Residual Damage by Djinn

Hawkeye tuned out the administrator's welcome speech, concentrating instead on trying to figure out the warren of passageways they'd traversed to get to the O.Rs.--he was never going to figure out how to get back to his office.

"And this is the surgical wing. I can't stress again how happy we are to have you here."

He'd heard this the evening before when he'd been invited to Cabot's house for dinner. He could give the speech by heart: they were happy to have him here, honored to have a surgeon of his caliber; they just knew he'd be happy at Miami General. He was glad they knew that--he wasn't so sure.

But then he wasn't sure he'd be happy anywhere right now.

"Ah, here comes our head surgical nurse. She's new to our staff. And a veteran too."

He turned, expecting to say hello to some Sherry or Melanie or Sandy, a no doubt very pert army or navy nurse who'd never lost her glow--due to spending the war in Tokyo or maybe even Honolulu. "Oh, yes," he said. "I'm sure we'll have lots in commo--."

She looked as shocked as he did. "Pierce?"

His mouth, for once, wasn't working very well. He stared at Margaret for longer than was polite, then said, "Of all the hospitals in all the towns..."

"This is hardly your hospital, doctor." She shot him the glare he remembered too well from Korea and stalked off.

"I take it you and Nurse Houlihan know each other?"

"You take it correctly."

"I do hope this isn't going to be a problem. I can--"

Hawkeye waved away whatever Cabot was going to say. "I'm sorry. I came here to get away from my past, not run headfirst into it."

"Funny. Nurse Houlihan said the same thing. I mean about getting away."

"Not so funny. Not funny at all." He took a deep breath. "If you'll excuse me. I have a head nurse to make peace with...again."

"By all means." Cabot looked a little worried.

Hawkeye didn't really care. If Miami didn't work out, there were plenty of other hospitals. He'd just needed to get away from Maine for a while. It didn't have to be Miami. He could get away from Maine anywhere--too bad the pain inside him wouldn't go away so quickly.

He checked out the scrub room, found her there and felt a rush of nostalgia at the sight of her standing there with her back to him, scrubbing. "Which surgery are you on?" he asked.

She stopped scrubbing. "I'm not."

"Oh. You're just scrubbing because you feel dirty?" He walked over to her. "Or did you want me to find you?" He gave her the old grin.

She didn't give him anything back, didn't even turn to look at him. "This isn't going to work. You and me together."

"I don't see why not. Look how well we did for all that time in Korea."

"Korea was a long time ago."

"No, it wasn't, Margaret."

She turned the water off and dried her hands on a towel. He noticed she wasn't wearing any rings.

"Why are you here, Hawkeye?"

"You mean in the scrub room?"

"I mean at Miami General."

He took her shoulder, turning her toward the door. "Come into my office and I'll buy you a cup of coffee."

"I'm surprised you don't have a still set up already."

He smiled. "I've given up stills."

She didn't look like she believed him.

"I don't mean I've given up booze. I mean I've given up booze I made two hours ago."

She finally smiled. "That I believe."

"Well, good." He held his hand out, indicating the door. "Shall we?"

She led him to his office, which was a good thing because he had no idea how to find it.

A young woman looked up from the desk in the common area. Her smile was sweet and earnest. "Doctor Pierce? I'm Barbara Cooper. I'm the secretary for the surgical unit."

"Barbara. You know Maj--Nurse Houlihan?"

He saw the young woman bristle a bit. "I don't have much to do with the nurses, doctor."

Margaret ignored the comment, which surprised him. She would have never ignored it when they were in Korea.

"Well, you'll probably have a lot to do with her. She's a friend. A good friend. And my good friend and I would like coffee."

Barbara turned a little red. "I'll get it right away. How do you take it?"

"Black," they both said at the same time.

The girl hurried out.

"It's not a good idea to alienate her," Margaret said as she checked out the view from his window.

He joined her. The view from his window was of the roof. "Why not?"

"Because she can help you get used to this place."

"It's just a place." He swallowed. "And she reminds me of someone."

Margaret turned and stared up at him. "Wife?"

"Fiancee."

"Hmm. Wouldn't have figured you for either."

"I'm full of surprises."

"Not so full. You're here without this fiancee, I take it?"

He took a deep breath. "It's been a bad year."

"I'm sorry." She did sound sorry. "I guess you didn't dump her?"

"Dump. Such a terrible word. It was a mutual decision. Prompted by Carol's announcement that she'd met someone else."

"Ouch."

"Not to worry. It was just a flesh wound. The real hurt came earlier." He put a hand on the window sill, took a deep breath. "My dad died."

She didn't say anything, just put her hand over his as he stood there staring out at the roof.

