Disclaimer: If you recognize it, it's not mine.
This fic is rated K+ for mentions of rape. Non-graphic and very mild, but if you don't like that sort of thing, don't read it.
Crying is for babies. And Margaret Houlihan, Major Margaret Houlihan, head nurse for the 4077 MASH, was anything but a baby. So she sat on her cot, knees drawn up to her chest, rocking back and forth, but she didn't cry. She refused to cry.
Shock, disbelief, hurt, and betrayal warred in her mind. Everyone who'd ever been around her during an enemy attack knew that she was afraid of the possibility of rape, but that threat had always come from the enemy. She'd always felt safe around her comrades in the 4077.
Stanley Robbins had shaken her sense of security. He'd cornered her in the supply room and grabbed her before she'd had a chance to react. She'd fought, but he'd been bigger and stronger than she was, and he'd pinned her down. If Pierce hadn't been out looking for Robbins, if he hadn't heard her screaming and come into the supply tent when he had, she knew the doctor would have violated her.
Even Pierce hadn't seemed to care, though. He'd handed her off to McIntyre and rushed Robbins off to the OR. McIntyre, for his bit, had given her maybe a minute, made a few jokes, coaxed a smile out of her, and then run off to join his partner in crime. Robbins had completed the surgery and left camp bragging about an encounter with another nurse (had it been consensual? And what could she do about it if it hadn't been?), a hero. No one had cared what he'd tried to do to her. Not even the one person who usually seemed to care the most. Frank had stormed out of her tent when she'd told him she wasn't ready to sleep with him yet. She expected him to come crawling back at some point, but she hoped it wasn't too soon. She wasn't in the mood to deal with him.
As if on cue, someone tapped at her door. She barely looked up. "Go away, Frank."
The door opened, and she opened her mouth to repeat her statement, only to realize it wasn't Frank at all. "Pierce! What do you want?" She hurriedly sat up, swinging her feet to the floor and adjusting her robe.
"I thought you might like some company."
"Well you thought wrong! Get out!"
"Hey, hey." He raised his hands in a gesture of surrender. "I didn't mean it like that."
For the first time, the tone, not just the words, got through. "I'm sorry. I guess I'm a little on edge."
"I know. I figured you would be. That's why I came. I thought you could use a friend."
"You didn't seem so worried before. All you were concerned with was that stupid operation."
"And then you let him go around bragging about being with another woman! How do you know -"
"I asked around."
"What?" That cut her rant short.
"I was worried about the same thing, so I asked around until I figured out who it was."
"Who was it?"
"Monica Irving. And she was fully willing, if you know what I mean."
"Thank god for small miracles."
"Look, I'm sorry about earlier, rushing off like that. It must have seemed like I didn't care."
Did you? But he answered before she could speak the question aloud.
"I wanted to get him away from you. And I think you should know that while he was busy with Irving, I made a few anonymous calls to his home base. He's going to get one hell of a welcome home, but it won't exactly be a hero's welcome."
"You really think anyone would do anything to him? He's Stanley Robbins, after all."
"Maybe not officially, but everyone knows now. At the very least, he'll have a hell of a time getting a date." He came in further. "If I'd known what he was capable of, I never would have asked him to come. I really am sorry."
It was maybe the first time she'd ever seen him be serious outside of the OR (not that he was serious all that often in there either) and she almost smiled despite herself. "You know, you can be downright sweet sometimes."
"Don't let it get around." He gave her a disarming grin, but it faded as quickly as it had appeared. "Margaret, you're shaking."
"Am I?" She hadn't noticed, but when she looked down at her fingers, she could see that they were trembling. "I guess I am."
"He really upset you, didn't he?" The doctor stepped in closer and gently put an arm around her shoulders. When she didn't shrug him off, he sat down on her bed and pulled her close. "It's okay, it's okay. He's gone now, he can't hurt you anymore."
"I know," she whispered into his chest. "I'm just shaken is all."
"You didn't expect something like that to come from one of your own."
