The recognizable characters appearing in this story are copyright by 20th Century Fox. This story is written for entertainment purposes only. No challenge to the copyright holders is intended, neither should any be inferred.
Nineteen-year-old Radar O'Reilly dropped his hamburger and stood up, stock-still, listening.
Hawkeye looked up and dropped his spatula from where he had been barbecuing the burgers. "Oh no, Radar, not now!"
Radar sighed. "I'm sorry, sir."
"But the barbecue's barely even started, that's not fair!"
"Sorry, Hawk," Radar repeated. "I don't make 'em come, I just hear 'em. Choppers! CHOPPERS!"
By now everyone else could hear the air-ambulances as well. Hawkeye took off running to the landing pad, and Radar ran in the other direction to announce "incoming wounded" over the P.A. system.
"So much for the barbecue," BJ Hunnicutt yelled over the whirring of the helicopter blades as he caught up with Pierce.
"Maybe there won't be any wounded tomorrow," Hawkeye said with a grim smile.
The operating room was in chaos, but it was an ordered chaos. Nurses ran back and forth fetching instruments, masks, and fresh gloves. Orderlies brought pint jars of blood and plasma, extra 3-0 silk, and sterile dressings. It was noon, but lunch was forgotten. A plane buzzed loudly overhead, but it was ignored, mostly.
Chief Nurse Margaret Houlihan squinted out across the compound into the bright sunlight and turned back a few seconds later. "Don't worry, it's one of ours."
Hawkeye finished scrubbing for the fourth time that day and turned to Margaret. "Glove me!" he said, with false enthusiasm in his voice.
BJ came in from his five-minute break and donned a clean surgical gown. He scrubbed up too. "Ow, ow, ow! Hawk, I know what you meant the other day when you said your hands were screaming." He held up his red, chapped hands for their inspection.
Hawkeye nodded. "Be glad we don't have to wash in alcohol."
"Don't remind me," BJ said.
By the next morning, things finally seemed to have settled down. Hawkeye felt like he had just closed his eyes for a few seconds when Radar shook him awake for his shift in post-op.
Hawkeye immediately noticed that one man lying in the corner bed didn't look so well. He took his pulse and put a hand to the soldier's forehead. He was burning up. The door banged open behind him, and he turned to see Radar walk in with the new duty roster. "Radar," he called, "who was on post-op duty before me? This kid's got a high fever. That should have been noted, and treatment started."
"Oh, um, it was Major Burns, sir," Radar said.
Hawkeye rolled his eyes. "Figures. Where's nurse Baker?"
"She's in supply, sir. Is Chang-ho gonna be all right, Hawk? I was just talking to him a couple of days ago, but he said he was real tired, and his throat hurt real bad, so I've been trying to let him sleep."
"Yeah, he should be okay, Radar—once we get some medicine into him."
"Good," Radar said. "We were just getting to know each other." He turned to tack up the duty roster.
Hawkeye reached into his pocket for a penlight and shone it down the barely-responsive soldier's throat. Then he froze. "Radar, when you were talking to Chang-ho a few days ago, were you sitting close to him?"
The corporal shrugged. "Sure, I guess. He couldn't talk much louder than a whisper, so I had to lean in to hear him."
Pierce nodded, frowning, but then his shoulders relaxed. "At least you've been immunized."
"Immu-who?" Radar said.
"You know, given a shot so you wouldn't get sick," Hawkeye said.
"Oooh," Radar said, edging towards the door, "I think I was sick that day." The words slipped out before he thought of stopping them. He remembered ducking out of the line of enlisted men to go and throw up when the booster shots were being given. It had been easy enough to grab a pen and check the boxes on his medical form when the nurse stepped out of the room for a few minutes. Everyone probably assumed he was correcting the spelling of his name, and no one seemed to notice that he put the form on the completed pile without getting his shots. He forced a laugh. "What Chang-ho has isn't serious, is it? I mean, you just give him some pills and he gets better, right?"
