DISCLAIMER: The M*A*S*H characters are the property of Twentieth Century Fox. The story contents are the creation and property of Djinn and are copyright (c) 2000 by Djinn. This story is Rated PG-13.
The camp was deserted. She tied her robe more closely around her and started walking. She could hear voices coming from the Swamp. But when she got there the lights went out.
"Not funny, guys," she said as she opened the door. But the tent was empty. She turned to the OR. The lights were on there too. A few seconds later she was at the door. "Pierce?"
The room was empty. The marble floor scrubbed a brilliant white. She knelt down, confused. Hadn't this been concrete? Suddenly a crack appeared, then another. A hand shot through, bloody and torn. A foot kicked out farther down the room. A terrible moaning began.
She tried to rise but the hand had a tight hold on her. "No," she said as she fought to get away. Another hand crashed through the ground, which had turned to dirt—no, mud. Red mud. Not mud. Blood. Everywhere.
"No!" Margaret screamed, as she shocked herself awake. She looked around trying to get her bearings. She was in her quarters. Not in a tent. Not in Korea. She was safe. Nothing to fear now. So why wouldn't the nightmares leave her alone?
The patient wouldn't stop squirming.
"Get him under," Hawkeye shouted at the gas passer. "Get him under now."
"I'm trying, Sir."
He turned to Margaret. She was looking at him in concern. "You have to keep going, Pierce."
"I am." He went back to work on the bowel he was trying to repair. Finally he had it. He breathed a sigh of relief. "Next."
"No." Margaret shook her head. Her eyes, over her mask, were confused. "You have to keep going."
"I'm done." He looked down at the patient. Blood was pooling near the chest area. And on the arm. And by a nearly severed foot. "But I'm done with this one."
"You have to keep going." Margaret's voice followed him as he jerked awake.
He turned to look at the clock: three hours before he had to get up. He didn't want to go back to sleep. He didn't want to dream again. No big surgeries today. He could afford to be tired. He breathed through his mouth, trying to slow his racing heart. When would these nightmares end?
"Major Houlihan?" She turned to see a young nurse coming for her. "Colonel Palmer wanted me to give you this, Ma'am."
She reached for the folded piece of paper. "Thank you, Lieutenant." She was surprised to see the woman still standing in front of her. "That will be all, Lieutenant."
"I'm supposed to wait for an answer." The young officer looked uncomfortable with her assignment.
Margaret opened the paper and read the short note. He was sorry that he had overreacted. He wanted a chance to make it up to her. Dinner, perhaps, tonight? At Elio's. The best restaurant in Tacoma? She looked up at the nurse. "Tell Colonel Palmer that I'd rather die than go out with him again." With that she spun on her heel and went back to work.
Stupid to have done that—so what if it felt good, she should be smarter. He had pursued her relentlessly since he'd been stationed at Madigan. She'd thought this time would be different. But it had turned out just like all the rest. Well not quite like all the rest. Generally it took longer for her to walk away.
Margaret sighed in frustration. She'd discovered that 1953 hometown USA morals were a bit different than what she'd grown accustomed to in Korea. With their lives on the line twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, the men and women of the 4077th had often turned to each other for comfort. Or if they couldn't turn to each other, they found willing partners from other units. The times had been frightening and sex had been an easy way to find companionship, comfort, and perhaps even love.
But this place she'd come back to was very different. Though the men were quite intent on the pursuit of her, they truly didn't expect her to give in, much less welcome their attentions. They were scandalized, she could tell, and though they continued to come back, their treatment of her changed. So she'd learned her lesson. She had been back in the states a year and had started saying no about two months into it. But Palmer had a friend who had been with her during those first disastrous months. His words last night still stung her.
"Come on," he'd said as he tried to get her shirt off. "You don't have to pretend with me. I know what you're like. I've heard all about you—how you like to make a man feel good. Come on, make me feel good."
She'd slapped him hard. And walked home. So now it would begin again. He would feel bad and try to make it up to her. She wouldn't let him. At best, he would ignore her. At worst, he would become an enemy. It never changed.
She sighed again. Nobody here understood her. Or what she'd been through. Where were all the veterans from Korea? Why didn't she get to meet them? But it wouldn't matter, not really. There was only one veteran she was interested in. And he was all the way across the country, forging a life without her.
Hawkeye felt sluggish and old as he made his rounds at Spruce Harbor General. The other doctors nodded to him as he passed. Some of the nurse's looked at him with admiration. He was nearly to the nurse's station when he realized Carly was sitting there. Petite, blonde, blue-eyed. She'd attracted him instantly. But not for herself he realized now.
"Doctor Pierce," she said with a teasing tone. "I thought I wasn't going to see you today."
"I've been busy."
