Just Another Day in the Middle of Nowhere

Margaret watched as her fiance paced back and forth in her office. "Peter, you need to give me a hint. What's got you so worked up?"

"It's Pierce."

"Why? What's he done?"

"He's...he's playing havoc with the chain of command here."

She tried to hide an "I told you so" smile. "And that's a surprise because...?"

"Margaret, you said he was the finest surgeon you'd ever worked with."

"He is. But if you'll recall, I also said he's the biggest pain in the keister I've ever worked with when it comes to following orders, rules, regs, procedure--anything not related to surgery and saving lives."

Peter sat down, swinging his big "Head of Surgery" chair nervously back and forth. "He doesn't respect me."

"He doesn't respect anyone--not as a boss. But I know he thinks you're a good surgeon. He told me."

"He did?"

"Yes." She smiled at him. "So stop worrying so much."

"You talk to him a lot?"

His voice had taken on a tone she hadn't heard before. Was Peter jealous of Pierce?

"I assist in the O.R. We talk."

"And that's it. Small talk over the table?"

Now was definitely not the time to mention that Pierce had seemed to seek her out for lunch more than once--for small talk over a different kind of table. "I can't believe you're jealous."

"Who said I was jealous?" He crossed his arms over his chest; the swinging intensified.

"No, you're not jealous." She laughed gently and got up. "I've got work to do."

"Margaret?"

"Hmm?"

"Were you two close in Korea?"

She turned to look at him. "It was a nightmare there. Everyone was close in Korea."

He didn't look like he thought that was a very good answer.

It was the best one she could give him.

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

Hawkeye saw Margaret talking to Peter Larch and watched them, trying to determine just how serious they were. They looked happy. She smiled a lot. So did the older doctor.

Hawkeye sighed and turned away, heading down the hall to see how his latest patients were doing. His leg ached as he walked, reminding him of how lucky he'd been to come away from a car accident with just a broken leg, a sprained wrist, and a whole lot of bruises.

The car accident...he'd been driving around, trying to figure out what to do with his life without his father. His father wasn't supposed to die. Not yet.

The car came out of nowhere, plowed into him, then crashed through the barricade, plunging over the cliff into the sea, nearly taking his car over with it. His front wheels were a hair from the edge of the cliff; the side of his car slammed up against the part of the barricade still left standing. He held up his hand, saw how badly it shook.

Then he started to cry. For the first time, since he'd found out his dad was sick, he let himself cry.

He'd still been crying when a car pulled over. The driver had gone for help once he was sure Hawkeye was okay. Banged up, leg busted, but okay.

"Pierce?" Margaret's voice was softer than he remembered it. But then she didn't need to yell here the way she had in Korea. Richmond didn't call for shrill.

"Margaret, just the nurse I've been dreaming of."

Her look told him to cut it out.

"So, you and Peter. Serious?"

She held out her hand.

He didn't think the Rhode-Island-sized diamond had been on her finger the week before--she must have had one hell of a good weekend. "Hmm. Flashy."

She shot him a look.

"I mean congratulations. This is sudden, I take it?"

"No." She smiled, a sort of irritating smile. Like she knew something he didn't.

"What?"

"That's such a typical Pierce question. To assume I couldn't have a normal courtship with normal dating and a normal proposal on a normal timeline." She held the ring out in front of her, moving it so it sparkled.

"Well, if normal is what you want...?"

"Shockingly, it is."

He expected her to leave, but she kept walking next to him. He thought she slowed her pace so he could keep up with her.

"You're limping, Hawkeye."

"Yes, I am."

"Why?"

She could be so direct. Back in Korea, he'd loved and hated that about her. Now he wasn't sure how he felt.

"Why, Pierce?"

"Car accident."

She turned quickly, seemed to be trying to read his expression. "You didn't say you'd been in an accident."

"You didn't ask."

"Was it a bad one?"

He nodded.

"That's not how your dad...?"

He hadn't told her much. Just that his dad was dead. "No. But it was right after. I was just...wandering. Driving aimlessly. A woman hit me, went over the cliff and--"

The tires had made a squealing sound, like she'd tried to brake. He'd heard her scream, even from inside his car.

He had nightmares about that scream--when he wasn't having nightmares about Korea or not being able to help his dad.

"Pierce?" She was pushing him into one of the chairs in the corridor. The kind the families of patients sat on when they needed a break from the sick room. When they needed a moment.

He let out a deep breath.

"Are you all right?"

The corridor was deserted, and she was leaning over him, her face so close to his. He pulled her in, kissed her.

And for a moment, she kissed him back. Then she pushed him away sharply, knocking him back into the wall. "Damn you."

He rubbed his head. "You still don't know your own strength."

"And you think I don't know your charms, but I do. And I've been here and I have no intention of going through this again." She was breathing hard, her face flushed.

He wanted to say he was sorry. But all he felt was the fading warmth of her lips on his, making life seem just a little less empty.

"You have rounds, Doctor." She sounded very disappointed in him as she turned away and left him alone.

He wondered if it was bad that he didn't feel disappointed in himself.

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

Margaret walked from cabinet to cabinet in the operating room, trying to figure out where the new nurse had put the suture. She heard the door open, saw Linda coming in.

Her apartment-mate smiled at her and started rummaging through the cabinets.

"I'm looking for suture," Margaret said. "What's on your scavenger-hunt list?"

"Sponges. Any idea where Denise put them?"

"She probably filed them under C for sea life." It's what Klinger would have done.

Linda laughed. "Could be." She headed for another cabinet. "Here they are." At Margaret's look, she shrugged. "God only knows why they're here, and I don't care now that I've found them."

"Are you going to talk to her or do I have to."

"You're so much better at the discipline thing, Margaret."

"That's because you like to dish out comfort when I'm done."

"How else will they tell me their deep, dark secrets?" Linda grinned and leaned in. "Did you know Sherry is going out with our new Doctor Pierce?"

