A/N: This story is a simple, sweet sick-fic I wrote in about an hour in the middle of the night. The style is a little rougher than I'd like, and the plot isn't very deep- mostly just fluffy H/M cuteness. But then, what's wrong with a little fluff once in a while? :)
Spoilers for CAVE
Sky Is Falling
Shells explode around her, shaking the ground and rattling her tent and the rickety army bed she is lying in. The framed pictures on her desk topple to the hard-packed earth and shatter, their own little explosions, sending shards of glittering glass everywhere. Margaret's thoughts are foggy, swirling wistfully above her like steam rising from hot coffee, and she tries to grab on to them, but she can't think straight and all she feels is sharp, keen fear. Her stomach clenches violently as the sound of the shells gets sickeningly closer, and she pulls her blankets up over her head, shaking. She can hear people outside screaming as the bombs hit the compound. She thinks it sounds like the sky is falling.
Another blast rocks the MASH unit and her tent crumbles around her, and suddenly she's outside, under the big, blue sky. The hospital has collapsed, and she watches in horror as the swamp goes down, then the nurse's quarters. The camp is falling apart.
With every shell that hits another piece of her home disintegrates. And when the entire MASH is gone, the mountains and trees around it fall in great, heaving scores and are swallowed up by the ground. And then the sky really is falling, the atmosphere dissolving, leaving gaping holes between her world and the rest of the cold universe, black, sagging holes she is too afraid to look into.
As she watches the world collapse around her, she is thinking 'this is it, this is it, this is it....'
And then there are cool, gentle hands on her forehead, and warm voice calling her name.
"Margaret," she hears, though it is far away. "Margaret, wake up now." And she does, letting herself be pulled from the dream slowly, like being drawn from a pool of dark mud, clumps of the nightmare still clinging to her mind.
Her head is throbbing so painfully she doesn't want to open her eyes, and her thoughts are thick and hazy, muddled with images of exploding shells. She feels terrible, ferociously hot, and achy, like the entire expanse of her skin is being pricked with tiny needles. The flu, she thinks, remembering. I have the flu.
When she finally musters the will to open her eyes, she sees Hawkeye, sitting on the side of her bed, leaning over her. She is so relived to see him, his familiar, friendly face, to know that the camp is not being shelled and the world is not collapsing on itself, that she pushes herself up in the bed and wraps her arms around his middle.
"Hey," he says gently, and she can feel his slight chuckle against her cheek. "What's the matter?"
"The sky is falling," she mumbles into his chest, her head still hazy with fever and sleep. Fragments of the dream spin around her, swarming, stinging.
"Ah, I see," he says, his hand moving over her shoulder blade, and she hears humor in his voice. She wonders why.
Margaret suddenly realizes that his shirt is cold and wet against her uncomfortably warm skin. She pulls back and looks him over. His clothes are damp, his dark hair plastered to his forehead. She thinks he looks like a wet puppy, ridiculous but sweet.
"You're wet," she says, furrowing her brow, trying desperately to figure out why on earth he would take a shower with his clothes on.
He nods. "It's raining," he says, and there it is again, that hint of amusement in his voice.
Suddenly a clap of thunder hits, directly above the camp, so loud and deep it shakes the ground. She yelps and moves into the circle of his arms again, tense and shuddering despite her fever-warmth.
"Only thunder," he says, the amusement gone, replaced by smooth concern. Somewhere in the back of her mind she feels silly for being weak and afraid, and she will berate herself for her vulnerability later. ight now she's too sick to be embarrassed.
She vaguely remembers the night in the cave a few weeks ago when she told him about her ridiculous fear of loud noises. She remembers how he didn't laugh, didn't even smirk. And he isn't laughing at her now, either.
His t-shirt and jacket feel damp and cool against her fever-flushed cheek. Her nostrils fill with the nearly-sweet, musty smell of rain-soaked cotton, and she reaches up, fingering the lapel of his jacket. Her head feels heavy, too heavy to lift, so she stays like that, leaned against him, absorbing the blessed coolness of him.
'Thunder," she repeats, whispering. At least it wasn't shell fire. "It's just so loud."
"Yeah. Just angels bowling, right? Sounds like they're really on fire tonight." Thunder booms above them again. "A strike every time."
"Humph," she grumbles, loosening her grip on the surgeon and bringing a hand up to her temple. Her head is pounding with the storm's angry noise. "Tell 'em that if they don't call it a night I'm gonna rip their wings off."
He laughs, a hand in her hair, smoothing. "Thatta girl. But you should probably take these before you do any cherub-rumbling." He reaches out to where a glass and two white tablets sit on her night table, and hands them both to her. "Aspirin. They'll make you feel better."
She takes the offered items and places the tablets on her tongue. Her head is clearing slightly, and she realizes, as she swallows them with a gulp of water, that he came out in the pouring rain, in the middle of the night, to give her an aspirin.
"It's sweet," she says. The water tastes sugary on her tongue.
He nods. "I added some glucose powder. It'll help keep your electrolytes up."
Electrolytes… she repeats the word in her head, wondering why she would need to keep her electrolytes up. Then, with a groan, she remembers. "I threw up in the O.R. Oh, God…"
"Nah," he says. "You made it to the scrub room sink." He puts a hand on her forehead, and she leans into the blissfully cold touch. "You've got a pretty good fever going. How do you feel?"
