AUTHOR'S NOTES: Iyaaa! This is my first MASH fic, so I'm a little nervous forgive me. First off, thank you so much for bothering to read this! It's very kind of you to take the time. I hope this doesn't disappoint.
Secondly, this is slash-- it's not graphic slash, but it's f/f and m/m. No worse than what you might see in a PG movie. Just warning you. ^_^
Hmmm... is there anything else to say? Just that this is a little odd, but I hope you enjoy it. Feedback will cause me to love you forever and ever. ^_~
Offer Up Your Last Defense 1/4
By Meredith Bronwen Mallory
"I am afraid," Erin Hunnicut breathed the words out low, under the air she released from her lungs. She held her hands cupped in front of her on the shiny, vaguely sticky counter top, as if she could hold her admission of fear in her slightly damp palms. She said it again, "I am afraid," with emphasis on the 'am'. Her reflection, plastic and distorted on the murky-brown table top, looked back at her without remorse. There were other words inside the twenty year old college student, words that needed to get out before she slit her throat to free them. There was a knife, dull and of well used metal, laying partially wrapped in a paper napkin.
Her father was a doctor-- his hands guided silver knifes along flesh to cut and rend and mend.
(Can I tell you, Papa?)
"What's the matter with me?" Erin let her hands come up to cradle her skull, resting her elbows on the table. She breathed in once, quickly, and then out, surprised that the need to cry felt like sand in her eyes. Her hair, a lustered, winter branch brown, fell like a veil over her hands, and for a moment she was safe in a little cave, smelling in her own locks the clinging scent on her mother's favorite shampoo. She used it to remind herself, to give herself strength, because one of her very first memories was of being lifted and held against the warm curve of a breast, that light rose scent coming to her little baby button nose.
'I wish you wouldn't wear that," her father sometimes said, half-teasing, if he caught a whiff of her matching perfume.
Mom lived in Seattle, now.
Turning her wrist deftly, Erin flicked her gaze over her watch.
"Come on, Abby," she pleaded softly. For a moment, Erin allowed herself the luxury of imagining Abigail's well-loved form, and how they pressed their cheeks together when they danced (blush powder on blush powder, smooth) in the dorm room with all the shades drawn down tight.
"You gonna order something, honey?" the voice was rough, and Erin brought her hands hard and palm down against the table. Her heart hammered somewhere along her vocal cords. The waitress gazed at her from under electric blue eye-shadow and white mascarait looked like she'd been crying, like Erin's own mother crying, like the dreams she sometimes had right before morning and she was afraid her papa was still in Korea.
(No, no... you made that up, you don't remember that. You made it up. You were too young to remember.)
Then what was that other, brief little image, of a short teddy-bear man with round coke bottle glasses? She'd called him "Daddy"he wasn't her father. She called her real father "papa".
The waitress tapped her pen with annoyance, and Erin forced her voice to work.
"Yeah," the sounds were clipped and almost didn't made sense together, "Yeah. I'll have some fries. I'm waiting for someone."
The waitress grunted, unimpressed, and turned with a sway-sway of her short orange skirt. Erin almost returned to her blind contemplation of the counter, when a shadow dropped over the brown surface.
Looking up suddenly, Erin saw a blue so bright it hurt; then her eyes adjusted to take in the rest of the stranger. His eyes were the blue, a San Francisco summer-day when all the colors are so vibrant you think you're in a melting painting by Vincent Van Goh. And behind his eyesbehind them were the same tortured brush strokes, too. A few locks of graying ebony hair fell over his forehead, and he stuffed his hands in his pockets like he didn't want to be idle with them. For a moment, Erin's gaze was drawn towards the door through which he had comeoutside the world seemed more desolate and dry and crazy than a city summer day ever ought to be...
(He came in from some place else)
... but then it was gone, and she could see the people moving on the street.
"Hey, kid," said the stranger, with affection, shrugging his shoulder's underneath his khaki t-shirt, "You look like you just got trapped in the place you least wanna be."
Erin frowned, bit her lip, but could not stop herself from saying, "Yes."
"I've seen that look a lot," the man took a seathe was tired, he moved like he'd never known how to stop working hard. "Too much. Funny thing, the human mind-- we only use twenty percent of it and still have enough to carry our own little hell around. Where you stuck at?"
"What's your name?" She scooted back against the red-lined booth, at the same time drawn forward. This man smelled like her father right through the door from work. He smelled of blood and medicine and people who came to him asking him to make it all better.
"Benjamin Franklin," he said, dead pan. One large, skillful hand rose in the air, the wrist flicking with a flourish, "Famous in song and story; I have this kite thing going. Perhaps you've heard of me?" Now he was grinning-- it made him look so much younger. Boyish.
Erin laughed, the giggles drawn out of her throat despite herself, "No, really, what's your name?"
He leaned forward with his chin one hand, blue eyes winking in the dim sunlight, "No, really, that is my name. First and middle. My dad was too busy being passed out in the waiting room, so my mom named mehe had a fit."
