"In Your Mind"
Warning: This is a proof that it can be done. For the 50th Anniversary of the armistice, I bring to you a crossover between M*A*S*H and The Uncanny X-Men. Yes. You may place a call to the Arkham Asylum *now*J, or to Sid Freedman…whoever's got the better answering service.
Achive: mash-slash, naturally, and T'Len's & Lady Charena's place
Disclaimer: None of it is mine. M*A*S*H and everything connected to it belongs to 20th Century Fox. X-Men and the mutant stuff is property of MARVEL. I will return them all intact when I'm done.
A/N: Don't blame me! I was happily fixed on M*A*S*H when I made the mistake of picking up an old X-Men comic. Bad Jimaine, bad, bad Jimaine... Certain bits in Professor Xavier's background were simply too tempting.
It's not much, not particularly elaborate and it has no plot whatsoever! The style is somewhat reminiscent of a comic book. Dialogue. Sheer dialogue. Not much in the way narration.
The time I picked is late June of 1951. I used half a dozen books with juicy details and a few reference maps showing the front lines around that time and was able to decipher the occasional troop movement, but don't ask for 100% accuracy. I wasn't there. The location of the other M*A*S*H-units at that time is entirely my idea, I just picked places reasonably close to the front.
During the night, when the mansion was dark and most of the residents were asleep – or out on the town, or having a game of pool at Harry's – he allowed his thoughts to wander. What was restricted and tightly focused during the day thrived on the nocturnal freedom.
The insanity of war, be it between the nations of this world over a piece of land, a few square centimeters on a map, or between humans and mutants, always made him weary, even on a pleasantly warm summer night such as this. Now was the worst time of night, too late for yesterday, too early for tomorrow.
Their minds filled his awareness, swarming like fireflies. Alive, vibrant, invigorating.
These young men and women had seen combat and death, suffered hostility and prejudice when kids of the same age enjoyed the pleasures of high-school and adolescence.
He had seen wars. Plural. WWII, Korea…the former from a distance, the latter up close…not Vietnam, fortunately. And sometimes even he felt his hope failing, his conviction wavering. Not that he'd admit this to any of his students. Former students, he corrected himself. They were more like family now. Maybe that was what you needed to make it through the horror. Family. Love was the antidote, gave calm in the middle of a storm that never seemed to die down.
Calm was what he needed now.
The HBO documentary commemorating the 50th anniversary of the end of the Korean Police Action had brought back memories and not just those relating to historical facts. They were mostly of a personal nature, of young Private Charles Xavier who had followed his stepbrother into a war nobody should be fighting, least of all in a country neither them nor any of the 16 other UN-nations could call home.
His thoughts spun faster and faster, and he was pulled into that spiral, back, back through time into the swirl of greens and browns and blood.
Korea, fifty years ago…
He'd known pain and fear, but these days set a new standard in both categories. How far he had walked that fourth night he didn't know, but it was the longest distance he had covered until then. He didn't dare move in daylight because of the snipers, and in the dark, when shadows and moonlight merged into one amorphous shroud billowing in the light breeze, there were other invisible threats to be wary of and his progress was slow.
Especially with a broken left arm and what he suspected was a sprained right ankle.
Uphill, downhill, and of course he had to steer clear of the numerous small villages and settlements. On this side of the front, an American G.I. wasn't likely to be given a warm welcome, be he wounded or not.
He shouldn't be here to begin with, none of them should. This wasn't their country and the cause they were fighting for seemed more pointless with every passing day.
Although he was tired and cold and shivering in his torn uniform that was a poor defense against ravenous mosquitoes, there were moments of clarity when his sleep-deprived brain…paused …and he looked at the stars with all the sense of wonder of a child. In those moments, the danger faded and his panic eased.
This was the fifth night and if memory served correctly, he was finally out of enemy territory, even though the hills looked just the same and the darkness was accompanied by just the same cold as it was ten miles up north.
Clenching his teeth, he advanced down into the valley, each step sending a spike of pain up his right leg. By now, it was only the pain that kept him awake. The pain and the gnawing hunger.
And the burning weight of another set of dog tags in his chest-pocket.
