"Folks," Colonel Potter looked grim as he settled at the head of the table. BJ passed the sugar from down the table, giving his commander an easy smile as he did.
"What's up, Colonel?"
"News," he groused as he spooned a bit of sugar into his coffee and stirred it absently. From his other side, Margaret set her own utensils down and looked at Potter with worry.
"What is it?"
"Nothing good," he admitted. "I need to see all the senior staff in my office, pronto." Without another word he stood and walked out of the mess tent, leaving his coffee sitting on the table untouched. Margaret looked across her breakfast at BJ.
"What was that all about?"
"No idea," BJ shrugged and finished his powdered eggs. "We should gather the others and go find out."
Margaret drained the last of her coffee and stood. "I'll grab Father Mulcahy and Major Winchester." She forced her stomach to settle as she recalled Potter's tone. She hadn't ever heard her commanding officer quite so dire before, and it gnawed at her. Possibilities whirled through her mind as she crossed the compound, but she forced them down along with her revolting insides. It would do her no good to wonder about the maybes; she'd find out soon enough what was bothering Colonel Potter.
"What I'm about to tell you does not leave this office," Potter said in his best no-nonsense tone. When he was certain he had everyone's agreement he continued. "This morning I received a phone call from ICORPS. At 0300 hours, a Chinese battalion marched and overran the 4055th MASH at Gapyeong." Margaret's face paled as the doctors gasped in outrage.
"Oh dear Lord," Mulcahy whispered, crossing himself quickly. "Were there any survivors?"
"No," Potter looked like he'd aged ten years in the past few hours, and there wasn't half a smile to be found among the six senior officers. Even Hawkeye was grim-faced and somber.
"What about the wounded? And the nurses?" the chief surgeon asked tersely, trying his hardest not to glance at Margaret.
"There's been no word of prisoners," Potter affirmed. "General Addin believes they simply marched over the MASH in an attempt to outflank the 4th Battalion."
"Barbarians," Margaret whispered past her fingers. Gathering herself together, she straightened up and addressed the most pressing concern. "Colonel, the 4055th was only 25 miles from here. We should move the entire camp south to a safer location, at least until the threat passes."
"Negative, Major," Colonel stood up and flattened both of his palms against his desk. He had spent the whole morning mulling over his next words, but they were no easier to say than they had been to think just hours earlier. "The 4th Battalion encountered the main Chinese force just a few hours ago. We're expecting casualties by this evening."
"But, Colonel!" Major Winchester leapt to his feet. "If the Chinese are marching this way, shouldn't we -"
"I understand your concern, Major," Potter held up his hands to forestall any arguments. "I have already discussed this thoroughly with ICORPS. The battle is northeast of us and the boys at ICORPS are confident the secondary Chinese force will turn north before they reach us."
"Oh, well, as long as they're confident," Pierce shot back snidely. "Forgive me, Colonel, but I don't put a lot of faith in the people who are confidently ensconced behind their cushy desks in Tokyo."
"There's nothing to be done, Pierce," Potter returned. "We can't bug out without orders; we have to be here when the casualties arrive."
"What about our wounded?" BJ asked. "We could get most of them to the 121st before nightfall."
"They alright to travel?" Potter looked at Pierce, who was working past his own frustration to think about their cases in post op.
"A few of them," he agreed. "Most of them I wouldn't like to move right now, but if the drivers are careful they should be okay."
"Fine, we'll get a detail of ambulances going immediately. Prep as many as you can to ride in the bus. No sense in wasting more vehicles than necessary. Major Houlihan, gather your nurses and brief them on the incoming wounded."
"And the Chinese?" Margaret asked, already knowing the answer.
"I'd like not to frighten anyone -"
"Too late," Hawkeye quipped.
"- but do what you think is best." Potter turned to the doctors as Margaret flew out the door. "You three are in charge of clearing post op. Let's go." BJ and Charles scooted out the door, fear and anticipation driving them into quick action. Hawkeye, however, hung back and gripped Potter's elbow in a gentle grasp.
"Colonel," he dropped his jovial facade for a moment and stared into the deceptively calm eyes of his CO. "Send the nurses south," the younger man offered. "If the Chinese come this way..."
"They won't come this far west, Pierce." Potter patted Hawkeye's arm comfortingly, not entirely confident in his own words. In reality, he had no way of knowing what the Chinese were planning. They could be mounting an offensive against the MASH units, in spite of the Geneva Convention.
"Colonel, please," Hawkeye's normally bright blue eyes were turbulent with emotion. "Send them to the 121st with the wounded, just until we know for certain. You know what would happen if..."
Potter took a steadying breath and nodded. He'd heard the horror stories from the brass in Seoul about the treatment of female prisoners of war. His eyes stung with tears at the thought of any of his nurses going through that, and he knew Hawkeye was probably thinking of one in particular. If Potter was being honest with himself, he had been warring with this very notion since early this morning. The military man in him had finally overridden his sensitivity with one perfect argument.