"I didn't." Margaret turned away, busied herself moving the suture she'd finally found. What Pierce did with his time was his business.

"She thinks he's a little strange."

Margaret turned quickly. "Strange? What the hell does that mean?"

"Wow. You're sure interested."

"He's my friend. And he's annoying and arrogant, but not strange."

"No?" Linda was grinning like a mad fool.

Margaret realized she'd been had. "Sherry's not dating him, is she?"

"She wants to. He seems to be immune to her charms."

Margaret leaned against the cabinet and frowned. "That is strange, actually."

"Is it? Maybe he's just interested in someone else?"

"Like who?"

"Like you?" Linda sighed. "Margaret, I saw him kiss you the other day. I also saw you push him away--but not right away. What gives?"

"Nothing."

"That didn't look like nothing to me."

Margaret swallowed and played with her engagement ring. It still felt funny on her hand--she was afraid she'd forget it after an operation, leave it in the locker.

"Do you have feelings for him?" Linda reached out and stopped her fiddling. "More than you do for Peter?"

"Of course not. He's...he's only interested because I'm taken. Trust me, if I ditched Peter--which I wouldn't do--Pierce would run like the wind." She thought of how gingerly he was moving. "Well, limp like the wind."

Linda nodded slowly, as if she wasn't fully convinced.

"I love Peter. And he loves me."

"But Doctor Pierce is--"

"If you're so interested in Pierce, Lin, why don't you date him? That would solve all our problems." Then they could all double date--wouldn't that be fun?

"He's not really my type."

"Every man's your type."

"He's a little too damaged."

"Damaged?"

"Cupcake"--Linda smiled at her gently--"he makes you look well adjusted."

"I am well adjusted."

"Uh huh. And you never have nightmares, either."

Margaret looked down. "I'm sorry. I thought I'd stopped talking in my sleep. You...you told me I had."

"I lied. You were feeling bad about waking me up so I told you you'd stopped." Linda sighed. "It's not every night. And you've gotten quieter when you thrash around. I can hardly hear you through the wall."

"Good, I guess?"

"I know Korea was a bad place. I hated it there, too. But maybe you should get some help? Someone to talk to?"

"You were in Seoul, Linda. You have no idea what it was like where we were." Margaret turned to go back to work. "And I don't need to talk to anyone about it."

"Okay. Forget I said anything." Linda seemed to be hovering.

"I'm fine. I'm not mad."

"You're sure?"

Margaret met her eyes, kept hers very calm. "Positive."

Linda held up her hands as if in surrender and left her alone, but Margaret knew she hadn't heard the end of this.

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

"Your friend Linda doesn't like me," Hawkeye said as he offered Margaret half of the orange he'd peeled.

"She doesn't know you." Smiling slightly, she bit into one of the segments.

"Good, isn't it?" She'd told him the one he'd picked wasn't ripe, so he waited for her to acknowledge his superior citrus selection skills before saying, "You think to know me is to love me?"

"I didn't say that."

"Sure you did."

"You're just not her type."

"She told you that, huh?"

Margaret shrugged. The age-old gesture of one woman covering up for another. But then she glanced at him, and looked away quickly, her expression a little...guilty.

"What?"

"She thinks there's something going on between us."

"There is."

"Something serious."

"Hey, I don't share my oranges with any common floozy. I don't mean you're an uncommon floozy. Or a floozy at all--common or not.

"You're only making it worse, Pierce. And I know what you meant."

That was the great thing about spending time with her--she did know what he meant. Sometimes even when he didn't. "I've missed you."

"Sure you have."

"I have."

"Uh huh." She shook her head, met his eyes. "You ever call B.J.?"

He looked away.

"Yeah, that's what I thought."

"You think everything's so simple."

"No, Pierce, I actually don't. But with the kind of friendship you two had, I think in this case, it should be." She touched his hand lightly. "Did you call him when your dad died?"

"I couldn't find the words."

"Write them down, then. Hawkeye, he's your best friend."

"I know." The hell of it was she was right. He should have called B.J. a long time ago. When his dad got sick. Why the hell had he shut down instead of reaching out?

"I'm worried about you."

"I'm a little worried about me, too." He tried to give her the old Hawkeye Pierce smile, knew he fell way short. "I'm glad you're here."

"Pierce, you came here because I was here."

He just stared at her.

"I know. I didn't think that at first, either. But now I do. You're...hovering. Way too much."

"I didn't know I was bothering you."

"I said hovering, not bothering." She sighed. "I think you somehow got it in your head that I'm your true north." She smiled at him--the warm, gentle smile she usually reserved for the sick or hurt. "And Richmond is south, you know."

"You're not my true north."

"Then who is?"

He looked down, giving his full attention to his remaining orange pieces.

"I think your dad was."

"Maybe."

"And now he's gone, and it's possible you believe you need a new one..."

"Why would I pick you?" He hated how hard that came out. How mean.

She didn't seem to mind. "I have no idea, Hawkeye. I wish I did."

He saw her fiance watching them from the door to the courtyard. "I think your beau would rather you didn't eat with me."

She shrugged.

"Yeah, that bodes well for future bliss." He could hear his voice turn a little bit ripping. The way it did when he was...jealous.

God help him, he was jealous of Peter Larch. For having a woman he'd repeatedly rejected. Or been rejected by.

"Margaret?" The man did sound unhappy with her.

"Peter, join us." She practically pulled him down next to her.

Hawkeye met his eyes, decided they were a little beady, more like Frank's than he'd realized at first. And he had that supercilious smile of Charles without any of Charles' good points--not that there were many. "Your fiancee was just telling me I've made her too important to my well being."

Margaret's eyes went very wide. "That's not really what I--"

"Did she?" Peter wasn't even looking at her. "And how important do you think she should be, Doctor?"