"No, I just didn't expect it to happen here or to me. I guess I thought all my rank pins could protect me somehow. I mean, I'm an officer now, not just a teenager, and this isn't like -" she broke off suddenly, realizing what she'd been about to say.
"Like what, Margaret?" he prompted quietly.
"Nothing. Forget I said anything."
"Like what?" he pressed.
"Pierce - Hawkeye. Drop it. Please."
The look in her eyes when she said please stabbed into his heart and opened his eyes all at once. "Oh, Margaret. My God, I'm so sorry." He could feel her trembling increase, and he tightened his grip. "You want to talk about it?"
She hesitated. Her first instinct was to give him a firm no, but part of her desperately wanted to tell him, to tell someone, anyone, about the horrible thing that had happened to her, the terror she'd kept inside for so long.
"Come on, Margaret. It'll be good for you."
"I was seventeen," she whispered, "living on an army base with my father. This was nine years ago. At that point, I was just a civilian, I hadn't joined up yet. I was out by myself one day and three soldiers jumped on me. I fought but there were three of them, I screamed but if anyone heard they didn't care enough to see what was going on. They dragged me into an empty tent, tore my clothes off and - you know." She felt his arms tighten around her. "For three hours. Then they just left, laughing like nothing had happened while I was lying there bleeding. One of them left their jacket, and even though it made me sick I put it on so I wouldn't have to walk home naked. As soon as I stepped through the door, my dad asked me what happened, so I told him, and he said -" she choked, and Hawkeye began rubbing her back in a soothing motion. "He said 'didn't I tell you not to go wandering off alone? Now you see what happens when you don't listen to me. Let this be a lesson to you.'"
Hawkeye pulled her even closer, words escaping him. Her own father had been that cruel to her, when she was hurting no less? He couldn't understand how anyone could be so insensitive.
"I went to the authorities the next day, but they told me the same thing, that I shouldn't have been walking alone, and I was just asking for it. They asked me what I was wearing, what I said to them, basically how many different ways it was my fault. They chastised me for trying to 'ruin the reputation of our boys.' My boyfriend dumped me and called me a whore. Not one person was sympathetic. We were on that base for six more months and every day was pure torture. Every time one of them walked by me, they leered at me, and everyone else shamed me constantly. I'd already planned to go into the army, but after that I was sure. I didn't want to be powerless anymore. I thought that if I became an officer it would change things. And then today I learned that all the major's clusters in the world won't stop a man who wants to hurt a woman." She was just barely controlling her tears now.
"Oh, Margaret." He ran his fingers through her blond hair, letting up his embrace just enough to back her up a little. "Margaret, look at me."
"Look at me."
Her eyes raised to meet his.
"What I'm going to tell you is something you should have heard nine years ago. It wasn't your fault. You didn't ask for it, you didn't tempt them into doing it, and you couldn't have done anything differently, then or today. A woman should be able to walk alone without worrying about getting raped, and for your father to tell you that it should serve as a lesson is the most cruel, insensitive thing I've ever heard."
A tear slid down her cheek, and she hurried to brush it away before Hawkeye noticed, but too late. He gently wiped it away for her.
"It's not a sign of weakness to cry, Margaret." He pulled her close again and tenderly resumed rubbing her back. The gentle motion broke her restraint, and a flood of tears spilled over.
"Shh, there you go, just let it all out." Hawkeye adjusted her so her face was resting in his shoulder, swallowing back the urge to be sick. He couldn't believe everything she'd just told him. That she'd been assaulted was bad enough, but then to be shamed and ostracized on top of that? For the first time, he thought he understood her tough, icy personality. It was easier for her to be unfeeling than to risk letting herself feel the intense pain that lurked beneath the surface. He saw that pain now, felt her tears soaking through his shirt, and wished desperately there was something he could to to make it stop.
Soon enough, she remembered where she was and pulled away, wiping her face. "I'm sorry, Pierce, I didn't mean to -"
"Hey, it's okay. You've been carrying that hurt around for a long time, haven't you?"
"Yes," she admitted.