"Alright," Erin smiled warily, "What's your last name?"
He countered with, "Does it matter?"
A pause, "To me, it does."
(She felt a little stir in the back of her minda quicksilver fish swimming through the lethe. She knew... she *knew* this face, had seen it smile. Where?)
"I'll tell you later," he promised, "Just call me Doc, I'm used to it."
"Like the dwarf?" she teased, absently picking up a French fry. She held it in her fingers, but didn't move it towards her mouth.
"Oh, yes,"he grinned, "I've also been Sleepy, Dopey, a little Grumpy..."
Erin covered her laughter with her hand.
"And may I say, my dear," he winked, "You make a lovely Snow White."
"Waiting for my prince," she glanced at her watch again. She didn't need to say her prince's name was Abigail, and that Abigail was a girl, but loved Erin with a sweetness and intensity and hands and kisses that exalted. Finally, to cover her train of thought, Erin brought the hard, salty fry to her lip and gagged. "This is awful!"
Doc picked up a fry and studied it for a moment before taking a bite. He shrugged, "I've had a lot worse. Cover it with ketchup til you can't taste italways worked for me." He sobered suddenly, "Where you stuck at, Erin? That place you don't wanna be?"
"I..."she began, and the words began to drop from her lips, like a death knell but strangely liberating. It only occurred to her later that she had never told him her name.
"I gotta tell my papa something," she bent her head and studied the blur of her reflection. Across the table, in front of her guest, the table was blank. "So, the place I'm at is when I was a little girl, right after he came home from Korea. He and Mom would do this.. this thing. All day, little things would add up, and I'd watch them starting picking up their problems, and then at night when I was tucked in, they'd spill them all out in the kitchen. They thought I was asleep, but I could hear them yelling. I used to sit by the stairwell and listen, try to make sense. That's the feeling I'm athiding in the stairwell." Cheeks hot with shame, she pushed her hand up against her nose and looked away.
"No way," he took hold of her hand, "Don't you dare feel bad. If that's where you're at, it's where you're at."
His eyes seemed to dull, "Been at my bad place a while, but... I think I may be alright. Took me time, but I'm waiting for someone too, now. Won't be long." He took a breath and stared off somewhere, just past her shoulder and a million miles away. "Don't be afraid to tell your papa."
"Tell my papa what?" she tasted terror, real and stinging like food. Her eyes, a gray-blue, asked, "Do you know?"
With his eyes, Doc said, "Yes." But with his mouth, he said, "Whatever it is you gotta tell him." He ruffled her hair like she was his kid sister and traced one slim finger down her cheek, "You have your papa's eyes, you know." Then he was standing, and though he wasn't moving yet, she felt him drawing away. She opened her mouth, clenched her fingers as though she finally had that little silver-fish memory, and then
"Erin!" She turned, saw a familiar cowboy-ish woman with dark hair, and was so happy it hurt.
"Abigail," Erin breathed thankfully. Briefly, their hands clamored towards each other and held on, like little animals giving kisses. Erin let go quickly, it was all they dared to do in public. Instead, her hands came to rest over her heart, which was wham-thram-thruming under her white and blue flowered dress.
"I'm really sorry, Erin," Abigail slid into the bench with the same consummate grace she used when mounting her motorcycle. She wore summery white as well, with splashes of hideously vibrant orange, pink and yellow, but with her thick legs and muscles it seemed like she wearing someone else's body. "You wouldn't believe the traffic. And it's so hot..."
Erin smiled, "Don't worry." She turned her head suddenly, as if just now catching hold of the knowledge of her previous visitor. The cafe was empty, save the waitresses and a man sleeping hunched over the bar.
"What's wrong, Erin?" Abigail leaned over a little.
"Nothing," the shorter girl shook her head with slight violence, "It was just that there was this guy here and..."
There he wasstanding on the street just outside the diner window, eyes closed and head tipped up. He seemed to shake himself, and turned with an eerie accuracy to meet her gaze. He smiled, winked, and seemed to waver with the heat. A bat of her eyelash, and Erin couldn't see him anymore.
"And?" Abigail prompted, "Was he hitting on you?"
Erin raked a hand through her shoulder-length hair, grinning, whispering, "Abby, are you jealous? Don't worry about it, never mind. I thought I'd seen him somewhere before." In a teasing, most scandalized a voice possible, "He was old enough to be my father!" She bit her lip then, and the two girls sobered in tandem. Abigail took off her glasses and absently knocked the tips against the table. Bad habit.
"Look, Erin," she said, her voice low like smoke from a fizzling candle, "You don't have to do this."
"I ought to tell him," Erin's words seemed aimed inward, as if she was trying to convince herself, "He's my father. He's always been honest with me, even about Mom. I owe him honesty back." A little, lopsided smile, "Besides, you told your parents."
"Yes," Abigail conceded, "but my parents are just people I lived in a house with growing up. They're not real to me, and I'm not real to them. Otherwise, they would have loved me enough not to throw me out." She banged her glasses with authority, "Aunt Ruby says they're afraid of anything different. Did you know my mom actually tried to tell me that I am this way because Aunt Ruby held me when I was born and poisoned me?"
