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ain't it just like you to kiss me & then hit the road

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The first thing Hawkeye says when BJ shows up at his front door in Crabapple Cove is, “Beej! I thought your flight was coming in tomorrow!” His words are slightly muffled because he’s throwing himself into BJ’s arms at the same time, but BJ seems to understand him just fine.

“I got switched to an earlier flight, I couldn’t wait to see you,” BJ says in Hawkeye’s ear, embracing him with gratifying enthusiasm. He shifts to press his very cold nose against Hawkeye’s neck, and Hawkeye holds his head in place. For a perfect moment, it feels like all the planets are in alignment, like the severed floppy bits of Hawkeye’s identity have snapped back into place, like he’s whole again.

The second thing Hawkeye says when BJ shows up at his front door in Crabapple Cove is, “You’re making a terrible mistake.”

BJ laughs, spins him around in the air, and sets him back just inside the threshold of the house. “Your opinion has been noted and promptly disregarded. Are you busy today? It would serve me right if you were, I know I just sprang this on you.”

“No, the practice is closed this weekend. Dad’s in Boston for the next few days to catch up with an old university friend. I’m the pinch-hitter if there’s an emergency, but there’s never an emergency.” In truth, Dad made himself scarce to “give them some space” and refused to hear Hawkeye’s strenuous objections to the phrase.

“So, we have the place to ourselves,” BJ says, a thread of innuendo in his voice. Hawkeye shuts the front door and begins herding him into the living room where the fire is lit. “I feel like your date on prom night.” Hawkeye laughs nervously.

“If you were my date on prom night, we’d have to make do with the backseat of the car,” Hawkeye says, and BJ chuckles, conceding the point. “I was just making breakfast, if you’re willing to roll the dice on my cooking skills,” Hawkeye offers, leading BJ towards the kitchen. He’s fairly sure he didn’t leave the stove on, and if so, he’s fairly certain nothing important is on it.

“Will anything be creamed?” BJ asks. Hawkeye gasps in feigned indignation.

“Perish the thought!” Hawkeye says. “If you ever see me voluntarily eating a creamed food again, put me down like the dog I’ve become. I was making omelets right now if that tickles your fancy. We’ve got mushrooms, fresh spinach, cheese, ham, a veritable smorgasbord of add-ins. I can also make ‘em scrambled, fried, whatever you want,” Hawkeye says, feeling just a bit manic now that BJ is physically present.

“Give me an omelet with the works. Which room should I put my bag in?” BJ asks. Hawkeye turns from his march to the kitchen.

“Let me get that for you, Beej, I feel like such a cad. It’s been forever since I’ve hosted, I think it must have been before Korea,” Hawkeye says, reaching for BJ’s bag. BJ holds it out of his reach.

“Don’t worry about it, Hawk. You get our breakfasts in order, I’ll get settled upstairs,” BJ says, just as accommodating as always. Hawkeye spends a moment just looking at him, drinking him in. His hair is shorter now, back to civilian standards, and his terrible mustache is gone, but he doesn’t look like the BJ Hunnicutt who showed up in Kimpo straight out of basic training and flush with cash. He’s fresh-faced and smiling, but still decidedly Hawkeye’s BJ. Hawkeye feels warmer just being near him.

“Hawk?” BJ asks gently, prodding Hawkeye back into reality. He must have been waiting for at least a minute, but he’s smiling so it can’t have annoyed him too much. “Which room?”

“Right, sorry, I left my attention span in Korea. I was supposed to get it back but the pilot decided not to turn the plane around. The guest room is up the stairs, the first door on the left. There’s a bathroom attached if you want to freshen up a bit after your flight.”

“Are you also on this floor?” BJ asks.

“Yeah,” Hawkeye calls over his shoulder as he makes his way back to the kitchen. “I’m right across the hall if you need to borrow my socks.”

By the time BJ gets downstairs, dressed down from his jacket in a blue button down and slacks, Hawkeye has already assembled two massive omelets for the both of them. He feels inordinately nervous to have BJ taste his cooking for the first time.

“So, when are we going to talk about it?” Hawkeye says, serving up BJ’s omelet and sitting next to him at the dinner table.

“Talk about what?” BJ says, digging into his omelet with gratifying gusto. He groans appreciatively. “Oh Hawk, this is great. Much better than I expected.”

“I love it. I forehand you a delicious meal, you backhand me a compliment,” Hawkeye says, torn between offense and delight at BJ’s surprised rapture. “And don’t play dumb, you know what I’m talking about. Your identity crisis or whatever it was that prompted this breakdown.”

“It’s not a breakdown,” BJ grumbles.

“What would you call it?” Hawkeye asks.

“A divorce,” BJ says, very patiently, “I call it a divorce and I call it well-timed and I also call it mutual. I’m not going through any crisis, I just.” He pauses. Hawkeye takes a bite of omelet as BJ structures his next thought. “I spent all of Korea pretending not to be affected by the war, but that was only possible where nobody knew the old me. Living with Peg, trying to be the husband I used to be, it was like I was smothering myself. I’m not the same man anymore,” BJ says, between bites.

“So you’re a different man in many ways. I’d argue not in the ways that count,” Hawkeye contends. “You’re still an excellent husband-“

“Ex-husband,” BJ corrects with his petty little smirk.

“A devoted father, a devious fiend, and an above-average surgeon,” Hawkeye finishes. BJ glares at him. “Okay, a spectacular surgeon,” Hawkeye says, because he doesn’t actually want to make BJ mad. “So, maybe she doesn’t know the new you, so what? Have you met the new you? You’re a catch!”

“Oh, come on, Hawk,” BJ says, avoiding eye contact in what a lesser man would describe as a bashful manner.

