Margaret in Class A uniformHawkeye laughing


Friends and Lovers

by J Ecris


Note: The little > symbols link to episode clips.


Synopsis Chapter index: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12


Chapter 1


“Hello, beautiful! You must be Denise!”


Denise turned to him, apparently amused, and replied, “And you must be Hawkeye.”


“Ooooh,” he smarmed, “I see my reputation precedes me!”


Igor put a glop of something on Denise’s tray. “Sorry, Romeo, you’re barking up the wrong balcony.”


“Well, I don’t have to bark,” Hawkeye said, holding out his tray for Igor. “I can meow if you like. Or squeak. Or howl or roar.” She ignored him. “Or recite Shakespeare if that’s what you like. ‘She speaks: O, speak again, bright angel!’”


She gave him a silent no and walked away.


“‘Parting is such sweet sorrow...’”


Not even a backward glance. Damn. He looked for a place to sit. Denise and her companions sat giggling at a table in the corner. He smiled sweetly and waved at them, and then turned and seeing Margaret sitting alone, joined her at her table.


Margaret was apparently amused. She managed to restrain her comments through only a very few bites of unidentifiable possibly-vegetables. “They recognize your MO before they even meet you now, do they?” she grinned.


He sighed, poking at the maybe-potatoes.


“Is it my imagination, or have you been striking out a lot lately?”


“Yes, your nurses have been pitching no-hitters for months now. My batting average will be down to zero soon.” He sighed. “It’s been so long since I’ve scored, I can barely remember what it’s like.”


“You and me both,” she muttered before she could stop herself.


Hawkeye raised his eyebrows in interest.


“Don’t get me wrong–I’m grateful to be rid of Donald. It’s just–” > >


He nodded. “There’s nothing like hitting those home runs.” He skewered the mystery meat on his fork and sniffed it suspiciously. “Ugh!” He let the fork clatter onto his plate. “At this point, I think I’d be happy just getting to first base.”


“As much fun as it was though...” she mused, eyes unfocused and more thinking out loud than speaking to Hawkeye, “the last thing I need is to get involved with a man again.” She shook her head and looked back at her plate. > >


A grin stole slowly onto his face. “Wait a sec, wait a sec,” he said, gleefully. “Do my ears deceive me, or did I just hear you say you miss the sex but aren’t looking for any commitments?”


She chuckled. “Yeah. I suppose I did.”


“Why, Margaret!” he teased. “You’re the girl of my dreams!” He tilted his head, grinning from ear to ear.


Margaret obviously didn’t find this funny–which wasn’t so unusual. But neither did she give a more typical annoyed retort. She was staring at him intently, apparently considering.


Hawkeye’s face straightened. “Maybe I’ve been trying to play ball with the wrong nurse.”


Margaret blushed and rubbed her forehead, hiding her face. She was considering. She was getting lonelier and more sexually frustrated with each passing week. She’d toyed with the idea of asking him out, had even entertained sexual fantasies about him. The night she’d spent with him had been wonderful, even after making allowances for the extreme circumstances. > >


But she’d never seriously considered it, not until now. The odds of his turning her down if she asked him were slim to nil. She’d never seen nor heard of him refusing any woman. He certainly had a reputation for knowing how to show a woman a good time, and she knew first hand it wasn’t just rumor. He could probably do her a world of good....


What was it that made her not want to ask him? Simple pride? His continual flirting? His promiscuity? From her limited experience, he seemed to at least take some responsibility in that regard. He’d had condoms in his pocket on the night they’d spent together.


Was it not wanting to join the large proportion of the nursing staff who’d slept with him? Actually... she was already in that group. The only difference was that no one knew. Clearly he knew how to be discreet; had he shared the story very far at all, it would have made its way back to her. It was a small camp, after all.


Or was it for the same reason she kept a distance between herself and... almost everyone, come to think of it–that she wanted to maintain a respectful professionalism? Well... really it was hard to say that she and Hawkeye had ever had a respectful professionalism between them. And yet, at the same time, they most definitely did. In his own flirting, teasing way, she knew he respected her very much. And she respected him tremendously in spite of his often inappropriate behavior.


Scarcely a day went by when he didn’t make a pass at her of some kind or other. After all this time, she was very much in the habit of shooting him down without a second thought. She turned him down so consistently that surely by now he just did it to tease her, fulling expecting her to refuse. But on the other hand, he sure seemed interested now, and it had taken only the slightest hint of a glimmer of possible interest on her part.


What on earth had he said to her today to suddenly change her mind after all this time?! She thought back to what he’d said. Nothing! Not a single thing he’d said compelled her to want him.


Then what the hell did?! Her own desire and loneliness? Knowing he wasn’t scoring with anyone else lately? Those could be contributing factors, but what was the tipping point? She reviewed their conversation again. He had fully expected her to shoot him down as she always did. His flirting was just the status quo in their relationship.


Their relationship. They were friends. They respected one another. She had actually been teasing him. Which had led to their commiserating about being lonely. Just having a friendly conversation, as equals. He hadn’t made a pass so much as just teased back.


 She looked back up at him.


He was watching her closely, waiting for her to make the next move, thinking that what he was thinking had to be too good to be true. But then, they had made a pretty compatible couple that night they’d spent together. Course there were extenuating circumstances then. Having death right around the corner tended to heighten every sense. And they’d been trying to trade in their terror for passion–and had both in abundance.


“Hawkeye...”


“Yes!” he said enthusiastically, grinning and sitting up tall.


“Would you...”


“Yes!!!” he said more emphatically.


“Yes what?”


“What you’re about to ask–yes!”


“You don’t even know what it is yet!”


“Don’t I?” he asked grinning lewdly, eyebrows raised.


“If you’re going to start counting chickens before they hatch, then never mind!” She started to get up, but he put his hand over hers.


“Margaret, I apologize.” He’d come too close to not let this conversation run its course.


She sat down again. “Apology accepted.”


He was about to make another joke, but he thought better of it and kept quiet.


She gazed at him for another long moment, and then glanced around the mess tent to see if anyone was watching them–she had plenty of experience arranging clandestine meetings from back in the Frank days. No one appeared to be even slightly interested in their conversation. “Would you like to–”


“Yes!” he replied enthusiastically. “Oh, God, I did it again! I’m sorry, honest!”


She grinned in spite of herself. “All right. I’ll give you bonus points for enthusiasm.”


He beamed. “I promise not to disappoint you!”


“You’ll keep this quiet?” she warned.


He shrugged. “If that’s the way you want it.”


“I do,” she asserted. “Absolutely.”


“No problem.”


She glanced around again and said quietly. “My tent. Tonight. After dark.”


“It’s a date!” he beamed.


“It’s not a date!” she hissed.


Boy, she really meant it when she said she didn’t want commitments. That or his reputation was worse than he thought it was. “All righty then. See ya later,” he said as she got up from the table.


***


Margaret paced her tent, every few minutes peeking out the window. She could see a light in the Swamp but couldn’t see any movement. She was wearing her newest satin nightie and robe, and it had taken her a while to settle on wearing it. It wasn’t a date; she’d told Pierce that and she meant it. So why should she dress as if it were? In the end, she figured that whatever she wore, it would be coming off in fairly short order, and the nightie would be easier. Besides, it made her feel good.


She peeked out the window again. No Hawkeye. Was he coming? Maybe he’d had a better offer. Maybe he’d persuaded Denise to go out with him after all. But no, Hawkeye might be a...


‘Slut’ was the word she wanted, but as it wasn’t usually applied to men, she supposed she would have to settle for ‘womanizer.’ But she’d always known him to be kind and a man of his word. Anyway, things had changed between them since that night they’d spent together; he’d become a good friend. If he wasn’t here yet, there must be a good reason.


She paced some more, trembling with both nervousness and desire–it had been far too long. She turned down the covers on the cot and wondered for the hundredth time if this was a good idea. Oh, there was no doubt that she needed a good lay. No doubt whatsoever. She’d been increasingly preoccupied with sex over the last few months, and the usual self-help didn’t seem to be helping much lately. She sighed. And heard a very soft, shave-and-a-haircut knock at the door.


She rushed to open it, hurried Hawkeye in, and quickly closed the door and locked it. >


Hawkeye, seeing Margaret’s concern about secrecy, reassured her, “I took pains to make sure no one saw me. That’s why I’m so late actually. I thought BJ would never stop re-reading that damn letter. May I add that you’re looking lovely tonight.” He grinned, stuffing his hands into the pockets of his robe.


Margaret relaxed a bit and smiled at the compliment. “Thanks. On both counts.”


“I forget how beautiful you are when you take off your Major persona and turn into just Margaret.” He ran his fingers slowly up her arm to her shoulder, and through her hair to her neck.


In the time it took him to do this, her heart rate doubled. Another confirmation that it had been entirely too long. She took a half step toward him, and they launched themselves into one another’s arms and into a long, deep kiss. By the time they came up for air, both robes lay on the floor, and they stood at the edge of Margaret’s cot.


Her lingering doubts had vanished when he’d first touched her. It had been too long since she’d been held in the arms of another, too long since masculine hands had roamed her body. Forever since she’d been so thoroughly kissed. She remembered him to be a wonderful lover, attentive and gentle. She was trembling again, or possibly still, her insides doing acrobatics. She wanted him so badly, it almost hurt.


“Is there anything special you want?” his soft voice paused to inquire as he trailed kisses along her neck and fondled a breast through her nightgown.


Margaret, who admired Hawkeye’s ability to construct a coherent sentence at a time like this, just moaned needily, her breath ragged.


“You know, I think you may want this even more than I do,” he murmured in surprise. He usually had to work pretty hard to get a woman to this state of arousal. He fished for the hem of her nightgown and pulled it up over her head.


She moaned again, and without his hands to steady her, sank to a seated position on the cot. He dropped the nightgown at the bottom of the cot and slipped off his boots and shorts, then stooped to kneel on the cot. He caressed her shoulders and tipped her back onto the bed. She moaned again, more urgently, as she raised her right knee and brought her hands to his chest.


“Um... I brought condoms. Do we need one?”


She shook her head, wrapping her arms around him, needing him pressed close to her. He kissed her eyelids, then kissed his way slowly across her cheek to her ear and down to her neck. He held himself just above her, and when he brushed gently against her nether lips, she spasmed and cried out. Thinking that his pains in arriving here unseen would be for nought if she woke the whole camp, he covered her mouth with his own. She whimpered into it as she sucked on his tongue.


It was his usual style to prolong full penetration for as long as possible, until they practically–or literally–begged for it. But in Margaret’s case, tonight, that wouldn’t be a pleasant kind of torture. Still, he prolonged it as much as he could, knowing she’d been out of circulation for a little while and wanting to give her extra time to be ready. ‘As much as he could’ didn’t turn out to be much, what with Margaret wrapping her legs around him and holding a death grip on his backside, while simultaneously thrusting upwards. Oh well, no risk of hurting her then, he supposed.


Their lovemaking was fast and fevered, almost as primal as their first night together. Margaret climaxed quickly. Hawkeye had planned to follow her as immediately as possible, but he was so distracted by her efforts to be quiet that he instead fell into a more gentle rhythm, comforting her as she sobbed almost noiselessly into his shoulder. The rhythm grew steadily stronger and faster until, not able to wait any longer, he let it go. And was surprised to find Margaret climaxing a second time. He had definitely been trying to play ball with the wrong nurse, he thought fleetingly. She was incredible!


They lay in one another’s arms, dozing, for half an hour or so. “So... you take requests,” she murmured.


Hawkeye roused himself and turned her question over in his mind. Not managing to make sense of it, he simply replied, “Huh?”


“Earlier... you asked if I wanted anything. Anything special.”


“Oh. Right. Did you?”


She smiled. “Not tonight. This was perfect.”


“Perfect?!” He about glowed with pleasure. “Flattery will get you everywhere,” he joked.


“Hmm,” she laughed. “Seriously, thank you. This was wonderful.”


“For me too.” He took her hand in his and gently kissed her knuckles. Margaret smiled. He kissed her temple. “Well... as much fun as this has been, I suppose I should head back to the Swamp.”


“Oh, do you have to go so soon?”


“No... but if you were wanting an encore, I have to tell you, it’ll be a little while yet.”


She smiled. “I’ll take a rain check. But could you hold me a while longer?”


He kissed her temple and wrapped his arms snugly around her. And was thrilled that she’d hinted at a next time.


She sighed, relaxing deeply. “I have trouble showing vulnerability.” >


“I know you do.” He pressed his cheek to hers and gently rubbed her back.


“I’ve been there with you already, so...” she shrugged.


“So it’s easier to go there with me again?”


“Yes.”


“I’m glad.”


“You are?”


“Sure. I worry about you sometimes. There’s so much responsibility on your shoulders and you refuse to share it.”


“But they’re my responsibilities.”


“I know. And you’re a responsible person. You couldn’t do anything else. I’m just saying... I’m glad I can be a... shoulder to lean on.”


“Thanks. I’m willing to lend my shoulder to you in return, but I doubt you need it.”


“Oh, I don’t know. Women are easier to talk to about some things, and there aren’t that many women in camp I’m on speaking terms with, you know. Outside OR anyway.”


She smiled.


“Besides, you seem to have other body parts you’re willing to lend that I’m certainly–”


She slapped him gently on the back of the head. “You’re incorrigible!”


“I am. I really am.” A pause. “Of course, I have other body parts I’m willing to lend t–”


“Pierce! That’s it! Off to bed with you.”


“Yes, ma’am.” He extricated herself from her bed, handing her her nightgown after he stepped on it. He crossed the room and put on his robe. “Do you want to keep these?” He held up the condoms.


“Sure, why not?” she said, as she pulled her nightgown down around her.


He tossed them onto her desk and then returned to Margaret, seating himself on the edge of her cot. “Are we gonna do this again?”


“I hope so.” She pressed her palm to his chest. “We’re good together.”


He took her hand in both of his. “We are. Where have you been all my life, Margaret Houlihan?” he joked. “But seriously, we have an understanding here, right?”


“What do you mean?”


“I mean, we said no commitments, right? No falling in love allowed?”


She smiled. “Absolutely. Just friends.”


“So, we can see other people too then?” he asked skeptically.


She shrugged. “I don’t see why not.”


He shook his head. “This sounds too good to be true. Where’s the catch?”


She smiled and shook her head. “No catch, honest. I’m not ready for a relationship. Don’t worry.”


“Ok, if you say so.” He kissed her briefly, and she kissed him back. “I’ll let myself out. Carefully.”


“Hawkeye, one other thing.”


“Yeah?”


“You won’t tell anyone about this?”


“Mum’s the word.” He paused. “Except... BJ will figure it out eventually. He knows me too well. And he’s more likely to keep it quiet if I confide in him than if I try to keep secrets from him.”


“You told BJ about that night we spent together?” >


He nodded.


“Ok. Just BJ then. When he gets suspicious.”


“All right. Night, Margaret.”


“Night.”


Chapter 2


He let Margaret call all the shots. In the first place, he still thought the whole arrangement was too good to be true and was trying to behave himself lest he mess things up. In the second place, he knew she liked being in charge, and he thought he’d let her stay in that comfortable role for a while.


Hawkeye had not had a long-term partner for a long time. He’d forgotten how nice it was to get to know a woman’s likes and dislikes and to be able to relax in her presence–not to mention not having to always deal with the formality and nervousness that invariably came with every new lover. And arguably the best benefit was not having to stick to the same, classic, expected positions all the time. (Not that there was anything wrong with them–they were classic for a reason, after all.) And Margaret was more willing to experiment than any other woman he’d ever known, about as willing as he was. Life was beautiful. Or as beautiful as it could be here in Hell anyway.


And then one day he decided Margaret had been calling the shots for long enough.


***


He showed up unannounced one night, giving his signature knock.


“Come in,” she called.


“Hi!” he said brightly.


She sat at her desk, still dressed in her usual green fatigues. “Did we have an appointment for tonight?”


“No. I just thought I’d drop by,” he said casually as he approached her. He leaned forward and put his hands on her shoulders. “What you served up last night made me crave a second helping.” He waggled his eyebrows suggestively.


She pushed against his arms and he stood up again. “I’m a little busy,” she said shortly.


“Oh, come on. We’ll make it a quickie then. I’ll be out of here in half an hour.”


He could tell by the look on her face that she was about to go off on a tirade, and off she went.


“How dare you think that you can just waltz in here any time you want and make demands! I’m a person, you know! Not just some sexual plaything you can order around and use as you see fit!” She threw her pen down. “Did you ever stop to consider that I might have important things to do?!” She waved her hand at the paperwork on her desk as she stood up. “Well it just so happens I do!”


On second thought, maybe he’d let her get a little too comfortable in the dominant role. He was not entirely surprised by her outburst, but it stung all the same.


“Well?! Don’t you have anything to say for yourself?!”


“Forgive me, Major. I guess I forgot my place. What could I have been thinking, coming in here like an equal, and making a friendly suggestion? It should have been obvious that I should just take whatever you dish out and not ask for more. Just be here at the appointed time, do the job, and get the hell out. Silly me! See ya.” He turned and walked to the door.


“Wait,” she said in an anguished tone.


He stopped.


“I’m... I’m sorry.”


He turned back to her.


“I’m sorry for what I said and I’m sorry for–I’m sorry I–I’m sorry I made you feel like I was ordering you around. Please stay.”


He walked back to her. “Apology accepted.” He opened his arms. “Still friends?”


She stepped into his embrace and wrapped her arms around him as he hugged her tightly. She nodded. “Do I really order you around?” she asked as she let go of him.


“No.”


She opened her mouth to protest.


“But I would have felt that way sooner or later if I don’t get to be more or less an equal here.”


She exhaled heavily and nodded. “Ok.” She glanced back at her desk. “But you were just here yesterday. I haven’t had a chance to get back in the right mood yet.”


“Margaret.” He shook his head. “Have you been laboring under the delusion that you need to be all ready to hit the sack when I come through the door?”


“Well...”


“Haven’t you heard?! Your nurses haven’t let you in on the secret? On second thought, it can’t be a secret since it seems to be my firmly entrenched reputation. My powers of persuasion are legendary, Margaret! And here’s you, letting them go to waste!” He grinned impishly.


She smiled, letting him jolly her out of her bad mood. Why had she been reluctant to take advantage of his complete services? “All right. So seduce me already.”


“Why, Margaret! I thought you’d never ask!” he said dramatically. “Dance with me.”


She felt silly dancing without music, but she went along.


And she found out that he was as good as his reputation. His secret seemed to be in making a woman anticipate what he was going to do next and then making her wait for it. Interminably.


She lay in his arms hours later, completely satisfied. “Is this about how it goes with all your conquests?”


He raised his eyebrows. “Well... more or less.”


“I see why you have so much trouble getting a second date.”


“What?!” he exclaimed, crestfallen. “It wasn’t good?!” He looked not only incredulous, but also deeply disappointed.


“No, that’s not it! It was good! It was too good! It was incredible. But on a first date... my god, Hawkeye.”


He looked puzzled.


“Don’t you see? They’re embarrassed, ashamed.”


He shook his head. “Why?”


“You’re comfortable with sexuality. You can’t see it. It’s the double standard. Women have a notion in their head of how they’re supposed to behave on a first date, and this is definitely not it! You get them to give you waaaaaay more than they wanted to.”


“Margaret, I have never made a woman do anything against her will!”


“You don’t have to! You seduce them into wanting it first! You seduce them into begging for it! These are good, Christian women, Hawkeye–which is not to say they’re angels, but they like to think of themselves as good girls. Good girls fall in love and give themselves to a lover. But what you do to them–as fabulous as it is–I’m sure they must feel like cheap whores. Especially when they find out it meant nothing to you and you move on to their bunkmate.”


He looked grave. “Do you feel like a cheap whore?”


“No, but that’s me. I don’t have to be a ‘good girl’ in order to like myself.”


“I never meant to... I thought I was just showing them a good time.”


“Oh, come on, you had to have known you were going too far.”


“I suppose. But I didn’t know it was as bad as this. Maybe I should apologize.”


She shook her head. “I wouldn’t.”


He looked at her questioningly, not understanding the apparent contradiction.


“Someday in the distant future, in their boring married lives, they’ll look back on their night with you and cherish it.”


“What?! You just completed invalidated everything you said before!”


She shook her head, smiling. “No. The point is, they’re not ready for it now. But some day the shame will fade away and they’ll remember the excitement and it’ll get them through some cold nights.”


He shook his head, baffled.


“Don’t apologize. Just respect them! What’s wrong with getting to know a woman before you try to get her into bed?”


He averted his eyes and sighed greatly. After a very long pause, he said quietly, “Maybe I want to love ’em and leave ’em before they get a chance to do the same to me.”


She nuzzled closer to him and kissed him softly on the neck, wondering who had hurt him so badly.


He turned back to her and kissed her gently on the lips. “Thank you.”


“Any time.” Though she wasn’t sure what exactly he was thanking her for.


“Actually–you had work to do. And this took a lot longer than the half hour I promised. I guess I got carried away. Sorry.”


“Well, so did I. There’s no reason whatsoever to apologize. This was just what I needed.”


“You always say that.”


“What can I say? I come by that awful nickname of mine honestly.”


They both laughed.


He inclined his head in the direction of her desk. “So what’s the paperwork about?”


She sighed tiredly. “It’s... work... stuff.”


“Confidential?”


“Not exactly.”


“It might help if you talk about it.”


She thought about it for a moment. It wasn’t like her to burden anyone else with her problems. But he was asking directly. It would be rude not to answer. “Lt. Kincaid. Her tour is over and I don’t know what to write on her evaluation. I should have transferred her long before now, but she was really trying and I gave her more second chances than I should have because I’ve been in such a damn good mood lately.” She glared at him. >


“Oh, that’s what your warm hello was about!”


“You definitely came in at a bad moment. Anyway, my dilemma is that if I’m honest on her report, it’ll raise questions about why I kept her this long.”


“Maybe you just need to be a little creative.”


“I can’t lie!”


“Who said anything about lying? You could say that you saw potential. You did, didn’t you?”


“Yeah.”


“And you could stress her good qualities. She may be a disaster in OR, but her bedside manner is lovely.”


“That’s true.”


“And then maybe just avoid mentioning the medication mixup altogether. It turned out all right in the end.”


Margaret began to laugh. And laugh. And laugh, completely out of proportion to what he’d said. When she finally caught her breath, she said, “I don’t know whether that’s the worst suppository joke I’ve ever heard, or the best.” In any case the laughter, once begun, had felt too wonderful to stop. “Thanks, Hawkeye.”


***


Laughter turned out to be one of the most beneficial aspects of the relationship for Margaret. She had been aware that there wasn’t enough laughter in her life, but considering the place and the situation, she felt hard pressed to do anything about it. Hawkeye changed all that. >


In the interest of fun, she tried to get him to role-play with her, as she used to do with Frank. It tended to spice things up a bit. It was obvious he didn’t want to, but he said he’d try. He wound up giving such an over-the-top performance that Margaret found herself rolling around on her cot laughing. They had so much fun they never even got around to the sex.


That same evening Hawkeye asked Margaret if she liked it in the morning, was positively thrilled when she replied in the affirmative (“Margaret, I love you!”), and promised to bring her a big surprise some morning. Which he did the very next day.


Margaret suggested the role playing on one other occasion a few weeks later. It degenerated into similar hysterics in short order. Oh well. So Frank was good at role playing. Hawkeye was good at other things, not the least of which was making her laugh. And somewhat belatedly, it occurred to Margaret that there was plenty enough spice with Hawkeye without playing games.


***


“Did anyone see you?” she whispered as he came in.


“I don’t think so.”


She got up and peeked out the window. “You heard the rumor floating around camp? I hear you denied it. Thanks. How did people find out we’re sleeping together?”


“That’s not the rumor I heard.”


“Oh?” She turned to him in surprise.


“No. The rumor I heard is that I’m ‘screwing’ you,” he said angrily. “Of course I denied it!”


She was taken a little aback and it showed.


“Margaret, when a woman does me the honor of inviting me to her bed, I make love to her. With all the attention and care and feeling that I’m capable of. How dare they insinuate such a thing about either of us!”


She smiled, amused that it was the semantics of the allegation that bothered him. “You are a very attentive and generous lover,” she affirmed. He pulled her into his arms and kissed her temple. He began to kiss his way down her cheek to her neck, but Margaret interrupted. “Hawkeye... I got my period today. I feel rotten.”


He nodded, released her, and left. That was abrupt, she thought, and not at all like him. She shrugged her shoulders and starting getting ready for bed. A few minutes later, he returned with an ice pack.


“Wh–”


“Lie down.”


“What are–”


“It’ll help, trust me. If you don’t like it, I’ll never suggest it again.”


What did she have to lose? She lay down. She had removed her pants and still wore her panties and a tshirt. Hawkeye pulled the tshirt down a bit and reshaped the ice pack so it would cover as much of her pelvic region as possible. “Ugh.”


