"Hello, beautiful! You must be Denise!"

Denise turned to him, apparently amused, and replied, "And you must be Hawkeye."

"Ooooh," he smarmed, "I see my reputation precedes me!"

Igor put a glop of something on Denise's tray. "Sorry, Romeo, you're barking up the wrong balcony."

"Well, I don't have to bark," Hawkeye said, holding out his tray for Igor. "I can meow if you like. Or squeak. Or howl or roar." She ignored him. "Or recite Shakespeare if that's what you like. 'She speaks: O, speak again, bright angel!'"

She gave him a silent no and walked away.

"'Parting is such sweet sorrow...'"

Not even a backward glance. Damn. He looked for a place to sit. Denise and her companions sat giggling at a table in the corner. He smiled sweetly and waved at them, and then turned and seeing Margaret sitting alone, joined her at her table.

Margaret was apparently amused. She managed to restrain her comments through only a very few bites of unidentifiable possibly-vegetables. "They recognize your MO before they even meet you now, do they?" she grinned.

He sighed, poking at the maybe-potatoes.

"Is it my imagination, or have you been striking out a lot lately?"

"Yes, your nurses have been pitching no-hitters for months now. My batting average will be down to zero soon." He sighed. "It's been so long since I've scored, I can barely remember what it's like."

"You and me both," she muttered before she could stop herself.

Hawkeye raised his eyebrows in interest.

"Don't get me wrong–I'm grateful to be rid of Donald. It's just–"

He nodded. "There's nothing like hitting those home runs." He skewered the mystery meat on his fork and sniffed it suspiciously. "Ugh!" He let the fork clatter onto his plate. "At this point, I think I'd be happy just getting to first base."

"As much fun as it was though..." she mused, eyes unfocused and more thinking out loud than speaking to Hawkeye, "the last thing I need is to get involved with a man again." She shook her head and looked back at her plate.

A grin stole slowly onto his face. "Wait a sec, wait a sec," he said, gleefully. "Do my ears deceive me, or did I just hear you say you miss the sex but aren't looking for any commitments?"

She chuckled. "Yeah. I suppose I did."

"Why, Margaret!" he teased. "You're the girl of my dreams!" He tilted his head, grinning from ear to ear.

Margaret obviously didn't find this funny–which wasn't so unusual. But neither did she give a more typical annoyed retort. She was staring at him intently, apparently considering.

Hawkeye's face straightened. "Maybe I've been trying to play ball with the wrong nurse."

Margaret blushed and rubbed her forehead, hiding her face. She was considering. She was getting lonelier and more sexually frustrated with each passing week. She'd toyed with the idea of asking him out, had even entertained sexual fantasies about him. The night she'd spent with him had been wonderful, even after making allowances for the extreme circumstances.

But she'd never seriously considered it, not until now. The odds of his turning her down if she asked him were slim to nil. She'd never seen nor heard of him refusing any woman. He certainly had a reputation for knowing how to show a woman a good time, and she knew first hand it wasn't just rumor. He could probably do her a world of good...

What was it that made her not want to ask him? Simple pride? His continual flirting? His promiscuity? From her limited experience, he seemed to at least take some responsibility in that regard. He'd had condoms in his pocket on the night they'd spent together.

Was it not wanting to join the large proportion of the nursing staff who'd slept with him? Actually... she was already in that group. The only difference was that no one knew. Clearly he knew how to be discreet; had he shared the story very far at all, it would have made its way back to her. It was a small camp, after all.

Or was it for the same reason she kept a distance between herself and... almost everyone, come to think of it–that she wanted to maintain a respectful professionalism? Well... really it was hard to say that she and Hawkeye had ever had a respectful professionalism between them. And yet, at the same time, they most definitely did. In his own flirting, teasing way, she knew he respected her very much. And she respected him tremendously in spite of his often inappropriate behavior.

Scarcely a day went by when he didn't make a pass at her of some kind or other. After all this time, she was very much in the habit of shooting him down without a second thought. She turned him down so consistently that surely by now he just did it to tease her, fulling expecting her to refuse. But on the other hand, he sure seemed interested now, and it had taken only the slightest hint of a glimmer of possible interest on her part.

What on earth had he said to her today to suddenly change her mind after all this time?! She thought back to what he'd said. Nothing! Not a single thing he'd said compelled her to want him.

Then what the hell did?! Her own desire and loneliness? Knowing he wasn't scoring with anyone else lately? Those could be contributing factors, but what was the tipping point? She reviewed their conversation again. He had fully expected her to shoot him down as she always did. His flirting was just the status quo in their relationship.

Their relationship. They were friends. They respected one another. She had actually been teasing him. Which had led to their commiserating about being lonely. Just having a friendly conversation, as equals. He hadn't made a pass so much as just teased back.

She looked back up at him.