"A little. I guess I didn't realize how much I was still hurting until a little bit of it was taken away."
He hugged her again. "I wish I could take all of it away."
"You are sweet."
"I can't stand to see anyone in pain."
"And so, naturally, you became a doctor."
She'd expected him to laugh, but he grew even more serious. "The only thing worse than seeing someone in pain is seeing someone in pain and not being able to do something about it. Why do you think I'm here?"
"Was I that bad? I thought I was holding it together."
"I don't think anyone else would have noticed. But Radar mentioned that I should avoid the salad in the mess tent tonight because it was so awful you were throwing up - don't worry, I told him not to tell anyone else. But something told me it wasn't just the food."
"I could barely keep anything down for the first week after it happened. I got sick every time I thought about it. I thought I was past that point."
"You didn't get past it, Margaret. You got around it."
"You never really dealt with your pain, you just pushed it aside and pretended it never happened - understandable, considering the way you were treated after it happened. But it was still there, under the surface, ready to burst out at the slightest prompting. Today was just the catalyst."
"How do you know?"
"Can't tell. Doctor-patient confidentiality."
Margaret nodded, understanding he meant that at some point, probably in his past life as a doctor in Maine, he'd treated a rape case, but that the law and his own sense of ethics prevented him discussing it further.
"What do I do now?"
"Take it one day at a time. But don't keep pushing it aside. Work through it."
"I can't - it hurts, Hawkeye, it hurts." She hated being so vulnerable, but it had been so painful, she couldn't imagine willingly putting herself through it again.
"I know it does. But this was the worst part. Every day after today will get a little easier. And when it's over, you'll feel better than you have in a long time. And remember, you aren't alone anymore. I'll help you."
She blinked hard, trying to hide how touched she was. "Thank you, Hawkeye."
He kissed the top of her head. "Try to get some sleep."
"Yes, Doctor." She paused briefly, then said the words that were almost bursting from her. "Hawkeye - promise me you won't take this the wrong way?"
"I promise," he said instantly.
"Will you stay with me tonight? I don't want to be alone."
"Of course I will."
She slid her robe off and laid down facing the wall. Hawkeye slid the blankets over her, placing another kiss on her hair and gently patting her back like a father taking care of a sick child.
"Go to sleep, Margaret. I'm right here, I won't let anything happen to you."
Blue eyes slowly fluttered shut and her breathing evened out. Hawkeye dozed off in a chair next to her bed. He woke several hours to a small, pitiful whimper.
"No, no." It was Margaret, still asleep but twisting and turning on her cot. "No, don't, please, stop, please!" She cried out in terror and pain. "No!"
Hawkeye was at her side the second he heard her scream. "Margaret, it's okay. It's okay."
"Margaret!" he shouted. "Margaret, you're dreaming. Wake up." He firmly took hold of her shoulder and shook her, hard. "Margaret, wake up!"
She shot bolt upright, eyes flying open, looking around frantically to see whose hand was on her arm. When she realized who it was, she threw herself at him.
"Shh, now, it's all right. It was just a dream."
She said nothing, just snuggled in tighter.
"That's it. Just hold onto me. I'll keep you safe."
Her shaking subsided and she lay still. She was exhausted, but she was afraid to sleep. Hawkeye seemed to understand.
"Do you trust me?"
"Then lie down." She complied hesitantly, again facing the wall. "Now move over."
"Move over. Get as close as you can to the wall."
Confused, she did as he said. She heard him shuffling around behind her, then she felt a dip in her cot as he sat on it.
"You're going to sit there all night?"
"Nope. Better." He stretched out next to her, wrapping his arm around her waist and pulling her back into his chest. "There. How's that?"
"Mm." She sleepily slid her own arm over his. "Night."
"Goodnight, Margaret." But she was already asleep.
Margaret squinted a little, trying to block the sun coming in through the spaces in the tent. As she woke, she became aware of a figure behind her. Her first thought was Frank, but Frank never stayed the night. Bad for appearances. And Frank's hands didn't look like the one resting on her stomach, and he didn't have hair as long or as dark as the wisps she could see above her forehead.