He'd never liked his bully of a stepbrother, but then he also pitied him. From day one, he had seen the unhappiness in his mind, the envy that manifested itself as physical violence. Self-hatred projected outwards.
That attitude hadn't improved over the years. If anything, Cain's resentment had become worse as the siblings matured and he, the rapidly balding star-pupil continued to excel at university whereas Cain remained less than average in his chosen profession. The United States Army. After three years of, quote, boredom, unquote in a peace-time army, Cain had been rather elated when President Truman declared that the U.S. had to intervene in Korea.
Finally, he would see some action.
They had seen more action than they'd ever dreamed of in their worst nightmares.
Hobbling through hills swarming with NKPA patrols, he seriously reconsidered the wisdom – or lack thereof – of his decision to interrupt his studies at Oxford and enlist as well to be with a stepbrother who couldn't care less if he came along.
Inchon, Seoul, Choisin…it should have stopped long ago, but it hadn't.
Cain Marko had pretended to know no fear, always trying to impress the other enlisted men with stories about his acts of courage in the field. He had never bothered to set the facts straight. Instead, he would keep quiet and do his duty, letting the men believe Cain if they wanted to. Six months had become eight months and nine and…
The midnight shelling had turned night into day, and at some point during this inferno, Cain had snapped and run.
And he had followed.
As for the present…he couldn't go on, not so much as another step. Which was why his consciousness now decided to bail out for a while.
Five days earlier…
It wasn't as if he was having a hard time keeping up with Cain, he had always been the superior athlete and intellectual, and unlike the man he was tracking, he wasn't being driven by fear. Simply by the determination to bring him back. Unharmed, if possible.
He caught up with him shortly before dawn. It was raining heavily and Cain, weary from the ordeal, sought shelter in a cave.
He had lost his rifle and medical pack several miles back, probably when they crossed the river, so that when he followed Cain into the cave, all he carried was an empty .45. But he wasn't afraid. In spite of all their differences, his brother wouldn't hurt him.
The cave turned out not to be just a cave but a temple of some sorts. Very old, from the looks of it. And if he'd been there for any other reason, he might have taken the time to study it. The statues and murals were fascinating, the texts carved on the walls written in a language he couldn't identify, and Cain…
That very moment he tried to remember a time when his brother had looked more frightened, but failed. Cain was the picture of misery as he stood there in his dripping clothes, shivering in the cold. Wild-eyed, he stared at the unexpected visitor as if he was a ghost. Given the dirt and blood, he might as well have been one.
"I'm not going back, Charles!" he yelled, but it sounded more like a plea.
And he knew that that would be it. For all his posturing and arrogance, Cain Marko was too much of a coward to face the consequences of his actions.
"Just calm down, Cain."
"Why the hell did you have t'follow me?"
"I had to make sure you're all right."
"Fuck the army! Fuck this place! I'm not goin' back!" To emphasize his disdain and determination, Cain yanked off his dog tags and threw them at his brother's feet. They landed with a faint jingle, a glitter in the dark.
"At least let us talk…"
Talking didn't help, never had, he acknowledged soon thereafter.
Early into the following night he was roused from a fitful sleep by an acute sense of danger.
And Cain's voice intoning the words that should change everything. All he could do was watch and bear witness to the tragedy.
From the lap of an idol at the far back of the cave, Cain, whose greed hadn't been extinguished by yesterday's near-death experience, had taken a fist-sized ruby and now was reading the inscription on the pedestal.
How his brother was able to decipher the ancient enchantment, he could only guess. After all, Cain had never thought it necessary to pay attention to any other languages aside from English, and even his command of that was certainly less than impressive. Maybe the magic compensated for the lack of linguistic knowledge somehow, if your desire to unleash the power within the words was great enough.
<Whosoever touches this gem shall possess the power of the Crimson Bands of Cyttorak. Henceforth, you who read these words shall become forevermore a human juggernaut.>
Cain was screaming, enveloped in purple light, his body twisting with agony during the transformation. But he held on to the jewel. Held on. His uniform came apart at the seams as his body expanded, quickly acquiring a formidable height and bulk. And strength. The ground and walls were trembling with it. Soon the still-transforming Cain was obscured by dust and falling rocks.
That was the last he saw of him before he turned and ran.
