Author's Note: Thanks to everyone that read the first two entries! :) Got a bad case of writers block so I hope it's ok.
Disclaimer:I still don't own M*A*S*H or any of the wonderful characters. Just playing in the sandbox. Please don't sue!
It was a few minutes after six o'clock when a tired Grace finally made her way into the crowded mess tent, trying her best to stretch the stuff muscles in her shoulders. She'd used one of the pencils in post-op to twist her hair into a tight bun and was massaging her neck as she made her way through the maze of long tables and into the busy chow line.
When she made it to the front of the line, holding one of the beat-up metal trays in her hands, Igor smiled at her and motioned to the food with a large metal spoon. "Chicken, Lieutenant?"
The potatoes landed on her tray with an unappetizing splat and she forced a thank you smile, sliding her tray down the wooden counter to get coffee. With the white mug balancing precariously on the corner of the tray she took a seat at the first empty table she came across and let out a breath, almost deflating into the bench.
She was sure she must of dozed off as she sat there because the next time she opened her eyes Trapper was sitting across from her, watching her with an amused little smile on his face. He took a quick sip of coffee, then said, "Tired?"
"Exhausted." She rubbed her eyes and then picked up her fork, pushing around her potatoes. "I didn't even do all that much and I feel like I've run a marathon."
"From what I've heard, you did a lot. I talked to Hawkeye and he said you did well in there today, you did good work."
"He's the one who did the good work. The patients in post-op think the world of him." She smiled tiredly. "It's funny how you have to come to a place like this to find doctors with such good bedside manner."
"You ain't seen nothin' yet. Wait 'til you see my bedside manner."
She smiled again. "Oh yeah, I'm sure."
"Hey kids—" Hawkeye plunkered down beside Trapper and set his tray on the table, grinning big when the blonde gave him a dirty look. In response to the less-than-enthusiastic welcome, Hawkeye cheerfully said, "Now, you know the rules Trapper; new nurses are tender and innocent creatures. Chaperones are a must," he paused a second, "especially with you."
Trapper frowned, "Me? What about you?"
"What about me?"
"Bein' dense doesn't suit you, Hawk."
"Now what's that mean?"
Grace was holding in her giggles, while at the same time, trying to force herself to swallow a mouthful of potatoes.
The hilarity continued.
"It means exactly what you think it means. You've smooth-talked more new nurses outta their scrubs than anyone else in this hole."
An offended gasp. "Libel!"
Grace finally swallowed the potatoes and spoke up. "Uh guys?" Both men looked at her and she smiled, genuinely amused. "Hawkeye, I really do appreciate the gesture, but—"
"But she'll smack me herself if I get fresh?"
Any irritation that had been on Trapper's face melted away and was replaced with a roguish grin. Grace nodded her head approvingly, "Exactly."
Hawkeye rolled his eyes, "Problem with that is, a smack would actually encourage him."
I know I promised before I left that I'd write to you as soon as I got here, Toots, and I'm sorry. Truth is, I'm still trying to get myself settled and it's a lot harder than I expected it would be.
Life here is very different than life back in Queens. There are no cars, just jeeps and ambulances. No paved roads or supermarkets. The milk is powdered and so are the eggs. It's remarkably warm and I've wished more than once that I could jump headfirst into Hellman's Creek and then walk down to Donahue's and get an ice cream cone. Have one for me next time you go, will you? Chocolate.
I'm thankful to say that it's been quiet since I got here. I've been assigned shifts at the hospital and have been spending my spare time reading and learning how to play poker. The two doctors teaching me tell me I'm surprisingly good at it, they've even asked me to play in their big game next week. Wish me luck!
Speaking of the doctors, I suppose I should introduce them to you. They're quite an interesting bunch.
The first is Benjamin Franklin Pierce, but everyone calls him Hawkeye. He's the chief surgeon and one of two people who have really gone out of their way to make me feel welcome. He tells me it's because I'm cute, but I know that it's more than that. He's genuinely a good person and one of the best doctors I've ever seen. Do you remember when Dad used to take us to the hospital dinner parties and he introduced us to Bobby Hopkins? Hawkeye is a lot like that. He has a loud sense of humor, a deep morality, and a knack for causing trouble.
