M A S H Fan Fiction ❯ Theatre of War ❯ Prescriptions ( Chapter 6 )

[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]

I lay back in my bunk, eyes tightly clamped shut, piecing together how this could have happened.
I had missed my opportunity, once again.
Worse still, I upset the one person I had tried so hard to reach this past month. Lena. I could practically hear our strings of friendship tearing apart. My false accusation had rolled off well enough, but the sad fact I spent almost two weeks avoiding the woman just couldn't be ignored. Quite understandable, I'm afraid.
I felt rotten. Lena had only wanted to befriend me and I let her down.
On Christmas at that.
I didn't think I could have felt much lower. That was until Hawkeye casually mentioned Lena's staying with me all night, watching over my vitals, forgoing sleep for this old priest's welfare. I couldn't believe it, and stated this much with a note of dread.
“Oh yeah,” he confirmed conversationally, situating himself on the chair, “wouldn't leave your side for a moment. Not even to go test Igor's latest soup du jour, Cesspit ala Korea. They say if you look hard enough you can see where the locals washed their socks in it.
“Brought her some breakfast this morning, but can't say she touched that either.” Hawkeye lazily gestured toward a tray I had only just seen, lumps of grey mash poking over its rim. “Not that I can blame her. The food around here is enough to spoil anyone's appetite. I've got bedpans that look more edible than that slop.
But still, I wonder -” Hawkeye stretched out to take up the fork, peering over a few formless blobs like a scientist watching his microscope. “If one is hungry enough -” With a quick decision he stuck a forkful into his mouth, removing the graying bits of food just as quickly as they came. “Oh, yuk! Note to self: powered eggs taste even worse cold than they do hot. If my mouth could disown my tongue, it would. My gums are receding as we speak. My teeth are growing fur to hide under. Yuk! Bleh!
Tastes like I just sampled the Latrine's Finest. I take back what I said - no one would eat this stuff cold, starvation or not.” The man proceeded to spit what little residual taste he had left, and made a horrid face.Jesus!
“Oh, sorry Father.” He wiped the last of the grizzled mass off on the back of his hand and finished his tirade with a grimace. “Don't eat that stuff; it'll kill you.”
I looked at him warily, mind elsewhere. “That's quite alright, Hawkeye.” I think my dull tone might have given me away, for the man eyed me carefully. “Um, Hawkeye?” The timid question sounded more like a squeak than anything else. “About last night -”
“Eh, don't mention it. A lot of guys - and I do mean a lot of guys - fold under stress. It's a natural occurrence of war. That, and Athlete's Foot.” Leave it to Hawkeye to manage in a joke at such a crucial moment. I almost smiled despite myself.
“Wanna talk about it?”
I screwed up my mouth deciding. “Well, there isn't much to talk about, Hawkeye. I've just been...busy.”
Yeah, I can see that.”
For two people who apparently had little in common with one another, Hawkeye and Lena certainly did sound alike. I swallowed a lump that had formed in my throat and nodded, half to myself. The two of them must have become a very tight-knit couple over the last few weeks; they even shared sentences now.
“Father, it occurs to me that you've been spending a lot of time locked up in here -” he sluggishly lifted his hand to gesture around the room, “- not coming out for anything other than causalities and food. And even then you are so quiet we hardly notice you. Father, I know preaching is important, but you never used to spend the entire week writing up one sermon for Sunday.
“What's going on? I know you well enough to know when there's trouble.”
I frowned, not wanting to burden the man. “Really, Hawkeye, it's nothing -”
“- And don't tell me `nothing'! Now I know there is something wrong. I care, Father. Really, I do. Without you this whole outfit would be one giant landmine.” He gave me a little smile that said `I'm worried' and furrowed his eyebrows. I tried to ignore it. “But, alright. If you don't want to tell me, that's fine; I won't force you to take your own confessional.”
“You won't call Sidney, will you?” The words escaped so quickly it took a moment to realize I had said them. Dr. Freedman was a good man, but I didn't need a doctor for that sort of work. I didn't want one either.
Hawkeye looked like he expected this reaction. “So, Lena told you then, I take it?”
The man promised he wouldn't inform Sidney if I promised I'd talk to someone about my problems and get them sorted out. It seemed like a fair trade I suppose, but that left another issue - who to tell?