"We have a history." Hawkeye let that hang before he said, "Korea, I mean."

He knew he'd scored a hit. Peter's mouth tightened immediately.

"But then you weren't there, were you, Pete?" He popped the last orange segment in his mouth. "Well, I have work to do. I'll give you two lovebirds some privacy."

Margaret looked ready to kill him. Peter glanced at her and didn't seem any happier.

"Toodle-oo." With a smile that Hawkeye knew was far too calculated, he left them alone.

-----------

Margaret stared at the phone, willing it to ring. Peter had mentioned going out for something to eat when he finished the paperwork he'd claimed to have hanging over him. Paperwork that should have been done hours ago.

"It's a funny thing," Linda said as she sat down next to her, "those things don't ring just because you want them to. You can, however, use them to call the person you're thinking about."

"Peter's mad at me."

"Does he have a reason?"

"Yep."

"Damn. I was prepared to be mad at him for you."

Margaret laughed softly and bumped her arm against her friend's. "That's very supportive of you."

"I do try. So...what'd you do?" Linda leaned back against the arm of the sofa, tucking her legs under her as if settling in for a long story.

"It wasn't really me."

"Oh. So what did someone who is not you do? And let me guess the identity of the mystery player. Starts with Hawkeye? Ends with Pierce? Alternately known as Doctor?"

"Wow, you're good at this."

"So what happened? Another kiss?"

"No. Just one too many lunches, I guess." Margaret closed her eyes as she leaned back. "Things are getting way too complicated with him here."

"Maybe you're letting them?"

Margaret turned and stared at Linda. "Not so supportive that time."

"I can be a realistic friend, too. Margaret, what are you doing? You have a great guy. He loves you. The way you've told me you always wanted to be loved. And yet you let Pierce do this."

"Let him?"

"You don't have to eat lunch with him, do you? Does he hold a gun to your head?"

"Of course not."

"Then why don't you just stay away from him?"

"Why should I have to? He's my friend."

"Is he?" Linda shook her head and gave Margaret a stern look. "How is he your friend?"

"You don't understand. He just is."

"Ah. The Korea thing again. Well, Korea's over, toots. And has been for some time. And where was your good friend Doctor Pierce during the years between?"

"He was in Maine."

"Where was he emotionally? Because I don't remember him being there for you when you had pneumonia last year."

"Well, I wouldn't have called him for that. But he's here now and--"

"You're in love with him, aren't you?"

"What? No."

Linda sniffed, a sound of amusement--and maybe pity? Did she find Margaret pathetic?

"I love Peter."

"I think you do love Peter. I just worry that you love Pierce more." Linda got up and padded into the kitchen, leaving Margaret alone with the non-ringing phone.

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

Hawkeye looked over at Margaret. "So, you wanted to talk?"

She nodded but walked next to him silently. They were strolling through the pediatrics ward. That had been her idea; she'd said Peter wouldn't interrupt them this far from the surgical wing.

"I've found that talking works best if actual words are used and noises made."

She glared at him. "I was trying to think of a tactful way to ask this, but I forgot who I was dealing with. Let me be blunt."

"Because that'll be such a change." He grinned.

She didn't grin back. "I have something really nice here. With Peter. Are you trying to ruin it for me?"

"Ruin?"

"Yes, ruin. That stunt you pulled yesterday at lunch. The kiss in the hall."

"Oh, yes. Such egregious offenses." He held his hands out in front of him. "Lock me up and throw away the key, Officer Houlihan."

"Shut up, Pierce."

He pretended to try to talk through locked lips.

"God, you're obnoxious."

"You sure know how to wound a guy." He glanced over at her, trying to gauge how mad she really was. "Why would I ruin this for you?"

"I don't know. You tell me."

"We're friends, Margaret. I don't, as a rule, go around ruining their lives."

"We're not friends, Pierce. We never have been." She stopped walking. "Is that why you never call B.J.? You think you'll ruin his life?"

"Talk about running with the subtext. That's not what I meant." He saw she was about to start walking and put a hand out to stop her. "And what do you mean 'we aren't friends'?"

"Pierce, when's my birthday?"

"Uh, some day this year?"

She waved him off and walked away.

"Give me a hint, Margaret. Beach party or ski party?" When she didn't stop, he reached out and made her. "It's the sixth of August. Nineteen..." He mumbled the year and was happy to finally see her smile. "You're a Leo."

"Did you know it when we were in Korea?"

He nodded.

"You never did anything for me."

"You never acted like it was your birthday. Always tried to high-tail it out of there. I figured you were birthday phobic--or just didn't want to spend it with us."

"I just wanted normal. I wanted to be anywhere but stuck in my life."

"What was so wrong with your life? We were in your life."

"I didn't say it was nice of me to want that." She sighed. "So you knew my birthday."

"Of course I knew. It was in your file."

Her eyebrows went way up. "And you were in my file why?"

"Because I'm nosy, Margaret. You know that." He urged her back to walking. "So is Peter the sensitive kind of guy who treats his gal right on her special day?" He inwardly winced at how much sarcasm he'd loaded into the question.

"He is, actually. He's generous and thoughtful. And creative."

"Well, hopefully that'll translate into the bedroom."

"Will?" She laughed at him, but he could see something in her eyes. A sliver of doubt.

"I knew it! You haven't slept with him, have you?"

"Could you say that a little louder, Pierce. I don't think the folks in the next wing heard you."

He laughed, said in a sing-song way, "You haven't slept with him. You haven't slept with him." He sounded like a four-year-old; he didn't care.

"He's old fashioned. If he knew half of what I did in Korea, he'd break the engagement." She stared over at him. "There, I've given you ammunition. A real friend wouldn't use it."

"I am a real friend, Margaret. I'd never do that to you." He sighed. "I'd never intentionally hurt you."

"Good. Prove it." She turned and walked out the side entrance.

