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the end of the affair
PG-13, slash, Hawkeye/Trapper. A look at the reluctant end of a relationship, and why there's too much at stake in Korea in 1950.
It was just something they did, now… in between surgery and drinking and chasing the various nurses, they had a tendency to move towards each other. It was just another flirtation. Just something else they did.
They’d woken up wrapped up in each other once or twice, when Frank Burns was AWOL/with Margaret/on R ‘n’ R, and once, disturbingly, it had happened when the other surgeon was there. They’d both kept their heads, separating before Frank woke up, but it had rattled them.
Which wasn’t precisely true. Very little rattled a man who had been cheating on his wife since his first day in Korea, but it rattled Hawkeye. He wondered what Trapper’s wife would think of this. He wondered, while already being in a vaguely compromising position. It was very early in the morning to be awake, he knew, but how could he help being awake, lying luxuriously on the same cot as his best friend?
They were more wrapped up in each other than ever this morning, arms, legs and even fingers hopelessly entwined. Hawkeye moved, and Trapper moved with him, but didn’t wake up. His face buried in Trapper’s hair, lying in warmth and in comfort as he never did in the Swamp, Hawkeye was suddenly assailed by a pair of emotions he hadn’t felt for quite some time.
If jealousy is a green-eyed monster, what’s guilt?
He tried to crush the thought, ignore it into going away, but to no avail. He hadn’t expected to succeed. These dangerous, pricking thoughts had been lurking around the edge of consciousness for as long as he and Trapper…
He didn’t want to go down that road, but it seemed he must. Already it was costing him sleep; what time could it possibly be? He wasn’t wearing a watch, and couldn’t see it even if he had been wearing once, but he could see dimly the colour of the sky through the sides of the tent. It was still dark in this part of Korea, though that didn’t mean much in the winter months, he reflected. But the silence told him the same story, much more eloquently. It had to be early, for a M*A*S*H unit to be silent.
Suddenly seized with a dangerous thought, Hawkeye’s eyes flickered towards where the Swamp’s third occupant usually lay in state. The cot was empty. Hawkeye couldn’t at this moment remember where he was, but he was grateful.
He was tired. So, so tired… had they been in surgery the night before? He couldn’t quite remember, but he was so tired, and yet he couldn’t sleep. He was being held awake against his will. He wanted to stop thinking…
Somehow he knew the only way he would ever get any sleep would be to coldly and dispassionately extricate himself from Trapper’s sleepy hold, carefully walk the three steps over to his own cot, lie down and put the pillow over his head. He would be cold and he would be lonely, but he might be free…
It was the right thing to do. The moral thing, though generally he scorned the redneck connotations of that word. Whatever it was exactly, he had to do it. Gently, he moved Trapper over, making him release his hold, letting the cold air rush into their haven. He swung his legs over the edge of the cot, stood up, and tried not to hear as Trapper reached out for him, mumbling, “Hawk?”
Hawkeye shivered. “Go back to sleep,” he whispered.
Trapper didn’t. The loss of body heat had woken him up thoroughly. “Sneaking out in the middle of the night? I thought better of you, Hawkeye,” he said, with the familiar touch of humour.
Hawkeye didn’t say anything. It had just occurred to him that was exactly what he was doing. Sneaking away.…
Trapper reached out with one warm hand and grabbed one of Hawkeye’s, which were now cold and getting colder. “Come back,” he murmured. “It’s cold…”
Hawkeye didn’t move. “I can’t,” he said helplessly. “I can’t.”
Trapper was sleepily puzzled. “What do you mean, you can’t?” And pulling on Hawkeye’s hand, he added, “Come back!”
“Let me go!” Hawkeye snatched his hand away and perched himself on the end of the cot, as far away from Trapper as possible. He was still shivering.
“Hawkeye, if this whole situation is so repellent to you, just say so!” Trapper snapped, uncharacteristically angry. Hawkeye tried not to look at him, but his words demanded eye contact, and as usual the atmosphere became electric as their eyes met. Trapper was smouldering. Hawkeye shuddered slightly, rocking back and forth, looking at the ground, waiting for the wave of fury to wash over him.