The doctor shook his head. "It's a shot—or an I.V. in severe cases."
Radar swallowed. He cleared his throat and grimaced.
Hawkeye's eyes narrowed. "Radar, what did you mean when you said you think you were sick on vaccination day?"
Radar coughed and looked down. "Oh, that was just a jo—" He cleared his throat, interrupting himself before trying again. "I was just . . ." He felt his cheeks flaming.
Somehow Radar couldn't lie to his friend. "You know, I'd better go, Captain Pierce—I have a lot of work to do."
Hawkeye raised his chin and crossed his arms. "You were never immunized, were you?"
Caught by the point-blank question, Radar cast about for a way of escape. "My file says I was."
"But you weren't."
He hadn't phrased it as a question, but Hawkeye was clearly waiting for an answer, and this time it was his eyes that had trapped Radar. They weren't just the eyes of a superior officer, they were the eyes of a friend. Radar couldn't escape those. He shook his head slowly. "No, sir."
Pierce sighed. "We should have the vaccine in the supply tent." He looked down at Chang-ho and peeled back the dressing on his leg. "Remind me to do it later. I need to start treatment and check on the others."
"Um, right, sir." Radar dove for the door.
Later that afternoon Radar glanced furtively around the corner. Hawkeye was nowhere in sight. He darted into the mess tent. Despite anything he had said, there was no way he was going to remind Hawkeye to give him a shot. He hated shots; he absolutely dreaded them. He thought it best to lie low for a while, lest his very presence remind the doctor. Maybe in a few days Hawkeye would forget, and Radar would be home-free.
"Diphtheria?" Colonel Potter was incredulous. "People have been immunized with diphtheria toxoid since the 1890s. Eighteen nineties," he emphasized.
Hawkeye nodded. "I know, but I guess Korea didn't get immunized. All of the symptoms are there: fever, sore throat, swollen lymph nodes in the neck, white tonsils . . ." he, too, shook his head. "You'd think we would have eradicated this thing already."
Potter nodded. "The bacteria usually infects the throat, nose, or skin, but it can also infect wounds, and I guess that's how Chang-ho got it." He sighed. "Well, now we have something else to watch out for."
"I've prescribed the regular penicillin and antitoxin. We should see the fever come down soon," Hawkeye said.
"At least we can be sure none of our boys will get it; they've all been immunized," Potter said.
"Not all," Hawkeye said, suddenly remembering Radar. "Where has Radar got to?"
"He's just in the office doing some paperwork," Colonel Potter said.
Radar, concerned about Chang-ho and too curious for his own good, had been listening in on the conversation. Now he jumped up, knocked his chair over, and bolted for the door just as Hawkeye walked out of Colonel Potter's office.
"Radar!" Hawkeye yelled. It didn't take him long to put two and two together, and soon he was in hot pursuit.
A group of bewildered nurses turned to stare incredulously—Hawkeye didn't even seem to notice them as he sprinted after the corporal. "What's with Dr. Pierce?" Nurse Kelley mused.
Hunnicutt was just stepping out of his shared tent, nicknamed "The Swamp," directly in front of the chase.
"Don't just stand there, grab him!" Hawkeye yelled.
Hunnicutt, always willing to have some fun, dove for the corporal, but Radar dodged, propelled by his phobia, and BJ landed in the dirt.
Radar glanced back and realized that Pierce was gaining rapidly, and BJ was now a part of the chase too. In desperation, he sprinted into the motor pool and leaped into a Jeep. He turned the key and it roared to life.
Seeing what had happened, Hawkeye and BJ jumped into the next jeep. Radar was already well ahead of them.
"Hey! You can't take those!" Sargent Zale yelled, but he was left standing in a cloud of dust.
"Why are we chasing him?" BJ yelled over the roar of the engine. Radar was trying to lose them, making high-speed turns this way and that, but they could always tell which way he had gone because of the dust.
"He never got his diphtheria immunization," Hawkeye yelled back. "He won't let me do it, and I saw him talking to Chang-ho. He's probably gonna get real sick real soon if we don't catch it in time."