The cave was collapsing and he barely escaped with his skull intact, dropping to his knees outside, gasping through the pain. Screams rang in his ears, loud and pitiful. It was raining, cold rain, but he hardly noticed. His left arm was broken, he was sure of it. No sign of Cain. At least none other than the two metal rectangles clutched in his right hand, 'Marko, Cain' in duplicate and connected by a broken chain.
The rain was falling.
And through it all, he never realized one thing: that the one screaming was himself.
There were faint voices and thoughts and a slight tug at the inside of his right elbow. He had the sensation quickly identified as someone hooking up a fresh IV to a needle already lodged in his arm. For days, by the feel of it.
Little by little, he pulled himself out of sleep and opened his eyes.
"Hey, kiddo, how're we doing?"
The figure in the white nurse's uniform swam into focus, but the next moment a few things already struck him as odd. Such as the bushy eyebrows, the prominent nose and a pronounced five-o'-clock-shadow. "You tell me, Doc…Ma'am…?!" His voice trailed off.
"Neither. Glad to see you finally wake up."
"Where…? How long…?"
Taking a seat next to the bed, the nurse crossed his legs, smoothed out the skirt and reached over to pat his arm. "Easy, easy. One question at a time. Bad news first, you're still in Korea, but I suppose you've already guessed that much. Still, you're lucky to be alive. Some locals found you near the road while they were out looking for their stray goat and brought you here. The 'here' is the post-op ward of a MASH-unit. I'm sure you've heard of us."
"Sorry, no. If you wanted them, you should have leaned more towards the west. The 8063rd's in Ch'unch'on these days, the 8055th in Yang'gu. Some Brits in between here and there, supposedly near Kap'yong. But this is beautiful Ouijongbu, home to rats, fleas, diarrhea and the 4077th." The nurse paused, then remembered the second question. "And you've been our guest for three days now, all of which you spent sleeping. Had a rough time out there, huh?"
Barely mustering the strength to move his head, he nodded.
"Now I'll get the medicine men for you."
"Don't go anywhere." After a thumbs-up, he hurried off in white size-12 pumps.
"Like I could", Charles smiled. Maybe he had died after all. The afterlife sure couldn't be more puzzling. But if he was dead…why was he hurting so much? Reaching out with his mind, probing carefully, he came to the conclusion that he was definitely alive. Even though he didn't feel like it.
Minutes later the nurse (Klinger, he had learned from touching his thoughts ever so briefly) returned with a man in a white lab-coat. They stopped at the foot of his bed and the doctor, whose radiant smile and blond curls reminded him more of a big cuddly sheepdog rather than a man who should patch together wounded bodies and wade through blood and guts, took the chart. After studying the information carefully, he greeted another man now breezing into the ward with a noticeable spring in his step. Oddly, though, instead of the lab-coat this one was wearing a red bathrobe. A fact which didn't seem to strike anyone as unusual. At least no more unusual than a man in skirt and pumps.
"Coming along nicely, aren't we?" The chart was passed. "What say you, Hawkeye?"
The newarrival called Hawkeye turned a page and chewed on his lower lip for a moment before reading aloud, "Hypothermia, the mandatory assortment of abrasions, bruises and cuts – no one leaves Korea without the basic a, b, c – two cracked ribs, broken left arm, some bruising of the right lung and liver, and a badly-sprained ankle to round it off. Doesn't look too bad." Eyes as blue and deep as the Atlantic left the chart to meet the patient's. "Hi. Welcome to the Ouijongbu Hilton. We're draftee bellhops. How are you enjoying your stay so far?" His smile was as out of place as the red robe, a relic from another time and place. "The staff is reasonably friendly, there's fresh plasma in the mini-bar and the acoustic entertainment is provided by our courteous neighbors, the North Koreans. What else can you expect from Army management? On a more professional note: you'll live."
The doctor in white nodded twice in agreement. "Yeah. Can't argue with that. Gee, whaddya know? Sometimes even our chief surgeon gets a diagnosis right…it's so difficult with these simple cases, ain't it, Mary?"
"Give me a perforated intestine and two pounds of assorted shrapnel any day", the other - the *chief surgeon*, Charles reminded himself – quipped, taking the stethoscope from his pocket and slipping it around his neck. "But I gave him a beautiful cast there, didn't I?"