“It gets better. Wait.” He put slight pressure on the ice pack and held it there a few minutes. It didn’t feel any worse anyway. Then he moved his cold fingers to her lower back.


She gasped, but once past the shock, she said, “You know, that’s not bad.”


He beamed at her. “Huh? What’d I tell ya?”


“Thank you, Dr. Pierce,” she smiled.


“If you turn over, I’ll rub your back.”


“You don’t have to do that.”


“I know I don’t have to. Turn over.”


She did. He rubbed her lower back and gluts with his delightfully cold fingers. Once they warmed up, he moved them higher, massaging either side of her spine and up to her shoulders and neck, finishing with a light scalp massage. He kissed her temple and covered her. “Good night.”


“You’re not leaving?!”


“I’m not?”


“After all that, you don’t want anything in return?”


“I can take a rain check. Go to sleep. You don’t feel good.”


“I feel better than I did...”


“How much better?”


“Enough. Just be gentle with me.”


He smiled.


***


And then there was the time when Hawkeye quit drinking and alienated almost everyone in camp with his sour mood and sanctimony. Margaret admired him for it though and defended him even though he was just as rude to her as he was to everyone else. After he continued his pursuit of sobriety even after the North Korean with the grenade had almost killed them all, she forgave his bad behavior. Under the circumstances, she didn’t want to invite him over after she had been drinking, so she made an early night of it and went to wake him in the wee hours of the following morning. >


“Hawkeye,” she whispered through the screen of the tent, even as he was already turning to face her. “Are you busy?”


“Do I look busy?” he asked sarcastically.


She counted to three before replying. “Do you want to come over or not?”


He got up, slipped on his boots and robe, and followed her across the road. They undressed without words. His sullen mood persisted; he avoided her gaze. Margaret hugged him tightly. After a few moments he took a deep breath and when he let it out, he released a good share of his troubled mood along with it.


He was grateful to her for this, and he made a point of showing her how much. Her touch seemed especially tender, and he was grateful for this too. As their union reached its culmination, he found himself very near tears. He held her close long after they’d finished, bodies still joined, grateful as well that she’d used the diaphragm–ordinarily she preferred not to in the morning.


“I needed you,” he whispered sincerely, near her ear.


“You needed this,” she corrected.


“I needed this. With you,” he clarified.


“Any woman would have done,” she suggested.


“No.” He pulled back to meet her eyes. “With you I can be myself. I don’t have to be on my best behavior. I don’t have to keep you entertained. I don’t have to be hyper-vigilant about whether you’re having a good time. Because half the time I know what you want, and the other half you tell me. I don’t even have to be in a good mood.” He hugged her closer in gratitude. “You take me as I am. You’re a good friend, Margaret. Thank you.” He buried his head in her neck.


She realized she wasn’t the only one who had trouble showing vulnerability and reaching out to others. She kissed his temple. “You’ve had a rough few days.”


He held her more tightly.


“I thought you could use a little nurturing.”


“Thank–” His voice broke.


“It’s ok. Let it out.”


***


Little by little, they grew closer and began to take one another for granted. Hawkeye more and more often just showed up in Margaret’s tent, often without bothering to knock, and climbed into her bed. The periodic shelling was as difficult as ever for Margaret, but she came to know she could wake Hawkeye at any hour of the night to come hold her.


It was just such a night when Hawkeye noticed that Margaret’s entire aspect had shifted. As they lay together afterward–and after the shelling had mercifully ceased–he confronted her about it.


“We haven’t discussed it in some time, but I thought we still had an understanding here?”


She looked at him, but remained silent, waiting for him to continue.


“I’ve heard that version of ‘Oh, Hawkeye’ before and it always means the same thing. We said no falling in love, Margaret.”


She sighed. “Actually, you said that.”


“And you agreed!”


“Would it be so horrible? What is so wrong with having a woman fall in love with you?”


“We’re in a war! Not soon enough, but eventually, it’s going to end! You and I will go back to our separate lives and probably never see one another again. Don’t you think it’s gonna be hard enough to say goodbye to all of the friends we’ve come to know and love without having to also say goodbye to a... a...”


“A lover? That’s what you were gonna say. I’ve got news for ya: that’s what we are. It didn’t start out that way, but that’s what we’ve become. We talk together, we laugh together, we seek solace in one another’s arms, we make love. What else would you call it?”


He rubbed his eyes tiredly. Ignoring her question, he replied, “Margaret, I care for you. You’re one of the best friends I’ve ever had, and... oh, what the hell, I do love you–as a friend. And I don’t want you to get hurt. I never wanted that. All those months ago I thought this was too good to be true. I should have trusted my instincts.”


She laughed out loud. “You did! Sex with no commitments–it’s what you’ve been looking for since the first day I met you!” She paused, as he looked not amused, but dismayed. “Hawkeye, who did this to you? Who made you never want to fall in love again?”


He sighed greatly and shook his head. “Let’s not go there. There’s no point.” He kissed her temple and then sat up and started to dress. As he was putting on his boots, to Margaret’s great surprise, he continued. “Actually, you know her. Lt. Carlye Breslin. Um... Wolton... I think it was.” >


“Wolton... oh, I remember her. She was only here a few weeks. Did she really–“


“We’d met before. She left me–twice now–because she said my work will always be more important to me than any woman.” He walked to the door. “She’s right, you know. Don’t fall in love with me.” >


“Hawkeye–”


But he was gone.


Chapter 3


He avoided her after that, except when they were working or in a group situation. She did manage to get him alone once in a while. First he tried the silent treatment. When that didn’t succeed, he begged her to leave him alone. That was a partial success. What worked even better is that he’d meet her eyes before she even spoke and silently plead with her not to ask.


She was sure she could seduce him without much trouble if she set her mind to it, but she didn’t think she wanted to. His maddeningly noble behavior did, after all, have the best of intentions. There was no question that he cared for her.


Eventually she quit trying and left him alone, and gradually their relationship mostly morphed back into their pre-benefits friendship. And that’s how things stood by the time the 4th of July picnic rolled around. Shortly after that Hawkeye was sent off to the mental hospital for a couple weeks. > > > > > When he returned, he was like a lost little boy. >


***


After an eternity in surgery and with the shelling of the tank > > > moved far enough away that the immediate danger was greatly diminished, there were some quiet–and some jocular–moments in the mess tent at the end of the day. Hawkeye didn’t mind when Margaret sat down next to him. He didn’t object when she squeezed closer to make room for Charles. She even thought he’d relaxed a bit against her. He was uncharacteristically quiet that evening. Eventually he dozed off at the table, head on his arms.


Loud laughter further down the table woke him and he shifted, opening his eyes to gaze up at Margaret. In his half asleep state he said softly, “I was dreaming about you.”


She smiled down at him and put her hand on his back, rubbing it soothingly.


“Do you know how much I missed you?” he thought out loud, too exhausted and sleepy to self-censor.


“I missed you too, Hawkeye,” she whispered.


“It was so lonely there at night. I wished....” He trailed off, but finished the sentence with his eyes.


“How would you feel about going somewhere to talk?” she suggested.


After a long moment, he opened his hand and held it out to her, head still on his arms, looking up at her.


She took it with her free hand.


He rubbed her knuckles with his thumb. “Ok,” he agreed. Wearily, he raised himself from the table and followed Margaret out.


His hand still in hers, she led him toward her tent. At the entrance she turned to him. “Is this ok?” In his eyes she saw want and need and a bit of something else that made him look far older than his years.


“We both know I shouldn’t be here,” he said reluctantly.


“Says who?”


“Says me. But I’m too tired to argue with myself. Because I also want to forget the world and make love to you.” He squeezed her hand. “It’s selfish, I know. I feel like such a heel.”


“Then I’m just as selfish, because I need your touch too. I’ve missed you terribly. And the shelling has been...”


“How long has that stupid tank been here? You must have been miserable.” He put his hand on her shoulder.


She stepped forward and wrapped her arms around him.


“Uh... Margaret,” he reminded her, holding her tentatively and glancing around furtively. “Have you forgotten we’re in public view?” Though he didn’t actually see anyone. (As if that meant anything.)


“I need you too much to care.”


He pulled her into the close embrace they both needed.


“Hawkeye...” she pleaded. “We’ll have to say our goodbyes soon enough. Hold me tonight?”


He gave a great sigh of relief, regret, need, and desire. He hugged her tightly, swaying gently from side to side, receiving comfort as much as giving it.


As he was about to give in, he had another thought. “Margaret? You’re not afraid of me? Some people have been giving me a pretty wide berth.”


She looked up at him and raised her eyebrows in surprise and amusement. “Me afraid of you?!”


“Oh, well, now that you put it that way,” he said sarcastically.


“Pierce, you’re the least violent person I know! Of course I’m not afraid of you.”


He shrugged. “Ok. Good.”


“You look terrible. How are you feeling?”


He smiled slightly. “Your honesty makes me feel a little better, thanks. I’m tired. So tired. And scared. But you knew that.”


She nodded slowly and gave his arms an extra squeeze, then turned to open the door.


As he followed her in, he mused, “Do you know what it’s like to... not trust yourself? I almost feel like a stranger in my own skin, looking out at the world with different eyes.” Once inside, he began to pace. “Feeling things that... I don’t know... it’s all so confusing. And terrifying. Everything seems... different. A little unfamiliar, like coming back to a town 10 years later. It’s the same, but not.”


Margaret stopped his pacing, putting her hands on his chest. “Do I seem unfamiliar?”


“Mercifully and blissfully, no.” He buried his head in her neck and hugged her close again. “Nor, I’m sure, would BJ–if he was here.”


“He left on really short notice–only a few minutes. There just wasn’t time.”


He began pacing again and nodded, trying to convince himself. “Ok, but that doesn’t make it hurt any less. I hate goodbye, you know, but goodbye is better than no goodbye. He’s the best friend I’ve ever had.” His voice was strained almost to the breaking point.


Margaret stopped him again. Talking was doing him no good at all. She reached up to kiss him. He sighed, and his arms came up to hold her. She soothed him with gentle, chaste kisses which he returned in kind. He moaned and she could feel the tension draining from his body. When his worries had been sufficiently cast aside, he kissed her deeply.


As much as he wanted her, as much as he needed her tonight, his heart also dreaded what might happen. She had never put voice to those three little words, but they were there, between them, unspoken, and he wondered if they would slip out. At first, he made a point of keeping her lips busy, but as things began to heat up between them, the thought evaporated. Margaret had clearly missed him a great deal. She was incapable of saying anything coherent at all, and there was as much desperation in her lovemaking as there had been even on that first night they’d spent together.


The tears came this night, more of them and more deeply than he’d ever seen from her. And they weren’t only about fear and loneliness, he knew. He pulled her close, whispering, “It’s ok. I’m here,” stroking her face and pressing little kisses to her temple. She nestled her face into his neck and held on as if for dear life. As much as he felt guilty for causing her pain, he needed this closeness as much as she did, and gratefully accepted the love which permeated her embrace and reached out to envelop him. He continued comforting her, and receiving comfort, until she quietly cried herself to sleep in his arms.


Hawkeye wished he could sleep. He couldn’t get his mind to settle down. After a while he disentangled himself from Margaret as gently as he could and got up. He covered her, whispering that he’d be back, and got dressed. He went out for a walk around the compound and almost immediately stopped. “What the hell is that?” he asked the sentry, looking in the direction of a red glow in the sky.


“Fire, sir. Word is we may be bugging out.”


Hawkeye headed over to the Colonel’s office, where Klinger informed him he was waiting for a callback from ICOR. “If I were you, I’d pack my personal gear.”


The idea of going to the Swamp when there would be no BJ in it was too depressing to contemplate, but what choice did he have? After a last-minute delaying tactic, a quick trip to the latrine, he threw everything he cared about into his footlocker, including some of BJ’s things. BJ must have left in a hurry indeed, going by the things he’d left behind. He then considered dismantling the still, but opted against it.


Leaving the lonely Swamp–Charles had slept right through his packing–he stopped to check with Klinger again. The red glow remained, but there was no word yet. “I’ll announce it on the PA. You won’t miss it.”


He went over to OR and rearranged some things, and then did the same in Post-Op. Not packing– just sorting and organizing in the likely event they needed to pack. (It was probably best to avoid having any boxes labeled ‘Surgical Stuff and Purple Things’ this time.) > Finally, he changed out of his scrubs and back into his normal clothes. By the time he finished, he was dead on his feet. But now that his hands were free, his mind started buzzing again.


He headed for the shower, which was blissfully hot and wonderfully relaxing. He stood for long minutes under its soothing spray. He could fall asleep in here, if only he could sleep standing up. He would have whinnied whimsically had he not been so tired; as it was he only thought about it and instead absorbed more of the liquid calm. He tried not to wake himself too much as he dressed and wandered back to Margaret’s. Once there he stripped down to his shorts and sandwiched himself back into her bed.


She moaned contentedly as she settled into his arms again. “Did you bring me a big surprise?” she smiled without opening her eyes.


He was exhausted, and half asleep, but not so far gone that he’d refuse sex–and, the shower had, after all, been quite relaxing. “Mmm,” was the only reply he could manage though.


Her hands caressed his body, bringing the surprise up to a more desirable size. “I’ll get the diaphragm?” she asked.


“No.”


“No?! That’s the first time you’ve said no to that question. What gives?”


He put forth an effort and mumbled, “We’re bugging out.”


“What?! Did you say we’re bugging out?!”


“Mm-hmm.”


“Why? And where did you hear this?”


Another effort. “Fire.”


“Fire?!” She all but jumped out of bed, threw on her robe and some slippers, and went outside. She returned in a few minutes, turned on the light and started madly packing. “Pierce! Don’t you want to go and pack?!”


“Did,” he mumbled.


Margaret came and took a closer look at him. He looked even worse than he had before they’d gone to bed. “Have you slept at all tonight?”


He grunted a negative.


She kissed his temple and covered him. “You sleep. I’ll pack.”


He wanted to thank her, but he drifted off before the words came.


The call to bug out came less than an hour later.


Margaret had been amazed before by how fast Hawkeye could get dressed. She swore he beat the old record this time. He was gone and out the door, after a quick goodbye kiss, in 30 seconds flat. And on half an hour’s sleep at that. Then she noticed his dog tags peeking out from under her pillow. How many times had she told him not to take them off? She stuffed them into her pocket as she went out to join the organized chaos.


The bugout went smoothly, especially considering the approaching fire. She admired the company’s efficiency; they were a well oiled machine, and she couldn’t be prouder of them. >


She finally caught up with Hawkeye as she was about to board the bus. He was standing outside, near the door, looking in warily. “You ready?” she asked him.


He swallowed audibly. “No.”


She held out her hand. “Come on.”


He took it and followed her. Oy, and he’d thought going back to surgery was tough. He made a conscious effort to breathe and not to throw up. He noticed there were a lot of nurses on this bus. That was always a plus. They all smiled at him. They’d been nicer to him since his return from the funny farm. He wondered if he could get some of them to go out with him now. Even if he could, it’d just be a pity date and he didn’t think he wanted any of that.


Margaret led him to an empty seat and let him have the window. He immediately opened it all the way and leaned out, breathing deeply. The bus lurched into motion, and Margaret made him sit down.


The nurses in the seat behind him patted him on the shoulder. “How ya doin’, Hawkeye?”


He nodded and half smiled at them. Margaret watched him with concern. “How ya doin, Hawkeye?” she echoed softly.


“Not too good.”


She held out her hand and he took it gratefully, holding it like a lifeline. Breathe, keep breathing, he told himself. Margaret was a godsend. He wouldn’t ask out those other nurses even if he didn’t think it would be a pity date. He couldn’t stand the idea of hurting her. She held out her other hand to him, fist closed, and he opened his other hand to take what she offered him. Oh. He’d forgotten his dog tags again. Bad time to be without them too. And she wasn’t even scolding. He tucked them discreetly into a pocket.


The motion of the bus began to relax him, in spite of his anxieties. He closed his eyes. And woke up as the bus bounced, not having realized he’d dozed off. Margaret rearranged him so that his head was in her lap. How’d she do that? he wondered. A nurse trick, must be, he thought as he drifted off.


They were attracting a few stares, but Margaret didn’t care. “He didn’t sleep last night,” she explained.


“How do you know?” one of the nurses asked provocatively.


She was spared having to answer by another nurse, who replied, “He was in OR for hours, sorting and rearranging and labeling.”


“Has he slept at all since he got back?” another asked. “I’m worried about him.”


“You and me both,” Margaret said softly. The stares gradually diminished, with just the occasional glance over in the manner of checking on a sleeping child. Margaret was surprised Hawkeye could sleep at all with all the noise. People were talking loudly to make themselves heard over the noise of the bus itself, and then there was the laughter. Bugouts were usually stressful, but with peace seemingly right around the corner, everyone was in high spirits.


They arrived at their new location an hour later. Hawkeye didn’t wake, and she thought she’d give him a few extra minutes and let everyone else file out first. The bus got emptier and quieter by the moment.


Into the stillness of the now-empty bus, Hawkeye suddenly screamed, “No! No, no, oh god no!”


He startled her into inaction for a moment, then she shook him. “Hawkeye, wake up! Wake up!”


He woke, hyperventilating, looked around, and burst into tears.


“Hawkeye...” She gathered him into her arms.


“Oh god. I didn’t mean for her to kill it! I didn’t mean for her to kill it!”


God, was that what his breakdown was about?! He felt responsible for that?! “Of course you didn’t! Hawkeye, it’s not your fault! It was an accident! She didn’t mean to do it! It’s not your fault!” She held him tight and caressed his back as he continued to sob. “It’s not your fault.”


She had to get him off the bus. She stood him up and guided him out. And she was right–the sun and fresh air had an immediate grounding effect on him. He took deep calming breaths, and she rubbed his arms. “You ok?”


He shrugged and nodded and took one more incredibly deep breath. “Thank you.” He hugged her and kissed her temple.


***


They saw little of one another over the next few days, what with unpacking and settling in and surgery, not to mention the barbecue, and Sidney. > Margaret was bunking with the rest of the nurses. Hawkeye spent grateful hours with BJ, now that he’d returned.


On the night before the peace accord was signed, Hawkeye lay awake in the temporary Swamp. He’d made himself go to bed in spite of his insomnia. The doctor in him said that even if he couldn’t sleep, he should at least rest his body. The doctor in him also recommended a sleeping pill, but he passed on that suggestion–he just couldn’t let himself be so out of control. He had nightmares of having nightmares he couldn’t wake up from.


He lay thinking, too much, too fast, as usual, when the shelling began, in the distance. It wasn’t nearly so bad as having a tank in the middle of camp, but it was loud enough; it made him think about Margaret and hope she was ok. Not two minutes later he heard hurried footsteps across the compound and a moment later, she was in his bed.


He shifted so she could lie beside him, but Margaret had other ideas. Before he knew it, not only was he face down, but Margaret was under him, legs spread wide and working to pull down his shorts. “Margaret!” he tried to protest, but she silenced him with a kiss. And the outraged voice inside him screaming, ‘We can’t do this with Charles and BJ here!’ gradually softened–as Margaret kissed him, caressed him, wrapped her legs around him and tried repeatedly to get him inside her–to, ‘Well, it is dark. Could be darker, but if I can’t make out any details in their bunks, they can’t see mine either. And it’s not like they could flip on a light switch, there being no electricity in the temporary Swamp. Besides, they’re asleep, and if the shelling hasn’t woken them....”


Margaret had him completely hard and suddenly this all seemed very hot. Fine, make it quick, he told himself. He kissed her more aggressively and plunged in. He used the long, deep strokes he knew would make her come quickly, knowing full well that also meant there was a risk she’d cry out. Somehow, though, the risk of getting caught made this all the more exciting.


“Oh, Hawkeye!” He shushed her gently and she buried her face in his shoulder, whimpering quietly. He finished up and shared in her struggle to be quiet.


Wow. That had been an intense few minutes.


He listened carefully in the spaces between the shells, but he couldn’t hear anything. What a relief! The heat of the moment having passed, the idea of getting caught seemed pretty awful. He moved Margaret to lie beside him and she clung to him as she always did when she was afraid like this. He held her close and tried to sleep–sex usually made for a good sleeping potion. But something was niggling at the back of his brain, and not the usual things that had been harassing him for days now, or weeks really.


Another shell went off, particularly loudly, and Margaret startled. He held her tighter.


Hey! The thought gelled. They usually used condoms on nights like this. The diaphragm was too much trouble on short notice. Dammit! She better not have done this on purpose! But he dismissed the idea as soon as it came. She was scared and not thinking clearly, that’s all. But she damn well better not be pregnant, all the same.


He silently ordered her body not to be pregnant. He could just hear her voice saying, ‘You can’t give me orders!’ Oh, but doctor’s order trump major’s orders, he insisted. Come on now, round up your troops and resist the invading force! And if that doesn’t work, hide! Did advising her side qualify as giving aid and comfort to the enemy? And he slept.


***


Half asleep early the next morning, BJ’s double take didn’t take place until he was already outside the Swamp. He stopped, furrowed his eyebrows, went back in, and no, he hadn’t imagined it: there was Margaret spooned next to Hawkeye. Since when was their relationship back on? Huh. And since when did Margaret sleep over? In any case, so far as he knew, their relationship was still under wraps, so he thought he’d be kind and wake her. He touched her shoulder. “Margaret.”


She opened her eyes, looked at him, looked around, and said sheepishly, “Oh, I’m still here.”


BJ was amused in spite of himself. “It’s morning. Light out. I thought you might want to make your exit before–”


She cleared her throat as she worked herself free of the blanket. “Thanks,” she said softly.


Hawkeye stirred. Before she left him, she kissed his cheek. “Go back to sleep.”


“Mmm.”


BJ checked the compound and signaled her when it was all clear, then continued on to the latrine (such as it was). Returning to the Swamp, he met Charles on his way out. Hawkeye remained in bed. BJ shook his head and threw a pillow at him. “So tell me you didn’t do what I think you did last night.”


Hawkeye hugged the pillow and mumbled, “I cannot tell a lie. I did cut down the cherry tree.”


BJ sighed. “Hawk, what were you thinking?!”


“Obviously I wasn’t!” he retorted sleepily. “It’s not like it was my idea. She came in and attacked me.”


“Attacked you...” he shook his head skeptically.


“You know how forceful she can be!” he said, more awake now. “Why would you think she’s any different in bed?”


BJ had to concede that point. “Still, couldn’t you have–”


“Gone somewhere else? I can’t think of anywhere offhand, and anyway she didn’t give me time to think last night,” he said defensively. “We didn’t wake you, did we?” he added, apologetically.


“No. That would have been interesting.”


“More like mortifying.”


“That too.”


“That’s not even the worst of it! She forgot the condoms!”


“Oh? How did condoms get to be her responsibility?”


“Because! She was the one who did the pursuing!”


“I see.” He shook his head. “Last I remember, those fit over a male body part. You sure they’re not your responsibility?”


“Usually, yes,” he admitted. “But with all the commotion of the bugout, they’re not exactly handy–and besides, I told you–she didn’t give me a chance.”


“Hers probably weren’t handy either, under the circumstances.”


Hawkeye had to concede that one. He sat up and fished at the bottom of the bed for his underwear. “Anyway, she better not be pregnant!”


“It wouldn’t be that bad, would it?”


“Wouldn’t be that bad?! Are you kidding?! Have you ever met two people with less in common?!”


“Sure, I have.”


He rolled his eyes. “BJ, this was never part of the agreement.”


“For her either!”


“Look, whose side are you on here? I thought you were supposed to be my friend!”


“I am your friend! I happen to be her friend too. Would you really let her bear the stigma of being an unwed mother? You wouldn’t take responsibility for your own child?!”


“I could... send her money,” he said lamely.


BJ sighed and shook his head again. “You know... Margaret being pregnant could be the best thing that ever happened to you.”


He had to have lost his mind! Hawkeye thought, staring at him. He shook his head to clear it, so dumbfounded he couldn’t manage anything more than, “What?!”


“It would give you a reason to grow up and be responsible. Women aren’t just fun and games.” And with that he stalked out of the Swamp, leaving Hawkeye spluttering incoherently.


Chapter 4


It was an exhausting day: surgery, packing up and going back to Ouijongbu, unpacking and reassembling the OR, more surgery. To say nothing of the work the medical crew didn’t even see: taking down all the tents and everything else in the temporary camp, loading everything into trucks, and putting the camp back together once they got ‘home’.


When they’d finally run out of wounded for the last time, it was into the wee hours and the doctors and Margaret (who’d sent all of the rest of the OR nurses to bed) sat piled together on the benches outside OR, utterly exhausted.


“Feels like we should be celebrating,” BJ said, eyes closed.