They were still close together, on the same cot, but at opposite ends. Hawkeye was sitting on it, Trapper was standing at the end of it, and they smouldered, glaring at each other, waiting for the other one to give in and look away.
Hawkeye dropped his eyes first. He could be said to be in the wrong, and trapped there, he refused to back down.
Suddenly, Trapper sat heavily beside the other doctor, and sighed. A glance at him told Hawkeye his anger had burnt out. Trapper noticed the glance. “I hate you,” he said softly.
“Me, too,” Hawkeye replied. It wasn’t clear whom he hated; perhaps it didn’t matter.
“This is wrong,” Trapper said abruptly. He was frustrated now, not angry. “I thought you of all people would stick with me.”
“Trapper,” Hawkeye said clearly, “do you understand what we’re doing here? Really, do you? If we’re ever caught, do you know what will happen?”
“We’ll get thrown out of the army,” Trapper said dispassionately.
“There’s a difference between getting all your points and a dishonourable discharge, Trapper.”
“Since when do you care about all this army crap, anyway?” Trapper demanded, with a brief flash of anger.
“Trap, listen to me.” Hawkeye was more serious than Trapper had ever seen him. “If we’re caught, we’ll be branded for life. Do you know what kind of stigma there is attached to this? And that’s besides…”
“Besides what, Hawkeye?”
“You’re married, Trap. Just think of the consequences for one moment. If we’re ever caught… ”
Trapper thought. And then… “We’ll still have each other.”
Hawkeye gazed at him sadly, and suddenly the air was charged with tension again. The silence stretched a minute before Trapper broke it. “Hawkeye?”
Hawkeye didn’t say anything.
Trapper stood up. “And that’s it,” he said flatly. “I’d give up everything for you, but you…”
The sentence remained unfinished.
“I’m trying to save you,” Hawkeye said, clearly and sincerely. “We’ve nearly been caught once already. I don’t think it should happen again.”
“And how do you plan to do that?” Trapper demanded. “Never lay hands on each other again?”
“If that’s what it takes.”
Trapper had expected an angry rebuttal, and he turned slowly towards Hawkeye, trying to keep his voice calm. “Are you saying what I think you’re saying?”
Trapper stared at him. “You’re nuts. No, wait, I’m nuts. I’m nuts to let you play with me like this.”
“Trapper!” Hawkeye was painfully sincere. “I’m trying to save you!”
“You said that before! Who are you trying to save me from?”
“Me, Trap! You think I want to do this? You think I want to have to do this to you? It’s a straightforward choice! Either this, or being caught in flagrante with a guy. And don’t tell me you don’t know what’s likely to happen.”
This time, Trapper didn’t say anything. He walked slowly across the Swamp, considered settling on Hawkeye’s cot, but decided he couldn’t do it. Returning to his own side of the tent, he sat beside his friend. Their hands brushed together, but neither commented on it.
Trapper sighed. He was suddenly exhausted. He lay back on the cot, inclining his head so he could still see his companion, who was watching him impassively.
“I never fucked you, Hawkeye,” Trapper murmured. “Never. And I wouldn’t. Not unless…”
The sentence remained unfinished. Suddenly becoming aware of how early it was, and how tired he was, Hawkeye had lain back on top of him. The physical contact served to diffuse the tension, like a lightning conductor or an earth wire.
“What time is it?” Hawkeye whispered.
“About four-thirty…” Trapper’s voice was muffled.
“How long before we have to actually be awake?”
“Couple of hours at least…”
There was more silence, but it wasn’t charged with electricity any more. Not so much, anyway.
“I couldn’t really do it,” Hawkeye said, more to himself than to Trapper. “I did my best…”
“Break… no. Doesn’t matter.”
“It’s cold…” Trapper whispered, his voice still muffled.