That brings me to Trapper John McIntyre. Another first-rate surgeon, Trapper reminds me more of Uncle Edward than anyone else; he's loud, cheerful, and has a laugh that is truly contagious. His morality is just as deep as Hawkeye's, in some circumstances even more so. I've spent a great deal of time with him since I got here and I can tell you that he's made adjusting easier. Just like everyone else I've met over this last week, he doesn't want to be here…but just like everyone else, he makes the best of it.
Trapper and Hawkeye are tent-mates, and if Hawkeye alone has a knack for trouble, the two of them together can be disastrous. I learned that first hand last night after they filled a combat helmet with warm water and used it to make the camp's third surgeon, Major Burns, wet his bed. The Major woke up halfway through having an accident and proceeded to run across the camp, wrapped in a bed sheet, and screaming at the top of his lungs. The camp was in an uproar for the rest of the night.
When it comes to tent-mates, I don't have any yet. Since I got here I've been staying on my own but I've been told that I'll be moving in with the other nurses sometime this coming week. I've made some friends working in the hospital and it'll be nice having people to share a space with—
There was a gentle knock on the door and Grace set her pencil down, saying, "Come in," as she massaged away the cramps in her fingers.
Ginger stuck her head in and smiled, "You decent?"
"Not at all."
The other woman laughed and let herself into the tent, taking a quick look around. "Any idea when you'll be moving in with us?"
"Soon, I hope. It'll be nice having some company."
"You know you can come over and stay any time you want," she laughed again, "but don't tell anyone, fantasies will run rampant."
Grace chuckled, "I can only imagine."
"You feel like a night out? They're getting ready to show a movie in the mess tent."
"A Rita Hayworth picture. Gilda, I think."
"Oh, that's a good one." After a moment, and a quick glance down at her unfinished letter, she shook her head, "Thanks, but I think I'd rather stay here and get this letter finished."
"Writing to your sweetheart?"
Grace gave a little smile, "No, my little sister. I promised I'd write to her when I got here but time kinda got away from me."
"What's her name?"
"Faith," She paused, "Or tweedle-dee and tweedle-dum, as my mother calls us."
"I bet she misses you a lot."
"Not as much as I miss her." Feeling considerably sentimental, Grace cleared her throat and gave herself a mental shake before saying, "Are you gonna watch the movie?"
"Yeah, I guess so. Nothing else to do. Oh, you know, that reminds me…I was in the mess tent just now and I think Trapper was looking around for you." Ginger waggled her eyebrows suggestively. "Did you guys have a date?"
"A date? Me and Trapper?"
"I thought you two were an item, you've been spending so much time together lately."
"Yeah," she smiled slightly. "He sits with you at mealtimes, walks you to your tent after shifts—"
"I'm just sayin'."
Grace put on a little frown, shifting in her chair. "We're just friends."
"You say that now. Give it time." Before Grace had the chance to say anything, Ginger said, "Are you sure you don't wanna come see the movie?"
"No. Have some popcorn for me, though."
"You got it." The coffee-skinned woman smiled. "Ok. Sleep good and see you at breakfast?"
Ginger took her leave quietly, sending a happy wave as she stepped back outside.
Once alone, Grace turned in her chair and picked up the pencil again…
Well, that's it for now, Toots. Give kisses to Mom and Dad and please remember to walk Sherman twice a day, once in the morning and once at night. If you don't, he'll pee on the rug in your room...I trained him to do it before I left.
She signed the letter with love and folded it into a small envelope, setting a mental reminder to give it to Radar the following morning.
There was a cheerful ruckus coming from the mess tent and in the midst of it all Grace could hear a distinctive burst of laughter—wild, crazy, and easily recognizable laughter. She thought of Ginger waggling her eyebrows, 'I thought you two were an item', and the tall blonde doctor from Boston.
And with those thoughts in her mind and a slight blush in her cheeks, Grace switched off the desk lamp and stood from her chair.
