HIDDEN ONES ARE THE WORST
Not all battle scars are visible.
A first time story.
Written: April 2015. Word count: 3,600.
Hawkeye had been home for a week when the first nightmare hit him. He awoke shaking, dripping with sweat, tears pouring from his eyes, to find his dad sitting on his bed gently shaking him, encouraging him to wake up, telling him - promising him - that he would be all right. It was only in the morning that he learned why his throat hurt so much: he had been screaming; his screams had woken his dad up.
His dad didn't ask and Hawkeye didn't tell him; couldn't tell him. He couldn't tell him of the guilt he felt for coming home alive; he couldn't tell him how painful it was to remember the kids he couldn't save. Those were the ones he remembered, the ones he couldn't save; those were the ones who haunted his dreams and made every night a living hell.
He had thought that it would all be over when the war ended, he had believed that once he was home again, safe and sound, back in Crabapple Cove, that it would all be over. He had expected to slip back into his life, for things to simply return to how they had been before he had been sent to Korea. He had been wrong; he had been so very wrong.
Night, after night, after night he awoke shaking, dripping with sweat, tears pouring from his eyes, his throat sore from screaming. After the first couple of nights his dad stopped going into his room. Hawkeye knew how much leaving his son to cry and shake alone was one of the most painful things his dad had ever done. However, without Hawkeye having to tell him, his dad had realized he would rather be alone. So he had put his father's natural instincts aside and no doubt suffered in his own room. Hawkeye knew he had never loved and respected his dad as much as he did for doing what he did; for staying away.
The days were fine, no one would know that there was anything wrong with Hawkeye; no one would know he had battle scars because they couldn't be seen. He worked alongside his dad, having decided that in the short term the idea of cutting into yet more bodies really didn't appeal. Plus he believed he was still too much in M*A*S*H mode, and the kind of operating he had done in Korea would not be tolerated in the operating rooms in the States. What he needed was a few weeks or months in a nice, quiet country practice where everyone knew him and he knew everyone. A nice, quiet practice; it was what he needed. A nice quiet practice with no bloody bodies to cut into. A nice quiet practice without the stench of blood and gunfire and death.
Oh, yes, the days were fine. During the day it was easy to forget the hell, the dead, the blood, the sickness, the daily struggles, the heat, the cold, the lack of decent medicine, operating under impossible circumstances, meatball surgery, latrines, appalling food, bad gin, less than half-decent showers, no real privacy, people screaming, crying, begging, kids in uniform dying, dying because he couldn't work quickly enough or didn't know enough or simply had to choose who to save and who to let die - who was going to die anyway no matter what he did. During the day he could and did forget all of those things.
But at night he couldn't forget. At night the dead walked through his dreams, cursing him, demanding to know why he hadn't saved them, yelling at him, staring at him, hatred as putrid as rotting flesh pouring out of them. The ones he didn't save; the ones he couldn't save. They didn't let him go; they would never let him go; they clung on and on and on. He had their deaths on his hands. His bloodied hands; hands that cut and dug into cavities and sewed and were skilled, but not skilled enough because . . . Because some of boys died; some of the boys never got to go home. And it wasn't just the soldiers he failed to save who walked through his dreams, who taunted him, poured out hatred, cursed the day he was born, it was also their families, their friends, their loved ones. People he had never met, people he never would meet, people who had lost someone they had loved, they too haunted his nights.
Every night he drank too much. He drank to try to forget; he drank to try to remember; he drank in an attempt to stop the nightmares; he drank in an attempt to make sure they came. As much as he hated the nightmares, hated seeing the dead all over again, he felt he deserved them because he should have done more; he should have. In the warm light of day, while having eggs and bacon with his dad or laughing with a patient, he knew he couldn't have done more; he knew he had done all he could, and in many cases so much more. He knew he couldn't have saved any of the boys who had died; he knew it. But in the depths of the dark nights he knew he should have done more. He believed he could have done more.