“I’m serious, Beej,” Hawkeye says, deliberately catching his eyes. “Give her a little more time, she’ll topple right back into love with you again. How could she not? You’re the cat’s pajamas, the bee’s knees. Who wouldn’t fall in love with you?”

“Have you considered that maybe I’m not in love with her anymore?” BJ asks, leaning in so their noses are only inches apart.

“Not for a second,” Hawkeye says over his accelerating pulse.

“If I were you, I would give the consideration some consideration,” BJ murmurs.

“I’ll consider it,” Hawkeye says weakly. BJ smiles a slow dangerous smile. Hawkeye rears back, refocusing on his plate. “But I remain unswayed in my quest. Worry not, Beej, by the end of your trip, I will have saved your marriage.”

“I’m really not here to save my marriage,” BJ says in that exasperated come on, Hawk tone he perfected in the first two weeks of their acquaintance.

“What are you here for then, if not a mental health break before your triumphant return to normality?” Hawkeye asks, narrowing his eyes at him. BJ smiles enigmatically.

“Can’t I just want to see my best friend?” he asks, like butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth. Hawkeye parodies his smile.

“Do you really think I’d buy such an obvious lie?” he simpers.

“Sure,” BJ says, affecting a blasé attitude, “I’m offering a two for one special: I’ll say your new haircut looks good too.”

“I’ll ignore that remark for old time’s sake, but the next time you insult the hair you sleep in the creek. State your purpose, fink,” Hawkeye presses.

“I’ll tell you later, it’s a whole conversation and I already have plans for the morning,” BJ says dismissively, polishing off the last of his omelet.

“Oh?” Hawkeye asks, collecting BJ’s empty plate and depositing it in the sink.

“You owe me, and I plan to collect,” BJ says, finishing off his coffee and following Hawkeye to the sink with his mug. He puts his hand on the small of Hawkeye’s back absentmindedly as he does, and Hawkeye forgets not to lean into it.

“Owe you? What, pray tell, do I owe you, rascal?”

“I’ve been hearing about the infamous Crabapple Cove for what feels like centuries. You owe me a tour.”

*

They bundle up, BJ borrowing a few layers, before heading into the car and hitting the road. BJ pays rapt attention as Hawkeye takes a meandering tour through old neighborhoods, pausing to point out where he used to play pirates with Toby Wilder and Dickie Barber, the tree where he stole his first kiss from Dora Sutcliffe in third grade, the playground where he won first place for jumping the farthest off the swingset. BJ offers similar anecdotes about his childhood running around in the San Francisco suburbs, the games of Robin Hood the neighborhood boys would play, his all-encompassing crush on Minnie Collins who was deeply in love with BJ’s best friend Reggie Porter, and the ensuing squabbles that dynamic bore.

Before they know it, they’ve whiled away a little more than two hours touring every street of the smallest small town in America. When Hawkeye comments on the time, BJ laughs.

“It’s about the roof of the car,” he says. “If we were in one of those stupid jeeps, we’d have griped every second of the drive, even if it took five minutes.”

“Well, we were more likely to get shelled in five minutes there than we are in a few hours here,” Hawkeye says, pulling in to park in front of Jenny’s. They make their way into the diner, BJ close at his back, mitigating the brisk chill outside. The door jangles as they enter, disturbing the few patrons who were interested in an early lunch. Hawkeye recognizes almost everyone seated, exchanges pleasant waves with them as he leads BJ to the corner booth.

BJ slides across from him instead of next to him like they would have sat in Korea. Hawkeye thinks this is hateful.

“Hey, Hawkeye, who’s your handsome friend?” Jenny says, coming around to take their orders, smiling genially at both of them. BJ smiles back at her with his classic golden boy charm, and Hawkeye can practically see her melt.

“This is BJ Hunnicutt, ma’am,” Hawkeye says.

“Lovely to meet you, BJ. Whereabouts are you from?” she asks, getting her notepad ready.

“San Francisco, California,” BJ says. Jenny widens her eyes.

“Oh wow, so you’re not from around these parts at all. Did you meet Hawkeye in college?”

“Bit further away,” BJ quips.

“And a bit more recently. BJ and I served together in Korea,” Hawkeye says. Jenny freezes, her eyes wide and guilty like she’s hit a deer in the road. Hawkeye doesn’t know if she feels more guilty about bringing it up or forgetting the war happened at all.

“Oh, goodness,” she says, and then stops, her manner abruptly stilted and uncomfortable. Hawkeye wants to melt in his skin. Before Hawkeye can say something to make the situation much worse, Jenny mostly recovers with a, “Well, boys, what’ll you have?”

“I’ll have my usual and a pot of coffee with two mugs, please,” Hawkeye says. Jenny nods and scribbles something before turning to BJ.

“I’ll have whatever he’s having,” BJ says. Jenny nods and then leaves. “What did I just order?”

“The French Toast Special,” Hawkeye says. BJ nods and looks out the window onto Main Street. Hawkeye follows his gaze. The streets are beautiful, pristine in the early spring. Compared to the 4077, Crabapple Cove seems like a wide expanse of land, a prairie or moor. Still, sometimes the town feels claustrophobic in a way it never has before. His dad gave him half of his appointments, claiming exhaustion in his old age, but Hawkeye knows it’s only because it was killing his dad to see him moping around with nothing to do. Unfortunately, his new patients act like they’re humoring him more than anything, which grates a bit on Hawkeye’s god complex.

He never truly fit in in Crabapple Cove -- he was always just a bit too rebellious, a smidge too talkative, a dash too ambitious -- but people around here had been fond of him anyways. Sure, he was an oddity, but he was their oddity. Now he’s twisted into something unfamiliar, pretzeled around his memories of the war like intestines around so much shrapnel. Sometimes, people treat him like a patient with a live grenade embedded in him, like he brought something strange and dangerous back home in him from the war. Old friends call his name and wave and offer tense pitying smiles and he smiles back like the war didn’t happen and orders the French Toast Special and pretends like he isn’t going quietly out of his mind.