Colonel Potter would certainly keep the information confidential, but I couldn't have him thinking about transferring Lena on my account. BJ might work, since he was fairly good at listening. But the way I understood it, he was pretty homesick over his wife and a letter she had sent him. He had his own problems, no need to shovel mine on too.
Then there was Hawkeye, who should have been first on my list. For anything else, he would have been. He was truly a great man, a wonderful friend in times of need, but I still had my reservations. I knew there was no need; Hawkeye had been there for me time and time again.
But somehow this was different. It concerned him, at least, distantly.
For a long time we sat in silence, watching as morning filtered steadily into my tent. The olive drab was dappled with sunlight now, shapes from snow covered branches outside decorating my walls. It was a peaceful break, until finally Hawkeye forced me back to earth.
“Nasty bruise you've got forming, Father.” The man gestured darkly to a spot on his own forehead, which I knew meant mine was looking pretty gruesome. I thought I might gingerly touch it, but Hawkeye warned against such things with a hand. “Took a bad fall out there, you hit a rock we think. All that snow, it was hard to tell. Both of us had to scramble to keep up with you - luckily, our clothing was mostly dry by then, give or take a few damp sleeves.
Ah, so the story was true. I guess that last shred of doubt I had held onto was now gone. Lena was telling the truth. I'm not sure why I even questioned it really, for some reason my mind kept offering excuses for my actions. Selfish justification I think.
An old feeling of shame crept back into my heart and I sat in silence.
“Boy, for someone so slim you'd think Lena was a good athlete -” Hawkeye made a face and shook his head comically, “-she was probably ten feet behind me the entire time. Behind me! And you know how much I despise physical exertion. I've seen army sanctioned gruel that moves faster.” He pointed once again at that forsaken tray. “But she was a good sport about it.
“I'm afraid she won't be making the Olympics this year, though.
I nodded, refraining from moving my head too much. Even my hair felt sore. Something Hawkeye had left unsaid lingered for a moment, forcing my mouth open. “How did you get me back here?
He hummed his reply, taking out his stethoscope. “Elementary! My dear Watson it is simplicity itself...no doubt you knew we would have no stretcher and no assistance with which to transport you, leaving only one obvious choice of moving you by hand. Dear Lena and I had to carry you out by force.
“Deduction proves it was I who was behind the entire thing - I was planning to use the inheritance money to buy a canary and a box of matches!” Hawkeye laughed madly for a second, throwing his head back with a fake English accent.
“You may now remove this case from your file box, as it has been solved.” I didn't understand what he was talking about so I just smiled faintly and waited, watching him smoke from a fake pipe.
He dropped to his normal register and asked me semi-seriously, “No? Not a Sherlock Holmes fan? What about the Hardy Boys?” With a big booming voice he suggested, “Mystery of the Freezing Chaplain.” Even his hand seemed to follow the words as they were laid out before me.
You be Joe, I'll be Frank.” Hawkeye caught himself and hastened to add, “Well, not that Frank.” A theatrical frisson erupted. “Alright, enough of this. I'll be the one laying on that bunk getting my vitals checked if I think too much about being Frank.
Breathe for me, Father.” And with a hand he pressed the cold metal of his instrument to my chest. I yelped, which he mirrored perfectly. “Yes, they can be quite cold I hear. The nurses tell me often.”
There was a dangerous grin on his face which I was quick to quell. “I-I see. Perhaps we should talk about something else? Seeing as I'm a bit...indisposed at the moment, I can't very well retreat to my quarters during such wild conversation.” I chuckled lightly, throwing a hand up to suggest we were already there anyway.
“Ah, yes. Forgive me Father, for I have sinned.” Hawkeye supplied a little wink at the end which made my insides clench. Briefly I wondered if Lena had been added to his extensive list of conquests. “Inhale deeply, like you mean it.”
For the next few minutes, the man moved about my chest and back listening to my breathing. Hardly what you could call a painful process, but I felt uncomfortable now that his stethoscope had been related to...well...fraternizing with the nursing staff. And perhaps a certain doctor.
“You sound good, Father. It hasn't entered your lungs; you're a lucky priest.”
“So I've heard.” I sounded hollow even to myself. With a sigh, I did up my robe and lay back down, closing my eyes. “Hawkeye?”