"Mine died too." She looked down. "At least your dad was proud of you."

He glanced at her, saw that her face was resigned. As if this was pain she had grown used to over time, not pain that had hit all at once. "I'm sure yours was proud of you."

"Good for you. I'm not."

He thought she would say more, but she didn't. Her hand squeezed his though.

"I found my dad in the boathouse."

She waited.

"He'd collapsed. He...he was dead and had been for a while--there was nothing I could do." He felt her hand tighten on his again--if it had been Carol touching him, he would have brushed her off. Brushing her off had probably been what had made her look for someone new in the first place. "He'd been doing something to the rowboat. I could have done it. If he'd asked."

"They never ask. They just do things. Until one day, they don't do anything ever again." She let go of him. "My dad was in a car accident. He lingered."

He heard a world of pain in those two words. "I'm sorry."

She nodded. "Once he was dead, I came here. I thought it was the farthest place from everything I'd known."

He laughed. "Great minds..."

"Yeah." Sighing, she walked away from him. "I don't think this is going to work. Us. Together."

"Margaret, we're just working together."

She smiled and gave him the knowing look he remembered so well from Korea. "That's what we used to say in Korea. Usually right before we fell into bed together."

Barbara walked in then with the coffees, her face scarlet. He guessed she'd caught Margaret's comment, and that they didn't talk so plain about falling into bed in her neck of the woods. Putting the coffees down on his desk, she said, "Sir. Ma'am." Then she fled.

Margaret took her coffee. "She could have been army, the way she used those titles. Or maybe just a nice southern girl."

"The latter, I think."

Margaret nodded, sipping her coffee. "I shocked her."

"Yeah, well, she's young."

"It's been my experience that most doctors adore young."

"Yeah, well, we're idiots."

She laughed. "I don't intend to sleep with you." She turned, as if waiting for Barbara to walk in again.

He grinned. "I think she's probably huddling terrified at her typewriter. Praying we don't call her in to take dictation."

Margaret's smile changed. As if she was finally relaxing. "It's hot here."

"It's Miami not Montreal."

"Remember how hot it got in Korea?"

"Mostly, I remember that tank top you wore when it got hot in Korea."

She rolled her eyes. "I said, I don't intend--"

"--I heard you the first time. You reminisce about what you want. I'll reminisce about what I want." He waggled his eyebrows at her.

She sighed. "Hasn't that's always been our problem, Pierce? We're just too different. Right down to the memories."

"You want to tell me you don't have memories of me taking that tank top off you?"

It was her turn to blush. "I may have a vague recollection of that."

"See. We're not so different."

They drank their coffee in silence and he fiddled with his desk drawers, figuring out what was where. "So, you want to get dinner later?"

"No."

"You don't eat?"

"You know I eat." She patted her hips.

"You look good."

"Don't look."

He just smiled. "About dinner...?"

"Hawkeye, there are tons of good-looking nurses here. Pick one of them, okay?" She put her coffee mug down and stood up. "I mean it. Don't do this. Let's just be friends. Or maybe just friendly colleagues. It's safer."

"Safer?"

She nodded. "Neither of us needs more upset."

"Who says it'll be upsetting?"

She laughed, but the sound was more bitter than amused. "It's us. What else can it be?" She met his eyes, her expression turned sad. "I am sorry about your dad."

"And I'm sorry about yours."

She nodded, then turned and hurried out. He tried not to think she was fleeing. But it sure looked like she was.

-------------

The O.R. was freezing, but Hawkeye was still sweating. He felt a soft cloth being drawn across his forehead. "Thanks," he murmured, turning his attention back to the patient's heart.

"You're still the master," Margaret murmured.

Smiling, he asked, "Can you move that?"

She didn't ask what 'that' he meant, just gently pushed back the piece that was blocking where he needed to go next.

"And you're still the best nurse I've ever seen," he said. "You should go to med school."

"I'm too old." Her tone brooked no argument. "Besides who would keep you in line?"

The young doctor running the gas snickered. Hawkeye resisted shooting him or Margaret a look. But he imagined her eyes were sparkling the way they always had in Korea whenever she got a good one off on him.

"He's right, Margaret," the young gas-passer said. "You are the best nurse I've seen."

"Flattery will get you nowhere, Rick." Her admonition lacked its normal starch.

"It's not flattery if it's the truth."

Hawkeye called for suction and shot a quick look at the anesthesiologist. Young, blonde, tan. Very handsome. And staring at Margaret the way a lot of officers and enlisted men had in Korea. This young man wanted her, and that irritated Hawkeye more than he expected.

"Oh, Margaret here is great at many things."

"Pierce." Her voice held a warning, as if she wasn't sure what he was going to say next, but she was pretty sure she wouldn't like it.