BJ’s big feet bracket one of his shins, and Hawkeye snaps back to reality. BJ smiles at him from across the table, and Crabapple Cove fades into the background.

“You know, I spent most of my formative years in this very corner booth?” Hawkeye says, conversationally. BJ leans his head against his hand to listen. “I spent all my time sweet-talking the smart girls and reading novels.”

“The smart girls, huh?”

“Oh yeah. At least they had fun ways of rejecting me,” Hawkeye says, grinning. BJ matches his grin.

“Now I’m starting to understand the roots of your fixation with Margaret,” BJ says knowingly.

“Exactly. Nobody rejects me like Margaret does,” Hawkeye responds. “Sometimes I write her long love letters just so she can tell me where and how to shove them up my nose.”

“Oh, so you can maintain correspondence. I thought maybe you had left the ability in Korea with your attention span,” BJ says in that very calm, very pleasant tone that implies that if it wasn’t a violation of the Hippocratic Oath, he would have already beaten Hawkeye to death with a tire iron.

“I wrote back when it counted, didn’t I? How else did you know where to turn during this immense break from reality you’re experiencing,” Hawkeye defends. BJ looks like he’s about to object, so Hawkeye continues foolishly by saying, “Besides, rejection is only really fun from a certain kind of person. You’d be too kind about it.”

“I’m not experiencing a break from reality, I just missed you and wanted to see you,” BJ says. Hawkeye opens his mouth, but BJ preempts him by saying, “And I wouldn’t reject you in the first place. I mean, for god’s sake-”

“Here you go, sweetheart,” Jenny says, depositing their brunches in front of them. Hawkeye smiles up at her and ignores the way she looks at his forehead instead of in his eyes, the way she turns and walks behind the counter instead of stopping to chat like she would have before. He turns to his plate. The French toast is a delightful distraction.

“You mean, for god’s sake,” Hawkeye prompts, after they’ve inhaled half of their plates respectively.

“Right!” BJ says, remembering his indignation. “I mean, for god’s sake, I wrote you a letter a week for months before I got a response from you. If anyone here should have a complex about rejection, it’s me!”

“I wanted to write, Beej, you know I did,” Hawkeye says, suddenly very tired. He had just been a ghost of himself, or maybe a zombie instead, shuffling about from day to day in a lovelorn haze, attempting to move on with his life after the twin devastations of living through the war and losing BJ, twin devastations that seemed so distant from everyone else he encountered.

“I know you did,” BJ says, his tone softening.

A month ago, BJ’s nth letter arrived, announcing his divorce. This bombshell shocked Hawkeye out of his stupor long enough to make him pen a quick letter begging BJ not to be rash. He delivered it before he could reconsider and then spent a week in agony while Daniel Pierce M.D. laughed at him until he finally received a response. The response consisted of three pages of questions about Hawkeye’s life and a postscript telling Hawkeye that BJ refused to explain himself until Hawkeye answered each one to his satisfaction. There was also a package attached. When Hawkeye opened it, a big toy snake jumped out, which made both Hawkeye and his father scream and then laugh so hard they cried.

After that, it was like a dam broke. Hawkeye wrote a seven-page letter of everything he had wanted to tell BJ since he arrived at home and realized he was still carrying the war around with him. He unloaded all his various thoughts on his expectations of life back home and the reality in comparison. After a few more exchanges, BJ informed him that he needed to see Hawkeye in person, and Hawkeye, expecting the trip to be a come to Jesus talk where Hawkeye would yet again save BJ’s marriage, said yes. Things are deviating from the plan now that BJ is actually here, of course, but Hawkeye is having a good time nonetheless.

“Have you thought about going back to surgery?” BJ asks, apropos of nothing.

“Some,” Hawkeye says. He’s thought about it almost every minute of every day for the past few months. “How are you handling it?”

“It’s not bad, surprisingly,” BJ says. “I won’t say that it doesn’t remind me of Korea, I mean, I went to Korea before I ever practiced, practically anything medical reminds me of Korea. But with all the experience we got and with the resources that I have now, it doesn’t feel like I’m drowning in wounded the way I keep expecting it to.”

“I’ll take your word for it,” Hawkeye says, noncommittal.

“What’s your hang-up?”

“Well, I’ll be honest, your description allays most of my main fears, but what would I do?” Hawkeye asks. “Go to Boston and attempt to ruin Charles’ life at Mass U?”

“Sure, or another city,” BJ says.

“I don’t know. I don’t think I’m brave enough to start from scratch in a whole new city with a whole new hospital, you know? At least here I have Dad,” Hawkeye says. BJ looks like there’s something he wants Hawkeye to say, but Hawkeye can’t figure it out.

“You have time,” BJ finally says, and Hawkeye nods. They finish their meals in comfortable silence. Jenny tells them lunch is on the house, but Hawkeye leaves a tip large enough to cover the bill.

*

As soon as they get back to the house, Hawkeye returns to his quest.

“About the previous consideration,” Hawkeye begins.

“You’ve considered it,” BJ guesses.

“I’ve decided you’re wrong,” Hawkeye says. BJ grins.

“Well, if that’s what you’ve decided,” BJ says, rolling his eyes fondly.

“You do still love Peg,” Hawkeye insists.

“Of course, I still love Peg,” BJ affirms sincerely.

“Aha!” Hawkeye crows.

“She’s one of my closest and oldest friends, and the mother of my child,” BJ continues. Hawkeye deflates like a punctured beach ball. “However, I’m not in love with her. In fact, I don’t think I ever was.”