"Thought it looked like your work."
"Remind me to sign it before he leaves. It's not everyday that I get to put a cast on a colleague that isn't Frank Burns."
"Oh. Sorry, Trap. Didn't I tell you earlier today…?"
"Tell me what when?" Trapper complained. "I was over at the 8063rd with Margaret, getting some more penicillin, and you were sleeping, I believe."
Smiling, Hawkeye patted him on the back. "Now, now, Trapper, calm down, this kind of news has no expiration date. Radar called G-1 about this guy. Turns out your patient isn't just any patient, he's a doctor-in-the-making. Oxford student, put on hold for the war."
"I thought he was *your* patient!"
"Mine? God forbid. No one", Hawkeye declared, "by the name of Charles Xavier can be a patient of mine! No offense, kid, the name's all right, but one Xavier", he pointed at Trapper, "is enough for me. Great hairstyle, though. Expresses everything there is to say about this war." The rail at the foot of the bed rattled when he forcefully hung the chart in its accustomed place and handed the stethoscope to Trapper. He didn't have to say anything, Charles knew what was to come before anyone consciously thought of doing it. With some effort, he sat up and allowed Trapper some room on the edge of the cot. Had he had the use of both hands, he would also have rolled up his sleeve, but under the circumstances, he had to let the doctor do it.
"I'll forward your complaint to my parents, Hawk. But I must tell you that it's too late to give me back. No refunds, either. – Don't mind him, Private, he's only acting like this because we forgot to give him his daily medication." After checking pulse, blood-pressure and respiration, Trapper turned his head and waved at Klinger. "Florence here will give you something so that you can sleep." He retrieved the chart to enter the new vitals. "So you're dumping him on me, eh, Hawk?"
The comment deserved nothing less than a raspberry. "I'm merely being gallant", Hawkeye stated, then halted a passing nurse. "Ginger, get another IV started on O'Keefe in bed four. And I need Calazzi's BP every hour. We'll be over in the Swamp, recharging our batteries." Leaning down toward Xavier, he whispered conspiratorially, "Observe, Doctor, those hot-blooded Italians are prime candidates for post-op infections. Especially when they're Frank's patients."
Trapper guffawed. "Gallant, he calls it! What kind of doctor?"
"Geneticist", Charles volunteered the information himself.
"And I forgot to tie my chromosomes this morning." Feigning terror, Trapper's hands went to his throat.
It only garnered a weak 'Ha' from Hawkeye. "Very funny, Trap. You're rising to a new low."
The verbal ribbing didn't fool Charles Xavier for a second. One didn't need telepathy to read them. Although they stood two feet apart, they practically inhabited the same space. And moment. Fingers brushed when the chart was handed back, and it was here that he picked up the unspoken words.
The thought rang through his head as if someone had shouted the words.
((I love you))
((Not as much as I love you))
The bond between the two men was almost visible in its strength. How they managed to hide it from the world he could only wonder. Names were floating just beneath the surface, syllables tinged with tenderness and fear of loss.
No real names, but then again, who could afford to be real in this place?
Pierce and McIntyre were names they'd brought with them from another world.
((Supply tent later on. It'll have to be. Frank's home tonight and I have this really, really urgent…oh, how I wish that you could read my mind…)) "Care for a walk after rounds? I need to…need to talk." ((One death too many today…close to breaking, don't want to come apart…hateithateithateithateithateit…)) There was something akin to pleading in Hawkeye's voice.
'Pierce' and 'McIntyre' were as null and void as ranks and titles here, meaningless masks that failed to keep reality from invading the illusion of peace.
And the next moment he was tumbling through his mind, feeling like a prisoner in a hall of mirrors. Every image was different, thoughts and memories reflected into infinity.
There was too much in this man that would never be forged into words. No spoken language could capture the depth of his pain and describe how fine a blade he was walking, and, he had admit to himself, even thoughts might lack the necessary precision.
Trapper nodded. ((With you, always)) "Yeah, sure. I heard Korea's lovely at night. And I need to stretch my legs."
Strangely enough, this man understood, he could see it in his eyes, sensed the total comprehension of everything Hawkeye couldn't think and much less say.