"Don't be modest, darling." He meant for the endearment to be sarcastic--it didn't come out as mocking as he intended. "Rick is it?"

"Doctor Johnson."

"Ah." He suddenly felt as if he'd entered the gladiator ring. "Well, Johnson, this is one nurse who's performed surgery. And more than once."

He could feel Margaret relax next to him. Had she really thought he'd taunt her about her prowess in bed? Or about her predilection for married generals--or majors--back in the day?

"In Korea?" Johnson asked.

"Yep. In Korea." Hawkeye made it sound like a club. One that this youngster could never know. Even if it wasn't true--he and Margaret had patched up too many boys to think anyone was too young to be a vet.

"Sometimes, it seems like everything that mattered happened to me in Korea," she said softly, running another cloth against his forehead.

"Yeah. I know." He shared a quick look with her. It suddenly felt as if they were the only ones in the O.R.

"I heard from Colonel Potter," she said.

Hawkeye smiled. He could imagine Potter's voice booming through the O.R., keeping them all sane. "How is the colonel?"

"He's happy, riding horses still and bouncing grandkids in front of him while he does it."

Hawkeye loved that some of them had gone back to their lives without first having been torn into shreds. "B.J.'s doing good too. He has another baby."

"Really?"

"A boy this time. He named it Ben."

She laughed. "Colonel Potter said Radar and Klinger are doing fine too. They want to have a reunion soon." She laughed softly. "I wonder how the rest of them are doing. All the people we touched?"

Hawkeye shot a glance at Johnson. He looked bored with all the talk about Korea. Good. "They're like people everywhere. Doing well or not. Living their lives or letting their lives run ragged over them."

"I forget you can be a philosopher when you're not being an ass."

He heard Johnson snicker.

"That's ass extraordinaire, if you please." Hawkeye smiled, heard Margaret chuckle. "How about you, Johnson? What's the worst place you've ever been?"

"I'm from Wisconsin, sir."

Hawkeye cringed at the "sir." It was so clearly a dig. "So a bad winter is the worst you've seen of life? Tough."

"Hawkeye..." Her tone was gentle, but he could tell there was something protective in it. She liked this young whelp?

"Sorry, Margaret," he said, trying to temper his tone. "It's just that after Korea, I'd take a whole winter of snows."

"Plus he's from Maine," she said in an aside to Johnson.

He laughed. "Then you know how it is, doctor."

"Oh, I know how it is." Hawkeye glanced at Margaret, saw her shake her head at him, but her eyes were sparkling. He grinned at her--made it his best smile, the one that had made nurses' knees weak at fifty paces. "Just like old times, isn't it?"

"Who said the old times were good?" But her voice was mellow.

"Same person who said other things were good." He waited for her to push back another part of the heart and met her eyes. "Very good."

He could tell that she knew he was trying to stake claim over the younger man. She just shook her head and went back to work.

But he thought he heard her mutter, "Men" as she wiped his forehead again.

He decided not to point out that he wasn't sweating. He'd let her have the last word this time.

B.J. and Charles would have passed out from shock.

-------------

"So, who's going to be at this party?" Hawkeye asked Jay, his new best buddy, even though he wasn't entirely sure he even liked the other surgeon.

"Just the best looking women from our hospital." Jay leered as he drove; it was an unattractive look on him.

"Great."

"I woulda figured you for a player, Ben."

"Well, you can't judge a book by its cover."

"You can the books I read."

Hawkeye shut his eyes. He had a pounding headache from a surgery that had gone into overtime.

"Hey, Ben, can I ask you something?"

"Ask away."

"How come Nurse Houlihan calls you Hawkeye?"

"She knows me from before."

"Yeah, from the war. I figured that out. But you never tell the rest of us to call you that. Why's she so special?"

"She just is." Hawkeye took a deep breath. He wasn't sure why he'd stopped using his nickname. But he hadn't introduced himself as that since his dad had died.

"You and she...you're not an item, are you?" Jay leered again, and Hawkeye felt the sudden urge to punch him.

"We're friends. I don't want to see her hurt."

"Who said anything about hurting? I have other things in mind." Jay's leer turned into something more disturbing.

"Don't."

"Don't? Don't what?"

"Don't go near her."

"But you said--"

"--I don't care what I said. Pick someone else. There'll be lots of other women." He could hear his voice rising and toned it down. "Just leave her alone, okay?"

"Okay, man. Don't make a federal case out of it." Jay huffed a little, then feel silent.

Hawkeye leaned back, glad for the quiet and the opportunity to close his eyes for a moment.

Jay broke the silence much too soon. "So, I think Barbara's going to be there. She has a crush on you the size of Rhode Island."