“To quote the eminent Sherman Potter,” Hawkeye says, with great exasperation, “bull hockey. It’s growing pains, that’s what this is. Adjustment, that’s all.”

“Am I going to start noticing hair growing in odd places?” BJ asks.

“It’s Carrie Donovan all over again,” Hawkeye says, deliberately ignoring the evil eye BJ levels at him for mentioning that name. “You felt out of your depth, you were confused, and you reached out to someone just in time to regret it for the rest of your life. The only difference is that this time instead of a pretty nurse, you reached out to divorce paperwork. In a week, you’ll be calling or writing to me, furious for letting you make such a big mistake. You’ll renew your vows or whatever needs to be done and this will all be put behind you.”

“This is nothing like that,” BJ says, now fairly upset. “What I did with Carrie was impulsive and born out of insecurity. I was in a hollow marriage and I wanted to feel needed. It was shameful and secretive and I regretted it immediately. This is different. Peg and I discussed the divorce for weeks before signing the paperwork; we’re on the same page about it. I didn’t divorce her because I’m insecure in myself as a husband, I divorced her because our marriage was fundamentally unstable. Maybe I never would have understood that if I hadn’t gone to Korea, but I did and now I do.”

“BJ, you have to hear how crazy this sounds,” Hawkeye says, because it feels like he’s gone through the looking glass. If Hawkeye was held at gunpoint and asked to describe BJ in a phrase, it would have been Consummate Husband and Father , if only because his first thought would have been fairly explicit, and Hawkeye doesn’t think the gunman would appreciate it. “You were the perfect model of fidelity for the rest of us degenerates. You wrote her a letter per hour, you talked about home every second of every day.”

“I was at war, Hawkeye, I was clinging to what I had,” BJ groans. “What, was I supposed to file for divorce over telegram?”

“You weren’t supposed to file for divorce at all!” Hawkeye cries, gesticulating wildly. “You were supposed to go home and be happy with the woman you love.”

“And I’m telling you that was impossible! You know, I can’t figure out why you’re so invested in our marriage in the first place, it’s not like I’ve stopped being your friend or caring about you because I’m divorced,” BJ cries.

“This isn’t about me!” Hawkeye yells, his voice going all high-pitched the way it does when he gets high-strung. Is BJ kidding him? If Hawkeye thought this wouldn’t send BJ absolutely off the rails in a week, he’d be jumping for joy. He’d be popping champagne and jumping nude out of a cake! But BJ doesn’t mean this. He’s just acting out because nobody around him knows how to get him out of these little rabbit holes his mind tunnels into like Hawkeye does. Everyone at the 4077 conceded it: Hawkeye is the BJ specialist.

“Well, it sure sounds like it,” BJ says testily, oblivious to Hawkeye’s train of thought. “I’m a grown man, Hawkeye, I didn’t actually need your signature on the paperwork. Boy, if I knew you were going to spend the entire trip raving about my ex-wife, I might have considered packing earplugs!”

“Oh, so now you don’t want to hear anything from me?” Hawkeye asks, as belligerently as possible.

“If that’s even possible, yes!” BJ snaps.

“Fine!” Hawkeye mimes zipping his lips shut, before flopping down on the couch and folding his arms. They stare at each other for a long time before Hawkeye turns away from him in a huff.

“How long do you think you’re gonna be able to keep this up?” BJ asks. Hawkeye shrugs. BJ stares at him for a moment more. Then he turns and walks upstairs, leaving Hawkeye in his sulk alone. Hawkeye grabs a book from the side table, his dad’s well-worn copy of Pride and Prejudice, and reads it angrily starting from Darcy’s first rejection.

In a few minutes, BJ comes back down the stairs, this time holding a medical journal. He goes to the phonograph and puts on some Bing Crosby, before sitting down on the other side of the couch. He levels a petty sardonic smile at Hawkeye, who returns it with gusto, before he shoves his nose in his journal. Hawkeye glares at him for a solid minute before he returns to Pemberley.

After about thirty minutes, Hawkeye forgets what he was mad about. Bing Crosby is still crooning in the background, and BJ looks legitimately engrossed in his journal, and their petty silence has somehow become pleasant. The lamplight casts the living room in warm light, and BJ seems to throw off light himself. Hawkeye kicks up his feet so they rest in BJ’s lap. BJ absentmindedly drops one of his hands to Hawkeye’s ankle, rubbing his thumb idly over the jut of bone. The record eventually ends, but neither of them moves to replace it. For hours, they are quiet.

Eventually, BJ puts down the journal, gently removing Hawkeye’s feet from his lap and standing up, stretching his arms up into the air. Hawkeye watches his back muscles shift under his clothing guiltily, greedily.

“How hungry are you right now?” BJ asks, scratching idly at his stomach. Hawkeye shrugs.

“I could probably eat,” he says. BJ nods.

“How about I make you dinner?” BJ asks. Hawkeye begins to demur, but BJ waves him off. “No, really, you made breakfast, we went out for lunch, now it’s my turn to handle dinner.”

“Since when can you cook?” Hawkeye asks skeptically. BJ laughs.

“Peg’s been teaching me some basics now that I’m going to be fending for myself. I make a mean grilled cheese,” BJ says. “Seriously, Hawk, you go shower or something.” BJ has a bullheaded expression on his face that says he’s going to make dinner whether Hawkeye likes it or not, so Hawkeye acquiesces and heads upstairs.

By the time he’s showered and dressed in flannel pajamas, BJ has something that smells delicious simmering on the stove.

“What’s on the menu, Chef Hunnicutt?” Hawkeye asks, sidling next to BJ to peer into the saucepan. BJ puts one of his hands on Hawkeye’s waist to stabilize him as he leans over the stove.

“Beef stroganoff,” BJ says. “You had all the ingredients and it’s relatively simple to make. It ought to be ready in a minute or so.”