And vice versa.
While telepathy was his gift, theirs was another. Far rarer than mutation and far more precious. Just as natural, though.
It was comforting to know that in the midst of death and destruction, something like that could be found.
Prepping the syringe, Klinger asked Hawkeye, "Will you be back to check on him later, sir?"
"Why me?" an indignant doctor protested. "He's *Trapper's* patient!" ((Joker!)) But he winked at Xavier one last time and said, "Sleep tight, Private. And as for the bed-bugs, they will bite no matter what you do. Good night." He and Trapper left side by side.
Charles barely felt the prick of the needle, lulled as he already was in the gentle thought/whispers that continued in spite of the absence of words.
They'd make for peaceful dreams.
Then he slept, and even his mind was quiet.
Normally, the nurses told him, someone in his condition, which was considerably good, would be transferred to the 121st EVAC as soon as possible. When business was good, they needed every bed, every square inch of Post-Op, but as the fighting had shifted to another sector this week, they could afford to keep him a while longer. 'A while longer'…it had only been two days since he'd woken up and he already was getting restless. His arm inside the cast was itching and there was nothing to do but sleep, stare at the ceiling, and read the book Nurse Anderson had given him. Two days and he was halfway through 'Ulysses'.
The clock mounted on the wall read half past ten when a familiar figure in red stopped next to his bed. "Dr. Xavier, how are we today?"
"Dr. Pierce –"
"Call me Hawkeye. Courtesy from one scientist to another."
"Last of the Mohicans." Memorizing the page he was on, he put down the book.
Tired blue eyes twinkled and the mouth curved into a lopsided smile. "I do love patients who know their Cooper. You get an A-plus, Doctor."
He'd rather have Cooper right now than more James Joyce. "It's a good book." God, that itch at his left elbow was maddening! "But…I'm not a doctor yet", he corrected Hawkeye.
"You'll be soon enough. Let's hope this is over before you get your diploma, or Uncle Sam will have you working at an operating table next to mine."
Lying here all day, he had to concentrate very hard not to let the pain and fear of the others overwhelm him. The loss of limbs and senses made for powerful emotions and he couldn't block it all. Sometimes he had to single out the flashes of hope, the relief about being alive, to stay focused on the simple task of carrying on a conversation. "Thank you for visiting again", he said, "I'm sure there must be others in greater need of your attention than myself."
Hawkeye waved his hand dismissively. "Think again. You're right, of course, but this really is the more pleasant part of my job…seeing patients recover. And I think it's time for me to give you the grand tour and buy you a cup of non-coffee. Believe me, Doctor, it's the least lethal thing served in the mess-tent." He pointed a thumb downwards. "Your boots are right here, cleaned and polished."
"Thanks. But wouldn't you rather be doing something else?" Throwing back the blanket, he struggled into a sitting position. After several days in bed, the wooden floorboards felt alien to his feet.
Since his patient wasn't likely to be dressing without help for some time to come, Hawkeye guided feet into boots and started tying the laces. "Sure, lots of things", he replied casually. ((Kiss Trapper, make love to Trapper, fall asleep in Trapper's arms and forget this place forever)) "Watch the lobster boats sail in at sunset with the day's catch. Or make out with some girl in the backseat of her father's car. Almost any—"
As pleasant as the images of Indian Summer in Maine were, they were hidden behind a veil of red. Of blood. "Anything but this hellhole and meatball surgery", Charles finished the sentence for him and immediately reprimanded himself for it.
"Right." Hawkeye tied the last knot and shook his head, very much bewildered. "Wow. You aren't related to the O'Reilly family of Ottumwa, Iowa, by any chance, are you? Unbelievable", he marveled, "you must be reading my mind. Well, it's either that or just basic common sense. Of which there is far too little going around. Do the war a favor and make sure you don't lose yours."
"Yes, sir." Formality got him a derisive snort. "What?"
"Puh-lease, the rank is honorary."
He let himself be helped into a wheelchair, feeling surprisingly fit again and gratified at the lack of pain.