"She's a little young for me."

"Don't think of her as young. Think of her as...untried." Winking at him, Jay turned into an apartment complex and pulled into a parking space. "Here we are. You may need to get your own way back home--if I get lucky."

"For the sake of all the women at the party, I hope that doesn't happen."

Jay wrapped an arm around Hawkeye's shoulders. "If I didn't know better, I'd think you don't like me."

"Good thing you know better," Hawkeye said, as he slipped out from under Jay's arm and opened the door. "After you."

The party was in full swing, had even spilled out into the hallway. He saw Margaret standing in the living room with another nurse from surgery. Walking over, he noticed her glass was empty and diverted to the makeshift bar that had been set up in one corner of the room.

She looked up at him as he approached.

"I do not come empty handed." He held out a glass.

"So I see," she said, putting her old glass down and taking the drink from him.

"You still drink scotch?"

"I drink just about anything." He grin was just short of a grimace. He imagined they both drank a bit too much more than was healthy.

"Nice that some things don't change." He realized the other nurse had wandered off. "You lost your chaperone."

She looked around. "Great."

Moving so he was standing between her and the rest of the crowd, he said softly, "I only came because I heard you were going to be here."

"Right."

"It's true. You won't have dinner with me, so I'm reduced to coming to wild parties."

"You love wild parties. In the old days, you'd have been the master of ceremonies."

He laughed. "True."

"Maybe I should go to bed with you. Maybe then you'd stop pestering me?"

He heard a choking sound, looked over and saw that Barbara was walking past, her face deeply red. "You have to stop doing that to her, Margaret."

She frowned. "She's going to wonder if I ever talk about anything else."

"Let her wonder."

"It's how reputations start. With people like her wondering."

"Then I'll make an honest woman out of you."

"What? You're going to marry me?"

"Is that the only way you'll sleep with me?"

She laughed. "No, I'll probably just sleep with you." She looked around, as if worried someone might hear them.

"Are you enjoying this party?"

"It's all right."

"I'll take that as a 'not really.' Would you like to leave?"

She stared up at him, then she turned him slightly. "Look out there. See all the pretty, pretty women?"

"Yes."

"Go talk to them"

"I'm talking to one of them right now."

She smiled but did not look at all swayed. "Do one circuit. If you still want to leave after that, I'll go."

He rolled his eyes but let her push him out into the crowd. When he looked back, he saw her talking to Johnson, who seemed very interested in everything she had to say to him. In fact, he looked too interested.

Hawkeye forced himself to look away and turn his attention to working the room, joining into conversations that interested him. But he felt distracted, kept looking back to see what Margaret was doing. He saw Jay talking to her and braced himself, ready to rescue her. But she just patted Jay on the hand and slipped away. Jay looked confused, as if wondering how she'd slipped away from him and been snagged by the chief of pediatrics, with whom she was chatting happily.

Hawkeye remembered how comfortable she'd always been with the generals. She could probably work the room better than he could if she wanted to, but she seemed to stick with a few people. She was joined by the nurse who had been talking with her when Hawkeye first came in. The other woman was laughing softly and pointing to Johnson, and Hawkeye saw Margaret laugh then look away. He decided his circuit of the room was over and headed back to her.

"Ready to go?" he said, as he steered her by her elbow to the door.

"Actually, no."

"I didn't hear that." He caught Johnson shooting her a look as she left and murmured, "You realize that you'd have to burp young Ricky before you could take advantage of him?"

"Very funny." But she didn't try to stop their progress. "We'll have to take separate cars," she said softly.

"No, we won't. I rode with Jay."

"I didn't realize you two were that close."

"We're not. I just wanted you to drive me home."

She looked back at him, and he was struck by how little she'd aged. She looked like she had that last day in Korea, when he'd kissed her for such a long time.

"I've missed you, Margaret."

"No, you haven't."

He decided not to argue with her, but when she walked in front of him to open the door, he pulled her close, kissing her before she could stop him.

It was almost as long a kiss as that last one in Korea.

"Hawkeye, this isn't a good idea."

"Yes, it is." He let her push him into the car, waited for her to get in on the driver's side then pulled her to him again.

This time she pushed him away. "Stop it."

"I thought we were going to sleep together."

"I didn't say that." She glared at him. "And even if we are, that doesn't mean I'm going to make out with you in a parked car like some hormone-crazed teenager."

"You say that like it's a bad thing."

"You're a bad thing. We together are a bad thing. Where do you live?" The look she shot him was scorching, both annoyed and aroused at the same time.

He gave her directions, sat back and watched her drive.

"Stop it. You're making me nervous."