By this time Radar realized the hopelessness of his situation—he had nowhere to go. He slowed down and resignedly waited for Hawkeye and BJ to catch up. "What was I thinking, anyway?" he said to himself. Maybe he could just explain things to Hawk and BJ and they'd let him go without being immunized. Maybe there were some sort of pills you could take instead, or even some sort of nauseating drink. Anything would be better than that horrible, dreadful, panicky feeling, and the needle stabbing into his flesh …
The other jeep roared up, and Hawkeye leaped from it. He grabbed Radar by the arm. BJ grabbed his other arm. "Whaddaya think you were doing?" Hawkeye yelled.
"I don't know," Radar mumbled, "I guess I just panicked."
"Well that much is obvious," BJ said. "C'mon Radar, it's just a shot, how bad can it be?"
"Well, you're not the one getting it," Radar said. "I have this phobia . . ." his voice trailed off.
"We'd better get back to camp," Hawkeye put in. "It's getting late."
They had only been driving for about two minutes when there was a barrage of gunfire nearby. One bullet ricocheted off the front of Hunnicutt's jeep. "Head for cover!" BJ yelled as he slammed on the brakes. He grabbed the jeep's emergency bag and jumped out.
Radar grabbed a helmet as he bailed out of the second jeep, Hawkeye close behind. They crawled on their bellies into the trees. There was a long, steep slope ahead, and they half-crawled half-slid down it. Moments later two explosions ripped through the air, close enough that Radar's hearing went deafeningly silent for a moment, and then his ears rang. "There go the jeeps," he said. "I think we're stuck."
Hawkeye belly-crawled back through the trees and peered through the foliage. Sure enough, two smoking hunks of twisted metal were all that remained of the jeeps. "Good thing we weren't inside," he said as BJ and Radar crawled up beside him.
"Our two-way radios were in there," Radar said. "Now we have no way of contacting the camp, and they don't know where we are."
"It's getting dark," BJ observed. "How far do you suppose we are from MASH, Hawk?"
"At the speed we were going . . ." he paused and pursed his lips. "I'd say about six miles."
BJ sighed. "That'll take about two hours to walk in this terrain."
"Longer," Radar said. "We don't want to get captured. Maybe we should stay off the road."
"Good thinking," Hawkeye said. "I wouldn't want what happened to the jeeps to happen to us."
"Agreed," BJ said.
They started their hike as the shadows grew longer and longer.
"They did what?" A vein stood out on Colonel Potter's forehead. "Of all the loony ideas! You say they were chasing Radar?"
"Yes, sir," Zale said.
"Have you tried the two-way radios?"
"No response, sir."
Colonel Potter softened his tone a degree. "I realize you're not the one responsible, Zale, so I shouldn't be shouting at you." Worried creased his face. "Radar and my two best surgeons missing in action." Summing up the problem rarely helped, but he followed through. "What if we get wounded coming in? I can't handle the O.R. myself, and Frank's not much help. No response on the radios you say?"
Zale shook his head. "None, sir."
Potter sighed. I hope those boys are all right. If they're not back within half an hour, I'll send someone out looking for them."
"Ow!" Hawkeye cursed as another tree branch poked him in the face. "I can't see anything in these woods. I think we'd better stop and make camp soon."
"I agree," BJ said. "I'm not even sure if we're going in the right direction anymore." They'd been skulking through the bush for about an hour now, and it was pitch black. "I hate to stop when we're probably only two miles from MASH, but I need daylight to get my bearings—otherwise we might stumble right into a North Korean unit."
"Is there any water?" Radar asked plaintively. "I'm so thirsty."
Hawkeye turned around and studied Radar's face with a frown. Or tried to study it. He could barely see in the thick darkness. He feared that if he could see them clearly, the young Corporal's eyes would be bright with the tell-tale signs of fever. "Let me feel your forehead." He reached out and confirmed his fears—Radar was burning up. The corporal shivered suddenly and violently.