`Hmm' was my only answer, and I cracked an eyelid to see the man riffling through his sack of belongings. Probably trying to find something else to prod me with, now that he had relinquished his first toy. I didn't know why, but I suddenly felt like spilling my secrets to him, yearning for a reaction to my behavior. Perhaps that's the reason soldiers confessed to me; they wanted that special attention - the acknowledgement that someone else knew and understood what they had done.
Life just isn't fun without an audience, I suppose.
I frowned and went back to looking at my ceiling. I never noticed how dusty the canvas was until now. “Hawkeye, I was wondering...” Oh Lord, what could I even say to the man? He still seemed to be half listening, half digging his way out of Korea. “Do you ever have doubts?”
That got his attention. “Are you kidding? I can't take a shower around here without having doubts. Will a sniper aim wrong and hit me? Will the water be cold? Will nurses suddenly stumble upon my stall and force themselves in, clothed only in a tow - oh, sorry Father.”
“No no, that's quite alright Hawkeye. You've answered my question at least, thank you. It's good for this priest to know others have troubles at times as well.
He appraised me for a second, setting down his medical bag and brandishing a thermometer. “Everyone has doubts, Father. Everyone has troubles - and problems. Indigestion, nausea, insomnia, dysentery. Add shingles, shrapnel, and death to the list, and you have a guidebook to the Korean War.
You may wear that cross around your neck, but that doesn't mean the heart underneath is excluded from the regular aches and pains of life. You're allowed to doubt yourself - or others. You deserve to be just as human as anyone else, Father.
I don't think God would mind. Now, open up.
“No, I suppose not.” I gave him a weak little smile and did as he said. There was so much more I needed to say, but I couldn't. And not just because I was getting my temperature taken. After a whole minute had elapsed Hawkeye proclaimed me healthy and my mouth was free to decide what to do.
I had to say something, didn't I?
“Um, Hawkeye?”
“Yes, Father?”
I shuffled back toward him. “About last night -” My second attempt resulted in Hawkeye sitting quietly, patiently. He knew I was serious about talking now. And that thought made me clam up, forcing out a quick and simple dodge. “Lena told me the story.”
Not quite how I had imagined. Hawkeye must have thought the same. “Story?
“About the frozen slush water and the cheesecake.” My hasty clarification couldn't have come out any faster, or jumbled. I had to replay it in my mind twice to see if it made any sense. “I mean of course, the story of your walk around the compound...and the conversation right before I -” my head fell in shame, “- made my entrance.”
“Ahh, that story.” A faint smile played on Hawkeye's face, looking up past my ceiling toward a fond memory. “Marianne Miller. The best cheesecake in all of Crabapple Cove - the best legs, too. Voted Miss Cove of `33, you know. Wonderful legs, terrific cheesecake. Put a thick layer of strawberries and cream on top, and I mean a thick layer. Delicious. My favorite until my friend Charlie brought me home to meet his mother.” His features stretched into a childish grin at the thought.
Face like the business end of a pit-bull, but cheesecake to die for. I would have eaten the entire thing myself if Charlie hadn't taken away my fork and banished me from his kitchen.
“Ruined our friendship.”
Hawkeye laughed a bit and settled back down. I merely nodded along, finally understanding how a dessert could affect him so much. Once again my brain had tried to make excuses for my actions, and once again I felt rotten for it. Everything Lena had said was true.
What a fool I was.
“Uh, yes. That story.” I timidly agreed, casting my gaze toward my feet. “I'm afraid I may have taken it out of context last night. Lena - Lieutenant Trepp, I mean - cleared up my...uh...misconceptions though.”
“Misconceptions?” Hawkeye looked at me silently for a moment and deducted his own answer. “Ah - those misconceptions! Right, right. Well, as much as I'd love to agree with those certain misconceptions of yours...I'm afraid not. Cheesecake and other dessert items of interest were the highlight of the evening. What with BJ in the next cot and all.” He chuckled softly, shaking his head. “Was that what bothered you last night? Made you fly the coop covered in a layer of snow and ice? Cheesecake?
I've never heard such loud laughter in all my life. I twisted away in agony, trying my best to cover the wound. “Father! Was that what this was all about? Why didn't you just say so last night? I mean, the cheesecake was good, but hardly a reason to go jogging through a blizzard in two degree weather.” He studied me through his enjoyment, voice softening. Something devilish was brewing under his features, his mouth peel into a deliberate smile.