"Worse than the time they served surplus clam chowder in the mess tent?"
She groans again, glaring at him. "Pierce."
She's certain that he can't help the grin that tugs at the corner of his mouth. "Sorry, sorry." His smile fades. "What were you dreaming about when I came in? Sounded bad."
She purses her lips, trying to remember. "I thought the thunder was shell fire. We were being attacked… everything was falling apart, the tents, then the whole camp, then the whole world…"
He nods in understanding, and she shudders. She hates the way the war permeates her subconscious, and the way a fever always seems to make her dreams so vivid and gruesomely corporeal.
"Do you think you'll be able to get back to sleep?" he asks.
Thunder roars above them again.
She shakes her head, clenching her fists. "Not with that noise out there."
He takes the now-empty glass out of her hands and puts in on the night table.
"Maybe if we play 'twenty questions' it'll take your mind off of it."
"Oh, not that silly game again," she says, but she can't help smiling a little at the memory.
"Well, what do you suggest?"
She lies back on her pillows and pulls her rumpled blanket up around her waist. "Tell me a story."
He looks unsure at the suggestion. "A story? I don't know, Margaret. I'm not a very good storyteller."
"I don't care. Just tell me something. Something from your college days. Or… or something from your childhood." In truth, she only wants to hear his voice. She thinks that if she can close her eyes and still know that he's here she might be able to fall asleep and escape the disgusting flu she's fighting.
He is quiet for a moment, his brow furrowed in thought. Finally, he answers: "Okay. But lie on your stomach."
"What? Why?" she asks, not sick enough to surrender her natural suspicion.
He smiles warmly. "Well, I'm going to tell you about my mom, and how she used to take care of me when I was sick, but I have to do it right. C'mon, turn over."
She is wary, but she's known him long enough to know that when it really counts, he's actually quite the gentleman. She turns over onto her stomach, curling her hands up beneath her chest, trying to will away the prickly ache in them.
"My mother would have been a magnificent nurse," he says, and as he begins to speak, she feels his hand on her back, moving in slow, rhythmic circles, around and around, lulling her with his words and his touch. The contact is almost too intimate, even through the material of her pajama top, but it feels lovely, and she is too tired to protest.
"She was an excellent caregiver. She would let me stay home from school at the first signs of a sore throat and tuck me into bed with a hot water bottle. Then she would make a pot of her special homemade chicken soup and sit with me while I ate it. And oh, boy," he says, and Margaret can hear the grin in his voice. "It was really good soup. When I was a little boy I believed that Mom's chicken soup could cure anything. Then, my mom would tell me stories about the great adventures she and my father had before I was born, and rub my back in slow, small circles until I fell asleep. She called it her 'recipe for healing.'"
Margaret concentrates on the steady, strangely melodic timbre of his voice, and soon, the tension and uneasiness slip from her tired body, and the storm doesn't even seem so loud.
"I remember when my mom got sick, just before she died, I was so sure that if I could just make her some of the chicken soup she used to make me and bring it to her in the hospital, than she'd get better. But I didn't know how to use the stove, and Dad was too distraught at the time to help me. So even though I managed to turn it on and boil a pot of water, I didn't know enough to be careful and I ended up spilling the hot water all over the floor and came very close to burning myself. When Dad found out he put an end to my soup-making. I know now that a bowl of chicken soup wouldn't have cured my mother's cancer, but for a long time I thought 'if only I wasn't so clumsy, if only I'd found another way to make that soup...'"
He sighs softly, so softly she almost doesn't hear it. When he speaks again his voice is quiet. "I wish I had some of her soup to give you now, but the closest thing to chicken soup I've seen over here is the cook's poor imitation of stew. And I doubt that would make you feel any better. But maybe just this part of her 'healing recipe' is enough. And maybe tomorrow you'll feel better."
His story finished, his hand leaves her back and he pulls the blanket up over her shoulders and tucks it around her chin. Suspended precariously on the brink of sleep, she only faintly hears the words he whispers before he rises to leave:
"Goodnight Chicken Little."
She tries to answer, tries to say 'Thank you', but her lips aren't responding and her eyelids feel too heavy to lift. She'll tell him tomorrow, she thinks, as she drifts into dreams of a mother who makes chicken soup, and of a son who sometimes makes Margaret furious but mostly… mostly makes her happy.
- - - - -
More author's notes: This story is really an ode to the adorable friendship Margaret and Hawkeye seemed to have developed in season 7. Is it a little out of character? Not from where I'm sitting. Go watch the scene in 'They Call the Wind Korea' where, after confessing to him that she's really worried about the nurse who was injured by the falling water tower, Margaret just so naturally and easily puts her head on Hawkeye's shoulder. Now try and tell me they aren't capable of a little fluffiness. Mmhmm. Thought I'd remind you of that. That's where this comes from. :)
And guys- thanks a million for all the lovely reviews you've been leaving for my other stories. They are appreciated beyond belief, and are the reason I keep writing these things even after I promised myself I'd stay away from fanfiction and do some real work.
But anyway. Hope you liked it.