"I'm gonna sit down and rest a bit," Radar mumbled.
Pierce and Hunnicutt exchanged worried glances. "There was a small stream a few yards back," BJ said. "If we risk a small fire we could boil some water to drink."
"In what?" Hawkeye said.
"How 'bout that helmet?" BJ suggested, nodding towards Radar. He was still wearing the helmet he had grabbed from his jeep.
"Okay, let's go," Hawkeye said, taking Radar's arm and helping him up.
BJ rubbed his hands briskly over the cheery blaze he had managed to get going. Fires were good for morale as well as warmth. "I'm sure glad the jeep kit had matches in it," he said.
"And this penicillin," Hawkeye said, subtly preparing a shot of it behind Radar's back. The corporal was probably too tired and miserable to notice anyway. He was wrapped in a thin green blanket provided by the jeep's emergency kit, and was alternately sweating and shivering in the humid night air.
"How are you feeling?" BJ asked as he sponged the corporal's forehead with a cool, wet cloth—bandages from the kit that he'd dipped in the stream.
"I'm so tired," Radar mumbled, "and I want water."
"I can help you there," Hunnicutt said. The water they'd boiled in the helmet was now cool enough to drink. Hunnicutt held the helmet to Radar's lips as the corporal drank awkwardly from one side. Then he lay back down on the green army blanket and closed his eyes. The doctor felt the sides of Radar's neck below his ears. "His glands are getting swollen," he murmured as Hawkeye came up beside him.
Hawkeye nodded. "This should help," he said, holding up a syringe with penicillin. He knelt down and quickly injected it into Radar's arm.
"Ow," Radar moaned. "Something stung me."
"Don't worry about it Radar, " Hawkeye said. "I got it. Just try and get some sleep."
"Just try and get some sleep, sir," Klinger suggested to Colonel Potter. "The MPs are out searching; they'll radio in as soon as they have news, and I'll come and wake you up."
Potter was pacing his office. "Thanks for the thought Klinger, but I can't sleep with my boys out there. What if they're wounded, or even captured?" He sighed, rubbed his tired eyes, and sat down at his desk to wait.
In the mess tent, most of the camp sat drinking coffee and talking quietly. They couldn't sleep either. A few were angry that they couldn't go out and join the search. I-Corp had reported high enemy activity in the area and sent in MPs instead. They had been unwilling to spare anyone, but they knew that surgeons might be desperately needed at any time.
Father Mulcahy stood up and cleared his throat. "Why don't we have a moment of prayer for our friends," he suggested. He had to wipe a tear away when everyone bowed their heads. "Lord, we don't know what's happened to Hawkeye, Radar, and BJ, but you do, and we pray that you'll protect them and watch over them tonight, and bring them safely back to us. Amen." There was a chorus of quiet amens around the room, and everyone went back to the tense vigil of waiting.
Back in the office, Klinger jumped as the radio crackled to life. "MASH 4077th, come in MASH 4077th,"
"This is MASH 4077th," Klinger replied. "We read you."
"This is Echo Unit, MASH 4077th. We've found the jeeps—they've been hit by shells and are totally destroyed, but we're tracking footprints down the embankment and into the woods. We'll keep you posted. Echo Unit out."
Klinger and Potter exchanged a look, both worried and hopeful.
"They made it out, sir; they'll be okay," Klinger reassured. "They'll be okay."
Potter only hoped he could believe it too.
Radar stirred and moaned beside the small campfire. Hawkeye reached over and pulled the thin army blanket back over him. Hunnicutt felt the corporal's forehead and exchanged a worried look with Pierce. "The fever's not coming down yet. Shall we try some more penicillin?"
"I guess it's all we can do until we get back to MASH," Hawkeye said resignedly. Radar's eyes flickered open and rested on Hawkeye's face. He shivered and swallowed thickly. "Hawk, am I gonna die?"
Hawkeye smiled reassuringly. "Absolutely not, Radar. We'll have you better in no time. We just have to wait until morning."