"Too busy for me? Hmmm?" She moved around the desk so she could lower her voice. "After our evening the other night I wasn't sure if I wanted to see you. Just don't try that again and don't ever call me by another woman's name." She tapped his arm coquettishly. "If you want to have that sort of freedom with me, you'll have to make an honest woman of me first, Ben."
He nodded. "I understand that now, Carly. And I apologize for the whole evening."
"Take me to Jackson Street Grill and all's forgiven."
"I've got a better idea. Find yourself a nice young doctor who hasn't been to hell and back. Get yourself someone who still has dreams. Look for someone who understands how this place really works because I've forgotten."
She scowled at him. "Your problem, Ben, is that you dwell on the war. If you'd just let it go you could move on with life."
He gave her a mocking smile. "And you know this how?"
"Everyone knows it. If you'd just quit going on and on about how we don't understand what it was like, maybe you would see that we have more in common than you think."
So everyone thought that? Great. "I'll see you around, Carly."
"Ben? What about our date?"
He turned back, "There won't be any date." He felt an absurd sense of satisfaction as he walked away from her, leaving her glaring at him.
No, no more dates. They all turned out the same. She had been happy to kiss him in the car. Even let him explore her body a bit. But when he'd tried to push it further she'd protested. Whether it was at the liberties he'd been trying to take or at the fact that he'd whispered Margaret's name into her ear he wasn't sure.
He didn't think he'd done that before. But it didn't matter really. The woman he wanted was nowhere to be found. He wasn't even sure where she'd ended up. BJ thought she was on the West Coast but wasn't sure exactly which medical center was her new workplace. Truth be told, Hawkeye hadn't tried all that hard to find her. She'd let him walk out of her life. She didn't want him. It was just his dumb luck that she was all he wanted.
"Major Houlihan, your work with the patients is exemplary and you're an effective supervisor, but I'm afraid the board thinks you need a little more seasoning." Her supervisor Colonel Jefferies seemed uncomfortable.
"Seasoning? What do you call Korea, Sir?" She tried to keep the anger out of her voice but knew she was failing utterly.
"This isn't Korea, Major."
"And if you'd served there, sir, you wouldn't say something like that."
"It was awful there. We all understand that, Margaret."
"No." She got up abruptly. "You. Don't. Understand. You don't understand anything. Pass me over? Fine. My tour is up in three months. I had always thought I would re-up. I was career army. Well, forget that. I'll find something else to do. At least at a civilian hospital, I wouldn't expect them to understand what it was like."
He rose. "Major, please."
"There's nothing you can say, Colonel. Nothing at all." She walked out of his office and back to the duty station.
"Bad news?" Captain Baker asked.
"Nothing I didn't expect."
The shrill ringing of the phone interrupted Hawkeye's reverie on the porch. He heard the phone stop and realized his dad must have picked it up.
"Hawkeye, it's for you."
He got up slowly. Probably the hospital calling with some new surgical emergency for him to come back into town for. He groaned just thinking about it. But when he got to the kitchen, the look on his father's face told him this was a call he'd want to take. "Hello?"
He laughed out loud. "Beej? God, it's good to hear your voice."
"Why? Something wrong?"
"No, nothing's wrong." Hawkeye felt immediately guilty for worrying his friend. "You know, it's just strange. Being back and all."
"It's been over a year, Hawk. You need to settle in."
"I know. I'm just having some problems with that."
"Maybe you should see someone. Someone that you could talk to."
Hawkeye laughed again. "You mean like Sydney? I don't think he's hanging out his shingle in this neighborhood. And the local headshrinker's hardly going to understand where we've been."
"Actually I didn't mean a psychiatrist. I meant...a friend."
BJ sighed. "Look, I got a call yesterday from Margaret. She's getting out of the army and is looking for a job. Now I know that we have plenty of vacancies here. But I thought...maybe I should steer her your way?"
"Why, you little matchmaker you. What makes you think she'd want to come out here? She hasn't tried once to contact me."
"Hawk, she doesn't sound like she's doing any better than you. I think you two need each other."
Hawkeye tried to fight down the hope he felt. "But she hasn't called, Beej. Not once."
"And you haven't called her either. Two more stubbornly foolish people I have never met. Now should I send her to Maine or not?"
For a moment he was unsure, but then Hawkeye remembered the last time he saw her, the way she felt in his arms when they'd kissed goodbye. "Send her, BJ. Send her quick."
Margaret took a deep breath as she sat in the car. It had been a long trip from Tacoma to Crabapple Cove. She had alternated between dueling emotions. Hope that this would be the last stop for her, that it could be a real home. And fear that it would all go sour and she'd have to run from here too.
"You planning to get out anytime soon?" A male voice, similar to Pierce's so she turned to look out the open window. A tall, gray-haired man smiled at her. "I'm assuming you're Margaret?"
She nodded. "You must be Daniel?"
"Well now that we have that out of the way, can I help you with your bags?"
