AUTHOR'S NOTES: This little fic is kind of strange, but who am I to argue with the voices in my head? ^^;;; Takes place after the end of the series, because we all know BJ and Hawkeye really won't be able to stand being away from each other too long. ^_^
Thank you so much for taking the time to read this, too. What a happy little ficcer I am, yess....
DATE BEGUN: January 12th, 2003
DATE FINISHED: January 12th, 2003
All False Things 1/1
by Meredith Bronwen Mallory
Maybe I shouldn't be writing this to you, Mr. Hunnicut.
Probably, probably I should put you out of my mind all together. God knows I'll never see you again. You'll just be a look on my son's face, diffuse and happy and at the same time so pained; it'll pass, though, and aside from a brief stay at a Boston hotel once in a while, my son will be home for good.
He's my son, you understand, and that's why I can't let this go. Even if I want to. You have a daughter, you said-- Amy, Tarin... Erin, something like that-- so surely you must know, must have some inkling...
It would please me to think that you don't know, that you don't love your daughter the way I love my son, but that's selfishness talking. I'd like to believe that, the worst of you and drag you through the mud. But I also like to think I'm an honest person, and I can't trick myself for too long-- I'll hear Hawkeye talking to you on the phone, the way he *says* things, and that'll show the illusion for what it is. A pathetic veil.
I'd like to believe you're a good person and a loving father; I'd like to think we have these things in common.
I sit very still at night, sometimes, and wonder-- what does your wife think? What words were in her mind, when you booked those first tickets to the other side of the country? To a little nowhere town she's probably never heard of, to visit a man she knows only through your letters? I've had a luxury she hasn't-- I've met you, but she has never spoken to my son. Or maybe she has, maybe she's the reason Hawkeye sometimes fumbles with the receiver, holding it between his cheek and his shoulder, saying, 'Ah, may I speak with BJ?'
So like a child, so like his mother, my Hawkeye. My Ben, just as he was when he was five, I think, and I can see him saying, "Can BJ come out to play?" As if Ms. Hunnicut is your mother, and not your wife.
Maybe that's the thing that disconcerts me-- that Hawkeye *talks* about her, your wife, in a flippant monosyllable. Peg.
'Peg and BJ are building a new house. View of the golden gate and everything-- they've wanted it since before they were married.'
'BJ's gonna open his own practice. Peg likes the idea.'
And I can't tell from his voice or his eyes what it is he's really thinking.
God knows, I'm no expert on human relationships. I've lived in this one town all my life-- the ocean out there is the same as my blood; this is my home and even if Jehovah himself came down from heaven and told me to budge, I wouldn't. I've only ever had my wife-- rest her soul-- and my son. Don't you understand? Can't you guess, that maybe my son's body is here sitting at the kitchen table making wisecracks, but I *know* there's a piece of him missing. That piece you took with you, in your suitcase, along with your argyle socks and god-awful pink shirt.
Hawkeye was my son long before the idiots at the draft-board shipped him off to a little slice of hell, and long before he was your best friend. Or your lover.
There, I said it.
Oh, you know that I know. As Hawkeye would say, I know that you know that I know that you know that I know.
No, no, no.
But here it is, on this lousy piece of paper, and that it's written down makes it real. Maddoc-- my wife-- believed in the power of words; words give ideas form, words make things solid. There's no way to be vague-- you are my son's lover.
Do you know what the first thing I thought when Hawkeye came down the steps, two at a time and almost running, wearing that shabby red robe and shouting, "Dad, dad, he's coming!"? The first thing, the very first thing once Hawk started talking sense was, "Thank God." Those bastards didn't even return my son in one piece. Oh, sure, all the fingers and toes, arms and legs were accounted for, but Hawkeye was like my Maddie had been, just before she died. He was lost in his own body, rattling around in his ribs, and far away. He tried, just as Maddie did, to smile and remember old mannerisms, but I could see. So, for the first time, his smile was wide and real as he told me his war buddy was coming to visit, and belatedly asked if that was okay. For a week before you came, he worked on the guest room, getting it ready, cleaning it out. We don't have guests often, and it was being used as a storage room. But Hawkeye made it *your* room-- that's even what he called it, 'BJ's room'.
It would be good for him to remember that there were a few bright spots to the war, right?
Healthy for him to have a buddy to talk to, someone who had been through the same things?
Someone his own age, like a brother.
My God. I remember the first time Hawk ever brought a girl home. It was Becky Lynn Miller (married now, moved to Pittsburgh, five kids, a husband and two dogs), from the farm down the the road, looking fresh and doe-eyed in a blue dress. My Maddie wore blue, you know, all the time-- it was her favorite color, sort of her symbol. So small but strong, Maddoc was, I wasn't sure she was gonna make it, not after hours of labor, her squatting in the middle of the big bed until she cried at me that she just couldn't push any more. I thank God, in odd moments when it comes to me, that I called down a colleague from Boston to help me with the birthing. My own wide hands, no matter the skill, could not have lifted her out of her suffering. The baby, my friend said, had the umbilical cord partially wrapped around it's neck-- It, he actually called my son an 'it', trying to put in some distance-- and was about to hang itself in the womb.