“You celebrate for me. I’m too tired,” Hawkeye replied.


BJ sighed. “Me too. We should go to bed.”


Hawkeye yawned and the others all followed suit.


Charles was first to summon up sufficient energy to raise himself from the bench. “Margaret. Gentlemen.” He nodded and left.


Margaret rose next, yawning again. “How about a hug?”


Hawkeye took a deep breath, preparing himself to stand. “Ok.”


He rose and they leaned together, half holding one another up. BJ and Colonel Potter exchanged a slight smile. BJ rose, put his arms around the pair of them, kissed Margaret’s cheek, and said, “I love you both. Good night.”


Potter got up, patted them both on the back, and said, “Ditto. Good night, kids.”


“I s’pose we should say good night too,” Hawkeye said through a yawn. They walked out arm in arm, saying good night at Margaret’s tent. Hawkeye fell into his bed without even taking off his boots.


***


The next day was busy again, though far less intense. There was packing to attend to–again, patients to release, and tons and bunches of paperwork. And finally, there was the lovely and sentimental farewell banquet. > >


Margaret was engaged in conversation with some of the nurses as the party broke up, and Hawkeye headed back to the Swamp. They’d be leaving in the morning, and he might as well as get ready tonight–that’d leave more time with Margaret. And he surprised himself with that thought, somehow.


He’d been thinking that he’d like to do something special for her. Maybe because he felt guilty–for getting intimately involved with her in the first place, or for continuing the relationship when he knew things had gone too far, or for not being able to reciprocate her feelings, or maybe all of the above. He really didn’t want to examine those feelings too closely. Or maybe he wanted to do something special for her just because she was special and he did care for her.


Reasons aside, the actual possibilities were fairly limited, and he hoped the idea he’d settled on would do. There was a knock on the door a short while later. Hawkeye greeted Margaret warmly, with a big hug and a quick kiss. They chatted briefly about how nice the party had been and he told her he’d meet her in her tent in 10 minutes.


***


Margaret wore his favorite satin nightgown and robe, the same one, in fact, that she’d worn the first night she’d invited him here. She had the diaphragm loaded and deployed and sincerely hoped he wouldn’t pull the noble act again. What would be the point really, at this late date? They may as well say goodbye properly. She hoped he saw it that way anyway.


Another cot had appeared in her tent, adjoining hers, and made up to regulation specs. She’d smiled when she saw it. She’d had the idea herself a while back, but had never pursued it because it would have made anyone who might see it suspicious. She wished she could stop caring so much what other people thought.


There was a double knock at the door, not Hawkeye’s usual one. She wondered who it could be. She tightened up her robe and went to the door. It was Hawkeye after all, but he was dressed in his Class A uniform from his hat all the way down to his boots, including the tie! And he was neatly shaved and combed to boot, and wearing cologne. She stared him up and down with her mouth agape.


“I take it you like my surprise then?”


She nodded.


“May I come in?”


She stepped back and he removed his hat as he entered, latching the door behind him. She continued to stare for another long moment, and then launched herself at him in typical Hot-Lips fashion. He would miss her enthusiasm, her unabashed sexuality. On technical merits alone, she was almost certainly the greatest lover he would ever have.


He let his hat fall to the floor and hugged her tightly, briefly lifting her off her feet. She moaned her delight. As he set her back down, her hands came down from his neck to unbutton his jacket. Their kisses continued as he caressed her, unable to resist the allure of satin warmed by the skin beneath it. Margaret, having finished the jacket buttons, proceeded to untie his tie and then moved on to his shirt buttons, becoming noticeably more aroused the further she progressed. And all this while, their kiss lingered on. She enjoyed kissing immensely–her nickname was appropriate indeed–and with such a connoisseur of kissing as a partner, he enjoyed it that much more himself.


Margaret’s hands found his, holding them oddly–until he realized she was undoing his cuff buttons. He smiled and she released him, pulling him forward. She pushed his jacket over his shoulders. He shrugged out of it, and she set it neatly over the back of the chair, which she pulled away from the desk. She took his tie next, folding it in half once and laying it on the chair seat. Hawkeye watched her with subdued amusement. What she’d done with the jacket, she repeated with the shirt. She glanced at the chair and then back at him. “Where’s your hat?” she demanded.


“Oh!” He’d completely forgotten the hat; he turned to look for it, but she spied it first and reached behind him to snatch it up. She brushed it off, muttering, “Pierce. No respect for the uniform.” She hung it on a corner of the chair back.


He grinned. ‘No, but I respect you,’ he wanted to say. He remained silent though, as he was afraid if he got started talking, he’d launch into a silly tirade, and he didn’t want to spoil the mood.


She dealt with his belt next. He’d been with women who struggled greatly with belts, but not Margaret. She used exactly the right angle and amount of force to easily release it. She could be a professional at this, he thought: Professional Seductive Undresser. He wondered what she’d say if he suggested it. Words, hell–if he referred to her as a professional, she’d slap him into next week! > If she hadn’t gone and fallen in love with him, he might have chanced it though–he truly enjoyed getting a rise out of her–but under the circumstances, the odds were too great that she’d be deeply hurt. And besides, she might send him away with their goodbyes left unsaid. Er... unexpressed.


She surprised him by going next not for his fly, but his boots. As she removed them with ease, he was struck again by the fact that she was so obviously experienced at this. Maybe, he thought suddenly, it was partly her training and experience as a nurse. She set the boots neatly under the chair. Then she took his socks.


“This was very sweet of you,” she said softly, just before she kissed him again. Holding her was now at least an order of magnitude more sensual, with her warm satin-covered skin pressed against his. He let his hands wander her curves freely through another glorious kiss, while her hands glided slowly up his chest, around his shoulders and down his back and came to rest on his bottom, where they squeezed.


He broke the kiss with a gasp and a groan. “I thought we might take this a little slower tonight?”


“I thought we might go at least twice,” she countered huskily. She was anticipating a dry spell and she figured she might as well take it while she could get it.


“Oh, well then there’s that.” His pants dropped around his ankles. She stooped and tapped his legs to get him to step out of them. He was most definitely going to miss her. She folded the pants and lay them over the chair, then steered him toward the bed.


She seemed to have something specific in mind, so he went along. In many ways, it was nice to have a partner who was willing to take the dominant role. So many of the women he met were unable to be anything but submissive. She pulled down his boxers and pressed on his shoulders. He sat and lay back on the diagonal on the double-wide bed. The look in Margaret’s eyes spoke volumes; his heart rate accelerated in anticipation as, maintaining eye contact, she dropped her robe and then crawled slowly forward from his feet. She paused at his hips and broke eye contact to look down.


“Oh god,” he whispered in anticipation. Yes, definite advantages to taking the passive role sometimes. She dipped her head and breathed hotly against his skin, teasing, but then raised her head to meet his eyes again. She’d been studying in Hawkeye Pierce’s School of Sexual Tantilization. “Do you want me to beg?” he implored.


She smiled and then lowered her head to blaze a trail of kisses from the base of his engorged member to the head, with a corresponding “Oh god!” from Hawkeye for each one. Then she slowly drew him into her mouth and sucked, while he struggled not to make too much noise. She knew better than to linger too long, and she finished her crawl up to meet him, depositing a few kisses along the way. He devoured her mouth when she arrived, and she settled over him wetly. Passive or not, he wanted in and he wanted it now, and he helped adjust her hips to get there. They both cried out and clung to one another for a moment, hearts racing, before the dance began in earnest.


She kissed him in rhythm with her lovemaking. Hawkeye deliberately restrained himself from participating too much too soon, which was a sweet torture of its own. Margaret sat up astride him, again making eye contact with him. Oh god, he wished he didn’t see what he saw there. He wanted to look away, to deny what was there, but he would be here for her for this little while they had left. It was the least he could do. He did, however, distract himself, and hopefully her as well, by gliding his hands up her thighs to her ribs and then back down, and again up and back down, each time going a bit higher, teasing her breasts. She leaned forward. “Oh, please...”


He surprised her by leaning forward and taking her nipple into his mouth through her nightgown. And inadvertently launched her into a climax. She continued to rock against him as the contractions quieted, and he moved his mouth across to the other breast, which set off a fresh, though smaller wave of contractions. He released the nipple and pulled her close, kissing her cheek and temple. “Oh, Hawkeye....”


He felt another pang of guilt and rubbed circles on her back as her breathing slowed. Then he helped unbend her knees. “You ready to trade places?” She nodded into his shoulder, and holding her close, he rolled them over, bodies still joined. “Yes! Do you have any idea how long I’ve been wanting to do that?” It was nigh onto impossible on the narrow cot, but with two... what bliss! “On second thought.” He rolled them back to a side by side position. He needed to settle down a bit and give her a chance to catch up again. He rocked gently against her and sprinkled little kisses all around her face, as his hands caressed her, one on her upper back, the other on her bottom. She moaned happily.


It was past time that nightgown came off. The satin was fun, but it had nothing on bare skin. He helped her wriggle out of it and tossed it aside. She was beginning to warm up again, nakedness notwithstanding. He cupped her breast, circling the nipple with his thumb and felt her hands tighten around his back. She leaned her head back in pleasure, displaying an expanse of neck he couldn’t resist. He’d always made a point of not leaving marks, in accordance with her wishes, but on their last night together, what the hell? If she wanted to him stop, she’d say so. He kissed and sucked on her neck greedily, knowing full well he would mark her, wanting to.


She gasped and moaned and clung to him–she might leave marks of her own, he thought fleetingly. He shifted them again, taking the top position, and pressed her knees wide with his own. He gave her everything he had, deep and slow thrusts, very gradually speeding up.


“Oh god. Oh Hawkeye. Oh god! Oh Hawkeye!” He knew she was close, so close, and so was he. If the timing worked properly... a few more strokes, and yes! They went off in simultaneous waves of ecstasy, each building on the pulsating of the other. This had happened before between them, but never this powerfully. Margaret’s breathing became almost a wheeze and then she was wracked with full-body sobs.


And this wasn’t the good kind of crying during sex either, he knew. Guilt returned in full force, and he wrapped his arms beneath her to hold her close. “Sweet Margaret,” he whispered. She just cried harder. He tipped them sideways, withdrawing, and continued to hold her tightly. “I’m so sorry, Margaret,” he said sincerely. “I never meant for this to happen.”


“I know,” she said. “Me neither. It just did.”


“I never wanted to hurt you.”


“I know.”


He continued holding her close, his cheek pressed to hers, slowly rubbing her arm from shoulder to wrist and giving a gentle, comforting squeeze from time to time, planting the occasional soft kiss on her temple.


“You know what’s ironic?” she said through her tears.


“What?” He didn’t think he wanted to know. This was painful enough already.


“You make me feel more loved, as a friend, than most men who professed to be in love with me.”


She was breaking his heart. Which he was supposed was only fair. “Well, you deserve better than that,” he assured her.


She cried harder.


Clearly he was incapable of saying the right thing. He began to gently rock her.


“Thanks for saying that.”


“Well it’s true. You’re a hell of a woman! You’ll make some man very happy some day.”


She shook her head. “You never think less of me because I’m... because I... put out. Most men do, you know.”


“Well, Margaret, I can’t help it if they’re Neanderthals.”


She burst out laughing and cried still too.


He expanded on the thought, “Especially that Donald. With a forehead like his, I was surprised he could walk upright!” > > > >


Her tears subsided, as she laughed harder and harder until she was laughing uncontrollably. Hawkeye couldn’t help but join in. For their own safety, they broke apart and lay on the separate cots. Finally, the laughter too died away. Margaret cuddled closer again and Hawkeye turned and wrapped his arm around her. “You know, this might be what I miss most of all,” she said, looking up at him with eyes filled with love.


He brushed a hair out of her eyes. “Oh, Margaret, laughing is easy! Haven’t I taught you well enough that you can manage it on your own?”


She smiled. “I hope so.”


He kissed the tip of her nose.


“I’m gonna miss you.” She half smiled.


He smiled back. “I’m gonna miss you too.” He traced the backs of his fingers from her hairline, down her face, past her breast, and squeezed her arm affectionately. She shifted her hand to hold his and he massaged her knuckles with his thumb.


“You’re sure you don’t want to try this back home?” she wished aloud.


He gave her hand a squeeze, and his eyes were full of that pleading, don’t-ask look. “Do you really think it could work between us? We’re so different. Are you forgetting all the times we’ve disagreed?”


“We’ve been getting along a lot better lately.”


“Granted,” he conceded. “The sex has been fantastic, but I don’t think relationships last if that’s all they have going for them.”


She wanted to point out the things they had in common, but it was more than clear it wouldn’t do any good. She looked away and sighed quietly.


“I’m sorry, honey. We should never have done this.”


“Which this? Tonight this?”


“Tonight this. All of this. I never wanted to hurt you.”


“I know. And really you haven’t. What we’ve had here together is something I’ll always treasure. You’ve been shelter from the storm. And I think you’ve helped keep me sane.”


“Sanity is important.”


“Oh, Hawkeye, I didn’t mean–”


He shook his head. “It’s ok. Sanity is important. No one knows better than I do. I’ve had too many brushes with crazy in this awful place. Thank you... for this. It’s a gift I didn’t deserve.”


“Well thank you right back. This... between us... has been very mutual.”


He kissed her temple. “I’ll never forget you, Margaret Houlihan.”


“You better not!” she scolded playfully.


“You know, I’ve learned a lot from you. You have a way of making me think about things, changing my perspective.”


“That’s funny. I feel the same about you.”


“I can’t tell you what a privilege it’s been working with you. I’ve never met a finer nurse, a harder worker, or a more consummate professional. And even though I don’t always agree with your methods, I sure can’t argue with your results. You’re the tops. And I hope some day you’ll forgive me for sharing your bed like this.”


“Hawkeye–”


“I should have known–”


She put her finger to his lips. “This was my choice. You were invited here. And welcome. And I enjoyed your company. Immensely. Far more than I imagined, and in ways I never expected. You make me happy. And that’s not something I have a lot of experience at. But I’m going to make a point of having it in the future. So thank you. And while we’re trading compliments, it’s been a pleasure working with you too. You’re not only brilliant in the OR, you have a delightful bedside manner. By no means my style, but it really works for you. There are few things better for a patient than laughter. I’ll never forget you either.” A tear leaked from her eye. “God, I hate goodbye.”


He pulled her into his arms. After another round of non-verbal goodbyes, they lay cuddled together again.


“This extra bed thing is brilliant.” Hawkeye enthused. “I wish we’d done it before now.”


“Me too. When did you get it in here? You were in Post-Op most of the day.”


“Me?! I didn’t put it here!”


“You didn’t? Well then who did?”


“Obviously not you.” Fearing a colossal practical joke, he got up to examine the cot. There was no question it was stable–no need to check that. Feeling around for–God’s know what–hidden microphones maybe, he found something. “There’s a card.”


“A card?!” she confirmed incredulously.


He opened the envelope and removed a folded-over piece of paper. He read it, smiled, and handed it to Margaret as he got back into bed. “It’s from BJ.”


“BJ?! ‘Hawkeye and Margaret, I know you’ll enjoy this last night together, but I thought you might enjoy it a little better this way. Love, BJ’. Aww, how sweet of him. I still owe him an apology. I’m so embarrassed about the other night.”


“Ahem. Now that you bring that up... is it my imagination or were we operating without our gloves on that night?”


“No, you’re right,” she apologized. “It completely slipped my mind. I’m sorry.”


“Not too sorry, let’s hope.” They exchanged a meaningful look. “You’ll let me know?”


She nodded and lay back down beside him. She’d never thought to trap him into marrying her by getting pregnant and wondered for a moment if it would have worked. But she dismissed the idea immediately: he wasn’t the type of guy you could manipulate that way, and even if he would, by some miracle, agree to marry her because she was pregnant, he’d resent it so much that they’d never last. Still.... “What if...”


“How about let’s don’t go there.” He paused. “But you’ll let me know if you are, right?”


“All right.”


“You have my address and phone number?”


She nodded.


“Ok.” He turned toward her and put his arm around her. “So did you have a round three in mind, or do you think we should try some sleeping?”


She kissed his cheek. “Why don’t we go to sleep and maybe in the morning there will be one last big surprise.”


He chuckled. “There always is.”


“I know,” she giggled.


They laughed a while longer and tried to go to sleep. It turned out, though, that they were both too keyed up to sleep, what with everyone leaving in the morning, so round three began after all a short while later. It lasted quite a long time and comprised as much variety as they could manage in the space available. Then, worn out, they slept.


Which did not preclude their partaking of one last early morning tryst. Afterward, Margaret held on to him especially tightly, dreading the goodbye. Hawkeye held her tightly as well, gently rubbing her back, not looking forward to it either. But as the sounds of the camp waking up filtered through, they knew the time had come.


“I should go....” He kissed her temple.


“Mmm.” She savored the sweet gesture, and let go of him reluctantly.


He dressed, and she watched him, smiling. “That was a very thoughtful gift. Thank you.”


He smiled back. “I thought you’d like it.” When he finally finished dressing, he turned to face her, stood at attention and saluted.


“Oh, Hawkeye...” The tears came, and she was up and in his arms in a heartbeat. “I’ll miss you.”


“I’ll miss you too,” he said into her hair, hugging her close and lifting her up onto her toes.


“I have to say it. Just this once.”


He steeled himself and nodded.


“I love you.”


He kissed her temple and then let her go and met her eyes. “I’m honored, Margaret.” And he meant it sincerely. He nodded and left. She stood at the door, touched. And heard him explain his appearance to someone by saying, “Look, I lost a bet, ok? Don’t make me humiliate myself by having to explain the whole thing!” She smiled and brushed away her tears and set about the last of her packing. She would miss him terribly, but if she had it to do over again, she wouldn’t hesitate. He’d been so good for her.


Chapter 5


And so they returned to their separate lives, as they’d always known they would.


Hawkeye returned to Crabapple Cove and devoted his life for a time to sleeping, eating real food, catching up on medical journals, and spending time with his dad. After a good month of that, he hung up a shingle alongside his father’s in his private practice, and Daniel then confided to him that he’d always wished Hawkeye would take over for him one day.


It was pleasant enough work at first, as Hawkeye began to get to know his dad’s patients, but after only a couple of months, he found he was bored. Oh, the people were nice enough–great, in fact. Their health was mostly pretty good too, and he didn’t think his talents were being put to very good use dealing with their sniffles and stubbed toes. Ok, their ailments weren’t quite that trivial, but they might as well have been for all the challenge they provided. Heck, he felt more challenged reading the medical journals!


Had the war turned him into an adrenaline junkie? It had certainly had more than its share of effects on him while he was there, but were they permanent? Had the war unalterably changed him? He couldn’t quite shake the thought, and after a few days of it tormenting him, he found himself compiling a mental list of all the changes the war had caused in him, accompanied by a current assessment.


Personal hygiene: delightfully clean now.


Drinking: reduced, for the most part, to a glass of wine a day.


Parasites: gone. (Shudder.)


Politics: He’d been liberal before the war and was even more so now.


Diet: improved about a thousandfold.


Sleep: back to normal.


Mood: hmmmmm.


How was his mood? He was home from Hell–he should be happy. Was he? Certainly he was happy to be well-fed, well-rested, clean, and comfortable again. He was certainly happy about the lack of shelling specifically and the peace and quiet generally. He was happy to be able to walk in any direction with no possibility of stepping on a land mine. He was glad to be back with family. Though the gang at the 4077th were family too, and it was certainly true that he missed some of them terribly. Those little missing pieces of his heart could certainly be contributing to his mood. His Sunday night phone calls with BJ had become the highlight of his week. God, he missed him.


Besides, it seemed he didn’t know all that many people in Crabapple Cove any more. Before the war, he’d been in Boston doing his residency, and before that he’d been in medical school and before that college. Of course he’d come home to visit often enough, but that was scarcely the same as living here full time. So maybe he was a bit lonely. He hadn’t even realized it on a conscious level, but it sure made sense.


It also occurred to him that in the past his education and then work had kept him so busy that he’d scarcely had time to think about having a social life. He had, in fact, had one–with the people who happened to be around him–he’d been very lucky in that respect, he thought. Of course, during the war, he’d had plenty of time on his hands, but the social situation there was completely different than it was here.


Now he was in the position of having to actively pursue a social life in the real world, and somehow it wasn’t very appealing–in part, no doubt, because those months with Margaret had made him lazy. Of course, there was also something to be said for the fact that women here in civilization had more discriminating taste than those who were stuck in Hell (what with having so many more options) and higher moral standards too. (Having one’s life threatened on a regular basis tended to rearrange one’s priorities.)


He’d tried some of the local bars, but he didn’t seem to click with the clientele. The women he’d met by chance, at work and school and during the war, tended to be more his style–smart, competent, independent, the type who appreciated his wit. He just got stared at a lot at the bars he’d tried. Of course there were chance meetings at other places that were more promising.


A couple weeks after he’d been home, an attractive and available woman had happened across his path in the supermarket. She was the first such woman he’d had a chance to engage conversationally since his return. He’d found himself laying on the charm as thick as ever, and had been just about to ask her out, when Margaret’s words came back to him in a sudden rush. He’d broken off their conversation a little too abruptly and had gone on his way, fresh fruits and vegetables in tow.


Margaret’s... review of his style of seduction was clearly still giving him things to think about. The idea that his behavior had hurt women was something that had never really penetrated his thick skull until she’d pointed it out–possibly because he was always too busy following another body part to the next attractive woman. He loved women–loved them–he didn’t want to hurt them.


How far would he have tried to go with that woman had he gone out with her? Would he have tried to get her in the sack? Probably. And it bothered him.


But why should it bother him? It never used to. Damn that Margaret! How dare she? It wasn’t his job to worry about how women felt after–after.... It occurred to him that there wasn’t a whole lot he wanted from women when he pursued them. Mainly, getting them into bed was the goal. And it struck him that maybe he’d missed out on something important by not having a mother through his adolescent years. If only he had an inkling what that something might be, his relationships with women might make a whole lot more sense.


But sex hadn’t always been the only thing he wanted from a woman. There was Carlye. And Kyoong-Soon. > > And Margaret.


Margaret? Margaret wasn’t in the same category as either of them, he told himself. He’d fallen head over feet for both Carlye and Kyoong-Soon, had lost all perspective over them. His heart still ached, for both of them, and he could drive himself mad dwelling on either of them. What was different about them was that they had engaged him intellectually before he had ever realized he was attracted to them.


Margaret he’d been attracted to since he first laid eyes on her, and her provocative nickname had made her that much more appealing. It was a pity she’d wasted so much time with Frank Burns. > Not to mention that jerk husband of hers. > On the other hand, if it weren’t for Donald, they might never have wound up together at all. > Margaret. Now there was a relationship based completely on sex. Now wait just a minute, he corrected himself: that wasn’t true at all. His relationship with Margaret had had a strong base of friendship. The sex was just a bonus. One hell of a bonus, he reminisced.


Boy, he missed her. And not just for the sex. She was a lot of fun once she let her hair down– which was, admittedly, not often enough. And she was smart and creative and full of fire. He wondered what she was doing now, how she was doing, if she was happy. He sighed.


Where was he? Oh yeah. He’d been making a list.


Sex life: definite downturn since he’d been home. Non-existent even.


He reviewed the list and continued. (If this went on much longer, he was going to have to commit the list to paper.)


Sanity: Well...


He thought he was as sane as he was before the war, but if were crazy, would he know? The war had messed with his sanity far too much for his comfort level, even after the fact. At least he’d gotten over his fear of children. That was something.


Purpose in life: Uh-huh.


That seemed to be the heart of his problem. He had most definitely felt a strong sense of purpose during the war, even if he didn’t like admitting it. His father’s practice wasn’t even in the same ballpark. At the end of the war he had looked forward to getting to know his patients. And now here he was, hip deep in the details of their very nice, very mundane lives, and bored to death. What would he tell his dad?


He’d been mulling this question over for the better part of a week–and coming up empty–when one Friday night there was an unexpected ring of the doorbell around dinner time.


***


Hawkeye heard only his father’s half of the conversation with the visitor.


“Well, hello!”


“I feel like I already know you! How lovely of you to visit!”


“Come in!”


Hawkeye’s curiosity got the better of him and he went to the door. There stood Major Margaret Houlihan, looking more stunning than ever in her dress uniform–skirt, silk stockings, the works–and a warm smile. “Margaret!” he blurted out in surprise.


She set down her small suitcase. “Hi, Hawkeye. It’s wonderful to see you again!” She hugged him briefly and he patted her on the back.


“Are you staying a while?” he asked, glancing at the suitcase.


She laughed nervously. “I just got into town and came straight here. I was hoping you could recommend a hotel.”


“A hotel?” Daniel asked indignantly. “We wouldn’t hear of you staying at a hotel! Would we, Hawkeye?”