He was watching her closely, waiting for her to make the next move, thinking that what he was thinking had to be too good to be true. But then, they had made a pretty compatible couple that night they'd spent together. Course there were extenuating circumstances then. Having death right around the corner tended to heighten every sense. And they'd been trying to trade in their terror for passion–and had both in abundance.

"Hawkeye..."

"Yes!" he said enthusiastically, grinning and sitting up tall.

"Would you..."

"Yes!!" he said more emphatically.

"Yes what?"

"What you're about to ask–yes!"

"You don't even know what it is yet!"

"Don't I?" he asked grinning lewdly, eyebrows raised.

"If you're going to start counting chickens before they hatch, then never mind!" She started to get up, but he put his hand over hers.

"Margaret, I apologize." He'd come too close to not let this conversation run its course.

She sat down again. "Apology accepted."

He was about to make another joke, but he thought better of it and kept quiet.

She gazed at him for another long moment, and then glanced around the mess tent to see if anyone was watching them–she had plenty of experience arranging clandestine meetings from back in the Frank days. No one appeared to be even slightly interested in their conversation. "Would you like to–"

"Yes!" he replied enthusiastically. "Oh, God, I did it again! I'm sorry, honest!"

She grinned in spite of herself. "All right. I'll give you bonus points for enthusiasm."

He beamed. "I promise not to disappoint you!"

"You'll keep this quiet?" she warned.

He shrugged. "If that's the way you want it."

"I do," she asserted. "Absolutely."

"No problem."

She glanced around again and said quietly. "My tent. Tonight. After dark."

"It's a date!" he beamed.

"It's not a date!" she hissed.

Boy, she really meant it when she said she didn't want commitments. That or his reputation was worse than he thought it was. "All righty then. See ya later," he said as she got up from the table.

Margaret paced her tent, every few minutes peeking out the window. She could see a light in the Swamp but couldn't see any movement. She was wearing her newest satin nightie and robe, and it had taken her a while to settle on wearing it. It wasn't a date; she'd told Pierce that and she meant it. So why should she dress as if it were? In the end, she figured that whatever she wore, it would be coming off in fairly short order, and the nightie would be easier. Besides, it made her feel good.

She peeked out the window again. No Hawkeye. Was he coming? Maybe he'd had a better offer. Maybe he'd persuaded Denise to go out with him after all. But no, Hawkeye might be a...

'Slut' was the word she wanted, but as it wasn't usually applied to men, she supposed she would have to settle for 'womanizer.' But she'd always known him to be kind and a man of his word. Anyway, things had changed between them since that night they'd spent together; he'd become a good friend. If he wasn't here yet, there must be a good reason.

She paced some more, trembling with both nervousness and desire–it had been far too long. She turned down the covers on the cot and wondered for the hundredth time if this was a good idea. Oh, there was no doubt that she needed a good lay. No doubt whatsoever. She'd been increasingly preoccupied with sex over the last few months, and the usual self-help didn't seem to be helping much lately. She sighed. And heard a very soft, shave-and-a-haircut knock at the door.

She rushed to open it, hurried Hawkeye in, and quickly closed the door and locked it.

Hawkeye, seeing Margaret's concern about secrecy, reassured her, "I took pains to make sure no one saw me. That's why I'm so late actually. I thought BJ would never stop re-reading that damn letter. May I add that you're looking lovely tonight." He grinned, stuffing his hands into the pockets of his robe.

Margaret relaxed a bit and smiled at the compliment. "Thanks. On both counts."

"I forget how beautiful you are when you take off your Major persona and turn into just Margaret." He ran his fingers slowly up her arm to her shoulder, and through her hair to her neck.

In the time it took him to do this, her heart rate doubled. Another confirmation that it had been entirely too long. She took a half step toward him, and they launched themselves into one another's arms and into a long, deep kiss. By the time they came up for air, both robes lay on the floor, and they stood at the edge of Margaret's cot.

Her lingering doubts had vanished when he'd first touched her. It had been too long since she'd been held in the arms of another, too long since masculine hands had roamed her body. Forever since she'd been so thoroughly kissed. She remembered him to be a wonderful lover, attentive and gentle. She was trembling again, or possibly still, her insides doing acrobatics. She wanted him so badly, it almost hurt.

"Is there anything special you want?" his soft voice paused to inquire as he trailed kisses along her neck and fondled a breast through her nightgown.

Margaret, who admired Hawkeye's ability to construct a coherent sentence at a time like this, just moaned needily, her breath ragged.

"You know, I think you may want this even more than I do," he murmured in surprise. He usually had to work pretty hard to get a woman to this state of arousal. He fished for the hem of her nightgown and pulled it up over her head.

She moaned again, and without his hands to steady her, sank to a seated position on the cot. He dropped the nightgown at the bottom of the cot and slipped off his boots and shorts, then stooped to kneel on the cot. He caressed her shoulders and tipped her back onto the bed. She moaned again, more urgently, as she raised her right knee and brought her hands to his chest.

"Um... I brought condoms. Do we need one?"