As the weeks slipped by his screams became less, the tears he shed all but dried up, his body wasn't soaked with sweat, his shaking diminished. But still the young men walked through his dreams, taunting him, demanding to know why he was still alive and they were dead. Cursing him, making him out to be the worst person ever to have been born, worse than any murderer or rapist or armed robber; scum, nothing more, nothing less. He began to think he would never lose them, that they would be with him for the rest of his life, telling him he should have saved them, he could have saved them.
And then the phone call came.
"Hawkeye Pierce," he said, as he grabbed the phone and a pen; he expected it to one of their patients.
"Hawk?" The voice was familiar and yet like nothing he had ever heard. He knew who it was, but the depth of pain in it chilled him.
"Beej? Is that you?" Part of him wished, hoped, prayed even, that the man would say 'no'.
"Yeah, Hawk, it's me."
"What's the matter, BJ? Are you sick? Hurt?" Had he, like Hawkeye himself, been suffering from nightmares? Were his even worse? Was he not able to escape them during the day? Did Peg, unlike his dad, not understand he didn't want to, he couldn't talk about them and instead demand that BJ talk about them to her?
BJ's bitten-off half-laugh, half-sob jerked his mind away from the thoughts. "I wish I were."
Hawkeye was now beginning to worry. Instinct, an instinct honed by all the hours and days and weeks and months they had worked so closely together, had all but lived in one another's pockets, kicked in. This was far more than just nightmares. "What's happened, BJ? Come on, you can tell me. You can tell me anything. You know that, don't you?"
Silence greeted him. He waited, twisting the telephone cord, determined not to speak again until BJ did. He heard BJ's uneven breathing, he heard a deep sigh. And then he heard BJ's voice; at least it had to be BJ's voice given it was BJ he was talking to. However, it sounded like nothing he had ever heard before. "It's Peg."
Hawkeye felt himself break out in a cold sweat. Peg? Oh, God, no; not Peg. Peg; BJ's one true and forever love. What had happened? "Is she sick?" He forced himself to remain calm; even if she was sick, it didn't mean . . . It couldn't mean . . . It couldn't mean . . .
Hawkeye was greeted by another bitten-off half-laugh, half-sob. "I wish she was," BJ said, in his dull, flat, un-BJ-like voice.
Hawkeye nearly dropped the receiver. For a second he held it away from him and just stared at it. He couldn't have heard what he heard? BJ couldn't have said - "Beej? What do you mean?"
"Can I come and see you, Hawk? Come and stay?"
"What? Yes, of course you can, BJ. But tell me first what -"
"She's left me."
"What?" Hawkeye cried the word so loudly he heard it reverberate around the hall. "Why?" he managed, sinking down onto the floor as he realized his legs weren't going to continue to hold him up.
"Because of Korea." BJ now spoke in an almost matter-of-fact tone - a deeply scary matter-of-fact tone.
Oh, God, he wouldn't? He couldn't? Would he? "BJ, you didn't tell her about -"
"No. No, Hawk, I didn't. I accepted why that happened; I learned to live with it. It had nothing to do with Peg."
"Then what do you mean?"
BJ sighed. "Apparently I've changed. I'm not the man she married. I'm not the same man who went to Korea. But to be fair, she said it started before I came home. She didn't mean it to happen, she told me that and I believe her. I didn't even care, Hawk, really I didn't. I told her I didn't care. That it didn't matter; that it didn't have to have an impact on her and me that - I told her, Hawk. I promised her it changed nothing; that I would never, never, mention it or throw it at her or use it against her. I told her it was part of the battle scars of war. I told her that while I was the one to go to war, she suffered too. I told her. I begged her. And I meant it. I really, truly meant it. I would never have - never, Hawk. Never. She left a week ago. Took Erin. She's left me. She's left me, Hawkeye."
"I'm on my way. I'm coming to you. Just don't do anything stupid, BJ. Okay? Promise me you won't do anything stupid. I'm leaving right now. I'll take Dad's car, he won't mind, he can - That doesn't matter. I'm coming for you, Beej. I'm coming. But you have to promise me. You have to promise -"
"I promise, Hawk. The odd thing is I wouldn't do anything. Strange that, the woman I loved, the woman I thought I would grow old with, the mother of my child, the love of my life has left me and I don't . . . I wouldn't do anything. I blame the war."