“Nothing happened last night, nothing to worry about anyway. I won't go converting your conservative Catholic schoolgirl any time soon, rest assured.”
I opened my mouth to speak several times, words refusing to obey. Must have looked like a guppy. “I see.” Should I thank him? I honesty didn't know how to react. Something about his tone frightened me.
“Besides,” Hawkeye's voice still carried that customary hint of humor, but there was something more swimming around too, “I think she might be gunning for the `long haul' before such business ventures, so to speak. Stories she's told me suggest as much.” He lowered his pitch and moved in closer. “Just between you and me, Father, I'm allergic to commitment. Girls who are interested are...nice, usually. But it's just not for me. I have an understanding with most of our nursing staff.
Wounded aren't the only ones I pick up and send off quickly around here, you know.
I blushed slightly and averted my eyes. “I-I see.” I wasn't sure I wanted to know this much about him. I'm wasn't even sure I knew what he meant, but it had to have been something risqué in nature. I recognized that grin. I also recognized the shift to `commitment' and thought it was a safe road to take. “Well, you may perhaps marry one of these days, Hawkeye.”
Me? Never!” That old singsong voice was back and ringing high with theatrics. “I shall never marry, lest I bias my selection.” He slapped a hand over his heart as if to say it could never be won. I looked doubtful. He was a good looking guy after all, and women seemed to enjoy his company. One woman in particular, at least.
Hawkeye seemed to understand my discomfort a bit too well. “Don't worry Father, Lena and I are just friends.” He shot me a knowing look I didn't like one bit. “As of this moment forward, I'm a pure and utter saint.
“A-are you now?” I tested the water, trying not to blush too badly. “I somehow doubt that, Hawkeye. But if you wanted to make a pledge of faith, I'm all ears.”
“Are you kidding? I'll have you know I'm saving myself for marriage!” There was that humor again. I think if he had not become a doctor, Hawkeye would have made an excellent actor. “Well, your temperature is normal; your breathing has become steady. You've got a cold, but nothing a little rest won't cure.
You have an ugly bruise but otherwise seem to be just fine. The pneumonia you tried so valiantly to give yourself seems to have passed you over for greener pastures. I'm sorry to tell you this Father but - you're going to live. My condolences.
“Therefore my faithful charge,” He commanded in a pseudo-authoritative voice, “I prescribe two days of R and R in the confines of this tent, without any added stress - which means no writing up sermons, Father, you wild thing. I also recommend nurses and the occasional sponge bath on the side, you lucky dog, you. Unfortunately, I cannot excuse you from the food.” He picked up the leftover tray with disgust and slipped the strap of his bag around a shoulder. “My heart goes out to you, brave soul.”
Hawkeye stood and reached the door without another word, turning to flash a devious smile. “Perhaps I'll even tip off a certain doctor as to this prescription and send her on by. Two days of R and R will do wonders for any man.
Trust me, I'm your doctor. As for me, I plan on taking a long nap. With any luck, I might even get some sleep.
I opened my mouth to protest, but he was faster than I had predicted. The wooden door shut back on itself after him, and I let out a long sigh.
Two days of rest and relaxation with Lena?
Wasn't that a contradiction of terms?
My stomach found itself lurching somewhere between my throat and shoulders, and I sank back into my cot and prayed. Nothing formal of course, just a simple request that I thought would do some good. I felt nauseous suddenly, reflecting on how my life had turned upside down inside just a month.
Hawkeye would most certainly tell Lena all about this. It was up to her whether she visited or not. Part of me wondered if she'd even consider doing so after how I'd treated her. Perhaps I hadn't been outwardly cruel, but I had judged the woman before I gave her a chance. How many times had I preached against doing that very same thing?
With a defeated sigh I took off my glasses and folded them unto my nightstand, feeling a wave of sleep overwhelm me. I wasn't sure how much time had actually elapsed between the two doctor's departures, but to me it felt like days. My head ached near the bruise but I was too tired to examine it right now. Such things would have to wait for tomorrow.
As I drifted toward sleep, another unspoken prayer touched my lips and pulled them into the tiniest of smiles. Something I had not expected; a wish left forsaken for quite some time.
With all my heart, I hoped Lena would once again walk through my door.