She shook her head, wrapping her arms around him, needing him pressed close to her. He kissed her eyelids, then kissed his way slowly across her cheek to her ear and down to her neck. He held himself just above her, and when he brushed gently against her nether lips, she spasmed and cried out. Thinking that his pains in arriving here unseen would be for nought if she woke the whole camp, he covered her mouth with his own. She whimpered into it as she sucked on his tongue.

It was his usual style to prolong full penetration for as long as possible, until they practically–or literally–begged for it. But in Margaret's case, tonight, that wouldn't be a pleasant kind of torture. Still, he prolonged it as much as he could, knowing she'd been out of circulation for a little while and wanting to give her extra time to be ready. 'As much as he could' didn't turn out to be much, what with Margaret wrapping her legs around him and holding a death grip on his backside, while simultaneously thrusting upwards. Oh well, no risk of hurting her then, he supposed.

Their lovemaking was fast and fevered, almost as primal as their first night together. Margaret climaxed quickly. Hawkeye had planned to follow her as immediately as possible, but he was so distracted by her efforts to be quiet that he instead fell into a more gentle rhythm, comforting her as she sobbed almost noiselessly into his shoulder. The rhythm grew steadily stronger and faster until, not able to wait any longer, he let it go. And was surprised to find Margaret climaxing a second time. He had definitely been trying to play ball with the wrong nurse, he thought fleetingly. She was incredible!

They lay in one another's arms, dozing, for half an hour or so. "So... you take requests," she murmured.

Hawkeye roused himself and turned her question over in his mind. Not managing to make sense of it, he simply replied, "Huh?"

"Earlier... you asked if I wanted anything. Anything special."

"Oh. Right. Did you?"

She smiled. "Not tonight. This was perfect."

"Perfect?!" He about glowed with pleasure. "Flattery will get you everywhere," he joked.

"Hmm," she laughed. "Seriously, thank you. This was wonderful."

"For me too." He took her hand in his and gently kissed her knuckles. Margaret smiled. He kissed her temple. "Well... as much fun as this has been, I suppose I should head back to the Swamp."

"Oh, do you have to go so soon?"

"No... but if you were wanting an encore, I have to tell you, it'll be a little while yet."

She smiled. "I'll take a rain check. But could you hold me a while longer?"

He kissed her temple and wrapped his arms snugly around her. And was thrilled that she'd hinted at a next time.

She sighed, relaxing deeply. "I have trouble showing vulnerability."

"I know you do." He pressed his cheek to hers and gently rubbed her back.

"I've been there with you already, so..." she shrugged.

"So it's easier to go there with me again?"

"Yes."

"I'm glad."

"You are?"

"Sure. I worry about you sometimes. There's so much responsibility on your shoulders and you refuse to share it."

"But they're my responsibilities."

"I know. And you're a responsible person. You couldn't do anything else. I'm just saying... I'm glad I can be a... shoulder to lean on."

"Thanks. I'm willing to lend my shoulder to you in return, but I doubt you need it."

"Oh, I don't know. Women are easier to talk to about some things, and there aren't that many women in camp I'm on speaking terms with, you know. Outside OR anyway."

She smiled.

"Besides, you seem to have other body parts you're willing to lend that I'm certainly–"

She slapped him gently on the back of the head. "You're incorrigible!"

"I am. I really am." A pause. "Of course, I have other body parts I'm willing to lend t–"

"Pierce! That's it! Off to bed with you."

"Yes, ma'am." He extricated herself from her bed, handing her her nightgown after he stepped on it. He crossed the room and put on his robe. "Do you want to keep these?" He held up the condoms.

"Sure, why not?" she said, as she pulled her nightgown down around her.

He tossed them onto her desk and then returned to Margaret, seating himself on the edge of her cot. "Are we gonna do this again?"

"I hope so." She pressed her palm to his chest. "We're good together."

He took her hand in both of his. "We are. Where have you been all my life, Margaret Houlihan?" he joked. "But seriously, we have an understanding here, right?"

"What do you mean?"

"I mean, we said no commitments, right? No falling in love allowed?"

She smiled. "Absolutely. Just friends."

"So, we can see other people too then?" he asked skeptically.

She shrugged. "I don't see why not."

He shook his head. "This sounds too good to be true. Where's the catch?"

She smiled and shook her head. "No catch, honest. I'm not ready for a relationship. Don't worry."

"OK, if you say so." He kissed her briefly, and she kissed him back. "I'll let myself out. Carefully."

"Hawkeye, one other thing."

"Yeah?"

"You won't tell anyone about this?"

"Mum's the word." He paused. "Except... BJ will figure it out eventually. He knows me too well. And he's more likely to keep it quiet if I confide in him than if I try to keep secrets from him."

"You told BJ about that night we spent together?"

He nodded.

"OK. Just BJ then. When he gets suspicious."

"All right. Night, Margaret."

"Night."