"I understand how you're feeling, Hawkeye. I really do. We just can't get through an OR session without them." And it was the truth, though an ugly one. But Hawkeye wouldn't let it go, and he fidgeted nervously as he pushed forward.
"We'll get the enlisted men to assist," he insisted vehemently. "We've done it before. We can get through surgery on our own; we'll just have to teach them which instrument is what and how to read labels on the units of blood." Colonel Potter had never seen Pierce so worked up before, and he sighed.
"Pierce, I don't have time to argue this with you. Get out there and clear post op." Potter knew he was walking a thin line here; Pierce was obstinately stubborn at the best of times. Giving him direct orders almost always got the exact opposite result. But this was the Army, and sometimes they had to do things they didn't agree with. If he'd had the time, he'd laugh at the irony of the memory of a very similar conversation he'd had with his Head Nurse some months ago. She had been ready to defy orders and go searching for the very man standing before him. Since then, he had noticed the two had become near inseparable and had even requested a joint 3-day pass in Tokyo. At the time he'd thanked his lucky stars that the war between his Chief Surgeon and Head Nurse seemed to finally be over. Now he was wishing they were still in a begrudging friendship - then maybe Hawkeye wouldn't be glaring daggers at him.
For a long moment, Potter feared his chief surgeon would defy him. But in the end his doctoring instincts kicked in, and Pierce turned away from his CO and barrelled through Klinger's office into post op. Potter was sure he hadn't heard the end of it, but he didn't have time to worry about it now. With Klinger helping organize the vehicles for the patient evacuation, he was left to answer the ringing telephone.
Hawkeye felt strong fingers grasp his jacket sleeve and yank him off course, causing him to yelp in surprise as he was unceremoniously flung against the wall behind post op. He straightened quickly with a disarming smile on his face; there was only one person strong enough and bold enough to kidnap him mid-evac.
"Margaret, I'm flattered that you find me irresistable but we have work to do."
If he'd been paying attention he would have notice the dark look on her face. If he'd been paying attention, he would have seen the anger that tightened her shoulders and balled her fists at her sides. But his mind was still reeling with all of the information he'd received in the past hour, and he missed it. He also missed her right arm swinging up until it was too late. The sound of her open palm connecting full force with his left cheek echoed off the wall.
"How dare you," she hissed at his half-bent figure. Hawkeye's left hand had come up to cradle his inflamed cheek as he straightened back up, and his eyes blazed.
"What the hell?"
Margaret's fists were clenched again, but they remained firmly at her side as she glared hotly at him. "How dare you!" she repeated. "Colonel Potter told me about your suggestion."
Still a little fuzzy from the blow, Hawkeye shook his head quickly and glared back. "So you thought you'd show your appreciation by slapping me?"
"Don't," she warned him sharply. "Don't make this into one of your jokes, Pierce."
"The Chinese are coming, Margaret," he angled his head and lowered his voice to keep the information from carrying across the compoud, but he was having difficulty remaining rational and calm in the face of her agitation and fury.
"I know," she answered, and for a moment he thought he saw a flash of fear on her face. But just as quickly it was gone as she schooled her features. "But we have a job to do here. One I volunteered for, I might add!"
"Margaret," he started, but she interrupted him with another fiery stare.
"You can rant and rail against the military, secure in the knowledge that the high and mighty Dr. Pierce was drafted against his will and thrust into a war-torn country. The Army is just another villain to you, and that will never change." Her body was shaking with tense anger, but she forced herself to take a step back. "ICORPS says the Chinese will turn north before they reach us," she continued.
"Margaret, this is the same Army that shelled their own MASH unit for an entire day because they'd mixed up the paperwork! If they're wrong again, the Chinese will..." he trailed off, unwilling to put voice to the atrocities they'd only heard of.
"It's a risk," she agreed tersely, "but it's a risk we chose to take. Each and every nurse here chose to be here, to make a difference. We won't run and hide because your delicate chivalry is offended."
"I'm trying to protect you and I'm the bad guy?" He'd dropped all his masks now and she could see the desperation underneath his rage, but she pressed on.
"You're trying to keep me - us - from doing the job we came here to do. I'm proud to serve in this Army, and I'll be damned if a draftee doctor is going to -"
"Are you two done?" BJ's voice cut through their arguing, and they both looked at the younger man ashamedly. "Good, because we have about eight more patients to prep."
With a look that told Hawkeye their discussion was far from over, Margaret stormed past him and joined BJ in post op. Hawkeye stared after her for a moment, the heat in his cheek the only remnant of her presence.
"Colonel, you can't possibly be serious!" Margaret was beyond furious and, despite the relief filling him up, Hawkeye felt a twinge of empathy for their commander.
"Major I understand your position, but the latest reports from forward scouts don't show any indication that the Chinese are turning north. At their current speed, they'll reach us by tomorrow morning."
