Title: A Finger-Measure
Characters/Pairings: Trapper John McIntyre, Hawkeye Pierce, mentioned Charles Emerson Winchester/Margaret Houlihan
Disclaimer: M*A*S*H belongs to many wonderful people, none of whom are me. No disrespect to the canon is intended.
Word Count: 2,935
Warnings (highlight to view): Minor character death mentioned. Very brief reference to sexual activity.
Author's Notes: Written for broncobabe007 for her bid for helpthesouth. Thanks to sarcasticsra and sunsetsinthewes for their, as always, wonderful beta jobs.
Summary: Nearly twelve years after last seeing each other, John McIntyre still knows that voice.
John slips out of a lecture on aortic dissections in pediatric patients, aiming for the bar. It's not that it's not a useful subject or anything; it's just that he's done the procedure, and he works with the lecturer, so what's the point in staying when he could get a quality martini in the hotel bar? Besides, let Winchester get going, and he'll go way past the time for the lecture to where there's no question-and-answer session, and that's bound to be the only interesting part of the whole thing.
He takes a stool at the end of the bar and flags down the bartender. "A dirty martini," he says. "So dirty its own mother won't speak to it, with an olive."
The bartender gives him a look like he's never heard something like that before. He probably hasn't, not working in the Cambridge area. Harvard kids are too well-mannered for their own good, and the professionals around here would never say something like that. John, though, works at Boston Mercy, just under Winchester, so what does he care if some bartender in Cambridge thinks his language needs work?
"Coming right up," the man says, and steps down the bar, reaching for a bottle.
John glances around. The bar's mostly empty; the hotel's reserved for the conference, and half the thoracic surgeons are off listening to Dr. Windbag. The other half are at a panel on the ethics of surgery on likely terminal patients, and John just doesn't have the stomach for that kind of thing anymore. He hasn't since he got home more than ten years ago.
There is one other elbow-bender, though. The man at the opposite end of the bar isn't just salt-and-pepper; his hair's pure grey. More than that, he's gaunt, shoulders slumped like the world's weighed on him too long, staring at but probably not seeing the finger of whiskey in front of him, the shadow of a beard along his jaw. John used to know a man like that. The one he knew wouldn't be here, though. No reason Hawkeye Pierce would be at a thoracic surgery conference. From what Winchester and Margaret--and isn't it strange that Hot Lips has become Margaret--say, Hawkeye went back to Crabapple Cove, his father's practice and home, back to taking chickens in trade for patching up broken bones and delivering babies. That's about all they'll tell John about him, too, and he doesn't press. He's got no right to, not when he didn't leave a note or even write. He'd like to think Hawkeye would understand that leaving the war had to mean leaving him, though. Getting away from the shells and the boys torn by bullets and mines, getting back to his wife and his girls, had to mean leaving the 4077 altogether.
He still wonders, sometimes, if Hawk got everything that kiss that Radar was supposed to pass on meant.
He nods to the bartender when he brings the martini, passing him a bill, and takes a sip. Almost perfect.
Getting back to Boston didn't mean leaving the war, after all. He might have gotten away from the 4077, but he didn't leave those kids he did his damnedest to put back together, the sound of shells and shots. The boys invaded his dreams, and when a car backfired, he dropped like it'd been a sniper.
Louise put up with it as long as she could, but between the boy born eight months after he got back and what she sometimes tactfully termed his "issues" and other times his "awful baggage", they couldn't last, and they both knew it. He started chasing nurses at Massachusetts General, she kept seeing her guy on the side, and finally, for the kids' sakes, they divorced, less than three years after he got home, but long enough for Louise's son, Henry, to be calling him "Daddy". It wasn't a bad thing, not even hard. Worst was deciding custody of the kids. With the hours he worked, though, and how often he volunteered to be on call, Louise got to keep all three of them. He paid her alimony until she married her guy, Gary, someone John might have liked under other circumstances and eventually did anyway. He saw his girls and Henry as often as he could manage, and he was the one to see Cathy and Becky off on their first dates, not Gary.
And he worked. He moved from Mass Gen to Boston Mercy, his credentials as a surgeon in Korea from the MASH unit with the highest survival rate working in his favor. He would have made chief of thoracic surgery, too, if he hadn't been beaten to it by another surgeon from his old outfit, one he had to grudgingly admit could out-cut him or Hawkeye--and, up until that point, Hawkeye was the best cutter John had known.
He takes another sip and glances at the man at the other end of the bar again. He has the same jaw as Hawkeye, but his eyes are sadder than John ever saw Hawk's, even after his friend Tommy died on his table.
Ah, what the hell. John picks up his martini and moves down seven stools to sit with just one between him and the other man. He hasn't touched his whiskey, John notices. Seems strange. Who orders and doesn't drink?
"It works better if you put it in your mouth and swallow," he says. "Staring at alcohol doesn't do anyone much good."
The stranger's face tightens. Could be annoyance. Could also be pain. "Does the bartender good," he says. "He got a tip."
