AUTHOR'S NOTES: As always, I have to thank you for taking the time to look at my fic! It makes me a very happy little slasher, indeed. ^_^ This is kind of different from my usual style-- it's meant to have more of an 'oral story' feeling. Kind of like a fairy tale, only... not. ^^; It's BJ/Hawkeye (big surprise there!) and Hawkeye/Trapper (for shame!). Hawkeye is an almost mythical character, so I thought perhaps to write a bit of a 'myth' behind him. I really do hope this comes out right!
I've been away from the MASH fandom for a while, so this fic is dedicated to two people. First, to Raven-- who distracted me into the realms of Stargate J/D. It is entirely her fault that (warning-- shameless plug!) that I wrote 'We Play Only For Keeps' (http://demando.net/everglow/playforkeeps.html). That was my first slash fic outside of the MASH fandom!
Secondly, this is dedicated to Leigh, who drew me back into MASH with her ever-inspired and glorious writing. You're beautiful inside and out, my friend.
And now, enough of my babbling! On with the fic!
Disclaimer: MASH and associated characters belong to FX and some really scary lawyer people. Maddoc is a figment of my demented mind, and thusly belongs to me. ^^; Erm.. as if anyone else wants her. ^_~
Ashes, Ashes: A Tale 1/1
by Meredith Bronwen Mallory
Here is a story that may or may not be true; that may or may not have been told. When a tired doctor-soldier returned home to a life he had forgotten and a daughter who didn't remember him, perhaps he sat by her crib and spoke this tale. Cleaning out their father's things three days after the good Dr. McIntyre died of a stroke, there is a chance that Kathy and Becky heard the rustle of this story in the black and white, stranger-photo that they found. It could be that Erin-- older now, wiser, unable to remember not remembering-- confused by her mother's words, recalled this story and searched for it in her thick volumes of fairy-tales-- childish things she'd once locked away. She didn't find it. This story is not make of typeset words, or bound in a book. If it exists, it is in a rickety Maine house, sitting a little too close to the ocean; in a plain grave stone now overgrown by capricious vines and mischievous dandelions.
Here is the story, anyway; which, in her early morning dreams, Erin wakes up grasping for. Her father only ever loved three things, really; herself, her mother, and...
Let's say there was a young boy with dark hair and green eyes; working his back behind a plow on the Pierce farm. His body was too lithe and his mind too quick for such work. His mother was forever coaxing him out of the warm barn, away from the horses and pigs who's clockwork bodies fascinated him. She frowned over the pieces of the frog he dismembered in his eagerness to find the heart, the bones and compare it with the animals he knew. His father, stern and stiff like iron, ran a commanding finger over the lines of verse in the Bible, but this boy-- called Daniel-- only turned his eyes away. In church, he kept his head bent down and studied the lines blue in his pale wrists. In his family, there were three strong, strapping boys quite unlike himself, and a girl who was plain and quivering; he left without missing a beat, sitting on the edge of neighboring farmer's fruit cart as it jostled him into town. Typer-setter, merchant, blacksmith-- he tried them, but his hands were suited for more delicate work; after some time, he suffered as a pot washer at the inn, in his off hours playing a borrowed violin. A Doctor, a man with books and knowledge, with an empty home and no children of his own, saw those lean fingers caress the strings. Daniel Pierce became his apprentice.
Books spread out before Daniel, endless as the horizon-- charting the currents of blood, the capitals of organs and seven seas of skin like maps. Images, all well and good, and his Master's words he devoured eagerly, but when he looked at the large tomes in the Doctor's library, he could only think of his father and the heavy Bible.
He went home one Christmas to find his plain sister dying-- he found he knew her not at all, and the fact she was a stranger frightened him. She would die, and then he would have no sister; he wondered if he would notice, and his ribs shook. This sister had a good Christian name, she had been away under the harsh glance of the school mother in another town-- one who seemed to have surfaced out of the rocky New England soil; she had few friends, and these friends called her Posy. Laying in her narrow spinster's bed in the loft, Posy spoke softly of all she had seen-- she and Daniel pushed their words and experiences across the tattered quilt. Her mind was beautiful, sparkling and hidden by her face-- Daniel stayed by her side through February, as her blood fell in small flecks onto her snowy handkerchief.
Read to me, Posy begged-- and she had only one book to her name. Daniel sat the leather cover of 'Last of the Mohicans' across his lap and, though at first the words jumped like the condemning speeches of Jeremiah, he read aloud the whole book. As Hawkeye knelt by the graveside, alone, Daniel watched his sister wither, but their gazes met with pain and excitement for the story they were coming to love.