“No,” he replied, with more enthusiasm than he felt. “Course not.” It wasn’t that he wasn’t glad to see her–he was just so completely dumbfounded! Why on earth was she here?!


“You’ll stay here with us, Margaret. May I call you Margaret?”


“Certainly, Dr Pierce. That’s so kind of you!”


“Call me Daniel. Please.”


“Daniel. Thank you. And you too, Hawkeye.”


Hawkeye did his best to smile graciously. Oh God! She was pregnant! Was she? She didn’t look pregnant. How long had it been?


“We were just about to sit down and eat,” Daniel explained.


“Oh, I’m so sorry!” Margaret apologized.


“Not at all, not at all! We’re glad to have a guest! Would you like to, uh... freshen up a bit before dinner?”


“Well... thank you. Yes, that would be nice.”


“Come with me. Hawkeye, set another place.” He took Margaret’s suitcase and led her upstairs.


Hawkeye got another plate, glass, and silverware and put the just-finished food on the table. Then he began to pace the kitchen. Daniel returned presently. “Wow! Her pictures don’t do her justice!”


Hawkeye nodded. “She looks great. Healthful glow.” She was glowing?! Oh, this wasn’t good!


Daniel had noticed his son’s nervous reaction to Margaret, and hers to him. He was intrigued. Clearly there was more between them than Hawkeye had intimated. He was looking forward to seeing what transpired tonight. He dressed the salad and sat down. Hawkeye ceased his pacing, standing close to Daniel.


Daniel, hoping to calm his son with shop talk, asked,“So how is Mrs. Patterson’s goiter?”


At the same moment, Hawkeye quietly asked Daniel, “Does she look pregnant to you?”


Daniel raised his eyebrows. “Did you ask me if she looks pregnant?!”


“Yeah. Does she?”


“Uh... I hadn’t... I didn’t... notice. Might she be?”


“She might.” He glanced up at the ceiling.


“And this would be my grandchild?”


Hawkeye nodded and then, thinking he’d heard a noise from upstairs, sat down and proceeded to talk about his visit that afternoon with Mrs. Patterson.


When Margaret came back downstairs, she found father and son conversing genially, and it made her smile. She joined them at the table and they both fussed over serving her.


“So what brings you to Crabapple Cove?” Hawkeye asked midway through the meal, still endeavoring to spot a bulge under her clothes.


“Well...” she began, and then thought better of it, finished chewing, and swallowed. “Excuse me. I was due for some leave, and I thought I’d tour New England. I’ve been working at a veterans hospital in Virginia.”


“How’s that going?” Hawkeye asked her.


She nodded. “Good. I’ve met a few guys we treated at the 4077th. Though they usually remember me a lot better than I remember them.”


“Well, that’s hardly surprising,” Hawkeye remarked.


“Why do you say that?”


“How many thousand guys did we treat while we were there? And how many beautiful nurses did they meet?”


She laughed nervously again and tried to dismiss the compliment, but Daniel confirmed it. “No, I have to agree with Hawkeye there, Margaret. The women were no doubt few and far between, and you would definitely leave an impression.”


“And that’s not even taking into account what a good nurse you are. Of course they remember you.”


Margaret was flustered now. Hawkeye was glad it was her and not him. He probably had the wine –and home territory–to thank for his own, at least perceived, calm. “So where in New England have you been so far?”


“Boston. I visited my uncle Bob at Boston Mercy Hospital. I saw Charles.”


“Oh? How’s he doing?”


“He’s as pompous as ever.”


They both laughed. “You remember,” he reminded his dad. He affected Charles’ accent. “Charles Emerson Winchester, the Third.”


“Ah yes. Not the most beloved of your war buddies.”


Margaret chuckled. “That’s a nice way of putting it. Oh! I almost forgot! Charles sent a present for you!”


“For me?!”


“Yeah, let me go get it.” She dashed upstairs and returned a few moments later, slightly out of breath, as she handed it to Hawkeye.


He leaned back, accepting it gingerly. “Have you had it checked by the bomb squad?”


Margaret and Daniel laughed.


“Who’s joking?”


They laughed again.


“Open it, son.”


Very carefully, he removed the wrapping paper. Holding the box away from him, he slowly tipped up a corner of the box’s cover and then removed the cover entirely to find a second box–the kind fine writing instruments came in. “This is torture.”


They laughed again.


“Do you know what it is, Margaret? And more importantly, are you in on the joke?”


She chuckled. “No, I have no idea what it is, honest. But my guess would be a pen.”


“Mine too,” Daniel chimed in.


Hawkeye held the box closed with both hands and very carefully tipped it slightly open and then slightly more, ready to snap it shut at the slightest hint of foul play.


Margaret laughed. “You know what this reminds me of?” She laughed again. “Remember the time BJ pretended to play a practical joke on all of us, but instead just got you?”


From the look on his face, Hawkeye clearly didn’t remember this all that fondly. He held the box away from them all and opened it all at once. Nothing happened.


“Loser had to do a strip tease in the mess tent,” she told Daniel. “What a riot!”


Hawkeye brought the box closer, examining it carefully. “Do I dare write with it?”


“Loser? This was a bet?” >


“BJ bet he could get all of us within 24 hours,” Hawkeye explained.” Only I didn’t know the others were all in cahoots with BJ! Cheaters. I still don’t think I shoulda had to do that strip tease. He violated the terms of the bet. I got him back though. I shaved off half his mustache!”


He turned his attention back to the pen, holding the box far away again, as he gingerly picked up the pen. He hadn’t lifted it more than a few inches from the box when the pen broke spectacularly: the clip fell off and clanged to the table while the cap shot across the room, the pen then split into three pieces, and the spring flew out, narrowly missing Hawkeye’s eye. They all burst out laughing in surprise. Ink then began to pool in Hawkeye’s hand. He quickly cupped it with the other hand and got up to take the whole mess over to the wastebasket.


“Cute, Charles.”


As Hawkeye cleaned ink off his hands, Margaret told Daniel about the practical joke battle Charles had instigated and how she, Hawkeye, and BJ had got back at him. >


This memory led to another, and that to another, and soon they’d spent the entire evening talking and laughing. After midnight, they sat on the couch in the living room, wine glasses in hand, worn out from laughing so much.


“This is excellent wine,” Margaret commented. “I’m a little surprised, considering the kind of stuff you drank during the war, Hawkeye.”


“What did you drink during the war?” Daniel asked.


“Mostly terrible gin from their still,” Margaret said.


“You had your own still?”


“You didn’t tell him about the still?!” She collapsed in a fit of laughter again.


“Trapper built the first one, but we wound up modifying it a few times. You should have tasted that first batch. The stuff we were brewing at the end was excellent by comparison.”


“Ugh,” she remarked and then suddenly emitted an enormous yawn. “Oh, excuse me.” She checked her watch. “Oh my goodness! I had no idea it was this late. The time has just flown! I’m sorry for keeping you fellas up so late.”


She rose and Daniel stood. Hawkeye, whose manners had not yet recovered from the war, followed his dad’s cue and stood too. Margaret thanked Daniel for his hospitality and kissed him on the cheek. Daniel thanked her in return for her company. Hawkeye was surprised–and pleased–that the two of them had become such fast friends.


She thanked Hawkeye and kissed him on the cheek as well. He wrapped his arms around her. “I’m glad you’re here, Margaret. This has been wonderful. Good night.” He gave her a goodnight kiss on the lips, and they suddenly found themselves in the same kind of kiss they’d shared at their last goodbye. > He hadn’t meant to do it. Perhaps he was conditioned to respond this way to her, or his body had its own ideas about what to do with Margaret in his arms. Either way, their kiss was everything it had always been.


Daniel’s eyebrows shot up to where his hairline had once been. Clearly they had feelings for one another. He smiled. He liked Margaret. A lot. She was different from the women Hawkeye usually went for.


Hawkeye released Margaret and her knees buckled. He caught her. “You ok?”


“Yeah,” she replied embarrassedly, and covering, “I guess I just had a little too much wine. Good night.”


“Night.”


Hawkeye watched the doorway long after she’d disappeared through it. There was a reason he wasn’t supposed to be feeling this way about her, but between the wine dulling his mind, and the laughter-filled evening they’d just spent together, and fueled by months of unaccustomed celibacy, he had no desire to remember what it was and pushed it aside in favor of savoring the way he was feeling. But his father was spoiling the moment, speaking to him. “Huh?”


“I said, she’s quite the woman.”


“Oh. Yeah,” he said, distractedly.


“I like her.”


Hawkeye didn’t reply.


“So....”


Still no reply.


“Hawkeye.”


“What?”


“So what’s between you? You never mentioned before that you and she were...”


“Yeah, well... it’s... complicated.”


“If she might be pregnant, I guess it is.”


He shot him a sideways glance. “I think I’ll hit the sack too.”


Daniel half smiled and shook his head. “Good night. And be careful!” Somehow he didn’t expect he’d be getting much sleep that night. He tidied up the kitchen and did the dishes before heading up to bed himself. In the upstairs hallway, he found Hawkeye standing in Margaret’s doorway, grinning.


“A mink coat?”


“Another glass of wine?


“A million dollars.”


“Another blanket?”


“Are you playing a game?” Daniel inquired.


“No. I asked Margaret if I could get her anything, and she sorta halfway admitted there was something she wanted, but she won’t tell me what it is.”


Daniel smiled and nodded.


“What?” Hawkeye asked him.


“Hawkeye.”


“What?”


Winking, Daniel replied, “That’s my guess. Good night, son. Night, Margaret.”


“Night, Daniel,” Margaret called, grinning madly in the dark of her room. She really liked Hawkeye’s dad.


Hawkeye waited for Margaret to say something. She didn’t. He wondered if his dad had embarrassed her. “Well... let me know if... I can get you... whatever.”


Margaret was so surprised at his answer that she didn’t know what to say. His father had left such a clear opening–she couldn’t believe he hadn’t taken it!


“Good night then,” he called.


“Night,” she said, disappointed.


Hawkeye plodded reluctantly to his cold bed. Why the hell was she here?! Just to drive him nuts?! And if she was pregnant, why hadn’t she mentioned it yet?


Well, she hasn’t had much opportunity, he countered. It wasn’t likely to be the sort of thing she’d just blurt out in front of his dad. Maybe he should go across the hall and ask her.


But no, he didn’t want to do that. He didn’t know why she was here, but as a guest in the house, he wanted to respect her space. He thought going into her room might put her in the position of feeling like she had to invite him to bed just out of gratitude. Or maybe not, knowing Margaret. But he didn’t want to chance it.


He shifted position, willing himself to go to sleep, but with a boner the size of a lighthouse, it wasn’t gonna happen.


Just deal with it, he told himself.


But he didn’t want to. It’d be just his luck she’d be at his door 5 minutes later, and he didn’t want to disappoint her. And he didn’t want to settle for a crummy hand when luscious Margaret– Hot Lips!–was just across the hall. Dammit!


But what on earth was she doing here?! He didn’t buy that ‘touring New England’ story for a second. Crabapple Cove wasn’t on anyone’s itinerary when touring New England.


Unless they wanted to see him.


Yeah, well. Obviously, she was here to see him. But to what purpose? What if she was pregnant? No. He refused to go there.


Was BJ right? Did he think women were just fun and games? Would he really abdicate all responsibility if she was pregnant? No, he didn’t think he would. He was a mature and responsible person.


Even if it meant... the M word? And in this day and age, that’s exactly what it did mean. He’d just never pictured himself as the marrying type. Chained to someone for the rest of your life... he grimaced. But look at BJ–he was over the moon about his wife. What did he see in marriage that Hawkeye couldn’t? Look at Colonel Potter–he’d been married just several years short of forever. And was still crazy about his wife. Was there some secret no one had ever let him in on?


But he could see himself–someday–settling down with a woman long term, even having kids. Was it just the idea of marriage he hated? It was true he didn’t much the see the point of it. He could love who he wanted without any ceremonies or legal entanglements.


This was getting him nowhere; he tried to push the whole matter from his mind. His body was settling down some. Good. And good to know that thinking about marriage was a reasonable substitute for a cold shower.


He couldn’t sleep though, try as he might. His mind kept drifting back to What if she’s pregnant? Eventually, reluctantly, he started down that path.


If she was, it must be because she wanted to be. If she didn’t, she could easily have had it taken care of in Tokyo before she came home. But if she was, why had she waited so long to mention it? Maybe to make him marry her. But he didn’t have to marry her, and no one could make him.


No one could make him. But would he? Would he do the responsible thing? He honestly didn’t know.


Chapter 6


Daniel awoke several hours later to use the facilities and on his way back to bed noticed the mostly closed door of the spare bedroom. Suddenly remembering their house guest, he was surprised he’d slept so long without interruption. He’d been certain those two would be spending the night together. He looked through Hawkeye’s open door. He was tossing and turning. Then he listened at Margaret’s half-open door. He heard her sigh heavily. He shook his head and turned to go back to bed. The floor creaked, and seconds later both Hawkeye and Margaret appeared at their respective doors.


Apologetically, Margaret explained, “I thought I heard a noise.”


“Me too,” Hawkeye said.


“Just me,” Daniel said, turning. “I didn’t hear any noise, so I thought I’d investigate. Good night.” He padded back to his end of the hallway in the hope that his inadvertent diversion would bring them together.


“Good night,” Hawkeye said.


“Night,” Margaret said.


Daniel looked back, before entering his bedroom, to see them returning to their rooms. He probably shouldn’t butt in, but he was old and running out of chances, so what the hell? “You’re going back to your separate beds?! Again?! What is it with you two?!”


“Dad!” Hawkeye protested.


Daniel came partway back down the hallway. “The sexual tension between you two is so thick I could cut it with a knife–if it was a sharp one!”


“Da-ad!” Hawkeye exclaimed in horror.


“Margaret, have you or have you not been wishing my son would invite you over to his side of the hallway?”


She bowed her head in embarrassment.


“Dad!” Hawkeye could not believe he was saying these things!


“A simple nod or shake will do,” Daniel continued.


She nodded, her head bowed.


Hawkeye opened his mouth in surprise. “Why didn’t you say something?” he asked softly.


Daniel made a noise of disgust as he turned back to his bedroom. “She did! Honestly, youth is wasted on the young!” he grumbled as he went into his bedroom and closed the door.


Margaret smiled after him. “I really like him.”


“He likes you too.” Hawkeye took a step forward and held out his hands. Margaret stepped forward and took them. “We didn’t used to have any trouble inviting each other to bed,” he remarked.


“I wasn’t sure–I thought maybe...I didn’t know if I’d be welcome here.”


“You couldn’t tell you were welcome by the way I kissed you good night?”


“Well, yeah, but then... you didn’t... come. After what your dad said, I was sure you would, so I thought–you must not...” She ran out of words and just shrugged.


“Yeah, well, you’ve never been shy about telling me what you want. I figured if you weren’t saying it, you didn’t want it.”


She sighed at their failed communication. “I really like your dad.”


Hawkeye smiled. “Me too.” And he kissed her. Like downstairs, only with no holds barred. He pulled her close, lifting her briefly off her feet.


Margaret enjoyed this maneuver as much as always. More really, as he was already hard this time. She considered wrapping her legs around his waist. But she’d done that once before when greeting a lover and it had thrown his back out. That had put a serious damper on the impending festivities. So she was patient. When he released her back to the floor, she hooked a knee around his hip.


He was enraptured that she so obviously wanted him as much as he wanted her. He slid his tongue in and out of her mouth in anticipation of what was to come and she moaned loudly and inserted her hand down the back of his pajama pants. Time to get out of the hallway. He reluctantly pried her knee loose and pulled her into his bedroom, closing the door.


“Oh, Hawkeye, I missed you.”


Their mouths met for another kiss. Her hands seemed everywhere at once and in a moment she had his pajama top off. He hoped she was willing to take point position, as he thought if got on top of her he’d go off in about three seconds. He backed toward the bed and felt his pajama bottoms fall just as he reached it.


He sat and Margaret was in his lap in a second. He pushed her nightgown over her head–oooh, satin again–he’d been so focused on her–her skin, her hair, her eyes, her scent, her infinite eagerness for intimacy that always simmered just below the surface–that he hadn’t even noticed what she was wearing.


“Oh god!” they cried in unison as their bodies were reunited.


“Oh, Margaret, I missed you!” he breathed as his hands slowly caressed her back.


Margaret was past the ability for words and instead expressed herself in moans and whimpers– which were in any case perfectly comprehensible to Hawkeye–as she repeatedly impaled herself on him, gripping his shoulders for leverage. He wasn’t going to last much longer. He grasped her hips, trying to speed her along, and–joy of knowing a lover well!–it worked. She cried out. She tried to be quiet, but it was no good.


“Oh Margaret, oh god!” He was only slightly quieter. As the final strains of orgasm passed through them, he lay back on the bed, taking Margaret with him, utterly spent. He knew sleep would come momentarily, and he shifted them into a more even position on the bed and half covered them before drifting off.


***


Hawkeye awoke feeling happier than he could remember feeling in a long time, so happy that he wanted to further wake up to find out what he was so happy about. He was home! The war was over! Wait a minute, he’d been home a while now.


Oh! He turned to look upon the sleeping figure of Margaret, on her side, facing away from him. He turned and wrapped his arm around her, his hand finding hers. She awoke with a soft, “Mmmm.”


He snuggled closer, burying his face in her hair. “Morning.”


She shifted to lie on her back and looked up at him, beaming. “Morning.”


He kissed her briefly, and as often happened when they kissed, one little kiss became several, and then a deeper one, and before it could progress to something more, Hawkeye stopped.


“I missed you,” Margaret said.


He paused a moment, as he preempted what he’d been about to say. “I missed you too, as if you couldn’t tell.” He grinned at her. “But, Margaret, why are you here?


She smiled. “I just told you.”


“You’re here because you missed me?”


“Yeah.”


“You’re not pregnant?”


“No,” she replied, surprised.


He dipped his head, resting it in on her shoulder. “Thank God!” came his muffled voice.


“If I’d known you were so worried, I’d have written you months ago!”


“I wasn’t worried ’til you turned up on my doorstep!”


“Oh! I’m sorry. I didn’t realize.”


“It’s ok. All’s well that ends well. So you came to Crabapple Cove all the way from Virginia just because you missed me?” That thing he’d been trying so hard not to remember last night leaped to the front of his mind.


“That and I needed to get away. And... I needed to see a friendly face. Things aren’t working out so well in my new job.”


“Tell me.” He cuddled closer. He’d missed these work-related chats, and knowing he was one of the privileged few she was willing to confide in made them somehow better.


She sighed tiredly. “You know, I think the 4077th was the high point of my career.”


He raised his eyebrows at her in disbelief.


“No, really. We had an excellent staff–excellent doctors, excellent nurses, excellent support staff, and we all worked together as a team, and in crummy conditions–the rats, the dysentery, the lousy weather–”


“Yeah, yeah,” he hurried her along, “Don’t remind me.”


“We had a 98% survival rate! That’s amazing! We were amazing. As much as we hated it there, we pulled together and did incredible things. Because that’s what people do in a crisis. Well... we don’t have that attitude at the VA hospital. There’s no crisis that anyone can perceive–except me apparently. They let stupid political and personal differences get in the way of providing the best patient care, and it all leads to a festering culture of mediocrity. And I’ve tried to point this out and tried to make things better and–” She stopped, because her voice was about to break.


“I bet that went over like a lead balloon.”


“Yeah. I suppose it’s partly my fault. I probably didn’t point things out in the best way possible. You know me. My style hasn’t much changed. I’ve made too many enemies and very few allies. And no one I can call a friend,” she said, sounding defeated.


He hugged her close and kissed her forehead. “You thinking of quitting?”


“Yeah,” she said, her voice quavering. “And it bothers me. Margaret Houlihan is not a quitter!”


“No. But Margaret Houlihan doesn’t put up with mediocrity either. It must be driving you nuts to be there.”


“You don’t think I’m wrong to want to change things?”


“Of course not. I don’t think you’re wrong for thinking of leaving either. I didn’t see anything like that where I did my residency. Course that was a civilian hospital.” He paused. “On second thought, I guess I can think of a few instances of people stuck in a rut. But their attitude didn’t permeate the whole institution. That sounds awful.”


She sighed, feeling better already. “Thanks.”


“Any idea what you’d do if you left there?”


She shook her head. “I hadn’t thought that far ahead yet. I guess I’m hiding from my life for a little while.”


He slid his arm beneath her and enfolded her in his arms. “Hide for a while then.”


She buried her face in his neck and clung to him. “I missed you,” she said again in a muffled voice. “I’ve been so lonely. You know how bad I am at reaching out to others.”


He kissed the top of her head and rubbed her back. “I’m glad you’re here, Margaret. How long can you stay?”


She met his eyes again. “You tell me,” she said uncertainly.


“How long do you want to stay?” he asked.


She answered with her eyes. And he replied with a kiss, before his conscious self had anything to say about it.


There was a sharp knock at the door. “Rise and shine! Breakfast is ready!”


“Be right down, Dad,” Hawkeye called.


Margaret was taken aback. What the hell had that kiss meant? If anything–it was hard to tell with men sometimes.


He separated from her and climbed out of bed. “Come on!” he said enthusiastically. “His breakfast is not to be missed, and he’ll have gone all out because we have a guest.” He picked up his pajama bottoms and stepped into them, grinning gleefully. “Do you smell that, Margaret?! Real food!”


As usual, his good spirits were contagious. She supposed they could talk later.


***


After a requisite trip to the bathroom, and after Hawkeye lent her his robe–satin was too chilly on this November morning–they went down to breakfast.


Hawkeye enjoyed his food sincerely–and loudly. “Dad, you’ve outdone yourself!”


“Everything is wonderful!” Margaret agreed.


“Thank you. I must say, I’m enjoying cooking more than I have in years. It’s fun to cook for an appreciative audience.”


Margaret smiled warmly at him and then said to Hawkeye, “You’ve put on a little weight since you’ve been home.” He turned to her, mouth full, looking insulted. “Just a bit. It looks good on you!” she assured him. “I sometimes wondered what you were subsisting on in Korea. You didn’t eat much.”


“Gin!” he replied with his mouth full. “And it was more nutritious than what they served in the mess tent!”


“It’s a wonder you didn’t pickle yourself, son. I’m glad you’re back home safe.” He rose from the table and patted Hawkeye’s shoulder. “I’m off to my meeting. Put away the leftovers, would you?”


He nodded, still chewing. “Mm-hmm.”


“See you later.”


“See ya.”


“Bye.”


Hawkeye finished his last few bites of food, as a grin slowly spread over Margaret’s face. “Do you hear that?” she asked him.


He listened and heard nothing. Shaking his head, he replied, “Hear what?” He finished his orange juice.


“The sound of privacy. I think this is the most we’ve had, ever.”


He chuckled wickedly. “I wonder what else we could have to make the most of it?” he suggested.


She answered with her eyes. He rose as she turned in her chair. He stepped closer and held out his hands. She stood as she took them and stepped into his arms, which closed around her. He was just about to kiss her neck, when she reminded him, “You told your Dad you would put away the leftovers.”


“Mmm. I did, didn’t I?” He pressed his mouth to her neck.


“Hawkeye–”


“Ok, ok.” He released her and took a half step back. “I suppose if we get started, we’ll be a while.” He crossed the room, saying, “I’ll just be a minute. Don’t go anywhere....”


She smiled back at him and began to stack the dirty dishes. He returned with wax paper and began to wrap the food. Margaret ran hot water and put the dishes in the sink, then returned to the table to wash it. Hawkeye returned from the refrigerator to find her bent over the table. She finished and caught his eye. He approached her, took the washcloth from her and threw it in the direction of the sink. Where it landed he didn’t know, as he was locked in embrace with Margaret, a scorching, full-body type of kiss, made all the better by its brief postponement.


Of the many possibilities which presented themselves in rapid succession to his libido, Hawkeye chose the nearest, tipping Margaret back onto the table. After a moment’s surprise, she wrapped her arms around him with gusto. Her tent had offered far too few opportunities, and they’d exhausted every one they could come up with in fairly short order. She was as aroused as he by the change in venue.


Then he surprised her again, in a simultaneously very good and very bad way. “Oh god! Hawkeye–” But he chose that moment to kiss her again, plunging his tongue into her mouth in alternating rhythm with another plunging body part. This had all the earmarks of being one of those really quick ones, and she had to stop it. She finally got her mouth away from him– struggling probably more against her own body than his and cried, “Hawkeye, stop!”


He stopped, stared at her, understood, “Oh! God!” withdrew, “I’m sorry!” and leaned over her, trying to catch his breath.


“Not too sorry, let’s hope.”


“Dammit! I don’t have condoms!”


This pleased her. “I do.” She got up. “Be right back.”


He experienced a pang of jealousy, which was absurd, he told himself. Her diaphragm didn’t cause any such reaction in him. She returned a minute later, a bit out of breath and handed them to him.