That voice. John would know that voice anywhere. His fingers tighten around the stem of his glass, and he fights to keep his face neutral. "So you're avoiding the lecturer and the panel too, right?"
Hawkeye, because it is Hawkeye, that voice couldn't be anyone else in the world, just raises his eyes to stare at the back of the bar. "I don't need the good Dr. Winchester's input on how I can save my patients' lives."
"And you've got ethics stronger than anyone on that panel," because that's the truth, that's always been the truth about Hawkeye. John's never known a man more dedicated to saving lives, no matter the cost, not even himself.
Hawk's eyes cut to him, blue as he remembers. "It's been almost twelve years, and now you want to talk, Trap?" There's no anger in his voice, and that surprises John.
John has no real answer for that, not a ready one. There's the explanation, but it's not what Hawk needs to hear now. "Louise and I split up, nine years back," he says. "Just a few months after the war ended. You remember how Henry got when Lorraine said him catting around was okay by her?"
Hawk doesn't answer.
"Louise didn't need to. She knew, and I knew she knew, and I knew about her. We have a son, only he's not mine. His name's Henry."
"Why are you telling me this? Why--why should I care?"
"I've never known you to stop caring about a person, Hawk." It's John's turn to study his drink. "I should have written."
"A note would have been a nice touch."
"Come on, Hawk, I left you something better."
"Sure, the still and a kiss from Radar. Couldn't have been Dish or even Margaret." Hawkeye picks up his drink and stares into it like it's got all the answers to everything from the kiss to the lack of letters to no call after the war ended.
"I waited." John taps a finger against the base of his glass. "Right until I had to leave to make my plane, I waited. Radar didn't tell you?"
Hawkeye smiles bitterly. "He told me. We stole a Jeep and missed you by ten damn minutes."
"Damn," John mutters. "You'd made it, I would've given you that kiss myself." Belatedly, he glances up for the bartender. They might not get blue discharges now, but they can still be blacklisted from practicing medicine. The man's at the other end of the bar, though, wiping a glass free of water spots.
"That wouldn't have kept you from writing, you know. Picking up a phone. Even sending a telegram!" That's the Hawk John remembers, the righteous man. "I don't get a word from you for more than a decade, and running into each other into a bar isn't going to cut it, Trap!"
"I had to try to leave the war, Hawk." Trapper knocks back his martini and turns to look at Hawkeye. "That place was a nightmare. We all knew it. We still know it. Leaving the war had to mean leaving you, too, and everyone else. Not that it worked," he adds bitterly.
Hawk doesn't ask. He might have, before, but now, he's got a different focus. "And you left me in the war. Doesn't that mean anything to you? I had to live that nightmare for two more years! You got out. I didn't. They upped the damn points and kept upping them because they kept needing surgeons to put children back together to get shot again!"
"I remember," is all Trapper can say. "I must've had one kid on my table three different times. He needed three Purple Hearts and one kidney to make it stateside, and I was only there a year."
"Two years longer than you. Two damn years, Trap, and not a damn word from you."
"I wrote," Trapper admits. "Started to, anyway. I don't know how many letters I started to you. Never got much farther than, 'Hi Hawk, how's the war?' Didn't know where I could go from there without reminding you much that I didn't have to deal with it and you did."
Hawkeye gives a short, bitter laugh. "You didn't have to worry about that. I knew it perfectly well. That doesn't mean I didn't want to know about you. You told me about your girls all those times when you were there. Louise too. A few words would've been nice. I would've--I would've wanted to know about Henry. That you had a son."
"I'm sorry," Trapper says, and falls silent, watching Hawkeye run a finger around the rim of his glass. That finger-measure is still in the glass, untouched, and Trapper has to wonder why. The Hawkeye he knew never shied from alcohol. He took solace in it.
This sad-eyed man, drawn and old, this Hawkeye he hardly knows, though, maybe he doesn't anymore. Maybe he can face things, now that Korea is ten years behind him. Maybe he can at least pretend to fool himself into confronting his demons. There were just too many, back in Korea, for both of them. Even together, they couldn't face them. The nights with the rotgut and each other, Burns in Margaret's tent, both of them making excuses to the nurses actually interested in them, and the most they could do was drink themselves silly and fall into a cot together, and if their hands wandered, both could claim blackouts the next day. Hell, Trapper still doesn't know if Hawkeye actually remembers. He thinks he must, though. Hawkeye's tolerance was almost always better than his, even though Hawk hardly ate and rarely slept. Might have something to do with his peculiarities, the ones Trapper's never wanted to put a name to but knows anyway. Being home, talking to shrinks at Mercy, he knows. He knows how lucky Hawk is that he didn't wind up with Klinger's longed-for Section 8.
"I've been asked to supervise at Mass Gen," Hawk says, seemingly at random. "Well, not supervise." He gives a self-deprecating smile, familiar and foreign all at once. "They want me as their chief of thoracic surgery."
Trapper whistles. "Step up in the world. You going to take it? You'd be leaving Maine."