Posy was buried a week later.
What the Doctor couldn't teach, Daniel learned in Boston-- jazz sizzled and simmered low around the square. Ignoring it, Daniel sat working numbers in the clerk's shop to earn the bread on his plate.
(Here, maybe-- just maybe-- Erin remembers leaning forward a little bit, small cubby hands clasping on her Papa's knee. For surely, something good is about to happen-- it's Autumn in New England and the colors suggest a mystery no one can solve. Erin has been to the ocean, but it's Pacific-- orient soft and smelling of warmth; one day she crosses a bridge in Rhode Island and the Atlantic scent hits her hard, and it takes her breath away. Maybe she remembers, but maybe she doesn't.)
The leaves are blood red all over the country side where there was once war and strife. In Boston, the bells still sing low and speak of revolution. Daniel comes in to the clerk shop on a Sunday, badly in need of funds to pay for the midnight oil he burns. Lanky and perhaps a little too thin, the young man seats himself at his desk, kicks his legs in absent boredom and hears a resounding 'oof!'. A mouse of a young woman is curled under the desk, blue skirts tucked under and around her-- but the first thing Daniel sees are her oblivion brown eyes, and her secrets face framed by rain-straight black hair. She looks as if she just stepped out of Posy's book, safely stored in the pack he takes everywhere.
"Good day, sir," says the girl, as if they have just met on the street.
"Ah," says Daniel eloquently, "Good day to you, miss. May I ask--"
The girl raises a finger to her lips and hisses her quieting command like a charmed snake, "My father is looking for me."
When questioned by an old man in buckskin tourers, Daniel says he has seen no one this morning-- later, he and the girl slip out into the square, and he buys her a pastry he can't afford. She says her name is Maddoc, after the Indian prince-- how her father so wanted a son but only has she. Insistently, she pays for Daniel's loaf of bread, and says they should call it even.
She asks if his name is from Daniel and the Lion's Den-- Daniel only shrugs and pretends not to remember those stories read aloud in his father's thunder voice. Maddoc says that he must know what his name means, because it's part of who he is. Everything has a name, a word for itself, and words are power. She slips away, and now in his late-night studying, Daniel occasionally sees her doe-like eyes, imagining her moving like a cat through the forest. They meet again when her father brings his pottery into town to sell. Holding their hands together, with fingers so loving of detail, Daniel says suddenly that they are the same; her clay is the skin of the earth, the skin of his patients his clay. Then he blushes, ducks his head and does not know from where within himself something so superstitious came. They walk together as the first snow falls, they sit together by the fire when winter settles in for good; talking about Indians, birds and the creatures moving in separate darkness amongst the trees. When the day comes and Daniel bends down on one knee, Maddoc is utterly surprised-- says he is her best friend and almost laughs at the thought of marrying him. Daniel says he loves her-- Maddoc sobers and admits she loves him too.
The stock-market crashes. People are always sick, but now they pay Daniel meager sums of crops and sometimes leather-goods. Daniel and Maddoc are married in the courthouse with her father as their witness-- there is no Priest, they are not in the sight of God and Maddoc's wedding ring is the curled silver handle of a spoon. In the boarding house, she washes their neighbor's laundry and Daniel collapses in beside her when the sun starts to peek over the horizon. The city is too crowded, they can't make it; they sit with arms around each other, hitching a ride on the back of a lumber-truck, looking for a town without a doctor. They find Crabapple Cove.
((The name of the town is said with borrowed affection by the one who tells this tale-- as if remembering some one else's eyes in a faraway found gaze. Kathy and Becky find a letter tucked in their father's old army duffle-- the return address is that town, and the letter says only that Hawkeye has perished by his own hand. Erin remembers her father flying out for the funeral. Though the whole of Crabapple Cove came to pay their respects along with friends from a place that now existed only in memory, John McIntyre did not attend. He spoke his farewells into a bottle of gin that tasted too good-- Becky, though very young, even remembers the fight her parents blazed into that night.))
There's an rickety cottage on the hill-- an old summer home for someone who's riches have plummeted with the stocks, like a bird felled by a stone. His work with the mechanisms of the human body is what puts food on their table, so Daniel and Maddoc earn the house through her hard work as a maid to the police chief's wife. Behind her back, the townspeople stop and whisper. Sometimes, she stops on the street, back curved with natural elegance, head cocked as if listening to the words flying in hisses behind her. Witch, they say, often without even uttering the word at all-- but they fall fearful and silent, ashamed when she pauses like that. Autumn comes again, the small town has an unearthly splendor with crimsons and golds that put Boston to shame. Maddoc shells out pumpkins, saves the seeds for planting, holding the small teardrop shapes in between her long fingers. Laughing at herself, she carves into the orange skin as she would into a clay bowl and sets the hollow shell out with a candle on the front porch. On all Hallows Eve, the children hiss and giggle with shrill fear, daring each other to pass in front of the Pierce Gate, but they play no tricks on the woman referred to in low, somehow perplexed tones, as 'Doctor Pierce's Wife'.