He followed her, lifting his face to the sun. It suddenly seemed very warm--very welcoming.

She hadn't slept with Peter. Despite Hawkeye's taunts, he hadn't been sure. But this was good. He felt giddy. Like when he'd gotten a good one over on Frank.

He took a deep breath. Why did he feel giddy? What the hell was he doing? She'd said she was happy. She had a nice, normal relationship.

"I wish you'd never come here, Pierce."

His giddiness evaporated. She sounded...afraid.

"I'm not going to spoil anything for you."

"Okay. Sure." She walked over to a bench, sat down.

"Does he know about the nightmares?"

"What nightmares? I don't have nightmares."

He could tell she was lying. Her voice always went up a little when she lied.

He sat down next to her and stretched his legs out. "Could you teach me how to not have any? 'Cause mine are getting old."

She sighed.

"I dream about my dad, too, not just Korea. And the car wreck." Why was he telling her this? "I can't remember the last time I had a nice dream."

"Maybe you just don't remember the nice ones."

He sensed she was looking over at him. Then he felt her hand on his. She was so quick to offer comfort--even when she thought he'd end up hurting her.

"So you really don't have them?"

"No. Never." She was lying again.

"Is the truth so hard, Margaret?" He pulled his hand away.

"What good will it do for me to say yes? It'll just be one more thing that we have in common, and frankly, I'm not looking for common ground with you."

"Fine."

"Fine."

They sat, nobody talking. He finally got up. "You know what your problem is?"

"You?"

"Very funny. No, not me. It's you. You don't know what you want. You say you want Peter. But if you do, why are you sitting out here with me?"

"Because I'm an idiot?" She looked up at him and shook her head.

"You want to go back?"

"You go. I'm going to stay out here for a while. And think."

"Right. Okay." He felt like he was back in grade school. When he'd broken Mary Lou Nelson's pencil and she wouldn't talk to him anymore. "Margaret, I guess I don't see the problem with us being friends."

She smiled, but it was a tired expression. "Maybe it's just a little late for us to start being that now?"

He wasn't sure what to say to that, so he settled for not getting the last word. Everyone else who knew him would probably die of shock. Margaret didn't even seem to notice.

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

"Peter?" Margaret knocked lightly on his open door.

His expression wasn't very welcoming when he looked up. "Margaret."

"I thought we were going to meet up for dinner last night."

He looked away, seemed to be busying himself with paperwork. "I ran out of time."

"Oh. Okay." She took a deep breath and walked into his office, pulling the door closed behind her. "Do we need to talk?"

"What about?" His voice was colder than she'd ever heard it. But she saw that the tips of his ears were a little red, the way they always got when he was frustrated.

They definitely needed to talk.

"I'm sorry if I did something to hurt you," she said as she perched on his desk.

"Do you think you hurt me?" He looked up at her. His expression was bland, as if he wasn't on a fishing expedition.

"Apparently so, since you don't appear to be speaking to me."

"Nice evasion, Margaret. You have a lot of practice at this?"

She took a deep breath rather than shooting off the first angry thing that came to mind. "It wasn't an evasion."

He just shook his head.

"Fine," she said. "Is it Pierce?"

"Is it? How can you ask me that, Margaret? He's around you all the time. Or you're seeking him out."

"We're friends."

"Friends." He met her eyes. "Just how close were you two?"

"We were in K--"

"Jesus, God, Margaret, I know you were in Korea together. That's not some magic password that lets you off the hook when it comes to how you're behaving."

"How I'm behaving? I'm talking to a friend, the way people do. What's so terrible about that?" She could hear her voice turning defensive--guilty? Did she have anything to feel guilty about?

"Were you two lovers?"

She closed her eyes. "No." It was the easiest answer. She and Pierce had had sex. Many times. But that didn't make them lovers. A lover loved you, didn't he?

"You're lying to me."

"How do you know?"

"You aren't looking at me."

She realized she still had her eyes closed and opened them. "I'm not looking at anything. Maybe it's because I don't like this conversation."

He leaned forward, took her hands. "I want to believe you. I do, Margaret. I love you. I wouldn't feel this way if I didn't."

"I know." She bit her lip.

"Swear to me you two never had sex."

A slightly different question--to say no would be to lie outright. There was no rationalizing out of this one. She looked at him, saw his look of hope turn to one of disappointment.

"I wish I could."

He let go of her hands. "You let me bring him here. You let me bring your lover here."

"That's not how I think of him."

"It's how you act with him, though. Do you have any idea how close you two stand? The secret smiles--oh, I know: Korea." He pushed away from his chair, walked to the window. "I'm so sick of Korea I could scream."

"Korea's a part of me."

"I accept that. I just can't deal with Pierce being a part of you, too."

"He's in my past. I can't undo that."

He turned to look at her. "Would you want to?"

She wanted to tell him yes, but she wasn't sure it was true. She settled for shrugging.

He looked away, clearly hurt.

"Look, there's no choice here. Not for me. Peter, I love you."

"And you don't love him?"

"No." Her voice didn't even catch when she said it.

"So, you slept with a man you don't love?" His smile was grim when he turned to her. "Let me guess. Korea was like that."

She could feel her face tightening, knew her expression was growing hard.

"How many other men that you didn't love did you sleep with, Margaret?"

It was the question she'd been dreading. Or some form of it. He wanted to believe she was something she wasn't. She'd let him believe that.

Her past always came back to bite her.

"How many?" he whispered.

She looked down at the beautiful ring he'd given her. Then she slid it off her finger and set it gently on the desk. She took a slow, deep breath before she slid off the desk and walked to the door.

"Margaret?" he said as she opened it.

"Too many."

He looked over at the ring, but he didn't make any move toward it or the desk--or toward her.

"I'll rearrange our shifts," she said. "It'll be...easier that way."

He just nodded.