“I’ll set the table,” Hawkeye says, moving to the dish cabinet. They make short work of the preparations for dinner and are seated and eating in a matter of minutes.

“BJ, this puts the edible in incredible,” Hawkeye says, digging in. BJ’s foot curls around Hawkeye’s, just like at the diner, and Hawkeye beams at him.

“You think so?” BJ asks, delighted.

“Oh, definitely. Compared to mess food, this is dinner at the Mark,” Hawkeye says. BJ laughs, though his cheeks get pink.

“Compared to the mess, the table itself is dinner at the Mark.”

After they’ve made substantial headway in their plates, Hawkeye says, “I know it’s an ix-nay on the eg-Pay talk-”

“This is sounding suspiciously like eg-Pay talk,” BJ warns.

“But really, BJ, what else are we supposed to talk about?”

“How about us?” BJ asks. Hawkeye pauses in bringing his fork to his mouth.

“Us?” Hawkeye asks. Sometimes Hawkeye wonders if BJ knows how he sounds sometimes.

“Well, you know, you spent all your time yelling at me today, I didn’t get to tell you how incredible it is to see you,” BJ says. Hawkeye is going to throw himself into the creek.

“It’s good to see you too,” Hawkeye says in the single greatest understatement since Hawkeye heard someone describe the Korean War as ‘inconvenient’. “Especially without that ludicrous mustache,” he says to lighten the sentiment.

“I mean it, Hawk,” BJ says, reaching out and resting his hand on Hawkeye’s wrist. Hawkeye hopes BJ can’t feel his pulse skyrocket. “You’re the person I like best in the whole world,” he recites and Hawkeye smiles helplessly at him, at the fact that this has remained true even though BJ can hang out with anyone he wants to now, not just who the Army assigns him. “I’ve never felt this way about anyone else.”

“Not even Aggie O’Shea?” Hawkeye asks, laughing nervously.

“Not even,” BJ says evenly, refusing to rise to the bait. Hawkeye clears his throat.

“Me too, Beej,” Hawkeye says. “It was kind of scary sometimes how well we got along, especially in the beginning. I thought the brass would notice I was having too much fun and take you away, just to spite me.”

“It scared me too,” BJ says. Hawkeye feels like they weren't scared about the same thing. “I used to think it was insane that there was something about the war I could care so much about. But it doesn’t scare me anymore. You really changed my life, Hawkeye.”

“I hope not for the worse,” Hawkeye says nervously. BJ shakes his head. “Well, that’s reassuring.” Hawkeye’s stomach is in knots, his palms are sweating and he’s about three more earnest compliments away from throwing himself into BJ’s lap and begging him to live in sin together, so he stands abruptly, grabbing his plate.

“I’ll clean all of this up,” Hawkeye says, just a bit too fast. “Are you done?”

“Just about,” BJ says, standing as well. “Should I go pour us a drink?”

A drink could be a good idea. Settle into familiar drunken territory, have a few laughs, maybe pull a small prank on Dad. Then again, Hawkeye thinks about how handsy BJ gets when he’s drunk, and how frayed his self-control is right now.

“Not tonight,” Hawkeye says. For some reason, BJ looks pleased by that.

“Well, then I’ll head to bed. The flight took it out of me,” BJ says. Hawkeye tries not to be disappointed by his exit. He had hoped maybe they’d chat for a bit longer, but he supposes they always have tomorrow. “Goodnight, Hawkeye.”

“Goodnight, BJ,” Hawkeye says, and BJ nods and makes to head out of the kitchen. Before he can leave, Hawkeye catches him by the wrist.

“It’s really good to see you,” he says quietly. “Everything’s better when you’re around.” BJ rests his hand on top of Hawkeye’s and nods. Then, he heads upstairs, leaving Hawkeye alone.

As soon as he’s out of sight, Hawkeye grips the sides of the sink and sighs heavily. Who could have imagined that Hawkeye’s careworn fantasy of shepherding BJ around his town and taking him home would be so immensely exhausting? It’s not BJ that takes it out of him -- Hawkeye could survive on BJ alone for days, weeks even! -- but Hawkeye is Sisyphus and his love for BJ is his boulder: he can try to push it away all he wants, but the action is futile. Hawkeye doesn't know how he’s gonna get through the week without begging BJ to never leave him again, much less convince him to reconcile with his wife, the single luckiest person in the hemisphere for getting to have BJ at all and the most foolish for letting him get away.

Hawkeye finishes washing and drying the few items in the sink before putting the kitchen in a vague semblance of order. He hears the water begin to run through the pipes as BJ starts his shower and the subsequent mental journey he goes on makes him put on a record and pour a drink, just to drown out his overactive imagination. Frank Sinatra tells him to Try A Little Tenderness as he tries not to picture exactly what BJ looks like in the shower from firsthand experience.

Eventually Hawkeye tires of his own self-pity and stands up, putting Old Blue Eyes away and turning off the lights. He runs a hand through his hair and over his face a few times before making his way up the stairs. He’ll take the night and regroup. He’ll remember what he did to survive years of not begging BJ to fuck him in Korea, and will implement similar strategies here. If that means taking BJ to Boston and spending a day with Charles, so be it. It should even be easier. In Korea, they slept in the same tent. Now they’re separated by entire walls, hallways even! He’s going to be fine, he thinks, as he opens his bedroom door. It’ll all be over soon.

“Howdy, stranger,” BJ says from Hawkeye’s bed. “New in town?”

Hawkeye closes his eyes and opens them again. BJ is still in his bed, wearing a white Henley, unbuttoned just enough to show his chest hair. He’s also smiling a very smug smile that usually signals the successful execution of a prank. If you aren’t laughing when you see it, that means you’re the victim. Hawkeye turns to rest his head on the doorframe, and then very gently bangs his head against it. He’s not laughing right now.