“These are the same ones they sold at the PX,” he remarked.


“They are the ones from the PX. The ones you left in my foot locker.”


The little jealous corner of him was pleased. “Well, we have an entire houseful of options to pick from, m’lady. What’s your pleasure?” he asked seductively.


“The one you already picked works for me.”


“A woman after my own heart,” he grinned. He took her into his arms and kissed her as he dipped her back onto the table again. Margaret turned out to be right: it didn’t last long, but like burning pine boughs, what it lacked in staying power, it more than made up for in intensity. And, blissfully, there was no reason whatsoever to try to be quiet.


After hovering over her for a few moments longer, Hawkeye seated himself in the chair to the left of Margaret’s head, leaning forward to scoop his arms around her upper body, turning one arm into a pillow under her head. He used a breast as a pillow for his own head.


“Wow,” she drawled, completely content and smiling lazily. She brought her hand up to cup his elbow.


“Mmm,” he agreed. After a minute or two of languorous snuggling, he reflected, “I know why you’re here. If you’re not pregnant, that only leaves one reason. And you deserve a better answer than I can give you.”


That didn’t sound good, she thought.


“I’m surprised at how glad I am to see you. I mean, I know I’ve missed you. I just didn’t realize how much.”


Well, that wasn’t so bad.


“I don’t have an answer for you. I don’t know... what... exactly... my feelings for you are. So I probably shouldn’t be getting intimately involved with you again. Except–if I know you the way I think I do, you want this is as much as I do, whatever answer I eventually give you.”


She swallowed audibly, squeezed his arm, and held his gaze, nodding slightly.


“Would I be right in assuming you’re willing to... uh... continue the relationship we used to have before you changed your mind about how you feel about me?”


He was so afraid of love, he was even avoiding the word.


“Until I come up with a better answer for you?” he finished.


She smiled slightly and nodded. And kissed him. She still felt more loved in the circle of his arms than she had with anyone else who’d ever held her. She didn’t know if actions spoke louder than words, but they sure influenced her feelings a lot more.


And she’d missed him terribly. “How long ’til your dad gets home?”


He glanced at the clock. “Couple hours. Maybe longer.” Then mischief crept into his gaze. “Why? Have something in mind?” he grinned.


She couldn’t help grinning right back. “Uh-huh.”


“Oh boy!” he anticipated.


“But why don’t we do those dishes quick first?”


He stared at her for a moment. “Seriously?” he asked incredulously.


“Has your recovery time improved that much?”


“As a matter of fact, it has,” he said, pleased with himself. “It’s amazing the difference being well rested and well nourished has on a body. However...” he went on, giving her a quick kiss before unwinding his arms, “...as it’s my turn to do the dishes anyway, we’ll do it your way.” He stood and pulled his pajama bottoms up. “It’s usually my turn. Dad does most of the cooking.” He looked around for the washcloth and was surprised to find it in the water.


Hawkeye washed. Margaret rinsed and dried as she told him more about the situation at work. He realized working alongside her was one more way he’d missed her. Her assistance was as graceful here as it was in OR. The gentle brushes of her hand against his had never affected him this way in surgery though. He leaned closer to her. She looked up, saw the intent expression on his face, smiled, and leaned into him. >


Dishes finished–and the table re-washed–she led him into the living room. “Sit.”


“You were thinking about this last night too, I take it?”


“Uh-huh.” She climbed into his lap, wrapped her arms around him, nestled her face into his neck, and sighed contentedly. He kissed her temple. She smiled. “Mmm.” Things warmed up again, and cooled down again, and an hour later they lay cuddled together on the floor, after a journey through half a dozen other positions. Margaret caught herself falling asleep and was so mortified by the idea of being caught this way in the living room that she was immediately wide awake again.


“I’m going up for a shower.”


“Mind if I come with you?”


She laughed as she got up. “You’re ready to go again already?”


“What I’m ready for is a nap,” he yawned. “But all this incredible privacy is intoxicating! Please, can I join you in the shower?”


She laughed and went upstairs. He followed her.


Chapter 7


After their shower and nap, Hawkeye suggested they go for a walk and he’d show her around town. She agreed, and Hawkeye met her in her room a few minutes later.


“Is that what you’re wearing?” She was in the uniform again.


“Is there something wrong with it?” she retorted.


He was about to tell her exactly what was wrong with it, but he thought better of it. “Never mind. It’s fine. You look sexy it in, in fact.”


“Sexy? In my uniform?”


He shrugged. “What can I say? You wear it well.”


“Why don’t you want me to wear it?” she pressed.


He sighed. “It reminds me of the army, which I’d really prefer to forget. Besides, if you wear that, we’ll be talking about the war all day, with everyone we meet.” He looked glum.


She’d forgotten how sensitive he was about the subject. In retrospect, it surprised her he’d held together through the war as well as he had. To be put in that situation when his values were screaming how wrong it all was. Even though she disagreed with him about the need for war, she couldn’t help but admire his conviction. “I see your point,” she conceded. “But I travel light. I didn’t bring a lot else.”


He nodded. “It’s fine,” he said, without enthusiasm.


“I’ll have my coat on...”


“Oh, right! That’ll help! You’re not wearing those shoes, are you?”


“Hawkeye!”


“They can’t be comfortable to walk in!”


“They’re the only shoes I brought! And they’re not as bad as they look.”


“Well maybe we can get you some proper walking shoes downtown,” he suggested.


“Excuse me?! I think I can take care of my own wardrobe, thank you!”


He was taken aback. “Why are you yelling at me?”


She had to think about that a moment.


“I just want you to be comfortable,” he explained. “And not to add insult to injury, but you’re not exactly dressed for the weather either.”


“Virginia is warmer.”


“Exactly.”


“I’m sorry for yelling. I guess I think my shoes and clothes are my business, and while I appreciate your concern, I’m perfect capable of dealing with them on my own.”


He smiled. “I don’t like being told what to wear either–as you might recall. I apologize for my presumption.”


“It’s ok,” she said, calm again. And then she added. “I wouldn’t mind if you’d point out where those stores are though, just in case.”


He couldn’t help hugging her. “Deal.”


They went downstairs. Daniel sat in the living room, reading. “We’re going for a walk. Want to join us?”


He brightened and then changed his mind. “Aw, you kids don’t need me tagging along. Go on and enjoy your walk.”


“No, please come!” Margaret urged.


“Yeah, come on along. We’ve had all morning to be alone,” Hawkeye encouraged.


After a few more rounds of assurances, he agreed. And their walk was very much the richer for it. He knew the town a lot better than Hawkeye, most especially its history. He knew all the good scenic places, all the good restaurants and coffee shops. He knew which shops to go into because the shopkeeper would be fun to visit with and which ones to avoid and why. And he had wonderful stories about the why.


And he was excellent company. Hawkeye, of course, always got along great with him, but the way he hit it off with Margaret was such a treat. Daniel and Margaret had an easy camaraderie, one of those rare relationships where both parties like the other immediately and can say or ask almost anything.


Daniel asked Margaret lots of questions about her childhood and her life, her career in the military, many of them questions Hawkeye had never thought to ask himself. And the answers shed a lot of light on who she’d turned out to be. It was small wonder she had trouble reaching out to others and forming close bonds when she was constantly having to leave people behind. And not so surprising either that she’d embraced the military: as much chaos as she’d experienced in her life, the army with its discipline, schedules, well-defined rules and regulations must have provided a kind of security and stability that she had never known.


In turn, Margaret asked Daniel lots of questions, including a number of questions about his late wife, and Hawkeye realized it had been a long time since he and his dad had talked about his mom. He’d never thought about it before, but suddenly he wondered why his dad was still alone. He’d certainly dated enough during Hawkeye’s teen years. A woman couldn’t ask for a better man than his dad. >


They stopped several times during the afternoon for a snack and a hot cup of coffee, visited a drugstore so Margaret could pick up some “personal items,” and had dinner at a small café that Daniel claimed was the best in town. Neither Hawkeye nor Margaret could confirm that claim, but they didn’t doubt it either; the food was excellent, the service friendly and fast, and the ambience charmingly homey.


It was nearly 8 when they finally got back home. Margaret hadn’t realized how cold she was until she got back into the warm house, settled on the couch next to Hawkeye, and shivered. He touched her, frowning. “I told you you weren’t dressed for Maine weather,” he scolded, putting his arm around her and pulling her closer. “You’re colder than Charles’ bedside manner!” He pulled down the blanket that hung over the back of the couch, unfolded it and covered her.


“Thanks,” she said, somewhat contritely.


Daniel switched on the television. “Do you like Jackie Gleason?” he asked Margaret.


“Sure,” she smiled. As it turned out, the laughter helped warm her.


About halfway through the show, during a musical number, Hawkeye turned to her. “Let me see those feet.”


“What’s wrong with my feet?” she asked suspiciously.


“Apart from being icicles? They were wearing heels all day. Come on, hand ’em over.”


“What are you gonna do with ’em?”


“I’m going to make mad, passionate love to them!” he said enthusiastically, waggling his eyebrows for effect.


She laughed.


“Come on, give me your feet. One foot, how about one foot?”


“Hawkeye–”


“Let me examine your feet. Am I not your personal physician?”


“Because you took out my appendix you’re my personal physician?” >


“I took out your appendix, I’ve given you shots, > I’ve given you complete physicals. And wasn’t it me you came to when you thought you were–” >


“All right!” She shifted position so her feet were in his lap. “They’re sensitive, so be gentle–or you’ll regret it!” she threatened in a voice he knew to take seriously.


“Yes, ma’am.”


“Don’t call me that. Please? Oooh, your hands are warm!”


“Yes, dear,” he amended. Besides warming her feet, he wanted to iron out some of the knots. She hadn’t complained, but by the end of the day, she didn’t have nearly as much spring in her step as when they’d set out. She gasped as he found a tender spot in her calf. “You know, you might enjoy this more if you’d try to relax. Lie down.” She began to protest. “Doctor’s orders.” She acquiesced, reluctantly.


Daniel smiled at the pair of them. Hawkeye had found a moment during the afternoon to let him know Margaret wasn’t pregnant. Under the circumstances, he thought he ought to be glad, rather than disappointed. But disappointed was what he was.


“Speaking of doctor’s orders,” Margaret said, attempting to draw attention away from Hawkeye’s sensual ministrations. “You said at the end of the war that you were looking forward to getting to know your patients. So what are you doing? And how’s it going?”


“I’ve joined Dad’s practice. Getting people to say ‘Ahhh’, just like I said,” he smiled.


“And?” she prompted.


“And...” He gave extra attention to a particular knot as he tried to find the right words.


“He’s miserable.”


Hawkeye turned to Daniel, surprised. “Dad...” he began apologetically.


“Don’t deny it. You were happy enough to be there at first, but you get more bored and frustrated by the week.”


“Dad... I’m... sorry.”


“Oh, it’s all right. You’re destined for greater things, and I’m sure it’s especially dull after what you’ve come home from.”


“I hated that though! It made me crazy!” he protested, and added, as an aside, “Literally.


“I couldn’t wait to come home and do nice easy, boring things. What’s wrong with me?”


“Nothing’s wrong with you!” both Daniel and Margaret protested.


“You’re a brilliant surgeon!” Margaret reminded him.


“You gave it a fair try and it’s just not for you,” Daniel reasoned.


“And your career is important to you!” Margaret went on.


“My loss will be someone else’s gain,” Daniel said.


“It makes complete sense you’d want to move on to something more fulfilling!” Margaret finished.


“And you’ll do everyone more good, including yourself, if you’re somewhere you feel you’re making a difference,” Daniel concluded.


They had spoken both at the same time, and yet the natural bond they seemed to share kept them from overlapping each other. Hawkeye sat for a moment, stunned, wondering how they’d done it. They couldn’t have timed it better if they’d rehearsed it. He shook the thought off and returned to the subject at hand.


“Well... now that it’s unanimous,” he joked. “Seriously... I’m sorry it didn’t work out, Dad. Truly.”


“I know.”


“I’ve been trying to find a way to bring it up. I hate to disappoint you.”


Daniel smiled. “Son, you could never disappoint me. ‘Brilliant surgeon’–I’ve heard you described that way before, and I couldn’t be prouder of you.”


They shared a look full of mutual love and understanding. “Thanks, Dad.”


Margaret sniffled. Which she did so rarely, it was worthy of note. Hawkeye turned to her, inquiring silently. She smiled, dabbing at her eyes. “I love the relationship you two have,” she explained. “It’s so easy and caring and... natural. Daniel, you’re so different from my father. He’s a good man, but... stern.” >


Stern. Hawkeye figured he’d better hold his tongue. He didn’t care too much for good old ‘Howitzer’ Al. And the feeling was very mutual. > It suddenly struck him that Margaret’s dear old dad almost certainly didn’t know about their relationship–heck, he could count on his fingers the people who did know, > without even needing a second hand–and he wondered just exactly how pissed off the old guy would be if he knew. And it struck him funny that the old codger would hate it.


“What are you grinning about?” Margaret asked him.


“Grinning? Who’s grinning?” > He laughed out loud. “All right. I was just thinking that you apparently didn’t consult dear old dad before you went and fell in love with me.”


She smiled in spite of herself. “Obviously not.”


“What are you gonna tell him?” he asked curiously.


“Possibly nothing. That’s up to you.”


“Right.” Ouch. Changing the subject, he said, “Why don’t we go upstairs and I’ll finish getting the knots out of these muscles. I get the impression I’m embarrassing you by pleasuring you in front of Dad.”


“Not to mention making me jealous!” Daniel said. Hawkeye looked over at him and Daniel waggled a stockinged foot at him. “You never rub my feet!” he mock complained.


“Well the next time you wear high heel shoes, I’ll be sure and offer!” Hawkeye assured him.


“I’ll buy a pair first thing Monday,” Daniel said, deadpan.


Margaret burst into one of her fits of the giggles, laughing harder the more she tried to stop. They couldn’t resist joining her. After several minutes, she finally settled down. “Oh, I love you guys!” She got up from the couch and the guys followed suit. “Thanks so much for letting me stay here! I haven’t had this much fun in ages!” >


She kissed Daniel on the cheek and he pulled her into a bear hug. “You are so welcome here, my dear.”


They exchanged good nights, and Hawkeye followed Margaret upstairs. She continued to her room, while he stopped in the bathroom. As she was undressing, she smiled as she reflected on the day’s events: the way he’d wakened her, the food, the sex, the laughter, Daniel, more food, more laughter. And more sex to come, no doubt. She sighed happily. She couldn’t even bring herself to be disappointed about Hawkeye’s ambiguity. And she was struck again by the actions vs words thing. She shrugged it off; who could figure these things out?


She realized she’d forgotten her drugstore bag downstairs. She put on Hawkeye’s robe and went down to get it. Hawkeye was still in the bathroom, shaving from the sound of it. She grinned. When she returned, he was waiting at the top of the stairs.


“There you are,” he said unnecessarily.


She held up her bag as she climbed the last steps.


“Oh.” And thinking about the drugstore, he said, “You know the bad thing about small towns?”


“Everybody knows your business?” she guessed. They walked down the hall.


“Oh, you’ve lived in one! We’re out of condoms. Tomorrow we’ll go for a drive and get some in the next town.” She reached into the bag and handed him a box. He laughed in surprised delight. “Margaret!”


She shrugged. “It’s not any harder than buying spermicide,” she said as she pulled it from the bag. “Course they’re both easier to buy when you’re wearing a wedding ring. I carry mine for just such occasions.”


He laughed.


“I’m not kidding. I wish I were. I’ve had people tell me, ‘We’re out!’ when I’m not wearing a ring.” She rolled her eyes and sighed. “So I put on the stupid ring and there’s no questions asked.”


They’d reached their bedroom doors and stopped. “You’re a brave woman, Margaret.” And for once, he wasn’t joking. “You keep telling me about the double standard, and I’ve clearly not been paying enough attention. It’s not fair. Promise me you’ll put me in my place if I should treat you like less than a full person.”


She smiled. “That’s a promise I’m sure I can keep.” She turned to her room.


“Where you going?”


She held up the spermicide again.


He took it away from her. “You know, sometimes I wish you wouldn’t be in such a hurry with that. There might be things I’d like to do without benefit of chemicals.”


She melted into his arms, and he steered her into his bedroom.


***


Hawkeye lay awake in the early hours of Sunday morning, reviewing the previous day’s events contentedly. Except for two minor–or maybe not so minor–things. First, there was the unresolved matter of his feelings.


He wanted to continue their relationship, but how exactly? They had a lot of fun together and were good for one another, despite their many differences, but Margaret deserved some kind of answer. It wasn’t fair to leave her adrift in a sea of his ambivalence. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, he cared for her deeply. He loved her. But he didn’t know if it was the right kind of love. With Carlye and Kyoong-Soon, he’d felt completely out of control–but there was magic in that loss of control. Sure, he loved Margaret, but did it count without that special magic? And how was he supposed to find that out? He certainly didn’t want to commit himself–or her–to something that was doomed to failure.


And even if he could find it out, and it was all good, what kind of commitment was he ready for? Certainly not marriage. What could he offer her? He owed her a lot more than just keeping her around as his playmate. That probably left a lot of middle ground, but he wasn’t sure what was in it, or what circumstances could possibly work for them.


And before you head down that path, he told himself, consider this: as wonderful as it is to have her here, she’s a visitor. This isn’t real life. Could they get along in real life? When they had problems and normal, boring, everyday stuff to deal with? Really there was only one way to find out. And what if they tried and failed? He sighed.


“Penny for your thoughts?”


He turned to her and couldn’t help smiling. “Morning.” He had more thinking to do on that subject and wasn’t ready to discuss it, so he turned instead to the second matter that was on his mind.


“Yesterday morning...” he said. “You could have pretended not to remember.”


She shook her head. “Remember what?”


“When I forgot the condoms. A lesser woman might have taken advantage of the situation. Do you know how much I respect you?”


She half smiled. “Hawkeye, should there ever come a day when you and I decide to get married, it’ll be because we both want to. If the only reason you’d marry me is because I was pregnant, forget it!”


He raised his eyebrows in surprise. “You’d rather be an unwed mother than get married?!”


“If it meant I’d have a resentful husband who’d be cheating on me every chance he got?! You bet I would, buster!”


He paused a moment, surprised. “But... what about the stigma of–”


“Oh, stigma, schmigma. You move to a new town and say you’re divorced. Problem solved.”


Her attitude was her to a tee–no self-pity, just make a decision, take charge and get on with it. Clearly, she’d given some thought to this eventuality. Considering the efficacy of the available contraceptives and given her mostly deserved reputation, that made perfect sense. And if anyone could be successful raising a child alone, it was Margaret. So why did her attitude shock him?


He’d spent so much time dwelling on being coerced into marriage that he’d never even considered the possibility of her not wanting to get married if she were in the family way. And he wondered suddenly if he’d forgotten condoms on purpose, in some subconscious way, to make sure she’d stay. He made a mental note to be extra cautious about that from now on. The idea of never seeing an accidental child they’d made together–unless he could be a fit husband–was sobering, even considering how extremely unready he was for marriage, much less fatherhood. He could hear ‘not all fun and games’ in BJ’s voice.


“What?” she asked him after he’d been staring at her for at least a full minute.


“You’re a remarkable woman,” he said sincerely.


“Thanks. I think,” she said uncertainly. He continued to gaze at her intently rather than pursuing their preferred early-morning activity, so she took matters–and a favorite body part–into her own hands. He closed his eyes and released a deep breath, relaxing into her touch and opening his mouth to her kiss, letting his hands wander where they would. After a few minutes worth of kisses, cuddles, and caresses, she grabbed a condom from the box on the bedside table, pushed him onto his back, opened it, applied it and climbed on.


Margaret. Such enthusiasm. It was nice to feel so blatantly wanted. And such a spectacular view! How much he would miss her if... never mind. He watched emotions play across her face as she emitted soft sighs and moans. Maybe they shouldn’t be doing this. She was falling more in love with him every time. ‘And you’re falling more in love with her every time.’ The thought caught him completely off guard. He tried to set it aside, but he couldn’t shake it. And with that thought at the front of his mind, his feelings for her came to the front of his heart, and he couldn’t shake them either.


This experience had suddenly become... something more than it usually was. She was projecting feelings toward him which he imagined he could feel–or maybe he really could–and he projected his own feelings back to her. Or was it their shared feelings they were sending back and forth? Certainly it felt like a force that had a life of its own. In one way it was exhilarating and in another, terrifying. He really didn’t think they should be doing this. But there was no way to stop at this point, not without both hurting and humiliating her, and besides, stopping now would feel like a copout. What was he afraid of anyway?


Her movements had slowed. She leaned forward over him, and he slid his hands from their place on her thighs around her bottom and up her back. She pressed her cheek to his, moaning softly. He continued holding her close, overwhelmed by his feelings. “Trade places with me?” she murmured.


Of course. He hadn’t been paying attention. Ordinarily she wouldn’t have to ask. He rolled them over, not so distracted that he wasn’t momentarily delighted at being able to do so. The energy between them grew stronger. They were closer now, face to face. Part of him said he should break the eye contact with her, but he couldn’t do it. Something about it was too compelling, and he couldn’t look away. Too late, he realized orgasm was upon him. His mind screamed in protest! He’d been more or less on autopilot, so preoccupied that he had no idea how close she was. He prided himself on not coming first. What a muddle he’d made of this!


So it came as a complete shock to him when Margaret climaxed right along with him. It was bewildering to him that it had happened without his even trying! And it was so powerful that he felt for just a moment as if they’d become one being. “I love you,” he heard himself say.


She was crying, and he was so out of touch with his usual sense of these things that he didn’t know if it was good crying or bad. The prescribed response was the same either way: be there; hold her. But he would have preferred to know. As his mind raced, he found himself shifting position and withdrawing. Apparently he could do that on autopilot as well. In one sense it was comforting to know he could do these things without conscious thought or effort; at the same time he found it extremely disconcerting.


She cuddled close and he held her the way he always did. Their bodies had come to know one another so well. He’d never been more in tune with a lover. Carlye’s inexperience when they’d met had made their intimate path together tentative and gradual. Even when they’d renewed their relationship in Korea, she remained a bit reserved; she had never been as comfortable with sexuality as Margaret was. Probably never would, he mused.


Margaret. What had he done to her? He couldn’t stand himself just now. He had to get away. But he couldn’t leave her now, wouldn’t. He would wait until she went to sleep. And he did, stroking her gently in remorse as he waited.


***


He got dressed and went out for a walk. He’d never been much into leisure walking before the war, but his long confinement within the very small perimeter surrounding the MASH compound had made walking anywhere he wanted, anytime he wanted seem like an incredible luxury. He hadn’t realized how much he’d missed this freedom until he got home and had it back.


After half an hour’s walk and no new insights into his feelings, he realized that what he really needed was advice. He didn’t think he could wait until tonight to talk to BJ. What would he do with Margaret in the meantime? And how was he supposed to have a private conversation with her right there?


He walked a bit more, into the neighborhood of his father’s office. Maybe he’d stop into the office to rest and warm up a bit. He sat in his dad’s chair, staring at the phone, and it suddenly occurred to him that he didn’t have to wait for tonight to call BJ; he could call him right now! He was just about to pick up the receiver when he glanced at the clock. 8:20. Oh yeah, BJ’d be thrilled to hear from him at 5 am.


He got up and paced a bit, then wandered the office looking for little things he could do. Agnes, his dad’s nurse, was pretty efficient–he didn’t find much. He filed a few charts. Then he decided he may as well leave his dad some notes about the patients whose charts remained on his desk for followup. He did a very thorough job, to pass the time.


Chapter 8


Margaret came downstairs to find Daniel at the kitchen table with the newspaper. They exchanged good mornings. Daniel fished among the sections of newspaper and said, “Hawkeye went for a walk. He left us a note.” He found it and handed it to her. But it didn’t say anything, apart from what Daniel had already told her.


She joined him at the table. “How long’s he been gone?”


“Well, that’s the interesting part. The note was here when I got up a little after 7.”


“Does he usually take–” she glanced at the clock, “two hour walks?”


“No,” he replied, wishing he had a better answer. “What can I get you for breakfast?”


“Nothing, thanks,” she said bleakly.


“You have to eat something, Margaret. How about I surprise you?”


She couldn’t help but smile at his whimsical suggestion. “Ok,” she agreed. “But don’t go to any trouble.”


He stood. “Is that in the nature of a challenge?” he asked, eyes full of mischief.


She couldn’t resist him. “All right,” she grinned. “No pots and pans.”


“Oh!” he complained as he walked over to the refrigerator. “I’m not a miracle worker, you know! I don’t have a ray gun I can just zap things with and suddenly they’re hot! Come on, one pot.”


She beamed at him. “Ok, one pot.”