"For making me sure I won't do anything. Peg's right. I am a different man from the one she married. Korea turned me into a different person."
Hawkeye swallowed hard and dragged the back of his hand over his eyes. "We all are, Beej," he murmured. "We all are. It did so much to all of us. We'll all carry the scars for as long as we live. And you're right, what you told Peg was right, it didn't just scar those of us who were there; it scarred those who loved us. I'm leaving now. Wait for me, Beej. Wait for me."
BJ sighed. "I will. And, Hawk?"
BJ was silent for a moment and then just sighed and said, "Nothing. Just drive carefully, Hawkeye." He fell silent and just as Hawkeye was about to say 'goodbye' he said, his voice so low Hawkeye barely heard it, "I can't lose you as well."
Hawkeye swallowed hard, brushed the tears away again and said softly. "You won't. You'll never lose me, BJ." He swallowed and in a firmer voice added, "I'm on my way, Beej. Wait for me."
MAINE - A WEEK LATER
His glass of whiskey frozen halfway to his mouth, Hawkeye gulped as he stared at BJ. He was unable, even unwilling, to believe he had heard what he had heard. That BJ had said what he had said.
He shook himself and gulped the drink down, not taking the glass from his mouth until it was empty. Carefully he put it down on the table and looked at BJ. "You want me to do what?" he said.
BJ gave him a true BJ smile. It was the first true smile Hawkeye had seen since arriving at his house in the middle of the night, to find lights blazing, where he learned that BJ hadn't slept and had barely even eaten since he had ended the phone call with 'I'm on my way, Beej. Wait for me'. BJ had apparently decided to take him literally and had 'waited' for him.
Carefully, slowly, deliberately BJ reached across the gap that separated them as they sat at either end of the couch, caught Hawkeye's hand, swallowed, smiled again and said, his tone low, "Come to bed with me."
Okay, so he had heard what he had heard. BJ had said what he had said. One-handedly he managed to grab the bottle of bourbon and slosh some more into his glass. He swallowed half of it in one gulp and said, "Why?"
He wasn't that surprised when BJ not only grinned again but laughed and said, "Why do you think Doctor Pierce." Then the humor fled and he gripped Hawkeye's hand tightly before saying, "Please. Please, Hawk. Don't forget when you arrived, you told me you'd do anything you could. Well, I'm sure this is something you can do."
Hawkeye hadn't felt this far out of his depth since - Well, actually he had never felt this far out of his depth. BJ couldn't mean it, could he? No, of course he couldn't and he didn't. He was just . . . It was just because of Peg leaving him, Peg falling in love with someone else, Peg . . . Peg showing him that she didn't need him; that she could be a whole person without him. That's all it was. Hawkeye was there; he was available; he was his best friend; he -
He wanted nothing more than to grab BJ and drag him to the bedroom and not question his motives. Not question exactly why BJ was asking him what he was asking him, just fall into bed and . . . Just fall into bed as he had wanted to do from the moment he had met BJ and deal with the fall-out later.
"I meant why, Beej," he said quietly, linking his fingers with BJ's.
BJ sighed and, to Hawkeye's surprise and disappointment, he gently disentangled their fingers, stood up and walked across to the other side of the room. "Not for the reasons you think," he said softly. "It's not because of Peg," he added.
Something screamed at Hawkeye to stay where he was. He shifted slightly on the couch so that he could see BJ more easily and said softly and non-commitally, "Okay." He didn't believe BJ; of course it was because of Peg. "So why then?"
BJ sighed again and slowly turned around. Hawkeye gasped at the look on BJ's face; the look of lust, desire, need, want and love. "Because I love you, Hawk," he said simply. "Because somewhere down the line in that hell hole I fell in love with you. I tried to tell myself it was just the love of a friend; just the kind of thing you feel when you're thrown into another world; when you're forced to live with someone in the way we were forced to live together. I tired so hard to tell myself that, and when we were in Korea, I even managed to believe myself. But since I've been home -" He turned his back on Hawkeye again and began to tremble slightly.