Hawkeye seemed in a good mood as he wheeled his patient across the compound. Making a detour to include the latrine, Radar's menagerie, the nurses' shower and the Swamp ('The outside view only, sorry for that, but Trapper's sleeping after 15 hours in the O.R. and it usually takes the two of us to compensate for Frank') in the sightseeing tour, he continued to chat amiably about the craziness that was life at the 4077th.
Charles would be lying if he said that he didn't enjoy it, and in return he talked about life at Oxford and his plans to travel the world after getting his degree. Still, he could sense that there was something on the other man's mind, something besides simple conversation. He could have found out, of course, but that would have meant violating his highest principle. With a gift as powerful as his, the restraint in its use had to be directly proportional to the damage he could do.
"I wanted to talk to you about something. Normally, these talks are Father Mulcahy's business, but he's at the orphanage today and, well, considering how well you and I get along…" Hawkeye set down his cup and looked at Xavier earnestly. "While he was filing away your personal effects, Radar came across something. He told me about it when you were still out cold, but I thought I'd wait until you were somewhat further along on the road to recovery before mentioning it to you."
Suddenly, the subject Hawkeye wished to address was obvious. Letting out a sigh, he poured more sugar into his coffee – not that it would make the liquid any more palatable – and said, "The other pair of dog tags I had on me."
"Right." The relief at not having to spell it out was obvious. "No need to be alarmed, a lot of the kids who come through here take them off their dead buddies when they know that the bodies won't be recovered. For most of the families back Stateside, dog tags are the only thing they can remember their sons by, so I have to ask –"
"There's no one back there for Cain."
"You sound pretty sure about that."
"I am. Cain Marko. He's my…" He sighed, fighting his gag reflex. The coffee was truly horrible. "He was my stepbrother."
A shadow fell over Hawkeye's face. "I'm sorry to hear that. I guess the two of you were close?"
Close…no, from the very start, ever since they were children and Sharon Xavier met and married Dr. Kurt Marko, closeness had been wishful thinking. "Not particularly", he replied honestly. "He was …not someone to be liked."
"I see." A brief thought of Trapper and how crippling the loss of him would be flashed through Hawkeye's mind.
Almost intense enough to give Charles the telepathic equivalent of retina-burn. Absently, he rubbed his eyes and then went on, "But nonetheless, he was my brother. Not in blood, but still my brother."
Hawkeye nodded. "Of course."
"When he volunteered, I thought it best to do the same and keep an eye on him. We got assigned to the same unit and arrived in Korea just in time for Operation Chromite last September. Seen plenty of action ever since." If Hawkeye questioned his motivations to actively participate in combat, he didn't say so and frankly, Charles didn't care about the older man's opinion regarding medical ethics. It wasn't as if he enjoyed the killing – in fact, he loathed it as much as anyone who had seen death – and he didn't give a damn about the Truman Doctrine and the Pink Stain of Communism, but he'd come to Korea to protect his brother, the only family he had left after their parents' death.
And at that he had failed.
"What happened to you up there?"
It was as if Hawkeye had sensed that he was miserable enough already and didn't need any more criticism. Charles was grateful that the man curbed his curiosity, swallowed all acerbic comments about a doctor's duties and asked a simple question instead. He was quite grateful indeed. And a bit surprised since *he* was the telepath of the two of them. *He* was supposed to read Hawkeye's mind, not the other way around. The way the older man looked at him, blue eyes inquisitive but calm, coaxed the tale out of him. "We…we were camped near Chiam-ni, charged with guarding the road to the Hwach'on Reservoir. The front was fifteen miles north, we thought we were safe. Until that night. For one night, the frontline was on our doorstep. The shelling was so intense, there were no intervals, it was just one long, continued explosion, basically. And not only shells, gunfire, too…my friends were dropping like flies in their foxholes. The fighting carried on until dawn. And that was...that was when Cain ran away."
There was nothing more frightening than sharing a dying person's thoughts, and there had been so many dying. Unable to block them, he'd been with them, had been 'them' while they went out, one by one, their lives taken in twos and threes by the artillery raining down. Mortars, guns, helicopters… He'd once read that Leonardo da Vinci had first conceived all this basic hardware for armed conflict. To Leonardo, a pacifist and vegetarian, they had been nothing but drawings and ideas, hypotheses that remained lines of ink on parchment while the brilliant mind they'd come from dwelled on more pleasant subjects such as the Mona Lisa.