"We have wounded coming any minute!" she argued. "Without the nurses -"
"We'll lose more than we usually would," Potter agreed, "but if the Chinese attack we'll lose them all anyway. We're just not equipped to handle that kind of assault. The Army is dispatching a small platoon toward us in case the worst happens, but I'd rather not take the risk."
"I'm as much a part of this Army as you are, sir." Margaret argued.
"And I'd like you to keep being a part of it, Margaret," his tone had softened. "Don't ask those girls to make that sacrifice."
"They have already been asked," she spat back passionately, "when they joined the Army in the first place." Looking into the face of her superior officer, she knew this wasn't an argument she was going to win. With a resigned sigh she straightened her back, and Major Houlihan snapped to attention. "Is that all, sir?"
"Colonel, your order was quite clear," she interrupted. "I will go inform my nurses." She didn't even look at Hawkeye as she stormed out the door, and both men watched her go with hesitant relief.
"Thank you, Colonel," Hawkeye said finally once she was well out of earshot.
"Don't thank me, Pierce, thank the Chinese."
"From the reports, I just might get the chance," he quipped, though there was no humor in his tone.
"I hope to God those reports are wrong," Potter clapped the younger man on the shoulder. "And if they are, you'd better be planning one hell of an apology dinner for her."
"I'm not sure she'll forgive me," Hawkeye sighed, "but it beats the hell out of the alternative."
Hawkeye didn't see Margaret before the nurses were loaded up with the wounded. Once everyone was situated, she climbed into the passenger seat of the lead truck, dropping her Army issue helmet as she settled in. Hawkeye jogged across the compound, scooping it up as he reached the jeep.
"Your helmet, Major." He handed it to her but didn't let go, using her grip to bring himself closer to her.
She looked up at him then, and he could see the fear she was trying to keep a firm lid on. She was trying to stay strong for her nurses, and she was still furious with him, but she was also afraid for him. There had been no word on the Chinese movements since the last phone call, and if they didn't turn north the 4077th would be overrun in twelve hours. Hawkeye held her gaze for a few more minutes, trying to convey without words everything that they'd left unsaid.
"Thank you, Captain." Her voice was thick but clear, and he heard how angry she still was.
"Look, Margaret, I -"
"Time to go, Major." The driver started the engine and adjusted his helmet quickly. Margaret nodded her agreement and stared at the road ahead of them.
Hawkeye swallowed the lump that had wedged itself in his throat and took a step back. "Goodbye. Stay safe, Margaret." For a split second, he thought he saw something glistening in her eye, but she blinked once and it was gone. The jeep lurched forward suddenly and she was gone, leaving Hawkeye watching after her dust trail as the caravan disappeared around a bend.
"Hawk," BJ's voice cut through his thoughts, and he turned to his friend. "Hey, come on," BJ clapped his shoulder firmly. "We've got to wave our magic wand and turn these corpsman into nurses before midnight."
Their prediction about their casualty losses wasn't as bad as Potter had believed. The corpsman had stepped up to their task and performed admirably, but there was only so much they could do with half a day of medical training. When the casualties started coming in, Winchester took the initial triage as the other three began patching up the ones who couldn't wait. All in all it was hell squared, and the only bit of good news came in the midst of the chaos. With the Chinese turning north finally, the ball was already rolling to get the nurses back ASAP.
As the trucks rolled into the compound that evening, Hawkeye and BJ jumped up from their bunks and joined the crowd gathering in the middle of camp. Everyone was hugging the wayward nurses and grinning ear to ear, and Kellye's announcement of the welcome home party had everyone cheering. Hawkeye slipped away from the festivities and made his way to the front of the truck where Margaret had met Colonel Potter. He opened his mouth to welcome her home, but before he could get a word out she turned and stepped past him.
"Hold it!" she cried. "Hold it!" Everyone quieted immediately, and Hawkeye could tell from the sound of her voice it probably wasn't good news. "We've got patients in post op and we have an inspection the day after tomorrow. I want the nurses to meet me in OR in ten minutes." She didn't wait for a confirmation before striding off in the direction of her tent without so much as a cursory glance behind her.
Hawkeye felt someone lay a hand on his shoulder, and when he turned around Colonel Potter gave him a sympathetic smile. "Just give her some time, son. She'll come around."
"Yeah," Hawkeye agreed off-handedly.
"In the meantime, I'm gonna grab some shuteye." He punctuated his statement with a wide yawn. "I suggest you do the same." He patted the younger surgeon's shoulder once more before turning for his tent. Hawkeye went the other way, pulled by BJ's laughter as several nurses vied to be the first to dance with him. Deciding not to let Margaret's dour mood get him down, he joined the jovial group with a forced smile he didn't really feel.
"There's plenty of those big feet to go around," he joked, though he was sure BJ could detect the false brevity in his tone.
