With effort, Lee forced open his eyes. There was that wretched light again, though it wasn't as bad as it'd seemed at first. Two men sat by his bed; both of them tallish and skinny. Like inverted versions of each other, one was blonde and smiley, the other dark-haired and frowning. Doctors, it looked like. Because… Oh.
"Am I in hospital?"
A broad grin stretched across the blonde one's face. "Sure are, kid. You gave us a fright there!"
"Oh." He tried smiling; it took effort to remember which muscles to use. "Sorry. I'm fine now."
"Well, maybe not fine, but you're out of the woods. Are you up for a chat?" He pulled a chair over and plonked himself down. "I'm Dr Hunnicutt, and smiley here is Dr Pierce. Don't mind him, he hasn't slept since last year."
Despite himself, Lee found himself grinning again. There was something he should be remembering, something that should make him more worried than he was, but right now he couldn't remember, and he didn't really care. "Thanks for fixing me up."
This time, the dark-haired Pierce spoke up, something like a smile touching the corners of his mouth. "Well, you know, we would've felt bad if we left you to bleed all over our nice clean floors. Listen, Lee…"
The other doctor shot him a look that quite clearly said shut up, and interrupted. "You're Australian?"
This time, Lee let himself smile fully. "Yeah. From New South Wales, up near Kosciusko. You know where that is?"
Both shook their head, and he laughed to himself. "Ahh, your loss. It's the most beautiful place in the world."
For a moment, watching Lee's face relax as he talked about his home, Hawkeye felt almost bad. Damn this war. It was probably worrying how much he thought that particular line. Damn it all. Now, though, he tried to paste a friendly look on his face and asked, "Lee, we've got to ask, and… Look, we can't pretend. Can you tell us what your name is? Your real name?" For a second, the kid looked confused. And then he picked up the emphasis on real and that warm softness fled, replaced by something akin to fear.
"What do you mean, Doctor?"
Oh, the poor guy was as easy to read as a book. BJ characteristically took pity on him. "Lee," he said in the same soft voice he'd used to calm him in surgery, "We've operated on you. It's not a secret anymore."
Lee replied quickly, half-covering his frightened look. "How many people know?"
Hawkeye and BJ exchanged glances. Again, it was BJ who spoke. "Counting me and Hawk? Four. There were two nurses present. We haven't told anyone else. Look." BJ leaned back in his chair and rolled his shoulders. "How about you tell me and Dr Pierce why you were up at the front in a medic's uniform, and we'll… We'll look out for you, kid, but you gotta be honest with us. Okay?"
"Okay," he murmured. "Okay. I reckon someone would've figured it out sooner or later." He pushed a flop of brown hair out of his eyes and rubbed his ear, as if for luck. "So, like I said, I'm from the Snowy Mountains…
My father died before I can remember. So my brother Clyde and I learned to run the farm pretty quickly. We ran sheep and took on snow leases from some of the big farmers down in the flats. But you probably don't know what I'm talking about. Sheep farming; for the wool, and sometimes the meat. Anyway, a few years ago, Mum… got really sick. Since then, Clyde and I've been running the farm and looking after Mum. But money's pretty tight, and even though the wool was fetching alright prices, there's lots of people who wouldn't buy stock or wool from two kids. It didn't really matter that Clyde's nineteen and I'm twenty-three in a month. They still saw us as kids… We needed more money somehow. Mum's medicine was costing a lot, and we couldn't afford it, but we couldn't not afford it. Then the war came." Here, Lee stopped and gave a wan smile. "I'm sure you're not very invested in Australian politics but… The government reinstated conscription this year. My brother was called up. But Clyde… Clyde's sweet. He's my little brother, and he's so bloody gentle – the war would kill him, or make him not Clyde anymore. They wanted a hundred and seventy-six days of training, before they shipped us off to wherever, or sent us home again. And the pay was good so… I made my name a little, um, different. Nobody noticed. They let me join the Royal Australian Army Medical Corps instead of fighting. I've been here eight months now, and the pay's made all the difference. Clyde says… Look, Clyde's mad that I left, but he says Mum's getting better every day. And I'm doing something good. I'm helping people, doctors. I'm saving lives. In the end, I care about people more than sheep. And I care about my family most of all."