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

Hawkeye caught a glimpse of Margaret as she hurried to the stairs. She looked like she'd lost her best friend. Only her best friend was striding up the hall toward him, handing him a clipboard a little too energetically.

"Surgeon's hands, Linda."

She stopped, slowly turned. "You're a real jerk, you know that?"

"So I've been told. What earned me the title this time?"

She seemed taken aback. "You don't know?"

"Know what?"

"Never mind."

"Hey, wait. You can't just--"

But she'd disappeared around the corner.

He stuck the clipboard with the others holding patient records and turned to go. The duty roster for the following week caught his eyes. He noticed Margaret's shifts no longer matched his own.

Or Peter's.

"I'm a jerk, am I? He hurried to the stairs, started to go down, then heard something from above him. He went up a flight, found her halfway to the next floor.

She was crying, but as soon as she saw him, she brushed the tears away and tried to push past him.

"I know."

"Bully for you, Pierce." She jerked her arm away and practically ran down the stairs.

He followed at a more leisurely pace, listening for a door to open. But none did. He found her at the bottom of the stairs, near the door leading into the basement.

"Why'd you break up with him?"

She laughed. The bitterness of the sound tore at him. "Why do you think it was me who left him?"

"Oh. I'm sorry."

"No, you're not." She sat down on the stairs, brushing at imaginary specks on her uniform.

He sat down next to her. "Did you love him?"

"Of course I loved him. I was going to marry him, wasn't I?" She glared at him, and he sensed a well of pain underneath the fire in her stare. "He asked if we were lovers. I said we weren't."

"That's a lie, Margaret."

"It wasn't a lie, Pierce. We slept together. We had sex. But love?"

"You think I don't love you?"

"Yes, Hawkeye, that is what I think." She took a deep, ragged breath.

"I do love you."

"Right. And you always have." She smiled, a puff of air translating into a bitter laugh. "I've seen you pull away too many times to fall for that line. You want me right now. But once you've had me, you'll be on your way. And I'll be stuck here. With the mess we've made."

"Is it really such a mess?"

She looked like she was going to hit him. She'd done it before. So, he pulled her to him, grabbing her hands so she couldn't slug him, but then he thought she might head-butt him instead.

"I hate you, Hawkeye."

"No, you don't." He kissed her before she could say anything else.

This time she didn't push him away. But there was something missing in the kiss. He eased back, staring down at her, trying to read her expression.

"I'm never going to have it, am I?" she asked. "Normal. Nice."

He wasn't sure what to say, so he just shook his head. Normal wasn't for her. They were too scarred from that damned war to ever be normal. "Nice, maybe, is in reach."

She laughed brittlely and pulled away from him. "I have to get back to work."

"Put yourself back on the main shift."

"It'll be too hard working with him."

"Margaret, you're the best surgical nurse on the staff. You owe it to our patients to be there when we are." He knew he was being selfish, but he wasn't wrong. She was the best nurse; they did need her.

"Peter didn't object when I told him I was changing my shift. I think he wants this."

"I don't care what he wants."

"Yes, well, that's the problem, now isn't it? You don't care what anyone but you wants."

He was going to argue but something stopped him. "Maybe so."

"Go away, Pierce. Let me pull myself together in peace."

"Will you change your schedule back?" He'd do it for her if she said no.

"I'll change the damn thing back. I'm an idiot, though, for listening to you."

He touched her cheek, couldn't help but notice that she closed her eyes as he did it. "Things will be okay, Margaret."

"I wanted more than okay this time." She didn't look up at him as he walked to the stairs and started to climb, giving her the peace she'd said she needed.

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

"So." Linda plunked herself down by Margaret on the couch, handing her a beer.

"So." Margaret took the offered drink, looking at her finger where the lovely diamond that was a symbol of everything normal used to sit.

"Do you miss the rock?"

"Yep." She tipped back her beer, took a healthy swig. "So I wasn't a nun..."

"You know, we heard about how things were at the front. That a lot of things went on--people were...freer there."

"Freer? Promiscuous, you mean?"

"Your word, not mine."

Margaret thought about it. The rotating door on the supply room, Pierce's standing reservation there, her own parade of men--generals and the like. Hell, she'd been promiscuous long before she hit Korea. Not that she'd ever really considered it in those terms. She'd had fun. That's all. Fun.

Fun that made a good man leave her. She took another pull from the bottle.

A good man. A judgmental one, too. Sex had been fun and sometimes sanity preserving--a way to keep your head above water.

Linda leaned back with a sigh. "This could just be a rocky patch. Peter may reconsider once he's had a chance to simmer down."

"You didn't see how disappointed he was in me."

"You don't seem terribly disappointed in yourself."

Margaret frowned at her. "And you think I should be?"

"No. But I just find it interesting that something he felt was so terrible doesn't seem to give you pause."

"I made peace with how things were a long time ago."

"Then why didn't you just tell him up front? Get it out in the open?"

Margaret smiled tightly. "Because I wanted him to want to marry me, not run screaming the other way."

"Or just want more of the same?"

"Or that." In fact, Linda might be more on track than she knew, not that Margaret was going to admit that to her.

"So where does Pierce fit in all this?"

Margaret shrugged.

"I thought he'd broken you up on purpose. And I called him a jerk."

Margaret laughed softly.

"I guess I spilled the beans inadvertently. Sorry."

"It's okay. He'd have put two and two together and arrived at splitsville, eventually. He's not dumb, our Doctor Pierce."

"No, he's not." Linda shook her head. "He's also not our Doctor Pierce. He's yours."

"Yeah. I know." Margaret put her beer down, then leaned forward, cradling her head in her hands. "I didn't expect this to happen. I didn't let Peter invite him here for this to happen."

"You really didn't think his being here would be a problem?" Linda's look was hard. "After seeing you two together, it's a little hard to understand how you couldn't have expected this."