"And you!" Able whirled on him eagerly. "You better pry yourself away from Major Houlihan for at least a few dances, buster." She poked him in the chest firmly, and he yelped dramatically and rubbed the spot.
"Speaking of Major Houlihan," Kellye frowned, "we better get to OR. Good night doctors!" Hawkeye and BJ waved as the nurses scurried to put their bags in their tents and get to OR before their head nurse.
"Penny for your thoughts," BJ said when they were finally alone.
"I just wish I knew what to do," Hawkeye sighed, letting his facade drop. "She didn't even look at me, Beej." The other man was silent for a moment, a sure indication that Hawkeye wasn't going to like what he had to say. They had already started back toward the Swamp before the taller man spoke.
"You know, Hawk, I'm not going to say it was wrong to send the nurses away. God knows if the Chinese had come this way I'd rather they weren't here." BJ opened the door to their tent and let Hawkeye step through before following him. "But she's not wrong, either. Those women volunteered to be here. They knew the risks when they swore their oaths and promised to serve their country." He perched on his bunk and began untying his boots as Hawkeye stood next to the still.
His thoughts were whirling a mile a minute. He understood Margaret's position, and even admired every single nurse in the Army for stepping up to the plate when he'd have rather not gone to the ballgame. But a larger part of him balked at the mere thought of any of them within ten miles of a Chinese battalion. It was that part that was insisting that he'd done the right thing. Margaret would eventually calm down enough to realize that, he reasoned. She was just too busy with this surprise inspection. In a few days, when this all blew over, they could sit down and talk. For now, he'd do his best to stay out of her way.
"All of the surgical instruments need to be recatalogued and stored in their proper places," Margaret was barking orders to the doctors, and even Potter looked sufficiently cowed in the face of Major Houlihan at full-tilt. "The anesthesia machine needs to be repaired, and all of that plaster needs to come off of the floor."
"Alright," Potter held up his hands to stop her tirade. "Pierce, you're on manual labor. Hunnicutt and I will take care of the machine, Winchester -" the Major looked up sharply with a distasteful expression on his face. " - you're on sweeping detail."
"Colonel, I must protest," he started, but Margaret was quicker.
"You put it there in the first place!" she cried, having already reviewed the casualty reports the night before.
"Also under protest!" Winchester retorted. "Pierce is the one who refused to move the patient to the plaster room. Let him sweep."
"Fine," Margaret agreed. "There are a few dozen boxes that need to be hauled from pre op to the storage room."
"On second thought," he swiped the broom from the corner and clutched it tightly.
"Guess that makes me your beast of burden, Margaret," Hawkeye joked, trying to elicit even a tiny smile from her. But she was all business as she whirled and began delegating tasks to her nurses.
"Too soon, son," Potter patted him on the shoulder as he and BJ squeezed by to begin working on the anesthesia machine.
But Hawkeye had already formulated a plan to get back in her good graces, and her stern, no-nonsense attitude would not deter him. No matter how hard she tried, even the indomitable Margaret Houlihan couldn't resist the full force of his charm. The new records Kellye had acquired at Evac had given him an idea, and as he passed her a little while later carrying a box of "Surgical Stuff and Purple Things", he lowered his voice and sang quietly.
"Unforgettable," he crooned quietly, "that's what you are." She ignored him at first, but he blocked her exit from OR and gave her a charming smile. "Unforget-"
"Pierce, get out of my way." She perched her hands on her hips and glared at him, trying to move him by sheer willpower.
"I'm sorry," his smile erupted into a full grin. "Whenever I look at you I hear that song." She pressed her lips together in a tight line, but he went on. "And by some incredible coincidence, that very song is in the jukebox tonight." There was no mistaking the suggestion in his tone, and her glare hardened.
"That's great," she answered snidely. "I hope you can hear it from over here." She shoved her way past him before he could retort, disappearing into pre op with a quick stride. He stared after her a few moments before a voice pulled him from his thoughts.
"Hawkeye," Webster called from across the OR, "can I read the label on that box?"
Margaret could feel pressure building behind her eyes, but she pushed the discomfort away and forced herself to focus on the tasks at hand. Her list of things to take care of was growing longer by the minute, and the latest item made her cringe.
"Colonel," she stepped around Winchester's scraping to address her CO. "Baker told me the door to the autoclave is broken."
"It is," Potter's tone was wary, and Margaret saw him visibly wince when she sighed.
"Well, that's just great!" she threw her hands up in exasperation. "Colonel Buckholtz expects everything to be operational, and I'm pretty sure that means it has to be in once piece first!"
"Relax Major," he left BJ to figure out the last of the hoses as he steered Margaret over to an empty area of the OR. "That door's been wonky for weeks now, and only your nurses know how to get it working. Captain Pierce was trying to get everything sterilized quickly while we did triage, and it broke."
"Pierce, I should have known," she snapped.