"If this is you nervous, then be that more often. You look beautiful." He reached over and ran his hand down her thigh. "I have missed you, Margaret."

"I know. I've missed you too." She laid her hand over his, and drove in silence, following his directions as they got closer. As she parked the car, she said softly, "I shouldn't come up."

"Yes, you should." He leaned in, gave her a chaste kiss on the cheek. "I need you to. I want you to."

She looked over at him. "I want to."

"Then why are we discussing this?" He opened his door, walked around and opened hers. "Fair lady?"

She let him pull her out. Holding her close, he led her to the elevator, then to his door.

"Home, barren home." He'd made little attempt to fix up the place. Fortunately, it had been furnished with the bare essentials. He'd left everything else in his dad's house--his next-door neighbor was checking on it, making sure pipes didn't burst and mail got forwarded.

He closed the door, turned to see her watching him. She stood in a patch of light from the streetlamp, and her hair turned silver in the near-dark the same way it had in her tent in Korea.

"Come here," he said, his voice gruff. It was suddenly very important to him that she be the one to move the distance between them.

It took her three steps, and then she was in his arms, kissing him hard. Passion was never an issue with her, and he loved that. He loved even more the way she stripped his clothes off him, relished the way she moved to make it easier for him to remove hers. He had never had this with Carol, never known this easy sensual rhythm of clothed to naked, apart to joined. Margaret pulled him onto his rented couch, and they found their age-old connection, kissing madly as if they might die if they lost contact for too long.

He buried his face in her hair, it smelled just as he remembered--of grass and herbs and some kind of fruit. She touched his cheek, her fingers gentle on him. The tender way she was staring up at him was shaking something loose inside him, something he didn't want to deal with. He began to move faster, harder, closing his eyes so he wouldn't have to see her compassion--so he wouldn't break.

Then he heard her sob, realized he was going too fast, too hard. Opening his eyes, he stared down at her, saw that she was crying. He stopped moving and kissed her softly, in a way he had never allowed himself to in the past.

She sobbed again when he pulled away.

"I don't know what's left of me, Margaret." He started to move--gently this time. Tenderly--lovingly.

She sniffed and tried to smile, and he leaned down, kissing her tears away.

"I'm sorry," he said. "I didn't mean to hurt you."

"This is why..." She turned her head, and he gently pulled it back, so she had to look at him. "This is why I didn't..."

"I know." He reached down, fingers questing.

She moaned.

"I don't want to get hurt," she whispered.

"I don't want to hurt you." He kissed her again while his fingers teased her.

She arched against him, crying out.

He watched her as she moved, enjoying the feeling of her clutching at him. "I love you, Margaret."

"Don't. Don't say that. It's never been true."

"Yes, it has." He went back to his careful motion, watching her close her eyes, not in pain this time but in pleasure. "We just never said it because it's too scary."

"There's a reason it's too scary. It's us. We won't make it." Kissing him as tenderly as he'd kissed her, she whispered, "I love you."

"I--"

She put her hand over his mouth. "Shut up, Hawkeye. Just stop talking."

He didn't argue. As they finally lay still, she cuddled in close, half on top of him on the narrow couch. He kissed her over and over, relishing being able to touch her this way, being able to let himself kiss her this way.

"Maybe it was fate that we both ended up here," he said.

She didn't say anything.

"Maybe we're meant to be together."

She just nodded, then she crawled off him. He grabbed at her hand, afraid she was going to leave.

She looked down, smiling at their linked hands. "I'm assuming you have a bed somewhere?"

He let her pull him up. "Thataway." He pointed down the hall. "Margaret, I--"

She stopped him again, but he pulled her hand off his mouth and whispered, "No, damn it. I get to say this."

She stared up at him, and her expression was angry, as if she was sure whatever he was going to say would hurt her in some way.

"I was just going to say that I'm glad you're here. Tonight. And at the hospital. I don't know if it's fate or not. I just know that life is easier with you in it."

She seemed to be searching his face, as if trying to determine if he meant what he said.

"Is it so hard to believe me?"

"Frankly, yes." She sighed. "We've been down this road before."

"No, we haven't. I've never told you I love you."

"You've implied it."

"There's a world of difference between implication and declaration. And I just declared it. And I'll declare it again. I love you, Margaret."

"But why?"

"Well, I don't really know at this particular moment why I love you. You're making it a little difficult, to be honest."

She sighed. "You know what I mean."

Pulling her into the bedroom, he drew back the covers and pushed her into bed. "Do you know how many people I've told about my dad since I came here?"

She shook her head.

"One. You." He pulled her close, the motion almost violent, and he felt her hand come up to his chest, as if ready to push away from him. "Do you know what I did to Carol when she tried to give me the sympathy you've shown?" He kissed her quickly, forcing her mouth open, finding her tongue. He didn't let go of her until he heard her moan. "I pushed her away. It's no wonder she found someone else."