Things get better because they can get no worse-- the Earth blooms and the clay dances under Maddoc's gracefully clumsy hand. Daniel is called sometimes two towns away, asked to work his skillful hands against sickness-- he calls to memory his childhood and the smell of fresh hay, aiding on occasion those creatures with four legs instead of two. People come to the house, gazing cautiously at the mirrors Maddoc uses to observe their truest faces. The people trust Dr. Pierce. Babies flow out into Daniel's waiting grasp, coughs ease within children's small lungs. His step is light and his eyes are clear, shadowed only when a patient falls away from him, lost behind the high wall of death. Maddoc holds him, cradles his head against her breast and whispers tales Daniel's own father would have closed his ears to; the cities of the dead, the no-lands and the paths that lead down into places made by human dreams. In their narrow, wrought-iron bed, they lay together between the white sheets, and Maddoc's quickening breath and cry make it seem as if she has drawn another soul into her body.
Far off, but all too near, war rumbles like a terrible monster on the horizon, the sound of marching feet and drill songs, of smoke and burning flesh crawling over foreign lands. Maddoc closes her windows and shutters against it, knowing not when it will come-- only that it shall. She toils with her light-brown back bent in the garden, sweat weaves between her locks, and her belly has been filling out like the moon since before Christmas. Daniel watches her out the window, his own head bent of the ledger, thinking back to the too-skinny boy trotting behind the plow.
(( Here is a part told in a slightly different voice, for-- when you love someone-- myths follow behind them closely like wings folded to their back. Erin watches her father's eyes, his expression in the pink light thrown by her carousel lamp. It's like a flip-flopped Snow White gone horribly wrong; no escape in the woods, but the heart cleaved out and served on a sparkling, disinfected silver plate. Maybe the utensils aren't forks or spoons or knives at all, but retractors and scalpels, handed when asked for. But that comes later, that's at the end, or towards it anyway. Kathy and Becky stand together, holding hands as their father is lowered together-- cut out his obituary and paste it in the scrapbook along with the last picture taken of him. At the bottom of the clipping, it mentions that John F. X. McIntyre served in Korea. Veteran, it says.
Victim, whispers a voice neither girl is familiar with.
This is the part where the story becomes not so much a story, but a mystery neither Katherine or Rebecca or Erin Marie will ever be able to solve.
So, says the voice of Erin's father, kind of laughing to keep the sadness away. ))
Sitting at the window, darning in her lap, Maddoc absently murmurs to the growing of her womb, speaking in the half-remembered language of her dreams. Outside, she sees a bird come to land in the tall, temperamental oak tree-- it's wings are wide and it's face intelligent, it calls to the indian woman and blinks it's golden eyes at her. Once, twice. A third time. Maybe Maddoc is startled, and she pricks her finger-- but chances are she isn't; the bird and the mother both bow their heads, acknowledging. The pains come later, and Maddoc lays once more in the narrow marriage bed, as Daniel and another doctor work through and in between her cries. The baby flows on his river of blood, into the waiting hands of his father and away from the cord that almost encircled his neck.
They name the child Benjamin Franklin Pierce.
They _call_ him Hawkeye.
His eyes are blue, and Maddoc says this is good luck.
(( Here's the story told over bad gin, in a hushed voice when the children streaming in through the O.R. door became too many and their faces begin to blur. Two men, bent together, huddling for warmth and safety in their messy tent, which might as well be a foxhole. Sometimes red curls and black hair, other times ebony going gray and light brown receding. The jokes are off color and the longing is so deep no surgery can remove it. In the footlocker marked 'B. F. Pierce, Captain', there's a photo tucked away-- Maddoc's hand blows in the salt-water wind, she holds onto her boy child as if she might one day blow away.
She does. ))
The mirror's in the house seem to dull, though-- in their shadowed surfaces-- Daniel and Hawkeye turn swiftly at night, thinking they see a flash or blue dress or mischievous smile out of the corner of their eyes. See this? A man and his son, uncertain, but holding on. Eventually, there is laughter at the dinner table and days spent with fishing robs dipped into the creek. Maddoc moves through the house like a dream, breathing but so dead-- Hawkeye trips his way to school and carries home books on the heart and lungs and mind. He reads like he's starving, and his father shows him in practice what the words intone.