"Are you saying I sabotaged my relationship with Peter intentionally?"

"Subconsciously maybe?" Linda took her hand. "I'm not casting blame, hon'. I'm just trying to figure out what the hell you thought you were doing."

"I don't know. But it was damned stupid of me to let him come."

"Now that we can agree on." She held out her beer, a sympathetic look on her face.

Margaret clinked hers against it softly. "I just wanted normal."

Linda didn't say anything for a long time. Then she leaned in, one arm around her in a tight hug as she whispered, "Are you a hundred percent sure of that?"

Before Margaret could answer, she was up and into the kitchen, bustling around noisily, pots and pans proving a very effective barrier to communication.

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

Pierce stopped at the door to the roof, a little out of breath from the climb. As he waited for his breathing to regulate, he realized his leg wasn't hurting the way it would have when he first arrived in Richmond.

He opened the door slowly, expecting it to creak, but it moved silently. Margaret was sitting on one of many lawn chairs littering the place.

"If I'm intruding...?"

She laughed, seemed not at all surprised he was there. "You'd go away? Right." Without looking at him, she motioned to the chair next to her.

As he sat, he realized the view from here would be tremendous. Probably great at sunrise. "You come here in the mornings?"

"No. I'm not usually on graveyard." She inhaled deeply. "It's a place to escape at any time of day."

"Not one I've been invited to." He wasn't used to not being part of the "in" crowd. The Swamp had been party central, and before his dad had died, he'd been lead troublemaker at Spruce Harbor General. Now--now he hadn't tried very hard to get to know anyone; he'd been too busy getting in the way of Margaret's happiness. "I'm sorry."

"For what?" She still wasn't looking at him.

"For screwing things up for you."

"So you admit you did that?"

"I'm not sure I knew what I was doing. I think I've been operating on some lower urges since Dad died. Home. Comfort."

"Love." She twisted the word into something bitter and empty.

"I think you were right about being my true north."

"That's because you don't have anyone else left to be that. You've let them all go. B.J. Colonel Potter. Did you ever try to hook up with Trapper again?"

"Trapper? He left me."

She turned, her eyes full of some kind of knowing amusement that ticked him off. "Everyone leaves you, Pierce. Don't they?"

"And you're the champ at holding people close?"

He expected her to get mad at him, but she just shook her head and stared off in the direction of a sunrise that was at least half a day away.

"Linda doesn't think I want normal." Her mouth quirked up. "So, by extension, she thinks I want you."

"Gee, thanks." He stretched his leg out, rubbing more out of habit than need at it.

She reached over, stopped his motion. "Do we even know how to love anymore?"

Her touch was warm, firm. The grasp of the nurse who'd worked with him to save so many lives. "I don't know."

She let go of him, stood suddenly, the look on her face impossible to read. He grabbed her hand and pulled her down to him, causing her to settle awkwardly on his lap, making his leg ping a little. He grimaced and she shook her head.

"Even now we hurt each other."

"Love is pain," he murmured as he pulled her to him. He could feel her tense, and tugged a little more firmly. She'd always been surprised at how strong he could be when he wanted to. He could tell she'd forgotten that.

"Pierce..." Her lips were so close; she was twining her arms around his neck.

"Do you want me?"

"Unfortunately, that's never been in question."

He put his hand on the back of her neck, then moved it up, playing with hair that was softer than he remembered. "Do you need me?"

"You've never let me need you."

"That's not true. I've never let you love me." He closed the distance between them, kissing her softly, waiting for her mouth to open under his.

He didn't have to wait long.

They kissed for a long time, parts of his body clamoring for more than just this sharing of lips. He could tell she was aroused by the way she moaned whenever his roaming hands glanced over a particularly sensitive area.

He finally eased away, still holding her, still running his hands over her, as if to keep her rooted on his lap. "Did Peter kiss you that way?"

It was the wrong thing to say. He saw the softness in her eyes die.

"Everything's a competition with you, Pierce." She pulled away from him--she was damned strong when she wanted to be, too. "And once you know for sure you've won, you'll move on to the next, more interesting, game."

"That's not true."

"It is true. It's just not what you want to hear." She hurried to the door and let it slam behind her.

Stupid, needy thing to say. Did he have to know she loved him best? Couldn't he just suspect that? Couldn't he just let things be?

He knew he couldn't just let her be. He needed her too much for that.

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

Margaret hurried down the stairs, feeling stupid that she'd let Pierce in--that she always let Pierce in.

"Margaret?"

She turned, surprised to see Peter. Her mind ran through the last few operations. Had there been anything he could criticize her for? He'd been on her case since they broke up--or maybe just since she hadn't changed her shift like she'd said she would.

To her surprise, his expression softened. "I've missed you."

She hurried to him, took his arm, and urged him down the hallway. He smiled at her. A tender smile. A loving smile.

She doubted he'd feel so tender if he knew she was trying to get him away from the stairwell in case Pierce decided to make an exit.

"Margaret, I've been an ass."

"I should have told you the truth. About Pierce. About me."

He couldn't seem to meet her eyes. "It's hard for me. I'll admit that. I'm an old-fashioned guy. Making love is something you do when you're married."

"So you've never had sex?"

"Of course I have. But that's all it was. Just sex--not a sharing of love with the woman I wanted to settle down with."

"You were saving that." She knew her voice was too hard. Maybe because she couldn't remember a time when she'd still been saving it.

"Too bad you weren't."

That stung. Probably more than it should have. She let go of his arm.

He sighed. "We can start over, Margaret. I don't know what you've done, and I'm pretty sure I don't want to know. But we can move on. You can still be the woman of my dreams. Not just one of those other gals who take the edge off."

"But I am. I always am one of those gals." She realized she'd started to cry and brushed the tears away angrily.

He kissed her cheek. "So, you had a few encounters in Korea. But not all the times were wild. I know you were married for part of your tour."