Margaret pulled him back to her, her mouth just as demanding as his had just been. He met her eagerly, pulling her closer. They finally drew away from each other, and she laid her head on his chest.

"I died the day I found my dad in the boathouse. My heart didn't just break--it disintegrated."

She laid her hand on his chest. "It's still there."

"The only thing left is what Korea carved out of me. Only pain's left. And the only people who can get in are the ones who understand that pain." He buried his face in her hair. "I keep things inside. You know that about me."

She was running her hand down his arm. "I know."

"It's a bad habit." He kissed her cheek, moved toward her ear. "You know what it did to me there."

She nodded.

"I don't want to go crazy again."

"You're a long way from crazy, Hawkeye." She pushed him away slightly. "Is that why you want me? To keep you sane? Because I can't do that. I can barely keep myself sane."

He nuzzled her neck, holding her tightly until she squirmed and he let her go. As she settled into a more comfortable position, he murmured, "We can keep each other sane."

"I don't know."

"Let's try. Let's be brave enough to try."

"It's not like we have much to lose, is it?" She laughed softly.

It was a very sad sound.

-----------

Hawkeye stood in the doorway of his office, watching Margaret walk slowly down the hall, as if lost in thought. She looked up as she got closer and smiled but then veered off toward one of the O.Rs.

He followed her, catching her before she could turn into one of the rooms. "You're off duty, Major." He still called her that when he wanted to get her attention. It always worked--this time it worked too well.

She spun and glared at him. "Maybe I traded shifts?"

"As I recall you used to hate it when your nurses did that."

"As I recall what my nurses did was my business."

He checked the hallway, there was no one around, so he pushed her up against the wall, his hand running down her arm. "Margaret, what's wrong?" When she didn't answer, he said, "I'm off shift in half an hour. We can go to dinner. Anywhere you want." He leaned in, kissing her neck the way she liked.

"I'm tired, Pierce. I don't want dinner. I'm going home."

"Marg--"

"--Leave me alone." She pulled away and hurried off.

Sighing, he followed her, but when he rounded the corner to post-Op, she was gone. He gave up; she knew the hospital better than he did, could always find an out-of-the-way stairwell if they wanted to be alone for a few minutes.

As he headed back to his office, he heard Barbara say, "I was surprised to hear that she's resigning."

Turning slowly, he stared at her. "She's what?"

"Resigning. Going to Chicago, I heard." She seemed to shrink, and he realized he was glaring at her--a look he usually reserved for pigheaded generals...and one head nurse.

"Damn her." He slammed into his office and winced as the door crashed shut behind him. He began to pace. So she wanted to leave. So what? There were women here who were much more attractive than she was. He was just trying to recapture his past, that's all. Everyone knew you couldn't do that, why had he even tried?

He looked at the clock. Forget his shift. Forget everything. He hung his exam coat up on the hook on the back of his door, and opened the door gently. Barbara peered over at him warily.

"I'm sorry I yelled."

"It's okay." She looked down.

"I'm leaving early."

She nodded. Then she looked up at him. "You really care about her, don't you?"

Sighing, he said, "I really do."

"She's lucky." Barbara smiled at him brilliantly, and he thought it was a smile that said "try me when she's gone."

"No, my sweet young thing. I'm the lucky one." Then he hurried out, down the elevator and out the door to his car. Fortunately, Margaret lived close--he was driving like a crazy man.

She opened her door on the first ring, took one look at his face and asked, "Who told you?"

"My googly-eyed gal Friday."

She smiled tightly. "That must have been fun for her."

"I don't know if it was, and I don't care. What the hell is this, Margaret? Chicago?"

"It's done, Hawkeye. Just leave it alone."

"I will not leave it alone. Why the hell should I leave it alone?" He tried to pull her close but she dodged him.

"Don't. Don't touch me. Don't kiss me. Don't tell me you love me. I can't think when you do that."

"You're not thinking now. This is good, what's between us. It's really good."

"And it won't last. Nothing good ever lasts. You should know that by now."

"So you're taking off? You're going to drop your bomb and leave me lying in pieces and run like hell, just like those pilots in Korea who never saw what a mess they left behind after their strafing runs?"

"Don't compare me to them. I'm not trying to hurt you."

"You're leaving. I love you, and I know you love me."

"I told you not to tell me that."

This time he managed to grab her, pulled her in, surprising her, he thought, with how much stronger he was than her. He'd never really tried to hold her against her will before--the stakes had never been high enough to try to do that.

He expected her to fight. He didn't expect her to break down, to start crying.