"I left Crabapple Cove a long time ago," Hawkeye says, to Trapper's surprise. "Came home, spent three months sleeping in my dad's house and eating his French toast, and then I woke up and he was sick." This expression can't even be called a smile. It's too ghastly, lips stretched over bone. "Liver cancer. I brought him down to Boston Mercy because Margaret knew an oncologist she and Charles both trusted. They cut out as much as they could, but he got sicker. Septic, started hemorrhaging from the resection. Died there. I only went back to Crabapple Cove long enough to find someone to buy out the practice, a kid just out of residency named Deakins, and moved to Portland."
"Hawk, I'm sorry. I wish I'd been there."
"Yeah, well." Hawkeye lifts his glass halfway to his mouth, sets it back down. "I'm surprised Margaret didn't tell you."
"She won't tell me much about you. It's my punishment for not writing." Trapper would quirk a smile, but it's not the time for it.
"If ever a woman could hold a grudge, that would be our Margaret." Hawkeye shakes his head, a faint smile on his lips.
"So you're taking the job?"
"Still negotiating. My condition is no pediatrics."
"You used to love the kids."
"I can't handle kids." His tone forbids further conversation along those lines.
"So this Deakins kid hasn't been drafted?" Vietnam is never far from Trapper's mind, and he knows it's the same for Margaret and Charles. He doubts Hawkeye ever forgets about it.
Hawkeye shakes his head. "He's lucky. Too old now, only doctor in a small town practice, and has a family. He'll stay home."
"Lucky bastard," Trapper says wistfully.
"So you said Henry is Louise's kid, not yours?"
"How do you know?"
"For one thing, a term baby isn't born eight months after the man on the birth certificate gets home from a war." He could be bitter, but he isn't. He knew the whole time.
"You ever worry about him being drafted?"
Trapper grimaces. "He's only twelve. I'll worry if it's still going on in five years. Cathy's got a boyfriend over there now. She says they're going to get married as soon as he comes home, but..." He knows he doesn't have to finish the thought.
"You're not telling her, are you?"
He shakes his head. "I think she knows. Some of the girls she's in college with already lost their boyfriends over there. You know that her class is more than a third girls?"
Hawkeye whistles. "Never would have been that way when we were in school. What's she studying?"
"Biology." Trapper faces forward, but glances sidelong at Hawkeye. "She wants to be an oncologist."
"Trap, that's fantastic!" Hawkeye laughs, an actual laugh, the first Trapper's heard from him this whole time.
"Yeah." He grins. "I keep telling her she can do it. It's going to be tough, but she can."
"We had a nurse, Gail, who wanted to be a doctor. Father Mulcahy helped her out with her studying. She made it, too. If she could get into med school in the early fifties, Cathy can." Hawkeye grins. "As long as she's got Louise's brains, not yours."
Trapper laughs. "You might be onto something there. Louise married up. He's an attorney, makes twice what I do, and I don't take home chicken feed."
"So you never settled back down?"
"Did you?" Trapper returns. At Hawkeye's look, he grins. "Same here. No one's gotten pregnant, so no reason to. I work, I have my girls and Henry, and there's this clinic down on the South Side of Boston that always needs help with pediatrics. Vaccines and stitches, mostly, but I spend time there."
"You always did love the smiles," Hawkeye says. "And there's Margaret and Charles. You're close to them, aren't you?"
Trapper shrugs. "I think it's awkward spending much time with a married couple when you slept with the wife once."
Hawkeye laughs. "As long as the kid is his."
"Do I look like the kind of man who'd sleep with a married woman?"
Hawkeye's laughter is exactly what Trapper was aiming for.
"Outside a war, I mean. No, Charlotte is all his. Margaret's got this incredible streak of fidelity now, you know."
"I know," Hawkeye says. "She was married before."
Trapper has to stare. Margaret and Charles never mentioned that to him.
"A lieutenant colonel she met in Tokyo. Engaged after one night. He was a West Pointer," Hawkeye says in a voice that's so clearly mocking Frank Burns that Trapper has to laugh. "Then he got himself reassigned to San Francisco and took all their savings. You know Margaret."
Trapper nods. "Puts up with a lot, but cross her line and she might kill you."
"Exactly. Smart of him to get that far away from her wrath, not to mention Colonel Potter's."
Trapper's heard enough about the man to believe it. "You look like you haven't eaten in a month, Hawk."
"You sound like my dad," Hawkeye says dryly.
"There's a place a couple blocks over. You don't even have to smell the food for edibility. Let's get lunch."
"There's a lecture this afternoon I need to get to," but he's pushing aside his whiskey anyway.
"We've got time. My treat."
Hawkeye smiles, a real, genuine smile, and stands. "Lead on, Macduff."
Trapper snorts. As they leave the bar, he asks, "What's with the not drinking, by the way?"
Hawkeye doesn't glance back to the lonely glass, like Trapper would have expected. "A friend told me I should only drink when I want it, not when I need it."
"You needed it?"
"Wasn't sure. Now I want a beer."