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angels we have heard on high
PG, pre-slash. Mulcahy is in search of answers; Hawkeye may or may not have them. There is something afoot that neither of them quite understands.
This story won second place in both best characterisation of Mulcahy and best Hawkeye/m.
In the sour, sultry heat of the evening, a priest ventured out on pilgrimage. The journey across the compound should have taken a mere minute, but he lingered over it, walking slowly, watching the Double Natural at play.
It had been a long day, and a long night, and a long day again. When the wounded stopped, life stopped. Twenty-four hours later, the people began emerging from the shadow of collective exhaustion. Their priest watched them for a few moments, before continuing on towards the place where he was needed. Wounded men did not stay that way forever; they became living men, or dead men, and every one of them deserved to cry out for salvation.
[“Do you believe in angels, Father?”
Hawkeye was looking at him through unfathomable eyes. It had been a serious question.
“Ah, Hawkeye,” said Mulcahy, smiling slightly. “It’s in the job description.”
“No.” Hawkeye was overtired, a little inebriated, and the clear yellow light of the Swamp illuminated more than they knew. “Not just that. I mean… do you believe in guardian angels? Angels of death, maybe?” He paused, and smiling ruefully, continued, “I ask because you’re the resident authority, not because I’m drunk.”
“I’m… I’m not sure.”
Hawkeye’s eyes were so steady they were unnerving. The priest was caught in one of those moments of doubt, caught between darkness and light, caught between faith and disbelief, but it was all right, the hesitation was hidden in this army tent so far from home, and in the morning neither of them would remember, so why not go with the flow?
“I… I think,” – and his words were hesitant, uncertain – “they must exist. They dwell with God.”
“We’ll never have seen them here,” Hawkeye said gloomily.
“No, Hawk,” – had he ever shortened Hawkeye’s name before? – “think.”
“This is an army hospital. We have men in pain here. Where do you expect God to be?”]
Francis Mulcahy entered post-op to find a hushed evening silence, pleasant and cool, nurses gliding to and fro, patients lying still, sleeping, or awake and stirring, and there was a gentle peace in the air. This was a place of life, the priest decided suddenly. Those lying here tonight had made this far, and were therefore determined to live.
In the hushed tones expected of him, Mulcahy drifted towards one of the nurses, who turned and revealed herself to be Margaret Houlihan, and spoke. She led him to one patient in particular, an Irish boy with a pretty silver cross hanging at his neck. He was sleeping now, but fluttering eyelashes showed how close to the surface he was drifting. Consciousness and memories were looming, but he clung to sleep with tight fists, gripping the army-issue blanket. The night before, in fear of death, he had asked for a priest. Mulcahy doubted he would remember when he woke on this clear evening, but nonetheless, he would stay here by the boy’s side. He was a boy – not more than nineteen – and hurt so very badly for one so young. Hawkeye had shown the priest the shrapnel in the dark of the night before. In a waking dream, not knowing what he meant or how many different things he could mean, Mulcahy had asked, “Why?”
Hawkeye had shaken the fragments until they chimed in his hand. “Take it out of his soul, Padre,” he’d said, and then he might have winked, it was hard to remember clearly.
When this boy woke, Father Mulcahy would be here. In the meantime…
The priest sat back in his chair, suddenly feeling overtired. The boy’s hand was limp and cold in his own. He was drifting very quickly, thoughts moving swiftly and inevitably to whatever it was he was trying not to think about.
He wasn’t losing faith.
At least, not in God.
In his people. Those people that were good, and loving, and made in the image of their creator, but Mulcahy wasn’t so sure any more.
And there were the misguided people. People who were good, and loving, and everything else he had been taught they were, but people with such mistaken ideas.
Some people thought a priest lived on a different plane of existence from the ordinary folk.
[“Even men of the cloth are human,” Mulcahy told Hawkeye, “even me.”
Hawkeye laughed. “Another childhood dream shattered,” he said. “I refuse to believe it of you, Father, I refuse. Next thing I know you’ll be saying there isn’t an Easter bunny.”
“Ah, Hawkeye,” said the priest, amused, and said nothing more for fear of spoiling this moment.
Somehow he liked listening to Hawkeye’s words, and his laughter.]
Some people thought a priest never knew the taste of hate, never felt a surge of anger, was never racked by grief, never hurt by love.
[“Father,” asked Radar suddenly, “was it strange when you became you?”
“I’m not sure I know what you mean, Radar,” Mulcahy said slowly.
“You know,” Radar shrugged helplessly, “when you stopped being ordinary like the ordinary people and started being a priest like the people who aren’t ordinary ‘cause they’re like you and priests.”
“Do you mean when I was ordained?”
“In some ways, Radar, it wasn’t strange,” Mulcahy said thoughtfully, “because nothing changed.”]
Those people were wrong, all of them.
And there were people who were good, and loving, and clear in their thoughts and actions, with no murkiness, no mistaken notions, and those people were hard for Mulcahy to take, and for such wrong reasons. Thoughts that should have vanished from his consciousness many years ago, but persisted in existence.