“Turn your back then, Miss Margaret! It was going to be a surprise, remember? No peeking!”

The origin of Hawkeye’s playful nature was far from a mystery.


She turned, smiling, back to the table. But her good humor was short lived because Hawkeye’s note still sat before her. She picked it up again and sighed in frustration.


“You and Hawkeye didn’t have a disagreement, did you?” He’d heard stories about some of their run-ins.


“No,” she said assuredly, and then, doubting, “Well... we had a conversation... and he was... surprised... by my attitude, but....” She shook her head. “No, it didn’t stop him from–” She stopped short of saying too much, but her memory replayed the next minutes. “What we had,” she said softly, “was the exact opposite of a disagreement.” She closed her eyes a moment, more comfortable in the memory than in the present. “He said the words,” she whispered.


“What was that?”


“He said the words,” she repeated, “those three little words....”


He debated whether to continue this conversation. He didn’t want to pry, but she seemed to need to talk. “Do you think he meant them?”


“Considering what’d just happened between us, I’d have a harder time believing he didn’t. He’s never said them before–except when he was joking around. And I have a hunch he didn’t mean to say them this time. Wish I knew why.”


“Hawkeye’s been hurt before. He might have trouble learning to love again.”


“I know. Carlye.”


“He’s mentioned her?” he asked in surprise.


“Yeah. I’ve met her actually. She was on my nursing staff for several weeks.”


“In Korea?”


“Uh-huh.”


His curiosity got the better of him. “How did that work out?”


“It was before Hawkeye and I were...” She paused, not knowing quite what term to use, and gave an ambiguous wave of her hand, “whatever we are. I had no idea at the time that they were lovers.”


“I never liked her.”


“Really?” She turned, and he shielded the stove from her eyes with his body, raising his eyebrows, his lips pursed and wagging a finger at her. She smiled as she turned her back to him again. “She seemed nice enough to me. Certainly she’s a good nurse. What didn’t you like about her?”


“She was needy, self-centered, and demanding,” he stated flatly, and then, backpedaling, “uh... in her own... sweet... way, of course. Whatever he did for her, it was never enough. And I hated seeing him hurt.” He shook his head. “Good riddance to bad rubbish,” he said under his breath.


Margaret heard him though and grinned happily, not so much that he didn’t like Carlye, more because he did like her. She turned the unhelpful note face down and picked up the nearest section of newspaper. She couldn’t really focus on it though. Her thoughts were too full of Hawkeye.


She’d taken a risk by coming here. He had made it abundantly clear before they’d parted in Korea that he wasn't interested in continuing their relationship after the war. On the other hand, what with being so completely miserable, she figured she didn't have much to lose–his respect maybe, and what good was that without the rest of him? The worst thing he could say was ‘No.’ Technically, his answer could hurt a whole hell of a lot more than a simple no, depending on what exactly he said. But he’d always been kind to her. > He was still at least her friend, last she knew, and unlikely to deliberately hurt her. He was likely, in fact, to let her down as gently as possible.


If letting her down was what was coming. And it was starting to look like it was. Even if it was, her visit hadn’t been a total loss. He’d been happy to see her, up until a little while ago. They’d had a good time together. She’d certainly missed the sex, and clearly so had he. Maybe it was just ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’, but it seemed to her like it was getting better.


Oh well. If he turned her down, she’d just ask her father about the opportunities he’d suggested at the end of the war. Making a fresh start in Europe might be really good, and a definite distraction from her broken heart. If things went that way.


In a few minutes, Daniel interrupted her thoughts by bringing her hot chocolate and cinnamon toast. “Best I could do with one pot and no trouble,” he said mirthfully.


“How wonderful! I haven’t had cinnamon toast since I was a little girl!”


“Mmm. Well, I thought... you know, comfort food.”


“Aww, thanks. You’re a treasure, you know that?” It struck her that she would miss Daniel almost as much as Hawkeye if... but the thought hurt too much to finish.


He patted her arm and sat down with his own cup of hot chocolate. They sat, swapping sections of newspaper, Daniel sharing interesting tidbits, for a good half hour. Then they joined forces to do the crossword puzzle. Margaret wasn’t so much interested in the puzzle, but Daniel’s efforts to keep her entertained made it more than worthwhile. She laughed out loud repeatedly at his off-beat suggestions.


***


The charts finished, Hawkeye paced again. When he couldn’t stand the waiting any more, he picked up the phone and got the operator to connect him to BJ. He stopped counting rings after 20.


“Hello?” BJ finally said into the phone, half asleep.


“Hi, Beej.”


“Hawkeye?!” he asked indignantly. “Do you have any idea what time it is?!”


“I’m sorry. I really need to talk to you.”


BJ’s annoyance faded as concern replaced it. “What’s wrong?”


“Margaret’s here.”


“Really?! That’s a surprise!”


“Yeah.”


“Uh...- oh. Is she...?”


“No, she’s not pregnant. That was my first thought too. And you know what? Being pregnant and not married doesn’t exactly strike terror into her heart. She said she would just move to a new town and say she was divorced.”


“I guess that would work.”


“You know what else she said?”


“What?”


“She said if I would only marry her because she was pregnant, she wouldn’t have me.”


“You’re kidding,” BJ said, truly surprised.


“No. Sounds like Margaret though, doesn’t it?”


“Now that you mention it, I guess it does.”


“She’s the strongest, most independent woman I’ve ever met. She’d have no problem raising a child by herself.”


“Sounds like you two have been having some pretty intense discussions.”


“Not really. Just a few off-the-cuff remarks this morning. They seem to have given me a lot to think about though.”


“Hawk? Are you sleeping with her again?”


He paused, knowing BJ would yell at him for it. “Yeah.”


“How can you do that to her?!” he demanded.


“Pretty damn easily, considering how willing she is!” he retorted. “And willing doesn’t even begin to cover it! I’ve never known a woman who was so–”


“Yeah, but Hawk, she’s in love with you!” he pointed out pointedly. “This isn’t some one-night stand!”


“Look, I know that, all right?!”


Silence from BJ.


Dropping the defensiveness, Hawkeye said, “The thing is... I seem to be falling too. And I don’t want to.”


BJ’s tone softened. “Afraid of getting hurt again?”


“Yeah. And afraid of hurting her any more than I already have. We’re so different. I don’t know how we could–”


“You’re not that different.”


“No?”


“No, and maybe if you stop dwelling on how different you are, you’ll start to see how many things you have in common. Besides, some differences are good!”


“I don’t know. Even if we find enough in common, I’m not exactly.... What if I can’t.... What the hell does she see in me anyway?!”


“You need to ask her that.”


“Maybe.” Why hadn’t he? “You know, Carlye said I would always put my career first. And she’s probably right. Don’t you think Margaret is destined to wind up just as disappointed in me as Carlye was?”


“In the first place, we all put our careers first sometimes. It kinda goes with the territory, don’t you think? Hell, I put my career first during the war against my will. A good woman will understand and stick by you when times are tough. In the second place... how alike are Carlye and Margaret?”


“Uhhh... well... not that much, I suppose.”


“Well, there you go. Different women, different needs. And you might keep in mind that Margaret is pretty sharp and dedicated herself. Who’s to stay you wouldn’t wind up playing second fiddle to her career?”


“I never thought of that!” he exclaimed, suddenly cheered. “She would have worked herself to death in Korea if we hadn’t stopped her sometimes!”


“So how long has she been there?”


“Since Friday night.”


“And she just showed up? Out of the blue?”


“Yeah. Dad’s crazy about her. And she’s crazy about him too. It makes me wonder if... ” he trailed off. “Never mind.” Then, changing the subject, “Dad doesn’t usually hit it off very well with the women I bring home.”


“He likes the ones that arrive on their own steam better, huh?”


He chuckled. “I guess. I had no idea I’d missed her so much! And I don’t just mean the sex. We had so much fun Friday night! We reminisced and drank wine and told Dad stories. I haven’t laughed so much in... months. Yesterday we went for a walk around town and out for dinner, and then spent the rest of the evening relaxing in front of the TV and talking about my career. Dad knew.”


“He knew you wanted to leave?”


“Yeah. I hate to let him down.”


“Well, he wants what’s best for you. I’m sure he doesn’t see it that way.”


“That’s what he said.”


“See? I told you not to worry so much and just tell him!”


“You were right. That leaves a lot of uncertainty in my immediate future.”


“Opportunity’s knocking.”


“Easy for you to say.”


“So, it sounds like Margaret fits in nicely in your family.”


“Yeah. She fits in nicely in my bed too. God, I missed her. Such unbridled enthusiasm. But I forget–you don’t approve of our relationship.”


“Who said I don’t approve? I’m as much in favor of sex as the next guy. I just don’t want to hear you’re taking advantage of her. It’s bad for her, and it’s bad for you. It’s about time you had a real relationship with a woman.”


“I don’t know whether to feel congratulated or insulted.”


“Why not both?” he laughed.


“The sex has been... as spectacular as ever. At least. Only...”


“Only what?”


“Something happened this morning. Something I wasn’t expecting.”


“How so?”


“A kind of intensity I’ve never experienced with her.”


“Because you’re falling in love with her.”


He sighed. “I suppose.”


“That kind of intensity is a good thing.”


“What if... what if it doesn’t work between us?”


“You know what they say about self-fulfilling prophesies. Don’t jinx yourself.”


He took a deep breath. “Right.”


“Let yourself love her. She’s not Carlye. Take a chance.”


“I’ll try.”


“Hawk?”


“Yeah?”


“Hug Margaret for me.”


“I will. If she’s still speaking to me.”


“Why wouldn’t she be speaking to you?”


“Because I left her alone in bed,” he looked at the clock again, “about three hours ago. I think she’ll probably have missed me by now.”


“She hasn’t come downstairs?”


“I’m not home. I’m at the office.”


“Oh! Hawkeye...” he began to admonish.


“I had to get away. I felt like such a heel. I’ve treated her so badly. And I felt so..” He shook his head and sighed, “bewildered.”


“You need to go back home.”


“I know. I don’t know what to say to her.”


“You could start with I’m sorry.”


“Yeah.”


“I won’t keep you then. Is there anything else before I go back to bed?”


“I guess not. I miss you.”


“I miss you too, Hawk.”


“BJ? Thanks.”


“Pshaw! What are friends for? I’ll talk to you next week?”


“Ok. Bye, Beej.”


“Bye.”


***


Nigh onto 11 am Hawkeye came through the back door. “Honey, I’m home!” he called.


“That was some walk,” Daniel remarked.


Hawkeye ignored it, instead saying, “I brought cake. And what’s that heavenly aroma?” he beamed at his dad.


“Beef roast.”


He moaned his pleasure. “I hope I got the right kind. What color goes with red meat?”


“What kind did you get?” Daniel asked him.


He untied the string and opened the box to reveal a multi-layer cake covered in chocolate ganache.


“Very nice,” Daniel said, wishing his son would acknowledge Margaret. Instead he was pointedly avoiding her gaze.


“I think I’ll have a shower.” And he disappeared up the stairs.


Margaret took a deep breath. “Maybe I should go and pack.”


“I wish you wouldn’t,” Daniel pleaded. “He’ll come around as soon he realizes that going round and round in his own head is getting him nowhere. Meanwhile, turnabout is fair play: ignore him.”


She grinned at him in spite of herself. “You’re supposed to be on his side, you know.”


“Oh, I am! I most definitely am, my dear. When he gets in one of these moods, you can’t make him talk. Believe me, I’ve tried. His teen years were interesting, to say the least. There’s nothing for it but to wait him out. Trust me.”


“I do.”


He winked at her. “I’m going to peel some potatoes.”


“I’ll help you.”


They were just finishing up when Hawkeye returned. He sat down at the table and began looking over the newspaper. Margaret shook her head and went upstairs to shower and dress. Having put the potatoes on to boil, Daniel joined Hawkeye at the table.


“You started the crossword puzzle without me.”


“I was trying to distract Margaret from worrying so much,” Daniel said honestly.


Hawkeye looked up, gave a great sigh, and closed his eyes. “Thank you.” He rubbed his temples. “I wish she hadn’t fallen in love with me.”


Daniel frowned. “Why do you say that? She’s a wonderful woman, and you’re obviously crazy about her.”


“You think?”


Daniel narrowed his eyes. “Hawkeye, you’ve been happier since Margaret got here than I’ve seen you since you’ve been home!”


He considered that for a moment. “I have, haven’t I?” he admitted.


“Are you letting the past color your feelings for Margaret?”


“How do you mean?”


“You and I never saw eye to eye on Carlye, so you’ll probably dismiss out of hand anything I have to say about her. But here goes anyway: she was never a good match for you. She needed things you’ll never be able to give her. But not every woman demands she be treated like a princess. You’re far better suited to a woman with her own mind, her own interests, and her own career. And a strong personality to offset yours.”


“Margaret.”


“What’s holding you back? Are you just afraid of getting hurt again, or is there something more?”


“I am afraid of getting hurt, but I’m afraid for her too. Dad, we’re so different! Different in our politics, in our philosophies, our temperaments. I don’t know if it can work between us. And I’m afraid to love her any more than I do if it’s all about to fall to pieces.” He rubbed his eyes. “And I don’t want her to be hurt any more than she already has been.”


Daniel wanted to know what had happened between them, but he wasn’t about to ask. There had to be a reason Hawkeye had never mentioned the aspect of his relationship with Margaret that she’d referred to as ‘whatever we are’.


“What’s more,” Hawkeye went on, “I don’t know if what we have is the real thing. I don’t think the past is coloring my feelings for Margaret so much as the sex.”


A smile crept onto Daniel’s face. This seemed like an improvement in his son’s character. “That’s not a problem you usually have.”


Hawkeye looked at him blankly.


“Maybe I’ve misinterpreted, but I very much get the impression that you’ve had intimate relationships with women without it having much effect on your feelings at all.”


He nodded. “I may have been a little too–” He took a deep breath, and self-assessed more honestly. “I may have been a complete womanizing asshole. I didn’t see it at the time. It was all fun and games then.” He shook his head. >


“Was Margaret one of your conquests then?” The question was out before he could snatch it back.


“No. We were just friends. Well... friends and lovers. Until she... fell. We’d known one another for years. Can such a delayed reaction be the real thing?”


Daniel was about to answer, ‘Why not?’ and point out the obvious fact that people change, but he remained silent as Hawkeye continued.


“It’s the real thing for her. I see it in her eyes. I hear it in her voice. I feel it in her kiss and the way she–” He swallowed noisily. “You’re not supposed to fall in love with your friend, are you?”


“Why on Earth not?!” Daniel asked, shocked. “Your mother was the best friend I ever had!”


“She was?”


Daniel sighed with deep regret. “We don’t much talk about your mother.”


“No.”


“We should. I fear I’ve done you a great disservice by not telling you all about her. You were so young when she died.”


“You’re always so sad when you talk about her. I never wanted to put you through it.”


“I still miss her.” He wiped away a tear with a pained expression. “But my being sad is no excuse. I’ve often wondered if your experiences with women would have been different if your mother had been here to–” He choked up as an image of her smiling face formed behind his eyes, and he cleared his throat. “To teach you... to show you–” He cleared his throat again.


Hawkeye put a hand on Daniel’s shoulder. “It’s ok, Dad. I know what you mean. I’ve wondered too, what it would have been like to have a mother growing up.”


Daniel broke down entirely, covering his face with his hands, and Hawkeye patted his shoulder. After he’d recovered somewhat, he said, “Hawkeye, friendship is a wonderful basis for a romantic relationship. Maybe I never recovered from losing Elizabeth because I lost my wife, the mother of my child, the love of my life, my best friend, and my business partner to boot, all in one fell swoop.”


Hawkeye didn’t know what to say and patted his father on the shoulder again.


“Still... maybe I should have remarried,” Daniel said tearfully. “For your sake.”


“You know I didn’t want that! Besides, how could you?! You’re still in love with Mom!” Daniel nodded and wept still, and Hawkeye went on, to fill the space. “You know, in hindsight, I’m surprised how much dating you did. Were you just trying to forget her?”


With a pained voice, he replied, “As if I ever could. No. I only went out with those women because well-meaning friends kept insisting.” He sighed.


“You didn’t enjoy being a free-wheeling bachelor,” Hawkeye realized. “You’re just really good at hiding your feelings.”


Daniel shrugged. “I showed them a good time, to be polite. But there was never...” he shook his head. “I miss your mother.” He got up to check on dinner, leaving Hawkeye to his thoughts.


Chapter 9


Hawkeye noticed during dinner that Margaret was dividing her attention between her plate and his father. And it served him right, he thought. After dinner, Daniel asked Hawkeye to take care of the dishes as he went into the living room. Margaret stacked plates and set them in the sink as Hawkeye ran water, but then, thinking better of it, she followed Daniel (and his advice) into the living room.


Hawkeye had had a moment of both thrill and dread as Margaret began to help him. Now that she was gone, the thrill was replaced by disappointment, but no corresponding relief came to replace the dread. Just a lingering sadness. Disappointed and alone, he washed the dishes.


Disappointed and alone. The way he always wound up when he tried to have a meaningful relationship with a woman. Heartbroken and alone, more accurately. He dwelled on that thought for several minutes until he realized that he wasn’t alone at all. She was just in the next room, probably waiting for him to speak to her. He finished up and ventured meekly into the living room.


His father sat dozing in his arm chair. Margaret sat in Hawkeye’s usual place on the couch. She moved over as he approached. He sat, glanced at her, and they sat in silence for a few moments. “I’m sorry... for disappearing on you. I... uh... had a lot of thinking to do.”


She was slow to respond to him. When she did, she nodded. “Did you... get anything decided?”


He sighed greatly. “Only that I lo–” he began, speaking from his heart, but his brain made him stop. He turned to her and reached out his hand for hers. She gave it and he gently rubbed her knuckles. She looked up at him expectantly, eyes full of love. “I shouldn’t say it.” he said, holding her gaze. Then he dropped his eyes to look at their hands. “Even if I do, I don’t know what it means. Or where we go from here.” He continued pensively stroking her hand.


“Say it. Please?”


He met her gaze again, just for a moment, and dropped it again. “Nothing good ever happens to me when–”


She intertwined her fingers with his and squeezed. “Maybe this time it will.”


He brought his gaze back up. “Maybe.” He looked at her for a long moment and said regretfully, “Oh, Margaret, it was never supposed to be like this.”


“What do you mean?”


“You weren’t supposed to fall in love with me.”


She sighed. “I know, I know. I didn’t do it on purpose, believe me.”


“I mean, this was never part of the agreement.”


“Yes, you’ve made that point clearly!” she said hotly, pulling her hand away. “I can’t argue it!”


He took a breath. “I’m doing a lousy job of communicating what I’m trying to say. Let me try another angle.” He thought for a moment. “The relationship we had–the one we agreed to–is a terrible thing to do to someone you might want to spend the rest of your life with. Had I known... I would never have done it.”


“Are you saying that I’m the kind of woman you play with, not the kind you settle down with?” she demanded.


He shook his head, confused. “What?”


“They say men group women into two categories: the kind they settle down with and the kind they play with before they settle down, and once a man puts a woman in the play category, he’ll never be able to see her as the settling down type.”


He shook his head vehemently. “No, that’s not what I’m saying at all. If anything, I found out that you’re the settling down type, and here I’ve been treating you like a playmate. And I don’t know how I can forgive myself for that. And I don’t know how I can ever possibly make it up to you.”


Her eyes began to tear up, and she cleared her throat. “That’s...” She cleared her throat again. “That’s a really... a really kind thing to say,” she finished lamely.


“Are you sure you want to be with someone who’s treated you so disrespectfully?” he asked, his words fairly dripping with guilt.


“Oh, Hawkeye, I’ve tried to explain this to you before. Men... lovers... don’t respect me. What you call disrespect is more respect than I usually get.”


“But why do you put up with that? You’re a strong person. You don’t have to take that kind of crap from anyone.”


“You don’t know what it’s like to be a woman! If I want to be respected, all I have to do is follow the rules and play hard to get. But that’s not who I am, and I don’t want to pretend to be someone I’m not. They’d find out eventually anyway, you know, that I’m experienced, so I figure I might as well be honest about it up front. But being honest never seems to earn me their respect.” She didn’t cry, but it was a near thing.


She was right–he didn’t know what that was like. “I respect you,” was all he could think to say though.


“I know you do!” she said, her voice wavering. “And that you care that you disrespected me means more to me than you can know!”


He gazed at her in silence for a while, not knowing what to say. The words that finally came were, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry for how I’ve treated you, and I’m sorry the world treats women like second-class citizens.”


She smiled as she struggled not to cry. “But you don’t treat women like second-class citizens.”


“Well... you’re not,” he said as though that should be obvious to everyone. >


Her smile brightened. “Thank you.”


He took a deep breath, trying to think what to say next.


“In any case,” she went on, “if you have things to make up to me, I have just as many to make up to you. It was a mutual agreement, entered into freely by us both.” She could see he was about to protest and she cut him off. “Don’t you dare invoke that damn double standard! I’m sick to death of it!”


He stared at her in silence for a moment, and then smiled. “I love you.”


“Do you mean that?”


He kissed her forehead. “I do.”


She smiled up at him, but tears came too.


“I can never say the right thing to you.”


“It’s the right thing. They’re happy tears.”


“This morning too?”


She paused a moment, remembering, then nodded. He wrapped his arms around her, and she reciprocated enthusiastically.


Daniel discreetly wiped his eyes. He’d been lightly dozing and hadn’t noticed Hawkeye come into the room, but their conversation had roused him and had proven far too interesting to tune out. Nor had he wanted to interrupt it by excusing himself and leaving, but now seemed a good time to remind them of his presence. He shifted position noisily. Hawkeye glanced at him, and he shot back a look full of love.


Hawkeye kissed Margaret’s temple and released her, settling back on the couch and taking her hand in his again. Daniel winked at Margaret and she beamed at him.


Hawkeye caught this exchange and turned from one to the other, intrigued and wanting in on the joke. “What’s that about?”


“Nothing,” Daniel said, trying to suppress a grin. Margaret didn’t even try.


Hawkeye narrowed his eyes. “Are you making time with my woman, sir?” he demanded mock seriously and then amended, “You two do get on like a house afire. Better than Margaret and I do.”


“Hawkeye, do you remember the last big fight we had?”


“Umm... no, I guess not. Refresh my memory.”


“I can’t remember either. I can remember some from a couple years back, but only minor skirmishes since we became friends.”


“Hmm.”


“My point is that we get along a lot better than we used to.”


Something else to think about.


“Son, have you given any thought to what you’re going to do with yourself now that you’re no longer my partner?”


Hawkeye sighed and nodded. “Some. And all of the options seem to lead away from Crabapple Cove.” He looked at Daniel poignantly. “I don’t want to leave you again.”


“Oh, son, I’ll be fine.”


“Ok for you, but what about me? I love ya, Dad. I don’t want to live far away again.”


Daniel smiled. “You won’t be that far, will you? Wherever you settle, it’ll be closer than Korea! We can visit one another.”


“It won’t be the same.”


“No. But son, you’ve been out of the nest for... how many years now? Fourteen? Fifteen?”


“I guess I never looked at it that way. Somehow I always assumed I’d be coming back home. I guess I’ve always been so busy, I never had time to give the future much concrete thought.”


Daniel nodded. “I’ve had quite a bit more time on my hands. I saw this coming... a decade ago. Which isn’t to say that having you back hasn’t been a treat!” He grinned.


“You knew I wouldn’t last as your partner?”


“I wanted to believe you would, but deep down....” He shrugged.


Hawkeye held his gaze for a long moment. “I’m gonna miss you, you know.”


Daniel nodded. “We’ll see each other. I promise.”


Hawkeye nodded. “I promise too.” Margaret sniffled again. Hawkeye leaned down and kissed her temple. “And where does all of this leave you and me? My life is a mess. I have nothing to offer you.”


“Honestly!” Daniel exclaimed.


“Your life isn’t a mess!” Margaret protested. “You’re just in transition!”


“Exactly!” Daniel agreed.


“Transition,” Hawkeye repeated. “That’s a nice, tidy word for it.”


“So what options have you considered?” Daniel repeated.


He sighed. “I haven’t really considered anything in much detail, though I have a hunch I’d really enjoy working in a teaching hospital. I think my best bet would be to go and visit some hospitals and see how they are and which ones might be a good fit. But again,” he said, turning to Margaret, “where does that leave us? What can we have with you in Virginia and me who knows where?”


“I don’t necessarily want to stay in Virginia though.”


“That’s right. Have you thought where you’d like to go?”


She shook her head. “Maybe we should tour hospitals together.”


Hawkeye brightened. “Really? That’d be a lot more fun! We could take a road trip together!” he suggested excitedly. “Wait a minute though. You’re married to the army. You can’t just go anywhere you want.”


