and stared up at Hawkeye. "I -" He fell silent as Janet cleared her throat.
"Later," Hawkeye said, gently taking his hand from BJ's and putting it into the pocket of his white coat and leaving the room.
THREE WEEKS LATER
"So this is Crabapple Cove," BJ said, looking around him as Hawkeye helped him out of the car. "It's beautiful."
Hawkeye put his arm around BJ and looked around him. "Yeah, it is," he said.
"I don't know why you left."
Hawkeye looked around him again. "Nor do I," he said and then laughed as he caught sight of Mrs. Dexter peering out of her window. "Or maybe I do," he said. "Come on, Beej, let's get you inside and hopefully we'll have a few minutes before it begins."
Moving slowly and leaning on Hawkeye BJ began to walk towards the house. "What begins?"
"The visits; with food," Hawkeye said, opening the door and guiding BJ inside. "Lots and lots of food."
"It saves cooking."
Hawkeye shut the door and turned to BJ. "Well, come on, Beej," he said, holding BJ's arms, "tell me why you came to see me." They hadn't talked about it during BJ's time in the hospital, they'd talked about everything else - mostly Korea, but other things too; Hawkeye's dad's death, the end of BJ's marriage, Hawkeye being Chief Surgeon, how long the frost was going to last, but they'd never talked about why BJ had left Maine to go and see Hawkeye.
BJ shifted slightly, maneuvering until he had his arms around Hawkeye. "I came to tell you I love you," he said softly.
Hawkeye stared at him as a dozen things he could say raced through his mind. But he said none of them, he merely moved forward a little and supporting BJ put his mouth on BJ's and kissed him.
"I love you too, Beej," he said, when they were in the lounge and sitting on the couch.
BJ smiled. "I know that, Hawk. I've always known," he added softly and this time he leaned towards Hawkeye and kissed him.
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