"Margaret, talk to me."

"I can't do this." She was kissing him, frantically, pulling at his clothes, and he realized she was trying to distract him.

"No," he said, stopping her, pulling her hands away from him. "Don't seduce me. Talk to me."

"I love you."

"So far, so good." He didn't smile, not even when she shot him a worried glance. "So what's the problem?"

"You. You're the problem."

"I'm the problem? I'm not the one making secret plans to leave."

"You will. As soon as you're not so sad anymore. Then you won't need me. And you'll leave." She looked down. "In Korea, you always turned to me when you needed understanding. But then when life perked back up, you always turned away."

"That's not true." But he had a feeling she was right. He probably had used her that way.

"It is true, Pierce. I was there. I was the one getting my heart sliced open every time you felt better." She sat down on her couch, shaking her head.

Sitting down next to her, he said, "Margaret, look at me."

"No. You have bad magic, Hawkeye. I look at you and I forget my resolve. I forget that I'm not going to let you do this to me again." She was crying again.

"Margaret, I won't deny that in Korea, I could be a real ass. And I probably still can be one." He put his arm around her, pulling her closer.

She turned, burying her head against his chest, probably so she wouldn't see his bad magic.

"But it's different now. Everything's different."

"How?"

"That man who treated you so badly, he had his heart stomped on. Carol didn't just find someone else, she found my best childhood friend to throw me over for. My dad didn't just die--he died after we'd had an argument over whether I was ever going to grow up."

She finally looked up at him.

"He wasn't proud of me, Margaret. Not that day. I'd had a bad day at work. I was drinking when he got home. I guess...he'd had enough. He really let me have it. And then he went down to the boathouse. He didn't come back for dinner. I decided who cares. Let him stew." He realized he was crying, dashed the tears back, but that didn't help him with his breathing--why was it so hard to breathe? Why couldn't he swallow?

"Hawkeye," she said, sweeping the tears off his face with her finger.

"I didn't go check on him. He was dying. I could have saved him. I didn't go check on him. Not until it was too late."

She pulled him close, let him sob. "You don't know that. It could have been sudden."

"I'll never know. I'll always remember that I didn't go down when I first noticed he wasn't back. I let him die." He wept then, like he had those times in Korea when Sydney had come to talk him off the ledge.

He'd never wept in front of her this way, but now...now it felt like she was the only one he could weep with.

"You didn't let him die." She kissed his face, over and over, as if trying to kiss his tears away, but it was futile because he seemed to have a never-ending supply. "I did let my father die, Hawkeye. I...helped him die."

It took a minute for what she'd said to register. Then he pulled away and met her eyes.

"He was lingering. There was no hope. I...we both know there are ways to end suffering. Ways no one would think to look for, if they hadn't seen what we did day after day."

He touched her face. "I'm sorry."

"I've been running from that moment, running blind ever since I filled the needle. I didn't want to face it." Her tears had stopped, as if the truth dried her out instead of sending her into the paroxysm of weeping he'd suffered.

She took his hand, held it to her chest, over her heart. "Hawkeye, if your father lectured you, it was because he loved you. If he was disappointed in you, it was because he was used to being proud of you. My father didn't give a damn what I did. Nothing was ever good enough for him. Not in the army, not in life. I almost felt like I was getting revenge when I ended his life. All the things he never approved of in my life were adding up to that one moment. The means, the skill, and the resolve. I learned it all for him--some of it from him."

He sighed. "I thought I learned all my good things from my dad."

"I wish I'd met him."

"Me too." He pulled her close, kissing her as tenderly as he could. "The old Hawkeye, he didn't come back from Korea. I'm not the same as I was. I know you've noticed it."

"I have. It's what scares me. That I'll fall in love with this new Hawkeye even more than I already love the old one--just to find out he's only here temporarily."

"He's not."

"I want to believe you."

"Don't go to Chicago. Give us a chance. You don't have to make me any promises." He saw her expression twist, realized that had been the wrong thing to say. "Or you can. You can marry me."

She looked down. "You? Married?"

"We can get engaged. Think of it as a prolonged period of you checking under my hood and kicking my tires."

She finally smiled. "I don't know."

"Say yes, and we'll go get a ring. Something that will remind us both of what we've lost--and what we've found."

"You spin words like weapons, Hawkeye. My fear is that you'll say goodbye just as eloquently."

"And my worry is that you won't say goodbye at all." He began to pull off her clothes. "Stay with me. Here, in a city that neither of us are from."

"I hate it here."

"Yeah, me too." He kissed her. "Call Chicago. Tell them you've changed your mind. When we're ready to move, we'll move together wherever we want. All right?"

Sighing, she let him push her down.