Potter spoke quickly to keep her from going off on a rant about their chief surgeon. "I've already made a memo to get a few of us trained on that thing just as soon as things calm down around here."
"And in the meantime?" she asked shrilly.
"I'm sure Captain Pierce is capable of fixing the door. He's in there now with Kellye and Baker putting away supplies."
"Excuse me, Colonel," she turned toward the scrub room with a fervor in her eyes, but Potter's warm hand on her arm made her pause.
"Go easy on the boy, Margaret," he tone was soft but firm. "His heart was in the right place."
Margaret knew what the old man meant, but her own conviction and bullheadedness refused to let his words penetrate the shell of professionalism she'd donned the moment she'd heard about Buckholtz's impending arrival. If she was being honest with herself, she might admit that her stand-offish attitude toward Pierce had more to do with what had transpired before the nurses had been evacuated south than the announcement of the surprise inspection. But, she reminded herself, he was being a selfish, righteous ass who needed to understand that just because they were together, he didn't have any sort of authority over her. Just as soon as this was all over, they were going to have what her mother would call a "come to Jesus meeting."
"Margaret?" Potter's voice cut through her personal conversation, and she blinked twice before shaking her head clear of distracting thoughts.
"Colonel." She nodded slowly and stepped away from him, her focus once more solely on the upcoming inspection.
He was sorting surgical instruments when she walked in, his fingers handling the metal tools with far less precision than he normally used.
She shoved her hands into her pockets to keep from swinging at him in frustration. Remembering Potter's parting words, she forced herself to use a more civil tone than the one she'd planned. "I understand you're the one who broke the door on the autoclave?"
He looked up with an expression that was part joking and part fearful. "Look, why don't we just call the autoclave club?"
"I haven't gotten any time for jokes," she pointed to the machine, quickly losing her patience with the affable surgeon. "Just fix it."
"I haven't got any time either," he countered. "I have to get home and put my tux under the mattress." She let her glare speak for her, untrusting as she was about keeping her cool in the face of his insolence. "Alright," he caved under her look. "Okay, look. I'll make you a deal. I fix the autoclave, I go."
"Fine," she acquiesced with just a little more grace than she felt at the moment. This man was a brilliant surgeon - a bonafide miracle worker in the operating room. But a handyman he was not. She stepped back to give him some space as he grabbed a small hammer, but remained close enough to enjoy the show.
"The hinge it bent, that's all," he told her, "takes three seconds." He brought the hammer down onto the hinge as he counted. "One, two, three!" With a loud clang, the door to the autoclave detached completely and bounced off the wooden floor. He stared at it dumbly for a second, then looked up at Margaret. "Well at least the hinge isn't bent any more."
"Okay, okay," he stooped to pick up the door, but set it down quickly when she turned to go. "Margaret, wait. Please." She paused at that, turning slightly as he stepped closer to her. "Look, I know things with us were a little...on edge when you left. And with this inspection coming, there hasn't really been time for us to talk."
"I don't have time for this, Captain." She started to move again, but his fingers wrapped gently around her forearm stopped her.
"Just one more thing," he promised. She angled toward him then, her face displaying her impatience as he closed the distance between them. She didn't have time to react as he kissed her deeply, surprised as she was at his sudden change of direction. When he pulled away, she was a little annoyed to find her own hands had traitorously slid up his chest to clutch at the lapels of his green Army shirt.
"I want you to remember that no matter what happens tomorrow with Buckholtz, you're the best damn nurse in the whole Army. No inspection rating is going to change the fact that you and your nurses save lives every damn day, and keep us in line to boot." She couldn't say anything for a moment, but it seemed he wasn't done yet. "Go finish whatever it is you need to finish. I'll fix the autoclave and make sure the OR is speck-free."
He stepped away from her then, fixing his attention on the broken door instead of her shocked expression. She recognized his attempt to give her a moment to collect herself, and she mumbled a quick thank you as she sped out the door.
A muffled cheer arose from the direction of the Officers' Club, and Hawkeye felt an old familiar urge to ditch his current responsibilities and join the party. But then Margaret's face filled his mind's eye again, drawn tight with stress and worry, and he forced himself to focus on the list of tasks Kellye had come in with a moment ago.
"Sounds like the neighbors are having a party," he said glibly. "If that raucous keeps up, I'm calling the cops."
Kellye looked up from the refrigerator with a grunt of acknowledgement, but didn't say anything more. Hawkeye looked down from the step ladder he'd climbed to dust the tops of the doors, but Kellye was once more waist deep in the fridge, scrubbing the shelves with vigor.
"Look," he told her, "if you want to go, I can finish up here."
Her reply was muffled, but he heard the tightly controlled frustration in her tone. "No, thank you Captain."
"Kellye, this is me," he hopped down and walked over to her. "If you want to talk..."
He jumped as the brush in her hand banged off of the side of the fridge. She shuffled backward and rose to her full height. She was almost a full foot shorter than him, but the look on her face made him suppress a shiver.
