How the hell had he ended up here? He surveyed his surroundings. The backdrop looked more civilized than it had been in the last war, but then, Tokyo and Seoul had looked civilized, too. Oh well. At least here there wouldnít be the fear of dying. Now that was one of the perks of the war. But this time, almost twelve years after the last one, he was alone. There was nobody at home to write to him, no one to worry. And nobody to grieve when he died. And there, standing in the tarmac in Nha Trang, was Hawkeye Pierce, one lone tear resting on his cheek.
Suddenly he perked up his ears. He heard distant chopper blades whirring. He kept expecting to hear the voice of Radar OíReilly shouting "Choppers!" But instead, nothing. The CH-47 Chinook circled overhead. There was his ride. Without thinking he raised both arms over his head and waved them slowly back and forth. Signal to land. As it got close to the ground, he lowered his arms and ducked his head, averting his face to avoid flying dust. When it landed, he ran to it, ducking his head the whole way. He threw his duffel into the seat and climbed in after it. Without a word, he gestured to the air with his thumb. The pilot lifted off.
As they flew out toward his new post, Hawkeyeís thoughts wandered. Six months had passed since his fatherís death. He squeezed his eyes shut against the memory. He remembered their argument. His dad had once again been trying to persuade him to marry, and Hawkeye had again said no. He didnít want to leave his father, and besides, if he ever married, if would be for love. Not because he feared growing old alone. He knew his father felt guilty about keeping him at home, but in truth, Hawkeye was happy where he was. He had apologized for arguing and told his father how much he loved him, and just after he had gotten the words out, Dr. Daniel Pierce had clutched his chest and collapsed. Despite the incredible measures taken to save his life, Hawkeye had failed. His father had died under him, and possibly before heíd had a chance to hear how much his only child loved him. Immediately following the funeral, Hawkeye had gone out, and, in typical Hawkeye Pierce fashion, gotten absolutely tanked. He had actually imbibed every drop of gin that one bar had had. He had then gotten in a cab and gone to another bar. As he sat drinking, a man had approached him. He had been a recruitment officer. Hawk hadnít been quite drunk enough to sign up then, but about six drinks later he had. The next thing he knew, he was on a plane bound for a MASH unit in Vietnam. He had barely made it out of Korea with his mind intact. How was he going to fare this time?
He looked down again. The pilot was following the road. He was afraid to fly over the jungle. As his keen gaze scanned the rutted dirt road, he spotted something. A man lying on the ground, and from the sky Hawkeye could see blood soaking his pant leg. "Hey, thereís a wounded man down there. Is it okay to land and see if I can help him?" The road was little more than a path, but the pilot nodded tersely and held the chopper in place as it lowered. When it touched the ground, Hawkeye dashed over to the wounded soldier. "Can you walk?" he shouted over the noise of the chopper.
The man tried a few times and couldnít. Hawk tossed him over one shoulder and made his way slowly back to the chopper.
After they had ascended again, the pilot radioed the unit to which Pierce had been assigned, the 8022 MASH. "Captain, they already have truckloads of wounded. So when we arrive, be ready to operate." The pilot would leave as soon as he had deposited his cargo, leaving Hawk in the midst of a hell that he had been through once before, and never forgotten. They flew over a landscape very different from the hilly land surrounding the 4077th. It was flat, surrounded by rice paddies on one side, and the Mekong River on the other side. The unit was stationed near Cu Chi. And then he saw it. The chopper swooped over the unit just as they had twelve years ago. There were silvery structures with large red crosses on the top. Tents had been erected, and there was one large one that Hawkeye placed with foreboding. It could be nothing but the Mess Tent. There were teams waiting for them in the helipad, and Hawkeye watched as the medical personnel removed the soldier from the helicopter. Hawk ducked under the blades after the wounded man was clear, and waved the pilot off. He followed the orderlies to OR, and made his way into the scrub room. He sat down and sighed. This whole day had been one huge feeling of deja vu, but as he looked into the teeming OR, it was as if he had never left. Doctors rushed to save patients, orderlies scampered about, but the glue that kept the surgery going was the same as always. The nurses. He sighed and pulled on a pair of scrubs. As he began the sterile scrub, he remembered. He remembered the horror of the dying kids, the running blood, and he remembered Henry Blake. Would he suffer the same fate? It almost didnít matter.
"Gloves!" he called to the nearest nurse. She neatly gloved him and then went back to the table, donning a new pair of gloves. He called into Pre-Op for a patient and a scrub nurse. The patient had a belly wound that had clamps all over it to stop the gushing blood. The nurse came up to his side, and without a word slapped a scalpel into his hand. He opened the wound a bit more and held out his hand for a clamp. Again, the instrument was in his hand before he could ask for it. And so it went, for fifteen minutes, he worked in uncharacteristic silence, never having to request an instrument. He had only once in his life worked with a nurse as good as this one. And that, too, had been back in Korea. Suddenly, the abdominal aorta began to gush. There was a nick in it, and the pressure from a piece of shrapnel had kept it from spurting blood. Both of his hands were occupied stanching other bleeders. The man would bleed to death in seconds if that wasnít clamped off. His only chance lay in the nurseís quick hands. The blood abruptly stopped, and he saw the small feminine hand of his scrub nurse in the bloody mess, alongside his. Damn, she was good. He looked toward her and their eyes met. All of her face was covered by a surgical mask but her eyes and forehead. That was all it took. She had one eyebrow raised and sparkling blue eyes. He almost dropped the scissors into the wound.