"Oh, I'm not staying here."
"Sure you are. The hotel in town isn't worth the lumber used to build it. And Spruce Harbor is such a cold town. You come on in now and make yourself at home."
"I don't know... I don't want to impose."
A new voice, a dearly familiar voice, spoke. "If Dad says you're staying, there's no use fighting."
He looked the same. His eyes were haunted though, behind the sparkle that was showing now. A sparkle that told her he was glad to see her.
She felt relief flood her. "Then I guess I won't fight."
"Let's get her moved in, Son." Daniel held out his hand for the keys. Once she handed them over, he walked back and opened the trunk, ordering Hawkeye around in a way that made her smile. She got out and helped them carry her things up to the second floor of their spacious home.
"Sure didn't bring much, Margaret," Daniel said as they cleared out her trunk on the second trip. "I like a gal that travels light. Hawkeye's mother never could get the knack of that." He smiled fondly at her. "Well, I've got some errands in town to do. I imagine they're going to take me most of the afternoon. So I'll be back for dinner. You two probably have some catching up to do."
She smiled at him as he left the room. Then she turned to face the man she'd never forgotten.
If he could have drunk her in, he would have. The scent of her, the sight, the sound, and hopefully...the touch. He moved toward her, wanting...needing to hold her. "Margaret."
"Pierce." She frowned at the name. Tried again. "Hawk."
He smiled teasingly, "You can stop there. I don't want to hear you calling me Benjamin."
She smiled back. "I've missed you."
"Same here." He studied her.
"Something wrong?" The tone was pure Korea but her expression was unsure.
"You didn't call, you didn't write."
"Neither did you." She looked as if she wanted to run so he tried to hold her with his eyes. She seemed to settle as she studied him. "You look good. And you don't. Trouble sleeping?"
He nodded. "You?"
"Uh huh. Nobody understands."
He heard the desperation in her voice so he moved toward her. "I do." He pulled her toward him and felt her tremble against him, then realized she was crying—that he was tearing up too. "I understand." He wrapped his arms more tightly around her and kissed her hair, then her neck. "You're not alone anymore, Margaret. Neither of us is alone anymore."
She looked up at him. Her eyes, normally such a vivid blue, were drained. "I'm so tired of fighting all by myself."
"I know. You don't have to do it alone. I'm here. I love you, Margaret. I've missed you so much."
As he leaned in to kiss her, he heard her answer back, "I love you, Hawkeye."
"Pierce?" She wandered through the deserted camp. "Hawkeye?"
She turned to the Swamp. Maybe he was there. Then she stopped. In the distance she heard his voice, calling her. "Margaret? Wake up."
A dream. But now she was awake and safe in Maine—with Hawkeye. Her bare body was pressed against his. "I didn't mean to fall asleep."
"You needed it. I'm feeling sleepy too." His smile was so gentle and she relaxed against him. "It was just a dream, Margaret. You're all right now."
She pulled him closer and felt him react to her. "Yes, I'm all right now."
The OR was packed. Too many bodies. What was he supposed to do? '
"Help me?" pleaded a soldier.
"Save me!" screamed a little girl.
"Heal me," moaned an old man.
"Hawkeye, wake up." Her voice. Margaret's. Calling to him. "Wake up."
Her body warm on his own. Her hand stroking his damp hair off his face. "Wake up, Hawk."
He pulled her closer. "Love you," he murmured as he lost himself in her.
Hours later they still lay in her bed. She was listening for the sound of a car returning, already feeling guilty.
"Margaret, he knows what we're doing."
"No, he doesn't." She felt slightly scandalized.
"'I'll be gone most of the afternoon'? What do you think he meant?"
"That he had a lot of errands."
"Tomorrow I'll take you into Crabapple Cove, and we'll see if you can come up with a way to waste a whole afternoon there."
"So, where's your dad then?"
Hawkeye laughed. The rich sound she'd loved in Korea. "Probably down at Aunt Corrine's. He swears she's just a friend, but I think something might be going on."
She laughed. "The apple never falls very far from the tree, I guess."
"I guess not." She didn't resist when he pulled her back into his arms. "We like to fool around when we're young, but once we've found the right woman, we don't let her go." His lips confirmed the sentiment.
"All this time I thought you didn't care about me."
"I thought the same thing about you. We were both wrong."
"So we owe this all to BJ?"
He nodded. "Yep."
"We're going to have to do something nice for him." She laughed as he tickled her ear. "Really, really nice."
Hawkeye helped his dad cook dinner. Margaret sat at the kitchen table and watched them work. Whenever he looked over at her, she smiled at him. A slow, seductive smile that made his knees weak and his fantasies work overtime. She was more attractive than he remembered. Being in her arms was like coming home. Finally.
As he set the table, she rose to help him. Once he'd deposited the plates safely on the dining room table, he pulled her to him and stole a quick kiss. That turned into a longer kiss. Then a longer one.