Lines should become reality.
Centuries later, you couldn't imagine war without them.
"And you probably felt obliged to go after him. Talk some sense into him."
Sense and Cain Marko had never been on good terms. "He ran for miles, all the way into the hills. That's where I caught up with him. It was dark by then. We…we found a cave." He paused, taking another sip of coffee. The brief flash of panic that had flitted across Hawkeye's mind at the mention of a cave had been hard to miss. "We had a long argument during which he ripped off his tags and threw them in my face. It was obvious that he wasn't thinking rationally."
"Can't blame him", Hawkeye muttered darkly.
"Eventually, we decided to stay there, get some sleep and figure out what to do later…like, in the morning. That same night, however, I woke up when something hit the ground right next to my head. Before I knew what was happening, there were rocks falling all around me. It was a cave-in."
Caused by Cain touching a jewel from before time.
He wasn't really lying. It had been an accident and he had no doubt that the Army would believe his story and ask no further questions about the fate of Corporal Cain Marko. After all, his brother would have to no reason to lie, would he?
The truth would forever remain his secret.
"Cain was too far inside, I couldn't get to him. I made it out just in time…and he didn't, unfortunately. He was buried alive. There's no way he could have survived."
"All right. I'll tell Radar to relay that to the G-1 desk-jockeys in Seoul."
"Can I keep the tags, then?"
Saluting him with his spoon, Hawkeye confirmed, "In a velvet-lined box."
"Yo, Pierce." Enter Henry Blake. He ambled over to their table, a folded piece of paper in his hand. "Private. Good to see you out of bed. And brave enough to try the brew, I see."
Hawkeye gestured for him to take a seat. "Yeah, I thought that he should keep up his survival training. The next lesson will be 'lunch' followed by lesson number three, 'Swamp-Water'. Promise you, Henry, he'll be grateful to leave us."
So Hawkeye and Trapper had their own private moonshine production going. He quickly swallowed his mouthful of coffee before the chuckle got any further up his throat.
"Funny you should mention that, Pierce." Henry held up the paper.
Hawkeye reacted instantly. "Henry, if that's a complaint about my last weekend in Seoul, I can explain everything. It was all Trapper's fault –"
"Can it, Pierce! This has nothing to do with you or McIntyre. For a change", he added. "Private Xavier, I thought you should know rightaway. HQ has news on your unit…that is, what's left of it. They're up in Kap'yong, waiting for the replacements to arrive. And the new CO."
"Captain Piaggi's been killed?" Now Charles was genuinely shocked. He had served under that man for five months, more than half of his tour. Piaggi had been a good man. Married, with one son. Every day he'd tell them something about his family back home in Philadelphia. He wondered how he had died. Had it been a shell or a bullet? Must have happened after he and Cain had left. Ever so briefly, he heard the voice of guilt at the back of his head. Maybe he could have saved that life if he had stayed
A sympathetic Henry nodded. "Yes, son. Sorry. Only three got out, yourself included. You're damn lucky." Clumsily, he unfolded the paper and cleared his throat. "And before I forget the biggie…ahm…you're going home."
"Home?" he echoed. He'd been here so long that the thought of it was something to get used to. Home…back home to the family he didn't have.
These men had family, though. Henry was thinking of a wife and three children, two girls and a boy he hadn't met yet. Klinger, who just now was entering the mess-tent to prepare for serving lunch, had a wife and more relatives than he cared to think of. And Hawkeye's thoughts dwelled on his father and everybody in this camp. His extended family. Most importantly Trapper John.
All he'd be returning to were his studies. Not much, but something.
He had to find a way to make that 'something' count.
"Home, yeah." Henry beamed like a proud father. "You've been here almost ten months and from what I'm told always close enough to the enemy to count the grains of rice on their plates. You're out. They may keep you in Seoul for another couple of days for the debriefing and a visit from an army psychiatrist, but there are enough accounts of that battle that it should be merely a formality", he assured him, then sighed. "Boy, do I envy you."
It took Charles considerable self-control not to grin. Simplistic as Henry Braymore Blake might appear, he was a decent man and a capable surgeon. "When will I be leaving, Colonel?"