"All right?" he asked between kisses.

"All right." She sounded almost put out, and he laughed. She was making it very hard to win her back.

He thought that was exactly what he--both versions of him, the ass from Korea and the newer, sadder model--needed.

"I love you," he whispered in her ear as he reminded her why they were so good together when they were lying down. If only they did so well on their feet.

"I love you," she said, her lips touching his in a very sweet kiss before passion took over as it always did. If nothing else, maybe that would save them. He'd never stopped wanting her, and he didn't think she'd ever stopped wanting him.

And maybe, if they did this right, they never would.

---------------

EPILOGUE

Hawkeye watched as Erin Hunnicutt ran around the Potter's front yard. She was a cute little girl, even cuter when she ran up to B.J. and jumped into his arms, squealing as her father spun her around.

As Margaret joined him, taking his arm gently, he murmured, "Do you think I could be like that?"

She shot him a look, clearly surprised at the question. "If you wanted to, I imagine you could do anything."

"But could I do that? Could I be a good father?" They'd had plenty of babies come through the 4077th. He'd enjoyed them, but he'd never felt the draw that B.J. or Trapper had. Had his own dad been ready made for fatherhood? Or had he had to learn how it all worked too?

Margaret looked down at the ring on her finger. It sparkled brilliantly in the late morning sun--he'd bought her a big stone. Not because she'd wanted it--to his surprise, she hadn't seemed to care that much what it was. In fact, she still seemed a bit stunned that he'd bought her anything. No, he'd gotten her a big rock because he needed to see it on her finger--and he needed others to see it. It didn't make sense to him just yet, but he accepted it for what it was: a territorial response--and a bit of a fearful one. He still wasn't sure she wouldn't run.

He smiled at her. "Your honor, the witness refuses to answer the question."

She suddenly pulled him down, kissing him sweetly, then she whispered, "I hope to god you will be a good father." When she pulled away, she looked like she was going to throw up.

He stared at her, then felt a grin breaking out on his face, his mouth starting to curl up slowly, then picking up steam like a runaway train. "You're...?"

"That quiet little wedding we were going to have in the summer? We might want to move it up."

His grin threatened to grow bigger, which he didn't think was possible. His face already hurt from smiling this wide. "That's great."

She looked very relieved.

"Did you think I wouldn't think it was great?"

"I'm not sure what I thought. All those years in Korea fooling around, and I only had a few scares. Now, I spend a few months with you and boom, I'm pregnant." She grinned up at him, as if she wanted to take the sting out of the words.

"You want this, don't you, Margaret?"

Her eyes softened and she nodded.

He found himself softening too--as if some great tension had been lifted off him. He wondered if his dad could see them--he'd always wanted grandkids. "My dad would have loved you."

"I would have loved him."

"Well, lets see this ring." Potter was heading their way, beaming madly. "Heard he put a dilly of a diamond on your finger."

She laughed and held out her hand. "He went a little overboard, Colonel."

Hawkeye shot her a wounded look--one of his old ones, from when they'd fight in Korea. "Margaret, you wound me. You know nothing is too good for my woman."

"Your woman?" She shook her head as if she couldn't believe she was putting up with his nonsense, but her eyes were very soft as she looked at him.

He'd spent a lifetime pushing her away. He imagined she sort of enjoyed the idea of having captured him so completely. Although she'd never tell him that. She was enjoying making him work for her far too much to claim victory anytime soon.

Potter grinned. "I always knew there was something going on with you two." He hugged them both close, and Hawkeye felt as if, for a moment, he had his father back.

When Potter let them go, his expression sobered. "I was sorry to hear about your fathers. I remember when I lost my dad. It was tough time."

Hawkeye nodded. Tough didn't begin to describe it. But he imagined that years from now, when he was consoling some younger friend, "tough" would be exactly how he put it. He put his arm around Margaret, managing to get his hand on her stomach. He couldn't feel any indication that she was pregnant, and she looked up at him, shaking her head slightly.

He nodded even more slightly. She was right, they shouldn't tell anyone yet. He didn't want them thinking he was marrying her because of the baby. He imagined she didn't want that either.

He let his hand slip back to her waist. "So where's our man Radar?" He could feel her relax--someday, maybe, she wouldn't immediately think he was going to hurt her. He shot her a look that she seemed to read with perfect ease because she gave him a sheepish grin.

"I love you," she said, as they followed Potter over to where Radar sat with his mother.

"And I love you." He kissed her cheek, saw B.J. watching him, a smile full of approval on his face. "Both of you."

She laughed and took his hand, and for a moment, he forgot about his father and the bad parts of Korea, and just let himself enjoy all the good things--these wonderful people and the woman beside him.

FIN