Then the events of the previous night came back to her. Hawkeye. She was in bed with Hawkeye. She almost laughed at the irony. But he had been a complete gentleman the whole time.
At some point during the night, her hand had wrapped around his wrist, keeping his arm pressed firmly against her side. His chin was against the back of her head, his soft breathing fluttering her hair. She couldn't remember ever feeling so safe. Certainly not in the past nine years.
She stretched, and the motion woke her companion. "What time is it?" he mumbled.
"About 0900. I didn't mean to wake you."
"S' okay." He untangled himself from her and sat up slowly. "How're you feeling?"
"I don't like to say I told you so, but..."
"You told me so."
"Yeah." He sighed. "I'd better go."
"Is it something I said?"
"What? Oh, no. I'd just like to get out of this tent before anyone notices and gets the wrong idea."
"You don't think anyone would?"
"I'll slip out when no one is looking. The only ones who might notice are the Swamp guys, since I wasn't in my tent. Frank won't ask, and I'll make up something to tell Trapper." He stood up reluctantly. "I'll see you later. And loath as I am to prescribe anything potentially fatal, try to eat something. And drink as much as you can." He laughed at the look on her face. "Okay, that didn't come out at all like I meant it to."
"I hope it didn't!"
"I didn't mean alcohol. That would probably be the worst thing for you in more ways than one. What I meant is that you need fluids. You're bound to be dehydrated after everything that happened last night."
"Between vomiting and crying, you mean?"
"I wasn't going to put it exactly like that, but yeah, pretty much." He stood up to leave.
He stopped and turned. "Yeah?"
"You know, I always thought you didn't care about anyone but yourself unless they were lying on an operating table. But now I know you're also a damned good friend when someone needs one, like I needed one last night - like I've really needed one for the last nine years. Frank doesn't know," she added at his look. "He's a good lover, he's a decent fellow officer, but he never would have done for me what you did, just sitting there and holding me while I cried like you did. I tried to tell him once, a few months ago, after Dr. Sherman. He was too busy trying to seduce me to listen. Same thing happened last night."
"I'd tell you to dump the jerk, but you wouldn't listen to me. But if you need someone to talk to, ever, about anything, just give me a sign and I'll be there."
"Thank you." She swallowed back a sudden flood of emotion. "And that goes both ways. If you ever need to talk to someone, all you need to do is ask."
They hugged each other, neither really wanting Hawkeye to leave because they both felt like that would somehow jinx the bond they'd formed.
"I'll see you later," he said finally. He slid the door open slightly, and seeing no one in the immediate vicinity, slipped out.
Trapper stirred as Hawkeye slipped into the Swamp. "Where you been?"
"Wouldn't you like to know?" he taunted, trying to buy himself some time to think of something.
"I don't kiss and tell."
"Since I know that if I tell, you'll just go steal her for herself."
"Now, Hawk, would I do that?"
"Of course you would."
Trapper laughed and continued to bug his bunkmate until Hawkeye finally through up his hands in apparent surrender, having come up with an idea. "All right, all right! I'll tell you what but not who, okay?"
Trapper nodded eagerly. "Spill."
As Hawkeye fed Trapper an elaborate yarn about an all-night encounter in the supply tent, he inwardly breathed a sigh of relief. He bought it. Margaret's private life was safe.
Trapper and Hawkeye loaded their trays with their daily supply of what was supposed to pass for food and joined Frank, who was pestering Margaret, Margaret, who was ignoring him, and Henry, who was either oblivious or doing a good imitation.
"Trouble in paradise?" Trapper teased.
"Margaret, at least tell me why you're not telling me anything!"
"When you've figured it out on your own, I might be willing to listen to your apology. For now, shove off!"
"Whoa, Hot Lips indeed." Trapper raised an eyebrow as Frank, apparently grown wise belatedly, ran for his life. Margaret sighed and turned back to her own meal. She was nauseous to begin with, and the taste and texture of what she was trying to eat weren't helping at all.