“In the right circumstances, I might leave the army.” Leaving would be mandatory if, for example, she ever decided to have a child.


“What circumstances?”


She shrugged. “Make me an offer.”


“I can’t! I’ve got nothing! Margaret, I won’t hear of you even considering leaving the army for me!”


“Who are you and what have you done with Hawkeye Pierce?” she asked him.


“Margaret, you made a joke!” he couldn’t help remarking. “You love the army! You’ve had a long career there and worked hard to get where you are! I don’t know what I have to offer you. Certainly not enough, right now, that you should consider resigning your commission!”


She sighed. “So where does that leave us?”


“Frustrated!” He sighed.


“If I may ask, why don’t you want to stay in Virginia?” Daniel inquired.


She sighed again. “Politics. Bad patient care. It’s making me crazy.”


“You’re ready to leave?”


She thought a moment. “I have more reasons to leave than to stay. I’ve never been more frustrated by a work assignment.”


“You’re more frustrated than you were with Trapper and me constantly harassing you?”


“You and Trapper were just annoyances. Anyway you never put your tomfoolery before your work.”


“There must be other army hospitals you could transfer to. One would think large cities would have opportunities to suit you both,” Daniel pointed out.


Margaret and Hawkeye looked at one another searchingly and smiles crept slowly onto both of their faces. Hawkeye wondered why he hadn’t thought of it himself, but maybe other things had been dominating his thoughts.


“Margaret, when are you expected back in Virginia?”


“A week from tomorrow.”


“What say we go interview some hospitals this week?” he grinned impishly.


She beamed. “Sounds like a plan!”


He kissed her soundly. “Let’s go celebrate with cake!”


“You developed some serious food issues during the war!”


“I can’t help it! I was deprived for a long time–”


“More like depraved.”


“Haha! I love you when you’re funny!” he exclaimed in delight. “Make another joke!”


“No pressure then.”


He laughed heartily and hugged her. “Well, come on, let’s go have cake!”


They spent the rest of the afternoon looking at maps and discussing hospitals and generally planning their trip.


***


“Margaret, wait,” he implored.


“Mmmm,” she inquired, continuing to nibble at his neck.


“I don’t think I can do this.”


“Feels to me like you can...” she sing-songed, trailing kisses back to his mouth.


“Margaret...”


“What’s wrong?” she asked, realizing he was serious.


“I’m... scared.”


“Scared?” she asked in quiet surprise. “Of what?”


“I’m not sure. Of losing you maybe.”


“Hawkeye...”


“Margaret, every time we make love, we fall more in love with one other.”


“And you don’t want to.”


“That’s just it! I do! I want to fall, madly, hopelessly. But only if there’s some reasonable chance we can make this work.”


“No one’s going to give us any guarantees, you know.”


“I know. Doesn’t it bother you? This... uncertainty between us?”


“Of course it does. But I fell for you some time ago–and against my better judgment, I might add. In for a penny, in for a pound. I’m going pretty much on faith now.”


“I’ve never been so good with faith.”


She sighed greatly, knowing she had to respect his wishes. She kissed him on the cheek and said, “Good night, Hawkeye.”


“Are you mad at me?”


“Don’t you think you would know if I was mad at you?” She couldn’t help grinning.


He grinned back at her. “Yes. And I love that about you.”


“Really?!” Most people seemed to think she was too direct.


“Yes, it’s so much better than claiming nothing’s wrong and having something fester for days or weeks at a time and then exploding. It’s crazy. I always know where I stand with you.” >


“Well right now you’re frustrating the hell out of me! This isn’t something I would ever have expected of you!”


“Me neither, if it’s any consolation. I’m starting to think I should track down Sidney Freedman and ask him to help me find my sanity again.”


Margaret shook her head and chuckled in spite of herself. “Do you want me to go sleep across the hall?”


“I say I’m afraid of losing you and you offer to leave me?”


She pinched him.


“Ow!”


“Mind the sarcasm.”


“Yes, m–dear.”


“Sarcasm has been used against me as a weapon, not least of all by you. I’m sensitive to it.”


“I’ll try and direct my humor through other channels.”


“Thanks.”


“You once said I’m the least violent person you know.”


“Yeah...”


“I don’t like pinching.”


She bit her lip to suppress a grin. “I’ll try to keep my violent tendencies in check.”


He nestled his face closer to hers and kissed her cheek. “Night.”


Chapter 10

“Are you wearing that again?”


“Don’t start,” she warned, as she buttoned her uniform. “You know, you might consider putting on a uniform yourself. It couldn’t hurt your chances of getting hired.”


He laughed aloud at this idea.


She was affronted. “What?”


“Margaret, even if I still had any uniforms, you couldn’t pay me to put one on! I despise them!”


“What do you mean, if you still had any?”


“I got rid of ’em all.”


“You’re kidding!”


“Why would I keep them? You know how much I hate the army!”


“You didn’t even keep the Class A?”


“No. I hated that one most of all! And the one really good memory associated with it wasn’t enough to balance out all the bad ones.”


“I suppose you wore it to your court martial.”


“Not to mention Klinger’s and Kyoong Soon’s mother’s funeral and–”


“What was the good memory?”


“I once made you happy with it.”


She sighed, softening, and put her hands on his shoulders.


“I can get a job on my own merits anyway.”


She gripped his lapels in her fists as she demanded, “Are you implying I need to wear my uniform in order to get hired?!”


“No, Margaret. Why do you always assume the worst?” He covered her hands with his.


“I don’t–”


Unclenching her fists, he took her hands in his. “The uniform is fine for you. You’re an army nurse–why wouldn’t you wear it? I was just trying to get a rise out of you before. I guess I just got a little more than I bargained for.” He smiled at her.


“You enjoy baiting me.”


“What can I say? You’re a passionate woman. I’ve always enjoyed that about you.”


“Oh, I get it now,” she said, cottoning on.


“Get what?”


“You’ve developed a taste for another kind of passion with me, but since you’ve gone and put that one on your forbidden list, you’re having your fun by baiting me, just like old times.”


“I did not– I never– God, is that what I’m doing? Boy, this could be a really interesting day!”


“Where are you?” they heard Daniel call across the hall. “Oh, there you are.” He came into Margaret’s room. “I’m leaving for the office. I packed the picnic basket for you.” He hugged Hawkeye. “Son, I’ll see you when you get back.


“Margaret...” He touched her shoulders affectionately. “I can’t tell you what a pleasure it’s been getting to know you. You’re a beautiful person. I hope–” he glanced at Hawkeye, who smiled at him, “I hope I see you again real soon.”


“Me too, Daniel.” She hugged him tightly and he wrapped his arms around her. They exchanged kisses on the cheek and goodbyes, and Daniel left, wiping an eye.


Margaret sniffled.


“The Pierce men have a gift for making you cry.”


“This better work out between us,” she warned, “because I don’t want to lose him either!”


He gathered her into his arms. “He’s crazy about you too. Believe me, no one wants this to work more than I do.”


“Let’s get going then, before I have time to start missing him.”


***


“This is your car?!”


“What’s wrong with it?”


“Nothing. I just... assumed a doctor would have something newer.”


“Well, it’s reliable. And comfortable. And it’s paid for. I don’t see the point of getting a new one.” He looked at her in puzzlement.


“Of course you don’t. Forget I mentioned it.”


“What’s that supposed to mean?”


She took a deep breath. “Nothing, really. I apologize. My comments were out of line.”


“You’re willing to be seen in this car then?”


“Of course I am. Let’s not blow this out of proportion.”


“Me?! You’re the one who said–”


“Hawkeye, I said I was sorry!”


“All right! Apology accepted. I’m just trying to understand your point.”


“It’s like the class A uniforms, I think. It’s just one of those things we’re not going to see eye to eye on.”


“Oh. Ok, I get it.”


***


During their road trip, Margaret discovered that Hawkeye completely lacked any embarrassment or reluctance about asking for directions. It made for a smooth and relaxed trip. And she came to the conclusion that it all fit. He took no pride or interest in cars, had no emotional investment in them whatsoever. To him, cars were nothing more or less than transportation. >


They managed to visit four hospitals before running out of business hours, one in Crabapple Cove, one in Augusta and two in Portland. Margaret wrote detailed notes after each visit, pointing out that hospitals were similar enough that the details would start to run together after a while. Hawkeye thought that when he found the right place it would stand out and he wouldn’t need any notes, but he kept the thought to himself.


Continuing southwest, they stopped around sundown at a roadside diner, where they not only got hot, homemade, tasty food, but also information and advice about local motels from the couple who ran the place. Naturally, given Margaret’s attire, they also had to talk about the war for quite a while. Hawkeye was war-weary by the time they left. He handed Margaret the hand-drawn map on the back of the placemat and let her navigate. He yawned greatly as they pulled up to the motel. They got out of the car and walked into the office.


“Evening, folks,” said the desk clerk, a middle-aged man.


“And a very good evening to you!” Margaret beamed.


“We’d like a room please,” Hawkeye said, too tired for pleasantries. “Or... do we want two?” he said, turning to Margaret.


Margaret turned to him, looking hurt, and placed her left hand conspicuously on the counter. Hawkeye wondered when she had put on her wedding ring. “Dear,” she said, “I know we haven’t been getting along lately, but don’t you think two rooms is going a bit far?!”


He was tired, and it took him a beat longer than it should have to catch on. “Uh... I don’t what I could have been thinking of. Dear.”


“One room will be fine,” Margaret smiled sweetly, in spite of her mood. Hawkeye filled out the registration card while the desk clerk got their key.


“Number 12. Last room on the right.” He pointed. “Checkout is at noon. Enjoy your stay, Mr. and Mrs....” he picked up the card, “Pierce.”


They got back into the car. “Two rooms?!”


“I’m sorry. We should have discussed it before we went in.”


She was in shrill mode, as he expected. “Discussed it? Discussed it?! What’s to discuss?! We’ve been sharing a bed the last three nights and now you want separate rooms?!”


“You said–no, of course I don’t want separate rooms!” He was too tired for this. “You said you didn’t like pretending to be someone you’re not! I thought we’d get two rooms, so we could be honest and use our own names. But that doesn’t mean we have to use both rooms.” He started the car and slowly drove to the vacant spot in front of Number 12.


Hawkeye’s reply had mostly taken away her reason to be angry, and Margaret tried to calm down and find something reasonable to say. “I guess I don’t care about being myself with motel desk clerks any more than I do with nosy pharmacists. A nice, convenient lie makes things easier for everyone.”


He shrugged. “I guess so. You think on your feet.”


They let themselves in. Margaret called dibs on the bathroom and Hawkeye fell asleep only half undressed before she returned. She watched him sleep for a minute, wondering why he was so tired. He’d been in good spirits all day, jokes flying left, right, and center. She undressed him without waking him and covered him up. The sheets were cold as she slid into bed next to him, and she nestled close to him to get warm.


It was the war. The stupid conversation about the war. She enjoyed talking about it, especially when she was being thanked and admired. She enjoyed bragging about their 98% survival rate. He had more reason even than she to be proud of that statistic. But numbers weren’t what he cared about; people were, and those he’d lost were what he remembered. That and the pointlessness of it all.


Maybe she should change out of her uniform when they were in public. But she liked the attention it brought. She went to sleep puzzling over how to reconcile their decidedly different feelings and attitudes on the matter.


***


After a moment’s disorientation, the room coalesced around Hawkeye. He looked at Margaret and smiled. He turned and watched her sleep, pressing his knuckles against his mouth.


She stirred after a few minutes, and her eyes fluttered open. He smiled at her and wrapped his arm around her. She smiled back and cuddled closer. “It’s nice to wake up to a smile,” she murmured.


“It’s nice to wake up next to you. I could get used to this.”


“Me too.” She began to nuzzle against him. “Am I still on your forbidden list?”


“You must be. I’ve been trying not to kiss you for five minutes now.”


She smiled. “I could seduce you, I bet.”


“No bet. Hot Lips.” He smiled. “And I appreciate that you haven’t tried.”


“You’re making me crazy, you know.”


“I’m making me crazy too.”


“Hawkeye, what is it that you need? Before you can make love to me again? Help me understand.”


“I need... I want to feel like we have some chance together.”


“And what does that mean to you?”


“It means I’m afraid to commit unless we have something that has a decent chance of lasting.”


“Right. But in concrete terms, how are you envisioning ‘some chance together’? Give me an example maybe.”


He took a deep breath and his eyes fixed on something too far away to be within the confines of their small room. “I guess... I see us working and living in the same city. And preferably a whole lot closer than just in the same city.” His eyes returned to her. “How do you feel about living together?”


“You want to live together?!” she asked, as he asked himself the same question.


Deep in thought, his reply was a few moments coming. “I think I do.”


“You only just managed ‘I love you’ the day before yesterday! Are you sure you’re ready for that big a step?!”


There was another long pause as he thought some more. “Margaret... I don’t share my heart easily. Once I give it, it’s yours, completely. I don’t want it back. I want yours in return. Maybe...” his eyes were off in the middle distance again. “I wonder if my heart is in such bad shape because I gave it to Carlye and she threw it away, and it’s been lying in a ditch somewhere ever since.”


She gave his arm a comforting squeeze. “What about Kyoong-Soon?”


He returned to the present again. “What about her?”


“Didn’t you give your heart to her?”


He raised his eyebrows. “She found it and stole it. I have never fallen so hard so fast. I can’t explain it.” He paused, and then mused, “She took better care of it, at least, and I think she gave it back to me.” In a voice barely above a whisper, he continued, “She may be the most unselfish person I’ve ever met, giving up her own life to care for people she felt responsible for....”


“If she’d turned up on your doorstep the way I did, what would your reaction have been?”


He returned to now again. “Why are you asking that?” This didn’t seem to him like an especially wise road to be traveling.


“Because I want to know. Please?”


He sighed and after a moment, indulged her.“It would never happen. So it’s hard to imagine. She’s on the other side of the world, taking care of a whole flock of people who need her. But let’s say they have someone else to look after them. And she somehow found money to get all the way to Maine. Let’s don’t try and imagine how. And she somehow also managed to get approval from the US government to immigrate here. I guess after I was revived from fainting, I’d be glad to see her.”


“What would your attitude be toward her? And what would your intentions be?”


He looked at her, puzzled. “Margaret–”


“Would you be as conflicted as you are right now, or would your feelings and the path before you be clearer?”


“Oh, you’re asking me to compare you! That is so unfair to you both! The circumstances are–would be–entirely different!”


She didn’t know how to ask again without being completely rude, so she settled for pleading with her eyes. (Hey, it worked for him.)


After a few moments, he gave in. “Fine. I would probably feel some obligation to her, what with her having traveled to the other side of the world and it having cost her God knows what.” He shuddered slightly. “I wouldn’t be any more prepared to get married than I am today. Is that what you wanted to know?”


“Would it be easier with her? Finding a way to be together?”


“This is all speculation!”


She pleaded silently again.


His contemplative mood made him give in again. “Fine. Assuming she could get herself here, I guess we’d also have to assume that she’d given up her life in Korea and was ready to stay. Which would mean she had no other obligations–or opportunities. And in that case, yes, it would be easier with her. You do have other obligations and opportunities, and I won’t have you throwing them away on a whim. For that matter, I wouldn’t want to her to give up her life on faith like that either. What if it didn’t work out? Where would she be? It’s a good thing the odds of it happening are zero! On the other hand....” He took a deep breath. “For all I know, she could be dead by now. I’d sure rather have her here in the States, safe. It kills me that I’ll never know what happened to her.” He swallowed painfully. “Can we not talk about her any more?”


“I’m sorry. And thank you.”


He rubbed his eyes and took a deep breath, trying to dismiss feelings he had no way at all of acting on. “Did you get something useful out of all that?”


She nodded.


“What?”


“You convinced me that I’m... not a consolation prize. That you’re not settling... for me.”


“Oh God! Margaret, what have I done to you?!” He pulled her close and buried his head in her neck.


“Oh no! Hawkeye, that’s not what I–I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings. I just–”


He met her eyes again. “You spoke from your heart, and it spoke the truth. I have so much to make up to you. I’m sorry.”


“No! I don’t want you to apologize! You helped me shine a light into a dark, scary corner, and now it’s not so scary any more. That’s a good thing! Right?”


After a long, intent moment, he nodded. He pressed his forehead to hers. He suddenly wanted her ferociously. “I think I need to get out of this bed right now.”


Margaret smiled and kissed him noisily on the cheek. “Go.”


He reluctantly let go of her and got up. But something within him called him back, and he sat back down, facing her. “I wish I would get over whatever it is that’s keeping me away from you. I miss you.” He took her hand and leaned down to kiss it. “I love you.”


And he retreated to the bathroom, leaving Margaret feeling both quite disappointed and giddily happy, a juxtaposition she wouldn’t have thought possible.


Chapter 11


They got an early start, continuing southwest to Boston.


“Hawkeye, if we both find jobs that work out, and a place to live–”


“Margaret, you never answered my question earlier. What do you think about living together?”


She took a deep breath. “Don’t people usually date for a while before taking such a big step?”


“But...” He glanced at her and then turned his eyes back on the road. “Isn’t the purpose of dating to get to know one other?” He glanced at her again for a moment. “We’ve known each other for years. And then the other goal of dating is to see how far you can get with a woman. I know you’ll go all the way with me, baby,” he said lasciviously, grinning at her with eyes full of mischief, and a bit of desire too.


She smiled and shook her head in mild exasperation.


“What we don’t know is whether we can coexist under the same roof long term. We have some pretty major differences. Major.”


She nodded. “I see your point.” She shrugged. “I’m willing to give it a go. So... if we both find jobs that work out, and a place to live–”


“Sorry for interrupting before. And again. Fire away.”


“If we’re going to live together, we’ll be renegotiating the terms of our agreement. Right?”


“I would sure think so. We’ve already violated the hell out of the no-falling-in-love rule.”


“What about the seeing-other-people rule?”


He remained silent for so long that Margaret was starting to wonder if he’d heard the question. She was debating whether to ask again when he pulled the car over to the side of the road, set the parking brake, and turned to face her. “Do you want to still see other people? My non-performance these last two days–”


“No!” she said vehemently. “No, no! I don’t want to see anyone but you! I was asking how you feel!”


Of course. How many other women had he been with during the course of their arrangement? Guilt gnawed at him again and he sighed greatly. “I feel like I have an awful lot to make up to you.”


She shook her head. “It’s not like you were the only one seeing other people.”


“Yeah, but you were a lot more discreet and I was a lot more licentious. How did you ever manage to fall in love with me, with me parading so many women right under your nose?” And some of it had been deliberate, to guarantee she wouldn’t fall. Some guarantee that had turned out to be.


“I think you were in a dry spell at the time, not with anyone else and spending more time with me. Falling in love was gradual. The more time I spent with you, the more I liked you and the more I trusted you, until one day... ” She shrugged.


“And then I broke things off.”


She sighed. “What’s past is past. It can’t be changed, and there’s no point rehashing it. I’m more interested in the future.”


“Me too. I wish I knew if this thing between us is going to work out.”


“Can you give up other women?”


He stared at her intently for a long moment before answering. “I’m sorry you have to ask that question. And I’m even sorrier I can’t give you a definitive answer. I’ve done it before. With all my heart, I want to do it for you. For us. But how do we get past...” He took a deep breath and sighed. “How do we get past the past? In any normal relationship, what we did would be considered cheating on one another–and in plain view no less! Can we put that behind us? Can we make the transition from the casual, fun relationship we had to... to...”


“To a serious relationship?” Why would someone as fun-loving as Hawkeye want a serious anything? she thought ominously.


“I was about to settle on the word BJ used Sunday morning. He said it was about time I had a real relationship with a woman. If this is going to work, the casual thing is definitely out. But there’s no reason to leave the fun behind. I don’t think I could live without it anyway.”


She smiled. “A real relationship sounds wonderful.” Her smile began to fade. “And, if I’m honest, a little scary.”


Hawkeye smiled. “If brave Margaret is scared too, that makes me feel better.” He held out his hand to her.


She took it and smiled back. “I can’t think of anyone I’d rather be scared with.”


“Me neither.” He found himself leaning closer to kiss her, and she was just as drawn to him, accustomed as they were to dealing with their mutual fear in such a fashion. After the briefest of kisses, Hawkeye released the parking brake and put the car back in gear. Back on the road he quipped, “As much as I look forward to parking with you, Margaret, broad daylight on a major road isn’t the time or place.”


She giggled. “There was one other term of our agreement,” she reminded him.


He thought a moment. “Secrecy. That one was yours. What do you think?”


“I think it has to go too, for the most part.”


“And for the part that’s not most?”


“Well... I’m not sure I want it widely known that I’m living with you.”


“How did my reputation get so bad that you don’t want to be associated with me?” he wondered out loud.


“What?! This isn’t about your reputation! It’s about mine! If you tell people you’re living with a woman they’ll congratulate you and probably make lewd remarks!”


“Ah! The good old double standard again! And you’ll be ostracized for that same behavior.” He shook his head. “That stinks!”


“You’re telling me!”


“So, you’re thinking you want our relationship out in the open but our living arrangements hush-hush?”


She nodded. “Yeah. It will come out eventually, but it sure would be nice to keep it quiet at first. I have enough trouble fitting in without being judged for that too.”


“Well, it shouldn’t be a problem, at first.”


“There’s just the matter of neighbors, assuming we have friendly ones. And of who answers the phone.”


“Ah. Right. Pity there’s no way to know who it is before we answer. I guess answering the phone will be your job then.”


“Thanks.”


“Are we done renegotiating terms? We’ve dealt with all three, haven’t we?”


She grinned. “Technically, there was one other term, the primary one, and I think it’s safe to assume we’re keeping that one.”


God, he loved her open interest in sex. “I’m starting to wish we’d had this conversation when were still back at the motel. Though if we had, we might not have made it to Boston today.” Better change the subject. “Speaking of which... Since we went to civilian hospitals yesterday, should we start today with military ones?”


***


When they arrived at the VA hospital, Hawkeye left Margaret on her own; prevailing gender attitudes being what they were, they both thought it best. He wandered the hospital as a visitor, stopping to chat whenever a patient flagged him down with a “Hey, Doc!”


Apart from catching up with a half dozen former patients, most of whom he could barely remember, he had a chance to observe the hospital staff and to hear about them from a patient perspective. One guy asked him for a second opinion. It seemed somewhat inappropriate under the circumstances, but it had been so long since he’d done any real doctoring, he couldn’t resist.


Unfortunately his opinion didn’t match the one in the chart, and the friendly-suggestion-turned-serious-discussion-turned-argument he got into with the hospital staff did no one any good. In fact, it got him escorted from the premises.


Which rather interfered with the plan to meet Margaret in the lobby. Instead, he waited in the parking lot, grateful at least that they hadn’t escorted him to the car and made sure he left the grounds. He didn’t even want to think about how mad Margaret would have been if that had come to pass! He watched for her and waved when she finally came out.


He told her what had happened as they got into the car, and as they discussed what they each had seen and heard, Margaret took notes.


***


At the second hospital they visited, they followed the same plan, but with far different results. For a start Hawkeye didn’t get thrown out. He did discuss patient care with the staff, but it was far better received at this hospital.


While Margaret had had a much more dignified and uneventful visit than Hawkeye at the first hospital, her tour of this second one was more interesting. Military discipline seemed to be in shorter supply here (though still better than it had ever been at the 4077th). Her tour guide and would-be CO, especially, seemed very informal. (Hawkeye would love him, she mused.)


While at the first hospital she’d been given a very professional introduction to the staff and facilities, here they seemed to be taking a casual walk as Col. Woodrow asked her about her past experiences. Several times during their tour he stopped and interrupted the conversations of other staff; some of those times he solicited Margaret’s input. This caught her off guard the first time, but she did the best she could. By the time their tour came to an end, she’d developed a very healthy respect for Woodrow’s interview style.


“Major, I thank you for visiting. Your service record is outstanding, as I’m sure you’re aware. Should you decide to transfer here, we’d be most happy to welcome you.” He extended his hand with a smile.


She shook it. “Thank you, Colonel. This has been an interesting visit.”


He laughed. “I hope you mean that in a good way. We’ve had quite a bit of staff turnover lately, so we do seem to be sporting a few rough edges.” He winked.


Margaret smiled. “Rough edges can always be smoothed out. Why the turnover, if you don’t mind my asking?”


He cleared his throat. “I transferred here six months ago, and I’ve made some changes... that... some people don’t seem to like.”


She frowned. “From what you’ve shown me today, quality seems to count more than regulations here. Or rank, for that matter.”


He smiled. “Exactly. And that’s just as things should be, as far as I’m concerned. But I’ve ruffled more than a few feathers.”