"You don't always have to play the hero, Hawkeye," she pointed the brush at him accusingly. "I'm more than capable of doing my job."
"What's gotten into you?" he demanded. "I was just trying to be friendly."
"Nothing," she turned back to the fridge and began scrubbing again. For a moment, Hawkeye debated calling her out on her lie. But the list of tasks that still needed doing wasn't getting any shorter, and she obviously didn't want to talk about whatever was bothering her. Still, he resolved, he would pry it out of her later when the pressure of a looming inspection wasn't hanging over their heads.
It was well after midnight when they finished the OR, and as Hawkeye shuffled back to the Swamp he saw a light shining from Margaret's tent. He detoured to knock lightly on her door.
"Come in," she called quietly. He found her hunched over her desk reviewing their current casualty reports. He stopped behind her and set his hands on her shoulders, kneading softly against the firm muscles of her neck.
"Mmmm," she leaned back slightly in appreciation, but didn't look up from the files.
"You need to rest," he told her.
"I have to have these reports memorized by tomorrow," she told him. "Buckholtz will expect me to know each case by heart, including names, vitals, and prognosis."
"That's insane," Hawkeye shifted around and sat on the edge of her cot. "No one can keep all that straight."
"If that's all you came in to say, you can leave," she snapped at him.
"I just thought maybe you'd want to be conscious during the inspection tomorrow," he pushed back, lilting his voice just enough so she could hear his irritation. "Burning your candle at both ends tonight means you're burnt out tomorrow."
She set her pencil down long ways on the table and turned toward him. "I know my limits," she told him sharply, standing to emphasize her point as well as to herd him out the door. Before she could say anything further, she swayed unsteadily and reached out to grip the edge of her desk. Hawkeye was on his feet in an instant, his hand slipping around her other arm for support.
"That's enough for tonight, Margaret. You're running yourself into the ground." He guided her away from the desk and over to the cot.
"I'm fine," she protested, but he just looked down at her with a disbelieving expression.
"Sure," he shot back, "you just thought you'd practice your impression of a palm tree during a hurricane." He squatted down and began untying her boots. "When's the last time you ate something?"
"Lunch, I think," she told him. "Really, I'm alright. I just got a little light headed." She leaned forward and took over the task of removing her shoes. "You're probably right," she added. "I just need some rest. If I haven't got those things memorized by now, staring at them while half-asleep isn't going to change that."
He let her finish untying her laces, then took the boots from her when she slipped them off. He stowed them next to her foot locker, toes facing the wall, and when he turned back she was already underneath her wool blanket. He leaned over and kissed her forehead slowly, lingering for a moment in half-apology.
"Good night, Margaret."
Her mumbled reply was barely intelligible as she succumbed to the exhaustion. He switched off her lamp and quietly stepped out of her tent. Charles and BJ were already asleep by the time he opened the Swamp door, and he tilted face first into his cot as his own weariness swept over him.
Buckholtz was already running circles around Margaret when Hawkeye reported for his shift in post op at ten the next morning. Kellye was the nurse on duty, and she barely muttered a good morning to him as he settled in at the desk to sign off on the day's medication timetable and the two evac patients leaving later that day.
"Doc?" the young corporal in the bed next to him called, and he pulled his attention away from the inspection to tend to the boy's arm. He was in the middle of re-wrapping the wound when Buckholtz's condescending tone floated across the room.
"Major, I can see that everything is according to manual," the Colonel drawled. "Do you have some rule that says you can't do better than that?"
"Man, she's really something, huh?" he glanced over at Kellye. "You think we should call the morgue and see if a corpse is missing?"
"Shh!" Kellye snapped.
"Oh right," he nodded solemnly, "there's an inspection going on." He looked up at the boy whose arm he was holding. "Try not to look so sick." He glanced over his shoulder then, unable to help the words that spilled from his mouth. "Maybe we should rearrange the patients so all their wounds are lined up."
"Quiet," Kellye hissed.
"Oh right, yeah," he pressed a finger to his lips quickly before returning his attention to the dressing.
BJ joined them from the office, setting down his end of duty report with a wary glance at Buckholtz and Margaret zipping around post op. "Colonel Buckholtz is a real peach, isn't she?" he said quietly.
Kellye looked back at him with a wry smile. "Yeah with steel wool for fuzz." They shared a laugh, and Hawkeye raised an eyebrow.
"What is this, you only kid around with guys with big feet and cheesy moustaches?" He knew this had something to do with her outburst yesterday. He'd thought from her calm demeanor this morning that she'd gotten over whatever had been bothering her, and her dour expression was due to the stern woman who'd invaded their sweet little hovel. It seemed, however, that he'd been wrong.
"Looks that way, doesn't it?" she answered snidely.
"What's the matter?" he tried again. "Is something wrong?"
"Not with me, there isn't."