"Okay," the corporal said weakly.
Hunnicutt was ready with the second penicillin shot, and he gestured to Hawkeye to distract Radar.
"Why don't you have some more water?" Hawkeye said. He carefully picked up the army helmet and held it to Radar's lips, supporting the corporal's head with his free hand.
BJ knelt beside Radar and pushed his sleeve up, but this time the young man noticed.
Radar turned fevered eyes toward BJ. Firelight glinted off the syringe in the doctor's hand. Radar jerked away. "What are you doing? Don't let him near me!" His eyes were filled with panic and he began to get up.
Hawkeye seized him by the shoulders and grimly forced him back down. "Radar, you're very sick—we're only trying to help you."
"No!" A sob of fright escaped Radar's lips, and he struggled to get free, but Pierce held him firmly.
"Radar, calm down and look at me." There was a stern, commanding note in Hawkeye's voice that wasn't often heard, and the corporal obeyed. "Okay, Radar, I want you to breathe deeply and slowly, in . . . out . . . in . . . out, okay?"
Radar nodded weakly, taking one shaky breath and then another. But he glanced at Hunnicutt and began to hyperventilate again when he saw the syringe in the doctor's hand.
"Radar, don't look at him, look at me," Pierce said firmly. "Calm down and breathe—slowly. Breathe with me." He demonstrated. "In . . . out . . . Breathe with me, Radar."
The corporal nodded, his eyes locked on to Hawkeye's.
"In . . . out . . . Good, Radar, that's good. In . . ." He grabbed Radar's hand. "BJ's gonna give you the penicillin, but just ignore that and concentrate on breathing. You can do this, Radar. In . . . out . . ."
This time the corporal didn't flinch as Hunnicutt swiftly injected the penicillin.
"Okay, try to get some sleep now," Hawkeye said, releasing Radar's hand. "It's done."
Radar sighed and closed his eyes.
Pierce and Hunnicutt relaxed visibly as well.
"Thanks, Hawk," BJ said quietly. "That was pretty good. Did they teach you that at Androscoggin?"
"Nah," Hawkeye muttered. "I just made it up."
Mosquitoes and gnats swarmed around the pool of light spilling from the lantern MP Captain George Beckett carried. A few darted too close and died with a hiss against the hot glass. Beads of sweat rolled off of Beckett's forehead, and he shifted his grip on the lantern handle. He knew that he and his men would be clearly visible to enemy snipers or whoever else might be in these woods, but the missing surgeons might be needed at MASH even now, and he couldn't track them in the dark. Suddenly Beckett tensed and motioned to his men to stop. "I smell campfire smoke," he said. "It could be an enemy unit, or it could be our boys."
"Sir, I see the glow of a fire at two o'clock," one of Beckett's corporals said, gesturing to the right.
Beckett squinted into the darkness. "I see it too." He doused the lantern. "Move in quietly and surround them. Have your weapons ready, but don't fire until I give the command."
Corporal Wilson was trembling with excitement. He had never been a part of a stealth mission before. He held his rifle ready and inched soundlessly toward the firelight. Then, without warning, a twig snapped under his boot.
BJ's head snapped up. "Hawk," he called in a strained whisper, "I think someone's out there."
Hawkeye looked up from once again sponging Radar's forehead. "You probably just heard an animal."
Hunnicutt squinted into the darkness and listened. The only sound was the wind rustling through the trees. He went back to staring into the fire. Moments later something cold and hard jabbed into his back.
"Put your hands on your head!" a voice growled in distinctive American English. "Identify yourselves!"
"Captain BJ Hunnicutt, MASH 4077th," BJ said rapidly. He felt relieved, but he didn't dare move a muscle until the rifle was lowered.
"Stand down, men!" Beckett ordered. "Let's get these boys home."
The sound of jeeps entering the compound startled Colonel Potter, and he rushed out of the mess tent where he had gone to wait with the others, hoping for the best. Hunnicutt and Pierce, faces smudged with dirt and worry, were climbing out of the back of the first jeep, supporting Radar between them. Potter felt the tension of the past half a day melt away to be replaced by relief—and exhaustion.