She smiled. “You know, military discipline was always less than I was comfortable with at the 4077th. It took me way too long to stop struggling against that and realize that the army was right to foster a more casual culture there. Some of our best and brightest barely kept their sanity as things were. I’m sure they would have gone straight off the deep end if there had also been a strict expectation they follow every regulation. That, or they’d have wound up in the stockade in pretty short order.” She grinned.


He smiled and nodded. “Well your unit’s record certainly speaks for itself. How soon are you looking to change your circumstances?”


“As soon as I can get everything arranged. I haven’t discussed a transfer with my current CO yet.”


“Oh? Why not?”


She sighed. “It’s a... difficult situation. I don’t see eye to eye with my CO or the other staff on... a variety of matters regarding procedures and patient care. I took a leave to do some soul searching, and I’ve come to the conclusion it would be best for everyone if I transfer. And so, while I still had some of my leave left, I thought I’d check out some hospitals I might like to transfer to.”


“I see.” He nodded, then began to speak again but cut himself off.


“Sir?”


He smiled wryly. “I was going to offer to provide you with a set of the transfer paperwork. But I’m not eager for you to work here or anything,” he said, smiling.


She beamed. “Oh, sir! That would be wonderful! I could mail it and hopefully have it approved that much sooner.”


“Would you like to come up to my office and use the phone to call your CO?”


“Really? Sir, thank you!”


***


Margaret returned to the lobby as radiantly happy as Hawkeye had ever seen her and threw herself into his arms.


“Margaret, you look positively post-orgasmic!”


“Pierce! You–”


“I take it things went well?” he interrupted.


She let his lewd remark go. “Fantastic! And I talked to my CO. He’s going to expedite my paperwork! I don’t have to go back after my leave!” She was bouncing up and down in excitement.


“That’s great, Margaret!”


“Great?! It’s perfect! Let’s go to the post office so I can get these forms in the mail!”


***


After mailing the transfer paperwork and taking a break for lunch, they visited a civilian hospital, where Margaret decided to follow Hawkeye’s plan of parting company and checking things out on her own. She didn’t realize until after she’d actually attempted this why he’d subtly tried to dissuade her. Her uniform made it nearly impossible for her to blend in as a normal visitor. Keeping her coat closed and ditching her hat improved matters, but as she didn’t know any of the patients, she still had a far less easy time of it than Hawkeye obviously had. She was feeling a bit frustrated and not to mention, a bit foolish. Her excitement must have interfered with her ability to think clearly.


Turning a corner she found herself unexpectedly in the maternity ward, and the babies captured her attention completely. Army hospitals didn’t have much use for maternity wards. She remembered how much she’d enjoyed giving childbirth classes and delivering babies in Korea.


And she couldn’t help thinking about having a child herself some day. She’d never given the idea a great deal of thought, but she’d realized she wanted to have a baby when the results of her pregnancy test had both relieved and disappointed her. She was well into her childbearing years, would soon be nearing the end of them, in fact. Not knowing whether she would ever have a child of her own made her a bit wistful. >


She returned to the lobby well ahead of schedule and was surprised to find Hawkeye already there.


He stood and came to meet her. “Would you believe they wouldn’t see me without an appointment? Of all the nerve,” he grinned. “I made one for tomorrow morning. How about going to the hospital where I did my residency? We can visit whether or not they’ll officially see me.”


Chapter 12


Hawkeye’s reunion with his old coworkers and friends was a joyful affair, made sweeter by his old supervisor putting a job offer on the table. He was high as a kite as they left the hospital, talking excitedly about various individuals all through dinner, filling Margaret in on who they were and telling old stories about them. His high spirits couldn’t be dimmed even by the few mentions of the war that were prompted by Margaret’s uniform.


His happiness at seeing old friends again almost certainly contributed to his increasingly amorous feelings towards her, but the fact that they were ironing out wrinkles that stood in the way of their having a life together was at least as big a factor. He was so full of enthusiasm, in fact, that he hadn’t even noticed Margaret’s subdued mood.


Checking in at the motel was just enough of a distraction to turn his attention back to her. As they drove from the office to their room, he inquired, “Are you ok?”’


She sighed greatly. “I’ve been thinking... what you said about it being hard to leave the past behind? I think you’re right.”


He parked the car and turned in his seat to face her. “What are you thinking about specifically?”


She took a moment to think how to phrase what she wanted to say. It could easily be an inflammatory remark, and her intent was not to start a fight. “All afternoon I kept... wondering... which of those women you’ve slept with. Am I right in thinking you’ve slept with some of them?” she asked apologetically.


“Yeah,” he admitted quietly.


She nodded resignedly. “What bothers me most, I think, is that I can’t tell which ones.”


He raised his eyebrows. “I’m sure you could guess at least one of them–Alison’s greeting was borderline obscene. Margaret... back at the 4077th you knew exactly which women I’d slept with. Some of them you even watched me seduce. How is this different?”


“The 4077th is history. The odds of your seeing any of them again are... pretty much nil.”


“So... you’re worried I might... rekindle an old relationship?”


She said nothing, but her eyes answered yes.


“I’m not going to help my case any by pointing this out. But if this–between us–is going to work, we need to be honest with each other–and ourselves. Falling back into bed with a former lover is certainly easier than hooking up with someone new. But Margaret, you know I love the chase. Given the choice between someone I’ve already been with and someone fresh, I go after fresh every time.”


She inhaled sharply and drew back as if he’d struck her.


“Oh god! That didn’t come out–I didn’t mean–” He took a quick breath. “I meant when I’m pursuing women just for the sake of pursuing them, just for fun, for the thrill of the chase! Obviously, if you and I are going to be together, I have to give that up.”


“Can you?”


He paused. “I like to think so, but honestly? I have as much to prove to myself as I have to prove to you. And you know, I think we need to reopen those negotiations.”


She looked at him inquiringly.


“We’ve said there will be no seeing other people. No cheating. Can we also add a term that says we’ll be honest with one another? If we’re tempted. Or in case we should... accidentally... fall off the fidelity wagon?”


She nodded contemplatively. “That would be a pretty painful conversation.”


“Yeah. But wouldn’t you rather know? Wouldn’t it be easier to deal with these things early? Maybe my distaste for marriage comes from Trapper and Henry and the hundred other guys I know who constantly cheat on their wives. What’s the point of a marriage like that?”


His sincerity touched her. “Honesty. I’m in for that.” She held out her right hand.


He smiled and shook it.


“Any other terms you want to add?”


“Mmm, not at the moment. But let’s keep the channels of communication open, shall we?”


She smiled. “I’d like that.”


He slid closer on the seat, but didn’t touch her, except her hand that he still held. He cleared his throat, cupping her hand in both of his. “Um, speaking of channels... at some point during this very long and very exciting day... you fell off my forbidden list,” he said intimately.


She smiled but came no closer. “I had a hunch,” she said as she withdrew her hand.


“Have your doubts and fears landed me on yours?”


She swallowed loudly. “I–I don’t know. I’m scared.”


He nodded. “I hear you.”


“I could use a hug,” she said meekly. He pulled her into his arms and held her tightly, placing a soft kiss on her temple.


He hadn’t exactly neglected her during his reunion with old friends at the hospital, but she’d definitely felt like an outsider. Which, of course, she was–the situation couldn’t be helped. Hawkeye had tried to draw her in when she fell too far into the background. The way he’d casually wound his arm around her had revealed his relationship with her to his friends in a far clearer way than words possibly could have–most especially since their relationship wasn’t yet well enough defined that explaining it with words was even possible.


He hadn’t exactly flirted with anyone either, at least not in the way he did when he was pursuing. Teasing and flattery were another matter though, not to mention lots of hugs and a few innocent-looking kisses. He was, for the most part, easy to get along with, and he had real chemistry with many of the people at the hospital; it was only natural that the caring he had for them and they for him would show.


She wasn’t exactly jealous. Alison’s intentions had been obvious, but he’d deftly ignored her advances, silencing her with a joke. The way he’d touched the rest of them had just seemed like genuine friendly affection. His most intimate embrace, in fact, was with Rose, a large older woman, who held him like a long-lost child. Hawkeye had wiped her tears away and kissed her on the cheek.


Or maybe she was just a little jealous of him, of the fact that he was so likeable. Among the several dozen people he’d introduced her to, it was obvious he was on friendly terms with nearly all of them. She didn’t think she’d had that many friends her whole life. What would it be like to have as a partner a man who got along with virtually everyone? She was likely to have more social life than she’d ever had before, and that was both exciting and a little scary.


Exciting and scary summed up their whole relationship, in fact. It summed up love itself, now she thought about it–in her experience anyway.


***


They went inside and took turns in the bathroom, Margaret taking the opportunity to wash things out in the sink. (Such was the price of traveling light.) When she came to bed, Hawkeye welcomed her warmly into his arms with a chaste kiss, and apart from a typically lewd but complimentary remark, did not pressure her for sex. Upon reflection, this seemed only fair–she’d done as much for him. But she’d so often had a lover turn a cold shoulder to her after she’d refused sex that it surprised her all the same.


He asked questions about her interview with Col. Woodrow, clarifying a few points she’d made when she’d told him all about it over lunch. After a lull, during which she’d begun to drift off to sleep, he said, “Margaret? Can I ask you a question?”


“Of course,” she answered sleepily.


“Your concern about old flames... did you raise that particular issue because if you were ever going to cheat, odds are it would be with someone from your past?”


“I’m not going to cheat!” she replied, incensed into full wakefulness and turning to face him.


“I meant hypothetically!”


“All right then!”


“Although... actually...”


“What?”


“Well... I know you have doubts about my ability to be faithful, and with good reason. But you know, I have doubts too.”


“About?”


“Well... you weren’t faithful to Frank.”


She pulled away from him, sat up, and began to sputter.


“Now, Margaret, I didn’t mean for that to sound like an accusation–” He remained lying down, not wanting to escalate hostilities.


“Frank was cheating on his wife!!!” she pointed out, loudly and forcefully. “And he only got me into bed in the first place by lying about being married!”


He kept his tone deliberately calm. “I know. I’m sure it was only fair. But the thing is... you cheated on Donald too.”


“I–” she returned to incoherent sputtering noises before saying, “Only with you!!”


“Granted. But you didn’t even like me then. If you could cheat with someone you don’t even like...”


“I did too like you! Honestly, how could you think such a thing?! And how dare you compare that situation with anything outside a war zone?!”


“I know, I know, the circumstances were pretty extreme. Not the sort of thing either of us is likely to be faced with again. I was only trying to make the point that you’re not the only one who worries about the past rearing its ugly head. I know you’re attracted to powerful men, and I don’t exactly fit the profile. Not like a visiting general might.”


“So you’re expecting me to fall into bed with the first old flame that waltzes into my life?!” she screeched.


He was silent a moment and then asked, being careful to omit any trace of sarcasm, “Margaret, how come we can discuss my past and your fears without shouting?”


She thought about that for a few moments, as best she could; after all, thinking wasn’t so easy when she was angry. Finally, she said, “I’m sorry. I guess I’m used to a different style of arguing.”


“I didn’t mean to start an argument. I just wanted to talk. I apologize if I didn’t frame it very well.”


“I’m sorry for snapping. I suppose I’m protesting so much mainly because you’re right.” She stared down at her hands.


He wrapped his hand around hers. “Margaret, I don’t expect you to rekindle any old flames. I was just talking about my fears. I’m at least as afraid of getting hurt as you are, you know.”


“I know,” she said, her lower lip quivering slightly. She still hadn’t met his eyes.


“You want to come back down here?” he invited.


She did, and cried herself to sleep in his arms, his apologies, words of comfort, and sweet kisses in her hair insufficient to blot out the truth: she was a cheater. She’d never thought of herself as one, but the facts indicated otherwise. She vowed to herself that her cheating days were over.


***


As morning dawned, Margaret’s barely-awake consciousness centered on the sensation of being warm, comfortable, and relaxed to the point of arousal, a state that often went hand in hand with early morning. Instinctively she turned to the masculine body beside her and wrapped her arms around him, nestling close, her knee between his, hands slowly wandering, seeking edges of clothing.


Hawkeye woke only enough to respond to her, and as had been adequately demonstrated to him a few days before, his body knew hers so well that it didn’t amount to much waking at all. In a sleepy haze, hands on skin soon became skin on skin. Their bodies knew one another, were familiar with all the angles and curves and sizes and shapes, could predict how various body parts would respond to their own touch; they worked in tandem toward a common goal without necessity of words. They were at least a full minute past full penetration before either of them began to be truly awake.


“Mmm, I missed you,” he told her, raining soft kisses over her temple, her forehead, her eyes, her cheek, finally her mouth.


Engaging her mouth brought her to fuller wakefulness, and she moaned her agreement, holding him close. The wet and noisy kisses continued, while their lovemaking slowed.


He pulled back to look at her, and she gazed up at him, so at home in his arms this way. He would be the last lover she would ever have, it occurred to her. She wondered briefly if she would ever tire of him, but then she noticed that he was doing something he’d never done before. She smiled inwardly. He knew she liked being penetrated, but he was taking this to new heights, withdrawing completely and penetrating her again at each stroke, ever so slowly and deliberately, both of them savoring every long moment, keeping eye contact all the while.


His every caress, his every kiss, his every look was filled with love for her. He found himself feeling unexpectedly possessive. She was his and no one else’s now, and he touched her with the reverence due the woman who would someday be mother to his children. He touched his forehead to hers briefly at the thought, and considered what it would be like to make love to her with the full intent of creating a child together. He buried his head in her neck, moaning softly. And stopped. He raised his head to look at her and withdrew.


She looked at him questioningly.


“Wait here,” he said softly and turned to fumble in his bag.


When she finally figured out what he was doing, she realized what she’d done. “I’m sorry,” she whispered.


But he kissed away her apology, returning to her eager arms and the warm, wet, welcoming company of both sets of lips. His former rhythm was less easy with the condom–he had to forgo fully withdrawing. He watched her again, marveling again at her enthusiasm, and began to smile as he settled back into the idea that she was his. She smiled back at him, and a sudden fire leapt between them. Their languorous lovemaking faded away and a harder, faster, and deeper tempo replaced it, which reached its crescendo in a chorus of ‘Oh gods’ and ‘I love yous’.


And his smile was back again, generously doling out kisses to every inch of skin he could easily reach. “Mine,” he told her, holding her tightly.


She smiled, moaning happily.


“Yes?” he confirmed.


“Oh yes! And you’re all mine?”


He beamed at her, his face still close to hers. “Uh-huh. You’re stuck with me.”


She giggled. “Oh good.”


“We have an agreement, remember?”


“And to think you once teased me about having your lawyer draw up a contract.”


He laughed. “That’s right! Funny how things work out, isn’t it?” He separated from her and lay beside her, still smiling.


“Mmm,” she agreed happily.


“You know,” he said after a few minutes. “We need to do something about... the way we keep forgetting...”


She sighed. “I’m sorry.”


“Hey, I’ve done it too. If we’re not careful, one of us is going to wind up pregnant. And it darn well better not be me!” he quipped.


She smiled.


“It’s a shame there’s no vaccine to prevent pregnancy. Wouldn’t that be convenient?”


“Yes. Or a pill, like cloraquine prevents malaria.”


“That’d work too. But getting your annual anti-pregnancy booster shot sounds easier.”


“Anything I don’t have to try and remember in the heat of the moment sounds good to me.”


“Right,” he agreed. The conversation made him think about the future and after a minute or two of pondering, he asked, “Margaret?”


“Hmm?”


“There’s a question I’ve been afraid to ask you.”


“What question?”


He paused a moment. “What is it you see in me?”


“Why would you be afraid to ask that?”


“Maybe I’m afraid once you start thinking about it, you’ll notice there ain’t much.”


“Hawkeye...” she chided.


“I’m not exactly your usual type, Margaret.”


“How well have things ever worked out for me with men who are my usual type?”


He raised his eyebrows and tilted his head. She had a point.


“There are so many things I see in you, starting with the fact that you care about people. Truly care. And you don’t think you’re brave, but you are. You’re not afraid of people in authority. And no matter how scared you are, if someone needs you, you don’t hesitate to help them, no matter the danger to yourself. I admire that so much. You’re warm. And fun. And loyal. And...” Her voice wavered. “You don’t listen to me. Usually that’s a bad thing, but not the way you do it.”


He looked at her searchingly.


“So many times, you’ve gone out of your way to...” She paused, trying to keep from crying. “To touch me, to be my friend, to hold and comfort me, in spite of my screaming at you to leave me alone. You cared about me enough to make me let you in, to make me accept your friendship.” Her lip trembled and her voice quavered. “Most people don’t think I’m worth the trouble. But I guess you do.”


“Oh, Margaret...” He pulled her close. “Most people don’t know what they’re missing! You’re so worth the trouble!” He kissed her cheek.


“You’ve... drawn me out. Made me be a better person. Taught me to laugh a little. Hawkeye, everyone loves you. You could have any woman you want. I was so afraid to come visit you. I thought you’d be mad at me. But here we are.”


“I cannot have any woman I want!” he protested. “And why would you think I’d be mad at you?!”


“Because you said you didn’t want to see me after the war.”


“I didn’t exactly say that....”


“I thought you’d think I was being pushy, just showing up, and men usually hate that kind of pushy. But I had so little to lose, I took a chance and came anyway.”


He smiled. “Thank you for that, brave Margaret. You are pushy. You’re willing to go after what you want. And I admire that about you,” he reassured her. “You know, what you say I’ve done for you is just what you’ve done for me–drawn me out and made me let you in. Dragged me, kicking and screaming, out of the fortress I built around my heart to keep all womankind from getting too close. Without pressing or pleading or begging or insisting–all of which would have only served to drive me away. You gently coaxed me out by being patient and generous and kind. And unpresumptive. And by not putting a lot of conditions on your affection. Or demanding things of me. You know... the tighter someone holds me, the more I struggle to get away. You hold me gently, and I want to stay by your side.” He ran his fingers from her temple down her cheek to cradle her neck. “If you’ll have me.”


A tear escaped her eye and she turned into his hand and pressed a kiss into his palm. “If I’ll have you? I keep wondering what you see in me.


He smiled and kissed her nose. “You’re bright and competent. And I love your drive!”


“I know that,” she said with a trace of embarrassment. “And by the way, thanks for never calling me a nymphomaniac.”


“Has someone actually said that to you?!”


“More than one.”


He shook his head. “How stupid was that?!” he said incredulously. “I love that your interest in sex rivals mine, but that’s not the drive I was referring to. You have ideas! And ambition! You can do anything you set your mind to! I love that about you! You have the power to change the world, and I want to be on your side!”


She laughed. “I do have something of a competitive streak.”


“It’s more than just that. You believe in yourself! And your confidence is contagious! You have high standards, and yet you never expect more of anyone else than you expect from yourself. You’re genuine and honest and forthright. And one of the most courageous people I’ve ever met. The things I’ve seen you volunteer for....” He shook his head. “You’re definitely a woman of principle. And a team player and loyal. And tough as hell. And you know what I really love about you?”


She shook her head.


“You don’t let me get away anything. I can be pretty damn arrogant and self-righteous sometimes, and you’re not afraid to knock me off my high horse and bring me back down to earth where I belong.” >


“I’ve been too hard on you sometimes,” she apologized.


“Maybe a little. But when you were, you always came back later to pick up the pieces. > As strong and capable and brave as you are, you’re also soft and warm and caring. It’s a beautiful, wonderful contrast.” He gazed at her for a moment and then kissed her deeply. “Let’s stay in bed today,” he suggested.


“No....”


He kissed her. “No?” And again. “Margaret...” And again.


“You have–” Kiss. “ –an interview.” Kiss.


“Oh, that’s right.” He nuzzled her with his nose. “Darn it.”


“Hawkeye... the sooner we get ourselves employed, the sooner we can move in together.”


He laughed in delight. “I’ll get myself employed today.” He kissed her again.


“I’ll start looking in the paper for apartments.”


He stopped on his way to kissing her again. “This is really happening, isn’t it?”


She nodded happily. “It’s exciting.”


“Sure is.”


“And scary.”


He nodded, smiling. “I have a feeling if we stick together, we’re gonna be all right.”


She kissed him. “What time is that interview?”


He beamed. “Not for three whole hours.”


“Oh good,” she smiled.


***


Now, let’s don’t kid ourselves that Hawkeye and Margaret lived happily ever after. Who does really? But they had the advantage of being well aware of their incompatibilities. And they cared for one another enough to accept each other’s differences without expecting the other to change. But change they did, sometimes in little ways, sometimes in bigger ones, but always each on their own steam. Whatever happened, whatever life brought, they always retained their immense respect for one another. And as many fights as they had–and there were many–they had no end of fun making up.


Epilogue


“Hawkeye!” Margaret called, “it’s for you. A woman.”


“Oh?” he said curiously as she handed him the phone, deliberately suppressing the lewd remark that came so readily to mind. He knew she was still feeling vulnerable in that regard. “Hello?”


Margaret headed back to their apartment’s small kitchen, where Daniel was tutoring the both of them on the cooking of Thanksgiving dinner, but before she got there she heard Hawkeye say incredulously, “Carlye?” She turned to see him sinking down onto the couch.


Her heart leapt into her mouth and her face obviously fell, because when she entered the kitchen–she just couldn’t stay and listen–Daniel asked, “What’s wrong?”


“It’s Carlye,” she said emotionlessly.


He grimaced and opened his arms to her. She accepted the invitation, burying her face in his shoulder. “I don’t want to lose him,” her shaky and muffled voice said. “Or you.”


He hugged her tighter. “Nor me you. And don’t even get me started on how much I don’t want to see her again! Margaret, if my son turns out to be a jackass, we’ll keep in touch, ok?”


She couldn't help laughing at this remark. “Ok,” she agreed, hugging him tighter. They stayed in their mutually protective and comforting embrace, and that’s how Hawkeye found them when he came back into the kitchen a few minutes later. “Uhh...” he said in surprise.


They broke apart. “I heard you say her name,” Margaret explained.


He sighed, crossed the small room to her and pulled her into his arms. “Margaret, I told you, you’re stuck with me!” He kissed her temple. Glancing at his dad, he did a double-take at the depth of emotion painted on his face. “Don’t worry, you won’t have to see her again. I told her no.”


“What was the question?” Daniel asked as Margaret stepped back to look at Hawkeye.


Hawkeye sighed again. “Apparently she’s had a few relationships that have made her question her assessment of me. She thinks maybe now that she was asking too much and said that she’d be willing to give it a go again if I would.”


Daniel shook his head in disgust. “I hope you read her the riot act.”


“No. She’s obviously hurting. I told her she was right and she shouldn’t settle for less than what she’s looking for.” He turned to Margaret. “And I told her I’ve found an incredible woman who likes me just the way I am.” He beamed at her. “Well... most of the time.”


Margaret smiled at him as a tear rolled down her cheek. She inserted herself back into his arms.


“Hey...” he soothed, holding her tightly and rocking her. “I gave my heart to you, remember? I don’t want it back. We have an agreement.”


It turned out to be quite a sentimental Thanksgiving, one they would never forget.


And their bedroom relationship turned a corner that night too. After Daniel insisted he’d be fine on the couch, and that anyway the two of them belonged behind closed doors (which made Margaret laugh out loud and Hawkeye remark that he had a point), Hawkeye soon found himself alone with Margaret. And rather than launching himself at her in the way the two of them so often did, he found himself leaning against the door jamb, watching her, admiring her, counting his blessings. Saying it out loud was far more commitment than he was ready for, but what crossed his mind was that he had the rest of his life to make love to her. There was no rush.


###


Synopsis:


A relationshippy story detailing what might have been going on between Hawkeye and Margaret off-screen and what might have happened after the war. Warning: lots of sex. If that's not your cup of tea, don't read it. If you're a child, ick, you don't want to read it; come back when you're older.


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Pointless ramblings:


I hadn't seen any episodes in years, but I got the box set for xmas and watched all 11 seasons this winter. After I finished and moved on to another unwatched DVD set, I found myself still thinking about MASH. Something about the way Hawkeye and Margaret said goodbye gnawed at me for a while. They were good friends. They meant too much to one another not to have said something besides, 'Well, so long' and 'See ya.' So, I reasoned they must have said their goodbyes privately, and the rest developed from there.


Apologies for the ridiculous amount of sex in the story. But Hawkeye and Margaret may be the two most oversexed characters I have ever met. It stands to reason there would be fireworks when the two of them got togther, and if I'd censored too much, I would have felt I was being disloyal to the characters. (Besides, a lot of the sex in the story was their idea. I did leave out some of the hotter stuff though.)


The usual disclaimers apply: This story is fan fiction. Of course the characters are not mine. They remain the property of whoever onwns the rights to MASH, (with the possible exception of Daniel, who we heard about on the show, but of course never met). No copyright infringement is intended.


Feedback is welcome, but please try and make your criticisms of the constructive variety. Contact me at jecris 27 at yahooo dot com.


Thanks for reading.


Peace >


2008.6.29