Her shock mirrored his. Mouth open, she stared at him. Why in the world was he here?
Without another word, they turned back to the patient. Once all of the critical injuries were taken care of, and all that remained was suturing the artery and skin, he turned to her again. How many times had he seen her like this? She was always beautiful, but like this, Hawkeye thought she was breathtaking.
"Thatís it, Sir!" a corpsman called as he wheeled the last patient in. There were two doctors free, but the closest was the CO, so he got it.
"You two work great together. By the way, Iím the CO here. Colonel James Graham. You must be my new surgeon." The CO never looked up from the body he was trying to piece back together. "I know this place is hard to get used to, but if you ever need a hand in surgery, need to leave for a minute, whatever, let me know. This is the most gruesome thing you ever saw, isnít it? Well, Iíve gotta tell you, it gets worse. Hard to imagine?"
"Actually, this isnít the worst thing I ever saw. Some of the things I saw twelve years ago would make this look like afternoon tea. Iím Captain Benjamin Pierce. Call me Hawkeye." Finished, he snapped off his gloves and shot them into a nearby trash can. Hands free of the bloody mess, he opened his arms to Margaret, who stepped into them without reserve. His arms closed around her waist and he rested his cheek on her head, which laid trustingly on his chest.
Finally, the colonel looked up and did a double take. Dr. Pierce would have to let everyone in on his secret. This woman usually gave "reserved" a new meaning. Nothing improper. Nothing "fresh." What was up? "Hey, itís hard to imagine anything much worse than this. What was twelve years ago?" Now the other surgeon was just making conversation.
"Korea. I was a MASH doctor in Ouijongbu, three miles from the front. Chief surgeon of the 4077th MASH."
"The 4077th? What sounds so familiar about that name? Wait a sec, Colonel. Wasnít that your old unit?" The other man looked good and perplexed.
"Yes, actually it was. Iím sure Iíve told about it."
"Indeed you have. Pierce, you have quite a reputation to live up to. Both as a surgeon and a person. 98 percent survival rate? Impressive." Graham liked Pierce less and less. It didnít help matters that this man, whose skill Margaret touted almost incessantly, was still holding the most beautiful woman in the camp. Who had turned HIM down. Very publicly, too.
"Colonel? Did you get promoted, Margaret?" Hawkeye was still hugging her, and still shocked at finding her here. Of course, whoíd have thought that heíd be here, either?
"Yeah, right after we came home. I began work in a hospital stateside, and then in the VA." She was talking quickly, trying to catch him up on her life since they had said goodbye back in Korea.
"Maybe the two of you would be better off somewhere else. Margaret, he can bunk with Donnaldson and Michaels. Why donít you show him around, since you two are already acquainted?" The colonel dismissed them.
Back in the scrub room, Hawkeye untied Margaretís surgical gown, and she did the same for him. Not bothering to take off the white scrubs, they walked out into the compound.
"Wow. Itís so different from the 4077th, and yet I keep wanting to go into that tent over there. Thatís where the Swamp would have been." He pointed off to the left and smiled.
"It was so hard to get used to this place for me. Every time an announcement came on, Iíd wonder why the voice was different. And in surgery, when someone had a really difficult case, I found myself looking for you. Once, Graham saw me looking around, and asked what I was looking for. I told him, and now he has it in his head that youíre somewhat of a god. And I know he hated you on sight. Heís not the best surgeon in the world. But, maybe heíll get better, heíd been in a stateside hospital going on four years when he requested a transfer here. Needed a few more decorations or some garbage. Heíll never let up on the competitive stuff, either." Margaret was surprised at just how glad she was to see him. Things were almost opposite here than they had been in Korea. There, she was mainly friends with the doctors. Here, she and the nurses got along very well, and none of them had much interaction with the doctors.
Graham didnít think it was good for the doctors, who were, of course, captains or better, to associate with nurses, who were mostly lieutenants. He had thought it okay for them to befriend her, as she was a lieutenant colonel, that is, until she had turned him down. "Heís had it in for me ever since I turned down the dubious pleasure of being his mistress. Very publicly, I might add. The other docs fight over who scrubs with me, but even when Graham has by far the most difficult case, he wonít let me assist him. Heís a rude awakening from Colonel Potter."
He pushed open the door to the Mess Tent and stood aside for her to go in. She walked in and headed straight to the coffee dispenser. "So howís the coffee here? I hope at least liquid, and is it too much to hope for it to be black? No more enchanting purple, please." Hawkeye still remembered how incredibly horrible the food was at the 4077th. They filled their cups and sat at an empty table in a corner.