She closed her eyes, trying not to call up Donald's face. "Not a successful marriage."

"But you tried."

"I did. I did try." One of her few shots at normal back then. And she'd failed. "He cheated on me, Peter."

"I remember. But you didn't cheat on him, did you?"

She wanted to say no. She wanted to say she'd been faithful to Donald even if he had been shaky on the fidelity concept. But there'd been Pierce and that hut.

"Margaret?"

"I was with Pierce." The words seemed to come like a piece of shrapnel from deep in a wound. A relief, but painful on the way out.

Any tenderness that had been in his eyes fled. "So this is a pattern for you? A nice man and Pierce on the side?"

"Hey, Donald wasn't blameless in this. He was cheating on me, and I'd just found out, and Hawkeye and I were in the middle of nowhere with shells going off." She could see the incomprehension on his face. He had no idea what Korea was like, what it could make you do just to feel safe.

"But Richmond isn't the middle of nowhere, Margaret. And you let me bring him here. You let me bring your lover here."

"I didn't--" But she had. She'd let him bring Pierce here. Knowing what it would mean to see him again. Knowing how dangerous he was to her peace of mind. She tried another tack. "Peter, he doesn't love me."

"But do you love him?"

She wanted to say no, but her lips weren't cooperating. So she just stared at the floor, listening as other doctors and nurses passed them.

Peter moved closer. "I wanted to reconcile. God help me, part of me still does."

"And the other part?"

"Wants to take you somewhere private and treat you like the woman you apparently are." His words should have torn her apart, but his voice broke on the last few words, spoiling the effect. "I love you."

"I love you, too." She looked up at him. "You're everything I want."

"If I were, we'd still be engaged." He took a deep breath, seemed to be fiddling with something in his lab coat pocket, and she suspected it was her ring--a ring she'd never see again. He seemed to be thinking, nodding a little, as if coming to some conclusion.

"Peter, please."

"Please, what, Margaret? Give you another chance? Let you rip my heart out again?"

"Forgive me." Her choice of words seemed to surprise him as much as they did her.

"If I do, it won't be for a while."

She nodded. It was probably more than she deserved.

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

Hawkeye heard a knock at his office door, mumbled, "Come in," as he finished his surgical notes.

"I want you to leave." Peter's voice was low, too calm for the words.

He looked up slowly. "Excuse me?"

"You heard me. Leave. Now. She doesn't want you here."

"I think that's up to her to tell me." Hawkeye pushed his notes aside. "Have a seat, boss."

Peter's mouth tightened at the title. "I am your boss. I can make it uncomfortable for you to stay here."

"I suppose you can." Hawkeye took a deep breath. Should he be doing this? Maybe Margaret would be better off with this man, not with him.

"You're a distraction to her. And you're destroying any chance we have for happiness." The hostility seemed to drop--his tone was closer to desperation.

"You don't even know Margaret. You have no idea who she really is. I do. And I love her despite that."

Peter sighed and sat down. "Do you? Do you love her?"

"I do. I came here to get her back." The words shocked him--not the least because to get someone back, you'd have to have been with them at some point.

The idea didn't seem half so surprising to Peter. "I don't think she knows that."

"Our relationship is complicated."

"That damn Korea."

"Believe me, I wish I'd never been there. I wish I'd never seen and done the things I have. But it happened, and I was there. And so was she."

"Yes. I've heard the chorus. I could sing it in my sleep. Despite your holy Korea bond, I'm the better man for her."

"I actually don't dispute that. But I'm not going anywhere." Not after that kiss. Not after what touching her had made him feel. "I need her more than you do."

"A ringing endorsement for a relationship." Peter rose, not looking at Pierce. "I'm not a big enough man to have you here."

"What does that mean?" He knew. He just wanted the other man to have to say it. To sink a little off the moral high ground.

"It means find a new position--very far from here--or be fired." Peter met his eyes. There was something in his expression that left Hawkeye in no doubt that he'd be able to come up with a good reason to fire him.

"Are you going to fire her, too?"

"No. I'm petty enough to want her to have to think about this. You have two weeks to make new arrangements. I'm going to start looking for a new surgeon immediately."

"Aren't you the take-charge type?"

Peter's eyes were sad. "Yes, I am. Too bad that attribute was lost on Margaret."

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

Margaret saw Peter coming down the hall. He looked like Charles on a bad day, his mouth set in determination. "I need to talk to you," he said, as he pulled her into an empty exam room.

"What's wrong?"

"Pierce is leaving."

"What?" Why hadn't he told her that?

Peter's expression seemed to become even darker as he watched her. "I was hoping you'd be relieved."

"I don't understand."

"I told him to find a new job. Whether or not you do is your decision." He let go of her and turned for the door.

"You'd want me to stay?"

He didn't turn around. "If you want to stay."

"But which Margaret is it you want to stay? Yours: the cleaned up version with no past? Or the real one. The one he lov--" Had she been about to say love?

"What's so bad about having no past? That Margaret did fine here until he arrived."

"That Margaret loved you."

He turned, his expression wary. "Loved? Not loves?"

"I am my past. I am that woman."

"You don't have to be. People can change."

She laughed, heard the sound rise slightly into the hysterical range. "Why should I?"

He took a deep breath. "If you don't know why, I'll never be able to convince you." He stared at her for a long time, then pushed the door open and left.

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

Hawkeye heard his doorbell ring. He glanced at the clock--two A.M.

The doorbell rang again.

Groaning as he pulled on a robe, he stumbled out to the door. "This better be good or so help me I'll--"

Margaret stood there. She was in casual clothes, her expression guarded.

He moved aside, motioning her in with what he realized too late was a mocking gesture. Why couldn't he just be nice to her?

She didn't move much past the door. "I can't stay here."

"You just got here."

"I mean Richmond."