She eventually fell asleep to the cheering and whistles coming from the mess tent, settling down into her blankets.
Attention! All personnel! Incoming wounded! Casualties arriving on both the upper and lower pads. All shifts report to OR. On the double, folks!
Halfway through the announcement there was the sound of running and scuffling feet throughout the camp as everyone sprang into action. Grace, who'd been sitting with Ginger outside of the nurses' tent, didn't hesitate or allow her nerves to overwhelm her as she two of them jumped from their chairs, Grace pulling her hair into a ponytail as she ran.
The sound of chopper rotors was deafeningly loud as was the engines of the ambulances and jeeps as they came roaring into the compound.
As Grace got closer she saw Nurse Kellye crash through the hospital doors and wave her over, holding out a clipboard without a word. Grace took it and held it tightly in her hands, looking around at the chaos somewhat lost; nurses were swarming the wounded soldiers, the doctors were doing triage on the backs of jeeps and in the backs of ambulances, and corpsman moved around quickly with stretchers.
She spotted Hawkeye a short distance away. He roughly grabbed a stethoscope from around a nurse's neck and used it himself, holding it to the chest of the wounded man he was examining, all the while shouting orders.
A familiar voice rang out over the din and she sought him out.
He was leaning over patients on a nearby jeep and she set off towards him at a run, dodging through traffic and trying desperately not to knock anyone over.
With her pencil ready in her hand, she slid to a stop in the mud and reached out a hand to brace herself against the jeep, "Yeah."
Trapper's grey t-shirt was ruined from bloodstains and sweat and he draped his stethoscope across the back of his neck. "This guy," he motioned to one of the patients, "has a bad belly, multiple hits. He's going in right now and he's mine. Start him on blood, ten units—make sure we've got o-neg."
"Yes, doctor. I'll check with supply."
"Get someone else to do it, you're assisting." Trapper jumped down from the jeep and shouted, "Corpsman!"
The next few moments passed by in a complete blur and when Grace walked into the OR, fully scrubbed and donning the customary white surgical scrubs, rubber gloves, mask, and white cap, she searched Trapper out and made her way directly to his table. The patient with the belly wounds had just been set down in front of him and he nodded at her as she approached, hollering loudly, "We need gas over here!"
One of the other nurses quickly took a seat at the head of the table and placed a black mask over the patient's face, announcing only a few minutes later that he was unconscious.
Barely registering the endearment but somehow still managing to blush under her mask, Grace nodded.
"Number ten blade."
She handed it over. "Ten blade."
"Hope you don't mind."
"I kinda…hijacked you out there."
Grace looked at him across the table and tried to read his expression solely from what she could see in his eyes.
She knew that Trapper McIntyre, and Hawkeye Pierce as well, were charmers and seducers…but there was fire in their eyes as they stood at their own tables. When they gave orders in surgery, those orders were followed without question. She had a feeling that she would never see these two men as serious as they were in the OR, or as sober.
"I don't mind." They locked eyes briefly before Trapper looked back down. "I was actually grateful."
"Grateful? Lap sponge."
"Lap sponge. I was a little lost out there. I was…glad when you called me over."
The corners of Trapper's eyes wrinkled and Grace could tell he was smiling. "You don't seem nervous now. Steady as a rock." The laugh lines faded slightly as he threw the now bloody sponge to the floor. "You're doin' great, honey. Just keep it movin'. Long-fingers."
The pace in their operating room was difficult keep up with at first but Grace quickly adjusted to Trapper's rhythm at the table and fell right back into it. He was efficient and thorough, all the while somehow managing to respond to each and every one of Hawkeye's jokes and comments, most of which seemed to be directed at Major Burns.
Colonel Blake, who was working at the table just next to Grace and Trapper, occasionally joined in as well; but Grace noticed his role tended to lean more towards peace keeper when the barbs got out of hand. Which, when it came to Hawkeye, Trapper, and Frank, was quite often.
There was the distinct sound of snapping rubber gloves and Hawkeye said, "We still double-parked out there, Klinger?"