He flashed a quick, easy smile at the corporal and tucked the end of the bandage away before standing. "Could I see you outside please?" He'd had enough of Kellye's cold shoulder, and he was going to get to the bottom of this once and for all. She nodded once and followed him through the double doors. Once they were in the relatively safety of Klinger's office, he pressed forward.
"What's going on with you?"
"Does it matter?" she shot back, stepping away from him quickly.
"Well if you're upset with me, I'd like to know why because I don't think I've done anything to you." He stood next to her as she sat in Klinger's chair, swiveling away from him to avoid meeting his gaze.
"That's just it," she replied sharply. "You don't think."
"Whoa, whoa," he held his hands up defensively. Her words set alarm bells off in his head, and he unconsciously took a step back under the force of her stare. "Kellye, what's wrong?"
She took a moment to collect her thoughts, and Hawkeye feared she was going to continue giving him the cold shoulder. But then her entire demeanor deflated and she sank back against the chair.
"My aunt died in Pearl Harbor," she told him finally. She didn't say anything else for a moment, and Hawkeye fought past the sudden lump in his throat to fill the silence.
"I'm...sorry. Were you close?" He followed her lead and leaned against the table, trying to appear as open and non-threatening as possible.
Kellye nodded and smiled for the first time. "She's the reason I became a nurse," she said. "She would always talk about the good she was doing and the people she was helping. Ever since I was a little girl, I wanted to be just like her."
"She would be proud of you," he told her sincerely.
"I like to think so," she said.
"I'm sorry," he shook his head, "but what does this have to do with you treating me like the enemy?"
She frowned at him and straightened her posture. "As much as you wanted to be a doctor when you were little, that's how much I wanted to be a nurse. I was in the Army before this whole war started, and I'll be in it long after you and the other draftees are gone." He stepped back as she stood and pointed an accusing finger at him. "You might not want to be here, but I do. I want to help people, and I love the Army because I get to do that and honor my aunt's memory at the same time." She was working up to a full rant, and he glanced over at the post op door and silently prayed for someone to come save him. But no one came, and he retreated a few steps as Kellye drove her point home with fervor.
"Each and every one of us chose to serve our country, to help save the lives of the men who come through here. Who are you to say I can't do my job just because it might be dangerous?"
"You're mad because Colonel Potter made you go to the evac hospital?"
"I go where I'm ordered to go by my commanding officer," she said proudly. "But who gave him that suggestion?"
"It's not the first time the nurses have been sent south with the wounded in the face of an attack," he countered. "If memory serves, Henry Blake did the same thing a couple of years ago."
"He did," she nodded. "And you can bet Major Houlihan ripped into him when we returned." Her voice rose in pitch as she finished her tirade. "I'm not some naive child, Captain. I knew what I signed on for, just like my aunt did. And to have some hotshot doctor ship me off to 'be safe' while I could be here doing my job is not only insulting, it's unnecessary!" She whirled to return to post op, but before she could get the door Margaret burst through.
"Just a minute, Lieutenant," she hissed quietly, halting the younger woman's progress. "What is all this racket?" She turned to Hawkeye with frantic movement. "I'm being inspected in there."
"So am I, in here," he returned.
Margaret huffed in annoyance. "You two are supposed to be working together. I'm being graded on nurse-doctor relationships, and you're in here screeching at each other like two alley cats!"
"I'm sorry, Major," Kellye turned abruptly and stepped back into post op, and Margaret focused her wrath solely on Hawkeye, letting him see the frustration in her features.
"You," she pointed a finger at him, "paste a look of cooperation on your face, or I'll paste one on you!" She rushed back into post op with a wide smile, leaving Hawkeye alone in the office. He knew he had to get back in there - Margaret never made idle threats - but Kellye's words had struck a chord in him. That small voice in his head that had taken Margaret's side in their little tete a tete had suddenly gained volume, and his own insistence that he'd done the right thing was suddenly very shaky.
He heard Margaret's voice assuring Colonel Buckholtz that everything was okay, and he forced himself to follow her into post op with a pleasant expression on his face. He could pretend all was well for Margaret's sake - at least for a few more hours. After Buckholtz was gone, however, they were definitely going to have to iron things out.
He'd had to bribe an older woman two villages over, but he'd managed to get his hands on two relatively respectable bouquets of various wildflowers. His tux was freshly laundered and pressed, and as he passed the officers' club he heard the party still in full swing. He turned toward the center of the compound where the nurses' tents were lined up. He knocked on the door of the center one, waiting patiently for its occupant to answer.
"Look at you," Kellye graced him with a soft smile, and he returned it. "You do know Major Houlihan's tent is over there." She gestured across the way, but he shook his head.
"I'm here to see you," he told her.
"Really?" She seemed genuinely surprised.