"If you're going to do that, you need to warn me." Daniel's voice was warm with approval. "Old man like me seeing such carrying on...?"
"Sorry," Margaret whispered trying not to laugh.
"Yeah, sorry, Dad." Hawkeye refused to let go of her. He just pulled her closer to him and smiled at his father.
"Well as long as you're both sorry. Now get back in here and get some silverware and napkins."
Dinner passed quickly as they ate and caught up. Margaret loved the warm rapport between the two Pierces. She contrasted their obviously loving relationship to the not terribly warm one she had with her own father. When the elder Pierce caught her staring at him, she gave him a small smile. He smiled back and she felt warm all through.
Hawkeye turned to her. "I took some time off from the hospital. Thought I'd show you around some. We can catch up."
She caught his eye and nearly chuckled at the mischief in his expression. "Sounds good."
"Son, I've been meaning to talk to you about the hospital. You don't seem too happy there."
She wondered what he was getting at.
Hawkeye brushed his concern away. "Now that Margaret's here, I'll be fine."
"I repeat, Hawkeye, you don't seem too happy there. Are you sure that surgery is what you really want to do now?"
"It's what I'm trained to do. It's what I know."
She rose to his defense. "He's a brilliant surgeon, Daniel. The best I've ever worked with."
He patted her hand. "Simmer down, Tiger. I'm not saying he isn't. I'm just saying maybe he has had enough saving and dying for one man. Maybe it's time to think about something a little quieter?"
"While I was in town today, visiting your Aunt Corrine"—he clearly didn't miss the wink Hawkeye threw her—"now cut that out. Anyway, she said Doc Grady is looking to sell the practice. He and Sally want to retire. See the world. So maybe someone, or a couple of someone's, that have already seen the world, might want to buy it from them?"
"Doc Grady is selling?"
"Just something to think about." Daniel turned to Margaret. "You can decide once you've seen the town."
She laughed uncomfortably. "It's not my decision."
He laughed back. "I have a feeling it will be, Sweetheart. I don't see my son ever letting you go. And if he does, he'll have to answer to me."
She smiled at his enthusiasm for her. "Well, I appreciate that. Always nice to know I have a champion."
The next day Hawkeye and Margaret strolled through the town. He was pleased to see that she didn't seem disconcerted by its size or lack thereof. He put his hand on her elbow to steer her into Doc Grady's office. So far he'd behaved himself and he didn't want to scandalize the residents of his hometown. But if they could have seen them last night, after he snuck into her room, they would be very shocked.
As if reading his mind, Margaret looked up at him. She took in his expression and shot him one of her own devilish smiles. He didn't look away until he heard Sally Grady calling to him. "So, Benjamin Franklin Pierce, who's your lovely new friend?"
He introduced Margaret. When Doc Grady came out with his patient, he did it again, pleased at the way Margaret had already settled in to this space in his life. Without realizing he'd wanted to ask, he found himself questioning Grady about the practice.
"You thinking of buying it, Hawkeye?" The older man grinned. "I wish you would. Can't stomach the thought of some city MD getting it. I'll make you a fair deal."
Hawkeye put his arm around Margaret. "We'll have to discuss it and get back to you. Just don't sell it to anyone else in the meantime."
As he and Margaret walked back to the house, he stopped. "What do you think? Could you live here? I know we were going to work in town, but this would be so much closer and I wouldn't have to be away from Dad so much and..." He hushed as he felt her fingers go over his lips.
"As long as I'm with you, it doesn't matter. And I like it here. I think it would be a good place to put down roots. I haven't had much experience with that."
"Are you sure you could stand working with me and living with me?"
She smiled wickedly. "Who says I'm going to live with you? That Mister Parsons down at the general store was giving me the eye. Maybe I want to live with him."
"He's 78 years old. Besides, you have to live with me."
He pulled her off the path, into the trees and kissed her soundly. The best part was how passionately she kissed him right back. "Because Margaret Houlihan, I want you to be my wife. And that works best if you live in the same house as your husband."
He felt her pull away, saw surprise rush across her face, then happiness, then finally fear. "Are you proposing?"
"Well, no. But only because I don't have a ring. Consider it a practice proposal." He saw her face lighten as she realized he was serious. "So what would your practice answer be?"
"Hmmm. Well let's see. You or Mister Parsons? I don't know. It's a tough choice." She squealed as he pulled her back to him. "Ok. You. I'll pick you."
"Good answer, Margaret." Their lips met and he pulled her farther back into the foliage. "If we're careful..."
"We're never careful, Pierce. That's why we're so good together. But we are not doing it in the bushes." She laughed as he pulled her back to him, then swatted his rear and got him back on the path.
Her eyes were sparkling and he knew his were too. "Welcome home, Margaret. Welcome home."