And Maddie, when all was said and done and she was holding our boy safely tucked near her breast, said to me, "You gotta die to be born."
Then my child opened his eyes for the first time, two perfect orbs of a blue I haven't been able to find anywhere else. Maddie's favorite color, separate and unique. All babies start out with blue eyes, but my son stayed that way.
So, a week passes since Hawkeye came crashing down the stairs, showing his real smile for the first time since before the triple-damned war. Police action-- whatever it was. I open my front door to find a clean-faced, choirboy stranger standing there, and *his* eyes are blue. Not like Hawkeye's, but nice enough on their own, I suppose. Eyes are blue, the sky is blue, the ocean, too-- that's what Maddie loved.
(Indeed, what would *she* say to you?)
There you are, on my front porch, suitcase in hand with your jacket folded over your arm, and before I can say a word, I hear my son's voice from behind me, almost caroling;
"Hey, Beej!" I step aside, watch as you drop your suitcase on the dusty wooden planks so you can fully embrace my son. I watch as you tangle yourselves together-- a buddy pat, sure, but maybe just a little too long-- once, twice. Pull apart, look at each other, embrace again. That's the word I have to use-- not hug, embrace. I call it as I see it. Hawkeye, with his arm slung over your shoulder, says, "Dad, this is BJ Hunnicut, greatest surgeon in all of Korea or anywhere else-- aside from you and me of course." Polite nods to each other, you and I-- you take my hand, grip it earnestly, shake.
"Nice to meet you," I say, but my eyes are on the your left hand, resting so innocently on my son's hip. Tapping a pattern there.
Then, Hawkeye is leading you towards the stairs and your room, carrying your suitcase in one hand and making motions with the other. He says, "BJ, if you came to get your stolen socks, you're too late. I used 'em to scare the neighbor's poodle off our lawn."
You shoot back, "I used yours to kill the roaches in the basement", and there's quiet, close laughter that makes me turn quickly to go start dinner.
Dinner-- clam chowder, lobster, bread and butter, the three of us around the already cramped kitchen table. You two tossed words back and forth, smooth and practiced, complimenting the food and filling each other in on life.
It may be that you thought I wasn't looking, when Hawkeye leaned over to tap your upper lip, saying, "What happened to the mustache, Beej?"
You, of course, know that you said 'Peg didn't like it'.
Why should it bother me that you mentioned your wife, sitting at the dinner table with your lover and his father?
No, I didn't automatically assume. What parent would, what parent does? The thoughts were diffuse and liquid in my mind, a hunch, like how the leaves turn over before a storm. I was thinking about Hawkeye's call, after those khaki idiots told me he was dead, how he told me he had his escape all planned out. "BJ," he said at the end, "convinced me to stay."
It's the *way* it's said that give words power. And that, too, is Maddie's wisdom.
Also, also I was thinking about every girl he'd ever brought to dinner, every nurse he'd ever bragged about, his casual flirtation with all the girls in town. I don't know where he gets it from-- I joke, yeah, but I'm not so silver with my tongue, and Maddoc had a tendency to scare people, somehow, with her firm words and dark eyes. After Hawkeye was born, she fell asleep feeding him and dreamed that a grey woman came and cut his tongue, just a little. Maddie said it meant he would always know what to say, be able to speak any language he put his mind to, that he'd be able to out-sweet-talk the devil.
There's your explanation.
I don't know if Hawk talks about his mother, though you must know she's dead. On second thought, there's a flicker of memory in me, of you saying something about my son's claustrophobia. So maybe you do know, that she was wonderful and strange and that Hawkeye is so much more of her than he is of me, but at the same time he is not of either of us. He was there, when she died, shuddering and coughing up blood in the bed she gave birth in, the bed we made love in. The bed I sleep in, even today. Hawkeye held her hand, listened to her tell him about the city of the dead and then... he came down the back steps, stood in the kitchen, so small in the threshold, and said, "Daddy, Mama isn't breathing anymore, will you come and tell her to start again?"
He was only ten.
I've been a widower a lot longer than I was actually married. Right now, I'm thinking about how Hawkeye said you used to write to Peg everyday, receiving three or four from her at mail call. When did you stop telling her the truth, when did the words in-between the lines, in-between the real words, become not 'I miss you I hate this place I miss you', but 'I'm sleeping with my best friend, with another doctor'? Perhaps you didn't move that far, under the bright compound lights, between the green army sheets. For Hawkeye's sake and safety, I'd like to think you two did not, and yet...
No. You touched him with such ease, such knowledge. I can not imagine it was new to either of you.