Slowly, carefully, not sure he was doing the right thing, but sure he couldn't stay where he was, Hawkeye stood up and made his way over to BJ. He let his hand hover an inch or so from BJ's back, but didn't actually touch him. "Since you've been home?"
As BJ began to tremble a little more, Hawkeye dared to let his hand rest on BJ's back. "As soon as Peg opened the front door, I knew. I knew two things. I knew I no longer loved her; Korea had seen to that, and I knew she'd . . . I knew and I didn't care. I didn't even care that I didn't love her. I thought that would come back; once I'd got over Korea, once I was back to normal, it would come back. But it didn't." He whispered the final two words. "Korea scarred me too much. It's as though I couldn't love her any more; as if I didn't have the -" He fell silent.
Hawkeye began to rub his hand slowly over the rigid back. "As if you didn't have the right to love her any more?" He spoke softly; it pained him to say the words; pained him to ask the question he knew the answer to.
BJ gasped and turned around. Hawkeye let his hand fall, but BJ caught it. "Yeah. That's it, Hawk. That's exactly it. She was so . . . So innocent; so clean and I was so sullied; so guilty, so fucking guilty, because while I no longer loved her, no longer could love her, I loved you and that was okay. It was okay to love you because -"
"I was as sullied; as guilty; as scarred?"
BJ trembled and Hawkeye couldn't prevent himself from putting his arms around him and pulling him into a loose embrace. "Yes. Yes, Hawk. Yes. Kiss me, please, Hawk, kiss me."
Hawkeye briefly closed his eyes as he fought his desire to do that very thing. However, instead he sighed and said, "I don't think that would be a good idea, Beej."
"But why? I told you how I feel. I love you, Hawk. And I'm pretty certain you care about me."
"I love you too, Beej," Hawkeye said softly and just a little sadly. And then because they were being brutally, painfully even, honest he added, "I've loved you pretty much since we first met; I certainly wanted to go to bed with you from the moment we met."
BJ widened his eyes and frowned. "Then why -"
Hawkeye sighed. "Because when you rang me to told me how you begged Peg to stay; how her having an affair meant nothing; how you would never use it against her; how you - oh, you know what you said. You didn't want her to leave and now - Now a week later you're asking me to kiss you and go to bed with you? What happened in that week, BJ? Well?" He realized his voice had become a little hard and loud when BJ widened his eyes as he stared at him.
"I don't know, I can't explain, what happened in that week, Hawk. Other than . . . Other than . . . Even as I was begging her to stay, telling her all the things I told her, I knew she wouldn't. And even as I was asking her to stay I knew I didn't want her to. By then I knew just what Korea had done to me. I knew no matter how hard I tried, tried for Peg's sake, for Erin's for my sake, that we couldn't be a happy little family again. Korea really changed me, scarred me in a way that will never heal; in a way no one will ever see. In a way only someone else who had lived through it could understand. I didn't want to destroy her, to dirty her and Erin any more. I didn't want them around, Hawk. I wanted them to go. I wanted the woman I married, the woman I vowed to love for life to go. And she did. She left and you're here. You, you. You're here, Hawkeye, and all I want is for you to kiss me and come to bed with me. And yes, that's probably wrong and unfair and so much more. But it's what I want. It's what I need," he added softly, as he stared into Hawkeye's eyes.
Hawkeye swallowed hard and made a decision. Korea had taught him many things, but above all it had showed him the truth; the truth that even as a doctor he hadn't truly realized, truly believed, truly accepted: life is short. Whether he and BJ were right for one another, whether they would last, whether their lives could be spent together didn't matter. All that mattered, all that really mattered, was right here and right now.
He put his arms around BJ and pulled him near to him, near enough so that he could put his mouth on BJ's and kiss him. He felt BJ hesitate for just a second before he began to kiss him back, deepening the kiss at a far faster rate than Hawkeye had been expecting as he pushed his body against Hawkeye's.
They kissed passionately and with an intensity Hawkeye had never experienced before for quite some time, before they finally parted and Hawkeye took BJ's hand and led him into the bedroom. They would have plenty of time for talking or whatever else tomorrow, for now . . . For now they needed to find a way to make some of the battle scars at least begin to heal.
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