The doctors silently conferred for a split-second of eye-contact, then Henry replied, "Tomorrow should be soon enough. I have a feeling Pierce won't let you go without giving you ample opportunity to kill at least a zillion brain-cells."
"Damn straight, Henry." Hawk pounded the table for emphasis, making the sugar-pot jump. "We'll drink until the still is dry. And as for that psychiatrist thing – I'll call Sidney and tell him to pull out the express couch."
The time for parting came soon enough and the next day at noon, they were standing next to bus bound for the 121st EVAC.
Charles Xavier, in a fresh uniform with a slit sleeve to accommodate his cast, didn't quite know what to say. He hated goodbyes. Hawkeye, too, apparently. Or maybe it was just an aftereffect from last night's outrageous amount of gin. That they'd ever managed to leave the Swamp in time for one single farewell photo was a miracle. Right after the 'click' Trapper John had gone back to comatose.
In a loud voice Klinger, adorned today in a daring polka-dotted summer dress, announced the departure of the bus in three minutes.
Unencumbered by any form of luggage, Charles took one step closer to Hawkeye. "Say good-bye for Trapper for me, please. I think his sense of hearing was still anesthetized."
"Will do, if he ever emerges from Slumberland." Pulling the younger man into a hug, Hawkeye chuckled. "Nurse that hangover, my friend, it's one of the better souvenirs available at the local gift-shop. The hangover and the bottle I gave you for rainy days."
"Take care of yourself, Hawkeye."
"I'll do my very best." Hawkeye brushed unruly black hair out of his eyes and smiled. "Same to you, Charles."
Charles knew he would never forget that smile, this smile into the unchanging face of adversity.
"Have a good trip. Next time we meet, I hope it'll be under better circumstances."
"Some Indian Summer in Maine. I'll drop by and we'll have fresh lobster. Haven't had any in years…there's not much demand for it in England."
"Yeah. Lobster. Gimme a call and I'll have my Dad prepare it for us. He's listed, by the way. It's Dr. –"
"Dr. Daniel Pierce, sure."
Blue eyes blinked in astonishment. "What –?"
Quickly, he tried to cover up his mistake, the information he'd obtained involuntarily. Hawkeye was broadcasting emotions and impressions all over the place, it was difficult to block them. The man was thinking and feeling too much, far too much for his own good.
In a way, he thought, Hawkeye was ahead of his time, decades ahead of the politicians who ruled their fates. And maybe the time for men like him would come someday. Sooner than later, hopefully. A time where there'd be no need for war.
In the past, he was looking out of the window until they had cleared the camp and red bathrobe and polka-dots alike had disappeared from view, and they hadn't gone half a mile when he heard the choppers…
In the present, he slowly made his way to the window, but stopped the hover-chair before he got there. The black-and-white photograph on the shelf had faded with time, the young men in uniform were blurred now, smiles and colors, too, but the picture in his mind was once again fresh and clear. Predominantly in khaki and ocher. And some white for the cast on his arm which, at an impatient Trapper's insistence, he had propped up on Hawkeye's shoulder before Klinger had taken the photo of the three of them. Seconds after that, he'd been on his back in the bus going straight to the EVAC hospital in Seoul where he'd taken the first steps of turning Korea into a memory, never looking back.
Instead he'd returned to Oxford. His Purple Heart had arrived by mail a month later; paperwork in the Army sometimes was slow, but it got done, eventually.
Another month later, there had been a short letter from Hawkeye containing the photograph and a short note regarding Trapper John's departure.
As for Cain, he'd been declared KIA.
If one could bookmark the pages of memory…
He still had that bottle of Swampwater somewhere, untouched and unopened. _I wonder where they are now…and if what they had together survived the war._ Unfortunately, Cerebro wasn't designed to locate non-mutants. _Although a critic might say that war equals mutation, nobody leaves it the way they entered it, everybody's changed in some way or another._ In a way, every change was a small-scale war with a winning and a losing side. Peace in the struggle to find peace.
And as humanity evolved and changed, wars got more and more specialized, more secretive. Some wars the public didn't know about…yet.
Quite ironic, actually, that those two men had saved his life just so that he could fight in a war of his own.
He hated his war now as much as they'd hated theirs then.
Especially during the night.