The corpsman, who was wearing a knee-length white nurse's dress and matching cap, shook his head. "Major Burns just got the last one, sir."
"Poor bugger." Trapper was straining, using the long-fingers to pull a stray piece of shrapnel from the innards of his sixth patient.
Burns shrieked, "Colonel!"
So engrossed in his own patient the Colonel didn't even acknowledge Frank's outburst, but instead was giving nearly silent orders to his nurse.
"This kid's got enough metal in his guts to make a door-stop," Trapper said to her, tossing yet another fragment into a metal tray. A sharp ping sound echoed throughout the room.
Hawkeye, who was now glove-less, materialized at his bunk-mate's side and looked down at the patient's open abdomen. He spoke quietly so only Trapper and Grace could hear. "Ok, Trap?"
"I've pulled about twenty fragments outta this kid so far," Trapper shook his head, dropping yet another hunk of metal into the tray. "There are bubbles all over the place."
"You want help?"
The blonde hesitated for the shortest second before nodding and Hawkeye stopped one of the passing nurses, "Margaret? Gown and gloves."
The three of them made their way silently into the scrub room almost an hour later, hungry and exhausted. Grace was struggling to undo a large knot in the tie of her mask, while Hawkeye and Trapper peeled away their surgical gowns and tossed them into a soiled linen container a few feet away.
Hawkeye let out a sigh, washing his hands in the large scrub sink. "Two weeks of boredom followed by six hours of sheer terror."
"So business as usual."
"You're expectin' an argument?" Trapper came up behind her and batted her hands away from the knot. He had it untied in seconds. "You need to practice," he whispered to her; she simply frowned at him over her shoulder. "I don't know 'bout you, but I could do with some dinner."
"I want three olives in my dinner."
"Give me some of the new batch, I'm feelin' lucky tonight."
Grace pulled the elastic from her hair and it fell loose over her shoulders. She ran her fingers through it, carefully working to massage away the small headache that had started building in her forehead. She didn't know if it was from being tired or hungry, and she sent out a small prayer that the mess tent was serving something a little more appetizing than watered down potatoes.
"Wanna join us for dinner, Gracie?"
She turned around quickly and sent the two surgeons a smile, "Sounds great, but I think I'm going to get solid food tonight." She raised a hand to her forehead. "Hungry headache."
"I haven't eaten since this morning."
"I always thought the food in the mess tent gave headaches, not cure them."
Trapper furrowed his brow and glanced over at his bunk-mate. "You go get dinner ready, I'll be there in five."
"Where you goin'?"
The blonde smiled, "To cure a headache." And then his hand was in the small of Grace's back, steering her outside.
Once outside they walked together in companionable silence, Trapper holding the mess tent door open for her in a genuine gesture of gallantry. There were only a couple of people inside, milling about at the tables drinking coffee and being social after the long stretch in surgery. Trapper grabbed gentle hold of her arm and pulled her towards the cook, who was in the process of cleaning out the massive pots and pans that were still dirty from the meager lunch that afternoon.
The cook turned around and nodded, "Captain."
"How's the KP business?"
"Booming. What can I do you for?"
As if about to discuss the greatest secrets of the universe, Trapper took a look around before beckoning Igor closer with a wave of his hand. "You got any left?"
"Couple slices, give or take."
"Throw a bit on white and pick a couple good pieces of lettuce, ok?"
"Is it the real stuff?" Igor made a face and Trapper immediately shook his head, "Just some butter."
The cook moved away from the counter and disappeared into the back of the kitchen as Trapper reached across the counter and grabbed a flimsy piece of paper towel. "You're gonna owe me huge after this," he said, eyes twinkling. "I've been savin' this stuff for a special occasion."
Grace chuckled, "Well, don't spoil future good times on my account."
"I don't mind spoilin' 'em for you."
Igor appeared suddenly with a thick looking sandwich in his hands and Trapper reached for it, wrapping it carefully in the paper towel. "Thanks, pal." Once the two of them were alone, Igor returning to the bowels of the kitchen, Trapper held the sandwich out to her with the twinkle in his eyes. "The perfect headache remedy."