They were entwined again, and both sinking languorously into each other’s body heat. They fell asleep within minutes of each other, just like many times before, and as the sun rose and the wartorn land began to grow warmer, they moved with each other, holding each other in sleep. Trapper’s dogtags were curled around Hawkeye’s fingers, and in sleep he clung to them with clenched fists. They were to wake within minutes of each other, but it was Hawkeye who woke first.
at the sudden intrusion of dazzling sunlight in the tent. The door was open. In
the doorway stood Frank Burns, watching them with an expression of utter delight
on his face.
Major Frank Burns had expected his two colleagues to be asleep, and he had expected to be unwelcome in the Swamp, but such a sight as was now in front of him had never entered his mind as a possibility. He stood stock-still in the doorway, staring at the other two doctors, locked together in a tight embrace.
Hawkeye was already awake and looking at him, sleepy and blinking in the bright light. Frank saw the vulnerability there, in his eyes, in his expression. The usually irrepressible chief surgeon was at a loss, and Frank suddenly became aware of a rising feeling of power over him. Several possibilities danced through his head – disclosure and disgrace, silence and torment, secrecy and blackmail – but in a moment, his thoughts were going in another direction. He was going to do something he did at times of great stress, times of sorrow, times of disappointment, times of confusion, sometimes just at times.
He went to see Margaret Houlihan.
The moment he moved, the sunlight he had been obscuring came full force into the tent, now falling in Trapper’s eyes. Hawkeye began to shake him, extricating his limbs and standing up. “Trapper, wake up.”
Trapper blinked and started rubbing his eyes. “What… what just happened?”
“Frank was here! He saw us!”
Trapper sat up and stared. “You… you were right…”
“No time for that, Trap. Get up.”
Trapper did so, and then turned to look at his companion. “What are we going to do, Hawkeye?”
In the short time that had passed since Frank Burns had caught Hawkeye in an innocent, defenceless moment, he had woken up, gathered his wits, and even now his agile mind was scheming.
“We play it cool,” he said, with the languid confidence that characterised most of his remarks. “He only saw us for a moment, and no matter what he says, he can’t prove anything.”
“Right,” Trapper said and nodded. “We play it cool… right.”
Hawkeye glanced at him. “You can do that, right?”
“Oh, yeah,” Trapper said, looking at him squarely, and Hawkeye realised he had woken up too. The familiar feeling of having a friend to rely on seemed to return gradually and all at once. It was just another scheme, just another practical joke, now… and they worked so well together…
He banished the irrelevant thoughts, safe in the knowledge that he might just have to concentrate on being himself. His eyes flickered towards the still.
Frank took his time. By the time he had crossed the compound, knocked before entering, explained everything to an astonished head nurse, and returned to the Swamp with her in tow, Hawkeye and Trapper were both lying on their own cots, each in possession of a Martini glass with olive, one engaged in lazily reading a letter and the other in lacing up his boots.
Frank stared them with just as much fascination as he had a few minutes before. “You… you… perverts!” he hissed.
Hawkeye threw down a boot. “May we help you, Frank?” he inquired sweetly.
“Oh, you can act as innocent as you like,” Frank said nastily. “I saw you, and you can’t deny it!”
“Saw us doing what, Frank?”
Frank coloured, and was instantly incoherent. “Saw you… you and him… that cot…” He stopped, and with a supreme effort finished, “Together!”
“Together doing what, Frank?”
Frank seemed to be choking. He glanced helplessly at Margaret, spluttered, then managed to stammer, “S… sleeping!”
Hawkeye adopted an expression of mild curiosity. “Are you sure, Frank?”
“Oh, of course he’s sure!” Margaret snapped, suddenly herself again after a period of prolonged bemusement. “He’s going to tell Colonel Blake right now!”
“What? Oh, yes… I’m going to tell… to tell… Major, could I have a word?” He pulled her out of the tent. Hawkeye and Trapper looked at each other.
Just outside the tent-
“Margaret…” and here his voice took on a particularly wheedling tone… “is it really such a good idea to tell Colonel Blake about this?”