Maddie loved mirrors-- she had them all over the house, reflecting each other, so that she could study people from every angle, divine what they would not show her directly. I don't have the heart to take them down, never have, because if it's raining and I'm tired enough, I sometimes see just a flash of her, in the mirrors. So, when I came in the back door from running over to Jim Morgan's place to check on his boy, there was no way I could have missed it.
You know what I walked in on. I saw, you and my son, my Hawkeye, on that silly flowered couch Maddoc and I bought after we got hitched. I saw him, bent over you, pinning your hands above your head with a single one of his. So surreal-- because even though I'd caught him kissing girls out on the porch swing once or twice, he held you *differently*. I listened, heard him say a thousand things that I won't let myself remember, because he meant them, I could tell. A switch of positions, you were kissing my son, cupping his cheek, holding him still. And in the mirrors, I saw a thousand pairs of you two, doing the same thing, unto infinity.
Maybe I coughed, maybe the wind changed direction. Maybe a floor board creaked, but you both looked up at me, mouths still pressed together. It was Hawkeye who muttered, against you, "This is not good"-- you were only silent, with you hand under his shirt; God help us all, because that *was* Hawkeye there, the real thing, no lost rattling around, not distant-eyed. He was there and fully in the moment and, even though there must have been dread curling inside him, he was *happy*. I turned away, said over my shoulder that I would be out on the porch, I waited trying to find what it was within myself that I was feeling.
I'm sure Hawkeye told you what happened later, when he came out to sit beside me on the swing. He was so still and quiet, I was almost sure his heart wasn't beating, so the first thing I said, moving my mouth around the hard words, "I do love you, Ben."
"That's good," his voice was rough with relief and as easy to understand as still, clear water; I heard it before, only once, when he called from all the way on the other side of the planet to say he missed me, was glad my surgery went well. It doesn't sound like much, and it's a sad thing that it was easier-- and always will be-- to tell my wife I loved her than to tell my son that I am proud and care. Both those things will always be true.
There were questions I had to ask-- they wanted out of my mouth whether I would cooperate or not.
How long had this been going on?
That my son named an exact date says a lot.
Who else knew?
"Just you," said Hawkeye, "and maybe our bunkmate, Charles, though he'd never admit to the knowing. He's the king of a certain river in Egypt."
Didn't you, didn't he, know what risks you had taken, were still taking?
"Yes." Simple and deadly.
And then... of course, Why?
Because he loves you, that's why.
My son is a gifted physician, a talented surgeon. My son needs to practice medicine, to turn away death as he could not the one time it came knocking on our door. He *feels*, he understands and he cares about human life, about doing the right thing.
You must know, you have to know, what this can do to him!
And yet... Because he loves you, that's why.
You and I didn't see much of each other the last two days of your visit. We shook hands again when you left, as if to revoke our initial cordial greetings. You were so easy to remove from this setting, this small town-- Crabapple Cove has existed for Hawkeye long before you, and it will continue to exist after.
But the room down the hall is still 'BJ's room', and Hawk is back to having nightmares to shake and slither between his sleep.
So tell me, Mr. Hunnicut, what your wife says when you come home. This isn't the end, I know. Never again shall you darken my door, but now both you and my son will make travel plans. To Boston, or New York. There will be clean, musty impersonal hotel rooms, there will be embraces, perhaps reflected in a mirror. What are you like, when you return home to play the family man-- to hug your daughter and stroke your wife's curves in the dark? It astounds me so, for Hawkeye has said to me how devoted you are, how much you love Erin and Peg. Do you have room for all this love inside you and still spare my son the feeling from you he deserves?
If you love them, why do you need my Ben?
Nothing is free, not ever. Peg may have a distracted, haunted husband, and then only her daughter to hold when he dissipates to be real in the arms of a man; I may have my son, who will cry in the night when he remembers white light and blood, and then an empty house with only my wife's memory to walk the corridors. Part of me wants to call this Peggy Hunnicut, to say over the impersonal wires-- "Hello, young lady. This time is in parenthesis... at this very moment, your husband and my son are pretending the rest of the world is not real. I wonder, does that make you my daughter-in-law, once removed? Let's keep each other company in our separate, empty houses. Ms. Hunnicut, let's not be real together."
I've seen my son's eyes, when he speaks of you. And I know, when he walks barefoot on the cold floor with a drink in his hand, that he's thinking of and wanting you. His feeling for you is real; I am not so blind as to pretend otherwise, but what about you? I can't know, maybe never will. Would you take such risks, just for a good lay? I can't think that either, and this is all too far outside my range of experience. I can love my son without understanding this, but I have nothing for you.
I must believe you love him. This must be true, I can remember Maddoc singing, for all false things fall away to dust.
So now, I want to ask you a question; Captain, Doctor, Mr. Hunnicut...
Just what the hell do you think you're doing?
[To the tune of Ring Around the Rosy]
Ring around the ficcer,
Your reading makes her hap-ier,
I love it! YUM!