Mulcahy’s thoughts were on the night before.
A priest could be tempted.
[In the Swamp, the silence was almost reverent. Soft pools of night lurked in the corners; faint electric light shone down, trying to be bright and modern and army-issue, and failing miserably. It merely made another enemy in the Korean darkness.
“Speak with the tongues of men and angels,” Mulcahy said softly.
Hawkeye lay on his side, staring out at the tent through hooded eyes. The priest was sitting in a chair, watching him intently. The silence was tangible, broken only by two sets of human breathing.
They had dropped their eyes, both of them, so as not to look upon each other.]
The boy stirred and mumbled; he pulled fretfully at Mulcahy’s hand, forcing the priest to sit up and take notice. He was closer still to being fully awake, but was still stubborn, staying in the in-between state for as long as he could. Once again, he sank down, and Mulcahy relaxed slightly. Suddenly, irrationally, he wished the boy would stay sleeping forever. The thought surprised him; he could think of no reason for it, except perhaps the peace that settled on the young soldier’s features whenever he sank back down into sleep. Somehow, the priest knew that peace would be gone the moment he opened his eyes.
His own thoughts were going again; wandering away. And there was another thing – there were strange things at work here tonight; why else would a priest lie back and dream?
And then his thoughts led to the night before, again, yet again, and this time, there were people who expected a priest to be closer to the truth than they were.
[A soldier lay bleeding, conscious of nothing but night and pain and faith, with pale blue eyes in a dead white face, his gaze flickering about the room, searching, wanting… He spoke. Hawkeye had to lean in to hear.
Hawkeye’s eyes settled into defiance. “No!”
Hawkeye turned to the voice. Father Mulcahy. How long had he been standing there? How long had Hawkeye himself been here? It seemed a long time… a very long time… but suddenly it was hard to be sure. It was hard to be sure of anything.
Hawkeye looked down at his hands, and then lifted his gaze to glance across the room.
Father Mulcahy, watching, saw him stop still for a brief moment.
And of those people, some were closer to the truth themselves, if only they knew it.
[One dark and drunken night in the officers’ club, some time ago now, Hawkeye’s freely roaming thoughts had made all the connections.
“You’re objective, Father,” he said, gesturing expansively with one hand and all the earnestness of the determined drunk.
“Excuse me?” Mulcahy said. He was smiling. He couldn’t help it.
“You’re like Sidney.”
“Yo,” said the psychiatrist vaguely, and ambled off in the direction of the bar.
“Yeah,” Hawkeye continued doggedly, “like a psych… psy… shrink.”
“I’m afraid I don’t understand, Hawkeye,” the priest said, desperately trying to stop himself from smiling.
“You get to watch us,” Hawkeye proclaimed. “You get to watch us being us, without being us. You get to be on the… on the outside. Yeah.”
And then he curled up on a barstool and went to sleep.]
The soldier gave up the fight.
Pale blue eyes looked out upon a Catholic priest. Sleepily, instinctively, the boy’s other hand went for the cross at his neck. Finally, he was awake.
“How are you feeling, my son?” Mulcahy murmured.
“Where am I?” he whispered.
“You’re in an army hospital,” Mulcahy returned. “The 4077th M*A*S*H.”
“Does that mean I’m alive?”
Mulcahy laughed softly. “Very much so, my son,” he said. “We have excellent doctors here.”
The boy was silent. His hand was gripping tightly on the cross. When a minute had passed, he tried to speak. “Padre, I saw…” he began, and then stopped. “I saw…”
“What did you see?” prompted the priest gently, but it was too late. The boy was drifting towards sleep again, holding his secret.
“What did he see?” Mulcahy asked the empty air, and suddenly he knew.
The boy lay before him on a bed…
The boy had lain before him on a trolley.
This was peaceful…
That had been pandemonium.
Someone else had seen. Hawkeye was there, leaning in to hear a dying soldier’s last wish…
And then he tried to speak, and stopped, and everything stopped with him. Looking out at the doorway, he had seen what the boy had seen.
Mulcahy knew that if at that moment, he had looked to his right-hand side, he would have seen.
[Hawkeye looked towards the doorway in that moment, he was in a crowded OR and he was the only one looking, wasn’t that strange?
Oh, yes… the boy was looking too, but that was different, it was his time…
Just for that one moment, Hawkeye saw a winged shadow, and it wasn’t his patient’s time to go that day, after all.]
The soldier’s hand was still clasped in the priest’s hand. They were both utterly still. For a moment, the silence became absolute. Proof denies faith; but faith that is all but gone may be resurrected to its former glory.
Glory, gloria, gloria in excelsis deo.
Mulcahy looked up.
Hawkeye was standing at the foot of the bed, leaning on it in his easy, graceful way. His expression was as unfathomable as before, eyes half closed in what could have been exhaustion or could have been reverence, it was always hard to be sure in this place.
Hawkeye was standing there, watching them both, priest and soldier, and in his hands he held a large, beautiful white feather.
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