"Praise the Lord!" Father Mulcahy said, coming up beside Potter. And then, "Is Radar all right?"
"It's diphtheria," Pierce said. "We've got to get the antitoxin into him as soon as possible, but he should recover in a day or so."
"Antitoxin?" Mulcahy asked as they hurried towards Post-Op. "You mean, like, an antidote?"
"That's not far off," Potter said. "Diphtheria produces a toxin that acts as a poison to certain tissues. The antitoxin neutralizes its effects."
Radar was only vaguely aware of what was going on around him. He felt himself being lowered onto a bed. There were bright lights above him. He saw Colonel Potter's face peering down at him, and then Father Mulcahy's. Their lips were moving, but he couldn't understand what they were saying. Hawkeye and BJ drifted in and out of view as well. One moment he felt like he was burning up, and the next he was shivering with cold. He felt a sharp stab in his right arm, and finally he slept.
When Radar woke up next, it was late afternoon. "What am I doing in Post-Op?" he said aloud. His voice sounded weak and scratchy, and his throat burned.
"Oh good, Radar, you're awake!" Nurse Baker hurried over to his bed. "Why don't you have a drink of water, and I'll go get Captain Pierce." She handed him a cup and hurried off.
As Radar sat sipping the water, memories of the previous day and night came flooding back. "How could I have been so stupid?" he muttered aloud. "It was all my fault."
"Radar, we're just glad you're okay," BJ said from the doorway. Hawkeye was right behind him.
"He's right Radar. Don't worry about it—you've been through enough already." Hawkeye smiled a tired smile. "You sure had us worried there for a while though."
"You must be hungry, Radar," Hunnicutt said. "Why don't I go to the mess tent to see if there's anything edible, and bring you back a tray?"
"Okay," Radar gave him a weak smile.
Hawkeye sat down on the empty hospital bed beside Radar's. He reached over and felt the corporal's forehead for a moment and then nodded, satisfied. "I think you can sleep in your own quarters tonight—the fever's nearly gone." He hesitated a moment. "I still need to give you one more shot of penicillin though." He met Radar's eyes. What did he see there? For a brief moment, panic, but then it was pushed away and Radar's gaze was steady.
"Okay, but I want to watch."
Surprise mingled with disbelief on Hawkeye's face. For once he was speechless. "Um, okay," he recovered. "Well, no time like the present." He got up, dipped a cotton ball in alcohol, and swabbed at a spot on Radar's arm. Then he filled a syringe and pushed out the air, half expecting Radar to bolt when a tiny bit of liquid spurted from the needle, but the corporal didn't move. Hawkeye paused.
Radar took a deep breath and slowly let it out. "I'm ready." His voice was steady.
"Okay," Hawkeye said. He quickly jabbed the needle in, and Radar did not flinch as it made its mark. "Done. Back in Crabapple Cove, I'd offer you a lollipop, but something tells me we're far beyond that."
Radar chuckled a little and then winced, putting a hand to the base of his throat with a painful swallow. His face turned serious as he met Pierce's eyes. "You and Captain Hunnicutt probably saved my life last night."
The doctor waved a hand. "Ah, you would've pulled thr—"
"No, I mean it," Radar interrupted. "And I want to say thank you."
Pierce nodded, serious for once.
"And Hawkeye?" Radar paused, then continued in a low voice. "Thanks for everything else you did too."
Hawkeye grinned and clapped him on the shoulder. "Give yourself some credit Radar, that was you."
Radar's eyebrows climbed, and Hawkeye's grin widened. "Now, I'll go see why BJ's taking so long with your supper."
As Hawkeye walked away, Radar lay his head back down on the pillow and smiled slightly. The war was still going on, but this battle was over.
A/N: I hope you enjoyed reading my first fanfic as much as I enjoyed writing it. Reviews are welcome.