“Are you afraid of those two, Frank?” she demanded.
“Well, no… not afraid, per se…”
“Then be a man and go and tell him!”
Just inside the tent-
“What did he say?”
“Um…he said, ‘Yes, Margaret.’ He’s going to tell him. Come on…”
After waiting a few moments to make sure the other two were far enough in front of them, they slipped quietly out of the Swamp and followed.
Colonel Henry Blake was understandably surprised to have most of his officers invade his outer office at this hour of the morning, but thankfully Radar told him about it far enough in advance for him to lock up the “refreshments” and be reasonably calm about it.
“Come in!” he called. They were already in. “What can I do you for?” he asked peaceably.
“I wish to make a report, sir,” Frank said officiously. “I wish to report a court-martiallable offence.”
Colonel Blake wondered briefly if “court-martiallable” was an actual word, and if it was, whether whitewashing the perimeter stones could be made into a court-martiallable offence. Dragging his attention with difficulty back to the matter in hand, he said, “What was it, Frank?”
“I saw those two” – and here he pointed at Hawkeye and Trapper – “in a… in a…”
“In a what, Frank?” Henry asked, and telepathically asked Radar for an aspirin.
“In a compromising position, Colonel Blake!” Margaret supplied. “Major Burns says he saw them sleeping in the same cot this morning!”
“What do you want me to do about it, Major?”
“Court-martial them,” she said without skipping a beat.
“But what on earth for?”
“Homo- those two?” He peered at the two young docters, both of whom had been uncharacteristically quiet during this meeting, standing just inside the doorway. “Look, you two, what were you really doing?”
“It’s cold, Henry,” Trapper said. “Conserving body heat and all that.”
“Isn’t he clever?” Hawkeye added. “He learnt about it in medical school.”
Henry appeared unconvinced. The door opened and Radar came in. Wordlessly, he placed two pills and a glass of water on the desk and retreated to the outer office. Only once he had taken the aspirin and drunk the water did he say anything. “I don’t think I can court-martial them for that, Major,” he said reasonably, looking at Major Burns.
“Why not?” Major Houlihan demanded.
“Because, Major” – and suddenly the normally mild-mannered CO had a real edge to his voice – “you have no proof. And don’t say you’ll go over my head. It won’t make any difference.”
Frank looked crestfallen. Margaret looked furious. Turning on her heel, she snapped, “Come, Frank!” and stormed out through the swing doors.
Hawkeye and Trapper remained. Henry stared at them for a moment. They stared innocently back. “Now, guys,” he began. “It’s all right, you can tell me what you were really… no.” He stopped. “Don’t tell me, I don’t need to know, I don’t want to know… Radar!”
“Right here, sir.”
“Radar! Do you have to do that?”
“I’m sorry, sir, I just thought you needed the requisition…”
“I need the requisition forms…
Hawkeye and Trapper seized the opportunity to slip away. They crossed the compound without talking, and when they reached the Swamp, were pleased to see Frank wasn’t there.
Hawkeye took solace in the silence. Slowly, Trapper turned to face him. It was the first time they had been alone and undisturbed since their rude awakening.
“You were right,” Trapper said abruptly. “God help you, you were right. We’re just lucky to have Henry, that’s all. It could easily have been… Hawkeye?”
Hawkeye wasn’t listening.
Hawkeye was engaged in staring morosely at the floor. “Would it help if I said I’d changed my mind?” he muttered, not looking at him.
Trapper stood up and walked deliberately over to him, sitting down beside him. Gently and with both hands, he pushed Hawkeye’s hair out of his eyes. The touch was long and lingering, and Hawkeye didn’t pull away. Trapper let his hands move down, putting his arms around Hawk’s shouders, kissing him gently and holding him close.
Hawkeye’s eyes closed. Trapper held him for a few moments, then leaned in and whispered in his ear.
Trapper let him go, and turning around, got to his feet. He opened the door and closed it quietly behind him without looking back. It was over.
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