There's the growing up, which for Hawkeye is done with all the determination of weed, hardy and living in spite of everyone else. There comes a night when the grass is wet with dew and his hands are in it, he crouches as the referee counts off, catches a hazel gaze and looks ever so briefly through a window to a future he can't possibly understand. Then he runs forward and collides.
There's medical school, and a girl with carefully carved face and hair like a halo. They come together and drift apart, paths as strange but destined as the stars his mother and father used to show him. Exams, internships, papers and residency in a city hospital-- Hawkeye is intense and brilliant, an artist working only with red paint. Soon, soon there will be too much of it, and there comes a day when a plain brown envelope is sitting like a coiled snake on the kitchen table.
Things get desperate, and then they get even more so. While bombs hit the ground like sick rain, Hawkeye lays with Trapper but never says the word 'love', neither of them do. It's a regret and a relief, some secret held safe because there comes a time when a stranger's form will lay in Dr. McIntyre's cot, and Hawkeye will lay with his face turned away, breathing his sorrow in and out as if it will put him under. Jokes fly like bullets, swift and coming in for the kill.
At home, Kathy and Becky hang off Trapper like two determined tree-climbers; and if Mommy and Daddy don't speak so much, and if Daddy sometimes drinks stuff that makes his breath smell funny... well, that's the way it is. That's Atlantic, so here's Pacific-- a woman with straight hair curled in holds her baby girl and counts the days her husband has been gone. Then she counts the good things she can remember, and the days since Erin's birth, and days she's been married and even the number of times the word Hawkeye comes on the pages written husband's hand. She counts and is not jealous, because the numbers are cool and factual and have no ill will for her. So she takes their anxious forms and keeps her own accounts, then other people's, and finally one for a restraint down the street.
In Korea, there's a bus and a mother and a baby-- Hawkeye will forever remember saying to keep the child quiet. He will remember the little woman and her black hair like a veil of mourning. Sometimes, in his dreams, she raises her eyes and her face is not her own, but that of Mother, pleading to him with words her doesn't understand. He wanders his father's house like it's a foreign kingdom, speaks softly into the phone, the wires vibrating across the nation. It's not enough, and that's no one's fault, so one night Hawkeye takes his scalpel to himself this time and joins his mother in the twisting passageways.
Alright, okay, so this should be the end of the story, but it doesn't _have_ an ending, because-- years ago-- no one could find Korea or Vietnam or Iraq on a map, and now they can. Now these foreign words are places-- over there, where your bonnie, your brother father sister mother wife husband child fights and wins and dies. Erin stands with her arms around a girl just slightly taller than she is-- they both gaze down at a grave with the initials B.J. and no one to ask what that stands for. They're whispering about Korea again, and it sends shivers down Erin's spine as she lays in Abigail's arms. It wakes Dr. Houlihan in her bed in South Florida, night after night, until there comes a day when no one can wake her at all. The whispers crawl over Kathy's skin, rattle between Becky's ears. Confined to a wheelchair, an aging man holds the hand of his youngest, slow and gifted daughter, and the girl calls her father 'Radar'.
There's a veteran's get together, meant to be patriotic and spirit-raising, but the survivors and their families can only look at each other and take comfort in the fact they aren't alone. Erin mingles in the crowd, shakes hands and listens to the few remaining people who knew her father. There's a shimmer in the heat outside when she comes outside to get some air-- she turns her hair and sees two faces like pages of a book, similarly different. Both girls wear stickers reading '4077th'-- Erin smiles wordlessly and points to her own I.D.
An exchange of pleasantries. Who's child/grandchild/relative are you?
Kathy and Becky. McIntyre.
Erin. Hunnicut. The words seem familiar.
A doctor, yes, and your father?
Same here. Oh! That's right. Replacement.
Hmm... he got out before they upped the rotation points. Lucky-- oh, but he never forgave himself. Died of a stroke a few years back.
Pierce, yes. Hawkeye?
Ah, he saw the end of the war. Don't really remember him ever being gone, I was too young. He died just a few months ago.
Sorry for your loss--
you're kind, thank you. I'm getting along alright. I know he's in a better place now. With someone who loves him.
They shuffle through the crowds again, keeping close eye on each other. They meet a little down the road at a small, summer-flower filled grill, sitting at the vaguely smokey bar and order martinis without knowing why. They look into their glasses and then at each other, raising the drinks with care.
To our fathers. To Hawkeye, they say together, and the word has a strange magic to it they will never really understand.
That's okay. It's just a story--
and it's so much more than that.