“Quit it, Hawk, you’ll kill what’s left of your brain cells,” BJ chides gently. Hawkeye closes his eyes.

“You are a married man,” Hawkeye groans quietly.

“I am a newly divorced man,” BJ corrects, with some asperity in his voice.

“You are a temporarily unmarried man,” Hawkeye says. He can almost hear BJ’s eye-roll in response.

“Hawkeye, look at me,” BJ says. Hawkeye shakes his head.

“I can’t,” Hawkeye says, because he cannot bear to look at BJ Hunnicutt, not while he’s being sweet and devious and especially not while he’s tucked in Hawkeye’s bed. The proprietary thrill he feels with BJ so close, unattached at last and safe in his home, overwhelms Hawkeye’s hindbrain.

“You know, the fact that you can’t says a lot about you,” BJ says in that stupid smarmy tone he always takes when he spots the upper hand in one of their petty arguments. Hawkeye turns to snap at him, which was probably BJ’s plan the whole time because as soon as he sees BJ again, the retort dies in his mouth.

If Hawkeye two years ago could see Hawkeye now, he would drop his stance on pacifism and hold him at gunpoint until he got into the bed.

“Hawk,” BJ says, sensing weakness like a shark smells blood. “Get over here.”

Hawkeye gets over there. It’s a- Jesus Christ, it’s such a mistake. BJ’s skin practically glows gold in the lamplight now that California has sunk its tanned claws back into him, and the effect is doubled, no, tripled by that big sunny smile. Hawkeye wants to do criminally indecent things to him. Hawkeye sheds his robe and slips between the navy sheets. BJ makes space for him, letting Hawkeye take the spot he just evacuated. The sheets are warm and BJ smells safe and clean and familiar. Hawkeye might die tonight.

“Hi there,” BJ says quietly, intimately. Hawkeye feels the words against his neck and has to imagine Sherman Potter’s naked body to keep calm. “You’re being awfully quiet, Hawk.”

“I’m afraid of what I’ll say,” Hawkeye confesses. BJ’s face is very close. Hawkeye has thought about kissing him so many times that it almost feels like he already has. Almost.

“What are you afraid to say?” BJ asks, just to be difficult.

“Why are you here?” Hawkeye retorts.

“I asked you first,” BJ says childishly.

“Not true. I asked you earlier today. You said you weren’t here to save your marriage, so what are you here for? And don’t play around with me, BJ, a strange man followed me home and crawled into my bed, I’m feeling very vulnerable right now,” Hawkeye says, playing up the damsel routine, batting his eyelashes and pouting.

“Alright, Hawk, you got me. I’m here to seduce you,” BJ says, very earnestly. Hawkeye blinks at him. BJ blinks back.

“Well, BJ, I have to say, you’ve been doing admirably well,” Hawkeye says with as much aplomb as he can muster. “However, I also have to say that I think you’re having a nervous breakdown, and that’s kind of a turn-off for me.”

“You know I’m not having a nervous breakdown, Hawkeye,” BJ says, exasperated. “I’ve never felt saner.” His shins bump up against Hawkeye’s own, resting against him. Hawkeye feels like he could combust.

“Right,” Hawkeye says in a perfect deadpan. “You’re sane, so you divorce your wife, who you stayed faithful to for an entire war, and fly across the country to seduce your insane male tentmate?”

“Wow, I guess doctors really are that smart,” BJ says, reaching up to play with the hair at Hawkeye’s temple. “You summarized the situation perfectly.”

Hawkeye despairs.

BJ smiles indulgently at him, his fingers tracing the shell of Hawkeye’s ear. Hawkeye’s eyes flutter shut and then open with a vengeance. “What specifically is bothering you now?” BJ asks, ghosting his lips against Hawkeye’s cheekbone.

“How are you so certain that I’m amenable to being seduced?” Hawkeye breathes. BJ’s lips drift to Hawkeye’s neck and Hawkeye makes a noise that he’ll have to remember to be mortified by.

“I’m not,” BJ murmurs into Hawkeye’s throat. “But the fact that you got in bed with me feels like a pretty solid indicator of my chances here.”

“Hoist by my own petard,” Hawkeye sighs, arching into BJ’s touch like a cat in a sunbeam. BJ puts his hands on Hawkeye’s hips and rearranges him until they’re facing each other, knees overlapping, noses brushing.

Sometimes, in pre-op, they would have to sedate a resistant patient. Hawkeye doesn’t know how many times he had to leave another stretcher to hold down a soldier who couldn’t believe that the pain could ever stop. Hawkeye would pin his shoulders or legs down until the nurse got the needle in and the sedative took effect. Then his strings would cut, and he’d fall back, defeated, as if he had lost a battle.

Once, in post-op, one of the fighters explained to Hawkeye that for as long as he was in pain, it had felt like he was going to survive. As soon as the sedative kicked in and the pain stopped, he resigned himself to his own death. Hawkeye remembers hating that the soldier hadn’t known peace for so long that he mistook it for defeat. Now, with BJ in his bed sending sparks of electricity up his spine with every trivial place their bodies come into contact, Hawkeye, painless, understands.

“I’m going to kiss you now,” BJ says, and Hawkeye nods. “Any objections?” Hawkeye shakes his head.

BJ kisses him, and Hawkeye realizes two things. 1) BJ used his toothpaste too, apparently. 2) Hawkeye will never recover from this.

BJ cradles Hawkeye’s face in the palms of his big capable hands and presses him gently back against the mattress. Hawkeye melts under BJ’s solid runner’s build, his surprisingly strong arms. Hawkeye’s hands drag muted claw marks up and down BJ’s back, cataloging the way his muscle groups flex as they move against each other. Hawkeye feels himself grow more and more frenzied, but BJ resists his attempts to speed things up, pressing his thumb into the hinge of Hawkeye’s jaw as he memorizes every square inch of Hawkeye’s mouth.

