"Respect," Margaret said candidly as she disrobed from her OR scrubs. She and Hawkeye were the last table to finish this session, and thusly they were the last two remaining in the scrub room.
"What am I being reprimanded for this time?" Hawkeye asked tiredly as he threw his soiled OR gown into the laundry.
"You haven't even been paying attention!" Margaret proclaimed angrily, waving her arms for emphasis.
"You had me at 'hello,' lost me some time before 'respect,'" Hawkeye informed her, preferring to inspect the blood that soaked through to his undershirt rather than make eye contact with the seemingly irate major. Margaret saw this, and her expression softened, but only slightly.
"I was saying you have no respect," she said, her voice firm but no longer on the verge of shouting.
Hawkeye, feeling a lecture coming on, preferred to take it sitting down, and thus allowed himself to collapse onto the bench.
"And I don't just mean your blatant lack of respect for the army—not to mention your superior officers."
"Oh, I respect all my superior officers," Hawkeye interrupted. "Just not every officer who happens to outrank me." His head was reclined against the wall and his tone carried all of the exhaustion it should, given that they had just come from fourteen hours of grueling surgery.
Margaret wasn't sure if he was kidding, but dismissed that (mostly irrelevant) thought. "Well I'm not referring to the army."
"That's a first," Hawkeye interjected without looking up.
"Will you let me finish?" The major was fuming at his constant interruptions.
Hawkeye opened one eye and regarded her almost quizzically for a moment before gesturing half-heartedly with one hand for her to continue.
"As I was saying," she tried again, forcing herself to remain calm and finding her own exhaustion making the efforts that much easier. "Not only am I appalled at your lack of respect for all things military, but I find your lack of respect for women to be even worse!"
At this Hawkeye sat up straight, opening both eyes and fixing a fully confused and questioning stare on the major.
"You treat my nurses like cattle, none different from the rest; or worse, like objects that you can admire for a little while and then brush aside when the thrill is gone. Well they're not cattle, or objects. They're living, breathing, individual human beings, and I'm appalled at the way you treat them!"
Hawkeye blinked, unsure if he heard right.
No, by the look on the major's face, he'd heard exactly right.
"Can I ask what brought this on?" he asked softly.
Margaret went to answer him, but suddenly words failed her. She looked away. "I may be their direct superior, and I don't share a tent with them… But even still, I'm not blind, and I'm certainly not deaf. This is a small camp, Pierce. You'd be surprised at the rumors that spread surrounding you and your… extra curricular activities with my nurses."
"You should hear the doozies about you and Frank," Hawkeye quipped, that self-effacing grin lighting his face.
But still, it hurt. Margaret clenched her teeth. "Sure, I've heard them," she admitted, her voice soft but lined with a certain steel. "Secret rendezvous in my tent, him cheating on his wife… it's what my nurses talk about when they know I'm within earshot."
Hawkeye sat up a little straighter, surprise on his face now.
"But like I said before, I'm not deaf, and they don't always know I'm there. I know you've broken hearts, Pierce. You rotate through my nurses like a duty roster—and they worship you! The handsome heartthrob doctor with the clever wit and the ability to make anyone in the world feel special and loved, like those orphans you read dirty magazines to in post op when you know darn well that they don't understand a word of it but the soldiers do and they're even more grateful than the kids."
"Margaret—" Whatever type of lecture he was expecting, this wasn't it. It was beginning to unnerve him.
"Don't you get it, Pierce? You've all got them under your spell. And they all think that maybe, just maybe, they'll be the one to break out of your 'habit' and convince you to settle down. They all want to change you, Pierce. Don't you see? But we both know that will never happen. You'll go merrily on your way, and my nurses will be heartbroken again and again."
Hawkeye didn't know what to say. It was one of the few times in his life, but he was rendered completely speechless. "What makes you think I don't respect them?" he asked after an elongated pause, his tired and confused brain finally deciding to become defensive.
Margaret sighed, exasperated. "You mean besides the stories I've heard?" she asked rhetorically and with sarcasm. "I've seen you, Pierce. In the Officer's Club, or Rosie's, or even the Mess Tent!" Then the major sobered suddenly, as if stricken by a sudden thought. "And Pierce," she said, her voice calming once more. "I also happen to be a woman, an individual human being, not just a uniform whose sole purpose is to try and make life miserable for the draftees. And I know for an absolute fact that you don't have one single ounce of respect for me."
Hawkeye blinked in rapid succession, as though the image of Margaret standing adamant, hands on hips and glaring down at him would vanish if he willed it hard enough. Then when that failed he set his jaw. Margaret could impugn his honor all she liked—he didn't care. But the doctor wouldn't tolerate any insults to his professionalism. He stood to face her at eye level.
"Major," he said, his tone serious and firm, just as hers had been. "You are the finest nurse I have ever worked with, and you have as much professional respect from me as I am able to give." He pursed his lips, briefly, steeling himself to commit to his next affirmation. "You are also wholly devoted to the army—it's like your family. I respect the strength of your convictions—even though I blatantly disagree with them."
Margaret was stunned speechless for a moment. While she had anticipated rebuttal, this was hardly the direction she'd assumed he'd take. When the glare in his azure eyes suddenly eased, the heat of indignation banked by a kind of sad compassion that hovered just shy of pity she dropped her arms and actually stepped back from him. And when he spoke again, his voice softly reflecting that terrible look in his eye, a stunning flash of insight told Margaret that she was destined to lose this argument. And she didn't even know why.
"But Margaret, when have you ever allowed any of us to see you as an individual and not just an extension of Uncle Sam? You wear your army greens and blend in so well—what did you say? Cattle? I'm sorry, Margaret, but that's your choice. And as for you being a human being? Well, I must apologize again Margaret, but when have you ever let us see that side of you, either? You're regular army— which, you're right, I don't respect—but if they allowed for the existence of individuals, we'd have a bunch of boys lying in post op right now instead of numbers, and that kid whose liver got turned into Swiss Cheese that I couldn't save tonight would be considered a victim, not a statistic." Hawkeye lowered his hand just then, which had been pointing in the direction of the post op ward ever since he'd mentioned it. Then he sighed tiredly, the fight drained out of him. "I'm sorry Major. I only give credit where credit is due. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm late for a date with my pillow." With that last comment the tired but strangely vindicated captain strode from the scrub room.
Margaret could only stare after him from where she stood in the scrub room. The silence left in his wake was deafening. There she stood agape for many minutes, her mind attempting to process what he had just said—attempting to refute it—and failing miserably at the task.