"I'm sorry," Erin said sincerely, "Your mom is..."
"A bigot? An idiot? All of the above?" Abigail grinned, and there was a cutting hurt behind her smile. "You and your father are close, Erin. I don't want you to have to choose between us."
Erin placed her hand along side her mouth. "I love you," she whispered, as loudly as she dared.
"I love you too," the words were contraband, they were slipping them across the table. "But that's not an answer," Abigail pointed out.
"No," Erin pushed away the fries, and shrugged her coat over her shoulders, "Will you walk home with me?"
Abigail's smile was tender and stretched with worry, "Of course, silly goose."
They left the diner, walking closely together without touching.
She's six years old and she's laying in bed with the covers bunched at the bottom and the summer evening coming in the open window. It's half dark and warmshe is loved, and the fireflies her papa helped her catch wink at her brightly in the little jar by her bed. Erin's breathing is shallow, almost not-there, like Briar Rose, just waiting.
Here come the thorns.
The phone rings, three long notes, tinny and almost unreal. When it stops, it seems there are no more crickets to make noise, and the house is silent. Wait.
It rings again, and she listens.
Her mother's voice, soft but with that edge that says she scared and tired and sorry. She always sounds like that in the evenings, when Papa withdraws behind the study doors. "Hello, this is the Hunnicut residence. Can I help you?"
Pause. Mother is clicking her long nails on the coffee table.
"Uh-huh," vague, "Yes, well... My husband usually doesn't take calls this late." Mother's teeth are biting on the words. Erin wonders if everyone else notices that there are bite-marks in her mother's voice. "I understand. Hold on." A deft thump, the phone is resting on the table. Her mother's shadow passes underneath Erin's door. Now down the hall.
"BJ,"Mother raises her voice, as if Papa is in a distant land and cannot hear her. Like she's shouting over the ocean. "BJ. There's someone on the phone."
Rumbling of Papa's voicebut it's behind the door, so Erin can't hear what he's saying.
Mother tries again, "It's Radar."
The next sounds are quick and merge together. Papa's heavy footfalls, hurried, and Mother trailing behind him.
Papa's voice, "Hello?"
Erin pushes herself up on her elbows and slides out of bed, her pink pajamas gathering around her knees. With light, small steps, she comes to the door and her hand is dwarfed by the large knob as she turns it. Slipping in through the shaft of light, Erin makes her way into the hall and down to her Mother's room. Pale green sheets and curtains make the room seem like a whole other planet in the evening light. The bed is wide, and Erin kicks her feet in the air as she tries to scale it. She rolls towards the phone on the night stand, her body cradled in the dip of the bed. There is only one imprint, her mother's smooth outlineher father hasn't slept in here in years.
Erin picks up the phone and doesn't dare to breathe.
"Radar, calm down," her father's voice in stereo; a distant thunder down the hall and a vibration in her ear. "What's wrong?"
"Sir, I called to tell you," a shaky breath, the sound of little boy tears coming from a not-so-grown man. "Gosh, I'm sorry. It's like Colonel Blake all over again and BJ, I..."
Her father's voice shakes like a tree in the wind, "What's like Colonel Blake?"
"Sir, BJ..." Another shuddering exhale.
The phone says, "Hawkeye is dead."
No sound, not-sound, anti-sound.
There are no crickets, no sound of voices, just Erin adrift in her mother's too-big bed, squeezing the phone. And then...
(Wait for it!)
At first, Erin doesn't know what the noise is; she thinks its a closet-monster or the basement-thing. It's short and harsh and sounds like it's heart is being wrung out.
"BJ!" Mother cries, high soprano and hitting an unusual note, "BJ! BJ, what's WRONG!?"
Erin realizes it is her father making that horrible crying-scream.
"Sir?" the phone sounds panicky.
Silence, as if Mom cut the noise out with her sewing scissors, "I'll have to call you back, Radar. Sorry."
Another click, but this one sounds like the guns on TV. Lock and load.
Erin drops the phone on her end, and it knocks against the dresser. Her mother's perfume bottles topple like dream-cities, but she can't scramble to pick them up. She can only wander like a ghost, out into the bright hallway, where father is standing at the other end. His tall form is bent over itself, he's got nothing to hold him up anymore, and he moves towards Erin like she *is* a ghost, like she *is* and he won't be able to touch her when he reaches her. Erin spreads her small arms.
"Papa," and her hands are clasped behind his neck, and he's carrying her to the study, where she sits in his lap and watches the tears roll down his cheeks. She has never seen a man cry before.
Papa holds onto her, tight but like he's afraid he'll break her. She talks to him and tells him stories all night, but the only thing he says to her is;
"Just give your papa a hug. Don't let go."
[To the tune of "We Three Kings"]
Me-re-dith is writing for MASH,
and she hopes her story's not trash,
she would love re-views,
if you so--- choose,
cause she certainly ain't getting cash.