"So why are you here? I mean, you must have enlisted, they canít draft twice. But why? If there was anybody who hated the army as much as Klinger, it was you. Why?"
Margaret looked searchingly into his blue eyes, and knew instinctively that something was wrong. Aside from the fact that the Hawkeye Pierce she had known would never have enlisted, his eyes had lost their mischievous sparkle. That ever present laughter was gone. He told her the story of his fatherís death, omitting exactly how drunk he had been.
She turned to face him, and he to her. She placed both arms around him and held him tightly. She was pretty certain nobody had been there to do that for him when his dad had died. For the first time since Daniel Pierce had died, Hawkeye let himself be comforted. His tears dampened her shirt. After a long while, he sat up, feeling better. She tried to lighten the mood.
"You were absolutely blitzed, werenít you? Even with the incredible sadness of losing him, you wouldnít have reenlisted without the assistance of alcohol. Not you."
"Yeah, I was. And it didnít help that there was a recruitment officer in Crabapple Cove while I was in the process of forgetting. But what about you? What happened to Margaret Houlihan in the last twelve years? Not married, I hope." Where had that come from? What did he care if sheíd gotten married? He didnít know, but obviously he did care. He hoped she hadnít caught his slip.
She had. One blonde brow arched as she regarded him silently for a moment. Her voice was soft when she replied. "No. You?"
"No." He was inordinately happy that she hadnít married, but he still didnít know why. He wanted to draw her attention from what he had said. Suddenly she began to laugh. He stared at her, surprised. He loved hearing her laugh, and, as usual, her laughter was infectious. He smiled, too. "What? Whatís so funny Margaret?"
"Oh my gosh..." she gasped, short of breath. "Hawkeye Pierceís dogtags read: RA..."
His laughter joined hers. She was right. Whoíd have thought it? He remembered how easily they had talked and laughed when they were speaking civilly to each other. With the ease of an old friend and lover, he put an arm around her shoulders and hugged her close to his side. She moved so that they were sitting closer together and rested her head on his shoulder. He leaned over and laid his cheek on the top of her head.
"Colonel. Care to introduce me to your friend?" Hawkeye looked up and saw a woman who looked vaguely familiar, yet he couldnít place her. Where had he seen her?
"Oh. Right. Major Parker, meet Captain Pierce. Hawkeye, this is Major Parker." Margaret scowled mightily at the woman. It didnít help matters that the woman was simpering at Hawkeye to beat all hell.
"Oh, Captain, where did you come from? Of course, Iím just passing through here, Iím not here permanently. The Colonel and I know each other from training."
Just then, Hawkeye realized where he had seen this woman before. Once, Father Mulcahy had run a race to raise money for the orphans, and this woman had been the head nurse of the 8063rd. Or, as Margaret had called her, "Parallel Parker." She had been just as easy then as she appeared to be now.
"Oh. Well, how nice for you." Hawkeye was now distinctly uncomfortable. This woman had made a pass at him back in Korea, and he wondered how she could have forgotten him. But then, if Margaret was correct, she couldnít possibly remember all of the men she hit on. And, based on the look on Margaretís face, he was lucky he had turned her down. He would really be on Margaretís black list if he hadnít.
"So, Captain. How would you like a tour of the camp? I know where everything is." She winked suggestively.
"Uh, well, uh...Thatís swell of you, but the Major er, Colonel, has already offered to show me around. But thank you." He was pleased with his diplomatic efforts. Margaret was fuming. Men were so dense. Hadnít he even picked up on her double entendre? He should have. Lord knew he had made enough of them.
"Well Captain, if you change your mind, let me know. Iíd be happy to show you around. Any time." She walked away, swinging her hips suggestively.
Margaret curled her lip in derision. Stupid slut. "That woman is worse than a bitch in heat. And ugly, to boot."
"That was the infamous ĎParallel Parker,í wasnít it?"
"You remembered!" If she disliked the woman before, it bordered on genuine hate now. How dare she? Twice! She hit on Hawkeye twice! Then it hit her. She was mighty pissed off over a man with whom she was supposed to be Ďjust friends?í They were good friends, yes, but she shouldnít care this much, should she?
"What a piece of work. Well, how Ďbout that tour? The offer still good?" He smiled and shook his head. That woman was something else.
"Oh, sure. You might be disappointed by your new quarters, though. While itís not exactly clean, itís nowhere near the pig pen that the Swamp was. And while your new bunkies are nice, they arenít Trapper or BJ, either. The food here is slightly better than it was, but our mess doesnít exactly get five stars. Well, letís go." She stood up and offered him her hand.
He took it and heaved himself to his feet. Suddenly, he was exhausted. The last time he had slept was on the plane from Fort Bragg to Nha Trang. It had been 26 hours since he had been awakened on the plane by boisterous young men, anxious to reach their war posts. "On the other hand, could I take a rain check on that tour? Suddenly the last twenty-six hours have caught up with me. How about just showing me to my new tent?" He slung an arm around her shoulders, and she reached up with her right hand and grabbed his. Together, they made their way out of the mess, and off the doctors quarters.