Hawkeye feels like a livewire, writhing under BJ’s frame, attempting to wrap his legs around BJ’s waist. He wants to surgically attach himself to BJ’s front, meld them into one being so they’re never separated again. BJ’s hands map his ribs, ghost over the hem of Hawkeye’s shirt before pulling away a bit to tug the offending article of clothing off him. Suddenly, skin meets skin, and things start to speed up.

“Beej,” Hawkeye says.

“Yeah?” BJ says, pressing his teeth against Hawkeye’s exposed clavicle, worrying the skin there enough to leave a mark. Hawkeye almost says it, spills the beans right then and there, but the idea of telling BJ he loves him and not hearing him say it back is almost as excruciating as the idea of telling BJ he loves him and hearing him lie.

“You wouldn’t believe how long I’ve wanted this,” Hawkeye says instead, because it’s easier, because it means the same thing, because he’s wanted BJ for so long it feels like he’s been coded into his DNA. BJ smiles, bright and warm and overpowering.

“God, me too,” BJ says incomprehensibly, sliding further under the blankets until his mouth is at Hawkeye’s waistband, and then Hawkeye stops registering cogent thought at all.

*

Hawkeye wakes up. He’s warm, even a bit sweaty. He pries his eyes open, letting them adjust. It’s dark outside. He shouldn’t be awake, but he can’t tell what woke him. A shape resolves next to him. BJ is sitting upright, one hand around Hawkeye’s hand, the other tapping his wrist. Not tapping, Hawkeye realizes, checking for a pulse.

“In mine, you get caught in shelling,” Hawkeye says. BJ startles a bit. He must not have noticed Hawkeye wake up. “You die in my arms before I can get you on the table.”

BJ looks down at him and does not move his hands.

“Sniper,” he says hoarsely. Hawkeye nods. BJ doesn’t offer any more details. Hawkeye doesn’t particularly need them.

“Come here,” Hawkeye says, gesturing towards himself. BJ slips willingly into the circle of Hawkeye’s arms, pressing his face against his throat, where he can feel Hawkeye’s pulse the strongest. Hawkeye brings his hand up to hold his head there and listens to BJ settle until sleep takes him.

*

In the morning, Hawkeye wakes up to an empty bed. He stares at the ceiling for a long time wondering what awaits him downstairs.

In the best-case scenario, BJ doesn’t hate him or regret the night they spent together. He’s decided he’s going to try again to have the happy civilian life that Hawkeye always wanted for him, but he’s going to stick around for another few days with Hawkeye before he does. In the very best-case scenario, he continues to write. In the very very best-case scenario, he kisses Hawkeye goodbye.

In the worst-case scenario, he hates Hawkeye for taking advantage of him during a brief lapse in judgment, and then confesses to Peg and ruins any chances of reconciliation. In the very worst-case scenario, he gets mad enough to leave without saying goodbye. In the very very worst-case scenario, he never speaks to him again.

Hawkeye does not want to get out of bed.

Eventually, Hawkeye gets out of bed. He puts on a robe and brushes his teeth, crossing his fingers for that kiss goodbye, and heads down the stairs.

“Good morning, Sleeping Beauty,” BJ says as Hawkeye enters the kitchen. He’s dressed in a fluffy robe and he’s smiling widely in front of the coffee pot. Hawkeye stares at him blearily. Looks like the worst-case scenario isn’t happening.

“Morning,” Hawkeye says. “When did you get up?”

“Not too long ago,” BJ says, grabbing the pot and pouring himself a mug. “It’s a late start for the both of us apparently. I was wiped after yesterday.”

Hawkeye hums in agreement. “So was I,” Hawkeye says, and BJ flashes a wicked smile at him. Hawkeye grabs a mug and stands behind BJ, resting his chin on BJ’s shoulder. “What are you thinking about?” Hawkeye says into BJ’s ear. BJ leans back into him and Hawkeye smiles.

“I was thinking about that house on Stinson Beach,” BJ says. Hawkeye scours his medical knowledge to see if a man can smother himself silently in less than thirty seconds.

“Oh?” Hawkeye asks, feeling like a masochist who uses married men and stultifying descriptions of undeveloped real estate instead of whips. Best case scenario it is.

“We started development on it early; it’ll be about two more months before we can start picking out furniture, but then it’ll be a fully functioning house and everything.” BJ continues. Hawkeye pours himself a mug of coffee and resettles against the kitchen counter to endure more talk of the fucking Stinson Beach house, which he really thought he wouldn’t have to deal with after Korea. He takes cold comfort in the sight of BJ’s naked legs. This might be the last time he sees them. “It’s gonna have a bedroom with a view of the ocean and a big kitchen.”

“I bet that’ll be really spectacular, BJ,” Hawkeye says, taking a sip of his coffee. He’s not even being insincere. He can almost imagine it, waking up with BJ every morning, having impromptu beach picnics, being a part of BJ’s life instead of an interlude. Peg is a lucky woman.

“Peg and I flipped a coin for it,” BJ says, apropos of nothing. “I won on tails.” Strike that thing about Peg’s luck.

“Tails never fails,” Hawkeye quips. BJ smiles but the expression feels distant, dreamlike almost.

“Peg will stay in the Mill Valley house with her,” BJ makes air quotes, “‘friend’ Valerie, and I get to live in the beach house full time. I’m supposed to start looking at paint samples since I get to decorate now.”

“Go with anything but hunter green,” Hawkeye says, for want of anything else to say. He thought BJ was about to recommit to his marriage, so now he’s feeling kind of wrong-footed. He has no idea where BJ is going with this, but he’s clearly got a destination in mind. BJ smiles, but it looks odd on his face. In fact, Hawkeye doesn’t think he recognizes this expression, which is a terrifying prospect.

