Silence had fallen over the camp by early morning hours the next day. Hawkeye had been released to sleep in the Swamp as post op was full but he never made it back to his own cot. Instead he lay on the soft, warm mattress in the VIP tent with Irene. The pair of them wrapped up in blankets, Irene tucked under his good arm and pressed in close to his side.
Rain came down in sheets outside and the tent had sprung a few leeks which were now being caught by buckets, cups, and an army helmet strategically placed on the floor but Hawkeye didn't care. They were cozy huddled up together and he couldn't ask for more.
A sleepy smile was still plastered to his face. They'd slept soundly for hours and for the first time in weeks, Hawkeye didn't have a single nightmare. He traced the line of her jaw and she stirred, sighing and wriggling closer to him before opening her eyes.
"Hi," he grinned.
"Hi yourself. How long have you been awake?"
"Not long. You think the weather'll delay your leaving?"
"I hope so." She stared up at the roof of the tent. "It's really coming down out there."
"I can't think of anywhere I'd rather be." He kissed her forehead and she breathed him in. "I don't know what I'm going to do when you're gone."
"Same thing you've been doing I guess. Drinking, chasing skirts, making bad jokes."
"My jokes are top notch. I should know, I wrote 'em." His smile faded as she laced her fingers in his. "I was a wreck when I thought you were dead. I did plenty of that first thing but… not so much the others."
"I didn't think you'd be that bad off."
"I said I love you. Of course I'd be a walking basket case if I thought you were dead."
"Will you be alright when I go home?"
"Now that I know you're alive? I'll be fine. When I get out of here, I'll do whatever I can to get to you again."
Irene rolled to her side and rested her hand on his chest. "I need to talk to you about that. I'd planned on going home to California. Working on base as a nurse but after seeing the war firsthand, I think I've changed my mind."
"You're quitting the Army?"
"As soon as I can."
"Well, I have this friend who talks about home and I think it sounds like the perfect place to be. Beautiful shorelines, fantastic people, and all the lobster I can eat. Unless of course, my friend was exaggerating."
Hawkeye couldn't believe what he was hearing. "Crabapple Cove? You'd go to Maine?"
"I need a fresh start and where better to do that than as far from my home as possible?"
"That's fantastic! I can write Dad and tell him you're coming. Maybe he can take you on as a nurse and when I get home we can be together."
Irene laughed through his kisses. "Calm down, Hawkeye. Don't pull your stitches. It'll take time for me to do what I need to get out of California and who knows how long this war will last." She grazed his lips with her fingertips. "Hawk… when they took you in to get stitched up something fell out of your pocket. I wanted to ask you about it."
Irene pulled the letter from her pocket. "I guess Father Mulcahy gave it to you when word came in that I didn't make it."
"After I was cut off from drinking myself into oblivion, yes."
"It wasn't opened."
"I just couldn't do it."
"Well, what about now?"
Hawkeye opened the envelope and removed the letter from within. A few drops of blood had soaked through, and it was as crumpled as the envelope, but it was still in good shape. Irene settled in and read it with him as he spoke out loud.
I wish I knew how to start this. You'll likely never read it so I guess I can say what I feel. Since I arrived here I've been caught up in you. I never meant for it to happen and I feel guilty for taking your attention away from someone else. I had that done to me and it hurt me deeply.
A part of me hates myself for how I still long to be near you, even when I know it's wrong. I want to be with you and I think about you all the time. I can't deny that your kind and gentle ways haven't captured me. I hope you understand that my request for transfer was something I had to do.
I can't trust that if I'm around you much longer that I'll be able to keep my feelings in check. I don't want to be hurt, and I never meant to hurt you, but I don't see a way around it unless I walk away now. I can honestly say that I love you. I'm in love with you. I can only hope you understand why I have to do this.
All my love,
"Why didn't you tell me you felt this way? When I get home, I'm going to make it up to you. I promise."
"I'll be praying for your safe return. But Hawk… I can't ask you to change."
"What do you mean?"
"I've been thinking about this long and hard. If I ask you to change who you are, you'll end up resenting me. I know that while I'm gone you're going to… well, you're a ladies man at heart."
"No, no, I've changed. I can change for you. It'll be you and me—"
"Hawkeye, hush." She pressed her finger to his lips to quiet him. "I want you to promise me that if you meet some pretty new nurse and she takes your heart, you'll tell me. I don't want to put a label to us. To what you mean to me. I just want the promise that if you fall for someone else, you'll be honest with me about it."
"Irene I love you I won't—"
"Promise me you'll be honest."
What could he say? He knew where his heart belonged, and he knew he wanted to change but… what if she was right? He'd loved after Carlye and he didn't think it possible. He loved after Kyung Soon. Those were few and far between, he had to admit that to himself. All the women he'd been with and few of them he'd grown close to. Grown attached to. Irene was among those few and the only one he'd gotten a taste of losing to death.
"I promise," was all he could manage.
"Good," she sighed, resting her hand on his cheek. "Now that we have that out of the way, what do you want to do before I go?"
"Well, I have a few ideas," he chuckled.
"Ah, down boy. BJ'll kill you if you mess up his handiwork."
"Just be gentle with me," he smiled, pulling her in for a kiss. If this was the last day he saw her before she went home, he'd be with her in every way he could. He'd absorb her. Warmth, scent, taste. He'd keep those beautiful things with him, close to his heart and look forward to the day when he could be with her again.