Lee looked up at them through thick lashes, and his eyes weren't sweet doe eyes; they were fierce and certain in their fight. These were eyes that said I made a decision and it was the right one.
"You wanted to know what my Mum called me. My name was Harriet. But I'm Harrison now. And you can't send me home."
For a moment, there was no sound but the ticking of the clock on the wall. Post-op was empty except for the three of them. Outside, the wind whistled around while people hid in their tents and tried to forget the war. It was Hawkeye who broke the silence – Hawkeye who pushed himself to his feet and ran a hand through his hair.
"Dammit. Dammit. I'm going to go get Potter. We're sending you home, Lee. There's no way I'm letting any kid stay here when they should be back, and I've got a perfect reason right here. You're going stateside, stat."
"Hawk, wait—" BJ stood and caught up with him. "That's a dishonourable discharge for h… her at best, a court-martial at worst."
From his bed, Lee saw them facing each other, sparking bright with anger and fight, and felt despair settle on him like a blanket. The black-haired one – Dr Pierce – shook his head. "I don't care, Beej. We can't just let him, her…"
"Just think it through, is all I'm saying. You don't want to just go rushing into things without considering all the consequences."
"To hell with consequences! There's a twenty-two year old girl in my post-op, all full up with my best embroidery because of this crummy war playing crummy tricks on desperate people. She's going home."
"If you could get past your hubris, Hawkeye and just think…"
"This has nothing to do with hubris, and everything to do with justice!"
"Justice? Or your misguided sense of being God?"
They stopped. Lee pulled himself upright and glared. "One question. Is my stomach bad enough to send me home?"
Dr Pierce ran a hand through his hair again and sighed. Dr Hunnicutt folded his arms and waited for him to answer. Finally, he groaned, picked up a pencil and dropped it again. "No. But that doesn't mean I'm not sending you home."
He knew he wasn't supposed to get angry – angry meant he stopped thinking in straight lines and started doing dumb stuff – but the steady itch of frustration was building up into what Lee knew was an impending rant. Squashing it as much as he could, he quietly said, "Why?"
Pierce's response was whip-quick. "Because I'm supposed to be looking after people, not sending them back to be killed."
Too quick. Lee swallowed the anger – hush, breathe deeply. "What about my mother? You'd condemn her to death?"
Pierce was pacing back and forth, now, while Hunnicutt watched, quiet and patient. "I'm not killing anyone, Lee. That's what Macarthur does. Get a job as a secretary or something, I don't know, I just know I can't send a girl back to the front."
Secretary. The word hit Lee like a punch, and he felt a wave of nausea that left him shaking. It was getting harder to listen to the hush, breath in and out voice, and the pressure of pushing it down made his voice come out flat and empty. "What was the last thing I said before you put me under?"
Pierce stopped pacing. "What does that have to do with anything?"
"Answer. The. Question."
At this, Hunnicutt stepped forward. "Easy now, Lee. Hawk, just answer the kid, would you? She's about to give herself a hernia."
"Fine." The other surgeon threw himself back onto his chair. "You said you don't understand. Don't understand what?"
And now peace came like a wave. "You don't understand; it's not just about my Mum and Clyde. It's about me. I'm the most selfish person I know. Have you ever felt like your skin wasn't yours? When people call you he, do you feel sick? Does being forced to wear men's clothes make you itchy and nervous?" Something was writing itself on Pierce's face – something Lee thought was almost akin to understanding. But that was impossible…
"Are you… Oh, kid. Are you saying you're a transsexual?"
And Lee breathed out through his nose, feeling anger and fear and nausea wash away because he didn't sound disgusted and said "Yeah."
The blonde doctor raised an eyebrow. Pierce ran a hand through his hair and smiled a kind of tired smile. "Well. I guess you'd better call me Hawkeye."