"Oh." Something inside him hurt. "Okay."

"Don't get that tone. You can't stay here, either. Peter told me you were leaving."

"Gee, Margaret, that sounds so voluntary. Did he tell you it was leave or be fired?"

"Yes."

"Oh." Somehow, he'd expected Peter to lie about that.

"It's not the end of the world. You have plenty of options. If you'd use your head." She sounded like the major of old. Not barking orders, but not taking any guff. It was strangely comforting.

"I know I have options. With my credentials, I could go anywhere. The further away from here the better."

She looked a little stung. "Then pick one and go."

"I will."

"Okay."

Neither of them moved.

"Did you come here just to tell me to get out?"

"No." Her cheeks were red, the way they got when she was angry. "I came to give you this." She pulled some notebook paper out of her purse and handed it to him. "I made some calls."

She'd made a lot of calls. Listed all the surgical positions--for doctors and nurses--available at hospitals in Missouri, the San Francisco area, near Boston, in Honolulu, even in Toledo and somewhere he'd never heard of in Iowa.

Moving past him, she sat in the guest chair. He suspected she'd chosen that to keep him from sitting down too close to her.

He held up the list. "We're going together?"

She shrugged.

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"I don't know if we're going together."

"You did all this work for us not to?"

"I did all this work because we have friends that for some reason I've managed to stay in touch with and you haven't. I did this so that we'd have options. Plenty of them as you can see. I can go my way; you can go yours."

"Ah. I see." He felt like she'd sucker punched him. Was that what she wanted? "So do I get first choice on which of my long lost friends I want to work with?"

She didn't meet his eyes. "You always get first choice, Pierce." She stood up and moved to the door slowly, as if she were an old woman.

"You're hardly the wounded party here, Margaret."

She turned to look at him. "Just because this is all my fault does not mean I'm not wounded."

He let the list fall to the floor, walked over to her. "This isn't your fault. And I'm sorry you're hurting."

"Well, that makes everything all better." She wiped tears from her cheeks, the quick, harsh way she used to do in Korea.

Her hand was nearly to the doorknob when he turned her, pushing her up against the door. "I love you, Margaret."

She stopped struggling, just stared up at him, forgetting to dash the tears away. When he leaned in and kissed her, she pulled him closer, helped him pull off her clothes, then his. They slid to the floor, bodies joining as if Korea had been only days away, not years.

The sex was fantastic. His floor--hard and cold--was not.

"Do you mind if we adjourn to my warm and far more comfortable bed?"

With a smile, she stood, tugging him up gently after her. He realized she had goose bumps all over--she'd been cold but hadn't said anything. Had she thought he'd pull away once he'd had her?

Had he ever given her a reason not to think that?

They climbed into bed, and he wrapped the comforter around them. Trying to warm her up, trying to share some of the warmth being with her again was giving him.

"Those options you brought, Margaret. I'd like them to be for us together."

Her face was buried in his chest, as if she was afraid to look at him. "I'm not sure it's a good idea."

"It's probably a horrible idea. But I think we're stuck with it." He ran his hands over her, felt her shudder beneath his touch. Tipping her chin up, he kissed her gently.

Her lips were incredibly soft under his. "We're stuck with each other?"

"Yep."

She was sliding closer, running her hands over his skin. She kissed him, mouth opening to him easily, tongue finding his even as he pulled her on top of him.

As her body welcomed him home, she whispered, "I love you."

He knew how hard it had to be for her to say, so he smiled at her, the softest, most tender smile he knew how to give.

"I'd like to go work with B.J." she murmured.

"I'd like that, too." Maybe his friend would be a good influence on them. An example of how love looks when it works right.

She nodded and settled in next to him.

"Peter's a fool." He kissed her forehead.

"He couldn't stand the truth. About me. Who I am. What I've done."

"You're a good woman who's been through hell. You've saved lives and made young--and not-so-young--men smile. Where's the bad in that?"

"I haven't been a saint."

"I wasn't aware you were supposed to be." He nuzzled her neck. "I guess I can't believe he'd make so much about sex."

"Not just that. It was about you, too. He asked me if I'd ever cheated on Donald. I told him the truth."

He remembered that night in the hut in Korea. The way they'd held each other. The way he'd run later. And yet something had clicked and held--all the way to now, to Richmond. "He must hate me."

"Not as much as he hates me. I'm the one who told him to hire you."

"Why did you do that?"

"I'm not sure." Sighing, she stretched her arm over his belly and wrapped her leg around his, a possessive move he wasn't sure she was aware of. In the past, it would have driven him crazy. Now it made him feel safe.

"Are you really not sure? You don't think some part of you wanted me back in your life?"

"I hate to think I'd do that to him."

"You and I aren't always very nice people."

"No, I guess we're not." She yawned and started to pull away. "I better get going."

He'd rarely slept with her in camp, had left her tent and gone back to the Swamp before he could get too comfortable--before he let her in too much.

"Stay." He held her down, kissing her neck, moving on to her cheek. "Stay with me."

She seemed to relax against him.

"I'll call B.J. tomorrow." He settled the comforter around them again, intent on creating a cocoon of warmth.

"I'll miss Linda," she said so quietly he almost didn't hear her.

"And she'll miss you, I bet. You did a much better job of making a life for yourself, Margaret. Of having friends and people you connect with. I had my dad and my work. I let myself get sucked in."

"You expect me to believe there were no women?"

Laughing, he nuzzled under her hair, finding a ticklish spot he remembered from Korea. "Of course there were women. But none I'd take home to meet my dad."

He pulled away from her, familiar pain taking over. His dad was gone. Forever.

"I would have liked to have met him."

"He would have liked to have met you." And Hawkeye knew it was true. His dad would have recognized true love--even the dysfunctional Hawkeye Pierce version of it--when he saw it.

Thank God Hawkeye had finally recognized it, too.

FIN