“Well, that leads me into what I’m really here for,” BJ says, sounding almost nervous.

Hawkeye peers at him. “I thought you were here to seduce me.”

“Partially. I was actually wondering if you would come to California to help me decorate the place once it’s built.” Hawkeye blinks at him. BJ looks like he’s awaiting a firing squad.

“What?”

“I trust your taste. I want you to like how it looks,” BJ says. Hawkeye blinks at him again.

“You flew to Maine to ask me to visit you in California and look at some paint samples?” Hawkeye asks. His tone conveys his disbelief. BJ winces. “Forgive me for saying this, Beej, but don’t you think that’s a little perverse? You could have just written me and asked me to visit.”

“Well,” BJ says, turning to face Hawkeye fully. He squares his stance, almost as if he was getting ready to take a blow. “I was actually hoping it could be a bit more of a long-term arrangement than just a visit.” Hawkeye blinks at him.

“How long-term are you talking?” Hawkeye asks.

“Oh, nothing too crazy,” BJ says, making placating motions with his hands like Hawkeye is a startled horse. “Just, you know. Indefinitely.”

The kitchen is very silent.

“Beej,” Hawkeye says, feeling a bit like he’s been clubbed over the head. “What exactly are you offering here?”

“Come to California and live with me in the house on Stinson Beach,” BJ says, and his voice could almost pass for restrained except for the ripcord of desperation around the edges. “I know you love Crabapple Cove, but you don’t feel at home here, not anymore. You’re not the same person you were, I get it, I felt the same way about Peg before the divorce,” His voice gets more impassioned as he speaks. Hawkeye can only listen, every fragment of coherent thought absolutely obliterated by the reality of BJ Hunnicutt.

“But it wouldn’t matter if you were with me, if we were together. San Francisco isn’t a small town, you’d get a real fresh start there. The hospital I work at is desperate for trauma surgeons, and you’re the best there is, I mean, you could write the book on arterial grafts, and it’s nothing like combat surgery, you’d feel so much less helpless. You’d love it, I know you,” BJ’s tone shifts from earnest to dreamy as he sinks into the fantasy, and for the first time in a long time, Hawkeye allows himself to sink alongside him.

“We’d wake up every morning with a view of the Pacific Ocean, and we’d drink coffee and read the paper together. We’d go to work and spend our days healing people, under threat of neither death nor stockade, then, after work, we’d go home together and make dinner and make love and, sure, we’d have nightmares sometimes, but we’d never have to explain them. Peg’d take Erin on alternating weeks, but we’d live so close to them that it wouldn’t matter, we could all have weekly dinners together if we wanted,” BJ says, like he’s thought about how to fit Hawkeye into his life almost as much as Hawkeye has wanted to be a part of it.

“You wouldn’t be saying goodbye to Maine forever, obviously, we could take Erin here during the holidays. She could get to know your dad, experience a real white Christmas for the first time,” BJ says, still trying to sell Hawkeye on this future, as if Hawkeye needs to be convinced that living with BJ forever is a good thing. “And who knows, maybe once Erin goes to college we can move back here-”

“Okay, wait a second, BJ,” Hawkeye interjects, because Erin isn’t even out of diapers yet technically, they don’t need to be thinking that far in the future. BJ looks like he’s just been shot before his expression blanks out.

“No, you’re right,” BJ says. “I get it. This is probably the most someone has sprung on you the morning after-”

“You’d be surprised,” Hawkeye says, digging himself deeper in this hole like the goddamn idiot he is. “Beej-” Hawkeye says, slightly panicked because now BJ is wearing the brave little smile that only comes out when Hawkeye mentions one of his landmine issues, like Trapper John, or prior to just now, his wife’s autonomy.

“I’ve heard you talk about marriage, Hawk, I know one night isn’t enough to convince you to shack up with someone,” BJ backtracks, and Hawkeye doesn’t know how this conversation became about his commitment issues, but it has gone from zero to agonizing in record time. “But you should still come out to California with me, even if it’s not together-”

“BJ, that’s not what I meant-” Hawkeye says, because this is excruciating, every moment that BJ thinks Hawkeye wouldn't crawl over hot coals for the chance to be with him is like taking shrapnel in the gut.

“Peg’s in real estate, so getting an apartment in the city wouldn’t be a problem, and you can’t deny that we work well together,” BJ says, bulldozing over Hawkeye’s objections even as he avoids eye contact. Hawkeye is going to have to resort to desperate measures. “It wears on you, living here. You were never supposed to be alone, Hawkeye, and you’re alone here in a way you just wouldn’t be in San Francisco-” Hawkeye reaches into a drawer and slams two pots together. The resulting crash startles both of them into silence.

“Are you done?” Hawkeye says. BJ nods. He’s not smiling anymore, Hawkeye notices. He’s just wide-eyed and a little bit apprehensive. “Good. Follow me,” he says, turning and making his way to the stairs.

“Where are we going?” BJ asks.

“You’re gonna help me pack,” Hawkeye says. “Apparently I’m moving to a house on the beach in two months, I need you to tell me which of my bikinis is most flattering. Not to mention, I’m going to have to coordinate my clothes with the walls, and I insist that they all be red.”

BJ grabs Hawkeye’s arm and spins him around at the base of the stairwell. He stares into Hawkeye’s eyes, searching for something. A smile starts to spread across his face, as Hawkeye fails to suppress his own. “Really?” BJ asks, in a surprisingly timid voice.

“We’re gonna spend the rest of our lives together,” Hawkeye intones. “So help you, God.”

BJ proceeds to shove him against the stairwell and debauch him thoroughly. It’s an incredibly auspicious start to the rest of his life.