Chapter 18 - Hawk's Return

"So you're on the bus..." said Sidney to an agitated Hawkeye.

"Yeah the bus...we're on the bus...."

Why did Sidney insist on talking about the damn bus? What was so special about it anyway? He told him he'd fallen asleep on the way home, why couldn't he leave it at that? Why couldn't he leave this place period? He was a brilliant surgeon. He was needed back at the 4077. He didn't need to be lounging around his pajamas, surrounded by truly crazy people.

Then BJ came for a visit today. All he could talk about was Erin and her birthday. Hawkeye really didn't want to hear about the baby. Baby, baby, baby! Cute little fingers and toes...Just get me the hell out of this place, he thought. Talk to me about taking me back to camp and back into the OR where I belong, not about your kid. Couldn't Beej think of anything else to talk about?

Hawkeye hit the wall with his fist several times. Now Sidney wants to talk about the bus.

It was when Sidney told him that he'd driven a jeep through the wall of the officer's club and tried to operate on a patient without anesthetic that he sat down and stopped raving. He didn't remember doing those things. How could he have been in the OR and not remember. He could believe that he might have been drunk enough to damage the officer's club and not remember. It wouldn't be the first time he'd been that intoxicated. But he couldn't imagine that he would blank out in the operating room. It was unthinkable. Yet everything was a blank until he woke up here at the 'giggle factory.'

As he talked to Sidney, little bits and pieces came back to him about the ride back on the bus. Apparently he hadn't been asleep as he'd thought, or rather wanted to believe. He remembered the refugees...the wounded...he felt the walls closing in on him as he remembered..."

"You say the woman had a chicken...on the bus?"

"Yes, Sidney, a chicken! It kept squawking. A Chinese patrol had been spotted so we were trying to keep everyone quiet...so they wouldn't hear us...the bus was stopped. But that damn chicken...I was feeling the walls close in...I have claustrophobia..."

"You do? I guess I didn't know that...you're just full of surprises, Hawkeye."

"Yeah...well, most of the time I'm not in closed in spaces for long periods of time so..." he tried to carry the conversation in another direction but from the look on Sidney's face he knew it his evasive tactic wasn't working. "The bus, right?"

Sidney nodded, "Tell me more about he chicken."

"Like I said, it kept squawking. She sat there rocking it like it was a...a...she just kept rocking it and it wouldn't stop squawking...it just got louder...I knew the Chinese were going to find us and we would all be killed."

"Then what happened?" Hawkeye glared at the psychiatrist, wishing he'd stop asking questions.

"I got out of my seat and said, 'keep that damn chicken quiet!'" In his mind Hawkeye saw the chicken in the woman's lap...but wait...the image swirled in his head, he suddenly felt like he was going to vomit...he heard himself say, "Keep that damn kid quiet!" He saw a look of anguish on the woman's face...he looked down and where he'd seen the chicken before he saw a baby, slightly blue and expressionless...

"My God! My God!" Hawkeye cried out. "I-it was a baby! She smothered her own baby!" Hawkeye's tormented cry pierced the air. Then he stopped and glared at Sidney.

"You son of a bitch. Why did you make me remember that?"

"You had to remember...now we can get to work."

"How could she do that?" Hawkeye moaned and said, "Sidney, I killed that child. She smothered him when I told her to keep him quiet. How can I live with myself knowing that?"

"Hawk, that was a choice she made. Do you really think you have that kind of power? She was probably as frightened as you were of being caught by the enemy. It wouldn't be the first time that a mother has smothered a baby to keep it quiet in dangerous times. I had a cousin in Nazi Germany who was in hiding when she smothered her baby to protect the rest of the family from being discovered by the Gestapo. I could go on.

I have a hunch that woman would have made the same choice even if you hadn't told her to keep him quiet. Fear can make people do things they would never dream of doing under normal circumstances.

How did it make you feel when you saw that the baby was dead?"

"I was stunned...I couldn't believe what I saw...I felt responsible."

"Do you remember what you did right after that?"

"I'm not sure...I think I went and sat back down by Margaret. Yeah, I did...she held my hand...we didn't talk, though. Everyone on the bus was very quiet."

"Do you remember what happened when you got back to camp?"

"I imbibed as much alcohol as I could hold."

"That's good news Sidney! I'll be sure to tell Margaret. See you soon."

"Be sure to tell Margaret what?" Margaret had just entered Colonel Potter's office.

"Hawkeye finally remembered what happened on the bus. They've had some heavy duty sessions. Dr. Freedman says he thinks Pierce has worked through the worst of it and now he needs to get back in the game. He says Hawkeye's understandably nervous about coming back."

Margaret didn't answer. Her head felt a little light. It had been two weeks since she'd seen Hawkeye. She had missed him terribly. The one time she'd talked to him on the phone had been uncomfortable. He'd been so hostile she didn't know what to say to him. Would he still be hostile toward her?

"Major? Halllooooo?"

"Oh, sorry Colonel. I was just....just..."

"I understand, Margaret. He didn't leave here under the best of circumstances. Will he be angry for the way we hog-tied him and wrangled him out of here?"

Margaret smiled, "Why yes, that's exactly what I was thinking."

"I've had the same thoughts myself. I guess we'll find out. He'll be returning tomorrow."

"Sir? Does Hawkeye know that BJ's gone home?

"I don't think so. That's not going to sit well with him I'm sure."

"Attention all personnel: Good morning everyone! We've got wounded! All shifts report to triage! Welcome back, Captain Pierce."

Hawkeye watched from the jeep as the MASH staff ran toward the OR. He felt a lump in his throat and in the pit of his stomach. He had hoped for time to ease back into operating.

"Pierce! Get moving...we're short of help right now! Oh, and, son, welcome back." Colonel Potter said.

"Short of help? You've got Charles and Beej..."

"Um, I'd hoped to break it to you more gently, son. BJ went home a couple of days ago. I've got a request into I-Corps for a replacement but he hasn't gotten here yet."

Hawkeye felt as if he'd been hit in the stomach with a cannon ball. It was bad enough that he was being whisked into surgery so quickly but now he was going to be operating without the support of his best friend.

"Colonel, did he say anything? Did he leave a note?"

"Sorry Hawkeye, there wasn't time."

Hawkeye stood over his first patient, a chest wound. He could feel the sweat rolling down his back and breaking out on his forehead. Margaret asked, "Are you okay, Hawkeye?"

He said, "Trapper left without saying goodbye. BJ left without saying goodbye. Is it the war or is it just me that stinks?" Turning to Nurse Baker he said with a sigh, "Put him under."

"You were wonderful in surgery today," said Margaret.

"I was scared to pieces," said Hawkeye.

The two of them had Post Op duty that evening.

"Margaret, what's with the sand bags around the building?"

"Someone left a tank on our doorstop and it's been drawing enemy fire."

Almost as if her comment had been an alert the shelling started. Everyone ran for cover. Hawkeye saw the tank and decided that there was only one thing to do. He ran out to the tank in spite of the artillery fire while the Colonel and Margaret yelled at him to come back.

"Pierce are you crazy?" yelled Margaret.

He climbed into the tank and drove it to the garbage dump while everyone watched with open mouths. The whole company applauded when he emerged from the tank. He said that it was time someone took out the garbage.

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