"A ham sandwich. Real ham, not army ham."
"Where on earth did you get real ham from?"
"Radar, he's an Irish genius." He smiled. "Wheelin' and dealin', he calls it. He's got a friend down at the 8063rd and the two of them can get practically anything through requisitions. It's kinda crazy, actually."
"Anything. He got us striped tube-socks, once."
"Striped tube socks?"
"Yep. We never used any of them but we had them."
Grace laughed out loud, falling into step beside him as they left the mess tent together. Looking over at him, she said, "Thank you for the sandwich, Trapper, that was sweet."
"Not a problem. Quickest way to a girl's heart."
Sending her a knowing wink, he nodded, "Real ham."
The moment she crossed the doorstep of the Swamp a masculine scent swept over her and she was reminded that it'd been months since she'd last set foot in a man's space. It was a large tent with three bunks, three foot lockers, a writing desk, a make-shift book shelf, and the famous homemade still bubbling away on a rickety table.
There were magazines and newspapers thrown all over the place, along with pieces of clothing, pencils, half-finished crossword puzzles, and honest-to-goodness garbage on the floor. But despite all of that, Grace couldn't deny that she felt comfortable in their tent…welcome and at ease.
"How's the headache?"
Hawkeye was wearing his trademark red robe, obviously having wasted no time getting rid of the bloodstained surgical scrubs. He was lounging comfortably in the tatty easy-chair beside his bunk with a martini in his hand and an impish smile on his face.
Grace showed him the sandwich with a smile, "A cure is forthcoming."
"Trapper John to the rescue."
The aforementioned Trapper John was making his way towards his own bunk, pulling off the white scrubs and exposing the grey t-shirt he was wearing underneath. Within seconds he was wearing his blazing yellow bathrobe and reaching for the martini that was waiting for him beside the still.
They were a picture of relaxation, the both of them, wearing their robes and sipping martinis. She could close her eyes and imagine that they were sitting on the back porch of one of their cottages, enjoying the sunshine and talking about trivial things—colleagues at work, the fact that the mail was running late, the dog across the street that wouldn't stop barking. Things that people in everyday neighborhoods talk about while drinking their morning coffee and reading the newspaper.
They weren't on a back porch, though.
Not by a long shot.
Grace took a seat on the edge of Hawkeye's bunk and took a bite of the sandwich, amazed at how great the simple ham, butter, and lettuce creation tasted. She must've looked completely blissful because Trapper was watching her, an amused expression on his face.
He quirked an eyebrow, as if to ask 'is it good?'
Too busy chewing to answer out loud, Grace nodded and tried to smile around the mouthful.
Trapper simply smiled.
"Want some of our leftovers to go with that sandwich?"
Finally swallowing the mouthful, Grace glanced at the gin sitting innocently in the still. She was sure it would go straight to her head, she knew she'd be silly after one or two glasses...but the expectant looks on both Hawkeye and Trapper's faces made the decision for her. "I'd love one."
Both of them cheered joyfully and Trapper stood from his seat, going to the still.
"Have you tried the gin we put in your basket?"
"No, not yet."
"Ok, well, drink it slowly," Hawkeye said knowingly, as Trapper handed her the now full glass. "This stuff can take the rust off of pennies."
The clear liquid looked serene enough and she carefully took a sip, barely able to hold in a gasp at how utterly dry it was. She'd had martinis before in her lifetime but this stuff was like liquid in reverse—somehow, drinking it made her thirsty.
They were both watching her and when she was finally able to speak, her voice came out weak and horrifically raspy. "Wow."
Hawkeye grinned while Trapper let out a loud laugh.
She cleared her throat. "Do you drink this stuff a lot?"
"We drink this stuff constantly." Hawkeye raised his glass in a 'cheers'. "It's our lifeblood, our inspiration."
"Yeah, it inspires us to keep livin' our lives."
Grace took another small sip.
The gin was actually pretty good. Once a person got used to their tongue being numb, that is.