Niether was the conversation between Trapper and Blake on what the meal might be made of. She swallowed hard, trying not to be sick right there, and noticed Hawkeye looking at her with concern in his eyes.
Mustering as much dignity as she could with her stomach tying itself in knots, she glared down Trapper and Blake. "Will you two cut it out? I'm trying to eat."
"Lighten up, Major," Henry laughed. "Don't you think this looks just a little bit like -"
"No, I don't." She gritted her teeth as Trapper suggested another disgusting possibility, but when Henry decided to top Trapper, she lost the battle to keep her breakfast down and bolted for the door. Knowing she didn't have time to get to the latrine, she ran around the side of the tent, out of any major walkways, and fell to her knees, heaving until there was nothing left in her stomach. She became vaguely aware of a hand on her back. She looked up into a pair of blue eyes.
"You okay?" Hawkeye asked.
"Yeah, just a little nauseous."
"No kidding. Apparently Trapper and Henry need more education on where one crosses the line into going too far."
"It's not really their fault. Usually it wouldn't have bothered me this much. I was already feeling sick, their game was just the last little push over the edge."
She nodded and he offered her a glass of water. "Thanks." She took a sip to rinse her mouth and then drank the rest thirstily.
"Make a note. Henry and Trapper: bad for digestion."
She laughed despite herself. "Maybe I should just take my breakfast back to my tent."
"You do that." He kissed her head. "I'll come check on you later."
"Delivery for you, madam."
It had been two weeks since Margaret had first told Hawkeye about her rape. She'd started seeing Frank again and she was able to shrug off comments about the food. She still woke up sweating and in tears sometimes, and she had had to bolt for the latrine once or twice, but no one else had to know about it. However, Hawkeye came by her tent every so often so he could talk to her privately, check on her, make sure she was okay. But he'd never had a delivery for her before, and anyway, why was he delivering mail?
"What are you delivering?"
"You haven't been eating much lately. I thought it might have something to do with the quality of the food."
"It's no worse than usual."
"Yes, but you need better than usual. I know you're still working through all this. Thought this might be a better set of options." He slid a box towards her. "Well, go on, open it."
She did and her jaw dropped. The box was full of confections: nuts, cookies, even small pies. "Where on Earth did you get these?"
"Had my dad send them. Our local bakery's the best in the world."
"You did all this because you thought I wasn't eating enough?"
"Well, partly. Partly I just wanted to give you something nice, something to show that I know you're going through a hard time. I want to be a good friend to you, Margaret."
"You are," she answered quietly. "You say these are the best there is?"
"Then it seems selfish of me to keep them all to myself. Here, have one."
She didn't heal overnight. The horrible events of that night almost a decade ago would stick with her for the rest of her life. But they no longer held the same power over her that they once had. She had turned to face these demons, and in doing so she had broken their hold.
Her relationship with Hawkeye didn't change overnight either. They still bickered and bantered, sometimes more seriously than others, and they found themselves on the opposite sides of disputes more times than she would have liked to admit. But she never looked at him in the same way again. Because she knew that, if she ever really needed a friend, Benjamin Franklin Pierce would be there for her.
And that made everything she was forced to endure a tiny bit more bearable.
I was never satisfied with the ending of "Operation Noselift", specifically the resolution of the Margaret-attacked-by-Robbins subplot, so I wrote this little piece to put a more satisfying cap on it. The idea that Margaret had been a rape victim at some point in her past came to me because she seemed more terrified of rape than even of death. M*A*S*H tended to treat those scenes very lightly, almost as comedy, but I thought there might be something more behind it.
As for her being raped on an army base and then blamed and disbelieved, it is horrible but it is a reflection of real life. Statistics show that military women are more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire in Iraq, and that's in 2011. I assume civilian women in army areas are in the same level of danger. Victim-blaming is also unfortunately common even today, both in military and non-military situations.
I'll probably be making this into a series eventually, especially if I see interest from readers (but even if I don't, I'll probably write it anyway).
Please review. As I said, I'll probably write more related stories so any feedback I get on this will help me with those.