He took a breath and launched into the speech he'd prepared before he'd come over, after having practiced on BJ and getting his bunkmate's input. "You were right," he began. "I never once thought about anything from your perspective. I've heard the horror stories from the men in Tokyo about Chinese prisoners of war, and to even imagine something like that happening to anyone I care about..." he clenched his jaw tightly before continuing. "What you and the other nurses do is absolutely remarkable. You do your job day in and day out without complaint. You handle more than anyone at this camp, and on top of that you have to deal with doctors who act like jackasses."
"Oh, I don't know," Kellye interrupted with a smirk. "Captain Hunnicutt isn't so bad."
He laughed with her, holding the flowers out for her to take. "I hope that we can still be friends. Would you like to go to the officers' club? I saved a spot on my dance card for you." He gave her trademark grin, the one that had often gotten him into more trouble than out of it.
"Oh, um," she hesitated, and his grin fell.
"Unless it's a problem?" He could tell she was hiding something, but before she say anything a face popped out behind her. It was the man who'd come with Buckholtz to help with the inspection. He'd noticed he and Kellye had become fast friends, but she had that effect on a lot of people.
"Hi!" The captain greeted cheerfully, glass of wine in his hand.
"Oh," Hawkeye smiled. "You two kids have fun."
"Thanks," Kellye stepped back and allowed the door to close, leaving Hawkeye standing alone in the compound. He straightened his bowtie with one hand and turned to make his second apology of the night.
Margaret's tent door opened before he could get to it, and she gave him a once over before smiling approvingly. "What's the occasion?" She seemed to be in a better mood, and he returned her smile with one of his own as they walked toward the O Club.
"Graduation day," he answered. "I just got an education."
"Did you? So did I," she said cryptically, and he stopped them in front of the doors.
"What was yours?"
She glanced around as if deciding whether to tell him or not. "What was yours?" She tossed the ball back in his court, and he seized it with both hands. He reached out and grabbed her hand, tugging her over to the benches by post op where patients usually waited for transport out. As they sat down side by side, he handed her the bouquet of flowers.
"They're lovely," she accepted them gratefully, sniffing their soft fragrance as Hawkeye sought for the right words.
"Do you remember that night we spent in that crappy hut?" he began slowly, and she smiled in fond memory.
"Of course I do," she replied quietly.
"Do you remember just after we got there, and I saw the man lying in the road? I went out to check on him even after you said it was too dangerous. I didn't really think about the danger; I just knew that he was hurt and I could help. It's why I became a doctor in the first place," he reminded her with a soft smile. "The danger didn't matter, because it was my job. It's the reason I'm here." He could tell she wanted to say something, but he held up his hand in quiet petition, asking her without words to let him finish.
"I spend so much time railing against the injustice of being forced into this hellhole, I forget sometimes that there are people here by choice. I'm a coward by nature, Margaret. When I heard the 4055th had been overrun, I was surprised everyone couldn't hear the panicked pounding of my heart. I reacted instinctively out of that fear when I asked Potter to send you and the other nurses away." He stopped then, unable to find another way to phrase his thoughts.
Margaret reached across with her free hand and laid it over his, filling the silence that had fallen between them. "You're not a coward, Ben. I've seen you run headlong into danger on multiple occasions. How many times have you been to Battalion Aid?"
"Never volunteered," he pointed out. "You have, though."
"That's not the point," she shook her head. "Look," she sighed, "we knew going into this that we were going to butt heads more often than not. This time it was your chivalry against my independence, but you know of all people how I hate being treated differently just because I'm a woman. I'm Army first, and I'll be damned if I'm going to play some damsel in distress to satisfy everyone's male pride. I'm here to do a job, and I think I do it very well."
"Best nurse in the whole damn Army," he answered with a quick smile. "This is going to happen a lot, huh?"
"What, us arguing and disagreeing and generally being at each others' throats?" she asked. "All the time." She softened her words with a bright smile. "You game?"
His ears picked up the first strains of an upbeat tempo emanating from the O Club. He hopped up from the bench and brought her with him. "How's your Lindy?" It wasn't a real answer - not in the traditional sense - but nothing about their relationship had ever been textbook.
"Perfect," she shot back dryly, "but I can take it down a little." He laughed and pulled her toward the party, content with the knowledge that things between them were slowly returning back to normal. He opened the door for her and offered a little smirk in challenge, and he could see her resisting the urge to roll her eyes at his obvious attempt to rile her up with his show of manners. She dipped her head once - challenge accepted, he thought - and began swaying in time with the music as she preceded him into the club.
Next Up: "Who Knew"
Note: This one was particulary difficult to write, as I had to find a compelling enough reason for Kellye to be angry with Hawkeye. I always wondered about the decision to send the nurses south (both earlier in the show and now). Was that something the Army did circa World War II or was that written into the show simply for the plot of those episodes? More research will tell, but I always felt like Margaret would have protested being coddled so obviously. We're nearing the end, dear readers; just a few more episodes left. I will be continuing through "Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen," and perhaps just a bit beyond. Adieu.